Sunday, December 20, 2015

Epiphanie in Lyon

- Armed soldiers patrolled the Central Station, which my (lovely) hotel was a stone's throw from. I caught the televised Bastille Day celebration along the Champs Elysees in Paris. I felt more comfortable being flirty if I so pleased, because the Europeans are generally relaxed about sexuality than the Australians. I made the mistake of flirting with an American who had just arrived in the country, who very quickly referenced his family and shunned my newly liberated ways. I brooded about this for a while, then got on with it. That's the best thing about travel - you just keep on having new experiences, and it's hard to get stuck in an emotional groove.

- Lyon is famous for its food culture, and the best thing I had all year was a fillet of duck with herbs. I have no idea what they did to it, but it melted in my mouth and turned the tinnitus in my ears into music. I think it was made 'rural style', though the menu was in French and that doesn't help with the remembering. Another memorable meal was a salmon baguette affiliated with Carrefour (the supermarket) - such a simple thing, but each ingredient sang.

- I discovered a new side to Jenny (my long-time traveller friend) over lunch near a stunning cathedral we had just visited. We were emblematic of a culture of global intersections: an Australian and a Taiwanese bonding over a French holiday. She had brought fruit and told me about how she had enlivened her daily routine by selling things at the local market every once in a while. Her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, as did my appreciation for art on her - we spent a day floating around a famous gallery, silently ohh-ing and ahh-ing over room after room of vibrant, sophisticated brushwork. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

The practical value of art

At my birthday gathering I was asked the question: If the world were to end and you were part of the small number of survivors, what would you do? I said "I would write about it." Another friend said something to the effect that she would ask me to be more practical, because there were certain physical realities that we would not be able to escape, e.g. building houses, growing crops, etc.

My answer to this is that art is very valuable. It gives people a reason to keep labouring away at whatever it is they do. When the day's work is finished and we need a break, we turn to books or music or something along those lines to keep us inspired. Texts help us develop our ideals, which can be the reason we keep building things of immediate functionality. In fact, we wouldn't have the idea of 'immediate functionality' without an examination of human psychology.

What about the houses and other structures we build? They, too, are informed by ideas. We might decide to create curves where there would ordinarily be edges, to be aesthetically pleasing and/or original. We might decide on a colour scheme for our individual building which blends in with the surrounding buildings, or stands out. We could even alter the skyline of the city with our unique creation. It all start with an artistic concept, even if that concept is unobtrusive conformity.

Much has been made of the power of stories. A good narrative has the power to inspire people to take better care of themselves and each other, to reach out to the sick and the needy, or to aim higher in what they can achieve. A good narrative can make us happier and more fulfilled as we go about our daily lives.

I would even argue that inspiration is a very practical business. If I'm not inspired, why would I want to work in the first place? There has to be a point to life, otherwise it would be very bleak indeed. Someone, there, post-apocalypse, would be needed to keep morale high. I elect to be that person. :)


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Free flow

'Somewhere in between Turkish ice cream and my own self-doubt
I stand here waiting for a new vista of experience to jump up' -
I feel oddly in control as I recall that day
When the concrete pavement held my gaze 

These weeks I'm striving to get out
Of self-imposed despair
I go up and I go down
But there's always someone there

She brings structure and rhythm
Child-like enthusiasm
And I love to hold her gaze
Her eyes glint like the skies
As we air hug through the days




Monday, November 23, 2015

Pockets of wisdom

I'm always looking for new insights on how to live better. I seek to enrich myself with things like TED Talks, vibrant music, and I seek out progressive people who love creativity.

It pleases me to receive feedback that I've become more openminded than I used to be in the past. To quote a long-time friend, I used to be "the most judgemental person" that she knew. I think things started to work differently in my mind when I was introduced to Buddhist theory. It was all about finding acceptance (of yourself and others) deep within - realising that which was already within you, instead of learning something radically new. I started to genuinely embrace my contradictions and mental differences, and I found that, not only could I function like this, I was functioning on a much more satisfying level. It's hard to explain the specific elements of Buddhist theory, but it had to do with giving up perfectionism, giving up thinking of being 'sharp' as a good thing (I see sharp as a synonym for judgemental here), and moving towards a love of all things and people. I remember reading about how even a knife was alive - the pressed metal was constantly interacting with the outside world, and was always in motion, even when ostensibly still. I also loved to expand my sense of sentient beings to insects and other animals. I avoid stepping on grass now, because I don't want to trample on another living being.

The parts of Buddhism I do have trouble with (and the biggest reason I don't identify as a Buddhist atheist when prompted) are the essentialism. It can be found even in the most basic instructions, such as 'just be'. I can work around it, but my postmodern inclinations prevent me from resonating with notions such as 'oneness' to the extent that it becomes my overriding philosophy. I like to think of myself as an eclectic collector of wisdoms from all over the place.

I can't really claim to be wise, because I engage in many self-destructive habits, but I aspire to fill my world with as many of these wisdoms as possible. A pocket here, a pocket there, and suddenly my garment is swimming with them. I am perfectly imperfect, and I find myself worthy of love. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Tinnitus

My voice breaks over the already existing stimuli
Fighting to sound fresh
Like it's breaking up the silence
Like for everyone else

I know I'm not alone
But no one ever talks about it
I get overloaded by my soundscape
A self-perpetuating palette
And since I overdose on the music
Relentlessly skipping from one ditty to the next
I can't keep up with my need for novelty
And I hate the songs that I love best

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Against the trend: How to navigate dating sites as a woman

Like so many others, I decided OKCupid was the site I would focus on. It was free, it was global, and it was known for an abundance of left-leaning users. I also liked that it didn't place your star sign prominently, like RSVP did. I created what I thought was a playful and provocative profile, and released it into the online realm. 

I received much interest from a wide variety of people. There was just one problem: none of them were what I was looking for. I rationalised that finding the right person takes time, adjusted my profile to make it as unique as possible. Over time I added and removed various highly personal details, or made specific requirements for any people that would contact me. After sharing that I was looking for a feminist, in particular, the interested users became few and far in between. 

What more could I possibly do to find the right partner? I mused. For a while I decided to focus on other things, hoping that "love will find you the minute you're not looking for it." 

Eventually I came back to OKCupid and considered this: Instead of waiting around for people to find me, I could act atypically for an (Australian and global) female and search out partners myself. I had read that Swedish women do the approaching in bars, and if my more empowered sisters were taking the first step, why couldn't I?

The site has an advanced search function which allows you to search by gender, location, compatibility and other variables, and I experimented with a lot of them. At first, nothing too promising happened. I wrote to a bunch of people - mostly women, but also a couple of men - who didn't write me back, but already I felt like the future was in my hands. My options had increased exponentially, and I was no longer reading profiles that lacked lustre. Being proactive and searching for the right person was opening me up to new and exciting options. Even though I hadn't found anyone I clicked with yet, I knew there was no going back. 

And then, one day - voila - she appeared! I'm now in a long-distance relationship. We have plans to meet IRL next year, when I can travel to the northern hemisphere again, and I can't wait! :)

If I had 'sat there and looked pretty' I never would have met her, so think about it: Life is short; go after what you want instead of waiting for it to come to you. Happy searching! 

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Things I'm grateful for this September afternoon

It continues to be brought to my attention that being grateful is a great way to replace negative emotions, so here's my 3rd gratefulness post:

- I'm grateful for the special woman in my life
- I'm grateful for the return of a long-lost friend
- I'm grateful for Skype, Twitter and Facebook, which allow me to communicate with both of them
- I'm grateful for the free tickets I was given to a play with feminist themes
- I'm grateful that my work as administrator for The Sydney Feminists' Facebook group has made a difference
- I'm grateful for the care my mother and father give me
- I'm grateful I have the opportunity to study at university, and the ingenuity to know when there's a better alternative
- I'm grateful for radiators on cold days
- I'm grateful for my psychologist, who is helping me rewire my brain to optimise my experience
- I'm grateful for my openness to experience, which colours everything I do
- I'm grateful I travelled to many places in Europe this year, learning more about each culture, and seeing some places for the first time
- I'm grateful for JB Hi-Fi's low cost CDs, where I found the Sugababes for $5, for example.
- I'm grateful that I don't have to give up the taste of coffee, what with all the decafs out there
- I'm grateful for DuoLingo, with which I am learning Spanish

What are you grateful for?

Thursday, September 17, 2015

More vegetables, less meat?

If you're a meat eater who feels compassion for animals but doesn't quite want to give up eating meat, have you considered simply eating more vegetable-based dishes as opposed to meat-based ones?



I'm personally not strict about reserving meat for the weekends - I just try to consciously work vegetable-based dishes into the highlight of the day. I've learnt that my favourite Thai noodle dish tastes almost the same with veggies, and I can breathe easier knowing that one less poor animal might be killed for my culinary pleasure. We are conditioned to place meat in a starring role of our diets - we even have the saying 'getting to the meat of the problem/issue' - but I was was surprised at how little I missed having it in almost every dish, day after day. I'm probably not going to become a full-time vegetarian anytime soon, but it's good to be able to find a compromise with such far-reaching, beneficial effects.


Monday, September 7, 2015

On sexist compliments and dangerous ideas

Before I had even entered Australia, the customs official put me in my place with one single word - "Babe." That was his address, as he sought my attention. Having had no sleep for two nights, I was unsuccessfully trying to use the machines at customs to get my documents approved. Here he was, trying to help me - but in the process he was asserting his right to treat me as a sexual object first and foremost. It was my defining characteristic to him. What a welcome.

Things got better. On Saturday I attended a speech by Murong Xuecun, a prominent critic of Chinese censorship who has managed to evade arrest due to his abstaining from directly inciting people to get politically active. Nevertheless, his social media account has been shut down a lot. He keeps "reincarnating" online, as he calls it. He taught us how the entry of more English words into the mainstream Chinese vernacular had produced "democrazy" (the Chinese Communist Party promotes the idea that its governance is actually democratic) and "shitizen" (after the sense that things aren't quite alright in the country). More importantly, he brought home the expansive nature of Chinese censorship by identifying examples when it has played out within Australian shores. With its large Chinese immigrant community, Chinese Australians are very much affected by the propaganda of the motherland through the media they consume. The unspoken take-away from Murong's ideas was that we should put pressure on our government to engage with China in a way that doesn't accept its totalitarian policies. 

Obviously there is a vast difference between freedom of speech in China and that in Australia, but there are still things I don't feel comfortable saying in Tony Abbott's Australia. We can't claim to be a full democracy when people are locked up (out of sight, out of mind) in psychiatric institutions for feeling and thinking the socially unacceptable. Our vindication of the notion of insanity marginalises ideas which are extreme outliers - ideas which are often very good, or, at the least, contain very good elements. It's no co-incidence that the average intelligence of a person who is hospitalised is through the roof. We abuse our deepest thinkers, drive them to isolation within the wider communities and then limit their human capacities by necessitating that they take brain-altering drugs. Freedom of speech remains a myth. (Possible exclusions for some areas of Finland.)

Maybe one day I will give a speech of my own at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on this topic. I can't see things changing dramatically in Australia anytime soon, mainly because the mainstream is suspicious of the revolutionary ideas required to get us there, but you never know. At the very least, I can write a blog post about it. And keep my hope alive. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Back in BG

Dear reader,
You've been on my mind, but due to the unreliability of the available technology I've been silent. I'm presently in a comfortable apartment somewhere in Sofia, happily enjoying my alone time. After five weeks of travel around Europe, I was more than ready to kick back in Bulgaria. My new and improved mental state leads me to enjoy the country more than I expected, even though there may be the usual irritants. A level of discomfort is expected when the pessimism of your country of origin knows nary a limit, yet I find things to savour. A few nights ago I learnt many new historical details from a (US) Republican in the kind of cultural conversation which you just can't find in Australia. It's a welcome change of pace.
I suspect ranting about my progress with the Spanish language won't interest most of you, so I'll spare you the details of how my week in Madrid inspired me to get serious about it. I may even return to Madrid sometime soon to immerse myself, once I've reached the level of being comfortable with conversations. But! Onward to the next paragraph.
I guess I've been infused with so many cultural formations that my head is still abuzz. I'd forgotten how rewarding travel usually is for me. I'm now busy figuring out my next bout of adventures, even though this current run is not over. (We still have Belgrade and Athens on the agenda, and it's possible we'll stop over in Singapore on the way back.) I had originally been planning a three month stay in Berlin, but then I remembered that my mum and I had already made plans to hire a car and explore the UK & Ireland, which still appeals. So I guess that's next year sorted.
Being in Bulgaria is altering my thinking pattern, by the way. I tend to be more animated, and less modest. This could be a good thing, because I definitely have some work to do to restore my confidence to the level it was a few years ago. I'm not quite showing off, but I'm ditching the depreciatory disclaimers.
I like the theory that life is a series of choices. There is no 'right way' to live it. Things don't fall into place so much as you engineer your own pathway, create your own reality. You are the author of your own story... So what kind of story do you want to make?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Everything's gonna be fine

So here I am in Lisbon, Portugal. Being back in Europe reminds me of my ideals. I'm improvising every day, doing little to no planning for this trip beyond having booked my guesthouses weeks ago. My favourite city so far was Oslo, which had most of the things I loved about Helsinki, but with more vibrancy and immigration. We were greeted with the charming red cottages on the way to the city, and once we were enveloped by our high immigrant quota neighbourhood, the architecture would gleam at us around every corner. I love charming details on old apartment blocks, and I love feminism even more, so catching public transport was one of my favourite things - I got to watch and listen as the women and men of Oslo negotiated with their world. Sometimes you don't need to communicate verbally with someone to pick up on their energy... It was a beautiful experience, and I was reluctant to leave. I wasn't expecting Norway to compete with Sweden in my eyes, but that's what happened. Norway's non-membership of the EU means that Sweden remains my No. 1 choice for the place to move to - and hopefully I can have lots of holidays in its Western neighbour. :)

Lisbon is charmingly run down after the flawless facades of the Nordics, but it's an architecture I've seen replicated in the likes of Macau and Phuket and have grown to love. I am also breathing a sigh of relief over the prices! The friendly faces I have asked for help have been welcoming, but not overtly happy. I wish I were more awake as I write this, but my guesthouse is very noisy and has been keeping me up at night. This is my last full day in Lisbon, and, having explored the BĂ©lem district yesterday, I plan to spend the entire day wandering around charming parts of the city and take in the pastel coloured buildings some more.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Quick sweep of the room (Poem)

Quick sweep of the room --
I've learned to hold your gaze
When it's encountered
Your eyes may rest on my face
I'll not be flustered
There's a chimney from which
Pink smoke is emanating
And if we find the wonder
There will be one less mindset
Ripe for plunder

Quick sweep of the room --
I hear your stories
I've been meaning to tell you
How I mean to disagree
With the gatekeepers
Dare to share the stories
That sustain me
From a bigger platform
Yet the feedback keeps me hanging on
To muted pastures
Can you tell me if it won't be long
Before I get what I am after?


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Radically valuing women

There are certain things I can't stop seeing or hearing. The word 'bitch' recurs no matter how hard I try to minimise my exposure to it. It's not surprising when people who are easy to identify as misogynists offer it up, but I've noticed that feminists also join in in this cruel dehumanisation. When the very people I look up to as role models start insulting women along these lines, I know there's a deeply embedded problem with misogyny in global culture.

It's a radical action to love, value and respect women so much that we elevate each other whenever possible, and keep our criticisms constructive. It also takes a lot of character and goodwill. By refusing to buy into a semantics where women can occupy the space of 'bitches', we are transforming culture, one conversation at a time. It does take willpower to wade through the incessant name-calling and refuse to take part. It can be so tempting to revert to the popular teachings about women's place in society. But if we see the need to create a new vocabulary with the aim of radically respecting women in mind, we can achieve great things!

There is a real shortage of positive messages being sent to women about their worth. When women are interrupted so a man can speak, it sends the message that she's not significant enough to be listened to. When a man strikes a woman, it sends the message that she doesn't have the right to feel safe in her body. These are just two of the thousands of examples I can think of, and you only need to browse through the site Everyday Sexism to realise that women are subject to slights and injustices on a daily basis. 

I'm doing my best to think of women in a positive light. We are all trying so hard to be the best versions of ourselves. My new friend is passionately volunteering with youth, and is completing a degree by distance education while adjusting to the stresses of the big city, while trying to keep up with the million and one things that capture her interest, like TEDxSydney. All this, with a physical disability. My mum, one of my biggest supporters, holds down a stressful job as an academic and handles the majority of the housework. She still finds time to give me pep talks anyhow. Another new friend keeps her sense of humour despite facing regular street harassment and violence. Being trans is harder than most cis folk can imagine, yet she manages to remain supportive and encourages me to thrive. 

I can think of another woman's wisdom that's worth mentioning: She's currently the oldest person in the world, and lives in the United States. Her advice for those who wish to live as long as she has (121, I think), is to be nice to everybody. It obviously worked for her... and why not be nice to everybody? We're all doing our best, even those of us who are behaving like internet trolls. Most of life's problems can probably be fixed by the application of more kindness, more compassion, more love...

Friday, May 29, 2015

Ingrid (Snippet)

Ingrid was doing her best to make me sympathise with her post-hospitalisation decision to emulate normal people.
"I just want you to understand... I wasn't always like this, but now things have changed."
The eye contact was uncomfortable, so I dropped my gaze to my coffee cup. Her desperate desire to construct a life which would have societal approval left me cold, but I was too polite to demonstrate the extent of the disconnect. I felt like our friendship, tenuous as it was, would not survive if I was completely honest with her, so I held back. 
She was giving me a long spiel about "doing the right thing" and other such tosh. 
We were in practically the only habitable cafe in Kensington, and my instinct to maintain the regular human contact was only slightly stronger than my desire to get out of there. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Interesting

So, as you may or may not know, I am not currently employed. I don't feel up to entering the work environment for a number of reasons, some of them backed up by psychiatrists. (Psychiatrists, of course, can only go so far.) About a month ago I wrote to express my interest in studying a language at university (or, as we in Australia like to say, 'uni'). A few days ago I learned an important piece of information: While a major in Women's Studies is not permitted at UNSW, the University of Sydney (or USyd) is another matter. They've had a Gender Studies major since 2006! I somehow assumed that if UNSW didn't have it, USyd wouldn't have it either, but now that I'm wrong, can I overcome my reluctance to travel to the city multiple times a week to attend university? There is a part of me that says I am better off reading Simone de Beauvoir or bell hooks - or any of the other fabulous theorists I haven't read - on my own, but that's being challenged by my need for community, and some vague hope of one day finding myself in a position to work. Because if I could work, I could sustain myself in Stockholm, Lund or wherever it is I want to go, and not have to take anybody else into account.

There was this guy, a disability rights advocate whose name I forget, who encouraged every person who identifies as disabled (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't) to get a job - for the independence. Many people with physical disabilities live below the poverty line, as do many people with mental illnesses. His heartfelt conviction was that a job was the key to living a good life.

I'm not so sure. I may be in poverty, but I don't feel poor. It's a state of mind. I feel like I have everything I need, materially. When viewed from an (atheist) Buddhist perspective, I have abundance in my life. I make the most of what I have, and that creativity enriches my perspective. Sure, I would love to live in another country, but I also love living with my family. If I moved, I would have to give that up. It's not the end of the world if I stay here longer.

Attending university would put me in touch with bright young things, including people from other countries on exchange programs. It's not that I can't keep up my intellectual journey on my own. It's that I no longer have anything to prove. I'm "too far gone" down the path of eccentricity - I feel comfortable with myself. What I do lack is a sense of community.

University communities can be stressful places, though. I can only hope that I can get through the darkest periods without quitting. What motivates me anyway, beyond community? A sense that I have something to contribute to society? A desire to not only write for myself and the relatively few readers I have now (whom I nevertheless love =) )? An interest in perusing the possibilities again?

I have a feeling what I choose to study will be a very important decision. I had been preparing to take on a language (French, to be specific), but this presence of a Gender Studies major makes me rethink my game plan. Perhaps I'll explore this issue further in an upcoming post...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

You spin me around/ Like a dime...

Femininity. I've been meaning to reconstruct myself now that I no longer feel pressured to be more feminine than I'm comfortable with by my former friend... but it's so hard to step out of the labyrinth I've constructed for myself.

I listen to songs like this (which I love) -


and they're inevitably entwined with gender norms and cis girlie expectations.

I guess I'm confused about how to find a form of expression that works for me. How to strike the balance between challenging and comfortable.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Defensive

Not even close to giving it my all, she thought in disgust. For someone who was committed to full disclosure, she had been disappointing herself for years. She daren't comment on her deepest vulnerabilities, joining the maddening crowd that kept it all in, concealed vital components of the human experience behind a mask of social acceptability. She came close to thinking that she wasn't better than any of them. Her practice was a carousel of collusions, gaps and silences. She had claimed never to have sold out, but could she really say she wasn't tainted? You don't get to live this life without participating in the corruption on some level. Hence the existential crisis.

Laughter from the neighbouring sofa. All her mother saw was the finished product - a skillfully mounted production which danced around her insecurities in self-expression. She desperately wanted to shrink her own life within the confines of a blog post, but it proved too risky. Predators abounded, lurking unseen. At least she could up the meta and write with self-consciousness.

*

"Miss Wright?" The woman on the other side of the wall had an English accent.

"I'll be there in a moment," she pleaded. Folding her oversize sweater around her, she finally turned the doorknob and peered out with what she hoped was some semblance of dignity.

The woman unsmilingly handed her a small, dark blue parcel, asked for her signature, and left.

Well what did you think? It's not like there's a trial on your level of competence by a succession of strangers. Encased within were the eyeglasses she had ordered online. She eagerly exchanged the old pair for the new, running her fingers up and down the new, textured sides.

The mirror showed her a familiar sight, but somewhat lighter in the eye area. No more geek chic - at least not for a while. She turned to get started on her blog, aware that she could admire herself (and let her new appearance sink in) later.

Useful. I need to be useful. 

It was perhaps a strange goal for someone whose values were so eccentric. Compulsory productivity was something she cringed to consider to have burrowed its way into her subconscious drives. Perhaps she was being overly critical. She was, after all, intellectually voracious. Nobody forced her to consume so much information, day in and day out. It was due to her motivation. Yet she couldn't help but fear that mainstream values had started to insinuate themselves into her system, due to excessive familiarity. Was she only giving lip service to questioning everything? Was she failing to follow through?

Failure. Now that's a concept. Business mavericks are lining up to advise their audiences to fail big, and fail often. 

Was she at ease enough to fail successfully? And what would that mean to her at this point in the game?

I need some clarity.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sudden Movements

Having spent a lot of time around people with East Asian influences, I have come to have an invariably calm demeanour. Even when I'm feeling angry, alarmed or stressed, I make my movements slow and refined. I am often making myself calmer in the process. 

But I have noticed there are times when life necessitates quick movements. A reflexive jab at the 'Stop' button on the bus when I realise I need to get off soon, breaking into a sprint to catch a taxi in the rain, frantically searching my bag when I feel like I've lost my keys/transport ticket/bank card. 

Then, I think of Barack Obama's sense that making a sudden movement creates anxiety and/or fear in the white or non-black people around him, because in their eyes his blackness automatically makes him suspect. 

That was before he was an internationally recognised figure, anyway. His reflections in 'Dreams from my Father' remain relevant to black people living in all the majority non-black countries today I know today. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Some new disciplines

It's time for the old disciplines to be divided up and rearranged, so that we can create new ways of thinking. Here's some interesting combinations we could get started with:

a) Built Environment meets Performance Studies

b) Creative Writing meets Medicine

c) French meets Sociology

e) Architecture meets Asian Studies

f) Design meets History

g) Electric Engineering meets Art Theory

h) Business meets Philosophy

i) Law meets Gender Studies

j) International Relations meets Physics

k) Biology meets Economics

l) Anthropology meets Chemistry

m) Politics meets Religious Studies

n) Information Technology meets Film


Monday, April 20, 2015

Travel & UNSW

Hi there reader,

On my LinkedIn profile I state that "if it's not ground-breaking in some way, I don't write it." This suits me most of the time, but sometimes I'm feeling mellow, or come up short in the controversy stakes. This is one of those times. Bear with me.

There are some interesting developments coming up over the next few months... I'm going to be travelling all the way up to the European summer in June, which should provide me with fresh material. I've also developed such an interest in my language studies that I will try to get a B Arts in French starting from next year. There's lots to think about, and one of the good things that came out of the nightmare that was 2013 is that I feel more confident in dealing with others and embracing wonder. University doesn't seem as threatening as it did ten years ago - probably because I'm more comfortable with my kaleidoscopic belief systems. It can't elicit much in the way of conformity from me. It can only dull my shine for so long. It's nice to be surrounded by bright young things who still strive to change the world. Many of our workers have given up on that dream... though not all. You only need to type in "TEDx" into YouTube to access a network of practical dreamers.

Yes, I've made peace with UNSW. I'm even attending a series of talks in its Law building --
-- which is delightfully postmodern. The talks are, of course, on feminism. What else, right? ;)

I have a lot of different associations, some of them contrasting, when it comes to this institution of higher learning: Forward-thinking, reductive; shiny and new, second-best; casual, pretentious. Every time I visit I find I have carved out a new niche for it in my mind. It's slogan is 'never stand still' - and perhaps I have developed some affection for it as the place where my ideas are more free to rearrange. Who can forget that academia is the place where pontification on postmodernism is most welcome? The 'real world' can be unforgivingly locked into its absolutes.

Browsing through the UNSW website, I feel like its discipline categories are largely irrelevant to my life. When will they come up with the bright idea of teaching the arts and sciences together? When will they break out of the old format and pursue more innovative combinations of learning? It's a good thing I'm not going back to study English, or Politics, or Sociology, or European Studies - I could never choose between them. Just a language or two, thanks.

Friday, March 27, 2015

#FreeTheNipple

There has been a movement started in Iceland in which women have been uploading photos of a bare breast or two onto the internet. This is in order to draw attention to the innocence of the body part, and its long-time omission from public view. It asks 'why are men not required to cover their nipples, yet women are?' They maintain that breasts aren't genitals, and shouldn't receive the same treatment. Facebook has raised its censorious head, limiting the potential for outreach, and even though publications like the Reykjavik Grapevine are trying to get around the censorship, I thought I would help spread the word.





Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Grateful #3

I'm grateful for the trees I can see when I look out of my window.

I'm grateful for poetry collections discovered unexpectedly while browsing quality bookshops.

I'm grateful for coffee and tea, Vietnamese rolls, Thai stir-fries and Chinese honey prawns.

I'm grateful for convenient access to public transport.

I'm grateful for the fairy lights strung around the synthetic tree in our home.

I'm grateful for the elephant-motif Thai tissue box coverings in the living room.

I'm grateful for my own ability to sit back and reflect.

I'm grateful for the ability to let people go.

I'm grateful for the confidence to be a non-conformist across many different aspects of my experience.

I'm grateful for sunshine after the rain. 

Why I intend to stay child-free

It should go without saying that having children is a personal choice that no woman should be coerced into. Yet it seems society is hard at work trying to make every woman reproduce, without regard for her internal workings. If you're identifiably female, you've got Pope Francis telling you you're "selfish" if you don't want kids, and no shortage of people who will repeat the mantra if asked. That's why I intend to keep speaking out about my healthy decision not to give birth - so that I can help lift some of the pressure off women.

When I was young my best friend told me that I would make a good mother. And so the world began giving me winks and nudges, not so subtle hints, or downright shoves, in the direction of parenthood. When I started identifying as female-attracted in high school it stalled my education in How Important It Is To Reproduce, but when I started identifying as bisexual two years later, I became a candidate again. Even now, more than a decade later, I still find myself asking such questions as 'Which Australian school would I send my hypothetical kid to?' - even though I have no real intention to have kids.

We, the rebellious women who value our independence, all have unique reasons for remaining childfree. None of them are the public's business, yet because so few women volunteer their mindspace in regards to this matter for public consumption, I'm going to give you a list of my reasons.

1. I want to be a solo traveller throughout my life, which means
2. I don't want to be responsible for another human being financially or emotionally,
3. I don't feel that the world I live in is a safe space in which to bring up a child
4. I doubt I can make a relationship with a male happen
5. Even if I wanted to bring up a child, I am not financially independent
6. I don't want to go through the pain of pregnancy, and the possibility of having cuts made to my stomach or vagina to aid a delivery
7. Generally, I value being independent to such a degree as to make bringing up a child incompatible with my life

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Survivors (a poem)

We've had our dark times erased / Our sadness has been silenced
We lean on shaky walls / Our only means of support
We intend to keep on moving / Past the barrier to light
Something happens and we keep on striving / We know we have the might

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Buddhist philosophy strikes a chord

I used to be notorious amongst my friends for not finishing the books I started to read. In recent years I have managed to improve my success rate by being more picky about the books I start, and making special effort to see them through. One book I read from cover to cover recently was called 'Buddhist Boot Camp' and was written by a lovely guy who is himself an atheist.


There are many things I like about Buddhism, and one of them is a tolerance for ambiguity. The Buddha taught that his students shouldn't blindly follow his teachings, but rather examine them closely and trust their own experience above all. The lack of dogma here is refreshing.
Perhaps the Buddhist culture is one of the reasons I like Thailand so much...


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Grateful #2

I'm grateful for all the beautiful books that have found their way into my life. I am never short of something to read.

I'm grateful for diverse music on my iTunes library.

I'm grateful that I never need go hungry, and that I can frequently indulge in cafes and restaurants.

I'm grateful for the sparkly black shirt that I'm now wearing.

I'm grateful for North America, for Asia, for Europe and Australasia.

I'm also grateful for Africa and Latin America. (Places I haven't been yet.)

I'm grateful for all the travelling I have done.

I'm grateful for my friends. They enrich me with their company, and forgive me my imperfections.

I'm grateful for this blog, and the opportunity to write a gratefulness post.

I'm grateful for my talents in reading and writing.

I'm grateful I live in a developed country and know how to be compassionate towards those that live in developing countries.

I'm grateful that I do what I love as "work," even if it's not paid.

I'm grateful that Sydney is relatively wonderful to me as a GLBTI woman.

I'm grateful that both my parents are still around and that I see them every day.

I'm grateful that I have the technology to reach out to people halfway across the world. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Inexplicable

I am searching for some long-forgotten senses of self. It's hard to recollect what made me tick back then. I felt that more avenues were open to me. I felt no compulsion to stick to the main roads.
If there is a fountain of light emerging from the top of my head, why do I find it so hard to recall all the compliments I receive? Do I need to deepen this sensation of spiritual transcendence, or reach for another?

Confusion is a self-made thing. It borrows from a manufactured world of mediocre preoccupations.

I push them out, one after the other. Perfectly formed little critters, dazzling in the daylight.

It's time to break the pattern.

What could I be, if I let my thoughts run free? Possibly triumphant as I daren't be. But who is the me demanding attention? Already transformed into something else.

I dared (a bit) today. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The end of compulsory smiling for me

If I look at all my Facebook profile images up to a certain point, they all have one thing in common: I am smiling. It was over the last two years that I decided to broaden the range of expressions in my photos, by not deliberately smiling all the time. At first I felt like I was being excessively bold, but I quickly warmed to my new range of neutral expressions. There was freedom in not having to grin from ear to ear at every photo opportunity. After a while, the pressure to 'perform' lifted, and I started smiling only when I wanted to represent genuine happiness.
Women are constantly told to 'smile... you look prettier.' Like there's so many things to smile about: ISIS, the West adding fuel to the fire with every new 'policy', Russia vs Ukraine, Tony Abbott, US Republicans, etc. I'm an engaged citizen, and being engaged means feeling a lot of despair over the way the world is conducting its affairs. Some might have better coping strategies, but that doesn't change how harrowing the world often is for me. A smile doesn't necessarily represent how I feel most of the time. It shouldn't be forced upon me.
I encountered resistance from amongst my Facebook friends: One Peruvian acquaintance left a simple note on my wall with his birthday message: "Smile!" He doesn't know me too well, so I just let it go... but it just goes to show that a smile is part of the package of femininity. "Be kind, be nice, be polite." A smile can show that the woman is going along with men's expectations of her. A smile can signal subservience or passivity. I wanted to make sure that I was being true to myself, not going with the patriarchal flow.
There's something cultural about it as well. Being a "good" European "girl." Being happy with the injustices that have been inflicted on me? No more. I have real pain, and if I want to I will express it. At the very least, I will suppress the urge to smile in my photos out of a duty to seem innocuous and carefree. Ironically, I feel more comfortable with my self-image than ever before. (It could also be an age thing.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Possibilities

Do you ever feel like you could do so much in your life, that you don't know how to choose? We are spoilt for choice. Sometimes, even though my life has unfolded mainly according to my passion for communication, I wonder if I could go back to university and get a science degree. I feel like this when I encounter extremely interesting scientists, who have a passion for discovery. I normally feel quite content to be typing away in pursuit of some imperfectly beautiful piece of poetic prose, but when I do dream of scientific pursuits, it feels genuine. Like it's the real thing.

It's the same thing with my language learning projects. Anticipating a trip to Spain in the middle of this year, I have changed my target language to Spanish. (I will go back to French, don't worry.) I'm enjoying it, but I do think about the other languages I'd love to learn. It's like having a part of your mind that's constantly nagging - "shouldn't you be doing this instead?"

Life is a kaleidoscope of possibilities, so it's okay to feel like this sometimes. Even though I am "following my heart" by making writing my labour of love, dreaming of other things is a normal consequence of the wide array of options out there. We don't fall neatly into the categories of "writer", "singer" or "electrical engineer". Most of us feel capable of having more than one occupation, and many of us have career changes.

I guess the most important thing is find the thing that you're doing pleasantly engaging. I love writing because, when I put enough effort into it, I can turn up with something really great. I like putting in the effort because I know I'm creating something that I and other people can enjoy. I also believe my writing can have a therapeutic, educational, or uplifting effect on my audience, and I try to compete with myself so that I can do my best each and every time.

And for that, I am willing to let other possibilities fade away, or work them into my writing, as I'm doing now. ;-)


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Angelina's Story

Dark red, tan and white. The room was overwhelmingly decorated in these colours. They reminded her of an Eastern European setting, the cool-tinted warm colours a mixture of vibrant and neutral. She had always felt there was something missing from this palette, perhaps a purple or a green, but her requests for change were repulsed. She was reminded that she was not the head of the house, and when she was, then she could bring changes into effect. Angelina lay on the longest of the tan sofas and began to tell her story. The circumstances weren't perfect, but she couldn't wait for them to consume her. She had to rise above them.

How many more people would be shut off in a crowded facility with little to engage them as they pondered their darkest thoughts? Sedation and dehumanisation. The occasional art supervisor came once a week with crayons and paper, but what good was this pocket of spiritual nourishment when her demons told her it was an inappropriate place to go? There were board games and puzzles stacked up in a little-noticed corner of the compound, but Angelina had more pressing things to do, like walking around incessantly, picking up the messages from the swivel of an arm or the droning of the television. On rare occasions she would take refuge in the massage chair, but it was never long before another loud noise compelled her out of her seat and back to stalking the corridors.

It took a special kind of person to pierce the doom-filled bubble she had been floating in. A person who cared about her psychological well-being, not someone invested in a chemical cure. Someone who valued her emotional experience, at least to some extent. It was astounding how easy it was to break free once such a person had shown up, and terrifying to note the neglect that had kept her silent for so long.

She wanted to make a difference, but felt like she lacked the social capital to do so. She was one of the 'others' now, a being so far gone (outside the mainstream) that there was almost no way of coming back. She savoured much about this state, but it also left her ill-equipped to change the system. She feared she would have to rely on outside momentum. Or would she? Anything was still possible, because Angelina wasn't resigned to her fate, and sometimes what was possible became the driving focus of her efforts for social improvement. If so, the cruelty that lay at the heart of the psychiatric system would have to transform itself into something new. Something more befitting visionaries and secular saints.






Monday, January 26, 2015

53%

I can read about 53% of all real French, DuoLingo informs me. I started actively searching for French  texts to test out their assessment of my ability. To my surprise, I understood quite a lot of those texts, and even though the gaps are frustrating to encounter, just knowing that I've progressed so much makes me happy. 

I study French every day, even if it's just a little bit. That's my only real secret: dogged persistence. I didn't imagine that I would get this far when I started out, so the reward is sweet. I can actually understand (some of) what all these new people with a similar talking habit are talking about!

As you might have read previously, I read the Guardian for news and cultural commentary, and part of the charm of the website is that there are three editions: Australian, UK and US. It's interesting to have access to the local news of two different continents, as well as mine. The UK site often has articles on other parts of Europe, and I learn a lot this way. But ever since I discovered Scandinavia, the English-speaking world doesn't impress the way it used to. It seems lacking in sensuality, for one. It seems to be to the right of continental Western Europe in general. 

At first I wanted to learn Swedish, but learning on my own proved difficult. I tried to enrol in a university course, but Sydney offered none. The only Swedish university course was in Melbourne, and it was being phased out. (It's probably completely gone by now.) I bought language software, but couldn't stick at it. I followed a whole bunch of Swedish feminists on Twitter but had to defriend them to save my sanity when I still couldn't understand them after ages. 

Then I discovered DuoLingo. And though it didn't have Swedish, I figured I could learn another language while I waited for a Swedish version to become available. I chose French. I was already familiar with some basics from a year of high school study, which made me more confident in the language than I was with Spanish. And even though DuoLingo has blessed me with a Swedish version just a few weeks ago, I will persist with my French, because I feel like it has become a part of me. I would miss it if it went away. And hey, the more languages you know, the easier it becomes to learn another one! It's not like I can't wait, either. I can wait, because I'm in the now. I'm enjoying the process. (Thank you to whoever invented mindfulness.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Speaking up - as mentally divergent

My mum believes it is in my best interest to remove all traces of my mental divergence from this blog. She believes that I would be unfairly discriminated against. And she may be right, but I just don't have the energy to pretend anymore. I am different to most people when it comes to brain function, and while this is harmless (and even advantageous to some extent) in and of itself, it has resulted in institutional abuse by forced drugging, unnecessary and trauma-inducing restraint, and massive disrespect for my intellect and intuition. All of that influenced how I go about my everyday life, and how I write. While statistically only a small part of the population experiences similar things, it's a part of my experience that I feel I must make sense of in my own way. I must write about it. To keep it all in would be to bottle it up, and there is nothing more mentally inhibiting than feeling you have something to hide. I don't want to be that person.

I used to pretend that everything was okay, even though to me it always seemed obvious that I was "an odd duck" - a person with heightened sensitivity, a lack of emotional defences, and an intelligence that wasn't seen as socially acceptable. I stand out, and not just because I wear an OBEY hat and a "Feminist" T-shirt, although there's that, too. I walk slowly and pay close attention to my surroundings, trying to find wonder in what could be easily discounted as ordinary. I have "that look" in my eyes - the look of a visionary. I'm kind, perceptive, personable and compassionate.

Mental divergence is not treated kindly in our society. A bit of difference is seen as fine, but if you want to conceptually turn the world upside down, you're going to find so much resistance that it will be damaging to your health. Innovation may seem to be what the rich and powerful are looking for, but if you have openness and drive in large quantities you're going to find out that, mostly, those at the top want things to stay the same.

Things never change quickly enough for me. Australia still hasn't legalised same-sex marriage? I'm already thinking about a time where everybody feels happy identifying as bisexual (or pansexual, if you prefer). Julia Gillard became the first female prime minister? I'm already envisioning a country where 50% of all prime ministers are female, and everyone feels like that is how things should be. Instead, we got stuck in a loop of deranged lashback, which culminated in her tormentor Tony Abbott's ascendance to the top job.

I'm such an asset to the community that there has been a cost. I want it to change in ways it is not prepared for, and as a result it's afraid of me. I know that my impetus for change is the right way of being, but I am being punished for it, even as I type. Even so, I intend to keep mobilising towards that kind of change. Because I know that the philosophies behind it have the community's best interests at heart. And, when I'm on my deathbed, I can say that I helped make the world a better place in the face of what could have been overwhelming resistance to someone with less self-belief. I don't even have to wait that long, come to think of it - I can congratulate myself right in this very moment... daily, once before I go to sleep each night.

I hope you can join me on my journey to create meaningful change in my surroundings. See you around. ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Reclaiming 'wonderful'



I loved this ad until I learned it was about consumerism... if you have to rely on expensive purchases to bring back the sparkle in your life, you're in dire need of help! What would have been fascinating would be to explore the theme of wonder through creating new concepts, a lens through which to view the world anew. How does wonder survive in a modern adult, in you or me? Well, I can only speak for myself: Wonder occurs when I opt out of the world of things 'known' (e.g. facts, absolutist rhetoric, 'common sense' assertions) and wake up to the mysteries all around.