Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dance for Joy

Tim (center)
Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day - Mary Hopkin 1968

One day we'll all be oral history.

But until then, let us not forget.

The sixties, the seventies. And perhaps even the eighties.


"Changes", by Tim (Juliff).

Forgive me for being a trifle nostalgic. I have my reasons.

Recently I have been put in touch with a number of my late brother's friends. Of course, there've been there all the time. As have I. But sometimes, unfortunately, it takes a death ...

Never really close, but never really far apart either, we went our separate ways, Tim and I. But at heart we were at one. Children of the sixties. Flower children. Well, more Tim than me, but even me, the older sister.

Kate (Taj Mahal)
Tim's not here any more. But his friends are, and there are so many of them. Some I remember. Heather for example, who turned up at our mother's house with a hundred daffodils stuck in her gumboots. He'd met her in Melbourne's City Square. And Frances from Canada, who named her son after my brother. "Timothy". And so many others. Peaceful and serene. Or noisy and confronting. Heaps of people who willingly accepted me into their lives.

Like so much in life, we accept it when it is there. A given. A thing appreciated but at the same time taken for granted.

And then suddenly it is taken away. And we who are left behind realize what we have lost.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco 1976
How come I didn't know that my brother was part of Obama Sign Watch? Or that he'd played at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco? I'm finding out just now, from those who knew the Tim that I didn't inquire into, the Tim who I didn't - for whatever reason, know about - as they come forward. Like me. Missing him.

I wonder what else I missed out on? What else did I overlook, thinking it was always going to be be there?

The flower children of last century.

Yes, we thought it would never end.

Let's savor what there is left.

And get by, with a little help from our friends.

All things must pass.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Moon Follows Me

I used to believe the moon was following me. When I was in the second grade, I was taught a little about the moon, but still didn't believe it. A reader of I Used to Believe - the Childhood's Belief Site

Moon Over Melbourne
She dresses in black ...
Last week I wrote about New Yorkers dressing in black. Well, it was about more than that - but also about the dressing-in-black-thing and New Yorkers ....

And then it just so happened a few day's after I published my "She dresses in black", that a friend of mine, Cordelia, who happens to be a New Yorker, and who - well it goes without saying, dresses in black - called me.

She was so excited, she related, when she saw the title of my latest post, "She dresses in black". "Oh I was just so SURE," she prattled, "that it was about me! I dress in black and it is my FAVORITE color and so I thought ...."

Hmmm. What's that word? "Chutzpah"? So New York. Almost as New York as dressing in black. I was forced to wonder - hadn't my New York friend noticed that she was not alone in her shades-of-gray outfits? Did she somehow see the rest of New York as being in color? If she did she'd be, as New Yorkers put it, "very unique". And we all know, there's nothing unique about being "very unique". In any case, had my friend not noticed the 18.9 million other people wandering about, "very uniquely", in shades of gray?

She did of course realize, upon reading "She dresses in black", that as in the Beatles' song, "Baby's in Black", there ARE other people in this world, who dress, "in black." However I suspected that she was being modest and uncharacteristically non-confrontational, in agreeing that Lennon and McCartney had someone else in mind when they wrote the song.

I should have known better.

Our conversation drifted. We started to talk about next weekend - Memorial Day weekend. "It's my birthday that weekend," I managed to interject. "We could have dinner."

"Yes let's," she said. "Now I will only go to Tribeca. I REFUSE to go elsewhere. You'll just have to get a hundred subways and meet me there, in Tribeca. No way am I going to the upper east side!"

U-huh? The birthday girl lives on the upper east side! I try to point this out and am answered with a laugh. "But I don't want to go to the upper east side. Didn't I just say?"

Now, I have a number of friends in New York - well TWO at least apart from Cordelia - who have indicated that "we must do something on your birthday". But they are from another country - Miami, Florida and Perth, Australia. That is - they are NOT from - New York!

So ... I reiterated to Cordelia - New-Yorker-Cordelia, "There are some nice restaurants on the upper east side, and unlike Tribeca, not so far from Perth-person and Florida-Not-New-York-person. Or from me."

Cordelia answered in a flash. She was SHOCKED. "Oh but I won't go anywhere but Tribeca!" she New-York-yelled. "I just will NOT go to a boring place!"

"But it is about MY birthday," I protested. To no avail. "But I ONLY go to Tribeca!" Cordelia continued to insist.

You can take the gal out of Australia, but you can't take Australia out of the gal. I remembered my heritage and refused to give up. So "Hey," I said, becoming uncharacteristically assertive. "This is about 'ME!' NOT you!".

It was then that I got the idea. "I'm going to BLOG THIS!" I asserted.

I could hear the smugness on the line. Cordelia was VICTORIOUS. I'd paid her a compliment. I'd acknowledged her New York-ness. Her "her-ness". She was so proud.

The moon was following her.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

She dresses in black

She thinks of him and so she dresses in black,
And though he'll never come back, she's dressed in black.
Oh dear, what can I do?
Baby's in black and I'm feeling blue,  - Lennon McCartney 1965

I live in New York. New York, where you can wear anything you like. As long as its colour is a shade of gray. Which is a GOOD thing. Or is it?

Me and Tim - Just out of the schoolyard!
I never really took much notice of it - the color thing. Except as a way to identify the U.S. tourists  that is. In their vibrant pinks, yellows and lime greens. Walking three abreast. Slowly. Encumbering the sidewalks.

But recently, wearing black has been on my mind. Nothing to do with New York, or with tourists from Dallas and Cleveland ...

You see, recently I lost my brother. My baby brother. At 61 yes, he was and still is, my baby brother. It was not the first family death to hit me. My mother died when I was in America. I wrote about my experience in I Haven't Always Swum in this Water. And my father died an expat, in New Zealand - when I was still living in my native land, Australia.

One expects one's parents to leave. But not so a younger brother. Which has led me to have to cope with and think about, grieving. Grieving for the loss of someone too young to go.

The hardest thing about such grieving - well maybe not the hardest, but it's up there - is having no one around to talk to about it, no one  who is fair game, no one who could be expected to understand. Because those people who would understand - those who would "get it" - are also grieving, and the last thing one would want is to burden them still further.

I don't know. I don't have a grievance councellor. I haven't bought a book on how to grieve. But I do know that there's something missing. It isn't the book. It isn't the councellor.

What is missing is the attribution. The proclaiming. The thing that people did centuries ago, when they donned the black arm-bands, the widows' black. The announcement that - "I am grieving". A way of telling the world, "I am in grief".

In this modern world we are all expected to "carry on". ASIF! A few days off work. Organizing the funeral. Talking to family and friends. The obituaries. The service. And then ... it is - "back to normal".

Except it isn't. It is pretend.

And so I am glad I am in New York. Well, sort of. I can wear black and proclaim my grief. But who will notice? I'm just one of the crowd. My grief is a fashion statement to those who do not know me. But to those others?

From  now when I look at my fellow black-clad New Yorkers, I'll wonder. Are they like me, grieving? Or are they just dressing in the New York shades of gray, the New York  uniform?

For me the black is a proclamation of my grief.  Yes, last  month I lost my brother Tim. A person whose only offering to this world was "love". That was his ideal. His hope.  But I suppose that in reality he was just like all of us - doing his best; nothing special.

And I suppose that is what it is all about. Living life truthfully. Nothing special.

RIP Timothy John. (1950 - 2011)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The True Story of Men in Dresses

Such is life. Ned Kelly's last words before being hanged

Come, all my hearties,
we'll roam the mountains high,
Together we will plunder,
together we will ride.
We'll scar over valleys,
and gallop for the plains,
And scorn to live in slavery,
bound down by iron chains - The Wild Colonial Boy

Kelly Territory
I am currently reading True History of the Kelly Gang by fellow Australian New Yorker, Peter Carey. I'm finding it disappointing - heavy going, at times annoying - written as it is in the style of a dyslexic semi-literate, full of unnecessary abbreviations and ungrammatical sentences. I'm all for realism but not at the expense of readability ...

But I have plodded on, determined to finish it. And I've learned at least one factoid for my efforts - where and when Australian men started dressing up as women.

Ned Kelly of True History of the Kelly Gang, was the leader of a bush-ranger gang in Victoria Australia in the late 1900s. He is viewed by Australians as either a criminal or a hero, depending upon political predilection. He is the subject of legends. He was hanged on 11 November 1880 at the Melbourne Gaol for the murder of a policeman.

Sidney Nolan - "Ned Kelly", 1946
Kelly wasn't the first bush-ranger to be admired for his exploits. Before him a number of first and second generation Irish Australians were popular for their activities especially those showing contempt for the "English" and the establishment as represented by the courts, police and landowners - the privileged "squatters".

Kelly has become part of Australian culture, a sort of Robin Hood, epitomizing the underdog. Even the date of his death, November 11 has become important in Australian history. November 11 1918, official end of World War I. November 11 1975, the sacking of Australia's Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam by Elizabeth Queen of England's representative John Kerr.

And paintings. The most famous being those by Australian artist Sidney Nolan. In most of these Kelly is shown in his now iconic "armor".

A child's depiction of a bush-ranger called 'Khat'
Most Australian children grew up hearing about bushrangers and the Kelly Gang. It was essential reading in primary school.

What is not so generally known however is the cross-dressing behaviour of at least one member of the Kelly gang, Steve Hart. Movies about the Kelly gang do not show this aspect of bush-rangers' lives but apparently Hart was not alone in his cross-dressing behavior, which included riding his horse side-saddle. Earlier, in 1835, escaped convict, Edmund Carmen,was caught by police in countryside near Wollongong dressed in a woman's gown and cape. He was found guilty of improper conduct, given 50 lashes, and sent back to Sydney, being ordered never to return.

Nowadays people are used to seeing Australian men in drag. The 1995 film, "Priscilla Queen of the Desert brought to world attention the high profile enjoyed by drag queens in Sydney. And of course Australia's most famous cross-dresser, Dame Edna Everage has been camping it up for decades. More recently Chris Lilley plays a Year Eleven snobby/bitchy girl called Jai'me in the Australian TV comedy series, "Summer Heights High".

Sidney Nolan, "Steve Hart", 1945
I'd seen Nolan's painting of the Kelly Gang's Steve Hart, but until I started reading Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang I'd not been aware or the origin of the bush-ranger dressing-up-as-women thing. According to Carey, and a number of other sources I've since googled, it all harks back to the "Molly Maguires." - an organization of Irish miners. They were was dubbed the "Molly Maguires," after a group of Irish peasants who dressed up as women to antagonize their landlords.

Why they did this is unclear, as is the origin of the name. But the practice was apparently common in Ireland with a number of groups, mostly peasants who were anti-authoritarian due to the tyranny of English landowners. Like Ned Kelly the "Molly Maguires" represented themselves as custodians of the community.

I sometimes wonder what Ned and his gang would think of modern Australians. Yes it's true, men still dress as women. But Australia is still not a republic. The "Colony" of New South Wales and the "Colony of Victoria" are no more. But just over 35 years ago the Queen of England's representative, on the anniversary of Ned Kelly's hanging, dismissed Australia's democratically elected government.

The outgoing Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam stood on the steps of Australia's Parliament House and said, "Well may we say "God save the Queen", because nothing will save the Governor-General!"

As Ned himself said, with his last breath, "Such is life".

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The "Risen Christ" - Really Mister Ellis!

I sort of think I knew Bob Ellis when I was at uni in Australia, a hundred years ago. Well maybe not. But I know his name. He's an aussie journo and this week he commented on the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

He wrote for The Australian Broadcasting Commission - the 'ABC' - "How secretive and shabby the Americans are".

Ellis wrote, "There was a magical-realist quality to Osama Bin Laden. He looked like the risen Christ, and was often thought dead and came always back to life. His broadcasts needed always to be authenticated because the CIA wanted him dead. He’d humiliated them so enormously they kept saying he was dead. He was 'on dialysis', they asserted, wrongly; he had to be dead by now. 9/11 was so clever. He had to be dead.

And once again they are covering up, and in denial.
" - Bob Ellis 2011.

Well I dunno Bob. I haven't exactly followed your career. But I certainly don't remember hearing your outcry against the killings in Somalia or Darfur.

I read a bit of what you had to say about the Americans going after Bin Laden, Bob. But not all. I just couldn't hack the misinformation.You spoke of Osama's "widow". I wondered why you used the singular.

Yes I agree, in a perfect world, Bin Laden should have appeared in a world court to be tried as a killer. But the world isn't perfect. So let us weigh up the odds.

Do you prefer to lump the president of America, Barack Obama, with the likes of George W and even worse, Palin and Trump? Believe me, he is not of the same ilk.

Along with other Australians, I was here in New York when the Twin Towers went down on Bin Laden's orders, murdering nearly 3,000 of my fellow New Yorkers.

If I am going to be outraged at the killing of the guy who ordered this, at the guy who did not believe women should be educated and who thought gays are evil, then I am a fool.

The fact remains. Bin Laden wasn't a nice person and it is not a perfect world. If we want to be outraged there are plenty of people to outrage against. And Barack Obama isn't one of them.

He has my vote. And I am proud to say it.