Understanding instead

I’m feeling sad today. Usually I try to avoid writing when I’m angry or sad, there’s enough angry and sad stuff on the internet already. But today, I saw a writing prompt: “Understanding”. So after a great weekend with wonderful people, and the tragic news from Orlando, feeling sad and writing about understanding just seemed necessary.

I caught up with a friend for dinner the other night. I met her outside the mosque where she had just ducked in for evening prayers. We raced off to dinner because she was, understandably, ravenous after fasting all day. We got a table at a busy café in a hipsterish laneway where everything was halal. I commented on how nice her blazer was and she explained that, because she had been fasting, she was freezing in the air conditioning at her office. She joked about how the Muslim holidays in Singapore had different names from what she was used to, and how she had vehemently stated that Hari Raya was not the holiday at the end of Ramadan, it was Eid. Same holiday, different names.

On Sunday, I met up with some other friends. They offered to take us with them to a Hindu temple and give us a tour. We took off our shoes, leaving them in the shade so they didn’t burn our feet on our return, washed our hands and feet, and headed inside. The temple was busy: children raced around, dodging glares from their parents, women in gorgeous saris and men in their Sunday best accepted flowers from shirtless priests, and families sat together on the ground eating rice and curry. The air was punctuated with the sound of ringing bells and the occasional lilt of a nasal-sounding pipe instrument. My friends walked us around all around the temple, stopping to pray and explain who was who and what was going on. I always feel awkward playing tourist in religious places but no one seemed to mind. Though we stood back, out of the way of people who were performing puja, one of the priests even waved us forward with a big smile and gave us some blessings. It was a really special morning, topped off by a ridiculously delicious South Indian lunch that we ate with our fingers.

As I scrolled through the news from Orlando, a quote popped into my head. I had to trawl through my notes to find it but here it is:

“In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them” – T. H. Eriksen

Obviously this quote is referring to more political sentiments, but I think it has a powerful message. Surely we should try to know and understand others before we judge and criticise them? It is simplistic to say that a lack of understanding is the root of discrimination. Understanding implies knowledge and learning, questions and answers. Really, these are the steps that are missing. Understanding doesn’t just happen, it’s something you actively work for. And it’s fun! Learning new things about people and places, it’s why so many of us travel. But why are we so reluctant to do that in everyday life? Why is it easier to spew hate from our mouths and keyboards, and even commit acts of violence against those who are different to us?

It seems like, when it comes to people, the unknown is a cause of fear, and fear breeds resentment and hate. But why? How? What has gone so terribly wrong that the unknown now fosters violence instead of curiosity? If human beings had always taken this attitude, we’d still be cowering in caves, waving sharpened sticks at the sky water and cloud grumbles, and dying at the age of 26.

What if we were curious instead of scared? What if questions came out of our mouths instead of ill-informed comments and snark? What if we made the effort to understand instead of judging and demanding assimilation to our own views?

I know it’s idealistic and naïve to even suggest but my inner cynic, who has the wheel most of the time, is sobbing in the foetal position and can’t come to the computer right now. Maybe if there was a little more understanding, the world wouldn’t be such a nightmarish, fear-riddled place. There might be a few less people looking over their shoulders. There might be a few less families crying. There might be a few more reasons to wake up happy on a Monday morning, instead of sad.


Clementine Ford and modern feminism

In Australia, there has been a lot of talk about feminist writer Clementine Ford in the news lately. Personally, I think she’s great! She calls people and organisations out on their bullshit. Her language is colourful but compelling and she is, to me, the epitome of modern, unapologetic, in-your-face, riotgrrl feminism. She also has great style and I love her tattoos. Am I fangirling too much? Meh, don’t care.

Anyway, Clementine is in the news for calling out a man who wrote crude things and threats on her Facebook page and reporting him to his employer. The employer promptly sacked this shining beacon of humanity. A win! But instead of a national bout of fist-pumping, the response has been one of butt-hurt from those who believe he shouldn’t have lost his job for being a twat.

I suppose there are plenty of twats who are gainfully employed but as an employer, would you really want an employee who doesn’t respect 50 percent of your workforce? Would you want to employ someone who threatens people with violence for simply airing their views? Would you really want an employee who doesn’t understand that Facebook is a public platform and that they are, in fact, accountable for their actions?

The critics justify their opposition by pointing out Clem’s use of foul language. The argument is that Clem herself is prone to colourful language therefore she should not object to being harassed and threatened. Wow, writing down makes the argument seem even more obscure. Anyway, the example provided was that Clem called Australian right-wing journalist Miranda Devine a f*cking c*nt on Twitter. Regardless of what you think of that kind of language and of Miranda Devine (I’m kinda with Clem on this one), calling someone names is very different to graphic threats of violence. And is anyone really offended by being called names anymore? Really? If someone called me a bitch I could shrug and move on pretty quickly, potentially with the help of a single-finger gesture. But if someone said they were going to follow me home and rape me? That’s next level name-calling, the kind that has you looking over your shoulder and wondering if you should call the police. Neither is ideal but one is a hell of a lot worse than the other. Apples and oranges.

There are other flimsy, apologist counter-arguments too. “Oh, he lost his job, what about his family?” You expect me to feel sorry for this hate-spewing misogynist? Nope. But maybe they’re right, we need some sort of place where these ignorant, angry people can be rehabilitated while undertaking meaningful work to earn a wage. Perhaps in a secure facility where they can reflect on their actions and undergo counselling to figure out where all this hateful bile is coming from. Between sessions they can make up care packages for women who are homeless due to domestic violence, they can arrange flowers to send to the families of women who have been killed as a result of their gender, they can write thank-you letters to women’s rights activists, particularly to those tackling intersectionality, they can make “Check your privilege” business cards to hand out when necessary. They’d earn a wage for these tasks, one that they could send to whatever family they help support, and when they are suitably rehabilitated, as assessed by a panel of independent experts, they are free to return to the community.

In the course of my reading, I came across a quote by T. Eriksen that goes: “In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them”. It’s talking about democracy but I think it’s relevant it most cases. The example TE uses is the (vocal; why are they always so vocal?) criticism of Islam but those who have never so much as picked up a Quran. The same is true here. Unless you know what it’s like to be a woman, or at least make a concerted effort at empathy, you don’t have the right to criticise, particularly criticisms along the lines of what Clem cops on a daily basis. Of course, the experiences of women are by no means universal, I would never even suggest that. What I experience as a straight, white woman is a world away from the experiences of women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women. But being discriminated against, intimidated, bullied, threatened, excluded or made uncomfortable on account of your gender is experienced by women across the board. If you can’t be empathetic and try to understand what that is like, you don’t get an opinion. You straight-up don’t. That’s not ruling out the participation of men. There are plenty of dudes that are fellow feminists-in-arms and engage in meaningful dialogue about how change can happen. It’s just unfortunate that they’re not the ones doing the majority of posting on Clem’s Facebook.



It’s pretty grim when, on day four of a blog writing challenge, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for blog ideas. Never fear, dear reader. I’m hoping that delightful observational insights from Singapore will keep you entertained until tomorrow. After all, there’s only so many times I can write about weddings, PhDs and my cat.

In Singapore, there’s a different seating hierarchy on public transport (hoooo boy, a public transport post already!). There really is though. In Australia, it’s pregnant women, people with disabilities, and older people who get the seats. Not you. Stand up. Go on. That’s the way. You get a warm fuzzy, the person in need gets a seat, not so complicated. Here in Singapore though, it is more complicated. There are significantly less seats. And those seats are taken way more seriously.

In Singapore, the MRT (and I really cannot speak for buses) seating hierarchy goes pregnant women, people with disabilities, kids then older people. Yes, kids are in on the seating chart here. In Singapore, people will give up their hard-fought seats for kids. Children. As in those small humans with bouncy bones and young legs. Yeah, them. They get priority over an older Aunty with two fistfuls of shopping bags. But the Aunties love it, they smile and coo, all the while eyeballing the person on the seat next door. They’re happy to give up their seat for a kid, but if they do, they damn well want yours to make up for it.

They say that the fastest you’ll see a Singaporean move is when there’s a spare seat on public transport. I’m not sure if that’s true, but what I have definitely observed is the number of people I’ve seen leap out of their seats for someone who they think is more deserving. I do hate to finish on a warm fuzzy but it’s a Friday night and I’ve had a few drinks. Happy weekend, readers!

Back again

So it would seem that 2015 has been a big year for life, but not so much for blogging. My last post was in April. April. Ouch. It has been a big year though. I started a PhD, only to go back to work in Australia for a few months. I managed an event for almost 1000 people, then promptly disappeared back into my hermit hole of academia.

On a personal note, I lost my grandma, the one I wrote about here. I had the privilege of helping my Dad write the eulogy, an experience that was both devastating and wonderful. In happier news, I am now in possession of a bona fide fiancé (yuck, there’s definitely a blog post on my hatred of that word coming soon…). Partner 2 surprised me on the side of a volcano with a ring and a question, to which I said yes. That volcano is now spewing ash into the air and disrupting the travel plans of many. Take from that what you will.

I tell you all this not out of a sense of self-importance (“Look how busy I am! Look! Validate me!”), but as more of a recap. A ‘previously on’. Some context for upcoming posts, because there’s going to be lots of them! For real! In an attempt to resuscitate this ailing piece of internet, I’m setting myself a challenge: to blog every day in the month of December. I can’t promise I will succeed or that the writing will be any good. The first few weeks could be a mixed bag: will they be light-hearted and abstract, the result of heavy procrastination? Or will they be panicked odes to the report I should be writing? Time will tell. I can promise briefing and debriefings from Partner 2’s office Christmas party, travel blogging from London, Denmark and Norway, and a birthday blog. Maybe some sort of 2015 retrospective for New Year’s Eve? I don’t know, I’m not a planner. Hence my patchy blog attendance… Anyway, hopefully I can provide some daily enjoyment for you, readers, over the course of December, or at least a welcome distraction from whatever you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll hear from me soon.

Listicles are internet parasites

Listicles seem to be the bread and butter of internet websites these days. They have wormed their way up from Buzzfeed to infiltrate even the loftier echelons of the interwebs, proper news websites. Scroll down to lifestyle and entertainment, and suddenly you’ve descended into a clickhole of Dante-esque proportions. It started innocently, “5 things you should know about the situation in CAR”, then moved innocuously to “30 facts for Katy Perry’s 30th birthday”, then devolved into “10 reasons you should date a guy with hooves” and “7 signs you ate too much today, fatty”.

As entertaining as they can be, from a literary perspective, listicles are a threat. Most people would choose an easy-to-digest list over a comprehensive analysis any day, and this is starting to show. Supply and demand, baby. Give the people what they want. Even if it is to the detriment of think pieces, in-depth analyses and long-form creative fiction.

So why is this? Have our literary consumption habits been so degraded that we can only process bite-sized pieces of prose? Have our reading habits devolved so badly that we need our material obviously signposted so we know what we’re committing to?  “31 reasons Broad City is the best show ever”? 31 reasons? No time, I’ll take “5 times cats were jerks” instead.

A curse of the modern age perhaps, or the road toll we pay for the information super highway? I think it’s more insidious than that. Listicles are parasites. Feeding on us and real writing. There’s probably a few reasons for this. Firstly… No. No. You just read this whole thing, no signposts. Left to right, top to bottom, you won’t get lost I promise.

Anyway, listicles are the parasites of the internet. They are endemic, duplicitous and feed on the lifeblood of their hosts – readers and proper articles. A sneaky tiger leech, hiding on knee-skimming ferns, just waiting for you to brush past unaware so it can drain your blood. A tapeworm hanging out in mystery meat, waiting for you to make an ill-informed dietary decision. A strangler fig choking the life out of the tree who supports it for a spot in the sun. There’s a wealth of metaphors for listicles, even the word itself is a red flag. The portmanteau is cutesy, stolen from other words, it even has the syllable ‘ick’ in it!

Listicles are those wasps that lay eggs in the brains of other insects. Then the babies hatch and control their zombie hosts. I’m not even making this up. Listicles destroy your ability to make your own reading decisions, you can’t click just one. Before you know it you’ve spent an entire morning falling down a clickhole of listicles and have nothing to show for it. Listicles, like fleas and lice, are adaptable and can survive a range of conditions. They embrace mixed media openly, a trait widely-lauded in this multimediascape we call the internet. Listicles are as at-home with video as they are with music,text and images. They are laid out in order: you read the title, you smile at the .gif or watch the video, then read the paragraph that goes with it. Simple, no critical thinking, no consideration, nothing to show for the time wasted. The most effective parasites go unnoticed.

This may come off as very high and mighty but I’m not immune, I absolutely indulge in listacles from time to time. I’m not saying stop reading them, parasites have their uses in the circle of life. We derive vaccines from mosquitoes, and would we even have supermodels without tapeworms? When listicles act as a mental break in your day at work or the odd link shared among friends, there’s no problem. The cause for concern is if all we read online comes in list format. Obviously my glorious readers won’t have to worry about that, but as a whole we need to be more receptive to long reads on the internet. I love The Awl, particularly this one from a few weeks ago, New Matilda for current affairs, and The Daily Beast cultivates a weekly list of good long reads. Yes, they require a bit more time and concentration, but long reads are an investment rather than a distraction! Together we can fight back against the listicle infestation and hopefully fill the internet with thoughts and words rather than advertorials and YouTube clips. The cat gifs can stay though.

A prison of his own making

It is probably no surprise that the most surprising events stem from the most unexpected places. Such is the nature of a surprise, I suppose. Surprises can be pleasant though, perhaps a shock is better. A fright, bombshell, cataclysm may be better. Forgive me my rambling, I have far too much time to myself.

To the purpose of this prose: a warning to the audient emptiness and those who dwell on the world above it. Women are a nasty breed, a breed who will put their own above any others. They bite the hands that feed them. All I have done, I have done for these god-forsaken women. First Louisa, may the lord forgive her departed soul, the number of company dinners and society occasions I missed for that woman’s fancies. And now, Elizabeth. Her mother should have indicated the presence of a disturbed mind. And yet, here I am.

It began with the tragic death of Elizabeth’s mother, my wife Louisa. She was woman of strong convictions, a most unbecoming trait and one, I believe, that caused her youth and beauty to fade as her opinions grew stronger. She entertained wild ideas about working and public speaking, about the rights of women and the inferiority of men. Naturally, she was disturbed and required frequent sedation to calm her of these notions and protect the honour of the house. I was forced to knock sense into her on many occasions, eventually she acquiesced and became much more agreeable. Quiet, homely, a proper lady of the house. She relied on essences and potions to sleep at night, I maintain she simply confused the vials on her nightstand on that tragic evening. What she was doing with essence of nightshade is beyond the realm of my understanding. A simple mistake. When Louisa failed to rouse the next morning, I called the physician immediately. He pronounced her dead, accidentally suicided he declared.

Upon hearing the news, Elizabeth quite lost her head.

“Tyrant!” she had screamed, “Oppressor! Hangman! Murderer!”

Where the child gets these ideas from, I will never know. Whether the untimely death of her mother broke her mind, or whether the madness had always lingered under the surface, I will also never know.  She had oft been prone to bouts of hysteria and whimsy, but in her flushed face I saw true madness for the first time. I had assigned a nurse for her care, so as to assure her wellbeing and prevent her from endangering or disgracing this house. This was my greatest mistake, one I will surely rue till my looming death bed.

The power of Elizabeth’s sick mind was revealed to her nurse, in all its twisted force. She was able to coerce this simple woman into doing her bidding, the bidding her god-given weak and sickly body was unable to commit. Elizabeth, that cursed witch, lured me down to the cellar on false premises where the nurse was waiting, shrouded in shadow. When I woke I was shackled and bloody. Elizabeth stood over me and I saw the devil shine through the back of her dead and unholy eyes.

“No more. No more.” She murmured, as if possessed. The nurse brought writing materials and I was forced to sign my own social death warrant. I was eloping with a common maid, I relinquished the estate to my daughter, my one and only heir. My hand tremored as I wrote it, I was enraged. I was convinced no one would believe this demeaning, disgraceful tale. But it seems they have. There have been no callers to the manor, none that I have been able to hear. In fact the house seems quite deserted, no footsteps, no sounds from the kitchen. I fear I am quite alone. It is impossible to know how long I have been here, perhaps a week. My rations run low and it appears neither of the she-daemons will be replenishing them. They have departed to lead their sinful, hell-bound lives. So I write this in the hope that someone will eventually find me and know the true depth of the depravity of women. They are vengeful creatures and cannot be trusted.

<a href=”http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/ready-set-done-5/”>Ready, Set, Done</a>

Between two storeys

She still remembered which ones creaked. As a child, she would wake early and creep downstairs to play with the dogs or cajole Pop into giving her sweets. She thought of him. Hands stained with oil, rising at 5am to spend time in the garage. “This is a car hospital,” he explained one morning. She picked flowers from the garden, “For the sick cars.” Pop wheezed and gave her a fistful of sweets. The stairs groaned, interrupting her reverie. The agent clip-clopped into the room, “It cleaned up quite nicely. I don’t think there’ll be any problems making the reserve.”

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