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Because blogging has felt increasingly uncomfortable for me for personal writing, I am going to attempt TinyLetter instead. It’s an e-newsletter platform and you can subscribe here. It will deliver my ‘personal writing’ posts directly to your email rather than on this blog.

This blog was always supposed to be a place for very honest writing.

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I am hoping with TinyLetter I can feel a little more free again, because I will know exactly who is in the room with me when I am talking. I will always keep this blue milk blog going, but the e-newsletter might be the place where I do more of my ‘thinking out loud’ style writing; the way I used to do on this blog.

I am proud to have a piece published in Senses of Cinema for the Valérie Massadian cover story. My piece is called “Milla and Motherhood”.

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When halfway through the film Léo dies at work you do not have to see the death —and you do not, such is Massadian’s dedication to life without spectacle — to know that his is the death of the young and low skilled, working in arduous conditions for businesses that likely cut corners.

Heavily pregnant and newly alone, Milla finds work as a cleaner in a hotel. The essential nature of work for the low paid is a constant theme of the film. The neatly maintained divisions between jobs and social connection, made possible with higher incomes, are absent. Milla doesn’t holiday, doesn’t go out for brunch. The majority of Milla’s most meaningful exchanges, such as when she outlines her future ambitions or tries to encourage maternal gestures from other women, happen with workmates.

In this context, the later protracted scenes of mothering make sense. Life happens for Milla not in her free time, which is limited, but while she works, including when the work is mothering work

This a lovely piece of writing from my friend, Sarah Burnside in”What I’m Reading” in Meanjin. You can read my own contribution to the Meanjin reading series here, where I, too, have coincidentally mentioned reading children’s books aloud.. but in my case it is also about sex as a single mother.

An excerpt from Burnside’s piece is below:

I’ve always found ‘Waltzing Matilda’ unbearably grim, but we have it in book form and it has become a firm favourite (if you were wondering whether it’s jarring to hear a two year old solemnly intone ‘drowning himself by the coolabah tree’, the answer is a resounding yes). Dr Seuss’ wordsmithery is brilliant and I’m very grateful to him for helping me raise my children, but I can’t escape the feeling that he sometimes rested on his laurels. Alongside the mastery of The Lorax he has gems like Yertle the Turtle, a marvellous little tale of revolt against a tyrannical monarch. However, he’s also given us the likes of There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, about which the less said the better.  Further, the Cat in the Hat is an unmitigated jerk and the Fox in Socks can get bent.

However, I’ve developed a deep respect for the craft that goes into picture books: the rhyming, the humour, the vivid characters, and the way the narrative tends to begin in a matter-of-fact way without any explanation. The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont simply begins by stating that ‘once upon a time there was an elephant’ who one day went for a walk and ‘met a Bad Baby’. We don’t know why the elephant is at large in a town or why the baby is hanging around seemingly waiting for passing animals to pick him up with their trunks (where are his parents?). None of this, clearly, matters to small children; the point is that the two companions go rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta all down the road. Stories end without any need for an overall resolution; it’s often sufficient to note that everyone went home for tea.

But there’s a third party that’s often glossed over: the customer. The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile — even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they — we — can be entitled jerks.

From “The ratings game” by Josh Dzieza in The Verge. 

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

I witness this in my work all the time. More complex problems in the world have led to the need for much more sophisticated problem solving techniques.. And those techniques require empathy, something in short supply among a lot of traditional high achievers in the workplace.

From “Google finds STEM skills aren’t the most important” by Lou Glazer in Michigan Future. 

I remember those days

For mothers with toddlers and preschoolers… “For the fuck of shit, children” at The Modernity Ward. 

I love this article.. it described my experience of the 90s perfectly – right down to the economics thesis I ended up writing and the online zines I produced and the ways in which my radicalism was ultimately challenged. And it describes perfectly my concerns with where we are now. I recommend reading “No Alternative – how culture jamming was culture jammed” by Gavin Mueller in Real Life.

In the wake of Trump’s election, intellectuals and politicos have not enjoined us to create a “counterproject” media sphere to combat hegemonic ideology. They have not told us to hack, snipe, poach, or otherwise take to the semiotic hills to wage guerrilla war. Instead, we’ve been told to bolster capitalist media: to subscribe to the New York Times, to dutifully consume advertisements by whitelisting our favorite sites, to obtain our music from commercial platforms — so the artists get paid, of course.

Politics like poetry

But you are becoming more enormous and looming right out of control across the land, and controlling my mind. The more you push, the more I can’t find the answer for what should be kept under control. Where are all the proper story keepers? Who’s going to sing all the sacred story so you won’t feel lonely anymore, is there anyone left? Anyone there? Anyone at the birthday party?

From “Hey Ancestor!” by Alexis Wright in The Guardian. 

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I don’t especially like David Brooks’ work, but I really loved this quote from his piece in The New Yorker, “Social animal”. I can’t help but think this is what these fabulously wealthy idiots are missing.

During the question-and-answer period, though, a woman asked the neuroscientist how his studies had changed the way he lived. He paused for a second, and then starting talking about a group he had joined called the Russian-American Folk Dance Company. It was odd, given how hard and scientific he had sounded. “I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends,” he said. “Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

“And though history has made us self-conscious in order to enhance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river. I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

One consequence of this rise in perfectionism, Curran and Hall argue, has been a series of epidemics of serious mental illness. Perfectionism is highly correlated with anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and suicidal thoughts. The constant compulsion to be perfect, and the inevitable impossibility of the task, exacerbate mental-illness symptoms in people who are already vulnerable. Even young people without diagnosable mental illnesses tend to feel bad more often, since heightened other-oriented perfectionism creates a group climate of hostility, suspicion, and dismissiveness — in which the jury is always out on everyone, pending group appraisal — and socially prescribed perfectionism involves an acute recognition of that alienation. In short, the repercussions of rising perfectionism range from emotionally painful to literally deadly.

And there’s one other repercussion of rising perfectionism: it makes it hard to build solidarity, which is the very thing we need in order to resist the onslaught of neoliberalism. Without healthy self-perceptions we can’t have robust relationships, and without robust relationships we can’t come together in the numbers it would take to rattle, much less upend, the whole political-economic order.

It’s not hard to see parallels between the three dimensions of perfectionism and so-called “call-out culture,” lately the hegemonic tendency on the Left: a condition in which everyone watches everyone else for a fatal slip-up, holding themselves to impossibly high standards of virtuous self-effacement, and being paralyzed with the secret (again, not unfounded) fear that they’re disposable to the group, that their judgment day is around the corner. The pattern is of a piece with other manifestations of neoliberal meritocratic perfectionism, from college admissions to obsessive Instagram curation. And because it divides rather than unites us, it’s no way to build a movement that ostensibly seeks to strike at the heart of power.

Perfectionism makes us scornful of each other, afraid of each other, and unsure of ourselves at best. It prohibits the types of solidaristic bonds and collective action necessary to take on neoliberal capitalism, the very thing that generates it. The only possible antidote to atomizing, alienating perfectionism to reject absolute individualism and reintroduce collective values back into our society. It’s a gargantuan task — but with the vise-grip of neoliberalism tightening on our psyches, it’s the only way forward.

From “Under neo-liberalism, you can be your own tyrannical boss” by Megan Day in Jacobin. 

This is a theme I have been banging on about for a while, so let’s just add this as another good article for the collection.