Three Stories.

Sometimes I take out little random memories like jewels from a treasure chest and examine them in the light. Ahh, here is the time I was about 5 and got shy and accidentally hugged the Tupperware lady instead of my Mum. And here is the Christmas Day I got given not one but two kittens. Recently I found three stories that seemed completely unconnected at first and when I went to write them down I realised that my life actually has this theme to it. I’ll put them below. Three Stories.

~1~

One time when I was about 15 I was in my kitchen partaking in one of the great Australian traditions of eating Milo directly out of the tin. I had just put the world’s biggest tablespoon of Milo into my mouth and was busy trying to breath carefully through my nose lest I succumb to Milo Lung which is the greatest tragedy to befall all Australians partaking in the great tradition of Milo eating when suddenly there was a knock at the door. Wait, let me explain. * Milo Lung is where you accidentally inhale the granulated Milo into your lung while eating it from the tin and immediately begin to cough, spraying Milo all over everything within a 2 metre radius and try not to die while asphyxiating on chocolaty goodness. It’s a dangerous sport but a rite of passage. * Anyway, there was a knock at the door. I stop mid chew to see if mum or my brother would answer the door but they’ve all gone somewhere and I can’t not answer the door. I know it’s for me anyway because it’s that time of day when someone would knock at my door. I peek around the corner and it’s my partner who is basically getting a glimpse of his future twenty years down the track when he will catch me in all manner of compromising food situations where I’m stuffing my face just as he walks in. But back then I’m not really ready for him to see me with Milo all stuck between my teeth because we don’t have that sort of relationship yet. So as I dash by him I am holding up one finger in the universal “just a second” gesture and I have to dash to the bathroom and brush my teeth about five times because Milo is the most tenacious bastard you have ever met. It took about 17 years for me to come clean about that moment. Finally, I’m sitting there with him and I say, “I don’t know if you remember this but this one time you came to the door just as I’d started eating Milo and I was horrified and had to rush to the bathroom to brush my teeth and when I came back you asked what I’d been doing and I lied and made something up.” He has one of the most fickle memories – he can recall every song lyric he has ever heard but can’t remember this one time when we were about 14 and went into the city and he pinched a monorail from the Expo 88 exhibit at the art gallery. I’m like, “How can you NOT remember that? It was a MONORAIL!” But he forgets things. Meanwhile through some miracle of mind he manages to recall one arbitrary day nearly twenty years ago when I ran past him with my cheeks puffed like a squirrel full of Milo. “Oh yeah, I get it though. Milo can be such a bastard to get out of your teeth.” Seriously? 17 years I held on to the shame of a covert Milo eating mission and he just accepts it as normal.

~2~

My first break up was a truly horrendous affair and occurred when I was 10. I’m about to revive good old Peter Brown for this story because he was my first boyfriend or what passed for a boyfriend in fourth grade – which basically meant we played together at lunch time. We had a whirlwind love affair that lasted approximately one month. That was because his usual friend who he played with had up and gone to America for a month to visit some NASA camp leaving Peter to his own devices. Peter attached himself to me and my best friend and we had a grand time that month, catching ladybugs…actually I can’t remember what else we did except catch lady bugs but I assume we did something. He sang me Beach Boys songs. I gave him a matchbox car which was actually one of my very best matchbox cars so this was A BIG DEAL. Anyway, fast forward a month and his regular gal comes back from America and he just DITCHES me. I was so mad, you guys. I GAVE him my CAR. Right so I write him this note and I’m like, “I’m not going to be your friend anymore because you are mean.” And I give it to Peter. And he is like, what the hell is this? And I’m like, what’s it look like, asshole? And he is like, I’m taking this to the teacher. And I was like, oh shit. (I’m paraphrasing, neither of us swore). And he goes and stands in line behind a bunch of kids getting their work checked and I’m FREAKING OUT. I’m sure I’m going to be in so much trouble for writing this mean note. I end up cutting in line and telling the teacher I’m sick and need to go home and off I go. Every day for about a week I freak out after lunch that Peter is going to tell the teacher about this note and I have to go home because I can’t deal with the anxiety of this hanging over my head. Finally mum gets the shits with having to pick me up early and takes me to the doctors to see if there is actually anything wrong with me. The doctor says my lymph glands are up a bit and I probably feel poorly and I think it must be a miracle and I’ve made myself sick but feel completely well somehow. Mum now believes me but I know the jig is up and I’m just going to have to face whatever music is coming. The next day I go up to Peter and I’m like, “Look, are you going to tell the teacher or not?” And he looks at me bewildered and goes, “Tell the teacher what?” And I’m exasperated and say, “About the note!” And he goes, “Oh that!” And waves his hand, “I threw it out. I don’t care.” And I walked away completely amazed I’d made such a big deal about nothing. The next day I open my tidy tray and my matchbox car is sitting inside.

~3~

When I was 18 I had two daughters. My youngest was a couple of months old and despite not managing breastfeeding with my first daughter (lots of issues with prematurity and my own inexperience) I was totally smashing breastfeeding this time around. Still, it was all new to me and I didn’t really have a good grasp on how my boobs really worked at that stage and I was still pretty shocked at the amount of force a let down would have. For the uninitiated when you breastfeed at some point during the feed you ‘let down’ which is where the milk starts just flowing of its own accord. I didn’t realise this occurred before I had kids. Like, I’d read about it but reading and seeing are different things. The milk comes out in multiple sprays and just SHOOTS out. Like a water pistol under extreme pressure. I can’t really describe it. Sometimes the milk runs out so fast the babies can’t swallow quick enough and they’ll pop off because they’re only small but that know this is crazy. By this stage though my baby had gotten bigger and learned to cope with the flow but I’d discovered that babies are also really distracted and if something is interesting they’ll just come off and have a look around the room with absolutely no regard for the fact your boob is now exposed to the world. So here I am. Sitting on the couch in my living room and my then partner has invited his work mate around for a visit and this is the first time I’ve met him. The work mate whom I shall call Paul is sitting at right angles to me on a separate couch and he seems nice enough. Paul is impeccably dressed and very gay and hasn’t had a lot of experience with babies or boobs but he politely ignores the baby I’ve just put to my breast which is nice for me because I was still kind of getting the hang of this myself. My then partner and his work mate are chatting away and I continue to nurse and just as I let down and the milk turns into a fire hose they start laughing at something and the baby pops off to check out the situation in case it’s something she might be interested in. My boob is now free and seriously shoots milk across the room on a trajectory that’s going to land it straight towards poor suspecting Paul’s arm. I clamp a baby wrap down on my boob to stop the flow but it’s too late and some has definitely landed – if not on him – near him. I’m mortified. I’ve just met this man and I’m squirting milk at him. I’m not sure what is the socially acceptable thing to do in this situation. Firstly, I’m not sure he has seen, he is giving me no outward signs of having seen. But if he is just being polite and HAS seen and I say nothing he is going to think I just go around shooting milk at everyone. So I should definitely apologise. On the other hand, if he hasn’t seen and I apologise I’m drawing attention to a fact that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. I really only have a second to decide so I go with an apology. “Umm, I’m really sorry about that…the milk, I mean. And how it kind of….shot…at you. I didn’t mean it.”
Paul is perplexed and has no idea what I’m talking about. So now I’m forced to explain about the lactation process and how it’s unpredictable and babies are inquisitive. Paul is now thrilled with this knowledge, “You mean it just SHOOTS out?! That’s amazing! That’s hilarious! I’d be squirting people for fun. Don’t even worry about it.” While Paul didn’t have much experience with babies or boobs he knew exactly the right thing to say.

Three stories. And you know what I learned? Most of the time nothing is as bad as you think it is.

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You Got It.

What is your earliest memory? Mine is being held by my grandfather. He said when I was born he didn’t intend to like me. He thought he was too young to be a grandfather and was offended by my existence. But when I came home from the hospital with my mother I would settle in his arms. He didn’t want to choose me – but I chose him.

He would rock me in his arms and sing me a lullaby and I would fall asleep. I liked sensory things like the satin that rimmed my blanket and scratching stickers. I have this vivid recollection of my grandfather holding me in front of the inside of my auntie’s wardrobe where she had a collection of stickers and me picking one of them off. I remember her protesting and him defending my right as the baby to demolish her sticker collection. That is my oldest memory. Being safe in his arms.

In fact in all my earliest memories I only remember being loved and cared for and cherished. I remember there always being somebody’s lap to climb into and someone to listen to my chatter. I remember my mother stroking my back so I could fall asleep, my auntie taking me out early in the morning and teaching me how to swim, my grandmother hanging clothes while I shadowed her out to the clothesline and she listened to my stories, monopoly games with my other auntie.

And my grandfather. Infinitely patient with me. A streak of mischief that wasn’t tamed when he became an adult. His laugh. His hands roughened from work. His pockets always jingling with change.

I remember sitting in his car on the way to the shops one time when I was very small and Roy Orbison “You Got It” came on the radio and I began to sing and him laughing because I knew the lyrics. We were going to buy things for Nanna from the grocery store and he let me pick ice cream but then remembered he left his wallet in the car and only had the change in his pockets so instead of putting back the ice cream he put back what he came to buy and came back later with his wallet for what he actually needed.

Sometimes when I am feeling low or like I don’t want to keep going, when things are hard – I think of all the care and love he showered on me when I was little and I think I owe it to him to be brave. Because he gave me a wildness by teaching me to laugh at life. Because he treated me like I was precious and left a hard act for any man to follow. Because he sang me to sleep. Because he put back what he needed just to give me something I wanted. Because my oldest memory is of being safe – because of him.

Because he loves me. Even if he didn’t intend to in the beginning.

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The Artist.

During this lull in my life where I struggle with both direction and simple things like, you know, getting out the door I have been taking on editing work for other photographers. I love this because it’s a way to keep my hand in the business while not having to deal with the outside world. The photos arrive to me and I quietly spend the days colour correcting, straightening, removing blemishes, adjusting contrast. It’s meditative work. It allows my mind to wander while my eyes do their job. I also discovered I feel better at the end of the day because I can flick through the images and see I have completed a task.

And I learned something about myself. I was a good photographer. I was good. I was an artist. But I was never a businesswoman. The business side of things confounded me. I didn’t know how to sell myself because every image I took I poured a little of myself into and I didn’t know how to say to people, “You’re paying me because I am worth this.” It went against my nature.

I never told people this but the day I gave up weddings was because a client came back to me and said she wasn’t happy. I had had a couple of portrait clients do that before and I would always offer a reshoot. We would do it again and piece together a gallery from both sessions. But it was never my fault before, it was always something like the baby was fussy that day and the mum really wanted smiling images. Or I suggested an outdoor shoot and mum wanted studio and then changed her mind after the session. And the beauty of portraits was we COULD redo. Weddings are kind of a one shot deal. This wedding – it was fine. During family formals – in the midday sun on a beach, no less – the bride was getting anxious for them to be over. She was frustrated because her aunt was insisting on different groupings that the bride and groom hadn’t put on the list and she turned to me and said, “Just shoot them, it doesn’t matter. I just want her to shut up. I don’t really care.” I mentioned moving to a different location where the sun was less offensive, I was patient. In the end the shots were taken, occasionally not every person was looking at the camera. A child might be looking at his mother for example. To me – these were not flaws. This was life. I shot some beautiful images of the bridal party. Halfway through reception they asked me to stay an extra two hours and said they would pay me extra. I was exhausted by this point, but agreed and said not to worry about additional payment.

I delivered the gallery and the bride picked her shots and seemed pleased. A couple of weeks later the mother of the bride sent me a message with an attached image of a random wedding shot by her relative and said, “This is how you take real wedding photos.” The image received was standard amateur work. It was not technically correct and it was very average. I spent a long time looking at that image wondering what she was talking about. And then I realised she was meaning it as a stab at me. “See this guy who is my relative – he is so much better than you. You’re a fraud.”

I wrote her a response outlining that I was an accredited photographer with a well respected association in Australia, the closest thing we had to a governing body. That my work had been assessed by them as of a professional standard. That I did a perfectly acceptable professional job on her daughters images. Okay, maybe at the end I may have thrown in, “I wonder if he has been similarly assessed?” Whatever. I was salty.

The bride told me after she received the images she was pretty disappointed that she thought during family formals I would yell out “one, two, three, smile!” So they would know I was taking the picture. Because apparently me standing in front of them with a camera shouting, “Eyes over here!” And clicking furiously wasn’t a good indication.

Oh man. I KNEW I did nothing wrong that day. I knew the photos were good. But it devastated me. I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with that. I shot about three weddings after that one, the tail end of my booked sessions. (You best believe I shouted ‘one, two, three, smile!’ just in case though). And then I just packed up that part of my work. Nope. No more.

It was the artist in me that threw in the towel. Because this wasn’t just a job. This was myself. When they said, “I don’t like this”, it felt like someone saying, “I don’t like you.” If I had been a better business woman I probably would have rolled with it, picked up, moved on. Kicked ass. But I didn’t because the artist doesn’t know how. The artist creates because they must. It’s a drive, a force, a muse. I don’t create to make money, I never did.

I was a bad businesswoman. But I was a damn good photographer. I know that now.

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Fierce.

The other week I stumbled across a video by Be. Bangles that hit me right in the feels. I immediately went out and purchased five bangles, one for myself and one for each of my eldest four girls. “F*cking Fierce.” I’ve always reserved that compliment – fierce – for women I truly respected. Women who showed up, women who got up, women who fought hard, women who got out of the box the world wanted to put them in and kicked ass all over the place. I’m not even meaning the women in my life who are society’s definition of successful – I do have friends like that, who run businesses and earn the bread and do it with passion and drive. Sometimes the women I see this in are the quiet achievers, the ones who live with a dark shadow but get up every morning to do battle again. The woman who stays up through the night to check on her son’s blood sugars. The woman who helps out at the tuckshop. The woman who spent all day running her kids to various appointments and activities. The woman who sends you something out of the blue to say, “Hang in there.”

Our unsung heroes.

Who, when asked what they’ve been doing will shrug and say, “Not much”, when really they’ve been quietly changing the world with their small ripples that spread across the lake.

Fierce.

I use it rarely and always mean it.

I bought this bangle for my girls not just because it said fierce but – I’m going to be honest – because it said, “F*cking Fierce”. Because that one sentence, two words, is so unapologetic that it drove home who I hope my girls will be. I want them to be loud, be heard, be strong, be wild, love hard and be unapologetic about it.

Be.

F*cking Fierce.

want your own? link here.

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Girl in a Yellow Dress.

For years I had sat contentedly in the country thinking about nothing at all and absolutely everything.

When I say nothing at all I mean I never desired to leave. I assumed I would never travel further than a 300km radius from that location. I didn’t long for that. Not really. The thing was I moved like a unit of seven, myself and the six children. I didn’t want to be apart from them and anything I did I wished they came with me. When the house burnt down in 2010 we got a very large sum of money. Over twice what we owed in the mortgage because when I insured it the house was so old that the person on the other end insisted the cost of replacing the house would be a large amount and I grudgingly agreed to pay the extra. We paid the mortgage out and then funnelled the rest into our new mortgage and I suggested then perhaps we take the children to Europe. It was a ludicrous plan because who in their right mind would take six children to Europe? My then husband said he didn’t want to, but to tell him how much I needed and I was welcome to take the kids on my own. Which seemed even more ludicrous because who would take six children to a foreign country on their own? In hindsight I probably should have paid a friend or family member to come along and called his bluff but I was half relieved. Because I had no desire to leave. I just felt I should.

And when I say absolutely everything I mean I would become curious about something and go on this wild bender of research. One day I’m crocheting and the next I am buying a spinning wheel. Then it’s not good enough to buy ready to spin fibre – I need to learn to process the fleece myself. I research natural dyes and mordants and dye my handspun yarn with elderflowers I harvested from my yard. Then I research elderflowers and harvest them for herbal use. Then I research more herbs. Then I research silkworms. Then I’m buying Mulberry trees and before you know it I’m learning how to build a strawbale house with an honesty window and churning my own butter and learning about crop rotations. There was no end to my curiosity about how I could do things myself.

Truthfully, I hate buying things. I want to make everything with my own hands. I was browsing rugs today on anthropologie and kept thinking, “I could probably just hook one.” I’m infuriating. It’s why I struggle with furniture. I hate mass produced and I hate modern and I want everything to be old and sturdy and quirky or handmade. I have no idea what I will do when my couches die because the thought of heading in to Harvey Norman and buying a sofa makes my soul die a little.

Anyway, for years I just contentedly sat around pleased to be in the country and an aspiring self sufficiency buff. And I couldn’t sit STILL. I was bubbling with energy, I couldn’t just read a book. I read a book while I knitted, pausing between knit and purl to turn the page. I spun yarn while I watched TV. I edited images while I sat through a movie. Even when I was sitting I was in motion. Do you know, I once fell asleep while knitting and when I woke from my doze I was still working my stitches as though nothing ever happened.

When I became single I became restless. I wanted the anonymity of the city. I wanted to walk through the bustle of the crowds and be dwarfed by buildings. I wanted botanical gardens, a splash of green between the River and the streets. I wanted art galleries. I booked a hotel room and when I went to pack I was worried I would be bored. I packed about three books, some knitting and my spindle and probably a good 100gms of fibre. Something that might have taken me a week on a spindle to turn into yarn. It was yellow. I remember that. A bright sunny colour that reminded me of the song by E, ‘Yellow Dress’….a mellow bluesy tune where you can hear all the scrappings of his chair and adjustments before he starts to sing in his low soothing voice. (I’ll link it at the bottom of the post in case you want to hear the music that was my life at that point).

I packed all this for two nights. Of course it was a bit of a rendezvous also because I was going there for a date as well. And what happened was we went upstairs to his hotel room (because we had separate hotel rooms and indeed even separate hotels) and he lay beside me on this wide couch and I was still. Hours. Time just unwound before me and through the window I watched the shadows shorten and lengthen again. I listened to the people chattering in a low hum stories below us, cars driving. The whole world continued to race past and I lay still, my head on his chest, his hands in my hair. I spent long stretches of time committing different elements of his face into my mind, etching them there in case he might disappear like smoke. I made a study of him. But I was still. I was calm. I was at peace.

It was only then when I stopped that I realised I had been using all those ‘things’ to fill the gaps in myself of what wasn’t there. As though if I kept moving I wouldn’t notice. When I stopped filling up my life with motion I could allow the stillness of love.

That was what he gave to me. Stillness. He rounded my jagged edges, soothed the tears in me…….It took me a year and a half to finish spinning that yellow yarn.

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Yellow Dress is track number 4.

Underdog.

Today I was sitting up at 6:30 in the morning reading up on statistics on youth crime and birth rates because I needed to engage in an argument on the Internet. I have no idea why I do this. It’s bizarre. I think it stems from my need to forever be backing the Underdog and someone made a sweeping statement about poor people and I immediately jumped to the defence of poor people everywhere because – Underdog. Anyway, I read her statement and thought it couldn’t be right and it was absolutely poverty shaming but I can’t ever just speak my mind unless I’ve verified it with studies or statistics because on top of this irrational need to engage in arguments where I back the Underdog I also have this irrational love of statistics and studies.

Alright, so I am awake at 6:30 in the morning researching so I can make a backed up argument in defence of those in a low socioeconomic bracket….

I can’t remember where I was going with this story.

Let’s skip ahead.

Okay, so I’m in my therapist’s office and we are discussing this because, you might remember, I had a real issue with my Tolerance Card and this need to research is all part of my Curiosity Card (although in this instance it leached over into my Fairness Card because I felt poor people were being treated unfairly).

Wait!

I just remembered where I was taking this story. Right. So while I was thinking about the Underdog and poverty I was remembering a journal entry I wrote ages ago about how poverty is paralysing. It seemed really poignant and I thought I might be able to cheat and use some of it to blog because I’ve been struck by the worst case of writer’s block of all time. So I was trawling through my old journal trying to find it and slipped down the rabbit hole into my own brain space a year ago and was like Ho-ly Shiiiiit. Because – damn if I wasn’t depressed a year ago and also – my god, have I come a long way. Even when I was good I was still pretty bad. I was blaming a lot of outside forces for my mental decline because see, I’m so sensitive and delicate. I just can’t take much of a pummelling. And, you guys, I was totally having my ass kicked. But that’s not the outside forces fault, they were just being themselves. It was me who couldn’t take the whipping. (So you know what? If you have found this blog and you know who you are, fuck it, I forgive you, okay? You were a world class bitch but hot damn if you weren’t good at it).

Anyway, back to it. Or back to where we skipped ahead. I’m in my therapists office and she thinks I’ve made outstanding progress on my Curiosity and Tolerance Cards. So we begin to work on Gratitude.

And I’m like, “Why are we working on strengths? I mean, aren’t they already strengths? Shouldn’t we be working on the stack of cards I didn’t choose?”

And she responds with, “Sometimes there are little flaws in the strengths. You don’t realise it at first but if you try to build with them and there is a tiny crack the whole structure comes down. First we explore the strengths and then we get to the part where we add in strengths you didn’t know you had.”

That seemed like fairly solid advice. So this week for homework I need to think about Gratitude. This one is easy. Just while I’ve been writing this I’ve had the opportunity to be grateful for a smashing sunset, for the black cat curled by my feet, for the smell of woodsmoke, for my son’s chatter inside. I am grateful for the fact I am getting well. I am so grateful for not quitting. But then again it’s unsurprising I backed myself.

I always did like the Underdog.

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Growth.

The first week of the school holidays the little children went to their fathers leaving myself, J, B and S at home. J’s boyfriend came down to spend a couple of days which was interesting because J had work leaving us at home with M for hours each day. It was election week and as J and M had recently turned 18 this was their first chance to vote and so M would come to me periodically throughout the day and ask questions for Saturday about how to vote and where to find the candidates for his electoral. It was really cool to see how much thought both he and J were putting into their choices and it’s really cool to see this new generation excited about having a voice. It makes me think that maybe the world isn’t so bad, because as long as people are thinking their minds aren’t closed off and that means they’re open to making the world a better place. I got a real kick out of that, guiding these young people to make sure they’re vote counted and telling them what a privilege it is to be able to be heard. It felt like the most adult thing I’ve ever done.

On the second day M came to me to talk about plants for his cats. He was trying to order some from an online nursery but couldn’t get the PayPal to work. I told him I was sure the local nursery would have cat grass and we could make a trip out to get some, no sense in paying for postage. So the second day while J was at work, M, S, B and myself all went to the nursery to buy plants. I have a black thumb, I’ve killed the most unkillable of plants – Rosemary who everyone says you can’t kill, even Aloe Vera once, a plant that basically thrives on neglect. I love plants but over the years I came to realise the kindest thing I could do for them was not have anything to do with them. Still, I thought maybe this time would be different so I bought an African Violet and some Lemon Balm.

Lemon Balm was one of the few things I had ever managed to successfully grow when I owned a house. Done properly it will run rampant over a garden bed like mint, a plant it bears a striking resemblance to, but when you crush the leaf of the Lemon Balm in your hand a rush of citrusy smell will be released into the air. It makes beautiful tea. And I feel an affinity to Lemon Balm because we share the same name.

I use to collect African Violets when I was small, my father would care for them in the shade house where he kept his cycads and palms…hundreds of these plants that sat in rows and rows in the shade house and spilled out into the backyard. Some of them sat in their pots so long that their roots would burst from their pots seeking the soil underneath and burrow down into the earth until moving them was an exercise in extraction. I didn’t really understand his collection of these plants, how he always seemed to want more of them and the hours he would spend repotting or watering. On the odd occasions I was pressed into service to water them for him I was quite resentful of how MANY there were. A veritable army of plants.

I had been thinking of heading to the nursery for awhile, maybe buying plants and keeping something alive and growing would be good and help with the ‘making a home’ thing. Plus, I had been trying to leave the house most days for practise so I didn’t really mind taking M to buy some plants for his cats. It seemed like a good idea.

We came home and I repotted them into plain terracotta pots, enjoying the feeling of my hands in the soil, the care of these alive things. And since then I can’t stop thinking about plants. I wish I could fill my house top to bottom, sit them out on the gravel down the side of the house. I close my eyes and I see green. I wonder if I am more like my father than I realised.

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Beautiful.

When I was about 10 we had a school camp. I can’t remember where we went but it was out bush somewhere and there were cabins and a tennis court and some really awesome swimming pools that no one supervised us using because it was 1991 and life was different back then. If one of us had of drowned it probably would have been our fault and the whole class would have gotten detention or something. And the drowned kid probably would have been threatened with the cane. Anyway, while we were there we had a formal dinner and everyone was supposed to bring a nice dress or, for the guys, a nice pair of pants and button up long sleeved shirt.

THIS WAS A BIG DEAL.

Seriously it was a huge deal. Because not only was it a formal dinner but a guy had to ask you and you had to pair with them and it was expected that he pull out your chair, fetch your plate and dance with you at some point. You wouldn’t get away with it these days. Can you imagine? You would probably get sued because girls are capable of getting their own plates. But again, 1991.

So anyway, my mother is a wonderful seamstress. Now days if you make your own clothes they have a kitch term called ‘handmaiden’ which is a play on ‘handmade’ and ‘maiden’ which is probably also not very PC but back in 1991 if you sewed your own clothes you were just a seamstress. Mum took to the challenge of a dress for a formal dinner with an enthusiasm that shocked me. She found a pattern for a gown, and I mean it was a serious gown with wide off the shoulder bands, a sweetheart neckline, a full skirt that was tea dress length and a fabric rose pinned between my boobs if I had of had any, but I didn’t because – once again, it was 1991. She made it from yards and yards of white puffy sheer fabric with little black felt dots the size of a match head and I basically looked like Cinderella.

It was over the top. The other girls were sporting the very best Myer had to offer or whatever but no one had a Cinderella dress because we were 10. To add to the Cinderella effect I am not sure anyone had ever even noticed I existed much before unless it was in the capacity of best friend to my best friend who was this adorable little elfin thing and a twin to boot so everyone loved her. I was the 1991 version of that ugly friend that the cute chick has. (Don’t worry, when puberty hit I became completely rocking but back then still totally invisible). I don’t know if I had ever worn a dress in front of these people before. I did own the world’s ugliest tracksuit I wore without a care because it was warm and I didn’t give a shit about fashion. I wore sneakers with basically everything I owned. I wore socks with flats. I shouldn’t have been allowed to dress myself but it was 1991 and parents didn’t care if you looked weird so long as you came home before the streetlights.

Okay, so here we are. It is early evening at camp and I’ve showered and washed my hair and donned my Cinderella dress and flats (with no socks) and emerged and basically all the girls went, “Ahhhhh” and the teacher asked if she could braid my hair which was pretty much the most fancy my hair had ever been in it’s life.

We got to the hall for dinner and people kept saying, “You look really pretty.” Or “You look beautiful.” And this had never happened to me before in my life so I was mortified by the attention and kept saying, “No, I don’t.” Which was 10 year old speak for, “Shut up and stop talking to me.” After about the tenth time this happened a female teacher pulled me aside and said, “Hey, if people are telling you you look nice or that you’re beautiful it’s because they think you are. No one is forcing them to say that to you. When you say you’re not that means you’re saying that their opinion doesn’t matter. They are wanting to tell you this because they believe it, so just say thank you.” And I felt bad because truthfully me disagreeing with them did just seem to make the conversation awkward. So the next time someone said, “You look lovely”, I replied with, “Thank you. So do you.” And they beamed at me and went away.

And I feel like maybe no one has ever pulled aside many of my friends and ever told them that. One of them will put up a profile picture or something and I might say, “You look amazing.” And more often then not they will say, “Oh, no. I look dreadful, look at the bags under my eyes, I look so tired.” Or something similar and I think, “Dude. Ain’t none of us perfect here but I said that because that is my truth. I don’t willy nilly hand out compliments for fun. I don’t tell you it because I want you to say, “No, you are” and I am not saying it because I’m just being nice. If I say that you are beautiful, it’s because to me, you are. Just say thank you and know that whatever you’re seeing, this is my honesty.”

I grew up watching women deflect compliments as though they were waving away flies.
“You’re beautiful.”
“I’m not.”
“I’ve had this outfit for years.”
“I need to lose some weight.”
“I’m not.”
“I’m not.”
I didn’t know how to accept a compliment with grace and just allow it to be their truth. That right at that moment I was beautiful to that person.

So practice it. Thank you. Just two words. Ready?

You’re beautiful….

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Home.

I’ve never been very good at making a house look like I’ve actually made it a home. I spent so long moving after I left home, never spending more than a couple of years in any one house that for years there were boxes I never even unpacked but just shifted house to house. It shocks me as I get a lease renewal for this house that I will have spent two years here and am being asked to prepare for a third. I get itchy feet.

When I owned a home it was different because you are expected to put down roots. There were upsides to this – I took delight in painting walls with no one to tell me I couldn’t. It was good to be able to head into town, buy a can of paint and carry it upstairs, clinking and heavy with possibility. But even though I went through fits and bursts of energy attempting to create a home, I was always looking for somewhere else to land. My eyes always slid towards the horizon.

When I returned to renting it pleased me to think that I could just pack up and go without needing to sell a house or worry that prospective buyers would be turned off by the very same quirks that I loved. There was a freedom to it. I could move anywhere. I could sell everything and move to Hobart, to Melbourne, to a town that’s barely a dot in the map if I wanted. Renting was possibilities.

But I do feel unmoored. Temporary suits the flighty part of me. It soothes restless bones. But sometimes it is exhausting because the whole house can feel like one giant suitcase you are living out of. Easily packed up and taken at a moments notice. It can be unnerving to realise how little of yourself is left behind when you move on. At least at the old house there are memories of me in the Aloe Vera or Lavender I planted. Traces of me that exist in the cool dark dirt where my hands pressed into the soil and encouraged it to take root.

Sometimes I despair when I enter the house because it feels like a bizarre collection of things half done. There are two pieces of furniture in the entire place that I chose with purpose instead of either by necessity or was given. How can you feel home when you feel no attachment to anything? Perhaps if I worked on creating a sanctuary I wouldn’t get itchy feet every couple of years. Perhaps my eyes would stop looking for greener pastures. Now I think on it, I have no idea why I own a single thing that I don’t love or doesn’t bring me joy. Why do we keep ugly things? Every item in my possession should either hold a purpose to bring me comfort or pleasure.

It’s time to stop living here as though it’s a temporary destination. It’s time to stop waiting. It’s time to create a home.

The Exhibitionist.

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When I first picked up my camera and read the manual until it was dog-eared seven years ago I began to shoot my kids, flowers, the cats. But I quickly turned to self portraiture. In all honesty if I could have painted I probably would have painted self portraits, but being challenged in that department I choose the camera as my weapon of choice. Self portraiture fulfils a gap in me. I have always written and I am painfully honest. Sometimes, the camera allows me to tell a story without finding the words. If I am frustrated, sad, fierce or sensual I can tell that story by composing the image in my head and then when I execute it there is a magic no science can take away. This camera is an extension of myself, the dance we do together is well practised.

We are constantly told about self love. About acceptance of who we are. “Be yourself.” “You can only truly love another when you have learned to love yourself.” “Love the body you are in.” But when that is practiced in the form of self portraiture it is often viewed as a vanity.

Photos showing flesh are particularly frowned upon. Words then get thrown around like, “slut” “whore” “shameless” “disgusting”. The body doesn’t know words. The body simply is. These are words that you feel when looking at the body. These words are not me or my body. They’re your feelings and opinions. If I had describe my body I would say, “capable” – because it works. “delicate” – because I know it is small and fine. “a fighter” – because I birthed like a frigging goddess. “amazing” – because I grew and nourished six incredible human beings from it. “beautiful” – because it is the only vessel I have in this world. “sensual” – because it is how I express physical love. “imperfect” – and I do not mean that as a fault. I would probably also throw the word “fertile” in there for obvious reasons. And “mine” lastly – because it belongs to no one but me.

If my body offends you, I would suggest you don’t look. If flesh offends you then I would suggest you explore your reasons for this. If you choose to attempt to quantify my worth by only focusing on my flesh then you are greatly underestimating my worth. I am far more than the mere sum of my parts. I am a mother, a writer, a lover, a woman and I won’t be held down by words or threats. I am freedom and flight. And I am not ashamed.