Saturday, December 13, 2014

The darker the better

I once held a job at the general post office in the city, a holiday job, my first ever job between the completion of my final year at school and the Christmas holidays. 

Before they set us to sorting letters the bosses asked us to fill out forms and swear allegiance to the queen. We were sworn in as public servants and required to obey codes of confidentiality, integrity and honesty.  We might see things in the mail that we were not meant to see, or that might unsettle us or could be dangerous. We were to report to our superiors anything that looked suspicious and for the rest we were to sort. 

Thousands of envelopes, all shapes and sizes, spat at us from different directions and we sorted them by postcodes.  People did not routinely include their postcode with each address then, so it was for us to learn the area codes of each suburb and sort accordingly.

I dreamed numbers at night in my sleep and my fingers dried out for the spreading of letters.  I was shy.  I did not speak to my fellow workers.  All that allegiance for only two weeks and then came Christmas Eve, my job ended and I walked out to Flinders Street station with my first ever pay packet.  A wad of cash in a rectangular yellow envelope with a typed out pay slip that detailed my hours and status, casual and temporary. 

We lived in Parkdale near the sea.  On that last day I took the train home and walked into the house, which we never locked on the premise there was nothing inside worth stealing and called out to which ever of my sisters or brothers might be at home, but there was no one there.  I went outside to catch the last of the sun.

In those days, as soon as the sun brought with it a hint of heat, I made it my business to spend at least ten minutes almost naked under it.  Ten minutes to begin with, gradually building up the time spent in the sun to prepare my skin for its transformation from the white of winter into the golden glow of the warm months. 

It played on my mind.  If there was ever a day when I could not get outside into the back garden hidden from view or later to a nearby swimming pool then I became anxious.  

I would not be able to appear on the street in summer unless my skin was tanned.  Unlike my older sister whose skin, like our mother’s, held an olive glow, my skin took after my father’s, pale and prone to freckles.  At least if I followed my older sister’s tanning instructions and spent the requisite number of minutes building up each day then I did not burn red but instead turned to copper.  The darker the better.

Every summer the same requirement.  To spend more hours in the sun than was available.  I did not question this need to tan.  I did not challenge the unspoken orthodoxy that demanded my body become a respectable brown before I could expose any of it to public view.  It was a given.  Others joined me in this requirement.  Even as my mother went on about an aunt who spent entire holidays on the beach.
‘Her skin will go wrinkly.  She spends too much time outside.’ 

Even as I could not fathom the right amount of time to spend in the sun, to grow into an ideal brown, not too brown or I might be mistaken for an aboriginal and my skin would wrinkle as much as if I were an eighty year old, I knew I still needed to get to that optimal colour.

And then slip, slop, slap came in, and with it, the fear of skin cancer and they changed all the rules.                     

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Out of wedlock

Yesterday, we sat in a circle in the lounge room of a cousin who lives near the beach at Sandringham where we commemorated the life of another cousin, who died ten days ago on the other side of the world in Holland, at the age of sixty five. 

I did not know this cousin well.  She was older than me and our paths rarely crossed, apart from during my brief visits to Holland and hers to Australia, but she is lodged forever in my memory and imagination. 

I don’t remember when my mother first told me that this cousin had been born out-of-wedlock.  Such a loaded expression ‘wedlock’, as if the institution itself is some sort of guarantee of imprisonment or security. 

My cousin was born in 1949, not long after the Second World War, and she lived then with her mother and for a short time, her father, who at the time was married to another woman.  He did not stay around for long. 

Imagine this at a time when illegitimacy and infidelity in marriage were far more unacceptable than today. 

We have such a craving for certainty in life, such a desperation that people and events meet our expectations and we look down on those who fail to comply. 

On another note, in my large extended family, the children of my many siblings, there is one in particular to whom I draw your attention.  She has joined me in keeping a blog.

Hers is a special blog because it deals with life and death at its core. 

I don't want to speak for my niece other than to draw you to her blog, A Loquat Tree.  She speaks well enough alone.  

Maybe if someone visiting here reads this blog, they might find a way of helping us all in the vast blog community to find a cure. 

I’m big on people working together, as much as I also snuggle into the notion that conflict is a good thing.  It’s necessary in order to allow for growth.  It’s not the conflict itself but the way it’s handled that determines its ability to be constructive.

And I am in conflict about sharing this blog with you because of other peoples’ sensitivities and concerns about privacy, but it seems important to go ahead anyhow.

I talked with one of my sisters yesterday, a sister and a Facebook friend, and she joked about my predilection to go on political rants, particularly in aid of asylum seekers. 

I thought then maybe I should stop shouting in order that my message be better heard. 

But in these two instances, that of my niece and the asylum seekers, I’m not shouting for myself alone. 

I’m shouting for all those of us who are vulnerable, who struggle and for whom life has dealt a rum hand. 

It could happen to you, or me or anyone of us, but these people by dint of circumstance - fate, chance, accident, whatever - find themselves in impossible situations, and they must deal with them as best they can.

As always, it helps to share the load. 

And then like my Dutch cousin, who – despite, or maybe because of her tough beginning in life – was a wonder at helping others, we die. 

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

A trip to the beach

Here's the short story I posted about earlier.   You might like to read them all.  Mine's second in line.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Show yourself

At the dogleg turn on Trenerry crescent near Dights Falls in Abbotsford, a group of artists have created a makeshift gallery.  As you drive into the turn you face a stretch of wall that extends the length of the road and the freeway, presumably to block out sound. 

Months ago I noticed the first small offering, a portrait in the centre of the first section of the wall, soon followed by another couple of works, a treescape, a landscape, and a splodge of colour. 

More recently the number of pictures has trebled.  

There’s one that stands out: a take on an old classic, with a view of the harbour where a dark skinned and naked aboriginal man with spear in hand looks over the water to an approaching eighteenth century vessel and curses, ‘Bloody boat people’. 

There’s also a large photograph on paper of a native tribeswoman from somewhere like Africa. 

There are more scenes of trees and water and several portraits, mostly in oils, though there’s also one that looks to be a lithograph, judging by its texture and colour and a tiny piece on tin.

Some pictures are small, most on plywood canvases and some take up more space than others, but each nestles comfortably alongside its companion, as if this gallery were planned and arranged by some thoughtful curator.  Though that’s unlikely. 

I reckon this gallery has sprung up in the wonderful way these things do when one person inspires another to add to their own inspiration, and now we have this evocative, albeit temporary, gallery on Trenerry Crescent.

Temporary only in so far as the natural elements, the rain and sun and wind, will eventually destroy the images over time but they have been standing up to the worst of the weather for several months now and maybe as one dies – certainly the photograph of the tribeswoman on paper will disappear soon – maybe others will take their place.

This type of installation gives me hope in human nature at a time when the world seems grim. 

We have a state election to vote in today and without getting too caught up in local politics, it’s suffice for me to say my world seems to be leaning in a far right direction that’s terrifying. 

I heard on the radio today that our government had turned back a boatload of some thirty seven-asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, including six children.  Sri Lankan government representatives then intercepted these asylum seekers and took them into custody while they await trial for 'falsely leaving the country' or some other such crime. 

I don’t understand all the ins and outs of it but it makes me wonder about this business of being forced to stay in an unbearable situation, because no one else wants you, and the powers that be don’t want you to leave from under their auspice. 

I have been finding it more difficult to write about my life lately.  Some internal silencer whispers in my ear, you can’t say that. You can’t talk about that.  In case someone reads and is offended, in case someone reads and decides I have violated their privacy, in case someone reads and disagrees with my version of events. 

If I listen to these voices for too long, I am paralysed into silence. 

That’s another thing that seems to happen in the things I read.  The extraordinary pressure on people to say the outrageous, write something new, give us something to get excited about, but don’t go too far.

If you do, the naysayers will be out in droves and crucify you.

Has it ever occurred to readers that the writers who dare to put their writing out there have stuck their necks out, have exposed themselves, so why not tread gently with their critiques? 

I was once friendly with a woman many years ago and I realised too late that she enjoyed listening to me speak about all the things she could not/would not say, but she did not reciprocate. 

She did not offer any self-revealing versions of her own vulnerability.  It was up to me to provide the grist, on which she could chew and then she could spit it out or do with it as she pleased. 

I know that people are different, some are more out there and others prefer to keep things close to their chests.  I don’t have a problem in either case but when the quiet ones get their rocks off listening to the noisy ones and then condemn the noisy ones for saying things they should not say then I reckon the quiet ones need to take a turn on centre stage and declare their views, so that they too can take a turn at exposure. 

The joy of the gallery lies here.  

I have never thought before to write under a pseudonym.  It has always been important to declare myself, but lately I have wondered what would it be like, to throw your words out there into the ether under a pseudonym, so that no one will know who you are, even if they believe they do.

To take up the name of a man, for instance, and see what type of response I get.  To be able to write all the things I fear I cannot say here and get away with it because the person of the writer does not exist, except as a fantasy, like those anonymous artists who put up their pictures in Trenerry Crescent.  

And how’s this for a treatise on the notion of thought, another antidote to my grim thoughts, from Brevity’s blog?

Quinn Norton writes:
There is more than one kind of thought. There are thoughts you cannot complete within a month, or a fiscal quarter, just as there are thoughts that can occupy less than a vacation period, a weekend, or a smoke break. Like the spectrum of photonic behavior, thoughts come in a nearly infinite range of lengths and frequencies, and always move at the exact pace of human life, wherever they are in the universe. Some thoughts are long, they can take years to think, or a lifetime. Some thoughts take many lifetimes, and we hand them off to the next generation like the batons in a relay race. Some of these are the best of thoughts, even if they can be the least productive. Lifetimes along, they shift the whole world, like a secret lever built and placed by the loving imaginations of thousands of unproductive stargazers.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Foreign germs

I enjoy a bit of mould in my food, in cheese, and yoghurt and other foodstuffs where it’s intended, but this morning’s yoghurt is on the turn and I debate whether to surge ahead and eat it or whether to chuck it in and start on a fresh tub. 

I have a cavalier attitude to mould and germs and the like.  If there’s not too much of it, fine, you can eat it.  Same with germs. 

When I was growing up my mother told us that it was fine for brothers and sisters to share the same cups and plates and knives and forks because we carry the same germs.  With a crowd like this, what could you expect?  

I took my mother at her word and passed on the same knowledge to my children who these days refuse to go along with my mother’s simple logic. 

Just because we share the same genetic material as in shared parents does not mean we carry the same germs. 

We can infect one another with all manner of illness if we’re not careful. 

The mould in my yoghurt sits on the lid and has not yet infected the entire tub. I should be safe. The yoghurt is not past its use by date.  The words on the outside of the tub tell me so. 

Therefore, if I stick to my principles and continue to eat, I should not get sick, food poisoning, gut ache, salmonella or any other such contamination.

How easy it is to feel contaminated. 

Especially with those childhood ailments, the tapeworms, the lice and the school sores. 

I’ve all but finished the tub of yoghurt I started earlier this morning and my stomach is roiling. 

Have I taken in too many foreign germs to keep me settled?