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.

 

 

 

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. 

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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.’

Ode

imagesDeath isn’t spoken about much in society, except on tumblr by teenagers who just want to like, die, or whatever. 

Which is strange, because it is the only thing in the world that everyone has in common – that one day, you and everyone you love will die. But it’s still a taboo, and today that’s not okay with me.

Four years ago my friend died. It’s still not real.

I’m not in shock, or denial, but the reality, the finality, the unfairness of it all has hit me only a very few times, in moments like short bursts of light, flaring and breathtaking and all consuming. Those moments have taken my breath away. The enormity of that word – death – and all it encompasses are things that can only be felt, not spoken about, but it’s a very human thing to try to explain the inexplicable; this compulsive need to plumb the depths of life’s great mysteries.

She was here. She was a living, breathing part of this world. She was funny and pretty and smart and had so much hope. She was positive and sarcastic and biting and loyal. She didn’t take anyone’s bullshit. She was twenty. She was all those things.

She was here, she was alive. And then she wasn’t.

And then? The weirdest thing happened.

I got used to it.

I pushed all that enormous enormity aside and moved on. But – I’ve never forgotten. You never do forget the first thing which makes you realises that you have a soul and that it can hurt. 

Annie will always be a part of me; she changed my life. How sad that it was only after she died that I could say that.

Annie I remember you. Your warmth, your light, your strength. Thank you for being my friend. What a privilege it was to have known you.

And so today I lay aside all other things. Tiny distractions, life goals, money troubles, DIY projects. Today is for you. Today is for you and all those who loved you. All those you loved.

But please don’t mistake me when I talk about today. Anniversaries are just our way of marking time, a way of coming together, an excuse for those who have trouble expressing themselves otherwise that you meant something to them. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about you the other 364 days of the year. Not by a long shot.

Today is just the day where we get to say it out loud. 

Week Twenty-Four: In your wheelhouse

A Love Letter (of sorts).

          Last night I dreamt I went to my old wheelhouse again. It seemed to me I stood by the front door and could not enter, for a liquorice padlock and barley chain barred the way. I called out in my dream, but there was no answer.  Moving closer, I peered through the pasta curtains and saw that it was deserted. Suddenly, the way it does in dreams, bread appeared in my pocket, and I took it out. It was warm and crackled in just the right way as I sat down on the front stoop, glancing furtively around. I ate it; bites too loud in the unforgiving silence.

It sounds stupid, unimportant, ridiculous, to dream about something like that. Most of my dreams are exactly that, but not this one. This one wrapped me up in a blanket of yesterday and kissed my forehead, a bittersweet lipstick mark left behind.

What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t stupid to me.

This is a love letter, of sorts, to all the food I can no longer eat.

To the pasta, durum or soft wheat; you entered my life the way you left it – with ease and tender tastes and loops and swirls and bowties. The last time I had you the water spilled over the pot, and I tried to avoid using a strainer because I’m lazy. You stayed patiently in my freezer waiting for me to fulfil your destiny (you almost got eaten by my roommate but I saved you, remember?). It hurts my heart to leave you for a lesser substitute. This I promise you – I will love you, only you, not your lesser imitations, for the rest of my life.

To the KFCs, the Burger Kings, the Subways and especially the McDonald's. You were there for me when I needed you most – in moments of weakness, solitude, and, on one occasion, in Switzerland when you were the only thing I could afford. I drive past you now and see your golden arches through the fogged up window of my car, soft and alluring. Regret lingers in my chest; regret for things lost which cannot be regained, for the damage you did to me which I asked for. For the fact that the choice of what I can and can’t eat has been taken from me.

To the meat pies – I will miss you on the days when all I want is to be a kid again; to remember the times mum picked me up from school, and I would beg for a pie and I would get you, sometimes, if I promised you wouldn’t ruin my dinner. The pastry was soft and the meat hot; one or the other spilled all over me and I would lick the sauce off my fingers, sticky and sweet and not caring I looked like a grub. You, more than anything, more than photos and love letters and report cards carefully kept (“Stephanie is a friendly and outgoing student who would benefit from more time spent not talking in class”), are my childhood. You are my childhood, and I put you away with the teddy bears and the frilly socks with a heavy sort of sadness in my soul.

To the chocolate – O! The chocolate – the milky sweet melting moments we have shared are now locked away forever in my secret heart of hearts; a souvenir of the past, like so many smeared post cards from my father, illegible after years of being read, and re-read, and held to my chest with tears in my eyes. Thank you for all that you have given me.

To the bread, who has known me all my life. On cold mornings, fresh from the bakery or the oven; I have kneaded you, I have cut you, I have toasted you, I have squeezed your crust and felt it splinter under my fingers. You are the best and the worst of them; I want so badly for you to still be a part of me, but that hope has been taken from me. You were my wheelhouse and I have been served an eviction notice. I am outside of my wheelhouse now, looking back at it from some far-off place, imagining how you are getting on without me, now that you have made it clear how much you don’t want me. You make me sick, you’ve made me sick for years only I didn’t know it; I blamed grief and stress and myself while you and your gluten destroyed my insides, and I can’t look back without feelings of betrayal forcing me to feel hate for the thing I once loved so dearly.

I said this was a love letter, of sorts, but really this is goodbye.

I will venture off into the wilderness of the health food aisle and allergy information blurbs. I will explore the exotic lands of Quinoa and Millet and leave the shores of wheat, barley and rye behind. I will face the future with feathers in my heart and the knowledge that I will be truly well for the first time in years; that this is something I can control; that I will be happy and won’t cry for no reason; that I won’t need to get treatment for illnesses I don’t have. That I won’t have people telling me I’m anorexic and that I’m disgusting and should be ashamed of myself. I will build a new wheelhouse, made from rice and salad and fruit, and I will live in it, one day, when I grow into this new world of mine. And I will not talk of you again; I will not tell of my dream, for the dream is mine no longer. The dream is no more. 

NB** The first paragraph and last few lines are inspired by the opening chapter of 'Rebecca', by Daphne du Maurier.

I've never posted anything so true to life before. I wrote this because I have been recently diagnosed with coeliac disease after years of feeling unwell and being tested for everything under the sun. I am so so happy to finally have a diagnosis so I can move on with my life!

As I have never posted anything like this before (completely from my own point of view, non-fiction), I would love to hear what you think. 

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Week Seventeen Prompt: Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight

"All I know is that every time I go to Africa, I am shaken to my core." 

Stephen Lewis

Sean finds the turtle shell on his grandparents farm outside of Harare. It is empty, sunbaked and dried out and so, so cool. He picks it up, tiny hands clasping the grooved surface, white against green, determined. He isn’t worried about the fact that it’s dirty, or that something has died in there and rotted out and that he could get an infection. He does what every other six-year-old boy would do. He straps it onto his back, cuts his mother’s tablecloth into strips, ties those strips around his forehead, ankles and wrists, and tells everyone he knows (and some he doesn’t) that he is a teenage mutant ninja turtle.

Now all he needs is a knife.

Sean makes knives in his dad’s factory; long jagged pieces of steel torn off from discarded sheet metal lying on the factory floor. Sean watches the orange sparks skitter with the dust motes in the factory air; watches his knives against the grinder, sharpened by the workers who won’t ever let him use the machine himself.

Sean eats with the workers, small white hands mingling with their large black ones in the bowl of sadza nyama nemuriwo, rolling hot sticky gloops between his fingers, slipping them into his mouth before it gets cold. Friday laughs at him, white teeth bright and flashing as he shows Sean how he makes it. The steam warms Sean's face as he leans over the bowl, breathing it in. He has never tasted anything more delicious.

Years pass, and Sean’s parents worry about him. They worry for his safety, because a friend of theirs has just been shot trying to pick her kids up from school. They worry because one of Sean’s friends found her dad’s gun, put it to her belly and pulled the trigger. They worry because blacks and whites are dying and there’s no food or petrol left and Sean won’t be a boy much longer and pretty soon he might have to use his toy knives for survival and his parents don’t think it will be enough against all this history and hate and corruption.

It breaks their hearts, but they leave, because they are in a position to do so. 

Sean brings his Australian girlfriend to Zimbabwe when he is twenty-five. She has never been in a place where the difference between white and black is so pronounced before. 

She brings a journal. “I’m going to find out everything,” she tells Sean and he smiles. That’s how she shows she’s here for him.

She talks to everyone, as much as she can, because she wants to understand this sad and lovely place Sean comes from. This country which has fought itself broken and back again and she wants to know why.

Everything is solid here; the air, thick and overwhelming, the ground beneath her feet dirt red and rich and green, so green she can't believe it. The houses and the furniture, everything seems to be carved out of the earth, hewn from rocks and trees and there since forever.

Here, nothing comes from Ikea and there is no such thing as Tupperware. The people here draw warm, easy breaths into their hard working lungs, people who, according to Knowledge, the bus driver she talks to, can do anything. He says the people of his country could do anything given half the chance, and she can see that he is hoping with all his might for that half a chance to come along.

She speaks to a farmer who immigrated to Zambia after being thrown out of Zimbabwe, and he is bitter and broken and trying not to be. “As long as you have this white skin? Ah sut, you are just a visitor. You don’t belong.” He is speaking more to himself than to her and she is not prepared for this. She doesn’t know what to say.

Tulani tells her that although things were nicer before, they are getting okay now. He is guarded when she asks him about the election coming up (whenever Bob decides to call it) and who he thinks will win. Tulani does not have the luxury of an opinion, but he hopes things will get better for him, his family and his country.

The pilot she talks to tells her that 2002 was a bad year; the year they all nearly left. He is lean and careworn. There is something in his eyes she can’t bring herself to look at, because she doesn’t know how to define it, and she has never had that problem before.

She does not understand what has happened here, and her African adventure is not at all what she imagined it would be.

Instead, she has come to an old country, to God’s country, and she has seen sunsets and waterfalls and lions eating baboons and shanty towns and community vegetable gardens and bowls made from cut off pieces of telephone wire sewn together with copper and kids playing soccer with rolled up TM bags and this place, this hopeful hopeless place stirs her blood more deeply than anything she could possibly have imagined.

Sean finds her sitting on his grandma’s spare bed; quiet, unopened journal in her hand. She looks soft and young and fragile like this with a patchwork quilt beside her and her legs tucked up under her.

“Hey,” he smiles at her. She looks up. “What are you thinking about?”

“Oh,” she sighs. “Just,” there is a silence. He waits. “Everything I guess. This place,” she gestures vaguely.

“It makes you want to save it, you know?” She is earnest, her hands fisted at her sides. “But there's too…It's too…You can’t.”

She knows how naïve she sounds and hopes he won’t make fun of it. She feels impotent and inadequate and everything she has never felt before in her first world life. Her intentions, her words, her journal are no use here.

“No, you can’t,” Sean agrees. He slips an arm around her waist. “It’s just going to have to save itself.”

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Week Sixteen Prompt: Reinventing the Wheel

An Alternate History of the Universe

It doesn’t end well, the story of you and your friend, so you rewrite it. This way, you get the ending where your heart doesn’t break; this way, you never have to write your friend’s eulogy, and the world is as it should be.

In your story, Switzerland isn't a place, and she never tries white water rafting. In your story, freak waves and capsized boats don’t exist.

You never receive a gasping-and-shaking call on a Monday morning; you never have the feeling you’ve been ripped up from the inside out. At no point do you yell at a florist for screwing up an arrangement, nor cradle her mum in your arms. There is no need for others to tell you to stay strong.

In your story, she was never dragged under the heartless river. You don’t lie awake and wondering at night, thinking about the water, or how scared she must have felt, or punish yourself for not seeing her off at the airport because you were sick. In your story, you are not numb, you don’t forget your mother’s birthday and there is no need for antidepressants. You never call her phone to hear her voicemail and you never, ever, stand at her grave and whisper ‘I miss you’, into the autumn wind.

The story you write has a different ending.

In your story, you take a trip to the coast together. The air is warm and salty; the sun drenches you both as the sand squirms between your toes. You daydream about Ryan Gosling and you fight over which flavor of Boost juice is the best. There is a sunset, and there is the drive home, and there is the promise of tomorrow.

In your story, tomorrow comes. 

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