Canberra stories

Somewhere, over the rainbow


I thought I was doing ok during this ridiculous, divisive debate in which my “fellow’ Australians are being asked to make a decision about my life, my rights as a fellow Australian citizen, and therefore give their opinion about my relationship and my family.  The survey arrived the other week and I left it on the table for days, I couldn’t bring myself to complete it.  It felt like I was in denial and I kept asking myself “how can this be happening”?

We eventually ticked the boxes and posted them off. I didn’t feel the least bit celebratory, though we took the obligatory photo of the pieces of paper that asked us to validate our own existence; these expensive pieces of paper that have been delivered to millions of strangers so they can pass judgement on us.

Anyway, I thought I was ok. I had been buoyed by the polls in the last few years that told me 75% of my fellow Australians thought same sex marriage was long overdue. I was hopeful that our elected representatives would do what they were paid to do – lead the country, make decisions for the good of the nation, refuse to allow hatred and discrimination to inform their decisions.

Yet no, here we are with a non-binding, non-compulsory, astronomically expensive postal survey that has been shown to have no integrity (think stolen surveys, undelivered mail, envelopes dumped in the rain) and that has revealed a dark and hateful side of our populace. Sanctioned by a gutless government that refused to show leadership, a hypocritical government that refused to stand for equal rights.  We’ve quickly became an Orwellian nation: all citizens are equal, except well, obviously, the gays are not as equal…and don’t get me started on those transgender ones…

I tell myself everyday not to read the newsfeeds and definitely don’t scroll down and read the comments, but it’s compelling stuff. Maybe I’ve been naïve living here in the bubble that is the Republic of Canberra, surrounded by people who are loving, kind, open-hearted, progressive and fairly egalitarian.  The news, the posts and the comments devastate me. I read about people being bashed, being yelled at on public transport, I hear the “No” campaigners whine about being bullied (I mean, really? Really?). I read about people’s houses being vandalised, rocks thrown through windows, and vile language used to describe gay people – disgusting derogatory terms I haven’t heard for a very long time. I see how sad my friends are, I see how their mental health suffers and I feel how hurt we all are.

Every day my heart breaks a little bit more. I love my partner; we chose to commit to each other and we have built a life together; we celebrate and cherish all that we have. We have family and friends who love us.  Yet there is this seething underbelly in the community that hates us, loathes our very existence, makes a seemingly simple question give them permission to spew vitriol over us.

What are they so afraid of?


*Photo credit: Google

The brides wore purple…and black!

Today is a very significant anniversary of a very personal, yet political act. Come with me, I’d like to share it with you…

After 4 months of whirlwind preparation, 1 April 2010 dawned bright and clear…a gorgeous autumn day and the beginning of the Easter weekend…it was the day of our Civil Partnership Ceremony, though we loudly and proudly called it a wedding – and a wedding it was for sure!

We were two brides – who were “given away” and “walked down the aisle” by our Mums; there was a bevy of brides’ babes including a best woman and a best bride dude; and a beautiful throng of family and friends who witnessed a very personal; and very special ceremony at the National Portrait Gallery here in Canberra.  Our celebrant was Judy Aulich, one of the first registered Civil Partnership Notaries in the ACT.  We even had our photos taken with Labor MLAs Andrew Barr (now Chief Minister) and Simon Corbell – one of which was published in the Canberra Times (who’d have thought we’d be Page 3 girls!) Our ceremony was intimate, our vows to each other were emotional and heartfelt and I’m told there “wasn’t a dry eye in the house!” We had flowers, and a string quartet, and champagne and a sit down dinner. There were messages from some who couldn’t make it; and a bag-pipe playing uncle in the UK sent us a video because he promised he’d pipe at our wedding. We had a band and dancing, there were speeches and songs, some tears, and much laughter. It was a big bash; a very big, important deal.

Why did we do it? A myriad of reasons. Because we could. Because we live in the ACT where our relationship could be legally recognised and celebrated. And mostly because we love each other and we wanted to celebrate that love with people who in turn loved us and cared about us. And maybe because we are both Leos.  And also because, well…“the personal is political”.

Perhaps not many couples would think that having a wedding or getting married is a political act – it is a tradition of human society after all, a contract that men and women have been entering into for many centuries; it’s been a heterosexual rite of passage for a very long time.  For us, having our partnership legally recognised is both a personal and political act – we have brought our personal lives, as a same-sex couple, into the political arena.

In the ACT, prior to November 2009 we could not have a ceremony, led by a duly registered celebrant, which legally recognised our partnership.  That we were being prevented from marrying saddened us immensely. Over the years we have witnessed straight friends marry and we were, and are, very happy for them. However, there was also sorrow (and if we are honest, envy, as well) that we couldn’t celebrate in the ways that they could, and we felt sad (I usually cried) when the celebrants at friends’ weddings would announce: “marriage in this country is between a man and a woman”.  So, we were overjoyed when in late 2009, the ACT Government, with a strong push from the ACT Greens, (and no support from the Federal Labor government) were finally able to enact legislation that enabled same-sex couples to legally celebrate their unions.  And then we made our announcement to our families, and the planning for our wedding began!

So we, the brides, wore purple and black. We looked fabulous! Our gorgeous brides’ babes wore sexy, flirty 50’s- inspired black matte taffeta halter necked swing dresses, and the brides’ dude was handsome in an immaculate black suit and shirt with a purple tie and pocket handkerchief. The youngest member of our bridal party, our little “ring-bringer”,(who incidentally has two mums), wore purple sequins on her white and pink dress.  Our guests included our Mothers; friends and family from all over the globe: Israel, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Wagga-Wagga, the North and Central coasts, Ballarat, and London! And of course all our loved ones from our fair city as well.  We are thankful to them all for helping to make our special day such a wonderful and significant occasion.

There’s still a way to go in Australia before all relationships are considered politically, legally and socially equal. My partner and I can’t yet say we are “married” (though we do!)

As I said in my speech at the wedding:

“Just as once our society didn’t consider Indigenous Australians citizens of their own countries, and inter-racial marriage was frowned on, we believe that the discrimination that still prevents same sex couples from being married will one day no longer exist and we will be able to say to our grand-children: “would you believe that your grandmother and I weren’t even allowed to get married in the early 21st century!!??”

Happy anniversary to us!

“Compassion with Fashion”: mental health+people+music+gorgeous designs

Compassion isn’t often a word we hear in the same sentence as “Fashion”, so when I first heard of this event, I was intrigued. A Canberra mother and daughter duo had an idea, and that idea crystallised into a fashion parade to raise awareness and funds for mental health. The mother, Erika Zorzit, witnessed her daughter Paris, a young model, being bullied and harassed at school and on social media and supported Paris to find help to deal with the resultant anxiety and depression that followed. Then, “Compassion with Fashion” was born. I was delighted to be invited to speak at the event as a mental health practitioner – here’s what I had to say:

Good evening everyone and thank you Erika for the invitation to speak tonight.

This evening  gives me an opportunity to share with you some of the experiences we’ve had over the years in our clinical practice that complements the work of Compassion with Fashion . At Life Unlimited (our practice name) we specialise in treating depression, anxiety and trauma-related mental health issues, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These conditions come about for a variety of very serious reasons, such as war and combat, sexual assault, and domestic violence. We work with mostly an adult population of clients.

However, in the last few years we are increasingly seeing younger people in our practice whose wise – or perhaps frightened – parents are taking notice of how their children’s mental health is faring in an age of unprecedented technological growth; violence saturated TV, games and movies; the rise and rise of social media and the ever-present spectre of cyber-bullying – all issues that their parents did not have to deal with at the same age.

We’re seeing children as young as ten with eating disorders, teenage girls who are convinced that they need surgery to fix some errant body part, young people who feel stressed and anxious about what their peers think of them based on what they do or don’t look like. And we see adults hamstrung by a perception that they just aren’t good enough because their appearance, behaviour or knowledge doesn’t fit someone else’s norm.

According to last year’s national survey of young people, conducted by Mission Australia, coping with stress was the top issue of concern, with body image coming in third after school or study problems.  Unaddressed, we know this can lead to adults struggling with stress, study or work problems, and body image.

Because of tonight’s theme and the drivers leading to this fabulous event, let me share some brief thoughts about body image, mental health and some of the ways we work with our clients.

It strikes me that each year, we seem to get a new name for those unruly bits of our bodies that women especially, are expected to subdue with diet and exercise.  Remember the muffin top? Geez, if you had one of those you were doomed. And last year we had the advent of the “thigh gap”, aided and abetted by Photoshop and airbrushing, and no doubt for many women, extreme diet and exercise!  There’s also a thing called the “Bikini Bridge” – look it up, it really is a thing – I have no words right now to talk about that!  And gents, you are certainly not off the hook, there are plenty of sources on the internet that tell you if you haven’t got a pec implant, a calf re-sculpture or your neck hair removed, well apparently, you are not a 21st century man!

However, do you know what this year’s hands-down, most unruly body part is? Apparently, we now have to get rid of a pesky part of our anatomy called the mons pubis – that’s the soft fleshy bit under our pubic bones – feel free to find it ladies, maybe in the privacy of your own home but here if you want to.  I mean, there’s a really good reason it’s there – like cushioning and protecting our pubic bone and our reproductive organs!!  But we’re now being told that we can have surgery to rid ourselves of our fat/huge/enlarged/gross mons pubis!!

You know, mention any body part and we can point to someone who is making a great deal of money by telling us that we look wrong and we need to “fix” ourselves. We are exhorted to work it out, tone it, tan it, bleach it, tattoo it, cut it, cauterise it, remove all the hair, replace it, enhance it, get rid of anything that just might jiggle.  Body-shaming is big business.

Read any popular magazine or e-zine and we find that exercise has absolutely no status anymore as a pleasurable activity. It’s another way for us to manipulate our bodies, another vehicle of self-torture. It seems exercise is less about being healthy and feeling good in our skin than about an emphasis on looking good to others, or fitting some warped image of what we think is sexy or “ideal”. When we focus on how we look rather than how we feel, we’re much more at risk of flogging our bodies for the sake of beauty.

A relentless pursuit of a “bikini body” is not likely to give us a lasting relationship with our bodies. Nor is it any kind of sustainable health pursuit. To get a truly joyful relationship with our bodies, we need to focus more on our internal experiences, not the external.

When a woman comes to our practice, and we start defining her therapy and health goals, many women put “I want to lose weight” somewhere near the top of the list.  There are a couple of things I say in response – and one seems pretty brutal. “You know”, I say, “losing weight is a dead person’s goal; I guarantee you will lose weight when you are dead”.

Then I ask: What about in the meantime? What about now? What would your life look like if you did lose the ten kilos or however much you think you need to lose? Invariably we get answers like these: I will be fitter. I’ll have more energy. I’ll be able to run around with my kids. I’ll feel better. My health will improve.

So, instead of focussing on losing weight, we focus on gaining life.  What do you need to do to get fitter, what activities give you more energy? If you never had to think about losing weight again, what would you do differently?  Some of the “aha” moments our clients get when they answer these questions are sometimes funny, sometimes sad and poignant.  Here’s a few examples:

If I never had to think about losing weight again…

  • I’d go to the gym/beach/the river/the mountains
  • I’d wear a bikini and go swimming – maybe I’d skip the suit and skinny-dip!
  • I’d make love to my partner
  • I’d dance/I’d run/I’d hike
  • I’d audition for a play/join a choir/learn an instrument
  • I wouldn’t be depressed/anxious/stressed
  • I’d enrol in uni
  • I’d look for a new job
  • I would love summer
  • I’d wear sleeveless shirts
  • I’d go overseas
  • I’d be in the photo instead of taking it
  • I’d stop avoiding people
  • I wouldn’t hide anymore

We soon see how very life limiting the whole idea of “losing weight” is. All these answers our clients bring are about living life, engaging with people, places and things that have meaning and bring them joy and purpose. Once we become clear about what is really and truly important, we focus on what we value – our family, friends, health, community, relationships, culture, learning – and begin to live a life that is not constrained by an external view of what we should be or look like.

It’s time we start having a more complex view of ourselves as men and women – and valuing what our bodies can do for us, looking at what brings meaning and purpose to our lives, what we can contribute, and actually living a life of meaning and purpose.  We need to appreciate beauty, of course we do, but let’s not denigrate ourselves if we are not someone else’s “ideal” of what beauty is.

I’d like to end with a couple of favourite quotes. The first is from JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

“Is “fat” really the worst thing a human can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil or cruel? Not to me”.

And this by writer Anne Lamott:

“oh my god, what if you wake up one day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart! Don’t let this happen!”

Thanks for listening; enjoy the rest of your evening.

Photo credit: “Compassion with Fashion”

Girls don’t play cricket!

I’ve struck up quite a relationship with my physiotherapist in the last couple of months, as you do when you go there for twice weekly torture, er, treatment,  to get back some movement and minimise stiffness in the arm I shattered a few months ago. She is as determined as I to contradict the surgeon who told me optimistically that I’d never get more than 80% function back in my arm and that I’d get arthritis in my elbow before too long.  So, she is working her damndest to get my flexion and extension as near a hundred percent as possible. And that’s hard when you’re dealing with an arm and elbow that seems to have more metal in it than a hardware store.

So to counter the excruciating pain the treatment brings, we often chat. To take my mind off the fact that it feels like she is breaking my arm all over again, and also we like to have a yak. About our families, work, the news, and so on. The other day we were talking about what we each did over the Christmas holidays and she’s had a lovely break from work and she’d played cricket with her three year old son. As you do, as so many Australian families do at Christmas; after the meal there’s the big backyard bash. Everyone from Grandad to the youngest gets in on the action. It’s tradition. You use a tennis ball (don’t want to break any windows on Christmas Day) and the stumps are an eskie or the barbecue, or they’re real ones that someone got from Santa that very morning. Hit it on to the roof or over the fence and you’re out. Backyard rules apply.

Her son, remember he’s three, had been at the crease for quite a while and his mum said, “OK darling, it’s Mummy’s turn to bat now”. Three year old gives his mother a withering stare and says “No. Girls don’t play cricket Mummy, they sit down and watch”. She was stumped, pun totally intended.

It starts young. We both felt outraged, but what is this little fella’s reference for cricket playing? He’s never seen women or girls play cricket. His Dad’s an avid fan and junior has watched the cricket on TV along with him. No women to be seen. Except a few in the crowd, who are sitting down, watching.  Just like he told his mum.  He probably thinks girls don’t play football either (any of the codes), or basketball or baseball. The two sports he might know that girls play could be tennis or netball. Maybe.

Sexism is insidious. This little boy doesn’t even know he’s doing it. For him, it just is. Sport is one aspect where women are virtually invisible (soon to be more invisible with the loss in 2015 of the ABC’s coverage of women’s basketball and soccer). This is what girls and boys grow up with. Boys and men play, girls and women watch.

Women have been playing cricket in an Australian national team since 1934, and our women’s team won the world cup last year. There been a “W-league” (curiously, men’s sporting codes are never called the “M-league”) competition in Australia for professional basketball for 34 years. Lauren Jackson is our greatest player. She’s played in the American League for years and she’s been a WNBA (USA) All-star and Champion many times over.  Lauren earns a massive six figure salary. She’s also an Olympian and has represented her country. She’s currently back in Australia playing for the Canberra Capitals. Is that enough to keep women’s basketball on TV? Is it enough for a little boy to grow up seeing women play sport on TV? No and no.

There’s a National women’s football (soccer) team in Australia – the Matildas – who played their first international match in 1979. They’re in the World Cup this year.  We have a national W-league for soccer too. Our own Canberra United team has won the Grand final three times in the last six years. They’re semi-professional, several players are Matildas, some of them have played in the professional league in the USA, but they don’t get paid much. They all work or study and fit in a gruelling training regime, and they are tough, strong, fast, fit elite athletes and they play an exciting skilful game. But we won’t be seeing them on TV any more either.

If we don’t want our children growing up thinking girls don’t play sport (and certainly not seriously, professionally) we need to show them that indeed girls do. And they’re good at it, and they train as hard as men. TV is a strong and powerful medium that can teach us so much. It is part of our daily lives. Kids watch heaps of it.  Unfortunately there are even less female sporting role models on TV now. And more and more children will grow up believing that girls don’t play cricket (or football, or soccer or basketball); they just sit down and watch it.

*Photo credit:

Sum, sum, Summernatstime

It’s summer, it’s the beginning of the year, half of Canberra’s gone to the coast and there’s a lot of big, shiny, noisy cars on the roads. This can only mean one thing…it’s Summernats time.

Canberra seems to have a love-hate relationship with Summernats.  Short for Summer Nationals, the annual car festival attracts tens of thousands of people and their street machines to the capital at the beginning of every year. It’s either “oh God, those petrol head bogans are here again wasting fuel and making a noise” or “oh those Summernats, they’re only here for a few days, they’re good for the economy” ($15 million bucks this year, I hear).  People who live in the north, and who haven’t gone to the coast, complain about the noise, and the smoke from the burnout comps and not being able to get a park at Dickson shops because the ‘nats are all there buying beer, and eskies and snags and bread rolls and ice.

I saw my first Summernats “street cruise”, which was definitely unofficial, about 20-odd years ago, just after the birth of my daughter.  The “cruise” involved a whole lot of hotted up cars driving from Watson, where the event is held, into the city and back again.  We sauntered out in the late afternoon, up to Northbourne Avenue, and were most surprised to see quite a throng of people lining the road, some with deck chairs and picnics and drinks, waiting for the cars to arrive. This is quite the big deal, I thought. What’s the attraction?  I heard the cars before I saw them, and covered the sleeping baby’s ears, for fear her very new eardrums would burst.

What I saw next was a stream of cars, some very shiny, and some that looked like an old boyfriend’s 2-door Torana and I wondered what was so special about a car in which I had sped around Melbourne in my youth.  With no exception, every car was driven by a man, a young man at that, with three or four other young men in the back, arms hanging out the window waving their VBs and their cans of rum and cokes. Seems chicks didn’t feature at Summernats, except on the roadside watching the parade. Perhaps this was the petrol head equivalent of surf culture at the time? The boys did all the fun stuff and the girls sat on the beach, looking pretty and waiting.

The cars of young men zoomed by. And with rare exception, every backseat rallying cry was “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!” One of them even had a Chucky-esque doll which he waved out the back of a purple panel van.  The doll’s t-shirt was controlled by a string and when the doll’s handler pulled the said string: voila! the t-shirt rolled up and Chucky yelled , yep you guessed it: “Show us ya tits!”

I was not impressed, especially as a young, exhausted breast-feeding mother with a six week old baby in her arms. “You can tell who the bottle-fed boys are”, I said to her.  I didn’t pay all that much attention to Summernats after that year, except when I was living in the north and hadn’t gone to the coast and sat somewhere between “God that incessant revving is annoying”, and “they’re buying up big at the IGA, that’s gotta be good for the local shops”

Fast forward to 2015, and the “City Cruise” is now very official. Police sanctioned, intersections are closed off, and there are barriers in the city for onlookers to stand behind. The Cruise is executed with precision and a police escort, front and rear. There’ll be no funny business – no speeding, no burnouts, no undue noise, no offending the locals. It’s done and dusted within half an hour. It’s a far cry from the one I first saw which seemed to last several, higgledy piggledy hours, and if I remember rightly culminated in a bit of a riot and someone swinging from the traffic lights at Antill Street. This year 200 cars drove sedately, though at quite a clip, along Northbourne Ave; people complained it was too fast to take pictures.

I stood on the corner of my street (yep, living in the north again and not at the coast) for a nostalgic view at the Cruise. It was hot, and people wore hats, and huddled under the gums on both sides of the road. There were a couple of deck chairs but no eskies and cold drinks that I could see. I still heard them before I saw them, and when the cars came they were all gleaming and they were mostly pretty damn loud. There were some differences from my first Cruise though – mostly men drove, but they weren’t so young. A lot of them had wives and girlfriends in the car with them. And a great deal of them had kids in the back who waved at the crowds –  with their hands, and their iPhones –  but no one waved with beer cans.

And do you know what? Not one of them yelled out, not once did I hear: “Show us ya tits! Show us ya tits!”

Julia meets Julia

On December 23rd I joined about 750 other people who queued for several hours on a warm and sunny Canberra morning,  to have a few words and get a book signed by our former Prime Minister. I wasn’t surprised there were so many people; we are living  in the Republic of the ACT after all. We are a fairly staunch Labor town and most of us are educated and aware enough to know that Julia Gillard was treated appallingly during her three years and three days as Australia’s first woman Prime Minister.

All that bleating about “pulling the gender card” was absolute bullshit, wasn’t it? That speech. That speech about misogyny and sexism that went viral and has been viewed about three million times on YouTube was absolutely riveting, unforgettable and inspired.  And Mr Rabbit and his blue-tie cronies bleated on about the gender card. What a load of crap. They were the ones pulling the gender card with their sly, sleazy statements about Julia’s dad “dying of shame”, and calling her a “witch”, and commenting on the size of her bum, her hips, her nose, her clothes, the redness of her hair, the Australian-ness of her accent. Oh and snide remarks about her childlessness, her atheism, and after all she was an unmarried woman living in a shock horror, long-term defacto relationship. And all those commentators telling us that the criticism wasn’t about her appearance or her dress, that it was about her policies and her behaviour. Well, tell me Andrew Bolt and all your other ridiculous “shock jock” buddies how many times did you comment on the Shadow Ministry’s creased nondescript suits and crumpled shirts and fat beer guts and bad grooming, and lack of women in the shadow cabinet? Um, let me see…mmm, how ‘bout never?

And how many times did you question Tony Abbott about his wife’s sexuality? Or her job, or lack of one, or how dumb she looked trailing behind her husband, smiling, waving, trotting out the obligatory offspring, and not speaking? Let’s see, once again – never.

Plenty of people have written far more eloquently than I about this period in Australia’s political history and many more will probably do so. Why did I want to meet Julia Gillard? Well, for one, I was so proud that Australia finally had a woman Prime Minister, when countries not always known for their record of equality had elected female PMs decades before us (think Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Turkey: all those nasty Muslims! Fancy them having women in leadership! Shock, horror!), and despite there being a number of smart and eligible women in politics it seemed that conservative Australia just wasn’t ready for a woman leader.  I was proud that the Labor party had the guts to back Julia Gillard and depose that odious, bad-tempered micro manager K-Rudd; a pretty hard task when most of the electorate had no idea how destabilising Kevin 07 was. How did I know? Well, I do live in Canberra. And I was also privy to conversations with a whole lot of very distressed senior public servants, people of integrity who were so stressed and distressed that they weren’t eating, sleeping or seeing their families because of the onerous workload that Kevin kept piling up on top of them. Mostly because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t make a decision.

I wanted to know how Julia Gillard kept getting up day after day to face her enormous workload and the ever-increasing sexist criticism, the bloody-minded rudeness that was flung at her every day. I could only conclude that she was one very resilient woman, focussed on doing her job. I wondered what support she had, and hoped that she and her partner had good people around them to counter the bigots and misogynists.

The night before the book signing I thought hard about what I wanted to say to her. I dearly wanted her to write “to Julia, from Julia” on the inside cover of my book, but apart from that I couldn’t think of anything  witty and eloquent to say.  The day of the signing I was held up at work and I desperately texted a couple of family members who were holding my place in the queue to ask if I’d still be able to make it. The signing was due to start at 11am, and I was worried because I wouldn’t make it to the city until 11.30am. They reassured me that the line was long; it stretched from the entry to the Canberra Centre back to the Carousel; I’d be ok, I wouldn’t miss her. The crowd was friendly and excited; shopping centre staff gave out free water and we were delighted to finally be inside the air-conditioned centre and we could see her. The line moved fairly quickly and before I knew it I was standing in front of her. She was smaller and more diminutive than she seemed on TV; she looked relaxed and her skin was glowing. She has great posture too. Her assistant took my book and handed it to her.

“Hi Julia, I’m Julia”, I gushed. OMG. She looked at me and said “Well, that deserves an underline”. And she underlined her name and then signed my book. She had the good grace not to look at me as if I was a very special kind of idiot. There was a pause, and I knew I was expected to move on. But I didn’t. Instead I said very quickly: “I’m so sorry for everything that happened to you while you were the Prime Minister. I think you were a fantastic Prime Minister – you did a great job, I don’t know how you did it day after day. Thank you so much”. Then it was over, she smiled and said thank you and she touched my hand, ever so briefly, but genuinely. I was smitten, and I walked away clutching my book to my chest and joined my family where we waited to take photos of each  other with Julia in the background, still signing, still smiling.