Woolf’s Wisdom

Today I have found myself looking in corners for inspiration. It seems to be such a hard time for many people in my life at the moment, and if there is one thing as inexplicable as personal loss and grief it is the loss and grief found in a friend (the philosophy student in me thinks immediately of Levinas and Butler and wonders, are they not the same thing/the same undoing?). The political climate here in Australia does nothing for this mood. So, I am thinking of the one thing I always think of on days like today, and that is these words from Virginia Woolf:

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

Today, in text messages about daily life and the grim state of “Abbott’s Australia”, one of my brothers asked (rather rhetorically, such is the level of the grimness): what are we to do, dan?!

I’m referring to Woolf’s Wisdom for an answer. I think all we can do right now is arrange, arrange, arrange.

 

Australia’s Silence on Violence against Women

*TRIGGER WARNING*: violence against women

Last week, Australian grandmother, Jeanette Moss, was murdered in her home & the headlines emphasised police suspicion that the killer might have been known to Ms Moss . The homicide case is still underway.

Whatever the outcome is, it is deeply concerning that the headlines failed to emphasise that the suspected circumstances of her death are not uncommon or unusual. In Australia, women are more frequently killed or sexually assaulted by someone they know. In fact, at least one Australian woman is killed every week by a former or current partnerWhen I first heard this stat, I thought I’d misheard it. I hadn’t. Worse still, this statistic is likely understated: in 2013, this report was released noting that the majority of violence against women incidences go unreported in Australia. Here is the recent ad campaign White Ribbon, an advocacy group committed to eradicating violence against women, has released in attempt to shed light on the current situation. (For readers who live outside of Australia, & who are perhaps unfamiliar with the aesthetic/narrative techniques used here, the ad parodies Australian tourism campaigns):

At the moment, our government is making a concerted effort to stop so-called king-hit (one punch) violence. It comes after a devastating New Years Eve incident in Sydney where an eighteen year old male was killed by a king-hit punch in King’s Cross. A very similar incident occurred in 2012.  These occurrences most certainly warrant investigation and a strategic shift in thinking about violence and justice responses to it . For Tony Abbott,  this involves ‘throwing the book’  harder and faster at perpetrators of these one-punch killings, or what the NSW state government has since pushed to rename ‘coward punches‘. Whether or not this strategy is the right one is not something I wish to discuss in this instance, though I am comforted to know that at least some forms of Australian violence are under scrutiny.

Nonetheless, there remains an obvious and unnerving silence when it comes to violence against women. To repeat it: at least one Australian woman is killed every week by a former or current partner . Where is the outrage from our PM about this? In 2012 he announced his support for White Ribbon, but I’ve not heard him on the radio, in the papers, or on the television demanding any real commitment to the issue. In fact, I haven’t heard a damn thing from the guy about it ever, and this is Australia’s Minister for Women, lest my ovaries forget.

At what point will the government take seriously the outrageously unsafe environments women contend with on a daily basis–on the street and in nightclubs, yes–but also in their schools, their places of work, their own homes?

Further info and stats: http://www.whiteribbon.org.au/uploads/media/updated_factsheets_Nov_13/Factsheet_5_Facts_and_figures.pdf

Seasons

I left Melbourne for Vancouver in mid-August 2012, the last slog of Winter, a time when my spirits are usually about as grey as my sun-deprived face. I was very excited that I would be arriving in the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer. Sure enough, stepping off the plane in Vancouver I quickly became hot, partly because I was layered like the Michelin man so that I would not tip the baggage allowance over the limit, but mostly because the seasons were reversed. I waited in the customs line with sweat on my lip and a back on fire, a combination of backpack strain and warm, sticky, airport air. When I finally escaped the clutches of immigration, I stepped into fresh air and sunshine. The stark difference in light  felt almost blinding, especially given my increasingly jet-lagged eyelids, and looking out of the taxi everything seemed sepia-toned, making my new city seem all the more foreign and exciting.

Walking through the sunshine over the next two weeks was magical. Sunflowers towered above me on the sidewalk, daisies and geraniums were sprinkled in front yards and along windowsills. Vegetable patches grew randomly on street blocks and I plucked figs from big trees. I was enamoured by the heady smells of Summer blooms and shiny air—a romance back-dropped by the glorious mountains forever framing Vancouver.

IMG_0514 IMG_0512

Soon I watched the colours change in the wide streets and walked through waves of orange, red and yellow leaves. It was romantic in a different way. Like something from a 1920s film where the lure of affair and adventure provokes reserved social conduct. Often I felt like I was dwelling in a neighbourhood that The Babysitters Club might be found:  the high houses, stair entrances, basement windows and towering, leafy trees seemed just like the streets described in the girl fiction series I read as a child.

P1020488 P1020487 Vancouver Fall 1

Halfway through October I awoke to vast sheets of water hitting my basement window. It was darker than usual and the pounding sound was everywhere. Later that night I was told: “this is it, Danni. Prepare yourself. It is going to be like this for five months.” I laughed about this.

Five months later I was not laughing about it. The relentless rain had taught me many good things, like the importance of leather-proof boots, jackets with hoods and careful planning of my backpack. It also taught me that Vancouverites are resilient, adaptive and opportunistic: always making the most of a break in the rain (“look, it’s sunny” meaning “look, it’s not pissing down”), managing to walk through rain with little more than a thin poncho and then stepping onto the bus like they just walked out of a salon. It also taught me that I can find value in dismal weather and to really savour small things like hot chocolates, dry socks and a night-in trying to learn how to knit. And I simply adored the brief falls of snow. But when February came and it was still raining I began to lose patience. By May I truly felt I was drowning in excess moisture. My basement apartment felt damp and I was sick—very sick—almost permanently. Colds, sinus infections, bronchitis, laryngitis. I’d lie in bed resting but felt like every breath I took was filling me up with more cold, more wet, more sick. Dragon’s “Don’t You Got Out in the Rain” played through my mind on loop (which actually was a good thing) and I wondered if these Australian-based rockers wrote this song while in Van?!

During my final weeks in Vancouver the blossoms ignited the trees and daffodils poked up to say hello. And, oh, the tulips! The beautiful, beautiful tulips! Slowly the sun appeared more often and people began to appear bouncier, healthier and happier. The day it reached 13 degrees I took a walk around my neighbourhood and smiled at people sunning on their decks, drinking cider on their lawns and basking in every piece of light. Shortly after this it reached 24 degrees. My friend and I had planned to meet for coffee that day but she wrote to me and requested we go for beer instead—it was just “SO HOT, TOO hot, for coffee.” The Australian in me smiled quietly… and pretended that I was not feeling hot, as well. (Here is a secret: I was. I even bought gelato to cool down. Well, to cool down, and because gelato rules, obviously!).

I arrived back in Australia in June. It wasn’t as cold as I remembered Junes being, which was a great thing. Sadly this soon changed, and I found myself feeling colder here than I ever was in Canada. Australians live in perpetual denial about their Winters: because it gets so hot in Summer it’s assumed we do not need sound heating or insulation in our homes and buildings. That’s until it hits 2 degrees overnight and we complain for weeks on end but do not actually do anything about it. We even forget to dress appropriately.

I knew I was longing for Summer. I am a cold-blooded lizard/girl of the sunshine. I exult in the feeling of being hot, and I quickly feel cold at the slightest drop in temperature. I wear jumpers whenever I visit my Dad’s house in Summer because I hate the feeling of cold air-conditioning on my skin. My toes and fingers are frequently blue and I long to roam barefoot. Needless to say, I am very proud of myself for enduring three back-to-back Winters.

Still, I did not realise just how eager for the season change I was until last month when I was strolling back to my house from uni. It was six pm but not yet dark, an exciting symbol in itself, and the air felt slightly thicker and softer to walk through. It was still and warm and pleasant. I was neither hot nor cold. I became aware that my senses were working overtime and I was overcome by a feeling of safety and comfort, though it took me some moments to pinpoint exactly why. It was the smell: the sweet tinge of jasmine, mixed with fresh cut grass and yellow eucalyptus blooms that can make me want to sneeze, but can also leave me hopelessly nostalgic. Combined it was the smell of my everyday life, but it seemed pronounced and special in that moment; extraordinary.

I guess it was the smell of home. 🙂

Been There, Heard That: 6 September 2013

This week on “Been There, Heard That,” we see a solid mix of everyday life and the Australian election campaign spurring people’s discourse.

Rudd v Abbott

It’s all too easy to stress about not stressing. My friend K-Maz on the tricky issue of managing your stress levels. Ain’t it the truth.

What it actually just means is that when you go to buy your choc-mint ice cream at the supermarket it will be, like, 50 cents dearer. Seriously. Get fucked. My friend Yacob on theLiberal Party’s bullshit “recession doom: everyone panic!” rhetoric. The Chaser Team further explain:

If there is a hell, mine will be waking up in Ray’s Outdoors and being forced to try on pants—cotton drill pants—endlessly. My brother, Antonino, on his loathe for Ray’s Outdoors and their lack of well-fitting pants.

Kevin Rudd, racist coward; we don’t need another Howard! Protesters against Asylum Seeker Policies on Kruddy Politics. Can’t argue with that.

That guy is really weird. He was always, like, ‘I don’t have very many friends; people aren’t very nice to me.’ He was so shy but always trying to talk to me. He’s also…well, you know, CHINESE.  Melbourne tram commuter on why she does not like some guy. (Namely: he’s Chinese, and she’s racist).

How do you create that kind of environment? It’s not by having a room full of bean bags. John Denton on the need to foster business environments that are supportive of creative risk and innovation.

Classic Bean Bag Room

And there were even some new words bandied around:

#Unbefuckingliberal—robust word used to express exasperation at Australia’s Liberal Party, delivered by one Mr McCallum .

#Monetzing—1080’s word to describe something as amazing as Claude Monet’s paintings. It’s like amazing but more Monet, you see?

#Snoopy Deal—look, it’s no big deal.

Where Am I? A Lesson in Calming the Fuck Down

I awoke yesterday morning after dreaming of the Australian continent, or an ambiguous mass that my dream mind knew to be Australia. I was hopelessly trying to pin something on it, like someone tries to pin a tail on a donkey while blindfolded and dizzy from being spun around. I just couldn’t grasp it, pinpoint it. When I awoke I felt suitably displaced, perhaps even more so as I remembered where I was: Melbourne, Australia.

 

I arrived in Australia after a 23 hour transit from Vancouver to Adelaide. The weeks leading up to that flight are a blur, all mashed up into one long hazy day. Five days after arriving in Adelaide my partner and I jumped in our car and headed East to Melbourne. Ten hours later we arrived at our friends’ home, greeted by hugs and news of the past year. Three days after that we were signing a lease for a new apartment. One day following and we had the keys to said apartment and were moving in. And somewhere in the midst of that I was inducted into my new office at uni, I picked up some boxes of my Canadian life I had freighted to Melbourne airport, and I sifted through even more boxes of my Australian life I had locked-up in a storage unit while away in Canada. In short: I really had no idea where the fuck I was, or which “life” I was currently living!

 

I’ve tried not to panic too much about this. Having just spent ten months living abroad independently and then partaking on a whirlwind move back, it seems pretty reasonable. It surely takes time to consolidate the pieces of one place with another; one time with another—and this has been a big shift in both place and time.

 

When I awoke yesterday, however, my mind did not find this justification reasonable. Not good enough, it said, not today! Of course it had a lot to do with that thing that happened the night before. That thing where our Labor Gillard Government got upended from the inside by Kevin Rudd, who I watched get signed in as the new Prime Minister via a webvideo the next day. Well, I half-watched. I had to close the video box before his oath was over because it was too much for me to take in. Don’t like this reality? Just click the red box; close the internet; shut down your computer! Too bad it’s so much harder to shut down your mind.

 

I came back to Australia uncertain of myself but certain of many other things, including that Julia Gillard was our Prime Minister and Tony Abbott was our Opposition Leader and there was going to be an uphill slog to keep it that way at the September election. But in the time it takes to check your Facebook newsfeed this fact became history. Not having a TV or wifi or even a radio set up yet in the new apartment I pieced everything together via Facebook status updates and a quick news search on the smart phone. Fuck! That is about all I could muster. Fuck. When I finally went to sleep that night my subconscious set off trying to find “Australia” all night long but to no avail.

 

I woke up bewildered, agitated and somewhat lost. Something about the leadership changeover triggered off the part of myself still confused about why I was suddenly in the Southern hemisphere, what emotions such a move should manifest in my body, where I’d left off and needed to pick-up from, and how I was going to reconcile my time in the foreign country with this fresh start at “home,” which in fact felt uneasily foreign itself right now.

 

My mind proceeded to chase after its own tail for the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon; hunting its identity, country, political ideology, opinion and all other things that go along with the term “home” and any disruption to it. After a few hours of (pretending to do) PhD work in my office, I stumbled down Sydney Road in Melbourne’s Brunswick with a buzzing head. How do you feel, dannijean? What do you make of all this? How much of last night’s government debacle is about misogyny and gender? Did you even really like Julia? Is it even about liking? How does this compare to the Harper government in Canada? Oh, Canada… Do you miss it yet? Do you wish you were still there? But didn’t you want to come back? My thoughts were thankfully interrupted when I spotted a thrift shop and walked in. I bought a potted parsley plant for $1. It was a clear and obvious attempt to attach myself to something that had roots.

 

While waiting for the bus home, clutching my small plant, I overheard two elderly women complaining about the unreliability of the bus system. One lady commented: “bus drivers just don’t care anymore, they just don’t care,” and my mind, caught up in a neurotic self-questioning, immediately thought: ‘what does it mean to care in 2013 Australia? What is “care,” exactly?’

 

ERGH! I AM SUCH AN ANNOYING PHD STUDENT SOMETIMES.

 

A few minutes later, having boarded the bus still clutching my parsley, I watched a woman hop-off with a toddler strapped to her back and a small child skipping behind her. I thought, ‘that woman probably has to go home now and spend the next however many hours looking after those little beings: prepare them food, bathe them, entertain them. She might have swirling thoughts like I do but she probably does not have the time or capability to indulge them.’ And then, as if the blindfold used in my pin-the-tail-on-the-country dream game was removed from my eyes I thought: ‘well, I DO have the rest of this whole day to indulge my swirling thoughts… But, I also have the rest of this whole day to put them aside for now, water my new plant, drink a cup of tea, have a bath, and lie on the couch PERFECTLY STILL if I choose.’

 

Well, hallelujah, dannijean. Welcome to Perspective Town, population: growing.

 

It seems that when you are able to put yourself at the centre of everything you generally will, and some days you will let your mind go traipsing down the road which has too many speed signs and not enough stop lights. All of the questions I was sweating over are interesting, and most of them are certainly worth thinking about, but just because I’m trudging down this road doesn’t mean that clear thoughts and structured arguments are as well. I believe psychologists describe this predicament as: “analysis paralysis.” The truth of the matter is, sometimes I really do not know how I feel or what I think and nothing but time will sort that out for me. When this happens, I thank small parsley plants and Mums with children for reminding me that there’s a place beyond my relentless questions and expectations—this place has no “I,” is not concerned about how or when the unresolved questions will be answered, and—most importantly—it is very, very quiet.