28 May 2015

Mama. What is God?

A brilliant question my darling girl.

And one I palmed off beautifully by telling her to ask her Dad because HEY LOOK AT THAT A YELLOW CAR.


I watched the ABC's The #Agony of God a few weeks ago and was quite cheered in parts and a bit glum in others. Some people are very good at letting people believe what they want to believe and others are just arsehats.

We don't all have to believe the same thing.  But we don't have to be condescending numpties if we believe that our position is 'more right' than the other.

God is a tricky one for me and one I have spent, and will continue to spend a lot of time thinking about on and off I suspect, particularly in the context of the person I am and the people we want our daughters to be.

I was brought up as a Catholic. My other half was brought up a Methodist.  Both sets of parents are firmly in the 'persons of faith' category.  Our extended family are a robust mix of priests and Peppa Pig fanatics, with the odd Pastafarian. Or maybe he's a Buddhist.  Nice chap either way.

And yes, Science is tops.  I understand and value the burden of proof. I get that science is generally right.  Even when it changes and takes away Pluto's rightful position as a planet in the solar system.  I don't need to understand the Hadron Collider to get that people are really excited about particle acceleration and passionately committed to understanding it better.

I don't need to understand everything to value it.

And that's okay - 99.9% of people can't explain how the internet works.  But it does. And my lack of understanding doesn't mean I can't get great benefit out of it. There are things written on the internet which I can interpret in one of two ways and I am never going to choose the one which makes 'stop the boats' anything but xenophobic bullshit political spin. But you might see it differently. We're probably reading the same thing.

No matter where we seek our truths there are always going to be things that are more than what we comprehend. I see those with a quiet but fierce faith and am quietly envious of their sense of surety. But yet, conversely and completely judgementally, I find that people who fiercely and quietly believe that waving crystals to the left of their ear will heal their vaginal thrush are on the 'batshit crazy' spectrum.

We are cheerfully, comfortably in Camp Agnostic these days.  Which is like Band Camp - no matter how much you enjoy going there, it's not very trendy.  These days you need to believe in one or the other.  There can be no grey.  NO GREY AT ALL.

It's like #TeamAniston and #TeamJolie all over again except you have to be #TeamReligion or #TeamScience. You can't say you like both.  You're not allowed to sit on the fence getting the view of both sides. It's NOT ALLOWED.

Basically, when it comes down to it at the moment - people using 'absolutes' on either topic generally fail the #dontbeadick test.

I am not anti-faith. Or anti-science. I just don't know enough to want to put all my money on the one outcome.  I don't know a lot, and this is something kind of big that I don't know. What I do know is that I am deeply cynical about, and very disillusioned with, evangelism and extremism of all kinds.

We have many friends with faith. And many friends with science.  And many more with both. And they are all wonderfully, complex and beautiful people.  Gorgeous every single one of them. And I can't help but feel that's the glory of Camp Agnostic - we can like everybody.  All of the time. And we don't even have to feel peskily superior either or sorry for people that think differently.  Because we're kind of comfortable with the fact that everybody does think differently and that ultimately, none of us are going to be certain we chose the right team until we're dead.

Most importantly to me - this not knowing that we so freely profess to now, is that it gives the girls the gift of choice when it comes to deciding what to believe in.  They can (hopefully) build up empathy, compassion and an abiding curiosity for the world based on their own experiences and interpretations. And perhaps even learn to trust themselves with a confidence that expresses itself through kindness and not extremism.

Or sure, we're screwing it up for them entirely and they'll grow up searching for a life more meaningful than the view they can see from the fence we're perched on.

And if that means we have to stock up on colanders*, well then. That'll learn us.

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*Google "Pastafarianism".

21 May 2015

Feeling the feels

Earlier this week I was lucky to spend almost two hours with somebody who regularly writes about 'the feels'. Sometimes she writes so rawly, so openly and so emotively that I find it difficult to read.  Not because the writing is bad - quite the opposite, it's sublime.  But there are a lot of feels in it.  And I'm particularly susceptible to other peoples feels.

Always have been.  I'm susceptible to my own too.

When cancer reared it's head in our family, we talked about it non-stop.  When it comes to talking about physical afflictions, we are unstoppable and with cast iron stomachs.  We are happy to talk about tangibles.  Yes, yes we are.

But we don't talk about mental health or feelings.  We ALL feel the feels. We even quite often can guess at the feels the others are feeling. Sometimes we have short sharp exchanges which dance around the edges of the feelings but then we return to not talking about the feelings.

And then when I thought about it.  Few do.

We're not the only family not talking about feelings. My husband's family don't talk feelings. My friends' families don't talk about feelings. My friends themselves, extended families, work colleagues, team mates, the guy you sit next to on the bus every single day that never says hello - there are a lot of people not talking about their feelings.

It's not a judgement.  Not even a little bit.

Everybody is feeling the feelings, nobody is talking about the feelings and then all of us are wondering why it is that people feel the feels so much they can't go on.

I shared a post about the UK's Mental Health Week just yesterday and a friend wrote to me and said she envied me the circle that allowed me to talk about my post natal depression, my PTSD and my ongoing 'blues' because she was really struggling at the moment and felt she couldn't talk about it to anybody because she didn't want to upset anybody.

I was pleased she could talk to me, and we did.  I was happy to talk to her (as I would you OR YOU or... well you get it).  But she is mistaken. My circle is not talking about my feelings.  Or their feelings. We are not talking about PND, PTSD, depression or mental health. We do not talk about the feeling of feels.

There is a lot of love. Just none of that 'talking about how we feel' stuff. I pay an extremely excellent Clinical Psychiatrist to talk about my feelings with me.  And how to manage them. We talk about ways of not dying.  We talk about ways of sweeping out the black and rediscovering the light.  We talk about the ways to find our way back up out of the overwhelming fog. We talk about how some days and weeks it actually takes an incredible amount of physical strength not to constantly weep while going about the business of living.

I'm not the only one that lives like this.  For me it's episodic. And still involves a healthy dose of denial (if I don't think about it, it'll go away right?) For others, it's irregular.  For others again, a constant.  It is absolutely not the kind of conversation people are comfortable having.  I don't like talking about it. It makes me feel vulnerable.  It discombobulates me. It makes me that in some way I'm doing the living thing wrong.

But even after all that excellent advice, all those lessons learned and shared, feeling the feels out loud does not come naturally.  Changing my own habit of not talking about feelings turns out to be harder than quitting smoking.

My man and I, we both KNOW about the importance of communication, but even now after all these years together, we still don't talk about our feelings enough, and then sometimes we feel the feels and then we bubble up and we FEEL ALL OVER THE BLOODY PLACE until we calm down again.

And the girls look at us oddly, feeling these every day feels from us because we, like so many others, are so practiced at not feeling the feels openly that they are surprised by us doing it.  And I've had enough conversations with people to know that we are not alone in this.

I feel wretched that we're not better at FEELING because these little people are learning from us how to feel, how to respond to feels, and yes, how to apologise when they feel the feels in such a way that they make other people feel badly.

Though they are luckily still young enough to feel with an openness and an honesty that is brilliant, but they will lose if they don't see us modelling even half way okay ways of resolving of the feelings occasionally or even sometimes. Though they are still pretty ace at resolving things by themselves and I often think "I wish I could do that."

And then I remember I am 40 and crawling up to my sibling and licking their arm until she started to smile again might be seen as incredibly weird.

So recently I started a self project where I try to be very articulate about feeling the feels around my girls (however unreasonable those feels are) so that they never feel that feeling the feels is wrong or inappropriate.  Emotional constipation is just not working for the adults of the world as far as I can see.  Not in the long run.

We have conversations like this some days. And other days we just feel the feels because I am human and I sometimes am just not in the mood to be the best version of myself.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you.  I was in a bad mood and I took it out on you because I'm silly."
"Am I cross at Daddy? Yes. Why? Because in my opinion he is being a bit of a muppet."
"Yes, like the movie."
"Why do Daddy and I argue? Because sometimes we forget we're on the same side and other times it's because he didn't put the coffee away and I kind of feel that after almost 11 years together he should notice that kind of thing bothers the shit out of me."
"Yes Daddy gets cross at me too. Sometimes I'm very annoying."
"You've never noticed me be annoying - aww thanks sweetheart."
"What? You've noticed me being annoying.  Really? Me? Your favourite mama?"
"Absolutely it's okay that you're cross at me sweetheart. I would be cross too if I wanted finger bun for dinner and somebody gave me sausages and corn."
"You can say your sister is annoying but you can not call her a poo-poo head.  No, not even if she is being one."
"Why are you mad at your sister? You don't know? That's okay, just remember to tell her that you're sorry you've been such a grumpy arse when you've finished."

And so far it's working. We do a lot of hugging. And we, the so-called adults, try not to be prize dicks to each other too often. And I'm hoping that in our own small way we're making a difference to the next generation. That they have the courage to feel their feelings. That they have the kindness to talk about other people's feelings. And that they have the confidence to say "I need some help here people because quite frankly, life sucks arse right now."

I try to do it myself.  I'm not great at it.  I like to think of it as a work in progress and of course, I am lucky enough to have a forum to write about it from time to time.  And a partner who walks the walk with me, even when I don't talk the talk.

But I've done so much thinking this week following that conversation with that gorgeous woman.  And I really want to thank that feisty, complicated, feeling the feels redhead for making peace with the contents of her own head and identifying that her feels are valid, EVEN if they make others feel uncomfortable when she expresses them in all their raging complexity, with her exemplary vocabulary and generous use of profanity.

She's given me some courage.  To talk.  And I bet you never knew I needed help to do that eh?

Feelings are never right or wrong.  They are never too strong or too much.  Feelings reflect our humanity.

And that my friends, is something we need to talk about.

So. Um. Well.

You first.

If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 
or get help from 7pm until 4am at www.lifeline.org.au/Get-Help

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12 May 2015

A mum is a mum is a mum unless she's um, you know, different

A couple of days ago, my feed was full of people saying "Happy Mothers Day" or "Happy Mother's Day" which are both very lovely and very nice and very festive and yes, both are deemed grammatically correct.

But they were all followed swiftly by a bunch of posts where everybody vied to connect with people who weren't (and I quote) "mothers in the traditional sense".

"Happy Mother's Day to the single dads who are mothers to their children." 

Or like Dads.  You know, who are of course great but are, um, Dads.

"Happy Mother's Day to grandmothers and great-grandmothers alive and dead."

Or like mothers who had kids a while ago.  But are still, um, mothers.

"Happy Mother's Day to the women who are mothers in spirit but can't have babies."

Or as one comment so eloquently put it (*sarcasm alert) "I love it when people feel sorry for me, especially when they tag me so now everybody knows I can't have fucking babies."

"Happy Mother's Day to the women out there who inspired me 'as much or maybe even more than my own mother'"

Cheeses.  I hope your mum is not on Facebook.  Oh she is? Charming. Bet that made her feel good.

"Happy Mother's Day to the mums that partner the birth mother"

Or um, the mother.

It went on.  So many explanations of what people actually meant when they said "Mum".

I get it. In brief -

"We would like to wish everybody who has ever been nice to us, and who is in possession of a vagina, a really lovely day. "

And that is absolutely ace.  I'm all for saying that.  In fact, lets make it a day.

But it's also okay to just wish Mums a lovely day without specifying the six billion different ways that a woman can mother.

By defining mothering in all those different ways you are essentially implying that there is only one definition of 'mum' and the rest of those that mother need to be patted on the heads and given gold stars for taking part.

We all know that's absolutely bollocks.

Not to mention grossly insensitive and incredibly patronising.

You say "Happy Hanukkah" to some, "Merry Christmas" to others, "Happy Diwali" to some others and "May the force be with you" to others again.  None right, none wrong.

You say "I love my 5 kids" not "I love my vaginally birthed child, my c-section child, my two adopted children and my sister's child who I have brought up since birth because Annie fucked off with that no hoper to a Byron Bay commune and I've never seen her again."

Patronising people by labelling them in public displays of sensitivity is one of the grossest things we indulge in collectively on social media.  Even when we do it with good intentions.

So can we stop? And just let mums be mums.

Unless they are dads of course.

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7 May 2015

You're probably not the best at everything

Mamas of the world!

(And the occasional Dad.  But men are generally not so freaking arrogant in this regard. Fact)

Calm down a little.  I get that you grew a human or 19 and you birthed them and now you spend all your time worrying about whether or not you are getting it right.

I really do get it. I spend all my life worrying that a cross word or my inability to find taking them to the park the biggest thrill of my life has RUINED them for life.

I get that.  I want my girls to have the best life possible. Like all parents.

Which means accepting this.

I am not the best at everything.

And guess what? You aren't the best at everything either.

You're just not.  And you don't have to be.

Let me tell you a secret.  Other people know stuff.



I'm letting you know that just because people don't do it the same way as you does not mean they are doing it wrong.  Or you are doing it better.

You're doing your best.  I'm doing my best.

I still can't get tomato sauce stains out of clothes.  Or sew.  Or cook. Or sing. Or knit. Or craft. Or grow herbs. Or keep flowers alive in a garden. Or indeed, demonstrate any talents for my children to learn at my knee by our non-existent fireplace.

In fact, in the just over 4.5 years since I first birthed a human I have not even learned to use 'my goodness' instead of 'oh fuck'.


But I tell you something.  My girls are doing just fine. And that's because other people are great at things. And kind. And good. And interesting. And know stuff I don't.

It's because they have another parent who loves them and (thankfully) likes going to the park.

But it is also because they have friends who are interested in baking and sewing and singing and dancing and growing vegetables.  It's because they have teachers who can read the same book to them over and over and over and over again long after that once beloved book has completely sucked the joy out of living for me.

It's because they have friends who are stricter with them than we are and use words like 'routine' and 'because I said so' and would never let their children leave the house with unbrushed hair or no shoes.

It's because they have friends who helicopter. Who free range. Who do both in such dizzying succession they get vertigo. They have friends who can properly whistle and fish and think the word bum is the funniest thing ever.

It's because they have friends who aren't allowed to dirty their clothes or wear no shoes.  Who are called 'princess' even when they are not role playing or defending the castle.  Who eat vegetables all the time and never, ever eat meat.  Who can also name every single character on a favourite TV show.

It's because they have friends who think differently from me. Who are interested in different things from me.  Who have conversations with them that I would never think of having with them because I didn't even know about the thing to talk about the thing.

And now that I've heard about the thing I'm still no wiser.

My daughters are great girls because they are surrounded by an array of people that love them. They blossom because they, like all small people, have a thirst for knowledge and a genuine wonder about the world and the people in it.  And the dinosaurs that used to be in it. And stuff.

So much wondering about stuff.

And lots of those people are much better at things than me.  In fact, some of these people are the best people I know at just being people.  And then on top of that they know the year Pluto stopped being a planet and what brand of butter they use without seeing the box.

And I think people are being a tiny bit, actually a fair bit, arrogant believing that their way is the only way that your children can learn all there is to know or that by only letting them do things one way they can mould them exactly as they wish.

You didn't know everything in the world before you grew a human, why would you think that you know all there is to know now?

Why not just accept that you are great at growing and birthing great humans and that you are always going to love them with a ferocity that surprises you no matter how old they get.

And that you love them so much you will always try to be the best version of yourself.

Of yourself.  Not of some commercially crafted or societally influenced version of the perfect parent.

Hear this.  Really listen.

You don't have to be the best at everything to be a good mum.  Or a good dad.

Your small people are going to be pretty cool little human beings.

Mine are.

Not because of me.  Not always in spite of me.

Not because I'm the best at mothering.

Not because I'm the best at anything.

And that's the best.

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4 May 2015

See! It's Benjamin Law!

Okay, so a few weeks ago I was reading the paper and saw an article about the James Turrell exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. You'll have read about it - the tours were conducted with everybody nude and it was a definite case of don't read the comments. 

There was this photo. 
Photo: Christo Crocker/National Gallery of Australia
via The Canberra Times
And I instantly recognised Benjamin Law.  INSTANTLY.

And you want to know something - I had no way of knowing he was even there until I read Monica Tan's article about the retrospective AFTER the event.  And when I discovered the information my brain went "I KNEW IT" like this was the sole reason Ms Tan had for writing the article.

And it's been playing on my mind how it has come to be that I glanced at a photo in a newspaper and instantly recognised a man I don't know at an event I didn't know he was going to in a city he doesn't live in.

No, I'm not a stalker - and I don't know where he lives exactly but I do know that he is a Sydney based journalist and that photo was taken in Canberra. So there! He writes a regular column in the paper I read every weekend.  His articles have been in everything from the The Australian Financial Review to Kill Your Darlings. 

But see, this is not the first time I've recognised Benjamin Law from the back of his head.  I fan-girled him last year after realising I was sitting behind (a fully dressed) him at a Men Of Letters event.  Yep, I INSTANTLY recognised this man I'd never met.

Literally, I have only read his columns and articles - I've not seen him talk, not read his books (mental note: add them to Goodreads) or accidentally stumbled across him on imageboard 4chan in the great 2014 Celebgate.

So this ability to recognise him INSTANTLY is kinda strange.

I mentioned to a friend 'How weird is it that I recognised Benjamin Law from behind in a national newspaper?'.

"Who's Benjamin Law?"


To another friend "Have you ever recognised a man you've never met from behind?"

"Al, um. No."


"Do you know who Benjamin Law is?"

"No. YES I do.  Dated that Sienna Miller"

"That was Jude Law not Benjamin Law."

"Really? Who is Benjamin Law?"

"The journalist??"

"Nope, is he one of your lefty fellows?"

Sigh. No. Well yes. But no.

"Do you know who Benjamin Law is?"

"Yeah, writer chap isn't he?"

"YES! Would you recognise him if you saw him?"

"Hmmmm, should I?"

Sigh.  Sure he's no Kardashian but he writes a lot of stuff.  Interesting stuff. Funny stuff. Yes, I read his stuff regularly.  But you know, in the paper once it's been edited and published and stuff. Not over his shoulder as he taps it out on his laptop the first time.

That would be really weird.

So here I am with a conundrum. My super power as it turns out is recognising 'Benjamin Law - the writer chap' from the back of his head.  That's it.  I can't even begin to work out how they're going to represent me in the next Avengers movie but I don't think it's going to be with the likes of Scarlett Johansson.

I can't be the only person that recognises people I've never met from behind.  My weird ability to pick Benjamin Law from a bunch of brunettes on an escalator or in a darkened bar can not be a stand alone talent.

Is it? Really?  Nope. Surely I have a wolf pack? Hello? Hello? Anybody?

What's your unappreciated super power?

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