4.1 The Way of the Black Sheep

In husbandry, when farmers raise sheep for commercial wool production, any sheep less than pure white is cut from the flock so as not to taint the clip. Just one strand of non-pure white wool can decimate the price of a bale, jeopardise an entire shipment and a farm’s projected income.

If I look at my natal astrological chart, without being fatalistic or deterministic about it, I was always going to be happiest living on the perimeter of my family, society and anything that vaguely hinted at conformism. To look at me you’d have no idea that I am a homebirth mamma, that non-monogamy is my preferred relationship dynamic, that I am aphantasic and psychic. Yet these are all profound and life-changing aspects of who I am. They shape the way I see (or in the case of aphantasia – don’t see!) and engage with the world, what brings me joy, expansion, opportunity and authenticity. They also have a major of impact on what I write and how I write.

Yet I was slow in coming into my Black Sheep Self.

UNATTACHED

Christmas Day (1995) delighted with glow-when-you-press-his-belly Barney,

If I had the opportunity to send one simple message to Younger Me it would be to simply revel in being single; to hoover up every opportunity not being attached to someone afforded. Because what happened was, Perpetually Single me was Perpetually Miserable™ because I was absolutely positive I was missing out on something, that I was less than because of it and I was sick of being the brunt of jokes – my family referred to the men whose spheres I shifted in and out of as ‘flavour of the month’ (I guess it could have been worse; one of my friends had a mother who told her point blank she was nothing without a husband!). That’s probably when the cracks with conformity really started to shift through me, as  in my early 20’s, friends met the loves of their lives, got engaged, married (and divorced three years later). I couldn’t keep a man if I bolted him to the ground (and let’s be honest, when you live on a house on stilts, that’s not even really an option). Later I stayed in an abusive relationship to prove I ‘could do a relationship’.

I’ve never married, and I quite likely never will. There is something about the institution of marriage that just doesn’t appeal to me (nor my partner) and a friend who is an astrologer took one look at my chart years ago and said: wisest decision ever! That’s not to say I’m anti-commitment or anti-responsibility. My life-partner and I will celebrate 17 years together this August. We have a 15-year-old son. A 30-year mortgage. I just don’t need to publicly declare my love once and get a certificate to prove I turned up and said the right words. I try to live it every day, instead — for better or worse!

 

HOMEBIRTH MAMA

‘Oh, you’re so brave. I could never do something like that.’

Nearing midnight and not far from welcoming our son into the world. (June 2004)

The biggest leap into the ‘fuck-you’ of the path less travelled was choosing a homebirth in 2003, to welcome our son in 2004. This was the first time I confronted the emotional cost of doing something outside of the expected. I was blasted with fear – standard assumptions that childbirth is inherently dangerous; childbirth outside of a hospital was tantamount to infanticide and a woman who took this route was ill-informed and not fit to be a mother. Family, friends and strangers all projected their own trauma stories onto me. I had no idea at the time, just how deeply this was important for me.

It turns out my own birth story from 1973 is littered with human impatience, medical negligence, two nights of heavy sedation drugs, and obstetric ego resulting in a caesarean section when major abdominal surgery accounted for less than 2% of all births. My Mum almost died of septicaemia post-surgery and carried horrific deep scars from what was meant to be a joyous and empowering experience. In stepping outside mainstream perspective and what ‘everyone else did’, I found a new strength and conviction, an inherent trust in myself, my body, and my ability to make life-affirming decisions. The unexpected expansion from this was I became part of a rich and vibrant transgenerational community, and through that I became an editor of the state homebirth magazine. It was the skills and experience gained here, collecting and publishing birth stories and women’s wisdom that ultimately lead me to taking the risk of starting my own publishing house. It was also a continued commitment to birth activism that inspired me to first write #birthpunk.

PUBLISHER BE THY NAME

My first foray into the Literary Mixed Tapes imprint, in its beautiful final iteration. Cover illustration Andrew McKiernan (June 2012)

“I couldn’t do what you do.”

When I started to meet other small press owners at conventions and we shared stories, they were all aghast at how I went about putting together anthologies, and just generally running the business. I was not interested in reading slush. And not surprisingly – open submission and slush piles were not even congruent with the way I wanted to do business or grow creative projects.

The conceptual anthologies I envisaged required a small group of people who believed in the idea and lots of trust in growing, developing and weaving the stories in terms of Chinese Whisperings, and later working as a group toward a quality publication via Literary Mixed Tapes. And as the years and the anthologies unfolded, I was very clear that I wanted to invest my time in helping writers forge brilliant stories, in supporting writers to be the best writers they could be and fostering projects that had a deep base of community. As Tom Dullemond said to me years ago: what you do is collective submission, not competitive submission. To me, slush pile reading was wasted time.

I’M NOT A VISUAL WRITER

‘If you close your eyes, and I say dog, what do you see?’

Walking the beach of my soul, unstoppering psychic channels and making peace with aphantasia (May 2016)

I had been saying for years that I wasn’t a visual writer without really grokking what it meant. It was a random text message in 2016, from one of my oldest friend’s Kim, that brought the word Aphantasia into both our worlds. Aphantasia means ‘blind in the mind’s eye’ which in essence means when I close my eyes I can’t visually imagine anything. I also can’t conjure the taste of garlic, or the smell of roses. I can’t imagine the soft plush of velvet. Even the voices in my head have a somewhat monotone (I’ve heard it referred to as ‘milk voice’) cadence to them. When my psychic channel opens, it is the enunciation of the message, rather than a distinctive voice, that tells me who I’m connected to.

I will be honest. When I realised that most other people (it is estimated that around 2% of the population have aphantasia) could actually visualise memories like movies, or had an imagination that visually fleshed out dreams or fantasies, I felt utterly ripped off. People ask how I read a book. I guess it is like a lot the whole aphantasia experience – I engage via concept – and I can probably hear rather vividly the dialogue (I prefer books with a fast pace, lots of dialogue and minimal description). It is what it is, and until someone pointed out that my experience was somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘distorted’ or fundamentally ‘less than’ I had never thought to consider it that way. My experience was just my experience.

My suspicion is that my short- and medium-term memories are a little on the fucked side because my memories are stored more like a ship’s log; like rows of code. I might be able to tell you that earlier, when we had lunch, you were wearing a blue dress, but I can’t for the life of me bring that up and see it when I close my eyes. I will be able to tell you what we spoke about, ate, who else was around, but it is all coming from that list, which pretty quickly disappears and is lost.

This means several things for my writing. It possibly accounts for my fascination with concept (I joke that I ‘see’ in concept; Kim says she sees in a spatial way, using gestures and her hands as a way of kinesthetically navigating out what she can’t see; another writer I know ‘sees’ via emotion.) It has meant the heart of my writing is dialogue – I hear the story, transcribe it, and then over successive chapters flesh out the visual aspects. When I see something incredible in the real world I always stop and try to work out how I would convert what I see into words, often leaving fragments of observations in my phone’s notes app. It is something I have had to work hard to master, and it is something I do truly celebrate when I nail it. Diversions into poetry and screen writing have strengthened the visual part of my writing, by offering new ways to engage in visual/imagery-heavy mediums. As has working with people who have provocatively inspiring use of visual elements in their writing.

POLY-PSYCHIC

There is still a weird little tic when I refer to myself as psychic. By flip, I almost never refer to myself as poly.

‘What is that?’

My spiritual awakening came in two parts beginning in August 2015 with an energetic healing a friend shared with me after she’d come back from a spiritual retreat. She brought through a message for me that said to ‘trust your heart’. Ten days later the doors of my life were flung open when a man arrived serendipitously via a mutual friend’s birthday party. In fact, I almost missed him – it was only the fact I was very slow at drinking my final beer that I was still around when the booth seat emptied out and I slid in and sat next to him. This was the start of a very rough eight-odd months, where everything I thought I knew or felt was turned on itself head: what I thought about intimate relationships and societal expectations of them; my relationship with honesty and speaking my truth came up time and time again; what it meant to love and be loved, to surrender and have faith.

Healthy, happy and utterly in love with life and the two men in it (May 2017)

In September 2015 I asked my long-term partner if we could open our relationship, if we could ‘practice polyamory’ (consensual multiple committed loving relationships of which there are as many different iterations and configurations of as the imagination has breadth to create!). It had been on my radar for several years, but I was afraid to venture any where outside an intellectual exploration of it. To do so risked everything. At the same time, I knew there were parts of our relationship that were unable to be healed by couple counselling. I had entered into our relationship with deep wounding and considerable trauma, which in turn damaged certain parts of our relationship. Asking someone you love to commit to celibacy for the term of the natural life of your relationship is no better than forcing your partner into a sexual relationship. Telling someone you love that you love them but are no longer attracted to them – it is honestly the hardest thing I have ever done (in the real or fictional worlds I reside in).

And so my view of the world – of how people interact with each other, engage in deep connective relationships, open to love and communicate fiercely – has transformed wildly in the past few years. And now I don’t see myself or my experience represented anywhere in everyday media. In novels. In movies. There was the incredible Wonderlust last year on Netflix with Toni Collete, focusing entirely on a couple’s journal into the ecstasy and pitfalls of opening a long-term relationship, and there have been passing positive mentions of polamory on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, but it is something that’s just not part of mainstream consciousness, much less open to conversation (though there are more and more articles appearing about non-monomagy,  like this article in the New York Times magazine). People are afraid of it though. It is one of those things that people take genuine personal offence at. People worry it is viral; and I think there is definitely something in that as we are raised to believe there is only one path to relationship – to share your life with one person (even if it’s less ‘until death do us part’ now than it has even been). And so my writing is changing to be authentic to my experience, to be representative of the life I live (chuckling here a little at ‘write what you know’) and to bring something in the shadows, out into the light, in a healthy and positive way.

I always joke that people are okay (side-show curious at their most ambivalent or throwing air crosses at you at worst) with anyone being psychic, but please don’t talk about being poly! Being psychic is far more acceptable than being intimately in love and committed with more than one person is. Being honest about being poly (especially when our son was younger) risked him being ostracised from his friends by their parents, and on the subject of parents, not all our parents know about our non-conventional relationship because of what it is likely to bring up for them and then projected onto us. Everything around poly feels like a calculated risk, so when someone in a group I am part of was open and honest and said they were, it gave me an opportunity to do the same. I have always been brashly honest about my parenting experiences and how much of the path of mothering I have hated, and I hope that being honest about the warts and all experimentations on this path will give others the opportunity and courage to talk openly about their relationships and what they really want (and could actually possibly have!). To ask: are there other ways in which we can love authentically? And to extend the very narrow definition society clings to as love.

‘I don’t read futures or tell fortunes.’

In the same way poly opened out my world, the second part of my spiritual awakening in April 2016 showed me a world I had almost been curious of – but felt removed from. I bought my first set of tarot cards to celebrate my first Mother’s Day and immediately loved them dearly, but they always felt a little distant for someone reason. I felt I needed to have memorised the entire book to be proficient at using them ‘properly. I had been drawn to goddess work, had a life-long love of astrology, been fascinated by aliens, time travel and history. In April 2016 a door opened and I felt and heard clearly something for the first time which was quite obviously not of my world or the fictional worlds I was used to tuning into.

Cards as soul calling. Cards as doorways to transformation. (And yes, these were just randomly drawn to flesh out the photos for the article!)

And it turns out all the listening, all that transcribing, all those easily evocated conversations in stories, of writing from a heart of dialogue, had developed a strong clairaudient channel in me. And, as I investigated further, there was also a proclivity for claircognizance (which is beautifully expanding and blossoming the more I open to it). What really changed for me, though, was not stepping up into the role of a tarot reader and teacher, or even into the space as oracle. The game changer was beginning a life-long commitment to heal myself, to deepen my understanding of energy and its influence on the world and to be an emissary for Love and Light. To welcome in the truly deep soul work and to be in service to others who want to do the same. Time will tell to the degree it flows on into my writing, but from what I’ve seen (it has been a major evolution in my poetry) I imagine it will have a deep impact but perhaps not be so obvious on the surface. I have seen how it’s shown up in what I have been writing with Rus and Adam – who to their absolute credit – they have always followed when I have beaten down a crazy path narratively. It turns out when you are personally prepared to take risks – and then actually take them – it is both encouragement and an invitation (permission if we want to be really blunt!) to do the same.

THE PATHS I MIGHT NOT HAVE TAKEN

My creative space is filled with fragments of wisdom (April 2019)

Without the experience of homebirth I would not have had the real-world experience, nor the passion to create #birthpunk. Without the powerful grassroots experience of community, I may not have seen the delight and joy in collaboration and collective endeavours. And from a purely practical level, without the opportunity to produce Down to Birth magazine, I’d have missed out on the publishing and layout experience as well as the confidence to have the audacity to seed what ultimately became eMergent Publishing and it’s three imprints. Without that early cynicism of love and relationship, I may have written less complicated and tangled narratives or not been drawn at all to the darker side of humanity, where I found so many other incredible authors to create and learn alongside. Without aphantasia I would undoubtedly have written very differently and that bridge between worlds would not have been formed. The additions of a spiritual perspective on life and an expanded intimate world provide the same future opportunities, as those earlier decisions to walk less conventional tracks. Without these two awakenings, I may not have been able to turn up to be one third of what we are creating here in The JAR. The further I go through shadow work, in seeking joy and authentic expression, I see the artificial divides in life closing and how closer everything becomes to being One. I feel in throwing our lot in here, at The JAR, several of those divides are disappearing.

RETURN OF THE BLACK SHEEP

People generally think of sheep as stupid creatures. Herd animals without the capacity to think or care for themselves. This is perhaps the case with domesticated animals. In the wild they have an incredible capacity for survival. They are known for being sharp, hardy and very adaptable.

Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Three of Wands in the Shadowscapes Tarot (2010)

Any of us who have been on the ‘wrong side’ of convention will know there is a certain type of survival-will needed to navigate to, through and beyond the electric fence of conforming, to find somewhere to roam with freedom and ease. Perhaps those of us with the black sheep gene know we can ultimately trust ourselves to provide the exact circumstances to not just survive but thrive.

Standing on the cusp of it now, it is so deliciously exciting and terrifying, which means I am exactly where I am meant to be in this moment. Like the three of wands in the Shadowscapes deck – I step into the void knowing faith will put solid ground beneath my feet, and the land bridge created from this faith will extend a little further into the unknown for those who follow.

 

 

 

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