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!

 

Getting my back up


To get from my town into the city, I have to take a bus and then a train. I usually have a spinal brace on, and carry a lumbar roll wherever I go to place in the small of my back. I take pain relief beforehand. I can cope with the stiffness and discomfort quite well, but if something extra is required, it messes with my system and the trip home is hell. I have had times when I have been doubled over on the trip home-whether by car or public transport. I was taking a certain medication twice a day to help the sciatic pain and I must say, it kept me walking. However, it was rendering me a zombie in the mornings, and I craved bed so I could go back to sleep. I now take one dose at night time, and whilst the pain has crept back during the afternoons, at least I can function in the morning and get my daughter where she needs to go.

For over twenty years, I have been in extreme pain, though I can still recall a time when I wasnt. I remember what it was like to skate, dance and be flexible. I miss those times. I have learnt what I can do by discovering what I can’t; where my limits are. My days are structured to the letter. Morning weights to keep my bones strong, and physio exercises for my spine. Brace and Tens machine after a shower and liniment. Morning medications to help with pain and inflammation. Of an evening, I have a bath, my medications and am usually in bed by 8.30. The relief of laying flat at the end of a day! I wake several times with the pain during the night. If I am held up during the day, and can’t take my meds at the usual time, the pain gets out of control, and I am almost delirious because of it. I have to have excellent time management.

One day a few months ago, I was given a friend’s newborn baby to hold. I have difficulty lifting-even raising my arms is excruciating- and whilst I loved holding this precious bundle, I was in agony for days afterward. I resent that the pain limits my ability to lift a precious baby. When my daughter came along, I bought a crib that I could wheel around the house, lifting her onto my lap when I was in a rocking chair to avoid strain on my spine. If my baby ever has her own babies, I want my spine to be strong enough to do the same. This is one major reason I work so hard in the here and now on my back!

Sitting for any length of time is a challenge. All the weight goes to three dessicated discs in my lumbar spine. If I am sitting too long in one spot, the pain is out of this world. Laying down is the most comfortable position. I worry when I need to take long car rides or plane trips, as I know pain will be a companion. I just want to try and hold it together. I am on as little pain medication as I can get away with, acutely aware of the balance between being functional and not. Without it, I would hardly be able to walk, let alone get out. I have had a few incidents lately when my right leg simply wouldnt do as it was told. I fell over in a toy shop, and a dear lady raced over with my daughter to help me back up!

Most days I cope, but there are days that are so abysmal that I break down. I fear that the time has come to undertake corrective surgery to keep me going. Then, I come back from the abyss. I hope the centre holds for a little bit longer. I am not frightened of what lays ahead; I just want to be strong enough to hold my grandbabies one day.

 

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.

Homeschooling in Australia


I have been homeschooling my daughter for just over two years now, and as the second term of 2017 comes to an end, I reflect back on our time. It has honestly been one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have seen my daughter’s self-esteem and happiness escalate, and she confidently looks people in the eye when talking. She has joined the RSL Commemorative Youth Choir, and sung at Government House and taken part in camps. She has acted in plays and film, taken part in many social groups, and knows what she wants to do, and how to get there. The parents and kids we have met whilst home schooling are friendly and welcoming. My daughter has re-discovered a love of learning. We try to balance workshops and trips into Sydney with days at home, hitting her workbooks and online resources. Things I have learnt are as follows:

  1. Parents need to trust their instincts when it comes to their child.
  2. I went overboard when we started, purchasing copious amounts of resources! I found I needed only a quarter of what I ordered. Streamlined educational resources are best, and my daughter certainly has her favourite online programes and workbooks.
  3. My daughter favours starting early, ploughing through, and finishing early.
  4. It helps to make a timetable each day. My girl loves to know what is coming up, and be able to tick off each task when its completed. She also loves to know the details of our outings; what time we are leaving home, who will be there, how long the classes are and what they entail.
  5. I add the details of what she has studied or where she has attended workshops to her year file each evening, whilst it’s fresh in my mind.
  6. Preparing food the evening before a big day is advisable, and saves a fortune when out and about!
  7. We follow the school holidays, and try to stay at home as much as possible. After a busy term, that to us is heaven! She loves catching up with her old school friends in the holidays.
  8. I like to go through the house after each term concludes, gathering up old resources, craft, art supplies and clothing she has grown out of. When you work in the same space in which you live, it helps to have it tidy, and keep track of what is needed in the term ahead.
  9. Holidays are great for slowing the pace. A sleep-in is decadent, as are lovely long walks. Home schoolers need to rest in the break.
  10. We chat about scheduling for the next term; what she wants to do, and where her interests are leading her. There are so many fantastic opportunities, that we have to narrow them down.
  11. I highly advise those who are new to home schooling in Australia to join the Home Education Association, and also if you are in Sydney, Shen.
  12. I make her a Vista Print school album each year, consisting of all the activities she has undertaken. It is a lovely way to commemorate her school year.
  13. We plan to go swimming, the movies and shopping when school is in, as it is less busy. We make up the time by rising early or spreading the work over a weekend.

This past term, she has taken part in the Australian Young People’s Theatre classes, been to several performances at the Opera House, taken professional dance classes, done lino printing, learnt about film-making, how the brain registers emotions and much more, on top of her lessons at home. There are sacrifices to be made, and it can be a costly affair. I know of parents who, after pulling their kids out of school, have had to sell their home or sacrifice a second income in order to educate their children. They do so happily, particularly after seeing the early results of their decision. I am learning as much as my daughter, and each day is a joy. I only wish we had started homeschooling sooner!

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.

 

SistaCare 2017


My daughter, her friend and myself were invited to SistaCare 2017, held at the Exodus Foundation. Rev. Bridget Perkins-Ocean organized the day, along with a bevy of helpers. Students and teachers from Ultimo Tafe did hair and makeup for the ladies in the church. It was a delight to see the women and girls see themselves through fresh eyes.

Dress for Success Sydney gifted the women from the Exodus Women’s Group new outfits, and boy, they looked gorgeous! Dress for Success is an amazing initiative, dressing and styling ladies who are looking to get into the workforce, or need outfits to attend weddings, funerals etc. The ladies then see themselves through fresh eyes, imagining all they are capable of. What was inherent and hidden, buried under trauma and life events, has been reclaimed. My girls were thrilled when asked to lead the fashion parade!

The girls with Reverend Bridget

Reverend Bill Crews was there to greet everybody, and both the beauty school at Ultimo Tafe and Dress for Success gave a talk about their services. It was then time to eat, something my two models were very much looking forward to!

Two very brave and inspirational ladies then told us of their pasts, the details of which were gut-wrenching. To look at their radiant smiles, you would never know what they have endured. Women need to tell their stories to one another; to have a circle of mighty and courageous souls to depend on. I would like to thank everybody who made this event possible. To walk into the food hall and see it so lovingly decorated, was glorious. I was the first seated and it gave me such happiness to see the look on their faces as the guests entered. The tables were set for them, resplendent with china tea cups and flowers. The first step to having a woman recognize her value is to treat her as a precious, valuable person. Giving her back what was once taken. The Exodus Foundation, Dress for Success, volunteers from Ultimo Tafe and the speakers did just that.

 

Why can’t our Health Service be Streamlined?


A friend of mine almost lost her life as a teenager when she came down with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It has left her with long-term problems, which saw her admitted to hospital a few days ago. She was due to have an MRI so the doctors could gain an understanding as to what was happening neurologically, but at the last moment, it was cancelled, much to the frustration of both my friend and her specialist. It was a Friday afternoon and radiology had a backlog. She ended up being discharged, and asked to make her own arrangements for the MRI and a nerve conduction test. Now this lady is a single mother with no family support, and lives quite a way out-of-town.

This scenario seems to be common in the Australian health care system, and one can feel overwhelmed, attempting to deal with it all alone. Ideally, these tests would be done in hospital, and once the specialists know what is going on, the patient would be sent home with that knowledge, and hopefully ongoing support.

It is incredibly confusing, navigating our system! On the one hand, pathology may be free when requested by a GP rather than a specialist and on the other, scans may be charged when requested by a GP rather than a specialist. If attending appointments alone, you are likely to forget to ask pertinent questions, and incredibly likely to not retain important information. Having an advocate with you is important! I would like to see a system where the person is asked before discharge what support systems are in place when they get home. How far from town do they live? Do they have transportation? If the answers are in the negative, keep them in hospital to have the tests done in-house. My friend works incredibly hard, and I have been worried about her health for some time. Instead of having answers last Friday, she has been left to organize the tests herself, with a lengthy wait in the interim. We need a better system than the one we have.

Reaching Out


I have spent a great deal of my life alone, dealing with stuff. I have been alone in court rooms, making police statements; before surgery and after. I have been alone in hospitals and clinics and in my room at home. Of course, being a writer is a solitary profession, and as a homeschooling mother, I have to organize social occasions and outings. There is something comforting about relying on yourself to give what both you and your child need, and yet it is frightening too! Big decisions are made by me. No back-up, just me. No pressure!

There is a low-grade depression which can bring forth ferocious social anxiety at times, making me wary of reaching out. I hadn’t seen a friend for many months, and had missed her greatly. I rebelled against my fear of being dismissed and walked into her work the other day. I was greeted with a big hug, not only from her, but also others I knew. It felt like a home-coming, and I realized how silly my fears were. I had felt as though I was stuck between worlds. One as a mum who travels widely in order for her daughter to see friends and attend classes, and then as a woman who feared she had lost connection to the community in her dear little town.

I see now that I can be both… I can hold onto both. I was afraid that I would be forgotten, left behind. Feeling brave, I texted other friends, and organized catch-ups. I have a list of treasured people I want to catch up with! The brain can tell us porkies as a way of protecting us, but one of the biggest fibs is that to retreat shall protect us. It won’t, we will just feel alone. I have been alone too much in my life, and it is time to reach out. Time to yourself can be reflective, a way of filling your cup. Socializing can too. It is about getting the balance right. Who do you need to make contact with?

Vivid, Wirrimbirra and how to talk with kids about terrorism.


Psychologist John Blythe has the following advice on how to talk to kids about the latest horrors. I was grateful to read it before I sat my daughter down to answer her pressing questions. My heart is with all who have suffered as a result of these atrocities.

There is evil in this world, the energy denser than tar, and yet there is goodness, shimmering and light as gossamer. There is also beauty, and thank goodness for that!

We had a little walk around Vivid last week. Sydney can get bitterly cold this time of year, and the food trucks supplied us with chilli bowls, hot chocolate and tea. Scores of volunteers of all ages cheerfully directed the crowds, and strangers chatted and greeted one another. I would suggest going on a week night, rather than the upcoming long weekend, as it is far less busy!

Waratah

We also went to Wirrimbirra Sanctuary, where we met the following characters.

There is evil, but there is also light and beauty.

 

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.