Friday, June 22, 2012

Weird shit-o-meter

Last week my mother came to stay with us, which was kinda weird, because she has been dead for five years.

i have had the unique privilege of standing by the gate as each of my parents passed through it to the next world and whatever it may hold. i don't think that wherever we go we retain our personalities or our preoccupations. The stories about contact with the dead and how they are just as interested in the minutiae of our lives as they were when they were with us, don't ring true fo me. Loss of consciousness or illness can affect our personalities, sometimes permanently. i suspect much of who we thinks we are is done with smoke and mirrors. Personality is malleable at the very least, and at most it is not who we are. The Buddhists are right. So, in 2007 both my parents died. A few days after the death of my father i felt like i was being watched, and not in a kindly way, more as if i was being monitored, and found wanting. I figured that was simply a sign  of how i felt about my father, and it went away soon. My mother had wanted to die and strongly believed she would be with my father in death, so i had no reason to think she would hang around.

Many many years passed. Well actually, five years passed. But it was long enough for my daughter to grow and leave, and for thousands of other people to be born and die, and  even long enough for the land around us to rise, and fall, and change for ever. And now the very beautiful spoonbills return to the estuary, bringing with them the souls of the avian dead, those who died in the sudden uplift and the drowning of the food, and the resulting disease, and the displacement of the birds.

And so my daughter has received an inheritance from my mother, and as we were all discussing it at dinner last week, the merits of bullion versus bonus bonds*, my mother gently moved in.

Why then? We were talking in a fairly hard headed way, about money and the means of production. We certainly were not calling to the world of spirit that evening.

Ah, but as i keep saying, reality is analogue not digital. It is a wave and a particle! All manner of things  can happen at the same time! i have a fairly high tolerance of weird shit. My weird shit-o-meter is set permanently on high. Reality is like tundra, it seems frozen and static but all you need to do is put pressure on it, or heat in one degree higher, and all sorts of things start to emerge, things you thought were dead, things that are just beginning to live, old things. Weird shit.

'April is the cruellest month
Breeding lilacs out of the dead land'

And thus TS Eliot evokes his Chaucer.

An inheritance is a major thing. In our times it means less, because our society is more atomised and there is less sense of anything passing from generation to generation. Moreover, our financial structure is making it harder even for us to pass material assets and money to our children. But an inheritance is never just about the money.

In Abrahamic Judaism, the inheritance was everything. The son favoured by his father and by God inherited not just the flocks and land, but the mana, and the future of the tribe, embodied in him.  Think of later times, when kingdoms rose and fell over inheritance. Think how inheritance laws, especially primogeniture, has affected women especially. And the fairy tales where an inheritance sent a youth into the world to become an adult person. An inheritance binds us to our families, and frees us to become independent, at the same time. i suppose the moment of receiving an inheritance is a liminal time. It is in this state of liminality that the boundaries between worlds weaken and spirit enters the daily world whether or not we seek it.

My mother is not lingering long, and she has sat with us quite lightly and never outstayed herself. i have no idea what to think about it.

We are waves and particles and tundra thawing and icing, and we are our ancestors.

* We get our financial advice from Walter Kaiser, on RT television channel. Kaiser is an ex Wall Stret broker who is now violently anti capitalist. His wonderfully vitriolic rants are a bit like listening to my husband. Walter Kaiser says buy bullion.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Deeply atavistic

i am feeling the cold. We had a small chilly summer and all through it i had high hopes for the next month - for warm breezes and gentle evenings. Then winter came early. We had the first hard snow,  and the shine went off it for me as soon as my husband the Archduke Piccolo spent a good hour kneeling in the slush putting the chains on the car so i could go to work. Christchurch has become a town of bitter winds and freezing rain. i hang onto myself as i walk in it. Here is a town with no centre, only edges. We are all swamp edge dwellers, here on the sufferance of the shaky old land, hanging on as the wind blows and spreads the water into cold mud. We could give up and go away. We could.

Meanwhile, at home, we have fire! Courtesy of  the government funded rebuild, our new log burner has finally been given its permit and our lounge is properly warm for the first time. Sometimes we can even squander heat. Sometimes we can even open the door without someone saying shut the damn door! Keep the heat in! Were you born in a tent? 

There is something deeply atavistic about fire.

i have mentioned my recent ancestors were sawmillers and hardy pioneering types whose response to the unique and beautiful New Zealand bush was to cut it down. The Archduke comes from similar stock; he was born in a forestry town that no longer exists, and his father logged native timber. We just can't help ourselves. It's in our blood. We see a tree and we just want to cut it down and burn it in hell. So there is my husband in the grey damp evening, taking an axe - an axe, mind you - to the poor logs, out in the mud in the back yard, where our woodpile looms under its tarpaulins. The trees must shudder with fear at the sight of the poor logs, thinking of what must be happening to them. And the poor logs must chatter with terror as my husband splits the kindling right there in front of them.

Fire was always special. Fire minding and carrying was one a specialist art. Fire both sustained and took life. Zoroastrianism, the first of the great Axial Age religions, had fire as its main motif. Fire was warmth and light and comfort and one of our first breaks away from nature. Now we are undertaking the ancient rituals of lighting the fire and keeping it going. We talk about the fire. We ask each other about its welfare. We anthropomorphise it.  When we have a power cut we watch the fire for entertainment (and feel pleased we are at least partly off the grid).  And i think about how fire watching has been entertaining us, well, preoccupying us really, ever since the days of Prometheus.

Saturday, June 9, 2012




The evening walk:

The grain of grey

Stones and the short schlepp up the hill,

And the rain weighs

On the grave

Of And Emily, their daughter

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Pawpaw negro blowtorch

i really wanted George Gwaze to be innocent.

George Gwaze is a Zimbabwean vet who immigrated to New Zealand with his extended family, and was tried twice for the sexual assault and murder of his niece. The first trial acquitted him. The second was called at the behest of the High Court. He stood trial again. It was a harrowing case, where each time the jury needed to decided whether little Charlene has died of sexual assault and murder, of of acute complications of AIDS. Either way it felt peculiarly unlike Christchurch. Not that horrors never happen in Christchurch, God knows i've been involved in some of them, but this was way out there, very, well... Dark Continent. Children with AIDS? Men committing violent sexual assaults and then it all being covered up by family and church? Not how we do things.

i wanted him to be innocent because he and his family are migrants and people come here for reasons. The Gwazes came from Mugabe's Zimbabwe looking for a better life. They live in cheap wooden social housing in Christchurch's spaced out cityscape - empty streets, bitter wind, the cool wide green and cream coloured suburbs, the lean grey lines of beach and sea. So different from southern Africa. You don't come here unless you mean it. Unless you want better for your kids.

i also wanted him to be innocent because i felt so challenged by my own racism. George Gwaze sat in the dock looking like, well, a middle aged professional male of recent African descent.* Which is what he is. So what do i make of older black guys in suits? i thought he looked arrogant. He stayed very composed, and made very direct eye contact. Was that arrogance? Should he look scared, or penitent? Would i have seen arrogance if he had been white? How should black men look? Should he flap his hands and roll his eyes? Then when he was found innocent and walked out of the court with his family and counsel, i could see the warmth of his smile.

When i think about older black guys in suits i think of Mugabe. i think of the overseers of copper mines and oil wells who employ children and and are in the pay of huge multinationals. i think of the corruption and dubious personal morals of people like Jacob Zuma. It takes a second look for me to see a gentle father, a man who adopted two girls and cared for Charlene as she suffered from AIDS.

And yet my own lived experience of black men is entirely different. For a start, most of the black men i have met have been Melanesian. Those who come from Africa more directly, or via the USA or the UK, have mostly been academics. When i think of the African men i have known, they have been slim bespectacled chaps with laptops. More Cornel West than 50 Cent. So where does my racism come from, if not from lived experience?

i have no particular answer to that one.i have a passing knowledge of the experiments in social phychology where people see the black man holding the knife in the video, when really it was the white man. i know we tend to gravitate towards individuals who are more like ourselves. Interracial marriages are still not common and at times derided.^^ Of course i am aware of the stereotype of the Scary Black Bastard, and the old cultural myth of the flagrantly overpowering sexuality of black men and how white men are supposed to fear for the virtue of their white women.# Is my thinking so crude that i resort to these poor substitutes for truth? Somehow i can have the most liberal opinions, and yet still i have to look twice, thrice, more, simply in order to see a person clearly.

* Of  course we are all of African descent, just some more recently than others.
^^ i recall my daughter having a sleepover at the age of about nine. Her friends were two girls, one of Chinese descent and one from Hungary. They were talking about marriage (as you do). The Chinese girl said her parents would allow her to marry only a Chinese man. The Hungarian girl said she was allowed to marry anyone except a black man. Next morning we talked about it. Why wouldn't you marry a black man? What was wrong with Abdi from Somalia, or Donald from Zambia, or for that matter Te Rongopai from Aotearoa (Maori is sometimes seen as 'black' here)?
# Hence the title of the post, which is a song from Brian Eno's album 'Here Come the Warm Jets'.