Reading in a time of isolation

When we’re all feeling too overloaded by reality at the moment there’s nothing like a Lord of the Rings marathon to escape for a few hours from a world of hand-washing. There’s even a relevant parallel – Frodo went to Mordor to destroy something that was causing people to die, we have to stay isolated to stop something that is killing people, and it is something that we have the power to stop. Be like Frodo, do what has to be done, stay self-isolated – you’re saving someone’s life, maybe lots of someones. Enough rant, maybe. At least for now. But even I can only rewatch LoR so many times in a week, so last night I started watching Hanna – excellent, love it. Only one series (so far) so the binge won’t go too long and I’ll be back to reading!

Mmm reading, actual books, mmmm… when your brain starts to recover enough from the shock of adjusting to this world we’re currently working out how to live in, y’all are going to need to progress from the electronic box and read. And like I can’t always rewatch LoR, I can’t always read work stuff, love it though I do (I could write a post of all the anthropology stuff I plan on reading, now that would be speculative fiction). But back to published fiction written by others for my/our enjoyment. I recently asked my FB friends for recommendations, I was looking for something light or fun or mindlessly violent. I didn’t want to think too much, at the moment I’m being paid to think and sometimes we all just need a little gratuitous…. imagination to get us through. I offered bonus points for female authors since that’s still a penchant of mine. I’ll include their list below, or I might just weave them in, but for now I need to repay their generosity with a list of my own.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club Book 1) by [Goss, Theodora]In a previous post I recommended Theodora Goss’s now complete trilogy The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman, and The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl. Love them all, totally what I’d love to be reading more of at the moment, but I’ve finished the series and so has Goss. Sniff. If you want some fantasy whimsy you can’t go past Laini Taylor and her trilogy that starts with Daughter of Smoke and Bone

“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.
It did not end well”

my heart aches… luscious indulgence, blue hair and chocolate cake… I mentioned one of her books Night of Cake and Puppets once before. Just divine. When I want something divine I’m with my FB beloveds who are always happy to recommend any Kerry Greenwood, do yourself a favour, read them… Corrina Chapman, Miss Fisher… read them all. I also agree with my recommenders that Kate Atkinson is awesome and I can’t wait to read Big Sky. Wonderful Chicago based crime and flawed heroine VI Warshawski is always reliable at the hands of Sara Paretsky, wonderful local crime stuff.

Bad Memory (Jessica Shaw Book 2) by [Gray, Lisa]Also in crime, yes I’m realising that I’ve spent a lot of time in crime and mindless violence lately for some reason… anyway, also in crime is Lisa Gray who started a Jessica Shaw series that’s in a style similar to Sara Gran. These are both young women writers, very definitely writing for an anti-heroine millennial audience – these are raw, broken protagonists and totally awesome. Not for the reader who doesn’t accept that their young protagonists may do drugs and go off the rails from time to time. Speaking of millennials, an awesome young friend recommended Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and while I’m only two chapters in, I’m really enjoying it. Unique writing style that takes you way inside the characters, really great. Thanks Rohan.

My number one recommendation follows that trajectory of flawed life and crime: Alexandra Sokolov has just finished her 6 part series that I’m prepared to call as being the current Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve been reading these as published, and you must read them in order. OMFG. Violent. Inside America today. Just absolutely brilliant if you like your FBI agents conflicted, your vigilante’s hot and feminist, and the world a bit better without some toxic masculinity. Justice. Do yourself a favour, lock the door, claim the couch and read the Huntress FBI Thrillers.

Another writer I adore who has flawed incredibly powerful female protagonists is Nicola Griffith. Aud (rhyme’s with shroud) Torvingen is everything you want in an angry empowered woman breaking things for justice. The first book is The Blue Place, followed by Stay and Always. I am inviting you to pain however as not all of those are available in e-format everywhere. Griffith also writes SciFi that for mine is up there with Ursula Le Guin in terms of it’s creativity and depth: Ammonite is a mistress-piece. Also in the most amazing sci-fi tradition of Le Guin is NK Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy (finished). Just breathtakingly awesome, fabulous. Can’t believe I hadn’t read them earlier. I see that there are more Jemisin books for me to read, so yay for that!! If you were a fan of Iain M Banks, who I forgive for being a man, you’ll love Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series. Wow. I’ve only read the first but wow. Really complex so I would say I’m going to re-read the first one and then keep going in order, just because it’s hard to keep straight in your head and to be honest I just don’t remember the characters well enough at this point.

Back to Nicola Griffith’s though, proving the enormity of her talent is Hild, her historical reimagining of the life of Hildegard the Abbess of Whitby, long before her conversion. Just brilliant historical fictionalization, luscious and rich and womanly.

I stThe Ides of April: A Flavia Albia Mystery (Flavia Albia Mystery Series Book 1) by [Davis, Lindsey]ill mourn the passing of Ariana Franklin (Diana Norman), I loved her Mistress of the Art of Death series, must read some of the books she published as Diana Norman. Of course I also enjoy Cassandra Clark’s Hildegard of Meaux books AND in writing this I’ve just discovered there are two I haven’t read yet!! YAY, happy Wendy. Staying in historical fiction, Lindsey Davis has a new book coming and I do totally love her Flavia Alba novels set in Ancient Rome and focusing on of course Flavia Alba, a private eye and hysterically funny young wife. Awesome fun. Very dry.

I have some Indigenous Australian and American women on my kindle sample list – looking forward to those, but there are some days when risking a new author feels like a gamble I’m not up for at the moment. One I read a while back is Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and it was great if you’re looking for Australian Indigenous writing about life being an Indigenous woman today. And I see she has another Too much Lip, that I must look at.

I MUST get myself into Toni Morrison, unforgivable to be hesitating, I have the Song of Solomon waiting. If you’re looking for Black American heartache of the most contemporary kind I recommend Jesmyn Ward’s Men we Reaped. It is such an important book, Black Lives Matter y’all, and those young men were killed by the violence of the American system… it’s a compulsory read now that I pause and reflect. Read more Black women folks!

While I’m on my soapbox about race and equity and justice I’m also getting picky as I get older, not only do I prefer reading women writers, but if I’m going to read a book set in Africa about African people I want it written by an African woman writer… so sorry I’ve gone right off Alexander McCall Smith… sad because I did love those books, but these day’s I see it as cultural appropriation and I’m not comfortable with that. I’d rather go looking for the awesome African women writers like Chimaamanda Ngozi Adichie. I find Olivia Butler’s writing not to my taste, but for African Sci-Fi I believe you can’t go past Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series – loved that to bits. I like the look of Elif Shafak’s work too although I’m yet to read those. If you’re looking for Palestine I recommend Consuelo Saah Baehr’s Three Daughters, it’s really special. Of course the Title image for this post is from a book by the late Marsha Mehran, an Iranian refugee who wrote two of the world’s most beautiful books Pomegranate Soup and Rosewater and Soda Bread, they’re about being a woman from Iran adjusting to life in Ireland. A struggle that Mehran herself was tragically unable to make.

For those of you in Asia and in need of a laugh I strongly recommend Ovidia Yu – just so much fun. She has two crime investigation series set in Singapore: Aunty Lee is set in current times and is full of wonderful cooking, I swear you can taste the page. Su Lin instead inhabits pre-WWII Singapore and the first book is The Frangipani Tree: it is a total delight. I’m currently listening to The Tensorate Series which is brilliant sci-fantasy from Singaporean queer non-binary author JY Yang. Totally fabulous to inhabit a gender fluid, sci-fi universe that has no white colonising cowboys (we all know I love Firefly, but you also all know exactly what I mean by this comment). French/Vietnamese American author Aliette de Bodard has three really enjoyable Asian sci fi books in The Universe of Xuya series. Now that I’ve looked at her webpage there are recipes and more books to try. I especially like the ideas of her Vietnamese inspired retelling of Beauty and the Beast where they’re both women and the Beast is a dragon… curious!

And while we are in Asia but returning to America, do read The Healer’s War by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. It’s a fictionalised fantasy autobiography that is really worth taking the time to explore.

That should be enough to keep you occupied for now, do let me know if you have other ideas to add to my pile of potentials. There are so many worlds in our imaginations just waiting for a text to unlock their potential…

So if you’re thinking about going and socialising, remember grab a book instead. There will be a day for meeting up with friends,

Image result for this is not that day

 

Wendy in So Fi Zine Ed 3

Really excited to have had a second piece published in So Fi Zine – She Speaks, that Woman he called Pandora. I’ve always thought that having her story recounted by white, western men gave Pandora no chance to speak for herself. So I thought I’d have a go on her behalf. It starts on page 17, but why not read some of the other pieces?

If you missed my first content in So Fi Zine then you can read it at Wendy in So Fi Zine . I’m so excited to be writing fiction, so inspired to be thinking of what to write for the next So Fi Zine edition. Watch these spaces.

Who will I be?

Do I believe something different can happen?

I started writing this in Chicago a month ago, it’s taken me till now to realise why I’m hesitating to finish it.

Chicago April 12, 2018

I’ve introduced myself at least 30 times this week, it feels like 300. Like everyone, I always start with my name, give them a label for the box they’ll use to file their experience of me. But even before I’ve said my name, as soon as it’s my turn, they look at me and their eyes tell them I’m female, older than most of them. Their expectations start to go into my box based on presumptions. Their ears tell them I’m outsider, even before my second statement, “I’m Australian.” More assumptions flood the box they now know is a foreigner called Wendy.

It was cold in winter

A Wendy box is relocating to Chicago in search of things that will be “more.” More what? I think about the new things I imagine might go into this box. I wonder would anything change if I put a different name on the outside? What if I spiral out from Wendy like I’m spiralling away from everything I know? What would be the same? Would I be a first impression to me too?

Spirals
Time
DNA branches
Space
bend bars of
a Fence

I’m moving continent. Breathe, I carry the DNA of women who’ve done that before me. Jane, wife of a Master Mariner and her daughter Ella, a teenager who would grow up to be my great-great-grandmother. Relocated from Devon in it’s green cold wetness, the smell of the sea, the bustling harbour town. The high clear air of the moors where Grandma Jane lived with Aunt Elizabeth for years after they’d gone. Those women couldn’t have imagined the dry, dust of Victoria. The heat and emotion of running a pub in the Australian gold-fields. But maybe a retired Master Mariner with his pipe and a  redoubtable wife were ideal publicans. I like Jane.

Ella was seventeen when she stepped onto the dock in Victoria. Married at 18 she moved on to New Zealand and a life of sheep and bearing children. A few years later they moved back to Melbourne. Why did they return, forsaking farm and sea to live in a city? Was New Zealand one sea too far? After her Mariner died Jane moved in with Ella. Did they reminisce about English skies? Tell women’s stories of earth and sky and sea and blood? Did their DNA yearn for the green they’d left behind?

Mary Ann, my great-great-great grandmother, wife of a wanderer with his eyes fixed on fortune, she migrated from Gloucester. That husband took their eldest son to the Californian gold rush in 1849, left her in the poorhouse where she trained as a nurse and midwife. I imagine everyone told her she’d seen the last of him! But somehow Mary Ann and the small children, her husband the their eldest, all arrived in Victoria, again following the smell of gold.

Apricot Rose

Mary’s another who moved her brood around the world. Another of my great-great-great grandmothers Mary was born on the Isle of Skye and mothered 13 children who all survived. But aged 62 and after the death of her husband, with the Scottish potato famine and Clearances underway, she and at least five of her children migrated to Melbourne: did they move or were they forced?  There’s a letter from a grandson born in India that suggests she moved voluntarily. My ancestors sure did travel, no wonder why I wander.

img_0661.jpgMy DNA remembers these women, hears them dreaming. My genes carry their senses, memories, strength and commitment. Were they excited? I’m excited. Were they filled with trepidation? I’m flat out scared some days. To move continent, to fundamentally re-shape the life that is your box. What to take? What to leave? What was too precious to these women to leave behind? What, or rather, who did it break their hearts to leave? The touch of whose skin did they mourn? Were they fearful about whether they would know themselves in a new land?

Wendy
Ella
Jane
Mary Ann
Mary

Brisbane 14th May, 2018

I’ve felt lost ever since I came back from my recon trip. I’m back home for 20 weeks to pack and move, sell and release. Who am I? What will I take of me to Chicago? What will I find inside that’s new? What will be left behind? What is too precious, too painful? Why have I drifted inside since I found out I’m definitely going? How is it possible to be so excited and so terrified, so full of organisational plans and yet so in denial as to the cost? The emotional cost. I smiled all the time I was in Chicago but now I’m burying my fears in a flurry or organisational chaos. Sort, sell, pack, don’t think. But, I deserve this, I’ve worked for this. I want it, but it’s so hard. Will I find my gold? Who will I become? Will you know my name when I return?

 

 

Fly be free

 

And so we wander, not alone

Wander or wonder or both? Today I am happy, I’m productive, I’m Wendy. I feel like the malaise of the last few weeks has lifted and there is so much that I want to do – watch out world, Wendy is awake.

And yet, today one of my dear friends is in the depths and immediacy of unwordable grief. Two other friends move tentatively with scabbed wounds, scars forming, hurts still real and fresh. Eyes furtive. Anger flashing. Loss of people, dreams, hope. Others I know are weighted with life, and like Frodo and Sam in Mordor can only wearily put one foot in front of the other. For others, in the words of Ursula Le Guin “There was nothing she could do, but there was always the next thing to be done.”

It would be easy to feel guilty for enjoying the sun, the smell of my steaming tea. For feeling some measure of control over life as I hear the washing machine spin, as I start to write an essay that’s been brewing in my head for a couple of weeks and must come out of its safe prognostications into the world of words and grammar. My toes are cold, but they want to take me outside so they can scrunch in the grass and dirt and proclaim “I am alive!” Energised. And yet a quiet niggle, “How can I be happy when others are in so much pain?” And another, “Don’t get too excited, this too shall pass.” I resist their ache and breathe into the space between my ribs.

Life is so fluid, fragile, fleeting. Formless. So precious. We try to hold fast, too tight, too human. Days like today are so sharp and clear. Intense. I hear one conversation, clumsy, god I hope I was clear, I hope in your pain you heard. “You gave words to their humanity” I know I tried to say. “You said that slavery and oppression weren’t the whole of their story. That even declared sub-human, people claimed their humanity in small acts of resilience, their agency in small acts of resistance. You gave them back those actions. It matters.”

I sip my tea. The Korean chimes proclaim my washing is ready for the line, for the gentle air and warming sun. Feminism must be inclusive if it is to be feminism, my essay wanders toward the keyboard. Breathe. Life is … this instant.

And so we wander, we wonder. We are social beings, us humans. We share, we journey. We are scared to trust, and yet we do. Time rolls us, twirls, layers. We pray to deities we think we don’t believe in. We reach out. We hold… and we let go.

Inhaling colour, tasting light

Soundtrack: Beethoven: Piano Sonata#14 in C Sharp Minor Op. 27/2
Moonlight, First Movement

Tham Siew Inn

I have been so privileged this trip to stay with families, to be welcomed into people’s homes, invited to share food, to sit. One of the truly great privileges of this trip was being taken by a dear friend and her family to Melaka, and then invited into the home of artist Tham Siew Inn. Such an honour to quietly spend time inhaling the atmosphere of the artist’s residence, imbibing the green of their gardens. Drinking tea. Sitting us women, peeling pomelo. Talking with family members, two sons creative artists themselves and the oh so real, material, tangible woman-wife-foundation, herself a teacher and creative floral artist. There were times sitting with the art, wandering the rooms, up and down the stairs, when I caught myself almost wondering what we were doing next, but not following the thought as time had slowed, the lime infused walls cooled the heat of stress and haste, and I wanted to just be, to be breathing, to just be. The colour breathed calm into the empty places in my soul. And of course sharing together much much wonderful local food breathed companionship into the empty places in all our bellies.

When you look out from the first floor gallery through the open windows, the old green glass with its patina of the ripples of time, you see into Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, one of the oldest streets in UNESCO listed Melaka. That’s the street where you find the artist’s gallery, and it’s a street of contrasts. From the most hip art coffee house The Baboon House, to a museum with original shoes for Chinese women’s bound feet, to a UNESCO restored house showing original architecture and building styles. The atmosphere of creativity, grounded in history, twisting and tasting and reinventing identity and vision and place. Continue reading “Inhaling colour, tasting light”

Thai eyes should be smiling

I’m not surprised, not naive or stupid. The sex industry is real, I know that. I’ve seen that. Sex tourism, thousands of years old. I know there are different ways people get caught in the industry, some choose, some don’t. I know that huge numbers of men, women and children are trafficked each year. It’s everywhere. It’s complex. I know all that. But here it’s on a scale and so in your face and so dehumanising that I just want to scream: “Stop! These sex-workers are people, they’re worthy of some respect and dignity and deserve some joy.” And I am really sad because no one would hear. We’ve stopped even joking about pretty young women (and men) taking their old grandfathers out for the night. Who knew there were so many old white men in the world. Oh and really who told them, that shaving their head made them virile and hot?  I’m totally struggling with South East Asian tourism’s acceptance of commodification of the human body.

It’s their dead eyes that haunt you.

Young men and women, held in the vice like grip of old white men, being walked like dogs on a leash. Mostly around here they’re attractive very young men. The women are a bit older, somehow more desperate. Some fake a smile at their owners, but most forgo even a mask of pretended affection. All of their eyes just look dead.

It’s that it’s everywhere. 

Every bar, cafe, took took, street. Day and night, though it’s worse after dark. Although by day I guess there’s also those young ones that sit like fruit on display outside massage joints. How green do you like your bananas? Young men and women, no hope, so forlorn. Their eyes look dead. Vacant. Blank. No happy ending to that viagra charged massage, not for them.

On the beach, a group of young Thai children were playing in the water. One Thai adult supervising. Later one boy appears left behind, alone with an old Slavic man. Surely not?

It’s that it seems so contrary. So wrong: these are people not objects!

The Thai people are beautiful, happy, gentle. Their smiles so wide and welcoming, so generous. We try and say Hello and Thank you in Thai. They smile wider and giggle, remember us when we return. Wave and call Hello. We smile at the “special massage” girls and boys sitting on the street, although they know we’ll say no. We buy fresh juice, coffee, snacks. We walk along and wave and smile, we try to chat with the street food vendors. These people are so generous.The waitresses at the Dutch coffee shop and the vendors alongside, so busy but still pausing to smile. The juice lady waves every time with the widest infectious smile, tells me I chose the wrong bananas and swaps them out for her best. Two juices and a bunch of bananas and she wants to give me change from $2. Our security lady hugs us and laughs, holds tight to my hand. I have to remember these happier faces.

I walked one night after dinner, just up the main street, along the foreshore. Not risking far off the tracks. I felt safe, I’m the wrong demographic. Walked around a hand job happening on the pavement, the man’s walking stick offering no privacy. Dodged a negotiation to go find a room. So many mismatched “couples” call it neo-liberal market dynamics, supply and demand, exploitation. The worst is the young Thai eyes, the dead eyes. No hope, no future, not even a mask of pretence. Do these ridiculous old men really believe these kids love them? Desire them? Or don’t they care as long as they come?

Thai people are not junk, not objects, not receptacles for white men’s stale cum. Their eyes should not be dead.

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