Cowboys, Kentucky and Keeping the Feels Alive

May 18, 2015 by

There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a television series.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably one of my guilty pleasures, one that I no doubt share with many of my fellow gen-y folk.  Watching episode on episode of a show, not noticing the hours fly by, absorbed in the story lines of fictional characters, caring more about their fate than sometimes the fates and futures of those around us.

It is how I would give my brain a rest between exams, and in some ways unfortunately, has replaced a love of fiction books.  Why, I’m not sure: the transition has been slow and insidious, until I only recently realised I had spent the same number of hours watching TV as I would previously have spent hungrily consuming the worlds of Tamora Pierce, Joe Abercrombie and Duncan Lay.

That being said, my writing this reflection was prompted by the emotional and yet fitting season finale of a favourite series of mine, Justified.

It isn’t quite a mainstream classic like Game of Thrones, which I refuse to watch on principle (the abundance of nudity and gratuitous violence grates on my soul).  Justified was introduced to me by a geologist on a rig in Western Queensland on an unsuspecting day-shift.

“It’s pretty good. It’s addictive…”

I was sceptical, but it didn’t take long. It took one episode in fact, and I was hooked.

Justified is the story of a cowboy lawman, Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens and his long time battle with outlaw Boyd Crowder.

The world of Eastern Kentucky is foreign to me, but Justified brought it alive. Perhaps the representation of Harlan County is as accurate as The Wire’s of Baltimore, but the characters were just as complex, real and courageously human.  Boyd was a outlaw in every sense of the word yet somehow, we were given glimpses into his humanity, as much as we despised it. Raylan was a lawman who was perhaps the mirror image of Boyd, but on the right side of the tracks and we saw him grapple with his instinct, and what was ‘right’.  The various other Marshals, the villains, the well meaning town folk and of course the steel of Ava Crowder, Rayland’s original lover and Boyd’s finance – and shooter – weaved a tapestry that made us feel like a thread in the story; made us feel like we could belong.

The amazing thing about TV is that right now, moments after shedding a single tear at the season (and series) finale, my emotions are wrought and raw.  Yet, I will look back on this in days, weeks, months and think gosh! How invested was I! How was it that I spent so much time watching this when I could have been doing something productive? Why did I care so much about a world which does not even exist?

I guess that’s not the point. The beauty in well made pop culture, well made film and ultimately, well made art is that it gives us the space to feel. We are given permission to see and experience what we don’t yet have the language for through the world of someone else. It can hold up a mirror to who we are as a society, give us the opportunity to dissect human interaction, figure out who is still holding the reigns of societal power. It can be used to shape minds and expectations, introduce ideas and challenge them, entertain, embolden, embattle, envelope. It can be anything we want it to be I guess…

What I took away from Justified is this: for some, human life is cheap.

Some people are lucky, some make it through.

Others, most others, don’t fare so well, and past success is never quite a guarantee of the same in the future.

Some folk are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and some are victim of the lottery of birth.

Others make the circumstances of their birth moot through their choices, but that is a courage not many are even shown how to muster.

Trust is a beautiful, rare and incredibly fragile thing: if it were tangible it would be the film that makes up a butterfly’s wings. Pierce it and the film curls all the way back. Each piece requires painstaking, careful unfurling to even begin to resemble its original form and even then…

Ultimately, even nemesis share a common humanity.  For Boyd and Raylan, it was digging coal when they were pups. Here in the real world, it is up to us to find that binding force between each other.  For if we don’t, there is no way out.

In the deep, dark hills of Eastern Kentucky, 

That’s the place where I trace my bloodline,

And it’s there I read on hillside gravestone.

You’ll never leave Harlan alive…

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Don’t DIS my Appearance: On Beauty

May 3, 2015 by

I’ve been fortunate to be able to support a powerful awareness campaign being run by the Butterfly Foundation.

“Don’t DIS My Appearance”

It is a cheeky campaign for a serious cause.

Check some info about it here.

On the theme of appearance, I wrote this piece for Sunday Style.

***

No matter how high performing they are, so many single awesome, high achieving young women I know have insecurities about the way they look.

It’s almost something any two women can bond over, no matter where in the world they are from.

“Oh gosh, I ate SOO much today, and it’s all going to my thighs!”

You would be forgiven for thinking it was a line out of ‘Mean Girls’ and not a regular conversation between fabulously functioning females in 2015. It breaks my heart, and I would be lying if I said that I was always the exception. I also hate that it is true, because it wrongly reinforces a stereotype that says women are obsessed with and overly concerned with their bodies.

“I exercise so that I can eat chocolate,” is not an uncommon sentiment. Sometimes it is said almost solely to fit into the expected discourse, because for some strange reason being concerned about weight is just so ‘normal’.

The ubiquitous and insidious nature of the media, and the advertising and image-saturated world we live in means there is no way to get away from a constant reinforcement of what is considered ‘beautiful’, what constitutes the ‘ideal’ and what a woman ‘should’ look like.

It takes constant reminding to disassociate from these cues and remind ourselves that there is no ‘ideal’. It is also worth remembering that these images are essentially produced art rather than a replication of a reality, but that is easier said than done. Ironically, as a covered Muslim woman, most of the time people can’t see my body to judge, but I know and that is enough to spur the internal conversation.

What is even more bizarre is Western standards of beauty being applied to people that are obviously structurally different. I’m an Arab African woman by blood so how on earth will I ever look like a J-Law or Emma Watson? I can’t, and yet somehow subconsciously I expect my body to be able to be moulded to a genetically different norm.

It is said that in Cuba, no matter what a woman looks like she has an inner sense of self confidence. How? Because apparently, growing up in a country without advertising from the nearby United States and the West, she isn’t constantly bombarded with capitalist-driven images of what ‘ideal beauty’ looks like. She grows up thinking the way she looks is beautiful, and just fine the way she is.

Isn’t that incredible?

Beauty and body image are peculiar concepts. What is considered beautiful is completely subjective, but in the world we live in there is absolutely no doubting that there is an ‘ideal’ standard of beauty and everything else is ‘exotic’.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents brought me up to have confidence in my abilities as an individual, and my self worth was tied more around how I could be of service to the community rather than how I appeared.  That being said, that wasn’t always the case, and it isn’t all black and white. I grew up wanting to slice my rear-end off. All the Caucasian girls at my high school had flat bottoms and mine was round and protruding.  Awkward, right? It always making my dress hitch up when I checked myself out in the windows. What I wouldn’t have given to be the same as everyone else, the same as the models in magazines and TVs all around me…

Now though, according to Vogue, the ‘booty is back’!

Wonderful, or perhaps not so much. Because the booty is only considered beautiful if it is a particular type of booty, and accompanied with a body that is just as thin (or fit, because that’s the new thing) as any other model.

Honestly though, this commentary is a little unfair. Although the internet can be a terrible place for women, particularly in relation to body image (Twitter can resemble the Amazon: Beautiful but also full of blood-thirsty piranhas), it has also spawned an incredibly supportive movement and brought like-minded, empowered women together.

Not only are these movements about highlighting alternative forms of beauty, but they are about encouraging acceptance and celebration of difference. It is also about finding female role models who are not celebrated because of their physical beauty but because of what they do.

If there is a way for us to tackle the scourge of low self-confidence related to body image, it will be through that – through empowering young girls to realise that their self-worth is not tied to what they look like but who they are: their intelligence, their humour, their wit, their opinions, their laughs, their tears and their actions.

I look forward to living in a world where women feel comfortable in their own skin and their self-worth is not defined by a constrained and unachievable standard of beauty. Perhaps there will be some of that Cuban spirit in us all!

***

Don’t DIS My Appearance is a national awareness and fundraising campaign for the Butterfly Foundation, calling on all Australians to take a stand against a culture of appearance based judgement and negative body image.

Funds raised go towards better prevention, education, treatment and support services to fight eating disorders and the devastating impact they have on sufferers, families and our community.

We are asking people to paint their middle finger for May. Check out other ways you can get involved here.

So get amongst it!

Jay Laga'aia for The Butterfly Foundation

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Nepal – Donate through ChildFund

Apr 29, 2015 by

I have no words.  All I can say is that an organisation that I am closely affiliated with (as I serve on the Board of ChildFund Australia) is doing some fantastic work in the region and could use any support you want to give to the children in Nepal.

What happened?

In a nutshell, this is the worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years (the last major earthquake was in 1934).

  • More than 3,200 people have been killed and over 6,500 injured, with the numbers continuing to climb
  • According to UNICEF, almost a million children have been severely affected
  • ChildFund has been working in Nepal for 20 years (through our sister organisation ChildFund Japan)
  • Our emergency response is focused on Sindhupalchok district, one of the worst-affected areas
  • Initial reports from our partner staff estimate 80 per cent of mud houses in the communities where we work have been destroyed – children and families are now staying outdoors in freezing temperatures and need immediate assistance
  • Our primary concern is for the care and protection of children affected by this terrible disaster
  • Our team on the ground is conducting a rapid assessment so that our response can get underway

ChildFund are continuing to post updates on social media and would appreciate you sharing the appeal link with your networks.  Otherwise, there are a list of reputable places to send your $$ here.

There are an overwhelming number of disasters that are fighting for our attention in the news at the moment.

This is simply one…

Either way, don’t let the tide of distress paralyse you from being able to interact with and support any of the movements or responses.  Make sure you play your part – however small – in making this world a little safer, in whatever way you know how.

 

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Awesome Women in Formula One

Apr 8, 2015 by

I wrote this piece for Richard’s F1 in honour of International Women’s Day… Enjoy!

Formula 1 is not a sport typically associated with women. The world of motorsport seems to be one that continues to be dominated by men, and women’s alleged inferiority on the road seems to be so universally accepted that it pervades popular culture and is the subject of countless YouTube compilations.

Rampant sexism aside, and despite what the Formula 1 greats (hello, Stirling Moss!) think, women have played significant and influential roles in the sport and continue to do so today.

As we approach the beginning of the season and celebrate International Women’s Day, we have taken the liberty to highlight a few of the most powerful women to grace the grids/pits/design labs over the years, shattering stereotypes and busting balls, all in a day’s work.


Spanish racer Carmen Jordá was just announced as Lotus F1’s new development driver; all eyes will be on this Spanish driver’s performance in 2015.

Born in Alcoy, Spain, the daughter of former driver Jose Miguel Jordá has been a professional driver for over a decade and her presence doubles the number of female drivers in the paddock in 2015.

On joining the team, she recognised the challenges: “I know this is just the beginning and the biggest challenge is yet to come but already being part of a team with such a history is a real honour. This is a great achievement, but an even greater opportunity which will lead to bigger and better things.

“I’ve been racing since I was 10 years old so it was my dream to drive a Formula 1 car since I was very young,” she said to the Daily Mail.

Having completed three GP3 seasons without taking home any points, it will be interesting to see how and if she progresses with Lotus. She took out 16th place in 2010 in the Firestone Indy Lights racing for Andersen Racing, and her highest ever final position was back in 2007 when she placed fourth in Spanish Formula 3. We wish her the best of luck with Lotus!

Click here to READ ON at RICHARD’S F1!

***

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Into the Middle of Things

Mar 31, 2015 by

Hello there!

Well it has been a while. I read once it was bad form to apologise for not having posted for some time, but I think in this case I feel like some sort of acknowledgment of my absence is warranted.

It has been a ‘busy’ few months, although I do dislike using the word ‘busy’.  Busy doesn’t tell us very much, does it?  It is like ‘fine'; an empty word that describes the status quo and adds no real value to a sentence.  It is there as a social nicety, which is something I suppose.  ‘What has been keeping you busy?’ has been my go-to question of late, rather than ‘what do you do?’.  It makes for a more interesting conversation.

Occasionally, I include a twist and amend it with ‘what has been keeping you busy mentally?’

In my case, it has been a couple of months of growing up.  Mentally, I have been devoting a lot of time to issues around gender, access to opportunity and diversity across decision making places. I’ve also been thinking a lot about unconscious bias, how that plays a role in our society and how we can move past it…

Big issues, big questions. Too much for one blog post perhaps.

So instead, let me pepper you with some links to say hello again, and hopefully the next update will not be so far away.

***

I was recently alerted to this wonderful website: ‘Into the Middle of Things’, where Australians from around the country are interviewed about their life.  The first one I saw was below and it is a beautiful few minutes with Abe, a Sudanese-Brisbane lad:

Born in a Sudanese jail in the midst of a civil war, Abe escaped a possible future as a child soldier and managed to make it to Australia as a refugee with his seven brothers and sisters. The secret emotional and mental toll of this is still catching up with him today.

***

Shonda Rhimes is an awesome strong black woman and is doing some cool things with the various TV series she writes.

“I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in ‘diversity’ on television,”  Rhimes said, according to Medium’s text of her speech. “‘Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?’ they say. I really hate the word ‘diversity.’ It suggests something other. … As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV.”

Rhimes offered an alternative to the term “diversity,” saying she’d rather describe what she’s doing as “normalizing.”

“I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal way more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look normal,” she said.

***

Some awesome women learning to be engineers in remote areas in the Philippines. LOVE IT.

***

Did n bit of a run down on various topics with the Triple J Hack crew for the Friday night Shake Up. What are your thoughts on some of these issues? Listen to the podcast here.  Also did some radio in Arabic! Check it by clicking here.

***

Loving this insta: Did I ever tell you I really used to love drawing cartoons?

90s Superboy cover for DC’s Convergence! :)

A photo posted by babsdraws (@babsdraws) on

***

So anyway, what has been keeping YOU busy mentally?

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The Aussie Long Weekend: What awaits?

Jan 23, 2015 by

I’m sitting in the Perth airport, waiting for a straight flight to Canberra. It’s a little surreal really, to think one is up for something like the Young Aussie of the Year. To be honest, I don’t think about it too much at all.  It is an absolute honour, but I think about these things in the pragmatic way my family and funnily enough, rig life, operate:  it is what it is.

I can’t influence the result in any way, and so I look forward to the weekend with a positive pensive outlook.  I’m looking forward to meeting people who are doing inspiring things, are movers and shakers, wise beyond their years and have hearts of gold. I am looking forward to making friends who will push me to be better than I could have dreamed of being.  Khair Inshallah!  I continue to find it amazing that someone who was born in Khartoum, Sudan to find themselves repping Australia, but therein lies the magic…

(If you’re interested, it’ll be broadcast live on ABC at 6pm Sydney time on Sunday).

Australia Day long weekends are often deeply immersed in national introspection, and this year, given the tumultuous year we’ve just had, reflections on who we are as a nation is even more important.  I’ve written a few thoughts here and there on some different themes: keep an eye out.

Crikey’s piece on the Bali Nine today ended in an interesting paragraph:

But if nationalism has any value, it is this: that for those abandoned by everyone, we will make some sort of stand for them, by virtue of nothing other than that we share a land, a set of habits, a few collective memories. That needn’t be a prerequisite for solidarity, but it sure as hell should be an occasion for it.

At the end of the day, that’s what nationalism is about.

A shared land,

a set of habits,

a few collective memories.

Sometimes that’s all we need.

What does Australia Day mean to you?

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We must not lose faith in humanity.

Jan 11, 2015 by

It goes without saying, but should be said anyway.

The various violent events that have dominated our media over the last few days, weeks and months have been heart wrenching atrocities. Lives have senselessly been lost, bringing the precarious nature of our comfortable lives into sharp relief.  It is almost exhausting in its relentlessness, and bizarre to step back and realise that we live in a world where violence has taken on a gross normalcy; terrible, yet no longer completely out of the ordinary.

After the Sydney Siege, there was little I felt I could add to the public lament.

Yet after Sydney, 2014 didn’t let up.  It was followed by the slaughter of innocent children in Peshawar, the grinding, endless deaths in Congo, the murders in Paris and an unimaginable massacre in Nigeria, only a few days ago.

The easy option in dealing with this barrage, this constant reminder of the cruelty of humans, is to switch off.

Stop reading the commentary.

Stop engaging in the debate.

Stop critically analysing and regress to black and white, to binary thinking, to ‘us’ and ‘them’, ‘them’ being whoever you deem as broadly evil or uncivilised, depending on your colour and place of birth.

That cannot be our response.

Yes, in the midst of the mourning, there has been a troublesome vein of hatred that has bubbled beneath the surface.   Glints of these perspectives and attitudes are epitomised in the language and expectations surrounding the media and commentary around the violence.

Listening to my favourite news podcasts for example, or even to our own Tony Abbott, there was a constant reminded that ‘they hated ‘our’ freedoms’, our ‘civilisation’, our ‘liberty’.

Who are ‘they’?

‘We’ have to stand against the extremists, people say. We can’t let ‘them’ win…

The problem being that entire groups are demonised, dangerously so.  The framing makes someone like me – thoroughly, visibly Muslim and fervently Aussie because well, this is home – almost ask myself the question: am I us, or them?

Of course I know…right? Yet, there is a constant implied expectation for justification. The is a whisper of accusation in all the tones, forming seeds of doubt fertilised by ignorance and lack of exposure to anything but the dominant discourse…

The nuances are oh-so-subtle.

The language polarises, forces us to choose sides without realising what we are doing.  It frames our conversations in ways that moulds our thinking: classical grade 10 critical literacy stuff.  Obvious to those paying attention, but how many of us truly are?

It has been explained very well by writers more impressive than I, and there are links below to some very interesting and thought provoking reading around how the media reporting is clearly biased, how blaming all Muslims isn’t going to help as expecting constant apologies is damaging in itself and how providing context is not the same as justifying an action.  In ruminating on our collective (i.e. humanity’s) current situation, the following became clear:

ONE.

The language we use to refer to those who commit violent acts must change.  ‘Islamists’, ‘radicals’, ‘fundamentalists’, ‘extremists’ and the like simply suggest that well, these actions are at the fundamental core of what it is to be Muslim. It legitimises their actions as Islamic, when scholars worldwide have time and time again, said that they are not.

Rather, they should be referred to as what they are: Violent criminals.

We don’t often refer to criminals by their perceived or claimed motivation: A bank robber is a bank robber, not a greedy-capitalist. A murder is a murder, not a politically-motivated-youth-claiming-Islam-backs-him.

TWO.

If we turn on each other, we are playing into the hands of these violent criminals.

Juan Cole puts it brilliantly:

“Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims [and this can apply to all nationalities], but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.”

Acts of violence that are so obvious and politically motivated are aimed at sharpening contradictions.  They are aimed at forcing open those slivers of cracks in our multicultural societies.  They feed on distrust in communities, spreading insidious doubts and roots that breach the foundations of compassion a society has built.

We have to choose to see beyond the hatred and have faith in humanity, regardless of what we are being drip fed to believe by the hype around us.

Oh, it’s not going to be easy, and it doesn’t mean blind positivity. It means belief that humanity can prevail.  ‘Humanity’ isn’t owned by a civilisation either; it isn’t ‘secular’ or ‘traditional’, it lies in understanding that each of us are fundamentally human, and we all deserve protection, compassion, opportunity, love.

It means understanding grief and mourning, and not choosing to mourn one life as more important than another.  It means respecting that every life is valuable and its barbaric and unfair extinguishing is inhumane, regardless of the motivation.

It means choosing to treat each and every person individually, not judging them by the actions of others.

It means, as Imam Zaid Khair puts it, not being hasty in dismissing others, but being patient in inviting them to understand your lense.

We have to work together to constantly, tirelessly and consciously choose to value our common humanity.  

If we choose to hate, to despair, to lament, to be so overwhelmed by the seeming tidal wave of conflict, nothing will change.

But if we stay resolute in the belief that humanity will prevail and that each and every single of us has a part to play in making this happen, then surely, we can have something to look forward to.

***

5 pieces of food for thought:

 

If nothing else, read this: 9 Points to Ponder on the Paris Shooting and Charlie Hebdo. Much of my writing was inspired by this piece.

 

Unmournable bodies

“And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others.”

 

Sharpening Contradictions

“Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination.”

 

Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy

But then again, I had to wonder about the way the massacre in Paris is being depicted and framed by the Western media as a horrendous threat to Western civilization, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I wondered about the over-heated nature of this description. It didn’t take me long to understand how problematic that framing really is.”

So don’t be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media-circus surrounding this particular outrage while the Western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that Western countries have been involved in. Or perhaps a bit less convinced that Western societies are really the best hope for civilization when they condone this kind of hypocrisy, rather than responding equally forcefully to all such actions repressing free speech or freedom of assembly. I could easily imagine (and regret) how some Islamist fundamentalists will already be making these points about the ethical inconsistencies of Western societies with their pomposity about human rights that never seem to constrain the self-described “enlightened democracies” from violating those rights when it is they who perceive themselves as under attack.”

 

Charlie Hebdo: Understanding is the least we owe the dead

“Take your pick, whichever one suits your politics, whatever tin drum you want to bang on.

Just don’t bang it near me. I don’t want to read about how “we’re all” anything, because wishing away complexity is inadequate and juvenile. I want to hear no talk about cracking down on anyone or tightening anything up. We have cracked and tightened for a decade and a half and all we have to show for it is a bloated, unaccountable security state that is eroding the cherished freedoms we claim to be so eager to protect.”

 

A Cartoonist’s Response on the Guardian


 Khartoon

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