Follow me on Twitter!
View my photos on Flickr

Skip to sub navigation ...

Archive for the ‘Books and Movies’ category

The Road leads to depression

Well, it was better than trying to portay the cannabalism in the movie.

I’ve just returned from watching The Road, a film based on the Pulitzer prize-winning author’s novel of the same name. After finishing the 300 page book just under a fortnight ago, I was content to slump comfortably into my seat in the sparsely attended 6:30pm evening screening.

I knew the end of the world was coming

Since my formative years included the early 1980s, I was deeply affected by what I perceived as the reality of impending nuclear warfare. Long before SCUD missiles rained down iridescent over Kuwait City and later Iraq, I remember sitting on my back porch step on summer evenings, waiting for the Intercontinental Ballistic missile to smash my tadpole and stamp collection to smithereens. I was certain that the world would end during my teenage years. I sat through The Day After, Testament and War Games; three films that helped convince me I wouldn’t need to worry about dying of old age.

As it turned out, untrustworthy, warmongering governments have somehow managed to keep humanity from inducing its own end, long enough for the cinematic cycle to turn full circle. The camp ridiculousness of cinematographic fecal discharge such as The Day after Tomorrow and 2012 (maybe the most disappointing movie ever), has done nothing to educate any of us about the fragility of our existence.

A planet that can no longer sustain life

The Road is brilliant. No government in conflict, no statesmen posturing, no overly dramatic build up to a nuclear holocaust. The narrative simply starts post-apocalypse, and whatever did cause the end of civilisation, well, it wasn’t the concern of the movie.

Instead, it’s a tale of survival in a ash-laden, grey-streaked world of seared landscapes and charred industrial ruin. It’s Children of Men without the hope to carry you through. I could taste the filth of the polluted atmosphere, the falling specks of ash, the grime of unwashed human wreckage. The Road contains minimal action but loads of despair. What McCarthy imagines we become post-apocalypse is what we are already on our way to being. Inhuman. In a world without resources, we begin to consume ourselves.

Unlike the publicist who write the blurb on McCarthy’s book, I wasn’t ‘sustained by the love’ between the father and son. I just feel like my deepest teenage fears have come back to haunt me again.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Three months to get two-thirds of the way though a book...

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, The Story of Success has put me in sombre mood. Well and truly. I finished reading it last night ensconced in a corner of my local Lebanese restaurant, a place I go where I delude myself that the food is healthy and low on fat. Working my through both lentil soup and deep fried kebbeh, I also devoured the last hundred pages of Mr Gladwell’s book as quickly as I’d chomped through the first hundred.

It’s an intriguing read, perhaps more so for those of us who feel that, in some way or another, success has remained out of reach. It doesn’t mean I’m not happy with how my life has panned out thus far; indeed life seems to me a pretty good deal most of the time. It’s just that I’ve never believed I’ve achieved anywhere near what I should have by this stage in my life.

Gladwell makes easy reading. Whether it be his gripping style or the ability to make the reader understand that complex ideas can be clearly explained with a strong dose of common sense, Outliers nonetheless makes me feel that I may well have squandered a good part of my energies on frivolous tasks. Whereas success may have come if only I’d applied myself more assiduously to other problems.

Some factors are outside our control

First in the book is what Gladwell calls the ‘Matthew effect’, the presumption that success is not just a simple function of individual merit. Being born at the right time and in the right place has a lot to do with it, though in my case I require more time to think about how being born into a lower middle-class suburban Australian family at the beginning of the 70′s has shaped my life.

There are certainly many characteristics that I share with friends of similar age and background. Often, we are the first of our family to have undertaken tertiary studies, at a time when free education disappeared under the Australian Labour government and a creeping pay-as-you-go scheme commenced, allowing financially uneducated students to incur massive amounts of debt that would eventually be returned to the State through the taxation system. Most of my friends have also continued to pursue postgraduate courses, or at least seem dedicated to what educators are now calling lifelong learning. We enrol in refresher, part-time, community college and a whole host of other personal interest classes on a variety of subjects.

10,000 hours? Not sure I’m there yet

Secondly, we all unanimously worked our way through university, often finishing a shift a the local restaurant before returning home to scrawl out that paper on Wuthering Heights before facing our prickly and turgid tutor at 8am the following morning. It didn’t strike me then, but it does now, that while I loved traipsing about the filthy vegetarian cafe in which I toiled, often until 2am, I should probably have been deliberating imperfect subjuntives and trawling my way though Greenbaum’s University Grammar of English. I didn’t put in enough hours doing the right stuff and I evidently didn’t accumulate the 10,000 hours that Gladwell claims might have made me an expert in my chosen field.

Today I can speak more-or-less fluently a number of languages, but I’ve never really put them to good use. I never obtained a teaching qualification to teach a language other than English and I never earned a PhD that might have seen me preaching in the amphitheatre of some ugly concrete monolith on campus. I made other choices.

Travel has been both my passion and most likely the reason I’ve never scaled any social or material heights. All, and I mean all my savings have dissipated through air tickets, bus journeys, pad thai noodles, visa fees, shoddy hostels and travel guides. Compared with many, I have had the privilege of visiting spectacular and wondrous people and places, yet I’ve failed to become someone known in any field.

10,000 hours is a number that almost flabbergasts me today. Ten years concentrating on a single field. Gates did it, among others. Maybe estimating the hours I spent hunched in a cubicle¬† surrounded by bilingual dictionaries, or headphones askew,¬† sat listening in the language lab and wondering whether I’d ever comprehend what the woman was repeating over and over in a rasping South American Spanish… perhaps I’d calculate a figure that I could subtract from 10,000 to devise a plan to accumulate the outstanding amount?

Gladwell’s Outliers has been the most enlivening but also one of the more sobering reads I’d had in some time. I think I need to put in some long hours.