Friday, December 21, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Life in a mechanical age

I saw this quote while wandering the NSW Art Gallery this weekend. It was written in 1927 but it could be about now.
Our time is just electronic and wireless rather than mechanical. It surrounds us and influences much. It affects our sleep, relationships, thoughts and health.
I see commuters with their heads bowed over screens, those ubiquitous white wires trailing from their ears. Sometimes I am one of them.
Regina Spektor sings "you're using your headphones to drown out your mind" and I know it to be utterly true.
It's like the Matrix. We're all jacked in, more connected than ever. And more lonely than ever. I wonder why I was born to feel it all.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The true nature of resilience

Solar Eclipse

Each morning
I wake invisible.

I make a needle
from a porcupine quill,
sew feet to legs,
lift spine onto my thighs.

I put on my rib and collarbone.

I pin an ear to my head,
hear the waxwing's yellow cry.
I open my mouth for purple berries,
stick on periwinkle eyes.

I almost know what it is to be seen.

My throat enlarges from anger.
I make a hand to hold my pain.

My heart a hole the size of the sun's eclipse.
I push through the dark circle's
tattered edge of light.

All day I struggle with one hair after another
until the moon moves from the face of the sun
and there is a strange light
as though from a kerosene lamp in a cabin.

I put on a dress,
a shawl over my shoulders.

My threads knotted and scissors gleaming.

Now I know I am seen.
I have a shadow.

I extend my arms,
dance and chant in the sun's new light.

I put a hat and coat on my shadow,
another larger dress.
I put on more shawls and blouses and underskirts
until even the shadow has substance


Diane Glancy via Goodreads.com

Monday, August 6, 2012

In the night, I dreamed of impossible choices


I dreamed that I was getting married to a man I'd never met.  It was arranged by 'Aunt and Uncle', two archetypal characters in the Mauritian clan which is my father's side of the family (there are no such characters in the waking world, to my knowledge).

I was okay with it, with walking down the aisle to commit myself to a stranger, but everyone around me was shocked.  Not so much about the marriage, but that I, of all people, would agree to such a thing for myself.  This surprised me a little, for those that were the most vocally shocked were those that know me least (cousins, aunts, others with unspecified relationships).  The closer members of my family were present but smudged, slightly faded into the background.

The man I was to marry was unremarkable: neither good looking nor unattractive; dark-skinned, perhaps Indian, perhaps part Mauritian; a little overweight (as am I), a bit rounded in the middle; he had a pleasant smile; seemed kind but not excessively so.  To the audience, he expressed his satisfaction with the match: he knew it was a good one because he desired me (i.e. I was attractive to him).  My waking, roaringly-feminist self would be outraged by such a proclamation (as if that were my most important characteristic... of all the things to say at a wedding, to the woman he was to marry... hiss! glare!) My dream self smiled benignly.

The ceremony passed by without incident: the dream meandered into snippets of my new life with my husband.  I felt pleasantly placid; accepting; unperturbed; calm with a faint overlay of disbelief (as I dreamed I still had some awareness that this was completely out of character with my waking self).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

My own musings on the dream yielded little by way of meaning.  It wasn't connected to any movies I'd watched, or books read, or conversations.  I mentioned it casually to my mother, dismissed it as just a strange dream.  I still didn't understand it.  As the week went on it sank into my place of forgetting, crowded out by daily life.

Tonight my best friend told me of a dream where she rode on a lion's back.  The lion killed one of her pet rabbits, but she saved the other one.  I consulted my books, searched the internet.  I remembered my own dream suddenly, sought out its meaning while doing the same for hers.

  • Am I feeling forced to do something I do not want, reluctantly moving to a new stage of life?  My dream self didn't feel forced.  Perhaps the peculiar calm was born of relief: being relieved of the burden of making such a monumental decision as choosing a life partner.  There's so much to get wrong...
  • An unknown man in a woman's dream is a part of her personality which is not recognised.  My  dream self was making an unrecognisable decision to marry a stranger.  That sort of change, the scale of it, is a little terrifying.  What would it take to bring about such a thing in me?  Or is it merely the union of the masculine and feminine aspects of personality?
  • Members of the extended family typify the many discernible parts of ourselves. So the discernable parts of me, the known parts, the elements I have nurtured up until now, are shocked by the decisions of my true self?  Do I know myself far less well than I have thought?  
  • "To dream of a wedding or marriage can often give an indication as tohow the dreamer feels about relationships".  Then this: weddings reflect how you feel about commitment to other people.  To dream of an arranged marriage means "your approach to commitment needs to be questioned".  Ahh, the sting, the squirm of being forced into honesty with oneself.  I am afraid, vastly, of commitment to a relationship with a man, even if my reasons for it are large and valid and historically accurate.
My contrary dream remains contrary.  I can't settle on one explanation, or even form a constellation of them all.  But some have the flavour of truth, of the beginning of a deep insight I may have not reached in my usual ways.  I can feel the foundations shifting, the knell of change.  Who will I be when the dust settles?

Friday, August 3, 2012

The rest of the story


This.

Remembering all the other ways there are to tell the story of my life.  More than the stories I was born into, the words I have gathered about me like garments. Behind the grief and wanting to howl at the moon: the rest of the story lies waiting to be told. The strength of women, their straight backs.  The sheer joy of living, the pleasure of sating the senses.  All the fierce, deep love.  So much that it spills over sometimes, even if it comes out in the wrong language. 

A kind of relief blooming in my chest.  An unfurling, breathing easier.  Everything will be okay.  Happiness is not beyond me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The time it takes to remember


Some people that I love have told me they want less of me in their lives. That I am heavy, holding them back from the dazzling lives they could be leading.  I feel weighted with grief, with slow recovering, with trying to remember and forget. It is the same grief of all women who bear the pain of witnessing.  How can I be buoyant and sparkling when I know too much?

I am afraid that I don't know how to love. Not the dailiness, the living of it, the trust in it.  I can feel it: can crave it, yearn lavishly, give it all my attention.  I am too quick to affection for people I do not yet know, and for those I know too well.  When I leave, when relationships end, I feel no different.  After the hurting and grieving and raging and forgiving, I still feel drawn to them as if by gravity.  I can only stay away by putting distance between us, removing them from my life. I am as helpless as the moon; circling, never touching.

I fear I am guilty of holding onto anger, of nursing my wounds in its heat, for fear that without it the world will be utterly cold, and I will be bereft.  I shield myself with my words and my names for wrongdoings, but I don't know what their opposite is.  I don't know what it means to be loved and unhurt.

How long does it take to recover? How long do we allow people to heal?  It has been 17 years since I first realised that the world is not safe for women and children, not even in their homes.  12 years since I left home and tried to learn the nature of the world for myself.  7 years since I left the haven of university to turn my history into the futures of others; trying to save the world since I could not save myself.

5 years since we got away from my father. Even now he still reaches, grasping, into our dreams, our relationships, cutting us apart.  3 and a 1/2 years since I learned for the first time what it means to be actually relaxed in my own home, to not be constantly waiting for the sound of that car in the driveway; waiting for the cold shoulder to turn back towards me; for the next rage over something I had forgotten.

2 years since I realised, through the ultimate act of intimacy, that I have never been loved by a man. 18 months since my brother left us in a towering rage, only to turn back to the father we tried to save him from.  4 months since I wept uncontrollably, curled tightly on my couch, for learning what a child can be like untouched by the hand of human evil.

How long does it take to recover?  Only the time it takes to remember.  And I have forgotten so much.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sensory delights from a lunchtime walk

I went for a walk yesterday in my lunchbreak. Just a short stroll around the block. I took my camera phone with me just in case I found an irresistible shot, and ended up documenting the sensory delights that awaited me.

brick fence with overhanging bush
Made for touch (1)
vine growing over wall
Wall: improved
red poinsettia flower on green leaves
The delights of colour (1)
red berries on bush
Light and shadow
closeup of white fleur de lis fence
Everyone has the same fence (1)
closeup of black fleur de lis fence
Everyone has the same fence (2)
closeup of paperbark tree trunk
Made for touch (2)
red leaves with holes in them
The delights of colour (2)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bleed


To be a survivor–first you must bleed. You bleed all that was inside of you: the pain, the memories, the fear, the wounds fusing together, the ties to what was in, all its forms. You bleed not once but several times. And when you are empty, you either fade into a shadow or find the strength, and courage to live. When you stand up again, you are for a time, hollow–empty, like a bottle of beer lying on the street, cracked and reeking of its bitter contents. Then you fill yourself up with the new, your recreate yourself–you reform. You don’t have the same heart or mind. The way you see the world is forever changed. 


Lynn Mari via The Last Straw

Monday, June 18, 2012

Why I'm still learning how to be a feminist


I have been among the thousands - or probably millions - of people watching reality TV show The Voice in Australia over the last couple of months.  Unusually for me, I got quite involved in the Twitter stream during each episode.  Probably because at times I found the tweets more entertaining than the show. Especially the sharp minds that came up with scathing and hilarious comments on everything from the shoes to the song choice.

It was all too easy to get caught up in the hype. The conversations about the singing, costumes, the coaches' critiques, and more. But ultimately it was the people; of whom I know nothing other than what the show's producers chose for me to see.

But, as the show ends, none of that is what has really stuck with me.  Somehow, this carefully constructed 'reality' tv program - about an industry that is undeniably image-centric and does as much damage to women as good - became a lesson in feminism.  I've realised both why I declare myself to be a feminist and also why I still have a long way to go.

Lesson 1: power imbalances are visible

I was not the only one to notice that Seal had a (literally) very hands-on approach to his contestants, particularly the female ones.  He cupped their faces in his hands while congratulating them on their performances.  He talked to them about owning their sexuality and expressing it in their music.  He looked at some with thinly-concealed sexual appraisal in his gaze.

All of which might be standard music-industry behaviour.  All of which is probably (as a hapless colleague said to me over lunch one day) "just" Seal being himself, expressing his personality.  All of it done in a hugely public way (although that is preferable to behind closed doors) in front of an audience composed of untold numbers of young people still forming their concepts of gender, relationships, sexuality and healthy boundaries.  And all of it ignoring the glaring power imbalance between this male, older, famous, sex-symbol, music-industry role model and the naive, hopeful, barely-adult and adolescent girls he was coaching.  

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on Seal's character or intentions, but I cannot help but view his actions as problematic, even disturbing.  It might be naive and idealistic of me to hope that people with that kind of social and cultural clout would be not only aware of their power but to use it consciously and judiciously.

But the acid test is a gender reversal: what if Delta Goodrem behaved like that towards her male contestants?  What if one of the young women behaved like that towards one of the male coaches? It could not be dismissed or minimised nearly so easily.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Assessment and poetry don't mix

A little while ago I paid for a poetry assessment through my local writer's centre.  $75 got me half an hour with a renowned poet who is also an editor and well involved with the 'academic' poetry world.  I had been to a poetry reading by this particular person before, and loved her work.  I thought of all the professional wordsmiths to show my work to, she would be a good fit.

I knew it was a mistake as soon as I stepped in the door.  The person I was getting was not the sensitive soul with a skillful pen I had observed elsewhere.  The person I was getting was friendly but business-like.  I was getting the poetry critic, the professional, the lecturer.  In short, I was getting what I had paid for.

I was prepared for my poems to be critiqued.  I anticipated constructive criticism.  She told me that my line endings were predictable, that I should use more metaphor and simile, less abstraction.  Essentially that the little collection of poems I had presented were not bad, but could be better. It made sense, I could see her points.

What I forgot to allow for were my feelings.  I've always been emotionally attached to many of my poems.  They are my life story, in snippets. They are my impressions, my thoughts, my experiences distilled into brief lines. So, logic aside, criticism of my poetry has always felt like criticism of me, in some way.  Though I tell myself it is not, it is.

Critiquing poetry has always seemed sacrilegious to me, from an early age.  I remember stuffy high school classrooms; being hunched over my desk trying to analyse and pick apart famous poetry.  Trying to guess the poet's intention and meaning, talking about their use of language, rhyme, pace, alliteration.  I've always hated it.

Now I find that I haven't written a single poem since that fateful half-hour in an upstairs room with yellow walls and a sloping ceiling.  In and of itself, this is not an extraordinary thing.  I often have long dry spells, usually accompanied by an overindulgence in working too hard, doing the things I like least.

But the difference is that I am shying away from it now.  I don't want to try, don't want to write more "not bad" poetry.  I don't remember feeling this way before, not this particular strain of wordless-ness.  Perhaps it's fear.  Perhaps it's a bruised ego.  I'm not sure.

The one thing most likely to pull me out of a slump is to spend time in the presence of poetry, and poets, those who see the world in a similar way.  So for now I am reading, soaking up what I can.  Hoping that I can fill myself up with enough lovely, piercing, elegant words that some of them will start to spill over again.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On receiving ingratitude


I'm struggling with the concept of gratitude at present. The opposite end of gratitude, receiving it, or lack of it. In particular, how people express it for those that have done the most for us: family, our closest friends.  

It is a reflection of the space that I'm in: a culmination of my life until now, looking back at the decisions that have led me to here. I feel, very much, like being selfish.  You know the song "what about me, it isn't fair..."  Perhaps I'm having a 'thrisis'.  I find questioning the meaning of my life, wondering what makes it matter.  Why have I done the things I've done?  And what will matter from now on?  

By no means do I think it's a right to receive thanks for the things I do for those I love.  If that were my motivation, I would do much less than I do.  But there's a certain sting when someone stands about proclaiming "I did it my way" with no acknowledgement of the sacrifices I have made to help them get there.  

Lao Tzu is credited with saying:

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.

I think it is the same with family, with those we love.  Our best work is invisible, when we are helping without proclaiming it, working quietly in the background.  If someone says 'I did it!': job well done supporter-person-you.  This is what I tell myself, the logic I build up around myself.  Ah but the sting, the sting... 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How people without kids can help parents

As someone who dispenses parenting advice on a daily basis, it’s pretty difficult to avoid the question “do you have children?”  Or, perhaps more importantly, the message behind that question: ‘how can you understand/help if you don’t have children?” Over the years I’ve come up with a range of ways to respond to this. Sometimes I just avoid it or deflect attention to the other person in the conversation.  Sometimes it bugs me and I feel like yelling at them: "why does it matter?! I'm good at my job dammit!" But really, it’s a very good question.

A little while ago a client asked me a series of somewhat personal questions throughout a conversation about his parenting dilemma.  He wanted to know if I had children (no), was I married (no again), what was my religion (a fair question, given I work for a church-based organisation… my response was that I wouldn’t be doing my job if I allowed religion to colour my advice to him) and where did I live (Sydney). 

Traditional counselling approaches suggest I perhaps shouldn’t answer those questions. However it’s never occurred to me to fib about how many children I have.  I try to answer questions directly and honestly, whenever I think it’s appropriate, and let my conversation, empathy and ideas speak for themselves.

Some people will stop listening to me as soon as I say “no, I don’t have any children”.  Sometimes that’s frustrating for me, but who am I to demand that someone should listen to me, if I don’t fit with their idea of a suitable source of advice?

I had a light-bulb moment with this particular parent as I realised he was asking for my credentials.  In my world credentials are provided by having a degree, doing lots of training, talking to other counsellors, seeing lots of clients, and having positive ‘outcomes’ to my work with families.  For this gentleman, that didn’t matter.  The kind of life someone lives can give more credence to their words than anything else. I think he was trying to compare my perspective to my ‘position’ in the world.

He was a little surprised that a young, city-dwelling woman with no children or partner could give him useful, balanced advice on how to respond to his family and his unique situation.  Perhaps it’s arrogant of me, but I suspect that my lack of “real-world” credentials actually made my input more potent. It highlights that direct experience is not the only way to gain insights of value.

Having children of my own will probably give me license to groan in sympathy as other parents talk about the frustrations and lowlights of raising children.  It will give me opportunities to say “well, with my kids this worked…”  One day.

But the experience I do have tells me that parents can often find sympathy more easily than sound advice or a balanced view.  There are peer support groups, huddles in school walkways, online forums and bustling in-laws for that. There are plenty of over-helpful bus drivers or cranky shop assistants with ideas on how to best take care of your kids.  If that’s what you’re after.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The vomit episode

In February this year I spent a week with my best friend Amy and her boys (my annual trek to South Australia for her birthday).  


The pinnacle of my visit was the night before I was due to travel back home.  I was sitting on the couch, dividing my attention haphazardly between the local tv station and giggling at Facebook updates.  She disappeared for a while, only to return and deposit crying, nappy-clad baby in my lap. 


After only 5 days slotted quietly into her life, I found myself constantly alert for the sound of a baby’s cry, swaying and rocking without thinking about it and adjusting rather easily to the concept that the new centre of my world was this delightful boy child.


So, baby in lap, I immediately commenced rocking, patting, shushing to the best of my ability.


I was standing in the middle of the lounge when it started.   Amy walked past in a bit of a hurry, said ‘I think I know what’s wrong with him’.  A moment later he stopped crying, made a peculiar noise and emitted a small blurp of warm, wet liquid onto my shoulder. 


So far, so good.  I knew babies throw up, I knew clothes could be washed. I considered it a sign of my maturity (not to mention my vast knowledge of parenting) and my love for this little creature to accept the state of things, namely that I had just been vomited on.


Amy trotted over and said ‘you might need this’, and deposited an aptly-named spew rag on my already soaked shoulder.  I was still congratulating myself on being calm in the face of baby spew when she grabbed my elbow and said ‘quick, come out into the hallway’.


I had just stepped off the carpeted part of the floor when Baby anointed me again; this time a deluge.  It ran down my back, under the waistband of my jeans and into my underwear, flowed across my chest into my bra, trickled down my arm, splashed on the floor.


At the time I was quite proud of myself.  I didn’t flinch, I didn’t drop the baby, I didn’t yell ‘EWWWW GROSS!” at the top of my lungs.  I did say, quietly, “I think Aunty Nicole is going to need a shower”.   Amy covered herself efficiently with a towel or two, took Baby from my arms (with a smothered giggle at my facial expression), and I fled to the bathroom, barely keeping down my own dinner. (It was just the smell, and there were bits with texture….)


While in the shower, removing baby vomit from my hair (to this day I don’t know how it got in my hair, on the opposite side to the arm I was holding him with), I was suddenly wracked with guilt.  Here I was hogging the shower, shampooing my hair, having left my best friend sitting in the hallway with a vomit-covered baby.  I hurried to finish the shower and emerged from the bathroom, fresh and apologetic.


While Amy and Baby showered, I cleaned up the floor and did my best to make up for my lapse in selflessness.  As we laughed about it afterwards, she told me that this just meant Baby really loved me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

from the ashes

I am (unofficially) godmother to the two adorable little boys of my best friend.  I’ve known her since high school and somehow we have managed to remain friends even as our lives have taken completely different directions.  I’m the perpetually single, big-city career woman and she’s a sole parent with 2 boys, a beagle and a feral cat.


The boys I will call Baby (just turned 1) and Boy (who is 6).  Baby is (from my clucky, occasionally-visiting perspective) positively cherubic and finds me hilarious.  Boy is a rather intense and strong-willed but very loving little boy whose idea of family includes mum, brother, dad, dog, cat,grandma, grandma’s new partner and me (awww *melt*).


They now live in South Australia in a town that is ridiculously difficult to get to from Sydney (2 plane trips if I’m feeling cashed up, or a full day of cars, trains, planes and buses if I’m strapped for cash).  I would love to visit her more often than the once or twice a year I actually manage to make it down there, but it is what it is.    


I work for a service that provides parenting advice, and my job is to manage our website and find ways to do 'online development'.  Recently I started to blog about my experiences of parenting as a 'non-parent', but a last minute decision by my manager means my posts were pulled down and will not see the light of day in that place again.  


No matter.  My friend had already seen a few posts and loved them.  And I hope that my experiences as a well-informed but ultimately bumbling non-parent godmother might be illuminating for others, amusing at the least.  So, as part of my resolution to talk about everything I'm giving them a home here. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

turning

In recent days and weeks I've had cause to reflect on my writing and my purpose.  Reading others' blogs in all their beautiful rawness and beauty, and sometimes wrenching honesty.  Attending a social media conference with hundreds of dabblers and experts in this (still) new, strangely connected and faraway world.

Having my attempts at creating new words, different stories - in my work - yanked down behind my back, for reasons I still don't entirely understand.

Conversations with other writers, people who think about writing and craft it.  Understanding that I'm not alone, that I'm not the only one who feels the urgency, the craving to collect and shape these bundles of meaning.

Paying to have my poetry manuscript 'assessed' by a famous Australian poet and editor, and coming away feeling despondent instead of buoyed.

The ongoing need to tell stories that I have carried in my flesh for years on end, decades even.  The stories I am afraid to utter, because it would make them real.  Because I don't know what will happen to my words when I release them from my body.  Because of their ability to fracture the tenuous connections with the people around me.

I've tried for a long time to segment my life.  Keep work thoughts and learning and stuff at work.  Contain the effects of my personal life within my own time.  Only write poetry in poetic places, only write about a dark history in private.  Maintain a semblance of having-it-together in the right places, presenting the pretty side, the palatable truths.

I think it's time to bring it all together.  Not to be different: I've always been honest. Just to go deeper.  To be wide. To be unafraid of being tangential and interested in too many things at once, so much so that I hardly know where to begin.  I can talk about everything, if I just begin.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

heavy sun, gentle river


a slip of a girl waits
in monsoon-muddied waters
her hands swim, elbow-deep
together, apart, together, apart
like slender, courting fish

her raven head is hot and damp
she waits, hands swimming, alone
only the water feels like home
in a place where sunlight has weight
and a slip of a girl is nothing

her dress is soaked through
and the tips of her hair drip
with monsoon-coloured water
soon her naanii will call her
from the gentle tug of the river

a slip of a girl waits
with the Ghanges in her skirts
for a mother who can't come back
her hands swim under the surface
together, apart, together, apart


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Personality in pictures: the state of your butter tub



There are people who dig into their butter as if there's gold buried at the bottom of it, and the butter is just in the way: a culinary side effect of the mining process.  There are crumbs left in the butter as their toast is spread with equal abandon and enthusiasm.  Their toast has a little pool of melted butter in the centre and few streaks across the edges.

Then there are those who glide the knife across the surface, taking butter evenly from all sides; smoothing rather than gouging; revelling in the smear of buttery goodness across the entire surface of their toast.  Even the edges, because dry crusts are anathema to them.  They have a routine.  The toast has to be the perfect temperature before butter is applied, resulting in butter that is halfway between melted and firm.

Which are you?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Peak

a newspaper flaps
like a broken bird
on warm bitumen
the hollow, rattly
sound of buses
echoes in tunnels

clutch in, gear out
gear in, clutch out
turn left, turn right
try not to turn at all
movement without
thought or progress

a single person in each
with a single purpose
we hum, roar, clank
wait, rev and fume
our separate ways
slowly

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Coming back

So it's been more than 6 months since my last post, and I'm not even sure why. Nothing dramatic or incredibly interesting has happened. Just the dailiness of life and much time passing while I carefully cultivate intentions to do things that I have not done.

I am a starter, by personality. I am most enthused by the newness of things, by ideas and creating and planning. That's when I have energy and drive, when I can pour all of myself into my latest work or project.

I think that I started this blog with grand ideas about eloquence and writing, ticking an item off one of those 'things I've wanted to do' lists. Not thinking about what it meant to me, or how I would keep it going when life gets mundane, or when I don't have anything inspired to say. Which of course, is most of the time. So who am I writing for?