polarity

No brainer

Could someone please explain to me why giving a biological molecule to a person who is having a perpetual seizure (so is in an induced coma) that is likely to result in some form of permanent brain damage in the very least is somehow an issue about drug use? Or that in order to ‘preserve life’ and ‘do no harm’ doing nothing is better than taking a risk with something ‘unproven’. Alex Renton is 19 and had been in this state since April and the angst around him receiving cannabis oil blows my mind.

I’ve have had enough of doses of morphine to know how it works on my body. I don’t generally use substances in quantities that radically alter my senses. But when you have a kidney stone that wonderful poppy extract that is also a form of opiate is medicine! To not be passing out with pain and screaming in agony is good for me and everyone around me.

It’s time we treated cannabis with a lens other than recreational drug use. The default association of substance use and addiction is part of the problem. One reason for this is the history and social construction of what becomes ‘popular’ knowledge. This reinforces polarising so the general social discourses and culture repeat this through all media and discussion. Our language is limited to describe things so we fall into binaries that lock our understanding down for good. Many people only have to see an image of a marijuana leaf on tv and they spin out when they should just take a chill pill.

But why stop with just cannabis? LSD is already back on the research list for assisting people to feel at peace when death is immanent (whatever death is). So to be quite frank, it shouldn’t have needed so much effort for this oil to be given. Enough hand wringing Peter Dunne, we know you aren’t out flogging tinnies to teenagers. Just keep your shoes on, you probably can’t throw that high anyway. But I know a guy who can get you some stuff for that.

Advertisement

Humour Me

When I started running a diversity inquiry group with my friend Philip 8 years ago it never occurred to me that having serious conversations could be so entertaining, or that laughing didn’t necessarily mean losing the threads of meaning. A classic example was a recent meeting when we’d decided to talk about voluntary euthanasia given its topical relevance in the media and the fact that Philip was directly involved. The two of us spent time planning the facilitation, by planning I mean considering the alternative ways to approach the delicate edges of ethical and moral dilemmas without plunging into the pendulum of ‘for and against’ like some Newton’s cradle with the energy passing directly through and simply knocking backwards and forwards.

So lunch time came and I’d scrambled to get the list of words together – not bothering to check my spelling and being more concerned that having this conversation on a mufti day where the theme was pyjamas could seem a little trivialising. Although a panda onesie could almost pass for a suit. When students arrived and started looking at the words there the usual questions began. Starting with the Hippocratic oath. But for some reason I had typed ‘hypo’cratic. Goodness knows where my head had been, but to their credit they wondered about the meaning given hypo as a prefix meant something under. This signalled my awareness to the error so quick correction to hippo and more wondering about hippopotamus until we finally got to Hippocrates the Greek ‘father’ of medicine. The group scooted into a robust discussion about ‘preserving life’ and ‘doing no harm’ and quickly gathered some strands to anchor ideas. As we delicately stepped through the web of sticky questions the weight of some ideas required lighter approaches and at each point someone seemed to pick a moment to bring humour in.

But nothing could prepare us for what happened next. A new person joined 10 minutes in, she had been invited by a friend. The intensity had built and there was a moment of pausing to introduce people before launching back into it. A perplexed look fell over her face as we continued until she piped up ‘I thought you were talking about ‘youth in Asia’” and there it was – the irresistible and contagious explosion of tension which spiralled into a temporary mingling of strands into some bizarre hybrid that allowed us to hold both contradictions. Voluntary youth in Asia and coercion mixed briefly with choice and control and then dissipated. Picking up some dropped lines and sticking them back, the shape of ideas changed as the synergy and balance returned. As we turned toward emotional pain there was another language twist where sanatorium and sanitarium were interchangeable and a momentary picture was painted of mental illness and being treated with cornflakes and weetbix. Ironically the terms can be used interchangeably depending on where you are in the world but in NZ Sanitarium produces the breakfast of champions.

While we all regained our composure and recognised the heavier strands that could scaffold some future thinking it seemed what mattered is it didn’t matter what the law was, or who’s beliefs were right or what evidence was presented. It seemed in the moment that pleasure and pain can only exist because of the presence of the other. That without some medium from which tension can arise there can be no release. In fact if we look at the original meaning of humour it derives from Greek medicine, where the balance of bodily fluids or humours was essential for good health.

Laugher is not trivial or trivialising, in fact it recognises the pain, and dis-ease and makes it bearable for a moment just enough to give space to think the unthinkable and stretch our capacity to hang over the edge and search the face of the void rather than shrinking away in fear.

Having a Ball

It’s that time of year again. The school uniforms are ditched for suits and frocks. Forget no nail polish and jewellery it’s a chance to flaunt every rule schools have on hair, make up and shoes. So I still feel a bit like the school ball is a bit of an archaic ritual. I wrote about my feelings last year therefore I want to change tact, because last night I did the 10-12 shift at the ball and recognised the importance of these events as a kind of social rupture.

The opportunity to express an alternative identity for a night is like time travel or a dimension shift. Young people can decide how to present themselves and might even choose to express cultural or gender challenges that signal to others a sense of unique identity in contrast to the sameness school uniforms imply. I enjoyed the game of ‘who was that who just said Hi Miss Grant’? As I tried to do my own cumbersome version of facial recognition software. Sometimes it came down to voice before a name would drop in. The fact that the oldest song I heard was from the late 90’s helped me to acknowledge that I am finally awkwardly aware of my age.

Who knows what happened after the ball, and actually – it is none of my business. That is the door that needs to be shut once and for all. School staff and to some degree parents of 18 year olds might do well to remember we were once that age, and we need to play our part in the ritual ‘ignorance’ of the other ‘right of passage’ (post ball shenanigans) that might be a little less formal and perhaps a lot more messy.

Of course no-one wants anyone to get seriously hurt, but some will take more risks that others and expect it as part of the package deal. Cinderella lost her glass slipper and I saw a few young women learned from that – exiting the building one arm linked with her date, the other on her shoes, and on her feet a pair of jandals.

Oh the simplicity of a layer of rubber and the wonder of double entendre.

touchy subject

Hair we go again part2. Right so Mr Key says any ponytail is up for grabs – even a dudes. I find that hard to believe but can respect his belief that he’s an equal opportunity kind of guy. So long as we have no discrimination personal space violation is ok. Once served up on an equality platter it can go with a side of ‘overreaction’ and ‘woops I did it again’.

‘Wandering hands’ aren’t a new phenomenon. The names Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris represent the tip of the iceberg but we all know what is under the water that goes unnoticed and can do significant damage. But because these cases are so extreme our consciousness defaults to a pony tail pull as ‘harmless’ and I can see that in comparison, it seems trivial. But what is lost in all of this is the experience of the person on the receiving end – gender irrelevant. You don’t have to look too far to see the insidious way ‘just being friendly’ and a certain level of power enable people to go unquestioned and those who are upset, offended, become fodder for ridicule and shame. People stop coming forward to report incidents of harassment, abuse or bullying because of precisely what has happened hair.

My sense is we are moving more towards ‘blaming the victim’ culture, by ensuring context is overplayed and individual feelings count for nothing other than to direct them to ‘what they should have done’ instead. The onus is on those who are hurt to ‘get over it’ and this is a dangerous message. Taking responsibility is still watered down and diluted to the point where those on the receiving end are painted as asking for blood rather than a simple human to human acknowledgement that I hurt you and understand why you are hurt. Understanding this as strength rather than weakness is an under appreciated ethic.

Whenever I talk with people who have been abused one thing has always stood out. The person who did the abuse (I’m not about to debate what counts as ‘serious’) was always someone who had respect of others, was viewed as friendly, usually funny and outgoing (but not always), and often maintained a level of esteem in the community. Why? Because it creates a shield of trust.

I’m not saying Mr Key is one of these people, nor am I saying he couldn’t be. That is the point and it needs to pierce the shield.

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.

Hair we go again

I don’t want to split hairs over John Key and what he does with his hands, but pontytail-gate needs a good combing for a fresh angle and I believe Alison Mau does better than most than simply blowing hot air onto it. It’s about entitlement and power. I wouldn’t pull my best friends hair let alone someone else’s, even as a ‘joke’ its patronising and demeaning, like patting someone on the head. The meaning of respect for personal space seems to be debatable, and if I may hazard a guess – it is still a gendered space. Had it been a young dude with a pony tail I’m pretty confident Mr Key wouldn’t have gone there, maybe a flippant homophobic comment – in jest of course, and he would probably say he has gay friends, knows a gay MP, and remember he did bring in marriage equality…

We don’t like making mountains out of mole hills, Kiwis are skilled minimisers in the name of ‘keeping things in perspective’. Therefore most of the debate is shut down by the default to ‘real issues’ ‘serious concerns’. But there is a lazy permissiveness around sexism particularly shades of misogyny and there are probably way more than 50. To me it’s a blurring of boundaries around ethics so that black and white becomes the only setting where outrage overwhelms indifference. Unless it is a sexual assault, crossing the serious line is never seen as a gradual process, a filtering of normative standards and carefully constructed defences to dismiss behaviours. Responsibility is transferred and hidden in tones of humour and blame.

His skills could come in handy if he teamed up with Shelley Bridgeman for school uniform and hair policing. It could also be a simple case that given Mr Key’s awkwardness around ordinary greetings such as handshakes that hair pulling seems a better option. Perhaps he could try it out on Ma’a Nonu. I think we’ll see the dreads then…snare-base-cymbal crash.

Shapeshifting – its morphi-fying

I remember dressing up as a kid, I was convinced my red skellerup gumboots were magic but feeling incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t fly and didn’t have super strength no matter what towel I tied around my neck. That was the 70’s and curiously enough superman has had more reboots than my old 486. The interesting thing is the embodiment of superman from Christopher Reeves slightly androgynous but not so muscular to the mesomorphic Henry Cavill who might easily have passed for the Hulk in the 1970’s. Everyone at some point has a fantasy about superpowers – not necessarily involving masks and capes or other stuff.

My favourite game is choosing an X-Men character. So many options and cool amazing abilities but there is one I overlooked for ages – Mystique. She is a shapeshifter and has the ability to alter her physique to be either gender. But she was always either or – never both/and. So although every other character seems to push the limits of physicality, the one person who could ultimately explore and represent alternative gendered embodiments gets stuck in polarity! The irony is in her ‘natural state’ aside from the deep indigo skin, scales and yellow eyes she has a ‘perfect body’.

So while X-Men push the idea of fear of difference, needing to control, eliminate or assimilate expressions of otherness there are some subtle messages that reinforce usual gendered stereotypes and mystique is a very good example. She is also told people should ‘love her in her natural state’ that she should not alter herself. On one level I agree however why on earth would you stick with one experience of your body if you have the ability to be anyone! Containing her fluidity to me is the ultimate act of disempowerment.

There are probably some other as yet unimagined benefits of shapeshifting. Just imagine how easy it would make shopping for jeans! You could choose any style and morph on into them. Then there is travelling! Gosh you could navigate all sorts of tricky culturally bound gendered norms, or other stereotypes that are currently a barrier to suspicion free international travel. Caught in a fight and someone goes to kick you between the legs – it’s probably going to hurt either way but maybe less in one body.

The only other downer about super heroes is they all so self-absorbed, tragic, angsty and tortured. No amount of shapeshifting is going to make that attractive.

Book Ends

I go through book binges. This summer I managed to get through The Luminaries…on which one does not ‘binge’ rather pick away carefully and take time between courses, but I am already losing the plot. I also read two books in successive weekends that were…well…illuminating.

Waitangi weekend, celebrating the signing of a historical document destined to both unite and divide our identity as a nation, I read Russell Brand’s book Revolution. If someone asked me to describe it I would say it’s a – rant – rehab coach – militant – radical peace – best and worst of conspiracy – consciousness – political commentary – autobiography. Or, a bit like a Billy T James skit colliding with bikram yoga.

The follow weekend was Valentines day, celebrating the cultural signs of commercial coupledom destined to both unite and divide our identity, I read A Short History of Stupid, equally digestible with beer and chips, but a bit of a shift from Russell. It was like listening to philosophy grad students talking at the pub after a shandy showing of their ability to both think and drink and solve the worlds problems.

Both managed to capture an individual and global perspective, albeit with differing emphasis. Much like the concept of yin and yang, complementing interconnected forces with aspects running through each other. It was also an excellent example of polarity and diversity. From simple to complex, personal to global, theory and experience all giving rise to intersections of ideas that evoke some challenges to status quo commentaries. I think the authors of both would liven up a dinner party conversation with some charades or twister, but maybe not trivial pursuit. The common use of humour was strong, particularly the ability to locate the ‘self’ as both an individual and in relation to systemic political, historical, geographical….(you probably get the idea) structures. Occasionally both overly self indulgent but read back to back the interlocking of patterns and meaning was intriguing. In the days in between I read How To Train Your Dragon where a sense of irony curled itself into the ouroboros of meaning. The ongoing reproduction, recycling and reinvention of stories past, present and future are all lived now.

Where do the dragons fit? They are mythical to some and real to others with varying degrees of evidence and belief adding weight to the truth. But in the book they are mischievous and generally difficult to bring under human control. Think I might have some dragon in me, well, I do like to breathe fire from time to time…lots of heat and plenty of light…illuminating.

Just mind the kerosene burps after – hydrocarbons not so palatable.

Groan Ups

Adults can’t seem to up their mind about young people. In the five years between 13 and 18 the strange and unusual behaviour that should be under the spotlight are older people. Yet we seem desperate to turn this extraordinary timeframe into a complete cultural and social zone of contention. Without wanting to borrow too much from other rhetoric, it does feel a bit like a war of terror. I suppose my role as a counsellor working in a secondary school gives me more access to the ‘front line’ (again – kind of not keen on the metaphor – hoping not to induce PTSD which is real by the way). I know Nigel Latta has captured the market and I’m not attempting to replicate his ‘stand up psycomedy’ but I reckon I can at least describe my observations.

‘Groan ups’ (GU’s) seem to want a bunch of things from young people (YP) with ever increasing complexity and shifting rules, much like a hyperdimensional maze, where the walls keep moving and paths that appear open close down. To be fair, parents have the best intentions and worry because they care. I’d struggle to identify any person in a parenting role that didn’t absolutely believe that what they wanted for the young person was the best possible future. In my role I’ve been asked to ‘talk to’ teens and ‘tell them what is right’. Those who know me will understand what a conundrum this is both ethically and personally. I also experience YP who feel fully supported and affirmed by the adults in their lives.

There are some patterns to the relationships where YP and GU’s just talk past each other – if they are talking at all. Here is a quick rundown: We want them to talk to ‘us’ not other adults (especially counsellors). When they are open about difficult things some groan ups like to minimise, judge and criticise, or plain ‘freak out’ then wonder why they talk to someone else. It’s important they be unique individuals so long as they aren’t different. We want them to remain innocent yet be aware of world events, have empathy and want to change the world. Know what they want to do focus on that but keep their options open. They are supposed to learn from experience without making mistakes or having awkward moments. We ask them to be mature and take things seriously, and develop their own ideas and opinions – so long as they are the same as ours or at least modelled off our values and beliefs. Be independent and self-reliant but need us to fight their battles for them and stay needing us. The very idea that they will want to develop intimate relationships is perhaps the most difficult to find a clear path through. We acknowledge they will have these feelings but not to act on them because of course adults never act on impulse or go out and ‘hook up’ (while under the influence of socially lubricating substances). It’s important to love someone for their inner qualities groan ups say, but if their sexual organs are the same as yours that is going to be an issue for many (multiply that for those YP who were given the wrong plumbing from birth). It’s ok to take risks and push boundaries but don’t do anything stupid or that you’ll regret (one of my favourites) – sex and alcohol/drugs being hottest risk zones. Whilst they are allowed to be ‘moody’ they cannot be angry or upset or sad or frustrated because they just don’t know what the real world is.

This pattern I have generally termed as N.U.D.E. When GU’s get NUDE they are Not Understanding Diversity Exists. It’s not life threatening but can be managed. For those experiencing a NUDE GU try the following:

• Maintain a sense of humour – including grown up friends of groan ups
• Accept there will possibly be some ‘no-go-zones’
• Take nothing personally but if you need to make a stand – do it in the name of respect, concern or genuine worry for the effect actions might have on a YP
• Remember they will often want the last word in the conversation to slam home their point
• Appeal tentatively to their memories of being that age (depends on the context of course)
• Avoid comparing
• Use familiar social and cultural reference points
• Avoid advice – listen and listen more
• Look for the love and concern in actions – even if they are hard to understand

GU’s often struggle with diversity in all aspects of life. Our general culture is to assume that change ends once you are in your 20’s that you will then be over any ‘phases’ and be ‘who you really are’ like some strange version of metamorphosis…who doesn’t want to be a butterfly.

If we could be more courageous and speak as grown ups about continuing to change, evolve, devolve, grow and decay our identity and sense of being then our chaotic expectations of YP might just take on new meaning as a mirror of our own desperate misunderstanding of complex relationships we have with ourselves and making sense of what it means to be.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is older people trying to reclaim their youth. Mid life metamorphosis/crisis is a Chrysler rather than a chrysalis.

Shifty Greys Of Shade

I scowl with frustration in the mirrored lenses of my glasses that are smeared with sweat and sun tan lotion. Damp patches growing as the summer heat refuses to surrender its suffocating mask of humidity. My hair pulled back in a pony tail does little to alleviate this. Crawling under the nearest Pohutukawa the dappled light offering a temporary reprieve but my skin aches for the cool caress of a delicate breeze. The temporary disorientation gives way to annoyance as a picnic blanket occupies the private space I had hoped to accommodate. Carnal urges to kick sand all over the place are pushed aside as I move toward another tantalising dark corner of the beach. Fingers already reaching deep inside my bag to fondle the corners of my book in anticipation. I duck under the low slung branches, thick matted aerial roots like hair brush my cheek. The blazing glare behind me I take a moment to orientate myself in the strobing shadows. There it is, the solid outline of sand untouched by the blowtorch outside. The cool sand pushing between my toes and the loamy smells beckoning I need no more seduction. I throw myself onto my towel and grasp the generous mass of literary flesh that is The Luminaries and devour every word. My quiet ecstasy as the words penetrate layers of my consciousness pulling me into a void filled with imagery and mystery. I am between worlds now and letting go, surrendering to the pleasure and delight of my heart and mind no longer being caged. My lips curled in a half smile and a tear of joy moves to the corner of my eye, lashes holding it until the surface tension gives way.

My neck aches, I reach inside for something to rest my head on. There is another book that might do the trick. Fifty…