Saturday, May 22, 2010

Non Spaces

Today has been a completely magical, heavenly day in the burbs.
The doctors wife & I staggered into the sunlit garden with our coffees, to sit and watch magpies warbles, while Princess Fluffbucket crouched in the rocket, trying to stalk them.
Yesterday morning was very similar.
We are surrounded by greenery, birdlife, calm quiet delights. Inside our four white walls we make our own delights of puppets, vulvas, art, colour, games, books, dressups.
It's like heaven....

and yet, and yet.

I've had an interesting few days, showing a German Film crew around my life and the spaces where I work and play - rediscovering and re-presenting the invisible spaces of banality and daily life for a new audience.

they said that Boganborough reminded them of Stuttgart.... with a bizarre hitchcockian edge - as the hordes of Cockatoos swoop and screech and swirl at sunset......
They wondered why the beautiful green parkland near the lake was deserted, except for a lone figure out jogging (the doctor's wife) and the cluster of Wiggas on the skateboard ramp.

I took them out to where I work, by way of contrast.

The picture above is from Footscray, which is not where I work, but an inner city (hell! it's zone 1 and 2 stops from the city circle and they have trams) version of Melbourne's wild west. It's being colonised by well-meaning cultural tourists, who embrace the rub of queer and straight, the various shades of brown skin, the polylingual street signs and edgy fringe of junkies. Recently I met someone (at an art opening in Prahran) who described where I work as a 'wasteland'. I asked where he lived and he said "footscray". In fact not quite - turns out he lives in Seddon, which is kind of like a white-working class segue to middle class aspiring home ownership - without any tinge of new migrants or junkies, but close enough to both to claim some sort of affiliation.

Walking around where I work was weird. (how's that for alliteration?) OK - it was weird with a film crew, because my cultural tourist eyes were exaggerated by the presence of a camera. White Academic plus White Film Crew, walking in streets of small dark-skinned people - who moved out of camera-range, giving us baleful glances.

I felt -intensely - like I did in Vietnam. Suddenly, my skin was not neutral - but very distinctly coloured, and very distinctly out of place. Of course this was not only about the pinking bits of epidermis under a pallid autumn sun, but the short hair, the spectacles, the pants and leather jacket - the non-femme, queer female garb, that marks me not only as not asian, or not african, or not pacific islander, or not latino, or not koori, but as someone who can afford to be flagrantly queer, because I am white in a way that is consolidated by my baby-academic class, and my whiteness. Academic women don't do high femme, in general, because we apparently don't have to - we can afford a certain level of gender neutrality, or gender queerness. I know 2 queers living in the suburb where I work, but they aren't white, and they perform queerness differently, often subject to the verbal abuse from being queer and NOT WHITE. But outside the graffite-arted Cuel Caffe, I stuck out and attracted stares, and didn't feel comfortable about getting my fix of bubble tea.

The nature of this privilege became more marked as the camera followed me up McKechnie Street, past the bingo hall to the university. Baleful glances from other pedestrians, turned into supplicating smiles - as we got closer to the uni - my status as an academic was confirmed by others, as my androgynous white garb merged into the habitus of white privilege.Whatever the wildness of VU is, with it's feral rabbits, roadworks and gum trees - it is still a university, where queerness is whitened into a culturally acceptable and even desirable form of loucheness, rather than an alien trespass.

Anyway - from this, the camera followed me and my workmates to a community education session in West Sunshine. they captured my appalling slides between Spanish and English, captured the slapstick of four PhD's trying to load and unload a car, and captured the heartwarming compliance of a community group with university research. Many exquisite micro-moments. I forgot what language I was speaking. Language disappeared between the warmth of bodies, smiles, laughter and hugs.As much as I love this type of work, I'm aware of who we are, as academics, and how compliant the community are in allowing us to enter their world and 'educate' them. i'm also aware why. So many participants said, that they had maybe 5 minutes with a doctor, maybe once or twice a year, and only in English. So to be in a room with four friendly doctors for 3 hours, even if 3 of those are doctors of philosophy, and even where most exchange needs a translator, means they get some chance to speak about their bodies, and feelings, in an atmosphere that is half-human.

I guess what I'm trying to fathom - is how meaningful spaces are generated, amidst the anonymity of a city. I've lived in Boganborough for 7 months now - and I think I would be recognised by 2 shopkeepers - maybe? (funnily enough - at the chemist and the bottlo) We don't speak to the neighbours, nor even greet them, and aside from polite smiles to dog walkers during my morning scurry to the train station, I don't encounter any human faces beyond our fence.No eyes meet at the station, or on the train, or in the shopping mall. Boganborough is almost completely white, and so I wonder about my race, and racial affiliations, and what I'm trying to achieve by disavowing this. Am I only another cultural tourist - enjoying the frisson of entering non-white spaces where my class and race privilege isn't challenged? And what is it that I need to sustain and be sustained by the living possibilities of my physical surrounds?

The things I miss

I spent most of the past month zipping between cities: Sydney and Melbourne.
Some reasons were good, like graduation and friend's parties.
Some were bad, like friends being sick...
zipping between two worlds - experiencing both cities in a state of flight and flux gave me a chance to have a lot of good coffee, and a lot of good takeaway, and to burn out my overdraft limit even more... as well as to see both places above and below, in moving between and within, finding new and old faces, to rediscover cities as spaces of chance encounters, new discoveries, new possibilities always emerging and subsiding.

Somewhere in the middle of this I discovered that another acquaintance/inspiration had been forced to abandon his mortal coil in an accident involving a bicycle and a stairwell.
How do begin to describe the loss of someone who was the centre of so many legends?
He's turned up to my first wedding in a Koala suit and overalls covered in red tyre tracks - giggling hysterically while claiming to be attending as "Road Kill"
He had been one half of the legendary duo "the 10,000 foot naked rock stars" who had done the first ever fully naked radio marathon on 2SER - inspiring my own Radio Stripathon with Daz Chandler for the 2SER fundraiser some years later....
I thought he'd done the street mural pictured above - below his house and next to the cafe where I'd see him serving coffee whenever I went for a dose of darlingithurts bohemia...

I asked where he was, and the guy serving me whispered "he died". The mural is a dedication, the ripped off heart sign regularly replaced.
So I sat, stunned, in front of a knitted cover for a sandstone wall, sipping my latte, passing my teddybear to a dear friend sobbing over the worst ever news about her partner, both of us feeling the cold shock of dread inching into our spaces of life and colour.....

So, flying back and forth, I've missed the opening of the biennale in Sydney, missed friends' shows in Melbourne, missed the cat, the wife, the calmness of weekends in the burbs....

but then so much life, light, stories and possibilities, and memories coiling themselves around new connections, movements and spaces, finding myself again, finding others, and finding at last that this new city has elements of familiarity and delight and feels like home again.