What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part II – Relationships With Others

So! You’ve got your own fire going and you’re open to sharing it with the right people. Just stay open and aware. Observe the fires around you and see if any are inviting. If one is, pursue it gently but never chase it and never deceive yourself. Don’t just start fires willy-nilly out of curiosity or loneliness.

Pyrophobics have exacting requirements for a fire and will wait a very long time for the perfect firemaker to come along; pyromaniacs want a fire with any old person. Try and be somewhere in between. Be honest. If you’re not willing and/or able to build a fire with someone let them know. Maybe it’s them, maybe it’s you. Either way be honest with yourself and with them and follow it through.

Maybe you don’t often meet people who you want to share warmth with and maybe not many people approach your fire. Maybe you like your own fire and you’re picky, just waiting for a true legend to come along who can build a fun, sexy, expansive and caring fire just the way you like. Sharing is nice with the right person but some people are just happy to sit by their own fire alone. That’s okay, nobody has any obligation to share and you shouldn’t push them. So have a yarn, but if it’s still not there, walk away in pride.

Sometimes you will see someone’s fire and want to warm yourself by it. Ask if it’s okay. Make sure you respect their boundaries and make sure you can bring something to the table too. If you have nothing they want or need be honest, don’t lie to them. Maybe they’ll be okay for you to sit awhile before you leave, but maybe they don’t want to be responsible for your warmth as well as their own. That’s okay too. We’ve all had times where we’ve not wanted to do someone’s work for them, or we wanted to be alone. Just accept it and move on.

Maybe one day you’ll be sitting there, warming yourself, and somebody will come by wanting to share fires. How exciting! How heart warming! But you will need to figure out if it’s gonna work before you commit yourself to the flames. This is because regardless of how careful you are, unless you are exactly on the same page you’ll probably both get a bit burnt. It’s the nature of this game, feeling out what is too much and what is not enough. Don’t take every stray ember personally, just yarn it out. That said, if someone stokes you into a wildfire then walks away leaving you to calm it alone and you get burnt there’s no need to burn them back. Take space away to rebuild at a safe distance. But if someone burns you repeatedly, please walk away out of respect for yourself, and don’t go back.

 

Sustaining fires with others

Starting a fire is easy. Sustaining it takes work, patience, dedication, awareness and adjustments. Everybody has a different idea of what makes a good fire. You need to figure out if you’re on the same page. If you’re not, can you compromise so you are? Maybe their vision is exactly what you need without having realised it. But maybe not. Don’t compromise if you don’t feel both safe and excited.

Maybe their idea of a good fire is boring. See if you can inflame them with your burning vision. Maybe theirs seems dangerous and out of your comfort zone. If you are willing to try new things, be absolutely certain that they will not put your safety at risk for their selfish vision or you will get burnt. If somebody endangers you when you have been clear about your boundaries, they have been selfish and disrespectful. Walk away without regrets.

Sometimes building fires is easy – you both have the same vision and you don’t need to communicate over every nut and bolt. This can be good as long as you don’t let familiarity breed contempt. Keep it fresh and breathe new life into the flames when it burns too low.

You’ll need to start your fire small and then maintain it. To gather wood for fuel, you will both need to go away periodically. If you both just sit there without moving, your stores are going to run out very soon. If you continue to feed it with bits and pieces once it’s blazing it’ll burn out very quickly and you’ll be exhausted. Yet if you try and start it with big logs you’ll smother it. The only fire that can handle big logs is one that has been burning large for a long time. So until it’s solid, break up the big ones into more manageable pieces before tossing them on.

 

For every problem, a solution

Some people are just bright and warm and attract people like moths to a flame. They welcome people sitting by their fires, but be aware that they may need their own time too. Don’t overstay your welcome and smother their fire. Always stay strong and warm in your own.

Some people just can’t seem to cultivate their own fire and so they seek it outside. These people are lazy and will prance around to others’ camps, taking in warmth and nourishment but not giving anything in return – no fuel, and no work to tend it. Avoid these people. They want to steal your hard work and patience. They’ll need to either give something back or go off and build their own otherwise your energy will be spent before long.

Some people are able to sustain a few fires at once. If you’re okay with that then the only reason for them to only have a fire with you is outdated and irrelevent. Maybe you want to do it too. But if they’re being stingy with fuel for your fire let them know. Never let anyone take you for granted. Even if your fire is not the only priority, you still must be a priority.

Some people will build fires with others without you knowing. Maybe they’re good at hiding it. But maybe after they’ve been away a while they come back looking suspiciously warm with the smell of smoke in their hair, then you know they’ve been getting their warmth in places without your consent. Maybe you can forgive and forget, and maybe you can open your relationship up to suit your desires. But then again, dishonesty can be difficult to purify.

Even if you’re okay with tending multiple fires, do it safely. Never endanger any of your fires with unsafe burning from the others because certain things can pollute and spread like wildfire. If somebody contaminates your fire with shit from their other fires, they have not respected your fire and safety regulations.

Sometimes we start fires with other people without meaning to. Maybe it only warms us for one night, maybe we keep going back. Be honest with everyone. If you deceive one or both of your lovers, whether it be for a day or a year, the guilt will eat at you and your own fire will rage and splutter in turn. Everyone deserves to know, immediately if not sooner. It stopped being about your self-preservation once you did the dirty so you don’t act with integrity, you don’t deserve the warmth you are getting.

Sometimes we might build a fire with somebody, but it’s not a fire we want our friends and family to see, and it might not be a fire we want to burn forever. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but be honest. Really, if you’re not proud of what you have, there’s no point maintaining it. Conversely, if someone promises you the stars, uphold them to it. If they talk about things but don’t ever do them, they’re just blowing hot air into the fire and the scattered ashes will leave scars reminding you that empty words can hurt. Love is not a promise. It is a practise.

Make somebody prove to you that they can in fact keep you warm. Sometimes you might delude yourself that this fire is warming you when it’s not; maybe you’re just fuelling the fantasy and not paying attention to what’s in front of your eyes, dying. Don’t sit there like the little match girl, wasting your precious matches on a flame that will not sustain you. Yes the sparks are pretty, but like her you will soon run out of fuel and you will freeze. Be alert and be aware. If someone’s not pulling their weight, sort it out. When things become dark, cold and foggy, all you need to do is chuck a log on the fire and have a yarn to shed some light on matters.

Sometimes one or both of you must be away for some time, and so maybe one of you can’t give as much as is needed in a certain period. This is fine and necessary and normal, especially if fuel is running low or the fire has burned too intensely for a long time. Just be honest about this process. Take space away if needed, but remember that too much time away, not enough fuel and that fire will die quickly.

Even if you’ve built a nice fire with someone, you’ll still need to keep your own, so stay dedicated to yourself as well as the other person. And both of you will need to give fuel. Sometimes you may not feel like it giving much but relationships need to come before individual egos to be maintained properly. If the other person is not giving enough, and you need them to give because you are spent, because you already gave too much, they are not pulling their weight and they’re having it way too easy while you exhaust yourself. Don’t let this happen. Expect respect.

 

Putting fires out safely

If you decide you can’t tend to the fire anymore don’t ever piss or shit on it. You’ll burn yourself and it will stink, polluting all the good memories. No matter what hurts and heartaches went down, that fire did nourish you for a while and made you who you are now. And don’t kick the other person out or leave them there. You need to both take what you need, both consciously put the rest of the fire out and both walk away to return to your own fires. Don’t ever sit there alone, waiting for the other person to come back. Go tend to your own neglected fire because that one’s done.

If you decide to abandon the fire, maybe one day you will want to share just a friendly fire. This can be dangerous and painful, but it can also be lovely and healing. If somebody burnt you before, you need to be certain that they understand how their actions hurt you, that they take responsibility for it, and that they never do it again. Without this knowledge, the old fire will continue to burn you inside and you will not be able to trust them with even the friendliest of little fires. Pain needs to be acknowledged before it can heal properly and cleanly.

Sometimes it might hurt you to see somebody you once shared a fire with to build one with somebody else. Don’t be angry and ruin theirs. Don’t hide away either. Face it and be happy that they are at least warm, because everyone deserves warmth, especially those who have hurt you, because people who hurt others are the ones who need the most love. Most importantly, be happy that you are now free to share fires with people who are better for you.

 

Carrying the fire outwards and onwards

Whoever you are, you’ve got a good fire inside you. You’ve worked long and patiently to build it the way it is. Yes, you’ve been burnt by others, and you’ve been fed hot hair, but you’re learning and you’re grateful for your lessons; the scars have bloomed fresh in flesh and you’re good as new. Yes, you like your own fire, and you’re willing to share it with others. So, stay strong and proud and open and alert, loving, playful, authentic, sincere, hot, warm and gentle, stay open to building new fires with the right people. Strive to be the best version of yourself you can be, and one day you’ll meet someone and like what you see and they’ll like you and you can both give it a red hot go.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part I: Relationship with Myself, here

 

Postscript: Timing is no excuse. I found this out some years ago when my ex-boyfriend passed away and I experienced some of the most intense feelings I could never have imagined. In the years after he died I re-lived our entire relationship again, and I shed a million tears for it all. He was the love of my life up until then, and I had lost him again, this time forever.

We had broken up because the timing wasn’t right, and we should never have been together because the timing was wrong, but if we had used that as an excuse I would never have had the honour of him loving me. Although breaking up was the best thing for us, I never forgot how beautiful and loved I felt because he was part of my life. He was a writer, and a dreamer, and gave me letters, and honesty, and poetry, and unlocked things in me that I never knew existed.

With him gone, I felt so alone with those feelings. We had shared something exquisite, and we still carried those memories in our hearts when we parted ways. Now that piece of my heart that was inside his own was cremated with him and scattered in the night wind. What a terrible, overwhelming loneliness that realisation brings! All of his love for me was gone; perhaps not dead, but transformed into something unrecognisable, ungraspable, and blown across the Earth, never to be whole again.

When the last person that loved you is dead timing becomes an inadequate excuse, because life becomes transparent, love is ephemeral and relationships take on a deeper meaning. So if you want to start that fire then do it now, because timing is no excuse.

(Dedicated to our Rome, and his Rachel, who have shown us that timing is no excuse for true love)

 

 

What Fire Has Taught Me About Love And Communion: Part I – Relationship With Myself

I have been out in the mountains for five days, alone

Studying the ways of fire

Alone, but not lonely

The campfires of my ancestors above me kept me in safety and in love

 

Constellations sharply delineated; hard diamond dust strewn across the satin sky above

A deep black sky that contains the secrets of my being, my past and my future

 

Each star, a sun

Each sun, a nucleus

Each nucleus, the centre of a slowly unfolding dance

Each dance, dramatic

Each drama, a world

Each world, possibilities so infinite it makes a mockery of probability

Each mockery, chaos

And in chaos, wonder and the potential for new patterns

As without, so within

 

I and my campfire, a flesh and flame simulacrum of the campfires overhead

A perfect, fleeting expression of the universe’s desire to know itself

As above, so below

 

IMG_4737

 

Come sit down with me, and I will teach you what I know about fire and love

I love to build a fire, then sit and watch the flames dance around and see the embers in its heart shift and change in the brilliant heat. I love the smell of smoke in the air, it settles deep in my skin and can linger for days in my hair. I love the smell because it is an echo, a ghost of the fire I built, and reminds me of the warmth and beauty I created days before. It reminds me that I am human, that I am doing what humans have done since we first began to be human.

Yes, here is my fire, and I am of the earth, sitting by its warm light, doing what my ancestors did, in this exact place they did it. I am honoured, that what I am doing in the here and now is what the flesh and blood roots of my family tree did for aeons too. Here, too, they did what I am doing right now, in this very place. My fire is connection, and communion. I am communing with them in the earth below me, in the trees around me, in the stars above me, and in my blood inside me, because I am them in their newest, most resilient expression.

I am home here because this is where my ancestors were born, where they made their lives and made love, where they fought and grieved and passed down their ways of making fires down the line to my own keeping. I, the effect of their causes, as I can be a cause of many effects. I am the latest in a long, unbroken line of fire-makers and I won’t be the last. This is a certainty, and this knowledge comes from below me, around me, above me and inside me. I am important, they tell me. Tonight, they say to me:

 “The universe is a cradle, gently rocking life into its own realisations.

You are a living, breathing manifestation of the universe’s longing to experience itself.

A dream within a dream, constantly dreaming yourself into existence.

Your lineage stretches back to the dawn of life, and you have inherited the entire Earth’s history of intelligence, creativity, sensuality and passion.

Your parents, and theirs, and theirs, and theirs, forever back, ad infinitum, all the way to us: in familiar and unrecognisable creatures both; we all existed to deliver you into Life’s keeping for this short time.

You are the culmination of aeons of living and loving and dying.

You are our dream come true.”

 

I feed my campfire, and I am communing with my ancestors whose blood, sweat and tears nourished this country in life, and whose flesh and bones fed this country in death. In this very place, time contracts to a singularity, the way my enormous black pupils dilate when I shift my eyes from the black sky above to look inside the flames before me. I am surrounded by their love and pregnant with their gratitude for me, and I reciprocate by feeding another log into my fire.

Tonight the fire has been speaking to me about life and love. And as I, a tiny insignificant human, built this earthly fire to reflect the star fires in the heavens, not only am I talking to myself, and teaching, but I am also listening to what I have to say, and learning. The lessons my ancestors speak to me, through the flames, on this night, are being taken in and weighed; sifted, sorted, ingested, digested and expressed in a way as to give form to this feeling. Because what I learn I can also teach. And the more I teach, the deeper the lessons settle in, just the way this earthy woodsmoke will do for days onward. A gift from the gods, and from my ancestors. A gift for myself, and therefore a gift to you.

 

You can’t start a fire without a spark

Some people don’t know how to build a fire. Maybe their culture doesn’t teach it, maybe their society doesn’t need it. That said, what kind of culture or society does not engage in one of the most basic things that essentialises us as humans? Whether you’ve only been lit up through artificial means, with the most recent, coldest evolution of the family hearth – the television, where everybody faces the screen, faces illuminated by the cold blue micro flickers, but not facing each other and not talking, not getting warm. But as part of society and of culture, you are also a contributor. Learn to make a fire. Inject some humanity into where you came from.

Sometimes we become adults and our family has not shown us how to build a good fire. Maybe they forgot how. Maybe their parents never showed them, maybe they were punished for it, maybe their ancestors were burnt at the stake. Maybe their fire-building practises burnt you, or smothered you; maybe you watched them build unhealthy fires with others and thought that’s the way it’s done. But it’s okay. Making fire is easy and anybody can learn to do it themself.

Culture, society and family may be good explanations for our issues with fire, but an explanation does not have to be an excuse. Plenty of people have overcome these excuses and learnt how to build healthy fires. And instead of being angry at your parents for not showing you, have some compassion, learn how to do it yourself and then teach them what you know. Begin the healing by taking it into your own hands. Show your parents how to build a fire. Don’t leave them cold. Be the change.

How do you learn how to build a good fire? You can read books or watch others do it, but the only real way is to just practise, practise, practise. You’ll fuck up here and there but don’t get frustrated. It’s only a fire. Just take note of your mistakes, remember what worked really well and figure out what you can do better next time. And try again. But if, before trying again, you don’t reflect by the flames and assess yourself in its unforgiving light, you will never get any better. You’ll spend more time in the dark than you need to.

Building a fire is a science because it requires a foundation of axiomatic knowledge and the application of observation, patience and dedication. Building a fire is an art, because it requires innovation and intuition for what is required at each phase. It needs an artist who can allow it to fulfil its most burning desire. No two fires are the same, so tried and tested formulas will not always work. Keep your senses open and give what is needed.

Because building a fire is both a science and an art, it is therefore a magical practice. As with all of the most sacred acts it can also be one of the most mundane. We imbue life, and fire-building, with whatever meaning we choose. Fire can be for necessity or luxury, for warmth, light, nourishment or entertainment. Maybe for prayer, as my campfire sends its earthy incense up to the heavens, and I commune with the camps of my ancestors above.

Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice. And when it hits the ground magic happens, but if you rely on lightning to start your fire you’ll be mostly cold and waiting for something that will rarely happen again. Be grateful you had that experience but learn from it, and learn to create your own spark. Don’t rely on fate to recreate it because Chaos doesn’t work that way. You need to learn how to start and maintain one yourself, in all and any conditions. *As you shall see in the postscript, timing is an inadequate excuse.

The thing with fire is that it is a fickle thing. Air temperature and pressure, wind direction and precipitation all connive to create differing environments. In some, fire thrives all too well and needs tempering. In others it requires a lot of effort to maintain. But environment needn’t be an excuse to not try. Just make sure you watch, see and behold; don’t get burnt and don’t burn out trying.

A fiery metaphor

As an embodied metaphor, building a fire is useful to explain and explore the processes of building relationships. All metaphors are useful, not only as a literal or poetic description, but because you can make it as relevant as you want. No matter what I mean to write, you will take away only the meaning that you need to understand, on your own terms, and it will be better and more important than anything I intend.

This fire is an externalised projection, a symbolic transformation, a metaphorical transmutation, and an internalised injection of what I need to know – what I’ve always known, but is only now being revealed to me by the light this fire casts into the depth of my black and innocent heart. As I build this fire tonight, I understand it as a living metaphor for building a relationship with myself, which is the foundation for building relationships with others. Building a fire is a meditation in building warmth and giving nourishment. To build a good fire, you need to be both playful and sincere.

Fire is a tool; a transformative, purifying and clarifying technology. Our environment has been shaped by fire since before forever. Firestick farming has been practiced here for centuries, it has shaped our country so profoundly that many of our native plants can’t release their seeds without fire. Regular and controlled burning ensured no dead wood buildup, no fuel for the blazing bushfires that we’ve seen in recent years. Take heart, and read the lessons in this. Don’t let your own deadshit build up waiting for a tiny spark, or you’re asking for trouble. Burn things off systemically, regularly; renew and replenish, and baptise your seeds by fire.

I am taught to be indebted to Prometheus, but in my creation myth I am both god herself and a mortal woman, and so nothing was stolen from a jealous guarding god, no sneaky thieving human stole my secret. We are one and the same, the fire given freely by god herself in a spirit of gratitude for the woman to take the light back to the earthly realm, to share with all my brothers and sisters. The fire is also received in a spirit of gratitude by the human, for the special gift it is to heal, warm, nourish and teach, to illuminate even this darkest frozen night when the sun and moon have just disappeared behind the mountains together.

Here’s to the fire inside each and every one of us. May we always keep our own flames fed, may we ever enjoy the nourishing fires of each other and may we all be beacons of light and bringers of warmth wherever we go.

 – Defender Of The Faith,  5th of June, 2014

Dharug country

Read Part II: Relationships with Others, here

Pride, Purpose and Perspectives

This time one week ago I got the shits when confronted with the knowledge that my friends’ black babies are dealing with the shit I, my brothers, my Mum and everyone else, have dealt with all our life, by mostly well-meaning but still rude people. I felt it deeply, knowing that these comments were going to make a new generation of black kids question their authenticity as Aboriginal people, and therefore make them feel inadequate in their identities. It was going to cause them distress, it was going to contribute to the divide within and between our communities.

With the young ones in mind, I hand wrote that post in about an hour, then typed it onto my phone and published it immediately. Today, one week later, it’s clocked over 4.4k 4.5k 4.6k likes and shares on Facebook alone. It might be no big deal in the grand scheme of the blogosphere, but for someone who’s last blog post got 40 likes (and yes I thought that was deadly) 4000 is quite an overwhelming number.

I am under no illusion as to why people are interested in listening to my viewpoint this week. The themes of race, categorisation and identity are topical at the moment, with the RDA coming under intense debate, in no small part by the opinions of George ‘Bigot’ Brandis and Andrew ‘Assimilation’ Bolt. My perspective adds to the discourse. It’s a marginalised and mostly ignored perspective, but a valuable perspective, according to the majority of Australians who want to shrug off our country’s racist reputation and use their privilege to do more good than continuing harm. Yes, my perspective does have value.

That said, there have been a few public comments and private messages from people who missed the point. White people, indignant that my perpective should make them look racist and in the wrong. People who felt their freedom of speech to express their institutionalised embedded racism to young, beautiful, innocent black kids to make them feel not good enough. People who demonstrated their privilege and power by whitesplaining to me why our feelings and reactions are wrong; why their intentions take precedence over my affectation. Again I say to those – you missed the point. There is no need to try and exonerate yourself. I know why you say it and I know your intentions are not malicious. I know you are but a drop in the ocean, that you are a product of your socialisation. I know this. But that doesn’t change the fact, the evidence, the actuality that those words hurt. So instead of telling me I’m wrong, why not just believe my [educated and experienced] viewpoint, cop it on the chin, and just vow to not say those words again? Reconciliation should not just be our responsibility.

I reiterate: I addressed my post to the people who tell Aboriginal people that they don’t look Aboriginal. I addressed it to the ones who think it’s okay to say it. I addressed it to them in the hope they could better understand why it’s not okay, and that even if they couldn’t fully empathise or understand the history or frameworks or language of oppression, or to understand why it’s not okay in a practical sense, that they could at least move forward with the theoretical understanding that its not okay. I addressed it to them so they could consider that what they are doing is more harm than good, more problem than solution, more hurt than healing.

I had considered not publishing the ignorant comments but am glad I did because I’ve been heartened by the dismantling and debate put forth by better-educated commenters. And that said, the support for my post has been overwhelmingly positive. Besides people complimenting my style of writing, I have had communications from people of all walks of life telling me that the message was received in the spirit I’d intended it. Such as:

My white friend who printed this out so that she could give it to nosy busybodies who say this about her black babies, making them feel hurt. The many black people, of all skin-tones, who’ve shared my writing and stood in solidarity with me. My other white friend who, after reading this, felt confident enough to sit her black daughter down to talk about this, and told me that the connection they made and the smile on her daughter’s face was worth all the previous heartache. My black Aunties who thanked me for articulating what they had been too shame or too shy to express all their lives. My white friend who supported me and shared this amongst his mostly non-Indigenous network. A black artist overseas who encounters this outside the context of generic Aussie racism, who thanked me because my writing made her feel less alone, overseas and away from mob. The whitefellas who get it and came in to bat when other people tried to whitesplain their entitlement to me. My black friends who thanked me for speaking for them, for sacrificing my private nature for them by putting my emotional history in the public sphere. My white friends, some of whom I’ve heard say this in the past, sharing it around so that healing could begin.

Here I sit, writing this in my break from marking essays that are discussing race and representation. Essays from mostly non-Indigenous students; the social workers, teachers and policy-makers of the future. People who will have the power to make or break Aboriginal people. Thankfully, they mostly get it, and if they don’t yet, well. Instead of getting angry at them I remind myself that it is only Week Four of a twelve week course, that they should not bear the brunt of my frustration that’s better directed at the history, and at the institutions. That despite their cognitive dissonance in the face of learning true Aboriginal (and therefore Australian) history, they are doing the hard work, the necessary work of decolonising their minds, and examining their assumptions and attitudes that will one day hopefully lead to right action.

Once these essays are marked I will then work on my thesis that is exploring the ways in which women from my community (including myself) have experienced transgenerational trauma as a result of past government policies, and how they interrupt these effects and move forward, spreading strength. Real evidence of Aboriginal people transcending our historical legacies, and doing what we’ve always done: resisting assimilation, healing trauma and caring for our kids. The unsung heroes who are having a go, who have been hurt in different ways by the seemingly innocuous but assimilationist comments of non-Indigenous people.

Here I sit writing this, on the bank of the Deerubban, not far from the place my grandmother was born. The very same place that she last saw her mother before welfare took her because to them, she didn’t look Aboriginal enough. Here I sit, reflecting on the week and the impacts of my writing, the power we all hold to heal instead of hurt. And, here I sit, safe in the knowledge that my grandmother would be proud of me.

– Defender Of The Faith, 31st of March 2014

Leave Me Alone, Thankyou, Bye

Obey the Graffiti

An open letter to various fuckwits and assorted psychic vampires, and to anyone else this may concern:

I don’t want to be constantly engaged in the selfish concern-trolling of others. I am not a curiosity to comment on and question. I am a creature of this earth and I have just as much right to be here, to breathe air and to take up space, as everybody else, without having to justify it. The way I choose to live my life and express myself has no bearing on who you are and the choices you make so just leave me alone as I do you. Leave me to be disconnected from your stupidity, so my stores remain full of vitality. Go be a drain on the psyche of someone else.

Teaching is my job, not my vocation. Although I am qualified for such and I get paid for it, when I clock off the uniform is shed and I am myself again. When I teach I am simultaneously acting and censoring myself and so understandably, I don’t want to do this all the time. I want to laugh and learn as well. I don’t want to constantly explain my ideologies and lifestyle choices. I don’t want to answer twenty questions about what I like and why, and what I don’t and why not. I just want to be me without having to defend what being me entails, especially when being me does not offend or trespass against you being you. I am not interested in being a light bringer or a revealer of truths. It’s not my karma, fate or destiny. I’m not arrogant enough for a messiah complex, and it doesn’t fit my skinny frame.

On that note, if you feel the need to comment on my body shape and size you would do well to examine why you think you are entitled to do so. If you have a problem with the way I look you need to realise that the problem is with yourself and your belligerence, not with the way my deoxyribonucleic acid expresses itself through my healthy lifestyle choices. As such, don’t try to pass your problem off as mine. I love myself and I am happy in the beautiful skin my parents gifted me. Just because you don’t feel the same does not give you the right to try and pull me into your self-loathing. So no, I won’t wear that either.

Further, whenever you make stupid remarks about what I choose not to eat (as if it has any effect on your happiness), you are saying more about yourself than about me. I don’t preach. I am happy with who I am and what I choose and I have no need to try and belittle others because I do things differently. To wit: everyone I meet is surprised that I am a vegan and I like it that way. In fact, if you know me, you were probably surprised too. That is because I just walk the walk and I let others talk the talk. I don’t think I’m better than anybody else; I recognise that everybody has their own journeys to live and things to learn. What I think is important is certainly not the forefront of everybody else’s concerns and I am not disillusioned enough to think so, or arrogant enough to impose my worldview onto anybody else. I just wanna do what I wanna do, if that’s okay with you?

Next on the subject of skin-deep ignorance: if you have a problem with my being a fair-skinned Koori who doesn’t look the way you mistakenly believe that Blackfellas are supposed to look as a homogenous group, then that’s also your problem. I’m sorry I don’t look the way you want me to in order confirm your outdated paradigm of what Blackfellas are supposed to look like. If you think that because I look white then therefore I am, you need to go do some reading on how long-debunked race theories have come to be dismantled as Eurocentric and Assimilationist pseudo-science. You need to understand the role of memetics in shaping culture, and that culture has for too long been misrepresented as biological race, and that biological race has no basis in true science. I know who I am. I know where I’ve come from and I know where I’m going. If, for you, what I look like clashes with the strength of my identity, I suggest that it is you who has the problem.

Similarly, if you feel the need to express your unwanted ignorance about ‘faggots and dykes’ in my earshot, then good for you. Your comments say more about you as an unevolved human than anything you intend it to. I may not ‘look’ gay or identify as gay, but I’m certainly not straight either. I’m proud to be queer. So no, I don’t find your jokes about me and mine funny or endearing; it doesn’t make me like you more that you shared an insider joke with me. However, I am glad to hear you talk this way as it just makes it easier for me to not pretend to be nice to you. Go, wave your freak flag high! Censoring doesn’t work, nor should it be encouraged. Society is benefitted when you out yourself as a fuckwit, and the world will be a better place when your backwards ideas are buried six feet under or scattered as dead ash like your remains.

I used to feign patience and act happy to explain myself, adhering to the maxim that ‘one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar’. But I’ve done my time, and it’s well nigh to retire those pretentions. Let someone else take up the mantle. If you want to learn more about any of the above topics or other themes that express themselves through your narrow perceptions of what I represent to you, go elsewhere. I am done with explaining, with my frustration thinly veiled beneath a tight-lipped smile. I’m still happy to be a mirror to reflect your asinine assumptions and attitudes, but I sure as fuck won’t let your rotten seeds take root in my verdant energy. I’m too old for this shit, and I’ve got better things to pour my precious thoughts into.

– Defender Of The Faith, 26.08.2013

UPDATE EDIT – for those who took this personally:

If you think I specifically wrote this for you, I didn’t. If you think this was written as a passive-aggressive missive to you, it wasn’t. If you think my lifetime of frustration being expressed in a public blog post is all about you and you alone, it isn’t. That being said: if you do believe that this is about you, why the guilty conscience?

Riot Grrl

Right at the end of my living in London stint I started working at Pogo Café in Hackney. I also found myself in the middle of a riot.

One of the maddogs I used to work with

It was high summer and there was no teaching work for five weeks. I had considered getting a bar job but I couldn’t bring myself to work for six quid an hour – that is not why I went to uni for four years. Anyway, I went to Pogo one night to watch a screening of Noise and Resistance and starting yarning with one of the girls who worked there. It was an all-vegan anarchist co-op – completely volunteer-run, and all profits went to paying the bills and to helping various charities. Pogo would reimburse the workers for travel to and from work, and we were also allowed a free main meal while we were on shift. I explained that I would be moving back to Australia in a month but that I could work three or four days shifts per week up until then. I do realise that I went from refusing to work a bar job because the pay was beneath me to volunteering my services for free, but…it was probably one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I really loved working there.

Senorita Ana

Everyone I worked with was amazing in their own way, and we were all there because we wanted to be, not because we had to. I worked with people from all kinds of backgrounds. One thing we all had in common was the café and the ethics and political lifestyle implications that came from that. All of us were vegetarians of varying degrees, mostly vegan. We all supported organic farming and fair trade. We were all part of various alternative subcultures and our lifestyle choices were not compatible with the dominant society. We were all misfits and outcasts in some way, some more obviously than others. We were homo-, hetero-, bi-, a- and trans- kinds of sexual. We were old and young and everything in between. Some of us rented, others lived in co-ops, a few squatted and a couple were homeless. Some used Pogo as their sole means of working and getting a free meal every day, while others just worked out of leisure. We all used it as a social hub.

Foraging in Hackney yields sweet returns

Some of the people I worked with in that last month showed me some of the best times out of the whole time I lived in London. The time Ana from Spain and I went bike-riding through Hackney, found hidden farmland and picked buckets full of wild blackberries, then sat in a field of horses, got blazed and munged out, and talked about human circuses, punk rock and literature. The time Seba from Poland and I sat at Pogo for two hours after it closed and showed each other up in the thrash stakes on Youtube. The day I first worked with the beautiful Eva from Italy and she allowed me the privilege of watching her make mouth-watering, healthful and colourful salads out of our garden, flowers and all. The day that Jozsef from Russia Hungary and I made ten different kinds of scrumptious vegan desserts and taste tested them all. The day that Joel from Byron Bay first came into the café wearing the exact same Dangers jumper as I, and we sat and trouted about hardcore all morning. The day that Summer from LA told me she was a writer, and we read to each other bits and pieces of things we’d written over the years whilst listening to Rodriguez and Neil Young. The time Paul from Dublin introduced me to some low-down and dirty rocknroll from his hometown in the style of the Cramps. All these times were very special to me – bonding with strangers from all over the world about the things that matter the most in my life. I was sad to leave but grateful to have been a part of it. It’s something that I would like to start up here eventually, once I get tired of the academic rat race. A not-for-profit, organic vegan café that doubles as an art and music space, run by a community of like-minded and eclectic individuals that could make it greater than the sum of its parts. One day…one day…

Beauteous Hackney farmland

Anyway, you would have heard something about the England Riots of 2011. What started out as a legitimate angered response to police brutality and lies regarding the shooting of Mark Duggan turned ugly when the cops bashed a young girl in Tottenham on the Saturday night. This of course set the community raging even more so – police stations were picketed all over most of the poorer areas of London – Tottenham, Brixton, Hackney and Croydon amongst others – and full-on riots began that Sunday night and carried over for close to a week in different parts of the country. It started in these areas in London, and the High Streets were set ablaze and looters took advantage of the chaos. What could have turned into a righteous response to ongoing problem of police power tripping quickly turned scummy, and people lost their lives trying to protect the streets, their families and themselves. I witnessed the scumminess, and also the strength, of some of these people firsthand as I went into Pogo on that Monday afternoon. Here is an excerpt from my journal that evening:

<beginning of entry>

Monday, 8th of August, 2011

I just found myself in a pretty fucking intense situation. I went to go and watch a movie at Pogo; I left home early because I wanted to chill and have a feed at the café beforehand. There was a report that Hackney Central station was closed because of the riots yesterday, as was Brixton tube, so I took a train from Tulse Hill to St Pancras, then a tube from King’s Cross to Highbury and Islington, and then the overground towards Homerton, where I was going to get off and walk, but the train ended up stopping at Hackney Central anyway. That was a fucking mission!

As soon as I got out of the station shit was weird. Riot cops had shut off the ramp and directed us down the stairs towards Amherst Road. Across the road, there were about thirty people gathered in the square – some masked or scarfed over, but most brave-faced. Something was being anticipated. You could see it in the way everyone was shuffling their feet, hands in pockets or clutching drink bottles, eyes flicking in a 360° vista, placing themselves in relation to everyone else. Always feeling safer amongst my own and wary of the real bad guys, I stood amongst this crew and looked to the right, toward the ramp of the station. Four riot cops stood, blocking the way of the nobodies trying (yet) to get through.

I took my headphones out – I realised I would need to be catlike and alert to be safe – and that’s when I noticed the unholy noise of drone and doom from the sky. I usually love that shit but hearing it live and not at a gig is fucking unsettling. I counted four black choppers in my direct vicinity and a few more scattered further away and hovering in and out of sight. This shit was serious.

Well, no way was I going to get onto Mare Road where I usually walked to the café. As I walked north along Amherst Road to go the long way towards Dalston Lane, I could see through the alleyways on my right that Mare Road was blocked off – the cops clearly anticipated that rioters would be looting the shit out of those swanky High Street stores. Thing is, for all of their armour and batons and weapons, I could see even at this early stage that the cops were outnumbered at least four to one and this isn’t even the intense part yet. I kept walking along the strangely silent street, overdubbed with the sound of the blades spinning overhead. I got to Kenmure Road which is a side access to Mare Road and walked up to one of the cops blocking the way in.

“Hey mate, I need to get to Clarence Street,” I said.

“Where’s that?” he asked.

“Well usually I walk straight up here and past the estate, up that street.”

“Well that’s all blocked off, you’re best to walk up and around and then you’d have to go through the estate, but I would advise against walking through there by yourself.”

“Are you talking about Pembury Annex on the corner? Like, don’t go through there?” I asked, not sure of what he was telling me to do.

“Yeah. Stay away from the estate.”

“Why’s that? No, don’t worry. I know exactly why. I’ll sort something out.”

“Righto,” he said.

“Racist cunt,” I thought. “You think I’m one of you and so you’re trying to point out false boogeymen in the places where the brown and poor live. Well, I am brown and poor, and the only people on this earth that scare me in situations like this are white men in uniforms.”

I walked back down the way, debating whether to walk up to Homerton and jump on a train home, or just go around the long way to Pogo. “Fuck it, I’ve come all this way, may as well have a go.” As I kept walking I noticed a tall young man fall into step beside me.

“Hello, are you going through Pembury?” he asked in a heavy Eastern European accent.

“Yeah, are you?”

“Yes, I have to meet my friends up the road. I can walk with you if you like.”

“Yeah thanks. What’s your name?”

“Mikael.”

“I’m ‘Dot’. Where are you from?”

As we got yarning, I learnt that this young man was from Romania, and had just lost his job at a construction company. He’d been living in London for nine months, in Hackney, and wasn’t educated past Year 10, making it really hard for him to get work.

“How old are you?” he asked, peering sideways into my face.

“Too old for you love!” I joked.

“No, you’re only about twenty-one or twenty-two,” he argued.

“Actually I’m nearly twenty-seven mate,” I laughed.

“Oh! Oh okay. You look like a kid still. How old do you think I am?”

“I don’t know. I don’t like these games.”

“Just guess.”

I turned and smiled at him. “Sixteen?”

“No, of course not,” he puffed, his manly pride clearly hurt, “I’m twenty-three.”

“Still too young darlin’.”

After a minute or so he asked me: “What makes you feel crazy?”

Unsure of what he meant, I asked him to elaborate. He wanted to know the things that made my blood heat up, that made my toes tingle, that gave me butterflies, that made me smile secretly. He wasn’t being smutty, and this was one of those interesting conversations that punctuates the mostly banal exchanges I have come to expect from strangers in London. No shit, I have been told too many times to count that I was the most interesting person that some people had ever met, and it made me sad because there are millions more interesting than me out there. This is what I crave – chaos, unfamiliarity, that which creates friction and so, growth. I am glad that I gave that young man the time of day. Anyway, back to the conversation.

“This,” I said, “this is what gives me butterflies – connections, warmth, belonging. Throwing a net out in the vast and overpopulated ocean, not to catch a multitude but just one or two special, rare and willing finds.” Not sure he wouldn’t take that as encouragement, I added to distract him, but no less honestly: “When I talk to and when I think about the person that I love, I feel a thousand times happier than I did before.”

“Mmm. This is a nice answer. I like it. Would you like to have a drink with me later?”

“No, I don’t drink.”

“What about a coffee then?”

“Look, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about me. I’m not interested in anything romantic.”

“That’s okay, I understand. Somebody is very lucky to have your heart,” he said sweetly.

I smiled, and thanked him, and wondered how accurate that statement really was.

We turned the corner and stopped, taking in the sight of burning bins on the rubbish strewn northern end of Clarence Road; hundreds of people, mostly masked and hooded, gathered around, sporadically visible through the black smoke of burning plastic and rubber, which moved through the air around us in zigzags, pushed this way and that by the helicopters chopping into the ether just above us. Mikael suddenly put his arm across my chest and pushed me back as something flew past us and glass smashed on the wall next to my face.

“Holy shit! Thankyou! There’s no way I’m going into work tonight.” I stared all around me. Mikael grabbed my hand and offered to walk me through.

“No, I think I’ll just go home. Thankyou anyway, and good luck!”

“So I can’t see you again?”

“Look, I think not. I’m moving back to Australia soon. But please, stay sweet. Its very refreshing.”

We hugged, then I smiled at him and walked away past a young woman and man putting out a council bin fire and moving it off the road. An older man was heckling them. The young woman had enough, stood up and looked him in the eye.

“You know what Uncle? My mum and baby brother need to drive home very soon. We live here, this is our street. So I’ll just clean up your mess Uncle, and you respect my family in turn.” Chastised, he let them be and wandered into the crowd, muttering to himself. I hope that strong young girl’s family got home safe and sound.

I wanted to walk north through the park of Hackney Downs, but was loathe to pull out my work smartphone in the middle of this, to check out my direction, which lines were down, and the best way to get back south without putting myself in any dangerous situations.

There was a pub nearby, and I went in to the toilet and pulled the phone out to check where the closest open station was. Satisfied with my orienteering skills, I went out into the bar for a few minutes. The pub was packed, all patrons with pints in their hands, staring at the news on the flatscreen. They were watching news of the riots in Hackney, when they could well have just looked outside for a flesh and blood update.

“Fuck this flatscreen culture,” I thought. “Hyperreality sucks everyone in.”

I walked through the community orchard, and the apocalyptic doomsday atmosphere got under my skin. There were random packs of other humans, and I was a lone wolf, a female, and very fucking thankful that I dress like a teenage boy in times like this. I pulled my hood over my face and my scarf up where my beard would be if I’d had a Y chromosome. I wasn’t hassled the whole way home – I kept to myself and stayed alert.

I caught a train from Rectory Road to Seven Sisters, and then into Camden Town. I treated myself to a nice dinner at Inspiral Café, and sat and wrote and people-watched. I caught a few more trains to get back, sticking to the peripheries of the city itself, giving wide berth to the hotspots. It was a long and winding road home, going around the tedious way, narrowly avoiding some crazy shop fires and opportunistic looting in the centre of Brixton, but I eventually got home safe and sound. I’m glad I didn’t get caught up in anything gnarlier!

London’s burning?! Camden Lock, Monday night of the riots.

<end of entry>

The next day I spoke to some of the Pogo crew. They had locked the café and watched the rioting from inside. Some of the photos they took were pretty full on. There was a car upended in front of the shop and set alight. It gave off so much heat that the front window of the shop cracked! A few shops down the street were looted and destroyed. We started up a fund straightaway to help our neighbours. It was rad to see everybody lending a hand.

Delicious Pogo food

Anyway, that was my experience of arson, stealth and romance in the London Riots of August 2011. Namaste.

Defender Of The Faith,  20.11.12