Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Sperm Donor

'Well, look who I ran into,'crowed Coincidence.
'Please,'flirted Fate, 'this was meant to be.'
― Joseph Gordon-Levitt, The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 1

There were only sixteen of us in the group, even so, I knew there was no way I going to remember everyone’s name. Yes, we had each labeled our chest with a sticky tag upon arrival, but some people had used a plain blue biro that I couldn’t see from the other side of the table, while another had the sort of hand-writing that made it almost impossible to tell an a from and e, or whether that was double-r or an m.

I don’t know about you, but I reckon there’s something a bit creepy about a stranger surreptitiously peering at your left breast while you’re speaking to them. And let’s face it, those sticky tags have a habit of losing their stick pretty damn quickly. The seminar is rarely half over before Hadley the coffee cup joins the crowd by the sink, and someone’s right loafer has picked up Galatea.

Tell us something memorable about yourself. Perhaps choose something you’re proud of, something unique or funny, something you’re happy for us to remember you by.

It was almost my turn.  Two more introductions, then me.

The bitch inside my head slammed words against my skull like a squash ball thudding on the grubby court walls: dull, plain, old, trite, drab, sad, tame, bland—forgettable. You’re eminently forgettable…

Still, somehow, the voice of the quietly spoken young woman to my right began to plink through the echoing fog haze of my panic. Right after she’d explained that she worked in a highly specific and, frankly, to me quite intimidating field, she added something like this:
 And… well… I was donor conceived, and my search for the man who is my biological father has been quite public. Some of you might have seen the documentary about it.  And…well… actually… it turns out that my paternal grandfather is a rather famous Australian academic …

As she named him, I began to see the likeness. Not to the famous academic. To his son.
To the guy I’d known at uni.
To an anonymous student who gave sperm in exchange for money.
To the smiling bearded guy with the unnervingly blue eyes who’d shared a house with one of my friends and who, for several years, I’d thought was kind of gorgeous.
To her biological father.
I guess it shouldn’t have felt weird. But it did.
It felt like one of those life-imitating-art moments.

I was swallowed by images of nights sharing lentil and vegie mash in mismatched bowls. Secondhand chairs around a rickety table. Energetic, idealistic, expansive conversations fuelled by our passion for our studies. And cheap wine.

Anything was possible.
Everything was unknown.
I was not who I am now.

Not who I am now, but no more memorable then than now.
He wouldn’t remember me.
I will have left no impression.
No sticky tag on his memory.

Tell us something memorable about yourself… something you’re happy for us to remember you by

Monday, 16 March 2015

All hail Isabel of Ararat...

On this mild Monday, I just want to write a short but heartfelt shout-out to 91-year-old Isabel Mackenzie of Ararat who, as I type, has chained herself to a huge and magnificent River Red Gum in protest at the destruction of such ancient beauties for the widening of the highway. Isabel, you rock. 

1924, the year Isabel was born, was a good one. Clarence Birdseye invented frozen food, people here in Victoria heard a local radio station for the first time, and George Gershwin gave us Rhapsody in Blue. Now, while the advent of snap frozen vegetables can undoubtedly be said to be a boon to all housewives wealthy enough to have a freezer from that time forth, that's pretty much what most women either were, or aspired to being ... a housewife with a freezer. I'm tipping that political protest wasn't part of the landscape of a country woman's lifestyle in 1924.

Isabel was six the year that Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup and Amy Johnson became the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia, and she was 13 the year that Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. 1945, the year Isabel turned 21, signaled the end of WW2. It was also the year women in France won the right to vote. Four years later, Simone de Beauvoir penned The Second Sex.

Half Isabel’s life-time ago, in 1969, the fearless and fearsome Zelda D’Aprano chained herself to the doors of the Melbourne Arbitration Court when a case for equal pay for women in the Meatworkers’ Union failed to produce anything more than a token increase. She refused to accept powerlessness.

I don't know Isabel Mackenzie, but I feel pretty safe in saying that a woman of 91 has seen a great deal of change. She's watched the city spread its toxic breath over the countryside and the back roads grow into highways. And over those years, she's witnessed injustices and atrocities against nature that have finally led her to take a stand:

"These trees are hundreds of years old and I was hoping maybe something would be left for the next few generations to see."

Good for you, Isabel. You're a role model and a wake-up call and a pick-me-up tonic and a shiny grey-haired example of refusing to be invisible. You're a humanist and an activist and a warrior for good.

All hail, Isabel of Ararat.
I salute you.