The Virus Diaries: The Kids are Better than All Right

April 5, 2020 at 12:40 pm (Cat pics, Entries that matter, Fully Sick, general life, Mum Stuff)

My kids are 5 and 8. It’s TJ’s first year of school; a moment that I have looked forward to with GREAT excitement for many years. He’s done plenty of day care and preschool, but Kindy is different. Apart from anything else, his education is finally in sync with Louisette’s.

But.

It’s kind of nice, to once more be the world expert on my kids. I mean, I was still the expert when they went to school but there was a huge chunk of every weekday I didn’t see or even know about. Because of COVID-19, I am once more the absolute centre of their world. Even when I’m not actively doing anything and/or when Chris is taking charge of everything kid-related, I can hear them and I know what’s going on in their lives every hour of every day.

I saw TJ’s face as his first tooth fell out.

I planted potatoes with Louisette.

I finally read one of my own books to TJ, and he loved it.

I’ve gotten back into reading with Louisette.

I’m almost as good as TJ on MarioKart.

Louisette is getting good at her times tables because of me.

Never forget that the reason your kids misbehave so much is that they know you’ll still love them no matter what they do.

This is the first generation in a long time to spend so much time with their primary caregiver/s after they reached school age. Years from now, the kids—mine and yours—won’t remember COVID-19 the way we do. They will remember wearing their PJs for weeks at a time, and sleeping in every day, and never having to rush to get to school. They’ll remember the time you got sick of education and watched a movie with them instead, and the time you burned popcorn together and stunk out the entire house. They’ll remember countless hours spent becoming a genuinely skilled athlete thanks to your cheap plastic basketball hoop, and jumping every day on the trampoline that they’d forgotten existed. They’ll remember eating wraps for lunch instead of regular bread, and drinking juice instead of milk—we’ll know it was because we couldn’t find the groceries we needed, but they’ll just remember how fun it was—and they’ll forget the day they screamed because there was only half a fish fillet in their dinner instead of a whole one. They’ll remember lying in the sun at lunchtime with you, talking about nothing because for once you had nothing better to do and no one more interesting to talk to. They’ll remember how you coloured in next to them, and the day you whispered that you can never remember your eight times tables either. They’ll remember being with you, day in and day out; being at the centre of your world and knowing they’re surrounded every second by the ones who love them the most. They’ll carry that feeling of love and connection for the rest of their lives.

Kids who experienced 2020 will be kinder than other kids. They’ll know to check on the elderly and the chronically ill, and will consider it a normal part of everyday life. They’ll always smile at strangers, and will never hesitate to help someone in trouble. They will never take hugs for granted. They will always know that they are loved at their worst, no matter what, and at the same time they’ll know that their parents are sometimes scared or tired, and sometimes not even very good at being parents. They will reflect our own exhausted 2020-style love back to us when we’re too old to care for ourselves, and in those future days they’ll be the ones putting up with our eccentric clothing styles and constant whinging for treats.

They’ll know that no amount of money or possessions can stop a person depending on other people to get through the hard times, and they’ll live in a serene faith that when the chips are down, all of humanity can cooperate, and all of humanity actually does a pretty good job of looking after each other. They’ll know that even the most vile and selfish politicians eventually do the right thing because there are enough good and clever people in the world to sway the balance of public opinion towards facts and scientific truth. They’ll be more empathetic and flexible than other generations, and more connected to the global community. They will be the generation that sees the world take united action against Climate Change, because they’ll know from experience that the whole world can achieve amazing things. They will be the best adults this world has ever seen.

Resource of the day: Your kids are surprisingly resourceful. What’s something they’ve always wanted to do but you never had time for?

Recommended donation of the day: Who can you ‘donate’ time to today?

Personal action of the day: Find a different song to wash your hands to. Anything that takes twenty seconds is good, and that’s the length of many popular choruses.

Hoarding item of the day: This is the final day for hoarding, as grocery shops will start restricting customer numbers from tomorrow. Maybe get a haircut, since everyone’s trying to get in one last shop today (before the queues start)?

Permalink Leave a Comment

Big House Idea Update

February 14, 2020 at 10:17 am (Entries that matter)

So I haven’t given up on the idea from the last blog entry.

I’ve learned many things since then, the most notable of which is that major refugee agencies recommend charging a normal amount of rent… which means this ‘big house’ idea is no longer pure charity, but a genuine investment.

I’ve also gained one large piece of the financial puzzle: I have a building designer who liked the idea and will design the house for free.

And on the down side, it’s looking very unlikely I’ll get a large insurance payout, as I have been diagnosed with fibromyalgia rather than rheumatoid arthritis.

We have had a tenant in our house for 1 and a quarter years, as we continue to struggle financially. I’ve been doing pretty badly brain-wise for the last couple of years so we had the tenant move out and we got our master bedroom back (the only room big enough that there is enough space to walk around both sides of a queen bed). Louisette was pretty happy sharing the converted garage with Chris (his study) so we left her there, and the “spare” room is mine… sort of. Some of the kids’ toys are in there, one wall is all bookshelves, and there’s a bed. The bed is a miniature version of one part of the ‘big house’ idea—it means we can shelter at least one person if they need to evacuate due to fire/smoke. (Only people we already know who have personalities that can mesh well with ours for a few days in cramped quarters.)

I’ve also begun spreading the word that I’m offering free English lessons for Indonesian speakers, although there are no takers yet.

And I spent quite a quite a while designing house plans, deciding the house should look like a castle, with square towers on each corner (two of which would hold large disability-friendly lifts).

So it’s not the ‘big house’ idea any more, it’s the ‘Castle’ idea.

Things are progressing slowly because, well, I’m chronically ill. I hope to find a large organisation to fund and own the castle and/or a government grant.

So that’s where things are at the moment.

Here’s a cat pic, featuring the newly-painted (by us!) wall of ‘my’ room.

Permalink Leave a Comment

A Beautiful Dream

January 30, 2020 at 3:48 pm (Entries that matter, Fully Sick, Uncategorized)

I wrote this blog entry on November 29th 2019. It was fairly obvious I was having a manic episode, so I didn’t post it right away. I still don’t fully know if I’m going to pursue this, but although the idea has evolved considerably (more on that in another entry) it is still very much with me. So, without further ado…

————————————————————————–

Not that long ago, I wrote about the injustice of the developed versus the less developed world, and my ongoing struggle to find a solution to my own white guilt (ideally one that is actually just and fair on a global/moral level, rather than just making me feel better… but also one that made me feel better because why not?)

I may or may not write an article about the other side of that—how I’m marginalised as a woman, as a disabled person, etc. But I won’t write about that today.

Today, I want to talk about my new shiny dream of the future.

This has started because of the above thought trains, combined with the fact that I have a very hefty trauma insurance plan that it seems must surely, somehow, net me some big money sooner or later (just as soon as one of my many chronic illnesses ticks the right set of boxes).

One of the contradictions of my life is that I live in a really nice house, with air conditioning and everything. So I’m rich. But heat above about 20 degrees literally makes me sick. So I “should” have air conditioning… right? But so many people don’t… I’ve personally met many people without plumbing, or a roof, or walls. . .

So here’s my shiny new thought-bauble: If I do get a massive insurance payout (and, to be honest, the maximum amount I could possibly get wouldn’t come close to being enough for this but might be enough for some of it), I would like to buy the house immediately next to ours, knock it down, and rebuilt it as not just one dream house but two, one on top of the other, designed in such a way that the two houses can be divided in a multitude of ways

eg the bottom house is for one family and the top house is for another family;

the bottom house is for two single people living completely independently (ie with their own kitchens, bathrooms, and living rooms) and the top house is for me and Chris to retire in while also caring for an elderly relative or two;

Half the bottom house is for a married couple, and the other half is studies for the family living upstairs;

Louisette and Tim house-share the top house, and Chris and I live in the bottom house, but the garage (currently both Chris’s study and Louisette’s bedroom) is converted back into a garage;

…and so on.

So it’s a fabulous, big, health-helping house for me AND an investment property at the same time.

But this is the part that is really awesome: Having effectively three houses, we could use the other two (or part/most of the other two) to house Indonesian refugees for 6-12 months each. During that time they could pay a proportion of their income (zero when it’s zero) and I could help them with English, with schooling, with getting a visa, getting a driving license, etc etc.

I used to speak fluent Indonesian and both Chris and I have teacher-ish brains so we’re well suited to help people transition into Australian society. Which is extremely helpful, useful work—especially as climate change will be making more and more refugees in the near future.

If I (or any of our parents) got sicker and we needed rental income or more space, we’d have it. Hopefully we could coordinate things so two Indonesian families were part of our mini-community at the same time (I’m a benevolent dictator, but I imagine it would be a blessed relief for anyone living here to have someone else they could talk to in Indonesian).

So if this dream came true, I’d have more space in my house (and perhaps a secret passageway or two) and I’d also be fulfilling the long-dead dream of being someone who helped low-income Indonesian people (by lifting them up to my financial level, rather than lowering myself to their poverty level as per 12 year-old me’s life plans).

I’m not publishing this article, but I’m writing it at 2am on Friday 29 November 2019. Chris and I just had a little chat about “If we were billionaires, we could….” including the above, and he was quite positive about my ideas (“Sure, if we’re billionaires”). And about having a book-lined TV room/basement. Which was enough to send me into manic mode. And here I am.

I mentioned I was manic, yes?

Right now I honestly believe with all my heart that I’ve found my true and ultimate purpose in life (this, plus writing, plus napping, plus being a loving mother and wife and friend).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I wrote the above, I knew that Climate Change was bad, and coming soon. I didn’t know I’d be buying P2 masks that my sister brought from Queensland because there were none to be had in all of Canberra. I also didn’t know that I’d be seeing golfball-sized hail smashing windows and cars in my suburb in the same suburb.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Do your legs stop working when it rains?

June 3, 2019 at 10:15 am (Entries that matter, Fully Sick)

I got pissy today, and wrote this piece for the school newsletter. When I googled how much the fine was I stumbled across some stuff I didn’t know, so I thought it was worth a blog post.
Dropping and fetching kids is a hassle in winter, but remember… don’t park in disabled spots even when you really, REALLY want to.
Although wheelchairs are relatively rare there are many people with painful chronic conditions who regularly and legally use disabled parking spots. Some people use their disability permit in order to avoid danger (due to conditions that hamper vision, balance, or coordination—or conditions that are made worse by even gentle physical movement). Others use their permit to limit their pain levels, since some medical conditions are invisible but make it painful for the person to stand or walk for even a few steps.
You can recognise legitimately disabled people by the permits in their cars even when their condition is not immediately obvious. Most medical conditions are not visible at a glance.
In NSW, the fine for stopping in a disabled spot is $549 and a demerit point even if:
-You are still physically inside the car.
-Your engine is still on.
-You’re there for less than 60 seconds.
-You have a perfect driving and parking record.
-There is an empty disabled spot right next to you.
It’s fine to use the disabled spot to reverse into a different parking space, or if there is a medical emergency.
——————————————————–
This PSA was brought to you by winter rain and Someone Who Thought It Was Okay To Park In My F***ing Spot.
And also by all the people who see me slinging children, bags, and my fat self in and out of disabled spots and think I’m okay.
This is what I looked like before I got sick (I’m on the left):
1 copy
*The massive obesity is actually a clue that something has gone badly wrong with my life, but of course it just makes me look ugly and lazy rather than making people think, “Ooh, that poor woman is clearly dealing with a lot and not coping, poor love.”
Here’s a recent photo:
IMG_2180
*sigh*
Life sucks a bit, sometimes.

Permalink 1 Comment

Talking to myself about abortion

May 23, 2019 at 9:42 pm (Entries that matter)

 

So this happened.

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.29.02 PM

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.30.59 PM

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.32.43 PM

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.38.28 PM

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.41.42 PM

Permalink 2 Comments

Christmas: Jesus, Gifts, and Stress

December 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm (Entries that matter, Love and CJ, Mum Stuff)

So Christmas is about three things for me. (Cunning readers may guess what they are based on the title.)

This is the beginning of a three-part blog series on Christmas (aka holiday therapy for yours truly).

Fairly obviously for a Christian, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus aka the God I follow. Yes, I’m aware that the date is wrong and most of the traditions are stolen/borrowed from Pagan traditions, etc etc.

Still.

It is extraordinary that my God chose to set up a universe in which he himself would be required to be tortured and killed and condemned in order to show us in the clearest possible terms that being “saved” is a gift that he desperately wants to give us. Easter is at the heart of every Christian. It’s why we call it “Good” Friday when it’s marking the darkest day in the history of the universe.

In some ways, Christmas is even more shocking. The God of all creation had his nappy changed, was breast fed, struggled with toilet training, and probably grew up wondering in his heart of hearts why he always found the smell of manure strangely comforting.

For those just tuning in, I have two kids of my own. Currently Lousiette is 6-nearly-7 and TJ is 4 and a half. Exhibit A:

thumb_IMG_6122_1024

Exhibit B:

thumb_IMG_6143_1024

It is incredible to think about the whole “having a kid” thing. These two started off as nothing more than a goofy hypothetical notion, then Chris and I MADE them… but they were only about this big:

.

And now they walk and talk and have opinions and dreams and say all kinds of weird and wonderful things both good and bad. In the blink of an eye they’ll be as old as I am now—then older—perhaps with kids of their own, and jobs, and much stronger opinions that I may find utterly horrifying.

How can a tiny dot grow into a whole person?

It’s part of the glorious nonsense of being alive.

Even more bonkers is the idea that God could squash himself down to fit into that tiny dot.

Exhibit C:

.

And even more bonkers is… why?

Jesus spent thirty-three years on Earth, as a man. He was sweaty, and he was sometimes attracted to people he didn’t want to be attracted to, and he ate freshly-baked bread, and he sometimes disagreed with his mum and brothers, and he lived through the death of his mortal dad. Why didn’t he just skip the whole ‘being human’ thing, get crucified, and save the world over a single rather intense long weekend?

It wrecks my mind that he chose to become one of us. He really understands, from our side, what it’s like to be mortal: messy, scary, and smelly.

I love that.

I even made a little YouTube video trying to point out just how bizarre it is that God really did become a slob like one of us.

It’s a mishmash of different messages really. Is it just an excuse to show off old pics of my kids? Is it a brilliant mix of the carnal and the divine? Is it just too much fun to see babies looking wise/annoyed/gassy? You can make up your own mind. There are a couple of other baby pics in there too so go ahead and play “spot the cousin” if you like.)

 

So. When Jesus Christ, creator and saviour, was born, he probably looked not that much different from my own brown-eyed, dark-haired TJ (although being from the Middle East, Jesus would have had darker skin):

thumb_UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_7c38_1024

If you want to know what God looks like, that’s pretty similar to one part of it.

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Woman Tax

June 22, 2018 at 10:12 am (Advanced/Publication, Entries that matter)

Last night I crashed my car, because I am a woman.
 
On Tuesday last week another creative Australian woman, comedian Eurydice Dickson, was killed in a park as she walked home from a gig. Like me, she sometimes takes slight risks in order to live her life and have the career she has.
 
Last night, I went to the University of Canberra for a writing session, taking 6 year-old Louisette with me because I don’t have any other options. The UC Writers’ Group has been so helpful I named them in Silver and Stone as one of the reasons my second steampunk book was finished on time. These writing sessions are a lifeline. They also take place at an awkward time of day when my kids are with me, and it’s dark.
 
As always, Louisette was slow and silly getting into the car, and I was quietly frightened—hiding my fear from her, as always. (She’s six. She doesn’t yet know to be frightened, and I don’t want to teach her—yet. I will teach her soon. All mothers teach their daughters to be afraid. We have to.)
 
Like most universities, UC has underlit places, and I was uncomfortably aware that I needed to do a 3-point turn in order to get out of a small carpark that I chose because it’s near the door. My 6 year-old daughter and I were in danger (probably very little, but perhaps not), and I had to get us out as quickly as possible.
 
So, expecting Louisette to scream, “My seatbelt isn’t buckled yet!” at any second, I backed up. I hit a gate hard enough to tear our back bumper.
 
Because I’m a woman.
 
Would people be holding a candlelit vigil for Louisette and I next week if I hadn’t driven away quickly? Almost certainly not. But maybe. Because I’m a woman, and she’s just a girl.
 
This is how women live every day. Should I have stayed home? Well, no. The majority of murdered women are killed in their home.
 
There is no safe place. I live with this fear every day.
——————————-
I arrived home from crashing the car and found a speeding ticket for $279. The ticket shows that I was driving 88km/hr in an 80km/hr zone—so not speeding MUCH, but certainly speeding.
It was dated 9 June 2018.
That was the day I ran two parties for my son’s 4th birthday (the entry directly before this one is about the cake). Why two parties?
Well, read on. . .
Chris, TJ, my brother, and my nephew all have their birthdays within about a week. Last year and the year before I’ve organised ‘group’ birthday parties at inside playgrounds. Inside playgrounds cost money (bad, but makes them a special occasion, and I tell everyone to pay for the playground instead of buying gifts). June is Winter, so outside isn’t really an option.
Why do I organise the birthday? Simple. In the above list of birthday boys, there are two obvious women: the wives. Since my brother’s wife is only related to the rest of us by marriage, the birthday duties fall on me. (The other obvious option is the matriarch aka my mother, but she lives in Gundagai so she’s already making a 5-hour round trip just to show up.)
Could a boy organise a family event? Lol, no!* When a man and a woman get married, the man no longer has to remember his own mother’s birthday—that’s what a wife is for! The woman, of course, is now responsible for two extended families instead of one.
I don’t make the rules.
So this year my extended family didn’t like the idea of going to an inside playground for a group party, so I needed to please both TJ and the numerous relatives somehow.
Hence, two parties in one day.
The party in the morning was kid-oriented, and the party in the evening was adult-oriented (we all put in $20 and got Chinese…. I kept it as simple as humanly possible… with ice cream and leftover dino cake for dessert).
I asked my sister to come to the kid party and help me with the cake. I don’t see her often so it was a great opportunity for our kids to play together while we could chat and be silly over icing and sprinkles.
Nope. She was busy.
Mum said she’d come to the kid party. Great!
So here’s what happened on the day:
Mum decided at the last minute that making sure her DOG wasn’t lonely was more important than showing up, and she was 45 minutes late. Thanks mum! (No really, thanks—if she hadn’t show up when she did there wouldn’t be a video of the cake, which was what I really really wanted.)
The (single) mother of TJ’s best friend (I literally checked the date with her before booking the party) was deathly ill so Chris and I needed to pick up her two kids.
So I think you can see why I was going a whole 8km above the speed limit that day.
But I did all the things. I made an epic cake. I made sure TJ’s best friend was there. I gave TJ an awesome day/week and also arranged an awesome day (totally different day) for Chris’ birthday. I stayed on budget and gave all my extended family a fabulous get-together in the evening—making sure it started early so my parents could drive back to Gundagai in enough time to get a good night’s sleep. (Not a single guest arrived on time, either. My family can be pretty rude.)
Because I’m a woman. When it comes to family events, and homework, and school stuff, and family health, and remembering important things, and household cleanliness. . . the buck stops here, with the woman.*
What a shame the value of a woman’s buck is only seventy-three cents due to the institutionalised sexism of gender-based pay discrepancies.
But that’s another story.
*Obviously there are exceptions.

Permalink Leave a Comment

My new belly button

February 11, 2018 at 9:36 am (Entries that matter, Fully Sick, Mum Stuff)

It’s been about ten weeks since my stomach operation, and although I’m not fully healed I was just given the go-ahead to swim (my favourite and most effective exercise) yesterday so I’m pretty much in the clear.

Some thoughts:

It really really hurt a lot. There were times when I wasn’t sure it was worth it. (But it clearly was.)

Post-operative infections suck. Especially when you’ve allowed a month off and then suddenly it isn’t close to enough (it was more like taking two months out of my life, although I did get some work done in that time).

Yes, I have a new belly button.

I can fit clothes! This is still extremely exciting.*

My blood glucose has been within target ranges EVERY SINGLE TIME ever since the operation. Under the advice of my doctor, I’m slowly cutting out the diabetes medications that I take—continuing to monitor my blood sugar all the time. It’s too early to be certain, but it looks suspiciously like my stomach operation instantly fixed my diabetes. THAT IS AWESOME. It is also another reason this operation should absolutely be covered under Medicare. How many other mothers have severe health problems because their internal organs just haven’t “bounced back” after a massive physical event?

I’m not so hungry. I snack much less often, and don’t feel as weak, shaky and fatigued as I did before the operation. Stomachs are designed to be enclosed by abdominal muscles, and that goes a LONG way towards explaining why I’ve doubled in weight since having kids… my stomach just wasn’t working, and both my hunger and my fatigue were telling me I wasn’t getting enough food.

I’ve lost a bunch of weight since the operation without trying (or being hangry, which is a big problem for me as it connects to my existing mental conditions in dramatic ways). Hopefully this is a trend that will continue! Honestly I know that things will get harder and harder as I have less weight to lose, but this is certainly helping a LOT.

And sure, I’m still massively overweight, and I still have at least two other conditions that make standing/walking a big problem. But my health has improved hugely, and my optimism for the future—maybe even, one day, a healthy future—is greatly improved.

 

*I actually bought a full-on ball gown the other day, on a whim, because (a) It fit, which is an amazing thing. (b) It’s very pretty, (c) It was at Vinnies, so it cost $50 instead of $500. (d) It was near my birthday.

Full disclosure: I can’t actually do up the zip at the back. Yet.

But I promise to post a pic someday. I’m thinking I might wear it as part of the Kickstarter video for “Murder in the Mail”, which I need to film and put together this week.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Sad, Bad, Mad: Cat Person

December 12, 2017 at 11:49 am (Entries that matter, Writing Ranting)

The New York Times published a short story, “Cat Person” and people have gone a bit nuts over it. Including me.

Minor things first:

*Trigger warning: This article might bring up traumatic memories for some people.

*Cats are awesome and cat people are awesome. Cats are not the point of the story. (But some of us will lie awake wondering about them all the same. Are they real? Am I? Are you?)

*The cats are definitely not real. I’m sure of it now. Cats feign disinterest but would definitely come to investigate the smells of a new person in their territory. Which means Robert’s creepiness factor just went up to eleven. Fake cats? That’s bonkers.

*There’s a fascinating interview with the author here.

*Yeah, that excessive close-up photo that goes with the story is super gross. I have to put my hand up to my screen to block it out whenever it comes up.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a3e2

#fixedit

*Also, the story gets really into fat-shaming Robert, which is cheap and gross and suggests immaturity on the part of the writer (as well as, of course, the character). The writing clearly mocks the viewpoint character for her various delusions, but Margot’s disgust at Robert’s extra weight is written about non-critically. It’s about as deep as having an evil ugly witch who is baaaad.

*Yes, gay folks are most welcome to have a “Lol, you poor sad heteros!” moment. Because although a lot of the story does apply to anyone attempting to negotiate dating, the deepest, scariest level of the story is absolutely about what women face when dating men.

*A lot of men feel disturbed and defensive about the story, or simply feel that it’s stupid. Although all art is subjective, most of the men that dislike the story are missing that deep, scary level of the tale. I’ll address the valid points of negative male reactions later.

*It is deeply saddening for speculative fiction lovers that no one in the story turns out to be even slightly feline. Agreed.

*The main characters’ names, Margot and Robert, make me think of Margot Robbie. This is never a bad thing.

Summary (including spoilers)

Margot meets a guy who is pretty average but witty in text form. They eventually have a kind-of date with very bad sex and then Margot texts him (technically her room-mate texts him) to end things, and he calls her a whore.

The deep, scary bit that hurts to think about

There is an underlying tension to the story that a straight female reader (or anyone in a non-male body who has dated a man) has a visceral response to: While on the surface the relationship is mundane (and in the thoughts of the main character it varies as she judges and re-judges the situation), the third layer is the knowledge that Robert has the physical power to rape or kill Margot at virtually any time (and could probably get away with it too).

Women

live

with

this

knowledge

every

day.

Here’s the worst part, the part the story doesn’t even touch on: When a women is a victim of violence, it is almost always at the hands of someone she knows. Someone she trusts. Someone she isn’t afraid of; not any more. Should I live in fear of Chris, my Chris, father of my kids and love of my life?

img_2372 2

Of course not!

Except, statistically, yes.

Women live in a world where half the people we know are bigger and stronger than us. We are taught from birth to be careful. Don’t go to certain places after dark. Don’t go to certain places at all. Carry mace. Keep your eyes open. Don’t wear certain clothes. Don’t drink too much. Learn self-defence. Don’t show weakness. Don’t drop your guard.

Then at the same time we’re taught how to survive in the living world: Be nice. Don’t say ‘no’. Flirt. Wear heels and makeup. Marry a breadwinner. Have a private bank account. Don’t have a shrill voice. Don’t complain. Don’t be a feminist. Don’t be loud. Don’t be unlikable. Don’t get angry. Don’t cry in public. Don’t show weakness. Don’t drop your guard.

I am an innocent, partly because I choose to be and largely because my privilege allows me to be. I am white; I grew up thinking I was straight; until recently I was able-bodied.

One of my fictional characters (in a deleted novel) leaves her shoes above the high tide line of a beach while she wanders along the water. Her friend asks if she’s concerned about them getting stolen, and she admits that sometimes they are in fact stolen, but she’d rather have to buy new shoes sometimes than to constantly worry about her possessions.

At a certain point, women have to accept that we might get murdered—and then we befriend men anyway.

I met a man online who lives in Adelaide (I live in Canberra). We got to know one another online (as much as anyone can). Daniel visited Canberra, and we began dating. Then it was my turn to visit Adelaide. He picked me up from the airport and drove me back to his house.

Like a lot of Australian cities, Adelaide has sections of well-established bushland, many of them bisecting the city itself. Daniel and I had already joked about how one of us was most likely an axe-murderer, and as we passed through an unlit section of what appeared to be virgin bushland I felt my heart beat faster.

I didn’t rehearse in my head how to throw myself out of the car, or carefully recollect exactly where my phone was in case I needed to call the police. Instead I tried very hard to pretend I wasn’t afraid. Because when it comes to priorities, men’s feelings almost always come above women’s safety.

Now, spoiler alert, I wasn’t murdered. So I was arguably right to be polite. But that knee-jerk reaction to Be Nice At All Costs isn’t just manners—it’s another type of fear. What if Daniel had noticed and been offended that I’d thought such a thing of him, even just for a moment? What if he’d been so offended that he threw me out of the car, or punched me? That instinct to Be Nice—Or Else is hugely powerful and damaging. That right there is the reason women are frozen in terror when a man masturbates in front of them. He’s already crossed so many boundaries that trying to get away might just be the catalyst that leads to him doing so much more. It also applies to so, so many other awful situations: getting groped, getting overlooked for a deserved promotion, getting interrupted mid-sentence. Women’s default setting is less powerful, and the imbalance gets wider in a thousand different interactions every day. Because men don’t want to give up power, and they push back against women who try to change things.

It’s difficult for men to understand what it’s like from the other side of the gender divide. It’s not a fun think to think about. Quite often, a man will suddenly have a light turn on in their head when they have a daughter: Suddenly they understand the terrifying vulnerability of women from a position where it matters to them.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_6208

I asked my mother once if she was scared of being raped. “I used to be,” she said, “then I had daughters. So now I’m afraid of my daughters being raped.”

I hesitated to include a picture of my daughter in this article. You all know why. Yet I didn’t pause for even a second when including a picture of my son. Of course not.

Back to the story. . .

The story plays with the conventions of three different genres, keeping the reader guessing since those genres have very different endings.

One is a romance. I felt myself give that little ‘Aww’ smile as certain beats were hit: The cute meet over Red Vines; the nearly-missed-it moment when the girl doesn’t really know why she gave the boy her number; the tension at silly misunderstandings. Margot gives Robert several chances, and for all her flaws I admire her for that. That genre always ends with a critical romantic moment (a wedding, or meeting the parents, or a first kiss) that indicates that the pair will live happily ever after.

As it turns out, this is not a romance.

The second genre is comedy; there is clearly a slightly dark, wry, self-deprecating humour as Margot’s expectations and opinions about Robert shift and change from moment to moment, only to be ultimately let down by the reality. This layer of the story is expertly done, highlighting the self-delusions and awkwardness of dating in a way that made millions of readers say, “That is the truest story I’ve ever read.” The comedy genre climaxes (oh, lolz) with the awkward horror of the sex scene.

The third genre is horror. When it becomes clear that it’s not a romance, the reader is left not knowing if this is a comedy or a cautionary tale. The horror genre ends with violence, usually with a sense that the protagonist has somehow brought it on herself by her foolish decisions. Margot risks her safety by giving Robert a chance—doubly so by going to his house, and any sexually active female (fictional or otherwise) is guilty for the purposes of fictional denouement. A story is sometimes sympathetic to the sexually active heroine, but it will still kill her for putting out. Stories understand, consciously or otherwise, that sex is dangerous for women and not so much for men.

But refusing sex, as Margot wishes she could do? That’s even more dangerous. Because the last thing you want to do is make a man angry. She’s very conscious of the need to soothe and console Robert (before, during, and after their ‘date’) and is sufficiently aware of her own vulnerability that she finds herself unable to figure out how to break up with Robert, even though she knows she must do it.

Is she promiscuous for sleeping with a man she doesn’t want to? Or is she a victim, unable to extract herself safely from a threat? Or is Robert a victim, lead on and discarded by a powerful (better educated, more attractive) woman?

In my opinion, only one of the above interpretations is a ‘yes’ according to the story—but it’s written well enough that the other questions are allowed to be asked.

Angry men on the internet

There’s a twitter handle set up just to repost men’s reactions to the story, mainly because a lot of men don’t understand the fear Margot feels, and/or they relate to Robert as the victim but feel he is portrayed as a monster.

Screen Shot 2017-12-12 at 9.54.06 AM

 

Margot is not a good person. Nor is she a bad person. She is vain, certainly. She lets her imagination run away with her as she tries to figure out what kind of person Robert really is. She flirts at work (an activity that is harmless, but could hypothetically lead to mildly hurt feelings).

This article is getting ridiculously long, so I’ll be brief: Yes, being a man (especially a straight white man) is the lowest difficulty setting in this game we call life (as written about by straight white male John Scalzi, here, including several follow-ups, one of which is  here). And, as John Scalzi and others have stated loudly and repeatedly, that definitely does not not not mean that the lives of straight white men aren’t hard or don’t suck. Life has times of suckitude for everyone, and many lives just suck from beginning to end, and it hurts to be in a sucky place and feel like others are telling you:

  1. Stop whining. My sucky place is suckier than your sucky place.
  2. Give some of the tiny scraps you have away to others.
  3. A lot of what is bad in the world is the fault of you and people like you.

All those three things are true of me and my privilege as well. My methods of coping are:

  1. Trying not to compare my pain to anyone else. That never ends well.
  2. Giving away a little (money, time, and mental energy) when I can, and trying to be aware of barriers that other people face and I don’t. This also means consciously supporting minorities when I can, and continuing to learn painful truths for the rest of my life. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding.
  3. Pretty much the only way to deal with this is #2.

Is Robert a baddie?

I. . . I wasn’t sure, but then I reread the story.

The first hint of a red flag is when Robert steps back from Margot’s very mild flirtation “as though to make her lean toward him, try a little harder”. If someone stepped back from me, I would assume they were not into me and nothing more. It probably wouldn’t even be a conscious thought on my part. It’s unclear if Margot is interpreting him this way or if the story is. It’s a very very subtle form of negging.

He calls her ‘Concession-stand girl’ which is either cute or insulting. Could go either way.

He plays it a bit cool with texting, letting her choose whether to keep texting or not. That’s more of a positive sign than negative, and their sharp humour is the one real connection they have. Another good sign.

He kisses her on the forehead “as if she was something precious” which charms Margot but also suggests fetishisation of the big man/little woman dynamic. In both directions.

The silly scenario they play out via their cats involves jealousy and tension. Is that because Robert is the jealous or possessive type?

He sends a heart-eyed smiley at the mention of her parents, which is a good sign.

Then he acts strange and cold after spring break. A red flag on its own, and even more so when it turns out he is jealous of an entirely fictional potential ex (although it certainly shows that he and Margot have imaginative portrayals of one another in common).

It takes longer than it should for him to stop being unpleasant and weird, and it also seems he’s trying to impress her due to feeling insecure about her higher education and youth.

(There are plenty of red flags about Margot, too—particularly the way his grouchy behaviour makes her feel honoured by his vulnerability. That kind of attitude puts her at high risk of an abusive relationship.)

When she begins to cry during the humiliating ID incident, he kisses her for the first time—like her, he is emboldened by vulnerability, even or especially as a flaw. This is a two-way red flag. Vulnerability is good, certainly, but both Margot and Robert are genuinely turned on by it. It’s not intimacy they crave, but power. That’s messed up.

I’ll stop there rather than pick apart the story line by line. Men who hate the story see Margot as more powerful: She is young and beautiful; she is the viewpoint character; she is more educated than Robert.

But is the risk of rejection as bad as the risk of being murdered?

Of course not.

But. . . is the 90% certainty of being rejected as bad as the .001% likelihood of being murdered?

I don’t know.

There are two more points worth making. First, Robert is 34 and Margot is 20. Once again, that gives Robert power. It’s also a big red flag. (Margot guessed he was in his mid-twenties and was off by a decade so this one’s all on him.) There are loads of thirty-something single women, so why isn’t Robert dating one of them? At best it suggests he prefers younger, prettier woman. Given the rest of the story, it strongly suggests he likes all the power he can get—needs it, because he is so insecure he doesn’t stand up straight.

The age difference could be just coincidence (after all, Robert doesn’t realise she can’t get into a carded bar, and is horrified she might be a virgin) except then Robert appears in the same student bar that he earlier mocked. What is he doing there? There are three possible answers. If one is extremely charitable, one could argue he has decided to study (why not? He’s smart—except it’s clearly in the middle of the semester, so no). It’s far more likely he’s looking for a new twenty-something to hook up with. Or, worse, he is looking for Margot. Either way, this is the moment we know for certain that something is definitely truly off about Robert, and while the Secret Service-style exit of Margot and her friends is needlessly dramatic, she is also genuinely afraid. And at this point, that is not being dramatic. Her friends know it, and they know what all women know: there is safety in numbers. That is the only safety women can draw on.

One of my friends was attacked at a bar because her friend was too drunk to protect her. I feel disgust at the men, but I have a burning fury at the woman who abandoned my friend.

Women protect each other. That is the law. That is how we survive.

Here’s an interesting fact: not all that many people are attracted to me. (That’s not the interesting bit.) Of the dozen or so people that ever confessed attraction to me, three were more than a decade older than me.

One of those men I never knew well. The other two both have a very clear pattern of dating younger women. One prefers women who are sexually inexperienced (not necessarily virgins, but women who lack the confidence of a past healthy romantic relationship they can use to spot his patterns of abuse). The other’s self-esteem is strongly based on being helpful, so he tends to be attracted to people who are needy in some way (usually mentally ill, or those who have been abused, or both). When I dated him, I found myself acting depressed and unhappy when actually I felt fine. It took me a very long time to figure out that I was unconsciously adapting to what he wanted in a relationship.

So again, you have older men grasping for power of various kinds over a younger woman. (Dating suuuuuuucks!)

There’s one final red flag about Robert: When they spot one another in public later he sends Margot a series of texts. They start friendly and then get harsher and more jealous, ending with the final word: “Whore.”

It is a punch of an ending, revealing the true character of the man who seemed harmless and sweet.

But (say male readers) it’s just a word.

Robert insults Margot with time-honoured sexism, condemning her as the baddie with a blithe unawareness of the irony of condemning her sex act when he was there and participating at the time. He condemns her sexual activity, when it was her fear of his anger that caused her to have that sex at all. (No, it wasn’t assault. . . but it wasn’t an empowered choice either.)

The story ends there, but does it?

In real life, would Margot ever feel safe on campus again? He literally knows where she lives, not to mention where she works and where she eats and drinks.

He is angry. The beast of legend, the monster Margot had sex to pacify, has awoken.

Margot could never possibly know if his anger was “harmlessly” spent by insulting her via text, or if he will begin/continue to stalk her. Or if he’ll get drunk one night, three months from now, and break into her dorm and shoot her.

No woman ever quite knows. She only knows that if he wants to hurt her, he can.

Permalink Leave a Comment

A stitch in mine

November 4, 2017 at 6:06 pm (Entries that matter, Fully Sick)

It’s November. I’m not counting the days until Christmas, but I am counting the days until I get to experience something far less common and more painful: An operation. Yay!

(This is a long entry, with a sprinkling of swear words. Feel free to skip to the bottom where there’s a link to donate money.)

On 30 November (moved from 7 November) I’ll be getting the 9-cm gap in my stomach muscles stitched back together. It’s 100% normal for stomach muscles to separate during pregnancy, and to gradually close over the six months post-pregnancy (one of several excellent reasons to never ever ask a lady if she’s pregnant, especially if she has young children). Most women wind up with a permanent stomach gap of a centimetre or so. If the gap doesn’t close on its own, no amount of exercise or weight loss will fix it.

Similar injuries caused by sport or accidents are covered under the public health system in Australia. Pregnancy injury is not. The excellent Waleed Aly once did a segment on the inherent sexism in not assisting women like me. Louisette turns six in January and TJ is three and a half, so I’ve had the unwieldy annoyance and pain of a pregnancy-style belly for more than six years, and have been trying to get the necessary surgery for three years.

Here’s the awkward bit: Because re-attaching stomach muscles involves dealing with skin, it’s plastic surgery. It also makes women look less pregnant. I imagine this is why male politicians refuse to fund it. Women could take advantage of the system just to restore their exhausted parasite-hosting bodies to their previous appearance! Women who’ve had an improbably large object rip its way out of their most sensitive organs might have one aspect of their horrifically violating journey to motherhood erased! Women might have one less complaint that needs to have, “But of course I wouldn’t change a thing! I’m just so thrilled to have a child!” tacked onto the end.

I’m one of the lucky ones, psychologically. Both of my pregnancy experiences were awful awful awful, but they’re over now. My births went pretty well. I noticed and suffered from various problems the medical industry could have done a lot better, and I hope that makes me a useful advocate for other pregnant people in future.

But.

Becoming a mother gave me a long list of permanent chronic conditions that ultimately made me unable to care for my own children (and also cost me my job in childcare, which I loved). This year I’ve gotten to the point where I can mind both kids solo for about three hours fairly consistently, or one for a full day. My kids are pretty great—healthy, happy, and fundamentally decent human beings. But I’m disabled now, because of having them, and that—well, it just sucks.

IMG_0419

(Pause for cuteness.)

It’s very clear that not everything that’s wrong with me can be fixed. I realised that a long time ago, and the writer and advocate in me is glad, because I know that I can now write some types of disabled characters really well. My pain is fodder for better stories—the kind that can give hope to people who need it, and a bit of empathy to everyone else.

I still have hope that one day I won’t feel afraid of my children any more. Right now it hurts to stand, to make a sandwich, to pick them up, to buckle them into the car, to walk with them to the shops (or to the front door of the school), to get down on the floor and play with them, and so on. Sometimes I don’t care, and I pretend nothing hurts. Other days it feels like my kids are torturing me on purpose. Most days I plan carefully: How much strength do I have? Is today a good day or a bad day? How can I make the kid/s feel loved without risking long-term injury to myself? What corners can I cut without hating myself or neglecting the kids? How do I manage my stupid body so it lasts until bed time today?

I’ve had a few wins along the way. With TJ I had daily migraines (mostly “silent” migraines that are mainly aura with not much pain) for the whole pregnancy, and then they just… didn’t stop. I now take a medication that has 90% solved the migraine issue (although I haven’t yet recovered from the brain damage that resulted from two years of daily migraines). I had a minor operation a few years ago that improved some other stuff, and I have a third major problem that can also be treated with pills. (The second and third conditions in this list are a bit too personal for a blog.)

 

IMG_0622

(Pause for cuteness.)

Here are some things that will definitely/probably be improved by my stomach surgery:

-vertebrae and disc spinal injuries (the pain will be eased after the surgery because there won’t be a giant stomach pulling my spine out of alignment) causing significant pain and disability.

-prolapsed uterus (hopefully all my misplaced organs will slot neatly back into place)

-abdominal diastasis (that’s what the surgery is actually for)

-umbilical hernia (which will definitely be fixed by the surgery)

-pain-related depression and anxiety (which will be improved by surgery)

I’m also looking forward to seatbelts working properly again. At the moment, they slide up my stomach and cut into my neck (literally; I have a lovely connection of skin tags on each side of my neck; half from driving and half from being the passenger).

And I might just be able to wear pants again, which would be awfully convenient. And swimmers. Technically I can and do wear swimmers, but my stomach is so disproportionate that they’re really uncomfortable.

Lotsa nausea will be reduced or eliminated, which will be nice.

And I’ll be able to cut my own toenails without swallowing vomit (due to pressing down on an unprotected stomach in order to reach my feet). That’ll be nice too.

It will be awesome to be able to wear dresses again. It took me far too long to realise that dresses always exaggerate a big stomach, because they’re designed to show the nice straight lines of a body (which pregnant bodies don’t have).

Anyone who’s been pregnant knows the pain of picking things up from the floor. I’m really looking forward to that being less of a big deal.

And of course, I won’t look nearly as pregnant! I’m not expecting a bikini body—in fact I imagine I’ll still look a little bit pregnant—but it’ll be soooo much better than my current reality. When I’m faced with large social events I often have quite bad panic attacks beforehand due to knowing most of the people there will assume I’m pregnant. Did I mention I already had a social anxiety disorder?

Here’s a real story from literally less than a week ago:

Nice Lady, sympathetically: Oh, how are you doing?

Me, immediately realising what she’s getting at: I’m fine thanks.

Nice Lady: It’s such hard going when you’re so far along!

Me, thinking both, “Well this is an especially bad one” and “She’s old and I’ll probably never see her again. Let’s not correct her”: Thank you.

Nice Lady: So when are you due?

Me, thinking, “Fuck. Oh well here goes”: I’m not actually pregnant.

[Cue classic conversation in which I try to make someone feel better for making me feel like absolute shit.]

I once had a man I didn’t know approach me at a funeral and ask me my due date while rubbing my stomach.

Aaand I once went into a physio appointment at the hospital where I’d recently given birth, and seen that exact same physio a week earlier for a pre-birth appointment, and had the physio look at me and say, “Weren’t you going to be induced last Friday?”

Yes. In fact I was induced last Friday. The baby was out.

In her defence, this is what I looked like that day (and ever since):

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 5.24.56 PM

If you want to be respected by a medical professional, be very careful not to tick any of the following boxes:

  1. Being female. Statistically, reports of female pain (and various other issues) are underestimated by medical professionals across the board.
  2. Being overweight. Were you in the healthy weight range before you began to suffer from [insert medical condition here]? It doesn’t matter. If you are fat, your medical condition is your fault, or at least made worse by you.
  3. Being mentally ill. Why should anyone listen to a crazy person? If you talk rationally, your mental illness isn’t serious and you’re probably just looking for attention. If you talk irrationally, you’re an irrational person and anything you say is suspect. (Fun Fact: Although “Violent offender was mentally ill” is a common theme in both fiction and real-life news reporting, mentally ill individuals are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Because who listens to the mentally ill? Not doctors or police or reporters or writer, apparently!)
  4. Being pregnant, post-partum, or a mother. Women’s uteruses and hormones have been the ultimate go-to cause of all physical illnesses and pain since Ancient Greece. Not only can a doctor comfortably diagnose any disease as “women’s problems” (and therefore natural), but any women who continues to complain is violating the well-known fact that motherhood is a BEAUTIFUL and NATURAL thing, and all that pain and illness and childbirth and breastfeeding/bleeding and 17% lower wages and sexual harassment is because we’re just SPECIAL and PRECIOUS and PRIVILEGED to be the bearer of little health-destroying bundles of JOY. I couldn’t tell you how many times I was told that my pain levels were a normal part of pregnancy. Actually, I’d injured my spine and dislocated my hip, both of which still cause me pain today. Thanks, medical science!

For the record? There’s probably no high greater than the high of having a baby. I’ve been there, and it’s awesome. A lot of doctors are aware of their biases and are working on making things better. And let’s be clear: I have two kids, so all the shit I waded through evidently didn’t put me off motherhood. There are lots of precious and beautiful aspects to motherhood, but they tend to come at a high cost (higher than any man ever has to pay for fatherhood). Higher than usual, in my case—not just because nature is an asshole (although she is) but because our society as a whole still has quite a ways to go before women, especially sick women (or women of colour, which I am not) are treated with the respect they deserve.

Ultimately I was forced to go the private route for this surgery, which costs around $15,000. Super fun when I don’t have a normal job any more!

You can donate here, if you like.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »