‘What is your story?’ – a much more rewarding question.

When people ask me what my cultural background is I like to set them at ease by telling them I’m half second generation Australian. If you put the word Australian in there it makes them feel better like they could be friends with you. I bring this up because it’s something I’ve been thinking on since Australia Day and whether you celebrate it or not, I think we can all agree on the same thing, being Australian means different things to different people – like to racists it is a day to drape a flag over your car and drive around yelling out to people like myself to ‘go back to where we came from’ or the more enlightened but equally oblivious leftie idiot, it’s a day to let me know that ‘my people’ enrich this country and they’d totally ‘ride with me’.

Australia Day seems an endless parade of the question ‘where you from?’

 

To be clear I’m half Spanish, half Port Melbourne bred Irish. I’m as white as they come but to quote  Rashida Jones ‘I’m ethnic’. I have a certain glow about me, a tan like I’ve just returned from holiday – really you must tell me your secret…

My gripe with the ‘where are you from?’ is that the question lacks nuance or a curiosity for a more complex answer. As if saying where you are from gives us all the answers. Surely we would get a more enriching response if we asked ‘what is your story?’

My father who immigrated here as a teen built a life and became a successful chef, but what came before that I don’t really know. I’m not sure what Spain was like other than being acutely aware that ‘the food’s better there’ and ‘they sleep after lunch.’ I was never told stories of the old country, partly due to my dad’s unrelenting work ethic and my  relationship with my Abuela (Spanish for grandmother).

It has always been fractured. Since I can remember she didn’t seem to like me. She displayed this lack of affection towards me in her own special way, like only an emotionally estranged adult could – like buying me bras made for flat chested men and making me put them on, parading in front of her. Or refusing to speak in English to me, or getting annoyed when I voiced an opinion that challenged her traditionalist sensibilities, or forcing me to role play being a ‘maid’ or ‘wife’ whilst my brother got to be a ‘man’ and was rewarded grandly with lollies and personal freedom whilst I was ‘allowed’ to learn the secret art of ironing men’s underpants…

I never knew why my Abuela had so many issues with me. My mother explained it away over the years by telling me she didn’t like her either and true to form, when my grandfather (Abuelo) died late last year mum found photos of my father and the woman they wanted him to marry instead of my mum stuck behind old picture frames. They now sit pride of place in my parent’s house because my mum reckoned my dad looked pretty hot in them and it would have been a shame to have thrown them away.

Of course I never confronted my Abuela over any of her problems with me, I was young and, to be honest, my biggest interest was myself. As far as I was concerned, I was her granddaughter and it was her job to love me and shower me with praise regardless of clashing personalities. I always knew I could blame her reluctance to speak English to me as the reason I never really got to know her.  If she didn’t like me then why should I have bothered asking her questions about her, about her life, you know before she became my grandmother – the role she had been reduced and relegated to only in the last 16 years of her long life.

It was only at her funeral that I got a bit of a glimpse of the person my Abuela had been and it was eye opening.

The crematorium was filled with other Spanish immigrants as expected, armed with tortillas and paellas, but there were also other ‘new Australians’ all eager to pay their respects to a woman who had opened up her home to them, helped them set up homes by donating furniture, clothes, food, accommodation and providing language classes run in the front room of her house when they arrived in Australia, isolated and alone. WTF? As her eulogy was read I couldn’t help but think ‘this was a woman I wanted to know. How come these guys got to know her and I didn’t?’

A few years after her death my parents, on one of their regular pilgrimages to Spain to eat and talk of retiring there one day, connected with some relatives long ago estranged. It was on this trip that my father learnt that his mother hadn’t always just been his mother. She had a been a woman with a challenging, complex and at times brutal past.

The story starts with my bisabuela (great grandmother). She worked as a caretaker and domestic whilst actively involved in the Republican movement. In my fathers words ‘yes, she was a communist.’  She was also a mother of two boys and one girl. One of the boys was adopted, a result of a rumoured illicit pregnancy of a famous Spanish actress whom my bisabuela worked for.

My father learnt that one day when he was out playing, a priest with strong fascist leanings in the town, frustrated by the noise of children playing outside his window, tossed out a brick, killing the boy instantly. This was the catalyst for my bisabuela to become a gun runner for the resistance movement, hiding and stockpiling live ammunition in her home for her fellow comrades. The story goes that she outed by a fellow freedom fighter (snitch!) and one day the police turned up her house and arrested her, well not before she blew up the arsenal she’d been in charge of.

Taken to a prison, that to this day people are very reluctant to admit existed (even though it functions as a prison still…) she was summarily sentenced to death. My bisabuelo, told that she had been executed eventually hung himself but not before being known to sit in his backyard with a glass of wines as bombs dropped around him because he wanted to face his death. His body was discovered by his remaining son, who realising what the death of his parents meant to the children of the resistance, fled Spain and joined the Foreign Legion. My Abuela, now alone, was sent to an orphanage that from all accounts was abusive (think Pan’s Labyrinth) and eventually she was released into a life of servitude. The kicker in all of this, it turns out, was her mother wasn’t killed. The powers that be had lied. My bisabuelo was eventually pardoned and returned home to find her husband dead, her son gone and her daughter living in the belief her family was dead, as a domestic.

Hearing this story made me wonder, why had Abuela come here? Was she still afraid of persecution and rightfully so? I heard that my bisabuela was almost stopped from visiting when my father first immigrated because of her communist connections – maybe my Abuelo wanted to escape that ongoing association and that’s why she never spoke of it. Maybe her problem with my outspoken opinions and causes scared her because after all she had experienced first hand the devastating effects fighting for what you believe in can cause. Maybe her work with immigrants and refugees was fuelled by an empathy and understanding for their situation, their want and need to escape their old life. Maybe because as cliches go I ‘look’ Spanish…maybe, maybe, maybe.

I don’t know. Sadly I didn’t know the woman. I wish I had.

 

 

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2014: I’ll probably fail, again.

It’s New Year’s Eve and I’ve still got a script submission to finish so I’ll be brief. I’ll try to be brief. Look I might fail to be brief and so what? Who gives a fuck about failing?

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I do. We all do.

I failed a lot this year. I even wrote a show about failing. That failed too.

2013 was not one of those years that I’ll look back on and think ‘that’s the year that defined the Sanz legacy.’ It is most likely a year that I will look back on and need reminding that it fell between 2012 and 2014 – ‘Oh that 2013….!’

But of course with failure must come success – they’re like Will and Grace. I had some of that too. I moved in with my boyfriend, properly, not just both of us living out of suitcases in various states of the country and undress! BAM!

I overcame rickets. (I think, I have to book a blood test but I’m feeling less bendy).

I moved house again with my boyfriend (twice in one year without breaking up. Win)

I discovered you can lay-by holidays.

I finally decided to count listening audio books as ‘reading’.

I was published.

I made a film.

None of these things were resolutions. I resolved for none of them to happen in 2013. In fact last New Year’s Eve I decided the only resolution I was going to do something great in 2013. I didn’t specify what. Just something really great.

How I thought an ambiguous mega goal would be more achievable… slow clap Lou, no pressure there.

It turns out that was the hardest resolution I’ve ever had to keep and I failed at it. In fact I failed so badly my social anxiety only seemed to get worse as soon as I decided to really make my mark. My stage fright returned with the vengeance normally only associated with recurring thrush, I drove my partner crazy with sleepness nights (and not the sexy ones). By saying I would do something great I somehow managed to mangle it’s meaning beyond recognition and question my own relevance in the world.

It’s only sitting down tonight and making myself write a list of all the things I did in 2013 that I realise I did do something great. I made stuff. I did stuff. I got frightened. I got excited. I felt disappointment and happiness. I was betrayed. I suffered loneliness and made some great friends. I got through to the other side. I made it to 2014. I get another year and I will no doubt fail and succeed in 2014 as well. It shouldn’t be how will I change’ in 2014, it should be where to from here.

I think that’s what New Years Eve should be about. Not about what you’re going to do differently next time or how much weight you’re going to lose, how many times you’ll go to the gym or about quitting sugar or finally filling out your E-Harmony profile honestly. It’s about what you have done and where you might go from there.

Which leads me to my new resolution. I did write down ‘thigh-gap’ but it seems everyone’s doing it and much like a Big Brother contestant I want to be ‘different and original.’

Looking back on 2013 I realise I need to get stronger. I need to get to a place where people’s opinions don’t affect me as much (we all need to do that). I need to not constantly be getting out of other people’s way in the street and apologising for taking up space in the world.

I would also like to crush a walnut with my bicep.

I’ve also learnt that if I don’t manage to get stronger by 2015 than no doubt I would have accomplished something else, something I didn’t resolve to do….like crush a walnut between my thighs…I don’t know, anything is possible.

Happy New Year.

x

 

 

 

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My mother kept her maiden name and I didn’t lose my sense of identity

 

 

I’ll admit, I have a complicated name. I’m one of those people with two official sets of ID but that’s not the worst of it – my mother you see, kept her maiden name and so I also have a double barrelled surname, but not a hyphenated surname, because my mother argued, even back in the 70’s, that her and my father were two separate people, with two separate names. The government however did not agree, and made my mother make her maiden name one of my middle names.

So for the first few years of my life I was Louise Marguerite Woodruff Sanz. My mother however stood by her maiden name, never becoming a Mrs Sanz and sure as hell never answering it to it. In primary school I remember her refusing to answer my friends when they would refer  to her as Mrs Sanz. As far as she was concerned it wasn’t her name. She preferred everyone to call her by her first name, which believe it or not, even my teachers preferred than having to address her as Ms Woodruff  – her actual legal name. It was that look of discomfort I recall the most. That educated, regular people would prefer to call my mother Mrs Potato than by her maiden name. It was the sort of thing 1970s German dissidents did, not middle class mothers from Brighton.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric I even hear bandied around today, I didn’t grow up as a rudderless child, without a sense of place or identity because my mother didn’t share the same name as my father, I actually did ok, more than ok really. To be honest  I was more affected by the knowledge that when my father immigrated to Australia, he was made to change his name from Miguel to Michael, because Australian’s couldn’t pronounce Miguel. My father was forced to change his name because apparently the Australian tongue struggles with the letter ‘G’. Tell that to all the Gerry’s, Gerald’s and Greg’s you know.

I was always insanely proud that mother had her own name (she was also a vegetarian – I didn’t know Mexican food came with meat options until an ill-fated trip to a Taco Bill in the late 90s). She explained her choice to keep her maiden name as ‘easier’. It was on her driver’s license, all her legal documents, to change it would be too much of a hassle. And then what if my father and her got divorced, more paperwork, but most importantly, it was her name. She’d had it for 25 years when she met my dad and it wasn’t something she was willing to part with it.

As I got older, I got more emboldened to move my mother’s name out of the ‘middle name’ abyss it had been relegated to and put it into everyday life. At 12 I was signing my homework off as Louise Marguerite Dymphna Woodruff Sanz, much to the horror of my teachers, who constantly felt the need to raise this in every parent teacher meeting – again more concerned by the incorporation of my mother’s maiden name, than the latest addition – my Confirmation name – Dymphna, Patron Saint of Incest Victims and the Mentally Ill.

By the time I was a teenager and had started writing soppy teen memoirs for other teenagers to act out on stage, my mothers name was now part of my surname, even though, legally it was still my middle name, that is until the law changed and no longer did it need to be hyphenated.It was free. I was free. My brother and sister never really seemed fussed, they liked being Sanz’s. It didn’t bother them, which only made it cooler, cause it now meant in my family I was the only Woodruff Sanz, that, along with my teen moustache set me apart from everyone else in the world.

Things however got complicated when I was granted a Spanish Passport. My name was changed to Luisa Margarita Sanz Woodruff. You see in Spain, the mother’s maiden name comes after the ‘family’ name. Given I had a Spanish Passport before an Australian one, it was now my only official form of ID, aside from Double Dare Champion Card from 1993 and so when I got my driver’s license I went in with my spanish passport and to this day, 16 years later, that is still the name on my driver’s license.

As I writer nothing gave me a stronger sense of satisfaction than to play with all my names as I signed off a ‘Written by’ credit. There was L W Sanz, L Woodruff Sanz, Louise Brandis, Mrs Jonathan Brandis, Louise W Sanz, LMW Sanz, Louise M Woodruff Sanz, LMD Woodruff Sanz. The possibilities were endless but then I started doing stand-up and introducing Louise Woodruff Sanz proved troublesome.

If I’d thought the pronunciation of ‘G’ was hard for people try W’s and S’s and Z’s. After a while, to make things ‘easier’ I shortened it to Lou Woodruff Sanz. It was still too hard for MC’s who were often distracted by mic stands, warm beer and the glamour of stage life. So I went with Louise Sanz. Nup, still too complicated. And so it was with heavy heart it went to Lou Sanz. Like a vegas headliner and just ambiguous enough so as not to reveal my gender before coming out on stage. It was inevitable then that confusion began. People were now getting frustrated, concerned even betrayed. Was the writer Louise Woodruff Sanz the same as emerging comedian Lou Sanz? Was this a Jeckyll and Hyde kind of thing? Was she transitioning? What the fuck was going on!? Who did she think she was!? And even though I was following a long line of people with stage names, mine was not because I didn’t like my name, it was because I wanted to make things easier on everyone else. After all that struggling I went back to Sanz because it made things ‘easy.’

But of course legally, I’m a Woodruff Sanz, so now I have alias’s. I have files that say ‘Lou Sanz, legally known as Louise Woodruff Sanz, also known as Luisa Sanz Woodruff.’ It can sometimes make getting things like credit a little complicated as nothing sounds dodgier than listing all the names your account could be under. Everyone just wants me to make it easier on them, change my name so that don’t have to press the space-bar more than they’d like .

A friend of mine though pointed out that when I get married, things will get easier, because well, you know, if you decide to have kids it’s important they know what family they belong to. That we all share the same name, so it’s only natural that if I chose to have kids with my partner we’ll have to have the same name.

‘You’re right’ I said, ‘but I worry about all the paperwork my husband will have to go through. He’d be better off keeping his own name. It’s easier.’

‘You’d make him change his name?’ she asked, not amused by my killer come back.

‘If your main concern is my hypothetical families unity and sense of identity, then it shouldn’t matter whose name we use.’

She was stumped…I knew why, when there are articles on the internet titled ‘How to let people know you’re keeping your maiden name’, I often forget how very far we’ve actually come since the days my mother decided to go against convention.

I was making things awkward…and I’m probably always going to. It’s ‘easier’ for me.

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This is less about me then it is about you…by Louise Sanz (Melbourne Fringe Festival 2008)

Earlier this year I tried to write someone a letter…

It didn’t work out very well, so I decided to tell a story about it at the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Inpress Magazine said I was ‘one to watch in 2009’ , and Chortle UK seconded that by saying I was ‘…decent enough’.

But I also wrote for Life Support (SBS) when Abbie Cornish was on it so if anything that might sway you.

**I’ve written for other things, but Home and Away doesn’t quite have that independent artist edge I\’m going for, but if you’re a fan of Home and Away come along…why not I say. Neighbour’s fans also welcome.

Oct 2, 3 and 4 7pm
Glitch Bar and Cinema, 318 St Georges Rd North Fitzroy Victoria
Tickets @ www.melbournefringe.com.au or at the door.
$14/12

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