Sunday, November 2, 2014

The sky and modernity

Days ago I got home early from work. There was still daylight so I took my new daughter Mei out to introduce her to the infinite sky. It's easy to do at her age, on account of she's too young to sit up in the pram and so she lies on her back looking up at everything.
Everything, on this particular day, translated into the infinite sky, cloudless, that dense radiant blue.
We walked north on streets. There were hills with houses on them. Whenever there was a chance to go higher I took it, and we ended up on curves traced high through that blue: long arching curves like the path of a flat stone thrown across a river, arcs in that ocean.
Mei's eyes, coincidentally, are the colour of an ocean in winter and she was taking everything in through them.
The sun was doing that thing it does where it explodes for billions of years and makes everything. It was hot on me but the air wasn't. We walked up a longlong alley, one of those alleys the nightmen used to travel. It went on and on. It was dry and bare and fig trees hung over fences like toughs leaning out car windows. They were green. Seemed fair enough to me.
I found a spring garlic just sitting there all by itself in the middle of the alley like a talisman against demons from the old country so I put it in the pram: you never know when you might need garlic.
We turned eventually back onto the street and headed downhill toward the creek. We passed a gap in the houses, a long mown swathe dozens of kilometers long. It had electricity pylons in it. We were in the highest part of those hills. Once upon a time that would have been reserved for a church but all this happened back in 2014 and electricity was the holiest thing to us back then and so instead we had those giant spires devoted to it and to passing it along. They watched over us while we walked to the creek and down the path that runs along it.
Mei wanted to sleep and so she did. The thing I appreciate about babies is they don't give a shit about modernity. They don't care the enclosure movement created a vast population of landless peasants with nothing to sell but their labour, that those labourers congregated in cities and were mechanised by the factory, what that did to time and space and how we understand ourselves. They don't care that at 9am you might have to be somewhere without vomit on your clothes, they just wake up and want milk and holding, because they're mammals.
There's a whole literature dedicated to getting babies to fit in to the same rhythms of eating and sleeping we moderns have been disciplined into, but I reckon fuck that. Babies let you see the world outside modernity and we should thank them for it. They invite you into deep time, and also into the rhythms the body found before all this foolishness with clocks, the rhythms of love and wanting and hunger and holding. Plenty of folks can give you a critique of modernity, but babies teach you how to just blithely ignore it like it isn't even there. It's good practise. One day it won't be there any more. And the babies, unperturbed, will still gaze up at the infinite sky and drink it all in like they always have. X

Thursday, October 30, 2014


I am a big fan of the pleasures found in heist movies, though I like escape films better. Heist films tend to assume access to the best people and gadgets: "This here's Billy. He's the finest safe-cracker in seven counties!" - that kind of thing, which is to say they assume wealth. That wealth isn't always current, but it's at least anticipated. A heist movie tends to revolve around the idea that if a bunch of highly-skilled people either get paid by someone rich or work for free, they'll be repaid with a share of things that don't belong to them. Which, y'know, is an idea that hasn't exactly had wonderful results in our society JUST SAYIN.
Escape films offer the same pleasures but don't assume the same privilege. An escape film is like a heist film but the only resources are patience and careful observation and trust and collaboration and the ability to turn what one has into what one wants.
What are the pleasures they share? Finding the weak points in systems of control - gaps in routines, and the sleepiness those routines induce in the people - guards, say - who have to carry them out. The pleasures of MacGuyverism and bricolage, of seeing the new uses objects and surfaces can be put to - the way the leg of a prison bed can become a screwdriver if you take it off and squish the end flat and so on. The pleasure of being part of a gang, a secret society, of planning together. The pleasures of spectacle and diversion; the associated pleasures of choreography and theatre, of dressing up, of impersonating part of a system of control so as to subvert that system and escape its clutches, to seize something it prevents us from having.
So I like those things. I have a basic anxiety about film though, which is that so much of it is cathartic in the old-fashioned sense of the term. Old-fashioned catharsis is when a drama gives you the feeling of having done something when you have not - it's a discharge of energy. That's great when the energy being discharged is murderous or jealous or otherwise nasty, as in the old Greek tragedies. It's a problem when that energy is the energy required to challenge systems or escape systems of control. Like, watching a film I identify with the ones who resist, with the ones who plan, the ones who escape. I watch The Shawshank Redemption and I feel those feelings of planning and resisting and escaping. I watch Star Wars and I feel like I helped blow up the Death Star. Those feelings are, and that energy is, discharged. Do you, gentle reader, after watching these things, go on and resist and escape? Or do you, like me, feel happy and satisfied, like you've already participated in doing what needs doing? Yeah, that's what I thought.
With all that in mind, you can imagine what a good time I had last Wednesday.
I got up at 6 and put on a suit and went to an anonymous little bit of park near ANZ's international headquarters. There were about seventy other people there all dressed up in suits and frocks, laughing at each others' corporate disguises. Reader: we looked great. We planned the final details of how to drift in to the building in dribs and drabs, what the signals to converge would be, reminded everyone what would happen once we converged again, got the phone numbers to call in case of trouble. And we heard from Mikaele Maiava and Raedena Solomana, Pacific Islanders who'd come to Australia to confront the machine that threatened their homelands through sea level rise and drought. This was their day.
WAIT, DID YOU SAY ANZ BEFORE? I hear you ask, and I'm like YEAH, ANZ IS AUSTRALIA'S LARGEST LENDER TO COAL AND GAS PROJECTS, to the tune of $6.75 BILLION lo! these last few years. And you're like O RLY? and I'm like YES WHAT DO YOU THINK I KEEP BANGING ON ABOUT ALL THE TIME.
We split into groups of six or so, who'd look out for each other and converge together. We told each other why we were there that day. For most of us it was about justice. The idea that our rich country was helping dispossess the people of poorer countries because we weren't prepared to stand up to fossil fuel companies and the people who lend them money made us sick; the chance to create a space where people from those countries could speak to the power that was dispossessing them made us excited and we wanted to be a part of it.
We talked about whether we were prepared to get arrested or not. About three in my group were; I wasn't. That was all good: there was plenty of fun to be had by people who didn't want to get arrested.
Each small group had a key contact: we'd be watching them for the moment to mass together. That sorted, we left and sauntered in that morning light, under that pale blue sky, a sky gradually thickening with carbon. About a minute from the building we split into ones and twos and quit talking about climate change and started talking about television and renovations and such.
I walked in with Deborah Hart. We were like, "Let's get into some debt, baby!", and the machine that creates debt opened its doors and let us in. We'd made it hungry! I knew how it felt: I was hungry too. I bought a croissant from the staff cafe and put bits of it in my mouth. It was flaky and good.
People got coffees and sat around looking at their phones or reading the paper or having fake meetings. In time I saw my group's contact stand up and wander over to the centre of the lobby. Casually, but without wasting any time, a whole bunch of meetings around the lobby came to a natural end and people wandered over as well. There was a gradually thickening group of us, chatting and drinking coffees. I ambled in and stood there eating my croissant.
A minute later we sat down and got our signs out. Wouldn't you know it - we formed a stage. We were a thick circle, around a smaller circle of five people linked together with white PVC pipes they'd smuggled in in bags; they'd been locking themselves together while we'd stood around casually, providing cover. In the centre of that smaller circle were Mika and Aaron Packard. Their shirts were off and their chests were painted; Mika's paint made the point that ANZ IS FUNDING THE DESTRUCTION OF MY COUNTRY.
And then there we were. Mika did most of the talking after that, though the rest of us did a bit. His voice echoed through that vaulted space like it was a canyon. He thanked everyone. He apologised for the disruption, but made the point that it was tiny compared to the disruption caused to his homeland and culture by digging up and burning coal, and that ANZ was one of the more powerful forces in the country helping that happen. He invited the folks on the top floor to come and give him a hug.
Can I just say, gentle reader, what a joy and privilege it was to be that bit of political theatre? To turn the giant atrium of that headquarters into a machine for amplifying a voice? And to keep at the centre of our circle someone our current way of doing things would rather was on the periphery, always over the horizon and invisible so we can't see his homelands flood with the king tides, see the salting of their earth? To tear up that horizon for a few hours and unsettle the polite silence evil requires?
Because it was a joy. It changed me. I recommend it. X

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mobile phones and the enclosure movement

I think the reason mobile phones caught on so fast is we spent most of our evolutionary history able to instantly communicate with the people we loved, because they were always around. We were in little packs or little tribes or little towns and you could just wander over and say "What are you having for dinner?" or "What is that thing he's wearing doesn't he know how silly he looks?" or "Look at what my cat is doing haha!" or "Wanna come back to my place?" etc. Like it's deeply in us to be able to talk to the ones we love at short notice.
That gets destroyed, for my ancestors anyway, by the enclosure movement. Land that was previously understood to be commonly accessible was forcibly enclosed by the wealthy; walls and fences were put around it and trespassers were prosecuted. But that was the land we ate off - we hunted and fished and foraged on it. Once that was gone we couldn't feed ourselves; to feed ourselves we had to swap our labour for money and go where the work was. We went to the cities and the cities grew and our families fragmented into little bits.
For a long time we kept a lot of these habits though, and got to know the people who lived nearby even if our families were far away, but it gets eroded more and more as we have to keep going where the work is. After enough generations of that geographic churn who knows anyone? And who has their family and all the ones they love within walking distance? Not me. You're all dispersed through space.
So of course when things come along to collapse that space, to make everyone present and immediately available for conversation again, we leap at it. It's what we've done for millennia and instincts like that don't just go away. To the people who got used to the loneliness of the recent past it seems weird, like WHY DOES EVERYONE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO TALK TO EVERYONE CAN'T THEY JUST BE ALONE FOR FIVE MINUTES but they're the odd ones, if you live in deep time. Being comfortable to be alone is only a virtue in a society that wants to split everyone up and starve them so they have to go where the money is. The rest of us want to be with the ones we love. We want to talk to each other. X

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Let's pretend it's 2014

Our aerial was never very good and we kind of stopped watching TV and then cos we never watched it eventually we got rid of it and now I don't know what to be afraid of any more sorry. It's a problem sometimes. Like when I had to go to the security office at work one time and they'd hung a big Australian flag above the front desk.
"New flag?" I said.
"Mm," the guy said, looking stern and harried. "You know, because of everything that's been happening." He fussed around with some papers.
"Mm," I said, and looked out the window. I had no idea what the fuck. As far as I could see the sun was still shining and gravity was still holding everything more or less where it belonged. I was still four billion years old: fuck yeah. Capitalism was still eating everything and shitting out commodities but it hadn't eaten everything yet so there was still time to stop it doing that: fuck yeah that too. Air moved around and I could breathe in and out: fuck yeah that as well: what was all the fuss about now then.
That was a while back; now let's pretend it's now. C'mon it'll be fun! Let's pretend it's 2014. Let's pretend you're alive in 2014, and all this is happening in real time, so you can feel the seconds pass. Like you can actually feel them happen to you.
Let's pretend you're alive in this glowing world, feeling the seconds. Let's pretend you also feel separate from the glowing world and from me and from all the rest of life and from the past and the future.
Pretend there's something called space that makes that separateness possible, then pretend there's something called time that stops everything happening at once. Pretend both those things can only have names because of something called language. Then pretend language completely messes them both up, so that sense of separateness just falls apart when you peer into it.
I mean when and where are the words I'm typing and you're reading? C'mon people. I am typing them here and now and you are reading them here and now. So you and I and here and now are all fused together in these words, in these twin acts of the glowing world writing them and the glowing world reading them. The glowing world's all through you. What even are you but the glowing world? It's gorgeous. X


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