Eclipse: From Stars to Dust

The evening before the lunar eclipse, the moon hung fat and dusky orange in the sky. It was so close that it seemed I could reach up and scoop it out of the sky and pocket it like a Hi-Bounce ball. Speckled in a line leading away from it were five visible planets- Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

I’m not usually one to take notice of celestial events, but this felt somehow different- something special. Or, perhaps more accurately,  I’ve been keeping myself open for meaningful things. The past year has been a series of kicks in the teeth- Life trying to get my attention, to help me focus on clues and cues as to what is really important.

And, so, at 5am the morning after the “mega-moon,” I shook 11yo O awake to watch the full lunar eclipse. When we got out to the porch, bundled in our fuzzy blankets, there was already a slight shadow on the top right corner of the moon, which now glowed a halogen white-blue extra-bright. Mars was visible, raging red up to the top left of the moon.

Oskar and i chatted about science and the universe, the difference between cookies in the US and Australia, what we would do with a million dollars, and a book the school librarian suggested to him, that he returned and asked her to remove from the collection because of its racist depictions of Native Americans. Over that half-hour, the Earth’s shadow crept over the too-bright moon, staining it a deep red to match Mars.

At 5:30, the eclipse was complete. The neighbourhood was still dark and quiet. O and I sat in the silence of the moment- absorbing the marvel of the night sky- each in our own thoughts. A short time later, we retired back to our beds for a few more hours sleep.

lunar eclipse
Photo stolen from the internet

 

That day, I get a text from my friend, E – a link to a news article. I read that an old friend had been killed in a collision with a tractor trailer. He was 42 and left behind three children. E told me that, only the week before, he had been talking about how excited he was to have closed on a new house for his family.

A was one of the nicest, kindest guys I’ve ever known. I met him and his brother when we were all may 15-17 years old. They used to come party at the gross punk/metal house I lived in. There was always an air of menace surrounding us. We were angry young people- the poor and neglected, the shithouse drunks and paint sniffers, the fighters and bomb builders. But A was always nice, laughing and joking, calming the situation. And I never saw him throw a punch- that’s saying a LOT for our friend group at that time. Maybe I don’t remember everything, maybe I’m painting too glossy a picture of him- there may be other stories, other memories- but these are mine and I choose to trust them. Our paths crossed over our adult years, often at private parties, and he was always as respectful and kind as I remembered him being as a teen.

We have reached the stage on life where our friends have (mostly) stopped dying from their own folly and are now being taken out by random tragedy, illnesses and suicide. There is no more strange “comfort” of having figured it would happen sooner or later. We’re past the overdose years, the drug-deal turned robbery/murder days, the misadventures- falls and train impacts and consequences of all stupid risks we took just because we could. We’re not leaving behind friends who shrug at the news, even when it hurt, but rather those that can’t catch breath at it. Though we hold death as inevitable, we all think we can stave it off just a little longer. The youthful devil-may-care attitude has been replaced with the idea that we made it through our 20s and 30s, so we must be on our way to old age now before we succumb to the reaper.

But that’s not so. And when death happens, we’re all a little dumbstruck.

I searched through all of the photo albums I brought with me to Australia for pictures of A, knowing there must be one- at least one- but I couldn’t find him there. Perhaps he’s in the box of loose photos I left in a box in my in-laws’ attic. Maybe he just somehow managed not to make it into my collection. It nags me to think that there are people from that time that I don’t have captured on film. The best and worst days of my life are becoming a hazy forgetful blur now. Chapel Hill Boot Crew, Bull City Syndicate, and various peripheral social group members are fading into the bog of middle-aged amnesia.

As a child I dreamt of Australia. It was the destination poor Alexander yearned for during his Terrible, Awful, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was a wild, mysterious land full of adventure and curious creatures- enchanting and deadly. It was literally the furthest point away from the place I had come from, the place I felt so trapped and suffocated by. A place you could disappear in. I hold no illusion that I was alone in this. Nearly every American thinks it was their own special dream to escape to the outback. I, like so many, envisioned a different life down under- one I could choose the framework for, be the self I felt I couldn’t be in my hometown.

Now I am here, trying to remember people and events from there and who I was then. There are things we forget, and things we choose not to remember. Sometimes important information falls through the cracks in between.  Other times it is replaced with different important information.

There is a sub-clause in the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads “Fauna Sensitive Road Design Manual” that addresses the matter of lighting on and near roadways. The guidelines restrict the placement, height and luminosity of street lights so as not to disturb nocturnal wildlife in both rural and urban areas. The result is long stretches of darkness come nightfall, punctuated by only the dimmest of lights.

In these pockets of evening, it is easy to see clear to the next galaxy. I stare up again and again at the night sky noting which planets are aligned in the sky, allowing my mind to travel across space and the spaces between.

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On Working

It’s nearly 2am and the fog is so thick I nearly miss the sign for my exit off the freeway. Down in this industrial gully in southern Brisbane, only my little yellow car and a handful of delivery trucks are on the road. I am headed in to my shift at a production kitchen, where I will be preparing and packaging food for delivery to daycare centres around the city. When I arrive I have to don a special coverall, white rubber boots, hairnet and blue latex gloves before I can enter the kitchen.

By the time we leave at 9am, we will have made over 1000 sandwiches and wraps, cut and portioned out hundreds of kilos of fresh fruit and veg, over 50 gallons of yogurt, four vats of pasta with sauce so big I could easily take a bath in them, and sealed and labeled individual containers for each one of these items. My back will ache, knees stiffen, and feet swell. I will be covered top to tail in speckles and sloshes of food. My eyes will be puffy from exhaustion and onion juice. I will be exhausted and wound up, too tired to sleep.
But, as tired and sore as I am- I cannot deny that, at $25/hour, I am making more money (nearly twice the hourly amount) than I was ever did as a professional working for a prestigious university in the United States.

When I get home I will try to rest, fail at that, and set to finishing up editing a video commissioned by a restorative justice program for their upcoming Youth Justice Forum. This forum, I understand, is a pretty BIG DEAL event that draws professionals from every level of youth justice- from police and barristers, to judges and parliamentarians- to discuss the current state and future goals for youth justice in Australia. The topic this year is Aboriginal Youth- a long overdue and touchy topic for government to wrangle with.

I conducted hours of interviews with a young Aboriginal woman (we’ll call “C”) and her mother about their experiences with the juvenile justice system that I must whittle down to 10 minutes or less. Their story is compelling, heartbreaking, and inspiring. I was referred into this role by a colleague of mine who knew just about my personal history and professional experience to know I was a good fit for the job. He didn’t know just how much overlap there would be between our stories. I wasn’t prepared for how deeply this assignment would affect me.

In listening and listening and listening back to the interview recordings, I hear something in “C”’s voice, and I can see it in her body language off camera…. a hesitation. An understanding that, while there are people who understand, and those who are compassionate- there are also those who diminish and shame- to subject to humiliation. And that’s why they want to remain anonymous in the video. I get it. I am still judged by people and institutions based on things I did in the late 1990s/early 2000s. There are some consequences that linger- especially if you are black/brown; poor; female; physically, mentally or emotionally disabled/challenged; LGBTQI*; linguistically different- need I go on? We live with these dents in our status and reputations for generations longer than the actual impact of what we did- much less than that of who we just happen to have been BORN. 

But. Many of us continue to do the work. Physical work in housekeeping/homemaking, maid services, retail, sex work, food service, and construction. Social work in teaching, therapy, community services, arts and humanities. Spiritual work in religious affairs/upkeep, psychic and empathic services (and other things I don’t claim to know about). Emotional work in ALL OF IT
*** And, please, understand that these items are not comprehensive and I legit have no idea what all people do- but can you get my drift here?***

Work is work is work.

I can only speak for myself here. But here it is:
By many accounts, I am a “housewife.” The bulk of my work occurs in the home. I cook and clean and grocery shop and every-fucking-thing-else shop for the entire family most days. I take care of school stuff and social agendas for the kids- and my husband, and myself. I am the keeper of the calendars and lists and appointments and finances.

I am an international peacebuilder. I have worked with individuals, families and communities in North, South and Central America, Australia and the Pacific Islands on analysing and elevating conflict issues and working toward peaceful resolution to them. I am building my skills here, and the work has been trickling in. I am flexing my skills at documentary arts to promote the work, and it is beginning it take foothold here. But also-

I also get up in the wee hours of the night to do the hard, invisible work. I slop baby food into containers. I offer samples at grocery stores to people who will never buy the product. I am a server at events where rich old men slap my ass and laugh because they know I can’t do anything about it- because I am there to clear tables and smile at people whose shoes cost more than my car. I cry myself to sleep some nights- in physical or emotional pain at what I’ve had to endure over the course of the day.

And all of it is good work. All of it deserves respect and dignity and fair wages.

All of it is work.

Desire Lines

Prologue- December 2017 – Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The messages are frequent and insistent- my phone brrrings and lights up- “When are you coming home? When can I see you???” I close my eyes, pinch the bridge of my nose, and try to summon a breath before responding. “Soon,” is always the answer, or some version of it. Because it would be unkind for me, sitting here in my yard in Australia watching the lorikeets fight over fermented mango pulp in my neighbour’s tree to respond, “I AM home.”

I know what people mean, and I am excited to visit with family and friends in the United States, but it’s still hard to remind people that I never felt North Carolina to be “home” in the first place. I spent the majority of my life trying to escape that place, be it physically or through the use of (all the) substances. It is not home to me- it never was.

I was born there, left as soon as I could, returned against my will, was trapped there by circumstance, and became complacent over time. I resisted until I relented. It was like a creepy family member that you’d rather avoid, but since you’re dragged to the reunion, have to make nice with.

To be fair, none of the many places I lived in the US felt any more “right” than Durham did.  There were many that I preferred, but none that hit that button in my brain that triggers the warm, safe feeling people speak of when they talk about HOME. 

 

Desire Lines- January- Durham, North Carolina, USA

The term “desire line” or “desire path” is used in transportation planning and environmental design to describe the worn areas of earth where people (or animals) go off the designated roads or walkways to create a preferred path. As a frequent user-maker of these alternate routes, I often wonder how and why the paved ways were decided upon. I wonder who the others are who share my desire lines, as I rarely see another person traversing them with me.

I have always wandered, allowing my curiosity to guide me. Occasionally I take shortcuts, but prefer the long way around- which seems in some ways counterintuitive even to my own reckoning. I want to go where I think I want to go but often discover, on my way there, that I am compelled in another direction. Often, I find myself somewhere that I didn’t expect to be and wonder how I managed to get to such a place- but the answer is always that I simply wanted to “look around,” and ventured further than expected. I was never one to go half way. Never one to turn back. I’ve found many things, many places, situations, people. The results have been varied. I regret none of them.

The BLOX family landed in North Carolina just in time for the holidays. This was entirely by accident, more a result of circumstance than any planning on our part. I certainly would not have opted to arrive in the frigid weather conditions (“bomb cyclone icy death-ray machine of DOOM” or whatever hyperbolic label it’s been given by the media). We’re not big “winter holidays” (or summer, if you’re in OZ) people. We don’t decorate or drag drying foliage into the house: our December 25th meal is typically Chinese take-out. Not bothered by the trappings, it’s just not a thing for us. Certainly not something we would travel for. But, sometimes the paths we take are out of necessity rather than desire.

We have, in one conversation after another, had to explain why our desire line has led us to stay in Australia rather than back to here- this place where the label “home” was assigned to us by no choice of our own. Questions abound about our plans for the future and what we hope to get out of continued stay in the Pacific. For these, there are no answers. The truth is that we just opened ourselves to the path that opened to us, at a time when we were able to walk it.

 

Epilogue

I was walking through a semi-hidden park on the back underside of a neighbourhood by the railroad tracks last month. Behind a row of apartments, balconies strung with sagging laundry lines, there is a dense wooded area. A narrow path leads through eucalyptus trees to a shade-cloaked wooden bridge. Tiny birds hop through the underbrush and lizards dart between rocks and water, snatching up water sliders and backswimmers off the surface of the stream. “Barry,” the prolific tagger of this side of town, has graffiti-mopped his trademark on the handrail in laser yellow. The wooden slatted bridge leads out to a pea gravel path to a small playground. In October, the ground here will be littered with purple jacaranda blossoms, but now the air here is heavy with mock-orange and frangipani. A wisteria covered gazebo acts as an entrance on the far side of the park. Desire lines sprout off in several directions from the sidewalk under the archway.

I sat for some time on the swings of that playground, contemplating the nature of pathways and desire. A train rumbled by, slowing to pull into its station just up the way, where commuters and travellers would board or de-board as they moved along whatever paths were theirs for the day. It would be simple enough to have gotten on that train and taken the 30 minute trip to the coast. The same train, in the other direction could take me to the airport, another hour and I could be at the Southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef. I often fantasise about all the places I could go, or could have gone, but tend ignore all that in the moments where I am actually in motion.

Instead of focusing so hard on what path I was told (and often internalised) I should take or have taken, I’ve found a way to make this wandering curiosity work its magic in taking me wherever it does. Sitting in that park, lolling on the swing beside the overgrown creek bed, I hadn’t yet planned to be in the States in January. But here I am.

And today I am sitting at the window of a cozy little kitchen, overlooking another stream. This one frozen near-solid. Stubborn remnants of the snowfall huddling in the shade, and patches of ice where the sun melted the flakes just enough to re-freeze them into slick patches. There are footprints of deer and rabbits, squirrels and chickadees around the bird feeder. The sun is just starting to go down, topping the naked tree branches with a golden hue as the lower layers of the forest slowly turn the lavender-black of night.

Two years ago, to the day, I was overlooking this same scene- saying “see you later.” Today I am here saying “goodbye.”

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Mates-Giving in Summerland, Part 2

Like all best-laid plans, it started with a half-drunk conversation with neighbours. Way back in September, I said something about Kool-Aid, and my neighbour (A) asked “what is that?”* This sparked a conversation about intercultural weird foodstuffs, which inevitable end is always always Thanksgiving.

*also- flabbergasted- Kool-Aid!! What is Kool-Aid?! It’s more than a beverage, it’s a cultural institution! Come on! Kool-Aid! Kool-Aid Man? “Oh YEAH!” bursts through wall? Electric Kool-Aid Acid Tests? Freakin’ JONESTOWN??? Ya know- that Kool-Aid. So, yeah, we included Kool-Aid on the menu- Sharkleberry Finn flavour, because it’s the best.

The fascination with this controversial, strange, and uniquely North American holiday stems from an inundation of exported American TV shows and movies. We field questions about its origins, status as a federal holiday, and if it’s some wacko religious thing- also, what’s up with Black Friday often comes as a secondary line of questioning. The explanation to these queries is never easy. It is a holiday that both unites and divides us. The historical significance is deep and meaningful- in both positive and negative aspects. The origins are contested and include:

a celebration of genocide

a traditional native harvest festival that colonists appropriated as their own. To read a lovely piece written by my friend, Malinda Lowry Maynor, about Lumbee Thanksgiving traditions, please follow THIS LINK.

the public school narrative of “the natives saved the pilgrims from starvation with a single meal and they were so gosh-darned ‘Thankful’ that we celebrate it every year since!” (can you tell I’m rolling my eyes at that one?)

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a means to bring a nation together after the Civil War (LINK TO ARTICLE),

and a Norman Rockwell imaging of family togetherness, feasting and gratitude- at least once a year

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A day of mourning and remembrance for Native communities

 

Also- important to remember- for many who struggle year-round just to get by, those of us who live hand-to-mouth, this celebration of abundance in Love and Food is one day of the year held sacred as a time to put aside poverty, oppression, alienation and fear and celebrate that which we DO have. Because ALL of us need at least one day a year- especially, it seems, this year.

I will not even talk about that celebration of violent consumerism that is Black Friday because it makes me dry-heave. What is WRONG with people??

So, after inadequately explaining a surface-level version of all of these things, we were faced with the question: “So… are we gonna do this, or what?” Or, well, more like “Can you feed us?”

To which, B and I looked at each other and issued a resounding F*CK YEAH, we are!

With the support of our neighbours, we planned and executed an amazing event. It started with brewing and bottling homemade beer and cider a month in advance. The menu was determined by imaginings of “traditional” Thanksgiving fare: turkey, stuffing/dressing (I made both), mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole (with marshmallows, naturally), baked mac n’ cheese (made by a neighbour-volunteer), buttermilk biscuits, Parker House rolls, peas, greens, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, sweet tea, and Kool-Aid. Other items were requested, and who am I to say no to these Southern (& etc) favourites: pimiento cheese, key lime pie, hush puppies, horchata and mint juleps. Guests brought a variety of salads, apple pie, ice cream, drinks, sweet potato enchiladas, and the most adorable turkey-themed cupcakes I have ever seen in real life.

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I didn’t count, but somewhere in the ballpark of 25-30 people showed up. In the mix, were folx from and/or with roots in Australia, the US, Canada, China, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, and Russia. We set up games of cornhole and croquet in the back yard, and had a baby pool out for the littles to splash in. This, of course, got commandeered by the gaggle of 5-7 year old kids, who proceeded to get naked and have a massive water-fight. The slightly older 1o-year-olds walked around arguing tenuously  understood scientific theories. And the teenagers skulked around, holing up in bedrooms, sliding through to stealth seconds (and thirds!) of pie, and generally doing whatever teenagers do during holiday gatherings.

Given that it was a school/work night, things started to wind down fairly early- but not before my neighbour was able to show off his sound system, fog machine and laser light set-up. This was a HUGE hit for the kids, and I haven’t stopped hearing about it since. If you are reading this, B- you better get ready for more back yard dance parties at our place.

I don’t have photos of most of the festivities because I was too busy enjoying them, but here are a few blurry photos for your enjoyment:

 

Here are a few of me and B, trying our best to be proper hosts…
And, yes, I wore my Standing Rock t-shirt. Because I will always, unapologetically be THAT person at the dinner table- especially at my own table.

We sent everyone home with containers of food, and had leftovers for days. X & O finished off the last of the pie for breakfast (whatever- it’s the Hoooolidaaaays!) today and we’re off to planning our next big event, which may or may not be a Nightmare on Elm Street Before Christmas themed thing, hosted by one of my best babes in the States.

Waiting

In Queensland, rain sneaks up on you quick. They say the kookaburras are a giveaway- they’ll hoot and holler before and after a storm. Others argue that it’s magpies that herald the downpour- but either way, the birds seem just as surprised as everyone else when the sky cracks apart to dump the ocean inland.

On the other hand, days like today tease us with nimbostratus clouds in shades of slate and graphite, wind tearing cold through screen doors. A storm may rage over us at any moment. Or, maybe it will drizzle, perhaps we’ll get hail- chances are just as good that it will blow over and leave us with 90° heat and sun by dinnertime. We can’t plan based on what we expect- because its liable to shift at any moment.

Cloudy day
Clouds over the city- I stole this one from the web

Living in visa-limbo is quite the same. The word “when” is replaced by “if” as we wait to hear back from the tight-lipped bureaucrats that hold our paperwork. On an official level, they (as yet) wage no verdict and no date at which they will release one. Kind-hearted administrative staff offer encouragement: “things are progressing”; “everything looks to be all in order”; and “it shouldn’t be too much longer now before they get back to you.” But these platitudes don’t help us resolve the fact that two very different sets of expectations are waging war on our everyday lives.

We are on Week & of our estimated “4-8 week” timeline. Over this time, wish lists (and their sinister siblings: dreadlists) have built up. We need things, but are worried about amusing more stuff that may prove redundant in the  next month. Do we buy the boys shorts? Or wait until we have more information? Summer is practically here… unless we have to return to a place where it’s Winter.

In addition to the material crap that clutters our day-to-day reasoning, we are also tabulating conditions for what we require for our next place, if we can’t have this one that we want so much. We investigate weather, employment, transportation and schools in select cities- building our own acceptability quotient tables of next-stop possibilities. Day by day we add to the lists- wishes on paper, and dreads in our minds- while we wait.

BOX in Woods
Bushwalking

There should be no reason the paperwork won’t go through, but what if someone has a bad day, or decides that all Americans are like *thatelectedofficialoverthere* and pulls the red stamp to prevent our staying. Do we start looking for jobs in the States, or double down on what we’ve got going here? When every day feels like a slow-motion anxiety attack, it becomes difficult to determine what are expectations- and what are fears.

At the same time, there is a freedom in giving oneself over to the not-knowing place. As the lolly-voiced woman that answered my last call said, “not much to do now but wait.” And we’ve finally become too exhausted to keep thrashing around in the uncertainty.

Koalas
Just some koalas, for no reason at all

And so, I photograph the sunsets and dig up rotten tree roots in the yard, bottle home-brewed beer and purchase week-sized portions of laundry detergent. We muddle through the days trying not to look too hard at the lists. I want to focus now on the good thing we have here, to not let uncertainty drive these days into melancholy. Instead of entertaining that morbid tendency of mine to mourn the loss of what I still have, I am focusing on keeping a regular routine and planning trips to places we missed- or loved so much we want to return to. Meanwhile, I am keeping an eye out for that determining email but, as much as I am able, keep my phone out of sight. Except for the 200 times a day I scan my Spam folder, just in case it got filtered there.

Amazing sky
Sunsets after the rain are always astounding

Devil-Eyed Hell Birds

Magpies are the size of crows, black and white in colour, with razor blade beaks and lit-from-within rusty red-yellow eyes. Generally, they are a stand-offish bird that issue clumsy, slightly-off-tune songs and peck grubs and mites from the yard. They are highly intelligent and, as I found in my research (because I am that nerd) that they are the oldest living ancestor of songbirds as we know them. So there’s a useless tidbit to amaaaaze your friends and family with*.
(* Disclaimer- none of my friends nor family have so far been wowed by that knowledge.)

The reason I have researched magpies rests solely in the fact that I am 100% completely and wholly terrified of them. Not that they are special- I harbour a phobia (healthy?) fear of all birds. All of them. Every single bird that exists in the world.
“Certainly not parrots?”, You ask.
Brightly coloured squawking death machines, say I.
“What about bluebirds? Chickadees? Tufted Titmice?”
Indigo traitors; tiny devils; adorably-named spawns of Hell!, I reply
“Hummingbirds,” You reason? “No one could be afraid of hummingbirds!”
Feathered BEES. And that is that.

But. I have been actively courting the gang of magpies that owns my neighbourhood. They came with the house (we recently moved to a nicer place, by the way, for those of you who didn’t know). I do this by scattering cat food around for them. Again- I read online that they like it. It does feel strange, though, feeding a bird dry pellets of “tuna and rice flavoured meal,” but whatever, I never saw a house cat catch any live fish or harvest rice- so I guess that’s about even.

Magpie
Australian Magpie

  *Most of these photos taken from the internet, because I am not about to go bird-watching for ya’ll

 

There are two groups of magpies that take turns pecking through our yard. I categorise them in terms of John Hughes movie tropes (I am, if nothing else, a product of 80’s crap cinema):

One group is named after the Three Stooges- Larry, Moe, and Curly- as they tend to peck at one another, but still hang in a set. These are the popular crowd, the jocks and prom queens and James Spader characters. I can’t actually tell them apart.

The other group consists of the weirdos and misfits: “Half-Beak” who is missing half of her top beak (clever name, I know), “Twitchy” who has feathers that are often stuck out at weird angles and may have a limp, and “Shemp” who is very round and friendly-but-nervous and sometimes hangs out with the first crew.

Then, there is the loner that O named “Midnight,” for his solid-black beak, which none of the others are too fond of. He is gigantic and menacing. His beak is curved down at the end, like he bashed it against someone’s skull too hard and crooked it permanently. He descends on the other groups and scatters them so he can steal their food. I fear him the most, so I feed him the most. I’m pretty sure he’s waiting for me to not show up with the goods, and then he’ll peck my eyes out.

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My personal yard parliament- Twitchy, Half-beak and Shemp

And- to be fair- this very specific fear of eye-pecking is justified. And not in the “I watched Hitchcock as a child” kind of justified- but deep-in-the-truth justified.See: In the Spring, also known as “Swooping Season,” also known as right now, the males become highly protective over their nests and ATTACK HUMANS. They *literally* attack the back of your head repeatedly until you flee (often crying) from their own private war zone.

Unlike some other swooping birds here, they do not engage in mild hair-grazing one-off tags that make you grumble up at them in mild annoyance. Magpies (and Plovers, too) are relentless fiends that come at you again and again, heavy bodies banging at the base of your skull, beaks snapping at your face. They have caused cyclists to lose control and fall out into traffic, pedestrians to suffer skin and eye wounds, a friend of mine cowered in a bush for over an hour as a child while under attack and got a sound whupping from her worried parents for being late from school. She says it was worth the spanking to let the bird wear itself out rather than face its wrath.

Last year, I was still commuting to University several days a week by bike. There was a magpie that had decided that he hated me. I tried not to take it personally at first, but soon came to realise that it was, specifically, me- and that he held the same vindictive rage as a certain ex of mine, who shall remain nameless. In both cases, it was merely the fact that I continued to exist in the world that seemed to enrage them to violence. In both cases, I tried everything I could to appease my assailants. I don’t know which worked out better in the end, but I can say that- after everything- I still have both eyes. 
Needless to say, this persnickety magpie reversed any progress I had made with my ornithophobia (that means “real scared of birds,” ya’ll). Not that I had made much, really.

There are birds in Australia that gave me hope- the bumbling Lorikeets (or “tree Skittles” as my friend dubbed them that flit around drunk on rotten tree-fruits and chirp like bridesmaids; the Cockatoo that preen and waggle their neon-yellow crests, but also scream like pterodactyls when they flock; the Galah, which are pink and grey and congregate in plumy crowds; Kookaburra are fat and “laugh” like a crowd of drunks when it’s about to rain; and the simpleton Ibis that is basically a goofy chicken with a big, hooked beak that pillage garbage cans like confused pirates.

Lorikeet
Lorikeet
Galah
Galah
kookaburra
Kookaburra
ibis
Ibis

I like Ibis and Kookaburras, and the rest I have a wary respect for. Except the crows, which are like American crows- except with white irises rimmed in black. WHITE IRISES RIMMED IN BLACK! Imagine 1990’s Marilyn Manson, but actually frightening. But not aggressive. Not like the magpie. Magpies are incredibly intelligent- and can be downright hateful. Real Scary. Not pop-star scary.

crow
Crow (WHITE EYES!!)
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Magpie attack (that’s not me)

So, when we moved into this house, and I realised we had a PARLIAMENT of magpies (look it up- that’s the real term!) about the place, I reckoned I had to take some preventative measures. And so I went online and learned too much about them.

They are HIGHLY intelligent and can not only recognise themselves in mirrors (besides human and magpies, “only four ape species, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have demonstrated this ability”), but they can also remember HUMAN faces . In the face of certain doom, I made the decision to align myself with the enemy- to endear myself to them- feed them, woo them, hope they like my knock-off Fancy Feast because we can’t afford brand-name. I bought cat food and began to sprinkle it in the yard like a deranged Mary Poppins “tuppence” pigeon-lady.

I took the video below this morning- can you hear the FEAR in my voice?

I started in June, when we moved. It is now September and my small, humble-yet-brave parliament of feathered neighbours has not attacked me. Yet.
The Stooges and the Misfits take shifts, one accepting treats in the morning, the other at night. Half-Beak comes around whenever she wants, and Twitchy does a funny sideways hop all the way up to my feet when I’m outside. I expect that one day she’ll let me pet her. I expect that will happen before I am ready, but if she’s real close, I’ll try it just the same and we’ll probably both freak out and avoid each other for a while…. speaking from past experience, that is. It’s always cool in the end, though. Usually.

Anyway, Spring has sprung and eggs are being laid. Which means that magpie dads (and a few mommas) are starting to get protective and ornery. I am hoping that my strategy of befriending-ahead-of-troublesome-times has taken hold. It’s a skill learned through life, and was “legitimised” by fancy pants fluff-n-stuff professors at university while I trudged through their lectures over the past few years. One that, interestingly, few actually followed themselves- looking at you, MB, you Party City Gandalph-beard having elitist and stealer of credit from grad students writings, you fascist of using the capital T in The University… – if you read it and wonder- it’s YOU (oh, the shade! Somebody stop me. But don’t. But do.) but that’s a tale for another time. Or not, if- according to him- I understand the “potential ramifications on my career/reputation.” Ahem.

Where was I?
Magpies. Right.
I fed them and made efforts to stand out with them while they ate. I suffered through their cocked-head glances, forcing myself not to run- not even from Midnight. I let them steal leftover pupusas off the patio table. They allow me to walk safely from my back door to the laundry line. Twice now, they have approached as I lounged in the yard-hammock reading books.


This one is getting bold- s/he came to steal my pupusas!

I think we have a peace accord. Though, I have to wonder if they have come to see me as a source of food and will become angry if I fail to produce. I wonder, as all good peace peacebuilders should, whether my efforts are creating lasting positive change, or merely acting as an uniformed band-aid treatment that plasters over the harm and allows deeper infection to brew under the surface.
I don’t know.
But if they ever turn against me- I’m making the kids fetch the laundry until December.
Because it’s also HILARIOUS to watch others get swooped.

re(Emerging)

As an extroverted empath, with a tendency to isolate when stressed, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of poking my head up above the ashes of the burnt hole I left in social media many months ago (what is it now, 9?). Between personal and political upheavals between November of last year and today, I found myself shrinking more and more into the closed space of myself. The online world was (and continues to be) a festering garden of anxiety and social discord.
I watched as people I love “un-friend” or attack one another on Facebook and other platforms because of misunderstandings and disagreements- even when they were essentially on the same page, just using different vernacular. I had to answer to many private messages reading too much into my own posts, which I intentionally kept light and non-personal.
The internet was becoming a weird slam-book that I wanted no part of. **Unlike the imaginary slam-books of my middle school Sweet Valley High imaginings, that I was SO eager to see, but never did. Probably because it’s a shitty idea. To everyone except drama-hungry 12-year-olds. Which I fully was. But am not now… but I digress.**
Last January I announced my hiatus from Facebook. I took the app off my phone, and made a concerted effort to not look in on the traffic through my computer. I did maintain my Instagram page, as it just feels safer somehow- less whinging about politics and more pictures of kittens and such. The lack of commentary was refreshing.
I also collapsed this blog, which has bothered me since. Several times a week I consider what I would share in a post about navigating the strange landscape of immigrant experience in Australia. But, so far, I have kept it to myself- and the occasional napkin or stray piece of paper I find floating about. I needed time to sort myself and figure out how (or if) I wanted to proceed in the digital world.
Over the past few months, though, this self-protection/preservation chrysalis I had formed to keep the online strife at bay had also had repercussions on my real-life interactions with people. I am an incorrigible talker-to-strangers, but realised that I have been engaged less and less with my friends.

Initially, a few folks would notify me if there was a Facebook event I needed to tap into- all of which I, inevitably, missed. Every so often I would peep in and catch a birthday or a memory or a funny post and make a little comment, then scurry back into my hole like a trapdoor spider. What happened was that I forgot about Facebook, and it forgot about me. Which was kind of nice for a bit.

One day I happened to be on and saw that a femme-crush of mine had posted about forming a group to talk about parent co-misery, and I was ALL IN. I followed this page, with parents and carers of young people coming together to laugh, cry, and give advice- because, let’s face it- kids are fully realised human beings and, thus, sometimes total assholes sometimes. We need places to give hugs and applause, be it physical or virtual. And, because of this group, I put the Facebook app back on my phone.

It did not take long for me to start opening it up to “check-in” (read: creep) on what my friends and groups were up to. For some reason, the app thinks I want to see when students from my university put couches up for sale, and that’s annoying, but I largely ignore this… except that burgundy velvet sofa I am still sad got snatched from the curb before I had a chance to respond…

All of this information distracts from the point I am trying to make. Simultaneous with my online retreat was a visceral one, that pulled me in and away from people I could have interacted with in a real context but, for a variety of reasons, avoided. 
And then I became lonely. 
But, and I know this is odd to non-extroverts, I began talking to strangers more than ever.
I know Paul, a cashier at the grocery store, who grew up in an Aboriginal community out west and was told that he was light-skinned because his “Momma got the black whipped offa her for hanging out with white-fella.”
I know Siobhan, an elderly woman who walks a small and bitey-sort-of dog around the neighbourhood. She owns the house where they filmed “He Died With A Falafel in His Hand,” in 2001 (great movie, by the way). The back half was cut off during filming, and she never bothered to have it repaired. She’s a hoarder, and the house is packed to inaccessibility- but the garden is lovely, and host to plants and flowers that dance across the senses like Garbo and Astaire in chlorophyll shoes. Siobhan always dressed creatively and pokes though the piles of times left out for collection We often tip each other off to good hauls.
I know Tom and Gemima, who traipse daily through the cement waterways under and beneath parklands to document and preserve graffiti art. If they see that a piece has been covered, they get to work peeling off the new layer of paint. Tom is the talker, Gem the peeler. She is relentless- casting palmfuls of acrylic chips into the woven bag at her hip.

But knowing, and- perhaps- loving these people (and a whole lot more- maybe a post for another time) has not helped to push me out of the blue wasteland of loneliness I have cocooned myself in. We are friendly, but not friends.
Many of my Australian friends have been cast off to other parts of the globe – it’s a hazard of International Studies. Everyone gets jobs in Solomon Islands or South Africa, Geneva, Burundi, New York (ya’ll?!!) and you get left alone waiting for a new crop of people that will eventually leave, or be forced out due the prohibitive immigration system here.
But there are some here still.
And I have my friends back in the US, who are celebrating all manner of personal and social milestones that I need to be back in touch with. New family members- partners, children, animals (I fucking REFUSE to call them “fur babies,” so get used to that)- jobs, houses, cities…
And I recognise that, if I want to be around them, I need to get out of my hole and interact.
Online.
Ugh.

Because we live in a world where social media is a necessary tool to grease the social wheels.
And I realise the need to connect with people because my social synapses are starting to prune themselves.

So, fuck it. I’m back.

(‘Scuse my French)