The woman was stuck. She knew it. Her life was going nowhere. Struggling to accept that she wondered if going nowhere was what happened when you reached a certain age. Maybe after the post retirement trips overseas (almost a rite of passage for newly retired Australians in these days of global tourism) the next step was to settle for a life in the shadows – a gradual fading into the background – into invisibility.
Thinking these things she drove to a local bushland re serve. It was one of the few local places in the area where she felt a connection to the wild – the wild of nature and, more importantly, the wildness that still burned within her heart and mind despite outward appearances.
When the aboriginal man in the Visitor Centre accused of her trying to take his stories when she’d expressed an interest in making glue from tree resin like the aboriginals did she was taken aback.
While he made the coffee she’d ordered the man ranted that he could teach her to make the glue if she proved to him that she wasn’t going to misuse the knowledge. Disturbed by his aggressive manner the woman had submissively taken the coffee and retreated outside to a table under the trees.
There she felt her own anger mounting. She attempted to rationalise it away by thinking that perhaps the sight of her had awoken some old anger in the man – maybe some older white woman had once acted in a racist way towards him. Even so, that woman was not her. She had simply read about the glue on a notice board in the Visitor Centre and wondered out loud how it was made because synthetic chemical glues gave her a headache.
The coffee was lousy, she realised. As bitter and unpleasant as the man. She tipped it out on the ground then wondered what to do with the empty takeaway cup. There were no rubbish bins in sight. She had a choice, she then realised. She could take the coffee cup home and dispose of it there while nursing her unexpressed anger or she could go back in the Centre and attempt to have it out with the man.
After a moment’s reflection she chose the latter.
The man looked disconcerted by the sight of her re-entering the shop. She held out the empty coffee cup and he curtly told her where the bin was. She disposed of the cup then politely told the man she had no interest in taking his stories. She asked him how on earth she was supposed to prove to him that her intentions were honourable. He said he would know where she was coming from by seeing it in her heart. She drew herself up straight and replied: “Well if you can’t tell where my heart is by talking to me there’s nothing I can do to prove to you that I’m on the level.” There was a flicker of doubt in the man’s face as he computed what she’d said but he quickly resorted to his angry stance. “How am I supposed to know where you mob are coming from? I’ve never met you before,” he snarled.
Resisting the urge to look behind herself and see this mob she was supposed to represent or to argue with the man further the woman made a dignified retreat.
Driving away she found she was shaking. For days afterwards she kept replaying the incident in her mind. The man obviously had anger issues but something of what he had said got to her. Was she unconsciously appropriating aboriginal stuff that didn’t belong to her in an effort to give her life meaning?
Googling cultural appropriation she bought articles written by indigenous people about how cultural stories and artifacts had been taken out of context and turned in commodity items. She cringed when she read some of it. That dreamcatcher hanging on the verandah suddenly looked more like cultural appropriation than a boho decoration. The more she looked at certain items in her house, the more she came to question herself. Just what was she on about?
She went on a kind of purge of both her house and her own beliefs. She looked at her own cultural heritage. Raised a Christian but having left that faith long ago she taken on a hodgepodge of ideas and beliefs from other cultures and traditions. How much of it really resonated though? How much of it was hers to take? To find the answers to those questions she had to dismantle more than the décor she surrounded herself with. She had to look long and hard at the person she’d become.
In the process the feeling of being stuck dislodged. Somewhere along the line she began to thank the man. He’d set her free. She’d been under a kind of spell. A spell of her own making in many ways but a spell nonetheless. That scrap of bush had been a place where she could hide. Now she no longer felt like going there. Finally, and at last, she was ready to move on to some other new way of being. It was time to let that wild woman come out of hiding. There was nothing to lose but stuckness.
This post was inspired by Cathy of https://wanderessence.com/
Cathy has written in the third person in her recent prose piece https://wanderessence.com/2018/07/24/chapter-2-missouri-as-it-seemed-part-2/. Following her lead I have used the device in this post. I find it gives writing a more objective slant.