Recently, I have been accused of not being Southern.
Well, I am.
If the recrement of down-home phrases, which my forbearers have left me and of which I'm very proud, that I have posted now and again to Facebook do not serve as testament, I submit the following. Let it serve as evidence to all those who think my Southern lineage, as far back as the 18th century, is false.
[I'm not proud of the following; but here we go.]
I was taught how to skin a slaughtered squirrel at the age of 10. Daddy nailed the half-dead varmint to a tree and, after making a few, strategic slices here and there, flayed the sad creature from limb to limb in less than a half-dozen tugs.
Daddy said, "Son, you're gonna have to get over this."
Thank cripes, I am no longer living with the flatmate mentioned in the previous post. There's no need for details, other than to say that I'm in a much better space now. I wish him well.
My current housemate is wonderful. She is friendly, spirited, generous, and intelligent. And she is the loving guardian of two really wonderful dogs, with whom Roger is getting along marvelously.
She also told me a conductor joke today, one which I'd not heard. It goes something like the following.
What's the difference between a cow and a conductor?
The cow has horns at the front and a bumhole at the back,
whereas an orchestra has....
The flatmate came into my room at midnight to see if I was breathing. He was off his tree, but that didn't matter. I was, too, from the healthy dose of Nyquil I had guzzled. I'm not sick, just needed help going to sleep.
With public assistance that amounts to a living allowance of $10 per day, I can't afford zolpidem. Finding a bottle of night-time cold medicine in the mosaic of suitcases that occupy floorspace and double as furniture in my room was a gift from the gods.
When I finally opened my eyes, red as brake lights, I could see that he was standing a few feet from me, hesitantly reaching forward with two extended fingers that offered sharp, quickly retracting jabs to my knee. To him, I was a beached aquatic lifeform that might suddenly blurge to life and devour him in a fatal, slimy movement.
That's the problem when you admit to a previous self-harm attempt. People care for you like they do an inherited piece of ugly, fragile porcelain. Casually and with distaste, they do things like spit on their thumb to wipe off a smudge, or, horrified that someone important might see you, freak out upon realizing they have allowed you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for all to see. There's a certain amount of poetic honesty in that, which I admire but regard with sadness that makes my heart seep.
My flatmate has made it no secret to me that he is concerned he will arrive home and find me dead. According to the ex, my step-son voiced the same fears to him shortly before I was asked to leave our home of nine years. Fair enough. I can accept that from a 14 year-old, but from someone who is nearly 50?
It hurts to hear it, more than his prodding fingers ever could.
Responding to a Facebook status update in which I asked for advice on a tenancy snafu I am currently experiencing, a friend asked if there was was a compelling reason why I am not planning a return to the US. (She probably asked this in consideration of the sum of my personal upheavals this year). Many others have also posed this question, and it is a concept I have struggled with, particularly over the past six months.
There are, indeed, compelling reasons for me to remain in Australia, at least for the time being. Some are complex, inherently personal and difficult to describe. Others are simple and direct. I'll start with the latter, and if after I have explained those, I feel I haven't grown weary or simply want to end the writing of this blog post, I will try to give some insight into the more complicated reasons.
In my current situation, Australia provides a safety net that the US does not. I am eligible for financial assistance through a social welfare system that is far from perfect, but provides for its citizenry and permanent residents (C/PR) in an admirable way. (My Aussie friends may scoff at that, but I ask them to take my word for it.) Like many going through incredibly tough emotional, physical and financial turmoil, it was tough for me to admit the need for welfare assistance and make that first appointment to seek it, but when I did, I was treated with compassion and without judgment by all involved.
Setting aside (with difficulty) the fact that a great number of asylum seekers, including children and physically/mentally disabled people, are wasting their existence behind razor wire in off-shore detention camps, I mean, "processing facilities", the Australian government looks after C/PRs in ways that include mental and physical health, and by providing financial help. Yes, my US friends, that's right. For those who meet the criteria and survive requisite waiting periods, money is deposited directly by the government into one's bank account (or a check is mailed) on a fortnightly basis.
In my case, it's called a "Newstart" allowance. Even the nomenclature makes me feel better, but then I worked as a lexicographer for over a decade. Words mean a lot. Plus, I can save the phrase "on the dole" for conversations among those who know where I'm coming from, and for joke mileage among those who don't. It's the funny thing about epithets: they are treasured hypocorisms among those who own them, but the crudest insolence when used by those with the gall to co-opt them.
The financial benefit provided by Newstart (and a smidgeon of separately calculated rental assistance) isn't all that much, but it is, I think, 100% more than I would get in the USA. Centrelink, the Australian government agency responsible for welfare assistance, has its detractors (and its abusers, as does any welfare system), but it helped me enormously after, 1) my split as a de facto partner with my ex, and, 2) my lay-off from the abovementioned lexicographer job. And now, after being bullied six weeks ago to the point of resignation from a job I loved, it will help me again. I am grateful it is there. [Sidebar: it is my aim to pay things forward through volunteer service in some capacity. One could argue that I have "earned" assistance in a number of ways, but I feel it is time for me to return some of the good that has managed to rise to the frothy surface of muck in which I have swum since leaving the Northern Hemisphere in July of 2005.]
The second, most directly compelling reason for me to stay in Australia is that I have access to free or low-cost healthcare. I have been fortunate in life, in that I have had good health. I am a firm believer in preventive medicine, and my healthcare coverage here provides that. It will also help me if the touching of (and knocking on) wood that I just did upon typing this paragraph's second sentence proves an ineffective superstition, and I am stricken with a broken tooth, bone fracture, another kidney stone (please NO!) or something far worse. [Another sidebar: my fellow US citizens who may be reading this, I implore you NOT to underestimate the importance of access to free or affordable healthcare.]
As for the more complex reasons for staying in Australia, I think I'll leave that explanation for later. First, I'll need to look at the aspects of shame, defeat, obstinance, parenting, depression and other topics that I will no doubt begin to explore when I resume therapy over the next couple of weeks.
My path forward is shrouded in a thick haze that over the past few weeks has seemed to clot my lungs with suffocating fear and sadness. I am still scared. I remain profoundly sad. But, at this point, tiny beams of optimism are finally piercing that shroud. However long I end up staying in Australia, I am thankful for those beams. Yes, many of them come from friends, but some of them come from a system that is helping me edge my way forward. Honestly, aside from my wonderful and much-loved friends in the US, I think the system would fail me. And I cannot bring myself even to imagine what that might bring. Let's hope for the better there. Or pray, if that's what you do. Please. I don't mean to sound maudlin, but there are people in worse shape than I am.
Cathy Busha used to head up the Wingspan Domestic Violence Project in Tucson and, I believe, wrote the following article in that context. A dear friend recently sent me Cathy's article via Facebook, and it resonated so strongly that I emailed her to obtain permission to reprint here. I'm grateful she agreed.
The Spiritual Gifts of Surviving Same-Sex Domestic Violence
by Cathy Busha
I remember my spiritual liberation; it didn't happen in a church but in a women's studies class. It was the day I discovered there was a difference between religion and spirituality; namely, that someone could be spiritual without belonging to an organized religion. Since that life-altering day, I have been actively constructing my own eclectic spirituality.
Though my spirituality evolves daily, there are some truths I have reached. My spirituality is based as much on the teachings of Jesus as it is on the teachings of Amy Ray. It can be found in the sight of a Gila Monster scurrying across the desert, or in the comfort of cuddling with my sweetie and our cats on a lazy Sunday morning. My spirituality is in the magical moment when a spoonful of chocolate mousse from Cafe Poca Cosa hits my tongue or in the power of being awakened at midnight by a monsoon lightning storm. The main tenet, though, of my personal spirituality is that I am able to learn from every person, every situation I encounter. In each mirror I find my private revelations are both singular and universal. I have also learned that the most painful experiences are often the most powerful learning tools in my spiritual growth. Surviving same-sex domestic violence is no exception.
Surviving domestic violence has enriched my life in countless ways. It has taught me that I am resourceful and powerful. It has given me the strength and courage to speak out within the LGBT communities and to name a hate crime that occurs in our homes. I have found validation, solidarity, and healing with other survivors of domestic violence. Surviving domestic violence has increased the attention I place on meeting my own needs and the attention I pay to all relationships in my life. I also continue to learn how to ask for help.
As I sought help to leave my partner who was using violence, some friendships deepened while others disintegrated. Offers of a spare couch to sleep on, help in retrieving belongings, or just a patient, non-judgmental ear showed the kindness, concern, and love of my friends.
But I also watched as my naming the violence filtered out false friends. The same denial that trapped me--that women don’t abuse other women and that both people are equally to blame for problems in a relationship--kept some friends from wanting to hear the truth. The truth is that women do abuse other women and that domestic violence is not a relationship issue that can be worked out in couple's therapy--it is solely the responsibility of the person using power, control and violence.
As a survivor of domestic violence, I have learned to appreciate the solitude and safety I create within my own home--I no longer walk on eggshells wondering what will set her off next. I continue to discover and nurture my own healthy sense of entitlement. By surviving domestic violence, I have learned the power of forgiveness--not of my ex-partner, but of myself for staying too long. I have learned to extend to myself the same loving patience that I extended to the woman who hit me.
Surviving same-sex domestic violence is not a spiritual path I would have chosen--it is a path no one should have to travel. I remember the terror I felt as I watched the hands that once stroked my cheek cut the head off of a teddy bear and punch me in the lip. I cried as her voice that once said, "I want to spend my life with you" in rage said, "I want to fucking kick the shit out of you." I remember the confusion and pain I felt as she systematically destroyed all the gifts, the pictures, the sweet letters and cards I had ever made or given her. I remember the shame I felt as we moved a dresser to hide the three-foot hole she put in the wall of our new home with a baseball bat she swung two feet over my head. I remember how helpless I felt as she woke me up while I was sleeping, saying, “If I can’t sleep you can’t sleep, either.” Finally, I remember the freedom, the power I felt when I finally said, “No more" and left her. In choosing myself, I claimed my spirituality.
I now work as an advocate for the Wingspan Domestic Violence Project. If you are enduring behaviors from your partner that you would not accept from a stranger--name calling, pushing, harm to pets, accusations of being unfaithful, invasion of privacy, sleep deprivation, hitting, endless and demanding messages on your pager or cell phone, destruction of property, threats, etc—it’s time to get help. Ask yourself, "What if my best friend told me that her partner had been treating her the way my partner is treating me? What would my advice to her be?" Most likely, you would tell your best friend to get out of there--that you are concerned for her safety, that she deserves better and that you will help her. Now look in the mirror and tell yourself.
Perhaps you stay for some of the same reasons I did. You hope that you can learn how to not make her angry because you believe that her rage is somehow your fault. She has threatened to commit suicide if you leave her. You believe her each time she says she is sorry and that it will never happen again. You are too embarrassed to leave because no one will believe you or you will lose friends. You fear that everyone will be angry with your for staying too long or for destroying the myth of the "lesbian utopia.” You’re afraid your straight friends and family will get the wrong idea about the lesbian community. You may feel guilty and somehow responsible for her rage because she says, "I don't get this angry at anyone but you...you bring it out in me."
The therapist you are both seeing for couple’s counseling does not hold your partner accountable for her acts of violence, but instead works with you on ways you can support your partner when she is “raging.” You may own property together and it would be a hassle to split up. You know that she grew up in an abusive home and that you want to help her work through her childhood pain. You minimize the abuse and danger because her anger and rage are so common that they now appear to be “normal.” You love her and want to make the relationship work. It also feels important to say that I didn’t come into the relationship with “low self-esteem.” It has been my experience that this myth is perpetuated to keep “victims” somehow at a distance – that they are very different from and more “damaged” than everyone else. I did not have low-esteem; rather, I had a really big, compassionate heart that got stepped on and exploited.
I am thankful that my spirituality--the desire to find learning in each situation--enables me to find some gifts I received by surviving domestic violence--I am not thankful for the domestic violence. No one deserves to live in fear of her partner; everyone deserves joy, safety, and peace. Domestic violence doesn't just go away on its own; if nothing is done to break the cycle of abuse, the violence could continue to escalate.
If you are with a partner who is choosing to use violence, it is time to get help, [to] start to remove those barriers to your safety. It is time to begin the next part of your spiritual journey--healing and joy.
I have been thinking a lot about my recent job loss. It has been one week since I resigned.
While performing water choreography that I call Morning Glow--or, Get Your Ass out of Bed, depending on my mood--something dramatic came to me, not quite at the elevation of an epiphany, but an idea important enough to explore eagerly.
Now that the intensity of the initial, acute-pain stage has lessened, I am able to see beyond its threshold to the macro structure that encompasses it, I believe that larger entity is experience, which in turn is encompassed by the next level, knowledge What is next? Perhaps it is value. And outside that, meaning, enlightenment, life. I don't know; it's a rough idea, but it makes sense. Like a crutch in the closet, the experience of an event leads you, as much as possible, to make decisions based on the knowledge the experience has provided. And not all events have to lead to painful experiences. Or at least I don't want to be so pessimistic as to think so.
What happened last week as I left that cafe in Manhattan was a confident step on the bus to experience. It, along with the the event of my lay-off last August, the death of my father earlier this year and the end of a long relationship with partner and stepson, are housed by and feed the level that represents knowledge.
My journey is an exploration of life. Along the way, I gain experiences that present knowledge. The knowledge informs value.
I appreciate that this particular event is helping me see how it fits into the entire production. It's probably no surprise that I would perceive this as a series of scenarios. Maybe others would organize it differently, but to me, like the madrigal comedies that were the subject of my doctoral focus, they are relatively short, chromatic representations of events that punctuate our life and propel us on our way.
Next stop, who knows? But by the time I finally end up at the outer bubble, I certainly hope I've enjoyed the ride.
Some readers may notice I have removed the last two posts. Like the abovementioned crutch, they were tools used to enable process. They were useful, but now they can be archived.
It's official: I'm on the dole.
I am not proud. Rather, I am humbled. I am also thankful. And I am sad.
I have never accessed welfare benefits before, and I must admit it has been difficult to admit that I have to resort to it. But nine months of continued unemployment tend to hack away at the confidence in one's ability to self sustain. Fuck the stigma.
Ever since Mark ended our relationship a few weeks ago, a few folks have asked why I don't just pack up and move back to the US. There are a number of reasons for that, some simple and some complex. Unless they have been through it, I don't think anyone understands what it means to move to another country for a partner--especially during middle age and after just receiving a doctorate, (thereby charting a professional path that would ultimately lead nowhere in the new hemisphere). It wasn't easy to get here. Why the hell should it be easy to leave?
Anyway, being on welfare won't be forever. It may not even be for a month. But for however long it lasts, I am thankful. I wouldn't receive the same benefits in the US. Not at all.
I am optimistic regarding my chances of finding work in Sydney. I like Melbourne, but obviously my shingle wasn't welcome to hang there. So be it.