Saturday, January 02, 2010

Tapping into Madness

That sinking feeling by Pants

Christmas. It's a time of visiting and being visited. Around a month ago, I set off to traverse our great nation by the cheapest possible means. My destination was the house of Ma Pants in distant Queensland, centre of all festivities in the Pants family. It meant departing Seat of Pants at around 5am with empty rucksack strapped to back and laptop parked securely in carry-on luggage. My distrust of cabs brought the departure forward half an hour. It seems to me that whenever you give a wee hours pickup time and transport terminus destination to a cab company they laugh insanely for ten minutes and then go back to sleep. That probably doesn't happen in Larrikin's End but the dawn walk to the bus stop ensured that I would get there promptly provided I didn't trip over a dozing wombat or get press-ganged into a blueberry picking crew en route.

Twelve hours, two buses, one train and a plane trip later, I arrived at a tropical airport to be confronted with the oddest design for a wash facility I have ever seen (above). In case you think you are being tricked, that is in fact a running tap gushing onto a thick slab of marbelite. Just the ticket when you have stepped off a plane to have your best pair of travelling Hush Puppies water-stained in the first ten minutes of arrival. In possibly the most useless washroom ever created, there is no shelf for laying out your face-freshening equipment and you can forget about using it to put in your contacts or brush your teeth. What are they doing in design schools these days?

The demoralising feeling that one is living in a world made up only of tangents is inescapable. I read in Times Online this morning that the British energy supplier Npower sent out 12 million energy-saving lightbulbs adding unwanted pressure to the already strike-crippled Christmas post. The reason? To meet a mandatory target to contribute to emissions reduction and, more importantly, beat a ban on unsolicited distribution of lightbulbs. Why the ban? Because most of the lightbulbs sent won't be used. A win/win for Npower. Clearly, no energy company wants people to use less electricity. This kind of appearance-focussed pettiness (on both sides) creates in one a gnawing nostalgia for a lost moral universe.

Returning home to find Seat of Pants filled with Melburnians here for the famed Larrikin's End fireworks display, I crawled off to a quiet corner to open my college results. All quite good. I'm receiving a bog standard and highly superficial education in which I'm only incidental to the process. It's really all about the teachers and their targets. I get that. They mostly leave us alone and that's fine by me. I worked out very early in the year that, if I wanted to learn anything, I would have to teach myself. Sis Pants to the rescue. Her library has recently retired a pile of art books which she saved for me. I set to reading Nothing if Not Critical, a series of essays by redoubtable Australian critic Robert Hughes over the holidays. I came across this,

... thanks to America's tedious obsession with the therapeutic, its art schools in the 1960s and 1970s tended to become creches, whose aim was less to transmit the difficult skills of painting and sculpture than to produce 'fulfilled' personalities. At this, no one could fail. Besides, it was easier on the teachers if they left their students to do their own thing. It meant they could do their own thing, and not teach - especially as many of them could not draw either. (The Decline of the City of Mahagonny)

This describes almost exactly how it feels for me. Except our teachers can draw - they just choose not to share their hard-earned knowledge with us. Presumably they had to work it all out for themselves as well. One thing that really did piss me off though was when I discovered a piece of plagiarism so pathetic and pointless it almost tipped me into a Columbine moment. Sure, I'm a crusty old curmudgeon but I'll usually extend initial trust unless there is a good reason to withhold it, (like with taxis and airports for e.g.).

At the beginning of the year we were all given a nicely bound document outling the expectations for our 'learning outcomes' and a long essay on Modernism. I made several attempts to read the essay and each time found myself gazing out to sea and wondering what to have for dinner. It was drier than a camel's whistle. Then I finally sat down one day determined to put my full attention to it. I figured Master of the Carousel had gone to a lot of trouble to write this essay, the least I could do was read it. I soon resolved the attention span conundrum. It was full of sentences that just sort of stopped when they arrived at a reference point. I thought, this reads like an internet piece and these dead ends are missing links. So I gluggled a small section and came up with

Tsk, tsk, tsk. Wikipedia may be copyright unrestricted but is it right to reproduce great slabs of it without reference straight after a finger-wagging warning about plagarism and correct referencing? Cynical doesn't really cover it. Clearly, the article wasn't for the students. No one else, I suspect, even attempted to read it much less decipher it and it was never referred to in class. The piece was there to satisfy auditors. They'd only glance at it, see the names Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, assume that it was
scholarly and tick their little box. So it's back to Shock of the New for me. You can at least trust Robert Hughes not to flannel you with recycled half-cooked thought muffins. Thanks again Sis Pants.

Visitors. They picked me up from the bus stop at 10.30pm, which was nice of them and they have been talking non-stop for a week. Happily, today they're taking me on a cruise up to one of our local wineries. That's the kind of endurance reward that works for me. Visitors are a mixed blessing. I find I inherit an awful lot of plastic storage containers and usually end up making a banana cake after I've waved them off and put the sheets in the washing machine. Holidays are a time for catching up and then realising you didn't want to be running in the first place. Anyway, it's time to stop whining and start wining. Hurrah!