Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Blue Fox - Sjon

Buy ::: Author Wiki

I don't know why I've always wanted to go to Iceland. Perhaps simply because it's remote and still contains wilderness in a world where that which is wild seems to be ever increasingly distant. My love affair with the island only increased upon at last visiting it, and I was excited to receive and read this book.

Being I think the second book of Iceland written by an Icelandic writer I've consumed post-visiting, and perhaps it was coincidence but both stories rooted themselves in the same era of Iceland's history, in the same manner of community. I don't know that you need to be familiar with Iceland's history to ground yourself within this story, but it doesn't hurt.

A pastor hunts a fox. The fox may or may not be a truth. A woman is buried.

And the book ends.

Did the story end? It didn't feel like it. The conclusion felt like a small cheat, to be honest. The language used is sparse and precise, painting with a few deft strokes a landscape both personal and political, topographical and mythic, across which fox and pastor traverse. But it's thin. So thin. It was almost like reading a ghost book: all the while I was enjoying those sentences and paragraphs, and the deeper story criss-crossing the twinned streams, and all the while I could see so much more this story could have been. As if the writer was a bird just skimming the top of the water, the story doesn't leave shallow water.

In doing a quick google to find the above links I saw many a review for the book on all manner of high-circulation and well regarded publications, all positive. This book has won an award. Perhaps the fault lies with me, and choosing to read it on a 40+ degree day while in a hospital room with no underwear on and the flow constantly interrupted by nurses asking me if I had all my teeth.

It's a wonderful piece of writing. It's a good story.

I just felt it could have been so much more.

As an aside: The two female characters in the story die. One dies off the page, we never see her alive, and she is well and truly painted as 'other'. The other dies on the page. Twice. In fact she doesn't just die, she's destroyed. And is also well and truly 'other'. There are no other female characters.

Getting pretty fed up of encountering this in fiction.

Verdict: Beautiful but thin.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Surviving By Increments

Given that the cool change is on its way (Avalon went from 46° to 34°!) this isn't exactly a timely post, but my brain hasn't been great in the heat. Or my computer. 

4 days of 41°+ heat. There are apparently no crops that can survive 7 consecutive days of 40°, which is a terrifyingly close reality. Apart from being very happy to be at work and hanging out in air conditioned public spaces, here's how I managed to not faint in public. 

I freaking love this parasol. Hand-painted bamboo and paper, it's light and beautiful. Bit too delicate to be open in any wind, but my goshness. It made all the difference. My aversion to direct sun on my head is akin to that of vampires. Dark hair and sun just means a head so hot I nearly burn myself scratching. Simply not having the sun on my head made the outside air far less strenuous. Umbrellas, the opaque kind, will do just as well. 

This plain little fan I bought in a temple market in Tokyo for 500¥, about $5, back in 2007. It has travelled with me ever since. When sitting in a crowded train, standing in a queue moving a touch too slow, it has been a blessing. Can't prove a negative, but I know it has been the difference between fainting or not multiple times, this morning included. Thank you little paper fan! You can usually get fans in discount shops, or Chinese grocers. 

Drinking water is a big help, but when you're sweating buckets, not quite enough. I carry a sachet of powerade around, and it has been a big help. Pity it tastes yuck, even when super weak. 

Conversely, if you don't have the cash for sports drinks, soy sauce hits the spot. No really. I ended up necking a fish yesterday. A bit intense on the tastebuds, but I instantly felt better. 

I've seen reports that the cool change had hit Geelong. The Melbourne cool change is a wonderfully traceable phenomenon. Keep an ear out. You'll be able to hear the cheers. 

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Hypocrites & Trying

This is in my opinion a fairly low bar, and someone called me out on it. 

An incident between other parties, one I don't know well and the other being a casual amicable acquaintance. Such is the nature of online dynamics. One of those instances where, regardless of what happened, I don't feel I know either well enough to "take sides". 

Except there's no such thing as true neutrality. A lack of action is an action in itself, online and offline. Social media displays who we choose to associate with for all to see, and what the victim of any violence sees is people who choose to apologise for or justify their abuse when they look at who chooses to associate with their abuser. 

It isn't for me to get involved. I'm not that invested. It's none of my business. 

And that is how this culture of apologists perpetuates. We don't take responsibility for another person's actions, and use that to deflect attention from not taking consequential responsibility for our own. My own. This small thing, following someone on twitter, has actually been niggling at me since being given the low down. Because. Because. Because I was doing exactly what I was preaching against. But. But. But. I mean. It's nothing to do with me. I mean. Until being called out for it, and spending a minute staring out the window at work after getting back from lunch, and realising what was stopping me from nixing this association was fear of reprisal. I'll upset someone, and there may be lash back from his friends, and maybe people will then cut me out, and- 

Fear of people not liking me. I may never leave this fear behind. 

Which is irrelevant next to the trauma the victims of violence have experienced, and keep experiencing. It was easy for me to make that cut when it was one of my dearest friends crying in the police station. That's personal. It's not so easy to rock the boat when you're removed by a degree, when it's nothing to do with you. But there is no "being neutral". Letting an abuser into your life without consequence is taking a side, and if you, if I, am not prepared to take on that person and change them, then walk away. 

So I've unfollowed that person on twitter. Such a small thing, and it's something that took me most of a year to do. I've hung out with this guy. He's a nice guy. A good guy. I don't want to believe he's a rapist. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because I didn't know the whole story, the facts of the incident are in dispute. In doing so, I automatically put the victim in the position of being a presumed liar. 

Some of you reading this will know who I am writing of, and not agree with me on it. You may choose to cut me off. That's okay. I'll be upset, but I do understand. That will be the consequence of my actions. I've been saying these things over, and over, and over. I've raised my voice enough; now it's time for me to actually do. 

After making this decision, and acting on it, there was this:

From a different party. I'm just going to do a quick dissection as this is a 101 fuck up. Actually I don't really need to add anything; Orange has done a fine job of of pointing out the basic tenements of victim blaming which I fell on. There's an excellent post over on Captain Awkward, here:

Some of the boldest advice in the piece is to make sure people know who the rapists & suspected rapists are and openly take sides against them. It’s the advice that is probably going to get the most pushback from MRA- types obsessed with “false accusations.” Watch for lots of appeals to fairness and privacy and “innocent until proven guilty.” Hell, I fell more than halfway into this trap myself when answering this question. Not cool, me.
In a court of law, if you are the judge or the jury, a defendant must be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s it. No one else is held to that standard. To even investigate the crime & make charges, the cops and DA have made some presumptions that so and so is guilty. As Thomas says:
Some people will say that it’s unfair to do that, to simply take the survivor’s word, to say things about people without due process.  Well, due process is for the government, to limit their power to lock people up or take their property.  You don’t owe people due process when you decide whether to be friends with them.  You don’t have to have a hearing and invite them to bring a lawyer to decide whether to invite them to a party.  And let’s be honest, most of us repeat things that one person we know did to another person we know based on nothing more than that one participant told us and we believe them.  We do it all the time, it’s part of social interaction.
So if you want to do something, take the label, plant it on the missing stair in your social circle, and make it stick.
And then:

The last section, called It Can’t All Be On The Survivors, builds on this responsibility.  Thomas calls out the total pointlessness and complete shittiness of the idea of neutrality and trying to remain friends with both abusers and their victims, another topic that has come up here  more than once.
It Can’t All Be On The Survivors
I’ve seen the following two things happen:
(1) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and people say to the survivor, “you have to do something!  If you don’t do something, who will protect the next victim?”
(2) someone gets sexually assaulted, whether raped or violated in another way, and the survivor yells and shouts for people to deal with it, and the people who are friendly with both the survivor and the violator shrug their shoulders and try to stay “neutral.”
What these two things have in common is that in each case, the people around the situation place all the responsibility on the person who most needs help and can least be expected to go it alone.
…Confronting people is emotionally taxing, and it often irreparably ends the friendship.  In fact, about something as serious as rape, it invariably irreparably alters the friendship.  If you believe that your friend raped your other friend, and you say, “hey, you raped my friend,” then the old friendship is gone forever as soon as the words leave your mouth.  What remains is either enmity, or a relationship of holding someone accountable, just as tough and taxing as staying friends with a substance abuser who is trying to get clean and sober.  That’s not easy.  That’s a lot of work, and most people are not up for it.
The option most people choose, because it gets them out of that, is to choose to not make up their minds about what happened…
…Just think about that.  ”Hey, you’re still friends with Boris.  But X said Boris raped her.”  ”Well yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”Well, but you know what Y said, and Y’s account was a lot like X’s.”  ”Yeah, but I don’t know what to believe.”  ”But Z said Boris violated consent, too, and that’s three people …” “Well, I’ve been friends with Boris a long time, so I kind of don’t know what to think …”  (Trust me when I tell you, folks, I’m not making that up.)

Those two excepts cleanly summaries exactly what I did in 140 characters. The nuances of intention and further background are irrelevant. Guilty of what I speak out against and pretty disappointed in myself. 

Since doing this, I've had several individuals approach me to talk about the implications behind the decision, because while this decision affects that one guy, it's not about him. There's always more to be said on this subject – false accusations do happen, people are destroyed by them – but the last few hours have been a bit full on, and I no longer have the emotional or intellectual capacity to do words/thoughts good. It doesn't matter which way social bias lies, there will always be people who take advantage of and abuse the system. However, here, now, I choose to give the victim the benefit of the doubt.

Every instance of abuse is complicated and subjective. It's nothing but grey areas, but for those of us not involved, we must accept that there is no neutrality. It's all grey areas, but we must choose in black and white. Maintaining the status quo is easy. Trying to be the change you want isn't. 

I will continue to fuck up as I try to do what is good and right. I hope I learn.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Jettisoning Dreams

It was the standard package; end of the world and you and a handful of randoms are trying to outrun the symptoms of that ending. In this case the continuing rising water. A train exploding. Too many of you in a small car trying to motor up a steep hill. 

(There is always some exhibit, some animal enclosure, that pauses the apocalypse. This time you found a dinosaur pen, and stood watching the dinosaurs, forgetting the rising water and the marauders entirely as those giants stomped about before you. The cage was far too small. They simply paced.)

Codeine to nix the pain and let you sleep sketched the details of this dream with more clarity than is usual, and you remember a flag. Made by your group of survivors to signify that not all was lost, you were a new nation and would rebuild civilisation. You, as a species, were undefeated. 

The flag was the Australian flag, but rendered red, white and black. This, it was explained, was to show that regardless of skin colour — black/white — we all bleed red, we are all the same. 

A nice gesture, you thought, except that it simplifies the idea of race to being only that of skin colour, which is insulting, and then presents that concept as a binary. Black or white, with black standing in for brown, yellow and red, so in fact being all colours not white, and white. 

After that you leave the group, and after stealing dolls, fighting rabbits and walking alone in the bush, you wake up. 

I read about, listen to and occasionally even engage in the discourse on racism in western societies regularly, and have done so for years. I'm all for replacing the current structures that govern our thinking. 

And yet, despite this, when unconscious and building a nation for the ground up, that flag is what my brain produced. What I created. Even as I analyzed and dismantled it. Nice try. But no. 

This is how deep racism runs. 

In me. And definitely in you. 


Keeping a bird, a small bird, is not like keeping a dog. I only know about dogs. With an allergy to cat hair, we never really had cats, so while I recognise some of the behaviours of cats, it's dogs I understand.

Dogs have teeth and claws and the ability to rip you open if they feel it is necessary. Most of the time it isn't. Most of the time dogs love you like no one else will. They think you're The Best Thing that has EVER happened. The best.

Birds, budgies, aren't that. They eat seeds and grain. Their defence is flight. They are prey the way dogs, cats, and indeed we humans cannot fathom. It isn't an eat or be eaten choice for them. It's simple: be eaten.

So the rapport built with a bird is slow to grow and requires patience and repetition. What you're earning in that little featherbrain is trust. Consider their size, and yours. It's entirely possible they don't recognise your hands and your face as belonging to the same entity. And you come blustering into their world and clutch at them with your big hands and they are so very small and delicate. With hot little feet, claws that curl around your finger. Soft, so soft belly feathers on the back of your hand. A heart beating out a tarantella and a beady little bird eye wide and fixed upon you.

You could break this bird with a finger. The bird knows it.

Months of patience, and repetition, and work.

And yesterday, Poppy didn't just let me scratch her cheek, she encouraged it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Visible Output

I've been kicking around a couple of short story ideas for half a year now. So many pages scribbled while sitting on trains. Aware of the awful clunk and lack of grace in my sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and aware that I have neither story nor plot, but one thing at a time.

So the desire to speak has not been felt for some time. While this may simply apply to social media, this vacuum of motivation is sucking on my hopes of writing like a gummy shark. A writer must have a voice. At least one.

This post by Fox Woods I could have sworn was written just for me. I can't say I necessarily agree with it (some of us are unique, most of us are not), but point is...I chose to believe it. Here. Now. Because I need to.

Being as I tick several 'minority' boxes, I do have things to say which are worth saying, and might even be worth hearing. This can and will bleed into fiction. I just have to practice using my voice, again.

Hopefully, this will mean a higher frequence of posts here. Hopefully, I'll reclaim the joy and thrill that comes with using a voice, and that will in turn make the stories less shy. Hopefully.

This still doesn't address that need to not contribute to the noise of the world. Silence is a precious, fragile thing, and there is no way to project silence. Perhaps in trying to cultivate silence around me I am too forceful, because I've silenced myself in the process.

I guess I'll just have to ensure the sounds I make are meaningful.