Let my tell you about my muse

What is a muse? One of nine goddesses presiding over the arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. Or a woman, or a force personified as a woman, the source of inspiration for the creative artist.

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Using this latter definition, I can say that my own daughter Liz functions as my muse, as she certainly inspires me. But I prefer to think that she has a direct line into me, or that my muse, Scarlet, has a direct line out to her.

I named my muse Scarlet long ago, back when I had no idea who she was. All I knew was that she existed in my psyche and she was dangerous. Who is she?

I hold with Stephen King’s depiction of the nature of the muse in his memoir, On Writing. He describes his muse as a fat guy in the basement, smoking a cigar. Which all seems stable and almost businesslike, although I think that guy would be a controller. Just like Scarlet.

Here’s the story of Scarlet. I’m a survivor. Back when I was very small things happened that so terrified me that bits of me went into hiding, while other bits of me learned to cope. The first bit of me to flee was my muse, that inner self that lives deep in the unconscious, right in its centre, whose only purpose in life is to create.

The muse is the synthesiser, the one who puts all sorts of things together and comes up with something new. She or he is the bearer of inspiration and enormous joy. Those aha moments belong to the muse.

Without her, I was a creative cripple.

Scarlet fled into a dark corner of my psyche and over the years I locked her in a cage. I locked her in a cage because she could behave like a banshee. She had so much energy and it manifested as blind rage. I couldn’t deal with her. Frankly, she was embarrassing.

Every now and then she’d burst out of me and I’d write something, but I was ashamed of what I wrote. I had no confidence, no self belief, and the feedback I sought from others was not good.

She was persistent. Whenever there was a still moment in my life she’d rattle her cage. I’d feel compelled. I’d pick up a pen. Only to rip up or even burn the outpourings of song lyrics, poetry, stream of consciousness writing or part chapters of a novel.

Of course the life of a survivor is not an easy one. I had a lot to deal with both within myself and with the people I attracted into my life.

I battled with an absence of self worth. I even got a PhD thinking that would help, but it didn’t.

Thankfully I got some good advice along the way. And some of the therapy I underwent to make myself whole again was amazing. Through it I learned to recognise Scarlet and understand her needs. I found her to be a wild voluptuous woman who wore a long red gown as if she’d come straight out of Wuthering Heights. The crown of thorns she insisted on wearing a blatant statement of her suffering. Meek was not in her vocabulary.

Sometimes I visited the cage but the circumstances of my life meant I had to keep her under lock and key. I had no choice but to deal with the vicissitudes that had befallen me. She waited. The years rolled on. Then, in the forty-seventh year of my life, Scarlet had had enough.

On the day she broke out of her cage and roamed free I felt an upsurge of energy. Ideas for a book flooded my mind. I became edgy and impatient for change. She’d begun a revolution.

Before long she took over my decision making. She cleared out all the dross of my life. She demanded my full attention. I found her reckless and obsessive. But I let her have her way.

Now I’m fifty-four. I’ve lived for seven years with Scarlet’s ruthless resolve.

The entire contents of me have realigned themselves around this new creative centre. I feel her energy. She has me up at dawn. She has me writing every day. She has me pushing away everything that does not serve her needs. She sucks me inwards, into her realm, and I have become her slave.

In some ways I live a life out of balance. But in the scheme of my whole existence this extreme, out-of-balance way of life is simply bringing me to equilibrium. I would have it no other way.

Love you Scarlet.

 

Getting acclimatised to horror

6475318-3x2-700x467PHOTO: For a country that values its commitment to human rights as does Australia, the silence in the face of Rohingya suffering is a humiliating moment. (AFP: Christophe Archambault)

Isn’t it wonderful that popular culture provides us with glossy rituals of glamour and celebrity to distract us from the realities of our lives and the lives of others. Like Eurovision. Go Guy Sebastian! – Catchy little song he’s got. But I’d rather sleep than sit through that pap.

Still, it’s easier to shut my ears and eyes to Eurovision and not be affected by it. Whereas hearing the latest spin on those asylum seekers languishing in South Asian waters is something I can’t disengage from.  Julie Bishop has been told by Indonesian officials that the Bangladeshis on those boats are all illegal labourers, or ‘economic migrants’ and not refugees at all. I dare say there will be much debate and speculation about the validity of the claim. Whatever the outcome, I’m deeply troubled.

I awoke this morning thinking that we will no doubt also describe all environmental refugees who leave their land as a result of climate change, ‘economic.’ A sure justification for sending them back. As sea levels rise, and floods and droughts decimate the world’s poorest nations, what are people to do? Sit down and die? That would go against our basic survival instinct.

So now I wonder. Is a stage being set? Has it occurred to anyone else that the harsh attitudes to asylum seekers the world over is less to do with not wanting to home war’s collateral overspill and more to do with the looming horrors of climate change? One that invokes a pointed hardening of attitudes of the citizens of recipient nations. Are we being systematically conditioned into accepting as banal things which should turn our stomachs and see us taking to the streets enraged?

A stage set so that countries like Bangladesh will end up being their own ‘internment camps,’ as their peoples flee only to be dumped back on shore. No gas required. Death assured.

And with those deaths will die our conscience.

No applause.

Asylum seekers: confronting the double face

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There are two faces to Australia’s asylum seeker policy. There is the outward face, all smiles and hooded eyes, that espouses ‘stop the boats’ mantras to indoctrinate the masses. We are to be persuaded of the necessity for harsh, inhumane treatment of asylum seekers journeying by boat. We are to disregard these peoples’ basic human rights and apportion blame for all their suffering on the shoulders of the smugglers. We are thus exonerated from guilt. We need look no further, for our government is right, opportunism is to be condemned. It is only us who gets a fair go.

The outward face is a veil, a mask. It has been constructed to hide what lies within.

The inward face wears a bland expression. Eyes stare in blank denial, mouth set firm. This is the face of systematic brutality, a daily occurrence in detention centres both on and off shore. Not a day goes by without advocates passing on testimony of the violations of normal respect and decency, and of the systematic cruelty, degradation and psychological torture. Not a day goes by bereft of the despair of those incarcerated and their supporters. It makes for harrowing reading. Through these reports, and through such books as Antony Loewenstein’s Profits of Doom I have come to understand the cool, calculated methods used by corporations (Serco, G4S, Transfield) running these ‘facilities,’ the clinical way they go about their business, all manner of unspeakable decisions justified by the profit bottom line. Bloodsucking corporations filled with a cohort of Adolf Eichmanns.

For there is but a whisker of difference between the orders that are issued, and the manner in which they are carried out, in detention centres and in the Holocaust camps.

“I go down to the jetty, where several dozen DIAC, Serco, police and Customs officials, as well as interpreters and ambulance staff, await the arrival of the refugees. A number of CI residents and tourists are there too, and are mostly middle-aged or older. The ones I talk to all express opposition to refugees. They are “illegals” who might come and “take over”, like “what’s happening in parts of Europe”. One person says, “They should be pushed back to Indonesia, where they will be safe. Why are they coming to Australia? What if terrorists are on the boats? We have poverty here and people living in bad conditions on CI, but they come and are treated better than Australians”. I mention Serco and ask whether anyone cares that a private company is making money from greater numbers of refugee arrivals. One older man says he feels uncomfortable about it, while a tourist isn’t aware of the fact.”- Profits of Doom
“Curtin is surrounded by scrubby desert as far as the eye can see. I can’t imagine a more isolated place to be detained. Demountables are scattered beside the road near the car park and high barbed-wire fences surround the detention compound. We can see new houses being constructed nearby, and a freshly laid concrete pathway leads to the main entrance. The last years have seen the construction at the centre of gymnasiums, religious rooms and classrooms…Serco posters and signs advertising the company are ubiquitous in the reception area. They display the smiling faces of happy staff and multicultural imagery that includes a Muslim imam. A colour brochure emblazoned with four grinning faces from various racial backgrounds sits on a small table near some lockers.‘Bringing service to life’ is the company’s motto. The pamphlet says that Serco ‘promotes the inherent dignity of people in detention in line with the Australian government’s new immigration detention values’. A number of other pieces of Serco literature are scattered around reception. ‘Visitor Conditions of Entry’ states that there are three visiting periods every day, including between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but also says that arrival after 5 p.m. will not be permitted. There are dozens of rules and regulations on the sheet, including: ‘Respect the privacy and dignity of all people in the centre’. It’s a noble goal, but one that staff routinely breach, detainees later tell me.” Profits of Doom
“….We unloaded the motor. It was a heavy Russian benzine engine, at least 200 horsepower. we installed the engine on a concrete foundation and set up the connection between the exhaust and the tube. I then tested the motor. It did not work. I was able to repair the ignition and the valves, and the motor finally started running. The chemist, who I knew from Belzec, entered the gas chamber with measuring instruments to test the concentration of the gas. Following this, a gassing experiment was carried out. If my memory serves me right, about thirty to forty women were gassed in one gas chamber. The Jewish women were forced to undress in an open place close to the gas chamber, and were driven into the gas chamber by the above mentioned SS members and the Ukrainian auxiliaries. when the women were shut up in the gas chamber I and Bolender set the motor in motion. The motor functioned first in neutral. Both of us stood by the motor and switched from “Neutral” (Freiauspuff) to “Cell” (Zelle), so that the gas was conveyed to the chamber. At the suggestion of the chemist, I fixed the motor on a definite speed so that it was unnecessary henceforth to press on the gas. About ten minutes later the thirty to forty women were dead.” – Testimony of SS Scharfuhrer Erich Fuchs, in the Sobibor-Bolender trial, Dusseldorf
“Before the Jews undressed, Oberscharfuehrer Michel made a speech to them. On these occasions, he used to wear a white coat to give the impression that he was a physician. Michel announced to the Jews that they would be sent to work, but before this they would have to take baths and undergo disinfection so as to prevent the spread of diseases… After undressing, the Jews were taken through the so-called Schlauch. They were led to the gas chambers not by the Germans but by the Ukrainians…After the Jews entered the gas chambers, the Ukrainians closed the doors. The motor which supplied the gas was switched on by a Ukrainian named Emil and by a German driver called Erich Bauer from Berlin. After the gassing, the door were opened and the corpses removed….” Testimony of SS-Oberscharfuehrer Kurt Bolender, In the Belzec-Oberhauser trial

The inward face is ugly. It portrays the clinical indifference of the psychopath. There is no empathy and no conscience in the eyes. It is as if we are witnessing the emergence of a plethora of death camps, a many headed Hydra, one that has learned from past mistakes and chosen psychological over physical death of inmates as the path of preference. There is profit, as long as they stay alive.

And a sort of psychological death is the reality especially for children and long-term detainees who must suffer the ordinary mundane tortures of life on Nauru, Manus or Christmas Island, or Curtin, Villawood or any other gulag. Such tortures do not extract blood, do not cause extreme physical pain. Instead, the methods are not dissimilar to those enacted by a perpetrator of domestic violence. They are designed to drive a person mad.

Asylum seekers are not a problem: they’re people

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With thousands of asylum seekers and refugees in the Straits of Malacca, crammed into boats without food and water, rejected by country after country and towed back out to sea, the desperation of vast numbers of people scrambling to reach safer shores could not be starker. They may be fleeing terror. They may be fleeing destitution. And we must strive to understand the circumstances of such flights in their entirety before we dare to point an accusatory finger.

The blame game will only succeed for so long. A hugely successful propaganda technique is to isolate the ‘fall guy’ and blame to the hilt. When it comes to asylum seekers, we are told to blame the people smugglers. While I dare say such traffickers are not my kind of folk, because I prefer to spend time with people with scruples, they are, like many agents and go betweens, providing an essential service, and making a profit out of the fee.

In  The last time they turned back the boats, Jeff Sparrow draws a parallel between the rejection of the Bangladeshi and Rohingya refugees and the Jews on St Louis, and our ‘casual indifference’ to such atrocity. Such indifference is cultivated in part through a manipulative play on our fears, of terrorism, and of ‘opening the floodgates to job stealers.’ Thus a nation may stand firm against ‘marauding outsiders’, control its borders with impunity, its citizenry hardened into callous yet bogus self-preservationist attitudes.

What is alarming about today’s situation is that we are able to turn our hate-fueled eyes in the direction of any and all outsiders, wherever they come from. And the causes of asylum seeking are ignored.

Yet unless we examine those causes, we will be complicit in an evil as great if not greater than the Holocaust. People take flight when fight is not possible. When villages have been razed, towns ethnically cleansed, when the women are raped and the men slaughtered. When there is nothing left to eat or drink. People flee because they are desperate. The decimation of the Middle East, the ongoing violence and oppression across North Africa, Myanmar, the civil war in Ukraine, are but a few examples.

We are also on a precipice. Climate change is already spawning refugees. Bangladesh, home of 156 million people, is slowly sliding under the sea, village by village.

And let’s not forget there are huge sums to be made out of refugees. (And of course war) Who cares about human suffering when profits can be gleaned running detention centres? In fact, refugees make more money than prisoners, so bring it on. The more suffering the better. This sort of statement is not seen on Serco’s home page, or G4S’s, but it should be, and if these corporations told the truth about themselves it would be.

Serco, a corporation run by the super-rich. A corporation that profits out of the poor. That sucks from the teat of the tax payer’s bottle confident the bottle will never run dry.

In essence, asylum seekers exist because the super-rich exist. Because such people are expendable. The reality is that we are all expendable. The insanity of the situation we are living in is that of a parasite determined to kill its host.

Australia is a world leader in a universal cruelty. When St Louis  was looking for a home, the locus of evil was Germany. Now we have multiple loci as country after country seeks to guard and close its borders. I have no idea how this will end. I suspect that there will be much horror ahead before it does.

What does it take to care about asylum?

The only horror most of us are prepared to watch is via our movie screens. If we took the time to put ourselves in an asylum seeker’s shoes with one droplet of empathy and a tiny bit of imagination, we’d be mimicking Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

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Meanwhile, asylum seekers are taking extreme measures to protest their incarceration. A hunger strike is no small thing.

Yesterday I received word from a friend on the ground. She said the temporary protection visas, the ever-present threat of being rendered stateless or deported back to certain torture and death was so horrendous, case workers and volunteers were in despair.

How much resilience can we expect of people?

For how long do we expect such cruelty to go on?

Every day I read harrowing reports from those in detention centres. I read as well the anguish and desperation in the hearts of those front-line volunteers who visit asylum seekers regularly.

I hear too, the frustration voiced by so many that we as a society are not doing enough. We are failing in the eyes of the world, and we are failing in the eyes of our own people.

Stand up Australia! Pledge support! Do something, anything to let the asylum seekers and their supporters know you care.

Why? Why bother? Because doing nothing makes us little better than those who turned their backs on the concentration camps and pretended they were not there.

Abbott the Abuser?

More than seven hundred asylum seekers on Manus Island continue on hunger strike over resettlement fears, some sewing together their lips, others swallowing razor blades. It’s a dramatic mass act of protest and despair that is gaining global media attention.
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Meanwhile, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre posted a press release on their website stating that, ”the Abbott government is about to become the first government in Australian history to knowingly  and deliberately let an asylum seeker die in their care.
A young Iranian man in a Darwin detention centre has now gone a total of 76 days without food. Days from death. Lost 30 kilos. Lost all hope. Abbott plans to let him die.
Today, he told us that he fled Iran to escape being locked up and tortured – only to suffer the same fate in Australia.

We call on the Abbott government for an Act of Compassion. They can relieve his suffering and save his life by releasing him into Community Detention immediately.”

This could be me, you, anyone in fact born into an unhappy fate. My head hangs in shame of my government, in shame of my country.
I hear some say in the face of domestic violence and child abuse, ”you must forgive, otherwise you will end up bitter.” – What do we do in the face of ongoing violence and abuse meted out to asylum seekers by our abusive government, a scenario in which many of us feel the agony of bearing witness? Am I to forgive? Of course not. Am I too forget, push aside as too damaging to my own psyche? Nope.
Those of us who stand in solidarity are crucified, our flesh weeping blood from so many nails as our friends on the other side of the fence are violated, tortured and oppressed every day.

Acceptance of violence and abuse always happens after the fact. I may not forgive the perpetrator but I can find acceptance in my heart, for I cannot undo time, regret is futile and I would not wish to give the perpetrator the additional satisfaction of ruining my whole life. While the violence and abuse continue however, there is no acceptance. There is only an agony of heart. There is only the awareness that we exist inside a living hell, a hell equal to all the other living hells, from the Inquisition to the Nazi death camps.

There will always be those who condone or even approve of the internment camps, just as there were those who approved of the Inquisitors.

I’m always amazed by how many who choose to stand on the side of the abusers, the perpetrators, those prepared to deny the horrors, the truths. Mothers who blame their daughters for the bruises on their faces, bruises from marital punches. Citizens who vilify victims of terror for fleeing the bombs, the bullets and the blades.

As I hang from the nails embedded in my flesh, my wounds weep all the more knowing this.