Friday, July 29, 2016

A woman in white

Hillary's history-making speech at the DNC last night
Apologies to all those who thought the 'woman in blue' I was writing about today was this woman, her party's colour being blue, though she's wearing white here.

I can see how that might have been confusing, as I was writing about the other woman (me) on the very day that this woman in white -- the one and only Hillary Clinton -- was accepting the democratic nomination as the first woman ever to be elected by a major party as their candidate for president of the United States -- a fairly big deal.

Indeed my gynaecology appointment and even our midnight visit by the boys in blue, pale into insignificance by comparison. I can see that now and I'm sorry.  It will never happen again -- because one of us is making major history which cannot be repeated. Also, because I'm running out of reasons to visit the gynaecologist.

So please enjoy the speech, as I have done now, and ignore the poem. The woman in white is the far greater woman, and an inspiration to us all who will change the world for the so much better if we let her, and probably even if we don't, but it will be way better if we do.

And on that understatement to end all understatements, I will leave you to watch history in the making. It's poetry in motion, whatever colour it comes in, though if you want blue, there are blue balloons at the end.  

A woman in blue

Greta's birthday
Helen's too
A yachtswoman
A soul counsellor

Swimming at seven

A gynaecology appointment
A man crying on the radio
A stranger's umbrella

A pregnancy test
A difficult birth

Running round corners
Sheltering under leaves

Salmon soup

A urine-wet blanket
Cath's book of bones
Geoffrey Rush

Girl drunk at the door
Boys dressed in blue

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Much bigger than it looks

This is how the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Paul Byrnes describes the 2015 Australian film A Month of Sundays that has just been released in New Zealand. And after watching it this weekend, I couldn't agree more. It is much bigger than it looks, just as the 2008 star-studded epic of a film Australia might be described as much smaller than it looks. And size does matter, just not in the way we tend to imagine it does, at least not with respect to films.

And the Australian film industry used to make these deceptively big films, arguably better than any other country. But for some time now it has been making these deceptively small films, as epitomised by Australia, a film so deceptively small, it couldn't even come up with an original title and just borrowed it from the country instead.

There's nothing borrowed about A Month of Sundays. No country has ever been called that, indeed, nor likely ever will. As film titles go, it's not exactly catchy. But it is clever, playing on the expression meaning an unlikely occurrence, referencing the phone-call from the main character's dead mother that turns his life around, as well as referencing the slow, Sunday pace of the film and the weekend work of the house-selling business that he is in.

To be bigger than you look is to have more on the inside than on the out, a quality that could be said to be roughly the inverse of the ideal of modern masculinity as portrayed in mainstream films in and beyond Australia.

Until now.

A Month of Sundays is a clever and timely (as in better late than never) rethinking of the masculine ideal, not least because it allows women -- the wife and mother-figures in the film -- a constructive, even heroic role in their lives, rather than women always being blamed and punished for men's problems or 'saved' from their own feminine weaknesses by the heroic -- outwardly big -- man.

It's subtly done, rather than any clunky gender-role reversal (aka Mad Maxine), and in that way rings true and shows the sincerity of the writer-director Mathew Saville's intentions in making a film with brain and heart, rather than with those other body parts more often favoured in films by and about men.

It's also funny, not least because trans-Tasman satirist John Clarke plays a small but pivotal role as the leading man's boss. The sprinkler scene and call from Freud are particularly hilarious. My only criticism is that there's not enough of Clarke, and perhaps not enough humour, in the film, but I guess you can't have everything -- in a film, any more than in a man.

Still, it's five, deceptively small, stars from me.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Facebook faces

It's not OK
                These two faces were the first to greet me today when I opened up Facebook: a smiling baby giraffe, already with more than 2 million likes, and an unsmiling (if beautiful) Maori woman fronting the 2016 'It's not OK' campaign against family violence in NZ, with about 800 likes.

The 'likes' reflect a somewhat sad if understandable order of priorities in favour of the smiling and innocuous over the unsmiling and challenging, an order of priorities that Facebook undoubtedly embraces and exacerbates. Also, animals, at least giraffes, are global, whereas campaigns against domestic violence are local, even if the violence is global and probably won't be reduced significantly until a global campaign is mounted to expose and prevent it.

Still, I 'liked' the smiling giraffe, partly because I like the woman who shared it, but also, no doubt, because, like most people, I find it easy to smile at the innocuous and cute -- if perhaps not quite as easy as some do. I did hesitate before 'liking' the smiling giraffe.

But unlike most people, I also 'liked' (and shared) the unsmiling face of the anti-domestic violence campaign, after reading the full article attached and appreciating its mission to expose the sexist nature of violence in the home more so, it seems to me, than in previous campaigns of the sort in this country. We are making progress, however slow, and that made me smile too.

Together, these juxtaposed faces that ultimately got me smiling today, also got me thinking about the value of Facebook in our lives, a question Facebook asked us to consider directly some months back. A question I chose not to answer at the time, because I couldn't decide whether it was a positive or a negative force. I was leaning towards the negative.

Today I'm inclined to come out in favour of Facebook overall, though only if it continues to expose, in a constructive way, the most difficult and unsmiling issues of our times, and perhaps does a little less to promote animal and selfie-love at the expense of these issues.

Love is the answer, no doubt, but I think the truth and power of that Lennon lyric is about promoting the essentially hard love -- rather than the easy hate -- between humans, and not so much for giraffes. After all, if we don't learn to love each other better than we have done to date, we're all ultimately stuffed, even the giraffes. Even Facebook.      



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Busting bile

"When word first broke about a female-led reboot of Ivan Reitman’s 1984 fantasy-comedy Ghostbusters, the internet reacted with a stream of sexist bile more foul than the slimy green ectoplasm spewed up by an angry demon." (Mark Kermode, The Guardian, 17 July, 2016)

One of these days, if you're not careful, and possibly even if you are, I'm going to write a book on this kind of anti-woman bile and my sons, who last night gloated to me, as I was serving them dinner, about what an 'epic fail' the Ghostbusters reboot is, are going to be the first to read it -- though they don't read this blog, at least not often. Perhaps they will read this one.

I love my boys as well as any other keen mother does, I hope, but having raised them to adulthood, or near adulthood in the case of my second son, much of it whilst writing a doctoral thesis on male violence against women and the long history of misogyny that substantially causes and denies it, I feel increasingly torn and tortured by this love, I am sorry to say. Indeed all humour drains out of me when I reflect on this subject, which is why most of the time I pretend the boys are fine and not inclined to side with the sexism deniers and perpetrators.

And I think most of the time they actually are fine and not so inclined, at least not any more than the average young male rather than the minority, if sizeable minority, of mostly young males who have taken such offence to the new Ghostbusters film and to other recent attempts to correct the gender imbalance in art in favour of more positive portrayals of women as heroes and comics -- and ghost busters, indeed -- rather than sex objects and side kicks.

Still, I will not ignore their ridicule of these worthy efforts, however lighthearted. And last night when they strutted their stuff in mockery of the Ghostbusters remake (which I haven't yet seen, nor have they), I abandoned the table and left them to their mockery, making it clear at least that I knew what they were doing and didn't like it.

I think it's tough being a boy, tougher than being a girl in many ways, but I don't think we make it any easier on them, or us, by encouraging them to feel better about being male by mocking females and the efforts made to expose and combat institutionalised male privilege. Indeed I think we compound the problem.

The recent documentary The Mask You Live In about the limits and challenges of modern masculinity, is interesting and illuminating on this most challenging of issues. The woman who wrote, directed and produced it, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, was motivated to do so by the birth of her son. I hope to get my sons to watch it, as there's absolutely no chance of getting them to watch the new Ghostbusters.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Introducing the Incredible Hulkess

I put this recent MEdia appearance on Facebook at the time it came out but didn't think it necessary to blog about it as well, being kind of tired of blowing my own trumpet and, more honestly, not being entirely happy with the giant present-day me positioned alongside the tiny dancer me, giving something of the effect of an Incredible Hulkess, even if it is roughly the truth of the matter. I am about 800 times larger than I was as a teenage dancer.

But it doesn't pay to be too vain in this book-writing and promotion business (if not life in general). Rather, as I'm coming to learn, you have to make the most of any media attention you get and be gracious when they make you look like a hulk or write that you became a Russian ballerina when you didn't, at least not outside of your dreams. I became an Australian ballerina, a slightly smaller achievement. Still, perhaps one distortion compensates for the other and it all irons out in the wash -- unlike my shirt.

And I really shouldn't be grumbling, because one of my oldest friends, who I had hardly seen since primary school, saw the piece published in the local rag, somehow recognised me under my new Russian name, looked up the publishers, found the promotion for the Sydney launch on their website and came to the launch! And it was great to see her, even if she did not quite make it into the book that covers the period in which we were almost best friends.

And on that, slightly cringey note, I feel an Incredible Hulkess moment coming on, induced by shame rather than rage, shame being how you provoke a Hulkess, of course. So I'll leave it there and suggest you stay tuned for the next instalment of the Incredible Hulkess. I think she could be BIG.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

These shoes are NOT made for walking

Now I know what you're thinking: that's one helluva good-looking walking shoe.


Well, yes, it is a good-looking shoe, I can't deny that. But no; this here is NOT a shoe made for walking! Get that hair-brained thought out of your shoe-addled heads once and for all, because this here is NOT a walking shoe. Don't even think about it.

N is for NO WALKING.

And should you mention RUNning and this shoe in the same breath I can't imagine I'll be able to speak to you ever again. There's only so much profound shoe confusion I can take.

Naturally when I tried the N-shoe on in the expensive sports' wear shop (Stirling Sports) that I'd finally decided to frequent to get me SOME DECENT WALKING SHOES for the first time in my life, the shop assistant did not ask if I was planning to do any walking in the shoes. She did not say indeed: 'these are not walking shoes, ma'am, these are for swimming'. She did not. Indeed she encouraged me to WALK around the shop and see how good they felt WALKING.

So you can imagine my total surprise and mild chagrin when I discovered that the soles of these shoes, covered in flat rubber pimples that look deceptively like the soles of football boots, encouraging the wild thought that even though you can't walk in them you might be able to play football, are not slip-resistant,  as one would expect of a sporty walking shoe, but in fact are positively slip-inclined, and if you're not careful, will take you for an unexpected, if brief, run.

I was not looking for a running shoe. No.

But never mind, because these shoes are not for walking, swimming or running, as it turns out. What these shoes are in fact specially designed for is "strolling".

I'd forgotten about strolling when I heard it uttered in Stirling Sports this weekend where I went in vain to complain that these walking shoes are no good for walking, I think ever since I parted company with my parasol. But it appears I was wrong to have forgotten there is a special type of non-walking forward movement of the feet for which a pair of expensive 'sports' shoes might be made and used. Indeed I'd been assuming for some time now that walking encompasses strolling AS A TYPE OF WALKING and so shoes that stroll could and should, at least in theory, also be up to walking.

More fool me.

Indeed you know what they say about assumptions..., at least I've got the perfect shoe for the fall.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

I sit up at night


The moon is not out
The sun is not up
The trees are not green

A man comes for his son: 'Moyu!'
It's the night/morning after the school ball.

We call him Josh.

The wind is not working
The sea is not waving
Shoes are not wearing

The moon is not out:
I am not not thinking about Texas.

I sit up at night

Blanket on knees
Knees on knees
Lamp light writing

Short, deep

Words dance
Words play

Words with big ears
And short skirts

Words like children
Only more grown up

Words like adulthood

Winter, wool, fire:
I sit up at night writing poetry.

Friday, July 8, 2016

When all else fails: food

So our youngest is in his final year of school and Wednesday night this week we went to the final EVER parent-teacher meetings.

After putting three children through three different levels of school and attending parent-teacher meetings throughout, these final meetings feel like the end of an era.

The meetings delivered the usual predictable news that our child is smart but not applying himself sufficiently in most of his subjects -- nothing new there for our male progeny.

Like much about parenting, these meetings have always seemed like both a frustrating, even tedious, waste of time, and a preciously rare tangible reminder that as a parent you are the privileged guardian of a young person with all the responsibilities and rewards that that most important of roles entails.

Still, for a long time I have felt an increasing nostalgia for the time when the kids were proper young, and now, as of yesterday, I find myself already nostalgic for the time when we were expected to attend parent-teacher meetings, which I never looked forward to. Indeed that is an understatement.

In a couple of weeks, delayed because of her uni exams, we're going to our daughter's 21st birthday party arranged by her, at her flat, because she's the independent one who can't wait to grow up, get a proper job and, yes, I guess (hope), have a family of her own.

Our oldest (23) is currently in Perth, visiting his girlfriend and studiously ignoring my requests for a Skype call, presumably because he's got better things to do.

So: where does all this leave me?

Well, that's what I'm trying to figure out. I've just published what I hope won't be my only book and people are enjoying it, which is the realisation of a lifelong dream and could, if I play my cards right and stop worrying about not having a purpose in life, be the beginning of a very nice and satisfying career as a writer, a career for which an empty nest is surely much more conducive than a full one.

Still, what is the point, I sometimes wonder, in doing anything other than parenting, or teaching and caring for other people's kids if you don't have your own? Indeed I have done a lot of teaching other people's kids, from preschoolers to teenagers, and found this satisfying work (especially the preschoolers), but somehow, it's no longer sufficiently satisfying to devote myself to.

A few years back I ruled out politics and saving the world from itself as my life mission, having tried it for some years and decided, in the end, I didn't have enough hair to tear out -- my hair isn't getting any thicker.

Making money has never been a great motivator for me; I guess I'm lucky it hasn't had to be, at least not for a while now. That said, I would like to see my writing appreciated widely and wouldn't say no to the money that that would bring, as well as the travel it might pay for.

Still, few writers make good money and I am realistic about this reality. Certainly money was not my motivation for turning to creative writing.

So what then?

Grandchildren? Maybe. But at fifty, the anticipation of the grandchildren that may, or may not, come, seems a little too sad and sorry, even for me.

I haven't got any answers today, sorry. No pithy punchline that ties everything up neatly and leaves you, and me, thinking it's all alright really. Indeed I even shed a few tears lapping in the pool earlier today and was glad they melted away into the liquid blue unnoticed. But not so glad I didn't feel the need to come home and write about it. Hmm...

I think I need a meatball.

When all else fails: food. Indeed the cat meowing at my door throughout this post seems to agree, and to suggest that my purpose in life is entirely obvious and what the furry fck am I worried about?



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Landed and launched (again)

I'm landed (in NZ)!

I'm launched (again)!

And I'm laughing! (well, I'm not entirely laughing, though the idea of being simultaneously launched and landed is a little bit funny -- I get jet lag even flying across the Ditch).

But I am glad to have survived a wild week or two of Australian political campaigning in the run-up to the general election, as well as my Sydney launch, for which there was almost as much build up; and finally the midnight flight home, without meal or movie to distract me from our perilous predicament. I was not born to fly.

But the launch was the highlight, which isn't saying much admittedly, and so herein a few snapshots of the event at Gleebooks Glebe, one of the last bastions of book-shopping bliss. I did present a talk, at least they tell me I did, but there are no photos yet of that (tragically).

The Joneses and publisher Rex Finch (left)
Plus Nephew, Wyatt Lloyd Jones


Friday, July 1, 2016

Bull is the word (letter to SMH)

Dear Editor,

I am writing this morning to express my profound outrage at seeing the Sydney Morning Herald, a paper my parents, then parent, have subscribed to for more than fifty years, sinking to a brazen front-page editorial vote in favour of the so-called 'Liberal'' coalition the day before the general election

On your front page you wrote -- and I quote: 

''''We support the election of the Turnbull government'''' Editorial, page 16.'''' emphasis to 'bull' added.


Bull is the word.

The media is supposed to be the watchdog for the political process, especially during election campaigning, reporting on and ultimately balancing the natural tendency towards the formation of political power elites, such as the gun lobby in the US. Such as the misnamed ''Liberal'' party in Australia.

Here the Sydney Morning Herald sinks to canvassing on behalf of this elite. The right-wing in this country, who call themselves 'liberal'' but who couldn't be more conservative if they wore matching wigs, are shamelessly undemocratic and cynically 'democratic'' when it suits them.  

They are doing what all right-wing ''liberals'' do all over the world do, they raise flat taxes, like GST and doctors' visits, and cut progressive top-bracket taxes. These progressive taxes that hurt no one, when fairly re-distributed return a small portion of the often ill-gotten gains of the filthy rich to the general populace to increase the education and basic health of the majority of people, teachers included, who are otherwise left out in the cold by a pro-rich elite political party and government. 

In wanting to raise GST the '''Liberal'' right-wing fail the majority of people and voters who are not in that tiny bracket of tax payers who stand to benefit from the tax change that will disadvantage the other 99% of the Australian populace. 

If GST is increased, as the ''Liberals'' want, the cost of building and renovating your house, should you be lucky enough to own one already, will go up exponentially. It happened in NZ, especially in Auckland, where there is a serious housing crisis as regular people and families are being priced out of the housing market, owned, often enough, by off-shore-located investors, not even internationals living in NZ. If Australia follows suit it will put even more pressure on the already overloaded housing market here and mean fewer and fewer Australian residents and regular citizens have access to affordable housing. 

And that is just one negative side-effect of electing a right-wing government. There are many more.
Policies and taxes to counter that ''natural'' concentration of wealth in the top minuscule minority of 1% are the main economic reason for having democratic governments in the first place, all else that a government does is social management and development, as well as environmental management. And for social development to work well you need an educated populace, as the first right and privilege. 

You also need not to be sure to reduce the number of triggers for crime, so government-funded anti-racist and anti-sexist policies are justified, as racism and sexism are more often than not present factors in the various crimes committed in Western, if not other, countries. 

You also need a thriving arts sector and well-funded science and innovation research that has nothing directly to do with money-making, though the arts'sector has a great influence on the tourist dollar. You only have to look at The Lord of the Rings.

But the right-wing don't give a rat's ass about discrimination, or art, or research. And so, they will never create a Lord of the Rings, an almost ready-made local film and TV industry. That came out of a well-funded, left-wing arts sector and an individual determined to produce his art in New Zealand, an individual with principles, in short, at least to begin with. 

The right-wing have very little knowledge and so very little cred in the creative sector because about all they are up to is cutting funding to the sector, while funding big, already money-making ventures, as Lord of the Rings became. But the left-wing got it started, there's a big difference in those roles played by the political right and left.

The left-wing chiefly increase arts and research funding, and the right-wing decrease it. 

Similarly, the right-wing rarely initiate or formulate anti-discrimination legislation, including the right to same-sex marriage. The right-wing can pass anti-discrimination legislation and take credit for it, once they can see the mood of the public has turned in favour of this reform. But they never initiate or substantially bring about anti-discrimination reform on the principle of the thing. 

The right-wing doesn't have principles. Self-reliance, which is a shallow, second-tier principle, is their only ''principle'' and that is invariably based on bogus assumptions about position, privilege and opportunity, namely the assumption that you make your own luck (position, privilege and opportunity), when in truth, society makes most of our ''luck'', or at least influences it strongly.

If you went to a good school and are successful, then you have that school to thank in some part, as all good parents know. And this is a gratitude that the majority of Australians don't currently have the privilege of feeling, for the right-wing continue to cut funding to public schools and exacerbate the inequality between the already school-advantaged and those struggling to get a toe in the door of even basic privileges, like to a quality primary and high school education, and the privilege to afford to take your child to the doctor when he or she is really sick. 

Richer rich people, what the right-wing, so called ''Liberals'', want, cannot possibly justify making even basic healthcare less available to the upper and lower middle-income and the poor people; indeed everyone other than the extremely rich.

NZ PM John Key, himself a member of this top 1% elite, has credit-claimed for same-sex marriage legislation in NZ. But it was far from his idea. That credit goes to a female Labour MP, Louisa Wall, who wrote and introduced the legislation into parliament. 

In fact, a conservative male MP had tried earlier to reformulate the Marriage Act to specifically spell out that marriage must be between ''one man and one woman,'' the man always listed first, naturally. Labour MPs, apart from one (so 49 in total), voted against that reform proposal (2008) and it did not succeed. The conservatives right-wing MPs were less united in their opposition.

I could go on.

Instead, i will say simply that your endorsement here of the conservative, anti-equality, anti-education, pro-discrimination party on your front page, the day before the election, is tantamount to putting your hands up and saying: I am no longer a serious newspaper and news outlet. I am a tabloid -- at best. 

This is not journalism; this is a disgrace to the inherently honourable profession of journalism. I am going to recommend to my mother that she discontinue her subscription after fifty-five years.