Sunday, 24 April 2016

Your Extra Time and Your Kiss

The other day I did a writing class called Catherine Deveny's Gunnas Masterclass. I've done one before. It was life changing then and it was again this time around.

I wrote this piece which she generously published on her website, as she does with all her students. Some of the work that comes out of these classes are nothing short of brilliant. The passion of the people brought together is contagious and intoxicating and I want to read all the books people talked about having inside them.

One of the exercises we did was to write about a picture and a word she gave us randomly. We were to just start writing; weaving the picture and word we were given into the story as we did. We were given six prompts that would begin the next paragraph. The prompts are in italics in the piece below.

I was given an incredible photo of two men hanging from telegraph poles in their harnesses kissing. I wrote a gay romance in the time I had. I just saw passion, romance, love. The word I got was "damage". I contemplated the damage that having a crush does to you. The bitter sweet, irresistible, forbidden, terrifying, crippling, nauseating and euphoric damage.

I knew I wanted to publish this story here, so I looked for the photo on the internet, hoping I'd come across it. And I did. And they were kissing. For life.

The photo is iconic. It was taken by photographer Rocco Morabito in 1967. One man was actually giving the other mouth to mouth when he became unconscious after touching live power lines. It is truly an incredible story that you can read about here.

Anyway. Here is the photo and the piece. Enjoy.


Image credit: The Kiss Of Life by Rocco Morabito, 1967

Once upon a time there was a huge storm. They sent Joe out to fix the fallen lines. It was his first time alone since finishing his apprenticeship. He was nervous, but eager. He climbed carefully, checking his harness as he went. It was tight on his crotch, but it kind of excited him. He tried not to look down, but the temptation was irresistible.

The higher he got, the more composed he felt. That is until, Pete showed up. Pete was the new foreman. Joe didn’t know Pete was coming. That changed everything. His confidence; his calm resolve suddenly turned to shit. His palms were instantly wet, his heart was beating and the harness got tighter.

Everyday since Peter arrived, Joe had felt more and more like a school boy again. Stammering his words, trying to avoid powerless confrontations, watching him from afar. He thought he sensed reciprocity, but he could never be sure if it was in his mind. From the moment he saw him the damage was done. 

Joe stopped to wait for Pete to climb to his height, which he never quite reached. Rehearsing a witty greeting and hoping to god his voice wouldn’t break. When Pete spoke, Joe’s mouth suddenly went dry, but as soon as their eyes met, the world stood still long enough for him to get his breath back.

One day he’d shed all this bullshit anxiety and insecurity about sussing out if someone liked him. Of course he didn’t know how to start that conversation. He didn’t want to make any assumptions, but he didn’t want to miss the chance either. What’s the worst that could happen anyway? So he smiled. His mouth said, “G’day boss.” His eyes said, “I really wanna fuck you.”

They worked quietly and with perfect synchronicity. Handing each other tools and making banter about the havoc the storm had wreaked. Because of that they had their work cut out for them and it gave Joe the time to centre himself. To focus on the job at hand, not the attraction; the unbearable and all-consuming desire he felt for Pete. 

They stopped briefly when Pete cut his finger on a rogue nail and Joe fumbled in his tool belt for the band aid he knew was floating around in there.

And because of that, Joe had the opening he needed to direct the conversation to a more intimate place. 

“Is it deep?”
“Nah. Just a flesh wound, but it stings like a bastard.”
“Here. Put this on before it gets infected.”

Joe reached over and handed the band aid to Pete, their fingers brushing one another’s briefly; electrifyingly. Pete carefully unwrapped it and wound it round his bleeding finger. 

Until finally they had two choices. Continue with the work, letting the delicious moment pass them by possibly forever. Or make this the story they told their friends and family.

“Are you Ok?” Joe said.
“Better now.” Said Pete.
“Me too. Better than I’ve been in a while.” Replied Joe, attempting to inch closer by trying to release the harness a bit to drop down to Pete’s level. The harness slipped and he jarred backwards ending up upside down. At precisely the same time, Pete caught him by the shoulders. They kissed. 


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Playing in Home Corner

 Image credit:

There's always something to do around the home and if you expect to live in an unattainable magazine spread, then you'll never leave the house and you'll never be satisfied. It's easier to keep things in order when you live alone. When you live with other people, you can only be responsible for your things; have control over your personal space, like your room for instance. You need to negotiate the standards of the common areas and how you share the space. As it should be. You're not responsible for anyone else's mess. Obviously young children are dependent on you and the irrational little buggers refuse to negotiate. If you are the only adult in the house, you're it. It's hard until the kids are old enough to help out. Socialising children to participate in the running of a household and to become independent is extremely important. If there is another adult in the house, then all the work should be shared. It shouldn't even be a question. If you are an adult, then you need to know how to be self sufficient in all aspects of running a household.

Unfortunately, the division of domestic labour is still extremely unequal. Women still end up doing the bulk of household duties, regardless of whether or not they have children or work. Research shows that the financial independence of women alone will not decrease how much work they do around the house. A shift is needed in the gender ideology of men. They simply need to do more household tasks and child care to catch up.

There also needs to be a cultural shift. Pay attention to advertising. When ever any kind of household cleaning product is advertised, it almost always depicts a woman doing the task. Except this ad from India, which is an excellent attempt at addressing the issue. This kind of sexism is not only degrading to women, it is patronising to men. There are men out there who live alone or share with other men and shock horror, THEY DO HOUSEWORK.

As the workforce participation rate for women increased, the need to find ways to make things easier became more urgent. In Australia, child care is expensive, often canceling out the limited income that women with young children can earn, especially if they only work part time. However, the comparative quality of our child care system places us among the best countries in the world in regards to child/carer ratio, qualifications and training of carers, early childhood curriculum and safety. So these days, it is extremely common, if not in fact the norm, for children to be cared for outside the home much earlier so women can go back into paid employment. The trouble is that women are then coming home and spending each evening and weekends doing most of the unpaid work.

One solution is to hire a cleaner; someone that can do the ongoing tasks to keep a household running. This is another added cost and seems to be a band aid solution to the issue. I used to be a cleaner. I worked for an agency that sent me out to do child minding and home cleaning. I enjoyed it. It was a no pressure job, while I was in between jobs. It was casual employment, so although I didn't get any benefits like sick leave or holiday pay, the work was well paid and flexible. I never felt demeaned. The houses I cleaned were generally very nice and belonged to employed people with families. I folded washing, vacuumed, cleaned the bathrooms, dusted and tidied up a little. I had three hours or so to do it in. I almost felt like I was ripping them off because there really wasn't that much to do. These days you can hire a cleaner to do an end of lease clean or to stage your home for selling it, but when there are adults and older children living in a home, why aren't they doing it?

Personally, I couldn't imagine hiring a cleaner. I just don't see the need. Maybe because I did it for a job and it would be like hiring myself. There are two adults and we live in an apartment. I have three daughters, but even if they were sons, I can't imagine them growing up not participating in the household tasks needed for us all to stay fed, clean, clothed and somewhat ordered. I don't just mean cleaning their rooms either. I envisage them having a go at cleaning the bathrooms or picking up and folding the washing (or putting it away, which is the bane of my existence!) I have fantasies of us living in a house with a yard and spending a day tending to it as a family. 

Maybe I'm delusional or idealistic, but does it have to be an unrealistic dream? Teaching my kids that it's their responsibility to contribute to the smooth functioning of their home is instilling life skills that they are going to need when they are independent. Gender shouldn't even be an issue. Everyone needs to know how to function as an adult. Everyone should be able to do things like sew on a button, get stains out of clothes or the carpet, throw out rotting food and wipe out the fridge, change bedding and towels, empty bins, put up a picture, change a light bulb, mop a floor, operate a stove top, keep a plant and a pet alive, cook a meal, buy groceries, air out a room by opening a window. These things aren't just for aesthetics and comfort, they keep us well and allow us to function as civilised and mature adults.

When I was a cleaner I thought about why they hired me, these fairly middle class people with businesses and nice houses. Why were they happy for a stranger to come into their home, touch their belongings and do the things that we should take pleasure in doing because it's caring for our intimate environment. It felt like these people couldn't be bothered doing the basics like washing up their breakfast dishes or scrubbing the skid marks out of the toilet after doing a poo. Did they see it as a task below them? I don't buy that there isn't time. There's time. You make it. You prioritise. If you run out of undies, you put on a load. The house doesn't have to look like a catalogue, it doesn't have to be spotless (I dust by blowing on the furniture....with my mouth!) However, if everything has a place; if the bathrooms and kitchen are hygienic; if you have clean clothes and towels and the fridge and pantry are stocked so you can prepare healthy meals, you can still have a life. You can still work or study all day, you can still go out to restaurants, you can still spend whole weekends out of the house or week days where you only use the house to sleep and shower. You can still have a full life and run a functional home. It isn't difficult to clean as you go. To keep things ordered and to be aware of the needs of the household as a communal space. The more everyone contributes, the less there is to do. The expectation should be that it's everyone's responsibility. Why would you want someone else doing that for you? Isn't there a kind of satisfaction from taking care of the space where you live; your home. Not in a Stepford wife kind of way, like the mundanity of house work is meant to give us an organism. It isn't. It can be relentless and time consuming and aggravating. Especially when it isn't shared or it is taken for granted. However, in the right context, it's simply taking care of the place where your security and comfort reside and the things that make up whatever it is that you define as home. There's whole industries based on styling or interior decorating or feng shui or whatever. It's not hard to see having domestic skills as an opportunity to do it yourself. It's something everyone should take pride in. You groom yourself, why wouldn't you groom your personal living environment?

My one and a half year old twins already know that when they finish eating, they put their plates on top of one another and move them from their high chair to the table. It doesn't help me much, it's not cleaning up, but it's a subtle message of 'when you finish with your plate, put it up.' They also have their toys in storage bins and know how to pack up. It's a game, but a very important one.

The biggest issue people have is clutter. We buy heaps of crap we don't need and we run out of places to put everything. We don't need much. Travel is a testament to that. How freeing is going on holidays when you only live with what is in your suitcase and you don't miss anything? I have become a chucker. When I rented I moved regularly; 13 times in 10 years. One year I moved three times. It was exhausting and heart breaking, but in a way, liberating. It allowed me to go through all my belongings regularly and throw out the crap. I've lived in my current home for eight years. A lot has happened in that time. I traveled with my partner. We got married. We had three kids including twins in three years. We have accumulated a lot of crap. This year I'm being ruthless. I am a vigilant present door bitch with the kids. I know their grandparents adore them and want to shower them with gifts to watch their little faces light up, but I've set limits and they have started buying them things to play with when we visit, which means it stays out of our place. I sound ungrateful, I know, but the relationship with their grandparents is built on everything else, not toys.

I'm not against the cleaning industry, but it feels a bit classist. Cleaners are usually women, migrants, single mothers, students. I wouldn't want to rob them of a livelihood, but maybe then the industry needs to be valued more. Certainly for cleaners who clean public places, wages need to be increased and attitudes need to change. Nothing shits me more than watching how the custodians in food courts are treated. People leave crap all over the tables expecting the cleaners to pick up their garbage. Recently the cleaners in Parliament House in Canberra went on strike over wages. Considering the extravagance some politicians get away with, raising their wages to match the importance of the work they do isn't a big ask.

Maybe we need a cultural shift on a bigger scale. Raising kids to be conscious of their living environment, picking up after themselves, being responsible for their toys and tidying up, not being destructive and seeing things as disposable, pitching in around the home. Surely this will lead to functioning adults who respect the environment and the planet. Who live responsible and respectful lives towards places and people who maintain places. It's definitely a 'think global act local' moment. Cleanliness, conservation, recycling, good hygiene and health, a reduction of consumerism and waste, equality in the distribution of domestic and menial labour, the gender pay gap. It all starts at home.