Category Archives: Asphyxia’s Life

Should you really be giving me that little extra, just because I’m Deaf?

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When I was travelling in France, my friend Jenine and I went into a bakery. When Jenine ordered, the guy serving us threw in a couple of extra pastries for free. Jenine blinked in astonishment. ‘It must be because you’re with me. I NEVER get freebies.’

I think she was right. Y’see, I get freebies all the time. Let me tell you about this lovely lady who works at my favourite op shop. The first time I visited, she took a shine to me. Even though she doesn’t normally work the checkout, once I’d selected my purchases, she rang them up for me specially. I almost died when I saw the total price. It was something like a quarter of what I expected to pay. ‘You ask for me, next time you come in,’ she told me. I do, and every single time I walk outta there loaded up with goodies that I’ve barely paid a cent for.

While this is a somewhat extreme example, I’m prone to getting special trestment everwhere I go. Airports, I am led straight through – I don’t wait in many queues. Discounts are mine for the smile. If I want to use a toilet in a shop and it’s against their policy, they’ll let me use theirs anyway.  Some of my friends know how to work the system. When it’s time to pay, they sends me up the front.

Why do I collect these privileges, when people like Jenine, who is so much kinder, more generous, thoughtful and deserving than I, never get them?

I can only assume it’s because I’m Deaf. People see me signing and feel compelled to go that extra mile for me. A sweet smile just seals the deal. A friend of mine with a Deaf daughter mentioned that her daughter gets free stuff all the time too. So do my other Deaf friends.

My attitude is this: scoop it up. Afterall, I have to put up with the suckier parts of being Deaf. Why not enjoy some benefits too?

But there’s something uneasy for me about all this. Deep down, I suspect that if the people dishing up the freebies to me really knew me, they wouldn’t give me a thing. I’m not as sweet and innocent as I look. I live in fear that they might discover the real me.

I’m also suspicious of what motivates all this giving. The only thing I can really come up with is that they feel sorry for me and want to give something to someone worse off than they are. It’s a laudable idea. We should all do it. But am I really worse off? I mean, there are some serious downsides to being Deaf, but there are some pretty good perks. The ones I’ve mentioned here are just the tip of the iceberg. If I could choose, I’d still choose to be Deaf. Really. I don’t know much about my Op Shop Lady, but I’m willing to guess I have (had! until fairly recently) a nicer life than she does. I mean, her life might be great, but she often looks kind of tired and worn down, whereas I normally felt inspired and was lucky enough to have a career that I couldn’t wait to get out of bed in the morning for.

It leads me to think it must be connected to the attitude our society has in general towards Deafness, that it’s a tragedy that must be fixed and helped at all cost. That Deaf people lead impoverished lives and are to be pitied and helped. And you know, this belief system just doesn’t resonate with me. Yes, I want society to change to be more Deaf-accessible, but I dont want people to think my life is awful just because I’m Deaf. Because it’s not.

For much of my life, things have been awesome – I’ve had great jobs, enough money and physical ability to afford to wait in queues and pay a fair price for my shopping and walk a bit further to go to the toilet. It was me who should have been doing the giving.

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

Want to share my studio with me?

Since I am still sick with arsenic and lead poisoning, I’m not using my studio as much as I’d like. Would you like to share it with me? I’m looking for someone who can make good use of the workspaces while I’m not there – at least 4 days a week ongoing, and more if you are an afternoon/evening person. If you’re interested, see my ad over on Creative Spaces. And if you know anyone who you think this might suit, will you give them a nudge?

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Girls dressed as Martha Grimstone

One of the things I really love about being an author is seeing how kids are inspired by my books about the Grimstones. This week two mums sent me pics of their girls dressed as Martha for book week. I am so impressed with their attention to details and lifelike renditions of Martha Grimstone. Milla and Ava, you both rock!

Milla as Martha Grimstone

Ava as Martha Grimstone

An interesting couch surfing experience

This year, before I left for my trip, I didn’t lock in all my plans. I made sure I had some places to stay at the start, and then I had a chunk of open time, knowing that I would by flying home from Oslo on a certain date. I thought that this would give me the freedom to follow opportunities that came up, to take suggestions offered by others, and also to do a bit more of what I felt like at the time.

Mostly, this was great. Depending on what I needed (solitude? nature? the city? stimulation?), I organised plans for myself a few days in advance. I was terrified, though, that somewhere along the way this would fall down and I’d end up with nowhere to sleep. But I decided to challenge my terror, and I’m glad I did, because the freedom and flexibility were fabulous.

But, at one point, exactly the thing I’d feared arose. A lovely woman I’d met through couch surfing, who had generously offered me the use of her spare room, texted me at the very last minute to say that she’d had an emergency, was stuck out of town, and wouldn’t be home to host me! What to do? I went back to couch surfing, and there were a bunch of others who had also offered to host me but I had politely turned them down. So I contacted them again, and one, Arne, kindly offered to have me, even though it was really short notice. I wasn’t really planning to stay with men. As a woman travelling alone, I’d figured it would be safer to stick with women hosts. But I wasn’t in a position to be choosy now. Arne seemed like a nice guy, and my experience with Norwegian men in the past has been positive, as they have always been respectful of women and non-sleazy.

Just before we were due to meet, I texted Arne to check his address, suggesting I could walk there, as it was a fairly small town. His reply, ‘No, it’s too far for ladies.’

Hmm.. This was not a good sign. As far as I knew, Norwegians were into walking and ladies would be expected to walk as far as men! I started to feel a bit nervous. When we met at the place he suggested, for him to escort me back to his place on the ‘free bus’, he quickly commandeered both my backpack and my suitcase, leaving me nothing to carry. I thought it was likely he’d offer to take one, but taking both seemed excessive and I felt uncomfortable about that. Especially my backpack, which contained my money and passport, which I really wanted to have on my person. I tried to get it back, but he wasn’t yielding. He wrote in my talking book, (in Norwegian, not English) ‘In Arabic culture the woman should do nothing.’ Oh. So I was not dealing with a Norwegian guy, but a man who identified with an connected with Arabic values. This was not welcome news at all, because while there are many fabulous Arabic men out there, I do find it hard to cope with some of the attitudes towards women, such as, for example, taking my bags from me so I didn’t have control of them any more. I hoped I could trust this guy.

When I wanted to go to the shop, he said, no, he would go. No way was I remaining prisoner in his tiny apartment. So I argued back, insisting emphatically that I needed to take a walk, see a bit of the place, and choose some food to buy. Okay, eventually he decided he would allow that, but he was coming with me. I was getting antsy by now. Maybe I should have just left. But I still didn’t know where to go, and I was a lot further away from the city centre now and not entirely sure how to get the bus back. It had turned out not to be free ‘Just free for you,’ he said, as he let me use his transport card. I was a bit worried that with him giving me all this stuff, beyond a bed to sleep in, he might expect something in return, something sexual.

I nearly flipped out when he showed me the bedroom. Yes, THE bedroom. Two single beds, very close together. ‘This one’s mine,’ he told me, ‘and you can sleep here.’ I needn’t have panicked. When the time came, he took his bedding out to the couch and slept there. I would have been happy to take the couch, but I was so relieved I didn’t say anything. Happily I found a lock on his bedroom door, which I made use of overnight.

Nothing sexual turned out to be required, thankfully, but the next day he started flirting with me, telling me how beautiful I am, and how I didn’t need to leave, I could stay longer and let him give me a better tour of the place… At one point, he wrote, ‘Everyone thinks we are terrorists.’

I answered in Norwegian, ‘That hadn’t crossed my mind. I’ve been too busy worrying you might be a rapist.’ I thought that if I admitted my fears, he might back off a bit and even give me some reassuring signs that this was not his intention. But unfortunately his reply was ‘Well….’ and then he changed the subject. Actually, since Norwegian was not his first language either, I thought later that he hadn’t understood the word for ‘rapist’, but wasn’t the kind of guy who would just ask what I meant. His handling of the conversation reminded me of what I do when I haven’t understood people and don’t feel comfortable to let them know. Anyway, this exchange hardly helped me feel better!

I was a bit alarmed by the way he insisted on being with me, all day, and wouldn’t let me go out by myself. So when a friend of his dropped around, I hastily packed my bag, waved a cheery goodbye, and headed out. It was a good day, full of raspberries and clambering over Norwegian rocks and writing my novel and journal in nature. So it wasn’t all bad. But I couldn’t get rid of the sense that I’d had a lucky escape.

Eventually, after much deliberation because I’d sworn I’d never do this again, I told Arne that he had to stop flirting with me because I was married and my husband wouldn’t like it. I HATE excuses of this kind. They suggest that a man should behave a particular way towards a woman, because she is already owned by another man, rather than because his behaviour makes the woman herself feel uncomfortable. But I thought it would be best not to challenge the status quo and to speak a language he would understand. It worked. He backed off after that.

To be fair, he was a very solicitous host, making me food, sending me off with a packed lunch on the last day, sleeping on the couch so I could have the bedroom alone, escorting me on the bus and so on. It was just my fear that was in the way. If I hadn’t been so afraid, maybe it would have been fine. But the flirting and the fact that I had to fight to be able to go out alone were not good, and the little ways I lacked control, like over my own bag, made me feel very uncomfortable. Still, it ended well and nothing bad happened to me. I think, though, that if I’m in that situation again where there’s only men available on couch surfing, I’ll go to a hostel or budget hotel or shell out for AirBnB instead.

Have you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Lovely article in the Zart newsletter

I am honoured to have been featured in the most recent Zart newsletter. The article talks about my time working with the year eleven and twelve art students at Marymede Catholic School. You can check out the original article here or read it below.

 

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As students come into Year 11 and 12, they can struggle with the reality of the year ahead. They may think, ‘Will I succeed, or will all my creativity be suppressed under the pressures?’ After meeting the artist Asphyxia at Marymede Catholic College, my students were inspired.

Asphyxia is profoundly deaf and communicates using Auslan and through her interpreter. The students felt she was able to understand where they were, emotionally, creatively and spiritually, so she soon became the hero of the classroom. Looking back, Asphyxia spoke about the importance of learning touch-typing, sign language, creative and professional writing, small business management and marketing and the practical skills of sewing, knitting, painting, drawing, sculpting and building – yes, Asphyxia built her own house.

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Asphyxia came from a family of mathematicians and engineers. When she was at school she wanted to be a ballet dancer, but, being deaf, she didn’t have the opportunity to pursue that professionally. Asphyxia began her creative career as a puppet-maker, performer and children’s storybook writer – her books on The Grimstones may be in your library. Asphyxia’s workshops were simple but spellbinding as she took the students through the materials and processes she uses to develop her characters. Her work inspired all my students but had a particular impact on one who is hearing impaired. This student was transfixed, taking in every tip on how to take more confident steps in her use of art materials and processes.

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Asphyxia visited Marymede Catholic College in South Morang three times. Her first visit focused on how students might choose a topic about which to make art. She talked about the importance of inspiration from other artists and how she had learnt from their work. Then, Asphyxia showed the work in her portfolios and discussed how she creates an aesthetic mood through her choice of materials and techniques. She uses markers, homemade stamps, stencils with water-based spray paints, water-soluble crayons mixed with gesso and charcoal to achieve an aesthetic that is both rough and emotionally charged but at the same time, very beautiful and soft. Asphyxia believes that art in life adds value, making life richer and more worthwhile.

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On her second and third visits, Asphyxia ran hands-on workshops. Firstly, in stencil making and later in developing the character and characteristics of a female face. For Asphyxia, her characters act as alter egos through which she lives out her emotional responses to life’s situations. As the students developed their ideas, she made individual suggestions to each on materials and processes. Her stories and work captivated the entire art group so much that one student said, “Our best days became the days we spent in the art room improving our techniques and recognising the artist that we were all becoming.”

Adrian Montana
VCE Art & Visual Communication Design Teacher
Marymede Catholic College, South Morang

Writing a novel for FUN

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Meet Winter, a character in a novel I’ve been writing while I travelled.

When I was a teenager, I used to write prolifically and unselfconsciously, churning out story after story. People noticed my passion and encouraged it. I studied short story writing as a correspondance course (this was pre-internet!) and my teachers let me hand in work, such as research on the topic of schizophrenia, in the form of a novel. With the attention and help my writing was getting, I started to set the bar higher and higher for myself. And eventually I set it so high, demanded I write so well, even in my very first draft, that it became daunting instead of fun. I stopped writing.

When Allen and Unwin came to see The Grimstones, they contacted me and asked if I’d like to write a book. I got back into my writing, and I’m really glad to have embraced it again. However, I usually write professionally, for an audience, whether its on my blog, for magazines such as Grass Roots and Down to Birth, or books that will be published. The bar is still high. I just don’t let my dauntedness stop me.

But I’ve never quite regained the joyous fun I felt in writing when I was a teenager. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, I was inspired by her project to write a novel, NANOWRIMO style, just for fun. Like Rubin, I immediately downloaded the founder, Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! and became inspired.

While Baty suggests diving in without a plot, I used the Snowflake Method Of Novel Writing to help me develop my ideas. I’ve used this before and it was recommended to me by my publisher, which tells me it results in a structure for a novel that is the kind of thing they like to sell.

I had this idea that I’d write a novel for fun while travelling. It didn’t have to be any good. Just enjoyable to write. I wanted to write like I did as a teenager – fun and open and as a way of living another life. To make it even more enjoyable, I decided to tie it in with my trip by designing scenes in the places I would be visiting, in the same order as I would travel. That way I could collect up details while I was in each location, write those scenes in my novel, and then move on to the next place.

Did it work? Yes! My novel has been a wonderful companion for me as I’ve travelled, and gave me a superb focus for picking up cultural details in the places I visited. There’s a lot of waiting, when travelling, a lot of queues and airports and trains and busses. My novel gave me something riveting to think about while in transit. I couldn’t write every day. Some days I was too busy, and some days I was too jetlagged and out of it. But I did more or less keep up with the scenes I wanted to write in each location.

It’s not finished yet. When I arrived home it was maybe two thirds of the way there. The last scenes are set in Australia so that works out well! But life is much busier here. Still, it’s been a wonderful thing, to practise writing without worrying about anyone else, without trying to make it good or choose my words carefully. Maybe one day I’ll go back and edit it and bring it up a level, then think about whether it’s publishable or not. But for now, the main thing is to finish it and enjoy the journey as I do so.

Chris Baty’s book has chapters you can read as you write. I’ve found them very encouraging. Just when I’m thinking, oh I can’t be bothered to do this, I read a little chapter that says, ‘Don’t worry about trying to meet your word limit. Just get into your novel, have a little poke around, write 500 words or so, and leave the rest for another day.’ A little poke around even when ridiculously tired.. that’s been very good.

Are you tempted to write a novel (or story, or memoir or whatever) just for fun? Any thoughts and experiences? I’d love to hear your take on this.

Beautiful nature in Norway – walking the Preikestolen at Lysefjord

One of the things I wanted to do in Norway was walk up to the Preikestolen on Lysefjord. Preikestolen means ‘pupit rock’ and it’s this huge rock with a flat platfrom that sits 650 metres above sea level, right over a beautiful fjord. So the view from there is amazing. It’s an 8km round trip, and involves a walking up, up, up a mountain.

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Given that my health has been pretty dodgy lately and I’ve had very little energy, I’ve become quite unfit. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do the walk. I started, in my somewhat pathetic way, ‘training’ for it by walking more and more each day until I could at least stay on my feet for that many kilometres, even if I didn’t get in any practise with hills.

Before I went, I read this beautiful article in Flow magazine, about a woman who spent 24 hours in nature with no purpose, no plan and no technology. She just followed her intuition, wandered around and looked at stuff. I had this idea that I might try to do the Preikestolen walk with the same idea. Instead of focussing on the path and my achievement, I would listen to my body, rest whenever I needed to, and just wander along the path and enjoy looking at stuff.

I stayed at a hostel at the base of the Preikestolen trail. It was gorgeous and I couldn’t believe I got to sleep in one of those little grass-roofed huts.

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The walk is incredibly popular with tourists and busloads come in every day, so I decided to go super early, and embarked off at 5.30am (thank you, jetlag!) to miss the crowds. I had the path to myself most of the way which was lovely.

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Here’s what the path looked like much of the way. The first bit was the hardest. My thighs burned and my heart raced and I thought no way would I be fit enough to do this. But by the end of the first steep bit, I was kind of warmed up and my thighs didn’t burn any more. I did have to keep resting though and was really glad not to be doing this walk with anyone else, so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed about how often I paused to look around. Thanks to my commitment to listen to my intuition, I embraced my frequent stops and enjoyed taking in the beautiful nature.

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After the second steep bit, I was gaining confidence. My thighs and feet were holding out, and I made an effort to walk confidently and quickly as I went up. But it was such a relief to find an easy wooden path like this one.

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The flatter bits were really lovely. I still had to concentrate to walk carefully and not twist my ankle on those stones. It was definitely and eye-to-the-ground kind of walk, so my regular pauses to look around were a good way to take in the actual nature.

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Once I’d conqured the third and hardest steep bit, I came to this beautiful waterhole, and I figured that was a good place for breakfast and to take a real break. I’d brought berries and creme fraiche, and packed some cheese, and raw vegies to nibble on.

It was an idyllic place to rest, and I would have liked to really settle in, do some knitting and let my body recover, but it was incredibly cold. At this point, if I’m honest, my body was spent. Listening to my intuition, I would have had to turn around and go home. Also, even though I’d done most of the climbing, I was only a bit more than half way to the top, so there was a lot ahead of me. But it was all gentler stuff and I really really wanted to see the top. I had to make a decision to follow my body, or my goal to get to the top. The goal won out. So much for connecting with my inner nature! I decided to grit my teeth and continue.

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I’m glad I did, because then I came to my favourite place of the whole walk – this very lovely water hole with rocks on the far side that just spoke to me. Again I tried to stop here for a while but it was just too cold to stay more than a few minutes. I needed to walk to keep warm.

Walked for ages up a steep smoother bit of rock. At this stage it was just a matter of gritting my teeth and saying it wasn’t far now. It would have felt anti-climactic to turn around and go home at this point!

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The last bit of path was precarious indeed. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t see all the way down to the fjord.

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Finally, my destination. Though as you can tell, the clouds made it pretty hard to see anything.
Yep, from on the the pulpit rock, all I could see was white. Bummer. All that way….! But I’m still glad I did it. It feels like a potent lesson in life being about the journey, rather than the destination. I was glad, again, that I’d stopped so often to enjoy on the way up.

I emptied out my backpack so I could lie on it for a bit, rested for about 45 minutes, then I couldn’t bear the cold any more so headed home. I decided to just walk fast and get it over with. In many ways I was more present for the trip home because I wasn’t so daunted! I could kind of enjoy it more. But the steep bits really did my legs in and by half way my feet, ankles, calves and thighs just plain hurt.

Afterwards, my calves hurt like nothing else, but my feet, ankles, knees and thighs were fine. Phew. I’m glad I did it, especially for the bit where I got to enjoy the beautiful waterholes. But I wished I could have rested more to appreciate the nature along the way. My original plan of wandering and following my intuition was out of the question. This was a grit-your-teeth kind of walk for me. But I felt satisfied, and full up of beautiful Norway. I’ll have to do the nature-wander another time.