Departure

i

“I do not think one can assess a writer’s motives without knowing something of his early development. . . before he ever begins to write he will have acquired an emotional attitude from which he will never completely escape.”

George Orwell in Why I Write

I remember the first story I ever wrote.

It lacked most of what makes a narrative. It was a deeply linear, almost stream-of-consciousness-style account of the life of five children living on a farm – undoubtedly a not-so-funky, highly plagiarised remix of every Enid Blyton story my seven-year-old self had ever read. In early schooling, we learn that stories have a beginning, some sort of middle complication and a resolution. This particular story had none of that; it was a “ghastly failure“, to borrow George Orwell’s astute description of his own early writing.

Nothing happened in this farm tale. It was a pure ‘world’ experience rather any sort of character or plot development, crisis or arc of any kind.

I’ve come to recognise it as a form of departure.


 

ii

George Orwell tossed together a collection of anecdotes about his early writing practice in his essay Why I Write (1946). 

_Kleeorr, I want to go in the wort-ah_ (12).png
Image via Canva

As a result of reading this essay, and conversations I took part in last week, it dawned on me that life may have known I was a writer before I did.


iii

When I was in year two, at a parent-teacher interview, my teacher told my mother I had what Orwell refers to as “a facility with words”; she’d picked this up after I’d written a rhetorical question on an acrostic poem I’d written about a snowman. How one small question mark was an indicator of this I really don’t understand, but nevertheless, I think that in hindsight this was the first time ‘writer’ was loosely stuck on me as an identity.

‘Writer’ became a word that crept into my mind when I was asked to describe myself at this point in my life and it never went away, despite the many times my writing identity shifted and paused.

_Kleeorr, I want to go in the wort-ah_ (11).png
Image via Canva

In year seven, we had to reiterate a Banjo Patterson poem, The Man from Snowy River, into a newspaper article as a creative exercise. My English teacher told me I’d make a good journalist. I believed him until my first year of university when I actually took a journalism class, and I realised it wasn’t for me. Writing would have to take another form, one which wasn’t restricted to covering blase local events (yes, my lack of patience only took me through one journalism class: news journalism), 10-word headlines and a strict ‘inverted pyramid’ structure of writing that felt like the embodiment of being strangled.


iv

departure

 

 

 

 

 

At the top of this page, I wrote that departure was perhaps the quiet objective of the happy streams of consciousness I penned as a young girl.

I listened to a lecture once where a speaker told of people who identified as die-hard fans of a novel or film but were dissatisfied with the plot and not fond of the characters. Rather, they experienced that interface for the joy it gave them to delve into the universe it constructed.

As I ricocheted between houses, identities, and (I dare say) personalities in darker days when the shadow man was less of a shadow, I’d crawl back to the pages of the Harry Potter novels every time I needed to leave my mind – not to enjoy Harry, not for any character, nor plot distraction or any aesthetic experience. It was the stony fireplaces and cosy armchairs squashed into the Gryffindor common room that made me feel safe. I certainly adore the characters and believe the plot is masterful, but it’s the euphoria of walking through the ancient walls of Hogwarts, admiring the rusting suits of armour on display through corridors, the smell of home-cooked meals wafting from the kitchens, and the child-like sense of adventure that still ignites in me every time I open those pages, that is adept at catching me when I need it.

If I ever write something (for real), I’ll strive to make a world that encompasses that warmth and comfort. Maybe this is why I was drawn to writing; maybe this is why I write today.


v

Today.

I met this essay from Orwell in a class I’m taking for honours. The subject is called The Writer: Critic, Analyst, Voice, and rather than the high-intensity writing gymnasium I’d been afraid of, whilst sitting in and preparing for the class, we gently untangle our written identities more than create them. We’re just moving into week four, and already I know I’ve made the best choice by staying on to do this.

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to produce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”

George Orwell

Publishing my writing online is a cause of panic for me at times, as it is for many writers. A commitment I’m making for myself is to relax my standards and write my thoughts as they come. I’m blogging to record a journey.

I’ve set this commitment for myself. My writing peaked when I was enrolled in BCM subjects which encouraged me to blog weekly, so I will endeavour to write much more. I’m learning that writing is a practice that writers at all levels admit to struggling with at various points, for different reasons. And I feel lucky to be unravelling my identity as a writer with a group of people around me who inspire me in diverse ways.

Writing Commitment
Image created via Canva

For accountability, I’ve listed times and place – and I’ve stuck to them thus far. We’re on day two, but this is one habit I am so happy to be forming.

I used to rely on writing as a vessel for escape. Now I’m doing the opposite; using words to collate and develop a cohesive understanding of the stories I’ll be collecting (not the right word, but it’ll sit here until I do know the correct one) for my research.

I’ll do my best to write more on this.

Advertisements

Shadow Man Part I

i

“But who is ‘he’, the Shadow Man thought to be responsible for all this harm? Is he a mythical creature who hides in the cracks of alley walls, emerging only to wreak havoc on the women who will later be considered naive and foolish for failing to take their own safety seriously? Is he a monster? 

In some cases, yes. But in the vast majority of cases, no. These Shadow Men live very much in the daylight.”

(From Clementine Ford, in Boys Will Be Boys).

This is why I am here.

Content Warning: this blog post will feature discussion of domestic violence.

2
Image via Unsplash

White Ribbon Australia, an organisation fighting for Australia’s transition into a nation whose female citizens are free of all forms of men’s abuse, has collated data that will tell you one woman each week is murdered by her partner on average. One in four women has experienced emotional abuse from a partner from the age of fifteen. These are only reported statistics (the actual number of occurrences is much higher), and it’s worth mentioning that for the LGTBQI+ community, the Indigenous community and those who live in rural or regional locations, they get much worse. 

But this project isn’t about numbers.

How do we go about collecting these deeply intricate personal stories of domestic violence, and treating them and their owners with the care and responsibility they’re owed?


ii

The media tends to imagine domestic violence through a frame entirely constructed via statistics. Even the legal system and its structures tend to rely on media and pop culture representation of family violence to respond to it. As such, the narratives of individual ‘battered’ women facing the court system are understood through a quantitative lens perhaps designed with efficiency as its primary performance indicator (ibid).  The nature of this design filters out much of the valuable qualitative data from a family violence narrative. Therefore, there is a prominent gap in the wider public understanding of family violence that narrative research has the potential to fill – at the very least, as a starting point for navigating the issues that these stories seek to unravel.

Whilst journalistic and statistical framing may incur shock tactics and garner a short-term response from the wider community, there are issues with, and severe limits to, this representation. Narrative based research has the potential to reinform this void by bringing “certain forms of knowing and unknowing into focus”. This is particularly relevant for research topics which are traditionally “tabooed”, including family violence, which until recently was predominantly treated by the media, and social structures as a whole, as a private issue.

2.jpg
Image: Sharon Pittaway via Unsplash

Therefore, this research will aim to project vulnerable narrative research as a means of unpacking and advocating for social issues such as family violence in a way that attempts to reach a depth not allowed by journalistic tropes and statistics. Interrogating personal and vulnerable narratives behind these issues allows for more cohesive social progress than the propaganda-like media and legal strategic publications that is currently in place to respond to these social issues.

The focus on narrative research for this thesis will allow for the proliferation of traditional critical frameworks and theories and encourage an expanded means of understanding family violence. Autoethnography as a form of narrative research has risen as an “integral part of human culture” and as such, this method of research has the capacity to reflect or contest sociocultural structures.


iii

Some stories are hard to swallow. They contain material that is taboo and some would say the taboo is forbidden territory (Guntarik et. al 2015).

3.jpg
Image: Molly Belle via Unsplash

I’ve written before that domestic violence stories are not one-dimensional. There’s this murky grey mass surrounding these tales; although a domestic violence perpetrator might be a culprit in a concentrated violent story as a result of their own context, on a wider scale it’s much less simple:

The complicated thing is, if there’s a random burglar who breaks into your home and starts to abuse your family, you’d recount the incident as horrendous. He’d be painted as the enemy in every recount. When we hear of indicted criminals, we think and say bad things about them, just like the antagonist of a fictional novel or film. When that person is part of your immediate family, it’s really different. We didn’t live with a hardcore, violent criminal. We lived with a loving dad by day who became a monster by night, fuelled by bottles of alcohol he couldn’t live without. That made it really hard for us to leave him. As soon as you mention alcoholism or domestic violence, a very negative picture is painted of an antagonist, even if they have a good heart in other stories. (The Antagonist was a Good Man)

There is growing dissent over the term ‘domestic violence’ and strong complications in the mechanics of writing about it. I myself find this the phrase is hugely misleading and am deciding which, of a selection several less-evil options, phrase I will use myself going forward. However, outside of semiotics, ‘domestic violence’ is the most widely-recognised definition of what I’m writing about, and thus the hashtag and SEO online environments perhaps quietly demand I comply – for now. For now, I’ll settle with replacing ‘perpetrator’ with ‘antagonist’, because the latter is a cold label I’m not going to let blindfold me nor my audience with a basic stereotype that misses the rich insights that can be formed via narrative research.

 

And so to bring this blog post to an end, for now, I’ll gently nudge you back to Clementine Ford’s quotation at the top of this page, and leave you with the impression of the shadow man floating through the various stories others weave about his life, perhaps with thoughts on the ethics and responsibilities we owe to antagonists in stories we frame via categorical truths. These antagonists didn’t rise from the dust as perpetrators of domestic violence. They’re products of generational narratives; subdued violence very ornately passed down from parent to child (a quiet epiphany: some of these generational violent stories seem to lead back to wartime trauma). And so we owe our antagonists some respect; or, at least, some effort towards understanding. This research project aims to slowly move through these ideas, whilst seeking and maintaining a reasonable ethical discretion on the scale between writing clinically and romanticising the issue at hand.