What MY Kind of Peace Work Is.. and What It Is NOT

I have been asked “What is it exactly  that you DO?”

Tricky question, that one.

I will start by saying that Peace & Conflict Studies (PCS) is an incredibly varied field. There are people working at it from all angles- from Health and Sanitation to Black Lives Matter actions, Interfaith communications to Anti-War initiatives, LGBTQ and identity work to economic development.. I cannot even begin to list the ways in which it works…

But let’s back up and let me speak from my own experience- because this is the one I have and I never make claim to speak for any other. If you want leads on where to look for (AMAZING, INSIGHTFUL, CHALLENGING) articles or blogs that explore other topics, or these in-depth, I am happy to help guide you. Just leave a comment with your contact info and I will follow up ASAP.

Johan Galtung wrote in 1996 that “Negative Peace “ is essentially, the absence of war- or lack of direct, physical violence. But that’s not all. He went on to explain that “Positive Peace” is the collaborative of supportive relationships across conflict lines. To expand on that- Positive Peace is the presence of social justice and end of structural (indirect) violence. My work falls into the latter.

Stopping war is good, obviously. But that is not the end-all of Peace Work. I do not have the tools, or influence or (let’s be frank) the desire to try and get world leaders to stop waging war. I barely have the capacity some days to get my kids to quit flicking their wet toothbrushes at each other in the mornings. That’s just true.

I am thinking it beneficial to first explain what PACS for me is NOT, since that is/has been a source of conflict in my personal life:

1. I am not a marriage counsellor. It is not in my skill set to try to “fix” whatever problems arise in a romantic relationship. Anyone that tells you it is in theirs is a damn liar. Get help, sure, but work on your own problems. No therapist can prescribe, unlock or “discover” an easy answer for you. Some people specialise in guiding folks through this type of thing. I am not one of them.

2. Working toward Peace does not mean that there is an absence of Conflict. Conflict can be good. Conflict leads to change- positive or negative. Without conflict, we are doomed to a life of homogeny and monotony. We need to get okay with not always being comfortable all the time.

3. Being in PACS in no way exempts one from conflicts in life. We all have interpersonal, social, internal, political, etc etc etc conflicts. That’s just a thing. I am an outspoken person- this alone causes conflict. People get freaked out by that. I have the added bonus of being a person who is perceived to be female, straight, cisgender, white, maternal, (add your own label here)- some of which is true, other things- not so much. Suffice it to say, I am perceived to be a “peace maker”- and some people get that twisted. Which brings us to #4:

4. I am not, Not, NOT going to roll over and just go with whatever is happening or whatever I am “told” to do, usually by some older white dude (sorry other cool-older-white-dudes, but they are messing it up for you- SERIOUSLY!). A few examples here, because I feel like throwing some *nameless- I’m not a monster* dudes under the bus:

4a) An old neighbour drops by to try to bully me *in front of my children, no less!* into apologising to his ex-wife for calling her out on some potentially harmful stuff she pulled and thanking her for “all the things she has done for {me}” because he has ditched her and is pushing off her hurt feelings onto me. There were some veiled threats about how he could make things (*ahem* this fellowship) difficult for me, thanks to his Rotary connections. Says “You are in Peace Studies- take care of it- that’s what you do!” Nope. Not what I do, dude.

4b) A “relative” decides to overstep some boundaries in a pretty egregious way. Conversations happen amongst other “relatives.” I get a text ordering me to quit talking to people and adding “Good luck with your little ‘Peace And Conflict’ thing.” Yah. Nah. Go get bent. I don’t take orders, and I won’t be coerced into playing nice with you because you try to shame me with my own studies. Nice try, asshat.

4c) My ex-husband has been totally absent from my older son’s life for the better part of four years now. When he catches wind that we are leaving for Australia, suddenly pops up his head and makes a custody play. His lawyer actually tries the “well, she’s in PACS- can’t she figure out how to make this work for him?” routine. Well… let me think on that- oh, right- NO! Facilitating contact between a batterer and a child that suffers PTSD because of the abuse he witnessed and suffered is no way a part of what I do. Just- no. What? I can’t with this guy.

****

So- “What is it exactly that you DO?”

I focus on the stuff that, ultimately (in my opinion), leads to divides that are more persistent, long-lasting, and detrimental than a flat-out, good-old-fashioned-battle. To be specific- we are talking about oppression.

Oppression takes many forms. Most of us know about the “biggies”- racism, sexism and homophobia. Many of us know about about ageism, ableism, fat phobia, xenophobia, transphobia… and a zillion others I cannot (again) begin to list all of. Some of us know how these things work in “ordinary” everyday situations. Most of these are those who are directly impacted by that.

And that sucks.

It sucks because it makes it easy for the “rest” of us to overlook, or diminish, that person’s experience.

Here’s a real-life example:  At a school function, the principal (a woman who, by many accounts, is a sensitive and aware human being) is frustrated with a projector that she cannot figure out how to work. A teacher comes by and asks what is wrong. Her response is “I don’t know, maybe I’m retarded, but I can’t figure this thing out.”

Nearby, there is a very-involved-with-the-school Mom. This Mom happens to have two children that have autism and other health issues. This Mom is devastated by the off-hand remark the principal has made. This Mom roils in anger, sheds tears of frustration, reaches out to IRL and  online support networks. This Mom knows that, if/when she complains, she will be met with “What’s the big deal?” kind of defensiveness and dismissal.

The big deal is that the language the principal used was derogatory and injured the Mom who trusts her children in the care of this person. Fortunately, the children did not hear. If they had, it would have undermined them as human beings and led to a long-term distrust of not only the principal, but of the education system in general. And, let’s face it, the US education system is not looking so hot anyway.

The Mom was stuck feeling helpless against a person and a system that dehumanises her children- and, by extension, herself. Who is she going to go to? Who will hear her? What will happen next?

This is just one of hundreds of thousands of examples of how oppression works.

***

So- “What is it exactly that you DO?”

I talk about this stuff. I share stories and I work with others to share their own. I listen. And, even if there is nothing I can do about it *right now*, I bear witness to what is being said and seek to understand the impacts of what it means and what it does to the individual and community.

And I train young people how to do this. Because it is not a skill they teach you in school. It is not a palatable (and easily ignorable) little blurb that comes in a handout. This is a habit that requires intentional and sustained effort… and it has to start early.

How early? I work with people as young as three-years-old. By this time, they have already had a richness of experiences that inform their view of the world, how it works, and who they are in it. These are not “potential adults,” they are fully realised human beings right now. They know what’s up.

My work seeks to reach older people, too. Domestic violence survivors, migrant and displaced peoples, those who are living with drug addictions or recovering from drug dependency, homelessness and food insecurity… my experience is broad, yet interconnected…

I focus on drawing out stories that explain and empower, defy stereotypes and health trauma, ,a and those that subvert the narratives that we have been told about ourselves.

The power of a story is two-fold:

One is for the audience- can you move them, make them understand, help them feel?

Two is (in my eyes, more importantly) for the storyteller- are you validated, do you feel ownership, are you triumphant?

So- that, my friends, is what I DO. 

I bring stories to power and light.

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“Becoming” a Peace Fellow

Orientation week is upon us. This is a rapid pulse intro into meeting the cohort, making our first grasping attempts at discovering who we are (or are not) as a group, getting the basics of campus life and academic expectations, and enjoying some delicious snacks while awash in Rotary events where we will try- but likely fail- to remember all the names of the people that brought us here and have graciously hosted us.

And here, I find myself marvelling again at how amazing and accomplished Class XIV is! To be perfectly honest, I am struck by even bigger pangs of unworthiness as I listen to them talk about the places they’ve been and agencies they have worked with.. most have already been doing the things that I hope to do in the next ten years or so. These are the best of the best.

But it is important, too, to bear in mind that these are just regular people. In the little itchy back-part of my brain, I know that they are also feeling all the feelings of being in a new place- on a pedestal built of paper copy. We are teetering here together, a unit cobbled together from a word of experiences, of joys and fears, successes and failures.

This experience will test all of us. I am not alone…

We Need To Talk About The Wiggles

Dear Captain Feathersword,

You may not remember me, but ooooh… do I remember you. You probably don’t know about all the imaginary trysts you had back when I was a single mom- exhausted, overwrought and subjected to the same damn DVD of Wiggles “favorites” tunes time and again just to get through one single bathroom break without curious toddler eyes all up on me.

You were my favourite of all the characters on the show. With your non-sequester pirate-y appearances and that bizarre “hoo-hoo-whoo-HOO!” laugh. And that sword, that delightful pink feather sword…. but that is a private message for us to share later…

What I need to tell you now is very important. It is a comment and a question- perhaps more an airing of grievances. I don’t know if you keep up much with Anthony, Jeff, Greg, and Murray (yes, I remember all their names- we watched that DVD a lot), have dreadfully misrepresented the fine country of Australia and led thousands (if not millions) of children astray with their biggest hit- “Fruit Salad.”

Let me explain. While none will argue that fruit salad is, indeed, “yummy-yummy,” I demand to know why these colourful singing dweebs chose such pedestrian ingredients. I mean- apples, banana, grapes- sure, yummy, but COME ON!!!

Look.

I have only been here for one month. Yet, I have been around, in the gardens and to the markets- I see what you have. Passionfruit, mango, and papaya (or paw-paw, as you call it) just dangle from everything, all around! And what about the sugar plums (which I didn’t know was actually its own type of plum, not just a holiday confection), lychees, longans, rambutan…. I could go on for ages…

This is pure insanity. Just look at this thing. It’s called a Monstera- a MONSTERA!!! How could a kid not love the sound of that? It’s huge and weird-looking and tastes like a mango ate a banana and then had a baby with a kiwi. Could they not make a song about that?

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And THIS baby right here! A dragonfruit. Yeah, DRAGONfruit! Kids love dragons! Everybody  loves dragons!! It’s also strange to look at and all speckled inside. Hands down winner of kids sing-along-song fodder.

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*sigh*

Oh Captain, my dear sweet Captain… I implore you… Consider the children.

Think of how all those sweet little moon-faces are turned to your programming, watching as you cavort in those billowy pants and enticing half-unlaced shirt.. .(*ahem*) I mean- watching as you and your crew promote healthy fruit consumption.

Widen their eyes, Captain. Clearly Anthony has failed us. Greg, Jeff and Murray probably tried to throw in extra pieces. I know. I’ve seen their dynamics. Anthony always drives the “car” and gets to hold the bowl while directing the others in his big, tall way to add BOOOORING fruits to the salad.

You are our only hope. He listens to you. Speak reason to him. The children deserve passion fruit- even if it is hard to rhyme.

Entertainment

Given that we don’t have internet, or TV, and we didn’t bring much in the way of books and games- we have been at bit bored around the house. We have parks around to keep us entertained during daylight hours- my notoriously un-athletic children even play basketball and soccer now- but come night, we are at a loss.

We did buy a small set of acrylic paints, which led to a few adapted and original works of art20160223_160228

Dino home

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We’ve taken up sushi-making:

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We even had a “party.” A Helmet Party. The boys dressed their pillows up as helmet-wearing attendees, and they had some tap water hors d’eovres to really make it “special.” The whole gang crowded in for this group photo.

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The biggest hit we’ve seen so far has been the knot-tying lessons and practice sessions that Brian has hosted. There are just gobs of tangled-up rope all over the house. This is how we live now.

 

But if you happen to have a boat that needs lashing to a dock- we’ve got you covered.

Wanderings

There is a steep twist in the sidewalk as you come to the edge of Princess street. There is also a loud dog that can jump high enough to lift its entire front end above the top of the very tall fence. And there is a house that looks haunted, but emits a steady stream of cheerful dubstep from a side window. It was my favourite corner.

Until I turned to look at the haunted rave-house, missed the wonky sidewalk shift, stepped into nothingness and rolled right over my ankle. I landed on my knee, then my butt- facing the wrong way up the hill, next to the fence with the angry dog. In the moment, I was most concerned about my ankle. This is the same ankle that I sprained/bone-chipped last year when I tumbledy-thumped into one of Macho’s dog holes. Fortunately, it was *mostly* okay. Oskar helped me up, and limped me the few blocks home.

Turns out, it was my knee that suffered the most. The raggedy scab makes for an interesting addition to my “being a proper Peace Fellow” outfits. While I am fond of the tomboy-in-a-cute-dress look, I don’t know how well it’s going over with the actual adults I am interacting with. I think the first conflict I need to resolve is between myself and gravity.

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But you know that no amount of injury is going to slow this intrepid wanderer. I’ll share with you a few of my favourite things from my walks around the neighbourhood.

Found:

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20160222_114738             20160221_104807Yeah- that’s a smashed bike helmet. Not my favourite.

 

 

Nature:

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This little plant growing out of the rock wall reminds me of something a fellow DV survivor and friend of mine once wrote about how they tried stacking the cement on her chest, but never killed off the root of who she is. (Love you, girl!)

 

“Braille Trail”

For sight-impaired citizens: These indicators run along most sidewalks as a guide for where crosswalks, intersections, and other points of interest are.

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Ice cream: because DELICIOUS!!

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Temple:

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Street Art:

 

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And this graveyard!!!

 

 

 

Updates

First update: I set my computer to autocorrect to Australian English. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, except that it makes familiar words into seemingly slightly-wrong spellings. Like neighbor into neighbour, color into colour, and aluminum into aluminium. Evidently “proper” spelling is important whilst attempting a fancy-pants graduate degree. Whatever. I’m just happy for spell check, so I don’t have to waste my time here learning things.

So, anyway…

X had a great time at camp! He made new friends and wowed everyone with his archery skills (thanks to the backyard set-up we have back in the States). We are a week out from those halcyon days of mud splashing camp life and well into get-to-business academic zone. Today, he told me today that he “absolutely LOVES school!” For a kid that, six months ago, was plagued by bullies and begging to be homeschooled- this is a momentous step.

He even almost likes his uniform now! Just yesterday, he popped the collar and was strutting back and forth in front of the mirror admiring how much he resembled “a 1980’s vampire.” I guess that’s a good thing?

Oskar is tolerating the uniform as he tolerates most things I have subjected him to in his short life. He uses his endless eyelashes to conceal the glare, and crams the hat on his head. Luckily, it has a very large brim. That way he can mouth all sorts of words at me, and I’ll never see.

Stinky tree update: Here are some pictures of the stinky tree. It is a very stinky tree, and we pass it everyday on the way to Oskar’s school. He opines that it is a type of eucalyptus. I call it the “skunk trunk.”

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I had my first Australian Rotary presentation- meeting with the members of the Loganholme chapter at Beenleigh. It was a really fun time, with very good food. I spoke about some of the work I’ve done in the past, and fielded questions on what I hope to get out of the fellowship, and where I see it taking me… (answer: Giant Question Mark) ….

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I met some really lovely people there- and had a good long chat with a fellow artist and writer named Peta.

You know those moments where you connect with someone on such a level that you both just press hands against your own chest and sigh that big, magical sigh that comes with knowing that someone just “gets it?” Peta gets it.

Which leads me to some big news:   We have a washing machine now!!! 

Peta read the last blog post and contacted me. She had a spare washer to loan us for a few months. She even delivered it the same day! Hurrah for spin cycle!!

It lives in a creepy little gnome-home outside, which is underneath our duplex-neighbours. I can listen in to the newest in entertainment news playing on their TV while I try to figure out exactly how many items of clothing fit into the machine. Note: the number is markedly lower than I initially believed- according to Brian, who has taken laundry perfectionism on as his new hobby.

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We still don’t have internet installed at the house. Telstra told us that our information got “stuck” in their system- after they got our money, of course. It has been “stuck” for two weeks now, but they’ve “got I.T. on it,” so it should only be a indeterminately long time before they know what is going on. So, that’s not really news at all.

However, the upside is that they have really sweet customer service people. They stick with me, running around and asking all the questions of different departments while I’m on hold, instead of transferring me to someone else who has no idea what’s going on. I just have one person to deal with who has no idea what’s going on- and that is a HUGE step up from Time Warner back home… (just sayin’)

As we’ve been offline, I’ve got some backed-up posts to throw on here. I broke them up so they’d be short and topic-specific. Ya know- like “blogs” are supposed to be.

Typical Day

3:00am
A familiar scent pulls me from sleep. Tendrils of wisteria wind their way into my dream and return me to a special place in Duke Gardens where my parents got married and where my cousins and I would hide as children. Our heads bonking together as we tried to, three of us simultaneously, read the same book- a copy of Rubyfruit Jungle heisted from my aunt’s collection. I sit up in bed now, a world away from that fragrant garden and inhale deeply. I commit to myself to track down a weighty purple sprig of it to keep in the kitchen. I fall back asleep to playful memories with my cousins, when the scenes in Rubyfruit Jungle were the raciest we could imagine and as seemingly unattainable as living on the “rich people place” that was behind the Gothic stone walls of Duke campus.

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7:00am
We’ve got one child halfway sunblock slathered, and the other re-packing his bag for camp. Neither knows where their shoes are and both have left uneaten food on the table. They are a bundle of nerves. It is the first day of school here.

Because of his age, X has been bumped up to 7th grade here- which is high school. At home, he had only just started Middle School, and had a pretty rough go of that. There is no Middle School here- just Primary (grades preK – 6) and Secondary (grades 7-12). He will be the new kid in the lowest level at a much larger, and older, school. But he is excited because his grade is going on a camping trip for three days, starting today. And at least he doesn’t have to wear his school uniform yet, he announces. He turns away in time to miss his brother shooting him the middle finger.

They are not excited about school uniforms.

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9:00am
I figure out what smells like wisteria! It is not the familiar drooping bell of purple on weavy-wandery vines, but rather some sort of bush with waxy, dark green leaves and white flowers. I am entranced by them and stop to stick my nose in every delicate blossom I pass on my way back from dropping O off at school.

I also discover that there is a tree that smells very much like fresh cut marijuana. And here, I thought this whole time that my neighbors just got started early and went hard all day every day.

There is another aroma, maybe hibiscus? It is similar, but not quite the same. There is an almost-manufactured strength in it. Like “tropical” deodorant marketed to teenaged girls, or the doll hair of one of Strawberry Shortcake’s friends. I haven’t placed it yet, but I will follow my nose and try to find the source.

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Noon
The midday sun has seared through us. B and I retreat to the house, open all the windows and strip down, leaving piles of sweated-through clothing all over the place. I am beginning to understand why there is such rampant casual nudity here. I suggest we get a baby pool for the little paved carport area that serves as our “front yard.” B thinks I am joking and laughs. I drain the last of the cold water and hand him the empty bottle.

The heat and humidity is quite similar to Summer conditions at home, and frankly it doesn’t get quite as hot here as there most days. But when taken in consideration with our increased walking and bike-riding on or near asphalt, which bounces the sun to sizzle up through our feet and legs as well as beating down from above, and the lack of air-conditioned spaces to hole up in, we have a new appreciation for these Aussies that complain of it. Our first few weeks of shrugging it off has faded. I reckon it like comparing my two pregnancies. The first was so easy that I often wondered (at times, embarrassingly, aloud) what these other mom’s problem was. Then, on my second, I became that swollen doddering woman and even gave my own former self a good scowling at. We have a better understanding now of why everyone trots around in panties now. Not that I ever had a problem with it. Growing up (okay…and even as an adult), I was resistant to shirt-wearing. I have an excuse now, though, Mom! Everything is good and aired out here. Except my shirts, which are in a fetid pile on the floor.

 

2:00pm
Laundry. I have resolved myself to the fact that stiff towels are a part of my world now. I hang the clothes out on the line, and even have a little technique for pinning them that I pretend is innovative. I like hanging clothes in the evening better. Around 7pm, it is still light enough for me to see my washing, but dark enough that the neighbors have turned on their lights. They have panes of brilliantly colored, bubbly glass in their windows which cast intriguing shadows down onto the peeling clapboard paint of their house. Sometimes they have on the radio- songs I don’t know- other times they talk and I can’t make out what they are saying, but I like the hum of it all.

But is early, and they are not home yet. And I am not hanging out clothes just yet, anyway. Until we get a washing machine, we have been doing our laundry in the bathtub. Which seems much more vile a task than I have found it to be. For one thing, the water is nice and cool and I can slop around in it as much as I like. But there is another thing I am finding.

Hand-washing clothes is rather meditative. Much of it is just repetitive shaking and rubbing, which allows my mind to slow down or wander as it likes. And I feel closer to the intimate details of our lives while doing it. I note spots and stains and see the difference in the dirt that rinses from some clothes, and how B’s sweat has begun to turn his clothing a strange rust color.  There is a worth in this work.

However, I am also happy to turn it over to B when it is his turn to do it.

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3:00pm
Back at the school to pick up O. He tells us about how they have three recess periods. The first is Morning Tea, after which they can play, then Lunch, after which they can play, and finally recess or exercise period, which is wholly devoted to play. This, on top of a shorter school day  and open access to the library, almost… almost… makes up for the uniform. His teacher informs us that she allows children to self-select research topics and he has gone with the Tasmanian Tiger. He is going to CRUSH this assignment.

 

5:00pm
We are sneaking bits of mangosteen and kiwi while making O’s next-day lunch. He has decided that he wants to bring his favorite food- sushi- and he wants to make it himself. Being opposed to the consumption of meat, he is substituting fruit, fresh basil, and carrots for fish. It is really quite delicious. When he is finished, the counters are covered in sticky and there is rice just about everywhere- including O’s eyebrow- but he did it all alone and actually wrapped a roll that was superior to mine in tightness and taste.

We eat pasta with veggie sauce for dinner and little cups of “Breakfast Juice,” which makes us feel decadent. I start to wonder what X had to eat today, and if it was enough, and if the other kids are nice. It will be two more days until we find out.

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6:30pm
O takes himself to bed early. We have not set a bedtime here yet, because the boys have not backed us into it yet. I suppose that will happen eventually, but for now I think they are just happy to lay down in front of a fan at the end of the day.

We still don’t have internet at the house, so communications and web-browsing only occur when we happen past a rare free wi-fi area. It feels good to be weaned from my phone, but is frustrating when you need (or just want) to be in touch with loved ones. And when you just want to see an episode of The Walking Dead on Amazon Prime- since you paid for the season anyway, and it’s finally back up. But instead, we wait patiently. We read books in bed and fall asleep by 8 or 9pm.

There is a strange bird outside our window that woos us to sleep with a rolling, guttural song. Her voice is like an old lo-fi record that my grandmother used to play on a built-in cabinet turntable. It reminds me of a pre-princess-mania Disney record that had Baloo and Mowgli dancing on the cover and featured heavy throated matrons singing pure sex in the guise of birds and Siamese cats.

In the morning, a different bird will wake us up with its clattering squawk. The one that, every day, Brian thinks is an alarm clock going off.