Uni holidays for dummies

Content Warnings:

  • trauma
  • family dysfunction
  • the psychology of storytelling and of writers
  • horses
  • university retraumatisation/triggers
  • grief
  • child torture and abuse

Well, the nonsense of my first semester back at uni is far behind me now. I still haven’t checked my uni email since ghosting a conversation with a terribly immature and spiteful Doctor of Psychology when she was trying her darndest to engage me in a juvenile tit-for-tat conversation that had nothing to do with anything except for her ego. God knows how long she argued with herself in my inbox before I gave up trying to gentle-parent her through the conflict she had decided was necessary. When I finally log back into Outlook and see what is probably a flood of ridiculous emails from her, I shall be deleting them without reading any of them. Sad to come across someone so unprofessional who does our discipline such a disservice, but it is what it is, and those people are, most unfortunately, everywhere. It’s just a shame to see that the prevalence of said personalities is just as high in a discipline which purports to know itself – and others – better.

My god, I’ve never watched so much television in my life. I’d be embarrassed about that, but I don’t give many fucks about what people think. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. If I want to see what stories people are telling, I will. Television got real good in the last few years, as it turns out.

I’m now a month or so into my holidays, and I was enjoying myself immensely until Christmas came along. I had torn the patio to pieces and was rebuilding it when we stopped spending anything, so now I have a half-ripped-up patio sitting there and no means with which to fix it. Kinda looks like someone took to it with a sledgehammer in a fit of rage. Oh, well. Next year.

I’ve been working pretty hard on myself now that I have the time to. Until last week I was attending therapy weekly and we were unpacking some old themes that haven’t been examined in some years. We had got as far as kinda opening all the drawers and making an appraisal of the stuff that needs some work, but (for the same reason I can’t fix the patio anymore) I can’t go back to therapy until next year. In the meantime, I’m just using whatever time I can scavenge out of my day to reflect on a fair few things and try to bundle all the thought-journeys I’m taking into rough themes. I can’t actually do any therapeutic work until next year… we only had enough sessions to really look at what’s sore and needing attention. Then we stopped. It kinda feels like I’ve got a gaping wound at the moment, because the therapeutic process has been disrupted at a critical point where the exploratory surgery has taken place and the actual work was about to begin. Oh well. I’ve endured worse and I’ll survive it somehow. But I’m a bit depressed. I felt like I was going somewhere and about to embark on some pretty important trauma healing under the expert guidance of my psychologist, who remains ***awesome***.

It’s interesting how much you begin to appreciate storytellers anew after you reach a certain point in the road of psychology studies. You will find that you get the odd university assignment that asks you to select a fictional character and make an analysis of their personality and behaviour and trauma and so on. It does make me wonder, firstly, how many writers come out of a B.A. but with a few units in psychology to kick ’em off… or perhaps they have entire psychology degrees. Maybe, more often than not, they’ve had to find their road into adulthood out of dysfunctional families, and writing stories or telling the truths of the world via documentary filmmaking is their way of figuring out what happened to them earlier in life, and how the psychological half-life of dysfunction and trauma rolls out across the lifespan. So many times, I’ve viewed a documentary made by someone who is searching with remarkable energy for others like themselves. The capacity of a human being for that search really is something to see. And it’s not like they always have the self-awareness to see that this is what their process is. Even the wisest storytellers need a therapist to pose those questions sometimes. I have found along the way that I have a particular leaning towards supporting those in old age to undergo a life review process and find loads of goodies they can feel good about when they look back over the things they’ve done. Sometimes, I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much and have such energy for it. We all need to reflect on our lives with some sense of achievement and purpose… that’s the obvious one… but why do I love it so much that I do it for free? What deeper meaning am I searching for, as a storyteller? How am I seeking to reassure myself? Surely I’m above such basic fears as that of mortality and meaninglessness. Perhaps not.

I’ve been fascinated by a writer by the name of Taylor Sheridan, who (among other things) dreamed up “Yellowstone”. The fact that he pretty much writes stories to pay for his passion for horses is telling to me, too. Anyone who partners with horses over and over again to achieve (almost) complete trust is someone I know well and can sit down with like I’ve known ’em a thousand years. It takes one to know one, and someone whose dedication to their horses is all-consuming is a figure I have met time and again, as well as having lived that life myself. Where life gave me a shit sandwich or a punch in the face to choose from as a kid, a skinny grey with a nasty buck gave me hope. He’d had people kick the crap out of him for no reason his whole life and didn’t trust anyone. Humans had given him no reason to believe we would ever make sense or be consistent. But I tried to show him he could trust me. And he didn’t just listen because he had no choice. I could see that he was listening because he wanted to give me a shot and that I could tell him anything without fear of judgement, or wilful misinterpretation, or outright sadistic torture. As a 15 year old, I’d never had anyone treat me with such openness.

Anyway… we were inseperable. I couldn’t wait to come home from school and be with him. I woke up every morning excited to put my boots on and go feed him and take him for a walk out along the fenceline as the sun came up, even if the frost was biting so bad my gloves would freeze up in the shape of my hold on the reins. We’d go off up over the hill where nobody was monitoring us and thinking the worst of us all the time.

He liked those morning trots up to Joshua Road and back. His ears would be really pricked and a spring would be in his step in some way that told me these dawn jaunts were his favourite rides. He liked when the trackwork riders next door would bring the racers around the track in his direction. I swear he laughed when they got spooky at his ghostly form in the morning mist. Together we saw the sunrise and felt good, even if I did have to go off to school where all hell broke loose on a daily basis.

I’d never felt like that about life before. Some part of me hopes he knew he had gifted me that hope.

The first being I could ever trust was a horse. I can imagine that like my own early life, over there in the absurd and confusing society of American screen and cinema, it could be easy to choose a horse instead.

Maybe Taylor Sheridan’s just trying to make meaning of what family and loyalty really can mean and from different perspectives. Maybe a daughter’s complicated grief following a mother’s sudden death can trigger off personality stuff that mightn’t have otherwise arisen. Maybe that becomes someone else’s trauma. Maybe she becomes someone else’s complicated grief. And the whole time, horses are at the service of the family. Silent, wise old witnesses to the fall of an empire that was built on stolen land. Maybe we all have to fall, inevitably, one way or another, when we built a castle upon the unreconciled intergenerational trauma of others. Maybe man is the coloniser and Country (and her first Peoples) are the horse. Maybe we decided it was a “partnership” when it wasn’t a partnership at all. Tom’s trying to preserve the dignity of his people by beating the white man at his own capitalist game, but building a casino to fleece the white man of money he decided was superfluous in the first place is still just the act of a desperate group, backed into a desperate corner, telling themselves the house will win in the end.

This writing is just so clever and such a mirror for Americans to measure their consciences by. It’s a very American story, but of course, we can all take something from it. You can find sympathy for everyone in this dynamic. You can even find sympathy for John Dutton, whose disproportionately powerful position affords him the ability to turn away from injustices and make excuses for not being able to listen to others less fortunate than himself.

Sheridan doesn’t really tell you what to think. He’s leaving it up to you.

Except, perhaps, in the case of environmental activist Summer, who, at the time of writing this blog entry, is living in the Yellowstone as a guest of the Duttons, a fish out of water, finding herself with a black eye (thanks to Beth) and rapidly-fizzling relevance. But… her arc is not yet complete. Maybe she has a lesson to teach the Duttons in the end. We shall have to wait and see.

I’ve read that Sheridan’s beginnings were a fair few underwhelming casting calls and a few parts that weren’t that exciting and that this led to a feeling of, “Ok. I might try this ‘writing’ gig out for size…” I can’t remember where I read that, but when I first saw the maiden season of “Yellowstone”, I went straight to the credits to find out who made this story. Turns out I’d been lookin’ at him in a small role he’d put into it as an excuse to natter on about horses (I mean, it’s understandable…) It turns out that he’s amazing at writing. But it’s quite clear to me from the outside that it’s not the showbiz stuff he’s after (and after my comparable disillusionment with the shitty bad apples in the entertainment industry in my own country, I can see why). He’s fascinated with psychology.

The more great stories I view in this new world of television and cinema that I’ve been exploring with my partner, the more it seems like people write stories to find meaning… to make sense of deeply personal things. Yeah, it pays okay, but only after the gamble of years of time and emotion. And the humiliation of shopping the idea to a million people who will look down their nose at you.

Actors are storytellers, too. So often, you hear them talking sympathetically about a character they’re portraying when they do a media interview. The very best actors have the language (within or extraneous to the actual script) and the lived experience from which to draw a performance, and I wish that actors could be free of the ridiculousness of celebrity and media so that I could more easily understand how the craft of storytelling works from their perspective. I’m probably the wrong person to be a therapist to celebrities, because I have such strong lived experience of the “business” myself and would be too reactive to their complaints. There’s such a thing in the therapeutic dynamic as being too ready to jump in with furious agreement when a client says that something bothers them or outright traumatised them. You will add instant fuel to the fire of that conversation, bringing the dynamic to a high heat that is very difficult to bring down and construct a foundation from which to heal. To my limited knowledge, there is a time and a place for modelling passionate outrage at something, and that is when a survivor of trauma or some sort of injustice does not seem to feel permitted to express appropriate anger or recognition of those injustices and traumas.

Anyway, the day is getting away from me a bit, and that’s enough non-book writing for this beautiful mild Sydney day.

If you’re Taylor Sheridan and somehow self-Googled your way into finding this blog entry, firstly THANK YOU for choosing to write, and thank you for educating people on why horses are for some of us the lifeline we’ve needed at times to survive this world. I haven’t got a buck to my name (in either definition of the word) and nor have I got a horse these days, but the lessons I’ve learned alongside a horse’s big old face (and on his back) are some of the most valuable of my life. Seems maybe you got to see that, too.


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