Normal again

Some of you may have noticed a suspicious silence the past few months.  My apologies.  I got a little broken.  Maybe you know the feeling?  The times when you feel like you’re living in a wat of honey?  Something slow-moving and unbreathable at any rate.

For the most part it has meant that I’ve been disinclined to talk.  Or write, or make or print or bake.  Do any of those things that would mark me out as being alive.  So I haven’t been still, I just haven’t been here.  Turns out Sartre (and a whole other bunch of more depressing existentialists) had it to rights, being in-itself is well nigh impossible for people.  So this is to say: I’m sorry I disappeared, I am here now, I will catch myself (and you) up and I am project.

Normal is fragile (and if you recognise the reference, delusional) and much helped by the presence of friends.  Thank you, and much love.

Also, how much do I love this song?

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In which our heroine breaks with something

I accumulate stuff.  Stuff physical, social, psychological and metaphysical.  And every so often I have to re-evaluate all the stuff I’ve accumulated and decide what to keep and what to throw away.  Sometimes the decisions are small and get made each day or several times a day, sometimes the decisions are brought up by circumstances or events that demand them, and sometimes I just clear out enough time so that I can make some space in my head.  This is one of those times.

The most important days in the year for me fall somewhere between July and October.  And there are rituals and traditions associated with those and other days that I observe each year.  Some have fallen away with time and distance (e.g., I thankfully no longer have to carry on my tradition of locking myself into my house with my mother on holi since we no longer live in India) and we’ve made up some new ones to the their place (e.g., boxing day sales have become the day each year that we buy things on sale that have been on a list all year).  And this year I am going to be breaking one of my newest and jealously guarded of these rituals.

A few years ago I found a sister.  Every year since, she has made me a feast on christmas day and we have spent a significant part of that day together.  I even managed to weave her into my family boxing day tradition, I guess as she has woven me into hers.  This will mark the first year that I have not spent with her.  Bad, bad, bad.  So that falls under the category of stuff that is going to have to change while staying a little bit the same.

This year I was finished with many years of study; lived in a country where I had to learn the language before I could speak; watched a relationship that was so close to the centre of my life as to be almost at it, end; spent time exploring new dance styles; and had a grown up job.  No wonder there are cobwebs that need clearing.  And time for another Five Year Plan.  Believe me, that isn’t as Stalinist as it sounds!  It’s just a series of maps of possible lives I could lead that help me figure out which parts of which ones I want or need the most.  And it means I get to have a lot of fun with bright felt pens and large sheets of paper.  What is accomplishes apart form making me happy (my life today bears very few points of resemblance to any of my cumulative five year plans from five years ago) I am not sure of, but then perhaps making me happy is sufficient purpose?

Albert Nobbs: on singularity

Let me begin with an acknowledgement of the limits of my opinion.  I have not read the short story by George Moore that is the ultimate source of the story of Albert Nobbs.  Nor have I read script or watched the play as adapted from the short story by Simone Bermussa.  So all my criticism is limited to the movie by the same name.

I was invited to see the movie by a friend and so I went.  This I state as one of my list of acceptable reasons for going to watch the movie before having read the book!  Of course I tried to find a copy of the original short story or the screenplay for the play in my local library (yes, I knew this to be a long shot; but thems the rules) and on the internet but failed on both counts.  I was excited to watch the movie because it had Glen Close in it, which at least meant that the character would be saved from two-dimensional banality (I hoped) and because I would learn something about 19th century Ireland.  I was to be somewhat disappointed on both counts.

The movie takes the stance that it is telling the story of a woman who dressed and lived as a man in order to survive 19th century Dublin.  Albert Nobbs is a butler in a hotel and telling his story opens the door for viewing the stories of working class struggle as well as particular personal relationships.  The movie mostly tells the story of a moment in Albert’s life where his options are changed by the presence and actions of one Hubert Paige.  And the storytelling is at times compelling and at others spectacularly misses any chance of resonance (or rocket launchers!).  So there were parts that I loved and parts that annoyed me and a whole lot that I could have just done without.  This in spite of an impressive ensemble of actors with the capacity to play complexity any way it’s written.  How did that happen?  I have a theory (this brings me up to two Joss references in one post, ain’t I awesome?!) …

To me this was a story about a complex person in a complicated and complex situation.  And trying to be reductive with gender, sexuality, class and desire is a pretty good recipe for disaster.  So in some ways the movie was excellent in that it wasn’t a disaster, it just did nothing and no one justice.

Albert was introduced as a butler (performing masculinity) and then revealed to have breasts (essentially female).  He introduced himself as Albert (even when he was asked his ‘real’ name) and seemed to have made a decision after a clumsily portrayed attempt to clothe himself in and perform femininity.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of Albert showing us his story.  Which kind of made sense because he was very much coming to grips with his own self.  But the eye of the film-makers was not neutral.  Every time there was an opportunity to delve into gender, the film shifted its eyes towards drama.  Which works once, but then feels like a cop out.  Mr.Paige’s story gave Albert hope and opened up questions… but these questions weren’t answered or even really asked by the film.  I guess what I’m saying is this: I don’t need Albert to ask these questions, his character was shown to be quiet and hesitant; the filming on the other hand was assured and shouldn’t have run away from posing the questions as well as exploring the answers.

Albert Nobbs transgressed gender.  Which is to say that he did not fit the neat boundaries created around him for gender roles and presentation.  I don’t know exactly what brought him to the life he led.  But I do know that to suggest that his decision was solely about his desire to gain access to better pay and less trauma can only ever be one aspect of his truth.  There is safety in constructing a different time where the rights of women were so compromised that only living as a man gave them any level of freedom.  This is a story often told not just about a different time but also a different place.  It’s a nice way to tell ourselves that we should feel lucky to live in the time and place that we do, and that decisions about gender are nothing but a pragmatic means to an end.

Neither the story of Albert nor the treatment of it by the writers and actors is singular.  And I mean that in the opposite-of-plural sense of the word.  Throughout history there have been stories of people defining, redefining and sculpting gender until it meets their needs.  And throughout the same time there have been people desperately trying to maintain the hierarchy and safety of a defined binary.  And I have not the least intention of defining the gender or sexuality of anyone else, but this makes me very suspicious of storytellers who tell the tales of women living as men and leave out the story of everyone else.

Perhaps this is a limitation of fiction, it is only as good as the biases of the writers.  Which is really to say that the writers in this case were limited in their fiction writing and truth-telling and their biases tended towards the status-quo banality.  Life is usually more inventive. All this to say… if you haven’t seen the movie, I would suggest that you do, if only so we can talk and you tell me what you thought!

Craft and politics, little girl;

the situation is always.. fluid.  (Yes, that is a misquote from Firefly)

My relationship with crafting has always been complex.  And often complicated.  I hated all things girly growing up.  Partly on principle and partly because I wasn’t particularly interested in them.  But I had a grandmother who was immensely talented and incredibly persistent, so I learnt how to embroider neatly and mend tidily (to this day, I turn over anything I’ve made to see if the back of my work would meet her exacting standards).  But apart from the basics, I had no interest or skill in making things.  Until I came to New Zealand that is.  I realised pretty quickly that a) things I like are excessively overpriced, b) I needed to get out of the habit of converting everything back to rupees before deciding whether or not I should buy it and c) quite a lot of things I like just aren’t made here.

So started my journey of getting to know crafting again.  Which was made more fraught by the compounding factor of being a (peripheral) part of the Wellington anarchist scene.  Turns out most political activists have entertainingly silly ideas about craft.  This is owed in part to a tendency for everything in their lives needing an intellectual political justification.  Life should further the struggle and at the very least not be counter-revolutionary.  In itself, I have no problem with this statement, but breaking it down presents some problems.  Turns out furthering the struggle requires you to: be over-committed and under-appreciated, capable of couching emotional issues in intellectual terms (thus maintaining a suitable objective distance from whatever it is that you’re passionate about), sublimate or deny aspects of yourself that do not fit into the revolutionary hierarchy of needs, and pretend that we’re all on a level playing field and power (who has it and who doesn’t) isn’t an issue.

Crafting, in this context, can be situated either in the political sphere or the apolitical sphere.  If you’re someone whose crafting serves a political purpose this purpose can be used to justify it.  If you’re someone who crafts for pleasure you can claim it as non-activisty activity and make sure it doesn’t impinge on your activism.  If you’re someone for whom crafting is an aspect of self-care you can justify it as being necessary for your continued participation in the political sphere.  If you’re someone who doesn’t particularly want to justify crafting in any way you either need to have enough privilege to be able to get away with that, or you need to withdraw from the scene.

I like making things because it is fun.  And it gives me pleasure to have mastered a skill.  And while I do think there is value in reclaiming crafts that have been lost, in my case, it’s simply not the case.  The crafts I do are being done by countless others, usually with far less control over what they do and badly paid to boot.  And while it’s tempting to say that I’m reuniting with my means of production through craft, that’s a pretty specious argument for me too.  Making my own soap/dresses does not take me out of a capitalist framework and the fact that I don’t have to and can opt out makes it entirely ridiculous for me to pretend that it does.  I do think the world needs fewer ugly things though… or more specifically, I need fewer ugly things.  So I make them less ugly and keep them or give them to people I like.

That is all.

Identifying beginnings

My father spends a lot of time telling me that the first draft is the hardest. According to him that’s the thing that takes the effort. Apparently any idiot can make something better, it’s the beginnings that are the problem. I think he has a point. Which is that the beginnings are hard.

I think something that makes beginnings hard is the amount of pressure there is on them to be new. It’s almost as if, because it is the beginning it has to have no contact with the past. Perhaps that’s the flaw. In trying to create something new we forget to that while we are doubtless molecularly distinct to what we were say even a minute ago, we carry with us the memory and the history of what was.

Which is why Identity is a strange thing. But then, people are even stranger. Not the least because they expect identities to be static. For them to stay, for them to remain steadfast, for them to still be relevant when everything that made them relevant is gone. Having said that, they can be helpful little things; serve as reminders of who we used to be, act as roadmaps of where we’re headed next, provide us with an arsenal of possibilities when faced with situations unknowable and unknown.

I don’t tend to identify myself very often. But then, I don’t need to. Other people tend to do that a lot. Most of the identifiers that are applied to me aren’t chosen by me, and if I did have the option would not necessarily be the ones I’d choose to identify myself by. Which I think is part of why identifiers and identities are powerful as well as dangerous. If I pick them, they say something about me; if you pick them they say something about you; if they get picked often enough and applied willy-nilly, they say something about the state of the world.

So the more things change, the more they remain the same.

To beginnings in repetition and repetitious beginnings: happy birthday blog and happy birthday me.