I love the idea of wildfire. Intentional wildfire that reduces undergrowth and prepares the place for risks of fire season. I conduct an inner wildfire when I feel things getting on top of me.
My first wildfire was completely over whelming. I was nervous. Got caught in the middle of it. Needed help from strangers. Had no idea how to accomplish it. Only saw its value in the aftermath.
I had tried various methods to reset. To shake myself out of the ruts, stories and patterns I’ve held about myself so long I barely recognise them. To snap the insidious ‘lady leash’, that part of me that acquiesces, worries about what other people think, and is disconnected from her power source.
Turns out the wildfire that works for me is exposure. Literally.
I’ve danced naked on stage for Trilogy, feminist theatre by Nic Green. I’ve been ‘stage kitty’ for a private burlesque show with Miss Nellie Minnelli. I’ve been photographed for a Spencer Tunick mass nude.
Now I conduct wildfire at every opportunity. Wildfire that acknowledges my experience and warms up my naughtiness. I put myself fully in the public glare. I dare myself. A wildfire that pumps my heart so hard I can’t hear anything else.
A fire that sears the hurt of my younger self that never suspected a woman’s wildfire has such power.
I haven’t shown my body much to anyone after the time I was about thirteen. Don’t wear singlets in public. Hate bathers. Even have short sleeve boleros for halter necks.
It wasn’t anything dramatic. I was at a friends house. The children in the lounge room. The adults in the kitchen. My ears can hear grass grow, so I heard them when they whispered. I was ‘a big girl’, ‘developing’, wearing a dress that ‘did me no favours’. I was 13.
Those few words were early weeds. As a child I gave them board and easy recall. And not just these words. Many other hurts were landed, both freely accepted and forced. And as a young woman I understood my body was not my friend.
A grown woman now I can intellectualise that hurt. Isolate it. But it was still a weed. Harmless at first but the longer they grow the more dangerous they become. So I plant wildfire every now and again, to scorch away the hurt. And to fire me up. How dare anyone comment on a child’s body. Any body.
Each wildfire season I feel selfish. A bit silly. I teeter with the match in my hand. I talk myself into it, and out of it. And back into it. And then I light it. And I know it’s about my insides, not my outsides.
It’s an acknowledgment of the years I’ve taken to get here, and the survivals big and small. It’s about the experience with other women, shared, laughed and willed into place. And I see it is about love.
The latest wildfire is ‘500 Strong‘ (aka Flesh After 50) a project that will include 500 nude portraits of women over the age of fifty. Real bodies. Shot by inimitable Ponch Hawkes, in her studio in North Melbourne.
Other friends love wildfire too. We share the opportunity. Dare each other. Gently cajole. ‘It’ll be great!’ ‘Go on, I am.’ ‘Will you cover your face?’ ‘So excited.’
I arrange to meet a wildfire friend before her session. And we talk. About her. About me. About mothers and circuses. And about Ponch.
And somehow talk about how Albury Railway Station has the longest platform in the southern hemisphere. We briefly talk about gunzels. I thought it was an endearing term. It’s not. A torrid tangent.
We talk about bodies. We look at the other women in the street. Who is heading to meet Ponch? Go nude? Like us. In our glory. Silver foxes in loose clothes. They are surprisingly easy to identify.
“I’m taking a hat to cover my face. What are you using?” She says.
“I can’t say. I have something planned. But I don’t have words.” Because if I do use words, I’ll use weed words. I’ll say it’s stupid, not worth the effort, too much about me, not enough about the project, why am I doing it, its stupid. And so am I. So I don’t say them.
Inside though I’m excited to watch the words burn, as I fly.
I need wildfire to raze those words. And they singe and char and are destroyed, completely. I feel beautiful, and strong. I am full of love and admiration.
During my session with Ponch she turns off the dimmer and the chandelier burns intensely, on full. A dimmer switch isn’t needed for such bright glaring flashes of fabulous.
I burn my naked arm on one of the bulbs. I’m thankful it wasn’t where skin is more tender. It seems apt to have a wildfire scar.
And after my session I tell my friend. “At this age I am in my glory. So I held a lit chandelier because they throw glory. A hand-fan for the hot flushes. And a head full of flowers. My pose inspired by the Columbia Pictures woman, but facing the other way!”
“And Ponch said my choice of pose and props is inspired.” Words I have taken in and given residence. These are tree words, not weed words.
My friend replies “We need to keep honouring ourselves and never stop. There is such rigid societal pressure on womens bodies to meet a standard, at every age. A spurious standard. This project is a powerful challenge to social expectations forced on older women.” She has great tree words!
I’m not sure there will be a time when I won’t need wildfire. It’s not about the weeds but the fire. The thrill of intense feelings and wild colours. The excitement of planting a forest at the same time as burning the weeds.
500 Strong – an exhibition of portraits, a variety of talks, forums, events and functions will be held in 2020. Sign up here.
Before I go to my session my beautiful Mick* plays a song for me.
*Mick would like it known he did not get nude at any point.