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Archive for the ‘motherhood’ Category

One can become unable, in certain emotional states, to read fiction, and for me there is a similar ‘fiction-averse’ component to human experience, where things can seem so intensely real that you don’t want, or aren’t capable of, any distance from them at all. Having a baby seemed like one of those periods; getting divorced was another.

From Rachel Cusk in “Rachel Cusk on her quietly radical new novel, Outline” in Vogue by Megan O’Grady.

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I’ve always been someone who lives very much in my head. The startling, terrifying (and sometimes exhilarating) thing about becoming a mother was that that vanished almost immediately. I couldn’t think in any sustained way anymore; my mind flitted from thing to thing, and the novel I’d been writing for years no longer made much sense to me. My purpose became quite simply to keep her alive. My body was either on high alert or utterly exhausted.

From Jenny Offill in an interview with Megan O’Grady in Vogue with “Scenes from a marriage: Jenny Offill on modern motherhood”.

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For ease of understanding, I use ‘divorced’ regularly to describe my status, though I was never married. But what other words do you use to convey a relationship you thought would be a lifetime and wasn’t? Until we had children, he and I lacked both the terminology and the ceremony to explain the significance of our relationship to others. Now, without marriage, the transition from inside to outside the relationship has similarly lacked terminology and ceremony, and is apparently so capricious as to require two witness statements to prove it. This is something I discovered recently when updating my tax information. By now, the presence of children is more a confounding variable.

The unstitching is frustrating at times. Even if I know which stitches to unpick for me, without the pattern of marriage and divorce others seem to have difficulty following. And when I turn the fabric over, I find the thread is bunching and looping in ways I hadn’t expected. (“Are you still going to call yourself a single parent if we move in together?”).

From “When will we start celebrating divorce?” in Daily Life.

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The Melbourne Writers Festival has made more tickets available, so please come along and say hello to me if you happen to see me on the panel. I will not be talking about my breasts, instead I will speaking about Capital: Valuing What Matters with Dennis Glover and Ben Eltham.

Thomas Piketty’s unlikely international bestseller Capital questions the core of the capitalist system. In his new book, Dennis Glover argues that an economy is not a society. What do we put a dollar value on, what don’t we, and why? He and feminist economist Andie Fox discuss.

And speaking of media… I forgot to mention here that I was also on the parenting panel for ABC radio a fortnight ago.

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“All your extended breastfeeding questions answered” in Essential Baby by me.

When my son began talking to my breasts (“breastfeedings” he called them, in case you were wondering), he was being so sincere and sad I did not know what to do. Should my breasts be answering him? It seems rude to remain indifferent to someone sharing the most tragic moment of their life with you. I mean, my breasts aren’t cold-hearted. And if my breasts answered him then should they have my voice, which may take you out of the moment? Or should they have a unique voice of their own – in which case, what does a breast’s voice sound like?

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If you get a chance to see this you really should…

The Strange Little Cat (2013). I loved it. And it was shown at the Queensland Film Festival this year.

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Am told my piece for Meanjin has a broken link at the moment so I’m re-posting it here. From the end of last year when I wrote about reading and love affairs…


There’s a small child in the bed with us. I hold the sheet over me and reach down blindly to find clothes on the floor. Under the sheet I slip my underwear and t-shirt back on. So, this is dating now.

One evening I find myself sitting in bed reading Hairy Maclary dog stories to the small child. “Out of the gate and off for a walk, went Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy..”.

It’s not my small child, it’s the son of the man I am seeing. My children are with their father tonight and I’m missing them. The father of this small child is in the living room feeling down. I’m trying not to see that as a bit of an indulgence. And instead, I’m reading to his son and those smalls hands on my arm and a small head rested against my shoulder are bringing a rush of pain to me.

This maternal business, when I’m not with my children, is tearing at careful compartments. But decompartmentalising is this man’s specialty. Out of the gate and off for a walk.

I meet his mother, and then in a rush, his whole family. He wants to meet my children. At first, I believe he’s fearless. He might be wrong for me in several ways but at least he’s fearless.

Last year I read Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson. This year I am re-reading it. I mostly re-read books this year because with everything happening in my life – the work, the grief, the rebuilding, the column writing, the conferences, the dating, the parenting, the budgeting, the anxiety and the calming – I can’t read anything new. I just can’t take anything else in. If I am going to consider anything in it has to be something I already know that I just want to understand better, and differently.

I read a lot to my children. They like re-reading books. The storybook I most enjoy re-reading to them is Stanley’s Stick by John Hegley. The rhythm in that book is something else. I marvel at it every time I read it. Every time.

I hardly read anything. Actually, I read constantly, all year, but hardly anything I think appropriate to highlight in a literary journal, like Meanjin. For instance, Twitter. For instance, Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness. I read that over and over again for part of the year, in a ‘dark night of the soul’ kind of way. I read papers and papers for work. I read a Coroner’s report with a fine-tooth comb. About the death of a child the same age as my daughter. Her mother kills her slowly, but quite thoroughly in the end.

She kills her slowly enough that people are wondering now how that happened. When you read the details, I mean really read them and re-read them, you see a lot of unraveling and the mother knows, she knows she’s unraveling. She asks her daughter to cover up the unraveling with her in more and more ludicrous ways. Most children killed by parents die before they develop the power of speech. But this daughter, who can speak and therefore reflect back what she sees in you, tries, reasons but also colludes. She is protecting her mother the way a mother is supposed to protect a child. Children do.

I distill the findings into something concise and lifeless for a report.

While driving home from the coast my own daughter starts reading aloud to her little brother and me from The Pinballs by Betsy Byars. It’s a young adult novel about children in foster care and I read it when I was about her age. Listening to her, I gasp. I forgot how sad this story is, I say. My daughter pauses thoughtfully and agrees before saying it is one of her favourite books.

When I arrive one night he is in a candlelit bath drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and wearing his dead father’s rosary beads around his neck. Even with tears in his eyes he can laugh. You look like something out of a film, I say. And I take some photographs.

Get in the bath, he tells me. And when I have pulled off my clothes and am stepping into the water he says to stop covering myself. We’re not young, don’t worry about it. He says it with such softness that for a moment I think I am falling in love. (You’re younger than me, too young, I think secretly). I hope you change me, he whispers in bed with a kiss. I can’t change you, I can only be with you while you change yourself, I reply. I guess, he says.

I read The Culture of the New Capitalism by Richard Sennett, the poem of Relational Self-Portrait by Dean Rader, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Long Division by Kiese Laymon, The End of Eve by Ariel Gore, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Aftermath by Rachel Cusk again (and again). It goes without saying I recommend every one of these. In a way, I am reading about uncertainty, but then everything is about uncertainty. Eventually I am reading new things.

But I am also still re-reading The Autobiography of Red. It’s a novel written in verse. Everything is a metaphor. It is terribly beautiful and you need to read it slowly and if you have forgotten how to read slowly, as I have, then you simply read it repeatedly. The more you read it the more you realise stories about love affairs are really stories about trials are really stories about dreams and monsters are really stories about self.

We were supposed to be bringing one another stillness, I point out. He promises me he’s very calm. Yes, I say, because you’re the eye of the fucking storm, you might be calm but no-one else around you ever is. He likes that and we both laugh. But he has a shadow self. It’s appearance is even more alarming to him than it is to me. The kindness, the openness, the intuitiveness and most of all, the fearlessness are gone.

His sense of self crumbles. He tries to argue with me about things I don’t recognise. It’s his past, not mine, and so I lack the bitterness towards it that he is seeking. I return home in a panic. Safe inside my own house I suddenly feel like I am reassembling. Enough, I decide.

Out of the gate.

And off for a walk.

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