Split acorns and puppies

It’s not easy trying to write with a puppy underfoot, but as long as she gnaws at her toy, cube shaped and covered in tendrils and bumps and protuberances of all types designed to assist her teeth to grow strong and clean, all will be well. Before I need to engage in more active play.

The pup’s been here a week and again I feel like the mother of a newborn, preoccupied, alert to her every cry when it’s my turn to take responsibility for her. Fortunately, I get to share this load as I’m not the only dog watcher in this household. 

With my babies I was not alone, too, but babies are a much bigger deal than puppies and filled me with a deep sense of awe at the mysteries of life and a deep fear of death.

As happens most often in the middle of the night, I decided the puppy had a cough, a cough that in my imagination had me scooting off to the emergency vet in the dark, coughing puppy beside me and ready to die. 

I could not find the contract papers and details from the pet shelter from where we collected the puppy. They disappeared almost as soon as we brought her home. I did not take care of them because I assumed our life with this puppy would proceed without hitch.

This does not always happen I know, but the optimist in me insisted on imagining our puppy beyond puppydom where like the other dogs in my life, I need not be so preoccupied.

My two older grandsons stayed overnight too which adds to my sense of responsibility for the young ones who need support. My grandsons in the form of pancakes for breakfast and by mid-morning an injunction to get off their screens and come out into the world with me for a walk with the dogs, or a series of card games that we play in a stretch to shift into non technological mode. 

The younger grandson brought his pack of Exploding Kittens. I can’t get into this card game. I read through the rules with him yesterday and as much as I can now understand the moves more fully, this game still lacks something for me. I prefer the patterning of Uno, the repetitious nature of a card game that relies both on luck and some modicum of skill. A game I can play as well as the next person.

The corellas are back this morning. I expected them a week back ever since I saw the first lone scout circling overhead. Casing the joint. Ready to holler to its mates, come over here. There’s an oak tree resplendent with budding acorns. Plenty to eat here. 

I mentioned them to my grandson, the younger one said, 

‘They need to eat, too,’ he said. Live and let live is his motto but he doesn’t need to clean up the back garden once all those acorns fall, split open for their inner goodness. Along with the acorns there are endless twigs and even small branches snapped off in the bird’s eagerness to get at their food. 

When I take the dogs out for walks over the next few weeks whole streets lined with elms, oaks or plane trees will see their foliage scattered in debris across the footpath and road. The corellas are merciless, but my grandson is right, they too need to eat.

The puppy sleeps now after my grandsons exhausted her in her first of the morning play. And soon I will hover over them urging them out into the world. Another day beckons and the puppy is one week older. 

Corellas or not we must brave the day. 

Competence like an overcoat can protect you from pain

The last day of summer and I put on the heating again for the first time in weeks. It has that stink of stirred up dust. That tends to happen when the first flus of hot air flows through the pipes after a long hiatus. 

I finally reached the end of Bessel Van Der Kolk’s book on trauma only to learn that in 29017-2018 under the weight of the #MeToo movement several of his colleagues outed him at his organisation as for bullying behaviour. And I’m struck yet again on the way celebrities reach great heights only to fall from grace in ignominious circumstances. Van Der Kolk lost his job but he re-emerged to see another day as head of another centre on trauma. I suspect much of the shine has gone off his reputation. Not unlike the reputation the once lauded Bruno Bettelheim enjoyed was lost to him after his egregious behaviour was outed. 

There’s the furore in parliament on Brittany Higgins’ allegations that she was raped by a minister in an office not far from the PM’s office and all hell breaks loose as to who knew what and when. We are having our own #MeToo moment in parliament with women now able to stand up and say it happened to them, too. And certain men are being shamed for their past behaviours. 

Van der Kolk writes that ‘competence is the best defence against the helplessness of trauma’. In other words, to grow strong, to develop a skill to show some ability in any particular sphere is one way of overcoming some of the feelings of helplessness induced through trauma. Which to me runs parallel with the idea that the best revenge is to do well. 

Different concepts but both argue for the notion that if you develop some level of competence, if you show yourself to be an achiever, someone who is good at something, you move out of the position of helpless victim and can become someone who feels better about themselves. Or so the theories go. 

I’m not so sure one cancels the other out. Competence might reduce feelings of helplessness but in my experience an ongoing sense of helplessness related to the experience of trauma can still accompany a life of great achievement. 

People can do well in their careers or their talents, but still the shadow of past hideous experience under the cruelty of another person, persons or events beyond their control can still leave people helpless even as they shine elsewhere.

That’s my sermon for today. Beyond this I’m sad to see the fading warmth of summer even though they say tomorrow will reach 30 degrees centigrade. The nights are cooling down and much as I’m relieved the bushfires weren’t so bad, here in Victoria at least, not like last year, I’m still sad to find I’m back in shoes and socks each morning because it’s too cold to wear open toed sandals.

In 2015 when I won an award for my piece of memoir, A visit to the beach, the person judging the short story section, said something about how many stories began with the weather. As if such a beginning is predictable, awful and boring. My piece began with the weather, too, only the memoir judge who chose my piece said the weather in my piece was more like a character than a feature of the story. 

I realised the lottery of literary prize winning when, soon before the awards were announced, I chatted with the memoir judge and his wife and some other dignitary from the local council in NSW who offered the prizes. He said without realising I was one of the recipients, he had two favourite pieces, so he asked his wife to read them both and he went with her choice, which happened to be my essay. 

Such is the luck of it all. I might have been her second choice and then might never have known how close I came. 

There were only first prizes here.

Life can be like that. Only the first get the spotlight and those who are on par with the first but by dint of circumstance miss out on first placing can disappear without even realising how close they have come.

And the mighty who fall like Bessel van der Kolk who can then rise from their ashes lose all their lustre because we are all of us mortal human whose reputations rise and fall on the whims of others, who can judge us well or harshly not only because of the things we have done – that’s surely a factor – but also on the mores of the day and the way behaviour is judged. 

Like the paintings of old. Ruben’s beautiful fulsome figured women who were much admired. Today are less so. 

The things we value, the things we despise, shift and sway like the weather.