Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Here we go again!

Image via: Pixabay

The other day, I was in my kids' bedroom and through the window, I watched a woman stake an Australian flag in the ground at my letterbox. She went around the whole neighbourhood sticking flags in the ground outside everyone's house. It turns out she's a local Real Estate Agent and she does this every year. A handful of people on the local community Facebook page were thrilled and thanked her, saying it made their kids happy and to keep it up. To be honest, I saw it as a bit of a passive aggressive act, given the current national debate so close to Invasion Day. At the very least it was tone deaf and defiant. I simply went outside after she was gone and put the flag in the bin. I discussed this with a few people. The reaction was mixed. Most people like to sit on the fence in this kind of debate. Her intentions may have been good, she didn't mean any harm. Or is it a subtle message about who is still in charge and what the sentiment in this community is? I asked the question, where are the Aboriginal flags? What if someone did the same so close to January 26 and planted Aboriginal flags outside everyone's home. I would like that. I believe many people in my community would see it as an act of aggression. 


I'm paying attention to the national discussion again this year. It feels like every year it picks up a bit more momentum. Rallies are being organised all over the country, there are festivals being organised by Aboriginal groups celebrating culture and honouring remembrance, and the discussion is filtering into the (very resistant) mainstream media.

What I'm noticing is a huge case of national cognitive dissonance. People are affronted by change and when they are confronted with the reality of how provocative having an Australia Day celebration happen on January 26th is, the day the First Fleet landed on our shores; when they are faced with acknowledging that this day is not a shared day of unity and jubilation, but for many a painful slap in the face that reminds them of the attempted destruction of their culture, that only a specific group of people think this day is an appropriate day to celebrate their version of what this nation is, people tend to hold on tighter to their way of doing things. I understand that for many people, the idea of redefining who and what Australia really is, is terrifying. Sometimes I think that they imagine what it would be like if the shoe was on the other foot. If Anglo Australia surrendered its homogeneous identity and relinquished some of its power, would they suddenly be treated as poorly as the treatment they have inflicted on others in the past? I'd be scared too.

It's interesting how this cognitive dissonance plays out. The little symbols and the not so little ones. All the shops start selling Australia Day paraphernalia, or people, you know, start staking the flag at your letterbox. The language and symbolism in the media is persistent. It's all about selling booze and food, having a BBQ and speaking in Aussie slang. These images are from my local paper, The Manly Daily, who incidentally, included an Australian flag with their last delivery.

Image via: The Manly Daily

Image via: The Manly Daily
Image via: The Manly Daily

Image via: The Manly Daily

The other thing I've noticed is how the status quo will manipulate non-white Australians into participating in perpetuating the dominant paradigm. They will literally use dark skinned or ethnically diverse models and personalities to promote white culture. See, they seem to say, this includes you! It's gaslighting.

Image via: The Manly Daily

Image via: Aldi catalogue

I try and reflect upon my own response to these things and why I feel the way I do. I get why. In the good old days of inappropriate language, I'm what was commonly referred to as a "wog". Never mind that I was born here and have spent the majority of my life living in Australia. My parents are Maltese, I have dark hair, skin that swings from light to dark with only a little sun exposure and a big nose. I have had an interesting version of growing up in Australia. I pass as Aussie most of the time. I speak the language well, have an Australian accent and use lots of Aussie slang: "mate" mostly. I know my way around, I've lived all over Sydney, I was educated in Australia and am "assimilated" - whatever the hell that is. I get what being a mainstream Australian is all about. Sometimes, I don't pass. I was always mistaken for Greek or Italian growing up. Sometimes, I'm sure people assume I'm Arabic, especially if they hear me speaking in Maltese. It's a language of both Latin and Semitic origin. I've been asked if I was Turkish. I've also been asked if I was Jewish. I'm sure it's the nose.

It's a unique experience being mostly acceptable, passable as Australian, but sometimes not. I'm still othered and different when it suits people to undermine me. However, most of the time I can get away with not being vilified and condemned because I tick a lot of the boxes for what it means to be acceptably Australian. Am I not Aussie enough because I don't have blonde hair and blue eyes or Anglo heritage? I'd never understood this properly until recently. How can a second generation English person be considered more "Australian" than say, a person with Chinese heritage that goes back to the gold rush days? I know now. White supremacy, that's why.

So where to from here? I'm not sure what we are doing as a family this Friday. Probably nothing. It's going to be hot and it's easier to stay home and catch up on stuff around the house when you have a public holiday and small children. I'm reluctant to go to the beach because I know I am going to be triggered by people who are defiantly claiming their right to celebrate the unlawful invasion of this land. I've been to parties where there were so many Australian flags, it felt like I was at the Nuremberg rally. Last year we went to Yabun Festival in the city. It was a beautiful day and I loved exposing my young kids to Aboriginal culture, music, dance and community. 

For a long time, I supported the campaign to change the date, but to what? It is something we, as a nation, have still not yet resolved. I'm leaning towards abolishing it altogether until there is real structural change. I am listening to the important voices of Aboriginal elders and activists and that is what they are telling us. We need to disassemble so much still. A day that celebrates this nation, truly represents everyone and has made peace with our history, committed to healing the present and is looking forward to an inclusive and equal future for everyone; that day hasn't arrived yet. Maybe we can aim for that day and then we'll have a date. I envision treaty with and reparation for all Aboriginal nations, I look forward to a Republic, I wish for a new flag and a new national anthem. All those things are still coming despite the resistance and denial.

I know for many people it feels like change is happening too fast and suddenly and we need to go slower. I wholeheartedly disagree. Resistance has been happening from day one and many have been speaking about these issues for decades. I think we are at the pointy end of it to be honest. Many have been gradually seeing reason. I mean just in the last few years we've seen this debate gain momentum and the backlash that goes along with it, reflected in the emergence of right wing politics and fascist ideology, the ideals people thought they'd got rid of for good during the last couple of world wars. Isn't it funny that some of the people who solemnly celebrate things like ANZAC Day are some of the most resistant to acknowledging the white supremacy that established this nation in the first place! We don't need to go any slower. We've gone too slow for too long and change is now undeniable and inevitable.

For now we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to work towards reconciliation by facing up to the destruction that our colonial history subjected our Indigenous people to. We have to move past the anger and the hurt and the confusion and look towards reclaiming our identity. As a white, (sometimes brownish), big-nosed person, I feel so much sorrow when I think about what our country and the whole world lost when we destroyed Indigenous cultures globally. I imagine what a world that shared resources peacefully from the start would have looked like. I wonder how differently we would have navigated, as humans, things like the environment, birth, sex, death, infrastructure, medicine, law, politics, exploration, science, astronomy and survival. I wonder how much more inclusive of women, the elderly and children, of all colours, we would have been if humanity had not been held captive by the ideology of whiteness, masculinity, wealth and religion over the last couple of millenniums. Because it's not a new idea that people can live in harmony and with equality. We wouldn't have survived this long as a species if we weren't altruistic, co-operative and diplomatic for the majority of the time.

Aboriginal people have been on this land for around 80,000 years, the science is still uncertain and I suspect will change to show us that it has been much longer. The arrival of the First Fleet didn't end the "stone age" here, as Piers Akerman ignorantly brain farted on Twitter the other day. The people that inhabited this land for so long before the British arrived, did so prosperously and expertly for millennia. And despite efforts to destroy them completely, they have survived and thrived. Isn't that enough proof that the colonialists were wrong? That's where we are at. Time's up alright. Time's up for a lot of things and if we're truthful, we can move forward and fix this mess.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

All in a Day's Work

Image via Pixabay

I recently started working in a hospital. It's actually a community health center attached to a public hospital, but I have to walk through the main building each shift. There's something very comforting about a hospital. I probably don't need to articulate it. It is simply an environment that levels everything. People are being born, they are unwell, they are tending to loved ones or they are dying. People are working in service of others. On every level; whether they're performing life saving surgery, providing care and support, answering questions at the front desk, making food and coffee or emptying bins and cleaning floors. There is something really special about being a part of that workforce community. I find myself smiling the minute I walk through the doors. I feel myself being extra polite and helpful. I start up conversations with strangers in the lift all the time, AND IT'S RECIPROCATED! 

The other day at work wasn't especially significant. I work two days a week and keep as busy as I can for most of the day. The community health center provides services to children from birth to 18 years of age. There are a range of services provided through the public health system for people living in the local area, ranging from speech and hearing assessments, occupational and physiotherapy, paediatric and developmental services, mental health and child protection. I work in the administration section. There are always children around and it feels familiar, comforting and sometimes soothingly chaotic. I sometimes think about my own children when I'm at work. When I'm distracted and busy, they're out of my thoughts, which has given me a balance and freedom from the constant attention required when looking after young children, that I could feel swallowing me up before I got back into the workforce. Going back to work wasn't easy. It took seven months, more than 60 applications and only a handful of interviews, before I finally hit the jackpot. I found myself over qualified and too old for a job that was only two days a week. Those jobs tend to go to school leavers and 20 year olds that employers can underpay. The jobs I was qualified for required shift availability and flexibility on my part, and this time I was inflexible and unavailable. After a couple of decades of being completely at the mercy of employment, I finally had to put my foot down and wait for a role that was accommodating to me and my family's needs. I know it is temporary and I will someday be able to give more, but that time is not right now. 

When I'm idle at work, or it's a quiet part of the day, I think about and miss the kids. This is healthy. The resentment I used to feel about being at home all the time has melted away. Even when I knew it wasn't going to be forever and I should have been loving every minute of being with my babies, I didn't. Sometimes I fucking hated it to the point of desperation. Every mother does. How could you not? Being a stay at home parent is relentless, exhausting and isolating. Someone once suggested I should "get a real job" instead and I laughed and I laughed. He was right. A real job pays you, gives you a lunch break, unlimited toilet and coffee breaks and you get to clock off and go home at the end of the day. Being at home with little kids doesn't. 

When I hear babies crying at work or a fussy toddler, I smile and think about my kids. I'm empathetic towards the (usually) mothers who are flustered and tired, dragging their kids to the appointments and it makes me feel grateful that my mind is at rest that my kids are at a good daycare, being taken care of, having fun and learning. I wish the workers who have looked after my children were paid better, valued and appreciated more. I wish the care service industry treated its workers with more respect and recognised how vital those services are to a prosperous community. I see pregnant women or new mums at work on a regular basis and my heart remembers that feeling with nostalgia, but also a little bit of relief that it has passed. It was so hard sometimes. Rewarding, but not properly acknowledged or supported and very hard. 

I'm acutely aware that I am also surrounded by illness and death. I see patients hooked up to drips, I walk past the radiotherapy ward and walk through the floor that contains the mortuary. I see sadness on the faces of some of the people that walk past me. Expressions of worry, fear and despair. 

The one thing I have noticed a lot since starting work, is that people look you directly in the eyes at a hospital. More so than say in a shopping center or when you're walking past someone in the street. I have a habit of making eye contact. I have big eyes and I can't help it. I remember someone once saying that it was very disconcerting and it isn't something that you are supposed to do with strangers. I think I complained to him that nobody ever smiled and he told me it was because it was unusual to expect eye contact from a stranger, let alone acknowledgement with a smile. I was honestly taken aback. Why? Why was it unusual to connect with someone even momentarily? I hadn't expected to exchange numbers and become best friends, but you know, an appropriate level of recognition that we were sharing the same space was normal, I thought. I get it now. I'm older and wiser. I don't always feel like making that connection either and must appear aloof or rude sometimes too, and I don't care. Perhaps I was worried about being judged before and smiled at everyone all the time. I don't do that anymore.

But at work, in the hospital, it feels like the opportunity and the need to do that presents itself more often. And I really like it. It feels good. It's a powerful thing when we connect with others, even for a moment. I always leave work feeling great. Like I contributed something and had meaningful exchanges. It makes me a better person, and not only is it because I work in a hospital, whilst that does add to the significance, it's the power of working in the service industry. I have always worked in a service based industry. Whether it was food service, or community service, or public service. It was those jobs that allowed me to contribute something useful to others and it made me feel good. It motivated me to do good and to value moments when I was in receipt of another person's service. 

We need to put more importance on being of service to others. Not in a self-serving and self-righteous sort of way, but by understanding that altruism is healthy and necessary, that kindness is vital and crucial, and that helping each other is actually our natural state. We too often get roped into thinking that it's every person for themselves and that's the only way to get ahead because nobody would do it for you. That's utter bullshit. Everyone has at one time or another been helped. Help is readily available if we are just willing to find a source, ask for it, and receive it gracefully. Opportunities to give are everywhere and really simple. There is no need for aggrandisement. Slowing down to let someone into your lane in traffic, letting someone with less items in front of you in the supermarket queue, holding a door open, giving up your seat...too easy. When we feel strong and the opportunity presents itself, do good, and pass it on. Guaranteed, it will come back your way when you need it too. Then you start to notice those moments more and the laws of attraction kick in. Maybe it's just a slight shift in awareness, but at work it happens all the time. If I go about my day with a positive attitude, willing to help others, being mindful of the people around me and their feelings and needs, I then notice when my needs are being met. I'm bringing this attitude home to my children the three days I'm with them too. I don't have that feeling of isolation and enclosure anymore. I have more patience and I'm more willing to find the silver lining when things get tough. I still understand the massive discrepancy in society when it comes to women's roles both at home and in the workplace. That inequality is still not resolved and is far from balanced, but I feel like I have struck a balance in my own life that is allowing me to contribute to the lives of others so that they may benefit too.

Most of the time we blend in like the grey umbrellas, but when we can, we can choose to be the yellow one.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Self-doubt and writing

Writing is one of the most liberating processes for me personally. I journalled endlessly as an angst-ridden teenager and young adult. It helped me to get my feelings and thoughts out of my system, read over them and make sense of them. The words were a true reflection of my disposition at that time. Sometimes it was poetry, sometimes black marks on the page. These days we blog or post on Facebook. Same difference.

The art of letter writing too, has evolved into emails and texts and I have to say, I'm ok with that. I would rather write short greetings, day-to-day catch ups or verbose soliloquies, than say them. Writing to someone is a great equaliser. They can't talk over you or respond their thoughts without considering your voice. They are forced to read what you have to say and then reply. I find it not only an efficient way to communicate but a leveler of the proverbial playing field.

Writing books has been a blissful and wrenching process simultaneously. I love nothing more than to sit alone and in silence; (this never happens, I write among the chaos of a young family most of the time!), and to thump out the work of my mind and heart on a keyboard. For me, the hardest part is definitely not the writing. Not even the re-reading, editing or re-writing. It's the sharing.

When I journalled, I assumed, and rightly so, that the words on those pages were mine alone. Nobody would ever read what I wrote. Maybe my children or grandchildren, or great grandchildren, after I'm long gone, would discover the chest of journals in some dusty garage and pour over the ramblings of their long dead relative. How romantic!

When I decided that I would write books and self-publish them, it was with the intention that I would manifest my desire, regardless of what an industry's rules were, and whether or not I was lucky enough to ever set foot in that world. Without the approval, hmm maybe that's the wrong word. Promotion? Endorsement. Without the endorsement of an industry: having a publishing house pick you up, give you a contract, market and promote you; without that machine of commercialism behind you, it's just you and your words, out there in the wind, naked and for all to see and judge or ignore. It's a bit masochistic because that is what I love most about self-publishing. That authenticity. It's just me out there. Purely what I have written, by myself, without much interference, with no one but myself to blame if it all goes pear shaped. It's very scary, but it's very liberating and I get control over the entire process of creating a book. I'm aware this may be a bit dysfunctional, but it's the only option I have to live out my dream right now. People don't have to read my books. They are not coerced or encouraged to, other than by my piss-weak self-promotion on social media, to my handful of followers (most of whom I'm convinced are bots!). And if someone does read my work, they don't have to like it. It's not trendy to. They don't even have to finish it. They can be completely indifferent. There's no popularity to cloud their vision or entice them. I have to say, I really like that. I can stay in the shadows.

But, and it's a big one, I'm still terrified about writing the wrong thing, causing pain, getting it wrong. Despite there being no real contractual consequences, (I don't owe anyone anything. I can write and publish the same word over and over again if I want to); despite that, I don't! I want to write something good. I want to write with integrity, honesty, emotion, passion, authenticity and fearlessness. I want my words to have impact. I want them to be enjoyable and entertaining, to make people feel and think. I want it to be the best it can be at the time I do it. Subject to change of course, and hopefully for the better.

It is now time to publish my second book, a prequel of sorts, in the trilogy that has become the guinea pig of this whole journey. And I am plagued by fear and doubt, which some may say means I'm on the right track.

When I wrote and published the first book I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The story took 10 years to develop and building the architecture of a book, setting up a business from scratch and fulfilling the needs of this experiment were a massive learning curve. This second story was a smoother process, from the benefit of experience, but I have some major doubts. I'm getting to the main point, stay with me!

So, my biggest fear with the first book was creating and writing characters that were Aboriginal. I was terrified that I would get it wrong. I worried about appropriation mostly, and so many other issues that I had no idea how to even approach it. I asked questions, did my research and let my imagination and intention speak for itself. Then I came across a great paper by the author Anita Heiss who addressed this issue. Dr Heiss' paper talks about white writers and their fear of not getting it right when creating Indigenous characters. Whilst I still had lots of discomfort about my amateurism, my lack of experience, my limitations in research, I forged ahead and did my best. I worked hard to portray my Indigenous characters with sensitivity and respect and to ensure that it was clear that the voice of both the author and protagonist was clearly a white person. In this way, I did my best to be descriptive without appropriating. I'm not sure if I succeeded completely, I'm sure there is always room for improvement, but I worked really hard to get it right and as stated in Dr Heiss' paper, I simply could not omit an Aboriginal presence in a story set in Australia, and in particular, in the countryside.

The Indigenous characters have returned in the second book, and I hope to include them again in the third book. I felt more comfortable the second time around. They felt more real and accessible to me than ever. I felt better about writing them and even bringing them closer to the central narrative. Again, I wanted to make sure it was clear that the story was fictitious, the author and the protagonist were still white and still mostly describing, from their perspective, their experiences and relationships with these fictional characters, which sometimes exposed their bias and ignorance. Again, I have doubts and I'm sure there is room for improvement, but I'm happy to stand by that, and if necessary grow and learn. 

Now I have a new uncertainty and this one is a little harder to make peace with. In the first book (spoiler alert), the protagonist starts off being a heterosexual woman, who later falls in love with a woman, the protagonist in the second book. I had some concerns about writing from the first person about being bisexual, when I, the author, am not. How can I speak for someone's experience, when I haven't had that experience myself? Do I even have the right? There was no way to make clear that the author was observing the character, because the protagonist tells the story in the first person. I justified my actions by allowing myself to explore a "what if" scenario. What if I, a heterosexual woman, found myself falling in love with another woman? It's not entirely impossible. I delved into that possibility as the fuel to my creativity.

This time it's a little different. I have to say from the outset that it's too late and I can't change it. As I write this, the second book is in the final stages of publication. You see, this time, the protagonist is a lesbian. She discovers her sexuality in her teens and I wrote the story in the first person. It feels a little deceptive and I'm not sure that I have the right to do this. I have a million justifications. I tried to be respectful and authentic, it's fiction, I should be able to imagine characters that are far removed from myself. But it still doesn't make peace with the appropriation of a gay woman's voice. I knew the only way around it as I was writing, was to write from the third person, making it clear the author was a straight woman, observing and describing a fictional lesbian character, but I felt the impact would be stronger in the first person and I felt strongly about not 'othering' the character - I didn't want her sexual orientation to be trivialised. I am aware that I may have done the wrong thing. That I may have made a mistake, but I simply didn't know how else to achieve the continuity of the style of story telling that I began in book one. I even considered writing the third book in the third person to prove myself wrong, to highlight how I should have written book two, but I'm not sure I can. I even told myself that the central issues of the story in the second book weren't the sexual orientation of the main character. That family breakdown, relationship dysfunction, addiction and recovery were the main themes. That it doesn't matter that she happens to be a lesbian. But it does matter. Her orientation is central to the character's being and I have appropriated that voice as a straight woman, by telling the character's story in the first person.

Therefore now, all I can do is stand by my decision, whether or not it is right or wrong and let the storytelling speak for itself. The politics are something I am willing to admit I got wrong, and knowingly! It is not something I am only discovering now, or that has been pointed out to me. I knew it was problematic from the outset, but I did it anyway. I'm not hoping to get away with it and this blog in part is a way to address my doubts, not exonerate myself. Remember, the industry machine does not exist in my writing and publishing. There is no media attention, no social media mob, no consequences. Lucky for me. It is very likely that not many people will read this book. So I want to make it clear that I am aware and mindful of my possible misstep and that I am willing for it to be a point of discussion if it comes up for people who do happen to read this book and find it odd that a straight woman is writing from the perspective of a lesbian.

In saying all this, I am proud of the work I have done so far and hope to do more. I adore the characters I have created and their journeys and truly feel that the story honours the issues and themes I hoped to highlight. This year I hope to write the final book in the trilogy and bring all the characters together. It might make all the mistakes of the past worth it. After all, that seems to be the central message of the saga. That life is just a series of experiences and decisions that we make with the tools and knowledge we have in that given moment, and that in retrospect, these events form the tapestry of our lives. We don't live in a vacuum. We share our life's voyage with those who we are intertwined with through kinship, friendship, love and chance.

The second book in the Space trilogy will be available for purchase on Amazon on the 14th February 2018.

Monday, 1 January 2018


Making resolutions is a tricky thing. Big decisions are made, mostly in our own minds, during a rush of emotion, often marked by significant milestones in life. New Year's Day is the most common one. Birthdays too. We feel like we are getting a clean slate. The end of something and the hope for a new beginning. There are other triggers too. Falling in love, a quarrel, losing or starting a new job, having a baby. Sometimes it's simply a matter of waking up with an unexplained surge of energy. After a powerful yoga session, I feel like I can change the world!

The reality though, is that many of these thought processes never see the light of day. We don't manifest many of the thoughts in our mind, because they are simply thoughts. What ifs. Coulda, shoulda, wouldas. That's why we are such suckers for entertainment. Living vicariously through others. Reality TV, a sitcom or soap opera, a film or play, music. We look outside of ourselves and want that feeling within. "I'll have what she's having!"

Finding a balance between dissatisfaction and gratitude is tricky. It's no good simmering in bitterness and unhappiness, but complacency is the killer of dreams. It's tempting to live vividly in our heads and merely survive reality. Or go the other way; mindlessly seeking instant gratification to satiate our endlessly insatiable desires, never making peace with anything we do or have.

Where can we get perspective? In nature? With our loved ones? Through exercise, sex, intoxication? Why not all of them?

Above all else is creativity. I think the answer lies in Art. What is your art? What do you create alone? By yourself and for yourself. Do you garden, cook, paint, write, play music, sing, build, craft, mend or heal?

Sometimes the jumble of thoughts that make us crave change are just a jumble of thoughts making us crave change.

Fizzy, muddled energy that clouds our vision and torments our feelings.

Go make something beautiful. Make it a habit. Share it. Sell it or give it away, display it or collect it for future generations to find. And learn to read what you create. What does it tell you about yourself? What does it make you notice? How does it help you to see? What path is it leading you on? 

Do it. Or not. Sometimes doing nothing is an act of creativity - simply observing, existing, when life is demanding you to do anything but. What art and creativity does achieve is a manifestation of energy, a practice that trains us to make decisions. To choose. It really does. Art, in and of itself, imitates life. It teaches you to think and see efficiently. To make sense of the 'thought mess', the 'feeling chaos' and turn all of that into something beautiful and meaningful. Or at least external. Art pushes out the muck inside and transforms it, makes sense of it. It liberates and lightens. It empties and makes room. Art creates and takes up space simultaneously. It facilitates balance.

This is my resolution for 2018. Also, growing out my eyebrows, but that's another blog post.

I resolve to create. I write. I crochet. I sew. I might draw and paint again. I make every action a work of art. As luminous with beauty or prickly with ugliness as it needs to be, I resolve to notice my ability to create. What other purpose is there? 

Happy New Year.