I’m curious to know how that environment influences your quality of life and how you think. How often do you leave?
Not very often. I don’t need to leave here. I don’t need much external stimulation. I think the big revelation for me has been the river. I never thought of myself as a water person. It hadn’t ever been something that I craved or thought I needed. But it absolutely is…the river is like another person in my life. Quite seriously. I don’t even like saying, “It”, because the river is not an object –back to language again. It’s not an it. River is river. River is Dyarubbin.
I need to develop pronouns for non-human beings that don’t objectify them. That’s one of my life goals. We talk about plants as it, we talk about river as it. We talk about tree as it. There is nothing that is objective about any of them. I watch Dyarubbin from here and Dyarubbin watches me. River is not an object, but a being.
Such an incredible being. So Wonderground journal, the first. How did it come to be?
Well, I built this shed. And then, I thought, “Now I’ve got a shed, I should do something great in it.” I always wanted to make a printed thing. I didn’t have the audience to begin with. So growing The Planthunter digital platform was a smart thing to do, because it meant I had an audience for the print publication.
I don’t read online if I can avoid it. I found myself subscribing to Griffith Review and Granta, those kinds of publications, and enjoying taking myself away from the screen and reading. Overall, digital has never been quite the right medium for me because I like thoughtful, meandering things. With digital, you need to give people a sugar hit. I can do that, but I’m more interested in changing hearts and minds and making people think. Not to say it doesn’t happen online. But I felt like maybe the best place for what I wanted to do was print. I wanted to make something that could be held.
I wanted to push myself as well, ’cause I’d been doing Planthunter for so long. And there’s something so contained about making a print issue. There’s so much that goes into it, as you know. To pull something together like that. And, you know, the composition of the ideas and the writers – that balance. I just love that. I love the making. I wanted to challenge myself and learn a new medium. And here we are. Issue three.
Put your work out in the world and be proud of it, as Joan Didion said. Then you changed the name of the website from Planthunter to Wonderground. In your letter to readers, you said there’s no time to indulge in fear, but plenty of time for action. I wonder about that call to action, that this moment speaks to for you.
I’ve realised that my action is in writing, and in telling stories. That’s what I’m good at. And I know in my guts that that’s what I’m supposed to be doing. And if I am serious about words and language and story, then I really need to stand strongly in that place. The Planthunter, as a title had grown increasingly uncomfortable for me. It speaks to many things, but in particular, the ongoing violence of colonisation, of taking things that have not been offered. I changed the name to Wonderground because I want to use language that speaks of how things can be, of how we can grow words and worlds together. So, words are my action. It’s being in the world and writing about it in a way that offers something, that is an act of care. My writing is an act of care and love. Seventy-five per cent love, 25 per cent fear.
Fear is useful! It’s good to drive some action, but it doesn’t sustain action. Love can do that. It’s moving into that space of being in love with this place right now, and acting from there.
This activism, this love that you share through writing is what’s fascinating to me. It brings me to your piece “Other Motherhood” that you wrote in Issue Two of Wonderground. Could you describe the content, the background of the essay? You open with a story about never feeling so alone as when you’re on a weekend with beloved girlfriends with children who weren’t there, but were there. That was such an evocative opening to a story.
The question of having children or not having children has been very present in my life over the last seven or eight years. I’ve written thousands and thousands of words around it; I’ve written and written and written. I write to try to understand what I’m feeling, what is meaningful to me. The context is that I didn’t know whether I wanted to have kids or not. And sometimes I still don’t. (laughs) After all this time, it’s still foggy and a bit grey.
If I want kids, is it a cultural pressure? Or is it a family thing? Or is it me really wanting kids? And if I don’t want kids, what’s wrong with me? (laughs) I guess that piece and all the writing that preceded it were ways of trying to understand how I felt about motherhood. One thing that was great in hindsight, but painful at the time, was my partner saying, “You have to work this out for yourself…” He put it back on me. “You need to know what you’re truly feeling.”
(laughs) “Tell me what I feel!”
“Tell me.” I just wanted someone to tell me. And now I’m so grateful. Because it put me on this path of trying to dig into what I felt and why. I’m fascinated by where things – ideas and feelings – come from. And inevitably it’s not as clear as you think. I took a deep dive into trying to understand what motherhood means. . And it’s so complicated.
I always assumed that I would somehow accidentally fall into motherhood, you know, and I wouldn’t have to think about it. And…(laughs)…no. It’s this massive knot, it’s such a tangle. And it’s fascinating.
I have to keep holding myself to that piece of writing. That piece was very, very true to me. But I have to keep taking myself back to it and saying, “This is who I am in the world, and this is how I can be in the world,” and be that. I go and see my family and so much about their lives is looking after these gorgeous little kids. And so much of my mother’s life is looking after my nieces and nephews. How much it means to her, that type of care. I’ll probably cry now. But it’s very confronting to me in a lot of ways, to think that the ways I care are not going to be necessarily seen or given that cultural value. Yeah, I’m crying.
I don’t think that’s resolved in me yet. That takes time. I care in so many ways. And they’re so deeply meaningful to me. If I was a more evolved human, maybe I wouldn’t need external affirmation. But there’s a part that feels deficient even though I know, for fuck’s sake, I am not. It hangs around. No matter how much I care, how much I write.
I can understand that. It’s so complex. In a way that it never would be for men.
No. I guess I feel for mothers in a lot of ways because their self gets taken from them. And they give it, and there’s no judgement there because that’s a wonderful thing. But I have so much freedom. And I really appreciate it. I’ve never been able to conform in any particular way.
And that’s the other thing that I find interesting about all of this, and trying to understand how I feel about motherhood, is that I’m always saying, “Well I’m not doing that, I’m doing something else over here.” If someone else had started something like The Planthunter there’s no way I would have started it. I would have been like, “No, that’s done, I’ll do something else.” And that’s just always how I’ve been on a whole lot of levels. I’ve never gotten married, I’ve never ticked any of the boxes that women are supposed to tick.
I know in my very deep heart of hearts that I’m on – a hundred per cent – the right path. But there’s always that little niggling voice that goes, “Why can’t you just like move to the country and have some kids and make your mum happy and…?” You know. Do that.
But thank goodness you haven’t done it.
Yeah! I know! It’s likely I’d be pretty unhappy. Or mildly happy. Which is terrible.
I think women aren’t always honest about that – about the loneliness.
There’s that poem, In the Park, by Glen Harwood. The last line is, “They have eaten me alive.”
It’s an extraordinary line. And there are some women I can talk about that with, the loneliness I felt in early motherhood, and others who would be horrified by the concept. Your final line in that essay is, “I aspire to be no less than a tree.” I love how you talk about how the tree is open to what’s around it.
I aspire to being open, with some kind of mad exuberance, to the world. And being present to what appears. This is what trees do. A eucalypt blossoms, and it goes into this wild frenzy of generosity, sharing their flowers with the flying foxes and the nectar-feeding birds and all of the creatures. And of course, this is about reproduction. The tree does that to reproduce. For a while, I was like, “That’s killing my whole argument.” ’Cause I’m not reproducing. But then of course I am. It’s just that the ways I reproduce aren’t seen as clearly. I’m not creating biological offspring so it’s less obvious. But also, just standing. Just being in the world and being open to the world I think is all you can really do, isn’t it?
I think so. We have to keep trying.
Artist Janet Laurence has been a guide for me around care and creative output. She’s the one who said, “If you don’t have kids, think of how expansive your care can be.” Of course, I’d never once had it flipped like that in my head. She started that whole train of thought for me. But what she does in the world, and the energy that she puts into her output and her art and her activism… I look to her and think I’d like to be somewhere between Janet and a tree.
(laughs) That’s not a bad way to be!
That’d be pretty great. In some ways it’s such a privilege to live the way I live because I have all this space for reflection if I want it. And I guess a lot of women who are raising families, there’s no room for that.
There’s very little room for that. And I guess even if you do, it would be nearly an indulgence because it’s like do you feel guilty ’cause you’re not looking after your kids or you’re not thinking about your kids?
That whole internal story is so complex. There’s something audacious about stepping outside of it. And just saying, “Actually I say no to all of that.” I struggle with having neat ribbons in my daughter’s hair and doing great birthday parties and all of that, which I’ve continually failed at. My birthday cakes suck. To love them wildly and be good enough is no longer a thing. And I think, well this is serving nobody, ’cause maybe it’s just raising a bunch of narcissists.
That story doesn’t serve mothers. And the cultural narratives around child-free women don’t serve me. None of it serves anyone. That was one of the things that made me want to write and publish something, even though it was terrifying. When I was trying to understand how I felt and process what I was feeling, I couldn’t find writing about that. Or if it did exist, it often felt binary or defensive, shutting down conversation, rather than encouraging new ways of seeing other-motherhood as what it can be – a really important and rich way of being in the world. I guess with that piece, it was important to me that it felt generous, wherever you are on the spectrum of motherhood/other-motherhood, rather than saying, “This is better or that’s worse.” If that makes sense.
It does make sense. And I think as well that as the years pass, you move into a different season and conversations change. The friends who I get excited about now are the ones who I do things with. I made two beautiful new girlfriends when we moved out of the city, who I walk with. One every Wednesday morning after I’d dropped the kids at the bus. I’d far prefer to do that and eat cheese sandwiches and drink thermos tea in the wilderness, than sit around and talk.
About your kids.
Yeah! (laughs) Exactly! It’s just not as interesting!
No. I feel pretty happy about other-motherhood for now. But also, in saying that, it’s never cut and dried. There will always be some kind of grief for me around not becoming a mother. I think it’s important to acknowledge that holes exist in every life, and no one decision means you can avoid them. So I closed one door and I opened another. I feel a responsibility – to do something with this space, this freedom, to grow and care in ways that are right for me. I want to look back and be like, “That was a great thing.” And not regret anything. I’m pretty sure I won’t.