Cast Me a Spell for Luck
The alchemy, the temperance.
From my Instagram
Notes on My Father
My father flies back out overseas tonight. I think I will miss him. It will be the first time I have missed him since I was a child.
All my loss began with him1.
Breakfast is his favourite meal of the day. He is pleased about the way he enjoys this meal, which is frugal and cheerful. For example, a piece of fruit cut neatly into pieces and served on a nice plate. It is a good frame of mind for beginning the day. I tell him we usually fast in the morning. Hmm hmm he says, disappointed.
He is trying to teach us new phrases. I am usually good with languages. But when he cheers2 his drink with mine, all I hear is the very Australian sounding phrase, ‘chooks ahoy3!’ At the time it is flooding rain and what better way to toast, so, I mispronounce it again.
On Valentine’s morning my father and son make a plate of fruit and flowers to take to me in bed. It is one of the loveliest moments in my life. My son tells me a story he has learned from my father. I already know this one, but I don’t interrupt. Papi’s father was so devoted to Papi’s mother that he would get up early and make a plate of chopped fruit for her to have in bed every morning of her life. (Those two, I think to myself, so in love, but every one of their children ended up divorced4).
We are needing to close the top windows, and though my husband is significantly taller than my father he has a foot injury, and can’t climb up easily. My father, in his seventies, hoists himself on top of a cupboard and reaches to close them. I see the champion gymnast of his youth.
No matter how torrential the rain gets my father says, we’re having some good laughs though, aren’t we? We’re having a lovely time. (Ah, I realise, that’s where my relentless optimism comes from5).
My father tells us a story of brutality from boarding school - it happened when he was the same age as my son is now. (My boy, who has his eyes). Hit to the face so hard by the school principal that he fell to the ground, blacked out, and woke to find he had wet himself.
Across the state are bridges, dams, roads and various other civil construction engineering monuments designed by my father. A legacy from when he once lived in Australia.
I waited outside to wave goodbye to my father in the taxi. My husband gently said, I don’t think he’s the looking back type of guy, come in from the rain.
The Montessori Cult
So yes, as someone who raised my own young children in Montessori home practices and schooling, I have also winced at the elitism that has claimed the methodology. (Recently I found myself unexpectedly hurt when my teenage daughter sent me TikToks poking fun at the cliché of Montessori parents - all full of ‘sad children in beige clothes’. I can make fun of it, but you can’t. That parenting path was one of my very few moments of earnestness, I wanted to say. Oh well, parenting teenagers is humbling stuff).
But while some observations are valid in this New Yorker article by Jessica Winter, I wonder if it slips into something I have seen happening over the years with the analysis of certain kinds of parenting. There is a tendency to critique these parenting movements, like attachment parenting or homeschooling, on the basis that they are very white or very conservative. And yes, they are movements embraced by some of those communities, but they are not from or about those populations, and criticism without contextual consideration can result in some perverse outcome statements. If you want less centring of children by women, because you think it is either self-indulgent (white) or impeding choice (conservative), then you may end up arguing the case for more detached, available workers among mothers? When I see feminist writers do this I want to ask, is that what you intended. French philosopher, Elisabeth Badinter and American lawyer, Linda Hirshman were both feminists arguing for a neoliberal solution, but are you?
So, reading the anti-Montessori article by Winter I would counter by noting that centring children is expensive. Why? It is not because children are spoilt little customers. It’s because focusing on the needs of the young conflicts with the dominance of mass production and convenience that underpins capitalism. Swimming against any institutional supremacy in education or maternity hospitals or childcare or whatever, takes a certain kind of zealotry, which is why I believe you tend to see big personalities and, at times, a preoccupation with purity in these particular maternal movements. It is not, for the most part, because they are fixated on an idealised vision of children or mothering that has no biological or historical reference points, but rather because they are are pushing against something so pervasive and entrenched. Something extreme.
Low teaching ratios, stable employee relations and hands-on wooden equipment are expensive to provide. Self-driven learning runs contrary to the scheduled timetables and administrative time-fillers in mainstream schooling. Parents struggling with insecure work, unpredictable casual shifts, excessive work hours or overnight shifts make for a flexible workforce but they won’t find it easy to provide patient observation and prepared environments at home for their children. All of this can make it tough for Montessori to thrive in the mainstream, and I say this as a parent who saw attempts at close range in a public school.
This is not particularly because Montessori has its head up its arse6, it’s because neoliberalism is hostile to children.
Jung at the Kitchen Table
My twelve year old son dreamed a great gust of wind entered his bedroom. His curtains blew against an incense stick and caught alight. His door slammed against a door stop and smashed.
What does it mean, he asks. I think it is an anxiety dream, I said. Big feelings came in that could not be stopped and literally blew you apart. He nodded.
I had another dream, he said. I was walking in a hurry when my legs turned hard and heavy and I was having trouble moving them. Then, I fell to the ground, unable to get up.
I said I think the dream is telling you that you cannot outrun these feelings. You will have to sit with them. He nodded again.
Have I Forgotten Something
I dreamed I woke in the middle of the night to find my mother tending to a baby. The baby was mine. A lost daughter.
Apparently, I was not well when I had birthed her - I’m not surprised, a lot happened for all of us in 2021 - and because I had been so overwhelmed, my mother had taken the newborn in temporarily. But weeks had passed and I since forgot about her existence. Was it too late? Had my milk dried up? Could we bond after this poor start? I was agonising.
In the end though, I decided I was too tired to deal with it in the middle of the night and that I would get a good night of sleep before facing the problem in the morning. (Ha! Pick the middle-aged woman who gets insomnia and is used to telling herself to go back to sleep and deal with it tomorrow).
The Problem with Calling Kanye West Crazy
I think that we have a pop cultural figure with profound genius, entrapped in an iconography, entrapped in a moment where everything he says is framed inside the pop diagnoses of “crazy.” Saying someone thinks in interesting ways does not confer that you agree with what that person thinks.
- Dr Jeffrey McCune in Pitchfork
I have been thinking a lot about Kanye West lately and what I don’t like about the way he is perceived and represented. So, I was delighted when I came across this African American academic, Jeffrey McCune, because his theories align so closely with my own thinking.
It’s not just Kanye. There’s an intolerance, generally, for difficult people and yet we’re supposed to be in an age of enlightenment. This is a problem because difficult people are seen as most difficult when they are not properly fitting in, for instance, when they have mental illness or are substance affected or are very unstructured thinkers or are just some kind of undefined version of highly strung. You might wonder, how much of the problem is the difficult person and how much is the difficult system? This is not to say that people should put up with anything in the name of someone else’s pain7, but it is to say that when difficult people don’t fit in their frustrations or fears can exhibit in ways that can be labelled crazy, and by doing so, you can pretty thoroughly exclude them. Worse still, the more you call them crazy the more frustrated or frightened they get and the more they act in ways that look crazy. Talk about an easy shot.
Everyone cherishes Nina Simone, and she is one of my all time favourite musicians, but I bet people would have been shitty about her if she had lived in the age of Instagram and Twitter. She, like Kanye, was Black, bipolar and brilliant ..and traumatised by racism. She was also very political, very radical, and very angry. I bet her Instagram would have been a sight to see!
Here’s a great illustration of how difficult artists are reinvented as crazy artists - you can watch it in the video of one of McCune’s lectures, particularly from the 17.30 mark onwards, where he explains the pathologizing of passion (my words).
It pains me as a one time single mother to defend an angry father ranting at the mother of his children, and I am not saying Kim Kardashian isn’t suffering, but what Kanye is angry about isn’t crazy. The age at which your children are allowed to use social media, particularly when they are the subject of extreme public interest, is a perfectly routine parenting dilemma.
And the ways in which Kim Kardashian communicates in the public forum give her perspective legitimacy, not necessarily because her parenting position is the correct one8, but because she is not a difficult person. She knows it. So does Kanye, which is why I suspect he gets so frustrated and so desperate to ‘clear the air’ himself in public, and that, of course, only makes it worse for him.
There’s a good podcast interview to check out by Joe Madison with Dr McCune here, on what we expect of celebrities and their behaviour in public. How very neoliberal it all is. Go to the 3.45 minute mark onwards.
Being famous, itself, is crazy. It is an abnormal position for a human being and we should not dehumanise folks who are in the public eye, over and over again, by expecting them to have these ridiculous responses of containment and quiet and control, and every moment you’re supposed to be calm. That expectation from out of the public is in fact a craze, an obsession.
What’s the point in university students (or any of us) studying the public response to Kanye?
I want them to not quickly diagnose our young people or our older people as being out of their minds when they’re responding to public stimuli.. but actually think about the social conditions under which we live.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this, and for a wonderfully blunt and contrary position, from a favourite contrarian, there’s this from Azealia Banks. (Banks is, herself, a difficult person. I love her).
.. as if she is a fucking piece of property and not a young black girl just trying to be happy. For fucks sake. Kanye West is an abusive psychopath, it’s beyond mental illness. Stop trying to help him and start trying to help the poor child that he keeps on trying to embarrass and abuse publicly to garner sympathy for his ashy ass.
What is Crazy
What is crazy? In practice, madness is defined functionally rather than with reference to some absolute cognitive distinction. You can be as unhappy as you like if you can still make rent. You can be convinced that every streetlight is an angel as long as you walk past them and to your own door. If you have a lot of money, you can go on being crazy without consequence for longer than if you have only a little. Despite all these gradations, it is not as if there are two kinds of things, really real things and merely socially constructed things: The conditions of reality are socially determined, and crazy is one of the names for a life that falls outside value.
This, on loving someone with a personality disorder is, I think, Hannah Black’s best piece.
The Night My Father Found a Snake in the Room
One last time something dark manifests. Driven by the floods, yes, but is it transformation? Healing? Or a connection between the underworld and ours?
Until one day my husband refers to the room as my father’s room and I am relieved to see the exorcism is complete.
Or my daughter comes in upset, chaotic, spinning out and sits by my mother and receives a calming nod – no questions, I note – and the chaos subsides.
Whatever made us think we could live without this? We were stuck on our goals and our aspirations and – God forbid – our dreams. We were too busy to notice how the bodies silently speak to one another, how we breathe each other in, recalibrate and breathe out.
But the meeting of these life forces now feels more essential than ever. We are constantly exchanging ever-altering resonances, and balance occurs. Not perfectly – nothing’s perfect – but, consistently, we change and reset one another’s state. So instead of grieving my mother’s ageing, instead of envying my daughter’s youth, I find I am buoyed up and calmed down by turn.
From Emma Thompson on being between her mother and daughter in The Guardian.
What is Everyone Else Doing About Porn with Their Teenagers?
No, it’s a question.
Please only reply to the survey if you are currently parenting a teenager or very recently parented a teenager through to adulthood.
The opinions of parents with young children don’t count. Because, I am the parent with young children or that’s how it still feels in my head - only my kids are now teenagers, and everything theoretical has gone out the window. Actually, I’m not worrying about the seventeen year old. She has been rad fem for most of adolescence and then scoffing for the rest of it. It’s the thirteen year old I worry about.
I still hang on to the idea that maybe he won’t really watch porn until adulthood. My husband laughs at the idea. You talk to him about it then, I say. He looks hesitant and cracks a joke.
I have done all the theoretical things. Talked about the ethics of the production of porn, desensitisation, that Billie Eilish regrets watching it, but not to yuck your yum, that sex work is real work, curiosity is natural, sexual fantasy is healthy, porn addiction is not, lots of people don’t want porn sex in real life so don’t let it warp your ideas, but no kink-shaming, porn stars are professional athletes so don’t necessarily try that at home, x rated has legal meaning, people like porn, your parents have healthy sex lives, parents are probably hypocrites, but then.. we grew up without so much explicit porn being available and maybe give yourself that chance, too.
But then what?
Are you setting any rules? Is there any point? Come on, be realistic, they can get around safe internet filters. Or maybe rules worked? Is your kid really rule-orientated, though, because that is not our house? Were you just kidding yourself? Did it feel nice to pretend it worked? I might like that, too.
I can’t be the parent who tries to help my son find ethical porn either. I get that idea, in theory. But, I just can’t. That feels like not enough of another kind of boundary.
Are we just all hoping for the best?
There is no point 10.
Remember When I Once Wrote in the National Newspaper About Re-Partnering
Our relationship faces pressures first marriages don't. We have no Tupperware, for one. There is not a single matching container and lid to be found in our place. It all ends up at my ex's house on alternate weekends when the children leave their school lunch boxes behind.
There are the endless third party conversations with your ex and your partner's ex. One day you might learn she thinks you don't change the children's sheets often enough. You learn it because your child tells you.
You might mouth to the wall, "I'm a feminist and this is not my job!", as you shake fresh sheets out over a bed, because love.
In hindsight, so many of the tensions in the first year of my new relationship were about my fear of dependency. He was so kind and so in love. He would remind me he was willing to help in any way he could. It was supposed to be comforting, but at the time, it felt like a reminder of my missteps.
I had to re-learn intimacy, the way a few years before that I had had to re-learn solitude.
From me on the bravery of starting again. I came across this when I saw it promoted again at Valentine’s.
Loving Through the Irritating I - Marriage
That sometimes a relationship can feel both irretrievably broken and rock solid within 24 hours; even an hour. That often, nothing particular happens, the ebb and flow of estrangement and rapprochement, the happy accident of never wanting to split at the same time.
Loving Through the Irritating II - International Relations
My favourite international relations reads on Putin this month were these two in The New York Times:
The Justice System is a Motherhood Issue
Kumanjayi Walker was nineteen years old when he was shot and killed by police at home. He was loved. The jury did not convict the police officer.
Some very reasonable proposals have been provided with heartbroken fury by Aboriginal Elders, for policing in remote Aboriginal communities, and Australia should urgently consider them. To start - no guns.
Cat Sings the Blues
A Pretty Accurate Description of What Parties Were Like in My 20s
This, but with inflatable furniture instead of influencers. Remember dinner parties on the ground with newly-moved-out-of-home-bad-cooking?
A warm and intriguing observation of Jackass and its subversion of masculinity.
No offence Dad, I love you.
Chúc vui vẻ
Hens are called 'chooks’ in Australia.
My parents are not close, but every five years or so reunite for a funeral or wedding and surprise themselves all over again with their rapport. And though they’ve lived completely separate lives for decades, they have gone on to develop some strangely similar habits, including favourite new recipes. They are both reading the same book at the moment, too.
Incredibly, my father holds relatively fond memories of the boys’ school. His family were founding members. For instance, my great-grandmother was the first woman in the state to be allowed into a post-graduate university degree and went on to be principal of the sister school.
Though I have been known to make fun of my own devotion to Montessori.
And I would acknowledge that learning how to fit in is not meaningless, it’s very important for social animals, like humans.
Just noting that I don’t believe there is a correct position on most parenting dilemmas.. and if there is, I am unlikely to be the expert.