Monday, 29 July 2013

Remembering You

On Friday I got news that a close friend at work had died. Tomorrow I go to his funeral, where students and staff will try to be strong for the rest of what must be a wonderful family. I felt like remembering him tonight. 

So you’re dead now, which is pretty rough. 52 seems far too young for that sort of thing. I heard today that you were texting one of the girls from the ambulance, and were midway through a conversation when all contact suddenly ceased. You always had a flair for the dramatic pause. 

I remember standing in your classroom as you held your coat for me to try on. Original World War 1, you told me. Proper flying aces coat that you wore with a white scarf. You were ever the gentleman and there was real joy in your eyes as you watched me swish the heavy thing around you, humming the tune to Dambusters. 

We sat once in midsummer, surrounded by children and shared a moment of chaste intimacy. You told me that you really weren’t looking for a relationship right now, I laughed and said you fundamentally weren’t my type anyway. I think we became friends that day.

I made you a spider out of pipecleaners so you could use it in your stop motion class. You had a stop motion class, of course you did. I loved that it made you laugh. 

You shared with me the stresses and the highs of buying my house, and made all the right noises when I showed you tiny pictures of living rooms and wallpaper swatches on my smartphone. I was going to cook for you, I really was. 

Listening to you talk about your children. You talked about them the way every child hopes their parents talk about them when they're not around. 

You made me iced tea, regular tea, tomato soup and the most evil little cups of black coffee using a vintage coffee press that looked designed by the Marquis de Sade. Rocket fuel, you called it. You weren’t kidding.

Sitting on low seats, hands wrapped around mugs of tea as you showed me the work your students had done. Listening to prog rock with the volume up to give those students inspiration. Together showing our charges that being uncool and geeky and silly is one of the coolest things you can be. No wonder they loved you. 

Talking in the middle of a busy staffroom as though it was midnight and the fire was burning low in the grate. It sometimes felt like you had so much you wanted to teach me and not the time to do it. You were that purest of teachers, one who has risen in the ranks and realised they were born for the classroom, not the boardroom. You knew where you needed to be. 

I stood in the doorway of your room this morning and looked into your domain. Your appropriately quirky mugs. The tiny yellow fridge where you kept your beverages. Your posters. Your handwriting still on the board, complete with silly quotes and admonishments to your various media crew. It seemed impossible, seeing the chaos  in that room, that you would not be returning to it. I was going to go in, but I can't. Not yet.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Lady Gaga and the Missing Vulva

The internetwebs (or at least the bits that aren’t swooning over/getting annoyed by royal babies or the X Factor) have been getting excited by the latest photoshoot from the Diet Coke of queerness herself, Lady Gaga. “Is this Lady Gaga’s Most Shocking Shoot?" asks the august organ of news and opinion that is (good god, I live in a country where one of the major news websites sounds like it was named by a terminally bored 14 year old), their clickthrough photo showing Ms Gaga naked on a stool, hands covering breasts and vulva. Apparently, the photo “shows the slender singer without any makeup” which suggests the author thinks make-up only comes in primary colours and glitter, suggesting they are either a drag queen or desperately naive. 

In a career marked by exciting/plagiarising-Leigh-Bowery-and-most-of-the-80s photoshoots, at first glance it’s easy to see why this one may be a little controversial. She’s nekkid! She’s only wearing three layers of makeup (which to our journalist is equal to “no” makeup)! Her legs are open! 

However, on closer inspection owners of vulvas may grow concerned for the woman, beyond her fatal lack of blue eyeshadow. Upon reflection I now have nothing but sympathy for her. 

She has no external sexual organs. Her slender paw is placed in such a way where a peek of clitoris of labia minora would surely be visible, or at the very least a suggestion of labia majora. And yet, between finger and thumb there is nothing but smooth, airbrushed flesh. No hair, or even suggestion of follicle, can be seen.

This is where I get annoyed. Clearly this is meant to show a “natural” “real” side to an artist built on artifice, probably preceding some major personal revelation or power ballad about just being free to be her. And yet the image is built on the same lies that lead to teenagers saving up for labial plastic surgery and women not letting their partners see them naked with the lights on. An artist who’s major hit was about being born this way has photoshopped out the fundamental human structures that allow most people to be born at all. 

What message does this send? I appreciate that it may sound like I'm finding things to be annoyed about, won't someone think of the children but this isn't about "ERMAGHERD NUDIE LADY!" Regardless of my personal feelings for the woman she is looked up to by many and to have this image touted as what a natural body looks like continues to reinforce the horrendous problems women and girls have with their own bodies. If she truly wishes to be a role model and be "empowering" then she can start by not airbrushing out a part of the body that most people seem to wish did not exist at all. 

Sunday, 21 July 2013

High-Pressure Navel Gazing: The 24 Hour Zine Challenge

At 6pm. We look, er, ready? Maybe?
As someone who's used the written word all my life to make sense of things it seems a bit odd that the world of zines has until now been a mystery to me. Aside from attending the Auckland Zinefest on a date with someone a couple of years ago I had dismissed zines as being a bit, well, hipster. A throwback to the days before blogs and the internet that were now the bastion of people with too much time on their hands and a penchant for gingham. So when I was invited to take part in the 24 Hour Zine challenge last Friday, the lure of trying something different proved irresistible. For me, it was more the writing side that appealed. Sitting down for a night and a day in a new environment where I could just write? Sounded pretty great. The whole idea of typing, drawing, laying out and creating a 24-page booklet seemed almost an afterthought.

So myself and a friend (do check out her website- some of it very NSFW) loaded ourselves up with caffeine drinks and jellybeans and hit the town centre, really not knowing what to expect. She and I both had a rough idea of what we wanted to do. She wanted to do something queer, sexy and femme-filthy, filled with glitter and claws, and I had the idea of writing 30 letters to various people, places and things that had impacted on me in some way over the last 30 years and would be filled with anger, love, soul-baring and honesty. Basically, our ideas are this photo in zine form:

I'll leave you to work out which is which.

They said "ass"
We arrived at the Auckland Old Folks' Association (wonderfully shortened to the Auckland Old Folk's Ass on the wall outside) and were unfashionably early. In our defense we thought the place was going to be MUCH busier than it turned out to be so we wanted a table to spread out all our junk brilliant ideas on.

Ground Zero for the next 20 or so hours
I got into the writing side almost straight away, just writing out the first 30 things I could think of. They're not necessarily the most important but throwing in the first 30 seemed appropriate. Fuelled by jellybeans and V I managed to write my 30 in an impressive 4 hours, even stopping for a quick vegan pizza break. I thought I'd managed 3000 words which seemed pretty good, only to find that it clocked in at a cool 5,135. Clearly, I had no idea how zines worked. I had decided to write at least part of this opus on a typewriter because, well, they were there and it was a zine, right? I mean, that's what they're like. I think. Typewriters and whimsy.

I now hate typewriters. Hate them hate them hate them. There is a reason why my parents ditched the golfball typewriter almost as soon as they could when word processors came out. They're horrible. My romantic notions of taking an hour or so to copy stuff over turned into an EIGHT HOUR marathon as I grappled with my machine, called Enid for reason other than I needed to give my nemesis an identity beyond "you bastard". They keys were heavy. The tape for the ink needed dicking around with almost every ten minutes as my hard-earned words faded in and out like pirate radio. Apostrophes became 8s about 50% of the time. It was horrible. Unfortunately, by the time I fully realised just how monumental this ordeal would be I felt like I'd done too much to just print off the rest and be damned, and I couldn't just bin the work I had already done. the long dark Night of the Typewriter had begun.

"But how does it WORK?"
It was about this time that most of the other people in the hall left, and there was about five of us still working, not including the "security guard" who came in, found a comfy seat and promptly passed out for the next seven hours, snoring loudly enough to be incredibly irritating. There was nothing but typing now. As my friend grappled with her (much more sensible) laptop, finding photos and content, I sat and laboriously copied out my work, taking twice as long to copy what had been original content. 

While I typed, I got to thinking about that content. It was very raw. I've not had the easiest of lives (though I understand that on the global scale I've had it easy yes I know) and there's been some really nasty points. Why the hell did I want to write about them, much less write about them, type them up, photocopy them into a little booklet and distribute for free? I found myself getting annoyed with the whole idea, round about 4am, feeling like I'd reached almost Amanda Palmer levels of self-obsession. That somehow this little booklet would come back and bite me on the arse. That I should be, what, ashamed of this stuff? It was an interesting thought train. At this point I was listening to some Slayer in order to push on through to the end, which may have done little for my mood but at least it kept me awake. 
I hate you.
And then, suddenly, it was done. At around 6am I put the date on the final letter and sat looking at the pile of paper I'd created. And then, reading through what I'd written, realised I'd have to take some of it out. I'm quite protective of my work and trying not to mix personal with professional so my big piece about my career might not mix in too well with stories of abuse and violence. I took it out, looked at the typewriter in horror, wrote a short apology and drew a picture of a guinea pig in a space suit to compensate. 

By around 7am I'd been staring slack-jawed at my booklet, sticky with glue and still not looking like much in particular when we decided that breakfast and some time outside was in order. Sitting in a cafe eating food that wasn't day-glo helped a lot, as we dissected the process and questioned our sanity. Re-entering the ass was not easy, especially as the sun was up and it looked to be a hell of a good day. 

I'd had vague rules when I sat down at 6pm. No handwriting (my handwriting is comically awful). Sensible photographs from magazines, no computer printing. My art skills are almost as bad as my handwriting, so that was out too. 

Best teapot ever.
By 9am, these rules had been dropkicked out the window. Letrasets were beyond the comprehension of a brain that had been awake for 24 hours on nothing stronger than caffeine and had been staring at the same 24 pages for 15 hours. Collages were beyond my ability to  spell, let alone create. Between us we developed a siege mentality, the need to get the thing done outweighing pretty much anything else. I hand wrote. I drew pictures that a 6 year old would pat me condescendingly on the head for. After half an hour of failing to find a picture of a shark (the closest I came in my 5th edition of National Geographic had the only photo of a shark ripped out. I nearly screamed) I ended up photocopying a photo of some ground squirrels and drawing on a fin with a sharpie. At this point I detested everything I had written, not just tonight but ever, and looked with rage at the lass who'd finished hers hours ago and was now sleeping peacefully in a chair. Finally, there was just a centrefold left. All of my text was stuck in place, everything else was completed and just this centrefold remained. Two pages. With a stroke of manic genius I turned it into an interlude, the halfway point bookended by a recount of some of the hideous things an ex had said and done to me, and a short piece about abortion. I figured any poor sod reading it would need a break as much as I did. 

"You look tired"
At 11am, 17 hours after I'd sat down at a blank screen, it was done. My zine "30430" (see what I did there?) was complete. I felt a bit odd. All that effort, all that time, and for what? Did I ever want anyone to read it? Why had I written it in the first place? I photocopied it a few times and pondered what the hell to do with it. It seemed like a massive waste to just bin it, or take it home and leave it in a drawer somewhere, but did I really want people to read it? Eventually my friend persuaded me that it should be read at least by somebody, and it's now in the zine library at Alphabet City. My friend's was brilliant, a gutsy, gleefully offensive introduction to hot sex and femme fabulousness. Mine looked absolutely depressing next to it, but at least it was done. We high-fived, had our photos taken, and went to our respective beds to try not to screw up our body clocks too much. 

Finished products
 So I still have seven copies of "30430" in my bag and I'm still at a bit of a loss. Personally, it was a great exercise. I find writing incredibly cathartic and there's something quite satisfying about all of these thoughts, experiences and recollections in a physical form, like now they're out there it feels easier for me in here. I feel a little apprehensive reading this stuff, but I rationalise it by thinking that people write and act and sing and perform their experiences and real lives all the time. There's nothing in there that I'm ashamed of, after all. Some might argue the truth of it, but it's experiences as remembered by me so it's as true for me as it ever will be. Maybe someone reading it some day will take something positive from it, or maybe they'll think I'm a self-indulgent asshole. Whatever. It's done.

Will I do it again? Maybe. It was a brilliant exercise in creating something new and stretching myself, but I did make my friend promise that if I said I'd do it again she was to hit me. Though that was at about 5am and I said a lot of things around that time.

I am damned if I'm ever using a typewriter again though.
The few, the proud, the bloody exhausted

Auckland Zine fest is on at St Kevin's Arcade on the 27th July 12-5. I might be there. 

Sunday, 14 July 2013

No Justice for Trayvon

I'm sitting here shaking and it's not from the cold. I'm shaking with disbelief, with rage. You don't need to hear from me about the acquittal of George Zimmerman. You don't need me to tell you details of how a young black man was stalked and shot by a man who was only arrested six weeks after the killing, and only after protests. You don't need me to tell you how utterly, utterly fucked all this is.

Or do you? I've talked about white privilege on here before, but today we see what white privilege really is. White privilege is not fearing for your family members whenever they leave the house, in case they are shot dead just for the colour of their skin. It's not watching in horror as the killer of your unarmed child walks free, as in the eyes of the law his right to defend himself is enshrined in law, as your son's right to defend himself ended with him lying dying in the road as your killer calls you a fucking punk. White privilege is having a legal system that defends your rights above those of others.

I have this privilege and tonight it makes me sick to my stomach. It sickens me to hear people talk about how this "isn't a race issue". That Zimmerman, being a POC himself (just fucking google it if POC is too complex for you), couldn't possibly have been racially motivated when he decided a young black man armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea was enough of a threat to stalk him, confront him and shoot him dead shows a level of wilful ignorance that you can only have if you're white enough to think this does not affect you.

It should.

You shouldn't have to be black to see immediately, clearly, that this was about Trayvon's blackness. You can be white and be absolutely horrified at this verdict. In fact, you can't be human and see this as anything other than the absolute proof, if any were needed, that we live in a deeply racist, unequal society.

If you read this story and don't feel that desperate, clutching urge to do something, anything to change this verdict and the world we live in, to offer some shred of comfort to Trayvon's family, to move the immovable objects, then you are as much a part of the problem as Zimmerman, the jury, and the lawyers who stood there and argued that Zimmerman's right to kill an unarmed teenager was much greater than Trayvon Martin's right to live, breathe and have a future.

There is no excuse. Educate yourself. Read. Don't sit there and shake your head about how this can't be about race, or that it couldn't happen here, or any of the other excuses that mean this can happen in our society. If you're not furious then go and learn until you are furious.

Justice for some of us means there is no justice at all.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why liking the Pakeha Party makes you a douche.

Warning: The following post contains buzzwords like "privilege" "racism" and "arsehole". Read with caution. 

I am a white person. Always have been, always will be. I can't help that any more than I can help being an opinionated know-all or liking boobs. Having this skin colour has brought with it several benefits.

  • I can approach a police officer in the safe knowledge that they will listen to what I have to say and take care to ensure that my problem is taken seriously! (unless I get drunk and end up raped that is. But burglary? Mugging? I got 111 on my side!)
  • Petrol stations will unlock the petrol pump for me before I prepay if I ask nicely, because I'm not perceived as a criminal purely because of my skin!
  • I can talk about racism without people telling me I'm overreacting!
Of course, with the perks of being seen as having earned my degree fair and square and being a useful member of society, comes some downsides. The lord giveth, and the lord taketh away. 
He's British you know. We're practically cousins
  • I can't use the word "nigga" without people maybe thinking that's a bit racist, despite having watched The Wire twice through and owning several Public Enemy songs
  • I'll never get stopped and searched by a police officer for no reason other than walking down the road
  • I feel a bit uncomfortable when confronted with the terrible legacy of centuries of oppression and violence committed by people with my skin colour. 
That last one. How dare I be made to feel slightly awkward when I read a tumblr post titled "Fuck white people"? How dare I, a homeowner with the money for an overpriced haircut to go with my latte, even have to conceive of the idea of institutionalised racism and my own white privilege?


I live in a world that is almost entirely geared towards my kind. My ancestors were never treated like animals, worked till they died, or shot for sport purely on the basis of skin colour. Sure, as a woman I can expect to earn less than a man. But as a white woman I can expect to earn more than a woman of colour.  As a queer woman I experience intersectionality of orientation and gender, but I'm still of the race that has ruled been a fucking disaster to most of the rest of the planet since before that dude got nailed to that thing. That carries a lot of cachet, you know. 
T-shirt design by Mr Vintage

So when I see massive injustices and examples of bigotry that don't affect me directly, it'd be easy to go back to my knitting or listening to whimsical guitar music. However, I am learning not to be an arsehole. Just because I am aware of the fact that being white gives me an automatic cheat code in the computer game of life doesn't mean anything unless I am willing to do something about the fact others aren't given the same cheat code. So if you find yourself nodding as you read the examples of Maori "privilege" on The Facebook, or furrowing your pale brow to some frothing bigot on Seven Sharp...




Usually, when a group is being given more, it's because they started with less. Well actually, they had plenty but then some bugger with a flag and a lot of soldiers nicked it. Which is actually worse when you think about it. Political organisations like the Maori and Mana parties may not get it right all the time but they exist because we are a society build on injustice and until that is righted there is a need for those who have less to be given a louder voice.