Narrative as Navigation Through the Self: Isobel Blackthorn’s Asylum

(‘Narrative as Navigation Through the Self: Isobel Blackthorn’s Asylum by Ness Mercieca was originally published in the October 2015 edition of  The Tertangala)

Featured Image -- 736

They say the mind does not create, and that it only cuts and pastes the stimulus it receives from the outside world.

Author Isobel Blackthorn has a talent for this, in fact, I often get the feeling with her that she is cataloguing my idiosyncrasies. I suspect I am not the only one to suspect this, and that she has an arsenal of our traits and habits to be appropriated for the right character at the right time. It’s the literary skill that brought us Plath’s The Bell Jar, and it goes by the name of semi-autobiography.

When I asked Isobel about her creative process, her words confirmed what John Cleese (whose name my computer insists I correct to Cheese) once said about creativity, that the subconscious will reward you with an idea if you spend long enough contemplating a topic. Here it is in Isobel’s words; “I let the story brew inside me for a while, sometimes years, and when some other far larger part of me has it all figured out, I have a powerful irrepressible urge to write. And I go into lockdown and give that other self total freedom.”

The true art to Plath and Blackthorn’s (Plath-thorn’s, if you like) literary style, however, is dissecting the self. Most authors do it; a mood or thought is isolated. It becomes the embryo from which a new self germinates, and it becomes a complex character. (Ever wonder why writers think of their characters like children? Well, there you have it.) Entire books can be populated by these alternate selves of the author, and a narrative becomes the ship through which the self is navigated.

Who’s at the helm, you ask? Isobel speaks not only of smaller selves, but of a larger one who personifies her creativity; “I prefer to think of my source of inspiration as some other greater me deep inside,” she says, “and every time I write a first draft, I’m paying homage to her, to the muse.”

Isobel’s most recent book, Asylum, is the story of such an alternate self. Yvette Grimm speaks with an incredibly honest voice from the perspective of an illegal immigrant waiting to be told to leave Australia, but having no-where else to go. She has been given a personal prophecy that she will meet the father of her children in Australia, and her hopes of permanent residency depend on meeting him very, very soon.

What resonates the most with me, however, is the creative block that all of this brings about in Yvette. Blackthorn made me want something, as a reader, that a book has never made me want before; I wanted Yvette Grimm to paint. Blackthorn played on a knowledge we all have that when you find inspiration, it’s probably because you’ve found something else too.

Open Vein’s still bleed

Who has read Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano?
PB99162-396x600
To my mind no book could be more timely or more apt. For what occurs now in Syria, in the Middle East, and the ensuing exodus of a traumatised people, is merely a repetition, possibly the culmination, of what went on in the 70s in South America, not only upon the pretext of, ‘Kissinger would not tolerate another Cuba in America’s own backyard,’ but because back then, behind the scenes, the neoliberal model of governance was poised to be implemented, and who better to do that than Pinochet, who rolled in his tanks on the 11th of September 1973. 
Now neoliberalism has grown into the Beast it was always destined to become, and the ugly mess it creates is evident in ‘its own other,’ Daesh.
(I coin the phrase ‘a thing is its own other,’ to point the finger back to the source, the one doing all the complaining and accusing, being the exemplar of those very qualities. It’s also to be found in the verbal abuser’s handbook, as any victim of domestic violence will attest)
Reading Open Veins on the back of The Men who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson seems fortuitous, as the latter portrays the sorts of crazy sinister goings on behind the scenes of the military and of course of our beloved CIA, which leaves the reader thinking they wouldn’t put anything past that lot.
833970
Open Veins, depicts the consequences of such shenanigans.
We are currently witnessing a human tragedy on a scale not seen since WWII, as the media perpetually reminds us. And this tragedy invokes in many of us a sort of paralysis. Our response is both humanitarian, whether born out in protest, in donation, in actual physical help, and at the same time, befuddlement that such events could be occurring.
And of course many of us are horrified by Daesh. We sense that Daesh is to blame and must be stopped. We have a sense that we should never have invaded Iraq. We are troubled by all the troubles that won’t go away, in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in the Kurdish lands.
Life likes irony, I’d say it was born to it, and there is no greater irony than the current influx of refugees into Europe, as many tens of thousands of innocents seek sanctuary in the very nations complicit in the downfall of the Middle East.
Much the same took place in South America, as vast numbers of asylum seekers sought sanctuary in Spain, its old Colonial oppressor.
The difference between then and now is the methods of the ‘conspirators’ have changed. In the 70s in South America, military dictators were installed in nation upon nation, with the covert assistance of the American military and the CIA.
Whereas now, military dictators are being toppled in favour of, ‘the completely failed state.’ A much better situation as it allows for far more $$ to be made and one doesn’t have to deal with a belligerent tinpot junta, a little despot with his own ideas.
Better to have no ideas. Better to have absolute mayhem and quite a lot of carnage. Blow the cities and the towns to smithereens and then we’ll have plenty to rebuild. Yahoo! That’ll keep us busy for decades.
If I were a European citizen, I’d be pissed off with America for cultivating the conditions which have led to the current social cataclysm as Syria implodes. And of course America is not alone on the geopolitical stage. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel, France, Britain, Germany et al, all have a vested interest in the catastrophe that spans from Libya through to Afghanistan.
Really, what we are witnessing isn’t a pot pourri of national interests playing geopolitical chess, but a single, unified interest, and that interest is disaster capital. While nations posture and threaten and invade, vast corporations are adding the dollars to their tills. Which is why, after I have finished reading Open Veins, I shall be turning to, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe, by Antony Loewenstein.

9781784781156-max_221-dd0e1216427098ea0ad0344ca53c6c86

So now, as I contemplate the current exodus from war-ravaged lands, and as I delve into the recent past of the 70s and trace the roots of that wave of Empiric atrocity, I do so knowing that the War on Terror and the Cold War before it, are veils, excuses. The root causes of both lie in the deep plans of neoliberalism and the ruthless reckless manner in which those plans are imposed on humanity.

Don’t stop the boats, stop the injustice

I tried to watch Go Back to Where You Came From on SBS last night, but when they got to the border camp in Jordan, where 200 of the 4 million-and-rising refugees fleeing Syria arrive by the day, I welled up. Every time I picture the camps I cry.
561631-asylum-seekers
Appearing in my newsfeed a little later was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about how the free trade agreement would push up the price of medicines in Australia, posing a threat to our pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS).
What have refugees got to do with the PBS and the free trade agreements (TPPs)? Everything.
In my view, the TPP is a global campaign designed to challenge sovereignty, designed to worsen the wellbeing of all, designed to benefit only the huge corporations. That the Australian government is currently footing a $50 million bill for court costs defending a case brought about by Phillip Morris over plain cigarette packaging should raise the alarm.
Another campaign designed to worsen wellbeing is the cultivated destabilisation of the Middle East. Cultivated through arms supplies, favouring sides, funding, training and general politicking, the result, a series of failed states. It seems a new twist on the Cold War proxy war strategy rolled out the world over wherever a chance presented itself, one that left and continues to leave unimaginable devastation in its wake.
Refugees are expendable. Just as we are expendable.
The global elite really doesn’t care. To the elite, we are less than scum in a bathtub. It’s always been this way.
For my doctoral thesis I studied the works of Theosophist (esotericist) Alice Bailey. 100,000 words and I’m the world’s leading academic authority on her work, for what it’s worth.
I woke this morning thinking about what she has to say about consciousness and how it expands and transforms. Thousands and thousands of words that can be summed up in two – Wake Up!
What she says about Power is more striking. She talks about the way power focuses to a single point. Power centralises itself and thus self-perpetuates, gaining in strength as it advances. Power is the arrow, the finger of an outstretched hand, a gun. Power has no regard for anything except power.
Thus power in human form needs an expanding evolving consciousness that embraces ideas with an open heart. Power in human form needs compassion.
Alice Bailey witnessed both World Wars. She decried the bickering and the squabbles and the infighting and divisions amongst all those who are waking up. She saw the necessity of unity in diversity (her phrase) and she knew that unless we achieve unity, we will never address the problem of power on our planet, power that has always been fundamentally evil (anti-life) – selfish, greedy, corrupt, abusive, destructive and so on.
As the veil lifts and one by one we see this power for what it is, then we must also realise the other sort of power and help it manifest – the power of unity in diversity.
That’s why the sight of refugees in border camps makes me cry.

Asylum book launch review!

I’m reposting this fabulous review featured in the July 2015 edition of The Triangle community newspaper.

IMG_9423

“Saturday, 20 June saw a wonderful gathering at the Well Thumbed Bookshop, Cobargo NSW, for the launch of Isobel Blackthorn’s latest book, Asylum. Starting the proceedings, Dr Heather O’Connor talked about our most wonderful and recently departed local, Neilma Ganter, found of Four Winds, Mumbulla Foundation and hundreds of other local organisations, who had learned from her father that money was meant to be spent on community, establishing a path of philanthropy in his family.

Dr Rosemary Beaumont then talked about the duality of meaning for the word asylum: a sanctuary, and a prison for the unwanted, along with the fact that 90% of Australians have come from migrant families, from poverty, or have come here to escape unbearable political situations. The movement of people has increased substantially, making the issue of refugees a worldwide issue.

Dr Beaumont discussed the fact that we live in a country that has taken a most inflexible approach to refugees, allowing shameful displays of cruelty, barbarity and inhumanity toward these people, before introducing Isobel, “a spirited individual, doing everything at 100%”.

She said that reading Asylum, she was struck by the author’s word-smithing, and her keen observation and crystalline intelligence, which come through the story.

The launch, hosted by the Well Thumbed team, was a wonderful gathering, with standing room only for those who didn’t arrive early. Asylum has been reviewed to be “the sort of book you want to savour”. It has enjoyed five star reviews and great feedback regarding its engagement. The intention of the book is to get people who don’t usually think about the plight of refugees to think and question the status of these people around the world and in particular in Australia, with her narrow perspectives and inhumane treatment of people in genuine need.” by Elizabeth Andalis

 

Colonisation in Reverse

bennett_louiseLouise Bennett (1919-2006)

I’m sharing a poem I first came across in the 80s when I was studying a course with the Open University, UK, called, ‘Third World Studies.’ It was a brilliant multidisciplinary introduction to the North South divide. Hats off to the OU for that seminal moment in my life.

The 80s seem a distant memory but so much of what we see happening and complain about today has its roots in that time of transition, from widespread social democracy in the North, with  Keynesian influenced economies holding Capital in check, to Neoliberalised economies in Northern nations, whose citizenry find themselves going through the same sorts of austerity strictures imposed decades earlier by the IMF on the South. The South could have told us what would happen and how it would feel.

Savvy Southerners have devised all sorts of strategies to survive. Colonisation in reverse is one of them. The logic of it goes something like this: “Since you invaded our lands, took us over, came in your thousands and squeezed yourselves in, stole our resources and rendered us destitute, we will do the same to you.”

11535809_937654186278117_4221243687846749497_nhttp://www.MintPressNews.com

I’ve reposted the poem from where it appeared in New Black Magazine, May 6, 2007. It is written in Patois. It’s hilarious, and I think we could do with a little laughter right now.

Colonisation in Reverse

(You can hear Louise Bennett tell her poem here – go to 4.48mins

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hmi-UXZ_tN8&list=PLpzTAawpibjVb2t-TIITadcGM1OsDk8c-)

Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,

I feel like me heart gwine burs

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in Reverse

 

Be the hundred, be de tousan

Fro country and from town,

By de ship-load, be the plane load

Jamaica is Englan boun.

 

Dem pour out a Jamaica,

Everybody future plan

Is fe get a big-time job

An settle in de mother lan.

 

What an islan! What a people!

Man an woman, old an young

Jus a pack dem bag an baggage

An turn history upside dung!

 

Some people doan like travel,

But fe show dem loyalty

Dem all a open up cheap-fare-

To-England agency.

 

An week by week dem shipping off

Dem countryman like fire,

Fe immigrate an populate

De seat a de Empire.

 

Oonoo see how life is funny,

Oonoo see da turnabout?

Jamaica live fe box bread

Out a English people mout’.

 

For wen dem ketch a Englan,

An start play dem different role,

Some will settle down to work

An some will settle fe de dole.

 

Jane says de dole is not too bad

Because dey paying she

Two pounds a week fe seek a job

dat suit her dignity

 

me say Jane will never fine work

At de rate how she dah look,

For all day she stay popn Aunt Fan couch

An read love-story book.

 

Wat a devilment a Englan!

Dem face war an brave de worse,

But me wondering how dem gwine stan

Colonizin in reverse.

——————————–

 

Isobel’s first novel Asylum Asylum Cover 2is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and RobertsonAmazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

11169720_1087139511299603_8496934390822413782_o

On Line Opinion have just published my latest piece on asylum seekers, for which I am very grateful. The photo here sums up my belief in what Australians are capable of. If this many can gather behind a banner in a tiny village in the middle of a wilderness, then we can only imagine the swell of people standing up, standing for, standing behind this one banner, a banner that represents solidarity with those at the pinnacle of all that is wrong with the world today – asylum seekers.

Here’s the article –

Silencing the lambs: Asylum seekers are a metaphor for our times

 

Isobel’s first novel Asylum Asylum Cover 2is available in paperback at Odyssey Books, Angus and RobertsonAmazon and the Book Depository. Ebook available through all major outlets.

Launching Asylum on World Refugee Day

Just got home from the launch of my novel, Asylum, at Well Thumbed Books, Cobargo NSW, as part of local activities for World Refugee Day. We raised $1,000!!! Big thank you to all who came and made it happen. I’m so proud to live in this warm-hearted and generous community.

11169720_1087139511299603_8496934390822413782_o

We showed the world that refugees matter!

IMG_9423

 

Standing room only!!! What a turnout!

 

P1040888P1040897

Asylum is a rewarding read, rather like a meal when you savour every mouthful instead of gulping it down because there are better things to be done!” – book critic Ann Creber.

Read more about Asylum here