Thursday, September 30, 2010

The turn around...

This is my fourth attempt at writing a blog post in the past two days.  

Yesterday's two attempts were aborted because I felt too much shame about my state of mind.

Today's earlier attempt was very angry about the shame I'd felt about the first two attempts and how it's so unfair that people can't say they're struggling because no-one really wants to hear it, and the latest trick for shutting someone down when they're feeling crap about their life is to point out how much worse other people have it, and how lucky they are to have it as good as they do, even though they happen to be wondering if life really is worth struggling through.

There is no real effort to meet people where they are.  Either you pretend everything is fine - as per a blog link I received on Twitter yesterday (which has also been making the rounds on Facebook.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, look here)...  Or you admit your life feels like it sucks and then you prepare yourself for the onslaught of, "It's not that bad!", "Don't be so pathetic, you're life is really good compared to people in the third world/Miranda down the street/Me"...

Believe me, I know I'm lucky to live in Australia where there is a social security system, and I'm lucky not to be homeless.  I'm lucky to have a fabulous Mother-in-law who helps us out when we can't quite make ends meet.  I'm lucky to be extensively educated, to have access to free public health, to have both my parents alive, and children who aren't reliant on round-the-clock care just to survive.  I know all this.

I also know things are really tough at the moment, and I'm really stressed by how tough - and mostly uncertain - things are.  I feel I should be able to put those struggles into words and find support for my stress induced insomnia (three weeks running, except last night when I managed 6 hours sleep - mostly due to exhaustion - tonight I'm back at hotel insomnia, hence the 1am blog post).

So, today was a really rough day.

This morning I was filled with so much rage at the injustice of it all, that I could barely interact with my family.

The same questions kept swirling around in my head;

  1. When will things come right again?
  2. What did I do wrong that so much has gone pear shaped in my life?
  3. Where has my usual optimism gone?
  4. Why do I feel like nothing is ever going to work in our favour ever again, when I know sooner or later it has too?
Eventually, I let all the rage just overcome me and I posted on Twitter the following statement...

Ok Universe, this is my final warning!  Straighten the hell up and fly right or I'll become REALLY scary.  kthxbai

A couple of my friends have a little joke between themselves about Twitter voodoo, wherein, if they ask a question or make a statement on Twitter and end it with "kthxbai", the magic of Twitter will make things happen the way these friends want them to.

Anyway, after posting that statement, I started on my third attempt of writing this blog post, and got a few paragraphs into it when the phone rang.  I answered it and there was silence at the other end, and I thought it was going to be from a call centre and was preparing to hang up, when suddenly I heard my name in a familiar voice that I couldn't place.

The caller turned out to be a friend of mine from many years ago, who moved interstate and, who I hadn't spoken to in at least two years. I'd sent this friend an email about two or three months ago, but hadn't heard back, so I thought we'd actually lost contact.  Luckily, when Dave and the kids and I moved earlier this year, we were able to keep our phone number, so she still had our number.

This friend and I are like spiritual soul mates.  We understand life and the Universe in very much the same way.  So, when we spoke it was as if no time had passed at all.  She's been through rough times, the same as me, in fact, we've led fairly parallel lives for the past couple of years and had many of the same challenges, so it was so good to talk to someone who really understood.  Not only that, she'd rung to tell me about an acquaintance of hers who has recently moved to Melbourne, and who she thought I might like to meet, who could help me with a few of the things I've been struggling with.

She also reminded me (without saying it) that I've neglected my spiritual journey.  The practices, in particular, which have always nourished my natural optimism.  She gave me some tips for getting back into practice and as always was a source of inspiration to me in this part of my life.  She didn't solve my problems and she DIDN'T tell my I was my own worst problem.  She listened, she acknowledged, and she supported without judging or comparing my life to hers.  Most of all she gave me hope that things will be better soon and there are things I can do right now to feel better and more at peace and an active participant in my journey, rather than just being swept along by all that life is throwing at me at the moment.

It is not that I don't have good friends who are supportive, I can think of one friend, in particular, who always lifts my mood by laughing with me, it's more that in this moment of utter desperation I cried out for some sort of sign about what to do, and this friend who I thought was part of my past now popped out of the ether and offered exactly the sort of help I needed to get me back onto solid ground.  Suddenly, I felt like perhaps the Universe is listening and there is a bigger picture that I'd lost sight of and I can trust that things will be okay.

Anyway, it was enough to cause me to abandon my previous blog post and write this one with renewed hope, even though my situation hasn't change at all, just yet...

Monday, September 27, 2010

What makes a good ending?

This is a serious question to my readers, and I'd really love your input!

I'm working on the final draft of my manuscript at the moment, and amongst the myriad of things to look at, I've been told the ending of the book is a bit abrupt.  I won't dispute this because I'm the student and am well and truly prepared to learn.  What I want to know, is what is the right way to end a book.

This is an adventure, but I've purposely left it a bit open at the end because I have a sequel in development already.  Being that I have a continuing story in my head, I can't neatly tie up all the loose ends and do the "and they lived happily ever after" thing, because, frankly, I want my readers to be desperate to get their hands on the next volume.  Still and all, I don't want them to feel like they just had a door slammed in their face, in case they become disillusioned and shirty and decide they never really liked the first book that much anyway...

So, what makes a good ending.  Do people want to wait to know what happens next, or is that too hard to bare?

In my epilogue it's been six months since the climax of the story, a few loose threads are tied up "looking back" over several paragraphs, then a new twist is brought in right at the end which leaves the main character wondering, "did that really happen", but they have physical proof it did, and that's then end of the book...  Until next time...  Maybe I need to go into more detail in the looking back bit.  Maybe I need to take the twist a bit beyond the moment of shock?  I don't know...

Luckily, I need to edit 20 odd other chapters first, but please tell me what you think makes a satisfying ending to a novel - particularly an adventure novel.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Boys catch up (in photos) and why we love warmer weather!

Making Father's Day cards while Dave was at a friend's art exhibit opening...
Oooh, now what does this do?
Decorating my first handmade Father's Day card for Dad (that mum cut out for me!).
Really, I think he was adopted...  I don't think we could possibly share any DNA...
For crying out loud, who let him out of his cage?
Looky me!  Sitting high up in the kitchen (Ari's fave place to be in our house, he climbs up on these stools himself).
Ok, confession time.  He's 23 months old in two days time, and yesterday was the first time he ever went to the park and was allowed out of the pram - doing the park with four kids isn't easy, and I like to do things the easy way...  Hence the slightly uncertain look on his face.  He's never walked a lot on the uneven surfaces (yes, he's led a very sheltered babyhood) he looked like he'd only been walking a few weeks as he stumbled along in the first 1/2 hour.
The Swirly Slide at our local park is AWESOME!!!  I'm so glad each of our boys has had this as their local park, growing up!  It has everything, a giant corkscrew slide, a pirate ship, a lighthouse, a duck pond, miniture sailing ship club...
Luey's been high-jinxing on this slide for 6 years!
Erik for 8 years!
The "new" pirate ship - it's about a couple of years old, but was in the original playground when we first brought Erik here 10 years ago.
Big boy on the littlest slide, still needs mummy's hand in front of his tummy to feel safe - it does start with an 80 degree dip!
Getting a grip on the bridge.
Cool!  Erik will take me down, don't need you, mum!
Ready, steady...
Ok, let's try out the lighthouse slide!
Three of four.
There use to be a platform with two slides where the lighthouse now stands.  We have various pictures of Erik and Erik+Luey going down those slides (can't remember if we have Bryn on them or not, now).
Ah, yes, the original maze, so glad they've kept this all these years!  We have pictures of Erik toddling through this at 18 months of age!
And even though they're twice the height of the maze, Erik and Luey still seem to love it - or maybe they just love taking Ari through it!
Got to say, this picture makes me all teary!  Take Erik out of the picture, and we have one of Erik at the same size as Ari in this picture (remembering Ari is small for his age) in this exact position.  Now he's guiding his baby brother through the maze!
Love this!  Luey's saying, 'C'mon, Ari, let's go on the slide again." Meanwhile, Ari isn't listening because a pretty little blonde has caught his attention!
Oops, slightly awkward!
'Are you comfyy?'
Ok, just Awwww!
And finally, here comes Bryn, having been up and down the Swirly Slide about a billion times!
This double slide is a new addition, and while we were waiting for Bryn to get up there (after I bribed him with the promise of a lollipop later - contrary 5 year olds do my head in!), I took this photo, and then couldn't take any more, so the last photo is a grainy, blurry pic from my iPhone...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pivotal moments...

I started thinking about the process of finding a literary agent this afternoon.  Being a complete novice, I'm really just feeling my way along in the dark.  I came across this interesting piece about the need for, and the process of finding, a literary agent in Australia.  Sounds like it's not just a matter of flicking through the yellow pages (or a writer's magazine) and calling someone up.  I'm not very good with new stuff, and less so with contacting new people, so the thought of having to "put myself out there" is a bit scary.

However, talking it all over with Dave, I realised for me this is a kind of "now or never" moment in my life.  That is not to say there is a point when it would be too late (Okay, perhaps if I died, it might be a tad late to find an agent), but rather that knowing me, knowing what I'm like, if I don't do this now - if I don't make a move to get this manuscript published in the next 6 months (make the move, not get in published in that time frame), then the chances are other things will start to take over in priority and getting published, the need to have that happen in my life, will become less and less important to me, until one day when I'm 84, I'll look back and think, if only I'd grasped that opportunity when it presented itself.

Life is full of these pivotal moments - for me at least - and I can always recognise mine by the pinching and twisting sensation in my gut that says, "It's time to leap, Sif, don't even count to three or the moment will have passed you by".

In the next three weeks I'll finish editing the manuscript and writing the exegesis and then it'll be off to the examiner.  In the New Year I'll get it back (hopefully with an outstanding review and mark!), and then I guess my next step will be to take it to the Victorian Writer's Centre and get it reviewed there, polish it further, source a few agents and sent it off for their appraisal and PRAY someone is willing to take me on.  For someone who fears rejection as much as I do, I doubt there there could be anything more challenging than this process, BUT, the time is now (in a 6 month-ish kind of way)!

Do you have moments like this.  Have there been times in your past when you felt you needed to do something right then and there, but you baulked and then the moment slipped away from you like a satin sheet?

Can a person fundamentally change personality - without brain injury?

There is a fairly strong agreement in development circles that humans; that is the part of humans that makes each one of us a unique individual, whether this "mind" is anchored firmly and exclusively in brain matter (a product only of our neural activity), or whether it that part of us many like to call our soul or spirit, is a result of nature (that which we inherit via DNA from our ancestors) and nurture; how we interact with our immediate and wider environment.

This development of self, from one's genetics and one's interactions with the outside world, would suggest that beyond a certain point (perhaps the first seven years of life?) our base personality is irreversibly formed, and from that point on, we can not change our basic view of, and therefore reaction to, the world.

A leopard can't change its spots, is how the saying goes - I believe.

Ok, so what if you REALLY want to change your basic personality.  Is that possible?  Can a person will themselves to be different.  Is it possible to wipe the slate clean and view the world differently?

There have been many documented cases of basic personality change in people who have suffered acquired brain injury.  Acquired brain injury, of course, changes some of the "nature" of the person - changing their neural pathways in some way, so that accounts for the personality change in those cases.

What about in people who have no physical changes to their brain.  Can they have profound changes to their personality?

What would it take to change?  How can past experiences and inherited traits be undone?  How can a brain that is fully developed by altered enough to produce a change in personality?  Or are people with bad personalities simply stuck with them until death provides blessed relief for everyone?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Perfectly Imperfect Family-Work Balance...

Joining in the party at Picklebums and sharing a part of my perfectly imperfect life, today...

Today was, officially, the first day of the Spring holidays, and in true Melbourne fashion, it just wasn't sunny, nor shiny, nor warm outside.  Dave had a training session to go to, so that left me with four children who were about ready to sell each other into child slavery by 8.30am.

Today, we spent many, many hours doing this...

While I ignored this...

And this...

The former involved enough yelling, accusations of cheating, and demonstrative refereeing from The Mother Figure, to send The Father Figure scuttling off to the supermarket almost a soon as he got home from his training session.  Also, I'm sure I saw an insulation van pull up outside our neighbour's place.  Peaceful and picture perfect it was not (the photo at the top was taken after the fact because I couldn't pick up my camera during the day for fear of having it knocked out of my hands by flailing outbursts of "He's HAD HIS TURN", and "THOSE AREN'T the RULES, MUUUUUUM!:, but at 6pm, each one of us is still breathing, and no ambulances have needed to be called, so I'm filing this day under "Perfect - imperfectly so",

I tweet, therefore I am...

Dave and I caught up on an episode of Big Ideas last night, a lecture by Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield on the plasticity of the brain and how today's screen culture may be creating significant (not always positive) changes in brain development.

She strongly emphasised she was neither a Luddite, nor a technophobe, and that there were evident positives to children's, on average, 2000 hours of screen time (time in front of tv, computers, and hand held devices, including smartphones) per year, however, as she put it, with every gain, there is a loss, and often gains are actually outweighed by losses.

She explained that studies had shown a link between low frontal lobe activity in the brain and issues such as obesity, schizophrenia and reckless behaviour in people with acquired brain injury.  Basically, she said that people who live in a highly sensory oriented way, tend to live more for the NOW, for the moment, and the pleasure of the moment, and be damned the consequences.  Screen based technologies, because they are only able to stimulate two of our senses (sight and hearing) require high impact to compensate for the lack of smell, taste and touch input, to give us the dopamine deposit we seek when interacting with these media.

She said, while short term memory was on the rise, this was at the cost of cognitive higher functions, such as understanding metaphors.  She said it was pretty normal for a child not to understand a metaphor, however, more and more adolescents and adults were unable to grasp these higher order cognitive concepts, in essence, childhood is prolonged by extended exposure to screen based technologies.

She went on to talk about something she called "existential crisis", where by, over time, with the evolution of social networking communities people, adults, were reverting back to the toddler stage...  Many of you will be familiar with the following scenario.

Mummy, look what I made?
Oh, that's lovely sweetheart.
Mummy, I'm making a drawing now.
Yes, dear.
Mummy, look what I drawed.
Oh, that's beautiful.
Mummy, I put my sock on.
Mummy, I put my other sock on, look mummy!
Yes, dear.
Mummy, I put my pants on.
...Yes, dear...

So, how familiar is this, then...

Sitting in a cafe, drinking a latte...
Oh, yum, sounds nice.
Oooh, that waiter is hot!
Better get back to work.
Just got a call from Jack, he's such a dick!
LOL, he sure is!
Geez, I'm tweeting a lot today!
Ok, better do something other than send a million tweets, Bye!
Have a great day! 
[several hours later] Wow, I haven't tweeted all day!  I must have a life!

Spot the difference?  No, not really...  Greenfield says sending status updates has become a way of validating ourselves.  I tweet, therefore I am.  If I don't tweet, do I really exist? Furthermore, if I don't tweet, I must point that out to prove I existed while I wasn't tweeting.

I've seen people become irrationally upset because they were unfriended on Facebook or Twitter, and in the light of last night's viewing, I wonder if that isn't because they feel they cease to exist for other people if their status updates at no longer read by those people, however mundane they may be (the updates, not the people).  I certainly realised I have check my own feelings about "friendships" that are based almost wholly in a digital world.  Are friends you almost never see in person and cannot exchange 80% of all communications with (that portion which is non-verbal), are those people really friends?  Or are you merely the cave wall of which bounces the echo of their voice, telling them they really do exist?

In any case, I now find myself reading tweets and often thinking, "I tweet, therefore I am" about tweets that are nothing more than, 'notice me, acknowledge that I exist, even if I'm just sitting in a cafe perving at a waiter...'

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pyjama family, or not, which is yours?

I took this photo this morning on my iPhone (so apologies for the quality, iPhone indoors takes pretty crappy photos, I must say, but I had it at hand (as always) and it was a photo opportunity I couldn't miss)...

When I say "this morning", I actually mean it was between midday and 1pm.  It's a Sunday, and they're still in their pyjamas, which many would forgive because it is a Sunday, and also the first Sunday of the Spring holidays.  That said, it could be 3pm on a Tuesday (if they weren't going to school on a Tuesday) and the picture would be much the same.

Lately, I've become quite conscious of the fact that we're a pyjama family.  Mostly because one of Luey's friends often pops by with her mum directly after school (on their way home) to ask if Luey can come over to play.  After being caught in my pyjamas in the middle of the afternoon on a couple of (consecutive) occasions, I felt compelled (without any prompting from her) to explain that when at home I always wear pyjamas, for comfort.

I once had a friend drop by and find me in my pyjamas at 11am on a weekday, it was an infrequent day off at the time, and she said, "You should relax, just wear your pyjamas ALL DAY!" as if that was some very unusual to do.  I remember I laughed it off at the time, and said something like, "Oh, that wouldn't be something new for me!"  And as I said it, I realised that perhaps wearing your pyjamas whenever you're at home isn't something other people do.  Perhaps, other people get up and get dressed into clothes that they would leave the house in even if they're not leaving the house!

I would never be seen out in public in track pants, or ugg boats, or leggings (even if I had legs that looked good in leggings), but conversely, the idea of having to wear a bra or pants or a skirt, or anything I would wear out of the house while just hanging around IN the house, seems as foreign to me as speaking Klingon at home.

When I'm at home I want to be comfortable.  I want clothes that at unstructured and made of stretchy, flowing fabrics, clothes than don't crush when you curl up on the lounge - pyjamas fit the bill perfectly.  I don't actually sleep in pyjamas (I sleep Au natural, even in Winter), so it's not like I'm wearing the clothes I sleep in.

However, I gather people would assume I do sleep in my pyjamas and therefore if I wear them throughout the day, I'm wearing them 'round the the clock, which implies I don't shower, which also implies I'm a slob and therefore wouldn't do anything else constructive while wearing pyjamas (I'm thinking all this, I don't know this for sure, but it seems to be that people think you need to dress as if you're leaving the house to be a productive sort of person, is that right?).

As I always wear pyjamas at home (seriously within 10 minutes of getting home I'm in pyjamas), and as I do all my studying and writing at home, it is obvious (to me at least) that wearing pyjamas doesn't preclude you from being productive.

I'm wondering though, are we the only pyjama family?  Surely, that can't be.  Is wearing pyjamas throughout the day (if you're not leaving the house) that uncommon?  Or is it simply something people don't admit to because it carries a stigma?

Is your family a pyjama family?  Do you hide your pyjama family status from others?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Just not this week...

I haven't blogged in a few days because, well, quite frankly, I've felt drained.

Melbourne weather leaves a lot to be desired after sunny days in Adelaide, and I'm feeling frustrated about a number of things that I am not in the position to "make happen", but must resign myself to being patient and waiting for.

I have the Dalai Lama on my Twitter feed.  He's a new addition and I'm not a buddhist, so I feel a bit funny about having him there, but what's to say that wisdom can't be sourced from all over the place, hey?

Last night the Dalai Lama tweeted (Okay, Dave and I are fairly certain the Dalai Lama isn't actually sitting in a cafe somewhere fiddling with his Blackberry or iPhone, but for the sake of continuity...),

It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain in terms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of difficulty

I read this out loud to Dave and his response was, "Well, then we should be just about to breach enlightenment!"

Yes, yes, I know I've gone on and on ad nauseum about the various hardships we've been through in the past 18 months (and more now)...  So, this blogpost is going to be about the impending sense of "Resolution" I've been feeling just recently (which, oddly seems to be increasing my frustration levels because breakthrough is so close I could almost reach out and touch - almost, but not quite)...

After this week's driving lesson, Dave informed me that his instructor said he wants Dave to do his driving test before Christmas.  Yay!  Christmas is 98 days away.  So, within the next 98 days Dave will have done his driving test and passed (his instructor won't let him sit it until he's sure he'll pass it).  98 days probably seems like a long time to you, but it's been 579 days since he started taking lessons...  So, soon Dave will have a lisence, just not this week...

In 48 days time, I'll be finished with my Masters Degree, come hell or high water, people.  48 days to go!  I'll be finished soon, just not this week...

In a week's time, applications close for the job Dave is currently applying for.  It's a full-time position, and it fits him like a glove.  I so badly want THIS job to be THE JOB.  Let's say he gets and interview and gets the job, with the turn around time that stuff takes these days, he could be working in a month's time.  That's not far off, it's just not this week...

Those are the big things...  Then there are a bunch of little, maybe, if the stars align and I'm good enough, kind of things I have going on the back burners...

There is hope of a PhD for next year, and even MORE interestingly, a PhD with a teaching component to it.  If I was ever to have a career (and I'm so not a career kind of person with all the commitment and competition that goes with that) then teaching creative writing would be it!  Of course, I need to be published, and I don't mean a few articles here and there, a few shorts stories and poems, but published, as in a novel.  I'd need to be an actual emergent writer, not an emergent writer-wannabe...  BUT, hey, if I'm going to do a PhD, and get those Dr letters in front of my name and get published and be a teacher, then a PhD with a teaching component HAS to be the way to go!  If I can just get in!  My career of choice (assuming I take this leap into the world of careers) is almost within reach, just not this week...

I've entered a competition today.   I'm not saying which, because I'm a bit shy and stupidsticious, but anyhoo, if I placed in this competition, it might mean the difference doing or not doing a couple of things I'd like to be doing this coming year.  Cryptic, yes, sorry about that, but some things need to be kept under wraps, even for an open book like me.  Doing is possible, just not this week...

Oh, and Spring?  Well, on the farmers calender it doesn't start 'til next week, people.  Sadly, the forecast for next week looks all but identical to this week; showery, blustery and COLD!  Too cold to really call it Spring. I know the warm weather is on it's way, as day follows night, so must Summer Sun follow Winter Winds, but sheesh, it's just TAKING TOO LONG!

Yes, I can feel wisdom and strength sprouting deep roots in me with every new day....  Now, if only the blossom I know must be awe-inspiring could lift it's head and unfurl just a little (and stop me feeling so woefully frustrated and sorry for myself)...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Coming home...

I have come home...

I have not just come home from another thesis related trip to Adelaide.  No, no!  I have come home to me.  Those 60 hours in Adelaide turned out to be a "coming home" in so many other ways in my life.

I got to spend time with my mum.  I get along very well with my mum, now that I'm all grown up, so being able to spend time with her in her home, surrounded by so many of the artifacts of my childhood, was indeed "coming home".

I also came home in the sense of finding like-minded people who are obsessed with many of the same topics and issues that I am enthralled by.  Spending time with writers of all ages (most considerably older than me) was like drinking at an oasis after a long trek through the desert!  This is no poor reflection on my friends, by the way, but it is true to say that my friends do not share many of my interests, and I do not share theirs (because I'm a bit odd, you know).

Which brings me to another facet of "coming home".

My mum has worn many hats in her lifetime; she's been a makeup artist, a mother, a cleaner, a fish house worker, a professional weaver and potter, a minister, a counselor, a published writer and poet, and a university lecturer...  She's a wise woman.  So, I took the opportunity to confide in her about my various problems and situations and angsts, and she held a mirror up for me to see myself as I am, and to accept the person I saw in the mirror.  To realize that not being the person I felt I needed to be, or not having the relationships I felt I needed to have was not a bad thing.  It is quite normal for people like me.  She went on to show me who I was (not at all unlike her), and show me how that was a great thing in itself.  She pointed out to me how easily I slipped into the milieu in the humanities department, how well people understood me and appreciated my input, and weren't put off by my challenges but rose to meet them in respectful and open ways.

I also experienced admiration for my work - which, once again, just blew me away because I'm so used to people fobbing me off as strange or difficult or a nuisance.

The biggest coming home for me was seeing things clearly.  Knowing the things I'd felt bad about were legitimate; in experiencing true inclusion, I knew in comparison how many of my previous experiences had fallen short, had been disingenuous, and how I had not imagined those things.

These experiences have freed me!

I feel free to let go of the hurt now.  Free because I now understand where I belong.  Free because I know I BELONG SOMEWHERE!

I have found a path for my work, as well (mostly thanks to the Melbourne Writer's Festival!).  I have found a way to begin on the career path I've dreamt of for years now!  It won't be easy - these things never are, are they?  Now, though, I have renewed joy and enthusiasm to help me stay focused!

I have clarity about what matters in my life!  About the people who matter, the work that matters, and the kinds of relationships that matter on different levels.

I have come home!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cultural Airbrushing...

Post-modern censorship has come up time and again in conversation for me, recently. So much so I feel compelled to attempt to put all my thoughts down in a blogpost, perhaps to clarify the issues for myself, if not for anyone else.

What do I mean by Post-modern censorship?  Well basically, the picking and choosing of things we like in culture and society, and then the discarding of everything else because either it doesn't suit us, or it outright offends our sensitibilities.

Ok, so I hear some of you already saying that you have every right to pick and choose from the wide range of options out there - might I suggest this is because you belong to the "Options Generation"; the children of Baby Boomers, who were offered many choices by their parents and told that "there is always another way".

This way of thinking has many advantages!  First of all, it gives the individuals a sense of empowerment, a sense of freedom from restriction, and open possiblities; which is life-affirming!  It also opens the doors for lateral creativity, new modes of thinking and doing (and let's face it Gen Xers/Options generation people are nothing if not lateral thinkers).  And it does many other great things besides, which I won't bother to list.

The flip side isn't as pretty (flipsides never are), and it's all too easy to just ignore the negative side of being able to pick and choose whatever suits you...

The negative side involves the things that are discarded when choices are made.  In choosing clothing from a wardrobe, this isn't a problem, the clothes you don't choose hang there to be worn another day and no-one will care much in 50 years time what clothes you wore.

In other areas, that which is discarded can be forever lost to the impoverishment of culture and history.

And this brings me (finally) to the main thrust of this blog post.

Recently, in the news, there was the story of the Principal who changed the words of the popular children's song "Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree", to replace the word "gay" with some other word.  This was done because, apparently, the children would burst out laughing whenever the word "gay" needed to be sung.  However, instead of explaining to the children the context and meaning of the word "gay" at the time the song was written, the Principal chose to simply censor the word - which if taken up by Principals and others across the country would soon see the original version of the song forgotten and lost.

The same happened with Little Red Riding Hood, in which the wolf is no longer hatcheted to death by the woodcutter, but sits down to tea with everyone after threatening to eat old granny (both unrealistic and completely removed from the original communist analogus origina of the story.

Just this week at my children's school there was the school concert in which the various classes sung songs from popular music throughout the 20th century.  One of the groups was to sing "Oh Happy Day!" but with the line "when Jesus washed my sin away"  replaced by something else.  I was, personally, appalled by this action because that happens to be one of my favourite gospel songs, but that's beside the point here.  In the end they had to change back to the original wording for copyright reasons (I believe0.  What I don't understand is, if those words were a "political correctness" issue - as argued by the teachers, then why sing that song at all, why not simply choose a different song?

Many have heard about he changes to the popular Enid Blyton books, including changing a character's name from Fanny to Franny...

There are so many issues with this kind of censorship!  First of all we are losing language - in it's original meaning and context.  We are devaluing the works of authors, storytellers and lyricists.  We are side-stepping opportunities to really teach children about societal change (and yes, I understand censorship relfects societal changes but when we censor do we explain the context and meaning in which the uncensored work arose and was popularly accepted?).  We are attempting to chnage history, which is almost inconceivable!  We don't like the name that author choose, or the concept that lyricist was promoting, or the new connotations of that word (which didn't have those connotations when it was written), so let's pretend those "mistakes" or "faux pas" or "ugly social attitudes" were never really a part of us, we didn't come from that distasteful place, it never happened.  We're all clean and perfect and in absolutely NO WAY offensive to anyone, ever.

Most offensive of all is the laziness of this kind of censorhip.  The attitude of, "I don't want to create my own song or story or culture, so I'll just take that one and chops bit off it to make it fit my needs for now - and the bit?  I'll just chuck them aside because they don't suit me right now"...

Political Correctness is no reason!  It is merely an excuse for butchering what is rather than acknowledging what was, and how we have changed and moved on as we learn - more than anything, it fails to accept humanity in all its imperfect, ever changing beauty.  It's simply another form of airbrushing.  Cultural Airbrushing.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Parenthood - The Roller Coaster Ride...

Yesterday was Father's Day.  In this household, it was a very low key affair.  Dave is not well at the moment, he has an upper respiratory infection, these often lead to bronchitis with him, so right now it's just wait and see and take antibiotics which will probably lower his future immunity.  Anyway, where was I?  Father's Day.  I got up unusually early for me, because I was heading out to a fascinating talk at the Melbourne Writer's Festival (pretty much about whether or not we have a soul, though the word soul was never actually mentioned).  Erik reminded me it was Father's Day, and I emitted a few expletives as I realized I hadn't wrapped Luey's present to his dad, or put money in the cards from Erik and Ari...  I made some toast and coffee and left them to go cold (you know, for Father's Day authenticity) while I made a hash of wrapping Luey's present in my semi-comatose state, and then rummaged through my e'er-empty bag for some money (manage to come up with $25, with which he'll no doubt buy a couple of DVDs I'll hate)...

We made our big entrance on the almost away, sniffling and snorting through his cold, Dave.  He opened his presents and oooh'd and aaaah'd over the handmade cards we'd made while he was out last Thursday evening.  He was in awe of Bryn's drawing emblazoned mug and promised to drink his soup from it.  He was thankful to Ari and Erik for this monetary gifts, and impressed by Luey's keen eye for value at the $2 Father's Day stall CD/Disk holder with zip.  He chowed down on his cold toast and cool coffee.  Then he got up and hung out with the boys for three hours while I went to the talk and did the grocery shopping.

Erik made dinner last night, which meant Dave could have a nap (Dave usually cooks dinner - I could, but then nobody would eat).

After an abbreviated 1 hour game of post-dinner monopoly, the boys all went off to bed and Dave and I sat down to relax.  There was, of course, very little to watch on television, so we brought out an old favourite: "Parenthood".

I introduced this movie to Dave when Erik was just a wee tacker and Dave was somewhat overwhelmed with the responsibility of being a parent.  I ADORE this movie.  Even before I had children, I knew it bore some sort of wisdom I could draw from.  Dave is very much like Gill Buchman, the father in the movie.  He finds being a parent a very heavy burden of responsibility.  I'm a bit more like his wife - though not nearly as even tempered - and love the roller coaster ride of parenting.

Even so, some parts I just wasn't prepared for...  I wasn't prepared for strangers coming to me and wanting me to change my child's behaviors when I wasn't there with him.  This wasn't something I encountered until my children started school.  They hadn't been away from both Dave and I at the same time for any length of time before then.  Suddenly, they wee doing things other people found difficult to deal with.  They wouldn't sit on a mat when told, or they stepped on another child's sandwich on purpose, or dug up the dead class crab because they were curious.  The teachers wanted Dave and I to somehow FIX our children when we were actually WITH our children.  They wanted our children to be perfectly well adjusted when NO CHILD is always perfectly well adjusted.  They wanted us to, by remote control, make our child compliant, and easy-going and aware of other people's needs well before they are developmentally able to be so without a lot of one-on-one guidance, and these people didn't have the time or interest in providing that guidance, they expected us to do this psychically.

Over the past 11 years, I've learned two things...  MOST children are "problem children" at least half the time; they can no more keep all the people (their parents, their teachers, their friends) happy all the time, than week can  The other thing is, just when I think I'm getting a handle on rolling with the punches and letting the little things slide off like a water off a ducks back, I'll get a phone call from the school (it's always the school) which will leave me wondering how it is I can't stop screwing my kids up and how many people they'll actually kill and maim when they finally crack in adulthood and go on a shooting spree from a bell tower.

Let me leave you with my favourite quote from the movie, "Parenthood"...  (it's my fave because I can relate so well to it)...

"You know, when your kid is born, they're still so perfect; you haven't made any mistakes yet.  Then they turn out... like me."

If that's the worst that can happen to them, we'll all survive...

PS.  You might be wondering why I told you the who long tale of our Father's Day leading up to the movie.  Mostly, that was for my own benefit, to remind myself that we are good enough parents.  We engage our children, we love them, we teach them the best we can.  What more can we do really?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Anyone suffering from "Active Laziness"?

So, I'm currently reading "The Beginners Guide to Living" by Lia Hills.  It's about a boy who becomes acquainted with philosophy through the need to answer questions about living and dying and the meaning of life after his mother is killed in a car accident.

In the book, the boy is introduced to "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche.  Within the pages of the book, the boy is introduced to the concept of "active laziness", the need to keep busy in order to avoid thinking about one's own mortality, or even about other important things, like what makes the individual happy.  Or, in other words, it's easier to keep oneself distracted than face one's own demons - and for people who believe they have no demons to face, are you alive?

There is always plenty of discussion to be found about the fast paced nature of today's society.  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, launched back in 1992, reflects on how people today fill their lives with endless activity and distraction.  Consumerism is a big part of that distraction.  Rinpoche views all of this as avoiding thinking about the nature of living and dying; he short time we have on this plain and what we do with that time, and how we feeling, or experience that period of living.

It certainly rings true for me.  Even with four children to raise and care for, a degree to finish and a household to maintain and keep running smoothly, I often feel I need to be doing MORE.  I often lament at not having the energy or time to do MORE.  So many people I know are the same.  Busy to the point of breaking down, but unable to cut right back because, well, because - they don't even seem to be able to articulate why.

Over-scheduling children is a hot topic.  Some believe parents schedule their children into many after school and weekend activities, not for the child's benefit (as they claim) but so they don't have worry about entertaining bored children.  The thing is, a bored children is just a child who hasn't yet discovered reflection, the ability to mull over their experiences.

I know I often feel lonely, not because I'm alone - I'm hardly ever alone - but because I fail to connect with other people.  Now, I have to ask myself, is the person I most failing to connect with, actually me?  Would I be better at connecting with other people if I understood myself better?  And how much do other people actually connect with one another (Dave asked me this one today).  Is shooting the breeze really connecting?  Is being in the same place as someone, talking to them, the same as actually connecting with another person.  Or is it just another way to distract oneself from being with oneself?

Frenetic energy springs to mind.  It's everywhere.  Everywhere we go, all the social media, shopping centres in particular, are BOOMING with frenetic energy.  If a person isn't comfortable in the calm quiet places, isn't that a problem?  If you cannot sit in a room with another human being without speaking, without the tv or the radio on, or something else to distract you - the computer, the phone, the book - can you really say you know how to be with yourself and with another person?

I sometimes sit just with myself and my thoughts.  I don't often with someone else and our thoughts.

Anyone else suffer from active laziness?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Clues in our bodies...

Somehow the comparison of the various hands in our household came up this morning.  Five of us were at home, and Luey was at school.  Erik and I realized our hands were the same length from the heel of our palms to the tips of our fingers.  His hand, however, was all finger length!  Dave remarked that he had piano playing hands, or artist hands (which is really quite perfect for someone who loves to draws), but also that they were very, very different from his own hands (Dave is a rather skilled artist in his own right, he just hasn't done any art in a couple of decades.  Dave would, however, differentiate his learned skills from Erik's natural ability.).

On comparison, we also realized Erik's hands really weren't shaped like my hands either (and I don't have an artist gene when it comes to drawing or painting or pottery and so on - I'm a writer, and beyond typing, you don't need your hands for that).

We were compelled to then compare Erik's hand to Bryn's and Ari's, but of course, they have the hands of a preschooler and a baby, respectively, so their hands are still chubby and not well defined in shape - they still have a lot of growing to do.  All the same, Dave and I felt that Bryn's hand is similar to Dave's in shape, with it's even fingers from base to tip, but Ari's fingers taper like mine and Erik's, even though in reference to his palm they're not long like Erik's.  Luey wasn't around at the time, so I caught a snapshot of his hand when he got home from school, and it is really hard to say who he is similar to, he seems to be a blend of all kinds of hands.

I'd heard somewhere that the shape of your hand could act as a hint to the kind of profession you might be best suited to.  Unfortunately, I couldn't find any reference to anything other than palmistry or Chirognomy, neither of which were quite what I was looking for.

Then, tonight, Luey was mucking around at the end of our dining room table, and it struck me that his posture and the length of his arms would make him an amazing dancer to watch!  Not to mention that he is double jointed, which he feels is an added entertainment factor - much to my horror!  The thing is, Luey WANTS to dance.  He is desperate for us to get him into hip-hop classes (I have no idea where to find such classes in our local area!).

I snapped of a few happy snaps of him dancing around our living room, and it is as if he body is built for dance.

Do our genes pre-determine what occupations we will be drawn to?  Are our bodies built to suit particular ways of interacting with the world, and without realizing it, are we drawn to those kinds of pursuits, even though we might feel that we made some sort of intellectual decision to follow one path or another?

There are a lot of artistic, musical, and theatrical people in my family.  Are we this way because it's what we grow up with and know and learn to love, or is it in our blood, our genes and the very design of our bodies?

What do you think?

Forgotten thinking...

As I walked home from the bus stop this morning, after yet another enjoyable lecture by Jostein Gaarder (who immediately left for Sydney afterwards), I was struck by this thread of sadness that had wound itself around me as I left Federation Square.

The thread was attached to the joy I have felt these last few days in immersing myself in the Melbourne Writer's Festival sessions, and hearing other people talk about the things that move them and provoke them.  This morning, I had a long held opinion completely turned on it's head by a suggestion that just had not occurred to me over the past few years of thinking about the topic (global warming).

It felt amazing to be challenged like this and to find enjoyment in a new, well argued, point of view that directly challenged my previously held opinion.

Thinking on matters a world away from everything I've been thinking and discussing and debating for the past decade or so was WONDERFUL!

It was like taking my shoes off and curling my toes in fresh, sun-warmed, damp spring soil!  It was a direct connection to the essence of myself.  It made my soul sing with joy, and at the same time it attached a thread of sadness to me that wound itself around me and tripped me up all day long.

The sadness came from the realization that for many, many years now, I've been stuck in a rut with my thinking.  It's not that I haven't been thinking (I can't stop thinking and questioning and wondering about), but rather that I'd been focusing on such a narrow field of questions when there are so many more questions out there; like a field of wild flowers, all gorgeous, all waiting to be picked, but I'd repeatedly picked just a few varieties, the same varieties over and over.

I felt sad about all this time that has passed with me just going back to the same questions over and over until I felt like I'd thought everything I could think about them (which I'm sure I haven't, but sometimes I get completely fed up with my mind playing the same records over and over, even if I did love the music once).

I had a bit of mental break today.  A bursting of the dam, so to speak.  I was sitting and reading and enjoying reading literary fiction for the first time in a long time and I received a phone call from a harassed office worker, who took her frustration out on me, and pressed one of my big buttons at the moment (the feeling that I can never do or say the right thing to people even when I am careful to follow all the rules I've observed about human interaction).

On another day, I might have thought this woman was annoying and full of herself, but today the interaction became the crack that broke the windshield.  I think I probably cried for three solid hours because of this woman's manner, but I realized tonight that it wasn't so much about her, but how interactions like the one I had with her rob me of the energy to think.  I realize tonight that everyday life as a mum and an adult in this society saps me of the energy to wander the field of questions, and the reason I end up picking the same variety of wild flowers all the time is because I never get further than a few steps into the field before LIFE calls me back, and so I only ever have time to pick the blossoms nearest the gate.

When I was younger, I reveled in the world of my own thoughts.  Everything, every interaction with the world and with people was potentially a springboard for a new area of wonder.  Concepts were playthings that I turned this way and that and pulled apart and put back together for fun.  I've always been highly inquisitive and when I was younger I could throw all my energy into those pursuits.

I thought there was no reason whatsoever for this curiosity to end.  I thought I could just take it with me into every aspect of my life.  I didn't realize how tired I would feel, and how much I would long to not have to think about anything because every thought outside what I was DOING or expected to BE DOING felt like betrayal of the people in my life I was trying to keep close and whole.  I just didn't realize that taking care of myself was going to be more than taking a shower, or reading a book, or sleeping in once in a while.  Taking care of me, for me, has to be about being able to walk to the far side of that field and find the rare bloom which isn't immediately visible, that I need time and mind space to look for.  Today, I realized how long I'd neglected myself and how hard I will have to fight to not let that happen again.

I need to work on this.

Good Job!