On Adrenalin, Freedom and the Kindness of Strangers

A few days ago, I wrote off my car. It was a strange thing and it’s made me want to write a post here for the first time in quite a while. I was driving down the freeway in the dark. I know the road well, am quite a fan of it really, with its sculptures and its many lanes and its not-too-bad traffic. The cars in front were slowing down. I noticed. I was slowing down too. But I wasn’t. I hit a stationary car in front of me at about 80 kms per hour. The noise was amazing. The force of the seatbelt was amazing. A yellow engine light began flashing at me from the dashboard. I started to fret about fire and explosion. My headlights seemed somehow to be almost coming through the windscreen. It took forever to find the button to turn on the hazard lights. My CD was still playing. It took forever to find the button to turn off the music. I was sitting in the middle lane, all crumpled and flashing, as cars sped past on either side. Somehow, I got to the edge of the freeway. The noise driving that small distance was very loud and very grating. I couldn’t open my door, which made me start to shake because I was still fretting about fire and explosion. I shoved the door. I got out. A woman got out of the car I’d driven into. She was frowning and walking towards me. She was wearing a very cool leopard print coat. Are you okay?, she said. Yes, I said, I’m out. Are you okay? Yes. We were both okay. This was good news.

The transit cops arrived, three of them, all sandy haired and bulky. They were reassuring, efficient, a bit macho. The woman I’d driven into was kind; she kept telling me it was fine. I kept apologising and saying I had no idea what had happened, that I thought I was stopping but maybe my foot slipped on the brake or something. I was concentrating. I was watching the traffic. I’m sorry. I was stone cold sober. No one asked me that, but I was. One of the policemen started to take photos of my car and asked for my licence. I asked him why, and he ignored me. I asked him again, and he looked confused. It was as though people never asked him what he was doing and he’d only just registered that a question could do with an answer. He told me I wasn’t going to be charged with anything, of course I wasn’t. The details were just for the insurance company if they wanted a report. He smiled. It’s a write off, you know. I know, I said, and then I started crying a bit. Because that crumpled old car was my freedom car, the car I drive when I don’t have to drive anyone, the car I drive when I want to go somewhere on my own, with my music blaring and no one telling me to put the same track on repeat for an hour, or play eye spy, or count to 199 seventeen times.

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On Chasing the Light

claire thomas 10

I didn’t expect to enjoy myself when a photographer was assigned to get a photo of me for my recent article in The Sunday Age. I have the usual human/writerly paranoias about such things. But then I hadn’t met Meredith O’Shea. She turned up at my house at the end of a 40 degree day – yep, I struggled to disentangle myself from two sweaty children, put on some make up, get dressed in any presentable way and de-frizz the hair in preparation – and we spent the next couple of hours chasing the light around the mountain on which I live. Meredith was determined to get me in the gold glow of the setting sun. We found it just as we were starting to think it might have been too late. Meredith swerved down someone’s driveway, jumped out and told the unsuspecting homeowners enjoying a drink on their terrace exactly what was needed. Within seconds, I was crouched in the forest at the base of their property.

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On Feminism, Intelligent Mothers and Exemplary Elocution

When I was in my early twenties, a man I didn’t know very well told me I was only a feminist because I had nothing else to complain about.  At the time, I was enraged by his reductive assessment of my complex, multi-faceted, deeply privileged self.  How could he tell I wasn’t poor?  Physically brutalised?  Sexually violated?  In an abusive relationship?  Mentally ill?  Disabled?  Sad?  Angry?  Lonely?  He took one look at my shiny Anglo hair and listened for one minute to my nicely-elocuted speech and decided I was some uppity private school girl who’d had female emancipation indoctrinated into her by an expensive education and an intelligent mother.  Well, yep, he got that much right.  I even read A Room of One’s Own when I was eleven, and precociously decided it had changed my life.  But, but, but.  I knew truckloads of uppity private school girls who had not a feminist bone in their nicely coiffed, nicely clothed, well-washed bodies.  And that was the essence of my offence.  That in making his generalised, dismissive comment about me, he didn’t take into account that I’d made a choice, that I noticed things, that I had a compassionate imagination, damn it.

My mother left school when she was fourteen years old.  She was, by all accounts (including her own, it must be said), the smartest kid in the class.  She skipped a grade as a little girl and liked doing geeky things like playing libraries and asking too many questions.  Her father was an alcoholic WWII veteran and her mother had bouts of mental illness, and she needed to support the family.  Her younger sister was younger, so she escaped that particular pressure at that particular time.  Continue reading