Individual

What a difference a year makes

From blatant self-promotion to 20/20 hindsight  

Words & images  Paul Ransom

Back in 2019, before the virus, I met a young man in a crowded cafe. He was energetic and tech savvy. He said he worked in digital marketing. He assured me that, even without a budget, I could successfully promote my newly published non-fiction title. “Do you blog?” he asked. I suggested he search As if You Were Listening. With lightning fingers he pulled up this address. He chuckled to himself, raised a manscaped eyebrow.

“You know what you should do?” he said, eyes bright. I listened with a mix of mild amusement and vague scepticism but, given that I had very little to lose, decided to go along with his net-native plan.      

And so, on the first day of the twenties, I completed his no cost, twenty day listicle based, brand building campaign. Twenty top 20s, culminating on January 1, 2020. (So many twenties. Such twenty themed timing. A twenty-fold sales spike would surely follow as a matter of course.)

  • Read the original list-a-thon here.

Suffice it to say, 2020 did not map out the way my young adviser had so breezily envisaged. Neither, sadly, did my sales numbers. (If am hereby tempted to mock the mantras and deride the dehumanising, reductionist stink of the marketing mindset, I am reminded by my abysmally low royalty stream that I would have been better served by the boy being right.)1     

Perhaps what my one-time coffee buddy meant to say was that the book would fare better if the world at large were suddenly struck by a crisis of possibly existential proportions, thereby rendering my avowedly Existentialist outpouring of philosophical self-help more…on trend.

I imagine my publisher now wishes he had held off until April 2020, rather than rushing to print in the now glaringly premature previous September. How much more would the book’s blend of stoicism, middle-path perspective and ‘being cool with death’ have resonated in the frenzied atmosphere of the first wave? Indeed, The Pointless Revolution may well have gone viral on a pandemic planet.

When things get existential, call an Existentialist. 

Jokes (and idle speculation) aside, the advent of COVID – with its lockdowns, death counts, and air of doom and paranoia – certainly put my self-declared revolution to the test. That I have thus far navigated the pandemic terrain psychologically unscarred tells me something deeply reassuring about my state of mind. Though I live in a benignly civil society, where governments have ready access to low interest bond issues, and thus to generous social spending, it is also apparent that I have fared noticeably better than many of my similarly comfortable First World companions.

While I was enjoying the relative stillness2, (adapting to the simplified cycles of daily activity that lockdowns made possible), my distanced social circles and Facebook feeds were awash with everything from cabin fever to the apocalyptic gnashing of teeth. People who had struck me as quite calm in 2019 seemed abruptly mad in 2020. If they were not suddenly touting themselves as world-leading virologists, they were blaming the Chinese, spreading conspiracy and declaring themselves ready to join purportedly libertarian uprisings against evil, mask-mandating nanny states.        

In saying this, I acknowledge that genuine misfortune has befallen many and will doubtless strike more as we roll into 2021 and beyond. It is also clear that the pandemic has amplified inequalities both within and between nations. Just because I have had an easy time of it, does not mean others have, or indeed that they ‘should’ have. Likewise, I accept that my current good fortune may not last and, moreover, that it does not stem entirely from merit.

The take-out here is one of perspective. 2020 brought it into crisp focus. Not so much through personal travail but from the distance of isolation. If I ever I needed reminding, the collective distemper that infected so much of my world last year served to underscore the sense of equanimity and gratitude that I wrote about in my aforementioned (and unsuccessfully marketed) book.

If anything, the disruptive effect of coronavirus was, for me, both a blessing and a wake-up call. I relished the quiet streets of my normally busy beachside burb. The sound of birds in the empty city and the simple conviviality of take away coffee counters are things I will long recall about the pandemic peace here in Melbourne. In contrast, the angst unleashed by the pathogen amplified the already cacophonous din of our species’ central denial. The grand and often hubristic absurdity of our futile clamouring to wrest certainty and permanence from a world of flux and mortality was daily trumpeted from every newscast and bully pulpit on the planet. For all the splendid vignettes of human warmth and ingenuity on display last year, 2020 was a stark magnification of our individual and collective follies.

I watched the garish spectacle from the safety of my loft, fully aware that I was not immune. Whenever I cocked an un-manscaped brow, I was reminded to give thanks. Often.

It is from this vantage that I now think fondly of chance encounters with dashing young marketing gurus. Not only did we sit, mask less, less than 1.5 metres apart, but we talked book hawking and digital sales strategies as if RNA viruses and new normals were nowhere in sight.

“I get that you think listicles are, like, dumb or whatever,” he said, with a COVID unsafe plume of potentially plague communicating aerosol, “but, like, a lot of people really love lists.”

While I understood the list loving thing, I also sensed his deeper point. Adapt or die, old man. How on point his advice turned out to be.

Thus, in honour of my fleeting coffee companion, and with all due humility, I have committed myself to one more crack at the listicle.

Yet, when I read over last year’s twenty list magnum opus I am struck not only by their confected unimportance but by a palpable awkwardness in face of the sales objective. Beyond the numbers though, what strikes me now is a curiously profound banality.

However, rather than unpack it now, I shall channel the marketing guy, and illustrate it with a selection of natty lists.   

Ah, hindsight. How infectious you are.

The best 20 things about 2020

What is clear from the list below is how enormously privileged I am. Thus far I have remained largely unaffected by SARS CoV2. Neither have I been ill, nor do I know anyone who has, and I am yet to contacted by tracers or run out of loo roll. I have remained in secure, comfortable housing and have been able to pursue my home office lifestyle more or less uninterrupted. Yet, what the relative triviality of this top 20 indicates – aside from good fortune – is that life goes on. There is, in spite of viral dramas, a banal progression of day to day, week to week. And so, whilst I could have used this list to advertise noble concern or enlightened dispassion, the honest truth is that 2020 was personally unspectacular, save for one sterling achievement. In the glare of history, I practised soup making and binged spy thrillers. You may perhaps regard this as signifying a remarkable shallowness and self-absorption, (and maybe it does), but I would counter by suggesting that the hyperbolic doom-theatre of news & social media is, mostly, a noisy side dish. The Earth turns and we grow old with it – and then we die, and all is nothing. There is a simple and elegant beauty to this that transcends our commonplace notions of importance and reminds us that our so-called virtues are rooted in a core self-interest. And there is, in my view, nothing wrong with this.        

  1. Getting my novel – The Last Summer of Hair – accepted for publication
  2. My mother recovering from the hellish aftermath of a serious spinal operation
  3. The legislated quietness (and cleaner air) of lockdown
  4. Walking & photographing the empty streets of lockdown
  5. Befriending a 48yo human named Matt (and, in tandem, discovering the joys of the large chai)
  6. Befriending two pigeons (Dancer & Ninger)
  7. Working out how to make delicious, spicy, Thai style veg concoctions
  8. Seeing Boris & Merzbow live at Asia TOPA
  9. Reading Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast & Slow
  10.  Watching Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope (twice)
  11.  Serendipitous discovery of Spook The Herd by Lanterns On The Lake
  12.  Discovering the joys of Premium Bowling on Oculus VR (top score 245 – woo)
  13.  Buying my first knee blanket (with low-cost LED heating for extra bliss factor)
  14.  Following a friend’s advice and binging the BBC thriller The Capture
  15.  The first 780 pages of Thomas Piketty’s Capital & Ideology
  16.  Discovering City Beautiful videos on You Tube
  17.  Manchester United 1, Tottenham Hotspurs 6.
  18.  Having the honour of writing liner notes for Evoletah’s album, Run With The Hunted
  19.  The month of yoga classes I did before the studio was forced to close
  20.  The lovely bag of backyard buds given to me on the eve of Melbourne’s second lockdown

And now…in the spirit of year-on-year comparison, and in honour of chance encounters in cafes…here below:

The Top 5 Top 20s of 2020

Last year’s list # 1/20: posted 13/12/19

20 banal identity markers you can use to stereotype me

The identitarian tropes beloved of both right & left strike me as ultimately dehumanising narratives rooted in self-lionising/other-demonising essentialisations that result in tribalist rancour and, if left unchecked, cruelty and violence. Thus, in an effort to repudiate the crass reductionism of identity politics, here’s a few pigeon-holes for you to tuck me away in.   

  1.  Mammal
  2.  Primate
  3.  Balding, middle aged, single guy
  4.  Short sighted contact lens wearer
  5.  Left-handed English person
  6.  Brightonian (from the town where I was born)
  7.  Melburnian (from the city where I live)
  8.  Inner urban, red wine drinking, book reader
  9.  Black coffee drinking cinephile
  10.  Childless divorcee
  11.  Critic
  12.  Gig economy worker
  13.  Tertiary graduate
  14.  PC user
  15.  Mac user (which means I’m bi-tecxual)
  16.  Existentialist
  17.  Bird feeder
  18.  Football fan
  19.  Renter
  20. Immigrant

Last year’s list # 5/20: posted 17/12/19

20 acts of shameless name dropping (or celebs I’ve interviewed)

While 2020 largely strangled my work as an arts writer (and interviewer), I continue to bask in the reflected and vicarious glory of those with whom I have conversed over nearly 30 years in the media.

  1.  Malcolm McClaren: punk rock provocateur
  2.  David Suzuki: environmentalist
  3.  Fiona Horne: Def FX frontwoman, celebrity Wiccan
  4.  William Forsythe: choreographer
  5.  Don Dunstan: former Premier of South Australia
  6.  Annie Sprinkle: sex activist, performer
  7.  Courtney Taylor Taylor: Dandy Warhols frontman
  8.  Anouk van Dijk: choreographer
  9.  Kathy Lette: author
  10.  Jello Biafra: Dead Kennedy’s frontman
  11.  Nicola Gunn: writer, solo performance artist
  12.  Johnny Marr: The Smiths guitarist
  13.  Anne Summers: feminist author
  14.  Michael Franti: Spearhead & Disposable Heroes frontman
  15.  Blixa Bargeld: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Einsturzende Neubauten
  16.  Tim Winton: author
  17.  Isabel Allende: author
  18.  Adalita: singer-songwriter, Magic Dirt frontwoman
  19.  Bobby Gillespie: Primal Scream frontman

Last year’s list # 8/20: posted 20/12/19

20 favourite gigs since 2000

If I were compiling such a list this year, Japanese noise monsters Boris & Merzbow (who I was lucky to see at this year’s Asia TOPA in Melbourne) would feature near the top. However, after a nearly gig-less year, I am left recalling the 20 below with ever greater and hazier fondness.

  1.  New Order
  2.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  3.  Go Betweens
  4.  Pixies
  5.  Elbow
  6.  Placebo
  7.  Senyawa
  8.  Silver Ray
  9.  Manuel Göttsching
  10.  Kosheen
  11.  Die Die Die
  12.  Lloyd Cole
  13.  Glen Hansard
  14.  Sonic Youth
  15.  Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  16.  Evoletah
  17.  Jezabels
  18.  My Bloody Valentine
  19.  Destrends
  20.  Mindy Meng Wang

Last year’s list # 12/20: posted 24/12/19

20 relatively obscure and possibly archaic words I would love to hear more often in conversation

As a writer and avid reader, it is no surprise I have a penchant for lexicon. Further to that, I am of the view there are many rarely used words that deserve a more regular airing. Though I might now add hypertrophied and verisimilitude to this list, I am happy to report that I managed to slot a number of last year’s nominees into sentences during 2020.  

  1. Apoplexy: extreme anger, haemorrhage
  2. Beatitude: great blessedness
  3. Chiaroscuro: light & shade in a picture
  4. Circumambient: encompassing
  5. Effulgence: brilliant radiance
  6. Fecund: fertile
  7. Genuflection: kneeling, paying deep respect, grovelling
  8.  Irredentist: a kind of nationalism, wanting the return of former territories  
  9.  Lambent: soft, bright, radiant
  10.  Metier: area of special ability, forte
  11.  Numina: deity, or magical entity – plural form of numen
  12.  Occidental: Western, Western countries, culture, etc
  13.  Perambulate: to walk, travel through, traverse
  14.  Pulchritude: physical beauty
  15.  Quisling: traitor, collaborator
  16.  Rutilant: glowing red or golden
  17.  Threnody: a lament or requiem
  18.  Tramontane: beyond the mountains, barbarous
  19.  Vespertine: relating to or occurring in the evening
  20.  Vituperative: abusive, highly insulting
  21.  Yammer: to complain, whine, consistently moan

Last year’s list # 19/20: posted 31/12/19

20 New Year resolutions I am highly unlikely to make

As a serial non-resolver, I am unlikely to adopt any serious New Year missions. Certainly, none of the 20 below made the cut this time round. (In fact, the closest thing I have made to a resolution for 2021 is to more consciously practise breathing deeply. Does that count?)

  1.  Start a family
  2.  Join a church
  3.  Buy a gun
  4.  Give up coffee
  5.  Give up cheese
  6.  Give up bread
  7.  Settle down in the ‘burbs
  8.  Entirely give up ‘naughty’ pursuits
  9.  Get a tattoo
  10.  Join a men’s group
  11.  Do the online dating & ‘fuck-finder’ thing
  12.  Explore babysitting & child minding opportunities
  13.  Take up gym membership
  14.  Study marketing
  15.  Keep my genitals shiny & waxed
  16.  Get back into teaching
  17.  Employ a business mentor or life coach
  18.  Assiduously update phone & other gizmos
  19.  Commit to doing the lottery every week
  20.  Start shaving every day

PS:

It would be remiss of me not to follow my erstwhile mentor’s marketing advice by neglecting to include yet another blatant plug for my book. So, just in case you needed reminding … The Pointless Revolution! (The Economics Of Doing Whatever You Want) is out now, published by Everytime Press. Buy a copy in print or electronic form right here.

1: For more on the perils of the marketing worldview and its corrosive effect on art, check out Here Comes The Money Shot.

2: Last April, inspired by the enforced slowing of Melbourne’s first lockdown, I published a piece called In Praise Of Stillness. Hit the link to read more.

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