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, 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.
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:
Parents need to trust their instincts when it comes to their child.
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.
My daughter favours starting early, ploughing through, and finishing early.
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.
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.
Preparing food the evening before a big day is advisable, and saves a fortune when out and about!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
I became a vegetarian as a pre-schooler in an act of rebellion. My family were dedicated carnivores, and frozen veggies were used as an aside to the main dish. I hated everything about meat; the smell, texture and the very thought of eating an animal. I guess that some of us are meant to partake in salads decorated with edible flowers instead! The more I was made to eat meat, the further I rebelled. I simply couldn’t bear it. Every cell in my body rejected it. This was back in the days when vegetarian food wasn’t found in supermarkets, and as a teenager I would spend a fortune in health food shops and whole food grocers and also partake in feasts gifted by the Hare Krishna’s. I have been to many parties where the only thing I could eat was a piece of bread with butter, and still long for the day when fundraising sausage sizzles have a vegetarian option (controversial, I know)!
People ask about nutrition, and worry that we vegetarians aren’t getting what we need. I will tell you a story… At seventeen, I was set to have a major operation, where massive blood loss was anticipated. As a result, I had to go to the blood bank every few weeks in order to store blood in advance. I had filled in that I was vegetarian on the form, and they were certain my iron count would be low upon testing. As it turned out, it was extremely high! I make sure I get enough protein too, which has been imperative. I have had months laying in hospital, recovering from spinal surgery. As a result, my muscles atrophied, and I had to work hard in rehab every day in order to walk again and keep myself upright. I also have grade 4 endometriosis, and it has been suggested by more than one specialist that you should limit your intake of meat. Rather than have it every night, have a day or two off. I had already banished it!
The most annoying thing about my chosen diet is that on night’s out, everyone is more interested in my meal, asking for a bite. It also happens when I order a vegetable pizza! They abandon their meat-lover’s and come over to mine! Despite having chronic spinal pain, I am healthy. I have enough energy to rise at dawn and race through the day. I believe that your body tells you what it requires, and I simply obeyed the request.
For further information on how to be a healthy vegetarian, go to Eating Well.
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!
She is the type of woman who sweeps over you from the feet up, criticising everything from your shoes to your handbag. She makes your daughter uncomfortable with her relentless grilling, and you feel exhausted by her relentless whining. You are never asked about yourself; how you are and what is happening in your world. You aren’t asked because it doesn’t matter to her. On a gorgeous morning, there you are, minding your business at the bus stop, when she comes along, insisting on sitting near you the whole journey. By the end, you have lost all your energy, and feel discombobulated. Its probably not a good portent, when you spot a person and inwardly groan.
The other day, I was waiting for a bus home after seeing my doctor. My spine was excruciating; lifting my arm had encouraged metal shards in my spinal canal to give a sensation like being stabbed between my shoulder blades. It had taken five different medications to get a few hours sleep the night before. I just wanted to sit in silence, and get home.
Suddenly, she appeared, like a vulture. She immediately noticed that I had cut my hair. “What happened to you!” she demanded, pointing at my head. “I felt like a change,” I replied sharply. “Why would you do that? Why?” she hollered. And in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 the critique was coming. Bugger this! In desperation, I hopped on a bus that would take me several blocks from my place, rather than right outside my home. It was worth the extra walk, to get away from her. I am starting to understand that I have rights too. A right to peace of mind, quiet, and to be respected. I dont have to be polite and sit there and take such nonsense. All my energy has to be shared with my daughter and I will be damned if I will allow the likes of her to syphon it away with dribble. Not anymore. The look on her face when I suddenly hopped away and onto the bus was priceless.
When you wake up from a fitful sleep, you tend to have around half of the vigour needed to get through a busy day. If you subject yourself to miserable people, the tank gets drained further. Dont do it! Move or walk away from anyone who pulls this toxic stunt!
Fairfax’s decision to cull a quarter of its workforce is unjust, both for the journalists trying to eke out a living, but also in regards to quality control.
What becomes of the artists, actors, musicians, small theatre companies and writers, whom the newspaper’s championed? Australian media would be reduced to salacious copy. We would have more advertisements and endorsements than we have ever seen before, and less quality writing. Andrew Stafford explains it well in his blog piece. To support the workers whose livelihoods are under threat, please shoot an email to the powers that be at Fairfax to express your displeasure.
Bill Crews wrote about his profound connection and recent meeting with the Dalai Lama. It is simply one of the most exquisite, transformative pieces of writing I have ever encountered. Grab a cup of tea, sit quietly, and be prepared to be elevated by this blog piece.
Shining Stars was set up by some local friends, and is living up to its name! For many years, these wonderful people (including nurses), traveled in their spare time to Kings Cross in order to help the homeless, before moving the service locally. The founder of Shining Stars regularly receives donations at her home, and sorting through the clothes and toys, food and other goods is a job in itself! The other day, they posted a heart-rending description of a homeless elderly lady on their Facebook page. The end result was that this dear soul ended up with comforts such as a dressing gown and slippers, toiletries and a walking frame. Somebody even donated a suitcase so she could pack all her treasures to take to the home found for her. Finding household goods for a family fleeing violence, providing meals and outreach services and much more. These Shining Stars do it all. For further information, Shining Stars can be contacted here.