(no subject)

There are moments when one realises that one has done something right. My moment today was when an extra child attached herself to the children who visited today because an afternoon at my place sounded so perfect.

The Obvious and I M Oblivious : nice people and unintended consequences

Today is a day for stating the obvious. This is because I see so many people acting as if the obvious doesn't exist. They're hurting others. I don't want to write this in the second person, for it would sound accusatory and set up an "I don't do this" reaction.

Many people don't do these things. Many people do. And a lot of those who do don't know. They care, but are unaware. Today is not about accusations. It's about "I am so tired of all this. So very tired." I shall talk, therefore about someone called I.M. Oblivious and why they cause problems for a whole bunch of people despite their best intentions.

Just two Items of Obvious today, for I've got so very much to do. If people produce more items in the comments, however, I can extend this post when life is a bit less frantic.

Obvious #1: Discovery

There's loads of personal discovery happening right now. Enormous numbers of wonderful people have had their eyes opened to inequities and historical injustices. They care. They want to make a difference with their caring. It's heart-warming and gives us all hope for humankind.


Three times this month, IM and IM's cousins have knocked on my door and wanted to tell me all about this piece of Jewish history they've just encountered. Twice I've been told about the pain caused by injustices to women. And I've lost count of the times I've been told about the effects of government programs on the disadvantaged.

These good people hurt because of Auschwitz. They hurt because of the Inquisition. They hurt because of expulsions. They hurt because women are abused and denied careers. They hurt because... so many reasons. They come to me because they want me to help them deal with their hurt. They choose me specifically because I know this kind of hurt from personal experience. I will understand.

This first happened to me when I was in primary school. It's a perfectly natural part of privilege. The privileged person grows and learns to understand and sees the one person who will understand their awakening and uses them as a crutch. Not only do certain groups in society and individuals have to endure bigotry and hate, therefore, but if they choose to admit their background, they often have to hold the hands of IM Oblivious as Oblivious learns what we've had to deal with.

What can we do? (Why we? Why not just IM Oblivious? Because I'm as privileged as anyone else is some respects and I need to not do this thing also.)

We can make responsibility towards victims a part of our growing up. It isn't all about us. In fact, it never was about us if we were neither persecutors or victims. When IM spends a half day showing me photos of places where my ancestors once lived and where there are no Jews and doesn't listen when I say politely "Yes, I do know this history. Do you have any pictures of nice architecture? I really like nice architecture." then IM makes my history theirs.

It's another form of appropriation. A nasty one, done with the best of intentions.

What we can do, then, is try very hard to not hurt the already hurt. Listen to them saying "This is not a good thing." Be aware of nuances and of direct statements. And find someone else's shoulder to cry on until we're past Effects of Hatred 101.

Obvious #2: Polite and Gentle Exclusion

This has happened to me every year of my adult life, often many times a year. IM and their ilk tell me "You weren't interviewed/considered/called on because you have all the experience and we want to give someone else a chance." Or because "He's a bright young thing and needs to learn this thing" (and it's always a he and he's always from establishment background). Or "You're Jewish/female/something else and I don't think you could handle this." Or "We went out to dinner" and didn't think of asking if I wanted to come too.

I get many apologies when IM realises that I could have done the job, or that Bright Young Thing was being given other opportunities and I wasn't, or when they stopped and looked closely at my CV and realised that I actually had the capacity and qualification (often more than Mr Bright Young Thing), or that the dinner party was full of my friends and that I might want to join them but by then it's too late. They apologise and add "Of course, I can't do anything now, but if I had thought of this when I made the decision..."

It has cost me so many things, from going to France as an ENAque (after selection) to having novels take up by this publisher or that to a solid chunk of my social life. My most recent is a "You didn't need this job" and also (same day!) "We need to talk about Other Famous Book, because you have novels as well, so people will see your breakthrough academic work on genre anyhow."

It's a subtle form of acting on prejudices. It is only ever done by nice people. It is only every done unintentionally. It affects all minorities, and most women. And it's almost impossible for the victim to fight. It's the single biggest reason why, when I compared my career to that of my male counterparts (from my undergrad and first PhD days) last week, they had brilliant careers and I didn't. To a man, they were given breaks and I was given apologies for them being given breaks and there being no breaks left for me.

If it's damaged my career so very severely (when my undergrad final result was 90% and I received both prizes and my choice of scholarships) imagine what #2 has done to people who have had to deal with far worse situations. Damage on damage. And yes, I have specific people's life experiences in mind when I say this, but no, I can't talk about them because they're private.

I get to be the repository of the hurt of many who've had doors slammed in their faces and I've seen the effects and... when my gently closing doors with IM saying kindly "I'm sorry for closing this door, but you understand" feels so very bad, the consequences of slammed doors and being shoved aside so that other people can have access to the open doors has to hurt beyond bearing.

What can we do? The only way #2 can be fought is by the person who puts other people forward, or who creates selection panels and short lists for interviews or gets groups of people together for this or that. It's by making the playing field fair rather than littering it with apologies.

We need to know ourselves and learn what we do, whether it's by error or not. Blame is irrelevant. It's a waste of emotional energy that can be better spent on not causing the situation to happen around us.

Don't make the discussion about our error (or not). Try very hard to create that level playing field, every single day of our lives. That's the very least we can do. The most we can do is actively seek out those who have had those doors closed/slammed and, instead of apologising, create other opportunities for them. Not the opportunities we think might be nice as apologies, but the opportunities people need.

I see so many good people hurting others through niceness. Oblivion can be just as damaging as hate.

(no subject)

Since this week is going to be both hot and busy, I'm cooking a big pot of soup for evening meals. I'll buy some bread in the market tomorrow if I need to, but the soup might stand on its own. There's plenty for friends, should they also need an easy meal, but since the soup itself is pretty much an invention, I'll not actually invite people over to partake. If it works really well, I might take some with me to eat after marketing tomorrow, but that's about all.

What happened was that I was given four lamb shanks. I've never made lamb shanks into a traditional shredded lamb soup before (although I know the technique perfectly well) so that was the obvious thing to do. I used all kinds of ingredients that I happened to have or was given alongside the shanks, because it looked fun. So... my soup has onion and garlic and carrot (purple) and celery and home-made tomato stuff (I forget the right name, but it's what you normally use tinned tomatoes for) and duck stock (actually portable soup cooked to a slightly lesser degree than one needs for a three month open voyage, and then frozen) and chick peas and about 3 litres of water and about ten spices. All the usuals for lamb (cumin and paprika and cinnamon) but also laos and white poppy seed and Javanese tailed pepper. No salt. It really shouldn't need salt with all those flavours. As low fat as possibly lamb can be for these were very low fat shanks and, when my soup sits in the fridge overnight, hopefully the remaining fat will rise to the top and be skimmed. Now it's in the slow cooker and will stay there until the lamb falls off the bone, when I will remove it, shred the meat, add the shredded meat back, adjust anything that needs adjusting, maybe add potatoes and maybe not, and then set it to cook again until it's done.

One substantial meal a day is on the way. And I've already done half the stuff for the light meals. So the market tomorrow is just top ups and cheese and cherries and possibly bread. And I will have so very much soup that I hope everyone wants to drop in... and I hope it works out well enough so that they can. The purple carrots are of the Dutch variety and I didn't want to cut them up, for they looked so very pretty, but I have destroyed their good looks and am owed a cuppa and the preparation for a book event. Then my lot is other work and then I get to go to a staff thingie.

Mind you, I begin to see why so many people wanted me to add recipes to my Patreon. Which I did. I seem to have no shortage of recipes in my life, invented and other (my life is as invented as my recipes, I fear).

(no subject)

It's been a busy week.

Firstly, I'll answer everyone who commented on the locked post personally, there, but you need to know that I have taken the Patreon route. Katrin (who wrote the Beast with me) held my hand and checked my text and did the picture for me. The photograph of me is by Miriam Eisfelder and was taken at the launch of The Wizardry of Jewish Women. It only went up last night, and you can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/GillianPolack If you know anyone who might be interested, I'd be grateful if you shared the link.

Secondly, I promised a couple of people I would blog what I taught my Wednesday class last week. You'll see why when i get to it, which will probably be over the weekend. I'll do a more complete essay on what I taught for Patreon, I think, for it'd be a perfect introduction to several facets of my life.

Today I want to explain why friends think it's so important I blog a particular class when i teach many. Last week I had that moment of truth one gets from time to time and I realised that it was perfectly possibly to translate the workshops I used to give NGOs into both marvellously useful tools for the writer and into a handy insight for writers who want to work at political change. It's just transformative narratives, but I've now got instant techniques for teaching them from a number of directions. I used to teach them primarily to create policy critique and analytical argument for people who wanted to be able to talk with governmental bodies and enable a proper conversation (two way! and this would be why I got called on to do workshops a lot - individuals and organisations could translate their needs into a base for discussion and get results). Now I can (and have) taught them to writers. And they worked. And I was very smug. The big thing is that I'm not teaching a particular political line. I'm teaching writers how to take what they want to say, the world they want to be and write about it in one of several ways that can act transformatively. If I'd preached my own politics, that would be ethically dubious, to be honest. What I teach is skills and techniques, not political views. This was essential when i worked with women across such a broad range of cultures - privileging my own views in those situations was dangerously colonialist. And it's essential now.

Thirdly, I've nearly finished a draft of the novel about the gendershifting alien. It's either appalling or brilliant and I have no idea which so I've asked a friend to take a look at it before I proceed with it. If it's appalling then I will shelve it, but if it's not, I shall edit it muchly and seek a publisher. The reason for the extra care is because, when life goes so very badly wrong, big decisions need to be taken with care. And besides, I've written that novel so very quickly that it lacks my usual perspective. In a way, it's far more unadulterated Gillian than anything else I've written. My soul is on show...

There's more, but I have to go do some other work. I may be financial right now, but I'm terribly busy. If I get everything that has to be done today done, then it will include 5000 words and the review of a manuscript plus a truckload of housework. I've already done half the housework, which means clean sheets and dishes and clothes. It's a start.

Open Question Time

Given the bizarre week we're having, I'm re-opening my Question Time here and keeping it open til the end of the month. I'm happy to be asked about politics and Judaism (including personal things) but I'd appreciate courtesy and I will stick to my right to say "Sorry, this hurts so I can't answer" if a particular question cuts too close. I'll try not to, though, because there are enough negatives around already. So many people are having such a difficult month...

While this Question Time was opened for NaNoWriMo it's not specifically for NaNoWriMo people. And you're welcome to share the URL with anyone who you think has something they should be asking me.

The question I want to be asked this time is about English currency in the thirteenth century. Feel free to make astute guesses. If you want to ask me why parents don't like it when I explain about Santa, however, feel free.

This is open to anyone (you don't have to know me) and you can ask anything. I won't answer questions that require much research at my end - open question season is not a place for me to do significant amounts of research for others. If I don't know an answer off the top of my head, however, I will say so.

I'll try answering all questions (one way or another) but your best bet is to ask questions that fit my areas of expertise. I'm strongest on things historical (especially Medieval, but not by any means only Medieval), things political (especially given my recent post here), things to do with writing, editing, research, literature...

Let me take care of the standard questions. My current research is all to do with cultural constructs and genre and how we tell stories. The novel I'm working on right now is science fiction and about alien engagement with Earth and is sarcastic and feminist and full of chocolate and fruitcake. My next novel (publication-wise) is about colonialism and is not set on Earth.

The questions that are hardest for me to answer during question time are the ones that require long answers or are nebulous. With the nebulous questions, if you don't know precisely what you want to ask, then the likelihood is quite high that I will have equal difficulty giving you an answer. Also, very broad questions are difficult, because I'm a writer/historian and I see the world as complex. In other words, try to keep your questions specific. Be as precise as you can. "Did London shoes have shoelaces in the early fourteenth century?" is preferable to "What's the history of shoelaces ?" It also helps if I know a bit about you or why you want to know. "I am interested" will often get a quite different answer from "I need to know for my new novel and it's a NaNoWriMo novel so I can't go away and research for a week." I'm happy to be asked why this difference exists...

With history questions, remember that if a hundred years is a long time to you personally and if you've seen heaps of changes in your less-than-100-years, that this might also apply to people in the past - this is another reason to ask precise questions.

Frivolous questions are fine. I do not answer "How long is a piece of string?" or "What's your shoe size?" for once was enough for both of those questions.

Personal questions are fine for I can always be snarky or refuse to answer. I reserve the right to be snarky, in fact, or cheeky, or even impudent. I will take serious questions seriously, however. It's OK to ask me about being Jewish, especially if there isn't anyone else you can ask. It's not OK to ask me about my housekeeping.

This thread is open for questions until the end of the month.

Open Question Time

Open question time is on my other blog. NOT HERE. Do not ask me questions here. I will not answer them. Go to: http://www.gillianpolack.com/open-question-time/

Edit: Note the date. This post is now entirely inaccurate due to... so much going wrong. My website is fine. And the rest is being trouble shot, one bit at a time. And breakfast today (Friday) was matcha icecream because it made things emotionally easier.

(no subject)

My market haul today was some fresh young goat's cheese, sparkly crisp new season's apples, loquats (which were extraordinarily cheap because only a few of us know what they are and they don't cook into anything), zucchini flowers, a potato, some very young sweet Japanese cucumbers, six tiny rich dark-red capsicums (why do I think that this ought to be capsica and then want to make science fiction jokes?) and some tomatoes. This balances what I got on Friday and I'm fine for the week, except that I will need to buy milk in a few days. I've done all my cooking-in-advance, too - these are all for making on the day.

This means I'm very well-placed to do much, much work this week. I have several things to finish, and I would like to write 14k of the novel. I think I've found out a way for me, personally, to avoid a sagging middle (which my novels are prone to, first draft) and I want to get past it and find out if this works.

In other news, spring lasted less than a week, in the end, and we're already into summer.

Where I tell about my past (a bit) and explain its relevance to the present (a bit)

I'm still having a challenging year, I'm afraid. This is why I'm quiet in LJland. I need to read friends' journals, too, but right now I'm in the middle of a novel and the tone of it is dominating my life. All going well, I'll be finished in a few weeks. This is my alien multi gendered novel and I really think I need beta readers for it. It's ... different.

One of the reasons it's coming out in such a rush is current politics.

I just dipped out of a discussion that was turning into an argument on the same subject. I was trying to explain that the Australian women's movement had a system in place in the 90s and early 00s that is worth considering for its capacity to effect positive change in a climate like this. We were talking about different things, I think, though. The person I was talking with was arguing about specific issues and groups that need to not suffer and I was talking about systems. Twitter didn't work. We were just getting further and further from each other. That's Twitter - it can be amazing, but it can also lead to trainwrecks. I decided to leave before it became a trainwreck, for the things we agreed on were not obvious, because our underlying assumptions were different.

What precisely am I talking about, then, when I talk about my little part of the women's movement? Why do I think it was such a (relative to today) success?

First, let me state up front why it ended. For me, I had burn-out, needed to write and got PTSD from related stuff (as some of you know). The Liberal government undermined it systematically and without warning - this rather suggested that Howard thought it was a danger, and Howard set up a lot of the politics that gave us the current Liberal government. We didn't know that it was under attack until it was too late. It was all done quietly and politely. Lulu and I were talking about this the other day, in fact.

Because of the way it worked, however, those with knowledge from it are still around. Some of my friends are still very operational and still doing amazing things. Others are more like me. As a system, it has more capacity than most to not-other (note my careful phrasing - it othered, I saw it other, but I saw it other far less than anything else I've encountered). That was what I was getting at and what my friend was missing. Complexity is not always reducible to tweets.

Let me tell you how it worked. Well, some of it. Complexity is not always reducible to essays, either.

I was heavily involved in the training part of it from 1994-2001. Some moments stood out. A uni had offered to help prepare delegates for the Beijing and Beijing +5 meetings (the big UN conferences on women) and this was seen as a Good Thing in PR terms by the Federal Govt. The department responsible had two staff members who did most of the work, and they got us on board. Me specifically (for reasons that will become obvious). I ran workshops, and they were on very specific lines. I needed to give some women the skills to make their voices heard and other women the skills of listening.

It was that simple.

I didn't go to Beijing +5, because my voice was already being heard through Australian delegates and through Jewish delegates. I've always regretted that personally, but it was the right thing in all other ways. I got to mind the feminist shop back home, which was a fascinating experience in and of itself. I ran CAPOW! during the B+5 meeting, but that's another story.

Why were workshops so important?

One of the reasons some groups lag behind in human rights is because they don't know whose door to knock on. My lesson in this came when a fringe men's rights groups got significant funding. Their people went to Parliament House, met with every single MP and Senator they could, which was most of them - privilege includes doors that open, and thus, when the proposal came up, their names were known etc. They got their funding.

This is a part of privilege - the capacity to knock on doors and get meetings. It's what I'm missing in academia in Canberra, by the way, which is yet another story.

So what we were doing as activists was partly capacity building - sharing the knowledge part of privilege and developing links ie increasing the influence part of privilege.

This was not one-sided by any means. What I got from that weekend where I gave workshops was a lunch with the representatives from Bougainville and from Papua New Guinea. When we talk about people who are left out and hurting, they are there, so very high on the list. Learning from them made me think about tags and issues from an entirely different light and it's why I prefer systems that enable changes and new understanding to be brought in.

Issues-based change mostly deals with the problems that are currently visible, not with the endemic and not with the invisible. From a personal view, until that moment I thought in rather imperialist terms - "I shall go to PNG and help!" These days I'm more likely to think "I won't go to PNG. The aim isn't to make others more like me, it's to enable them to be themselves with equal rights to me. PNG is dangerous for Western women and how can I help if I have to live a gated existence? I'll have to change the world from my strengths, instead."

What I would like to see is the return of capacity building so that we expand society's ability to challenge problems and find equitable solutions. So that more people have the skills and are involved. So that the privileged aren't taking care of others, but we're all taking care of each other. Everyone's learning.

What did we do everyday? What precisely was the CAPOW! element? CAPOW! comprised nearly seventy women's organisations. In theory, it was like any other peak body, except it was for Australian women's groups. It was open to all national level women's organisations, regardless of their politics and regardless of their level of activity. We often met by telephone, because conference calls were possible then and some other things that are common now, were not.

How we dealt with a given matter varied. Basically, what it came down to was when more than one group had something in common, they could choose to share their resources and to work more effectively. This, again, at its best, opened those doors for groups that didn't previously have that aspect of privilege in Australia. Around that time, I talked to representatives of a Muslim group at a local meeting about this, and we were stunned by how much knowledge wasn't passed across or down, and how much that knowledge confers privilege. Trickle down and trickle across just doesn't happen the way it should in leftish circles. It's easier to pontificate than educate. And this is how I got into workshopping and getting the workshopped to find shared goals and to find working buddies with complementary skills and... all sorts of things.

But I digress.

We not only encouraged different women's bodies to work together, we shared a lot of knowledge about what was happening in government. This is where governments helped us. We had Federal Government funding (a Labor legacy) and this was eventually our downfall. The door knocking thing. It gave power to people who didn't have it. The Liberal government found it threatening. Some times what we did was quite small, like stating in a meeting that these Parliamentary inquiries were open to both individual and community outside submissions and that this is how one makes one's submission stick. Sometimes it was facing uncomfortable realities, such as the fact that we all make mistakes and that anger doesn't get results as a rule. All the time, it included thinking and re-thinking of the constant need to be aware of whose needs are being missed and to find ways of including them and making sure they have voices, too.

I wasn't the only one who worked on the educational side. We all did.

It was a flexible changing system based on the need to be politically knowledgeable and to help make everyone's voice heard. It was not about anger. It was not even about right vs left.

We worked together when we had shared goals and didn't when we didn't. How this was possible was because national organisations sent representatives to meetings, suggested agenda items and chose what they wanted to be involved in - and then did their own thing as well.

I saw my teaching taken on by right wing, left wing, activities from minority groups - so many people. That was what it was for. It was not about listening to Important Voices. That's what we do in this decade. It was not about putting issues in order of importance - it was about enabling as many women as possible to work on the issues they knew needed change and to bring people together who have common interests.

It was far from perfect. It was, for one thing, exceptionally unwieldy. It also missed some voices, because some people were (with reason) scared to put their names down.

If anyone asks me, I'd suggest a different set-up. Safety would be addressed in a different way, for one thing. I was rocked (in a very bad way) when the aunties at a meeting wouldn't sit at the table with the rest of us. They insisted on sitting in a row, away from the table. I talked to them about it and part of it was it was a safety issue and a not-understanding-how-things-work issue (the other parts are even bigger issues - but are other stories). For the safety part, education would have had to be given to us (the non-Indigenous people) and for the not-understanding, well, we needed more skilling, more workshops, but to make them effective, again, mainstream Australia would have to stop and listen.

When I say that there are many kinds of privilege and some without most kinds still have privilege that can silence even their friends, this is one of the moments I have in mind.

One of the things I took from those years is that unintentional othering happens regardless and that everyone (whether political or not) needs to be constantly learning to avoid it. This is why I'm writing my current novel. There's stuff I have to learn and, for me, writing is a good way of learning it.

Another thing I took from it is why and how focussing on issues is not the best first approach to problems. When we approach each issue separately, we lose the wider contexts and we lose adaptability and we tend to focus on it to such an extent that we lose sight of other needs.

And a third thing is that burn-out is burn-out, and PTSD is PTSD. Once the threats get dangerous, those who can't deal still have to get out. Self-care is not something we considered nearly enough, and that was the downfall of quite a few of us. This is why I and some others didn't come out fighting when we were undermined.

Some of the work that was done by this big unwieldy group of women (and a few men) way back then, however, is holding Australia back from the abyss. It's worth revisiting. And maybe more than that.

(no subject)

Today is the day I pretend I'm one of the cool kids.

I've signed off (and so has the editor!) on three articles for Aurealis. I'm reading poetry with a view to writing an intro. I've agreed to read a novel with a view to cover-commenting. I've agreed to be a part of a possible group of papers with the real cool kids and the paper exactly fits into my current research. I'm introducing people to each other for a whole variety of reasons - all to do with work and fandom. I'm still nutting out timelines for the novel, and will be for a while yet. These timelines will look straightforward to the reader, but they're a total pain to sort out at this end. That's the only non-cool thing in my line-of-sight, though, and it includes butchers' paper blue-tacked to my door, so it has a cool element.

I still have one article to write and some various admin things to do. This is very much an admin week. I like the feel of getting things done so that everyone can do what they need to do, and this is a week when I certainly get to work on that. I have uni stuff to sort, and fiction stuff to sort, and GUFF stuff, and research stuff. Today, however, is the day of the Cool Stuff.

(no subject)

I've had such a lovely morning. Marketing and superheroes go well together. I've done half my exercise for the day, what's more, which means that I'll get in some really solid work later, without having to break as often as usual.

I managed to get some great stuff at the market, too, and all within my budget.

The kom fruit were supposed to be out of season, as I told the grower when I spied them. He said that this was the last of the last and said that if I took them all, he'd give me a discount. I gave him $10 and we loaded up my bag. I thought it was about 3 kg, which would've meant a couple of dollars off, but I've just weighed them, and it was 5 kg. One can have a great deal of fun with 5 kg of kom fruit. This and the pomegranate I got the other day mean I've plenty of fruit for the week. It also means I get one more time to experiment with the amazing peel. I intend to buy a bit more sugar when I go to the shops this week. The sugar is to preserve it, and I'll mince the peel very finely to candy it and then use it in chocolates and on cakes for the rest of the year. By the time it's gone, I'll've made at least 15 different things with the peel, which adds up to a very good season. It's so nice to have my cooking fu (mostly) back!

I also bought some gorgeous fresh young cheese from Tarrago goat milk, more broad beans (for they're very much in season right now), four types of tomatoes (for I used up all the ones I had in making sauce the other day), some green pawpaw for a favourite pawpaw/lime/chilli side dish (it's supposed to have fish sauce in as well, but fish sauce and I were not made for each other and it's amazing and fresh even without the fish sauce), salad vegies and a surprising number of artichokes. Australia is seldom good at globe artichokes. They're normally either unavailable or so expensive I can't afford them. I bought 5 for $4, however, and a sixth was thrown in by the grower. I shall make a wonderful mess with them and shall steam the hearts and stems and eat them with vinaigrette.

And that's all. I've already shelled the beans and sorted the tomatoes and puta bowl aside so that I can collect the kom peel and process it daily. I've also already eaten the miniature Russian black tomatoes, for I love them so much and they were so fresh they demanded instant attention.

I'm out of excuses not to work. I've had a very, very fine time, however.