Aspirational voting in 2017

There are many ways to frame this election, but the one I keep coming back to is that Saturday will show us, by the numbers, how strong white privilege is in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We (white males) have a disturbingly pervasive subtext that minimises and condescends to questions of culture, values and politics, dismissing anything other than the status quo as self-evident idiocy.

And we wonder why the outside world still sees us as parochial, ignorant and naive.

This election is about whether a party with a record of lies, claiming the work of others, changing definitions to “solve” problems and denying the consensus of experts across multiple fields retains its mandate to govern, with the (false) justification that politics has always been done that way.

It is about whether we want to endorse greasy backroom smear campaigns and reward fearful, defamatory rhetoric.

It is about whether the joke that is politics should be met with a shrug, a laugh, and a concession that this is the best we can do.

This election is about giving National another three years to make problems go away by clinging to outdated understandings of brand and message. For someone who criticises Labour for being stuck in the past, Bill English has a very retro grasp of identity and vision.

Do we perch in complacency, because everything is superficially okay for us, personally, at this instant?

Do we rely on philanthropy to solve poverty, turning survival into a lottery for our most vulnerable?

Do we accept that the numbers on a screen are more meaningful – even when misrepresented – than the people and the society that we want to be?

Or is this election not really about us at all?

The wealthy, the privileged, the educated, and the well employed aren’t going to see their world shaken by this election.

We vote not for ourselves, but for our society – that is the essence of democracy. And we need to look to the outliers. To vote for the poor, the sick, the addicted, and the oppressed. For them, this election may be the difference between life and death.

We need a vision.

We need to admit that the status quo is never “good enough” while people are starving. While there remains systemic and cultural discrimination against specific minorities – and majorities, in the case of women.

We need to strive – as we do in our jobs, in our families, in our relationships – to be better people, and to do that we need above all else a clear, cohesive vision for the future. For an Aotearoa that acknowledges and learns from the mistakes of our past. For an Aotearoa that seeks better ways forward. For an Aotearoa that actually wants to be “100% Pure:” in our motivations, in our self-critique and in our care for our people.

We need integrity. We need hope. We need a social conscience.

But in the face of stupefying resilience by White Male New Zealand (never Aotearoa) we may also need, to quote an unlikely source, a little stardust.

#changethegovt #letsdothis #nzpol #decision17

A home for my words

“I could sit in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and write with my typewriter on my knees.” Louis L’Amour once said. “Temperamental I am not.”

I grew up seeing those words as the terrifying mark of a great storyteller: someone so engrossed in the flow of the art that their surroundings became something lesser. And this transcendent state too often eluded me.

Later, advice from Stephen King, Jim Butcher and other greats provided a different way to parse L’Amour’s words: as a challenge. A quiet prompt to let go of all preciousness and pretension. To write, because you write, irrespective of where you are or how you’re feeling.

This distinction matters, because otherwise environment too easily becomes justification for procrastination and defeatism.

Those writers are simply better, that’s why they can write anywhere/are so prolific/are so inspiring, yet eternally beyond my reach. When my internal monologue offers such helpful input, I now edit it. Because they choose to write anywhere, those writers are prolific and have grown great, and if I let their example inspire me, my writing might grow in kind.

My favourite place to write, then, is beside my sleeping wife at 2amsuffocating under the sheets to shield her from the light — tapping a sudden turn of phrase into my phone before it’s snatched away by slumber.

It’s sitting on the beach where I first encountered heartbreak, scribbling in a notebook and letting those long-ago stirrings play with the pen.

It’s at my desk, internet blocked, and a list of chapter outlines on the screen.

Desk, dark, couch, mountain, café: there are places that colour my writing, and places that facilitate the craft, but any environment can provide both context and constraint, which is the space in which writing feels truly at home.

This article was first published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium.com, and won the 2016 Autumn Writing Challenge.

Poetry round-up – September 2016

I spent a good chunk of July and August working on our (unsuccessful) house sale, which involved scaffolding, replacing siding, water-blasting, cleaning windows, painting the roof and far, far too much gardening. This didn’t leave much time for writing, and it’s really good to be back behind the keyboard.

Autumn by stealth

How eagerly
we awaited your bloom –
casting sweet
unbidden
names to the wind.
How easily
time bent the
bough;
Please don’t fall.

Irrational pause

Suspend
all that matter
bluster and billow
tamed and trapped
in cheap frames.
Still they move,
as hands fumble
and images

tumble.

Vexed

Untangle please
this knotted gut
and iron flat
my brow –
My worries can’t
be cleanly cut,
but you,
you do –
somehow.

Gene

Smile, so defiantly vapid
and self-aware
one last time
let that thin skein of delight
fray across your face
until it tickles mine.

August 2016

Present Dreams

“Obstruct the rays of incidence,”
the Ancient One advised,
“And bend them to a single point,
until the embers rise.”
I held the glass and watched his words
come flickering to flame –
but as it spread he vanished,
leaving me to take the blame.
If you look upon the ashen shell
or taste these charred remains,
you’ll know his crooked fingers
and the throbbing of his veins.
He doesn’t come to hurt you,
but delights in nasty games –
and when that breath infests your ear
you’ll know his many names.

And so my story issued out,
yet still these children sleep!
So I sit and strop my sickle
while the sultry shadows creep.

If you should stir,
or leave the bed –
or even make a peep –
Well, my games are made for playing
and the Reaper lives to reap.

Divination

This blue isn’t;
it’s clear
where it surrounds
suffuses
the boy
who drifts
buoyed and blown
away, but unable to blow
those last lung-lingering
bubbles that divide
and yet define
the deep, the dreamer
and the day
still floating above.

Sauron’s Equilibrium

The shadow permeates this realm, each eve,
The conqueror of everything we saw –
But see no longer, until dawn’s reprieve,
Revealing once again what reigned before.
Our meagre preparations for the night,
The bolted door, and lover’s dread embrace,
Are lies before the fading of the light,
Which seeps inside and bids our world displace.
Or so the Shadow’s agents would contend,
But shadow can’t in isolation grow:
Without the light, the shadow has no end –
Nor can it shape, nor any substance know.
So turn the switch, and beckon in the gloom –
Let shadows have their life – until we light the room.