Monthly Archives: August 2016

Burkinis and Bikins

Many, many people much smarter and more articulate than I have already weighed into this topic. It seems to have been universally condemned and has already been overturned by the French court.

But I did just want to write a little personal note. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. Two weeks ago, I bought a swimsuit that reveals my belly. This is the first swimsuit I have ever owned in my adult life that reveals my belly. Bikinis, for me, have always come with the baggage of the ‘bikini-ready body’, an idea and a body that haunts women’s magazines for the 3 -4 months before summer and then the 3 months of summer. I didn’t know how to get rid of the pubic hair around my bikini line without my skin breaking out in horrible, itchy red bumps and going out with my pubs showing made me feel disgusting. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by this. But, I did. Bikinis weren’t liberating or sexy or fun for me. They were shaming. And bikinis became impossible for me to wear.

So what, I guess? One-pieces are/were available. However, they were difficult to find and most stores offered very little attractive choice. Places that offered lots of one-piece swimsuits were geared towards little old ladies. I didn’t want to wear these sorts of swimsuits. They made me feel old and prudish and unattractive. Maybe I ‘shouldn’t’ have felt shamed by all this. But, I did. And being on the beach, or in the pool (unless it was just to swim laps), became almost impossible.

I feel very differently about all of this now. And a lot of women would have told me I should have felt differently about that before. Who cares if I have pubic hair showing? Who cares if I don’t have a bikini body? I agree (now), but that didn’t stop my younger self worrying about all those things. And, having those women force me into a bikini against my will and pushing me out into the middle of Bondi Beach with a wildly hairy bikini line would not have made me feel any better. It would not have made me suddenly empowered or more free.

The only time I ever felt comfortable in a ‘swimsuit’ was on a school trip to Australia’s Wonderland. I had, genuinely, forgotten my swimsuit, because I didn’t think we were going to go swimming. We were. Everyone was. So, I decided to wear my knickers (black) and a friend’s black singlet top. I loved it. I thought I looked chic. I got compliments. I looked everywhere for a swimsuit that looked just like that. Of course, nothing. But, apart from all that, if anyone had known that I was actually a teenage girl running around a public place, on a school trip, in my underwear, I’m absolutely certain someone would have told me it was inappropriate. It was provocative. Despite it covering up more of my skin than my friends’ bikinis.  Because of someone else’s classification of what that material was supposed to be and what that material was meant to mean and what my teenage skin cloaked in that material was meant to invite.

My point with all this is that it is impossible to know how an individual views a garment, how it makes them feel and the significance they attach to it. The French are saying that they ‘know’ that EVERY burkini has dangerous connotations, significance and poses a threat to their secular society. But they can’t know, just by looking at what kind of outfit a woman is wearing, how she feels about that garment, how she feels about herself, how she feels about Islam and how she feels about France. It is the most horrific form of stereotyping, generalising and racism. It takes away an person’s ability to define themselves, to express themselves and tells them how they should feel. It is saying to an entire group that to be in public life they must feel shamed and uncomfortable, or they will not be permitted at all.

 

 

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Horrible Poems from Horrible People

So, I enjoyed creating that strange poem/speech out of John Howard’s old Tampa interview so much on the weekend that I’ve been combing through the PM archives for the past few days and making more.

After the first one, which I thought was quite successful in terms of coherent message and clear stylistic choices, I’ve found the next few tough. I have also (of course) started questioning myself. Exactly what is the point of doing these weird poem/speech things? The historian in me is hyperventilating, because I’m twisting people’s words and making them sound more horrific than, perhaps, they actually sounded. The liberal artist in me is feeling icky for having to read through all these horrible words, trying to make them into something called ‘art’ and is worried that by putting them on my blog I’m seemingly condoning the messages in the speeches. I’m worried that my historian fears will stop me taking the speech/poems far enough to make some kind (any kind) of artistic statement. And the perfectionist in me keeps complaining that none of my poems subsequent to the first one are good enough to warrant me continuing with this particular writing exercise.

However, there is something addictive about them that has kept me writing, despite all the internal protests. Plus, they’re very quick. And the process of picking random, unrelated statements and then being able to craft them into some kind of whole is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together when you don’t know what it’s supposed to look like in the end. So, here’s a couple of others.

John Howard (from an interview about the lack of WMD’s in Iraq)

I will answer for my statements

I’ve made plenty of mistakes

I get things wrong

I mean, I apologise if I misled people.

Deliberately misled people.

I’m explaining it.

I’m explaining to you what happened.

Well, I don’t know.

I just don’t know.

I can’t do better than that, I’m not an encyclopedia.

You’ll forgive me for not answering simply yes or no, not off the top of my head.

I’d have to get the speech, I’d have to find…

I would have to ask.

As you’re asking me the question.

The answer to that is: I’m not in a position to answer.

I can’t answer.

But, there has been no intention to deceive or mislead

Let us choose our words carefully.

Bad faith, bad motives, deliberate intention.

Anything that I have said that might be seen as misleading

Was not a deliberate misleading.

The literal statement I made

Literally what I said:

Are you prepared to go to war?

 

We can’t walk away.

 

Pauline Hanson (from her first speech to parliament in 1996)

I do not feel we can go on living in a dream world

I am fed up to the back teeth

I was born here: where the hell do I go?

Like most Australians, I worked for my land.

I must pay and continue.

I call on the people:

One people, one nation, one flag

Just an ordinary Australian who speaks for 90% of Australians

The majority of Australians be fair dinkum.

But, Australians, it is too late.

Millions of Australians stop kowtowing

Ordinary Australians have been kept out

Mainstream Australia is in danger

Divided into black and white

Wake up, Mainstream Australia!

Life’s knocks applied to mainstream Australians.

Most Australians want

Two sets of rules.

There is light at the end of the tunnel:

I can invite whom I want into my home, I say who comes into my country.

I may be only a ‘fish and chip shop lady’ but

How proud I am.

I salute them all.

 

John Howard (interview about Sept. 11th, children overboard, war in Afghanistan)

This is not an attack on Islam

There is no total solution.

But these people will not come to the mainland.

It’s one of the pillars of our society.

Even in times like this,

We have laws.

We’ve got laws in relation to that.

Handle the problem where it first occurs.

We cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by this:

The kind of people we are.

A humane people.

We preserve our standards.

We continue to behave in a humane fashion.

Our resolve is being tested.

Emotional blackmail is very distressing.

It must be very distressing.

It’s a difficult issue.

A 100 year battle.

A matter of common humanity.

You seek to roll yourself into a small ball and disappear.

They are playing on that.

I will condemn.

I don’t want people in this country who throw children overboard.

Genuine refugees don’t throw children into the sea.

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Little Johnny Howard

I did a theatre workshop over the weekend run by a writer/director friend of mine. It was exploring Brexit and the current political divide, amongst other things and we had to bring in a speech made by a politician, which we viewed as marking a turning point in politics and towards right-wing conservatism in particular. I immediately thought of the Tampa crisis and John Howard’s insistent that we would decide who came into our country and the circumstances in which they arrive. So, I brought an interview John Howard did with Mike Munro from that time. I found it on this archive that is kept of select Australian prime minister’s press releases, speeches, interviews etc. You can find it here. We had to create something new from what we had brought and I was quite pleased with my effort. The disturbing thing about it is how similar the rhetoric is from the current European refugee crisis, even though this was 15 years ago. People at the workshop were really shocked it was so old.

So, here it is:

This is a very difficult situation for everybody.

We are a humane people.

We are a generous people.

We are reaching a breaking point.

We are not obliged to accept.

We appear to be losing control.

We have an absolute right.

We have decide to take a stand.

We assert the absolute right to control our borders.

We cannot surrender our right as a sovereign country, our right to control our borders.

No country can ever give that up.

We cannot have a situation where people can come to this country when they choose.

We can’t continue sending a signal to the rest of the world that this is a nation of easy destination.

The should be returned to Indonesia.

All we’re asking is that there not be any queue jumpers.

There are a lot of people waiting in the queue.

They should go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

They’re not in imminent fear or concern about the situation.

They try and intimidate us with our own decency.

Four of the illnesses were not as represented.

Three were very mild.

One was feigned.

We will provide medical assistance, we will provide water, we’ll provide food, I mean, we are a very generous people but you’ve got to balance that against not having that generosity played upon.

little johnny howard

Little Johnny Howard found here

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Reading Deprivation

To fill up my spare hours and to save me from going crazy with the organisation of yet another country move (this is the 4th country move I’ve done in 6 years. Or the 6th city move in 6 years. I think I might need help), I am currently working my way through a book called ‘The Artist’s Way.’ It’s a book that’s meant to help ‘blocked creatives’ (I really, really, really have to work hard at not sneering at that phrase) get past whatever is getting in the way of them making work. There’s all sorts of activities that you do, but the most important are the ‘morning pages’ and the weekly artist’s date. The morning pages are three full pages of writing that you do in the morning time – you get out whatever crap is in your head, or stressing you out and write it down and try to work through it. It’s like a free-form, flow of consciousness diary, I guess. The artist’s date is just doing something every week that is just for you, whatever takes your fancy. So far, I have had an excursion to a falling-down 19th century sanatorium, bought silly stamps at the craft stall, painted ceramics and… this week’s has not yet happened.

I bought the book in Bandon, Ireland (5 moves ago) and started it then, but never made any headway. I think I read the first chapter. This time, I’m being really diligent. It helps that I’m not employed, I guess. Every Wednesday, I read my chapter and then I copy the weekly activities into a little exercise book that I decorated. And when I do my activity, I get a little owl stamp that says ‘Sehr Schön’ on it. I figured it would appeal to the obsessive compulsive child that I am, deep down in my heart. So far, it’s worked very well.

Anyway. The big activity for this week is called ‘Reading Deprivation’. When I first read the phrase, I thought it meant it was going to address the fact that I had been depriving myself of reading and we were going to fix it and I was going to read all the things.

read-all-the-things

ALL THE THINGS! Found here

Of course, it’s the opposite. You’re supposed to deprive yourself of reading all the things. In fact, you are banned, BANNED, from reading anything. ANYTHING.

As I read (ha!) through what I was supposed to do, a genuine feeling of dread crept up on me. How exactly was I supposed to do this? How was I supposed to get all the things done that I needed to get done without reading? The first thing I do every morning (and this is… sad, I grant you) is reach for my computer and check email and check Facebook. I’d like to blame the habit on being in a different country from my family and many friends, but, let’s be honest here. I’d probably do it if I’d never left Australia too.

I had lots of questions about the reading deprivation. Was I allowed to read signs? Recipes? Information on the back of drug packets? Every time I needed to look something up, did I need to get Alex to read it on my behalf and then tell me the salient points? What if he read it wrong? Could I read things that I, myself, had written? Or was I only allowed to write texts and emails and send them into the world with whatever predictive text had decided I wanted to say? Is everyone who ever sent an amusingly suggestive text with a strange predictive text word substitution all doing this reading deprivation activity?? The book did not answer these, or really any, of my questions. In fact, the book is quite vague on most of the details. The author tells us that she’s often called crazy for this particular exercise, there’s always someone who says they can’t do what she’s told them to do. And then they all end up doing it. But, but, but… HOW do they end up doing it? Not everyone is unemployed! How do teachers get away with not reading things for an entire work? Are you allowed to read things if you’re being paid to read them? Where does the ‘no reading’ ban end? What happens if I briefly glance over the toiletries in the shower and my brain accidentally comprehends the word ‘shampoo’? Did I read it? Is the exercise over then? Do I have to start again? Should I just walk through the world with my eyes closed for a week?

I’m beginning to think she left it deliberately vague so that you can make your own mind up about what really is essential reading and what you can do without. That’s my decision, anyway. So, I’ve come up with a few of my own rules. For example, the book was originally written in 1992 and the version I have was re-printed in 2002. So, well before communications were radically altered through social media and text message. So, in the end, I decided that I was allowed to continue reading basic communication texts – things that might have been, back in the day, a phone call – because otherwise life would get really difficult. I’ve also allowed myself to read things online for basic information. For example, Alex and I want to go kayaking tomorrow. I had to research where the kayak rental was. That involved reading websites and I decided that was ok.

You may have also noticed that I’m still updating Facebook. Well, I’m allowed to write. So, I figure, posting on Facebook is ok and responding to people commenting on my post is ok, but scrolling mindlessly through my News Feed is a definite no-no.

Even with these, fairly generous, rules in place, the no reading thing has been difficult and frustrating. It’s also been eye-opening. The amount of hours I spend on the computer just waiting for something to distract me, not even entertain me, just distract me, is kind of terrifying. I’ve gotten into a habit of having the computer open at all times, so that whenever I’m reading or watching something and there’s a reference I don’t get, or there’s a song that I recognise but can’t remember why, I immediately get on the computer to look it up. Sure, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But, stopping doing it as made me realise how easily distracted I actually am. Sitting down and really focusing on something and committing to not being distracted is actually hard work. That’s why I love reading on the UBahn, or going to the cinema – it’s easier to not be distracted from a movie or a book when I’m not at home, with easy access to the internet. Somewhere down the line, I turned into those dogs from Up and didn’t even notice and also willingly participated in the transformation.

squirrel

Squirrel found here

It’s made me think about lots of things. And not all of them are anti-internet. Like, how did I get information before the internet? I was still a kid, so a lot of the time I just asked my Dad and he knew. I looked up things in our massive Oxford English Dictionary, which was fine for words and things, but not so much for people. I looked things up in my Dad’s old high school Encyclopaedia, but as it was from the 60s, most of the time I did it for laughs and to see people still referring to Russia as the U.S.S.R. There was a reference section of our high school library, where some librarian had carefully cut out newspaper or magazine articles and arranged them alphabetically by subject in horizontal files: Peron, Eva; Peron, Juan. I wonder what happened to all those files. That I now have access to the answer to almost any question I could possibly have is pretty amazing. That I mostly use it to find out what others films a familiar looking actor was in is possibly a waste. That I look up the information and then immediately forget it is probably unsurprising. That not being able to look up the answer to every random question that goes through my brain over the past few days hasn’t resulted in my brain exploding or the end of the world is also telling.

I’ve also discovered I have SO MUCH free time. I know I am currently unemployed, which certainly helps the free time. But, seriously. I can’t think of enough things to do during the day. I’ve actually written myself a list called, ‘Things I Like Doing’ so that if I get bored, I don’t panic and decide there is nothing else to do ever, ever, I’ll be bored forever. I’ve been saying a lot over the past few months that I ‘don’t know what I like anymore’. But part of it was that I just wasn’t bothering to think of things that I liked anymore. I’d come home from work tired and instead of going to the effort of thinking of something I might like to do, I would immediately open the computer and ‘zone out’ for an hour. Hour and a half. Two hours. It was boring. It was frustrating. It was numbing. But as long as things kept changing online there was at least distraction. There was at least something to do. I didn’t have to think too hard and come up with something I might actually like to spend my time doing.

My anxiety levels have also been through the roof over the past two years. I mean, I know, I’ve always been an anxious person. But, there’s been a steady increase over the last little while. And I think part of it has been this underlying feeling that I should always be ‘doing something.’ And, again, online, it is actually possible to always be doing ‘something’. It may or may not be worthwhile ‘something’, but it is, at least, a ‘something’. It might be watching a cat push a dog into a pool (that would be awesome, though, wouldn’t it?) or it might be an 8 page profile of Angela Merkel. But there’s always ‘something’ to do. I find myself going, ‘I’ll just read this and then I’m finished.’ ‘I’ll just watch this and then I’m finished.’ But it never ends, there’s always more clicks, there’s always more suggestions. What exactly did the cat video add to my life? It gave me a cheap laugh, I suppose and we do sometimes need cheap laughs. But if it ends in an hour long cycle of cheap laughs, it’s probably gone on too long. In the last two days, I have, twice, made myself a cup of tea, opened the doors of my balcony and stared at the sky for a good 45 minutes to an hour. I used to love doing things like that. But, I just kind of forgot about it. Because it seemed boring. Because it wasn’t ‘something’. Because it wasn’t as quickly diverting as jumping online.

The whole point of the ‘reading deprivation’ exercise is to stop filling yourself up with things that other people have written or created and start making space to write your own things. I didn’t think it would work. I didn’t think it would work that quickly. But, seriously. When you’ve suddenly got an entire empty afternoon stretching out in front of you and no ability to spend it staring at other people’s lives on Facebook, or even, getting out a new novel and devouring it hour after hour – why not write something? It doesn’t even have to be a good something. It just has to be a something. Because, no matter how relaxing it is to stare at the clouds for an hour, eventually you’re going to get bored. You’re going to get lonely. You’re going to start feeling some things and you’re going to want to deal with those things.

I do hate people who get all ‘holier than thou’, especially when it comes to the internet and mobile phones (ah, the irony of a video, telling you to look up from your mobile, packaged as clickbait), but the last few days have been a goddamn revelation. I knew I spent too much time online and I knew I hated it. But suddenly banning myself from being unproductively online has made me realise just how much time I spend there, how much I don’t enjoy it and all the things I could possibly be doing if I wasn’t on the goddamn internet. I’m not saying I want to go back to the days when I wasn’t able to find out what ‘AIDS’ was by looking in my dad’s 1960s schoolboy encyclopaedia. But, I’m also saying that I want to make sure that the things I do online are done with purpose, have an end point and are an asset to my broader life, instead of an endless cycle of sponsored clicks.

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Filed under Introspection, learning, Random, Theatre, Unemployment