Blue velvet

This feeling of solitude and playing with petals while sitting in dirt is familiar. I feel calm alone. I am hidden alone. Nature is my friend. I breathe and I notice. Plush blue velvet on dry brown dirt. Clumps like rocks. Tiny veined yellow petals fall on my pants and get caught in the wind. The crop behind acts as a shield and keeps me warm and sheltered. The sun is diffuse through heavy cloud. The yellow is fading to green. The dirt looks pretty on my velvet pants. Rust brown powder on navy sheen. I breathe and I am here. I am safe out here.

A Twitter Hiatus for Feminist Confessional

Hi all. I’m taking a temporary hiatus from my Feminist Confessional Twitter account. Please watch the video to find out more. You can switch on auto-captions in the settings menu in YouTube if you would like to watch the video with captions. To subscribe to my YouTube channel, you can simply click through to my account from the video above.

Dear Dad

It’s ten years today since you left, yet it’s longer than that since I last saw you. The last time was when we danced in the nursing home together, remember? First, jiving arm in arm down the hall, big band bellowing from the communal TV. Then, whirling and twirling to Bach fugues and laughing and clapping and singing while Glenn Gould’s fingers flew on the keyboard so fast that they blurred while yours snapped in the air and then I kissed you through joy and said I love you Dad and thank you and goodbye. But you didn’t leave then, well, not quite, though you were already gone.

You always wanted to hear me sing and I always felt too shy, like you’d see my innards, witness my most treasured secrets, take away my soul. But now I know you just wanted it to sing. I didn’t have a voice, but you wanted one to emerge. Last night I sang along with the Miserere by Allegri and I hit the high C. I have no idea how but my body remembered and as it soared it unlocked me and the me that died when you did. The music in me died back then because I thought all along I was doing it for you. My music was my gift to you, an offering to the father god who placed his girl-child on a pedestal and never took her down. It was a tricky place for me to be, but was strangely without condition and more about your belief in me than exaltation, so let’s just call it love, shall we? Yes, I’d like that.

Lord knows I need some balance but I didn’t know it was there all along. Sometimes it takes a different way of looking, a way of reaching for the light like a hungry plant, to see that the darkness can be avoided if only you choose life. All I needed to do was peer in the mirror: my face like yours, my eyes your eyes, my voice yours but higher, my music a cultured, trained expression of your own raw talent. Your love constant, your belief in me stable. Never pushing, only encouraging. Steady. Known. Bedrock.

That time you followed along on the footpath while I marched on International Women’s Day 1996 through the centre of town. It was so taboo then, so dirty to be a feminist, yet you clapped, cheered and smiled from the sidelines, raised your fist in solidarity with your daughter cautiously being herself, quietly finding her voice among familiars. I smile thinking about it. My belly feels warm.

And I’m glad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like my struggle through the aftermath of you going. I’m glad you never saw me this way. I’m glad you missed the fracture of the family that came undone with your leaving. You do know you held it and me together? Like psychic glue, I wonder more and more about the power of you. You missed the ascendance of idiots in positions of power both home and abroad, and senseless attacks on citizens by terror-inducing maniacs, escalating fear and fiscal folly, increasingly wasteful consumption and the election of a fraudulent orange-hued strange-haired man to the highest office on the planet. You would have been aghast, yet curious. And I’m glad you missed the smart phone, and social media’s spiralling rise and its co-opting and ruining of human relationships and language, and I’m glad you missed the music, which got much, much worse and much more boring and much less live and how you would have hated it. Especially after growing through rock ‘n’ roll and The Beatles and singing in opera choruses and musicals and of course in the shower too.

And I’m sad, Dad, that there are things you’ve missed. Like the orange cat who is my constant companion. She is pretty special and full of spunk and chirrups and I reckon she would have let you pat her. And the farm with the sheep and the million yellow flowers and the snakes and the mice and the tiny town nearby that looks like it’s itching for a gun fight. But I’m not sad that you missed the disease, this dreaded thing that’s forced us into our homes, into a great disconnect that feels like death while living while we wait and occupy space, while we all hold our breath. Placeholders we are, waiting to spring into action and hug and dance and sing again, once the invisible threat is vanquished. You, as always, would have been fascinated by it, but I’m glad you aren’t here for it. It might have killed you if you weren’t already dead.

I imagine you doing your crazy dance in the loungeroom, making us laugh, knees bent, twisting inwards-and-outwards while your feet pivoted, head jerking emphatically, clicking fingers, always embarrassing us. You were such a dag, Dad, and you didn’t care. Such abandon and freedom in the body that betrayed you too soon in the end. Such wit and spark in a sharp mind that became so cruelly muddled and confused. The purity of those final days, sitting in the sun on a bench outside with you, cuddling and smiling at one other. You had no words and love needs none.

Love needs no posturing for it is felt.

What if Women Were Free?

A couple of months ago I had a distinctly new, foreign though pop into my head. What would the world be like if women were free to live their lives exactly as they wished? And I mean exactly as they wished. Not within the current frameworks and the limitations that these frameworks place upon us as women. And not by accepting the pseudo freedom sold to us. It is a lie. What I mean is starting over from scratch. Imagining a new world for women. Without any historical precedents in place, without societal, cultural or political pressures. Without gender conditioning. Without misogyny.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a world in which women define themselves? Read More

Mother’s Day Slam

And so on this most feel-good of tributary days, on the day of the deification of The Mother and all that is maternal, loving, warm, caring, nurturing, selfless, giving and kind, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.

To those who were unmothered, who were ignored, abandoned, abused, subsumed, repressed, oppressed, used, treated as a friend, or a play-thing or a no-thing.

To those who grew up without role models, so that a mother means mean and selfish and distracted and childish and foolish and unpredictable and explosive.

To those who mothered and continue to mother themselves, though without the guidance of role models do an imperfect job, alternately indulging the self ‘s every whim and punishing it with endless barrages of internal criticism.

To those who mother others, but not necessarily themselves. To those who had the mother-child role reversed, and learned to play carer, nurturer, listener, genie-in-a-bottle-granter-of-wishes, not just to their own mothers, who couldn’t mother them, but to everyone, stranger or friend, who needed a mother, at any time of day, or night, in any place, or any space, appropriate or not.

To those women who cannot or will not have children, you are not less of a woman for it.

To those of you who find today hard because of any or all of these things. To those who feel left out.

I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day.

Writing a Life: About Me & Feminist Confessional

 

Starting at age four
My experience with writing is vast and wide
First: my name scrawled in Dick Bruna books, some letters backwards, some capitalised
Then: learning to write neatly, on lines, in thick blue pencil or Chinagraph on transparent sheets; lead pencil on tracing paper too
Later: coloured perfumed pens, textas, an Apple II word processor
Pencil on music manuscript: dots on lines, minims and rests and clefs and keys and a whole new language
And ballpoint pens, tested for their speed and flow in the shop, before purchase
They need to be able to write really fast during exams
Fantastical stories, cutely rhyming poems, diaries and love letters
Essays, and blog posts, critical reviews
Technical writing, so difficult, so very precise
Grant applications: begging for money, acquitting it at the end
Emails and texts and forums and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram
Magazine articles and book extracts, written for nary a sum
Notes passed in class, writing on foggy mirrors, misty windows, dusty windscreens
English, so much English
Italian and French and German too
Theses and manuscripts and folios and contents and indices and footnotes and bibliographies and lecture notes and
Programme notes and assignments and graphic scores and graffiti and birthday cards and eulogies and rants and complaints and requests and forms and contracts and lists
So many lists
Just like this one Read More

Brava

Key

Brava. Is this the key to everything? Will this change my life? I found this key on the top step of a tiny staircase, just below a door. I didn’t dare try it. I think it was trying to tell me something.

Why My Teeth Clench and My Shoulders Seize Up: Sexual Abuse and Coming to Terms with Trauma in the #MeToo Era.

MWmetoo.jpg

When I think about writing this piece, I notice that my teeth are clenched and my shoulders are raised. I also feel that familiar, pleasant, slightly floaty feeling as if I’m not really here. I stare out the window vaguely without focus. It’s called dissociation, and I’ve only recently learned to label it as such. It’s pleasant, because it allows me to leave a painful situation, mentally, to check out, even if my body isn’t coping.

I’ve been encouraged for a few years by well-meaning medical folk to deal with the underlying trauma that is a contributing factor in my chronic illness; and I’ve tried hard to identify and move through it. I have had debilitating symptoms for over a decade now, most of which seem untreatable. I won’t delve into the full story of my health problems right now: suffice to say these symptoms and my pain levels are bad enough to stop me from leading a normal life.

My osteopath is currently working on trying to get my shoulders to relax and resume their normal position, back and down. Instead, they sit upwards and forwards, and are chronically knotted; so tightly that my nerves are affected and my arms go numb when I sleep every night. When I first returned to him last year, he said to me “What’s going on? It’s like you’re bracing for someone who’s coming at you.” We’ve talked about the Fight or Flight response, and also the Freeze response, in which your body freezes, but your mind takes a holiday in order to protect itself. In other words, dissociation. It seems I’m freezing up in anticipation of a threat, most likely a threat long gone.

It’s slow progress trying to deal with the trauma, and the illness I have. I’m not really getting anywhere fast, however, I think I have finally realised that the bulk of my underlying trauma has been caused by decades of sexual abuse, in one form or another. It was difficult for me to arrive at this conclusion. I had a troubled upbringing complete with emotional abuse and unhealthy primary relationships, three near-drowning experiences, and my father died after a horrible, protracted illness during my 30s, which I had to deal with and grieve with almost no support. It was easy for me to focus on these things as the cause of my trauma, and indeed, I’m certain they all contribute and are significant. But, the trauma wasn’t shifting, even after almost 15 years of therapy. Daily meditations were not calming my system, nor were significant dietary changes or regular exercise.

However, when the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke last year, it forced me to re-evaluate my life extensively, particularly in terms of my relationships with men and boys, and I came up with some startling conclusions: almost all of my relationships with men and boys have involved some form of sexual abuse, assault, misconduct, or (at a minimum) coercion. In varying degrees, of course, but there has, much more often than not, been something inherently disrespectful and harmful in these relationships. Or, these relationships were inappropriate in other ways: for example, abuses of power and authority by those of advanced age and status that left me feeling used and that wasted precious years of my youth. Add to this inappropriate behaviour on casual dates, decades of street harassment, sexualised images of women on screen and in print, inappropriately sexualised behaviour by teachers, and from men in society in general and being molested as a child by a male babysitter, and you have a pretty overwhelming picture. In short: I think I found my trauma, the behemoth, the ogre-lurking-in-the-shadows, the overwhelming pile of steaming feculence that has derailed my life and my health. Read More

Married At First Sight’s Dean and Tracey: When Traditional Gender Expectations Mean “I Love You”.

As women we are sold so many lies about our gender, about what constitutes a good life for us, about what we should aim for and want for ourselves. About what we can and can’t do, and what we’re capable and incapable of. How we should look, act and feel. One of the grandest lies we are sold pertains to marriage, and that it should assume a crowning centrality in our lives. Marriage is the glittering pinnacle towards which all women should climb, and along with motherhood, should be the Holy Grail of our existence. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I know that I personally have, and continue to fall into the pitfall of feeling unworthy and unloveable because I am unmarried. There is a deep yearning (seemingly in my psyche) to have my loveability validated by a man declaring his undying, unconditional love for me, that, even as a card-carrying feminist, I cannot shake. Being marriageable is a measure of a woman’s worth. I repeat that statement because until quite recently in the West, what a woman could bring to a marriage financially (her dowry) was of the utmost importance. Also, her youth, her health, her ability to be impregnated were assets traded, sold even, from one family to another. Thankfully these days, in the West most people adopt a model of marriage as a love match, but residues and remnants of a woman’s literal worth and its trading are still apparent in the majority of wedding ceremonies, even those claiming to be non-traditional. The giving of an engagement ring is a deposit on your bride to be; the bigger the deposit, the more she is worth to you. The giving away of the bride, from one man (the bride’s father, usually) to another (the groom), as if she is a possession, merely chattels. The highly decorative way the woman is dressed, as if she is a wrapped present, often complete with bows, sparkles, vast swathes of cloth for the man to untie and unwrap at the end of the day. It surprises and saddens me how many of these ceremonial traditions are upheld (along with many others), as if a marriage ceremony couldn’t be reconfigured to truly respect women, to reflect the progress that has been made in recent decades; as if, somehow, a wedding is not a wedding without these elements. As a feminist, unmarried woman, I’ve thought about this a lot, as a way to assuage my own somewhat embarrassing yearning to be married, and maybe more to justify to myself why, in fact I wouldn’t want it. But a marriage is not the same thing as a wedding, and with a partner of 13 years, I’ve surely experienced – by now – something quite similar to what a marriage is; and yet there’s a niggling part of me that still desires that our relationship have public recognition, complete with declarations of love, a ceremony, a wedding, even if most of the traditions and trappings would be abandoned in what would be a truly feminist celebration. Weird isn’t it? Yes, but no. Read More

I Dodged a Bullet: Big Little Lies, Male Aggression and MeToo

I’ve just finished watching Big Little Lies, a TV miniseries that doesn’t shy away from the topics of domestic and sexual violence, the patriarchal control of women and emotional abuse. The overwhelming feeling I have about the show is one of immense sadness at some of the characters’ suffering at the hands of violent and controlling men. I am also grateful that these issues are being explored openly, no matter how sad they make me, because they need to be discussed, confronted head on, and hopefully eradicated from society. The recent paradigm shift that is the MeToo Movement also deals with similar themes: women sharing accounts of sexual violence, abuse, and misconduct, and refusing to stay silent about what is happening to them any longer. Read More