The 21st century offered me a family in the form of a beautiful partner in life, Makale'a and a beautiful daughter, Gypsy Anna. What can I say? As many before me have experienced, the concept of self is radically re-defined in the context of a family. Beyond any doubt they became the greatest interest and passion in life. Of what could a man be more proud than his own family?
I have to confess, from the perspective of
offspring I was never particularly enamoured of my family - how typical
is that? - but now, from the perspective of parent it is an object of
love and monopolises my time. To wit, these pages, and others I was
maintaining all faded from view and only slowly have reappeared in those
spare few minutes afforded a new father from time to time to spend on a
computer at home.
Alas in 2009 Makale'a with a history of clinical depression and destructive beahviours
chose to destroy our family and a new chapter of life opened, that of
family breakdwon and all the pains and dramas around that. To wit family
was very heavily redifined as that of a single half time parent. With a
house to maintain, a strong presence in the local community and an
unwavering love of my beautiful daughter I maintain an open house and
hope maybe to create a more complete family unit again some day but
can't exactly choose when or how or rush that. My daughter remains
beyond any doubt the greatest passion of my life in the meantime ...
what is left of the family I hoped for.
Like many kids we grew up playing games, and the habit persisted in our family to the point where we (the children) got involved in role-playing games during school and university and simulation, war or board games as well. As I grew older, and television played a smaller and smaller role in my life, carousing, clubbing and reckless drinking all faded away from the social scene game playing became a more and more important part of indoor social life. As a family now we have no television, but a large collection of games, and love to play them as an interactive social past-time to compete with the otherwise ubiquitous couch potato TV phenomenon and rental videos.
Living in Europe for a while I discovers, like many lately, that the Germans produced games unlike those available at home and most people seemed to play them at least some times - in contrast with home (Australia) where games were really targeted at children (Monopoly etc.), party crowds (Pictionary etc.) or die hard strategists and gaming geeks (Chess, Kingmaker, D&D etc.). The Germans though produced beautiful games that could capture the interests of the young and old, the serious and silly, the strategist and the fun lover, with rules that fit on a few pages, took little time to learn and explain, and could be played in a reasonable evening's time frame. In Germany you could find these in great diversity in most stores (not just game stores) and on most families bookshelves somewhere. This has led to a phenomenon in the English speaking world, called the German game by many.
The winters being nearly as dark and cold in Hobart as in Germany we're trying to promote this culture in Hobart now, with a small group of enthusiasts with the introduction of winter games nights. Shut down the TV, bring together family and friends and play a game. That grew into the Hobart Games Society.
With the creation of a small family and
household surrounding it, I turned from vagabond into father and from
guest into host. Of all the hospitality clubs I experienced in years of
travel WWOOF and possibly Pasporta Servo
were standouts and so, with the support of my family, we became hosts
in both. While we do have and organic garden, we are not an organic farm
and eventually we left WWOOF behind and moved to the Help Exchange.
The same idea just not restricted to organic farming, and unlike WWOOF
managed entirely online which we found far more convenient than WWOOFs
anachronistic paper trail alas.
Ever since I was a child I entertained dreams of wandering the world aimlessly in search of my fortunes. After studying and working for a while, with enough of the stable life behind me I set out to do just that. I collected a respectable pile of experience and information on the road, some of which I collected together and summarised conveniently in a group of travel lists that were appearing in rec.travel monthly over some years before migrating to a more steady home here (they are very dated and defunct nowadays however.)
Travel for me is a very meaningful theme, riddled with potential and paradox. To travel with an open heart and mind is one way to discover the true humanity that binds us all, to erode our prejudices, and build understanding of the foreign and the exotic. I encourage all our young people to partake of it with passion and enthusiasm, and as far as their budgets allow. To travel without an open mind and heart on the other hand contributes little to the traveller in the way of personal development, providing at best some entertainment and/or comfort. Therein lies the paradox of travel for me. To bring this paradox into the spotlight, tourism is the largest industry in the world today (measured in turnover). It serves to highlight in peculiar ways the economic divide between the rich and the poor, something the open hearted traveller will empathise with rapidly, and the closed minded traveller may never truly appreciate. It will inevitably, I think, cause some rumination, and concern, and change in travel style, in those who care ...
While on the road I developed a serious passion for hitching. Why? Because it's cheap? Well, partly, but ultimately because it's adventurous, and it brings you into such close contact with local people wherever you are. Friendly, helpful local people at that. It is a way of moving around perfectly suited for the open hearted, open minded traveller, and all too often misunderstood and misjudged by the popular media and the general public (who gain their impressions and build their views from the popular media).
For the Christmas of 1995, Kirsty Brooks compiled a wonderful book on hitchers anecdotes for which she invited me to contribute some of my own memories. I collected some of them for her one night and some (three) of them made it into print. The rest I published on the web and it's grown into something of a book itself in the meantime. I call it Anywhere But Here: the memories of a hitch-hiker.
Late in 1996 I accepted the role of contributing editor on Hitch-hiking at Suite 101, where I published regular articles and maintained a list of resources as well until 2002. It's not a bad web navigation site, and I'd welcome any visitors to my old corner of it (it's up for adoption).
I also started to collect some hitch-hiking resources on-line, for my own reference, source material for the articles I write, and to make them publicly available as well. They have in the interim attracted the attention and praise of the occasional researcher into hitch-hiking -- people I'm always keen to hear from in this radically under-researched field. Off-line I have easily enough material for a sociological thesis and a back burner project is make that accessible on-line. The library of hitch-hiking material on my shelves is beyond any doubt the largest ever amassed (and I am not by nature inclined towards superlatives).
Well before my body kicked into gear and hit the road, my heart and soul did. I could never find much solace in religion as it was presented to me in my youth, growing up a keen skeptic, atheist, scientist. In reflection this left me a rather cold and calculating youth I guess. As I discovered more and more of my own feelings and personal relationships through my late teens and early twenties, I came across a recognised philosophy cum religion that harmonised uncannily with what was going on inside of and around me. Since that time I have had a keen appreciation for Buddhism generally and Zen specifically.
Zen to me seems to capture in its modes of expression the very essence of life, the very nature of living, and of the world we do it in. If I were to summarise all of Zen in one word, it would have to be Paradox. Perhaps one of the most central theses of Zen is that nothing holds true in its entirety, including this very fact, leading us to conclude that something must indeed hold true in its entirety. Or? Well no, not really, the jewel that is Zen is in many ways about the folly of our efforts to understand and a plea to feel ... with which will come understanding on a inexpressible level. And if anyone should read this, who holds a very different view of Zen, that too is one of its beauties, the many faces it presents, and the many meanings it provides. It seems to me at times to be every person's tool to better understanding, with the exception of those with a fear of incertitude and imprecision (of which it is built). It is the antithesis of dogma.
I've always cherished the dark humour of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., and in particular a book of his (Cat's Cradle), in which he familiarises us with the rather esoteric Caribbean religion of Zen, also took hold of my heart. In general I find the books of Vonnegut interesting but his description of Bokononism seems to encapsulate so many of my own feelings that I can't help but identify favourably with it. Indeed Bokononism seems to achieve, using full frontal ridicule, what Zen achieves using enigmatic allusions and paradox. Bokonon's teachings are also concerned with the folly of learning, and the imprecise incertitude that is living. Like Zen it is entwined in paradox - Bokonon provides the people with a certitude in incertitude, and understanding in their ignorance. True Bokononists know they are duping themselves, but love doing it, revelling in their humanity.
One of the more interesting cultural phenomena I came across on the road, was a planned language called Esperanto. A language planned by a Polish eye doctor over a hundred years ago, in an attempt to break the language barrier. It was designed to be quick and simple to learn and culturally unbiased. While it failed to achieve all of those goals, it did get part of the way, and most significantly attracted a strong following. It surprised me greatly, and still does, that there are apparently several million fluent speakers of this no-man's language spread all over the world.
It turned out to be very easy to learn indeed, after two quick courses, and a week long easter festival I was speaking adequately, and have enjoyed the company of Esperantists world-wide ever since. A friendly community of people with very international, multicultural and peaceful leanings. Indeed to the impending world traveller, I can recommend very strongly to take the time to learn this language. It has opened more cultural doors for me than any other single language could have (with the possible, though debatable, exception of English) and has been one of the richest sources of international contacts I've come across.
Linguistically it isn't a "perfect" language. There are some internal inconsistencies, cultural and alas sexual biases in its structure. Over a hundred years old now some of these have evolved out of the language, yet others have evolved into the language. It is a living language and shares all the vices and virtues of other living languages in one way or another. There have been many other planned languages before and since, which have tried to be better, to be the perfect language perhaps. Some may have even succeeded! But none of them can boast a living community the way that Esperanto can, that is what sets it apart - the astounding, oft disbelieved, fact of its many many living speakers.
I once made a record of how I learned Esperanto for those that might be interested in learning it themselves and it has drawn quite some interest over the years. I've also collected a few modest Esperanto resources on-line, though I'd recommend a simple keyword search with any search engine to turn up thousands of pages all about Esperanto - better than anything I have here.
Beauty comes in many forms. There is the beauty of the purely abstract on the one hand, and there is a beauty which is representative on the other. In between there is a world of allusion -- a world of hints and clues and imprecision, of empathy and sympathy. That is the world of symbols, and one which fascinates. It is the realm of metaphor and rhetoric, of meaning and labels. We can communicate a great deal, very tersely with the beauty of symbolism and just as quickly spread confusion and misunderstanding.
In fact it's a central thesis of mine that there is no alternative. Pure abstraction is myth every bit as much as pure representation. On the one hand, the ink-blot was given meaning by Rorschach and on the other, the concept of "1" has much broader allusions than the mere numeric notions it's been assigned by the mathematicians. Everything lies in the world of Symbols because that is how we perceive things.
Anything so ubiquitous must be good! Beautiful while banal. Vibrant while vulgar. Language is built on symbols, and language is the tool of all. Language prides itself on its abstractions and its representations all at once. It underlies everything I've presented above. Language binds, and language is a collection of symbols.
I wrote a small theory of symbols one night and think on and off, of working some of my favourite symbols into an exposé to illustrate it. The drafted seeds of that illustration have proved so personal as to challenge my desire to publish it and at least demand a lengthy period of working, waiting, rethinking, and proofing. Perhaps one day I will publish it. For the moment I'll content myself with a short presentation of some of the symbols that it would focus on.
I was a German speaking immigrant to Australia at the age of 5. I picked up English in remedial English classes with a whole mob of immigrant kids in the same position, at the tail end of Australia's "Populate or Perish" fashion of encouraging and subsidising rapid immigration. Something didn't work out though, I was a flop at English. I couldn't tell you what I was I like at German, because I never studied it, but at English I was a flop. I was an A grade math and science student, but languages ... In high school I never quite failed English, but I failed my fair share of essays and assignments. English was the only subject for which I received borderline matriculation grades!
But, to cut a long story short, that all changed in adult life. I'll thank the women, the work and the travel in my life for that, and avoid exploring the plethora of details here. The bottom line is, I started writing, first personally, then semi-professionally, then professionally. Feedback was good, I was encouraged, and like every other emotive automaton out there, I enjoyed doing things I was encouraged to do by warming feedback. I'm still no prolific writer, don't think I ever will be or want to be, but I grew to love that which I loathed, the written word, and I can rightly call the art, a firm interest of mine - albeit off the beaten path of classical literature. Can't say I've ever earned a serious buck from it, but then who has? A fraction of one percent of the total (exploding) community of writers?
I've worked ever so slowly on a book, tapped out a monthly column for ages, and more generally, am predisposed when time permits to record my thinking and feeling in writing. The internet being what it is, has, I suspect already created more writers than all of human history prior to it! Now I too, in the right context, call myself a writer, wondering all the while, what the heck that might mean ... or ever did mean.
Most of what I have written, unsurprisingly, falls into contexts described above. I tap out random rambles here and there, during my travels, and in my diaries. I have a little corner here for throwing miscellaneous writings independently of the various other resource pages I keep for specific interests. It is however meagre and with the arrival of family, not likely to grow any in a hurry.