Swirls Around In My Head

January 23, 2020

Swirling around in my head are many different cuts and swipes of people, events, encounters and paper scrawls. It’s a whirly whirly spinning around in my skull. I’m tired and yet I feel it’s important I record at least one or two thoughts.

What I feel is a sense of nostalgia.

Not for a particular time or place. No, for a state of mind. Sure there is peace, there is balance but somehow there is a lack of authenticity. It is hard to put my finger on it but it has to do with my sense of self. Now even this last sentence lacks authenticity. At least I am aware of it, I tell myself. But this awareness can also stifle expression – for if expression is rooted in a sense of self, feeling inauthentic, feeling untrue can even stifle an inauthentic voice.

whirly whirly small

So what is the point? Is it true that if awareness arises then the inauthentic will disappear and authenticity will dawn? Sounds logical doesn’t it? Then these thoughts arise, “What if when the inauthentic, the lie disappears and there is nothing! Nothingness! The great void made whole in my skull.” But even this fear is not a real one.

I am a man that has a puppet for a body and strings for a mind. The big question for me is, who is pulling the strings?

This question is full of hope because it brings into view the unseen, the unknown. You know as well as I do that there are no real strings and puppet parts… you know that it’s only a metaphor.

What’s the nature of this otherness that the metaphor alludes to?

I don’t know. So, now, swirling around in my head is this question.


The Curve of My Heart’s Desire

January 22, 2020

My mother hassles me in her dotage to go to church, to confess my sins, take holy communion and to kiss the priest’s hand. I can’t tell her that I see the priesthood as a costume prop of divinity wrapped around men. It’s not just the presumption of priesthood that grates but also the arrogance radiating off the white dog collar.

priest dog collar

“Matthew 7:1-2 Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”

How far do I stray from this advice when I’m confronted by the Church? The whole edifice from its theology to its soteriology and its masonry is riddled with presumption and arrogance. Why must the source of Divine Power and Love be subject to franchise agreements? I cannot believe the ineffable manoeuvres like a lawyer. Is the priest a broker dealing in soul futures? With Wall St brokers, if you’re lucky, you may gain something. The Church provides words that haven’t been digested & transmuted into gold wisdom.

Is this to say that the Divine, the Miraculous, the Living Unknown do not exist? No. It only means that a systemic structure such as a Church cannot be the unpredictable, ineffable symbol of the Real. Now this engenders a whole host of issues of which the question “What is Real?” is at the centre. I don’t know the answer. I do know that the systemisers pretend to know.

What of confession? There’s something so essential, so oneself that hesitates to confess to another man one’s “sins”. The Greek word for “sin” is harmatia which means “missing the mark”. The assumption here is that both the priest and the confessor have agreed on what is sin. Even if they do agree as to what constitutes sin, it still sucks to confess these sins to another person. If it is true that God is not only transcendent but also imminent it follows that all failings and sins are already known to Him. The argument goes that when one confesses one is not confessing to the priest but rather through the priest to God. In other words the priest is an intermediary, a flesh & blood telephone. The priest also has the power to decide what, if any, penance is required. If you pay now you won’t have to worry about the interest rate in the after life. As a consequence, merely by humbling yourself to the intermediary, the priest, you will gain peace of mind and soul.

Really?

Do I need the responsibility of my life to rest on the decisions of a church man? What if the after life, the here after is THIS LIFE again? Yes, instead of a Ground Hog Day – a Ground Hog Life. Does it mean I will be forever doomed to pay lip service to a caricature of divinity just so I secure a respectable soul? Maybe there are souls that don’t fit the respectable mould. This does not mean they are not chosen by God. It only means that they may have another calling.

tree of knowledge

It goes deeper than this, it goes to the curve of one’s heart desire.

In me there resides the need to know, to understand. In me this desire to know who I am, what is my place in the universe and why I am here has directed the shape of my life. This desire has taken me to the edge of sanity where flying saucer landing pads in a commune’s backyard took the place of Hills Hoists. This desire has also turned my mind to the study of numbers, symbols, astrology, magic and divination – all of the mantic arts. The curve of my heart’s desire turns away from dogma & belief to the ever present mystery of simple life. This curvature reveals along its edge another calling that has nothing to do with any church or institution.

The desire to know was also probably Adam & Eve’s original sin. We all know what happened to them when they took a bite of the Apple.

Yes, I am inflicted because I seek knowledge of the Divine and I don’t want church men hovering around the curve of my heart’s desire.

apple

A Ragman in a Colony of Nudists

November 28, 2019

Here I am, locked in isolation, or so it seems. My isolation is more akin to a ragman in a colony of nudists. If I should remove patchwork labels from my body and forehead I’m afraid I couldn’t bear the darts of recognition. What’s there to recognise? I ask myself almost every second day. The days between I try to remember the question. When I remember, it always begins with the hissing of brain static. It’s not a fit, more like an unfit – a dislodging, a space to hear the static.

So, that’s how it was! Nobody had ever told me how we got here. With the brain static easing, I can feel my family roots and somehow they don’t belong here. I understand now how my ancestors had crossed the Great Ocean and arrived here. That sounds pretty plausible, but there is a problem. Nobody here – not the priest, the teacher, the doctor, the scientist, the politician, the philosopher, the butcher, the baker and the USB stick maker believes there is such a place – beyond the Ocean. This is only half of the problem. The other is that nobody here believes anyone had come from anywhere before. They all believe that they have always been here, from the time of protozoa to the time of silicon cells. Indeed, the prevailing thought of this country is Always Here and Now. I suppose it’s simple logic really, when you consider that if there is no other place than here then how could anybody come from elsewhere. Where is the elsewhere? If you can’t orient this place called elsewhere with a compass, then it can’t exist.

Where is this other place? My old friends used to ask me this at all hours of the night. I believe that they were trying to bring me back to my senses, or should I say back to their senses. They warned me that if I continued on this path I’d discover madness. As if I have any choice in it. I told them, there must be something more significant than the rest of experience otherwise my life is just one dimensional… it lacks relief, the bumps that tell you it’s solid and not just paper. So, what was more significant than anything else in my sphere of attention? So, what’s the use of significance? Does having a meaning make bread taste any better? Would the coffee be better if it was drunk by a saint rather than a monkey? What if I didn’t have any bread or coffee, does meaning, significance make starvation any better?

Whatever it is, I’m heading home – wherever it is. It is difficult to speak freely about this other place because every statement about it rocks the foundation logic of this continent. From the admission of this other place, comes other admissions – through the backdoor, so to speak. These include that which was black is now white, and that the inner is the outer. Indeed, a complete reversal of one’s beliefs. In a world where nothing else exists but itself, the entrance of another place, another world obliterates it.

I know now, my ancestors lived on an island that was destroyed aeons ago. Only a few of the islanders survived the complete submersion. They were the fishermen who being far enough away were not sucked under with their island. The survivors made their way across the ocean waiting for a fortunate wind. Fortunate because without it they’d remain still in the Great Ocean without a home. With a wind they may strike some land, anywhere. They didn’t know where they were headed, only that they were alive and hoping to land somewhere.

Forty days and nights in the wilderness. Forty days and nights it takes for the quickening of a full human form in a womb. Forty days and nights it takes an Orthodox soul to clear up its unfinished business here before it finally leaves its body to become dust. For forty days and nights they rowed, they prayed and thanked the fortunate wind.

The arc of coincidence stretched across angels’ wings. Priests turn their heads to Jerusalem while the fishermen turned with the ocean wind. A fisherman’s ambition is as large as the ocean. When he scans the reddening horizon sometimes he perceives a rhythm of the waves and the pulse of red dwindling in the sunset. He throws away the concerns that like tombstones hang over memories.

And now, here I am, locked in isolation, or so it seems. Goggles won’t protect your vision here, only grace and prayer can.


My Table of Memories

September 17, 2019

I finished putting legs on my table all those years ago. My table’s not much, just a plank of wood on top of some logs. This is the table that will hopefully be a fertile field for star matter. The table top comes resonant with memories. These memories are living harmonic entities, I feel as though I owe these memories something, like it’s some unfinished business.

I love that it is made from recycled goods. The top was given to me, the legs I found at a demolition yard and the dowling, an old broom handle. Things aren’t square, for all intents and purposes if the logs weren’t so big the whole thing would probably fall. Not a solid foundation in structure but will remain stable because of its substance. Kinda like me, I suppose. There’s something to be said about being recycled. Hands that carried the table top to my home left not only fingerprints, but also something of themselves. I’m getting kinda teary eyed about Tin Sheds, Sydney Uni where I taught Tai Chi to the Earthworks Poster Collective & Architecture Students who built the Alternative House. I can assure you that in the 1970’s the Tin Sheds were REALLY tin sheds. Not like it is now, a Gallery, as seen in the link.

That’s me up front on the grounds of The Tin Sheds Gallery, Sydney University

It was in the 1970’s and the Architecture Faculty had a clean up & was getting rid of some tables. My students knew I needed a desk and offered to carry a table top reject to my home since we didn’t have a car and I only lived less than a kilometre away. I find it hard to believe our past actions are burnt & all we have are smoke memories curling from chimney tops of NOW. Those people and their hands are here now, just as bones of my body are buried in the future. Our life time is an Ourobouros where the moment of our first quickening in a womb is also the moment of our death.  P D Ouspensky’s idea of Eternal Recurrence I find somehow comforting.

I made the legs soon after I received the table top when I was a student of literature and psychology. When the table was complete I found some long lost series of icons given to all Greek Orthodox kids at Sunday School. They were small paper prints, the size of football cards. How they survived all those years I don’t know. When I was going through the whole  Dharma Bum thing, I carried these five icons depicting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as page markers of the I Ching – the great Book of Changes in my backpack. This combination, with my filakto, pinned to the inside of my shirt, protected me as I hitched hiked across Australia. It’s only fair to the scheme of things that these companions would also assist me through my intellectual hiking across a Humanities degree.

These icons were with me throughout my studies and were glued to the table top in a cross like pattern, with the Resurrection in the centre. The Crucifixion was to the South, the Transfiguration to the North, the Birth to the East and the Last Supper to the West. These were markers of another compass, another North. I varnished the whole top so the icons became part of the table. I’d see the Cross of Events amidst the disorder of my table. In many ways this addition to my table claimed ownership of the top. Sometimes, between a cup of coffee and some notes, or a book, I’d catch a glimpse of the Resurrection. The Byzantine black of the tomb seemed darker still with His feet and legs standing up and in contrast to a coffee cup and book, to that moment his image seemed to hover above the flat table top. This image, beside my notes, reminded me, if only for a fraction of a breath that death has been beaten. So, my table had a border beyond death within the wood it was made of.

Resurrection

The textbooks of academia rested & opened on these icons on my table top. When I was uncertain about which direction to take I sometimes cast a hexagram so that the Book of Changes would speak to me. Just like I did when I hitch hiked across Australia. The difference this time was that the coins fell on the icons instead of  road dirt.

I Ching Hexagrams

I Ching Hexagrams

One person stands out in my memory and now winks at me from the table in my mind, for the table no longer exists. His name is Colin Little – check this article in Eye Magazine > Political clout: Australian posters  http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/political-clout-australian-posters.

Colin asked me to teach him and his friends Tai Chi. He knew I was no master but when you’re friends, who needs to be a master? We were all beginners with beginners’ minds – I was just a little longer a Tai Chi beginner. He died in 1982. Here’s some work he did at the Tin Sheds as part of the Earthworks Poster Collective:

Earthworks Poster Collective by Colin Little, “Bo Diddley SRCEarthworks Poster Collective by Colin Little “Lenin Conference on Radical Economics

Here’s a classic Earthworks Collective Poster by Chips Mackinolty – Land Rights Dance

Earthworks Collective Poster by Chips Mackinolty – Land Rights Dance

 


A Night in the Heart of Australia

April 6, 2017

This is an excerpt from a larger article “A Ganma Odyssey” in this blog https://dodona777.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/a-ganma-odyssey-2/

I will post other stories about my travels across Australia so look at this excerpt as if it’s a prologue of sorts.

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It’s been 25 years since I last visited Central Australia. Back then, the Sturt Highway was a two way dirt road all the way from Darwin to near Port Augusta. In 1972, words like revolution, liberation, justice, equality, freedom and peace, rolled off my tongue with a tender passion. Feeling the emptiness in the institutions, the knowledge factories and the general lack of soul in the world I hit the road. Back then I was searching for something. Nowadays, I’m still searching and it seems that the ” R ” word is the only one that doesn’t roll off my tongue so easily. Perhaps it should.
Twenty five years ago I found myself, with little more than nothing, in the heart of Australia. All I had was my canvas pack with a few clothes, a couple of books and some water in a bottle. I had no money. The previous three nights I had slept under the stars along the highway and during the day I prayed for a lift. I was two hours south of Alice heading for Adelaide when I was dropped off at Erldunda, near the turn off to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). Across the road a petrol bowser stood as if on guard outside the general shop. A bus arrived and parked a few metres away from where I was standing. I watched the tourists get off. I hadn’t eaten a thing for over three days and I knew that the people getting off the bus would have something to eat. I approached a woman in a white hat as she stepped off the bus. Looking her in the eyes I said, “Excuse me, have you any food?”.

She looked at me with some pity and reached her hand into a brown paper bag pulling out a small green tomato. As she handed me the fruit I sensed everyone looking at me, from the bus driver to the little girl with her face pressed against the bus window. The white hat woman released the tomato into my hand and a ripple of disgust crossed her eyes and brow. I was dirty, I was homeless, a Dharma Bum now just a bum. I accepted the food and turned away from my shame. I noticed someone standing ahead of me in the distance waving, beckoning me to come over.

uluru-kata_tjuta1

Photo © Mark Moxon 1995-2017
All Rights Reserved

I had nothing to lose but everything to gain, holding the unripe tomato in my hand, I walked towards the stranger. As I got closer I could see white hair and a white beard on the face of an old black man. He wore trousers that were a little too big for him and a coat that was a little too small. He smiled and placed his hand on his belly whispering, what sounded like, “Hunger…hunger..” He took me by the arm and showed me to his home by the highway. It was a lean to humpy with a corrugated iron mulga branch roof. Some old flour bags were scattered on the dirt floor to sit on. He shared with me some milk arrowroot biscuit pieces and a powdered milk drink in a tin cup. He let me stay the night. The shop with the petrol bowser had switched its lights off. During the night, nothing much was said between us – the silences, with the occasional bark of a lone dog, said it all.

In the centre of Australia I saw that the dispossessed ones were the generous ones. We non – indigenous ones take and take while these people, the original ones give and give. Twenty five years later, in 1997, our government wants to stop the original people from reestablishing their culture and reconnecting with their land. Extinguishing the recently acquired native title rights is the equivalent of stealing what little these people have and giving this little to the rich, whether pastoralists, miners or just greedy transnational corporations. Will we the non – indigenous ones ever learn? So, 25 years later I was returning with a hunger so subtle that you’d miss it if you weren’t seeking it. It’s a hunger for something which may transform the hole in my being to the whole.


A Walk Through Sydney Botanic Gardens

April 3, 2017

Last week I walked through Sydney Botanic Gardens and took these photos with my phone camera. The day was overcast and I found myself drawn to textures and shapes.


Denial of Racism is Racism.

March 9, 2017

Below is a recent twitter thread talking about bullying and racism. I remembered an incident when I was a teenager walking with my mother from Redfern Station, Sydney to our place. Three Anglo guys stood in front of us and one yelled, “This is what YOU are!”  He rasped his throat and spat a huge glob of green mucus onto the footpath, just missing my mother’s shoe, “THIS! you big fat wogs!” he pointed to the glob. They laughed. My heart skipped a beat, my fists clenched by my side. My mother, looked forward and whispered in Greek, “Ignore them, keep walking.”

Ignore them? Smash the guy’s face into the ground, rub his nose into the green glob, and if there was any dog shit around, rub his face into that too. That’s what was ricocheting in my skull. I kept walking and saw my mother clutching her gold cross near her throat.

Attacking me with racist crap was all part of living in Redfern in those days. But attacking my mother in front of me was another thing. I knew these dicks, my gang knew them and we would get revenge. Our gang was wog only with two Aboriginal kids and we got back at them for the greeny and other crap they did to us. That’s another story.

Someone else told us about her father being hit with a molotov greeny through a car window. Others joined the thread.

Spitting Bogans 1

I then remembered what happened to me as a TAFE teacher and tweeted:

Twitter Insidious Racism

I promised I’d write about it – and here it is.

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I’m not going to use peoples’ real names nor the real region and campus. I’m protecting the guilty because, who knows, they may have changed and feel some remorse. Also, I don’t want to tar a region and a college with the same racist brush because they weren’t all racists. Everything is true except the names.

It was 1988, the Bicentennial of the White Invasion. I was transferred from an inner Sydney TAFE college to a regional college beyond the Great Dividing Range. My friends knew me as an inner city rat because that’s all I lived. Migrants moved to the slums because it was cheap and close to the factory work in the 1950’s and 60’s. For me, anything beyond Liverpool was the Bush. Sure travel through the Bush but not live in it. Snippets of the film “Wake in Fright” bobbed in my mind. An Aussified Duelling Banjos soundtrack played in the background of what I thought it will be like in my new place.

I had no choice but to take this transfer as an English Literature / Communications teacher. My English as a Second Language qualifications were not going to be of any use there. We couldn’t afford the rent in inner Sydney on one wage for a house big enough for me, my wife and five kids.

Upon arrival at my new college I was told the whole region had been waiting for a suitably qualified teacher of English/Communications for over five years. Now they had one.

It was my first ever class in a country college, an initiation into the rural classroom. It was an English class in the Certificate of General Education, TAFE’s equivalent to the NSW School Certificate for those seeking a second chance.

After introducing myself and greeting the class of 15 students I wrote my name on the board. While my back was turned I heard some muttering. When I turned to face the class two students in their early twenties, boy and girl stood up. The guy says, “I’m not having a fucking wog teach me English!”

Before I could reply he and his girlfriend ran out of the class. The other students laughed. I told them I’d be back soon. I saw the two students run down the corridor in the direction of my Head Teacher’s office. I caught up with them as my Head Teacher, Mr Turnip, greeted them.

I said, “Right, you two are not allowed back in my class unless you apologise in front of the class.”

The girl started to cry and the guy stared at me. Mr Turnip put his arm around the girl’s shoulder and said,”Look, just go outside for a while. I’ll handle this.” They walked away with the guy turning his head in my direction smirking.

Mr Turnip asked what happened and I told him. He replied, “But you know Stavros, it IS a bit strange having someone like you teach English.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. From a distance, I  heard faint banjos playing. I replied, “Do you realise what you’re saying? I’m a fully qualified English teacher with an Honours degree in English Literature from Sydney University and a Diploma of Education from the same place. Why is it strange?” I hated telling him my quals and feeling defensive.

He said, “Well, because, you know, you’re not the usual type of person to teach English.”

“Be careful Mr Turnip because you are defending racial harassment.”

Denial of Racism is Racism

“Oh! Come off the grass. What those kids did was not racist. They can’t help being surprised that you are their English teacher.They’re disadvantaged and not used to seeing people like you. Show some compassion.” He folded his arms, ” You take those students back into your class.”

“Sure, they can return as long as they apologise in front of the whole class. They have to do this, otherwise I’ll be a laughing stock to the rest of the class and others will attack me with their racist bull shit.”

“No, you will take them back regardless of an apology. I’m directing you as your Head Teacher.”

“No, I refuse to accept them without an apology and I’m giving you notice I think this whole episode and your attitude is harassment.”

I turned away from him and returned to the class. I never saw the two students again.

I didn’t put in a formal complaint against Mr Turnip. It didn’t seem right in the first week of my teaching in a new college. Needless to say the vibes were tense.  My duties included teaching Higher School Certificate, Certificate of General Education English and Communications classes for vocational courses. There was such a need for my services I had plenty of overtime.

A department from Head Office, Sydney called me. They officiated over the Tertiary Preparation Certificate (TPC) – a course that prepares students for university study. They told me the Aboriginal community needed  a suitably qualified teacher to both teach and coordinate a pilot program. The local community had been waiting for years for this program. It had never been conducted before in NSW and it was now possible to happen because I had arrived. Wow! I grabbed this opportunity with my arms, legs, heart and brain. It was 1988, the Bicentennial of White Invasion – what an honour to implement this pilot program and to have an opportunity to teach an all Aboriginal class.

Yothu Yindi replaced Duelling Banjos in my heart.

Head Office warned me that there would be many obstacles to overcome to make it happen. As far as I was concerned, like the Blues Brothers, I was on a MISSION FROM GOD!

It’s another story for another time about the travails in getting this course off the ground and the joy of working in it.

Teaching and coordinating this course required me to travel 120 kms there and back to the small college twice a week. I heard there were other teachers who travelled even further to teach in colleges in rural sectors so my travelling was nothing.

One day, after returning from the special Aboriginal program I was called to the Head Teacher’s office for a meeting. Mr Turnip was replaced temporarily because he was promoted for a semester as Deputy Principal. My new acting Head Teacher, Ms String O’Pearls was also the Head Teacher of Adult Basic Education and she felt she could look after two sections for a semester.

There was no smile on her face when I entered the office and sat opposite her. Ms String O’Pearls asked me how I was finding working there. I told her it was OK and a bit of a culture shock for me. I also said I loved teaching the Tertiary Preparation Certificate even though I had to travel a fair distance to do so.

She didn’t smile, there was no spark of life – she just touched her pearls with the tips of her fingers. She said, “I’ve called you for this meeting because there’s been a complaint.”

“A complaint? About me?”

“Yes, well, not a specific complaint just a general statement that you don’t quite fit in here.”

I was aghast. “Don’t fit in here? What do you mean?” Yothu Yindi receded and I could hear the distant twang of banjos once again.

“People have been complaining about the way you talk and gesticulate. You’re pretty loud you know.” Her fingers played with the pearls around her neck.

My mind was somersaulting. As far as I was concerned everything seemed OK. I got on well with my students and I thought with my colleagues.

“What’s wrong with the way I talk?”

“You’re too loud, too passionate – everything is so big,” she said in her staid official tone.

“Wow! You’re kidding me! What about my gesticulations?”

“You can’t stop using your hands as you talk. People say if we tied your hands you wouldn’t be able to speak.”

“Well, it’s been a bit of a culture shock coming here. I’ve often wondered why no one ever smiles in this building. In fact you all may as well have a bag over your heads you’re so expressionless. How do the students handle you?”

“How dare you speak like that to me!”

“How dare you speak to me like this! Fuck! Unbelievable!”

The lines on her face contorted into a weird question mark with her mouth a tiny dot.

By now I couldn’t stop,

“Have you considered that maybe I’m suffering from a double whammy culture shock? You know, I’m the only non English speaking background person here among all of you uptight Anglos AND the shock of coming from inner Sydney – cosmopolitan – to this all white province – except for the Aboriginal people who live away from here. It’s a fucking shock to my system.”

“Oh, come on. You’re nothing special and I don’t appreciate your tone or language.”

“I am special, like we all are. You’re saying I don’t fit in. Well, so what? Have you heard of diversity? You say that staff don’t like the way I speak, act or BREATHE! I’m a Greek Aussie. This is how we are. YOU are a racist and you don’t even see it.”

“Careful! Don’t use terms like that. I’m telling you we don’t like the way you behave.”

“No, you’re telling me you don’t like the way I AM! You don’t acknowledge cultural differences – both ethnic and social – inner city Sydney to this place here.”

“You have been warned about your behaviour.”

I shook my head, looked down at my feet. Exasperated I said, ” You have been told that I consider this whole interview as racist in nature. In fact I’m going to use this experience, if I’m granted an interview for the position of Regional Multicultural Education Coordinator, in the Hunter as a classic instance of systemic racism perpetrated by staff who don’t even see it as racist.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“If granted an interview I will. I’m out of this place. Lucky for me I love my students – especially my TPC students. If I get that job it’ll be the only thing I’ll miss.”

I walked out of the office feeling flustered, upset, hurt and defiant. I wished with all my heart that I would get that job in the Hunter.

Well, I did get the job in the Hunter and I did use the incident with Ms String O’Pearls in my interview. I couldn’t help my self telling her how I used the incident in her office in the interview. I thanked her.

Lets talk about Racism


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