A Plan of Action

I’ve only ever followed politics to a point. After that point (which will be different for everyone) it becomes background noise, two kids fighting for your best friendship just so they can share the chocolates your mum always puts in your lunchbox. I’ve felt guilty feeling this way, because, despite uninspiring options, it’s something I should care more about. Don’t you care about the economy? About your rights? About the country you live in and the people you share it with?

You think other people will take care of that. You assume they will exercise common sense. You think it doesn’t make much difference who you vote for, or which of these loud-mouthed kids is leading.

But you are wrong.

For the first time, in the lead-up to an election, I felt genuinely worried. Months ago, it was, “Are you kidding me? No one is going to take him seriously.” And now here we are.

I’m not American, but because it’s America, we’re all affected. That’s what makes this even more painful that our vote really doesn’t count, we don’t get a say. We can only watch in disbelief as state after state makes their choice.

For the first time, because of an election, I wanted to curl up in a ball in bed and stay there. Like someone who had personally disrespected me and hurt me the day before, I didn’t want to give him my time or energy – he didn’t deserve it – but then I felt that guilt again. It’s because of people who might have voted differently not caring enough, not knowing and understanding enough, not even voting, that these things happen.

Earlier this year, I was in London the day of the Brexit result. Everyone I spoke to was outraged, upset, disappointed. But clearly my ‘everyone’ was not the majority; at least not the majority who actually voted. Soon after, I learnt that in Australia, Pauline Hanson was back in the senate. Pauline ‘White Australia Policy’ Hanson. She was around when I was in high school, when I was just starting to get over wishing I was ‘normal’ and white, getting  comfortable with and even proud of being Asian-Australian, feeling like I belonged. Her wanting ‘us’ out hurt. And the fact that she had any public voice at all, no matter how easy she was for the media to mock, she had supporters. ‘My people’ supported her wanting ‘us’ out.

Not to mention it made the changing of our refugee policies, and the opening of our borders to asylum seekers who are not only being held in limbo for years but tortured under our government’s watch, having escaped desperate circumstances only to find themselves in equally desperate circumstances, feeling further away than ever. Never before have I felt so ashamed to be Australian, part of a privileged Western society, as I have in recent years.

In school we learnt about Hitler, and the horrors of wars that happened before our time. I had nightmares about living in cupboards only to have my family and friends killed anyway. We learnt what can happen when the majority of people lose all reason, deciding only to look after ‘their own’, brainwashed into living in fear of the ‘other’. We learnt what can happen when the wrong people are given too much power. In class, we shook our heads and thought, “Thank goodness we live now, when people know better!”

But clearly, more voters than not don’t know better.

I’m taking solace from the fact that my social media feeds are flooded with posts from friends who are just as disgusted, shocked, saddened, and disappointed as I am. That some of those posts are reminders of our need to band together and, now more than ever, speak up and fight for what is right. I’m taking solace from the fact that I don’t associate with closed-minded idiots people who pass judgement and make decisions based on fear, ignorance, and hatred.

Right now, I feel small, powerless, and afraid. I feel like this kind of behaviour, and other hurtful, unjustified, uneducated and inhumane behaviours and views, have been validated. I feel like the way I feel doesn’t matter. I feel like the child-version of me was right to wish she was ‘normal’ (a.k.a. white), that I can’t go back and tell her, “Hey, you are just as Australian as anyone else. You belong, you are wanted, what makes you different actually adds to the beautiful, diverse, proudly multicultural Australia you are lucky enough to live in.” I can’t tell her how lucky she is to be born into a time of openness, acceptance, peace and freedom. And it looks like I won’t be able to say that to my future children either.

I don’t share this blog much/at all, so if you’re reading this, you probably know me, and we’re friends because we’re both not bigoted assholes good people who care about other people – and not just those who look like us, behave like us, and have grown up with similar circumstances and privileges. You’ve probably contributed to the social media feed I’ve been taking solace in. So I don’t need to convince you. And what we need now is not more venting and despairing (thank you for reading though), but a plan of action.

Here’s mine:

  1. Bury my head and weep for a few days.
  2. Re-group. Remember that the day before yesterday I was on a mission to live a full life and contribute positively to the world I want to live in. I believed, and still believe, we essentially all want the same things. To be happy. To be free. To feel safe. Even though fear and hatred are the driving forces at the moment, this can, will, and must change.
  3. Continue on that mission. Continue calling out bigotry, homophobia, sexism, racism. Even – especially – when it’s a ‘joke’. It’s never, ever a joke. It’s never ok.
  4. Continue to take solace from the fact that the people I know and associate with are intelligent, compassionate people with good hearts, many of whom are actively driving conversations and initiatives towards greater understanding, love, empathy, and acceptance. Read, talk, and remember how many more of us are out there. We are on the same side, and together we can effect change.
  5. Dont lose hope. Ever.
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An amazing tree I found in Bali, Indonesia about a month ago. I’m going to assume it’s survived a lot of tough times, but has stayed strong, kept going, and has only grown more and more amazing. This is my hope for humanity.

Belated.

I often scribble things down and forget about them, but some thoughts are worth holding onto.

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19/8/16

I don’t know what distance I covered. I don’t know how much time I spent. All I know is that after a day of feeling overwhelmed (there were tears) I felt infinitely better after going outside to just quadrupedal alone under the moon and stars. I could achieve that, the more I pushed the more natural it felt, the stronger I felt. And now I feel like I could conquer anything.

Truck Driver

Two days ago, I walked around the corner from my studio to go to Foodworks. I saw the truck parked outside, and I saw the fat, middle-aged man sitting alone in it with the window down. Instinctively, I kept my eyes forward and hoped not to hear anything.

“Hey!” I heard him shout. My eyes flickered just enough to know he was talking to me. “Hey, honey! How are you? I’d like to take you home and – ”

I kept walking. It was a sunny mid-afternoon, but there was no one else around to see me duck into Foodworks as planned. On my way out, I chose the opposite entrance.

Yesterday, I was at the studio again. I didn’t realise I was playing the scenario again in my head until it was already happening. In the replay, I turned back around. My head stopped thinking and my legs carried me straight towards the truck driver, his expression already altered to one of surprise.

“Do you have a mother?” The words shot out of my mouth like bullets.

“Of course I f-ing have a mother,” he scoffed.

“How would you feel if you knew men were speaking to her that way?”

To this, he put his hands up. “Hey, I have a wife and daughter, ok? I was only messing around.”

“That’s even worse,” I added. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

I turned back around and continued on my way. Later, I thought, I’d write a blog post about this. I’d share it on Facebook and Twitter, show how I had been one of those girls who didn’t take this sh*t.

If anyone asked how I got the courage, I’d say I was thinking about the little girls I teach who would one day grow up to be spoken to like they don’t deserve to be respected as a whole, emotion-fueled human being. I was thinking about the boys I teach who may or may not one day grow up to be one of those men doing the disrespectful speaking.

I’d say I remember being beeped and whistled at, and called out to from the open windows of passing cars while I walked my dog when I was fifteen. I’ve been slapped on the arse by cyclists who sped away faster than I could turn around and open my mouth, even if I had had that instinctive reaction. I know how common it is and that much worse happens than what has happened to me, but what hurts is feeling uncomfortable walking back to my car alone at night. What hurts is not wanting to train parkour alone because apparently just being female and walking normally draws too much attention. What hurts is seeing a truck driver with his window down and before he says anything, I’m already bracing myself and putting the invisible blinkers on.

Then the replay fizzled out, and there was nothing to be proud of. The truth is, I wasn’t ‘courageous’ because I’d rather feign ignorance than risk further – worse – harassment.

I hate feeling like I need to walk with blinkers on, and play deaf while a stranger thinks it’s ok to speak to me like I’m a walking image.

I hate that it makes me want to fold into a shell like a hermit crab, only to emerge when it’s ‘safe’.

I hate how much this can effect me, when I know so many kind, loving, respectful guys.

I hate hating so much.

Most of all, I hate being put in a position – because I’ve heard enough stories to know worst-case scenarios can and do happen, all the time – where I feel helpless.

Two months ago, I wrote a fictional piece about a woman who loves to run alone at night. I wrote it on a night I wished I could (there is no such night, it seems).

Here it is.

***

She runs at night. When her husband and children are sleeping and the off-lead dogs are in their kennels, and ribbons of clouds streak the navy blue sky; when the moon is a pale, dusty coin, she changes in the dark and tip-toes to the front door. Slips permanently-tied shoes on. There is the softest click of the door; a slight tinkering of metal as she pushes the house key off the ring and into the zip pocket of her running top. As the door clicks shut behind her, she holds her breath, listening for the pat-pat-pat of small, bare feet on tiles (“Mummy!”) – but there is nothing. She breathes out. Turns towards the end of the driveway, the street, the main road she must cross to get to the track.

It’s so quiet she can’t resist the smile that curls up the edges of her lips. The open space, the shiver of night air, the taste of all you need to do now is run.

Quietly. One foot after the other, focussing on her forefoot strike, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. It feels good to move with no one watching; no girls in short-shorts and fluoro crop tops zipping past; no men pretending not to notice the way her breasts bounce; no truck drivers beeping their horns (“Hey, baby!”); no children on tricycles with long handles for their parents to hold, something in the grown-ups’ eyes saying, Shouldn’t you be somewhere else?

She runs at night, when possums scamper across power lines and disappear into the trees. When foxes dart across the track so quickly she questions whether she really saw one at all. On the other side of fences, she looks out for the yellow glow behind windows, the late-night flicker-flash of TV screens – signs of people still awake. Because you never know. Because just in case. Because you shouldn’t be out here, running alone at night. What were you thinking?

She runs faster.

Stickman

You know those days when you feel so fragile you wonder if the wind might break you. When one thing after another seems to go wrong and even though you acknowledge that individually they are not worth falling apart over, together they become a cloud around you; a cloud that starts to solidify like concrete, tightening your chest and shortening your breath. It’s that feeling you get when your to-do list gets longer as the remainder of the day gets shorter. When you feel guilty because the dog hasn’t been walked and you have no idea what you’re cooking for dinner and your husband’s going to be home before you to find your unwashed dishes in the sink.

Those days when you feel like you’re failing at being the kind of person you want to be. When you would love nothing more than to jump into your car and drive to the nearest beach, to sit on the cold sand, barefoot, breathing, watching the waves lick the shoreline as the sky transitions through a dozen shades of purple and pink.

Days when the only words you seem to be able to articulate are, ‘I can’t.’

It’s been one of those days. They happen, and they pass, and the world keeps turning, and I’ll be ok. But I wanted to say goodnight with a conversation worth remembering; a conversation I’m so grateful found me before this day lost me.

This morning, as we were about the start a persuasive writing workshop, a Year 2 asked me, ‘Can you draw?’

‘No,’ I laughed. ‘I can write, but I can’t draw.’

Unfazed, he asked, ‘Can you draw a stickman?’

‘Well … yes. I can draw a stickman.’

He shrugged and smiled, because the answer was so simple: ‘Then you can draw.’

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