It was three days after Christmas and one day before My Breakup™ that Gary Foley sat in my backyard and consented—or, at least, did not object—to a proposal. I had been buttering this un-butter-able thinker up for some time in the hope that he would agree among sandwiches to let me follow him around for a couple of years. And on this quiet afternoon alarmed only by Joanne at Number Seven—whose fondness for sauv blanc is outshone by her fondness for yelling at the kids while the Black Eyed Peas upchuck noise—he said, “Get me another coffee and I might let you be my biographer”.
Nearly six months have passed since Foley’s non-binding utterance and in that time I have neglected to measure out in teaspoons the coffees I’ve delivered. There’s been a lot of latte. There has also been—his ambivalence about the project notwithstanding—the kind of discussion that would probably change any life but actually served to save mine.
Gary Foley fixed me up. I’d like to return the favour.
I am asking you to buy a man some time away from the everyday.
It would be easy for me to tell you what Foley has done for the nation; you can read about it elsewhere. I am going to tell you what he has done for me personally, though. So you know that he is a man of both reason and of feeling.
When my partner of fourteen years left me for another without warning, I threw myself on the floorboards of a house built in a suburb in which I would myself NEVER choose to live. I howled and I howled and I howled; sounding possibly worse than the Black Eyed Peas and at least as troubling as a mother fed-up with her children. For years, my physical and emotional advances had been resisted and now they were vanquished and I felt like I was bleeding from a dozen wounds which could—of course—only be treated with appalling sex.
It was with relatively little trouble I found appalling sex. But, more about that later as I continue my other, less lofty project, the Helen 100.
My point here is: one of the things that people DON’T tell you how to repair after the end of a long relationship is your faculty for thought. You can find help to ease you out of the sex-and-feeling pit of hopelessness. You can find people to tell you that you are not ugly or repulsive. It’s a bit harder to find people who will make you feel less stupid.
I received some great advice on how to cope with physical and emotional rejection; I didn’t find so much on how to heal my intellectual vanity. It was perhaps that she had long since begun to find me boring that I found the hardest to take.
I explained this through tears to Gary. I had called him the day after Shitty Pants left me (please excuse; working on a better fake-name) to ask for his forbearance and vommed something along the lines of ‘SHE THINKS I AM STUPID I AM STUPID AM I STUPID?” and he did not respond with overt kindness but with Foucault.
Fuck-only-knows which titbit of Foucauldian method the historian shared with me that day. It doesn’t matter because it served as a reminder that this man—a genuine and glorious threat to the intellectual safety of the nation—liked me sufficiently to utter the name of the great crypto-Marxist.
It was immensely flattering.
I have written down many of the things that he has said to me in past months. “The document is the pay-dirt of history. Without the archive, we are nothing”. “I am not a fucking Elder. I will not Welcome You to Country”. “I do not have an ancient Ooga Booga relationship to the land. I have the need for land as an economic base from which to survive”.
Foley has been immensely influential in honing my own thoughts these past months about the current primacy of emotion and symbolism over material action. Gary believes absolutely that our fixity on the symbolic comes at the expense of real action.
(Incidentally, he didn’t approve entirely of a rather divisive piece I wrote on Adam Goodes, but he did encourage my lack of emotion. ”Don’t look at the hurt in his eyes”, he said of Goodes at the press conference. “You look at hurt on the faces of Aboriginal people and you just get nowhere”.)
Foley’s reason got me past my own selfish sadness and back into the habit of thinking. I know this man—now a PhD in history from Melbourne University—can help the nation get past its muddle of selfish sadness and smack-dab into some fucking sense.
Gary teaches at Victoria University and for him, this is the project that matters right now. I’ve sat in on his extraordinary lectures and I can see him turning students into real scholars; his memory throws Foucault, Freud, Marx, Lévi-Strauss up in seeming chaos and it lands in perfect formation and suddenly, we all understand why the Native Title act was a crock.
But, as an old media slag, I want more. I want his refusal to be an Elder to be understood and I want his use of knowledge as a cutting device to be known by a popular audience. I want to write his biography and I need him to find the time.
Gary is 63 and when he is not teaching and parenting and striving to find some time with his garden and his partner Susie, he continues to work as an advocate for the Aboriginal community. He talks to Marxists, anarchists, football leagues and anyone sensible enough to understand that Aboriginal history is the key to our culturally and socially prosperous future. He does a lot of this stuff—despite my screeching—for virtually no money and even though I know that refusing money is key to what he does, he could do with some money every so often. If I had it, I’d give it. I don’t.
Today I learned that Gary’s brother Kevin Foley is dead at 53. Last Friday, the man Gary described as the “handsome and talented Foley brother” passed away in Yeppoon.
Now, Foley has been going flat-chat teaching winter school and marking three-hundred undergraduate essays. Stuck at the PC, he has had no time to ride his bike or tend his garden; the two activities that most reliably keep him in good form. He’s been feeling old and creaky and jokes quite often that he will die soon; after all, he’s already exceeded the average mortality age for a blackfella.
I usually laugh but today it’s not funny. Today, Kevin Foley is dead and Gary, normally a man of pure reason, is pure feeling.
The man needs time. I am asking you to buy him some time. He needs time with his family and he needs time to grieve and time to prepare for a Melbourne winter where he will—and YES this is entirely selfish—work with me to write a book. I am thinking a couple of grand to give the guy some time with his girls, Susie and Ruby, and a rest in the sun.
If you can help me out, you can deposit straight to Pozible; a reputable AU thingy.
I have no effing idea how to do one of those kickstarters. Or even if they are not criminal. But it would be pretty fucking funny, considering the object of my fundraising, if this was not an entirely legitimate enterprise under Commonwealth law.
If you care to proffer some advice on that matter or that of disclosure (I am aware I am asking a herd of strangers to deposit money in a bank account and I would really like to be transparent in the matter) please do; via comments or by email.