I’ve made some deep friendships online with people over time. We’ve bonded over favorite Sci Fi shows; the X-Files, Farscape, World of Warcraft raiding, and long-term projects around the hidden histories of Native peoples, homeless housing or cats. Over time I’ve shared more with these friends, than with blood family. Many of these people I’ve never met in RL. My current love is; Dark Matter, I love the community that gathers around great storytelling.
I have a particular affection for the showrunner Joseph Mallozzi, his active engagement with fans; the behind scenes look at putting the show together, the sets, the arts, the process, the people who make up the project. It’s awesome not just for the show, but for anyone interested in any part of that, the insight into the inner workings is a small part of the total inspiration that makes this community so devoted and passionate. You’ll find his blog here: https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/ Check it out.
I know a lot of people don’t get the depth of friendships, you can make online. There is I think even a stigma associated with online friendship, a persistent doubt that “real” intimacy can only be created via physical encounter, that these people are strangers. I don’t think that’s true. I often find it safer to share things you feel, things that others might judge as quirky, a tad weird, or things that you’re shy about, online.
People are amazing when they’re inspired. This is what makes great shows – great. That people are inspired by it to make art, share humour, start telling stories all out of passion. The experience of community and online friendship’s inspired me to write a song, (no experience, but I sang it to a group who said it didn’t suck). It’s my first attempt at song writing.
The key message is in this verse:
Sometimes, I admit I wonder at the words upon the screen How just mere words can bind us, with faces still unseen But few we trust to share with, those words we will not say So quiet in the night we write and give our hearts away.
My most favourite heroes were in science fiction they’re usually misfits.
When I was growing up I patterned myself after characters in books and on TV. Stories raised me. I had gone through 30 plus homes by 14 or so, caregivers or approximations thereof came and went and I didn’t model myself after any of them.
The crew of the Raza’s like that, and it’s misfits that have become family. Their ‘real’ families, for the most part, were shit. Hateful stepmothers, that want to take your birthright, an experimentation tank of sadistic scientists, a slob pile of thieving cutthroats who killed a loving childhood, unintended abandonment by accidental parental death? Maybe only Six had a great upbringing. Or maybe Android, because she was created as an object of love and out of love or respect, given a chance to have her own existence. And she was wanted.
Those kinds of characters I can relate to. Those kind of characters are real to me.
When I was in my twenties I worked with street kids – ‘good homes’ loving parents all that kind of stuff, is PURE FANTASY. Home as a safe place? Is. Not. Real.
As an unprotected toddler to teen, the world is a dirty, lonely, sometimes breath-holding scary and dangerous place. And often the only freedom is getting lost in books, comics, TV, and film. Science fiction and fantasy create a safe place, even if it’s only a mental safe place.
I like that the crew of the Raza is trying to be better. Sometimes trying to be heroes. And they’re not good at it. I like that. It’s just how it is. You think you’re gonna stop a war and you blow a hole in the Universe and let the aliens in. It happens. I get it. If you’re on your own, or guidance is poor you make some howler mistakes. So…okay, pick yourself up, face it and move on.
Trying to be more than what people think, say or feel about you, is – so hard. I love the Android for that reason, she wants to be more than her programming. She wants to be human. In my culture’s ethos/religion the core of it revolves around one question:
“You ask me: What is the most important thing in the Universe? I tell you, it is to be human, to be human, to be human.”
(In English it doesn’t translate, an emphasis on the different syllables for the Maori word ‘human’ changes the meaning each time; human; the full maturation of body and spirit, human; connection to an infinite now, human; connection to all things that are related to you -which is for us, like every single living thing there is or ever was.)
The scientific discussions lately about what makes us, ‘us’, is not a debate around nature versus nurture or even the interplay of nature and nurture. Lately, it’s that our deliberate acts, deliberate choices can rewire us. We can create ourselves.
That’s why Android is so cool. She’s creating herself. So can we.
When you’re young and come from a really shit place. You hope for the heroes that never come. When you’re older like now for me, you can BE the heroes – or at least a really good sort. A guide and pointer for people who are going through bad places and times that you’ve travelled through yourself and got all the way through.
I love Dark Matter it creates a family out of misfits and bad guys. They’re not perfect. They’re not Star Trek Next Gen’ squeaky clean. People aren’t, but they’re still worthy of love.
I love Dark Matter for the really good story it is, for Joe Mallozzi’s infectious enthusiasm and embrace of the fans. I love how a great story creates a community. I love, love, love the show.
I love how a great show creates a sense of family and for some of us in some important times of our life that really is the only sense of family we know.
Saturday I went with Fatima, to the land we are planning to have a little Eco-Village of Tiny Houses for Women Refuges and Homeless. The women come from all over, different cultures, places, ages and religions. They gather over a few days, get to know each other, share food, sleep and get to be around people going through the same things as they.
When they have a women’s retreat they go to this tree it’s called “The Meditation Tree’. They’ll sit around it and on it and meditate.
But it’s also called the “Resilience Tree”. Fatima pointed out the tree is broken, like many of the women. It was completely knocked flat. If you look closely you will see that much of the tree is dead, stricken and bare. But there are 3 big fat roots that hold onto and dig deep into the ground – and it still lives. The top branches have reached up again – this tree has been knocked over but she’s not out for the count! 🙂
The women gather round this tree to tell their stories, but it’s a place where they leave the bad feelings behind – broken or not. They get back up, they move on – and they live.
This is not the typical type of experience that I would share with the kind of people that make up the majority of my main twitter feed, most being developers and testers who I tend to think pride themselves as being scientific, rational and most seem agnostic or atheist in their beliefs. But still in the words of Nicole Kidman this experience ‘is what it is’. My attitude towards science is that it’s a subset of truth and that’s what I’m sharing here.
When I was seventeen or eighteen I spent a whole Saturday surrounded by books, magazines and essays (this was before the internet) sifting through them to find quotes and insights to use for my first speaking engagement. The topic was ‘the importance of education’. No biggie, it was just a church talk, but it was to be in front of a few hundred people and that kind of thing is scary.
So I wanted to nail it and besides, getting an education really was the most important thing for me at that time. I’d left home earlier than most and paid my own way through the last two years of high school. I was now working 30 plus hours a week, apart from a grant I had won, paying my own way through a full University year.
Education also was a topic I was conflicted over. A lot about school and University education system angered me, particularly how much of it I felt was irrelevant, various unfair flaws in the marking system, the disconnect between what I was learning and what I could see myself using. And the feeling you get from school that getting a C, B or A made you a “C”, “B, or “A” person.
I’m not surprised that the day probably influenced the dream I had that night. I dreamed I was walking through a church and a minister stopped me in the hall and said; “I want you to go on a mission”. Hello? He wanted me to go wandering around knocking at stranger’s doors interrupting their dinner time, wearing clothing that looked like it came out of the 50’s, live 24/7 with a perfect stranger and worse -stall a University education that I had invested so much in? Even though I was just dreaming, my chest felt heavy and my heart sank to the floor of my stomach. Whilst thinking more such thoughts, a calm voice spoke right in my dream ear and said; “The most important education in life, is the education of character and all other forms of education are towards this end, or secondary to it”.
It woke me up. And I lay quietly mulling that over for some time.
Now, here’s the interesting thing. Whilst I lay there, the dream started to replay while I was still awake. Literally it was like a slow screen flare that opened to display a 3d see-through movie image, right in front of my eyes and below the ceiling above me. I froze and I stayed very very still, stilled my breathing, stilled my body and thoughts, I didn’t allow myself to think or analyse what was happening. It was just the most curious thing and I didn’t want to spook it. When the hallway reformed, I heard again the same words, but this time the voice spoke not just in my ear, but clear and audible from all sides.
Throughout the years thereafter, whether teaching kids, mentoring young adults, coaching candidates for job roles or getting to know the number of people I’ve interviewed for high tech roles, I’ve seen how much character impacts on your ability to learn and grow. I’ve met quite a few PHDs who have worked more than 20 years in factories and a number of Bachelors, Masters and Doctors of Academia that live sour lives in low paid work far below their intellectual capability and their career expectations. In contrast others I’ve met who’ve succeeded without degree or other academic qualifcations.
In recent times, when I’ve explored in interviews the whys or wherefores of either group. I’ve seen or heard that their ability to have success, has depended more on traits like resilience, passion, courage, ethics rather than their formal education alone. Resilience to knock-backs & upsets. Passion, enthusiasm or curiousity that fuels ongoing learning and improvement. Courage to attempt at things that they could fail at, or courage to take a risk when problem solving requires it rather than be hand held through to a solution. Open mindedness to open themselves to ideas outside what their past which informs them on things they don’t actually know. Ethics; that gives a person a pride in producing quality work.. and so forth.
An academic education is a boon, but I’ve seen for myself that much of our capability to learn and grow is rooted in character.
I saw a picture of people in the community of Ferguson, standing in front of the doors of local businesses to turn looters away. Their resolute faces got me thinking about those who choose to commit crimes and those who don’t, even though they come from a similar environment. It reminded me of a social worker I met once, who wondered the same thing of me. She asked ‘why I didn’t go the way of many troubled kids she dealt with, given the similar kind of experiences of multiple homes, violence, molestation that kind of thing’. Why hadn’t I got into crime or trouble of any sort? I ignored her (nosey woman), but I remember that it was due to the impact of one small event.
When I was 3 nearly 4 years old I remember picking up a deflated balloon off the floor at Woolworths. It had fallen off the counter. And I put it in my pocket because it didn’t seem wrong if it was ‘rejected’ on the floor. I knew stealing was wrong. But this didn’t seem to be it. Later we’re in the old Humber driving the long way back home and I sitting in the backseat, brought it out of my pocket to play with. My grandmother was driving glanced at the car mirror and saw me.
Asked me where I got it, I told her, her face went resolute and she sharply turned the car around and drove alllllll the way back to return it. It cost less than a farthing (which is like less than half a cent today). It was a really long way back, or so it seemed to me as a child. But my grandmother’s logic was that it didn’t matter whether it was a farthing or $100.00 the taking of it would make me a thief.
That one thing totally stuck in my head, her absolute honesty, that this is something you just didn’t do. It imprinted on me and I think hardwired me from that point on – that there was no other way to behave than the example she set.
It’s a small thing, but it strikes me as I remember other small happenings – just how powerful a small action a person can take that it can completely hardwire you for the rest of your life.
Ancient cultures the world over have all had oral traditions as the roots of their literature, both to educate and entertain. I imagine in the darkness, by a fireside, story-tellers enthralled their fellow tribes people with tales handed down through countless generations and centuries. What determines whether a story gets told or retold through the ages? I suppose it’s a story that illustrates a moral value, a particular quality or a lesson that your society deems important.
When I was growing up in the 60’s my ‘fireside’ was the all-surrounding darkness of the picture theatre, sitting mesmerized, enthralled by the animated tales of Disney movies; Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella and others. I learnt Good was beautiful. Ugly was evil. Good was always good, Evil was always evil and Good always won out in the end. I learnt being a heroine had little to do with courage or power, it had more to do with being lovely, making friends and winning instantly the hearts of powerful others through your beauty and grace. Growing up, these Disney ‘lessons’ haven’t stood the test of time.
So it’s good that they’re being retold, and Maleficent the movie is a case in point. If a story is to be repeated generation after generation, I think it needs to tell some truth, some human law or principle that stays with a child and later gives them an insight into the human condition.
Whether it was intended or not, I found a few truths within Maleficent that are worth passing on. In the old Disney movies, ‘true love’ I used to think was the province of the beautiful and elite. I thought to be loved you needed to be beautiful. After all I saw when Prince Phillip kissed Aurora, his ‘true love’ was based on little more than the fact; she was lovely. Young Stefan and Maleficent seem to play out that old Disney theme in the beginning. Maleficent is beautiful, loving and caring to all the creatures of the Moor. Stefan happens along like Disney Princes before him and by chance discovers her. They become friends, and in time he bestows a kiss on Maleficent representing his ‘true love’. Maleficent the movie turned that definition of true love on its head. Prince Phillip in this story failed, his infatuation wasn’t recognised as love. Instead it was the kiss of Maleficent who had watched over Aurora protected and made sure she survived childhood. Hers was the spell-breaking real kiss of true love. Good lesson to learn.
In our culture, (Maori/New Zealand), we’re taught all things were created to be good in the beginning, the road to evil or great good requires choice. So I liked that Maleficent was both villain and hero. Because evil isn’t inherent in any of us, we’re innocent in the beginning.
As was Maleficent she was innocent, loving and a powerful protector in her youth. But then she was betrayed by her friend; Stefan. Stefan chose to do her evil that he might be King and have all the power that that title gave him. Stefan slipped Maleficent the equivalent of a medieval ruffie, he violated her, blooded her, cut her wings and stripped her of her greatest joy; freedom. In doing so he deeply wounded a large part of who she was. His was an act equivalent to rape. Maleficent turned. Once a strong, powerful protector of the weak, she became instead an overbearing ruler of her domain and suppressed the freedom of many of the creatures in the moor to be their natural selves. The moors became then a dark place. And there’s another truth; it’s the nature of evil, to make its victims in its own image. People who are wounded and take the path of hatred and revenge; tend to do to others the wrongs done to them. Its why evil really blows.
If I had a child I would use Maleficent to illustrate one more truth, you would recognize it, if you’re Maori, Black, American Indian, Aborigine, abused child or been some kind of minority that’s dealt with an oppressor. The oppressor hates those they wrong. They will hate you and seek to paint you as ugly, inherently evil and deserving of anything you the Oppressor may do to them. Thus what is done to the bullied, is ‘good’; a punishment, and not simply wrongful acts done in order to satisfy the Oppressors want for power, status or wealth. Or out of the Oppressor’s fear that the wronged will retaliate or seek justice.
Lastly I like, that at the end, there was a choice for both Stefan and Maleficent. Maleficent could have killed Stefan,both their faces were reflections of the same hatred as they fought on the high tower. She paused and in a moment seem to recognise that.
And in that briefest of moments – she again turned. She put her hatred aside and turned away. However Stefan didn’t, consumed with hate, even though his daughter was now alive, he tried to kill Maleficent and in the end caused his own death.
So for me, this was a far better tale to pass to a new generation. I hope children sit in dark pictures theatres and be enthralled by all it’s movie magic. Because evil isn’t always evil, good isn’t always good. True love is more than just a pretty face, heroines can have power and courage too as into the fortresses of burning iron we saw her and her faithful friend go. We can undo a wrong. We can be villains or heroes, either is in us, and it’s in us to choose.
When I went to University I was disappointed in the memorization and regurgitation style of learning, and again disappointed at how very little that I was taught was relevant in the real world. Therefore when I starting working in soft-skills, IT training and the new e-Learning space, I followed a more Māori model to learning.
Learning is change, change in the world and change in people. No real education leaves a person unchanged. Learning is about the pragmatics of everyday life, but it’s also about unfolding what you were put on the planet to do. Developing your talents, exploring your natural interests and developing a career that doesn’t go against your natural grain.
In older times, our community would watch a child carefully throughout his early life to determine which skills should be taught him .When he got to be about 11 or so, he was brought before an Elder and with great ceremony told a story. He was then to separate himself, meditate on the story’s true meaning and relay it day later. What ever interpretation he gave, he was right. Because there was no ‘true’ meaning, what the child focused on, how they interpreted the meaning, what they saw in the story pointed to who he was and where his place was.
This is critical for a happy person, a healthy community. There are long periods in our history and the history of others that we associated with, that I can say speaking from those experiences; you don’t change people, you don’t try to make them ‘perfect’ , ‘better’ or create some kind of Utopia society. You simply reveal who people really are and historically we found that sufficient to weave the community together out of what people are, not what you may want, wish or think them to be. The ‘bad’ in the community as necessary as the ‘good’ to knit a community closely together. As necessary as a weaver once put it, as the knotted and smooth strands used to weave baskets.*
People tend to not ‘hear’ that, they can’t imagine living in a society without jails, violence or mentally ill. It’s enough to invite scorn. But, I took the opportunity to put this concept in practice in a Western setting, when I served a proselyting mission in Melbourne, Australia. I declined to spend time knocking on doors. Instead I made a statement to the local church community that I would get a 100% voluntary participation of all youth I approached between 11 and 18 years old in a project to develop their talents, be able to express their real voice and create a relationship with them sufficient to work through some of their problems. I targeted street kids in the area and kids who were active members or who were listed as members in the community, but who never came.
I chose a musical play, wrote the main theme from scratch and wrote each character with a specific kid in mind, to express a talent they had or wanted (sing,dance, act, paint, order people around, play with the technical stuff –whatever.) It was magical that whatever town we traveled to, it all came together. I don’t have the time to tell the type of success we had, but for example; a bunch of Tongan boys too shy to socialize had a love of rap, connected them with an inactive Lebanese guy who had a natural gift for rap, teaching and involved them in that community. Two boys that were often separated by force because of their violence, I instead got them to work together with a comedic one-upmanship routine they wrote mostly themselves. Two groups of 13-14 year old girls who hated each other, who had contrasting life styles and loved dance, one group identified funk the other group identified with ballet, we wrote a scene that played a music rounder that we could have both groups dance to at the same time, the different dance styles contrasted and complemented each other in a total piece that looked dynamically great, which created a hook for girls to start converse without rancor and fear to justify their contrasting styles.
I got 100 percent participation, it’s not hard to get people to do what they love to do.
In my life now with a background of 20 or so years in training people of all ages and a number of years in recruitment, Peepsweave is a movement towards building healthy communities by realigning the disconnect between what Universities teach, what industries need graduates to be and know and kids learning to map a career to their actual talents and nature.
*The ‘knotted strands’; the problems people have or are being, were used to bring out the best in the community and to knit that community out of need. Problems were used as tools to unite, rather then seen as divisive.