If you’ve ever navigated a crisis or stressful life event – a death or critical illness in the family, a colicky newborn baby, relationship breakdown, teenager going off the rails, Christmas with your in-laws – then chances are someone will have asked ‘what are you doing for Self Care? What are you doing for YOU?’
It’s a question that’s always made me panic. I usually mumble something about a nice glass of red and a good book. And hope they change the subject. I feel caught-out somehow, transported back to high school, lost for an answer to an easy question in front of the whole class. Back then I was ashamed because if I’d leant my times tables like everyone else I would have known the answer. Now I panic at the question about self care because I’m not really sure where to start. I’ve forgotten what I like, what gives me a buzz. I’ve forgetten, basically, who I actually am.
If I take away who I am at work and who I am as a parent I’m left with an ill-focussed fuzzy grey outline of a person. If you squint you’ll see a vaguely left-wing blur, with random, scattered patches of clarity. I like cheese, for example. I like listening to This American Life. But you can’t build an identity around cheese and a podcast. At least not entirely.
I remember liking things when I was in my 20s – music, dancing, movies, authors. If someone had told 21-year old me to make sure I spent some time each day doing something I enjoyed I would have been able to think of plenty to do. And, frankly, would probably have been doing not much else anyway. I knew what I liked. I knew who I was. I’ve been trying to conjur up the moment when that clarity of identity slipped away, but I can’t pin it. I just faded gradually, my edges blurred, my colours seeped out.
So I’m trying to remember myself. Colour myself back in. I’m trying things out for size, to see if they’re part of who I am. I’m about a week in. Turns out I like sitting in cafés writing navel-gazing prose. I thought I might like dogs, but I don’t really. Although I’m quite fond of my own. I like roller skating. And playing the card game Exploding Kittens. I don’t like crime fiction. It’s not a long list yet, but its more than cheese and a podcast.
Today a lion escaped from a zoo in Switzerland and a teenage boy was locked up in Singapore for criticising religion. The news has started to blur, to warp and wobble. The absurd and the real are hard to tell apart. A boy heaps angst on religion and is sent to jail for it. A lion gets out of its enclosure then panics, not knowing what to do next, until it’s shot.
I’ve lost track of who is bombing who in Syria. Can’t keep track of the freedom fighters and terrorists, rights groups and racist nationalists. The send-ups and the actual politicians. The Mighty Boosh used to be bizarre and now it’s a welcome relief from how weird reality’s getting. Watch it instead of the nightly news I say. Preserve your sanity a bit.
The first headline in my newsfeed one morning this week was about pay inequality for male models. Top modelling agent says male models ‘suffer big pay gap’. Apparently the top ten female models all make millions, while only the top three male models make over a million. Awww. All the stories of women suffering as a result of gender inequality around the world, and that was the headline news? Screw that! was my first response. Then I started to worry – was I a hypocrite if I claimed to care about gender inequality but scorned this example of it? Probably. Damn.
So, to assuage my guilt a bit I forced myself to think about it some more. And decided that maybe the headline was a turning point to be welcomed. Maybe it’s a sign that men have realised gender inequality is a thing.
In the same way that terrorism started on September 11, 2001 for many people in the Western world, maybe this exposé of pay inequality for male models is when gender inequality will become real (and so a thing to be feared and fought) for a large number of men. Even men stridently opposed to gender inequality would have been excused until now if they tried and failed to conjure up a full-blown sweaty-palmed fear of it. It’s hard to fear something that you know can’t hurt you.
So thank you mainstream media for shining a spotlight on this issue. Maybe the new momentum to stamp-out pay inequality for male models will have a spill-over effect for other niche industries where women face a similar problem, like management, medicine, business, teaching, science and sport.
Go back to where you came from! A favourite rallying cry of racists and rednecks. As a white, 2nd generation Australian I’ve never been the butt of it, but my mum, the daughter of refugees with odd accents and smelly cheese, heard it a fair bit.
So, as refugees pour into Europe, I retraced my grandmother’s refugee steps out of Europe. I found myself in the ruins of a grand old mansion in the hills of an obscure Eastern European country. Surrounded by distant cousins whose grannies had hunkered down when war struck, rather than grabbing a suitcase and making a dash for it like mine had.
Turns out the restlessness and the tendency to ditch where you come from that’s seen me turn my back on Australia for Asia and Europe for years at a time goes back generations. My grandmother’s parents saw the borders around their town being redrawn after WWI and sold up and left, before the new authorities could seize their lands. My grandmother was six when she chalked-up her first refugee claim. Her cousins all stayed and were shunted out of their grand houses into shabbier ones, then a generation later into even shabbier communist-era flats.
My grandmother grew up in a big European capital, among other faded former aristocratic families trying to keep up the veneer of glamour on shoestring budgets. When the fun of living in summer resorts in the mountains to escape Second World War bombings wore off she grabbed what she could carry, and, pregnant with my mother, she hit the road again. She chalked-up her second refugee claim and ended up on a boat bound for Sydney (Ottawa having lost the coin-toss.)
I’d grown up assuming she’d had to leave. But then I went back to where she came from. Right back, into the back blocks of the back blocks of Eastern Europe. And there were all these cousins – grandchildren of her cousins. And they were all still there. They’d survived just fine. Sure they had watched while each generation had been stripped of property by the state, or arrested for ‘agitating’. But they’d survived. My granny’s parents could have stayed. They would (probably) not have been killed or jailed or tortured. At least not much. So refugee claim number one: bunk.
Then I checked out the European capital she had fled, where her apartment was flattened by allied bombs. Again, distant cousins, all alive. None had happy memories of the post-WWII years and the communist rule that followed. But no torture, some persecution but nothing you could prove. No deaths. Refugee claim number two was just as bunk.
I look at people now, fleeing actual, proper, certain death. Making desperate dangerous journeys to Europe and Australia. If their grandkids go back to where they came from they’re not likely to find a lot of cousins who turned out just fine. It’s pretty confronting to realise my granny was, when I compare her to a woman escaping a war zone today, a pretty piss-weak refugee.
When her boat docked in Australia for the first time, locals came down to the jetty with fresh fruit for the kids on board. Shit, she got lucky.
A reader last week accused Me of being a “Land Rights for Gay Whales Wanker”. I’ll paraphrase his username and call him Up_Ya501, to protect his privacy. I’m not offended on the “wanker” front. What really pissed me off was that Up_Ya501 had been so damn lazy. A burning desire to slag-off as many minority/lefty groups in one short, sharp insult – fine. I get it. But at least aim for some internal consistency.
If you’re determined to include both indigenous rights activists and conservationists in your insult then PICK AN ENDANGERED LAND ANIMAL FOR FUCKS SAKE. A whale, sexual orientation notwithstanding, is clearly not going to be a pin-up for even the most hardcore land rights campaign. Land. Come on UpYa501, make a bit of an effort! Gay Pandas maybe. But whales? Jeezuz.