Women of Letters recap

I tried to treasure this experience more than usual today because I am entering a stage of the year where I may not be able to keep Sundays free anymore. Missing Women of Letters is not fun, but I’m sure I have other anthologies to look forward to, and perhaps more writers will post their letters a few weeks or months down the track on their personal websites (like Bindi Cole and Jess McGuire etc). Anyway, it was just Sean and I today, and we found a far more efficient route to the Regal Ballroom than up Punt Road, so hopefully will use that again! Marieke Hardy looked like Arwen, and Michaela McGuire was MCing once more. Our theme today: a letter to someone I once made cry.

First up was comedian Hannah Gadsby. She wrote to her mother about the two occasions she can recall making her cry, pointing out that her mother too, had made Hannah herself cry more than once. Her letter was hilarious – dry and witty, including an imitation of her mother’s voice and discussion of being high on furniture polish. Despite being “sensitive to sound, and hungry” as she was reading her letter, she still managed to finish it on-the-fly, having run out of time to complete the letter before the start of the salon today. Her letter was funny, yes, but also incredibly touching, and a lovely portrait of her relationship with her mum.

Next was writer Josephine Rowe. The lyrical nature of her prose shone through beautifully, writing to a traveling friend (as in, a friend she once went traveling with) who she has lost contact with. Her letter navigated the muddy waters of relationships, things that can go misunderstood and unsaid, and detailed the confusion people can feel with someone even when they feel closer than ever. Very poignant and all read out with a very sore throat, so we were very lucky she was able to attend at all!

Senator Christine Milne was next, writing to the students she taught at Devonport High School during the late 70’s and early 80’s before embarking on a political career. She made them (and herself) cry, by playing them the LP of “The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk” with music by Ed Welch and the voice of Spike Milligan. Her passion for this story was evident and she expressed her interest to know how the students would react to it today when they listened to it as adults. I’ve never read/listened to this before, so I’ll have to add it to my list…

Musician Grace Knight’s letter had the entire room in tears. She wrote to a childhood friend of hers, upon whom she had unloaded terrible secrets. For many years this friend was the only person who knew of the dreadful abuse Grace had suffered, and Grace’s letter explored her fear of telling people about it and the effects on her later life, when she punished herself relentlessly for something that wasn’t her fault. Then she spoke about forgiveness, and the completely unexpected healing that it brought. This part was the most tender and the most affecting, though her entire letter was beautiful and brave. I think out of all the WoL events I have attended, Grace’s letter has elicited the strongest emotional response in me yet. Michaela McGuire thanked her for her bravery also, which made us all cry some more.

Finally (and with a perfect letter to finish on), it was journalist Ramona Koval, writing to her mum. Her letter was funny and sweet and touching, but had the undercurrent of seriousness that tends to pervade letters at these salons. Her mother had spoken to Ramona about having to hide that she was Jewish, in order to keep safe during the Second World War. Baby Ramona than assumed she would need to do the same thing, and subsequently spent several months doing Christian Religious Education at school while her Jewish classmates went off to be taught by a rabbi elsewhere. Ramona gave some gorgeous anecdotes about how she liked the Bible stories and was chosen to be Mary in the nativity play, all before she was found out, but (and maybe it was just because I was still emotionally broken from Grace  Knight’s letter), I felt quite sad during the whole letter, thinking of the fears of children during the Holocaust continuing through the generations.

We had to leave early today for other commitments, so we didn’t stay for questions, but if this does turn out to be my last Women of Letters event for a while, I feel pretty lucky that it was this one.

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I FOUND IT

I came across this website ages ago, and promptly forgot how I got there, and couldn’t remember the title. After spending forever Googling things like ‘tiny gardens’ and ‘miniature gardens’ and ‘tiny outdoor settings’, I had long since given up finding it. Then I was in Readings Carlton, and saw THIS:

Naw!

Such an adorable little book, available for purchase here.

But it made me finally remember the original website I had searched for (the same website that has now made this book). Everyone check it out when you need a little bit of a boost. It’s guaranteed to make your day.

http://thepotholegardener.com/

Conundrum

I don’t really know how to begin this, or even where to go with it. I am writing this because I don’t know how to feel, and I wonder if it’s just me or if everyone has a different opinion?

A few weeks ago I reported on Facebook and Twitter that a guy had smacked my behind in the middle of crowded Swanston St. I was standing at the ATM, and completely lost in my own thoughts – when it happened, I was so shocked, all I did was turn around and yell ‘OI!’ at him (in a typical fit of eloquence appropriate to the situation, obvs.). I was still waiting for my money to come out of the machine, so even as he shot back, ‘Settle down’ and kept walking, I couldn’t follow him. Not that I wanted to.

It was a bloody horrible feeling. Having your personal space invaded is bad enough, but to be caught completely unawares, touched in an intimate place (and quite forcefully too, it really hurt), 100% against your will is a very disempowering feeling. Also, the fact it happened in a crowded street was humiliating. I was feeling all shaky, but trying to appear unaffected because I didn’t want anymore unwelcome attention. I collected my money and waited until I caught a glimpse of him in the crowd up ahead. He was walking quite slowly, (I think accompanied by another person, it was hard to tell), and he looked unsteady on his feet. Whether he was under the influence of something or if that’s the way he is normally, I have no idea. I hung back until I was sure he was some way up. There was no way I was going to walk in front of him. I started walking, hoping I wasn’t going to be late for work because I was hiding from some dude who was taking his sweet time up Swanston St. I kept catching glimpses of him as he was further up, and I saw him do the same thing to TWO other women. My eyes weren’t on him constantly, so I don’t know if he got anyone else, and the only thing I was brave enough to do was tweet about it and put it on Facebook, telling people he was headed north of Swanston St. The thought crossed my mind to call the police, but what could they have done? Even if he was still around when they got there, they had no proof that he had done anything wrong, and as not one single person protested when he did it to me at the ATM, I wasn’t counting on witnesses.

What I should have done, is run after him, and told him off loudly. That way it would have warned other people around us, and maybe he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do it to those other women. But, and I am really ashamed to admit this, I was scared of him. All he’d done was smack my bum – I should have been stomping all over him in protest. But he was much bigger and taller than me, and because he looked drugged, or at least drunk, and obviously had no qualms about keeping his hands to himself, I was afraid of him hurting me again. I crossed the road when I was sure he was far enough away from me, and I tried to put the whole thing out of my mind.

A few days later I saw him, chatting to a busker on the intersection of Bourke and Swanston. I got that horrible sick feeling in my stomach and just avoided the place entirely. He wouldn’t have known me from a bar of soap, but I didn’t like the feeling I got when I saw him, and hoped I wouldn’t again.

Then.

The other night I was walking around the city at night with a group of people. It wasn’t late – perhaps 7pm. I saw him again. He was sitting with another guy, who looked scruffy and dirty and cold. They were sitting on cardboard boxes, leaning up against vending machines under the cover of a train station.  I stared at him. And instead of feeling that hot, bubbly sick feeling in my stomach, I just felt overwhelming sadness. And I thought instantly about my house, and my warm bed, and my fridge full of food, and my computer, and my bank balance, and my university course and my health, and all these things that I have right in front of me, ripe for the taking and the using and the discarding when I’m finished with it. And I thought of how angry this man had made me and how silly that anger seemed now.

Not to blow my own horn, but I give a lot of money to charities and sponsees, and I will try and give money to homeless people when I have cash on me. It’s partially a generosity thing, but partly a faith thing too. I always end up with enough money for the things I need, and I firmly believe that giving away money doesn’t make you poorer, because it always finds its way back to you somehow in some form. Some people will call it karma, for me it’s more of a spirituality thing, but I’ve done it for quite a while (okay, pious-y lecture over, sorry guys).

I didn’t approach him. I didn’t give him any money. I kept walking.

I am still afraid of him. And I am still mightily pissed off with him and with any person who thinks it’s okay to touch someone inappropriately without their consent. But I am chastened by the fact that I never considered this man’s circumstances, and I was so conflicted about what to do in this situation. It wasn’t even a self-important judgement call like ‘because this man has assaulted me, he doesn’t deserve my money’. It was more of a weird, fear thing. And it was so much easier to keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen him. I’m not proud of myself. I don’t know how to feel, or what the right thing to do or think would have been. I wonder what other people think about this and if anyone wants to let me know?