Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

88

Pavlova Paradise

So bai bai, Tze Ming, or should that be twe meh naw? You went through this place like a dose of the salts, in a good way. I will miss your brilliant prose, your assiduous non-taking of prisoners, and your (ahem) scouring wit. It already feels quiet and, dare I say it, a little boring without you.

If Public Address is a pavlova (delicious, iconic, always welcome at a party; and yet almost entirely white, a little crusty round the edges, and occasionally cloying), then Yellow Peril was - can I say this without coming over all Dame Edna, possums? - the passionfruit. The bracing sweet-tart antidote to all that gummy, mouth-muffling meringue. A necessary culinary counterpoint; a sapid sine qua non.

Or better yet, maybe Yellow Peril was that stealthy savoury sleeper from the Middle Kingdom (cunningly re-engineered by the horticultural-industrial complex and acclaimed by the masses as quintessentially New Zild): the kiwifruit. What my nana, keepin’ it real, would have correctly called a Chinese gooseberry.

Right. P’raps best I chuck this fruity metaphor in the blender and see if I can smoothie my way out of it.

(An aside: the other day my American friends were quizzing their kids about nicknames for various nationalities. And what you call someone from New Zealand? “An orange?” hazarded Ila, much to the amusement of her dads. When reminded that the correct word is “Kiwi” she shrugged and said, “Oh well, I knew it was some kind of fruit.”)

So anyway, now that Tze Ming has swapped the burlesque stilettos for the workplace-friendly Doc Martens, Fiona and I are the only wimmin on the team. There has already been some articulate gnashing of teeth about the loss of Public Address’s only explicit feminist viewpoint. (Which is interesting: I don’t doubt Tze Ming’s feminism for a moment but it is definitely only one part of what she does so well.)

I guess that makes me and Fiona implicit feminists, which has a nifty under-the-radar Valerie Plame appeal, but it does rather beg the question of what a feminist looks like. Hey, I was once even some "lady president of some lady thing", or at least Women’s Rights’ Officer of some student thing. I’ve still got the well-worn lavender T-shirt and the incredibly sexy unshaven armpits.

In any case, somehow I thought this sort of thing would leave people in no doubt about my general feministiness.

Curiously enough, those were the posts I got the most angry mail about, which made me think of quitting. They are also the ones people still mention fondly when I meet them in person. So what we might call "Tze Ming's Ratio" of vocal haters to approving lurkers is pretty much a constant, whether you're explicit or implicit about your feminism (or any other kind of radical perspective). It's just an artefact of the general social-webby-sphere, as Che points out.

Sure, I can do more explicit if the market demands (but how feminist is it to bend and sway with the marketplace?). Should I have put more NSFW unless-you-work-as-a-midwife pictures with my birth stories? Do y’all want hard-hitting analyses of gender issues and the American presidential race (honestly, you're collectively way ahead of me on the subject)? Complex musings on children’s rights? Someone come and be my au pair for a month and I'll write you something on the global politics of childcare...

I dunno, that’s not quite where my head is at these days. Or rather, it is where my head is at but I can most easily come at these subjects through the anecdotal lens of everyday matters. I would love to write more often, and more politically. Alas, only a fraction of what I think and write makes it into the blog, and only when I can snatch the time from my demanding day job of raising the next generation. Of, er, white men.

No disrespect to the white man: some of my best bloggers are white men, as are both of my kids, and come to think of it, their dad. Also, my dad. Both of my brothers. And most of the government of the place I come from and the place I live. There sure are a lot of ‘em out there, hiding in plain sight.

I’m used to being a minority in that respect. I get my womenspace in teensy homeopathic doses these days. In the bath by myself. Over coffee, after school, with other cool mums. And sometimes even in the morally ambiguous service sector where you tend to leave a tip in direct proportion to your degree of feminist guilt at having someone else paint your toenails or fix your hair. Hey, it’s the only chance I get to sit down, and I always leave massive tips.

(I find it in other, more nuanced spaces, too. The other night I took my visiting sister-in-law to see Transparent, a fascinating documentary about transgendered parents, or more specifically transmen who have given birth. Great film, and a great crowd; we were the only mothers, as far as I could tell, in a room full of cute activist queer and trannie students. No matter what point on the gender/sexuality/parenting spectrum you find yourself on, the film will, to use the classic Busytot phrase, blow your mind up.)

But to return to the point. With Tze Ming’s departure, Public Address is undeniably back to being a bit of a blancmange - don’t go anywhere, Keith! - and even the white men are finding this a dispiriting prospect. Which is good. (There's a lively discussion over at Deborah's blog).

It is true that there isn't a weekly PA bulletin from an explicitly feminist perspective. Or an explicitly queer perspective. Or an explicitly tangata whenua perspective. Or an explicitly Pasifika/ immigrant/ refugee/ senior/ child/ blue collar/ unemployed/ any number of other awesomely relevant perspectives. Just a bunch of liberal lefties waffling on - for free, yet! - about things that some of their readers find interesting.

You should know that I have been gently but pointedly bollocking Russell about the general monochromaticity and overly XY nature of this place since the heady early days of Public Address five years ago. Is it just that I live too far away to thump Russell? (That’s a rhetorical question; hands are not for hitting. Rolled-up newspapers make a more persuasive thwack). Is it that like attracts like? Or that most women and people of colour are too damn busy living life to blog it? Or what?

I’m not suggesting a mutiny here; Cap’n Bligh, er, Brown can sit tight for the moment. But I am raising the question for discussion. Russell has his own ideas about how to address the imbalance. How about you, dear readers? For me, I'd say a gender quota is a good start; a 40-60 rule perhaps? Plus, a group that purports to speak to or for the crowd should never be monochromatic, because that’s just wrong.

But strict representation for its own sake strikes me as problematic in a very small group, because it can lead directly to ghettoization, placing the entire burden of a given critique on the one person deemed suitable to provide it. Women’s Rights’ Officer, anyone?

Obviously this place will never be all things to all people - and what would that look like, anyhow? But the nice thing about Public Address has always been its smart, idiosyncratic voices and - I blush as I type this one-handed - the great writing. Not all of it explicitly political, either. I don’t know about you, but I came for the Hard News and I stayed for the literary musings, the yogic wisdom (where are you, Debra?), the Wellywood reports, the hard-hitting exposés of the private lives of Public Address writers WITH PICS, the feijoa vodka recipes, the hapless pub fights in Singapore, the bad baby stories,... the random beauty of it all.

And then I stayed some more, for the take-downs of badly-written Metro articles, the sociological musings on identity, the weekly round-ups of political issues of the day, and all the discussions that follow like sparks from a firecracker. Even if I haven’t the time to shoot the breeze on every thread, not even on the ones I started, I've read every post.

Ten out of ten nutritionists agree, it’s not the eating, it’s how we’re eating. No matter how much you like your comfort food - mmmm, donuts, not to mention bread, spuds, rice, pav, noodles -- a diet of exclusively white stuff will eventually do you in. My taste buds and my brain cells demand a more varied diet. How about yours?

To whip my culinary metaphor so hard it will probably curdle: yep, you could (and should) supplement your diet of Public Address with delicious, vitamin-rich fruit and veg found elsewhere on the web and in real life.

But adding some youth, some age, some cultural, social and political variety to these pages could only enhance the eclectic reading experience, no? I’ve long dreamed of a Home Address annex to put all the DIY domestic artsy stuff, for example. And you’ve probably got your own ideas. In the end it’s Russell’s joint, but that doesn’t mean we can’t suggest rearranging the furniture to make the party really swing. What do you reckon?

--

Keep an eye out for the final Iceland report in the next day or so - I'll be going out with a splash! In the meantime, if you missed 'em, there have been whales, volcanoes, a swanky spa, and a perfect day we'll never forget.

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