(I'm not a musician.) I was taught as a child that I must not 'blow my own trumpet' as in talking about myself – especially not to say anything good about myself. I was also taught that much of what I could say about myself was nonsense and I needn't expect anyone to believe it. If I myself believed it, I must be insane. If not, I was obviously a liar. Telling my story, therefore, became a very confronting task. I am now in my late seventies, as I begin this blog, and it is only a preparation – things I write on the way to writing the memoir. Nevertheless, everything posted here is copyright and must not be reproduced without written permission from the author (usually me).

Sunday, 20 August 2017

An Interpolation

Before continuing with new bits of memoir writing, I'm inserting this story, published in 1991 (under the name Rosemary Nissen) by Women's Redress Press, Inc. of Sydney in BODY LINES: A WOMEN'S ANTHOLOGY. I include it at this point as it illustrates some lessons I learned which influenced my behaviour, as described in the previous post. (If you've been following all these posts, you may recognise a couple of the incidents, that have been mentioned before though in less detail.)


White face in the car. Young, smug, fat, balding. White shirt, smooth white hands. Round the corner, then slow, cruising to a stop. The night is late and cold and I am alone. This corner, this intersection of five busy daytime streets, is deserted except for me and now this car. I press my back against someone’s fence as the car starts its crawl. I’m twenty-five: I know the rules. Stand straight, look away, don’t speak. Soon they’ll give up; just endure till then.

I was fainting with fear, but I stood straight. ‘Please let me past,’  still coldly polite, and at last he moved aside. I hadn’t believed he would. I walked deliberately down the passage and out the door, then fast along the street to cut through Melbourne Uni—my Uni—and catch a tram. I was twenty-two, about to graduate; it had been my Uni for five years. I felt safer among these familiar paths and buildings than I did on the street, though they were bleak and deserted this winter night. Only Dr R, the handsome Philosophy lecturer, walked past in his own mood, scowling. His black gown flapped in a sudden gust. I stalked in my opposite direction, scowling back.

Big, crinkly, chunky face. Mobile face, tanned. Sensitive face, artist face, playing to his own mirror, his own eyes and mind. Handsome, vain, leering face, God’s gift. Little-boy wide eyes: aren’t I cute? But not a little boy—thirty to my nineteen. Dark, volatile, my old friend’s husband. His contrast with her dreamy blondeness, her twenty years. A flirter, pincher, squeezer, whom all her friends put up with, ignored, tried to fend off with jokes. A mass collusion with him to keep her happily ignorant. Can she have been so vague, so unaware?

Lank hair, blue stubble, open pores. Spit spraying out of his mouth. His body pressing mine down on his narrow bed in his narrow room in the strange, dark, silent boarding house. ‘I’ll take you out for dinner,’ he’d said. ‘May I meet your family first?’ and charmed them in spite of the spray with his laughter and easy talk.

Twinkling innocently as he pinched my bottom hard and I gasped and yelped. The clout, the satisfying smack. His skittering face on his skittering body, sliding and falling backwards across the room, stopped by the old couch hitting the backs of his knees. My hand still lifted, frozen in my own surprise. His sprawling collapse. ‘Serves you right,’ said his wife.

Earlier tonight I saw my husband off on the Sydney train. ‘Trial separation,’ he kept saying and, ‘Join me as soon as you’re ready to start again.’ But I know I’ll never want that. I cry for hours. I go to my friends in Elsternwick, sit in their kitchen with coffee and cigarettes, and I cry and I talk, and finally walk to the corner in spite of all their pleas, to catch the Brighton bus. I am cried out, emptied, ready to be alone.

‘We just have to go to my place first, to pick something up,’ and when we arrived: ‘Sit down. Sit on the bed, it’s the only place.’  It was. He made me coffee in a grimy cup. I hid my face in my hair, pretending to sip. He shoved at me a slice of apple strudel in torn white paper. ‘You wanted dinner? Here’s dinner.’  It looked greasy and old. ‘No thank you,’ I said. He sat down and pushed me flat on the bed. I squirmed my face away. ‘Anyway, today’s my birthday,’ he said.

My face is thick with crying, red and blotched. My eyes burn. My eyelids have swelled —puffy, transparent, glistening, they will look like slugs for another twenty-four hours. I feel ugly all the way through. I’m past caring.

‘You’re not like all the other girls,’ he’d said when we met. ‘You seem more innocent.’ He’d led me to shop windows. ‘There, do you like that dress? Do you like that one?’ until, to stop this uncomfortable game, I’d agreed,’That one’s all right.’ He’d dropped my arm at once. ‘I suppose you want me to buy it for you,’ he’d spat. He had been spitting on me all night, talking as we danced. I was brought up to be polite. I’d held my face as far from his as I could, kept my expression  bland, agreed to another dance, accepted the walk to the train, not to hurt his feelings. I didn't want the dress, I didn't want him. ‘I’m very busy studying,’  I’d tried to excuse myself. But, ‘Let me meet your family,’ and now we were struggling here on his bed.

Gasping and holding his face. Slack, childish face wiped blank of shifting expressions, gaping up at my hand. Every face in the room, including mine, gaping at my frail right hand—usually too weak to open a jar without help. My hand still stinging. His hand nursing the side of his gone-stupid face.

I managed to push him off. My voice was cold but polite. ‘I’m leaving now.’ He stood with his arm across the door, a bulky man, blocking my exit while he accused. Gold-digger. Heartless. Deserve what you get. His mouth twisted hard to one side, the side that sprayed spit. His face, more than his words, said he always knew no bitch would ever love.

He leans across the passenger seat and rolls the window down. I am emptied of everything. I am at the end. Before he can speak, I step forward. I thrust a contorted face at the open window and say, clearly and fiercely, ‘You get out of here and you leave me alone.’ His face is suddenly contorted too. His face is terrified. Without a word, he steps on the accelerator and speeds off. Five minutes later the bus trundles up. I begin the ride home to my safe, solitary flat.

Copyright © Rosemary Nissen 1991

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Learning from My Ordeal

I see myself as having experienced a protracted ordeal of several phases: my parents' divorce, two years of the Wicked Stepmother, and my bizarre first marriage. The latter provided enough stress that I couldn't keep covering up the effects of the earlier trials. It was the final straw, if you like. And it pushed me onto the path back to normal life, which was my psychotherapy. 

It appeared that I had already returned to normal life simply by getting out from under the Stepmother's roof. I had a few years when things must have looked normal enough on the outside, as I lived the life of a university student and then got my first job and rose rapidly to a position of responsibility. (These years included first love, which was also first sexual awakening, and the subsequent break-up of that relationship, but I don't count that as an ordeal even though it ended in disappointment.)

But it was only an appearance of normality. The traumas and stress made cracks in my psyche, and eventually I shattered. I am one who breaks down very quietly, as my therapist later remarked, so that even the people closest to me would not have been aware of how much was wrong. There were months of breaking down quietly before the final, dramatic collapse – but not so quietly that I could quite conceal it from myself. I tried, but it became impossible to deny. I hoped, though, to conceal it from others, until finally I couldn't. I was very scared, desperately trying to hold myself together against increasing disintegration. In the end, going into therapy became less terrifying than trying to go on without it.

I look back at what I learned from the whole experience. There was much I learned during the years of therapy, but before that there were things I learned from the ordeal — sad things, mostly, or which have their basis in sad experiences. I can see how they played out in my life afterwards, which is the proof that they were thoroughly learned.

I learned that you can't necessarily trust those you love to take care of you, not even someone who has always up until now been the best Dad in the world and has given you no reason to believe that this could ever change – who probably would not have believed it of himself, beforehand. 

And I learned that if someone is in my care, I have to stay with that responsibility. I couldn’t, I discovered, go away even for a long weekend, leaving my little brother among enemies, and think that would make no difference. My presence not only counted for something, it was crucial. When I was there, I couldn't protect him entirely, but I managed to stand up for him enough to mitigate most things. Let’s just say, if anyone was standing up for him in those days, it was me, and only me – and it did some good, if not enough. 

So when my sons' father, while they were still very young, fell in love with another woman – one, moreover, who lived in another country – I made damn sure to win him away from her again. I was by no means a perfect mother, but at least I trusted myself to love my kids and have their best interests at heart. I gave them a great Dad, and to be fair I don't think the woman he fell for would have been unkind to any child – but there was no way I was going to take a chance on it. I was never going to see them get a stepmother, nor let them go far away from me into someone else's care. And I didn't trust their father to be selfless enough; I knew that fathers are not always sufficiently clear-headed and protective.

Much later, when my last husband, Andrew, had to go into a nursing home because I was physically unable to give him the care he needed, I visited him three times a day – even though the first place, from which I very soon extricated him, tried hard to discourage me from coming so often. That was my darling husband – no way would I not spend as much time with him as I could, no way would I not keep a close eye on the care he was getting. And a good thing I did!

I've never put a pet into an animal home either, when I've gone away. I've always been able to get people to come in and look after them whom I and they know well. If I couldn't, I wouldn't go. That is still the case. I am just not prepared to take anything at face value when it comes to the care and wellbeing of loved ones in my charge.

I look back and realise I had more courage and more cunning than I thought. I had to learn how to stand up for my brother and me without being so confrontational about it that it would make matters worse. I had to really hone my gift of the gab! I had to learn how to form arguments that would appeal to my adversaries, whilst not letting them see I regarded them as adversaries. 

Ever since, I have been very good at talking myself out of trouble – including, one time, a potential date-rape when I was alone and quite at the man’s mercy. It’s a very useful skill! One thing it involves is being able to tune in and read the other person accurately, to anticipate their reactions; so no doubt it honed my intuition too. I see that I have a lot to thank the Stepmother for, and in a way I am grateful, though not with any personal warmth towards her.

I would not easily put myself in anyone’s power again, either. For instance, I don't think I would ever become involved with a potentially violent man, although many women do, because I would be able to read their energy too well. I never have been involved with any such man. The ones I have been involved with have usually been capable of strong views, and we have sometimes had heated differences of opinion, but it was all verbal; there was never any threat to me.

Similarly, I have never let anyone control me mentally or emotionally. I might in some circumstances keep my own counsel rather than stirring up dissension – the words, ‘You could be right’ or, ‘Well, you’re entitled to your opinion’ sometimes come in handy! – but I am not swayed by others’ opinions unless they meet my own tests of logic, integrity, etc. 

I’m not so stupid as to hold to a viewpoint which is obviously mistaken; I will change my mind if the evidence warrants it. But I can't be tricked into it, because I can tell when someone is trying. And I can't be browbeaten. I have a core so stubborn, it might made of granite.

In the next episode I’ll look at what I learned from my therapy.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Grandmother, or Elder, Cycle

Grandmother or Elder?

This week the Wisdom Circle, still working with Brooke Medicine Eagl
e's questions, considered the Grandmother / Elder stage of life. Not all of us are actually grandmothers; some of the group chose lives without children.

I myself have step-grandchildren. While I am fond of them and they of me, they live interstate; I seldom see them and we have little interaction.

Elder or Crone?

The question arose, what is the difference between Elder and Crone? We used to be familiar with the concepts of Maiden, Mother and Crone, but nowadays many women include the role of Elder before the Crone stage.

One of the group, Dede, explained that she sees it in terms of the symbolism of a rose. First there is the bud, the Maiden stage. Then the rose opens to fullness, the stage of Motherhood or Maturity. Then the rose grows older and scatters its petals on the earth, as the Elder scatters her wisdom. Finally the rose shrinks and transforms into the rose-hip, holding the seeds for new birth, equivalent to the Crone stage when one becomes more still and goes inward.

This makes beautiful sense to me!


These are my own answers to the questions raised:

What are your beliefs about ageing and what 
a woman's role is expected to be in her later years?

I don't know that I have beliefs so much as observations. There is such a variety of ways to age! I suppose I believe in a certain slowing down after the age of 60, and again in the late seventies, because this is what I have experienced and other women have said things which confirm it. But I also know that our minds affect our bodies in ways we are only beginning to understand. (I’ve recently become very interested in brain plasticity.) So I don’t know that the slowing down is inevitable; perhaps it can be countered. At present I am working on reversing it!

On the other hand, the things we associate with ageing are not necessarily bad things. It may be a blessing to take life at a slower pace! Perhaps we finally get to smell those roses that people keep talking about.

Was menopause a signpost and/or a gateway on your path to ageing?

It was bit of a nuisance when I was going through it. However, I had it easy compared to some. My Mum told me she ‘sailed through menopause’ without noticing it much, and I was the same. Only two hot flushes (mind you, they were memorable!) and only a few episodes of flooding. Then it was nice not to have periods any more, and to dispense with contraception. It felt like new freedom. At that time I read the words of many older women who said it was an entry into one’s full power as a woman, and one’s full wisdom, and I embraced that idea. Perhaps it was both signpost and gateway. I think the crucial question is, what does it point to or open to?

[Someone in the group suggested it means ‘men on pause’, with sexuality becoming less urgent, and that being with oneself would be welcome. I had the opposite experience and have heard of many others like me, with a post-menopausal surge of new eroticism and a delight in the freedom to express it without worrying about childbirth. It's now, decades later, in widowhood, that I enjoy learning how to be with me.]

What belief do you hold about menopause?

It marks the end of the reproductive years.  That’s it, full stop. 

From whom did you acquire these beliefs and attitudes ---- Mother – sisters – friends – older women – society?

Probably from my mother and the other women in my family, on both sides. Everyone seemed to be pretty sensible about it, and not scared of it. 

In what way are these messages brought home to you and reinforced –  at school – through the media – at work? 

I don't think my attitudes were reinforced by these groups. I think school, the media and society sensationalised it a lot more than my family did.

– through women's groups?

The women’s groups I belong to now, like those I belonged to then, don’t regard older women as has-beens, or defective in any way. Far from it. So this reinforces the intelligent attitudes I was brought up with.

What are the greatest feminine aspects you display in your unfolding path?

I’m good at caring for people when that is necessary, in both practical and emotional ways.  I’ve learned about unconditional love, compassion and nurturing, and I find new ways to apply them. 

If you have children or young people and can influence their learning in any way, what are the important values you can teach them about the feminine aspect?

(I don't get much opportunity for this, but if I did) That feminine strength doesn’t have to be like the masculine. We can be strong and tough without being aggressive, power-hungry or unfeeling.

What aspect of the feminine are you connected with at this time of life?

I see in myself aspects of all the great Goddess archetypes, so I suppose I would have to say wholeness – even though I don't express them all in equal measure.

What are the greatest feminine aspects you wish to display in your unfolding path now?

Love. Wisdom. Strength. Intuition. I don't think these are particularly feminine, but I might perhaps express them in a feminine way, with tolerance and gentleness.

Thank your teachers.

I thanked Brooke Medicine Eagle, and all my sisters in the Wisdom Circle.

Reflecting On My Journey

– and on the writing of it here

I'm surprised and a little confused that I set out to write about my journey in magic, as many people had requested, only to find myself sharing other aspects of my life – family stuff, student days, love and marriage, psychotherapy....

Perhaps this makes more sense if I regard my journey as being about healing, a broader focus which includes the magic. Like many witches, I see magic primarily as a tool for healing. And of course I have others, most notably Reiki but not only that. I have learned and often incorporate a variety of other methods of energy healing, too. Also the psychic readings and mediumship, in the way I do them, are forms of counselling.

I could even include poetry. It's my art before it is anything else – and as well, many times in many situations, it has been healing for me to make it. Other people sometimes tell me they experience it as healing to read or hear. I don't do it as therapy, for myself or anyone else, but it can and does serve that purpose.

One of my life cards in the Tarot is the Hermit, the Wounded Healer, who is also the Way Shower. Looking over my life as I have started to write it here, I see very clearly that it has been a journey of self-healing on many levels. And I see that it has not been solely for myself. While it has indeed been for me, that's not where the story finishes. The message of the Hermit card, particularly as interpreted by my favourite Voyager™ Tarot, is that I learn how to heal myself so successfully that I can then show others how to do it for themselves.

And then – saying the same thing in a slightly different way – my Spiritual Astrology book tells me that, as life goes on, I will find that all the things I accomplish for myself are actually meant to be shared with other people. It happens that I teach Reiki, Tarot, Creative Writing ... and have done so for many years.

What I've written at this blog so far is clearly a first draft, or worse – a hodge-podge, jumping all over the place chronologically and in its focus. But now that I've understood the pattern and (unconscious) organisation of my life, I think it will be easier to structure a final draft later.

My dear friend Katherine, a healer and visionary, told me long ago, 'You ARE Reiki. Poetry is what you do; Reiki is what you are.'

My magical mentor, Ridge, once channelled a message for me: 'Your value is not in your poetry! But it is good that you continue to play with your poetry.'

I didn't want to hear those words. A poet was THE thing I most wanted to be since I was a child, and that has never changed. And I am that; I have spent my life on it, with no regrets. Poetry is my joy and my purpose, my reason for living, the thing I can't not do, that which would make my life worthwhile even if everything else were stripped away. When you come right down to it, I do it for me.

Now, after all, crucial as it is, it turns out to be part of a much larger context and direction for my life. How about that! Now that I see it, it's just so obvious.

Mind you, my other life cards are Death, which means drastic change, transformation, rebirth: still suggestive of healing – and The Moon, the Muse of poets! (Smile.)