So sorry, been busy, that’s no excuse, I know. 

I’m sorry, dear reader, so dreadfully sorry. There I was promising you and myself that I’d write frequently and keep my writing muscles in fine form and then I desert you and write nothing for months. Well there was that one blog post I started and then finished a month later and then WordPress updated and deleted it. That was disappointing. One person read it and then it was gone. I broke new ground with it, pushed my literary limits, and then the internetz lost it! I couldn’t replicate it, my heart wasn’t in it and my head was angry, so instead I sulked. Yes, that’s right, this silence has been one big sulk.

Well I’m back, more revealing than ever. Batten down the hatches, it’s time for more Jill-isms. Oh, just a quick update on my pain, it’s barely there. I get an occasional twinge, when I push myself too hard, but mostly nothing. I do still have occasional numbness, this is troubling but not all consuming. I’m more cautious but I’m learning to beat up on myself less and just accept that I’m doing the best I can in exercise and diet and that being healthy is about so many factors. 

Ok, back to the grovelling apology. It’s not that I’ve been idle on the writing front. I’ve had essays due and made the time frame, I’ve written poems to lovers (well just one lover because married) and penned letters to my offspring. I even wrote that other blog post, which was about names and changing names and identity and marriage, and I started journal writing in earnest (I’ve been a sporadic journaller throughout my life). So you see, I’ve been doing it but mostly not for you.  
Well I will try to be more frequently on here. Thanks to ‘hoyden about town’ for jiggling my conscience and making me do something about this. They chose one of my pieces for their online mag, it jolted me out of my complacent and forgetful bubble. 

It seems that WordPress has made some updates that make this a little more user friendly on a tablet platform too, this can only mean well for us all.

Break-Up Songs Of The Late Twentieth Century

It’s been 15 days and several hours, since I put a post up here.
If that first line reminded you of a song written by Prince and sung by Sinéad O’Connor then well done, it was totally deliberate. As far as ear worms go that one isn’t a bad one. The album it was released on is 24 years old! I must confess to loving the earlier album The Lion and The Cobra with its rawness and passion and anguish writ large but I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got is full of more crafted and produced pieces that still manage to capture the chaos that is Sinéad and the beauty of her voice.
I’m not sure what this post is about but the fact that it’s been just over two weeks since my last post prompted the paraphrasing of Nothing Compares To You. I think I sang that song with feeling but without pathos. There was no-one that I was missing enough to be singing that about in 1990. I’m sure it was thousands, maybe millions, of people’s break-up songs but I wasn’t one of them.
Ah, break-up songs. That’s an idea. Oh, the highest rotation album for break-up songs for me was Melissa Etheridge’s self titled first album. It’s ironic that, at that stage, she was writing about a woman leaving her for another woman and I was singing it and listening to it about a man leaving me for another woman. It’s testament to the power of her words that they reached into my psyche then, or just that I was 19 years old and hurt, hurt, hurt! Now, of course, I love a woman, am married to one, and my break-up anguish over that man is long forgotten.
When I went through my last break-up
Melissa Etheridge was long packed away (I had it on tape) and instead I turned to a young singer from Germany, of Nigerian heritage, called Ayo, and her 2006 album called Joyful. The song Down On My Knees is far from joyful and suited my mood in mid 2007, one of fear and confusion. A long term relationship, that I had thought would continue forever, had ended with betrayal. I tried to be adult and mature about it all, accepting the decision of my loved one, but this song spoke about my inner monologue, the one I daren’t let out. Ayo was writing and singing about a man, I was grieving the loss of a woman. See, irony again.
I’m sure I’ve left a trail of break-up songs behind me, I’ve more often been the leaver rather than the left. I hope to never have to find another one. I’m fairly certain that my wife would prefer that too, we’ve made our commitment for our whole lives and we have every intention of seeing it through.
What have your break-up songs been?

As a short addendum I wish to say that my mother went through a phase of playing You’ll Never Walk Alone over and over again after my father died. This wasn’t her break-up song, it was her grieving song. I think there’s a close correlation but that ultimately a break-up song is situation specific but the grieving song (or songs) are often songs that have had significance in the relationship throughout. That’s my observation, for what it’s worth.

Reflections On Writing and Trying to Do It Every Day

I’ve been missing in action. In March I only posted nine times but there were 31 days in that month. I was trying to do one post a day. Not set in concrete but an internal challenge. It’s been a bit of a slog, I must say. I blame the drugs.

They’re good at keeping the pain away (well, sort of) but they’re not so good for letting the mind run free. They leave my mind muddy and sluggish, struggling to find inspiration and stuck in the roundabout that leaves me with nothing in my head but this chronic pain and how I will live with it or if I’ll ever live again without it.

When I set myself my mental challenge I was also trying to manage pain and my anxiety about it all and hoped that writing would give me something else on which to focus. It was also to hone this craft and rebuild the muscles that I had let atrophy.

I thought that maybe I’d forgotten how but the words still come from me pretty easily. I haven’t had trouble getting things down. I don’t do too many drafts. I suppose, since most of what I’m putting into this ether is first hand, lived, memoir, non-fiction, that the crafting is different.

I worry that I’m boring and repetitive anyway. I think I need more humour. I want to be more creative and stretch my fiction finger and since I really started this blog what it has awakened is a burning desire in me to write about just one thing. This thing is like a block for all the other ideas, it’s like if I don’t find a way to write this then I’ll never get another idea out. I’ve tried a few forays but the theme keeps coming through into everything. And this theme, this thing, this truth but not but fictionalised but life, is so hard to write about; what angle do I take, how do I broach this subject, how can I write with authenticity and integrity without making it so damn hard and gut-wrenching that no-one can read it.

I think I thought that writing daily might help me start it (not here, somewhere else, secret, away from prying eyes until I’d honed and cut and sweated it out), give me the discipline or I hoped that I could get past it and start something new. Instead I’m revolving, looking for the angle, researching horrors that are beyond imagining, except they were real, to find a way into my subject’s life and mind and try to explain their actions.

Maybe no-one needs to read it. Maybe I can just slam it out and put it in a bottom drawer. Though I want it to be readable. I want it to be an exploration. I want to take people on a journey – you have to write with your audience there (or I do) in your mind’s eye – I want it to be good, no, I want it to be amazing.

Don’t expect anything soon. I’ve got a lot to do between now and whenever.
In the meantime I’ll just keep coming back here and torturing you all with my experiments.

Confessions Of A Woman Who Will Survive

The dull hum of shock is slowly receding and I can start to collect the pieces of my life and reset on my journey. Not so for Rosie Batty, who will carry the hurt and trauma with her forever after.

There are a few things that have been happening of late that have made me re-assess what I’ve held secret and hidden from most people. We all have secrets, some are held in shame, some are held to reduce pain, some are profound, some are simple. My secret has been held, not tightly but relatively closely, for over 20 years. It was a secret just between two people for 11 years before that.

One of the factors that is allowing this secret to now become a story, a touchstone, in my life, is that the one person I felt I needed to protect and keep it secret from has now been told. It wasn’t an easy telling and the timing was pretty lousy. I had to re-tell it, as my brother had decided to blurt it out to my daughter.

Uncaring and with the blinkers of self-interest on, he casually asked her if my father had really sexually abused me as a child. She didn’t have an answer, I’d never discussed it with her. She confusedly hung up the phone and went to her room. I noticed but I didn’t understand. I was in the lounge room. Then the question, yelled from the bedroom. “Mum, did Poppa sexually abuse you when you were a child?” The question cut through me. I’d kept this from her for years and, of late, the imperative to not say anything was more urgent – she had her own hurts to recover from, unrelated to mine – I said no. I said no. I mumbled it but in a raised voice because I couldn’t walk down the hall to her room. “Oh”, she said, her voice shrugging, “________ said you told him he had. He asked me if it was true.”

The subject, according to her, was closed. I had said no, she believed me as I never lie to her. I know I never lie to her. I hold that as a sacred trust that I will not lie to my daughter. She knows I never lie to her.

I call my brother, outside, away from my daughter, and blast him from here to breakfast. It’s a one minute phone call of fury, he doesn’t get to say much. I tell him that of course our father did this. Children don’t make that stuff up. My father sexually abused me for 11 years from the age of six years old until just after I turned 17, a long bloody time. I tell my brother to fuck off and never bother me or my family again if he can’t be bothered to believe me.

I take a deep breath as a I hang up. I look at my wife and say, “I have to tell her, I can’t keep this secret from her any longer”.

I walk down the hall. It’s a long hallway, plenty of time to think about how I’ll say it. I’ve said it before though. I’ve said it to my mother, my sisters, my brother, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends and other friends, counsellors, psychologists and to my father. Now, though, I have to say it to my daughter. I’ve protected her from this because I wanted her to have a relationship with my family and that included my father.

“Sweetheart, I need to talk to you”, I say as I knock on her door. Her answer is non verbal, her eyes lift from the computer screen and she waves me in. I sit on her bed and take her hand. “You know that question you just asked me before? Well, I didn’t say the truth. I was in shock that you asked me and I blurted out no but really it should have been yes. Yes, my dad sexually abused me as a child. I’m sorry that you had to find out this way. It was thoughtless of my brother to ask you. I’ve blasted him. More importantly I want you to know why I didn’t tell you, until now.” I look at her for cues. She says, “You didn’t have to tell me, I believed you.”
“I know”, I respond, “that’s why I had to tell you. I always tell you the truth, to leave it would be a lie.” I adjust my position on the bed so I’m looking straight at her, “I wanted you to have a relationship with all my family, despite what my father did to me, and so I chose not to tell you until I thought you were ready. First, you were too young, then he died, then you had your own stuff to deal with. I wouldn’t have told you now but this happened. I always watched out for you, though, and my father knew that his life was forfeit if he hurt you – ever.” I took a big breathe to stop the tears from leaking out of my eyes. “If you have questions I will answer them. If you don’t want to talk about it I’ll respect that too. If you want to ask me about it at any time, you can.”

Silence.

Then she reaches over to hug me and says, “I don’t want to talk about it. I didn’t need to know but I understand why you told me.”

I hug her back, “He always loved you. He always loved me too but his actions were wrong”, and I get up and leave.

I’ve held this so close, for so long, I’m not sure what to do with the freedom that this has given me. Now, a few months later, the freedom has started to coalesce into a purpose. I’ve been in a women’s circle, doing a course, and it’s ease and safety makes perfect sense to me as a vehicle to build peer support for women who have experienced sexual violence. I’m building a plan. I’m doing the research. I’m going to start a group. I have my first participant and we will find others and we will talk and laugh and cry and support and recoil and recover and heal and survive.

In Celebration Of Bacon

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Above you see a group of piglets belonging to a friend of mine. They are part of a much bigger group of piglets, 40 in all, that were born recently. When they get a bit older and bigger they will become the most excellent pork. Why am I telling you this? Well today I ate some of the bacon that was made from these little piggies’ cousins. It was the tastiest, most delicious bacon I’ve had since the last time I was at the farm. This time, though, I had the bacon at my place.

The breed is Large Black, they are an English breed of pig, and are part of the rare breed revival movement. The farm they are on is also a leader in the transparency and ethical food production movement, an area that is gaining a foothold in the Australian farming landscape. I don’t know much about the whole history or even the reach of all of this but I do know that I love knowing the farmer and seeing the farm where I get my meat from.

I’ve spent many a happy hour at the farm, watching the sows and their piglets, hearing stories of Elvis’ way with the ladies (I’ve not actually seen this but the kids are fairly reliable witnesses), trying to tempt the cattle to eat the grass out of my hand and enjoying great food and conversation with the family that run the joint. If you haven’t heard of Jonai Farms, then I suggest you look them up, they’re doing great stuff, but this isn’t an ad for them, more a celebration of bacon.

Oh, the bacon I ate today was cooked until it was crispy but not brittle. The smoky flavours were subtle, the lack of nitrites welcomingly noticable. I paired it with two fried eggs from our own hens (secret egg stash was found) and spread a bit of our smoked, salted butter (oh yeah) onto toast. The breakfast was devoured but not so quickly that I didn’t give thanks to the animals that helped bring this deliciousness to my mouth.

I confess that I enjoyed this pleasure all by myself. The wife was off galavanting around the countryside (fighting fires and waiting to fight fires) and didn’t get back until after breakfast. I may have to get up early tomorrow and make her a breaky of ethical excellence to say thank you.

I Ask A Question For Which I Have No Answer

If you could change one piece of your life, one momentous happening that you look at now, knowing that it has shaped your life, for better or worse, ever after, would you do it? Would you change it, erase its power? Wish to see the ‘you’ that might have been without this moment?

It’s not a je ne regrette rien moment. Those moments are about decisions we make, or that’s what I see them as, anyway. It’s those moments that happen to you and you have no control, you made no choice for the event, but nonetheless its ramifications affect your life ever after.

I’ve had a long, hard relationship with my ‘momentous moment’. It wasn’t a great one. At the time, and for many years after, it held me in a thrall that coloured how I thought about myself and how I valued myself.

Through it, though, through dealing with it, thinking about it, talking about it, examining my place in it all and taking away its power (somewhat) I know that I am the person I am today not just despite it but because of it, and I like that person, mostly.

I think it taught me compassion. I think it helped shape my politics and my causes. I think it influenced my parenting style. I think it helped me be strong. I think it helped me be kinder. I think it showed me the power of forgiveness.

So, would I take it away? Would you take away yours?

Humbled And Chastened Are Interesting Bedfellows

The train is pulling into the next station, Nick Drake is playing through my little earbud headphones and the air conditioning is cocooning me from the heat that is, once again, building outside. As I look out the window I see a crystal blue sky, peppered with clouds on the eastern horizon, searingly blue and uninterrupted to the west. The landscape is showing all the signs of having suffered under the unrelenting sun; grass browned and no longer growing, trees unadapted to the Australian climate wilting, eucalypts dropping leaves, spreading leaf litter and bark on the ground, all perfect conditions for fire to take hold.

Some paddocks have no fodder at all, flocks of sheep huddle in one corner, looking to graze, looking for relief and shade. Others have tall, brown stems of grass waving in the gentle wind. The gentle wind will be our friend today, although it is hot and the landscape is ready to burn the lack of wind to carry it will mean any fires that start today should be relatively easy to contain.

I’m going to my acupuncturist again, maybe for the last time in relation to this dodgy back of mine. As the weeks have progressed, especially since my angst-ridden, catastrophy-focused post of 2nd January, there has been both slow and sudden improvement. I can walk up the mildly steep hill from my work to the station without resorting to a stiff robot walk to compensate for the pains shooting down my legs. I can sleep on both sides of my body and on my back and the pain is no worse in any position. I can sit for periods long enough to complete some work before the pain niggles me to move, stretch, find relief. I’m noticing ebbs and flows in the intensity of the pain. Sometimes it’s not even there at all.

I hope these are all signs that my compressed disc is retreating back to its allocated position in my spine. I long for the days I remember of carefree body use; of reaching, of bending, of squatting, of standing, without thought of how I could do it without pain or without tiring like a baby just learning to walk. I want to leap out of bed and take my long-suffering dogs for a walk filled with smells and excitement. I need to restore my body’s confidence and strength, regain my sense of self through being able to exercise (a little), realign my view of me with the actual me.

This little bout of illness, disability, call it what you will, has served to make me more tolerant of my own foibles and more empathic with people who continue to live with chronic illness, constant pain and disability. Before, in my robust health and with only my youth to guide me, I was sympathetic and considerate to strangers and acquaintances but less tolerant of my own illnesses (usually brief) or my then partner’s illness (definitely chronic). I knew, intellectually, that her needs were real and valid but I railed against her illness, tried to cajole it away, refused to see that some good days couldn’t stop the bad days, expected a stoicism of her that I thought I possessed.

Hah! How little I knew of me. With age does wisdom come? No. It’s experience where we find wisdom. Age only gives us a chance to have the experience, whatever that may be, that can lead to self-knowing, forgiveness, wisdom; we might have a chance to compare our older self with our younger self and quail at the insouciance we exhibited.

I hope this is just an episode in my life, a chapter that I can read again and again and continue to grow from. I don’t want it to be the whole novel from now until the end. Others live with that knowledge about their own lives, that the novel is about them and their illness or disability, and their courage and stoicism is extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. I hope that I can have their strength and on the other hand I hope I never need it.