by P.R.Banks

It has been an unusal week. Some weeks go precisely as expected and, depending on your general demeanor, this can either confirm your love or hatred of humanity and life in general. But for me this week has been a week of opposites.

As an aside I have noticed that now, because I am working, my basic unit of time has tended to become the week. Weekends are my unwind and relax times, with ever the promise to myself of getting something constructive done but never quite managing to get to the items I put near the top of the list. And weeknights are my socialising and maintenance nights. Of course what is making this whole process that much less efficient is that I don't own my own car and thus I spend alot of time fluffing around waiting for other people.

To an extent I compensate for this time wastage by reading books or sleeping where I can. But it is only a stop gap solution, the real fix is maintaining and running a car of my own. Getting around when I want to get around and not waiting for others. I think I will enjoy the freedom that a car offers, especially if I choose wisely.

For a while I was quietly dreaming of going to England and perhaps working there a while. I put all my longer term plans on hold till such time as I sorted this question out for myself. I did some preliminary enquiries, cursory enquiries and gathered information enough to think with. Eventually I reached a quandary that to decide which path to follow I needed something to happen.

Naturally, in the finest applications of Murphy's Law, both happened. So much for letting events decide themselves.

I should have learnt by now that the whims and misfortunes of apathy are usually nasty. Instead of awaiting choices being made I should be making them for myself. Sure sometimes you get them wrong but then at least you merely have the regret of making the wrong choice and you can curse your own stupidity. Infinitely worse is the regret of not making a decision for yourself.

By that slip you become open to a raft of insecurity and regret as you wonder exactly how much of your life is actually what you have achieved and how much was simple luck on your part. It is something that worries me every so often, except that I have managed to generalise the worry to my personality as well. How much of me is me?

It is a question that I return to time to time and still haven't found a good answer for it. The trick, like in alot of these questions, is deciding the criteria by which to judge. Well that and knowing yourself well enough to be able to judge yourself. And the only way you can know yourself is by what other people say, honestly, about you. [1]

But frank, long and real[2] conversations are rare these days. People either don't have the time or the inclination for them anymore. They require a degree of honesty and attention I don't think many are capable of. We seem too inured and happy with our quick fix media like pap TV shows or movies that have been 'Hollywood-ised'. Of course I am being more than a little elitist in this but I suspect anyone reading this, who have worked their way through the layers of my web site, will probably have similar thoughts and I consequently feel mildly safe in this elitism.

Of course I would love it if someone could prove me horribly wrong and demonstrate that the general populace is deeper than I think. That has happened twice before to me and as much as it is a shock it is a pleasant one. One that re-affirms my faith in humanity at large a little.

So last week was a pleasant surprise when it turned out to be a week for real conversations. First with a recently returned from overseas friend, over dinner to begin with. The next with someone I have conversed with frequently via the BBS but very little in real life, so he dropped by home for a chat and a bit of a general muck about. Both times we had proper conversations.

It is the biggest thing I miss from university. I don't miss the assignments, the little social cliques of people being bitchy to each other and I definitely don't miss the almost continual fight with the bureaucracy that one had to indulge in to ensure things were recorded or were to your satisfaction. [3] But I definitely miss the conversations that would spring up as people, fed up with the work, would take a break and think about something else for a while.

In alot of ways that I think is the most important thing I learnt at university. How to be more social, more myself and less paranoid about expressing myself. Old habits die hard of course and to an extent I have developed new stratagies that pay mere lip credence to being more expressive but instead are just better ways of hiding. Ever tried hiding in plain view for instance? It is a surprisingly simple stratagey and fairly effective too.

If you don't know what I mean, well you will have to wait. I might explain in another ramble but for the moment I prefer to be at least mildly mysterious about it.

So, to meander back to the original topic of this conversation, last week was the week of talking properly and this is the week of opposites. Things just seem to be happening in precisely the opposite way I expected. Fortunately it is only with small things so perhaps I should rename it the week of small opposites.

But then it is in keeping with the week to have the name slightly wrong, is it not?

[1] I have long believed in the maxim that you are not an unbiased observer of yourself and you never can be. You just simply are too close to the subject to have any great objectivity. But I do think it is possible to be mildly objective by listening to what others say about you and understanding why they say it.

I have seen it attributed to Isaac Asimov as saying 'To understand all men you need only understand yourself'. Or something similar, I can't remember the exact wording currently. This to me is a simple and obvious truth, axiom like in nature, everyone contains the seeds of the behavior of any other person within them. Understanding what would cause you to choose that behavior will lead you to, at least some, understanding of why someone else has chosen that path, yes?

[2] Yes I am one of those evil people who subdivides thing into binary quantities more often than I should. I plead insanity by computer science, what is your excuse?

Anyhow, to me a real conversation is one where you get a traversal through information that links and flows and leads itself around a bit. It doesn't have to have an overall aim, usually the best real conversations are ones that are completely random in aim you merely follow where the subject leads and touches on side subjects.

That way the conversation isn't something lifeless. It takes on it's own shape as ideas, thoughts, feelings and experiences of both parties shape it and give form. It becomes much more than a mere seeking of plain information. You get a feel for the other people involved as well. On rare moments, when things go especially well, you get a brief glimpse into another person where your understand them almost totally, if only for a second. Such communing and sharing of understanding and being is what I find to be the most enjoyable possibility of communicating.

[3] An example of this was the fight I had with registry over a pre-enrolment form. The short and the simple of it is that I had it hand delivered by my brother to registry. Somehow they lose it and then have the audacity to claim that I had never submitted it and was lying.

That is a terrible affront to me and it naturally meant war.

I went to the deputy registrar and talked with him, got shunted around a while, got told they ddidn't have it again and it was all my fault. Then I called in the heavy guns and pointed out not only were they calling me a liar but they were calling my brother a liar as well. As he was, and still is sorta, a staff member at university this changed things immensely.

I further pointed out that the document had been hand delivered to them before the deadline expired and that I had complied to my end of the bargin. Now they should fix the mess they created. Their fix was waive the late enrolment fee and apologise a bit for loosing the form. Now this is all very nice and I don't mean to sound ungrateful but I had planned to enrol in restricted entry courses that year.

Because of their mistake those same courses now had all their slots filled, causing me to have a filler year where I did inconsequential courses that purely filled up my credit quota towards gaining a degree. A simple waiving of a fee and a mild apology isn't really enough, they should have done some running around for me to try and see if I could, last minute like, be squeezed into the courses I wanted. Rather than me having to do it and having to explain umpteen times the story of what happened to my pre-enrolment form.

Naturally I harbour a deep resentment for registry. Further deepened when the next year they managed to deny me entry to a course for no good reason. Suffice to say that someday I will have my mild reckoning with registry, I don't know when or in what way. But I am sure I will.

Philip R. Banks
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