Shifting, shuffling, stasis and agency

I need better words to wrap around the experiences of momentous changes and movements that I have experienced lately.

Last year felt like a maelstrom, in which my words and insights swirled around me and drowned. I decided that breakup by blog was not something I wanted to repeat, so I kept my twitching fingers to myself.

I left the olive tree lined brick veneeer suburbia, and moved to a double brick block of flats near the water. I have not yet found myself. I enjoy losing myself in spectacular views, burning out my retinas on astonishing sunsets, dissolving my tears and sweat into the salty waters of the bay…… but this is not a grounding experience. It is floating and flotsam.

The other humans I encounter here are a heady mixture of residents of the half-way houses in my street, the odd street soliciting sex walker, and many backpackers. Not exactly my ideal community, around the corner, there is an annual gay pride march along what usually consists of the most intense congregation of drunken heterosexuals this side of Rio.

So I drag my middle aged, overweight, over clad body down to the local gym surrounded by hordes of umpah-lumpa stained, toned, ‘ripped’ lycra clad bodies.Even without the sapphic undertow, I am queer here, not fitting in, not fitting, shifting around and moving through, catching up with friends who live this side, and other friends who come to visit.

But it is beautiful, and the summer offers the perfect mix of seaweed scented humidity, when the cool southerly winds finally chase back the hot desert winds from the north after a baking few days. I can live without aircon here, and live in the air, sheltering in my quiet coccoon of cat, books and art. I am not yet making, just breathing, reading, eating, slowly resting and hoping for recovery, and of finding myself and my voice after having my ground ripped from under me. Cliches abound in heartbreak land.

Sadly my regular visits to the detention centre have gone on hold for the past few months, and been replaced by regular visits to another frightening archipelago of institutionalised misanthropic profiteering. I like to think that my diplomatic engagement with SERCO prepared me for the aged care sector, but it didn’t. I am floored, flabbergasted, overwhelmed, contaminated and appalled to be regularly forced to engage with people who tell lies and double truths, spouting double speak as a matter of course. Of course there are kind aged care workers, because even in the most underpaid, under-recognised and exploitative conditions human kindness still exists. However, the sector itself seems to be dominated by an implicit callousness, and sense of righteous selfish impunity that is flabbergasting.

I am struggling to find the words that can dislodge and defamiliarise the embedded gerontophobia that saturates every single corner of capitalist society, and finds its apotheosis in the health care sector; where, as Karen Hitchock has written, the emphasis on health care as corporeal recovery shifts to palliation of bodies that are deemed as surplus. Having encountered the Jeckyll/Hyde split in service delivery between the general medicine/specialist aged care sectors of the hospital where Dr. Hitchcock works, her words have a more painful resonance.

I’ve read enough Marx to realise the brutal subtext of all of this: that bodies that cannot be useful to capitalism as a potential workforce are deemed as surplus, garbage and waste; ideally hastened to the disentegrating sites of the crematorium or the ground. However I’ve also read enough post-Fordist theory to believe that the surplus value of lives does not only reside in their potential contribution to a production line. Contemporary consumer capitalism is a cruious and complicated beast; where bodies generate value according to the vertical chain of speculative investment on their perceived and actual needs as consumers. The billion dollar detention centre industry in Australia is based on a calculation that educated and able-bodied people generate more profits as incarcerated bodies than they would as working members of a society. Likewise the billion dollar aged care industry is based on the serviceability of frail bodies; that need to be housed, and supervised, and washed, and fed, and transported, and physically maintained. Why the vast and expanding industries of pharmacology, aged care, allied health, catering, mobility assistance and fluid management (weird plastic and paper products that mop up/extract/maintain bodily excreta) base their customer service on the homo-sacer model that silences and dehumanises the formerly named ‘clients’ of SERCO detention centres is baffling.

It is equally baffling to the subjects within these systems; particularly white middle class subjects, who when encountering the health care sector in bodies marked as ‘aged’, are silenced, ignored, humiliated and patronised. Witnessing the amount of health care workers who speak to me about my mother, while she is in the room, makes me want to leap up and carve obscenities in their faces. I am reduced to a screaming, raging animal; feeling my rage enact how these misanthropes treat someone who is intelligent, coherent and critical. Mum was at university with Germaine Greer, and she introduced me to the Karen Hitchcock essay, and she hopes to start volunteer work in proofreading and English writing tutoring, once she is a bit better. However, the latter part is the sticking point. Bodies that are not deemed as ‘sacrificial’ or surplus would normally expect that post-surgical care would include rehabilityation; consultation with physiotherapists and advice and support in obtaining appropriate mobility aids, so they can return to a life of agency and independence. My mum thought that having private health insurance would allow her to have access to allied health professionals – especially in a large city. She was flabbergasted at the doctor who lectured her on the imposssibility of her independent living because she would not be able to get to the bank in a wheelchair, and ignored Mum’s protestations about internet banking and the wheelchair accessible transport outside the hospital gates. The psychic walls of the aged care unit – preclude access to rehabilitation, and instead provide a form of complex coercion into a passive warehousing into isolated prisons (patients are locked in), and little assistance or access or information to the outside world. Sometimes I fumble with the swipe card I use to enter the room where I visit my Mum, and accidently extract my SERCO visitors pass instead, and wince at the irony, and wonder how my formerly detained friends, now working the aged care sector find all of this. And I wonder how long this system of compulsory cruelty will persist. I wonder how long, as the cohort of internet savvy, ipad wielding septagenarians (like my mother) find themselves entangled within these systems of cruelty and silencing, before ‘clients’ start blogging and tweeting and posting pictures of the conditions, the food, recordings of the conversations that callous health care workers impose upon them. This brutal system of exclusion and silencing is about to engulf an expanding cohort of middle class people who were the beneficiaries and participants in some of the most significant movements of progressive social change in the previous century. I can’t imagine that the baby boomers will submit to being the silenced non-subjects of homo sacer once their hips start failing, and their organs start fluttering and their joints start swelling and they get strange infections, and the whole bodily intensity of middle age gets that much bigger.

Of course, the major bifurcation concerning the fate of ageing bodies is based on class. Chronic disease is the dividing line between ageing bodies that are deemed as agential, articulate attractive and mobile consumers; and those who are deemed as passive, messy, swollen, infected, chronically diseased, chronically immobile, diabetic, lymphodemic, neuropathic, cellulitic non-subjects; whose voices are reduced to their flesh, and their flesh reduced to markers of ‘lifestyle disease’ itself a pseudonym for stupid povo junk food eating white trash (bodies of colour are already trashed within these systems) . And it is here, that Karen Hitchcock’s excellent and sensitive writings about aged care, rub up awkwardly against her own middle class disgust towards the bodies of the povo set. Her fat shaming essay from a few months ago was a clear demonstration of the epistemic limits of health care, that cannot come to grips with a nuanced appreciation of how class relations mark bodies, and how the markers of class, further entrench distinctions between those of us who are deemed as legitimate citizens, and compliant subjects, and those who are deemed as excessive, obscene and surplus to requirements.

There is much to be considered and written on the complex traceries of power across and within differentially marked bodies. In between my precarious para-academic teaching, I hope to spend more time considering this; because so far, the voices that are being heard on this are not listening to each other, even finding words to share. I am wary of the actual potency of fat-identity politics – because identity politics is based on a fixing of bodily markers into a stratified positionality. Meanwhile the acute intimacy of krebs-cycle glycolytic exchanges accrues a social meaning, and social consequences. So somehow my fleeting post doc forays into diabetes prevention, may mash up with my old biochemistry flash cards and all of this other stuff, to hopefully find a voice; find my voice in my own ageing, fattening, stiffening body that articulates the motility, the movements, the exchanges and the potency of bodies that don’t fit and can’t fit and won’t fit into the ghastly little shapes that neoliberal consumer capitalism carves out for them.

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