So some of my friends and my family are going away to Peru, and they might not come back for quite a while. It is a bit sad. I don't feel like I know what's it's going to be like after they go. This little mob wasn't the only reason I came to Alice Springs, but it was a fair bit of the reason. Now I am here I like it a lot and probably will stay here for longer. For instance, I have a nice dog having a nap on my floor and Kev Carmody is playing and we are having a nice day of pancakes, cleaning, packing, painting tables, mud-brick house scheming and saying funny things to Nina to see what funny things she says back (we do that one most days). There is not much not to love about that. Some of those things will stop happening after tomorrow, but then a lot of them will keep happening. I can even still say funny things to Nina over the interweb.
It has been a pretty marvelous desert year. Another year of experimenting with not doing much at all besides trying to be around. This one probably worked better than last year. Probably because it takes babies longer to get bored of very available friends. And dogs too, they are very patient and generous with their time.
Now I will have an awful lot of spare time. I won't much be able to get into town to use it up with town activities. So I will make up some home activities in between working a little bit but not very much. My first one is building a small house. Like a tiny house, but a tiny bit bigger than that perhaps. It will have thick heavy cool mud walls. I have been told not to get too attached to technologies when planning a house, but I have got quite attached to the idea of those nice walls. Maybe I will change my mind half-way through when I have tired of lifting and moving mud from spot to spot.
If you reached the bottom of this you should come and visit us here one day. It is good.
Question: Which of the following three is worse?
- White oppression
- White guilt
- White bread
For many the answer may seem obvious. Most people know of the evils of white bread and many are already resisting it's presence in our lives. However, white bread is not the worst of these three things. The far greater problem confronting us today is white guilt. White guilt is the sadness and shame that white people feel about being white. It is debilitating, frustrating and denies white people the chance to live free and happy lives. It needs to end.
While the flood of white bread into our lives must be firmly resisted, we must also remember that there are greater battles to be fought. White guilt is never OK.
Them: I took my doll's pram out for a push today.
Me: Was anything in the pram? Did you have a doll?
Them: And my boyfriend.
Me: Golly. That would be a tight squeeze.
Them: Yep. Cindy Anne, my D-O-G was in there too.
Me: Wow. So you have a doll, your boyfriend and your dog in the pram and took them all out for a walk?
Them: Yep. It's a good pram. No problems with it. It's in good spirits. No spider webs. No insects. No spiders. No ants nests.
Me: No ants?
Them: No. No ants. The pram still goes. I like it.
Me: It sounds like an amazing pram. Sounds very sturdy and reliable.
Them: It still has it's hood. No tearing. No signs of forced entry. No cutting. It doesn't have any flies. No mosquitoes or flies in it.
Me: A hood? To keep out the rain and sun?
Them: Yep. It still has it's H-O-O-D. I took them all out for a walk in it. We went to the city with it. And then I came back home with it.
Me: It was strong enough? It didn't break?
Them: No. It's such a good pram. Why would you want any other? I don't want another pram.
Me: Why would you? You'd be crazy to swap a pram like that?
Them: Yep. I saw the policeman at the station. I didn't make any F-U-S-S. I just shook his hand. He said the pram was OK. And he said my boyfriend was OK too.
Me: He didn't hassle you at all?
Them: Nope. He was calm.
On the weekend, I got a cold. I have been sleeping a lot. Trying to go to bed early or at least not heaps late. However, last night presented a real dilemma. I needed to drink 4L of red wine by Friday because I wanted the cask to carry water on my Alice trip. It was ambitious but I figured that if I don't have the will to drink that wine what hope would I ever have of making it to Alice. So I was pretty happy when last night at about 10pm, or three glasses through, a bunch of friends showed up. We squeezed about 12 people into our tiny kitchen and had a little party. The party went til about 2am. A lot of the wine got drunk. Nobody got much sleep (sorry if that includes you lovely neighbours). But most goodly, this dear sweet house probably had the biggest party it's had in 20 years. And that makes me happy.
Today I will go and get the neighbours some nice Apology Yuppie Jam.
Me: What did the two of you do this afternoon?
Them: He shouted me a chocolate cornetto in his cubby house. Which I ate. Then he shouted me a caramel chip cornetto and I ate that too. Then he shouted me a baked raspberry cheesecake. I ate them all, one after the other. When I finished one, I ate the next one.
Me: Goodness me. What a feast! How does he afford all this? Where does he get his money?
Them: [thinking] ...it's no problem. He has the money. The money is no problem for him.
Me: Did he inherit money from his parents?
Them: [doubtful] Yes... no... the cornetto is in the freezer. It's already in the freezer see. No problem. We don't need any money.
Them: Ryan, when can we go get a new teapot?
Me: Right now?
Them: [shouting and waving arms in the air] YAY! HURRAY! HURRAY! HURRAY!
Me: Wooooo! Yes! New teapot!
Them: OK OK. Keep your shirt on.
One of my housemates has learnt to spin underpants around on their finger like a stripper. It is quite a neat skill, but it makes encouraging them to get dressed in the morning a much funnier experience than is probably helpful.
Them: [standing at my bedroom door] I like you Ryan.
Me: I like you too.
Them: Please don't shoot me Ryan.
Me: No. I won't shoot you.
Them: [unsure] Um... because... um... I want to be alive to see my friend.
Me: Yes. It's OK. I won't shoot you.
Them: [long silence] Thankyou Ryan. See you. [walks down the stairs]
The other day I brought home a rented wheelchair for one of the people in my house. I thought it would be a good opportunity to test out my wheelchair skills, and more importantly show some solidarity with those who can't walk. So I decided to wheel myself home from the chemist. I was getting pretty good so I decided to try crossing through the park. It was a bit hilly and gravelly and I was curious to know just how tough the life of the wheelchair-bound really is. Turns out it is quite tough. I got bogged on a fairly small hill and my wheels would just spin in the dirt. I felt fortunate that I could stand up if I wanted to, but I persevered wanting to demonstrate that pluck we all know that people in wheelchairs have.
After a moment, who should come to my rescue but a skinny, wobbly, 90 year old woman, struggling to stay upright on the footpath. She started to head out across the park calling out that she would come over and help me. She was very unstable and I was worried she was going to fall over. I quickly called back to explain that I didn't need help. I awkwardly tried to tell her that I could actually walk. Luckily, she turned around and made her way back to the footpath without mishap.
I felt like (and also am) a massive dope.
Often one seems to get into conversations about the ideal partner. People tend to run off quite a list of things they look for in a partner and these lists seem to get longer as people get older and more grizzled. Sadly, being very grizzled isn't on many people's lists so everything matching lists to partners gets trickier and trickier as time goes by.
At one point I had a very long list sitting somewhere at the back of my mind. But in recent times (last 10 years or so) the list has been whittled down to one thing. When people ask me what it's important to me in a partner I always just say "kindness". At times, I've wondered if being superficially attracted is helpful too but I don't really know.
However, the problem with smug little short lists like mine is that they might be smug and utter bullshit. When people who are kind (and attractive) come along I suddenly start to wonder about a whole lot of other things. All those things that people throw into more comprehensive lists.
The outcome is not very good at all. You end up being smug. And single. And just as confused as everyone else anyway.
This morning I tried to find a new doctor. I haven't had a regular doctor since I was a child, but often that is annoying. I have been to two doctors in the last couple of years. Neither of them spoke very good English, and I had trouble explaining what was going on. So this time I went through the phone book and pulled out all the doctors Anglo-Saxon names. It is perhaps the most racist I have ever consciously been.
I just popped up to the late night pharmacist to get some late night bread. I decided to get some vegan pills while I was at it. While I was perusing their Vitamin B12 selection the pharmacist popped over to give me a hand. He was terribly kind and helpful. I told him I was vegan. He said that he and his wife didn't eat animal products either. That never really happens.
There was once a sad fellow who was very lonely. In his youth, possibly he'd had a passing friend or so, and even a measure of happiness. But as he aged he became more lonely and more unhappy. However, not only was he sad and lonely but he was something of a wily man who would attempt to manipulate those around him using the most shameless of tactics. It was not uncommon for him to cry in public places in order to win the sympathy and company of those passing by.
One day a jolly fool was walking cheerfully through the park and he came across the lonely man on a park bench. The lonely man was wimpering to himself pitifully. The fool thought he might comfort the poor fellow, so he sat down next to him and started chatting. Being a fool, he did not see through the lonely man's charade. The lonely man, having tricked the fool into befriending him responded heartily and they struck up a firm conversation. As it happened, the relationship developed and the two became fine friends. They would sit together in the park chatting away for hours. The lonely man stopped feeling so lonely and no longer spent so much time trying to evoke cheap sympathy from random strangers. The fool was glad for the friendship and glad the lonely man no longer cried.
However, one day the fool ate too many potatoes and died of digestive complications. The lonely man, having lost his dear and only friend, was deeply affected and cried himself to sleep for months. After some time he returned to the same park bench and began, once again, quietly wimpering in the hope that someone would be moved to sit next to him.
Around this time a wise man was walking through the park. He approached the lonely man wimpering on the bench. But the wise man understood human psychology and saw through the act easily. He could tell the lonely man was only crying to attract attention to himself. He almost pitied the lonely man for his pathetic transparency. So helpfully, he sat down beside the lonely man and briefly but firmly explained to him that he was not fooled. The wise man explained how crying was a common attention seeking behaviour and why he would not be sucked in. The lonely man was terribly embarrassed and stopped crying. The wise man, pleased that he had been able to help the lonely man better understand his problem, got up and walked cheerfully away.
In one of the many wars the US has declared on various stuff, they are apparently winning. In Mexico, thousands of people "involved in the drug trade" have been killed in recent months - many of them at the hands of the Mexican army and others at the hand of other people involved in the drug trade. With all this socially constructive death being dealt some congratulations must be in order. The United States has decided it can no longer stand by and watch those "involved with the drug trade" idly wander the streets of Mexico without being killed. So it has helped fund a fairly hearty war against them.
Many had previously thought the matter of drugs, corruption and governance in Latin America was a complex matter, but thanks to a recent editorial at the WSJ this complexity has all but vanished. All the situation really required was for the United States to step in and support a leader willing to apply the necessary military force. The US has found that leader in Felipe CalderÃ³n. Surely this is the beginning of the end of all those "basket case" countries in Latin America who have allowed the drug trade to flourish. The end of all those corrupt Latin American leaders forcing their nasty hard drugs down the gagging throats of a vulnerable American populace.
But seriously, this story sounds very much like busy as usual for the US happily throwing about vats of drug war money to help out their latest tough guy chum. A fresh approach it is not.
I don't like the Close the Gap campaign we have here in Australia. I know it is mostly about trying to help Aboriginal people live longer, but it the campaign feels to me massively presumptuous. If white people refuse to be happy until incomes and educations and life expectancy and teen pregnancy are the same for black and white people, what is that going to mean for black communities? There are going to be thousands of white people running around town camps telling people they need to change their lives. Telling kids to go to school. Telling them to brush their teeth. Telling them not to drink more than two standard drinks a day. Telling people to live better is not necessarily the end of the world in some contexts. But for the white community to be trying to make huge social changes to black communities, I think is a problem.
The "gap" is not mostly about resources. It is mostly about lifestyles. That's probably a big claim, but I think it is true. The life expectancy for professional football players in the US is maybe 22 years lower than average. If it was just about the amount of benefits or health care people got then it might be different. I suppose you can make the argument that Aboriginal people are living bad lifestyles because they are miserable because white people have been mean to them. Perhaps there's some truth in it, but I don't feel comfortable arguing it. Once again it is white people evaluating certain lifestyles as bad and feeling like we need to fix them.
From an outside perspective, I don't think the "problem" is life expectancy or education levels. I think it has more to do with creating meaning when your local community's value are so different to those of the broader community. Which is just another white theory about black people. But possibly the difference is that I have no idea how white people can help black people create meaning.
I end up coming back to the idea that we can't keep talking about a black problem that white people need to do their part in fixing. I'd rather we all just live together happily ever after and eat bread.
That was a slightly lunatic rant and I may have got a bit sidetracked, so I will try to sum up. I don't see the problem as the "gap" because that is a product of many things - partly a product of different cultures with different priorities. If there are simple things we could do that would lessen the gap without demanding dramatic social change, that would be good. And if we aren't doing those things because we're too blind or muddled that is a tragedy. But I don't think the gaps people are talking about can be eliminated without making people change their lives.
Since I started buying expensive sorts of electronics that you're able to stuff in your pockets, I've wondered if carrying around these things has the potential to change my reactions to the world around me. In a negative sort of way. I'm often conscious of being careful with iPods or smart phones because they're expensive and frequently surprisingly fragile. I wonder if someone needed saving from drowning or truck collision if my reactions would be slowed having to carefully stow my iPhone or whatever, in my pocket or some waterproof case before lunging nobly to their rescue.
Since getting my iPhone a few months ago and starting at L'Arche, I've thought about this a little. There's a high rate of people falling over for not much reason at all and also not huge amounts of road awareness every time. Often I'll be walking somewhere with someone and talking to someone on the iPhone and I'll think to myself "I'd be a better and more useful walking partner if I had a cheaper phone in my hand, that I wouldn't think twice about dropping." There is plenty of time to think about any sort of thing when working at L'Arche and this is just one of the things.
However, I had opportunity to test my theory the other day. We just had a particularly hectic day and a particularly hectic attempt to meet up with the other two L'Arche houses at the Auburn tennis club. We'd largely failed. Certainly failed at meeting at the tennis club, and probably also mostly failed the day. But in the end I was at Auburn RSL Club, with three of the core members from my house and nobody else. Two of them struggle to stay up without holding onto someone, so both of them were doing that. The third was herding them along with throaty exclamations and gentle finger prods. It was a bit of a funny little ambling ramble we had going, but I liked it. We made it down some steps even, into the club and over to the elevator. As we walked into the elevator I was trying to call the houses we'd failed to meet on the phone, to explain that we wouldn't be meeting them. Not even meeting them very late, as had previously been the plan. Before they picked up the phone the least stable fellow let go of my hand and leapt into the elevator, tripping on the crack and starting a tumble into the elevator wall. My long-held fears were truly vanquished since not only did I drop the iPhone, but I flung it away so my hands would be free to grab my friend in a protective sort of stabilising buffer hug. The buffer hug worked wonders, but the iPhone was very cross. It did not work for the whole evening (although thankfully ended its tantrum later on) and there quite some cracks and oddities about it now. One side of the screen pushes in much further than the other, and the camera has starting turning photos all wobbly.
I also noticed how massively I missed the phone that night. I felt so stranded. I think that in future I may have to carry a secondary iPhone as an emergency backup when I leave the house.
So while I am sad that my phone is a bit broken now and sad to think that it is unlikely to survive the rest of its two year plan with continued mean flinging frequencies, I am happy to know that, even for minor tumbles, the phone doesn't inhibit brisk responses. In fact, one might even go so far to say that I exhibited a rather reckless disregard for the amount of time the plan has to run. But some sorts of financial recklessness are probably to be encouraged and cultivated.