dal niente

Month: June, 2013

Tribalism

I signed up for “Life Premium” many years ago, which is why there are no ads on my page, and a few other bonuses.  When Life Premium came out, the promise was clear– you pay us X amount of dollars, and in exchange, we keep this going for you– for life.

Apparently not.

 

I don’t remember why it was that I started up on Xanga, even though in the past I used Blogger… I think I’ve had an online presence since 2000 actually, in some form or another.  I think that the initial attraction of blogging to me was at first because, back then, I wanted to be a professional writer.  That never happened, but I still value the ability to get a thought out in words, and it’s still something I’m working on.  Studying law has had me adopt a different kind of writing style, but as I said, it’s an ongoing process.

In the last few weeks, with talk of Xanga shutting down, I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the “Xanga Community” and all that.  But I don’t get that.  That’s nothing special that Xanga offered.  At the end of the day, you are writing the content– Xanga is just an index for what you write.  Xanga is the links between people, but the people are the people.  Xanga doesn’t tell you what to write.  It doesn’t help you write.  Other people help you write.  And I think that, given our tendency to form cliques and to make friends for the exclusion of the others, to define “us” versus “them,” is a human tendency that makes us forget that.  At the end of the day, “we” are no better than “them” and “community” only goes as far as you’re willing to extend your friendship.

When I was younger, it is true that writing helped me to develop a sense of identity.  Writing has been a way for me to go from idealism, cynicism, to nihilism, to reconstruction, and now to here, which is where I am.  I think ideally, most people go through those stages in their writing and in their personalities. 

But for Xanga to suggest that there’s a community, I think that’s kind of bullshit.  More specifically, I think that saying that we need to spend money to save this community is bullshit.

I actually thought about donating 500$ to Xanga for the fundraising thing.  I figured, hey, I’ve been using it for almost a decade– why the hell not. Comes out to less than a dollar a day.

But what, exactly, would I be paying for?

Is it paying for good people? Does Xanga have some exclusivity over the good people I can find here?  Does Xanga make these people good?  Good in person, or good to read?  Really: what does Xanga do?

The more I thought about people and Xanga speak of a sense of community, the more I thought about it, and the more that the whole fundraising thing started to offend me.  What I’m seeing after really thinking about it is a bunch of people who were too stubborn to get with the times when they were clearly changing, and who now want a bailout to do what they should have been doing for years.  It is a bailout, essentially. 

 

All you people who took the time to comment and reply on eachothers message.  All those of you who arranged Xanga meetups.  You did it because of who you are, as individuals, trying to make friends.  Xanga does not do that for you.  Give yourself more credit.

It’s one thing if you tender for money by saying you’re going to offer a service that would otherwise be discontinued.  Fair enough– all products are sold like that.  But what I really resent is this leveraging this idea of “community” where Xanga itself hasn’t created it.  I am not against online communities– but this isn’t some MMORPG where the product actually gives you something to do.  This is a company that has seen the tides changing and has not only decided, too late, to change, but to change to a model that doesn’t work– asking you to pay so that you give your content to build their community.  It is, essentially, claiming credit for the work of people, and trying to charge us in the process.

 

It’s time to smell the evolution, people.  There are tons of services out there that do everything you want it to do.  God forbid you have to learn to deal with change every now and then.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people evolve in their writing styles and their personalities.  And on the other hand, I see some people who dig themselves the deepest of trenches in the worst possible ways– the same mistakes they made 10 years ago are still being repeated. I largely think that the reason why a lot of people stop blogging is because they look back a year, or two or three, and realise that they’re still doing the same things, and still in the same place in life– of course you’d want to stop, because the last thing you need is a journal of non-existent adventures.  You might as well be writing a phone book.

I think that largely, a lot of the “community” that Xanga is trying to appeal to is those kinds of users.  The ones who have invested so much in those walls that, if these fortresses of partisanship were to crumble, they’d be out there naked again, and might actually be forced to think about how they want to do things.

I will admit that when I started out, I was writing because cynicism made me feel like I was smarter than everyone else.  It made me feel good that I was acknowledged for my ability to see things that other people might not notice.  The fact of the matter is, the world is freaking huge– how much more you notice over others directly relates to what demographic of “others” you position yourself in the middle of.  You could talk about rocket science and everyone would think you were smart, until you were put into a room full of rocket scientists– then suddenly, the guy who knows how to poach eggs is the rockstar.

My writing and my personality shifted at some point.  I’m still nitpicky and critical I think, but I am not a cynic.  Actually, I’ve come back to being an idealist.  Everything goes around full circle– what we need to do, I firmly believe, is to find a way to integrate everything we care about into a theory of life, and then integrate our life into that of society around us.  That’s what I call building a community.  Building yourself, and building with others.

I realised that fundamentally, I’ve become entrenched in the way I do things.  Blogging has become a foundation of my life– keeping a journal is something that I’ve managed to discipline myself into doing.  It has been painful to read old blogs at times, and it has also been joyous at other times– but all these things are in the past.  Because blogging has such importance in my lifestyle, the engine that provides it to me has a lot of leverage.  It’s like getting used to having two hands and told suddenly that one of them will have to be cut off and replaced.

 

 

This is the last Xanga I will be posting. I  am specifically not making a bigger deal of it, because to me, this is a logistical change– it doesn’t change what I hope to accomplish as I continue to write. If the transition forces me to change things, then so be it: change is good.

Your community isn’t dying, people.  These people will still be here– the internet will not die overnight, nor will thought and expression.  The bad habit of blogging is to live in the past, and to reminisce and reflect to the point where we lose sight of our futures. You just have to get used to the idea of growing forward.

I am uneasy with Xanga closing down.  But I know I’ve survived things much bigger than this, and that in the end, this is just a convenience of familiarity I’ve come to take for granted.  Life goes on!

To those of you who don’t want to move on, and who might not start new blogs after this– it was nice to meet you guys.  It was nice to read.  Post up something on your blogs telling me where I can follow you in the future.

 

My blogging will continue at:

https://dalniente.wordpress.com/

You can also reach me on gmail or hangouts, where my username is “tcjinryu”

 

Peace out and in!

 

-[Jinryu]

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WordPress

Exams aren’t quite over, but I think I should point out now that I intend to move over to wordpress.

 

You can find me at https://dalniente.wordpress.com/

 

There are currently no updates on this blog beyond what I wrote on it a long time ago (it was dabbling with the wordpress engine in the past, so I only got a few posts on there).  However, once I get through exams this friday, I’ll likely have more to say there.  Book mark that address now, or add it to your RSS feed before it’s too late!

One exam down…. Two to go !

Take care of your barrista

I had just spent about 40 minutes talking to a partner, [TMT] at one of the firms that I am planning on applying to in a few weeks.  I originally met TMT at the Twilight Drinks event hosted by my university’s Law Society about a month ago.  We had a bit of a chat back then, and he gave me his card, telling me to contact him if I had any  questions about the application process or the firm.  A couple of days after that, I emailed him to ask if he had time for a coffee.  It took a bit of effort to coordinate our schedules, but in the end, it was a good thing to have done it.  

During the meeting, we talked about a range of things, but probably least of all about his particular sector of work.  I avoided this, because, frankly, I don’t know enough about his industry except in general terms– in contrast,  he’s one of the most important people in the industry.   I wasn’t going to impress him.  

Still, I think we really hit it off, and I left feeling accomplished– because I went in there being myself, without really trying to impress.  And he seemed to accept that kind of frankness.

I think I made that mistake last year during the two interviews I got last year– I had spent hours reading up on their firms and trying to impress them by reciting bits from their industry publications instead of going with what I knew best– myself.

TMT  paid for my tea afterwards, leaving a tip at the counter– something which, while common in North America, is much more uncommon in Australia.  I suppose that’s why I thought it was strange, but I didn’t say anything of it.  

“Always take care of your barrista,” he advised me, if I had thought out loud.  As we walked away from the register, he added: “take care of your barrista, and they will always take care of you.”

He spoke of the workplace as a matrix of relationships– and that the most problematic lawyers are the ones who get so single minded about getting the job done that they forget to pay attention to their co-workers, the environment, and everything that’s going on in the world.

He told me about a time on the train when he the old lady declined to take his seat, but he insisted– and she was surprised, and they had a conversation afterwards– and how others on the train started doing it as well.

This is someone I want to work with.  Truly.

I’ve completed three early applications so far for companies that were off season– I have been met with three rejections.  It’s true that one of those applications, I didn’t try all that hard for– and that another, I wasn’t the demographic they were looking for.    The third was a video game which I probably spent too much time on– probably almost a hundred hours working on a video game for them, since the application guildelines were that CVs and cover letters would be thrown out.  All in all, these three weren’t “real” applications.  Time and time again people remind me of that.  Basically, it’s been a pretty dry season so far.  Plus, news that the Australian economy is slowing down and firms are cutting back on things.  That kind of thing is bad for morale. Sometimes, it all gets me down.

I’m usually a pretty energetic person I think, and fun to be around. I don’t like being someone who snaps at people or treats people like shit just because I’m having a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad month– because in most cases, the people who I affect have nothing to do with why I am the way I am.

I am generally a positive person.  Even when I don’t show it, I actually have a lot of high hopes for humanity.  But when I build up too much negativity, my natural way of dissipating it tends to be bitching.  I find it poisonous.

I felt much better today because after having a networking breakfast, and then meeting TMT (a separate event), I went to Kinokunia (a bookstore in Sydney’s central business district).  I read a comic book of “Runaways” which is probably the most interesting thing coming out of American comics nowadays.

Later when I got home, I had lunch with CM, we took a 3 hour nap, and then we went to do a bit of boxing by the riverside.

It’s been almost a year since I last did any boxing.  I’ve certainly gotten worse at it– I can’t properly heavy hits with my left because my shoulder feels weak from a lot of the necessary angles.  I also noticed that now, even when I’m just doing some light drills with CM and I’m on deffense, I can’t seem to keep my eyes open.  Normally you’re taught to keep your guard up and your eyes open at all time so that you can see what’s coming, so you can evade properly.  But i think that the training in judo has removed that hard earned reflex supression… in judo, because people are often trying to grab my collar and I’m often swatting their open hands away, it’s a lot more likely than in a boxing situation to get finger jabbed in the eye, even in passing.  As a result, I’ve rightly developped the habit of blinking when a hand gets too close to my face.  It’s a good reflex for judo, but I’m a bit sad that the reflex came back, because you don’t want to be fighting blind when boxing.

Regardless, my point wasn’t to winge– it’s just an observation.  

What I really wanted to say was that it was great to sweat again, and do something combative.  It was good to exercise that part of my brain that has been asleep for weeks, and remind me that there are some things in life that I can work for and get results in– there’s a strong correlation between effort and results in controlled training.

I’ve been having a good day.

I won’t say I’m ashamed of being down for the past few days.  I’ve had a shitload of work to do, and all these clerkship networking events are simply exhausting.

But every now and then, things are just better than alright, and I’m not just surviving– I’m fighting.

I’ve come to realise that I address hardship in phases.  The first step is to ignore the problem.  Procrastination and denial.  The second is to bask in it, and make it out to being a bigger problem than it really is– this is probably the ‘psychic vampire’ stage where I just build my personal identity around suffering, and snap at anyone who dares challenge the gravity of my lamentations.  I think I’m at the third stage right now– remembering that, in fact, I’ve been through worse, and that no, you fuckers aren’t going to take me down this easily.  This is the heroism stage.

Final stage is basically madness.  This is when I realise that my confidence means nothing– morale is unsupportable.  The only thing that will get me through it is anger and effort, and no amount of mental realignment will help.  There is only sleep and food and work, and whatever barebones mental toughness you have to remember your training.

I think that’s what’s important– developping who you are at the very core so that when shit gets though, you still pull through, even if you’re unconscious.  You don’t pull through because you want to or think you’re capable of it– it is when things get done simply because the muscle memory and the rewiring of the very way your instincts and reflexes work.

I have worked hard at law.  It doesn’t always show in the results I get, because sometimes, I’m frankly just unlucky, or a teacher disagrees with me, or I overlook something.  But regardless of mistakes that I might make about direction, you can be sure that I can work hard.  That’s what my instincts and reflexes are.

When times get tough, and I mean really tough, I fall back on that primal state.  Once my my conscious spirit has been broken, there is still something stronger and more primal at my core, forged through suffering.  It is something that I call on when my tanks are completely empty– it allows me to keep on fighting, even when I have nothing else.  Because it’s all I know.

 

WIth everything going on and everything coming up, I’m dreading the coming of that time.

 

But as my little meeting with TMT reminds me, I’ve come a lot way to get here– and I know that I’ll get through this too.

 

I don’t think I’m actually afraid of anything particular at present– but what I think and what I know might be two different things.  Yesterday, I woke up at about 2AM and just couldn’t sleep.

What’s actually going on in my mind is rather hard to say, especially when I’m asleep– it’s hard to interpret any real meaning from dreams of kung-fu and post apocalyptic space opera.

When I’m awake, I’m mostly fearless– but I think, deep down, the coming of finals is wearing me down a bit.  I’m probably worried about finals, clerkships, and, down the line, getting deported.  Those are just my top 3 guesses.  I could make more, but well, what’s the point?

Badminton once a week is good for me– it’s given me an output for an excess of “yin” that’s been accumulating in me over the past few weeks.

It might just be that badminton only comes up once a week and we only actually get about an hour of actual play time in (a lot of the time is watching from the benches).  In contrast, I haven’t been to judo in over two weeks (which would normally be between 2 to 4 hours per week) and I haven’t biked to school more than once per week lately (on account of all these suited events I have to attend).  That’s a substantial dip in caloric transfer– I’m probably going through about a fifth of the calories that I normally do.

Whenever I don’t exercise, I feel my body and mind feels sluggish.  It might be in my mind– perhaps sluggishness is something that I measure against my ability to “do,” and the problem is that a lack of opportunities to “do” make me feel sluggish? I don’t know.

Anyway– it’s just 2.5 more weeks of finals, then one month of clerkship applications, then hopefully, some interviews.  Piece of cake right?

Moulting

Every time I need to revise my CV, its a whole process.  It doesn’t happen often– maybe once in a year, if at all. A lot of things happen in a year though.

 

As a general rule of thumb, people don’t want to read a resume that’s more than 2 pages long.  I’ve had a pretty vagrant work history, and as a result, I could probably hand in one that was 5 pages long.

 

But that wouldn’t really add much, would it?  We go through all these experiences in life– triumphs and failures– and we all have interesting lives worth communicating to other people.

 

The difficult part is in deciding that you don’t need to rely on past triumphs as much.  At what point do you decide that some job you had 10 years ago isn’t so important anymore?  Sure, it sounds nice in theory to have worked a lot– but perhaps the insecurity of clinging to the past is sometimes a result of not knowing if we’ll be good enough in the future.  As I have to whittle my resume to sharp, focused point, I find it difficult to let go of the past.  I find myself coming off as too eager to telling someone every last thing about me– please, pay attention!  When perhaps, maybe the more classy approach is to say a little, just enough, and leave the rest up to imagination.  It’s a fine balance.

 

I need to look more forward.

 

The whole process of redoing my CV reminds me of all sorts of things that helped shape who I am… but I can’t help but wonder sometimes what direction all that history is pushing me towards.  I wonder– am I still capable of “travelling light”?

Sakki

(This post was written offline a few days ago, so date references do not apply)

Yesterday, I was at a trial advocacy competition.  This sort of thing is pretty much as the name entails– you’re pretending to be an advocate at trial.  I’ve never done anything like this before, so I was secretly excited, despite that fact that the timing couldn’t have been worse– with only a week of school to go, every hour of free time is quite precious.  

It’s a daunting process– you have 5 minuets to perform a cross examination of a witness.  I don’t watch Law&Order anymore, but whenever I think of this, I think of McCoy grilling the defendant in the box, driving the party to /tears/.  Or Matlock, tricking the party into saying “Okay! I did it!! And I’d do it again!”

The thing is, it’s not something that we ever learn to prepare for in class.  We’re never actually trained to get up there in front of the room and start roasting someone– all we have to go on, really, are our evening television heroes.

About a week ago, contestants such as myself had a trial advocacy workshop.  A solicitor (not a barrister) show up and basically walked us through the 40 page handbook of trial advocacy tips… it was frightening, and inspirational.

You might say it was sublime– that there was some “terrifying symmetry,” as the poets would say… it’s one thing to have it all acted out on television in the way you’d expect it.  It is another thing to have someone come to you and explain exactly how their weapons’ locker is arranged, and how you switch tools for the job.

Ever since I got back from South Korea, I’ve loved public speaking.  I don’t get many opportunities for it.  It’s not something I like just because I’m the centre of attention– I like the fear involved, and the adrenaline, and the necessity to stick to your training.  In many ways, it’s like putting in a mouthguard and hearing the gong, except that you only have a few minutes to knock them down, and you’re against an entire room.

Law has not been an area where I’ve ever really felt confident about public speaking though– this is because I’m not someone who is good at quoting.  I don’t have a good recall ability to say that Justice so-and-so said this, or that section xyz states that.  I’ll know it if I have the chance to look it up, but as CM will tell you, I have the memory of a goldfish.  The only thing that saves me during exams is well organised notes.

But I have never really had the confidence to use a backbone of law in a law related public speaking thing because of this.

Trial Advocacy was interesting in this respect– just like how you can watch an episode of Law&Order without really understanding the law, in Trial Advocacy you can really just build your argument around the story of the facts.  You’re delivering a narrative, more than you are a technical explanation.

I was surprised, but when my five minutes were up, I had done much better than I expected.

The mock judge, who was a solicitor, gave me some feedback, and there were only really two gripes about what I had done– one, I had deviated too much during my cross examination from the elements of the offence I was trying to proove, and two, I started too many sentences with “would you say that…”

His suggestion was, instead of saying “Would you say that you’re a violent person, Mr. Maffioso?” that I should instead stare the witness down and say “Are you a violent person, Mr. Maffioso?” or, perhaps, to get away with “I think you ARE a violent person, Mr. Maffioso.”  He told me that with my comfort of reading the witness on the go, I should be able to get away with using a very aggressive flow of cross examination if I wanted.

So really, the first criticism is something I could definately improve on– I got carried away with discrediting the witness because I’d broken open some opportunities, but didn’t keep track of my time so I didn’t manage to tie it back to the elements of the offence.  Beginner’s mistake!  But I’ll rememebr to focus on this next time.

As to aggression?  Oh yeah. I think I can do that.
 
I know the solicitor was probably being nice, but when he said “You’ve done a lot of interesting things, and you caught the witness many times– just remember to tie it back to the crime, and not just the credibility,” all I heard on my head was the part that was fluffing my ego.

I think learning a new skill is always the greatest feeling– the amount that you can pick up with a few hours, or even, a few minutes of experience?  The closer you get to knowing something well, the harder it is to learn.  That ratio starts getting worse by the law of diminishing returns, and it becomes harder to stay interested in something for the sake of learning new things– at that point, you’re more likely staying in it because you’re pretty good at it, but not because you’re growing.  In a sense, what we enjoy about the things we’re good at is the laziness we’ve earned, and the vantage point from which we can watch the inexperienced struggle. Proficiency, really, is a gradual progression from masochism to sadism.

Which reminds me….  while I was at Trial Advocacy yesterday, [CM] went to play badminton.  It marks a milestone– because she went to play in hostile territory all on her own.

It’s one thing for her to plan to play with Med School friends– it’s another thing entirely to go “dojo destroying” and just throw yourself into the hellish world of competitive badminton.  It’s signficant, because most people never make that first step out of “casual badminton” into “competitive badminton.”

The difference is, mainly, qualified by “killing intent.”  I can’t really come up with a word for this in English, and I don’t speak Chinese well enough to know a word for it.  It’s probably sat-hay, (pronounced as two distinct syllables, not quickly like satay sauce…)  But I think that reading enough manga gives you approximates in Japanese, like satsujinken (killing fist) and sakki (殺気).  I prefer sakki because it sounds better than sat-hay.

The simple way of explaining it is that when you play with friends, you will normally not as quickly develop bloodlust… (unless you’re only pretending they’re your friend: but that’s a different story.)

Sakki is the kind of focus you can only develop if you go against people that you don’t care to hurt.  People often mistake it for anger or jealousy directed at someone– but although these things can contribute to sakki, the kind of sakki I’m talking about is “useful” in nature.  In a sense, it’s a state of mind that enhances performance by removing self-doubt and care for the consequences of your actions.  In most contexts, this means short-term obsesssion with a particular goal (usually dominance) without regard for externalisation of the costs of your selfishness– if you really looked at it medically, it would be a burst of induced, voluntary psychopathy.    It is not emotional baggage slowing you down– it is conviction that is the complete opposite of baggage.  It is going forward without being afraid of hurting your opponent either physically or mentally.

Now before you start thinking that this sounds like some scary shit, the truth is, you probably use sakki more often than you think, although in varying degrees on intensity.

In the context of badminton, of course, things are a bit different from martial arts– you’re not going to just go to the other side of the court and break your racket over the opponent’s head, after all.  But the same mentality can apply– sakki doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re reduced to a beast, it means simply that you’re single minded about victory in a way that doesn’t care about your opponent.  This means, for example, you don’t care how demoralising it might be to completely destroy your opponent.  It means that when your opponent makes a mistake and attempts to laugh it off, you keep a straight face that isn’t in the mood for jokes– because all you want is them on their knees, defeated.

Meeting people who have real control over sakki is a frightening experience.  I talk a lot about “substance,” and those who have truly frightening sakki are usually that frightening because they can mobilise their substance into something that truly feels like an oppressive weight.

The problem with playing with friends is that oftentimes, there’s a lot of emotional baggage involved in a group activity.  You want to make things fun for everyone, and you want to make sure everyone is having a good time.  In part, this is because we’ve learned eachothers’ vulnerabilities and you don’t want to do things that would damage the relationship in any way– friendships are about building on strengths and covering eachothers’ weaknesses normally, not exploiting weaknesses. 

Friendship is a good thing.  But constantly surrounding oneself with friends makes one lazy.  One loses the ability to fight.  Not literally, although that is sometimes the case.  The willingness to fight begins with a willingness to be selfish.

 

I guess I’m going on a tangent from what I originally intended to write about… but I saw some sakki in CM the last time we played badminton together.  We played against a mixed (girl and boy) couple of opponents, and the girl was clearly weaker than CM.  Normally, if this were the casual type of badminton we usually play, CM would go easy on her when given the opportunities to score big.  But this time? CM was being aggressive an actively trying to dismantle that girl!  I was surprised, and when I pointed it out to her later, she was surprised too.

But this is the nature of competition– you can’t worry about the opponent, because only side gets to win.

 

In every day life, our social interactions are normally give and take– we be a bit assertive, we be a bit submissive, and things happen between people through a passive but constant series of offers, counter-offers, and acceptance.  Sakki is about breaking those rules of engagement, and saying that you want everything– that this is not  a negotiation.

 Which renders sakki an extremely important tool in the competitive real world.  This doesn’t mean that you should have this state of mind on at all times– and indeed, there are actually limited situations where it is the apporpriate response– but you should be capable of it when you need it, otherwise people will walk all over you.

 

And personally, I think that if you’re really going to get good at something, you have to be willing to be bad to be good.  I’m not necessarily saying you need to be willing to backstab or cheat your way to the top– but really, the ability to do what it takes is something very important, and what rules you chose to live by should be the ones that you set for yourself. 

 

The natural restraing on sakki is peer pressure, or social pressure. It’s a herd mentality that gets you used to the idea that your safety comes from looking and acting the same as everyone else, because if you get noticed, that’s usually a bad thing.

But just try and remember how often people get ahead in the world– more than a few times, you thought that person was a total asshole who may not have deserved it.  But they got ahead of you because they were willing to do something or be someone that you weren’t willing to be.  And they’ll continue to get ahead until they get caught for breaking some rules.

 

There is actually a huge gap between the model of behaviour proposed by peer pressure and what is actually possible within the rules.  The example of this is badminton– friendly badminton would say that it’s not very nice to smash on someone who is right in front of you.  That’s the model proposed by peer pressure.  But the rules themselves don’t care if you smash or don’t– if you knock someone’s teeth out with a smash, it’s still legal as long as you did it by hitting the bird first.  That gap is the grey zone that separates the sheep from the wolves.