A Way of Being Open to the World
Thoughts on conversation and mourning
From my Instagram
The Inner Sadness
We don’t want to be sparkling and happy all the time. You need the inner life, the inner sadness. It is what fills you out.
- Prime Minister Paul Keating
On weekends I wake first in the house. Is it because I am a middle aged woman? Is it that I am processing all my grief in the still hours? Is it temporary?
My mother now often calls me first thing in the morning, and on this morning I am signing off from a lengthy call with her to go out for a coffee when she says, warmly, ‘your menfolk are up, are they?’
She has heard my son and husband call good morning to me.
I mean, grief is a kind of madness; we grievers can see it in others… that sort of raging force - part love, part fury.
There is a kind of euphoria of grief, of a degree of madness.
How Are You?
Detaching and transcending. You know, detaching and transcending2.
Parenting Tip From One of My Best Friends
Sometimes there are moments where one must remind one’s teenagers or oneself that ‘on the count of three, we will agree to lower our expectations. One. Two. Three’.
And she is right. I find many sour moments come down to unmet expectations.
A Week Where Everyone Had Very Vivid Dreams
I dreamed she was in a bikini and incoherent with joy. Touch my stomach, she said. By the tightness of the skin I guessed she was about five months pregnant3.
Someone mentioned he was at this party, too, and I went looking for him in the garden. I looked for his face through all the people and wondered if I would know him. Then, I saw him. Leathery tan and short denim shorts. I knew it was him when I shot him a look of fury and he turned and fled. He bounced on his heels as he walked away and I was appalled to see Native American tattoos on the backs of a white man’s calves.
I walked into a wooden garden shed expecting to find him. But it was empty, except for an older woman with very black hair and elaborate, dangling earrings sitting at a table. She did not look up and so, initially, I did not realise she was speaking to me.
She wanted to tell me that he was no good for her and I was annoyed because I thought I know, I know, I know, why does everyone keep telling me things I know. She said he didn’t listen to her feelings. But then, because I knew I had missed something important, I was also relieved to hear her tell me she had done the work for me. It had not helped, but at least someone had done it.
She dreamed her father got COVID and sent her a selfie from hospital. This is actually a plausible dream.
He dreamed she died on a motorbike.
The Internet I
In psychology and cognitive science, the simplicity principle posits that the mind tends to regress to simplicity when contemplating the messy complexities of life. In order to make sense of what is happening around us, we rely on survival tactics to help us feel in control of the hand we’ve been dealt and of the world around us and our place in it. As one tactic, our brains see patterns where none actually exist. What might start as a story of good versus evil shared among friends ― that a nefarious cabal is secretly plotting against humanity ― soon begins to feel like top-secret knowledge arrived through critical thinking, particularly when groups are suffering from loss, weakness or disunity. A powerful actor behind the chaos can be much easier to accept than the idea that we’re responsible for our own circumstances, that there are many complex factors at work in any system or culture, or that shit just happens.
Someone who was once close to me has descended into conspiracies and I am often wondering what happened and if he is ever coming back.
A Short Story to Read by the Pool
This short story by Rachel Rabbit White is the kind of story I particularly liked reading when I was in my 20s. It is the type of story where you get lost in other people’s mistakes. Mistakes different to your own. Like, Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers, Simon Burt’s Summer of the White Peacock, Jennifer Egan’s Black Box or Ray Shell’s Iced. (Speaking of old books I love, please someone find Mark Henshaw and get him to write again.. how I loved Out of The Line of Fire). Anyway, this is a new short story by Rachel Rabbit White, with all her wry (though nihilistic) sense of humour:
Back when they were still having sex, they spent the afternoons reading and writing. He decided they should write something together, a novel. It could be about "the narcissism of the couple."
The time they tried to write, she transcribed while he told her about items of clothing he had once owned and had lost:
“I keep thinking about this sweater I used to have. And I was thinking about this leather jacket...”
He trailed off.
She made a note in the doc: the importance of clothes.
Story of the Guy by Rachel Rabbit White.
Letting Go, Again
Our talk on the veranda turns to what the year holds. It’s as if we have all been marking time, growing fat in the goodness of the season, waiting for the summer to draw in. This is my second year of watching my youngest leave. It should be easier. But it’s not. He’d come home after a year away. A year learning to work in a team. A year several thousand kilometres from home. Now home chafes and even that, when you are nineteen, is good. Watching him, talking about fencing wire of all things, I feel him in the palm of my hand, the tiny weightless body of him when he was first born. I realise I’ll wake at 3am with a jolt and think of him and his sister and that it will take me to sunrise to open my hands and relinquish them all over.
The sublimely beautiful Maggie Mackellar in her newsletter on life on a farm in Tasmania, and also on this occasion, one’s adult child coming to visit.
The Internet II
My husband and I watched a documentary recently about an interesting but tragic legal case. (Though the documentary film, itself, was not particularly satisfying). The case involved the 2017 conviction of Michelle Carter for the manslaughter of her boyfriend, Conrad Roy. Basically, the story is that at a critical moment in taking his own life Conrad had doubts, and he turned for support to his mostly online girlfriend, Michelle, who instead talked him into continuing with killing himself. Michelle was 17 at the time and Conrad was 18. It’s a very uncomfortable story for parents of teenagers.
Because the couple met only rarely in person their relationship grew in intensity in secret. Afterwards, police found thousands of text messages had been exchanged between them, but their mothers had barely registered the interaction.
I am not anti-technology - I met my husband through a dating app and I have made many good friendships online. But, this tragedy made me wonder how well parents today are preparing teenage children for their first relationships if many of them might be starting online. We likely have a false sense of security about ‘online’. I am thinking particularly of the intensity that can come with online interaction. (How many offline conversations don’t even take toilet breaks?) There’s generally a distinct absence of negotiating one another’s interdependence in these relationships, which is not good, particularly for teenagers who are still transitioning into adulthood. (For instance, Michelle appeared to lose the sense that Conrad was separate to her imagination and pop cultural fascinations. And Conrad seemed to use Michelle as a limitless repository for his darkest thoughts, as though she were some kind of emotion-free artificial intelligence. In combination, it must have been difficult for them to keep their bearings - and any boundaries).
Absent of much offline contact, Michelle’s and Conrad’s relationship dynamics were not observed by their mothers or anyone else in their community who could have assisted them in navigating the unhealthier dynamics. It also made me think about the ancient role community has had in guiding the moral compass4. This situation wasn’t just two unwell people trauma bonding. It became a situation where a young woman veered into something horribly, horribly immoral and a young man died. But her path wasn’t tested in any real way with her community. Would she have gone this far if her community had been able to perform this longstanding role for her?
I very much appreciate painters who focus on very intimate moments and lift them out into something exotic. Look at Jenna Gribbon forever painting her girlfriend.
I spent my latest writing cheque on new make-up. Feeling put together again. Corrected.
I am Still Preoccupied With Currawongs
The sound of the currawongs flying past my bedroom window is like someone shaking out an umbrella.
The Internet III
The Internet was supposed to be a conversation, but some of it was still for us to have quietly with ourselves, no?
I heard the fuss about Heather Havrilesky’s piece, “Why Marriage Requires Amnesia”, which is about nothing more controversial than loving your partner through the irritating5 in long-term monogamy, long before I read the piece. All the noise reminded me of the hot winds we get here in August. That paradox where a wind is not cool and refreshing, but hot and full of dust. There seemed to be nothing invigorating about the conversation.
Kate Harding has a great piece here on the lost of art of critical reading on the Internet, and the reaction to Havrilesky’s piece, particularly.
They tweet these things, they email them, they reply in comments, they blog about them and snitch-tag the author. There is no apparent awareness that, in writing a piece and publishing it, the author has said what they meant to say and turned the project of thinking about it over to the reader. Today’s reader will simply not accept the baton being passed. If something is unclear, the author must expand; if something offends, the author must account and atone. Simple disagreement triggers some cousin of cognitive dissonance, where the reader’s brain scrambles to forcibly reconcile beliefs that don’t actually contradict each other.
A thought like, “Joan Didion was a master prose stylist and brilliant thinker who said some real bullshit about feminism” cannot stand. Was she great, or was she sometimes wrong? Do I love her writing, or do I occasionally not care for it? Which is it, dammit? Authorial worthiness is zero-sum.
And similarly, on how the Internet was not supposed to just be an argument, there is Brandon Taylor here.
It’s a strange thing to be misunderstood, but also human. I find it difficult to talk about these things because the very issue at hand is the thing that prevents easy understanding. I mean, for example, that newsletter was just my attempt to express my own personal feelings about social media. And people took it to be an argument about the way we all should be. That wasn’t it at all. When I say I don’t think we are sharing with each other, the emphasis is on I don’t think. My discomfort does not have to mean that you are uncomfortable too or that you should also be experiencing discomfort. I am only ever talking about my own feelings. My own thoughts about what it means when people do or say things to me or that I observe. You do not have to internalize anything.
And then people say, Well, why do you share it then? If you aren’t trying to convince people of things? And, like, that is kind of my point, no? Like, has digital life gotten to the point where everything is an argument to be won? Is every piece of writing trying to exert an influence upon you?
We all have parts of our lives we reserve. But as someone whose primary social idiom is the internet. I don’t necessarily feel that I am being public by posting things on Twitter or Instagram or writing them in this newsletter. Of course, they are not private. But that does not mean that I am trying to exert influence or begging to be consumed. Sometimes, a person just wants to express. Or share.
Some recent comedic finds on Instagram.
Emma Willmann (the looser the better with her)
The Internet IV
Nationalism is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time.
- Benedict Anderson
This is significant because there is a difference between the call for open borders and that for no borders, and when you get to the outer reaches of ‘no borders’ you find that even the Left falter. If we are really re-thinking capitalism - introducing a UBI, dismantling the prison system - then let’s also re-think nations.
And it is also significant because the heights of the pandemic6 brought out a touch of nationalism in me, which I was unaccustomed to feeling and which I did not like, and maybe it did for you, too?
Here is an interesting interview with Nandita Sharma7 (go to the 47 minute mark) on the hardening of nationalism and its link to racism. These are fascinating concepts for those of us working in the area of political economics. To be honest, I can’t quite figure out how it would all work yet, but I have heard enough to believe that it probably does work.
For starters, they’re aware of my fears and they don’t consider them a problem.
The recognition and naming of people’s refusals to accept borders is of crucial importance in the light of the typical response to calls for No Borders: that it is utopian and impractical. This is often accompanied by what Phillip Cole calls the “catastrophe prediction.” This argues that No Borders would undermine equality and welfare protections within liberal democratic states and this would have an impact on the most marginalized and disadvantaged. It is also said that a lack of borders would also erode national identities and commitments to liberal democratic values. It is this dystopic vision that allows for either the consequent Hobbesian response (that states must be given sovereignty and the power to enforce compliance in the interests of citizens) or the related communitarian response (in which national state formations are defended on the grounds that democracy itself can flourish only if bounded with strong insides and outsides). In both scenarios, national sovereignty, although potentially unjust, is cast as a necessary evil.
A radical No Borders politics acknowledges that it is part of revolutionary change. If successful, it will have a very profound effect on all of our lives for it is part of a global reshaping of economies and societies in a way that is not compatible with capitalism, nationalism, or the mode of state-controlled belonging that is citizenship. It is ambitious and requires exciting and imaginative explorations, but it is not utopian.
From this discussion at Tikkun.
My teenage daughter recently introduced me to a favourite film of hers, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (Good review here). Who better to be an audience for a film on objectification than teenage girls? They are so very objectified. It makes me weep.
The film also includes an amazing depiction of abortion. Tender and matter of fact8.
Women Managers are More Burned Out Than Men Managers in a Pandemic? You Don’t Say
Women are now significantly more burned out—and increasingly more so than men. Despite this added stress and exhaustion, women are rising to the moment as stronger leaders and taking on the extra work that comes with this: compared with men at the same level, women are doing more to support their teams and advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.
Consider me not all that surprised about this particular result from the Women in the Workplace 2021 report from McKinsey & Company.
It’s not that we seek out suffering. Rather, we seek out meaning and purpose9. But part of meaning and purpose is difficulty – anxiety, stress, conflict, boredom, and often physical and emotional pain.
This is How I Also Felt About My Divorce
By breaking up our family, I’d taken something from my kids that they were never going to get back.. There was nothing I could give them to make up for it, except, maybe, a way of being in the world: of being open to it.
- Honor Jones
TLDR: our vibrators remain reliable well into our 90s. Men, less so.
You Come Into the World and Then You Go
I've had 72 absolutely flaming years. It [the illness] doesn't bother me at all, because, you know, love, when you've lived like I have, you've done it all. I put all my effort into living; any dope can drop dead. I'm in the hospital now, and I guess I'll kick the bucket here. Every beetle does it, every bird, everybody. You come into the world and then you go.
Tilda Swinton Likes Dog Walking Too
Should I move to the Scottish Highlands and have a house by the sea with our dogs, too?
Call Myself Back
Alone, I often fall down into nothingness. I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off the edge of the world into nothingness. I have to bang my head against some hard door to call myself back to the body.
- Virginia Woolf
Life is the only way
to get covered in leaves,
catch your breath on the sand,
rise on wings;
to be a dog,
or stroke its warm fur;
to tell pain
from everything it’s not;
to squeeze inside events,
dawdle in views,
to seek the least of all possible mistakes.
An extraordinary chance
to remember for a moment
a conversation held
with the lamp switched off;
and if only once
to stumble upon a stone,
end up soaked in one downpour or another,
mislay your keys in the grass;
and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;
and to keep on not knowing
If you happen to ever be on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, may I recommend The Two of Us for breakfast? So fresh their website isn’t even operational yet. The food is locally produced and ah-mazingl! Definitely a secret gem.
Join me virtually in catching this show, You Can’t Hide in the Desert online at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. It’s by the writer, Tracy Crisp and it’s about all our favourite topics.. middle-age, motherhood, family, memory, identity, secrets.. We can chat about it afterwards. (It’s not expensive).
One of the very best art curator accounts around is @cupofmeat and she doesn’t reveal her identity, but I happen to know she’s in Brisbane, Australia. Every now and then she goes private, so it is worth following her if you like what she posts.
P.S. I know a lot of my newsletters lately have been less of my writing and more of my click recommendations. I am trying to figure a lot of stuff out at the moment and it isn’t ready for me to write about, yet. I think I will return to more of my own writing in my next newsletter, though I will still always enjoy sharing curiosities that are inspiring my thinking.
Our family is grieving. But, I cannot speak openly about it for reasons of another’s privacy.
Pregnancy is a dilemma that notably presents three options. It is not a binary decision, there is a third option.
Admittedly, not always for the good.
As my therapist would say.
Can we say ‘height’ like we’re on the other side of it now?
Thanks to one of my readers, Ani Lacy for the tip on Nandita Sharma’s work.
And embarrassingly, I also spent a bit of time appreciating the wall colours and the crockery in this film because it is beautiful.