rockym93 dot net

archive · tags · feed

Blog

I've been posting stuff here since 2006. Please don't hold it against me.

Hindsight is 2020

04 January 2021 11:35PM

We haven't done one of these in a while, but the title pun was too good to miss.

We're gonna excavate these selfies like an archaeologist excavates a particularly bountiful layer of loam.

Given that the keyword for 2020 is "Unprecedented", one of the striking things about a lot of these is how ordinary they are. Like, in 2020 I moved house –

sitting on my delivered couch boxes as if they are a couch

– and started a new job, at the same place as my old job, let's not unpack that one too much –

awkwardly grimacing at my new desk

– and drank a respectable amount of craft beer –

with my dad and brother at the craft beer festival

– and ate a respectable amount of brunch.

having a wholesome brunch with the boys

But we did some pretty extraordinary stuff too. I went to my first protest –

at a climate protest, with Liberty, wearing a shirt that says "the seas are rising and so are we".

– and sat in a fire truck –

grinning like an idiot at being allowed to wear the fireman helmet

– and drank choc milk purchased from a primary school canteen, let's not unpack that one too much either –

four grown adults acting like children in a primary school carpark because they are holding tiny milk bottles which were indeed intended for children

– and climbed Jacob's Ladder entirely by accident with a backpack full of camera gear –

grinning, sweating, holding a tripod. Rose is in the background and is considerably less amused.

– and saw the movie people have been joking at me my whole life about

Doin' a thumbs up in front of a cinema poster for the film "Rocky"

– and kinda sorta got engaged –

rocky and grace looking at an engagement ring on grace's finger like it somehow just appeared there by magic

– and kinda sorta booked a honeymoon before organising a wedding which eventually got postponed but we went on the honeymoon anyway because why not.

Rocky and Grace with wine glasses against some extremely red rocks and an extremely blue sky

And then, in the middle of it all, are the weird ones. Carting office supplies home –

dragging a cart full of computer stuff across a carpark

– and working from trestle tables –

sitting exasperatedly at a trestle table with a laptop on it and a large cat in the way

– and doing innocuous–seeming things like getting off the train at the office but which, in context, were a bit of a 'whoa' moment.

standing at city west station in perth, outside the work premises

Look, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to think the thing that rattled me the most about 2020 was the unpredictability. What I thought I knew about the future, and my own ability to predict it, was rapidly and unflinchingly corrected, and as the possibility space frayed outwards, the planning horizon ratcheted inwards. Never mind planning your next five years – you were really lucky to be able to plan your next five weeks.

Here's the thing though kids – Nothing was ever predictable to begin with. Obviously, since there's no way I could have predicted any of this – not just the pandemic stuff. Now though, the illusion has been comprehensively obliterated, and in hindsight, the uncertainty about when, if ever, it was going to be over and what would come next was really worse than being locked inside and not being allowed to go to the pub.

Which is not a thing I should've been blindsided by, because obviously the cosmos is a vast, deep chaos, and obviously our level of control of that outside of a very limited sphere is an illusion. That's, like, the closest your common or garden space nerd gets to a religious tenet. And maybe somewhere along the line I got a little too attached to the idea trying to plan my life ahead of time and in a privileged bubble.

So as 2021 enfolds us and things appear, at least, to return to normality – whatever that means – I'm gonna try to hang on to a little bit of that perspective again, and maybe even enjoy a little bit of that unpredictability. Luckily, I won't be doing it alone. ♥

rocky, grace and harriet (the cat) on a balcony on a cold, locked-down may evening

(No, "Yolo" is absolutely not the correct lesson to take from 2020, but it's thematically appropriate and on brand so we're gonna roll with it.)

Happy new year, folks.

 your hand in mine

Punctuating the silence

20 September 2020 05:49PM life

Hey! It's been what, like, six months? We've got some catching up to do.

This is the longest I've gone without writing here since I started, way back in high school, which is now an upsettingly long time ago. The previous record, if you're interested, was the four months between May and October 2019, when, in hindsight, I was burnt out and dealing with some stuff. That's six very possibly historically important months during which I have no record of what happened, except for some musings about toilet paper shortages.

So, for the record: a pandemic happened.

As Times go, these ones are pretty Unprecedented. Historic, even. And there's a little part of me that wishes I had blogged, or journalled, or... I dunno, written something down.

There's a post-it on the wall of the office, now that we're back, which cheerily asks, "What did you achieve during the lockdown?" My answer - and as far as I'm concerned, the only valid answer - is "Didn't get the virus". Because that was the point.

I find the expectation that people "should" have used their lockdown time for self-improvement to be frankly laughable. Literally your only goal is to not get The Virus, and if you achieved that, you're all good in my books. I am bringing this up partly as a philosophical point, but mostly to excuse myself for not writing anything about the Unprecedented Times in which we're living. I know that future-me (and maybe future-others) will want to look back on this time and see what I was thinking, but... sorry, that didn't happen.

And so I guess my point is this - in lieu of overwrought historically interesting journalling, you get silence. You get a missing footage, a hole in the data, the blog equivalent of the layer of ash in the strata or the year without summer in the tree ring or the gap in the fossil record. What I'm doing right now is punctuating that gap to explain that the silence hasn't been empty. It's not the absence of a signal - the absence is the signal.

Because lockdown was miserable. That's it - that's the message. It was miserable, and boring, and - here at least - mercifully short, and quite frankly I'm still in the process of putting my life and my routines back together because it was unspeakably disruptive. We had one job, and that job was to not get The Virus, and we knuckled down and we did that job. We didn't enjoy it, and it came through like a wrecking ball, and we're still putting things back together.

I know don't enjoy taking work home. I know that bicycle-facilitated outside time and exercise are a critical way of delineating time. I know that I spend a lot of energy building habits and systems for myself. Those systems are more fragile than they seem, and it is entirely predictable - and also entirely unavoidable - that they disintegrated when subjected to Unprecedented stresses.

Anyway, that's what I wanted to say. When you look back at this period, this is how you should interpret it. The radio silence isn't missing data, it is the data. I don't know if that silence is over yet, or if now that it's contextualised and described we can sink back into it a little more comfortably. Maybe we've addressed the elephant in the room, maybe it's just a burst of static. I don't know. I don't think anybody does. We'll be back when we're back, and that might be soon, and it might be never, and either of those is okay, and we just have to wait and see which one it's gonna be.

How it happened.

07 March 2020 06:00PM life

"You know, I always worry about someone grabbing my bag when I sit here."

"You worry about someone grabbing your bag."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"No seriously, what?"

"It's nothing!"

"It's not nothing, you've been acting weird all evening. Is something wrong?"

"No nothing's wrong, it's fine."

"It's clearly not."

"No, it's fine, it's good, I promise."

"Just tell me."

"..."

"Seriously, just tell me."

"I have it."

"What? Coronavirus?"

"No! No, I have... it"

"I don't understand."

"The item."

"Huh?"

"That we ordered."

"What?"

"A few weeks ago?"

"..."

"..."

"Oh. OH!"

"Do you... do you want to see it?"

"Oh my god!"

"I think I should just give it to you. Here-"

"It's in a bag? Why is it in a bag?"

"You can take it out of the bag if you like."

"I... don't know if I can?"

"Do you want me to do it?"

"Yes? Maybe? I don't know!"

"I'll take it out of the bag."

"Oh my god, it's in a box. An actual box. Oh my god, sorry I wasn't expecting to have this reaction since we ordered it together but-"

"Do you want to put it on?"

"I don't think I can!"

"Do you want me to put it on for you?"

"...yes?"

"Hold on-"

"Oh my god it's real. Sorry, I just... Oh my god. I love you."

"I love you too."

And then they gave us free prosecco.

There is no 'back'

04 March 2020 06:43PM rants

Back when I was working my first supermarket job, we had a bit of a joke.

Whenever anyone came in looking for something and asked us to 'just check out the back', we'd nod politely and duck out through the giant, flappy panels - and take a five minute break. Then we'd return, looking appropriately apologetic, and give the customer the bad news.

Because there is no back.

In most supermarkets, what you see on the shelves is what's in stock. The back is a loading dock and a skip bin, maybe a goods lift, a very beige break room and an even beiger cash office - but that's it.

It makes sense, if you think about it: why keep something out the back where you'll need to pay a staff member to bring it out on to the shelves, when you could just have everything available on display?

Bonus points - and by points, I mean dollars - if you can figure out from past buying patterns exactly how often things run out, so you can order them right as they do and not have anything sitting around any longer than it needs to be.

(You can probably see where this is going.)

This is a carefully calibrated system, and it doesn't take much to upset it. Say, for example, someone gave the very sensible advice to grab a few extra items every shop - perhaps buying two weeks supply of, say, toilet paper, instead of one. Suddenly, without anyone panic-buying anything, people are buying twice as much toilet paper. The system isn't set up to handle it, the shelves go empty, and suddenly we've got a national toilet paper crisis on our hands.

It's funny to laugh at the 'stupid preppers', but there's a reason you don't know anyone who's doing it: it's because most of us aren't. Most of us are acting pretty sensibly, and following the advice that's given to us - it's the just-in-time supply chain that's in chaos, not society.

It's interesting that our first instinct - and I include myself in this, I too have done the snarky tweets and the office kitchen eye rolling - is to blame each other at the first sign of trouble, when what we're really seeing is a crack in the smooth, seamless edifice of consumer capitalism. That might sound a bit radical, but I don't mean it that way necessarily - it's just an interesting illustration of which aspects of our society we're primed to notice, and which parts we're encouraged to let blend into the background.

Or maybe it's that making fun of 'dumb people' is funny, while realising that our way of life is predicated on the continued operation of a devastatingly complex and interlocking supply chain is scary, so we choose to pay attention to the former while ignoring the latter for our own sanity.

I guess what I'm saying is... it looks like maybe we're in for a tough time, whether that's from the virus or the economy or the climate, and whatever it is, we're in it together. Maybe cultivating a little faith in your fellow humans isn't the worst thing to do.

Living in the future

02 January 2020 07:39PM climate

It's January 2020, and it's starting to feel like the future - but probably not in the way we expected.

We Are The Ancestors

Over the past few years I've had these occasional moments of perspective, where I think to myself, "We are living in the before times. One day, I will tell my children about this, and they will stare at me in awe."

Sometimes it's everyday things, like seeing the city skyline from my backyard. Sometimes it's less everyday things, like watching the fireworks on New Years and thinking, at the back of my mind, about the energy and time they represent. Sometimes it's fun, like marvelling at the intricate logistics of some little widget I want being manufactured and flown across the ocean and delivered to my door. Sometime's it's vaguely sickening, like thinking about that same thing happening for the hideous fake plastic plant I got in the office gift swap.

It's a sense of decadence and opulence, at a scale that's simultaneously incredibly intricate and unfathomably enormous. It's like we're at the heart of a machine that's both too complex and too large to comprehend, and its energy is directed almost entirely to satisfying wants rather than needs. We can accomplish wondrous things with a word or a gesture, and we mostly use it to snark at each other and order food.

It feels like we're living out a sci-fi trope. It feels like we're the Ancient Civilisation, and that any minute we're about to Fall, and one day our Descendants will stumbly across our Artefacts in the Ruins and tell Tales of Those Who Came Before. In shape, at least, if not in scale.

And I think maybe the reason I'm starting to notice this feeling more and more is because things are already starting to change. Not a decline, necessarily, but definitely a change.

Pre-emptive Adaptation

Here are some things which, over the last few months, I've noticed people I talk to doing.

But what's more interesting, I think, is who is doing it, and how they're doing it. For the most part, these aren't activists or radicals. They were pretty regular people from parts of my life I'd assumed were pretty isolated from climate-related issues. And they weren't making a big deal out of what they were doing - in fact, quite often they were a little bit sheepish about it, or cited things like cost as pseudo-justifications.

They're small changes, and stringing them together into a pattern might be wishful thinking, or my peer group maturing, but I think it's possible that we're taking our first, tentative steps into climate-impacted lifestyles.

We're told, over and over again, that this is not an individual-scale problem. That compared to the gigatonnes of carbon and the billions of dollars swung around by governments and corporations, your decision to have a meat-free Monday just doesn't register.

I have some issues with where that places the responsibility for the problem - and power to fix it - but for the most part, it's true.

But I don't think that's what these people were doing. I think what we're seeing here is something else.

I think we're quietly, unconsciously preparing for the future we know is coming.

A smaller, quieter future

We're heading towards a future where parts of the way we live now just don't happen. We'll live in a future where we live closer together, out of necessity and convenience. We'll leave our neighbourhoods less, as car ownership becomes less viable*. We'll leave our cities less, as air travel becomes prohibitive**. Our food will look different and come from closer as the kinds of agriculture that make sense change. Our consumer goods will last longer, or become less necessary, as the same happens to manufacturing.

This is not a Scandanavian urbanist daydream. It's a necessary consequence of a lower-carbon economy. Yes, it might sound pleasant, but like any change, if you get stuck behind the curve, you'll be running very uncomfortably to catch up.

Imagine, for example, finding yourself trapped in an outer suburb in a 250m^2 house which relies on air conditioning to stay cool as the climate heats up and a car to access as fuel prices rise and a barbecue you can't afford to put steak on and a yard to water as restrictions get tighter and tighter but nobody will buy or rent your house and there's nowhere left to go. Maybe you're insulated from the fires and the floods by the privilege of living in a developed country, but you sure aren't protected from financial hardship and crushing despair. If anything, it's made worse, because you can't tell what's wrong - everything just gets a little bit harder every day and there's nothing you can do to stop it***.

Once you stop and think about it, our lifestyle is actually extremely fragile, and the sooner we put the brakes on, the more comfortable that speed change will be.

Nobody's forcing you to change - yet. But eventually they will, whether through legislation, taxation, social expectation or the inexorable price changes due to supply and demand. And when that happens, I think a lot of people are going to be in for a bit of a shock, because this is a smaller future, with smaller dreams. It won't be realistic to dream of owning a house in the suburbs and travelling around the world.

The future isn't going to be worse. Or at least, it doesn't have to be, if we get our shit together. But it is going to be different, which kind of brings me back to the conversation around lifestyle changes. Because if we don't start changing expectations about how our lifestyles "should" look now, then we're only making things harder for each other down the line.

If you're interested in precipitating this epiphany for yourself, I recommend reading Station Eleven and Lost Connections within 24 hours of each other in an ill-fated attempt to hit your Goodreads target.

* because I don't know that the maths works out on everyone having an electric vehicle - or at least, an electric car. Other kinds of rideables, maybe more so.

** in my ideal version of this future we replace jet planes with solar powered airships, but that's still a slower, more significant exercise.

*** and you will probably vote increasingly conservatively because of this, but that's... a much bigger problem and this post is already running long.

< Physics and other lies