Monday, February 20, 2017

The Great Wall (of Deep, Deep Sighs)

Yeah, look. Just. Look. I went and saw it at the cinemas because I wanted to. Ancient Chinese fantasy and wuxia films are dear to my heart. The consumption of media which is problematic as fuck is normal to me, because the production of media/narratives which aren't problematic is rare. Those of us who don't see ourselves on the screen or on the page are used to balancing enjoyment and criticism simultaneously.

I wanted to like this film, and to an extent, I did like it. But I also wanted - if it was going to be a massive appropriation of history, culture and narrative - it to be a gateway drug, because wuxia films are The Best. Don't argue with me. There's no point. I love these narratives and I wish more people around me shared the love. At the very least, this film could serve as an entry point.

Except it isn't a wuxia film.

Spoilers ahoy.

Having now consumed my problematic media, I chowed down a few articles addressing its problems. Oddly, the two mostly widely accessible articles I've found which do a passable job of addressing the films problems (on BuzzFeed and Vox) both state that it isn't yet another White Saviour Film.

Ummm. Yes, it is. The presence of Badass Commander Lin (played by the badass Tian Jing WHO HOLY SHIT IS GOING TO BE IN PACIFIC RIM 2 HAAAAAAAIIIIIIII) at the end of the film and the fact she strikes the final blow does not in any way cancel out the fact that it took Matt Damon's ability to think outside the box to capture a Tao Tei (more on them later) and the plan to eliminate the Queen Tao Tei was his idea.

No, his character doesn't swan around being overtly smarter, stronger and swifter than those around him. He (thankfully) doesn't go around attempting to enlighten anyone. There's honestly not enough depth in the film to allow for that.

But the narrative still centres him. It is to him that the narrative gifts heroic acts, unorthodox inspiration and the opportunity to masterfully save the lives of the extras around him with some super slick moves.

The first time this happened, I felt my heart break. Those moments of preternatural reflex and anticipation in battle are something particular to martial arts, and to see them granted first to Matt Damon and not any number of the warriors around him - who have all allegedly been training their whole lives for this - was...well. It set a tone from which the film did not deviate. The White Hero was portrayed as impressive. As cool. His counterparts were not, save one.

Commander Lin is awesome. Like, so awesome. Like, her entire command is also comprised of badass women who bungee jump from the wall to impale the Alien Lizard Dogs from Space on spears and then spring back up to get another spear and do it all again. How badass? So badass. The ideals of Chinese beauty being just as narrow of as those of Western beauty aside, her character is solid, steady, and not swayed by the charms of the white man. I cannot tell you how important this is. There is a mere hint of romance present in a lingering and shared look which never develops further than that. She is sure of herself, of her abilities and her convictions, and it is she that teaches him a thing or two about the world, not the other way around.

There is a trope in wuxia of the tragic lovers, who for one reason or another cannot be together and yet spend so much time gazing at each other and admiring each other and respecting each other up until one of them dies. Tragically. Usually in the act of protecting the other from death. I feared this was Commander Lin's fate, BUT IT WASN'T. SHE AIN'T GOT TIME FOR THAT. SHE GOT ALIEN LIZARD DOGS FROM SPACE TO VANQUISH. NOR DID SHE LEAVE HER LIFE TO GO WITH MATT DAMON ONCE THE WAR WITH THE ALIEN LIZARD DOGS FROM SPACE WAS OVER. She was all, like, I respect you, we've been through some shit together, wish you well, baaaai. Like at the end of Pacific Rim, their last interaction could be viewed as unspoken romance...and can also be viewed as not. Commander Lin has an agency, life and destiny all of her own, which exists beyond the narrative of the white man, and FUCK. YES.

(As an aside, despite the film being about a war with Alien Lizard Dogs from Space who just want to eat everything, despite the majority of the cast being male, the only time the camera lingered on soldiers being torn apart, literally torn apart by the Alien Lizard Dogs from Space, was when Lin's all-female soldiers were diving from the wall. And I do mean the camera lingered. Other soldiers also met this fate, but the camera barely gave them a moment's notice. It could be argued that this was because those women were the first casualties during the first assault, thus the long, horribly violent and emphasised deaths were presented to highlight how terrible a foe they faced, but it honestly came across as gratuitous violence against women.)

She's the best thing about this film. It's only redeeming feature you might say. I mean, she's a character with a bit of depth, just a bit, which is more depth than anyone else had. There are no other characters, really. Well, I guess Matt Damon is a character. His character's name is William, but all I saw on the screen was Matt Damon. He gets to learn, make some life altering choices, but this isn't a deep film. Between the two of them, I reckon there's one character. Everyone else is a plot device or a prop. Poor Andy Lau. As Strategist Wang, his sole purpose was to be the mission statement at the start of every chapter telling everyone what had to happen next. Dafoe's character isn't even one dimensional. Pedro Pascal is a foil for Matt Damon and that's his sole purpose, and everyone else has colour coordinated costumes to indicate who is who on the set.

It's worth noting that those dismissing the White Saviour narrative overlook the fact that he saves a nameless foot soldier (who was marked for a tragic death the moment that happened, and yep, no surprises there), he saves Lin when she was surrounded and about the be eaten, and he saves his Spanish Offsider from gaol. Like I said, the final blow may not have been from his hand, but he's the one running around saving everyone.

Did you get that Pedro Pascal's character was Spanish? From Spain? Because just in case you didn't get it, he waves a big swathe of red silk at an Alien Lizard Dog from Space like a matador to a bull. Because he's Spanish. From Spain. He also makes questionable moral decisions because while he's European, being Spanish he's not a proper White European. Which is an important distinction that highlights how good Matt Damon is. Pascal does great with what he has to work with, which is very little. He's as wasted as Andy Lau.

As for those Alien Lizard Dogs from Space...look. Just. Look. Director Yimou Zhang is quoted as saying, "What makes our film unique is that these are ancient Chinese monsters."

Kinda? I mean, the Tao Tei / Taotie are a thing. Not a particularly defined thing, as it were, but definitely the idea of a monster from China's history.

Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Palahniuk also wrote, "Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." Giving them a name from Chinese history doesn't change the fact that they were Alien Lizard Dogs from Space (seriously, in the film they're from space) and sporting an entirely Hollywood CGI monster aesthetic. I'm not yet able to articulate exactly what it was about them as a whole or as individuals, but when these monsters appeared, I knew I was not looking at a Chinese monster. Others may disagree.

Much as this film is billed as being co-created by China and Hollywood (I find it interesting that Hollywood gets to exist as an entity separate from the USA, but the Chinese film industry doesn't), many of the names in the closing titles who were responsible for the look and detail of the film were not Chinese names. Perhaps that's how we end up with monsters that look like they wandered into the wrong set.

Also they were from space.

Is that police-y of me? Possibly. Probably. This film is, however, the appropriation and sanitisation of a history and culture for the purposes of Western consumption. The Chinese movie industry wants some of those juicy Western audiences. There have been in roads made; a lot of credit must be given to Jackie Chan, and since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the great Chinese epic has had moderate success. But, the Western audience doesn't like subtitles. Living in a monolingual world leaves one feeling rather entitled about the communication around them, mostly being that it should be in their language or GTFO. Subtitles turn so many viewers off, which breaks my heart. (Dubbing is an industry which I believe could be an amazing thing. Look at any English dub of anime! Yet so many foreign language films are given dubs which do a great deal to throw the viewer out of the viewing experience. Lip sync being a trivial issue.)

Damon himself has defended his role in the film by pointing out that the film was written with a Western lead in mind, which mostly indicates the lack of critical thinking involved in his response.

Subtitles is one battle. The other is representation.

The recent Jackie Chan film Dragon Blade is another amalgamation of Western and Ancient Chinese epic narratives, which features Jackie Chan being his usual charming, honourable, goofy self and becoming entangled in a feud of succession in the Roman Empire, which has come to play out in his stomping ground. It featured Adrien Brody and John Cusack as Imperial Romans, and as with The Great Wall, featured a great deal of spoken English scenes.

The Romans, however necessary to the conflict, weren't the centre of the film. Jackie Chan was. Even as well known and well loved as he, the box office takings for this film in the USA made 0.1% of the total takings around the world.

The idea that only stories centring around white men, Western white men, will sell to Western audiences, appears to hold true when viewed from the outside. The Chinese film industry wants in on the Western audience. So, the writing of a Western character being central in the film is a marketing move, and a ghastly one. It further compounds the idea that a narrative only counts when it hangs from a white man's shoulders. It is complicit with and practically gives permission for Hollywood's continued appropriation of Asian concepts and culturescapes (the casting of Dr Strange and the live-action Ghost in the Shell being the most current examples of this) whilst erasing the very people to whom these ideas are foundations of identity.

This film is nothing short of a perpetuation of the problems of racism in Western media. It isn't for China's film industry to amend their ways - that is a whole different conversation. It is for the Western world to seriously, meaningfully, no seriously, get with the whole picture when it comes to representation, when it comes to who should be the vehicle for what narrative.

I hoped it would be a gateway drug. But it isn't. It's an empty narrative full of costumes and design which signal something that isn't there.

I was hoping, maybe the film would be a mix of two worlds, the way I am. But it isn't. It's set dressing and posturing. (Maybe that's all I am too.)

I was hoping it wouldn't be what it looked like it was going to be.


No seriously, from space? Why?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Love by the Pus-Choked Sea

For most of my adult life I've used analogies to navigate the process of living. For example, I've always been a strange fish. The complete lack of representation of anyone I could relate to in the media I consumed whilst growing up means that I am now unable to see myself in any narrative. Not even those which now feature people who look like me and live like me. 

But I see myself reflected elsewhere. In 2007 footage of a frilled shark surfaced, captured by divers off the coast of Japan. She was in distress, swimming lopsided, and died within a few hours. It was surmised she was sick, to have been so far from her natural habitat. 

I saw myself in that slow, heavy shark. Meant to swim in cool, quiet darkness, in stillness and solitude in which the cycle of seasons are not measured by light. To be a silent creature passing by other silent creatures with nary a pause. To venture in to the world is to enter warm, shallow waters, bright with sunlight and full of extroverted fish in dizzying crowds. Society asks that I live in these bright, balmy waters, but I'm not made for it.

That shark was caught and couldn't swim home. I've learned to flee into the depths sooner, rather than later.

I'm one of a sentient and intelligent species, however, and can adapt. There are ways to exist in shallow and busy waters. I was not one creature, but many. A whole school of fish, the many pieces and parts of me moving not necessarily in unison, but with coherence. Sometimes, when there were sharks in the water, the school was in chaos. Other times, the school was a mesmerising ribbon of silver, curling around a thriving seamount. I had to fracture myself to move through a social world. It wasn't an injury, just another way of existing. 

These seem like such trifling little toys, now. 

Can I speak of anger for a moment? Anger is magma, and the volcano only erupts when there is naught else it can do. Magma comes from the depths as well. Sometimes it can be controlled, sometimes it can be channeled, but it will always want out. 

Trauma does not come from within. Trauma is the meteorite that slew the dinosaurs and lays waste to all the strange and wonderful things a life can grow. A depth not of me nurtured that meteorite, out there in the world, and then slammed it upon me. Perhaps I invited my meteorite, but then, who honestly anticipates the extinction of the soul?

I used to contain multitudes. My mind had no boundaries, no beginning nor end, the multiverses playing out in layers of consciousness I only barely acknowledged. There was never only one Tessa. How could there ever be only one Tessa? I could survive everything, because there was always more of me, so much more of me. 

Until the meteor struck, and the ocean died.

I'm not a fish. I'm not a school of fish. I'm one, only one, standing on the shore of a disease-mangled ocean. The surface is broken by the bloated carcasses of so many fish, the waves do not form those smooth glass tunnels of my memory but are chunky with skeletons and decay. Pus floats like polar ice on these waters, riding low, yet still so much sitting high. The water that laps at these bergs of sickness is stained with the blood of ruptured corpses, stirred by a wind corpulent with decay, the reek so heavy its a wonder the air has the strength to carry it. All this wasted meat. There are no scavengers to enjoy this feast. 

The extinction of the world leaves only one, wondering when the horizon drew so near, why there is nothing else but this beach. 

How small I have become. How very small.

No one can see this, but I spend my days standing in that disgusting soup with a bucket in my hands and the taste of putrefaction in the back of my throat. One heaped bucket at a time, I pull the empty bodies of fish from the surf, I scoop pus from those rancid bergs, I work and work and work to clean that ocean. Behind me, on stained sand, are mounds of detritus. All the poison I pull from the ocean in slow-growing mountains. 

There are birds hidden in the pus. Birds that survived the first impact and surging tides, birds who tired of flight and tried to rest only to discover that pus is not an island. Caught in that quagmire, feathers slick with it, they floundered and sank and drowned in the symptoms of my wounds. They appear from the stuff suddenly, frightened and frightening and staring in panic.

Sometimes the waves bring up secrets from depths that no longer exist. I have a hook and a rope and being the only one I pull these behemoths to the shore. Their jaws are a mile from crook to crook. None of them smile. A sunken eye larger than the sun, cloudy in death, reveals nothing. I drag these monsters up the beach, their skin sloughing off in great curtains, and go back to my bucket.

It is unglamourous work. There is nothing to romanticise in this filth. 

Occasionally I find another me. One of the multitudes lost in the cataclysm will wash ashore. Maybe she will be in a foetal position with her face hidden in her palms, or perhaps she will be standing with her fingers curved, her spine curved, all her bones curved into the question. There is nothing to be done for these pieces of me. I try to comb the pus from their hair, take the scabs from their skin and leave them on the beach where they are found.

Squalls are unkind. Sometimes I can see them coming and find myself a shelter amid my own ruins. Other times they take me by surprise and I find myself hunkered behind a soggy pile of scabs, the bucket over my head drumming furiously with the unforgiving rain. These storms bring new wreckage to the shore. There is always more.

I don't often venture close to the impact site. The turbulence in the air over that space is upsetting, the tides vicious and mean, and the miasma so thick I cannot see nor hear nor breathe. I don't know if occasional exposure to it will help me or not. I only know that it is there, now, and I must live with it.

One bucket at a time, when days and nights have no meaning, and the tides are always bringing more, more, more. 

It's hard to accept love, here, now. I don't know what there is to offer. But then, I know what it is I love in those precious people around me who also struggle with a history of invisible injury. Their wounds are a part of them, and so I must love those wounds. Their wounds do not define them, so I can see a person who exists with or without that struggle, who inspires love. Their struggle is a heart breaking over, and over, and over, and for taking up that fight I love them too. Fiercely. So, perhaps this is what can be seen in me.

Later, I will have a bounty of silver scales and event-stained skeletons. Later, the bones of these deep giants will be revealed as towers of glass, casting shadows which are not shadows. Give me enough time and the mountains of pus I move from sea to shore will dry and harden. The pressure of aeons will turn that once rancid mucus into beautiful, milky stones, which when polished and then held up to the ear will hum quietly of grief. Entire ranges of humming peaks. I can give you the ambergris of lost whales and the surrendered pearls of unknown clams. Strange and unimaginable mosses will creep across this long grave. Algae will bloom in this sickened water. There is an ecosystem in the future and its ghosts reach back in time to here, now, urging me on. One day, multitudes of me may wake again.

Sometimes I do nothing. Sometimes I look at all I have done and all I have yet to do, and the futility of it all becomes overwhelming. I sit in garbage and the vomit of the ocean and there is nothing in this universe to hear my wail.

The tide creeps up the shore to suck at my toes, and I pick myself up, pick up my bucket, and carry on.

I have contained multitudes, and so I can grow a new world. This is not unknown to me. 

I do not know what it will be, but this new world creeps closer, one bucket at a time.

Monday, December 26, 2016

we learn

Cerpogia stapeliiformis is identified as being particularly hard to grow in cultivation. Being as it looks like a fat dead stick, I had to give it a shot. Unfortunately I doomed myself to failure the day after bringing this baby home. It had some light scale growing on it, and using a Q-tip and some soapy water I wiped away what I could. Even that light touch of moisture was enough to start in rot on the growing tip of the longest stem. I've since amputated and sealed the cut with ground cinnamon, but the rot appears to have spread throughout the plant anyway.

My woolly senecios aren't looking too happy either. Scarposus and haworthii require the same conditions and care: heaps of sun and extremely careful watering, as they're also prone to rot. I pulled both of them up today to check the roots. Scarposus is looking okay in the roots, but extremely limp and withered in the leaves. In any other succulent, I'd assume that would be from lack of water, but this one I'm not so sure about. Haworthii has unfortunately had a big root die off. Still some good living ones visible, but on the whole, not great. I'm mostly certain the potting medium and pots I had them in were contributing factors here, so I've repot them both in near pure scoria and more open pots. I'll think about giving them some water in a couple of weeks.

I'm one of those foolish individuals who creates their own superstitions. The Senecio haworthii I bought the day I sat my STAT tests, as a celebration. In my mind, the possibility of me going to university is now inextricably entwined with the life of this plant. Things aren't looking good.

The university sent out an email notifying all who'd applied for the course I've taken aim at that this course will no longer be offered as part time. No reason was given for this.

It's a spanner in the works. Full time the course is 20 contact hours a week, with homework and prep on the side. Sometimes, I feel strong enough to manage that. Most of the time I don't. Much as I want to try full time, I had been assuming I'd do the degree part time.

Right now, unemployed, I'm living part time. Fibromyalgia first manifested as my working part time, but after the last few years and all that has happened, I exist part time. There are so many hours that perhaps another person could use productively, that I spend simply being exhausted. I know I can study just fine, I'm doing it right now with chemistry. The system just needs to be flexible. I'm willing. I can do these things. In my own time.

There's small room for wiggle, as in the case of "exceptional circumstances" the Dean may allow a student to complete the degree part time. I don't yet know what constitutes an exceptional circumstance, and until I know whether or not I even have an offer I don't wish to draw attention to myself. This degree only has a small yearly intake, and I have a pretty distinct name.

It could be that chronic illness is not an acceptable reason for part time study. In which case, the only option I have is to drop the course entirely. The offer of a refund of the VCAT application fee is small compensation given the surrounding money I've sunk into merely making myself eligible to apply.

There are other paths and plans. But.

I want to get myself into a place where I can stop trying to get into a place, and start focusing my energy on being in that place. I want to stop reaching and reaching and reaching and start building.

It is all learning. Sometimes plants die, and sometimes plans are thwarted.

Other plants thrive. Other plans work. This disappointment will pass. One day.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Aaron Fitzgerald of Point of Power Electrical, WA, makes a compassionate donation to the Refugee Council of Australia. Go, Aaron!

"What is tassa kum, is she a nigger, spick, gook or a mix?? I cant quite tell... im a white european, you know the master race!"

Hmm. This is a bit shit. What can I do about it?

Oh, I know.

A donation! In his name!
First, I better make sure I get his details right.

Starnow Profile, whatever that is:

Point of Power Electrical PTY LTD business website:

Okay, cool.

If you too would like to make a donation in the name of Aaron Fitzgerald of Point of Power Electrical (email: ) , please visit:

Happy multi-faith, multi-cultural holidays, all! 

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Unchanging Ginkgo

We had a Ginkgo biloba plant when I was a child. It sat in a pot on the front verandah by the door, where it was mostly neglected. It always fascinated me. A book on dinosaurs had told me that this was a relic of prehistoric times, that this plant was kicking around millions of millions of years ago with dinosaurs (everything is a dinosaur when you're a kid). It was a living fossil

This confused me to no end. I'd stare at this small plant which was shorter than I was and wonder how could it possibly be that old. Especially since it was dead, I mean, they'd found it in the fossil record. Maybe this was a cutting from some ancient behemoth ginkgo, but then, where was this monster dinosaur tree? How did such an incredible time-travelling plant end up on our front verandah? What if we killed it? Oh gods, what if we killed the living fossil? Took me rather a long time to realise that 'living fossil' simply meant it had not evolved from that form in the intervening millennia. Even the smartest of kids have - often peculiar - intellectual blindspots.

We did end up kill the living fossil. Poor plant.

Because of this misunderstanding I've always viewed the ginkgo with awe, and it is a plant that lends itself to awe with ease. Those leaves are so simple and elegant, reminiscent of nothing in the neighbouring yards or the school playgrounds. Their lack of complexity in form and placement evoke an era of evolution that is only visible to us in fossils. The hint of what is to come, what surrounds us now, in their texture.

As an adult, I appreciate the living fossil for what I perceive to be its stubborn indifference to the passage of time and the incredible changes wrought in the world around it. The supercontinent of Pangea no longer exists, but this plant does, unchanged. While its surrounding peers figured out how to do flowers - flowers! such complex, deceitful structures! - and changed their leaves and skin to suit the environment, the ginkgo just sat back and said, "Nah, I'm good." Admittedly, it's likely that the ginkgo is extinct in the wild and has survived these past centuries only due to the practice of planting them at temples and shrines, shared by many cultures around Asia.

This ginkgo tree is planted at the Tsurugaokuhachimangu in Kamakura, Japan. I visited in 2007, and did indeed get to see a ancient behemoth ginkgo. From the wiki:

The ginkgo that had stood next to Tsurugaoka Hachimangū's stairway almost from its foundation and which appears in almost every old print of the shrine was completely uprooted and greatly damaged at 4:40 in the morning on March 10, 2010. According to an expert who analyzed the tree, the fall is likely due to rot. Both the tree's stump and a section of its trunk replanted nearby have produced leaves.
The tree was nicknamed kakure-ichō (隠れ銀杏 hiding ginkgo?) because according to an Edo period urban legend, a now-famous assassin hid behind it before striking his victim.

...Oh. I wasn't aware the old fella had toppled. I'm glad its bits are thriving. It's around one thousand years old, which is breath-stopping to consider. Very glad I was able to see it whole and proud.

The assassination in question:

Under heavy snow on the evening of February 12, 1219 (Jōkyū 1, 26th day of the 1st month), shogun Minamoto no Sanetomo was coming down from Tsurugaoka Hachimangū's Senior Shrine after assisting to a ceremony celebrating his nomination to Udaijin. His nephew Kugyō, son of second shogun Minamoto no Yoriie, came out from next to the stone stairway of the shrine, then suddenly attacked and assassinated him in the hope to become shogun himself. The killer is often described as hiding behind the giant ginkgo, but no contemporary text mentions the tree, and this detail is likely an Edo era invention first appeared in Tokugawa Mitsukuni's Shinpen Kamakurashi. For his act Kugyō was himself beheaded a few hours later, thus bringing the Seiwa Genji line of the Minamoto clan and their rule in Kamakura to a sudden end.

One thousand years is a long time, but when considering a time line of 270 million years, a handful of centuries is nothing.

(When anthropomorphising Evolution as some sort of deity artisan, for which their every project is a work in project, forever being tinkered with, it's easy to imagine the ginkgo as a work that has sat forgotten on a shelf somewhere for the aeons of the planet's life, gathering dust but still perfectly functional, while Evolution considers the merits of iridescence in plant cells.)

When I spied this wee plant at the Growing Friends' Nursery Sale at the Botanical and Rare Plant Fair, I forgot all the other lovely plants I'd been eyeing off, picked it up, hugged it, and brought it home. A dinosaur plant of my very own! With such fine, healthy leaves, and that rich youthful colour!

I was told I shouldn't be buying trees, stop buying trees, Tessa we do not have any room for trees, but it was mine now. Mine mine mine. 

It has proved to be endlessly entertaining. Fast growing in the current heat, it gobbles up our ridiculously strong sun. Whereas eucalypts appear to have evolved leaves to mitigate the ferocity of the Australian sun (being largely scythe-shaped and hanging long and vertical, so that the high sun mostly hits their edges, and it is the morning and late afternoon sun which they make the most of), the ginkgo holds out its leaves like hands waiting for more. The birds leave it alone. The pests leave it alone. A small spider has made a home in a curl in the lower canopy. 

All the care guides I read indicated that the ginkgo does not take well to transplanting, and does not at all like having its roots disturbed. Moving it into its current pot was anxiety-inducing. I tried my best to remove the entire plug from its original bucket and not shift the roots at all, but that didn't happen. The soil slipped and everything fell apart in my hands, the roots wrenched about and naked and pretty much exactly what I was trying to avoid. Potted it up best I could, and for the next couple of weeks watched it like the natural worry-wort I am. 

I'm not sure what the fuss was about. This plant had exactly zero reaction to being repotted. Possibly its fussiness about its feet was overstated.

It's quite a communicative plant. It gets very, very sad when the soil is dry. It wilts. Not like most other plants, whereby wilting means a drooping of the leaves and stems. No, the ginkgo folds over entirely, like a toddler putting on a show, like a melodramatic pout, like there is no point in going on, I give up, go on without me. Once the soil is wet again, it straightens up within an hour, as if nothing was ever wrong. The leaves don't dry out or crisp up, no colour change, nothing. Just pure drama.

Dad went hunting for some vegetable or fruit he remembers being in the family congee when he was a kid. Asking at a store led him to a vacuum sealed parcel of creamy white orbs, which turned out to be ginkgo nuts. They went into his latest batch of congee. They're similar to fungi and mushrooms in that they have that crisp and firm snap and resistance when being bitten into, but then a smooth buttery texture that follows. It isn't until bitten that they release any flavour, which is distinctly sour. This sourness isn't quite strong enough to be unpleasant, but is none-the-less sour which I associate with being unpleasant, so on the whole, the flavour is quite confusing. 

It makes sense. I'm guessing these nuts developed before the creatures that ate them developed had developed a sophisticated palate which needed to be bribed with delicious flavours, if the tree was even using animals as distribution. Now the ginkgo is all, This is the way I've been cooking my nuts for longer than your species's grandspecies existed. Ain't got time for your tastebuds. Be grateful for the protein and begone.

No one knew if my ginkgo was male or female, so I'll just have to wait and see if we get a home-grown source of ginkgo nuts. 

It is a species that has survived asteroid-impacts, extinction-level events, the end of so many worlds. When I look at young trees I see giants. Already a living fossil, in this scrawny trunk is a future ancient. One day, perhaps my ginkgo will be a behemoth. It has that potential. I will never see it, but it is a dream both the ginkgo and I share.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Green Sticks I Have Known and Loved

There's no accounting for taste. Why we prefer one type of book but not another. Why we keep falling for the same type of person at the expense of so many other types. Why I'm drawn to these odd plants but not those odd plants.

These three stalks belong to the Euphorbia genus, and none of them do much other than be green stalks. I love them.

On the left is what I have hesitantly IDed as  Euphorbia alluaudii. Hesitantly because I bought it as a small cutting at the Melbourne International Flower & Garden Show back in March, and it came with no tag. It was just a funny green stick. In the intervening eight months it has continued to just be a funny green stick. It never puckered for want of water, never shrivelled from too much water, never changed colour with changing light conditions or the shifting seasons. It has seriously done sweet f-all. In fact, it was only in repotting it into the above container that I had any proof it was alive.

Look! It has roots! It was doing something after all!

Plants find their own way to communicate their needs. Well. What they're doing is reacting to their environment and altering their structure to best protect themselves, but it can be a form of communication for the gardener. This plant apparently wants for nothing because it doesn't communicate anything. It's a native of Madagascar (maybe), and I can't imagine Melbourne providing the same climate and soil as Madagascar, but hey, it's happy. So, having transplanted it, I'm going to continue ignoring it.

The middle is Euphorbia debilispina, which did come with a tag, purchased at the yard sale of an award-winning plant grower. A native of southern central Africa, I haven't had it long enough for it to start complaining about the conditions I'm providing. My goal is only ever to not kill my plants.

On the right is Euphorbia antisyphilitica, (ANTI-SYPHILIS?!) which was purchased from the same sale and thankfully tagged. Despite being another nondescript green stick of the Euphorbia, this hails from southern USA to Mexico. I'm expecting it to do not much at all.

They should all do well going in to summer. I intend to leave the pot where it can get full sun and pretty much cook them alive. Hopefully this will get them nicely established before the cold soggy seasons roll around again. 

Why am I drawn to these seriously undramatic plants? I have no idea. They're ridiculous. They're just sticks. Frustratingly vague sticks. Still, I love them, I go stand in front of them with my hands on my hips and purse my lips and curse them for being ridiculously low maintenance and entirely happy. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Case Study on Well-Spoken, "Reasonable" Bigotry

Geoff shared this on FB. A couple of days previous I had shared the same article, commenting that Hamad's writing did a pretty good job of summing up my position of the subject. It's an article that touches on many nuances of the current climate, but ultimately boils down to the fact that symbols are empty without the accompanying action they symbolise. Wearing a pin does nothing if you're still bystanding the oppression of others.

I opened my big gob, and the following exchange ensued:

I bowed out when I said I did.

Beyond pointing out that the system in America allows the public to choose their presidential candidates (unlike here in Australia in which you can only choose your party, and no one but the actual party members get to pick the leader of that party) and they most emphatically chose the overt bigot and sexual predator as their candidate, I'm not going to break this down again. 

I am, however, going to explain why this is just another iteration of bigotry. 

This will be framed in terms of racism, although the framework should overlap with pretty much all forms of oppression. When I say 'white', I'm speaking of the Concept of Whiteness which has saturated western society, which isn't necessarily tied to one's heritage, especially given that being white doesn't stop the Polish in the UK from experience hate crimes, nor protect white Jewish people from anti-semitism. 

I will be using CALD - Culturally and Linguistically Diverse - as shorthand for non-white people. I came across this term in the essay 'Fuck Your Echo Chamber' which is also well worth a read. Previously I would have used PoC - People of Colour - but I've never been fully comfortable using it, as it is a form of appropriation, having been coined by Black African Americans, for Black African Americans. CALD appears to be Australian in source. 

For the most part I will be speaking from a position of oppression and marginalisation, and so speaking upward, at those whom have privilege. Given this instance will be focused on racism, it could be interpreted as being solely aimed at white people, but my hope is to speak broadly enough to encapsulate the general axis of privilege.

This will bleed together events in America with politics in Australia.

For some of you it will be old hat. Don't worry about it, it isn't meant for you. For others it might be new, in which case I apologise for the coming torrent of jargon, but there's only so far down I can break this before it becomes too disheartening.


The overt bigots are easy to spot. They're yelling "Fuck Off! We're Full!" or "Grab her by the pussy!" They're dangerous - literally - and it's highly unlikely that any of them will change their world view without something extremely drastic happening to them personally. There's been much discussion on what can be done in the days following T's appointment as president-elect, and a ghastly amount of that discussion pushes for people to reach out to and understand the 'other side', ie, those who voted for him. 

This actually reeks of White Saviour-ness, even though it is targeting predominantly the white demographic. 

Bigotry already has privilege, and in this case, power. To reach out to someone is generally framed as appealing to their better nature, and someone who already has power has no real impetus to change their circumstances. Casting bigots as just misunderstood and waiting for a kind hand to show them the way is assuming that this hasn't been tried. It has. For centuries. The oppressed can tell you that asking nicely accomplishes nothing. It also appears to forgive the bigot of all the harm and damage they have already perpetrated, excusing it as "they didn't know better". This ignores the voices of those who suffer at the hands of bigotry, who have be asking for consideration for a very long time. This is not something any one should have to ask for. 

There's also the assumption that bigotry will want to have this conversation with you, the privileged ally. For the most part, bigots don't think of themselves as bigots. They see themselves as realists, or intellects, and are acting for what they perceive to be the greater good. A conversation that may change their position must alter that definition of 'good'. People do not react well to the implication that their idea of what is good is wrong. 

I've had this conversation many, many times, with many and varied people. Mostly with very good people with very good intentions. On the occasions I've actually got through to someone, it is because they were already willing to actively learn and listen. I can count the number of times I've been successful on one hand, and these were people who were already savvy to the forms of bigotry. They deepened their understanding of the nuance of oppression, but they were already allies. 

For the most part, however, I receive push back and defensiveness. I won't count how many times I've been told that I've hurt someone's feelings by pointing out what they're saying is problematic, which typically prioritises the feelings of the well-intentioned ally over the feelings of me, the person being othered. This then puts me in the position of having to point this out as well if I'm to make my point. I assure you, they don't like hearing this any better. The whole thing where it is now considered more hurtful to be accused of racism than it is to actually perpetuate racism plays out in many different ways. 

I now assume that when I point out bias/bigotry, no matter how nicely or politely, this will be the outcome. It ends with me saying my part, and then saying no more as the other party continues to justify and excuse themselves. It does not end with learning. If learning is something that comes later, very few have come back to actually acknowledge their part in the interaction, and what it cost me.

You could say that's on me and possibly I suck at conversation, which is entirely likely. I might be able to bash out a blogpost, but I can't hold my own in a conversation to save my life. However, I am not the only person saying these things. There is a resistance at play which has nothing to do with my conversation skills.

Bigotry that is not easy to spot comes dressed in good-manners, is well-spoken and often sounds perfectly reasonable. While folks being abused and/or in physical danger need immediate assistance, if you want to change the culture, then it is the well-presented bigotry you must also challenge.

Geoff's original comment probably doesn't ring any alarm bells for the privileged ally. Or, perhaps it did, but the privileged ally was unsure of what exactly was off and how to address it. I explained in my first comment the problem with his framework. And in my second. He would not engage with the subject of the article, which I tried to bring it back to, and he thus attempted to control the direction of the conversation according to what he had decided was valid.

This was a derailment of the actual subject, and a derailment used to then dismiss the entirety of what was said in the article. The net result was the dismissal of both the voices and pain of CALD people. 

He further remarks that this is 'bad and divisive journalism'. When the marginalised speak of their oppression, specifically when speaking against the privileged and powerful, they are often chastised for being 'divisive' to the cause. This is one way the privileged silence the oppressed, as this implies that these problems faced by the oppressed are not legitimate, and that the problem is the complainant, not that there is something to complain about. Shut up and fall in line is the real message.

It becomes slightly more overt when Geoff states that it goes "beyond racist whites in the US". This is partly true: the current state of US politics is a giant mess of racism, sexism, classism, and probably many more ugly -isms, and in fact the current state of politics in Australia is the same mess, just playing out differently. However, Geoff is in this case using it to dismiss responsibility from the white vote, while at the same time ignoring the fact that the 'we' he claims need to seek answers also includes the article author, Hamad, a CALD person in Australia, whose article is actually guidance for action. 

By that point, it was pretty obvious to me that he was not listening. He hadn't listened to Hamad, wasn't listening to me, so I felt pretty sure that unacknowledged and unaddressed internalised bigotry - be it racism or misogyny - meant he'd already dismissed the voice of any CALD woman. There was basic groundwork he'd have to do on himself before this particular conversation was going to be in any way productive. 

Perhaps a properly white person would have had more luck. Perhaps he would have viewed my words coming from the mouth of another white person, or man, as being worth heeding. 

That particular comment thread ended civilly. This second comment thread, not quite so much. 

First of all; mad cheering to Lukas for stepping in. Bro, you have my sword. For context, Lukas is also CALD, and in the USA.

Second; Geoff's tone goes through a significant transformation. His first response to Lukas is almost conciliatory in nature. His second comment is another story. As indicated by the timestamp, it was edited. Initially it contained nothing but tags for myself and Lukas, presumably to get our attention. That's what I saw before I turned off, at any rate.

It appears that when neither of us came when summoned, that conciliatory tone evapourated and what is nothing short of white privilege having a foot-stamping tantrum came out.

For starters; no CALD person is at the beck and call of a white person, especially a white person who has previously dismissed and derailed CALD voices. Nor does any CALD person owe validation to a white person when said white person suddenly decides to project a sympathetic tone. Opportunities to do thusly had already been ignored, and as indicated by the foot-stamping, that attempt at sympathy and care was not sincere. It is likely at that point Geoff realised that he sounded like a typical privileged white person (because he did) and so was trying to alter that impression. He became aggrieved when we did not immediately appease this attempt.

This is exactly the issue with the safety pin. The words Geoff chose and when he chose to use them indicate that he was more concerned with not being seen as 'one of Those Whites' than he was with the actual experiences of CALD persons facing bigotry. When he was not rewarded for this 'goodness' he accused both of us of playing games with identity politics and of generally spouting BS. Not to mention going off at Lukas about discussing race politics in the USA, he who is actually living in the USA, which Geoff certainly isn't. It was Geoff who started with comments on the race of voters in America.

The implication here that identity politics only apply to CALD persons and is in fact divisive is based on the assumption that whiteness is not an identity, but the default. This is the basis of white supremacy. Lukas's final comment is a good summation and I will again point you toward this excellent essay as it contains a fine breakdown of how identity politics are used by the privileged and powerful all the time.

Geoff also implies that by calling for consideration, Lukas and I and the groups we signify are to blame for 'alienating' the left and centre. This is essentially tone policing, telling us we need to fall in line and know our place for the sake of white feelings. He is telling us to behave according to the expectations of the privileged. This is a means of silencing the anger of CALD people, by threatening to withhold support if said CALD person isn't 'nice'. Doing so indicates that the CALD person is not viewed as an equal person, thus the support dangled on offer is not real support. He also forgets that CALD people populate the left and centre. 

Due to the fact that the Australian media is currently fixated on American politics we have been inundated with updates on what T is doing and saying. This has had a palpable affect here. The re-election of the Liberal Party in Australia (here, the Liberal party is the conservative right, don't ask) along with the One Nation Party winning multiple seats has emboldened the bigoted elements in this country. T's appointment is further validation for many bigots, be they overt like the One Nation Party or standing in the closet door muttering about how the place is going down hill. Hate crime happens here, and the US election has seen a noticeable increase on what was already increasing. Giving platform to T and the like is giving them power. This is a great article here on the hypocrisy of Australia's obsession with the US elections, given our own track record and current practices. US politics are influencing the landscape of our society because we're listening.

Only two CALD people challenged Geoff's comments. No allies.

There are many reasons why this could have happened. This is specifically for those who didn't see the problem or didn't know what to do.

My suggestion has always been and will always be to listen to those over whom you have privilege. This isn't accusing you of bigotry, but pressing you to acknowledge the privilege you have. While I've primarily spoken here from the position of the oppressed, I have great big mountains of privilege. Within Australia, with my biracial identity, I am still in the position of coloniser over the Indigenous people of Australia. My privilege is being of Asian descent, which means in the false hierarchy of "which dirty migrants are worse" I'm actually not too bad. I'm a cis woman, largely heterosexual (tragédie), middle-class, and while chronic physical and mental illness restrict my abilities, I'm pretty much able-bodied. That is a lot of privilege. 

So when I tell you to listen down the privilege ladder, I'm not suggesting you do anything I am not already doing myself.

What this will do is broaden your understanding of the impact of bigotry, and more importantly help you to recognise the myriad forms bigotry will take. I'm guessing not many recognised the bigotry present in Geoff's initial comment; I did, because while I talk about these matters a lot, I spend even more time listening. In this instance, Geoff revealed his true colours with very little prompting. Learning to recognise nuance, recognise derailment, dismissal and erasure even when its dressed up with Cornell University figures, is the first step in challenging bigotry. You can't fight what you can't see. 

I owe a great debt to Blak and Black women, to trans, non-binary and queer people . Listening to them has helped me recognise much of my own unconscious bias and keeps me humble. The time they take to speak is a constant learning experience. I can only strive to earn what they teach. Thank you. It's from you that I have the courage, confidence and conviction to speak now.

Listening will assist you in being a better ally. An ally should not speak over or speak for the oppressed. That's once again the centring of privilege and making it about you. It may seem subtle, the difference between saying "I think X" and saying "So-and-so said this, which I agree with," but there are magnitudes of difference. The former positions you as the font of wisdom, the latter amplifies the actual oppressed and signals your support. It draws attention to the voices that should be heeded.

More importantly, listening will help you to identify the unaddressed bigotry you carry within you. We are all of us guilty of bigotry in one form or another. Growing up in a western country, surrounded by western media - the news and entertainment - and western advertising will plant so much conditioning in your unconscious that yes, you will reject the notion that there's even a speck of bigotry in you, the mere suggestion is abhorrent. I grew up surrounded by all this, and have had to, am still dealing with, all manner of internalised bias which is to the detriment of others and myself. My childhood taught me to be ashamed of my racial heritage. It takes a lot to unlearn.

Glass houses, thrown stones. You cannot challenge others for what you have not addressed in yourself. The most unconfronting way to do this is to listen, listen, listen, and assume, take for granted that you are part of the problem

No one can see you listening. You'll have time to apply what you learn to yourself, be disappointed in yourself, figure out how to do better by yourself, and this is far more comfortable than, say, having me decide to make an educational moment out of your comments.

But finally, listening empowers the oppressed. 

The oppressed demographics have been oppressed in western countries fooooorrrrr aaaaaggggeeeesssss. They have been repeating themselves foooooooorrrrr aaaggggeeesssss. What I'm saying now is what so many others have said before me. I am not saying anything new. 

If you want to know what to do: listen.
If you want to know where to donate: listen.
If you need the tools to take up this fight: listen.

In not listening to the oppressed, but heeding and following the privileged, we have ended up here, now. What needs to change; the oppressed have already figured that out. What needs to be done to bring about that change; the oppressed have already figured that out. The only thing needed to bring this about is for you, me, us, the privileged, to listen.

If you think by writing this I am out of line, mean, "bullying" or the like, I suggest reading through all this again. So often the onus of education is put on the oppressed. We are the ones who have to argue for our own humanisation. You can see me entering into a discussion in these comment threads, and I deliberately policed my tone to make it palatable. When those tools don't work, then I will use other tools. If you wish to control the manner of your education; educate yourself. Policing how the oppressed educate their oppressors is yet another example of privilege speaking, again. Pointing out that Geoff was not seeking education is once more centring on the privileged. The oppressed are not going to wait for their oppressors to wake up. 

The worst that may come of this is Geoff having his feathers ruffled and ego hurt. T is a clear example of the consequences a white man will suffer when exposed as a bigot, ie, none. I've done Geoff a mercy and not put his name in text, removed his surname from the screencaps. No search engine will link this to him.

What comes from the views Geoff broadcast is the further entrenchment of insidious bias and privilege, which enables the violent and abusive bigotry so many are focused upon. 

This isn't a call to dogpile. If you perceive it as such then you haven't been listening and I'm not sure I want what support you were going to offer. It would have been nice if some allies had stepped in to simply say "I agree." That time has passed; he's completed his emotional cycle. Because Geoff's position is founded on unacknowledged and unaddressed white privilege he was never going to hear me. He might have heard his peers though.

Geoff isn't throwing bricks through windows, nor hurling abuse. Regardless, his expressed views are bigotry. This unacknowledged, unaddressed bias and privilege won't lead to him starting fires, but it is this exact same unacknowledged, unaddressed bias and privilege that enables bigotry to flourish, to normalise, to become overt. 

Chances are that most of us will never actually have the opportunity to intervene on an abusive bigot and play the hero. Should such an instance arise, then hell yes step in. However, for the most part, fighting bigotry is unheroic. It involves frustrating and uncomfortable and tedious conversations with people you respect and admire, with your close friends and distant friends, it involves upsetting people, it involves being 'mean', it will end with people being angry at you, relationships marred and possibly ended, and it needs to be done.

It is just as important to challenge insidious bigotry as it is to stand up to overt bigotry. This must be fought, at all levels.

This was sent after I'd left the conversation, and before his foot-stamping.

I was not having a conversation.

I was challenging the bigotry.