Saturday, March 16, 2019

Christchurch, White Supremacy & Us

After the Sydney gunman had walked into the Lindt Cafe, after I'd made my tweet, after the tweet had gone viral and the siege ended, I was interviewed at 7am on Radio National Breakfast by Ellen Fanning.

I'm not someone who thinks quick when put on the spot. The interview went well, but still, I've replayed one question and answer over and over in the intervening years, because I didn't quite say what needed to be said.

Fanning had asked if Sydney's emphatic support of #illridewithyou was indicative of character, if that was [Australia].

What I wish I had had the coherence to say, is:

Yes, but it is not all that we are. 
Because no matter what the Sydney gunman brought with him when he came to Australia - his personality, philosophies, behaviour - nothing he encountered in his time here turned him from his path. He encountered no one who gave him pause, made him reconsider his beliefs. He was not rehabilitated for his violence against women, nor was he deemed threat enough to be imprisoned. There were years here, in Australia, in which he could have been changed, or stopped. But he wasn't. And that is on us. 
Because #illridewithyou was, and is, a reaction. Without white supremacy being openly and loudly displayed - on our radios, in our newspapers, by our political representatives - there would be no #illridewithyou. There would be no need.

We are the hatred and the supporting hand both. All of that, the good and bad, is us, and our responsibility.

I wish I'd said that.

The Christchurch shooter was born in Australia, grew up in Australia, and all his views and beliefs he developed here, in Australia.

I wish a lot of things had gone differently. Each time mass murder like this occurs, and is tied back to Australia, I remember that for a moment we had changed the narrative. It wasn't one of fear and hate and fear and hate. We had a volume that made liars of the pundits and talking heads and the then Prime Minister about what would and would not be accepted. We changed the narrative.

But I couldn't be that focal point. I just couldn't. If I'd stayed louder for longer, perhaps that change would have made a deeper impact. If I'd been more organised and savvy with branding and spokespersons. If that momentum had been sustained, maybe the Christchurch gun man could have been changed, or stopped. He is Australian. He is our responsibility.

It's for me and me alone to make peace with all that I did and did not do, but it is for us, Australia as a whole, to look at what has changed in the intervening years, and what hasn't.

We failed the victims of the Lindt Cafe siege, and we have failed the Muslims of Christchurch. There are victims lying dead in the future, just waiting for the present to catch up with them, whom we are also failing. This failure and these deaths will continue, unless we change.

We are the source of terrorism. We have nurtured white supremacy in our politics and our media, and now that poisoned tree has borne fruit and cast it across oceans. Let the same penalties and sanctions we have imposed on other countries in the name of security against terrorism now be imposed upon us. We deserve it. We have earned it.

We must change.

Stop touting freedom of speech as being equivalent to a right to be heard. Stop giving platforms and funding to hatemongers - Andrew Bolt is still being paid to speak bigotry - and allowing hatespeech to become mainstream. Irony is no defence for bigotry. If you speak fascism and racism, then ironic or not, you are a fascist and racist. If you are not challenging those around you for these jokes and edgy comments, your silent makes you complicit in this. To pass unchallenged is to pass with approval. Stop this behaviour before it becomes mass murder.

None of us stopped the Christchurch shooter. None of us gave him pause, turned him from his path, or simply blocked his way.

Give financial, practical and emotional support to targeted people and those who are victims of hate and fear. This is the one thing I was deliberate about when coining the hashtag. The intent and the wording are completely centred and focused upon the targeted and the victims of bigotry. It is an acknowledgement of the harm and threat to their person without requiring that same harm be quantified. It is simply about them and their lived, every day reality. They are seen, and will not be ignored.

Nothing in the hashtag was about the perpetrators of bigotry. We know they're there. Attention is given to them at the further cost of those they victimise. The victims of bigotry, of white supremacy, are wounded with physical and emotional violence, and that hurt then compounded as they are abandoned to endure the aftermath alone, without support. The focus is consistently on the perpetrator, giving them power through attention. 

The hashtag was never about them.

It's not enough to turn up at a counter rally for nazis if you're not sparing a thought for the residents of the Jewish aged care centre that wake up to swastikas and vandalisim. If you don't make the world a better place for the people who have to endure all this hate and violence and vitriol, then it is not enough. Change can be brought about by empowering, supporting and bolstering those peoples targeted by white supremacy. The change required is a many faceted thing.

None of this work is easy, or glamorous, or satisfying. It is done because it is necessary, and that is all. It is necessary. White supremacy cannot be allowed to continue.

This isn't well written. There are great knots that get in the way when I think upon this. Eloquence would be nice, but is ultimately irrelevant.

We need to do better.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Mechanical Animals - Two Bees Dancing

Preorder MECHANICAL ANIMALS here and here.

Two Bees Dancing is the first (and only) story I've written since "all that stuff happened". There's a reprint of Acception coming soon, but reprints require exactly zero angst on my part, so in this instance it doesn't count.

Angst, man. What even.

How long have I known the story was accepted for publication? Ages. Um, possibly more than a year.  How long has the cover art been sitting in my inbox, with links to the preorders? Months. Have I advertised the anthology? Nope.


This is not bog-standard writer insecurity, which I've had. And to be fair, still have, but it is entirely eclipsed by this dread sitting heavy in my belly and choking my words. I just...can't...draw attention to myself.

So this isn't a post letting all know that I've a story coming out. This is a record documenting the evolution of the story, and it's just for me. Just a little bit of sleight of mind.

I'm always surprised when editors solicit me to submit. It's not that I doubt my craft - I'm not winning awards, but my writing doesn't suck - it's just that my publication record is so very thin and sporadic. My rate of production is so low I'm surprised I remain on anyone's radar. But S did ask me, and the theme for MECHANICAL ANIMALS is just, I mean, c'mon. How could I not?

I had no story lying around to cannibalise, so I had to start from scratch. Pretty early on I settled on mechanical bees as a tool of state surveillance. Metadata and the government's desired powers over it were topical at the time, so privacy was high on my mind. I spent months fleshing out the infrastructure of these bees, brainstorming sessions with friends and so many pages in my notebook just thinking in longhand. Concept is my strength. Finding the narrative/plot in that concept is not. The bees were not telling me a story.

I don't remember how or when the narrative actually came to me. I think I recognised that, still burnt and wounded from "all that stuff that happened", the narrative structure needed to be simple, and the voice not so removed from my own. At that point, I didn't have a voice. To a point, I still do not. But this felt like learning to trust myself as a writer all over again. Small steps. Strip the concept down to bare bones and bloody hell don't make the POV some corrupted AI bee-bot.

The conflict between surveillance and privacy remains in the narrative, but now playing harmony with the disempowerment of the disabled and chronically ill.

Because I was, then, just dragging myself out of deep incapacitation. Trying to conjure a future for myself when my present was still open wounds and trauma and the horror of minutes that never end, knowing that if there was only a little more support, I could-

Two Bees Dancing feels like the spiritual sequel to Acception. Actually I look at them and I'm like, Tessa, you've written the same story twice now. Perhaps that's simply because the journey to the end product was so similar. Perhaps because they're both born of deep-welling magma. But they aren't the same story. (THIS ONE IS ACTUALLY WITHIN THE WORD LIMIT. IT IS ACTUALLY A PROPER SHORT STORY. ARE YOU PROUD OF ME I"M PROUD OF ME.)

S gave me a chance to prove myself, to myself. It's surprising to be invited to submit, but also gratifying and humbling that an editor have faith that the story produced will be worthwhile. This opportunity gave me far more than publication. I've no idea how to make 'thank you' convey everything I want to convey. Two words and I'm a writer undone. Regardless, thank you.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS offers a table of contents that is quietly jaw-dropping and promises to offer a deliciously diverse range of interpretations on the theme. And the titles! Gracious, the titles. Not going to lie, a good title will win me over every time, as coming up with even just an 'okay' title is hard. Like this, The Hard Spot in the Glacier. How enticing and tantalising is that? I need exams to be over so I can eat this.

MECHANICAL ANIMALS will be shipped on 27 November. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Plant Notes

To mark the beginning of mid-semester break, I gave myself some long lazy playtime on campus. A bucket of water and secateurs and a ramble around the gardens. A snip here, a snip there. Propagation is a hell of a drug, especially when your campus is nestled within a botanical garden that is quite literally packed full of uncommon and unusually beauties.

Plants have this magic power called 'totipotency' which enables them to revert a cell that already has a specialised function back into a sort of primordial undifferentiated state, and then change that cell yet again into a new specialisation. This is why you can cut a sprig of rosemary, and even though what you have in your hand is a branch that has never touched the ground, it will nonetheless grow roots where previously no roots would grow. They're wizards. Plants are wizards.

That said, the power of this shapechanging ability does vary from species to species, and some plants are better at it than others. My previous attempt to strike cuttings of Carissa macrocarpa failed, which was partially expected as the literature indicates as much. But, it's spring, and the time of year, particularly the time in the plant's growth cycle, one attempts to propagate via cutting, can influence success. Hopefully the warm weather and a little rooting hormone will up my chances. There are also some seeds, harvested from the few fruit I could find, sitting in a greenhouse. They have a long germination period however, so it will be some time before I know whether or not they took.

I've also propagated Bambusa oldhamii previously as well, although only one of those cuttings took. Again, the time of year may have influenced this. It's a marvellous bamboo. The sort of bamboo one dreams of, if that dream is a painting and the painting is the idealisation of a bamboo forest. More than one plant would be nice.

Calothamnus quadrifidus is new to me. I'm a sucker for those incredibly unusual Western Australian plants. I have no room for these larger shrubs and trees, and don't want to put them in the ground here, but still... An individual branch looks as though it should be a conifer, but it in Myrtaceae. The flowers have a touch of Grevillea to them, surprising red things that erupt from the stem. Did no research on propagation by cuttings on this one, so we'll just wait and see.

Always make sure your containers have drainage holes. The take away tub I used for some tassel fern cuttings did not, and when I wandered by the fog house to see how they were going, I discovered they were in fact swimming. Didn't seem to bother the cuttings in the slightest, but I repotted them all the same. The cutting I have in water propagation at home hasn't done anything yet, but hasn't wilted either. That's not nothing.

I ventured down to the field station and hacked at the Malva parviflora around my veggie plot. I'd let it go far too long, and it was beastly. Did not attempt to pull out the roots. Smaller plants put up an incredible fight, so I'm content to cut its head off whenever it pops up instead. Planted some Sugar Snap peas and this time remembered to put a bird net around them. The ducks on campus are greedy little buggers. Harvested some silverbeet, poked at the garlic, sprayed myself in the face with a leaky hose.

There were orphan plants on offer outside the nursery when I got back from the field station. Calothamnus gibbosus, sibling to the one I'd just taken cuttings off. These were incredibly pot bound. Incredibly. So much so, they'd grown well out of their tubs and were in fact pot bound in the tray they'd been sitting on. Had to cut them out of their plastic, and cut the root ball. It was so incredibly hard and tight. Like weaving, one said. I saw topographical lines in the tightly packed roots. I don't know if they'll take kindly to the root damage, but free plants. Why not?

Today I tackled some of my projects at home. I potted up my Pseudopanax ferox into an air-pruning pot significantly bigger than its current pot. Got potting mix everywhere. It'll be happy in there for good few years go come, and I won't have to worry about the roots girdling. I don't think I've really shared any photos of this plant. It's just...very difficult to snap. Really needs a photography backing sheet to show its bizarre form. I do love it. Ma calls it my 'minimalist Christmas tree'. It looks like a drawing of a tree. A very simple drawing at that.

The elkhorn fern I've had for more than a year, and have had no troubles with it at all. It grows beautifully. I just haven't been able to mount it successfully. Partly my own ignorance. It had come away entirely, so I gave it a clean up, cutting away most of the rooting mass at the back and dividing the fern, as it turned out there were actually 3 all smooshed together. I bound them to the mount with old stockings. Hopefully, especially being as its growing season now, it'll root in this time.

Potted up some tubestock I picked up from Bili Nursery & Landcare. They're indigenous to the area, which in this case means the SE sandbelt, not the clay soil I'm on. None of these darlings will be going in the ground. Not until I pull my thumb up and start doing serious soil work. Anyway, what's particularly cool is that these plants are propagated from local remnant growth, and they're unexpected for an area I think of as being entirely urbanised.

I picked up Eryngium ovinium as I do love a spikey sweetheart. I have another Eryngium - not native - which does not at all cope with our summer. In fact, I thought it was dead, except it started suddenly growing back beautifully in winter. I'm hoping this native Eryngium does better in summer, so it's a wait and see plant.

I was very excited to find an Isopogon - Isopogon ceratophyllus - which occurs naturally in Victoria, so I had to grab that as well. Its leaves are wider than those of I. formosus, which is now fairly well known in cultivation. They could almost be mistaken for Grevillea leaves.

Acrotriche serrulata was new to me. Or, at least, if I'd seen it before, I hadn't noticed it. It's a meek little thing, with quite a cute little habit - almost looks as though its bonsai'ed itself - but the selling point is the nectar pods it puts out after flowering. I'm told these taste like crème brûlée. Yeah. You read that right. Damn straight I'm giving that a go.

And finally, I repotted my Acacia aphylla. Bought as tube stock ages ago, now a good little plant with only a little bit of weird sideways growth due to odd positioning.

I'm actually terrible at "not acquiring any more of those WA specialist plants that look so cool".

It was a really nice day. Warm bright sun, a light breeze, and the magpies sussing out the birdbath. There's an old apron I use when mucking about in the dirt, but it doesn't stop me from getting dirt up my nose and in my socks. Sometimes I wear gloves, but it doesn't feel proper unless my fingernails are black and brown. And bugger, I forgot to put the shade cloth on the greenhouse. Tomorrow. I'm well pooped now.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Plant Notes

Amophorphallus bulbifer had finished rotting out its leaves, so it was time to move the pot out of the fernery. One nice little corm of good health in the palm of the compound leaf. These corms drop to the ground when the leaves die out over the dormancy, and go on to make new tubers. I don't know if this one is big enough to do so, but I popped it down on the pot anyway. Pot has been moved beneath a table, outside. There it will be protected from the frost and getting too much rain, but still get some good cold temperatures.

Pulled out the Ginkgo biloba. Roots were just starting to peek out the drainage hole. It's fully dormant at the moment, so a good time for it to move house. I'm a little concerned about the roots. They're marvellously healthy, but will of course go woody, and I couldn't help thinking about the issue of root girdling which occurs with woody plants. The roots grow around the circle of a pot because there's no where else to go, and with age they thicken and end up strangling the plant. An airpruning pot could help this...except that Ginkgo really wants to keep its feet wet. I'm not sure how it would like all that drying out. Possibly, I may just have to accept that this particular Ginkgo will not be a giant in the ground, but stay wee in a wee pot for its life. Hmm. When I potted it up last time, I put a chux in the bottom of the pot, specifically to retain water down there. That does strike me as a rather daft move, but the plant apparently loved it and had no problem just busting through it. So. No harm done? Not a move I repeated this time, but the roots were so knit through the chux I didn't take it out.

For the time being, it's now in a bigger pot. Gave it a small prune, watered it in, and have put it back in its place to be ignored until it wakes up again in spring. I'm trying again to root the cuttings. They didn't take last year. We'll see.

Finally remembered to bring nail scissors into the greenhouse, and gave a lot of plants a nice tidying. Lots of dead inflorescences that needed snipping. Amazing how removing the scruff makes a plant look so much perkier.

I've learned so much about plants, but I still don't feel like I know what I'm doing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

I've wanted to write about the marriage equality vote for some time, particularly how #illridewithyou resonates with the Yes campaign. But, I'm sitting here listening to the skirls of rising panic of all my cringing bones, and I can't wax insightful.
For most, my mixed-race identity was erased from the hashtag narrative. It became about white people standing with non-white people. It became about allies, and their visibility.
When it comes to marriage equality, that's the only position I can take.
Racism and homophobia have different histories and manifest in different ways, but each are rooted in dehumanisation.
If you only spend your energies on those fights which affect you directly, then you are only acting out of self-interest.

A non-binding postal vote is just like a hashtag; it won't change anything, but it will make a difference.

Straight people: vote Yes, and put that vote back in the post. It costs you as much as retweeting a hashtag, and it matters.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Pieces of Wednesday

Waking up with the same headache that put you down is grossly unfair.

I follow Sam around the house chanting "Shame. Shame." He remains unrepentant concerning the dog poo he left on the back ramp.

Salicylic acid is not a lipid.

In the tree outside my bedroom window, a grey miner bird calls out. Again. And again. And again. And again. For hours. My headache beats with each cry. My headache too is annoyed by the bird.

In another room, a brief call to Malaysia.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Movement Unseen

When using a light microscope, adjust the coarse focus before utilising the fine focus.
A blur of peacock blue and glory red suddenly coalesces and becomes a map of tiny rooms and coloured walls. The cross-section of a leaf, unbelievably thin, on a plate of glass. I can't stop the gasp and don't wish to. The student beside me looks my way. I don't look away. I can't look away. It's magic.

Confirmation of permission to study part-time comes on Friday. Classes start on Monday. The breath I have been holding for months comes out, and has not yet stopped, because months is only the first gust of a change years in the brewing. High pressure systems, low pressure troughs, and a wind that has nothing standing before it.

The lecture is dense and rich, and I am not overwhelmed because this is what I want. Golgi. The shape of the word does not tell me how to speak it, and I wait for the lecturer to give this noun to the air. Gohl-gee. That which manufactures substances the cell needs, within the cell. My handwriting chases the lecture across the page, a mess of missing letters and cryptic shorthand, throwing arrows to printed slides and underlining key phrases. I'm already saturated. I can feel the information being given rolling off me like water will fall away from a lotus leaf. I am a hunter and must catch everything I don't absorb, to consume later. I am tired. I can't read what I've written.

Two subjects a semester, two contact days a week. When I say it like that, it sounds pathetically easy. What possible challenge could this pose? The Tessa who was an employed person in the past worked four days a week, which is the equivalent of the full time contact hours this course requires. Time is not an abstract concept, however. Time is the marking of change, and I have changed, and I am not that person any more.

The microscope shows me tiny bacteria dancing in the cell of an Edolea ssp. leaf, and I can only think of that dance and those little lives as 'jitter bugs'. Within that cell the chloroplasts are sizeable and their green is the green of the entire plant. A colour that eats the sun. A colour that need consume no other living thing to survive. The nucleus a pale grey sphere, sitting apart from the chloroplasts. On the projector, cytoplasmic streaming; the chloroplasts whirling round and around the cell as the world spins round and round. There is so much movement in this unmoving plant.

I didn't come here to make friends. A reminder. The class I am not enrolled in, which fell between ecology on Tuesday and biology on Thursday, has been a bonding for which I was absent. The formation of groups has begun. I did not come here to make friends, and I do not need the social acceptance of my colleagues as I once did, but I can see the absence of camaraderie come exam time, the absence of a shared journey. To seek out these things is to spend energy I do not have to spend. I know what my priorities are, and do not regret them and mourn what will not be. There is no conflict in this.

A scraping of the inside of my cheek wiped onto pristine glass. On the projector, the lecturer's own cells. There is something confronting in this, something utterly vulgar and vulnerable in the casual way she shares the tiny pieces with which she is made. There is no green, for we are not autotrophs. The cytoplasm is pink and the membrane near invisible. The nucleus a darkened oval. They are disorderly, folded over and scrunched together like sodden paper. I am looking at myself through the microscope. The instructions for building my physical self lie before me, and make no sense to me. There's something repulsive in what I am seeing. I must know more.

The heavy traffic is a blessing. Should I have an accident, I won't be travelling fast enough for it to cause much damage. I'm saturated. I'm strained. Fatigue sits curled in my lap, patient. I just need to hold myself together long enough to get home. Drive carefully. Turn the music up loud. Louder. Blast cold air. Fatigue knows it will have its way, that I will let it have its way. It is well before tea time when I go to bed. I sleep until after lunch time the next day, and still fatigue is draped across my shoulders. This is why you need part-time, I remind myself.

Too exhausted to concentrate, I crack open a text book borrowed from the library.

I do this because I want to.