How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

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Much ado about a cigarette

It is a gross, but mildly understandable that we spend the vast majority of our time here like zombies, placated by benzos and nicotine replacement therapy.

Indeed, many people in here have angry tendencies and lash out at others.

I, conversely, expressed a desire to harm myself and have been trying to talk to someone about it.

In both cases, the belief is that we are a danger to the outside world.

Understandable.

Inside, the outside world becomes lionised, with the ultimate expression of freedom being a cigarette.*

I have seen women (with whom I have previously had coherent conversations with) turn into “girls gone wild” for a cigarette and lighter from ” the other side.”

“The other side” is not the “outside world,” but a lighter, less restrictive version of the ward. Presumably, the inhabitants are dangerous but not as dangerous as us, because they have 24/7 internet access and occasional leave.

This makes me ponder something about suicide prevention in the public system: is it really about preventing or pacifying?

All I can say is that upon entering it, I keep on asking for and trying to find the tools that will help me get better and to discuss the feelings that I’m having and am met with a stony silence from the staff.

Meanwhile, my surroundings and the unpredictability of my fellow patients somewhat terrify me. (I am the only one here for suicide ideation, or any suicide related illness.)

I’m guessing that’s the intent: to scare straight, but at the same time, I feel like hope is gone as well.

What I want is to have a therapist to talk to, in order to see what to do next. To help me put what I’m seeing into a context that doesn’t sap my will to live.

At the moment, I have a desire to live if only because I can’t picture the rest of my life being here.

For me, the system is strangling.

And perversely, that seems to be the goal.

*Coincidentally, I recently gave up smoking. Seeing what others will do for cigarette in this situation is harrowing.

Don’t Say The “S” word

At the end of every news report about suicide here in Australia, we are given the numbers of places to call if “you or someone you know are having troubling thoughts.”

The troubling thoughts being “suicide.”

At potentially great risk to myself and reputation, I have been having those troubling thoughts for the past 4 years.

For purposes of privacy, I will not discuss my triggers.

And this article is meant to facilitate discussion and awareness of the public system as it relates to those suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts.

Step 1: The helpline and therapy

The staff at the helplines are trained, but not perfect. After explaining my concerns and receiving generic answers, I got ” patched up” to make it through the night so I could make to therapy.

Therein lies the issue with suicide, you’re always getting a boost to last you for a little bit as opposed to finding long lasting help.

Therapy somewhat helps, although the necessities of life (work, mostly) intervene.

Step 2: Police

Welcome to “duty of care” land. The police are the first group that many encounter whilst under “duty of care.” In this instance, it means ” you can’t harm yourself under my watch.”

In my particular case, an officer making small talk to prevent me from “suicidal ideation” actually had the effect of strengthening my internal resolve.

And it’s the internal resolve that is rarely addressed, but is the most dangerous and influential.

A medical professional once said to me during a hospitalisation that “you cannot stop someone who wants to kill themselves, because they would have done it already .”

Step 2: Hospitalisation

Often, the next step is hospitalisation. Again, “duty of care” is the keyword. Actual discussion about the circumstances causing the ideation is rare.

My experience has been to be thrown into a psychological ward, where I found myself more scared and that inner resolve grew in leaps and bounds, and calls to get someone to talk to about it fell on deaf ears as I was expected to “resolve it myself.”

Another person in the ward said “just say that you no longer wish harm to yourself and you are closer to rejoining the outside world. Be positive.”

Step 3: Life outside

Life on the outside after a suicide attempt is different. Food tastes sweeter and things feel fragile.

Therapy is somewhat of a salve, but one thing that isn’t is how we all talk about suicide.

It is consistently framed in two harmful ways: Firstly, as “your” problem that you’d better deal with in these ways we have provided.

Secondly, suicides and memorials tend to be reported in a selfish way, which is to say “I miss [deceased person] because of XYZ they did made me felt good and it’s such a waste.”

It’s such a waste you have to scream out how much pain you’re in when it comes to thoughts of suicide in order to get help.

For some of us, suicidal thoughts do not come in a massive wave, but rather like a cup that is just a little bit overflowing.

We need to be aware that not everyone experiences it the same way.

We also need to really re-evaluate how our public health system treats people with suicidal ideation, because there are people falling through the cracks who might have been able to be saved.

One day, many messages

As I write this, it’s International Day to Stop Racism according to the UN.

It’s also Harmony Day here in Australia, which is a somewhat more upbeat spin on the former.

Today also is No Makeup Selfie Day for breast cancer awareness.

The 21st of March also happens to be The National Day of Action Against Bullying here in Australia.

Plus it’s the 9th annual World Down Syndrome Day.

Every single one of these campaigns are valid and worthy of our time, so why are all these organisations putting them all on one day when each message gets drowned out by the other?

I understand the need to raise awareness, but you have to wonder if we are bombarded with messages–no matter how worthy they are (and every single one of them are worthy)–then the likelihood of people tuning out from compassion fatigue grows.

Both Alike In Dignity and Complexity

“Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona where we set our scene”

"an excellent conceited tragedy" indeed

“an excellent conceited tragedy” indeed

I remember the opening prologue to Romeo & Juliet because I saw it countless times whilst waiting in the wings for my entrance during my high school’s production.

Let the record show that I was not Romeo. I was Friar Lawrence actually.

In the two productions of Shakespeare my school put on, I was cast as a religious figure who gave advice to those struck dumb with love.  Presumably this was due to the fact that as an overweight black teenage male, I didn’t exactly exude romantic lead material.

Waiting in the wings, waiting to go on, and observing the activity night after night gave me somewhat of an interesting challenge: I was disconnected from the action, but expected to thrust myself into it just a few scenes later.

This was not that different from my day-to-day life at the time, where I often felt like I was disconnected from the high school world around me. I was, for lack of a better term, “other.”

Now, on some level, that’s just a standard teenage phase, but as a double minority (black and gay), not being considered part of the mainstream really got to me. It got to me so much that I pretty much the kibosh on any thoughts of being an actor after graduating. Instead, I was going to be a writer. Yessir, I was going to write the world as I saw it and everybody’s minds would be collectively blown and the world would be a bit less daunting to the fat black gay teenage boys from Wisconsin.

I’d like to think that the world of 2014 is a bit more hospitable now than it was then.

Today, I saw two articles from The Atlantic that made me remember that sense of “otherness” from way back when.

The first one was from Enuma Okoro, praising the everywoman aspects of the lead character in the new BET (Black Entertainment Television) show Being Mary Jane, which is about a journalist attempting to get that proverbial work-life balance just right. In the article, Okoro quotes a study by Essence magazine that states that a considerable majority of black women see negative portrayals of themselves more often than positive ones, amongst which include the infamous (and unrealistic) head shaking, sassy black woman stereotype.

It certainly didn’t reflect the reality of the black women that I ever came across in my family, nor in my black female peers and friends.

This is not to say that it wasn’t true for some people, but not all, and particularly when your only representation is this archetype it can become an expectation.

Apologies for the cliché, but if I had a dime for how many people overseas asked me if black women really were that way, I’d be able to solve the GFC.

That’s the problem with television and media in general, it can turn a character trait that the actual person has to chop down (often with a metaphorical pickaxe) to find the truth inside.

And that truth is, as Okoro says about Being Mary Jane, “the potential to slowly alter the way viewers see and relate to African-Americans as a people whose lives and experiences—their good and poor decisions, and their trials and triumphs—can be encompassed into cultural and social norms in the same way that the lives and experiences of white Americans have been for centuries.”

The second article was Hope Reese’s interview with Michael Lannan and Andrew Haigh, the creators of Looking, a new HBO show about gay men in San Francisco.

Haigh says “Our ambition is not to tell the story about all gay people, which is impossible to do. The gay community is full of all different types of people. It never was our intention to be the ultimate gay show about all gay people. We just want to tell the stories of these characters and their lives.”

In response to Reese’s question about whether they [Lannan & Haigh] felt a burden to “get it right,” he says: “I think ‘burden’ is a good way to put it. We do feel like there’s a burden, and then the trailer comes out, and everyone comments on it, saying, “That’s not my life.” It was hysterical looking at some of the comments. Some people decided it was a show about cock-hungry sluts, and others would say that it’s all white people. Everyone has a judgment. But we can’t represent everybody—it’s impossible.

So in many respects, we have to ignore that. But I also understand the desire, the need, for representation on the screen. My hope is that if this show does well, it will offer the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people.”

Haigh’s statement about hoping that it offers “the opportunity for other people to make other shows about different types of gay people” echoes earlier remarks from the creators of the sitcom Will & Grace in response to accusations that the show wasn’t realistic.

Mind you, it is a comedy, and asking for verisimilitude in a half-hour comedy without it becoming mind-numbingly dull is a big ask.

A belated disclaimer: I have yet to see either of these shows, but I suspect that Looking will make an appearance on some Australian television outlet, and the eternal optimist in me hopes that Being Mary Jane might as well.  (I like to believe that in a nation that believes in the “fair go,” that is a possibility.)

With regards to Looking, I must admit that for some gay men out there, it might be a breath of fresh air to see their lives reflected onscreen. I remember when Patrik-Ian Polk’s Noah’s Arc debuted on LOGO. I remember thinking “wow, I see guys who are black and gay, and who actually have a sex life and relationships!”

Noah's Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

Noah’s Arc (cover art for the 2nd season box set)

It might seem peculiar to those who aren’t black and gay, but for the most part, the representation of black gay men in TV  was pretty much as the “sassy sidekick” (mostly in drag) to the white leads who got to go through the ups and downs of romance, awkwardness, and well…reality.

Which brings me back to what the overweight black gay teenage boy waiting in the wings in 2014 sees.

I truly hope he can see that his hopes and wishes not that much different from everyone else, and perhaps, everyone else sees something of their own hopes and wishes in his.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day Post 2014

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in DC

Recently I’ve taken to reading the tablet version of the New York Daily News every day as part of my morning ritual. Given that today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, a fair amount of the articles dealt with the legacy of Dr. King.

Yet, it was one ad in the paper that stuck out for me: It was for a 2014 Australian silver dollar targeted to US coin collectors.

Most non-coin collectors like myself would pass by that ad without thinking twice, but given that I live in Australia,  I lingered. Alas, I have been struck with the infamous “Ooh! It’s about my country” bug.

For all intents and purposes, I am Australian. I am also–and will always be–American as well. (I’ve lived here for 5 years now, so I think I’ve officially turned the corner from dalliance to full on relationship.)

The fact that I can live here of my own free will and volition is partly due to the work of Dr. King.

Many Australians are surprised that Australia has somewhat of a reputation of being somewhat inhospitable towards people of colour, due to the history of the “White Australia policy” that limited immigration to those of European background. Interestingly enough, the cracks in this policy started when a Black British man applied to come here.

What many in the US do not know is that Dr. King’s legacy of non-violent protest inspired Australia’s own Freedom Riders.

From The ABC’s “Discovering Democracy” website:

“In 1965 a group of students from the University of Sydney organised a freedom ride to towns in NSW to publicise the discrimination experienced by Aboriginal people. Discrimination took different forms, such as not being allowed to live in town at all, not being allowed into certain shops or clubs, having to sit in the front few rows at the cinema or not being allowed in the public swimming pool. Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman led the students, with the support of Reverend Ted Noffs and Bill Ford.

“The students hired a bus and travelled over 3,000 kilometres through country towns of northern NSW which had large Aboriginal populations. Two journalists travelled with the students and recorded what they saw. The students interviewed Aboriginal people about discrimination in their towns. They picketed the swimming pool in Moree, where Aboriginal children were allowed in only if they were with a school group. Many townspeople were hostile to the students. They threw things at them, spat on them, threatened them and tried to run their bus off the road.

The freedom ride attracted great publicity in city newspapers and made the front page of the Bulletin magazine. The reports and photographs shocked white Australians and made them aware of the conditions under which many Aboriginal communities lived. The publicity generated by the freedom ride persuaded many Australians to vote for constitutional change in the 1967 referendum.”

Interesting parallels with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We hear quite often about how the world is ever more connected, and often times that just refers to trends, and not so much to ideas.

Dr. King’s legacy is not the sole domain of the US, nor should it be. The legacy of the late Nelson Mandela is not the sole domain of South Africa, as his recent memorial service proved to the global audience.

We are all more connected in our shared humanity than set apart by differing skin colour and cultural background.