01 September 2008


Last night, I watched a film called Crash, which you may remember as the dark horse that pipped Brokeback Mountain for the Academy Award for Best Picture a couple of years ago. I'm not going to get into the controversy of the Oscar nod, particularly because I haven't even seen Brokeback Mountain to comment on it. Crash, however, despite its low budget, is something special: it's a powerful and emotional piece of cinematic storytelling. I'm almost ashamed to have only just found it on sale for ten bucks; it deserves much better.

The movie deals a lot with one's sense of faith in other people. There's a lot of segregation in the film - among races, among classes, among professions - but overall, it's more about people coming together than it is about separating them. The drama comes from the trying coincidences that bring these people together and the decisions that they make when faced with these problems. From a philosophical standpoint, it's fascinating.

I'm faced with a few moral dilemmas myself at the moment, and I'm having a great deal of difficulty deciding on the right things to do. More to the point, I keep wondering whether even any one of these dilemmas might, dramatically and at short notice, change something important in my life. Here are a few examples.

* * * * * *

My housemate and landlord has shuffled some money around, and he's in the market for a photovoltaic installation for the house. He hasn't spoken too much to me about the details; I think he wants to get it started, taking advantage of the government rebates on solar electricity in the process, and do what is obviously the right thing. It seems pretty straightforward.

Now, you'd think that a greenie such as myself would support such a plan. Yet, I don't know whether I do; nay, I don't even know that it's not a really stupid idea of which I want no part whatsoever. How can this be? How can it not be as simple as that?

There is a lot to like about this house, but from the perspective of long-term environmental sustainability, there's a lot to hate as well. Like most houses in the suburb, it has paper-thin walls and no insulation, thanks to the blasé assumption that all interior climate can be solved with a big enough air conditioner. Furthermore, the main living areas have those horrible recessed halogen downlights. Although pitched as low-voltage, they consume enormous amounts of electricity, they each have a transformer that consumes even more electricity, and, according to an uncle of mine who is himself an electrician, they're a fire risk.

If that weren't bad enough, the house is full of electronic gadgets that are continuously either left on or left in standby mode. In fact, my housemate's hi-fi cabinet - which doesn't contain a television or a computer - consumes more electricity on standby than every appliance I own combined. I can only guess what it's like in parts of the house I haven't measured.

For me, the dilemma is that for all of the electricity that his proposed PV installation would provide, he could save far more energy just with a few minor adjustments here and there. The thousands of dollars he would be spending on solar power would be better spent on replacement downlights, ceiling insulation and canopies for the north-facing windows. If that in and of itself doesn't cover the difference in electricity use, the simple habit of turning appliances off at the mains when they're not being used - or getting timers for those power points that are hard to reach - would put him over the top. To look at the problem in reverse, he'll be spending money on electricity he either doesn't even use or doesn't have to have.

Of course, not everyone sees these problems the way I do, and that means I've got to be very careful how I explain it. Certainly, my way would be a far better investment of his time and money, since, importantly, it might actually have a chance of changing his way of thinking about energy use. (Besides, were he really so keen on Mother Earth, he'd be getting rid of that surrogate penis he drives everywhere.) It's really the change in mentality that's required here.

I'm not against him investing in solar power - I do believe it's a worthwhile investment - but I want him to know what he's getting himself into. I want him to be able to quantify what he's spending his time and money on. Perhaps the biggest questions, and the ones I'd ask first, are why he's doing this and how much of a difference he thinks it will make.

That said, I hope he's just as well prepared for my answers. Ideally, I would want to test him, to set him some homework, and make sure he knows what he's doing. On the other hand, if he can't understand that he might just be wasting his time, he's got no chance of understanding how he'll be wasting mine. I'm used to the idea of people not necessarily appreciating my help, but perhaps he is not.

* * * * * *

I'm in something of an odd spot at work as well, and have been for longer than I'm comfortable to admit. Anyway, here goes.

The project I'm doing at work is drawing to a close. Well, apparently, it is, anyway. I pretty much finished everything I needed to do at the end of June, and I've been figuratively twiddling my thumbs ever since. During this time, I haven't been game to take the bus or the bike to work, just in case I get dragged up to the clients' site at short notice. However, I have started taking my Mac to work, to pass the time editing movies rather than playing cards.

In the meantime, my betters have been talking to me about the sorts of projects that I might be working on next time. Every upcoming project seems to be in a different city, so I'm less worried about the work itself than I am about where I'm going to be and how I'm going to get there. Maybe I'll still be here; maybe I'll be here sometimes and flying back and forth to Canberra; maybe I'll have to move temporarily. I just don't know yet.

None of this is really on my mind while I'm at work, though. I'm far more interested to know how I can get rid of the project I've got now. Even after the weeks at the start of the project that were essentially wasted arguing about what we could and couldn't do with the resources we had, I'm convinced that I finished everything I needed to do in the last week of June. It's now September and I've barely done a week's work in that time. I'm getting the impression that this project is never going to end, and it's little consolation that my supervisor is nearly as frustrated about it as I am.

It's a depressing situation to be in, but I wonder whether it wouldn't be worse to say something. At the moment, it's just embarrassing to me; if I speak out, it will be embarrassing to me, to my supervisor, and probably to his supervisor as well. It doesn't seem like that long ago that I embarrassed my bosses in my previous job by speaking frankly about their obvious incompetence. Unsurprisingly, they were very defensive about it and very vindictive towards me, and things ended very badly as a result. It doesn't help when you are dealing with people whose self-image of being problem-solvers is little more than a crude disguise.

Although this isn't exactly the same situation, I don't really want to risk causing the same problems. That being said, I don't know what else to do about it. As it is, I don't know how much longer I can keep coming to work, knowing that every day is going to be a little bit worse than the one before. I should, by rights, speak out and at least stick up for myself. The problem is how to point out a grave problem delicately to someone who might not react in the most gracious fashion - which may have more of a detrimental effect than I was hoping for, and not just on me.

* * * * * *

Two months ago, I wrote in this blog that it was time to find a young woman to bring into my life again. I've been pretty coy about this, but only because this has taken a bit longer than I'd hoped. You know that patience is a virtue, because being patient is really hard.

Well, there is a young woman in the picture now. I'd talked to her a few times where she worked, and she was always really nice to me, as fleeting as our conversations were. Shortly after I wrote about wanting someone special in my life again, I summoned up the courage to ask her out - and although she didn't know when she'd have time to do it, she said yes. We've slotted in some short conversations after work, but even these have been few and far between. It's tricky to talk to her at work, even if it's only to ask whether she can hang around for a chat afterwards. (The last time I talked to her at work, I hung around a bit too long and I think I might have gotten her into trouble with her boss. Actually, I think I might have gotten myself into trouble with her boss as well.)

What I'd been hoping for was a chance for us just to sit down and get to know each other a bit better, which is something on which I put a lot of value. That said, it might also have been a chance for her to chat with me and not to have somewhere else to go in a hurry straight afterwards. It was time to ask her on a proper date. I would have done it, too - had she not gotten in first.

She was taking her mother out bowling on Friday night, along with a few other relatives, just for a bit of fun. When I saw her on Thursday, she asked me if I wanted to come along. My date idea would have to wait for another time, but I was thinking more about trying not to be overcome with how flattered I was to be invited.

It's hard to see any of this as a bad thing. Okay, so she couldn't get a booking at the first bowling alley she tried, but she found another one and booked a lane there. Everything else on the night went off without a hitch. Bowling was fun, even with the bumpers out for those of us who had never bowled before. Better, though, I got to meet some of her family, who were all quite warm to me, and I hope I came across the same way. Everyone had a good time.

I'm the first to admit that things haven't progressed as quickly as I'd hoped with this girl and that I don't know her very well yet. Still, I like what I've found out so far, and I'm trying to be patient with it, waiting for a chance to learn more. She's a fairly straight talker, and even being a few years younger than me, she seems to have a strong sense of responsibility, both for herself and for others. (Having spent six years working among people who have neither of these qualities, you can see how much I'd appreciate someone who exhibits both.) As if the way she carries herself weren't attractive enough, she made the bold gesture of inviting me out to family get-together. Something must be going right. Indeed, nothing much seems to have gone wrong yet.

So... what's the problem? What's on my mind? What am I afraid of?

As I mentioned earlier, things are a bit up-in-the-air at work. The thing I'm most worried about is the idea that I might have to leave town at short notice and that I might not be back for many months. I'm worried about getting so close that I might hurt her if I have to be away. How I might feel is a worry as well, of course, but I'm more worried about how she might feel if things end before they really start. I don't really know what to do.

I was talking to my best friend back home about this. My instinctive response is to tell her what's happening at work and how something interstate might just pop up. My friend wasn't so sure it was the right time to tell her: there's a chance that it might scare her off, and there's a chance that this might be an "issue" that scares her off. I don't know whether any of this will happen yet, but at this early stage, talking about what might ruin things might send the wrong message, as though I was looking for a way to avoid her, or as though I didn't care whether it hurt her or not. As I put it, I'm concerned that something might happen with work before something happens with her, and I'm concerned that something will happen with her and then I'll get sent away for work.

One thing I love about this job is the breadth of opportunity - that if I stay on long enough, I might get to work all over the world in all sorts of different areas. (That's also helping me be patient with the project I've got that I don't seem to be able to get rid of.) That said, it might just be my undoing as well. It all seems a bit delicate at the moment.

I'm pretty sure I like this girl, and I'm pretty sure that she likes me - and yet, somehow, this isn't entirely a good thing. It's difficult enough for her to make time for me, since we rarely see each other outside of her work, but this is a minor hurdle by comparison. This is a complication that I don't need, and one that I don't want, but also one I don't want to give up on.

* * * * * *

Crash opens with a voiceover from "Detective Graham Waters" (Don Cheadle), who laments that in the city, paradoxically, people are so close together, and yet so isolated from each other, that it's only the most dramatic aspects of society that people notice. Everything has to be in black and white. It's either good or it's evil. It's either perfect or it's nothing.

I can see this happening among other people, but I'm not sure it's true of me. I'm proud of how flexible and tolerant I can be and how much of life's subtlety I can appreciate. As I'm finishing this off at work, my boss's boss has stuck his head through the door. I hardly even notice that he's seen me doing something that doesn't even look work-related. He says he hasn't heard about the Perth job: we may not have won the tender, but then again, the whole thing might just be running late. Another story with two sides, and neither of them is easy to explain.

Suddenly, I'm transported into the movie again. I'm sitting here typing all alone, still surrounded by people who I don't know whether I can trust. I don't know how they see themselves, nor how they see themselves tested every day. All I have is myself. The test is one set for my own faith that other people will do the right thing for the right reasons. I've failed this test before, but I'll do better this time. I have to.

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