crazyjane: (eclipse)
There are days when I think the worst thing about being bipolar is the medication regime, with all the side-effects that disrupt my life almost as much as the mood swings. The sudden sedation, the fucked-up dreams, the inability to get my eyes open in the morning. That sense of being kept on the level, something I do not understand because I do not, cannot feel that way on my own.

There are days when I think it's the mania, because I feel so damned good for a while, and it's only when I start to go out of control that I realise I need to stop, right now, and I can't. The part of me that says, skip the meds and stay up all night, ride the lightning, just once.

And there are days when I think it's the way the bottom can fall out of my mood without warning, like a sugar crash, only a thousand times worse. When gravity seems to increase, and the volume turns right up, and there's something faintly frightening about everything and everyone around me. When the last thing I want is to be behind the wheel of a car or handling a knife or pouring boiling water - not because I want to hurt myself, but because of the fear that I'm not safe.
crazyjane: (eclipse)
CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed the mother of Rebecca Sedgewick. The girl had committed suicide after she was subjected to a truly horrific campaign of bullying (both online and off) by her schoolmates. It was a fairly standard piece designed to humanise the victim, while highlighting a significant social issue. Asked to describe her daughter, the mother replied, 'She was beautiful ... she was smart ...she was funny'.

Heard that before? Sure you have. In fact, if you watched any coverage at all of, say, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, the Boston Marathon bombings, the Trayvon Martin shooting - and the list goes on - you heard those phrases. Those exact phrases. Oh, sometimes the gender changes, or there's a synonym slipped in here and there - but what it all boils down to is 'beautiful, smart, and funny'. A description so generic that it could apply to anyone.

This isn't coming from the interviewers. These aren't the words of a reporter standing in front of a 'scene of tragedy' (another handy little phrase). These are parents, loved ones, friends, all describing the dead in terms that effectively render them faceless, colourless, and utterly without personality.

What does it mean that someone was 'beautiful', anyway? Did they have shining hair? Immaculate makeup? Up-to-the-minute taste in fashion? Soulful blue eyes, smooth chocolate skin, a dancer's physique?

How about 'smart'? Did they ace their exam results? Did they have a natural aptitude for tinkering with all things mechanical? Were they just good at problem-solving?

And let's not forget 'funny'. What does that mean? Quick-witted? Clumsy, in a kind of 'cute' way? Maybe they had a famous party trick involving spoons? Or did they just have a great repertoire of jokes for every situation?

When we think of those who are taken from us, whether by malice, accident, illness, or their own hands - we don't think 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We think about how her eyes sparkled when she was excited, or how he was about to graduate from high school as a top student. We think about the self-deprecating anecdotes he'd tell at parties that had everyone laughing along in sympathy. In other words, we think about the person.

It's the same at funerals or memorial services. We tell those who come up to commiserate with us, even those we barely know, little stories about our loved ones. It may mean absolutely nothing to the hearers, but what matters is that we tell them - because in a way, the dead person still lives as long as we share our memories of them.

And yet.

Shove a microphone in front of our faces, hear that question, and suddenly all that disappears. Instead of telling the world about our loved one, we fall back on stock phrases. We seem to be incapable of going beyond that, and the interviewers certainly don't push for details. Even in 'long form' interviews, we talk and talk about the circumstances of our loved one's death, taking great care to include every aspect - but we don't talk about the fact that she took the teddy bear she was given as a baby off to college with her. That sort of story doesn't come out unless we agree to do a 'special' program. Then - and only then - we are allowed to tell the world anything that will wring a few more tears from the TV audience.

There's a script. There are stock phrases, permitted synonyms and taboo topics. Think politics is full of standardised language? That's nothing to the media language of death, especially murder or teen suicide. Here are a few more. Every town is a 'tight-knit community'. Every mass shooting is an 'unspeakable tragedy'. (I find this one particularly ridiculous, since it's inevitably followed by a breathless, detailed description of exactly what happened.) Suicides 'slip through the cracks'. 'He was a quiet boy'. 'Everybody loved her'. 'The system failed her'. 'Cut down in his prime'.

Et cetera.

Don't believe me? Go hunt down some archival footage from any one of a dozen such incidents. And play bingo.

There's no doubt that the media encourages the script. No interviewer likes to be surprised, and no reporter likes to be caught without the 'right' words. Before we roundly chastise them for what amounts to an absolute de-humanisation of victims, however, we need to stop and acknowledge something about ourselves.

We read from that same script. We embrace that script. Confronted with the opportunity to tell the world about our loved one, we run back to the dubious safety of 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We are complicit in making them faceless.

It's easy to understand the media's motives, but why do we do it? Is it because we find it just too painful to talk freely? If that's the case, though, surely we would have a similar difficulty speaking openly at memorial services and to relative strangers.

What about context? Do we automatically shy away from sharing details about our loved ones with an audience we can neither see, nor hear? Is it simply safer to take refuge in vagueness?

Perhaps these contribute, but I believe there is a third - and most important - factor. We don't even think about it. Our mouths open, and the stock phrases are out before we realise it. It's a self-reinforcing paradigm. We've seen it at work so often that it's become 'the way things are done', or even 'the right words to use'. The microphone appears, the question is asked, and we respond as expected - and our loved ones become part of a generic mass of 'tragedy', indistinguishable from each other.

We owe them more than that.

I'm not advocating we give up our right to grieve privately. No one should be forced to walk in front of a camera. But if we make the decision to speak publicly, we must do so in a way that makes every one of our dead unforgettable. We do it with those who take the lives. How many of us know the names of the 35 people killed by Martin Bryant at Port Arthur in 1996, or the eleven elderly people murdered by Roger Dean's arson? Even if we can find their names, what do we know about them? We might be able to find out which ones were related to each other, but not much else. Unless we tracked down the relatives, we wouldn't know if one was a Dad with a penchant for cracking embarrassing jokes in front of his kids' friends. We'd know the exact causes of death for those who died in the Quakers Hill Nursing Home, but not whether one of those ladies had a secret love of watching Law and Order while drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows.

But Martin Bryant? Sure, we can find out all about him. There are papers, books, documentaries and any number of web pages devoted to the man who obliterated those 35 people. He has become part of our collective memory.

Surely those 35 people deserve at least as much from us.

In the end, it comes down to this - We who know the dead must speak for them. We must refuse 'beautiful, smart, funny'. We must grieve, we must be good to ourselves, and then we must say who our loved ones really are. We need to be more than a society that fetishises the killer and forgets the victim.

We must refuse the script, and speak from our hearts.
crazyjane: (moondark)
So it's September 11 once again ... and as usual, news programs and documentaries about the events of 2001, now known as '9/11', abound. Some of the shows are the same - 'Phone Calls from the Towers', 'Flight 93', '9/11: State of Emergency', etc - but this is the ten-year anniversary, so we have a whole new selection. Interviews with former President George W. Bush and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; the 'kids of 9/11'; the terrible respiratory illnesses and cancers ravaging the first responders; you name it, there's a doco about it.

Inevitably, it's all over social media as well. The most common question being asked is: 'Where were you when you first heard about it?' This usually leads to a discussion about how people felt when they found out what had happened, or first saw the footage of United Airlines flight 175 ploughing into the South Tower.

In recent years, though, there's been something of a backlash. For some people, the sentiment is 'move the fuck on already'. For others, it comes in the form of a refusal to watch any media coverage of the event, especially memorials. And then there are people who angrily try to shut down the discussion. The reason they give for this is that, by focusing on where 'we' were at the time, we are trying to somehow make 9/11 about us - claim something to which we have no right at all.

I've been thinking about this for a few hours now.

I don't agree.

There are events that lodge in our memories, and never leave. Most of them are deeply personal - the death of a loved one, a car accident in which we were injured, divorce, birth, winning the lottery - but there are those to which we are only peripherally connected, yet which affect us for years afterwards. My grandmother used to tell me that she never forgot where she was when she heard World War II was finally over. My father remembered hearing about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my mother remembers every detail about where she was and what she was doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. My brother remembers hearing about the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

And me? I remember where I was when I watched footage of the Berlin Wall coming down; when I first read about the Rwanda genocide; hearing about the Boxing Day 2004 earthquake and tsunami; watching with horror as another tsunami consumed the Japanese landscape - and I remember where I was when I first learned about 9/11.

None of those things was about me; but in another sense, every one of them was.

Because each changed the way I looked at the world, at my own situation, and at people in general. The shape of the world I'd known was 'changed, changed utterly'. Oh, I don't necessarily think I realised the full extent of that change at the time - that came later, in the cascade of consequences. But what I saw, what I learned on those days was undeniable. It was impossible that the world should be the same afterwards - that I should be the same.

I was lucky. My home was never destroyed. I never had to run for my life or hide from men bent on slaughtering me. I lost no family when the Towers came down. And I would never, for even a moment, try to claim that those events affected me more deeply and more profoundly than those who lived through them - or died as a result of them.

But that's not what this is about. It's not about whether 2000 people or 250,000 died; whether half a country was devastated or two building collapsed; or whether I was more affected than you. It's about incredible events, devastating, desperately hopeful, impossible events - and the fact that we're all human. We might say, 'there, but for the grace of Murphy', but when we see someone throw themselves out of a 95th storey window because it's that or die in a raging fire choking on thick, black smoke? We cry. We scream. We are shocked to our cores.

There's only one image from 9/11 I still can't watch without my eyes filling with tears - two people who, hand in hand, jumped from the North Tower. I don't know who they were. They may have been a couple, or maybe friends. They may have been co-workers. They may simply have been strangers who hung onto each other in the face of horror. All I know is that they were two people, and their deaths changed me.

There are things I understand now that I never did before the Wall fell. There are things I feel now because I saw the footage of a burned-out church piled with the blackened bodies of women and children in Rwanda. That doesn't mean these things were 'about' me - it means I can't pretend that what happens in the world can't touch me.

So I'll continue to remember that on September 11, 2001, I woke up in my bed in Croydon when the 7.00am alarm went off, and burrowed under the doona while listening to the Triple J news on the radio. I'll keep remembering that my first thought was that this had to be some kind of really tasteless hoax until the curiously flat, shell-shocked tone of the news announcer's voice made it through the last vestiges of sleep. I'll remember throwing back the doona and racing out to the loungeroom to turn on Sky News, just in time to see the South Tower falling. And I'll remember standing there in a nightshirt, holding onto the remote control, being unable to answer [profile] fire_wuff when he called out from the bedroom, and thinking that my kids were going to grow up in the middle of a war.

Because the moment I forget that? I think I'll be less than human.
crazyjane: (Default)
Okay, so a bunch of events going on in various areas of my life are all coalescing around a couple of nexuses (nexi?).

Politics-wise, there's the perennial education debate of whether giving more money to public schools than private is unfair and removes 'choice' from parents.

Pagan-wise, there's some raging discussions going on in various online forums, all revolving around the idea of excluding people from some ritual spaces, defining what it means to be 'woman', and whether it's unfair to expect a public event to show inclusive rather than exclusive practices.

At uni, there's the ongoing problem of certain religious groups doing their level best to silence other viewpoints - whether by vandalising notices for queer groups, or pressuring the university to abandon the long-maintained tradition of providing condoms in O Week on the grounds it's 'religiously offensive'.

Personally, there's my experience of being a queer Ally at La Trobe, becoming clear about my own identity as genderqueer, and a heightened sensitivity to related issues that have previously only barely registered.

Running through all of that is an ugly, knotted thread. Those who are most dismissive of others' pain, who claim they are personally disadvantaged by inclusion, who scream loudest that they are 'silenced' and 'oppressed' - are usually the ones with the most privilege.

But you can't say that, of course. Tell the aforementioned religious group that their status as a well-known religion, the support they receive from the uni and their ability to walk almost anywhere openly displaying symbols of their belief without harassment is privilege - and the outrage is immense. Why? Because they are told they must share these advantages with others. That there is a space for all religions. That they can't impose their beliefs on everyone out of some idea that they are 'right' and can therefore dictate to others. To such a group, that's oppression.

Ditto the cis-woman (or 'woman-born-woman', the ugly, clumsy term that has been used more widely) who blithely states that a transwoman is not 'really' a woman, and therefore has no place in women's circles. When challenged, she complains that her experience as a woman is being somehow degraded, dismissed or oppressed - at worst, she accuses the transwoman of operating from a place of 'male oppression'. (Just about the most offensive thing I've heard coming out of paganism in a long time, btw.)

I thought for a long time that this sort of thing originated from a place of fear - or maybe simple misunderstanding. Now, though, I believe the misunderstanding is not about the other person's experience, but about our own. We don't believe we have privilege - and we don't want to believe it.

It's as though, by admitting we are privileged, we think we are admitting to being bad people, or being forced to apologise for who we are. It's not. Recognising our own privilege is just that - recognising that we have certain social advantages that have nothing to do with how we feel or what we think is right, and recognising that we are often so unconscious of these advantages that we speak and act blindly, hurting and dismissing others, rendering their experiences invisible or unimportant.

So, FWIW ... this is my recognition. It might not be entirely coherent, because I'm still thinking it through.

I have privilege.

I have privilege because I am white with northern European ancestry in a white-dominated society that still preserves a sense of superiority about skin colour and race.

I have privilege because I was born into a relatively affluent family, and never went hungry growing up.

I have privilege because I received (and am still undertaking) a good education where no area of study was barred to me.

I have privilege because through that education, I am clever with words and arguments - and can use that to silence others if I am not careful.

I have privilege because I am bisexual, and can therefore 'pass' for heterosexual in a society that still largely regards same-sex attraction as 'abnormal'.

I have privilege because I am married in a society where a male-female coupling is considered 'normal'.

I have privilege because, though genderqueer, I can 'pass' for female/feminine in a society where only two genders are acknowledged to even exist.

I have privilege because I have never lived in fear that simply being who I am might make me a target for institutionalised discrimination, hatred and violence.

I have privilege, and I recognise that with this privilege comes responsibility. I am responsible for ensuring that I do not use this privilege to silence, exclude or harm others. I am responsible for ensuring that I support and champion others without presuming to speak for them.

I have privilege, and this does not mean I cannot speak up for my own rights and opinions, nor have my own challenges or hurts acknowledged. It means that I must not ever assume that there is some kind of hierarchy of 'real' problems - that mine are not somehow are more or less important, but that I must not use mine to browbeat others or try to shut down others' rights by claiming my privilege has been infringed by wrongs done to them.

And at heart, I guess, is the responsibility to never lose sight of the fact that it's not all about me, and that I lose nothing by acknowledging any of this.
crazyjane: (moondark)
Occasionally I enter these fits of intro/retrospection ... not quite active self-evaluation, but more a sudden flood of memories that throws who/what I am now into sharp and sometimes ironic relief.

Lately it's been circling around the idea of my blog, and me becoming someone who almost reflexively self-defines as a citizen journalist, or at least a commentator.

My stepfather was a journalist, one of the old school. He started as a cadet when he was 15, learned on the job and ended up running newspapers before cancer forced him to scale back to part-time subediting work. Right up until he died, he thought and acted like a journo. I remember him sub-editing my high school assignments, and engaging in scornful critique of something in the Gold Coast Bulletin even as chemotherapy was destroying his system.

My mother was also a journalist until she became chronically ill. She mostly wrote feature articles on travel - although she did have a brief stint as an investigative reporter that included an expose of dodgy tactics and drugging in a private psychiatric hospital, which she attended as an inpatient to get the story.

Both of them pretty much assumed that at least one of the kids would end up working for the media. Since I showed interest in writing, wanting to learn to type before I was 12 and mastering basic proof-reading marks for fun (yes, sad, I know), I was the one my mother decided would follow in their footsteps. She used to tell friends that when they commented that I seemed to love reading, and was always scribbling in a notebook.

It wasn't out of any sense of pride in my achievements, though. It was always, 'Oh, she's just like me'. That's something I've heard far too often from my mother. Whether she's talking about my medical history, my reading preferences, my relationship with [profile] fire_wuff, my kids, or whatever, it's never about me as a person, on my own terms. I used to think she saw me as a smaller reflection, or maybe was trying to live vicariously through me.

Now I think she simply doesn't see me at all.

At any rate, the main effect her attitude had was to harden my opposition to whatever she said. If I was 'just like her' in some way, I'd find a way to be as different as I could possibly be. And every time something happened in my life that did parallel hers, I'd kick myself. Never mind if it was completely out of my control - such as my suffering from gallstones, or the break-up of my first marriage - I saw it as some stupid kind of victory for her. And I'd redouble my efforts to be my own person.

So it was with the idea that I'd follow in the footsteps of my parents to be a journalist, or writer, or be in some way involved with making the media. Even though I loved to read and to write, I became determined not to prove them 'right'. I channelled my energy into academic research, literary analysis, poetry - anything but 'journalism'. I suppose, in some perverse way, I thought I was 'winning' against them.

And yet, as the man says in the joke, 'now I are one'. I write articles of political analysis and commentary. I make media. I've been published by a major news organisation; have a blog that's becoming well-regarded to the point where 'regular' journos and politicians take the trouble to find out what I'm writing and respond; write media releases for everyone from the La Trobe SRC to pagan organisations to political parties; and think nothing of bashing out an average of 1000 words at a time.

I'm not writing poetry or fiction. I'm back doing some academic work, but it's almost like dabbling.

In short, I'm doing what my parents always said I would. Quelle ironique, huh?

I can appreciate the idiocy of how I feel, and I am proud of what I'm achieving (if a little flabbergasted). It just rankles, somehow.

Sooner or later, I figure I'm going to finally put my parents behind me, where they belong. It just hasn't happened so far.

August 2017

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