Treading Water

I’ve been here before. Unable to make it work. Overwhelmed by the debris of daily life, swallowed by both the details and the larger picture.

All this hatred and contempt makes me wonder how to guide my Muslim children into adulthood here in this atmosphere of intense malevolence. How do I protect them?
The shield of my whiteness has lowered and all I see is pain and injustice and a deep, deep commitment to maintaining a hierarchy of racial oppression.

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The fight against misogyny and racism is so enormous, so much bigger than me, all I can do is offer it to God. Somewhere I read ‘God is my inexhaustible resource’. I read about a man who had seven versions of himself. I need to be seven. In the minutiae of my daily life it is hard to get the dishes washed or the clothes dry or something healthy cooked and ready for eating. I cannot do everything, I cannot be everything.

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These are the times when I am all ideals with little application. Homelife feels like chaos. I’m seriously contemplating school. The questions I ask myself are

are there any clean pants?
what is rotting in the back of the fridge?
will my baby be ok?
how do I guide my sons towards a healthy masculinity?
is crying in the car worse than being forward facing?
can I get up and pray without waking him up?
will Ramadan tip me over the edge?
are we looking down the barrel of a holocaust?
will I be able to cook dinner?
what is the real ‘Feminine?’
will I ever ‘know’ God?
am I making a mess of it?
should I try and get a ‘real’ job?
why is my arthritis flaring?
is this my fault?

and so on

All day, every day.

who am I?
why do other people not question themselves the way I do?
do I know what I am doing?
is homeschooling a mistake?
am I ruining them?

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I’ve been here before and I’ve learned to ‘chop wood and carry water’…be still and be carried. I turn to one small patch of my corner and give it my full attention. This small thing I will do well. I’m sitting quietly nourishing him at the breast, he breathes in and out, the curl of his hair wrapped around my finger. I am only one but I can still give it all I have, whatever I do I can choose to do in love.

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I’ve been here before and I know the days turn quickly. In my country there are people of beauty and goodness, soon my baby will be running and talking and I will make bread and soup.

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I am not a failure, I am just stretched thin.
I am not alone in it, this is our modern world. We are mothers, fractured, carrying weights that were once carried by many..we do it side by side, we do our best.

Radical Homemaking

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So it seems that out there in the real world beyond my house there is already a term to describe what I am trying to get at with matriarchal homemaking – domesticity without the gender inequality….and a whole heap of other stuff.

I’m still trying to get a real grasp of what I really feel and think about these things so today I’m going to tell a story and this story will provide context and make sense of the questions I am trying to answer. It’s a story about gender, culture, spirituality and religion. It begins in my childhood home where feminism was espoused but not necessarily fully  lived. Still a home in which gender norms did not necessarily prevail – a mother, a (gay) step-father (the marriage ended when I was twelve), three small half-brothers. A home full of art, culture, music, discussion, intellectual argumentation. Unconventional and in some ways brilliant, sometimes dysfunctional (aren’t we all?), hilarious, difficult, enriching and stimulating, challenging and tough. In many ways it was a fabulous life and in some ways it was heartbreaking.

We were, for all intents and purposes, homesteaders before it became trendy. We raised our own meat, my step-father had a beautiful jersey cow that he milked. We churned our own butter, we drank the milk raw. We grew vegetables, we ran food related businesses, we worked. He preserved fruit and made jams and fruit cakes. My mother spun fleece from our sheep and knitted it into beanies and thick woollen sweaters. Tasmania is cold. We lived in one hundred year old farmhouses. We worked. Life on a farm is hard, running your own business is difficult. It was all hard work, it wasn’t really intentionally gender specific. It’s hard to remember but my mother washed the nappies and did the bulk of the cleaning and childcare. I think.

She also read Germaine Greer and I wore overalls.  The women I encountered as a child were feisty and loud. Most people we knew laughed at religion and laughed at the idea of the home being the domain of women, we were people of equality or so it seemed.

By the time I got to university I was adamant that I’d never have children. I lived within a small subculture of art students all with similar ideals. Gendered oppression was something I read about in books, I couldn’t recognise it in its more subtle forms at that stage, I thought it belonged to faraway worlds. It was not part of my life or my conscious thought.

Because of this ideological basis (which I did not recognise as an ideology) I never considered motherhood as a viable career choice. It was lesser, you couldn’t just be a mother, you had to be something else. I went to art school and I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to live in the inner city and surround myself with bookshops and art galleries.

Our family hit a series of hurdles and I experienced fairly severe clinical depression. I was diagnosed with PTSD but I didn’t know what to do about it so I did what many soul searching young adults in the first world do, I travelled. I found myself in Morocco and I became fascinated by Islam. When I wrote about my first trip to Chefchaouen I described it as a town which was filled with a sense of ‘in-placesness’ , a tangible stillness unable to be expressed in words. I filled my sketchbooks with my new ‘obsession’ layering and pasting Arabic and Persian newspapers with text and drawings of my own, it looked like a kind of orientalist exoticism but it was building as something so different than that within me, I just did not have the language to articulate it and I had a conditioned resistance to considering that it was something spiritual. Five years later after a move to Melbourne I met a Muslim man and my curiosity about what he believed led me to look into Islam more deeply. Quite astonishingly within months my ‘research’ became a personal quest and I became a Muslim. I didn’t know what I was doing. Most of me recognised it, resonated with it at a deep non-verbal level. The other bit railed against it, rejected some of it.
It was, to say the least, turbulent.

I was occupying that cultural no mans land that often happens to Muslim converts. I wasn’t sure where my culture ended and Islam began. Often people assume that I converted to Islam because I fell in love with a person but it was the other way around, I got married because I had fallen in love with Islam.

Immersed in a world that was the complete opposite to what I was used to, a world in which there were distinct roles and expectations for men and women my reality was turned on its head. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, I didn’t know what the religion really indicated about these things , I loved the idea of being at home with babies. I was filled with a warmth that I wanted to pour over things and gift to my family – love. I thought our expectations and wants were in alignment.

Needless to say it was the utmost naivety and a recipe for conflict. Our expectations of each other were way out of whack. I wanted to be at home, I wanted to be with the children but not the way he wanted it. Both of us felt like we were experiencing injustice.

My experience of domesticity within the framework of strict gendered expectations is what has made me a true ‘feminist’ . It was all theoretical before, lived experience is what creates a fire in the stomach. Yet motherhood has also seasoned me and brought me into being a woman in a way that is in conflict with some aspects of feminism. I don’t want an equality that is a sameness. I believe I have the right to be with my babies when they are small, it’s more than a right, it’s a known…the small child belongs to the woman’s body and space, psychcically mother and child are one in the infant years.

So what exactly is my feminism and my homemaking, my spirituality and my womanhood? These are things I am fleshing out. I know what I don’t want, I know what I feel is harmful, not just to women but society as a whole.  I’ve a large family to raise, they are my purpose. I love order and cleanliness but I’ve learned that I can’t do it all without killing myself. I protect my physical health now and I prioritise the education and guiding of my kids into adulthood over a superficially perfect home.

My roots have me seeking out the ways and methods of my childhood. I want to grow my own food, I want to handcraft. There’s a fullness in me that wants to nurture the world, I long for beauty and calm and peace. I’m attracted to fully-fledged home keeping.
Yet, not as some kind of insipid pandering to systemic male power, so I guess I am radical.

A Creative Life, God and Womanhood

 

For the first time in a long time I am now throwing myself into rediscovering my creative self. I don’t want to have to compartmentalise things into mothering or artistness, these things can exist together although it is sometimes hard. I am pregnant and I have plunged into an intense creative space which is at once wonderful and terrifying, pregnancy is such a time of extremes.

At the moment I am finding the most influential things I am reading that really speak to my gut involve a writing about the Feminine, the loss of this knowledge in our culture, what this means for women. It explains a wrongness I have felt all my life, a wrongness that I tried to fix through my exploration of Islamic Orthodoxy and it’s gendered spaces, something that I did find answers to in Yemen in ways that are too hard to articulate and ways that always encourage protestation from people who refuse to imagine that such a path could honour the Feminine. And I am too weary now of needing to spin my life in protestation and defence, I just can’t be bothered. Nevertheless that journey was a beginning and it opened me to a new way of knowing things. It can’t be transplanted into an unfamiliar and unrelated context and nor should it be.

 

I haven’t been sleeping very well and despite my struggles now with my practise as a Muslim, in the middle of the night it is much easier to connect, to sit and look into the dark and to contemplate. At such times I feel God like an electricity in my veins, the night is alive and I am alive with it. I love the sensation of the house sleeping. In Islam we say that in the last third of the night God descends to the lowest heavens and this is something that feels so palpable.

I don’t have a designated workspace in this house. In our old house for a short period of time I set up a studio, it was a wonderful space and I would love to make something like that here but there really isn’t room so I just look at the pictures and remember it.

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I feel a fierceness now that is willing to protect the aspects of life that I find essential and nothing can stand in the way. I will not live in dullness anymore. I know that most of the shadows we face in life are from our own selves, I don’t blame anyone for what I have or haven’t done with my life, every choice has been my own.
What matters to me now is God, family, art and womanhood…
And all of these things I am exploring are like wonderful lights in an otherwise un signposted wilderness.
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I wrote this sentence today and so much of the life I feel buzzing within me is part of this realisation, I will not pander to patriarchy anymore, no matter the consequences, no matter the potential loss. Various people will make such a sentence far more reductive than it is. I am not talking solely about Islamic patriarchy but so much more broadly. And it is not contemporary Feminism where I find the answers.

These buzzwords are loaded, they cramn us into niches and often convey a limited vision. I have an insatiable need to write about these things but sometimes I think I need to find a new language.

I am happy, there is potential swelling all around me.
Alhamdulillah ya Raheem!

I did it my way

I come to this space sometimes and I wonder what it really is. I write things and then I delete them. I am always so impatient with process. It was a homeschooling blog. I had privacy concerns. The children stopped homeschooling. Sometimes I came here to write when it seemed like there were no other places where I had room. I have realised that when I write I can learn to be still. This is a place of stillness sometimes.

In the twelve years I have been a parent I have largely abandoned my other place of stillness. Drawing.

I had been drawing for as long as I could remember. But when I had children it became difficult to have art materials within easy access. Or to leave unfinished work sitting around in living and playing spaces. And perhaps this has been a great blessing because it is through having one creative route taken away, I learned that I have another option, I can write.

Writing is immediate and I write about everything. Family, soul, travel, art, Islam. I write for myself. Sometimes when I have emptied myself of words or soothed that sensation of flowing then I can sit quiet and I can listen. I listen and what I hear is that which we label God, Source, Divine.

But I turn forty soon and I can’t help but apply the standards of my culture to myself and question ‘what have I achieved?’
What has this self done? How has it performed? What does it have to show for itself?

And writing becomes less about stillness and flow and more about something I need to utilise to prove myself as worthy.

There is that voice that says you are an intelligent woman but what have you done with yourself?

 

And what I have done is not really quantifiable. It is not measured in awards and degree’s and exhibitions and books written. When I sit down to write a resume it is largely a work of creative fiction. I worked seriously for only two years of my adult life. I studied but only at undergraduate level. For twelve years I have parented at home. I have overcome all kinds of silent obstacles but because I choose to still overcome them I cannot add them to my repertoire of achievement.
I am not one of those women who turns her home into a sanctuary of domestic perfection. I don’t believe it is possible without selling your soul to a fantasy. Clean houses and three course meals are so often a performance that hides a much more bitter reality. But if I am not one of those women then what am I?

It strikes me that these models we have, the domestic goddess and the career woman, they are fantasies of womanhood and strength. Unachievable, unattainable fantasies. We are forced always to live to a standard that is not our own.

I remind myself that I do not need to achieve anything at all. It does not matter that my life cannot be measured and applauded.
What matters is the joy in the details.

If there is time to write and draw then it is for the love of it.

I do not need to measure my home life by unattainable standards. My children require my presence, a full, budding and sometimes gleeful presence. Unburdened by unreasonable expectations. It is to choose to make granola when there is clean washing all over the floor awaiting folding and to delight in the aroma spreading through the house. It is to sit together and read stories out loud with the full awareness that the car has become a mobile tip. It is to get out the paints and not to worry that in three hours I will be peeling potatoes amongst upturned pallets and images of rainbows.

It is to take half an hour to write five hundred words and find that place of stillness.

I guess this is what turning forty is, doing it my way. Not selfishly, not without concern for others. But with the full awareness and experience to know where the life flows. I may not have achieved anything but I know this.
And this is everything.

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Your problem is not my problem

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spectacularly beautiful Romanesca cauliflower

Little by little the children grow and our home life patterns itself into a rhythm of comfort and closeness. Gone are the days of post natal chaos, no longer just in survival mode we can appreciate the details.

Enthused to create a nurturing, loving and supporting space I take joy in parenting, in menial and mundane tasks, in fashioning this house into a nest. I feel gratitude for my role as a mother, appreciation for the safety of my home.

And then suddenly I see myself blown into something ugly in the eyes of another and momentarily my joy is punctured, this great role we are granted slips into a noose again. Until I stop and realise your problem is not my problem.

Your expectations of women and family are not mine. Your priorities are not mine. I value you, I am in awe of your skills, your speed and attention to detail, your ability to use a knife and decimate an onion in seconds, the amount of children you have birthed. These are all things of great value but I am not you. I was grown in other ways in another world. I have other skills, my worth as a woman cannot be weighed by the cleanliness of my floor or my ability ( or lack of) to cook your cuisine or speak your language. I am not you.

And when you cannot find good in me, your eyes are small. I have small eyes too, there are times when I have retreated into my own cultural vision like a sea anemone poked in uncomfortable places. Sometimes I have even hated, written you off, an entire people tarnished by my resentment, by my inability to carry your expectations without disgust. I made your problem my problem.

But not anymore.

I will love my role as mother and homemaker because I am doing it my way, prioritising what I believe is important, I will not be squeezed into a mould that doesn’t and will never fit.
I will not allow the expectations of others to puncture my own vision, my own joy.

And that is that!