Issue #14 / December 2018
There is a photograph. You are wearing checked pants; you have your arm around a woman who appears to be stately and warm, in a very beautiful understated woollen coat. I think it is your mother. May I ask what was the most helpful advice she gave you? What of her words do you hold dear?
CATHERINE, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
Please tell me something that will help me not care when people stare at me because I look different to everybody else?
BAM, BRIGHTON, UK
Dear Catherine and Bam,
My mother gave me much advice over the years on how to live a decent life. Sadly, I didn’t take that much notice of it. Mostly though, she simply allowed me to be myself, to make my own mistakes and to find my own way. She served, and still serves, as a reminder that it is entirely possible to lead an ethical life where we can be kind and careful and welcoming and, most of all, take responsibility for our actions and not complain or blame others for our own misfortunes. She continues to lead a life of great integrity – she is ninety-two – but it is not without a certain acerbic humour and a wry eye for the absurdities of the world.
But there was one piece of advice my mother gave me some years ago that affected me deeply and was of enormous practical value in my life. I can’t tell you how often I have brought it to mind and acted accordingly, and how much strength and moral fortitude it has afforded me. So often I have read questions in The Red Hand Files from people who feel lost, marginalised, lonely, scared of their creative impulses, freakish, less than, manipulated, silenced, bullied at school and all the rest, and my mother’s words often come to mind.
I had been awarded an honorary doctorate by Monash University in Melbourne and my mother accompanied me to the university to receive it. I was feeling a little intimidated by the whole thing because I was stepping out of my rock ‘n’ roll comfort zone, in-to the academic sphere and the whole affair had me feeling quite uncomfortable. I mentioned this to my mother, and as we stepped out of the car into the university grounds, she said,
“Head high and fuck ‘em all.”
I am passing this crucial piece of maternal wisdom on to you Bam and Catherine – and to the rest of you out there. It is my mother’s gift to you.