Wednesday, August 17, 2005

getting to the point

From an email to S... I am at 8.43pm, still in the office. I seriously need to get out of this habit of staying long hours when I don't need to. Tonight I came back to the office after soccer and thought I'd just tidy some things up, and here I am 2 hrs later. I need to discipline myself to do things like turn my computer off before I go to soccer or whatever.

Re: pointlessness - I agree. I don't believe there's any point or porpoise to anything. I believe individual lives can have a point/porpoise though. This is most likely just a device I use to avoid a feeling of utter pointlessness. Then again, I don't have a problem with pointlessness. But I do think that one is likely to feel a bit more content/fulfilled if one has a point to work towards. That is quite possibly a socially conditioned (or maybe partly innate?) way of thinking - philosophically I can't see why people couldn't have rich lives without any point (beyond enriching their lives by having fun or snorting bleach or whatever). Though I guess I feel some sort of moral imperative to "make the world better" -- even if only in a miniscule way. How one defines what is "better" is of course very subjective.

I do often wish I could shed all the social pressure (much of it self-imposed) to adhere to certain ways of life and really do something that isn't "sensible". Not sure what exactly, but it probably involves travel. The problem is that I seem to be entirely entrenched in a system that requires some sort of income. But probably considerably less than most people would have me believe.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Slightly edited email to a friend who sent me the first section of the article here (though I would ordinarily be extremely wary of anything from an astrology site, this is pretty well written and it did provoke my thought...).

Mentally pooped just now; this is probably incoherent (just lots of work, not enough sleep, and my wrist hurts from mouse overuse, sob…). But yes. I have to admit that the hard-edged, incisive cynic has some sort of attraction. And while I remain averse to trite, gratuitous, mawkish sentimentalism, I do often think things wouldn’t be nicer if people would be more damn positive about stuff.

I think there’s a place for skepticism if not cynicism though. Because I think a lot of the things that a lot of the people regard as good and positive revolve around ideas that have been sold to us by faceless corporations who just want our money.

I also sometimes feel like I really fail to live the way I think I should – fail to prioritise the things I think are truly important. Friends, family, community – all those hippie things. And right now I feel completely info-overloaded. I love books. I want to read lots of books before I die. I think in the last 2 months I’ve read about 3 pages of the book I’ve been reading for the last… 6 months? More? Partly it’s because I’ll almost always say yes to meeting friends before staying home and reading, but partly it’s because by the time I get to bed I’m so shagged that I don’t have the energy. And I’ve had so much information fly at me all day – some of it is interesting and/or relevant but an awful lot of it goes in the if-I-never-saw-it-my-life-would-be-no-poorer basket (actually my life would be richer for having not seen it, if only for the time that would save). I really feel time-poor just now. The whole downshifting / slower life thing appeals in many ways. Sometimes I’m not sure why I’m not a student in Melbourne, spending too long over coffee with friends.

I think this sounds much more negative than it would if I weren’t tired. Despite being hard on myself at times, I really do think of myself as positive. Maybe this is delusion, but I think it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

oh look, a little baby!

D ended up with a fancy-ish hotel room to herself in Manila on friday night, after a training workshop. I drove in late (got there about midnight), had dinner with her and stayed at the hotel (it was fun, but the next day I got stressed because of work and we had a bit of a tizz).

Anyway - if you only visit certain places here, you can forget that the country has a lot of serious poverty. And you sort of desensitize a bit too. But, regularly enough, you see stuff that reminds you that poverty is actually pretty serious here (for a few minutes at least before you go and but a coffee that costs the average daily wage and get back to worrying about all your educated, white, middle-class worries, like whether you're in the right career blah blah; why the hell you're writing this shit when you have DEADLINES, boy! DEADLINES!!).

So, in the early hours of Sunday morning, D and I were walking past a small park in the middle of the
restaurant/bar area of Malate when I noticed that, lying prostrate and alone on a concrete area next to the grass, was a stark naked, dirt-filthy 1-2 year old baby boy. No sign of any parents or guardians; presumably they were out on the street somewhere trying to make a buck. Or he'd been abandoned. And I didn't even think till hours later that maybe I should've told someone. If I saw that in Oz I would have reported it to some sort of authority immediately. Here, it just seemed...not normal, but not worth reporting. I sense that if we'd reported it, nothing would have happened, but wonder if I should have tried.

Anybody could have picked him up and taken him. I've read reports here of people abducting babies and then renting them out to beggars for the day, because you can garner more sympathy if you have a baby. I guess the day I get desensitised to that sort of thing is a good day to leave.

hard day's night

Yesterday I worked till dinner, had dinner over a couple of hours at a friend's place then worked from 10pm to 2am then got up at 7.30 for work and am staring the same routine in the face again (but with less time over dinner.

I say that not to whinge...actually, I do say that to whinge, but not to try and sound big-man (or "let the heat out of the oven door" as NP would say). Just emphasizing that I am genuinely really busy and not just "a bit" busy and having to stay in the office till 6 or something. I've worked the last few weekends and almost every weeknight of the last few weeks to make sure the next issue of the magazine gets out on time (deadline is next Tues). That's fine - in a way I don't mind that, though I get sick of really long hours - but the Head Honcho of the institute asked me last week if I can prepare a manuscript to accompany a 65-slide, 40-minute speech he's giving later in the year, and I have to do it by this Friday. I'd already planned to work nights and weekends to get the mag done before this came up. I did recognize it was, of course, a very good kiss-arse-of-HH (who seems a nice guy, BTW) opportunity, but 1) I don't want to kiss the arse of senior management people for the sake of kissing arses and 2) I really didn't know how I could do it and do a decent job.

I actually tried to handball it to my direct boss, but then he had to leave for Vietnam at short notice, and I was pretty much the only person left. And then I was asked - by the HH again - to write a speech (admittedly only a short one) based on a few bullet points for a senior member of staff to give at the 80th birthday of a former HH of the institute (also due Friday). This pissed me off. Why on earth couldn't a guy who's been a senior scientist for decades - presumably giving talks all over the world - and who's actually retired now (still working a bit as a consultant but not managing a department or anything) write a speech himself, especially as he knows the 80 y.o. already and I've never met him?? And this time I didn't even get a chance to handball it - I just got told I was doing it.

I seem to have kept things under control but I had a little stressy moment yesterday when I got back to the office from lunch to find that no less than 5 students from the local uni had turned up unannounced to interview me about my job as part of their Development Communication degree.

The whole thing makes me wonder - why do I try so hard to get the work done on time (and to a decent quality). If that is professionalism, what actually drives me to be professional?

I enjoy parts of the work, but I don't love it enough to feel good about working 15 hours a day. I have a few other things in my life that I wouldn't mind doing occasionally.

It's not because I'm being paid loads of money. My salary is high relative to local salaries, true, but not all that high by Oz standards (less than my last job in Oz, although this is tax-free and cost of living is much lower, so my saving capacity has increased). And I doubt that a high salary would be much incentive, anyway. Low salaries are apparently much more of a disincentive than high salaries are an incentive.

It's not through some sense of doing anything amazingly worthwhile on a human scale. I could paint a picture of it like that, I guess - working in international development ra ra ra, but I'm fairly convinced that if I didn't do this job it, it wouldn't disadvantage anybody (except maybe the few people at work who'd have to take up the slack.

So what drives me? Fear of failure? A desire to be well-liked? Banal financial stability (not to be taken for granted, true, but possibly not worth sacrificing the best years of one's life to attain). Blind adherence to convention / a Protestant work ethic (irrespective of my secular upbringing)?

I often feel like I'm pouring all my intellectual energies into something for which I really don't have that much passion. Would I not be better off spending my years studying things I'm really interested and spending a year or two to save the money to go on cheap backpacking travels? And, if I do want to contribute to some social good, as I claim, I suspect I'd have more impact dishing out meals at a soup kitchen.

That all makes me sound bitter. I'm not - I'm not unhappy with work just now. Although I seem to oscillate between self-flagellation due to doing too much and self-flagellation due to not doing enough. I'm no psychiatrist (though I have watched high-quality medical dramas that include psychiatrist characters), but I don't think that's healthy. I just can't quite understand why I spend so much bloody time doing it.