Things that take 20 minutes (or less)

*Trigger warning*

A response to Brock Turner’s father. Click here to read the letter Brock Turner’s father wrote regarding his son’s sentencing.

If you ask anyone about what their most defining moments are; the things that have lifted them up or turned their world upside down or damaged them beyond repair, the things they will mention will likely only have lasted moments, epiphanies that occur from reading something powerful, from seeing their child take their first breath, from seeing a loved one die, from the time they went from feeling safe and happy to feeling afraid for their life and the lives of those around them.Twenty minutes is twelve hundred seconds. A lifetime. You can save someone’s life in 20 minutes. You can listen to six and a half songs. You can go for a walk, cook a meal, read a chapter of a book, drive to work, have a deep and meaningful conversation with someone – well, you probably can’t, but the rest of us can. Your son can swim 2000 metres in twenty minutes! I know that because his swim times were posted with some of the articles written about this case. Because, you know, that matters in a rape case. You can take twenty minutes out of your day (because, to you, apparently, twenty minutes is no time at all) and read the beautiful words written by your son’s victim. I hope you have. I hope you do. If that doesn’t change your mind, then nothing will.

But I’m going to try anyway, just in case you have a spare twenty minutes. You can read this, and I hope that when you do, you hear the voices of all of us in your ear, for a full twelve hundred seconds and maybe, just maybe, begin to comprehend the reprehensibility of your actions.

Here is a list of crimes that take 20 minutes or less, itemised so that your micro brain can comprehend them.

  1. Shoplifting.
  2. Mugging someone.
  3. Breaking into someone’s house or car.
  4. Shooting someone.
  5. Assault and battery – I guarantee you that if someone were beating you for twenty minutes, you would likely be dead.
  6. Raping someone – Yes, I included it! Because you seem not to realise that however long someone is being raped for, whether that be twenty seconds, twenty minutes, twenty hours, twenty years – it is rape.

What has happened in their lives prior to this life altering, devastating, damaging twenty minutes does not count. The twenty minutes is what counts. That’s twenty minutes of him panting in her ear, rubbing himself against her bare legs, shoving his hand inside her, while she lays there, uncovered, unconscious, unable to say no. Twelve hundred seconds of her being pressed into the dirt, gravel and pine needles being pushed into her skin because your son was taking what he wanted; doing what he felt like doing. Twelve hundred seconds of her lying there half naked, without responding. ‘Twenty minutes of action’, as you so charmingly put it, or, ‘the rape of a human being’, as decent people put it.

You know what takes longer than twenty minutes?

  1. Raising a son that believes women are his equals. That he is never, ever to take what he has no right to. That if he does something wrong, he should apologise. That he should mean it. That he should spend the rest of his life making up for those twelve hundred seconds of devaluing, degrading, dishonouring another human being. Of putting his hands where they do not belong. Of taking what he had no earthly right to take. That, my friend, takes a lifetime. One that your son has been granted. Use it. 
  2. Realising that your son is not the victim, and that you are not the hero. This will take more than twenty minutes for you because you have demonstrated no aptitude for introspection. Why would you ever have to?  When you can hire an expensive lawyer and casually watch said lawyer tear apart your son’s victim and then write letters stating your son’s punishment was too harsh, a tendency toward quiet reflection and seeing-things-from-the-other-fellow’s-point-of-view is seldom necessary.*  You probably spent less time on that letter than your son spent assaulting another human being.
  3. It will take the girl your son assaulted much, much longer than twenty minutes to recover from this nightmare.

She will heal, gradually, because she is brave and strong and has the support of millions. She will go on to be a productive member of society. She has already inspired people around the world to stand up and be counted. She has proven herself to be compassionate and intelligent and wise beyond her years.

She has given a voice to anyone whose voice was stolen from them by people like you, with your casual, indifferent dismissal.

With your entitled, arrogant world view.

With your fancy lawyer.

With your silly little letter.

 

 

*Thank you Sir Terry for those words. I trust that you won’t have a problem with me using them here.

 

 

 

My life was women.

My life was women. From a very young age, with very few exceptions – the main one being my excellent father – women were all I knew of the world. It was my mum, my three older sisters, an endless supply of aunts, my grandmothers – both grandfathers having passed away before I was born, and even a great-grandmother. Dad worked a lot and Mum stayed home with the girls. I never had a brother. We did have a male dog but his balls were unceremoniously chopped off one day, so.

I didn’t know that being a girl was considered second-rate, even in the 80’s and 90’s in Australia. That being a girl was considered alright, but. That my parents would get looks of pity every time they had yet another girl.

Are you going to try for a boy then?

Will you just keep going until you get one?

As though my sisters and I were unsatisfactory toys pulled out of an arcade claw game, and they had been aiming for something better.

I didn’t see any of this. It passed me happily by.

Me reading
My first babysitters were female – my grandma Aud or my great Aunt Lola. We’d eat ham and pickle sandwiches and drink lemonade from glasses with orange flowers stamped on them. The bubbles would pop softly in the heat. We would watch Mornings with Kerri-Anne – I had no idea what it had taken for her to succeed in an industry where even the queen of daytime TV herself didn’t get paid the same amount as men doing the same job.

My mother went back to work once I was old enough to go to day-care, then I went on to primary school. My teachers were mostly female – a male anomaly in year 6 but my school Principal was a woman. I was friends with boys; I didn’t view them as some strange ‘other’. I only knew that to me it was more fun making mud pies, skateboarding and hitting each other with our school bags than it was to act like a lady. My oldest sister bit all the heads off any dolls that made it into the house; the bottom of her closet a strange cemetery of tiny plastic limbs and synthetic hair. She also taught me how to write my name and how to spell before I was 6. My second oldest sister would teach me Maths and the importance of standing up for others, and my third oldest sister would make me go with her down storm drains and up trees from dawn till dusk, when we would return home covered in ant bites and dirt. We read books, and if we were ever bored, Mum made us write a story for her. I have a whole folder of my stories, carefully kept for all these years – my favourite is one about a group of spiders who hid in some people’s shoes, then bit them and turned into those people. No unicorns and princesses here; not for me.

Anna & Me

We went to Mass once a week and I would ask why there were no women priests.

Because women can’t be priests. My eyes widened. But it was probably just a one-off, right?

Lunchtimes at primary school were filled with playing Zoombinis on the computers in the library or games of handball on the quadrangle. My friend Joey came up to me once when I was just about to serve and pulled me aside, his face serious.

I think you’re ready to play with the boys.

What?

You’re good enough. You should play with us instead.

When I did play with them and beat them all I was told to go back with the girls where I belonged. Same as when I was the only girl in a swimming race in year 2. I beat them all in the 25 metre freestyle. Dad had come to watch and I’d never been more proud. There were a few crying boys, upset at being beaten by a girl, but I didn’t feel bad. I was just better than they were.

At the age of 12, I was told I needed to start shaving my legs.

Why?

Because you have to start acting like a lady.

But I’m not a lady, I’m 12.

When I did take that step I was praised by the girls around me and I felt better about myself. Felt like I fit in. That boys would see me as a girl rather than their friend, and that was what I wanted, right?

My high school was all girls. My sisters had all been there before me, done that; they were school captain, vice captain, prefect, dux of subjects – the list goes on. They are now a teacher, a doctor and a medical student. They are fierce, they’re the smartest people I know. They’re my stars.

4 Girls

My mother duxed her school. She told me once that her father was completely shocked that she won scholarships to attend university.

Why would you want to go to uni? You’re just going to get married soon.

Because I want to, Dad. I want to learn about the world and get a job and contribute. 

My grandmothers hadn’t finished school. I was gobsmacked when I learned that.

Why not? I asked.

Most women didn’t, was the answer.

But why?

Because we knew all we’d need to know by then. A woman’s place is in the home. You don’t need a fancy degree to know how to cook and sew and clean and raise children.

People ask me why I haven’t changed my last name since I’ve been married. This always puzzles me. Why would I? It’s not my name. I have no connection to it. It’s my husband’s name. He’s welcome to keep it.

But what about when you have kids?

Well, IF I have kids, that decision will be between my husband and me. If they end up with his last name, they might ask me why my name is different to theirs, and if they do I’ll tell them. Because my name is mine. Because being a woman doesn’t mean you have to accept things the way they’ve always been. If you want to change your name, that’s great. If you don’t want to, that’s great too.

My life now is women. It’s nurses on the ward, but usually not doctors. It’s hospital administration, to a certain level; it’s my manager, but not her manager. Why not? Oh I don’t know, lack of ambition, family commitments, too emotional, you know. They hold themselves back really, don’t they?

I read articles about a girl being raped in Croatia by three Australian men who pay her just over $30000 in a rape settlement. They have their one year sentence reduced to five years good behaviour. They buy their freedom, then make jokes on their instagram about joining the mile-high club with the flight attendant on their way back home. I read about Brock Turner, and other college campus rapists who get let off easily, and see how vilified their victims become.

I speak to my sisters of other colours, creeds, abilities – they face things I have never had to experience, thousands of tiny aggressions, again and again and again, and are told they must be twice as good to get half as much.

I see online vitriol sent to feminist pages. I see stomach-churning messages that guys send to my friends if they turn them down for a date. I get yelled at when I walk to the shops. I get into taxis and listen to the driver go on and on about how young women these days don’t act like ladies and they disgust him.

I’m 20, listening to my best friend tell me about a guy who keeps turning up to her place of work, asking her to join in a threesome, all the while insisting his attention is a compliment, while her male manager laughs it off. I’m 18, sitting at a bus stop, and a drunk man sits next to me, and I’m torn between wanting to move to keep myself safe but not wanting to seem rude. Then he turns to me, and starts saying disgusting things. Things that involve what he wants to do to me, how much I’d like it and I can’t move. I can’t believe what I’m hearing, and my face is heating up and my heart is a drum telling me to get out of there and I’m sick and feeling dirty and as though it’s my fault, then my feet can finally move and I start to get up and he pins me down and I start to scream and out of nowhere a security guard is there. I am crying and I run across the bridge, calling my mother to come and get me and the pain and anger in her voice when she hears what happened to me is palpable, and I am scared and sad and feel so wrong inside, like I’m polluted.

What can we do about these things? We’re just girls. And society tells us that it’s okay to be a girl, but.

We can be there for each other. We can be each other’s strongest allies. When we have daughters or meet people with daughters, we don’t smile sadly at them. We beam and congratulate them on their little bundle. And then, you wrap that little bundle up in our hope for their future. We will raise our daughters to believe in themselves. That they are never, ever, to think that they are worth less or worthless because they are a girl. That they are powerful and fierce and that they never, ever have to just shut up and take it, or smile, sweetheart, or that they have to get back in the kitchen. That they don’t have to laugh if they don’t think a joke is funny. That they are funny, despite what people say about female comedians. That they are wise. That they can be pilots or doctors or lawyers or nurses or teachers or firefighters or astronauts or mothers or soldiers or philosophers. You can even tell them what my parents told me. That if you want to be a writer, you should be a writer.

That you are important.

That you can change the world.

That anyone who says or thinks otherwise can suck it.

 

 

I’m putting my hand up.

*Written December 2014

I’ve just quit my job. My steady hours, steady pay, guaranteed employment job. Why? I hear you ask. To be a writer. For an un-steady, un-paid, very small chance of success, stay at home in your pyjamas kind of job, get up at 12 and work till 2am kind of job. There is nothing good about writing.

Except for how it makes me feel.

Braver then I can ever be in person. More real than I could ever imagine. Plumbing the depths of my soul, and all that jazz.

But it wasn’t easy.

Nursing is a great job, a necessary job, a job that if you do it right can make you feel competent and knowledgeable and useful and necessary, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t want to feel like that every day when they get up and go to work.

But it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough for me.

It was part of my identity, and maybe it still is. It’s the answer to the question, what do you do?

“I’m a nurse.” I don’t DO nursing. You are a nurse, or you aren’t.

I’m a nurse. A nurse who’s also a writer, but I’m telling you that I found it too hard to do both. And then this job came along, this different, wonderful, easier job with better hours and better pay and no night shifts or getting home at 11pm and having to do all the housework before getting up at 5 to go back to work in the morning, or working a double shift because everyone’s called in sick and it’s the only option.

So this job came along, and the tiny, dangerous voice in the back of my head said, here it is. Here’s your chance. Take the job, quit, and WRITE. It’s what you were meant to do.

My husband even sat me down and said that if I didn’t take this job he would never understand that literally here was every opportunity I could ever ask for and if I didn’t take it I was an idiot who didn’t deserve what I was given (but in much nicer way because he is lovely).

So I took it. I handed in my notice, then spent the next 6 weeks at work thinking about what I’d done. Had I made a terrible mistake? Had I just thrown away years at uni and years at my job where I was probably getting a promotion within the next year or two, and long service leave after that, and what about the fact that after I left I could no longer call myself a nurse? That was the hardest pill to swallow. That was the part that hurt the most. I didn’t want to give that part up. That part wasn’t for me. I LIKE calling myself a nurse, I liked being the one at dinner with the crazy stories about the poop and the blood and the shocked looks on everyone else’s face. I liked knowing things about surgeries with hard to pronounce names, and being the one my friends called for an opinion on whether this colour was normal, or who their mum should be referred to. I was competent, and good at my job, and for the most part I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. No matter how hard I tried, how often I tried to talk myself into it, or when I had a bad shift trying to reconcile that with all the things I thought nursing would be but so clearly weren’t.

So 6 weeks went by, and I pondered, and then it was my last shift, and people were signing my shirt and handing me cards and hugging me, then I walked alone to security, and handed in  my pass. And that was that. I went around the corner to walk to the carpark and I couldn’t stop crying. It was grief, pure and simple. My heart recognising what my brain couldn’t; that a part of my life was over and I was sad about it,

Sad that I hadn’t loved it enough to stay, that I hadn’t been strong enough to keep at it, that I wanted something else in my life.

In my first year as a nurse I came very, very close to making a huge mistake with a patient. Fortunately, my want to protect the patient outweighed my ego, and I went and got the manager to see if I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t.

Experience is a brutal teacher, but by God do you learn. We caught my mistake in time, and I luckily did not cause the patient any harm. A friend of mine said to me the other day that sometimes the biggest successes of our lives are actually recognising when you need to make a change. There are moments you can look back on and be most proud of yourself, and those moments for me are when I recognised I was making a mistake. I stopped what I was doing. I put my hand up and said, I need help.

Thinking about crashing your car or falling down the stairs as you go into work, not so badly that you’ll be really hurt, but just badly enough that you have to miss a few days of work is a sign that you’re not okay. Coming home so stressed that you cry if you drop an egg, or yelling at your family because the internet is slow is a sign that you need to stop. Something’s not right.

You’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You are making a mistake. Remember that thing five-year-olds can do that adults don’t allow themselves to do? Stop what you’re doing. Put your hand up and say, ‘I need help.’ Treat yourself the same way you would treat a patient, a friend, a loved one – you want the best for them. Why shouldn’t you want the best for yourself? It might not save your life, but it might just save your soul.

 

It’s that time again…EPIPHANY TIME! and this time, I want YOU to join in.

whispers QWC

Look, see? It’s me!

 I’ve just returned from the Brisbane Writers Festival where I was asked to read some of my work at the Queensland Writers Centre Whispers salon, and, let’s be honest, I might be on a bit of a high.

Being up there, finally able to share with a real audience some of my own work was such a fantastic experience. It was daunting, yes, and I may have needed 3 trips to the bathroom beforehand, and there may have been some positive self-talk mumbled under my breath to the tune of I think I can I think I can, but once I was up there…It felt like I was doing what I should be doing. More than I ever feel at my work as a nurse, even on my best days where I know that to that one person, I am making a difference. This was different. It felt right.

My parents, husband and friend were cheering me on in the benches, and people afterwards I had never met before were very gracious in saying how much they enjoyed the reading, and one lovely lady even said she’d buy my book. I felt a thrill I’d never felt before. A tiny, tiny spark. A dangerous, maybe I can do this in the back of my mind. Continue reading

HELL IS EMPTY (and all the devils are here)

leunig_cartoonPROSPERO
My brave spirit!
Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
would not infect his reason?
ARIEL
Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and played
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me. The king’s son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring—then, like reeds, not hair—
Was the first man that leaped, cried, “Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.”
 – William Shakespeare, The Tempest
That last line has kicked around in my head for a couple of days, and I think I know why. I’ve been working on an article about the link between the creative mind and depression, and this quote made me make that embarrassing ‘wo-hey!’ noise people make when their mind is doing it wrong. Being prone to depression myself, it has felt exactly like that at times – that hell is empty and all the devils are here, in my mind, just chillin’, turning my formerly logical, productive self into a pile of numb that alternately cries because I can’t get through folding the laundry or makes me sit in bed all day watching Orange is the New Black. 

Continue reading

At the Movies with Anna & Stephanie

ImageMy big sister was born on a Wednesday; the kind of Wednesday that meant she’d be full of woe the rest of her life. We had that poem on a square biscuit tin and we’d always pay Anna out about it, ourselves being fair of face, workin’ hard for a livin’, bonny, blithe, good and gay and all that jazz. Anna responded the way she always did; that is to say, she didn’t really respond. She was a weird kid.

But I wanted to be exactly like her. When Anna decided she hated having her picture taken for anything, I suddenly hated having my picture taken (even though I capital L-, bold, underlined, italicised –o-v-e-d it, but Anna was my tastemaker, my barometer of acceptable and cool. So when we go to the movies, and I laugh at something I think is funny, I look around to see if she’s laughing too. Only, she never is. There might be a flick of a smile and then it’s gone, Anna’s face a silent, severe, respectful mask.

One time a large group of us went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and there was a crowd of rude teenagers being themselves: chatting, yelling out, throwing popcorn at each other. There were so many ‘tuts’ and ‘tsks’ it was like being surrounded by geckos, but no one said anything. No one but Anna. People don’t often ignore Anna when she speaks; she does so with such conviction it will make anyone think twice. She’ll turn it on her family too, when we’re at the movies together, laughing our assortment of laughs, and there will be Anna at the end of the row, serious and watchful, and she’ll lean towards us, a fierce ‘sh’ at her lips, and mum will dramatically act abashed and dad will smile and I’ll roll my eyes; Em will be too busy asking if the movie is a true story or not and Claire won’t even hear because she’s laughing her head off at the screen.

‘Well’, Anna says reasonably afterwards when we all give her shit for it, ‘people pay to see the movie. We need to respect that.’

Have I mentioned she’s an actress?

Once, just Anna and I went to see the last Lord of the Rings together, the last real trilogy, before someone in Hollywood decided that the 3rd film in any trilogy needed to be split into 2 films. Bye bye trilogy, hello quin…tilogy? tology? tuplet?

I remember crying when Frodo is hanging off the ledge in Mount Doom as the world explodes around them, and he gets that look in his eyes that says he’s just so tired, the ring is gone and won’t it all just be so much easier to let go? I was smooshed into my seat, hunched to protect myself, whispering ‘don’t you dare’.

I couldn’t look at Anna. I was too afraid she’d think I was ridiculous, that this moment would be taken from me, that my tears would be downgraded somehow by the lack of her own.

As the credits rolled and ‘On the Horizon’ began playing right after Sam closes his front door, Anna at that moment turned to me.

Her face was streaming wet, her eyes red, and more tears fell as she spoke.

‘That movie,’ she choked, ‘shat all over the other two.’