The Most Wuthering Heights Day Ever!


My daughter and I and some dear friends went to Sydney Park last Saturday to pay homage to Kate Bush, whilst at the same time, denouncing domestic violence. I used to listen to Wuthering Heights as a young girl, living under the oppressive understanding that a violent and possessive man would be deciding when my life would end in the near future. I didn’t have to imagine him telling me that I was ‘going to lose the fight,’ nor have ‘bad dreams in the night.’ He told me routinely, and I indeed had bad dreams. I imagined coming back dressed in red, banging on the window, trying to get somebody (anybody), to hear me and welcome me in. Never in my wildest dreams would I have envisioned joining so many others, dressed in red, dancing to this song so many years later! It was a powerful remembrance of how far I have come, watching my little girl twirl by my side. St Peters has a special place in my heart. I was a young poet/artist when I lived there, selling my wares to the little shops up King St. I would take my little dog, Mitzi Winstopple to Sydney Park each evening, and dream of the future.

In preparation, I raided our fancy dress box and my daughter found a 50 cent gown that fitted her beautifully.

It was cathartic, and I felt cleansed. We wandered up King St to the Union Pub, where scores of other Cathy’s gathered. We bought felt hats for $10 at a bargain store, and I told my friend of my life in St Peters, and the sadness I felt at leaving. I came back not only to pay homage to Kate Bush, but to retrieve something I had left behind; myself.

The next day, I paid for my dance. I wept with the pain, but it was worth it. If there is a price to be paid, always make sure it’s worth it. Two days later, my spine is coming good. I can’t wait until next year!

 

The Handmaid’s Tale


The Handmaid’s Tale, a series based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 book, has just been released in Australia. Last night I streamed it, determined to watch only the first episode and have an early night. Of course, that didn’t happen. What ended up occurring was I watched all ten episodes. It was confronting and terrifying,  yet it somehow made my resolve stronger. As a survivor of sexual assault, physical violence and fundamentalist religion disguised as faith and obedience, I am acutely aware that the depiction isn’t a grim warning about what may happen. For survivors it is a remembrance of what has already been, and what we must guard against.

The order decreed in Gilead is the ultimate submission by women. Not having access to money and property nor control of their bodies. It is a world I don’t want to live in. It is a world I have lived in. Having scriptures spouted to suit whatever situation befalls, and to claim it as evidence that the perpetrator is in the right. Women and girls being told that they are here to be pleasing and pleasant, first and foremost. The exquisite rebellion encapsulated by reading, driving a car or etching words of encouragement for those who come after you in your cell.

I vowed that if I survived, I would fight for my daughter to not have to endure a speck of what myself and my contemporaries endured. I was fourteen when I uncovered that grown men were placing bets on who would obtain this child, far away from home. My mental fortitude kept me alive, even as they sought to destroy me, discarded as collateral damage in a war I knew nothing of. I hadn’t been taught the rules, so how could I be expected to play? We must arm our daughters with knowledge, fill their hearts with empathy and love, and make damned sure that no part of The HandMaid’s Tale is a part of their future. I know of too many incidents of women who are infertile sitting in far-right churches, and left crushed after it is announced that yes, it is indeed a fertile church, and one of its members is pregnant with her fifth child. Everybody applauding, amid laughter that God has rewarded this place with ripe fruit. The women who can’t have children or who are undergoing IVF feel as though a sword has pierced their soul upon such occasions. Worth is down to how fertile you are, and home-making lessons are offered and encouraged. The women are kept ‘accountable’ to each other. How exhausting and depressing. Freedom is found when you can be whomever you want in this world. It is not found in your dress, your submission, nor your fertility.

Hunger-Roxane Gay


I have just finished ‘Hunger’ by Roxane Gay, and am feeling a plethora of emotions. I too have had a complicated history with food, created by trauma. I was on an eating disorder unit at fourteen, and rather than healing, I learnt a heap of new tricks to stave off weight. I chose to starve myself, in an attempt to deny the emotional pain of its sustenance. I also had bulimia. Some of my friends were frail, too weak to move out of bed. A few of my friends were at the other end of the spectrum, the weight providing a cocoon. One of my friends, Annie, had a complicated relationship with her abusive mother. A young woman in her twenties, she suffered the indignity of having to be weighed at the train station on their luggage scales. Her eyes were azure-blue, and boy, we had fun, making the best of a bad situation. She and I would have food fights in the day, and give each other facials of an evening. Annie was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, taking this kid under her wing.

I learnt a lot about how it feels to carry extra weight, and the outrageous discrimination she faced. People didn’t really see her; they didn’t give themselves the chance to delight in the intelligence and compassion she conveyed in conversation. Over the months, the weight fell off her, but as we all know, the fight after the fight is the hardest of all. As she said to me, there was anger at those whom sought her out where once she had been discarded. It were as though they now deemed her worthy. The memories and emotions long suppressed, rose to the surface of her being, and now had to be dealt with. I lost touch with Annie after our time together, though think of her often.

As an adult, I have had friends who felt unsafe to sit in my dining chairs, lest they break, and I couldn’t blame them. I turned my chairs over, and noted that they were flimsy, a single bolt holding the structure together. I felt angry on their behalf. Life shouldnt be such a battle, and everything from airlines, buses, and cinema seating is so tiny, particularly when armrests are featured. I immediately replaced my seats, going to an op shop and buying a dining set made of solid timber. My guests can now sit and chat without being uncomfortable. Roxane’s book reiterates the challenges and judgements that befall a larger person. It shouldn’t be this way, not in this day and age. I long for the day when we really see each other and also our intrinsic worth.

 

I went back…


A friend had just moved to a place which holds many memories for me. I hadn’t been back to this town for many, many years. I had lived close by at one time, and produced art, selling to shops on the main strip. I would be up all night, painting and writing poetry to take in my trolley the next day. After I had visited my lovely people, I would go to a little florist shop, who would sell me the last bunches of flowers at the end of the day. The florist insisted on only taking a few dollars. My home would be filled with the aroma of roses and lilies for the next week, then the ritual would be repeated. Listening to the buskers in the outside mall, sipping coffee and eating organic fruit… Such lovely memories.

The memories which overshadowed the above were dark indeed. I was raped in this town at fourteen years of age, on a blistering summer’s day, by the river. I had to board a bus back to the clinic with the creature responsible… Years went by-years of difficult recovery-and there I was, selling my art in this town. I was having my coffee, listening to the buskers in the mall, when I saw him. He had already seen me, gazing at me through his sunglasses. I could feel his eyes, as reflective as oil-slicked puddles, reaching out to me. My chair tipped over as I instinctively ran. I was fourteen all over again. I locked myself in the ladies toilet, crouching down as he banged on the door. He wanted to talk. I sure as hell didn’t. I remained there until I heard my name called by the friend I had been with. The coward slunk away. I never went to this town again, after uncovering he was living nearby. It wasn’t the last I heard from him, though it was the most traumatic occasion.

I ended up having to leave Sydney for a time, a decision the police supported. My life went on a different trajectory; you could call it being rail-roaded. It felt peculiar to be back in the same mall the other day. Nothing had changed! The gum trees were still present, as were the buskers. The little florist shop was open, as was the book shop I used to frequent. I took deep breaths, the memories (of which I hadn’t told my friend), flooding my brain. I felt the pressure building. We stopped and had lunch, and as I sat outside with my friend, her husband and our kids, I had an epiphany. If I saw him today, I wouldn’t run. I would face him, challenge him, and he would be the one to bolt. I am not locking myself away anymore. With that, I once again became the young artist who sold her paintings to shops, and filled her house with flowers each Saturday. I came back for her. All the things he had commanded I couldn’t have-an adult  life, a child, my legs, my sanity- were on proud display. I walked back to the car, holding my daughter’s hand.

Tracey Spicer


I loved this esteemed journalist before she wrote this piece and I love her even more now! Why do people talk about little girls in this manner? What the hell is wrong with people? The girls are at an age when they feel self-conscious enough with all the changes taking place. We have had the hottest weather on record throughout this Australian summer, and have all had to trawl out shorts and singlets to survive. It isn’t done to attract attention; far from it! My daughter has abandoned dresses and exclusively wears shorts as it makes climbing easier and safer! Little girls have no knowledge of the impressions of sick individuals and thank heavens for that! By remarking on their looks, you are making them play an adult game, of which they know nothing.

I remember growing up in the eighties, when any adult felt free to comment on everything from my shorts, my style and my looks. It always gave me a sick feeling, because it was sick. I wasn’t praised for my intelligence, rather my appearance. I would hope that society has evolved to the extent that a grown man feeling it is okay to remark on a young girl is held in the contempt it deserves. Feel free to ask my daughter questions about her dreams, her hobbies and her schooling instead.

Frida Kahlo


When I was seventeen, I was informed that I would be crippled and then die if I didn’t have risky surgery. I hadn’t had time to digest this information when I came across the extraordinary visage  of Frida, gazing at me from the newspaper. I cut out the story, continually gazing at her face. ‘The Broken Column’ spoke of my own wounds. I couldn’t believe that a woman from another era had captured my experience. She was  a storyteller of the highest order, unafraid of revealing her pain. She touched death with each stroke of her brush. All the things we commonly run from, she embraced. I had found my heroine.
  When I heard that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera’s work was coming to the Art Gallery of NSW, I could hardly breathe. I had waited twenty years for this moment. I took my daughter, and she was as entranced as I. She knew how much Frida has meant to her mum! We stood in silence at each painting, holding hands. 
   Frida inspired me to paint my body cast. Rather than viewing it with disdain, my former cocoon  was kept out of respect.
  
  

Frida was unafraid of confronting what would ordinarily remain hidden. She paved the way for a legion of young women. I remain in her debt.


Suffragette’s, Eddie the Eagle, Bear Cottage and Guardian Angels


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My daughter saw the trailer for Suffragette and was desperate to see it at the movies. Alas, it was on limited release in Australia, and not showing near us. We were overjoyed to find it on DVD last week. “I think about these women whenever I vote,” I told my daughter. Sadly, I also think of how far we have yet to progress, some hundred years later. It was special, cuddling up with my girl, running the gamut of emotions as we witnessed what the suffragette’s endured. See this movie if you can. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and the whole cast are simply stunning, and the footage at the end left us both in tears. You can appreciate where you are and certainly what is left to achieve by viewing women’s history.

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We also went to the movies and saw Eddie the Eagle. I am an ignoramus when it comes to sport. I don’t watch it, nor do I know anything about it. In spite of this fact, I fell in love with Eddie, and was amazed as he refused to back down, despite the odds. Cleave to your dream, and never, ever give up! It doesn’t matter what the knockers say. You aren’t living for them!

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This is why I love Channing! Diagnosed with dyslexia, he has become a hero in the dyslexia advocacy community. This petition has started up, to bring Channing to Australia. It would mean so much to kids with dyslexia to meet up with him, and listen to his story.

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I had to share this picture of my poor angel. Sorry about what I have put you through!

My beautiful friend Nadine, is raising money for Bear Cottage in the City 2 Surf, a huge event held in Sydney in August. Any donations are greatly appreciated and you can read more by clicking here. She is immensely grateful for the love and care the staff and volunteers showed her little boy, Archie, during his short and precious life.

 

 

 

 

An evening of Inspiration


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The Development Effect is a new business, set up by two remarkable women. Their modus operandi is to inspire, give back to their community and empower women and girls. I was privileged to be asked to talk at their inaugural event a while back. I sat alongside Michelle Cashman, an extraordinary singer/songwriter. Michelle has been there. You know, ‘there,’ that horrid place of loneliness, depression, anxiety and chaos not of her making. Not only does she write songs which reach deep into your soul, she creates podcasts to uplift others who have been through the fire. Her blog can be found here. To listen to some of her incredible songs, follow this link. When you are going through the fire- the heat searing your flesh- you tend to wonder what the point of it is. Often, there isn’t a point. When your flesh has cooled and you are alone with your wounds, it can give you leave to demand that your pain mean something. To be able to write, sing and talk about the fire gives it such a meaning. You will inspire others, and they in turn will inspire. Perhaps the fire itself is a pointless and cruel pit of flames. Perhaps that doesn’t matter. What comes after, that is what is important.

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Pink is the new black.


1381794_10205633833113409_8583832661154738232_nMost people are surprised to hear that I am a hermit at heart. A solitary creature, who is used to keeping her own counsel. I made the distinction between needing “a fix” of people, to electing to enjoy their company. There is a difference. Usually when I enter a room, I feel awkward, and either stumble over my feet and walking stick, or blurt out something random, and unconnected to the conversation. On this occasion, I instantly felt at home. My friend Lisa is a nurse, and one of the gentlest and ethereal women I have had the privilege of knowing. Her beloved mother-in-law passed from breast cancer, and every year she organizes a high tea in her honour.

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Colourful people arrive and donate goods, and money is raised to crush this disease. This year, the very talented Hannah Erika Crichton kindly donated her talents and time to sing for us. We were in a hall with women who had been through  dark night’s of the soul, mind and body. I loathed the colour pink before having my daughter. I preferred black. I preferred anonymity. I now view pink as a colour of strength, of dreams and power. A colour you underestimate, until it knocks you to the ground with its force of will.

10710577_841353445904362_563855162266124338_nThe women in the hall were strong, gutsy, plucky. I stood for a moment, and looked around. The ladies smiled amongst  the easy banter at the tables. Bliss was produced with my friend Nicci’s cupcakes and Lisa’s divine soy candles. Pink, I loathed you for what you seemed to expect of me. I apologise in full. It was not you, but my culture that insisted I be demure, pandering and agreeable (at all times). Rather, you have always viewed women as strong, filled with vigour, a powerful voice, a buoyant heart and creative hands. I have had you all wrong. These women, cloaked in pink, have proven that to me.

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Photos by Sharon’s Photography.