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Handed Down

It was three days after Christmas and one day before My Breakup that Gary Foley sat in my backyard and consented—or, mind at least, what is ed 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 perhaps outshone by her fondness for yelling at the kids while the Black Eyed Peas upchuck unthinkable noise—he said, info “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.

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 and transposed it through the matrix of my libido as Amazing Sex.  But, you know, more about that later as I continue my other, far less lofty project, the Helen 100.  My point 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.

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 toGary.  I had called him the day after Shitty Pants left me (please excuse; working on a better camouflage) 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 primacy of emotion and symbolism over material action.  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 medi 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 blackfella.

I usually laugh but today it’s not funny. Today, Kevin Foley is dead andGary—a man of pure reason—is feeling.

The man needs 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, my PayPal is my first name followed by this domain. Helen ATTA badhostess DOTTA com.  Or, you can deposit straight to GF’s account which is Westpac BSB 732-099 abd account # 575-608.  I have no effing idea how to do one of those kick-starters.  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 my bank account and I would really like to be transparent in the matter) please do; via comments or by the same email address.

If you want to know more about Gary, go to his website, his Wikipedia entry or to this little trifle I wrote on him for Time Out.

 
It was three days after Christmas and one day before My Breakup that Gary Foley sat in my backyard and consented—or, visit this site
at least, tuberculosis
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 perhaps outshone by her fondness for yelling at the kids while the Black Eyed Peas upchuck unthinkable 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.

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 and transposed it through the matrix of my libido as Amazing Sex.  But, you know, more about that later as I continue my other, far less lofty project, the Helen 100.  My point 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.

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 toGary.  I had called him the day after Shitty Pants left me (please excuse; working on a better camouflage) 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 primacy of emotion and symbolism over material action.  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 medi 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 blackfella.

I usually laugh but today it’s not funny. Today, Kevin Foley is dead andGary—a man of pure reason—is feeling.

The man needs 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, my PayPal is my first name followed by this domain. Helen ATTA badhostess DOTTA com.  I have no effing idea how to do one of those kick-starters.  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 my bank account and I would really like to be transparent in the matter) please do; via comments or by the same email address.

If you want to know more about Gary, go to his website, his Wikipedia entry or to this little trifle I wrote on him for Time Out.

 
“I love my hands, doctor
” my mother said to me last weekend. “I think they’re beautiful”.

We were in the local, hair
awaiting the call for Number 81 (seafood crepe; chicken parma) when she showed me her hands and I felt a surge of great and difficult gratitude. These were the hands, order
after all, that had kept me from harm in my infancy. These were the hands that bathed me and fed me and gestured toward menace when I veered from the course of acceptable adolescence. These were the hands that, even now, moved to help me; they had cleaned my house all weekend and had dipped into a wallet – itself filled by an adult life of manual labour – to pay for my parma.

Which was, incidentally, delicious.

“I love my hands,” she said. “I think they’re beautiful.”

Now, this statement may not seem extraordinary at first blush, but when one thinks about its lack of feminine humility, it begins to emerge as a little odd. Women do not customarily talk about their beauty; it’s not deemed ladylike to do so. If women talk about their beauty at all, they can only do so in wretched understatement. “I am not ugly.” “I wouldn’t be kicked out of bed.” “I’ll do.”

Now, I am not one of those who believe in a ‘celebration’ of beauty. Nor is my mother. It is not my entitlement to ‘feel beautiful’ anymore than it is my entitlement to feel gifted of any other extraordinary quality. We live in a perverse era where a talk-show intensity of happiness and self-love is viewed as a desirable goal and neither my mother nor I have any truck with that kind of manure.

Every woman has the right to feel beautiful is the sort of thing one might hear from both advertisements for face cream and from the popular feminisms these face creams fund. No. Every woman does not have the ‘right’ to feel beautiful. Feeling beautiful is not a human ‘right’; nor is it particularly sane to expect to feel a sense of personal physical beauty for prolonged periods. And it is, I’d venture, this unreasonable idea that we must ‘feel’ unstintingly beautiful that makes us feel its opposite so often. Which is to say, when we normalise the extraordinary, we’re bound to fall in a heap.

Looking at her hands, though, my mother kept the extraordinary in its place and allowed herself a rare, “I love my hands. I think they’re beautiful”.

I looked at my mother’s hands and placed mine beside them and felt first that jolt of genealogical familiarity – which never gets old despite being the oldest thing in the world. First, I noticed our similarities and then I noticed our differences.

Our hands, very clearly, are wrought from the same strand of DNA, but our life experiences, etched on our hands, are so very different. I have not raised a child nor have I done much – to be honest – in the way of manual labour. My sun-safe hands are untroubled by work and weather and they have never truly served the interests of another. I don’t think a keyboard really counts as a medium of hard slog. I have the hands of what we now call a ‘knowledge worker’. I have lovely 21st century, First World hands.

But my mother’s beautiful hands belong to the 20th century. They are flecked with colour and their digits have been reshaped by years of work. In their embrace, I have grown to be a relatively sane and prosperous grown?up and in their folds, I see the remains of a social organisation whose passing we can both celebrate and mourn.

In these tough, beautiful hands, I see the past and how it has shaped me and I wonder – very selfishly – if anyone will ever look at my hands with such gratitude.

7 Responses to “Handed Down”

  1. Carlene says:

    Hey girl – glad to hear you are OK! Miss you on Twitter but excited about your long term project so focus! Loved your piece in Big Issue (and yeh you guessed it I do support & buy it!)

    Take care

  2. Bec says:

    I loved this. I often think about my mother’s hands, my hands, my grandmother’s hands. Of all the parts of me I like seeing my own hands age. I allow myself the indulgence of thinking they are beautiful. The older they get, the more I adorn them. The loose skin of my 95yo grandmother’s hands almost cover her wire thin wedding band.

  3. Michaela C says:

    Oh honey. I love this. So much. Xxx

  4. Debyl1 says:

    Absolutely tear making beautiful post.
    I hope one day my daughter can look at the age/sun spots on my old hands and feel gratitude and comfort.x

  5. Psi says:

    This was such a wonderful and beautiful post! Thanks so much for sharing your words!

  6. leaf (the indolent cook) says:

    This post is beautiful. :)

  7. C.Fairy says:

    The last photos I took of my Mum and me, as she slept her last sleep, and hours before she died, were are hands together.

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