If I was going to be interviewed about blogging by The Geek Anthropologist: 15 questions


(… this is very informal…)

Why do I blog?

When you work outside academia and you’re not actively researching you still want to write, you still want to talk to anthropologists and share something of yourself, your experiences and your insights.  I like blogging because I can write about everyday practices, ‘fun’ blogging and also comment seriously on what’s happening in my workplace.  Of late I like writing about how I fit into an interdisciplinary space.


How does my blogging contribute to the production and dissemination of anthropological knowledge?

Well, in writing about everyday issues I bring an anthropological perspective to new audiences, especially when I write about buying second hand clothes, or women in the workplace, or participating in Enjo parties.  I like to think broadly and around everyday practices and I also like to see what they look like from an anthropological perspective.  In saying that though, I still hope to appeal to an anthropological audience, an audience who understand and appreciate the take that I have on viewing and participating in the world.  So that’s how I see how my blogging adds to the body of anthropological work.  It’s a bit like seed funding, so let’s see what it looks like and then decide whether we can grow it.


Does my blogging about anthropology affect anthropological practice?

Well, that’s hard to say and hard to know about.  Anthropological practice has some core praxes but these occur in such diverse contexts it’s sometimes really hard to have an anthropological sensibility about it all.  We’re so spread out among sub-disciplinary knowledge and praxis, among geographical, specialty – even virtual areas – and even spread between the arts and sciences, so who really knows?  If blogging is about sharing an anthropologically inspired viewpoint on an issue, on a practice, on something that involves people who are working on some project together, then yes, I do think that what I write about affects our practice.  I can show people both outside of and within the academy something about how I think and work, and hey, if you’re getting more than 10,000 hits for a blog, you must be making people think about something that they’re doing…


Who reads my anthropology blog?

Well, I really hope that anthropologists read it.  And those interested in anthropology.  But WordPress lets you tag your posts so you can use this to reach broader audiences, which is really important if you’re wanting to show that you’re ‘thinking outside the box’, and this is important for some audiences, not necessarily anthropologists, but other audiences who are looking to break with standard practices, standard ways of thinking about how people work together, how they provide services and how they move materials, services, people and objects around the globe.  But the analytics that come with the host site don’t necessarily tell you exactly where people come from, only what city and country.  You really have to guess at the rest.


Who is my target audience?

Well, if I had my preference I would want to write for an anthropological audience firstly, and because I have an interest in interdisciplinarity I also try to write for a broader, educated audience.  I can’t be too specific about my exact area of expertise and enterprise because I’d probably get the sack from work if they figured out that I was writing about work, work practices and work issues without official permission.  But that said, my target audience is both anthros and non-anthros.  It really depends on the post, on the topic and the issues though.  These change and this affects the audience.  One of the most pleasant experiences that I had recently was when other anthro blog sites picked up my posts, shared links and commented on them.  That’s blogging peer review as far as I’m concerned!


How do I separate out the personal from the professional?

Well, my first response to this question would be: do you have to?  If we write from a situated standpoint, a situated space and perspective, then the line between personal and professional becomes blurred doesn’t it?  Look at what’s happened since Writing Culture; we’re in every page we write, aren’t we?  And in the blogosphere, we aren’t restricted so much by the rules around writing that exist in publishing, in academic texts, in conference presentations and colloquia, are we?  This is a freer form that is still becoming, that isn’t set in concrete yet and never can be simply by definition.  So I don’t need to separate myself out from my work, from my perspective, from my comments and insights.  However, I don’t blog about my homelife, my family or my friends (if I can help it).


How do I know when I’ve been successful in blogging? 

This is hard to know about too.  If you pay attention to the bloggers, the big bloggers then you’re always going to feel like a failure.  They have hits in the millions.  Me?  I’m lucky to get into five figures occasionally.  I know that there are emerging rock star anthropologists and I believe that they serve a role in getting the anthropological message out there.  We need all sorts of writers, all sorts of anthropological practitioners, all sorts of social analysis going on so I’m not going to criticise anyone for their success outside of the academy.  If anything, I’m all for it.  We all get dragged up this way, all get caught in the upflow.


Does success matter?

Well, we all write for an audience so success is relative.  If you develop a readership, then you’re successful.  If no one reads what you write, you’re writing garbage.  I have garbage posts that hardly anyone has read.  I should dump these now.  If they’ve been sitting on the website for nearly a year and no one’s read them, then they’re not successful.  So it does matter.  Having said that, there are some excellent cooperative, academic anthropological blogs that mimic the production of texts in standard publishing, but are available on the web.  Peer review, calls for papers, high end production – and then you have the single bloggers like me, who are sometimes hard pressed to keep coming up with content.  This is a production issue for anyone publishing anything.  It’s not new here.


Is it all about the stats? 

Well, we naturally tend towards wanting to find out how much, how many, how often and then to doing some number crunching to make ‘sense’ out the data…. Even if you’re not particularly inclined towards number crunching, the medium – like much of social media – really lends itself to number crunching, so you can’t help yourself.  There are sites that can help you though…


But there aren’t always a lot of likes or comments, so how do I know if my blog is having any effect anywhere?

This is true.  While some blogs may have thousands of hits which translate as reads/downloads/views, you don’t always get a translation into discourse, into comments, or even into likes.  Occasionally people will comment, or even like a post, but that’s not often the case.  And I’ve noticed this with larger anthropological blogging sites too.  The issue for me here is: what do people really make of what’s written here?  How do they read/consume what’s said?  Who do they talk to about the content?  Who do they pass the blogs on to?  I find that you get people wanting to comment who are typically mildly upset about what’s said, or seeking further clarification, evidence, or research into assertions that may be made.  But overall, there’s little interaction, which is a shame.


Why don’t I use references? 

I have a crisis of legitimacy occasionally and insert references, even though other bloggers tell me I don’t need them.  You don’t need them in this format, but it depends on the blog post and the audience.  If you anticipate that your work may be taken up and translated (this has happened), or posted on a Learning Management System for a course (this too has happened), or disseminated on other anthropological websites that have an academic turn, then, as is the custom and the norm, we too as anthropological bloggers follow this norm.  If I’m not quoting anything knowingly, I won’t bother using references and my preference is for opinion pieces that don’t necessarily rely on the interpretation and translation of bodies of knowledge.  I save that kind of writing for academic discourse within the pages of academic journals.  To my way of thinking, you write for a specific audience, and in blogging I don’t think that everyone’s looking for reference materials.  By all means publish your essays online, and these will include references.  And after all, why demonise references?  References are an acknowledgement of your joining in conversations that have already occurred as you position your own views against these voices.  Always better to acknowledge them and join in.


Am I just writing for other anthropology bloggers, and even if I am, is that such a bad thing?

I write for anyone that happens to land on my blog from a search engine, or has happily signed up to receive updates from my website.  If its other bloggers, then that’s great too.  I read their blogs with great interest as bloggers often get opinion pieces out there long before academic articles have even hit peer review.  I support both old forms of writing in academic presses, especially when I manage to get an article in print, as well as new forms of publication through weblogs.  The evolving medium, it’s growing acceptance and the democratisation that blogging allows I watch with relish and interest.  Like all processes, the wheat will be sorted from the chaff…


Why am I hiding my identity behind a pseudonym? 

A workplace Code of Conduct prevents me from revealing my identity.  Writing behind a pseudonym is an old and valued practice that has allowed voices that would not otherwise be heard a platform to publish their views.  I see that writing as the Anxious Anthropologist allows me to participate in the same freedoms, paradoxically because of restrictions to publicising my voice, that my writerly ancestors had to contend with.  Elsewhere I use my name and identify myself as coming from a particular space and place, a discipline, a specialty, even a sub-speciality.  But there is a challenge in writing like this that takes you out of your comfort zone, out of the familiar terminology, the same arguments and the usual webs of significance that you weave around your worlds.  And this is fun.


Wouldn’t it be better to blog honestly? 

I would love to write under my own name, but as with many things to do so means that you have to be brave, knowledgeable and up to the personal critique that attaches to so many in the blogosphere.  It’s sometimes easier, and more freeing to write as I do.  And that doesn’t mean that I write dishonestly.  Anthropological endeavours can sometimes have the tendency of reporting back, reporting on and reporting about that shares something with the tools of the subterfuge.  Who hasn’t left the tape recorder run on sometimes without consent?  I’ve heard that this happens…


Where do I see blogs and blogging in future? 

I see that anthropological blogging, like blogging in many professional endeavours will become the norm, rather than the unusual.  Progressing through courses, moving into postgraduate studies and then into research and/or work will in future include the production of knowledge within spaces not evident now, in group blogs, personal blogs and workplace blogs.  We will all curate our knowledges in this way and make them available to anyone interested in our views, our analyses and our growing bodies of knowledge and practice.  I can’t imagine what blogs will look like, but it is such an accessible, powerful medium for communicating and sharing, I just know that it’s not if we should, but when we will.

Acknowledgements (and respect to): https://thegeekanthropologist.com/



For anthropologists, is interdisciplinarity ever truly a meeting of equals?


I recently read a Twitter post which asserted that interdisciplinarity was never a meeting of equals. As an anthropologist working outside of an academic department I met this statement with some unease. Currently, my working relationships are built on a premise of difference, of working with others from bounded, clearly demarcated professions and of thinking critically about if not directly challenging the taken for granted world views in the industry in which I work. I have written elsewhere about the role, function and value of anthropologists in workplaces, but in doing so I wrote from the basis of anthropologists as different but equal.

However, thinking more critically about this has led me to problematize this idea. I don’t believe I’ve adequately taken into account the importance of boundaries, of professions and their knowledges, and the challenges that anthropological thinking may represent for work practices. This is especially true for working in business contexts when we bring anthropological understandings of persons in the world and our armoury of social and culturally based research skills that recognise, situate and give voice to difference into business contexts. Can work environments which may value and seek unifying concepts and ideas tolerate diversity in conceptualisation, in approaches, in performance, in views and at the end of the day, in business practices themselves?

In working across traditional disciplines, we hope to inform and build something greater than the sum of parts. While this is a hackneyed expression, it’s true in my work where my current project challenges and reinvents our products and services, situating what we would be seen to do traditionally in a postmodern context.

I can’t tell my workmates that we are intimately informed by post colonialism in formulating our practices, or that we’re in the process of radically deconstructing our beliefs in reconfiguring power relationships, or that our project is partially informed by cultural theory, whiteness studies or the centrality of thinking about the authority of the first world within globalisation in determining how our business will proceed and upon which specific decisions will be made. But this is in fact, what we are currently doing. And I do try to tell them.

How have we created a space where these practices are okay, more than okay in business? Is this the armoury that partly informs the anthropologist at work outside of the academy? Or am I on my own here??? And how does this and other knowledge affect the decisions made in my workplace? I still ask myself: what does it mean to work with professionals in bounded disciplines?

While we hope that it isn’t so, in fact what I have termed ‘hierarchies of relevance’ do exist when working across disciplines. And this is part of the reflection on power that demarcates one professional group from another. By this I mean that each professional group maintains the boundaries of its knowledge base, its practices, its rules for conduct and less overtly protects the prestige and culture surrounding its existence within the community. Professionals also maintain control over entry, exit and rule breaking within the profession as well as maintaining controls over the education and transmission of the education that helps to create professionals. In this, professional groups control the knowledge base, language, practice and boundaries that form the basis of their professional identity. As anthropologists, we do this too.

So what happens when professional groups collide? I’m not master (or mistress) of the theories behind interdisciplinary thinking, but I do work within an interdisciplinary context and so am familiar with its practices, if not the theories that underpin it.

So in discussions, working on projects, working both internally and externally the issue of relevance often raises its head. If as the anthropologist I am identified as not having the ‘relevant’ expert knowledge, then my contributions are marginalised, often identified as contributing knowledge in some other, exotic way that runs counter to the usual core practices of knowledge acquisition within the business itself. My contributions are ‘interesting’, ‘quirky’, ‘outside the box’ and, paradoxically sometimes also ‘right on target’. In this way I am relevant, but not as relevant as those practitioners who are seen to belong to the core groups, our consultants, experts and the ultimate targets: the consumers of our products and services. Sometimes, I just feel so not-relevant, it’s just not funny.

As an outsider I will never automatically gain entry into the professional groups with which I work. However, if I hang around long enough maybe they’ll give me an honourary membership after toiling away looking at, investigating, updating, improving, teaching on and training people within their disciplines for so long. As an anthropologist I maintain that little bit of professional paranoia that harks back to Anthropology 101 and studies of ritual, sacrifice, demonization and scapegoating, which not so surprisingly still exist and speak to modern day work practices and contexts quite succinctly, especially for those anthropologists working outside of research in business settings where it’s all too easy to take on the identity of the Other.

It would be so much easier to talk frankly about exactly what I do and where I work, but unfortunately that’s not a luxury that I’m allowed right now, due to an array of policies that police my behaviour both publicly and in private, so suffice to say this is the best that I can do. This form of writing however forces me to think ‘bigger’ about what I do, and so while not completely honest is not dishonest and offers food for thought for many anthropologists (I hope) who work outside the academy as I do.

So are we different but equal? Or just different? As the project I’m currently working on gains pace, I find myself central to the think tanks at work, consulted over and beyond my current job title specifications and have access and input into arenas of work that I wouldn’t ordinarily warrant based on my position alone. I went from fear about this project and its implications, to neutrality, to feeling positive, to being involved by responding to requests for inputs, to embracing and now championing this project.

Now, whenever I’m asked I always come to the party and by that I mean that I complete tasks and contribute over and above whatever’s asked. If I’m asked for an opinion, I give it. If a project needs appraisal, I take time to read, review, comment and advise on it. If a vox pop is required to test the feeling and views of staff on an issue pertaining to the change, I’m already all over it (by nature a chatterbox and also keen to find out how my co-workers are going with things generally). Through my silences and non-attendance, I also make clear my views on some work practices, which in less industrialised and unionised times it is difficult for workers to address directly.

Informally I’ve identified myself not so much as a manager in the workplace – my anthropological training and background would definitely preclude this I think – but definitely as a leader. As there are about a thousand theories on leadership, there’s one that fits the kind of work that I undertake in the workplace, that I inspire and the work that I envision as well. And none of this is on my job description per se, but is alluded to as a potentiality, much the same as the potential or capability of any number of workers with contemporary CVs.

So mostly I find that I’m different but equal and have given my peers, co-workers and management a taste of what the social sciences and anthropology specifically can offer to contemporary work settings, both private and public sector organisations. I still believe that the greatest benefit of having an anthropological background lies not so much in trying to attain a position within the academy, positions which are few and far between and not so easily available to women over forty, but in taking up the challenge of flexibly applying our body of knowledge in diverse contexts, of making the theories, theorists, knowledge and practices real.

Do we lose our specialness, our anthropological know-how, our unique identity as globe trotters seeking to document the life of the Other when we’re not surrounded by like-minded, similarly trained professionals like ourselves? Is our knowledge base and are our practices corrupted and diluted because of our work in interdisciplinary settings? I don’t think so. In contrast I believe that we are strengthened by our ability to work across boundaries as anthropologists continue to fight for relevance in contemporary work place settings. We can only make ourselves relevant by, well being relevant. And this is the challenge that I rise to meet when I go to work every day, carrying the identity of the ‘anthropologist’ through all that I do.

And as I’m always blathering on about anthropology I like to think that I’m also educating people who may still think that my satchel secretly holds a pith helmet, notebook and safari suit. But please see my last post for an update on what to wear to work as an anthropologist.


An article! An article!

If there’s one thing that helps to ground you when you’ve felt voiceless or powerless in the past, it’s when you see the writing equivalent of your name up in lights, that is to say, in print, as a solo author in a peer-reviewed professional journal article. That is about to happen – just give it days and I CAN’T WAIT. This is not skiting, as immersion within the process of imagining, thinking, articulating, writing, editing and preparing your thoughts on a topic and submitting this for peer review (and resubmitting or even ignoring for a long time and then resubmitting) is a whole thing in itself. I feel reborn as a gen-you-ine author.

But as we all know, the anticipation of a thing, it’s near reality, the near-completion, the not-quite-there- yet is more important than the actual publication itself. While it is still a potential, it is powerful because it has not yet come to be, has not yet come to be known. Those ideas, put together and uniquely fashioned by me in my own way with my own references and turn of phrase have not yet been picked up, consumed, digested, regurgitated and spat out yet. It’s still in the future, even though it’s the imminent future. And while it is still becoming, it (the article) and me (it’s author/mother/father) also reside in the zone of potentiality. I can’t be dated by my last work because it’s still a work in progress and hasn’t come to be. Beautiful logic, isn’t it?

This reminds me of the difficulty faced by researchers in gaining grant monies. No sooner do they apply for and receive monies, there is no time between this event and the anxiety riven process of putting together the next application. There is no time to rest on your laurels, to be known for the last piece of research published and it is clear to me that the anticipation and expectation is better than the event itself. It’s all downhill afterwards… Academia is really about what’s coming, rather than what is.

But more than this, it’s not just me and my voice alone in the article. When I talk about having a successful journal article publication I’m joining in the stream of conversation about the topic that I wrote about. I’ve drawn in the great words of like-minded and opposite-minded thinkers to position myself within the tensions of these opposing arguments. I’ve had to take a position myself and position myself I certainly did. This is challenging, because you have to align yourself one way or the other. No fence sitting. You take a position and align yourself with like-minded authors who’ve been there before. That’s one way of writing.

There are other ways too, but the important point is that I’ve joined the conversation. I’ve made my observations and put forward my contribution. I’ve drawn on the expertise of those who came before me, but I’ve put my thoughts together to say something and it seems to be of merit. I’m not voiceless anymore, or just banging on about something and getting sick of hearing my own voice. I’ve taken the next step, and it started at least a year and a half ago, even though it’s coming to fruition now. So, what are you waiting for? Dust off those manuscripts sitting in the drawer, locate those rejection slips and get editing.


Writing, writing, writing

Writing looms large in my life now. I’m getting better at it than I was. I like short form [140 characters] but adore longer form, like blogs. And I recently completed some professional writing that’s rekindled my sense of having a voice in the anthropological world again.

It starts with an idea, then a conference abstract, then you give the paper, then they want an article for a special edition of a journal. Might not be an A+++ journal, but it’s not the local gazette either. I was challenged by the word length, not that it was too long, but that it was surprisingly TOO SHORT. Alarm bells should probably be ringing here… And it included the abstract and references. In the end the article was less than four pages. I don’t get out of bed in the morning for less than five.

So I dusted off my professional voice and found my writing and revision texts (thank you Wendy Belcher!) and discovered the pleasures of writing for a specific audience, for one that I wanted to convince of something that I knew had been ‘wrong’ and therefore something that was amenable to being written about. It wasn’t a research project, it was an ‘opinion piece’ was how the journal defined my submission.
I’ve passed first muster now as its been anonymously peer-reviewed by two international reviewers, the gold standard of academic journals, but it still has to be collated with the other papers and have an editorial attached to it. And then it’s still got to go through the online manuscript submission to the journal and reviewed again through the journal processes and then we’ll wait and see.
But its almost life affirming to see the words in print, “May be published as written”. I like that.

And just so you don’t think I’m gloating, remember that for every yang, there is a yin. My shadow paper is the manuscript sitting in the manila folder somewhere on the bottom of the pile in my ‘Inbox’ with the shameful email attached outlining the two reviewers suggestions for the extensive rewrite of my submission that went to the journal, what, nearly three years ago now. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that anonymous reviewers have read your work and that without any other context have critiqued it savagely, but with the proviso that with all these great changes, it too is publishable. It is so dispiriting.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do the work of the rewrite at the time that it came back to me. And unfortunately now that I’m a better version of myself, now that I’m my writerly self, it’s really too late to be dragging my fieldwork note out again now. It’s been too long ago. With the focus of reporting now having the urgency of the recent present attached to it, it’s hard to believe that even Clifford Geertz wrote about the Balinese cockfight almost 10 years after the event.

That anthropologists write in the eternal present brings ethnographies to life, makes life seem as if it was always so in this or that place and that is part of the strength of the anthropological tradition. This writing technique makes you feel like you’re there alongside them, looking over their shoulders and seeing what they see, hearing what they hear and so on. We are partly the voyeur, the participant-observer, the ‘etic’ trying to see and experience the ‘emic’ perspective, constantly a part of and separate to the people’s lives whom we study. Fieldwork really is an experience of immersion and trying to ‘write up’ the account afterwards will always be a pale imitation, a partial truth associated with the fieldwork experiences through which one lived.

But fieldwork has a use by date too. And that’s the problem with writing about it, or attempting to, too long afterwards. There is plenty of advice about this, but clearly this wasn’t relevant for Clifford Geertz in his day. For me however, my thesis and my copious fieldnotes will hit the dustbins of history, consigned to a dusty bookshelf in an obscure library where no one will read them. They weren’t that well written anyway, but they were a record of the work that I undertook, based on the idea, the thesis that I developed and this made my work unique.

How many people fail to publish? What happens to their work? Some self – publish, not wanting the angst of having to go through a publishing house. Others rewrite their thesis and produce a book. You are supposed to do this, but even better write and present your work as a series of journal articles so that other researchers can find your work, read it and make reference to it. And write a book too.

Well, there’s not enough jobs in academia to support ongoing research for all, so if you’re not on that trajectory, what do you do with your work? Let me know when you find out please…

Aside from the above, none of this can detract from the pleasures of writing. And this includes writing in various forms. I now take perverse pleasure in writing for my day job, enjoy adding in the flourishes with words that separate the wordsmiths from the technicians. Recipients of my writing will always be surprised by the lack of bureaucratic-speak, the openness and frankness of my writing when they receive it. They remark that a polished report was unexpected, or that a brochure was very highly regarded. But this only serves to remind me of how boring and mundane writing associated with bureaucracy really is.

More than anything it highlights what happens when you force yourself to do more of the thing that you want to do in life. In a past job I was heavily criticised for not having put pen to paper, for not writing about a project that I was involved in. I wasn’t sure what happened, but the climate in academia is not always a friendly one, and I think my voice got stuck somewhere. I look at photos of myself during that period and realise that I was 15kg heavier than I am now. And I never smiled. And I certainly didn’t write.

It’s not just a matter of typing away, there is an explosion of writing happening and we bloggers, we Tweeters, we essayists and academic writers are all joining the conversations, contributing our own thoughts in various forums for consumption by avid readers – yes you have to be an avid reader if you want to write, but that’s for another post. And writers don’t know how their product, how their ideas, how their creations will be consumed, or where, or when, or in how much depth. They don’t know if their materials will be referred to elsewhere, whether their ideas will stimulate more thinking on topics, whether they will offer clarification or lead to new vistas of thinking about how we live in the world. This is unknown, but exciting and I love that I too have made contributions to this world of thought and inspiration.

Go on, write something…

A real mismatch at work

I do not fit my paid job [but I really fit my unpaid job, doing this (blogging, social media and volunteering) and I love it to boot]. My paid job is DRIVING ME MAD.  I spent the WHOLE DAY attending to forms.  I mean eight hours.  I had a template and I had to run off about a dozen individual FORMS.  Work calls them PROFORMAS.  Why ask me?  Brain the size of a planet and I’m doing PROFORMAS?  I have a PhD  [I’m not trying to be a jerk, just saying]  They know it’s only a matter of time before I throw down the gauntlet and ANNOUNCE that this job is no longer fit for me.  I’m MENTALLY DYING HERE.  Can’t they see the pool of incredible thought blood on the floor in my office?  It’s running from my mind, down my back and onto the ground between the desk and the door.  That’s MY CREATIVITY dying right there.  Leaking out without  stopper.  It’s trying to get out the door.  Maybe I should too…

Maybe I have to be BRAVE and just chuck in the towel and say ‘goodbye’ to the day job and just go.  Who DOES that?  Chucks in the waitressing, the clerical work, the bar job to pursue their dream?  I did it once before, before when I was younger and childless and doing my PhD.  I was going to become an ANTHROPOLOGIST (I DID THAT)!  But do you know how many jobs there are for anthropologists in any medium sized city?  Probably about a dozen.  All in universities, prestigious or otherwise.  If you’re over 40 and doing a mid-career change you don’t stand a chance (someone actually whispered that in my ear once).

The day job has its perks: it pays me.  And having worked on the fringes of academia as a casual for four years, believe me, a regular pay check is unbelievable.  And they pay you over Christmas, and for public holidays.  It just gets better.  This is really SIGNIFICANT.  If you don’t have any work at all, you will really, really appreciate this.

Working at something you love and getting so little reward (financially) because you only work as a casual (ie six months of the year) is SOUL DESTROYING. You can’t pay off a mortgage, buy food and live like an adult.  Maybe I should WANT different things, but I don’t because I too am a product of my environment and seek these things: security, sustenance, pleasure and challenges in my life.  If you continue with insecure work, you’re condemned to living like a teenager.  I HAD to get a REAL JOB.

So what’s a little tedium with the proformas and forms?  I can put up with that.  But it’s a bit like being CINDERELLA, no one really appreciates your cleaning and they just don’t see that inner beauty.  It’s all wasted really.  And that’s not to mention the managers/ugly sisters…

Last year I worked at the same place, but a bit less.  I could ‘value add’ to my work and it was so pleasing.  A little extra to make us think about why we did what we did [and we did good].  A little look at the bourgeoning literature.  A few people talking about their passion and discussing this with each other.  A few extra social functions.  Now, with workplace restructures, industrial amalgamations and following mass resignations and ‘redundancies’ I’m overwhelmed and drowning.  Modern management practices leave me cold.

This might seem like middle class whingeing, after all, what am I complaining about?  I actually HAVE a mortgage, where not a lot of people can do this in my city the way prices are right now.  And I have a GOOD JOB and health care and car insurance blah blah blah.  You kind of do get those things (along with the conservatism that goes into protecting your ownership and things) once you hit middle age.  And I’m so there [but].

I was a teenage rebel, but that’s another post.  Now I’m this.  This is what the road to redemption looks like, but now I don’t care about being redeemed by those whose opinions used to really matter to me once.

I love to fantasise: give up the DAY JOB.  Watch the kids wonder about why they can’t go overseas on school excursions (did you do that when you were at school?  I mean, come on!).  Try to live off what I earn writing, teaching even.  It’s only a germ of an idea, but one I yearn to fulfill.  I’m so weak… BUT one can only continue in a mismatched job for a while.  After a time it becomes so OBVIOUS.  There’s no room to LIE ANYMORE.  The truth always OUTS ITSELF.  And telling the TRUTH is so freeing.  Let’s play a bit:

“I’m off to work in a soup kitchen”

“I’m going to volunteer for an NGO”

“I’m going set up a branch of the CWA ”

“That book is just pouring out of me”

“I’m going to set my house up as cat rescue centre”

“I’m volunteering in the offices of Medicins sans Frontieres

“I’m fostering a young person”

“I’m painting the house black”

“I borrowed that book, you know the one, ‘Teach Yourself Watercolours in a Week‘.  Then I’m going to exhibit”

“I’ve enrolled in a MOOC”

“You’re speaking to the new Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator”

“I’m going to start a blog – wait, I’ve done that”

It’s Friday.  I’ve done my PROFORMAS.  Over the weekend I have more paper meddling to complete.  I think that my mismatch goes deeper: perhaps the managers and bureaucrats were right: you really DO need to have a good fit with your organisation’s VISION STATEMENT or some such thing.  My CAPABILITIES (I mean really, do they know what people are really capable of?) need to fit in with their aims.  Maybe it’s just time to move on…


Love is a black hole

A smile.  It starts with a smile.  From one person to another: boy and girlfriend, mother and father, husband and wife, partners, friends, mother with baby, father with baby.  Anyone with a loving parent.  A dyad – usually.  Just two.

And just a smile.  Eyes lock.  Contact.  Lips, smiles are all about lips and teeth and metaphors.  You know that feeling, it’s indescribable.  It’s loving. On the same wavelength.  A poem sits in the air between you both.  I remember this feeling with my first baby, there might have been air, but there was absolutely no space between us at all.

Look closer: what do you see?  Crinkles at the corners of mouths?  [I love crinkles, you’ll see]  Something clicks inside you.  You’re not looking for faults, you just love the whole lot.  And you’re seeing a mirror reflecting back what you’re feeling.  It’s pure symmetry.  It’s joyous. It’s the potentiality, the not-yet-known element, the magnet that draws you in.

What do you hear?  Words?  Gurgles?  Muffled murmurs?  Something directed – or not – towards you as you catch a glimmer of conversation.  There is no meaning because it’s all about form and effect.  And affect.  The effect this has on you.  On your affect.  All your senses are on alert, primed.  Songlike, a poem with music is struck in your heart.  The old songs were right.

It’s not just in the eyes, or just what you’re hearing [or not].  It’s how it makes you feel.  What do you feel?  Warmth inside –  you sigh.  You’re loose. Your blood pressure drops [like patting a dog or stroking the cat sitting on your lap].  Your shoulders drop a bit too as you leeeeaaaannnnn iiiinnnn a bit, lean in towards your object of love and affection.  Your veins expand and the blood pumps.

A belonging, in place, here, present, matched.

But this is not just biological.  It’s a yearning for unity.  Does love attract opposites, or do we love only those that are just like us?  I don’t know.  I only know about how it feels.  At certain times.  The inexplicability of it makes my own heart beat loud in my chest.

What do you experience?   You take joy in the miniscule: the look, feel, touch, appearance and movements of your beloved.  A flick of the hair, the movement of the eyes, the crinkling at the corners of the eyes.  Why? It’s because of the gestalt created on the surface of your eyes by the appealing look and feel of your beloved.  We all learn this as children, watching adults, how they look from different angles when they gossip, fight, are bored, are cooking, laughing.  We learn all this from them, about how to respond.  And react.  And the gestalt speaks to the opposite part of the image as it hits your eye.  It’s total.  And we take all this in.  Creating a whole out of parts.  The parts are us.  The whole is becoming.

This gestalt sits well with you now in your own universe of one.  You process the multiple sensory inputs emanating from your beloved object as one, it’s impossible to separate them out, just as hunger is not simply a grumbling tummy.

Your heart rate slows down, your pulse initially quicker, slows as you expand.

Why are you expanding?  You expand to incorporate your beloved into you.  You feel flushed, hot.  All yin [or yang, depending].  Your universe of one expands to incorporate the object of your love [this is not a psychodynamic psychotherapy lecture about object relations, but – ].  But your universe expands.

We’re all going to end up as black holes: dark, mysterious, full of energy and matter and incorporating everything we love into us.  This is the being in love, the loving, love.  This is a partnership.  This is parenting.  At its best.  I am me and I am you.

Really close up, love is incorporation.  Close up, it’s just getting warm, real close to another person.  Sometimes it’s warm and wet.  Othertimes, it’s just warm.  Or hot.  You generate more heat if there’s more fuel.  We do that when we’re younger.  A lot usually.  Generate heat by burning fuel.  As we age we might generate another kind of heat with our beloveds, the heat of ANGER. We move from incorporation to accommodation to repulsion.  We spit out heat, reverse love.

Anger is just love turned backwards.  Instead of incorporating the emanating warmth, you’re projecting heat.  And really, if you get angry a lot, you have to turn the heat down a notch.  Just as loving warmth is generative, so too is the heat of anger degenerative.  Anger doesn’t warm: it burns.  That’s why it’s degenerative.

You’re a black hole.  Remember this next time you’re feeling loving or even when you feeling hate.  We’re all black holes.

Words (and Time) (and Money)

… will I run out of them [no words for that]?  Is there a bank [The Wor(l)d Bank]?  Can I make a withdrawal or save them by stuffing them under my mattress?  Like time, I feel I’ve wasted too many.  Sometimes you have to look to the opposite of a thing to really get it, so silence is meaningful too: [                                                            ] [Like Vipassana]  And words have a future, a present and a past, like time too.

Like money, is there a wallet for words?  Where do you keep them when you’re not using them?  Are words really like money?  Can words buy you things?  Probably YES.  Deinitely YES.  Words are loaded: good, bad, ugly, menacing, threatening, loving, spiteful, kind, caring, loving – the whole gamut.  But I said loving twice.  Can money do this, be loaded?  Of course!  Money has moral meanings too.  Can you spend too many words?  You can, just ask a journal editor.

So what’s the message?

We all use multiple currencies, depending on what we want to buy, spend and how we’re prepared to earn it.  We use different currencies in different contexts.

We have to ask ourselves, what are we willing to trade and what are the rewards?.  So spend your words, time and money wisely (or not).

Yin, yang and the bad fan fiction writer

“Young people” she began, “young people don’t read books much anymore” she continued, lamenting modernity and youth as she tucked her novel away into her library bag.  “They’re always staring at screens”.  Well, the elderly woman at the bustop (a total literary fraud created to fit my purpose here) might be right.  But kids do read.  They can be voracious readers (all those kids queuing for the latest Harry Potter and the multibook deal etc), and all of those blood-sucking, time-crossing, eternal characters who inhabit brick-thick, Vampire books that you buy by the kilo, and even Tolkien’s still popular. It is true that these books are also linked to high grossing movies which will always attract a teen audience, but kids still enjoy reading novels.  And even in their pure forms.

But it’s not just the form that’s changed, it’s also the content. You usually have to read the pure form (what am I saying here?) before you attempt to read or write a fan fiction version in order to know what’s going on, what’s being adulterated.  In fan fiction world Hermione, a Vampire and Gollum can all meet up, interact and create new forms of fiction, new fantasies, new arenas in which new writers can play out and represent our fears, anxieties, dreams and desires in more complex and challenging ways for us as readers to consume.

All these characters have names, histories, past attachments, challenges, strengths, failings etc etc etc, and all of these occur within the context of a carefully crafted world.  This is the craft of literary composition, something I clearly lack. So what we see in fan fiction is not only a case of the reader becoming a writer (which is really the aim of our Blogging 101 challenge today), of the yin becoming the yang, but an extension and transformation of the novel from its original context to become something entirely new.

I’m sure that this has been theorised, researched and written about extensively, but I’m so totally not there yet.  Even the Bible has thousands of fan fiction stories dedicated to improving and reinterpreting the original.  Is this is a clash of worlds?  An attraction to playing out the age-old myths in modern contexts?  Or are fan fiction writers seamlessly doing in print what we do in modern multicultural societies, bringing everyone together on the same page to interact in new and creative ways?

This carefully constructed argument is a painfully thin veneer of an excuse to hide the fact that I’m not much of a reader.  I used to devour books.  Now I only have time for journal articles for the two professions that I belong to and the next one I’m trying to break into, and even then I’m sometimes reduced to skimming articles, or only reading the abstracts or – horror of horrors – only reading the title in the subject line of the email. These days if you want to get published (‘properly’, ie not in a blogpost) you have to basically tell the whole story in the title, so (hand up in the air) I’m guilty of receiving and reading fullsome titles.

Everyone around me reads avidly though and my house is covered in floor to ceiling book cases stuffed with knowledge: history, anthropology, fiction, kids fiction, science, technology and art books. There are medical texts too.  And cook books, lots of cook books (they’re mine).  At work my workmates read at lunchtime and discuss literary classics (no, not really, but I was getting into this).  I even finally got an invitation to a book group that I had been dying to join and wondering what social faux pas I’d made that had prevented them from seeing my wit and brilliance and demanding that I join.  I love going.  And this is the kind where they drink wine AND read books.  I’m so fearful though of summer ending because we’ve been tasked to report back in March on ‘what we’ve been reading’.  I’m still only halfway through ‘Underground‘ by whatsisname, the Australian author.  My report will be very, very brief and I’ll be quietly shunned I think for my ignorance and lack of adventurousness – but we’re not talking key parties here.

Everyone reads but me.  “You have to be an avid reader” they all say, “or you can’t write”.  “If you don’t read novels” they say, “you only live one life”.  “READ ALL THE BEST BOOKS FIRST” my bookmark extols.  “GUILTY” I cry!  “Who has time to sit and read” I demand?  [Where the hell do quotation marks go?]  How can I put one and one together and make three if I’m not reading fiction?  “But I have to do the assignment, or I’ll fail my first free online course”  That would be embarassing.

So here goes: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/pleased-to-meet-you/

But wait, isn’t this the modern form? Isn’t this how ‘Into the Woods‘ came about?  And what about ‘One Direction Fan Fiction Writer gets Six Figure Book deal’?  How am I possibly going to top these?

Once upon a time three little pigs were sent off into the world to make their own way and they built three houses.  The first piggy built his house out of straw.  The big bad wolf came along and blew the house down with the tornado from The Wizard of Oz.  The second piggy built his house out of sticks and was fined by The Tax Inspector because he hadn’t applied for a council permit and then the big bad wolf blew it down and onsold the hardwood timbers to contractors who used it to build overpriced recycled homes to trendy DINKS in the inner city.  The third piggy built his house out of bricks.  The big bad wolf came along with the guy from Grand Designs and they did a great segment on exposed brick walls and the modern architectural form.  Then they went into the third little piggie’s garden and picked fresh kale and made an Ottelenghi Kale, Quinoa and feta salad (don’t Google this, I just made it up).  The salad was so delicious and fun to make they decided to film it so they brought in Baz Luhman who staged a theatrical spectacular with great costumes and songs, one of which made it into the ITunes Top 40 called ‘Salad Days‘.  And the moral of the story is?  Always build in brick and make every word count.

Being Ordinary

It might run counter to intuition in this frenzied media – soaked, narcissistic era of crotch-grabbing,  buttock – featuring, selfie-stick extended life that the truth is somewhat different. In my heart I don’t wish to emulate this behaviour or seek the spotlight in any of those ways.  I don’t want attention, don’t want to be marked as special, or ‘other’, in any way.  I just want to be ordinary.  I’ve had enough of differene, of the situations that marked my life as different and yearn to not be considered,  not thought about, not accommodated for my special differences. I want to fade into obscurity and just live my life in ordinariness.

I’m sure that I’m not alone in wishing this.  A multitude of people would share this desire.  Stories of suffering and stories of pain are narratives that users have not willingly sought to construct, deliver or live.  The unspeakable effects of war, enforced migration, chronic illness, histories of abuse, rape, death, poverty or madness or any of the multiple conditions of suffering that people have endured alongside these would qualify those people as having a fervent wish for ordinariness.

I don’t think that this desire is well enough understood. If your everyday is a battle facing uncertainty,  fear or pain, then meeting the challenges of daily life consume you. But this is no hierarchy of Maslow’s;  self – actualisation can occur even when basic needs are difficult to meet. The point here is that the dislocations of the self that occur when accommodating and coming to terms with trauma make you very zen about simple things. There is beauty in complexity but greater peace and equanimity may be evident in simply confidently rattling around your own place and making that cup of tea yourself.

Desire, change and shopping


Capitalism makes you want things, it’s all about desire.  We all kind of know this.  Buddhists totally understand this.  I secretly succumb to the allure of advertising, much as I try to avoid it.  Glossy ads in the letter box for the local supermarket special on chicken breasts, screaming ads on TV for imported Italian furniture, pop-up ads online promising that I really have won a chance to win an Apple iPhone, the seductiveness of goods displayed behind shopping centre windows so artfully designed and executed that I want to move in and live in the window, even the radio ads that I encounter as I channel surf that gently challenge me to consider my lifestyle options as I age.  They all secretly scream “BUY ME!”  “I AM THE PROMISE OF THE LIFE YOU WANT TO LIVE!”  “I WILL FULFILL YOU!”  But perhaps it’s also just about change, our constant human companion.  I look around my house and I too want things; I especially want things changed around the house.  I want nice things (you define it) and I crave order even though I live in everyday chaos.  And there are also things that I don’t want.  These of course are the antithesis of the things I crave.  I don’t want threadbare carpet, a fence that’s falling over, serious cracks in the walls, leaking toilets (fixed those); I don’t want weeds that have taken over the garden and started growing half way up the house like triffids, missing internal doors, peeling paint, a rotting deck, stained curtains or dirty windows.  But more than just change, I want to self-actualise through my ownership and use of things.  I want the essence of those things to improve me, improve my life and all my relationships. I can see myself in the ads for home improvements, confidently smiling out from the brochure, TV ad and online side ad totally living the life.  Isn’t this the promise of things?  I’m sure it’s the promise of the advertisers.

You can especially see the life cycle of a thing through the desires and satisfactions of children’s wants.  A thing is massively craved, yearnfully longed for and the parental units are harassed interminably until the thing is finally located in situ within the family home.  Days, weeks and even months pass until finally the thing has saturated the deep well-pool of desire that drew it into the household.  We can count cute battery operated guinea pigs, electronic calendar and address books, the computerised drawing pen and pad, friendship bracelet/necklace/BFF kits, ANY board game, a massive amount of craft gear and even 62 coloured Derwent pencils.  But we can’t simply blame children for this, as adults we too are guilty, so very guilty.  One of the latest whizzy blender things sits barely used under the sink in a cupboard as most of the time I can’t be bothered getting it out to use it, and once it’s out it’s a pain to clean it.  And I prefer to do my slicing and dicing with a knife anyway, as I’ve done for years.  But I HAD to have one, because I didn’t have one and I desperately wanted what I thought it offered: salvation through blending, chopping, dicing, whipping, slicing, grating and pulverising.  And I’m not even talking Thermomix here, just a plain old food processor.  Did this turn me into Nigella, Jamie, or either the Good or Bad Cook in the kitchen?  No.  It looked so full of promise in the shop, but once home and out of the box I saw it for the cheap plastic and sharp metal that it really was.  An industrial revolution promise of a more leisured life for the modern woman.  But more than that, it also harked to a permanence, a permanent presence of industrial strength, professional slicing and dicing, Scientific Industrial Man standing by my side as I created grated carrot for my coleslaw.  But that permanence, that solidity, even with a quad-head chopping blade was a myth.  Nothing lasts forever.  And the Buddhists were right about that too.

I’ve come to terms with my stuff more recently and have begun circulating it more frequently.  Anthropologists talk of the hau of a thing, the spirit of an object, in that a gift may be given but the essence of the gift always seeks return, or at least recirculation and eventual return to its original owner.  It’s true then, gift-givers are always seeking something in return.  But this is not a parody or simple imitation of the circulation of the regifted foot spa.  And so the recriminations of the uninitiated begin, “Mum, can’t we please keep these chocolates?  You never let us keep any of the chocolates that are given to us by people when they come over.  Why do you always have to give them away?”  Actually, the last lot of chocolates that we regifted, we didn’t even unwrap to find out what they were…   We hope you enjoyed them (you know who you are).  Through recent need with my family in tow we shop at charity stores, often finding new and novel things to purchase that satisfy the expression of the purchasing gene that we all inherited, and through whose use we of course we attempt to recreate ourselves.  Through circumstance we now buy less, spend less, succumb less to the advertisers and challenge the price tags of new items because of our thrifty shopping.  But more than anything we participate in the circulation of things by taking in a bag of things to donate before we go into the shop to buy.  Well, most of the time.  We always have a bag of clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, kitchen appliances and other stuff we’ve fallen out of love with to pass on.  It’s not gift-giving in the classical sense, but it’s an acknowledgement that things circulate based on desire and need.  If we don’t need or want it anymore, that’s not to say that someone else might need or want it.  And so it goes.  The hau is on its way back.