Wednesday, June 28, 2017
When you google images of libraries this is what you get. Books. Quaint, huh.
It is has been a long month and here we are just past the Winter Solstice. We alternate between a week of rain and low cloud, and several days of hard frosts. It's tough out there.
In the public library (extraordinary that there are still such things!) there are indeed books, but there is noise and stress and complexity. Some people browse or study, but mostly they are using free wi fi or waiting to use the desktop computers. There is a booking system. Today I am getting graphic novels and browsing the shelves, but in stranger times I have been there for the warmth and the free wi fi. So I know what these guys are doing. They are applying for financial assistance, job hunting, or trying to get something out of the welfare system, whatever department it might be. Government is proud of being e-government. Some departments have no phone system or offices. Everything has to be done online. Not easy when you have no wi fi in your boarding house or garage, wherever it is you camp out these days. Even harder when you are homeless. No wonder the atmosphere is a bit tense. There are probably deadlines to meet. Apply for this by the end of today, or risk losing your benefit. If the computer is booked out, you have a lot to lose.
All this is probably tough on the library staff, who are not trained in crisis work or calming and de-escalation. One of them, a small plump middle aged woman, was doing just that. She said to the large young man, well, that is your choice (When I hear the word choice, I reach for my gun), if you want to behave that way, I am afraid you will have to leave. Oh come on, he replies, every time you cough everyone can fucking hear you. Well, she says, that is your choice, you will have to, now, thank you, thank you for that, yes, thank you. And she walked away.
So, that was weird and for me almost contextless, but I noted something I have considered before. It is the use of thank you. Thank you does not mean thank you. It means I am scared of you but I am obliged to be polite. It means good bye, leave now, if I am thankful for anything it is the space you leave behind. In other words, you can fuck right off. It is remarkable how we thank people for nothing, or for merely doing their jobs, or for not being there. Thank you is a term almost too diffuse for meaning.
I got my graphic novel and went to the shopping maul to read it with a coffee. A man came into the food court. He carried a sleeping back and a back pack. He was very warmly dressed. (With these guys, you ask them to take their jacket off to have a look at their wounds. They take off their jacket. And then their other jacket. And then their three sweaters and their two tee shirts and finally you have an arm to examine.) He circled the food court for a minute or two, and then he sat down at a table where there was an abandoned styrofoam container. He opened it. He ate from it. Then, he spat in it, closed it up, and left.
It was the spitting that made me wonder. It was so contemptuous. It was as if he was befouling it. Was he making sure no one else would benefit from it - that if anyone else ate from it they would be dirtied by it? I know that there can be fierce rivalries among the homeless, for resources, especially sleeping places. Was he showing some sort of inchoate contempt for the situation - the bright lit shopping maul, the plastic food, the raw injustice?
I felt slightly derealised as I drove home. Observing is not connecting. I had witnessed two incidences of behaviour I found myself working hard to explain. For a few minutes, the street scenes around me looked hyper real, drawn flat and vivid, like my graphic novel. Car lights seemed multi coloured and far too bright, alarming, urgent. Observing is not connecting. Observing is two dimensional. I had no obvious means of connecting with either of these incidences. Just left wondering.
Wednesday, June 7, 2017
- The music was always so bright it hurt, and she would put her headphones onwhen she entered. She would dance, gently building her own small world,dreaming colour, the disco lights singing like people, the Macarena movingaround her.She saw him there often. Big glasses, big grin, skinny, fronting the conga line,making the support workers laugh. For once, in both their lives, he truly sawher. He was brave enough to come to her, and she was brave enough to notice.She turned her face up, and his kiss was as light and sudden as her heart.This 100 word piece was for a competition with the Readers' Digest, and I did not hear back from them at all even to let me know they had received my entry. So I figure it is mine to use as I choose, and it is my second piece of writing about the lives of people with disabilities.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
To the tune of 'We will rock you', fifty women thump their thighs and chant 'We are, we are union'.
Where am I? Training to be a union delegate.
My first training was a day of empowerment for women delegates. The union I belong to represents many different industries, from aged care to aircraft engineers, but many of us work in precarious, low paid low status, female dominated industries such as support work, caregiving and process work. Union membership is fairly low. We are in too much of a state of permanent sleep deprivation to be 'woke'. This training was an attempt to bring on women workers.
It was an odd mix of Rosie the Riveter and standard self improvement schtick. We watched a Ted Talk by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook whose net worth is 1.6 billion, talking about why there are so few women at the top and - I dunno I can't remember - how you have to believe yourself and then you can do anything, or something, whatever. There were some bonding exercises and talks by union leaders and the local mayor, who was inspirational until she was asked about pay equality for her own staff, when she became strangely evasive. Many of the women there saw themselves as outspoken and strong, and described numerous scraps with difficult bosses.
We did a bit of getting into small groups and talking about the barriers to leadership for women, and many of the groups felt that the biggest barrier was motherhood. Not capitalism or patriarchy or equality. Motherhood. One woman told a story that was held up as inspirational. In order to make ends meet, she worked long night shifts at a factory some distance from home. This meant she could not have her child living with her, and so she arranged a kind of child swap with her brother. This was seen as a fine example of how women adapt and stay strong. Except during the tea break, she started to cry, remembering how much she had missed of her child's growth, how hard it was, how little sleep she had, how much she needed to connect with this daughter who had somehow become primary school dux, seemingly with no influence from her hard working, inspirational mother.
Motherhood is where the heart is. Motherhood is where it hurts.
Next up, was a forum for delegates. By this time I had been involved in some disciplinary action for a workmate, which fortunately was resolved well, and several small spats about rostering and hours of work with management, so I was hoping to learn some skills. What I got was talks from union leaders and politicians, some ideas about how to persuade people to join the union, and some truly disturbing stuff about how some working people think.
Truth is, they are desperately conservative. At the beginning of the forum we were asked to place marbles in jars which were labelled with issues, in order to find out what were the most pressing issues for us. The top issues were:
- decent wages
- affordable housing
- better health care
- better education system
- fair economic system
Broader social and systemic issues, such as the environment, did not feature. Fair enough, people want the best for themselves and those close to them. Then when we got talking about the reasons for the problems, people's conservatism let rip. Migrants are the problem. They take our jobs, and then they do them poorly. The jabber away in their own language, and don't you just hate that. They should learn our ways, because they are in our country now. Mind you it's not their fault; the government shouldn't let them all in. They can get away with murder. And so on. It was the kind of language I left home to avoid, and I never expected to hear it again in any open forum.
Previously the union leader had talked about migrant workers, and he pitched it carefully. He saw migrant workers as vulnerable to exploitation, and felt they should be unionized. He also saw the need for balance between support for migrant workers, and support for those New Zealanders needing decent employment. I agreed with him. But the mood on the floor was very different, openly xenophobic and, well, conservative.
It was equally conservative when it came to the idea of jobs. While people condemned the increasing casualization of work and low pay rates, they did not link these problems with the rise of the precariat and the gig economy. They wanted steady paid employment, what used to be called real jobs, and to be paid better and have better conditions for what they already did. Which was working for a boss, for a wage, selling labour. I felt that these largely older, Pakeha working people were in the eye of a storm, racing around trying to save their possessions, unaware that part two of the storm was about to sweep them all away. The generations after them are Uber drivers and sub contractors and agency workers. They don't hustle to keep in place, they hustle to get anything at all.
I was disturbed by the conservatism and rank populism. I had entered a world devoid of theory or even context; everything came down to personal stories and matters of taste. It was reactionary. And I think it is dangerous - while it would be naive of me to expect a room full of activists, I had hoped to see something of the genuine Left in actions, and I didn't. Without the coherence that theory provides, this kind of populist conservatism lacks discernment and opens itself to anything that appears to offer tangible goodies. There are very good reasons for this, and I understand how people can become depoliticized through sheer exhaustion. But on the day, I went away too depressed to care.
Monday, March 13, 2017
I am hunting goats. This is not pretty bush with well formed tracks. This is messy and technical and I am not good at it. The people I’m with know how to walk. I amble and hop and scramble and trudge and clamber. They just walk, as if they were born bipedal. One foot in front of the other, regardless of the terrain. Rifles over shoulders, packs on backs, but nothing flash, just worn and practical. My Vaude boots and backpack with twenty pockets just look naff. I guess I can be pleased that one of them laughed and called me a hot city chick.
I will not complain. I will not look too grateful when they slow down and suggest a breather that is clearly for my benefit. I will keep up. I will not say things like just leave me here to die. I will be grim of purpose and clear of eye. I will not pee down my leg and come out of the thicket all damp. I will carry my share. I will not say nerdish things about bird life that show me up as someone who has read books but never been anywhere.
It is OK going in, and up. Crossing the river and wandering along the banks is pleasant. We don’t even get any shots off, because there are other people in the area. There are no goats, not even spoor, and few prints except for possums. Going down again is harder on the body and treacherous with it. Here the track is as wide as my boot. Someone says, I’m glad I didn’t bring my son, he would have got too scared. One slip down the bank and you’re dead in the river.
The world closes in. Through a brown tunnel I see a mere circle of grass and stones. I drop down and work my way crab wise along the bank. I can hear the river running and my heaving breath. You have lost the track, someone says gently. If you put your foot back down a bit you will find it. What track, I think stupidly. All I can see is where I will put my next limb, as I am now on all fours. It is like looking through a telescope. You’re beginning to panic, someone says. Yes, thank you. I keep going.
These are good guys. They don’t crowd me and they don’t say anything sentimental or encouraging. They don’t distract me. They just wait and lend me their presence. After all, if I fall I die. They can’t save me.
They are also kind enough not to say anything afterwards. I’m shaking as I walk out. The mind has maxed out the credit card of the body.
Monday, February 20, 2017
This is what our children are saying to us.
Your life is entirely unattractive to me, and I share none of your values. Look at you. You are exhausted and fat and you dress like shit. What you see as decades of service and caring, I see as a decaying mess of passive aggressive weak kneed liberal cowardice. You preach tolerance only because you're too tired to hate. You squandered the education you got for free. You sold the environment down the river and then you pretend to care by buying expensive laundry detergent. The cultural gulf between us is wider than that between that of the baby boomers and their parents. You invented post modernism and then you fail to understand the irony of our situation. You even mopped up all of the decent drugs. And you are only protesting now because you are in fact deeply conservative. You have nothing I want. The world gives me nothing. I will take what I want, even as I know I don't want it. You dare to be upset because I voted for Trump, or posted a Nazi meme, or parted my hair to the side? Don't even try. Don't talk to me, don't lecture me and don't make out you know anything. You need more than a weatherman to tell you how the wind blows.
And maybe we say in return, something like this.
When you come out of prison you will have a roof over your head, and the only reason you got half release last time was because of my support. You can spend your life in your room gaming because I work two jobs. You can do your umpteenth useless little course in web design because I paid the fees. You know why I will never drive through Paris with the warm wind in my hair? You, my darling. And yes, some things I do get, for a cultural diet rich in irony. Yeah, Pepe the Frog is not really a Fascist icon, except when he is. Clever. And suicide is heroic - research the Suicide club in early nineteenth century London, and you will realize that entitled, idle angry young men have a long history of idiosyncratic protest. And your reclamation of terms - failing is winning, a basement dweller is a term of respect, fighting for social justice is wrong. We did that too, we took words like queer and fat and made them our own. I was there, remember. I took you to demonstrations. I came out to you. I planted trees with you. I stayed awake for you and thanked the cops when they brought you home. But you were always angry and you always struggled and I grieved because I gave you a life that is sometimes too hard. I may be no great role model, but beneath the tiredness and ignorance, there is love. And love is always strong.
So, above, two images. The picture is roughly the model of the wise woman in medieval Germanic society. The link is for an article about the relationship between 4Chan and the rise of the 'alt right' among young people. It is worth a read, although I am sure the young people in my life would disagree fiercely with it. I continue to try to understand the world around me as it shifts. One day I may have a proper idea. For now, this will have to do.
Sunday, January 29, 2017
In many of my blog posts I take disparate ideas and random facts and try to put them together in unusual ways. I see the world as glorious chaotic play. Any sense I make of it is mine for the hell of it. I draw the longest bows, quite unashamedly, linking the cake on my bedside table as a child to Mithraic bull sacrifices, for example. I have no real sense of scale, I'm afraid. I know there are the biggest ideas that humans are capable of, and I also know there are these tiny bursts of intuition, and for me both are valuable. Wisdom, which I primarily seek at this stage of my life, is everywhere. In order to be at all productive, I need to stop it flooding me as I stand in the stream of all that humans have thought, and felt, and dreamed, and feared.
Understanding the current sociopolitical situation is tough going and I feel a sense of urgency. Of course my social media feeds are full of it and some of it is pretty disturbing. I want to add some ideas that sound a bit random, but I believe are quite principled. Like this:
- 'We' in this case means most people I associate with, those of the liberal left. These are generally educated older, 'white' people who value democracy, and support human and civil rights, and consider themselves to have an inclusive, caring approach to others around them.
- We watch celebrities (political and spiritual celebrities as well as media ones) 'nailing' 'destroying' and 'ripping into' (watch the language!) Trump and his allies, and we make great cartoons, and we argue ad hominem. Social networks do what they do best. The sheer volume of it makes real thinking more difficult. We react and react and react. Hells, there is enough to react to.
- Just because someone dislikes Trump and didn't vote for him does not mean they voted for Hillary Clinton. It doesn't make them a Democrat. It doesn't make them anything. Disliking pork does not make me a vegetarian. Nor does it make me Muslim, or Jewish. *
- No it's not normal. It shouldn't be normalised because it's not normal. Not only is it not normal but it may well be illegal and unconstitutional. And what is worse, it is Not How We Do Things Around Here. Of course breaking norms and mores is far worse than breaking laws.
- Those of us who are alarmed about the breakdown of these systemic norms are speaking from both the right and the left, and it is worth looking at who is speaking. There are some strange bedfellows emerging blinking and disheveled from darkened rooms. My enemy's enemy may be my friend for now, but we must never be unprincipled.
- There are many people who do not give a monkey's fuck about 'normal'. If they had wanted normal they would have voted for Clinton. Or just about anyone else. These people are truly disenfranchised and whether for sensible reasons or not they are galactically angry. Saying to them 'We Can't Have This! This Isn't How It's Meant To Be!' is like trying to ban rock and roll. These people might not being joining the big marches, but they might just be the true rebels, and they have a lot less to lose than those on the liberal left. Plus they are armed for bear.
- There are many people who are genuinely afraid and with good reason. They are scared that they will be deported, or that their marriages will be annulled, or that they will be victims of violence even if they aren't already. These social and legal gains may look like identity politics to those who don't care for such things, (and who are armed for bear), but they are hard won and the resulting social truces have always been fragile things. Social issues are as important as economic ones when it comes to voting, surely.
- the Whole Trump Business was at least forty years in the making, possibly since the war between labour and capital was won, possibly since the rise of neoliberalism. I think I understand this, and if I have a fundamental critique it is of the system that made him (and us). Now, I do get that blaming systems can abrogate myself of the responsibility of owning my own privilege, and can end up with victim shaming and it doesn't take into account the lived experience of victims of oppression. And no I am not being sarcastic, so stop rolling your eyes. I think these are valid concerns. But I want to think about this in the most sophisticated way I can, because simple thinking here may well destroy us. It just means we can't just dismantle it. Trump could even be impeached, but it doesn't stop what made him.
- I want to play with the idea that Trump is nothing important in himself. Trump is a kind of badly made homunculus. Alchemists and more modern occultists have tried to make homunculi - small artificial humans created in flasks. Guess what, they never work. The stories say they never last long. I would like to say that Trump is made from something simple, such as stupidity, venality and hatred. But I suspect he is made from some more arcane material. He cannot now be put back in his flask.
I always come back to this, in my writing. I declare the Enlightenment dead! This is the age of wonders, the age of the non-rational! An age worthy of exclamation marks! No, it's not normal. Sorry guys.
Above I have talked about the importance of principles and of trying to think clearly. There are very few situations in life that are so urgent we can't take ten seconds and breathe. Whether in the end we go high or low, fight or pray, reach out or retrench, we need to be still and steady and principled.
Pause for effect...........
* I don't eat pork because it's too close to human. You can put a pig's valve in your heart. Then if you eat pork you are almost a cannibal.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
The title is a joke of course - the news that Donald rump President Elect has received golden showers from prostitutes is all over the show, and humorous GIFs etc abound. Stop it, I say, stop it.
There are many good reasons to vilify this man. His sexual preferences are not one of them.
I can see why an investigation into a man's sexual proclivities might shed light on his performance as President of the United States, but this is not the place to do it. Problematic sexual practices might exist because they exploit others, display unworthy traits such as narcissism, and are not safe, sane and consensual. Cheating on your wife is generally considered a bad thing in Western society, (but not in places like Japan or Vietnam, where among wealthy men of influence it is a way of displaying status). US presidents have been known for cheating, for sexual licentiousness as youths, and generally being testosterone-laden and entitled, and it has not necessarily lost them votes. The best question is surely, how does it affect the job? Does it evince the kind of immorality that could spill over into their public lives and policy making? Does it make them 'bad' people or harm the country's reputation? Does it make them psychologically vulnerable, or open to blackmail? Are they breaking the law? Are they poor role models? Should they be role models, or should they just be good at the job? Do we expect the President (or any other major public figure) to be any better at being human than we are? Should they be?
Maybe these are private, family issues that are best kept out of the gaze of the baying public. Maybe they are personal tragedies. Maybe they are just what happens in heavily negotiated marriages, in the manner of the great families of the past, such as the Borgias or the Roman imperial families. Maybe it's none of our goddamn business.
I also want to say something about golden showers. Of course Pornhub reports a sudden increase in online searches for golden showers, and I wonder if more people are trying them out. Thing is, they are not uncommon. Of all the sexual practices people do, and there are many, many of those, water sports or piss play is common. You may not do it yourself and you may think it's icky, but chances are you know someone who does it, as you probably also know a man who wears silk stockings and a woman with a clitoral hood piercing and so on. This stuff goes on out there and the thing I want to say is, it may well happen more than you think, and - get this - it's Mostly Harmless. When done in a safe, sane and consensual manner among adults, it is harmless. Rape, exploitation, sexism, and cruelty are not harmless.
Personally, my body fluids are sacred, and I would not piss on Donald Trump for a million squillion dollars. Well, I might if it guaranteed a Bernie Sanders presidency. But that is only a 'might'.
The image above is Danae and the Showers of Gold, a Lacanian krater. Very tasteful.