Book Review: Because of You by Dawn French

Pop any technical and medical understandings aside and just lose yourself in this book. Lose yourself in the writing and the way Dawn French hits you in the gut again and again, I had cried in genuine angst and laughed out loud with genuine entertainment before I had gotten through the first two chapters.

Note that there are themes of infancy loss, stillbirth and abduction in this book. Before you’ve even hit the ground running you are going to find yourself sniffling quietly as you turn the pages in a flurry to find out where this book is going. I did not know what I was in for and whilst I do recommend this book as I often like to “go in blind”, and it took me very off guard.

At times the set up and execution of the story line jarred and lost me, and I started losing my patience. It tended to be in the “general” dialogue, the space between the next event. Then just as I was starting to fidget French would employ this extraordinary skill at articulating conflict and launching the storyline forward at such a pace that your breath catches in the back of your throat and you’re pushing on again.

I think this book does a very good job at considering all sides to a very complicated event. As Hope and her partner leave with the hospital with an infant that is not theirs by right nor blood, chaos erupts in Anna’s world. A desperate act of a grieving mother launches the timelines of two families in directions spiralling away from one another, yet forever linked.

The layers of pain, regret, internal and paired destructions of self and relationship, it all weaves around and on top of itself in this very real way that doesn’t let up even as the story screams to an end. You have to let go of anything you know about medical procedures and a few other elements of the storyline go a bit haywire buuuut I was OK with it. It’s fiction. Sometimes you applaud the people who write with such meticulous accuracy – they’ve researched where every tile was placed and mapped out every metre of the football pitch. That’s one version of fiction. And then there is this. A book that focuses on the emotions. On the choices and the complexity of human life, and how quickly things can go from incredible to devastating in the blink of an eye.

Christine Ay Tjoe

Humans have been expressing themselves through art since our very existence. The creative brains in our communities who are able to make a living off images translated from brain to medium fascinate me. The energy and constant inspiration that must flow through their veins is inspiring and wonderful to consider. Christine Ay Tjoe is a modern-day wonder, whose art reflects many of the topics I write about, making me feel connected to her artwork in an organic way.

Christine Ay Tjoe’s art is challenging and bold and absolutely captivating. Born and based in Indonesia Ay Tjoe paints on themes of humanity, energy, spirituality and other elements of philosophy and connection. She uses bold colour palettes and has used a variety of mediums in her series, from canvas to fabric to paper to plates. Her work is gaining increasing traction on the international stage yet her works remain grounded and introspective.

I am a little hesitant to pull images from articles or google images for fear of breaching copyrights. Pleas go here, here and here to see examples of her wonderful work.

Artists are just incredible with how much they can articulate without using a single word. As someone who relies on words and the art of written expression to navigate my emotions and reflections about the world, the emotional tug and depth of understanding that I can gain just by standing and considering a piece of art is absolutely humbling. Just as I grapple with conditions of greed, helplessness, fear and fatigue, so too does Ay Tjoe.

I love Ay Tjoe’s colour range, the depth of her analysis, the complexity of her images and how they evoke movement emotion and connection in a carefully considered and meticulous yet somehow seemingly organic and spontaneous way. The hint of animals, emergent faces, bright colours, deep and dark colours, Ay Tjoe’s work reflects the world and leaves you completely absorbed.

Influence and inspiration takes many forms. Art is a timeless one that we can all be finding solace in at the present time. The skill of Ay Tjoe shows that it is a special person who can draw emotion from the observer, take their audience on a journey and leave them feeling “other” simply by viewing the work they have created.

Look at art. Read about people who are expressing themselves in this ageless way, inspiration builds momentum and there is nothing more inspiring than someone who can sit with their thoughts and translate them into an image. Even more impressive when they have the strength to share those images and build their lives around sharing this magical output.

Weekend Read: Be authentic, now more than ever

It is the strangest of times. I am in lock down alongside millions across the country. This post is both a point in time reflection for myself, and at the same time a thought piece about how we are interacting with one another and ourselves and how this might be impacting us without our knowing.

The jarring and isolating experiences that everyone has had since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have seen some very strange human responses. Some of those responses have been bloody beautiful, for example the whole street singing together in Italy in 2020. Some non-surprising, like the increase in anxiety and stress amongst the general population. The thing that has really struck me is how numb so many of us have become. The ongoing in-out-in-out of lockdown for people living in Melbourne has lead to a lethargy that struggles to overrun the mind, despite positive outlooks, resilient mindsets and all of the baking and craft one can handle. Rising case numbers and barriers to visiting loved ones is stressful but you can only talk about it so much, because there is nothing that can actually be done about it, and to talk about it is to pick the scab and start the panic rising again at the back of your throat. Alternatively, you might have experienced the following:

  • The group chat at work is filled with ‘I am so tired I have been online since 6:30am!’ and ‘just ducking out for lunch, I have barely stood up in 4 hours straight!’ like it’s a badge of honour and something someone should be proud of.
  • When you call a friend to talk to them they say ‘Oh you know, I’m fine! I haven’t got much to report really! I’m just fine. How are you? You good?’ when you just know they are struggling and are too scared to open the lid for fear of what might come out.
  • A comment is said in a zoom meeting. ‘I wish my children weren’t here to bother me working’ while someone sits living in agonising silence over their inability to have a child for themselves during this time.
  • Feelings of overwhelming guilt when you try to read the news, get overwhelmed, and return to mindless TV. Feelings of failure as others around you seem to be crafting and creating and you can barely muster the energy to hit ‘confirm order’ on your Uber eats app.

Complex and odd feelings of inadequacy, unexpected loss, sadness, a resolve to stop ‘burdening’ others, all of these things take their toll, yet unpicking them feels impossible.

These little moments build up and they drag you down. After too many of these moments it becomes too hard to pick up the phone to a friend, or link into a zoom catch up. You sit frustrated and envious of people and unable to feel a sense of achievement or progress for the day. It’s hard to hold hope when holidays are cancelled and lives are feeling like they are paused.

I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer what I think are ways to feel more connected to loved ones, to feel hope and to take your mind away from the here and now.

  • Consume fiction. Preferably fiction that doesn’t talk about COVID-19. I’m a big reader (hence all the book reviews), but I understand that holding focus isn’t always an option right now. Some alternatives include audible (listen to your books!), fictitious podcasts (just google your preferred genre and give stuff a go – what else are you doing?!) or have a wander through online writers that write short stories about things you like (WordPress have so many).
  • Share a laugh. We aren’t laughing very much right now. It’s a super weird time and there’s a lot of underlying tension. If you see something silly happen, if a weird thing happens to you, if you watch something dumb and it gives you joy, share it with someone.
  • Look people in the eye. I know this sounds odd. But if you take note next time you are out on a walk, you will see that once masks go on, eyes go down. The eye contact, the smile shared between a stranger, those moments can literally be life changing for people. Really. It’s hard to go slow when you’re trying to whip in and out of a supermarket. Look people in the eye and smile. They may not notice, but they might, and you will feel better either way.
  • Send an audio clip to a friend. Top tip – you should get consent before doing this because some people really hate this method of communication. Have no expectation for a returned clip. Just send a little note of love and appreciation, or send a funny observation for your day, you will guarantee a moment of gratitude in return.
  • Get off social media. Now. Do it. It’s weirdly hard to take the plunge but it makes you feel SO. MUCH. BETTER! Easiest way to do it is to still keep your laptop logged in but delete your apps off of your phone. It makes it more of a decision than “unlock – open app – scroll…scroll…scroll…*three hours later*”. Even if you just set up time locks for certain apps. Try it. Trust me.
  • Assume positive intent. Whether it be a snarky tone in an email, one of the social moments I listed above, or not hearing from someone for a few weeks, assume positive intent. This time is hard for everyone and people express themselves differently. There is no right way to get through this we are all just doing the best we can.

We do not have a lot of control right now. But you can choose how to spend the little moments, and the little moments of course add up to the big picture. It’s also more than OK to push all of the positives aside sometimes and just be sad and scared. There is a lot of joy in this world, right now we just have to try a little harder to find it.

Book Review: Honeybee by Craig Silvey

I firmly believe we should all read widely and expand our understanding of the world as we know it. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes can alter your outlook, it can make you more compassionate, it stretches your mind to consider challenges perviously unthought about. Honeybee is such an influential book and I highly recommend it.

Honeybee starts quite dramatically. From the moment you start you won’t want to put it back down. Sam is a young person with a young, unhappy mum, not a lot of options and ongoing disquiet and uncertainty about their identity. But Sam is a sweet soul and the entire book is spent rooting for them to be adequately cared for and to figure it all out – themselves, their potential, and their desires.

This book deals with issues of suicide in one of those heart-wrenching, sob-invoking ways. You will bond with the characters and, if you’re like me, there’ll be gasps, there’ll be laughter, and there will be tears. Silvey holds the pace for the reader in a terribly skilled way. You are never overwhelmed by this story, but you are constantly invested. Silvey paints the helpless anxiousness of a child in such a way that makes you grip the armchair willing Sam to have a different resolution as the terrible end to the situation at hand comes screaming at you. But in that way that Honeybee can’t control it, neither can you.

The learnings, insights and gentle explanations scattered throughout this book are wonderful. Community, acceptance, discovery of self-identity, inner strength, how we cope and thrive despite hardship… It’s all there and it’s all so carefully layered that you don’t quite realise until the last page is read, and you’re sitting there lovingly smiling at your kindle… Or maybe that’s just me.

I cautiously recommend this book to older teenagers as the challenges it deals with ultimately resolves with abundant hope and resilience. For anyone else, it’s that reminder that we all need to remember that it’s impossible to understand the backstory of every single person and we do not know what everyone around us is experiencing or has experienced. Just the same as nobody truly knows everything that you’ve been through and overcome to be here with us today.

Ultimately, that suffering doesn’t define you, and I hope the themes of living your true identity and the promotion of self-discovery found in this book helps shed light on that in a really uplifting way. We all matter and we all deserve to be comfortable in the body that we have. Importantly, we all deserve support and encouragement to understand how to achieve that specific to us.

Grace Lee Boggs

100 years on this earth is a very long time. Just think about the number of interactions a person has with others, relationships built and broken, achievements and wins, losses and trials. The advancements you would see in 100 years, especially the last 100 years, would be mind blowing. Grace Lee Boggs lived for 100 years on this planet, and oh the things she achieved. Get ready for an inspirational read about a phenomenal human being.

Grace Lee Boggs was born in America to migrant parents from China in 1915. She received a tertiary level education, achieving a Phd in Philosophy, but was burdened by racism and discrimination as she entered her working years. Forced into poverty-stricken living conditions and finding herself becoming involved with those trying to change this, Boggs engaged with protest and radical action with those around her, including members of the black community. As time went on she met and married the love of her life, a fellow activist who by all accounts possessed charisma and authentic charm. (Source)

In reading and learning about Boggs this stood out to me:

“Grace Lee Boggs embraces a philosophy of constant questioning – not just of who we are as individuals, but of how we relate to those in our community and country, to those in other countries, and to the local and global environment.”

https://www.americanswhotellthetruth.org/portraits/grace-lee-boggs

What an inspiring way to live your life! I believe in her approach to achieving change: small unified groups promoting positive advancements. That isn’t exclusionary, not in the way Boggs idealises it. Couple this with her promotion of thinking before acting and her version of activism (generating community involvement to better surrounds and experience) and it doesn’t feel very radical at all.

The more I grow, study and learn my understanding about how we have progressed, advanced and ultimately wilted and diminished within our societies I relate to this more and more. A country might churn out huge economic growth per capita, but what does that matter if the individuals making up that country are oppressed, discriminated against or over worked? A leader might espouse critical advancements in human rights and alter constitutions regarding the treatment of those non-heteronormative members of their communities, but what does that matter if those individuals still find themselves being beaten on the street, or not allowed to enter cafes?

Boggs contributed her thoughts and energy through writing first. Editing newsletters and engaging in the distribution of magazines, Boggs engaged with her community and generated movement. She became involved in protests and rallies and found herself in the role of community organiser and has gone on to establish foundations schools awards it goes on and on and on. Rebuilding cities through community action, speaking to young people about the merits of thinking more deeply… What a truly positive and ever-forceful human being.

Sadly Boggs passed away in 2015, but this quote really rings true to me:

“People began asking me to speak on the Asian American movement and I discovered my ignorance.”

https://facingtoday.facinghistory.org/remembering-grace-lee-boggs

When there is discussion about what makes the perfect leader, this is the kind of person I think should come to mind first. A person who is incredibly influential and makes waves and waves of progress, is educated and informed and knows how to generate and execute positive social movement, yet is humble enough to know that they never cease learning. They never cease expanding their understanding and challenging their thinking. If I aspire to be like anyone in this life, it is someone like Grace Lee Boggs.

Manizha Wafeq

There is so much desperation, sadness, fear and misunderstanding flowing from Afghanistan. You can see emergent news and analysis of the situation here, but this blog was created to celebrate influential and wonderful figures of history and so that is what I will do here. Everyone should know the name Manizha Wafeq, and here’s why.

Manizha is one of those people you read about and wonder to yourself two things: the first is: when does she sleep? The second: how do I find that kind of energy? Quick snap shot of Manizha:

  • She is the Co-founder and President of Afghanistan Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AWCCI)
  • She is the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women’s In-Country Facilitator for Afghanistan teaching PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS in Kabul.
  • She co-authored a Gender and the Legal Framework for Afghanistan.
  • She has won an array of awards, including  the Enterprising Women Magazine Award for her Leadership, Leadership Award from the National Business Association of the US, and Young Activist Award from the Afghan Women’s Network and the Afghan Lower House of the Parliament and 40/40 of Kardan University and Hall of Fame Advocacy award again from Enterprising Magazine. 
  • Other accolades and achievements can be seen here.

She’s a mother. She advocates for women’s education and rights. She has established awards and teaches women and girls and works with the government. Or else she did. What will happen for Manizha as the Taliban regains total control over Afghanistan is unknown right now. But reading about her instilled such hope in me. Thinking about the 500+ women she has supported and trained, the hours she has spent creating a framework to promote equality amongst men and women, the relentless energy that has seen such goodness flow from her out into the world… none of that was done in vain.

Women are resilient. Women are tenacious. Women are clever and women find ways to persist. I hope that having a moment to reflect on this wonderful human and the positive influence she has made on the world gives you a moment to sit and remember that. Her work will not disappear. Now, more than ever, we live in a world where our output is captured and distributed across the world in mere moments. Typing her name in this blog is my attempt at distributing the lasting impression she will leave on this planet further. Community builds momentum. Momentum leads to change. Change leaves marks that cannot be scrubbed away, even by the most violent and terrible.

There is little that can be said to instil hope in this situation, especially with so many things unfolding. But I encourage everyone to look for the gems amongst the stones. Take care and be kind to yourself and to others, and remember all of the brilliant women like Manizha Wafeq.

Book Review: The First Stone by Helen Garner

Please note that this book is based around discussions and themes of sexual assault. Please reach out for support if you should ever need. I have placed Australian specific contacts at the bottom of this post.

A friend recommended this book to me after we saw a man reading another of Garner’s books in a cafe (Joe Cinque’s Consolation – review to come!). She had read it some time ago and I could have sworn I had read it during my university years, when my thinking around feminism and where I sat in society was still forming and growing. There can be a lot of conviction in our opinions and beliefs as young people, but before I had experienced some of my own experiences in the workplace and general life I simply didn’t have the depth and ability to articulate myself that I have today. In years to come, with further reading, discussion and lived experience I am sure I will have gained greater nuance again. That’s a good thing! My views weren’t any less worthy as a younger person. They have just developed since then. Part of me wishes I’d written a review all the way back then, so that I could compare to myself now.

So anyway, fast forward to me sitting down and picking this book up for a second time, with vague swirlings in my head of approval, of alliance. Instead I was angry as anything when I started reading. Come on Helen, I kept thinking! Come on! I just wanted her to realise that by blaming the girls in this story before she had heard from them seemed odd. I understand that a journalist is a human being, and as a human they have gut reactions to things. But I just couldn’t get my head around her line of thinking.

To fill you in briefly, the book is focused on two young women who report that they had been sexually assaulted at a party by a man who is the head of their college. Garner is a skilled story teller and she puts incredible time into interviewing, searching, researching. She has a very digestible writing style and she offers unique insights into Australian legal and police workings that are really interesting. At times, however, it felt like this book was written closer to Garner’s personal diary than as a piece of developed critical analysis. It is likely very purposeful, her exploring and gaining an understanding about how she feels about the two girls’ and claims this book revolves around. Reading it in today’s environment though, it jars.

The book was first published in 1997, so I understand that we have gained a lot of traction in this space since then. I kept waiting for the “aha!” moment but it never came. I am so curious to see what others thought about this, particularly those who read it a while ago, and even more so those who have reread in in more recent years.

Always remember that you are never alone, and you deserve to be believed.

Weekend Read: Supporting someone through grief

Humans are very strange when it comes to grieving the loss of a loved one. We have broad similarities around what we go through and how we process, but these are heavily influenced by our cultures, our social norms, and the family units that we are raised in. I am going to share my thoughts about this topic because I think the more we talk openly with each other about how very hard it is to lose someone that we know and care for, the better off we will all be.

I think it is very rare that someone treats someone else’s grieving process with outright unkindness or lack of care. More often it is a feeling that there is insufficient time to sit and unpick what someone needs, or a fear of doing the wrong thing that leads us to mishandling someone in the aftershock. I can near guarantee anyone reading this will have a memory of discomfort when they tried to help someone through their loss, panicked, and then retreated away from them. I have those memories too.

I have experienced my share of loss. I have also sat beside many friends and family as they have undertaken their own processes of coming to terms with their grief. We have so much language around death and grief, look at all the phrases I’m using in this piece already, and yet we constantly bungle it! I don’t think it’s surprising, death is scary in many people’s minds. We fill ourselves with fear about it. Below are questions I’ve had about supporting others. I have answered myself with kindness and good intent, just like I try to answer anyone else.

  • Do they even want to talk about their grief? Maybe. They should have space to if they do, and be allowed to avoid the topic if that’s what they need.
  • Will I say the wrong thing to them? Maybe. But so long as your intent is from a place of kindness and love, it rarely goes terribly wrong.
  • What if I can’t handle their grief? Such a fair concern, particularly if you are going through your own struggles. Taking the time to check that someone has support, and helping link them up if they don’t, is so powerful. That support does not always have to be you.
  • What if I bring up something when they don’t want to think about it? Same can be asked about any contentious topic a person might be sensitive about. If you’re unsure, you can always start the question gently… ‘let me know if you don’t want to talk about this right now, but I was just wondering how you’re doing this week?’
  • What is the easiest way that I can support them? Ask them what they need. Offer them chances to talk about their loved one. Prompt their memories and reward their candid conversations with no judgement and kindness. It is hard to be vulnerable.
  • When will they be back to their old selves? Possibly never. And that’s OK. Sometimes that means that they will draw back from you or your friendship group. Sometimes that means they will change parts of themselves temporarily or permanently in ways you don’t agree with. Friendship and family relationships are ever changing and they don’t always follow a straight line. Just be kind and go with the flow.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt in supporting someone as they navigate their grief is you have to let them call the shots for a while. If that person is your spouse, it becomes about being a steady constant while the other person ebbs and flows between coping and not. If they are a friend, it is about small scale, light touch contact frequently and with no obligation in return, sometimes with the need for seemingly random tasks that actually act as life savers. Sometimes that’s helping them google and research something, sometimes that’s sending food to their house, sometimes that’s just sitting on the other end of the phone while they cry. It doesn’t take masses of your time or energy but it can mean the world to the person you are supporting. If they are family, it’s sort of a weird combo of the two isn’t it. If you live close by, maybe it’s taking more of an active role in helping with house work or cooking, if it’s from a distance maybe it’s just helping with logistics.

At the end of the day, I think we can get awkward and unsure about helping someone who is grieving because we can’t control the timeline and can’t understand it given its likelihood to change at a moment’s notice. We have to appreciate that someone’s way of grieving is unique to themselves, and isn’t wrong or right. It just is. Being present and offering an ear when its needed can make the world of difference for someone feeling lonely and out to sea.

I have always believed that it is a privilege to grieve, because it means I had a meaningful connection with someone. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It hurts terribly, and in ways that don’t make sense, that take you off guard, that cut your knees from under you. But the fact that I remember people I have lost and still tear up, or smile, or wish I could see them just one more time, all of that just means I had a wonderful connection with someone, and I’m all the luckier for it. I can either fear it, or I can let it flow over me and move on with it. Take them with me. Act in a way that they’d be proud of. Remember them often and speak about them warmly. And giving people I care for and support space to do the same for those that they have lost.

Book Review: There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

If you are in a rut with your career, read this book. If you are looking for a little mystery, read this book. If you love Japanese culture and social norms, read this book. If you are looking to settle in and be surprised by a title, read this book!

I love Japan and Japanese culture, I speak the language and have studied aspects of Japanese society, politics and language for most of my life, including five years of university. So, you could say that it’s a no brainer that I would be drawn to this book when walking through the shelves at my local bookstore, letting the covers jump out at me.

In reading There’s No Such Thing an an Easy Job (see goodreads link) it was like being launched back into a beautiful combination of academic observation blended with nuanced lived experience. It is discretely layered and quite simplistic in its story telling.The premise is very straight forward – a lady experiences an emotional breakdown in the job intended to become her career, she returns to living with her parents and tries to get a job through an agency where she does the least amount possible in order to disengage and simplify everything in her life.

As a 30-year-old woman there is nothing more relatable than a story where you question your career choices. Tsumura has nailed the feeling of general disquiet and upset that one feels when the work they set out to make a vocation becomes overwhelming or doesn’t quite “land”. This story is further burdened with an all too common phenomenon in Japan of emotional burnout and a need to withdraw entirely from society, along with all of its expectations and requirements. This of course happens in every society, but Japan is known for its extremes, and the sheer pressure placed on people to graduate high school, qualify and then engage with a career is intense. The alternative tends to be complete isolation and self-exclusion when that doesn’t work out (see hikikomori). It isn’t like a tantrum and a big throw up of the hands. It is more often than not quiet, it is all encompassing and it is, quite frankly, very dangerous for the individual.

Any book that brings forward these types of conditions in society are welcomed by me. For many reading this book it will seem inconceivable, but then for so many it will resonate and hit home, and both parties I think will wholly benefit from reading this.

What Tsumura does so skilfully is highlight how individuals often just don’t really work like that. They certainly don’t thrive like that. If you strip your life back to walking up the road from home to work, purchasing food from within the building and then returning home to sleep, the rest of the world will often get in the way of this best laid plan. This is how the book starts, and as the main character progresses from job to job through the agency, it is as if her tree is being shaken and she awakes from her need to withdraw.

Life is mysterious and many actors play different roles in our lives at different times. What is beautifully done in this book is the depiction of what happens when someone who felt isolated, bereft, and alone, is confronted by others in the world experiencing similar. Seeing her own underlying emotions reflected back to herself, and seeing how others handle them, the main character in There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job starts to come to a better peace within herself.

Give this title a read. It is best digested quickly, in my opinion. Once I started reading it I kept thinking about it and wanting to see how it progressed. The flow is enchanting and the build of the story is soft yet rapid, it is lovely. Happy reading!

Catharine MacKinnon

When some people hear the words “radical feminism” it’s like a grey static fuzz starts humming in their ears from that point on. To be fair, the same can be said for others when they hear the words “men’s rights activist”. Extreme stand points, opinions and passions can be complicated because they are, by their very nature, divisive. They can be controversial and exclusionary to those who are not convinced or are still deciding. I have really enjoyed learning about the extremely positive and fabulous legal contributions and social influence that Catharine MacKinnon has had in her long standing career. Let the fuzz lift if it’s there and let me share with you some incredible things MacKinnon has achieved.

You can see MacKinnon’s professional biography here. Her influence is wide, but one of the key areas she has spent her energy in is that of sexual abuse and inequality. A few snapshots from her life to get started:

  • MacKinnon was born in 1946 in Minneapolis
  • She graduated university in 1969, her JD in 1977 and a doctorate in political science in 1987
  • She was part of creating the women’s liberation movement
  • In 1986 she achieved recognition by the Supreme Court that sexual harassment equated to sex discrimination
  • She has been highly critical of the sex industry and the way it dominates and controls women
  • Her work is influential in gaining traction for sex violations, rape and trafficking to be seen has human rights violations
  • See further here.

It is humbling to see how much influence one woman has had. She is a sheer force of academic production. She is an incredibly hard working and prominent figure who has actively changed the experience of millions of women through her efforts.

There are academic critiques and articles and conversations that you can tune in on if you’d like to read to pros and cons to MacKinnon’s contributions from people far more qualified than I. There is incredible controversy in academic and personal opinion around the sex industry in particular, with many people arguing if framed correctly it is an empowering and supportive line of work for women to dominate and excel. I see merit in both lines of thought and what I advocate is for personal choice and empowerment as facilitated by safe work places and professional support. I do not judge or hold opinion against people engaged in pornography or sex work, and at the same time I can understand the fears and worries those looking from the outside in hold for those people and their well being. It’s complicated, it what I’m trying to say.

All of that aside, when I’ve been reading about her my primary wonder is this: without a controversial voice such as her own, would we have moved forward in the ways that we have? Would laws have changed in America identifying sexual harassment as a form of discrimination as recognised in a court of law and codified in legislation? In her more recent work, would rape have been conceded to as a form of genocide?

There’s no way to truly answer those questions. The reality is that she was there. She did put in those hundreds of hours, represent all of the people she has, argued across all of the platforms she could stand on, and has generated the change that she has through tireless energy and efforts. Who can begrudge a person’s tenacity and personal fight like that? It is healthy and good if you do not agree with 100% of everything she has ever written. No matter where you stand on feminism, on women’s rights, on relevant legal arguments, I think it can be seen that she is at her core an advocate and a powerful agitator in a country and an industry that will only change with extreme advocacy and agitation.

I think the conversation around the merits of a controversial voice is really interesting. When you look at leaps of progress in history, you often see figures who, at the time, were considered to be extremely controversial. They sometimes still are. But we respect the work and energy they demonstrated to move our history forward. I have always been fascinated reading about people who I do not agree with. I like talking to people with different views to me to understand their perspective on things. I like reading books about people who have spent hours upon hours talking to individuals with extreme views and trying to work backwards around how those ideas came to make sense to them. I think by listening to various voices you can consider where your own middle ground is or confirm your original stance.

In the world we are currently in, where we circle around our own opinions, we have news served up to us by algorithms that confirm our inherent bias and follow people without qualifications, absorbing their advice like science. I worry that we are not giving enough time to stretching our brains and our views. Life is far busier than it has ever been, and yet we are held static in our world views and biases. In that regard, I really don’t think we are as advanced as we think we are in our education and beliefs. It’s easy to say “but what can I do?” We are all emotionally fatigued and stressed, and I agree that we probably can’t all be Catharine MacKinnons… we’d run out of paper to publish all the books on that we would collectively write!

But we can seek alternative opinion. We can let interesting and unique standpoints wash over us and let our own minds identify where we hold that piece of information in our own reality. It’s OK to get angry or feel conflicted by opinon – that, in my experience, is how I define myself and advance my own rhetoric.

“Women tend to be economically valued according to men’s perceptions of their potential to be sexually harassed,” MacKinnon argues. “They are, in effect, required to ‘ask for it.’”

Source

Is it any wonder with grabs like the one above that MacKinnon is a divisive figure? The difference between her and so many others is that she has done away with the nicety of feminine fawning traits. She doesn’t excuse her words, she places them up front, bold, in capital letters.

One thing that I find inherently upsetting is that often it takes atrocious acts for truths to be acknowledged. When I read the advancement points MacKinnon has had on legal matters, that has happened after women have been assaulted, raped, dredged through society’s mud one too many times to be ignored. All too often this is how it is. It’s not until we see documented video of famine that we believe the rumours and insights that a government is denying its people food. It’s not until we see the black eye that we believe a husband is abusing his wife. Millions and millions of micro abuses happen every day, and women such as MacKinnon are trying to remedy these with bold legal amendments and professional nuance. She is a threatening figure and I think the world is better for her.

I often think to myself that if the lights went out for me tomorrow I would be entirely comfortable and happy with the legacy I left behind. That doesn’t mean I lay down today and stop my progress. I can let the fantastic energy of women like MacKinnon to keep pushing me forward. To keep me feeling inspired to read, to write, to think, to communicate, to support, to unite, to create. I don’t need to obliterate people or their opinions from my newsfeed or mind because I don’t 100% agree with them. I can decide for myself what I take away from each person and theory I encounter, and build my own world view around it.

Weekend Read: Handling the Bully

Bullying is one of those things that you hope you will leave behind at the school gates when you walk out of them for the last time. Unfortunately, however, it rears its ugly head again and again as we walk through life. Children bullies sometimes grow into adult bullies. It’s as simple as that. Lots of people have “moments” where they behave in ways that they aren’t proud of as children. But a select few are truly invested in the manipulation and coercion of their environment and those around them, and unfortunately those behaviours persist into adulthood. So what on earth are you supposed to do if you meet one of these adult bullies in the wild?

There is a confusing difference between the advice we get as kids and the advice we get as adults about confronting bullying behaviour. As children, we are told to “face the bully head on” in order to tackle the issue. Then suddenly we grow up and the bullies don’t go away, they just change form. And so does the advice. All of a sudden we are told to “ignore them” and to try to win the situation by “taking the higher ground”. “Out perform them” is something I was told once… As a junior staff member… Being bullied and harassed by my direct manager. How, I sat and wondered, was I meant to out perform someone when I didn’t even know how to use the document management software properly or log my annual leave yet? I tried and I tried, withstanding every conversation where my work was torn apart line by line, my appearance criticised again and again, and I ultimately overcame the situation by leaving that team, but it felt like a hollow win when I thought about the fact that some unsuspecting human was about to enter in under that manager and history would likely repeat itself.

In my experience the only consistent advice you do hear is to tell someone (as a child that is a teacher, as an adult, HR) but that rarely results in anything good happening either. A particularly good bully isolates, separates and “others” their target, all the while manipulating those above them as well as their surroundings to create the perfect environment for them to get away with their behaviour. You tell a teacher at 7 years old and you are told “no, [name] wouldn’t do that! He couldn’t have, he is about to be elected as captain of the soccer team!” or “are you sure you didn’t just misunderstand her attempt to joke with you?”, as if all you needed was a pep talk to realise that you’d misinterpreted the whole scenario. But children aren’t that silly, and more often than not children are telling the truth when they approach an adult with a tale of misfortune. We know this with better certainty than ever these days, and yet these throw away lines still come to the surface with lesser offences like schoolyard taunts and jabs. Just like for adults, it’s scary to out yourself as someone who is weak. Someone who is being “othered”. People don’t often do that without direct cause.

This next experience highlights the fact that asking for help does not always lead to a positive outcome for the victim or target, and again and again we see live examples of it actively working against that person. I was at work, young and in a shift work environment. I made friends with at level colleagues, I am friendly, polite and professional to my seniors. I like a good joke, I am pretty easy going, but I take pride in my work and also, as a young female in any industry, I am not going to appreciate sexist comments or worse still, sexual harassment, from anyone that I work with or around. So when two men in my team senior to me in years and ranking, including a direct manager, said sexually explicit and suggestive comments to me not once, not twice, but three times each (all separate incidents, all random unexpected and entirely bizarre), I got fed up. I knew that the behaviour wasn’t to be tolerated. So I wrote up time stamped summaries of what had happened, with as much detail and professional tact as I could, calling my Mum often for support and that inner grit needed to go through with this stuff. I escalated and held my breath. I had a friend come and sit with me during a meeting that was cringe-worthy and miserable. On paper, the experiences lacked the in-the-moment shock and severity that I had experienced. In a room with a senior male addressing my concerns, I felt small, like I was making a big deal over nothing. The solution put forward was as follows: I could be moved teams to a different shift line. So my “reward” for speaking up about another person’s bad behaviour was that I got to lose my friendship network that I had been building in my current team, and that these men would just continue as is. I chose to stay in my team, to put up with these men, who had been told word for word what I had said against them but not been reprimanded in any way other than perhaps to be told to give me a wide berth, as neither of them said anything to me after. But I still had to go into meeting rooms with that manager one on one and have performance conversations.

Wow, is this an uplifting read or what?! It’s OK, you just watch me turn it around from here!

One thing that will teach you how to stand up for yourself is if you go and work in an environment where you simply have no choice. I did this a few years ago, engaging directly in the criminal justice system in a prison. It was both a personal and professional goal. Personally, I knew I would get a backbone, having to go and talk to and assist people who had done the wrong thing in their lives to access legal support and community based rehab programs for their release. Professionally, I knew that it could help shape my career direction for years to come. In my time at the prison I had to tell a former neo-nazi to stop saying sexually explicit things about me, and then go in day after day to that yard and see him. I had someone spit at me and tell me they would harm me and my family, and when they had calmed down I sat with them and helped them fill out their LegalAid application form because they were unable to read and write. All of those things were environment specific and intense. But then, more often, I had people try to control me. I had people try to sweet talk me or lull me into a sense of friendship so they could take advantage of my access and privilege. I assumed everyone was trying some version of that and maintained strict professional boundaries. That approach served me well, even if it led to conflict and frustration, because when someone tries to manipulate you, and they can’t, but no one taught them any coping strategies, they fall apart.

Coming out of that time, I realised just how much it had changed the way I handled office bullies, and how successful the strategies I had learnt managing criminals and their behaviours would be in managing workplace manipulation. So here are my handling strategies for dealing with bullies in an office setting:

  1. Remember that you are at the table because you deserve to be there
  2. Consider your responses and ask if you’d be proud telling your Mum (or best friend, or whoever makes sense for you) what you said. Alternatively, would you be happy to write what you said or did up in a formal report?
  3. Demonstrate your self worth by cultivating positive relationships within the broader team, and if the bully has poisoned the entire well, do yourself a favour and leave for fresher pastures
  4. Don’t ever forget that your professional integrity is your currency. Maintain factual and accurate documentation of scenarios should you need to escalate to management or HR
  5. Remember that you are at the table because you deserve to be there
  6. If the bully is your manager, write down the behaviour/action and then beside that, flip it to be how a good manager would behave/act, now you have a positive prototype for future management of your own staff
  7. Put a photo of your dog at your desk, leave work on time for the gym, have brunch with your mates on the weekend, fill your cup and live a healthy and well rounded lifestyle
  8. Eat well and take your lunch break
  9. If it’s impacting your sleep, take steps to calm your brain before going to bed (bath, read, music, mindfulness, whatever works for you)
  10. Always remember that it is not cowardly to move away from a person or work area if it doesn’t serve you. Remember you are at the table because you chose to be there, and you deserve to be there

To be clear – None of the above is about trying to control or change that person. You can’t win that battle. You can only take care of you and try to cultivate your environment.

There is so much more to be said, but the thing I want you to take away from all of that is that the actions and behaviours of a bully are attempts to control and manipulate you. If you turn that lens on, you will find yourself in a position of power over them, because if you can stay strong to your own morals and values, continue building support networks around you that are professionally and personally fulfilling, and work as well as you possibly can at your tasks, you are going to shine over someone who is spending far too much time trying to undermine and sabotage someone. You will likely, as a weird outcome, earn the bullies grudging respect and hear them talk positively about you to others. That bit is always weird when it happens…

I try to build my professional network so that if someone came to say rubbish about me, anyone else would be genuinely surprised. I try my hardest to keep my personal opinions about people away from the workplace, friends and families are for debriefing, colleagues are for working. I refuse to try to bully a bully, I’m not good at that game so I will win on my own merit, through demonstrating my professional worth and integrity. Does that mean I don’t feel hurt from the comments? Of course not. But I do not let other people control my emotions, and I will do everything I can to cultivate a happy environment for the place that I spend so much of my time.

Let me know if you agree with me or if you think I’m crazy. Since working at the prison I have experienced people try to bully me, but to date I have experienced only the emotions of frustration and irritation at being slowed down. Since working on myself and understanding that other people’s bad behaviour are not mine to fix, my life is fuller, my life is richer, and I have more headspace for my actual work, making me a better employee… all round win I say!

Weekend Read: To all the mothers out there

I have tried to articulate some of my deepest gratitude to the mother figures in our world – every one of you deserves love and respect returned to you in a demonstration of thanks for all that you have given to your people.

There are so many versions of a ‘mother’. There is the mother-to-be. The new mother. The adoptive mother. The mother of two, three, four or more. Then there is the mother that never got to be. The mother that couldn’t stay. The foster mother. The mother who lost their little ones, before or after hearing their first cry. The mother that could never be named, but was present how she could be. The mother that was not allowed to be a mother. The mother who hasn’t had her time yet, but will take that test tomorrow, hope in her heart and tears in her eyes… This is for all of you.

‘Mother’ is this giant concept that is more an emotive response than a title.

Motherhood is entirely selfless. You hear that all of the time, but when you see it, and I mean really see it, it is flooring. More than giving the last piece of chocolate every time, more than getting up at 5:00am to drive to sport, more than delicately placing the money under the pillow, the presents in the stocking, the eggs by the foot of the bed.

It is soothing back their little one’s hair at 3:00am, before running their morning briefing in the office at 8:00am sharp. It is laughing joyously with a friend on the phone whilst supervising homework hour and sorting out lunches for the next day. It is a look, it is the feeling conveyed in a hug… It is so many actions, often being done without fuss and with nil expectation, but it is a tireless fight to improve and promote wellbeing of those around.

When I was 18 years old I went overseas by myself to work and gain life experience before I went to university. Doing that was not easy for me, but it has only been in recent years that I realised that while it was scary and big and challenging for me, that was nothing as compared to what it was for my mother, sending me off on that plane to an unknown reality after working tirelessly until that moment in time to provide for me a home full of warmth, comfort and love. To control as far as she was able what negative things came at me. But she supported me to go, helping me to get on with it when I called her in floods of tears, telling me it would all work out and helping me steel myself for the next challenge, and work through the ones that had passed by. She made me laugh on the phone, sat and talked sheer nonsense with me and wrote me letters. To this day (and even in this moment typing) I cannot avoid tearing up when I think about what it felt like the day she stepped off the airplane to meet me in that country one year after saying goodbye. We stood in each other’s arms crying and laughing and hugging because we had made it through that year together, even though we had been physically apart.

That’s what motherhood is for me. Whatever that feeling is, as hard as it is to express in words. It is knowing that my values, my morals, my inner grit and my personal contentment are grounded in her foundations, learnt over years sitting at the kitchen table, lounging next to her on the couch, walking with her around the block with the dogs, sitting next to her in the car going to the next sports game, the next concert, the next shift at work.

There is another post to be written for the fathers, that’s for another time. But for right now, right here, I want all of the mums to know that you are seen by me, you are utterly respected by me and I am in awe of all that you do. It mightn’t mean much, but in the hope that it lifts even one mum’s mood out there reading this, I will be brave and hit publish 🙂

Book Review: The People in the Tress by Hanya Yanagihara

I was nervous about this book. If you have read A Little Life by this author you know that she is both a spectacular writer and a heart breaking story teller. Trust me when I say though, this was worth the read.

I love when you start reading a book and you look up and the afternoon has turned to dusk without your realising. These time jumps happened to me whenever I picked this book up. Hanya has this incredible writing style that is both intensely descriptive at the same time as speeding you along the story line, you just hanging on, anxious to get to the next point.

This book has concepts, discussions and descriptions of child sexual abuse. Let us put that very clearly at the top. I knew that going in, and wasn’t sure I wanted it all in my brain. Also this part of the storyline is also disclosed right at the start of the novel so I am not ruining anything in the plot.

After having sat looking at the spine on my bookshelf for months, always wanting to pick it up just to have the pleasure of reading her work again, but never having the courage, I finally bit the bullet.

From the moment I started reading I knew Hanya had taken a very clever approach. Immediately we know our main character has been imprisoned for child sexual abuse charges. But the narrative is, in fact his biography. It takes you right back to his childhood and is told in his words, with his colleague and ultimate backer editing and footnoting his work.

This process allows Hanya to paint the most vivid and intricate reality, mimicking what I’m sure where explorative practices of the early to mid 1900s, and leaving you to forget that you are immersed in fiction.

As the plot progresses you see his character, unlikeable and distasteful to me entirely, try to justify and position himself as ultimately superior in the situation. But interestingly he also acknowledges how flat and devoid of character he truly is himself; he doesn’t really seem to like himself nor find his actions or appearances particularly fanciful or enviable.

I found I could not stop thinking about this book and as Hanya started to give tells and drip feed the reader the impression she was about to open the lid on the abuse, she skilfully just holds you anxious and waiting, engaged with the scenario and watching for the horror, rarely having it put before you.

It is true skill and artistry at work. You see the thorough destruction of tradition and community of a previously unknown people to white man, you see the ravaging of their earth and the distrust of humanity, truly a horror in its own right. The lack of ethics of the era, the lack of care, all bundles together and stacks against itself.

I didn’t necessarily put the book down sad or harassed though, contrary to all of this content. Quite the opposite, and that is her gift. My memories are most strongly of the forests and the creatures plants fruits and people within it, and those are what swim to the front of my mind when I consider this book.

Book Review: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

It felt like I never put this book down once I started it. Of course life disrupts us from life’s greatest pleasure, reading, but I rarely went long in my day without thinking about getting back to my book. I found myself up late often during this period due to an injury, and this book was a great companion to me through the quiet evenings.

The straight forward answer to ‘what is it about?’ is simply: a timeline of two families marching across time, weaving and swinging across, around and over each other.

That was always going to be enough to get me interested. What I didn’t expect was how connected I would become to each character in turn. As the timeline skipped and jumped, enough time was given to each voice to satisfy, but not so much as to forget the others.

I find it endlessly inspiring when people articulate clearly the internal dialogue around disorders, mental illness, professional trauma. It is hard and when it’s not done well it becomes incredibly hard work to read. Mary Beth Keane absolutely handles this with the care it deserves and helps humanise all of the voices involved with big, hard and often silent and domestic issues.

Inherited disorders, major injury, young love trumping logic, lust trumping fairness, people doing what they think is good or right before turning around, confused, and looking back on the years past with a perplexing uncertainty about whether it was right or not. It is all so human and not once in this work was I bored.

If you want to feel genuinely connected to a book, if you want to sit and readas quickly as you can and be given moments to gasp and sigh and feel genuine emotion, I recommend this book.

The story starts with Francis and Brian, new recruits in the police force who find their families growing and changing next door to each other. Francis is the ultimate picture of duty in both work and family and the two men’s lives split off in separate directions after Anne, Brian’s wife, ensures that both families will never be the same again in a moment of critical distress. Brian and Anne’s only child, Peter, and Francis and Lena’s girl, Kate, continue the connection of the two families and persist through complex internal family dynamics.

You are pulled along inch by inch, fearing the choices they make, rooting for them to come out the other side, and in my opinion the conclusion of the story felt right. It was concluded well and I felt ready for it to end, although I must admit to missing the characters now there is no more time to be had with them.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Young people in politics is always very exciting to me. It is one thing to have a young voice, it is another entirely to have that voice represent the “lay person”. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) gives us a lot to be interested by, as the youngest elected Congresswoman and as someone representing the voices of the young, the financially disadvantaged and general issues of community such as minimum wage increases, paid internships and greater accessibility to free health care.

I have to admit that the last few years saw me quite disengaged from international politics, and international news far more than ever before in my life. There are so many reasons why we swing in and out of our interests, previously I have not had the energy to pick up a book for pleasure simply because of the volume of university reading I was doing, whereas now I am churning through pages as I find that same comfort and energy build that I experienced as a young child reading and exploring universes and lives external to my own.

But it’s hard to miss AOC. Taking this time to research and learn about a truly positive influence on the American political circuit was refreshing for me, and is giving me energy in re-engaging with the rest of the world news more generally.

First, a quick summary of AOC’s life so far:

  • She grew up between the Bronx and Yorktown, giving exposure to different versions of “normal” as she visited family members and spent time in areas far from affluent.
  • AOC is university educated and has done her time both in the political sphere (working at Senator Ted Kennedy’s office) and working generally within her community (waiting tables and woking bars after the death of her father to support her family).
  • Her campaign for congress was community-funded and grass roots.
  • She is from the Democratic party.
  • She is actively demonstrating how interacting with members of the public can humanise politics and be more engaging for people – see her little Youtube video about her day she did for Vanity Fair, which currently has nearly 3.5 million views.

She came onto my radar as she responded to racist tweets put out by Donald Trump, directed at her and other congresswomen of colour. The best thing about it was that she turned his tools against him, responding through twitter. Actually, just take a look at this summary article of her best Twitter “clapbacks”… Entertaining reading. In every photo, every media clip, AOC is engaging, vibrant, alive – this is good political engagement to me.

I have to say this. In amongst discussions around AOC I saw comparisons to her election to Congress with the election of Donald Trump, proof that it truly can be “anyone” that makes it into the ranks of American politics. I’m irritated by these statements. AOC built her political backbone through networking and hard work, demonstrated education in her field and built her community support through authentic engagement. She was not money hungry, she did not rely upon fear and anxiety to build a base founded in misinformation and she was unable to utilise extreme professional and personal linkage to members of the American and international media to manipulate her way in to her position. I cannot understand that comparison, even if it is said with the best of intention.

Australia’s political landscape is currently in absolute turmoil with allegations of rape spanning decades finally coming to light. While our Prime Minister and other party officials fumble and drop the balls repeatedly around this, America is facing similar scrutiny with allegations made against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. AOC has been very verbal on twitter about this matter too and I hope that this continuous, seemingly unending shock that the media and white, privileged and male political figure heads seem to be experiencing can be replaced with substantive and actionable responses.

I really enjoyed looking into AOC and seeing the positive shifts and changes she is working towards. Minimum wage increases, more accessible health care, greater equality and representation in politics, all of these things I support. Plus this combo of a new “version” of a politician, combining with someone who has built a very successful team around her to promote herself very well using modern tools, social media and the press, is really inspiring and I wish her all the best in getting her work through.

Book Review: A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

I had heard a lot of recommendations for this book, and was keen for it to live up to expectations. The fact that I still recall moments of the book and during the read could see in my mind’s eye image of both person and place tells me that it did.

I think the first time I heard about this book it was described as ‘daring’. Now that doesn’t often hook me in, so I let the recommendation pass by me. It wasn’t until the fourth recommendation I heard, this time on Mamamia Out Loud, that I finally felt I at least needed to have my own opinion seeing as everyone else seemed to!

So when I started, in all honestly, I wasn’t convinced. I found the main character arrogant and unlikeable, but then it quickly became apparent that … that was sort of the point.

She hasn’t grown up a normal kid. She was arrogant because she’d never realised that can be negatively received. Then a friendship issue pops up and her internal thoughts and the description of their attempts to reconnect and to communicate again struck me as very real.

Just so no one gets a shock: there’s a lot of in depth sexy times. There is! So either read it because of that or read it knowing that it doesn’t matter, but Tu does a very good job at just telling the story of a young, sexual human who is a bit messed up but then is also completely normal in her coping, her experimentation.

Her lack of self love is clear sometimes during the sexy times, sometimes through her inner dialogue, and that is frustrating to read sometimes, but maybe, again, that’s the whole point. If you feel the book rub you the wrong way, keep going. The lack of detail about some characters at first felt borderline lazy and then as the story line continued it became clearer that it was actually a genuine reflection of our main characters view on the world.

I ended up reading this quickly to know what happened. As I say, I could visualise space time and people and I felt connected to the characters. This world of a young person going from thing to thing because they feel they have to is so common in our fast world, and to see the impact (albeit in fiction) was a good point of reflection.

Just because someone is good enough to be on the world stage, does that mean they should be? Who knows. But this next phase analysis and insight is well done. Ultimately I recommend this book. It felt unique in its voice. It felt fresh. And it felt identifiable yet held me at arms length, and I find that quite fascinating in hindsight.

Weekend Read: Not the Person I Used to Be

I write this post with a lens of love and with care. The person I am today is not the person I will be tomorrow, is not the person I was yesterday. Life expands and contracts, throwing people in and out of your orbit, and it is how gracefully we handle the emotions of this that gives inner comfort and demonstrates self kindness.

Each year passing feels faster, as we have more behind us to compare to. When summer holidays felt like they went forever, a weekend could be jam packed full of adventure, personal space and down time. I would have time to pause and realise I had not seen a friend in some time (which might equate to a few weeks), or decide I wanted to take up a new hobby.

In more recent years, and particularly with the completely life altering and jarring introduction of COVID-19 movement and lifestyle restrictions, I am experiencing life on what feels like x1.5. It’s not smashing past me, but there are times when I stand and give an audible ‘huh’ when I realise it has been literally months since I reached out to someone or saw them last.

There is risk in the gaps. The person you hung out with 7 months ago has potentially lived through a lot in the between time. As have you. And in recent years my life has been thrown some curve balls that actively altered massive parts of me. This means when I re-engage with people, the terms that I come to the table with have changed. And given we are all wrapped up in different layerings of social contracts, this can cause a lack of unity if the other person has also had their norm challenged by what you now bring forward, or have confirmed an alternative preference for communication and friendship for themselves.

Fundamentally I believe I am a good person. But I acknowledge that, just as with everyone, there are times when I could have been a better friend. The people who hold space for me despite those times I have fallen down for them are making active choices to do so, and there is no expectation that I will be afforded that grace tomorrow. They have chosen to see those times as the complicated reality that they were: mixed in with personal challenge and resulting growth, mixed in with changes in circumstance and complex life happenings that disrupted my “normal”.

I adore the version of myself that I am today. My mental health is strong, my outlook positive and my projection going in a direction that brings excitement, anticipation and pure joy. But I am a human, and am therefore flawed. I am a human, and therefore prone to set backs. I have far more boundaries and barriers about me than I had yesterday, some of which may come down with time, but some that I see as protective and important additions to me and how I care for myself.

I write this wondering how many people it may resonate with. For me, undergoing personal growth requires solitude and space. It requires reflection, demonstration of self-promotion and some real inner grit through times of conflict or difficulty. This has thrown me temporarily, and in some circumstances, permanently, out of orbit with some people in my life. It has felt painful at times, but I maintain that I am here, sitting at the table with a cup of tea and a jam donut, with a base emotion of gratitude and an undertone of care and understanding.

Please share below any reflections you have about this article in the comments section below.

Book review: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean 

If you grew up in any version of a small Australian country town, this story will resonate with you. What it says, and doesn’t say, sits at the back of your mind and repeats on you after reading.

It is no surprise that this story revolves around the disappearance of three sisters, we know this immediately. But the build up to that moment paints a truly normal example of hot, dry, Australian living that pulls you in and leaves you hunting through the pages for the next dripping of information.

There are so many elements of unknown to this story, but whereas I am sometimes frustrated by this technique, McLean justifies it to the reader. It is so genuinely rural, the nosey neighbour selling Tupperware or the blow in teacher being labelled at once as strange just for committing the crime of being unknown picking you up and placing you in the town in your mind’s eye.

It is hard work to pull off the narrative voice of an 11 year old girl, but Felicity McLean does so incredibly well. You feel genuinely connected to Tikka, our main story teller. Her frustrations and simplistic logic leave you with a crook of a smile as you follow her story.

Particularly well done is the hint of drama, violence or negative going-ons that find their way into Tikka’s life, and how she reconciles them or moves past them with a stoic shrug or a raised eyebrow. While she is from a seemingly comfortable family life, she is decidedly free range as is the norm for children from small country towns. Roaming around areas with her sister and close by neighbours and friends, the Van Apfel Girls, Tikka is exposed to culturally accepted (even expected) violence, socially normalised actions of adults and then the hovering disgruntlement of things just not quite being right, and then required to watch the adults around her dismiss those red alarms while this child watches on perplexed in silence.

Her gaffes and moments of mispeaking are wholesome and relatable and when she justifies her actions and responses it really brought me back to my own rational thought at 11. Her engagements with adults show a girl clever beyond her years but innocent to her core. The disappearance of her friends alter her life course entirely and the discomfort in the untold lingers long in her psyche.

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone is a true demonstration of human experience. It’s not overly complicated, it doesn’t give you everything you ask of the plot, and yet those decisions by McLean feel entirely purposeful. I finished this book ready to move on from the fatigue of the emotion explored in Tikka’s experience, which is exactly how she as the story teller ended things, ready to move on and let go. Yet it wasn’t heavy reading, as her voice is wholesome and layered with a clarity of youth that helps you to keep moving along.

Margaret Tucker

Now Margaret Tucker lived until she was 92 years old, so this blog entry can’t possibly cover everything there is to be said about her, her life or her experience. As always, I am just highlighting a wonderful person in our history who may not be well known by you. Enjoy!

I have an inbuilt curiosity to learn about the experiences of people, I love every moment of finding out about people that are different to me and storing the information away to ponder on and consider later. When I read about the lived experience of our nation’s first people growing up in the early 1900s, there is a striking pause point where I simply have to stop and consider how truly disconnected I am from that experience, how I am lacking so many little pieces of information to give me a full picture, how I will never truly understand. How infuriating it is that so often I can’t see the details because my readily accessible history has been curated by people who time and again have chosen other voices, whiter voices, to be at the forefront of the pages.

Every person’s voice is critically important in history, this is part of why I write this blog. Every person’s achievements deserve telling. I connect to Margaret Tucker as a woman, but I am never going to know the true feeling of what it was to be her. The time I have lived in, the colour of my skin, so many things separate me fundamentally from Tucker in a way that I cannot mend, but that I can acknowledge, sit with and reflect on.

At the age of 12, Tucker’s life took a turn that happened far too often, and is never to be understated. Forcibly removed from her family to be placed in the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, her life commenced a new chapter without any say from her, landing her in servitude to white families and dragging her away from her connection to family, community and culture.

Tucker, by all accounts, was a tireless fighter. She worked, she had a child with her husband, she began volunteering her time to activist movements for aboriginal rights. Whether it was as one of the founding members and treasurer of the Australian Aborigines League, or the creation of the National Day of Mourning to replace Australia Day on 26 January 1938, she seemed incapable of stopping in her efforts to give voices to those who didn’t have them, often having to build the platforms from the ground up to give that opportunity.

“Over the years Margaret Tucker won the respect of people because of her refusal to be embittered by the injustices and wrongs done to her people. Her philosophy was to go on fighting to put the wrongs right. This she did quietly but resolutely, even though, as a victim of the pre-World War II NSW Aboriginal system, she had every right to be bitter.”

https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/tucker-margaret-elizabeth-auntie-marge-1556

Margaret Tucker truly seems like the kind of woman that you would be grabbed by, swept up by, brought along by.

I love thinking about how engaging she must have been. She was awarded the MBE (Order of British Merit) due to the hard work she did for the welfare of aboriginal Australians. She worked in a munitions factory during World War II. The tenacity and wonder of her is fabulous and each bit I learn about her makes me a little bit happier.

I look forward to reading her book, If Everyone Cared. I will be sure to come back with a book review when I get through it. Without hearing from her more directly just yet, I can’t make an assessment around whether she persisted and flourished despite of, or because of, her early life experienced. Either way, she did it well and with passion, and her selfless actions were rewarded again and again. More than the accolades I read about, it is the respect with which she written about and the care with which her history is retold.

Just before I go: While I am, quite honestly, not fully informed enough to comment in detail on this, I do also acknowledge that today we still see the removal of far too many aboriginal children from their family units and placed into care systems such as foster care. Put under the banner or guise of “intervention” or “concern”, there are systemic cultural and social practices that reflect continued bias and racism that needs to be addressed.

Book Review: How It Was by Janet Ellis

This storyline revolves around one family, it’s growth, decay and ultimate demise. Unlikeable characters, time jumps and a rather uniquely honest retell of the complex relationship between a mother and daughter takes the reader to a place otherwise left unexposed.

I was immediately curious when I read the premise of this book. Not because of a thrilling plot line, or because of the promise of hooks twists and turns. This book doesn’t really do that. How It Was shows the reader the layered complications of being a woman ‘of a certain era’ and how that can lead to barriers in relationships. With husbands. With friends. With children.

The housewife is an ultimately wholesome figure in our Western history. But she is also often silenced. The gig is lonely, often thankless, and the quiet resentment and agitation that builds slowly over years of routine and simplicity is accutely felt in this story.

Marion, the Matriarch and main character, is unlikeable. She is. Her impulse control is frayed, her insight into herself is void of any reflective practice and she demonstrates her love through a series of spiteful tests and walls constructed to prove a pre determined point already decided upon.

As the plot unravels we see the way Marion removes her hands from the wheel, allowing a precarious situation to unravel. Unenthusiastic even in her defiance and appearing to only destroy her routine and comfort out of opportunity and carelessness, Marion demonstrates what damage can be achieved by those who act in spite.

The conflict of a mother watching her daughter grow into a woman is something I have heard before, but the raw and primal responses described in this book were new to me. I am quite certain they are not experienced by every mother, to be clear. However, Janet Ellis describes a sharp dislike by Marion towards her daughter in a way that jars with normal expectations of maternal love. It feels authentic and as if the only wrong her daughter Sarah has done to Marion is to flourish into adolescence while Marion feels the stagnation of her post. The lack of communication, the lack of trust, is stark and of its era, but it is deeply sad and incredibly well articulated.

The same can be said for the relationship between Marion and her husband. The silence that exists in the relationship, the fatigue that settles between them, makes you want to cry out in frustration. The intentional barrier crossing and tension feeling remarks and actions are just so normalised in the dialogue but it still sits so poorly and made me feel angry at how dissatisfying being either party would be in this relationship. Which, ultimately, is excellent work by Ellis.

How It Was ends in a way that made me sit back, put the book in my lap and go ‘hah. Of course.’ It is satisfying and an enjoyable read. I did become a little frustrated reading Sarah’s journal entries as I dont think Ellis quite got the voice right every time. But she did throw in an incredibly powerful tool, setting the reader up to hear something said to Sarah which, when you hear her tell her mother the words spoken genuinely made me gasp and sigh in disappointment at the whole situation.

I would strongly recommend this book and enjoyed becoming enveloped in their life. It made me grateful for my relationship with my own mother and grateful for my life stage and perspective on things.