Category Archives: Freedom

Disarming the oppressor.

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My Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening Talk: ‘3 Priorities’

I had a ball tonight delivering this little speech at Women of the World Festival Melbourne Opening (invite only). Was honoured to present alongside MzRizk, Katrina Sedgwick, Aseel Tayah, Inez Martorell, and Heather Horrocks. We were each asked to respond to this in 5 minutes: “As a woman of the world what are your top 3 priorities?” And end with “as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is…”. I love how different our responses were from each other! And that in delivering my own, I actually found a whole new group of comrades who vibed with what I said 🙂

Much thanks to Tammy Anderson for being our charismatic MC for the evening, Karen Jackson for a beautiful Acknowledgement of Country, the West Papuan Black Sistaz for bringing the music, and to Producer Alia Gabres for inviting me to share my thoughts!

 

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SO. When I received the brief for this talk today, it sounded pretty simple … until I remembered how HUGE and complex the world is, how MANY women there are in it, and how diverse our world views and lived experiences are.

Because of this, I feel the need to preface my 3 priorities by stating clearly that I am a Black Pacific Islander, immigrant citizen of a white settler colony. THAT IS THE LENS through which I see the world.

When I think of diversity feminism, because of the hugeness of the world, I tend to focus on what I know and what I can shape – and that is the societies of white settler colonies like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, United States.

These nation-states have similar histories in terms of genocidal settler violence against indigenous peoples, slavery or coerced labour, waves of white migration, waves of persistent opposition to NON-white migration, and internal histories of struggle to extend civil and human rights to various groups within them – struggles that continue today.

Bearing this in mind, here are my 3 priorities as a woman of the world.

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Priority Number One. Think Globally.

I had the good fortune this year of meeting my hero, scholar, activist and feminist Angela Davis. One of many things I admire about Angela, is her ability to see the connections between social justice and environmental struggles in different parts of the globe; and how they ALL connect to the global economic system, and the decadence of the industrialised world. Corporatism. The profit motive.

Fundamentally, I know that this is CRUCIAL to understand. So my NUMBER ONE lifelong priority is to educate myself, and then others, on these global interconnections. That understanding enables cross border solidarity, strategizing, and collective action, for the liberation of humankind including womankind.

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Priority Number Two. Act intersectionally, locally.

This one is actually a little bit easier for me to get than most; mainly because my own lived experience is extremely intersectional. I’m Black. I’m a Black Woman. I’m a Black disabled woman who lives with a mental illness. And I am on a very low income.

On a weekly basis, I come up against the intersections of various types of marginalization I experience because of structural discrimination against me.

There are a range of structural -isms and phobias built into our colonies’ foundations that INTERSECT to make some people’s lives much harder than they should be. Whilst most women will face sexism and misogyny, focusing only on those issues fails to take into account those other systemic barriers that people who are not part of the power structure, also face: racism, colorism, homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, classism, ageism, to name a few.

Then there is the fact that indigenous Australians – like indigenous peoples in other white settler colonies whose sovereignty has never been ceded – contend with pervasive and deep rooted racism, the intergenerational effects of genocidal actions taken by colonisers over centuries, and present day settler violence against indigenous communities and bodies.

Add to that the plight of the truly vulnerable stateless people, asylum seekers and refugees, who are dealt appalling carceral punishments for committing the supposed crime of seeking asylum and a future on our imperfect but safer shores.

For any woman of the world truly concerned with social justice and liberation, prioritizing the ability to think INTERSECTIONALLY and align our social justice organizing with that vision, is essential.

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Priority Number Three. Make ethical consumer and political choices.

We live in a country that is one of the beneficiaries of the global capitalist system, which relies on the exploitation of whole countries and regions, people, natural resources and animals to create products that all of us who have forgotten how to live in harmony with nature, choose to consume. Those choices maintain demand for products. None of us, therefore, are untainted by the injustice built into the system that we are born into. My phone, for example, was created in part with elements exploitatively mined from the Congo and made by workers under indefensible conditions in China.

I am a writer and also a person with a disability; I need technology to work and live, so giving up the phone is not a choice I can make anytime soon. But there are myriad choices we as consumers living in the West make all the time, particularly if you have disposable income.

So my priority going forward is to make sure that my choices, as much as possible, are made consciously. By that I mean, I want to know where my stuff was made, who made it and under what conditions, and what it was made out of. As much as possible, I want to make ethical and educated choices.

And speaking of that, I haven’t yet mentioned the democratic system. Here again, choices must be made, not only at elections, but at all times between them. I want to choose to stay engaged with what is happening in politics on all levels, to remain ACTIVE and support the people and political collectives who champion the values I hold dear, and policies I know to be best for the implementation of those values. If Trump’s ascension to the presidency has taught us anything, it is to stay awake, engaged, and ACTIVE — over 90 million people eligible to vote did not do so, in the recent U.S election.

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To conclude, as a woman of the world, my dream for our future is that we start recognising that DIVERSITY IS REALITY, globally and locally. And that we work hard together to create a world where diverse peoples, diverse women, can live free of structural exploitation, oppression and marginalization.

Thank you.

On Meeting Angela Davis!

So this happened:

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Pictured: My beloved friend/artist/poet/scholar Wani; the incomparable and generous Angela Davis; and me having an out of body experience.

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I was truly blessed to be invited to attend a private dinner with the incomparable Angela Davis on Tuesday evening; an event organised by RISE Refugee in conjunction with Sisters Inside Inc, Eclipse, Morrocan Deli-cacy and Engenda.

The night featured a conversation between Angela Davis and local activists Meriki Onus (WAR), Fadak Alfayadh (RISE), Aamer Rahman, and host Eugenia Flynn.

If you’re not familiar with Angela Davis’ work, you really need to rectify this at once. Angela is an amazingly generous, holistically focused and incomparable American political activist, academic scholar, and author. Here is a list of her published written work – I highly recommend reading all of it. In addition, watch the lectures of hers that have been published on YouTube.

Highlight of this glorious evening of conscious conversation for me was when Angela came up behind my friend Wani Le Frère (who had met her twice before, two meetings and conversations Angela remembered because he is profoundly intelligent, charismatic, and asks great questions) and I, placed her hand on our shoulders and gently interrupted to introduce herself … and called me by name ❤️

What happened next was hilarious; earlier in the day I was on Twitter and saw prison abolitionist/activist Deb Kilroy tweet Angela Davis’ own selfie, taken at her public lecture at the University of Melbourne the previous day. I spotted my sistagirl Taloi Havini (artist/curator/thinker/beautiful human) behind Angela, so messaged her and asked if she was indeed in Melbourne and if that was her. Taloi later messaged Angela to tell her about the tweet thing and said that her “solid sista” Pauline would be at the dinner. Angela told me this. Yep. I talked to my intellectual hero Angela Davis about a selfie and twitter, ha!

Angela then talked with us for a while, and answered our questions about social justice work, intersectional feminism and global collective activism, before popping off to have her dinner.

I am still tingling from it all. So in awe of Angela’s energy: accessible, warm, generous and down-to-earth. No pretences or airs. Just an authentic human, soulfully committed to the collective struggle for the liberation of the planet.

I’m writing up notes about the University of Melbourne public lecture she gave, and will post them here when that’s done!

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“We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society.”

~ Angela Davis

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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.

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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.

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

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.

PEACE: A Degree South Collective Exhibition

IMAGE: Ashley GILBERTSON 
Occupy Wall Street demonstrator Edgar Cancinos, 17 (from Elmhurst, Queens, NY) meditates in Zuccotti Park on November 16, 2011. Image via MGA

On Saturday (yesterday) I attended the opening of the exhibition ‘PEACE’. The exhibition comprises striking photographs from the eight Australian photographic journalists who make up the DEGREE SOUTH collective: Tim Page, Ashley Gilbertson, Stephen Dupont, Ben Bohane, Michael Coyne, Jack Picone, David Dare Parker and the late Sean Flynn. It was opened by legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson, who was a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in the 1990s, helping to establish a child protection agency called ‘Krousar Thmey’ (’new family’ in Khmer).

Underpinning the exhibition is one question: What does peace look like?

The photographers have spent much of their lives documenting conflicts around the world. The curator invited the photographers to go over their collections, this time in search of PEACE – images of peace that could resonate as powerfully as their images of conflict and war. Notably, the consensus amongst the Degree South collective was that this was a difficult theme. Whilst they found it quite easy to dive into their vast collections and emerge with ‘strong’ images of conflict (often the reason for being drawn to these locations in the first place), looking for reflections of peace captured in that same collection required signifcant reflection on their part.

And what the photographers discovered, upon reflection, was that the images of peace they captured were in fact personal photographs – “Rather than providing an overarching or grand narrative for peace” the blurb stated, the photographers found peaceful glimpses in their surroundings. Thus, they discovered that peace is often most profound in mundane circumstances. “This might help explain something of its elusiveness, both as a state of being and as a ‘story’ ”, it says. Indeed. Because that is what peace is – a state of being. And it comes in moments. Moment to moment choices to set aside the urge to argue, attack, defend, expand, conquor, strike, dominate, pay back… win.

“War is easy to represent” the ‘Peace’ exhibition press release said. “Peace seems much more difficult. The only images we have of peace tend to be clichés or pejoratives: hippies and daisy chains; olive branches and white doves; rainbows and peaceniks.” Yet I would argue we do know what peace looks like, because most of us living here live it, everyday. And it’s important to note that many – if not most – of the photographs in this collection, despite their diverse locations, are of that – of “everyday”, fleeting moments, inbetween the bloody insanity and pain-making of war, human conflict. Someone meditating in the middle of a protest. Romanian children smiling genuinely, and briefly, for the camera. Women in Herat waiting to cast their votes. Twirling dervishes, spinning in ecstatic trance states. Guns being literally cut up like litter in the Solomon Islands, post conflict. A man sewing up a hole in his garment.

Whenever I am at a photographic exhibition, I inevitably ask myself what it is I am actually viewing, no matter what the subject. Which is why Stephen Dupont’s words on his contribution really struck me: “my selection of photographs is intended to make you think about what you are actually staring at.” Dupont makes the point that someone merely glancing at his images of Afghanistan might think that they are “obviously” about war – when, in fact, they are captured moments of peaceful reflection in the midst of a war zone. In contrast, there is one David Dare Parker image that epitomises how sometimes an image that seems to be depicting peace, can simultaneously carry with it the pain legacy of a combative world. It is of a Romanian boy standing in a field, arms outstretched. When asked by Parker whether he was being a scarecrow, the boy said, “No, I am dead.” (There is an old Gypsy saying: “Bury me standing, for all my life I have been on my knees.”)

Similarly, Ashley Gilbertson’s images from the series Bedrooms of the Fallen 2007 – , taken of the now unoccupied bedrooms of recently deceased (and so very young) United States soldiers, depicts both peace and the ugliness of war at the same time. One of the images is of the bedroom of Californian Army Private First Class Karina S Lau, who died at the age of 20 in 2003, when her helicopter was shot down in Falluja, Iraq. Her lovely bedroom is unambiguously ‘girly’ – plush toys from childhood, patterned bed dressings. Strangely, it was this photograph of a female combatant that got me thinking about the dearth of the ‘Feminine’ in this exhibition. By that I do not mean a lack of women – there are female ‘subjects’ in some of the photographs (including Tim Page’s image of mothers in New York protesting against the Viet Nam War in 1967).

When I asked artist friend Taloi Havini (who’s paternal country Bougainville also suffered a bloody war last century – the background to her exhibition ‘Blood Generation’) about her impression of the exhibition, she articulated what I had felt. The collection is impressive. The photographers are male and so the photographs are taken from male perspectives –  Western male perspectives – by people who have an interest in covering conflict in their work for varied professional and personal reasons. Active combatants in wars tend to be overwhelmingly male. ‘Access’ to women by a male photographer would be affected by cultural restrictions and parameters, as well as the comfort level of a subject to be photographed. And at this point I am hungry for anti-war, pro-peace representations that embody what many regard, rightly or wrongly, as ‘Feminine’ values (nurturing, harmony with nature, et cetera), and perspectives.

In fact, whenever the subject of peace comes up, my mind continuously goes back to a documentary on the women-led peace movement in Liberia, which I wrote about in this post: Peace as a verb: being an ‘actionist’ of peace.  It is one of my favourite peace stories. The documentary ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ was produced by Abigail Disney, and follows Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist awarded a Nobel Prize in 2011, and the amazing role Liberia’s humble (and largely overooked, certainly by Western media) market women played in the toppling of President Charles Taylor, the corrupt and ruthless warlord. You can read more about the role women and the ‘Feminine’ play in peacemaking here.

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In opening ‘Peace’, Jack Thompson juxtaposed the way the original inhabitants of this land lived here for thousands upon thousands of years (in what he described as “equilibrium” with nature), with the European settlers – who carried with them the legacy of continuous territorial conflict, resource exhaustion, and aggressive expansionism. It was his segway into introducing his concept of peace: that is, peace is “the planet we inherit”. Thomson’s words ring true, and I would put it this way: that the nature of peace, is in nature. It is our natural state of being, in supposedly mundane moments, too often disturbed when outside forces compel us to react to preserve that peace, or when egoic thinking, vested material interests, obsession with power and ignorance compel us to engage in war. This exhibition reminds us of that.

‘Peace’ is being exhibited at MGA until 28 April 2013.

The 33rd Prime.

A post about freedom – in the mind, and in the world.

SUICIDE PREVENTION DAY GUEST BLOG | BALANCING THE MIND.

The lovely U.S. blog author Rochelle Callahan, of Rantings of a Mouthy Bitch, will be reposting my post, Out of the Shadows, into the Light: Suicide Prevention Day, 10 September 2012 (8 Aug 2012) on her blog as part of a series to mark the U.S’ Suicide Prevention Awareness week (9-15 September), and Suicide Prevention Day. I applaud her for taking the initiative to do this, and for her passionate posts on issues such as LGBT rights and Autism awareness.You can read her own post on coming to terms with a suicide here:  The Elephant in the Room: Suicide (Part 1 of 8)

When you have depression, or any kind of psycho-social health issues, understanding your own individual brain function and mind patterns becomes essential. I’ve been looking back at past posts (in order to tag them). In the process I have come to see I have been on a journey, that I am still on, to integrate and stabilise an intuition and mental/perception vulnerability that gives me both occasional insight and great pain, confusion, and isolation (hence, hermit tendencies) Great highs and, inevitably, very low lows.

The darkside of this was conveyed in these posts:  The Evil Twin. (11 Jun 2011) and  What we have to offer. (2 Aug 2012). I try to channel that energy and understanding/empathy/anger productively into storytelling, but also into political issues, as I did in Mental Health and Mandatory Detention: bad on both sides of the wire  (30 Oct 2011). This winter, after much intense inner work, I reached a good, “present” place:  The Overthinking Game.  (4 Jul 2012). But it is these posts (and a few others) that articulate the ultimate, ultimate goal:

SPLIT | PERSONALITIES (20 Mar 2011)

The Divided Brain – Iain McGilchrist | Dr Jill Bolte Taylor  (29 Nov 2011)

So, I continue to work on that left/right mind balance, that wholeness, solo. But as I wrote at the end of Out of the Shadows, into the Light, at least I know the way there now. The way to my freedom. And I’m doing really, really well.

AUSTRALIA LINKED TO WEST PAPUA HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES.

The ABC 7.30 Report program aired a deeply upsetting story on Tuesday and Wednesday night about human rights abuses in West Papua, and the continuing – and increasingly difficult – struggle for independence of the West Papuan people from Indonesian rule. The report gave a rare insight into what it is like inside West Papua for the Papuan people. Things to note:

  • WEST PAPUA IS A POLICE STATE. Local journalists are followed, some have been murdered. Footage was obtained undercover – the journalist and crew had to pose as tourists, as the Indonesian authorities frequently arrest and deport foreign journalists.
  • In Jayapura, the scale of the visible military and police presence is oppressive and menacing. In addition, unmarked plain-clothed motorbike riders, believed to be police, pepper the streets, and a complicated and coordinated web of police informants (ordinary Indonesians) monitor the West Papuan population and inform the police for money.
  • 5 KNPB activists killed in the last three months alone (by police & military forces). 3 of them were beaten to death by police at an Independence rally in June.
  • Amnesty International conservatively estimates that at least 100,000 Papuan people have been killed by Indonesian forces since the 1960s, and extra-judicial killings are all too frequent.  Video of torture and abuse is common – the program showed one of a Papuan man who had been disemboweled and left for dead. Human Rights Watch are investigating many of these kind of cases as we speak.
  • 30 political prisoners remain in jail, such as Phillip Karma, who has served almost 10 years for raising the Morning Star flag (which you can see on the masthead of this blog). 
  • Peneas Lokbere (of Buk, United for Truth) says there has been an increase in abuses like mysterious shootings by unknown shooters, as well as direct and open forms of abuse like summary executions and arrests without legal procedure.
  • 8 weeks ago the Indonesian army went on a violent rampage, attacking and burning a town in the highlands of the country. Dozens injured, 1 killed, 87 houses burned. Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch sees it as an all too common example of an army acting without boundaries. He says these kinds of things are happening, over and over again, without justice.
  • AUSTRALIA’S HAND’S MIGHT BE DIRTY. Evidence is growing that Detachment 88, an elite counter-terrorism unit trained and supplied by Australia, is involved in torture and extra-judicial killings (including the deaths of Independence movement leaders) as part of efforts by Indonesian authorities to crush the separatist movement in West Papua. [READ THE FULL STORY HERE about Detachment 88, the allegations, and the Australian Government’s response].

Essentially, the Indonesian Government is tightening their control, as the profoundly vulnerable West Papuan people are intimidated, oppressed, jailed, tortured, and killed into silence. They have lived in fear for decades, and they need our support.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO MY PAGE ON HOW YOU CAN HELP (links to a petition, independent information, & activist groups)

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137th post (hence the title). I have a new NEWS Twitter feed @paulinevetuna – where I will be posting articles on human rights, the environment, social studies, science, Australian/regional/global politics, and comedy/satire that I view (finally found use for Twitter! Self-documenting and centralizing my online reading habits).

And I’ve updated the blog header & widgets (see capture below). A new West Papua page (link top menu) will contain information and links regarding the FREE WEST PAPUA movement (in time I want to also list the businesses, politicians, and public figures who support Free West Papua too – including LUSH who recently hosted this in-store campaign snapped by friend Nik Harrison – check out this talented man’s photography HERE). A new Mental Wellness page will contain information and links regarding mental health, neuroplasticity, brain science, and everything to do with EMANCIPATING THE MIND. I am also researching the mental health system and patient rights after visiting a friend with an extensive/appalling history with the system in a psychiatric ward on 17th of this month (he’s out now, thank fuck) – so it’s going to take me time to do all this. Bear with me.

For now, you can expect a fresh post in a week(ish) 🙂 Back sooner than I thought. However, we are on the cusp of Spring now…

Peace as a VERB: Being an “actionist” of peace.

Yesterday I read THIS piece in TIME magazine, about Tawakul Karman and the continued struggle for freedom in Yemen. As you may know, Tawakul Karman won – along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, of Liberia  – the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. A few weeks back I rediscovered a fantastic two part Bill Moyers ‘The Journal’ podcast (2009) about Leymah Gbowee in my iTunes library. And earlier this month, the 6th anniversary of the 2005 London Bombings passed, of which peace campaigner Gill Hicks was a victim/survivor.

You could say concepts of peace, and various approaches to peace activism, have been on my mind lately. Today I’m sharing the varying approaches of three awesome women, in three very different contexts.

Down with Saleh: Tawakul Karman, YEMEN

Tawakul Karman says the revolution is not over. The 32-year-old journalist, human rights activist, and mother of two, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her efforts to help bring down the corrupt Saleh government, fight for freedom of the press, bring about an end to unequal treatment and suppression of females, call for justice, and support fellow members of the protest movement (including trying to get them out of jail, where necessary).

Back in 2011 Yemen faced serious problems. More than 5 million Yemenis were living in poverty, and nearly half were illiterate. Yemen was also parched, with declining water reserves, and an oil scarcity that left them politically vulnerable. The epically long-standing Saleh government, according to Karman (amongst many), seemed unable and unwilling to address these problems of the people.

Karman had been an activist long before ‘Arab Spring’, and had taken part in many, many protests, in the north and south of the country. She had even been jailed many times.  In 2005 she co-founded with fellow journalists Female Reporters Without Borders (later re-named Women Journalists Without Chains, or WJWC), a human rights group advocating freedom of the press, including for SMS news services (these had been tightly controlled by the government without legal permission). WJWC, and Karmen personally, had received threats, and government blocks of their initiatives.

But it was a corrupt decision to allow the forced expulsion of a group of 30 families from their village (whose land was then given to a tribal leader close to President Saleh) that compelled Karman to ramp up her own efforts to bring about change in her country. The Ja’ashin, as the 30 families were known, became icons – their slogan: ‘Ali Abdullah Saleh made me hungry.’ Karmen saw that there was no hope of bringing about greater rights through human rights or corruption reports. The Saleh regime simply had to go.

So during 2011 Karmen organized WEEKLY student rallies in front of Sana’a University against the Saleh government. On the 22nd of January, she was detained for 36 hours by security forces, a move that sparked demonstrations in most provinces of the country. The political pressure forced her release, and Karmen then led another protest on 29th January. She was re-arrested on 17th March, but remained defiant, vowing that the protests would continue until the Saleh regime was ousted.

Karmen was (and is) by no means the only female in this movement for change (30% of the protesters were women). But her method’s and calls for defiant marches to the Presidential Palace put her at odds with other organisers. Karmen was also vocal in the press, including on the topic of foreign complicity in the injustices being perpetrated by the Saleh regime. On 18th June, a piece was published in the New York Times, in which she criticised the United States for their support for Yemen’s regime and their self-serving intervention in the country.

Other than grass roots protests, solidarity, and journalism, and particularly after her 2011 Nobel honour, Karmen has increasingly been involved in trying to mobilize world opinion by lobbying through international government organizations. For example, she lobbied the United Nations Security Council and the United States not to make a deal that would pardon Saleh. This contributed to a 15-0 vote in the United Nations Security Council on Security Council Resolution 2014, that “strongly condemns” Saleh’s government for the use of deadly force against protesters. However, instead of making Saleh stand trial at the International Criminal Court, it supported the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative to give him immunity upon his resignation. Of course. Ah, the UN. And the murky world of global politics.

With the departure of Saleh in February and the election of new President Abd Rabbuh Mansour al-Hadi, Karmen knows it is necessary to remind the world that the revolution is far from over. The immunity deal brokered by Gulf Arab states was hugely disheartening for faithful protesters. Selah’s relatives remain in key positions of power, sustaining his family’s influence on the country. Reactionary extremist groups remain a threat, as Yemen starts to write its new constitution. And the nation’s aforementioned ‘serious problems’ remain.

So Karmen is still outside Sana’a University, hopeful her presence will keep Yemen in the world’s consciousness.  The US and the Gulf states, she says, need to help her country rebuild – after 44 years of US and Saudi Arabia-backed Selah rule.

Note: Despite her somewhat controversial membership in a political party that also claims as one of its member Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, Karman has repeatedly stressed her independence from both the party line and foreign influences. 

No peace, no sex: Leymah Gbowee, LIBERIA

In 2009, the legendary Bill Moyers Journal program featured an interview with Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist awarded a Nobel Prize last year, and Abigail Disney, the producer of the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, about Gbowee and the amazing role Liberia’s market women played in the toppling of President Charles Taylor, the corrupt and ruthless warlord.

Back in 2002, Liberia was in the grip of civil war. The battle raged predominantly between the government of Charles Taylor and other warlords battling to overthrow him. In the course of the conflict, over 200 thousand people had been killed, and one third of the population was homeless. Children were kidnapped and forced to fight and kill even their own relatives. Rape was a frequently used weapon of war. In Gbowee’s own terms, it was hell on earth: “death, at one point, was better than life”.

Thankfully, then 30-year-old Gbowee was well on her way to becoming a peace activist. In 1998 she volunteered in the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP) in an effort to gain admission to an associate of arts degree program. THRP was run out of the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, and the churches of Liberia had been active in peace efforts throughout the conflict. The THRP program brought Lutheran pastors, lay leaders, teachers, health workers and the Christian Health Association of Liberia together to try to repair “the psychic and social damage left by the war”. It was here, upon working with ex-child soldiers of Charles Taylor’s army, that she realized that “if any changes were to be made in society it had to be by the mothers”.

In 1999, Gbowee had started reading books in the field of peace building, such as The Politics of Jesus by Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, works by “Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, and the Kenyan author and conflict and reconciliation expert Hizkias Assefa. The following year, Gbowee met Nigerian Thelma Ekiyor, a lawyer who specialized in alternative dispute resolution. Ekiyor told Gbowee of her idea of starting a women’s organization, and a year later, Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) was born. In was the first of its kind – no one else on the continent was focusing only on women building peace. The handwritten organizer’s training manual was replete with exercises designed to draw women out, engage them, teach them about conflict and conflict resolution, and even help them understand why the issues had to be addressed.

By spring 2002, Gbowee was working in trauma-healing by day and as an unpaid leader of WIPNET in Liberia by night. She was now a mother of five children, all of whom were living in Ghana with her sister. One night, asleep in her WIPNET office, Gbowee had a dream: “And it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace.” Gbowee was rattled by the dream, as well as its implications – she was not, she felt, someone whom church-goers would deem a good Christian – being an unmarried woman with children. She went to a friend of hers to help her call the women of the churches together for prayer, but was initially reluctant to lead them, until the elders and other women expressed their faith in her ability – and suitability – to lead.

By summer she was the official spokeswoman and inspirational leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. Her peace movement had started with local women praying and singing for peace in a fish market. The movement expanded to work across religious and ethnic lines, and Gbowee led thousands of Christian and Muslim women for months, coming together to pray using both Muslim and Christian prayers. Eventually, daily nonviolent demonstrations and sit-ins were held, in defiance of orders from President Taylor.

But perhaps the most remarkable – and unusual, to Western ears – tactic that the women employed was the twin threat of A CURSE and A SEX STRIKE (in essence, no peace, no sex, for the men engaging in conflict). The practical effect of the sex strike was minimal (and enforcing it difficult), but the tactic was very effective in drawing media attention to the cause.

Still, the women needed the attention of the President, and with giant balls (or rather, ovaries) they decided to occupy a soccer field, beside Tubman Boulevard – the route President Taylor traveled twice a day, to and from Capitol Hill. All of the women wore white T-shirts with the WIPNET logo and white hair ties, to signify peace, and to attract his attention – which they did. On the 23 April 2003, Taylor granted them a hearing. 2000 women congregated outside Taylor’s executive mansion, and Gbowee spoke, passionately stating their plea to Grace Minor, the president of the senate, the only female government official present, and a secret financial supporter of the movement. Gbowee positioned herself to ensure Taylor could see her face as she spoke.

President Taylor had said from the beginning that he was not going to engage in peace talks with the rebels. But following the 23 April and Gbowee’s address, he made his first public commitment to meet with the rebels in Ghana – a massive development. And the women knew they needed to be there, not just to pressure the negotiators, but to represent the true victims of the war to the world’s conflict – and male – focused media:

“There was another side to this story, the women and children that were affected, because all we saw on CNN were footages of fighting and bombing and interviews with Taylor and the rebel leaders […] We were the victims. So we thought if we stayed back and didn’t go to Accra, we would have defeated our purpose.” 

 Through fundraising, the women accumulated enough money to go to Ghana in June, but not enough to sustain them (organisers had anticipated a two week trip). Nonetheless, they went (they were there for three months).  Their first act was to sit daily in demonstration outside the expensive hotels where the negotiators met, pressuring for progress in the talks. But the talks continued into July, with no progress and continued bloodshed. Despairing, Gbowee decided to lead a group of women – that grew from dozens to a couple of hundred – into the hotel, holding signs: “Butchers and murderers of the Liberian people — STOP!”

Next came the most crucial development. The chief mediator was General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former Nigerian president. Gbowee passed a message to him, that the women would interlock their arms and remain seated in the hallway of the hotel, holding the delegates “hostage”, until a peace agreement was reached! News reports showed Gbowee stating their position: “we’re going to keep them in that room without water, without food, so they at least feel what the ordinary people in Liberia are feeling at this particular point in time.”

Luckily, Abubakar seemed sympathetic to the women.  Mildly amused, he announced:  “The peace hall has been seized by General Leymah and her troops.” Then, when the men tried to leave the hall, Gbowee and her allies, in utterdesperation and with no prior planning, pulled out the CURSE card: they threatened to rip their clothes off. Why is this a curse? Because the act is a profound cultural stigma. “In Africa, it’s a terrible curse to see a married or elderly woman deliberately bare herself.”

And this act was enough, amazingly, to make these violent warlords comply and return to the negotiating table. Abubakar supported the women to remain sitting outside the negotiating room during the following days.  The “atmosphere at the peace talks changed from circuslike to somber.” Weeks later, on August 18, 2003, the war officially ended, with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Two years later, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the third winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011) was elected as president of Liberia, the first elected woman leader of a country in Africa.

This is one of my favourite peace stories of ALL TIME. The humble nature of the women who comprised this non-violent peace movement led by Gbowee, so overlooked and disregarded by the world, makes their achievement in the face of despicable tyranny all the more breathtaking. The story also illuminates that cultural understanding can be pivotal in resolving conflicts. What western pundit or politician would have thought that a despairing woman’s removal of her clothing would have had such a profound impact on men responsible for the killing of thousands of people?

Maybe empowering and supporting people to find their own way to peace, rather than prescribing “solutions” from the outside, is the best way to go.

Abigail Disney, the producer of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, offered this insight:

I had the most extraordinary moment during the shooting of the film when we had an opportunity to sit with one of the warlords who’d been present at the peace talks. And I asked him, “How is it possible, in a country where fifty percent of the women have been raped, for one woman threatening to strip naked to cause such mayhem? I don’t understand.”

And he said, that you have to understand they were our mothers. And the only way your mother would do that is if she were driven to total desperation. And there was something in that moment there that caused every man in that room, no matter what he’d done during the conflict, to ask himself, “What have I done? What have I done to get us here?”

You can view the interview with Gbowee and Disney HERE.

And check out Gbowee’s website: www.leymahgbowee.com/

M.A.D. for Peace: Gill Hicks, UNITED KINGDOM

“The greatest threat to peace within any country, in my opinion, is division, identity, fear and ignorance.” – Gill Hicks

In 2005, Australian born Gill Hicks was living in London. In the morning rush of 7 July, she boarded a train on the Picadilly Line, and inside the crowded carriage found a place to stand next to a young man, Germaine Lindsay, from Leeds. Germaine, also known as Abdullah Shaheed Jamal, was carrying a bomb. Upon detonating the device on his body, he ended both his own 19 years of life, and the lives of 26 people. And Hicks, almost fatally and horrendously wounded in the attack, was reborn.

Both her legs had to be amputated below the knee, and her injuries were so severe that she was initially not expected to live. The last living victim to be rescued, she had lost 80% of her blood, her body peppered with shrapnel (including car keys in the back of her head). In her own words, her legs just looked like “an anatomical drawing of the inside of a leg that you’d see in a doctor’s surgery”, with the exception of her feet, which were still intact. Her body was so severely compromised that her rescuers could only “suspect” this unidentified person was female until she was properly examined in hospital.

Hicks has been able to describe her own personal experience of “near death” with lucidity. She has talked about sensing, very strongly, two voices: the voice of Death, and the voice of Life, having a conversation in her head and presenting these two options to her. The voice of Death, on one hand, was soft and appealing, urging her to surrender to what she experienced as the “beauty of death” – an encompassing, beautiful feeling she found herself wanting to remain in. The (apparently female) voice of Life, however, was quite angry and agitated at her for even contemplating the idea of death, for the pain it would cause those still living who cared about her. Once she had made the decision to live, the voice of Death left. And her long battle to survive and recover began.

What is most remarkable to me about Hick’s story, even beyond her rescue and long recovery, which she has discussed in various interviews and in her first book, is her steadfast refusal to hate the perpetrators of the London bombings on principle, including Lindsay/Jamal. After the attack she visited Leeds, where most of the bombers came from, and was taken aback by how devastated the people there were. She asked the communities there what they could do, together, to present a united front for peace, at a time where divisions between communities were heightened. They came up with the idea of walking from Leeds to London with her. The premise was that in undertaking this trek, which would be very difficult for Hicks given her amputations, they would use the coverage of this event to encourage people in the towns along the way to come out, walk with them, and talk to people they might believe to be very different from themselves. It was a way of opening up a safe dialogue.

Hicks also began giving talks and seminars advocating for peace as an individual choice and action, using the term “actionist” for peace – as she says, peace should be something we DO. Spurred on by the belief that what is needed in society is to set up environments and platforms for people to just be people, to understand and empathise (there’s that word again) with each other on a human level, regardless of cultural and physical differences, she founded the not-for-profit organisation, M.A.D. for Peace, in 2007. It focuses on “the responsibility of the individual to create an environment in which he/she has choice in every word and action – ensuring that those words and actions are positive and/or constructive. We believe that peace is within – and that peace starts with you.”

I share her whole philosophy, the emphasis on the right use of liberty and our individual responsibility to create peace with our choices, of how we respond to conflict in our own lives and on a broader scale. The internet, a powerful connector for groups, especially terrorist and extremists groups, should be utilised by CHOICE by peace activists (actionists) in the opposing – or rather, transcendent – cause of peace. To this end, M.A.D. launched a major initiative that mimics the networking of terrorist cells – its equivalent being Nests – allowing international communication of constructive messaging and knowledge share.

This is the website:

http://www.madnests.com/

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Back in 2010 I wrote my 35th post titled ‘Alienation & violence, outlining what is kind of my life obsession: what I believe to be the link between alienation and the choice to commit an act of violence against any other:

“Religion, political ideologies, ethnic identity movements, etc. – all of these are dangerous when:

a)    They demands blind faith/adherence and discourage critical and individual, free thinking;

b)    They advocate violence against others or even ones self; and

c) They ALIENATE the believers/adherents from others – so that the believer/adherent ceases to see those outside their religion or political grouping (or any other kind of grouping) as equals, and instead view them with suspicion, as enemies, tainted infidels, antagonists.  Or even just view them with extreme indifference, as sub-humans. Essentially, the others are not like them.”

The post ends with this:

“But, ultimately, it does all comes down to what is in peoples heads. Somehow, we need to foster an awareness of the sameness of people, a higher consciousness, that inoculates people from being indoctrinated/alienated with dogma of any kind. Which means combating all the conditions that can cause people to be drawn to extremism in the first place.

Still trying to figure out practical ways we can do that…..”

Hick’s M.A.D for Peace, with its goal of building empathic communities, is one of an infinite number of ways peace can be acted out in the world. She has faced hate mail from those who would prefer, shall we say, a less tolerant response by ordinary citizens to terrorism, but both Hicks and her husband are sure of the rightness of their position in contrast to haters of all kinds and at all ends of the political spectrum. In any nation, and particularly in settler societies, where migration is an inherent part of a nation’s fabric, creating understanding and a sense of connection between various communities and individuals is undoubtably one factor necessary  for peace. As articulated on the M.A.D for Peace site:

“… we do NOT live in isolation – wherever we are, whatever we do, we interact with and depend on other people….we are, whether we realise it or not interdependent. 

And with this Interdependency comes Responsibility, we are each responsible for our own choices and the impact those choices have on people around us.”

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Good grief, I’m verbose today!

Check out my dad’s new blog post on post retirement activities – he’s a little more succinct than I am:

http://pearsonv.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/im-my-own-man-now-on-retirement

It takes balls. Massive balls.

In my last post for 2011, I mentioned how my intention for 2012 was essentially threefold: 1) to go with the flow of my life; 2) to make my universal spirituality the backbone of my life; 3) to let my lifelong quest for higher consciousness be my compass in life. Let me be clear about what I am talking about here: when I say spirituality, I am not talking about beliefs. I am talking about a way of being in the world – a way that sees the interconnections of everything, rather than division, and a way of being that is present, loving, and evolving.  I have NO religion or dogma. But I do practice spirituality.

There is a reason why spiritual practice is called spiritual practice’. Because that is, I have discovered, what it takes to overcome a lifetime of unconscious, reactionary behaviour. A lifetime of self-harm through physical self-abuse/neglect, bad relationships, and disconnection from the natural world. A lifetime of suppressing who you are to fit into an environment with skewed priorities and values, to fit in with people who don’t respect who you really are anyway. A lifetime of out of control negative self-talk and constant mind chatter, of being bombarded and overwhelmed by messages from everywhere that more often than not DID NOT align with what I have found to be true for myself.

I have also discovered that moving from that old dysfunctional existence to a freer, more focused life takes massive balls. “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”, wrote E.E Cummings. In 2012, I am growing a pair… so to speak. At the end of last year I made some serious decisions for myself, and this year I am honouring those decisions by focusing my attention on the things that will raise my consciousness, free myself and affect my world in an enlightening way. To get really good at anything requires focus. I think that the same can be said of being spiritual. To move forward and grow, strangely, you need to pay attention to the present, and pour your energy into that activity which will enable you to achieve your goal.

So, these are some of the things I am focusing on practicing in 2012, having identified the problems they are addressing as serious impediments to my growth, mental health and wellbeing:

  • Practicing staying present and flowing with whatever is happening.
  • Practicing taking care of my body, and loving it unconditionally, pain and scars and all.
  • Practicing acting with integrity with my own values, and saying no, peacefully, to people who would encourage me to betray those values, to betray myself.
  • Continuing to abstain from a relationship until I am totally comfortable and settled in my own life.
  • Turning away from relationships that stimulate negative parts of my own or the other person’s character (if those relationship dynamics cannot be changed).

That last one is perhaps the hardest one to practice. But sometimes love requires sacrifice. And you can’t truly say that you love someone if you bring out the worst in them, know this, but continue the unhealthy connection anyway. Sometimes when you love something, you have to let it go. For everyone’s sake. If you don’t, you aren’t putting the welfare of the other first – and that is not love. To me, love is acting in the highest interest of both yourself and others. And I could not live with myself acting from any other place. Not anymore. Besides – I know we all deserve better.

If 2011 was the year I woke up, 2012 is the year I will put into practice, quietly and simply, the things I realised last year. E.E Cummings was right when he wrote growing up and becoming who you really are takes courage. Aligning yourself with higher consciousness – in every aspect of your life – can feel like embarking on a journey into the unknown – a journey that will potentially take you away from everyone and everything familiar. I have learnt that as you make those changes, some people leave your life, for good. Others decide to take the journey with you, which is pretty fantastic!!! But other new people will flow into your life too, who match where you are at, what you’re about. So you make new connections that are healthier, and some old connections become healthier. If you can keep this in mind, you’ll be less freaked out about all the things in your life that necessarily need to pass away, in order for Enlightenment to be born.

Be brave. The best is yet to come.

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I’ve made a few cosmetic changes to the blog! Check it out.

A new tagline and ‘green’ makeover for 2012 🙂 I’ll upload a new Gravatar photo soon. Here’s to the new!

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