Every week I sit exactly here and wonder what I am going to write. I don’t always know. It’s a constant mild anxiety where my brain filters through the trash to find a little treasure that hasn’t been touched. Some weeks I am fired up by the broader conversations. Other weeks I’ve had people contact me worried about an 87 year old being turfed out of her home. Some weeks I’ve taken my kid to a Xmas Carnival and been appalled by an outdated sexist mural. Other weeks I’ve had to dwell on the sad quiet things in my life, like my kids leaving home. I only have one rule, which is to be open to what the universe offers me when I sit in this chair. To dig into what I have strong feelings about so that I can share them with you. I don’t always hit the mark, but most weeks I think I manage to add a fresh take on an issue that’s not covered in the dominant narrative. Some weeks I think I touch a nerve. I make you feel something. I speak to the discomfort. I see that as my role, to say things that haven’t been said, or tend to get swept under the carpet.
Oh and some weeks I make you laugh. Not every week though. Writing a humorous column felt a bit inane week in and week out. Over the years of writing what now amounts to over 1000 pieces I have broadened the palette. Of course, as it started as a humour column, whenever anyone finds my politics a bit full on, it does open it up for the oft-repeated patronising refrain ‘stick to comedy’. It’s the equivalent of ‘go back to the kitchen’. That’s one of my favourite themes too; Feminism. Or more appropriately – what it’s like to be a woman in a world framed by men. What gives me enormous joy is the number of men who, over the years, write back that they feel exactly the same way as me. While the hideous men get more hideous, it seems there are fewer of them, and a growing voice of reason.
It’s not always easy. Sometimes I know I am going to write about stuff that is going to piss people off and get me some nasty kick back – like 5G or vaccination. I could avoid it, but I think it’s disingenuous to write a column for years and not be transparent about your ideology. By the way, I’m not sponsored by Big Pharma. I’m not in the employ of anyone, except The Echo. There are people who believe things in this town that I don’t believe. Some of them are my friends. We have to learn to live together don’t we? I have had to learn to not take things personally. Even though there might be disagreement, I’ve started what I intended – a robust conversation. I have never been comfortable with confrontation, so writing a column like this in a small town has taught me a lot about not ‘taking stuff on’. Learning to accept people’s dislike of you is as humbling as it is to accept the love and admiration of others.
This year marks 20 years of me writing Soapbox – this column. I have never missed a week. I’m quite obsessive, and having never missed a week, I kind of never intend to. It feels like I’ve been in conversation with my community for two decades. It’s an enormous privilege to have a newspaper publish my thoughts and to have gathered a community of readers around me. Even the readers who hate me still read me every week. You know who you are.
People in the supermarket often approach me, or when I’m coming out of a toilet, or sitting in a coffee shop. They’ll say ‘You must get sick of people coming up and telling you they love what you write’. No. I don’t. No one ever gets sick of gratitude. It’s really lovely. I love to know what has hit home for some people. Sometimes I’ll be crossing the road and someone will wind down a window and tell me something that expands on what I wrote that week. I love that. I love the little gifts. The poems. The funny letters.
So in putting my book together – The Full Mandy – that came into being through the generosity of my supporters on Go Fund Me – I had to go through years and years of my writing. I could see how my tentative self-consciousness gave way to a much broader pitch, something I really credit to my readers. It gave me a sense of enormous gratitude for a community that, whether they love me or loathe me, created a space for a loud-mouthed woman to find her voice. So thank you.
And that lady I wrote about – the 87 year old who was facing homelessness? She got a house. That’s the best feedback of all. When people who read your work feel compelled to make change. It’s only tiny ripples that we make by having these conversations, but they can reach out across the pond. And I should warn you, I have a lot more rocks in my bucket!
The Full Mandy is being launched at The Byron Services Club on Thursday 17 December at 6.30pm with a witty chat and rowdy repertoire hosted by Mark Swivel. Books will be available for purchase at the launch – or at the front desk of The Echo. You can also purchase copies from my website: mandynolan.com.au
And if you bought a copy on Go Fund Me… I will get your book to you. I am slowly driving around the Shire delivering them like some sort of Mandy Claus.