play

Flippering Out

Helmet fastened securely and body poised to dance with the mechanics of movement. Determination etched on the young face before me. Nervous moments as muscles tense and the single wheel beneath responds, Newtonian physics is unforgiving. And the incongruous footwear of flippers on pedals turns mastery into exploration and uncertainty. The part of me that wants to say ‘you can’t ride a unicycle in those’ is gagged internally with a quick risk analysis – which inevitably suggests the real risks probably do outweigh the perceived, but the balance of that is the exhilaration of the unknown. Awkwardly wobbling with delight and joy. She just might be a fish on a bike. We got it wrong, it’s not about what a fish needs, it’s what a fish is free to experience.

Get On The Grass

I have fond memories of grass related activities as a child. We made mud slides in paddocks (picture supplied, T’shirts never recovered),  played hide and seek in waist high kikuyu (think a grass version of waist deep snow) and learnt the seasonal prickles via experience. I reckon most kiwi kids recognise the green to brown change of onehunga weed in summer. I remember doing athletics and hoping not to get ‘the prickle lane’. Some sports like hockey have benefited from the move to artificial turf but I reckon those of us who battled the natural stuff learned a lot about friction and the usefulness of sleeves for wiping mud out of your eyes.

But it’s even simpler than that. I remember making seed head sling shots and blowing dandelions.  And who can make a grass whistle between their thumbs? (Well it sounds more like a cross between a fart and a scream combined than a whistle). Today I remembered and shared these with a young person and the delight and joy of mastering the art of mimicking flatulence was as it has always been.

So come on all you grown up kiwi kids time to bond over some seedy weed fun with younger kids. Lets not lose these traditions to technology or lawn mowers.

Can I be prank?

Riding into work I was greeted by the sight of our park like grounds draped in toilet paper. Windows painted and classrooms set up outside. A grin spontaneously erupted onto my face as a bunch of students scooted towards me in ‘boys’ uniforms. A BMX lay beside the hall (Redline…very nice) and bodies ran and moved freely. But this wasn’t the norm, far from it and yet it was so natural and joyous. The energy and vitality was a welcome contrast to the digital zombies I often see in the morning.

It’s now known as ‘prank day’ but for some reason it seemed more like an ordinary school day, or perhaps what could easily pass for ordinary in other places (minus the tree decorations and occasional water gun). The gender blurring of seeing bodies in shorts and racing around on wheels toyed with the ‘girls school’ image, it enabled freedom of movement to express physicality. The pranking gave gender a well deserved spanking.

Here’s the thing, school uniforms can police gender. If there are no other options other than skirts or culottes then femininity is enforced. I’m occasionally tempted (in my dark sardonic moments – of which there are many) to ask the question ‘why not go the extra step and mandate long hair’. If masculinity in some schools is regulated by hair length, then surely in keeping with ‘uniformity’ of gender girls must maintain long hair.

Its wheels day again tomorrow and I might just have to bust out some moves on a unicycle or borrow a skate board. Gotta make ‘hey-watch out’ while the shun shines on gender-correctness.

a-fend-did

I’m fortunate to be living with a seven year old. She gives me a great insight to the realities of the role schools play in shaping ideas about what is normal and expected of boys and girls. It stretches my capacity to listen without commenting or launching into a modified feminist deconstruction. Figuring out what is helpful and practical in the playground is perhaps the biggest challenge. So tonight the conversation at the dinner table was about the boys saying she couldn’t play rugby because she was a girl. Now in my head I was working through hegemonic power and wondering what does she really want? Answer – she wants to play! To have access to sport and physicality without it feeling like a requirement to challenge stereotypes. Yip – she just wants to play!! It wasn’t my fight, she isn’t me because I would be just playing – I grew up thinking I was a boy most of the time anyway.

So it needed to be something short and simple. Something she could say that fitted with her personality that could both challenge and accept the situation for what it was. Knowing her wicked sense of humour and brilliant acting ability as well as a profound intelligence (far beyond what I had at the same age) it boiled down to pointing out the facts in response to the statement “but you’re a girl”. It seemed so obvious but the simplicity of saying ‘really? I hadn’t noticed, thanks for pointing that out’ and getting on with playing was the approach that she wanted to take.

I don’t know if it will work but the conversation was important for exploring the determined ways genderedness enters consciousness and becomes reinforced. It woke me up to the daily normalising minefield children and young people negotiate at school. I hope teachers doing duty in playgrounds can see the important role they can play in gently challenging ideas and creating inclusion on the basis of interest and enthusiasm. Then we need to work on the media showing more women’s sport including rugby. Visibility defines acceptability.

She also has quite a good fend on her so I reckon she’ll be right mate.

Sticks and stones and a pile of dirt

Standing on the river bank watching the inky black pool break and run free. I throw a stick in and the child with me throws one in as well. We watch them float down then spin out of the current. A perplexed look crosses her face, a wondering and an opportunity to play and learn – current affairs. We throw more sticks and observe them, describing what is happening nothing more. An urge to up the stakes and race, but what to do when that pesky eddy throws a reverse current into the mix. Stones enter the picture, there are plenty to choose from. But where to throw? How big? More experimentation and my young apprentice catches on quick. Making waves and calmly enjoying the rush of success. Wet feet and cold hands our reward and some hydrology terminology experienced.

Later a mountain of dirt in a field and some tame ducks with a dog who’s instinct to herd everything boarders on OCD. Two of them scramble up negotiating feathered and furry friends. Clumps of soil are picked up and hurled backwards and forwards like snow balls. Shouts and protests make way for tentative rules with animals being completely off limits. The sods are flying and the faces smiling as they quickly weigh up the line between dusting yourself off and mud in your eye. No-one is crying and the ducks seek shelter behind the scrambling legs and flailing arms. The dog is relentless. Friendships blossoming between all creatures. It’s messy and chaotic, perfect.

Gumboots discarded, they just fill up and slow you down another lesson in mass and inertia. Running free and feeling the earth beneath feet. Resting finally in a drain to pick watercress. This is how I remember learning and how I always wanted to teach.

It’s life gym…

“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.

Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.

Can’t even play gay – oh Mii oh my!

I’m not a gamer, I don’t own any sort of ‘box’ or ‘station’ or whatever. My initiation into the gaming world is about where I stayed – Atari PongSpace InvadersDonkey Kong, I am stuck in a time bubble. I throw the odd coin in a pinball machine from time to time and that’s enough excitement for me – low entertainment threshold – its a good thing.

Social commentaries have explored the densensitising aspects of some of the more modern digital gaming worlds, and critiqued ways identity is constructed and expressed particularly gender, culture but less so sexuality. Just as an aside, I do think whenever we talk about gender, sexuality has to be present so it would be nice to see some creative and challenging conversations about that. Back on track then. What is clear is the move toward the gaming world providing an alternative space for people to ‘live life’ and so it is common for people to talk about their ‘online life.’ So who plays these games? That was a trick question – all sorts of people do. And there we have the ‘A’ for Awkward – rather than Awesome. You see – the problem is ‘choice’ – or more to the point – the limits of choice.

Nintendo have developed a new called life simulator game called Tomodachi Life this games producers biline for the game roughly translates as “your friends, your drama, your life.” You get to create your own avatar or Mii and live on an island with celebrities, I can just see gamers living on actual islands feeling a little short changed. Great! so what if you want to flirt or date someone of the same sex….ahhhh….no you can’t do that. The reasons given are disappointing and really reflect how pervasive heteronormativity is. They do not need an excuse because the games developers feel there is nothing to defend. If the relationships ‘option’ is supposed to represent a ‘playful alternate’ rather than ‘real life’ surely that is the perfect opportunity to explore alternate sexuality and relationships,and lets not get started on ‘real life.’ The act of excluding the choice effectively renders that aspect of identity as invalid. I know there are games where more options are available but the fact it still requires ‘thought’ and ‘inclusion’ means the default settings are geared towards Male-Female distinction rolling into Male-Female relationships. We seem to be happy to include more and more violence, choices of weapons, and other ways to hurt, maim, kill but not to love.

Apparently it is written into the code and can’t be undone – good grief…really? Shades of biological determinism much? Perhaps this is more about the limits of technology to capture and reflect the reality of a diverse, multi-layered, complex, unique and dynamic expression of self.
‘Sigh’ I’m definitely no Pinball Wizard but no need to console, just grab a joy-stick and game on!

Lego of me

Plastic is an environmental disaster – unless it is in the form of Lego. My love for brightly coloured bricks began in the 70’s, but Lego has been around since the late 1940’s. Lego has stuck around since then and instead of being pushed aside with technology, has grown in popularity with the digital age adding to its cultural mystique.

Parents might have a different view – particularly if building kit sets with instruction manuals the size of telephone books. Thousands of tiny bits of plastic mathematically also work out to a large surface area of mess and potential soft tissue injury, anyone who has knelt on a piece of Lego will know what I mean.

When I visit my parents I still get a kick out of getting out my old Lego. It really is different to the new stuff. The people were featureless and genderless. Back then the neutrality and ambiguity of Lego wasn’t anything intentional but looking back – especially with ‘overtly gendered’ generation of toys (including new kits), it seems revolutionary and forward thinking. Others have already commented extensively on this change including the facial expressions of Lego people, but I don’t think we need to be panicking about the psychological damage, even the angriest Lego faces are kind of funny looking.

For those of you who ‘don’t get the Lego thing’ and are even more baffled by those Adults who dive into it as much as children do let me share my experience – don’t worry – its not contagious.
When I sit down with a pile of bricks it is like the world disappears. All I am thinking about is what I am building. It’s this effect and the challenge of creating as many cars, planes and space ships with ever decreasing pieces that is satisfying and strangely rewarding perhaps best summed up in a statement like, ‘ha! see – I made the millennium falcon out of just 15 pieces – I don’t need the 800 piece kit!’

But its ok if you still don’t get it. Lego has transcended itself, it is no longer inanimate – IT LIVES. Yes thanks to stop motion camera work Lego has made it to moving pictures. Things are funnier when done with Lego, even those who are already funny such as comedians can have their work lifted to another dimension with plastic bricks and people. Probably better to give an example:

And there is of course The Lego Movie! I have just one warning about this movie, the theme song will get stuck in your head and one word will be the trigger for full replay whenever you hear it. I’ll let Batman convince you its ‘awesome.’

There are so many reasons to love Lego, except when you get bits stuck together and you really need that one piece then it is all out frustration and broken nails. That aside, the simplicity of Lego is it’s success. I think it has its own wisdom so I’m going to have a crack at writing my own Tao of Lego – not being an expert in Taoism I realise this might be considered an act of hubris rather than humility. So I will tread lightly and hope the essence comes through.

1: Each block has a purpose a place everything fits
2: There are as many ways to build a space ship as there are blocks
3: The best way to build is without the instruction manual, it limits the natural expression of creativity
4: If you desire the perfect end product at least enjoy the process as much as the end result
5: Let go the need for comparing your space ship to others – they are all cool
6: The perfect state of Lego is broken, building moves away from the natural state – small children are masters of returning Lego to this
7: Don’t look for the right piece – reach into the pile and allow the piece to find you
8: It is what it is – whatever it is
9: We are all made of the same stuff – trees, people, spaceships
10: A thing of beauty does not need to be complex and detailed, there is wonder in a single geometric shape joined with one other.

Piece be with you all.

Colouring outside the lines

There is something profoundly beautiful about children’s art. It is free and unbound by self-consciousness. Art wasn’t something I was encouraged to appreciate or take seriously and a part of me feels robbed at a deeply spiritual level of artistic pursuits. I envy children they are perhaps an insight to how stunted we become as we age. The ‘rules’ and restrictions permeate our awareness shaping our understanding of how things should be so we live ‘within the lines.’

Watch very young children with a colouring in book and they don’t notice the lines. But put an older child beside them and watch things change and the bringing forward the idea of ‘getting it wrong’ and making a mistake and shame. From then on colouring in the lines is the aim. The pictures offered get more and more complex but the aim is the same – to stay within the lines. The spaces get smaller and the detail more precise so the stakes get higher – one small slip or wobble and the perfect picture is ruined.

We can do better raising creative confident young people. There are really clear ‘pictures and lines’ youth are encouraged to see as successful, worthy and desirable and our education system supports this. I salute all those pushing beyond the lines, who are challenging young minds to see more than just two dimensional possibilities. Scribble with them and play alongside them and laugh at failure as it is just a line – it can be erased, moved or ignored.

So I am calling out to all those who have a connection to children and young people. Be prepared to guide and support and even ‘draw on experience’ but if they ‘brush you off’ smile and know you have given them the greatest gift, a blank canvas.

The hair essentials

Hair has to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the human body. It defines us in multiple ways layers and even across species. We have strange rules, rituals, fears and hang ups based on where it grows, doesn’t grow, colour and length. My Mum is a hairdresser, and so was her mum but I broke that chain and to be quite honest the world is a safer place for me not having taken up the trade.
I would work in the salon after schools sweeping the floors and doing the perming rollers for her. She would listen to customers talk through personal difficulties, while deftly snipping away. The regulars were like family, many of them watched me grow up. When she branched out to waxing and tinting it dawned on me just how hair defined our sense of self.

Every permutation of human identity can be defined in some way by hair. This is by no means and exhaustive list but serves as a bit of a provocation to notice. Aside from ethnicity where biology (genetics) plays a big part in the ways hair grows we have:
Age
Babies – sometimes born with lots of hair or no hair.
Puberty – Hair appearing in interesting new places, to be celebrated or removed depending on what gender you are identifying with.
Adult hood – hoping hair will stay in places it should be and not migrate to places it shouldn’t be.
Late Adulthood – hoping hair doesn’t do a vanishing act on head and trying desperately to keep its original colour.
Golden Years – giving up the fight and embracing the grey – or back to no hair – full cycle.
Gender
Women – femininity defined by length of hair, intelligence – colour of hair.
Men – masculinity defined by facial hair and body hair – to some degree, perhaps more so 20 years ago.
Sexuality
Length of hair for women and the removal of hair from body parts. Men – how groomed their hair is – no matter where it is on their bodies (if they have it on their bodies).
Religion Just a couple of interesting examples to demonstrate intriguing relationship to hair.
Sikh – nature knows best, hair is a gift and if it isn’t a hindrance shouldn’t be tampered with.
Brethren – if a woman doesn’t cover her head she should have her hair cut off. Seeing as it is ‘shameful’ for a woman to have her hair shaved or short – keeping it long and covered is the usual outcome.
Hindu – hair on new born babies is associated with past lives so is shaved off. There is also a belief that shaving stimulates proper brain growth and the ‘tuft’ at the crown of the head protects memory.

There are some other interesting expressions of diversity running parallel such as ‘sub-cultures’ of belonging. For example relating to music (punk spikes, reggae dreadlocks) ‘hippie’ locks, the ‘mullet'(think ‘MacGyver’ or the 80’s in general). Skin colour, age, gender and ethnicity might be our most common default starting points for locating someone socially but I would argue hair features just as strongly. If your hair seems to contradict any of the above criteria it can put a bit of a spanner in the label works. Bring it on! I’d love to see more people in their 80’s or 90’s sporting silvery dreadlocks.

Most of us have played games growing up pretending to be someone else. Escaping ourselves is fun and if we want a ‘quick change’ wigs often work effectively to propel us into an alter ego. But radically tampering with your own ‘do’ can come with some unforeseen social fall-out and I’ve had some close encounters with this phenomenon.
I remember my brother shaving all his hair off at university. When you see cartoons of people getting such a fright they get airborne – that was me when I saw him sitting on my couch. I got dreadlocks and really do think that was the better choice given we were studying in Dunedin. Much warmer having a wooly locks when it is a toasty 3 degrees celcius in your flat. We both encountered a change in perception from others. I got lots of attention from other ‘dreadlocked’ folk of all walks of life – people who probably would never stop and talk to me. My bro – well – sadly for him the ‘skin head’ look came with connotations of ‘white power’ hate groups. When he went into shops women would go out the back and get the manager to serve him. Needless to say he was happy when his hair started growing back. Then there are pranks such as shaving peoples eyebrows off. It’s not a lot but boy does it change how a person looks.

Going down the rabbit hole now, hair possibly has a ‘supernatural’ and spiritual connection to life. As science pushes further into the realms of the invisible and explores subtle fields of energy our understanding of what is real and what defines our world grow and evolve. So what about the possibility that hair could be a form of ‘antennae’ that taps into these unseen forces? Think its the realm of science fiction – Avatar? Well, maybe truth is indeed stranger than fiction:
http://www.sott.net/article/234783-The-Truth-About-Hair-and-Why-Indians-Would-Keep-Their-Hair-Long
In short, during the Vietnam War the US Government went looking for ‘talented scouts’ and went to the Native Indian community. Once recruited they would be given a standard military ‘buzz cut’ (bye bye long locks) and hey presto – no more ‘6th sense.

All of us have a relationship with this fibrous structural protein that is captured by multiple meanings from the functional to the fashionable and even the freaky. But there is one place hair should never be, and that is in your food. Just one tiny hair and that’s it – meal ruined.

That’s about the long and short of it, although it’s not always that cut and dried.