Kill Your Darlings

I’ve been a fan of Kill Your Darlings for many years, and I am so excited to have had a piece published in their January issue. My piece is about my time at a writing workshop with Cheryl Strayed in the French alps, which I thought would be the ideal place to escape the distractions of everyday life.

The workshop was practical, inspiring, complex, and, in many ways, life-changing. Outside of the workshop room, however, I struggled, even with my dream writing conditions (a view of the Alps, with a cheese platter nearby) to find the peace and stillness I needed. In this piece, I consider what is needed to become fully immersed in creative work: whether it is solitude, collaboration with peers, the privilege to take time off from ‘real life’, unplugging from devices, or a matter of discipline or motivation.

You can read the editorial and order Issue 28 here.

 

A moon, new beginnings and loss

Today, I am thinking about my beautiful friend, Jenny Green, who died in November 2015. I wrote about the supermoon, an odd, rare phenomenon that helped me observe Jenny’s death and work towards accepting it. This piece was originally published by Urban Walkabout, which unfortunately went into voluntary administration so the piece is no longer available online. You can read the original piece below.

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The Supermoon, Grief and a Turbulent Month

According to NASA, our planet will see “the closest full moon to date in the 21st century” on November 14. I have experienced the uneasy combination of terror and excitement in the lead up to this supermoon. It will be one year since my friend, Jenny Green, died. Since I haven’t wanted to deal with my grief, I have focused on the moon.

Astronomers have advised the public where to gather in order to observe the supermoon. Whether people are planning to capture it using expensive tripods or a phone camera, there are a few ideal vantage points. These include east-facing beaches, mountains, tall buildings and hills.

Jenny loved beaches. Of all the beaches in the world, she was insistent that the best is Coogee Beach in Sydney. She scoffed if you dared to make the argument in favour of Bondi Beach, Nielsen Park or, God forbid, any Melbourne beach. Her dream was to listen to Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major at her favourite place, which was Coogee Beach at sunset, and “swoon with the sheer ridiculous beauty of it all.”

When I found out that the supermoon would coincide with the anniversary of her death, I laughed. It’s always easier to laugh, to live in denial, and to get angry, than to cry. I suppose that’s why in Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief, anger and bargaining occur before depression. I laughed because Jenny would have appreciated the symbolism and metaphor so much. She would have quoted poems and songs, without needing to Google the lyrics, and effortlessly braided them together into an astounding post, shocking her Facebook followers with the obscenities and the stark beauty of her words.

Brisbane poet and writer Kathleen McLeod also connects the super moon to our shared grief over Jenny. As she wrote on her blog, “The supermoon is tonight and here you are, still illuminating all of us. Life is beautiful and terrifying and weird.”

The moon features in so many religious and spiritual customs. It is tied to fertility, femininity, mysticism and new beginnings. Leonard Cohen, who died a week ago on 7th November, sang about the moon, as did Jeff Buckley and numerous other incredible poet song-writers.

This morning, a friend told me Cohen died earlier than the date his death was announced in the media. He was buried before Trump became President Elect, which means that he left the world before it changed so drastically.

This brought me a deep sense of calm, which I don’t completely understand. Social media has encouraged society to analyse everything through a microlens, but grief interferes with one’s ability to participate in these obsessive new rituals. Instead, sometimes all that a mourner can do is focus on loss, and death, and cycles of life; we can only navigate the personal, with little space for the political.

Then again, Jenny taught me that there was always room for both. It feels so fitting that this date I have been dreading coincides with the supermoon. This unusual natural phenomenon lets me pause and contemplate nature and life. It interrupts the regular media schedule of fear, with scientific facts, natural beauty and photography tips.

As people gather at sunset tonight, whether they’re picnicking on a hill, or at the beach listening to classical music, drinking gin, and skinny dipping, which would have been Jenny’s choice, I hope the moon brings a sense of peace and calmness. Recent events in the world have left so many distressed, disoriented and fearful. When we peer up at the sky tonight and see the moon looking bigger and brighter than it has since 1948, and won’t again until 2034, I hope we can appreciate the beauty of the natural world. I hope that for a brief moment we can let go of everything – even the science and the facts – and just let it be magic when we need it the most.

 

Events in November and December

I’ll be presenting at the Youth, Health and Practical Justice Conference on Sunday 4th December in Sydney. The conference is organised by the UNSW Practical Justice Initiative and the UTS Faculty of Health. It is the first national interdisciplinary conference for those working to promote young people’s wellbeing and health in education, health service, community, and youth work settings.

In addition to presenting about my own work with young people, I will be co-presenting an academic poster with my lovely wife, Rachel Chapman. She is doing important research on educators’ understanding of gender in early childhood education and how this impacts on young children. For those of you based in Melbourne, she will be presenting at the ‘Beyond the Culture Wars’ LGBTIQ History Conference in Melbourne (25-26 November 2016). I went to their conference in Adelaide last year, and I highly recommend it!

What doctors need to know about LGBTIQ+ people and mental health

This week, I wrote an article for Daily Life about my first Pap smear, which unfortunately was also my first experience of coming out to a doctor. The doctor was religious, and used his role to ‘educate’ me about the unhappiness and shame associated with being homosexual.

Since writing this piece, I have been saddened to read some comments that blame me for my naivety in not doing my research before going to this doctor. One particularly hurtful comment said that the fact that he was able to make me feel so ashamed suggests that I know there is something wrong with my sexuality. Both of these arguments are triggering, #victimblaming, and fairly disturbing.

In my case, I now know about websites like DocLIST, which help lesbian and bisexual women find supportive, understanding doctors. When I think back to my 2004 experience, I feel shame – even to this day – but I also feel anger. Why was this man able to talk to me like this? Why didn’t I feel able to stop him in the middle of his torrent of abusive words and tell him I was leaving? Why do doctors, especially male doctors, have so much power over young women?

If you are LGBTIQ+ and worry about some of these things, please refer to The National LGBTI Health Alliance and DocLIST (if you identify as a woman).

The Shy Extrovert and the Social Media Introvert

wrote a piece about being a shy extrovert for The Vocal, a Fairfax publication that is action-oriented and radically positive. The editor is the superb and talented Sheree Joseph.

Since then, I have received messages and had fascinating conversations with people who identify as shy extroverts, social media introverts, awkward extroverts, confident introverts, etc. I also came across this wonderful blog post by PooJa Kesavan that quotes my article.

Regardless of how you feel about the terms extrovert and introvert, and whether you believe that such a binary exists, it is obvious that there is a spectrum of social behaviour that is largely influenced by our brains, social development and mental health. At the end of the article, I recommend Sian Prior‘s book “Shy: A Memoir”, and Susan Cain‘s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. I can also recommend the Dear Sugar Podcast (Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond), which addresses many of these issues regularly. Let me know if you want to talk more about any of this!

What AFL’s inaugural Pride Game means to me as a queer woman

I recently wrote an article for Daily Life about the inaugural Pride Game between St Kilda and the Sydney Swans. The article is about my experiences with sport when I was growing up as a queer woman, as well as the AFL’s links to homophobia, racism and misogyny.

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I really enjoyed the Pride Game, and in many ways, it challenged my longstanding beliefs about AFL and homophobia. I now believe that things can, and will, change. However, some aspects of the game still bothered me. I plan to write an update about my experience at the game shortly.

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