The Depressing Atmosphere of Monash Clayton

I actually started my career as a music critic. It was the thing I did through university to keep myself sane, as I trudged from dreary lecture to dreary lecture amidst the communist bloc architecture of one of the world’s most deeply uninspiring campuses, Monash Clayton in Melbourne. – Andrew of Time & Tide (Now Magazine: Issue 4 2021/2022)

Having recently bought a Dox SUB 200 as a retirement gift from my extra-long stint in the retail industry, I was gifted a magazine from the Melbourne based store, Time & Tide.

To my astonishment that quote jumped out at me, reminding me of what I’ve felt during my university days.

So, without further ado, let the rant ramble on ….

Monash University has a myriad of campuses, however during my stint there, from 2012 to 2017, life was predominantly centred around the main campus, Clayton.

For those who are unversed in the neighbourhoods of Victoria, Clayton is a large suburb in Melbourne’s south-east. There is literally nothing remarkable about the area at all, except that it is home to the second most prestigious university in Victoria. Cheap Chinese food can be found at Clayton Market, catering towards hundreds of students, and in terms of landscape, there is nothing to see except endless low to middle income houses.

It is an area completely devoid of personality.

Which stands in stark contrast to Monash’s more illustrious competitor, Melbourne University, which is in Parkville. A literal area with dozens of parks nearby, lush greenery nestling between old heritage buildings and the CBD within minutes away. A student could comfortably enjoy a study break amongst tall green oaks, then venture in a castle like building for a lecture before heading out with friends into the city for cheap Korean food.

Meanwhile at Monash Clayton, there is no denying that this is a much newer, modern institute. There is an artificial element to how seemingly convenient everything is, yet if you dig deeper, it is anything but.

Whilst Melbourne University’s Parkville campus is a literal rabbit warren of a place, there is an old-school charm to that. You are meant to get lost in the halls of academia and feel it’s’ rich history, knowing that you are following in the same steps of renowned scholars and academics.

Monash Clayton though, is simply far too open. Going from one lecture hall to the next is an effort in exercise. You can’t get lost at Monash Clayton, because everyone uses the same paths to get to and from places. Travelling from the Arts building to the Engineering area, requires the same path through the dullest name for a campus centre ever …. Campus Centre.

It becomes an almost running joke, how often students must cut through the Campus Centre to get from one end of the campus to the next.

Everything is simply too orderly for an academic institution. The footpaths, are enormously wide, as are the green spaces. But this only creates a strange sense of emptiness, because of how little the foot traffic is. The green spaces are often not that used, due to Melbourne’s inclement weather, and are poorly protected against the elements, because Monash deemed it unnecessary to have many tall trees all around the campus.

What this creates this, is this strange atmosphere of emptiness and life on the surface of the campus.

The main reason for this though, is because everyone is inside one of the three libraries available to students at Monash.

The Law Library, which is tiny and futile.

The Hargrave-Andrew Library, which is an exercise in how much space is wasted on books that no-one ever reads and requires a lot more space for STEM students to study at.

The Sir Louis Matheson Library, which is focused on Arts, and is again, a useless architectural endeavour due to the sheer lack of power points and desks available to service all 50,000 or more students who need them.

So, you can imagine, just how cramped, the libraries get, when every single student is competing with one another for power points for their laptops and notebooks.

And with such a big population crammed within these library halls, it is anything but quiet.

This lies in stark contrast to Melbourne’s design, where almost every single outdoor furniture has a power point waiting for the student beneath.

Thus, alleviating space inside the libraries for students to study and encouraging these sleep-deprived, procrastinating teens to go outside and get some Vitamin D.

The health benefits are numerous for Melbourne University students. The convenience is there too.

Monash students however, get no such luck. Everything is far too spaced out, and few and far in-between to properly enjoy oneself on campus. It does not aid in the atmosphere of the place, when you spend half your day struggling to find a power-point for a laptop battery verging on 2% life, only to then be unable to study or focus properly when a large group of students are celebrating Diwali or protesting about something inane and stupid.

And when you’ve finally given up, and decided you need a break, you go outside, only to realise you are still stuck on campus, and cannot be arsed to go via a stinky bus to nearby restaurants that will give you food poisoning.

So, you trundle back inside the library and do it all over again.

That scenario that I just described, is a typical, miserable day in the life of Monash university student.

Now allow me to compound that misery with some extra salient facts about the Monash experience.

Fact 1.

Monash students are typically insecure. The reason why, is because all of us secretly longed to get into Melbourne, but our grades weren’t good enough, so we had to settle for this backwater campus.

This means that there is a chip on everyone’s shoulder. We all wished we were elsewhere, but we’re not. We’re stuck here for the next three years, simmering with resentment over the knowledge that we simply weren’t good enough for Melbourne University. Our competitiveness with Melbourne doesn’t even stem from a healthy pride in Monash. It’s literally built on jealousy.

Fact 2.

Monash University’s relatively modern existence means that the architecture is shit. And I meant that with a capital resounding S H I T. So many buildings on the Clayton campus are horrifically ugly. My interest in architecture is a direct result of spending far too many years, surrounded by ugly buildings. The worst offender is what the Time & Tide author, wrote about …. the home of Arts on Monash, the Menzies Building.

It is a phenomenally ugly design, reminiscent of brutal, Soviet-era East Berlin communist bloc buildings. How can it be home to Arts, if it is anything but artistic? The Soviets were known for the lack of appreciation for artistic endeavours … the irony of it all, was not lost on me.

Then there is the bizarre mole-hill of a building known as the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts, whose circular nature reminded me of the Teletubbies home hill.

But it is really the unremarkable nature of the rest of the campus that really sells why Monash Clayton is such a depressing place. None of the buildings stand out, none of them have enough seating rooms to alleviate the libraries and they were always so desolate when you entered them. The souls that were inside the buildings that weren’t libraries, were like spectres wandering the halls. They were all too focused on their work, to notice you and you felt strange being in such a huge building, but it was deathly quiet and still.

I haven’t even touched on the lecture halls eithers …. with rickety chairs, crummy stands and entrances that were always clogged with incoming and outgoing traffic the moment the bell rang.

Just atrocious designs all around.

Fact 3.

Whenever the exam period would arrive, Monash would invariably book the Caulfield Racecourse as it’s home for all academic grading.

Not only was this inconvenient to get to, but it was also a stark reminder as to how the Caulfield campus was much, much better than its bigger, uglier sister at Clayton. Caulfield was like the slimmer, happier, sunnier younger sister. There was a central area to the campus that was all lawn, and properly addressed the movement of the sun at any given time of the day. The train station was literally next door to the campus, which meant the most hated form of public transport, le bus, could be avoided.

The campus was architecturally interesting, with a much more contemporary design that had layers. There were less students on campus, which meant more power points were available and the subjects being taught there was much more fine arts focused, which meant workshops and media rooms were plentiful.

Caulfield tempted me so much, that I actually enjoyed my time there much more than Clayton, working extra-long hours to complete my journalism course and actually having a university experience I liked.

It also had a damn Japanese drinks dispenser, which automatically elevates it above Clayton.

Fact 4.

The sad, depressing atmosphere of Clayton is an actual phenomenon that is felt amongst everyone on campus. There is a sense that you are trapped on campus. It is because, it is such an all-encompassing place. You study, eat, sleep, work, play sports, have sneaky sex in the toilets, engage in fights …. all on the one campus.

The moment you get off the bus and get on campus? You are stuck there, with no real means of escape from your timetable. You can’t sneak off to enjoy cheap Chinese with your friends, you can’t take a breather or a walk in the city … You can only leave the same way you came in, on a bus.

And the loop keeps on cycling every single day.

In many ways, Monash Clayton is like the Hotel California of campuses.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Fact 5.

All the above aren’t facts at all, just the rambling opinions of a very bitter ex-Monash Uni student, who hated his time at a tertiary institution and wished he spent those years doing something more productive.

In conclusion, Monash University represents to me a colossal black hole. Devoid of personality, atmospherically depressing and truly a waste of time.

Even the recent swathe of upgrades that Monash has poured into creating new, fancier and architecturally interesting buildings like the Learning and Teaching Building has not done it any favours. It is still a very ugly, lonely place.

My advice?

If you are going to visit any place in the south-east of Melbourne, just go to Chadstone Shopping Centre then high-tail back to the city ASAP. There is nothing here of note.

Nothing but the cries of thousands of students who wished they were somewhere else.

~ Damocles.

Bunny.

Yesterday marked the first time I saw the infamous Playboy bunnies in action.

And I felt nothing.

You would think that the sheer amount of eroticism on display would stir something inside of me, but all I felt instead was a strange mixture of apathy and vague appreciation. Seeing so many diverse types of women in scantily clad lingerie and various states of undress, really did not distract me from my work.

But let’s provide some context first. What was I doing at an event where Playboy bunnies were even present?

I was invited by one of my closest friends to assist with a catering job. Being an events operator with a casual schedule and is being constantly bounced from workplace to workplace, I enjoy the randomness of it all, seeing things that I normally wouldn’t and getting paid to do so, to boot.

In this case, the event featured a large strip pole stage in the centre, with tables encircling the stage and about 70 Playboy bunnies that would cater to any taste. The sheer amount of skin on display whipped at me, when I first walked out, holding plates of food for the 200 odd male guests.

There was just all sort of bodies. Tall, slim, busty, curvy, lithe, svelte, petite, voluminous, statuesque, … tattoos could be seen everywhere, from full length sleeves, to a tempting knife nestled between the cleavage of a woman.

The variety of colours was also electric. Neon orange bikinis meant that you were unable to tear your eyes away, electric yellow mesh one-pieces meant that it wasn’t really covering anything of importance, to more classy black spandex that had an exciting severity to it.

Then there was the themes. Naughty schoolgirls mingled with a Harley Quinn, a dominatrix waltzed by, holding hands with a delighted older gentleman and an older Asian woman flirtatiously sat on the lap of a man and dazzled him with her faux accent. I remember staring at this Grace Jones like Amazon, her ebony skin glowing under the flickering lights, her tall, athletic body a work of art.

Every 15 minutes, a new strip tease would come on stage. At first it was a burlesque performance, which was then followed by an sexy routine from a athleisure-clad girl with a basketball. Then came your classic belly-dancing act, from a Middle Eastern woman with dramatic eye-liner and shadow and an equally extravagant crimson sequinned dress that flowed around her long legs.

It was all meant to be distracting.

Yet, there was a dispassionate way in which I viewed every single attractive woman in that venue. I thought that I would be stirred by so much erotic sensuality on display, but instead it was like wandering through a living art gallery, where I picked apart what I liked about what I saw.

In all honestly, there was only one woman that caught my interest, mostly because I considered her face to be the most attractive I saw that night.

Blonde, slender, tattoo-free and wearing a black mesh one-piece that suited her curves, she was covered up a bit more than her sisters, with attractive contouring to highlight her naturally sharp cheekbones, strong jaw and straight nose. She had full lips, brown eyes that seemed a bit more defiant than usual and there was a challenge to her that I liked.

She knew that she was a bit too good to sit on your lap like that. You had to work for her.

Which brings me to the realisation that struck me as I was serving food, amongst so much debauchery …. I really do prefer knowing a woman before seeing her naked.

I need an emotional connection before I am turned on.

It’s strange to have such a deep realisation when you are catering staff in a glorified strip club, but then I can’t pretend that my mind doesn’t work in weird ways.

It also indicates that if I am ever to be married in the future, a stereotypical bachelor party would be off the cards. Strippers do nothing for me, unless it’s coming from a woman I have a connection with, which in this case, would actually be my fiancé.

This also answers the strange question I’ve always had about sex workers. Would I perform well in bed if I ever decided to hire a prostitute? The answer is, unless she somehow magically opens up in the initial half hour of talking and we form a deep emotional bond …. performance would be negligible.

I suppose that is very feminine of me … requiring foreplay and emotional intimacy before sex.

As I looked around the room, I could only feel puzzlement at how easily each of the men were led away for a private strip-dance for a princely sum. I just couldn’t quite reconcile in my head how a few false entreaties for their ego was enough to warrant losing their money to a stranger.

What was so erotic about it?

I have to acknowledge the big caveat here and note that I was in a professional mindset the entire time, running to and from the kitchen, carrying plates away and clearing tables. You really can’t indulge in scandalous thoughts when you have a job to do.

I suppose it didn’t help either that it was my fellow female waitresses that I found more attractive. Call me old-fashioned, but when a girl is more covered up, and it’s just her facial features that arrest you, I find myself a lot more drawn to them.

Because half the mystery is finding out if the beautiful face compliments the body.

Half of the thrill for me is the pursuit. I like breaking down the barriers a woman puts up before me, the genuine flirty banter, the accidental electric touches, the subtle ways we communicate our desires to each other …

It’s why, and as bad as this sound, I will always say that my favourite type of woman is a bitch.

In my limited experience, there is nothing more than I love than encountering a bitch.

To me, she represents the ultimate psychological defence. She knows she is attractive, however her standards for people are extremely high, leaving her disappointed with most of the human race.

She is often abrasive, opinionated, tough, and intimidating in all the right ways. She has a bit of an ego and isn’t afraid to wield it mercilessly.

Despite her brusqueness though, inside is a woman who just wants to meet a partner who can really match her, wit for wit, insult for insult, and just disarm her completely.

She is a romantic after all, despite evidence to the contrary and there is that insecurity about her, that deep down, she knows that she is pushing away a lot of potential suitors, in the hopes that the right one will somehow blast through all her defences and surprise her with how accurately the suitor can read her every move.

The bitch will then get flustered and confused. Her normal confidence will be slightly off-kilter around the suitor, because no-one has ever made it past all her defences.

It is that moment, where the bitch gets her comeuppance, where she realises that she has actually met her match, and that the guy or girl standing before her is able to read her and be her equal ….

I love it.

Because it’s so gratifying to know that your charms eventually won her over.

I can’t get that thrill from a Playboy Bunny.

Attraction is the result of chemistry between two people. You can get that anywhere, from a glance to a conversation.

Seduction is all about conducting a lot of hard research, trial and error and finding out what the other person loves.

Temptation is all about creating something palatable for your partner from all your seductive knowledge.

I live for the moment when I can tempt a bitch.

It’s the best feeling in the great game of flirting.

Nothing will ever top it.

Not even a bunny.

~ Damocles.

29 and on the cusp of prime.

Federation Square from the roof. One of the perks of the job.

My birthday has come and gone in a whirlwind of work.

It so happened that my birthday landed right in the middle of a 3 day work bender, where I have pulled 10+ hours every single day, doing nothing but physical labour. I have ended up pushing myself so hard, that I lost a kilogram of weight, and have had at least 1 Red Bull per day to keep going. On a more positive note though, I am sporting a surprising lack of bruises, a much darker tan and a lack of blisters …

So really, I got off pretty easy.

Waking up today, to a much more relaxed shift, I could feel the pins and needles coursing through my hands and feet, and spent an inordinately long time massaging them with a theragun into a workable state again.

As I sat there on my bed, displeased with the fact that, despite working so hard, my body clock chose to wake me up far too early, so that I was still running on 5 hours of sleep, just like the other two days, I thought about how I started my birthday.

It’s the been the main positive this year. Being kept so busy, that people raise eyebrows as to how I am still standing before them, with a wry smile and decent posture. I’ve pushed myself to massive extremes this year, mostly in a physical sense, because I will always try to ensure I work out at least thrice a week, to minimise injuries at the workplace and make my labour a bit less intensive.

Mentally, it’s bit a lot more up and down than I wanted. But again, if I am looking at things in a positive manner, then I suppose there is denying that I am a lot more capable, tougher and will-driven than a lot of other people.

In my small circle of friends, I don’t know really know of anyone who has quite tackled so much, with so many severe consequences to their future riding on the line. In many ways, my birthday has been so inconsequential in the grander scheme of problems that have assaulted me this year.

It couldn’t even be celebrated the way I wanted to, with a Halloween theme, a nice barbeque and all my friends around.

Too much has happened, most of it self-inflicted for me to really feel good about throwing a big party.

As it were, I had to attend this work event that I was a key part of on the night of the birthday anyway.

That has truly been the par for the course this year. A lot of wonderful things always tinged with a strong melancholy. A lot of brave smiles that is hiding the exhaustion and anger that is simmering underneath.

Exhaustion from work, life, love and drama … anger at it all, because that is the only emotion that can help me keep one foot ahead of the other.

I felt that primal rage yesterday, as I entered the 15th hour of work. My feet, sore, callused and aching, was kept moving lightly across the Melburnian concrete footpath by sheer will. I refused to let myself hobble or limp.

I could march forever, and I was going to do exactly that.

But as I marched from one event venue to the other, from the uneven cobblestones of Fed Square to the rich carpet of Crown Casino, I realised just how sad it was that I had grown older by a year, and yet I wasn’t really paying any attention to it.

My life had devolved into such an endless grind of work, so much so, that the classic milestone of a birthday seemed insignificant.

What happened to me …. it used to be such a special time for me to indulge in my own private event, something fun that I loved to plan and design.

Nerf gun shoot-outs, Halloween costumes, endless amount of candy and snacks, good barbeque, chill fun party games …. long chats about everything and nothing …

It’s been 4 years since I last held a party and there is something remotely tragic about that fact, like I can’t really indulge in my inner child anymore and just relish a day that is entirely centered around me.

It’s funny how nostalgic you become when its’ your birthday. You start reminiscing about earlier memories, thinking about which one was your favourite, which was the best way to celebrate a certain age and milestone. You miss the friends you’ve lost along the way and ponder about what might have been.

I suppose, even in the midst of all this selfish happiness, you always end-up with a bit of melancholia. It’s just natural to mourn the loss of youth.

Celebrating getting older, and being alive for another year seems like such a trivial concept, until you realise that so many people never got to where you are.

There are countless people out there, who never made it to 29 and are immortalised in their family for being forever 26, 22, 15, 7 or even 3.

They never got to survive and live 29 years on this planet.

I used to be more dismissive of my birthday. What was the big deal, I always said. It’s not hard to eat, breathe, drink and just continue on living. It’s really not much of an achievement.

But that was me being dismissive of my luck, my own choices and my health. Many people struggle with one of those three elements or all of them at once.

Some are just incredibly unlucky individuals who were involved in freak accidents that never let them see 29.

Others have made bad choices in life, whether it’d be work, friends, lovers or personal struggles … and took their own lives before hitting 25.

And a select few are just cursed with health problems that make hitting 18 a miracle in of itself.

The older I get, the more grateful I am for the choices, people and environments that I either unwittingly or willingly allowed to be a part of my life. Some of those choices have been tough beyond compare and it has been difficult to truly comprehend the magnitude in which they upended the axis of my orbit. But made them I did and I have to live with the consequences.

A lot of people will never know the impact they had on me, whether it be from a passing comment or insult to a heartfelt compliment. But I know who they are and what they mean to me and how they have improved me, regardless of how large or small their influence was at the time.

I just can’t forget some things, no matter how hard I try. The tears on a woman’s cheek, the sounds of the water rustling across sand, the way how my breath seems to catch whenever I think about something particularly painful ….

It is these melancholy feelings that dominate how I am feeling on my birthday.

Birthdays are meant to be a joyous occasion, but for the past few years, they’ve been nothing but gentle reminders of my past. I’m mourning the old me, but without any bitterness or guilt. There’s no point in adding either of those feelings onto my past, because if I do, I’ll never forgive myself and learn to let go.

I’ve let go of a lot things this year. It’s almost like I am trying to prepare for my 30s in the cleanest way possible.

29 … the final year for me to really get my act together before I can finally put to rest the strangest challenge I’ve ever made for myself, the B30 Challenge.

There is nothing to distract me now. I’m all alone in this fight. No-one is in my corner backing me, and that’s OK.

My eyes are forward and I’m slowly gearing up for my final round.

This isn’t a happy birthday. This is the ring of the bell.

~ Damocles.

Cinis ad cinerem, pulvis in pulverem.

One day, and he accepted the fact, he would be brought to his knees by love or by luck. When that happened, he knew that, he too, would be branded with the deadly question-mark he recognised so often in others, the promise to pay before you have lost: the acceptance of fallibility. Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953)

After being delivered a significant setback to a rather distressing legal case, I’m sitting alone in my room, Italian hard candy by my side, a ice-cold glass of water slowly condensing, and an unlit herbal cigarette in my mouth.

The only sounds you can hear are my hands religiously shuffling cards, the echoes of Fleming’s words causing my brown eyes to squint in concentration as I riffle through them. There is an angry set to my jaw, a muscle rippling along my cheek as I focus my energy and senses.

The very first game is of tantamount importance. It will provide me evidence, reassurance and a semblance of hope.

Four cards are laid out on the table.

The first two are mine, the second pair … the dealer’s.

I can already sense it, before I even pick it up.

It’s a natural 21.

I don’t even hesitate to flip it over ….

Upon seeing the pair of clubs, I allow myself a cruel smile.

I haven’t been bought to my knees yet.

Some things have remained undamaged despite what the world was telling me.

In some ways, I suppose I’ve always been a secret gambler at heart.

I’ve never placed a single genuine bet in a casino before, out of fear of addiction, but there is no denying that I love the call of playing cards and how genuinely exciting playing them can be.

It is a strange experience, at once, very sensual and sensory and cold and clinical. You need to be in touch with your inner thoughts, desires and will, manifesting and imposing your luck into reality, whilst understanding that logically such an occurrence is rare and that you need be aware of the odds.

Luck isn’t a deity that belongs to you. She is flippant, whimsical and elusive.

To catch her, you need all your strength.

I’m beginning to understand how I’ve been approaching my relationship to Lady Luck wrong this year. I’ve been far too worshipful. Far too reliant and slavish.

I need to seize control of this relationship once more. The power dynamic has been far too skewed in her favour, which has made me far less attractive and insipid, causing her to be bored with me.

Lady Luck isn’t a deity you pander to or pursue … you simply accept when she comes into your life and take full advantage of that momentary kismet.

Otherwise, you go back to playing the odds. You need to be clever, clinical and calculated in your daily life. If Luck truly favours you, she will visit you more often than others. But that is not a sign of favouritism. She is and will forever be out of your reach.

I have been slack with my off time, relying far too often on the frequency of Luck’s visits instead of playing the game the way how people are meant to.

It was this realisation that made me win that all important Blackjack hand above. Because I had finally taken ownership of my luck again. I wasn’t relying on a deity any more. It was time for me to create my own luck and then be grateful when Lady Luck steps in and boost it.

This kick to the kerb has been just one of the many that has assaulted me this month, let alone year. If 2022 is plagued with misfortune like I said previously, then let it come. This is just another problem that I have to face with meticulous planning, quick thinking and rapid deployment of grit, determination and will.

And it will be resolved, just like every other damnable problem this year.

If 2022 is truly as horrific as they come, then in the next 3 months I am going to be kicked to the floor again.

So I might as well get used to picking myself up from off the floor because I have ended up down here so many times.

Only this time, whenever I dust myself off, I shall be squarely reviewing my every actions that lead up to the moment and not blaming a mythical deity for my own poor judgement and planning.

After all, there is really no one else to blame except me when it comes to losing.

Fail to prepare … prepare to fail.

Today’s harsh reminder was just another brutal wake-up call about how I’ve gotten complacent in a lot of things. Too much time listening to others, instead of acknowledging my own feelings, needs and desires.

And truly not enough writing.

It’s one of those pitfalls when you literally don’t do enough self-reflection … lessons aren’t learned, self-esteem starts to plummet and you end up not knowing how you are lost, which is important, because knowing how you got to this strange location is the key to leaving it.

We all look in the past for answers to the present. It’s a classic story trope, where characters research clues hidden long ago, to solve modern mysteries.

Self reflection, and in my case, written self-reflection helps me find those clues so that I can resolve my current dramas.

In this case, I’m re-discovering what made my relationship with Lady Luck and I work. I never answered to her … she answered to me when it was convenient for her.

There is a cruelty to our relationship that makes it healthy and beneficial for both of us.

But when she is not by my side, which is far more often than I think, I need to be my own person. I need to be more than my beautiful lucky crutch.

It is said that you need 825,000 pounds per square inch to form a diamond.

Heat, pressure and carbon …. nowhere in that equation is luck.

I can’t be a polished carbon life-form if I am too reliant on luck being in the equation.

It’s time to reignite the passion I used to have for life again. I want to own once more, that same cold, confident and ruthless drive that has propelled me to most of my successes. I need to unlock that potential in me that I know has always been bubbling away there.

As I am writing this though, sometimes, even I can’t quite fathom how fickle my mind can be.

I mean, reading this, you are supposed to believe that one lucky hand in blackjack, is now responsible for the complete return to form of Damocles. That all he needed to get his drive, determination and dedication back was one good hand.

I suppose when you’ve been kicked to the kerb as many time as I have recently, the smallest reversal in fortune is enough for you to keep playing the game, to try your hand again the rest of the table.

The greatest lesson I seem to learn from all of this, is that I truly can be professional, despite feeling like utter shit. There is no denying that there have been incredibly low moments at work, but I’ve had the strength and mental capacity to block out the negativity and sadness and keep on doing my job with a smile.

Composure … it’s something I’m proud to have.

Even when everything around me is falling apart, I’ll always retain my fierce spirit and never compromise on what I think are important.

Even when handed devastating news, that set everything back by a month and will cause me to get into more of a legal quagmire … I’m remaining steadfast. All my mental training in the years prior …. all my techniques … they’re all best tested and standing up to the test.

I’m not smoking, drinking, falling for loose women or engaging in other forms of self-destructive behaviour.

As the Brits are apt to do when everything goes to shit … make a cup of tea, understate the situation and remain calm.

I like to think that I have the same steadfastness.

And I’m oddly proud of myself for that.

A rare moment indeed, because I’m often far too critical of myself.

So for once, I’m going to say that I am proud that I haven’t broken down, despite all the misery that has befallen me.

As I write that though, just when my pride is hitting the apex of its strut, another curious line from Casino Royale enters my mind.

‘Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.’ He laughed. ‘But don’t let me down and become human yourself. We would lose such a wonderful machine.’

I can’t help but smile cruelly at that. The sheer emotional gambit I have run so far would have crippled most people. I suppose I really am a machine at times.

No point in stopping now to be more human.

~ Damocles.

Apostatize

2022 has been characterised by misfortune.

Most of which is self-inflicted.

When I look at my brown eyes in the mirror, there is an intensity there that is softened by all the shittiness that has happened this year. My spirit is still strong, defiant … but it’s also tired and bruised from what I’ve put it through.

A key part of my balancing act in life, is to keep my natural arrogance in check through various mental exercises. The most important of which, is self-reflection and ensuring that I own up to any measure of blame.

This self-flagellation often means that I beat myself up regularly over mistakes that I know I could have avoided or done better.

It also comes in strongly whenever there are huge existential crises in my life. Whenever I look at a relationship, I know that there are always two sides to the story, two reasons why there is a fight and two ways of communicating.

It is up to me to take ownership of my side of the story, my reason why I chose to fight and why I chose to communicate my feelings that way.

A fight erupt over something as trivial as different cereals, but I have to own up to my reasons. The blame could be attributed to my friend by 70%, 90% or even 99% …. but the point is, I need to acknowledge my 30%, 10% or 1%.

Because without doing that, I will never learn how to communicate better with the other person and be a better person myself.

The only problem with that so far though … is that 2022 has had far too many crises for me to realistically handle all the self-blame.

Lady Luck has always been my patron Goddess. As strange that sounds, I actually do hold onto some old-school religious ideas, like the concept of a Pantheon of Gods instead of a singular one. I can’t quite seem to let go of that spiritual connection.

And within that Pantheon, there is always one that holds a special place in your heart.

Mine is named Lady Luck.

The other three I “worship” are: Melbourne, Eris the Goddess of Discord and Athena the Goddess of Wisdom and War.

To touch on all three briefly …

Melbourne.

I like to believe that every city has a soul, a spirit. The more you connect with this spirit, the more the city will unveil itself to you and be an exciting place to visit every time. Melbourne has always had this classical femme fatale visage in my mind. She’s elegant, always ahead of trends, is curvaceous and mysterious. She hides all her best secrets down laneways and it is up to you, to hear her siren calls and discover the best she has to offer.

I normally speak to Melbourne when I want her tempestuous weather moods to change and stabilise.

Eris, the Goddess of Discord

My adoration for Eris only goes so far. This is a relationship of neglect. Often there is not enough trouble for me to truly be switched on all the time and not be bored by my usual life. Which is why I often have to come to her and beg for something drastic to happen.

This irrecoverably blows up in my face and I then go running to Lady Luck to fix the mess. This is a relationship created out of boredom, where I want more excitement in my life, but Eris refuses to grant it, knowing that I can’t always handle her style.

Athena, the Goddess of War and Wisdom.

My favourite out of all the Greek Gods, Athena has always struck a chord with me, how she inspires intellectualism with natural inclinations to hunt and art. Beyond her symbolism with freedom, Athena’s origin has always fascinated me.

My relationship with Athena is one of simple adoration and aspiration. She inspires me to pursue a warrior-poet lifestyle and that just because I can fight, doesn’t mean I can’t do so with intellect as well as a sword.

Finally, my favourite Goddess of all,

Lady Luck

There is a genuine relationship here, with actual words and actions being exchanged on some level. Whether it is truly the work of a Goddess bending reality to suit me, or some type of strange subliminal telekinesis and mutant ability in the form of probability-warping, I got no idea, but there is no denying that sometimes things work out for me that normally would not occur in any other shape or form.

I’ve been blessed with this relationship with her, since a very young age, ever since I’ve acknowledged her.

Like most Goddesses, Lady Luck isn’t someone that I can just call upon whenever I need her. She requires careful readings of her mood, a precise understanding of her nature and an unwavering commitment to her and her alone.

I have been unfailingly loyal to her.

However, 2022 is the year where she and I have tested the boundaries of our relationship to the extremes.

As I’ve mentioned above though, it is not Lady Luck’s story that I am focusing on. I have to aim the magnifying glass on myself and see what I have done wrong, to see why this year, Lady Luck, has on multiple occasions given me huge emotional whiplash.

Beyond the obvious ones, such as the Formula 1 weekend that culminated in a raid, or the even smaller instances like a board game, perhaps the biggest whiplash I’ve experienced this year is the age old debate between career and love.

It is said that you remember the bad memories better than you relive the good ones.

However for my 2022 experience, it has been both at the same time that has caused me no end of consternation.

It has created within my mind, a paranoia around the feeling of happiness. For every extremely joyous moment, I am instantly struck, hours later by some terrible misfortune.

Let’s take one of the better weekends of my life, where I spent a Sunday at a racetrack, volunteering as a Flag marshal.

Having survived a near crash, spent the entire day relatively dry, despite the monsoon like weather and experiencing nearly 8 hours of incredible wet-racing, upon immediately climbing into my car, I was assaulted with severe back muscle pain, that left me unable to move properly for 2 days.

Where this pain came from, or the cause of it, I have no real idea, but it was deliberating enough to cripple me for a full day.

Joy …. Pain. The whiplash from a mental perspective is immense.

Every single good memory I have had this year, has been made less blissful by the immediate slap in the face by Lady Luck herself.

The apex of this mountain though, has to be the self-destruction of a 6-year relationship.

Our anniversary was meant to be a celebration of our past and present but it was the beginning of the end for me.

Again, it seems twisted that on the day of our anniversary, we had one of our biggest fights and was so close to breaking it off.

To add insult to injury even more, when she finally came back months later, hoping to resolve things with me … I broke it off the day she landed.

Another joyous occasion ruined. The day she came home to me, to repair everything, was the very day I decided to break her heart.

I still can’t look at myself in the mirror when I think about that. I’m not sure I’m even capable of being forgiving myself at the moment.

The day I lost her, was the day I lost a lot more than I originally anticipated.

A part of me was put down. I did it to myself, compressing and squeezing every last bit of that tiny piece of humanity, into nothing, so that I could really go through with the break-up. The guilt, the shame, the bizarre strength it took to overcome all those emotions in the moment … I lost a crucial part of what I felt like a core part of me, my sympathy for others, my ability to empathize.

I essentially traumatised myself. It was like using a hot brand, and searing it against my skin, a part of me forever marked by what I did.

I’ve also lost my feelings for another person as well. A part of me was wondering and wandering, excited to be in the presence of something new.

But that is gone now too. I’ve realised that the other person isn’t quite right for me either. At least, not what I need or want at the moment. They’re just incapable of offering me that kind of support.

Because the sad reality of this all, is that at the end of the day, I, alone, am the only one who can resolve this mess I am in.

And in order to do that, I need to really set boundaries for myself, learn not to push unrealistic expectations onto others and really keep my emotions in check. No one can fix the mess that I’ve created for myself.

Only I can.

It sounds strange to go through so many emotions, feelings of love, regret, guilt, crushing, nervousness and anger in such a short span of a week.

I keep fighting against myself, catching myself feeling one way and brusquely putting it aside to continue work. Then I will be OK for the next few hours, then comes an errant memory, over 6 years worth, and I will go back to feeling awful again.

The cycle will then continue. I will feel terrible, then put it aside, OK and stable for a few more hours, then terrible and immediately plugging that shit away.

If someone asked me why I simultaneously killed off all feelings of love inside me, I couldn’t give them a clear reason.

At the time, it felt like the right thing to do. Even now, the logical part of me is still arguing that it was.

It, being of course, the intense desire to be alone. To live a life without a partner.

But the heart refuses to listen and instead continues to assault my brain with immense waves of guilt, pain and internal suffering. I can’t sleep properly, eat comfortably or really enjoy myself in anything.

Life has become a bit duller.

You throw atop of this, my relationship with Lady Luck, which is now filled with paranoia and suspicion. I’ve suffered too much at her hands this year to really trust her. Perhaps, I’ve been worshipping the wrong Goddess the entire time, and it turns out I was actually paying homage to Eris, who has taken the guise of Lady Luck.

Shit. Perhaps that is a theory worth exploring further soon.

To sum things up, 2022 has been a chastening year. For all the incredible opportunities that I’ve had have this year, from making new friends, exploring new elements of my personality, landing two jobs that have opened up my world to the events industry, it has been marred by incredible loss.

The loss of some of my most prized possessions, the loss of my former introverted strength, the loss of my long-term girlfriend, the loss of my feelings and most crucially, the loss of a part of my soul.

When you compare the two, my gains and losses, I’ve parted ways with a lot more than what I’ve gotten back.

Look at yourself. Look at what you’ve asked yourself to give.

Do you even know truly why you are going through all of this?

I suppose the answer doesn’t really matter. Life is full of meaningless meaning and I suppose the sooner I embrace that, that there isn’t some sadistic, comforting purpose behind this pain, the sooner I can move on.

What a fucking shit year.

~ Damocles.

9/11

I like to categorise age by the September 11 attacks.

It sounds incredibly strange, but to me, 9/11 marks a fundamental shift in how we experience our lives.

I’m at the age where the term “young man” no longer quite applies. To be perfectly frank, if you forgive this momentary ego stroke, if I had completed my enlistment many years ago, I would be a career soldier now, at the peak of my war-fighting abilities and prowess, with quite a few deployments under my belt.

As far as reality is concerned though, I am actually quite close to my peak events operational capabilities. I can almost do every single aspect of event labour, from ropes management to marquee set-ups and about 100 useful other tips and tricks to apply to any event I work at.

I am quite easily, the most experienced events operator at almost any festivities I find myself working at. Marathons, Festivals, Shows, Raves …. there’s almost no situation where I am not useful.

I suppose the point I am trying to make here, is that I am more or less at the top of my game. Which is exactly where I want to be close to the age of 30.

They say it is lonely at the top, and that is scarily accurate when you meet people who are younger than you.

It just seems so strange to me, meeting people who have never experienced the world-axis event that was 9/11.

The world before 9/11 was a much more trusting one. Entertainment was lighter, more colourful and fun. People were less paranoid, less interested in the nitty-gritty of the world and much more trusting. Growing up in the 90s, its also difficult for me to reconcile the quantum leap in technology that has happened in less than 2 decades of existence.

I remember rewinding VHS tapes, seeing pixels animate themselves on the Nintendo 64 and being fascinated with Pokemon cards during lunch breaks. Lego was cheaper, more imaginative, because as a child, I had no interest in keeping sets confined to their instructed sets … I was too busy breaking them apart to make my own things, forging epic battles between ninjas, Jedis, Siths, terrorists and dinosaur SWAT units to care.

The world seemed a bit brighter back then.

Then 9/11 happened and everything became a lot darker. The world became more paranoid, films started to become more grey, airports were now security havens and in general, instead of a positive go-getter attitude that once defined the 90s, the early 00s became more nihilistic. A sensation that has only grown exponentially with the creation of the internet.

In fact, I would argue, that the moment those Twin Towers fell, something inside humanity snapped.

Whether we liked it or not, America at the time, was considered the greatest place to live on Earth. Everyone, in some shape or form, believed in the purity of the “American Dream.” That if you worked hard enough, you would earn your success and buy that picket-fence house.

However, to see America struck so deeply and painfully, dispelled the allure of that dream. It was like the shells from our eyes had fallen away and we were no longer enamoured with the incredible mythology that surrounded America.

Instead, all we were left with was the knowledge that if the mightiest of us can fall … so can we all.

It’s why I pity every single child that has been born post 9/11. They never had an idea of a life that was a lot simpler and less complicated.

The world post 9/11 is a much more traumatised one. We no longer had an ideal to aspire to. In place of inspiration, came politics, which is simply code for division.

Films, music, art, news … everything became a lot more politicised. People scrutinised everything more. The advent of the internet meant that 24/7 news cycles became a lot more pessimistic and harsh. Soon, you weren’t just aware of the tragedies in your own country, you also had to know about the geopolitical situation in a country 12,000 kilometres away from you.

Films, once escapist and fantastical, soon started leaning into grittier, more “realistic” themes. Stories about the government betraying its own people, secretive intelligence programs and whistleblowers started to appear, sowing more distrust in the government and its agenda. Action sequences, once grand and epic, became more scaled down to realistic, tense firefights that showed the “one-man army” approach in a more tactical manner.

Music, got angrier and more heavily politicised, with angry lyrics decrying governments for their actions abroad and domestically. Art followed a similar vein.

What all of this has invariably led to, is a deconstruction of what your country is and how people identify themselves.

It’s not enough to just be an American any more. Now, you need to be an ally of a movement, a political supporter, a pronoun and an activist of some cause.

Imagine being born into this world, where all of this is the norm. You feel enormous pressure to fulfill all of these duties, or else you become a shit person. You can identify as as variant in all of these things, but because they exist only online, they also mean nothing. Everything online is an exercise in nihilism. Your identity, work, personality and careful curatorship of what you like and don’t like, is as unimportant as the next person’s persona.

In becoming all of these things, you just become another byte of data for the algorithm to manipulate and feed.

People who were born after 9/11 have no concept of a reality where none of these terrible things exist.

It really shows. They act seemingly older than their years, because they’ve exposed to a lot more horrible things than people my age were, when we were younger.

I’ve noted that children and people who were raised in a post 9/11 world tend to be diametrically different to people in my age bracket.

In the sense that, they tend to act a bit older than their years and they try a lot harder in general. They care more about certain causes, but ironically because of the internet, can only do so in the most shallow of manners. They will be the first to change their profile pictures, the first to lambast you on the internet for your views and start a hashtag trend going.

They’re also characterised by poor memories, shorter attention spans, less engagement in the long haul and more easily distracted. Throw in additional unnecessary trauma merely for existing and a perchance for overcommitting to things and poorly communicating their subsequent cock-up and you got yourself a typical post-9/11 baby.

I naturally blame the internet, but also how a post 9/11 world has shaped the internet and its’ anarchy.

Because 9/11 truly changed the way how humanity thought, fought and now lives.

It’s just strange for me, meeting people who have no context outside this reality, that to them, the 90s was an historical decade that never existed for them.

They only know this twisted, heavily politicised and strenuous time.

Deep down, I pity them all. If only they had some idea of what life might have been like, when the world was a more hopeful place, they wouldn’t be as confused as they are now.

But then, on the other side, their optimism can be boundless, because to them, a more accepting and hopeful future is coming soon.

Unlike the cynic in me, who whinges about what was lost.

Hindsight truly is a curse.

Better to be blindly hopeful and work towards that aspiration than to be unbelieving that anything good will occur in the future.

Because at the end of the day, hope for a better future is what might create change.

I suppose my role, as an older guy, is to make sure that change is actually a good one.

~ Damocles.

The Cost of Events

Blade Runner 2049

You look tired Damocles. Tired and tanned.

The way how my mother said this to me, expressed pity and sympathy for her oldest son.

I was in the middle of my skincare routine, when she said that to me. There was no malice in her voice. It was just an observation.

As I turned around and acknowledged her statement with a weary nod, I looked back at the mirror and applied my eye cream, something that was supposed to de-puff the eye bags that were starting to darken with each passing day.

Looking deep into my own pupils, I could see the pale hands of exhaustion that marked the creases and folds of my eyelids, the bloody veins that covered the brown iris, and the dark mystery of my soul.

Clenching my jaw, I watched the way how the vein flickered and disappeared along my face with the motion, before applying the final touch of moisturiser to my face.

Closing my eyes, I exhaled deeply.

My hands went to my phone and I started checking over my schedule for the week.

Tired …. fatigued … ragged … these were all good words to describe how I was feeling at the moment. However, my mental strength hadn’t abandoned me yet. There was still a fire of defiance inside of me, that burned bright and true.

It was this brazenness that made me keen to start the long day tomorrow. I had work at the Melbourne Showgrounds from 0630 till 1200. Then came my latest new job, Federation Square: Events Operations Supervisor, from 1300 to 1700.

A 10 hour day beckoned to me. Challenging me. Taunting me to conquer it with some semblance of professionalism.

I can do it, but my God is it tough to do it, when you feel this urgent need to write and write and write, despite knowing you have to be up by 0500 soon.

It’s 2202 at the time of writing this and I know if I can get to a thousand words or more by 2300, and truly express everything off my chest, then I’ll go to bed quicker.

That’s the trick to beating my own mind. I need to be at peace in order to sleep quickly and efficiently. I need to know that I’ve gotten everything off my chest, mind and plate. The thoughts cannot continue to run, or else I will never rest properly.

I will sleep fitfully, dream restlessly and snap awake at the most inopportune times. Like a few days ago, when I knew I was allowed to sleep in till 0900. So I decided to go to bed later, around 0100 only to bolt awake at 0630, because I couldn’t relax my mind.

It’s strange how all of this work. My methods and techniques in dealing with my mental hiccups and moods are all unique strategies known to me only. They only work on me, because I’ve crafted them to do exactly that.

Writing out my thoughts … listening to certain songs … even sitting a certain way, helps truly relax me and calm me before the storm of my own creation arrives.

And it is a wicked storm that will last 10 hours, before throwing me out of the eye and flinging me God knows where.

Where will I be after tomorrow’s long day?

I suppose it’s also extremely curious the effects of public transport has on me.

I’m a racer at my core. To go from A to B extremely fast, is what drives my passionate side wild.

Public transport doesn’t deliver that rush for me, for obvious reasons.

Instead it creates the strangest sense of purgatory I’ve ever felt.

So much so, that if Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are all real realms, created by your worst fears, then my form of limbo would exist on a train. Destination nowhere, random stops along the way, always in transit and never quite fast or slow.

Because I’m not in charge of the driving element, it is a bizarre feeling for me. I don’t like not doing anything to warrant the speed in which I am travelling.

Nor do I particularly like looking at strangers in a cabin for an hour in the morning and evening. There is just a strange sense of dis-connection that I can’t quite fathom.

It only adds to the strange tired surrealist experience I am currently going through right now.

This is a dreamlike episode I am currently putting myself through. Everything has slowed down, to the point where my thoughts are no longer running away from me, I’m typing at the perfect speed and thinking in sync with the sounds of my fingers hitting the keyboard.

The music, is on a loop, a pair of songs, so alike to each other, heavy beats and the slow strum of a guitar: Out of Time by Brian Reitzell, courtesy of the American Gods score & The Pink Room by Angelo Badalamenti, sourced from the atmospheric Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.

It’s putting me in a strange trance, where every thought is loud, clear and almost echoing in my mind.

I’ve chosen this lifestyle.

The events life is characterised by hard manual work, constant patrolling, endless tasks, burning sun, pouring rain, tireless customer service, thankless acknowledgement, strangest hours, stressful situations, long bouts of boredom and the feeling of being completely alone whilst working in a team.

You are surrounded by thousands of people who are there for a good time, that only you can provide if everyone follows the rules.

The priest in a brothel. The chaplain in an army. The designated driver in a bar. The guy who is at “work disguised as a party”.

That is the cost of the events lifestyle.

I’m not joking when I say that I’m truly not sick of it yet.

In spite of the baggy eyes that look back at me, the trance state I am in to prepare myself for the long hours tomorrow, the calluses on my feet and stiffness in my shoulders, I’m still wearing a smile.

It might be tight, weary and a little bemused but it is a smile nevertheless.

I wouldn’t have my own career any other way. I love the down-to-earth nature of everyone in this business. I adore the physical strain against weather, safety equipment and events infrastructure. I’ve even made peace with the fact that events are temporary not permanent installations to be appreciated.

No, I’m not beaten yet. The determined fire within, still rages on.

I’m just need a bit of rest, that’s all.

However as promised, at 2249, I’ve finished writing over a thousand words, cheered myself on and steeled myself for the upcoming days, where I will be at a Marathon, an iconic square and a royal showgrounds.

And am I really out of anything if I can do all of that?

No. I’m never out of the fight against life.

I will bend it to my will.

~ Damocles.

FOMO – F**k Off, Me Only.

Perhaps the greatest gift introversion left me, was my ability to critically self-analyse emotional states in rapid speed.

This self analysis for my mental state has been an invaluable tool in navigating the world of extroversion. Because it is fundamentally a very different way of living for me, it has unlocked a lot of new feelings and sensations that I normally do not deal with.

The key one being FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.

I’ve never really grappled with this sensation before. It is as if, being more extroverted has made me more curious and keen to try out new things, that I had previously dismissed.

I find myself considering activities that I hadn’t before, getting upset at not being invited to things, and overall getting irrationally fearful of the idea that perhaps I have been living my life wrong.

Perhaps I am too straight-edged, too disciplined, a person who cannot lose control like everyone else.

Am I boring?

That was the question that was running through my mind, as I realised that my 20s have been spent largely the same way; avoiding the excess of the party-lifestyle, never quite letting loose and avoiding altogether the type of night where you can forget, regret and dissect in bashful tones later.

It was in the middle of this panic, my critical self-analytical side came through and told me sternly:

The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept.

It was right then and there, my FOMO disappeared almost instantly.

Why should I be ashamed of my impossibly high straight standards? I’ve chosen to live life this way.

No alcohol. No drugs. No stupid crowds. No environments that will tempt me to be led astray from my own exacting principles.

Whatever it is that normal people do, just because I engage with my friends more, doesn’t mean that I should compromise on what makes me a fundamentally different person to your average man.

It isn’t even a particularly arrogant claim either. There are just too many unique aspects about my character that elevate me beyond your normal person.

There are the surprised looks when I announce that I am a non-drinker. I somehow garner an instant respect that is imparted on my character. Then there is my actual name, which is relatively unique for a guy of Asian heritage. Even my appearance is strange, because of the numerous gadgets that populate my belt, courtesy of the EDC (Every Day Carry) philosophy I hold dear.

I’ve noticed that there are two types of reactions to my unflinchingly harsh values. I either earn people’s respect, or they want to drag me down to their level.

For example, my unwillingness to engage in clubbing or other raunchy debauchery only makes people want to drag me in more. The peer pressure is often intense and persistent. To the point where FOMO actually rears it’s ugly head.

Or they are keen to see me drink, as if witnessing me ingest alcohol will make them feel better.

People might question my standards, asking why I “subject” myself to such tough standards of living. I once met a guy who told he would never get along with me, simply because of my life choices.

“You’re not normal bro. You can’t loosen up.”

Which is true. I suppose I don’t really know how to loosen up the way everyone else does. I don’t drink, because to me, drinking is fundamentally running away.

You can’t find the courage to do something wild, so you need a false sense of bravado that can only come from drinking. It’s the same with drug use. Your creativity is limited, so you need something external to expand those horizons.

I don’t like running away from my mental problems. My defiance despite the mental strain, is what defines me and makes me stronger than the average person. I have confidence, wit, tenacity, will and calm because I refuse to run away from my problems.

I face them fair and square and deal with them on the spot. I don’t procrastinate, I don’t create excuses and I definitely don’t complain about my actions, if I know what the consequences are.

This is what makes me …. well …. me.

It’s why I wanted to address FOMO from a far less subjective way now. I can see now that FOMO is just a part of extroversion. After all, extroverts gather their energy from other people. To miss an opportunity, is to deprive yourself of that energy.

Which is why I am course-correcting my mental state. As a person who prides himself on being balanced and measured in many ways, I need to combat any heavy reliance on one form or the other. We’re talking about a guy who did a science and an arts degree in uni, can enjoy both indie and mainstream movies, loves military gear, whilst rocking a suit.

It’s why I have to learn to expel the emotions of FOMO out of my system. I can control who I want to see, and when I want to see them. I’m not as reliant on people like other extroverts are. Loneliness and solitude have always existed as comforting sensations in my head and I’m not going to give those up for the pleasures of seeing people every week.

I also want to remain fiercely independent. I don’t want to lose the points of differences that make me the person I am today. Rejecting the normal ways of “having fun and being loose” is a core part of what makes me unique.

Drinking, dancing and debauchery doesn’t do it for me. The moments I truly crave are those when the stakes are much higher than trying to score a girl’s number or a free drink at the bar.

Whilst a lot of people want to de-stress, unwind and hang out, I am all about the thrill. I desperately want more adrenaline, more activities that demand all my mental and physical prowess. Paintball, Karting, Urbex, Tennis, Range Days …. that is where I can really enjoy stress.

Perhaps the only true relaxing thing that I like to do, is golf, but even then, it can be mightily stressful getting a ball into a hole.

As I am going on this more extroverted journey, I need to keep reminding myself that the way I was living before, wasn’t wrong, ill-advised or boring.

I chose to live my life the way I want to, and swearing off the usual frivolities that other people engage in was a conscious decision that I made. I don’t have any regrets on doing so nor will I ever have. There are only so many places I can be at, at once and a lot of them don’t have much appeal to me.

FOMO is for folks who want to follow the trends and can’t buck conventions.

I’m never going to be one of those people.

So why should I pretend to be?

~ Damocles

Ambulance (2022) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II & Eiza Gonzalez.

Review by Damocles.

Street combat has never looked quite as good.

Michael Bay isn’t really known as a subtle director. He’s famous for a winning formula that genuinely makes his films some of the most watchable action fare a cinema-goer can get.

Some of them you can guess, like his iconic use of explosives and sweeping vistas with helicopters cutting across the screen. Others are just trademarked now, like extremely intense performances, crazy lines that could only pass in a Bay film, gratuitous lens flares and more recently, a very fun use of gore.

Growing up, I was addicted to scenes of Bad Boys 2, (which is still easily one of my favourite films of all time) and was a bit dismayed when the director chose to commit far too many years to the Transformers franchise.

But the release of 6 Underground, which is easily one of the most over-the-top Bay movie ever conceived, slowly bought him back into contention as one of the most energetic, frenetic and bombastic action directors working today.

I enjoyed Ambulance far more than 6 Underground though.

There was a certain restraint placed on Bay’s excess, due to the much smaller budget and the literal confines of an ambulance set.

I have always believed that the best work a director can make, is when they are passionate about a project, but are placed under certain restrictions. This forces them to work smarter and harder, instead of indulging too much in their creativity.

In Ambulance, you can still feel the presence of Bay’s signature style and taste, with prominent American flags still displayed in almost every scene, lens flares popping in to spice up the frame, and frenetic camera moves that enhances the chaos of the action, instead of the actual choreography.

Watching a Bay film isn’t so much an appreciation of finely tuned and carefully crafted choreography, but more a sequences of what is absolutely cool to look at and how these shots relate to the overall chaos that Bay creates for his action set-pieces.

For example, one of the earliest shoot-outs involve many incredible shots of SWAT Officers walking in tandem towards the chaos, exchanging fire with criminals who are scrabbling around, finding cover. This will then be interspersed with shots of police cars, drifting into position, particles flying across the screen, and the latest arsenal in Bayhem … drone shots that sweep the chaos.

The geography is confusing, the editing and cutting is fast and furious and the cacophony of sound is intense, but that is the point of the action sequence. It sells the chaos of the street combat in a visceral manner that can only be done by Bay’s sense of timing and direction.

In terms of direction towards actors, like most who end up in a Bay production, the actors give it their all. Cam, played by Eiza Gonzalez is clearly the heart of the film, her straight edged performance matching well with the earnest one from Yahya’s Will Sharp.

However, nothing can quite top the insane intensity that is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Danny. There is a sociopathic and manic unhinged energy to his performance that makes him arresting to watch, and creates much needed chaotic and unpredictable drama to even the quiet moments.

It is also a testament to Gyllenhaal and Abdul-Mateen II’s chemistry that they are able to effectively sell their formidable brotherhood, a bond that lasts all the way through the film.

It is that partnership that really sells the emotional element behind such a chaotic film, that is largely confined to the walls of the ambulance. The plot here is as thin as can be, effectively only used to sell audiences on the desperate moves of desperate people in desperate situations. It can be effectively summed up as “robbery gone wrong in LA” but such a simplistic summary doesn’t quite does justice to just how much Bay managed to wrangle out of such a simple premise.

Overall, the movie moves at a breakneck pace, slow only at the beginning to get you to care about the characters before shoving you head first into the wild chaos that Bay had in mind for his film. There are barely any moments to breathe, before the next insane action set-piece takes place.

From a cinematography perspective, Ambulance suffers or should I say, is enhanced by Bay’s classic use of advertising cinema. I use that word carefully, because watching Bay films is a lot like seeing a hyper intense version of a trailer. There is a clarity, colour and cool factor to his shot selections that makes them such visually interesting films. The use of lens flares, the dramatic close-ups, the quick cutting, the dramatic low angle shots … all of these create a reel that is never boring to look at.

As for the other parts of the production, I was struck by how authentic the weapons and extravagant the equipment used by the Law Enforcement was in the film. For a film that operated on a shoe-string budget, so much of the kit seen on screen had a real world authenticity to them and perfectly highlighted the differences between LE and the criminals they were fighting. This was in stark contrast to a film like the Gray Man, which had a much more hodge-podge aesthetic to the equipment used but with 4x the budget.

It should be said that Bay had a special relationship with LE throughout the production of Ambulance, and that many of the extras were active-duty police officers who wanted to be featured in the film, which explained why so many of the gear used looked so authentic.

Touching briefly on the score, Lorne Balfe returns to the world of Bayhem, by recycling a lot of his work in 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. There is a sense of almost plagiarism to some of his slower, heroic melodies that were also employed in 13 Hours, and a lot of the action music was reminiscent, however with a more strange, almost angry beat to them, to heighten the street chaos being displayed on screen.

However, it should be said that in most Bay films, especially the action set-pieces, music has never really played a strong part in defining itself outside of the film. It is there to serve a purpose and that is ratchet up the atmosphere of what you are seeing on screen.

To sum up, Ambulance is an intense rollercoaster ride of a film, with barely any time to breathe. It is shot in a gritty, street-level way, with furious action that is only further enhanced by Bay’s trademarked style.

For a movie with a budget that is meant to temper Bay’s excess, this is definitely one of his better ones.

A scene to recall: Literally whenever Jake Gyllenhaal says something crazy. There are some lines that only he could deliver, the unhinged madman he is.

Defined by Disability

The conversation was the sort you wished you never engaged in.  

Short, stilted, stifling and stillborn.  

Working at the Melbourne International Film Festival, which prides itself on its accessibility and diversity, I struck up a conversation with one my volunteers, who was partially blind. 

I opened it the same way I would with anyone else, a quick question about what they do for a living, what life was like for them beyond the context of this festival.  

He said that he didn’t do anything.  

Undeterred by the curt nature of the answer, I asked about what made him chose to be a volunteer at MIFF. He said he wanted to do something.  

Now actively struggling with the lack interest in the conversation I gave it one last chance.  

I asked about what sort of films he liked. He replied a bit more genuinely with “exploitation movies” but when pressed, did not elaborate further on what was his favourite sub-genre.  

Looking at his body language, I knew that the conversation was as dead as it could be. His curt, succinct answers, the evasive body language, the nervous twitches and the way how he seemed to beat himself up after every answer … 

It was time to just slip into silence and make it as comfortable as two strangers sitting in close proximity could make it.  

A feat that was easier to accomplish than one would think, because silence was golden. It was one of those rare things, that I never felt awkward about. Sometimes the presence of a person was enough.  

The resentment he felt about his blindness was obvious. He blamed it for everything that was wrong with his life. It showed in the way how he refused to use his walking stick, putting it away as soon as possible. The way how he stared at his phone, trying to hold it as far back as possible. His tone of voice, gruff and bitter, whenever asked about his disability and whether we could help in any way.  

I never treated him any different to a person who could see, never asking once about his blindness or whether he wanted any special treatment.  

But his resentment was all consuming. He didn’t acknowledge my efforts, lumping me in with everyone else.  

His situation and attitude was all too understandable of course. If I had sight, and began to lose it, there is no telling how I would react as well. Probably the same as him. My world would soon fade and be covered in darkness. Memories would lose their potency, faces, once so distinct and sharp, now a blur.  

How terrifying. 

Would I let it define me though?  

It’s strange, because I was born partially deaf. I am unable to hear high-frequency sounds, hence my actual voice has a lisp to it, because to me, words don’t have a tsch, sch, or sh sound.  

So I don’t know what a world with those sounds, actually sound like. It also doesn’t greatly affect me. I’ve normalised it so much, chose to live life without hearing aids, and just crank up the volume on things that I don’t really see it as a disability.  

Sure, whispers are a struggle and I understand it’s frustrating for people to repeat themselves, but it’s never been viewed as a proper disability in my head.  

I consider myself lucky, if anything, to suffer such a minor inconvenience. I’ve been blessed in a lot of other ways, that more than make up for this tiny shortcoming.  

But for this random blind guy, he was consumed by the trauma of his disability. He was unable to let it go, choosing to let the pain define who he was as a person.  

I know I am making huge assumptions about the guy, but there was such a strange sadness to his behaviour, I couldn’t help but feel pity for him.  

It reminded me of a very modern problem, where people define themselves by their past instead of their present.  

The way I see it, there’s two types of people, those who spend their lives trying to build a future and those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past.  

People who define themselves by the past find it easier to view the world as a place that owes them something. Whether it is a traumatic event, some ancient history related to their culture or something that happens to be trending and resonant to their values, these people find their worth in the past.  

It’s a terribly backwards way to live. Defined by your past, never truly letting go of issues that shouldn’t affect your future. But for these people, it is all they have to live by. At their core, these people will never truly move on, because the world is to blame, and the world has to change to suit them.  

Which of course is nonsense, because no one is beholden to anything, nor anything to them. You make your own way, no matter how difficult or easy the road is.  

But that is the deceptive beauty behind living in the past. You can make your own way easier, by blaming external factors, instead of the fact that you are the one not moving your feet in the right direction.  

You can manipulate the world into blaming itself, guilting itself to fit your narrative, your own personal story.  

It is these sort of people who, without conscious effort, will invariably self-destruct. 

To live in the past, is to always travel backwards, and stifle personal growth. You are defined by your past, thus you are unable to let go of it.  

Those whose eye is on the future, will always outshine those who live in the past. Because to live a full life, is to understand that you are always continuously improving. You aren’t defined by your past, moulded slightly by it, affected deeply by it, but never defined.  

You are more than your past, more than your mistakes, greater than your trauma and far more capable than your previous self. Every day, should be a step forwards in improving a part of you, discovering a new element within your complex and pushing your boundaries.  

It could be found in a new way of talking to a friend, reading a book about new psychology, exploring a new topic of interest, listening to different viewpoints or even pushing your comfort zone at work.  

This is what it means to let go of your past, because you learn from your mistakes, do your best not to repeat them and take on board the lesson.  

We’ve all been despicable at some point in our lives … what makes us better, is understanding the route to that mistake and not repeating the error.  

Similarly, we’ve all been slighted by someone before. Why should their folly define who we are as a person?  

At some point in that person’s life, they too will be challenged. If they let their past define them, they will never grow. Just like how if you allow that person’s attitude and behaviour towards you define you, you will never evolve.  

Don’t let the past define who you are … learn from it and look to something greater in the future.     

~ Damocles.