Sunday, 31 December 2017

Feline good going into 2018

I don’t mind how strange I seem when I answer the door. It’s my place.

I didn't know the woman at the door in dove grey exercise gear and a worried expression. 'Do you have a cat?'

I knew and she could clearly see that there were three bowls of cat food, a pet box and a cosy cardboard box of cat bed proportions that contained a floofed-up Qantas blanket.

'No. I don’t…have a cat.'

Her story was a short one. She’d moved in to #3 earlier in the week and by late Friday afternoon was door knocking trying to locate the owner of a deceased cat she had driven past on the front steps of #2.

I live at #5. The end of the line with the largest most glorious expanse of concrete I’ve ever had the pleasure of calling my front yard.  A fringe of tiers of manicured shrubbery reaching to the windows surrounds the property.

I explained I fed the occasional stray cat from the vacant lot over the fence.

It's true they did occasionaly go for a stroll along the fence but for most of the past year they have lived in tunnels in the hedge and one took the lead with snuggling in the cat bed on a chilly night. They sprawl under the car and occasionally one will hop up on my bedroom window and cast a morning light shadow in the shape of a round headed man with a crew cut.

The cat box had been a recent acquisition to take one of them to the vet for a mercifully short walk over the rainbow bridge.

My new neighbour described what she had found, the colour and size.  I had names for at least 5 regular cats, and then two more who made a nuisance of themselves hanging around.  From her description, all mine and as far as I knew Marmalade from over yonder and Fat Curt from next door were all accounted for.

But I wasn’t admitting to having a cat. People have asked what I was going to do with all my cats. Nothing. It was only in times of very bad health I’d ever been able to catch one. 

We had an arrangement. I fed them twice a day, and they provided moments of distant affection.  They know my movements. I come home, feed them, followed by a burst of tapping before moving to another room and falling asleep with the tv on.

I am so close to a new routine and don't mind the occasional interruption but our short conversation through the screen door was coming to an end.

I was still denying owning a cat and I had to tell her, I wasn’t up to helping her dispose of the cat.  I said something about maybe it was something I could do in the dark, if I couldn't actually see anything too awful.

In truth, I am one deceased cat away from a nervous breakdown.  My street wise cats were the best kind of cat until one got beaten up by a bigger stray.  That was horrendous.

But the rest of the time, they didn’t need kitty litter or letting in or out or anything else that ate into my time. Just food.  And that was a pleasure, seeing a mix of personalities converging on my porch.

Her eyes had also adjusted from bright afternoon sunlight enough to see into my place.  Blackout curtains, one lamp and an array of computer screens covered in words.

She backed away, 'I’m so sorry to have disturbed you.'  Her face said, I have made a huge mistake.

What did she see?  maybe I will attempt some kind of neighbourly relationship, and break the habit of a lifetime. That is something for future me to think about once these edits are finished. Good bye 2017. Thanks for all the cats.

No..I don't have a cat. I am too busy writing.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Feminartsy Writing Residency 2017

Dear readers,

I've some exciting news! I was thrilled to have been recently selected for one of the 2017 Feminartsy Writing Residencies.

Over the next ten months I will be one of the writers producing an article a month. 

I'll post the links here.

My theme for the residency - the status of black women, specially Aboriginal women, in Australia.  I'll be writing about women I know, the lives I am familiar with, and where feminism of all kinds has gotten us.

I'll also be talking about activism - what works and where it has failed black women in particular, and the embedded violence within what continues to be referred to as the 'Aboriginal community' that needs to be exposed, for all our sakes.


June 2017 

Unless you know me very well, I am unlikely to be the Aboriginal person that you expected.
How did a people who are constantly reported on and at the centre of Australian politics, if not the hot issue of the day, for one reason or another, and frequently as a result of a mash up of numerous issues of outrage become so misunderstood? How is it that I still encounter people who are unnerved to discover I am not ‘that sort of Aboriginal’?
I can help them with that.
Image: Joshua Hibbert

Monday, 1 May 2017

Life goes on

Two things I learnt in the first 30 seconds – there was going to be a delay in my flu shot, and the nurse had run out of lolly pops.

I was disappointed in the lolly pop situation.  But I had scored a great parking spot so I decided to wait for the shot.

There were five of us banked up in the nurses' treatment room. We quickly became acquainted with each other because the nurse broadcast our affairs as she strode around all over the place.

A mother with her teenage daughter, waiting for a weekly weigh in because she wasn’t eating enough. Another mother of what we could only guess was a much older child. She was folding and smoothing a wide shouldered grimy work shirt across a knee and had a reaction each time her child let out a groan or a whimper.  He was the reason for the delay, having been rushed in with some injury that needed suturing. We couldn’t see him behind the curtain but his mother’s face told a story. Looked to me like she had gotten some worrying news bad enough to cry about, rushed out of the house in mixed up clothes and was now smiling in relief as she’d said in our direction, she ‘can’t watch him being stitched up’.

We were in a doctors' clinic in a sleepy country town so it couldn’t have been that serious an injury. Not bad enough to race to the city half an hour down the road.

The nurse kept up a running yarn that included all of us as she moved around the treatment centre, stitching, jabbing, swabbing and weighing.  I’m a box to be ticked in any doctors surgery, the one that says ‘Aboriginal’. And that got the nurse wondering aloud, so intimate was our gathering.

'What do you think of Welcome to Country?’  Of all the things she could have asked, it was that?

I figured she would rather tell me what she thought of this protocol now common to most public events, so I asked. And I was right. She had put quite a bit of thought in to it and other things. She had nursed in the Northern Territory for years, and had now returned to being mere miles from the nation’s capital. She had a lot to say about Aboriginal people and the differences between darker skinned, non English speaking, remote living Australians who are minimally educated in western ways. She knew a lot more than the ordinary person I tend to encounter, much more from her what is fashionable to call ‘lived experience’. The others leaned in and so it went, lively and cordial.

And then in one injection I was immunized for twelve months against swine flu, bird flu and BRAVO 1 and 2 influenza strains. And thanks to my great parking spot, I was barely outside for moments in a cold wind, before I was back inside my warm and comfortable home.

Less than a month ago a young man lost his life just around the corner, in a service station late at night, in a random act of violence carried out by two teenage boys. 

They are no longer open at night but I noticed during the day, people continue to go there though we all look around before we get out of our cars. That may wear off, but I think more likely it will be the norm, and we never forget. This is as it should be: he was someone's child, their son, their family. I remember him. He was a nice man, an easy person to share a smile with.  

A small remembrance shrine of flowers and photos sits outside the station, the flowers gently drying and fading in the bright autumn sun.  

While waiting half an hour for a flu shot, us women, strangers to each other, didn't acknowledge that weeks before,  two children had allegedly roamed all over the neighbourhood for 14 hours and attacked at least four people at random.  And now that I think about it, everywhere I have l lived has had some danger, some potential for a perilous encounter, and like most people, I just shake it off. 

The poor, the dark, the outsiders, the travellers, the night workers, we live outside societies comfort zone.  We're not the only ones.  Even if you live in a fortress with alarms and dead bolts, you are living with the threat of danger twenty four hours a day. How many times do you check the locks? And if you think about it, just how safe to do you feel right now?

Sunday, 2 April 2017

She wore yellow velvet

It is the first weekend in April, Week 1 of Camp NaNoWriMo and I'm wandering through old memories.  Something about writing while my virtual cabin is on fire - how I choose to picture my camp - has incendiary thought bombs going off in the heat.

If I hadn’t set my heart, finally, on writing, I would have been a fashion designer. I feel the frustration at a career denied most acutely when I see badly dressed women on tv.
God, in that off-the-shapeless-shoulder monstrosity, she looks like a boiled spud in a serviette.
Aren’t we all judgmental of clothing, ours and everyone else?  Isn’t it part of the deal of people wearing their personality as their sleeves, around their hem lines, shouted or whispered in their colour choice and expressed in the drape of fabrics worn somewhere from head to toe? 

Growing up, my clothes were second hand or mum made them. My finery was all made by mum, with the exception of a 50s suit I found at a second hand shop. It consisted of a matching short jacket and a tight skirt in hound’s-tooth tweed with medium sized dull green buttons. It was too hot to wear most of the time. The lining stuck to my skin on even a cool day, so I only occasionally squeezed into it to stroll up and down the quiet street I lived on, on the edge of town. I wore it once, three doors down, and the mother looked surprised at how dressed up I was to babysit her four year old.

Fabric was hard to come by and I will never know how long mum had the piece of soft yellow velvet fabric, dotted with tiny rusty brown sprigs of flowers and stalks.  It bore two outfits.

The first outfit made it’s appearance at a tennis camp I travelled to down south. I had never been away from home before and it was the first time I had a bag packed with only my things. I had my tennis whites, pyjamas, two sets of tshirts and shorts, and because they had said on the brochure, a swimming pool was on site, a set of bathers and the most extravagant piece of clothing that I have ever owned: a poncho, made of yellow velvet with yellow fringing, to wear over my bathers.

I am certain no one had ever seen the likes of it before. I paraded around the pool in my poncho. I had one of the most powerful serves for a boy or a girl at the camp, so my poncho was apt under the circumstances.

A few years later I was at the all-girls boarding school where flashyness was frowned upon.  There was a uniform for most waking hours, at school, for sport, in the pool, and especially while off the school grounds. There was a summer and a winter uniform. The only time I was destined to be out of uniform at the academy of dead dreams was at the end of year dance where boys from the all-boys school down the road were being bussed in for two hours.

We practiced dancing amongst ourselves for months while I fretted about what I would wear.  My outfit came together in a rush and I was delighted when the parcel arrived from home with the most stamps I have ever seen used in one place. 

Mum had saved enough of the yellow velvet to make one skirt, lined in pale pearl silk, with a zip at the back and a waistband fastened by a small mother of pearl button.  I had a long sleeve champagne hued silk blouse which I tucked in and I braided my hair, one long rope beside each ear and coiled them around my head. Included in the parcel from home was a pair of white sandals with big silver buckles.  But I had other ideas.  Months before while scouring a second hand shop for books and fashionable wear, I came across a pair of high heel shoes that sang to me.  They had an inflexible wooden base, thin red straps and added two inches providing I walked carefully.  I had smuggled them into my school suitcase and the night before the big event, my friends and I brought out our contraband accessories.  

When it came time for me to slope down the hall, disaster was broadcast in the sound of one of the straps snapping on my shoe. Oh no, I cried inside.  I tried tucking the frayed edge under my foot, but it escaped and hung grotesquely with every step.  I tried sticky tape and glue overnight, but clag was never going to repair my shoe.  My best friend offered encouragement in the last hours before our debut, as I perfected a new gait that cleverly concealed my broken shoe.

No one asked me to dance. It never occurred to me then and I'm still not convinced, but surely it wasn't my brown skin?  My hand made skirt? Or the dragging of my left foot in shoes that made me taller than most boys?

I blame the shoes. The rest of me was fabulous.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

On caring

At some point in the conversation, I clarified, so the choices are 'dead' or 'terrified'?

Yes, she said.

Well, I'd have to choose 'terrified' wouldn't I? Dead is pretty final.

She asked me to think about it, over the next little while.

My decision was required minutes later, as it turned out.

I had barely returned to the bench seat which would have been so much more comfortable if only a few inches deeper.

We'd been discussing recipes and the odds and sods of life for an hour or more. But on my return I had a new topic of discussion.  It is testament to this stage of our life that we can discuss life choices as calmly as any other topic.  With our raising, our dips and  our turns into confusion, and finding our way to a deep well of revelations, we now trust and care for each other in all things these days. Sisters who are our mother.

They wheeled me in and the theatre stood by as I was asked for my decision. I said what I wanted, and what I meant was: I know the risks, and I choose death over time spent being terrified, and now I expect you to do your job and make choices that don't kill me.

Cut forward to half an hour after being discharged, we were sitting at the dining table watching the Oscars. Australians have a delayed telecast for those who want to watch the Oscars in peak hour viewing hours, so every news site had already spoiled the result.

We watched the announcement of the Best Movie award, the kerfuffle between Warren Beaty and Faye Dunaway, and then the cast of La La Land climbed up onto the stage. The whole time, I am thinking, my god, when do they find out it is all a mistake?

The appearance on screen amongst the stars, of an unknown wearing a head mic and a worried expression was the first sign something had gone wrong.

Then others stepped up and sorted it out, culminating in the most memorable Oscars night ever.

And I thought someone, somewhere is 'dying' behind the scenes. 

I am glad they weren't working in my operating theatre. :)

Monday, 20 February 2017

Review: Umbre (Shadows)


HBO produced 8 part series
New to SBS OnDemand

This review is riddled with spoilers.

Adapted from an Australian series, Small Town Gangster (which I can’t recall seeing), HBO made the decision to adapt an Australian story to a Romanian setting: Bucharest to be exact.

Umbre translates as 'Shadows' in Romanian.

I’d been drawn to watch Umbre after reading it’s irresistible marketing pitch – it’s a crime series, in the style of Breaking Bad. 

First impressions were good, getting straight into a scene that was both intriguing and set the tone for the entire series.  The palate is dirty yellows and greys.  The opening scene gives us our first sight of our star, and it’s always good to see actors that are unfamiliar.  

A good start from the opening scene, and then boom – the characters started to speak.

Now, I know there are many conversations between men that I'll never be privy to, and I may not really understand the camaraderie between men.  But in Umbre, the dialogue strongly suggests that when men get together, the talk is ripe for misogyny.  Ripe? According to Umbre, it’s rancid.

According to Umbre, they say things out loud in Romania, that obviously never in 50 years of Australian tv has any screen writer been game enough to write for our admittedly sanitized tv land.

A steady consumption of Nordic-noir with increasingly eccentric female lead detectives had obviously lulled me into a false impression of European gender relations.

In Umbre, references to women are horrible.  Beyond horrible.  It made the show nearly unwatchable.  But the production values, and damn it, the story, was interesting.  I wanted to see what was going to happen.  Would one man finally go to far and have his tongue ripped out by a woman who’d just had it with the foul banter?

The sheer awfulness of the dialogue abates a little or maybe one becomes numb to it, once the show’s style has been bedded down.  There are some casual references to female sex slaves that are pretty rank. And then the main character hits his daughter in the face, in one touching scene of fatherly concern.

Bloody hell. 

Amongst all of this there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, despite my revulsion at the ongoing mistreatment of women.

The lead actor - Serban Pavlu - is a big name in Romanian theatre.  The main character, Relu, is somewhat of a devoted family man, trying to provide for his family.  Here lies the similarity to Walter White, as slim as it is.

A huge bloke, I can’t seem to recall Relu ever changing expression, and this includes the first episode where he and a number of other men are hairy backed and full frontal naked.  But he grew on me and it helps that he is taller than most with a distinctive stiff backed walk, so it was easy to pick him out in every scene.  Should I mention that the cast are mostly dark haired and/or olive skinned?  Not really important I suppose, but the difference from the all beige colour chart of Australian tv is hard not to notice.

The stand out performance that crept up on me was the old Uncle.   He’s the kind of uncle that lives in the shed down the back, watches a lot of porn and is well known to the local prostitutes.  Not the kind of uncle that I am familiar with, but he is engaging, if slightly repulsive. 

Filmed in 2014, it was HBO’s first foray into producing a tv series in Europe.  There’s been no mention that I can see, after a quick internet scan, of a second series.  I’ve wondered why over the past couple of days after binge-watching the entire series on Friday night.

Granted, there may well be others wondering what the fuss is about, as they steadily consume porn and don’t blink an eye at the exploitation of sex slaves and underpaid workers imported from eastern European countries.

Or maybe the question should be, who isn’t aware of these practices that are blithely depicted in Umbre?  Which country, which city, which sleepy little country town hasn't swept aside concerns about what happens in their parks, their truck stops and their back streets?   In polite company, most would decry the dehumanization of women and children, but honestly what are they doing about it, besides contributing to the demand for these ‘products’. 

Domestic violence is most generally condemned, but women and children continue to die even in the nicest, most affluent neighbourhoods of the most advanced countries.  

They die a lot more often if they are black in Australia. Though black men will say on national tv, they can't sit there as a black man and let that kind of slur go unchallenged.  They need to sit there, and listen and learn how their purse mouthed silence, and deflecting of the root causes of death for so many black women in numbers that increase each year, is a form of collusion.

Is Umbre a comment on that hypocrisy?  Is it meant to unsettle European audiences? Does it mirror the crime and debauchery that the US continues to spread around the world, with their enchanting sound tracks, their ethereal opening credits and their cliff hanger endings?

Is Umbre just a little too real?  

Is it simply too ugly to capture a large and devoted audience?

In the end, what I found grated the most was the depiction of Relu’s wife.  Perhaps it was too much to hope for that in such a male-dominated series as Umbre, at least one of the female characters had some dimensions to her.

Which leaves me with the final thought – who was the intended audience?

I can’t deny the possibility that it may appeal to some viewers that the predominantly male cast didn't wax their bodies into glistening fake tanned perfection, and the killers rarely used guns.

If Umbre is only targeting male viewers, that brings the makers up well short of the audience a big budget production requires.  If this was the intention (which I somehow doubt) they got what they paid for.  It feels like observing a group of foul mouthed men, as they stumble, maim and kill their way through a sweaty, grimy and pointless existence. 

In regards to the crime and corruption, frankly that’s how I pictured a country that I really only know about via grainy news stories of the Romanian Revolution, and many years before, the sublime athleticism of Nadia Comaneci.

Despite one scene shot in what looks very much like a Bunnings, I had to wonder, if what I saw in Umbre, with its mix of wealth and poverty:  is this the aftermath of a country recovering from a turbulent past?

The IMDB site rated Umbre a 9.  I’m not sure how that happened.

Ignoring the dialogue for a moment, it’s got enough going for it to garner a high rating. But the violence and marginalization of women was too much for me. 

I have a high threshold for violence, though have been known to fall asleep during Game of Thrones from sheer boredom. I watched the entire series of Umbre after being drawn in by the story, after all.

But would I recommend Umbre?  I’m not really sure how I’d go about that.

‘Umbre… it’s all kinds of horrible but there was some comic relief, until the best character dies.  But if you can’t handle one more Nordic crime series, travel to the dark side and give it a whirl. 
And if you can't rethink your deflection of the reality of black men being largely responsible for the death of black women, it's exactly your kind of show.’