Letters as ‘fossils of feeling’.

‘Letters are the great
fixative of experience,’ writes Janet Malcolm. ‘Time erodes feeling. Time
creates indifference. Letters prove to us that we once cared. They are the
fossils of feeling. This is why biographers prize them so: they are biography’s
only conduit to unmediated experience.’
Last week I went to a class about
letter writing.  Although we talked
briefly about the sorts of letters that people write in the privacy of their
rooms, we focussed on those letters written for the purpose of performance.
a person might write to some imaginary friend, or even to a state of mind.  For instance, one of our exercises
involved writing a letter to ‘my wake up call’. 
Another to myself in three hours when the class would be over.
Michaela Maguire, who took the class
was clear and focussed.  We
read letters; we wrote our own, with plenty of discussion in between, a group
of about ten woman – always women – it was to do with women writing letters after all, and
there was a sprit of thoughtfulness throughout the room.  All in three short hours. 
But I worried that I spoke up too
much in the class; that I was a show off. 
That I wanted too often to share too much, especially as there was one or
two women who were quiet. 
I have often wondered what it might
be like to be one of those quiet participants in a group.  What it might be like to be shy or reserved,
to keep my thoughts to myself. 
I often keep my thoughts to myself
but I have this instinctive urge when I enter the space of a workshop where a
few of us have gathered to start the
conversation rolling, if it hasn’t already started. 
I’ll introduce myself and some people will
introduce themselves back and we might talk about the space, or the weather or
the fact that so far it looks as though we’ll only be women attending, as
happened yesterday. 
I do this to measure the
temperature of the room, the nature of the people present.  
Who’s here and what they’re like. 
Will I enjoy myself? 
Will I get something out of our
time together?
I divide my experience into two,
the audience and the teacher.  In this
case, the teacher was fine, friendly, though with a reasonable degree of
reserve.  Teachers need this I reckon if
they are to hold the group.  The other women were also friendly. 
If we could go on meeting for week
after week after week or even month after month we would no doubt become better
friends.  We would come to like one
another as a group. 
We would form bonds, but a once
only meeting is never easy.  There is the
quality of what-does-it-matter-I’m-only-here-once-to-get-as-much-as-I-can-out-of-this
time but there is also the sense, for me at least, of wanting to make the most
of it. 
And the business of reading our
writing out to the class is fraught. People hesitate at first and then towards
the end there’s an avalanche. 
I was among the first to read, and
then kicked myself for my solipsistic reading. 
But isn’t that the way of it?  And
the final worry I have in such groups is the fear that I will be judged harshly
for my age. 
Oh her, she’s just an old
Why would they think that?  
Why do I think this?  
Is this how I judged folks older than me when
I was younger? 
I fear it might have been so, until
of course I came to know those older people. 
Even writing about this makes me feel slightly queasy.  Too self referential, too much of what goes
on in my mind.  No story line.  
But that’s the way it goes sometimes.  You get the inside story, or at least some of
it and the rest I leave to your imagination.  
And then I found a copy of the 2013
edition of Women of Letters in my daughter’s bookshelf and read Amanda Palmer’s letter to someone called Anthony.  I imagine he was a friend.  Someone who was dying of cancer and in it Palmer talks about her almost adolescent need to offer people the truth about
themselves, however brutal, and about the time she had surgery on her throat
and couldn’t speak for two weeks.  How
she came to relish silence.
In a much clearer way than I write here, she
seems to confirm something I’ve been wondering about above. 
Why not try being quiet for a while?
Write letters instead. 

To fly on broken wings

How do you fly on broken
wings?  Wings so broken there are times
when it’s impossible to get off the ground. 
Flying on Broken Wings is Carrie Bailee’s
extraordinary story of survival in the face of horrendous and unspeakable
childhood abuse.  Unspeakable because it
takes readers places where no one wants to go. 
We enter a world of horror so great
we’re left gasping.  And for anyone who
has been touched by the trauma of childhood abuse it becomes a shared journey
with someone who’s seen and experienced the worst of it. 
Bailee was not only abused by her
drunken father who took delight in tormenting the nine year old girl, but she
was also sold to the highest bidder in a paedophile ring where a group of men
took delight in photographing children in sexual poses and of doing all manner
of perverse things onto their innocent bodies. 
These children are most likely dead
by now, the degree of depravity visited upon them can only suggest as
much.  But Bailee managed to escape from
her adoptive maternal home and from then on she no longer needed to visit her
father on the dreaded access visits, although she thereafter encountered other
horrific experiences, including a rape shortly after her arrival in Australia
as a twenty year old. 
Later in Australia with the help of a group
of brave and determined women, counsellors, friends, psychiatrists, and refugee
advocates Bailee managed to begin to heal from these unspeakable traumas, but
not before going through long periods of intense re-traumatisation when the
flashbacks of her childhood brought her back through dissociation
into being that little girl again, a girl who could not protect herself from her father’s extreme cruelty.
The book is well paced.  These flashbacks come to us in spurts,
sometimes long spurts, but they are always interspersed with parts of the
journey wherein Bailee is able to see something of the life she had led and to
reach out for help. 
It is her capacity to reach out for
help, despite her occasional attempts to run away that is most striking. 
Bailee has a website and on it you
can see her performance of her slam poem, ‘Sold’, and there you see a most
attractive and passionate young woman, today the mother of two small girls, who has
managed to survive to tell her story, especially since both her adoptive
parents have died.
I mentioned I was reading this book to a number
of people while I followed Bailee’s journey and several said they did not want
to read about that level of horror.  I can
understand this. 
‘To tell of the trauma is to be re-traumatised’. 
 Bailee’s book is not an easy read, not for
its inaccessibility but for the extent to which unlike watching the six o’clock
news on the television or online where horrific images of torture and brutality
play out often, this book takes us into the heart and mind of one of the tortured
and she is ‘one of us’, a white western woman with pale skin and
Caucasian features. 
I worried when reading of her good
fortune under Phillip Ruddoch’s reign that Bailee is one of the lucky
ones.  Senator Brian Harradine had spoken
up on her behalf.  But it seems to me it
would have been  harder and continues to be harder today to evoke compassion for all
refugees who seek asylum in this country, in part because they are not regarded
as one of us. 
Coming from Canada, Bailee is only
half-foreign, with her different accent but that’s about the end of it.
The book also alerts us to the need
for greater intervention in situations of domestic violence and childhood
abuse, and the degree to which traumatised and tormented victims become
As Bailee writes: ‘Children are
made to feel responsible for what is being done to them.  This is the abuser’s most powerful
weapon.  It prevents them from telling.’
Baillee’s experience is not
isolated.  For this reason, I urge people
to read Flying on Broken Wings. There
are paedophile rings throughout the world and proliferating.  They consist of men who are hell bent on the
exploitation of small children, for complicated reasons often including there own experiences of abuse.  
 Paedophiles breed in societies where brutality
is sometimes condoned, and where disenfranchised men grow up hating those who
are most vulnerable, including their own vulnerable selves. 

To read Bailee’s book is to want
to stomp this out – now.