Status Update

One year since I described the challenges I was going through getting past my depression, a lot has changed. Some stuff hasn’t. Again I'm sitting in the Perth Virgin Lounge, tapping away at some black Apple keys. They’ve renovated the lounge, though. Different laptop, too.

Most of the time I no longer want to crawl into a hole and hide. It still happens; at my own birthday party it got to midnight and I just sat in a room in the dark, all social energy dispensed and frittered away. I couldn’t be snapped out of it. I slept, waking energised and ready to do things, but still.

Recovery... It has taken time to regain the trust in many of my relationships, trust which took many years to build and establish and only a few painful months to eradicate. Time to get into a routine which keeps me out of my own head. Time to figure out what worked and what didn't. Running helped a lot until I destroyed my knee. Now it’s riding.

Time, too, was needed to return to work in anything like the capacity I enjoyed previously. It feels a little like rebuilding your life, only instead of hunting for that first job or apartment, you're fighting to keep them. And keep yourself clean, fed, presentable. Present.

I wish my short-term memory would return to its proper function and intensity, but a combination of age and medication is keeping that one well away from me. I write a lot of lists now. I have to look at what day is pressed out of the back of my pills blister pack. Wondered why they'd put it there, at first.


Just remembered that I need to take it today… whoops.

I have a lot of reminders and alerts on my phone. Partially they are there to give me specific clues about what to do, but partially they help to establish a routine. Routine has become important. Changes to it are sometimes difficult for me to bear, but maybe that’s always been the case. I don't honestly recall.

This sounds like a long list of complaints. It isn’t. These are minor grievances in a life otherwise now filled with happiness, laughter, love, and energy. To try and pretend I haven’t been very lucky in my relationships and my support is to deny the reality I encounter every day.

There are times, several times, where a sliver of the prior darkness reaches out and caresses my heart, an icy and hollow touch no matter the season. Where it feels like someone uninstalled my basic interaction programming and I can barely make sense of concerned faces around me through the use of my remaining subroutines.

I talk to people, now, thinking I can bring myself into a different space. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least these are passing phases instead of weeks or months. Or, looking back, perhaps years. There remains The Fear, of course, that I will continue to struggle with my mental health for the remainder of my life. Probably I will.

There will be lapses, setbacks, days where even breathing seems like too much work. Hopefully they are few and far between. The recovery is not done yet; it is a life long project, an intensely real performance piece about being happy and fulfilled, and the struggle to achieve it.

I think, though, that the struggle has become about proving The Fear wrong; proving that I can be happy and fulfilled, that I am stronger than the disease which beat me on points in the last round. I hope so. Time doesn’t feel like an eternity stretching forward, with only different signposts marking the way. Instead it feels like a conveyor, rushing oh so very quickly towards me while I desperately flail to make headway.

There is so little time and just so much to do and see.

Trauma and Its Symbols

Discussions I’ve had or seen around the 13th of November terrorist attacks on Paris eventually arrive at the same point: “Where is the recognition for the other recent victims of terrorism?” or “What about Beirut?” or “Where was the outcry about Boko Haram?" or "Remember when that MSF Hospital in Kunduz was bombed?"

Apparently nothing short of total compassionate victory will do. Demonstrating your compassion through the nomination of significant horrors in the world is the de facto strategy; the more obscure, tragic, and numerous the casualties, the more treasured a place it holds in the total compassionate war playbook. As though by acknowledging other victims (or that most favoured nation of Internet activism, ‘creating awareness’) your grief is more authentic, more real, than everyone else's.

The Paris attacks affect us in a way these other tragedies, no less tragic on their own, do not. The cognitive distance is less and the strangeness is heightened. Paris the symbol, its visibility and its prominence, is key to understanding why the night of the 13th of November feels different to the night of the 12th of November.

I'd like to set aside race as an issue here, if only because I’m horribly unqualified to discuss it, but it cannot be ignored; the disproportionate response is informed by undoubtedly racist attitudes. We undoubtedly see the Parisian victims differently to those in Lebanon, Iraq, Bangladesh. The question is not whether our response, or lack thereof, to these attacks is racist; the question we need to answer is whether we can acknowledge the horror and grief of these attacks, stand strong against those who perpetrate them, and be compassionate and supportive to their victims.

The question is whether we can chew gum and walk at the same time.

Terror and its maleficent works need symbols in order to function; they are asymmetrical assaults designed to goad a response and deliver a message. Much as the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center required their symbol of American capitalism to be destroyed, they are also inextricably linked to it. Horrific as they were in their own right, they were also designed to become iconic, memorable shorthand for an idea. Terrible as it may be, they are likely to become the iconic image of the early 21st century.

We are foolish to view these attacks in any sort of different light. In its attempt to distract from real and serious losses of territory and military strength, Daesh have assaulted a deeply symbolic part of their enemy.

Paris holds a special place in the western imagination. The city of lights, love, food, and culture has been a beacon of civilisation for hundreds of years. France, more broadly, is perhaps one of the central melting pots of western ideology; the French Revolution cemented the idea of republicanism and representative democracy, while the Declaration of the Rights of Man set out some of the rights we now take for granted in civil society. We have visited it, or loved it from afar, for a very long time.

The history of the English speaking world is deeply linked to France in terms of culture, language, and philosophy. Many of us can probably speak enough French to say bonjour, merci, au revouir. We might be lucky enough to eat croissants on the regular. We may even be lucky enough to understand existentialism, Marcel Duchamp, French new-wave cinema, or to have fallen in love with Les Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain, The Closet, The Three Musketeers, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, The Triplets of Belleville, or twelve little girls in two straight lines.

In the output of our popular culture, how many times has the United States rescued France from the tyranny of Nazism?

An attack on the symbols of this culture is an assault on our culture. We feel it in a different way. We understand it differently.

Perhaps more than any other terror organisation since Nazi Germany, Daesh have understood and manipulated the power of symbols to craft a narrative around their despicable movement. You can probably recall the Daesh flag as easily as you can the swastika, but it’s deeper than mere graphics. Understand that this group is also reliant on the propagation of these symbols in order to maintain and bolster its support.

The declaration of a caliphate is a symbol. The use of a black flag is a symbol with a long and powerful history. The torture, murder, beheadings, and horrific practices are symbols. Their use of social media focuses on symbolic rather than factual communication, bypassing language and cultural barriers through reversion to brutal and universal imagery.

In order to combat this imagery, we need to see it for what it is: designed and distributed memes of fear, a dark and twisted reflection of doge, big success, and salad fingers. Their power comes from their ease of communication and the immediacy of their absorption into a narrative which has been building and fomenting since the religious wars of the first millennium.

It is designed to create fear and alienation. It is working.

Our fear is driving our politicians into a pandering frenzy of ever more authoritarian solutions. Identity cards. Mass deportation. The denial of sanctuary. Protests against mosques. Violence towards Muslims. The anger and fractious displays of disharmony and racism at protests across the country. The casual discussion around ‘all those Muslims’ at the water cooler in the office, as if we could summarise the collective will and desires of over a billion people in a single sentence so lacking in imagination, compassion, and sympathy that you wonder whether your colleague has been secretly reading cue cards for all your other interactions.

These are the responses of fear.

We need to meet this fear with clear hearts, open minds, and welcome arms. That means not prosecuting others grief; we should instead use that grief as a tool through which we can understand and extend the liberty, equality, and fraternity to which France has pledged itself.

Split Brain

I miss the constant reminder that I am connected to you. You may be thousands of miles away, but you’re atoms and molecules and I’m atoms and molecules, and the distance between us is really minute compare to our perception that we are so separate and we are so distant from one another.

I miss the constant visual reminder, because visually everything blended together.

What we see so clearly defines our perception of reality, and when you see boundaries and you look at edges, and everything is separate, then you see everything as separate. But when you don’t focus on the boundaries and everything blends together, then that elevates inside your perception of what is, and what is your relationship, to everything that is beyond you.

— Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, on Love and Radio episode Split Brain

We define and construct our reality. The distinction between one part of that reality and another is purely a function of our neurobiology; the way in which our brain works. To think things are exactly as we perceive them is to fall into the same trap Descartes so famously sought to separate us from.

Our world is in thrall to a tyranny of familiarity and contempt, bred from the desire to systematise and privelege a singular point of view.

I dunno. Fuck it. Let’s all just watch I ❤️ Huckabees again.

It is the condition of men

Let us imagine a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death, where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who remain see their own fate in that of their fellows, and wait their turn, looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope.

It is an image of the condition of men.

— Blaise Pascal

Dark Euphoria at the Edge of the World

Dark euphoria.

Maybe you did not know the actual name of that weird, kind of nameless uncertain feeling thats been gnawing you at 2 in the morning for about four years now, but that’s it, that’s the name; dark euphoria. Dark euphoria is the general cultural sensibility of the decade of the twenty-teens.

We’re in an era of frenetic global networking, in a culture drifting sideways, sliding on the black ice into a cultural and political twilight.

— Bruce Sterling, “Oh! What A Feeling!”, Webstock, 2013

Walking around DARK MOFO, the Hobart chill penetrating aching muscle and bone, struck by the scale and audacity on display. Bass Bath shudders the warehouse landscape around it, eight 2100 horsepower subwoofers linked to a strobing, evocative light show housed inside an industrial scale cool room. Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works floating tantalisingly close to reality. In the distance a gigantic beam of light curves towards space, an inscrutable message hidden in the staccato flicker, pulses illuminating the clouds pinned motionless against the sea of stars.


Feeling this has all happened before. Attempts at scale and grandeur conjure a façade designed to avoid the sparse landscape of ideas remaining in public. Realising nothing here requires an understanding or interest in art. Show up, stand in you assigned place, let the experience wash over you. Maybe this is a good thing?

Everyone pauses to look at their pocket glass, the FOMO overriding the MOFO as the shadows creep into a silky, frozen blackness, woodsmoke mixing with fogged breath to create a teary haze. The Fire Organ roars into life, a percussive melody ripped from Mad Max, screaming gouts of fire trained against the firmament. A DARK MOFO volunteer tells everyone to stand back because it might get hot.

Marina Abramović jokes about not having any balls, and then segues into a discussion on the role of art and the human spirit. Between sardonic questions, David Walsh stares for too long at his glowing rectangle. A multi-millionaire gambler and gallery owner, the gravity which has caused this gloaming constellation to gather at the edge of the world.

No one wants to talk politics.


The art is for everyone and therefore is for no one; it is base humanism brought to the level of public spectacle, signifying everything and nothing. It asks you to turn your gaze inward, to improve yourself and then hopefully improve everyone else once you’re done. Atomised and fractured, the individual is reduced to individual experiences in a sea of identical individuals.

Write down your fears and burn them in an Indonesian effigy and feel an odd sense of release, but don’t talk about the waking nightmare that has become reality. Listen to an artist dismiss the power of art itself. Have a transcendent experience alone, the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention, an ancient link awoken by serendipitous interaction.

Everything is awesome and terrible all at once, a Primer-like cycle of realities. Dark euphoria fills the body and overtakes the mind.


Rejecting the Evidence

I eat meat (and foie gras) but many of the chefs in this video come off looking smug, petulant, and idiotic. I believe I've said this before, but I think in 50 years time, the idea of people eating animals will be widely viewed as wrong and barbaric, akin to how many feel about fur and animal testing now.

—Jason Kottke (my emphasis added)

Writing on the production of foie gras over at his eponymous website, Jason Kottke gives us a classic example of unexamined thinking. Why say that you think future generations will judge you as "barbaric" and continue to engage in that exact behaviour?

It's probably a question best answered by Jason himself, but it's not like the information isn't out there. It's more that we've dismissed the evidence of why this is a damaging and harmful lifestlye choice. Yes, I'm aware that for some it isn't a choice, but for the majority of people in the Western world, it would be radically easy to not eat meat.

So why, then, do we reject vegetarianism, veganism, or even a reduced meat intake?

First thing we do is shoot the messenger; dirty, unwashed, animal loving hippies trying in a desperately earnest fashion to change our minds, too easily dismissed by the broad swathe of society for whom carnivorous behaviour is an integral part of their lives. Even the writer of the above linked article feels a little bit that way.

The second thing we do is argue against the evidence presented; that its a small, isolated number of cases that don't represent the reality or the ideal of meat production. This is just like the farmers in the video Kottke linked to.

And thirdly, I think we find it difficult to estimate the impact individual decisions have on a broader scale, especially when the cost of meat is just so low.

The Fallacy of Measurement

I’m wary of simplification; the complex cannot be reduced to the simple without removing an element of truth. Mark Manson's The Four Stages of Life presents neat ideas.

Each stage represents a reshuffling of one’s life priorities. It’s for this reason that when one transitions from one stage to another, one will often experience a fallout in one’s friendships and relationships. If you were Stage Two and all of your friends were Stage Two, and suddenly you settle down, commit and get to work on Stage Three, yet your friends are still Stage Two, there will be a fundamental disconnect between your values and theirs that will be difficult to overcome.

Stages are a useful and easy tool for breaking down the complex into the simple. The desire for taxonomy is strong, and the need for validation through checkmarks against a list is equally powerful. But I can't help but think that assessing and measuring your life through an external framework is dangerous and misguided.


I'm loathe to paraphrase Richard Dawkins on the internet, he's right about there being no "first human". Creating stages means an artifical simplification of existing conditions. This reductionist thought means that everything appears more simple than it actually is.

The idea that you can make life understandable, and your place within it, is nothing but a seductive fallacy.

On the Contemporary Conformist

Read this first. Then come back and read the below.

Contemporary conformism is inherently conservative, and yet presents itself as progressive.

It is a commercially focused and materialistic ideology. It is reliant on progressives to do the leading, hard work in order for its products to be viable, due to its position as as secondary or tertiary cultural front.

It is the cultural formation of the Blair-ist, Obama-ist, Rudd-ist economically conservative, socially liberal third way politics so heavily adopted by the Today show and its ilk. It is an ideology driven by symbols, not actions, while implicitly endorses mass market production.

It is not an aesthetic. It is not any one group, although it is reliant on trend following designers, artists, programmers, writers, and thinkers. It is the ideology of the avant grade stripped of its radicalism and foundational thinking and packaged as a way of increasing capital gains.

It is arguing that “being gay is not a choice”, rather than arguing that even as a choice it is still perfectly fine. It is the unexamined, unquestioning life which doesn’t know that it is unquestioning and unexamined. It is as old as Socrates and as young as the herd mentality it despises.

It is making apologies for capitalistic doctrine while attempting to eschew and distance itself from it. It is the stress yawn of the middle class. It is New Girl.


It is the middle of the bell curve, and as a result is difficult to define and spot. It is where everything ends up. It is cultural gravity, atomic decay, and entropy rolled into a ball of white teeth and moderately priced cotton. It is the rolling, howling maw which forms the foundation of our cultural and class anxieties. It is ennui.

It is local designers being run by multinational brands. It is vintage wedding photography. It is weddings. It is the sum of all human cultural output and yet it is none of it. It is the long shadow Western imperialism and economic dominance, driven longer by the gradual collapse and atomisation of the global working class.

It is thinking that Fight Club is the greatest movie ever made. It asks no questions and offers no answers. It is invasive and desperate and comfortable and easy all at once. It is driven by the separation between the means of production and the consumption of those products.

It is living a drug free lifestyle while chomping down on anti-depressants and beer at $20 a six pack. It is thinking that you really should do more about the environment. It is accepting that the way things are now is the way they should always be. It is thinking that things tend to get better as time goes on.

It is the base of our desires and needs as tribal, herd focused creatures. It is our willingness to say and do nothing each day. It is the absence of a shadowy cabal leading the world into oblivion, instead replaced by a flock of starlings, each subtly influencing the other until we fly into a wind farm and are chopped to pieces.

Solving What You See

Design is really about solving problems. But how do you know if what you're solving even is the right problem? Or even if its a problem to begin with?

Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see. Designers see more, and more precisely. This is a blessing and a curse—once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see. The downside is that the more you learn to see, the more you lose your “common” eye, the eye you design for. This can be frustrating for us designers when we work for a customer with a bad eye and strong opinions. But this is no justification for designer arrogance or eye-rolling. Part of our job is to make the invisible visible, to clearly express what we see, feel and do. You can’t expect to sell what you can’t explain.
— Oliver Reichenstein, Learning to See

The eternal issue for designers is how to define the problem they're trying to solve. Go too broad and you won't fix anything, too narrow and you've got the same issue.

Being open to possibilities, listening to people, simply sitting back and observing; these are the real tools we need to be using and developing every day. Better than learning code, or that sweet new version of Photoshop, the ability to clearly and concisely define a problem is crucial.

To top it off, clients aren't to fully understand what their problem is; they may not even know they have one. You'll need to convince them it exists before you can convince them that you've found a way to solve it. Clear, effective thinking and communication are required

So. Start by trying to see. Once you can see, learn to talk. Once you can talk, learn to do.

This Is Water

“Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.”

David Foster Wallace

The meta-narratives I was drilled on at uni always appeared as external forces; understanding them gave you a tool levelling critique of the world and society. Foster-Wallace’s analogy is better. Worshiping these narratives, sinking more of our time and personality into maintaining a tiny pocket of meaning, leaves us unable to see or feel or understand anything that sits outside of our own dogma.

We’re left swimming in an inescapable sea of ideologies, dragged unthinkingly into the blue, wondering what the hell water is.

Feelings are boring. Kissing is awesome.

I am depressed.

More precisely, I've been told, I have bipolar type II tendencies. The disorder definition describes a long term oscillation between moments of mania and depression, with more frequent bouts of depression than mania.

My limited and failure ridden attempts at therapy and drugs have failed to unearth an origin story for it. I get sad about that, and feel guilty for not having a profound reason, some finite moment of horror, from which my depression springs unabated and abundant. Actually, that’s not quite true—I feel like society expects you to have a single, defining reason for being mentally ill. Every time you have a conversation with someone, they ask “What’s changed? Did something happen?”

Maybe they think if there’s a single reason for it you can have an ‘aha!’ moment and that everything will be fine. Pop therapy. And while the sentiment comes from a genuine and supportive place, it is driven by the hope of an easy fix.

That hope is as a false as El Dorado.

An analogy I’ve been using for this latest bout is to compare it to climate change (yup). I describe it as an overall trend; you’re going to have polar vortices of feeling good, but the trend line points towards an increase in frequency and intensity of feeling terrible. I’m lucky to have a partner and family and friends who’ve called me on it before it’s gotten too bad. We’re committed to keeping it to an average rise of 2º Celsius above year 2000 averages.

Like climate change, depression is not an easy fix, and it’s not something that you can point to a single solution for. One time I had a psychologist tell me to go for more walks, and not much else. Three months later I was sitting in the shower and very seriously studying a pair of scissors.

Which is not to blame the psychologist—it is to blame the deeply embedded ideology of Mental Illness™. The idea that anything but an aha! moment could resolve how I felt was anathema to me, and I mistakenly rejected it out of hand. This kind of thinking runs surprisingly deep and is difficult to shake; even if you do shake it, you’re only replacing it with another set of ideologies.

I’m throwing everything at it this time: therapy, drugs, exercise, diet. That’s something new, I guess.

It’s always strange talking to people about how depression works, feels, and how to tackle it. Particularly if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Someone recently described it to me as a horrible, aggressive monster. If only.

The challenge with depression is recognising it. And not in a talking to people about it or writing about it or seeking professional help kind of way. No, the challenge is in recognising that I am, in fact, depressed. Why? Because that depressive mode is always with me.

It whispers sweet, saddening nothings when I’m talking to friends. It sits there, subtly changing the way I think, talk, react, emote. Even when I don’t have depression, the tendency is there. Things are just a little bit worse for me most of the time. It’s not there occasionally, like an unwanted houseguest that won’t leave after dinner. It is a constant companion, a weight to carry from moment to moment. The longer I have to carry it, the harder it is to be normal.

There are moments where I want nothing more than to give in to it. Giving up to it, curling into a ball on the couch, fixated painfully on the wall in front of me—in those moments it feels … not good, but like a kind of relief. In those moments it’s all I want—all I’m capable of. I catch myself saying things like “sometimes it’s good to feel horribly sad. That’s healthy.”

How to describe it, then? It is me and I am it. To change it, to get rid of it, is to change who I am. This is what makes treating it and overcoming it so difficult. At what point does the depression stop and I begin?

Those last three paragraphs; that’s depression. A newer psychologist characterised depression as a lack of hope, which rings true for me. While I’m not yet hopeful, I’m determined this time for things to go differently.

I’ll finish with two things. The first being; if you are depressed, feeling low, flat, or anxious, please seek help. I know that every part of this disease (and it is a disease) is likely to be telling you to give up and give in, but believe me when I say that you are not alone in it, and that it will be easier to live with if you share how you feel with those around you. Do speak to a doctor about treatment.

The second is a comic strip. Enjoy.