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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Great Wall (of Deep, Deep Sighs)

Yeah, look. Just. Look. I went and saw it at the cinemas because I wanted to. Ancient Chinese fantasy and wuxia films are dear to my heart. The consumption of media which is problematic as fuck is normal to me, because the production of media/narratives which aren't problematic is rare. Those of us who don't see ourselves on the screen or on the page are used to balancing enjoyment and criticism simultaneously.

I wanted to like this film, and to an extent, I did like it. But I also wanted - if it was going to be a massive appropriation of history, culture and narrative - it to be a gateway drug, because wuxia films are The Best. Don't argue with me. There's no point. I love these narratives and I wish more people around me shared the love. At the very least, this film could serve as an entry point.

Except it isn't a wuxia film.

Spoilers ahoy.

Having now consumed my problematic media, I chowed down a few articles addressing its problems. Oddly, the two mostly widely accessible articles I've found which do a passable job of addressing the films problems (on BuzzFeed and Vox) both state that it isn't yet another White Saviour Film.

Ummm. Yes, it is. The presence of Badass Commander Lin (played by the badass Tian Jing WHO HOLY SHIT IS GOING TO BE IN PACIFIC RIM 2 HAAAAAAAIIIIIIII) at the end of the film and the fact she strikes the final blow does not in any way cancel out the fact that it took Matt Damon's ability to think outside the box to capture a Tao Tei (more on them later) and the plan to eliminate the Queen Tao Tei was his idea.

No, his character doesn't swan around being overtly smarter, stronger and swifter than those around him. He (thankfully) doesn't go around attempting to enlighten anyone. There's honestly not enough depth in the film to allow for that.

But the narrative still centres him. It is to him that the narrative gifts heroic acts, unorthodox inspiration and the opportunity to masterfully save the lives of the extras around him with some super slick moves.

The first time this happened, I felt my heart break. Those moments of preternatural reflex and anticipation in battle are something particular to martial arts, and to see them granted first to Matt Damon and not any number of the warriors around him - who have all allegedly been training their whole lives for this - was...well. It set a tone from which the film did not deviate. The White Hero was portrayed as impressive. As cool. His counterparts were not, save one.

Commander Lin is awesome. Like, so awesome. Like, her entire command is also comprised of badass women who bungee jump from the wall to impale the Alien Lizard Dogs from Space on spears and then spring back up to get another spear and do it all again. How badass? So badass. The ideals of Chinese beauty being just as narrow of as those of Western beauty aside, her character is solid, steady, and not swayed by the charms of the white man. I cannot tell you how important this is. There is a mere hint of romance present in a lingering and shared look which never develops further than that. She is sure of herself, of her abilities and her convictions, and it is she that teaches him a thing or two about the world, not the other way around.

There is a trope in wuxia of the tragic lovers, who for one reason or another cannot be together and yet spend so much time gazing at each other and admiring each other and respecting each other up until one of them dies. Tragically. Usually in the act of protecting the other from death. I feared this was Commander Lin's fate, BUT IT WASN'T. SHE AIN'T GOT TIME FOR THAT. SHE GOT ALIEN LIZARD DOGS FROM SPACE TO VANQUISH. NOR DID SHE LEAVE HER LIFE TO GO WITH MATT DAMON ONCE THE WAR WITH THE ALIEN LIZARD DOGS FROM SPACE WAS OVER. She was all, like, I respect you, we've been through some shit together, wish you well, baaaai. Like at the end of Pacific Rim, their last interaction could be viewed as unspoken romance...and can also be viewed as not. Commander Lin has an agency, life and destiny all of her own, which exists beyond the narrative of the white man, and FUCK. YES.

(As an aside, despite the film being about a war with Alien Lizard Dogs from Space who just want to eat everything, despite the majority of the cast being male, the only time the camera lingered on soldiers being torn apart, literally torn apart by the Alien Lizard Dogs from Space, was when Lin's all-female soldiers were diving from the wall. And I do mean the camera lingered. Other soldiers also met this fate, but the camera barely gave them a moment's notice. It could be argued that this was because those women were the first casualties during the first assault, thus the long, horribly violent and emphasised deaths were presented to highlight how terrible a foe they faced, but it honestly came across as gratuitous violence against women.)

She's the best thing about this film. It's only redeeming feature you might say. I mean, she's a character with a bit of depth, just a bit, which is more depth than anyone else had. There are no other characters, really. Well, I guess Matt Damon is a character. His character's name is William, but all I saw on the screen was Matt Damon. He gets to learn, make some life altering choices, but this isn't a deep film. Between the two of them, I reckon there's one character. Everyone else is a plot device or a prop. Poor Andy Lau. As Strategist Wang, his sole purpose was to be the mission statement at the start of every chapter telling everyone what had to happen next. Dafoe's character isn't even one dimensional. Pedro Pascal is a foil for Matt Damon and that's his sole purpose, and everyone else has colour coordinated costumes to indicate who is who on the set.

It's worth noting that those dismissing the White Saviour narrative overlook the fact that he saves a nameless foot soldier (who was marked for a tragic death the moment that happened, and yep, no surprises there), he saves Lin when she was surrounded and about the be eaten, and he saves his Spanish Offsider from gaol. Like I said, the final blow may not have been from his hand, but he's the one running around saving everyone.

Did you get that Pedro Pascal's character was Spanish? From Spain? Because just in case you didn't get it, he waves a big swathe of red silk at an Alien Lizard Dog from Space like a matador to a bull. Because he's Spanish. From Spain. He also makes questionable moral decisions because while he's European, being Spanish he's not a proper White European. Which is an important distinction that highlights how good Matt Damon is. Pascal does great with what he has to work with, which is very little. He's as wasted as Andy Lau.

As for those Alien Lizard Dogs from Space...look. Just. Look. Director Yimou Zhang is quoted as saying, "What makes our film unique is that these are ancient Chinese monsters."

Kinda? I mean, the Tao Tei / Taotie are a thing. Not a particularly defined thing, as it were, but definitely the idea of a monster from China's history.

Shakespeare wrote, "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Palahniuk also wrote, "Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." Giving them a name from Chinese history doesn't change the fact that they were Alien Lizard Dogs from Space (seriously, in the film they're from space) and sporting an entirely Hollywood CGI monster aesthetic. I'm not yet able to articulate exactly what it was about them as a whole or as individuals, but when these monsters appeared, I knew I was not looking at a Chinese monster. Others may disagree.

Much as this film is billed as being co-created by China and Hollywood (I find it interesting that Hollywood gets to exist as an entity separate from the USA, but the Chinese film industry doesn't), many of the names in the closing titles who were responsible for the look and detail of the film were not Chinese names. Perhaps that's how we end up with monsters that look like they wandered into the wrong set.

Also they were from space.

Is that police-y of me? Possibly. Probably. This film is, however, the appropriation and sanitisation of a history and culture for the purposes of Western consumption. The Chinese movie industry wants some of those juicy Western audiences. There have been in roads made; a lot of credit must be given to Jackie Chan, and since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the great Chinese epic has had moderate success. But, the Western audience doesn't like subtitles. Living in a monolingual world leaves one feeling rather entitled about the communication around them, mostly being that it should be in their language or GTFO. Subtitles turn so many viewers off, which breaks my heart. (Dubbing is an industry which I believe could be an amazing thing. Look at any English dub of anime! Yet so many foreign language films are given dubs which do a great deal to throw the viewer out of the viewing experience. Lip sync being a trivial issue.)

Damon himself has defended his role in the film by pointing out that the film was written with a Western lead in mind, which mostly indicates the lack of critical thinking involved in his response.

Subtitles is one battle. The other is representation.

The recent Jackie Chan film Dragon Blade is another amalgamation of Western and Ancient Chinese epic narratives, which features Jackie Chan being his usual charming, honourable, goofy self and becoming entangled in a feud of succession in the Roman Empire, which has come to play out in his stomping ground. It featured Adrien Brody and John Cusack as Imperial Romans, and as with The Great Wall, featured a great deal of spoken English scenes.

The Romans, however necessary to the conflict, weren't the centre of the film. Jackie Chan was. Even as well known and well loved as he, the box office takings for this film in the USA made 0.1% of the total takings around the world.

The idea that only stories centring around white men, Western white men, will sell to Western audiences, appears to hold true when viewed from the outside. The Chinese film industry wants in on the Western audience. So, the writing of a Western character being central in the film is a marketing move, and a ghastly one. It further compounds the idea that a narrative only counts when it hangs from a white man's shoulders. It is complicit with and practically gives permission for Hollywood's continued appropriation of Asian concepts and culturescapes (the casting of Dr Strange and the live-action Ghost in the Shell being the most current examples of this) whilst erasing the very people to whom these ideas are foundations of identity.

This film is nothing short of a perpetuation of the problems of racism in Western media. It isn't for China's film industry to amend their ways - that is a whole different conversation. It is for the Western world to seriously, meaningfully, no seriously, get with the whole picture when it comes to representation, when it comes to who should be the vehicle for what narrative.

I hoped it would be a gateway drug. But it isn't. It's an empty narrative full of costumes and design which signal something that isn't there.

I was hoping, maybe the film would be a mix of two worlds, the way I am. But it isn't. It's set dressing and posturing. (Maybe that's all I am too.)

I was hoping it wouldn't be what it looked like it was going to be.


No seriously, from space? Why?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Love by the Pus-Choked Sea

For most of my adult life I've used analogies to navigate the process of living. For example, I've always been a strange fish. The complete lack of representation of anyone I could relate to in the media I consumed whilst growing up means that I am now unable to see myself in any narrative. Not even those which now feature people who look like me and live like me. 

But I see myself reflected elsewhere. In 2007 footage of a frilled shark surfaced, captured by divers off the coast of Japan. She was in distress, swimming lopsided, and died within a few hours. It was surmised she was sick, to have been so far from her natural habitat. 

I saw myself in that slow, heavy shark. Meant to swim in cool, quiet darkness, in stillness and solitude in which the cycle of seasons are not measured by light. To be a silent creature passing by other silent creatures with nary a pause. To venture in to the world is to enter warm, shallow waters, bright with sunlight and full of extroverted fish in dizzying crowds. Society asks that I live in these bright, balmy waters, but I'm not made for it.

That shark was caught and couldn't swim home. I've learned to flee into the depths sooner, rather than later.

I'm one of a sentient and intelligent species, however, and can adapt. There are ways to exist in shallow and busy waters. I was not one creature, but many. A whole school of fish, the many pieces and parts of me moving not necessarily in unison, but with coherence. Sometimes, when there were sharks in the water, the school was in chaos. Other times, the school was a mesmerising ribbon of silver, curling around a thriving seamount. I had to fracture myself to move through a social world. It wasn't an injury, just another way of existing. 

These seem like such trifling little toys, now. 

Can I speak of anger for a moment? Anger is magma, and the volcano only erupts when there is naught else it can do. Magma comes from the depths as well. Sometimes it can be controlled, sometimes it can be channeled, but it will always want out. 

Trauma does not come from within. Trauma is the meteorite that slew the dinosaurs and lays waste to all the strange and wonderful things a life can grow. A depth not of me nurtured that meteorite, out there in the world, and then slammed it upon me. Perhaps I invited my meteorite, but then, who honestly anticipates the extinction of the soul?

I used to contain multitudes. My mind had no boundaries, no beginning nor end, the multiverses playing out in layers of consciousness I only barely acknowledged. There was never only one Tessa. How could there ever be only one Tessa? I could survive everything, because there was always more of me, so much more of me. 

Until the meteor struck, and the ocean died.

I'm not a fish. I'm not a school of fish. I'm one, only one, standing on the shore of a disease-mangled ocean. The surface is broken by the bloated carcasses of so many fish, the waves do not form those smooth glass tunnels of my memory but are chunky with skeletons and decay. Pus floats like polar ice on these waters, riding low, yet still so much sitting high. The water that laps at these bergs of sickness is stained with the blood of ruptured corpses, stirred by a wind corpulent with decay, the reek so heavy its a wonder the air has the strength to carry it. All this wasted meat. There are no scavengers to enjoy this feast. 

The extinction of the world leaves only one, wondering when the horizon drew so near, why there is nothing else but this beach. 

How small I have become. How very small.

No one can see this, but I spend my days standing in that disgusting soup with a bucket in my hands and the taste of putrefaction in the back of my throat. One heaped bucket at a time, I pull the empty bodies of fish from the surf, I scoop pus from those rancid bergs, I work and work and work to clean that ocean. Behind me, on stained sand, are mounds of detritus. All the poison I pull from the ocean in slow-growing mountains. 

There are birds hidden in the pus. Birds that survived the first impact and surging tides, birds who tired of flight and tried to rest only to discover that pus is not an island. Caught in that quagmire, feathers slick with it, they floundered and sank and drowned in the symptoms of my wounds. They appear from the stuff suddenly, frightened and frightening and staring in panic.

Sometimes the waves bring up secrets from depths that no longer exist. I have a hook and a rope and being the only one I pull these behemoths to the shore. Their jaws are a mile from crook to crook. None of them smile. A sunken eye larger than the sun, cloudy in death, reveals nothing. I drag these monsters up the beach, their skin sloughing off in great curtains, and go back to my bucket.

It is unglamourous work. There is nothing to romanticise in this filth. 

Occasionally I find another me. One of the multitudes lost in the cataclysm will wash ashore. Maybe she will be in a foetal position with her face hidden in her palms, or perhaps she will be standing with her fingers curved, her spine curved, all her bones curved into the question. There is nothing to be done for these pieces of me. I try to comb the pus from their hair, take the scabs from their skin and leave them on the beach where they are found.

Squalls are unkind. Sometimes I can see them coming and find myself a shelter amid my own ruins. Other times they take me by surprise and I find myself hunkered behind a soggy pile of scabs, the bucket over my head drumming furiously with the unforgiving rain. These storms bring new wreckage to the shore. There is always more.

I don't often venture close to the impact site. The turbulence in the air over that space is upsetting, the tides vicious and mean, and the miasma so thick I cannot see nor hear nor breathe. I don't know if occasional exposure to it will help me or not. I only know that it is there, now, and I must live with it.

One bucket at a time, when days and nights have no meaning, and the tides are always bringing more, more, more. 

It's hard to accept love, here, now. I don't know what there is to offer. But then, I know what it is I love in those precious people around me who also struggle with a history of invisible injury. Their wounds are a part of them, and so I must love those wounds. Their wounds do not define them, so I can see a person who exists with or without that struggle, who inspires love. Their struggle is a heart breaking over, and over, and over, and for taking up that fight I love them too. Fiercely. So, perhaps this is what can be seen in me.

Later, I will have a bounty of silver scales and event-stained skeletons. Later, the bones of these deep giants will be revealed as towers of glass, casting shadows which are not shadows. Give me enough time and the mountains of pus I move from sea to shore will dry and harden. The pressure of aeons will turn that once rancid mucus into beautiful, milky stones, which when polished and then held up to the ear will hum quietly of grief. Entire ranges of humming peaks. I can give you the ambergris of lost whales and the surrendered pearls of unknown clams. Strange and unimaginable mosses will creep across this long grave. Algae will bloom in this sickened water. There is an ecosystem in the future and its ghosts reach back in time to here, now, urging me on. One day, multitudes of me may wake again.

Sometimes I do nothing. Sometimes I look at all I have done and all I have yet to do, and the futility of it all becomes overwhelming. I sit in garbage and the vomit of the ocean and there is nothing in this universe to hear my wail.

The tide creeps up the shore to suck at my toes, and I pick myself up, pick up my bucket, and carry on.

I have contained multitudes, and so I can grow a new world. This is not unknown to me. 

I do not know what it will be, but this new world creeps closer, one bucket at a time.