What was I up to 15 years ago?

2001!  I can recover some of it thanks to the Internet Archive:

10 Jul 2001

Older but no wiser?

Yes, yesterday was…. Celebrated with a few drinks at the Albury, which was passed in at auction last Friday some $2,000,000 short of the owners’ target of $8,000,000. A couple of prospective buyers were looking the place over while we were there.

Today at school, despite holidays, I worked with a group of Year 12 students studying the 1945 Director’s cut of The Big Sleep–not a bad way to earn a bit of extra cash.

My library reading this past week has included two beauties, Michael Dibdin’s 1978 Conan Doyle pastiche, The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and a satire (also a crime fiction title) by a Scots writer, Charles Palliser–Betrayals (1994). Dibdin of course went on to write the intriguing Aurelio Zen mysteries (see my home page), but I had never read The Last Sherlock Holmes Story, and I am glad to have now done so. It is quite wonderful–all the more if you know the Holmes stories well. I won’t spoil it by giving away who Moriarty turns out to be! Betrayals starts with an obituary, a really bitchy obituary, then proceeds to an amazing display of narrative voices and pastiches, including Kipling and Conrad. Central to it all is a satire on post-structuralism:

What is this gap, from which the phallic text speaks and yet is silent? What is it but the text’s phallus? What but, precisely and exactly, that phallic moment from which it has spinned himself like a disavowal, a lay [lie]. For what is a phallic text if not a lay [lie] which has to be demasked, his strategies witted out. [That is outwitted.] Behind it lays [lies] the desire which is not the desire of the autor for the autor as Barthes has told us, is dead. (Consult also Aphorism 28: ‘Barthes is dead.’)…

[“Autor” is so spelt.] So one of the novel’s (novel’s?) –see, it is catching–characters, the High Theorist Galvanauskas, a very strange character indeed. Perhaps the joke over the dimwitted Sholto MacTweed who takes up serial killing to impress the philosopher of murder and Galvanauskas groupie Horatio Quaife is more than a bit over-the-top and a bit long, but otherwise I found this odd work a hoot–a very clever hoot at that. Cruel too in places. I am sure some of the living authors parodied could not have been pleased, particularly a well-known Conservative Party figure, Jeffrey Archer, who writes political thrillers I believe; Alan Jones once notoriously plagiarised from one of them in a newspaper column, except that Jones thought he was quoting fact, not a novel, at the time. This incident (not his voice) is the source of the nickname for Jones, a particularly pompous Sydney radio identity– “The Parrot”. Mind you, Palliser also parodies himself as, among other things, Chartres Pettifer. It is quite a tour-de-force. If you don’t get too confused by having the same few stories told again and again in constantly shifting contexts and circumstances.

A third book was Susanna Moore’s In the Cut (1996). A previous borrower had warned me: “This book is crap.” (Written above Chapter One.) I do not entirely agree; it is quite nasty, and ends gratuitously, but has merits.


The Albury

11 Jul 2001

Interesting story From “Planet Out”

Here is an interesting story for you to read and then discuss maybe. What do you think? What if it appeared at your school/workplace?

An art and journalism teacher in Texas is suing the administration of the charter school that fired him last fall after he defended student artwork depicting a same-sex kiss.

Grady Roper was fired from the Katherine Anne Porter School in Wimberly after he threatened to go to the media about what he said was censorship of a student-painted mural in the school.

The 30-by-10 foot painting in the school’s main hallway contained a 2-by-2 foot section showing two men kissing. After some parents and school board members objected to that section of the mural, students and faculty found the entire work had been painted over on a weekend. The faculty unanimously supported leaving the painting as it was.

“They didn’t talk to parents or teachers. They just decided to do it on their own,” Roper told the Dallas Morning News.

“The mural was inadequately planned and supervised. It contained satanic symbols and violent images,” Yana Bland, an administrator at the school, said in a written statement. “On these grounds, I decided it was inappropriate for a public high school.”

Roper told the Morning News, “They backed themselves into a corner, so they came up with the excuse that they saw Satan in one of the images.” Roper insists the kiss was actually the problem.

“I decided the public needed to know what was happening, and I told Dr. Bland that she and the school board needed to be held accountable for their actions. I said I was going to the press,” Roper said. Soon after that declaration, he said he was told to turn in his keys and grade book and was fired.

The Texas Civil Rights Project is representing Roper in his suit against the school’s administration, claiming violation of First Amendment freedom of speech protections. He seeks reinstatement to his job, lost wages, attorney fees and a court order to prohibit the school from violating First Amendment rights.

“I want to make sure something like this never happens again,” Roper said. “I hope we can set a precedent for all schools in Texas. We cannot allow school administrators to trample on the spirit of young artists.”

13 Jul 2001

Great day — Eleven years today since…

Yes it is eleven…see last July!

Mr R tells me the scenario in yesterday’s Planet Out story actually occurred here insofar as a painting of men kissing appeared in the Art Express HSC students’ exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery last year. I did not see it.

Today was a lovely day.

Later than expected, however, as afterwards I returned to the Albury, where a customer unexpectedly became comatose, leading to much excitement with police and ambulance officers. Then I spoke at length with Ian Smith, Fox, PK and especially Malcolm, as a result of which I am just home at 11.20 pm. Wow! It was a rare chance to talk to Malcolm though. Well worth the time.

18 Jul 2001

Be a man my son! — Encouraging book for men
I must say, following on yesterday, that I rather like the idea of being able to say, “How about a drink at my club, old boy?” Very London…

On my way to coaching in Chinatown I walked by the club, although it does not open until mid-day. I went on up to the Teachers’ Federation Library and borrowed two books: Pam Gilbert, Divided by a Common Language: Gender and the English Curriculum, Carlton, Curriculum Corporation 1994, and William Pollack, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood, Melbourne, Scribe 1999 (originally NY, Random House 1998). Part of the reason for borrowing both is an interest in the question of why boys seem to prosper less in English than girls, and beyond that in boys’ education generally.

The Gilbert book I have just skimmed, and it is worthwhile, though compared with the Pollack bears some of the less helpful marks of a feminist perspective. There is a subtext that, to use Pollack’s term, boys are somehow “toxic” and in need of “correction”; I have observed this in a female colleague who is probably one of the best informed in our school on “boy’s education”, but whose endeavours sometimes actually alienate the boys she sincerely wants to help–which is sad.

Real Boys avoids that trap, and equally avoids the tree-hugging, tribal-drumming machismo of some “male consciousness” works I have read. It is a “popular” work in that it is leisurely in presentation with lots of anecdotes, but it is based on research in depth. The author, a clinical psychologist at Harvard Medical School, has been researching the subject for two decades.

Teachers, parents and even boys themselves, say from 16 up if they are intelligent and self-reflective, would do well to read this wise and generous book.

An example. Pollack tells the story of Evan, a young man who was frozen out by his family at fifteen because he “came out” to them. Now, ten years later, they want to see him again, but Evan now cannot bring himself to go back:

While it might be easy to think of Evan’s parents as being thoughtless or uncaring, the reality is they probably believed that if they withheld their love and affection from their son, somehow he would “decide” he was no longer homsosexual. But sexual orientation is constitutional–an essential part of who each of us is–and is not a “decision” that we can control or that can be changed by us or our parents. Especially because a boy may be in an extremely tenuous emotional state by the time he finds the courage to discuss his sexuality, I believe it is critically important to convey to him, as soon as he shares his feelings, that he is still loved through and through, that his sexual orientation will not in any way diminish how much he is admired and respected. These are things a boy needs to hear.

…if he is assured that his sexual orientation will never change the way he is thought of or how much he is cared about, we are then doing the best thing we can do to restore his sense of self-worth, preserve his faith that we can be trusted with even his most challenging feelings and struggles, and ensure that his adult romantic relationships–whether he ends up being gay or straight–will be as happy, healthy and fulfilling as possible.

Only then will he be clear that being a “real boy” or becoming a healthy masculine adult–contrary to the myth of boyhood culture–has no relationship whatsoever to whether one is gay or straight.

(Funnily enough, I remember Ian Smith saying something rather similar on an occasion last year when I and another visited him.)

That is just a short passage from a long book. “Gay” life is by no means a major theme, though when raised it is soundly dealt with in my view. It is also true that very many gay men suffer from an inadequate concept of masculinity–which is not to say they are inadequately masculine.

I do have colleagues who are receptive to the spirit emanating from this book and behave in their dealings with students or colleagues in such a spirit. I fear, however, that the ambience of our school, especially the GPS tradition as implemented by some, may well itself be “toxic.”

That may explain why NP, for one, looks on his school days as having been in some measure beneficial, but in more significant measure a source of trouble–a very efficient way of stuffing up one’s mind and heart, not only if one is gay, but perhaps especially so if one is. Certainly our school needs to think again about all this, and books like this one are a good place to start. Nearer home, I am told there is a program centred on Newcastle University that takes up such issues most effectively.

I also find it encouraging that a number of young men I know, either personally or through the Internet, seem to be working out for themselves a much richer masculinity than my generation did, or my father’s, a masculinity that may be summed up in the final paragraph of Pollack’s book:

Real boys need people to be with who allow them to show all of their emotions, including their most intense feelings of sadness, disappointment and fear. Real boys need to hear that these feelings are normal, good and “masculine”. They need to know that there really isn’t any feeling, activity or behaviour that is forbidden to them as boys (other than those that could end up seriously hurting them or somebody else). They need to be taught connection rather than disconnection. They need to be treated with the same kind of caring and affection we hope they’ll be able to express when they become men in the next century. They need to be convinced, above all, that both their strengths and their vulnerabilities are good, that all sides of them will be celebrated, that we’ll love them through and through for being just the boys they really are.

Speaking of young men, I ran into an ex-student (a talented writer), Rowan, in a Paddington bookshop this evening. It was lovely to see him after, what, six years?

26 Jul 2001

Pleasant surprise

Received my own copy of William Pollack, Real Boys today–I discuss the book in the entry for July 18. It was a late birthday present from one of the best people I know; I am so happy 🙂