Another ending…

Sunday Blog 75 – 12th March 2023

Map from the State Library – part of the real trial of the murder of Jock King or Little Jock in the 1880s – this story is woven into the novel The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin and this was one of the artefacts she reviewed in her research

It’s coming dangerously close to the one year anniversary of my final day of regular work – 31st March to be exact. I am thinking that I will have to stop calling it a menopausal gap year as this new life is becoming my new normal. Not retired, but working much less and picking up some of the strands of the work I once did, leaving others behind.

And Saturday was the very last workshop for the Emerging Writers Program I have been on for the last two years. I spent an hour before the workshop continuing on going through the edits from my mentor assigned to me as part of this program. (The wonderful Nathan Hobby, since you’ve asked.)

He rather innocently suggested to me during one of our meetups that three days per week work is the sweet spot for a writer. Next time we met I advised him I had quit my job. He blanched a little but this unconscious prompt for me to quit my job to spend more time on writing has been a game changer. Along with his thoughtful and incisive editing, which has seen a completely trashed five year old manuscript come quaking up out of the ashes into a tentative baby phoenix draft novella.

Our final workshop for the program on Saturday was a grab-bag of topics. Danae Gibson of RTR FM discussed radio interviews and how to ace them. Natasha Lester was interviewed about author branding and reflected on her journey to international bestselling author status. Amanda Curtin shared some of her experiences and tips about researching in the State Library. If you haven’t read any of her novels or non-fiction, do so immediately!

Then we got a tour of the library archive. The map in the picture above is an actual artefact from the trial of John Collins for the murder of Little Jock. This real event is woven into Amanda’s novel The Sinkings. We got to see the map up close and I took a snap–I found the book a compelling read and loved learning more about the stories behind its writing.

Today I sent of another draft of my novella to the ever-patient Nathan as we become closer to finalising our mentor relationship (I have a few more weeks yet!) It’s time to think of a new description for what I’m doing now, other than being on a “menopausal gap year.” A bit of work, a lot of writing, that’s my new normal. Semi-vagabond creative, if you will.

Little bits of Lencie…

Sunday Blog 74 – 5th March 2023

This phrase has been floating around my consciousness this week. Little bits of Lencie. She had many, many beautiful things and died much quicker than she had thought she would. Without the giant champagne afternoon tea planned to parcel out her many, many beautiful things. We instead had to trawl through these after she’d gone and so her endless scarves, jewellery, books have been distributed to family and friends, aka Lencie’s Crew.

When I headed to the Writers Festival last weekend I could just about see her around the corner. When I cracked open the Book Club book (Demon Copperhead) and imagined her comments about Gold Lettering on the cover (that was usually a Book Club no-no.) Would she would like it nonetheless? It’s a ripper read so far.

There were little bits of Lencie when I put on her ring, earrings and necklace to head to my first meeting with the Consumer Advisory Council of the hospital she died at. Carrying on the endless push for consumer and carer input into how our health services are run.

A few of Lencie’s Crew (as we called ourselves) watched the Perth Festival screening of the documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed on Monday night. We gathered to see the movie but also to talk about her. The documentary profiles New York based artist and activist Nan Goldin and her fight to hold the Sackler family to account for the US opioid crisis. Watching the Sackler family crack, just a little, as they have to listen to the recording of a mother’s 911 call when she discovers her son is dead is both horrifying and gratifying. Then seeing the Sackler name erased from prominent galleries. Woven in with the activism is a retrospective of Nan’s work. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency and her 1989 AIDS exhibition, Witness: Against Our Vanishing.

We all agreed that Lencie would indeed have enjoyed it.

More than the worst thing we’ve ever done

Sunday Blog 73 – 26th February 2023

This post contains a trigger warning as it talks about perpetrators of serious crimes and sexual assaults, and explores the idea of restorative justice.

I swear it was a coincidence that the episode of Invisibilia I cued up to play on my drive to Casuarina Prison was on the subject of crime and rehabilitation.

I get obsessed with podcasts, and Invisibilia is my latest. As the blurb on the podcast says, “Invisibilia – Latin for invisible things, fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.” So it’s a very broad spectrum of issues discussed.

The podcast episode explored whether there is such a thing as a criminal personality – once a criminal, always a criminal. I turned it up, listened more closely as I turned took the right turn onto the freeway.

I’ve always had a thing about prisons. Maybe because of the picture in the lounge room of my childhood home. A woman, holding a baby, looking up. It’s supposed to be Mary holding Jesus but someone told me that it was drawn from a live model of a woman visiting her husband in prison, taking the baby for him to see. Whenever I looked at the picture I imagined the woman. How far did she need to come to see her husband? How was she getting by? Would he ever come out?

And of course Australia was colonised by a Britain keen to find a spot for all the prisoners they had, clogging up the prisons, loading down the prison barges on the Thames. Many of us are related to prisoners, often imprisoned for being poor and rebellious. I am a proud convict descendent. Or maybe it was the regular mentions at church where we went, well, religiously each Sunday. “I was in prison and you came to visit me” and all that.

My childhood was one of love, nurture and privilege. And truly, shelter. We may have known of people having brushes with the law, but never someone close enough to us that we would visit them.

Fast forward to my early adulthood and regular church has been abandoned, never to be frequented again. It’s the 1980s, an older sister who liked to push against the boundaries of our sheltered childhood had been dating someone who ended up in prison. The three of us had shared houses together and he was by then a friend. He was incarcerated in Fremantle prison, which was not much different in the 1980a than it was in the 1850s, in the early days of colonisation in Fremantle. The prison had been built by convicts and housed prisoners right up until 1991. Dickensian was how it could be described.

The first time I went to visit my sister’s boyfriend in Fremantle prison I would have been a green 21-year-old. It’s hard to forget the sound of the gate clanging behind you as you are locked into the prison doors for the the first time. To catch the look some warders give you because of you are a visitor, associated with a prisoner. The weirdness of picking up the phone on one side of the glass to talk to someone on the other side. The sudden stage fright of trying to think of interesting things to say. And not putting your foot in it. I got the hang of it more and more, and visited him as he transitioned through the prisons and out again. By then both he and my sister had moved on to new partners. He found true love as he was cycling out of prison and married her not long after. That was certainly an interesting wedding…

But I digress. Fast forward to 2002. I am on the other side of the equation – not someone visiting a prisoner, but a victim of a serious crime. Someone who made the call to police which set in motion their slow but steady processes.

I never hesitated to call the police after the assault. I mean, you wouldn’t ever think twice if it was a robbery, would you? But this was as a sexual assault. The act of making a call to the police started up the merciless machinery of the justice system, which pulverises both victim and perpetrator. The justice system in particular is not kind to sexual assault victims, and some research indicates less than 1% of reported rapes end in a prison sentence. The odds are not good.

In my own case the odds were much higher because it had been a home invasion. I had no prior connection to the perpetrator. I was “the perfect victim” because of this, plus I still carry the privilege of my nurturing childhood and social connections. No one has any trouble believing me. In fact, I am soon invited to various seats at various tables to have a say about how things could be better.

But a dreadful ache consumed me when the perpetrator was identified, more than 14 months after the event. I knew all weekend he would be arrested on Monday, but he didn’t. That feeling of inherently wrongness in shutting someone out from society reached right down inside me.

Also, how frustrating is the rhetoric that we just need to lock people up and throw away the key.

I became a volunteer prison visitor because I feel that prison is a huge waste of human potential. That people can change. That justice is a rich man’s game which means some of our most vulnerable languish in prison. That justice is riddled with racial bias, where 30% of West Australian prisoners are Aboriginal, while making up just 3% of our state’s population.

Most people are going to get out anyway, and wouldn’t it be better if they were well supported with education, employment, health, dental and mental health, drug and alcohol services before release? I became a volunteer visitor just in case I can help influence any improvements.

People can change. The Invisibilia podcast episode tracked one offender remaking himself bit by bit until eventually he was no longer the person he used to be. In the words of African American lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson says, we are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. And I say this not as a naive and idealistic citizen, but as someone who has had a bad thing happen. The most important thing for me is for something good to come out of that. Pushing that wheel of justice forward!

Into the Vision Board…

Sunday Blog 72 – 19th February 2023

Me at the National Victorian Library this weekend, feeling like I’d fallen into my vision board

It’s not the first time that I’ve chosen a picture at random, put it onto a vision board and then see it come to life. There was the image of the Delphi temples I’d chosen years ago and put into my big annual vision board. I had somewhat impulsively booked a writing retreat in Delphi, then randomly looked at my Vision Book afterwards. There was the Delphi image, calling into reality the vision of an independent holiday in Greece with my daughter. All our other visits had been paid for by her father. She and I did indeed have a magic, independent interlude in Greece.

At the beginning of this year I chose the word “Magic” and did a vision board with lots of references to books and writing. I had no idea that I had picked the State Library of Victoria from a magazine until someone pointed it out to me. Oh, that looks quite nice I thought.

Fast forward to this little trip to Melbourne I pulled off this weekend. A mix of a COVID related cancelled flight credit and a catch up with a colleague. I stayed just outside of Melbourne for two nights and spent two days and one in the city centre.

Almost nothing went as planned for my CBD visit. Literally every social arrangement I made fell through, leaving me acres of time to fill how I liked. Of course, I looked up the State Library of Victoria, marvelled that I had never visited before. Sat in the magic dome, bought a journal from the gift shop and debriefed my weekend. Took a photo of myself to document how I’d fallen into my vision board. Magic.

Then my eye fell on a social media post from a friend from Perth who was just about to land in Melbourne. Because all my arrangements dropped away, we could meet for lunch. More magic.

Pushing the wheel forward…

Sunday Blog 71 – 12th February 2023

From Tim Ferriss’ blog and podcast.

Apparently some people did not notice Monday’s full moon. I did, and it sucker punched me with a core human fear – of not belonging. Most likely this was exacerbated by my work-life situation. I am still in the never-ending process of transitioning fronting a non profit health advocacy agency to moonlighting as an advocate, often solo, on an ABN. Still pretending I am on a never-ending menopausal gap year where I don’t have to work too much when my bank balance tells me otherwise. Still attending meetings where I may be the only lived experience representative in a sea of clinicians, but with no colleagues on hand to debrief as I once had.

What helped me this week was listening to this episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast, with Wade Davis talking about his long career as an activist. Not trying to win, just pushing the wheel of justice forward.

I like it. It works. Onwards!

History is calling…

Sunday Blog 70 – 5th February 2023

Fremantle’s One Day celebration last Saturday 28th of Jan was not the first time I had heard Thomas Mayo quote the Uluru Statement from the Heart verbatim. The first time was at the WA Council of Social Service conference in 2020 and it was just as moving and electrifying then. (It was in fact my favourite part of a very inspiring conference). If you have never read the Statement from the Heart in full, do so now. It takes five minutes. It is a little wee bit nicer hearing Thomas say it, but you will just have to imagine.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was created in 2017 at the National Constitutional Convention. It calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution. Since 2017 there have been three Australian Prime Ministers. Two have rejected the Statement (Turnbull and Morrison).

The third, and current Anthony Albanese has committed to the Statement. A referendum will likely be held in the second half of 2023, closer to the end of the year. The referendum question currently proposed is:

Do you support an alteration to the Constitution that establishes an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice?

Check out www.fromtheheart.com.au for more details

So six years later, history is calling Australia. As Thomas stated, appealing to monarchs and politicians hasn’t worked. Any past attempts to enshrine a voice have either been rejected or supported temporarily then dismantled when a new government entered power. Enshrining this voice in our constitution is key to preventing this voice from being periodically silenced. And it has to come from us as a community.

I kept notes as I was listening and I reflected on what Thomas Mayo said last Saturday. Some key summary points that have really stuck with me. I have some trepidation as a clumsy ally wading in to the topic but this is important, so here goes:

  1. A Voice is very much like a “Watchdog” – a body that will ensure that Recommendations and reforms are actually implemented. It is all about creating real change.
  2. It needs to be in the Constitution so it can’t be removed at the whim and will of the government of the day.
  3. Truth telling is very important AND it has been happening for a long time. Australians are not quite able to put their head in the sands as much as they used to. Many brave First Nations people have already told their stories in many different Inquiries and Royal Commissions etc. What is missing is political will to make the required changes. The key is implementation. (See point 1 again)
  4. A Treaty is very important AND it takes a long time. Also treaties can be ignored, so we need a body that will ensure the work is carried out. (See point 1 again)
  5. Yes we do have First Nations politicians in our states and in Canberra. But they will represent particular parties or issues or constituents. Australia needs First Nations voices across all the issues.

History called Australians in 1967 to change two troublesome (i.e. racist) clauses in our Constitution. One noted that there was always the option for “special and different” laws applying to our First Nations people. The second stated they didn’t actually count as Australians.

Primarily Referendums for changes to Australia’s Constitution can be fiendishly hard to win. Since 1906 there have been 44 of them, only 8 have been successful. Fortunately 90% of Australians voted yes in the 1967 Referendum. Even in 1967 we knew this had to change. Hopefully in 2023 we can again show that we know better and can do better.

As the Uluru Statement from the Heart concludes:

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard… We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Uluru Statement From the Heart at www.fromtheheart.com.au

In the coming months there will be more opportunities to talk together, and I have somewhat intrepidly applied to host a Kitchen Table Conversation on the topic. When I find out more details and organise something, I will post it on my blog.

Yours, feeling (in the words of Brene Brown) awkward, a bit brave and I hope kind.

Monetising fail(ure)

Sunday Blog 69 – 29th January 2023

Another life experience I won’t be able to monetise

I have been digging back into my blogging archive, reviewing what I learned and forgot and remembered as far back as November 2013 when I was sure I wanted to start a business. All along, what I really wanted to do was come out as a writer. But somehow, that did not seem to be easily accommodated unless I quit my day job and upended my life. In the intervening decade I have self-published a memoir, spent seven years running a non-profit and then quit that job. I am still toiling away at book number two (deadline June 2023 or bust!) so have integrated working and writing. Sort of.

During 2014, I did a lot of online entrepreneur training. I mean A LOT. It got me thinking. It would be hard to track the data, but the attrition rate of online training must be absolutely staggering in terms of money spent versus actual knowledge gained. Once you have been suckered in by the marketing offering you quick fixes, (Six Figures in Six Weeks!) clicked the “Get instant access” button to buy the training, that is often the end of the relationship between you and the trainer. You may never even access or download one megabyte of information and no-one will ever contact you to ask you why and chase up your sick note. The actual transaction that is being offered is a often a sale, the temporary reduction in discomfort rather than the actual transfer of knowledge.

Plus, most online training is done by people who know lots about their subject but didley-squat about adult learning principles. I can’t count the number of hours I spent listening to and reading material, filling in enterable pdfs etc. How often my heart sank the knowledge the next audio to listen to was 1.5 hours and must be waded through to extract about 20 minutes of actual learning. Whose learning style is that working for exactly? Nobody’s I suspect – it is just the trainer wanting to share all their knowledge in a massive download that swamps but doesn’t necessarily help you to master a new skill. But to be fair, there is some excellent online training (here’s looking at you Marie Forleo) A finished online course where you have taken action on the course contents can be awesome. Perhaps online training is neither good nor bad, but procrastination makes it so.

I certainly gave online business training a red hot go. Like the myth of Spring I was Demeter, descending into the Hades of business training to reclaim my daughter Persephone to the surface and bring Spring back into the world. Down I went, following the trail of excellent marketing copy for the many training programs that promised me endless hacks and and end to all my business concerns at the end of a click. After an inordinately long time in Hades I eventually re-emerged with a somewhat peeved Persephone in tow who wondered when in the hell I was going to complete her release from the Underworld of online sales. I finally got it that there is no magic, quick fix. You need to let things unfold. And running a business may not actually be the right destiny.

During this time pretty much all the online business training talked about how you can turn your pain points into learning, and monetise it through developing courses (naturally). This hasn’t always been so obvious to me. I mean, could I potentially market the ninja romance move of finally stumbling across the right life-partner for me by buying the house opposite him? It doesn’t seem that transferable a lesson. Then there’s my life hack from 2021 when I broke the hypnosis of overwhelm by leaving my non-profit leadership role. Again, not something that sparks inspiration. It has also occurred to me that the world may actually have enough courses monetising pain points.

But are still room for more books. Books are different. So back to the writing I go. Right after I log on and look at that Book Tok course I bought last month…

I choose to forgive…

Sunday Blog 68 – 22nd January 2023

Trigger warning – this post talks about crime, punishment, forgiveness and might stir up difficult emotions or memories. Please take care when reading.

Just after Christmas I read an article about a man called Abdi. He was deliberately run over by a woman while riding his bike in suburban Brisbane. He didn’t know her at all. This Shelley Anne Alabaster then pursued Abdi in her vehicle for a terrifying twenty minutes.

Abdi forgave her for many reasons and pleaded for clemency for her to be released from prison. She had already been on remand for over a year. She was not travelling well mentally or in her sobriety at the time. Abdi understands in his bones the vicious trap of the revenge and violence cycle from his birthplace of Mogadishu he had to leave behind.

“I don’t know if it is appropriate for me to say this,” Abdi says, “but in Australia they are obsessed with punishment. Crime and punishment.”

The article explores the topic more fully, saying ‘“Abdi understands the desire for retributive justice as innate to the human condition.

“It emotionally fulfils our need of feeling safe, when you have someone sent to jail on your behalf, or the state avenges on your behalf, it gives you this emotional satisfaction,” he says.

“But, at the end of the day, nothing has been achieved.”’

Abdi is troubled that she has missed Christmas with her family. I read the article with poignant interest. I often despair about Australia’s obsession with crime and punishment, and erroneous belief that this alone will deliver community safety despite all evidence to the contrary.

And yet, the 21st of December is now Gravy Day in Australia. This refers to our beloved singer songwriter Paul Kelly and his song How to Make Gravy. It’s a lament from the point of view of an incarcerated prisoner, writing to a family member on 21st December. Its national popularity seems to speak of a potential change of hearts and minds in relation to offending, prison, incarceration.

It was a song that haunted me because, like Abdi, I was the victim of a serious crime, a home invasion by someone I didn’t know. This is over twenty years ago now, but I still recall how painful it was to me to know the offender would be incarcerated, even for so serious a crime. I had made the phone call to police and started up the machinery of justice.

He was (presumably still is) a father, and missed at least eight Christmases with his children while he served in the prison sentence for the crime against me.

Then there was the moment when the Making Gravy song came on my car radio. He had been in prison about six years by then and much of my healing had been done. But the song jabbed me unexpectedly, my sobbing frightening my young daughter. I realised that the painful feelings about his incarceration would not go away until I followed through with organising a victim-offender mediation conference. This allowed me to talk to the offender face to face, but in a safe and structured way. And it gave me some peace, helped me “truly live,” as Brene Brown says in her quote above.

There is always another round of calls for a “tough on crime” stance, and longer penalties, even against children. I often want to say, “I could find it in my heart to forgive someone who hurt me. Why can’t you find it in your heart too?” Will there ever be a Gravy Day change of heart in Australia?

My memoir Not My Story about surviving the home invasion and doing my bit to create change for the better can be found on my website. A respectful trigger alert applies.

In praise of volunteering

Sunday Blog 67 – 15th January 2023

Borrowed from the interwebs from here: https://strongarmor.blogspot.com/2012_10_01_archive.html

I had never really done any volunteering work until I had my daughter. Then, bored and awash with 15 years of work experience and skills, I discovered the joys and excitement of volunteering, and I was hooked. That was 23 years ago.

From the moment I lodged my first grant application, spinning words in a grant application into gold, and then into services and activities which really met a need, I was totally hooked. I remember thinking how I had often made career choices that were interesting, sideways or otherwise not very well paid. It was interesting to do something for no money at all.

Since that time I have been lucky enough to make a living in the not for profit world, building those skills from the early days. I mean, it wasn’t until I’d been a volunteer for about seven years that I underwent training at the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD). It was a scheme to upskill women and was just a learning bite of their large curriculum. I still remember my amazement on learned that Board members are not supposed to do anything. They are there to oversee strategy, governance and risk.

The only reality I had known was that volunteer organisations have two, or if you’re lucky, three volunteers who sit on the Board or as it is now know, Management Committee and do absolutely everything. That training made me realise that it’s the same mechanism to run a hockey club (with its two keen and/or resigned volunteers doing everything), and a massive not for profit such as RAC, with paid staff and a paid Board.

Fast forward to me skidding out of a not for profit organisation to make time to write. (And it is coming along nicely thanks, still a work in progress, but definitely progressing.) It’s not an exaggeration to say I am a not for profit governance nerd. And that needs an outlet…

Occasionally I will reflect on my day and realise I have spent the entire day on volunteer tasks for my neighbourhood. Oops.

Of course, it could be another fiendish form of writerly procrastination, but it sure is fun…

The sound of a holiday ending

Sunday Blog 66 – 8th January 2023

As I covered up my mother’s swimming pool with its blanket, the wheel squeaked in a mournful kind of protest. It’s quite a big pool, and the sound grated for what felt like several long minutes.

I was just about to take my brother and his adult daughter to the airport to catch their plane back to Sydney. For two weeks of their holiday, the pool had seen countless cousins, nieces grandchildren and great grandchildren diving, swimming and cooling down in the hot Christmas weather. The generations mingled and just hung out.

The pool cover finally finished unspooling, and there was just the melancholy task of dropping the travellers off at the airport. We hugged briefly in the madness that is the drop off area in front of the airport and talked about our next catch up. Back in the car I fussed with my phone to dial up the location of my next appointment. Always keeping busy, staying a few steps ahead of the feelings.

It didn’t really work, I still had to feel the feelings. The sobbing would come despite my best efforts.