Category Archives: Asphyxia’s Life

An angora rabbit for sustainable textiles

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png
Image 1: A picture of a gray-furred angora rabbit resting between a wooden paling fence and a tree trunk, with the vibrant green leaves and red flowers of a nasturtium plant in front.

Want to read the story of how I kept an angora rabbit who turned weeds into shoes and clothing that are incredibly soft and seven times warmer than wool? I wanted to understand if textiles really could be sustainable, and that took me on a long journey of weaving, spinning, knitting and being bitten and cuddled by a rabbit disguised as a fluffball. I’ve written about it here.



Life without toxic relationships

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Image: Artwork text of black paint saying, ‘YOU ARE ALLOWED to walk away from TOXIC PEOPLE’. The background is an urban grunge textured wall in black, dripping light brown paint and a slash of a red paint.

One advantage to having my entire life wiped out and being forced to start over in almost every single aspect, is that I can rebuild it much, much more carefully. The thing I am doing differently this time is choosing the people who will be in it according to whether or not they have empathy, and whether or not they are manipulative. This article, How to never get involved with an abuser again, changed my life. It says to look at the way a person acts, not what they say, and don’t accept any excuses for hurtful behaviour.

When I read the list of signs that a person lacks empathy, I recognise people I have known. Here are some examples:

  • Inability to imagine how their words and actions may affect you;
  • Isn’t interested in finding ways to soothe your worries;
  • Becomes angry or looks at you with a blank face when you cry or get emotional;
  • Is hurtfully blunt and casually critical, and when you become upset, tells you they are ‘just being honest’. Honesty without kindness is cruelty.
  • Talks at length about a topic that clearly bores you, without noticing;
  • Brings up sensitive topics after you’ve asked them to stop;
  • Expects instant forgiveness;
  • Invalidates your thoughts, experiences, ideas and concerns;
  • Neglecting or ignoring you when you are sick;
  • Judgemental;
  • Believes they are always right;
  • Expects you to accomodate their needs and schedule, without regard for yours;
  • Doesn’t ask you how your day was or how your doctor’s appointment went;
  • Self-centredness – seems to have plenty of empathy for you but not for others. Watch out – you’re next;
  • Indifference to the suffering of others;
  • Doesn’t seem to care how their words or actions affect you.

I will add some red flags to watch for of my own:

  • Has a vision of how you are or should be, and is more interested in trying to get you to fit that vision than understand how you actually are;
  • Offers you something and when you take them up on it, acts like they never offered it;
  • Expects you to move out of their way rather than expecting to work around you;
  • ‘Forgets’ saying or doing things that upset you when you call them on their behaviour, and tells you it didn’t happen;
  • Tells you that you’re over-reacting or being too sensitive when let them know you feel upset or hurt;

According to the article, you can tell if you are being manipulated by looking at your own feelings about the relationship: 

  • You often feel guilty; your mood depends on the state of the relationship; you feel inadequate;
  • you never feel sure where you stand; you carefully control your words, actions and emotions around this person;
  • you do things that go against your values or make you feel uncomfortable;
  • expressing negative thoughts and emotions seem forbidden so you hide them;
  • the relationship feels complex and you can’t quite put your finger on what the problem is;
  • you try to figure things out but can’t get anywhere;
  • you want to please this person but keep getting it wrong;
  • you end up in no win situations where you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t;
  • you feel afraid of losing the relationship;
  • you feel you are walking on eggshells.

I watch for the above in new people I spend time with, and if signs of manipulation or lack of empathy come up a few times, even in small ways, I choose not to continue the relationship. I am astonished to see that these traits can show up in the earliest encounters, often in seemingly positive ways. Some examples:

  • There was a guy who invited me on a date, telling me we’d go for a walk on the beach and that he had a puppy I was going to fall in love with. He did not ask to find out if I like walking on the beach, and he didn’t check whether I am into puppies. He assumed. Red flag: he has a vision of how I am supposed to be, not interested in finding out who I actually am.
  • I stayed with a woman who blindsided me with upsetting text messages during an important meeting. When I looked back I recalled a myriad of other small red flags. I decided to move out before things could escalate.
  • A friend showed me a series of videos on YouTube, and even after I had pointed out that I couldn’t understand them as they didn’t have subtitles, continued to insist that I would find them fantastic. She didn’t notice the bored expression on my face.

I’ve found I can tell a lot about a person by working with them in the kitchen. Say I’m washing the dishes, and the other person wants to wash their hands, what happens? Some people wait until a suitable moment for me, and then reach in quickly to wash. Others expect me to stand aside, or even stop washing the dishes altogether, because it is inconvenient for them that I am in the way. The former have empathy – they are thinking about my experience and taking care not to interrupt it. The latter are focused on their own experience and unconcerned with mine. I keep a very sharp eye on the people in the second group – usually there are other red flags which surface. By watching the small ways people interact with each other, I’ve found I can quickly pick up who has empathy and who lacks it.

Of course, some people are a mix – empathic in some ways and manipulative in others. I have noticed that if I call them on their manipulative behaviour or for crossing my boundaries, they will either respond with concern that they have upset me and a desire to understand better (and to change), or else respond defensively and maybe by pretending that the thing never happened. The people in the latter group get struck off my list. With the former, I watch carefully to see if their intention to change translates to actual change. Do they stop crossing my boundaries in the way I requested? Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words.

By pulling the brakes on these relationships before I become too invested, I have noticed a magnificent effect on my life: it is now filled with deeply empathic, caring people. I have never been so well loved as I am now.

When making new relationships, watch carefully for signs of whether the person has empathy or not, and whether they manipulate you or others. If you spot any red flags, watch carefully to see if this is a pattern of behaviour or just a one off. If it is a one-off, you could try calling the person (gently) on their behaviour and see how they respond. If their response is problematic or the pattern is strong, I encourage you to pull the brakes on the relationship if possible, and distance yourself. If that is impossible, take care to have very strong boundaries with this person and minimise day-to-day involvement.

If you recognise established relationships in your life that are clearly toxic, proceed carefully, as a person who lacks empathy or is manipulative may be quite mild while you are on their side, but become enraged and dangerous when they realise you are not. There are two key strategies to pull the breaks on toxic relationships – one is to establish boundaries and the other is to create distance. You could attempt to establish boundaries first, and go for distance if it fails. But maybe you know the person well enough to know that their behaviour is intrinsic and won’t change, in which case, distance is the only answer.

If it is a romantic relationship, imagine the worst case scenario and make preparations before you change the status quo. Hopefully it won’t come to that. But just in case, these are the kinds of ways you might prepare:

  • Ensure you have financial security, such as your own separate bank account with plenty of funds. If you share money with your partner, you could suggest a change of strategy such as having a joint account with enough money to live on monthly, and the remainder split into personal accounts belonging to each of you.
  • Place important documents such as house titles, bank statements, legal agreements etc in a folder in a safe place where they cannot suddenly ‘disappear’.
  • Talk to a friend or family member, preferably one who does not have a relationship with your partner, and make a plan to stay with them or call them if you need help.

Tried any of the ideas in this post? How did they go? Leave your comments below.

How to make a greenhouse tunnel to grow vegies during winter

Last autumn, I made myself a set of three greenhouse plastic row covers for my garden beds:

After trialling them this winter, I’ve decided they are definitely worth the hassle for a vegie garden in Melbourne.  I don’t think greenhouses are essential – with careful planning you can have vegies to eat all year round in Melbourne.  See my sidebar for how to really produce food in your backyard.  If, like me, you have a fairly limited space for your vegies, then the greenhouse covers can help get a crop in and out of a bed quicker.  I’m also hoping they’ll mean we get to eat summer vegies a little sooner, but that’s yet to be proven!

To make these greenhouses, I bought some “builder’s film” plastic from Bunnings.  I think it cost about $40 for a roll large enough to do three tunnels plus the cover for my greenhouse shelves which you can see in the background.

I used plumbing pipe to create the hoops, and thin steel stakes 1m high to hold up the plumbing pipe.  The reason the stakes are thin is so that the hoops will fit over them.  Originally I pushed six stakes into my garden beds, put three hoops over the top of them, and then draped the cover over that.  However, because my soil is so soft and fluffy, it wasn’t firm enough to hold the stakes.  So I bought some little u-shaped pipe-holder brackets (sorry, I don’t know the proper name for them!) and nailed them onto the sides of my garden beds.  Now the stakes slide neatly into them and remain properly upright.  The stakes I originally bought from Bunnings (metal with plastic casing) started to break, and I discovered that “metal” actually meant “very very thin and flimsy metal tubing, no stronger than the plastic”.  So don’t buy your stakes from Bunnings!  I took them back and replaced them with steel reinforcement stakes that I got from a building supply shop.

The builder’s film I cut to size, and then sewed with a wide zigzag stitch on my sewing machine.  I also sewed on a long plastic zip (don’t use a metal one – it’ll rust in the weather and you won’t be able to do it up), and then cut the plastic to create an opening where the zip is.  Then I sewed some strips of fabric to the corners and middle of the  bottoms of the greenhouse.  These hang down to the ground, and I place bricks on them.  If you don’t have raised beds, you can simply weigh down your greenhouse plastic with rocks.

As well as the faster growing crops, I’ve found the greenhouses very handy in terms of pest management.  Our local possum has not bothered our vegies, when the chooks break into the garden, they don’t get in, and the cabbage moths haven’t either.  So far this spring we’ve had a surprising lack of snails in these beds too – usually I need to be hunting for snails every night to stay on top of them.  So they are definitely a winner for me.  The drawbacks are that I must water manually, even if it’s been raining, and the garden doesn’t look as nice!  Actually that’s quite a big drawback, because I love walking around my beautiful garden and admiring all the food.  Now I walk around a plastic graveyard.  Yuck.  I fantasise about having a lovely glass structure over the entire vegie garden, which is somehow effortlessly dismantled over summer.  If anyone knows how to do this, please do share!

In the meantime, for serious food growers, I reckon the greenhouse is a great addition.  But if you just want to get started and grow some food, I think it’s low priority.

Just Deaf

In the early days of a past relationship, my girlfriend accompanied me to an appointment with an audiologist. I needed new ear moulds.  Given that I’ve been deaf since the age of 3, I’ve been fitted for a great many ear moulds in my life. I know what to expect.

However, the audiologist bent over me, a bit too close to my face, saying loudly, over-enunciating his words, ‘Now, this will feel a little bit cold.’

With as much poise and dignity as I could muster, I simply nodded. I know. I was itching to grab the equipment out of his hands and squirt the stuff into my ears myself. I’ve done it countless times, back when I had an audiologist who would let me make my own moulds. But since she retired, I haven’t had that luxury. Instead, I waited as he did it for me, and then reached up to manipulate the putty so that the moulds would be just as I like them.

He slapped my hands away. ‘You mustn’t touch until they are cured,’ he scolded me, again over-enunciating every word.

I think we got half way through the appointment when my girlfriend suddenly exploded at him. ‘FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!’ she screamed. ‘SHE HAS TWO UNIVERSITY DEGREES. STOP TREATING HER LIKE SHE’S TWO YEARS OLD!!’ I don’t know what else she said, but it was said loudly and vehemently and took some time. And she said everything I’ve wanted to say, for years and years, but have politely sucked it up in order to be gracious and poised.

What stunned me though was the transformation in the man afterwards. He didn’t apologise to me. But suddenly he treated me like a normal person. Up until then I’d been telling myself I was imagining it.

Unfortunately, the behaviour of that audiologist is very common. I go to vote, and the person handing me the voting card asks whoever I’m with, ‘Can she sign her name?’  People are astonished that I have a drivers’ licence. I remember as a child, that I had written a handful of limericks, with the correct cadenza, and the visiting teacher for the Deaf was beyond amazed, stunned even, at this feat, even though other kids in my class could write rhyming poems too.

These days, it’s a little easier to break people out of this patronising way. I drop into conversation that I have six books published and am currently working on my seventh. I show them a picture of The Grimstones. I give an author talk. THEN I get respect, and people realise that I’m not as dumb as I apparently look.

But you know what really stood out for me. I went to a new hairdresser, a couple of years ago, and I had to explain to her exactly what I wanted done with my dreadlocks. This is normally an exercise in frustration as most hairdressers don’t seem to believe I could possibly know what I want done with my hair. This woman treated me with respect. She sat me down, focussed while I explained, then checked as she went that I was happy, accepting my corrections. This was a minor incident, but all this time later it still stands out in my mind. Why? Because I was treated like an intelligent human being, without having proven myself first.

If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

If you’d like a copy, or to give one to someone for a gift, this is available as a giclee print in my shop.

About opening my own doors…

Sometimes doors open for me. Mostly I open them myself. This is how I have survived, and thrived, as a Deaf person.

Let me tell you about one way I’ve opened my own door, a while ago. I wanted to study an online course that would teach me how to sell my paintings more effectively. The course was advertised with a limited time to apply, and a limited number of students would be accepted. I emailed the teacher and asked him if it would be accessible to Deaf people. I know he usually teaches using videos, and sometimes has transcripts as well.

I didn’t hear back, and I didn’t want to pester him. Unfortunately I let too much time go by and applications closed. I’d missed out. I was really disappointed. I decided that I’d try to create my own course, and use the internet to answer the questions I wanted answered about selling artworks. I devised my own curriculum.

But unfortunately the finer points of the stuff I wanted to know, I couldn’t glean from Google. No go.

Some months later, the course was advertised again. I didn’t waste any time. I put in my application right away. this time I included the question in my application, ‘Will this course be accessible for Deaf people?’

I got a reply immediately. ‘I’m sorry, but this course is not suitable for deaf.’

There was no mention of how we might find a way to make it work. Sigh. I emailed back, suggesting some ideas. Perhaps I could buy the transcripts from the earlier course, at a reduced price? No, they weren’t available yet. None of my ideas was met with any juice. He pointed me towards another of his courses, one which I felt I already had a pretty good handle on and didn’t need to take.

Nevertheless, I put in the application form for it and described in detail all the achievements of my art business to date, the goals for my business, and exactly how I felt he could help me.

To my surprise, that changed everything. Suddenly the door was open. I sounded hardworking and focussed (yep.. maybe he assumed that Deaf people aren’t?), and I’ve got some momentum happening (yes.. did he assume that I didn’t?)…. From there we were able to negotiate. We’d do type-skypes, and because he was a little slow at typing, he’d throw in an extra one. I really appreciated that. Instead of just me busting a gut to get this information, he was prepared to extend himself too.

I’m most of the way through the course now and the results have been amazing. My art business is going from strength to strength. My teacher has described me as one of his hardest working students, which doesn’t surprise me. I’ve always had to work very hard to get what I want. Because those doors, they don’t open easily. They take a fair bit of prising.

But I’m glad I’ve got the guts to do it, because that’s what’s gotten me where I am today, with a fabulous career, a stack of published books, and a mudbrick eco-home that I built myself.

This painting is for everyone who needs a bit of inspiration to work at their own doors. It’s especially for those of us with some extra challenges to get them open. The original is in a museum in a Deaf school in Delaware, but prints are available in my shop.

If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!

The best and cheapest humanure composting toilet

My friend Kat has framed a note I wrote to her before we met. ‘Hi, my name is Asphyxia, and I am wondering if I could come over to help you empty your composting toilet?’

Ok, I guess it is a rather unusual introduction. I had had three different composting toilet systems at my house and was appalled by all of them. I heard on the grapevine that this woman, Kat, had a good one, and wanted to know the details. Kat taught me the secrets to a stress-free composting toilet. This system has been amazing! It cost a grand total of $50 to set up (unlike previous systems which I had forked out thousands for) and never malfunctioned in almost a decade of use.

I’m sold. Want to know how to run a cheap and simple composting toilet system? I’ve put the details on this page here.

Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?

Image: Artwork of a girl standing side-on facing the viewer. She has rosebud lips, prominent pink blushed cheeks and dark hair tied in a side bun. She appears to be looking away to the left. She is wearing a black long-sleeved top and a light brown scarf with black polka dots. The background is stressed white with pink and yellow ‘stains’. A faint pencil text reads: ‘Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?’, with ‘Asphyxia 2016’ signed beneath.

This is one of my favourite paintings I’ve done. I don’t exactly know why. The words read, ‘Umm… can you tell me what you’re all saying?’ These words reverbrate inside my head so often, in so many situations. But I say them only a small percentage of the time. I feel like a broken record. And so often when I do take a breath and ask, my words are ignored. It’s not just me – lots of Deaf people find this. It’s so annoying, the extra effort needed to include us, that people around us often end up blanking it out. This includes people who love us and care deeply about us.

I’m asking you to go the extra mile. I know it’s annoying and hard, but it makes the biggest difference to me and other Deaf people. It’s even better when we don’t have to ask the question.

Feel free to share this post to raise awareness about this tricky issue. You can buy prints of this painting here.

Cook a meal with just a handful of twigs, using a rocket stove!

I made a rocket stove!

Thanks to YouTube I was able to learn about the fabulousness of rocket stoves.

What’s special about a rocket stove is that you can cook using an astonishingly small amount of fuel – not that many twigs are needed to boil water, for example. The reasons I wanted one are a) to reduce the use of gas and make use of the vast amount of wood hanging round on the property, and b) to cook outside in summer and not heat up the house.

The basic idea is that you have an L-shaped bit of stovepipe (or chamber) that’s about 10cm in diameter, and you put the fire in the foot of the L, and sit the pot on the top of the L. You need to make a little platform in the middle of the foot of the L so that the twigs can sit on it and there’s space underneath for the air to flow in, providing plenty of oxygen for a good flame. The stove pipe also needs to be insulated, preferably with something that will hold the heat nicely. I watched a few videos, but in the end the simplest one was this: How to Make a 16 Brick Rocket Stove. I had plenty of bricks lying around. The only bit that foiled me was that in order to make the foot of the L the right size, I need to have a half-thickness brick. No go. And I had no chance of cutting one. In the end I solved this by placing a few tiles I found in the bottom.

This stove took me about an hour to make, including finding the drawers to sit it on and shifting them into a nice shady spot opposite our front door, and tracking down the slab of marble which I laid on top in the hope that the drawers won’t catch on fire, and tempting the redback spiders out of the holes in the bricks. If you only count the time to actually make the stove, well that’d be about 10 minutes. I put a big white tile behind the stove in the hope of protecting the fence, put in some paper and twigs, sat our pot on top, lit the stove and snapped this pic.

The white tile became black. The pot became black. The drawers were covered in ash. BUT IT WORKED! I couldn’t believe that something so utterly simple could actually work so well. It got up a nice big flame quite quickly, was pretty easy to keep going, and after a few hours the bricks and ash were so hot I could boil water on it super-quick with only a low flame. We filled that huge pot with stock and boiled it all day.

An angora rabbit for sustainable textiles

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-2.png
Image 1: A picture of a gray-furred angora rabbit resting between a wooden paling fence and a tree trunk, with the vibrant green leaves and red flowers of a nasturtium plant in front.

Want to read the story of how I kept an angora rabbit who turned weeds into shoes and clothing that are incredibly soft and seven times warmer than wool? I wanted to understand if textiles really could be sustainable, and that took me on a long journey of weaving, spinning, knitting and being bitten and cuddled by a rabbit disguised as a fluffball. I’ve written about it here.



My journey to become an artist

Image: Artwork of a girl with blue eyes, red lips, and dark plaited hair. She wears a red blouse and has reddish pink roses tumbling over her head and chest. A black bird is perched on her left shoulder, positioned so that the girl’s left eye looks like the bird’s left eye. The girl is positioned to the right of frame, with text on the left reading ‘My journey to become an artist’.

When I’m talking about art with people, I often realise they have an assumption that I am naturally gifted at art. While I have naturally had an intense drive to be creative since I was a little girl, I certainly wasn’t born with any innate talent. My skills with visual art have come simply from years of practise.

If you want to see the progression from my very first art journals to discovering my own style and becoming a professional artist, I’ve blogged about it here.

If you know any aspiring artists, especially those who feel a bit daunted or lack confidence in their skills, this could inspire them and also provide some ideas for how to move forward in their journey. Feel free to share this with anyone who you think might be interested.