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1. FURTHER FABLES QUEER & FAMILIAR Mag Merrilees and Chia Moan

Victoria is delighted to help Gran unscrew the U-bend. She always guessed there was another world beyond the plughole.

Welcome to the hidden complexities of life in an ordinary Australian suburb. Who will fix the plumbing? How do you adapt to a trans person in the family? Fix racism and make a safe haven for refugees? Keep up with the housework? And what on Earth do you do about the climate emergency? Following the earlier volume of FABLES QUEER & FAMILIAR – here we present the sequel, the complete instructions for how to be a lesbian granny.

Join Mag and Chia for the LAUNCH:

Saturday 23 November 2019, 2pm. Treasury 1860,144 King William Street,Adelaide. All welcome!

 

2. WRITING WORKSHOP Mag Merrilees

LABELS, PRONOUNS AND BEYOND: WRITING QUEER

A safe place to explore the challenges and pitfalls of writing queer lives (whether you’re gay, straight or in between). Everything from profound questions of identity, to avoidance of the token gay brother, to the nitty gritty of pronoun-use. Join Mag for a fun and frank practical session!

Saturday 7 December 2019, 1.30-4.30pm. $115 (Writers SA Members $77)

Registration essential: Writers SA

Extinction Rebellion is at the iconic ruins of the Port Willunga jetty, hanging up banners.

Climate Truth Now.

Climate Act Now.

A high tide laps around the poles and the banners are lit by a glowing sunset. It looks like the ending of the world, like Venice sinking beneath the waves, a last remnant of civilization. Peaceful but infinitely sad.

Some beach walkers are pleased, some are outraged, though most relax when they realise that the banners will not damage the poles, and that they are only temporary. Photo-opportunity re-usable graffiti.

‘Anyway,’ says Julia, ‘isn’t that the whole point – that our priorities are up the spout? For goodness sake! They’re worrying about damage to a bunch of old poles when we’re about to lose the whole biosphere?’

She has less patience for public relations than Anne.

The grannies are fed up with Australia’s decades-old paralysis on the issue of climate change, with the total failure of political leadership. Does the ever-powerful mining lobby have the entire system in its pocket? Or is it simply that soon-to-be-gazetted psychological disorder called climate denial, in which the sufferer can no longer recognise truth or reality.  Whatever it is, Julia and Anne, like thousands of others around the world, have decided to shove things along by joining the Rebellion. Non-violent civil disobedience. Back to the 1960s.

Making banners is fun, a community activity, the very size of them satisfying in itself. Great big statements. The process is pleasingly low tech – sheets from the op shops, water based paint, stretchy bike tubes at the corners and old carabiners from an ex-mountain climber. They flexed their rusty political muscles by hanging them on the freeway at peak hour, a warm-up for more exciting targets like the jetty.

Occupying Parliament House takes more courage. But by now they’re getting used to the tremble of fear in the belly. And really, what can happen to them? All thirteen, mostly grandparents, sit calmly on the opposition benches, knitting, showing photos of the special children in their lives, taking it in turn to tell moving stories of what brings them there.

Increasingly senior people arrive in succession to tell them to leave. Two of the rebels greet each new arrival and patiently explain the action. The Clerk of the House, the Sergeant at Arms, messages from the Speaker. Anne wants to see the Usher of the Black Rod. She pictures someone in medieval costume, or is that only in England?

Eventually they are removed with varying degrees of force. Some of the security people are responsive to cries like ‘not that shoulder’ or ‘be careful of my knee’. Others are less sympathetic. Being dragged out, Anne finds, is both undignified and painful, since her escort has doubled up her wrist.

But the media like the event, so hopefully a point is made. First point of many to come.

Anne makes a list of everything to remember next time:

–  start with yoga

– glasses case

– driver’s licence in pocket

– wrist splints

– neck brace?

– leave hearing-aids out?

She ponders.

Oh yes.

– Stay-Dry incontinence pads

She sits up straighter, always so strengthening to have a list!

She reads it through and thinks about the long road ahead. She adds a note at the bottom.

– DON’T GIVE UP!

jetty 3

[photo Lynn Lobo]

Great review from Whispering Gums: https://whisperinggums.com/2018/11/09/margaret-merrilees-big-rough-stones-bookreview/

Hope to see any enthusiastic Adelaide readers on Saturday at 2.30 at The Treasury (King William St)!!

2.30-4.30pm at The Treasury 1860, 144 King William St, Adelaide

I’ll be reading from ‘Big Rough Stones’ and ‘Fables Queer & Familiar’. A chance to reflect on some of those great ideas: ideological soundness, non-monogamy, collectives …
$5 at the door

If you’re in Melbourne come along to Handsome Her  (206 Sydney Rd, Brunswick) on 26 August at 4pm. See you then!

I’ll be at Sophia on Saturday week if you’re in Adelaide. Hopefully it will be raining – so come along, shelter from the storm, and we’ll talk books. 225 Cross Rd, Cumberland Park (parking off Hill Ave). See you there!

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Come along if you’re in Perth on June 9th!

 

Intro: According to Ro’s theory of relativity, having worked in a collective, shared two houses and worked on two books, Mag and I are some kind of sisters, definitely related.

 

It was a strange experience reading this book. I felt split. Between now and then. Between memory and reality. Between reality and fantasy, I felt a cleaving in my mind, to quote Emily Dickinson.

 

I felt a cleaving in my mind as if my brain had split

I tried to match it seam by seam but could not make it fit

The thought behind I could not join unto the thought before

But watched it ravel of Sequence like balls upon the floor*

 

This is a book about us, a book about you and me. It is an unusual book because it’s about a broad spectrum of life and also about the specificity of what it has been like to be a lesbian during this time: our choices, our politics, morals and ideology. It’s about life. It’s about death. It’s about floods and farms and families.

 

This story is both hard and good to read because it strikes one chord after another, and some of those chords are discordant. They are discordant because they are true. The characters are not universally loveable.

 

(I recognise myself in the worst of it – Did I really do/say/think things like that? Oh Gawd.) It raises questions like: did we construct our ideology, tailor our morals to suit our hormones? What tit for tat went on, what careless neglect, what sins did we commit against each other in the name of non-monogamy? Ah non-monogamy always so much easier when you were the one who was non-ing.

 

Here’s a thought I had about this book: It’s a coming of age story. Not only are the protagonists growing up, but they are growing beyond up to becoming old and surely that is the REAL coming of age? That is the literal coming of age. I mean can you even apply the word age to someone in their 20s???

And if you never imagined you would live to 40 because there would be a nuclear holocaust, then this is a journey you were not prepared for, yet here after all, some of us are.

 

And the fantasies we did have about getting old – Chloe and I thought we would be two old ladies sitting on a park bench smoking joints and having carefree, mad flights of fantasy. I remember reading a lesbian short story that waxed lyrical about the joys of toothless sex. Seriously. Gumming it.

 

Mag says this book is about community, the pleasures of tribal life. It’s not a romance, but it is about love. How we stay friends with exes, watch out for each other.

 

Lesbianism now seems to be old hat. But we were the rebels, the outsiders. These are the lives we invented, the lives that Mag has re-invented for us in this book. We fought for and created all sorts of things: women’s’ shelters, health centres, the Women’s Studies Resource Centre, the Migrant Women’s Centre, the title Ms, women’s bands, dances, choirs, theatre troops. The Women’s Art Movement, as in WAM. (Bam?)

The context: We did not want the lives our mothers had. Our post-war mothers who were forced to give up jobs, for the men home from the war. Vietnam, the 60s, Paris 1968 Situationism: Take Your Dreams for Reality.” One of my favourite revolutionary slogans. We did seem to think we could do that. Re-invent reality.

 

It’s not that we did any of this perfectly. Our zest for equality, our passion for fairness, also included in-fighting of every shade: the rad fem, rev-fem, anarcho-fem, separatist schisms. The Gold Star Lesbians who prided themselves on never having fucked a man. All passionately argued as if, in our little collectives, we actually had final control of the world. And how hard was this time for lesbian women with sons?

 

HOWEVER, the first lesbians I met impressed me because they were generous and enthusiastic about other women and their achievements, a phenomenon which I had never experienced before, I had never heard men or women speak like that. The lesbians liked women. Amazing. It felt strange. Good. Like the sun was shining on me, at last.

 

Solidarity. The sisterhood. We had to invent it. I remember Deborah McCullough telling me that as a femocrat, she never walked out of a meeting without some man sidling up to her and inviting her to criticise another woman who had spoken at the meeting. An invitation to gossip, undermine, discount something she had said or done. This observation made an impression on me. I started to notice it. It was true. There was this incredible power of naming things.

 

One of the great underlying strengths of us old hat lesbians, was that we took that solidarity with other women into every other struggle.

 

It’s easy to forget now, but many in the women’s movement were not keen to be tarnished by the image of lesbians. Those straight feminists wanted us to keep quiet about our sexual orientation for “the greater good.” It made them look bad and it scared the men. Our mere existence engendered an eventually crushing media stereotype that turned feminism into a four-letter word via descriptions like – hairy-legged, ugly, fat, ball-breaking, bra-burning, man-hating, needs a good fuck, lezzos.

 

So, I really enjoyed Ro’s white hot letter about the media depiction of women involved in Pine Gap as respectable.

 

“There is no point for me in saving the earth if we, as lesbians have to give up the struggle for our sexuality. And being tolerated within the women’s peace movement is not enough if we are tactfully ignored when it comes to presenting a public image.

 

My lesbianism is directly relevant to my involvement in the movement. Both are expressions of my opposition to male power. I was not at Pine Gap because of my special bond with the earth. I was there because it is the same patriarchal system that fears and hates women, that oppresses me as a lesbian and that threatens to destroy my world.

 

And I oppose that system, and all the various manifestations of its power. I wish I had said (in more than a mutter): ‘I’m not a grandmother, or anything respectable. I’m a LESBIAN, and that’s why I’m here.’”**

 

Amen, Ro.

All those struggles and initiatives that have been mothballed in my memory: collectives, house meetings, house books, women’s land, women only anything, non-monogamy, ‘multiples’ and ‘inter-states’, language and the incredible power of naming things, including renaming ourselves with marvellous names like Zephyrine Barbarachild, Mystery Carnage, Silver Moon…

 

But Big Rough Stones is not a romp down memory lane. It is confronting and moving and feels real. It’s close to the bone and you will feel sure that you know (or are) one of these women.

 

Her characters will make you squirm. They will make you laugh. You will love them and take them into your heart. Mag has given us a unique opportunity to see and love ourselves, our community. The space we made for ourselves in a world that was hostile. We made mistakes but we made the world a bigger place.

 

So read the book. Buy the book. Buy a few, give them away to friends and relatives. They know we are here now, but maybe if your family is like some of mine, they don’t have much of an idea about how we live. Maybe they didn’t and still don’t want to know, but hey this is fiction. Not threatening, right? And perhaps they are more open-minded now and we are more quotidian: no longer proclaiming “I am your best fantasy and your worst nightmare.” Just human.

 

Chia Moan

Adelaide 13 April 2018

 

* Emily Dickinson Poem #937

** Big Rough Stones, p 246-7

Spontaneous collective remembering of Adelaide lesbian feminist herstory. Thanks to Chia Moan for setting it up at the launch of Big Rough Stones. Women added to it all evening.

RADIO LISTENERS – I’m talking about ‘Big Rough Stones’ on 5MBS (99.9FM) with lovely Emily Sutherland – Wednesday 11th at 6pm on Kaleidoscope – repeated Saturday 14th at 11am.
Official launch of book on Friday 13th at 6pm at The Joinery, 111 Franklin St, Adelaide. See you there!

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