So – I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog of late. It’s been a big semester of work – and I’m in the middle of a long dark stretch of 6-day weeks comprised mostly of marking – some of it – blissfully – on bits of paper, but most of it online…….
I’ve been lucky enough to be reteaching the second year gender studies core unit at La Trobe – it’s a dream course (my dream, my course) and I’m teaching a lovely cohort of students – half of whom I taught in first year. I’ve also been lucky enough to get some work tutoring at RMIT – which is a much closer commute to my home and with a fairly nice bunch of students and colleagues… thought it’s not in my home discipline, so it’s a bit different.
somehow in the horror whirl of grading the work of 200 students while writing lectures, doing readings, planning classes and often turning up to them as well… I’ve managed tiny bits of research output – well – more like outcomes of outputs. I read the golden words this week – the golden words about “contract” “mail” and “book”. So hopefully Margaret Mayhew will be more than a publisher of harlequin bodice ripping yarns.
I’ve also sustained a vestigial relationship to the MAFA (our new name!) art project – though the other volunteers are doing most of the work. In the past 6 weeks my role has shrunk to that of a yarn ‘mule’ -bringing in as much wool as my panniers or nanna cart can carry.
The circumstances in which this has fallen upon my legs and shoulders are strange – and typical of the sheer weirdness of the refugee detention system…… I’ve mentioned before that MITA is not a deliberately cruel place, and they try to encourage activities for detainees to participate in. Plastic knitting needles are available upon request. Detainees can even ‘buy’ wool at an internal shop – however from what I can tell – the quality is poor and it costs $7 for a 30 gram ball…… Visitors are not encouraged to bring wool in during visiting hours because craft is an activity, and so it goes……..
I did a callout on facebook and received $300 worth of donations in the first weekend. Lincraft in the city has had a closing down sale so I was able to obtain $1000 worth of wool for $500. I had another $200 worth of yarn posted to me, and other people bring around massive bags of wool to my house, and even anonymous donors leaving bags of wool at the school office at La Trobe. so there is plenty of wool to be had!
The first time I tried to bring in a large bag of yarn – was a bit like taking a seafood platter to a beach full of seagulls. So I have tried to systematise the processes of bringing in wool. currently I have 25 women who come to the visitors room, and I get them to write their name, plus what colour (chirangi?) and the amount of balls (yek, dor, sair, char…..). Not all the women are Iranian, some are Hazara and some are Tamil, but I don’t know how to count in Tamil. give me time…..
I try to explain to them that I don’t have a car, that I come by train and bus or train and bicycle and I can only carry what I can carry, and I can only bring what people have donated, or what I can afford to go and purchase….. I don’t know how much of this is lost in translation.
What I get are frowns, pleadings, beggings, more frowns, complaints, more requests, more frowns. This is not a trust building exercise on either side. Occasionally someone will thank me, genuinely – but mostly all I get is the brunt of frustration and disappointment at not having enough of the right colour, the right shade, the right texture, to make the right thing……. and this stuff hurts me deeply. Not only because I want everyone to love me and treat my like the yarn messiah, but more because I know the feeling of itchy fingers…. I know and share that deep ache of wishing I had something to keep my hands busy, to help me bit my lip and not scream at people. I know the feeling of needing to make space, to involute and intensify and bury myself in the nexus of rhythmic stitching and imagining and creating and see the thing in my head take space and feeling time pass counting time in stitches and colours and rows and squares, and threads that bind, connect, and my god if anyone wanted a perfect metaphor for lines of flight this is it. My yoga teacher (after Deleuze) defines practice as “creating space” – and I realise that creative practice or meditative practice or any other sustained repetitive commitment involves exactly this. and where women are confined by a cruel and arbitrary system of detention, they need space more than anyone.
This is compounded in and by detention and dislocation. Feeling no sense of control, no grounding, no security. It is compounded by and contributes to the PTSD symptom of hoarding everything, of wanting to grab, grab, grab and hold what you can, but more brutally of women’s sense of powerlessness at not being able to shop, and not buy or give anything to their children. As much as I am not a fan of capitalism – watching anyone who is deprived of being able to shop convinces me that markets are a fairly deep seated human need. And in the awkward practice of philanthropy we often deprive people of the sense of control and agency that they need the most. So I’m not proposing to open a shop – but I’m now aware that it is better to to give donations to the parents of children rather than to children directly – so the parents have something to give them and can use the gift to reinforce the relationship they have. I’ve started doing this with loom bands – which are the current obsession of every melbourne child under 15…..
So – this is a ramble and a rant, and it’s a brief interlude before I return to the batch of marking I hope to finish today, so that I can write a lecture tomorrow, and then start on the next batch of marking on Monday. I need to rest on Sunday, because 6 days a week is all I can sustain for the 8 weeks of overwork that I am in…..
I wish I could just go and teach art – drawing and painting and things I love – instead of leaving it to the other volunteers. I wish the women wouldn’t give their work away to officers and guards and visitors who never bring them any wool, and then expect me to bring more. I wish they were more grateful or pleasant or articulate in my language so I wouldn’t have to spend 1 hour feeling like a checkout chick at spotlight, but more than anything I wish they were free and able to go buy the bloody wool themselves.
When I am free of the endless ocean of marking in which I am drowning, then I will try to set up something a little more formal where women wanting wool, and people wanting to help can do so sustainably. I wish I had a volunteer right now who could sort and pack the wool in my garage into 25 labelled packets that I will try to take to the centre next week, but it may be easier for me to find 1 hour to do it some time.
In the meantime – back to marking and meditating and marking and meditating and my otherwise quite nice life.