RTR FM Artbeat and “Letters to Our Home”

I loved my recent chat with Bec Bowman on RTR FM’s Artbeat programme.

Letters to Our Home is selling well and all proceeds go to the Environmental Defenders office and the WA Forest Alliance.

Please support this project and these 2 amazing environmental organisations who protect our precious places. Thanks

Letters to Our Home is available here from Mulla Mulla Press

 

Here’s one of the poems in the collection by Natalie D-Napoleon

Letters to Our Home

Please support this project

Letters to Our Home is ‘artivism’ in action!

Letters to Our Home was conceived during the Australian bushfire crisis during the summer of 2019/2020. It was inspired by the northern hemisphere publication, Letters to the Earth, and like that publication we hope creative responses to the growing climate, biodiversity and environmental crises will help us come to terms with the situation we collectively face, nurture our spirits and inspire us to take, and to demand, action.

The contributors to this collection vary from school-age children to parents, workers and retired people, published poets and newcomers. They write from their hearts and are inspired by their passion to see art as a selfless act of giving, and as activism.

All proceeds from Letters to Our Home will be split between the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) and the WA Forest Alliance (WAFA) Forests for Life.
EDO fight tirelessly to protect the environment from legislative harm, and WAFA have worked for decades to save our old-growth native forests from destructive logging and other harms.

Purchase from the Mulla Mulla Press website

$10 + postage, packing and handling
50 pages with photos Continue reading

Fairy wrens, wallabies and leaky weirs: 10 days at Silver Bucket

Thanks to Bush Retreat for Eco-writers (BREW) I’ve recently enjoyed a wonderful 10-day writing retreat at their Blue Bucket property, staying in the the Silver Bucket cabin.

Such an amazing and creative experience, resulting in not only nearly 30-thousand words, but also wonderful memories, invaluable inspiration and a meditative immersion in the natural world.

My report (although that sounds too official, perhaps reflection is better) can be found on the BREW website here:
I’ll carry this experience with me for a long time, and I know it has had a profound impact on my writing and on me personally.

Thank you, Barbara Holloway, my host, and the BREW Network!

A novel – finally! :-)

I finally did it! I’ve completed a novel.

Over the years I’ve had a few false starts in attempting to write a longer prose work. But looking back, they were important steps that have helped me complete this one.

Its current title is ‘Staring at the Sun’ and I’m not sure how it fits into the genre-driven market place. Perhaps near-future science fiction? With some romance and a little bit of a thriller element to it…?

Abrolhos Big Rat Island sunrise.png

Anyway, it needs to be published, and finding a publisher could take as long as it took me to write the thing! But, on reflection, the act of writing was such fun! It was hard, too, (don’t misunderstand me) but the pleasure of shaping the unfolding story, and the privilege of sharing in the lives of these completely made-up characters, was great.

And if you are intrigued, here’s a short outline:

Cell biologist, Dr Daniel Fredericks, is driven by his ambition to work in the exceptional facilities provided by the commercial pharmaceutical company, Artemis Global. Plus he receives a substantial salary and bonuses. His research is associated with realising the physical immortality of Tanya, a brain-dead cadaver, kept functioning through nanotechnology.

His mother, Brigid, is a scholarly expert on the epic of the Assyrian king, Gilgamesh, and this ancient story highlights the futility of Daniel’s quest.

Sandy, a laboratory technician at Artemis Industries, becomes curious about Tanya after she learns about the drug addict, Raf, who wants to know what has happened to his girlfriend. Daniel starts dating Sandy, and her concern for Tanya, coupled with his mother’s questioning of his work, prompt him to examine more deeply his own motives and ethics.

When Daniel discovers how Tanya’s body was procured, this further complicates the  dilemmas around his research. Does he have the moral courage to do the right thing?

I’ll let you know if it ever gets published!

Circles

The poem, Circles, by Afeif Ismail was recently published in Cordite 90 (April 2019) and edition featuring Afro-Australian writing.

 

 

Originally in Arabic, Afeif and I co-transcreated it into English
you can read it online here

Congratulations Cordite on an excellent issue and to Afeif for writing such beautiful work

 

Art and politics – the murkiness of humanity

The practice of politics is a source of constant fascination – and of utter frustration.
The state of politics both here in Australia and around the world is in flux and it often encourages (or perhaps forces) politicians to display elements of human nature that we all possess but that most of us try to keep hidden within ourselves. Those elements that society tries to teach us to control through social conditioning such as religious practice, social acceptance, legislation, and many other means.
I don’t follow any institutionalised religious practice, but I do agree with some of the common themes they ask us to aspire to, namely compassion and forgiveness. I hope that many of the people around the world currently holding the rest of us to ransom through the political systems they’ve gained entry to, would find it in themselves to turn down the cognitive biases they have, particularly the self-serving ones, and find a small nugget of compassion which may help them to forgive. And to forgive not only their opponents but also themselves.
As a writer and a performer, I try to understand human nature and what makes people tick. It helps to create more authentic characters, but it also involves going into the murky places of the human psyche. It’s wise to find a way to separate from these places once visited in the imagination and to return to those clear and bright places that make life worth living. But if I’m honest that’s not easy. The magnetic pull of interpersonal conflict and human emotions is strong.
We’re hard-wired in our brains to pay attention to them; our endocrine system produces adrenaline, which creates a buzz, a rush, increases our heart rate, brings on a light-headedness, dizziness, heightens our senses – in short, makes us feel alive!! The release of glucose that adrenaline produces fuels the primitive response of fight or flight. The body expects to expend energy though using muscles, one way or the other.
In politics today, literally running away from one’s political opponents is not an option, and the swinging of fists is out too. Well, mostly – punch ups in the parliaments of Ukraine, Taiwan, Georgia, Turkey, Italy and Japan over the past few years prove otherwise. Blame it on the adrenaline! So, what happens when all this glucose is released and not used? It circulates in the blood and creates irritability and restlessness, bad moods and perhaps a sense of ‘unfinished business’.
This ‘unfinished business’ is what continues to simmer in people’s minds, and sparks the same conflicts again and again, unless, somehow, there is a release of all that pent-up energy (although, let’s be clear, I’m not advocating punch-ups or mass fleeing). This pent-up energy is what also keeps the rest of us watching in the auditorium, or reading the novel, or at home on our laptops. We anticipate the flare-up, vicariously take part in the ‘shouting match’, and our own adrenaline levels rise. We become addicted to the ‘buzz’.
I’ve seen this addiction in the eyes of politicians and those they surround themselves with. Perhaps it should be a requirement of all politicians to take a break every hour or so and run around a circuit to use up all that glucose! But hey! The tax-payers would never stand for that – we like our political theatre, our spectator sport, our verbal WWE superstars! Calm, rational debate with respectful listening and consensus decision-making? Whatever next!?!
But going back to the fight or flight response. From my experience of human nature, the world is mostly divided into those that run away and those that stay and fight. There are very few people who can stay within the moment and act reasonably, without inflaming the situation or taking sides. These gems, these peace-makers, are very rare.

Unfortunately, in politics, too many people believe they are that one special peace-maker. They all believe they know what to do to relieve the tension, to bring the feuding parties together, to come out as the hero/heroine, and be applauded for their conciliatory efforts. The paradox is that when there are several peace-makers driven by the dream of basking in glory, of being at the centre of things without being sullied by the baseness of human conflicts, they are also prone to conflict when deluded by their own self-aggrandisement. This room full of so-called peace-makers are not immune to the flow of adrenaline and its demand for action.
The rare, true peace-maker has no vested interest in the outcome, only in the successful resolution of the conflict. This important subtlety can often be missed by the ‘fake’ peace-maker.
In my creative work, self-delusion is often what defines a character. We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. We construct a narrative that defines our life as a grand gesture, a positive contribution to social good, performed in a state of generosity and calm. We cling to the cognitive biases that reinforce our own delusions and stop us looking closely at who we really are, or who we can ever really hope to become.
It is this vast disappointment in the futility of ourselves and our lives that is the hardest ‘cross to bear’ but the one that for millennia institutionalised religion has helped people to carry. It’s comforting to be held accountable in an unknown future beyond worldly existence; one we all believe we deserve our place in because we have achieved something worthwhile during our time on this earth. It helps us to continue our futile lives with hope for better things to come. But beware the politician with a strong religious fervour. The combination of self-delusion and self-importance is dangerous, particularly when the consequences are not to be felt here on earth.
Unfortunately, this ‘messianic’ complex is common amongst the so-called fake peace-maker. They are often blessed with a seductive personality and they attract vulnerable people to them. Their narcissistic tendencies create a charisma around them that they use to charm others, to come across as magnanimous, dispensing favours, and mentoring younger, more impressionable aspirants. But this generosity has a price tag on it. To stay in their favour, these acolytes are required to perform tasks for the narcissist, acting as their proxies to ensure their glory is achieved. The radicalisation of young people by extreme entities (not only terrorist groups but also political parties) around the world is often driven by one individual’s personal charisma.
Politics is riddled with narcissists. Even in political parties that attempt to take the person out of the centre of the system, and see elected representatives as being held accountable to their electorate (or membership) are prone to the artful and skilled enactment of the narcissist’s charms. When called upon, these players can expertly perform the role of the aggrieved party, the victim, with great relish, while at the same time working away behind the scenes in pursuit of their victory. They are masters of deception – the self-affirmed deal-maker, the person who can sell anything to anyone – so long as it keeps them in the spotlight and ensures their place at the table.
From my admittedly limited experience of the workings of politics, I’ve come across the various personality types of those who practice these arts. Sadly, I’ve concluded that the genuinely good people, the real peace-makers, those who are driven by honesty, compassion and forgiveness, and who try to bring about constructive outcomes without putting themselves in the centre, are often those that won’t survive. They are deceived, bullied, manipulated, and ultimately disposed of, in the service of these narcissistic fakes.

We see this today in politics in many countries, including our own. I don’t have any answer to this sad state of affairs, I can only hope that we take time to self-reflect, to acknowledge our own cognitive biases, and educate ourselves on what drives humans to behave the way they do.
Five years ago, I wrote a play called The Cat in the Box that examined how art, science, religion and commerce intersected in the arena of politics. It was an absurd comedy, because that was the solution I chose to theatrically deal with the murkiness of humanity within this story. It also contained a warning for the audience – PAY ATTENTION! If we don’t stay vigilant and protect our flawed democracy, it will fall prey to a virulent breed of politics, and will be consumed.
We must kick the habit of adrenaline, find the good, quiet people and support them, resist the charms of the narcissist – fake peace-maker, messiah, whatever label we give them – but remember to try to always act with compassion and be prepared to forgive.

Scapegoats – an ancient ritual for modern times

I’ve been thinking about scapegoats recently.
As you probably know, a scapegoat is a person or group that is made to carry the blame for others. It is referenced in historical texts, such as the Bible’s Old Testament and the Talmud, and its practice can be traced back to Ancient Syria and Greece. The act of a priest confessing all the sins of the people over the head of a goat, and then driving it into the wilderness, symbolised the bearing away of those sins. Once accomplished the community could feel better about the past and look forward to a guilt-free future.
If only it were that easy.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

William Holman Hunt: The Scapegoat, 1854.

As 2016 comes to an end, we’ve had a year of scapegoats and witnessed the woes of Australia, USA, UK [or pick any random place] being heaped upon an unfortunate person or group. Recent scapegoats are the Muslims according to Hanson, the Mexicans according to Trump, the European Union and migrants according to Farage, etc. etc.
I’m sure many of you have wished that someone you know or work with would just leave and then everything would be better. This person becomes the scapegoat, the focus of everything that is wrong with the situation, even if they were not the real cause of the bad feeling. If they leave, it may seem better merely due to their absence, but if the underlying problems of the country, workplace, or of one’s own personality, are not also addressed then chances are not much will change.
Perhaps you’ve been the person who was driven away. You may have felt that was your only option as the bitterness of the workplace or relationship grew more unbearable. But a scapegoat leaving is only part of this long-standing human practice.
An important and often overlooked action within this ancient ritual is the priest’s confession of the sins of the people over the head of the goat. For this act to have any meaningful outcome the community had to first acknowledge its own short-comings, recognise the wrongs it had committed. For a scapegoat to be effective, it requires those driving it away to admit their part in the problem, in order to allow for forgiveness and a fresh start. The goat itself was innocent of any wrong-doing, so if the confession of so-called sins is not voiced, there will be no renewal for those left behind, only stasis and festering resentment.
Unfortunately, this self-reflection rarely occurs. The sins committed are often seen as belonging to the person or group who is made to be the scapegoat, not the people driving it into the wilderness. Very often people will search for reasons to confirm their view of any situation and conveniently overlook their own role in the mess they are in. This confirmation bias actively works against any self-reflection or personal growth – and we’re all guilty of it to some degree.
But the interesting question is what happens when a scapegoat is identified, but then not driven out into the wilderness?
Sometimes it’s impossible for someone to leave, or perhaps a person refuses to wear the mantle of scapegoat despite the group’s pressures. If that person stays around they risk reminding the group of their own sins. When there is a lack of acceptance of these sins by those who committed them, then people will search and latch onto any confirmation bias they can find to support their innocent view of themselves. It becomes a habit, second nature, and could potentially become a real threat, as the scapegoat transforms into being the problem, rather than the carrier of sins it is supposed to bear away.
I think that’s where we are at this moment in many places in the world. Do we honestly expect all our problems would disappear if we deported every Muslim/Mexican [insert latest scapegoat here]? Even if we did something as shockingly degrading as that, do we really think much would change if we don’t also acknowledge our own part in creating whatever crisis we believe we are in?
But a scapegoat used to be a real goat. It was a creature that would have a chance at survival in the wilderness; find other goats, settle down and procreate. If it was taken by a predator, then that’s the natural order of things.
As humans, we live in communities. We’ve evolved to live in groups for food, reproduction, safety, companionship. Exile from the community used to mean death, or a miserable, lonely existence for a person, so exiling or making someone a scapegoat was a serious decision.
Today, scapegoats are easily named and often used as a convenience to avoid looking at the failures of society, the economy, politics, even ourselves. It will take pause and reflection, and an honest recognition of our own learned behaviours to overcome this easy, knee-jerk response to any difficulty we face.
If we truly want a fresh start, a better way forward, we must first name and acknowledge our own sins, before we heap them onto a poor, four-legged creature, and chase it out of the village. Only then will we begin to feel a little better, not only about the world, but also about ourselves.