‘Lisboa is not for sale’: Lisbon, July ’18.

“LISBOA IS NOT FOR SALE”

The words are stencilled across the side of an alley wall along the main drag of Rua Sao Joao in Cais do Sodre, downtown Lisbon. It reminds me of something that I have seen, and I cast my mind back to the previous day when I wove through hoards of ambling tourists encrusted upon the sidewalks of Alfama, fixated on capturing tiled facades or brightly painted trams in the midday sun. As I recall this, I realise that it was not the stencil I saw, but the overwhelm I felt. Lisboa may not have been for sale, but there were certainly plenty of impulse buyers.

Anthony Bourdain really changed things for us. No… really.

My friend’s gaze appears almost incredulous, as if the immense impact of the late travelling chef’s dozy and romantic jaunt through Lisbon streets seven years ago is still a cause for awe. Gone are the quiet expanses of stone-checkered neighbourhood squares and relaxing afternoon alleys – at least for six months of the year. The droves of visitors from across Europe and the usual tripartite of British, Australian and American tourists have caught wind of Lisbon’s charm, and they are – for the most part – unabashed in the taking.

A native Lisbonite, the visible concern of my friend echoes the many others I have spoken to about the impact of tourism over the last ten years. There is pride in how the country chose to buck the trend of austerity and invest in itself at a time of crisis across Europe, and most people agree that things are better than they used to be. But there is also a palpable caution in viewing the possible trajectories the city could take.

I worry we are not going the right way. He says. We need to remember who we are.
We are losing our identity. That is not something we can ask the tourists to do for us. That is not about them, it’s about us.

His words bring to mind the plight of other tourist-heavy destinations I have visited; the unrecoverable wastelands of Calangute in Goa, India – Koh Pan Yang, Thailand – Barcelona, Spain.

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In some neighbourhoods near the city centre, cafeteria-like pastelarias normally a fixture on every street corner are fast being replaced by crisply designed coffee shops and brunch cafes, complete with Scandinavian designed furniture and 9euro eggs Benedict. As I seek out the former and mumble my way through ‘un cafe ii pastel da nata’, I realise the threat of losing these local institutions is more than just aesthetic; these normally family-owned businesses are the meeting place for locals to have their daily espresso and a yarn. They are a habit of the young and old; an open invite to the resident drunk and the white-collar worker to wish each other bom dia and sit alongside one another on old metal chairs and wobbly plastic tables as equals. It is – with 60 cent espressos – a neighbourhood lounge room, where the members are not divided along the lines of class or economy. The decline of such places is surely a concern, not just for lovers of a solid dark roast, but for social cohesion, integration and the community relationships that are a backbone to the Portuguese identity.

You are one of us.

I am a little startled by the comment.

Goa is one of our colonies. When people here see you, it’s no big deal. You are Indian, one of ours. We made you.

As an Australian citizen of Indian descent who has never been to Portugal this is an unexpected sentiment with which to be received. Nevertheless this woman is beaming at me like a kindred spirit, her own skin so tanned as to make her racial identity ambiguous, her own features a concoction of influences like so many I meet here.

Such perspectives are likely the exception, not the rule, as although Portuguese are welcoming, they are also notoriously conservative. Nevertheless, I do find it easier to slip by unnoticed here than in other European cities. People tend to address me in Portuguese or Spanish, unless my confused expression gives me away. I start to notice what would normally be considered ‘Indian’ features upon the faces of locals; the brows and bridges that fray between the beginnings and endings of empires.

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Further up town between Martim Moniz and Intendente, police casually patrol the streets and ambulances wail not infrequently throughout the day, articulating the blurred boundary between the newly paved Largo Intendente square and the rest of the old neighbourhood. Painted tiles gleam upon cafes, artist studios and restaurants, and the shadowed veins of smaller alleyways lead to former havens for drugs and prostitution. Intendente is being forcibly made-over by the government in an effort to combat the historical penchant for crime in the area. Buildings are thick with scaffolding as their facades are renovated and more and more Airbnb accomodations are cropping up. But such changes graze skin-to-skin with an immigrant working population from African, South Asian and South East Asian descent that has carved out a neighbourhood in which they can afford to work and raise their children.

A Muslim man in his crisp white attire and cap is standing out front of his halal butcher, eyeing me with some surprise before I realise I’ve perhaps wondered too far. Looking up, the balconies and window arches have shifted from the picturesque to functional. Every inch of available clothing line is used; heavy sheets and the billowy sails of selwar kameese, saris, turban cloths and thobes rustle overhead like unquiet histories.

 

In the breezy backstreets of Graca, I am given time to contemplate such frictions. The houses are aged and laneways lead me to forgotten ruins overlooking million dollar views of the city. A woman trudges past me carrying bags of groceries to brightly-painted apartment blocks. Graffiti hangs thick on the walls.  As I wind my way down the streets back towards town I see elderly men milling around hole-in-the wall barber shops, muffling quiet discussions to their friends and watching me with interest as I walk past. Doorways lead to dusty stores laden cool in the shadows. They are full of watch accessories, used cutlery, painted ceramics and espresso cups nestled quietly among kindred bric-a-brac. Ladies with soft arms hang their wrists over balconies and natter to those on other floors as though on the phone. I potter along and try not to slip on the oily stoned pathways as those above take me in quietly. Here too there is the odd art studio, the hipster cafe chalk board offering avocado toast. The young woman inside smiles at me, and another sits focussed on reading her Macbook screen. I find myself thinking I would like to go there sometime and wonder what it is that makes it different to the inner city coffee shops I so adamantly loathe. It is, I decide, its subtlety. The humility and non-threatening of its presence among an old neighbourhood of locals. (Or so my idealistic perception narrates).

Rua de Escola Politecnica bustles with traffic throughout the day and the night. Bordering Principe Real Gardens, the area is a hot spot for tourists and travellers as well as trendy local yuppies, with concept branding stores, specialty gin and wine bars inhabiting the innards of the heritage buildings dotted across the neighbourhood. The gardens themselves, like those arising every kilometre or so across Lisbon, sustain a hive of activity throughout the day, with crescendoes in the early evening hour as beers and wines cluster upon tables to end the day’s work. On weekends these gardens also house fruit and vegetable markets, speciality olive oil and even home-made bread, paying homage to the quality foodie culture for which we love such European cities.

Within a few streets of the gardens there is Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, and even Spanish. (Portuguese too, if you look a little harder). After three weeks in Europe, I opt for Thai and my friend Leif and I tetris ourselves into the tight configurations of yellow table cloths and brass cutlery around 9pm for a reasonably good Thai meal. By the time we re-enter the street at 10:30, it is a bloated, beer guzzling, zoo of an Irish/English/American/
Australian/French/German bucks night. Groups teeter outside bars holding two or three cups of beer, eyes delirious and searching out cheap feeds and cheaper booze. Some are on pub crawls and others have fashioned their own. We make a bee-line out of there, bumping shoulders with dark skinned hawkers making their way into the mess with forearms full of fluorescent plastic sunglasses, lighters and disco light halos. Revellers – local and foreign – will holler drunkenly through the backstreets until the late hours of the night. By morning the cracks of the stones will be studded with cigarette butts sealed in with dried vomit and decorated with crushed plastic cups.  It will be removed diligently by street cleaners in preparation for the next night’s affair.

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The elderly couple who own the tabacaria downstairs from my apartment teach me new phrases each day I am there. We make our way through from ‘good morning’ to ‘good afternoon’ and ‘good night’, from ‘see you later’ to ‘are you well?’. He counts my change out loud and lays out the notes and coins in a row, guiding me to repeat the words with him. They respond to my greetings in earnest, a teacher’s pride present in their beaming faces.

Most locals in the city speak English, Portuguese and Spanish, often reverting to English when they hear me stutter my way through an order. But I implore them to persist in teaching me Portuguese, and if they have time, they do.

We are a generous people. And this is what I worry about. That this generosity will be taken advantage of, and that we will lose our kindness.

Ingrid takes the 28 tram to work every day. It used to take her 15 minutes. Now it takes her 40 as she has to wait for a tram that is not filled with tourists. She and Tiago tell me of this and other worries, but nevertheless they house me, feed me, and tell me emphatically that I should return to Lisbon.

With the second-lowest birth rate in Europe (after Italy), embracing newcomers is part of a larger national plan to keep this flourishing city as a forerunner among the EU’s own brand of Tiger economies. The fruits of such awareness, alongside a conscious effort to attract skilled foreign immigrants, is evident in the emergence of bustling hubs of co-working spaces, artist studios and state-funded estates of entrepreneurial creative industries. Innovators from across Europe, the West, and Portugal collaborate with an emerging generation of Lisboetas, driving a surge in start-ups previously unseen in these parts. There is a palpable energy in these spaces; a tangible aspiration for change.

It takes week of being in the city to realise that what is unsettling me is the light. Accustomed to the charcoal alleys of Melbourne and the shadows expected of big cities, to be surrounded with pastels and light refracted off the oily Lioz stone suspends me from gravity somehow. Some afternoons, the undulations of pathways and the echoes of sunlight feel to be some secret alchemy, washing the streets with liquid footsteps and a sense of imminent possibility.

James leads the way, and Leif and I follow. It has become later than expected and the three of us are slowly rolling down the incline of the loose alley grids. A poster boy for what is possible in a city like this, the success of his start-up has connected him not only to the businesses in the city, but intimately to the people seeking to live and work there. There is no separation between client and friend; a loving kiss for each cheek as is the Portuguese way.

As we walk James points out different areas and directions, naming the estates that are going to be built. The design hubs and artist centres. His eyes glint as he talks.
You’re sort of building your own community here, aren’t you?
I try and quiz him on his vision but he shirks me with a gentle smile.
Anything is possible.

When we get to an old Art Deco building he presses a buzzer and a short shrunken faced man with white hair and an old fashioned concierge-style cap opens the door and eye-balls us dubiously. James does the talking – in Portuguese – and soon we are nodded in. It is dark and soft inside, the glass doors are gold detailed, the parquetry immaculately maintained, and heavy wooden tables shine glossy with the faces of somnambulant ‘50s dames. I realise during my time there that a few of such places are hidden throughout the city, defending themselves against tourist debauchery, one shrunken Portuguese doorman at a time.

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Over at the Padrao dos Descobrimentos a cascade of 33 giant explorers push artfully over one another as Henry the Navigator looks out to sea to lead their next expedition. Completed in the 1960s, the monument celebrates the ‘Age of Discovery’ throughout the 15th and 16th centuries when Portuguese colonies and businesses were established throughout the Atlantic, the coast of Africa, India and Spain. Fixed to the northern bank of the Tagus river, the stunning structure of steel and cement perfectly captures the hope and endless possibility that those first explorers likely felt – though the view of the bay alone conjures a similar exhalation.

We are open. We are used to having mixes.
She says this to me when I tell her how welcomed I have felt.
You know we were not like other colonisers. We intermarried.
Some part of me wants to add, ‘yes, you raped’, but I don’t because I don’t mean it with malice. I am only alluding to the fact that Portuguese methods of colonisation – such as intermarriage – likely had their own ethical or moral concerns, rather than being due to open-mindedness or inclusivity.
Actually, you have very European features.
She says this as though it is a compliment. I smile politely, thinking about the power of stories.

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When I go to meet Mauro on the street he is in a metal chair on the footpath drinking a beer. In Portuguese, beer is a woman and wine a man, but I don’t like beer and so I order coffee. The man behind the counter recalls me from the day before. His English isn’t great so we gesture at each other, unfolding an elaborate sketch of animated hellos and goodbyes.

This is something that I notice. A sense of familiarity that arises so quickly from the faces I have passed through the illusory expanses of the city. After just a few visits, I get familiar nods from the people at the garden kiosks, or the old men at the pastelarias. The city may be adjusting to foreigners, but its people do not want to yield to such othering. It knows itself and asks you to know it too. It asks, but does not demand.

Such intimacies are often what city-dwellers get misty-eyed about when recalling their last trip to Europe, or a little town in *insert romantic getaway here*. Back home, our streets become more dense but we seem to be more foreign to one another. I buy coffee at the same place every so often over the last year, but it’s busy and it’s a tourist attraction and the staff always ask me ‘what’s your name?’, but they want to know so they can type it into the screen for my order, not so that they can know me and say good morning.

I recall my friend’s fears of his city losing it’s identity and I wonder if it is the loss of these small connections that start to chip away at a communal bloodline. Pleasantries offered as a formality for transactions, or faux propriety, replacing the intuitive micro-transfers of acknowledgment that fulfil our human needs for belonging; for connecting to the shared strata of place. There is something in our tone, a subtle but definite difference. The lines blurring all the time.

Leif relocated permanently from New York six months ago, and even though he is learning Portuguese, people often still treat him like a tourist.
They take one look at me and then speak to me in English.
I express my commiserations, as we both quietly acknowledge the handicap of blue eyes, fair skin and a ginger beard in a place like Lisbon; it is undoubtedly hard for white Americans to shake the foreigner stigma. The same stigma, he tells me, that finds him incessantly propositioned on the streets of Thailand or heckled with aggression by racketeering taxi drivers in Cambodia.

We do not often think about these inbetweeners in the spaces of travel. There are tourists and residents, and of course the old question of ‘are you a traveller or a tourist?’ (cue adventure tourism advertisement). But increasingly there are those transitioning from tourist, through traveller, into resident, negotiating the jagged edges of isolation that can exist in those same impossible vowels I find so intimate. In a world that is increasingly absurd, it is increasingly normal to pick up and start elsewhere. And when a country beats its drum the way Portugal has, no doubt that those longing will come for it. The question remains of what constitutes enough, and whether that clarion call to growth and progress will yield to the lessons of other places like it.

This is my favourite spot.
There is a mild breeze at dusk and people are gathered on the large stone terrace looking out at the view across the harbour. Even though there is so much history in the buildings around us, there is something youthful about the city. Giddy with a sort of juvenile excitement. As though it doesn’t know what it is yet.

I’ve heard varyingly that Lisbon is a place that will reflect whatever you throw at it back to you.  I can’t help but wonder what it means for me. In the few weeks I am here I ingratiate myself to its charm, trilling bom dia at every corner, whilst complaining hypocritically all the while about the impact of (fellow) tourists. I try and know the city, wink at its corners and beckon it to tell me more. But it is coy and discerning. Flirtatious but firm. Somehow it knows that I am seeking. That I am curious to know more.

On my last night there  James, Leif and I have dinner at an Israeli restaurant and go for a drink at Fox Trot. It’s late and the moon is full. Afterwards we smoke cigarettes on the street, and I linger as the night ends.

When we say our goodbyes, I feel the sudden weight, and think it must be that of departing.
But then James calls out after me: Lisbon will miss you.

And as the words leave his mouth, I realise I will too.

 

 

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Venetian masks: Venice & Bologna, July ’18

His name is Victor. He is sitting by the step and I amble nearby waiting for my friends to come out of the shop. I’ve been seeing others like him since Bologna. They stand on street corners – stand, not sit – holding hats and beanies. Some of them, more industrious, will weave through the streets and offer an open hand as though they are an old friend checking if you have any change. They sometimes say ‘please’, or utter a few words I can’t understand. They sometimes look urgent and fearsome. But they are not like the ‘beggars’ that I know of. Their demeanour, the square of their shoulders, the weight of their stance, does not suggest to me that they are surrendered to their situation, to this place in society. Some of them bounce on their toes, flicking their caps up and down quickly, as though rapping an absent finger against a desk or a thigh. This is what I sense: restlessness, an impatience to move on from this place and to the next. An energy that shows this situation has not yet been accepted, habituated to.

His name is Victor, and when I drop a coin into his cap he looks at me, eyes wide, an emphatic ‘thank you’ and a shake of the head in ode to the exasperation of this vocation. I have been waiting for a chance to speak to one of these guys. To feel comfortable enough to reach out despite everything that women are told about speaking to strange men who are asking for money in foreign countries. I have been waiting for a chance to verify whether the things we read about in Australia, that we see in documentaries and news reports about the European refugee crises, equate to this. Is this man a refugee? An asylum seeker dumped here in Italy with no place to go? Is he fleeing civil war? Persecution?

His name is Victor and he is from Nigeria. He came over four years ago on a boat of 75 people. The boat left Libya at 10:30pm and by approximately 7am they were breaching the shores of Italy’s south coast. This route is among the most treacherous reported by Amnesty International. Victor says they call it the ‘journey of no return’: either you die, or you get to the other side. Either way, you don’t come back.

Why did he come?

Everyone tells me: you are from Nigeria? Such a rich country! Go back to your country! You are not a refugee!

But Victor cannot work in his country any more. There aren’t enough functional resources in his town for him to run his phone accessories shop. The less than two hours of electricity they receive each day is dwindling as grid power is sold to neighbouring countries, and increasing corruption means a man like him can’t get a job. He has a wife and a four year old daughter: her name is Desdemona.

His friend made the trip to Italy and found a job in Venice. He was lucky. Others, not so much.

People here are racist. Even if you do the work, they don’t pay you, they treat you badly. It is better to do this, he waves his open cap, than work for them.

But your friend got a job? I query him. He rattles off a phrase I don’t catch and holds up four fingers. I look at him puzzled. You don’t understand? He smiles.

You cannot judge a hand by each of the fingers. You get what I am saying? My friend was lucky, so far I am not, but I have faith in God. I pray and have faith that things will get better.

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One of the things I love about visiting places like Italy is seeing the wear of time upon the architecture, the gradient colours formed when plush age-and-sun-kissed palettes of terracotta, plum and pink are bled upon by mysterious moistures and decay, abstract water paintings unveiling themselves on street corners and by the piping of air conditioners. Stems break through cement window sills, stubborn on their venture, and cracks form as extensions of the loping eaves. There is a continuity to the discord. A seeming affection to the way in which the old is overcome by the new, and the aesthetic of time-passing is reflected upon passers-by.

Such beauty is the stablemate of the continent. It’s reliable postcard offering. An old-world charm lives on through the thousands year old histories frozen into deep archways and dramatised bodies raised and gazing over cities and streets in testimony to a faith and culture still exoticised across the West as the visionaries for the greatest of romance, culture and art. But what interests me most is the questions that are confronted when these buildings begin to crumble and hollow of their use: what should be changed and what preserved? Is the function – ergonomic or aesthetic – of the past more important than the present? Is it better to live among the tenets of a bygone era or construct a reflection of the contemporary? What else is implicitly being decided when a decaying wall is lacquered? When a quiet church is converted to a retail fashion outlet? What does it mean when political slogans taint the facades of cultural icons? Is it not the living friction of time passing; the embodiment of multiple histories fighting for the space and matter upon which to be seen?

These questions heighten my awareness to the patterns of social cohesions and those of slight and fracture that occur alongside these spaces; the sub-economies of these terrains otherwise arranged to fit the eye to the nostalgia that we have conjured for so long alongside Bohemian novels and Hollywood. It is easy to forget, when idolised, that these places and stories too must grow into and out of the things that we ask of them. That their characters, like the buildings, decay and ruin, and devise themselves anew. Scribbled upon the walls and arches are the catch cries of emancipation demanded from new generations disenfranchised by the bricks and mortar of their city. No matter where in the world you go, the quest for agency from the past persists. In some cases, it is the quest for agency from one’s present.

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It’s only 10 days old, he remarks. We look upon the sleek exterior of the elegant black gondola, golden angels affixed to its edges, head and tail, as though an emblematic jaguar jutting from a car bonnet. When I arrived I was frustrated that they all looked so new. I wanted to find an old one, an ‘original’. I wanted it to feel authentic.

Tomasz is 26. He wears a black and white striped t-shirt, like all the gondola men along the canals of Venice. It is a uniform, a costume, denoting both function and a homage to a caricature that they all attempt to fulfil. The character that we come to Venice expecting. Some of them add to it with a straw hat, whilst others nonchalantly disrupt it with a visible Nike tick across their sneakers. Most of them live at least 20 minutes away, he tells us. The ‘locals’ that is. The city is sinking by two to four millimetres each year, making a future inheritance dubious to young Venetians. And anyway it is too expensive to sustain a home or livelihood within the city walls.

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We listen as he rows, but are soon lost in the beauty of the city. It is undeniable. The enchantment of ever shifting water whispering down each corridor, echoing against doorways of aged and weathered wood offering ornate brass faces with which to open them. We shrink willingly beneath the storeys of Moorish window panes and wall-to-wall decadence of wrought iron fixtures against rich hues, magenta through forest green. We drink it up and twinkle child-like, warbling in the cool shadows, before the narrow boat is released out into the main canal, the Adriatic turquoise expanse glistening magnificent in the peak of afternoon sun. Domed giants teeter at the edge of the water and micro-figures cluster and splay beneath their shadows. A golden wind-teller holds his flag, swivelling with the gust.

One of the mornings I rise early and make my way through the streets, hoping for an espresso and sweet Italian pastry to start the day. It is 8am and only a few shops are open, but I find one and eke out a corner for myself among tables aligned by the window. Sellers are arranging their wares and dusting the glass in preparation for another day of the performance of this city. Dark-skinned men push large curtained carts heavy with Venetian masks, key chains and assorted souvenirs through streets.

It brings to mind the crew back stage at the theatre, pushing about the props and lights ahead of the performance. Most who come to Venice can agree that that is what it is: a city that performs itself, crafted upon centuries of awe-inspiring beauty transmitted through the eyes and mouths of all those lucky enough to witness it. Our gondola driver Tomasz, and no doubt so many of the locals that have left the city, are clearly resigned to this unstoppable phenomena. The city has transcended itself, become a gestalt with only limited agency over the stories that are told of it. Some relish in its myth, while others endure it. But certainly those who keep this fairytale moving have come in from far and wide, inserting themselves into the ornate supply-chain that keeps the enchantment churning for its visitors, one laughing mask at a time.

I don’t see Victor again, but the next time I see someone like him standing with an open cap I pull my coins out in advance. Some part of me feels like I know a different back story now, and maybe it is not the story of every one of these men, but it could be.  I drop the coin in his cap and he beams at me in surprise and gratitude. Good luck.

Later in the main square we see tourists crowded around the railings of a bridge giggling and taking photographs of an impressively large piece of graffiti tagged onto the side of a building in the canal. It reads “Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity” in capital letters.

If not for these small indentations upon the narrative, it is easy to fall in stride with the beauty of a place like Venice. It’s narrow corridors preach quiet solitude, it’s canals a reflective relaxation, it’s windless squares are restive. The architecture almost breeds passivity. Time passes as though it cannot be acted upon by force or will.

Nevertheless, most people who visit Venice don’t feel the need to visit again. It is a novelty. An exquisite dish that excites the palate, but dissipates with no aftertaste.

How many places around the world must feel this way to us passersby, who will come home and reaffirm hundreds of years of its tales, in turn sending another hoard of us to its shores. Our ability to believe an enchanted past, despite the rumblings of uncertain present, a trick of history and mime, like so many gondolas glistening upon the canal.

 

 

 

 

(Re)negotiating identities: Hippie, what? Goa, 18 (II)

They are a parasite, he says.
They find a host tree that they like, grow around it and suck up all its nutrients, strangling the tree and taking over its shape. They’re basically killing the tree.

They’re suffocating it.
That’s the only way they can live.

/

Sunrise vinyasa, Hatha, Iyengar, Ashtanga,
Pranayama, Tantra, Osho meditation, Ayahuasca,
Reiki, Hula, Poi, DMT, 
Lomi Lomi, Ayurveda, Mud-bath,
Pancha Karma,
 Uropathy, Acupuncture, Buddhist chanting,
Kambo frog medicine
, Erotic dance, Wild women circle, African drumming…

I peel back one of the signs to see what is beneath: The symbol Om is printed in the corner. A small body soars across its page. I can make out the words “TANTRIC MIDGET TOSSING, 500 RPS PER MIDGET. 200 RPS PER DOG”. A phone number is listed.

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Appearing like something out of Where the Wild Things Are, they emerge in all sorts of places along the streets of North Goa, their sinewy frames simultaneously haunting and enchanting, knuckles and boughs smoothly imitating the tendons and nerves of the human body as though a million men writhe beneath their bark. Tendrils reach from their archways and sway weighty in the wind, whipping the faces of those who ride through.

* * *

In the photographs, a few hundred young men and women roam a pristine coastline, dressed variously in elephant collared shirts, neutral toned linen and leathers, and the trademark Bohemian garb of the Woodstock generation. Palm trees lean cinematic behind their silhouettes, captured in various states of wandering, dancing and conversing. One shows a woman sitting before an open shawl housing small balls of what looks like animal droppings (it is hashish). Her handwritten sign reads: MANALI SHIT. She is almost stoic beneath her matted locks, surrounded by revellers hazed and languid. It is the late 1970s in Anjuna Beach, Goa.

Image by Jacque Lastry

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The girls at Twice the Garden look the part but their feather earrings are made of plastic and cost Rs.50. I know because less than a fortnight ago my own faux-feather earrings revealed their bleached veins to me and I rued my juvenile Ishka-buying ways. Swaying along to a bassy Om Namashivaya remix bellowing from a speaker mounted by a plaster-cast Natarajah’s feet, I inadvertently catalogue my way through the outfits around me, recollecting the festival gear frenzy of Melbourne over summer. Most of the tie-dye clothes and tribal accessories I see can be bought at the local shops along the main drag in Arambol; Ali Baba pants made of cheap cotton, acid-wash polyester t-shirts screen printed with images of Shiva, Buddha and Ganesha, crop tops and strappy dresses of viscose  and pleather in earthy maroons and mustards. Detailed with Rajasthani patch-vests, semi-precious stones, and hard-scavenged nomad treasures, many almost look the real-deal.

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‘Australia!? I’m pretty good aren’t I? See how I could guess?’

The lanky fellow speaks to me across the windy upper berth of a bamboo-built eco-cafe; a regular haven for the wifi needy of Ashvem beach. His accent is British, but he quickly informs me that he has some Spanish-Moroccan ancestry, the whites of his eyes glinting against his otherwise liberally bronzed and sand-dusted skin.

Max is a yoga teacher. He teaches a new kind of yoga that only a few people know how to do. He has been practising it for years. One of his key contributions to the development of the practice – reportedly rooted in an Indian lineage somewhere – is that one must drink all liquids through the nose. It’s a yogic practice, he informs me. A woman woven with leather straps and feathers giggles in the crook of his arm as he tells me. ‘She’s from Germany. We met last night at the Holi party’. The woman smiles at me. ‘Actually, she met me drinking red wine through my nose’.

* * *

In early 2014 I travelled India solo.

I’m not sure if it was three weeks in low-season Rishikesh, waking to the glacial Ganga every morning and reading scripture and philosophy that I had never before had the interest, nor maturity, to absorb. It could have been the immense clarity brought on by a 10-day Vipassana in the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal and the intense relationships and transcendental experiences that followed. It could even have been the simplicity and synchronicity that only a place as full of chaos-forced harmony like India can deliver. But more likely, or perhaps in equal measure, it was the fact that I had packed my bags in Melbourne with an intention of finding something true of myself – something that years of cynicism and depression caused by corporate Western city-living had all but erased. I went to India to be saved. And perhaps because of this, India saved me.

Street art – Rishikesh 2014

Is it an illusion? Is it something of the soil? Is it the weighty and ornate presence of idols and worship forcing trespassers to question their faith? Or is it the desperate need for the insulated Western citizen to experience a terrain of raw anti-fragility in order to know they are alive?

Whatever it may be, India’s lore precedes it’s travellers, hundreds of thousands whom make their tracks across this bloated and burgeoning country in seeking. And consciously or not, we follow the paths of those others who came before us. We cash in our privilege for a few months, or a few years, roaming the city-pockets we can afford on the cheap, finding hilltop labyrinths that serve meditation and yoga, (and bang lassi); places that allow us to live an alternate life to one ruled by Western values of propriety and culture;  that allow us to forget the known version of ourselves, and create, discover, (or forget again) a new meaning for our existence.

That/this. It does not happen by accident, but out of necessity. Out of a deep existential despair of humanity to break the bonds that dictate its being – a trait shared along the continuum of those who trek these paths.

/

I look at the photos I find on the internet of the paradise that Goa appeared as in the late ‘80s. The hues of oceanic blues and earthen reds beneath the nostalgic tint of the film romanticise the characters in the images. I look at them and feel a sense of the ‘good old days’, the original rebellion, the Woodstocks and Ginsbergs and Stones, the Lennons and Yokos and No War in Vietnam. I look at the clean beaches, and rue what it has become, questioning the doctrine of the modern-day “hippie” – and of myself here amongst it.

I want to believe we are just at a different end of the timeline, but I wonder if it is more than that. Could it be that the tenets of spiritual belief that were sought and interpreted for the world by many of that pioneering generation have not been diluted with a lesser, more corporatised brand of spiritual consumerism? Those places once considered a mecca for wisdom, becoming outlet malls for self-help?

Image by Jacque Lastry

Or did they too came to India in seeking, only to find themselves constrained by the inability to actualise spiritual beliefs without corrupting those of the host country? Full of ideals of ecology and sustainability, only to be sadly mocked by their tendencies for consumption and comfort.

* * *

Ashvem beach is usually nicer than the others in the North. It is quiet and clean with good sand. But now you need a special ticket to cross the bridge from the river, and glass bottles and plastic rubbish wash up on the shore overnight from the earlier revellers. It’s the worst on Mondays, probably because every Sunday night Riva has a party and everyone goes. Poi and hula hoops are rife on the lawn as the DJ spins psy-trance and Indian and Nepali men in starched whites serve barbecued burgers, salad and cocktails. The cost is Rs.100 to get in.

The main supermarket has a fridge section almost completely labelled in Cyrillic. The grocery seller a few doors down has honed his Russian to a finely nuanced tongue over the last seven years, rebutting his customers playfully in intimate phrases. In some areas of the strip, you would swear you were in Eastern Europe, were it not for the coastline and the sun.

On the day of Holi the main street turns into a rave. Revellers who have been going almost all night are a slicked mess of colour and alcohol by early afternoon. The 24-hour bar is pumping dubstep loud enough to send a vibration down each end of the street. The next morning the remnants of this mindless debauchery is strewn across the paths. Dark-skinned women with bejewelled blouses and multi-coloured cloth tied around their heads will pick through the rubbish, collecting plastic water bottles and other worthy recyclables that can be exchanged for money.

/

We live in a cottage by the river which runs inland near to the beach. Pigs and palm trees cluster across the hilly expanse of reddish dirt, dry grass and brambles between us and the bridge to cross the river. There are four or five houses that run along the make-shift dirt suburb. They were designed by a Danish woman who first came to Goa in the nineties, and has been returning every year since.

When we move in, Aggie – a Goan man, whose wife and family have been running the property for years – comes to greet us. He tells us about the space, about his children who run about (his daughters are both in need of eye surgery in Chennai). He tells us that he takes care of everything and we should invite others to come and stay too. ‘But only nice people’ he says, with a cautiousness of ‘you-know-what-I-mean’. ‘Only smiling people’.

A few doors down, Johnson invites us over for omelettes. He is wearing a checked towel as a lunghi whilst making his coffee, and his large belly protrudes as he greets us jovially with his wide Austrian accent. The wooden sign above his verandah entryway is decoratively painted with his name and his partner’s. They live here six months of the year and have done so for 10 years. Together with Aggie they have expanded the homes, paid for renovations, tended to the animals. ‘Have you seen my dogs?’ he asks us gleefully, as three stray puppies and their mum come nipping at our feet from inside.

/

I came here because I thought it would give me a chance to really look at this. 
To really deal with it, you know?
As she speaks, she self-consciously tucks her hair behind her ear.

I tell her that I do know. I tell her that it can feel crippling, and a I tell her what I do to try and deal with it. We talk of our struggles, our families, and the things we read to help along the way.

Out in front of the sun-beds, women are sitting in lotus and meditating towards the water, as others take photos in yoga poses, and write words on the sand: ‘SHANTI’. It means peace.

/

We rise at 6am to make it to class, dodging school buses and airport pickups across a decrepitly pot-holed road. The early sun imprints a near-fluoro red circle upon the sky. It crests behind the palm trees and paddies that sprawl between homestead restaurants and random shops and pharmacies. Bound against the crisp wind in a scarf and cardigan, I pathetically try and capture it on my phone. But the elation can only be felt in person, zipping through the unwieldy mosaic of facades somehow a reminder of your wholeness amidst the chaos.

Mats in-tow, we walk up the front path without speaking. The stillness of the surrounding foliage, thick and live, seems to sand the wear of the street from our pace.

At its end, a vast red clay-cement platform with angular white pillars and Portuguese-style roof tiles hums a silent welcome. Inside its walls, there is only breath: 40 – 50 bodies on rows of mats not 30cms away from one another, each making their way through the Ashtanga primary series in absolute solitude.

My mind strays with chatter as I wait at the back of the class. I think about Melbourne, our bodies stiff in the car as we try and beat morning traffic to make it to the studio. I think about how long we might stay here, about where we’ll go next.

I look at the outfits people are wearing, their physical feats of strength, their tattoos, their vulnerabilities, the stories I imagine for them, the questions I have about what brought them here.

I sit, and I wonder.
But then she calls my name, as she will each of the others,
and I unfurl my mat,
so that I can stop,

if I am to begin.

* * *

Commonly known as the Ficus, or Fig tree, the Banyan tree cannot spread its seed independently. Rather, the animals and insects that live within its branches and hollows must carry its seed to a fresh host tree in order for it to procreate. The tree is unique in this way: it is not an independent entity, but one that requires carriers of different species in order to spread its seed, and relies upon another tree sacrificing itself as the foundation. The tree itself, cannot survive without this cooperative synchronicity of occurrence. This emergent multi-species collaboration occurs again and again; this gathering of insects, plants and animals of different description recurrently partake in a concerted cycle of biodiversity that allows the tree to survive and grow ever larger, breeding more of its own kind, and assuring a home for those who rely upon it and whom cannot live anywhere else. It lives through this co-creation, while ultimately destroying – or transforming – that which gave it landing. And this process underpins a cyclical chain of regeneration that is vital across soil, insect, animal, and air.

* * *

(Re)negotiating identities: Curious gazes, Goa’ 18 (I)

It’s the dogs that keep me awake. Otherwise, I can stand the heat, and the rumblings of traffic that pass from time to time. But it’s the dogs. They bark and bark, aimlessly, for the sake of complaint, or so it sounds. I toss and turn, and pretend it doesn’t bother me. And as though it knows, one will always respond to my attempted nonchalance by stretching its bark long, melodiously like it is the end of its ballad, burning and grazing its call into a mournful low.

***

We amble on the dirt-road outside our compound, waiting for the call-taxi to find us. My room mate – a French-German political science intern – has flagged down a boy from the street to explain where we are to the driver. He is probably not more than 18 years old, as guessed from the younglings of a moustache sprouting above his lip. He starts walking up to the main road and we follow him. His red polyester track pants shine radiantly against the bland dirt road. Every so often he turns his head backwards as he is talking and glances at me, curious. I am familiar with this gaze, though I do note that the gaze is for me, not my fair-skinned room mate. The twins from the compound keep tailing me until I reach the car, their small gold drops dangling by their buzz-cut bobs: ‘Aunty! Your pant is torn!’.
I know, I want to tell them. I spent $190 on these jeans.

The driver pulls up, mildly irate from not being able to find us. He unloads his navigational complaints on the boy and clocks me with a passing flick of his eye as I climb in. But once we start moving, he turns back and has a proper look. There it is again. That curious gaze.

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It occurs to me then, that my tall-haired French-German room mate standing on the road in full salwar kameese is a sight that the locals can blink away. The possible narrative arcs of her presence – and others who appear like her – are well-known, predictable, and accepted without threat. But I am a subtler discrepancy. As I’ve been told before, the styling of my thin glossy hair, the shape of my eyebrows, the gleam of my skin and my sartorial preferences are more difficult to reconcile once noticed. Perhaps because, for all intents and purposes, I am Indian. For what reason, then, could I appear this way?

I imagine myself lean over and touch him gently on the shoulder, my chubby-faced driver with his headphones in. I imagine saying: it’s okay. It’s okay that you can’t understand what I am. It’s okay, really. Look again, and let’s both accept it.

/

It must be strange for you.

She says it sincerely, looking up at me from the day-bed after the seller-women have passed. They heckle all of us to buy beads and sarongs, but when I say ‘no, thanks Ma’am’, they give up sooner, though their gaze upon me trails on behind their steps.

It is. I reply. It’s like, I’m definitely not one of them, but I’m not fully Australian either, you know? On both ends, I am…exotic, or strange… something. I float between the two spaces, like bubbles at the top of a soda.

She is silent, but I feel her nod in understanding. We look up towards the water, letting the thought rest. I unfurl my legs and splay out on the day bed, opening my Kindle and sipping a Coke.

/

Thamizh pesuvela?: Do you speak Tamil?

I always ask eagerly. I am glad when the back of his head nods in response. Thamizha?

Aanh: Yes.

That’s right. I am Tamil.

It is late afternoon and the auto rolls and grinds through Bangalore’s nightmarish after-work traffic. The driver, Samir, pleather-clad with the dark-lined doe-eyes of so many Muslim boys in the district, drops in questions as they come to him.

Where are you from? What do you do? Do you like Bangalore? What’s it like to live in Australia? Is it hot like this? Is the traffic like this? Do you have a husband? Was it a love marriage? What art do you make? Could I live in Australia?

We talk and I titter happily as he compliments my fluency and laughs along with what I tell him. He stops several times to check the route (I have no address, only a hotel name to give him), but he is young and earnest and assures me we will get there somehow. I think to myself that I will tip him for all this effort.

But there is no need for me to make such considerations.

40 minutes later I will walk into the hotel, stuffing my notes into my purse, flustered and upset. I will retrace the steps of our conversation, trying to sift authenticity from our communication. I will berate myself for assuming foreign rules of politeness in engagement. I will block out that moment where his tone changed to begin his bidding, the moment I realised my Tamil lacked the vocabulary to fight back. I will quietly be reminded that I am a foreigner in sheep’s clothing. And I will give him 170 rupees.

***

The family down the street has purchased a Saint Bernard. It is monstrously large and chained up in the front verandah, ogling strangers and no doubt keeping local dogs away from the chickens. There are other special breeds around too: Chow Chows and glossy Cocker Spaniels are walked by familial servants in white half-sleeved shirts. The strays don’t go near these dogs when their minders are around. Looking at them, you can see in the sheen of their coats that all they know is the care and luxury of high-class domestic living.

***

The waiters at the Taj mostly stand in a semi-bow, a state of cat-like readiness should they need to greet their patrons with practiced servitude. My friend’s partner, an Indian expat himself, attempts to joke with them, but they receive his humour as reflecting dissatisfaction and, apologetically, only work harder to please.

Neatly dressed Indians, expats and foreigners alike are arrayed across the settees, ordering grossly overpriced food and cocktails with careless flicks of the hand. I realise that I receive no curious gazes here. Instead, an unbreakable hierarchy is at play between guests and staff; it is impolite, insulting even, to try and interfere with its order. It is articulated at all times between wait staff and patrons by a measured distance of standing. It recalls its own caste system, reminding me of my last trip to a temple in Chennai where a “low caste” man humbled himself to the ground for nearly bumping into an Iyer priest.

We eat dinner and the bill comes to Rs.6400.

My earlier folly begins to sink in and I quietly acknowledge Samir and his bidding.

/

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Thankyou.

Welcome.

I am too engrossed in typing to look him in the face, and frankly, he doesn’t give a shit. I am the only Indian-looking person at this place, and I have to accept what that makes me; or is it what I am? Whatever the case I resume my focus and order a soda water to pass the time.  I am a patron at this beach side restaurant in Goa, and that’s all I need to be.

The bikini-clad Europeans tanning on the sun beds barely flinch as the local seller girls walk up to them. One woman asks to take a photo and the two Goan girls pose for the camera, before resuming their bidding. I see them shaking hands and smiling. A good price for my friend.

Down by the shore a stout middle-aged caucasian man plays soccer with the local boys. His skin is sun-drenched, camouflaging him momentarily, but he can’t be missed, carefree in play as his dirty white jocks jiggle their wares.

Occasionally, men high on bang and whatever-else stream down from further up the shore, trying to ‘befriend’ the tourists sun-baking in their petit two-pieces. For a culture submerged in principles of modesty, this is an overwhelming feast for the eyes. But the lifeguards come down from their post to shoo them away, as burly Russian men raise from their tanning to bark their disdain.

/

When I was younger, my relatives in Chennai would lend me their children’s clothes, and I would fade into the background of 40th street in Nanganallur. Except when I would beckon a stray puppy to follow me home, or a calf at our gate would bring me running from the verandah, calling for a banana to slip onto its sandpaper tongue. The women of the street peering down from their balconies would smirk, bemused, as they combed their long oily hair. She’s Lakshmi’s girl: my Aunty would call. Australia lenthu vandirka.

/

She says, Don’t stretch your hand to him, as I move towards Gundu, opening my palm. He is barking and trembling, fiery eyed.

He used to be a stray before we adopted him. When you offer him your hand, it triggers some sort of trauma for him.

I coo at him naively, but withdraw my hand and back away as he watches me wearily.

/

At some point I have to give up. Give up attempting to know the unknowable systems and spaces that I inhabit here. For all of it’s difference, my status as an anomaly – as the bubble rising to the top of the glass, neither part of the water nor the air – is shared across millions in our diaspora. These small unfoldings I observe are but the fractured splays of colonisation, immigration and capitalism. It’s not something I can reconcile, although I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me sometimes.

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***

Apathy & Democracy: Reflections on a Sunday of protesting Manus

The following reflection was written whilst sitting on the tarmac outside Flinders St station, Melbourne, with protestors from the Artists Against Abuse initiative. It was the third protest against the treatment of the refugees in Manus held that day and it was also the smallest, commencing with a performance outside the National Gallery of Victoria to urge the termination of their contract with Wilson Security – a company involved in running our detention centres.

—–

I guess this is the closest I am going to come to being in a conflict zone. (Ha. Sheltered much?) I’m sitting on St Kilda Road outside Federation Square and Flinders Street Station alongside 100 or 150 protestors who are also sitting or standing, and some of whom are singing. Opposite them on the road are what feels like nearly 100 police officers, eight or ten on horses. People of all ages and backgrounds.

It never occurred to me until just now that this is where protest ‘ends’ – in attending to the final picket line and the stalemate that happens when the protestors and the police meet and it becomes a wait out. Who will last longer? How will the protestors be removed?

I am shocked by the level of police force that is being shown. I can’t understand it. I feel like there was less police force shown at the Australia Day protests, which had thousands more people. Later people will tell me that it’s because of how big all the other protests have been, or a show of force for the media, or that it’s to quash any attempts at violence, or out of genuine concern for how big the rally could become (no one knows).

There is also the absurdity: The protestors carrying banners reach within half a foot of the police blockade and then… nothing. They stand. Onlookers pause, probably waiting for the scenes they have observed so often on television of screaming protestors being dragged from the street. But it doesn’t happen. Cigarettes get passed. People take turns carrying the banner. After a while, the grim looking police with their hands clasped before them start to loosen up and chat amongst themselves. (This makes them lose the veneer of ‘evil oppressor’ somewhat.) Protestors attempt to keep holding up their gesture, fists crossed at the wrists above their heads, but we are hot and tired and it doesn’t last long. There is a palpable sense that no one knows what comes next – some of us are beginners, adhering to our roles in this strange theatre of democracy. We the people object, here we are objecting, and then…..?

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Artists Against Abuse picket line.

3:16pm: the refreshments are being brought out. Umbrellas, Starbursts, muesli bars and sunscreen for the protestors, bottles of water for the police. Everyone is woefully underprepared for a long-term sit-in (a knowledge that tinges the environment with a sense of idiocy). I assume I appear on the side of the protestors, and I am too , but at the same time the reason for my presence has morphed. I am here because I am curious about the state of the Machine – how is this supposed to work? How is this accommodated within our system of governance and democracy? The half a foot between the protestors and the police is a chasm quickly filling with questions. In this scenario, there is the unspoken but overwhelming evidence that eventually the protestors will leave (they do) because they are not equipped to take on 100 police and 10 horses. Perhaps, though, the protestors don’t care for that; perhaps they just want to stall city traffic for four hours on a Sunday afternoon – a fair disruption some might say. But what each person wants to do, what each person expects, how far each person is willing to go – this is a mystery. It wasn’t on the Facebook event: “must be willing to get arrested”. The only certainty, it seems, is that the police will win.

I wonder: What if there was 10,000 of us? What if St Kilda Road was packed solid with our bodies? What then? How would we be cleared off? How would this affect the choices made?

It is tense.

//

(I think about how Police States begin. I think about how revolutions are started. I think about my partner, and safety, and moving to Portugal.)

//

I regret that at some point I will have to leave. I am not willing to be arrested or forcibly removed. I am too scared. After all, I only just started my career as a reporter 15 minutes ago after getting spooked by the police presence. And now, embarrassingly, I am captivated by the drama.

I wonder how many artists and protestors came today with the intention of staying all day, of sitting in all day. I wonder how many are prepared to be forcibly removed or arrested.

//

A thought gnaws: The fact is that the protestors cannot overthrow the police in this State, no matter the injustice we are protesting. The fact is that we cannot (or just have not been able to) disrupt to the levels that would be necessary in order for citizens to form the kind of threat or volatility that would actualise a change in law or national policy. This one fundamental hinge of democracy has seemingly been dismantled in Australia. The might of civil society, moderated through “anti-terror” laws and protest regulations, seems almost ornamental. Are we pretending to have a democracy?

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GetUp! protest at Federation Square earlier in the day.

//

I come home and tell my partner about everything that has happened and we research more about Manus, about Nauru, about Christmas Island, about detainees being beaten and murdered or sewing their lips together in protest, or killing themselves; about almost 2000 refugees awarded compensation for ill treatment by the Australian Government from the High Court; about women being raped by employees at detention centres; about ex-military open firing on refugees; about Medicine Sans Frontiers being denied access to the men currently held on Manus; the list goes on. We look up these places and they.are tiny little islands, forgettable to the rest of the world, dotted across the northern shelf of Australia. I wonder how much money has been paid to them, I wonder what they have consented to, how they were duped into this agreement. I think about John Pilger and about A Secret Country and I wonder where we actually are living.

I think about what it means that an anti-abortion bill was voted down 31 to 21; that 21 people voted for an anti-abortion bill and that is nearly half of the total count and that is terrifying. I imagine protesting for the rights to my body, and standing at a picket line and knowing I will lose. I think about what happens when it gets to the point where the extremes are more extreme and I wonder if something ugly will have to happen here before something good can come.

//

The previous night I am at a party with my best friends. One of my friend’s is in drag, his checked shirt tied at his belly and his shorts folded up to his thighs. He is wearing red lipstick and an Akubra and playing cricket in his cowboy boots. We drink and laugh and sing and we are as we are, all happy and lost and all nowhere, in a backyard in Coburg with our gaping mouths thrashing out the songs of our youth in some voracious catharsis of living.

Some part of me thinks: this is Australia. And I don’t know what exactly that means and I try to locate it, but it is this indiscernible, ungrounded quagmire of being, where we hold on to the threads of community that we can muster from virtually nothing, thread our sense of displacement into the greater lattice of everyone else’s seeming displacement and hold on to each other, muted to the absence of connection. This is what it seems to me it is to be “Australian”. To go ever deeper into the bland oblivion of an identity that cannot authenticate itself, and cannot recover itself in the face of a globalising world as anything more than a pawn colony for America and Britain. A country with so many secrets that patriotism can only be upheld by shallow and loosely strung tenets of shared suffering and compassion, rather than an acknowledgment of humanity.

I wonder if any immigrant ever knows what it means to move to a Western country. Falling over themselves, we line up and “jump queues” and pay and negotiate to drag ourselves and families and children faraway from homelands that are slowly being ravaged, or that were once so violently raped they remain in disrepair. The spoils are sold back to us by the very countries we now seek protection within; this in itself a delayed act of refuge; a sickly, transnational Stockholm Syndrome. Such genius then, to shower us with comfort, sedate us with economic insulation, assure our loyalties with privilege, and as a last test of allegiance, swear us to believe whatever we are told: cross our hearts and hope to die.

//

I used to pretend to be a social justice activist. I didn’t know I was pretending, but I was. I am not brave enough, passionate enough, selfless enough, faithful enough, to really put my life on the line. I have blinked away hundreds of injustices and gone on with my life of excellent coffee and food and friends and unbelievable privilege. When it gets too much I am empowered to turn the feed off and withdraw. And it’s not because I don’t care: it’s because I am sedate with comfort and assumed powerlessness. This, if anything, is Australia’s disease.

//

Later I am having a drink with a fellow documenting straggler at the protest. We both sense the mounting tension and decide to leave before we are forced. He has a camera and a gorgeous Japanese Akita named Aki. He was around for the anti-apartheid protests of the ’80s.
“What did you do?” I ask him.
“We fought.” he says. “We wore helmets and we organised and we fought. You can’t do it if you can’t get people on the street.”
We both look up at the people celebrating at the Greek festival being held in Federation Square – all of whom have no idea of the protest happening a few hundred metres from them. A newly married couple, glistening in their finery, walk through the square with their photographer.
“I don’t think anybody knows that there is anything to fight”. I sip my drink.
“They’re too comfortable. This country has had too many decades of uninterrupted wealth.” he says emphatically. ” The GFC happens and we roll right through and everyone thinks its going to be fine forever.”

//

Neoliberalism says otherwise. Climate change says otherwise. Populist politics says otherwise. History says otherwise. And any time we do our own research, it says otherwise. But we don’t raise a fuss. We don’t panic. We just carry on. She’ll be right. She always is (right?).

//

No one can force you to protest. You have to want it yourself. And you have to want it because you want to know for yourself whether there is any sense to what we call a society. Whether we are all pretending that this works, or if it actually does. And if it doesn’t, then what? You have to want the answer to that question, not because you’re morally superior, but because you are flesh, and blood and life and your purpose here is to live. And if we are all pretending that this works when it doesn’t, then we need to acknowledge that wilful blindness – even if it is the only coping mechanism we know. We have to acknowledge the reality of how we are governed, and that we consent to it when we are silent. As it stands in this country, 2 + 2 = 5, and one day we might turn around and not see anything wrong with that.

//

I don’t think I have been reformed as an activist. I think, rather, that this small and tame display of what happens when people confront the State machinery, considered against the factual history of this country and its current politics, has put a tangible sense of reality in me. One so sharp that the cushiony goodness of my privilege can’t seem to suppress it.

As I said, no one can force you to protest. But it’s important to know that no matter the petitions that are signed, the phone calls to Ministers made, the long rants on social media, the shares and the cares, change is articulated when actions occur in real time. Possibly when 10,000 or 100,000 people organise effectively and sit on a street refusing to budge until those who govern us exchange ideas with us meaningfully. Until such acts occur, the sentiments we express remain theoretical. For a generation consumed by media and wracked with increasing levels of anxiety, the notion of reality becomes fluid and illusory. It is perhaps because of this that actualisation – of what you claim to believe, of the values you think you uphold, of the humanity you feel in yourself – is where our greatest salvation lies.

At least this is what I think. What about you?

 

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Artist Against Abuse protest at NGV

Iterative processes of fracture – A consideration.

[Suggested listening while reading this piece: A Winged Victory for the Sullen, start at 39 mins 1 second]

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Iterative processes of fracture; is walking, is speaking, is contemplation.
Split pre-birth in a chromosome chain, split post-birth from the mother, split post-adolescence from maternal ideologies, split at teenhood from innocence, split at adulthood from false conceptions of humanity. And, into the jungle.
//
‘Why is he crying’ I asked the nurse.
‘Oh this is just the cry for the woe of being born. For the pain of existing’.
He cries and fresh-born voices from across the corridor rise in empathic accord, eerie in mutual mourning.

Iterative processes of fracture; is reading, is introducing, is paraphrasing.
Words stored in archival sensibilities of what was once said, or where ideas wounded us most in their manifestations. Sentences bound for incision, for ego-fed triumph, to oust arguments, to win debates, to regain validation in some internal sense of intellect. The point divides and becomes conquered, by the semblance of the point, by the imagined medallions of ownership of intellect and taming an idea with parameters of masquerading reason. We forget the power of words and make idols of those who conduct them.

//

Is ideas shattered by truisms.
Is faith fallen to logic.
Is swells of paradigmatic navigations overwhelming minds seeking directions.
Is learned ideologies innately unable to absorb foundation-shifting informations.
Is identity’s fickle flirtation between erudition and foolery.
Is salvation from immoveable places before.
Is asking and seeing.

Iterative processes of fracture; is dressing, is using forks and knives, is first-world education.
Civilised I learn and cut my hair in particular ways. Stop biting your nails, don’t hunch and don’t forget to say please. Thank you. What is your mother-tongue? You speak so well. Where do you come from? Whereabouts do you live? Do you go back often? Oh, you weren’t born there. New rights and agencies learned turn against ancestries and the seeds split once more, and the tree breaks or bends into a sorrowful display of itself. Biodiversity supports some foreign flora. Fauna may mutate, or upset the equilibrium of the surrounding ecosystem. Homelands dig holes for other imports now prized.
//
You would think I was a wealthy white woman,
Afraid of the natives upon my travels.
But no,
I am simply self-loathing,
And have spent too much time judged/ judging (myself)
For all the Motherland I am not
And have spent too much time groomed to carry myself as if,
I know better and am generally
Converted.
/
If I see myself as they do
(I imagine)
I hate myself.
Because I became one of Them formerly the Other.

Iterative processes of fracture; is the ecological body completing itself in relation to the dysfunction of megacities. The body, as a system, is a circuitry aiming to complete itself in relation to its environment*. My body, our bodies massing en heave in cityscapes and linear time parameters of working life, adapt to the city as an organism. My circuitry seeks relation to the pipes and clutter, to the punctuality and incivility, to the noise and the smell and the sound and the effuse. My circuitry breaks down and I wonder about how much nails hurt when they are bitten passed their whites.

[Sitting down for long periods of time shortens our lives].

Iterative processes of fracture; is the inability to satiate purpose in ones actions.
Dynamics of productivity and capitalism rendering uselessness upon lack of money-earning identity. What do you do? How do you contribute to society? What are you? Indecision breeds identity parenthesis. Useless ascetics wander in the margins seeking contracts and consultations and adjusting hairs and eyes in mirrors, seeking reconciliation to the former useful self. Where to for purpose? Jungian archetypes are now marred in Temazepam and double-shot happy hours or deep fried to quench mineral deficiency. The Madonna is busy right now, she’ll call you back. But never fear, purposes are a dime a dozen. See embossed business cards for future options. In the mean time: try to raise your child-contribute to your community-be good to your parents-pay your taxes-don’t live off welfare-be safe-be healthy-buy a house-stay connected-do your best-prepare for ageing.

Iterative processes of fracture; is when God is with you and then isn’t.
You go to sleep. You wake. You end. You begin again.
//
You fracture.
You scar.
You thicken.
You die.

Iterative processes of fracture:
You live
/lived.

* Theory articulated by David Abrams.

Mumbai musing.

Fairy lights on Bombay nights.
Darkness lit to hide that which lurks in the inbetweens, beneath the seams,
Where black cats ride with heads slung low,
Tails cut to stumps by the sharp edges of a town known by a sum of its parts,
In a country known to none.
I am one.
Amid the dust and drain which soaks and stains white linens in pale hues,
That dries and tires skins,
Shone bright from time to time by laneway fires,
Burning rubbish in the gutters,
Catching fallen tree leaves that escape the nets,
So that their bodies too die, in the ash and smoke,
Turning to fine residues that stick thin,
On faces and arms and upturned brows,
Lest they look below,
And see what lies beneath,
In the darkness,
Between the strings of twinkled light,
Strung slack between the faces of this Bombay night.

Shattered screen scenes

I cracked my iPhone-screen. Shattered it like it never mattered. The sound resounding through my head saying ‘I told you so’. But the cover was $20 I didn’t care to give. 20-cheap-labour-print-plastic-protection, 20-logo-skinned-chic-pro-insurance for my Facebook swipe access. But I didn’t, and I forgot, and it didn’t matter for a shatter I was sure was too far away to see. Silly me.

Because the glass splayed, smacked against a limestone tile, and my thumb tip now skins micro-brasions for every question typed, every map tracked, every service enquiry. Every reflexive finger-tick gifts a molecular sheet of my DNA to the LCD to fuse with the answers that once I knew before 4G told me. But now I have to ask.

The radio-station tells me that the smartphone is power, that Android-clad women hold their eyes steady against the dust of Zabul, to show their ink-smeared pads to the camera: here’s my thumb print, here’s my vote, here’s where I tell you what I want with the fine-lines curved around the signature of my phalanx form caught only once in this microcosmic concentric wonderland that tells you I am here and I exist and I will not cease to do so. Textile-draped silhouettes arranged by off-frame fingers, nails of red-polish. Other images of ‘candid’ camouflage cameos, rifle-flanked parades for the newly liberated. One wants to ask, who are we to name freedom fighters or foreign snipers?  What would the thumbs tell us from behind their navy masks?

Zabel

Women in Zabul, Afghanistan, US Army https://www.army.mil/

And for what cause will I give mine? A tenuous press for my Instagram friends, filter falter until I look the way I want to be; a quick search for an ethical shampoo, (please don’t let these curls come at too high a cost (as though everything else in my handbag doesn’t)); an early morning check-in to see what mindless vanities call me from the night to greet my ego in the day; and yet there is innocence in all of it. A child-like doldrum that leads me again and again to submit my pinkish tip to the sideways swipe of my shattered glass screen to see what it might fill my day with; what it might give me to smile about, before forgetting.

Somewhere out there, I hear, in Sri Lanka, in Lesbos, such fingers and palms wave down crowds to calm, pull such phone screens to stream the screams that bounce from shore-to-shore as humans crash into stone and sand, waiting to know where to print their hands; to know which papers exist to take their vote – where are their military guards? Where’s their democratic co-op? Did we run out of budget for this Hollywood smash-hit?

iPhone_Refugee_Camp

Image by Nico Piro – Mobile journalist https://nicopiro.wordpress.com/

But let me just check, type swipe press scroll cut bleed. There’s a site that tells you, I’m sure. An organisation, a flow-chart, it’s all figured out. Surely we can grant amnesty? Isn’t that what my iPhone grants me? The power to connect, to speak out, to throw my clout against the backdrop of emoti-tweet, solidarity-flag-filter with my hashtag privilege to make a change through the data domains recorded and kept in whirring closets lined up in eerie dank rooms of blue-light veins somewhere. Surely, this is where it exists? If only it could get up and do something.

But I can do something, that’s what the movies tell me. Like the one about the man who found a fat diamond with his two whole hands and was led to a new and better white land while others lost arms and legs and heads. And thumbs.

Did you hear about the new $15.3 million diamond-encrusted iPhone? Don’t worry. I’m sure their certified: ‘No black movie stars were harmed in the making of this iPhone’. Only those toiling for Coltan in the DRC. But that’s a different and equally as conflicted story.

It makes me wonder if there is a right way to use the abuse of power. If these actions re-stain the taint of exploitation. One man’s pain another’s liberation. The plight of the modern-day refugee made visible for us to see in a hand that holds a screen that made another scream as they leapt off rooftops to fall face-first into Foxconn suicide prevention cots.

What does this make of us inbetween? First-worlders insulated with enigmatic absurdity. Perhaps I should hop online and submit my name to an application for Apple to play a clean game? I could be a disgruntled consumer, bleed-swiping my shattered screen to Instagram them photos of workers Congolese or Chinese, try to tarnish their reputation with my indignation, whilst I quietly purchase a Korean-made iPhone cover. Or would it be better if only I used my phone as appointment-setter to ensure that I make it on time to protests, and recycled-goods swap-meets, and international films about human rights?

The shard-stung face of my double-jointed appendage throbs along with my words. My Mac-screen clearly recording my quandary, to share it with you, so we can laugh darkly for a few moments at our sequitur conundrums. I’ll finish this piece, and I’ll have a cup of tea, and I’ll probably get a cover for my screen and get it fixed at a shop full of dodgy half-priced machinery. And I don’t think I’ll feel bad or sad because I don’t even know my responsibility. I just know that it’s not that simple, and it never seems to be.

[Feature image: Self-styled conflicted thumb of peace and solidarity and protest and consumer-indulgence and freedom and microbrasions].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am not remarkable and I cannot change the world: An impulsive manifesto on how to be a human in 2016.

I have had a realization recently. Perhaps not so groundbreaking to the general public, but somewhat earth-shattering to the child version of me that is sitting somewhere deep inside and viewing the world with hopeful eyes.

The realization is this: I am not remarkable. I am not even, in fact, particularly special. I am not brilliant, specifically talented or a genius. Whilst there are an array of things that I am somewhat deft at applying myself to, none of these things are really outstanding in any objective way that ought to be celebrated or preserved by civilization in order to progress humanity.

This may seem like a strange admission. But I make this admission for one very particular reason. That is, that this realization has lead me to confront another realization, which is: I am not going to change the world.

To be honest it is this second, related realization which really hits home. Whilst my grandiose imaginings of people doting on images or words of my artistic creations are blatant delusions that many of my generation have to live with, this idea that I am not only unlikely to but most probably unable to change the world is the thought that I’m going to need some time, and maybe some therapy, to deal with.

So there it is. I am not remarkable and I cannot change the world. Let me try that again:

I am not remarkable and I cannot change the world.

I can hear it now: oh but you are special in your own way! Every person can change the world! Like ripples on a lake blah blah blah.

Yes it’s true that I, like every other human on the world, have an impact on my surroundings and those that I encounter and that these interactions are likely to produce some type of physical or energetic imprint on the nature of the people and the world around me. But let’s take a look at this from a different angle for a moment, shall we?

The world is, perceivably, fucked. The combination of capitalism, neoliberal economics, political extremism, neo-colonialism, rampant environmental degradation, climate change, an ever-expanding war-mongering military complex, media manipulation, resources monopolies, blatant social conditioning and increasingly divided and marginalized societies has been heading for sometime into a dark downward spiral that we have all had to helplessly witness. Particularly for those in my generation Y, we have been born plugged into a drip-feed of manipulative social conditioning (Facebook, advertising, processed food, consumerist behaviour, political propaganda etc) that has more or less left our cognitive and behavioural tendencies biased towards self-empowerment at all costs. Whilst we obsessively idolise the free-love movement of our ‘70s predecessors, we are too economically and materially reliant on capitalist and consumerist structures to ever live up to our ideals, and therefore live our lives morally conflicted and financially bound.  

Argue with me if you must, but as far as I can see these are facts, and I am tired of covering them over with the feel good hippy-dippy happy-clappy fight-for-the-revolution click-bait. I’ve worked in finance, politics, NGOs and sustainable investment. I’ve been to UN meetings in Paris and native title conferences in Darwin. And my experiences, whilst nothing to boast about amidst the ridiculous achievements of my peers, have provided me with enough of a well-rounded insight into the world to understand that our generation needs to wisen up if we are going to A) survive what is coming, emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually and B) find common ground so we can actually work together effectively to progress our species.

So, with all that said, I return to my first point: I am unremarkable and I cannot change the world. And guess what, given all of the above, chances are that you too my friend (despite your awesome achievements that I no doubt am in admiration of) are probably also unremarkable and cannot change the world.

Why am I telling you this? Is it because I’m a bitch? Not entirely.

A few weeks ago at a party I was in a conversation with a man of 49 about all these said fucked things in the world. Without my realizing it my voice had reached fever pitch, my breath shortened, my double-jointed wrists flailing about my head. As I teetered off on my vaguely sensical rant about neoliberal economics and the programming of the Facebook generation, I saw a small smile appear below his furrowed brow. I stopped speaking somewhat bemused by his expression. He said to me something along the lines of the following: “You are so young and you are worrying about these huge things that you have no control over. When you get to my age, and you’ve faced the ugliness of the world, the death of people you love, the unexplained tragedies that occur in life, and witnessed the awful things that happen in the world, you realize that this is all that’s important. These conversations right here. You’re right, the world is fucked. But you and me, we are holding each other up right now. And that is what matters” He then went on to discuss those virtues we have all heard of so often, kindness, compassion, showing gratitude and love to all those you encounter everyday.

Ok, so I can hear the collective groan somewhere out there in this fictional readership. I realize that what he is saying appears to be ‘do nothing’. But bear with me and try and read it from a different perspective.

Surely we can all see, with the benefit of our education and the privilege of our upbringing, that the state of the world is dire. The more I research, whether George Monbiot, John Pilger, Vinay Gupta or the IMF itself, there is a sub-text of doom that is coming through the airways. Images and videos of war-torn countries, rising refugee crises, xenophobia and hateful rhetoric in mainstream politics. As I said earlier, let’s not kid ourselves.

Given this is our reality, I wonder if there isn’t a resilience that we should be working towards, rather than simply outrage and dissonance regarding the state of the world. What I’m saying is, that the more I read the more I think it makes sense to not only accept but prepare ourselves for a baptism into the great ugliness of the world, rather than to lament that this is the state of the world and wonder what to do to change it.

The fact is that no one person is likely going to be able to put a stop to the war in Syria or the spread of ISIS. While we can all be part of initiatives and movements to help remedy the circumstances of those less fortunate, the elite and all-powerful forces at play mean that we as individuals, as fractured civil societies, have very little control over how these situations play out. Rather, the greatest hurdles we seem to face is how we keep ourselves and our societies together in the face of the ghastly horrors that humanity is capable of.

I guess what I am saying is, whilst a significant amount of our time and energy goes towards fighting the seemingly inevitable destruction of the planet, perhaps some amount of time also needs to go towards accepting that we are – as approximately the top 1% of the global population most likely to survive devastating crises – likely to one day be a significant proportion of our species. As such, it is the actions and behaviours we adopt that set the tone for, dare I say it, the future of humanity. To me this is not a grandiose prediction, but a simple mathematical process of probability and deduction.

Furthermore, recent readings and podcasts I have devoured from exemplary minds of our time have all espoused this notion; that the privileged few have a great responsibility in the process of global recovery we will all need to undertake at some point during or very close to our lifetimes. And this responsibility regards our interactions not only with politics and economics, but also to a large and persistent degree, our self-conduct and commitment to personal evolution which, ultimately, feeds into the evolution of our species.

So the question for me becomes: what am I doing in my life that contributes to evolution?  

To this end, the list below list, while in no way finished or even necessarily correct, is what i have come up with:

  • ‘Sit the fuck down quietly’, or, meditate.

Ok, so it sounds like I’m biting into my own hippy-dippy sandwich here, but hear me out for a moment.

On a local level, something that I have become acutely aware of is the way Australian society is being divided along the lines of Left and Right, Racist and Let-them-in. Not to mention the rise in call-out culture, which seems to be hurtful and ineffectual in creating change much of the time. We seem to have lost the reasonable Centre. According to thinkers like George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (alongside a bucket-load of others), these types of segmentations and divisions in society are part and parcel of the neoliberal agenda to divide and conquer the population. Or rather, to have it beat itself to death.

Chief amidst the tools that are being used in this exercise of self-flagellation is fear. Fear for our livelihoods, jobs, identity, mortality. Fear from the media that something bad is coming and you should panic and potentially point the finger and protect yourself at all costs.

At a psychological level, fear is often the result of the triggering of deep traumas. When a trauma is triggered, defensive, aggressive or destructive tendencies emerge in people. During my time in board rooms and in meetings with corporate big-wigs, I recall witnessing a lot of volatile emotional and egotistical behaviour, defensive, aggressive and sometimes childishly insecure. Much research has hinted at sociopathic tendencies in world leaders (I was going to make a list but I’m not sure I really need to) and more so it seems that we are, everyday, creating more sociopaths. Mental illness is on the increase and we don’t seem to be doing anything about it at a causational level. The most important decisions in the world keep coming down to the whim of those who are fundamentally emotionally unstable and poorly adjusted. But what happens when these people come to the end of their tenure? Are we the sociopaths of the future?

A lot of the time when we react emotionally to something it is because it is related to another unresolved emotion hiding somewhere in our psyche. These reactions can be slight anxieties and neurosis, all the way through to full blown addiction, aggression and delusion. And we are ALL suffering from it in some way as a product of us having to grow up and develop our cognitive behaviours in this mad world.

When we are so regularly emotionally confronted with the things we see in the media, or even the actions of those we encounter in life, and have an emotionally adverse reaction of anger, sadness, depression, anxiety etc, we tend to carry those reactions and traumas with us to the next encounter we have rather than digesting or releasing it. Our upset about our job impacts the way we connect with our friends, our connection with our friends or lack thereof impacts our aptitude for self-care, it all leads into itself, one after another. Which means that an unresolved emotion, whether about something that happened to you personally or a traumatic video you saw of the treatment of Aboriginal children, can lead to your own internal demise or contribute to the volatility of your social environment. In this way, emotional disequilibrium within ourselves causes a ripple effect (cue the lake analogy) outwards and makes us vulnerable to causing or suffering manipulation. At it’s worst, we now see entire industries (Military industrial complex anyone? Media and entertainment?) founded on the back bone of cultivating and exploiting trauma; entire political movements based around fear.

Anyone who has ever tried to sit down and meditate has probably noticed that there is a lot of noise in our heads. And it seems to me that as long as we don’t sift through that noise it distorts everything that we hear, everything that we say, even the things that we see. In short, our reality is augmented by our unresolved shit (and everyone else’s).

Meditation, or sitting down quietly for 10 minutes and allowing your body to feel its feelings without fighting them or distracting yourself, is one proven way that people have rehabilitated their mental states, emotional balance, immunity, clarity etc. Science has proven again and again not only its benefits for this kind of recovery but also that meditation improves functioning at a cellular level and leads to the creation of new synapses and biochemical changes through neuroplasticity. Hello!? Evolution!

But there is this frustrating sense out there that meditation is about sitting and being still and if you can’t do it that meditation is not for you. I can’t tell you how many times that people have said that meditation is ‘not their thing’ and when I ask them why they tell me it’s because they can’t be silent or still their mind. Well, that’s exactly the point.

For most people the idea of being alone with your thoughts is terrifying. The endless chatter of to-do lists and what-ifs and imagined anxieties and real anxieties and lah-lah daydream what about that tv show yadda yadda. Of course it’s not easy. But what does it say that you can’t be alone with your thoughts? If you can’t see through them, how is anyone else supposed to interact with the real version of you? How are you and I supposed to see and be with each other genuinely?

Let’s be clear. Meditation is a practice of trial and error that can take a long time to feel comfortable with. I’ve meditated on and off for several years and now that I am trying to start again after not having done it for over a year I find it fucking hard. And yet it feels like cleaning out a drain in my head and heart that is clogged full of muck, slowly and persistently. Our minds are monkeys, throwing up all sorts of random shit that gets stuck on the edges of our fears and anxieties and then governs our behaviour in a million small ways.

You don’t have to be a friggin’ yogi or go to some 10 day no-speaking meditation retreat, but hello! we are the plugged in generation – get on youtube, filter through some guided meditations and just start playing with them. A basic way I sometimes meditate is as follows:

  • Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and focus on your breath.
  • Whatever thoughts etc come through, accept them without judging them and gently keep bringing your awareness back to breathing.
  • If you feel up to it, scan through your body and sit with the feelings you are having without judging them. Feel your feelings.
  • After 10 or 20 minutes, go have a glass of water. (This is not critical, but hydration is a good thing.)


In other words, sit down quietly for a little while.

That doesn’t sound so hard to start recovering your brain does it? Go on. Give it a try.

Meditation isn’t about spirituality. It is about making yourself a more resilient human that can more wholly and honestly be in the world.

  1. What are you eating?

This is an interesting one. And don’t worry this isn’t where I tell you that sugar is the devil or that veganism is going to save the world (although either of those things could be true). No no, you are safe in my opinion to continue eating as you please. All I ask you to consider is how the food you are eating might be affecting your gut functioning and emotional health.

I’ve had trouble with my stomach for several years and it again amazes me how many people I meet that have IBS or celiac or something or other by the time they are in their late 20s. For most people, understanding of their gut functioning is just a question mark.

In traditional Chinese medicine and other non-Western therapies, the gut is considered the second brain. One of the explanations for this is a nerve called the vagus nerve which connects the digestive tract to the brain (and other things along the way). Scientists have found that our ‘gut instincts’ and ‘gut feelings’ are related to this nerve and furthermore that this nerve is linked to different responses to fear.

Without getting technical beyond my knowledge, the basic premise is that what we eat affects our mood and our mood affects what we eat. Add in the dopamine hit delivered to us with feel good foods like sweets and baked treats and processed foods and we are left self-medicating our highs and lows with chocolate and pizza. Foods which, unfortunately, usually deliver a huge crash after the initial spike of feel goodness.

I still haven’t figured out my gut health, but I have slowed on the caffeine and sugars for a while because I find they contribute to anxiety. Worse yet, because I associate them with mmm-mmm feel good yum, when I do include a lot of sugar or caffeine regularly in my diet I eat it addictively and then convince myself that the slightly manic state of functioning is normal and ‘productive’ and the huge crash (often existential) is just a natural part of working hard. Worryingly, when I worked full time corporate this type of manic functioning was the norm. Third coffees were worn like badges of honour at all the hard work someone was doing. Sound familiar?

What I am saying is that those unresolved emotions I mentioned earlier in the first point are just as likely to creep onto our plates and keep us in a perpetual loop of catering to volatile emotions, whilst altering our gut health so that we can’t function at our optimal level causing long-term physical or mental illness. It’s a vicious (sometimes delicious) cycle and it pays to be aware of it.

  1. Mind your media

Social media is an interesting beast and one we don’t completely understand yet. As such, it is paramount that we monitor how we interact with it, mostly for our own self-awareness. I’m sure there are heaps of studies and research reports about this, but for the purposes of my rant I am just going to draw on my own experience.

It feels to me that things like Facebook give you proxy-experiences and therefore proxy-feelings. We feel part of things that we never have to physically interact with, we have a sense of suspended connection with people that we might never be able to be around socially. We are able to sign petitions and like videos (or feel sad about them as a friend recently pointed out) and then carry on with our lives with some smug sense of satisfaction that we ‘did our bit’. Don’t get me wrong, I think online movements are fantastic and we should keep experimenting with them. But we should do so consciously, with an understanding that the fact that we participate or don’t participate in digital movements does not delineate us as morally upright or superior citizens. It means, rather, that we had time to write our name or click a button, well intentioned as it might be.

As we increasingly interact with a manicured version of the world by which we are reflexively going to compare ourselves and others with, and exhibit ourselves to, I worry that we develop an intolerance and ignorance about all the things that are not like us. Social media seems an extension of civil society where the same ugliness of civil conflict is able to manifest in vitriolic or self-righteous dialogue against or towards individuals. It has also given space for videos and movements to ‘go viral’, and portray simple discourses of right and wrong that treat complex global issues with simplistic emotional polarities, engendering vague, impractical and sometimes extremist social movements towards I’m not even sure what.

On the other hand, there has been a notable rise in access to independent news, research and art. Our opportunities and networks have expanded exponentially. And although we know that 70% of Australian mainstream media is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same level of awareness is forgotten about the the privately-owned Facebook. Though social media offers more outlets for information, the increase does not necessarily represent a diversity of views, and the opacity of the internet means we don’t know what opinions we are being fed by extension of our demographic and what agenda belies those opinions. It is, after all, a glorified marketing tool.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel anxious and nauseous when I’m on Facebook. I feel overloaded with information, negative or positive. Sometimes I feel like there is an outpouring of outrage and everyone is getting onto the digital lynch-mob. I get manic and upset when someone misunderstands a comment I’ve made, and yet, scarily, I find my fingers auto-type the Facebook URL into a computer before I’ve even made a conscious decision to log on. Often after I get off Facebook I find myself questioning my life choices thinking, ‘should I be doing X’, questioning whether I am good enough or worse yet, judging or rolling my eyes at something I’ve read by someone else. Unsurprisingly, my friends and I are often pulling each other out of Facebook holes where something we’ve seen or read has sent us on an irreversible thought/obsession loop. These are behaviours I really dislike in myself and hence often go on long Facebook bans so I can recentre and become myself again.

I guess what I’m saying is that the risks posed by poorly filtered media choices can buy right into our emotional wounds (again, see 1) and have us pursuing external satisfaction for our perceived internal deficiencies. I don’t think these risks outweigh the benefits necessarily, but it is worth considering, before you post, share, like, comment etc – Why am I doing this? Is it because I want to appear a certain way or because everyone else is doing it? Do I understand what I am buying into? What is the feeling that is being satiated when I press this button or get a like?

  1. Practice what you preach

This point can basically apply to all the previous things I have listed. If I am going to bother ranting about these in my self-confessional, un-cited blog post, I have a responsibility to do each of these things. Granted. But since my cohort seems to be of the ethically and peacefully minded, slightly leftist, socially aware sort, let’s talk about our consumer lifestyles for a moment.

It is impossible for all of us to buy ethical and sustainable products and frankly, too expensive. But at the same time, I find that myself, and others, are guilty of not actually doing all that we can. I mean, we all buy cheap goods at times, but this does not mean that we cannot engage more meaningfully with our lifestyles and what it is that we can do in small ways to start changing our patterns of behaviour and the beliefs that underlie them. Too often we resort to apathy and ‘it’s too hard’ and ‘what are we supposed to do’ rather than looking at what we can do. I mean, it is difficult considering most of the products available to us are made under questionable circumstances and sold at prices too low to offer a good minimum wage. But once we accept that that is true, we are tasked with the challenge of making other small adjustments in our lifestyle that might alter the impacts of business-as-usual.

For years I have lamented that I live in a city and it’s impossible to grow vegetables or not use electricity blah blah. But actually, I am probably always going to live in or near a city (aside from my dream cottage in the south of Italy), and perhaps we as a population need to engage further with how we conduct ourselves every day. For example, I use excessive appliances in winter, drive myself everywhere even five minutes away when I have access to a car and it’s cold, and only separate waste and recycling (as opposed to composting because worms kind of freak me out). I also often take long hot showers (because boo sad me had a long hard day) and don’t know how to ride a bicycle (even though I support having car-free bicycle cities!).

I am not saying we are all to become frugal sustainable saints. I still guiltily use my cheap labour Zara coat and it’s going to take me at least a few months to learn to cycle. But what I am saying is again it is about self awareness. Are we complaining about inefficient systems and continuing to use them inefficiently or are we genuinely looking at how we interact with our systems and making an effort to change? For my part, I am going to go investigate the compost bin downstairs and Youtube teach myself to use an old sewing machine I was given. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.

Rather than make some great environmental or humanitarian saving in the present, or chastising those who use ‘evil’ Chinese-made products, this is about a process of trial and error, a modification of convention, so that we know what is the most efficient way we can live in an inefficient system and actually adapt our behaviours this way.

  1. Connect & accept

So, if there was a peace du de la resistance of this rant, it would be evenly matched between my first point and this one.

Amidst all this chaos that appears to be increasingly rampaging on the world around us, the lasting act of courage and survival we have is to stay connected to each other. In a real and tangible sense, not just through digital spaces and ideological slogans. This connection necessarily means to actively break down the barriers that keep us separated. This includes facing those barriers in our minds and hearts carried like emotional scar tissue, which manifest in myriad forms through our behaviours. We must face that it is this handicap in ourselves and others that is used for all the manipulation and bigotry you see, some of it intentionally and other by unintended consequence. Our species is about to go through the dark night of the soul, if it hasn’t already entered it, and this will test our resolve for sanity and humanity in ways that we cannot imagine.

We can prepare, not maniacally or ideologically or obsessively, but calmly with attention and love to yourself and those around you, so that when unthinkable things occur we can lift ourselves and each other up to keep going, rather than to sink into the black hole of pain and suffering that we are empathetically and collectively connected to. We carry this trauma in our DNA, but we also have the ability to repair and evolve our physical, mental and emotional bodies.

On a practical level, it pays to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the world and your locality. Do you know how to respond in a crisis situation? Are your personal affairs up-to-date? Do you have an emergency stash of resources? I say this not to cause panic or be conspiratorial, but because stranger things have happened in cities more stable than ours.

For too long notions of spirituality and God have kept us separated from what I see as an innate humanness that we all equally cannot comprehend as we do intuitively understand. What I hope to say here in this very long and heartfelt piece is that perhaps the time is coming for us to begin to accept the state of the world and our species, and to gently and wisely understand that our course is charted and our power comes not from fighting against that course but from affecting its long-term consequences.

We are living in a system that is dying and it’s pillars are crumbling from the inside and out. Much of the chaos, violence and suffering in the world can be attributed to it and will likely worsen during our time as the powers that be incessantly and absurdly hold onto control at the cost of human life. This includes recession, war, famine, domestic conflict and ideological divisions. We will inevitably be faced with fear and trauma as this occurs, physically, emotionally and energetically. But I think that our preparation here, in these non-physical spaces of connection with each other, is to ensure that during those times of trauma we can respond in a way that defines what is built from the ruins; in a way that does not perpetuate the status quo with our own fear and vulnerability to manipulation. It seems to me that it is our responsibility to return to that ground zero, within and without, and persistently and courageously face the carnage of our own foundations. To dare to rebuild who we are.

It also seems to me that we are, remarkably, world-changingly, destined to bring about an evolution.