Crying Vowel

Auckland harbour has a problem with effluent. Oh, I’m sorry that should read affluent. What a difference a simple vowel can make. The giant superyacht Serene belonging to Russian Vodka Baron Yuri Schefler is a great monument to the excesses of ‘big business’. How wonderful that someone can make that much money producing a neurotoxin that causes so much physiological, social and emotional harm. Do I agree that this is wonderful for tourism? It might, but what does the Serene leaves me with an extremely uneasy feely, a queasy giddy sense of vertigo not unlike being intoxicated. The opulence, is both breath taking for its grand statement of financial success and a monument to the stench of consumption with so many chewed up and shat out in the process.

The difference between rich and poo is R we willing to put our heads that far into a dark place and pretend the air is sweet? Think I need a drink…dang it… out of fejoa vodka. Perhaps I could get an I O U.


Christmas – Pole-arity is just a little queer

A couple of hundred years ago the world was ‘flat’ – we pretty much sorted that one, but we no longer have a sphere we have in fact a hemisphere or half a sphere; or more specifically, the Northern hemisphere. The world as it is described in all manner of ways is rapidly becoming ‘top heavy’ and those of us in the booty part of the world (I refuse to say ass end…woops I did anyway) are having our identity colonised by all things related to that which is above the waist line – aka the equator.

Christmas is definitely on that list, and there is no need to check it twice. I’m going to use an analogy that some might find a little shocking but I’d rather say it because staying in the closet at this time of the year is rather stuffy and hot. So here goes…dear rest of the world…I need to tell you something about Christmas in New Zealand – it’s summer here. There ‘we have been outed’ Aotearoa and there is no going back in the closet. If you have grown up here and encounter someone from the hemisphere-normative north the conversation about Christmas can be a little like someone coming out to their parents or friends as being gay. People stare wide eyed, and ask the same kinds of awkward curious questions about ‘how do you do it then?’ and ‘do you still sing carols?’ or even better ‘are you sure – it’s not just a phase?’ Actually it does irk me somewhat that we are still trying to ‘fit in’ and be like Europe or North America.

Santa really doesn’t fit our brief for Christmas. We would do better to adopt the Christian nativity here as our cultural symbol, not for religious reasons but the faming agricultural theme – barns, sheep, goats, hay… kiwi as. Just for the record as well – we don’t see the north star either, so there go your astronomical references. We should also be cautious about rampant tree felling. Yes one of our primary industries is logging but we don’t have such a great history with respecting Tane Mahuta. I always feel a little grief stricken seeing hundreds of baby trees cut down before maturity for decoration purposes. So here is a quick flick through some of the ‘obvious’ contrasts:

• The days a long here – children are not easily convinced to go to bed in the broad daylight
• It’s hot, sticky, humid – fires are reserved for bar-b-ques
• Sand – features strongly rather than snow – just don’t throw it at people, they tend to get a bit tetchy
• Sledding and skiing exist – just on water
• Boxing day test – is not a quiz but a game of cricket – those outside of the British Commonwealth think ‘sport but over 4-5 days, possibly with no result…with more jargon than the legal system and the medical profession put together’

• Santa still wears a big red suit – we just roll with it
• Being with family – whatever that looks like
• Eating and drinking too much
• Panic gift buying
• Decorations – excessive use of lights and tinsel … (yup it is just a little bit gay)
• The birth of Jesus is in there somewhere – but like the rest of the capitalist, consumption driven countries – you need to go searching beyond the guy hogging the limelight in red-white.

Do we still need Christmas? I don’t know – I’m aware of how swept along we all seem to be with fulfilling this need to exchange gifts and pleasantries. The strange and convoluted meaning of this time of year is probably well overdue for a make-over. Getting the big guy out of that suit would be a start and perhaps some honesty about some of the origins of what is considered ‘tradition’ would cheer me.

I’d like to think we have moved beyond a ‘flat earth’ society but are we well rounded? It’s a sphere enough question.

Courageous conversations and contagious curiosity

I’ve recently found myself listening to two inspiring women about their lives and learnings around identity and how this is worked within social and political constructs. Ash Beckham speaks openly about the need for more honesty and less pedantic policing of needing to get diversity right all the time. Her call is to ‘loosen up’ some of the self-protective mechanisms that hold others to ransom over every utterance they make without holding the possiblitly that perhaps people are not always intentionally biggoted or homophobic. I agree it is important to recognise good will and trying to ‘get it’ needs to be acknowledged, but is often not valued as a legitimate form of connection. Her openess about herself is refreshing as is Lana Wachowski’s private world and in naming the protective power of anonymity. It’s ironic that we seem to have gone from ensuring the world remained black and white with any rainbow descriptions of sexuality, gender identity, pushed into silent void of heteronormative public discourse to one where there is almost an expectation of openness at all times. This might be in part to large shifts in recognition through marriage equality or potentially the polar opposite depending a bit on where you are in the world. But while it would be easy to assume that in general society appears more ‘accepting and inclusive’ and visibility is perhaps preferred to complete invisibility there are some strange and unusual interpretations of how to engage with diversity.

Perhaps my breath holding is more to do with what appears to be a label grab – like some crazy sale once someone is known to have added a sense of ‘colour’ to their identity the protection of invisibilitiy and anonymity is lost. There can be a frenzy of meaning making, a rush to ask personal questions, and lascivious voyeuristic entitlemtent of displaying this label to others. Yet we do need conversations and dialogue if things are to change, but the quality of those conversations needs framing and the misappropriation of curiosity should be challenged. A good example is Anna Paquins recent interview with Larry King where Paquin continually resisted his attempt to grab hold of ‘non-practicing bisexual’ as a label. Her response was eloquent and gives us a great lens to view how the light of private, intimate parts of our identity can be split, redirected and claimed in ways that serve to uneasily represent peoples lives in ways that reinforce harmful alienating assumptions and stereotypes. No she didn’t bite (haha – only funny if you watch True Blood).

The danger is for defensiveness and silence to return to our landscape of knowledge of gender and sexuality to a rearticulation of the binary dualistic matrix. This isn’t necessary or desirable – we need to keep going down the rabbit hole. Where I think is a good place to start is asking about the role of anonymity and privacy and valuing this as much as we value public disclosure. Being critical and sensitive to how language both reveals and constructs us without always needing to censor ourselves can help reflect some of the ways limiting beliefs are constructed. For example the persistent use of prefixes for describing women based on their marital status Miss Mrs Ms – think I might start using ‘M’ on its own, sounds contemplative if you say it out loud.

I am grateful to have the likes of Ash Beckham and Lana Wachowski touch my consciousness. Rainbows both reveal the nature of light but our knowledge has been channelled by the most popular ideas of physics at the time (Newton). Few people know about Goeth who also had a theory about light and challenged Newton. I wonder what he might have to say about the above? Now that would be an interesting conversation.

A theory of relativity we should challenge

Something sits uncomfortably with me at the moment and it has to do with the effect of polarity and the ability to compare values and actions based on increasing extremes. When extreme violence is posed at one end of the spectrum however justified everything after that can be viewed as more ‘humane’ or ‘tolerant’ and I think we should be mindful of this. When a woman is stoned to death outside a court house in Pakistan and another woman in prison is awaiting the death penalty for marrying outside her religion there is horror, outrage, but also relief. If you are a woman living in a country where this is not accepted and are not exposed to such extreme threats of violence for breaking tradition then the invitation is to be grateful. We have access to in-formation about social, cultural, religious and political landscapes on a global scale. Even if you are not living in that situation the knowing it exists shapes our existence and understanding of ‘it could be worse’ and I’m concerned about the yardstick growing and the relativistic acceptance of ‘less than death’ as progressive in terms of respect and human rights. The same goes for same sex marriage. Now legal in New Zealand but again, in other parts of the world you can be killed or jailed for being gay. Kind of makes travel arrangements for honeymoons a bit more delicate.

Of course I am outraged and bewildered that we as a species are defining ourselves through fear based beliefs that has perpetuated continued practices that contradict the idea that we are highly evolved beings. But lets not pat ourselves on the back ‘over here’ when people are living under constant threat, fear for their lives for simply being.

That awareness sits in the fabric of consciousness. Years ago, before the digital age the context of understanding was local and contained within a limited sphere of exposure to extremes. Now we can know all possibilities and I’m uncertain how to make sense of respect, freedom and safety within an awareness of expanding polarity. The world is smaller so whilst I am fairly certain I am unlikely to be stoned to death in NZ my awareness that this is happening to women in other parts of the world cannot be ignored or pushed aside easily.

There is nothing about this that deserves a witty ending. It’s just too alarming and outrageous that in the year 2014 women are being assaulted, raped and killed in brutal ways.

Being kept in the dark can be illuminating

I am an amateur astronomer – emphasis on amateur. I do own a telescope and make use of it on clear nights. We have spectacular views of the celestial treasures in fact they are ranked as some of the best in the world.

Many people assume that viewing a full moon through a telescope would be the ultimate. However with so much light being cast over it’s surface, the effect is to lose some of the more interesting effects of shadow which often allow other features to stand out. When searching for positive metaphors in life we often find them associated with light, illumination, shining, radiance…you get the idea. Darkness doesn’t get such a spin, and yet could be one of the most underappreciated and misunderstood concepts because of its relationship with light in polarity.

We don’t like talking about darkness or are at best limited in the ways we value what the absence of light can bring forward. In fact we over do light with most things, trying to shed more light, find the light at the end of the tunnel…etc. What if we were just to be in the blackness a moment? Our eyes are remarkable, and adjust to varying degrees of light unconsciously. At very low levels of light the eye manufactures a pigment called rhodopsin that heightens the sensitivity of the retina. It takes 20-25 minutes but the effect is to allow your eye to pick up faint light. Another peculiarity with the eye is the distribution of photosensitive nerves. The majority of colour sensitive cells – cones are in the centre of the retina. Rods are distributed away from the centre of the retina and are sensitive to all visible light – and as such lower levels of light. What this means is if trying to distinguish a faint object, not looking directly at it improves your ability to ‘see it’ as the eye activates more rods. When you get good at this technique it is amazing what you can see.

I’d like to see the absence of light explored more. We could ask questions and be more curious about what we might be missing when we stay with what is most visible, bright, that draws our attention immediately. My sense is we are flooding our experience of life with ‘lightness’ without questioning what this could be obscuring or devaluing. One outcome of this I think is our current obsession with happiness, positive thinking, and general discomfort of expressions of sadness, frustration, anger and resentment. When I think about the most significant learning or turning points in my life they have almost always come from being immersed in darkness. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant or enjoyable at the time but the time mattered. Like the iris opening – parts of our awareness, consciousness and spirituality emerge and develop strength through exposure to ‘darkness.’ I’m not a big fan of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but perhaps we have become too protective around life experiences where the outcomes might be less than pleasant but not necessarily life threatening.

Not all darkness means the presence of a black hole – with all the emotional gravity this implies. Perhaps we have an opportunity to rework another cosmic phenomenon. Lets go with astronomy again! Black holes invoke a sense of annihilation, being so powerful that light cannot escape. But at the event horizon remarkable, strange and incredible things happen to light – blasts of X-rays, gravitational lensing, it’s awesome!

You don’t need to know anything about the night sky to enjoy gazing up and wondering. If you need inspiration – check out this:

Sometimes I’d rather be kept in the dark. I’m all-light with that.

What to do with the ball – kick it or pass it?

It’s that time of year. The detailed planning and preparation has begun. Research into the competition, ruthless conditioning and contingencies accounted for. You might be forgiven for thinking I was talking about the winter sport season of rugby and netball if you’re from Australia or New Zealand. It is school Ball season or Prom if that term is more familiar. A tradition New Zealand schools have tried to drag into the 21st century with mixed results.

I had a ‘small town’ experience of the ball. It was held in the school hall with a few decorations splashed around, mirror ball, local band, and formal dancing expected. I wonder how many ACC claims from that era reflect broken toes and sprained ankles from attempts at waltzing.

New Zealand is currently in the throws of serious ‘cultural angst’ about our young people and how they are growing up. A lot of this centres around sex and alcohol. Throw in an event that is a virtual ‘dress rehearsal’ for adult relationships and hey presto Cinderella is outa that ball dress at midnight, into the party bus carriage and Prince Charming doesn’t care what shoes she is wearing! Her fairy godmother has also organised an after-ball function so the magic can go on.

What is the Ball? Some call it a ‘right of passage’ into adulthood. I agree but it is a certain representation of adulthood that is ‘righted’ so I’m giving that definition the quintessential Kiwi ‘Yeah…Na…’ and providing an alternative – but you might want to take a deep breath first. I will call it what it is, a socially sanctioned, ritualistic normalising of heterosexuality and clear gender identity, wrapped up in large dose of nostalgia and parental voyeurism…and breath.

That doesn’t sound quite so romantic now does it. I’ll be somewhat unapologetic about that because we really need to ask why we are hanging onto the Ball as a significant and important function schools perform. I think we have drifted along for some time with this one hoping it will morph and evolve naturally with the times. Well that has been about as smooth as a first driving lesson…and other ‘firsts’…enough said.

Lets ‘quick step’ through some of the questions I want to pose so we can stop being side tracked by the well worn dialogue around alcohol use and sex which seem to dominate commentaries in this area.
Who is the ball for? I’m going to suggest that although we proclaim the Ball is for young people, I believe parents are just as invested if not more. Recently, when there have been suggestions of phasing it out, a lot of the outcry and desperate pleas to continue have come from adults, especially parents. It could be that the Ball acts like an anchoring experience, an intergenerational touch stone, that allows parents to join with their children at a time when they start to feel pushed out and excluded. They have something to offer and share in the experience whilst taking their own trip down memory lane.

What is the main difference? I’ll tentatively put this out there and hope it makes sense, but I feel there has been a change in sense of ‘intimacy.’ I’m surprising myself mentioning this, but notions of intimacy have all but evaporated like cheap aftershave. It’s perhaps easier to explain by looking at some of the changes that have taken place. I apologise in advance for mixed metaphor’s and cliché’s.

1: What happens before the Ball – or ‘Pre Ball’ This used to be the realm of the ‘Lions Den’ for young men, where they would arrive to pick up their date. The visual and verbal dressing down given ensured the ‘law of the jungle’ was spelt out and the unspoken was ‘don’t you dare even think about doing anything to my precious daughter.’ You could say it’s like ‘walking down the isle’ as poor anxious boy waited for his date to emerge in her dress, a princess in all her splendour, to be greeted and marked with a corsage.
You might be wondering ‘how is that intimate?’ The ‘couple’ is acknowledged as significant and meaningful, the light is shone on ‘them’ and whether you agree or not, it weaves a story of responsibility and expectation around respect. Intimacy develops through carefully crafted situations that allow for specific interactions and Ball/Prom protocols have certainly delivered on this aspect in times gone by.
Taking a date has become more optional, sometimes partners do not even know each other, but simply ‘match up’ through friends because the underlying ‘couple experience’ is still there. I’ve seen this awkward set up and hope we can move on from the pressure to take a date. Groups of young people sometimes choose to go together which seems to at least on the surface to counter the ‘take a member of the opposite sex’ theme. So we are stuck in a kind of ‘limbo’ (not the dance unfortunately) with a tension in expectations. The interpersonal and social location of the ‘couple’ has enabled the outward rituals to be more important than the connections to people. Teens are ‘tied’ and ‘frocked’ up and sent stepping through the social norms to ensure there is some ongoing familiarity providing reassurance that everything is ‘normal.’

2: At the Ball – Learning to formal dance was something many of us went through. Clumsy and embarrassing as it might have been for many, classical ballroom steps and routines guided young people through physical closeness and being in another’s personal space with permission. Young people could safely hold each other and feel how they felt in the comfort of ‘shared discomfort’ and co-ordinated stumbling around in circles. Why is this important? Navigating physical closeness is like learning to drive in a safe environment before taking to the open road or race track. Without this we are effectively bypassing and devaluing a whole spectrum of intimacy. With formal dancing relegated to ‘uncool’ getting physically close to someone is an ‘all or nothing’ experience.

3: After the Ball – the advent of the ‘don’t talk about The After-ball’ generation signals a shift in the relationship schools have with their community. In effect the intimacy associated with being part of a ‘school event’ is countered by the polarity of the ‘After Ball’. For a start, this has become it’s own event, and an expectation. The clandestine planning and secrecy warrants some scrutiny I feel. You know something isn’t quite right when schools are having the Police in to ‘lecture’ students and letters are going home to parents to discourage organising After Ball’s.

What has stayed the same? Gender expectations and the inevitable pressure to fall into line and play the correct part for the ‘parts that you have.’ When people refer to ‘Tradition’ and even ‘traditional couples’ the weight of heteronormativity becomes explicit. I’m heartened however to see schools grapple with this and adjust accordingly.
But change hasn’t come easy. Some New Zealand schools persisted for a time with requiring ‘declarations of sexual orientation’ if students wanted to bring a same sex partner. Justifications for this range from avoiding gender imbalance to worrying if there was formal dancing then other dates might be poached – oh the horror! Having to ‘out yourself’ by taking a letter home for your parents to sign does nothing to celebrate and embrace diversity. In fact it does the complete opposite. Bi-sexual and intersex students would perhaps have the biggest dilemma. The day someone brings ‘one of each’ gender with androgynous attire will signal an epic shift in genuine acceptance of diversity.

Ultimately I believe ‘dropping the ball’ could help us decide what game we are actually playing and whether the rules really fit for 21st century concepts of identity and diversity. It could be a real game changer.

A cycle of polarity – period

The human reproductive system is perhaps the most obvious definer of gender difference. As open as I am to concepts of identity – if you are born with the reproductive parts that are designed to grow babies, then it comes with such intense and fiercely contested meaning of self that sometimes I wish it was possible to be a single cell organism and hand over my survival to mitosis.

I’m mindful that male/female biology is also not quite so binary and that there is a vast array of inter-gender/intersex people out there but if you born with some combination of female reproductive anatomy – if not the whole lot – then chances are egg production and fertilisation feature in your life somewhere.

Sexuality also aside, we seem to place women’s reproductive functioning in polarity. On the one hand we celebrate at an almost evangelistic level – pregnancy and the bringing of children into the world, but the timing of ‘when’ children should occur varies greatly between cultures and generations. Women also seem to be quite comfortable talking about the process of conception and ‘when this occurred’…in unnecessary detail at times. But we don’t want to talk about what happens ‘in-between’ not being pregnant. Ovulation happens! and the ‘uncomfortable’ truth is menstruation happens fairly frequently. Girls have to deal with this, it’s not really much of a choice, it’s pure physiology and it is kind of amazing if you bother to investigate the complex processes involved.

In this modern era there are products such as tampons and pads to assist women in the hidden world of ‘temporal haemocratic fluid management.’ Advertising has tip toed around this rather awkwardly, because of the unintentional contradictions this represents for marketing. There have been some interesting attempts with varying degrees of reference to the actual realities.

My favourites include:

* Blue dye (language is no barrier to understanding this)

* Men relating to sanitary products

* Women feeling really happy energetic

* The reality check – wins the ‘cup’

I did find myself laughing at the most recent addition:

It gets to the social aspects that often get missed in trying to address the practical. If you have experienced periods, you will have noticed the ‘shame’ element that seems to go with figuring out how best to ‘Keep Calm and Conceal Ovulation’. That is reality – period’s don’t just happen in the bathroom at home! Some have called it ‘degrading’ and ‘filth.’


I can understand after generations…centuries in fact of hiding and demonising (quite literally historically) menstruation we don’t know how shake off the anachronistic meaning we have constructed around it. I like the idea that we can laugh at ourselves, rather than relying on making men out to be clumsy and uninformed when in my experience they are far from this.

It would also be helpful if we could allow a bit more of a buffer with the discomfort and inconvenience of this cycle. The assumption that its over and done with in a few days has got to go. I don’t know about others but quite frankly it starts more like a week before follicular rupturing (way more exciting than saying ‘releasing egg’ don’t you think?) the actual ‘evacuation of ovulation’ (bleeding bit), and the ‘hangers on’. That’s about 3 weeks! Not 3 days!

It would also be nice to drop the idea that tampons and pads are luxury items with the associated luxury tax that is put on them – try bleeding on a budget. I find it a bit of a necessity not to bleed everywhere at work. It would be an easy protest to do over a month, especially if we all wore white. Men could join us in solidarity with hot water bottles and chocolate.

Now I think that deserves a standing ovulation.

Running on nothing so my feet feel free

Guitar solo by Mark Knopfler – anyone feeling it? Well…clearly you missed the 80’s – Money for Nothing is a classic and is the nominated backtrack to this piece (perhaps minus the ever so blatant homophobic reference in the middle of the song).

So I am ditching the running shoes in favour of going bare foot (now that title should make more sense) because quite frankly I trust my body. ‘Barefoot’ running is not quite accurate – a thin piece of rubber is strapped to your foot providing protection from sharp bits. This is where we get the interesting tension and polarity between our ‘natural design’ and the belief that technology improves on this ‘design’ (not here to argue who or what or where we were manufactured). But it is interesting that human beings have been around for ‘quite a while’ and shoes ….not so long.

It’s no mean feat (ha – pun intended) to take on the might of the scientific and medical industry that relies on our ‘design faults’ to keep a multitude of professionals and manufacturers busily providing us with salvation from all sorts of biomechanically induced ailments. There is a whole language of pathology and treatment regimes and shiny new shoes with go faster stripes are often the solution.

I’m not convinced anymore as I feel the drive for profit and marketing has captured the technological advancements in sport science leaving me with a distinct case of Iatrogenesis http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iatrogenesis. The challenge of those going ‘back to basics’ is to navigate the plethora of rhetoric pushing the cause of ‘improvement’ as we instantly assume that science advances things.

The fact that people can make their own shoes (I know a guy who made his out of old go-cart tyres! – bit of DIY kiwi style) is a frightening prospect to a multinational corporation and their profit margins. Eventually they will relent and find some way to say ‘natural is best’ – put their logo on and claim it as their idea and everyone will rush out and pay exorbitant amounts of money for the privilege.

So – if the shoe fits – you can still go barefoot.