Winter in Melbourne, narcissistic osteopaths, and my love of American sodas

When I lived in South Korea and met other English teachers from the US and UK, they were surprised to hear that we have a winter in Australia, or at least in the southern end where I live, Victoria and Tasmania. “Yes, it gets cold,” I would say, keen to disabuse them of the tourist propaganda of magazines and TVs, which portray Australia as either a desert hellhole, or more promisingly, a beachy, sun-soaked wonderland.

Indeed, much of it is, but for about four months of the year, my home-city of Melbourne turns into a grey overcast pool of misery. We go for days without direct sunlight. It doesn’t get below freezing, but it feels like it – somehow the winds in Melbourne bite in a way they didn’t back in South Korea. During my time there, the temperature was 0 degrees, but with no wind, it wasn’t so bad. I did wear thermal underwear, so I didn’t really feel the iciness being rugged up. On the occasion that snow did fall, it was magical. I have one memory of walking by a frozen river in my Korean hometown, and stepping on it with my foot to see the ice crack – I was actually mesmerised by it, since I’d never seen that before. But even still, it feels colder at times in Melbourne, despite never getting below freezing. Usually during the day it hovers between 8-15 degrees celsius, going down anywhere from 4-10 at night, rarely going below that, at least where I am at sea level (there is snow in Australian mountains above a certain elevation). The wind is especially biting though – probably something to do with the fact we face Antarctica, with the cold winds blowing off the sea onto land.

Anyway, these weather conditions usually conspire to keep me indoors for three months – I only ever go out when necessary. It isn’t fun going anywhere in Melbourne between June and September. It’s not like Europe or Canada, where you can go to a skating carnival on the local river. Occasionally we do get the prized 15 degree sunny day with no wind, but generally I’m either at work, or I just want to stay home on my sunny verandah. It takes effort to go somewhere, though I did do yesterday, because I had my usual osteopath appointment.

My appointment was in the afternoon, but I got up early-ish, and decided to go on an expedition to the American grocery shop that is about an hour away from me (USAFoods in Moorabbin). I looked online and saw that the 12-pack crates of Cherry Coke were back in stock (the supply chain crisis has touched my prized specialty American sodas!). While I can order online from the comfort of bed, I decided to make an in-person visit with the spare time I had. I really love American sodas – the corn-syrup gives them such a sweet and unique flavour that we don’t have in Australia – Cherry Coke doesn’t exist here, and has to be imported to specialty shops or ordered online if you want it. I previously ordered a 24-pack of Cherry Coke online from Amazon, but it was the British version, made with regular sugar, and it had a more muted flavour. An acceptable substitute if you’re desperate, but it doesn’t compare to the ultra-sweet American version. For the same reason, I love Dr. Pepper, though again, it’s a specialty product here (they used to sell it widely, but then it got withdrawn – now you can only get the British version in the International sections of Coles and Woolworths, or in lolly shops, and it tends to be pricey). So anyway, I made the hour-long trek to USAFoods and picked up my pack of corn syrup-laced Cherry Coke. While there, I also bought some loose assorted cans – Cherry Vanilla Coke, Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, assorted La Croix flavours, and 7Up Cherry Soda. I know my American readers may roll their eyes at this, but getting your hands on these drinks is something special in Australia – they really are a rarity. I was so excited to buy them! The can of 7Up was okay, but I wouldn’t buy it again. The Cherry Vanilla sodas were also okay, but I couldn’t really taste the vanilla – may as well just buy the cherry version alone. I haven’t tried the La Croix, but I will mix it with gin later on. I also picked up some Tootsie Rolls – I actually dislike most American sweets (I think Hershey’s is awful – the US needs to discover Cadbury), but Tootsie Rolls are delicious to me – a half chocolate, half caramel taste which makes me salivate just thinking about it. The closest Australian lolly they can be compared to are ‘chocolate eclairs’, those toffees with a chocolate filling, which stick horribly to your teeth. Anyway, it was a fun trip as usual – I tend to go every six months, when I have an empty day and a bit of energy to burn. American products are a real novelty and treat to me – the chewing gums and sodas have different flavours which we can’t get here, which are always exciting to try.

After my revelry in American foodstuffs, I headed off to my osteopath appointment, another hour’s drive in the opposite direction. The traffic was so frustrating getting there – roadworks everywhere, and extremely slow drivers blocking my way. Why the fuck would you go 80 km/h when the sign clearly says you can go 100? It’s just fucking rude – they don’t seem to care about anyone else. Melbourne drivers, man – I swear they’re getting worse. Anyway, I got there two minutes late and headed straight for the toilet. The osteo phoned me to ask where I was – I didn’t answer, but I hurried down the corridor and knocked on his door, apologising for my tardiness. During our pleasantries, I admitted to him that I’d dropped off with my prescribed exercises for correcting my hunched posture/tight shoulders, because I’d been unbelievably busy and tired starting my new job over the past fortnight. He seemed to understand, but… through the course of the appointment, I felt I got a lot of judgment. I had actually forgotten many of the exercises, which he made a bit of a back-handed joke out of. He gave me the usual treatment – stretching and cracking, which always makes me feel 100 times better. He knows what he’s doing.

But still, I walked out of there feeling something was off, and that I wasn’t treated with respect. Almost the whole time, he talked to me as if I was stupid. I find it hard to remember all his advice and instructions – there’s so much information to absorb, and it’s not easy to remember a set of yoga exercises, and how to do them in the correct form. I should really start bringing a notepad with me, but then again I wouldn’t even be able to write fast enough. He previously gave me a handout sheet for the exercises, but it’s not clear what to do exactly (for example, it just says ‘do child’s pose’, without any elaboration). I wouldn’t necessarily call him a nice guy – he seems to have a hidden ego. If you get something wrong or fail to follow instructions properly, you become an idiot in his eyes. So what if I dropped off with my exercises for two weeks? He’s still getting paid, and shit happens. I just didn’t like his attitude at all – I’m actually starting to wonder if I’ve found yet another covert narcissist. His vibe was that ‘off’. I go back to see him in another week, and will be steeling myself and watching closely for yellow and red flags. I try to be reasonable, but my gut is sending me warnings – this guy isn’t a good personality. My God, why do I keep attracting and falling in with these people?

Speaking of narcissists, there are also some at my workplace. Usually male teachers who think they’re fantastic leaders for young people, and want to be looked up to, though I can see through them – it’s all about image and appearances. There’s nothing humble about what they do – they want to be seen. I can’t stand people like that, and unfortunately those are the ones who rise into leadership, because they know what asses to kiss, and which ones to kick down. I actually went to an outdoor meeting on the final day of work last Friday, to see off the colleague I’m taking over from, who’s going overseas. I didn’t need to be there, but I thought I should go just to say a proper goodbye to her, despite hardly knowing her. While it was awkward and I was the odd one out (the others wouldn’t talk to or include me, because I’m ‘the new guy’), I’m actually glad I went – from my vantage point as a side-observer, it struck me how superficial they all were. All fake happiness and compassion, putting on a show, but no real bonds. Big smiles, big thank yous – but if I were to pass them in the corridor and say hello, they look at me funny.

I’m a bit over it, the way people are – many of them think they’re above saying hello. I was in an after-school staff meeting a week ago, and one of the assistant principals came in. I was waiting for him to introduce himself to me, but he never did. It just seemed wrong – if I were in that position, I’d make sure to say hello if someone new was there, and make them feel welcome, so as to ensure a happy work environment. But alas, I wasn’t even on his radar. I just wanted him to introduce himself to me, to break the ice, but he didn’t even look at me. How’s that for etiquette? You certainly learn your value in the workplace by the way higher-ups treat you. At the same time however, I don’t care. If they don’t like me, it doesn’t matter in the long-run – I have my own life. I’m there to put food on my table – that’s it. But still, they should show some courtesy.

So, this has been my school holidays so far – I have two weeks off, but there is an enormous amount of work to do, in both number of tasks, and volume. I don’t look forward to trawling through the reports and previous work samples of my students, but it’s got to be done if I want to be a star in the classroom. I’m keen to succeed in this job after feeling like a failure or mediocre in my previous jobs – I felt I never quite ‘broke through’ beforehand, but I do have the capacity to do well in this job if I play my cards right. That means putting the extra hours in. I’ve landed a proper full-time position, not an easy feat here in Melbourne, and am keen to renew for next year – this school is pretty good. I’ve sort of hit the jackpot with it in some ways. But now, I need to read through reports, catch up with content, figure out how to best teach essay writing, et cetera, to ‘sandbag’ myself for next term. Some teachers can get away with cutting corners, but I can’t – this is a make or break situation.

But for now, I need to recharge – I’ve been totally exhausted all weekend, trying to get my mojo back after holding it in all week. I tend to get ‘payback’ on the weekends from all the accumulated stress of the work-week – I get this horrible fatigue which cripples my body, and it usually strikes by midday on Saturday. My day becomes a write-off – I become a fully-fledged invalid for a day. It’s not a usual tiredness which is relieved by rest – it is more like a flu, which disables my muscles and knocks me out in bed, and it goes when it wants to. I feel so tired, I feel I can’t stay awake – this time, it lingered until this Sunday, when I struggled to stay awake during a visit by my brother and his fiancee – I was falling asleep in the chair. It’s like a delayed reaction – I think it’s psychological in origin, like my body releases its tension and ‘crashes’ when it’s able to do so. I get through the week on caffeine and adrenaline, but melt into a pool of jelly on Saturdays, usually feeling better or ‘okay-ish’ by Sunday night. It’s only once I sit still that it comes – I actually feel more tired on my ‘quiet’ days, when I have a lot of office time – if I’m teaching six classes on a day, the busiest you can be, I paradoxically have more energy, because of the stress and adrenaline, and I tend to feel awake after work. There’s no real logic to it. Anyway, hopefully as I adapt to the nine-to-five grind (for me, 8:20 to 4ish, with a 6am rise), I won’t get these symptoms. Anyway, we’ll see if I can sustain myself for ten weeks in Term 3, without having a meltdown at work or burning through my sick leave to take ‘mental health days’. Adios!

(Long read): Leaving the Australian Greens, and my political apostasy of the Left

From 2014 until 2016, I was a member of the Australian Greens. I campaigned for them, made phone calls for them, and gave them my money. I even had a Greens sticker on my car at one point. Until one day, when I suddenly ‘woke up’, got sick of it, resigned my membership, and cut ties with everyone and everything I knew in the party.

And here’s the story of how it all collapsed!

But first, a standard and boring legal disclaimer: I know my story is not the experience of all Greens members, but it’s merely my observations of my time spent there, in what I thought was that calming, feel-good bubble of progressivism. Like any organisation, some people are happy, and some are not. There are winners and losers. I simply decided to cut my losses and leave, and I am content with that decision.

My experience with the Greens began when I first joined them as a paid member in the aftermath of the federal election in 2013, which delivered Tony Abbott as PM. The fact that such an obviously bad conservative leader could so easily win a national election snapped something in me, and I decided that getting pissed off at the TV wasn’t enough. I needed to get ‘politically active’ and to actually get out there and change minds, to ensure such political disasters could be prevented into the future. While I later realised Abbott’s victory was probably a reaction to the unstable fiasco that was the Rudd-Gillard government, at the time, I was more repelled by the fact a grossly unpopular arch-conservative dud could seize office, and wreak his particular form of havoc. The Abbott years were indeed marked by their own kind of confusion and chaos, but that’s not the focus here – despite my conflicting views with him, I think Abbott-bashing has become rather passé, and excessively venomous. Many on the Left have seemed to forget he’s a human being with feelings, rather than a Nazi war-criminal.

Nonetheless, after Abbott took office, the Greens drew me in because I’ve always counted myself as somebody on the centre-left, through my support of public education, public healthcare, and my opposing of the privatisation of state services, policies which form the core of my political beliefs (though ironically and hypocritically, I have since worked as a teacher in a private school… life is complex and we have to take the opportunities that come to us). Nonetheless, in the simplest terms, I believed that strong public institutions, devoted to the cause of a general social welfare and the ‘greater good’, are the foundation of a just society. At the time, the Labor Party was (and still is) ridden with dirty factionalism, and I didn’t feel like stepping into that world. I thought the Greens were a clean and ethical slate, like a morally-pure NGO which always stands for the common utilitarian good, though I later realised, like the communitarian cults of the 1960s, appearances can be deceiving. I joined the party more for its social and ideological positions, rather than its explicit environmental credentials, though they were an appealing bonus. I did (and do) see the transition away from fossil fuels, by whatever means, as an important public priority in order to prepare for peak oil and to mitigate carbon emissions. How could I go wrong?

Overall, the party platform read like a recipe for a social utopia. Green politics is based on the ‘Four Pillars’ – grassroots democracy, social justice, non-violence, and ‘ecological wisdom’. Quasi-Buddhist in its outlook, it was a movement for alleviating the social ills of the world, aiming to heal it through a general ethic of peace and justice. However, as time went on, like a member of a 1960s cult, I began to have doubts. This wonderful vision of a social paradise began to form cracks, and over time, I wasn’t sure what I was supporting was reasonable, or even feasible. There was a lot of idealism, but things never seemed costed or tested in the real world. One of the areas they seemed to get it wrong was energy. As an admin on my local Greens branch’s Facebook page, I’d often repost infographics saying ‘Germany ran on renewable energy for an entire day!’ At the time, it didn’t occur to me to think about what powered Germany the other 364 days of the year (turns out, a lot of coal, after Merkel panicked and shut down the nuclear plants after the Fukushima crisis). I later realised I was basically posting misleading propaganda. They wanted to decarbonise Australia’s electricity grid (no small feat), but magically, they wanted to do it without any nuclear power – only pure wind and solar was good in their eyes. To this day, I am not confident that this is possible. A low-carbon economy is a desirable goal, but it would be achievable if only it were not stymied by an opposition to nuclear power, an important component in feeding Australia’s energy mix. Once I investigated nuclear through online research, I was shocked to find how much scaremongering there was about it, and that Australia has roughly a third of the world’s uranium, but we don’t use it, instead exporting it to other countries who do. It struck me as madness that nuclear would be off-the-table, when it has so much potential. When I saw the NSW Greens promise to close all coal-power stations within five years, my first reaction was ‘yeah, right’.

There were numerous other things too numerous to go into here, but overall, the platform was overwhelmingly self-destructive and inimical to economic development. They wanted to severely curtail the primary and secondary sectors of the economy, while generously expanding the welfare state – all without admitting that you cannot have one without the other. It was (and still is) a recipe for economic armageddon. Just today, I read that Adam Bandt wants to allow natural disaster victims to sue coal and gas corporations – a truly stupid idea, which reveals the irrationality of much contemporary climate change activism, and an ignorance of the the basic principles of science – correlation does not imply causation. In effect, all this points to a movement that has lost its mind, as extreme claims and opinions, coming from a small number of thinkers, without any questioning, opposition or dissent, becomes steadily normalised. Is the world actually doomed, or will we just adapt? When I look at Extinction Rebellion protests now, I shake my head. They are not reasonable movements – they are fanatics who are seeking meaning. Everything is spoken about in melodramatic doomsday terms, without any kind of calm and logical response on how to solve these complex issues.

Apart from the party platform and the deeply irresponsible views on economics and electricity (and other things that are too expansive to go into here), there were more prosaic matters that sucked my enthusiasm for the agenda. The party, over time, wanted more and more of my focus and energy, asking for more money, more time, more volunteer hours. I wouldn’t go so far to call it a cult – that might be stretching it – but it did have some cult-like tendencies. I think a more accurate term would be ‘missionary organisation’, a kind of movement which demanded the increasingly focussed devotion and stamina of its recruits towards political evangelism.

While at first I was quite happy to help out, staffing market stalls (where no one talked to us) and trying to cold-call constituents (who didn’t want to talk to us), over time, I found that I wasn’t actually ‘making my voice heard’ or ‘making a difference.’ These were things that the Greens website extolled as a privilege of party membership, but as is common in politics, you will inevitably end up doing drudge work, in the service of fulfilling someone else’s political ambitions. As a rank-and-file member, you have no real power. At first, political volunteering was exciting. I was fresh on the scene, ready to change minds, and change the world, riding on the bandwagon of something new and bold. But as the months passed, I began to question the value of what I was doing. I began to ask myself what the results of my actions were, and felt that answer looked something like ‘hardly anything at all’.

We were never going to win elections, at least not in outer-suburban Lower House seats, whether state or federal. The real prize were the Upper House Senate seats, where a Greens politician could be realistically elected, though this was more due to good preference deals than hard campaigning. What made matters even more questionable were the quality of some of the candidates. During the Victorian state election in 2014, the first election I ever worked on, our lead candidate for the state Upper House region was simply obnoxious, and seemed to have no idea how to appeal to mainstream suburban and country voters. Everything she posted on social media was about trees, and she acted foolishly in public – one die-hard fellow party member (a dyed-in-the-wool left-wing feminist) once even conceded to me, with a pained expression on her face, ‘she’s not very good’. Unsurprisingly, and to our private relief, she didn’t get elected. Still, it troubled me how someone so obnoxious and silly could be selected to represent an established and growing political party in Parliament. Evidently, there were flaws in the system, and it was frequently due to a collective sense of poor judgment, and bad ideas. Even worse, during the same 2014 election, our regional branch of the Greens hired a campaign organiser (which wasn’t necessary), while being severely short of money. I began to question the decision-making of the people at head-office, who seemed to be the same people who threw ridiculous amounts of money on certain vanity projects, like the Jason Ball campaign in the blue-ribbon seat of Higgins at the 2016 election, which didn’t pay off (they claimed he would win it from the Liberals – he didn’t). There was electoral blunder after electoral blunder, and they just kept screwing it up, without learning any lessons along the way.

I soon learned that ‘grassroots democracy’, while advertised as a party strength, was often applied unevenly, and could often turn out to be a liability. While members had a vote about which candidate to preselect for a seat, or to elect to a particular party office, I found that more often than not you only got one choice of candidate, thus making any ‘election’ redundant – an election in name only. I don’t know if it was by accident or design, but in many cases, I began to suspect the latter. During the transfer of federal leadership from Christine Milne to Richard Di Natale, the ABC perceptively picked up on this trend. I loved and was delighted by this article by Annabel Crabb, and I think her incisive description of the ‘smiles’ and ‘whiff of Moscow’ so accurately captures the grey-area machinations and sharp elbows that persist under the party’s clean and green surface. I myself found that if I questioned any aspect of policy or electoral strategy during my local branch meetings, any smiles and cordiality would quickly and unnervingly go away. However, I think towards the end of the article, Crabb hits too positive a note – it’s not necessarily about putting the party first, but about suppressing internal dissent. In the long-run, it festers and turns to poison, which is why two former Victorian Upper House members, Samantha Dunn (who I once met personally and think is wonderful) and Nina Springle, both resigned from the party after losing their seats after the 2018 state election, alleging a ‘toxic culture’. I fully agree with their grievances, which I believe are legitimate. Once the old guard walk away, you need to start asking hard questions. It’s Nuremberg time.

During my two years, I began to see that the party was populated by more than a few wingnuts, and also an increasing number of phony careerists, who were more interested in their own political careers than effecting authentic change. With this fact in mind, I began to see how ‘grassroots democracy’ could backfire, by allowing precisely the wrong people to rise very quickly in the party, and to get to the top without any real checks and balances. If you wanted, by getting involved in the right events and by showing up to higher-level meetings, you could begin to dictate policy, without being an expert in your field. This in turn led to specious and absurd claims about renewable energy that I discussed before, or a hijacking of the party to serve increasingly narrow identity-politics agendas, such as trans-activism, or the Palestine cause. In NSW, an internal group of ‘red’ Greens (associated with former senator Lee Rhiannon) led to internal self-destructive disruption and bitter factionalism, and veered the party away from its ability to appeal to the mainstream – Greens candidate Jim Casey, who wished to ‘abolish capitalism’, is a perfect case in point. People don’t necessarily vote Green because they want a Revolution – they want progressive and gradual reform.

At other times, the policies were often contradictory, misguided, or downright nonsensical. The party takes a firm anti-smoking stance, wanting to put severe restrictions on tobacco out of both a ‘harm-minimisation’ and generalised anti-corporate feeling, but at the same time, they wished to remove sniffer-dogs from music festivals. So, in one way, it’s unacceptable to smoke a pack of Marlboros, but at the same time, you would be free to overdose on whatever mystery pills you’ve popped, thus necessitating a mass-ambulance callout? I didn’t see any consistent logic there. Personally, I now take a libertarian stance – bring in pill-testing, and stop policing the festivals, but if people die, then that’s their responsibility. Make them pay privately for their ambulance transport and hospital treatment. This kind of government coddling and interference into people’s lives, through the guise of anti-smoking campaigns and ‘public health’, struck me as anti-progressive and anti-democratic – over time, I found myself, an avowed leftist, privately agreeing with the then libertarian NSW senator David Leyonhjelm about a number of key issues.

Over time, in addition to my ideological doubts, I began to tire of the banality of participating in branch meetings, and of dealing with the maddening internal bureaucracy that was ‘head office’. Towards the end, I volunteered as a branch secretary for 2-3 months, which was the final straw before I quit the party. When I started this role, I was e-mailed a manual on how to do my job. While looking for explicit instructions on what exactly the head-office wanted to see, and how to take effective notes during meetings, I was shocked at the vagueness and downright stupidity of what was said. ‘Note-taking is more art than science’ it told me, but it didn’t elaborate on specific examples of what a typical report might look like. As a result, I had no real idea how to do my job. Not that it mattered, anyway; I doubt anyone actually read most of what I e-mailed back in, though I did get told off once for doing my reports incorrectly (go figure… idiots). Additionally, when working on campaigns, I could barely get approval for key election materials I made – one incident resulted in me being bounced around different party honchos, and another resulted in me having a late-night email exchange with the Victorian Greens Greg Barber, which lasted until 1 o’clock in the morning, with him dragging me over the coals about the contents of a press release that I wanted to send to a local newspaper. It was all a bit ridiculous. Meanwhile, my former friend, a serial Greens candidate with connections to head office, was often able to get approval for things straight away. Something seemed uneven to me about the way things were run.

My time in the Greens also coincided with the end of a personal friendship – the former friend I just mentioned, who I helped get elected to local government, turned out he wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. I won’t give away too much information about him, but he was the convenor of my local branch. When I joined, we soon formed what I thought was a genuine friendship. I was happy to help him out with his political ambitions, but over time, I began to see that he was less interested in me as a person, and more interested in what kinds of labour I could do for his political ambitions. If we did have a coffee date, he seemed impatient and ready to leave, not wanting to have a friendly discussion – to top it all off, if I disagreed with him about some key issue, he’d get hostile. Needless to say, I began to feel embittered and used. I tried to persist with the friendship, but over time, I couldn’t deny my feelings. I was angry, so one day, after he didn’t show up to an event on time, I made a phone call, ending a relatively short but intense friendship. Sitting in my car after the phone call ended that day, I felt nothing but relief. Finally, it was over. No more demands, no more resentment, just me free to live life on my own terms. And it was the best feeling ever.

In retrospect, my disillusionment with the party was not due to one specific reason, but crept up on me over time, like an unhappy marriage. I had grown sick of volunteering and branch meetings, began to doubt party policies, got frustrated with what I saw as stupid decisions and strategic electoral blunders, and at the end of it, shedded a long and shitty friendship. Overall, I just got tired of devoting myself to a cause that didn’t pay off, and which had no fixed end-point in sight. I sometimes read about people who got involved with cults, and who later woke up and escaped, wondering how they got there in the first place. I see some of myself in these stories – at the time, I was energised and determined to change the world as an idealistic millennial, but I was also lonely and, perhaps unconsciously, looking for meaning. Looking back, this can be a dangerous mix, and lead to psychological blindness. I understand now how Communist revolutions end up in murder – at the time, I literally thought by eliminating conservatism, and following a green development agenda, the world would be reborn into a Rousseauist paradise. But how wrong I was. I’m glad I have always had a spirit of curiosity and scepticism within myself, and I have always valued free and independent thought, possibly as a result of my previous experience as a teenaged and closeted-gay Richard Dawkins-loving atheist, who had tremendous doubts while attending a fundamentalist Christian school.

The contradictions and nonsense I could see back then in conservative Christianity perhaps enabled me to have doubts about the gay-vegan-leftie-Greenie agenda I later espoused in my twenties, and to see the commonalities that it shared with fundamentalist religion. The woke identity politics and social-justice newspeak we see today are fundamentally articles of faith – climate change is a but one fanatical movement, while intersectional feminism and queer theory are merely the reinventions of exhausted social movements which have lost relevance in the face of important legislative victories. Before I left the Greens, I began to see an unhealthy shift – the party focus came to fall on ‘trendier’ social justice issues that interested inner-city progressives, like refugee rights or climate change, rather than realistic bread-and-butter issues which affect working people, like health-care, education, or taxes. Essentially, the widespread claim from dissident leftist voices about the split between bourgeois metropolitan liberals and blue-collar working-class families is correct, and the Greens are largely catering to the preoccupations of the former rather than the latter. Thus, they can never grow electorally beyond what has already been achieved.

Being a gay-vegan-Leftie-Greenie was an identity that seemed to suit myself, and I found that part of myself projected into Greens policy. There isn’t anything wrong with being alternative or a bit hippy, in fact I am the first to spruik the benefits of composting and home vegetable-gardening, but it can be taken too far. When that identity rules your life, it’s time to step back and take stock. If more people did this, perhaps the world would be a more sane and rational place. Looking back, I was under-confident, unsure, confused, young, ignorant, and realised I didn’t have all the answers to the world’s problems. Above all, I was actually severely depressed, and was in psychiatric treatment for years, trying to find some stability by trying different medications. Eventually I climbed out of it, and managed to finish a university degree, but looking back, I probably made some decisions that I wouldn’t make now. I was mentally and emotionally lost. Going to the Greens was perhaps one way of filling that void – it certainly helped me test my boundaries, and simply to get out of the house and talk to people, but eventually, it simply outgrew its usefulness. I don’t regret my time in the Greens – it actually helped me to discover who I really am, and what I actually believe. We often can only define ourselves in opposition to things – perhaps my time in the Greens, with all its weird and wacky people (and fake careerists) was a way of working things out and finding my way out of the jungle. Now, I feel comfortable with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, and that some things take more research, or that I simply ‘don’t know’.

As an example, I am ill-equipped to judge what the ill-effects of climate change will be, and I don’t know if anyone else knows exactly either – it’s all quite overwhelming. But one thing I do know is that Greta Thunberg doesn’t have all the answers – her screeching doesn’t give me a lot of confidence. I look around today at the wave of wokeness enveloping the English-speaking world, and I feel like a dark outsider who has a special knowledge that many in my generation, the Millennials, do not – how all of this woke far-left ideology is harmful, and is filled with poisonous manipulation and lies. They don’t seem to have been wisened by experience, and seem stuck in the ‘young leftist’ phase of development that I was in five years ago. Perhaps I evolved and moved on to become a bit more of a crank conservative earlier than most. I don’t actually consider myself conservative (tradition can be questioned), but I no longer consider myself a leftist either – I am no longer comfortable sharing a platform with people who think that the police should be abolished, that biological sex doesn’t exist, or that Israel should be obliterated off the map. These positions to me are odious and wrong, and are largely an inversion of conventional Western morality and common sense. Overall, I found that I have walked in one direction, while the broader Left has walked in another. And it’s okay to say goodbye when your stomach and your moral compass is telling you to. Nowadays, I am not yet fully formed in my opinions, but I know where I stand in my values. I am still on a journey to the truth.

I feel I am more pragmatic these days, and that life is simply more complex than it is presented to be by left-wing activists, who view culture-war victory as a kind of path to glory and nirvana. It isn’t, and it never will be – it will only result in bitterness and endless recriminations. Life is there to be enjoyed, and there needs to be a world beyond politics. Sexuality, humour, television dramas, food, drink, a nice garden – we should be allowed to savour the pleasures of life without the interruption of negative social agendas which poison everything. Even my Diggers Club magazine, which advertise beautiful bulbs and trees to me, as filled with doomsaying articles about climate change. The cultural landscape we are living through today is profoundly sad, and I believe the West may be in decline. All our great art is in the past, and the future doesn’t look too promising.

The 2022 Australian federal election has recently passed delivering Anthony Albanese. The Greens and ‘teal’ independents did extremely well, but I feel out of step with the current zeitgeist. I ended up voting for the Liberal Democrats in the Lower House and the Legalise Cannabis Party in the Senate, while sending my preferences to Labor. I think Labor holds the middle-ground nowadays, in between religious conservative wingnuts and big business cronies who want lower corporate taxes, and insufferable progressive activists who want to ruin everything, and who hypocritically occupy plush jobs in universities and NGOs, finger-wagging about the environment and racism, while ignoring their glaring class privilege. I don’t expect huge miracles from Anthony Albanese, but I’m positive about his government. We needed a change. The Liberals are too dark and shadowy, and had fallen into stagnancy, and the Greens are incompetent at governance. So in the end, it falls to Labor, despite its ideological ennui and lack of federal vision, to be a safe bet. Politically a bit homeless, a mixture of bland centre-left politics mixed with some kooky libertarianism has become the appealing balance I seek.

In the end, I decided to become a teacher. One of the messages I always try to get across to my students is always be sceptical. Too often nowadays, on the Left, and in some regions of the Right, there is so much certitude and rejection of alternative perspectives. ‘Libtard’ and ‘bootlicker’ fly out of mouths in equal measure. It’s easier to censure than to research, and analyse data and statistics. It’s heavy work, and very few people have the time. Constructive discussion and civility in comment threads is rare. Perhaps if people studied history and philosophy, and read more widely, things might improve. But overall, we live in a very stunted culture. As one of my favourite thinkers, the former Guardian journalist Melanie Phillips has stated, ‘the idea is now held to be sacred above all else’, with dire consequences. If we cannot ask questions, we cannot have proper answers. Which is why I hope, in the future, we will be able to see beyond simple paradigms of left-wing and right-wing, and be able to formulate intelligent policy positions and solutions which will effectively solve complex national and global issues. If I can finish on that note, then perhaps that’s something we can all agree on.

Weekly wrap – illness, insomnia, how ‘experienced’ teachers get lazy

I feel like writing with no particular aim in mind. I’ve had a four-day weekend, after using two days of sick leave for a stomach bug I picked up from school, probably from washing my coffee cup in the staff toilet. Two days of being in bed, zombie tired, feverish in the early hours of the morning. I got better Saturday morning, sleeping until 11am, and rebounding with manic energy. So manic, that I stayed up until 5am Sunday morning, listening to music and having the time of my life. I slept until 11am again, but woke up feeling inflamed and hungover. I fucked my sleeping pattern up again – I’ll probably get five hours tonight if I’m lucky, before I have a full-on day of teaching six classes tomorrow.

I’m sitting in bed now at 3:20pm, feeling tired, and knowing I have to finish my PowerPoint for tomorrow. In a fit of energy, I decided to change my lesson plan last night, because I hated the look of what the other history teacher is doing. Sorting through clues to reconstruct a historical event is lazy, annoying, and a waste of time – after teaching this subject for 2-3 years, I would expect a bit better, especially from someone who only teaches two days a week, and has a bit of time on her hands. So it’s up to me to jazz things up, yet again. I’m gonna get them to do research on a lynching in the US, and present to the class – much more meaningful. Same goes for the Year 7 Humanities PowerPoint I looked at – lazy bullshit slapped together, lifted haphazardly from the textbook, with no coherent historical background or narrative provided to the students. How the fuck can students analyse a piece of colonial Australian art, with no background or context provided? At least teach them something substantive first, like what a nation is, or how Australia became multicultural. But no, they just sit with flowery, content-free rubbish which wastes time. I have a relaxed approach, but at the same time, I take what I do seriously. I’m a teacher, and my job is to show them something worthwhile. Not just bullshit about how we are all equal and should love each other (yeah right, when under the surface, everyone elbows each other in the competition that we call life).

Overall though, my classes are pretty good – I haven’t been told to fuck off. Some kids do no work, despite the best efforts of myself and trusty classroom assistants. This one kid with Oppositional Defiant Disorder does absolutely nothing in my English class, and is rude and aggressive to me when I push him to do work. And yet, I have to fill out a ‘behaviour plan’ for him – like that will do something. I’m just gonna keep reporting back to leadership, and fail the little bastard. He complained in his interview with the student manager that he has trouble making friends and ‘forming relationships with others’ – how could that be!? The nasty little toad never opens up to anyone – he just stares at this stupid spinning wheel game on his computer and ignores everybody. If I close the laptop by force, he’ll flip his shit, so I avoid it – I’m actually a bit nervous about getting a thrown chair from him at some point, which will probably hit me or another student. Fucking loser – I’m stuck with him for another six months. Two weeks have already made me hate him, yet I have to smile and prompt him to do work. The system is broken – he doesn’t want or deserve an education. And he’s not the only one – there are others across the school who bring nothing to class, sit there, sleep, or disrupt. Most of my kids are nice though, it’s just the shit ones that take up energy and mental space.

Anyway, I’m descending into socially unsanctioned negativity again. I kind of hate the way society and educational leaders tell us to avoid negativity and criticism – sometimes you need to call a spade a spade. ‘All students can learn’ – yeah, learn to game the system, that is. And we have to put up with this shit. Anyway, hopefully I’ll wake up by 7pm or so and finish this Powerpoint for history tomorrow. I don’t mind lesson planning on weekends, especially when it becomes a form of one-upmanship and revenge against lazy colleagues. God, my intellectual narcissism is showing. But seriously, it’s a let-down how lazy some colleagues are with creating resources – perhaps they’re more adept and talking and making it up on the spot, unlike me. Teaching is a bit like improv, but like comedians, we still need to have prepared talking points. It just so happens their talking points happen to be mediocre. And they wonder why Australian education is going down the toilet, while the Indians and Chinese are kicking our asses in STEM. Unsurprisingly, most STEM teachers are my school are Indian or Chinese… goes to show their reverence and respect for hard learning. Anyway, time to stop blogging, and start doing these Powerpoint slides…

371 Questions tag

I feel like some light early-2010s style Internet fun – let’s do another questions tag. I’m taking it a bit more seriously than the last one I did a while back. Some of the questions repeat themselves or ask the same thing with different words, but I can’t be bothered editing the list and deleting them. Anyway, here we go!

  1. What is your full name? Nice try 🙂
  2. What does your name mean? Okay, for my first name, it means ‘one who descends’ in Hebrew, referring to the Jordan River.
  3. Are you named after anyone? Apparently my grandmother saw an Olympian called Jordan on TV, then suggested it to my parents, who liked the name.
  4. Does your name make any interesting anagrams? My full name does, but for privacy reasons I won’t share it.
  5. If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? I feel drawn to Irish first names – I like the name Murdoc for some reason, which means ‘protector of the sea’. Or maybe it’s because of Murdoc Niccals, the badass character in the band Gorillaz.
  6. Where are you from? Melbourne, Australia
  7. Where were you born? Melbourne, again
  8. Where did you grow up? MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
  9. Who did you look up to growing up? Strangely, I never had a role model as a child. I never felt I needed one, as I was always myself. I’m more inspired by ideas than people.
  10. What are your best characteristics? Deep, independent thinking, and being a nice person
  11. What are your favorite things about yourself? I’m nice, and I don’t want to bother or harm anyone
  12. Which of your parents are you closest to? Probably my mother, though I’m on good terms with my father, he’s more emotionally reserved
  13. Which of your parents are you more like? Funnily, I’d say my father. More cynical and negative – we both love to complain, and are suspicious of everything, though I’m a bit more open-minded than he is
  14. Are your grandparents still married? They were married for 65 years when my grandfather died of dementia back in December 2020. Very much an enduring, lifelong love-affair.
  15. What relative was important to you growing up & why? My Oma (grandma) – I am very close to her, and can talk to her about almost anything.
  16. What is one thing that you’ve never revealed to your parents? That I was deeply suicidal for many years – they didn’t know the full extent of my depression.
  17. What would your parents have named you if you were the opposite gender? I’m not sure, but my sister is called Sandra, and they also liked the name Saskia at the time.
  18. What do you call your grandparents? Opa and Oma for the Dutch ones, Grandma and Grandpa for the English ones
  19. What is your best physical feature? I don’t consider myself attractive, but I have a nice smile. Also fortunate to have a full head of hair.
  20. What is your biggest accomplishment? Probably becoming a teacher – an unthinkable thing for me when I was 18. I overcame a lot of personal challenges to get into the classroom (recovering from social anxiety).
  21. What is your biggest fear? Peer rejection, because of my past experiences of bullying. I find rejection really hurtful, though I’m slowly learning not to care. But still, I’m a sensitive soul, and I can’t seem to fully help it. I also have this bizarre fear of alien encounters and abduction.
  22. What is your biggest regret? Not being myself, and not believing in myself when I was younger.
  23. What is your eye color? Green
  24. What inspires you? People who get out there and accomplish something worthwhile.
  25. What is the most important thing in your life? Freedom
  26. What has required the most courage of you in your life so far? Moving to Korea and fending for myself
  27. Who is your favorite actor? I’d say Rik Mayall – he was hilarious
  28. Who is your favorite actress? I don’t necessarily have one, but I think Winona Ryder is pretty good
  29. Who is your favorite celebrity? Don’t really care for celebrities, can’t say I have a favourite – they’re all pretty vapid
  30. Who is your favorite musician? I’d say Björk – she has a unique artistic vision
  31. Who’s your favorite person in the world? Don’t really have one, maybe my mother. I have people that I’m close to, rather than a ‘favourite person’
  32. What is your favorite childhood memory? Running around my backyard with my siblings during dusk
  33. What is your favorite color? Burgundy
  34. What is your favorite cultural activity? Going to the Astor Theatre in Melbourne to see an old film
  35. What is your favorite drink? Cola-cola. I don’t drink much alcohol – but gin mixed with lemonade and apple juice is a fave
  36. What is your favorite fairytale? ‘The Thief of Always’ by Clive Barker, if it can be considered a fairytale
  37. What is your favorite food? Hot chips 🙂
  38. What is your favorite holiday destination? I’d say southern New South Wales – it’s got beautiful beaches, forests, farmland and mountains – I had a lovely trip there back in 2018
  39. What is your favorite ice-cream flavor? Vanilla
  40. What is your favorite music genre? Electronic
  41. What is your favorite physical activity? Walking
  42. What is your favorite quote? ‘Après moi, le déluge’ – ‘after me, the flood.’ I forget who said it, but it was a French courtesan who was asked about her extravagant spending, and responded with that quote. Meaning, live it up today, who cares about the consequences. I just think it’s funny
  43. What is your favorite snack? Probably fruit, like an apple. I like those Belvita breakfast biscuits as well – I always eat those for lunch at work
  44. What is your favorite song? This is a hard one – maybe ‘Children’ by Robert Miles, the first song I remember from my childhood, when I fell in love with electronic music. I also love ‘Superheroes’ by Esthero – that is my wake-up alarm, and it’s so peaceful hearing it at 6am in the morning.
  45. What is your favorite sport? Hiking, if it counts. I used to play AFL when I was younger, but since then I have no interest in team sports.
  46. What is your favorite time of the day? Early morning, before everyone else gets up
  47. What is your favorite type of clothing? I tend to wear dark colours – I like long-sleeved tops, as daggy as they look. My favourite piece of clothing is my burgundy long-sleeved top, which I have four pairs of
  48. What is your favorite way to pass time? Wasting time on the Internet
  49. What is the name of your favorite restaurant? Other than McDonald’s (lol), I’d say the Vegie Bar in Fitzroy in Melbourne
  50. What is your all-time favorite town or city? Why? Any of the mountain villages in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia, like Belgrave, Sassafras, Ferny Creek, Kallista, and Mount Dandenong. That’s where I dream of possibly living in a ferny rainforest wonderland one day.
  51. What is your favorite candle scent? Sea minerals
  52. What is your favorite social media channel? Twitter
  53. Where’s your favorite place to take an out-of-town guest? I’ve never done this really, but anywhere of local interest I guess
  54. What was your favorite subject in High School? Humanities (history and geography etc)
  55. What was your least favorite subject in High School? Sport
  56. What was your favorite TV show when you were a child? The Simpsons
  57. What do you love about your favorite TV Show? It’s zany, and it’s like a compendium of everything in modern life
  58. Are you scared of heights? Yes
  59. Are you high maintenance? No, I want to be left alone most of the time
  60. Are you more inclined to “build your own empire” or unleash the potential of others? Build my own empire – I’d rather work for myself and be fully independent
  61. Are you more likely to avoid conflict or engage it head-on? Avoid it – that’s the way I was raised. I tend to be a passive person, which isn’t good
  62. Are you a dog person or cat person? Cat person
  63. Are you a fan of any sports team? Don’t care for sports at all – it’s foreign to me
  64. Are you a good cook? I am – I make some nice dishes
  65. Are you an early adopter or late-adopter? Late-adopter – I was late with getting an iPhone, and with joining most social media.
  66. If you had more courage what would you do differently in your life now? Starting my own business and working for myself while studying at university, instead of unsuccessfully applying for retail jobs again and again. I was too scared to do it at the time, but now I realise I should have had the courage and just gone and created a house-cleaning business
  67. What is good about how you are living your life right now? I’m earning money and saving up to move out and have my own life and privacy
  68. If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be? My self-doubt and impostor syndrome
  69. Who has left the most impact on your life? My Oma (Dutch grandma) – she has influenced my worldview the most, on how to conduct yourself, and how to live life
  70. What aspect of your life needs tremendous improvement? My finances lol – I just want to save a bit more, but my taxes keep cutting into my payslips and it’s annoying
  71. What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in your life? Strange military aircraft flying in my local area
  72. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had? I liked my Year 11 English teacher, Lou – she was a lovely woman who always encouraged my writing and said I should pursue a career in it
  73. Who is the biggest pack rat you know? I don’t know what this means exactly – seems like American slang
  74. Who is the first person you call when something exciting happens? My Oma
  75. Who is the first person you call when something horrible happens? My Mum
  76. Who is the worst boss you’ve ever had? Two bosses at my previous workplace, a school in rural Victoria. Two truly awful people with personality disorders
  77. Can you close your eyes and raise your eyebrows? Yes
  78. Can you do a split? No
  79. Can you touch your nose with your tongue? Yes, because of a malformation in my nose tip
  80. Can you whistle? Yes
  81. Can you dance? Only when drunk
  82. Do you remember your dreams? Rarely
  83. Do you save old greeting cards and letters? Throw them away? I tend to save them
  84. Do you sing in the shower? No
  85. Do you sleep with the lights on or off? Off – I need complete darkness. As child though, I always had a night-light on and couldn’t sleep without it because I was afraid of the dark – but in my early teen years I switched to the darkness
  86. Do you spell the color as grey or gray? Grey
  87. Do you take any pills or medication daily? I do – St John’s Wort to stop depression, Esomeprazole to stop my GERD, and a cocktail of different vitamins
  88. Do you prefer kissing or cuddling? Kissing, but I’ve never actually done it with someone (really sad I know)
  89. Do you prefer that people shoot straight with you or temper their words? Why? I’d say shoot straight – despite getting hurt, I prefer to know the truth
  90. Do you prefer Titanic or The Notebook? Titanic – haven’t seen The Notebook
  91. Do you have a catchphrase? ‘Fuck this’ is my most frequent one
  92. Do you have a garden? Yes – I grow flowers and vegetables
  93. Do you have a hidden dream that you’ve never shared with anyone? To marry my crush, though it’s just a limerence fantasy
  94. Do you have a tattoo? No
  95. Do you have a whole lot of acquaintances or just a few very close friends? Why? Very few close friends – I prefer quality over quantity, and I find it hard to connect with most people
  96. Do you have any allergies? Yes – seafood intolerance
  97. Do you have any birthmarks? If so, where? No
  98. Do you have pets? Yes, our family has two pugs, a cat, two goldfish, and five chickens
  99. Do you hold any convictions that you would be willing to die for? Can’t say I do – maybe defending my country’s freedom
  100. Do you carry a donor card? Yes, I’m an organ donor
  101. Do you have a best friend, if so, then who? My irl best friend is called Jonathan. I met him at university
  102. Do you believe ignorance is bliss? Why or why not? It can be, if you don’t know about world disasters, then I guess it doesn’t affect you. You can’t be concerned about everything. I prefer to know about things personally though
  103. Do you believe in love at first sight? Yes, it has happened to me. Whether the relationship would work out in the long run is a different question
  104. Who performs the most random acts of kindness out of everyone you know? Oma
  105. Who sent the last text message you received? My employer lol
  106. Who was the last person you ate dinner with? My family
  107. Who was your first Boyfriend/Girlfriend? I’ve never had a serious relationship, but I had a ‘girlfriend’ called Tameka back in Year 7. It was like a child’s thing. Then I realised I was gay during that time lol
  108. Who was your first Celebrity crush? I can’t say I’ve had one
  109. Who was your first friend in college? Jonathan
  110. Who would you tell first if you found a dead body in your garden? My parents
  111. What is your idea of special time together? Just enjoying one another’s company, wherever that is
  112. What is your most embarrassing moment? Forgetting to bring a spare change of pants on Grade 5 school camp during canoeing, so I had to cover up with a towel. Luckily no one cared or made fun of me
  113. What is your most used swear word? Fuck and its derivatives
  114. What is your star sign? Cancer
  115. What is something that amazes you? The sheer magnitude of the universe, and the number and distance of all the galaxies, which have an infinite amount of stars and planets. I can’t comprehend how big it is
  116. What is an ideal first date for you? Go for a walk somewhere together
  117. What is at the top of your bucket list? Move into my own house
  118. What is something you look for in a partner? Intelligence
  119. What is the name of your first pet? Itchy, my first cat
  120. What scares you about aging? Looking really horrible
  121. How difficult is it for you to be honest, even when your words may be hurtful or unpopular? I’m a people-pleaser, so I find it hard to say what I’m really thinking – I find criticism hard to deal with, even if the other person is wrong
  122. How difficult is it for you to forgive someone who refuses to apologize? Very hard – I tend not to forgive, I just cut them off and say farewell
  123. How far away from your birthplace do you live now? About 40 minutes away
  124. How has your birth order/characteristics of siblings affected you? I’m the middle child – you tend to get overlooked
  125. How many Boyfriends/Girlfriends have you had? No one serious – I’m a relationship virgin. The ‘girlfriend’ I had in Year 7 doesn’t count
  126. How many countries have you been to? About 7 or so
  127. How many oceans have you swum in? A few, haven’t counted
  128. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? About 8
  129. How many relationships have you been in? Zero
  130. How many rings before you answer the phone? I always let it go to voicemail if it’s a number I don’t know
  131. How many tattoos do you have? Zero
  132. How old do you think you’ll be when you get married? 35 (I’m 28 now)
  133. How old were you when you found out that Santa wasn’t real? 7 or 8 I think
  134. How old were you when you learned how to ride a bike? About 6 or 7
  135. Which store would you choose to max out your credit card? TKMaxx
  136. Would you ever consider living abroad? Been there, done that
  137. How many days could you last in solitary confinement? Not sure, I’d actally like to try it to find out
  138. Have you forgiven yourself for past personal failures? Why or why not? Yes – I had mental problems which screwed up my life, and caused breakdowns and failures, but I have moved on and forgiven myself, because I was struggling with something I didn’t understand and only learned to manage and overcome over the years
  139. Have you ever suffered a fracture? No
  140. Have you ever dated two people at a time? Dating one person would be enough
  141. Have you ever been in a beauty pageant? LOL nope
  142. Have you ever ridden on a motorbike? Tried to, but was afraid of crashing
  143. Have you ever taken self-defense lessons? No, but I’d like to
  144. Have you ever visited a country outside your continent? Yes – I’ve been to Asia
  145. Have you ever won a trophy or an award? What was it for? Awards for story-writing in school
  146. Have you read any of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games or Twilight series? Which one is your favorite? None of these
  147. At what age did you go on your first date? I’ve never dated
  148. After a breakup, would you rather be alone or be surrounded by friends? Alone
  149. What female celebrity do you wish was your sister? Probably Sarah Kendall, a hilarious Aussie comedian
  150. What flavor of tea do you enjoy? Berry tea
  151. What is a strange occurrence you’ve experienced but have never (or rarely) shared with anyone? Hearing voices screaming in my head when I woke up one night – apparently it was Exploding Head Syndrome
  152. What is one thing you’d rather pay someone to do than do yourself? Why? Building work – I can’t do anything hands-on to save my life
  153. What is the first amusement park you’ve been to? Gumbuya Park
  154. What is the last compliment you got? That I was good at classroom management as a teacher – I was shocked
  155. What is the most boring movie you’ve watched? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – it looked cool, and had stunning cinematography, but I spent an hour waiting for the movie to get somewhere and have a point before giving up, because it was so awful – just two guys on drugs being paranoid, not interesting at all. Craig Bierko was cute though
  156. What is the scariest movie you’ve watched? Paranormal Activity
  157. What is the worst grade you got on a test? 15/40 for Year 11 Maths Methods – I was so disappointed
  158. What is your reaction towards people who are outspoken about their beliefs? What conditions cause you to dislike or, conversely, enjoy talking with them? I think agreeing to disagree is important. I can’t stand people who always feel the need to be right, who can’t tolerate disagreement, and who get offended when you say the ‘wrong’ thing (I currently work with someone like this)
  159. What is the farthest-away place you’ve been? South Korea
  160. What is under your bed? Secret things
  161. What is on the walls of the room you are in? My degrees, some art
  162. What is one guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up? Smoking
  163. What is something about yourself that you hope will change, but probably never will? My laziness
  164. Where do you buy your jeans? Anywhere really – Ziggy Denim is my favourite brand
  165. Where were you on Valentine’s Day? At work or home I think – it’s obviously not something I celebrate
  166. Where would you want to retire to? Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, Australia
  167. What is something you are gifted at? Writing, though I feel I still have a long way to go with it
  168. What is something you wish you were gifted at doing? Art
  169. What is the best compliment you have ever received? Not sure – maybe that I am generous to my friends
  170. What is the first movie you remember seeing? The old Willy Wonka
  171. What is the first thing you do when you get home? Change clothes
  172. What is the furthest you’ve ever been from home? South Korea
  173. What is the one item you can’t leave home without? Phone
  174. What do you like about your home? The surrounding gardens and nature
  175. What do you love about living in your neighborhood? The quiet and the sense of space
  176. If you could change something about your home, without worry about expense or mess, what would you do? Make a separate annexe for myself, complete with kitchen and bathroom
  177. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Night owl
  178. What time do you usually get up in the morning? It varies – 6am on workdays, usually 9 or 10am on off days. In some cases, I’ve fallen into an an extreme night owl pattern – 5am until 1 or 2pm, which was horrible
  179. What time is your usual bed time? During work-week, 10 or 11pm, but during holiday periods, much later – about 12-3am
  180. What is the first thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning? Turn off my alarm
  181. What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? I hate my life
  182. What is the first app you check when you wake up in the morning? Weather app, sometimes Twitter
  183. Do you usually remember your dreams in the morning? No
  184. What is the first time you were allowed to put on make-up? Not relevant
  185. What is the first book you remember reading? Spot
  186. What kind of books do you like to read? Creative nonfiction is my favourite genre
  187. What is the last book you read? Serotonin by Michel Houellebecq
  188. What book are you reading at the moment? See above
  189. What are books on your shelf that are begging to be read? The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels – I don’t believe in it, but I want to understand it
  190. What book do you remember as being important to you? My favourite novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  191. What is the last film you saw? Mulholland Drive (loved it)
  192. What is the last movie that you saw at the cinema? Full Metal Jacket
  193. What is the last thing you downloaded onto your computer? A PDF for work
  194. What is the last thing you watched on TV? The news
  195. What is the strangest thing you believed as a child? I always wondered if objects could come to life when we weren’t looking like Toy Story
  196. What is the thing you change the TV channel with? A remote control
  197. What kind of car do you drive? Mazda 3
  198. What language, besides your native language, would you like to be fluent in? French
  199. What male celebrity do you wish was your brother? Hmmmm… weird question to ask a gay man
  200. What medical conditions do you have? I had depression and anxiety, now I have GERD which sucks
  201. What piece of technology can you not live without? The Internet
  202. What position do you sleep in? My side
  203. What religion will you raise your children to practice? Free-thinking
  204. What was the best news you ever received? That I landed my job in Korea
  205. What was the first concert you ever attended? Sinéad O’Connor – back in 2015-6 at Hamer Hall in Melbourne – I was a late-bloomer with going to gigs
  206. What was the first tattoo you got? No ink for me – I’ve never seen anything that i want a picture of on myself, though I like nature-based designs
  207. What was the last thing you bought? Groceries
  208. What was the most recent compliment you’ve received and savored? When a classroom assistant told me I was good at classroom management and discipline – I couldn’t believe it
  209. What was the name of your first pet? Itchy the cat
  210. What was your first cooking experience? Probably making pasta
  211. What was your first ever cell phone? Nokia brick phone
  212. What word do you use to address a group of people? Guys? Folks? Or any other word? Guys
  213. What would you name your daughter if you had one? Rhiannon
  214. What would you name your son if you had one? Leon
  215. What is your strongest sense? If you had to give up one of your senses, which would it be? I’d probably give up smell
  216. What do you dislike about living in your neighborhood? The dust that blows up from the gravel road in summer
  217. What drains your energy? Having to mind a classroom for six hours a day
  218. What is the best part of your job? Nice conversations with friendly students, early finishes – I can leave when the bell goes at 2:50, and have time in the evening to run errands, attend appointments or just go home and chill, though I’m often still bloody tired
  219. What are some of the different jobs that you have had in your life? Retail worker, call-centre operator, ESL teacher, classroom teacher, other temp jobs
  220. Do you love your job? Mostly I do – my school is pretty good and well-run with not too many problems
  221. What is the hardest part of your job? General stress and tiredness – doing it day in day out really wears me out after 3-4 days, I’m totally exhausted at the end of the week
  222. What was your first job? Retail assistant at Harris Scarfe
  223. If you could have any job, what would you want to do/be? Probably a writer and academic
  224. If you had time to do volunteer work, what would you do? Deliver anti-poverty measures and initiatives – like providing clean water to villages in Africa
  225. What takes the biggest chunk of your paycheck? Fuckin’ taxes man! Other than that, food
  226. Are you satisfied with how you spend your money? What would you change? I’m a pretty good saver, but recently it’s been hard with major expenses (wisdom tooth removal), and a financial decision which turned out to be unwise in the short term (putting most of my savings into superannuation to save for a house deposit, now I can’t touch it)
  227. How do you replenish your energy? Resting and solitude
  228. What about religion has changed for you as you’ve aged? I’m an atheist, and I’ve never really embraced any creed or organised religion. It’s all a human construction to me. However, I do derive a sense of awe and spirituality from nature and the universe – pantheism makes some sense to me
  229. What artistic endeavors have you tried & decided you were bad at? Drawing and painting – I would need to do a course in them
  230. What current world events are really troubling to you? General political and economic destabilisation – the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just one part of that, albeit a major one. I worry about the potential for a major global economic crisis which would wipe out my savings, or World War III and mass destruction. Sadly the postwar political and economic stability of the Western world, where we could look to a stable and certain future, is now scarily eroding week by week. Societal strife and collapse or invasion by an enemy seems like more of a possibility, especially for those in Europe. The rise of militant Islam and Islamic terror is a danger to the whole world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike – it has receded somewhat, but could return with the rise of Iran, and new and unforeseen militant networks. I think climate change is overestimated – it will just be a problem we have to adapt to. I don’t believe there is a ‘climate crisis’ – it annoys me how the media imputes recent fires, floods and droughts to climate change (correlation doesn’t imply causation, remember?). The fact that the Arabian Peninsula, a boiling desert wasteland, can support millions of people proves all climate alarmism wrong (not that I’d want to live there). Nature is cataclysmic from time to time, and natural disasters are a part of existence on planet Earth. The Earth is littered with deserts. Nature isn’t always benevolent, yet people don’t seem to understand this.
  231. What dreams have you given up on as unrealistic? I’ve never had unrealistic dreams – I just want a small house and garden, and a humble career as a classroom teacher. I am beginning to wonder if I’ll ever find love and get married though.
  232. What has been the hardest thing for you to face or learn? That I am responsible for my own life and own happiness
  233. What is hard about being a parent? I’m not a parent, but I would assume the stress of screaming and nasty kids
  234. What is hard about not being a parent? Feeling that you’re not contributing to the next generation – you wonder what could have been. I don’t want to be a father though
  235. What is one of the worse things that could happen to you? Being incapacitated, and having to rely on others for the rest of my life. Like going blind or being paralysed
  236. What is something that scares you that you would never ever try? Bungee jumping – I couldn’t make myself do it
  237. What is something you’ve never done that you’d like to try? Windsurfing – looks cool
  238. What is the most difficult thing you’ve done for love? Stew in my own thoughts for ten years, and not tell my crush I loved him
  239. What is the pettiest thing you’ve done to prove a point? Don’t know
  240. What app do you use most? Twitter
  241. How often do you skip breakfast? No
  242. Did your mother go to college? No
  243. Describe yourself in a single sentence? Nice, but strange and different.
  244. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, rate your fashion sense? 5
  245. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, rate your driving skills? 8
  246. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, rate your cooking skills? I’d say 8
  247. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest and 1 being the lowest, how good a kisser are you? Never been kissed :/
  248. One thing you know now that you wish you had known as a kid? Savour your childhood while you can
  249. When making an entrance into a party, do you make your presence known? Do you slip in and look for someone you know? Do you sneak in quietly and find a safe spot to roost? I sit to the side and be quiet – being the centre of attention is hell for me
  250. Which animals scare you most? Why? In Australia, the reptiles – we have these large lizards called goannas which are terrifying
  251. What are some of your bad habits? Being grumpy and reactive at home, but that comes from my living environment
  252. What are the top three qualities that draw you to someone new? Friendliness, intelligence, quietness
  253. What color is your bedroom carpet? Dark grey
  254. What did you do for your last birthday? I think we went for a meal
  255. What did you dress up as on Halloween when you were eight? I never celebrated Halloween – I’m Australian and it’s an American custom, though in recent years it’s been imported here
  256. What did you want to be when you grew up? The first thing was doctor, then I sort of didn’t know. Later on in high school, I decided I liked teaching because I love learning and knowledge
  257. What do you call carbonated drink called? Soft drink
  258. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining? A sunshower
  259. What do you consider unforgivable? Sadism and cruelty towards others, whether humans or animals. Killing animals for food is acceptable to me though.
  260. What do you do for a living? Teacher
  261. Is there any item you collect? Sometimes feathers and rocks
  262. Are you a hoarder? Yes – I find it difficult to throw things away
  263. Do you know how to pump your own gas? Yes, who doesn’t?
  264. Do you love dancing? I can’t dance at all, unless I’m drunk
  265. Do you really know all the words to your national anthem? No
  266. What is the longest period you’ve spent in a hospital? 2-3 days
  267. Most ridiculous thing you’ve had to visit the hospital for? Thought I was having a heart attack/angina when it turned out to be severe heartburn. Still, it felt legit and scary
  268. What is something most people don’t know about you? I usually don’t tell them I’m gay. Not ashamed of it, I just prefer other people don’t know, because they pigeonhole you and use your sexuality to define you from that moment on
  269. To what extent do you trust people? Not much at all – I don’t trust strangers, aI tend to be quite paranoid in general
  270. What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep? Toss and Turn? Try to get up and do something productive? Usually toss and turn, and sort of just resign myself to half-sleep
  271. What do you do most when you are bored? I never feel bored, there’s always something to do
  272. What do you find yourself always procrastinating? I procrastinate on boring university assignments and courses
  273. What do you think about more than anything else? Politics and the state of the world
  274. What do you think about the most? See above
  275. Is your father bald? He is slowly balding – he still has a good head of hair for his age
  276. What makes you proud of your father? He supported us all as the main breadwinner by working so hard
  277. What makes you proud of your mother? She loved and nurtured us
  278. What makes you sad about your Dad’s life & unmet dreams? The fact that his health is declining, and he can’t fully enjoy his retirement with my mother
  279. What makes you sad about your Mother’s life & unmet dreams? That her husband will predecease her, and she’ll end up alone
  280. What makes you wince about how you are like your Father? That we both have a tendency to be lazy and not proactive in seeking opportunities and putting ourselves out there, due to genetic social anxiety issues
  281. What makes you wince about how you are like your Mother? Being bad at maths
  282. How are you different from your Dad? I am more open-minded and interested in different ways of living and thinking
  283. How are you different from your Mother? I like to read and educate myself, she likes to do hands-on things and is not academic
  284. How are you glad that you are like your Dad? I am cautious and suspicious of schemes and bullshit
  285. How are you glad that you are like your Mother? I am nice and believe in doing good where possible and for people/organisations who deserve it
  286. What messages or myths about sex did you believe growing up? None really – I was just taught about reproduction when I was 10 or so and that was it
  287. When did you immediately click with someone you just met? Why? What was the long-term result? Yes – we became friends
  288. Are you close to anyone now that you initially disliked? No
  289. What non-profit do you believe in supporting? Anti-poverty charities like The Life You Can Save or Effective Altruism. I think eliminating abject poverty should be the first global political and moral priority, even over climate change action
  290. What piece of art did you see that you’ve never forgotten? A wooden carving on Etsy – I’m still waiting for it to arrive from the US
  291. What pipe dreams do you have that you wish could come true? That I’d be reunited with my crush, and we’d fall in love and get married
  292. How does music matter to you? I love music – it shows me different worlds
  293. What type of music you dislike most? Rap and hip hop
  294. If you had 1 year left to live, what would you do for you? Take a final holiday, otherwise just live as I am
  295. If you had a day left to live and you could spend it with anyone you choose, who would it be? My immediate family, otherwise my future husband
  296. If you inherited $100,000 right now, how would you spend it? I’d use it for a house deposit
  297.  If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy? Property
  298. If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do? Eliminate global poverty
  299. If you could eat lunch with one famous person, who would it be? Camille Paglia
  300. If you could give your younger self any advice what would it be? Work on yourself, and do what you can
  301. If you could go anywhere in the world on vacation where would you go? Iceland
  302. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live? Dandenong Ranges, outside of Melbourne
  303. If you could meet any one person (from history or currently alive), who would it be? Camille Paglia – love her academic work and opinions
  304. If you could restore one broken relationship, which would it be? None
  305. If you don’t have any, have you ever thought of getting one? I don’t know what this is referring to
  306. If you had A Big Win in the Lottery, how long would you wait to tell people? A few months
  307. If you have a nickname, what is it? I was called ‘Mojo’ in primary school by everybody, even teachers – not sure why
  308. If you could choose only one, would you rather go to Paris or London? Paris
  309. If you could live forever, would you rather stay one age forever or get older? Stay one age forever
  310. If you could pick one, would you rather have infinite money or unending love? Infinite money
  311. If you could save just one, would you rather save Humanity or the Earth? Not sure – probably humanity. Not sure you can have humanity without the Earth – humanity needs the Earth, and the Earth without humanity would still have problems
  312. When did you suffer your first heartbreak? Over the past ten years I’ve experienced a sense of unrequited love, as I didn’t have the guts to ask my crush out
  313. When was the first time you were on a plane? On a family holiday to Queensland back in 1997
  314. When was the last time you cried? Can’t remember
  315. When was the last time you got in a fist fight? Primary school, but it was more play-fighting. It wasn’t a proper fight, but I ended up getting punched in the nose
  316. When was the last time you pushed yourself to your physical limits? When I walked to the top of Mt Kosciuszko back in 2019 – 20km of walking, my feet were killing me
  317. How often do you doodle? What do your doodles look like? I haven’t doodled since high-school – but they were usually faces or little characters
  318. Is anyone in your family in the army? No
  319. Do you see the glass as half empty or half full? I’m a half-empty kind of guy
  320. Which came first the chicken or the egg? Not sure – I suppose the chicken had to evolve first to produce the egg? I can’t really visualise how how that happened – all lifeforms pretty much evolved from lower lifeforms as I understand it. I just googled, apparently the egg came first according to science
  321. Pick one, a comedy movie or a horror movie? Comedy movie
  322. Pick one, cats or dogs? Cats
  323. Pick one, chatting or phone call? Chatting
  324. Pick one, cheat or be cheated on? Cheated on
  325. Pick one, chicken or beef? Beef
  326. Pick one, Coke or Pepsi? Coke
  327. Pick one, exceptional strength or intelligence? Intelligence
  328. Pick one, forgiveness or vengeance? Vengeance
  329. Pick one, free health care or free education? Free health care
  330. Pick one, Halloween or Valentine’s Day? Halloween
  331. Pick one, IOS or Android? iOS
  332. Pick one, kill or be killed? Kill
  333. Pick one, meat or fish? Meat
  334. Pick one, monopoly or chess? Monopoly, I don’t know how to play chess
  335. Pick one, Nike or Adidas? Nike
  336. Pick one, Pepsi or Coca-Cola? Coca-cola
  337. Pick one, stripes or Polka dot? Stripes for me, but polka dots look good on women
  338. Pick one, summer or winter? I hate both, but I’d pick summer
  339. Pick one, texting or phone calls? Texting
  340. Pick one, vanilla or chocolate? Chocolate, though I like vanilla ice cream a little more right now
  341. Would you rather go bungee jumping or skydiving? Skydiving
  342. Would you rather always be overdressed or always be underdressed? Overdressed
  343. Would you rather be a genius or be wealthy? Be wealthy
  344. Would you rather be a hammer or a nail? Nail – you get to hide away
  345. Would you rather be a lonely genius or an idiot with a lot of friends? Lonely genius (I like to think this is me now but it isn’t)
  346. Would you rather be able to play 10 different instruments beautifully or speak 10 different languages fluently? 10 different languages
  347. Would you rather deal with a crying baby or a saucy and spoilt child? Spoilt child – you can punish them
  348. Would you rather do cardio or lift weights? Cardio
  349. Would you rather drink a carbonated drink or fruit juice? Carbonated drink
  350. Would you rather forget to pack clean underwear when traveling or forget to pack your footwear? Forget my footwear
  351. Would you rather have 1 million dollars right now or one penny doubling every day for thirty days? 1 million dollars
  352. Would you rather have 1,000,000 in your bank account or an IQ of 145+? 1,000,000 in my bank account – you don’t have to be a genius to know how to spend it wisely. Genius doesn’t always equate to economic success either
  353. Would you rather have 6 sons or 6 daughters? Not sure, without sounding like a pedo, I’d say six sons. Daughters are often bitchy to one another
  354. Would you rather have a 99% chance to win $100,000 or a 50-50 chance at $10 million? $100,000 – 50/50 is too risky
  355. Would you rather have a big stomach or fat cheeks? I already have fat cheeks
  356. Would you rather have a friend who’s very blunt with their words or a friend who tells a lot of white lies? Blunt friend
  357. Would you rather have a live-in massage therapist or a live-in chef? Massage therapist – I can cook for myself
  358. Would you rather have a roommate that eats a lot or one that sleeps a lot? Sleeps a lot
  359. Would you rather have an American accent or a British accent? British accent
  360. Would you rather have annoying neighbors or neighbors who you always seem to annoy? Annoying neighbours – I like to be the one in the right
  361. Would you rather have the ugliest house in a beautiful neighborhood or the most beautiful house in an ugly neighborhood? Ugliest house in a beautiful neighbourhood
  362. Would you rather have to change your clothes five times a day or wear the same outfit five times in a row? Same outfit five times in a row
  363. Would you rather live in a five bedroom apartment all alone or live in a one bedroom apartment with five kids? DUH… five bedroom apartment all alone
  364. Would you rather live in a place where it’s always raining or a place where the sun never goes down? Sun never goes down
  365. Would you rather live in a rural area or the suburbs? Rural area
  366. Would you rather live in an apartment or house? House
  367. Would you rather live in ancient Greece or ancient Rome? Ancient Rome, just not as a slave
  368. Would you rather not be able to go out in the daytime or not be able to go out in the night time? Night-time
  369. Would you rather talk in your sleep or fart in your sleep? Talk in my sleep
  370. Would you rather walk funny or talk funny? Talk funny
  371. Would you rather your parents were able to read your thoughts or your crush was able to read your thoughts? My crush – maybe he’d realise we are similar and how deeply I am in love with him (does this make me look delusional?)

Family enmeshment

Over the past while, most days have been fine. I get up, linger in bed for five minutes, shower and eat breakfast, before groggily driving to work. I work at a high school as a relief teacher from around 8:20-2:50, then go home again, eat dinner, sit on the computer for a bit, before I’m in bed by 11pm. Rinse and repeat, five days a week. It’s tiring, but in a strange way, it’s an escape. I don’t feel angry or resentful when I’m in this routine, as I’m away from my family for most of the day. My energy and thoughts are directed to something stressful and important – my job. Thankfully, at night when I’m tired, they know not to bother me – I have a very low tolerance for bullshit by then, and thankfully, they can seem to sense that.

On the other hand, let’s say I have a day off, like today. I have a sore-ish throat, and a headache, so I call in sick to work. I do a COVID rapid test – negative, which is good, but I still feel I’m going to get really sick. Since I now have the time, I do some chores at home, washing the pots and pans in the sink, emptying the dishwasher, feeding the cat, before eating a late breakfast. Then I wait until my mother gets up, which is usually around 8am. I greet her, but before long, I get questions. Why are you home? Oh, you’re sick? How are you feeling? I explain I’m not feeling well, so I didn’t go in. Despite her acceptance, I feel I have to explain myself. I also feel like this line of questioning seems like judgment; like I’m lazy and looking for an excuse.

Soon, I leave the house, to run errands, some of which I’ve been meaning to get around to for quite a while. Before I leave, I feel tense, because I don’t want to tell her where I’m going. I’m hoping I can avoid her as I leave the house and go to my car. She gets out of the toilet just as I reach the back door. I just say I’m ‘going to the shops’. ‘Okay, see you love!’ she says. An innocent interaction, but inside, I feel annoyed that once again, I have to explain. I drive thirty minutes away to the nearest hospital to run a medical errand (an expedition I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and which I don’t want my parents to know about, as it’s private), then go for an extended drive through the Baw Baw Ranges, a set of lush and low mountains east of Melbourne, to clear my head (the scenery was stunning).

I drive back down towards the area where I live, go to Aldi and Woolworths (I wasn’t exactly lying about ‘going to the shops’, it was just one aspect of my expedition), then I return home by 1pm. But I feel angry when I get home – the traffic was annoying, and I just want space to cool off. I unload my groceries in the kitchen, and begin putting them away. My Dad is out of bed and in his chair on his iPad, talking shit about the news. I storm off to my room, not wanting to hear it. Before long, I get back to the kitchen. My mother comes up behind me – ‘you know, how we were talking about the flu vaccine before, I think you should get it, because you’re standing at the front of a classroom all the time.’ I feel white-hot anger throughout my body now. I told her during conversation this morning how I didn’t want to get it, because I always get sick anyway, and how I was tired of my Dad bringing it up all the time, nagging and bullying others into getting it, because he thought it was God’s gift to humanity and that we’d all die without it. I don’t mind him getting it, I have nothing against vaccines, but I don’t like it when he tries to coerce me into getting it, mostly through intermittent nagging. It just becomes a power-game – do this, get this all because I want you to, and I think it’s best. My mother agreed with me that my father was over the top about the flu jab, but now, brainless woman that she is, she’s done one of her pirouettes, and latched onto his agenda. I turned around and cut her right off. ‘Right, don’t bring it up with me again,’ I said. ‘It’s my decision, and I’ll get it if I want to.’ I was sealing a firm boundary.

‘Can I just say one more thing?’ she said, realising I wasn’t having any of it. ‘Sure,’ I said. She went on to try and sell it to me, while I just went uh-huh. Then she finally let it go. I always feel as if I have to get swiftly angry in order to make her back off – it’s a tactic which has developed over the years. She still doesn’t understand why I react like this, or that there is a concept of ‘space’. The fact that sometimes, based on someone’s reactions and body language, it’s better to leave someone alone, then bring it up later. But no, she doesn’t see or understand this – she’s a stupid woman. So I resort to quick anger – back the fuck off, leave me alone, which only makes her cast me as the ‘grumpy’ villain. She’s never stopped to think that my grumpiness is triggered by something. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mother, but she makes me want to smash my head on bricks sometimes.

The fact is, this is all petty bullshit. But when you live in an enmeshed family, little things become big things. Signals and innocent questions become forms of control. There is a pervading sense of no boundaries or space – everyone is under a kind of surveillance, and it all feels suffocating. When certain family members are retired or semi-retired, this takes on toxic proportions – there is no reprieve, no time away from each other. Waves of anger come over me and suffuse my body – just ‘fuck off!’, I think. I feel a cauldron of rage and resentment boil within me, but have nowhere to direct it. None of my family says anything specifically abusive or bad to me, but I’m absolutely through with them. I can’t stand being here. ‘You fucking loser, stop whinging, and get out there and live on your own!’ you inevitably think. I think this to myself on a regular basis. I know I have a roof over my head, I know I live rent-free, I know technically my parents owe me nothing and I should be grateful. But all I feel is deep anger and resentment. Years of mental illness and poor finances have held me back – I’m certainly not here by choice (right now I can hear my father bellowing in the next room through my headphones – it’s pissing me off as I write).

I’m not proud to be a 28, soon-to-be 29 year old man stuck at home. It is ultimately my responsibility, though I wasn’t able to obtain full-time work until two years ago. Obviously, what’s blocking me from leaving is mostly financial, but in the past, some of it is also psychological. I know I sound like I’m trying to find ways to blame my family, but there are mindsets and dynamics which have prolonged my stay. In a subtle but consistent way, I was always discouraged from taking risks and having a life outside the home – when I moved to Korea, my father was hesitant and tried to swing me off it. I went anyway, and had the time of my life. Whenever I apply for new jobs, like my current employer, they warn me it might be bad rather than good. I applied to my current employer anyway, and it’s been great. It seems like they want me to be weak, and stay close to the fold. Stay home here, it’s safe, the signal seems to be. Don’t branch out, don’t stand on your own two feet or dare to be independent – the world is dangerous. Whenever I wanted to go out into the world and make it on my own, I faced resistance and scepticism rather than encouragement. I always had to fight and negotiate, when I felt I shouldn’t have to. Looking at it one way, it’s parental concern, but in another way, it’s overreach and cotton-wool parenting. From my teens and into my twenties, I went through the world literally living in fear. The world was out to get me, rather than a place of opportunity, a mentality reinforced by the general opinions expressed by the closed bubble of my parents and grandparents. In one sense, being at home and protected by the familial cocoon felt comforting, but I also felt a deep longing to break away, have adventures, find freedom, and settle down on my own. It took years of treatment and medication to overcome my severe AvPD/anxiety and depression, and take the steps to break free. Looking back, I never realised how much of my depression and distress was due to lifestyle factors. But now, I can see with clear eyes: being at home was never healthy for me.

From talking to other people growing up, I came to realise I lived in an insular family, one which didn’t socialise much compared to other families. Strangers and the outside world were seen as untrustworthy, and kept at bay. My parents don’t have friends, and much of a life outside the home. Everything is centred on family, and on deep loyalty to one another. But over the years, I couldn’t help but feel that this is an unhealthy dynamic. As I said, I always felt as if whatever I did have to be approved, if it wasn’t, then I had to unnecessarily fight and push for it. In a subtle way, everyone else’s opinions had to be accommodated. I felt as if there was no freedom, no privacy, and no boundaries, and it made me hate and resent my parents, often for no reason. Questions become a form of control, with an agenda always behind them – especially from my mother.

I only realised what enmeshment was about a couple of months ago, when in a fit of anger, I went researching and did some Google searches. I was just looking for answers – I knew what the problem was, but I needed a name. I needed to find others who were going through what I was going through. ‘Enmeshed families are too close’ bleated one headline. ‘What does that mean?’ I thought. I clicked on it. As I read, I felt multiple truth bombs explode around me. ‘A lack of privacy between parents and children’, ‘contagious emotions between family members’, ‘a lack of boundaries’, and the crowning cherry on top: “Many people living in an enmeshed family struggle with feeling controlled, which may cause them to either lash out or completely withdraw.” That last sentence alone perfectly describes my psychology, and the tactic I use to shut down unwanted conversations with my mother. I sat there literally gobsmacked, like a person who realises their spouse or loved one is a malignant narcissist after many years of suffering. This was my family to a tee, and I hadn’t realised it for years. Well, I had, but I didn’t realise that it actually had a name. I knew something was off, and now I had been validated and confirmed. We were an enmeshed family, and one that only seems to be getting worse.

‘Enmeshment’ seems to be a new concept, at least in public discourse, but it’s certainly real, and seems to be related to codependency (another concept I had to learn about, which I think describes my parents’ marriage dynamic). My family weren’t always like this – growing up as a child, I lived a happy life in a busy yet insular household, and no one seemed to dominate one another. This continued into my teens, when my Dad worked full-time and my Mum was out of the house – we all had our own lives, and it felt healthy. But nowadays, something has changed. Negativity suffuses the house, and they are at home all the time, which I can’t stand. My Mum claims to be happy, but her marriage is full of conflict – they trade barbs with one another each and every day. My sister still lives at home as well, blissfully ignorant and not thinking of others – thankfully she often escapes to stay at her boyfriend’s. I feel unhappy when at home for an extended period of time – during the last school holidays, on my two-week break from work, I actually booked a hotel for a couple of nights in the city as an excuse to get away from it all. But as soon as I got home, I felt an immense wave of anger and negativity come back again. When I got back, my parents were actually leaving and went for lunch at a winery – a very pleasant surprise, as I would have the house to myself, which is a rare luxury. But when they were out, my mother texted me and tried to get me to bring a meal to my grandmother. I ignored it – I was just home, I wanted to settle back in and unwind, so I took a relaxing bath instead. Even when she was out, the bitch was still trying to dictate how I used my time. She actually apologised to me later about doing that, but I still felt aggrieved – why did she think it was her prerogative to ask me to do that? It felt like a boundary was overstepped. It was just tone-deaf and careless, and I ended up seething with anger. When something like this happens, I usually can’t say anything. Fighting it is pointless – I always get seen as the one with the problem, and my own feelings are denied. Gaslighting is used when it has to be.

I actually brought up to my Mum that we might be living in an ‘enmeshed’ family recently, and that we were ‘too close’ and ‘living in each other’s pockets’. She denied this was the case. Despite the toxic dynamics in our family, especially between her and her husband, she can’t see it clearly, or simply doesn’t want to see it. Once, when presented with undeniable proof that my sister was a selfish bitch, she wouldn’t admit to me I was right. On the other hand, she expects me to back her up in fights against my father, and be her little minion. As a result, I’ve since stopped doing that, and now she treats me a little coldly and distantly. Well Mum, I guess your little gay confidante son can have a mind of his own after all… (there is a gay son-mother dynamic, which is understudied but which we are all aware or semi-aware of). If you won’t back me up, then fuck you, you’re not getting my support anymore. Plus, you’re beginning to bully my father at times, and place unreasonable emotional demands on him. Sure, he’s a couch potato, but you can’t expect a crippled old man to show you the world, and to live in a romantic fantasy where you ‘enjoy each other’s company’ all the time. Fuck, your own parents did that, and look how that turned out (my grandfather’s violent dementia almost destroyed the both of them, before he was taken into care, where he subsequently and thankfully died). Despite all our arguments and discussions, you just keep repeating the same mistakes, sticking to the same thought patterns. It’s tiring, and I keep having to remind myself that it’s not up to me to rescue and solve your marital problems. I understand how you cried into my shoulder a couple of months ago, and claimed ‘you’d been strong for so long’ after a vile argument with Dad, but I think you’ll understand that I’m no longer happy carrying this emotional burden. It’s just not fair anymore, to infect your children with emotions and problems like that. You need to solve them as an adult.

*

At the same time, my Mum has also been telling me how she’s ‘sick of people and disappointed in them’, and how she’s ‘just happy being with her family’, usually because her girlfriends were not as nice or generous as her. It is true, other people aren’t as kind, and don’t give back. I’ve had my share of friendship let-downs, so I understand, but recently I’ve come to see this position as dangerous – a family that invests all its time and energy on itself soon turns on itself and becomes emotionally cannibalistic, as grievances and tensions boil ever more quickly to the surface, like a bunch of people trapped in a plane wreckage or a cave. It’s hard to keep a face when you’re around someone 24 hours a day. It all seems hopeless – we are living in a kind of slow emotional agony – my father hates and resents my mother over her control of him (he had health issues and is almost entirely dependent on her – that’s another story), my mother hates and resents my father for not being a good husband, I hate my sister and mother for being ignorant bitches, and they hate me for being reactive and grumpy. And yet, we pretend everything is normal, when everyone is dissatisfied and unhappy (despite my mother’s claims of the opposite – she was deeply offended when I said we were miserable and wouldn’t speak to me for a week afterward).

So, in the end, I feel a deep sense of unhappiness and a need to escape, but do not have the immediate financial means to do so. I invested most of my savings (AUD$15,000) in superannuation under a special government scheme, in anticipation of saving for a mortgage deposit, but as a result of that, cannot touch that money to use for rent, which is the way I’m going now. Sure, renting is dead money, but it’s either that or living in this emotional hellhole for years longer, and I just can’t face that anymore. I want to relax in my own living room, without some loud dumbass disturbing my peace. So, as a result of this financial decision which I committed to last year, I now only have around $5000 in the bank which I can immediately access, which is not quite enough to cover my escape plan. So, just a few more months of living here and grinding, and hopefully I’ll be out by Christmas. It can’t come soon enough – I’m already poring over real-estate websites and salivating over moderately-priced units. So today, as a vent, I’ve made this blog post. I’m stuck at home sick with these idiots for a few days now, and it’s getting to me. But writing makes everything clear – as the words spill onto the page, I realise things that I hadn’t before. Ultimately, it’s all up to me, and I’m taking the power back. I can stand on my own two feet, tell them to back the fuck off, and live my own life. But I just need money before I can do all that… 😉

Yours again in frustration, bodhisattva

Another lost job, the shitty property market, and surviving as an extreme introvert

God I love this meme, the subject of which I will bitterly segue into later.

Anyway, I quit yet another job. I won’t go into exhausting details, but it turns out being a classroom assistant wasn’t for me at all, and I abruptly quit (on March 7th, to be exact). I just couldn’t do it. And for about a week after I resigned, I went into penance mode, going through all the self-recrimination and stages of grief with myself – relief, sadness, emotional emptiness and complete social withdrawal. I spent several days in my bedroom, taking time off, avoiding my family and the outside world, like a schizoid recluse. I just wanted to get away from everyone and stew in solitude, while getting intrusive thoughts about buying a campervan and just disappearing to the Australian mountains for a while (better just watch out for weirdo murderers…)

I will admit, resigning was a bit of a bone of personal shame for myself, as it’s happened before – though for reasons I’ll get to, quitting was still the right way to go (I was beyond miserable, and it was better to leave sooner rather than later). I actually like teaching, but being a classroom assistant was a very different gig. When I taught part-time last year (at the same workplace), I could manage and I was happy. Everything was largely predictable. But being an assistant is a highly unpredictable and social role – you never quite know what is coming next. That suits some people, but I can’t stand that. I like to plan, and to mentally prepare for classes, something which was mostly impossible being an assistant. Half of teaching is planning, but being an assistant is essentially working one-on-one with students all day, which takes an enormous amount of energy. It’s not introvert land. I can take socialising to a point, but I need time to recharge, even if that means just sitting in my office for a little while. Being an assistant, there was little to no reprieve.

Furthermore, I also felt useless in classes and that I was stuck in a kind of double bind: either I had to annoy students who didn’t want my help, or otherwise I just stood there looking like I was doing nothing. I felt I couldn’t win, and would walk out of these classes feeling like shit. I simply wasn’t needed there – even the special students were mostly okay working independently. It was demoralising, and made me feel like an idiot. Plus, my working environment was miserable – my boss even admitted to me on the first day that she was looking for jobs elsewhere, due to mistreatment by the school.

So, after only a week, I just said to myself, ‘This is stupid’, and went home early, after admitting to my two colleagues that the job wasn’t for me. One actually said she had cut back by a day because the place was shit, while the other told me she’d be out of there if she was my age. Despite feeling devastated and like a failure, that only confirmed that in some way, I had made the right decision. I was losing a steady income, but I fucking hated what I was doing and it was totally wrong for me. Once I realised that, it didn’t really seem like a loss.

Since then, I’ve found employment in a public school as a relief teacher, which I’m actually enjoying. Just this week, I did a full five days of back-to-back classes, which is exhausting, but excellent money. It is less socially demanding, as I don’t always have to actively ‘teach’ (just supervise), and I go home without any planning to do. Strangely, despite being a glorified babysitter, I actually feel more useful doing this than I did as a classroom assistant. I actually talk to the kids (when needed), and make sure they are reasonably on-task. Funnily, when I was taking a supervisory class one morning, a rather unfriendly classroom assistant came in to help a special needs kid. I watched him. He had a short conversation with that student, but afterward, he just sat there for a full forty minutes on his laptop, passing the time. After that, I felt vindicated. ‘That is why I fucking left’, I thought. It was such a useless job. The student was fine. If a student really needs help, then sure, come along, work some pedagogical magic. But that’s often not how it is. I’m not saying all classroom assistants are useless – many are essential and do valuable and heroic work, especially for primary-school age children. When teaching briefly at a toxic primary school back in early-2021, I remember thinking to myself how desperately we needed a classroom assistant, to help with maths, and to assist with classroom control, but we were simply not funded for one. It was madness. But later working as one in a private school on a full-time basis, I felt absolutely useless, like an annoying stranger who simply didn’t need to be there. As a relief teacher, ironically, I do feel needed for something.

After this, I’ve come towards a personal realisation: I don’t really like socialising for extended periods of time, and as a result of that, I find most forms of full-time work stressful. I can manage to hold it together for a while, but at the end of a full day, and especially a full week, I desperately need time to recharge. Working full-time this week and living with family members (who are always fucking home) has been a toxic combination. When I go home, I don’t want to see anyone, or be seen. But in modern Australian society, that has become a luxury – house and land prices are exploding through the roof, and into outer space even. During some of my ‘supervision’ classes, where I basically sit at the front on my laptop while the kids get on with whatever they need to do, I sometimes look up real estate websites during idle times (much like that classroom assistant I mentioned before). But, increasingly, I feel angry and sick looking at them. Every time I see a unit that would suit me, it turns out to be in a retirement village, with ‘real’ apartments and units being the price of what an average suburban home used to be. Blocks of land aren’t much better – they tend to be in isolated areas, and even then, getting permission to build is dubious, as local councils and building regulators often deny planning permission for the most lunatic reasons.

Add on to that the fact our property market is being distorted by artificial mechanisms – I understand (and don’t begrudge) other people buying investment properties to feather their nests, but it seems to have reached over-saturation. Any Average Joe with money is doing it now, and it’s locking the rest of us at the bottom of the ladder out (but of course, who gives a shit about us? Money talks more loudly than anything in politics). I mean, I get it. If I were twenty years older and with unfettered access to low-interest mortgages, I might look at snapping up a rental property if things were right, and living the semi-retired life of a lazy landlord. But when the central bank keeps interest rates artificially low in order to flood the economy with cheap money, you have to ask about the economic soundness of this, and where it’s all heading. I guess that’s economics really – when one group gains, another loses. The real class war in this country these days is between the landed gentry and the rest of us. But all booms end in bust, and now the media is abuzz with talk of an interest rate rise, the first in a decade. Even though this isn’t exactly in my own self-interest (it would make getting a mortgage even harder), it would likely rein in this rapacious jungle we are living in. Yes, it would make things harder for those paying off homes. But this bubble can’t last forever. Getting a home has always been hard – my parents tell me that interest rates on mortgages were nearly an eye-watering 20% when they started in the 1980s. But still, it’s all getting insane – a two-bedroom should not cost AUD$550,000, especially factoring in stagnant wages and the higher cost-of-living (enjoy your inflation, bitches!). It just shouldn’t.

But if this is the worst that can happen (the pandemic didn’t really faze me, and my troubles are nothing compared to the Ukrainians and the rest of the world), then maybe living with my parents isn’t such a crisis after all. Anyway, end of whinge. As usual, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and move the fuck on. I’ve found another job I don’t like, and that’s okay. I’m stuck with my parents, but it’s not a sentence (though it is a frustration). Life ticks on. I’ll see you in another post – maybe I’ll have found a suitable property or a rich husband by then, but I’ll keep you in the loop and let you all know. Lol, until next time… me.

Unemployment purgatory, COVID, also gay dating sucks

So as of January 9th last month, the virus finally found me. I got the worst body aches for a day, before it cleared up and consolidated into a shitty head cold for about ten days. It was sort of lucky to catch it when I did; as a teacher I have the entire month of January off, so I had plenty of time to wallow under my doona. Vaccination no doubt helped reduce the worst though – it was a ferocious illness, and had I no immunity at all, I think it would have knocked me out like a mallet to the head.

I thought getting it out of the way in the holidays would be ideal, but the irony now is that I haven’t yet received any shifts as a relief teacher, despite being on standby since Feb 1. So that’s over two months of technical unemployment. I do have a school camp on the middle of this month at least, so I’m not high and dry. But I read on a Reddit teachers forum that other casuals have had work every day of the week so far; perhaps I need to switch and start working in multiple schools, rather than remaining comfortable on my own private-school lily-pad. Full-time work isn’t ideal at the moment, either. Technically I could go for it, but I’d be stressed out of my mind, like my best mate who works on the other side of the city. I just need enough work to save for my wisdom tooth removal coming next month, and now my laptop is starting to play up, I’m needing to add another AUD$1800 expense to the list. Sending all last year’s earnings into superannuation to save for a house was a bit of a risky venture, J… you knew things could happen in three months *facepalm*

In other news, I deleted Hinge today after a demoralising period of search. Last December, I delusionally decided to throw my hat in the ring, and forked out $100 to the capitalists of love for a three-month subscription. It took a couple of days of membership for me to realise I’d been conned, and that I didn’t need those ‘extra’ features. But anyway, even worse than the waste of money were the men. I don’t know why, but nearly everyone looks and acts the fucking same. And yes, I know I am toxic and bitter, so don’t bother pointing that out.

After swiping through dozens of millennial guys my age who are letting sleeve tattoos run down their arms, wear those ugly stripy t-shirts (often with a pair of John Lennon-like sunglasses and a glass of wine in hand), who say they are ‘polyamory’, and of course who consider themselves ‘dog dads’ (can we fucking stop it with this societal dog-obsession?), I am left wondering where all the individuality has actually gone. I could honestly sort them all into five or six categories. It’s as if everyone’s reading from the same script – love dogs, share a lame joke, sit on your ass all Sunday for ‘Netflix and Chill’. It’s no wonder I keep falling for soft, calm, friendly straight guys (fuck my life!).

I don’t claim to be an oil painting myself: I didn’t receive that many likes. I’m not hideous, but not physically attractive either. I have a big nose (which needs surgical correction), and bloated, saggy cheeks. I’d probably give myself a 4/10. So I’m self-aware that I’m not what most are looking for either. I’m a bit of an odd-ball. But I was hoping there would be a nice, introverted, semi-attractive dude with a neat beard floating out there somewhere. Alas, I’m in the proverbial desert, where dreams become mirages.

But such is life. I haven’t totally given up hope – perhaps I will bump into my husband one day, though I was hoping it would be easier to find him on my phone while lounging in bed. It just sucks. I guess for now I’ll just have to stick to my sinful morning sleep-in fantasies about my bearded colleague at work, and hoard money until I can selfishly purchase a house on my own. I’m a strong independent loner, damnit, and I can make it on my own!

Anyway, I can laugh about my hopeless love life – struggle makes us kinder and wiser in some ways. I have two good friendships (one in-real-life and one online), and a good family. My life is still in my own hands, though sometimes I forget that. But still, it would be nice to be in a relationship. Mr. Husband, if you’re out there, I’m here waiting… and I cook good meals.

I’m in a bit of a rut, so my inner nasty queen is coming out. Anyway, this is enough toxicity for now – have a nice day or whatever. 🙂

Starting 2022 as an aging millennial

Well folks, Happy New Year. I always like the New Year, because it’s when the true spirit of the holiday season sets in, as a sense of societal quietness takes over after Christmas, when everyone here in Australia just sits around like couch potatoes, air-conditioning and TV going, most likely with a beer in hand, escaping the heat. The kids are probably in the pool, and teenagers aimlessly walk around town, looking kind of menacing (a group of BMX boys alarmed me recently when they passed the place I’m staying, being rambunctious and blasting hip hop from mobile speakers… posers!).

Overall, early January is always a funny time of year – it’s a kind of quiet dead zone where nothing much happens. All the magic has been burnt out through Christmas and New Year, and you get this languor until you return to work, if you are fortunate to have holidays. I could do anything and get a lot of things crossed off my list, but in the first one or two weeks of the New Year, I always fall into a pathetic pit of lethargy. I just want to do nothing. Here in Australia, being the height of summer, the conditions are not conducive to activities requiring effort. Summer in Australia is paradoxically indoor weather – sheltering inside where the air-conditioning is, maybe looking out of the window to scan for bushfires, if you live in the bush. After living here a while, you’ll eventually realise the residents in Coober Pedy aren’t insane for living underground. Despite being born on this continent and not knowing much else, I’ve never acclimatised to the blistering desert conditions which hover my southern end of the country for two to three months of the year. Relentless heat really is something to be endured, not savoured. Anyone who disagrees with me honestly needs to get help.

Anyway, not too much is happening, but as I’m spending the week alone doing a housesit at my brother’s place, I’m becoming a bit reflective (and also desperately isolated), often talking out loud to myself. Next year, in July 2023, I turn thirty. Where did the time go! I can’t believe I was eighteen a decade ago, but it’s true – time is starting to show its passage on me in the mirror. Whereas I used to have a clear, pallid face, I have formed horrid frown lines, and I can see the early furrows of crow’s feet. My cheeks have also become swollen and a little saggy, thanks to my father’s genetics. Back when I was twenty, I didn’t think this would ever happen – you simply take youth for granted. Its only when it goes that you miss it – you don’t even know why, but there’s a kind of sadness that goes with aging. I know I’m going to die eventually, but somehow when you see the very early signs of wear-and-tear, you feel a twinge. Being a millennial, it’s interesting to compare photos of myself on my phone now back to when I was twenty in 2013 – how over time, the firmness and plumpness of youth has been slowly and incrementally replaced by a generalised bloating and slight wornness. Your skin loses its ‘glow’. I don’t know when it struck exactly, but I know the late twenties are a tipping point. I read somewhere that we begin aging at 28, so its noticeable emergence at this point makes a lot of sense.

My body is also beginning to change, as my metabolism is evidently slowing down. I always took being a skinny teenager for granted, but where my pelvis used to stick out against my side, there is now a thick layer of padding. It turns out that I can no longer get away  with an average couch-potato lifestyle, and a penchant for rich foods. I’m officially now skinny-fat, as my father pointed out to me two weeks ago, when he mentioned I’d ‘formed a gut’. I wasn’t too pleased about him saying that (he can be a bit of an asshole), but he’s right. I’ve let myself go a bit, and gone are the days when I could eat anything without consequences. I remember seeing one of my former primary-school friends in public once, and being shocked how he’d become obese – I couldn’t understand how he got that way, but now, I see myself drifting that way as well. Your body and your habits betray you, and you sort of just resign yourself and let go. 

I need to cut down and to exercise, but for some reason, it’s hard. I’m slowing down, and push-ups aren’t necessarily a part of the pleasure principle. As a gay man, I predictably follow a few hot, sporty men on Instagram (okay, and perhaps some porn stars…), where I see a plentiful supply of fabulous bodies. How nice it would be to look like that! But at the same time, I also think of the insane masochistic devotion that’s channelled into these rippling torsos and bursting abs. Hours of punishing gym sessions, tightly-controlled diets, and awful muscle aches. It’s a painful discipline which I, and I think most of the human population, just doesn’t possess. It honestly seems to be a part-time job onto itself – I honestly don’t know how someone can balance a gym routine with a draining full-time job, unless they actually work as a personal trainer. As a teacher, after a full day of work, the last thing I want to do is any kind of physical exertion – I have no fight left to give. I don’t even have the energy to follow a TV show some nights. 

Also, overall as I get older, my views and politics change – it’s a cliché, but I’m becoming more conservative and suspicious of radical change. After my youthful leftist days, I’ve begun to see the value of social stability and order, and the persistence of ideology and bad ideas being pushed through our system. To put it shortly, you begin to see through the rhetoric and the bullshit. I’m now beginning the new major life goal of saving for a home, and I’m no longer much bothered about travelling the world anymore – I mean, what’s the point? I surprise myself by saying this – there are still indeed places I want to go (the UK and Western Europe are high on the list), but I’m not bothered about seeing everything. I don’t feel I need to go to China or Egypt just to see the Great Wall or the Pyramids – I mean, I’ve seen them on TV anyway. I don’t need to see them in real life, just so I can tell someone a story. I guess now I’m instinctively putting down roots, and narrowing my horizons away from personal indulgences, such as travel, towards prudent self-interest, much like my boomer parents. Perhaps some things repeat themselves across generations.

Anyway, this is just a few things I’ve noticed – physically and mentally you just change. It’s perhaps a little bit of the tragic view of life, but sometimes I think that is the correct view.

In other news, this year I’ve decided to put myself in deeper student debt and do a graduate diploma in journalism starting in March, in order to scratch a long-held itch, and to refine my writing and to upskill a bit. It will be my final degree I think, before I commit myself long-term to our wonderfully exhausting and unfulfilling career system. As paid young actors falsely beam in university course advertisements, ‘Who knows what my future will bring!’

Anyway, you’ll hear from me further on this blog across the year. Thanks for reading.

2021: A retrospective: Observations from six months of relief teaching, the case-study of Bitchface, and the moral problems of Australian education

Well, as of last Wednesday, I have finished my two terms of part-time teaching a Year 9 Humanities class in a private school. And these two terms have been interesting, to say the least. I started back in July at this private school as a relief teacher, but my position sort of snowballed into a part-time Humanities teaching job by accident. The head of school originally asked me to take the class for 2-3 weeks, until they found a replacement. But before I knew it, one week turned into another. And then another. Eventually, the end of Term 3 came, and not before long I was asked, “Are you happy to continue taking the class in Term 4?” “Yeah,” I replied. It was one of those situations where they bring you in, but then just keep you there because it’s easier. I took the class on a relief teacher basis (which has higher pay), but really should have been put on a contract, but I ended up making more money anyway. In the end, I got six months of steady work, and learned a fair bit about education, and exactly what is going wrong with it.

The private school I work at is quite sought-after in the region I live in, with fees in excess of $10,000AUD per annum per child. It’s not a top private school like the well-renowned Scotch College in Melbourne, but it’s prestigious enough to call itself a ‘grammar’ school. So as a parent, you would hope you’re getting your money’s worth. But from taking but this one Year 9 class alone, quite a few things I experienced shocked and surprised me.

My class could be divided into two halves – the good side, and the bad side, and they literally sat in two ‘halves’ of the room. The good side was mostly made up of quiet over-achieving girls who did their work no matter what, and always did it to the best of their ability. They were wonderful to teach, mature beyond their years, and I’m sure they will go very far at university and in life. Their parents had much to be proud of, and were certainly getting what they were paying for. No problems at all. The ‘bad side’ of the class, on the other hand, were a mixed group of boys and girls who couldn’t seem to give a shit about anything. They constantly disrupted the class, got up to stupid mischief, and constantly pushed boundaries. Looking at it one way, it was a good practice for learning classroom management (I am a first-year teacher), but overall, it was overwhelmingly and unnecessarily frustrating and exhausting. To make matters worse, a few of them hardly submitted work, but when they did, it was typically of poor quality, and showed obvious signs of shortcuts and plagiarism. There were some good kids in that group who did well academically, but about five of them made my job a lot harder.

Their behaviour wasn’t apparent to me at first, but it became clear after the first assignment, when they had to put on a ‘visual display’ one morning about their family histories, that some in that group just couldn’t care less whether they passed or failed. Being new and naive, I asked them to finish and submit their work the following week to me so I could pass them, and dished out extensions like lollies. But two days turned into three days, which turned into a week, and furthermore into weeks. The COVID outbreak in Victoria complicated things with the move to remote learning, which made these students harder to reach. It ended up taking me an entire month just to get two girls to submit their work for this assignment to me, and that was only after getting the year-level coordinator involved. Needless to say, I was severely pissed off at them, and felt I was made a fool of (these two would later became the bane of my existence – I often referred to them in my head as ‘the partners in crime’).

I learned the hard way about how lazy some of the students were, despite, I repeat once again, their parents paying in excess of $10,000(!) for the privilege of going to a ‘good’ school. I was more proactive with future assignments in following up with parents, but it didn’t make it any easier. One girl in particular, who I will call ‘Bitchface’ (who was one of the ‘partners in crime’, and the class ringleader for troublemaking), seemed keen to go to any lengths to avoid doing work, whether in or out of class. For the family history assignment, I only passed her out of desperation, because getting her to resubmit work would have been too difficult, and to top it off, she was incredibly rude to me over emails. When she failed to submit her second assignment, I didn’t think twice about calling her father.

Despite him being supportive, what struck me after my phone call with him was how clueless and disengaged some parents seemed to be about their children’s education – sending his daughter to a good private school for him was a ‘set-and-forget’ exercise, in that he expected the school would ‘moralise’ her in some way. However, he was missing a crucial lesson: morality and discipline begins in the home. For many of these parents, some of whom fit the ‘bogan’ Australian stereotype (apart from being on high incomes), a private school education was just another consumer product, like a new car or a trip to Bali. They didn’t seem to understand that paying extra to send them to the private school bubble wasn’t automatically going to motivate their child to academically perform or make them ‘smart’. The brains and the values had to be there in the first place.

In Bitchface’s case, by having separated parents and from what I was told were some difficult family relationships (particularly with her mother), she was able to leverage her bad behaviour to a higher degree than usual. It was effectively a game – ‘how much can I get away with?’ Even after the phone call I had with her father, she only submitted partial work. I was at my wit’s end, which is why I began to turn to the year-level coordinator for help. However, this exposed flaws and disorders of thinking in the system, which only exacerbated things and made Bitchface’s case even worse. She was effectively shielded and excused by what I call ‘wellbeing ideology’ – the idea that because someone has a difficult home life, it excuses any lazy and disrespectful behaviour. I had encountered this type of thinking before while on teaching placement in a public school, when a teacher I was with for the day ‘explained away’ the rotten behaviour of two incredibly nasty Year 7 girls, who swore, insulted other students, damaged property, and effectively told me to piss off when I told them to be quiet. Back then, I was disgusted and rattled in equal measure by this teacher’s attitude, which I thought cowardly, and vowed never to work in that school, but it seems this thinking is tragically becoming more prevalent, facilitated by misplaced compassion and generalised cowardice. ‘Wellbeing’ is increasingly where respect and morality go to die.

If Bitchface was going through hard times, she didn’t exactly show it. She was never morose or withdrawn, and she held down a retail job, which she seemed proud of (perhaps she was more suited to work than school). Life seemed to be a party for her, and classes were just an opportunity to cause trouble. My year-level coordinator (a truly lovely woman), while wonderful to work for, was misguided and blinded by this ‘wellbeing ideology’, offering the excuse that Bitchface’s bad behaviour was a result of ‘not getting much attention at home’ and having a poor relationship with her mother. Just two weeks ago, after I pulled Bitchface out of class and brought her to the coordinator’s office, the coordinator later came to me and said that Bitchface was in tears and was sorry for being rude to me in classes. I just didn’t buy it. In a subsequent lesson, she reverted back to her old ways, playing havoc – some sorry that was! The thing is, I don’t hate Bitchface. She was just an idiot. I was more annoyed that she wasn’t held to account, and didn’t face serious consequences. It was easier to sweep everything under the carpet.

Being a depressed and bullied teenager in the past, I overcame hardships to complete my education, and showed respect to my teachers. Yes, I may have been silly in class in Years 7 and 8, but I always respected a teacher’s authority when told off. As you can see, I probably didn’t have much patience for Bitchface. Other teachers also had to suffer from her – the maths teacher told me she was at her wit’s end with her in a class, and that moving her didn’t quiet her down. I asked the coordinator if an internal suspension might be in order, so that Bitchface might do her work while under supervision in other classes. However, I was told that the school rarely, if ever, handed out suspensions. Effectively, she was allowed to get away with it. On the second assignment, she was ‘shooed-in’ over the pass line by having the partial work she submitted be blown up into an ‘aggregated’ score – in effect, she was to be judged on the basis of the work she submitted, rather than the work required by the task. Thus, her score was exaggerated, and she was allowed to pass her assignment with half-complete work, with the approval of her mother (why the mother?) After this happened, I sort of just gave up. It wasn’t right, but at the end of the day, I got paid, and I wasn’t going to unwisely rail against the misguided thinking of a superior. Sometimes, you’ve got to put up and shut up, but this is exactly why there’s a decline in standards. It’s easier to manipulate the system than to enforce strict, unbending expectations. Thus, anything can be justified if it’s for the good of the student and ‘in their best interest’, but ultimately, this is a watering down of everything that society and institutions should stand for.

Ironically, about the same time I was marking Bitchface’s work, I finished All Must Have Prizes by Melanie Phillips, an incredibly devastating exposé of the disaster of public education and public morality in Britain back in the 1990s, which was undermined by decades of ‘child-centred education’ and family disintegration. Sadly, this book is all too prescient and relevant today. We live in a culture of excuses, as exemplified by the case-study of Bitchface. Accountability for teachers is at the highest it’s ever been in history, but accountability for the students is in the lowest.

In another class, I literally saw a group of students, who had all sorts of diagnoses, and whom I called ‘the misfits’ in my head, being permitted to wear headphones and draw pictures during regular class-time, with the blessing of learning support. It was ridiculous, and more harmful than helpful. Yes, students should be given some leeway if they are struggling, with the ability to take breaks, but not to the point that they are constantly exempted from class activities, and are effectively learning nothing, while psychologists and support workers coo over them and try to smooth over every little bump and crease. They were effectively being coddled. They knew that the system permitted them to get out of work by feigning distress, and that by having a ‘meltdown’, they could get what they wanted. God, if only I had that luxury when I was in school.

There were other things. One of three boys in the class, while very kind and lovely to talk to, was barely literate. He submitted work to me that accounted of only a few sentences, replete with spelling errors. This was more due to under-confidence than laziness, but still, it was shocking to me how a Year 9 private-school boy could be so woefully illiterate, considering the money that was going into his education. He wasn’t identified as dyslexic in school documentation, but he was operating at around a Grade 5 level. Looking back, I wish I could have supported him better, but I was ill-equipped to do so, and I wasn’t supplied with any strategies on how to support him. He was effectively neglected.

Another boy had a bad attitude and disliked the subject – I tried to encourage him, but the attitude didn’t lift. He always submitted crap work and submitted it late, leaving me to chase it up, and played a bit of a manipulation game – during remote learning, he’d always make sure to be there for attendance, but never did the classwork. He was just lazy. I understand that he didn’t like the subject, but he didn’t have to treat me like a piece of shit because of that fact. All I expected him to do was the bare minimum, but he wouldn’t even do that. Unsurprisingly, I began to dislike this student, though I never showed it. A group of three girls (which included Bitchface) were likewise lazy and indolent, by failing to do the bare minimum when giving a presentation about an emerging technology of their choice – they didn’t cover the information required, and didn’t even put their research in into a Powerpoint presentation as asked, so I made them resubmit their work. When I informed them they’d failed and have to re-do the task, one of them sweetly told me, “Oh, we don’t care if we fail!”, to which I simply replied, “Well, you will care, because you will have to resubmit it anyway.” It was a stunning claim from a girl whose parents, once again, were paying over 10k for her to be there. Eventually they did resubmit, which was one of my small victories, and I passed them each by 50%. Nonetheless, I started to think that an exchange program to the local public school for these girls might be in order. The fact that being there was a privilege didn’t seem to occur to them.

Overall, in the grand scheme of things, the problems I went through were fairly mild. I wasn’t told to ‘fuck off’ or threatened or assaulted by any of my students, as can and does happen in rough public schools. However, the whole situation was still cumulatively demoralising. In the end, I was somewhat relieved to say goodbye to this class at the end of the year. While I was on good money and getting good teaching practice, these problems were slowly eating away at me – I felt that their failure was somehow a failure on my part as a teacher, and that I was not enforcing expectations and standards hard enough. Looking back though, I do think I did my best, at least most of the time. I was not always fantastic and made mistakes in the beginning (because I was not trained, and inexperienced…), but I did enough as a teacher to reasonably instruct and support my students. I always answered emails. I provided guidance and examples. I tried my best to make lessons engaging and to cut out the bullshit (the lessons, which were taught across four other classes, were somewhat crap). But much of what I got in return was disrespect and sniggering. In the end, I was just babysitting the bad ones until the end of the year. It’s pretty sad, but in many lessons, I was just running out the clock. If the ‘bad’ students did their work, that was just a bonus.

In recent times, it is perhaps unsurprising we are facing a teacher-shortage crisis here in Australia, and in our English-speaking friends, the USA and UK. In the media, clueless education academics talk about the ‘low-esteem’ the profession is held in, about class sizes, about pay and conditions, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum. It is true that the workload can be crippling, especially in full-time teaching roles, but I don’t think the solution is to simply increase pay. That’s a band-aid fix. What they miss is that the problem is ultimately moral – potential teachers are looking at the profession, and increasingly going ‘nope!’. It’s largely because of the stress and disrespect that is now ubiquitous in the profession – who wants to teach a class of kids who don’t care, and be stressed every night of the week by burdensome lesson planning, when you can work another job that pays the same or more and not take your work home? It’s a no-brainer.

But this abandonment of basic educational standards is ultimately a symptom of something much deeper: our moral and cultural decline. We increasingly live in a socially fractured and fraying culture, polluted by harmful ideology and bad ideas, and anti-social behaviour, which is excused by nebulous concepts such as ‘trauma’ (oh, the misuse of that word…). In the English-speaking world, any concept of classroom respect, as witness-able in non-Western cultures like India and Japan, has been abandoned. Uncouthness is increasingly going un-condemned and unpunished, and perpetrators are increasingly redefined as victims, and not held to account. You only have to look at the lenient sentences in our criminal justice system. In response, people now seem to be insulating themselves where they can – through obtaining cushy jobs and ensconcing themselves in nice middle-class areas, while filtering everything through curated social media and polite progressive groupthink, rather than facing hard social reality. I’m somewhat guilty of some of this myself – I wouldn’t want to work in a public school, but now I can see this social decay beginning to creep into the private schools, the result of the rising incomes of a particular cohort of working-class Australians, who are typically those working in trades and services – materialistic and prosperous, but ultimately uninterested in the values brought by knowledge and education, which in my view, leads to a kind of philistine cultural vacuum. You only have to look at Asian migrants here, and the way their children are pushed to perform as a contrast (though this can lead to the opposite extreme of abusive and unrelenting perfectionism, and a crushing of individuality). I went to a rough public school in Year 7, and would never set foot there again – I quit as a student, and would never think of going there as a teacher. The question is though, who will turn these places around? Who will be the ‘redeemer’? And how will it happen?

At this point, I don’t think it can happen, as things have degenerated too far – for reasons too expansive to go into here, I believe it is now irreversible. The rot has already set in, and continues to spread. I believe it is only through the decisions of individuals to change their lives for the better that things will improve, but when so many future generations are brought up in bad environments, where disrespect and carelessness is normalised, the likelihood that they will make these necessary moral decisions is significantly reduced. Thus, we are left with a hollowed-out culture, where social workers and services like hospitals and the police try to clean things up, but without success, and society is cleaved in two, between the respectable inner-city middle-class world, and every one else out in the suburbs and boonies. As a teacher, I can make a small difference, but ultimately, I cannot leave a ‘legacy’ in a rotten system. It is, in effect, a process of demoralisation, where the natural response is to save oneself, rather than to change things.

Despite all this, I am still planning to continue as a relief teacher at my school next year, and I think I will stay in the profession for the foreseeable future. Where I am now is bearable. But I can see deep moral problems already – education is in crisis, and has been so for a long time – I have now seen it in action. It is enabled through actions and policies which on paper, seem innocuous and well-intentioned, but in practice, are used to justify the unjustifiable.

Next year, I will not have to teach a a specific class, but will be a peripheral worker to blows in and out of the premises in order to pay the bills. Nothing is perfect, but we have to keep soldiering on – we have no other option. Will things get better? Short answer, no – I am too pessimistic. But if we can survive and forge out way in this world, then perhaps that is enough.

Gainful employment, Melbourne house deposits, and generalised millennial malaise

I know no one reads this blog, and I have nearly thirty drafts on this thing because I can’t sustain mental coherence, so I’ve decided to speed-write this thing in the space of an hour, while I’m in a decent mood. I mostly treat this blog as an online journal that goes to the aether now, but anyway, I don’t care if people read it or not, it’s more for myself.

Since my last real post (about a shitty houseshare experience) sundry things have changed in the life of this resentful early-90s born millennial, who decided to qualify as a high-school teacher. Last January-March (2021), I had a disastrous stint moving to a remote part of Victoria to teach in what turned out to be a small yet toxic nightmare of a school, which led me to resign after just six weeks. Long story short, I couldn’t cope, the kids were horrific, the leadership were destructive bullies, I received no guidance or support whatsoever, and while I regretted losing a job and a cheaply-rented unit, I don’t regret leaving at all. When you think of checking into the nearest psychiatric ward as a way to avoid work, it’s time to go.

After that, I spent about three months back living in the benign prison that is the family home, and slowly began looking for work again. I got a bit depressed, as it was winter and I had landed with a thud back at square one. I thought I had escaped my life-stasis for good and could stand on my own two feet, and act like any other fatigued, angry, taxpaying adult (I want independence, damnit!), so losing that job was a huge moral blow. Nonetheless, my life tends to run in cycles of breakdowns and disaster, so I’m used to handling this by now – I’m at the point where if something bad happens, I tend to laugh more than I feel like shit.

But just last month (July 2021), I finally caught a break…

I landed a job as a relief teacher at a private school thirty minutes down the road from where I live with my parents, and fuck me, so far I’m wondering why I didn’t do this earlier. After working there for a month, it’s been absolutely great. I go home immediately once I’m finished for the day, the pay is amazing, and there’s not much planning involved. While the novelty is wearing off a bit – I have 6am rises without guarantee of work, have to chase up work from students full of excuses, do the marking, all the usual banes of the profession – it’s still a good job. Finally, after crawling through the years as a detestable, welfare-sponging uni student, I’m finally making some serious money.

Which leads me on to the next phase of life: moving into my own place, at long fucking last. In the anticipation of making this dream happen, I finally researched mortgage deposits for the first time – and fuck me again, I sure did not know that a deposit is typically 20% of the purchase price! Which in Melbourne, if buying a reasonably priced $400,000-$500,000 (AUD) unit or house, would mean splurging around $100k upfront. While hanging up the washing today, I sort of grimly laughed to myself that I’m about 10% of the way there, with my meagre savings.

Which means if I want to live under my own roof for the time being, I’ll probably have to rent for quite a while. Currently, I have unsteady yet well-paid work, but if my school turns around and offers me a permanent position (even if it is a contract), I would indeed move out. Though in reality, if I wanted to save and have some disposable income, I’d have to share with a housemate, as I’m reluctant to have over 50% of my weekly income sucked away (about $350-$400 AUD), just for the privilege of walking naked through the house. And I’m not even in Melbourne, but around 1 hour outside of it.

Which overall, means I’m probably going to stay the typical loser-millennial who lives with his parents (*nervous laughter* *blows brains out*). While I am indeed glad to have a roof over my head, and have learned to make do, I can’t escape the fact that I am truly fucking over living with my parents, despite being in the pleasant surroundings of trees, gardens, and walking tracks in a small town which is now nearly hitting million-dollar sale prices (which I can never hope to afford). I love it here, I just don’t love my living situation anymore. Anyway, I’ve whinged about this all before, so I won’t do it again. I just want to live in my own space, but in these exorbitant times, that’s the daydream of all too many young Aussie millennials.

In a way, I guess I’m a cliché of the Millennial generation, in that if you’re single, intermittently or part-time employed, or made some wrong decisions in life and had things work against you (doing a Humanities degree, and having a mental illness…), then getting your own place is bit of a pipe-dream, unless you try to live in a dead-shit country town, like I did earlier this year. When I lived in South Korea, rent and utilities were dirt cheap, even if I did live in a matchbox apartment. It was still my place, I don’t understand why we can’t have these cheap ubiquitous apartments in Australia, like they do in Korea or Japan, so young people and singles can live an independent, low-income lifestyle. Sure, there’s public housing, but it’s stretched to the limit, and I’ve heard there is a 10 year long waiting list(!). It’s no wonder the major news outlets are now picking up on home-ownership being out of reach for so many.

In yet another way, it seems strange of me, a 1990s child who lived through cartoons and school-bullying rather than war and poverty, to be whinging about home-ownership being out of reach, when life appears so comfortable. My millennial generation (and our Gen Z successors), raised on a steady diet of titillating digital media, appear to live in a shiny parallel world of UberEats, Instagram filters, street food and music festivals, fast fashion from theiconic.com, generous phone data plans, and the general dopamine buzz of an easy consumer culture which laughs in the face of our grandparents’ postwar 1950s philosophy of simplicity, frugality and reuse.

However, this is juxtaposed next to a dubious financial future. We have this idea that our lives and the arc of history should be getting better, but instead, housing affordability is regressing. I can buy that new pair of Chelsea boots from Myer.com, and get them delivered in three days, but at the same time, I fret whether I’ll ever be able to live in or around Melbourne. Financially, life here has become untenable – many artists and creatives have already abandoned the city for regional towns like Daylesford. I guess every generation has its struggles, but you would think that in the future, housing would be more rather than less accessible, with tenements for all, like from a 1980s cyberpunk novel – human hives in an infinite urban sprawl.

But c’est la vie in the trendy city of Melbourne, where the property prices strangle the living, and the living envy the dead, as I like to say. Despite the system being stacked against me, I hope that in the next five years, I will be in a place of my own, even if it isn’t perfect. Though the housing market is overinflated and it sucks, there are still small homes going for $500k, so it’s still technically in reach. There will be that day where I post one of those braggy pictures on Facebook, where I put on a massive smile while placing the ‘sold’ sticker over the ‘for sale’ sign, thus making everyone else feel like shit, but for now, I think I’ll coast it.

Yours in debt and frustration, bodhisattva.