Monday, 19 December 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 4

I was in Sydney on Saturday, and while there weren't exactly tumbleweeds rolling down George St, I thought there was a surprising absence of eager Christmas consumers, wallets at the ready, credit cards thrust forward in a mad desire to enter the New Year with a financial burden of significantly greater magnitude than good ol' 2011.

The woman in Dymocks didn't appear to notice, claiming it was as busy as ever, and that her coping mechanism for the Festy Season was 'smile and nod' which is good advice in most situations, from political leaders indicating their intention for your nation to invade the slightly smaller one to the north, to just about any and every domestic situation.

I wasn't convinced it was so busy, however. The vibe just wasn't there, and the number of sales and discounted items in various stores seemed to belie the economic vitality claimed by this single sales clerk. She was, after all, hardly a suitable statistical basis for any kind of survey, despite her position on the Christmas front line.

Down at the Quay (see previous post) it was kind of going off, but people were intent on filling their stomachs rather than their Christmas stockings. I thought, if the nation was indeed heading towards a financial slump, then perhaps we needed to find an alternate means to stimulate the economy. We needed to concentrate on our core strengths. No more spending on pink batts and school halls and other arcane paraphernalia, we needed to get the dollars going to tried and true spending sources.

Which means alcohol, of course. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in certain places at least, large quantities of Kevin Rudd's previous cash stimulii were certainly invested down at various locals. The alcohol led economic recovery is a no brainer, a sure fire winner not only guaranteed to increase employment in the service industries, but also by the virtues of flow on, to the law enforcement and health sectors as well.

The only significant issue that I can see, after a little bit of fieldwork, is how we can encourage people to drink more. Short of employing the kinds of devices used to ensure large volumes of high octane fuel flood directly into the bellies of voracious Formula 1 racing cars in under a nanosecond, I don't know if it's really possible to drink in greater amounts than Australians are currently imbibing. Possibly the economic salvation we seek is already at hand. Forget the mining boom and two speed economy. As the collective livers of Australia swell and distend, raise another glass and know you're doing your bit for the nation.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

It's a Writer's Life Part 4

It was a sunny day in Sydney yesterday, spectacular actually if you happened to head to the Quay and see the brilliant trilogy of the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and some God awfully huge passenger liner moored to the passenger terminal. The icons were surrounded by thousands of people intent on recreating in all manner of traditionally accepted forms: sight seeing, spending time with the fam, eating and drinking and conviving with similarly minded friendly folk, and the whole scene was bathed in a brilliantly tepid amber afternoon light.

I had come not for the rays or the views or even the caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart devoured with relish, but for the opportunity to witness a hero. Granted, he hadn't saved anyone from a firey inferno or flooded causeway lately (as far as I know), but he had certainly contributed to my literary salvation.

Tom Stoppard was a figure of primacy in my formative days as a writer. It's no accident my two earliest plays explored figures already existent in literature (Biggles and Juliet - and possibly there's a future play title there for an aspiring post-post-post modernist). His own writing trajectory had followed a similar path with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties.

Tom (should I say 'Sir Tom'? It is his title afterall. Or am I betraying my republican ideals?) went on to create a bunch of plays which ensured his position as a writer of importance back when contemporaries like Osborne and Pinter were also breaking through. Stoppard writes with intelligence and wit and with a practically unparalleled capacity to manipute the English language to within, of its creative capacity, a split infinitive. He also won an Oscar for Shakespeare in Love.

In many ways he appeared a reticent intervieee. I'm sure he was paid the metric equivalent of a shitload to be there, and was as willing and intent and obliging as someone who accepts such a gig should be, but he was, dare I say it, humble. Not something we're particularly used to seeing these days. Fake humility, sure, You can't get out the door these days without wading through a small lake of fake humility. But the actual stuff is much harder to find.

Over the course of the hour a well-audienced Concert Hall learned something of his working habits (still uses a pen, writes pyrimidacally in that he does many drafts of the first page of a play, then tapers as he goes until he hopes that the end page will be so logically arrived at that it will require little in the way of revision), and we saw his passion for human rights doesn't seem to have diminished. We were also told one other, possibly very important, thing.

Tom claims that his works he feels are the most successful are those he has managed to 'write lucky.' He explained, I think, that this means there are some pieces that he felt very clever about when they were finished, and others which he allowed to develop and to inform themselves as he underwent the creative writing process. In other words, he allowed the work to find its own truth rather than the impose on it his own intentions and expectations.

Let's get one thing straight: I've seen a lot of theatrical crappola which I suspect has been created using exactly this methodology. All exploration and no structure. Some writers who work from the 'take the idea and run' viewpoint don't always produce good things. However someone like Stoppard, who has learned more than enough of the rules to be confident about breaking them, has the capacity to conceive brilliance and see it emerge on the page, all the stronger for its own veracity. It's a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool without knowing how many sharks, stingrays, piranhas and other assorted aquatic carnivores lie waiting below... but feeling confident you can outswim the lot of them.

So where does this leave my next project? I'm normally a plotter and a planner. I like to know where I'm going. I've always preferred to fully research before commencing writing rather than begin with an idea and see where it takes me. This time, though, I think I'd like to try it. I think it's time to write with luck. What could possibly go wrong?

Monday, 5 December 2011

Stupidity Rules Part 3

I was reading today that in 2000 there were over a million and a half people from South America who had the temerity to attempt to get into North America across an imaginary line that separates one part of a landmass from the other in order to live more fulfilling and satisfying lives with an income, greater opportunities for their kids, some safety and human rights, not to mention the chance to send a few dollars back home to their needy relatives etc.

Here in Australia, of course we face loads more people attempting to cross the border. Well, no, actually, of course we don’t. Even though there were still over 300,000 people turned back in the States last year, we’ve managed to create something of an outcry over just a few thousand people who risk their lives on little ships to try and find better lives for themselves and their families Downunder. Despite the polemic from the hysterical right, it’s actually not illegal to do this. The United Nations says so. So does the Australian government. And when all the processing is done and the numbers are added up, very few asylum seekers are actually sent back. While there’s a whole lot of media hoohah and vested interest outcry over the ‘boat people invading our shores’, something like 95% of people currently in Australia without visas have arrived here by plane. In addition, Australia’s population rises between 200,000 and 300,000 people every year through planned migration from all the nations of the world – a number that rose to this level during John Howard’s Prime Ministership. Hang on, didn’t he have everyone thinking he didn't like immigration, especially if it led to the whole de-Anglicisation of Australia thing? He was sneaky, wasn’t he?

Personally, I think it’s time to stop blaming the victims. Of course Australia is a nice place to live, that’s why we’re here. Of course, other people are going to want to live here, too. The ‘boat’ people are not bad people, they just want a better life for themselves and their kids. Who can blame them? Yeah, we need to check no crims get in, but beyond that, do we have to pay out on them so much?

There was a thing on Facebook a while back: ‘What do Moses, Oscar Schindler, the French Resistance and Elliot from ET have in common? They were all people smugglers.’ (OK, yes, technically, Elliot wasn’t a people smuggler.)

The point is, people will always want to move where things are better, like where they’re not being persecuted, where there’s some food, where there’s a chance their kids will live long enough to pass the HSC and maybe even get into uni and have a career. Where there's no war happening down the block...

If we’re not helping to make things better in their own countries, we have to accept that some folk are going to want to move somewhere else. Somewhere better. Like here. That’s the salient point. Let’s hear Julia and Tony and the rest mention that. You never will...