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Wallpaper: Week 19: Blogging for survival.

She is in the hardware store. A well known Australian warehouse chain. She is looking for something in the plumbing department. What she needs is not a regular item, so she approaches a young male retail assistant and asks him for just that, some assistance. He can’t help, so he wanders off to find someone who can.

All good so far.

While she waits, another customer starts searching around in the same area for a piece of plumbing equipment and can’t find what he is looking for either. By the time the shop assistant returns with the answer to her query, the other customer is standing idly next to her.

The shop assistant sees this and makes an instantaneous leap in cognition, leaving behind many decades of feminist toil, the evolution of humankind and whatever training in customer service he was subject to. In answer to her original query, the shop assistant now addresses the man standing beside her. Telling the hapless fellow that they don’t have the item she wanted and will have to order it in.

A couple of things happen.

The man gives the shop assistant a blank stare. The shop assistant returns it. Seconds pass. Then the man begins to tell the shop assistant about his own plumbing equipment problem.

She stands. Looking at both of them.

Angry. Disappointed. Humiliated.

Then she turns to the shop assistant and in a voice that could refreeze the glacial melt says, ‘Young man, don’t you realise that in this country, women have been allowed out in public with their own money for at least 100 years.’.

My mother is a feminist Trojan horse. To the unwary she looks like a little, not- so- young lady. She probably blends in with a certain shopping demographic that large retail chains think they understand, appearing as if she chanced upon the plumbing section of the store on the way to the nursery. Seeming like a lot of other mothers.    

That’s the kind of thinking that spelt the fall of Troy.

Describing this encounter to me, weeks later, she was still incensed. I asked her what it was about the experience that still bought angry tears to her eyes. And it was not that she didn’t count as much as the man standing next to her, or that the shop assistant assumed he was her husband and therefore would be doing all the talking, or that they thought she wasn’t that smart, or that she couldn’t possibly be buying plumbing supplies. It was that her presence didn’t even register. It didn’t count AT ALL. She was invisible.

Recently my daughter told me about meeting an amazing woman who has been a high profile activist for many years. She spoke of how galling it now was to walk into a room to begin negotiations and not even be noticed or greeted. Barely listened to. Once she hit a certain age, she became wallpaper.

And so I’m tossing this around. Thinking it through. Some say it is pheromones. That once there is a whiff of those hormones on the turn some primal light goes out inside the brains of men. Maybe. Really?

And it’s not that I give serious thought to the monastic life to come, to no longer being considered attractive to others, to roaming the streets as a homeless cougar. No. Not really. What I really fear is no longer having a voice. Not being able to stand up for the things I believe in. Not counting.

In the western caste system, ageing women are the most repellent. First an object of fear, then the subject of satire and then the victims of cultural amnesia. With a whole society forgetting that we are each unique, unrepeatable. And that wild law demands we do the work of caring for the planet, and each other, together.

I don’t feel afraid for my Mum, or my daughter for that matter. They have shifted their shapes when the wildness called them. Bending so as not to break and becoming winged when they needed to soar. No. Beyond hardware stores, they have a secret life.

It is the world I feel afraid for. That the threads that create a reality are too thin to carry the weight of this dignity, this love, this story in the making.

And we will all be left. Staring at the wallpaper.




Open enemies. Week 1. Blogging for survival.

The ancient Astrologers had a name for those who would bring you undone. The ones that wished you harm, the ones who would happily see you slip on a banana peel during your campaign speech or inaugural oration. The ones who have heat blisters from their boiling core temperatures just thinking about you ever being happy, the ones who just loathe you. Publicly, loudly and daily. These charmers they named ‘open enemies’.

I have a compelling kind of admiration for these guys. They are the burlesque of the hater world. Lots of colour, some snappy moves and a baring of the breast when required. So open are they about the pursuit of your painful and embarrassing demise that they make no secret of their hopes in the matter and often share their vision of a better world. Without you in it.

It’s the hater pantomime that curdles the milk in my morning tea. The benign seeming someone who is really an icy machine, calculating the ways you can be made to suffer. The quiet achiever who during their work hours is researching how to hex you with interminable itching and have you buried alive with your hands tied behind your back. The one who is not in a hurry because they have all the time in the world to think about you. And not in a, shall we say, really uplifting kind of way.

It’s all energy. And I’m thinking a lot about energy lately. How to keep it moving. A bit like a pass the parcel. So even if you unwrap a real stinker, you don’t have to hold onto it for too long. Not so much about shifting responsibility but more a strategic feint. Just moving sideways so that energy doesn’t hit you like a medicine ball.

Open enemies aren’t my beef. I stand a fighting chance with someone so transparent. And although war games do not appeal to me, a couple of strategic hip and shoulders are never out of the question. It’s like bringing in Lion pooh from the Zoo and sprinkling it around your perimeter to ward off the tom cats. I’m not big. But I’ve watched the movies.

So it’s these other someone’s I’m learning how to be in the world with. Learning how not to share my energy with, or send my energy to. Trying to master the Zen of ‘that felt really bad and I’m going to teleport myself to somewhere else right now’. And you know, I really think I’m getting somewhere with the energy thing. Which is good.

Because I need all the energy I have to practice untying myself while buried alive.

The weakness in me

I sweet talk myself into the car after sweeping the kitchen floor for the fifteenth time. Maybe a piece of dirt strolled in and plonked itself there to make a fool out of me. All the way to the airport I reason with my ego and cross examine myself. The young self of many years past. What kind of person were you all those years ago? What if you have morphed into some fringe dweller with a culture deficit and no one’s told you? When was the last time you did an all-nighter in the room of mirrors?

And what of her? What if she’s acquired attitude or she wears ghastly shoes?  What if she’s accustomed to the good life and expects to drink Moet? What if she doesn’t laugh at my jokes or I make her cry? What if she likes Television? What if she doesn’t care that people are not free, the environment is in peril and Australia’s human rights record is an abomination? What if, heaven forbid, she is reading ‘Fifty shades of Grey’?

It’s been twenty five years.

In that time Mother Teresa and Princess Di are dead, mobile phones have been invented, Chernobyl saddened us, Tiananmen Square angered us and Aung San Suu Kyi mobilized us with her beauty and sacrifice. Mandela prevailed but the Birmingham 6 lost sixteen precious years of their lives for naught. The Soviet Union and Monica Lewinsky met the same fate, one we can all read uncensored, unedited and unreferereed in Wikipedia, or if we Google it on the World Wide Web. We have a special hell now for bad guys at the International Criminal Court where punishment is meted out to the victims and the accused, taking suffering and trauma to a whole new level. And I have mourned the demise of the Drive-In movies and eternal love.

On the way to the airport I stop at a car wash. Double foam, double rinse, double sparkly shiny stuff, double vacuum.  I suck up a whole box of KFC someone left on the back seat.  $30 of spare change later and my matchbox sized car is so clean, so neutralized, so sterilised of me. Great. Now I’ll be driving her home in a sanitation unit on wheels. Yum. A dab of air freshener anyone?

Arriving at the airport I take a deep breath. Floral bouquet fills my lungs. I’m at low and glassy eyed ebb. Does she still like Joan Armatrading? Do I still like Joan Armatrading? We were drawn together through a shared love of music and our telling recognition of a kindred social outcast. With teenage elasticity we pulled each other from the perilous purgatory of our Janis Ian suffering. Right now though it pales in comparison. Teenage angst has nothing on mid life torment. She waits. Composed. I’d forgotten that about her. Stillness. We embrace. I let myself glance quickly in her eyes. They shine. Excellent. We are both still alive.

The days together become seamless, new narratives blending with old, remapping past memories with the verdigris of time. In the evenings she invites me into the new world of contemporary music and explains popular culture to me with her refined sense of quirkiness. I’d forgotten that about her too.

On the way somewhere an observation is made about my love of the word fabulous. ‘You would love my local Mayor, he also thinks everything is fabulous’ she says, and smiles. ‘Yeah’ I say, ‘I use Fabulous and Fuck in equal measure’. She laughs. The sound comes bursting forth from her teenage self. Bold. Rich. Musical guffaws of joy breaking around us. Ah yes. I had  forgotten that also.

And so the two versions of us merge. I still see the kid when I look at her, but her words are from an ancient place. Chiseled from the Jurassic period. I take them and I put them in my museum of beautiful things. So I will never forget. It’s the weakness in me.

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