a little east of reality

Saturday, February 25, 2006

gender & the physical

Waiterrant featured a post yesterday about people who have, or want to have, sexual reassignment surgery. Basically they were chatting in the restaurant about a show that told how people were using Craigslist to find dates with pre-operative transsexual escorts. They were joking a little about how specialised a request it was and how few people out there could answer an ad like that. As it happens, that very night a couple walked in who were possibly both transsexuals - the uncanny timing led to the post.

A very tolerant and civilised discussion immediately took place in the comments, with pretty much every commenter expressing support for those who chose to have reassignment surgery, and for those who live as the other gender but choose not to have surgery, even if the commenter themself didn't really understand the reasons why someone would make that choice. There was a lot of sympathy expressed for people who feel they are one gender trapped in the body of the other.

What immediately struck me was how every commenter seemed to accept without question that gender was something seperate from the body you were in, and that it was something inherently definable - that what it meant to be a man, a woman, male, female could be sufficiently defined that a person could declare without doubt that they were or were not one of those things without any reference to appearance or body parts. For most, it seems, the concept that a man allowing a surgeon to turn his penis into a vagina and taking hormones in order to change his voice and develop breasts was simply "making the outside match the inside" was not something they felt to question or contradict: they all accepted that that man could have enough understanding of what it meant to "be a woman" that he could know he was one long before he physically resembled one.

It set me thinking about the whole subject of whether gender really is tied to the physical body you are in, or should be; or even just what 'gender' really is. For me its always been extremely clear cut. My body is female, therefore my gender is female. But then, I don't equate gender with gender stereotypes or roles, so I don't expect being 'female' to feel any particular way. Basically for me identifying my gender is no different to identifying my sex. I'm female. And the scope of that definition stretches no further than the biological differences between my body and a male body. Anything else, for me, can only be defined in context. I have some idea what it means to be a woman in a male dominated corporate environment, in a hierarchical and sexist foreign culture, in a group of female colleagues, at a family gathering, walking to my car in a night club car park at 2am. What it means to "be a woman" in these contexts is so wrapped up in social and cultural constructs that objectively defining what a woman is immediately seems an impossible task.

Consider these excerpts from the website of The Looking Glass Society, a UK-based non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting understanding and acceptance of transsexual people (italics added):
Most people never have to ask themselves the question "Am I male or female?". They only have to look at their body and the answer is obvious. For transsexuals, the sex of their body feels totally wrong, because the way that they see the world is that of the opposite physical sex.

Sometimes they are not very attracted to members of either sex, since the role that they would have to perform in any sexual relationship would feel wrong. The idea of being a member of the opposite physical sex may become the only way in which they can express their own sexuality...

There is no way that a genuine transsexual can ever be content living in the wrong gender role, and attempts to make a transsexual 'normal' always fail.

[to those who think they may be transsexual] It is important to realise that there is far more to a successful transition than hormones and surgery. If your GP can arrange speech therapy then this will help you to develop the characteristics and social skills appropriate to your new gender role.
In this sense I really can't understand the trans-sexual mindset at all. There is no one particular way that the opposite sex sees the world, no set role that either sex must play in sexual relationships, no one set of characteristics and social skills that either sex is bound to follow. Sure, there are expectations. Yes, there are societal norms and culturally assigned gender roles. But the notion that these are inescapable is centuries out-of-date.

Transsexuals can't be content living in the wrong gender role (a role they can't relate to that happens to be expected of their sex). What I don't understand is why they choose to adopt another clearly defined (the role, not what it actually means to be of that gender) arbitrary role. Why not ditch gender roles altogether and just be who you are? What's 'normal' anyway? And what does it really matter? When I see interviews and some (now) woman will talk about how even when he was little he always played with dolls or liked make-up, I always think, 'yeah, so? boys can play with dolls and wear makeup and lots of girls hate that stuff...it doesn't make you a girl (even inside) to like or want or relate to those things. Just be who you are.'

And that's the crucial point here. I want to understand what is going on with these people ~ and maybe I simply never will ~ but what I hear when they speak about gender is a group of people who feel compelled to fit into what they believe is just one of two "ways to be". Not fitting the one to which has been 'assigned' to their sex by their culture and society, they become convinced that they have somehow been 'born in the wrong body'.

Obviously there is more to it that that, but never once in one of these interviews has any transsexual, when trying to describe what they mean when they say that they "feel like a woman", "think like a woman", ever said anything that made me nod and think, "yes, that's right. That's something only a woman feels." Everything they describe can be felt and experienced equally by a man. So all that's left IS the physical. It's sad that a male can look in the mirror and think, I need breasts to be who I really am; this penis, this body, disgusts me, seems wrong and alien (other things I've heard in interviews). But sad or not, at least that's concrete. But when someone believes they can't be soft or nurturing (or some other trait they've determined to be a female and not a male trait) without having a major operation, I feel like protesting, "but that isn't what makes someone a woman. A woman can't be defined so simply!"

I understand gender roles as constructs. At best they are a way to acknowledge how physical differences between the sexes create natural roles. For example, a couple who want a child (who is physically their own) must rely on the biology of the female body to carry and nurture that child. Only a woman's body has those internal organs; only a woman's body produces milk. It should not be surprising to us that women became seen as the primary caregiver of young children - biologically they were the logical choice. While some women (and men) would balk at the idea of a woman needing to be protected by a man, biologically it is a role that makes sense, because pregnancy and even for some women the pain and nausea of her monthly cycle make her more physically vulnerable than a male. Even in this modern age, a heavily pregnant woman (without weaponry :) ) is as vulnerable a target as an elderly one. (Sadly males throughout history have often used the idea of a "weaker sex" to exercise unrighteous dominion rather than to protect, but that's another post...). But still, these are understandings, constructs, norms: they do not define what it means to be female. Not all women bear children or even want to. Not all women breast feed. And some women are far too kick-ass to seek protection, from anyone.

At worst gender roles are a horrible mind control experiment gone awry, using social and cultural gender role constructs to dictate to a person how they should feel and act, based on which body parts they happen to have been born with. This paragraph is about to become the rantiest in the whole rant, but where is the REBELLION?? Why does no atypical male ever think "I'm a man, and I just don't fit this idea my family and friends have of what that means, and that is perfectly okay. There's no way I'm going to ruin my life meeting their expectations." I think the world would be a much better and happier place if people stopped trying to conform to gender roles that make no sense to them and instead fought to redefine those roles in a realistic and much more flexible way. I find it ironic that transsexuals of all people are so determined to sustain and conform to gender stereotypes.

Friday, February 24, 2006

monthly punctuation

See this ---> .

What is that? Fill in the blank: "why chosha, that small dot is a _______."

Now when I answer that question, the answer is, "It's a full stop." Did you say "period"? I just can't get used to this. I'm assuming it must be an Americanism, because I can't remember ever calling it that, even when I was a kid in school. I always feel like there should be more, like: "period where we pause before starting to read the next sentence". Because a "period" ~ just all by itself like that ~ well dude that's just menstruation.

Funky Bug mentioned in her Feb 24 post that she had started a diet, only to come home to no Diet Coke in the fridge. Paul G added this comment:
Well I'm glad to hear you resisted the old, 'no diet coke - no diet period' rule.
And I spent the next 30 seconds trying to imagine what the heck a "diet period" could be... o_O?
When I hear the term "period movie" it reminds me of Puberty Blues, where the main characters spends several scenes going to the bathroom every chance she gets, in the hope of seeing some evidence that she isn't pregnant. I guess it was her friend, in the end.

And 'full stop' is so clear! A comma is a small pause; a semi-colon just a smidge more of one. At a colon you pause as if you were going to stop...and then you keep going. But a full stop is simply a /full/ /stop/. You fully stop. You can even take a quick breath, because you've fully stopped. See how logical that is??

Yes I think so, too.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

okay that's done. oh wait, no it's not. okay that's...oh wait

I just edited that last post about ELEVEN times!! Okay, two of those times was adjusting pictures, which I can't do until I've seen it properly published (the preview function has its little quirks), but the rest were just stupid little things I missed.

How can it look so right in the 'create post' box and l.o.o.k. .s.o. .w.r.o.n.g when it hits the net? It's like a tiny virus that causes typos and redundancies to jump into your text, but doesn't activate until you click 'Publish Post'. Then it's like a typo hydra, adding two mistakes for every one you chop out of your post.

Anyone else had this "virus"? It's a doozy.

hey, smoke up johnny!

Lately I've been getting a new variety of spam email. Have the tobacco companies tapped into spam as the new way to advertise (other avenues having been steadily blocked)? If so, they've apparently abandoned subliminal messaging for all out obviousness.

"Chatting with your friends and smoking is the best way to spend your leisure time.

If $moking is your l1fe$tyle, it means you rock."
Now I was under the impression that I rocked, but sadly, $moking is not my l1fe$tyle. So I guess I'll have to accept that I don't, after all, rock. (-_-)

I do, however, breathe without coughing. And I do, in fact, have around $30 more to spend each week than a smoker. And in the middle of the chilly Canberra winter, on a day that would freeze the balls off a brass monkey, I will not, at any time, be found in the pathetic huddle of addicts freezing their collective asses off for the sake of inhaling lung cancer. So there are compensations...you know, for the non-rocking thing. ^_~

Having said that, can I just quietly admit that a part of me STILL thinks smoking is cool? How crazy is that?? I mean seriously, here are Iggy Pop and Tom Waits in the movie Coffee and Cigarettes, arguably two of the ugliest dudes on the planet...and even they look cool! o_O It's not the 'flirting with death' thing...flirting with death is stupid (and he's too grim to flirt properly anyway). It's partly the rebel look. But overall I'm not sure what it is. Maybe I just harbour a secret wish that Jack White would show me his Tesla coil...

First person to tell me where my title is from gets this virtual pack of Marlboro Red, full of virtual nicotine...the best kind!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

writer wannabe seeks quasi-literary types for bookish pursuits

A couple of weeks ago Irina made the excellent suggestion that I look around for a writers' group to join as a way to meet people. What I've discovered is that there are lots in Canberra, and even a pretty active writers' centre that hosts courses and events. Apart from the benefit of meeting new people, it's a great resource to work on my writing and the goal to publish a short story or novel. I wouldn't even mind doing some freelance non-fiction writing, but that will take some researching to find some good topics and markets for the articles. Still, it's one of the more interesting ways to make some extra money.

I've also decided to try and locate a book club (reading group) that meets in my area, if there is one. A bunch of us formed a book club in Japan, but that was mainly to swap books with each other (English language books being expensive to get there) rather than being the type of club where everyone is reading the same book at the same time and meets to talk about it. Either style is fine with me as long as it's a friendly and interesting group of people.

I'll post my findings soon!

Monday, February 20, 2006

no I'm not going to scarborough fair

"Of all herbs, basil holds the essense of the Tuscan summer."

We'll need a little 'essence of Tuscan summer' soon in the cold capital. So here is the start of chosha's herb garden: sage, sweet basil and thyme. The thyme in particular smells wonderful. They look so fresh and green that it's hard not to use them straight away, but of course I have to give them a little time to grow first. My track record with plants is not good, but herbs are hardy, so I'm hopeful.

On Saturday morning I'm going to check out a few garage sales and hopefully find some medium sized pots to transplant them into. I have a small table on the balcony that I will put right under the kitchen window. They'll get a lot of good sun there and it's easy to take water from the kitchen to water them there. Right now the plants are small enough to use as a centrepiece if we want to eat at the table outside. Hopefully we'll do more of that over the next few weeks while the perfect Spring weather is here. It doesn't last long, this reprieve from the heat and prelude to the chilly Canberra winter, so I want to make the most of it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

silent bob arrives suddenly

Yesterday I was sitting at the computer when an email came in. Is the room still available? Yes, it was. And roughly 90 minutes later he'd seen the room, we asked all our various questions, and I had a new boarder. Yah!!!! And no waiting, no mucking around - he moved in today!

Of course it's too early to know much about what he's like, but for now here's what I do know:
1. He's from China;
2. He's quiet. And it's not just the second language thing;
3. He's studying engineering and has long class hours (9-4, Mon-Fri);
4. He's lived in Australia for about 18months now, so he's used to we weird Aussies and our food and such.
5. He's very organised and studious.

Many Chinese choose a Western name when they study English. Amusingly his English name is the same as Phi's (real) name. Obviously on the blog I will give him his own nickname (and Phi doesn't suit him anyway) but I am still thinking about what fits. In real life we have no idea what to call him and are just putting up with the name mix-ups. Personally I'd be happy to just call Phi 'Phi' in real life haha ~ that's what his number is listed under in my mobile phone ~ but I think he likes his name just as it is. ^_~

Ooh, ooh, I know what to call the new guy!! He'll be Silent Bob. And no, that doesn't mean I'll be renaming Phi as Jay, though it's sorely tempting. Phi is almost as talkative as Jay, but doesn't spin nearly as much crap. Hmmmm...Silent Bob. Yes I think it fits.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

you are... a beautiful, beautiful, butterfly

Saw Alien Resurrection for the first time tonight. O.M.G....s.o. .s.c.a.r.y!!! Sigourney Weaver was brilliant. I love the twist in her character this time around. The more you watch movies the more you realise how very few truly original and startling ideas there are out there. They didn't just bring her back. They fundamentally changed who the character is and what she's capable of. It's like that pivotal scene in Terminator 2 when Linda Hamilton's character first sees the Terminator she's been waiting for and has no idea that he's on her side. She should have gotten an Oscar for that scene alone, seriously.

Fun quotes:
Johner: So, I hear you, like, ran into these things before?
Ripley: Yeah.
Johner: What did you do?
Ripley: [grins] I died.


Distephano: I thought you were dead!
Ripley: Yeah, I get that a lot.


[General Perez offers Elgyn a drink]
General Perez: Drink, Elgyn?
Elgyn: Constantly.

Annalee Call: @#$%, Johner, what do you put in this shit, battery acid?
Johner: Just for color.
Man, I hope there are movies in heaven.

Friday, February 17, 2006

feminine wiles?

Clip from upcoming movie. Michael (straight guy) defending himself to Steve (his gay friend) after divulging a secret to their mutual friend Rhonda:

M: You wouldn't understand. She's a woman. They have their ways!
S: What, she hypnotised you with her feminine wiles?
M: Yes she did! She did, actually!

Feminine wiles? Us? What on Earth is that man talking about?? *confused* ^_^

Known feminine wiles:
1. the French pouty thing
2. playing hard to get
3. leaving something to the imagination (but not everything)
4. deliberately starting to cry (this one makes me grit my teeth)
5. playful teasing

...ideas? additions?

I think a little wily-ness is fun, if it doesn't morph into its evil twin, manipulation. What do you think? Are feminine wiles cute? annoying? tantilising? confusing? Girls...do you have them? Do you use them, and if so, what for?

Thursday, February 16, 2006


I love fresh flowers. Sometimes on Valentine's day people see them as a bit cliched, but they are so beautiful that I never care. (And they are particularly nice compared to say...nothing. ^_^)

Phi says he likes flowers, but would rather receive a plant, because they don't die like the flowers do. This of course is not true for me, because while I know secret ways to make cut flowers last longer, plants die around me almost immediately I get them (think of Typhoid roaming through the gardens in the movie Elektra). It's weird...they all seem to want the one thing I can't remember to give them...water. Maybe I need a particularly unfussy variety of cactus.

I'm reading the book that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun was loosely based on. I love the way she describes the man who comes each day to the small shrine just on the outside of her fence. In the movie we see him coming there every day with various kinds of flowers, but in the book we see him more fully.
Now I wait for him. He examines what wildflowers the roadside and fields offer, leans to pick what he fancies. He varies his selection, bringing new blooms as they spring up. I'm up on a high terrace, hacking ivy off stone walls and chopping off dry limbs of neglected trees. The profusion of flowers stops me every few minutes. I don't know enough of the English names, much less the Italian. One plant shaped like a little tabletop Christmas tree, is spiked all over with white flowers. I think we have wild red gladioluses. Lusty red poppies literally carpet the hillsides, their vibrancy cooled by clusters of blue irises, now withering to an ash gray. The grass brushes my knees.

When I stop just to look, the pilgrim is approaching. He pauses in the road and stares up at me. I wave but he does not wave back, just blankly stares as though I, a foreigner, am a creature unaware of being looked at, a zoo animal.

...That I have acquired a shrine amazes me. What amazes me more is that I have taken on the ritual of the man with the flowers. I lay the clippers down in the grass. He approaches slowly, the bouquet almost behind him. When he is at the shrine I never watch. Later, I will walk down the terrace, down the driveway to see what he left. The brilliant yellow broom called ginestra and red poppies? Lavender and wheat? I always touch his blade of weed tying that ties them together.
Once I received a bunch of red roses anonomously at work for Valentine's Day. It is SO COOL getting flowers at work. The moment the delivery person walks through the door, everyone is curious to know who the flowers are for. When you find out they are for you, this little thrill goes through you. It's for ME that someone stopped and thought to buy flowers today - special, special. Anyway, these were sent anonomously. I rang the florist and actually managed to convince the girl there that I could be trusted never to tell, if only she would reveal the sender. Sadly all my earnest assurances were for nothing - the clever sender had paid in person in cash, so there was nothing to reveal. I still don't know who sent them, though a lovely man (that I am still friends with) did ask me to dance that night, for many songs. So sweet. I've often wondered, and never received an answer. But I'll always remember the flowers.

The first time I had my own place, I used to buy flowers on the way home every Saturday night from the petrol station, so that on Sunday I always had fresh flowers in the house. It was something that made the place feel like mine. Recently I bought a vase, and I have it in mind to restart the tradition. I like buying myself flowers. It's like the L'oreal slogan: I do it "because I'm worth it". And just because they're music to your eyes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

happy valentines' day!

Hello all you happening cats and kittens. Did Valentine's Day treat you right? Now I'll be happy to hear about it if you were showered in cards and chocolates and lingerie, etc, but more importantly - did you SEND a Valentine this year? There's no-one I'm terribly in love with at the moment, but I sent one anonymous Valentine just to get into the spirit of things. That was fun actually. I think that's my favourite thing about Valentine's Day actually, is the chance to be creative. Whether anonymous or not, Valentines should show some imagination, don't you think?

Cupid was avoiding me, but I think that might have had something to do with the fact that I was wearing this badge all day. Strictly speaking I'm not Anti-Valentine ~ lovely man, helping young lovers to be married in spite of wretched King Claudius and his 'no marriage' law ~ but this Cupid fellow, flying around flinging arrows willy-nilly into unsuspecting hearts...he must be stopped. At least the couples St Valentine married had asked for his help.

So, chocolates all round. Enjoy the day. And don't count your Valentines (though it includes one from me!) ...count the people YOU love. The world's a beautiful place, and not even blatant commercialism can change that. ^_^

Monday, February 13, 2006

tempered steel

Losing it occasionally toughens you up, helps you to have a thicker skin. At some point you realise that other people's hurtful antics, or other of life's challenges, are not worth crying over and then the experience tempers you like steel and makes you stronger.

Last weekend I felt so let down by individuals that I let myself feel let down by life. Well, this weekend I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is that during the week Phi, who I haven't seen much of lately, offered to make dinner on Saturday...and then went out and completely forgot about it. I was out just before dinner and came home to a dark, empty house (tres symbolic, no?). Easy enough to do, and I'm not angry about it, but it was disappointing; I'd been looking forward to it. Then on Sunday, the new boarder failed to show...again, and failed to contact me...again, so I spent the whole of Sunday waiting expectantly for him to arrive...again. Today I got an email to say that he is living somewhere else. Bastard. I knocked back a short term boarder on the basis of his absolute assurance that this was a definite arrangement. So much for that.

The good news, however, is that I am not crying or kicking innocent furniture. Yeah it's hurtful and frustrating, and nobody likes to be forgotten. And yeah I know it'll take some time to find another person to move in. But in the end, no-one is going to live or die because the weekend was a bit crappy - certainly not me!

Saturday, February 11, 2006

a chance to save a life - spread the word!

I'm linking this post from a blog called StudioGlyphic. I actually read it over at Wil Wheaton's blog. I'm glad he posted it, because his is such a high traffic blog that it will reach lots of people. Mine will reach fewer, but every little bit helps, hey?

Christine Pechera needs a bone marrow transplant. Her family has already lost her brother to this kind of cancer and are battling not to lose her as well. Her sister also had cancer, but survived and is in remission.
Unfortunately, finding a perfect match for her bone marrow type is particularly difficult. This is hard enough for the average person; there are over 20,000 types of bone marrow, so the average person has a 1 in 20,000 chance of finding a match. These numbers are even worse for Christine. Because she is Filipino, she needs to find a donor of the same ethnic background, and there are hardly any Filipinos on the US National Registry. Right now is our best chance of having the bone marrow transplant work. Each day's delay decreases her chances of surviving. Please contact your Filipino friends or relatives in the US, and ask them to contact their friends. Anyone you know who is all or part Filipino and between the ages of 18 and 61 is a potential donor. The system is nationwide, so it doesn't matter where they live. Signing up on the registry is easy and painless. All it requires is a simple blood test.
This is a rare opportunity to really help some and many even save their life, and I would love nothing better than to see it spread through the blogosphere like wildfire. It might even save more lives than one, if it raises awareness and increases the number of people who are on the National Register of potential bone marrow donors. This is something I have never really thought about before, but I plan to find out if there is a similar register in Australia and arrange to have the blood test (you don't need to give marrow to be registered ~ that only becomes a decision to make if and when you are identified as a match for someone needing a transplant).

Although I really didn't doubt the story, I wanted to double-check things before posting (I'm sure a lot of you have received one of those terrible chain letters that asks you to forward it on in order to help a non-existent child to live). This is very much real. It's even been posted over at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society BBS by a man whose wife was in hospital with Christine, which is great because that is certainly a group that will spread the word. Also, there is more information about Christine and her history here. Christine herself was a match for her brother's bone marrow and acted as donor for him when he was just 12 years old and she was 18, but sadly he later died and cannot return the favour. Let's hope Christine's own story has a happier ending.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

imagine that!

Speaking of political cartoons, this is my favourite at the moment. Very nice little jab at the hypocrites (currently) in power.

The Taliban has offered a hefty reward to anyone willing to kill...a cartoonist.

Mullah Dadullah, chief military commander of the Taliban, has indicated that the Taliban will reward with 100kg of gold anyone who kills the person responsible for the contentious Danish cartoons now circulating around the web. He also said the Taliban would give 5kg of gold as a reward to anyone who killed any military personnel from Denmark, Norway and Germany in Afghanistan. At least 10 people have been killed in widespread demonstrations in Afghanistan during the last three days.

I'm reminded of the scene in the movie Grand Canyon where Mack's car breaks down in a bad neighbourhood and the tow truck driver arrives just in time to rescue him from some young guys looking to rob him.

Simon: I've gotta ask you for a favor. Let me go my way here. This truck's my responsibility, and now that the car's hooked up to it it's my responsibility too.
Gangbanger: Do you think I'm stupid? Just answer that question first.
Simon: Look, I don't know nothing about you, you don't know nothing about me. I don't know if you're stupid, or some kind of genious. All I know is that I need to get out of here, and you got the gun. So I'm asking you for the second time, let me go my way here.
Gangbanger: I'm gonna grant you that favor, and I'm gonna expect you to remember it if we ever meet again. But tell me this, are you asking me as a sign of respect, or are you asking because I've got the gun?
Simon: Man, the world ain't supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don't know that yet. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.
Gangbanger: So what's your answer?
Simon: You ain't got the gun, we ain't having this conversation.
Gangbanger: That's what I thought, no gun, no respect. That's why I always got the gun.

“No gun, no respect.” In fact he’d gotten it right a minute before when he asked, “is this respect, or it is because of the gun?” because the two are not the same. Some people really have no understanding of the word ‘respect’. If someone is thinking you are a criminal or a cretin, using nice words to you(r gun) is NOT respect. Someone refraining from drawing Muhammed because they’d prefer not to have themselves or their countrymen blown to smithereens has not learned respect. Chances are that any reasonable person who had any kind of respect for the Taliban has just lost it all. Sadly many will lose respect for Muslims in general, even those who hate this kind of violence. I know good Muslims. They don’t deserve this kind of publicity.

This man, this group, had the opportunity to respond to these cartoons in such a way that the whole world would understand that something Muslims consider blasphemous (ANY depiction of Mohammed, let alone one making him look bad or foolish) is being carelessly bandied about with no respect for their religious sensitivities. A careful, intelligently emotional response could really give some insight into how Muslims feel about this matter and even maybe evoke a little empathy around the place. And the best they can come up with is the rough equivalent of "yeah, we gotta show those punks that you don't f#$% with the prophet, yo!"


Does anyone else find it ironic that they can be furious at a cartoon showing the Prophet Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, while in the same breath announcing that the list of Taliban suicide attackers has grown since the cartoons were published? In that context, a bomb-shaped turban isn’t satirical, it’s just accurate. The other thing I find ironic is the fact that the cartoons aren’t even very funny. Without the hype the Taliban are helping to create, chances are they would have done a quick round on email and then disappeared forever. Now they’ll be around forever.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

lost worlds, uncharted territory

Found an interesting story linked over at Random Thoughts. It's about an expedition in Indonesia that has discovered a pristine area teeming with new and interesting species. Even the local indigenous people don't use that area and so it has stayed untouched for a long time, maybe always.

It made me think ~ not just because:

[The expedition] found a rare tree kangaroo, previously unsighted in Indonesia. Beehler said the naturalists reckoned that there was likely to be a new species of kangaroo living higher altitudes.
(Kangaroos are Aussie animals dammit ~ git yer own!) ~ but also because people are a bit lost themselves. I ended up leaving this comment:

I wonder how much lies undiscovered in terms of people co-existing. Vast untapped resources right in our own heart. But like those indigenous peoples, we just don't venture there very often, do we?
There's a real thrill for people in discovering a new species. Birdwatchers will trek into remote areas and wait patiently for long hours just to add to the list of birds that they have seen. We do try to discover what we can do - if it's in sport, or art, or science - but how often do we investigate ways to get along with the people in our neighbourhood? At best I've seen people make this kind of effort with their partner, their kids - though even that is rare enough. But what about beyond that?

We spend a lot of time thinking about, sometimes complaining about, the problems in the world. Think how many of these are caused by a lack of understanding between people, or could be solved by people who knew how to work together effectively. World peace sounds good. How often do we stop to consider how to create peace in our own country, our own city, our own family? And if we see the solutions, how much time do we give to enacting them? I know I'm not satified with myself in this area. It's not that I do nothing, or never think about it. But I definitely think I spend more time whining about my relationships with other people than I do improving them. Most Australians I know have some opinion about war, about terrorism, about the world in general and the way it works and what would make it work better. Yet several weeks ago when racial violence suddenly erupted in a few areas of Sydney, most of what I heard around the place was people deciding which group they thought we most to blame, or talking about how the only solution was to inundate the area with police. That's eventually what happened. The following weekend some 2000 police officers patrolled the area, and police presence was high for some time, containing the problem until both sides calmed down.

Racial violence is relatively rare in Australia, but the feelings that underly it are not. And that's what I DIDN'T hear people talking about ~ how we could change the situation so that no-one wants to be violent. I'd love to think that there was a mother in Cronulla who thought to herself, "I must ask the kids at dinner what they've heard about this violence and talk to them about it. It'd hate it if they'd picked up any stupid prejudices at school about Lebanese people. Maybe I could remind them that Mr Hammoud is Lebanese. It'll put it more in perspective if they aren't just thinking of Lebanese people as some group they heard mentioned on TV." It would be so cool if every person who thinks racism and racial violence are wrong also had a little action plan for something they could do to promote understanding and tolerance. I love that saying, 'Be the change you want to see in the world." It's so wise.

I think there's a lot of undiscovered territory in humankind and we're never going to discover it until we take the time to look.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

an introspective reply

I took a long time today to reply to Rev's email. (I wish he had a blog!) It helped me to articulate a lot of things I've been thinking about in the last couple of days. Here’s most of what I wrote (sorry it’s pretty long):

Thanks again for being a listening ear. I just felt so overwhelmed that day and couldn’t find anything in my life to be happy about. But don’t worry. I don’t feel that kind of terrible low often and it doesn’t last – it’s too intense to last. It’s like a storm that gathers and breaks the heat. By yesterday I was more down than devastated, and today I just feel a bit tired and introspective.

I really appreciate you not trying to just assure me that everything is going to be okay. You know, even if that is 100% true, it doesn’t help when you’re in the middle of it. But in the end it’s surprising how quickly these things can turn around, and I’ve already had some cause to feel positive.

Firstly, the boarder guy contacted me to apologise for not calling and to say he’ll be moving in a week later (this Sunday). So that looks like it might happen after all. Secondly, my supervisor brought up the promotion issue today at a meeting and was hopeful about that going ahead in a few weeks. In spite of the fact that it’s not certain, her timing couldn’t have been better. And I have to say, I think Fate is trying to cut me a break all round, because I accidentally parked my car in a two hour park all day, yet got no parking ticket!!

As for the rest, I don’t know what will happen there (though I do think it’s easier to deal with one aspect of life going wrong, if EVERY aspect isn’t). I can’t beg people to spend time with me or be my friend. I guess I just have to get more creative about meeting people and persevere. It still sucks.

You know, I never felt this sense of alienation in Adelaide or Osaka. I’ve been mulling it all over and realising how different living in Canberra has been and why. In Adelaide I always had a multitude of roles to fulfill. My parents live there, as do many of my close friends. As you’d know, I played quasi-parent to Saffo’s daughter during the years when they were on their own. After teaching for four years I felt like a fixture in seminary and I’d been part of the same church ward for almost 20 years. I’d known a lot of my friends since we were teenagers.

In Japan the dynamic in my group of friends was very much like a family. This is really common when none of you have family in the country – what starts as a simple social network becomes much more tightly knit and important. We were as disparate in personality as any family tends to be, and in another context might not have even realised we could be friends, but in that context you take more chances and so does everyone else. I still met lots of people before I found a few that I really clicked with, but the process moved so fast compared to say, when I started university. There was a certain amount of alienation as a foreigner, but the very fact that we ALL experienced that was enough to lessen any impact it had on me individually.

But at the same time as I was living in Japan and fooling myself that I was maintaining close friendships via email, what was actually happening was that I was absenting myself from everyone’s lives, and they were all discovering (consciously or subconsciously) that they could get along just fine without me. Life, quite literally, went on. And since I came back to Australia, I don’t think that anyone has ever seen me as ‘necessary in their lives’ again. That’s not an invitation to my own little pity party – it’s just an observation. I think we all want to believe that somebody somewhere can’t survive without us, but for the most part it just isn’t so.

I guess the point is that it’s been a long time since I had to meet people and make new friends, and an even longer time since it was such a difficult thing for me to do. In Canberra no-one has any reason to step out of their comfort zone and give me a chance. This is where they live and they already have friends. The onus falls almost wholly on me to create situations where a friendship can develop. Now that I’m less upset I am more prepared to accept that I really just have to suck it up and move ahead anyway.

You asked me not to see myself as insignificant. I don’t think I see my whole life that way, just my life right now. If I dropped off the face of the earth right now, I'm not sure many people would notice the difference. In some respects that’s okay - I don’t need to be indispensable. But what I also don’t need is to be reminded constantly that no-one is under even the mistaken impression that I am. :)

As to ‘the answer’, I don’t know what it is either. I know that for me it includes control. I need to feel like I have some control over my circumstances, and that I can successfully effect change through my own efforts. Helplessness is a terrible feeling. I also know that part of it is feeling a connection with people. You might not realise how often I have tried since I got here to make friends, but I have, and every time it doesn’t work out I feel lonelier and more shut off. The third thing I thought of is that I need to contribute something. I don’t think I’ve done a great job of that since coming here. I suppose it boils down to this thing of wanting to feel needed, but it’s also that I need to focus my attention on something other than me and my woes. These ‘answers’ are a little light on the specifics, but they’re a starting point. Is it really that big an ask to want the meaning of life delivered to my doorstep this afternoon? Which section of the Yellow Pages should I consult? :)

Thanks again for your email. It really helped.


Monday, February 06, 2006

a very kind email on a very blue day

I really wish I could shake this dark mood off. Someone asked me how I was on the phone and I actually started crying. Luckily most people were off having lunch, but I was sitting at my desk at work, for Pete's sake! I know it's okay to feel upset, but I hate being pathetic at work.


I just received a wise and beautiful and very kind email from Rev. Most of it is posted below (slightly edited for ease of understanding). The last paragraph was a bit dramatic, but intensely comforting in my current mood. I guess not everybody finds me utterly forgettable after all. :)

"I have a great urge to hold you and tell you that everything will be all right and that all the bad things are not so bad as they seem. I want to be able to assure you that all your problems can be solved and that life will seem much better really soon.

I really want to be able to say and do all those things.

Maybe that is why this email seems so hard to write; because I know in my heart that I can't say all those things. Life can be horribly hard. And oh yes sure, much of what we we call horrible is just in our own minds. Oh yes, other people suddenly put in our shoes may have a completely different attitude. Take a starving or diseased wretch from Africa and put her in your shoes and she might well jump for joy. Or put one of those insanely positive and optimistic souls from any culture and put them in your shoes and they might find delightful aspects everywhere.

But you are not a starving wretch or a permanent optimist. You are you. And I am I. And we both know that life really sucks sometimes.

Yours was the second e-mail in two days that I have had from someone I care about that was depressed and just wanted to be released from the burden of life. I said all the usual positive things in my first reply. And yes the things I said were true and genuine but I'm sure that the person knew all that. I couldn't help but wonder if that attitude only might make them feel worse for indulging in depression when the world was such a nice place (apparently) to be in. I wish I knew the answers to these questions. The world really is a wonder and the potential for joy and happiness is immense but then why have I (and so many others) spent so much of it feeling like crap?

I thought that if I was married and had kids and a good car and a good job and some money to spend that I couldn't help but be happy. Most of my life I didn't have any of these things but now I have all of them and it's still not the answer. I'm supposed to have religion but that hasn't been the answer either. Now I must say at this point that all of the things I just mentioned have been a joy to me and I take great strength from them and life would be harder without them. BUT none of them have proved to be 'the answer'.

That's why I can't tell you that everything will be all right. Even if you got really lucky and suddenly had all the things that you are missing so much, I don't think that that would be the answer to your life. Perhaps I should mention here that I am not building up to a profound conclusion (just in case you were wondering.) The solution is not in believing that you will find the kind of family life you crave (we all crave it, even though I denied that when I was single). The solution is not believing in Jesus even more than you do now. I don't know what the solution is.

...There is just one positive thing that I can't help but mention. Please do NOT think of yourself as insignificant. I know that you are not and you MUST NOT be sucked into believing this because of the actions of others. You are a woman of majesty and destiny trembles with anticipation at your feet. I have no words to describe the significance of your existence or of the implications of your life. I don't care if you can't see it just now, the important thing is that this is TRUE and to forget it or to deny it is akin to a denial of everything that I hold sacred. It is not that I regard all people this way. I regard YOU this way. I know it as much as I know anything in this life."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

the neverending spiral of suckiness

Apologies in advance for the sudden negative shift. Thursday was such a chirpy little day getting the house all clean and organised, but since then everything has pretty much sucked. I've blogged a little about some of the things that frustrate or upset me. The top two in that category at the moment are friends and finances. This weekend they both went to hell and I just want to kick things and cry.

I've definitely found it hard to meet people in Canberra. And I do try. Last year I became friends with a couple of people from work. Then one got married and both moved on to new jobs, and since then they're always too busy to get together. At church there are not so many single people my age, and married people keep a whole different schedule and have different priorities. I've met lots of people I liked, but almost no-one with the time or inclination to hang out. I went to a local course hoping to meet some people with similar interests, but the other four women doing the course all worked at the same place. They had come as a group and just talked to each other all night. I met some great people when I checked out another course (art course at the community centre) and was really pleased to find out that they were all signing up for the next term - and then the course was cancelled due to lack of funding. The one family I am really close to here (who I've known for years) are pretty self-contained, so I've met almost no-one through them.

The whole process has been so disheartening and lately it's gotten worse. Maybe it's just the busy nature of the summer holidays, but time after time plans I've made with people have been changed or cancelled or simply forgotten, because they had other priorities. For a while I just tried to remind myself that that's reality. If you're sister gets sick you might need to miss a movie. If your boss sucks, maybe you'll be so tired on Friday night that you'd rather fall into bed than have dinner with me. And for a while that was okay. But yesterday yet another thing I was looking forward to didn't happen and I just sat there all evening feeling insignificant and stupid, and I realised that what was really upsetting me was not that people had other priorities, but rather the fact that I am nobody's number 1 priority and have nobody to make mine.

Yes this is about being single, but it's not just about that. It's also about not have family nearby. It's about having no-one that you're responsible for. Some people like me, some even love me, but nobody needs me. I'm not used to it, and I don't like it. I don't like that it's easy to cancel plans with me. I don't like it that people assume I will understand and be comfortable with the fact that someone or something else always comes before me. I especially hate the fact that none of these people cares enough to realise that our plans might be really important to me, because when they go home they go to their husband or kids or boyfriend or whatever and when I go home I go home to nothing. Yeah, I know, the dread pirate Phi lives at my house, but he plunders and pillages (read: works) six nights a week, and to be honest lately he's been just another friend who's too busy with other things.

I'm tired of trying to meet people and I'm tired of trying to make plans with the friends I have and I'm tired of being single and loneliness sucks. I'm starting to learn to have no expectations. I'm starting to feel like people are doing me a favour by spending time with me. And you know what? ~ that's crap! I'm an okay person. I have a sense of humour. I can make conversation. I care about other people. I really miss being around people who know these things about me. I miss being significant in someone else's life. Is it just Canberra people, or it is me? Am I different here? I've lived here two years; I feel like I should have a lot of these answers already, and I don't.

The other major suckfest in my life is that I can never seem to get ahead on my finances. Every time I clear away some debt, or find a way to get extra money, something goes wrong and I am back where I started. (eg I pay off a credit card and then my car suddenly needs an alternator, a battery and front tyres.) I went through a long process to apply for a promotion at work a couple of months ago ~ the selection panel ranked me number 2 (and there were 2 jobs going, so that means I was successful), but then our manager decided to wait until after the January reshuffle (of the branches in our organisation) to make the changes in individual jobs. So here I sit on the same salary, with no sign as yet that all that effort wasn't for nothing.

Another thing I decided to do in order to make it easier to pay the bills was to take on another boarder. I advertised for a few weeks and finally organised for someone to move in. Well, he was supposed to arrive today. Is he here? No, he is not. He not only hasn't shown up, but he also hasn't contacted me. If he lets me down, I will have to start the whole process again and it will mean that yet another attempt to improve my financial situation has fallen through. It's so frustrating! I'm tired of trying so hard and seeing nothing but a long future ahead of more of the same.

And that's where I'm at. The whole weekend's just been one big disappointment and right now that seems to be symbolic of my life in general. And I feel so sad and frustrated. Logically I know things have to change sometime, but right now logic can kiss my ass ~ your whole life shouldn't all suck at once - it's just too hard to take.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

housing inspection

Exhausted But Triumphant Productions presents:

Ten tips for making housing inspection preparation more fun:

1. Leave work early - no point in being tired when you start.
2. Arrive home to find your flatmate has taken it upon himself to degrease the oven/grill (a.k.a. the worst job in the world) before leaving for work. (AND he got marks off the stove that were there before I even moved in!) Yah for Phi!!
3. Invite (read: pay) an 11-year-old to help.
4. Have him do all the usual stuff you hate doing (vacuuming, mopping) while you focus on the details that property managers always pick up on.
5. Wash the windows and large glass sliding doors all around the house together using a tag-team style approach which involves constantly swapping the sponge and squeegie. (I did the top halves, he did the bottom halves. Lots of laughs. ^^)
6. Let him cut up the boxes for recycling because it makes him feel 'dangerous' (make it seem even more dangerous by giving safety demonstrations beforehand on the five easiest ways to accidentally slash yourself with a stanley knife).
7. Stop in the middle to go get a big bag of ice from the gas station & make enormous, icy cold drinks. Theorise on the possible plot direction of Harry Potter book 7.
8. Power clean for the next two hours and then walk around the house congratulating each other on how gorgeous everything looks.
9. Eat a late dinner (soooo good, because we were soooo hungry by then) and drive 11-year-old home WAY later than planned (school doesn't start again till next week).
10. Snuggle into clean cotten sheets & sleep.
And yes, of course, because the house looks perfect, the property manager did indeed ring and postpone the inspection! Now we have to keep it all pristine and pretty for the whole weekend. Ack! Still, it's going to look very impressive when the new boarder moves in on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

aussies and the oscars

It's so tiring being parents of a young baby. That's why poor Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams were sleeping at 5.30am instead of sitting up waiting to hear if they'd been nominated for Academy awards. Baby Matilda woke them three times throughout the night (midnight, 3am & 5am) and the three of them were all finally snoozing when reporters rang them with the good news that they had been nominated after all.

Apparently the calls didn't wake the baby - thank goodness!
"We gave each other a little kiss and fell back asleep," Ledger said.
Very cute. I like the lack of hype and the image in my mind of such a sweet, sleepy scene.

Another nominated Aussie ~ short animated filmmaker Anthony Lucasalso, for his 27min film The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello ~ also missed the nominations, but not because of a restless baby. He was up late watching an old Robert Mitcham movie and got so engrossed he forgot about the nominations. He found out he was nominated through a congratulatory email from a friend overseas.

Make-up artist Annette Miles had a short-lived celebration over her "nomination" for her work on Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith. The listing of her name was a mistake ~ it should have been Nikki Gooley, another Australian make-up artist who also worked on the film ~ but by the time the Academy corrected the mistake, the media had already spread the news far and wide. For Annette, disappointing it was.