Pronouns: The Good, the Bad, and the Downright Obnoxious!

by Elizabeth Darling

Walking in the paddock last month, I turned too quickly and collided with a tree trunk. After the blood was staunched and concussion checked for, stitches and plasters were tracked across my cheek. I had a swollen eye socket, the eye completely closed, blood in my hair. Black, blue, green, and purple bruising bloomed down my face and neck. I could not see myself clearly in a glass but could see darkly in the faces of people I passed that I was an object of horror, worthy of pity. Covid made it impossible for people to reach out to hug me. The experience has left me with some issues to resolve.

After the bloodletting, there was frantic texting between myself and my hairdresser. 8 texts it took for us to arrange for a time when he could wash the blood from my hair without dampening the stitches.

e.g.? @8am😩🥲

In my 80th year, I suspect that current language usage, personal and appropriate, is changing too fast for me. I am currently tutoring a 16-year-old student, Isobella. We failed an online essay together despite all my degrees and English teaching experience. Meanwhile, working on a commission to illustrate a research paper, there is an intriguing little footnote to the letter of instruction. I found the phrase “preferred pronoun, she, hers.” Isobella carefully explained to me that there is an individual in her class whom she knew in Primary school as “She” but who now identifies as “He”. My flippant response that this must make marking the roll and writing reports difficult was not well received. Gender Identity is to be taken very seriously. I, for one, am confused by the increasing use of ‘they’ rather than him/ her. But I have also learnt that pronouns matter. And I know emphatically that I am not a ‘we’.

After my accidental encounter with the tree trunk, I  presented for an x-ray at the local hospital. The technician assured me there was still a brain there, but also a fracture of the cheekbone. “Oh, “ said the girl at reception who checked through the various cards, Medicare, private health care, driving licence, and so on, “have we had a Fall?”. Was she reaching for the extension number for the old people’s care home, or maybe, she, not I, was seeing double. For the next 2 weeks until the bruises faded I was ‘We’d’ on and off too often.

When people begin to address one as WE it’s time to stand up straight and shout. I may be old, I might have trouble with computer-driven bill paying, form filling, banking, information collection, even passing a year 11 online essay, but I have the right to the respectful use of the correct pronoun.

The kids have left; the dog has died. Is it time to downsize?

by Helen Elliott

Sibylesque Monet quoteWe decided to downsize. The children had left, the dogs had died, as had one cat. The other was thinking about it. The garden, my adored, beloved garden was making me anxious and there was the problem of Upstairs. Upstairs, where the children had lived so happily all those years was now where I hurled anything I didn’t use but was too lazy to pitch out. Or sentimental. Upstairs was over my head. I never went there if I could help it but it hovered, symbolic of a paralysing weight .

So why not sell when someone knocked on the door, said they were in love with your house and garden and here’s an offer you can’t refuse. We didn’t. In three months we were in a flat.

Garden mount-macedon

Oh. What do you do with a grandchild in a flat? Sure, we could walk in the Botanical gardens, find playgrounds, sit in cafes, go to museums. But something was shockingly out of kiltre. These lovely places were public, not personal. I couldn’t say: “Grandma planted that kolkwitzia twenty years ago”. Why was I waking in tears every morning, dreaming of my old garden? And why did I feel my hands and feet were cut off, disabled by my inability to step out onto the earth and into that intimate natural space I had been creating for over two decades?

Helen in her garden

Helen in her garden

Life is change, I know this. But my change was in the wrong direction. I heard that word “de-natured” and everything made sense. Without nature at my door I was a shadow of myself. It made me think hard about nature in the lives of my small grand children.

Two years, two flats later we decided to upsize. An acre, a tranquil house, a stream, a pond, a vegetable garden. I have never been happier. And the grandchildren know about this thrilling thing called The Country.

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Helen Elliot 2Helen Elliott is a thoughtful and analytical reader, informed and soulful writer and unyielding literary critic for many Australian newspapers. She is also a dedicated gardener.

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