Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Foo was here

It was scratched or scrawled somewhere on pretty much every stall in the women’s toilets of the Menzies Building and most of those in the Union Building when I was at uni in the late 70’s. A version of Aussie activist Irina Dunn’s classic catchphrase : A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
Yes, American feminist Gloria Steinem often gets the credit, but she popularised it, she didn’t create it —and I think I probably had one of these badges but this one is from the collection at Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia. 
Somewhere nearby you would almost invariably find:

My mum made me a lesbian and I will be forever grateful

 Then someone else would have added:

If I buy her the wool, will she make me one too?

It was graffiti. Yes, it was the illegal defacing of university property. Vandalism. But in 1976 it was bloody funny.  And it was designed to provoke discussion. I can remember being excited by the way the world — the universe — opened up to me when I started univers-ity. Provocative ideas. Rebellion. Protest. Feminism was queen, the anti-nuclear movement was alive and well, and we were there because we wanted to get an education… not a job. 

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Excuse me for a minute while I just climb down off this high-horse and clamber up onto my soapbox.

Tagging. That’s what’s been bugging me. I know it’s been a “thang” for… like… everrr… but I still don’t get it. Why leave your signature everywhere? What’s the point of defacing property with a symbol that is your own personal version of :

Aussie soldiers started graffiting Foo wherever they went in WW1, a weird tradition picked up by the Brits and Americans (who felt the need to change his name to Kilroy — Really? Kilroy? What’s wrong with Foo?) and then carried on into WW2. So, although there seems to be no definitive explanation of who Foo was and why it mattered that people knew he’d been there, it doesn’t take a great leap of logic or faith to imagine that these were largely untravelled and inexperienced young soldiers in a foreign country, so they  could very well have seen Foo as a kind of visual indicator to civilians of the spread of advancing allied forces.

But what's the logic behind tagging a train, a fence, a street sign, a building, an advertising billboard or even someone’s car with your personal logo? What purpose does it serve? It doesn’t raise awareness of an issue or create discussion for social change. It doesn’t engage viewers, nor does it qualify as street art. Tagging cannot be compared to this:

So here’s what I’ve been wondering… 
is graffiti tagging just a selfie in a spray can?


Sunday, 17 May 2015

The definition of success

I have this recurring dream where I’m a teacher. I used to be a teacher… in fact I’ve been a teacher/tutor/facilitator/instructor of varying types and with varying degrees of success, but in this dream, I’m definitely a school teacher.

Anyway, I’m late for class. I don’t know what class I’m supposed to be taking, or in what room. I don’t have a time-table and I don’t know where to find one or who to ask. So I travel through a labyrinth of stairs and corridors and quadrangles until I find a tiny staffroom, but nobody knows or is willing to help me. They are operating with the comfortable buzz of familiarity. I have that anxious panicky sensation: my breathing is extra shallow and my brain has swollen until it no longer fits safely in my skull. And all I can feel is failure. It sticks to my skin like sodden paper and hollows my mouth with acidity. My ears are filled with it. I am sludgy misery. Failure. Frozen with shame. Unworthiness itself.

The opposite of success.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to work out exactly what my view of success is. And I really don’t know. I know what I think it should be. Like I know what I think I should say.... All those meme-type things, like success is a journey or success is having your soul at peace or success is adding something positive to humanity or even:

But a solid definition eludes me... keeps slipping away.

I guess my confusion has something to do with having been a mostly stay-at-home mum for seventeen years. When we adopted from overseas, we had to sign an agreement that one parent would always be at home with the baby for the first year. And it was me. Cheerfully and excitedly it was me. Until then, of course, I’d worked full-time, first as a teacher, and then as a publisher. I’d had a successful career. Visibly successful. I felt respected and valuable. Even admired. I had control. Success could be measured… performance appraisals and goal–setting meetings, promotions, a company car, a brilliant PA… Then it all stopped. 
Parenting isn't like that. 
Working-in the work for money around working at being a mostly-stay-at-home mum doesn't work like that.

Dr Dad went on climbing the corporate ladder, skipping rungs with ease. Driven. Achieving. Applauded. I dropped into the mothering role I’d so longed for. Ached for during a decade of misery and failure… failure to conceive… failure to stay pregnant… failure to stay calm… even our marriage failed for a while. My body failed me. But I continued to be a success in my working life. I hung on to that. The success I felt in my career must have been a large part of my sense of self. My identity. Because now, almost two decades later, after all those years of part-time/ casual/ working from home/ volunteer jobs during the regular 24/7 hours of motherhood, I find my sense of self has been eroded. I think I've lost my identity somewhere along the way. And I can’t remember what success used to feel like.

I don’t even know what it is.

I have no problems with the momentary joy of a win:

Victory photo: NEVER ENDING VICTORY tumblr_ll9lkyeCFn1qbqbjb.gif 

And I'm not saying that I never feel any sense of achievement:
success photo:  n50iuwi.gif 

But maybe I never recalibrated my brain from the workplace definition... 
the measure-your-success-by-visible-signs-of-accomplishment definition... 
the one that depends on external verification and acknowledgment. 

And maybe success is like happiness — transient, changing, internal. 
Maybe it's a shape-shifter.
Maybe it doesn't have a solid definition.

Am I getting close?