Monika Schott

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A life of 'oh wells' are greater than a life of 'what ifs'. I write to express life in all its glory, to spark thinking … I love to swim outside, practise hot yoga and hit the boxing studio. I'm currently undertaking a PhD research to capture the social history of the community that lived on Melbourne's first sewerage farm. I've had several short stories published, my latest being 'The Teacher' in 'These winter months'. I was short-listed in the Ada Cambridge Prize, won the inaugural Wyndham Rotary Arts Small Business Award and have a Masters of Communication where I looked at boys and reading and what it is they like to read.

An eye for an eye does not equal tolerance

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Hurling thoughts and emotions, what should and shouldn’t be and what we could or couldn’t do. What we can do. They blend within a world cyclone that has no eye but at its centre are people fleeing homelands, walking homeless yet with purpose through country side and along train lines to cross borders for refuge in camps of tents on mass. It takes time for the torrent to settle to make sense of what is, of a life that will continue to endure with discrimination and prejudice yet to come as Syrians and others seeking a fresh start settle into new societies.

Discrimination and prejudice of any kind, whether based on race, ability, gender, religion, attitude, interest, ideals, beliefs, values, culture and more, stems from humanity’s inability to accept difference. That could come through fear or ignorance, a lack of empathy or poor emotional intelligence. It can lie dormant in the depths of a puny crevice until challenged and when it is, can rear as a ferocious beast of warped sharpness, bitter and acidic in tongue, and reeking as a stench-laden, rampant and contagious virus.

Disturbingly, discrimination is as relevant today as it’s ever been. Take the 1950’s and mass migration to Australia. My mother was part of that movement. She arrived with her family from Malta at not quite 13 years old, with boat loads of others sent to camps upon arrival, unless you were unlucky enough to have that lovely deep olive complexion and then you were sent back, unwelcome.

Mum and her family endured much discrimination over the years. They practised as devout Catholics but were not accepted into the ‘Anglo-Catholicism’ and labelled as ‘micks’ instead, relating to being of mixed religion. They watched their uncle operating a restaurant in town, revert to chops and mashed potato on the menu after patrons refused pasta and minestrone options. They felt the hurt as the youngest in the family was not considered worthy of marrying an ‘Australian’ and lived with the constant racial and derogatory taunts of being labelled a ‘wog’, a disparaging and contemptuous term referring to anyone coming from Europe. My siblings and I experienced that discrimination too, regardless of being born in Australia, and I lashed out at anyone calling my mother and family a wog. The cultural values of Christmas we shared as a family were considered weird and I was teased at school for eating salami sandwiches at lunchtime. How times change – I’m attending a Salami Festival in a trendy part of town soon!

Mum had a less troubled road to settling into a new society compared to many migrants and refugees of today as her culture was a fusion of Maltese and English due to Malta being under English rule back then. Her culture has contributed to an enriched Australian ethnicity while the focus has switched to other migrants attempting to make new homes in Australia. Integration has occurred, mostly, that point where we all give equal opportunity and consideration to a racial, religious or ethnic group or a member of such a group, on social, economic and emotional levels.

That means tolerance and understanding by all parties, those settling as well those already settled, of being non-judgemental and accepting of difference because behind every face, exists a story waiting to be understood, yours and mine included.

Acceptance of all difference of all people is key to integration. My son's grand final football match one weekend not long ago, saw integration NOT at work. Seeing that made the plight of the Syrians fleeing right now, more sad and distressing than ever.

The lead in my son’s game changed many times and both teams played in fierce, emotional determination. My son’s team lost by one point in the last two minutes of the match. But it was the end of the game that was the real show-stopper.

Abuse flew in every direction, abuse based on race, culture and ability and that extended both on and off field and by both sides. People held in regard, coaches and aides, spat venomous words of anger and hate and verbal abuse heated up to the point where the winning team ordered my son's team off the ground for the medal presentation. Club officials, aides and family swarmed the boys to escort them safely into the club rooms.

As a parent, I slipped into protection mode, honing in for anyone about to hurt my son or any of the boys. It disturbed me that he could be in danger while playing sport and made it difficult to swallow the building emotion.

As a human being, my heart bled. I heard that spectators supporting 'our' team had abused a group of young girls wearing head scarves and mocked players in the other team for their names being falafel or malafel. The ignorance left me gobsmacked and that protection mode grew for not just my son, for others being discriminated against too. That building emotion wanted to surge from me … even now, it builds to twist as knots in my gut.

This is a suburban league of boys playing football in a supposed civilised society, not a war torn or ravaged country or a community prone to any level of violence.

But beneath the torrent, and superficial sticks and stones, there is a story behind the face. Players and supporters of both teams were mainly of first and second generation Australians, Europeans, English, Asian and Lebanese. Many were from the Lebanese Republic, which is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south.

Lebanon has traditionally been an important commercial hub for the Middle East and the centre of Middle Eastern conflicts because of its borders and the unique and complex communal make-up. The country has been a refuge for the region's minorities for centuries. Crimes under Lebanese laws may not be considered offences in Australia while religious law has the same standing in Lebanon as civil law. Protests occur throughout the country, some escalate into clashes between protestors and security forces. Kidnappings are on the rise, terrorist attacks could occur anywhere and at any time. Ongoing political and sectarian tensions, the possibility of rocket attacks and car bombs, dangers posed by landmines, cross-border artillery strikes and the uncertain security environment … this is without mentioning the conflict in neighbouring Syria and extremist groups that operate inside Palestinian refugee camps!

Such trauma and torment, grief and loss, distrust and fear from shattered lives … where is the tolerance and understanding of that? Those scars run deeper than any puny crevice of discrimination and the baggage they must carry every second of every day must weigh heavier than any describable weight. They can’t disappear with the wave of an invisible wand after a month or a year. Where is the understanding of this ongoing pain, or the non-judgement and acceptance of all difference of all people, by all parties? It’s wonderful that the world is awash with compassion right now - but then what? Of course focussing on finding a place for these fleeing people to rebuild comes first and it must be one step at a time, but we mustn't forget the integration that comes next.

Millions of Syrians have fled the country since the conflict began in 2011. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have taken in the majority, some have landed in Jordan and Turkey. Germany and Brazil have granted immigration visas and other countries are accepting Syrians too.

Understanding and common sense can help with the coming next steps of settling and integration of cultures. I’ve see it happening in the Karen refugees attempting to recreate lives in my community. These people have fled homelands and now experience depression spurred by the isolation they live in a community that’s foreign to them.

But as with any situation of struggle or disadvantage, finding a strength to build on is key.

Farming and cultivation was at the heart of the Karen life in Burma and so development of a local program began where the Karen could build on their agricultural skills through formal training. That included the practical of farming plots as well as learning new skills and English, and mixing with others through the training. I was lucky enough to attend a Friday lunch prepared by these students in the most fundamental of make-shift kitchens. Their smiles, their pride in hosting me and mine in being there … humbled appreciation by all.

The struggle of integrating into a society while retaining family and cultural values can be great, and can take time. I recall a Filipino friend who forced herself to eat Vegemite when she arrived in Australia in order to fit in. She detested the Australian spread but wanted to blend in.

The click of a finger won’t see instant comradery and cooperation but understanding, tolerance and acceptance will help. Words from Sufi Master, Hazrat Inayat Khan, are as relevant today as they’ve ever been ~ ‘When love comes to its fullness, then one looks at the friend with affection, on the enemy with forgiveness, on the stranger with sympathy.’

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
Devilishly arbitrary, many of these divisions, Moni, and stemming from situations that no longer apply. The habits are ingrained b... Read More
Saturday, 03 October 2015 12:32
Monika Schott
So true, Rosy, ingrained behaviours with little thought behind them and that often stem from fear or a lack of understanding or kn... Read More
Sunday, 04 October 2015 05:45
Katherine Gregor
Your piece touched me deeply, Moni, especially reading about the experiences of your family. I, too, have experienced some humili... Read More
Sunday, 04 October 2015 09:27
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The wart of small mindedness

b2ap3_thumbnail_blind.jpgLast week again, that ‘I know best’ supreme ego reared to block the right for same-sex marriage in Australia. In simple terms, the Prime Minister's party room decided to stand in the way of recognising marriage equality after a six-hour debate that resolved against allowing a conscience vote.

The gall of the ugly wart of small mindedness, festering within a handful of people who believe that they can stand in the way of two people expressing their love for one another through a commitment that is meaningful to them. And to see this handful behave in a way where they yield a power to make such a decision based on what they believe is right, without having a level of empathy and emotional intelligence to ‘read’ what society wants, to listen to what society is saying, or even be bothered to ask. They after all, are representing the people.

You have to wonder what century we’re living in. Oh that’s right, the same century where the government continues to turn their back on asylum-seekers arriving by boat in the hope of finding refuge. That’s another story.

It’s embarrassing that we continue to discuss this right for marriage equality.

No-one has the right to tell another how to live their life (without harming others of course), let alone how they commit to the one they love. It's a taint on the notion of love. Real love. On who should love who, why, and how that love is cemented in commitment, whether founded on the belief of the sanctity of marriage or not. The ability to marry only if two people are of the opposite sex is an incredibly warped concept.

Love isn't something that can be reasoned or slotted into neat compartments. It just is. It can sprout from nowhere, unexpected, whether one is looking for it or not and without ticks in boxes to indicate ‘the right love’. Love comes from the heart and with an unwavering connection between two people, an instinct to support and protect, a physical desire that arouses without understanding, and consideration, acceptance and forgiveness without condition. The head cannot reason with what stems from the heart so how can the head reason with the depth of need to commit to love through the sanctity of marriage?

The head cannot explain the comfort one feels in a first embrace and of never wanting to let go. The head cannot explain that pit of empty in one's gut at the thought of losing someone even when one is unaware of feelings brewing inside.

But I have faith. Momentum is building. Petitions and rallies for same-sex marriage continue across the country and others in government are speaking out, even in the Prime Minister's party room with six Liberal MP's and Senators today committing to crossing the floor. Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, wrote about the huge disappointment to millions of Australians who support marriage equality after last week’s decision and more poignant, she apologised in parliament to children of same-sex parents for not having the same rights as their friends who have parents that can marry, simply because they are of the opposite sex. I felt cheated for those families, compounded because of the effect on the children.

Tanya’s apology can be found here and her story, here.

It bothers me as to why people can’t be left to love who they want and commit in the way that's important to them. Our own heart feels as it does and those feelings can't be rationalised to dictate who can marry who. Perhaps we’ve developed into a society oozing in egotistical opinion and judgement, boosted by super steroids, the same steroids feeding the ugly wart of small mindedness.

The heart will always shine through though, even over the ugly wart. Love isn't a commodity or an issue for politicians to play with to suit the day’s agenda. I have enough belief and trust in humanity that all Australians will have the right to marry, sooner rather than later.

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
Hear! Hear! I just think that with all the problems there are in the world, that need attention, why not just let people make what... Read More
Monday, 17 August 2015 09:51
Monika Schott
Exactly. There's so much going on in the world that needs attention, like all those asylum seekers. And that word JUDGE - it has ... Read More
Monday, 17 August 2015 10:09
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2 Comments

Blurred lines

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Wriggles and swirls mingle as a web of rhythmic accents in yellow, orange and aluminium. They build momentum in waves of harmonious crescendos, lines of clear and crisp as though viewed under the bluest of country skies in the peak of spring light. Their direction is exact and focused with an edge of spunk, several edges in fact.

The motion that exists within Jackson Pollock's 'Blue Poles' appears in life too, through the enactment of a purpose to be and do whatever inspires and feeds the soul. We bumble as determined busy bees on the waft of a blossomed breeze, sometimes skipping beside Winnie the Pooh.

Other times, that waft transforms as the weather blows in all its unpredictable force in our world of probabilities and non-exacts. Without warning, mornings breathe through a haze that slithers on the horizon and by mid-afternoon, overpowers as the ultimate desert mirage to entice under a blaze of uncertainty. What’s real and what’s not becomes ambiguous and our clarity hides and plays amongst illusions that distend as distrust.

Look hard into 'Blue Poles' and lines can smudge as though an eraser has smeared their lucidity in one clean swipe. Lines obscure into blotched oblivion as they cross into a tangle of disarray and sometimes dive into nothingness where they lurk in unsuspecting existence. And fester.

The first you know of these brutes is when they explode to shatter sensibilities, revealing a pungent torrent of purple and teal murk, bruised and blending in sour and sweet and setting off sparks as clashes of psychotic ramblings. Senses sear to expose the stark of the soul where emotions disrobe in full reveal; vulnerable and disconnected, suspicious and fearful. Life becomes a sparring of naked, thorned sticky.

And yet once that focus has vanished into marbled streaks of scatter and relying on one's judgement becomes a guessing game, then what?

One of the very nice things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.

I read that nearly each time I visit my local deli. Its cursive script demands my attention as it blazes across the top of the wall behind the counter. And while I don’t go on to stop and eat at that moment, I realise that taking the time to stop is what counts, time to collect those smatterings that have been blasted to smithereens, to understand what’s been and to help define what’s next. It's time to reflect.

Life would be boring and unchallenging if re-aligning ourselves was as simple as resharpening our eyes on the lines within 'Blue Poles', to see them in their finest.

 

 

 

 

Recent Comments
Katherine Gregor
I'm afraid I can't bring myself to like Jackson Pollock. But your piece is an explosion of colours, energy, thoughts and passion ... Read More
Sunday, 02 August 2015 13:43
Monika Schott
That's such a big compliment, Katherine, even bigger for me to take on! Thank you. I'm not keen on abstract art but I saw the movi... Read More
Monday, 03 August 2015 20:44
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2 Comments

My kind

b2ap3_thumbnail_hendricks-dark-mofo-2-2015-hobart-parlour-of-curiosities.jpgMONA, MONA FOMA, MOFO, DARK MOFO ... They all mean the one thing: to push the boundaries of thinking, to be part of an organic ooze of creative chaos that meanders and morphs as a chameleon of unpredictability.

A visit to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart coincided by fate with a major exhibition opening, Marina Abramović’s Private Archaeology. That coincidence extended to stumbling into Dark Mofo, MONA’s dark, winter festival.

MONA has a summer festival too, the Festival of Music and Art (FOMA), and MONA FOMA is also known as MOFO. Considering the meaning of Mofo in urban slang, MONA, MOFO and Dark Mofo invoke an ideal of attitude, challenge and edgy grit, of the avant-garde and slap-in-the-face sassiness.

At MONA, many would be uncomfortable when confronted with the wall of vaginas and offended by the smell that exudes from the installation that replicates the human digestive system to ultimately excrete faeces. Some question the validity as art. But art is a subjective appreciation. Art is a quality, production, expression or realm according to aesthetic principles of what appeals or is in some way, outside of the realm of ordinary in significance. More questions there though – what’s ordinary and what’s of significance?

Ultimately, we all have our own ideals or principles of what appeals, whether we know that consciously or not.

My experience being encapsulated in the binary room at MONA is mine alone. Being in the centre of this room surrounded by computer language that is the back end of all computer functioning, in a way further connected me to computers. It was as if I was in the ‘brain’ of the computer, especially when I looked up and saw my reflection hanging upside-down as a bat. I knew when I reached for the wall to steady my balance that something had struck a chord within.

And then the performing artist, Marina Abramović and her exhibition ... a scream room, a film of people finding their way blind-folded by water and another depicting the growing tension between two people pulling at a bow and arrow led me to uncover a new set of aesthetics. Then to finish the exhibition with the counting rice inter-active exhibit in a quiet sea of white while sitting at a long table counting rice by the hum of a crowd outside, allowed for an uplifting calm and re-centring to settle the excitement and experiments in thinking.

As for Dark Mofo, I would never have imagined that being submerged in a bath of bass sounds would be as sublime as what I experienced. The program introduced Bass Bath at Dark Park as, ‘Prepare to receive the sacrament of sound. Enter the circle of doom, drone and eight 2100 horsepower monolithic subwoofers.’ And yet in the darkness of atmospheric fog that at first made me gasp, my heart pounded to dip into the rhythm and become part of the drone. With a light sequence synchronised to the sound, my body hovered In vibrational alchemy. 

Thick crowds included many families and queues often formed, although I never felt smothered by a mass of people. Those queues simply added another layer as it meant meeting and chatting to strangers that enjoyed too, the excitement of seeing those boundaries pushed, where everything was okay and acceptable, glances that lingered, alternatives of norm ... all was as it was meant to be and we were free to be amongst thinking that was free and without judgement.

Dark Mofo finished on the Southern Hemisphere’s Winter Solstice. That saw the Ogoh-ogoh, a Balinese Hinduism demon-like sculpture crafted to hold fears of festival-goers, carried to its ceremonial cremation as a form of mass purification. 

Finally at sunrise, Dark Mofo ended with a nude swim in 11°C (51°F) waters.

As a gorgeous, dark-haired performance artist and I discussed while queuing for the ferry to take us from MONA to Hobart, we may believe our thinking is off-beat or left-of-centre and feel unsure because of that, but in a world of billions of people, we're not alone in that thinking.

In the end, ‘The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.’ Fabienne Fredrickson.

Here’s to Dark Mofo 2016, and the nude swim I won’t miss.

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