Sunday, September 29, 2013

It's rude to stare.

Have I told you how much I hate ginger?  For all its apparent medicinal qualities, the taste of ginger makes my mouth water even as I write about it, not the mouth watering sensation that says I’m-keen-to get-into-this-food type, but the mouth watering that happens when I’m ill and nausea creeps up from the ache in my gut to my mouth and my nose.

My husband, on the other hand, treasures ginger.  He drinks it as tea.  In deference to me he leaves fresh ginger out of most of his cooking though lately I’ve noticed he’s been sneaking it into some of his fish pies, as if he imagines I will not detect it – not when he introduces the ginger gradually, surreptitiously. 

This reminds of those desensitization experiments we tried when I was studying basic psychology years ago.  The idea that if someone is phobic about something, say phobic of kitchen brooms, you gradually introduce them to things that remind them of brooms and little by little, up the ante, until they are finally face to face with a real broom.

Either this exposure will cure them of their phobia or it will drive them mad, or so one of our lecturers told us.  It struck me then as a risky business. 

My husband’s efforts to introduce ginger into our diet have not cured me.  I still hate the stuff.

Why does it give me satisfaction to announce one of my pet hatreds with such equanimity?  

I recognize there are many people who have difficulty with the word ‘hate’, almost as much as I have difficulties with ‘ginger’.

It's as if the word ‘hate’ becomes the state of mind called hatred, and to hate someone is to do damage to them simply through your feelings.  I suppose hate has that absolute quality.  Very black, on the continuum of black to white. 

We were out to dinner last night in a cheap and cheerful dumpling place on Glenferrie Road.  We had ordered from the menu, avoiding all things ginger, filling up fast on dumplings as our entrĂ©e.  I sat facing the door, which meant I could not spend too much time staring at the other diners in the restaurant.
My husband sat beside me, my daughter opposite.  She had a full view of inside the restaurant but did not report on it to me.  She preferred to keep me in the dark. 

It’s rude to stare.  

I know this but I cannot stop myself when even mid-conversation with my daughter and husband, an activity elsewhere catches my eye.  There on the periphery of my vision the fascinating movements of others, and although we sat at the door of the restaurant and could only see people as they came in and went out, there was plenty of action.
The door kept jamming.  People arrived and could not get inside without exerting a huge shove at the door.  Then some forgot to close the door once they were inside.  The springtime winds are turbulent at the moment and the door left unsnibbed sprang open every time a gust caught it.
A couple of older women on a table parallel to ours copped the full blast whenever this happened. I watched as they complained. I watched as one of the waiters, seemingly one more senior, spent much of his time running back and forth to catch the door and seal it after some careless person had left it open yet again. 

'Don't stare,’ my daughter said, but even she turned to look when a youngish man went to leave and staggered at the door.  His friend, a young woman followed close behind.  

‘You can’t go out there,’ the young woman said just as the man collapsed beside her. 

Then a great flurry of attention.  ‘Call an ambulance,’ the girl said to the waiter and everyone grabbed their mobiles, including my daughter.  

The restaurant staff made the call and handed the phone to the young woman who talked to the ambulance people.  She gave the impression she knew what was happening. 

‘Stay with us,’ she said leaning over the collapsed man on the floor.  She nudged at his inert body.

‘A drug overdose,’ I said to my daughter. 

In minutes, the young man came to.  Staff helped him to his feet and then he went to sit outside on a bench in front of the restaurant with his friend, a couple of staff members and other passers-by who had elected to stop.

How could I not stare? I was trying to work out the story in my head.  I had decided by now it was not a drug overdose. The man seemed too alert, too clear eyed even from a distance. 

Maybe he was a diabetic.

In time the ambulance came and as we left the restaurant ourselves I saw the young man and his friend seated in the ambulance in conversation with the paramedics.  All seemed well by then and I told myself I must not pre-judge and decide that some one has overdosed any more than than I should avoid all things ginger. 

It might open my mind to the possibility of a new taste even if it makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Sliding backwards

Not long after she was handed her driving license my mother took out her new second hand car, a pea soup green Farina that was shaped like a woman, all curves and narrow fenders.

On the Saturdays on which my mother was rostered to work as a child care officer at Allambie, she drove to and from her workplace with her four youngest children in tow.   I was ten and the oldest of the four.
My mother took the car key with her into work and warned us not to lock the car should we decide to go for a walk or leave for any other reason.  Otherwise we would not be able to get back inside the car until her return at five o’clock.  We were not to interrupt her at work.
Those days were long.  My mother parked her car on Elgar Road not far from the Wattle Park.  We killed time by walking to the park and mucking around on the no longer functional tram that had been installed as part of the children’s play equipment.  

Back inside the car in the middle of the day we ate the jam sandwiches we had brought from home.  We doled them out slowly so as to have something to do and also to keep our hunger at bay.  We spent the late afternoon dozing and reading books in the fuggy warmth of my mother’s car.  Nine to five, so many hours to fill for four small children alone in a green Farina.
On the way home I sat in the front seat.  I helped my mother to drive by anticipating her need to turn corners.  It must have annoyed her when I insisted on clicking on and off the indicator light whenever she turned to right or left, but she did not protest.
My mother was a nervous driver and often stalled at lights. Worse still, her green Farina had sloppy brakes. We sat at the top of the hill at the intersection of Mont Albert and Balwyn Roads and waited for the car’s inevitable slow slide back, even with the hand brake raised.  I hoped the lights might change soon before the car hit anyone behind us.  

In the nick of time my mother re-engaged the gears and we shot ahead spared the humiliation of a collision.

My mother had a serious accident within a year of getting her license, serious as far as her Farina was concerned.  She gave up driving then, too terrified to get back behind a steering wheel.  With no one to encourage her, my mother lost her opportunity.
She told us years later that she had wanted to learn to drive again but by then my father was against it.  He was dependent on her company.  ‘If she gets her license,’ he said,  ‘she’ll never stay at home.’  He preferred to act as her driver instead and so my mother became a kept woman once more.

We’re slipping back into the past in this country with a conservative government at the helm.  There’s only one woman in the ministry among all those men, all dressed in dark suits, including the one woman.  We have a new title for our Immigration Department that includes the words ‘border protection’ – it seems once again we need to protect our borders.  And now we have no ministry for science, or for aging, disability or mental health, all those areas in which vulnerable people need assistance. 

We have slipped back into the one dimensional world of white Anglo Saxon, homophobic times and it terrifies me.  My only hope is this is cyclical and the slide backwards will not continue. 

I wrote a letter to a friend but did not send it.  I did not send it because I did not want to revive a situation that is now over.  I did not send it in part because I cannot revive a friendship that is over.

And so my letter sits in its envelope unopened, sealed forevermore, so many words unread, so many thoughts unshared. 

My letter will go where all the other letters-not-sent go.

There must be many such letters written by people in the heat of a moment, written with the intention of communicating to another, but lost through a change of heart.  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sex and death

There’s a story doing the rounds in cyberspace about a father who wants to teach his adolescent daughter a lesson. In the family’s blog he is dressed in very short shorts and stands provocatively at a bar for the benefit of what I imagine to be someone’s iphone camera. 

Apparently, both the father and his wife do not enjoy the spectacle of their daughter dressed in her short shorts.  They consider it unseemly, obscene, inappropriate, disturbing, provocative – you name it.
Despite their protests, the daughter had insisted on wearing her short shorts to a family dinner and so her father took a pair of his shorts from his room, cut off a few inches from the legs, and wore them out to dinner, too.
Did the daughter learn her lesson?  I’m not sure. I’ve been trying to figure out what the lesson is.

Had the girl’s mother cut her own shorts down to size, the comparison might have been more telling.  

I ask myself why these things matter?  Why do we care so much about young women wearing their short shorts?  
Then there’s the Robin Thicke clip that’s also doing the rounds to the song Blurred Lines.  The lyrics are provocative, implying there are blurred lines to sexual consent. The men are in suits, the women naked.

 To counter this a group of Auckland University students created a spoof where the men, dressed only in white underpants, dance to the whims of the women who are fully clothed.  The lyrics are different, too.  An attack on misogyny.  

Not long after mini skirts came into vogue, women started to burn their bras in protests against patriarchal constraints.  At the same time not wearing a bra could be sexually provocative.
I cannot be sure what led me not to wear a bra on my wedding day.  Was it simply because my wedding dress could not sit well with the imprint of a bra beneath.  

My wedding dress was of a fabric that I believed could conceal the fact that I did not wear a bra. At least in my mind it was sufficiently modest, though I later heard rumours that people like my mother were horrified.  

I have the horrors myself when I look back on another time, a New Years Eve in the 1970s when I decided to go bra-less to a party at a friend's house in Ivanhoe.  

I had bought myself a blouse, a long floppy sleeved and cropped blouse, the type you see on a flamenco dancer.  It came together tied in a knot across my midriff.  The white cotton was as thin as a summer nightie, and almost as transparent. 

I wore it with pride.  But now I find myself cringing at my exhibitionism if indeed that is what it was.
That night people got drunk.  Someone pushed someone else into a swimming pool.  Fellows slipped off their clothes.  The men, I might add, not the women.  

The women wore bathing suits, but several of our young male companions took to skinny dipping. 
It was a night of arousal though nothing untoward happened as far as I can remember, though to look on it from the outside it might have looked like an orgy.

I wonder then about what is or is not appropriate in this life?  What determines our behaviour?  What do we decide is obscene and what not? 

Yesterday as family members stood around the grave side of an elderly aunt about to be buried I checked out the depth of the hole.   
‘It’s so deep,’ I said.
‘But look at that clay,’ one brother said.  ‘Oh to get my hands init.  To sculpt from it.’
‘It needs to be deep,’ someone else said, ‘so they can fit another body on top.’
I looked into the hole in the ground and wondered what it must be like for my uncle to see his eventual resting place.   

My husband and I have yet to choose a burial plot.  I think about it.  Preparations for death.     

My sister has made a family pall of white silk, embroidered in gold thread.  It has sections to represent all the members of our immediate family and in each section my sister has included both zirconium crystals to represent the boys in each family on the extended line and tiny pearl button to represent the girls.  

The pall symbolises the lives of our parents and their nine children, twenty three grandchildren and twelve great grandchildren with another two on the way.  My sister hopes that every member of our family will use this pall for their own funerals.  

I shrink a little inside whenever I see the pall.  It seems to me it will soak up so much grief and I cannot help but think of the pall draped over my own coffin when I die, or when my husband dies, my siblings, my mother and in time my children and then their children.   

There’s something ominous about a pall, so unlike a christening gown, which signals new life.  

‘When you’re dead you’re dead,’ my brother said.  ‘You won’t know.’  
'But there’s the build up to death.'  One my cousins nodded her head in recognition of my qualms but another sister insisted she does not think of these things. 

We chattered on about death until my oldest brother leaned over, ‘I’m not sure now is the time to be analyzing such matters.’

People stood at the side of the grave and waited for the funeral organisers to do their thing.  We fell silent, though a few chatterers further up the hill continued to talk.
When human silence prevailed I heard the birds twitter in the trees above and fell back to thinking not so much of my aunt whose body was about to be lowered into the ground but of the rest of us still alive who are left trying to make sense of how we might go on living in a world filled with rules and regulations about how we should behave.  

I still cringe at the sight of me in my see through blouse.  
My older self wonders how could she do it?  
My younger self says, who cares?  

The celebrant read out a poem.  Her words stay with me.  'Your bones are made of stars/ your blood is filled with oceans.'  

There's more to us all than our appearance or desires.  

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The stuff of families

My husband’s brother dropped in this morning, too early for my liking.  I find myself trying to work off my resentment as I offer him a cup of tea.  

My husband has gone for a shower while I make small talk.  My brother in law sits at the table.  his boots scuff at the floor.

My husband supports my wish to write uninterrupted in the morning.  He cannot help that his brother arrives early before he, my husband, has even had a chance to dress.  

My brother in law knows the drill.  He knows that after I have said my hellos and poured him a cup of black and sugar free tea, I will leave the kitchen and escape to my writing room. 
He knows this and seems sanguine about it but I am troubled by what seems to me like rudeness. 
You do not leave guests unattended.  

My husband will join his brother in a few minutes and then I can close the door on them both and get into my own world, but for a moment I am riddled with the guilt that comes of not being hospitable.
How would it be today had my husband’s brother not suffered trauma at birth all those years ago?  Had he not been starved of oxygen as he first entered the world?  Had he not been born with a mild form of cerebral palsy?

My husband’s brother grew up the oldest of six children but the responsibilities of first born fell to my husband who came next.  These responsibilities continue to this day.  

My brother in law passes all his correspondence onto my husband who sifts through, sorts out and fills out forms as necessary, ever since their parents died nearly twenty years ago.

My husband and I laughed when a bowel cancer test kit arrived earlier week, redirected to my husband by his brother.
‘I can fill out the forms,’ my husband told his brother on the phone, ‘but I can’t take the test for you.’
‘You’ll have to tell me what to do then,’ my brother in law said, and my husband groaned at the thought.

This is the stuff of families.  The stuff we do without question even as we might sometimes resent it.