Saturday, December 17, 2011

Apartheid without the D

It was an amazing party.
Incredibly silly brain bending stuff - creations of all kind happening everywhere in every possible form.

the room scattered with giant crawl-through vaginas and sphincters as a a turd took a flying leap from a high ladder into a toilet far below.

Lots of bum jokes, wee jokes, a giant elephant and inside out man.

My kind of stuff. completely.

Except, well.... when the 'joke' came. From a 9 foot foam pith helmet caricature of itself.

"What do you call Aparthed without the D?"

"A Partay"

And then the words echoing back on the white bubble in which the party was encased, literally, mirroring back on the mostly beige laughing faces, or the beige silent faces, or on the handful of less beige, more brown faces - whom I knew all by name - literally in this city where I know almost no-one.

And I realised where I was. In another white bubble created against the dark night of this suburb of colour where I live.

Apartheid - without the D - the death, the state sanctioned violence - but a whitey partay none the less.

I bought a drink and stepped outside the white bubble to stare into the dark night. I had felt so happy to find something of a semblance of what I left in Sydney five blocks from my house, and then the nasty shock of who I was and where I was hit me.

The white hot air balloon sheathe encasing a room full of groovey artie pale skinned hipsters, walling off a suburb of refugees from Angola, Burundi, Mozambique and other nations copping the fallout of white South Africa in the 1960s to the 1990s, and walling off the still very much living pain of apartheid, to enforce a metaphorical apartheid - where alternative culture becomes a way that whites do culture, and culture does whites, where to be white here, ensconses us and I mean me into an urban colonisation of culturally and socially mobile whites into cheap popular suburbs of colour.

And I wondered how different is this to the high paling fence separating my Mum and her Ngarabal neighbours, and the border clashes (lost footballs, broken bottles and roaming dogs) she regales me with and the bodily habits in hicktown of being not black, not brown in a racist town. (White people do not walk the streets in the country).

and if this is where I've ended up after 22 years of leaving the country then why bother leaving?

Maybe it was a one off. Maybe I was reading too much into it.

A month later I went to another artyparty 10 blocks from my house, in the heart of cool coloured suburbia. I'd already come down in the morning to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies in my Nanna cart, meat from the "thiem thit" store, lychees from the "Pham" store, weaving between the indochinese elders doing coffee on the street cafes and the African women in dayglo burquas lugging kids, groceries and themselves along the street, and loving food and people and food and life.....

A few hours later, the suburb is transformed, shops are closed, families are at home, streetlife is minimal. I climbed stairs to a white box above the major shopping strip to support my local indie artspace, because this is what I want to do. These are the people I want to meet, to collaborate with, to show/perform with.

Everyone looks eerily like myself - only thinner, and with more facial hair. The women all wore dresses. Not exactly genderqueer, and again, 95% white.

the event is fun, people are friendly. The art is a mixed bag and there is an MC entertaining the supportive community crowd.

and he makes a joke, about the "Local triads" . In the same suburb where 2 blocks away "Footscray By night" reinvented Karaoke as community cultural development and Vienglish detournements of men at work songs IN THIS AMAZING VIDEO which is the best thing I've seen all year and was made right near where I work....

And I want to fall through the floor with shame.

and I don't know where to start challenging these people or these spaces. to insist that there is a different way of doing whiteness in suburbs of colour than in the ghetto model which seems to prevail.

Have I described the street of white picket fences next to where we live? or the 3 suburbs south of the train line where all the white people go? or the goldfish shopfronts of gorgeous gourmet or bespoke designerwear which demarcate the white bodies from the brown bodies in the adjacent restaurants and shops?

I'm sick of whingeing about Helbournia, and whingeing about the white middle class on which I so precariously balance on the edge of, because I'm implicated in it, I'm part of it, and it in me, and I have to own this and work to make whiteness something other than a displacing privilege of bad power relations.

This is still not my home, yet in making it my home, in settling here, I'm doing my best to be an unsettling presence. To break the bodily habits of how whiteys do whiteness here, but it is uncharted territory, so strange and so hard sometimes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Space is the Place

I could have stuck up a photo of my appendectomy scar, but decided this little sketch from our recent trip down the coast, might be a bit less abject.
It's hard to know how far I could/should take my exhibitionist tendencies (nothing exceeds like excess)

Anyway - for the record I inadvertently took my Deleuze and Guattari fixation a little too far and had an organ removed last Sunday. I've been on a synthetic morphine substitute for over a week, slowly but surely reducing my daily doses, and surprised how underwhelming it is.

This is always a hard and sad time of year for me. And I'd planned to spend the past week in Bathurst remembering Steve the best way possible: by painting, pompomming and hanging out with his partner in his increasingly dusty but still wonderful studio.

hell. instead of been at home. inadvertently extending Renaissance girl's school vacation at week - while she's stayed at home and nursed me.

the weather has been astonishingly beautiful, and I've spend much of the week lying around under the pergola gazing at our green garden. admiring the fernery, watching the cats frolic and Renaisssance wife do her corrections. (I guess I should call her 'sir' while she's in professional mode - even if it is under the fernery in thongs and shorts....)

And today I cooked a meal for the first time in... well - since the fish curry I made before I got sick.

And sitting together, eating calmly and smiling and chatting - I had a sudden flash of calm - as only intensely anxious and neruotic people on high levels of pain medication can.....

and I realised the flavour of happiness that I get to savour here. that we both do.

Our home is a place that is shared - where our differing posessions and territories move into and aroudn each other and dance together in something that is more like a weaving than a patchwork. not the cut and paste of a collaged union but the continuous weaving of different beings sharing spaces and lives together.

We have spaces in the house where our individual identities are concentrated - our 'rooms' - and then the shared spaces where books, art, toys, things.objects, shoes, fabric, pictures meet and mingle....

this patterning moves through the house and out into the garden areas. The pergola - where I paint and draw, where she potters and gardens and works, while the cat frolic through... the rooms where we meditate together, or nap, or go online, or chat.... and then the food.

Since being with Renaissance Girl - i've created a world of recipes that I've only cooked with her. I haven't deliberately changed my diet - as had the space to explore and enjoy cooking. I guess this has been the space of not living with a genius chef like el Veijo (who is the caterer at a Spanish for tourists holiday resort in Ecuador) or someone carrying the cultural weight of Le Cuisine du Papa-Maman into every meal.

also - since I haven't been oil-painting - that urge to make 'pates' - divine spaces of colour, texture and flavour - where love, dreams and other things emerge in the alchemy of handling has been channelled into the kitchen. Frustrated painters always - make good chefs I guess.

What it does suggest to me, though -is that I am able to live and create here, now, with her, as part of this thing called 'us'. the past four years have been so slow and hard and sad for so many reasons, that I have to remind myself of the good parts, and the magic spaces where life can and does flourish.

hmmm - morphia writing.... ghfljhjgrn tfnfgnmfmfmfmfmffmfmnmnfnnmnmnn zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


And then there

Monday, April 18, 2011

Feeding time....

My brain is a bit schermuzzled lately, due to rigours of wjerking life and other stuff.
I've seen a bit of A R T - most notably Sarah Fields show (sigh) at Gallery Smith - not to mention Adam Norton's ghostly reminders of non-lieus past and present. I'm tempted to digress on a tangent of pataphsyics and nostalgia, but want to hold back, just a bit.
Recent delights included visiting the White Elephant Gallery garage sale and scoring a BAT SUIT! The perfect outfit for watching TV on the beanbag during a full moon! not to mention running around at night in. Once I work out how to cycle in it - BELIEVE ME I'LL BE UNSTOPPABLE!!!
And on a brief foray to my northern home, i had the joy of discovering PLUMP GALLERY, an artists' run space full of incredible delights. I saw the work of the running artist, Willurei Kirkbright Burney in 2006, and wrote about it here. So I was pretty delighted to see her running an entire space.

and oh! the divinity of sugar wax crystal dripping, chocolate doll music box turning, with freaky ninja dudes in background, multiply performative, hair in my cake, extreme delight was intoxicating and a perfect way to end my thirties.

Back in Melbourne I had the delight of attending the Peril launch at Hares and Hyenas. I wandered in just as Benjamin Laird started his poetry performance. I've linked to the printed version of the poems here, but I'm not sure how it conveys the richness of the words, shimmering and his voice's cadences and pauses actually worked to expand the spaces between the words, where meaning emerged and expanded beyond itself into other possibilities. My dear friends, this is the space of poetry, and probably the first time I've ever witnessed it being performed so eloquently.

Despite the lack of Schappylle Scragg stage birthing, this launch was mercifully free of pompous black skivvied white male poets driveeling stylised conceptualist xenophobic prattles. However there was a slightly similar beige shadow of cringe, passing over Rosemary's John's reading. I don't think I'm particularly enlightened on the racial front, but I'm regularly astonished by the continued exoticisation/eroticisation orientalist twang of other white writers. Is Edward Said really that obscure? or, you know, Belle Hooks? When pale hands type what blue eyes see about the bodies and spaces occupied by those with differently pigmented skin, surely it's not too much to expect just a little critical reflexivity? huh?

Funnily enough Lia Incognita's performed parts of her publish essay in a manner which did include a lot of critical reflexivity and aside from my ethnophenomenological gushings, made me wonder why it is that this attentniveness to positionality and the nuances of identity, and of self and others - only comes from those observers and writers whose position in the world is made so blatantly uncomfortable.

And Thuy Lich Nguyen's piece got me thinking about where I'm living and what I'm doing here. I wonder a lot about the Footscray whitewash, as I stroll scowling past the new wine bar on the corner - which looks like a weird apartheid fishbowl of white only clients, in a street full of south asian eateries, crammed with bodies of multiple hues and sizes....And as much as I like to laugh at the juxtaposition of Braybrook trailor trash and Yarraville gay boys rubbing shoulders at the central west plaza, or about the time I heard Parisian tourists in Braybrook Aldi, I look at my own pale skin, consider my own status and that of my professional partner in the home that we own, and I wonder about our own implication in the changes that are taking place here. hmmmm, but that is perhaps a story for another space.

Back to whingeing, I've witness a few celebrations of some of my Melbourne friends and aquaintances and connections; weddings, baby showers etc. significant emotional formal times - where biological and chosen families congregate to mark traditional moments in non traditional ways. And I wonder about this need for novelty, to break away from traditional ways of doing things, the ways parents or grandparents would have done them..... within contexts and social groupings that are entirely homogenous in class, sexual orientation and cultural/ethnic background. Renaissance wife were trying to discern the vomit factor in looking at the pictures of a straight white couple in a quasi Hindu Bollywood outfits for their straight white wedding. Not to mention the invocation of Hawaiian chants and singing among a circle of young white urban hetties - for god only knows what purpose. I didn't get to ask if any of them wanted to hold the party at Smorgys or in a Tiki Bar or some more established (and aesthetic) setting for white appropriate of Polynesian culture. and then I was totally bamboozled by THREE or FOUR references to gifts of African Beads as a way of honouring a woman's 'earthiness'.... Because, you know, I was in Australia at the time, with no Africans or clear reference to Africa or Africans that were evident, axcept for my random speculation that the referees thought Africans are dirt or dirty perhaps?

So - as my 2 year posting as a visual ethnographer among Culturally and Lingistically Diverse communities comes to an end, I'm still curious about how and where and why I am in the world as I am, and what kinds of connections I am/could be/want to be fostering, when so much racist inequality still exists and thrives.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Old ghosts or Why I missed Tom Cho's Midsumma reading

Since posting my kitten video, I've decided that cutesy animal videos are the way to start blog rants.

For some reason youtube videos are harder to embed in blog posts - but hopefully any readers have already clicked on it and seen the birdy dancing to it's reflection- which kind of sums up my life right now....

Anyway - I've been provoked by recent things I've read (in LobOTL of all things) and seen on Facebook - and of course - having a moment to reflect on recent life events.

So I'll start with a story about last wednesday.

It was bogan day. We were at home hibernating from the bogan hords. doing a kind of weird passive mourning thing. Feeling too lazy to go to the invasion day concert and feeling too confused by the apparent disputed land claims around western Melbourne to put up our plaque acknowledging that we are on Wurundjeri land.

I think I was tidying my room for some guests to visit. Renaissance wife was catching up on some quality - end of the school holidays - snooze time, before our planned venture out to Kaye Sera's Bizarre.

Of course - we were vague and flakey and I faffed and Renaissance wife snoozed till 5.30 or 6 or something and then we were in a mad dash - driving across town at the last minute instead of having some kind of leisurely wholesome cycle along, across and around the Bay...Renaissance wife drove across the westgate while I texted to our friend to hold the tickets, or leave them at the door, or something,

We made it across town in 15 minutes flat, and cruised past the venue, counting the building numbers along St. Kilda Road while sussing out the nearest carspace.... I was in serious squinty myopia, and missed the screaming yellow alarm bells, but Renaissance wife didn't. We turned a corner and she pulled into a parking spot.

"that's _______'s car. shit. I just saw it, parked out the front."

"Oh shit! are you sure?"

"We can go past again, I saw the number plates. It's definitely her car."

"Shit" So I texted my friend an apology as Renaissance wife shook.

"Listen, I just can't be in an enclosed space with her right now. You can go in if you like"

"What? and leave you here?"

"Well, I know you really wanted to hear Tom Cho..."

I showed her my text:

Shit shit shit! We've had to abort. Renaissance wife (OK I wrote her real name in the text)'s psycho stalker wife-beating ex's car is parked outside. We've got an AVO out against her. If you see some ugly old white skank from hell drop a turd on her from us.

"Now babe, is this factually correct?" I asked.

"YEah" she said, chuckling, "but maybe you could still go in, it's just me that has the problem"

"Okay, but let's reverse the situation: I see some evil psycho stalking bashing ex's car outside a venue and don't want to go in. Would you let me go off and freak out alone while you go in along and sit there, looking at some monster, knowing that your lover is alone and upset outside?"



So then we went and watched the sunset from that funny mound between St Kilda and Elsternwick. And even though I hate Melbourne a hell of a lot less than before, and watching a perfect sunset over the water with a view over the bay is divine, I still don't agree with Paul Kelly that it beats Sydney Harbour, but that's another point.

There were young white topless youf blaring triplejay's whitest 100 from their radios, so we scowled on the edge of the hill with some Indian families, feeling grateful we weren't in Boganborough at least. And then we drove back to footscray and had dinner, delighting in the refreshing absence of bogan flags on flesh, raiments or edifices.

Now the point of this posting is not to make me look like some sapphic snag (or SNAD), holding and healing my poor recovering wife away from the horrors of her ugly vile ex. Not at all.

I just want to make a mention of how Domestic Violence does happen within queer relationships, and how it has massive impacts YEARS later. Renaissance wife's psycho stalker wife-beating ex is also known as Nurse Ratshit. They broke up 4 years ago after 6 years of hell, and Nurse Ratshit was still randomly turning up to Renaissance girls house 3 years later. That's why we got the AVO. Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I don't suffer stalkers easily.

So four years later - we still can't go out and enjoy ourselves without steeling our guts against some anticipated yuck factor from a freak with no boundaries. Queer social spaces are so few and far between - that it IS harder to completely breakaway and avoid an ex without moving cities.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know that I spent quite a few years battling my own demons in the ex department. Next month will be 5 years since we broke up. Woohoo! Bits of it still hurt though. Abusive relationships have a way of digging themselves into social worlds, that make digging ourselves out of them a hell of a lot harder.

A few things provoked my recollection of this, recently.

ONe was reading an ad in LBOTL for the inner city legal centre's Same Sex Abuse campaign.The ad shows two femmes wearing what look like castoffs from Raewyn Connell's wardrobe (but who am I to judge the fashions of young sapphists?) with the following bunny boiler narrative:

One Our first date she was funny.
On Valentines day she was sweet.
At Easter she told me I couldn't see my friends anymore.
On Mother's day she screamed at me and kicked my cat.
On my birthday she took my credit cards and didn't pay me back.
At Sleaze Ball she had sex with other girls and said it was my fault

Now this is a bit of a hyperbolic condensation of all the types of abuse that are neatly described in the ICLC resource on Same Sex Abuse. Renaissance wife said that seeing one of their posters at a queer event finally made the penny drop for her and make her see that Nurse Ratshit was a girls own Bluebeard that had to be escaped from. So she did it. Yay.

If only things were always so clear. When I think of my own story, there are many nasty feelings of yuck and discomfort and squirminess - about my own behaviour as well as hers.

So here is my Oprah Winfrey moment where I publicly confess that I was physically violent to my ex. The ex. The big fat married ex. I was physically violent on two occasions. One was in public at a Squatspace opening - where I grabbed her by the clothing and ripped a button off her overalls. The second time was in private - when I threw a punch at her. She defended herself in the latter case, but grabbing my wrist and telling me that she would leave straight away if I ever tried anything like that again. More kudos to her. She was completely pissed and staggering around, but was lucid enough to protect herself

Now I'm not even going to try to defend or excuse my behaviour. In both cases it was an unconsented, unrequested, totally unexpected, shocking angry outburst that completely distressed the other party. the victim. who was half my size, and financially dependent on me.

Even though the physical impact was minimal (mainly due to my incompetence)- these were physical acts of rage that were intended to control or subdue another person - no safe words, no happy slaps, none of the niceness that distinguishes a push of a grab made in anger from the loving fist of consenting kink.

Much therapy and anger management therapy later, I can say that I've learned to manage this monstrous part of myself, but it is still there. I manage it by not staying in situations that make me so enraged, that I do lash out. This part is hard. REally hard.

Part of that involves acknowledging that the previous relationships was really really bad and abusive, and that it shouldn't have continued as long as it did. Blind Freddy can see that. But a big part of this for me, has been about learning to acknowledge my own needs - in a relationship - and then learning how to articulate them to the other person, early on, and trust that they will be respected, or trust that I can state how I feel when they aren't and things will get better.

It's really really hard for any ex-catholic to acknowledge that we are entitled to anything. But I realise now that I need to insist on certain 'bottom lines' if I want to be in a trusting relationship with someone. Like that they aren't self destructive. that they don't get completely shitfaced. That they don't drink alone in our home. that we don't have sex while drunk. That neither of us put pressure on the other one to have sex - even if that means months of no pussy action. That they don't crack onto my friends, or end up in sexually unsafe/sleazy situations where their own boundaries come unstuck.

The other crazy crap that occurred in previous marriages like drunk driving, threatening to jump out high windows, running off in the middle of the night, yelling abuse at me - well - that is painfully obvious even to me - that it is not what I want. I just wish I'd walked away the first time it happened....

I've been looking back at old CD's of photos of us both and realised how often Abel recoiled while I was kissing her, and I wonder how I could have been so blind. So many brilliant words uttered in so many languages cannot disguise the fact that there wasn't a physical connection, there wasn't trust on my part or desire on hers. and that was nearly 8 years of my life. bugger.

And then there's the other nasty icky mudstick stuff that occurs still. Stupid old patterns of sociality that were built into how I did coupledom. Despite moving cities, leaving the commune that was my home for 10 years and breaking off contact with whole worlds of mutual friends and circles - I still have people that reinforce/trigger the way things were with Abel. The way I was. Friends who keep wanting to talk about her. Saying "oh... yeah, she was so bad you know.... you're much better off". Hmmm - bringing up my rage and humiliation about being with someone who didn't give a shit about me. Great stuff. Or people who want to get completely shitfaced in my home - with my partner - even though I've been pretty transparent about the trauma that living with an Alcoholic partner has caused me.

So - slowly, slowly, I'm learning how to set some boundaries - to ask for what I need. To be clear and straightforward with edge players rather than just running away from them.

With Renaissance wife - this has been a hard, challenging and yet healing time for us both. But we're slowly working on what it means to be together and build sustainable bonds of trust. The genuine support of our friends; the ones who aspire for similr things in their own relationships: straight/gay/whatever really helps too.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Feeding the hand that bites me?

I've come to a rather banal epiphany. Possibly.

I'm going to shamelessly confess that I was one of those PhD students in love with Academia. Academia was my dream - being part of the ivory/sandstone tower of intelligentsia - discussing obscure things and sharing them in a kindly way with colleagues and hungry young minds was the dream that sustained me through all of the life disasters, writing blocks and sleepless nights of the TOME.

Now I'm finally out the other end of it, sitting in my not quite secure but not as precarious as most academic posting I'm coming to realise thatyes! surprise surprise -that Academia is not all it's cracked up to be.... I mean, it's even less of a space for contestation and intellectual challenge and engagement than I had thought.

I'm not dissing it entirely - and Sarah Ahmed's facebook updates about teaching AMAZING courses on phenomenology and identity at goldsmiths and how like hell I wish I was there doing something with or like or around that - are totally and incredibly inspiring... but....but.....

Maybe it was Tom Ellard's post that did it.

Maybe it was the 2 days spent by myself and another research fellow - printing, photocopying tidying, filing, arranging the research centre while our esteemed admin colleagues sat around at their desks doing whatever they do - or interrupting us to gossip about their daily lives that did it. Maybe it was the visit of the Provost, resembling just a bit too much the tour of Catherine the Great to the Russian Peasantry and her dissmissive comments about the research centre where I work - stressing quite rightly that the only thing that mattered were research outputs.

Maybe it is the agonising frustration of trying to generate any research outcomes in an institution that has a journal subscription level of a 3rd rate wester suburbs state highschool, the most unnavigable Website of an institution I've ever come across (try an find your's truly's name on the institutions website! I've been working there as a researcher for 18 months!), maybe it is the supercilious empire building approach of the vast majority of ancilliary - and yes - I am going to describe resource/HR/admin/management/PR colleagues in an institution ostensibly dedicated to teaching and research as ancilliary staff - where they treat academic work as a sideline activity, and academic staff and students as annoying obstacles to their corporatised dream world.....


Maybe it's the numerous stories of friends in Academia of the depressing, cut throat bitchy competitiveness of institutional departmental wrangling. Maybe it's the lack of smiles.

It's definitely the lack of time and energy I have to read, to write, to think about anything more substantial than a gant chart.

I don't regret my PhD. I don't regret allowing myself to expand and make it the unwieldy immense, interdisciplinary, unmarketable wrangling erudite 100,000 word and 6 year beast that it was. Six years is a DECENT amount of time to spend immersed in a PhD, and I'm so proud I did it in an immersive, process oriented, mind blowing way - and didn't get sucked into the absurd product oriented 3 year post-doc fishing research report model that we all have to dissimulate to anyway.

So glad.

And - now - I'm not going to jump on the ECR train. I'm going to look for quality of life in my own life, and return to pursuing oppen ended engaging practices - not a research 'career'. Not any 'career', just a life that may continue to be rich and rewarding.

Maybe the art-market versus art practice dichotomy is a more productive way of thinking about the 'tension' between genuine research and academia. Just as the 'art-market' forces the creative play of the studio into a goal oriented production that is NOT creative, so too finally and bluntly, academia can be described as something that does actively thwart research.

And hasn't it always been thus? I mean surely even in the good old days of free education and whatnot - the majority of lecturers (if not students) were white/middle class/straight/male, and the resulting epistemologies and knoweldges were prfoundly biased and narrow?

Intellectual creation is always contested and precarious. I'm glad as hell to see and support students of colour, women students, queers, working class people and ratbags have access to the learning. I'm still intending to do what I can to make the walls of the institution as porous as possible.

but I don't dream that this is where I can pursue my life's work or love work either. I don't want to lose my centre and chase a career dream anymore. I want to be present and ethical, but free enough to be genuinely creative somewhere.