The black virgin

There are bodies lying face down in
the river, black bodies face down in the river, three, five, ten of them, some
bobbing close to the shore, others further from the edge, almost as if someone has
laid out a raft of black boulders across the surface of the river, stepping
stones that I might glide across to get from one side to the other.  But I am too terrified to move.
I lean against the curved trunk of
a river gum branch that throws itself across the water and try to hide even as
I catch glimpses of the naked bodies floating down the river.  Their long wavy hair and slender
outlines suggest to me that they are women, young women, all of them I know have somehow been raped first then tossed aside to drown in the river. 
This is my dream.  I who live in the south eastern corner of Australia and rarely if ever catch sight of a full blown aboriginal, I dream of
their massacre.
 Landscape typical of my dream without the water. 
Among the many times when we left
home to escape my father’s drunken outbursts there was a time when we stayed in my
older brother’s flat in Hawthorn. 
He left for work early in the morning to his job with a commercial
printer and we four kids, we middle children, had to fend for ourselves for the
day. 
There were many such days in my
childhood memory, days when we had nothing to do, no plans, no money, no home
base from which to move, stuck in someone else’s house where we were required
to amuse ourselves with books or card games, or conversation and walks
nearby. 
We should not eat too much – a
single sandwich for lunch, a cup of tea.  My brother’s cupboard was that of
a single bachelor who cared little for eating at home.
The flat was situated in an old red
brick house, split level, one step down to an old linoleum kitchen.  I spent part of my time walking up and
down between the kitchen and living room examining the few objects my brother
possessed.  
He had carved a head
out of a lump of wood, his own head like a death mask, a self
portrait. 
There was also a book, with whose title I
associate my dream, Bony and the Black Virgin.  On the back cover I read she was a ‘lubra’, this
black virgin.  The word virgin had
long troubled me, a word from religion, the blessed virgin, a word that had a
hands off feel though I still did not know what it meant other than that it
suggested someone young, a young woman. 
How did someone lose her virginity?
I wondered.  Was it like losing your purse, or your train ticket, or something else
that might be important as a means of getting about in the world? 
I had none of these things to begin
with.  We had stolen our way here
on the train, avoided buying a ticket because we did not have enough money and
I had no money to put in a purse let alone owned a purse that could hold
money.  
How could I even find my
virginity enough to one day lose it?  

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

There is a pattern to today’s date when written in short hand form, 11 10 11, that appeals to me. Numerically challenged though I may be, I can still enjoy patterns among numbers, in fact when I see them as they apply to the day’s date it gives me a delicious feeling, as if it hints at the possibility that today will be a good day.

A good day for a four year old grandson’s birthday, a good day for standing in a park filled with friends, among indigenous plants and grasses, within the inner city, and soaking up the first of the sun as it makes its way out from behind the clouds of yesterday’s rain.

Speaking of yesterday, I went to a workshop on creative dreaming. The contents of the workshop belong to the workshop but it’s safe for me to say I found the day ‘liberating’.

That’s what they say isn’t it? That something can be liberating. That something can free you from your earlier preconceptions, from previous assumptions about your world, from old stereotypes and leave you in a new place.

There were nine of us in this group, a telling number for me. Anytime I am in a group of nine I am back with my eight siblings, but this group to me was all the more remarkable because it consisted of six men and only three women, including one of the facilitators.

In honour of my new found and clumsy determination to break up the text with images, I include a photo my family of origin before my youngest brother is born, including my mother and minus my father, whom I imagine took the photo.

Usually the groups to which I belong in the literary and psychological world are dominated by women, with maybe one or two men, if you’re lucky.

I have not been in such a male dominated group for as many years as I can remember, perhaps not since I was young within my family where my five brothers and father outweighed we four girls and our then mouse-like mother.

My brothers, I suspect, would not consider that our mother is mouse like, though to me in those days she was.

In this workshop we explored the creative potential of shared dreams, dreams people brought into the room, mostly remembered from the night before, which they offered as a sort of oral space, against which others might bounce thoughts from their own dreams or other ideas, from music, from poetry, from memory, from the technological world, from whatever may have occurred to them.

After the morning’s session we were left to our own devices with Texta colours and butcher paper and sequins and glue and magazines for cut outs and collages and scissors, of course, and one man brought his guitar with the help of which he composed a song, and another wrote a poem, and others drew images that on the surface of it may have seemed obscure, however arresting, but under our freewheeling, emotional and associative group eyes they all came to life as filled with meaning.

It was a day riddled with uncertainly, beyond the basic framework of group activity times. There were no rules, there was no demand that we intellectualise, that we interpret meanings, that we outsmart one another with our wit and cleverness.

It was not a therapy group. It was not a writing group. It was not a reading group. It was a group such as I have never been in before. Non-competitive, in so far as such is possible.

I come from a long history of ‘sophisticated’ therapeutic groups where from memory the tension is high and members often wait to pronounce judgement on one another’s crazy thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

Now that is probably not a fair reflection of good group work but it sticks in my memory.

I was once in a therapy group – this when I was still young – led by an esteemed psychoanalyst, which I have since likened to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Such were the unwritten rules that governed our behaviour and the conduct of our leader who said nothing most of the time, not by way of introduction or departure – a traditional analytic approach in those days perhaps, but nevertheless one designed I think to leave him in a powerful position.

The analyst’s occasional pronouncements were invariably directed at the group and I sensed that he saw himself as outside of the group. As if he were a puppet pulling invisible strings and we were the puppets, knowing little if anything about why we behaved as we did but behaving accordingly.

But yesterday’s experience was different, with two facilitators, a man and a woman, and both, to my mind, particularly the man, prepared to share their most heart-felt experiences in order to allow for what I can only describe as a creative dialogue that then led us into creative activity.