(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).

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Coming Back from Therapy

I stayed in therapy for six interesting and empowering years.

What happened in group therapy was of course confidential as it related to the other people, but I did share with Bill, as my new fiancé and then husband, some of the insights I was gaining into myself. Bill had difficult relationships with his parents and siblings, and after a while started to think he might benefit from therapy too. Our GP was happy to refer him, and the Doc to take him on. He went into a different group from me, so that we could both always feel free to say whatever we needed.


My more dramatic episodes in therapy (e.g. those related in previous posts) happened early, followed by years of more gradual progress, during which time Bill and I bought a house, got married, I changed jobs a couple of times, we had our two sons, I stopped work, then later worked part-time, he went from being a builder working for his father to his very successful career as an abalone diver, we renovated and sold our first house and bought a bigger one, and we acquired two teenage foster-sons. 

Their whole story is one to tell separately, later, if at all. Briefly, they were from a family Bill knew, where serious problems developed; they ran away from home to come to us, and we were allowed by the authorities to foster them. They had been traumatised. The younger, a country boy at heart, soon went to live with other people he knew, who had a farm in a rural area. The older stayed with us for his last two years of High School and then went on to university. After he had been living with us some months, he also decided to seek therapy from the Doc to help him deal with the things he had experienced. He had a briefer period of therapy than we did, and undoubtedly benefited.

He moved out into a residential college at university, as the  campus wasn’t very near where we lived, but always kept in close touch. I still, fifty years later, have a very affectionate relationship with both my foster-sons – men in their sixties now.

Eventually Bill and I got to a point where we wanted to try life without that weekly therapeutic support. It felt strange and vulnerable at first, but then I realised that the therapy hadn't stopped just because I wasn't attending sessions any more. I had ‘internalised’ the Doc, and in moments of difficulty would  hear his voice in my head – saying, for instance, ‘Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and after a while, if you look back over your shoulder, you'll see that you’ve travelled quite a long way.’

I’ll be eternally grateful for having been referred to an excellent therapist. I have learned from other people since that the experience is not always so positive. Were he still alive, I’d have no hesitation in recommending him to anyone who needed that kind of help; but, sad to say, he’s no longer with us.

Therapy not only enabled me to address and heal the disturbing influences of the past, it helped me go on from there – to grow from a timid, sensitive introvert, at times almost pathologically shy, and often ‘away with the fairies’, into a stronger, more decisive person. I became much more grounded in my self, more at home in everyday reality, more at ease socially, more able to be spontaneous and authentic. 

Readers have commented, on some of my previous posts, how strong I was for one so young. The strength they praise came about directly through being in therapy. I was gradually ‘toughening up’ as the Doc once put it.

He made that remark to Bill (who relayed it to me) after Bill mentioned that I wasn't getting sunburnt as easily as I always used to with my fair skin. There were other things the Doc said over the years, which similarly pointed to the effect of the mind on the body. He must have been the first to present me with that concept. Or perhaps not, as such ideas were starting to gain currency then, in the early to mid-sixties – but he would at least have been one of the first. Coming from him, it must have carried weight as scientific fact, not just a ‘New Age’ speculation. 

On the other hand, I remember his assertion that he and his fellow-psychiatrists were extremely conservative people. They had to be, he explained, because they were messing around with the insides of people’s heads.

He was far too conservative to indulge his patients in ‘magical thinking’. 

‘If you’d seen as many visionary schizophrenics as I have, living in mental hospitals, lost in their own worlds….’ he said.  Or, in answer to something, ‘Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong shop. I don’t deal in miracles. Dr X down the road sells that sort of thing’. (Dr X was the darling of the press at the time, promising that the meditations he taught would cure everything from depression to cancer.)

So I emerged better able to function in what we see as normality – and uncertain about the reality of anything metaphysical. After the breakdown, being restored to functionality was a very good place to be. Questions of metaphysics, which didn't seem to have any direct bearing on my life anyway, I could probably afford to shelve.

I’m interested now to recall one question the Doc asked me, as to why I was so concerned with the state of the world and all the people who were unfortunate or suffering. It was hard for me to understand why he asked; I took it for granted that everyone of course must care about such things. He said that he himself didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about, ‘Oh, those poor Vietnamese’ or whoever, and he hadn't observed that many people did, at least not to the extent that I did. He asked again why I thought I did so. I didn’t have an answer.

I took it that he was suggesting there was something wrong with me for doing so: that it was unbalanced in some way, that perhaps he thought it a displacement from addressing my own problems.  But I didn't say any of that. I just shut down, stubbornly telling myself, inwardly, that my reactions were perfectly normal, natural and right.

He may indeed have been suggesting what I thought he was, but in hindsight I wonder if he wasn’t simply asking me to examine myself in order to know myself better. Perhaps he had some inkling of the healer within me – which was yet to emerge consciously, though I look back now and see that it was always part of me and there were always signs.

Another time, in answer to something I said, he replied, ‘That’s the teacher in you.’ I stared at him and he said (interpreting): ‘What’s that silly psychiatrist saying now? I’m not a teacher, I’m a librarian’ – which was just what I was thinking. Then he repeated, gently but firmly, ‘It’s the teacher in you.’ I decide to at least entertain the possibility that it might be an aspect of me, although I had always thought teaching was one of the last things I’d ever want to do. Of course, in later years I became a very successful teacher of adults in such contexts as writing workshops, meditation classes, Reiki seminars….

When I started conducting workshops, years later, I realised that I had somehow absorbed, as if by osmosis, the way the Doc conducted his group therapy sessions. I don't mean that I began analysing people! It was more a matter of group dynamics, a way of letting everyone be heard, asking pertinent questions in a non-threatening way, interpolating with occasional expertise or opinion only as necessary and useful. In truth, it’s hard to explain; it’s just a thing I do naturally, a way I instinctively fell into, which I recognised as having been his way, and which works. 

It was also from him I learned that, in groups, learning happens best in an atmosphere of laughter. I learned that it’s OK for a group facilitator to make mistakes sometimes and be wrong sometimes – so long as they’re always truthful. And I learned how to ‘open my antennae’ (a phrase he occasionally used) and listen intently, not only to what is said but also the unsaid.  But it was only later, when I started teaching, that I learned what joy and fulfilment it would give me. I loved it.

I didn’t at all set myself up to play psychiatrist, or try to heal or improve people in any way. Yet, when I taught poetry writing at Box Hill TAFE and Bill and I hosted live-in weekend workshops for my students, my boss Issy, who attended, said publicly afterwards, meaning it as praise, ‘What Rosemary does isn’t just poetry; it’s therapy!’ I think the therapy was partly in the approach, and partly in the fact that poetry workshops (like group psychotherapy!) can’t help but promote intimacy.

But when I left therapy it wasn't exactly with the Doc’s blessing. He thought I could get more out of it yet, but said he couldn't help me any longer as I was no longer drawing for him the maps he needed to help me navigate my journey. I didn't know what he was talking about, couldn't identify anything I was concealing. He pointed out that he had other patients eager to get into group therapy, and it wasn't fair to keep me on if I wasn't progressing. So I left, somewhat comforted by the fact that, if he'd thought I was in a serious mental condition, he would surely have hospitalised me instead. There was no suggestion of that.

It was some little time later that I had my 'lightbulb' moment. I was in my early thirties, and inexplicably discontented. I asked myself, 'Why are you feeling discontented when you have everything you're supposed to want - good husband, two gorgeous kids, nice house, friends, as much work as you choose to do? What is it you really want?' A lightbulb went on in my head, as depicted in cartoons, and the answer was immediately present. What I wanted, had always wanted, was to be a poet. 

I had been one since I was seven, but, having been discouraged from seeing it as a viable career, I merely scribbled privately. I seldom showed my poems to anyone, let alone submitting them anywhere for possible publication. But, with the lightbulb, I thought, 'OK, well I'd better do it for real.'

That meant I had to start working on my poems to make them as good as I possibly could. When you're only scribbling privately for your own amusement, there's not the same impetus to do that. It also meant I had to be brave enough to submit them to literary magazines.

The response to my first submission was, 'These are too long for us. Please send us some shorter ones.' Greatly encouraged, I did. They were accepted, and I never looked back. It became apparent that I had a vocation, which I had not been honouring. I have followed it ever since. Not following it had been causing unsuspected problems in my life. I wasn't fully being myself.

I encountered the Doc years later in a personal development course we were both doing. There was a large number of participants; we didn't need to do more than spot each other across the room. He in fact gave no sign of recognition, and I realised this was because he was bound by professional ethics not to publicly acknowledge a patient unless they first acknowledged him. I did that, in one of the breaks. I had something I wanted to tell him. 

'Excuse me,' I started. 'Do you remember me?' (Maybe it wasn't professional ethics, I thought. After all, he must have so many ex-patients.)

'Of course I remember you,' he said. 

So I reminded him that he had said I wasn't drawing him the maps he needed. I explained that I had discovered the missing piece of the map, which was that I was a poet, and that I was now living my vocation. He said he had seen some poems published in the newspapers under my name and had wondered if they were by me, if it was the same Rosemary Nissen. He asked after Bill and our foster-son; we had a brief, pleasant conversation and then got back to the course we were doing. I don't know if he bought my explanation about the poetry, but he didn't indicate otherwise. What was noticeable was that he treated me like an acquaintance rather than a patient - perfectly proper, as I was no longer a patient, and no more than I would have expected from him. He always understood these niceties and was completely appropriate. 

It was some years later again that I discovered I also had a vocation as a healer. Six months after learning Reiki I, the basic technique for hands-on healing, Bill and I learned Reiki II, the technique for healing in absence. As I’ve explained in an earlier post, I learned Reiki initially with the notion of helping Bill who, as a spiritual healer, was getting drained if he did too much of it. I suggested he learn too, to get some formal training to put to his gift. But in practice the Reiki superseded what he had, and prevented him from getting drained anyway. Meanwhile, I found I loved it.

I fell in love even more with Level II – such a wonderful gift, to be able to send healing across space and to some extent across time. I’m so constituted that when I find something good I want to share it with the whole world. So of course, at this point I decided I would train as a teacher. (The term ‘Master’ in ‘Reiki Master’ means teacher.)

I was so elated and grateful, the morning after  completing Level II, I woke up early, put Amazing Grace on the stereo, and danced. I was in bliss.

Reiki seems to me to be magical. It certainly is not yet explainable in terms that science recognises. And it works! So it was one factor in having me open again to the possibility of magic. It has been a wonderful path for me ever since. 


So has the path of psychic mediumship, which developed soon afterwards, as outlined in a previous post. The famous Tarot author Rachel Pollack describes Tarot as ‘the outlaw therapy’. My readings, in which Tarot is only one of my tools, are a form of spiritual counselling. 

I have also qualified in many other energy healing modalities besides the original Reiki. And my magical path has essentially been about healing too, in a broad sense. (For instance, in ritual, ‘turning the wheel of the year’, we intend to look after the wellbeing of the planet.)

A few years back, a friend devised a way to discover what one’s ideal job would be. She told me mine would be to heal the world via poetry. She was so right! As soon as she said it, I realised that's exactly what my ideal job would be. In fact she saw me doing it by sharing poetry online. It didn't take me long to understand that I am doing exactly that. 


Not that I am the only one doing it, I hasten to note. Poetry is healing for the one who writes it, as I have experienced in times of trauma and bereavement. It can also be healing for its readers, whether it soothes, uplifts or is cathartic.

I once had a reading from someone who was an excellent channel for various angels and spirit guides. I asked what I could label myself, e.g. for purposes of putting something on a business card. She told me that ‘they’ would prefer that I didn't label myself at all as it is limiting to do so. But they could see that I needed something for practical purposes. Only it was difficult, they said, because I was a good healer, a good teacher, a good psychic reader … in the end they suggested I might call myself ‘a teacher of metaphysics’; they would be happy if I were to use that label. I do, but not exclusively. I don’t think it means much to the average person, so I use more specific ones as well, such as Reiki Master, psychic medium, poet … a list.

These new directions that opened up for me, these explorations into healing and magic, started happening at the time my children became young men and got out from under the parental roof, when I was newly free of the practical duties of motherhood. Perfect timing, I think, as I look back now.


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.)



Refusals

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.)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Anecdotal Asides: Gigi and Lassie

The memoir excerpts on this blog are necessarily condensed, otherwise they’d go on and on forever. Also I am relating them to stages on the Heroic Journey, so as to have a structure to work with. (For many years, lacking a structure, I couldn’t even make a beginning on telling my story.)  
When I start remembering, all sorts of things come flooding back, which don’t seem to fit into the general narrative or would expand it too much for the parameters I’ve given it. Yet they seem like good stories, which perhaps my family and friends would like to read, if no-one else. 

Maybe I’ll weave them into the main narrative if that ever does become a book. Meanwhile, I thought I could add them here as discrete anecdotes.

Finding Gigi

Bill told me he was wanting a dog, and he heard about an old lady who had this beautiful German Shepherd she wasn't able to look after any longer.

He went to her house, got out of his car, and saw the dog in the yard. He looked over the fence, whistled to her and said,

‘What do think, sweetheart? Will you come with me?’

She took a flying leap over the fence, jumped into his embrace and started licking his face.

It was a done deal.


Losing Gigi

I wonder how old she was when Bill found her. I know she was fully grown, not a puppy. I would guess maybe three or four. I seem to remember that she was five when I first met her.

As I’ve told in the memoir, we didn’t keep her with us when we got together. Bill’s parents couldn't bear to part with her. He saw her daily at  work during the week, as his father used to bring her to whatever building site they were working on. 

Sometimes Bill brought her home to us for the weekend, but things were tense between her and my cat, so this didn't happen often.

She died some years later, from a heart attack. Bill blamed his parents for feeding her too many fatty tidbits – as they fed themselves. His mum was very fat; his father less so only because he always did a lot of physical work.

But he didn't reproach them. They had loved her and looked after her in what they thought was the best way. She had a happy life, within the average span for a Shepherd, and always knew she was loved.

About Lassie

Lassie, as I said in my last blog post, came to us via a young friend who was moving house and couldn’t take her. He wanted her to go to people who would love her.

At that point I was still a little scared of big dogs. Lassie proved the instant cure.

On her first evening with us, she was lying at our feet on the kitchen floor when my cat, Guinivere, walked into the room. Lassie, who had been peaceful until that moment, instantly went for the cat.

The cat dived under the kitchen table, which perhaps would not have protected her for long – except that, without stopping to think, I leapt out of my chair, grabbed the dog by the collar, hauled her off and clouted her across the snout, shouting, ‘Leave my cat alone!’

She did, then and forever after. And I realised I was braver than I’d imagined, given enough motivation.

Guinevere clearly knew she was now off limits, and felt free to torment the dog. She did sweet things like lying in wait on top of the table, and as Lassie walked past she’d jump on her back, rake her claws along it and then jump back up on to the table in one swift, easy sequence. She did not respond to orders to leave the dog alone!

But then Lassie was hit by a car out the front of our place one day, got a broken leg, and spent a few days at the vet’s. She came home with a leg in plaster and a bucket around her head. 

Guinevere approached her, they touched noses, and then appeared to commune telepathically for a little while. I could imagine Guinie saying, ‘Whatever happened to you?’ and Lassie having a bit of a whinge about it. After that, they were the tenderest of friends, often having a chinwag and at times even curling up together. There were no more attacks by either on the other; you’d think such things could never have happened.

Despite our first encounter, Lassie and I became dear friends. This was also in spite of a power struggle over her food. Peter had told us she should have a mutton flap every day, boiled to tenderness. The first time I did this, which took a long time and made the kitchen smell, Bill declared it ridiculous and said I should feed her raw meat. He got her a juicy big bone.

‘Look,’ I said next day, ‘She hasn't touched her food. I’ll have to do what Peter said.’

‘Don’t you dare,’ said Bill. ‘Put it in the fridge overnight and give it to her again tomorrow.’

The next morning, again, she turned up her nose at it. Bill insisted I persevere. The third day she fell on it and gorged! Thereafter, she happily ate her meat raw.

She was a gentle, motherly soul. When I had children, she loved them as if she was their mother, and was very protective. This had its disadvantages.

As they got older, if I told them off for doing things they shouldn’t, she would place herself between me and them and give me a soft, warning growl. I didn't for a moment think she would ever hurt me, but sometimes it gave me pause to wonder if I was speaking too harshly to them and moderate my tone.

She was also highly intelligent. Not only did she show this in the usual doggy ways; I could sit and have long talks to her and she would gaze into my eyes giving me the distinct impression she understood it all – or at least understood what I was feeling. She mothered me too, e.g. coming to fetch me if she thought I was sitting up too late writing my poetry, and indicating clearly that I should go to bed now. She wasn't wrong!

She was the whole family’s dog, but perhaps mine most of all. I was the one who spent the most time with her, and most often did the care and feeding.

She lived with us a long time. Calculating it as best I can now, I think it must have been about 13 years – and she wasn’t a puppy when we got her. Eventually she succumbed to age; it became obvious she was struggling to cope with life. 

She was tired all the time, her breathing was laboured, and it was an effort for her to move. It was Spring. I didn't want her to endure the summer heat in her condition. I said we needed to take her to the vet to be put down. Bill and the kids were absolutely unwilling to accept this idea, but I was adamant and eventually persuaded them that it was what would be best for her. (I have a ruthless streak when I need it.)

We thought she would like to see Peter again before she went. We hadn’t seen him for quite a while, but we got in touch, told him what was happening, and invited him over. He came and spent an evening with us. Afterwards he thanked us for doing that for him. We didn't contradict him, but it wasn’t him we did it for; it was Lassie.

 We had various animals over the years, most eventually left us, and we’d usually experience some ghostly manifestations for some little time afterwards, gradually becoming less frequent. That didn't happen with Lassie.

What did happen was that one night, some years after her death, I was sitting up late one night, when something made me turn around from my desk. There in the doorway of my study, I saw Lassie walking in as of old, looking at me meaningfully to tell me it was past time I was in bed. She was right, as always.

I didn't feel spooked, but peacefully glad to see her and full of love. The interesting thing was that – as ghosts are often described – I could both see her and see through her.

When she saw that I had got the message, she quietly vanished.


**********************

I am a cat person, as everyone knows, but that doesn't mean I can't love and appreciate dogs too.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

The Rewards of ...

... well, certainly not virtue!

In terms of the Heroic Journey, I see my years with the Stepmother as a significant ordeal, after which I received some rewards such as coming under the care of my nice aunties, attending university, making new friends, and  finding my first love (even though there was sorrow involved in that). But the ordeal had not really been dealt with or resolved. The further ordeal of a stressful first marriage, with some bizarre and even crazy aspects, was what I needed to claim the reward of real resolution. You might not think of entering psychiatric treatment as a reward, but for me it absolutely was – a great gift for which I remain fervently grateful. 

Therapy

I embarked on what would become six years of group psychotherapy. The Doc, as we all called him affectionately behind his back, explained that he preferred to use group therapy because it enabled him to charge each individual patient a lot less and still earn what he needed to, and because, 'If one person is telling you you're being paranoid, you might doubt it; but if a whole group of people is telling you so, it's harder to dismiss'. 

I was very lucky in being referred to that particular psychiatrist, as I realised later when I heard stories about how unsatisfactory some others were. He thought of his patients as people, not as illnesses or labels: as 'Mrs Freeman' rather than 'that woman with anxiety'.

'Anxiety state' was my official diagnosis. I always thought that was simply a convenient label because I had to be diagnosed with something in order to claim medical benefits. I suppose that hallucinating skulls over people's faces and having to be sedated after a party could be viewed as extreme anxiety! 

In the course of our first, one-on-one conversation, at one point he approvingly responded, 'Good girl!' to something I said. Instantly triggered, and to my own surprise, I yelled, 'I don't want to be a good girl!' 

'What do you want to be?' he asked, but for that I had no clear answer. I didn't want to be a bad girl either – not outright nasty, not evil. Probably, what I really didn't want was to be conformist, to perform a role.

It appeared there was some division between aspects of myself. He promised that by the end of my treatment they would be beautifully integrated.

One thing I thought I was there for was to cure what I perceived as my frigidity – forgetting how passionate I had been with John. All the foreplay was fine with Don, too, but when it came to penetration, I had very extreme reactions. I went into uncontrollable shrieks of terror without any rational basis, and my vaginal muscles clamped tight shut (a condition known as vaginismus). Don did suggest that he might be part of the problem. 

'If I was a different kind of man ...' he said. Spelling it out: 'You could be raped.'  I wasn't so sure.

In the course of my therapy, I uncovered a memory of a woman telling me, when I was a child, that men had great big things like red-hot pokers to stick into women. I thought it was my mother who told me that. Years later when I confronted her with it, she was horrified. And indeed, common-sense tells me now that she would never have said or even thought such a thing. She was furious that anyone would have told me that. She thought it must have been the woman who came in every week to help with the housework while she was expecting my brother. I'll never know.

Early on, we had psilocybin as part of our therapy. That was the term the Doc used, adding that it was the synthetic version – in other words, LSD. He told me it would act like a corkscrew to lift the lid off my subconscious, and that the advantage over hypnotherapy was that I would be able to split my consciousness into the experiencer and the observer. (With hypnotherapy, he had to tell the patient afterwards what transpired during the session.) 

Patients would book in as outpatients for one day at a private hospital, lie down in separate rooms and be given what I believe was a small dose of the drug. It did exactly what I had been told it would: I re-experienced childhood events, with my adult consciousness alongside to observe and interpret them. This included some events I had always consciously recalled, others which I had forgotten but remembered when they were brought to the surface again, and some which I needed help to understand – such as seeing, as an infant, a large area of black-and-white squares, which the Doc suggested might have been the chequered pattern of someone's clothing. 

I imagine that the more bizarre experiences under the influence, which recreational drug users have reported, would involve much larger doses – and also the lack of that simple explanation about the corkscrew, to put them in context.

We were monitored during the treatments, and given another tablet at the end (I don't know what) to bring us back to normal. Then we would meet as a group and discuss what had happened. I found it illuminating. But after some months these treatments were discontinued. Evidence came to light that there could be genetic side-effects, so the psychiatrists using this drug stopped at once rather than put their patients at risk. After that we reverted to weekly group therapy, 'the talking cure', in the Doc's professional offices. 

One day, lying on the hospital bed – I don't recall what triggered it – I had an experience as if I was melting. It wasn't scary, it was blissful. But it involved a physical flowing from various orifices: tears, snot, saliva, as well as blood and some tissue from between my legs. I went to the toilet and cleaned myself up. It wasn't my imagination and it wasn't my period either. It was the spontaneous coming away of my hymen! The Doc was a rational, scientific man (albeit Jungian). As he once said, he didn't deal in miracles; if that's what we were after, we were in the wrong shop. So he was taken aback when I reported that experience, but he accepted that it had happened. 

It didn't lead to a consummation of the marriage. I look back now and find I don't recollect any details about why that was. Perhaps it was because Don wasn't well. He ended up in hospital, briefly, with a kidney stone. Perhaps it was because I had already given up on the marriage. It had got to the point where we hardly communicated. He began spending a lot of time going out with his mates and coming home drunk. For a while I kept on desperately trying to make our marriage work, until it dawned on me that I was the only one still trying. That couldn't work!

Satisfaction

Meanwhile, I wanted to experience sex. I propositioned a married man I knew. It was common knowledge that his marriage was no longer a sexual union; his wife didn't like it. One might wonder whose fault that was – but I soon found out that there was nothing wrong with his performance. Far from it! Nor did I have the extreme fear responses by then. (Yes, therapy does work!) I also realised, once I had someone to compare him with, that Don was semi-impotent. 

I confessed my infidelity, and we agreed to separate. He decided to move to Sydney and start over. He actually helped me move to a new flat and let me keep most of our stuff – of course including our tabby cat, Guinivere, no longer a kitten, who was with me the rest of her life to the age of 18. 



My Guinivere, 1965

Before he left Melbourne he visited me often, we went out together, and it was like our courting days all over again. Don and I got on beautifully and had a great time with each other so long as we weren't actually living together. 

I decided to take him to bed, now that I knew how to go about it. I felt I owed it to him. And yes, we did finally manage it. He said – heartfelt – that it was wonderful. Then he confessed that he had never before succeeded in making love to any woman. (People have since speculated that he may have been gay, perhaps suppressing it. I don't know, but I think it's unlikely. He was very interested in heterosexual porn – not movies, in which one might suppose he could have been looking at the men, but books – books written for straight men.) We knew this belated success wasn't a reason to resume our marriage, though. Our incompatibilities were many, and that had become obvious to us. We really had almost nothing in common.

When, along with several of his friends, I saw him off on the train to Sydney, he and I both cried. His friends told us we were being stupid and obviously shouldn't be parting if it upset us so much. But we knew it was right. We had entered into the marriage in good faith, we began and ended it as friends, and in some ways we'd shared a lot. We did care for each other, but it wasn't enough.

I knocked up some friends close by and had a tearful coffee with them, then went to catch my bus. It was late by then. As I stood alone on the deserted street corner, one of the 'gutter crawlers', who were notorious in those days, slowed and rolled down his window. I was emotionally at the end of my tether. Instead of being fearful, I stepped up to the car, bent down and thrust my face, contorted with fury, close to his. 'You get out of here and you leave me alone!'  He was the one who looked terrified as he sped off.

The affair was wonderful, and we did have heaps in common even out of bed. The essential secrecy was a drag, though. And it becomes disappointing to have wonderful love-making with someone who then, instead of staying all night in your arms, has to get out of bed and go home to his wife – repeatedly. It was the old story: he had young children he loved. He didn't want to lose them, nor in any way disrupt their lives. He agreed to the affair in the first place on the condition that it must remain absolutely secret. 

We did fall in love, in a grande passion. As he said at the time, 'Love can have everything to do with sex or nothing to do with sex.' In our case it was everything. He was a very sexual man. It was even more important to him than it is to most people. I was by no means his first affair, but I think the one that meant the most. Sadly for him, that did not remain so for me. I went on to break his heart when I ended it. He was devastated, and it was made worse by having to try to appear normal because it was all a secret. When we had occasion to meet at a function years later, and needed to greet each other in public and exchange some conversation, he could barely get the words out. Then, when I mentioned my children, he suddenly looked purposeful, said something about the vital role of parents, gazed meaningfully in my eyes and said, with emphasis, 'Never forget that YOU are a very important person.' I reeled a bit and acquiesced, and that was the last time I ever saw him.

Decades later I read a death notice. He had had a very successful, even distinguished career, and a long second marriage to a woman whom he had been having an affair with when I came on the scene. He had ditched her for me, which I didn't know at the time – never occurred to me he might already be straying from the sexless marriage. He did tell me about it later, and it was clear it had been a very compatible relationship. He must have gone back to her. Evidently she forgave him; I guess she truly loved him. Once his children were grown, he'd have had no reason to stay with his first wife. I'm glad to think there was life after Rosemary, a happy and fulfilled life.

When we were together, we had vowed to each other to meet in eternity and be together forever. I'm a psychic medium; spirits sometimes contact me. His spirit sought me out soon after he died, to reiterate that vow. But I hadn't loved him deeply after all. I told him no, I was withdrawing that promise and releasing him from his. There was someone else I wanted to spend eternity with. (Imagining eternity in terms of monogamy, I note now!)

While we were having our secret affair, there was no ostensible reason I couldn't have other men friends. In fact it could be a way of throwing people off the scent. I didn't plan to sleep with them, of course. I got a phone call from a man I had met at a friend's wedding, Dutch-born Bill Nissen. 

New Horizons

I'd attended that wedding with Don; it was near the end of our marriage. Bill was newly-engaged, but his fiancée had been unable to come to the wedding. Don was flirting with everything in sight and I was trying to maintain my dignity by ignoring it. Bill and I got talking, just in a casual way, for lack of anyone else to talk with. 


Don and I had come to the wedding in a taxi. When it came time to leave, Bill offered lifts to a few people who were going in his direction. We all piled into his car, a tight squeeze, with me sitting on someone's knee. (You could do that then, before seat belts.) 

I learned afterwards that Bill had been shocked to find himself wishing it was his knee I was sitting on – shocked because I was a married woman. But he put it out of his mind. Over the next few months he broke off his engagement and booked to go on an overseas cruise, with the idea that he might stay away indefinitely. Then, he met for coffee with an old friend who had been bridesmaid at the wedding where we met. She mentioned that Rosemary and Don had split. When he told me about it later, he said he could feel his eyes light up. 

'Hey,' said his friend, 'Don't go getting involved. You've just booked on this big trip you've been dreaming of all your life.' But he phoned me anyway. 

'I believe you have a degree in English,' he said. 'I'm writing a novel and I'd love some help with my English.' 

'Oh yes, ha ha,' I thought, 'A novel pick-up line, anyway.' I didn't say that, of course.

I actually had him mixed up in my mind with another guy who'd been at the wedding. When he turned up at my work to fetch me when I knocked off, I didn't recognise him until he came up and spoke to me. (I don't think I ever told him that.) He took me on a nice, safe date to visit the friends at whose wedding we had met. At one point in the evening, he knelt at my feet, gazed rapturously up into my face, and whispered, 'Are you enjoying yourself, darling?' I was startled at the 'darling' but he seemed to be genuinely concerned that I was having a nice time.

We started spending time together, platonically. He was about to go overseas, we'd both come out of relationships quite recently ... and I did tell him I was involved with someone else, but not who. We enjoyed each other's company. We were just going to be good friends.

Bill was a person who loved to help others. When my TV broke down, he came and took it away in his ute to a mate who fixed it as a favour. He would pick me up from work and take me shopping so I didn't have to lug groceries on public transport. He'd come around on weekends when my lover was with his family, and keep me company. 

We would have long talks, sitting in separate armchairs, never running out of topics. He was in fact writing a novel, and told me the plot, though I didn't get to see the manuscript until much later. One night, after he finally left, I saw that it was 3am. I hadn't even looked at the clock before then. He told me later he'd had the same surprise on the way home when he drove past a big public clock. We laughed to think no-one would ever believe we had been sitting in separate chairs talking all that time. All our friends would be certain we were having a red-hot affair.

He was living with his parents. He told me about his beautiful dog, a German Shepherd called Gigi, who was the love of his life, went almost everywhere with him, and was jealous of his girlfriends. He had a story about one young woman who wasn't a girlfriend but came up close trying to be flirtatious. Gigi stood on her hind legs, put a front paw on each of the girl's shoulders, and snarled softly into her face. It thoroughly discouraged her! 



Bill and Gigi

I was rather apprehensive about meeting this Gigi, and wondered if she would attack me. Bill said, reprovingly, 'Gigi is a lady' and assured me she would come to love me. When he finally brought her around to visit, she went one better than that. She came up to me, sniffed me, and nuzzled my hand for a pat. Bill was amazed and ecstatic.

My cat, Guinivere, lived outside all day while I was at work. When I got home, she would meet me at the gate then rush ahead of me down the path to my front door. As soon as I opened the door, she'd dart inside to the kitchen for me to feed her. One evening, Bill brought me home, Guinivere met us at the gate, I rushed to open the door for her, leaving him to get the groceries out of the car – and Guinie turned around, retraced her steps, waited for him to come in the gate, then walked beside him down the path. Again he was ecstatic. We said later that the animals made up our minds for us. But in truth we waited until our own minds caught up – which didn't take long.

One day I looked at him and thought, very quietly, 'Oh. I love you.' No bells, no fireworks, just the recognition of a fact. Almost at the same moment, he turned to me and said, 'I love you,' with an air of mild surprise. This was a love that had nothing to do with sex, based on shared interests, friendship, respect, affection, and feeling very comfortable with each other. Naturally it became sexual after that and I broke it off with my lover. 

I insisted Bill should have his overseas trip. He had indeed been dreaming of it for years. Before he went, he introduced me to his family and all his friends. His parents were disappointed. They had a nice Dutch girl lined up for him, a pretty lass who could cook and sew and wanted babies. Bill had taken her out a couple of times to please them, but said they found nothing to talk about. His parents were nice to me, but I know I was not their notion of the ideal daughter-in-law – a divorced woman, a career-woman. 

By then I was Deputy Librarian at the municipal library where I worked – at that time, and perhaps since, the youngest Deputy Librarian in the Southern Hemisphere. (When the position became vacant, all the other staff, who were my friends by then, urged me to apply. So did my boss. I wouldn't have thought of it for myself.)

 This time I was prepared to contemplate the idea of having children, particularly as Bill loved kids, but I wasn't in any hurry and neither was he. We thought we'd get a home established first, and some money behind us. Anyway, he had this overseas trip to do before any of that.

Most of his friends welcomed me. One, a woman who was best friends with his ex-fiancée, spent the whole evening when we visited her discoursing on why he should still be with his ex! Another woman also tried repeatedly to persuade us we were making a great mistake. She had been out a few times with Bill and then married someone else after he ended it because, as he told me, he just wasn't all that attracted to her. (Her story, which I had heard earlier, was that she had ended it because she decided she could do better!) However, these were the exceptions. 

My friends liked him too, and thought him a great improvement on Don. Mum at first wrote to me: 'We feel it's far too soon after your recent break-up for you to be contemplating another marriage,' but when I phoned her and told her it was my decision thanks very much, she offered to come over and meet him. He charmed her! She went home much happier. 

He asked his family and friends to please keep an eye on me while he was away. The only one who did was his best mate, Jim Cathcart. Jim was a rep (I can't remember what for ... maybe menswear) who used to travel around the suburbs visiting his firm's clients. Whenever he was near where I worked, he'd come and take me out to lunch and see how I was going. He became my friend in his own right. When his territory extended to Launceston, Tasmania, I told him to look up my Mum and stepfather. They made him very welcome and they all got on famously. He always used to see them after that, when he went to Launceston.

But I wasn't doing very well. I couldn't go out and socialise as a single woman any more without attracting unwelcome advances, and I couldn't go out as half a couple when the other half was so far away. When I wasn't at work, I felt desperately lonely. And for ages no letters came from Bill. It was evidently a posting problem as suddenly several arrived at once. I tore open the first and nearly cried. I couldn't understand it! It took me some days to realise that he was spelling everything as it would have been spelt in Dutch to make those sounds. Then I was gradually able to work it out. Meanwhile I was writing him letters furious with frustration, complaining about how I was scrubbing my floors until midnight to try and work off my sexual energy. 

I had vivid dreams about him. One time I even had what was apparently a hallucination. I had lain down on top of the bedclothes for an afternoon nap, and half woke to find someone lying next to me and hugging me. I felt the bed sink to accommodate their weight, I felt their arms come around me. I thought it must be a dream, but I wasn't quite sure. Without opening my eyes, I asked aloud, 'Who is it?' A hoarse male voice whispered in my ear, 'It's me.' I opened my eyes and there was no-one. The bed was smooth. My mind went spinning and somersaulting as if in a vortex; I thought I was going mad. But I gradually calmed down, the room stopped spinning, and (apart from what had happened) I didn't seem to be crazy. It must have been an exceptionally vivid dream, I decided.

So when I answered a knock on my door one morning and opened it to see Bill standing there beaming at me, for a moment I thought it was another dream. Then I noticed he had a suntan which hadn't been there last time I saw him. He must be real.

'Yes darling,' he said. 'Your husband's home.' 
(He wasn't officially my husband yet, but had every intention of being.) He'd received one of my furious letters and immediately cut his trip short. 

He'd sent a telegram to his parents asking them to book him on a flight home. It turned out the poor things thought he must have been taken ill, or perhaps robbed. He expected that I'd be with them when they met him at the airport. The first thing he said to them was, 'Where's Rosemary?' Then he learned that they had not told me, nor contacted me at all during his absence. (I think they hoped our attachment would fizzle out while he was away.) He insisted on being dropped off at my place, which he said surprised them. But after that I guess they knew he meant it, and accepted the fact that he was going to marry me. 

I myself wasn't too damn sure about getting married again. I'd done it once and that hadn't worked out. 'If I'm planning to spend the rest of my life with you anyway, what does the bit of paper matter?' I asked him. He hadn't done it before, however, and he was very keen to shout our love from the rooftops and make it as official as could be. So we were at an impasse. I thought he was beginning to come around to my way of thinking; then one day when we were visiting his parents, his mother, who had completely accepted and befriended me by then, mentioned the new hat she was making for our wedding. I didn't have the heart to tell her there wasn't going to be one.  Oh well, I thought, if the bit of paper doesn't matter one way, I suppose it doesn't matter the other way either. 

First I had to get divorced. Don and I were in touch by letter. He had a new job and a new girlfriend in Sydney. It was before the days of no-fault divorce; one of us had to be 'guilty'. Desertion would take three years; adultery was quicker. He wasn't willing to shoulder the blame, even though he was in a new relationship. We left my married ex-lover out of it; Don came to Melbourne for the divorce hearing and told the magistrate that we had been having a trial separation when I had written and told him I had met Mr Nissen, had started living with him and wanted to marry him.

The magistrate asked Bill, 'Did you know she was married?'

'Oh yes,' said Bill cheerfully, 'I knew'.

The magistrate then asked whether Don was claiming damages or property. Don said no. The magistrate expressed surprise that he was so generous, and granted the divorce. The three of us went and had a cup of coffee together, exchanged some meaningless but amiable remarks, then Don walked out of my life – very straight-backed, knowing our eyes were on him; not turning his head – to catch his train back to Sydney. 

Bill had a coffee lounge before I knew him, the first in Melbourne to feature jazz musicians playing to the patrons. It was in Frankston and was called The Cat's Whiskers. As a keen snorkeller, he had also run a diving school. But when I met him he was working for his father as a builder, along with his elder brother. So when he bought us a house in the leafy bayside suburb of Beaumaris, it was one that needed some work, which he could renovate himself, saving money on both the sale and the work.

One of my other lifelong best friends, Pam, came into our life. She came to board with us, in the spare bedroom. There was also a bungalow in the back yard, which we rented out to a young couple; the man was an old friend of Bill's. And I still had my lovely cat, Guinivere. We didn't have Gigi. Bill's parents had looked after her on his brief absence overseas, and when he came home and moved in with me, they begged him to leave her with them. He still saw her every day, as his dad brought her to work.

We acquired another dog, a beautiful Scotch collie called, unoriginally, Lassie. She belonged to a young man we knew who was changing his address and was not able to take the dog with him. She was a very wise and wonderful dog, who became a treasured member of our family for many years, until she died of old age.

I wanted to avoid running into my ex-lover, which was likely if I'd kept the same job, so I got an even better job, as Head Cataloguer at a big technical library in the city. I had to learn a different classification system, but I enjoyed the learning. They thought I was wonderful because I cleared their cataloguing backlog in record time. It was nothing to the backlog I'd been used to in a municipal library. 

This was a time when it was socially unacceptable to 'live in sin' as it was still called. Bill and I were living together, so I used his surname even though we hadn't yet made it legal. That's what 'de facto' couples did then. We started out renting, not in the little flat I had when we met, but one he found us closer to the library where I was first working, and also with less travelling time to his work. No-one would have rented to us had we not presented as a married couple.

In the paperwork required for the new job, my real status must come out. I confided in my new boss, a lovely older woman. She advised me to make an appointment with the Personnel Manager and disclose it to him in confidence. The fact that Bill and I had set a wedding date probably helped; anyway the disclosure was treated with great respect and complete confidentiality. Having begun a new job, I wasn't eligible for leave so soon. We didn't have a honeymoon, just a long weekend at home. We made up for it with lots of travels later.

My Second Wedding

We got married in the Unitarian Church, because at that time of our lives we liked their ideas. I was 25 and Bill was 28. I wore a pale pink dress. 'Slightly scarlet,' I joked. This time my stepfather did attend. I didn't bother asking my father. After I married Don, I graduated as a Bachelor of Arts. I invited Dad to my graduation ceremony, telling him that Mum would be there but hoping he would come anyway. He didn't. He expressed disappointment that Mum didn't have the tact to stay away. He said he thought a girl needed her mother on her wedding day, but it would have meant so much to him to see me graduate. Well, it meant a lot to my mother too, and my position was that I gave both of them the choice to come, to my first wedding and to my graduation, and whoever declined was refusing to put me first on one of my special occasions. Under the circumstances, it would obviously be a waste of time to ask him yet again. I didn't see why I should punish my mother, who was prepared to come under any circumstances.

The wedding reception was in our home, where we'd been living for some months. The renovations were nearly completed, but not quite. My mum, who set great store by appearances, went around draping tea-towels over exposed beams. I came home, threw a tantrum at the sight, considering it disgustingly twee, and ripped them all off again. 

It was one of those days when everything goes wrong. For example, the flowers didn't arrive; the florist had messed up the order and had to hastily supply something that wasn't what I'd had in mind, after heated phone calls back and forth. We were so stressed that at one point, as we stood either side of the double bed we'd been sharing for months, I yelled at Bill, 'I wouldn't marry you if you were the last man in the world!' 

'Well, how do you think I feel?' he bellowed back. Then the ridiculousness of it struck us, we collapsed on the bed in laughter, got up and finished dressing and went off to the church to get married.


Just married

I'd decided to leave my glasses off, and I wore a fluffy white hat that came down over my ears. Bad choices! I went up the aisle feeling blind and deaf as well as nervous. But we tied the knot, everyone said it was a lovely ceremony, and the party afterwards was fantastic. We catered it ourselves, with lots of food from the local Chinese takeaway. I remember my stepfather cheerfully washing dishes, having a ball. My friend Diane remembers Bill's mother regaling her with tales of his childhood. Jim Cathcart, who was Bill's best man, met a lovely young woman called Joy, one of our other guests, who eventually became his wife. 



Jack washing dishes

One young woman, Elizabeth, had arranged to stay the night. We put a spare mattress on the floor in Pam's room. Elizabeth succumbed to alcohol and went to bed a bit early. Bill went to check on her, bending down to where she lay. Tipsy Elizabeth murmured, 'You married men are all the same' – much to his amusement – before collapsing. 

Bill's muso friends and others from his coffee lounge days were playing guitars and other instruments in our big garage, where we'd put chairs, trestle tables, drinks and food. They used to call themselves, collectively, 'the tribe'. I was very chuffed when one of them said to me, that night, 'You were always one of the tribe, Rosemary.'




Lassie was at the wedding reception too
(this photo taken outdoors)

It was the wee small hours by the time everyone called it a night. I changed into my wedding night outfit: not a romantic, flowing nightgown but a pair of red bikini pyjamas. But I was exhausted. For the first time in 11 months of living together, I said, 'Not tonight, I'm too tired.' On our wedding night! He said afterwards that he thought, 'Oh, is this what happens once you get married? The sex turns off?' (But no, it didn't.)

And so they lived happily ever after? Not quite. They lived a very interesting, eventful life, with two children, two foster-children, several pets, much travel in and out of Australia, excellent friends and many adventures, and they were happy a lot of the time.