Monday, October 30, 2006


Tonight was less than a complete success.

Although I do have a sense of humour about the whole incident, I was still quietly brooding over the "marital duties" remark. Then, the Big Dude wasn't feeling very good and he said "I hope this doesn't put a crimp in your evening," ie not our evening.

I offered to defer to the following night. But we pondered the number of times we've deferred just like that, with a sincere belief that it would happen the following night, and then found that somehow that night never came (and neither did I!).

So, we went ahead with our plans.

It is not easy to pinpoint exactly what went wrong - apart from the Big Dude being a tactless idiot, I mean.

But I had a hard time relaxing and letting go. I suddenly felt very self conscious. He laboured away with a good will, but it wasn't working very well. Part of it was what we were trying to do - essentially create arousal and orgasm from a standing start. It was only going to work if the mood was very conducive, and for me the mood was kind of spoiled by what he'd said. Also, he didn't... move. I had a pretty good insight tonight into why men complain about women lying there like a dead fish.

Anyway, the fact of the matter is that I had three tiny orgasms, but got no release from them. I felt like one of those heart monitors you see on TV that has flat lined because the person's heart has stopped beating. Suddenly you get a tiny blip - blink and you'd have missed it - and then two more tiny blips, and then they are gone. Flat line again, with the machine emitting only a mournful beeeeeeep.

It was sooo... frustrating.

I wonder if anyone has ever bought an electric toothbrush for their teeth?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Marital Duties

After a long cuddle last night, the Big Dude said "Tomorrow night, after Grey's Anatomy, I'm planning to perform my marital duties".

I wasn't sure how I felt about that sentence. I was a little sad about the duty part. I was slightly miffed that he couldn't be a bit less blunt about our arrangement (typical bloody tactless Sagittarius). But I was also happy because, for the third time in a row, he was initiating some naked time together without any prompting from me. It was a miracle!

Once upon a time, this wouldn't have been good enough. I would have demanded that he want me, rather than love me and do what he can to please me and make me happy. I would have refused indignantly and made my stand for passion and romance.

And I would have got no passion, no romance, and no sex, either. I would have assumed that, if he didn't want me, he didn't really love me, anyway, and our relationship was a lie. I would have run away to howl at the moon in my humiliation and distress. We would both have tumbled into feelings of depression and inadequacy

But last night? Last night, I decided that, if my feelings were mixed, I was going to decide to dwell on the good ones. I was going to decide to be happy about it.

Plus, you know, Grey's Anatomy followed by tofu burger. I've spent worse evenings.

So I said, "That act of consideration would be very much appreciated."

And now I have something to look forward to!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Good Enough Mummy II

In preparation for having the Little Dude, I read a lot of childrearing advice books. And there was something I noticed about these books. Everything, and I mean everything, is about the child, and not just practical details like how to change a nappy. The overall portrayal is of a very child-centred life.

It starts from the very beginning. Breastfeeding, we are told, should be baby-led. We should not try to get into a schedule that might make it easier for mummy to organise her day so that she can fulfill other responsibilities or to preserve some time for mummy and daddy to be together. We should feed our baby as soon as he is hungry and let him end the feed - we should never end it ourselves.

And from there, it goes on. In so many areas, the advice is that the child initiates most changes, decides when or how much he wants, and the mummy learns to read his signals and follows his lead. Supply and demand. Or, more correctly, demand and supply.

Now, there is plenty of truth in the wisdom of this approach to some aspects of childrearing, including breastfeeding. But, in all honesty, sometimes I think it establishes a pattern that tends to go too far. What I notice about these books is how much everybody around the child is expected to change their own routines, their preferences, the way they use their time, in order to suit the child. Not to suit the child's needs, with which I have no problem, but the child's wishes.

Canberra is a very middle class town of conscientious parents. As a result, all around me I see parents endlessly buying their children things, listening breathlessly to their child as if he holds the secrets of the universe, driving them to what seems like an awful lot of scheduled activities but not giving them any chores to do and, most damningly of all in my opinion, not just helping their kids with their homework, but often doing their homework. The whining about how a kid with disabilities in the class is holding their own little genius back is also pissing me off.

Where is the scope for these children to learn to deal with the hard reality that the universe is not about them? That family relationships involve more than fulfilling their own wishes? Where will these children learn about the satisfaction of hard work and personal achievement? Where will they learn respect for people who are different from themselves and kindness and compassion towards others?

Why do I suspect that the brattish behaviour of some of these kids is going to follow them into adulthood?

Sometimes this modern approach annoys me so much that I am not sure if I actually disapprove of it, or if I am just jealous. My own parents went for a very different approach. Children and animals knew their place, which was mostly outside. On educational and other issues, they followed more of a "benign neglect" model. They whinged about having to go to the school to pick up my report cards once a year, but they also gave me a lot of space to read and think and even just stare into space for a bit. Certainly there were some disadvantages to this model, but it also fostered independence and an acceptance that the world doesn't owe me anything. And those two lessons have often served me well, particularly in the hard times.

This issue about modern childrearing advice was brought into quite a sharp focus for me when I picked up an old edition of Dr Spock's Baby and Childcare. I looked at it as a historical curiosity, rather than expecting to find some good contemporary advice. But I still remember the shock of recognition I felt when I read this paragraph:

...what is making the parent's job most difficult is today's child-centred approach... I mean the tendency of many conscientious parents to keep their eyes exclusively focused on their child, thinking about what he needs from them and from the community, instead of thinking about what the world, the neighbourhood, the family will be needing from the child... I think we've brought up our children not only less ready to do their part in meeting the world's urgent problems but actually less happy in the sense of being fulfilled. For human beings, by and large, can only be really happy when they feel they are part of something bigger than themselves and when a lot is expected of them and when they are living up to these expectations.

Now, the shock I felt was not just the echo of some of my own deepest instincts. It was also the shock of realizing that I had seen nothing like this in contemporary childrearing books.

And a combination of Flutterby's recent post on kids and consumerism, this article and this paragraph from Dr Spock point me to why I have a problem with a lot of the modern approach to childrearing. As much as I want my son to be happy, and even to have a certain amount of stuff, I also want him to at least have the capacity to become a person of character. Courageous. Loving. Resilient. Hard working. Able to make sacrifices for others when needed. Not just because the world will need certain things about him, but because I believe these qualities will ultimately help him to be happier and more fulfilled.

The standard advice makes me uneasy because it seems to inevitably tend towards producing a very individualistic and selfish little person. I want to be a mother. But there is something about the standard advice that suggests what I should become is not a mummy but a conscientious provider of mummy services to a discerning little consumer. He wants what he wants and the customer is always right.

And there is another side to this. Surely, if the child is basically a consumer of mummy-services, then the mummy ultimately becomes a person who expects a certain type of return on all this investment. She, too, becomes a consumer.

How could a mummy that has spent her life tending to her child's every wish, encouraging his every talent, helping him to "maximise his potential", feel other than disappointed and cheated if her child doesn't turn out the way she wants? If he never maximises his potential at all (most of us don't)? Or even if his potential turns out to be not quite as wondrous as she had hoped? If he just becomes a pretty average sort of person and not the child genius she was trying for?

Hmmmm. Still thinking.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Good Enough Mummy: Part I

Being a mum is really fantastic. My Little Dude is the sweetest, handsomest, cleverest little man you can imagine. He really is good company, with a great sense of humour all his own, and I truly enjoy having him around. He is a lot of work, but he is worth it.

This is my basic view of motherhood. Its hard, but its wonderful. I can gripe about the hard work, the isolation, the loneliness, the lack of money and the lack of time to myself, and its all true, but that fact remains that I really love being my son's mummy.

But there is an ideology abroad that is frankly a threat to much of my pleasure in my son. This is the myth of the perfect mummy.

The perfect mummy always knows what to do, and she always does it well the first time. She always nurtures and protects her child, guided by some bottomless well of mummy wisdom and unconditional mummy love. The perfect mummy doesn’t get fed up with being in the house all day doing housework and she doesn’t complain. She never pops her son in front of a baby video or feeds him out of a jar because she is tired. She makes her son tasty, nutritious home-cooked meals and doesn't get upset when he just tips his food onto the floor. She looks forward to playing with the correct educational toys with her son. She doesn’t think about all the years she put into her own education and wonder if she couldn’t be doing something better with that brain. She is ceaselessly patient when he is having one of those grizzly days where nothing seems to go right.

And when it comes to even the slightest conflict between her own wellbeing and feelings and those of her family, the perfect mummy doesn’t even hesitate. She always makes that sacrifice.

Oh, I want to be her. I do. And I could have sworn, while I was doing all those months of fertility treatment, that I would be that perfect, selfless mummy. If you just do this one thing for me, God, I prayed, I will never ask you for anything ever again.

Ha! Fat chance!

Because there is a problem here. There is a human being involved. I am flawed because I am a human being and so my mothering is flawed, too. Sometimes I get truly fed up with being a mummy.

Sometimes my fondest, most secret wish is for my son to just disappear for a little while so that I can have, say, 20 hours sleep in a row. Not forever, obviously, and I would never want anything bad to happen to him. I just have this little fantasy where I pop my son into the cupboard as if he is a teddy bear. He goes into the cupboard very happily for a little rest. Then I pop him out again a few hours later, and he emerges very happy, very well rested, very pleased to see his mummy, at a time when I am feeling more able to enjoy him and to perform to the proper mummy specifications.

Being a mummy is painful at times, because it brings me up so hard against my own limitations. All the little selfishnesses, all the grumpiness, and even just the human needs for sleep, for variation in the routine, for adult conversation, these are all limitations that I can feel very keenly.

In most areas of my life I can acknowledge that, while some aspects of my performance could be better, I am mostly pretty good at my chosen activities and this is good enough. But mothering is different, because the stakes are so much higher. I could fail at my job and it would be humiliating. I could fail at my relationship and it would be painful. But to fail as a mummy would be completely devastating. It feels like there is nothing worse a woman can be than a bad mummy.

Thinking about myself as a mother brings out the perfectionist in me - the hard taskmistress who notices every moment of weakness, does not accept any excuses and brings out the whip at the slightest sign of faltering. I have always tended to be too hard on myself. But I have never been so hard on myself as I have been in the last year.

But I think there is a problem with the ideology this taskmistress holds, too. In fact, I quietly think that there is something seriously out of balance in the modern approach to childrearing.

I was just about to develop this theme but now, of course, my son is waking up. So I will have to finish this another time.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More on My Perfect Day

Something else happened on my Perfect Day that made it even better. I finally managed to have a proper catch up with my friend Judy.

Although we both make a big effort, it is quite hard for us to get together. Between our jobs, her three kids, the Little Dude, the Big Dude and everything else we need to do, our tiny number of spare hours hardly ever seem to coincide. We have a lot of quick emails and snatched conversations in corridors at work, heavily coded so that our colleagues don't understand what we are talking about.

But as part of my Perfect Day, we had a long and lazy afternoon sitting in the sun in her backyard. And we had a great conversation. She is going well. For the first time since her husband's death six years ago, she is thinking about having a man in her life. She is realizing that she has probably only ten years or so left, maybe five, to do the things that she would like to do for herself before she may need to help care for her daughter, who has been diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. Oh, I hope, hope, hope that a really lovely man turns up for Judy. Surely no one deserves a good man more than she does.

Now, I am not a fan of most stereotypes about men and women. But one thing I do find: Men, on the whole, don’t often have these gentle, rambling conversations about their lives, their thoughts, their feelings, with other men. They seem to save those conversations, if they have them at all, for their women friends. With their male friends, they seem to like to do something together.

For me, part of what I like about these kinds of conversations are that they are such a womanly thing. Between women, they are a warm, sustaining ritual, like eating a really satisfyingly delicious hot soup on a cold evening.

And on my Perfect Day, Judy said something to me that was so unexpected, so delightful, that I want to remember it always. She was talking about how shy she is, and how she finds it difficult to let a man know she is interested. How she just hopes that a man will notice her and realize that he needs to pursue her. And she suddenly said this wonderful thing:

When you and I go out together, you don't seem to have that problem. When you walk in, you just light up the room. You are so pretty, so warm, that you are just like a magnet. The men come to you!

It was one of those moments when you realize how radical the difference can be between the way you see yourself and the way another person sees you. For a moment, I was so shocked by what she said that I forgot to breathe.

Did I exactly believe her? Not really, no. Although I have never really lacked for male attention when I have wanted it, except for attention from the Big Dude.

But Judy is the least flattering, least insincere person you could ever meet. Also, she didn't sound like she was trying to be reassuring. She sounded a bit jealous, to tell you the truth.

So I believed that she believed it. And just knowing that she did, I felt a rush of pleasure, of complete and utter happiness, about the possibility that it might be even slightly true. Just true enough for at least one person in the world to believe it, even if that person was not me.

And I am still quietly hugging this thought to myself. Perhaps I am not a sad and sexless little drudge, labouring away unappreciated. Maybe I am actually an attractive, charismatic man-magnet!


You can see why it was such a Perfect Day.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

One Perfect Day

You know, I was so steamed up after writing that last post that I summoned up the last scraps of energy left over from a very hard week and talked to the Big Dude about all this.

He wasn't very happy about the conversation. Afterwards, I thanked him for listening and he said, "Well, I didn't have much choice". But then, truly, he was perfect to me all day. He talked about how all the things I have been working on are actually going really well. He praised my contribution to our little family. He said how much he loved and appreciated me. He hugged me without me having to ask. And it was like that all day.

And at the end of the day, he said he had plans for the evening to "improve my morale". And how? Through a lovely serving of tofu burger, that's how!

But you know what I liked best about that day? The conversations. When we had interesting thoughts, instead of keeping them to ourselves or burying ourselves in books and TV and household tasks, we shared them. We had great conversations, scattered throughout the day, which I really enjoyed. To tell you the truth, I had half-forgotten what an interesting man he really is.

And I liked the attention. There is something about a person truly listening to you, giving you their full attention instead of still leafing through a newspaper and saying "uh huh" in the right places, that is a very intimate and loving gesture.

Sometimes I think that love is fundamentally about attention. Paying attention to that person. Observing them. Listening to them. Figuring out what makes them happy and trying to do more of it. Noticing when they seem unhappy. Being willing to do the hard work involved in changing behaviour that isn't working instead of talking ourselves into believing that everything is fine, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I complain a lot about some of the bad things that have happened to us and I worry about how they affect our relationship. But to be honest, I find the real enemy of our love is a kind of laziness or inertia. When we stop really listening to each other. When we know what each other needs, but quietly decide that it is all too much effort. When we allow ourselves to get preoccupied by other things, as if those things are more important than the quality of the relationship that is at the centre of our lives.

Sometimes we retreat into wishful thinking about how relationships shouldn't be this hard or require this much effort. We start fantasising about other options or even just get in the habit of waiting quietly as if things will start improving on their own instead of doing something to make it happen.

I see this inertia in the Big Dude and I see it in myself, and I see it around me, in both the "real world" and in Blogland too.

In my experience, relationship issues rarely improve on their own. Most of the time, a relationship left alone tends towards greater entropy. Like that old joke about the second law of thermodynamics and how everything turns to shit.

To be honest, the Big Dude was almost overperforming yesterday. Not that I didn't enjoy it. I was very, very happy. But there is no way he has the energy to sustain that level of effort for long.

To my mind, it was one perfect day. And that one perfect day meant so much to me that it was worth the effort involved in having that discussion, even if that turns out to be the only result.

If he can sustain just ten per cent of the level of effort he put in yesterday, I will be a much happier woman in general.

But to do that, he will need to pay more attention, and so will I. And that is the hard part.

Love Languages

The Big Dude and I had one of those tiffs last night that are not major, melt-down arguments, but are still reflective of an underlying frustration that just doesn't seem to go away.

All day yesterday, I was struggling to get through all the household tasks I normally do over four days in two days. That's the trouble with working long hours - everything else has to be crammed in around the edges. And I was also trying to keep the Little Dude with me all day, in order to give the Big Dude a day to himself. And I did it all. I managed it.

And all day, despite everything I was doing and his having had a day off, the Big Dude seemed half pissed at me. It seemed like every second sentence he said to me was either a direct or implied criticism or just an impatient, semi-rude implication that he wished I wasn't there.

To be honest, it really peeved me when he got annoyed that I was doing the dishes "too loudly" while he was watching a movie. A big tip to husbands and partners everywhere: If you need your woman to do a lot of work around the house, don't grump at her while she is doing it because its making it hard to hear the TV! She will have a lot of difficulty not seeing you as an insensitive prick, lying on the sofa and calling oafishly for more service while she does all the work.

A lot of the time around here, I really feel like an unappreciated household drudge. I know the Big Dude loves me. I know he thinks I'm attractive and interesting. I know this, deep down. But a lot of the time, he really doesn't act like it. He stares at the TV when I am talking to him. He hints around about things he wants me to do that I haven't done, or some inadequacy about the way I've done them. He just says "fine" and clams up when I ask him about his plans, his interests and his feelings. That's not a conversation - that's a fob off!

And when its like this, I feel like there just isn't a connection between us as a couple. I feel like we are just co-parents or roommates. I am not expecting "romance" in the form of moonlight and roses, or even regular sex. I know he has limitations on his energies. But I am wanting to feel like I am special to him and appreciated, not just for what I do for him and the Little Dude, but for who I am. I know this is a common problem. Digger, for instance, has things much worse than me in this respect.

Some time ago, during one of our Naked Dates, we looked at the list of Gary Chapman's "love languages":

1. Words of Affirmation: Expressing words of encouragement to someone so that they know they are loved.
2. Quality Time: Spending quality—and quantity—time with someone who especially appreciates personal attention.
3. Receiving Gifts: Giving thoughtful gifts connects with some people like no other expression of love.
4. Acts of Service: Doing things for others that they might have difficulty or little time to do themselves.
5. Physical Touch: Touching another appropriately with a sensitive pat, a caress, a hug, hand holding, or sex.

Many of you will know about this approach. The idea is that people have different ways of expressing love, and also different ways that they want love to be expressed to them. If someone mostly needs physical touch in order to feel loved, giving them gifts doesn't make them feel that love as much as touching them would. They may even feel that their partner is deliberately giving them "things" instead of intimacy. If we want our partner to feel loved, we should try to become literate in their language - finding out what means love to them and trying to love them in the way they want, rather than just in the way that comes naturally to us.

Now, when we looked at these, the Big Dude said that he felt kind of confronted by the fact that he could see that I spoke all of these languages with him to varying degrees, and he really liked that, but he really only spoke "acts of service" with me. For him, acts of service were mostly what he wanted from a partner. This had always been the case for him, but was now even more so since he was sick, because there are so many things he couldn't do for himself. And he realized that, while acts of service was something I also wanted, and gave to him, he had no trouble pinpointing that I also wanted and needed words of affirmation, quality time and physical touch. He knows me pretty well.

I felt good about that conversation, because I could see that he really got it. I didn't have to try to argue him into it and I didn't have to say anything that might make him feel bad or inadequate. But unfortunately, not much has changed since then.

My frustration is this. The Big Dude will do just anything for me and the Little Dude in the acts of service line. His ability to actually do them varies with his health, and sometimes he forgets, but the general willingness is quite high. You need a guy to do the night shift and let you sleep? Most of the time, he is that man. And I know many women would kill for that. And I do truly appreciate it. I do read these acts of service as expressing love, and I do things for him as well because I know it makes him feel good.

But, oh, I have such a backlog of longing for the others. When I am working so hard and trying so hard on so many fronts, I so need encouragement. I so want him to see everything I am achieving and just say, "You are doing really well". When I am telling him I am feeling inadequate as a mother, I just long for him to say, "You are a great mum" (words of affirmation). When I am feeling lonely or bored, I am just mentally begging him to turn off the TV and start a real conversation with me and seem to be enjoying talking to me. Or even to just ask me how my day was and seem genuinely interested in my answer (quality time). When I am feeling overburdened and tired, I just so yearn for him to give me an occasional hug or kiss that I haven't had to outright ask for (physical touch).

Occasionally, very occasionally, he does these things and I light up like a Christmas tree, so inspired, so ready to do anything for him. I know he wants me to be happy, so why doesn't he just do them more often? Honestly, sometimes he half tries to give me a compliment and his whole face struggles with the effort like he is going to choke on it.

Just at the moment, thinking about something like FTN's Romantic Achievements with tents and roses and board games just makes me want to cry. Truthfully, I feel like if the Big Dude ever did anything like that for me, it would make me so happy that I would be able to perform any act of service he ever wanted, perfectly and without complaint.

And last night, after he had been grumping at me all day, I told him how I felt about how he had been acting and I turned on my heel and went to bed in a huff. And I lay there, tears leaking out of my eyes, until I fell asleep.

Self-pitying, I know. But it was actually an act of great restraint on my part, given that what I wanted to do was just stand there shrieking, "I am a WOMAN, goddammit, not your fucking servant!"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

On the Up and Up

Sorry about that last post. Does it look slightly less whingy if I mention that, when I wrote it, I had been up for a full 24 hours without sleep and way too many of those hours were spent at work?

And I am cheering up quite a bit. The Little Dude is finally improving and I got five hours sleep last night!

One thing that is helping to cheer me up is Bob Dylan's new album, Modern Times. I was never really a Dylan fan until Time Out of Mind, which is an album I loved from the moment I heard it. The Big Dude was thrilled, because it converted me to Dylan. Such dark, melancholy songs about being close to death and then such passionate, yearning love songs, all sung in that rasping, crackly voice he has now.

You know how other people complaining tends to cheer me up? Well, you can just imagine how some seriously good blues can make me feel.

And now, with all the hours I am currently working, I am particularly loving "Working Man's Blues" from the new album:

Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret
They waste your nights and days
Them I will forget
But you I'll remember always

Now I'm down on my luck and I'm black and blue
Gonna give you another chance
I'm all alone and I'm expecting you
To lead me off in a cheerful dance

I am paying this album the ultimate compliment of making it one of the three CDs playing on rotation in this house.

I must admit that something else is also behind this bounce in mood. I tried on my pre-pregnancy suit for a big meeting this morning and it fits! Eight months ago, when I first returned to work, I couldn't do up the zip, and now it is even kind of loose!

Hooray for my resolutions!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Arse Dragging

The Little Dude is still suffering and there is still a lot of crying and grizzling, especially at night. Sleep is at a premium around here, and I'm not getting any!

It has coincided with my job ramping up and my having to work many more hours than usual for at least the next month, when our policy project is finally completed and publicly released. And with the Big Dude needing a lot of support because he is still recovering from the virus from hell, as am I.

The Big Dude and I are looking at each other, half-stunned and half-resentful. We both think the other should be doing more. He thinks I should be able to control my work hours and look after him and our baby more. I am wishing he could hold the fort more at home. My boss is being infuriating, making last-ditch attempt to revive options he wanted that were rejected months ago and just creating a lot more work that I know will go nowhere

My arse is seriously dragging. I talk myself into getting up for the Little Dude. I make myself stay at work until the job is done. I force myself to smile and be nice to the Big Dude and cook dinner and clean up afterwards and do the laundry. But it is all happening in a not-quite-nightmare, where I have turned into an unappreciated drudge and all the wailing just confirms that everything has mysteriously turned to shit.

Truly, all I want in the world at this moment is for the crying to stop, to eat a decent meal cooked by someone other than me, and to have a passionate reunion with my pillow, in which I sleep and sleep. Oh, my pillow! I am missing you so much!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


The Little Dude woke up at 2am, crying and inconsolable, and we have tried for two hours to get him back to sleep without success.

I have to get up early for work this morning anyway, I am crap at getting back to sleep, so I guess two and half hours sleep is my lot for the night!

I think fondly of the days when I imagined I needed nine hours sleep per night. And I usually got it, too. But now?

Methought I heard a voice cry, "Sleep no more!
The Little Dude does murder sleep!" the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast...
Emily shall sleep no more!

With apologies to Shakespeare's Macbeth!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Poor Baby

The Little Dude has just had his 12 month immunisations, including for hemophilus influenza type B, measles, mumps and rubella, and meningococcal C.

Ever since IVF, I have lost my previous phobia about needles, but I must say it was hard to watch. One minute, the Little Dude was capering around cheerfully as usual, then he was smiling uncertainly at the nurse as she wielded the needle, and the next he was howling fit to burst. I don't think he likes that nurse any more!

The needles seemed very long for such a small person. Was it just my tortured imagination that made them look as if they were about a quarter of his whole body length? I had to avert my eyes by the third one.

And now he is very miserable, as he deals with side effects like:

  • low grade fever
  • soreness and swelling at three injection sites
  • headache
  • muscle pains
  • nausea
  • runny nose
  • irritability
  • swollen glands

He seems to have them all, this time. And I guess by irritability, they mean his screaming like a banshee, waking up whimpering every few hours last night, and needing to be held for 24 hours straight.

Every now and again, he makes an unhappy little bleating noise like a sad little sheep. He hasn't done that since he was a newborn.

He is breaking my heart.

Poor baby.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Yes! Oh, Thank God, Yes!

Yes! Yes! Yes!

Thank Christ for that! Really, I thought I was going to explode with frustration, and instead I got to explode in an entirely different way.

You know, it is wierd how quickly I have adjusted to this tofu burger thing. Especially when you consider that it basically represents a massive defeat of my fondest wishes and desires. I spent more than a decade trying to generate desire on his part and mutual passion between us. I really longed for it with my whole being and tried very hard.

So many creative attempts to prompt genuine desire in him. So much pain. So many anguished conversations between us. All, not exactly a waste, but unsuccessful, anway.

Apparently, you can flog a dead horse as hard as you like - it still isn't going to get up and run the derby.

And now, this open acknowledgement between us that I have needs that require attention on his part, even if it is not a strictly mutual experience, is bothering me so much less than I would have expected.

Do I still wish things were different? Oh, yes.

But am I devastated by the shift towards a "servicing" mentality on his part? Nope. I am even kind of enjoying just being a selfish pig and focusing on the feelings in my own body rather than thinking so much about him. The orgasms are incredible. And I greet his announcement that he wants us to return to regular scheduling with profound appreciation.

Oh, I must be a bad person, to care so little. I ought to be ashamed of myself. But, in fact, I am feeling pretty darn happy.

I am normally quite good at making myself feel guilty about lack of consideration for others. But summoning up some guilt about something that involves such high quality oral sex is proving more difficult that I would have predicted.

Also, it is making me wierdly uninhibited. For instance, I have always felt way too self-conscious to touch myself during sex. Not any more! Hahahaha, just taking my own pleasure and not giving a damn!

To tell you the truth, my strongest overall feeling about the whole thing is relief.

And I am not the only one. The feeling between us was good, good, good and we laughed a lot. Actually, I feel as good about the laughing as I do about the orgasms. The Big Dude looks happy today, too, as if he has discovered that life without constant feelings of guilt and inadequacy can be a very pleasant experience.

My other major feeling is gratitude to Oldbear, whose practical suggestion prompted us down this path. I will probably never meet Oldbear or even find out who he really is, and yet he has done the Big Dude and I a kindness that I will always remember.

And my title and the reference to Christ are not intended to be blasphemous. I am amused to find that I am having a distinct urge to sing an old Sunday school song:

I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart (and other places)
Down in my heart to stay! (or at least for now)

Counting Chickens

This morning, the Big Dude said, "I am thinking we could resume regular service tonight." Romantic, huh? And I have been very happy all day.

So perhaps I'd better not trade in anything that I might be needing, after all.

Now, of course, things may go wrong. Maybe I shouldn't get my hopes up.

But I am an inveterate chicken-counter.

Friday, October 13, 2006

For Sale

One vagina, hardly used.

Excellent condition. Good suspension. Very low mileage, especially lately.

Previous owner a mature gentleman in poor health unable even to drive it to church on Sundays.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


The Little Dude woke up at 4am today. And even though the morning shift is my job, the Big Dude stayed up and let me sleep in until almost 6am.

This is the kind of gesture that reminds me of all the reasons I truly love my Big Dude. He is kind. He makes these little generous, considerate gestures and he makes them often. I thanked him and gave him a warm and loving kiss to let him know how much I appreciate him.

Sometimes I wonder if I say enough here about what a good man my Big Dude is. It is in the nature of a blog that it is the place where I let out all my secret thoughts and frustrations and say all the things I can't say in real life.

To say things like: If he just had more of a desire to fuck me occasionally, he would be perfect!

And things like: I am day-dreaming about a man who makes love to me so beautifully, so tenderly that it is bringing tears to my eyes. I am also day-dreaming about a man who takes me so passionately and fucks me so hard that my head is pounding against the wall!

And things like: Sometimes I just need sex so badly, I could scream!

And things like: I am going just a teensy bit crazy here. One of these days, I am going to completely lose it and the guy who delivers the groceries to our house is going to get more than he bargained for!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Kind of Pissed Again

Okay, I am kind of pissed again. Just when I think that churches might possibly be of some help to me, they blow it. Honestly! I really don't know why I keep hoping.

What has set me off this time is a blog with a posting about IVF and morality. This woman, Perfect Work, is very critical of IVF and defending the Roman Catholic ban on IVF as "morally illicit". She is a fan of the former Pope's Theology of the Body and says:

... we always pose a great risk to ourself and our marriage when we bring sexual reproduction outside of the love act.

But, as seems to be the case with these kinds of commentators nowadays, she is not so much critical of the people who do IVF, as critical of the doctors and the industry:

I believe the practices of the extremely lucrative and corrupt IVF industry is very much like a rape. It takes the hopes and dreams of a couple and turns it into cash--with a very low success rate (less than 15% on any given cycle) and a whole host of emotional, spiritual, and physical risks.

Honestly! Does this woman truly believe that a couple doing IVF together, however horrible it may be, is not engaging in an act of love at least as profound as having sex?

I am thinking of the months that the Big Dude and I did fertility treatment.

Partly the sheer awfulness of it. Waking up each morning before 5am to needles in the stomach. Catching the bus in the cold and the dark of winter 30 minutes later so that we could make the hour and a half journey to the clinic and still get me back in time to start work. The discomfort and indignity of the procedures themselves. Being a physically shy women enduring regular penetration, not with the warm penis of the man I love, but by a stranger with a camera. The shock to my body of being catapulted into an imitation of menopause, hot flushes and all, and then into intense stimulation. My incredulous laughter when I was offered panadol for the pain after the transfer. The intense sadness when cycles failed.

But I am also thinking of how much it drew us together. We always caught that bus together. The Big Dude never made me go alone, and I truly pitied the women who sat in that clinic by themselves. The way he practised with the needles until he was so expert that I could hardly feel them. The way we joked about the bruises that covered my stomach as if I had been kicked in the guts by a thug. The way he nearly fainted when we looked at that last, giant needle that triggers ovulation and we both had to close our eyes so we couldn't see it. The way this former soldier gritted his teeth and forced himself to get over thoughts of bayonets and thrusting people in the stomach and told me I was his new hero. The way he held me when I cried. The way he comforted me when the cycles failed.

And our intense joy when it succeeded. Our joy in our beautiful boy.

I am also thinking of the kindness of our clinic. The way their expertise, their dedication, their years of study, their professionalism, brought us such joy. Its true that I hated the clinic at the time. But really, I didn't hate them. I just hated the fact that I was having to do this.

And this is the trouble. She sees IVF as similar to rape and the expense as exploitation by a corrupt cash-making machine. I see it as an act of love, a sacrifice I willingly made as an expression of my love for my partner and our baby. She sees the pain and the risk and says it is exploitation. I remember the pain and the risk and I feel like a soldier who proudly remembers what he chose to endure for a great cause.

We are never going to agree. We see the same things, but we see them with a totally different gaze. She seems like a nice lady and I respect her right to outline her opinons. What I hate is the way some of her readers immediately leap to what should be done to enforce their opinions. One of them opines that, while she wouldn't want to take IVF babies away from their parents (that's big of her!), IVF should be illegal. She doesn't want to take the Little Dude away from me, but she thinks that he should never have been born and she wants to take away the possibility of another little dude or little dudette from me. I am a grown woman, and I don't want to be protected by her or her church. I don't want her and her readers to take my choices away. Does she really think that IVF is more traumatic that infertility?

The reason this stuff is bothering me so much is that our fertility clinic, the Canberra Fertility Center, has just been booted out of the hospital that housed it. The hospital has been taken over by a Catholic organisation that doesn't want to provide IVF services.

This limits the availability of IVF services in Canberra, which is a small town in numbers despite its status as Australia's capital city. It means that people are going to have to turn to private theatres. This won't stop people doing IVF. It will just raise the costs, which are already prohibitive, and reduce access and increase the difficulty of the process for low income people like ourselves. Rich people won't suffer much. But poorer people will.

And the reason I am pissed is that the way churches go about imposing their views really shits me. Its not just the Catholic Church. I have no problem at all with churches and individual Christians advocating a "high" view of moral issues. I can be inspired by those views at times and by the goodness of the people who follow them. But I hate the use of politics and cash to impose them on people who don't accept their views and on a supposedly secular society. And the fake-compassion the churches show to people who for whatever reason don't fit into their teachings.

I am thinking of the way the churches of many denominations have banded together in Australia to restrict access to abortion. Now, I have strong feelings about abortion. Having tried so hard for a child, I flinch away from the concept of the destruction of a fetus. I am horrified by the number of abortions in Australia. But I believe it should be legal. I do not want to see desperate women using coathangers and knitting needles. I want abortion to be safe, legal and rare. And my friend Judy had a termination. She didn't want to. But she did not believe that she should bring another child into her situation with her husband, she had discovered the Huntington's Disease issue, and she was thinking about the welfare of the children she already had.

And you know what? She is still the best person I know, and I don't believe that she was wrong to do it. When I am looking for a moral example of a selfless life, I always think of her. But she was told that women like her are "selfish". They tried to block her access to the service by talking about how abortion exploits and hurts women. They should know about selfishness and exploitation of women, the smug bastards.

Churches, frankly are going to run into trouble when they start ranting about exploitation and harming of women. Because many of us have seen a lot of this in churches. I am thinking about a friend of mine who was told by her pastor that she had to stay in an abusive marriage, because marriage was indissoluble. She was actually told that she had "made her bed" and now she had to lie in it. She did.

I am also thinking about the way the churches lobbied to block my gay friend David from teaching jobs, feeding into completely unfounded beliefs about a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. Jeez. I could talk here about the scandals around churches and pedophilia, but I will refrain.

I do not believe that my experience of churches and the experiences of my friends are all that unusual. They are surprisingly common.

And I am thinking about my last attempt to go back to church. I wanted to go. I wanted to open myself more to experiences of God. I wanted that experience of Christian community and of group worshop. I went for a few weeks.

But you know why I left? Because I knew that if they realized who I was and what I thought and how I lived my life, they would not be able to accept me. They would demand that I change. They would not be able to accept that a de facto relationship might be, in its way, just as sacred to me as marriage was to them. That it might arise out of a philosophical and moral objection to the institution of marriage as founded on the subordination of women that was at least as concerned about the "dignity of the person" as they were. That I might have thought about that position pretty long and hard. That I might still be striving towards the ideals of marriage that I do agree with and find inspiring and that there might be something good and worthwhile in that attempt.

I did not believe that they would be able to support me in having a child in a de facto relationship and via a sperm donor and IVF. And I was too vulnerable during that process, too dependant on my sense of God and my hope of his mercy, to expose myself to people who could not support me and who would feel compelled to persuade me that God thought I was wrong.

It was clear to me that, while they might try to soften what they would say, the most sacred aspects of my life would not be respected, but would be labelled their equivalent of "morally illicit".

My friends and I have been hurt many times by churches and, even though at times we hunger after the things that churches could offer, we don't go. Because our guards are up.

I hate the abuse of power by the churches in our society. But at a more personal level, its the lack of respect that really pisses me off.

My thanks to people like Desmond and Molly and others for showing me that there can be good things about Catholic and other Christian and church teachings. And no, I don't need you to agree with me about IVF, abortion, homosexuality, etc. I can accept and respect who you are and what you believe in, if you can accept and respect me for who I am.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Question of Character: Part I

I have a secret desire. Something is stirring in the depths - a sweet, urgent wish beginning in my centre, quietly insisting its way through layers of repression and denial, and rippling outwards through my whole being.

It is something that I have been meaning to write about for some time, that I have semi-mentioned only very indirectly. That I haven't posted about so far because I have been having difficulty finding even slightly satisfactory words.

But it is not what you might be thinking. My secret desire is this: I think that I would like to be a person of character.

Now, at some level, I think this is a bit ridiculous. Surely I know better to believe in that stale old hodge-podge of half-baked Christianity, recycled moralistic clichés, oppressive expectations about selfless women, and hang-ups about being a good girl that everyone approves of. I have been through all that, and I should be over it by now.

Plus, you know, I am already a carer to my chronically ill partner and therefore in a relationship characterised mainly by poverty and chastity (although not obedience!), a semi-exhausted mummy, a public servant battling against the odds to achieve something good for the public, a woman with fertility issues thinking about whether to have a second child, and I have enough trouble just trying to add in being an effective support to my closest friend. How much more sucky do I want my life to be?

Shouldn’t I actually be loosening up a little more? Even a lot? I just read Trueself’s latest post, and my first thoughts about the question on what we would like to change in our lives were that I would like to have more money, more sex and more all-round fun. I would like to be more slender, more sexy, more glamorous, more "together" (ie better organised) and more successful. I would like to be more of a bad girl and go out and get the things that I want.

And I do not believe that there is anything wrong with wanting any those things. Why punish yourself? Life is too short. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die. I do believe, in some sense, in those last three sentences.

And yet, I find myself becoming more and more preoccupied with this question. This question of character. Of my character.

There are words and phrases popping up into my mind at odd moments: words like duty, hard work, commitment, fidelity and staying the course. Words that I instinctively dislike. Words that have an almost irresistible mental association for me with old movies about small towns made up of contented people with decent, old fashioned values, which have probably never existed, sermons with tortuous logic and clichéd examples, and dishonest “family values” campaigns by politicians who always seem to get caught fucking around. Words that, frankly, give me a definite impulse to run away screaming in the other direction. I want to have more fun, I think. I just want to be happy.

But I am also feeling a kind of attraction to those words. The kind of attraction I might feel if I found my grandmother’s wedding dress in the attic. Its a little yellow and cracked with age, remarkably dowdy, probably way too tight, clearly made for someone other than me, and yet there is something about it that draws me in. I know that I don’t really want to be a bride, even a pretend bride, and yet I have this strangely irresistible desire to put this dress on and see how it looks.

I find that I am believing more and more in things that I have read and agreed with in the past and yet somehow forgot, or decided were all very well in principle but too hard and too constraining in real life, and put aside for something more liberating. That life, while it is often joyful and fun, is also very difficult. That happiness, my happiness, does not lie in plotting my escape from the things that are hard and lonely.

My life is difficult. It is not the most difficult life I see around me, let alone as difficult as the lives I see on the news. I definitely see other people who suffer a lot more. And yet, the degree of difficulty in my life is not about how hard things are in an objective sense. It is about the gap between what is required of me and what I feel able to do. I may be experiencing only minor league suffering. The problem is that I am a complete rookie. And yet, I recognise that there are times when you have to step up to the plate and keep swinging, anyway.

My life, effortless as it might be for other, nobler people to live, is almost too much for me. And I am thinking that, when life is this difficult, requiring reserves of selflessness I definitely do not have, even love will not necessarily get me through it. I am going to need something that is summed up by the word character.

Now, this question of what I mean by character is tricky, and I am not sharing this secret desire of mine with anyone in the outside world, not even the Big Dude. For one thing, perhaps because of my religious background, I tend to associate it with obeying rules like no sex before marriage and no affairs afterwards, or more trivial forms of abstinence like not drinking alcohol. With meeting other people's expectations about things I won’t do. Things that I probably can’t live up to and don’t even believe in for myself. Character, along these lines, is mostly about what I don’t do. Its about meeting other people's rules.

And it tends to be about expecting these same things of other people. It is an unhappy fact that an increased effort at sticking to the rules myself tends to make me more judgemental of those who don't and also more hypocritical. I wish this wasn't true, but it is. I have often noticed that the first thing that happens when I go on a diet is suddenly noticing how fat other people are and all the disgusting things they are eating. I have been thinking about character, and the first and regrettable sign of this lately is making judgemental comments about other people.

So there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. It is deadening, for myself and for other people. The letter of the law kills, but the spirit gives life.

But what if character is actually more about what I do than what I don’t do? About meeting my own expectations rather than other people's? About loving myself, not by indulging myself and my fears and whims, or even my moral judgements, but by becoming more like I would wish to be? A person more like the people I most respect? A person more able to do the things that I never wanted to do, but that the life that I have chosen now requires me to do?

I am having so many thoughts on this topic that it is going to have to be the subject of more than one post.

*Note to self: You have the most tortuous use of metaphors I have ever heard. And your posts are always way too long. Plus, how do you expect people to comment when you post practically every day? Stop doing that!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Laughing in the Face of the Void

Its hard to know how to get up from where I went with that last post. Okay, how about this.

I remember seeing a story a few years ago about a study that found the world's funniest joke. It went something like this:

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing. His eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his mobile phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator, in a calm and soothing voice says: "Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, and then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: "OK, now what?"

Now, this joke really did make me laugh. For a start, I am a big fan of black and gallows humour. But I really wondered if it was the world's funniest joke. I mean, how can you objectively compare jokes? Isn't a lot of it in the context and the person who tells it? For instance, I personally think this one is funnier.

But apparently, this joke was not so much the best of all possible jokes, as the one that the greatest diversity of people from different countries, cultures and demographics understood and enjoyed.

And such jokes were not easy to find, because people from different parts of the world tended to have fundamentally different senses of humour. For instance, people from countries like Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand tended to like jokes involving word plays, such as:

Patient: "Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum." Doctor: "I've got some cream for that".

Americans and Canadians tended to like jokes which were about feelings of superiority, and especially jokes where someone looks stupid:

Texan: "Where are you from?"
Harvard graduate: "I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions."
Texan: "Okay – where are you from, jackass?"

But the favourite joke for Americans was this one:

A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. His friend says: "Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man." The man then replies: "Yeah, well we were married 35 years."

The French enjoyed a more cynical style of humour, such as:

Client: "You're a high-priced lawyer! If I give you $500, will you answer two questions for me?"
Lawyer: "Absolutely! What was your second question?"

They also liked jokes about topics that made people feel anxious, such as:

A patient says: "Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip. I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: 'Could you please pass the butter.' But instead I said: 'You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life'."

Actually, I really liked that last one!

Now, aside from this study, there are definitely jokes that are popular with particular communities because they express something about that community. For instance, I have found that this one almost always gets a laugh from people who have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, like my Big Dude:

A couple with chronic fatigue syndrome are looking in the fridge, find there isn't any food, and decide to get takeaway. The wife turns to her husband and says "I really want fish and chips."
"I'll get you some," her husband offers.
"You are a darling," she says. "Don't forget the salt and vinegar. Write it down, or you'll forget".
"I won't forget," he says. The husband goes to the shops and returns after a while with a paper bag, which he hands to his wife. She opens up the bag, and pulls out a carton of icecream.
"Damn", she says, "I knew you'd forget the chocolate sauce!"

A major symptom of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome being general brain fog and short term memory loss.

Anyway, just like countries, and particular communities, I think you can tell a lot about an individual person from what they find funny, and I'd like to get to know my readers a little better. Plus, I need a bit of cheering up!

So, please leave me a good joke here. It could be the joke that you personally thought should have been the world's funniest, one that means something to you or says something about you, or even just one that you heard recently. The only rule is that it has to have made you laugh.

And just in case this seems silly, I am going to tell your jokes to Judy, who loves jokes and really needs a good laugh right now.

Over to you!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Angry at God

Someone has asked me (privately) why I am angry at God. I get angry at God from time to time and for various reasons but, at the moment, its very specific.

WARNING: This is a very depressing post. If you are looking for light entertainment, you may want to leave now. I just need to get this off my chest, and then normal service will resume as soon as possible.

I have a friend who I will call Judy here. She has been through a hell of a lot. When she was only 18 years old, she married a man who was never much good. He was one of those hopeless young men who just can't seem to get their act together and don't really even try. Who can't find and stay in work, but are no use around the house. Who can't be entrusted with any responsibility because they always let you down. Who, despite the fact that they have three kids and virtually no income, sit around all day smoking dope. And whose behaviour is often erratic and pointlessly destructive. Her parents, despairing of how she was living and wanting to help, gave them a house to live in. He went into a rage one day and destroyed it.

She left him, but he kept swearing he'd change. He also said he'd kill himself if she didn't come back. She was worried about him. So she kept going back and then leaving again a few months later when nothing changed.

Then he was in a drink driving accident and his brain was injured. Judy nursed him but, as his condition improved, it became apparent that he had lost all control of himself. He was violent. One day, he threw their youngest child across the room. She realized that she was sacrificing her life to help him grow stronger, and now he was stronger to the point that he was a danger to her and the kids. She left again.

And one day, as she was driving in to work, she heard a commotion. A man had thrown himself from the window of a tall building and onto the pavement. It was him. He had killed himself, deliberately choosing the time and place so that she would encounter what he had done on her way to work and in order to cause her the maximum possible anguish and guilt.

Anyway, Judy has raised her three children alone since then as a young widow. The kids have had a number of issues, most of which are traceable to this traumatic background. But they are a surprisingly cheerful family, on the whole, very intelligent and lively and artistic. And she has battled on, getting her degree and a job and raising them alone on very little money. She works like a serf, that woman. And everything that love and relentless hard work can achieve, she has achieved.

I find her remarkable. She is quiet, so people don't always notice or appreciate her. But when you get to know her, she is so kind and interesting and wise. She is my closest friend. We are honorary members of each others' family, meeting up regularly and sharing holidays together. She has given me some very good advice at crucial moments of my life. And I respect and admire her more than I can say.

So, she is finally at the point in her life where the kids are growing up. She has had a long term dream of becoming a writer and living on a country property. Needless to say, there is no chance of that while she is supporting the kids. But we have talked many times about all the wonderful things she will be able to do in just a few years time. About how finally, for the first time since she was 18 years old, she has the opportunity to get a life that is not all about other people.

And now her oldest child, Rachel, has been diagnosed with Huntington's Disease. This is a horrible disease that causes cell death in parts of the brain. It is genetic. Symptoms include physical problems like loss of coordination and control over the body, mental problems like loss of concentration and memory, and emotional problems like depression, anxiety, mood swings, aggression and hypersexuality. Essentially, it slowly kills the person's ability to walk, talk, think and reason. Ultimately, they cannot look after themselves and are completely dependent on being cared for. They usually die from complications like choking or heart failure. There is no effective treatment and no cure.

And Rachel is such a lovely girl. She had some problems a few years ago, but she has turned out so beautifully. So intelligent, so poised, so thoughtful, rather serious for her age but also great fun. She is only 18 years old and her whole life should be ahead of her. I look at her and I just can't believe it. I don't want to believe it. I can hardly bear to think of that lovely girl with her dying brain.

And I can hardly bear to think of Judy's pain. In knowing that this is going to happen, that this is inevitable, that her beloved child will have to go through this. And seeing her own future as a carer for her child, just going on and on, the sacrifices endless. And the other two children haven't been tested yet.

So that is why I am angry at God at the moment.

People give all kinds of answers to the problem of suffering, of the terrible things that happen in the world. Some of the answers from people who believe in God are thoughtful and slightly consoling. A lot of them are so glib that they are an insult to the person who is suffering and to anyone who loves that person.

The problem for me in all this is not so much an intellectual or theological one. It is emotional. When terrible things happen to you or to people you love, there is a kind of despair that can grip you. Some loss of the illusion that the universe is in any sense a friendly and just place and that good people and decent behaviour like Judy's will be rewarded. We rely on those kinds of illusions. Even when bad things happen, we have some kind of optimism and faith that we will get through them and will be alright in the end.

But sometimes we are brought up hard against the knowledge that we may not be alright. That the universe can just decide to quash us like an insect and sometimes there is nothing we can do.

At times like that, it seems impossible to believe in the Christian idea of a loving God who is interested in us and has the power to change our circumstances but chooses not to do so. A belief in such a God seems naive and foolish and only possible for people who are not being squashed at the moment. Smug people who still have their illusions intact. At times like that, the universe seems indifferent, arbitrary and even mindlessly cruel. It feels like either God doesn't exist or that he has a hell of a lot to answer for.

No wonder Judy is an atheist.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I have been tagged by The Visitor. Cool! I have never been tagged before. I have been asked to state nine things about myself, wierd or otherwise, and then tag six others by leaving a comment on their blogs. So here goes:

  • I am prone to obscure physical injuries. For instance, I once tore the cartilage in my knee just by standing up too quickly at my desk. I am very into exercise, but keep having to stop due to injury, which is very frustrating. This may be genetic, as my mother is the same. I think that, in a harsher environment, my family would have been winnowed out of the gene pool.
  • I consistently fancy men who are both intelligent and funny. If they are loyal and passionate as well, I am a goner.
  • The men I have loved have generally fallen into one of two main types: tall, dark and largely silent (like the Big Dude) or small, blonde, chatty and just a teensy bit girly (usually bisexual).
  • I find it much easier to do things I don't want to do, to endure things that can't be cured, if I get to complain a lot. The Big Dude tells me I would find some of our struggles easier if I didn't dwell on them so much. I find the opposite is true: when I stop complaining, my capacity to put up with problems definitely shrinks. Because I know this is not my most attractive trait, I try to confine my complaints to this blog, so my blog ends up reading like it is written by my evil twin, who says things I can't say in real life. I never seem to mind other people complaining about their lives - in fact, it usually cheers me up!
  • I have a somewhat compulsive side to my nature. Not in an OCD kind of way, but I am good at throwing myself fully into things or abstaining altogether - particularly the first. I am not so good at the golden middle way. If I gave free reign to this aspect of my personality, I would be at least one or more of the following: an alcoholic, a workaholic, a perfectionist, a compulsive eater, a sex addict, a fitness fanatic, a religious nut.
  • I am a little bit anal. Even though I know that life is messy and contradictory, I crave order. I tidy up every night before I go to bed, just so that I can have that moment when everything is in its place. Then I breathe a sigh of relief. I keep doing this, even though I know the cause is hopeless, with a toddler in the house.
  • I am monogamous, even though I don’t really believe in monogamy and my sex life is not good, because my partner is monogamous . Despite my lack of faith in monogamy, I was secretly shocked when some friends of mine formed a kind of sex ring in which they were all having sex with each other, because it involved such stable couples. I was confident that their relationships would explode. Theirs didn’t. Mine did.
  • I am a worrier and I think too much. When I have a problem, even when I know it probably can’t be fixed, I can’t seem to leave it alone. I worry at it like a cat with a mouse. It does make me a good bureaucrat, though, because I feel compelled to work at problems and am not easy deterred.
  • Even though spirituality is very important to me, I hardly ever pray in the conventional sense. I think this may be because I am angry at God. When I am in a context where people are asking forgiveness from God, I often ask myself who will forgive God for all the suffering I see around me.

An additional fact that most of the women I know think is wierder than any of these things:

  • During my ridiculously long 42 hour labour with the Little Dude, I did not yell, swear or curse my partner. I sang and hummed through the contractions. This was not because I disapproved of any of those other options (whatever gets you through it, right?) and I am not sure why it helped. It may have been because I had been through so much to have a child that it seemed wrong not to celebrate. It may have been just that my urge to sing has always come from a very deep place. I feel most like myself when I am singing.

Okay, so who will I tag?

Digger, Dewdrop, Trueself, Satan, Mu Ling, and LePhare, please consider yourselves tagged!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Four Quotes

Do you ever see a particular quote and find that it grabs you by the throat and refuses to leave you? I am thinking about four quotes I have seen recently.

The first two from a book I have been reading: Julian Short's An Intelligent Life:

Manipulation - the application of pressure through guilt or a subtle threat of rejection - is the tyranny of the weak.
The first instinct of secure people under threat is to pursue love and strength, while insecure people are more preoccupied with avoiding rejection and weakness.

Two more:

Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things (although we must have this ambition) as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value - Teilhard de Chardin.
Everything that one turns in the direction of God is prayer - St Ignatius Loyola.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Being Bothered

I had a thought this morning.

My Little Dude has a little wooden trolley filled with blocks that he plays with. At first, he just liked examining it from every possible angle. Then he liked playing with the blocks it holds, banging them together, sucking on them, handing them back and forth to us, and sometimes just toddling through the room and holding them up high above his head, as if to say "Look what I've got!" Then he liked pushing the trolley along the floor. Then he liked tipping it upside down.

And now he likes climbing onto it and me pushing him around the room in it. And when I say that he likes this activity, it would be more accurate to say that he lurves it. Epic love stories have been written and celebrated through the ages for people who feel less strongly about each other than that Little Dude feels about riding on his trolley. He is obsessed with it. When I offer him some alternative activity, he shows only a sort of polite interest, as if he is humouring me. And when I push him in that trolley, he gets an expression on his face that says with utter clarity, "This is the best experience I have ever had in my entire life! You are the best mother in the universe!" He is euphoric.

Until I stop. Then he is puzzled. Why has it stopped? Then he bounces his whole body frantically forward, trying to make it keep going. Then he looks at me expectantly to continue. And if I don't, he cries. And we are not just talking about some minor, little-guy whimpering that I can distract him from. He roars. He is outraged. Then he weeps in this really pitiful, angry way that says "I can't believe you stopped. You have betrayed me, and I will never get over it. Never, never, never!"

And even after he has calmed down, he is still a bit pissed at me. He averts his eyes from me. He doesn't want to play with me any more.

And frankly, all of this makes me a whole lot less inclined to start in the first place, even though I know how much he likes it. If I could just push him along for a few minutes, have a little fun together, and then let him off and do something else, I would do it more often. But his appetite for this activity is inexhaustible. And lately, when he climbs onto his trolley with that hopeful look in his eyes, I dither. I feel like he may be better off without these extremes of euphoria and distress. I can't decide whether to push it or not.

But when I don't, is that because its really better for him if I don't, or just because, secretly, I can't be bothered? Because its better for him or because its better for me?

Because actually, my thought sequence goes something like this:

He loves it, and I sort of enjoy it sometimes. But he wants to do it all the time, it gets a little boring for me, its a lot of effort, and I have other things I need to do. So its better not to start. Its better not to raise his expectations or I may have to spend my whole damn life pushing that damn trolley. Maybe I should just stop pushing it altogether. Then he might forget about how much he likes it.
And when he climbs onto his trolley, with that look of expectation, I think "Oh, for God's sake, we only did this yesterday!"

You know where I'm going with this this, don't you... yes, back to my favourite topic! My boy has nothing on me for obsession.

Yes, this morning when the Little Dude climbed onto his trolley and I didn't push it, I had the thought that this is probably how my Big Dude feels about having sex with me. "Oh, sure, she loves it now. But how is she going to feel when I stop? And its too much effort. This is getting a bit tiresome. I can't be bothered. Better not to start in the first place."

And then I start thinking, "Well, if you are going to be like that about it, then I can't be bothered, either."


Which is better for our relationship? Accepting that keeping open some possibilities may bring both significant pain and deep, deep joy? Or carefully lowered expectations - less suffering and less joy?

I know where I stand, today anyway. Kiss the joy as it flies.

Sure, a phase like we are in now, when he stops, is painful to me. But pain is part of life. In fact, we probably wouldn't truly know what joy feels like if we didn't have pain, or even just boredom, for a comparison. I don't want to be patted on the head and kept calm. I don't want that kind of faux consideration. Because I can't just go to work and do housework all the time. I want to have something to look forward to. I want to feel that joy. And if to experience that joy sometimes, I have to feel this pain sometimes, then so be it. Because I want to feel alive.

So, what do you think? Should I push that damned trolley this afternoon?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Intentional Community

I received a message this week that my old intentional community household is coming to an end. There is a farewell party today to mark its closing, but I feel quite sad. When something has been important to you, it can be very satisfying to know that it continues on, even without you. But I recognise that things change and nothing stays the same.

And I remember Desmond's interest in hearing more about our community.

Our household started with three people who had been active members of a sort of Christian university club. For three years, we had been getting together weekly to discuss theology, contemporary culture, causes, politics and our own lives. Our moving in together was partly about all of us needing to move out of where we were. But we also wanted, somehow, to go deeper into our faith and feel connected to something bigger. Our agenda was quite simple and not very ambitious. We had our goals written up over the stove, and most of them were about supporting one another, our faith journeys, and our volunteer work for causes we all cared about. And we mostly succeeded in those goals, with the occasional painful failure.

It all sounds very earnest, but actually, we had a lot of fun together. We were not a solemn household. Even though I occasionally railed at the blokiness of it all (I wound up as the only female member of a household of five), I mostly enjoyed it. Having come from a fairly traumatic family background, and then a relationship overburdened by illness and caring responsibilities, it was fun to hang out with people who thought that playing frisbee in the kitchen was a good idea. It was a pleasing novelty to kick back in our recliner chairs, beers in hand, and watch the cricket. And when we banished the TV, the house became filled with great conversations, sometimes deep and sometimes just plain silly, and even better musical jam sessions.

In some respects, our household was an opportunity for me to enjoy a bit of careless youth, just in the nick of time before that youth came to an end.

But it was more than that.

For someone who had a difficult relationship with her father, it meant something to me to live with and really enjoy the company of men. It was like having brothers, which I had always secretly wanted to have.

The regular household meditation/prayer supported me in having an active spiritual life and experiences of group worship at a time when I was frankly unsure exactly what I believed.

I am not a nature girl and I am allergic to many animals, which makes me uncomfortable with being around them. As Woody Allen would say, I am at two with nature. But our increasingly elaborate organic vegetable garden and recycling system taught me how getting your hands dirty, raising food from the soil, can be a source of pleasure and creativity. Getting chooks (all named after prominent female leaders – the peckiest and most aggressive one was called Germaine!) reminded me that animals are more than slices of meat on a styrofoam tray.

The company and the supportive environment helped me to abandon my promiscuous phase and especially to end an infatuation that had become like a poison in my veins – compelling, but addictive and destructive, not completely unlike Mu Ling's Fuckbuddy (the circumstances and personalities were different, but the obsessive, unwholesome quality of that experience resonates with mine). I entered a period of deliberate celibacy that helped me to become more centred, and to find more peace in my mind and heart.

And I loved my housemates. Sometimes they really annoyed me, like people you live with are always kind of annoying. But they were an object lesson in how the most irritating people can also be some of the best people you could ever meet.

John had an extremely annoying way of cleaning out his ears with a cotton bud and then leaving the cotton bud, coated in his disgusting earwax, in my room. But his interest in men’s issues led him to work extensively with young men with mental health and drug problems. He married Sapphira, who startled me by leaving her diaphragm and tampons in open display in our bathroom, but who spent her summers working with Mother Theresa’s order in India and who now works with people with profound mental and physical disabilities. Mick drove me crazy by frequently leaving the front door open when he left the house, and I had to blast him about leaving me sleeping naked, alone and vulnerable to any opportunistic intruders. But he also worked with an aboriginal community and only left to work with homeless people in London while completing his PhD at Cambridge University. Luke truly gave me the shits when he occasionally flaked on his turn to cook and do the washing up. But he also carried on our little community after we’d left, helping to turn it into something much more organised and much more closely linked with the life of the local community around it. They were not saints. They were just very good people. They still are.

But most importantly, living in that community taught me that, if you have a spiritual purpose to your daily life, it imbues that daily life with meaning and a sense of the sacred. And it is that lesson that is the main gift I have taken away from our household.

I had come from a religious background where experiences of God were mainly in church or at home groups. In those contexts, we strove to shut out our daily lives, enter a kind of partially separate spiritual realm, and touch God. We shut our eyes and prayed. We then tried to take those experiences into our daily lives and also to make our lives conform with a set of rules.

In this household, I had experiences of God that were about daily life. They were about finding God in mundane tasks like going shopping and cooking together and replacing the toilet roll when it runs out. They were about inventing structures, ways of doing things, which were flexible and yet able to support us when we were struggling. They were about thinking about our society and working for change, for greater justice. They were about working for change in ourselves. They were about opening our eyes. About turning our daily lives into a kind of prayer, and an occasion for God’s grace.

And for that, and for the relationships, the community and the learning experience that household gave me, I will always be grateful.