I live in an increasingly gentrified and fast-paced part of town, which is quickly changing from a ghetto into a trendy, hip destination, and fast filling with equally trendy hip fancypants types. I guess I can’t talk much as I fit right into that paradigm. Most of the time this will involve the obligatory influx of dollar signs, mountains of followers on social media as well as endless line of selfie after selfie. Maybe six pack abs, pecs and a full beard if you’re a gay like me. With regards to selfies, who am I to say otherwise, I enjoy an almost self-mastubatory display of facial qualities as much as the next vain Gay.
The thing that gets me about growing up in this city has been the real, veritably concurrent theme of a ‘Dog Eat Dog’ environment. Whether you’re gay or straight, Sydney is what you make of it, and much of what this city is about has a lot to do with the theme of getting ahead in life, looking great. Getting what you want, and getting ahead of others, whether it be through a great career, money, fame or infamy. Everyone seems aware of each other, especially so in the Gay community. Everyone knows everyone else’s history. Someone knows someone who has done this that or the other to someone else. It can be quite difficult to get away from that sometimes. Especially when out socially.
This city sometimes reeks of success-obsession and ladder-climbing. There is an energy here which lends itself to the idea and conceit of individual success, and the way in which one goes about that. Physically, like many a Sydneysider, the city of Sydney itself is a wonder to behold: it gleams with an ephemeral brightness, an ethereal vibrancy, a pure clarity. It’s a gorgeous, sunlit metropolis filled with equally gorgeous people. It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that I love Sydney, and that I love living here. It’s a place that is singularly and serenely on show. Slightly aloof; slightly arrogant yet always, always full of style, and much of the time, full of itself.
Has it always been like this? I grew up in Sydney’s Inner West in a number of suburbs, starting with a formerly Italian-predominant suburb full of delis, pasta shops and little old Nonnas in 10 year periods of mourning, complete with neat black shift dresses and those little wheelie boxy shopping bags going to and fro. I ended up by my late teens in a particularly nondescript, generic and run of the mill spec of a suburb which became known for nothing more than having an Ikea in it. Not until my mid 20’s I began to sense a change. Whether it was in me, or the city, there was most definitely a difference in the air. Maybe my growth into a young adult made me more aware, or wary of life as I thought I saw it. Perhaps it was when I put down the Playstation controller and Sci Fi novels and started going out to places like Club 77 in the mid 2000’s. To be blunt, I live in a city where success is measurable by a few means, being, in the words of Macaulay Culkin in one of my favourite films, Party Monster ‘Money, Success, Fame, Glamour’:
We are living
In the age
In which the pursuit of all values
Money Success Fame Glamour
Have either been discredited
Money Success Fame Glamour
For we are living in the age of the thing.
I’ve absolutely loved this film to filth since the first time I watched it back at college mainly for the complete and utter pandemonium, absurdity and total hedonism that is portrayed by the larger than life yet based on real people characters of Michael Alig and James St James in the mid-1980’s ‘Club Kid’ scene of New York. For me these words hold an almost prophetic warning that is applicable and relatable to what I at times feel and see today.
Can you be a success without this mantra of selfish egotistical bullshit? Is it possible to be successful without actually being an arsehole? Can you be one part successful, and one part graciously magnanimous in your success? Can you make your life the best it can be, without leaving a shit hot mess of people in your wake, who have been used for a purpose and simply left by the wayside on the golden road to success? I’ve encountered enough people in my time here in Sydney to say that it is a really rare gem and diamond of an individual who can walk the thin [and usually powdery and white] line between the prosperity/success paradigm without the opposing ‘Arsehole/Self-Serving/Arrogance’ dichotomy. I’ve been on the losing side of this process, of outliving my usefulness for someone else’s gain, the endpoint of which is not hearing from that person again. Or seeing them out socially and awkwardness ensuing. Being a naturally introverted, emotional and almost sickeningly affectionate person, it’s infuriating and difficult for me to detach myself from others. It’s harder for me to assess someone down to their usefulness for me in terms of career advancement, for instance. I’m extremely lucky to have a very supportive network of friends and family, who are always there and ready to come to my rescue if I’m feeling flat. They are constructive with their criticisms of me, as well as understanding of my situation, and constantly up for giving good advice. Which I’m so so very grateful for. Help is always only a phone call away. On the flip side I feel that I work likewise with my close friends. I love nothing more than listening and helping a friend out. At the risk of sounding like a 1980’s self-help book ala ‘You Can Heal Your Life‘ [Still actually a perennial favourite of mine when I feel down], life is something that can’t be travelled through alone, you need the best travel companions you can find. I feel that now, after years of searching, that I have found some people who are genuine with their intentions, words and friendship. It has taken both my boyfriend and I years to get to a point where we both feel content with our friendships. We’ve both experienced the bitterness of failed friendships due to the fact that we both haven’t been enough of something or worthy of association. I’ve been acquainted with a number of people over the years who unfortunately haven’t fit within this cycle of support, and have exhibited all the things I’ve come to disdain, being self-absorption of almost Machiavellian scope and interested only in furthering their own goals and careers. In short, the person you know in the back of their mind is thinking, What can this person do for me? The means justifies the ends. If you have nothing to offer, then you’re simply not worthy of their time, and are found lacking. Nowadays, I’m savvy enough to steer clear of these types.
What is something valuable on offer from a person? Connections, wealth, looks, among others. Which leads me to my next point:
‘What Do You Do?’
Good Lord how I hate and detest this question when meeting people for the first time in a social setting. I don’t want to make out like I’m a keeper and defender of old-fashioned etiquette, but it’s so rude to ask or to be asked this question in an initial social meeting. It’s the proverbial dog-sniffing-other dog’s-arse/dudes comparing cock sizes scenario. It makes me feel ill, gross and uncomfortable. A friend of mine put it right when we were out on News Years Day at a party and we were chatting to a new friend: ‘It’s such a shitty question to ask, and I hate asking it, but what do you do?’ It’s an unfortunately necessary question that does get asked a lot, you may not like asking it like my friend or myself, but you’ll still find yourself on both sides of this showdown-like phrase.
Being on the receiving end of it, it’s easy to feel judgement and assessment arise in the questioner; being on the other side, it’s easy to feel a sense of measuring up, so to speak. Just to re-iterate, I truly do hate this question as it does summarise so many experiences I’ve had in recent years. If I have a crap job, you can see the someones disappointed reaction in their eyes. And if I have a great job you can see the opposite reaction. For instance, I worked at a chain stationery store for three years of my life. I didn’t love it, it wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t very glamorous. I would cringe when someone would ask me what I did. I felt inadequate and insecure, and felt as though I had little to offer. Of course I’m jumping the gun as not everyone cares at all what I do, for some it’s merely a social nicety. Yet for others it’s a judgement call. You can feel the sense of sizing up. Why is it so important for some to care what others do? Obviously, networking and connections.
An example was when my boyfriend was at an even for his brother’s workplace, an industrial design studio. They were showcasing and launching a new line of product for a well-known domestic wares company. The crowd was very ‘designer-y’, everyone was in the same or similar fields and industries. The event was held in a very chic locale. Another of my boyfriend’s brother’s was there, who works as a Physiotherapist. A random fellow approached him, started chatting, and asked, ‘And what do you do?’ to which my boyfriend’s brother replied, ‘I’m a Physio’. Apparently this fellow muttered something like, ‘That’s great!’ then promptly turned aside and moved on. This, then is the ‘What Do You Do’ scenario of social networking size-up in play. As my boyfriend’s brother wasn’t a designer, he wasn’t worth F-all to this guy.
I wish I had the gift of the gab. The ability to network, to mix and mingle, to persuade and opine and get what I want from people. For some this is a naturally inherent talent. They swim like a streamlined fish that cuts through the water, with ease and dexterity. I’ve known this person. I’ve wanted to be this person. For others, it comes with a lot of practice. I wish it came naturally for me. I’m a slow-talking, awkward nerd. Being suave and charismatic comes after drinking a few beers for me. For years people have been telling me that ‘You need to network‘. Like it’s a shop you go to and hook your brain up to. Or like going to a gym. It’s akin to being told ‘you need to work out‘. I’m forever in a world of science fiction, fantasy and professing my love of Bbq Shapes. For me, the very concept of ‘networking’ is something that is inherently foreign to me. I can’t become friends, or at the very least, acquaintances with someone without actually liking them. Or just for what they can offer me. I don’t see the point of it. It makes me tilt my head like a confused dog when they get confused by something. In my mind, it’s inherently unhealthy and will build terribly a self-absorbed personality.
I understand, however, that I don’t live in a fantasy utopian-like village with quaint cottages under lush green hills where a wizened old man with a large crooked brimmed hat visits yearly and brings dragon-shaped fireworks with him. I still wish I did. Or maybe on Babylon 5. But I don’t. The world I live in is measured by how many Simoleons you bring in, your social clout, and yes, unfortunately looks. I feel that this is especially so in a place like Sydney.
So. Can you actually succeed without being an arsehole, or a dick?
The truth is, I don’t even know myself. In my heart, I think it’s a yes. I have met the rare one or two people who have done well for themselves, and yet are friendly for no other sake than being friendly, are warm and genuine and want to know you for who you are, not what you can do, yet are also willing to help if they are able to. This person exists, and this path is possible, but it just doesn’t seem as probable or as easy as what I call the ‘Dark Side’ alternative of scything and cutting through whomever necessary to get what you want. Maybe if we all treated each other with a little more respect there would be more of this archetypal person, or maybe we shouldn’t place individual success and wealth as highly as we do. Maybe we would be more of a meritocracy and less of an oligarchic and nepotistic society. Yet the fact remains to me that in order to have a good life with stability and success, someone else must inevitably fail in place of your success. Someone else misses out on the great job that could have catapulted their career, or doesn’t have that unlikely chance encounter with that person who will change their lives forever. The lesson I’ve learned is to associate with those you admire and wish to be like, not with those whom you don’t. For me, that someone who I would want to be like would be someone warm, optimistic, friendly, intelligent and savvy. Genuinely caring and willing to associate with those who find would enrich their lives fully, and not just in one area. Someone, like a friend told me recently, will challenge you in a respectful way. Someone whose very presence lends itself to growth.
I don’t have an amazing job or career yet. It’s something that is a work in progress, which I am focusing on this year. My job isn’t one thatother people seemed impressed by or envious of, or thousands of followers for this blog or other social media, and I’m not currently in an industry with connexions that others would want to use me for. I’ve come to the conclusion that I really wouldn’t want to know that type of person who would use me even if I did have the shit-hot job or career and was successful. Maybe I would be in a better position for myself if I was the person that could wheel and deal. I’m finding however that these people for me tend to be an anathema to my own happiness in life. But I know who I am, and being that mover and shaker really just isn’t me. As completely corny and cliché as this will sound, I shouldn’t feel any less worthy or ashamed of my position or status with regards to career success, or lack thereof, as I have success in other parts of my life. I’m sure there are people out there who would die to be in a similar position to me: healthy, living in a great city with great friends, family and a life partner that I adore. Besides the dollars, what more could I really want or need? What more do we all really want or need?