Sunday, July 14, 2013

two things, one song

Number One: Today is my big sister's birthday. I have to whisper her age because she looks younger than she is, and might be following the time-honoured tradition of lying about it because we live in a patriarchal world where women have a very small window where all positive characteristics are allowed to overlap. HATE THE GAME, COMRADES. (She's forty.) I know I'm freaking out a little bit about turning thirty so it would be hypocritical not to allow my sister a freak out, but she needn't have one. She has been a fully functioning adult for a long time. By that, I mean all of the things you might think I mean. Examples: She has a career she likes, and she also has outlets for things her job doesn't include. She cooks food with vegetables in it but will eat cake for breakfast. Etc. Anyway, she used to really love this band, and got to go and see them when she was about sixteen. That was before Bono became cringe-worthy. It was when these guys were at their peak.

Number Two: Today George Zimmerman was found not guilty of the second degree murder of Trayvon Martin. It seems that the jury agree that being black, male, and in Florida is just cause for homicide. This makes me sad, and FULL of rage. I am trying not to think about it but my mind keeps coming back to it, even in a roundabout way. I was in the shower about fifteen minutes ago and realised this song was in my head, and the first line was looping around and around.

The thing is, I can believe the news today. Many of us were bracing ourselves for it.

A happy thing to celebrate, and a terrible thing to rue. Both on a Sunday.

Happy birthday M. I'm glad I have you to celebrate today xx

art vs exploitation (or: what makes me feel weird)

Did you guys read this article on Jezebel about the secondhand tshirt trade in Haiti? It's in response to this project by two Haitian-based photo-journalists, Paolo Wood and Ben Depp, who documented Haitian locals wearing secondhand sloganed tshirts from America.

Here is one.

The pictures, and the tone of the accompanying text, make me feel really uncomfortable. I even feel a bit uncomfortable posting one of the pictures here, but I hope that the respect I have for this man makes it okay. I assume there was an ethics process with the project (though I wonder if artists consider ethics a form of censorship?); I really, really hope so. But I'm not sure, not least because the text says that the slogans would be "amusing and ironic" if not for the fact that tailors in Haiti are rapidly going out of business because of the tshirts. I don't find anything in this project amusing, and I find the idea of amusement at these pictures repulsive. These are PEOPLE. Not "subjects". PEOPLE. According to wikipedia, radio is the primary information medium for most Haitians. How many of the people in these photos will ever see the project in its entirety? I don't know.

The fact that the pictures are on the internet makes me feel incredibly protective of the people in them. In a gallery, most people who viewed them would see them in some kind of context; at the very least, most people would have gone there to see "art". People browsing the internet... could be looking for anything. I don't trust enough of them not to look at the photos and laugh because someone "ignorant" (ie understands a language other than English) is wearing a tshirt incongruous with their appearance.

I agree that the  accessibility of the tshirts putting local tailors out of business is, as an isolated fact, sad (and a phenomenon see all over the world, although in countries like NZ, the tshirt sellers are KMart, or The Warehouse). However, I think that's also only part of the story. Most Haitians live on $2 or less per day; cheap clothing is, for most Haitians, probably a means to spending more on other things, and that's not sad. Someone outside Haiti saying that it's sad is, I think, out of line. Our local Marbecks closing because it can't compete with Amazon and JB Hi-Fi - that's sad and unnecessary, because what they sell is not essential; it's a luxury (though many might disagree), and as such, people buying what they sell are more likely to have a choice. If they want that luxury, they can allocate their money accordingly. People in Haiti, living on $2 a day, are barely in a position to do this, and the item in question here is necessary; clothes. So this observation about the tailors seems, to me, simplistic and verges on judgemental. Projects like this are supposed to enlighten, but I feel as if so much here is left shadowed, and shadows allow for confusion.

I agree with the issue the Jezebel writer raises about being aware of what happens to your clothes before and after you're done with them, but again, I'm uncomfortable with this issue having human faces... It feels crude, and exploitative, which is a good description of my feeling about the entire series.

I want to explain that I'm posting them here because I know my main readership to be comprised of thoughtful and intelligent people, whom I trust, and I'd really like to know what you think about the project. I still have a lot more to work out in my head about it all (and I'm struggling to work through everything in my head at the moment; more on that soon).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


I had a funny university career. I loved my papers and when I was physically at university I was engrossed in what I was learning, for the most part, at least. But it didn't translate to working once I'd left for the day; as soon as I got home I'd become equally engrossed in what was happening there. It's a shame, really; my marks don't reflect at all how I felt about what I studied, or how much I think about it, or how much it all affects my life. There were a lot of papers I shouldn't have taken (most of which I stopped attending), and lots of work I didn't do. Lots of marks I didn't get. But I don't regret it.

I was a total loner at university, and I don't really know why. Part of it was shyness, I suppose, a hangover from my year at AUT where I felt like a fish out of water, and part of it was laziness and maybe a bit of arrogance; I was really happy with my group of friends outside uni, and didn't really feel I needed any more. I was also going through a stage where, with the exception of my best friends, I preferred the company of boys, but was in relationship, so making new friends that weren't girls was awkward. The friends I did make were not exactly friends; friendish, maybe? With the exception of one, as soon as the papers we had together ended, we never spoke again, and I'm not sure I'd recognise most of them now. Still, something made me think of them.

1. Andrew and Josh. These two guys were in my first philosophy paper, which was an introduction to metaphysics and an overview of continental philosophy (which was later separated into two separate papers, as the philosophy department got bigger). Josh was like the silent partner; he always wore a cap and didn't say much. His attendance was also erratic, whereas Andrew seemed really conscientious, and I loved the paper and didn't want to miss a minute, so I was always there. I don't remember a great deal else about them, except the following:
- Josh was brown and had black hair. Andrew was white and had dark blonde hair.
- Andrew always smelt like expensive cologne. This was because he lived with his Dad in an apartment and had to dry his tshirts in a dryer so they shrank and fit closer than he felt comfortable with, so he was liberal with the cologne, and he worked at Smith & Caughey, so he got discounts on fancy stuff.
- Josh always wore hoodies, and he had a gold tooth. Andrew always had headphones on. That might be why I liked them; like they were signifiers (our lectures were enormous; you had to look for signifiers). At the time, I only wore jeans and hoodys, and as you know, I have always been a big music geek. They also just looked normal. You'd be surprised how many people at uni don't look normal. Boys in tshirts with surf logos emblazoned across the fronts. Or jandals in winter.
- Andrew had a girlfriend. (This made me feel like it was okay to sit with them.)
- Andrew also wrote articles and reviews for magazines about hip-hop. We went to the bfm office together to fill out volunteer forms. He heard back immediately, and started doing bits and pieces up there. I never heard back. I tried not to take that personally, even when he came to class with bfm collector cards. Damn you, b.
- Andrew had round handwriting. I don't think I ever saw Josh's.
- Later that year, I read an article Andrew had written about P Money in Rip It Up. It was good.
- Josh and I had another paper together, so we sat together, but then one of us stopped attending. I think it was me.

2. Matt. Matt was the lone male in a couple of my feminism/women's studies papers. He was reed thin, pale, and had stringy black hair that hung down in his eyes. He had a very good sense of humour about being in a class of women talking about vaginas as receptacles, and while no-one really talked to each other, I think we all thought of him as hope for men. His contributions to discussion were always very interesting, and he took the papers seriously. I wouldn't be surprised to learn he got the highest marks in the classes. I don't remember how we became friendly, but I do remember we would usually sit together in one lecture. I used to worry about Matt. He seemed like the most intelligent and sensitive person in the entire university, and as such seemed so vulnerable to me. I worried that someone would hurt him, or that he would become so disillusioned with the world that he would hurt himself.
- One day he was late for the lecture; like, I think he arrived shortly before it ended. He explained that he had been sitting in his garage and become transfixed by the way the light was coming in the window, so he'd sat, and sat, and then realised he'd been sitting looking at it for almost an hour. I really appreciated knowing someone who could look at light for an hour.
- One day we went for a walk, and he told me about a time he went out by himself late at night. He found himself at a supermarket carpark, and starting riding around in a trolley, and having tons of fun. Then a group of guys turned up, and beat him up.
- He would get so carried away talking that he would frequently lose track of time and where he was supposed to be. I think of him as gesticulating a lot as he spoke, but that might be me confusing him with someone else.

3. Fia. Fia was in a couple of my papers, but I think we met on the bus. She had a gloriously loud laugh, and was incredibly friendly; everybody knew who she was, even if they didn't know her personally. All of our lecturers and tutors knew her, and if you sat with her, they'd know you too, which was kind of funny, but not bad. Fia never missed a class, and had extensive notes on everything.
- In our enormous pop music paper, Fia pretty much had her own row, sixth row, centre. I don't know if she just arrived really early or if people just left it for her, but she always, always had it, which meant even if I was late I didn't have to worry about trying to find a seat (the paper was that popular); she'd be there waving to me to come and sit down. It was pretty awesome.
- Fia had been through some really hard stuff, but was kind and cheerful and took people as they came, including me. She was open, and interested, and even when she was stressed with school or family stuff, she still managed to make people laugh.
- Fia invited me to her graduation party, but I couldn't go. I don't remember why, but I wish I had. The invitation, which she left in my letterbox (we lived near each other), had lollies in it.
- When I finished uni, Fia was in her first year of law. We're friends on facebook, and her updates, standing up for people or keeping everyone up to date on Hollywood, are always entertaining.

And that's about it. I don't know what made me think of them.

Monday, July 8, 2013


My Dad is an early riser. He has a great respect for time; to him, less than fifteen minutes early is late. I used to think it harked back to his years in the police, but I'm pretty sure now that he was born that way. Dad likes to know what to expect from things. He likes to know exactly how to get somewhere before he gets in the car, and he likes to take the most direct route there. He takes pride in beating the prescribed travel time to a destination. He times long car trips on his watch's stopwatch feature. I like that about him.

Dad cooks. He's always cooked. That's not such a big deal now, but when I was growing up, lots of dads didn't know how. He used to make Samoan food for family dinners; Mum would make chop suey, and he would make fa'alifu fa'i, often the proper way - scraping out the coconut straight from the shell, and squeezing it through that stringy stuff. When I picture the way it's done, I see his hands, and the coconut water running through them. Dad has really pretty hands. Later, he began making Thai curries, and experimenting with Christmas ham glazes. His specialty is smoked salmon, which he's frequently asked to do for special family dinners. He does this out on the brick bbq area in the back yard, with the smoker he's had for years, lit underneath with alcohol-filled tuna tins. He always has to bring in the washing first. Dad loves to feed us. He likes everything to be just right, and you kind of have to eat his food on his terms; you're not going to get away with eating garlic prawns without dipping them in his thousand island sauce. He loves seeing us really enjoy food; I think he gets more satisfaction watching my Mum, my sisters and me putting away oysters than he does eating them himself - and he loves oysters as much as any of us.

Today my Dad turned 64. I set my alarm for 7.45am to call him, but he had already gone to work - I didn't know it, but he leaves the house at 7.20am every morning. He didn't get home this evening until almost 7pm because of a late conference. The fact that it's his birthday won't have made any difference to anyone at the conference. The young offender won't have been any more likely to listen even if he did know. He won't know that my Dad is my Dad, and he probably doesn't know his Dad as much beyond his Dad.

For a long time, neither did I. I feel sad and sometimes guilty about it, but I think that's just how life goes; you have to grow up before you can truly see your parents as people in their own right, and not just your parents. The more I get to know my Dad, the more I worry about running out of time to get to know him more. Being away from him on his 64th birthday is hard.

Anyway. This song popped into my head before I started writing this, and when I looked for it on youtube, this version by Eva Cassidy popped up, which is perfect - my Dad, inexplicably, loves Eva Cassidy. I don't understand it; I don't particularly care for her voice or her arrangements myself. But that means that anytime I listen to her, I think of Dad, and I like that.

He doesn't read this blog (thank goodness!), so rather than tell him, I'll tell you guys. I love my Dad. Happy birthday, Owie.