Mea Culpa, and #theafseffect

Forgive me, Readers, for it is WordPress Wednesday, and it has been six weeks since my last post. SIX! Does that make me a lapsed WordPresser?

So, what’s my excuse? Well, the excuses are plentiful and varied. June was something of a blur, as Roslyn and I from Shapeshifters in Popular Culture have been working very hard on finishing off our latest book, which is all about how mental illness is represented (or misrepresented, or just ignored) on TV. And it’s very nearly done. Ros is putting the finishing touches to the chapter on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder but it has otherwise all been collated into one document and I’m sorting out referencing and so on (the joys!). As soon as we’re both happy with it, it’s off to the person we very much hope will agree to write the Foreword, and then it will be winging its way through cyberspace to our wonderful publishers at McFarland. 

Mcfarland logo

So I was working on that until June 30, and then from July 2, I was in Melbourne for the tenth annual PopCAANZ conference.  I presented some of our work from the book at this year’s event; specifically, looking at the representation of clinical depression in You’re the Worst. This series is not very well known in Australia–literally no one in the audience had watched it!–but it is well worth the effort. I’ve talked my husband into watching it, and he’s really enjoying the quirky, non-traditional characters. As well as being quite unlikeable in the conventional sense, two of the four leads have diagnosed mental illness, and are living under the same roof.

inauspicious meeting
Gretchen (Aya Cash) meets Jimmy (Chris Geere) in the pilot of You’re the Worst.

Now, hold on to your hats for this “spoiler”- the show actually does a pretty realistic depiction of clinical depression, including periods where Gretchen is asymptomatic, and periods where she lies in bed. The latter is really significant; despite being the single most prevalent mental health disorder in the word, we haven’t really seen much depression in screen because people lying in bed doesn’t move narratives forward. In fact, I would argue that we didn’t really see it at all until as recently as 2015.

Ian and Gretchen
Ian Gallagher (Cameron Monaghan), Shameless (US); Gretchen Cutler (Aya Cash), You’re the Worst.

So, in the ten days since Melbourne, what have I been up to? Well, lots of meetings, and lots of driving between Wollongong, Nowra and the Southern Highlands. The pace has been pretty intense, because I’m about to head off on some much-anticipated leave, so there are a lot of loose ends that are frantically being tied (or at least, we are trying to tie them).

My daughter is currently in Buenos Aires, doing a subject for her University course. And she invited me to join her for a few days at the end of her course, so that we can go and visit my “bonus children” who live in South America.

You see, once upon a time many, many years ago, I was fortunate enough to go to Japan for a year on a high school exchange with the AFS International, on a scholarship generously provided by the Tokyo Municipal Government. It was an amazing experience, and I met some of my very best friends there (and in fact, recently caught up with one in Melbourne!). I expanded my horizons, my language abilities, my family and yes, my waistline (we used to joke that AFS stood for ‘another fat student.’) And while there are some ancient photos from that time, they are all analogue and not with me.

I remained involved in the organisation for a few years, and then when we moved to Nowra and I knew absolutely nobody bar my (working) husband and own (infant) child, I got in touch with the local branch and introduced myself. Here, I met another really special friend, Sue. Sue’s job in this volunteer organisation was to find host families for incoming students; mine was to prepare the outgoing ones. And every year she would see me start to waver and want to host a student and she would remind me that no, our little family couldn’t really afford the time or financial commitment for six months or a year. But I became her go-to as a support mum (another person outside the host-family; a kind of counsellor, who has typically also been on exchange), temporary mum (when students were moving between placements); or billet mum (if a student was coming to a regional event in the Shoalhaven). And so that’s why, if you know me, you know I have two biological children, even though Facebook shows me as having five. And that’s why three of those kids are in their thirties when I am only in my forties myself, and why I have four grandchildren (and a fifth coming next month), despite the just-turned-adult nature of my two bio-kids.

So, the upshot of all that is that on Saturday, these two “sisters” will see each other in person for the first time in 18 years.

grace and Jamie
Jamie & Grace, December 2001

Grace  is now married with a daughter of her own, who is almost exactly the same age as Jamie in this photo.

After our whistle-stop tour of Chile, we’re off to Paraguay to see my son Dany and meet his lovely wife and two kids. His daughter is very thoughtfully having her sixth birthday while we are there, so we get to go to a party!

And when we get home, there’s about a week until my other international child has her second baby. I’ve been really fortunate to be able to catch up with Ellyn (and indeed, her entire family) a few times over the years, both in the US and here. And Jamie and I  managed to get to the US to meet her little first little one, so I’m pretty determined to get over there and witness firsthand the new big sister/little brother dynamic.

ellyn bride
The AFS Effect in Action: Bride Ellyn flanked by her Australian “brother” and “mother,” and her actual parents, Marsha and Mike, whom we also love and consider family.

And as for my bio-daughter, my current golden child because she invited me to tag along on her South American adventures? Well, her love of travel might date back to being “impressed” like a chick by these well-travelled older siblings, who came into her life when she was two or three years old. She too became an exchange student via AFS when she was just 15. She had an amazing time in the beautiful Matera region in the South of Italy. You can see the ancient Sassi region, one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world, from the town centre.


Pretty special.

This past (Australian) Summer, she and her brother headed to Europe for nigh on three months. Tony and I joined them for a month over Christmas and New Year, and were  very privileged to spend Christmas with her Italian family.

family in Italy
L, Front to back: Imma (aunt), Luisa (sister), Mariangela (mum), Michele (dad), Cecilia (cousin), Carlo (brother), Pierluca (uncle).
R, Front to back: Anna (sister), Jamie, Robert, Ester (cousin), Kimberley, Tony.

All this to say– there won’t be a post next Wednesday, either. But I will have the very best of excuses!

One thought on “Mea Culpa, and #theafseffect

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