Haiku/Senryu

Wings flap

Water splashes

I stand still and watch

Sprinkler cascades water

On the lawn

A girl in a tutu

In the pub

Four beers

Two men

A newly laid Path

Winding through

Old gums

The ocean

A wooden pier

A heron flies

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Short Fiction – Crown Land

It was an old hat, but only just, held together by sweat and sheer determination. It was hardworking and weather-beaten, just like its owner. Fitting perfectly, it moulded itself to George’s head, so well in fact, it would stay on in a strong wind or on a fast moving motor bike. Not a belonging or an item of apparel, but an extension of him. He never looked himself without that old hat.

It once was beige with a brown band, but now was brown all over. The brown of years of perspiration stains, dirt and dust. Of crop sprays and animal dips, milk, blood and dung. There were holes in the crown, the band was only just holding together and bits of the wide brim were gone altogether, but still it did its job. It was impossible to tell how old it was. That old hat looked ancient, but hard work can do that to the young.

It worked seven days a week and in all weather. Drenched by pouring rain and baked by blistering sun. Working at all hours, from early morning when it was still dark and full udders had to be milked, and all through the night, when the irrigation gates had to be opened and closed around the clock. It never got a day off, a holiday or even a sick day. It had seen drought and flood. That old hat had endured hard times and in good times had worked extra hours planning and stockpiling for the next rough patch. Present when new life came into the world, and when life faded away. And sometimes it had to sight down the barrel of a gun, when a life and death decision had to be made.

Of course, there were other hats. The one that was only worn with a suit, to church, to weddings and funerals. There was the blinding white hat that lived on the shelf in the back of the car and was worn at lawn bowls tournaments. And there was the good hat, a younger version of the old hat that was worn into town when there was business to be done. It would one day become the old hat. But not yet. There was still life in the old hat. Life and plenty of soul. Soul that it had absorbed from its owner. And soul that it had absorbed from his land.

Your Instructions (Poetry/Pantoum)

Be brave, keep fear at bay,

It will want to consume you, do not let it.

Keep moving, forward or back,

There is no shame in a wise retreat.

 

It will want to consume you, don’t let it.

Follow your heart, listen to your gut,

Keep moving, forward or back,

Do not overthink your decisions.

 

Follow your heart, listen to your gut,

Be true to yourself and your beliefs,

Do not overthink your decisions.

Be sure to keep an open mind.

 

Be true to yourself and your beliefs,

Keep moving, forward or back,

Be sure to keep an open mind,

Be brave, keep fear at bay.

 

Bad Feminist

The producers of the TV show Doctor Who recently revealed that the next incarnation of The Doctor would be female. This led some to make comments such as ‘about time,’ as if this is some great leap forward in the feminist cause, the next step in equality for women. Some are suggesting that the next James Bond movie should also star a female in the title role – Jane Bond – and for the same reasons. Call me a bad feminist, but I don’t see this as necessarily good for gender equality.

Other movie franchises have recently been rebooted with female characters in the lead – Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eight both take an old format in a new direction by using a predominantly female cast. However, they don’t take male characters and make them female.   From a writer’s point of view, I can see the allure of writing a character in a completely new way, from a completely different perspective or perhaps trying to find the old character within that new context. However, it can’t be ignored that often a character and their behaviour is governed by their gender. In the case of James Bond, his being a slightly misogynistic lothario is part of his charm. And take the character Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise. The line ‘get away from her you bitch’ is so much more powerful having a female protagonist take on a female alien menacing a small girl. The fight is not just human vs alien but taps into deep primal maternal instincts.

Agatha Christie’s characters Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple are both excellent sleuths, Poirot using psychology and ‘the little grey cells’ and Miss Marple using her experience of human nature as observed in the tiny village of St Mary Mead to solve crimes. One could argue that Poirot, as a character and detective could work equally well if portrayed by a female. There is nothing about the character that makes it essential that it be male. However, Miss Marple only works as a female character. An innocuous old person, quietly observing, gleaning information from parlour maids and butcher’s boys and being let into secrets and gossip, would never work if portrayed by a male. Her insights are gathered from the female world, from the female perspective, even from female intuition. And here lies the answer to equality. Creating female characters that work only as female characters.

There would surely be outrage if Ellen Ripley from the Alien movie franchise became Alan Ripley, if Mary Poppins became Martin Poppins, if Dane Prince were Wonder Man and Nathan Romanov became the Black Widower, but changing male characters to female seems to be acceptable, and all in the cause of gender equality.

George Miller could easily have made a Mad Maxine movie in Fury Road but didn’t. He kept his male lead and added a female, Furiosa, who was easily his equal and could only have worked as a female character. And surely that’s the key to gender equality. It’s not just about taking male characters and roles and making them female, but creating female characters that can only work as female and are every bit as engaging and interesting as their male counterparts.

Mirror of Society

I recently heard a commentator describe Social Media as a mirror of society. I don’t think any comment could be further from the truth. Rather than reflecting society, social media is a glass that magnifies the very worst of society and human nature, and worryingly, the kind of behaviours and attitudes that now are commonplace on social media platforms, are slowly seeping into the real world and changing society for the worse.

The fact that most social media platforms allow members to remain anonymous by using fictitious screen names means that many will say things and behave in ways that they would never have the courage to in a real world situation. Aggression, hate, bigotry, misogyny and more is all delivered on a regular basis. Even if not using a veil of anonymity to spew their vitriol, the perceived distance that cyberspace provides, often emboldens some to behave in ways they would not in any other setting. Sitting, typing at a keyboard, words to an unknown, unseen person who they may never encounter in any other environment provokes behaviour they would not have the courage to display anywhere else. Often when these people’s actions are exposed and called into question in the offline world, they respond by saying their behaviour was out of character. That’s not strictly true, it was just a small aspect of their character never normally seen, made large by the social media bubble.

Bullying has run rampant since the rise of social media. No longer is it confined to school yards and workplaces, now you can bully and harass twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and once more that distance, that perceived disconnect that cyberspace allows, means that it is more prevalent and severe than it would be in other situations. It is also made public, given an audience and often that audience is encouraged to join in without the real effects of their actions being seen. To see someone harassed in the real world, one may have sympathy for the victim. In cyberspace it’s easy to perceive it as a victimless act. It’s just words on a computer screen after all.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion – a right in any society that values free speech – but again, the rise of social media has led to a lot of people believing they are entitled to impose that opinion at every opportunity and often in the worst possible terms. It’s also easier to find like-minded people meaning that hateful, intolerant and bigoted opinions often garner more weight and validity, and groups and organisations have a means of growing, publicising and politicising their views. It’s also easier for those with evil intentions to find their victims, all without leaving the comfort of their own home. Social media can be a hunting ground for many – from scammers and criminals using information gleaned from profiles, to paedophiles using it to groom their prey.

Social media is responsible for the rise of the selfie. In the past, people mostly took photos of other people and places as a memento, a reminder of a certain time, but now we photograph ourselves to share online. Activities, holidays and outings are no longer to be simply experienced or enjoyed, now they must be photographed and shared online. Concerts and performances must be filmed and uploaded. We no longer just enjoy the moment or savour the now, it seems everything is about the photo opportunity.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that there is a rise in vanity and narcissism. The perfect selfie now seems to be a life goal for some, posing and pouting their way through their days in pursuit of the perfect photograph. Many use filters and editing programs to airbrush their perceived flaws before posting their photos. Rather than just posting as a means of sharing who they really are with friends and family, many seem to use social media as a way to project a perfect image of themselves, a perfect life. Photos and activities are posted as means of almost skiting or bragging, of exaggerating their contentment and happiness. This of course has flow on effects with rates of depression increasing with social media use for some. Low self-esteem and body image issues are also increasing. It’s hard to live up to a perfect profile in real life.

Most people know that if they use the internet they are sacrificing some of their privacy, but by using social media, we are sacrificing almost all of it. Even if keeping profile settings on private and providing very little in the way of information about yourself – even if using a fictitious screen name – vast quantities of information is tracked and collated and often shared with other sites. Information enough to be able to paint a clear picture of who and where you are, personal relationships, likes and dislikes and almost everything else. Information is power and is highly sought after. Advertising can now be targeted to each user increasing its effectiveness. This is why social media is incredibly profitable for some and social media companies are now some of the heavy-weights of the corporate world.

Social media, of course, is not all bad. There are many useful and positive aspects, but like the internet itself it is a double edged sword and the negative edge often appears to be the sharpest on the blade. Far from merely reflecting society, social media is playing an active hand in shaping it, having created, distorted or exaggerated many behaviours which are now starting to become prevalent in real world interactions. Many people appear to be more aggressive, intolerant, rude, less caring, more superficial and vain. So, perhaps we should think twice before we share every thought in 140 characters, should focus on being a better person rather than having the perfect profile pic and eat our food rather than photograph it. And don’t get me started on the cats.

Music and Words

I once went to the home of an acquaintance and it really surprised me to find that they didn’t own any books or music. No radio, record player, cassette deck, CD player, MP3 player. Nothing. There was no bookshelf. No fiction, non-fiction or even reference books. It freaked me out a bit and I realised I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate that we are all different. We all have different passions and pastimes. We all have our own hobbies and interests that are sometimes hard for others to understand and usually I celebrate that. But I don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.

For me, music is as vital as breathing, eating or sleeping. It’s a natural part of life. It’s birdsong, the breeze rustling leaves or a babbling stream. It’s a part of me and I couldn’t live without it. There is always a tune going around and around in my head. I am constantly humming, whistling or singing to myself, even I find – by the looks I sometimes get from strangers – in public. At the supermarket, walking down the street, even in the library. I have never studied music, I can’t read it, I don’t play an instrument, and neither did my parents or siblings, but music has always been in my life. Always a song being sung or whistled, a radio playing, a record going around or a music show on TV. All types of music, everything from classical, to jazz, pop, hard rock, heavy metal, hip hop and rap. My life has a soundtrack. I can hear a song and it will bring back memories of people, places, a time or event. Music has the power to move, to uplift, to soothe and to hurt.

To me the best kind of music is a song that combines music and meaningful words. Lyrics that are as powerful as the music they are set to, that move as much as the music. Words that are poetry, that tell a story. Words can be like music too. Words can form melodies and words can have rhythms. Every culture in the world has developed music and stories and often the two are combined. Stories allow us to explore, explain and express. To examine our world and ourselves and to share our thoughts and emotions.

And that’s why I couldn’t live without books. Be it fiction or non-fiction, books, to me, are little papery worlds – real or imagined – that broaden our minds and take us out of ourselves. Reading a good book is sometimes like connecting with another mind. There are other ways to enjoy stories – movies, theatre or television – but books require us to use our own imagination. To fill the gaps between word and vision. To interpret and to feel for ourselves. A new book can be a scary and daunting thing; just what is contained within those pages? How will it make me feel? And I often experience a sense of sadness or loss when I finish reading a book, knowing that a wonderful experience has come to an end, and even though I can re-read that book, it will never be the same as that first reading.  But a good book is like an old friend, one that we can visit when we need to.

Music and words are food for the soul. There are other things that nourish the soul – the natural world, gardening, hiking, other forms of art, teaching or spending time with a child, for example – but music and books are portable. You can have access to them almost anywhere, anytime, even if it’s just remembering a tune, a poem or story. They connect us to others and teach us about ourselves. I couldn’t live without them. And I really don’t understand people who don’t have books or music.