Archive | June, 2012

Six – by Karen

28 Jun

Let’s walk down memory lane – I’m going to find as many “sixths” as I can, starting with my sixth Facebook post.

On 31st August, 2008 I was tagged in photos from Beth’s hen’s day! How lovely:

Beth stitches

I stitch with Carmen and someone else

is this Tabitha?

She may have evaded the camera but her hand is evident in this amazing spread!

My sixth post on one of my old livejournal accounts, from February 28th, also in 2008:

    Yesterday I noticed that Finn seemed to be able to kick a tennis ball with his foot while sitting down. So I stood him up and rolled the ball around to see if he can kick now while standing. A few seconds elapsed while we chased the ball around the room, booting it and saying KICK! in a high pitched voice, until I realised – he was saying kick too!

I think he may have said no the other day when being fed, but Finn’s first definitely decipherable word is kick

Alas, Finn’s first word didn’t turn out to be the omen of prodigious soccer prowess we suspected at the time. Last time I took him to soccer, he stood, staring into the middle distance during the game, not actually noticing when the ball BOUNCED OFF HIM. Oh well, apples don’t fall far from trees. We have other qualities.

The sixth item in the “nostalgia” file in my filing cabinet (yes, this is a real thing I actually have in a physical filing cabinet) is a sleeve of baby photos my mum passed on to me recently. As a third child, these are probably the only surviving photos from my childhood.

Check out my mum’s glasses!

My sixth job, if I am remembering correctly, after junk mail delivery, KFC, Pizza Hut call centre, Data Entry and working for a suburban architecture magazine in a garage was… actually my first real, full-time job. I was a journalist for an industry newsletter all about telecommunications! Exciting! Actually, it was kind of exciting. It was in Balmain, in a pleasant, proper office, I could FINALLY move out of home, into a tiny Balmain flat and start making foolish spending decisions, like cab fares and clothes from that shop that was like an upmarket Tree of Life – what was it, Mary Jane or something?

My sixth home was three rooms of a small house in Leichhardt where I lived by myself for the first time. It turned out that living alone led to even more slovenly housekeeping than I had practiced with my (unfortunate) male housemate in Balmain!  Once I was burgled and the police officer asked, “was it like this before they got here?” I still burn with shame at the memory. This was also the home where my cat abandoned me for the attentions of up to four other households. That’s cats for you. I liked living in Leichhardt, eating bread and olive oil with Richard in the park, and making more foolish spending decisions, now on movies and books on Norton Street.

This is my sixth year away from Sydney. In my time in Asia I really do think I’ve grown up. I’ve made two children, stopped making foolish spending decisions (although I think I got the hang of that shortly after the Leichhardt era), and learned to value and get along with different people in a way I never could manage before. I’ve cleaned vomit from a car. I’ve battled through hundreds of tiresome culture-clashes. I’m excited to start a new life in Sydney again, but not with that itchy, “knock it all down and start again” attitude. I do want to put down roots and build something. And I want to check out all those new cafes Lee Tran Lam keeps blogging about.


Six ideas – by Beth

26 Jun

I was thinking: what are the ideas that I’ve heard or read that have stayed with me? Ideas that lit a fire in my mind that hasn’t yet burnt out. Six is a good number for that sort of thing so here they are.

For an idea to take hold and live in your mind, you need to discover it at the right time, so I’ve listed them in chronological order of when the fire was lit.

1. Jane Austen’s “little bit of ivory”; and the power of the everyday

Jane wrote in a letter to her brother in 1816:

“The little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush as produces little effect after much labour.”

Jane Austen’s work is, amongst many things, an embodiment of “the personal is political“. Her books were read to me as a small child, and they must have soaked into my veins like lemon and sugar topping on a warm cake. Right before the end of high school, I discovered the photographic work of Nan Goldin. What an odd pairing: Goldin – a bisexual, living in New York/Germany. Austen – an English spinster living in the 18th-19th century. On the surface Goldin’s photos document her heroin addiction, domestic violence, AIDS, and drag queens. But at the core of her work are the most intimate portrayals of love and friendship in the context of the everyday. Austen and Goldin pass the Bechdel test with flying colours. Vanessa Berry‘s writing totally captures that sensibility too. Bless her heart. If I could express even a flicker of these women’s brilliance for shining a light on the everyday I would bow my head in wonder.

2. Mr Campbell/Pastor Niemöller‘s “First they came…” history lesson

In year 12, our history teacher Mr Campbell taught us a lesson I will never forget. I talk about it here in my tribute to John Campbell, who died this year. This is a perfect example of a teacher bringing something from the past into the present for their students. A reminder to speak out which I carry with me always.

3. Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, 1975, and the idea that both humans and sentient nonhuman animals deserve freedom from suffering.

If a being suffers there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering – insofar as rough comparisons can be made – of any other being. So the limit of sentience is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some other characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary manner. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color

This book still has lots of challenging ideas, even almost 40 years later. It turned me vegetarian. I eat fish now, so I know I’m in a glass house, but it has stayed with me. At this moment I have a humane rat trap on the ground next to the couch I’m sitting on. I couldn’t bare to use poison (at least not until we’ve tried this for a while as an eviction method for our ratty housemate). The basic idea that humans are animals too is still so relevant – as a species we seem to want to forget that little detail.

4. Deleuze and Guattari’s Rhizomatic theory, A Thousand Plateaus, 1988

Studied this in Cultural Studies in uni. I picked the book up tonight, hoping to get a choice line from it that showed what I loved about it. But my aged brain just switched off, and I opened Google and found this description instead:

As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the originary source of “things” and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those “things.” “A rhizome, on the other hand, “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (D&G, A Thousand Plateaus, p.7). Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (D&G p.25). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.

In this model, culture spreads like the surface of a body of water, spreading towards available spaces or trickling downwards towards new spaces through fissures and gaps, eroding what is in its way. The surface can be interrupted and moved, but these disturbances leave no trace, as the water is charged with pressure and potential to always seek its equilibrium, and thereby establish smooth space.

[Taken from here]

Yes it’s a total wank. Maybe I’ve just never forgotten that partially deciphering the French academic-speak made me feel like an intellectual for 5 seconds, but I’d like to think it was something more than that. The book is fucking dense (I never actually finished it), but every 100 words or so something of it seeped through into my brain, and spoke to me. Interconnectedness of EVERYTHING – check. Multiplicities of being – check. It was also written in 1988 but totally explains why the Internet is so powerful.

5. Ira Glass: “Action, action, action; thought.”

Ira Glass, host of the cult American National Public Radio radio program/podcast, This American Life, visited Australia in January. As I was getting ready to go I was saying things in my head like ‘I’m going to touch the hem of Ira’s garment’ and ‘off to worship in the church of Ira’. And then in his talk he spoke about the similarities between their radio show’s story structure and that of a Rabbi’s sermon (Glass is Jewish, so the sugary lemon sermons were poured on his warm cake at a young age and have left a mark on how he tells stories). All that religious imagery he conjured up for me was no coincidence. Ira says the affect of a good sermon, or a good story, boils down to the presence of the compelling: Action, action, action; thought. Action, action, action; thought. Meaning, tell a story as if it’s unfolding in the present moment, and then talk about the bigger themes and implications at work. Simple but totally inspiring for an aspiring storyteller.

6. Brene Brown’s Vulnerability and Shame talks

I blogged about these a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if her ideas are really going to stick with me, but I think about a couple of things from them a lot. Firstly, that simple but illusive thing of believing you’re fundamentally worthy of love just the way you are. And secondly, the idea that exposing yourself, making yourself vulnerable, can be so rewarding. I recently heard echoes of this second argument in Jeff Jarvis’s talk in defence of the public where he talks about the benefits of going public about his prostate cancer.

Six – by Tabitha

26 Jun

When I was six, my best friend, for a time, was Nathan James (not to be confused with Nathan James Thomas). Our sole common interest was the Police Academy franchise. This unidimensional model of acquaintanceship was to reappear often in my life, over several workplaces, as I bonded with coworkers over nothing more than our shared interest in the Monte Carlo biscuits in the kitchen, or having the same ringtone. When I was six, Police Academy sustained my friendship with Nathan James for a surprising amount of time, until, I think, we both realised that girls and boys aren’t supposed to be best friends. He focused on the handball crowd after that, and me, the fairies and pressed flowers set.

When I was six, my grandfather died. My father’s father, the Greek Cypriot one, the only relative to bring a bit of ethnic colour to my family. I have one memory of him, and that’s of him sitting in his chair, a leather Lazy Boy, in his Penrith home, doling out one- and two-dollar notes to his grandchildren, the very picture of a New Australian patriarch. The morning after he died, when I was six, my mother came in to tell me and Toby in our bunk-beds. I felt very strongly that I was supposed to be sad and cry, and tried to muster up a tear. At school, I told my friend (a more appropriately female replacement for Nathan James) that my grandfather had died, and she was shocked I had been sent to school that day. This hadn’t struck me as a problem, but she seemed to know all about what was the done thing in these circumstances. This was the first of many times that I felt my family didn’t seem to do things properly.

When I was six, I had two teachers. The first, Mrs Bruce, left after only one term. Once, during a thunderstorm, she shouted at all the children to get away from the windows, saying her friend had been struck by lightning that way, and was now in a wheelchair. I reported this back to my mother, who seemed very sceptical. “I don’t think that can happen”, she said, a confusing contradiction of one voice of authority by another. I don’t think it can, either, but every time there was an afternoon storm in Hanoi, I’d take a step back from our metal window frames.

When I was six, my second teacher was the mother of a girl in my year, and who would remain in my year until we finished high school together. We were never close friends, although I remember a brief, particular interest in her after she returned from a year in the Cook Islands with her family, which was exotic. Her mother was a lovely teacher though, especially after Mrs Bruce, and I continue to hold a fondness for her. My own mother recently told me some awful news about her, and her daughter, which is why I don’t want to mention their names. My teacher, from when I was six, was babysitting her toddler granddaughter, the child of my classmate, at her home in the Mountains, when the little girl swallowed, or choked on, some kind of insect, and died. It is the most biblically grim thing to happen to a family. In my mother’s email on the subject she noted, “You see, there’s no such thing as a groundless fear, anything can happen”.

When I was six, my mother was more involved in my school life than she was for the rest of my entire educational history combined. I suppose this was because at that time she was adapting to not having to care fulltime for at least one child for the first time in sixteen years. She came into my classroom once a week for “remedial reading” with the kids who hadn’t been taught to read at home, and who lived in the housing commission on Cascade Street. Many, many years later, when she was working at her friend Adelaide’s antique shop in Wentworth Falls (Adelaide’s Antiques), a couple of these very same remedial reading boys, now remedial reading teenagers, came into the shop, greeted her as “Mrs Carvan”, then nicked her purse from the back room.

When I was six, my mother also accompanied the class on an excursion to Featherdale Wildlife Farm. The highlight of the excursion was meeting Fatso the wombat from A Country Practice, the apparent excitement of which I couldn’t share with my classmates since I was still yet to watch a single minute of commercial television, our TV being permanently tuned to the ABC. Yet again, our family didn’t seem to be doing things properly. But when I was six, I still patted that celebrity wombat just like everyone else, as it was held aloft by a handler in his pen, and was shocked by that bristly, prickly hair.

Combining – by Karen

24 Jun

For me one of the greatest bonuses of creating a child*  is the fun of throwing up all your genetic material in the air and seeing how it lands. That’s all metaphorical throwing of genetic material guys, I’m not being gross.

* watch me pretend it’s not the whole point

The physical combination is intriguing, especially if you are very different-looking from your partner. It’s even more fun when the personalities start to become apparent. It’s also enlightening, as it shows up your blind spots. A trait in one child will seem to us to have sprung up from nowhere, but our friends or family will point out how it’s just like one of us.

As we all know, my son  Finn looks exactly like Shiloh, the daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie:

This is hilarious, and as I’ve explained before, it’s because I look like Brad Pitt and Richard looks like Angelina Jolie. It also highlights the random element of creating a child – they can, theoretically, just get the bad bits or the good bits of both of you. I think that’s what scares a lot of people about having a child. You don’t get to pick.

In the womb, I could see that Anika had Richard’s nose. She has my chin and cheeks. They both have my blue eyes, but perhaps slightly larger, like Richard’s. They have my shaped lips, but again, slightly fuller, like Angelina’s Richard’s. Finn is a budding engineer with a grasp of the abstract that must come from his father, and an ability to be orderly that I would trace to him too. He’s also a prolific early reader like I was, and fascinated by animals and plants. Anika is stubborn like her mother, and has a lot of traits Richard and I both would like to claim (charm, flashes of brilliance) but if we’re honest have to throw up our hands in grateful mystification.

A psych lecture I once attended explained that when we use a computer to “average” faces a bunch of faces, creating composites with intermediate features of pairs of faces, the resulting generation will be more attractive than the previous one.

I wonder if this happens with personalities too. If we continue to manage to interbreed for a few more centuries, will we be kinder, more patient, more balanced? Well, it’s a nice thought.


Combining – by Tabitha

24 Jun

When Nathan and I consider our combined strengths, it’s really just a case of taking one skill (say, mine) and throwing it in with the same identical skill (his). Combined, we are not greater or more diverse, just redoubled. If you picked couples as you picked players for a sports team, you wouldn’t put me and Nathan together.

We’re both good at cooking and eating and hosting and crafting and writing and reading and making puns. We’re both bad at driving and computer problems and financial planning and studying and gardening and cleaning the bathroom. Every time we look at our bank account, it’s a complete mystery to the both of us how the money arrived in it and how it went out. When we go to a computer store we both stand there, passive and helpless, hoping the other one will work out what to do first. We once needed a new battery for our laptop but when we were in the Apple store neither of us could actually remember what size computer we owned. Yay! Go team!

But we’re not the same. Not at all. The way we each approach our shared skills could not be more different. Nathan is slow, considered, perfectionist, while I’m impatient, efficient and slapdash. So you have the dinner party where I do most of the preparations and most of the cooking, while Nathan works all day on one ridiculously elaborate dish that will inevitably steal the show. Or I will quickly write a message on a birthday card, with whatever happens to come to me, while Nathan will labour over the perfect one-liner, even if it means being late for the party.

I had a bit of a crisis of confidence about this when we first got together. He seemed to be better than me at all the things I thought I was good at.  And he kind of is, but in an impractical way. I get things done; he gets fewer things done, but better. So we are actually a great team. I will do a half-arsed job at some craft project, and be unhappy with it, and then he will devise a painstakingly fiddly way to improve it.  We’re hoping to apply this same principle to child-rearing.

In our beach bungalow on Koh Samui, we are currently engaged in a game of Scrabble. We are both good at board games, one of our shared strengths, but the way the game is played is the perfect representation of our personalities. When I come up with a word I’m happy with, I will play it. I am too impatient to work out if it’s absolutely the best word I can make. My turn usually takes about one or two minutes. Nathan, however, takes 20 to 30 minutes – PER TURN – as he shuffles the letters around on his rack and creates amazing seven-letter words that he can’t actually place anywhere on the board. I get a lot of reading done.

We are close to the end of the game and at the moment I am ahead by twenty points, but I know exactly what will happen: I will get bored of placing my last few tiles, making those unsatisfying little two-letter words, while Nathan will craft a series of perfect Scrabble dictionary-inspired moves, winning the game. But I will claim moral victory, saying that I won with the words that matter. Plus I finished my book.

A language – by Beth

21 Jun

In Year 7, a guy in my class called Anthony had been to New Zealand during the Christmas holidays. He arrived at his new high school with a slight New Zulland accent. It was so slight that a real New Zealander like me didn’t even really notice it, but it was enough to get him hassled by his new classmates. Not the full-on rotten-mango-pelting hassle that I experienced as a newly arrived Kiwi in Australia – but he was mocked. The thing the boys most picked up on was that funny phenomenon of Australian accented e’s being pronounced as what sounds like Aussie i’s when spoken in NZ lingo; and i’s become u’s (as in “eatung fush and chups un the shower”). And the word that most stuck in the teenaged popular imagination was Anthony’s pronunciation of “bist” (meaning best).

That one word became the cornerstone in a shared language which evolved over our 6 years at high school. For example, “full bistness” was the highest compliment you could pay. That’s the “viry bist” was said with a knowing wag of a finger in the air, and usually applied to some witticism or another. ‘Bist’ set the tone. Although there was a mocking quality to how the word became famous, having the foundation word of a language be something inherently positive, meant that the language itself was very benevolent (for teenagers at least).

Inside leaf of my folder, Year 8, featuring a spiral of bistness and also “monkey womunn” – an endearing way of telling someone they were driving you nuts.

It was a very masculine language at first, but us girls also made a big contribution. For example, the boys referred to a girl’s period as her “rigs” (as in rags given the ol’ NZ vowel treatment), and us girls called tampons “jeam reig tichnologies” (jam rag technologies). In fact, that was the other cornerstone – most things had a “tich” added, as in technology. Wood tech was probably the reason for this. So it was miths-tich (maths), wood-tich (wood tech) and I was Bithtich.

The unnamed language’s speakers were mainly confined to our class of 30 or so students, but it did spread a bit to other people in our year. After Year 12 I took it upon myself to write down all of the sayings and words we’d made up/repurposed in what I called Every Pinzy Mutant’s Dictionary of Full Bistness (below). In all I recorded 257 words and sayings, not counting nicknames.

In retrospect, although it all started with Anthony’s holiday-acquired accent, the language evolved due to cross fertilisation (this week’s theme is combining) from many language gene pools:

  1. English, obviously, is the main one.
  2. Other language backgrounds (we had classmates from Hong Kong, Denmark, Bulgaria and California)
  3. Northern beaches slang. We were the second ‘selective’ year at our high school, and the older years were pretty rough surfies. They looked straight out of Puberty Blues.
  4. Internet bulletin board slang (Adventurer’s Realm)
  5. Popular culture: lots of the sayings were lifted or adapted from movies like Clueless and Sixteen Candles, TV shows like The Late Show – “like a tiiiiiger”, computer games, music, and texts we studied in school e.g. Shakespeare, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I write about this because I was driving home from Ikea with Jeff and Leo last night. It was peak hour and, unimpressed by a big line of traffic, I suddenly had the urge to shout out: “bit me off with ya bum cheeks ya maggot cunts!” (to “bit off” means to wank) A standard insult you’d yell at someone who was bigger than you as you ran away from them. It made me laugh out loud uncontrollably to have this memory flood back to me. I tried to explain it to Jeff but he was left as bemused as you probably are dear reader. Although Jeff and I were friends at high school, we weren’t in the same group, so all these words and sayings are new to him.

Many of the funnier and more colourful sayings were based on things we’d heard some older surfie say (mainly when drunk or off their face). For example “schmell dis, you have to lick it off”, “you get the nirra boys, you schlip ’em off the rails, and you schlap ’em in the vin”, “don’t be shy, show us your pie”, and “bit me off with your bum cheeks…”

Looking back at the words, you can see our shared preoccupations: sex, masturbation, swearing, distrust of authority, and ways of hassling or insulting people without getting beaten up, but most of all, through the act of its creation, it was about belonging.

Beer – by Justyna

18 Jun

I love beer. It is probably my favourite alcoholic beverage. No, it is my favourite alcoholic beverage. When I was a kid my dad would let me slurp off the beer froth. Later when I was a bit older he would let me have half a glass now and again. It was usually Thooeys Old. It was usually drunk on a balmy night out in the backyard. A special bond between a father and a son he never had. I was totally into it. Now I live in a paradise of beer. If you thought Poland was a vodka country, you’re so 1993. In fact Poland is the second largest beer consuming country in Europe, a few pints off Germany. Poland produces amazing beer and there are still local breweries that have not been bought out by Heineken (unlike the national beer Zywiec, which has gone completely down the toilet since), producing mind blowing brews, albeit without the boutiquey prices. Every region has it’s own mainstream brew, but the true gems are the beers from crappy provincial breweries that have no marketing budget to speak of. You stumble upon them, and hey presto, your mouth is in hops heaven.

The women who do drink beer in Poland tend to drink it with raspberry syrup. It gives the beer a pinky glow and a sweeter taste. It is drunk through a straw. Bleh. Sometimes instead of raspberry syrup you can order your half a litre glass with ginger syrup. Equally yuk. Shandies are rare but they do exist.

There are next to no preservatives in most Polish beers. So guts remain relatively small. You also do not get extreme hangovers from guzzling the beer here, due to the lack of chemicals within. There. There’s my propaganda.

My local bottle-o sells Wojak, a very daggy beer from Poznan. It costs 1.74 zł. It’s delicious on a balmy night, even when not drunk in a backyard. The bottle is returnable to the bottle-o. Once you’re done with it, you get your bottle deposit back. Just like with milk bottles back in the day. Brilliant. Means we have a whole stash of Wojak bottles under our kitchen sink because no one can be arsed to walk the 38 metres back to the shop with the glass ware.

The Polish word for beer is “piwo”.

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