Wednesday, 19 October 2011

For a presentation this friday ...

Wednesday 19 October 2011

 Prepare for your socks to be completely and utterly rocked off, ENGL377. Michel-style.

Update: Scored a 90. Socks were rocked. It was probably the Lord of the RingsPanopticon parallel and clip from the movie.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Miranda devine: enemy of the heart, the mind, and vegetarianism (part one of three)

Tuesday 11 October 2011
(updated Friday 14 October 2011)

I've had a post about eating meat, in a fragmentary, incipient form, drifting around mournfully in Tintin's purgatory for some time now, awaiting that catalyst I was talking about in 'The urgency of nonfiction' to call it into being, when who should publish an article on the subject but my favourite News Limited columnist. Y'know. Just to get the content of this blog up to a healthy 300% responses to Miranda Devine. Articulating my views on the subject and critiquing Devine, however, caused this piece to swell to a gargantuan size, so I'll post it all in three parts instead, with part one focusing on deconstructing Devine's argument, and parts two and three responding to that argument in order to detail my own.

Devine's opinion piece, 'Everybody hurts, but we've all got to eat', delivered in her trademark casuistic style, is a critical response to an earlier article that appeared in The Australian, authored by Michael Kirby AC, CMG (that's Companion of the Order of Australia and Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, for those of you not up on your orders of chivalry), highly respected public figure, influential academic, eloquent orator, former Justice of the High Court of Australia the highest court in the land and the final court of appeal in the Commonwealth, invested with the authority to rule on matters of the constitution, and possessing the recently demonstrated power to overturn the expressed will of the Parliament. Seriously, Miranda. Go home. You're out of your league, here.

But in examining the piece, I think I've come to a realisation about why it is, specifically, that Devine infuriates me so much. She constantly makes herself an enemy of the two characteristics I value above all else in life: empathy and critical thinking. And I think my criticisms of the piece can largely be organised along these lines, I suppose because the errors she makes in it are moral (empathetic) and rhetorical (critical).

Empathy first. The piece, which contains numerous derogatory references to 'sentimentality', makes Devine's contempt for 'excessive' compassion known from its opening, when she patronises Kirby for his sensitivity: 'It sounds very kind to swear off eating meat because you looked into the eyes of a cow, which former High Court judge Michael Kirby explains as the reason for his latter day vegetarianism'.

That crazy old coot! Getting all choked up, letting his emotions run away with him, going to all that trouble to make a drastic lifestyle change, and for what? 'Cause he got up a little too close and personal with a bloody bullock!

Now, as I said above, Kirby was a judge, and when you're working with the law, you have to be 'judicious' with language. Understandably that's a foreign concept for Miranda, but it doesn't give her licence to take what I'm sure were Kirby's carefully considered words, rearrange them, and then blame him for it. 'Animals raised for slaughter' she quotes from Kirby, 'cannot explain the suffering, pain and fear they feel. But humans who empathise sufficiently, can do so.'

'In other words', she garbles, doing what she does best, 'those of us who eat meat do not have sufficient empathy. Thanks, your worship.'

See, no. You don't get to do that. 'Other words' is right. I know someone as semantically challenged as you might find it hard to believe, but there's a subtle and important difference between 'not empathising sufficiently' and 'not having sufficient empathy'. By changing 'empathising' (verb) into 'empathy' (noun), you've also changed the word modifying 'empathising', the adverb 'sufficiently' into the adjective 'sufficient' and made the verb 'having'. You've taken it from not performing a process to the right extent, to not possessing enough of a quality. If Kirby had meant 'not having sufficient empathy', I'm sure that's what he would've said. Honestly!

Later Devine similarly misrepresents vegetarians and animal rights activists altogether, saying that 'this creeping idea that "meat is murder" is just moral vanity', that 'vegetarian moralising is [being] thrust down our throats' by the likes of Kirby and US author Jonathon Safran Foer, and that animal activism is simply the 'parasitical companion' of this moralising. Firstly, what a bitch! And secondly, did I just read a CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC COLUMNIST complain about MORALISING!? I only ask because I couldn't concentrate properly over the sound of that pot and kettle being repeatedly smashed together in my ear. Far out.

Animal cruelty is continuing on a massive scale, and we know it is. The industry is a major contributor to climate change. Animals experience fear, pain, affection, and many of the other emotions we do, making the view that unnecessarily killing them for our own enjoyment is bad a reasonable one. To reduce the often heartfelt and profoundly personal decision of millions to forgo meat andor take up the fight of animal welfare, in the face of all of this and more, to a mere 'moral vanity' or 'parasite' is staggeringly callous and inaccurate. And to charge Kirby, of all people, with thrusting moralising down the public's throats is a sickening untruth. His articles are imbued with the sense of a wise, sensitive, loving man calmly laying out his ratio decedendi, submitting it to the public forum, gently coaxing you with carefully laid sentences to consider his point of view. Nothing like the coarse, poorly reasoned diatribes of Ms Devine, shamelessly appealing to the lowest common denominator thrice weekly.

It takes cold cynicism to misrepresent Kirby the way Devine does. I think he's best vindicated by a quote from another of his articles on the issue where he praises Australian philosopher Peter Singer for not seeking 'to convert the unwilling', for recognising that 'many people are at different stages on the issue of animal welfare.' Do those sound like the compliments of an absolutist ideologue determined to force-feed his opinions to the public like a bowl of vegetables?

Furthermore, the idea that meat is murder is actually quite a credible one. Fair enough, you don't have to agree but, you know, murder involves killing something and eating animals involves killing something. The similarities are remarkable! In fact, under the laws of logic Miranda usually subscribes to, that would make them exactly the same thing (cf Devine's Dictionary entry for definition of 'detrimental fatherlessness').

Which leads me to the critical thinking side of things. The keystone of Devine's argument in the piece is that 'scientists discovered that plants have feelings too'. She concedes that 'most people feel sadness at the death of animals' and confesses to her own brief stint with vegetarianism, which she says came to an end with the revelation that some plants can experience pain. Incidentally, I love how the results of a couple of studies by scientists are enough to convince her to recommence eating meat, but the overwhelming consensus of every national scientific association in the world, without any reputable dissenters, isn't enough to convince her of the threat of manmade climate change.

'The point is', Devine declares, 'that if you took sentimental thoughts about food to their logical conclusion, you wouldn't eat at all.' That sentence really does encapsulate her contempt for empathy in others and her inability to reason with any depth. I mean, if you take anything to its logical conclusion you get a ridiculous result. If you take political correctness to its logical conclusion, you get a stifled society. If you take Christianity to its logical conclusion, you get America. If you take capitalist-fuelled carnivorism to its logical conclusion, you get the KFC Double Down. It's about how far you want to take it; it's about which point along that line you think is right and reasonable.

Personally, I'm unconvinced that automatic hormonal reactions and chain sequences from one plant to another catalysed by external factors constitute any evidence of plant sentience, neither in terms of perception or communication; evolution has had many other incredible effects elsewhere without causing speculation that the organisms displaying those effects are somehow self-aware. Science may prove me wrong one day, but it's beyond the point: Devine's simplistic conclusion is that abstaining from meat doesn't make sense because no matter what you eat you are causing pain and killing something. This logic pretty much justifies cannibalism. If there is no scale of value for different forms of life, if killing a plant is the same as killing a pig, then so too is it the same as killing a person. This is starting to become a pattern in Devine's work: over-generalisation. It's a mistake infants make during language acquisition. Just as children whose fathers have abandoned them are the same, in Miranda's eyes, as children with two mothers, eating vegetables is just as bad as eating animals because they both 'feel pain', even though animals necessarily have a much greater capacity for suffering. I will expound upon these issues further in part three.

For now, vegetarianism is plagued by this kind of one-dimensional thinking. You either have to go the whole way or no way; you're carnivore or vegan; you're a realist or an idealist hippie, but this isn't the case. It reminds me of a clip from US talk show The View that I came across on YouTube one night in Santorini during a glut of 'cyperactivity' after too long without internet access, in which vegan actress Alicia Silverstone (seemingly) snubs former Survivor: Australia contestant Elisabeth Hasselbeck, one of the show's conservative panel members, over her earlier argument with Rosie O'Donnell. What she then says in terse response to Hasselbeck's comment that she always questions 'vegetarians that walk around with leather shoes' sums it up: 'Well I likeI'm happy when anybody does anything good, so it's okay if they are veggie and have leather shoes'. SHUT DOWN. More eloquent is a quote from vegan podcaster, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, whose podcasts are available for free on iTunes, that I've been directed to by a newly vegan friend since I first wrote this post: 'Don't do nothing because you can't do everything. Do something. Anything.'

It's advice that could be used in any area of life. You don't have to be a vegetarian to acknowledge that it's the right thing to do, to aspire to that lifestyle. Kirby himself says

     I have not become a strict vegetarian. Still less a vegan. I eat eggs
     and see no moral problem with that whatseoever if the eggs are
     produced by free range chickens. I still eat fish, an inconsistency
     of which I am constantly reminded by my partner. But gradually,
     step by step, I continue to make moves towards the world of
     vegetarianism. But so far, I am not pure. Except when it comes to
     meat and poultry. They are out, banished entirely from my diet.

It's not about giving up meat 'cold-turkey', so to speak, in a blaze of self-righteousness. You can reduce your consumption, you can buy organic and free range, you can support animal rights, you can experiment with that magical set of ingredients that sometimes, somehow, can be combined in such a way as to make you not even realise there's no meat in your meal (cheese, tomato-based sauces, eggs, mushrooms, potato products and other carbs, and nuts).

But it's not enough for Devine to make an attack on empathy, to sully the debate with her one-dimensional arguments and distortions of those who disagree with her. No, she's got to take this opportunity to attack her most hated enemy, the educated, urban Left. It's one of her favourite topics. Particularly she revels in dichotomising it with good old fashioned, true blue, salt of the earth Aussie battlers. The farmers. The manufacturers. 'Labour's aspirational base'. It's something she knows all about, being a moneyed Liberal Partyvoting city-dweller who grew up in what she herself calls 'uber-urban' Tokyo. It's not those tye-dye-wearing, chai-latte-sipping, bicycle-riding, dreadlock-sporting, manmade-climate-change-believing, vegan-cafe-patronising, hyphen-using intellectually elitist Glebocrats like Kirby who empathise with the animals; it's the 'dwindling few who live on the land and grow our food'. Why? 'Because it is in their face every day.' It makes them 'more balanced people, more honest, more realistic than the citified others who prefer not to know.'

The citified others who prefer not to know. She does know how to turn a phrase, doesn't she?

'Not wanting to know' has nothing to do with Kirby, who cites animal welfare violations as one of the reasons behind his abandoning meat, and who YOU JUST QUOTED talking about 'the suffering, pain and fear' experienced by animals raised for slaughter.


And similarly, this citycountry binary has nothing to do with the issue; it just derails the argument. If it is wrong to eat animals, it is wrong regardless of whether people live in the country or the city. It's simply a way of Devine giving herself something to talk about. There are, I think, very few intelligent arguments you can make against vegetarianism (see part two), so she needs to find something she can sneer at and rail against in order to sound convincing and provocative. 

Devine's solution to 'bridging the gap' she has invented between city and country attitudes to death is poetry, a tactic I agree with but towards an end I don't. To deploy poetry, or any artform, against empathy seems to me a contradiction and, in a way, it does backfire. Her idea of 'bridging the gap' is city people realising that death is natural and shutting up about animal rights, but that didactic purpose is not necessarily served by the poem,'The Early Purges' by Seamus Heaney, which she credits Dr Greg Hertzler for citing:

     I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
     Dan Taggart pitched them, 'the scraggy wee shits',
     Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

     Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
     Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
     Of the pump and the the water pumped in.

     'Sure, isn't it better for them now?' Dan said.
     Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
     Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

     Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
     Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
     Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

     Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
     When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
     Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens' necks.

     Still, living displaces false sentiments
     And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
     I just shrug, 'Bloody pups'. It makes sense:

     'Prevention of cruelty' talk cuts ice in town
     Where they consider death unnatural
     But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

Any first-year literature student knows there's more to a poem than the surface-level meaning, and the narrator's voice is not necessarily the poet's, even in a highly autobiographical poem. 'The Early Purges' could just as easily be a lament for the loss of innocence, the hardening, the desensitising that comes with a hard life on the farm, as a criticism of 'prevention of cruelty' talk' and, in fact, I think the evidence supports that reading. If the subjects of the poem went to work killing the 'farm pests' with grim resignation, or even just indifference, perhaps Devine's interpretation would be more plausible, but first Dan Taggart and then the narrator exhibit a malignant attitude to the infant animals that goes beyond what they must do to maintain a 'well-run farm', calling them 'scraggy wee shits' and '[b]loody pups'. This suggests, perhaps, that the poem depicts the worldview that it does as a means of lamenting the necessity of this hardening of sentiment, this cycle of acquired callousness that must be perpetuated as a side-effect of farm life.

In part two and three, I'll respond to Devine's piece with my own outline of why I think vegetarian morality has it right.

Miranda Devine's 'Everybody hurts, but we've all got to eat', in The Sunday Telegraph, Wednesday 5 October 2011.

Seamus Heaney's 'The Early Purges'.

Michael Kirby's 'Animals deserve our protection', in The Australian, Saturday 1 October 2011.

Michael Kirby's 'Sense and sensibility about our fellow sentient creatures', in The Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 6 August 2010.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Positions on political correctness: towards a stratigraphical model of argumentation

Saturday 8 October 2011

This article postulates a theoretical model that aims to conceptualise the manner in which existing social consensuses (comprised of individual opinions, and comprising dominant discourses) are challenged by certain kinds of new, reactionary positions (again, comprised of individual opinions, but comprising counter-discourses) until these reactionary positions gain acceptance and themselves become consensuses. Its intended use is as a defense for emergent reactionary positions, which can be wrongly distorted by the dominant discourse to appear to represent the outdated, often now morally reprehensible position that the dominant discourse itself supplanted, and can therefore be easily dismissed. By systematising the dominant social consensuscounter-position interaction, proponents of counter positions will be armed with the vocabulary to situate themselves in relation to past and present social consensuses.

Individual opinions and social consensuses form one of the faces of dominant and counter-discourses.

Any feedback, suggestions, corrections, criticisms or referrals to existing similar models will be useful in refining the technical terminology, visual metaphor and general conceptualisation of the model, and will be greatly appreciated. I acknowledge that my familiarity with Foucault is insufficient to ensure proper use of the terms discourse and counter-discourse. 

It seems to me that on certain social issues and within certain debates, there exists a 'stratigraphy of argumentation', formed over time by a process of successive reactionary positions becoming social consensuses. Let us postulate a field onto which opposing positions on the same issue can be plotted as originating from either the left or the right, and chronologically from bottom to top.

The blue bar represents Position 1. The extent to which Position 1 advances across the field represents the extent to which society takes up that position. If Position 1 advances too far across the field, that may represent a social consensus that has been taken too far, to its logical extremity, like so:


Let us say that Position 1 represents society before the advent of the political correctness movement. It spans the entirety of the field, meaning exclusive, discriminatory and offensive language (of the kind that political correctness seeks to prevent) is entirely socially acceptable. It is not so much an argument that politically incorrect language is good as it is an invisible fact of society; it was the advent of political correctness that defined the debate and effectively 'created' politically incorrect language. The social consensus embodied by Position 1 came to be challenged and, eventually, superseded by Position 2, the political correctness movement:

As Position 2 gains greater social consensus and is enforced with more fervor, it moves further across the field, covering the original consensus of Position 1 until only a small portion of it remains uninterred. This uncovered portion is representative of those in society who continue to adhere to Position 1, the original consensus.

In the diagram above, however, Position 2 has advanced rather deep into the field. It is becoming increasingly common for people to resent political correctness, viewing it as laughably and ridiculously over-enforced. This new position, which reacts to political correctness and is steadily gaining social consensus, is represented by another blue bar emerging from the right:

Here the stratigraphy model demonstrates its use. There is an important distinction to be made between the remaining subscribers to the original consensus, Position 1, that politically incorrect language was acceptable, and the subscribers to the new Position 3, who resent and resist the extremity of political correctness, but do not necessarily want a return to Position 1 being social consensus. They emerge from the same side as Position 1, as they must in order to oppose Position 2, but they also occupy a higher argumentative stratum. As long as they don't advocate the original consensus, Position 1, their argument is a different one. They acknowledge and agree with the basic tenets of Position 2, but desire to push back against it to reduce it to a more reasonable level. Steadfast proponents of Position 2 might attempt to dismiss proponents of Position 3 as being proponents of Position 1, perhaps using terms like 'racist', or 'sexist'. By using the stratigraphy of argumentation model, proponents of new positions like Position 3 can situate their position in relation to others, thereby distinguishing themselves from proponents of Position 1, and thereby saving their arguments from being unfairly dismissed, in a phenomenon that has been called 'totschweigtaktik' (AustroGerman for 'death by silence'), described as 'depriving someone and their work or opinion of the oxygen of attention ... [Y]ou don't criticise or engage with what they say, write or produce; you just let their efforts expire soundlessly, like a butterfly in a bell jar' (Gare). If social commentators attempting to criticise the dominant discourse with a new position can pre-empt their detractors' distortions of their viewpoints by positioning themselves on the stratigraphy of argumentation, they will be better equipped to do so.

On the issue of political correctness, I would place my own position as occupying a fourth stratum. This, in fact, is how I first conceptualised the stratigraphy model. I did not wish for my position, which issues from the same side as Position 2 and involves defending political correctness, to be confused with a defense of the laughable and ridiculous elements of political correctness that Position 3 points to.

Essentially, Position 4 contends that political correctness was right to challenge the acceptability of exclusive, discriminatory, and offensive language (Position 2), but that it has also often descended into the laughable and ridiculous (Position 3). However, to employ the politician's favourite refrain, 'Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater'. Political correctness 'springs from benevolent instincts' it is about ensuring minorities within society are not alienated. When a group of straight, Australian-born, non-disabled friends are introduced to an individual who is homosexual, foreign, or disabled, it's not only polite and moral for the members of the majority group to make changes to their behaviour, it's natural. Suddenly they might begin to watch what they say so as not to accidentally offend the individual. If the group of friends usually use the word 'gay' as a pejorative, it is likely they will naturally cease this in the presence of a homosexual person (of course these injunctions may relax once the individual integrates into the group, or the presence of the individual may cause the members of the group to cease the use of the word altogether, newly sensitised as they may be to its offensiveness). That is political correctness on a small scale.*

*Speaking personally for a second, if this doesn't sound particularly desirable, having to censor yourself because different people are around, then you're thinking too much about yourself and not the other person. If you think a small change or inconvenience to yourself is more important than someone else's feelings, then it's probably because you're a wanker.

To return to the stratigraphy of argumentation, what we observe as the process of stratification continues is an interment of former social consensuses into irrelevance – they are positions all but eradicated from society, although they still form the foundation of the current consensus. We also witness a pattern emerging as higher strata of argumentation are reached. Each position objects to less of the social consensus than did its predecessor. In other words, the arguments become more refined; binaries are disassembled. Notice the Positions in the diagram below almost seem to be forming a triangle as they inter less and less of the consensuses they challenge. A hypothetical Position 5 answering my Position would be even more refined:

Each new position cedes more and more to the consensus it challenges, acknowledging its successes, picking elements upon which they both agree, and yet ever questioning, ever refining, ever answering questions which the consensus cannot.
Despite the suggestion implicit in this process, that an 'apex position' can be reached, this model instead contends that the positions can be infinitely 'sharpened', 0.01 mm shaved off from a position of the left, 0.001 mm shaved off from the right and so on, ad infinitum. Just one reason that an apex position is impossible is that as soon as a position ideal for any given society reached social consensus, the first change in that society which could not be accommodated by that consensus would give rise to a new position.

It should also be noted, now that the model has been fully explained, that the stratigraphy of argumentation for the issue of political correctness that has been displayed above is extremely simplified. A more realistic depiction would look something more like this:

The most important difference between this diagram and those previous is the more realistic depiction of the refinement process. The strata will rarely move towards apex in the centre, a fact that has important implications for the political and social philosophy of centrism, but I will treat that issue in another article. 

Another important aspect of the model is that it only works for certain issues whose nature demands the left-right alternation. Furthermore, only past and present consensuses can be placed into the statigraphy with certainty, and future positions can only be postulated, meaning advocates of new positions can only put forward evidence that theirs is or should be the 'next' consensus, and only history will determine whether or not that is the case. And, of course, the entire model is in distorting generalities, simplifying history in a way that can be dangerous. Not all of society’s diverse opinions can be  reduced to one bar on a scale coming from one of two sides; this is just a way of thinking. Thinkers are more likely to be swimming around in the ether above the massive social consensuses and positions, pre-empting, predicting and postulating future positions.

I hope in this article to have devised a model and a set of nomenclature that will assist challenges to the social consensuses of the dominant discourse in future by better equipping the proponents of new positions to defend themselves against misrepresentation, totschweigtaktik, and dismissal. However, further refinement, testing and reform of the model is needed.

Shelley Gare's 'Death by Silence in the Writers' Combat Zone' in Quadrant, JulyAugust 2010, Volume LIV, Number 78.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The best kind of people come from austinmer

... is what I realise the day I spend six hours travelling via public transport from Sydney to Wollongong and back. It could've been five, but I misheard the marshal and accidentally boarded an all-stops replacement rail bus instead of an express to Waterfall on the way back. At first I don't mind I have the latest copy of Voiceworks to read and nothing urgent to do once I get home but that's before the combination of a two-day diet consisting only of bacon and egg rolls and iced coffee, the electromagnetic energy radiating out the bottom of my awkwardly tilted laptop, and the rollicking of the anfractuous, mountain-hugging coastal road slackens the drawstring of my stomach and drives my eyes up and out the window, to Austinmer.
Or, not Austinmer, but that whole stretch of coast and bush between Thirroul in the south and Otford in the noth. It's the kind of place where all the real estate signs proclaim the houses are 'well-appointed'. The kind of place with a lot of houses painted blue, and a lot of (post) modernist architectural statements straight out of Grand Designs. But the mansions are counter-balanced by the shambolic abodes of hippies who bought the land before it was cool, and didn't sell it once it was. The hippies pull the average political persuasion of the area decisively left (and we all know left-wing people are just generally better) so the dead trunks of telegraph poles are hugged by a constant supply of  environmental campaign posters.

It's the kind of place populated enough to have a healthy community, but not populated enough to make its denizens callous to one another. It's the kind of place you can't grow up in without being a surfer. Where you're sensibly non-religious, but still civically active. You did the right amount of extracurricular sports and activities as a kid. You went to scouts but you don't seem like the kind of person who went to scouts.

I think I'm going to spew. It reminds me of occasionally feeling queasy on the SydneyWollongong journeys of my childhood between Mum's and Dad's, when one of them would arrive to pick me and my little sisters up earlier than expected and we would rush dinner before scrambling out into the car with packed bags and bare feet. I'm not sure whether you're supposed to look straight ahead through the windscreen when you feel car sick, to try and trick your body into thinking you're not moving, or out the side windows, so your body feels in sync with how fast it's actually going. I can't remember because, apart from those few times, I never needed to know as a kid. 'Doesn't that make you feel sick?' my friends and their parents would ask me as I read or played my Gameboy in the car on the way to their South Coast caravans or grandparents' houses, where I was joining them for their family holidays. 

'Nope, I don't get car sick,' I'd reply proudly.

I seem to remember one of those friends I went away with sitting in the front seat, overriding the 'bags-ings' and 'shotguns' of his siblings with claims that he needed to sit there because he got car sick, so I decide on looking forward. I should Facebook that friend when I get home, I think.

You have Facebook, Austinmerian, but you don't use it often, although you still have between five and seven hundred friends. In part this will be because of your parents' avuncular and materteral attitudes to the children of other people, because of their welcoming of other kids into your home when you were young. Visitors to your house felt comfortable standing around your kitchen island eating from your cornucopic pantries, dripping water from your pool onto the tiles and talking with your parents about the HSC.

Your parents will be twice as old as mine, but they'll pull off their grey hair and thin-rimmed glasses. They accumulated enough money and life experience before you were born to devote themselves to you and your one sibling once you were here, so you got your learner and provisional licenses on your sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays respectively. They're tall and slim and easy and welcoming, your parents. They're doctors, or lawyers, but not business executives. More, psychologists. They'll have an interest in organic living and the arts, with entire walls of their houses devoted to books and season passes to the Sydney Theatre Company in their wallets. You will follow suit and study science, but live art – environmental or veterinary science (the moral ones) during the week and indie folk music festivals and poetry readings on the weekends.

The coach pulls in to Coledale and I consider getting up to ask the driver to unlock the toilet at the back. He looks up into the rear-vision mirror at the smattering of passengers on the bus, but no one gets up. In fact, no one has gotten off since before Thirroul. I wonder if they all made the same mistake I did; none of them look like you, my idealised Austinmer resident. But then, you have a car and a license; you wouldn't need to catch the rail bus. 

I get up to ask about the toilet, but the bus driver sees me and opens the door, watching me, waiting for me to get off. I'd thank him as I alighted and wait graciously for him to ease the bus off the gravel onto the road before crossing and making my way home in the afternoon cold. My parents would be together in the kitchen, chopping vegetables and sipping red wine and listening to jazz and laughing at the border collie watching them hungrily for a strip of meat. But it's obvious. I know when I came in, they wouldn't recognise me.

I stand there in the aisle of the bus for a moment under the driver's gaze before deciding I can make it to Waterfall without being sick, waving him an apology and making as if I was just getting up to take another seat. 

(Image from Google Maps)

This is the product of the end-of-semester creative high I was talking about in my last post, but I'm not entirely sure what it is. It was just a series of transcribed semi-coherent thoughts initially, then I stripped half of it away and inserted linebreaks to make it a poem, but linebreaks alone do not good poetry make, so I rewrote it as prose and inserted more until I got what you see here. I suppose it's a short story, although I hesitate to call it that. Whatever. It is what it is. And while it's clearly working with a lot of truth, it isn't meant to be taken as an expression of my real thoughts; it's definitely fiction.