Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Sun: Forgetting

The following piece appeared in the Readers Write section of The Sun last month. The Sun is my favourite magazine, jam-packed with strong writing. I recommend it very, very highly. You can read excerpts from each issue on the website, and also find subscription details there – yes, they do post to Australia. If you want to hear the piece below read as a podcast by the kind folk at the Audio Internet Reading Service of Los Angeles, click here; then click on 'The Internet Part 3 / Forgetting Part 1'. My piece begins at 10.33 – but why not listen to the whole thing!


At my mother's funeral, a family friend took me aside, gave me a hug, and said, "You'll soon forget all the illness and be left with just happy memories."

She's a good friend, but she was wrong.

When I was a teenager, my mother worked seventy- and eighty-hour weeks, and I went days on end without seeing her. At the age of seventeen I moved out, feeling I barely knew her at all. A year later I went home for my first visit. While I was there, my mother woke one morning to find she had no feeling in her left leg.

Within eight years she was dead from a particularly vicious form of multiple sclerosis: Eight years of burning pain, progressive numbness, and creeping paralysis. Five years of wheelchairs. Two years of quadriplegia. More than a year of hearing loss and vision impairment. And, at the end, nothing but a tiny voice squeezed out of lungs so weakened by paralysis that they finally stopped expanding.

I'm now thirty-six, and I can barely remember my mother when she was well. When I try to think of her walking, it's a blur; images of her standing are summoned from photographs. Instead I remember crooked hands, swollen feet in orthopedic shoes resting on the footplates of a wheelchair. Her skin was dry and sloughing off (a side effect of her medication). The bright-eyed, inquisitive mother of my childhood had become lethargic, heavy, and dulled by pain. I can't even remember her original voice. The illness was all-encompassing. In frustration and grief I have largely given up trying to remember; instead I look for her in me.

When I wash dishes, there are her hands, setting the dish rag out to dry. When I hang laundry, there are her fingers, clipping pins to the corners of my sheets. I sit at my desk and feel the resolute set of her jaw. I look in the mirror and see her eyes looking back at me, kinder now than they often were.

It's not quite remembering, these little glimpses of my mother in me, but it's enough. I think of it as a friendly haunting — painful at times but infinitely better than no memories of her at all.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Why we no longer watch television


A witch visited our house. She was delivering her teenage daughter, who came for a week to do work experience in my husband’s office. On her way out the witch said with a wink, ‘Now, these people don’t have a television...’. It was clearly a suggestion that the daughter could find better ways to relax than to immerse herself in the big screen; we laughed, and waved the witch off into the night.

The next evening we had organised to go out; the daughter was to babysit. As we were leaving, we showed her where the TV is shut in a cupboard, and went to turn it on. Dead screen. We fiddled with switches, we checked the plugs, we swapped around cords and power boards. Nothing.

Realising that the witch had done her work, we shrugged, handed over the iPad, and left.

Now, our television is pretty old; we’ve had it fixed before. And it is analogue. Our city has introduced digital channels, which we don’t get; and in 2013 the analogue system will be switched off altogether. Calling the repair man seems pretty pointless. So what should we do? Should we rush out and buy a new TV, finally getting a flat screen, digital channels, and a bit of equality with the Joneses?

Probably not. My husband and I have mixed feelings about television. We have used it perhaps more than we would have hoped with young children; but as a babysitter when the kids are squabbling and the baby’s crying and I’m alone in the house and it’s time to cook dinner, it has been tremendously useful. Our kids watch little TV, but a fair few videos and DVDs – at least one or two nights a week.

When we first heard that the analogue system was being phased out, we decided that we wouldn’t get a digital box. We’d still be able to watch DVDs and videos; we could access iView and YouTube on the iPad; and the kids didn’t need to be bombarded with advertisements for cheap plastic crap. Too, we adults didn’t want to be distracted by all the things we could watch on the extra digital channels; we find it easier to choose to talk or read when there’s nothing on.

And next year seemed like good timing. The kids are getting older. They are more able to entertain themselves when they are tired; and they are also more likely to ask to see those adult programs that so many of their peers seem to watch. But we don’t want to watch those shows, and we don’t want them to absorb the ads: for beauty products and flat tummies which create dissatisfaction and desire where none previously existed; for homicide shows with their victims carved into pieces for our nightly entertainment; for beauty pageants and celebrity crap. It’s all lies dressed up as entertainment; all the violence and vacuity of our culture beamed right into our living room.

So we’re happy enough to get rid of the beast; we were preparing for its demise; but it died a few months early. Suddenly I’m catapulted into a slight panic, acutely aware of just how weird our kids already are, and knowing they will remain slightly marginalised as long as they have such limited access to popular culture. I think I’m okay with that... I suspect it’s in their long term best interests... and they are so energetic and creative... In any case, getting rid of the TV is hardly the radical option of fifteen years ago, before DVDs and the internet were so entertaining.

And yet, like every choice that goes against the cultural grain, I have to question our decision and wonder if it’s wrong – even when I know so deep in my bones that, for our family, it is absolutely right.

Photo shows self-portrait with abandoned tv - not ours. I have counted twelve dumped tvs in our suburb in the few weeks since ours died. Many of them have signs saying 'still working'. Who are these people who are throwing them out? And why do they dump them in the streets and local parks???

Monday, October 15, 2012

Just being and birds in the local park


She asked to go to the park.

We’d dropped her sisters at school and were on our way home. Someone was coming for lunch. The floor needed vacuuming. The bathroom needed scrubbing. The washing needed hanging out. I wanted to make soup and deliver it to a friend. The day was cold and damp, and I’d forgotten my scarf. We were on the bike. I almost said no. But...

Fifteen minutes, I said. Fifteen minutes, then home.

And at the park we found six rainbow lorikeets, learning to fly. Hop, jump, flutter, flap; they bumbled back and forth. Up on a pole, and onto the roof of the play fort. Back to a branch, and whoops-a-daisy, a bird chose a twig too weak and was flopped upside down, raucously indignant as it hung. We stood in a patch of weak sunlight, entranced.

Like little children, the birds fell into a wrestling match. They tumbled over and over the grass, shrieking and beating their wings. Watching the whirlwind of bright feathers and squawks, we hollered and laughed.

Then up they flew for more flying practice. In a moment of quiet, she rested her head against my chest and listened. Kerthump kerthump, is that your heart? she asked, while the lorikeets flapped higher and higher, into the very treetops.

The birds were gone. She hugged me, then walked to the bike trailer and popped on her helmet.

Home now, she said.

To think I’d almost said no.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Domestic Violence


A couple of weeks ago, a woman walking home after a night out with friends was abducted, raped and murdered; the abduction took place near the end of my street. It is, of course, the talk of my social circle; it could have been any of us. Like so many women, I go out with friends at least once a week and often walk or cycle home late. I like to be out alone at night, breathing the scents of the evening. Windows flicker with the light of the television, music drifts through the air, and I move quietly through the darkness, dreaming my suburb.

I have some concerns for my safety, of course; I've had too many encounters to be entirely comfortable. Sometimes I wear a hoodie; I'm always in flat shoes; I never use headphones. I avoid groups of men, crossing the road or ducking into shadows if necessary; and I'm not afraid of kneeing a man in the balls if he gets too close – and I've done it, too. But I also refuse to be confined to my home at night. I don't live in Saudi Arabia, and I won't act like I do.

As I get older and greyer, I take fewer precautions; sexual violence is more often directed towards younger women. Yet the woman who was snatched was not much younger than me, and I am shocked. I'm not the only one: hundreds of people have placed bouquets and candles outside the shop where she was last seen, and on the steps of the local church just down the hill. There has been a march to 'reclaim' the street, and informal nightly vigils as people stand and ponder, perhaps to pray.

This is all well and good. The crime was terrible, and it is right to think about how and why it happened; but I also find myself wondering why this very rare crime has led to such an outpouring of public grief when domestic violence is so common. A friend was telling me of a woman she met last year who was murdered by her partner soon afterwards; and of another woman, whose partner attempted to kill her and is now in prison. These crimes also happened in my suburb, but there were no public vigils and flowers in the street.

On a lesser scale, a different friend lives between two households where domestic violence is a regular event; on bad nights, she calls the police then sticks her pillow over her head to block out the screams. This year, three women I know have left verbally abusive and controlling, if not physically violent, relationships; other friends still live in such marriages.

It's not that I live among depraved people. We're all nice, well-educated, thoroughly middle-class women who know our rights; and the men involved are personable and charming – in public at least. Instead, these glimpses illustrate an awful reality: violence against women is all too common.

Feelings of violence against women, whether or not the feelings are physically expressed, are also common. Our society has a sick desire to see women harmed, and sexually promiscuous women, especially prostitutes, slaughtered; you cannot turn on the television any night of the week without seeing at least one murdered woman. It's gussied up as drama with a few twists to keep you guessing, but the fact that women are killed, and often found dismembered or rotting, night after night for the sake of entertainment is hardly benign.

And so I wonder about the flowers and the vigil. Was it really all about the terrible death of one woman walking home late at night? Or was it a safe way for women to express grief over the violence that so many experience in their own homes? Perhaps it is a bit of both.

I also wonder how much has been spent on the flowers; and how much has been donated to women's shelters, or to men's behavioural change programs? Because if we are truly concerned by violence, we will do more than attend vigils and buy flowers for a dead woman. We will also look closely at our society and what simmers beneath the surface. As friends, we will make safe places for others to talk about what is happening at home, and we will defend and support them if they decide to leave; as parents, we will teach our sons to recognise their feelings and to express anger, frustration and shame in healthy and constructive ways; and as citizens, we will direct resources towards the living women and children who experience violence every day, who dread the sounds of His car rolling into the driveway and His key fumbling in the lock, because He is coming home.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...