Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
I now have a special Facebook page for the project of writing the stories of mothers who’ve survived parental child abduction. On it there is a button where you can email me: https://www.facebook.com/memoryandyou/
Hello lovely readers, and happy new year! May 2018 be a year of love, laughter, creativity and compassion.
I have a mission this year, beyond my usual writing and editing practice. It came up for me unexpectedly, when my eldest daughter returned to me a bundle of letters which I had written to her father 35 years ago. When I began to read them, I felt heavy, sad, frustrated. I put them aside for a couple of days. I started to read them again just after Christmas, and realised I need to do something constructive with them. The first task is to type them up as a record for me and my children. But as I started to do so, I began to feel more positive, even empowered. I had forgotten all the details of that agonising time, one Spring morning in Sydney, when the phone rang and he told…
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Hello lovely readers, and happy new year! May 2018 be a year of love, laughter, creativity and compassion.
I have a mission this year, beyond my usual writing and editing practice. It came up for me unexpectedly, when my eldest daughter returned to me a bundle of letters which I had written to her father 35 years ago. When I began to read them, I felt heavy, sad, frustrated. I put them aside for a couple of days. I started to read them again just after Christmas, and realised I need to do something constructive with them. The first task is to type them up as a record for me and my children. But as I started to do so, I began to feel more positive, even empowered. I had forgotten all the details of that agonising time, one Spring morning in Sydney, when the phone rang and he told me he was on the way to Colorado with our three little daughters, aged 7, 5, and 2 and a quarter. “You are a deserting wife and an abandoning mother,” he said, “and you’ll never see your children again,” and put the phone down.
It took me 18 months to get access to them, and from then on, I saw them no more than twice a year, until the youngest one, at age 14, chose to come and live with me. They had been back in Australia for the past few years, and by then, the law had changed, so that a child of 14 or older could choose which parent they wanted to live with without going to court and testifying.
The circumstances around our separation and their abduction were fraught, and the reasons that he was able to do what he did complex and for the most part, ones I had no control over.
I realised as I began to type them that there may be many other women out there, in Australia, who have lost their children through parental abduction. So I have decided to start canvassing for their stories. I am also interested in finding a collaborator writer/editor, who could help me compile them into a collection, and if possible, a source of funding, a small publishing grant. I would like to find agencies or groups who support and work with women who’ve lost their children, so I can contact these women and see if they would like to tell their story. I am more interested in women whose voices have been silenced, than celebrities or women who’ve had high profile public cases. And I have to narrow the field to parental child abduction, not institutional or governmental forced adoption or separation. Also, I would have to exclude the children’s stories; that is a very big field, and would be another volume!
If you or someone you know has had a similar experience and would like to tell their story, you or they can message me on my contact page at https://www.perfectwordsediting.com
Or on my Facebook page, which has an email button: https://www.facebook.com/memoryandyou/
I will create a contact from for this page, but at present I can’t get it to work; will solve that.
To end, here is an excerpt from a letter I wrote, an unusually emotive one; usually I tried to be civil and rational, since he had all the power and I had none, and his mode of conflict was driven by fear and expressed as control and threat.
I never wanted to lose my children, and I protest strongly against the injustice of your attitude that they are your children, and that you will protect your home and possession of them from me at all costs. I have never behaved as a mother in a way that justifies this. My decision to leave the family was as much yours as mine, in fact it was proposed by you, as you will recall. I love my children, and they love me, and you have no right to put so many obstacles between us. Had I known you would behave in this way, I would never have allowed you (by default) to leave the country with them. At every stage since I left Mackay, you have progressively tried to reduce my status as their mother and your ex-partner and to deny me the right to any say in their lives and their relationship with me. Please remember I gave you freedom from an incompatible relationship, as much as I have sought my own.
Up until the time you left Australia with the children without telling me, I felt affection and concern for you. I am afraid you have since destroyed that. The best that can be salvaged from the ruins of our relationship is co-operation, based on legal guarantees, over my access to the children. You are ‘adamant’ about protecting your ‘rights’. I, too, am adamant. I want from you the legal guarantees I have asked for over my access to the children, and I will not co-operate any further until I have them. You have far more to lose than I have.
 Although he had stated his intention of taking a job in the US, he had not told me of when this would happen, and had promised to send the children down to visit me in the September holidays. He had persuaded me in England, before we returned to Australia to visit his family, to let him put them on separate passports, saying it was not fair they should be on mine. This suggests that he anticipated a move when he would take them out of Australia without my consent. When he abducted them, my lawyer was still trying to negotiate through his lawyer re joint custody and some sort of financial settlement to give me some support while studying so I could have a career and become self-supporting.
An alert: A friend who read the review has let me know that she found my review so disturbing that she was having images, and cannot read the book as it stirs up her own traumatic memories. I had not thought about this when I wrote the review, which contains some explicit details of abuse from the book. There may be some readers who are not able to read these disclosures without having trauma re-awakened. So I need to raise this alert, and to apologise to any who have felt such disturbance. It is a very confronting story, and readers need to be aware of that.
The Art of Disappearing, by Elisabeth Hanscombe, published by Glass House Books, is a compelling and disturbing account of the author’s childhood in a family of nine children, with Dutch parents. The theme of this memoir is the author’s enforced role of bearing witness to continued abuse from which there is no escape other than making herself as invisible as possible. As a witness, Hanscombe is relentlessly honest, and for one who taught herself so early so consistently to withdraw into herself, to escape, she is naked in her honesty. The personal work which she must have done to achieve this nakedness, to transform herself from a shy, awkward young girl to a psychotherapist and a writer, is beyond measure. To speak out, to bypass family taboos (“We do as if nothing is wrong” was her mother’s mantra, when her father, drunk on brandy, would rant and rave, abusing her mother) in itself is a huge achievement. To do so as eloquently, simply and transparently, is awe-inspiring. Through it all, the author’s voice remains detached, as if she is observing it all from a safe place, but she was never safe. She spent her nights huddled in her bed, watching and listening for her father, who would wander the hallway, checking out the rooms, and often, come into the bedroom she shared with her older sister.
Elisabeth is not usually her father’s target; it is Hannah, her older sister. Elisabeth sees him enter the room, leaning over Hannah, and turns to the wall, hoping he will think her asleep; she hears the blankets peeled back, the rustle of sheets, moans and murmurs. Then the soft thud of his bare feet across the room, the rattle of the door handle, and Hannah’s sobbing. She never knows when her turn will come.
Somehow, she manages to avoid it throughout her childhood, except for one terrible night when her mother takes refuge in Elisabeth’s bed (Hannah has left home by now) and the father enters the room and gets into bed with them, naked. Elisabeth remembers Hannah’s advice, ‘If he touches you, scream.’ She tries to squeeze herself up tight like a sheet of paper, thin enough to blow away. The mother leaves the room, then comes back and tells him to go back to bed.
She’d come in the nick of time. Any longer and my head would have burst with the fear of what was to come. A fear that stays with me still.
Somehow, she and her siblings and their mother survive this life of poverty, struggle, fear and abuse, and Elisabeth starts studying Social Work at university, and experimenting with the freedom of living away from home, having a boyfriend, exploring life as an independent sexual being. Yet she is never free of the fear of penetration, of violation, and even after her father dies, after five years of abstinence, his shadow haunts her life.
… even then my body could not forget the fear and the impulse to hide, the sensation of walking into a room as if I was made of stuff lighter than air, as if I consisted of mind and brain matter only, as if my only protection was the smile I wore to keep others at bay.
And although she has been able to write and publish this book, and lives a fulfilled life as a therapist, a writer, a wife and mother, a person in her own right, she tells us that she still feels compelled at times to practice invisibility, and is haunted by dreams of her father. But the fears are released by the knowledge that he has lost his power, to insult, to hurt, to violate.
She no longer needs to hide.
This book is a remarkable testimony to the power of self-transformation — through life, through study, through therapy, through writing. No longer needing to disappear, she is triumphantly present in these pages. Well done, Elisabeth.
Recently I’ve been thinking about my life, all the twists and turns it has taken. It has opened out now into a very gentle and lovely place, in a beautiful valley near the Border Ranges, which divide New South Wales from Queensland. Dominating the valley are the remains of a 20 million year old volcano, now called Wollumbin Mount Warning. This mountain is most unusual in its shape, and in the magnetic effect it has on the district. It was called Mount Warning by Captain Cook, because it was his first sight of land as he sailed up the coast, and is said to be the first peak to catch the morning sun. Wollumbin was added to acknowledge the indigenous groups of the area, although there is controversy among them over the authenticity of this name. One story says it means Cloud Catcher, which is most apt, as it often trails clouds around it, like a woman’s fascinator. This intriguing word originally meant “a light scarf of fine knitting over the head and round the neck, [worn] instead of an opera hood when going out at night.” Another meaning for Wollumbin is “fighting chief of the mountains”. I think it has both moods, and many more.
The image above is my pastel painting of it, done early this year.
Living a creative life is difficult, as we all know, when we have to support ourselves and our families and earn a living. Few people in the creative arts are able to earn a living from their art. Most of us do all sorts of odd jobs or more permanent ones to make end meet. The downside of that is that it can take up a lot of one’s time, and may drain or suppress one’s creative energy.
Life can lead us on all sorts of byways. But more than that, the central purpose of life, for those of us who have children, is raising our children and helping them to find their feet. For women, traditionally, this has been their main occupation. As we have shifted, in developed countries, from the traditional monogamous family where the husband is the bread earner and the wife stays at home, women have had to balance child bearing and raising with working as joint income earner, or in many cases, as single parent and sole earner.
For me, this pattern has meant that I didn’t start to unfold my creative self outside of growing and loving my children and making ends meet until I was in my late 50s. When my son left school and began work, I went back to university. I decided I didn’t want a career, and it was too late anyway, I wanted to tell my story. So I wrote an autobiographical novel and theorised my life in the framework of the bourgeois family (more on that another time). Then I had a couple of years off, working in frail aged care, then went back to do a PhD. This time I combined my own life writing, interpretations of a medieval Japanese novel written by a woman and set in a polygamous aristocratic court society, and the theories of two radical French philosophers. My thesis was titled The Origami of Desire: Unfolding and Refolding the Desiring Self (f).
I have published several articles and essays from this. My next project is — finally — to publish my childhood memoir, This Place You Know, which weaves my mother’s story and mine to tell the story of how our family broke apart and we lost ‘this place’ we loved. I have been writing and revising it for 20 years! I also have written a memoir of my young adulthood, called Loss: a Memoir, which I hope to publish. The first memoir is currently being edited by a literary editor, who has given me great help in bringing it to be the best it can be.
So creativity can be a broken path. But it is very important to keep returning to it, not to lose sight of it or give up on it. Little things help, like writing this blog. I also do pastel painting, like the one of the valley above. I am in a pop-up art trail next week, and hope to sell some of my paintings so I can go on and paint some more.
What do you do to keep your creativity alive? I’d love to hear your stories.
Three years ago I wrote a post called Bringing History to Life, about Hilary Mantel’s two masterpieces, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, both Man Booker prizes. I fell in love with them three years ago, on a Christmas visit to family in the west, and I’ve recently re-read them. I love re-reading books that are so fine in texture, rich in description and characterisation, that create an imagined (in this case historical) world you can enter and inhabit for a time. This is the next best thing to the Tardis; perhaps better, because you are not embodied or materialised there, so you are safe, in this case from decapitation or the torture wrack, or Henry VIII’s wrath, or Anne Boleyn’s tantrums and scheming. Or, in my case, from the seductive power of Thomas Cromwell’s formidable intellect and his subtly charismatic ability to manage people and to direct the course of affairs at a high level, while seeming to serve those who have greater rank and power than him. Of course, we know, he came to a bloody end, like those Anne Boleyn and several of her admirers who are framed as her lovers had at his hands, when he was at the height of his influence in the court. Despite his machinations, we are able to forgive him because he is doing what Henry, his master, wants; his own integrity is somehow not corrupted by the fact that he is raising people to power then bringing them down when their star is eclipsed by Henry’s shifting desires and whims. So there is a knife edge morality in this book, which doesn’t judge, but allows you to take sides as the wind shifts, and to understand why Cromwell acted as he did, even though you can’t necessarily understand or accept Henry’s motivation, or the way people are taken up, used, then discarded.
We have long awaited the promised third book in this historical saga. It seems that it is still coming: http://blogs.abc.net.au/wa/2015/02/hilary-mantel-reveals-timing-of-her-next-book-and-whats-next-after-thomas-cromwell.html. There will be great excitement when it is released.
For now, I can’t add much more to my previous post on the two books, except to say that they seem to grow in richness and texture with each re-read. I also love the BBC dramatisation, Wolf Hall. Inevitably, with two big books crammed into 8 episodes, it is much abbreviated; but the superb settings, filming, and scripting, and above all the star performance by Mark Rylance (I fell for him even more than his print version in the books), well supported by a wonderful cast, including Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Bolyn, make it a model of historical TV drama .