This collage is comprised of the graffiti on the building opposite my house, the sign outside my house which is illuminated at night and a message sent via Facebook messenger to my youngest son. The message was sent in September, I think the graffiti arrived in July or August this year.
When I first saw the eye symbol I felt a chill. It was too close to me. I noticed the one on the sign outside my house the following day as I was coming back from shopping in town. I posted my misgivings on twitter and people, quite rightly, said it was probably a coincidence, the name of a local band or the tag of someone spraying graffiti. I went back to trying to forget it. Trying to avoid looking at it each evening, as I drove up to it and then reversed onto my drive. My car lights illuminating the two eyes and a nose that the person had drawn to represent my name on twitter. I had a grudging respect for the person who had done it. It was clever, they had obviously spent some time thinking about it, perhaps drawing and redrawing it until it was both readable and symbolic. The one on the sign outside my door was more hurried, done at the extension of someone’s reach, nossel pointing upwards, the paint less controlled. It was quick, dirty, and determined.
I learned to live with it but it began to eat at me. Somehow it seemed to have a malevolent power – it sparked fear, an invasive sense of unease. I felt exposed and vulnerable again.
And then I got a message from my daughter telling me that my son had received the message from Tomas Bell which detailed my twitter account and that from there she had seen my blog. It was a kind message, she tried not to blame me for it, but she said ‘why are you doing this on the internet? Don’t you know that people will say this about you?’ She reiterated that she and her brother didn’t care – you can see from the clip of the message above he asks why they are telling him this and points out that I am a grown woman. But the shame I felt came up from the ground to meet me. I could feel my stomach drop and my sense of myself as a good person leach away with every reminder.
The shock sent waves through me every-time it came back into focus in my mind. I immediately locked my twitter account and made my blog private. I couldn’t decide what to do about it, I cycled between shutting it all down, making it all private and culling my twitter, and tears of impotent rage and upset at this terrible sense of being seen as bad, or flawed, or stupid by people I cared about. At this point I investigated methods of clearing up twitter accounts and failed because I couldn’t think clearly enough to see what needed to be done. The shame silenced me again and I was unable to reach out to people to get help. I stopped taking and posting pictures. My internal monologue became critical, calling me names, telling me I was stupid to want to do this, that it was evidence of my flawed state, that I would never be redeemed from this. I told my housemate because I felt she needed to know that someone was targeting me and had got so close to home in all senses. She was supportive but honestly struggled to understand what this account was about and why I would court this potential exposure in this way.
Feelings I had worked so hard to move away from in the previous few years and thought I had got under control reasserted themselves. I could feel myself being pulled into the dark undertow of a life spent hiding again and began to frame it as being able to reclaim my sense of being a good mother if I got rid of all the evidence that I was a sexually active woman with a strong streak of exhibitionism.
I started to try to work out who Tomas Bell might be, the account had been shut down straight after sending the message. I did google and facebook searches but couldn’t find anything conclusive. My son had a friend who spelt his name Tomas, could it be him? what was the connection to the school? Who would want to do this?
I had the details but I had chosen not to actually see what the message said. It wasn’t until yesterday that I summoned the strength to ask my love to send it to me. He had been sent it by my daughter at my request. Again the shock waves came over me. I am an old woman, and I am repulsive and making people sick with my posts. Any pretence that I am engaged in an artistic or creative act is just that, a pretence. I should act my age and stop showing off.. Over and over again in my head, the refrain ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ and the sick-face emoji showing the level of disgust I created in others.
It was a swirling pit of self criticism and I trawled twitter looking for evidence that I was bad and it was every-where. Women calling other women disgusting for posting pictures of their boobs, implying they were disease-ridden if they were sexually active outside of a traditional relationship. Setting up a hierarchy of body parts that said if I post pictures of my stockinged legs I am racy and attractive, if I post pictures of my boobs or full nudity I am ‘thirsty’, or dirty, or disgusting. Men either hitting on people or if they didn’t get the answer they wanted becoming aggressive. It was a minefield, and I grappled with opinions that I didn’t want to hold but that seemed to be being dredged up from deep in my experience and memory.
I began to find a foothold in this hardpressed place as Christmas approached. I realised I wasn’t going to see any of my adult children at Christmastime and I remembered the family Christmas years and then the deserted ones that followed. The harsh reality of being so cut away from my home and them, and how this blog and my twitter account had allowed me to create meaning in the meaningless world I found myself in. And I realised that this person, whoever it was, wanted to see me remain in that cut off place and was actively seeking to make me cut myself off again from the people and the creativity I found both within myself and apparent here. I realised that if I was putting my images up in a gallery as part of an exhibition it would have a air of both daring and respectability that would be protective against this kind of shaming. I also realised that two pieces of my writing have been part of published books and that has been achieved from the experiences I have had and the people I have met here. By stepping out of the comfort zone of being a ‘good’ wife and mother and by daring to be me.
It became apparent that I was not going to let this attack stop me, in fact I was going to use the power and energy directed against me to fuel a new connection to my work here. I moved to self hosting and a new theme. In the next year I am going to be more disciplined about writing and creating because I believe this matters and that it actually what matters.
Which brings me to #CancelJaneyGodley . Last night I saw Janey stand up against bullies and use their own energy against them. Rangers fans sought to cow her with the hashtag and instead of being cowed she used it to sell more tickets and as the inspiration for her next shows. She knows who she is, knows she is loved and that her comedy is enjoyed. I found it inspiring and a call to action for me.
So I can say right here, right now, that I am going to carry on being subversive. This means coming out of hiding with regard to my family so that they can support me even if they don’t understand me because I know they love me. I want to reframe the narrative around aging and sexuality and attractiveness. I want to carry on using my own experiences to create new work. I want to collaborate with others and not hide behind being too busy or too far away. I want to make this a priority in my life as it feeds me.
Possibly the biggest action I am going to take is to report this to the police on Monday. It is probably too late for any active trail to be found, however I need to stand up for myself to quell the voices that tell me that I have brought this on myself because I have a strong hunch about who it is.
So, if you are reading this now, you can no longer make me keep silent about this because of guilt and shame. I am eye and I take back my power and choice to see and be seen.
I did report this to the police. They were supportive but also mentioned that they had seen this graffitti elsewhere. An anonymous commenter on my blog also pointed this out by sending a link to an article about this in my local paper. Most of it appears to be close to my house but it does mean that this might not be targeting me. The person has not been caught, neither has the person who sent the facebook message to my son mentioned above.
I am not going to withdraw this post as I believe that my response still stands. I needed to update this for my own well-being and sense of integrity.
Thank you for the support I received from this post. I really appreciate it.