Monday, 30 January 2017

We need more courage to be compassionate in social media

Today someone posted, quite plaintively, "Someone post something kind, please?" And I immediately understood her feelings; I replied:
I know what you mean. I think people need to be more considerate on social media, they think it's ok just to prosecute their own biases there. But it's not. We need to share things. Social media is a community. We create it when we share.
The thing is that I have had conversations with a friend lately about social media and the way she had been using it to complain about her life, when things had not gone well for her. I had remonstrated and told her that social media is not just a place to unload your grievances. You had to find things that others could also share, because it was about creating community. So the judgemental and divisive would not serve the ultimate ends of the platforms - mainly, in my case, Twitter and Facebook - as well as other kinds of post, posts where participation was more positive, guarded and compassionate.

Strangely, when I made that post in the comments area I was having a similar conversation with someone else at the same time on Messenger. I said there:
I try to feel good when I am doing social media, I seek out the good feelings in the air and in the atmosphere, and channel them to others.
She countered that while I was a nice person, she was not. "I don't like being here much lately," she said. Here's what she was replying to of mine when she said that:
But it's a conscious effort. I have to work hard at it. It's just as easy to be dismissive and uncaring.
And it's true. When we are divisive and judgemental we tear and rip at the fabric of social media, we shred the air with our cries and our complaints, whether they be on the personal level or even on the political level. We ruin any opportunity to find common ground, and merely celebrate our feelings of isolation - feelings, like the constant thoughts that we experience even in moments of downtime in our diurnal rounds - that form part of the suffering of contemporary life. This isolation is ruinous for the soul, it brands us as outcasts and leaves us feeling exhausted and alone.

Sharing, on the other hand, with an eye to creating community, soothes the soul-destroying wounds that we bear on our skin at every moment of the day and night. Wounds that open and bleed incessantly, making us feel pain. We need the soothing salve of empathy to counter this effect of modern life, in fact we crave it, but in our timidity we brush it aside as a dream and then again tear and rend the social fabric some more. It is just fear that we express in this way. We need more courage to be compassionate.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

On hospitals

It's so hot and even though it's getting late there's no point in going to bed because I've been dozing on and off all day and the night-time temperature will be excessive tonight, so I decided to sit a while and write about something that I talked to a friend about not long ago. We were talking about hospitals and I said to her that I always felt compelled to stand up for these institutions, places which we normally only enter with trepidation, and of which we only speak in critical tones.

I had a lot to do with hospitals last year when mum was getting sick all the time prior to her death. I could refer back and get the exact dates but it was roughly from November 2015 until she finally died in July 2016 that I had most to do with hospitals. It's only fair to say that I have the utmost respect for the people who work in hospitals, even though they are obviously overworked by their bosses, and spend most of their time running around in a frazzled state trying to bring succour to all the places where it is needed.

But it's more than that. People are more like themselves in hospitals. You can have the most lovely conversations with people - whether staff or patients or the families or friends of patients - in hospitals. The presence of mortality brings people closer to their real selves. They are genuinely friendly and when they ask after you - just saying "How are you?" - they really want to know. People are more empathetic, compassionate and real in the presence of mortality. I remember sitting in the waiting room at the Emergency Ward watching the people go in and come out. The TV was tuned to one of the awful commercial stations that we have but I was unlikely to watch it when the procession of characters - and the series of events they performed in, for my exclusive benefit - was so rich and varied.

One family would come in and go to the administration desk, where they would talk with a clerk. The daughter who was limping when they arrived would be called to the triage desk, and ushered into the doctor's area. An orderly would use his access card to buzz himself into the actual ward - where my mother lay, waiting to be processed - and disappear from view. I freely admit that I enjoyed these small events, and this endless succession of new people. I am a flaneur after all - as my friend reminded me - so taking notice of the small details of existence in public spaces is my specialty.

So here's to hospitals, those busy hives of restless humanity where doctors - young and old, male and female - tend to the needs of people when they are at their most vulnerable. And the nurses - young and old, male and female - and orderlies and other support staff - young and old, male and female - all going about their tasks with dedication and commitment. If we listen to them they can teach us something essential about being human.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Movie review: La La Land, dir Damien Chazelle (2016)

There's no definitive image that encapsulates the major themes of this movie so I just chose an image of Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone) looking into each other's eyes. The movie was a nice surprise, as I wasn't expecting much from a 2-hour rom-com where the main character is Hollywood itself. But Stone and - to a lesser extent - Gosling do bring out the best the script and the songs had to offer.

The movie charts the relationship of aspiring actress Mia and aspiring jazz pianist Sebastian as they navigate the vicissitudes of life in tinseltown. The bad casting meeting and the underwhelming band practice are put to the test against the love and support the two young people show for each other. Mia eventually finds her feet - partially, it turns out - by putting on a one-woman show and Sebastian does a stint on keyboards with a pop band whose sound he in fact hates.

Interspersed between the acting scenes are musical numbers and it's here that Gosling falls a bit flat. He can't sing, that's obvious, and the director gives him a lot less work to do. He can play the piano though, and the film's producers make sure he gets plenty of work to do on the ivories. Stone can sing, however, and she gets lots of work. The songs are uniformly good. The signature tune of the whole piece, City of Stars, appears at tonic moments to remind us that it is the lovers and dreamers who make the world turn. In fact, Mia includes words to this effect in one scene where she has been called to perform in front of the casting agents for a movie to be shot in Paris, which turns out to be the hinge on which her career swings.

The ending is endlessly poignant and touching, although you wonder what happened to some of their promises to one another. I can't recommend this film highly enough, though, especially to those who like to walk away from the cinema with a lump in their throats.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Blowing bubbles

This morning I took a walk down to Darling Harbour and saw that they had put up the ferris wheel again, after taking it down for the New Year festivities. They have also set up a big sandbox occupying about 100 square metres on the esplanade, with wooden sides and wooden chairs on the sand for people to sit on. There was one man doing little jumps for someone sitting in one of the chairs at the front, presumably his son or daughter, to make them laugh.

Under the Western Distributor there was a person wearing one of those outsize cartoon suits used to entertain children, except the character being represented was a policeman. He had a yellow face, a light blue shirt, dark blue pants, and a badge over the right side of the chest. I thought it was an interesting, if back-handed, way to impose order on the crowds; the toon was walking where the crowds were thin anyway.

Further down, in front of the CBA building someone was blowing bubbles, and the bubbles drifted out across the thoroughfare crossing the foot traffic.

I went down to Chinatown and saw people already sitting out on the tables eating lunch; it was later than my usual walk, already midday. The noise-reduction hoarding around the worksite for the light rail - the trains have been stopping at The Star and will continue to do so until 23 January - had been moved, I noticed. More of the road at the end of Dixon Street was open to car traffic. I made sure to cross with the light. Then I made my way along Ultimo Road to Harris Street, turned right and headed up toward home.