No Man is a Manus Island…

Do Not Ask for Whom the Bell Tolls…
Like many others I have been deeply affected by the murder of Reza Berati (23) on Manus Island.  I have had my feelings about this death challenged by those who support the Border-Protection-Operational-Matter-Secrecy-Bullshit-Act which came into place one day when I blinked.  “He’s an illegal”; “A queue jumper”; “A rioter”; “A criminal”; “One less to have to fucking throw back” – I’ve heard it all.  And I’ve experienced the rage against me for having a different opinion.  And rage almost always is the construct of fear.
It’s not difficult to trace the origin of the fear.  Fear disguised as protection is a psychological tool that has been used by governments everywhere and throughout time.  I was living in the USA during 9/11.  I say “during” because it was not a one day event.  There was, of course, the devastating event itself – I dropped eggs on the kitchen floor and cried.  Breakfast wasn’t cooked that day.  But then there was the after, when every airport looked like a bad day in Beirut.  There were more machine guns than passengers at LAX and this was for our protection.  It was terrifying window dressing that worked a treat.  We were in imminent danger and the government was protecting us.  No one questioned.  No one asked for detailed intelligence.  And every American citizen who had dark skin, wore ethnic clothing, or was not Christian, was in danger of disappearing under the auspices of the Patriot Act.  I noticed that every time there was some questioning of procedure the little alert ladder would shoot from Green to Blue, or Blue to Orange, or Orange to Red, and we were all again convinced – we have to give up some freedoms to protect ourselves.  Or give up someone else’s.  Don’t we?
In the same way the Abbott government has demonized “Boat People”.  Boat People – the description itself dehumanizes them.  They’re not real people…they’re just “Boat People”.  And we must fear them.  Why?  They’re terrorists, and extremists, and illegals, and worse than all of that, just cheeky queue jumping money hungry bastards.  Of course they’re none of these things at all.  But fear works.  We argue against the treatment of live sheep exports more passionately than we argue about the treatment of “Boat People”.
People believe that their fear protects them.  But fear is freedom destroying when the fear itself is irrational and governmentally self-serving.  Governments that use the illusion of fear in order to control a population are diabolically self-serving: creating a fear in order to bolster ones own power and authority may be short term affective, but it is ethically heinous when people are assaulted, injured and murdered in our care.
The UN has sanctioned us.  We have made every major news outlet – including the New York Times – as a result of our scandalous treatment of people who came to us for help.  A fear mongering government is a Fascist government.  A government who designs an external threat as a unifying force for voters is very clever, and almost always short-term successful.  The problem is out there people.  Except it’s not.

“I’ll Have the Caesar Salad with a Side of Violence”

Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
– John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

It’s been an interesting week…
Today a man attacked a woman in an upscale London restaurant.  One can only imagine the hubris required to hold a pleading woman by the throat over appetizers, in public, as easily as one might pull out a chair for her or pour a glass of wine, without thought to consequences or appearances.  He’s done it before, clearly.  One doesn’t start out on the abuse track by going straight to the public demonstration.
Earlier in the week our Prime Minister was dissected into body parts for an opposition fundraiser menu, the defense being it was a joke and the guests never saw it.  She was then pilloried on radio feedback lines by a public who not only saw no harm but relished putting the bitch back in her place.
Later in the week our Prime Minister was sucker-punched in a live radio interview with questions regarding the sexuality of her partner based upon the fact that he is a hairdresser.  The interviewer crossed so many lines that watching said interview was like taking a face plant off a diving board into an empty pool.  Excruciating.  Support for the fired interviewer continues.
In 2012 Psychobiologist Dario Maestripieri bemoaned the fact that there was a high concentration of unattractive women at the New Orleans Conference of the Society of Neuroscience.  He publically asked why no beautiful women were interested in the brain.
Today I was introduced to a new male employee, about my age, with the caveat: “She’s wonderful.  We lost the two before her to pregnancy.” Then to me: “You’re not getting pregnant are you?”  Raucous male-bonding laughter.  No harm done.  Right?  There was no malice in it. Benevolent sexism at its best.  There is no response other than stewing.
Three waves of feminism: we vote, we lead, we birth and nurture, we work, then we work unpaid inside the home, we love men, we love women, we create and battle and care and produce and contribute and then we get up in the morning and do it all over again.  And I’m still trying to work out why my uterus became the topic in a professional situation.
It’s been an interesting week…

The “C” Word

“I wrote a song about dental floss but did anyone’s teeth get cleaner?” – Frank Zappa
 Before I get into this Blog I must warn all sensitive readers that I am going to use the ‘C’ word…CENSORSHIP.
In August 2012 I was invited to attend and participate in a well known Literary Festival in Western Australia.  It is a Festival I have supported, attended and loved as an audience member for years.  So you can only imagine how delighted and humbled I was by an invitation to be a presenter at said Festival.
Six months after the invitation and my acceptance, just weeks before the Festival, the organizers read Creepy & Maud.  I received an email from the organizer, part of which reads:
“And having read it, I realised with great sadness that I would not be able to get you to present it at the festival because the actual life experiences of many adolescents can be so very distasteful to their parents…and completely at odss with the more wholesome vision of themselves as good parents etc that they generally prefer to have!”


I was offered two other roles at the Festival: a writing workshop or a chaired debate, the proviso being Creepy & Maud was not presented. 
What amazes me about this request to pull my head in at their Festival is that they seem to be asking me to do so out of respect for the delusion of the parents.  That is, the parents here like to think of themselves and their children in a certain way and while the Festival supports that fantasy they are concerned that I don’t or won’t. 
Wrong.  I whole-heartedly support the right of any and all individuals to live in whichever fantasy world they choose.  It’s not my business.  What concerns me here is the elevation of one fantasy over all others; the decision of the Festival organizers to only choose content consistent with the vision these parents have of themselves, rather than exploring what this denial of reality may be doing to the children raised in such an environment.  And then there is fear.  I’ve seen fear of controversy clutch at the throat of people too often – people who should be speaking loudly and fearlessly, joyously and with good humour, too often whittled down to a nub of their real selves in the misguided belief that peace is better than sharp thinking and tasty conversation.
Something very exciting could have happened between older adolescents and Creepy & Maud in this forum.  Now, through an extraordinary set of events, it cannot.  I have chosen to withdraw from participating in this event as I believe my attendance (in scold’s bridle) would be condoning their decision to censor.  This year it was me.  Next year it could be someone else.
I am left with an overwhelming sense of sadness.  I don’t care about losing the gig, but is this the thin end of the wedge?  Bruce Coville once said that the real heroes are the librarians and teachers who at no small risk to themselves refuse to lie down and play dead for the censors.  I won’t play dead either.  I will continue to be loud and honest.  I respect your right to feel confronted or offended.  I do not respect your right to choose shutting me up over talking it through.

(Note: This Blog does not refer to the Perth Writers Festival.  I will be attending the PWF in the company of some of my favourite fellow writers)

Why is everyone so sensitive about the Right Wing?

“To admit you want to have a comeback means you have to admit you weren’t what you were supposed to be.  You dropped below your own standard.” – Marilyn Manson
I found myself in a situation recently where the conversation got really good.  You know those situations when everyone at the table is suddenly engaged, even when the topics scud about with merciless speed and then out of the blue there’ll be two, maybe three, different topics floating about at once and everyone is following everything?  The sort of conversation where people can disagree but still value each other and people talk over the top of one another but with enthusiasm for the discourse rather than recourse to bullying?  Good conversation that reminds an anti-social divorcee that people are great fun? 
Well, that didn’t last long.
One of the guests made a statement.  That’s ok.  It was racist, xenophobic bullshit but I am not one to judge (stop laughing…).  Keeping with the wonderful spirit of the occasion I countered with an alternative view and expected the tête-à-tête to continue with aforementioned enjoyment.  But something strange happened.  Everyone went quiet.  It wasn’t what I said or how I said it.  As far as I can deduce, it was the simple fact that I had disagreed with this one particular person.  The person next to me actually “shooshed” me.  Being a guest, as was this gentleman, I complied.  I shooshed.  For a time.
You see, they then gave him the floor.  I knew there were people present as uncomfortable with what he was saying as I was, but still the floor was his.  He was offensive, belligerent, and spoke with the sort of authority that only comes from a frightened person reverting to the kill-switch for fear: anger.  And somehow his fear was creating an even greater fear in everyone else.
Everyone just sat there.  I engaged with this man a couple of times and found that the angst of the table was directed at me!  So I shut the fuck up.  All of my comebacks are still festering in me.  Later I was told that this man was very sensitive and had strong views.  I was asked (told) not to respond.  Just let it go, for everyone’s sake!  It doesn’t matter!  He’s old fashioned!  Let it go!  Right…ok.  And more right.  And some more.  So much right I walked in fucking circles for a week.
I myself am sensitive.  It helps to be when you are creating people to inhabit a made up world you want your readers to believe in for just a little while.  Of course Creepy also came up in the tirade.  He could understand why I was so “bleeding-heart liberal” (liberal in the American sense) – that was made very clear in the “shit I was peddling”.   No response.  We don’t want to upset the sensitive Right Wing nor those who are sensitive about it.  And bringing up the Bible on top of everything else – well! Screw rational, evidentiary thought!  Screw conversation – let’s just move onto the chicken wings…(“How are they coming along, darling?…)
Here’s what I’ve noticed:  the Right Wing seems very sensitive to me.  And even those who are not Right Wing are terribly sensitive about that sensitivity.  My son said to me: “The only argument the right wing seems to have is that you can’t argue with them.” 
So much for discourse. 

Writing the Sex Scene

…like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her” – Rowan Somerville – The Shape of Her (Literary Reviews “Bad Sex Award” 2010)
I’m reminded of a scene in a highly underestimated movie, “She-Devil”, and the delightfully appalling ruminations of romance writer Mary Fisher (played by Meryl Streep) as she struggles to find new descriptions for the oldest past-time in the world.  She does use the term “love button”, but we are left mercifully unaware of what part of a woman’s anatomy she is referring to.  I read a few of the under-the-counter Mills & Boon when I was a virginal adolescent and found it all very exciting.  However since then I have mostly been left cringing at sex scenes in literature.  And there are a lot of badly written sex scenes out there.
The problem with badly written sex scenes is that they become the focus of the entire book.  I remember having a conversation with a publisher (not mine) about a newly released teen novel in which she described the sex scene as “powerful and confronting”.  I smiled and nodded but was left wondering if we had read the same book.  I found that same sex scene shocking.  (And those of you who know me or read my stuff know full well I am not easily shocked).  I also found this particular sex scene unnecessary.  I kept imagining how this young girl’s first time might have been alluded to in a far more powerful way; a way that respected her more and acknowledged the necessary awkward humour of such an event (or am I just channeling my first time here?). 
The sex scene can so easily turn into teeny-porn.  That’s great if you want to be controversial and have the most thumbed library copies in the state.  The only pages of “Flowers in the Attic” I ever read were the couple in which the brother and sister get it on, and that’s because someone slipped it to me in science class whilst I was in real danger of burning it down with my Bunsen burner.  And believe me, the book fucking fell open at the pages in question.  Here’s the rub: how to write the sex scene that doesn’t become the focus but becomes a part of the tapestry.  Or are we just not culturally ready for sex scenes to sit comfortably and noncontentiously beside the rest of a narrative in YA literature?
I am also aware that there is an enormous amount of criticism awaiting anyone who approaches that bridge.  Bridgekeeper: the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?”  There are a number of correct answers to the question.  So many approaches.  And it is very rare for the critic to be the one catapulted into space.  
So.  The sex scene.  Clothes on or clothes off?  Both first time or one experienced?  Planned or unplanned?  Mutual or rough persuasion?  Orgasm? – who the fuck am I kidding (hard enough to locate one now! – no offence fellas).  The problem is that no matter what choices a writer makes in her head, there is the unenviable task of translating that onto the page in a way that respects the characters and the readers.  One must blur the line, like a smudge of charcoal, between the leading up to, the event itself, and the immediate aftermath.  If a sex scene stands out like sore fucking thumb (no pun intended) it’s just not working for me.
So far, none of my sex scenes are working for me.

James Earl Jones and Water in My Head

“These teens are useless.  They come to us with a reading age of five.  Their only hope is to improve themselves just enough to marry into the middle class.”
Someone said this to me recently and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.  I hate it when something gets stuck in my head (water’s the worst…).  And when things replay in my head it’s like a frigging James Earl Jones voice over, saturating the replay with all the significance of God clearing his throat.  In an effort to exorcize God’s phlegm I’m going to briefly bore anyone foolish enough to venture onto this blog with my views on this statement.
Firstly, we all know these sorts of teens (or think we do by appearance).  You know the ones – bad haircuts, bad language, bad dress sense, mooching about in shopping centre car parks wearing T-shirts with slogans so offensive that I wonder how their mothers actually let them out of their cages that day.  I’ve been as enraged as the next person when some 15 year old with the Rock of Gibraltar on his shoulder loosens a grolly at my feet as I’m passing.  (If you spit on my shoes I will vomit on yours).  So what is it about?
I’m no social anthropologist – I’m not even a teacher – so I am ridiculously unqualified to offer an opinion as definitive as that given to me during a discussion about connecting with teenagers.  And I know that I am probably in the minority in having an opinion about these sorts of teens which does not involve them either ending up in prison or marrying “up”.  But the truth is someone failed these kids multiple times.  As soon as invalidation meets adolescent hormones, we’re in trouble.  And I do mean “we”.  It’s not just that these are the people who will be running the aged care facilities we’re all in someday so let’s not piss them off anymore – it’s that somewhere around their young adulthood, when we’re bleating at these teens about taking personal responsibility, we conveniently forget that we were accountable for them up until yesterday so if their reading age is five, we bloody failed!
And are we abandoning the marginalized too quickly?  If the adults in their lives have decided there’s no point, why should the objects of this apathy decide any differently?  And let’s look seriously at the option of marrying “up”, if that’s their “only hope”.  What does that mean?  We stop concentrating on engaging with kids who are failing our expectations and simply concentrate on teaching them not to wipe their mouths on the tablecloth or fart in church?  Strike me purple.  I can hear James Earl again…
I think teenagers from lower socio-economic areas are in danger of being ghetto-ed by the very people entrusted to inspire them.  I understand being jaded – however the longer I’ve been in this world I’ve found that the demographic who has most inspired my cynicism has been grown-ups.