Road-testing Facebook as a cure for writer’s block.

I’ve felt the inclination to write some poetry for days now, but have been creatively crippled by both writer’s block and the thesis looming over my head demanding that I knuckle down and make a start on it… So I turned to social media for inspiration.
I asked my Facebook friends for a topic/sentence to write a poem about and gave myself ten minutes to write each one. An hour later, the creative juices were flowing again.

Here are two examples that I actually don’t mind:

Topic: Supressed desire & ‘Jean Harlow was a blonde’
I’m fed up with love he said silently to the girl,
Holding out his open arms as strode away again.
Her eyes upon the sky, her nose in the air.
I laid my soul on the line he gushed,
And not an ounce of her could care.

He closed his eyes and imagined her falling asleep beside him,
Her colourless hair strewn across his pillow case,
What was it that made her tongue so sharp, so bitter.
Jean Harlow was a blonde like her,
Although she was a movie star not a dragon babysitter.

If only this were not a dream of sorts,
His desire sat like heavy cream in his finger tips,
Waiting to caress she, so unreachable and yet so bold,
He was not a brute, he was quite the catch he knew.
In denying him Daenerys, oh how the world was cold.

Topic: He always spoke in code
He always spoke in code.
He always choked on my smoke.
He always wore skinny jeans.
He always declared himself oh-so-well-read.
He always said it was well known.
He always watched himself in the mirror.
He always feigned reluctance.
He always pretended to be uncertain.
He always really knew the answers.
He always held me close.
He always held me too tight.
He always spoke of that which I lacked.
He always reminded me of the space between.
He always said she was better than me.
He always remained in my memory.
He always made sure I fell upon his words.
He always hid his wounds that had never healed.
He always walked away when I was cold.
He always gave himself away and was left hanging there alone.
He always suffered when I said nothing.
He always remembered me as a women who steals.

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I need it for you; a personal response to #Women Against feminism.

Over the past few weeks, my Facebook seems to have been flooded with angry status updates about #Women against feminism… Like my most friends, I’m angry that we’ve come to a point where so many womWAFen misunderstand a movement which has sought to empower them. But not only does this make me angry, it also makes me incredibly sad to think that so many women of my generation have misinterpreted the struggles and issues that I care so much about.

Like the #Women against feminism, I love being a woman. And like the #Women Against Feminism, I like men, a lot. I also like babies, baking cakes and cooking for the people I love. I paint my nails, shave my legs, and wear dresses most of the time. But these things have very little to do with my decision to identify as a feminist.

There are many reasons why I NEED feminism. I could talk about the women I’ve met in countries where they still lack basic access to contraception. Those who have such little autonomy over their bodies, they are unable to decide when and how they become pregnant… I could offer a nod to the estimated one million women and children who are trafficked for the purposes of Sexual Exploitation each year… I could describe the feeling I had in the pit of my stomach when I encountered a woman in India who had been almost fatally maimed by an acid attack.

Furthermore, I could contextualise these thoughts by talking about my belief in interconnectedness, that my liberation is linked to that of others.

But the #Women against feminism seem to have based their rational upon their own experiences, without taking time to consider women of the global south. So as a white woman in the ‘First world’ I thought I might do the same.

When I was 8, a bunch of boys chased me around the school so that they could look up my skirt, understandably I was terrified. The teacher who intervened scolded the boys and me too. To this day, I’ll never forget his words; ‘you seemed to be enjoying it.’

When I was 15, I went to the train station, wearing a short skirt. A drunken man leered at me, and when I ignored his advances, he angrily called me a ‘snobby little bitch’ and suggested I should ‘feel privileged.’

When I was 19, a man followed me through the streets in Paris, saying that I belonged to him now and had to go home with him. When someone finally helped me the man became angry saying he ‘had to have’ a woman. When I told the police the next day, they suggested that people had ignored my requests for help because they must have thought the man was my partner.

These experiences are just a few of many that sit within me, once making me feel small and without worth. Every single one of my female friends has also had experiences like these, and I can almost without a doubt say that the women who ‘don’t need feminism’ have too. And if by some bizarre miracle, they haven’t, perhaps they should have more empathy for those of us who have.

To me, being a feminist is about saying no to a world where women and girls have to accept and internalise their abuses.

I need feminism because I believe that women’s lives can be better, and more importantly SHOULD be better. I need feminism because I hope that my daughter and her peers will not have the experiences my female friends and I have had… And to the women who don’t need feminism, I’ll keep on needing it for you until you come to your senses.

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Feminist research and Activism in ‘The Help’…

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It was my interest in Feminist research methods that compelled me to read the novel, The Help by Kathryn Stockett recently. Feminist research is important. Without it, we would never be granted access to the lives of women who fall outside the categories that Hollywood and Academia have been kind enough to grant us.

Skeeter- our protagonist in The Help utilizes qualitative Feminist research methods, (despite never naming them as such) in asking her participants for ‘herstory.’ However there is an underlying feeling that seems that she does so not because she truly wants to see change, but for the sake of furthering her own career. The reader is directed to see Skeeter’s actions as being praiseworthy, and they certainly might be seen as so, particularly when placed in contrast with the corresponding (repugnant) actions of the other white characters.

All of the characters are taking a risk by their involvement with the said research.  Skeeter faces exclusion from her social circle and loses her tennis partner, whilst the domestic helpers who generously share their stories potentially face marginalisation and violent reprisal in a time and place where lynching was a regular occurrence. The fact that there is such discrepancy in the risks taken by the characters is not something that is highlighted. Skeeter’s bravery is painted as commendable, as liberal when in fact her actions are in many ways self serving… It is actually Aibileen, Minny and their fellow participants who should be seen as the true activists in this instance. In sharing their stories, they are not only risking their own safety for the sake of a higher cause, but they are entering into a conceptual process in which they stand face to face with their own internalised oppression and challenge the values and assumptions they have been taught their entire lives. (Given all the more weight by Skeeter’s refusal to share her own story in its entirety, of her family’s ill treatment of their own domestic help.)

We see evidence of just how remarkable and empowering this process is as Aibileen’s stories to her child-charge begin to take on hidden messages of assimilation and equality. This is a far more powerful personal experience than Skeeter’s equivalent- her rejection of Leslie Gore’s ‘It’s my party’ in favour of Bob Dylan singing ‘Times, they are a changing’ whilst listening to the radio.

Of greater interest than Skeeter’s relationship with Aibileen and Minny (which in fact re-produces unequal race relations in a new way) is Minny’s relationship with her ‘white trash’ employer Celia. At times, we are directed to see Celia as unaware and lacking in insight, despite the fact that she is overtly challenging inequality, perhaps because she does so in such an immediate sense as opposed to Skeeter’s intellectual one… As if she didn’t know that white women were not supposed to eat lunch at the same table with their domestic help, let alone hug them or call them a friend. She just doesn’t care, and her willingness to challenge segregation is far more admirable than the author leads us to believe.

I might add that I enjoyed reading The Help. Perhaps I just wish the fact that it was written by a white woman had been less obvious.

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My tragic love affair with the International Airport…

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I came back to Melbourne nearly three months ago, and am now filled with an intense desire to leave again… It’s not that I hate being here, it’s just that I feel like life is at its most interesting and I’m probably at my best when I’m travelling and away from the familiar. I’m halfway between the fear that this makes me a sad lost individual and the belief that this really isn’t such a bad thing. I guess I’m simultaneously indoctrinated with the need to feel settled and achieve the approval that society offers to those who are, and filled with the lust for life that new experiences inspire in us. The latter part of me would argue that in order to live life to the fullest, one must push ourselves to our limits, pursue the experiences that we crave, and never let go of the ones that shape the person we become. And for me, so many of the experiences that have tested and shaped me the most have been had whilst I’m on some kind of adventure.

My desire to be on the move is so strong; it’s almost as if, I have an infatuation with displacement and chaos, and the beauty that I have found in the experience of such. But then I know that to live a life of displacement and chaos can become exhausting, and no doubt those who love me harbour disapproval of this pursuit… The more I think about it, it’s almost as if for most of my life I have been conducting a kind of ongoing forbidden love affair with the international airport. When I say this, I mean that I’ve been in love with what it represented. (I don’t mean in the physical sense, like that woman I once saw in a documentary that was in love with the Berlin wall, and kept taking pieces of it away to make love to… that’s another problem entirely.)

My love affair with the international airport could be chronicled into a kind of tragedy of sorts, beginning very early on. One of my clearest and earliest childhood memories is of being dragged through customs by my exhausted parents as they warned me of the disarray and the ‘weirdos’ that airports were characterised by. This offcourse filled my little head with an intense curiosity… I have a vague recollection of asking what a weirdo was, and twenty years later I think I may still be waiting for an answer… (I mean, what a thing to say, what would make them think that ‘weird’ people took more flights than non-weird people..?) Although, perhaps by this point I’ve actually become one of those weirdos sitting alone in an international airport whom passing parents warn their children about.

My love was requited when in my late teens I began traveling without any parental supervision, and at first it was awe-inspiring… There were often extended periods between our rendezvous, but the romance never ceased to carry on in my head. In saying this, the attraction was one that was plagued by exhaustion and doubt, and after several years of on and off independent travel the initial passion had waned. The excitement of a grope on my way through customs, and the intoxicating prospect of chance meetings with interesting strangers no longer allured me. These things had become simply a nuisance.

Being in transit no longer gave me the gratifying flutter of butterflies in my stomach which it once had. But despite my fondness weakening, its pull remained strong.

By the age of twenty four, the International Airport and I were not even remotely happy bedfellows in our longstanding romance. Two weeks before Christmas that year, due to an airstrike I was stranded for 39 hours in a merciless French airport. The recession of had hit London hard, and I’d been underemployed for months. With just a few Euros in my pocket, I survived this ordeal on only a can of coke, a croissant and a bag of peanuts which were donated to my cause by a kindly young Moroccan man.

The international airport and I were not even on speaking terms in these torturous hours. I resented its disorganisation, its lack of consideration for my needs. I was physically unwell, my body deteriorating rapidly. The only absolution it found was a steady supply of paracetamol from the airport infirmary. (The doctor who had not spoke much English diagnosed infected sinuses and a touch of dehydration in theatrical gasps and hand motions.)

The moments seemed to crawl by, the way they do when a lover is destroying you. I could almost feel my sanity slipping away as I lay on the linoleum floor in those final hours. The winter had been a harsh one, and despite layering myself with almost every item of clothing in my backpack, I shivered hopelessly throughout the night.

I did a lot of thinking in those 39 hours. This wasn’t how I saw my life working out. I was helplessly stranded in an airport (not even a well equipped major airport- a budget one that was really more like a glorified train station), I was completely alone and so broke that I was literally begging for peanuts from strangers. I couldn’t understand what had driven me to travel with no money, no travel insurance and no fallback plan… Why had I felt the need to take such risks?

It was then that I realised that it wasn’t the International Airport’s fault that I had become so disillusioned, or that I had put so much at stake in the name of its pursuit. After all, my passion had always been more about what it had represented, rather than what it was. To me, it stood for something exiting, something new, something to learn from, something to indulge in. But most of all, it represented something ELSE. Something else to long for, something else to look for, something else not to find.

Interestingly despite this realisation, the affair continued, although it never reached such lows again.

I hope that one day the International airport and I can cease our invigorating but slightly destructive bond, but I would never want to abandon its pull completely. After all, I think it’s clear that my passion never stemmed wholly and completely from feelings of inadequacy- there is also just a huge part of me that longs to feel life in the sharpest, most intense and most challenging of ways. And often it is the international airport that has led me to do this. The sky has taken me to many things in my search for something ELSE, and I hope it will continue to do so. It has taken me to moments of truth, clarity, and deception all at the same time. Shown me how to be brave and how to be resourceful. Led me to wonderful people, crazy people, kind people and lost people. All of whom I’ll never forget. Many of whom I still think of often and hope I’ll one day meet again.

My search for something ELSE has offered me experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise. So perhaps the search itself does not necessarily equate to self destruction, or a lack of productivity… So I’ll never be someone who has a secure nine to five job, a mortgage and only goes away one week a year. Life wouldn’t make sense to me if that were the case, just as my life continues not to make sense to so many. But my truth need not be their truth, and the more I think about it the more I see the beauty in this…

Perhaps it is as Kerouac said ‘There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.’ Maybe the way he felt about the road, is the same way that I feel about the sky. That its call is stronger than anything else. and perhaps this call isn’t so bad as many would have you believe.

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Jeepney in Olongapo.

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I spent some of last year conducting social research in the Philippines last year, and Sadly didn’t write as much as I should have whilst there.  I attempted to conjure some of my experiences the other day and give them to the page… This is something I wrote with several people I met there in mind, and an ode to one of the most distinctive forms of public transport I’ve experienced.

A Jeepney in Olongapo.

Pulling up fast the Jeepney’s wheels merely miss a street vendor. He feels the heat of the engine hover to him as he shifts out of the way quickly.

The horn soars maliciously into his dreamscape as he imagines for a second he is home with his wife and child, who he sees but twice a year.

From five am every morning and into the evening, he sees them clutching at his coins with hungry eyes, from three hundred miles away.

His bread goes stale in the sun, as he feebly fans himself with a banana leaf.

More people climb on, bent over at the waist. Single file, they plop into tiny spaces not big enough for their corpses.

On the outside the vendor looks up, discontented by the sound of the driver beeping his horn again as he strives for just one more customer.

Just one more.

The Jeepney sits stationary for a few moments.

Ten on each side, it has to be ten on each side.

When the Americans left the first time, they left this, jeeps that were stretched into commodities. The second time, a cohort of invisible children, their bodies cumbersome and misplaced. Both are now agelessly existing in the balmy Olongapo air.

A girl inside is cramped between bodies that are perspiring in the humidity; her tiny legs are bonded together in desperation and sweat. The smells are familiar to her, as they corrupt the aroma of her own freshly applied scent, given to her as a renegade gift from a fat American man last week.

She breathes in and her powdered nose goes to another place. One filled with the scent of her mother’s cooking, and the sounds of her brothers and sisters giggling as they chase chickens off the terrace. In each breath she is further away from the men who swear and pant over her with their whiskey gasps, away from the clumsy kneading and the reckless slaps.

Two more stops and another night of work begins.

The woman opposite looks straight through the girl, knowing what she is.

Fourteen years old, already lost to St Lucifer.

She pulls her skirt down at the front hiding in it the family she had always wanted but had been too ashamed to have. Her cross burns into her chest like a wound. Biting, calling, asking her to live and not suffer, suffer and not live. All at the same time.

She thinks about the boy she had known in Sunday school, whose lips she had met in a tricycle one afternoon. The man beside her was closer now, than the teenage boy had been all those years ago, his tobacco chewing forcing her ear to cringe and wilter, as she longs for the sound of the hymns they had sang during those Sundays together.

The jeepney driver speeds off again. Just one more, just one more.

Posted in feminism, feminist writing, poetry, The Philippines | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

And suddenly I’m writing a blog.

It was recently suggested to me that I start a blog.

My first thought was that blog is a very strange word. And, that I’m not sure how the word and it’s meaning correlate. A strange sounding word that rhymes with clog somehow is indicative of some kind of online chronicle or journal.

My second thought was that perhaps atheists have more blogs than non-atheists. After all, if one has no religious beliefs, when one is dead, they’re just dead. But if you have a blog, then you’re pretty much immortalised in cyberspace. And that’s an immortality that anyone can have, regardless of who you are, what you are, or even how good you’re writing is. Which is kind of a surreal thought, and perhaps also a comforting one to those who might identify as non-believers.

As someone who spends most days as an agnostic, some as an Atheist and the occasional one reading tarot cards, I think I’d better hedge my bets.

So here’s to pursuing immortality in cyberspace.

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