Hotel rooms

Sunday Blog 131 – 14th April 2024

While it may seem odd, I always make my bed when staying in a hotel. The room looks nicer every day and, in my humble opinion, you’re less likely to lose things. You can really enjoy the space all the time. This is perhaps influenced by the fact that, for me, a hotel stay is usually a working/writing holiday. I will usually spend some time at the desk in the room, developing something of a relationship. Plus, I always travel with my yoga mat and will do at least one lot of namaste-ing in the space. 

Currently, I’m in Singapore for a week’s working/ writing holiday. Singapore seems the kind of place where you need to be working. It’s business-like. No nonsense. It’s also a family holiday with darling husband. We’re visiting his son who lives in a lavish flat in the centre but was only here for part of the week. While awaiting him, darling husband and I have been discovering Singapore’s many gems, and staying in our own independent accommodation.

Not that I’m a control freak, but I didn’t actually take part in our choice of hotel. It was a fait accompli when I looked at some pictures on the booking app. I had some misgivings. Basic and depressing were two adjectives that came to mind. Brown was another. When the taxi driver dropped us there from the airport at two in the morning, he just asked “You’re staying here? How much are they charging you a night?” We were evasive, but perhaps warned before we walked in. The check in arrangements were simple. Nothing was locked, not the front door or our room door. 

I mean, our room wasn’t tiny. There were two desks, which is always a bonus for me. But the overwhelming brownness of everything wasn’t cheering, nor was the absence of bedside tables. Aside from the bedroom and bathroom, there was an ugly nook with a washing machine, desk and tiny cooking area. It boasted views of the surrounding apartment blocks—we were on the second floor—and even once, the arresting sight of a fellow traveller on the ground floor outdoor area, his shirt unwisely shed. 

Night two, through the paper-thin walls, a radio or TV blared until 3.30. It was a maddening vocal cadence, which must have been on a loop. Surely no-one could actually speak so relentlessly, for hours, at that speed and volume? I think eventually someone knocked on the door and the sound mercifully ceased long enough for some fitful sleep. The next morning yielded up the sounds of a guest retching over and over. I sincerely hoped it was the one who had been playing the racket until the wee hours.

Despite all this, in the room I’d written and worked. Without access to decent internet, I was tethered to its brown-ness. I even yoga’d plus used the room’s many disappointments as a yogic exercise in acceptance of what is.

But when my stepson returned from his work trip back to Singapore and had a room available for us in his magnificent central apartment for our last few nights’ stay, I couldn’t pack my suitcase fast enough.

When I leave a hotel room for the last time (with the bed made, of course) I usually thank the room. But this time there were no lingering moments, no namaste for the room. Not even for the gifts it taught me about (temporarily) accepting what is. I’m not even sure if there is a moral in this tale, but the view from the apartment as I tap out the Sunday morning blog is divine. Not a naked paunch in sight.

On this day 26 years ago

Sunday Blog 130 – 7th April

Diary Entry, 7th April 1998, 11 Olibiados Street, Thessaloniki

It’s the morning. I awoke at 4 feeling distinctly queazy after dreaming about eating a mouthful of dried Earl Grey leaves and then trying to get rid of them by washing them down with water.

Anyway, that plus the very vivid dreams I’ve been having over the last two nights finally forced me to buying a kit, which is sitting next to my breakfast plate showing PREGNANT!!!!! Egads!

How on earth will I tell the Tall One?


I remember one reason it took me a so long to buy a pregnancy test was the cost. I took my meagre drachmas from my teacher’s salary to visit the corner pharmacy to get a pregnancy test. Did I imagine the staff member raising her eyebrows at the foreigner? The Anglida? See her thinking “How typical!” Or was that just my outsider imagination?

I remember taking time to puzzle out the consumer information leaflet all in Greek, waiting for the result after peeing on the stick. Sounding out the words, looking at the diagram. One dot is negative, two dots positive.

Two dots appeared. Bright. Much brighter than the leaflet. Miraculous dots to me. I remember my 33-year-old face in the mirror, sitting atop its ticking biological clock body. My face was wild, lit up with joy. The yelp of excitement ricocheted around the empty bathroom. 

I still have this quote written out and attached to this journal:

For generations, women accepted the role of legitimizing humans through marriage to a man. They agreed that a human was not acceptable unless a man said so.

Clara Pinkola Estes. Women Who Run With The Wolves

That night I met Zoe’s dad, I could have stayed home. Kept away from the Salonica nightclub full of ex-pats, travellers and locals who like to hang out with foreigners (aliens). There were so many nights I stayed home, often preferring a good book to the techno beats, having to shout inanities over the music, feet sore from standing, wallet emptied round by round. I was 33 after all.

Maybe my teacher buddy Chris wouldn’t have come out that night so he could be the bridge that introduced us.

“You’ll like Ilias. He’s been to Australia.”

Those words wouldn’t have been spoken. Perhaps I would’ve returned home to Perth in December 1998 as planned, without my beautiful watery stowaway, my daughter, in utero. Perth in December heat after nearly a decade of wintry orphan Christmases.

What, then, would I have done with my empty, aching womb? How could I have enacted my millennium plan of becoming a solo mama? Turkey basting my way to parenthood?

Or what if I’d stayed with in Greece with Ilias? Swallowed the caustic dose of bitterness and resentment daily? Squashed my life down into the only size and shape Salonica and Ilias allowed women to take? Let my daughter be fully bilingual, while I forever stalled and stumbled through the tangled web of Greek language?

But yes. I’m glad I entered the nightclub that night. I’m glad Chris was there to make sure I met Ilias. And I’m glad I fled with two heavy suitcases and one beautiful half-Greek toddler, back to our charmed Australian life.

Photo – 10 September 2023 – me at 11 Olibiados, the flat where I did the pregnancy test. My beautiful 25 year old daughter is taking the photo. We’re just there on a quick trip to visit her father. It all worked out, even though it didn’t.

Banning tech from the bedroom

Sunday Blog 129 – 31st March 2024

This week, spurred on by a podcast on sleep hygiene and the horrors of incessant social media, I took decisive action. Definitely no devices in the bedroom. My iPhone, iPad and AirPods are now banished to the study to charge overnight. If I want to use them in the night, I have to get up, walk to the study and then taste the forbidden digital fruit there. Whilst I haven’t opted for a peg on the nose, that may yet come. I’m allowed to read analogue books in the bedroom—that is, paperbacks with real pages, but Kindle books are forbidden because, well, iPad.

It can’t be a coincidence that this resolve descended after a bout of Covid where I binge watched to the end of Succession (meh) and then to the end of the Crown series (excellent). By then, my eyes were on stalks and my ears almost forgot what it was like to be naked to the world, exposed to ambient noises. I arose from my sickbed and swept all electronics aside.

I suddenly saw the wisdom of the endless new book purchases I’ve made over the last few years, either at writing festivals, author events and of course, online. My To Be Read Pile is actually an entire shelf. I have re-badged my incessant impulse book buying as excellent planning for the self-created apocalypse of a digital detox in the bedroom.

I need all of those books from my literary version of doomsday prepping. My persistent habit of nighttime wakefulness is such that, if I wake in the morning and realise I have had an unbroken night’s sleep, I’m almost wildly jubilant. A bit like I’ve managed to successfully execute a headstand in yoga class without either the superhuman effort of puffing and blowing, or a wall as a ballast to prevent me from toppling. Actually, I don’t know what it’s like to execute a headstand without all the above, but you get the idea.

With the zeal of the newly converted, for three nights I stuck to my regime of banishing tech to the study. I have tiptoed up at some point each night at least for a bathroom visit and once I quickly did Wordle on the iPhone before guiltily heading back to bed. Luckily, I can bang on the light in bed and read as much as I need to drift back to sleep.

Then I upset my new regime by booking a getaway in a gorgeous little lodge in Collie with wonderful shared spaces but a tiny room. Tech simply cannot be banished. I’ve had a couple of slips (Wordle and Connections while still in bed) but mainly, I’m pleased to say, I’ve been reading. Maybe this new “me” might stick a little. Maybe I might try some daytime digital detoxing. Right after I master my headstand…

Reflections on coloured pens and dull meetings

Sunday Blog 128 – 24th March 2024

While I usually date my advocacy career as beginning with my daughter’s birth, in truth, I have always quite enjoyed sharing my opinions. I enjoy puzzling apart systems, how they work and what the puppet strings might be that are putting on the show we live with day in and day out. And I tend to think that everyone is entitled to my opinion.

Wherever it started, there were seven years when I held a senior health advocacy leader role. I went along to hundreds of long, long meetings about health reforms and policies and so forth. Full-time. Every day. Often for twelve-hour days.

My single unifying theory of life is that everyday people need to be at every decision-making table. But the corridors of power are full of talented, well-paid or well-resourced lobbyists. This arrangement privileges the voice of the self-interested, those invested in making a profit and/or maintaining the status quo above all else. The more sensible, disinterested everyday voice is usually absent.

So, dull or not, I needed to be at those meetings, a fly in the ointment constantly asking pesky questions such as how many patients or health consumers had been part of the initial discussions? I would know the answer to be none, but I would ask, anyway, point to the policies and frameworks the status quo had created that promised such engagement would take place.

Despite being convinced of the importance of being at these meetings, and appearing very authoritative, I rather shamefacedly always brought a pencil case with coloured markers to these very important meetings. As I listened to the speakers, I would underline or just doodle with beautiful colours and patterns.

Soul-searching about whether such Sisyphean work is effective was something I regularly indulged in at the end of a long week. Since Covid, I left the leadership role and now maintain about a day a week of this same sort of dogged, not entirely welcome work of health advocacy. The rest of the time is mine to write and create.
The coloured pens have vanished.

And then this week, listening to an episode of Revisionist History entitled In Triplicate, I realized again, anew, afresh why I have given, why I continue to give, so much of this lifetime to health advocacy.

It follows the contribution of health advocate Sid Wolfe. He noticed the Triplicate Program, established in California in 1939, required a triplicate prescription of every painkiller prescribed by a doctor. This meant there was a backup copy of each prescription, which could then be randomly audited. It created “the chilling effect” of observation and this impacted physician behaviour, decreased the level of prescribing. Knowing your prescribing practices will be audited will do that.

In the 1980s, before the scourge of Purdue Pharmacy’s aggressive marketing of Oxycontin, Sid Wolfe argued for the Triplicate Program to be implemented nationally. California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Idaho all implemented the Triplicate Program, and a physician from New York commented at the time; “I wish that anyone who opposes triplicate prescription programs could walk with me into the real world, where these regulations are saving lives.”

Purdue Pharmacy undertook their focus groups before their blitz of marketing of Oxycontin; and they elected to avoid those five states where the Triplicate Program was in operation. The result? Significantly fewer deaths and resultant social harms inflicted by the now-disgraced and bankrupt Purdue Pharmacy. (If you haven’t watched the 2023 Netflix series Pain Killer or Hulu’s Dopesick, I would recommend).

So I still sit at these tables, I still hold the faith that bureaucratic solutions which are painfully slow and boring to enact, will support the safety of everyday people from the rapacity of some elements of our health system.

But now, I don’t need to take my coloured pens with me. I get to colour all the other days of the week.

If you want to listen to the episode in full, you can find it here.

On lying about being the outdoor type

Sunday Blog 127 – 17th March 2024

The incomparable Joan Didion wrote, “I’ve lost track of a few people I used to be.” It sounds witty and funny and kind of relatable until its profound truth smacked me in the face from my old journal. My words from August 2002 stare back at me from a journal I hand wrote. In it, I expressed “my urge to play golf.”

I have no idea what happened to the whimsy of golfing, have no recollection of wanting to play the time-honoured game, also known as “a good walk spoiled.” I know at the time I was half-crazed with the cabin fever of a solo mother with a three-year-old, and perhaps the concept of sauntering around a pleasant grassy hour for hours on end was the appeal.

The same diary entry indicates my similar urge to “camp.” That I do remember, and how my initial enthusiasm was curbed by the long walk to the ablution block at night. I would look longingly at the cabins in the campground, but what was the point of that? Darling husband insists (jokingly, of course) that I promised to camp in our wedding vows. I didn’t, but the celebrant who had carefully researched our shared interests and dreams, mentioned it in the ceremony, my interest in camping captured like a bug in amber. Each anniversary is an opportunity for him to remind me of my broken vow, my false promises.

Fast forward a decade or two and my self-knowledge still seems quite elusive. In 2022, I booked a weekend of creativity and walking months in advance. Sure that I’d spend the intervening months getting “match fit” with regular walks and even hikes, I clicked the button and leaned back in my chair, feeling confident and already a little hardier. What really happened was that on the way to the retreat, I screeched into the car park of a large shopping centre, then quickly (time was of the essence), I spent an eye-watering amount of money buying hiking boots and trousers, and “I’ll take the socks too thanks”. The assistant may have been on commission, and I greedily accepted all of her cross-selling and up-selling suggestions. She was beaming by the time I left.

There were three walks on that retreat, but I only did one of them, the least punishing one. But I looked mighty fine in my hiking boots and trousers.
And then there’s yesterday, Saturday morning, which I decided was the day I would finally start doing laps in the ocean. Having procrastinated away most of the Summer, just as the season is turning, I could deny the urge no longer. As I packed my swimmer’s bag, I visualised myself slicing through the calm ocean water. Sure, I would start small, just from the groyne to the pontoon and back. I should make that relatively short distance, there and back, without stopping.

What actually happened was that I managed a fairly brisk freestyle stroke for, oh, about 15 metres before stopping altogether, then, gasping, carrying on with breaststroke. There were many more stops between the pontoon, alternating between bursts of freestyle and lags of breaststroke, and a moment or two just floating and gasping. I made it there and back, emerging from the water heaving with the effort.

Will I do it again? It’s too early to call, although this morning I’d reverted to my short walk and a dip in the ocean before coffee. I left the goggles and racing bathers at home.

This chastening gap between who I really am and who I want to be is, well, chastening.
But even now, there’s a corner of me that thinks maybe it’s a bit late in the season for swimming but what if I just purchase me some walking poles to go with my hiking boots? Surely, I will automatically become a regular hiker, one that strides ahead, never complains, waits patiently for the ones lagging behind. Surely I won’t be the one sweating, cursing and bringing up the rear? Or the one staying at home reading a novel?

Meditations on Perkins Paste

Sunday Blog 126 – 10th March 2024

In 1972, my world was a bit of a shit-show. I was 6, going on 7, in a small Grade 2 classroom in suburban Perth, under the expert tutelage of a psychopathic nun. She meted out regular duff-ups to a few of us in the class—there was never really any way of knowing who would be a target, although she only targeted about three of us. I’ll never know what it was about us that incensed her, but something did.

Alongside the memories of the regular duff-ups, there is another strong Grade 2 memory that has stayed with me. This week, it re-surfaced.

In the 1970s, the regulation non-toxic, non-spill classroom glue we had to use was called Perkins Paste. Little purple round canisters with a white lid, and a stick to slather the glue onto paper.

Frustrated with my 6-year-old-self’s inability to sit still in my chair and concentrate, one day I opened up my little purple canister and slathered a good amount on my chair. I was just about to sit on it to ensure that, for once, I wouldn’t get up and fidget, when an eagle-eyed classmate spotted me mid-smearing of glue. She threatened to report my misdemeanour to our psychopathic nun teacher.

I hastily wiped up the paste, and was saved from the inevitable mess on the back of my Catholic schoolgirl tunic. And my long-suffering mother was saved a little on her teetering pile of laundry to do.

So never I could determine if a bit of glue on a chair was just the thing to stop my incessant activity.

Over the many decades since then, I have often tried to apply a similar Perkins Paste approach to incorrigible distractibility, but this time with the less messy medium of meditation. I have hoped that it would prove to be the adhesive to quiet my monkey mind once and for all.

An early experiment in meditation in the 1980s was less than successful. I turned up at a class that had “Yoga” in the title but it was actually a meditation class. Not having read the fine print, I’d turned up with my stretchy pants on, ready to limber up. We sat in a circle and as we all checked in, saying why we were there, I twigged that this was not an exercise class. The woman on my left had a very intense energy and barked in her strong German accent she was “looking for the higher life.” I had to admit shamefacedly that I was there for a bit of a stretch.

The facilitator was warm and welcoming, and as I had driven quite a way to get there, I thought I would make the best of it. I followed along, eyes closed, as the facilitator guided us up and out of our bodies in a long, dreamy monologue, and then back again, but somewhat abruptly. This was fine for me, who hadn’t budged an inch off the ground physically, mentally, or spiritually. My German classmate, however, was stuck way, way up in the higher realm. She could see her body floating down below, but couldn’t get back in. Her fear was palpable. The facilitator remained very calm and talked her back, gently. Suddenly, the woman jumped. Her soul and body were once again re-united. To be honest, that gave me the heeby-jeebies.

But it also taught me that some people can actually concentrate and follow along when listening to a guided meditation. Not me. I get a mega-second of space between thoughts and I’m off again. The monkey mind leaps from branch to branch, now lighting on a childhood memory, next leaping across to what I will eat once this is all over.

It doesn’t stop me wanting to be “better” at meditation, in the same way I fruitlessly hope to wake up one morning and find myself to be an avid gardener. I even thought about trying to book on a Buddhist meditation retreat recently. I had to become a member first, then keep an eye out for when retreat bookings opened. After going through all the membership instructions, I realised I would have to stop eating meat.

This seemed a little rash, not exactly thought-through, even by my standards. But I was game and went ahead, in good faith. I mean, I didn’t eat meat for the whole of the mad-cow 1990s when I was living in the U.K. How hard could it be?

For a week I did well, but I realised anew that dining options telescope down rapidly for vegetarians.

Then, I was, well, completely distracted when bookings for the meditation retreat opened. I was in Sydney, out of my day-to-day routine, hanging out with friends and family. By the time I remembered and tried my luck, the retreat was full.

The wind out of my sails, I wondered just how serious I was about ditching meat. Then I was caught short on the recent flight home – you have to let them know at booking that you need a vegetarian meal. I flew to Sydney on an airline that didn’t feed you, but home on an airline that did. It all gets quite confusing, and I was rather hungry, so I guiltily nibbled away at my spaghetti. I figured I would work out my karma once I landed.

Reflecting on my failed meditation retreat registration as I ate my bolognese, I realised that all those years ago, when I stumbled into the meditation class with my yoga gear on, I was on the right track. It was another ten years before I became a regular attendee at yoga class. Then, I finally realised that for me, the adhesive I need is (ironically) movement. When I am doing my regular yoga practice, focusing on doing all the poses, the monkey mind is still.

At least for a little while. Then I think about all the snacks I will enjoy once all this is over. And whether a little chorizo on an otherwise vegetarian platter will slow down my transcendence that much.

Rearview Mirror

Sunday Blog 125 – 3rd March 2024

A quick weekend getaway that involves a car drive has got me thinking. Primarily how much I dislike long drives.

It was just a bit over three hours, but with frustrating, almost incessant road work delays. I’m not sure if the detour Apple Maps suggested was in fact quicker, and the unfamiliar back roads increased my feeling of inordinate length of the normally easy drive.

How soft and spoiled I am. Just as well I’m not living in the Pilbara or Kimberley in my vast home state of Western Australia, where a round trip for bread and milk can take five hours.

I was heading to Margaret River, a place I associate with my dad as his beloved family farm is a short drive from there. And the last big family occasion my dad attended was in Margaret River in January 2020 – my niece’s wedding. By October of that year he was dead. Trips there now are ringed with nostalgia. The motel some of us stayed at when we all came down for the wedding evokes fondness in me as I drive past, even though it was just a three night stay.

Of course this weekend away can’t all be family and relaxation, there must be writing as well. Immersed in the messy process of revising my 2014 memoir, I watched a webinar replay on memoir structure facilitated by Lisa Cooper Ellison. And then I fell into the rabbit hole of listening to her podcast (Writing Your Resilience and I would definitely recommend!)

She interviewed author Laura Davis who read out the quote above “Every time I look in the rear view mirror, the past has changed.” This quote is in Laura’s excellent memoir The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story. Which, needless to say I am now devouring. Truly my procrastination knows no end.

But this weekend I discovered at what point in time I want to start my revised memoir. This feels like a minor miracle, a rejoinder to a comment made to me some time ago by someone who read my memoir, “is this where the book needs to begin?”

But in and amongst all this driving, listening, procrastination and immersion into memoir structure I can’t stop thinking about the past, and how it shifts and changes. My lay understanding of how memory works is that each time we access a memory, we rummage with it a bit, change it, put it back.

What this means for me to be revising a memoir completed ten years ago but dealing with a single incident trauma from 22 years ago is yet to be revealed.

And so let the adventure continue.

Sydney with Taylor

Sunday Blog 124 – 25th Feb 2024

The last time I was in Sydney was before Covid. Finally I’m back, travelling for work, accidentally coinciding my visit with Taylor Swift. As I wait at the Artisan Hotel off Pitt Street for my dinner companion I think about it all. The Sydney streets had become smudged in my memory, and I was still getting my bearings, glued to the phone for directions all the way there. And then upstairs through the rooms at Artisan, bypassing memories of dinners I’ve had there in the past.

One of travel’s great mysteries and appeal to me is that a body can return to a place that it once was. Travel measures change, a bit like re-reading a book. The words are the same; the reader is not.

The last time I was in Sydney Dad was alive. Mum was still a wife and not a widow, and they were living in their home for 65 years. Yes, we still had the family home then, although it was crumbling around my parents, invaded by ants, blowflies, cranky plumbing. Busting at the seams every Christmas, Easter, family birthday. Quiet all other times, with simple daily routines of the paper, cups of tea, rotating carers on shifts patching Dad up and prepping and serving meals of over-boiled vegetables. Sure, the clouds of aging and death were gathering around, but the shit storm was holding off.

But time does mark changes in a place as well. This time I could ride the new Sydney trams, travelling the long length of George Street to Sydney Harbour at a bit more than walking pace.

Perhaps a book is the wrong comparison for travel, and a better one is a labyrinth. The labyrinth’s design mimics the brain or intestines, depending on your imagination. You walk into the centre, you walk out again. The paths are adjacent and circle around so here you are again, passing the same ground but a bit farther in, or farther out.

So I wait in the Artisan, re-treading the paths back and forth in my mind, then my companion arrives and new memories are laid on old.

We talk about Taylor Swift, because we have to. The streets are full of women and girls in sequinned outfits, out of their minds with excitement about the concerts they have flocked to Sydney to attend. Hotel costs are even more heinously expensive than usual, and Taylor’s music is piped through the speakers of almost every hotel or cafe. At the entrance to my hotel there’s a couch in the shape of pink lips, with two life-size cut-outs of Taylor. I catch glimpses of fond parents taking photos of their children on the lounge as I pass through.

At the end of my stay I text my Artisan dinner companion to say that I have left all the Taylor Swiftness behind, but it’s not true. The plane is awash with smiling people wearing her merch.

Swanbourne Nostalgia

Sunday Blog 123 – 18th February 2024

This year I promised myself I would attend more workshops at Mattie Furphy’s House, the Fellowship of Writers WA base in Swanbourne. Mattie was part of the Arts and Craft movement in Perth. The home she and her husband created has been moved a short distance away from its original position. It’s now just a few blocks away from my mother’s former family home in the 1930s and 1940s – Reeve Street in Swanbourne.

Living up to my promise to myself, recently I attended a travel writing workshop there. As instructed, I wandered around Mattie Furphy’s house and gardens, taking pictures of the water tank, the outside toilet, a sturdy creepy snaking in and around timber framing. I riffed on the travel theme a little-I went back in time. Here it is, my short piece:

Dad-Dad bought the house in Reeve Street, Swanbourne in the 1940’s. Cheap as chips, no-one wanted to put themselves in the direct line of the bombs that would surely target this military area. Mum’s happiest years until Dad Dad’s  dreadful, fateful decision to sell Swanbourne and buy a shop in Collie. She, a young adult, stayed behind, watched them disappear down the road in the car, down, down and away to domestic horrors that unfolded there.

The Reeve Street house is now long gone, but here’s Mattie Furphy house, a short walk away. The screech and call of birds from the trees framed in blue, blue sky is the sound and look of the past. Then the passing motorbike rips up this fantasy like an unwanted note, tears it to small pieces and delivers me back to Swanbourne today.

I wander around the ruins of the memories that are not mine.  The outdoor toilet with its domed roof, the daddy long legged spiders gyrating madly whenever a human approaches. It still doesn’t work, we can see you and if we want, we can kill you.

The water tank, the little drip-drip which would feed the mint plant placed under the tap and keep it green even in the hottest of summers. The stilts and slats under the house, the wooden lattice that enclosed the outdoor sleeping area.

Everything passes.

It’s complex

Sunday Blog 122 – 11th February 2023

Trauma, that is. I’ve waded through the entirety of the tiny print, very dense The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk in the last week. Because I need to have this seminal text under the belt. Before I get too far into reviewing my single incident trauma memoir. Before I launch myself into progressing podcast ideas. Or so I tell myself.

The book is both for mental health practitioners and every day people who want to know how to get themselves or others out of the post-trauma cul-de-sac.

Reading it raised my hackles about the politics of trauma and mental health care. As a long-standing clinician-researcher, he shares many tales of his professional frustration in trying to bring more effective therapies into the mainstream. And the difficulty of getting recognition of the specific and different impact of trauma when it’s experienced in childhood.

Yes, Vietnam Vets suffered terribly, but they were usually young men before being exposed to trauma. There is something in our society that just doesn’t want to own the reality that harm can happen in the home, to children, and that it can create a specific set of behaviours and wounding that need a different sort of toolkit from that applied to adults.

It was 2019 when I first heard about comedian Corey White. He was being interviewed on Conversations about his memoir Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory. It unpacks his traumatic childhood in a violent, chaotic home and an adolescence in foster care.

The title alone would have sold me but the interview was warm and compelling. I downloaded the audio book immediately – I was in Limnisa in Greece at the time for a writing retreat (middle class wanker alert). There is patchy internet at Limnisa to ensure we get on with our writing projects. But I walked up the hill to get enough bandwidth to download the audio book the moment I had finished the Conversations episode. Then I could not stop listening. I Could Not Stop. I would listen, then get up and dunk myself in the ocean, and then return to keep listening until I had finished.

I was someone who always worried that my parenting was not up to scratch and that I would damage my child. I have my unpleasant memories including when I walked around the block for about fifteen minutes, thinking my toddler daughter was asleep. I returned to find her awake, distressed, banging on the window.

Then I read about the infant Corey being left in a caravan, without food or water for some 72 hours.

A helpless infant. 72 hours.

It’s important we never underestimate the resiliency of humans. It’s vital that we keep the possibility of healing and wholeness, no matter how extreme the trauma endured.

As well as marvelling at his resilience I raged at the systemic issues Corey’s memoir unpacked. Why, oh why was he in his mid-twenties before he learned anything about complex PTSD? He described it as finding a key at last to his many baffling and self-destructive behaviours. Why did this never come up at any time during foster care, mental health, drug and alcohol and prison programs? Why isn’t there some kind of effective intervention for young people in out of home care? Or if there are effective interventions, why are they so hard to access for people who’ve been through experiences like Corey’s?

Bessel Van der Kolk includes a whole chapter on theater for healing. I loved this quote from a convenor of The Possibility Project in New York, a theater program for foster kids.

“You cannot help, fix, or save the young people you are working with. What you can do is work side by side with them, help them to understand their vision and realize it with them. By doing that you give them back control. We’re healing trauma without anyone ever mentioning the word.”

Bessel Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score, page 342