You’d think by now I’d have learned to just sit back and listen instead…

I don’t fully understand cultural appropriation.

I’m sure that’s not the most surprising sentence you’ve ever heard a white dude say. There’s no part of this post that’s meant to be inflammatory, I was just listening to Beyonce’s Lemonade (’cause I’m hip and with it in a 2016 sense) and it made me think. The song “Hold Up” has a real reggae vibe. I’m not knocking it, it’s a great song. It’s catchy, has an unconventional syllabic structure and solid lyrics. If you’re stuck back in 2015 and haven’t heard, the album’s pretty great. I figure most cultural rhythms and beats are useable on a mass scale without much controversy. The bit that stuck out to me was right at the end during the fade out. She says something along the lines of “me sing sing”, heavy on the patois. Beyonce’s american, right? She was born and raised in Texas. So it’s obviously put on. Does that seem weird to anyone else? In my ignorance, I’ve got no idea if this is something widely accepted, discouraged, or if we’re giving it a pass because we all love Beyonce? Or is sharing between black communities/cultures encouraged because of shared experiences? I legitimately don’t know.

It could all be nothing too. From what I understand (which is very little, so please let me know if I’m getting this wrong), it becomes appropriation when you’re taking the customs and conventions of a marginalised group without paying respect to the underlying heritage. White girls wearing headdresses to Coachella is an easy one to spot. They’re taking a sacred spiritual symbol that holds mana for purely aesthetic concerns. The Native American culture for years has been encroached upon since white settlers immigrated to their lands. Ditto “spirit animals”, etc. You’re plucking out the outlines of important personal beliefs because they sound nifty to you, without thinking of the years of systematic abuse and neglect their people have endured.

There was a ton of controversy lately about a young white girl wearing a cheongsam (the form fitting traditional Chinese dress that comes to your mind when I use the words “form fitting traditional Chinese dress”) to her prom. A Twitterstorm ensued with vociferous arguments on both sides. From the very little research I did, the cheongsam originated from a small Chinese town and over decades was adapted into wider Chinese mainstream culture. It was typically loose and flowing, but the influence of Western fashion impacted the design, which eventually became more slender and form fitting. Now you can typically see them in Chinese restaurants all over the world. If you’re looking for steadfast opinions from me, you’re gonna leave disappointed. I’ve got no horse in this race, I was just curious. The overwhelming response from mainstream China seemed to be one of support, happy to see their culture adopted and showcased in a wider manner. The other prevailing attitude is of plain and simple commodification, that the dress was taken because it looked pretty, without respect for the underlying heritage. I get the notion of micro-aggressions, how frustrating it could be to see a symbol of your home flagrantly displayed by some flippant white chick. Just because (let’s be real here) white women serving in Chinese restaurants have been wearing them for years, that doesn’t make it retroactively okay.

I also think to a large extent that the notions of cultural appropriation are part of a particularly Western paradigm. They’re important particularly because of the impact of white colonialism upon pre-existing populations and their cultures. We need to be having these conversations and understanding the concerns of peoples whose heritage we’ve suppressed. I mean, I’m a white New Zealander. I’ve definitely benefited from the colonisation of an island nation. It’s why I think it’s pretty damn important to preserve Maori heritage, language, stories and rituals. The culture has been a big part of my upbringing and I feel privileged to have been given the education I’ve received. It’s also why I wouldn’t go and bust out a drunken Haka. It’s a sacred element of the culture and resonates deeply with me. That doesn’t mean I have carte blanche to pretend like I have any kind of ownership of it.

Now if Beyonce did a Haka, I’d feel pretty damn uncomfortable about it.

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Do you think Grimace is secretly deeply unhappy?

Mostly it feels good to laugh. Sometimes it hurts. Not in an emotionally draining sense, but in a “my cheeks feel like they’ve been pulled into a Clockwork Orange style contraption and was it possible for my eyebrows to feel pain?” sort of manner.

We’re staying with old friends of mine at the moment. Last night was the only evening this week where we were all free. I posited that instead of going out to a bar, we could just grab a few drinks, order take out and chill in the lounge. We did just that. It may well have been my favourite experience we’ve had here so far. It’s easy to forget the depth and breadth of experiences we had together. Never the cool kids, nor were we losers. We floated around in clique limbo long enough that we eventually amassed a cluster of weird mongrels. We were nerds, but not maligned as 80s teen films would have us believe. We did a lot of bizarre stuff, made insane bets and travelled across New Zealand and the world at large.

Last night we sat around the lounge and reminded ourselves how far we’d come. Having lived in big cities across the globe, progressed from our admittedly awkward early twentysomething phases. The world around us had changed and we’d changed with it. Still, we’d somehow not lost sight of who we’d been. Wait, am I writing about us? Or have I somehow transitioned to a longform rendition of J.Lo’s “Jenny from the Block”?

I’m not sure about J.Lo’s history of drunken shenanigans, but we had more than a few. Whether it was minor vandalism, regrettable hook-ups, regrettable relationships or odd experimental phases, we’d done it all with the grace of teens/early twentysomethings. Is this what getting old is all about? Revisiting your greatest hits of fuckups as validation of the notion that you’ve become better people? Will the stories we’re telling now be the same stories we tell for the next 30 years. I hope so, because they’re good ones. We were animals, but at the very least animals who knew some solid tricks.

Years back, while on holiday, we mocked up a loose draft of our own sitcom. “A Shore Thing”, we dubbed it, given most of us were kids from Auckland’s North Shore. It was insane the number of ridiculous scenarios we had that could’ve been self-contained episodes in their own right. So many different partners, whether short or long term. Certain character arcs or narrative feints. Sometimes an actor would leave for a season or two then come back, being audience favourites and all. It was nothing more than a farcical thought experiment, but it really was humbling to look back at how long some of us had been friends. Friendships since kindergarten stretching all the way through university and beyond.

If anything could be more emblamatic of “friends for life”, it’d be the fact that we’re staying gratis with friends in London and that if the tables were turned, we wouldn’t think twice about offering our spare room back in Toronto. I woke up in a comfortable bed and felt fully refreshed. Maybe because of the nine hour sleep. More likely on account of the massive cardiovascular workout of laughing so hard my face felt pain.

Why question my sovereignty? Sometimes pride rocks.

This update coming to you LIVE from the floor of a tiny alcove outside 21 Wellington Street, London. Notable only because we’re 13th and 14th in line for Lion King day tickets. As an aside, I thought it was pretty cool that rather than type “Lyceum Theatre” into Google Maps I typed “Lion King” and Google Maps was all “I got you bro.” Thanks Google Maps. I wish Cambridge Analytica had my back that hard. I don’t see them helping me out with handy instructions. Instead they just tell Wish, Online Shopping that I must want a plethora of wetlook catsuits and fancy lingerie. So I guess they’re more like “I got you bra.” Credit where credit’s due

Oh wait, I was talking about being in line for Lion King. Line King? My girlfriend and I hummed and hawed about whether to rush line Lion King or The Ferryman. We’ve heard fantastic things about the latter, that it’s a moving theatre experience. On the other hand, we were both children of the 90s, so y’know. That. Truthfully, while I’m not a massive musical theatre person, I’ve been low key jiving to see this show for 10+ years now. For ages (and I’m not sure if this is still the case) it wasn’t running in New Zealand. The only way to get tickets was to buy them for Australia, then fly on over. Still cheaper than a ticket to Hamilton, I guess.  Unless we’re talking New Zealand’s Hamilton. “Hamiltron, City of the Future”, Hamilhole or The Tron, as it’s otherwise affectionately known. I don’t know if their politically aware historical rap is quite as up to snuff, being the City of the Future and all.

Oh shit, I digressed again. Though that’s probably contingent on the fallacy that I have any idea where I’m going with this. Part of the day ticket line is standing around doing nothing. We got here at 9.30am (for an 11am Box Office opening). I’ve got time to kill and since I’m going nowhere, I’m gonna see where this goes. So often while I travel it becomes this kind of “Last Time, on The Leon King” recap bollocks. I mean, that’s fine and all, but anything gets trite if it’s done too much. Sometimes it’s nice to ramble on, sing my song and find the queen of all my dreams, right? So I’m sitting in line for The Lion King at the moment. I’m not blowing anyone’s mind by saying that The Lion King was a formative part of my youth. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned how much. I remember seeing it in the cinema multiple times, as we all did back then. In those days it took a lot longer for any kind of large pop cultural product to reach New Zealand en masse. Like, we’d get films a few months after America instead of day and date like it is now.

You can imagine then, how mindblowing it was for my mum’s friend in the US to send us over a VHS copy of the film to borrow not too long after its NZ cinematic release. I remember being so amazed that it was in NTSC, rather than our local PAL format. In those days, when I had the insane fishy memory of a pre-pre-teen, I’d watch it on repeat ad infinitum. I must’ve seen it 30 odd times over a two week period. Some days I’d watch, rewind and watch again. I identified with Simba and reckoned with his struggle. I dunno, I was a dumb little kid and it may have been as simple as “he’s a lion, my name is Leon and that means lion. We’re basically identical.” I also 100% had the hots for Nala. I honestly don’t know how I never became a furry. I thought Scar was a dingus, loved the hyenas, got a kick out of Timon and Pumba doing the hula and knew all the songs by heart. I also earned my stripes dying hundreds of times playing the Stampede Level in the Mega Drive game. In the 90s we didn’t quite have complex gender and sexual identities to unpack, the Stampede Level was our struggle.

I guess what I’m saying is, if there’s a stampede scene in this musical, I may have ‘Nam style shellshock. Worth it, if it means we get tickets. Wish us luck!

By this point, it’s do or die.

An admission. I’m not in a balanced headspace right now. I’ve been watching clips from the March for Our Lives and it’s been affecting me. My skin is hot, I have constant shivers and I’m alternating between states of incredible fury and heartbreak. I’m in a very emotional state and I feel like psychological dissociation is a very real threat right now. So I’m going to write in the hopes that it will tether me. Because I’m not sure what else to do. Frankly, the fact that I’m utterly powerless to do a thing is probably the hardest pill to swallow.

I can’t do shit. I’m an unimportant spec of New Zealand Canadian who has never lived in a country where it was legal to carry firearms. Guns terrify me. Back home our police weren’t even allowed to wield guns. There was serious ethical friction when the idea of equipping the cops with tasers was raised. So everything I’m saying is of a mentality that’s the furthest possible from accepting open carry. I now live in Canada. Open carry is not legal here. The country also has a significantly lower volume of gun violence than America does. I don’t know a single country that doesn’t. I’m saying this not to gloat, but to point out that my words, my emotions, my capacity as a voting member of the public are in every single manner totally useless to do a thing about the horrific state of the United States. I feel worthless and it’s radiating out from a point of frustration into a total body experience. I can’t do a thing. I need to accept the things I cannot change and focus on what’s within my power.

America, you’re fucked and there’s nothing I can do to help.

I’ve been looking at the groundswell of activism in American youth. It’s both warming and breaking my heart simultaneously. It’s so far beyond incredible that the English language doesn’t yet have a word strong enough for it. This burgeoning generation has inherited a systematic nightmare they should never have had to face and will spend their lives trying to disentangle from it. Those who are lucky enough to still have their lives. Do you want to think about that for a second? The number of children – and these are fucking kids- who face the “privilege” of being able to wake up in the morning? Those who have seen classmates buried. Who will spend the rest of their lives permanently altered by injuries both physical and psychological. Who will have to unpack the unearthly weight of their fortunes for the rest of their goddamn existence.

Despite this colossal opposition, they’re staunchly fighting for their lives with an unbelievable vigour. We don’t deserve them and I can’t wait for older generations to bite the fucking dust so they can inherit the earth. These kids, who’ve been teased about their safe spaces and language policing, are braver than we’ve ever given them credit for. They’re creating the world we’ve told them they deserve and they’re doing everything within their power. Because utopia has been taken from them by the selfish, complacent, short sighted generations that came before them. Fucking myopic nationalist simpletons who think their desire to keep their toys is more important than these kids’ right to keep their lives. Politicians caving to gun lobbyists, favouring the money slipping into their back pockets over the safety of the country they have been charged to preserve and lift.

The thing that breaks my heart, is that it’s all going to amount to nothing. No change will come of this. The rallies, hashtags, impassioned speeches, truth spoken to power. The callouts and cries for reform, the lives lost and sacrifices made? I sincerely fear that there’s no way it will even nudge policy. I would love nothing in this world more than to be proven wrong. If anything concrete was going to happen, it would’ve happened when a gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children between the ages of six and seven. Nothing did. Crickets. The lives of kids who probably still listed their ages in half years were ended. Congress gave them thoughts and prayers.

For years you’ve been told that together, your voices can move mountains and make the earth quake. You’ve been told that you live in a democratic society that works for the good of its people. Lies, all lies. You’re all fucked because these politicians consider their income to be more important than your rights. Sorry, you lost. Good luck next time. Your loss, fears, hopes and dreams aren’t enough. None of this will end until the politicians responsible for protecting their broken system know what it feels like on a personal level.

But why would you want to move mountains? Moving a mountain would be a colossal waste of energy. It’s far more efficient to drill underneath, to undermine. Pure force pales in effectiveness to subterfuge and I can’t imagine a generation better suited to using everything at their disposal to manifest their dreams to reality. You’re compassionate, intelligent, resourceful and mobilised. Use that. Don’t try to shame congress into action.

MAKE THEM AFRAID OF YOU.

Reach out to sympathetic legal professionals and discover what the absolute limits of your rights are. Then do everything within your legal rights to make these politicians terrified. Use your resourcefulness to figure out every single politician taking bribes from the NRA, then ruin their lives. Be merciless. Send them physical letters every single day demanding change. Send these letters to their office, their homes. Group together, each of you sending mass individual letters. Send emails too. Post comments. Look for every public outreach channel they have. Dominate them with your voices. Twitter. Facebook. Linkedin. Instagram. Call their offices demanding change. Endlessly. Go to their homes and peacefully protest. When they’re out in public, be there. Be everywhere. When they’re out there looking for a nice PR opportunity? Be there. When they go out for dinner? Be there. At the supermarket? Be there. At their family picnics? Be there. At their kids sports events. Be there. Make your voices be heard. Don’t take no for an answer. Make your presence so insurmountable that they can’t do their jobs. What if they start putting out restraining orders? AMAZING. Get others to join in and force them to bring out more restraining orders. Tie them up in the legal system. Take their time. Force them to funnel their money back into the system or shell out for hiring private security guards. Make it impossible for them to live their lives. Make them terrified to leave their houses. You outnumber them exponentially, you’re quicker to react, you’re smarter and better. Make their existence a nightmare. Every single one of them. Let them see just how effective their thoughts and prayers are against a motivated, politically mobilised generation who are better, smarter and more multitudinous than they are. You’re inspiring the rest of the world with your actions and conviction day by day. They forfeited their right to happiness when they chose comfort over doing the right thing. Let them feel even a percentage of the unbelievable misery they’ve brought into this world. Beat them at their own game by changing the rules.

You are powerful beyond belief, but they only way you can win is if they know what loss feels like.

Show them.

Calling it “Beggar’s Choice” was literally impossible.

I have an announcement to make. Something new has happened ’round these here parts. Isn’t that exciting? I guess in order to determine that I’d need to stop with my waffle-y prolix and get to the fucking point, right?

If you look to the sidebar on the right hand side of the page, you’ll see a new category. “Editor’s Choice”. While it sounds like a marketing scam Amazon would use to push specific titles, to me it’s more than that. Editor’s Choice is a work in progress. This here project, I Have My Doubts, is enormous. Tomorrow will mark five years of daily writing. That’s several metric fucktons. How many of those 1825 entries are worth reading? Far fewer than 1825, that’s for sure. My girlfriend suggested creating some kind of “Best Of” category, which to me sounded abhorrent. That would imply that I thought any of this had merit. Absurd, eh? The more that I thought about it, the more I realised that if I just shifted the language a little, it’d sound a lot less flagrantly arrogant. It’d be something that could sit well with me. Why? Because I know that when I started listening to This American Life, the archives were overwhelming. Having a shortlist of episodes really helped me get into the flow of the show. I started to understand the conventions and helped as a conduit for jumping into the back catalogue. My idea with the Editor’s Choice section is that every once in a while I might read some of the archives. If an entry seems decent or stands out from the rest in some fashion, I’ll slap an Editor’s Choice on there and have it easily accessible for anyone looking to see what this whole thing is about. Plus, I dunno, maybe I’ll one day want to use some of this stuff for a portfolio? Weirder things have happened. Once I did the calculations in my head, all the pieces came together to form a pretty little picture. So are we good on that? Great.

That’s not all.

Editor’s Choice also came about because of last night’s happenings. In honour of my impending five year anniversary with this project, I hosted an I Have My Doubts reading party. It was an intimate gathering of close friends. I read a couple of pieces and invited others to read anything that’d struck them over the years. The whole experience was a) self-indulgent and b) gratifying beyond belief. To be very real with you fine folks, I don’t know much about my “audience”. I don’t know which friends have/do read my writing. I also mostly dump entries here and forget about them. I don’t think about their quality, whether I’m actually worth my salt as a writer, or how others approach and/or appreciate my writing. Hearing others reading my pieces was amazing. Being able to bask in my words from others’ mouths brought home that I actually like what I do and it’s worth being proud of. Having a physical audience brought home that I’ve done some solid work over the years. Some of which I’d totally forgotten about. I think that’s notable and worth celebrating with this whole Editor’s Choice thing.

What kind of stuff did people read? There was my first ever entry (which was all kinds of cringeworthy and embarrassing, but really brought home how much my writing has grown). There was the piece about how our internal maps existing outside of liminal time. One where a chance meeting at a party made me reflect on bringing back the childlike wonder I had for the world (a reflection that created huge lasting change in my life and persona). One I’d totally forgotten about where a bathroom questioned my humanity and I was kind of on its side. The time in Vancouver where I discovered that as a guy, I was allowed to reject the social script and voice disinterest in a hook up. I read my favourite online dating message I’ve ever sent. My girlfriend read the most visceral and honest piece I’ve written on my own body image struggles. Literal tears were shed. As a palate cleanser, I performed a rap I wrote about a classic New Zealand children’s book. Then my girlfriend and I double teamed some “erotic slam poetry” we’d written to one another years back. A friend pulled out a fantastic series of potential screenplay ideas I’d written. Cocky or not, I couldn’t stop laughing at them. Another friend read something I’d put together before giving her boyfriend a literal cunnilingus lesson. There was a somber find I stumbled upon about a bus stop interaction I’d somehow lost memory of. My girlfriend read my attempted Clickhole style article about The Oscars.

If you’re interested in reading any of the above, oh buddy do I ever have a site section for you.

Nothing adventured, nothing gained.

I was thinking today, what would I do if a wizard popped up out of nowhere and said “Hey Leon, you like pokémon, right? Wanna live in a world of pokémon?”

In this scenario, I’d be transported to an alternate realm where pokémon roamed the land. I don’t need to deep dive into an explanation, right? The conceit rings true? Exploring, capturing and training pokémon, battling at gyms. A life of constant adventure, making friends and memories. Having a stable of pets to grow close with. Intelligent creatures who could learn, grow and evolve.

The caveat, of course (cause next to spells, those are wizards’ favourite things) is that I’d have to leave my existence behind. Friends? Gone. Loved ones? Poof. As if they never were. My girlfriend, the woman I wake up beside every morning? Nada. She’d be back here in this reality. The life I’ve spent years cultivating and crafting for myself? All that hardship and horizontal movement? My bank accounts? Possessions? Kaput. All given to the void so I could travel the land in a Hakuna Matata state of being.

It’s a harder choice than it first seems, because how can we not build attachment to the life we put our heart and soul into. Is love something that can simply be dropped at will? Of course it isn’t. The bonds of a relationship are forged through diligence and perseverance. You earn the people around you by virtue of giving back to them. Think about all that effort, vanished in an instant. Think about your feelings, cursed to still be tethered. Permanently unrequited. With time they’d fade, but imagine losing your everything all at once. Wouldn’t you be reeling?

But on the flipside, you’d get to form whole new attachments. I dropped most everything when I moved from NZ to Canada. Okay, that’s a falsehood of sorts. The internet exists. I still had contact. The fact that I’m useless at maintaining connections over geographical boundaries is a moot point. Others aren’t so dumpy when it comes to keeping in touch. On the other hand, I’d get to constantly see new sights. I’d be lost in a world where hard work could pay off through my devotion to training. I’d have the chance to discover new parts of myself. To really harness the opportunity to put myself out there. Because that’s what this really is. This whole scenario is simply weighing up the call to adventure against the comfort of security and attachment.

Out of the two, which pulls to me more?

Which is to say, I’ve entirely buried the lede. All this preamble and pokémon rhetoric was just a ruse to say that I’ve taken the call to adventure. Sorry fam. I’m auditioning for a friend’s play tomorrow. I think. Maybe. I put my application in awful late (like 15 minutes ago late). My girlfriend is too. We went out to an info night on Tuesday after I nudged her to audition. She’s a terrific performer and it’s been too long since she’s had stage time. I think she’d do a fantastic job and the whole production is right up her alley.

As for me? Going with her to the info night, it sounded like a really fun troupe. I used to adore acting and I’d low key been thinking maybe I’d try out for something small in Toronto eventually. Knowing the friend who’s directing/co-wrote, it’d be a great time. I remember so fondly the times I’d spend in high school or university hanging around with a cast. My social circles were swarming with theatre geeks and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. They’re generally pretty creative, spontaneous folks. Plus most of them are a blast to drink with. I’d be very happy to sacrifice my spare time to re-engage in that kind of environment. I guess we’ll see if I even get an audition before raising any kinds of hopes.

Adventure, I choose you!

This land is your land, this land is Auckland.

I was chatting to someone in a cafe yesterday. As soon as she heard my accent, she asked where I was from. Turns out she did her university education back in Auckland, my home town. We chatted for a while about the city, various locations, etc. I found myself running through the map in my head. Trying to pinpoint exactly where she’d been living, working, etc. It was so vivid. I remembered street names and could visually run through the streets and routes. The more I thought of it, the more I realised: I love Auckland.

It was my home for the better part of 26 years. Auckland has this reputation back in New Zealand. It’s maligned by the rest of the country, but the New Zealand mentality also has this odd Tall Poppy aspect to its patriotism. Even for those who truly love “Godzone”, they can’t help but shit on their home turf a little. Aucklanders probably love Auckland for the most part, but are also quick to tear it to shreds. Whether it’s complaining about traffic, wannabe trendy areas or poor comparison to overseas metropolises, we’re always pretty quick to pile shit atop it.

When I went back to New Zealand last year, it brought back a ton of the things I appreciated about my home. While I held this view, I kind of thought it applied in a wider sense to the country. The more I tumble it through my brain, I understand that a lot of it specifically applies to Auckland. Tāmaki recently placed third on some world liveable city ranking. Of course there’s douchebagginess to it, but something truly underrated about Auckland is how varied the city can be. The downtown core may be a little trashy/clubby. The nightlife is all kinds of mediocre, for the most part. The public transit is laughable at best. On the other hand, it’s a city filled with beaches. There are parks, hikes and bushwalks everywhere. You’ve got metropolitan centres, local communities, suburbia and dumpy commercial malls. The city has been pushing to lift arts and culture to the forefront over the past decade and it’s starting to show. You need a car to get anywhere, but oh the places you can go.

I think even of the area I grew up in: Northcote Point. We lived across the road from a small inlet, connected to a larger beach. There were local shops with a hairdresser, community movie theatre and bistro. Going up the road we could get fish and chips from the takeaways. There was a cafe, a wine shop and a dairy not far off. With bikes we could go even further. Riding down the street we could go and loiter under the bridge. Alternatively, down the hill was a wharf fit for fishing. There was a tunnel leading to another fishing wharf and several parks with great playgrounds were within five to ten minutes’ ride. One of them even had a skate ramp where teens would hang out and smoke. The area nonetheless felt pretty safe, enough that our parents were content to let us run amok.

In the grand scheme of things, Auckland was pretty safe. I don’t think I ever saw anyone carrying a gun. Not even cops. It’s not like everything was rosy all the time, but on an international scale of danger, it’d rank pretty low. Furthermore opportunity was everywhere. Anything we needed was only a suburb or two away. Local schools were pretty decent. I’m certain my views were coloured living on the North Shore, but Northcote was a neat vantage Point.