Tales from Urban Dilettantia

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More Heart Than Me

Music has, as ever, been a saving grace in an upsy-downy year, and so I’m sharing a few of the songs that have been stuck in my head throughout.  Some of these took quite a bit of finding, being rare/old/live, and the last one I think, is surely one of my theme songs for the year almost gone.

My Friend the Chocolate Cake – More Heart Than Me
Jeff Martin – Love The One You’re With (cover) – I don’t think a good video of this exists, so you’ll just have to go buy the album.  It’s just about my favourite love song of all time.
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wheel – rare piano version; this just breaks my heart.
The Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardener
Billy Bragg – Greetings to the New Brunette
Machine Gun Fellatio – Unsent Letter
Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me
Pendulum – Propane Nightmares
Manic Street Preachers – You Stole the Sun from My Heart
Radiohead – No Surprises
Tom Waits – The Piano Has Been Drinking
The Triffids – Tender is the Night
Tool – Wings for Marie
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Warren Zevon – Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Karnivool – Sleeping Satellite (cover)
Kaki King – Pull Me Out Alive
Amanda Palmer – In My Mind

But maybe it isn’t all that funny,
   but I’ve been fighting all my life.
   But maybe I have to think it’s funny,
   if I want to live before I die,
   and maybe it’s funniest of all, to think I’ll die before I actually see
   that I am exactly the person that I want to be.

A sound, an echo

I spent five days hiking through the forest, over the dunes, and along the beach this week. 72.4km along the coast of the Southern Ocean between Denmark and Albany; no internet, no phone. Just me, 12kg on my back, a camera, my barefoot running shoes and a hammock.

For some of the journey, hilarity, stories, silliness, life, the universe and everything flowed between me and the two dear friends who accompanied me on the trail. But much of the time was spent re-reading Marcus Aurelius in the long, light evenings, and contemplating, untangling, thinking, step after step.

There were birds and beetles, tiger snakes – so very many tiger snakes, venomous and shy – and many hours walking under and through the wind farms, the gentle sound of them rocking me to sleep at night.
One night at sunset, I climbed the hill and lay in the grass, photographing the wildflowers in the fading light. There, alone up the hill with nothing but the wind, for a moment holding the logos of the Stoics in my mind and knowing that this is all there is. Remember.

Queens, Cabbages and Occupation

This morning I have the time to be down in Forrest Place, sitting at OccupyPerth. On the other hand, this morning I have the time to write about OccupyPerth, and things to say. Regrettably, they’re mutually exclusive options, since my netbook isn’t charged. And so I’m here writing, because I believe it’s the more effective use of my time. And so, at greater than expected length, this is my Perth. This is my Occupy. This is my why.

For those who are reading this from afar, a small and peaceful happening in isolated Perth likely hasn’t made your news. Yesterday, the CHOGM – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – opened here. It’s something that happens bi-annually in various cities, where a staggering amount of money is spent to close off public spaces, sweep the streets of the embarrassing homeless, and to host a summit of monarchs, prime ministers and presidents, not to mention war-criminals who also fall into one or another of those categories. But that’s another rant, and one that’s been well covered elsewhere.

Yesterday morning, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic protest march happened here. People came along for all kinds of reasons – a colourful and chaotic swirl of concerns that they have chosen to raise. Corporate greed, genocide in Sri Lanka, their objections to CHOGM, democracy (or rather, lack thereof) in Zimbabwe, fractional reserve banking, equal marriage, climate change, refugee rights, deaths in custody, mining, and more. All those and a profound wish to demonstrate that the shiny, sanitised face Perth has presented to the CHOGM delegates is not the city we inhabit from day-to-day. A photograph of a protester holding up a sign saying ‘shit’s fucked up and bullshit’ has been doing the rounds for the last couple of weeks, and that probably comes closest to expressing the overall sentiment.

Riot police and mounted police lined up along the perimeter of the restricted area, watching for violence that never came. Police officers herded me into the media pack, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t wearing the necessary credentials, which was surprising and pleasing given that I’d expected them to throw me out. The local media ranted about it being ‘unfocussed’. The people were there for a multitude of personal reasons, and few people agreed on all the things others were there to say. And I thought hard about it all.

Upon returning to Forrest Place, the protest shifted from the hands of the CHOGM demonstrators to those who had been working to get OccupyPerth off the ground, and people stayed there with their concerns, issues, signs and opinions. The previous month, I’d been reading a diverse mix of commentary around the OccupyX events, and until this week I’d not managed to form a consistent opinion. This month, after speaking to a number of people, and in particular one wonderful man who’d spend time at OccupySydney, my opinion has crystalised into solid support.

Like Perth’s CHOGM demonstration, I believe OccupyX isn’t fundamentally about presenting a single, coherent and targeted message or set of demands. Its value and meaning has everything to do with the stubborn occupation of a public space, generally in the face of disapproval and sometimes violent resistance, and to control that space in a manner such that people can express their frustration, anger, sadness, opinions, hopes and fears. People arrive, sometimes with well-argued concerns, but often with inarticulate, uninformed or plain incomprehensible things to say. Things are sometimes – often – organised poorly, randomly, or even in a manner that involves internal oppression within the gathering.

But the micromanagement, the perfection or otherwise, the execution, the persistent presence of only a small group of people in some cities, these things are not really the point. It’s okay for things not to be done optimally, because the point is to be there and – ever more in the face of official resistance – to occupy and to assert that we have every right to gather and to speak. To assert that we haven’t, that we can be moved away, to be told that we’ve made our point and must return home is against everything in which I believe. Return to your homes people; your government has everything under control.

Last night, in the midst of this, I had a realisation. To encroach upon the ability of ordinary people to gather and to speak of their concerns is to move collective dialogue into the domain of the privileged. The people with homes and private spaces that accommodate gathering. The people without thin common walls, and the threat of eviction in the event of such an action. The people who have never, and will never, have the experience of university that funnels many into large groups who have spaces in which to gather, but are so often elitist and alienate the working class. The people who live on our streets and simply don’t have a home.

And so (in addition to a fundamental belief that it is right for citizens to be able to assemble in a public space and to speak) no matter how bizarre, random, or even factually incorrect people’s words may seem to me, I have spent time at OccupyPerth because I cannot watch the crack-downs and removals in other cities without a rising horror that these remove the freedom to speak and organise from the people who need it most.

There will always be some measure of chaos, disagreement and sheer randomness in any movement that attempts to accommodate the ability of all to speak. Some people will inevitably be oppressed by the movement for the views they air, unfortunate as that is. Because we are human, fallible, confused, we will do things that are peculiar, strange, poorly thought out or articulated or plain half-arsed. And that is not the end of the world. The point of OccupyX is not, in the eyes of many, to evangelise, to overthrow or to charm the media or to change the whole world. It is okay not to be perfect, because the point is not, and never has been, perfection. The point of OccupyX is to occupy, and for it to exist – tautological is it is – is sufficient reason for it to exist.

Crashing back into it

Quite a long time ago, four long years ago.  Big, fancy house.  Husband.  Cats.  Three and a half years ago, suddenly looking hard at my tangled, messy, perpetual barely-hanging-on-ness.  Starting to think about ‘happiness’ even though – as many pointed out to me – this wasn’t quite the correct word, and it was prone to be confused with hedonism.  What I was trying to express was ‘rational, loving and sustainable well-being’.  But that’s too long and too difficult to explain.  So I talked about My Happiness Project.

Looking backwards for a moment, there are posts from that time on my old LiveJournal with tags like’my happiness project’ and ‘lifehacking’, arbitrary words for a much bigger thing, and recording fragments of a journey.   On that journey, I got somewhere; some great distance from the place where I had been before. It started to feel like it was somewhere I could stay forever.  And then moving out, immeasurable sadness, innumerable boxes, and constantly fighting everything down on every front.’The thing I regret the most over the last couple of years is not having had the capacity to hang onto tight the gentle, kind love for myself that I’d been carefully cultivating.  Finding that it was possible to actually like myself was – for various historical and then-current reasons – a great, unfolding knowledge and a completely new experience.  It is utterly unacceptable to live in such a manner that when I look hard at myself, I sigh.
Somewhat unexpectedly over the past few weeks, the spark that triggered my first headlong crash into really, truly learning to be okay has been reignited.  I’m thinking about well-being, looking again at my mechanisms of self-sabotage, starting to clear out all the clutter – mental and physical – that has accumulated in every corner of my life.   Looking at being a woman who does something more than just hang on, just cope, just hoard every little bit of energy and sanity to be able to get up, go to work, and do it sufficiently well.

I’m waking the hell up and crashing back into it, in the passionate, enthusiastic way I crash into things when I’m  very excited.  I’m reading, re-reading, thinking, planning and considering two years’ worth of swirling chaos dissolve in the face of one little step after another.

And I’m going to write about it a little, because sometimes the best thing of all is remembering that you’re not the only one on the road.

300 Days of Wikipedia

For years, I have been bookmarking articles of interest on Wikipedia.  There are several lengthy lists of Wikipedia articles floating around the web, but most of them have padded out the interesting articles with an assortment of conspiracies, UFOs and supposedly haunted houses.  And so, I thought I’d share the things that interest me – notably alien-encounter and ghost free.

While many of the articles on this list are work-friendly and generally inoffensive, do be aware that my interests sometimes stray into the gory, morbid and pornographic, and click accordingly.  If you come across any broken links, leave me a comment and I’ll fix them up.

001    2006 Mumbai sweet seawater incident
002    Acoustic Kitty
003    Acoustic Mirror
004    Action Park
005    Alexander Litvinenko Poisoning
006    Alternate reality game
007    Amber Room
008    Amelia Dyer
009    Ampelmännchen
010    Anna Anderson
011    Anscombe’s quartet
012    Ant on a rubber rope
013    Anthropic principle
014    Antikythera mechanism
015    Anti-pattern
016    Aokigahara
017    Aptostichus stephencolberti
018    Arbre du Ténéré
019    Argleton
020    As Slow As Possible
021    Assassin
022    Atari video game burial
023    Baby hatch
024    Bacon mania
025    Ballooning (spiders)
026    Battle of Los Angeles
027    Beale Ciphers
028    Committee to End Pay Toilets in America
029    Beaumont children disappearance
030    Benjaman Kyle
031    Berlin Wall
032    Berners Street Hoax
033    Bible errata
034    Bielefeld Conspiracy
035    Bigfin squid
036    Black Dahlia suspects
037    Black Swan Theory
038    Bloop
039    Bodil Joensen
040    Bogle-Chandler Case
041    Boston Molasses Disaster
042    Brainfuck (programming language)
043    Brian Wells (bank robber)
044    Bubbly Creek
045    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo
046    Burning Man
047    Cadaver Synod
048    Carl Tanzler
049    Centralia, Pennsylvania
050    Chappaquiddick incident
051    Checkpoint Charlie
052    Christine Chubbuck
053    Cincinnati Subway
054    Cleveland Torso Murders
055    Closed London Underground stations
056    Closed New York City Subway stations
057    Coastline paradox
058    Collinwood school fire
059    Collyer Brothers
060    Colonial Street
061    Color of water
062    Conspiracy 58
063    Corrupted Blood incident
064    Cosmic latte
065    Cross Bones
066    Crush, Texas
067    D. B. Cooper
068    D’Agapeyeff cipher
069    Dagen H
070    Dancing Mania
071    Dancing Plague of 1518
072    David Bain
073    Defeat in Detail
074    Defenestrations of Prague
075    Degree Confluence Project
076    Demon Core
077    Dérive
078    Digesting Duck
079    Distinguishing blue from green in language
080    Dollar Auction
081    Dorabella Ciper
082    Drake’s Plate of Brass
083    Dyatlov Pass Incident
084    Ebenezer Place
085    Eigengrau
086    Eltanin Antenna
087    Elvis taxon
088    Emperor Norton
089    Encounter
090    Enigma
091    ETAOIN SHRDLU
092    Eton wall game
093    Eugenia Falleni
094    Evolutionary psychology of religion
095    Fan Death
096    Fatso the Fat-Arsed Wombat
097    Fermi paradox
098    Fine Cotton
099    Flannan Isles
100    Forest swastika
101    Brown_Dog_affair
102    Friendly Floatees
103    Frost flower
104    Georgi Markov
105    Ghost stations of the Paris Métro
106    Glasgow Ice Cream Wars
107    Gloria Ramirez
108    GoldenPalace.com Monkey
109    Gravitational lensing
110    Great Fire of London
111    Great Pacific Garbage Patch
112    Green Belt Europe
113    Green Boots
114    Green Children of Woolpit
115    Gropecunt Lane
116    Guerrilla gardening
117    Guess 2/3 of the average
118    Hampton-on-Sea
119    Hannah Twynnoy
120    Harold Shipman
121    Hartford circus fire
122    Henry Darger
123    Herd instinct
124    HeroRAT
125    Hinterkaifeck
126    History of the World Wide Web
127    If-by-whiskey
128    Illegal prime
129    Information Cascade
130    IP over Avian Carriers
131    I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!
132    Ivory-billed Woodpecker
133    Jandek
134    Jeanne Calment
135    Jimmy Carter rabbit incident
136    John Murray Spear
137    John Titor
138    Joseph Force Crater
139    Joybubbles
140    June 1962 Alcatraz escape
141    June and Jennifer Gibbons
142    Kasper Hauser
143    Keron Thomas
144    Kilroy Was Here
145    Kitty Genovese
146    Kryptos
147    La choutte d’or
148    Lazarus taxon
149    Le_Rêve_(painting)
150    Lead Masks Case
151    Lech mich in Arsch
152    Let’s trim our hair in accordance with the socialist lifestyle
153    Limerence
154    Lina Medina
155    L’Inconnue de la Seine
156    Lizzie Borden
157    London Beer Flood
158    London Necropolis Company
159    London Pneumatic Despatch Company
160    Lord Lucan
161    Lost Doctor Who Episodes
162    Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine
163    Louis Slotin
164    lp0 on fire
165    Mad Gasser of Mattoon
166    Magdalene asylum
167    Manhattanhenge
168    Manor of Northstead
169    Mary Toft
170    Max Headroom broadcast signal intrusion
171    Maze solving algorithm
172    McMartin preschool trial
173    Metal umlaut
174    Michael Larson
175    Michael Malloy
176    Milgram Experiment
177    Mir diamond pipe
178    Mitochondrial Eve
179    MKULTRA
180    Mobro 4000
181    Mojave phone booth
182    MONIAC Computer
183    Monty Hall Problem
184    Mornington Crescent (game)
185    Mortsafe
186    Moscow Metro 2
187    Münchausen by Internet
188    Nannie Doss
189    Nash equilibrium
190    National Hotel Disease
191    Nemesis (hypothetical star)
192    No soap radio
193    Nuclear football
194    Numbers Station
195    Oak island
196    Oliver Cromwell’s Head
197    One red paperclip
198    Onion Futures Act
199    Open source religion
200    Operation Mincemeat
201    Original Spanish Kitchen
202    Our Lady of the Angels school fire
203    Oxford English Dictionary
204    Parkinson’s Law of Triviality
205    Patent medicine
206    Patricia Pulling
207    Percussive Maintenance
208    Phineas Gage
209    Pigeon photography
210    Pirate loot problem
211    Pitch drop experiment
212    Poe Toaster
213    Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko
214    Pole of inaccessibility
215    Post-mortem photography
216    Presecutor’s fallacy
217    Prisoner’s dilemma
218    Psychogeography
219    Publius Enigma
220    Quantum suicide thought experiment
221    R. Budd Dwyer
222    Raymond Robinson (Green Man)
223    Red Barn Murder
224    Red Rain in Kerala
225    Republic of Indian Stream
226    Resignation from the British House of Commons
227    Richey Edwards
228    Ricky McCormick’s encrypted notes
229    RKO Forty Acres
230    Roanoke Colony
231    Robert Shields (diarist)
232    Rogue wave
233    Rongorongo
234    Rosenhan Experiment
235    S. A. Andrée’s Arctic balloon expedition of 1897
236    Safety coffin
237    Sailing Stones
238    Salish Sea human foot discoveries
239    Sedlec Ossuary
240    Semantic satiation
241    Seven Bridges of Königsberg
242    Shape of the Universe
243    Shugborough inscription
244    Slow Down (unidentified sound)
245    Snuff film
246    Snuffy’s Parents Get a Divorce
247    Social engineering
248    Social traps
249    Solved game
250    Spite House
251    Spring Heeled Jack
252    Stanford Prison Experiment
253    Subterranean Rivers of London
254    Taman Shud
255    Tamworth Two
256    Tanganyika laughter epidemic
257    The Aristocrats (joke)
258    The Bottle Imp
259    The Hum
260    The Incident at Petrich
261    The Third Wave
262    Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years’ War –
263    Tidal locking
264    Tower Subway
265    Toynbee tiles
266    Tragedy of the commons
267    Trap street
268    Traveling salesman problem
269    Trepanning
270    Treva Throneberry
271    Trolley problem
272    Tube Map
273    Tulip mania
274    Tupper’s self-referential formula
275    Turritopsis nutricula
276    Tyche (hypothetical planet)
277    Tyranny of small decisions
278    Ultimatum game
279    Uncanny valley
280    Underarm bowling incident of 1981
281    Underground City, Montreal
282    Unexpected hanging paradox
283    Utah teapot
284    UVB-76
285    Valentich Disappearance
286    Verona
287    Voynich manuscript
288    Wardriving
289    Watermelon Snow
290    Whitechapel Murders
291    Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?
292    Wick Effect
293    Wicked Bible
294    Wife Selling
295    William Herbert Wallace
296    Williamson Tunnels
297    Winchester Mystery House
298    Wittenoom
299    Wow! Signal
300    Zero-sum game

Lemons, Limes and Radio Silence

There has certainly been radio silence around here recently.

Mostly that’s because I haven’t been doing (or thinking) anything particularly interesting lately – all of my energy has been funnelled into healing up from a surprisingly serious and mobility-impairing accident, acquiring and guzzling painkillers, recovering from surgery and job hunting. Thank you to the friends who have gone out of their way to visit, go on pharmacy runs, and cut up my food while I haven’t been able to get around!

So all, it’s been a good few months for very gentle gardening projects around the cottage if not for much else.

angrygoat and I have South African Rosella (Hibiscus sabdariffa) bushes at the community garden, and they’ve been prolific and delicious. The flower calyxes have been used in Australia over the past few hundred years to make jams, cordials, syrups and teas, and are particularly easy to cook with since they contain their own pectin. They’re also the same flowers you may have seen in the fancy, super-expensive champagne cocktail syrups, something I’ve found very simple and inexpensive to make at home.

Since being instructed to take long, slow walks, I’ve been also profiting (well, saving money at least) by foraging fruit, herbs and garden plants that I find along the way. I’m turning the tiny front yard of the cottage into a wild garden this spring, planting everything I’ve been able to scavenge from verges and empty lots – tiny button daisies, groundsel, wild radishes, bittercress, alyssum, dove’s foot, fumitory, wild nettles and wood sorrel. All the bulbs I’ve planted over the last couple of autumns are coming up in-between, as are tiny sprouts from the handfuls of random flower seeds I scattered a few months back. The hope is that everything will sprout up and flower in a wild tangle by the time spring arrives. (And if not, there’s always next year.)

Button Daisies in the wild garden.

The back lanes, empty lots and council verges have also provided quite a bit in the way of food. Last week I came home with an assortment of lemons, kumquats, wood sorrel, nettles and rose hips.  The kumquats are now on their way to becoming crystallised, the nettles and some of the sorrel were transformed into a delicious green soup, and the remainder of the sorrel has been dehydrated so I can use it to make infused gin later in the year. This morning further yielded a handful of tiny mandarins, and two big pomegranates. The seeds of the latter are now in a big glass jar, packed with sliced limes and raw sugar, and topped up with some of my vanilla vodka; while I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with the result, I’m seeing great deliciousness in its future.

Wood sorrel, lemons, rose hips, nettles, kumquats.

And finally, a request for my friends in Perth: if you (or your family or friends) find yourself with an excess of fruit, herbs, plants or vegetables, I will happily pick them if necessary and certainly take them off your hands, rather than letting them go to waste. I’ve got a dehydrator, countless preserving recipes and access to substantial amount of freezer space, so I’ll take almost anything and will be happy to repay you with some of the final result. Lemons, oranges and vegetables are welcome of course, but I’m also interested in things you might have planted for ornamental reasons – olives, pomegranates, rose hips and kumquats for example. (Or indeed things like stinging nettles, that you may not want around at all.)

Chopped wood sorrel in a colander.

In Which I Learn Things About Safe Spaces

Due to an unusual intersection of the Easter break and Anzac Day, Australia enjoyed a glorious five day weekend, some of which I spent at the Swancon/Natcon science fiction and fantasy conference. (Until I ran out of human interaction capacity, upon which I returned home to hibernate. By which I mean, play Portal 2.)

Good times were had, and this year I had the honour of being invited to sit on the Safe Spaces panel, in which we talk about communication, situation management, consent and boundaries. Sometimes, Safe Spaces can be quite contentious (the irony!) as it’s a topic on which people have very diverse and strongly-held views.  By the time it was about to begin I’d catastrophised myself into thinking it was going to be a bloodbath of some sort and that everyone would yell at me. I can be a bit of a dork like that.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all and we were able to cover a range of views and practical techniques to address various social situations. I brought some of my recent militancy to the mix, in addition to the discussions of more gentle and effective communication, and no-one appeared to glare at me nor tell me I was a horrid person who was Doing It Wrong.  (I worry somewhat excessively about being yelled at and told I’m a horrid person who’s Doing It Wrong, even if I don’t believe it.)  In the process, I learned a couple of things from the audience and from the other panellists that I think are worth sharing here.

Firstly, I had a moment where I realised that I’ve been coming at this from a place where I’ve always been something of a doormat and people-pleaser.  I’ve been working on standing up for myself and others, and on being assertive and outspoken. This has been immensely helpful, since I was raised to be a good girl who avoided causing offence at all costs, and it has certainly helped me realise that I don’t have to please everyone and that it isn’t necessary for everyone to like me. However, a certain comment led me to the realisation that it’s not a black and white issue and that there’s no need to beat myself up if I choose to be polite, tell a convenient white lie or not fight a particular battle. We use the tools we have, and it’s as valid to be kind, distant or evasive as it is to be blunt, honest and assertive – neither is reprehensible or inappropriate, and both approaches can be useful and practical.

Secondly, I was reminded that those things that are obvious to me are not obvious to everyone. Listening to one of my co-panellists talk about the value of learning to ask her loved ones to respect her boundaries and preferences – in her case, a strong aversion to physical contact in many circumstances – initially had me thinking ‘Well, of course I tell my friends clearly what I need, and they work with it. That’s what people who care about you do.’ However, I then remembered being an extremely sheltered eighteen year old who was so worried about fitting in that she would never have asked a friend to stop (or start) doing something to make herself comfortable. It’s good to circle back to such points in a mixed group; as obvious as they may seem to a thirty-something woman who’s been talking about this for years, they’re can also be the catalyst for someone else to realise it really, truly is okay to ask openly for a specific kind of consideration.

I, for one, had almost forgotten the experience sucking up anxiety and distress, and hiding my discomfort for fear of being thought strange and difficult.

In short, no-one shouted at me, I said my bit and learned stuff. Good times.

Further Dispatches from the Perth Geek Underground

(Heads up – This one is pretty triggery, particularly regarding rape. Consider yourself warned.)

Thank You; Yes You!

The response to my Resistance Is Useful essay, from both men and women, has been fabulous. I’ve had many enthusiastic discussions on Twitter, seen it reposted on LiveJournal and Tumbler and personal blogs, and had some great and challenging private conversations as a result. It seems that managing situations where an otherwise decent person accidentally or obliviously crosses boundaries is something that is of particular interest to many of you, and given the lack of tools our society gives us to deal with such situations, it’s understandable.

I truly believe that boldly talking about these issues – both of intentional and non-intentional transgression – instead of hiding them in dark corners is for the best, and it’s really lovely to see so many Perthites taking part in this. You are good people, you are responsible for the positive change that has already occurred, and you will be the catalyst for the positive change to come.

I Get Comments

I’m not keen to censor well-considered and constructive criticism, as I’m well aware that certain internet media propagate a disproportionate number of ‘I do agree’ responses. On the other hand, I’m not into approving comments from trolls. (A Very Special Hello to MikeUSA who posted a particularly vile comment and appears to post similarly abusive content all over the web. Thank you for severely testing my abilities to refrain from setting you on fire, Mike. Good times.)

However, I was unsure how to deal with one particular comment from the charming (for certain values of ‘charming’) Mark, a fellow Perthite. A friend suggested adopting an MST3K / Pharyngula ‘I Get Mail’ approach of sharing it and marking it up with my comments, rather than approving it. I appreciate that a number of you know this guy (that’s Perth for you) and it may be a little socially awkward for me to lay into him. But then, sucking up the social awkwardness and speaking out in spite of it is exactly what I’ve been talking about.

Welcome to the world. [Well hello there.] It is not a safe place and only children think it is. [It’s nice that you had that experience as a child. I didn’t.] You are now sufficiently paranoid that you can no longer be considered a child, congratulations. [Do I get Moët and a present for graduating? I hope so.] I, personally, am rather tired [Sorry to bore you.] of hearing about children of adult ages [From the context of the post upon which you are commenting, I can only guess this is an interesting and creative way of saying ‘women’.] who have not developed sufficient paranoia to avoid getting drunk at (or even entering) [I left the house. What was I thinking?] parties full of strangers without many friends. [It seems you exist in a glorious parallel universe where women are largely assaulted by strangers, rather than friends, family, colleagues and/or people they’ve known for a long time. Please tell me how I can travel there.] No, I am not being facetious or mocking [I know, you’re just unable to read for meaning.] I truly think that there is only one person who can be held responsible for my safety, and that’s me. [I appreciate you bringing your privilege to the table. It’s shiny. I feel so pleased for you to hear that your safety is a personal problem rather than a structural and cultural one; that must be feel good.] I apply the same policy to other people, trust no-one. [Thanks for all your hard work to make the world a better place and/or your unwavering dedication to quoting the X-Files.]

In short, thanks Mark, for posting rape apologism in response to a post about rape apologism. It’s sweet of you to play to my love for recursion and irony.

I’d like to mention here, for what it’s worth, that not a single friend of mine has informed me of being raped by a stranger, nor of having taken a sexual assault case to the police. But quite a number of my friends have been raped and assaulted nonetheless, and every one by someone they knew.  And this, this is why I wanted to share Mark’s comment rather than hiding it away – because we all know people who put forward this argument as if it were rational, but it’s full of embedded assumptions about how women are harmed by strangers, largely because of their own foolishness.  To make this argument is not only a failure to acknowledge reality, but also an irresponsible distraction from – and argument against – doing anything that may help mitigate the problem.  We are harmed by trusted fathers, brothers, lovers and friends.  We are harmed by the devil we know.

This blog will return to your regular menu of ‘Today I Ate Soup’ posts, local history (I have a great post about my cottage’s former residents in the works!) and banality shortly, but for a few more days, enjoy the love and rage.

Resistance Is Useful: An Essay

Hello internet. We have something to talk about, and it’s been cooking for some time.

We’re going to talk about geek culture, about misogyny, about rape culture and rape apologism, about safe-spaces and fear, harassment and assault, about growing-up-geek, about social responsibility, reckoning and resistance.[1]

We’re going to talk about my experience of this in a small Australian city, and about making a declaration of intransigence. For the bemused and curious some context and links can be found at the bottom of this post. I’d suggest taking a look before reading further.  Now, on with the show.

For many, many years, I have lived as a nerdy young woman in this city. I grew up and grew older (and perhaps wiser) lurking on IRC, posting on the Usenet, reading and watching science fiction, blogging, data modelling, attending cons, gaming, geeking-it-up and generally being me. And during that time, within the culture that by all rights might be expected to be a place of belonging for a nerdy being such as myself, I have witnessed a parade of abhorrent behaviours and events. We shall not argue here about whether geek culture is broadly misogynistic, predatory and hostile. We shall talk about the fact that in this place, in my small city, I have observed geek culture embracing all of those things, that I have been on the receiving end of them, that I have been an observer of them, again and again and again. Stalking, rape, the enabling of rape, rape apologism, sexual assault of various kinds, opportunistic harassment, predation, collusion to trivialise boundaries and consent issues, violation of consent, coercion, marginalisation and broadly, a deep, vile and insidious culture of loathing and sexual violence. This is not theory; this is what has happened and what continues to happen. It happens your cons, in your city, in your gaming groups, on your streets, on your internet, at your parties, in your forums, on your blogs and in your workplaces. And this is my big Fuck You to all of it.

We are shaped, in part, by our solitary journeys through unsafe spaces, and by our experience of predators. We grow up, experience sexual violence and harassment, flee the unsafe places and retreat into enclaves of safety. And as we do so, a new generation of younger (and younger, ever younger) women are left to meander into the meat market we have abandoned, and to learn the same hard lessons, the same hard way. For many of us, there are few other routes to learning these things, groomed as we are by society to please, to succumb to coercion, to be polite and compliant. To keep the dirty secrets of others, to shelter them from the judgment and disapproval of our community. To to trivialise, to accept blame, to dismiss. Each subtle line of that code is still written somewhere deep in my brain.

Like many, I did not begin this journey with the code that told me how to fight back, how to be joyfully and relentlessly non-compliant, nor how to feel good about making a scene when I damned well thought it justified.  I had no concept of calling out another person on their bad behaviour and feeling anything other than guilty for having done so. And, thanks to the prevalence of the first Geek Social Fallacy[2], I also picked up a few more lines about it being so very wrong to exclude others, no matter what.

And so, once I had learned to slip past the hands, to see trouble coming, to largely stay alert and sober and evasive, I retreated into a communal bubble where consent ruled supreme, and where respect flourished. Which was all very well and good. However, it also meant that I stopped going to the cons, started declining the invitations to parties and other social events, started feeling uncomfortable about having even a single drink when in the company of whole tranches of the Perth geek community. Essentially, I excised the spaces and people grinding down my will to engage, and left them to those women who would choose to brave the jungle. My friends have done likewise, and all too often, this has meant that the most predatory and intolerable of spaces – less characterised by well-intentioned failure than by the unambiguous intent to prey – are abandoned to newer, younger and more vulnerable women, more inclined to awkwardly tolerate assault than to oppose it.

And to all of this, I wish to say: Fuck You. This is unacceptable. This is war.

I believe in the need for a collective resistance, and in the need for an aggressive take-down of the predators in our geek communities. I believe in colonising those previously abandoned, unsafe spaces and sub-communities, and inoculating them. I believe in our collective social responsibility to police our culture, to change social norms, and to shelter our vulnerable. (For at times, we are all vulnerable.) I believe in declaring that no, it’s not just you to whom this has happened.  Not just you who has been stalked or fondled, harassed, pressured, abused or raped.   That this is all so very wrong and it’s honourable to resist and criticize, to not only say ‘no’ but to call people publically on their bad behavior, to out repeat offenders and generally, to make one hell of a scene where one hell of a scene is required.

And I have an idea. Alone, I am prey. But when I gather a handful of safe, trusted friends and we explicitly commit to fight this, I always have someone to fall back upon when I don’t know what to do. I have someone I can call, or bring along, who will make space for me to be heard and will speak for me when I’m unable to find the words. I have a handful of people of various genders and backgrounds to whom I can turn for context, illumination and consultation.  As does each of those people in that handful of safe, trusted friends.  And if one of those people gathers their own handful of people to do the same, the first cell spawns another, and another and the resistance spreads. The permission to speak out, to inoculate new groups, to normalize a culture of respect and safety, to make amends when we have caused harm, to talk about our experiences, to discuss the behaviour of ourselves and others, and to make a big damn fuss without shame or fear – it expands.

When I feel threatened or unsafe, I will have someone who has made a explicit commitment to stand with me. Whenever another woman is threatened, I will have made a public commitment to stand with her – not just for her individual well-being, but as an advocate for and protector of my community. When I accidentally trample someone’s boundaries (as even the most careful of us will do upon occasion), I have people to help me work our where I went wrong, and how best to make it right. This is not new; it’s not even particularly exciting – we know how to back each other up, and largely we do it competently.

What interests me more is this: acknowledging the grey, fuzzy, difficult nature of consent, the fundamentally inadequate nature of a ‘no means no’ approach, and the benefits of both women and men helping their male friends in dealing better with these issues, and helping men call out other men on sexual violence. I have spoken to so many who have expressed a concern that intervening in a situation will be insidiously trivialised and dismissed as ‘jealously’ or ‘just trying to impress her’ (or more typically, ‘just trying to get in her pants’). And it will, because that is how it works. I have spoken to many who have watched small consent violations escalate, and angsted over exactly when and how they ought to say something, without overriding an adult woman’s right to speak for herself. So many fundamentally decent people who feel they have handled a situation poorly or violated a boundary, or may be about to, and who are unsure who to ask for compassionate yet honest feedback and practical advice. To innoculate our spaces, women backing up women – while essential – is insufficient on its own. The men who loathe this violence also need access to the support of others whom they can ask to speak with them, or in their stead; allies who will back them up when they call a predator on their behaviour, who will help them negotiate difficult, grey and ambiguous situations, where ‘no means no’ is insufficient to deal optimally with a complex reality.

The problem is not that we require more like-minded people to fight this. We have like-minded people. What we require is interconnectedness between those people, and an explicit commitment to support, to defend, to assist, to go public and reach out to break the back of this sickness that pervades our culture.
If you’re in my small city, welcome to the Perth Geek Underground. If you’re elsewhere, pass it on.

[1] And we’re going to talk here about men and women, but not fail to bear in mind that the principles that are more broadly applicable to all genders, orientations and indeed people.
[2] Geek Social Fallacies

Further Reading Around & Under & Beneath & In-Between
Geek Culture
On the criticism of ‘exclusionary spaces’
Women in Geek Culture
More Women in Geek Culture
Men and Women and Misogyny and Blogging
Privilege
Harassment
Predator Theory and Rape Culture
More about Rape Culture
Rape Humour
Victim Blaming – the process informing rape apologism
Growing-Up-Geek
Thoughts on Safe Spaces

Mystery Man

Over the past few weeks I’ve managed to read far more random Wikipedia pages than anyone needs to read, and as a result, have become a little obsessed with a most peculiar mystery.
In December 1948, the body of a man was found on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, South Australia. The identity of the man remains unknown. The investigation encompassed a code, two copies of a rare copy of a book of poetry, an unnamed nurse and the paternity of her child, a mysterious poison, spies, wild speculation, a stored suitcase, and ultimately many more questions than answers.
If you wish to appreciate this baffling time-drain with me, here are some good places to start:

1. The Wikipedia article on the Tanam Shud case.

2. A fascinating set of pages from Honours students at The University of Adelaide, focusing on students’ attempts to understand and crack the code associated with the mystery. They also include a great timeline, a list of common misconceptions about the case, and a list of known facts about the dead man.

3. 2009 and 2010 videos from the University of Adelaide students relating to the case.

4. Parts 1, 2 and 3 from an ABC Inside Story documentary on the case produced in 1978. (Includes footage of the suitcase and clothing discovered in storage, which were subsequently lost by police.)

5. Some clarification and amended statements from a witness originally interviewed for the 1978 documentary.

6. Parts 1 and 2 from an ABC Stateline report on the case in 2009.

I have no further insights to add to the content linked above, but I hope you enjoy puzzling over this very strange tale as much as I have!

Edit: Wandering by this post seven years later, I note that there have been many developments. The Wikipedia article is quite a good place to start.

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