My Guide to Meditation.

This is a quick post for everyone who struggles with strong emotions.

I used to be one of those people. I still feel things deeply, and I am slightly bipolar – it is mild, gives me intuitive and creative blessings, is not severe enough to require medication. Nonetheless, I do contend with my natural pendulum swing of emotional highs and lows.

There isn’t one magic solution that will “fix” people like us. A disciplined, holistic approach to ones mind, body, and spiritual health is necessary in order to keep us all in a good place – fit enough to make the most of our lives and be happy, functional people contributing to the world.

However, over the years I have found one practice that has helped me profoundly to balance during times of emotional turmoil: MEDITATION.

Intuition during hard times has led me to try and practice many forms of meditation over the years: Eckhart Tolle’s presence method of detaching from ‘the Thinker’ and ‘the pain body’; mindfulness meditation; numerous guided meditations, and Transcendental Meditation (TM).

All the methods I have tried are aiming for the same thing: to enable the practitioner to get beyond both their thoughts and their emotions – which are intertwined – and become the Overseer of everything that is going on both inside and outside of them. 

Many people have a permanent and regular meditation routine that they follow, but I find that I use meditation regularly only during periods of instability and emotional turmoil. This is mainly because I am able to stay in ‘Overseer’ mode for long periods these days.

Tolle talks about practicing presence all day, everyday, and I actually find I do this – primarily because my family – whom I am in regular contact with – present constant challenges to my emotional state. In his books, Tolle talks about how simply staying ‘conscious’ with ‘unconscious’ relatives is the ultimate way to become a Master of presence. I think this is absolutely true.

Tolle also says having to transmute intense suffering can lead to the ultimate ‘awakening’ in the person who is forced by circumstance to transcend their suffering… and the only way to do so, again, is presence – going beyond thinking and emotional reactions, stepping into a higher consciousness. Transmuting suffering into consciousness is the ultimate alchemy. I have multiple experiences with this scenario, too.

So, I highly recommend giving meditation a go. And if you can, check out Eckhart Tolle’s books – I listen to his audiobooks regularly. If you’re on a tight budget (as I am!), see if you can order them in at your local library. There are numerous free meditation podcasts on iTunes – I love the ‘Meditation Oasis’ podcast. And you may be able to find affordable, accessible meditation classes at community centres in your area.

~

On a comedic note, below is a link to a 2 minute soothing guided mediation: for those of us who strive for “nirvana”, but adore the F word :-)

Next post in 9 days. Have a great week.

First world “problem”: your choices create your life.

ADDENDUM: since I wrote this post, a door has opened to communication, reconciliation and, most importantly, health and independence for the person in question. I know he understands now how much we love and care about him, and how much it hurts to watch him not take responsible care of himself. I must and I am remaining detached, though – it remains up to him, as an adult, as to what he will do going forward… so the thrust of this post still applies.

 .

“You are responsible for your life.”

Oprah Winfrey

 

Despite the subject of this post, it is actually about how precious life is, how lucky I know I am – and how the choices we make, every day, create our own realities. It is a post about faith, hope, and The Middle Way. And I am writing it with a clear, peaceful, balanced heart.

I recently had to detach – psychologically divorce myself – from an energy sapping, emotionally draining, dysfunctional relative who refuses to change. He is older than me and temperamentally very different. I am a self-starter, constantly motivated to do things (or to seek help, when I realise I am struggling to motivate myself). He frequently could not be bothered with trying to do things differently, denigrates my own efforts to improve my lot, and has a stubborn and entitled personality that has prevented him – for his entire adult life – from taking simple actions daily that would vastly improve his experience of it.

He has positive qualities, things I loved about him – sensitivity, a love of knowledge, a fantastic sense of humour. He also avoided work, got angry at his parents whenever they quietly pleaded with him to work, felt entitled to do whatever he wanted to do and simultaneously live off their resources. He turned down job training opportunities that were literally offered to him over the years for utterly mystifying reasons. He rejected other people’s suggestions of pathways he could pursue that were available to him, because the jobs were apparently beneath him – or were not an exact match for what he felt he was entitled to.

He struggled with formal studies, yet I have not known many people as intellectually arrogant as he frequently was. His ego could also not admit when he was not doing so well psychologically – I tried to convince him to speak with a professional when I sensed he was unwell, sharing my own experiences of seeking and receiving help – but I don’t know if he truly heard this, ever. He could not admit to himself or others that this was a major issue in his life. And he could be very dishonest. Both to others and to himself.

We shared and bonded over laughs, his only true pain killer – but we see the world in vastly different ways. I have a profound faith and am a spiritual person, who sees magic and beauty everywhere, even in my struggles; I understand my life as having meaning and real purpose. He has a supposedly “rational” and sceptical bent, that prevents him from seeing what I am able to see; though he shares the same sense of awe regarding how majestic the universe is, the sceptic within has kept him mired in cynicism and defeatism – making his sense of hopelessness in regards to his life worse.

I look at people whom society would define as ‘successful’ (in an ethical way) and wonder, “what can I learn from them, in terms of philosophy or work ethic?” He would frequently look at those same people and denigrate their success – not connecting the huge effort they put into achieving whatever it was they achieved with the fruits of their efforts. For all his protestations that materialism is gross and materialistic people wankers, I sensed beneath his resentment a repressed desire for all of the things that the people he hated on possessed.

After many years of bludging and quitting, he developed what I believe was a serious anxiety problem, then depression – but he refused to get help. Instead, he chose to do the worst thing you can do with this particular disorder – he completely withdrew from society, sleeping all the time. There was nothing his family could do about this. A man cannot be forced to open up, or into counselling, into a support group, or a psychologist’s office. Nor can a man be forced to own the truth about his life and the choices – his choices, regarding his activities, his body, and his mind – which are creating it. Any attempts to do this were always met with a wall of avoidance.

The truth is this: he made a choice to reject his life. Or rather, millions of choices. Millions of immature, bad choices over almost two decades of adult life that created a nightmarish reality for himself – one that he actually could change today; but he evidently refuses to do so. So I cannot support him anymore. This is the script he has written, and thanks to immaturity, ego and fear, he is not willing to edit it. His unwillingness to take adult responsibility for his life weighed on me for a decade; my worry for him was severe and ever-present. Whenever I sensed he was going through a particularly bad depression, the worry would make me physically ill and give me insomnia.

Given what I have shared on this blog about my own emotional and physical challenges, which I manage on my own every day, and the barriers I encounter out in the world – you can imagine how my relationship with this person made all of that so much worse. From the depths of my heart I can tell you I have mourned this relative every day of his adult life – and mourned the terrible decisions he frequently makes that keep him in his self-created hell, whilst negatively impacting everyone who cares about him. Perhaps that is why I feel so relieved now; I have done everything I can to try to support him, and convince him to take positive actions to improve and create his life. He has chosen to reject all of that. So I am done.

Because people like us are lucky… we are safe! We are not being abused. We do not live in a war zone. For all its flaws I personally live in one of the best, most liveable cities in the world (It is quite inaccessible, yes, but that is a discussion for another post). We have access to free health care. We have access to all the comforts, sources of support and institutions of self-development a human being needs to thrive. All of this means that we, unlike the vast majority of humans on the planet, truly have the opportunity to create the life of our dreams – or simply a meaningful life (which for me is the life of my dreams) – with the choices we make, everyday. And if a mental health challenge is blocking your pursuit of that life, for fucks sake, MAN UP, face your issues, and go get counselling.

Ultimately, this is the lesson he has taught me: “Your choices create your life.” Every day, we make choices to do (and not do) things that are affecting our present, our future, and the wellbeing of the people and world around us. Do you want peace? Choose to be peaceful. Do want love? Choose to be loving. Do you want respect? Work towards becoming someone who has a character worthy of respect. Do you want a career? Choose to take steps everyday towards that goal. But don’t expect the people around you to carry you there, or for any of these things to be awarded to you without any effort or struggle on your part… the world does not owe you shit. You have to make good choices.

And with your choices today, you can create your future dream life, regardless of the mistakes you have made in the past… or you can create your worst nightmare. You decide.

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I came across this article on Twitter after I wrote the above post, and it really echoed how I have felt for the last two weeks regarding the various self-pitying, myopic, dysfunctional and selfish first world adults I cannot and will not worry myself sick over anymore. I love that a website called ‘Positively Positive‘ published a piece called “It’s All Your Fault” :-)

Because so often, dysfunctional ones, it is. And this truth will set you free

…if you can find the balls/ovaries to accept that truth, then correct your behaviour as required.

I will live the life of my dreams… in *this* body.

[sorry this post is a few days late – I’ve been having issues with my wordpress admin page]

 

This post is about living, loving, and joyfully navigating the world in a body that may be culturally stigmatised, socially marginalised, and structurally discriminated against. I experience the pleasure, the privilege of insights, and sometimes the pain of inhabiting one of those bodies.

Because when your body is the target of discrimination, it is a challenge to not internalise some of the nonsense that is directed at you by others. Even when you are a strong individual who powers yourself from within – which I am (most of the time). I re-listened to a podcast earlier this week, that reminded me of the importance of body acceptance work – for people whose experiences moving through the world are coloured by other people’s prejudices against their “different” bodies.

The podcast was Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour, Episode 2. In it, Girls star Aidy Bryant shares what it is like to be an actress happily living in an overweight body. Ethiopian writer Hannah Giorgis discusses the politics, style and magical bonding that connects Black women who embrace their (often stigmatised) natural afro locks. Young musician Mindie Lind, who has no legs and rides around on a skateboard, explains how being a “crip” is a daily creative process (a brilliant description), and talks about being the object of sexual desire.

Episode 2 also features writer, TV presenter and activist Janet Mock, answering questions about her experiences of being a transgender woman of colour; plus filmmaker/writer Rachel Fleit, who has alopecia, sharing truly beautiful insights from her journey of “coming out” as a bald woman. Rachel says the way she handles people’s weird reactions to her baldness, completely depends upon what she calls her “spiritual fitness” on that day – something that really resonated with me, in general.

In fact, aspects of the experiences of all of these women resonated with me: Aidy’s carefree joy in her body and positive professional experiences within it, despite the rampant discrimination people often warn her about; Hannah’s bonding with her Black girl friends over hair and politics; Mindie’s sense of both power and vulnerability regarding her sexual life, and the creative adaptability that being a “crip” necessitates; and Janet’s simple desire for reciprocal love – a loving, public, respectful and equal partnership.

To me, the experiences shared in the episode highlight how people who inhabit bodies that are socially marginalised, often need to develop – through persistent, loving, self-acceptance work – a confidence in themselves and their being that can withstand and transcend the dumb shit they will encounter in the world. The late poet and disability rights activist Laura Hershey wrote: “Remember, you weren’t the one who made you ashamed, but you are the one who can make you proud […] you get proud by practicing”. For me, this simply means to continuously embrace and love your body.

I am practicing doing that again. In my previous post I wrote about how I am in the process of gaining my physical strength back after recovering from PTSD – integrating a new health and exercise routine into my daily life. At the age of 31, I am closer than I have ever been to realising a permanent, unconditional love for my body, that transcends all the harmful false beliefs I have allowed to exist within me in the past – all of which were internalised from negative experiences in the world, related to the way my body has been accepted (or rather, not accepted) by others.

These experiences started from the age of three. This is the age I was when I first experienced racism. A Japanese girl (funnily enough) at my pre-school told me at length and in great detail (quite alarming, given her age) why my Melanesian body – skin, hair, facial features – were ugly and not as lovely as people whose features were Asian or white. I was the kind of completely open-hearted child who believed everything the world told me at that age, so naturally, in that moment, I internalised it.

But it actually didn’t scar me too much, as I grew into a sensitive but confident child, with many a limerence-afflicted boy admirer and a healthy amount of affirmation from the people in my life. Nonetheless, the “bug” of that incident of racism was still embedded in my psyche, reinforced by the pro-white biased culture I was immersed in, and triggered whenever experiences of racism occurred. And when I say triggered, I am not talking about merely remembering the first experience – I am talking about feeling, in the moment, as inferior and uncomfortable in my body as vulnerable 3 year old me did in that pre-school playground.

I cannot pinpoint an exact moment when I started to “de-colonise” my mind, and completely purged it of the white/light supremacism that permeates much of the world. But I do know it had everything to do with connecting with other Black people who already had unburdened themselves of the bullshit. Since racism begins as body-based discrimination, the unburdening process naturally involves a positive reclamation of the body – specifically, of all the traits that white/light supremacism deems unacceptable. Going natural with my afro-curly hair in my mid 20s was not only an aesthetic choice; it was a political act. A freeing, personal expression of both my antiracism and my feminism.

Becoming sick at the age of 13 presented another psychological challenge to overcome – more layers of body dysmorphia, discomfort with my physical form. I was a naturally athletic and sporty child, so losing the ease I always felt in my body was a shock to my system. And, just as my unconscious discomfort with my Melanesian features owed completely to the experience of being immersed in cultural white/light supremacism, my discomfort with the effects of illness (which in my awkward teens included scoliosis, scars and reduced muscle tone) owed largely to the unkindness of other people – and societal attitudes about “different” bodies.

Unburdening myself of that particular form of internalised -ism, happened strangely and miraculously when I became a paraplegic, at the age of 21. Given my medical history (the illness I battled in my early teens affected my spinal cord), becoming disabled was the one thing I was most afraid of. Ironically, though, I became healthier in the aftermath of that particular trauma. For the duration of the year after that life-changing event, I worked out every day, my skin glowed, my appetite improved and I felt extremely present (and, yes, fly as fuck) in my body… until I started full-time work in an office and no longer had time for it. Different story.

So here I am now, 10 years later, recovering from another extended period of trauma. Not only can challenging times in our lives seriously harm our physical and emotional health – they can also seriously damage the relationship we have with our bodies. For me, I think these last six years have really been marked by a desire to take care of and embrace mine… but an inability to do so consistently and effectively. The PTSD symptoms totally depleted me of the energy, stability, and clarity I require in order to be able to take care of myself as a disabled woman.

2016 for me is about giving myself that energy, stability, and clarity. I have designed my new health/body routine to ensure I am maximising the amount of vitality, gratitude and joy I feel within it. Because it is this amazingly resilient form – this Melanesian, disabled, female body – I will live my long, long life and dreams in. And it is by really, truly loving and caring for it – embracing everything the unconscious world around me signals in subtle and overt ways is unacceptable, every day – that I will be strong enough to make those dreams come true.

Just watch me :-)

The practice of being well.

“For it to get better, you need to get better.”

This is a post about healing; and the previous six years of my life.

Yesterday I had a 5 hour lunch with two friends – married to each other – who have lived for over a decade with the painful, heavy reality of severe injustice and mental illness: the invention of the husband’s mental health issues by an incorrectly diagnosed bout of cerebral malaria; a serious head-trauma inducing car accident; and the subsequent fuckery of a pseudo-scientific, inhumane and dignity-stripping psychiatric system – one that long ago incorrectly appraised my friend’s neurological diversity as a danger to society and to his beloved wife.

They have experienced first hand how being deemed by the authorities as ‘crazy’ in a dangerous way, can in practice render ones human rights null and void. He has endured years of dignity-stripping observation and treament from supposed professionals – forced sectioning in psychiatric facilities, forced medication and injections, forced electric shock treatment. She has endured the continuous heartache of fighting on his behalf for his rights and his dignity, whilst also having to live with the sometimes trying – never dangerous, but trying – neurological results of this in his personality and behaviour.

Over the years through my friendship with this brilliant scientist and kindhearted man, I have had a glimpse of these neurological results, which are as distressing to his own analytical mind as they are to his equally intelligent but soulful and present wife. Through no fault of their own, this is their lot in life. And the other day, we really, really talked  – joyfully – about living with circumstances we cannot change, and finding light and hope daily in the midst of such circumstances.

I have some insight into living that kind of life, for various reasons. My friend, she said to me that I’ve experienced an unusual amount of big loss in my life – certainly for someone my chronological age. Most of this loss I am unable to talk about or articulate; but I still feel the pain of those losses. Often I am unable to connect the pain I feel with the actual losses, though. Because of this, I have had these moments in life where I’ve had to get real with myself about me not coping so well with the stuff I cannot change; then seek new methods to alleviate the distress I have tried my best to hide from people.

Last year was a big year in terms of admitting to myself I was not coping so well, and seeking professional help for that. I’ve always been slightly bipolar, and I go through phases of having to withdraw into myself to rejuvenate, followed by a return to “normality” (until the next time). I have learned to live with these cycles and now recognise the profound gifts that come with the pendulum swing – intuitive insights, healing, bursts of creative inspiration and intense joy just being solitary and listening to… well, the universe.

Beyond that natural disposition, in the past I have dealt with various manifestations of psychological distress that followed intense losses in my life – depression, self-starvation, self-harm, suicide ideation. These behaviours and thought patterns I thankfully transcended by the age of 21. But in the last six years, I have been dealing with a different set of symptoms that I frankly was in serious denial about:

extreme anxiety, particularly in social settings; extreme dread and amorphous fear; feeling phobic of particular places; panic attacks following being “triggered” by what I thought were random things – music, the sound of a stranger’s voice, particular words (god, I wish I was joking about that).

I had to take unfathomably heartbreaking but necessary steps to remove myself from a toxic situation that I thought was merely contributing to my mental distress, and the distress of another. I thought that this would give me the psychological space I needed to at least have a chance to heal, and live life. The problem is that I didn’t actually pursue healing – at least, not in the right places. I was merely suppressing parts of myself I actually needed in order to fully live and fulfil my purpose (which was oddly the one thing I continuously gained clarity about throughout. I have a magenta folder on my desk now – my own personal life manual – full of insights about this).

I also thought I was weak – which could not be further from the truth. My self talk got pretty dark and I interpreted these bizarre developments – which were actually symptoms of something – as me just not being on top of things; unfortunately, the symptoms themselves caused me to not be on top of things. For six years – despite some typically lucky success – I have had to constantly cancel projects and plans because of these symptoms. This was demoralising. In conjunction with the usual dysfunctional problems within my family and my ever-present worry for them, I felt completely bound up and trapped in my life.

All of this was of course the universe trying to get me to STOP, and heal; but I am a slow learner. So slow in fact that despite living with all that shit and inner chaos for six years, it took me until May 2015 to acknowledge to myself that “the shit”, as it were, might actually be symptoms of something – although I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what it might be. I hadn’t made the necessary connections yet.

It was a fantastic psychologist who did that for me. She very generously treated me in her home, as her office was not wheelchair accessible. When she officially diagnosed  “the shit”, it was as much of a shock as it was a relief. PTSD. Post traumatic stress disorder. I could not believe it, but I could not deny it made sense. I had no references for the experience that had caused the trauma so it never occurred to me that I could actually be seriously traumatised. In that office, it dawned on me.

Miraculous things started to happen after just getting the diagnosis, and shining light on the thing within my psyche that I had not been willing to look at – until that day. In the days and weeks that followed I experienced a massive unblocking of energy and regaining of physical strength; I “looked” different and people noticed – are still noticing. In my sessions with the psychologist we worked through the pain memories causing the distress.

But I did most of that on my own. My psychologist proposed, in addition to what she called for me cognitive behavioural “scripting” (I am a writer, after all) and extremely effective “mental filmmaking”/visualisation (I am a dreamer, after all), EMDR treatment. It kind of strips the pain from the memories. I agreed to it; but I found that in the two week period before we started EMDR, my mind processed the problematic emotions on its own. Now I had the memories, but stripped of the associated painful emotions. This particular “pain body”, as Eckhart Tolle would say, had gone.

I cannot put into words the relief I felt. And I felt it immediately, not just in my mind but in my body. Weird ailments that had developed in it lessened or completely disappeared. And it was a good news year physically, too – my first scan since 2006 revealed the syrinx that caused my disability has reduced in size, without any treatment in that period; and the rest of my spine is clear. At the end of the year I reconnected with a physiotherapy service to work on my strength in particular areas of my body that had weakened since the PTSD symptoms developed; and with stress related lethargy now gone, I can focus on working out my body and mind again.

Most importantly, I know that I have to. I have learned this lesson before, but I keep fucking forgetting… this time, though, I have got it. I have to work on all aspects of my health – staying in tune with what is happening in my mind and body, and my heart; continuously practicing the methods I have been taught over the years to keep my mind and body clear, and my heart open. Without it, I cannot do the work I came here to do. I have to practice being well, everyday. 

For people like me, this is our only choice – there is no other way. It is a state of surrender, living this way… a state of presence. I feel very strongly I am going to live a very, very long life; mastering this practice will be essential to that. Some days are easier than others; the key thing to remember is that you have to take each one as it comes. Just keep practicing. Over time, you get better. And because you get better, *it*  – life – gets better.

I know it will.

New Year Resolution: Pure Connection.

296 post - connection

via http://allthingsfandom.tumblr.com

No Masks.

Sometimes what seems like a tragedy, or the manifestation of your idea of “the worst case scenario”, is actually a tremendous blessing in disguise. I know that seems like a glib line; but it is actually a lesson I have lived and learned, over and over again, thus far in what I feel will be an unusually and extraordinarily long life.

When I suddenly became a paraplegic in 2006, weeks after undergoing spinal cord surgery to decompress a syrinx that had crippled me over the course of two years, and at the end of a 9 year period in which everything that could go wrong in my life went painfully, irreversibly wrong, I was already an in-patient in the rehabilitation hospital where I would learn how to negotiate life in a wheelchair – and experience my first adult spiritual ‘awakening’ (there have been many, since childhood. Each one leads to a new level of awareness).

I was in a dangerously dark place psychologically before the decompression surgery, having sustained trauma upon trauma from physical degeneration, profound loss, relationships with others and a tortured and hateful relationship with myself, whilst having no outlets whatsoever – nor the emotional tools – to process the grief and trauma that filled the ocean within me like an oil spill. During that period I wrote so much and drew so many charcoal and black biro sketches; they were beautiful in the way that a sad depressing song or a dark art film might be, yet brought me no closer to the catharsis I sorely needed.

It is hard to find your way out of a dark place with no one there to guide you how to do it. People in my family, despite their deep and powerful love for me, were not equipped to guide me out of the abyss I was mired in, and barely knew how to cope with their own life aches and wounds – let alone the trauma of seeing me go through circumstances they were powerless to save me from.  I needed serious, holistic psychological lifesaving – but the only experience I had had with a psychological professional – a very young, earnest, but out of her depth school psychologist I had to see as a result of truancy – had shattered my trust in them.

In lieu of the help I needed, false tough exteriors had masked for many years the inner turmoil that I feared would engulf me if I ever really acknowledged it. This went on for almost a decade; I tried on the mask of party girl, loner, stoner, freak. I suppressed my natural interests and was ashamed of the purest, most earnest, most vulnerable and most real parts of myself; taking cues from my environment, friends, boyfriends, society, I understood that these parts of me were not acceptable – they made me different in ways that I did not want to be. Ways that I feared being.

But a door to healing opened in rehab. It was a door that those vulnerable parts of me had been silently petitioning the Universe for, even as my conscious mind was clueless as to how to lift myself out of the mess I was in. I was a zombie in the days and weeks that followed losing the normal use of most of my body. And I am a stoic motherfucker; so my instinctual reaction was to focus completely on my physical routines like a factory worker might focus on an assembly line. A set of steps. A job to be done. A ‘to do’ list. Day in, day out, doing the things to make the physios and doctors and nurses all say “good job Pauline!” before retiring to my room at night and releasing a flood of tears silently into my pillow. I was a day zombie, but I was a productive zombie. I was doing what needed to be done.

That is when I learned a very important life lesson: mind and body are truly connected. The physical rehabilitation routines eventually developed into a love of the routines; the love for the routines grew into a love for training in the gym. I became a morning gym junkie, weirdly – became physically strong, kind of ripped and ironically fitter than I had ever been when I was able to walk. I experienced an unexpected unblocking of energy and rush of joyful, sensual, creative and intuitive inspiration; I made art with rainbow colours, made music, rediscovered my sense of humour and went on moonlight strolls through the patient gardens listening to alternative music and feeling, for the first time since childhood, connected to all that is.

And simultaneously, without effort or planning, I accepted my new life in a wheelchair. And kissed goodbye to the past. It was FREEDOM; my first taste of what that word truly means. I was disabled, but man, I was free.

In tandem with this physically induced clearing of psychological blocks, I also – for the first time – had free and immediate access to compatible and intuitive psychological professionals. The resident sex therapist was a beautiful intuitive named Alexa – from memory, she rocked white cowboy boots and a retro dress daily like the fucking star she was. I’d roll pass her office on the way to my weekly meditation class (another first for me, delivered into my life courtesy of my new disability) and peer into the room adorned with rainbow cushions, rainbow stationary, aglow with warm lighting – and feel supernaturally compelled to go in.

One day I did. At the end of my first two meetings with Alexa she gave me two postcards which I still have in my bedroom and meditate on today. The first one was a print of a painting – a beautiful big banyan tree with huge roots in the earth and extending into the sky; one side of the sky was day, and the other night. Throughout this scene are symbolic creatures and sacred symbols. Before rummaging through her desk to find this card for me, she rubbed her belly and told me she had an intuition this picture would somehow be important in my life. I accepted the card with a grateful heart, but sceptical mind; yet the card has been, and continues to be, a signpost of revelations.

The second postcard she gave me moved me on a level that I had forgotten I had; shattering the false social masks that had been holding me together yet imprisoning me for a decade. We had been talking very casually about my life up to that point, and some of the realisations I was having on the other side of “the thing that I feared most” (disability) happening; but she had begun to intuit that despite making serious progress in such a short space of time, there were still some toxic blocks I needed to address – once I left this womb-like centre of rehabilitation and affirmation, and went back into the world. On the card, was a simple black and white photograph of a masquerade mask-covered face in Venice.

After leaving her office that afternoon, I turned the card over. It read:

In my darkest hour silence spoke louder than words
I am lost in a floating dreamscape
I see my face behind a mask
with knowing steps I am lured closer
reflection strips my guise
in the heart of darkness
I see a light
I hear my voice and I am found.

In those words I intuited another important lesson: beyond the artifice of social masks, constructed in the darkness of the fear that who we really are is too broken, too weird, too ugly or too vulnerable to see the light of day, is who we really, truly are. A Light within.

I am learning to live openly as the Light.

The Mask Venezia by nikita

The Mask Venezia by Nikita

Christening.

‘Tonight I love you in a way that you have not known in me: I am neither worn down by travels nor wrapped up in the desire for your presence. I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself.’

Words by Jean-Paul Sartre to Simone de Beauvoir.

Stella Mag Blog posts (May – Oct)

Links to all my posts for the Stella Magazine blog published since mid-May below – newest to oldest.

 

14

25 OCTOBER 2015

Film: Tanna (2015)

Shot completely in Vanuatu, award-winning film ‘Tanna’ tells a true story of forbidden love.

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13

23 OCTOBER 2015

Music: ‘Once’ by Ngairre

Ahead of the release of Ngaiire’s 2nd album, we’re tuning in to our Issue 7 cover girl’s latest single & performances.

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12

22 OCTOBER 2015

Women candidates in Pacific elections

We take a look at some of the recent stories about increasing female representation in parliaments across the Pacific.

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11

07 OCTOBER 2015

Music: Blue King Brown & Nattali Rize

Check out what Stella’s Issue 13 cover story BKB are up to now, & the fantastic new solo EP of frontwoman Nattali Rize!

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01 OCTOBER 2015

The ‘trickle down’ aid myth

Australia has been urged to adopt a new approach to aid in PNG: one that empowers its grassroots citizens & civil society.

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26 SEPTEMBER 2015

Free And Equal in the Pacific

How do we free our communities of homophobia & transphobia? This awareness campaign leads the way.

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07 AUGUST 2015

The ‘Chocolate Voyage’

A look at Melanesian cocoa making, as a Fijian crew sail to Bougainville for the ‘Wellington Chocolate Voyage’!

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22 JULY 2015

Climate Change & “Refugees” from the Pacific

We look at recent Pacific climate change stories making headlines. It is all connected.

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6

06 JULY 2015

Primer: Pacific Games 2015

It’s finally underway! Today we take a glance at The Pacific Games – its past, present, and future

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30 JUNE 2015

Exposed: Corrupt Australian professionals exploiting PNG

How foreign professionals bribe PNG politicians – and launder dirty money in Australia.

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18 JUNE 2015

Film ‘Blackbird’ shines light on Pacific Islander sugar slaves in Australia

Filmmaker Amie Batalibasi’s period drama explores Australian South Sea Islanders history

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10 JUNE 2015

Josephine Getsi’s historic win

An unprecedented number of women ran for open seats in the recent Bougainville election. Josephine Getsi was one of them.

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29 MAY 2015

Thank You, ‘Haus Krai’ anti-violence activists

Stories and photographs of some of the women and men who joined Haus Krai 2015.

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15 MAY 2015

Haus Krai 2015 & The Leniata Legacy

Join demonstrations in PNG, Australia & the U.S tomorrow for ‘Haus Krai’: a call to action to end violence against women.

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Stella Magazine Issue 15 on sale now!

I know it has been a lot longer than 3 days since my last post… sorry. All I can say is that life is requiring my full attention right now. I am also spending A LOT more time thinking, questioning, researching and developing than I am broadcasting at the moment – refining my own beliefs, ideas, and vision. But this the first in a return to regular posting on Just the Messenger. For real.

So here we go. The revamped, thicker Stella Magazine Issue 15 is currently on sale! I was honoured to write the cover feature story for this one, ‘Conscious Entrepreneur‘, on the courageous and indomitable Grace Dlabik – parent, humanitarian, boss lady at GiDi Creative and Global Creative Director of Empire star Malik Yoba’s iconic32 (page 47-60). This is a fantastic, content-rich edition and, as always, an aesthetic feast for the eyes. I am so proud to be involved with this outstanding publication. And we have an app now (see below!)

Stella Issue 15

List of stockists here.

As mentioned, Stella magazine is now also available digitally through our brand new app! 

Available on the iTunes app store here.

And on GooglePlay here.

Online subscriptions are available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN a prize!

 

Stay in the loop by liking Stella Magazine on Facebook here. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

And sign up to our newsletter to get blog posts from yours truly and the Editor via our website (pop in your email address in the ‘subscribe to newsletter’ box on the right hand side).

Pic by cafe, wholesaler, market stall and caterer Mama Coco! mamacoco.com.au

Photo by cafe, wholesaler, market stall and caterer Mama Coco! mamacoco.com.au

EPIC view of the Earth.

 

suzuki quote planet

Photo above was released by NASA recently. It was taken by a NASA EPIC (Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory spacecraft on July 6th, 2015. The photo shows the Earth, lit by the Sun, from a distance of one million miles. The EPIC will be taking daily photos of the Earth.

New post in three days. Hope you are well :-)

Stella Mag Blog.

A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:

Jennifer Food Show

Café Niugini

Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.

Julia tatu

Reviving & Protecting Melanesian Tattoo

Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.

Ella Mask

Afrobetty Mask Making Workshops

PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.

Mothers Day post

Giving life to those who give life

Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.

Grace Dlabik

Grace Dlabik & The Social Studio

As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.

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Read these and other interesting posts on the Stella Mag blog HERE. Subscribe to the print magazine HERE. It’s really, really good :-)

I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.

I hope you are well.

‘Giving life to those who give life: Mothers of PNG’

Happy Mothers Day to all the great mamas out there :-)

New blog post up over at Stella Magazine on one simple but seemingly effective way to help reduce the number of childbirth related deaths in Papua New Guinea.

And how you can support efforts to do just that.

John Oliver highlights how you can exercise your power to choose better

John Oliver rips garment industry

HERE is a brilliant clip of the latest edition of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. In it, John breaks down just how the business of cheap mass fashion works – why it’s cheap. why it’s profitable, how they get the masses (mostly women) to keep buying the stuff, and why all of this is so gross and damaging. This show is so darn quotable!

Watch the entertaining clip in its entirety… and consider the possibility of taking responsibility for the apparel purchasing choices you make.  You can stop supporting child labour and virtual slavery via supporting hugely profitable, ethically bankrupt apparel companies – and instead support ethical companies and efforts to compel bad ones to change their business practices. You can live well (and dress well) without buying their stuff.

A lot of insane, dreadful and potentially world-ruining things happen on this planet everyday – issues so big and beyond our control. I am continuously heartbroken by it all. But in the face of this, it’s good to remember the things we DO have control over. Where and how we choose to spend our money is one of them.

Please choose wisely, and kindly.

DONATING TO RELIEF EFFORTS IN NEPAL, VANUATU & PACIFIC ISLANDS

Speaking of choosing kindly, you can donate to life saving relief efforts in Nepal (following the devastating April 25th 7.8-magnitude earthquake) and Pacific Island nations including Vanuatu  (following the March category five Tropical Cyclone Pam).

Here is how you can help out Nepal:

Nepal earthquake: How you can help

Here is how you can help out Vanuatu, Pacific Islands affected by Cyclone Pam:

ABC Appeals – Australia is #withVanuatu

 

 

Previous related posts:

‘Fashion Victims’: Hideously Unethical Outsourcing in Clothing Industry

Fashion Month, ethical, local design: special event!

Equal access in store: big retailer in violation of Disabilities Act

Live simply.

“Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine”

WWW.PHOTOGRAPHYBYALEXANDER.COM

ANNE THOMAS.  WWW.PHOTOGRAPHYBYALEXANDER.COM

I almost never read articles about dating as I don’t find them particular helpful, interesting or applicable to my own life. So many articles on dating discuss trends in online dating I have zero interest in, or discuss the “science” of game – offering grotesque or just plain dodgy advice on how to up your chances of landing a mate or securing a shag (and these aren’t just articles targeting men). No relationship I have ever embarked upon has ever started with “game”, or even effort, so those discussions repel me. The cynicism of it all… repels me.

But THIS article is actually pretty damn amazing.

Now 57, Anne Thomas was 18 when she became paralysed from the chest down – in the midst of an era of eugenics and widespread human rights abuses of disabled people. In this deeply honest piece, she discusses her experience of navigating her sexual and romantic life – and life in general – in the face of a fairly fucked up world that discouraged (and in many ways, continues to discourage) her from acknowledging or satiating a fundamental part of her humanity – the need for intimacy.

Dating in a wheelchair: Your problem, not mine

This article is an educational read for non-disabled people who want to enlighten themselves about diverse experiences.

Though Anne’s life is radically different from mine, I relate to many aspects of her experience – having to overcome ingrained fear of physical difference, coming to terms with your body, allowing others to know that body, dealing with stupid and rude questions about being disabled (sometimes from members of the medical profession), coming up against physical barriers, finding love but then experiencing social barriers (like unsupportive friends, family), unwanted attention from creeps/people who want to treat you badly… it goes on, and on.

I know of people who are transgender and gay who can relate to these experiences too. It is the experience of having a body and/or sexual orientation that is severely stigmatised by society, and trying to find the courage to live fully and openly in spite of it. In describing specific events in her own life, Anne touched on so many universal elements of that experience of stigma, and I just have to tip my hat to her for this refreshingly frank article.

Seriously. I relate to this passage so hard – about the tension of being physically vulnerable, exposed, completely engaged, but wanting to protect your emotions too:

“The man invited me for a drink. The only way out of the building for me was a metal wheelchair lift. I cringed as it clanged and banged on the way down. I felt like the Goddess of Thunder (not in a good way). Side by side, we made it to the sidewalk. It was hard for me to push the chair because of the cross slope for rain run off, but I didn’t want to ask for help and appear weak or needy. We talked until two in the morning and he never asked me anything about my disability. He didn’t see it, and it felt as if I’d known him forever. And yet years of rejection stopped me from showing him how much I liked him.”

“Sometimes You’re A Caterpillar” – on mutual understanding & privilege.

Two YouTube-rs I enjoy have teamed up to produce this fantastic, gentle, adorable animated short on understanding and privilege.

Written by chescaleighShe also has a website, it’s here.

Animated by Kat Blaque. She also has a tumblr, it’s here.

Cover story in Issue 13 of Stella & Entrepreneurs at CPAF

Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well :-)

Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.

Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.

‘SISTERS FOR WEST PAPUA’ IN ISSUE 13 STELLA – ON SALE NOW!

As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:

“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.

In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.

As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.

With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”

There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.

Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.

CONTEMPORARY PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL 2015: ‘OCEANIA NOW’

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!

CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.

Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:

5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.

Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.

Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.

Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.

‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.

‘Construction Piece Scores’ ExhibitionCPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.

Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.

CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.

We’ve just released the Symposium line-up HERE and HERE.

I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.

A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned to the CPAF website and CPAF Symposium website for further announcements, booking information, and the full festival program (yet to be released).

“Climbing the secret staircase.”

I recently watched Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 TED talk called ‘Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence‘ – have a look:

In it, he talks about how seeking transcendence is a part of being human:

“Most people long to overcome pettiness, and become part of something larger. And this explains the extraordinary resonance of this simple metaphor, conjured up nearly 400 years ago: no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And it reminded me of these words I wrote on the “My Philosophy” page of this blog in 2010:

“There are many who are already transcending the old divisions of the past and shackles of tradition, forging new identities based not on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or political factions, but, instead, rooted in a higher awareness and understanding of themselves as unique and powerful individuals that are part of a greater interconnected whole.”

The words on that page remain true for me. I wrote about the necessity of moving “past tribal dependency towards individualised awareness”. But this does not mean that I think one has to renounce all “tribal” loyalties. And if what Haidt contends in the video above is correct, for most people this is actually impossible to do. Even individualists “circle” around a sacred value, a sacred cause… liberty.

In contrast to the pure individualism I was into in my mid 20s, today, I nourish my roots to place and my kin/group in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. I am concerned about the conservation of our traditional lands and healthy development. But I also know that the safety and well-being of my kin is deeply and inextricably connected with the well-being of us as individuals, the well-being and survival of all of humanity, and the health of the ecosystems that sustain us. This – these linked concerns – are the highest priority. And they are linked to my love and concern for the country in which I was raised and am grateful to live, Australia.

So here is my broad contention: we face multiple global threats as a species. Given this, it is the people pursuing a form of self-transcendence that allows them to perceive beyond loyalties to tribes (subcultures, cultures, nations, religions, ideologies, “people like them”) who will lead the way to safety. This is because their self-transcendence will enable them to fully comprehend that our survival depends upon a global consciousness, the ability to see how our localised realities and concerns do connect to one shared human destiny.

They will lead the way – and are leading the way – by being able to speak to and mobilise their tribes, their groups, to safeguard humanity’s common destiny, and in turn the destiny of their group. They will lead (the individuals in) their groups to progress towards more holistic, healthier ways of living and working together. And they will mobilise (the individuals in) their groups to connect with, cooperate with, and care for others who are doing the same. I have discussed such leaders in the past. In posts to come, I will discuss more.

Personal responsibility & compassion – finding a balance.

Whilst visiting the International Aids Conference’s Global Village back in July, I was given a pamphlet advising media about correct and incorrect language to use when discussing and reporting on issues related to HIV/AIDS. Prepared by AFAO, the pamphlet contains a great checklist to help communicators avoid using terms that are derogatory, or that perpetuate myths or stereotypes about HIV. These were some of its suggestions:

USE person living with HIV; DON’T use HIV sufferer”.

USE street-based sex worker; DON’T use street walker.”

USE person who uses drugs; DON’T use junkie, drug addict.”

USE affected communities; DON’T use high risk group.”

USE children with HIV; DON’T use innocent victims.”

Innocent victims. Such an odd term. The AFAO caution against using it, as its use contributes to the stigma around and discrimination against people living with HIV. Let us, for the sake of the discussion in this post, entertain the notion that such a category does exist. If there is such a class, what are we to refer to other victims as … “guilty victims”?

These binary judgments sound ridiculous, and arguably are. Nonetheless, a significant percentage of the world’s population believe in the existence of such categories. Implicit within the terms above is the perception that some victims of – well, anything, really – have taken some action or done something wrong, to deserve (or at least facilitate) whatever it is that has happened (or is happening) to them.

From this point of view, the predicaments people experience in life are a consequence of the choices they make and actions they take. In the case of HIV, adults who contract it from voluntary unprotected sex with someone likely living with the virus, are said to have brought it upon themselves. A child who contracts HIV from their parent, in contrast, is absolved of any “guilt” in the creation of their life predicament – they had no choice. They are innocent.

You might expect someone to the right of the political spectrum to endorse such a karmic view of the world – one in which adults are responsible, and reap what they sow. Not too long ago, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who studies the intuitive foundations of morality, conducted a study in which Americans were asked questions to ascertain their moral values. Over 350,000 people were surveyed, and the sample group were asked to endorse or reject the following two statements, among others:

1) “Compassion is the most important virtue.”

2) “The world would be a better place if we let unsuccessful people fail and suffer the consequences.”

Haidt’s research found that conservatives endorsed both statements mildly, and equally. It is a predictable finding. People who lean right tend to emphasise the idea of “personal responsibility”. Beyond cleaning up the fallout of ones own errors, this seems to involve encouraging (sometimes forcing) people into what could be described as conservative lifestyles. Setting aside religion-based notions of propriety and worthiness, these lifestyles are seen to afford the individual a measure of protection against all manner of undesirable things.

In contrast, the response of liberals to those same statements above was stronger – the liberals in the sample group strongly endorsed the compassion statement, and strongly rejected the failure statement. They wanted compassion to be the foundational virtue of their society (evidence of bleeding hearts). Haidt said the liberals surveyed were more likely to give people further chances – and more likely to endorse the idea that mercy is better than revenge.

Of course, many liberals also espouse notions of moral “personal responsibility” and “natural” karmic law. I recall dissident feminist Camille Paglia’s (controversial) assertion that the AIDS crisis that killed so many gay men in the 1980s, was directly connected to out-of-balance promiscuous excesses – although she attached no moral judgment to this assertion. In contrast, sex positive advice columnist/activist Dan Savage scolded some men in his community living with HIV, for endangering the lives of others through what he saw as wilfully irresponsible behaviour.

It is easy to see how both the “karmic” and “compassion” perspectives could be wrong – and how they could be right. On the one hand, many of us have a choice as to how we live our lives – we can mitigate risks to ourselves, and others, through these choices. Whilst apportioning blame to HIV-positive people is both cruel and unconstructive, providing people with resources, reliable information, and encouraging everyone (through incentives and disincentives) to responsibly self-care can be empowering for both individuals and communities.

On the other hand, we are inherently flawed beings; we make mistakes. We must navigate complex environments with familial, social, cultural, economic, legal, political and psychological pressures, using whatever knowledge and resources we’ve been able to accumulate at any point in time. We have different levels of access to information, different life experiences, different temperaments and abilities, different inner and outer struggles. We are not always able to foresee the consequences of the choices we make. A large number of us do not have many choices at all.

This is why it is important to balance an understanding of personality responsibility with an understanding of – and compassion for – the complexity of the human experience. We are all frequently victims of human frailty, both our own and others. Simultaneously, we contend with larger social forces in an unconscious world that powerfully shape our behaviour. Given this volatile, uneven and unfair world we all have been born into, compassion seems to be the only reasonable response.

Strolling around the International Aids Conference Global Village, visiting information stalls from over 30 countries representing all demographics affected by HIV, I was once again reminded of the necessity of that compassion – and just how (unnecessarily) complicated the world we have created is. How societies shame people living with the virus, whilst enacting policies and enforcing social mores that unintentionally raise the likelihood of high-risk behaviour, and prevent people from seeking, or even having access to, medical care.

In  many societies today, the tension between a conservative “karmic” view of those affected by HIV, and those advocating a “compassion” response – with a greater emphasis on removing the burden and barrier of stigma – rages on. Stigmatisation inevitably accompanies the conservative view of morality, of cause and effect. Not only does this adversely affect HIV-positive people – babies, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly – but the stigmatisation can actually put a society as a whole at risk.

Consider the advent of “AIDS denialism” in South Africa, famously propagated by its former president Thabo Mbeki, under the influence of maverick (pseudo) scientists. The country faces hugely complex problems surrounding containment/treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Whilst sexuality is very much a part of being human, our species historically has had a profoundly tortured relationship with its own – in many cultures and religious traditions, sexuality has been stigmatised, and attributed to mankind’s lower “animal” nature. Such notions accompanied Christian-European settlement of South Africa.

Adding to this deep, toxic shaming of a basic human impulse, Black South Africans contended with a history of racist characterisation regarding their sexual behaviour – they were regarded by many whites as rampantly promiscuous, and thus less moral or worthy. In a country where these interrelated, shame-inducing bad ideas about sexuality and race were long embedded, the susceptibility of some towards wanting to believe that a disease spreading quickly in a majority black population was not transmitted through sexual contact, was foreseeable.

The consequences, sadly, were utterly devastating. By the late 1990s, Thabo Mbeki had started to question the scientific consensus on AIDS, that the syndrome is caused by a viral infection that can be treated (not cured) with life saving/extending medical drugs. In 2000, Mbeki publicly rejected that consensus, declaring AIDS was not brought about by a virus, but by the collapse of the immune system – which he said was caused by poverty, bad nourishment and general ill-health. Alleviation of poverty was thus the answer – not expensive medications.

The ensuing policies enacted by his government were responsible for the avoidable deaths of more than a third of a million people, according to Pride Chigwedere and colleagues from the Harvard school of public health in Boston. They estimated that more than 330,000 people died unnecessarily over the period 2000-2005, and that 35,000 HIV-positive babies were born who could have been protected from the virus. Culturally embedded stigma, shame, and denial thus contributed significantly to the massive spread of HIV not just at a community level, but also at the highest, legislative level.

There is clearly much to be said for taking responsibility for ones actions – for enacting policies that encourage people to do so, and guide social behaviour in order to protect both individuals and a whole population. But the unfortunate example of South Africa under Mbeki shows that rigid moral judgments – particularly when unexamined – coupled with a denial of human nature, can cause as much needless suffering, if not more, than individual poor choices. In that case, moral judgments (and the fear of them) actually prevented policies that would have facilitated healthier behaviour and saved lives.

And so, when it comes to assisting people living with HIV, a virus that does not discriminate, morality-based notions of “innocent” and “guilty” victimhood are entirely redundant and unhelpful. But we do need to get the balance right. Coming up with policies that encourage and empower people to make wise choices in regards to their lives and health, whilst working zealously to eliminate stigma as something that is both inhumane and dangerous for society as a whole, is the middle way forward.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Yes, that was another epic absence from here. I meant to post this back in July but, ya know, life.

Transcending the (modular) mind.

“What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human”

Kurzban on ‘All in The Mind’, ABC Radio National, 6/11/2010.

Not being in control has been a constant theme in my life.

More recently, it is what compelled me to take an impromptu blogging sabbatical back in March (er, sorry about that). Not that I was out of control. But life has a way of forcing me – in dramatically messed up ways – to pass through certain doors of awareness in order to progress, step-by-step, to what I intuit is some metaphorical plateau of illumination.

I am not complaining. I have been told by people with deep insights in this area that I am “evolving quickly” – and for this, I am grateful. Part of this progress has been realising that my life process does, and will likely always, involve sudden stops, followed by periods of emptiness, during which my only desire is to isolate, rest – followed by some spectacular realisation or enlightenment.

Much of this has to do with the fact that I am an INFJ – the bulk of my “thinking” happens outside of my ‘conscious’ awareness, and I often use intuition, before logic, to ascertain what is what, in a given situation. The reason for this is simple and frustrating – I can function in no other way. This is just how it is, for me. I have no control over that. It is what it is.

So I navigate life with this inner sense, refined by logic and reason. And this means that I sometimes make decisions, or create things, or pursue a course of action that I know will yield a particular result that needs to occur. But here is the kicker – I do not know the specifics of what that result will be. Nor do I know when what I create will reveal it’s purpose to me – I only know I need to play my part. All will be revealed later.

Crazy, right? Yet I have consistently found this to be true for me – especially this year. Pictures in my head converted to pictures on my wall, revealing their meaning to me weeks and months later with startling literal clarity. Things have been falling apart and falling away all around me, and yet the inner vision is somehow becoming clearer. Twelve things written as a list on a piece of paper, many years ago, now revealed to me.

I know now the broad outline of the story, my little story – I just need to play my part. But the specifics of each scene are always improvised. I’m only in control of my reactions and responses, moment to moment. I perceive I am here merely to perform a function – something else is in control. This notion, of being a mere conduit for “something else”, some higher force – whole, holistic, clear-sighted, loving – to emerge through, is central to many spiritual teachings.

And it is probably the part of pursuing such teachings that juvenile seekers (egos seduced by the popular new-agey selling point of being able to be tiny masters of the universe, magically in control of and conjuring their lives like magicians) find the hardest to understand or even accept as a thing. Not being in control, being a servant or tool, is not as sexy as being a man-god, is it?

But the notion that we are just performing a collection of functions, necessary from an evolutionary perspective, and driven by an evolutionary impulse, is likely just as true in terms of the physical mind. In the physical mind, however, the multitude of different functions our “selves” perform – particularly when that “self” is disconnected from any higher consciousness – leads to contradictions, self-delusion, hypocrisy, dualities.

The evolutionary psychologist Robert Kurzban contends that our minds are, in fact, “modular”, rather than something unitary. This means that human minds have different components – each of these components are functionally specialized. An analogy Kurzban has used is that our minds are like smart phones – they have different applications, or modules, that perform different functions.

Evolutionary analysis focuses on the notion of function – if something exists, it is (or has) served some kind of evolutionary purpose. Thus, a mind module exists because it is fulfilling a particular function. This function, in physical terms, is to contribute to the reproductive success of the individual. The thing about these modular functions, though, is that sometimes the outcome of those functions – and the functions themselves – seem to contradict each other.

One problematic outcome of this conflict, is rank hypocrisy. Think of the politician, who knows that in order to win votes, he must take a firm moral stand on a particular issue – for example, the sanctity of marriage, including his own. His political success app knows this is necessary, and he may even believe his own moralising. But this politician has another app – one that compels him to chase skirt of reproductive age like a son-of-a-bitch.

A bit of a conflict there, I think it is safe to say. The hypothetical politician is pursuing self-interest in both cases – both things individually provide worldly benefits to him, but they also contradict each other (and any exposure of this contradiction to the community, is arguably a reproductive liability). Kurzban has been careful to emphasise, though, that he does not see the modular view as obviating responsibility for ones actions.

It merely explains a lot of dodgy, harmful, and hurtful human behaviour. But we are still responsible for that behaviour. Keeping this in mind, note that the modular view inherently points to something that many, many people find quite disturbing – the idea that we are not in control of our minds, in a bigger sense. Natasha Mitchell asked Kurzban about this back in 2010, when he was a guest on ABC Radio National’s “All In The Mind” (one of my faves).

The philosopher Jerry Fodor had said that “If there is a community of computers in my head there had also better be somebody in charge, and by God that had better be me”. When reminded of this quote, Kurzban said:

“there’s this really powerful intuition that there’s someone in your head that’s sort of in charge: the I, the me, what Freud would have called the ego or something like that. And my view would be that that’s just an illusion, that we just feel as though there’s this unitary eye in there, but in fact we’re just this network of lots of different systems. And that idea is somehow frightening, and yet it explains a lot of these sorts of inconsistencies.”

The ego – just an illusion. He continued:

“So when Jerry wants there to be someone in control, my view of that is that well what if there’s not? What would it feel like if there were no one in control? And I think the answer to that question is that it would sort of feel like what it is to be human, to feel conflicted and to feel like there’s a different sort of system in charge depending on if I’m hungry or not, and what situation I’m in, what my recent past has been and so on. So I think that whereas there’s this really strong intuition of selfhood, the modular view suggests that maybe that’s not necessarily going to turn out to be right.”

In contrast to Fodor, I feel pretty comfortable with not being in control – all the more so because “reproductive success” is no longer of any interest to me. It is a different kind of evolution I am after.

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Thank you for understanding my need to take a break from blogging. I will post the follow up to my last post – ‘Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal’ – tomorrow :-) Such a pretty day today, isn’t it?

Writing for courage.

Anne Frank quote

“Her poignant account of the greatest evil imaginable revealed a gifted writer and profound thinker who humanised the inhumane”, writes onthisdeity.com. Anne Frank. One of my eternal heroes. She is believed to have died in early March, 1945, along with her sister Margot Frank, whilst imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Get a copy of her diary, read excerpts of her diary, read about her, watch, and never forget.

ESSENTIAL viewing for contemporary peace: 12 Years A Slave

There’s a good reason this film won Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 86th Academy Awards, as well as the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Lupita Nyong’o, and a Best Actor nomination for Chiwetel Ejiofor:

 

12 Years A Slave is a devastating portrayal of the story of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), an adaptation of his 1853 memoir ‘Twelve Years a Slave’.  Northup was a New York State-born free African American man, an accomplished violinist and farmer, a husband and father, who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery.

Other cast members include Adepero Oduye, Michael Fassbender, Sarah Paulson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Liza J. Bennett, Brad Pitt, and Paul Dano. This motion picture was directed by the brilliant Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) from an adapted screenplay written with John Ridley, and shot by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt – who worked with McQueen on Hunger and Shame. It was produced by Plan B, Brad Pitt’s production company.

*****

I cannot quite put into words the power of this movie. The story will stay with me forever. So I will just say this: 12 Years A Slave is not merely an historical picture. It is much more than a biographical drama, more than a faithful adaptation of an autobiographical novel. And it is much, much more than an unflinching look at one of the ugliest manifestations of human evil in known history.

Yes, this film is all of those things, and for this I feel grateful to all who made it a reality. But let us not make the mistake of resting in the anaesthetising assumption that that warped consciousness – such that would lead a human to think it not only okay, but justifiable, to torture, own, or exploit another being – is essentially dead in the developed world. It is not.

I see this film as having contemporary parallels. For 12 Years A Slave highlights one of the most disturbing and insidious aspects of the human mind – the ability to desensitise ourselves from the suffering of others, in favour of our own comfort, pleasure, wealth, aesthetic preferences.

Perhaps unintentionally, the film is rich in metaphors for the justifications we in the modern, supposedly “enlightened” and civilised world make for purchasing products, supporting governments, hoarding wealth or simply turning away from the suffering of others, in favour of base and corrupt self-interest.

One such example: A slave owners wife, Mrs Ford, who is disturbed by the anguished wailing of a Mother (who happens to be a slave, Eliza) for her children, a young boy and little girl, taken from her and sold to other slave owners. “I cannot have that kind of depression about”, she whispers. The grieving Mother is removed, permanently.

Out of sight, out of mind… the oppressor’s comfort is conserved. The victim’s pain and vocal suffering was disturbing the comfortable, civilised peace. The victim’s pain – not the evil, vile acts that caused her pain – was seen as the problem.  (Mrs Ford had earlier, for a brief moment, entertained sympathy for Eliza’s plight, before telling Eliza it would be okay, as she would soon forget her children).

So then. What is evil?

Evil is not just abject cruelty and extreme violence. It has been said that evil thrives when good men do nothing. Evil also thrives when those perpetrating and supporting evil indirectly, fail to see – or wilfully refuse to see – how their actions (or inactions) are part of that evil.

When we allow our governments to torture, mistreat, imprison. When we punish people for fighting for their freedom. When we simply turn away from the suffering of others. We are Mrs Ford. We are the person who claims to be compassionate, to be good, whilst simultaneously supporting systems literally sanctioning the harm of others.

When you see this film – and you must – think about the hidden cruelty and inhumanity built into our global economic system today. Think about how we tell people fighting to merely be free that they should be less “angry”, and consider them less worthy of sympathy when they have the audacity to show the desperate emotions that come with the struggle to survive.

Think about how easily and happily we remain ignorant of the suffering that may have gone into almost everything we consume. Slavery is not dead, and nor is the moral blindness that enabled it. It is incumbent upon everyone who truly believes in freedom – and I hope that you do, as I do – to open our eyes.

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“The last word: everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup. I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery. And the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.” – Steve McQueen, Director, 12 Years A Slave.

Inspired change on International Women’s Day.

It’s International Women’s Day (IWD) today – read the backstory here. This year’s theme is ‘INSPIRING CHANGE’. The official page for this day implores us: “So make a difference, think globally and act locally !! Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.” 

I’m currently making tea and about to tune in this morning to Brekkie With Kulja Coulston And Sara Savage (Producer Elizabeth McCarthy) on 102.7FM RRR at 7-10am. This broadcast is a part of ‘Girls to the Mic’,  a 24-hour IWD presentation of radio made by women from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s Digital Radio Project and Community Radio Network (the first time this has been done here). Here’s some info on what the Brekkie broadcast will entail – I’m looking forward to it :-)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what women, lucky enough to be able to spend time and money on anything other than the essentials (and have multiple choices in regards to where we purchase those essentials from), can do daily to ensure that we are not contributing negatively to the well being of women and girls, and positively contributing towards a more peaceful, humane and equitable world for everyone.

Seriously. What is something we can do daily? And what do we all currently do daily that impacts not only on our own bodies/wellbeing/life situations, but the bodies/wellbeing/life situations of others? Perhaps people we will never know or meet? Women? Children? Men? Families? And animals and the Earth too?

The answer is obvious. We CONSUME. We spend money. We buy stuff. Food and household products, transportation products, beauty products, entertainment products. We buy products of necessity and products of vanity. We buy products to help us get from A to B and products for sheer pleasure. We buy products to enlighten ourselves, and products to distract ourselves.

We buy things for our families, other loved ones, and for us. Occasionally, we might buy things to assist people we don’t actually know, or have a personal connection with. Whatever we choose to direct our money towards, we make these decisions, daily – and these decisions, collectively, are shaping the planet we live on.

Numerous articles published in the last few years have described the phenomenal “purchasing power” of the developed world’s women – at least women, in the US. In one example, The National Times cites a study that said women spend more than 70 per cent of consumer dollars worldwide. Other articles challenge these figures – like this one in the Wall Street Journal.  But whether women control most of it, or half of it, middle class (and above) women do spend a lot.

As a woman living in the West, just another bozo on the bus who has the ability to spend a small amount of money on non-essential products if I so choose, and who claims to value principles such as universal compassion, mercy, justice and empathy, I fully realise that an absolutely essential component of holding these principles is actually living them.

Part of living them, is ensuring that the consumer decisions I make on a daily basis (or every other day, rather), are in line with the values that compel me to take note of something like International Women’s Day. This includes opening my eyes to where the products I use are coming from. It means making choices that support businesses that treat their employees with dignity, and the earth with respect.

And it’s tough. It is impossible to live in this society and be “pure”. I am obviously using a computer right now, a computer I need to work, stay connected with community,  and survive. My computer has enabled me to learn about the world, make a living, seek specialised medical advice, receive and offer comfort from and to loved ones, and connect with opportunities that have directly improved the quality of my life situation.

But there is a good chance that this computer was made by ill-treated workers under duress in a factory overseas, out of non-biodegradable materials created with the help of thousands of metric tons of carbon emissions, and resource extraction methods that may well have caused environmental damage. The world humans have created is messy, and cruel.

Still … there are choices I can make, about what I consume, and it is my responsibility to make them. I can join collective efforts to try to force corporations who make these products to behave ethically. I can choose to investigate where the products I do purchase come from, and alter my choices depending on what information I find. I can think about the way animals are treated, and whether I am okay with supporting industries that exploit and torture them.

I’ve started a spin-off blog, Live Simply, to kind of document my own gradual shift towards – as much as is humanly possible (given my disability and media-related profession) – a lifestyle based on conscious consumer choices, that are in line with the humane and holistic principles I firmly believe are essential to the survival of our messy, crazy, wonderful human race and, to the esoteric minded, our evolution.

Remember the words of MLK: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is as true in relation to our economic system as it is to ecosystems. Everything is interconnected. So the CHANGE I’m inspired to make this International Women’s Day – or recommit to – is to live, and consume, increasingly consciously.

On Pop Feminism.

This is an interesting critique of what the author describes as “pop feminism” – from Claire Lehmann, whose writing (when I come across it) I always find thought provoking:

clairelehmann.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/bad-feminism/

It’s interesting to read this essay now, particular the passage: “Pop feminist articles are generally put together wholly from second-hand material – stories about studies – not the studies themselves. Not only is this bad feminist critique; it is bad journalism.”

Perhaps this only applies to feminists when they attempt to disagree with studies, or put forth an argument the author does not agree with, as I recall Lehmann tweeted support for Mia Freedman’s editorial on the link between girls drinking and girls being sexually assaulted – a piece that caused a stir on social media late last year.

Much like the pop feminist article Lehmann generally characterises in her essay, Freedman’s editorial linked to another op ed as evidence for her position. That other op ed does refer to a reputable cross-sectional, US Web-based survey conducted on college students about their experiences of sexual assault on campus, and their consumption of alcohol.

But for Australia-based evidence, Freedman’s editorial presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault:

“Victims of sexual assault were more likely to believe alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to the most recent incident they experienced if the offender was a friend (76%). This was significantly higher than the overall proportion of victims of physical assault who believed alcohol and/or any other substance contributed to their most recent incident (59%).”

This quote, in the editorial, is not contained in the document linked to in it – which is actually this Australian Institute Of Criminology document. The passage does appear almost verbatim in this ABS report called ‘Contribution Of Alcohol And/Or Any Other Substance To Assault’, under the heading ‘CHARACTERISTICS OF THE OFFENDER’. Only, instead of “victims of sexual assault” it says “victims of physical assault.”

And the first paragraph in the report is this: “Research has indicated that the consumption of alcohol is associated with acts of violence, although there is no clear relationship between the level of alcohol consumed and the likelihood of becoming either a victim or perpetrator of violence (AIC 2000).”

I am not taking a shot at Lehmann here – I appreciate the clarity of her writing. What I take from this is rather a note to myself that when we are reading an article putting forth a position that we are partial to, we should probably consciously attempt to apply the same standard of analysis to it, as we would to an article putting forth a position we are hostile to (or written by an author we are not particular fond of. In Lehmann’s case this is undoubtably Daily Life columnist Clementine Ford).

On a related note, this here is a great essay from Lehmann published in the SMH last December – about hyperbolic opinion pieces and the creation (or worsening) of division. Here’s a taste: “Reinforcing bitterness between groups of people by invoking indignant outrage may be a good business strategy for online news outlets but it is terrible for encouraging the social cohesion required to address problems facing the community as a whole.”

.

P.S. My criticism of that sexual assault piece is about the way Freedman presented her evidence in that editorial, as a journalist – I certainly don’t think binge drinking is benign. As someone with a disability I often wonder how healthy people can do that shit to their bodies.

P.P.S. I heard Clementine Ford speak once about writing online, and she admitted that often the pieces that get the most traffic are not the ones that are carefully researched and nuanced, but the ones that are most incendiary, or take the firmest stance in one particular direction. Of course, it’s a thing.

P.P.P.S I’ve read things written by Freedman and by Ford before that I have enjoyed. Any critique here from me does not equal blanket “hate”.

One love, people :-) How cool is it to have so many influential women writers to discuss on International Women’s Day?

The prime directive of consciousness: The health of the WHOLE.

This:

“In other words, most of the work that needs to be done is work to make the lower (and foundational) waves more healthy in their own terms. The major reforms do not involve how to get a handful of boomers into second tier, but how to feed the starving millions at the most basic waves; how to house the homeless millions at the simplest of levels; how to bring health care to the millions who do not possess it. An integral vision is one of the least pressing issues on the face of the planet.”

 

“I believe that the real revolutions facing today’s world involve, not glorious collective move into transpersonal domains, but the simple, fundamental changes that can be brought to the magic, mythic and rational waves of existence.

 

“All of those waves have important tasks and functions; all of them are taken up and included in subsequent waves; none of them can be bypassed; and none of them can be demeaned without grave consequences to self and society. The health of the entire spiral is the prime directive, not preferential treatment for any one level.” 

– From ‘A Theory of Everything’ by Ken Wilber

 

 

Consciousness is not cutting yourself off from the suffering of others.

Consciousness is choosing not to participate in, support, contribute to the suffering of other bodies, and beings.

Consciousness is global concern, compassion, justice, mercy, empathic understanding.

Consciousness is not being a dick ;-)

Australia.

A brief, late post from a very, very tired lady. I hope you had a good day today.

Here in Australia, it was Australia Day, the country’s official day of celebration of nationhood. January the 26th is the day in 1788 when the First Fleet of British settlers arrived on Australian shores. Because of this, many Aboriginal people regard this day as “Invasion Day” or Survival Day. I am sympathetic to the term Survival Day, and the sentiment behind it. I would support changing the date of celebration, although that is highly unlikely in the forseeable future.

Nonetheless, I am immensely grateful to be a citizen of Australia. For my entire life, this has been my home. Modern Australia is an evolving and beautiful country, with many generous and kind people. Perhaps my favourite part of the day’s official celebrations is seeing the Australia Day honours, as these honours often reflect a diversity of thought and background – and character – that I am glad exists alongside, ahem, the rougher edged elements here.

What is not so honourable is the broad scale ignorance of what actually happened from 1788and the extent of the violent, repugnant subjugation of Indigenous people here, perpetrated by the European colonizers. Racism towards Indigenous people still stains the soul of this nation. Ignorance, and denial, of the Indigenous resistance to colonization prevails. Ignorance of Indigenous culture and cultural groups is also pretty thin – how many people, I wonder, would be familiar with this map? [click to enlarge]:

indigi_map

Map of Aboriginal Australia, via ABC Online: http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/images/indigi_map.png

The failure to fully acknowledge the darker aspects of the Australian psyche and modern Australian history is just that – a failureIt is unfortunate that many don’t want to acknowledge what can be called, in spiritual terms, Australia’s “shadow”.

Australia doesn’t want to think of itself as *that*.

Yet, full recognition of that shadow is essential to healing what are deep wounds that Indigenous Australia has carried the burden of. Wounds that, it seems, non-Indigenous Australians have enjoyed the privilege of willfully ignoring or being ignorant of. Recognising what we love about this beautiful country today, and, in particular, celebrating the best of its character, is wonderful. But good character also means acknowledging wrongdoing in the past, promoting healing, and genuine respect for our diverse Indigenous population.

Full acknowledgement of past (and the legacies of that past still thriving today, as frequent incidences of racism and statistical disparities indicate), and embracing a positive today, and future, are not antithetical. A genuinely positive future is, in fact, dependent upon such an acknowledgment.

I envision a day where the celebration of one’s country does not involve the white-washing, sanctioning, or denial of the wrongs of history. An Australian Unity Day that acknowledges all facets of who we are.

~~~

Here is a piece published in The Guardian, written by Nakkiah Lui, that sheds some light on Australia’s shadow:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/26/australia-day-is-a-time-for-mourning-not-celebration 

Here is a piece on some tangible reasons to thoroughly love modern Australia:

http://www.theage.com.au/comment/put-away-the-flags-and-enjoy-your-country-on-australia-day-20140125-31fm4.html

And here – Australia Day Honours List. People honoured for positively affecting the lives of those around them:

http://mobile.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-26/australia-day-honours-list/5212474

“Dear Father Christmas”

My Mum found this the other day – a letter I wrote to Father Christmas at the age of 5. I have always insisted that I never believed in Santa, so this was amusing proof to the contrary. Equally amusing – I cut out a catalogue photo of the item I desired, and, seemingly concerned about Santa’s budget, advised him the item was on sale at KMart :-)

I also promised “to be good forever”. A promise I suspect was broken about fifteen minutes after this letter was written ;-)

LETTER TO FATHER CHRISTMAS

Issue 8 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

HOT OF THE PRESS:  current issue of Stella MagazineList of stockists here.

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Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

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Working on some new articles and projects! Evolution continues in 2014 :-)

New Just the Messenger posts on Mandela, Deep Sea Mining, changes to the Racial Discrimination Laws and Violence Against Women coming up. As well as long overdue instalments of ethical consumption, bathroom detox, and conscious living. Stay tuned.

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Legacy.

Two month ago, a fellow left a comment on this blog and tweeted me some words of critique and encouragement I genuinely appreciated.

His name was Father Kevin Lee – a former Catholic Priest who gained a public profile after he admitted to having secretly married a woman, love of his life, Josefina. For this “sin”, he was dismissed from the priesthood of his church. He also blew the whistle on what he called the widespread covering up of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and argued strongly for the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.

It was reported on Sunday that the 50-year-old Kevin Lee had died, claimed by Typhoon Haiyan whilst swimming in the Philippines. This was confirmed by further reports yesterday. Kevin is survived by his wife Josefina and 2-month old daughter, Michelle, whom he wrote about lovingly  on his blog. His last post is titled, If I had not broken my vows, Michelle Lucilla Lee would not exist. It is a lovely reflection on the complexity of “morality”.

Roughly two weeks ago a young family friend, William, died suddenly. He is survived by his partner and 3 month-old son Liam. Whilst all family grieve in these circumstances, I feel especially sorry for the little ones left behind, and the parent who must now raise them without the other. People leave a legacy when their physical lives come to an end, and nobody’s is perfect.

With William, despite his troubles in life, he did leave a legacy of generosity and friendship, good deeds done in private, without fanfare. Part of Kevin’s legacy was lending his voice and testimony towards the cause of reform of the church he still believed in, and the cause of justice for victims of a heinous crime. Here is a clip of Father Kevin Lee’s 2012 interview on Lateline, discussing this.

But it can’t hurt to think about what you want to leave behind… not in terms of a song, but in terms of a legacy. And not necessarily a material legacy, but perhaps an emotional legacy, an energetic legacy… that you affected someone or something in a positive way… that you mattered to somebody.”

From my previous post, Seven Songs to Leave Behind’

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DONATE TO THE TYPHOON RELIEF: Red Cross Philippines

Follow up: basic research, & the art of the *indirect* strawman argument

I meant to post this ages ago but WordPress ‘schedule’ tech error, then life distractions, oh dear. A word of WARNING: this post discusses, and links to posts, about the crime of sexual assault.

So back on the 23/10 I took a spontaneous detour to write about how the OpEd Mia Freedman wrote (in which she argued in favour of advising young women to drink less in order to reduce their chances of being sexually assaulted) presented stats that pertain to the perpetrators of physical assault as if they were stats relating to victims of sexual assault (it’s all in that post – scroll down to “Inaccurate & Irresponsible Use Of Statistics”).

This was the biggest problem with the article. It is not unreasonable to expect editorial writers (and writers in general) to not misrepresent data in order to back up their opinions – no matter what the publication. Just because Mia will occasionally dedicate an OpEd to seriously attacking a Kim Kardashian ‘selfie’, doesn’t mean the public can’t expect some standards. Any media platform that reaches a lot of people can and should be called out if they peddle falsehoods – either deliberately or accidentally.

Following the “sexual assault and alcohol” topic, Mia wrote an editorial that insinuated the mainstream media, The Greens, and a number of diversity organisations were “silent” in the aftermath of an anti-Semetic attack in Bondi (which is inaccurate, and ironic, given the attack was not reported by MamaMia in their own round-up of Saturday news). She even suggested that if the victims were Muslim they would have received more coverage. Was this just click-bait or sincere(ly misguided)?

MamaMia had to publish a correction regarding the Greens, who in fact had spoken up about the attack, and many people pointed out that the story was prominent all over media. The site Jews Downunder documented some of this (the author of whom left a comment quite disgusted with Mia’s post/site and its moderation of comments). The Referral also documented some of this, and the diversity orgs that did speak up to condemn the attack. Clearly, a quick fact-checking exercise could have been helpful there.

As it would have with the alcohol and sexual assault piece. A quick google search could have helped locate a University of Wollongong study useful to Mia’s argument. I believe this study is the one Susie O’Brien was referring to in her OpEd on the same thing. The study’s focus is completely on sexually “risky” behaviour of a sample group of women under the influence of alcohol at an Australian University. Looking at gathering data to help inform women how they can use their agency to best protect their interests.

And the report says “This research is needed because public health intervention programs aimed at reducing alcohol consumption and associated risk behaviours generally focus on predominantly male oriented behaviours such as speeding and drink driving (Keane 2009).” (Perhaps they’ll be investigating the sexually risky behaviours of young males too, down the track? Assuming the women aren’t having sex only amongst themselves).

So. There really is no excuse for obfuscating data – I think it is widely understood now that binge drinking is a serious public health and safety issue for women and men (and minors), for numerous reasons. Everyone needs to wise up about it, and research is suggesting sexual health education too needs to address the role of alcohol in affecting choices that can be harmful to ones own health/well being.

The Opposing Arguments…

Mia did cite a US study that found alcohol to be present in a substantial number of sexual assaults of undergraduates in that country. But it is worth noting that another study, “The Role of Rape Myth Acceptance in the Social Norms Regarding Sexual Behavior Among College Students”, found that, in a sample group with a majority of females, 41% believed that a woman who was raped while drunk was responsible, whilst men had higher rape myth acceptance. The less sexual knowledge the men had, the more they accepted the rape myths.

This is one of the reasons the feminists Mia indirectly criticised in her piece want the focus of public discourse about sexual assault to be on the perpetrators of this crime and combating rape myths, as opposed to “female responsibility”. For despite efforts to reinforce the message that it is never the victims fault, some victim blaming persists. Which is why focusing predominantly on what potential victims should do to make themselves safer will continue to draw fierce criticism.

As for the response to the (needlessly personal) Twitter storm. I like to observe how public figures handle media stoushes and controversy in general, so it was interesting to see how Mia responded to the broad spectrum of critical responses she received over the piece. She wrote a follow up editorial, in which she asserts “I don’t want to make this about me”, but that is in fact a piece solely about the more insane things said about her on social media.

In it, she reproduces a series of the most inflammatory, unreasonable and outlandish statements (it is not stated precisely where these statements were made) and comprehensively responds to each of them – kicking their butts, so to speak. Which is, as it happens, a great way to make your own position seem sane and sensible in comparison. On many people, this is an effective method of persuasion. An ironic response to strawman arguments that is itself a kind of indirect strawman – pick out the stupidest arguments against your position, then rebut them (easily – and thus “win” the argument).

After the nasty Twitter hate-fest that occurred, I don’t fault her for doing this at all. When people talk shit at/about you, it is natural to want to serve it back to them. And Mia does have her share of “haters” (as does every opinionated person in the media, regardless of their politics). I just wish Mia had, instead, used her significant platform to respond to, and maybe even counter, some of the serious, civil and sensible critiques of – and concerns raised about – her OpEd.

But, unlike the obviously crazy statements she reproduced to rebut, she doesn’t mention what these critiques are. Here are just some of them:

1) Georgia Dent’s editorial, on Womens Agenda.

2) Maddy Grace’s feminist response addresses the Herald Sun’s Susie O’Brien and Mia – ‘How to avoid rape according to Emily Yoffe, Mia Freedman, Susie O’Brien et al’. (Note: Susie defended Mia. Unlike Mia though, she has  made remarks about a 14 year-old victim to the effect of “she chose to be there”. This upset quite a few people, because the victim was denied justice due to her perceived culpability in the disgusting violation of her body).

3) This post claims to cover some of the anti-rape education campaigns that do work in making “our daughters” safer. Quote: “as campaigns in Canada and Scotland have shown in recent years, there are information campaigns that actually do make a difference in lowering the rate of sexual assault on people who are drunk, and they do it by using messages targeting potential rapists rather than potential victims”.

4) Karen Pickering tweeted this very personal 2012 post she wrote to explain her involvement in SlutWalk, which illustrates the emotional and psychological complexity of being a victim of this crime – particularly when the victim believes there are things they could have done to avoid it. Many of the emotional and angry responses to Mia’s piece relate to concerns about this complexity.

5) And THIS article from Amy Gray, about the Victorian Liberal Government’s proposed overhaul of rape law in the state,  touches on another reason some people were so against Mia’s argument. It has to do with concerns about how public conversations, and public approval of certain views, can potentially reinforce the prejudices of future jurors and law makers – as well as further discourage victims from reporting crimes.

The Australian Institute of Criminology paper “Juror attitudes and biases in sexual assault cases” articulates this difficulty:
“two recent studies […] show that juror judgements in rape trials are influenced more by the attitudes, beliefs and biases about rape which jurors bring with them into the courtroom than by the objective facts presented, and that stereotypical beliefs about rape and victims of it still exist within the community.”

Note that Table 1, “Community beliefs about rape (percent)”, suggests that a majority of both men and women do not think sexual assault can be excused if the victim is heavily affected by alcohol. Good. However, the paper also discusses how alcohol consumption by both alleged victim and perpetrator adds an extra dimension of ambiguity and difficulty in achieving anything resembling justice in the courts.

You can probably guess why that is.

All of the above are things Mia could have responded to, to advance the real, civil discussion she wanted to have about the topic she chose to raise on her very successful platform. Mia has the ability to guide that discussion by putting forth well researched, civil arguments and engaging/responding to other civil arguments (and flatly ignoring the purveyors of nutbag statements like “you’re a rapist sympathiser”).

It wouldn’t take that much longer to prepare, but given how serious the issue it, it’s probably worth taking some extra time anyway. If Mia decides to write about this again in future, doing so with a careful consideration of the context she is launching her opinion into (highlighted by all the pages I link to above), might help her make her argument. Or, she can write something else inflammatory, controversial, hastily put together, and still get heaps of traffic on site.

What approach one takes depends on what the real end goal is, I guess.

RETRO POST: The Divided Brain – Iain McGilchrist | Dr Jill Bolte Taylor

Okay… another re-post! I’ll have some new ones up very soon… until then, this was my 105th blog post, first published 29/11/11. [I really MUST emphasise that the reference to left and right “hemispheres” of the brain, used below, serves as metaphor only.]

“It is my suggestion to you that in the history of Western Culture, things started, in the 6th century B.C in the Augustan Era, the 15th/16th century in Europe, with a wonderful balance of these hemispheres. but in each case it drifted further to the left hemispheres point of view.”

Iain McGilchrist 

This is a quite remarkable and fascinating RSAnimate lecture excerpt from renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist, in which he explains how our ‘divided brain’ has profoundly altered human behaviour, politics, culture and society. Taken from a lecture given by Iain McGilchrist as part of the RSA’s free public events programme. To view the full lecture, go to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbUHxC4wiWk  Thankyou anonymous for sending this to me. You’ve succeeded in making my morning.

What I really appreciate about this clip is that Mr McGilchrist touches on the links between brain function and the metaphor of right and left brain thinking, the lack of balance between the two, and the correlation between brain function and the problems of democracy and modern life. The link between brain function, perception and politics is a key area of interest for me.

McGilchrist makes clear what those of us interested in brain function know already: that for both imagination and reason, you need both hemispheres. He gives a clearer summation of what we can described metaphorically as left brain and right brain functions:

The left hemisphere, dependent on denotative language and abstraction, yields clarity and power to manipulate things that are known, fixed, static, isolated, de-contextualised, explicit, general in nature, but ultimately lifeless.

The right hemisphere, by contrast, yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings within the context of the lived world, but in the nature of things never fully graspable, never perfectly known. And to this world, it exists, a certain relationship.

He goes on to describe these two hemispheres as “two worlds” that we combine in different ways all the time. We need to rely on certain things to manipulate the world (left), but for a broad understanding of it we need to use the right hemisphere. We need both. Problems arise when we deny one of them, when we embrace the “values” of one to the detriment of the other. Ideally, they should be in balance.

Make no mistake: McGilchrist is passionate about both language and reason. But he also appreciates the value of ‘right brain’ perceptions. The clip ends with an Einstein quote I’d never heard before:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

If I had a dinner party, and I could invite anyone from history……

~~

To continue on a theme, I recently discovered Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (years after the rest of the world did). She is a Harvard-trained and published neuroanatomist who experienced a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain in 1996, and remained aware the whole time. So, as a neuroanatomist, she got to observe, with utter fascination, what it is to be totally inside the “right brain”. Her perceptions gained during that time are incredible. I just borrowed a copy of her book, My Stroke of Insight.

This a short, sharp, sweet interview:

She articulates more detailed descriptions in this interview with Charlie Rose. I could not stop giggling at the lost/skeptical expression on his face. But Bolte Taylor’s presentation style is crystal clear and engaging:

http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10580

AN EXCHANGE OF UNPLEASANTRIES – Samantha Maiden vs David Donovan.

Let me preface what I am about to write with an assertion that I have respect and admiration for both DAVID DONOVAN [Journalist and managing editor of Independent Australia – a progressive journal I am thankful exists] and SAMANTHA MAIDEN [National Political Editor Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Mail (Qld & SA), Sunday Times, Sunday Tasmanian & (a personal fave of hers) Sunday Territorian]. I also follow both on Twitter, and value their media contributions. The following is an analysis of how the bias of individuals can often stifle genuine communication – particularly when one, both (or all) parties go into a conversation with strong preconceptions about who the other party is. These two, evidently, have strong opinions about each other.

Yesterday evening, I was magazine reading after a lazy fish n’ chips dinner and intermittently checking twitter when I witnessed – in real time – an exchange between David and Samantha. It all started with this innocuous (I think) tweet from David:

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I think it’s safe to say David doesn’t like Abbott. Also true: writers and journalists ask questions. David was asking Twitter a question.  Nothing heinously untoward here. Samantha responded very quickly with an innocuous answer/correction (to both David and Van Badham – probably because Samantha saw David’s tweet via Van’s profile?):

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David responded:

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The link he tweeted was THIS transcript of a story by Sara Everingham for ABC Local Radio’s ‘PM’ program. It contains within it these words spoken by Sara: “He also promised that if the Coalition wins the election he’ll spend his first week as prime minister with the Yolngu people in north-east Arnhem Land.”

I don’t know the full story of the history of communication between these two, but I strongly suspect after that second tweet that Samantha got (understandably) irritated with the insinuation within it – although she kept a lid on it for a while longer. Her responses to those two tweets:

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Okay. Reasonable, right? David responded, by noting the lines within Sara’s report, which make the assertion that David’s original question was about:

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Having made the point that that was not a direct quote but the reporter’s assertion, Samantha is obviously talking about widely reported official campaign and policy promises. So she is correct in her assertion that Abbott’s widely reported official campaign promises included a promise to spend 1 week a year there. All the reports I recall hearing/reading reported this – I must have missed Sara’s PM report.

David responded:

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And after that, Samantha seemingly went a little cray, arguing that the ABC PM story itself did not state that Abbott would spend his first week as Prime Minister with that particular Arnhem Land community (even though it did – that may have been an error, but Sara did report that in the transcript. It is true though that a direct quote from Abbott is not played in the report – he is never heard saying “in my first week…”):

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Really, Samantha? All David asked was whether this was true or not. You provided him with some information. He responded by providing a link to an ABC radio report that states – erroneously or not – that Abbott said to the community that he would spend his first week there. You countered by reasserting this was false and that that particular “promise” was just speculative twitter hokum. The fact that it was reported by the national broadcaster once, is enough to warrant a simple informal question on Twitter though, surely?

David responded:

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The link he tweeted was to THIS. Turns out, David grew up alongside Indigenous Australians in Central Queensland during the 1970s and 1980s. The article is about his experiences growing up there.

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Independent Australia does campaign for Indigenous people.

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That is just plainly wrong. Obviously. I’ll chalk it down to Samantha (perhaps) being offended by David’s insinuation she leapt to the defence of Abbott. Or she doesn’t like/respect David and his work, and has a particular perception of who he is, and what motivated that initial question (she said as much – in an earlier tweet she suggested he was peddling an “urban myth”). Most likely, a combination.

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Samantha is a good journalist, but this is an unedifying spectacle now. For real. The conversation continued:

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The PM program should have corrected that record, if it was incorrect. PM Abbott probably doesn’t even know about it.

And then Samantha accused David of being a lazy journo.

I believe this is what is called “escalation”.

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I don’t recall ever hearing Abbott was going to spend the first week there – then again, I don’t think I listened to Sara’s report. Furthermore it is hard to say whether or not many votes cast in the election were influenced specifically by that “1 week a year” pledge – but, let us continue:

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Look. There is ALOT of poorly researched crackpot conspiracy shit being peddled across all social media, by the far left and far right. But this was not a conspiracy theory. It was a question. “Bungled sentence” in Sara’s report it may have been, but the best way to find out if it was, is to ask. Right?

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Then another lady named Heather provided another online document that mentions the ‘first week of Prime Ministership’ “promise” too:

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Samantha handled that with, er, coolheaded aplomb…

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She is a little ticked off, I think it’s fair to say. This is the document she was describing. It’s not a transcript, she’s right about that. It is a Garma Festival media release titled “Key Points of Tony Abbott’s Garma Speech on Indigenous Affairs”. But it contains the phrase: “…he undertook to spend the first week after he is elected in the Yolgnu community if that would be acceptable to the community.”

Heather then asked Samantha: “So you’re saying the #Garma Festival are publishing something that’s not true on their website?” Samantha:

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I thought that a condescending thing to assume, so offered another condescending assumption in the other direction:

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Because thanks to David’s tweet question, someone DID tweet a link to the video footage online! TWITTER CAN BE AWESOME THIS WAY! Ask, and you shall receive……

Before that happened though, someone else tweeted this to them both (Van Badham still being cc’d on all of this, LOL):

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Samantha still wasn’t having a bar of it:

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So then the online video footage surfaced, and was reviewed by both parties and everyone else watching this conversation. The video is HERE– relevant part, 21.20-21.50. Samantha’s response?

 29 cap

What do you think about the video? Could what Abbott said about “first week” be construed as a promise? Or, as Samantha asserted afterwards on Twitter, a spur of the moment open question said to get a reaction from his audience?

Frankly I think that: 1) this was not an official campaign promise; and so 2) it is the opinion of the Yolgnu community itself that matters here. Were they expecting him there first week? If they were, breaking that “agreement” really does suck. But let us still remember that there are numerous other pressing issues to be criticising and scrutinising this government for already. And the most important thing will be whether or not he delivers the positive, “Real Change” he pledged to remote Indigenous communities – and how that change is delivered. Please media, investigate that. From all angles.

Getting back to my original assertion now. Samantha Maiden is a good journalist. But David’s initial question was fine, based on the fact that he had heard a report on the national broadcaster that stated Abbott had made some sort of promise to spend his first week as Prime Minister with the Yolngu people.

As you can imagine, things went nowhere after the post-video comments, but what both David and Samantha were tweeting to others – about each other – revealed more about how preconceptions and bias (which we all suffer from) were affecting their perception during (and probably just prior to) this exchange.

Samantha to other:

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 David to other:

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For the record, David Donovan is not an “inner city hipster” and nor were any of the people who joined in on the conversation and supported David’s POV. He is a passionate and engaged political observer, a journalist with strong convictions and a social conscience. 

And, for the record, yes, Samantha works for News Limited, owned by Lucifer Rupert Murdoch, but Samantha has already critiqued the dearth of females in Abbott’s ministry, has begun questioning aspects of “operation sovereign borders” and as a result has been told by some LNP trolls supporters that media #silence is quite appropriate right now: see evidence here (this is tremendous)

Also note there were many other tweets from both David and Samantha – essentially saying the same thing – as they responded to other people joining in the conversation. I’ve given you the gist of what was said to demonstrate a fairly common mistake we humans make in political conversations: letting our preconceptions and egos derail what could otherwise be civil exchanges.

We’re funny like that.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Post script: My intent in writing this post is not to demonise anyone. Only to look at the way we communicate – and fail to communicate – when we are not aware of our biases.

Why is that important to be aware of? Because our biases will likely influence what questions we think are relevant to even ask and pursue answers to. All the more important to be aware of, when you are an investigative journalist.

HARD KNOCKS ACADEMY.

“[I] am a fully rounded human being with a degree from the university of life, a diploma from the school of hard knocks, and three gold stars from the kindergarten of getting the shit kicked out of me.”

Captain Edmund Blackadder

Been busy. Back soon.

“Keep Calm”

Heeding recently given good advice by converting it into my current desktop background….

Keep calm & go with the flow desktop

Election 2013: choice between ‘bad’ or ‘worse’?

So. The policy “debate” of how best to deal with the issue of Asylum Seekers attempting to come to Australia by boat continues… continues to inflame, provoke, disgust, and draw out the best and worst in this country’s soul, and in its elected representatives. I will publish a post soon (when less exhausted/distracted) comparing the policies of the two major parties, and the Greens, on this issue (and thereafter, a few other important issues we talk less about, because of the “hot button” nature of this one. Who else is tired of this shit???).

For now, I will just share here 3 opinion pieces I read yesterday.

First 2 are expressing both dismay at the Rudd led ALP’s radical policy lurch regarding asylum seekers (people often labelled by the likes of Bob Carr as “economic migrants”), but also acknowledging (conceding) that Abbott led LIB/NAT’s ongoing policy and rhetoric regarding asylum seekers (people frequently referred to by the likes of Scott Morrison as “illegal arrivals”) to be worse. In fact, LIB/NAT’s are worse on a number of issues. So despite currently dealing with my total repulsion towards recent policy developments involving my country of birth, I can appreciate the perspectives, and being reminded of the bigger picture here. The bigger, sadder picture.

Article 1: Voting for Kevin Rudd makes me sick, but here’s why I’ll do it anyway

The choice for ethical Australians presents not as between good and bad, but between bad and worse. There are two ways forward through this moral molasses. By Van Badham on The Guardian

Article 2: Defend the Bad against the Worse

By Julian Burnside

The 3rd article has been published on the Drum –

Article 3: Spend your $2.49 wisely this election

Under Australia’s electoral system it can be frustratingly difficult to deny either of the two major parties your vote, but it is possible to deny them your money, writes Greg Jericho.

Exerpt:

Does our first preference matter?

Well yes, actually. Not only can your first preference have an impact in an electoral sense, but it also serves to send a quite powerful message to the two main parties when you put someone else as Number 1. And the reason this message is powerful is because it affects their bottom line.

In the coming election, each first preference vote is worth $2.49 (or to be precise, 248.8 cents). To get this funding a party or person must poll over 4 per cent of the vote in any division (or State in the case of the Senate). So this doesn’t mean every vote of theCoke in the Bubblers Party gets them $2.49 – unless of course they poll over 4 per cent, which is pretty unlikely. Indeed at the 2010 election only 59 per cent of candidates reached the threshold, in 2007 it was 54 per cent.

Does this funding matter to the major parties though? Well at the 2010 election, the ALP all up received $21.2 million, the Liberal and National Parties combined received $23.58 million, and the Greens got $7.2 million.

So yes, it matters.”

Thinking about education.

Verity Firth – current CEO of the Australian Public Education Foundation – is certainly an engaging, convincing speaker. This is a brief clip of her at the 2013 Public Education Foundation awards:

I went to a public pre-school, primary school, and secondary school in the early 2000s. In secondary school, I experienced none of the wonderful boons of ‘community’ and quality Verity describes in the video above. A large part of that was due to personal, specific circumstances: acute physical and mental health issues (without adequate support or treatment) – causing prolonged absences, extreme anxiety and depression, poor concentration, and a general feeling of being unsafe at school. All this had a detrimental effect on the education I received in those crucial secondary years. I am keenly aware of how important mental health, and familial, cultural and professional support is, for a student – and how the absence of such things can be a profound handicap in life.

Layering and exacerbating those “unique” circumstances, there were also environmental factors that impacted the public education I received, and set it quite apart from the wonderful utopia Verity describes: the schools I attended weren’t terribly ethnically diverse. The (too) high population secondary school I attended was comprised of mostly Anglo and Asian kids, with a good deal of visible self-segregation going on. I had a few truly great teachers, who fostered within me a belief in my own ability to learn, and inspired me to do so. But I also had quite a few stooges. So many examples of poor role-modelling… but I’ll just give you a taste. It is no revelation that some teachers, like people in general, aren’t so great.

There was the legal studies teacher seemingly obsessed with talking about race, and his much younger foreign wife. Another teacher who liked to hold the class back and release kids in groups according to eye or hair colour, for her own pleasure. Another teacher who repeatedly turned a blind eye to bad behaviour – who even said and did nothing whilst an Asian student trying to give a presentation was verbally abused by a group of Anglo-Australian boys (they hurled racist and sexist comments at her the entire time she was speaking, in a tiny classroom. Man heard, did nothing). Another teacher who showed up extremely late to most of the classes – just in time to give us a condensed lecture on the Australian political system. Really nice guy, but… distracted much? He had two important full-time jobs at the school, and perhaps that wasn’t a good idea.

Leaving school was thus a relief, but also a terrible let down. I started off in life a curious, conscientious child and eager student, hungry to learn. I left school a cynical, dejected, maladjusted teenager, with a phobia of institutionalised educational settings, and actual classrooms. Rather than saying goodbye to a “community”, leaving my compulsory years behind felt like fleeing Alcatraz, or the end of some horrible ordeal. I do think I am an unusually sensitive person. But I also think a lot of the support that I needed, and did not receive, during those years, are forms of support most – if not all – students need in order to really thrive in their studies* [see note below].

BASIC support such as:

  • A personally, physically and culturally safe and respectful learning environment – certainly one in which a student is not subjected to abuse or humiliation by other students or, perhaps more importantly, the teachers. How best to foster this environment is the great question.
  • Support for health and wellbeing, of mind and body: advice towards and the provision of healthy food; forms of exercise able to be undertaken by the student (i.e. disabilities being taken into consideration – would have been nice to have had that, rather than having to constantly explain that my inability to run in P.E was not caused by laziness); mental health education and support services, the promotion of a school culture in which stigma is combated.
  • Smaller classes, so students can have more one-to-one time with a teacher. Holy jeebus. I know for certain I would have fared better with that.
  • Early detection and support for learning disabilities – matching kids with the modes of learning that work for them best, with an approach focusing on strengths, not deficits.

Some other forms of support are not and cannot be the responsibility of the school to provide, but they certainly make a big difference (and I list these here not as a criticism of my upbringing, merely as an informed observation of things that are helpful):

  • Coming from a family or cultural background with an academic and/or reading culture.
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who are truly engaged with their child’s development and education – not just when things go wrong. Perhaps even involved in that “school community” Verity alludes to. I cannot remember exactly how many parent-teacher interviews were attended, but I believe that number is close to three. And school functions? In high school, none – but to be fair, I avoided them too ;-)
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who understand the realities, the real contemporary challenges, their children are facing, and who are able to provide guidance. Or, in lieu of that capacity, have an understanding of where to go to in order to get that help/support. School? Social Worker? GP? Community Centre? Community Group? Church/Religious Group? Sexual Health or Family Planning Centre? Etc.
  • Parent(s) or Guardian(s) who themselves have support to be safe and well. Who have support emotionally, socially, physically and financially.
  • A healthy, open and communicative home environment.
  • A healthy lifestyle outside of school… a balanced life. Other self-esteem building interests, and time to pursue them.

Verity Firth evidently was lucky enough to receive a start in life, and a public school education, that gave her a fantastic foundation for lifelong learning and success – one that allowed her to develop her innate talents, talents that she is now putting to tremendous use in the world. From her descriptions, her child is now lucky enough to be receiving a public school education of equal quality, and that is inspiring and encouraging to hear. Wouldn’t it be great to know that, no matter where the public school is they are attending, a child is going to receive the basic support they need to be the best student – and human being – they can be?

There will always be differences and “inequalities”, because we are all individuals, we all have different circumstances, and different backgrounds. What I would like to see (what I think most supporters of public education would like to see) would be a public system comprised of schools equipped with all the resources and high quality staff they need, in order to foster the kind of learning environment their particular kids need, in order to thrive.

A good time to re-visit where elected representatives, the major parties, minor parties and independents stand in regards to public education, I think. What with an election happening and all……

*Note: many of these things are addressed by some public schools today, and were probably addressed by some other public schools at the time – I am merely stating they were absent from my experience. Take my epic failure as a cautionary tale.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

I haven’t forgotten about instalments 3 & 4 of ‘Fashion Victims”: clothing industry outsourcing & ethical consumption. Just working on some articles and other work at the moment. Aforementioned posts, and more, to come. I hope you are well :-)

I also just discovered I may be eligible to acquire assistive technology software. Super excited – would make me that much more productive and I am elated at the prospect! Has made my year! I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to investigate this. Long way to go still before driving is possible but I do fine without that. Being able to “type” faster, however? For someone who writes, absolutely essential. Tech empowered Disability for the win.

Issue 6 of Stella Magazine on sale now!

HOT OF THE PRESS:  current issue of Stella Magazine. Props to the publishing team, once again!

Dayleen Sania is owning that cover!

List of stockists here.

Online subscriptions available for residents in PNG, Australia, New Zealand, Asia/Pacific and the Rest of the World.

Subscribe here for your chance to WIN!

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Celebrate the Life.

Beautiful, loving, young Rachael – I know you are at peace now.

So I feel for your family and your dearest at this, most difficult of times, and hope for all the comfort and wisdom they need in the present, and into the future.

 

Weep not for me though I am gone into that gentle night.


Grieve if you will, but not for long upon my soul’s sweet flight.

I am at peace; my soul’s at rest there is no need for tears.


For with your love I was so blessed for all those many years.

There is no pain; I suffer not, the fear now all is gone.


Put now these things out of your thoughts, in your memory I live on.

Remember not my fight for breath, remember not the strife.

Please do not dwell upon my death, but celebrate my life.

(author unknown)

 

The life force – all we have, and are.

Yours was, is, warmth personified.

Fond, fond memories xo

“When you’re a member of the dominant culture…”

Hiya :-)

New post(s) coming soon – had hoped to get around to posting a couple on Mon & Tues, but time got away from me. Just thought I’d post this little nugget for now – a very clear thought on sexism in Australian politics (actually could apply to any “dominant culture”):

I haven’t seen many episodes of the program, but did see this one, in which Annabel Crabb chats to Craig Emerson over a meal in a lovely outdoor setting, whilst both try to act comfortable and normal. Actually, it looked rather like a date – but that’s only because Crabb is absurdly charming and Emerson makes amazing eye contact with people when he’s talking to them.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the show at first (the promos put me right off), however, I do like seeing politicians in a rather different context, talking politics and policy – just not on Q&A. I loathe the bickering and bullshit that occurs when you put opposing politicians together – especially in front of a big audience who will clap every 3 minutes and say “oooh”, or “noooo” intermittently. Terribly distracting. Cornering them one-by-one in a kitchen and talking informally over laksa is more my cup of tea.

So, hat tip Crabb.

I will endeavour to watch more episodes. My only request is that you bring back the wild woman curls! Your curls are far too defined now for my liking.

(You had my favourite coiffure on telly! I’m devastated!)

Namaste.

my soul recognises your soul

I honour the love, light, beauty

truth and kindness within you

because it is also within me

in sharing these things

there is no distance and

no difference between us

we are the same,

we are one

namaste

The heart broke :-)

I just remembered – the other day I heard the following Mike White anecdote about his HBO show Enlightened, that made me smile.

In Season 1 of the series, there is an episode titled ‘The Weekend’, in which Amy Jellicoe tries to orchestrate a peaceful weekend away in nature with her junkie ex-husband, Levi. She takes him on a kayaking trip to a place that holds significance for them, their collective history – a history filled with both joyful, and deeply painful, memories… memories of losses incurred, wounds they inflicted upon each other.

In the course of the episode, Amy comes to terms with the reality of who Levi is in the present, and comes to a place of acceptance of their painful past, in order to let it go.  In voiceover at the end of the episode, the following monologue plays:

“You can try to escape the story of your life but you can’t. It happened. The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke. I knew you when you were young. I know your heart broke too. I will know you when we are both old and maybe wise. I hope wise. I know you now, your story. Mine isn’t the one that I would have chosen in the beginning, but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine, and it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There is so much time…”

Trust me when I say it is a gorgeous episode and moving monologue in context – every word of it counts. But when HBO executives viewed the episode, one exec said to Mike, “God, the voiceover at the end of that episode just makes me want to kill myself!” And he really wanted three lines to be taken out: The baby died. The dog died. The heart broke.”

Mike, of course, didn’t want to take them out, having spent so much time carefully crafting that script. He took the feedback, but, instead of excising them, had T-Shirts printed with those three lines, and sent them out to HBO execs, with an earnest plea for them to not make him take out those lines! 

 Tshirt

They still, however, wanted him to take them out. So he just didn’t. Instead, he told HBO he would take out the lines, then at the last minute told the head of post-production to leave the lines in. And at the official premier of the series, that particular episode was one of the episodes chosen to be screened. During that event, Mike sat behind the guy who had told him to take out the lines.

At the end of the episode’s screening, that guy turned to him and said, “The end of that show kills me everytime – I love it! You did such a good job with that episode!” all moved and oblivious to the fact that Mike didn’t, in fact, cut the lines… because in context the lines are fucking good. And, acknowledging sadness and loss is actually OKAY – an emotionally mature and thoughtful audience will be able to handle it.

The moral of the story?

  1. A good writer with a mission knows what they are doing. Leave them alone.
  2. If you are such a writer, trust your instincts.
  3. I appreciate post-breakdown Mike White on a deep level.
  4. Heartbreak can make you smile.

I want that t-shirt :-)

Julia Gillard.

Yes, of course, I believe strongly that we need to FOCUS on the present and Election 2013!

I just want to take a moment to post a few articles written about Australia’s 27th (and first female) Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Ms Gillard was my local Member of Parliament. I’ll admit to having voted for her for as long as I have resided in this electorate (I am not an ALP supporter as much as I am a non Liberal/degenerative-conservatism person).

As frustrated as I have been at some of the decisions she and especially the ALP have made, and some of the positions she personally took (eg. inconsistent “cultural traditionalist” statements against marriage equality, a general step to the right), I never regretted that decision (mainly because of the woeful alternative).

But I remain in awe of her incredible composure under attack, her commitment to public service, and grounded yet dignified bearing. An undoubtedly intelligent, accomplished, tough but flawed Woman, who copped a lot of disgraceful shit from the embarrassing degenerate elements of the Australian media and the Australian populace.

And Ms Gillard has rightly expressed pride in her role in, amongst other things, the passing of legislation to implement DisabilityCare, to aid public education, and in the commencement of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutional settings. Obviously the things she wants to be remembered for.

On Julia Gillard’s political legacy – SBS World News:

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1782896/Julia-Gillards-rise-and-fall

A post-spill piece on Gillard’s accomplishments, and failings, via The Guardian:

http://m.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/26/julia-gillard-where-go-wrong

A good & extensive piece published back in April on Independent Australia site:

http://www.independentaustralia.net/2013/politics/a-fair-go-for-prime-minister-julia-gillard/

And… the last word from Gillard, via ABC Online. A dignified and gracious outro:

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2013/s3790474.htm

That is all.

Who knows – might get a photo with Gillard at a sausage sizzle in Lalor soon ;-)

‘Fashion Victims’: Rana Plaza and the response from Business.

In THIS post last week, I outlined and posted a link to the Four Corners program story ‘Fashion Victims’, on the horrific Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh on 24 April 2013.

As you are probably aware, the issue of exploitative labour practices in the apparel industry is not new. What this devastating collapse did was once again point the spotlight on unethical outsourcing in the fashion industry – and place well earned pressure on Western retailers to be more accountable in regards to the treatment and safety of the real life people who make their business operations and profits possible.

Following the Rana Plaza collapse, a few Australian retailers announced plans to sign on to the Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh – initially signed in May this year. This is a five-year legally binding agreement between international labour organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and retailers in the textile industry, to maintain minimum safety standards in the Bangladesh textile industry.

Other than safety auditing practices, signed-on retailers must provide enough money for Bangladesh manufacturers to maintain safe buildings, and to continue to support the textile industry there even with higher costs. All this necessitates cooperation with the International Labour Organization, and the government of Bangladesh. You can read the accord HERE.

The big Australian retailers who have expressed “intent to sign on”, or similar:

KMart (announced 7 June 2013)

Big W (announced 7 June 2013)

Forever New (11 June 2013 to 4 Corners, said they had “put steps in place to join the international Bangladesh Fire & Safety Accord”)

Target (20 June 2013)

Coles told Four Corners it only had one small order remaining for their Mix clothing range, and that after that was complete, it had “no further plans” to source from Bangladesh. It said that, if that plan changed, Coles would “be prepared to sign the Bangladesh Safety Accord.” Globally, big retailers that signed on to the Accord include the Cotton On Group and Benetton (Benetton order sheets were found in the Rana Plaza rubble).

As for MANGO (whose dishonest response to the disaster is documented in the Four Corners story), they signed on too, but not before coming out with this garbage: “It would have been impossible to detect the structural defects of the collapsed building. Mango would not have been able to ascertain the owners had built three more storeys than is permitted”.

It is generally understood that retailers have been drawn to outsource to Bangladesh because of how cheap labour is there. But I wonder – is that even a good business strategy?

BAD LABOUR TREATMENT = BAD FOR BUSINESS

Back in April, AMP Capital were advising investors that they did not see transferring sourcing to Bangladesh, in many cases, as a sustainable strategy, and instead advised that building sustainable supply chains with long-term relationships with suppliers would be the more successful long term strategy. Why? A few reasons. One is that, due to increasingly consciousness amongst consumers (in an already weak consumer market) about the social and environmental impacts of their buying habits, the exposure of exploitation of workers can lead to brand damage and, hence, revenue loss.

Beyond that, exploitation, from a purely financial perspective, has a very poor risk/reward ratio. For example, underpaid labour can lead to poor productivity, high factory worker turnover, industrial action, supply chain disruptions and product quality issues in the short term. In the long term, wages that don’t cover the basic living expenses of workers, other than being cruel and disgusting, are just not sustainable. Moreover, an aggressive focus on profit puts pressure on suppliers, which in turn often leads to more sweatshop issues and subcontracting – which threatens to produce even more quality and sweatshop risks.

Businesses also take into account infrastructure issues of the countries they source from (of which Bangladesh has many, like reliable energy supply and transport issues). These can result in production disruptions and longer lead times. Simply relocating to a country because it has low labour costs isn’t such a good idea if, say, a large proportion of the input materials have to be imported from some other country. There are so many other costs and risks that erode the profit margin for these guys – the total cost of goods sold and moving production around to take advantage of lower labour costs might not produce great returns after all.

YOUR POWER IS YOUR CHOICE: MAKING IT ETHICAL.

The way retailers decide which sourcing strategies to pursue is, of course, economically complex – albeit simply motivated (PROFIT). I think it is, however, important for consumers to be aware, at a basic level, of how retailers they may purchase from are doing business – who they source from, what kind of auditing practices they are complying with, etc. That is something I think we can all get a basic grasp of.

As a humble consumer, what I am interested in these days is doing business with retailers and clothing companies who are making ethical garment sourcing a key part/priority of their long-term practice – as ethical consumption gradually becomes part of my own long-term practice. Personally I have no qualms with overseas outsourcing, but I want to know that every effort is being made to ensure that production Workers are being paid adequately, and are carrying out their work in safe working conditions.

In my next two posts on this issue, I’ll investigate how one becomes an ethical consumer, options for ethical consumption, and the activists and organisations who are uncovering and advocating for the fair treatment of workers in the garment industry internationally.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

 I listen to this song about once a fortnight (still. Album just soothes me). I had forgotten, until yesterday, that Radiohead made a video clip for it for MTV’s EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) Campaign. The story is depicted in split screen: one side depicting a day in the life of a young child from an affluent, developed area; the other showing the day in the life of a child being forced to work in a sweatshop:

 

‘Fashion Victims’: Hideously Unethical Outsourcing in Clothing Industry

MNG Desire Consume Die

“It’s price, price, price, price, price and profit”.

European buyer

 

A STORY FOR ANYONE, EVERYONE, WHO BUYS CLOTHING IN THE WEST.

Last night, ABC’s Four Corners program finally aired the story ‘Fashion Victims’. If you’ve been reading the world news since April 24th, you would have seen/read something about the human, legal, social, political and commercial fallout from the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh.

The collapse of Rana Plaza – an unsafe (and possibly illegally 8-story) commercial building that included clothing factories  – killed and maimed thousands of people already struggling to live amidst poverty, and drew the world’s attention to the shocking conditions workers in that country’s clothing industry are forced to endure.

What’s worse… their lives, and Western profit, are interconnected. Lax labour laws and the lowest wages in the world have attracted apparel companies (including Australian companies) in recent years (like Benetton, Mango, Forever New, Rivers, Cotton On, Coles, KMart, and Target). Companies who have evidently had (until recent scrutiny) little regard for the safety or fair treatment of the workers working in the potential death traps/factories they outsource to across Bangladesh. Many under abusive “supervision”.

Retailers are also accused of contributing to unsafe conditions by paying Bangladesh factory owners so little that ensuring factories are safe becomes a cost they need or want to cut. Meanwhile, families of those lost still grieve, and the now disabled (thus, unable to work) victims of this hideous disaster remain uncompensated, facing an even more difficult future. How the feck will they support themselves, and their families, now?

Just one of the many reasons why ethical, conscious consumption matters.

In the interests of becoming more conscious, You can watch the full story here, on ABC iView:

Four Corners ‘Fashion Victims’

The story will also be replayed tonight on ABC1 at 11.35 pm.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

More on this story, responses from the companies, anti-sweatshop activism & the issue at large coming soon-ish, in future posts. Time strapped right now – so much to write about, so little time.

Body, meet soul.

I am in the process of cultivating a new physical~exercise routine at the moment, so I thought I’d re-post this post, ‘The Healer’.

I published ‘The Healer’ – back in 2012. The singer/artist Erykah Badu randomly followed me on Twitter in 2014. Prior to that, I had printed the below picture of her on my wall with her looking up at my red rose twitter pic, with the words “you are evolving quickly” below the rose… for no particular reason. I do this all the time – I play with images guided by my senses, with no conscious goal other than to amuse myself or make myself feel feelings I want to feel; then I print them and stick them on my walls. I started doing this during serious bouts of depression, as a way to escape my own head; now it is simply a way of life. My office walls are a colourful crazy mess – a mural of the superconscious.

So… tonight I’m imagining physical transformation: a strong, healthy body, and feeling at one with it :-) So that I can do what I came here to do.

I wish you the same feeling. New post in 7 days.

The Healer

erykah evolve

Who I listen to at the moment before I do warm-up exercise… puts me in a nice easy headspace:

“…Humdi Lila Allah Jehova…”

“…Yahweh Dios Ma’ad Jah…”

“…Rastafara fyah dance…”

“….sex, music, hip-hop.”

The Healer.

3 tracks in listening to my avant-Goddess, and mothaf***er we rollin (literally… I use an armcycle)

 

Still RE-ENERGISING… getting some air and counting your blessings is a great way to do that. So grateful and present right now  :-)

buddha-headphones

Renewed (again)

I’ve updated my ‘About this Blog’ page too – as follows:

My name is Pauline Vetuna, and this is my blog. 

I am an ‘INFJ. A writer, editor, communications gun, scriptwriter and future filmmaker focused on consciousness-raising – and healing – media and art.

Ideas are what interest me; my all-consuming hobby is teaching myself about the world and the universe, and I love festivals, art and cultural events. I adore writing because it allows me to indulge this interest. I like to look at the global and connect it to the local, and the individual: socio-political and economic challenges, human rights, environmental challenges, psychological trends, human relationships, animal rights  and ‘enlightenment’.

Physically, I live with a disability (very incomplete quadriplegia and paraplegia – long story), negotiating a society unfortunately still laden with discriminatory blocks to my full participation and acceptance in it; and am continuously working on my mental wellness, having in my first 31 years (of what I feel will be an extremely long life) sustained multiple and varied emotional traumas that have forced me to learn and seek to master a variety of psychological healing methods.

I’m also an Australian and an immigrant living in a diverse neighbourhood in the suburbs, having been born in Papua New Guinea (a genuinely beautiful, warm and utterly unique country with serious troubles, particularly for women and girls) and migrating with my family shortly after (my broadcaster father was offered a gig with ABC’s Radio Australia; he worked for them for 25 years). So baby girl me lucked out and ended up in Melbourne, “the world’s most liveable city”. This has basically been my home ever since.

Over the past seven years, I’ve become increasingly interested in connecting to my Melanesian/indigenous roots. To this end, I seek to connect with like-minded Pacific Islanders and Indigenous peoples of this region, Oceania; to learn about the cultures that were lost due to colonisation, the cultures that thrive today, and the challenges we face – which inevitably connect to challenges the whole world is facing. Most notably, the subjugation of the feminine, the global economic system, and climate change.

And I write long-form feature articles for Stella Magazine, ‘The Star of The Pacific’ – a fantastic specialty print and digital magazine distributed globally – in addition to writing many of the magazine’s website blog articles. Doing so has and continues to allow me to cultivate understanding of the beauty and complexity of this region and work with stunningly talented Pacific creatives. It fulfils this urge I have to connect with my roots – in my own way.

On this obscure blog, I write about all of this. I publish my thoughts on things that I learn and reflections on personal and professional experiences. Occasionally, I link to work I’ve created that can be accessed online. I do this on the off chance that someone will stumble upon something they connect to every now and then (amazingly, this does happen from time to time).  In 2016, I’m aiming to post something every 10 days.

I started this blog in 2010 and named it Just the Messenger, because my goal as a writer is to get my ego out of the way (as much as is possible for a prideful writer) and focus on the ideas that need to be conveyed through it. The process of writing – and this blog – is actually a spiritual practice for me. As for the tagline,  “There’s a Middle Way”: the topics here may vary, but there is a connecting theme, a spirit running through everything I write. You can read the ‘THE MESSENGER’ and ‘MY PHILOSOPHY’ pages for more insight into that.

That is all. You deserve a cookie for reading this far :-)

 

My Email: justthemessengerblog@gmail.com

I need a new photo too – that pic was taken three glasses frames ago. But I have to get my hair did first. Also long overdue.

Blog updates & life updates.

Some updates. Firstly, see above menu bar – I have restored the two pages I created back in 2012:

Free West Papua

Mental Wellness

I have updated them both.

More on West Papua soon.

Secondly, I am starting a new editor gig related to systemic inequality in the corporate workforce/economy that inhibits both women and men (blocking women from contributing at a high level and career advancement; blocking men from spending time with their children and community), so I’ll be thinking and writing a lot about that topic this year too. It’s something I have been reading about and contemplating obsessively in my spare time for several years now – so I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve in this area.

Other than that… my melanesian~pacific feminist outlet Stella Magazine and freelance writing work (including re: disability); web series + script development in the off-peak hours. A friend has a gig with the production company that made ‘Rake’ and ‘The Principal’ and I will be picking her brain about the business side of all that, whilst another producer friend has told me to get off my ass and finish my scripts (I will be endeavouring to polish up some stories over the next few years. Intuitively I know I mustn’t hurry, though, and that I have no need to).

Really endeavouring to not overwhelm my mind and body this year – to keep a slow, steady giant tortoise pace, and designate plenty of time for the important things: health, friendships, family, my soul. So naturally I will endeavour to post something here every 10 days :-) Have a great day.

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