We are what we feed ourselves

That was not a good idea. I thought I could pick and choose my way through, and did a bit, but there was just so much I should have left out.

I often put the book down with a heavy sigh – “that’s depressing” – but then picked it up again the next night.

To be fair, not everyone will have that reaction. A book’s impact has a lot to do with the individual circumstances of the reader. And how detached they are when they read.

Don’t judge this book by my reaction.

But if you’re a middle-aged single white female sociologist living in Australia, you might want to give it a miss.

What of its title?

The title is accurate yet misleading. No argument with “Alive”. It’s the idea of being “Unfettered” that’s problematic.

It was clear throughout the book that Summers’ did not live an unfettered life; she just pushed against the constraints a lot harder than most and did not always succeed.

If she feels unfettered in her 70s, that’s worth celebrating. But it is a claim she can only make if she is well-prepared for the reality of being an old(er) woman in Australia. And she is not technically single, having been in a supportive and loving de facto relationship for many years.

There were bits worth noting

I found the Canberra-based sections quite interesting, having spent three decades there and most of those in the public sector.

But then, reading on, I discovered that so much of her positive work was unraveled and wound back by the tendency of Australian’s to vote into power too many old white conservative men.

It’s hard to measure the gains that remain against the long-term losses. In which way are the scales tipped … and how far?

And that was an example

This is the fundamental flaw of the book. Any attempt to be positive is thwarted. Just as I did then, trying to find something I thought interesting, only to find myself in counterpoint … and despondency.

I must remind myself that my education was possible because these women, just a decade older than me, put in the effort to change the world.

The only moment

I’d just finished another temp job, with enough in the bank to pay the rent for a few weeks, and headed out for a walk. I left my hair down. Not a common practice, particularly when out walking.

I reached the first intersection, and as I emerged from the lee of the corner house the west wind went through me. It was as if I was not there. I had no connection to anything, no concerns, no worries … no apparent future or need of one … just for that particular moment … without bounds.

The reason was immediately clear, making the now cherished, oft cherished, moment even more fleeting.

Looking for balance?

I suspect it is tricky, to write a memoir that carries the intellectual weight of its author, that demonstrates her resilience but avoids being uplifting because that would risk bookstore categorisation, denigration, as self-help or how-to.

I’m just so very annoyed at myself for persevering with it.

We are what we feed ourselves.


Summers, Anne. 2018. Unfettered and Alive. Allen and Unwin.

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