Learning to swim

20 Feb

Last night on ABC TV one of the more interesting truth seekers of the last decade, documentary film maker Louis Theroux, spent time with paroled sex offenders in Los Angeles.

I was a little chary of watching after growing up with abuse. It’s never possible to be certain that something you see or hear or smell or taste or feel or touch won’t revive a memory you thought safely long gone, as Proust observed some while before the term “trigger warning” was coined.

Theroux has the style of the best therapists: his presence is fearless, he will go wherever his subject wants to take him, and his skilled use of silence creates a space in which others can speak what they may not otherwise say.

As he frankly admitted, there were ways in which Theroux liked some of his subjects, while at the same time being unwilling and unable to set aside from his thinking their crimes, and the effects of those crimes on others, particularly children.

I felt sadness and pity for the broken, lonely lives led by the offenders.

It is almost impossibly difficult to express any emotions other than revulsion, hatred, and outrage towards sex offenders, and their crimes are deserving of all those feelings.  It is understandably required of us that our compassion be directed only towards their victims. But I am wondering if it is possible to hold the care and concern for the victim, and the sad pity for the perpetrator in the mind and heart at the same time.

It isn’t something I could have considered until I’d spent decades dealing with an aftermath of traumatic abuse that never really ends. It just changes. There are ways in which a life is broken by such experiences, and is only really ever cobbled together again. If you haven’t had a childhood, nothing and no one can ever give it to you. There is a loneliness in knowing darkness, because darkness separates you forever from those who haven’t known it. The predator passes on their broken, lonely life.

Because of my circumstances and its effects on me, I never learned to properly swim. One day, Mrs Chook said, I am going to teach you to swim properly.

I was full of fear. I couldn’t put my head under water, or breathe. She coaxed, and encouraged, and rewarded and persisted, and one day it all fell into place, and I was swimming properly.

This is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me. I can be a child in the pool. I never knew what it was to be a child in a pool. Now I take that child for a swim whenever I have the chance and when we’ve swum our laps, we play.

 

Quint Buccholz Two

 

So the point of this is, I  was wondering if this long, gradual, infinite process of healing myself as best I can, with the most enormous amount of help and love, has brought me to a place where I can watch Louis Theroux give a voice to people like the one who stole my childhood, and feel sad pity for his broken life. I am wondering, is this what forgiveness is?

I am currently confined by two circumstances. Illness, and the edges of tropical cyclone Marcia. Our house is like a snug, dry cave and through the windows there’s our garden, lush, green and dripping. Confinement has it purposes, if one can but see them.

Treading on bees

18 Feb

This post is not about politics. Don’t complain that I didn’t tell you.

bee lifting leg

I woke from a dream of my lover’s shoes. 

He always wore dirty black shoes with square toes when we met up. I asked him as I watched him undo them in preparation for getting into bed with me, “Do you ever clean your shoes?”

He shook his head. “I only have one pair,” he told me.

I thought that was all right. I have lots of shoes but I prefer wearing boots. Mostly in the climate I live in it’s better to go barefoot. The only problem with going barefoot is treading on bees. I accidentally tread on bees a lot and as you might know, a bee sting can itch for around five days and it’s no picnic.

I’ve been trying to keep a dream book for a while and interestingly, the effort has provoked more dreaming than I can remember for years. Dreams are like poems, or bits and pieces of them.

Shattered people are best represented by bits and pieces. Rainer-Maria Rilke.  I know this to be true. I have never in my life been able to sustain a continuous narrative.

My lover was in his shoes in the dream, but I couldn’t see him. I wrote down the bits and pieces  I could remember, and then the phrase ” erotic vulnerability” dropped into my head from out of nowhere so I wrote that down too. A writer ought to jot down everything, no matter how disparate the bits and pieces might seem at first blush.

After that I could no longer ignore what I was trying to avoid. I was having one of the worst feelings I’ve ever felt in my life. It was a feeling of the most abject, and infinitely lonely desolation. I was looking into an abyss, but it was inside me. The abyss was filled with the miasma of all the grieving I have never done.

I did what I was taught to do, and let the feeling linger for as long as it wanted. That made my day difficult, trying to be ordinary as all the while this dark, dank grief came over me in minor thirds.

The grief wasn’t about my lover. It felt as old as the world. Yet somehow, his dirty black square-toed shoes took me right into it. I forget, sometimes, the unsaid things we do for one another, without even knowing that we do them.

The next day the feeling was mostly gone. Only a few miasmic wisps remained. I thought, well, that’s interesting. I’ve felt the most abject feeling of utter desolation that I’ve ever felt in my life. For a whole day I looked into the abyss, and it didn’t, as I’ve always feared, kill me.

Childhood sexual abuse damages the soul. I don’t use that word in a religious sense. I use it to describe the sense of oneself that is forbidden to a child who is sexually abused. The sense of me. Sometimes a child has little chance to form that sense of me, if the abuse begins very early.  Sometimes the task is to restore it after the damage.

It never crossed my mind that I might find a fragment of me in the abyss.

I have been in the garden, sitting under the mango tree beside Big Dog’s grave. Of course, on my way barefoot across the grass  I trod on a bee.

I don’t know what will happen next.  The abyss will probably be there again some time. These things never entirely leave us. We are shattered people and we are best represented by bits and pieces. Sufficient unto the day.

 

Mansplaining shrink gets the flick, or the death of the author

17 Feb

Of all the things for which one could acquire a tainted reputation, chronic plagiarism must be one of the most ignominious.

Psychiatrist and columnist Dr Tanveer Ahmed, winner of the inaugural No Place for Sheep Order of Arrogant Ignorance for his mansplaining article on domestic violence, has just been “let go” by The Australian for plagiarising great chunks of the ill-informed drivel he claimed to have written for that newspaper in his role as a White Ribbon Ambassador. This here link tells you what that organisation thought about it. I gather they planned to send him to re-education camp.

The very notion of The Oz letting one of its people go for plagiarising had me ROFLMAO. (That’s rolling on the floor laughing my arse off, if you don’t do Twitter). What, they’ve suddenly acquired some integrity over there? They fire people for plagiarism? Lies, distortion and right-wing propaganda are fine, but Rupert won’t have plagiarism at The Oz?

Ahmed was sacked by the Sydney Morning Herald a while back for the same offence.

Obviously he’s a post-structuralist. He believes in the death of the author, that every text is a tissue of all other texts, that there is no single authorial voice, that one does not need to know the author’s identity to distill meaning from the text.  It’s a post-modern pastiche, a bit of cut and paste with intimate violence for its theme.

I once taught with someone who asked me to give a lecture for them when they were ill. I read the lecture the night before I was due to deliver it. Every word lifted. Every single bloody word. What aggravated me most about that, I have to confess, is that my senior colleague thought I’d be too ill-read to recognise the work. That, and having to write another lecture at the eleventh hour.

The fact that Ahmed plagiarised is not as important as the dangerous misinformation he plagiarised and peddled about. Fortunately, there won’t be any mainstream media willing to employ him again, I don’t imagine, so we’ve one less ignorant arrogant mansplaining voice to put up with.

Actually, I think Roland Barthes is nifty. And I don’t know that he ever recommended non-attribution.

Roland Barthes Death of the Author

 

 

The government you have when you don’t have a government

16 Feb

I woke up this morning thinking that I don’t feel as if we actually have a real government, or a real Prime Minster.

Tony Abbott seems to be increasingly decompensating under the stress of discovering he’s so unpopular with his party he had to face the prospect of a spill motion without even a challenger for his leadership, and that must be a rare political event just about anywhere.

(Decompensation, psychology: the inability to maintain defense mechanisms in response to stress, resulting in personality disturbance or psychological imbalance.)

After the acute trauma of the spill motion passed, everyone involved needed a little time to collect themselves, pass around the talking stick, and begin the process of healing. Instead, Abbott went right out and sacked Philip Ruddock as his Chief Government Whip, on the grounds that Ruddock had not adequately warned him of growing backbench discontent.

This is amazing. The rest of us knew all about it, but the PM’s office didn’t?

I’ve had doubts about the efficiency of this office for quite some time, after all, they’re supposed to be there for Tony yet every day since he took office things for him have traveled increasingly south. At first blush, it appears the PM’s staff are incompetent on a Monty Python scale.

Perhaps their secret agenda is to ruin him, or I have been watching too much In the thick of it. Either way he should sack somebody in that office and hire Malcolm Tucker, but instead he went after Ruddock.

I don’t care much what happens to Ruddock: I will never forget his days as Immigration Minister in the Howard government during which he instigated a powerfully successful campaign to demonise and criminalise asylum seekers arriving by boat, largely through the use of language he adopted from Nazi anti semitic propaganda of the 1930’s. Without Ruddock we would have no Morrison. He might look like a hurt old man, but I’m not fooled.

Then there were Abbott’s belligerent attacks on President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, after the Commission’s report on children in detention was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday. In a typical conservative shoot the messenger and make so much noise that everybody will forget the message tactic, Abbott railed long and hard about Professor Triggs, while entirely disregarding the appalling findings of her report.

With the stubborn determination of the utterly cloth-eared stupid, Abbott keeps the three-word slogans hiccoughing off his far too evident, lizard-like tongue: boats, mining tax, carbon tax, boats, carbon tax, mining tax; we are open for business but not for boats, carbon tax, mining tax. I wonder to myself, does he or anyone in his office really think there are still people out here even listening to this drivel?

It is a measure of the collective desperation of Abbott and his staff that they continue to cling to this cringe-worthy robotic recitation: they have totally failed to come up with anything new, for all the millions of tax payer dollars we’ve spent on them.

The zeitgeist as far as I can tell is one of trembling, panicked uncertainty: what will their leader say next, how much longer can this go on, how can they make it better without looking like the ALP. This latter possibility seems to be the very worst thing they fear could happen to them.

It isn’t, though. Worse things are happening every time their leader opens his mouth and puts both feet in it. But hey, it’s good for the ALP.

There’s been a cute white rabbit appearing in our garden for the last few days, and like Alice in the wonderland, I’m thinking of drinking the potion to make me oh so tiny, then I can follow White Rabbit down his hole.

But wait! I’m already there!

The final straw is the sudden wheeling out of Margie. You know he’s a dead man walking when he rolls out the wife.

Tony & Margie Abbott

 

 

 

 

Regulating desire: 50 shades of mind your own business

15 Feb

Keep calm & spank me

 

I haven’t seen the film Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve read perhaps three pages of the first book which was far more than I needed to tell me it wasn’t going to cause any quivers in my nethers, and it would be self-abuse to persist in reading the excruciatingly awful writing for absolutely no reward.

The narrative centres around the relationship between an “ordinary” young woman and a wealthy man in which she is his submissive, and he controls her life. They practice consensual bondage, domination, sadism and masochism.

I was interested in what some others were saying about the movie so I read the erudite scorn of Razer, the feminist outrage of Tyler, and the, well, I don’t know quite how to describe Mia Freedman’s take in which she claims that reading all three books brings both knowledge and understanding to the film, a brand new angle on the concept of a lord of the rings trilogy which seems to endow Fifty Shades with far more intellectual and imaginative gravitas than it can possible deserve.

Tyler’s piece in the Conversation launches a full frontal attack on the practices of bondage, domination, sadism and masochism, which she claims are only ever abusive, even when engaged in by consenting adults. Adults are never capable of “individual” consent, the argument goes, because all of our actions take place within the context of a culture that constructs our desires, so  people only think they want BDSM because they’ve been taught to be dominant or submissive by the patriarchy. BDSM eroticises domination and subordination and this is wrong, she writes, when we consider how many women are subjected to violence and abuse to which they do not consent.

This argument is a little like saying that nobody should be allowed to eat hot chips because some people are dangerously obese.

The conflation of intimate violence with consensual BDSM offends me mightily. I haven’t explored all the potential of BDSM yet in my life, but I do know the erotic delight of yielding and submission, and the equally erotic delight of dominating in sexual games played in an atmosphere of trust and exploration. I’m not that interested in hurting and being hurt, so I’d be a very low-level kind of BDSM person in that it doesn’t take a lot to transport me to the altered state where complex emotions and sensations are aroused by submitting, and by dominating. And this is surely what BDSM is about – people want the feels and will do what it takes to get them, and who is to say they shouldn’t and when the physical performance is abusive, excepting those involved?

Yes, there are times when BDSM goes wrong. There are times when practically everything you can think of goes wrong: we inhabit a Manichean universe of dark and light, and oftentimes the distance between the two is narrower than a bee’s dick. Of late, this universe seems to be increasingly populated by those who wish to prevent anything ever going wrong, an impossible task that can only result in nobody being allowed to do anything at all, in case it goes wrong.

I have experienced family violence and childhood sexual abuse, and there is absolutely no comparison between those experiences  and consensual BDSM, and it is dishonest in every way for anybody to claim they are inevitably the same. They may well become the same if wishes aren’t respected in BDSM encounters, just as ordinary old heterosexual sex can go wrong if wishes aren’t respected. What is wrong in both instances in the disrespect of wishes, not the practices.

To be honest, I’ve had it with pearl-clutching repressives who want to vanilla the world, and try to achieve that by shaming others about their sexual desires and practices. They are far more of a menace than Fifty Shades can ever be.

In a period of our evolution in which we are supposedly increasingly free from sexual oppression and repression, merely by virtue of being allowed to speak of sex in ways that were unthinkable fifty years ago, it seems to me that this freedom has brought with it a focus of concentration on the morality or otherwise of how we perform sex, rather than on the more important matter of respecting another’s wishes in sexual encounters of all kinds.

If I want to be spanked, I’ll get spanked, and problems will only arise for me if I’m spanked when I don’t want to be. Then I’ve been assaulted and there are already laws in place to address that.

But I can’t see anything in the least coherent in telling me I can’t have a spanking because others are being subjected to intimate violence. Conflation is one of the scourges of our times.

 

 

Advice to women. Not.

14 Feb

createordie-neon

 

Were I ever to give advice to women which I wouldn’t because I continue to learn that the ways in which I can be stupid are infinitely more numerous than the ways in which I can be smart and to give advice to anyone it ought to be the other way around, but if, stupidly, I disregarded that little spark of self-knowledge and went ahead anyway, I would say, a woman in a family must resist the domination of the managerial if she wants her creativity to survive.

By the “managerial” I mean that aspect of ourselves so competent, so deft, so practical, so capable it could run a global corporation with one hand tied behind its back, and blindfolded. In my life as a partner and mother, and in the lives of many women I know, this aspect became so dominant it stole the oxygen from every other. This occurred as much because it suited everyone else that I manage the family’s daily affairs as it did because I thought I was supposed to.

Virginia Woolf grappled with  the problem the managerial can present to women, describing its pernicious influence as “The Angel in the House”  with irony and humour, but with deadly seriousness as well:

You who come of a younger and happier generation may not have heard of her — you may not know what I mean by the Angel in the House. I will describe her as shortly as I can. She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it — in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others…

I now record the one act for which I take some credit to myself… I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her. My excuse, if I were to be had up in a court of law, would be that I acted in self-defence. Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing. For, as I found, directly I put pen to paper, you cannot review even a novel without having a mind of your own, without expressing what you think to be the truth about human relations, morality, sex. And all these questions, according to the Angel of the House, cannot be dealt with freely and openly by women; they must charm, they must conciliate, they must — to put it bluntly — tell lies if they are to succeed. Thus, whenever I felt the shadow of her wing or the radiance of her halo upon my page, I took up the inkpot and flung it at her. She died hard. Her fictitious nature was of great assistance to her. It is far harder to kill a phantom than a reality. She was always creeping back when I thought I had despatched her…

For me, it wasn’t entirely about reviewing male writers and depending on charm to get me by, although the spectre of disapproval, the fear of offending and as a consequence being despatched to the margins also has to be regularly fought off if I’m going to write what I truly want to write. My recent foray into erotica, for example, was a frightening experience of voluntary vulnerability, as is any self-revelation, but if we are to write about what it is to be human, that writing will always provoke anxiety in its author, and likely at times in its readers.

As unlike Woolf we had no household staff, for me the managerial was about knowing where everybody’s socks were, remembering the washing and the shopping and the cooking and the lunches and the driving and the.. look, I can’t even bear to go back there, you all know what I mean. I lost myself. I became The Manager, and worst of all, I found it almost impossible to turn her off in my head. I came to hate her. She was like the strangler fig parasitically stealing the life of the rainforest tree.

This suited everybody in the family, but it didn’t suit me.

One of the wisest pieces of advice any woman ever gave me was to cultivate absent-mindedness. For example, when people asked me where their socks were I would gaze thoughtfully at them for much longer than necessary. I would assume a puzzled expression and tug at my lip. Oh, darling, I would say finally, I know I saw them somewhere but I can’t think where…

I had to strictly discipline myself  in order to be able to do this. My every conditioned impulse urged me to take responsibility for everything in our household’s daily life, and this conditioning had to be constantly and consistently resisted. Family members do not easily relinquish their dependencies, and tend to passively and aggressively fight changes in a wife and mother with every bone in their bodies. I think it was harder than giving up smoking, and there were no quit lines to help me.

It took quite some time, but eventually I noticed they weren’t asking me to manage their entire lives for them quite as often as they used to. Then one morning I overheard one child saying to another, I’ll ask Mum. She won’t know, replied the other, she’ll just look at you as if she doesn’t know what you’re talking about, she never knows where anything is, we’ll have to find it ourselves.

And I knew I’d done it.

This proved to me that you can’t change anybody but yourself and if you do change yourself there is a good chance that  people who really love you will eventually learn put up with it, and change as well.

There are many advantages in being thought a muppet by your family. Muppets are not renowned for their managerial abilities, and nobody expects it of them.

Sometimes, it’s the only way the creative woman survives.

Many thanks for the inspiration for this post to the lovely M, who sends me a poem to wake up to every morning. The two words “managerial mess” in this poem by Jennifer Strauss, What Women Want  summed up an entire period of my life. 

 

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