Friday, January 31, 2020

The furies

Been riffing on aspects of women’s anger recently. I was asked to contribute a personal essay to an anthology and duly pitched what I thought was a fairly straight forward story. It had all the juice – a turf war, a love affair, state politics, a dead girl. I don’t want to go into the story itself here as the collection is kinda embargoed pre-publication. What I can write about is the process.

The project Gracias 2.0 emerged out of my latest writing job, as I needed some light in the pretty interesting places I’ve been lately. Media attention focuses on angry women every now and then in history but it’s usually when they’ve mobbed the streets with pitchforks placards to demand rights that the other half of the population take for granted. Anyway, I felt that this demonstrative anger is pretty well covered, as is #MeToo. What I wanted to write about was a series of events that culminated early last year and resulted in my feeling healed of a decades-old beef.

While collective women’s anger is a sight to behold, individual female anger is seen at best as unattractive, at worst hysterical. It’s seen as distinctly non-maternal (unless you are defending your child from bears) or unfeminine. We want to be liked after all.

I remember saying to a lover that I couldn’t verbally hold him to account for lacking the courage or inclination to tell the truth about me because “I want you to like me.” Instead I internalised my wrath in a perfectly presentable shit storm of self-harm. How ladylike, Sarah Toa. I’ve been turning away from rage lately. Anger, pointed in the right direction and for the right reasons, is a powerful change agent, but there is so much of it spraying around at the moment I feel it’s often unproductive and provokes pointless anxiety. I can feel it in my gut when I’m on Twitter.

In the midst of all this I am writing that piece on women’s rage. I wrote one version of the essay. Then I wrote another. I wrote a third but that one wasn’t very good because I’d been drinking gin. I went through myriad ethical decisions. What about her family? How can I build a story on her death and not have the story become the Dead Girl trope? How do I criticise those people and not let them off the hook? How not to include my family? It was excruciating.

I rang the editor, after she noted that my submission was five days late. “I’ve lost my nerve,” I told her. “I used to be so brave.” I explained my ethical dilemmas and she stepped through them like any disciplined philosopher. She then said something really surprising. Her and the other editor were discussing that very morning how difficult many writers in the collection were finding this topic. She had almost the same conversations as the one she was having with me.

How bloody interesting, I thought. Writing is a lonesome pursuit and a witchy one too. Sitting for hours with a brief to create trouble and toil can be a tough gig. To write a personal essay on anger is to do a Lazarus on old grievances: they arise out of the ground quite fresh. Then of course, they have to be dealt with. People don’t tend to feel rage towards a tree or a rock or a dog. It’s generally a hominid, so the ethics and libel horrors show up. And women’s rage isn’t pretty, as I said. Staying staunch and strong in a literary depiction of injustice requires refined rage. So those three things – reliving trauma, ethical choices and overcoming gendered expectations. In a room on your own. Writing is hard.

Anyway, just thought I’d pace that one out here. Thanks for walking with me.
Ps. The essay is in.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Gracias #2

Another thank you post ...

I've been loving podcasts ever since my radio reception died. Believe me, living out of range with no electricity has its limitations when it comes to entertainment. So I download podcasts when I'm in town and listen to them in the evenings. I started off with true crime stuff but found it wasn't terribly good for my dreams duh. Here are some of my faves.

Emergence began as an online publication with really classy graphics and wonderful stories. Their podcasts tend to be about their rocker - culture, spirituality and ecology. A great mix for the soul.

Wrong Skin is an Australian production set in a small Aboriginal community in the North West, about a pair of young lovers who married 'wrong way'. It's considered a serious crime in traditional communities, with complex kinship systems. This modern day Montague and Capulet couple disappeared, not to be found again.

Myths and Legends gives a pretty good retelling of myths from all around the world. Quirky, funny and faintly ludicrous is how I'd describe them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


I've heard about this method before, to lighten the mind. Practising gratitude is not always the easiest thing to do in this very weird place in history. But finding three things every day to be grateful for and actually writing them down is supposed to help rewire our brains into a more positive outlook. I think it works. After a bout of black dog and a relationship break up, I began a daily list a few years ago. I gave up three days later. The science is in that it is good practise but on the first day one of the things I wrote down was:
1. Finding my long lost friend again at Broke Inlet.
Three days later, she died. So, that wasn't a great start to my gratitude program but I'm having another crack at it. The thing is, if you can't immediately find anything to be grateful for, you have to go hunting for them and they can pop into your mind in unexpected and beautiful ways. So here goes my list for today.

1. Bats. I love bats. Bats use echolocation but they are not blind as myths suggest. After a warm day, I sit on the veranda and watch the bats zip around the marri trees hunting summer time insects. Last night (!!!) one landed on me. I felt a soft thud near my collar bone and there was the cutest critter crouching on my jumper. Tinier than a mouse with gossamer wings and bright eyes. I'm so glad I didn't freak out and swat the bat away because I was able to examine it for a full minute before it took off again.

2. Parks and Wildlife ground crew clearing the bushes away from the fire tower steps. 
After last year's controlled burn some of the karri wattles have been getting a bit big for their boots and are growing over the steps. 

Took this photo a year ago so it's not overgrown but until a few days ago, I could not see where I was walking at all. Eek.
 Those concrete steps go all the way up the north facing side of the mountain and thus is where all the venomous snakes in the whole universe go to charge up every morning. They are slow to move during this process and I do like a clear view ahead of me. And. nothing. brushing. against. my. legs. please. So, mucho gracias, guys, for carrying a whipper snipper the whole way to the peak and then clearing the track..

3. Exercise. After a winter spent lying around and then a spring spent lying around with broken ribs, I was getting quite plump and weak. I'm normally lean and strong so it was a shock to realise that I couldn't lift myself onto the back of the ute in one bounce. The horror. After a good five weeks of running up and down the mountain I've lost weight and I'm feeling strong again. I'm happy to report that despite being a peri-menopausal she-wolf, my body is responding in the same way it always has to exercise.

4. Gratuitous entry this one, as only three are required.
Quails. Because native quails. The three chicks I mentioned in a previous post are as big as their mum now and they are becoming quite tame, so long as I make no sudden moves. I've been able to see up close their tawny colours become richer every day. I know when they are coming by their cheepy clucks and the sound of leaves rustling in the understory.

Also, here is Dennis the Doughy Dugite who spent an hour trying to get into the firetower the other day, after mice I suspect. I kept him out with strategic sprays from the metholated spirits bottle. He gave up in disgust eventually. Incidentally, Dennis hangs out a lot where the karri wattles were growing over the steps. He is now a happy surprise, rather than a nasty one.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Emergency Wombat AirBNB Experiment

I've been putting water out for the birds. The inlet is salty now, too salty to drink and so this enamelled cauldron of water sits on a directors chair. I've put a stick in, so the insects can drink without drowning. The water becomes browner every day with tannins from the marri tree leaves that fall all around us. The water carrier is directly opposite where I sit on my days off, reading or writing in my notebook. Birds of many feathers seem delighted. That brief rain a fortnight ago was the first in a long time. I'm delighted too. Sit still long enough and nature will always throw on an event for me. It's better than watching the royals on TV. A few days ago, I saw a kingfisher, fisher of men, hunter of fish, his wings so so blue and his beak so sharp. I saw a white breasted robin smash a centipede against the cast iron cauldron. I see the quail family every day, popcorn babies spinning as they forage for bugs in the leaf litter.

The author Jackie French is a legend in Australia. She's written more than two hundred books for adults and children. Basically she writes about whatever takes her fancy; cooking, wildlife, gardening. Her mainstay is wombats. She's also created a wombat sanctuary where she lives and in an article for the Sydney Morning Herald about the bush fires she reports this incredible observation:

I have seen wombats share their holes with snakes, quolls, possums and a nervous swamp wallaby

French has been in and out of evacuation for the last six weeks during the fires. Yes, she knows wombats. She has Wombat Street Cred and she's seen these critters share their underground burrows with creatures desperate to survive during the terrible fires. I don't know if I could share my home with a needy tiger snake. I just can't even. But a burrow? Gah!

It's been quiet work at the fire tower. I could see the smoke from the Stirlings fire but apart from that one, the only excitement has come from a local renegade who let his permit burn carry on into the prohibited season. I come down the mountain tired, sore of eyes and happy spending my day on a granite mountain peak. 

But the anxiety of our nation is palpable and I believe we all now carry it in our bodies. We can't ignore it. This is climate change. This is what climate scientist Ross Garnaut warned us about twelve years ago. He got the exact year and conditions right. We can bitch and whinge about looters and arsonists but we all know that such human blights are ones that arrive after the catastrophe, not preceding it.

DO NOT FORGET. (Writes Jackie French) 
Because those who make vast sums of money from businesses that, as a side effect, destroy our planet, put vast sums into PR or political campaigns so that laws are never made to hinder their actions. The politicians who denied climate change, the need for disaster planning and firefighting equipment, and who cut fire budgets by 30-40 per cent this year alone – despite warnings from their own experts that we faced catastrophes this year – will use political spin ... let’s just call it lying … to try to make you forget before the next election.

 Please read her article here: There is a lot of good writing coming from our crisis of country, confidence and climate and this article is one of the best. We've been lucky in the west, so far, and I repeat ... lucky. Nothing more than that. There are many months to go yet.

In the mean time, my son tries not to look at the dams. He knows they will empty whether he watches them or not. I save water from my showers in the mornings. We put water out for the birds and insects. This small effort is laughable, incomparable to the day my son has to call the water truckers in to fill dams, but we do it anyway. Still, we watch for smoke. Every day, we watch for smoke.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Stirling Ranges from the fire tower.

Tower yesterday and 145 kilometres away the Stirlings ablaze. That is not a cloud.