Thursday, June 23, 2016

Another little house...

Another family home photo was uploaded to Facebook last night. This was also my grandmother's - you can see her yellow house in the background (the black tar-paper there on the left of the red house). This little red house was tiny, that front wall was about five metres across, I reckon (I'm trying to figure it out by remembering the layout of beds up under the eaves upstairs). Downstairs, you walked through the little white door there into an enclosed verandah, the toilet was at the far end. Boot, coats etc. came off there - because they'd be wet. Then through the front door there were steep stairs directly to your left leading to the attic bedrooms - the attic was divided in two, though towards the end of the house's life the dividing wall was knocked down. Downstairs was an 'open plan' kitchenette/living area, in the main part of the house, and in that little annex at the back was a step up to a sitting room and tiny bedroom (Amma's double bed filled the bedroom). I remember at one point, this house was being set up for my family to live in it, then I remember my Amma lived there for a while with my aunt and my cousin, I think - and my cat was born there. At another time, I think Amma, three aunts, two boyfriends and a cousin were living there? I'm not sure - there was always a crowd - every person having their own room was quite unheard of in our family!

The piece of land this tiny house sat on was quite large and was marked off by a low stone wall, as you can see in this photo which was taken from the point of view standing in front of Amma's yellow house, looking over the river and the yard of the red house.

In summer my brother and I used to play in that yard, eat the sweet stalks of the grass. I loved the feel of those stones, I imagined they had been there forever, for hundreds of years - maybe they have. According to Wikipedia 
According to Landnámabók Þuríður Sundafyllir settled in Bolungarvík around 940 along with her brother Þjóðólfur. Folklore says they had a disagreement and put a spell on each other, as they were both skilled sorcerers. Þuríður laid on her brother that he would spend eternity as a monolith on which all birds would defecate. Þjóðólfur in turn hexed his sister that she would forever stand where the wind blows most. The pillar that was said to be Þuríður collapsed in half in 1936. The legend says that same night "Þjóðólfur" sank in the sea. That night their spell washed away into the sea.
I guess when you grow up with such a rich sense of heritage, such a connection to land, roots, it fills your spirit so you don't feel so poor or vulnerable. Maybe this is why first peoples, robbed of their culture and robbed of their connect to land feel so lost and no amount of money or substitute culture can fill the gaping hole that is left behind. In the meantime, I wonder if a lot of post-industrial Western society has become so disconnected from land and roots that it has created the sense of poverty so many people suffer now where there is simply never is enough to make them happy. Whether it is acknowledgment, praise, pity, love, money, things, or admiration.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


I woke up this morning to a family member had subscribed me to a Facebook group for the village I'm from in Iceland. When I say I'm from this village, I don't mean that I am born there - I'm born in Australia. I mean, it is where I lived the longest in Iceland. It is the village I know like the back of my hand. I have literally walked every street of this place.

Someone had posted a bunch of photos, and for some reason, several photos included my grandmother's last house in the village. This house had been torn down when I visited in August, so I was very excited to see it. These photos are taken from around the time we moved to the village last. My grandmother's house is the yellow house in the middle of the photo. She didn't own the house*, she rented, and she only rented half the house - the right side of the house with the black tar-paper cladding exposed around the windows.

When we moved to live with Amma in December 1982, three of my aunties, one uncle, and one cousin were already living with her. So, to be clear, her half of the house is where the black tar-paper starts and right of that. The first window is the kitchen window. The door is in the tiny entry, directly opposite the door was a staircase which took you up to an attic bedroom. To the right of the front door was the living room/diningroom, behind it was Amma's room, towards the front of the house (that window) was a teensy room that fit a single bed only), which you got to throught the bathroom/laundry, out back was a storage room of sorts. Once we moved in, there were nine people living there for several months, plus on occasion my aunties boyfriends.

When we first came to the house at Christmas 1982, the snowdrifts were up to the roof line at the door of the house, and we had to dig steps down to the front door. The snow kept coming throughout winter, and on more than one occasion, I remember people clambering in and out of the window to the attic bedroom that you can see in the picture below.

In the summer of 1983, when I was eleven, I had a summer job of taking care of five children during the day, they ranged in age from nine down to eighteen months. I look at the river, so close to the front door, no fence, those rocks, and it used to flow quite quickly. I remember my nine year old brother and my five-year-old cousin play with paper boats down there. I wonder if I'd trust Bryn with five kids next summer by that river...

These windows at the back of the house belong to my Amma's bedroom. Her boudoir. To me she was always very glamorous, she had a tendency to get about the house in a matching nightgown and robe sets, but not flannelette and quilted cotton like my English nanna, no, Amma's were always flowy and drapey like a 40s noir character with plenty of cleavage on display. and she always had a cigarette hanging from her lips. Her bedroom had a large Chinese paper umbrella hanging open and upside down in one corner of the ceiling and on a heavy buffet at the foot of her bed was white plaster sculpture we called 'The Kiss'. 

What I love about this last photo is seeing how close the mountains were. I love those mountains so much!

The other day I had a strange experience. A friend linked to an article about an Icelandic crime series which is currently available on SBS on demand. When I clicked through to the article there was immediately a photo. As I looked at the photo the word 'Seyðisfjörður' popped into my mind. Now, that is the name of a village. A village I have never been to. A village I have no association with whatsoever, in actual fact, so when it came to me, I laughed and thought it might be funny if the show was filmed or set in Seyðisfjörður. I kept reading the article and several paragraphs later, right at the bottom of the page, it said the show is, indeed, set in Seyðisfjörður. I had to look it up because I had no idea where in the country that place is. As it turns out, it's not far from where I stay a night back in September last year. I rang mum and told her and we came to the conclusion that the land is in our DNA, someone it is part of us and we are part of it and that is why we yearn for it and it calls us.

*As it turns out, my aunts tells me she did own the house and that it was utterly ruined by the last tenant and the township then sold it for demolition - or that is how I understand the translation of what I was told.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Chances are you're not a loner...

I saw this poster on social media this week and I thought, what a strange way to define a loner. If a loner is now someone surrounded by family and a few good friends, then aren't most people loners? It's a bit like the poverty thing, people crying poverty when what they mean is they can't afford a holiday, or they can't afford copious discretionary spending. I would have thought a loner was someone who didn't relate to people, a hermit, someone who kept very much to themselves. Just as a poor person would be someone who struggled to meet their basic needs, not someone who could afford organic food, new clothes every month, and subscription television.

I wonder what it is that has people looking so hard for the deficit in their lives these days. To have family and a few good friends is to have a lot. That is not to be a loner. There are people in this world who truly have no one. I have found whenever I have said that I cannot relate to other people, that I feel like a completely different species, that I feel like I stand outside of every social network I know and cannot properly connect with other people, that people can relate to that. Most people know what that feels like. Apparently, that feeling is very common. So, if you feel strange and alien and like no one gets you, at least you can console yourself with the knowledge that you're not alone, most everyone around you feels exactly the same way!

As it turns out, we're, none of us, that unique... As for being loners, very few people are true loners, except for the barriers they create in their own minds.

Friday, June 17, 2016

I know you can do it...

The Grumpy Old Man cried this morning...

Tears of joy, and tears of relief. He cried in the car after dropping the boys off at school, and then he cried again at home when he told me the story I'm about to tell you. He apologised to me for crying, but I told him there was nothing to apologise for.

We are currently in the process of having Ari assessed. There is a strong likelihood that like his mother, his grandmother, his uncle, and several other extended family members, Ari has ADHD. He is extremely bright. He reads well above his grade level (he's half way through grade two and reading Star Wars novels now), and his maths is even stronger than his reading. His writing lags a little, not because he struggles with spelling or anything - he's a whizkid speller - but because he can't focus his thoughts to put a story together on paper. He can TELL you the most fantastic stories, but when it comes to writing them down, he gets very frustrated and anxious and restless.

Actually, in class, he is generally very restless.

This year, he's had a marvellous teacher for dealing with restless kids. Actually, she was the teacher I spotted when we first visited the school a year ago, I thought she'd be perfect for him then, but he chose another teacher for himself (who was lovely, by the way, just not no nonsense enough).

We'd suggested to Ari's current teacher that he might do well if given a responsibility, but she was of the opinion that he had to earn the right to a responsibility. Fair enough, we said, and left it up to her.

This morning the GOM took Ari to his class, and Ari immediately set to doing some sort of work in a workbook. The GOM commented on it to the teacher and she said it was something he liked doing in preparation for another part of the day when the kids did another activity which he wasn't very settled for at which point she usually gave him the responsibility of sitting with a particularly child in the class who has been struggling with reading. The teacher said, 'Your heart would melt if you saw him! He sits next to [X} and [X] get to a difficult word, Ari says, 'Okay, just sound it out, I know you can do it!' He so sweet!' The GOM said it was all he could do not to burst into tears right there and then.

You see we've been worried. With Erik having autism and being unable to relate to others emotionally, having to be taught how to make friends and pretty much mimicking emotions to make connections, we've wondered if Ari might also have those difficulties. He also doesn't have any close friends at this age - he has friends he plays with at schools, but we don't know their names because he doesn't talk about them by name. He never introduces them, never asks to have them over, is never invited on playdates or to birthday parties. At some level, it bothers him, but he doesn't talk about it except very occasionally.

He is very affectionate, but we wondered still if he was capable of awareness of other people's emotions. This act of tutoring another child, actively encouraging them in their learning, this shows he is aware.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Erik went to his senior school prom on Friday night. Don't know why they call it that - I thought in Australia it was called a formal? He scrubs up well, doesn't he?

Not that he'd ever acknowledge this, but this is my favourite haircut for him. I've been trying to get him to cut his hair like this again for the past five years! It really suits him! Also, hello Icelandic cheekbones. He may have the Bird chin and the Bird brow, but though are my Amma's and his Amma's and his mother's cheekbones!

He's looking good. It's breaking my heart that we didn't get to have this Erik. I hope she appreciates that she has this Erik because we raised him for the first 16.75 years and even though he didn't appreciate our efforts, we really tried our best. I don't think we did a terrible job.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Finding Joy...

I've talked about how pain is unavoidable, and how the more you resent the presence of pain in your life, the more you will feel pain. The flip side of this, of course, is that when you find joy, you need to soak in it.

That's it.

Feel it. All of it.

Feel the pain, really feel the pain. Feel it in every cell of you being, acknowledge it, know it is there, but it is transient.

Then feel the joy, really feel it!

Yes, the joy is also transient, that is why you need to REALLY feel it. Acknowledge it.

Too many people are afraid to acknowledge the joy because they fear people will make light of their pain if they reveal any joy at all. They rob themselves of the joy in their life because they feel they can't have both joy and pain, that their pain can't be real if they don't have joy. They are too invested in their pain. Their pain means too much. Maybe their pain garners them sympathy, friendship, status. Maybe it allows them to feel included in a group, or it ensures people notice them. They are afraid they may be abandoned or ignored if they seem okay. They need the pain, even though the pain is painful.

So, even though they crave joy, they deny themselves joy because joy threatens the security that pain affords them.

Both pain and joy can co-exist. In fact, they must co-exist. There is no joy without pain, and no pain without joy. One cannot be known without having known the other. So, feel them, acknowledge however momentarily and interchangeably they occur.

Don't deny yourself joy!

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Perfect Job...

The perfect job was advertised last night on a network I'm registered with. I can't apply for it for various reasons, but suddenly I found myself looking at it going, 'Yes! That is what I want to do!' I haven't had that experience in a long time.

My plans are in line with doing a job just like that in the future, so I'm not heartbroken that I can't go for it now. If anything, I see it as a confirmation of sorts. I'm keeping the details under my tichel on purpose, so please excuse my vagueness but you know how it is when you say too much too soon and then you get all angsty about it. Who needs that, right?

I had a bit of an epiphany about education.

We go on and on about the importance of a good education, and I found myself posting the following on social media the other day...

I commented that I truly believe this and that is why I find myself falling out of love with academia lately. Now, that might seem like an odd thing for someone doing a PhD to say, but I think it's quite healthy.

Education is very important. Education is liberating. It empowers people. One thing it should liberate people from is cow-towing to people with higher levels of education because education is not everything. Often people see education as some kind of hierarchy. The better your education, the more worthy your opinion. Somehow, if you have a degree, or a doctorate, your thoughts on EVERYTHING are supposed to be more valuable, more valid, that those of people who have less education than you.

Here's another brilliant meme I saw yesterday...

The most important thing about an education is that people learn that everyone is valuable, whether or not they can express themselves grammatically correctly, whether or not they speak eloquently, whether or not they understand political correctness, whether or not they are aware of forces that dominate them that they will never be aware of without 16-20 years of education... Respect and compassion do not require degrees. I used to think academia was a kind of utopia of higher order thinking where people did better because they knew better. What I found is that academia is very much just like everywhere else. There are lots of lovely people who are trying to use all they've learned to make life better for everyone, and then there are people who are just interested in making life better for themselves or hanging out in what they believe is the rarified atmosphere of the educated elite. Sometimes, I catch a whiff of distinctly stale, cloistered air. I hear mutterings of, 'This is how it is, how it's always been, this is how things work.' Sometimes I sense that for some the status quo is a source of comfort because they have found 'their people'.

It isn't this way for everyone, thank goodness, and a lot of my peers feel the same way I do. We want to do more than turn over ideas, we want to change lives. When I saw that job ad, I saw the opportunity I'm looking for to do just that.

PS. Oh, And I just want to say a huge CONGRATS to my friend Robbie on his scholarship for his Masters in Teaching - you said you'd never get one, you were WRONG!

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Labels and Excuses...

I was recently reading a very interesting discussion about the recent release of the movie, 'Me Before You' - a movie about a tragic person with a disability who takes his own life. The movie is based on a book and is a real tear jerker. The discussion circles around two main points of issue, first that - once again - the actor playing the part of the disabled person is an able bodied person despite the vast availability of talented actors with suitable disabilities to play the part, and secondly, that the characterisation - once again - plays into the duality that is often depicted of people with disability, that they are either tragic victims of their disability, or that they are heroes.

I have often encountered this duality. I am constantly 'complimented' about my 'achievements' in 'light of my challenges' - you know, as if having and raising four children, learning to speak, read, and write three languages, fail high school, and still manage to start and complete an undergraduate degree, grad. dip., and two masters is a walk in the park for most people. Yes, I do want acknowledgement that I work hard to overcome the obstacles presented by my disability, but everyone works hard to achieve the things I've done - hard work is part of the contract, I knew that going in, and I do not expect things to be made easier for me because I have a disability. I only expect them to be made FAIR.

I do not want to be a hero for doing the same thing other people do, I only want a level playing field to achieve the same achievements taken for granted by others.

And then there is the other end of the spectrum.

Do not pity me.

My life is not tragic.

Yes, there are times when I feel terribly depressed because I may not see Ari as a grown man, or because I will never have a motorbike licence. I would have loved to be a brain surgeon, but oh well, with my level of distractibility, it's probably a good thing that wasn't an option.

I was having a discussion with friends about labels, as we're going through the process of having one of our boys assessed and the question came up - is the label really necessary, can't we just treat the symptoms? I've spoken about this before on the blog. The label is shorthand for a group of symptoms that may impact the person, it quickly identifies a situation. It should never excuse behaviours, but rather inform the possible cause of a behaviour - note I say POSSIBLE (you can never know for certain when a behaviour is caused by a biological or sociological stimulant, everything should be considered). Having the label allows the sufferer and those who work with the sufferer to implement strategies to work with the symptoms, and COUNTERACT symptoms which negativity impact the sufferer's life.

I have labels as long as my arm. I refuse to use them as excuses to do less. As I said to a friend today - in my PhD, for example, I read many times slower than my peers because I suffer from tunnel vision (it's like looking down a straw when you're reading, I can't see the whole line), and nystagmus (my eyeballs shake - so now I'm looking down the straw and the straw is shaking), and I'm very short sighted so I need large print - well, now I actually need a close circuit tv to read print. So, I eventually had to ask for extra time on my PhD because I couldn't keep up with the reading despite spending many, many hours reading. Let's say I read four times slower than my peers, I didn't ask for four times extra time, I asked for 1/4 extra time, but - as I've always done - I'm working a lot harder. A lot of people have no idea how much harder I actually work because I play it down because I often feel the results don't reflect the effort (so, now I'm outing myself, but hey, I'm sure no one will read this, hahaha). My point is the label does not make you a hero or a tragic figure.

Having a label only informs you of the adjustments that need to be made to create a level playing field. The rest is very much up to you.

My life is no tragedy. I am no hero.

Once I have my level playing field, I'm exactly like anyone else.

Acknowledge my need for a fair go, I'll do the rest.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Finding his feet...

I wanted to write about Lukas today.

So much of focus has been on Erik over the years - because he needed it - and often I have felt this was to the detriment of the other kids.

Lukas is turning fifteen this month. He's always been a bit of a strange one in the family. Quite laid back, but the one we know can explode if his somewhat length tether is yanked on...

He's the milkman's child. The odd man out in the family portrait. Our golden haired boy.

When he's trying to get out of doing something he doesn't want to do, but doesn't know how to just say no, he giggles nervously, like a little girl.

He is mature and sensible for his age. He sees the lay of the land and flies under the radar wherever possible. He's phlegmatic - he takes after his late paternal grandfather in that way.

Lukas' greatest fault is that he is lazy as the day is long. It's probably the only thing he really works hard at. This used to worry me quite a bit. The kid would only ever put in the bare minimum effort. He would rather starve than get his own breakfast. Even now, even though his bedroom is quite small, his clothes end up dropped on the floor where he stands, rather than in the clothes hamper less than an arms length away.

When we were looking at high schools and we were interested in TC, we were outside the zone and the school had an unofficial cap on numbers and were choosing kids on motivation and ability. Getting Erik in wasn't difficult because of his artistic talent, but we were worried about Lukas because, well, he just wasn't interested in anything much. He claimed an interest in playing an instrument, but as we had no spare money for tuition, we hadn't been able to let him pursue that interest.

Once he got into TC (because Erik was already there), we had access to much more afford tuition, and Lukas started learning to play the bass guitar. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly as enthusiastic in practice as he had sounded in theory. Lazy Lukas was on the scene again doing the bare minimum throughout year seven and eight.

Half way through year eight, his tutor told him that he would not recommend him for the music VET program for year nine as he wasn't showing enough dedication to his practice and that he needed to step up more. At this stage, things with Erik were deteriorating as well, and so I gave both boys quite the lecture.

Erik went from bad to worse over the next few months towards the end of the year, leading to him being denied the opportunity to do VCE subjects at the beginning of this year - leading to him moving out at Easter. Lukas, on the other hand, started to pick up his game. Slowly his GPA rose, and the reports from his music tutor came back more positive.

This year, Lukas has gone from strength to strength at school overall, but most particularly in music. He is really impressing his tutors, extending his knowledge and skills well beyond their expectations.

I'm so proud of him! He was a slow starter, but he really seems to have found his feet!

Good Job!