unique

Games represent our common wealth

Our flag might be the topic of much debate for some but when I see that black shirt, singlet, togs or lycra onesie with the silver fern I recognise a symbol that has etched its way into our cultural heritage through sport. But competitive sport can polarise people and I suppose being brought up with my parents coaching gymnastics and then squash it has formed an integral part of my identity.

But with the commonwealth games I feel there is an opportunity to perhaps reflect on the rich diversity of sport that spans gender, age, culture and disability. This is the place where lawn bowls boasts a team of youth and ‘experience’ blond locks beside silver haired foxes outwitting opponents with strategy, skill and determination. Where para swimmers sit in readiness alongside every other swimmer with nerves and anxiety matched with excitement and pride. For something other than rugby and netball to take centre stage in our collective sporting psyche. Watching athletes congratulate each other after giving it their all but perhaps not quite making it – that is the spirit of competition where regardless of the flag that is raised pushing each other to strive to the next level is what I enjoy.

The common wealth of sport is in danger of being lost in the market place of commercial and professional sport where athletes are brands, billboards and pawns in the global economy. Of course they train hard and at a personal level athletes have desires, hopes and dreams and still represent strong personal values. However the obsession and personal investment or association with the success of teams does boarder on sociopathic at times – but don’t try telling these people it is just a game!

So lets not get distracted by medal tables, yes they offer a comparison of relative success but they do not show the values and potential worth of that common and uniquely human drive to better ourselves and each other to be the best that we can be. This is an opportunity to join in appreciating the full spectrum of physical performance and see bodies move in extraordinary ways and I for one am enjoying watching people explode with joy, pride and ecstacy or collapse in sheer and utter pain and suffering.

But lets be honest if you are a kiwi – black and silver should always beat green and gold.

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‘Lifestyle’ what does this mean?

There is a growing awareness that whenever people say ‘I’m not racist but’ that we have exactly that, perhaps best captured in this cartoon by Natalie Nourigat. That probably goes for sexism, and other ‘ism’s or ‘ists’ or ‘phobias’ basically any fear of otherness. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed but there is kind of a double layer of marginalisation in talking about homophobia.

I was reading through a piece on racism by Jeff Yang (where I initially saw the cartoon) and was intrigued by a statement he’d made:

“The common thread here is that we have reached a point in our culture where it is generally (but not universally) acknowledged that making disparaging remarks about people of other races, cultures, heritages or lifestyles is unacceptable.”

I get race, culture, heritage (just), but ‘lifestyle?’ At a guess I would say this refers to sexual orientation or possibly functionality because quite frankly we have yet to genuinely integrate our physical structures with those who’s bodies function in unique ways. So I’m a bit confused why we cant just say sexuality or sexual orientation or functionality. For now I’d like to stick to the assumption that what is referred to is sexual identity in some way. Saying ‘lifestyle’ whilst not directly disparaging is indirectly homophobic. When sexual orientation/sexuality/gender identity are lumped under ‘lifestyle’ it avoids the realities of discrimination and hate people experience for being who they are – not where they shop, what tea they drink or how they get to work – that is lifestyle.

Lets ditch the laziness with language that softens and avoids the uncomfortable truth that we have a people who do not identify themselves as heterosexual or male and female.

Bi for now.

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!

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.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/21/greenville-high-school-prom_n_4826861.html
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.

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.

When it comes to the ‘crunch,’ some things are hard to swallow

Have you ever been eating something, chewing away, really enjoying it only to suddenly hear the sound of enamel on a disintegrating unknown object? It reverberates through your head whilst your mind races through various images of what it could be. There is that awful realisation mixed with the visceral need to expel the contents from your mouth but depending on where you are this might not be such an easy option. If you have a sensitive gag reflex, that will also likely be triggered and as the tears form in your eyes all you really want to know is ‘what just went crunch?’

I have no doubt almost everyone has shared this experience. I have chomped down on a range of nasties such as glass, snails (sorry but they are just not food to me),egg shell, fish bones and scales (but no small bikes), and the occasional small stone – which seem indistinguishable from brown lentils funnily enough. If you are expecting something to be crunchy it’s fine, there’s no surprise, but that instantaneous reaction via sensory cues is a marvelous indicator of just how quick the brain works to invoke panic and fear.

Politeness dictates that we don’t show our disgust. Kind of ironic when you consider some of the disgusting practices involved in food production but that is not for this piece. I am going to blend this literal disgust with the concept of disgust as an ‘unconscious response to the unfamiliar or uncomfortable’. Bare with me, it’s possibly going to be a bit of a dogs breakfast but lets see how we go.

I think our taste in food is much like our taste in anything, it is acquired and developed over time. When it comes to children and food, parents are often keen to help them explore a range of things and persevere multiple times until the reject button has been hit enough and the message is clear ‘don’t like it’. Generally it is more acceptable to expose children to different food than it is any other form difference such as race, culture, sexuality, gender identity, functionality (AKA ‘disability), etc . This is probably related to a belief about what is acceptable and harmful.
How many of us were tortured with broad beans? I swear they were toxic, they had to be, tasting like the smell of dirty socks. But it didn’t kill me, and whilst Broad Beans still don’t feature in my cuisine I can see the intent my parents had, ‘give it a go, it might not be as bad as you think, chew a bit more and give it some time you just might like it.’
Hiding foods within something else is a sneaky tactic. I haven’t been fond of mushrooms until friends cooked a variety I was unfamiliar with in a risotto and I was wondering what the smirk was on their faces as I expressed my delight. Once I realised my assumptions had been challenged I was willing to concede maybe I could accept mushrooms were ok.
I’m wondering a bit about other forms of difference that when ‘hidden’ actually enable the richer personal aspects of self to emerge and ‘flavour’ relationships. Instead of rejecting based on a perceived threat or ‘dislike’ our identities are able to flourish under more palatable ideas such as respect, connection, love, acceptance and honoring unique aspects of self.
If a form of difference is visible – that same instantaneous, unconscious fear/rejection response needs challenging from within. I would suggest that talking or communicating in some way breaks down barriers.
My friend Philip made this and I think sums up nicely how we can go about adding spice to notions of identity and representations of ‘difference’:

But here’s the thing. If I am happy to dine at the diversity buffet,let me; it makes no difference to anyone else. I accept others still want to gorge themselves on hate but to ‘force feed’ anything to anyone and denying them the freedom to be aware of other choices is unpalatable.

This is the tension we are left with and it’s a bit hard to digest. If we are talking about genuine disgust on a reflex level it’s possibly going to be ‘messy’ if someone is asked to swallow something they know repulses them. But then how do we develop a broad taste and appreciation of the wonderful flavours of the world?

I’m really hoping the world food shortage is not going to give rise to insect farming because the combination of spiky bits and chitinous exoskeleton are enough to consider snails a delicacy.

If it came to that sort of crunch – I might just have to eat my words. Now that’s food for thought.

Lycra it or not – we’re all after it

I like to call myself a ‘re-creational’ athlete. My intention when I do events is to transcend my every day experience of reality. This is no different to other forms of altered states or intoxication but the means by which its achieved certainly derives different responses from people.

I’d like to make a comparison to a common and familiar type of ‘out of it’ experience – the epic night out on the town. You might be sceptical but believe me – at the core of the experience of endurance events is a strange mix of ritualistic preparation, pushing the body’s limits and the bonding with random people and the inevitable – WTF just happened?

The great thing about events like Ironman is you do all the worst things that can happen on a big night out and people will stand and cheer you on, call you a legend then put a medal around your neck when you’re done!

Seriously – for example, you spend a day ensuring you’ve got your lucky socks, enough ‘protection’ (from sun, blisters, cramp and punctures). You start the day slow – pace yourself, but loss of bodily functions at some point is expected and normal. Wetting your pants is completely acceptable as is vomiting and clearing your nose in public. Munchies are planned for and chips, coke and lollies are simply fuel to keep your body moving. Staggering and crying with complete strangers who feel like long lost soul mates fully describes the end of an ironman (or the closing time of a night club). Your body hurts, sweat is soaking everything, but everyone is the same – not pretty but united in ugly. And like a big night out there is the aftermath – the bodies lying on beds, being rehydrated intravenously – others keeled over in various states of distress wondering ‘why’ or ‘I want my mum’ or ‘I didn’t know you could get cramp there’. Others sharing a hug, a story, a thank you, a moment in time.

The difference is the kind of hangover you have. The endorphin high lasts days and the transformation some go through is truly inspiring. This isn’t being ‘wasted’ – its like my dear friend Tracey Lemon said to me once “Ironman isn’t a day in your life, it is your life in one day”.

I salute those who go clubbing all night – they are fellow seekers of altered states and the sense of themselves that comes with this, but I can’t do it that way – and I don’t want to, no judgement – it’s just a preference. I don’t ask people who club, rave, etc – how long did you go out for or how much did you drink for some measurable assessment of their night, I ask – how was your night? And really hope they left the lycra at home.

[In honour of Tracy Lemon RIP – someone who lived and breathed the spirit of Ironman and living life fearlessly and honestly]

What my nose knows

I am reasonably confident few (if any) cycling commentaries have touched on this. But for you non users of ‘open air transport’, don’t worry, this is definitely ‘NOT ABOUT THE BIKE’.

Our senses serve us well. Even the loss (perceived loss?) of functionality of one or more simply opens the possibility for others to be developed, enabled, re-directed. Being someone who would be viewed as ‘functionally common'(all usual and known senses working), I can’t speak from a position of loss. But I do have a new appreciation of my olfactory abilities and what it has enabled me to experience.

As soon as I leave my front door in the morning my nasal passages are assailed with smells. Usually these come from cars, but not the vehicle itself – the occupants of these ‘particulate containers’ don’t seem to realise that if their window is down – particulates escape and if someone is outside the car in close proximity – they most definitely find their way to the nasal cavity and WHAM – there it is!

Perfume and aftershave dominate (fortunately), with cigarettes next on the list – and the occasional ‘other’ cigarette (bit of a worry when one of those tickles the nose – defensive riding for sure). Then there is the profoundly disgusting poo particulate stream – or the fart car. Of course you wind the window down – but just know it doesn’t always dissipate. Yesterday I followed a methane stream for about 1km (a good 2 and a bit minutes!). Forget diesel fumes, I would have happily sucked on the back of a bus it was that bad.

I also get familiar with the cities refuse cycles and general hygiene. There are some sections of town that are very…fishy. Following rubbish trucks is up there with fart cars. On the other hand there are times when I have been out training and the worst smell is cooked breakfasts – especially when all you have eaten is bananas and energy gels (flavoured snot – for those unfamiliar with these) but it does make me ride harder to get home and get some real food.

So there is the good and the bad but I do have a point – just wanted to fully engage your imagination… I can see the cringes from here.

Smell is a powerful memory trigger and I think we could use it more in our lives and well-being. Even the smell of fresh air on a cool morning, or freshly cut grass (sorry allergy sufferers) connect us with nature and ourselves.

Get out there and smell the roses – REALLY smell them, smile and be glad they are all sweet.