For Vicki

It’s my mother’s birthday today, falling as it always does inconveniently close to Mother’s Day. When we were growing up as far as I can recall, and still now when she gets a bit fired up, she was very clear about us getting her two SEP-ER-ATE gifts. We were not to combine our well meaning thoughts and benign good wishes into one thing, not matter how two-present’s-worth we thought it was. Though, knowing what we were like I’m sure we often forgot, or counted cards as presents, or didn’t take it seriously, and were eventually forgiven.

So on this, the one of two occasions designed for me to remember my ma, I wanted to write something about the woman who has shown me often in unappreciated and completely ignored ways what strength looks like, what the slow and small and humble and faltering giving of yourself to those you love can look like. Then I remembered I’d basically done that for a biography assignment at Uni, so I dug this out from 5 years ago.

To my mum, who loves her kids unconditionally, who has remained proud to be our mum no matter what we do or how we live, who has not once asked me when I’ll give her grandkids, Happy Birth and Splendid Mother’s Days. This is not really a gift, Mum. There are two SEP-ER-ATE presents coming, I think.


The Leaving

 

“So how did you feel when you saw me driving away?”

“It was sort of… a heartbreak.”

“… Mum, are you crying?”

“No. I’m trying not to.”

 

My mum started it all.

At 18, my mum is told to leave. She is told by God and it’s good timing because she needs to leave her family but isn’t ready to become a nun like she thought she might. She sees an ad for a children’s home called Bethel in Dalby, Queensland. She asks for a sign, opens her bible up, and reads about Moses being told to leave his family.

Get out of your country,
from your family and from your father’s house,
to a land that I will show you.

Moses was told to go to Bethel, and so is Vicki.

God was probably my mother’s first love. An awkward and self conscious teenager, smiling quietly under a thick black fringe, she doesn’t have boyfriends for years, but she is saved at 15. She sees in her new faith a huge and spacious welcome, an acceptance she didn’t know could exist. She goes on retreats and spends days in silence. She knows God is calling her.

I left her when I was 25. I drove away in an overfull car to Melbourne. I headed off to follow God amongst the homeless and broken and Vicki watched me leave, her heart breaking. As I went she thought two things; that this is what Merle must have felt, and at least it’s only for a year.

I broke her heart a second time when I told her I wasn’t coming home. My leaving was therefore a little more cruel, but Vicki’s was carried across three states.

At home, she is one of six, three boys and three girls. She lives in Port Lincoln among hills and ocean and family. Vicki tells them all about Jesus. Once in the arms of her savior, it had seemed rude to withhold salvation from them.

Like all the saints, this dedication doesn’t do her any good; her father is particularly resistant.

Her mother, Merle can’t understand why Vicki wants to leave. Vicki knows it will be harder for Merle but tries to explain that it is something she can’t not do.

“Why does God need you so far away?” Merle asks. Her daughter thinks they must be speaking different languages.

On the day she leaves to board the first of three planes that take her to her new life, Port Lincoln is green. She looks at the faces of her family, most of whom think her decision is ridiculous. She looks at Merle who says nothing. She looks at her youngest brother, to whom she’s been a second mum, and she leaves.

Three planes transport her from the water, the green and the known, to another world of dry, red, flat dust spreading out to the horizon. She is in a biblical landscape. She’s as far from her home as she will ever be. She is Alice down the rabbit hole, Moses in the promised land.

And so my mum begins her new life. She lives now in a flat looking blue house, with a slanted roof. She is surrounded now by orphans who are only a little younger than her. In their faces she sees the momentum of her decision, the choice she has made.

Two Baptists, kind but severe, run the house where Vicki lives. She is to help with the cooking and the cleaning and the looking after of the children. Soon it is easy to forget to miss home. She is amongst the adventure of her lifetime.

While the children are at school Vicki moves from room to room gathering clothes and bedding. She washes and irons for 16 now. When that is done she cuts carrots for stews, and helps the children with their homework. There is a place out of town where the homes can get a whole cow chopped up. They use it all. Cheap meat and big freezers mean they eat pretty well.

On Saturdays she plays with the kids, and on Sundays she gets a day off. She walks to the dam and looks at the water, she reads books or sometimes the bus goes into town and she hitches a ride to find and walk along the creek. She builds herself a life here, and it seems to fit her well.

Wrapped in my new life, I too cut carrots in a kitchen, and cleaned up after those whose care I was entrusted with. I too saw in their faces the place I was supposed to be. I too didn’t miss my mother the way she missed me.

And 37 years apart, we on occasion remembered our old lives and shook our heads.

Dalby is the perfect container for Vicki. She has function, and a divine purpose, she has many children who need her so she cannot feel bad about leaving her brothers and when she doubts, she remembers Moses.

They organise a walkathon for the children to raise money for the homes. With the proceeds they buy a trampoline and my child mother jumps on it, her dark hair flying.

She visits Lincoln maybe once a year. It’s a long bus ride back to South Australia, and she doesn’t have a lot of money. Vicki was close to her mum before she left. They had spent a lot of time together when Vicki’s Dad was drinking. They grew together, bonded by the absence of one man. She still knows that her leaving has made some things more difficult for her mother and she sometimes feels the twist inside that all who are torn feel, that I felt every time I saw her again.

I decided to stay in Melbourne for a number of reasons, chiefly because I felt to go back would be a reversal. I was thrilled by the anonymity of my new city; that it was mine and mine alone. I felt my mothers prickled resignation but could ignore it.

Merle Ransom aches to see her middle daughter but it is not like her to gush. She remembers Vicki’s certainty and still doesn’t understand why a loving God would pull her child away.

Vicki visits Port Lincoln for Christmas in ’74. Her Father is a different man now; a stroke has robbed him of his ability to be cruel and has left him fragile and old. She doesn’t know to balance the man who made her want to leave with the frightened and broken man left in her home. He dies that January while Vicki is still around. She is 24. She does not stay and it might be this leaving, or any of the others, or none at all that Merle remembers when 40 odd years later, it is her turn to go.

Merle was old and longing for her home, she didn’t know that her leaving was contrary to how things were supposed to work: Vicki had by now come home to her, for her. They needed each other- this was the time they had been denied. Merle told Vicki leaving was something she needed to do, Vicki thought they must have been speaking different languages.

After her father’s dying, my Mum spends another year in Dalby. She then migrates to Newcastle and Bible College. After three years of learning to hate college food via too many sausages and learning to hate rules via the wearing of skirts, my mother meets a man called Colin. He is tall, black haired, much older and already divorced. He is to be a minister and he surprises my mother by marrying her. She has left the girl with the fringe behind it seems. They have wedding on the beach and move on back to Queensland.

They head back to Dalby where Vicki is reunited with the children’s homes again. This time she is a house parent- she has a minister of her own now.

They stay that way long enough to look after many more orphans in one house, to foster at least five children in two more, and to bear two of their own and adopt one, across five towns in two states. Colin stays for seven more years but leaves the four of us in Gladstone, at a two story house with a poinciana tree and a puppy. It is this that drives my mother finally, back to her family. She longs for their known shapes, for their safety in a way she never has. 43, broke and broken, she packs us into a car and trailer and pulls herself down to Adelaide, her mother, her brothers and sisters. On the trip my mother and I grow closer, bonded by the absence of one man.

We arrive in Adelaide and I cry at the new house. It is ugly and red and I am too young to care that as much as I hate the house, my poor bruised mother probably hated it more simply for being hers and hers alone. She does not let us know how weary she is, that something has gone wrong at the end of her story. She sees this arrival as a bridge of sorts, I think. She sees herself coming home to Merle, and maybe this means she can have never left.

By the time I left, my mother had long been the one my grandmother relied on. They argued, Vicki told me things Merle had said and sometimes longed for freedom, for a weekend without their usual shopping trip, for a night free of phone calls.

And for a while there, I am in Adelaide, and Merle and Vicki, and we all exist in codependence, grounded in one another.

But then- it is my turn, and I tell my mother I have to leave, it’s something I need to do. She knows.

The day I leave Adelaide it is bright out, a few puffs of cloud in a perfect blue.

Merle, whose last few months back in Port Lincoln are widely known to have been a success, died in September of 2011. Vicki is wracked with guilt over not supporting her move back home, and I tell her that Grandma would remember all the times she was there for her, not the one time she wasn’t.

“I remember her saying I know it will be hard but I have to do this for me-

I remember saying the same thing to her.”

Dry Bones

Someone once said that in the beginning were light and sound. But here in

this valley it is quiet and dark.

It is still as death and empty as thirst.

I wonder about the bones. About what they were before the valley, before the

earth, before the sun leached away their life, before they lay down.

What last heavy thing was put upon their shoulders? What last piece was

taken to lay them low, ready to undress their naked bones?

Were they like paper, like tissue? Did they feel like they had been dug out?

Did they remember when they felt anything at all, long before the heaviness

had settled in?

 

Did they remember when they used to glow?

 

Oh the exquisite sound of life, the lovely ache of caring

Oh the time when you wanted to dance when you weren’t filled with lead and

the unrepentant uselessness of all endeavors.

When those were gone and they were untethered did they wonder why they

didn’t just dissolve?

I wonder if in the valley they knew that it was death’s shadow.

Those bones who used to move and shake and who were colours and

sounds-

When the wrongness of it all the hopelessness was poured into the empty

packet of them, is that the moment; is that when they lay down and can we

even blame them-

Can these bones live?

Do the bones still carry this apathy, as close as skin?

Can these bones live?

How can we ask what is already dead to dance with the spirit?

Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up

from your graves, O my people…

What can stir us when we are deep in the earth, where we long to stay,

already swallowed?

 

Perhaps it’s the memory of light and sound

And perhaps it’s

breath.

The promise of the spirit. The promise of life.

And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring

you up from your graves, O my people.

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live.

A letter to all ministers, regarding their use of Facebook.

Dear all;

Facebook, that wily, time sucking minx, has been a part of our lives for some time now. You lot, hearing this letter will no doubt have at most a slavish, worshipful relationship with the book, and at least an opinion about its being a blight in which you have no interest in partaking. If you are the latter, please ignore what follows. If however you are a minister of some kind who uses Facebook, it’s likely you can be placed in one of four categories.

The minister that hates it but got a profile because several people kept saying you should and now whenever it’s mentioned you murmur something about not being “up to all that internet jazz” and render your token interaction with the platform near useless.

The minister who interacts with it the way they would a polite grandchild, popping in several times daily to tell their eager followers that “the begonias are coming along thanks God for the rain” or “my latest batch of marmalade is done”, regardless of how few people care about the begonias or the marmalade.

Still others use it as a forum for their political rants, attempts at wit, and the only evangelism they engage in- that being of their favourite band or author.

But the last and most evil of all the types of Facebook user, Ministerial or not, is the over-sharer. The person who has taken the word ‘friends’ –shockingly misused in this context- to heart and who tells all of theirs daily of their thoughts, complaints and emotional states.

Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps this is a perfectly legitimate way to express yourself and to receive succor from the bosom of those intimates whom you have allowed into your digital circle. But, beloved, let us not forget that Facebook can be, and is often, three things: Useful, public, and treacherous.

You lot can make good use of a forum that allows the easy and informal dissemination of information to many, with options of interactive commentary and a function for organising event invitations.

Let’s not forget though that this is a public forum. It’s not you telling your neighbour Marge about your other neighbour Kev. It’s you telling your “friends” and potentially more depending on your privacy settings and on the respecting of those into the future, about your neighbour Kev.

This is not an admonishment about privacy in the vein of “be afraid of hackers” or whatever other hysteria some people find themselves prey to, I personally don’t care at all about the faceless identity thieves/ stalkers combing through my information, which we can talk about at another time.
My care is for those who have become, however it has happened, connected to you on this platform. I have unfollowed family, due to persistent oversharing. How much more will I unfollow a minister who does the same!

The crux of my letter, dear ones, is this: think carefully about what type of user you want to be.

You aren’t taking a close friend aside for a debrief. You’re talking to possibly upwards of hundreds of people.
Furthermore, if you’re friends with members of your congregation, which I would also council thinking about, and you are interspersing your “oh three meetings down and the rain has stopped crying with laughter face” with “church council is totally draining where is the life of Christ here sad face with single tear” or “Pastoral visits are really hard” or “really struggling at the moment” you are inviting your congregation to provide some sort of pastoral care to you- however insincere, and I believe it struggles not to be at least a little- which I would suggest could be inappropriate, not to mention the potential offence and or breaches of privacy that could crop up.

I’m not trying to say that as a minister there is no place to be authentic- that is the last thing I think. But this portal is not authentic. It is almost by definition a curated, doctored arena of personal performance and mediated interaction. It is treacherous. I understand the temptation to vent, particularly after a frustrating meeting, and particularly when it can be done with such ease, and with such a resulting satisfaction when all your likeminded buddies can like and comment. But I urge caution when making your emotional complaints into a sphere where one can offer “support” simply by clicking a small button. You, I hope, have other avenues of actual support available to you. Use them. Leave Facebook to its other evils, the dull and the overly political.

Yours sincerely,

Carlynne.

up to the knees

Hello. I wrote the below (minus a few edits) in August and then of course abandoned it. I’d very much like to write about a host of things I’ve thought and done over the past year but am a little overwhelmed by the task, so my brother advised me to start small. Here is me starting really small, hopefully more little thought farts will join it later and make a sort of story of my one-thirds-minister-ship, for any that are interested.

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I wrote a really terrified confession over 6 months ago, secure in the knowledge that I would be updating my blog regularly and you would all benefit from my learning and from my finding of everything to be marvellous and from the stories of my Wonderful New Life. It’s comforting I guess that I continue to overestimate myself.

I was starting my formation as a minister and was- rightly it turns out, but more about that later- a bit apprehensive. Mainly it was the unknown that so concerned me, but my propensity for laziness and the fact that I’ve never once had a Direction or thing that I was properly aimed for but have changed my mind and floated around etc etc were playing a part.

After I wrote the confession I went off and met the rest of the candidates and had a few days away with them. Which I hated. I had a very mediocre time. Not, thank God, because the others were horrible, but because (in part) they were new, it was all new, and all around me, and I need a bunch of alone time to not be a huge cow it turns out. I heard people laughing companionably or saying ‘no after you’ and like, getting along, and I felt my lack of the desire to be constantly polite as an inditement on my spirit. I felt, too, my lack of experience walk up beside me and place its arms elegantly around my neck, felt my fear that the whole year, three whole years, would be unfulfilled self examination, missed messages and the hiding of my cynicism.

Then I came home and saw my friends and breathed a bit.

The semester started in earnest and I found myself startled by an ocean of knowledge I had been granted access to, by the humour and goodness of my classmates and teachers, by how much I could be myself.

But you see, as much as the feeling of a gorgeous architecture of belief and passion filling up and out in my mind was and is wonderful, going through the motions of becoming a minister is, frankly, super weird, and the stubbornly present, slight but heavy self-doubt which had moved in the moment I met the others and asked myself if I was as clever as them, hung around for longer than I wish to admit.

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Note: This is not a story about me disliking myself, or my time at college. Far from it. But it is a story about all of it, and all of it includes the times I fumble, doubt and have to talk sternly to myself. And the only way I can get to the cool, shiny parts are by starting small, with the parts that made me go to Sufjan Stevens for healing. Bear with me.

 

Confession

Tomorrow I go to a college up the road and meet with some other students, some teachers and some others and we begin a little journey together. We will learn a little more about what it means to be candidates for ministry, go away for three days, get to know each other, begin our year. And maybe sing? Probably we’ll sing.
I decided to do this whole ministry thing around a year and a half ago, and my church decided that was an ok idea last September. I have known this point in time was coming. I organised a desk, because I will be studying, I ordered text books, because I will need to learn things, I quit my job because I will need my time.
I have known this was coming but also not known much at all. I still don’t know what my year will look like, what the blood and bones of it will be, how I will have to function to make it, if I can learn all that I need to, if I can do it.
I am very scared. Partially because I still carry a childish fear of Christians, which is stupid for a lot of reasons, partially because it is new and and I’m alone and partially because I am worried I won’t be the sort of person needed.
I have heard much (so, so much- I am very blessed) from people who love me that I will do well, that I am the type of person who the church needs, that this is a good great thing, that I can do this. Often I believe them, and often I know I’m just one person going off to college and it’s not a big deal and often I’m so excited because I miss the feeling of New Things rolling around in my head, and my mind is eager and I am thrilled at the thought that come three years time I might know how to love people better and to not be such a large spaz. But there are other times when I know who I am and how good I am at sitting in front of a laptop watching sci-fi shows and I worry that the time will come when I will look back and realise I’ve not changed my life at all, I’ve just stuffed some classes in.
These are the quiet fears of someone used to doubting herself, and who has never been trusted with so much faith, so much opportunity.
I really want this to take.
I really, really don’t want to look inside and realise deep down I’m just lazy.
I want to honour whomever gave me this chance.
Let’s hope I do.
I’m going to do it anyway, obviously. I’ve already got the desk.

Dear Facebook, I don’t love you.

Hi. I know you’ve probably not even noticed that I’ve been gone, but it’s actually been a whole month since I’ve seen you. And I don’t want to hurt your feelings but I’ve not really missed you at all.
Look. It doesn’t have to be personal. A lot of people love you, I certainly think you’re really helpful, in the right circumstances. I’m really really grateful for the opportunity to tell a close circle of 400 plus people that I’m a bit peckish, tbh but it got too much. I just found myself wondering what sort of person I appeared to be, how I would look to someone who was leafing through my online photos. I was scrolling through others’ profiles and wondering how they got their lives so neat and cool. I don’t need that sort of help to be insecure. I’m pretty adept already.
And you know, I deleted Insta as well. It’s not just you. I’ve not even been on Twitter. I’ve just been… thinking my thoughts, and not caring if I told people. And messaging my really good ones to my friends, obv.
It’s actually been really nice. I have been watching some Netflix, and staring at screens a little, but I’ve also been pausing and thinking and not being able to distract myself from the present and reading books and being alone with whatever’s going on in my head. I’ve sat on public transport and looked at people, relished the fact that I was going somewhere. I’ve taken less photos, and I’ve really, really, loved the stuff that I’ve seen and the moments I’ve seen them in.
Every now and then I was a bit tempted. I’d think a Cool Thing or see something hilarious and ask myself: Don’t the people need to know?? But the answer was always no, they frigging don’t. They don’t need my (attempted) wit, or to know how I felt when I had a coffee the other day, or for my outrage to be added to the whirling cesspool of inflamed opinion. I need that, not anyone else.
I just changed my life significantly you see. I am wallpapering a lot of myself anew right now and trying to figure out if I’m the cream and paisley or the floral and I felt like there was no better time to extract myself from a portal where I can pretend to be whatever sort of person I’d like to be, where everything can be a performance.
So, as much as I appreciate your eery, personalised greetings and promptings to tell all my peeps about my feelings associated with public holidays,  I’d love it if we could see each other casually from now on. I don’t mind what you do with other people, I’ll just pop by every now and then to invite people to things or to brag about seeing Sufjan again. Also we all know you’re just a collection of algorithms designed to market people’s private lives, so.
All the best,
Carlynne Nunchuks
(this is not my real name, just while I’m being honest)

Love me tinder

I wrote the majority of the following over a year ago, and didn’t finish it and forgot I did it and obviously writing about Tinder is pretty redundant now. Stay tuned for my novel thoughts about the ebola virus or girl group Bardot. Mainly posting because the title made me laugh out loud; I am not the sharpest.

Spoiler alert: I’m off Tinder now, ‘Tis a hell-scape.

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I don’t date a lot? Like at all really. I have had relationships in the past (two of them!) and once I thought I was dating a guy (I was not) but not a lot of dating goes on around Carlynne-town. Which is fine really. At a lowish “I don’t need anyone! I’m amazing!” point of last year I inexplicably joined OKcupid and spent too much time talking to inconceivably ill-suited boys. Twice. Then I left and that’s all fine now.

I was first introduced to the idea of Tinder when a much younger friend told me they were on it. I thought that was dumb as they are of sound mind and no small amount of wit and should be meeting real people in the real world and talking with their real face but apparently this is how it’s done now. And who am I to judge, I feel like I don’t meet people who want to date my face either and have been known to talk about being on fire with guys I find cute.

Recently I was talking with a newly gay friend about his Tinder experiences. It was going really well for him, he was two dates in with a really sweet sounding dude. I expressed my standard Tinder opinion- that people making decisions about another person largely based on what that person looks like is some sort of nightmare from my individual hell- and then in the course of about forty minutes was somehow convinced to sign up.

The first thing I want to say is- Tinder is HILARIOUS. Secondly, I wish the ego boost that comes every time you ‘match’ with someone (a term preposterously misused in this context) wasn’t a really solid and gratifying thing but unfortunately it is.

How it works: you sign up and pick five photos from your Facebook cache. Some people find this part difficult and a lot of folks on Tinder repeat photos of themselves twice or even thrice in the course of a five photo viewing which is baffling to me. Or, they choose a series of five photos of their face, at four different angles and one with a hat on. So illuminating! Thank you for thinking about how I might better judge you based on the left side of your nose.

Anyway, you do that, you write a wee bio about yourself (I opted for short and witty, counting on mystique to get me places my painstakingly crafted lists of likes and dislikes on OkCupid didn’t) and then you go to town. People’s photos come up based on your decisions about age range, gender and distance from your location and you can swipe them away and into the pit of men who think posing on cars is still cool (left for no) or swipe them into your hopeful -often bearded- pile (right for yes) OR look at their photos and read their little thing in the vain hope that you will somehow be able to make a decision about if you would like them to be a part of your life based on the fact that they’re all about 420 bitcheeees. If you both pick yes a delightfully well fonted message appears, telling you that you are a match and you are free to message, fall in love and be wed within weeks.

So at first, an average Joe like me can find herself seemingly swimming in a sea of possibilities. Over a week I quickly built up a collection of around 50 matches, a lot of whom I messaged. I know what you’re thinking, Kim Carl-dashian, right? I’m so sorry. That was awful. But- if you think someone swiping right on Tinder implies they have any desire *at all* to converse with you, you are sorely mistaken. I anxiously look at my match list, having the same feeling I get from an out of order inbox, wondering what about my carefully chosen Beastie Boyz lyric says “I can’t carry conversation” and if dudes on Tinder just what- try and like every girl in the world? To what end? WHAT GAME ARE YOU PLAYING, MR DENIM NECK-TATTOO?

I’m not immune to being heartless, obviously. Tinder is a game and you have to treat it as such. I have compiled a fairly stringent list of immediate swipe left offences:

  • photos of or with cars/motorbikes
  • Photo of you giving me the finger
  • The classic, and widely loathed, pose-with-drugged-tiger
  • Life advice in place of a bio. I do not come here to be told that today is a gift and that’s why they call it the present
  • Looking bored in front of five different monuments
  • Speed dealer sunnies
  • You have forgotten your shirt
  • You have forgotten your head
  • You are in a drum circle (I am not a perfect person)

I have got some messages, relatively few containing pictures of penises! Some have been polite, others are a delightful escape into a world of completely superfluous lols:

‘jus finished work lol you’

‘not much on this weekend just the footy lol’

‘Hi how are you lol’

Ugh. Hilarious. These will lead to a. a feeling of being a world in which I do not belong, and b. the inevitable unmatch.

As much as I judge these people (these poor people, trying in their own horrible, grasping way to find a human connection) and as demoralising as I found my most recent experience of Tinder (the web really does not like chubby, growing-out-hair-Carlynne), it’s not all bad- I even went on a real life date with a lovely girl* I met on Tinder. The main problem I have is me, and that inevitably I feel disconnected from reality in a damaging way when trying to clumsily force connections with people I just don’t know in one of the most contrived ways I can think of.

I may eventually change my mind. Maybe future Carlynne is super pumped about her online presence and ready to mingle. Maybe there’ll be a drugged tiger at my wedding.

 

*oh yes, that’s not a typo, I’m into girls sometimes.

She’s over there

Some nights I sit and I swear I feel like an old lady, as if ageing stretches itself in my limbs.

Today I wanted to talk to everyone. Today I saw them move and speak and touch their hands to their hair and make themselves a drink and I loved them all a bit at least and wanted them to tell me things.

Today the sky was full of soft fire and made my windows shine pink.

Today I cooked a meal slowly.

Today I ate a half a piece of cake. Actually two thirds.

Today I was pleased with myself.

Today I was not sad to be alone.

 

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I wrote this in February of last year apparently. I don’t remember the specific day I’m referring to, but I do remember many instances of the desire to know people so well and so silently that you live in them. I hope I was writing about the good folk of the Olive Way.

What I read in January

10965432_10152708151736313_1496209159_nYes, I have not blogged (what a horrible, pasty skinned verb that is) in like,1.5 years or some shit. Yes I’m just going to gloss right over the pause like it didn’t happen, cool?

I did not read enough last year. I watched a lot of television shows. I hosted nights in my home for folks to read aloud to each other from books and I did read some really great stuff (oh my Lord, read Blindness by Jose Saremago), but mainly I kept looking at my shelves and shelves of bought and borrowed books and wondering when I was going to read them. I kept wondering too, how to stop myself buying books. The answer came to me part way through the year, when I started pulling books off my shelf and delivering them to my bedside table as if new. Oh look Carlynne! That’s a book there! Isn’t that so cool and exciting?

It worked a bit. But I still kept watching TV shows while playing tetris on my phone and finished the year feeling unmotivated creatively and decidedly syrupy in the brain-tank. Watch me try and change!

January.

Wildwood Imperium– purchased last year.

The last in the YA Wildwood series by Colin Meloy. Unlike other young adult fiction around this series harkens back to a time when stories were about the hidden worlds we spent years aching to find. Set in modern day Portland (and featuring a duffel coat and Keds wearing heroine who leads a revolution on her pushbike) where a magical wilderness exists invisible to normal human eyes. The final instalment was every bit as charming, surprisingly funny and full of unassuming yet very relatable characters (a lot of whom are talking animals). This chapter in the Wildwood saga saw the fight for the wildwood extend to Portland and the world beyond, but I couldn’t help but feel like as a finish to this winsome and transporting series it was a little rushed. I do still highly recommend these three for youngins and actually all those who remember gazing into the underbrush at the back of your house and feeling the longing for some friendly eyed beast to take you by the hand and lead you into a world enchanting as something nearly tangible. Seven stars.

Lila– purchased with gift voucher

I had been twitching and mooning about this novel for months before reading. Anyone who has heard me talk at all has probably heard me dreamily affirm author Marilynne Robinson as one of the world’s greatest living novelists, an opinion I share with the Sunday Mail (quoted on the cover). Her latest novel is set in the same small American town as her previous two, Gilead, but is this time from the perspective of Lila, the softly spoken wife of Reverend John Ames. We know her from Gilead the novel, but not well. We know of the Reverend’s love for her and of her mysterious prior life and of her being much younger than her husband but not a lot else. Lila takes place at her entrance into Gilead as an itinerant drifter, chronicling her meeting of and marriage to Ames but flitting into and out of sharp recollections of Lila’s past beginning with her abduction/emancipation from her parents as a very neglected child.

Once again Robinson’s prose leaves me nearly speechless, or at least very aware of the soft and elegant way she has of carrying you through someone else’s journey, someone who now seems as real if not realer to me than people I have known for years. I ate this book altogether. I was consumed and read it basically all in one day- which for the record is not the way one should read this author- expedited by the form of the novel, in which there are no chapter breaks whatsoever. To read it is to be inside Lila’s grave, wild and rare mind, to walk where she walks, to slide painfully into the past while trying not to fall down in the present. To try to make peace with a God who was unknown to her in her time in the wilderness and with a man who she can’t trust but loves almost immediately.

Please read this book. Read all of Marilynne Robinson’s books. Read them slowly, over days and weeks, or read them twice and three times through, but please read them. She makes me want to marry words and devote myself to them for the rest of my life. 8 million.

The Handmaid’s Tale– borrowed

I had meant to read Margaret Atwood before now, but somehow found myself assuming she would be unapproachable or stale in some way. I think I must have looked over an excerpt in a class at uni and decided she was standoffish. Anyhow, I picked up the Handmaid’s Tale at Jessie’s house one night and am glad I got to finishing it last month. Firstly, on a super creepy note THIS BOOK IS ALSO SET IN A PLACE CALLED GILEAD. WHAT. Secondly, it’s really good. Atwood’s mega-dystopia is a world at war, and dying out. You only catch glimpses of the wider problems plaguing the Republic of New Gilead, as the handmaid who is telling us her story is a very small cog in a tightly wound and controlled machine where women are possessions, prized only for their ability to help repopulate the world. Atwood’s words are kind of brutal- softly beautiful, harsh and despairing all at once. It’s a pretty bleak world but the fragmented humanity still given our heroine- small pieces; a glimpse of a forbidden word, the feeling of movement under restrictive and forbidding garments- are like crumbs you must keep following. Will be reading more Atwood for sure. A+

The Goldfinch– borrowed

I have a few feelings about this book. And I think that’s to be expected because it’s like, so so big. Shit. 771 pages man. First off, to have put together a reasonably complicated story spanning around fifteen years with the level of detail, character and plot development Donna Tartt has is pretty damn impressive. I liked the thing most of the way through. I liked Theo all through his sad and complex childhood, found him beleaguered and sweet and understandably consumed in the chief problem of his life- a painting of a goldfinch. The people Theo meets are real people, who you love or hate in turns. Even the doormen at the apartment building he shared with his mother are so vivid you feel like you know what they’re like at home and are halfway to imagining another story where they are the protagonists. Theo’s likability fades considerably about two thirds of the way through at the jump to his mid-twenties. His problems say a lot about what happens to an unsupervised and understood kid left alone and grieving at a key point in his life, but this failed to keep me interested. I just wanted him to allow his friend (and saviour, in a lot of ways), the delightful and charming Hobie the benefit of trusting him with his whole complicated mess but Theo is at this point so stuck in himself he can’t see his way to do much right at all. I should say here that I like the literary style for the most part, up until this point. It was really immersive and quite moving and lovely in points but I just got sick of it all. By the last chapter- a largely sentimental mush of thought and observation that seemed out of place and barely cogent- I just really needed to not be reading about this guy anymore. Basically, I think this story could have been told in half the time. This amount of detail needs to lead somewhere more concrete than I feel Tartt got to. But what do I know. Maybe I missed the point in my quest to just… bloody… finish. She apparently won the Pulitzer prize for literature, so- who you going to believe? I give this two old rugs and an ok looking lamp.

Thanks for reading,  I don’t know why anyone would care what I think of books particularly well received ones or ones that everyone has read already, but it’s keeping me off the streets. Stay tuned for more Uninformed Literary Opinions in February!

I know it’s been a while but please read this

So hi, it’s been over a year since i posted anything on here, and I’ll get to my trivial shit at a later stage. Here, though, i have the words spoken at the funeral of Leo Seemanpillai. I don’t need to say a lot more- it was a catholic funeral, it’s obviously aimed at a religious audience, but it speaks i think to our nation as a whole.

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At Tamil asylum seeker Leo Seemanpillai’s funeral at St Mary of the Angels Catholic Parish in Geelong last week, Tamil Dominican priest Father Pancras Jordan of Pax Christi, flew down from Brisbane to lead the service. He received spontaneous and resounding applause during the funeral service for his powerful, profound and very moving Homily which he has kindly agreed we can share far and wide. See attachment and below. With thanks, Father Pan, for your strong compassion and courage to speak out so strongly at Leo’s funeral. May others follow your example.

“Dear Friends This afternoon we are gathered to say thank you and to say good bye to our beloved brother and friend Leo Seemanpillai who was killed by the harsh, unjust and cruel policy of our government. We are also gathered to pray that our brother, who shared in the sufferings of Christ, may rise with Christ in his resurrection.

Penitential Rite- Lord, we ask your pardon for our ignorance of the plight of the refugees in our country. Lord have mercy.

Lord, we ask pardon for the way in which our country has contributed to the wars in other countries that have produced so many refugees. Christ have mercy.

Lord, we ask your pardon for our poor response to those children, women and men locked in detention centres within our country. Lord have mercy.

My dear friends, We find ourselves, again and again, heartbroken for the individuals and families destroyed by our political games: a political game whereby people are slowly broken in a system of indefinite detention that dehumanises and disempowers; a political game whereby people are locked in the limbo of legislated poverty that is life on a bridging visa. We find ourselves, again, despairing for the Australian character, being shaped by leaders who normalise cruelty, vilify voiceless people and rob the world’s most vulnerable people of not only their rights, but their dignity. “The current Government Policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation,” The Australian Catholic Bishops announced in their May statement on the issue of Asylum Seekers. They proceed to say It is a policy of ‘dehumanisation’ and ‘institutionalised cruelty’. There’s no doubt that Australia’s clear message to people fleeing tyranny in our direction is “You are not welcome here.” This is unambiguous. Current policy is not about creating an “orderly system” or “saving people from drowning”. Billions of dollars are being spent on making people’s lives in detention centres and in our communities – as miserable as possible, in the hope that they will return home and convince others not to head in our direction.

Our government is actively inhospitable, proactively brutal and intentionally determined to break the spirits of people like Leo who once imagined they might find protection from oppression in our care. In a nation committed to unwelcome, with a government committed to cruelty, compassion is protest and welcome is rebellion. So, during this Eucharist I imagine that Leo would be calling us for an uprising of decency, an insurgency of hospitality, an insurrection of humanity, generosity and kindness. I am sure Leo would be inviting us to mutiny. To disobey the order to fear, unwelcome, rejection of asylum seekers and to oppose the wishes of our leaders. But this isn’t a call to arms, to take over the streets with righteous anger and clever placards. While our leaders have determined to hurt asylum seekers until their spirits are broken, and to convince every persecuted person on our planet that asylum seekers will not find safe refuge here, then every act of compassion is protest. A message of welcome is rebellion. It’s time to make a stand. It is time to consider the Australia we want to live and the values which we wish to exemplify. It is time to not merely march against brutality, but to embody hospitality and kindness. To not only rage against injustice, but to model welcome as a lifestyle. We are all called to live as the embodiment of an alternative future for our nation. A future where leadership is measured by the enhancement of human dignity, where diversity is celebrated and every human being is considered equal and deserving of fairness and freedom. Every time you welcome an asylum seeker in your community, every time you make a new friend, or help someone settle into their empty house, or write a postcard to a child in detention or help someone learn English, you’re defying the vision and instruction of our leaders. You’re saying, “welcome” to those they wish to reject – and you’re combating the insidious invasion of heartlessness into our character and communities. And so, in this nation where compassion is protest and welcome is rebellion, we’re asking you who are here, to join us by spreading a simple message of welcome through every suburb, street and home.

Most recent public opinion polls show that a significant majority of Australians support the harsh policies of the present government towards asylum seekers who come on boats. I know of no recent survey of attitudes in the Australian Catholic or Christian population towards the same issue, but it cannot have escaped us that the current policies have been put in place by a government led by a Catholic (and former seminarian) who wears his faith on his sleeve, and that the Minister for Immigration lists “Church” as his favourite hobby in “Who’s Who”. An Australian MP, making his maiden speech in Parliament in 2008, said, “From my faith I derive the values of loving kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others…’ That MP was Scott Morrison, the architect of Australia’s present inhumane treatment of asylum seekers. His words were an accurate representation of Christian teaching; his current actions betray that teaching, whatever he might claim. This same Scott Morrison, so insistent upon compassion and kindness in his maiden speech, is the same Scott Morrison who in 2014 chooses to ignore his faith’s values, when announcing Leo’s death at a recent press conference, by choosing not to refer to Leo by his name, but as an illegal maritime arrival (IMA).

Let me reflect what went wrong with Leo. He wrote notes about visits to doctors and counsellors. He wrote reminders to take his Olanzapine (an anti-psychotic) and Fluoxetine (an anti-depressant). In September, he detailed part of one bad week: ”Thursday – I have no sleeping Friday – bad dreams, darkness Saturday – I sleep 3 hours Sunday – my birthday”. This government was in power at that time. Furthermore Leo would call refugee advocates, asking if he would be sent back. In October he learnt what Immigration Minister Scott Morrison had told Australians: ”Anyone who may have come from Sri Lanka should know that they will go back to Sri Lanka.” These words of Morrison made Leo sick in his soul. Later in his journal he wrote: ”If I’m deported back to Sri Lanka, torture is certain because I’m a Tamil” and ”In the midst of rejection stand tall. Life is hope.” Over the summer of 2013/14, he struggled. In February he checked into a mental health facility and, while there, he tried to hang himself with a towel. In March he moved into a flat above the Barwon River, and chose the small back room because it had the best natural light. ”He was afraid of the night,” said Cathie Bond, a volunteer and de facto mum to Leo. ”I gave him my grandson’s little night light. He said it was like a shiny moon.”

Leo fretted about his fate, and joined Amnesty International and the Australian Red Cross believing membership could somehow help him stay. He went to church on Good Friday and kissed the Holy Cross: ”I asked Jesus to bless me, and to bring a resolution to my past struggles and to not have any more struggles in the future.” Outwardly Leo was upbeat, visiting friends and calling people. The day before he died they said he sounded ”happy”, ”brighter” and ”more alert than he had in a long time”.

My dear friends, for us who work in the area of pastoral care we know often when someone is contemplating suicide they appear to be “happy” because in reality, they have made the decision to end all miseries. They feel a sense of freedom and in the case of Leo, freedom from all cruel policy and denial of fundamental human rights. In the Gospel today we heard what astounding and wonderful things may take place when strangers and refugees are welcomed and given hospitality. “I was a stranger and you welcome me” (Mt.25:35). This passage is part of the parable of the judgement of the Son of Man coming in glory. The astonished people who are gathered around the throne of the King did not realise at the time that they showed welcome and hospitality to their Lord himself and they voice their amazement. Thus, the criterion for a Christian believer to enter eternal life is based on welcoming and rendering hospitality to strangers. The Christian believer therefore encounters their Lord in the stranger. It is by the way one treats the poor and the stranger that one’s worthiness to enter eternal life is tested.”