Speak To Me Now

It’s time to talk about revelations.

It’s been an interesting few weeks. Well, few months really. I’ve been engaged in full-time study and full-time work, and full-time writing – needless to say, it’s been truly insane. And not too successful, if I’m being honest. It’s just too damn hard. Trying to write a short story every week, while working every day, and studying to boot, was stupidly ambitious.

As a consequence, every one of those elements has suffered a dip in quality. It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to go to work, period. Every day, the compulsion to write gets stronger, the conviction a little more strident, and so frustration mounts. I just can’t solve the puzzle: how do you live independently, pay rent and associated bills, while engaged in a creative outlet? I don’t know but maybe this will help. Creating low-rent creative hot spots sounds like a great idea, but it’s a ways off from being a reality.

In the meantime, I turn my eye to competitions, magazines, fellowships and grants but of course, crafting an entry of suitable quality in my current condition is proving difficult, to say the least. Still, it seems clear that getting one of those super-competitive leg-ups is essential to breaking out of this humdrum cycle. And while I hesitate to say this, I think I may have found the thing I’ve been looking for all this time.

It’s called Spoken Word, and it’s taking over my life. I’ve seen a few examples over the years and always loved them but recently, it’s really hit me. I watched a documentary called ‘Louder Than A Bomb’, a phenomenal look at young, struggling kids in disadvantaged schools who were finding their feet through poetry, through the slam poetry competition Louder Than A Bomb. The power of storytelling, of words, has always been a touchstone for me and watching this really reaffirmed that as the basis around which I’ve changed my life.

So, I watched that film as well as dozens of other spoken word videos on the net. Then, I was sitting in my Short Fiction class at USYD, going through an exercise – to scan my work over the past few weeks and circle repeated words/ideas/emotions. The concept was to get an idea of your preoccupations, the things you might not even be aware are embedded in your stories, so I started circling some words and what not. The list wasn’t all that long and I found myself sitting there mulling it over. I like to let things simply gestate, give them time to form.

A few moments later I wrote in big bold letters: I fucking hate silence.

It felt like punching a wall, like tearing a hole in a space I didn’t know existed. I’m not sure exactly how long after that it was but I found myself suddenly writing spoken word pieces. Found myself entranced with rhythm & rhyme but more than that, with being heard. This is why I write – this is why I have always written – because I grew up in a stilted environment that taught me to sit still and be silent, to not speak up, to not question, and that I was never, ever right. The subject didn’t matter, so long as I was talking to someone older; our culture demanded my silence.

So I got real, real quiet. Learned to soak up the absence of sound, learned to live in it, to lose myself in books. Books spoke to me. Books grew up with me. They showed me to speak, how to live, how to love, but always internally. I got to be so damn quiet, I was quite often forgotten. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say “I’ve been here the whole time.” Just in my room, reading. Writing has always come from this place, this need to express what I’ve never been able to express. So you can see why spoken word, why slam poetry is so appealing – it removes the veneer of fiction, removes the filter, and puts me directly in front of the audience.

Which is fucking terrifying, frankly. I’ve never done well in those situations; I shy away from the spotlight. Correction: I used to, but no longer. I find myself writing and thinking about these poems more than just about anything else now. Reciting them, practicing, listening to all the slam and spoken artists out there. Learning a new art at this stage would seem almost foolish, especially in this economic climate. I’ve been writing stories for years, been studying literature for years – at least there, I have experience, right?

… But I’ve been quiet my whole life and it’s time to speak up.

So that’s what I’m doing. This is just the beginning.

Why I’m Done With Bill Maher

I hate writing this – hate it because I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but here goes nothing.  So, I was watching Real Time with Bill Maher tonight, and the subject of Islam came up. It was a muddled introduction, but I believe Maher wanted to question whether interfering with foreign dictatorships was a good idea, on the basis that when given democracy, Middle Eastern countries seem to prefer Sharia Law or a theocratic state and isn’t that much worse?

I’ve written about Bill’s attitude and his mindset toward Muslims before, and since then it certainly hasn’t improved. It’s actually much worse, a kind of Islamophobia that even Fox News would be proud of, and it’s no longer something I can bear to watch. But I bring this up because one of Maher’s panelists, Glenn Greenwald, a political journalist and former civil rights lawyer, admirably took down Maher’s prejudiced views. To see the kind of spirited defence Mr. Greenwald provided was unbelievably heartening – it’s not often you see it in the mainstream media.

It is so noteworthy in fact, that I’ve transcribed the relevant section of the show here:

“…but we didn’t go into Egypt, and they voted in the Muslim brotherhood.”

Glenn: “But we did go into Egypt, we were supporting and propping up Mubarak for 30 years even as we were cheering for all the Tahrir Square demonstrators, that we were on their side, it was our government that kept Mubarak in power, just like we’ve done across the entire Muslim world.

And it’s amazing for you to say that, well look at all these Muslims – the minute that you give them a little bit of freedom, they go wild and start being all violent. How can you be a citizen of the United States, the country that has generated more violence and militarism in the world over the last 5 or 6 decades, and say, “look at those people over there, they are incredibly violent.” We play a significant role in what has been happening in the Middle East because we’ve been interfering and dominating that region in order to have access to their oil.”

Bill: “I wasn’t talking about violence, I was talking about theocracy. That doesn’t happen here.”

Glenn: “Okay, that doesn’t happen here but at the same time, Iran isn’t invading lots of other countries and occupying them for a decade, nor are fundamentalist Muslim countries the way the United States is, so these things are interlinked because we are continuously interfering in that part of the world and so to say – ”

Bill: “Really? It’s all our fault?”

Glenn: “It’s not all our fault but when you send your military for six straight decades into other countries, to bomb them, kill their children, women and innocent men, prop up their dictators, yeah, you take responsibility for your actions and say, to the extent that region is -”

Bill: “That religion goes back a thousand years before our revolution, so I don’t think we can take all the blame.”

Glenn: “I don’t think we should, I think we should take a lot of it. And there’s lots of bodies piling up and corpses that have been piled up in the name of Christianity and Judaism as well.” (Applause.)

Bill: “Not recently.”

Glenn: “Have you heard of the Occupation of the West Bank in Gaza for the last 50 years? Motivated in part by extremist views of Judaism, or the wars in Europe, or the fact that there were Generals in the United States saying we have to go and invade and destroy Iraq, a country of 26 million people, because our God is bigger. Lots of religions, not just Islam, produce violence.”

Bill: “It’s a silly liberal view that all religions are alike because it makes you feel good.”

Glenn: “No, it makes you feel good to say our side is better, those people over there are primitive –”

Bill: “No, it makes you feel good to put a crown on your head and say, I’m a good person. How do I prove that? –”

Glenn: “You get to ignore the responsibility that your own government has for the violence and instability in the world by saying look, it’s that primitive religion over there that’s to blame.”

I think most of what was said speaks for itself but I wanted to single out Bill Maher’s line, “it’s a silly liberal view that all religions are alike”, because it’s one that he’s said before, going on to say that Islam separates itself from other religions because of its inherent violence or calls for violent acts. It’s ultimately the reason that I won’t be watching his show anymore – it simply doesn’t make sense and doesn’t hold up to even a moment’s critical thought. If Bill’s hypothesis is that Islam is inherently different to other religions, and is inherently to blame for violent acts perpetrated in its name, why aren’t we fighting the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims? Why is the violence so comparably small and localised?

If the religion is to blame and not a combination of massive socio-economic disparity, geo-political forces, and near-constant warfare fostering a renewed sense of tribalism, a desperate need to cling to anything and anyone promising a way out, promising revenge, then the problem would be far worse. It’s the same nonsense logic once applied (hopefully not anymore) to black or ethnic youths that form gangs in Western society – it’s not a question of race or violent tendencies, it’s a question of poor kids with limited access to education, growing up in a turbulent environment in which cycles of repeated violence and abuse are already entrenched.

I used to look past this issue as Bill’s singular, most glaring fault, but it’s simply gone too far and I cannot tolerate supporting, even nominally, someone so prejudiced as to willingly forego logic and recorded history in order to apply their narrow-minded view onto world events. Rather ironically, it’s exactly the sort of behaviour Bill Maher is famous for calling right wing Republicans on, as well as anti-science nuts.