A voice crying in the wilderness

How does one separate the genuine from the counterfeit? The wheat from the chaff?

When the first real hipsters appeared – not the shopping centre cardboard cut-out wannabes – what was it that they were searching for?

There is always a trend in youth to reject the habits and values of the previous generation but that is typically an inevitable stage of growth – a point where all teenagers rebel without a clue.

But what of those who rebel with reason? Those who seek justification for using or possessing something beyond it being a cool or fashionable thing to have. People who have turned out the popular fashion of their wardrobe in favour of comfortable clothing made from natural fibres not made in a sweatshop. People who seek out obscure bands who want to make a statement or unusual sound, as opposed to major record labels churning out soulless, disposable pop fodder. Music that will last through the ages instead of a week. There is real justification for organically grown vegetables – its not productive on a large scale but still manageable for the market gardener.

I had to look up “artisanal” to confirm its meaning – something handmade in a traditional manner, taking the long way around instead of lazy shortcuts.

But there are aspects of hipsterdom that don’t make any sense – eschewing computers for typewriters, digital cameras for film, CDs and digital media for records, geared bikes for fixed gear. Such ideas tend to be the province of the try-too-hards. The argument that records have a greater dynamic range than CD is fair but countered by records wearing out enough after a few plays that, with rare exceptions, the range shrank dramatically. In my own experience, the record aficionados and audiophiles always tended to be half deaf – they had the money to afford the best equipment but were no longer in a position to appreciate it.

Melbourne is considered the hipster capital of Australia – the suburb of Fitzroy particularly so, Smith Street being hipster central. I’ve been harbouring an urge to visit Melbourne again after a brief visit on my honeymoon. It seems stupid that its cheaper to fly to Bali and stay in a luxury hotel for a week than it is to fly to Melbourne and stay in a mid-range hotel even for a few nights. I find myself wondering if I can create my own Poor Man’s Melbourne in Perth, the same as I want to Balify a section of my garden.

So as I write this, I’m sitting in a hipster coffee shop in King Street, Perth, drinking a short black single origin coffee in a vintage, underground café with rustic, recycled décor – a shame about the background music, which sounds like Fatboy Slim being thrown down a flight of stairs.

Maybe I can find some Bali hipsters…

The hipster label suits me even if I don’t fit the hipster label. But it is the nature of hipsters to reject labels. I am defining myself by being indefinable.

God cannot be explained with logic – at least, not with logic alone. God can only be explained through faith and trust.

Non-Christians want a simple, one size fits all explanation for who or what God is, but if you try to give them one, they will refuse to accept it. How can you give a simple explanation for the most complex and comprehensive being in the Universe. He is the creator of all things. This Universe is of God, God is not of the Universe.

When people try to apply logic to God, they try to compartmentalise Him. They want to break God down into smaller, more manageable pieces, each with its own label and classification. Essentially, its a human trait to try and dismantle something, find out what makes it tick and rob it of its mystery and power. We don’t like the idea that something is unknown and unfathomable. Humans don’t like the idea that something is bigger than us and we certainly don’t like feeling small.

They are the signs that we perceive as markers of success – the big house in the expensive suburbs, the expensive car, the latest and greatest accessories.

I consider status symbols belittle a person – that you having to advertise your success is an indication that you aren’t. All you are advertising is your insecurity – you need to impress and have peer approval. If you are really successful, people already know who you are.

So how do we identify when enough of something is truly enough? Possessing a dishwasher when you have a large family makes sense – but do you require a unit that merely washes, or do you really need one that pretends that it isn’t there, that opens and closes the door itself and can dispense its own detergent?

Should a car need be anything more than four wheels and an engine? If it gets you from A to B reliably, doesn’t cost a fortune to maintain and has a reasonable safety rating, do you need anything more? When I was doing the delivery run for a computer shop I was working for years ago, I would often park the company van next to a BMW or Mercedes of a consultant. Such a vehicle is intended to impress and advertise success but all it said to me was that this person charges far too much and isn’t competent enough to get a vehicle suitable to the job. Let’s see you fit an A3 colour laser printer in your convertible Audi, mister.

The most expensive oven and cooktop on the market can’t save you if you are the kind of of cook who burns water, no matter how many episodes of Masterchef you watch.

God Incorporated

Once you answer your calling to become a Christian, you are starting a new job. You work for God now. He will typically leave you doing to same task you were doing before, under the same managers but now you have additional duties and are answerable to a higher level supervisor. You might not get a pay rise but your retirement package is going to be amazing.

If you do start getting pay rises, remember not to increase your standard of living, but your standard of giving.

When the pay rises come, there is much temptation to go a little crazy with spending – but remember that Earthly pleasures don’t last and its too easy to get info a habit of spending like they will.

Your new duties will involve evangelising Jesus at ever chance – sometimes with co-workers, sometimes with clients, sometimes with friends, neighbours or strangers.

Each person is given different abilities – some can speak well, knowledgeably and confidently and possess an agile mind that can leap from task to task, overcoming clever counter-arguments with truth rather than twisty logic. Others are great singers who can profess the glory of God’s love. Another may be a skilled writer that can create engaging and convincing prose. But what if you fall between any of these categories? You demonstrate some competence in many areas but have no great talent in any? God has need of any and all abilities, great or small. You are the mortar that joins the bricks together, the mediator between crafts and disciplines. Sometimes all you need to be is an example – people look at you and see Jesus at work. They see the joy that you take in life and the kindness you show others and say to themselves “I want to know what drives this guy!” Take time to learn patience, to cool your temper, to read and reference the bible. You aren’t expected to have a perfect recollection of all the texts, merely to have a basic understanding that you can call on.

One of the few things that Gorrilaz have said that made any sense

When you choose to pursue an idea or notion, what is it that motivates you? Do you became fixated with an idea because it suits you or your situation, or would you follow it because it enables you to fulfil God’s work?

At the age of nearly 42, I occasionally look to my peers and compare my life with theirs. I’ve seen the successes – the big house, the big car, the big salaries, the fame and notoriety. I’ve seen the failures – the broken marriages, the broken minds, the addictions that have taken their toll. How do I rate myself?

I consider that I am successful, just not on an Earthly scale. I have achieved many of the things that I have set out to do and have more that I wish to do. I’ve seen too many occasions of people who have done everything and now are just passing time until they die.

When you work for God, there will always be more to do.

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
– Mark 16:15 ESV

Each of us has different callings and different gifts with which to achieve those callings. Sometimes those gifts are something that drives our whole lives, sometimes they are something we indulge in during our spare moments when we aren’t earning our living. God will put us in a position where we can do our work so its important that we make ourselves flexible enough to respond. Its also important that when God has given us a gift, we don’t exploit it to our own ends.

I have heard it said “Live to work – if you work to live, you will always hate your job.” But if you make your Godly work your first priority, all else becomes secondary.

Be fed, clothed, pay your bills and keep a roof over your head but do your best not to be distracted by worldly concerns – eating at the post restaurants, the latest fashions that change weekly etc. Don’t seek out prestige in your home or your possessions, take only what is necessary and give yourself over to serving God by serving others.

I’ve decided to do away with my collection of records and cassettes. Truth be told, I haven’t listened to them in years or I’ve obtained CD or MP3 versions that I play through computer, media centre or mobile phones.

I used to be fascinated by all the old formats but reached a point where I started running out of space for them. Sorting through my cassettes last night I realised that have digital versions of three quarters of them and most of the rest I likely never will listen to again.

I find the same with my collection of video games and books. There are a few books I will like to keep in a physical form but many I will only have as an ebook, particularly one I will only read now and again, or reference books.

As there are only handful of games on each platform that I enjoy, I don’t want to have consoles upon consoles around the house.

Emulation of these systems is an ideal solution – the original games can be played on one system pretending to be another. The controllers may not be “authentic” but the experience is largely the same.

I frequently play games from my childhood using Commodore 64 and Amiga emulators, sometimes arcade machine emulators as well. On occasion, I will acquire a remake for a more recent system (in the hope that the remake is faithful to the original and not a “reimagining”). The original is often crafted to create an atmosphere that makes the best use of the host system, remakes often are a mechanical imitation that copies the look without recapturing the feel.

There is further justification for emulation as well – as equipment gets older, it starts to fail. ROMs develop what is known as “bit rot”, the chips losing or corrupting the information stored on them.

With eBooks, it pays to shop around if you are using a tablet rather than a dedicated ebook reader – even then you may be able to access books from different purveyours. Try, if you can, to source your books in an unprotected epub format. With the apparent exception of the Kindle, all readers are able to read these, along with PDF. The concern with eBooks is that the publisher may remove books from your collection without warning, apology or compensation. Of if they cease trading, as has happened a lot in Japan recently, you may lose your books when your devices stop functioning.

When you tell people that you are a Christian, you can see their eyes glaze over immediately. People jump on you, calling you judgemental, superior and discriminatory – even people who know you well enough to know better. Even if you try to explain or defend your beliefs, they won’t listen and simply shout you down.

I recall a comic showing people listening to Eastern philosophy or popular commentary and taking it to heart or revering it but when shown similar wisdom from the bible, they instinctively recoiled and rejected. Even though the same person might quote from psalms or proverbs not realising its origin.

But as a Christian, how do people perceive you? Do you come across as smug and superior? Do you present an attitude of “Holier than thou”? Do you take humble to excess? Are you so meek and mild that people look at you and see a whipped puppy? Are you a hypocrite? Saying one thing but doing another? Do you gossip and slander, backbite and speak ill of one another? Christians are human and therefore sinners – we are weak and flawed, the same as everyone else. We are perhaps a little more aware of our shortcomings and strive to keep ourselves disciplined – but we still have our faults and foibles. I have struggled with smoking and alcohol abuse. I experience bouts of depression and my discipline is at its weakest when I am tired. I, too, get angry and say things that offend people with intention or realisation. I know that if I repent and pray, the Lord is kind and forgiving but people sometimes are not so.

The Father is full of grace but that isn’t a “Get out of jail free” card – we are still subject to the laws of man and people still carry grudges.

“The thing about hipsters is that they don’t like to be called a hipster. By that logic, nobody is a hipster. But by that logic again, maybe everyone is a hipster.

“But what would I know, I’m not a hipster.”

– Levni Yilmaz

Therein lies an idea that if you think you are a hipster, you aren’t.

I often tell people that I was a hipster before they were cool.

In many respects, I could be a hipster. In many respects, I could be the thinking hipster’s hipster. I wear stylish glasses – but I’m actually short sighted. I reject popular fashion, but I have limited finances. I listen to a lot of obscure music, but I grew up in the Seventies.

I’ve written a song about it.

I’m a counter-cultural Christian Socialist thinking hipster’s thinking hipster.

But my pipe is broken and my wife doesn’t like it when I try to grow a beard.

A beard made of recycled, single origin, viably sourced, cold filtered vintage kale.

Hipster coffee sounds like too much hard work – I think I will stick to my plunger and FairTrade ground coffee. Usually I buy Oxfam coffee so I can donate a little more to charity but this week I’ve been on a tighter than normal budget so I brought a packet of Supermarket C brand FairTrade coffee instead since it is close to half price.

I had a little crisis on conscience afterwards though – would Oxfam suffer without my indirect donation? I resolved that the next time I passed an Oxfam shop, I would pay the difference to them. I get my FairTrade coffee, they get a bigger donation. If I get a receipt, I can claim it on tax. Everybody wins.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hipsters recently – psychoanalyzing perhaps – trying to understand them and get into their mindset. We have quite a lot in common.

We listen to obscure bands, though I’m not inclined towards the one-upmanship of “I know of more obscure bands than you”. If I find an obscure band I like, I want them to become better known.

But isn’t strange how your music tastes change as you get older? All the bands that I loved in my childhood and teenage years have lost their appeal. My collection of “chiptunes” (I do dislike that title) seem painful and annoying now yet 10 years ago they never left my CD player in the car.

Imagine my amusement when my parents rediscovered Queen? I recall them hammering on my bedroom walls demanding that we “turn that bloody poofter music down!” One day I walk into my parent’s house to find “A night at the opera” blasting out of the media centre.

We reject popular fashion – more because I dress for comfort and mobility and I don’t have a big wardrobe budget. I don’t mind looking in thrift stores but I also like to donate to them as well.

We appreciate retro – but not retro for the sake of retro. I play a lot of video games that I grew up with and find modern games too complicated and too demanding to be fun. I had speculated that hipsters would properly use an 8bit PC running CP/M and storing all their documents on 5.25 inch floppy disks but I’ve since learned that I was wrong – hipsters have discovered typewriters.

I’ve known people who have worked with film cameras – no, thank you. Once good quality digital cameras became affordable, I’ve not looked back. I do still have three film cameras here but they’ve not been taken out of storage for years – one still has a film in it from 25 years ago which I’ve been scared to get developed in case the processor loses one of the wooden rollers.

I like aviator-style sunglasses – part of my love of Electric Light Orchestra – but my prescription glasses have been dictated by what I can get that is covered by my health insurance. So instead I have Agent Smith sunglasses.

I buy all my music digitally for the most part – I’ll still buy a CD if its on special or I find it cheap enough second hand but most of my newly discovered bands publish online via iTunes or Google Play. I do have a large collection of records and tapes but nowhere to set up a turntable – indeed, I gave away my good turntable to my brother and even he isn’t very interested in vinyl anymore.

I’m not one for obscure beers as such – I’m quite happy to support microbreweries and I’ll drink whatever they have on tap but I’ll be just as happy if someone hands me an Emu Export.

And don’t get me started on tattoos – I still dislike them intensely. Besides, they’re soooo MAINSTREAM…these days you are a rebel for not getting one.

I view hipsters as a kind of “anti yuppie”, though a similar kind of snobbery and social hierarchy still exists. The mantra of “He who dies with the most toys wins” has been superseded by “He who dies with the most vintage and obscure collection wins”.
Whatever. You’re still dead and you can’t take it with you.

Unless your idea of heaven is the world’s largest vintage market…

Fear can drive us, or freeze us in our tracks. Push us onwards past our endurance or stop us making a tough but necessary decision. The fear of failure can be the most crippling of all.

After I took a break from composing on the computer to go acoustic for a while, I never returned to my editors even though I wanted to and had been receiving requests and commissions. I had forgotten how to use the editors and remembering how long it took me to learn them in the first place was extremely unappealing.

I reached a point where it was too much to be bothered with in case I could never get as good as I was before.

I used to cartoon all the time throughout high school – I had been developing two books collecting the better efforts; admittedly the first was too crude to pursure and has been hidden from view ever since, the second eventually developing a style of humour too obscure and abstract to likely appeal to anyone outside of our group. I kept developing it until the early Ninties before also putting it aside.

A few years later I developed an interest in anime and manga, and started drawing again, though it wasn’t until the launch of a local fanzine named Xuan Xuan that I began drawing in earnest. Inspired by the chance to have my work published, one story after another developed until I had fourteen plots on the go, ten of which were interlinked. But it turned out that my skill was too low to be considered. Some shorter cartoons were published in JAMWAF and on the JAFWA website before falling again into obscurity.

Ten years on, I feel the need to start drawing again but lack the focus I once had – since I’ve barely drawn anything beyond practice scribbles during this time, its likely that my drawing style would have changed again.

But I’m wary of doing so; I’d have to relearn how to draw and practice – requiring time and patience that I no longer have in abundance.

But therein lies the challenge – the put to use my multitasking and time management skills and group activities together. I’ve started carrying a notepad with me again like I used to do so many years ago because like music, poetry or photography, you never know when inspiration or an opportunity will arrive. I always like to have a camera with me as well.

Writing has been one of those tasks that have come and gone – I’ve been keeping a variety of online journals for many years trying at least to update monthly (though often a year goes by without so much as a spelling correction). Inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient moment so, again, I keep a notepad with me to at least summarise the ideas for later reference.

When I’ve found myself unable to draw a story concept, I’ve often taken to writing it out in story form but frequently been embarrassed at how immature my writing seems but would give up early. It leads to a chicken and egg scenario – do I still write like a 12 year old because I’m too uncomfortable to make an effort to develop it, or do I give up because I will always write like a 12 year old? Like my music, poetry and art, it will take time and practice for it to grow – but there is always the chance of getting a decent ghost writer to turn it into something legible.

As always, I shall put this aside for a few days to come back and reread it before publishing, usually resulting in multiple rewrites.

Doing door security on the closing shift at work, brain is going “Ideas for essays! Ideas for songs! Ideas for comics! Ideas for poems!”

Come home and I have an hour to play with before my wife gets home, brain goes:

“. . . . .”