Goldilocks and her emotional calendar

How back flippingly relieved I am to find that hating summer is more just than me hating summer  According to John R Sharp, there’s a summer version of Seasonal Affective Disorder.[1]  I hereby propose myself as the founding member of Summer Sucks.  Is that a bit direct?  A bit narky?  Disgruntled even?  Oh yes.  All that and more.

One of the better known poems about Australia was by Dorothea MacKellar who declared her undying affection for a sunburnt country.  There are many, many good things about Australia, but I do not agree that its climatic extremes are among them.  I’m all for seasonality, just not for extremes.  I am on record amongst friends for saying that, for the purposes of balance, and I want to do a winter somewhere snow is normal.  Just to say that I know what it’s like.  But I am 99.9999etc percent certain that I’m not moving to Murmansk, or Anchorage, on a permanent basis.

But back to Dr Sharp.  He cites research undertaken in Townsville which had participants keep a diary of mood, food and bodily function during the hottest part of the year.  More, rather than less, reported that they were affected negatively by the weather.  What amazed me as an environmental historian is that proof is needed of this.  We’ve travelled so far intellectually from our ecological roots that we need evidence of how the natural world affects us.  Here’s a news flash.  We’re organic.  We are the natural world, just as much as the tree outside your window, the sunlight making it easy for you to see your screen and the water in your glass. 

Some people did report that they were not bothered by the heat and humidity in Townsville, demonstrating a spectrum of sensitivity.  Regrettably I am the other end.  Combine our natural sensitivities with the lived experience of sunburn, drought, heatwave and fire, and toss in our cultural expectations around summer, and I could wonder why anyone in Australia likes it.  As Sharp says, summer comes with the expectations of holidays, that you should be having a life worthy of an advertising campaign or a no holds barred summer fling.  Speaking for myself, I’m wondering how to avoid getting burnt and thanking the powers that be that I’m not trying to soothe toddlers in a heatwave.

In Australia, we also get to toss in the potentially psychosis inducing Christmas ritual into our summer plans.  Memories of my mother unwilling cooking roasts while sweltering intrude.  Plus, like me, you might have your own particular anniversary dates of hell falling in summer.  Like the failure of my marriage…As if all that wasn’t enough, its forty one degrees outside and you can rent your car out as a mobile torture chamber.  (There’s another week of this heatwave to go.  Oh, and daylight savings, but I’ll stay my rant on that and stick to my topic.)

If I were either less sensitive or some more spiritually evolved kind of person, I’d be able to say (and mean it) that the weather shouldn’t make a difference to me.  But it does.  When there’s a dessicating westerly howling, I feel miserable.  I’m less inclined to be cheerful, to be positive, to be kind.  I feel trapped.  I am like Goldilocks, seeking the balance between too hot and too cold.  Although if I really, really had to choose a pole of the extreme, it’s cold.  Looks like I’m living in the wrong country. 

The fierceness of summer is what makes me soooooo in love with autumn. It’s mild and kind and gentle. The roses get an autumn flush and don’t get fried as soon as they open their petals.  The wind drops, picnics seem attractive again.  You can go outside without instantly breaking into a sweat, and it’s possible to leave the house without a head to toe marinating in titanium dioxide. What’s not to like about autumn in Australia?  I suspect I long for turning leaves the way northern winter SAD sufferers feel about daffodils.  It’s no accident I’m living in a city with some of the most magnificent autumn foliage in the country.  The bliss of a yellowing oak leaf.  Bring it on.


[1] Sharp, John R, The Emotional Calendar, Times Books (Harry Holt and Co), New York, 2011.

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Anniversaries, and my first year of blogging

It is January 16th.  Anniversary of my father’s funeral, my parents’ wedding day and one year since I started this blog.  Hence, a little reflection, but before that, a little gratitude.  My gratitude is directed towards the people who have elected to follow me.  I want to tell you how much I appreciate that, and perhaps I can best tell you why this feels so important by sharing a little story. 

It’s from when I was in early high school, a particularly horrid age for anyone and I was as gawky, unsure and downright daggy as you could possibly be.  I didn’t fit in.  I was also at that awkward crush stage, and I had a bit of a crush going for Michael Hutchence, lead singer of INXS.  I had a sizeable poster of him from a teen magazine on the inside of my cupboard. I recall writing a letter to said magazine which was the classic introvert statement, something along the lines of ‘Hey, not everyone enjoys parties/loud music etc’.  Told you I didn’t fit in…The magazine printed this letter and the Editor made fun of me in their comment.  Worse than that, some girls at my school figured out it was me.  Any chance I’d ever had of being accepted evaporated.  The magazine sent me a cheque but I was so humiliated I never banked it.  This was my first foray into public writing.

It’s only recently, as I’ve been trying to work through my feelings about this blog, that this memory has resurfaced.  I twigged.  Publication = public rejection.  And yet, there you are, followers.  I know it’s only the work of a moment to hit that little button, but before you did that, all of you thought I had something to offer.  And that is the greatest gift I can think of right now.  So, thank you, thank you and thank you again.

It’s been a very interesting year, filled with difference which I had been longing for after many, many years of slogging away at a PhD.  That was part of the reason for my subtitle, blogging for a kinder, gentler and more creative world.  Academia has value, but the process of it feels light years away from kind, gentle and creative.  In reading over my entries I realise I have hardly spent time talking about creativity, compared to the qualities of kindness and gentleness.  I also realise it’s also been very much about the experience of being an adoptee.  That certainly wasn’t my intent, but realising it was also valuable.  I’ll explore that more a bit later, but I thought I’d conclude by telling you that while I haven’t written here about creativity, I’ve actually been doing a lot of it elsewhere.

Namely, a new garden and I wrote two novels.

Ta-da!!!!!!

Until this year, I was the kind of person who always started novels but never finished them.  Now suddenly, I’ve managed to finish first drafts of two.  One was written slowly between March and October, and the other was written during Nanowrimo.  In case you’ve never heard of that, National Novel Writing Month.  The aim is to get 50 000 words written during the month of November.  I managed 55 000, a fact which still brings an inanely large grin to my face.

Nano was an amazing experience.  A bit fishbowly, a bit boot campy, a bit woo-hoo, and given the subject matter of my novel, a bit woo-woo.  Loved it.  Being a writer is cool.  I want more of it.  I’d even like to get paid for it!  Goes to show that if you risk something for what you love, good things can come of it.  The taking risks bit is at times more than you think you can handle.  However, if you do it in a way that is sensitive to both where you’ve been, and where you want to be, you’ll move yourself along. 

I’m not sure what Mum and Dad would say to me now, as I make tiny steps towards a life I am happy to inhabit.  I’m not sure what they’d say about this blog.  They’d find what I have written about adoption hard to stomach, although that assertion is made with an assumption that wherever they are, they still have their earthly mindset.  I hope that’s not true.  I hope they can see me trying to live the life that they didn’t get the opportunity for.  I don’t mean in terms of material things.  I was born in an era where it is so much easier to get information and help to be as whole as you can be.  I grew up with less limits in my head.  Children of the depression, they grew up thinking security was everything, and dreams were to be subordinate to that. They grew up in the era where ONE DID NOT SPEAK OF CERTAIN THINGS and they both paid the price for that.    So here I am, taking a year out from ‘life’, courtesy of their hard work for all those years.  Taking risks, looking inside and out, realising I want to make my living around language and creativity, and seeing what more I can do to make that real. 

The Market in Babies

Today I’m giving my impressions and initial thoughts on a history book on a topic thoroughly ingrained in me: adoption.  The book is called The Market In Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption by Marian Quartly, Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert (Monash University Publishing, 2013).  The book is the result of an Australia Research Council grant project to investigate the history of adoption in Australia.  It’s a slender volume, but nevertheless it is a very good book and I would recommend it to anyone.

Why do I like it?  Firstly, and I never thought I’d say this, I found the scholarly and thoughtful tone a great relief.  Having done a PhD in history myself and struggled with the ‘scholarly voice’, I often find academic writing to be frustrating.  In this case, I was very grateful for the measured nature of the words.  The subject of adoption incites a wide range of emotions, and that can be exhausting.  I fully expected to be on the proverbial emotional roller coaster with reading this, and it was wonderful to be able to read something and be engaged and not overwhelmed.

Secondly, just because they strike an excellent balance with their choice of language doesn’t mean that the authors have shied away from the issues.  Their main title is evidence of that.  Adoption has usually been a flow of babies from poorer, disadvantaged or discriminated against unmarried women towards wealthier, more socially advantaged married women.  This book clearly deals with the assumptions about gender, class and wealth that have been main drivers of the practice of adoption. 

It covers the main phases of change in adoption practice, which is usually marked by changes in legislation.  Nineteenth century adoptions were usually privately arranged and informal, until the state moved to make regulations in the latter part of that century.  Since then, a successive wave of legislation appeared every few decades, each time giving favour to the rights of the adopting parents.  This began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  The introduction of financial support by the Whitlam government in 1973 (three years after I was born) is perhaps the strongest marker of this change.  The ‘supply’ of babies for the market dropped dramatically, proving that the main barrier to women keeping their babies was economic, not moral.  From this point, the discussion turns to practices of intercountry adoptions and the emerging practice of intercountry surrogacy, again highlighting issues of class and wealth.

As I said, it’s a slim volume.  This means there’s not that much attention on the children.  It’s mostly about the competing sets of parents.  Its always been about the parents.  The rhetoric of adoption has been ‘in the best interests of the child’, but in my view that’s largely all its been: rhetoric.  The authors finish with a question.  Does it matter where a baby comes from?  Speaking from the point of view of a baby who is living the answer of ‘no, it doesn’t matter’ I’d like to say that yes, it absolutely matters, and the person it matters the most to is the baby.  The voiceless baby, subject of all those competing projections of adults. 

 

Holiday blues

I’ve been in the kind of nasty ‘holiday blues’ headspace where I need to re-read Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist writer and practitioner, to keep a grip on things.  I won’t go into the details of the holiday blues except to say that between just before Christmas and around now is full of dates that suck, and I don’t just mean the big ones of 25 December and 31 Dec. 

I got home today and flopped on the bed.  I picked up Jack and opened randomly (I love bibliomancy) to this:

          What is truly a part of our spiritual path is that which brings us alive.  If gardening brings us alive, that is part of our path, if it is music, if it is conversations…we must follow what brings us alive. (The Wise Heart, p203)  (Yes I know that’s supposed to be indented but stupid wordpress wont play…)

Backtrack a little and read that bit about flopping on the bed.  That’s my clear sign of not feeling alive. I’d spent my day doing intellectual, officey things in an office that is by far and away the nicest I’ve ever worked in.  The people are pleasant and very dedicated, and its doing something directly related to my field of academic expertise.  By any standard, I should be doing backflips of joy.  I’m not.  I’m coming home and flopping on the bed, snogging the cat if she’ll let me and actively resisting the desire for several glasses of wine.  On the positive side it’s not taking me as long to recover as in my previous job, but the pattern is still there.

I’ve written previously about work and careers, and I’m none the wiser these days.  I wished, hoped that having kissed the old job goodbye I would see a new path for myself.  That the universe would throw opportunities and people in my path, and that out of that combination of newly freed me and chance, there’d be some alchemy.  I’m after nothing less than fundamental transformation.  ‘At last’, I’d cry, ‘I know what I’m here for’.  Today, therefore, is a bitter and depressing experience.

In the old job I was heard to compare office workers to factory workers from the early Industrial Revolution.  Tied to a machine for hours on end, with no control.  My inability to switch myself off and be a worker, dedicated to one corporate task, sitting rigidly all day in front of a screen is a strong characteristic in me.  Nothing about what I did today, or have ever really done at work, has brought me alive.  Which is not to say that some of it hasn’t been useful and good.  A lot of it has been crap too.  But it’s never made me feel alive either. 

So when I went to bed last night I bibliomanced again and found an answer of sorts.  Society doesn’t want us to be alive.

‘Being requires accepting oneself and staying within oneself and not doing to prove oneself.  It is a discipline that is accorded no applause from the outside world; it questions production for production’s sake.  Politically and economically it has little value, but its simple message has wisdom.  If I can accept myself as I am, and if I am harmony with my surroundings, I have no need to produce, promote or pollute to be happy.’ (Murdock, Maureen, The Heroine’s Journey, p128, italics in original) (ditto on indenting!)

The only creature I know who’s got that mastered is the Iron Paw.  I feel I have a long, long way to go on this journey.

 

On dressmaking, self loathing and imaginary virtual rejection

Once upon a time, I had a waist line.  These days, I’m an inverted triangle on long skinny legs.  I’ve got annoyingly large boobs, and most of the fat I’ve grown in these last few insane years went on my middle, with the result that there is only a barely discernible difference between my waist and my hips. 

I’ve mentioned in previous posts how much my body departs from the fashion industry’s standard, and as a result I find purchasing clothing to be a mini trial.  It was my futile attempts this week to find a simple A-line skirt which started all of this.  I decided, therefore, to use my long days of unemployment productively and start sewing again. 

On my kitchen table at the moment is the beginnings of a pattern block. For those unfamiliar with dress making terminology, a block is the primary step in pattern drafting.  It records basic dimensions which, when combined with a design details i.e. bateau neckline, or V neckline and construction details like facings and seam allowances, enable a perfectly fitted garment to be produced.  Made to measure clothing was once the rule, not the exception.

Imagine my chagrin when, after making allowances for darts, the block curves outward between waist and hip.  Not inwards as one might expect.  And hope.  So guess what dear reader?  I’ve realised, in a very black line against white paper fashion, that I’m fat.  This is a bad enough realisation on its own.  It’s absolutely lethal when combined with internet dating.

I do know people who have found successful loving relationships through the net.  This is not my experience.  I’ve been rejected virtually far more often than I ever have been face to face.  But either way it comes, rejection is an experience that all of us hope to avoid. 

I gave him the link to this blog, and he returned the favour.  He writes beautifully, and he writes on a subject which has a significant charge for me.  His experiences and mine are light years away from each other and that frightened me a little.  I admitted as much to him and he took some time to get back to me.

Well. 

Talk about an internal calamity.  More drama than high school.  If it had been a musical I’d have called it ‘Hello shadow’. 

My head was being quite cooperative.  It was saying useful things like ‘there’s any number of reasons why he hasn’t written back you.  Long weekend, he could be away, he could have three essays due on Tuesday, he’s got the flu…’  None of that helpful cognitive disputing held any traction with the shadow narrative.  We all have them.  They are largely variations on the theme of self loathing.  Our fear that we are flawed, not good enough, not thin enough, stupid, worthless, lazy, talentless, ugly and in essence, unloveable.  These are stories which are deeply ingrained in us and which, as adults trying to live kind and meaningful lives, are neither helpful nor realistic.  But they stick like barnacles to the bottoms of boats, slowing us down and leaving us unable to respond to the present.

I decided that he had found my vulnerability and my writing repulsive, and had taken the easy option of silent rejection.  That he’d found another woman on the net who was thinner and had a shit load less baggage.  Of course, that was not true.  He liked my writing and was fully cognisant that the issue I’d identified was significant, and did I still want to continue talking to him?    

My assumption about silent rejection reflects my general experience in internet dating.  I’m writing as if I’ve done scads of it, but actually I haven’t.  Generally though, I’ve found that when a man has decided that he’s not interested in me, he just opts for silence.  Silence hurts.  Sometimes a lot more than words.  It’s not so much the fact that someone decides that you are not the woman they hope to meet.  That’s fine.  Statistically, it’s likely.  But silence protects only the one doing rejecting.  They save their own feelings of awkwardness at the other’s expense.  It says to the receiver of the silence ‘I don’t sufficiently care about your feelings to want to let you down nicely’. 

If this man decides I’m not the partner he is interested in, I’m sure that he won’t take the option of silence.  He’s been intelligent, articulate and sensitive.  Or the situation might be reversed.  I hope that I’ll be able to live up to my words, and be able to say, with kindness and grace, the thing no one wants to hear.