August 5, 2010


Tonight I attempted to de-clutter my bedroom in the hope that it would look more like a bedroom and less like the place where you chuck everything that doesn't belong anywhere else in the house. In between the piles of books and clothes and lamps and bags and shoes, my bedroom felt more like a Salvation Army outlet than a place of rest and relaxation. 

By my nature, I would say that I am a very tidy and organised person, and while certain elements of my cleanliness could be described as neurotic or compulsive, I much prefer to imagine myself as a girl who just appreciates a clean and comfortable controlled environment. 

And yet despite my preference for cleanliness and order (dating back 15 years), these frenzied episodes of Hoovering and tidying rarely extend to my own bedroom. Not only does my bedroom miss out on the general, daily tidy-up that the rest of the house receives, but I can go for weeks, sometimes months without bothering to pick my  clothes up off the  bedroom floor. 

When I return home from Melbourne, I rarely bother to unpack - much preferring to live out of my suitcase for an abnormally extended period of time. Right now, there are not one, but two suitcases exploding with clothes that may or may not need to be cleaned. Coffee cups have been known to sprout wild spores without the aid of scientific assistance and once I actually ran out of socks and underwear but instead of washing them, I went out and bought new ones. 

I have often wondered what drives this strange and habitual disparity between what I refer to as my polar-selves. Today (with the aid of a psychology text book) and a few hours of contemplation, I came up with a very plausible theory. 

I left home at such a young age (15) and became a mother at an equally young age (19), and as such, my bedroom remained the one place where I could still embody the freedom I felt as a child. In my bedroom, the roles and responsibilities of the mother (as they were modelled for me) could be left outside the door. From my own mother, I had learnt to equate cleanliness with goodness and more specifically, to make connections between her attention to the home and her being a good mother. Every room in the home is on display but the bedroom is hidden away, and so it remained the last place where I could hide myself or at least the etherial, wild, unbroken self whose greatest dream was to live inside an op-shop. 

Standing here in my bedroom now, some 21 years later, it's as if nothing has changed. 

Between the ages of 13 and 14, I would spend hours - sometimes days, cocooned in my room, devouring the works of Byron, Shelley, Keats, Auden, Tennyson and any other famous poet I could find in the Northcote library. While my outer world was controlled and regimented by overbearing parents and a strict same-sex Catholic school system, my inner world had suddenly been ignited by the most intimate of words. I was alive and thirsty for everything great literature had to offer. I was awake for the very first time. 

Before long, romance was replaced by tragedy and my long and tenuous relationship with the dark side had begun. Suddenly I was being drawn to those alluring stories depicting strong and powerful female characters: Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Euripides' Medea, Shakespeare's Cordelia, Nabokov's Lolita and of course the women of Greek mythology such as Antigone and Aphrodite, Demeter and Persephone... Persephone, the Queen of the Underworld in particular, was my favourite. 

It is clear to me now, that when I left home aged 15 and moved in with a feminist, lesbian, music teacher to help her run an all girl music school (Rock and Roll High School), what I was really looking for was an empowered female role model to help move me (less awkwardly) through the world. It makes sense now that what I was drawn to was the exact opposite of the domestic goddess- a role that I had seen played out by my own mother, my grandmother and by every other woman in my life up until that point in time. 
What I was looking for was someone completely different to show me that women like the kind I had discovered in my books, actually existed. Until I left home, I literally assumed that all men were bread winners and that a woman's role was to care for the family (cringe*) and to take immaculate care of the home (double cringe*). 

Of course, I do not blame my mother or her three sisters for the way in which the sexist patriarchal system had fucked them up the ass.  
None of that was their their fault and besides, it was indicative of that era. Also, the female role of domestic servant had been modelled by their mother (my grandmother) and by various aunts and cousins in their family. Despite the role enforced upon my grandmother as full-time mother and housekeeper, Maria (an immigrant from Sicily) was a remarkably strong and powerful woman in her own right. 

After losing her husband suddenly to cancer at the age of 36, this stoic gypsy woman found herself raising five children on her own and in a foreign country. In the 1940's there was no financial assistance for widows or mothers and to make matters worse, my grandmother could not speak a lick of english. But she was strong, and fiercely independent and in the end my grandmother got on with the job of raising her five children and helping her brother run the farm. I adored my grandmother more than any other woman I have ever known and when I get lost in my own grief, I often think about hers and I am immediately humbled by the experience. 

Despite the one-dimensional view of women that I had been accustomed to growing up, I managed to construct an alternate reality as a way to escape from the monotony of a more suburban, pedestrian life.  As I sit here now, in the underworld of my bedroom it occurs to me that any act of gentrification would be in itself a tragedy and a sign of disrespect toward my wild self and toward my grandmother who did not have the same opportunities as a woman and a mother that I have today. 

Now instead of feeling anxiety and guilt about the state of my unruly bedroom, I can rejoice in the chaos and celebrate the freedom associated with letting go. Finally I can relinquish some control. At the very least, I have come to understand why it has always been so important to me that this room remain unaltered. In a way, the unruliness is an unconscious act of defiance; a tantrum, a way of stopping the transformation from wild thing into domestic Goddess, lest she disappear down the rabbit hole of homogeny; all the while a Hoovering as she goes. 

Here is a list of the things I have been escaping with more recently.

  • The ABC Book Show aired this most fascinating interview with the Queen of crime fiction, PD James. Even if  it's not your genre the woman is remarkable - and did I mention she just turned 90?
  • Etsy is the place to buy and sell all things hand made and vintage - like the adorable illustration used in this post. I can literally spend hours here just perusing all of the wonderment and  beauty. 
  • In two separate but equally wonderful articles, The New Yorker takes an in depth look at the man behind WikiLeaks, Julian Assangand his role in uncovering the truth about the war in Afghanistan
                        As always I welcome all comments, thoughts and suggestions. 

    Alternatively you can email me on and I will respond. 

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