Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dean Reads from The Artisan Heart Live via Facebook.

So, I thought I'd attempt something a little different this week and do a live reading from my brand new novel "The Artisan Heart" over at Facebook Live and follow it up by answering reader questions. I think it went pretty well and I'm pleased to be able to make the video available here. 

I've read just the first two chapters for this one but I'm keen to read more - if you are. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

"The Artisan Heart" by Dean Mayes is available now where ever good books are sold. Click through here to browse purchasing options, including signed copies from the author himself.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Delayed Devastation & The Abandonment Of #MeToo.

21 years ago, when I was a junior RN at the beginning of my career, I was sexually assaulted by in my workplace. 

The assault involved two individuals, who were senior to me. They herded me into a confined space, and proceeded to taunt me, touch me inappropriately, I was penetrated  digitally. I did not invite their advances, nor did I give permission. I was manipulated, forced into enduring their attack. 

The incident occured out of hours. There were no witnesses to the incident other than myself and the two individuals involved. I was given no ability to escape the the situation. I was shocked and devastated. 

When I attempted to report the incident, I could not have anticipated the reaction I received. A meeting was arranged with with senior people. I was given no opportunity to arrange a support person to attend with me. Once in the room, I detailed the incident. 

I was told that these were very serious allegations. I was asked if I recalled the incident accurately (the meeting occured within a few days of it having occurred.) I was informed that my abusers denied any involvement in what had occurred. Further, I was advised there were very serious consequences of making allegations of this gravity. 

I was then told that the incident never happened and that if I pursued my claims that I would not work as a Nurse anywhere in the future. I was then put on a "probation period" in which my performance would be observed at monitored.

How does a 23 year old, junior male nurse, deal with this? 

In the aftermath, I was devastated. I felt isolated, marginalised and I suffered under the weight of intense scrutiny for which I had no support, no counselling and no recourse.

I suffered bouts of depression, anxiety, guilt and shame that was so intense, I was pushed to the edge.

Yes, I was suicidal and yes, there were three occasions where I attempted to take my own life.  

I know what happened was real. I was, essentially, raped in my workplace. 

Seeing that I had no power to do anything about the experience, I closed down and compartmentalized the experience and the ordeal, burying them so deep in my psyche so that I could (somehow) function. I developed a way of coping - but I never dealt with the damage wraught on me.

With the emergence of the #metoo movement last year, my exposure to the countless stories of abuse and survival being shared, I unlocked the chest that held my own experience of abuse and I  looked at it anew for the first time in 20 years.

Revisiting the experience, my reaction to it and the subsequent emotional devastation I experienced as a result of being ignored and threatened, I was confronted by 20 long years of unresolved emotional baggage that had affected me. 

It took me a long time to acknowledge the reality of what had occurred. Seeing similar experiences being shared, I was encouraged by what I thought was a positive movement that would treat my ordeal with empathy and compassion. 

I shared my experience. 

The reaction? 

The reaction was a swift and as devastating as the intial reaction I received to my account of sexual abuse.

Suspicion. Disbelief. Minimisation - all coming from within this movement that was supposed to empower voices and embrace survivors. I felt as though I had been raped all over again. 

See - I don't fit the narrative. I fall outside of the accepted identity of a sexual abuse survivor. 

I was a male victim of sexual violence, perpetrated by women. Like the administrators who interrogated me in the aftermath of my abuse, many within the #metoo movement doubted that such violence could happen to a male by a female. I'd remembered it wrong. My recollections must be doubtful. This couldn't have happened to you - a man. It was made clear to me that, at this time, this fight is not about you. You can't be a part of our narrative because - as one particularly militant tweeter articulated it - "You have a dick."

In the course of the fight, there will be victims. Males are collateral damage in this - Male victims and Male accused (whether they are innocent or guilty). 

I'm considering all this, at a time when there is incredible scrutiny being brought to bear on the nominee for the Supreme Court in the United States, Brett Cavanaugh.

You might be surprised, given all I have detailed here, that I have questions about the claims and counter claims swirling around Christine Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh. In no way do these questions  discount the possibility that Blasey-Ford is telling the truth. It is simply a dispassionate observation that Blasey-Ford has not presented compelling evidence that establishes fact. Like me, she may never be able to.

At this time, Brett Kavanaugh is an *alleged* perpetrator or sexual assault - *alleged*. A formal FBI investigation would, in my view, be the most appropriate way of establishing fact. That should happen and, until such time as that investigation is completed, Kavanaugh's nomination should be withdrawn.

Further, this whole spectacle should be completely removed from the public gaze - for the sake of Christine Blasey-Ford as much as anyone.

There is a further concern I have, which relates to the conduct of the various actors behind both Blasey-Ford and Kavanaugh. I believe there are competing agendas at play that have less to do with the truth of Blasey-Ford's ordeal or the guilt or innocence of Kavanaugh or the truth of the claims against him. Part of this is being driven by nefarious elements within the #metoo movement and its blind ambition to bring down an entire gender, regardless of the truth. They will chew up Christine Blasey-Ford and spit her out as much as they will Kavanaugh. 

Can the truth ever be established now? 

I have come to accept that I will never gain absolution for my own ordeal. I can only recount my experience, to the best of my recollection (and my recollection is acute) and move forward...if one can ever hope to move forward from something like this.

Truth is a victim. 

In the case of Christine Blasey-Ford and Brett Kavanagh, there are her allegations - grave and serious and warranting forensic investigation, his defense, which - in our system of justice - he is entitled to, and the Truth that lies somewhere in between. The way these hearings are being concucted are troubling, because none of this matters to those driving Christine Blasey-Ford into the pressure cooker of the public gaze. Nor does it matter to those who seek to secure Kavanaugh's appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. 

Both agendas will divide and conquer in the pursuit of something other than the truth - and they will leave victims in their wake - both accused and accusers.

If you don't fit the proscribed narrative of either, the accepted identity, you are problematic, expendable.

And that is the truth.


Monday, September 24, 2018

The Myth Of Cultural Appropriation.

This week, a piece by Australian journalist David Marr appeared on The Guardian Australia website "Why I refused to judge the Horne Prize."

In it, Marr announced that he was stepping down as a judge on the panel for the Horne Prize for Literature, an annual prize here in Australia. 

The panel of the Horne Prize had introduced a clause into their application process, in which the following entities would not be considered.

 "Essays by non-Indigenous writers about the experiences of First Nations Australians. Essays about the LGBTQI community written by people without direct experience of this community. Any other writing that purports to represent the experiences of those in any minority community of which the writer is not a member."

(image credit: Christopher Ireland).

Marr rightly argued that this was an alarming development - one that would have dangerous repercussions.

“I’ve been a big critic of such restrictions. Men can write about women, gays about straights, blacks about whites. You judge, as always, by quality. That’s likely to be higher when there’s direct experience. But you can’t disqualify for lack of it. And if we’re not going to accept whites writing about Indigenous experience, how can we have whites judging Indigenous writing?” ~ David Marr, The Guardian, 24th September 2018.

As you can imagine, the reaction to Marr's article was swift, particularly on Twitter where  many, including myself, pointed out the danger of excluding entrants on the basis of whether they belong to a particular group or not. It amounts to a restriction of creative expression and of free speech.

In the reaction to Marr's resignation, arguments on various social networks clustered around cultural appropriation. When I cited my own example of having observed and written about a culture different to my own - in my 2012 novel "Gifts of the Peramangk" accusations of cultural appropriation and stealing were leveled at me along with a couple of threats, which I chose to ignore. These came, without any attempt to consider the work or appraise its content. 

How can one be accused of cultural appropriation, if they have embarked on a creative project with a commitment to ethical cultural representation?

I would argue they can't. 

Cultural appropriation has become a term used by certain sections of the community to stifle free speech and creative expression and attack anyone who would dare step outside of their acceptable group identity to learn about or consider another culture.

When I began writing "Gifts Of The Peramangk", I was aware of the significance of the task I was taking on.

I knew from the outset that I would likely be criticized for being a non-indigenous Australian writer writing an indigenous Australian story. I would be accused of cultural appropriation, of misrepresenting the people I was seeking to portray. 

I began the project with a desire to seek knowledge. I put aside the bare bones story idea I had and instead committed myself to pure research. I had a basic knowledge of the fraught history of Australia's Aboriginal people, through the White Australia Policy and the resultant Stolen Generations. I had a basic understanding of the three Aboriginal nations that populated the Adelaide region. But I wanted to learn - not only to write a better story, but to write an ethical story, one that represented the people I was portraying *without appropriating* their culture. 

This journey of learning took a year. I researched, talked with experts, partnered with Peramangk people who guided me. When I sat down to write the story, I continued to seek guidance and critique. 

It was a long, methodical process. I experienced long periods of self doubt and worry over whether I could finish the story. Ironically, at no stage was I discouraged by those who I'd worked with. Their encouragement of me and belief in the story compelled me to continue the project to its conclusion. 

Any accusations of cultural appropriation, ironically, came from my own side.

As a writer, I have committed myself to the observation and documentation of the world around me. And while I predominantly write fiction - even then - the writing process requires a considerable amount of research. 

In writing "Gifts of the Peramangk" I set out to learn as much as I could about a culture, so that I could acknowledge and respect that culture in a story with themes that are universal. Adversity, Hope, Endurance, Triumph. The story, admired by readers all around the world, was my effort at bridging a cultural divide. 

This is not cultural appropriation. It is cultural representation. 

Any efforts to stifle that, makes us all the poorer. 


Post Script - Following David Marr's reisgnation, the panel of the Horne Prize walked back their changes to the rules around submission.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

My 'Unbelievable?' Journey.

How's this for a dichotomy? 

The older I get, the less I feel I know about the world.

Though I might say that I have accumulated considerable knowledge over the course of my life, simply as a function of *being alive*, I know I haven't even scratched the surface of all that there is to know in this life.

In the past couple of years, I have experienced profound challenges -  aligned to the medical difficulties I have faced with my throat.

The threat to my to health - my life - has compelled me to confront some harsh truths about myself. Chiefly among them is that I don't have it all worked out. In fact, I know very little. I've moved through my life superficially in many ways. I don't  feel that I have lived a deep life. There is so much I feel has passed me by. There are questions I have never considered. My recent experience has prodded me to re-evaluate just who I am and what this life of mine is all about. In the midst of facing my own mortality, I arrived at this realisation and it scared me.

(image credit: Mikko Lagerstedt).

Where am I heading here?

With a sense of urgency (perhaps driven by the confrontation with my mortality),  I began to seek out voices, points of view and arguments that I previously would have felt inadequate in trying to understand. I would have probably dismissed or derided them because they would have seemed so clearly in opposition to everything I previously thought I believed in my atrophied world view. 

Through interlocutors like Alice Fraser, Claire Lehmann, Sam Harris, Dr. Deborah Soh, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson and the Weinstein brothers I began to crave longer form discussions that weren't afraid to tackle subjects like philosophy, discourse, progress, the state of polity, science and religion.


Though I was christened Anglican, I've given little regard to Christianity or faith. At various times throughout my life I've been antagonistic towards it - finding its various dogmas distasteful and restrictive. I've (probably) aligned myself with atheism, with all its inherent focus on that which can be evidenced and qauntified. 

But here's a thing. In the course of my own Enlightenment project - of listening to these diverse voices and considering new ways of thinking - I've found myself becoming what I recently described on Twitter as a 'curious theologian'.

That resonated with another prominent voice I'd recently discovered, (via Jordan Peterson), the Christian broadcaster and journalist Justin Brierley.

Evidently, it was enough of an observation, for him to actually reach out to me and ask if I might discuss that further, which we did over the course of a few emails. The exchange was a brief but lovely one, which led Justin to generously offer me a copy of a book he has written called 'Unbelievable? Why After Ten Years Of Talking With Atheists, I'm Still A Christian.'

Justin is the host of a weekly show on the Premier Christian Radio Network in the UK. Titled 'Unbelievable?' the show provides a forum for debate and discussion between a Christian guest and an Atheist guest, with Justin moderating. The topics are varied and routinely fascinating but it is the spirit of congenial, good faith discussion about deep philosophical and theological questions that appeals to me so much. The community of guests Justin welcomes to the studio each week are an appealing collection of deep thinkers, formidable intellectuals and engaging humans who offer so much to learn and consider. Their debates are spirited too, which makes each episode thought provoking. 

'Unbelievable?' - the book is a compelling companion piece, in which Brierley explores the origins of his radio show and the underlying ethos behind it. More than that, 'Unbelievable?' is Brierley's dissertation on why, after 10 years of interviewing Atheists and Christians, he remains firmly committed to his own Christian beliefs.

However, unlike the fire and brimstone defence of Christianity that one might expect, Unbelievable is instead an engaging series of essays in which Brierley methodically sets out his arguments for Christian faith, his own belief in God and the Resurrected Christ. He challenges the commonly held views against Christianity by Atheists - briute facts - and draws upon science, cosmology, art, literature and history to make his case that Christianity has been a pre-eminent force in the human project. 

In reading 'Unbelievable?' I continued my engagement with Brierley via Twitter to clarify and seek further insights on the arguments he has set out. I've been impressed with his willingness to respond and it's spurred me on to treat his book with an open mind.

One chapter in the book, in particular, stood out to me. Brierley explores the atheist objection against God: suffering. I went into this, thinking that I would come down on the side of the atheist argument - that no God could exist that would allow suffering. But in his opening statement, Brierley recounts an experience of having one of his own newborn children admitted to an NICU. 

This struck me as I have spent much of my Nursing career working in ICU's - including NICU. Brierley tells of having to watch his child suffer as the medical and nursing team worked to treat his child and in the process, having to inflict more suffering on the child in order to care and treat him. Happily for Justin and his wife, their child was fine. 

His account had a significant impact on me. It altered the way I appraised the notion of suffering. It would seem that it is not as one sided or a product of a indifferent God as many would argue. 

Much of what I do as an Intensive Care Nurse involves suffering - whether I am  witness to it in the disease process or surgical condition. As a Nurse, I have to accept - and even impart - a certain amount of suffering in order to alleviate that suffering in the longer term. Brierley has even encouraged me to re-evaluate suffering and what it might mean in the context of Christianity and the notion of a God. I've also given a deeper consideration the question of what is caring? 

Where does the want to care for others - to alleviate suffering? Is it merely a human trait - the product of evolution? Or could it have some sort of theistic origin?

Caring & suffering... 

I'm still trying to work this out even as I write this so I may return to it in the future. The fact that *I am* trying to work this out is something of a revelation for me.

I find it difficult to argue that Christianity has not been a significant influence in our understanding of the moral landscape. Everything we know about morality and ethics - at least in the Western context - has arisen out of Christianity. Sure, Atheists will argue that morality and ethics are their own entities, observable and practiced by Christian and non-Christians alike. But it seems reasonable to credit their foundation in Christianity. 

But where does this all leave me - an individual unsure, (arguably) unknowledgable, with a long history of doubt of that which I can't readily observe.

I can only appreciate the existence of the radio show 'Unbelievable?' and its mission to bring people together to debate significant topics in the spirit of good faith. 'Unbelievable?' is one of the richest learnimg experiences I have ever encountered and it is encouraging me to see the world and my place in it more deeply and considerately than I ever have before. 

Justin Brierley's 'Unbelievable?' is quite possibly one of the most valuable books I have ever owned. It has kick started a quest to learn and grow in my thinking and it offers a road map to take. 

Will it lead me to a wholesale embrace of Christianity? It may and it may not. I'm not sure if that is the goal for me at this point. I find myself at the beginning of something new with 'Unbelievable?' in hand as a touchstone.  

What I am sure of is that I want to undertake the journey it offers. The learning potential. Deeper and more considerate thinking. The joy of discourse and the voices of fascinating minds. These are the jewels a work like 'Unbelievable?' can gift.

Thank you Justin. 

I believe in you.

Visit 'Unbelievable?' podcast/radio show here.

Purchase 'Unbelievable?' here

Tweet with Justin Brierley here