Archive for the ‘Live Strong and Well’ Category

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

February 19, 2017

Time to Read, to Know and Understand

Reading is always the way to knowledge and wisdom – often there is more truth in fiction than in anything else you read – especially in these worrying days of alternative facts and fake news. Yes in this post truth world you will find more honesty and truth in novels. So now is the time to remind yourself of the classics you should have read, or to reacquaint yourselves with those novels from your past that have – perhaps sadly – more resonance now than ever before. Here’s a rundown on some of the more pertinent classics that reverberate even today.

 

Dystopian ‘Realities’

1984, George Orwell

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

The Handmaiden’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

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Now, more than ever you need to take on the brilliance of Orwell – too much prescience for one writer. Return to 1984 and Animal Farm with horror at how the world changes and shifts and learns nothing. Too much has come true, too much of what we thought was outrageous fantasy is coming true. Revisit the under-rated Brave New World (an easier read that 1984, as I recall) and Atwood’s classic and tremble. There is, of course, The Hunger Games and many other novels who explore ideas of totalitarianism gone mad but these are excellent and relevant starting points.

 

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

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Not going to say that these are my favourite reads of all time but they tell classic tales of desire, love, lust, abandonment, injustice and the excessive amount of suffering love causes us all. You need to know the classics of love and loss – at least they should make you feel better about your own love life. Emma Bovary will certainly cheer you up, as will Anna Karenina – none of us could be as miserable and bereft as those two, and you need to get over Colin Firth as Mr Darcy and actually experience the original 1813 version. And if you’re going to read only one Bronte, Wuthering Heights is the one: you need to see what a bastard Heathcliff is and how unworthy Cathy was too. You can’t go passed Great Expectations for one of the bitterest spurned lovers in literature – the demonic and manipulative Miss Havisham: if you want to know about revenge she is the go-to oracle. Poor Pip, he never had a chance with Estella. No, what we think love is from the classics probably isn’t …

 

Angry (lost) Young Men

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis

Hamlet, Shakespeare

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We have too many angry disenfranchised young men in the world at the moment – they’ve always been there, a lot of them going off to die in war, or flinging themselves about recklessly on the sporting field. Now they have grown up and are running the world. Remind yourself of what happens to boys alone on an island without rules, adults or girls in Lord of the Flies; how utterly bereft and miserable Holden Caulfield is, almost as mad as Hamlet, but none as mad as Patrick Bateman. Yes, American Psycho is a difficult and offensive read, but it shows a chillingly dark side of men gone seriously off-course and what damage can be done by those who think they are above the law!

 

Shitty Pointlessness of War

All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

Catch 22, Joseph Heller

Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Gallipoli – yes, I know it’s a film but it is bloody brilliant

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War is shit, war is stupid, war kills and destroys and never solves anything, yet war is one of the enduring features of mankind. We are aggressive, destructive creatures, we would rather wage war that negotiate a peace. War rages on our planet still, we learn nothing from history and despite this literary collection from different wars and countries, we keep on going. Read and recoil with horror – war may have led to technological advances and helped the status of women in some countries (and absolutely screwed them over in others), but mostly it leaves a trail of intergenerational damage that echoes and reverberates over time and place. Watch Europe implode in the wake of Brexit, forgetting the very reason for the European Union in the first place.

 

Stolen Generations (Oz)

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert – don’t just watch Australia

Radiance, Louis Nowra – great play and excellent film too

Rabbit Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington Garimara – based on a true story, watch if you don’t want to read it

My Place, Sally Morgan – personal history but you need to read it!

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All Australians need to know more about their history – yes we do have a shameful past and we need to know about it and acknowledge it. Capricornia is Xavier Herbert’s classic story of the far north, of how Aboriginals were treated, how we built our national character – the lone, tough bloke of the outback. Have a read, it’s not the novel you think it is. Radiance is a brilliant play about the complexities of the Stolen Generations issue, and Rabbit Proof Fence and My Place give the issue heart and substance.

 

The American Dream

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

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We all need to understand the American Dream, it isn’t just part of the American consciousness but ours too, given how dominant American culture is. The American Dream is akin to the Oz idea about being The Lucky Country. It is a capitalist construct, a belief in the power of the individual – if he (usually it is he) is driven enough, ambitious enough and hard working enough then he can have the life he dreams of, no matter how big. America is built on being the New World, the place where you can begin again, re-make yourself and be whoever you want to be. Status and class (fixed entities in European and especially British society) do not matter: hard work and ambition does. Witness true life American Dream winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Gatsby is the best known example of the AD, but you need to read Of Mice and Men too, it shows the other side of the coin; men with small dreams but destined for failure. Is the AD simply an illusion, something used by the powerful to beat the weak with? If you worked harder, believed more then you would be successful… so if you fail it’s your fault too, despite the massive amount of entities ranged against you. It takes away the responsibility of the state, of government to look after anyone. If your life is a failure it is your fault. Read both novels, they won’t take you long, but they’ll give you a handy insight into what makes large bits of the US tick.

 

The System Always Wins

1984, George Orwell

The Crucible, Arthur Miller

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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Perhaps this is the nastiest reading list for modern times. Justice and fairness and the truth are not part of these sad stories. The hero loses, every time. The system is ranged against them – not interested in truth – definitely not in The Crucible, where hysteria reigns and common sense is outlawed, or in 1984 where there is only Double-speak, and the Ministry of Truth, simply isn’t. Fairness and justice is never on the table for Tess or the characters in The God of Small Things. Ivan Denisovich will die in the gulag, after being beaten, starved and worked to death. You just can’t stick it to the man, when he has everything on his side and you are the size of an ant.

 

There are other classics you should know and read – a whole raft of Shakespeare, one for every occasion! To Kill a Mockingbird springs to mind as does Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. All relevant to the difficult times we are currently experiencing. This is just your set to start with.

What will you re-read to help you make better sense of our sense-less world? What would you add to this list? (Images from Private Collection)

Silly (Sound) Advice for Serious (Scary) Times

November 13, 2016

Silly Advice for Serious Times – up-dated in light of recent events

It’s dangerous out there, so take care. Watch your back, shut your mouth, don’t post and be as kind as you can. If you can’t then here’s a few bits of advice, some silly, some worthwhile …

Don’t swim with the sharks (or the crocodiles). They can take nasty great chunks out of you, rip your limbs off and kill you. This occurs in deep water, shallow pools and on dry land. Dry land sharks are the most deadly, especially ones at work and in the pub – you should avoid wolves too. The problem with swimming with sharks is if they don’t eat you, you could just as well become one of them and that maybe much worse.

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Don’t play in the traffic. Keep to the paths, avoid cyclists, women with prams, teenagers with iPods, hoods, scooters, old people who dodder along and get in your way, anyone with a phone. Don’t cross the road without looking, use traffic lights but still look, listen, look again. There’s too much traffic, most of it going too fast and not remotely interested in pedestrian rights. Navigate skilfully and you will not get hurt. Get off your phone – look up once in a while and you’ll see what’s about to hit you and get out of the way.

Don’t pet strange dogs. All dogs other than your own are strange and can be relied upon to behave strangely. Always ask the owner if you can touch their dog before doing so. Don’t presume anything. If you are a post-man keep clear of all dogs, they know you hate them. If you are a representative of any religion or political party and you get too close to a strange dog then expect the worse. Dogs have an uncanny sense for shit people and will bark and bite, as they should.

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Don’t tweet, email or FB rudeness about your boss or colleagues, or use your work email for other ‘stuff’. Oh God it is so tempting but you will regret it, sooner or later. So slag them off in the pub, loudly and then claim you were drunk and can’t remember. The spoken word can be denied; the written one will always bite you on the bum. Nothings changed here – keep your work-place nice, keep your electronic communications relevant, and keep your thoughts and fingers under control. Think about how much trouble emails have caused poor old Hilary.

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Don’t work with children, old people, sick people or criminals. The caring professions suck, you don’t get paid enough, are blamed for the ills of the world and you are more likely to be abused by your charges than appreciated. You have no authority, are constantly told what to do by others and are expected to take responsibility for other people’s shit – literally and metaphorically. Don’t be a banker either, find something that makes you happy and keeps you afloat, financially speaking and doesn’t cause the planet any more pain. And for God’s sake don’t be a politician – yes, they have becomes the scum-bag profession of our time.

Pal's pals@GCSE

Don’t believe that books are dying. The publishing industry is alive and well, just diversifying. People will want to hold a book in their hands a bit longer; students will want to scribble and underline key points; people like to unwrap books on Xmas Day. Video did not kill the radio star or the movies so e-books are not killing real books. So, as you start to gear up for Xmas put some books on your list and save the life of an impoverished writer.

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Don’t believe that the end of the world is nigh. It’s been grim for some parts of the world forever – think Africa and Indigenous peoples of the world. It is a time for caution, for not being greedy or reckless. It’s a time to take stock of what you’ve got, look after what’s important, shed the rest. The world is rich enough for all of us – it’s greed that’s killing us and the planet. Do your bit to make your corner of the world a kind and hopeful place. Grow flowers, help others when you can, always be kind – small words of care go a very long way. Don’t under-estimate your own power to do good and make a difference.

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Trump is not the end of the world. But he needs to be the end of the way political campaigns are run – on lies and sound-bites and hostility. I do not recognise this as the world I was expecting to grow old in. Politicians and the Media need to be accountable. They need to take responsibility for the mess we are currently in: for the divisions in society, for the hatred that has been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic in the wake of Brexit and the US election. Now it’s time to make those in charge, those who make decisions for all of us, accountable. We need to shout at our law-makers, our politicians and demand better. Bravo Lego for disassociating yourself from the Daily Mail because you no longer will be associated with their Hate.

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We need to take a step back from the noise and the flashing lights and the hysteria and breath. Things need to change. We need to take personal responsibility for that change too – protest, lobby, get involved in positive actions. But you know, sometimes what seems to be a disaster turns out to be a new beginning.

 

Fingers crossed, world. xx (Images from Private Collection)

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

October 29, 2016

Stop. Think. Don’t press ‘Send’ just yet …

I am compelled this week to consider the state of electronic communications and the ease with which people take offence, misread information and then, and this is the killer bit, post some excessive, out of all kilter bit of vitriol that somehow – somehow – is okay because we all know it’s okay to be offended and outraged and to say so in the strongest possible language.

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Many years ago when on-line forums were new and before FB really got going; there were no Blogs, no Twitter or Snap-chat, etc etc, I joined an on-line writing community. I thought this would be a good thing – post some of my stories, the odd chapter of an odd novel and get some feedback from like-minded people. It was a reputable organization over-seen by someone big and respected in Hollywood. In order to get feedback you had to read and comment on three stories. The more you commented the more you could expect feedback on your stuff. All good, I thought. But you know where this is going…

I dutifully read my quota of stories. Most were pretty ordinary, some had potential and some should not have been published, even in such a forum – they weren’t ready for the light of day. I read some erotica, well it was presented as that, but it really was some horrid bit of porn masquerading as erotica. I ummed … I ahhed … and then I commented, saying that perhaps for it to be more appropriate to the genre it needed to be more nuanced, more subtle, less objectifying of the female character. I cannot tell you how bad it was but how kind – relatively speaking – my commentary was. I did the teacher thing and said what worked in the story, what didn’t and what I thought could be done to improve. I thought very carefully about what I wrote.

And then the gates of hell opened.

This guy, and it was a guy, and it was not clear from my non-de-plume that I was female, accused me of all sorts of things; of being some up-tight frigid bitch who’d never enjoyed sex and had no idea how a real woman might feel, and that I had no idea about men or writing, was clearly miserable in all aspects of my life, so why was I commenting at all. I was clearly too stupid and sexless to understand his wonderful work. Yes, he had missed most of what I’d said, which was that the sex was fantasy cliche, the characters were wooden and the situation was not remotely credible – but in nicer, more helpful words.

He had, as often happens, attacked me personally instead of engaging with my critique. I had responded to the work, he had responded to me, his ‘attacker’.

Needless to say, I got off that forum before he could look at any of my stories and rip them to shreds in a revenge-response. It cured me of on-line writing clubs and taught me a salient lesson, which has stayed with me through my later and current on-line writing. I keep away from the personal criticism unless they are public figures like Gove and Wilshaw and I am pretty much unidentifiable on places like fan-fiction and some of my e-books. Yes, this is to protect my professional life but also to protect me. I do not want to endure the merciless self-indulgent, vile criticism of strangers ever again.

shennay a ‘balanced’ student critique!

I have been reminded of this matter this week through the unfortunate story of the Oz Mummy-bloggers bitch-fest. Notorious Mum posted, what from my reading, was quite a fair comment on the ‘queen’ of the mums-sphere, Constance Hall. Now, I am well out of the demographic for either blog but from the side-lines it has been a sad story to watch. Notorious Mum didn’t say anything outrageous; she was quite complimentary about Hall but then made a couple of fair and soft criticisms that unleashed hell for her. I do think it is disingenuous of Hall to write about panic attacks and collapsing and not realize that her posse will respond, will take the high ground and attack on her behalf, which is what they did. Rather like wolves circling in an ever increasing pack they went for Notorious Mum and trolled and spited and vitrioled her beyond belief.

This is the ugly side of the internet, the dangerous side of tribalism; this is like football hooligans going on a rampage after their team loses, smashing and trashing all in sight. This is the anonymity of groups, of the herd; the danger of the pack, that lets terrible things happen. One person wouldn’t do this; one person face to face would not say the things that are said on-line. This is mob-rule and it is incredibly dangerous.

We need to talk about this. On-line bullying happens all the time. It is the dark-side of electronic communications, of all of them. Adults bully adults – on Face-book and Twitter. We all know that the lovely but sensitive Stephen Fry takes himself off Twitter when the bitching gets too much and who can blame him? Children and teens bully all the time – indeed it may be less in the real world but it is greatly increased in the cyber-world. Have you not read the tragic stories of teen suicide from on-line bullying and trolling?

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Why do otherwise sane and normal people think it’s okay to be as vile as possible on-line? Is it because you can’t see people’s faces? Is it because you are hidden in another place behind another name? Is it because electronic messages (texts and emails can fall foul here too) can be so easily mis-read – that humour, or banter, or something nuanced and subtle cannot be judged effectively?

Is the meaning lost because people are too busy reacting and feeling hurt or out-raged to read the text/message/blog correctly? Are we not allowed to make valid criticisms of some people or subjects? If the language of the text is reasonable, if the comments are sound but simply offering a different point of view, are we not allowed to say such things anymore? Are we not allowed to respectfully disagree?

Why is it okay to be as bitchy as possible about Clinton and Trump – how does the plethora of cruel memes and unsubstantiated stories about both of them add to the debate, to electing the right person? How has everything become so personal and vindictive? One only has to think of the Brexit campaign to know that facts and reason were lost in the face of the personal and unsubstantiated bullshit flying from both sides.

Why are people so ready to react with nastiness and venom? Have we all become Edward Hyde, our dark and mutated selves full of blackness and evil allowed full reign by the anonymity of the internet, buy the lack of face-to-face connections?

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Perhaps it’s time to think long and hard before we comment on a post, before we reply in haste to a text that has upset us, before we send off some hastily composed email that might not be read in the spirit it was sent. Perhaps it’s time we took ownership of our words as well as our actions. Perhaps it’s time we realized the power of communication and took responsibility for what we write and how we write it, with a heightened awareness of how those words might be received. And yes, I am with Notorious Mum, grammar and spelling do matter, especially if you have a large on-line presence.

So, comment fairly, dear friends … (images from Private Collection)

The New 3R’s of Education

October 16, 2016

The New 3R’s of Education.

As the world shifts and changes and becomes both more amazing and more disturbing we need a new focus in schools, a big focus on becoming decent people; citizens of an ever-changing world, able to survive, manage and even thrive in whatever is to come. So today’s schools must focus more explicitly on Respect, Responsibility and Resilience. Once upon a time this used to be the covert curriculum, and much of this rested in the hands of parents. But now it needs to be front and centre in schools too.

 

Respect covers a range of sins and must be paramount as we become a more uncertain world with borders shifting and changing, identity and gender being more fluid and more open, with religious and cultural differences more defined as we become a global community. It is as simple as respect for yourself and for others. But it is so much harder in practice.

There was a time where we embraced the ‘live and let live’ ethos of a more tolerant and accepting view of each other. But now we seem to feel free to abuse, vilify and attack on the slenderest of reasons. Indeed Social Media and the constant streaming of ‘news’ has to take some share of the blame for the rise in hate in society, but it can’t be that simple, can it?

Why do we feel free to berate and abuse others? Where did that ‘freedom’ come from?

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Schools must be vigilant about respect, and in truth, many are trying to address the constancy of social issues that ever creep into our crowded curriculums. Respect is about tolerance, patience, consideration and kindness. It is being aware that others have different beliefs, customs, ways of living, attitudes and ideas. This is important as we don’t really want an homogenous society where we all think the same and parrot platitudes and dangerous ideas that are never challenged. Oh, yes, too much agreement and similarity is a very dangerous thing.

Thus instilling respect as a central tenant of how to live a decent life is crucial. 1.Respect for yourself, so you keep your body safe, so you can express your ideas freely but thoughtfully without hate and vitriol.

2.Respect for others, so they can get on with their own ways of life, be it of a different colour, different religion, different sexuality, different beliefs and ways of doing things.

3.Respect means understanding that there is no right way to do things, that there are many voices, many ideas, many people and we all have the right to exist peacefully in this world.

 

Responsibility is perhaps the thing in schools and society that does my head in most. For fuck’s sake, get a pen, learn how to cook, stop buying sugar-laden shit and expecting to be healthy, vote in elections, accept when you make a mistake and stop blaming everything and everyone else for your shitty life.

Being responsible for yourself, for your life can start early. Simple things like making your bed, putting your clothes in the wash, doing your homework, packing your school bag for the day ahead. Parents do need to build in these little pathways to responsibility early and naturally. It doesn’t mean you make them self-sufficient by 11 but by the time they get to secondary school most kiddies should be able to do a great many things for themselves.

Responsibility means being responsible for what you say and how you behave – under pressure and under normal circumstances – organizing your own life; owning it and making things happen.

Not being responsible is to expect all sorts of other people to make things happen for you and blaming them when things don’t fall the right way for you. So teaching responsibility early is vital for a human being who is self sustaining, accepts that sometimes things are their fault and doesn’t spend their life blaming, in no particular order – their parents, their teachers, the government, politicians, God, ISIS, Pauline Hanson, Trump, Clinton, etc, etc – for all that is wrong with their lives.

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Loving parents and good schools (even when the system is against them – whose GCSE results are they??? Just ask a failing school…) ensure that young people take responsibility for what is theirs and do the right thing in owning both the good and the bad that they say and do. Responsible youngsters become responsible citizens who take on more than just managing their own lives, who take responsibility for making the world a better place.

 

Resilience became a fashionable term a few years ago and there were various programs designed to help make students better able to cope with their worlds when things went wrong. For my mind responsibility and resilience go hand in hand. A responsible person can accept their own short comings and face up to them and do something about them. They are able to work through the tough times and stay afloat.

A person who blames others, a child who is so cosseted by their parents (and yes, schools too) that they cannot cope with slights, or failures is going to have a very tough life. All this helicopter-parenting, this Tiger-mothering of the young does them no good in the harsh light of the real world.

Resilience is perhaps more important than ever in this world of cyber-bullying, trolling and stalking. Young people are more vulnerable than ever to the slings and arrows of others, piercing their young feather-light hides with barbs and poison that stings to the core. Teenagers are horrendously sensitive creatures, their self esteem balancing on a pin head. Of course they are vulnerable and in the glow of their screens, in the dark of their rooms they are more vulnerable than ever. Recent studies deplore the levels of self-harm and unhappiness that young people feel, not to mention the constant stress of exams and that old faithful, peer pressure.

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If there was more respect for others, more tolerance of difference, of the outsider; if we took responsibility for our words and actions from the youngest age, there would be little need for resilience training for the young. But we must be aware that not all of us have the capacity to deal with the tough times, that not all of us have people who care enough to hold our hands and keep us steady through failure, rejection, self doubt, illness, bullying and harassment.

Resilience doesn’t make you callous, it doesn’t stop you feeling, it allows you to deal with the darker side of life and we need to prepare students in dealing with those things, the things that de-stabilise young people – lack of friends; ill, dead or absent parents, abusive families, drugs, bullying, failing to get the grades we expect, or into the uni course we so desperately want.

 

As a parent and a teacher I can bring these three elements to my teaching, to my dealings with young people. Honesty, integrity and authentic relationships with young people matter enormously. They need people they can trust – parents, teachers, coaches, other adults; people who will listen to them, be there for them, tell them the truth, and offer support in a practical and useful way.

Surely at the end of every day what we want is a better world, full of people who care about each other and themselves and are bringing good to the planet. God knows it needs it! (Images from Private Collection)

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

October 2, 2016

Sometimes Your Face Just Doesn’t Fit…

You know the feeling – you’re qualified for the job, your application was first rate, you prepped for the interview, it went well. But you didn’t get the job and really what reason was there? Someone who had the slightest of edges, or simply that you didn’t quite fit with that company, that work-place; it’s ethos or something equally impossible to quantify. You’ll never know and all you can do is move on, get over it and start again.

Sometimes, through no fault of your own you simply don’t fit in where you are or where you want to be. This can afflict all parts of our lives and all stages – work, friendships, and of course, romance. It can be horribly upsetting but all too often there’s bugger all we can do about it, other than accept it and move on.

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Remember school– the in crowd, or a group that you wanted to belong to? You hung about on the edges, sometimes invited into the centre but never truly a part of the scene. How many social occasions did you not get invited to, how many secrets were you not privy to? No, you weren’t the right stuff and more often than not, in hindsight, it’s probably a good thing. But at the time not being part of that group was soul destroying. What elusive element did you lack that made you not belong?

Pal's pals@GCSE

Work shifts too – are you really incompetent, unable to do your job or is it that there is something about you that management doesn’t like and they can’t quantify it (or maybe it’s illegal to do so – age, gender, race, sexual persuasion)? Instead you are under-mined, excluded, persecuted or over-looked for promotion again and again: effectively pushed, or even hounded out of your job. There may be all sorts of things you can do to address the problem; work harder, seek advice from your line manager; grievances, your union, legal advice, but in the end you have to face the fact that you can’t beat them, they have all the power and you simply have to move on. If your face doesn’t fit, if management don’t want you you’re better off out of there, before your health, self respect and self belief are battered beyond recovery.

A work-place where your face doesn’t fit is one of the most toxic environments you can be in. So, be smart and move on before it’s too late. But you need to remember that it isn’t necessarily about you – it’s as likely it’s nothing to do with your skills or your ability to do your job. (Indeed, I do speak from bitter personal experience!)

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And let us not forget love. How often has our face not been the right face – not the one that the object of our affection has wanted to gaze adoringly upon? How our hearts have heaved and shattered as we see them gaze upon another in the way we gaze upon them. Oh, how devastating is that! But we can do nothing, we can’t change ourselves beyond recognition to make our face fit just to be loved by someone we love, or think we love. How could that ever result in happiness, in a deep and abiding love?

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Your face not fitting is not the end of the world, although it may very well feel like it at the time. Take the time to step back from the situation, from the rejection because really, that’s what we are talking about. Dealing with rejection is always difficult. The adult in us knows that rejection is a normal part of life, but the child in us is always hurt to the core and wants to lash out or hide away forever more. Neither is sensible.

 

What’s to be done then? Take stock, re-group, move on. When things don’t work out the smart thing to do is to reflect on your own actions or behaviour. Is there something that needs to change, are you approaching things all wrong? What can you learn from this rejection? It maybe something small, something you hadn’t considered before but it could be useful going forward. But it may be something bigger, more troublesome, something that you need to address to avoid future rejections.

It’s always useful to step away from a situation, ask for advice from someone you trust – how much of this rejection is down to you, or down to issues with the other party? God knows romantic rejection is a mine-field so be careful about how much self-loathing you indulge in once it’s clear your face ain’t never gonna fit. Sometimes you have to face the fact that you just don’t have the right stuff for this situation – yes, it is you not them! But, before you get carried away with self-indulgent self-pity, it’s just as likely that there is nothing wrong with you, it is simply the situation.

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Once you’ve had a good look at yourself, accepted the rejection, then you must move on. It’s imperative that you get back on whichever horse has thrown you off. But, if you’re wise, if you’re lucky and read the signals right, you’ll end up in a place where your face fits perfectly. Remember most of us have good friends, a decent job and someone who loves us as much as we love them. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of time and place, not a matter of you having the wrong face. (Images from Private Collection)

Un-plug: Be still

September 24, 2016

Unplug: Be Still

I think I must becoming old – I find the relentlessness of watching people being plugged in to things all day long quite baffling. I’m as fond of FB and internet chatting of all sorts of persuasions as anyone but surely you need more down time than most modern people seem to have these days?

There are numerous studies about screen time re-wiring young people’s brains: that attention spans are ever diminishing; that the ability to concentrate for extended times is being eroded. And of course every second month someone bemoans the lack of reading by the young especially (that would be me!!).

There are the dangers of fire, the threat of cancer to long term mobile phone users, there is the damage to standard written English through text speak and the growing inability for people to connect face to face. Why have a sustained conversation with anyone when you can look at something inane on your phone or check a message from someone else? People are losing the art of conversation; young people have almost no idea how to listen respectfully and take turns, not shut people down or shout louder. You can now be connected to your work-place 24/7 so you don’t get the opportunity to walk away every evening, or have a weekend. Work is now always with you. Is that a bonus or a blight?

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People rely on their phones almost it seems to the exclusion of all else. Or a tablet, or a PC or a games console. Yes the mobile phone has been on an extra-ordinary journey and it does an amazing amount of things – we’ve all seen the memes showing all the different items that are now amalgamated into one smart-phone.

But what I wonder about, what I worry about, is how do so many people – the young – turn off their brains. How do they know how to be still, how to be alone and quiet…

At the end of a phone or a laptop or computer we are always a tap and a click away from connection – a message, a like, an emoticon of approval. But how useful to our ability to just ‘be’ is it all?

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Stillness, doing nothing, boredom even, allows your brain to roam, to think, consider; ponder things all on its own. It doesn’t need reference to other people, information or the plethora of mis-information out there. People need space to do nothing, time to recharge their own batteries; time to calm themselves down.

I worry for our future artists and writers. If you are eternally plugged into other people and nonsense how can you dream, how can you imagine other worlds, other realities and want to explore them? How can you watch people and soak up the madness of the real world and write about it if you never pay attention to it? How can you question things if you don’t have the space to think about matters?

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I worry for our young people in a world of increased pressure, exams, appearance; being monstered in the ‘sanctity’ of their bedrooms by friends and by casual strangers who thinks it’s fun to trash some naïve girl’s selfie in a bikini, or that it’s somehow okay to text naked pictures of your girlfriend to the universe. Young people are increasingly anxious, increasingly depressed – perhaps all this connection is playing a significant part?

Being plugged in gives a sense of connection, of belonging. It also brings bullying and trolling. The internet is both wonderful and terrible, in all its manifestations. It has become a central part of our lives. I do not wish it gone: I love it too. But it has become a monster that has over-taken too much of our lives. It is possible to step outside the house without your phone. You can walk your baby without being on the phone. You can sit on the bus and just stare aimlessly out the window, letting your mind roam.

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Take the time to un-plug your connections. Move away from the screen (after you’ve read this) and be still. Talk face-to-face, go for a walk without anything electronic in your pocket. Gaze at the world again and see its wonder and beauty. Be in this moment and not worried about what is happening somewhere else. The message will still be there when you turn on again, the world will not have stopped turning just because you were un-plugged.

Go on, un-plug, let yourself be still, even if only for half an hour. I’m sure you’ll feel better for it. (Images from Private Collection)

a small poem of despair

June 18, 2016

A Small Poem of Despair…

Tis the season to be hateful

To incite violence

From the faithful.

 

Far right, far left

All are quite bereft

Of behaving at their ethical best.

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We should hang our heads in shame

For all of us are to blame

For tolerating extremism

Homophobia and racism,

For allowing too many lies

From our political masters and their allies,

From the unholy mess

That is the national and international press.

 

There is no high moral ground

Simply hatred scattered all around

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So for fuck’s sake make sure you vote

Democracy is on the ropes

And you are its last hope

 

Brexit, Trump and Turnball

An unholy trinity that don’t bear thinking of at all!! (Images from private collection)

 

5 Real Life Relationship Tips

June 4, 2016

5 Real Life Relationship Tips.

Have you noticed how much relationship advice there is on the internet? Well in my FB feed there is! So much about toxic relationships, gas-lighting, signs of this, signs of that. Ah, the plethora of pop psychology is perhaps the bane of the connected world. But in this connected world where relationships should matter more than money and politics and being scared by an increasingly mis-informing media I thought I would add my pound’s worth on relationships – well I do have a degree in Psychology and I have had many relationships (we won’t go anywhere near some of them!) so here is a bit of Swiftie-wisdom on the matter.

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1.Relationships take work. No matter their origins – a slow gentle coming together of like minds and bodies or a passion worthy of Cathy and Heathcliff – all relationships, including friendship, need work and effort to keep them going and to make them actually work. In fact of all the bits of relationship advice out there this is the only one to remember. All of the following points are really just a sub-set of this.

We seem to have some sort of romantic notion that once we fall in love and get married (or commit to someone) then the happy ever after takes over and we’re fine. But as anyone who has been in a long term relationship will tell you that’s bullshit. You won’t like everything about your partner/friend, you won’t agree with everything they say and the decisions they take, especially when they affect you! This is where compromise kicks in, where you need to talk about things, need to keep in touch with the other person, make sure you do still know them and what matters to them.

This is where we have to toughen up and get through the hard times together, and a life together does mean a share of hard times: having children, money, moving/buying houses, extended family, friends, career choices all impact on your relationship. Life takes the romance out of love, it changes everything and if you are to continue together, continue feeling the love then you have to work on things. Together. Sometimes the vows taken in church do have some real life applicability: love and honour; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health. These are the testing areas and you need to work through them. Together. Working through the tough times makes your relationship stronger, your love deeper and truer. Nothing worth having comes that easily, and so it is with relationships too.

 

2.You must be kind. This means being patient, forgiving and taking the time to listen to your partner/friend. Kindness is a simple and under-rated activity. A simple act of kindness can undo all sorts of wounds and hurts. Making a cup of tea for someone, knowing how they like their coffee brewed, asking them about their day and listening to them, not shrugging off their issues, or rushing to give advice or tell your own stories. Little things show you care, kindness is about awareness of the other person – that they’re tired, upset, need some space, some time to themselves. A small act of kindness is its own reward but it will etch into your partner’s being and they will love you more for it, grant you kindnesses too and let your relationship recover from injury or remain as smooth as possible.

Kindness is often over-looked because it seems too small scale to make a difference. But it’s not and it’s one of those things that if you practice it daily then it becomes a habit and a good habit that builds a positive attitude between you. Kindness is awareness of the other person and their needs: it shows you are paying attention. It’s as simple as thank you for dinner, washing up without being asked, going with them to the doctor’s, buying their favourite flowers, or chocolates for no reason at all.

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3.There needs to be balance – give and take is a central plank of good relationships. It’s not always entirely equally proportioned but the relationship cannot be too imbalanced for too long. We do not want to be Frida Khalo to Diego Rivera, we need to be Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning. We do not want one partner to subsume their life, their passions, their needs to the other, to the exclusion of their own needs. This is getting close to ideas about toxic relationships. If you are doing all the giving, all the caring, making too many sacrifices for your partner it is a poisonous mix. Over time you will feel resentment that will grow into bitterness that will kill the relationship.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t devote yourself to your partner during some periods of your life together. When one is seriously ill, when one is consumed by a particular project, be it study or art, or during other times of life. There are times when one person needs more than the other, and that’s what love and kindness is all about. Balance is not about strict equality, it’s about ensuring each person is giving as well as taking. But if you’re the one giving all the time…

Make sure you are listening as well as talking, make sure you are cooking as well as eating. Make sure you are doing things that he/she likes as well as you – watch the movies they like, go to places they want to go. Let them make decisions, don’t run everything; listen to them, ask them questions about their life, their world that shows you care, that you are interested. Make sure your life is as important as theirs.

 

4.Don’t lose yourself in the other person. This is related to the give and take, the ebb and flow of relationships. It’s so easy at the beginning to merge, to be some sort of two headed, one minded being. You begin to think the same, finish sentences, know what the other wants before they do, know how they will respond to a given situation. This is wonderful, it makes you feel connected, as if you have found your missing bits: it’s as if you’ve finally met the person who gets you. But too much togetherness can be dangerous too. Especially if you lose your connections to the rest of your life. This is where the famous gas-lighting can creep in. A wicked controlling partner will take advantage of your devotion, your closeness, your sameness and they will manipulate you and you will lose who you are, which could be fatal, as we know from many real life horror stories. Togetherness is wonderful but you can’t function in a relationship if you lose yourself. You must keep your friends, your interests, your family, your self-respect. You need some distance.

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5.Walk away if you have to. We don’t live happily ever after, even those who want to, who work for it, who do their best. Sometimes relationships fail. Sometimes they simply run their course. A violent, abusive relationship is not to be tolerated. But a relationship that makes you unhappy on most days isn’t any good either. I’m not saying give up when the relationship gets tough, no, not at all – I believe in working at it. But sometimes there comes a time to call it a day. Be brave, you will know when that time comes, it will feel right. To walk away from a failed relationship does not make you a failure. It means you are free to try again. But make sure you learn from the relationship’s failures and don’t hook up with the same person in a different skin and walk the same path.

 

Look after your loved ones. Take care of your family and friends. Work at your relationships, be kind, be yourself and most of all nourish what matters to you. Mostly, I’m sure you’ll find it’s the people in your life. (Images from Private Collection)

Synchronicity – endings and beginnings

May 28, 2016

Synchronicity

Another end of term, another section of life completed, compartmentalized and put away. This time a good term, a successful chunk of time. Which led me to this end of term three years ago, which was anything but the end of a good time. It was a miserable rainy cold day, an appropriate bit of pathetic fallacy as the storm clouds had been fierce and intense for some time at that particular vile and vituperous work place. It was a good place to be out of, and the over-whelming feeling was one of profound relief.

It was an odd time, a very strange weekend, for literally had I stepped away from that pit of vultures, removed that poison from my life, than my father died. Yes, literally the next day. On the other side of the world he had a heart attack while driving and hit a telegraph pole, wiping out the power in the area for some time, and killing himself. It was interesting timing on many levels, as it was also my long dead, much missed mother’s birthday.

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You cannot ignore such coincidences, such synchronicity in the universe. It does seem as if there is a higher presence of some sort, a game master playing with us, making us stop and think, stop and wonder. Indeed it made me think as I winged my way home across the hours and miles to bury a father I’d not always loved, not always found easy. In the aftermath of his death there was another curious moment of synchronicity – only known to a few but spotted by one such person and relayed to me. My father’s accident was reported on the local news, as you might expect. But it followed an item about the demolition of a hotel in the middle of Hobart, where a woman had fallen to her death in the late 70’s. Yes, that woman was my mother. The news people would never in a million years have known the connection between the two accidents, but there it was. Both parents died in accidents many years apart, but there they were abutting each other in death in a news bulletin.

And now there is some peace in the world. After three years I only think fondly of my father, but fortunately at the time I was able, along with my brother, to bid him farewell in our own way. We went to his house, stood on his river bank, drank his champagne, ate party pies and as an eagle soared above us in the fading light, said our farewells.

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My beloved eldest daughter was with me during the whole Tasmanian death days. It was appropriate: she was the grandchild most fond of John, most able to dote on him and make him laugh, able to call him ‘foolish’ without a storm front moving in. She helped clean and sort the detritus of a long life, a life of hoarding and not a lot of order. Oh my, did we find a lot of wine, pills and bullets! When we left we thought it was the end, the house, after being in the family for 50 years, would be sold and an important part of my life would be incontrovertibly over.

But the universe has stepped in again and now my daughter lives there: yes, the one who came to help, who perhaps felt the same love for the place I have always had. My tall blonde, fierce, Amazon daughter has settled there on the river bank with her fiancé: her English man, who is ten years older than her, a man who can turn his hand to all sorts of things, a remarkably useful fellow, who is devoted to her. What synchronicity is here, I hear you ask? Well, her mother met an Englishman, who was ten years older than her, remarkably useful in an intelligent and handy sort of way, and settled in a house on a riverbank in Tasmania many years ago.

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I sit here this morning a world away from my own riverbank, from John’s and Phoenix’s riverbank and marvel at how the world turns out. Three years ago the world spun off its axis for me. Things shifted and changed and although I could not see it at the time, it has turned out to be very much for the better. I am in a much better work-place: one where I am valued and appreciated by students and staff. One of my lovely year 11s yesterday brought me chocolates and a card and thanked me, telling me I had rescued them. It was one of those sweet moments in a teacher’s life.

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My father’s house, which had been my grandfather’s house is now my daughter’s house. And I can only be pleased with that. We live, we die and others move the world on and so the house that Hector bought is the house that Phoenix will take to the next level and sooner or later fill it with more than baby chickens and German Shepherd puppies. A house that was the happiest place I ever spent with my father will now be a happy place to spend time with my darling daughter (when I eventually get back to my own river bank…) (Pix from Private Collection)

Anzac Pride

April 23, 2016

Anzac Pride.

One hundred and one years ago a collection of young, brave and shockingly naive young men set foot on a foreign shore to protect our home shore. Yes, many of them paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for ours on that skinny strip of sand in Anzac Cove in 1915. But their sacrifice made us into a nation. We may have been united under Federation a few years earlier but it was Gallipoli and WW1 that made Australia into a nation. You may consider that romantic foolishness but it is part of our mythology and I am happy to subscribe to that.

Today I want to consider what that means for Australians. There are no Anzacs left. But we cannot forget Anzac Day – April 25 – and the way I am commemorating it today is by looking at our cultural place on the world stage. Forget politics, forget economic power-house but cast your eyes around music, performing arts, literature and you’ll find an awful lot of Australians at work, doing us proud; doing our Anzac tradition proud.

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Once upon a time in order to make something of yourself you had to leave Australia (and or NZ, if we’re being truly Anzac-y today) and establish yourself OS – usually England but latterly the USA. Thus in the 1960-70s luminaries such as Germaine Greer, Clive James and Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage to you) left home seeking more than was to be had Down-under. These people have established loud and large personalities on the world stage, and regardless of their politics or yours they clearly established Oz as more than a place for convicts and surfers.

In Hollywood we had a few who had their toe in the waters early on, but their numbers were few. Errol Flynn, Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, but not Merle Oberon – oh, no, she was never ours. It was all smoke and mirrors to disguise where she really came from. Her exotic skin and luminous beauty hailed from the sub-continent and a sleazy beginning, not from obscure and far-far away Tasmania.

Many of the rock and rollers of the 60s and 70s got as big as they could and tried their hands OS but most returned bloodied and bowed. Who broke through: The Bee Gees (but they were British in the first place); The Easybeats had one colossal hit (Friday on My Mind); Helen Reddy (I am Woman); LRB were quite successful for quite some time; Air Supply did very well; Rick Springfield left Zoot and was a huge hit in the States; Olivia Newton-John was one of our biggest stars – she is forever Sandy in Grease, isn’t she? Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli to help things along, but he was an amazing performer. But our failures were greater.

But things changed, as they often do and slowly but surely there were more of us on the big screen, on the radio and various music channels, TV shows; winning prizes in literature. We were taking major roles, not just character parts; we were headlining tours, filling theatres. Our accent stopped being a problem. We arrived. Being Australian is not embarrassing, we have lost our cultural cringe. We have stepped up to our Anzac heritage in more ways than those young men could possibly have imagined.

 

Who are our world players now?

We have Oscar winners and actors who command some of the biggest salaries in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman may have ridden off on Tom Cruise’s coat-tails but she has stood on her own for years as a fine actress. Cate Blanchett is simply gold – everything she does is amazing – perhaps she is our finest actress ever? Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman earn small fortunes and are two of the best looking men in Hollywood, and reputedly the nicest guys too. We have a string of excellent actors: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki and the wonderful Eric Bana. If we go Anzac, we can include Sam Neil and Russell Crow, who did bag an Oscar and was stunning in Gladiator.

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Kylie rules as our music queen these days but AC-DC are still going strong and as popular as ever. Why else the upset about Axl Rose joining the band? INXS were absolutely huge, as were Crowded House (yes, NZ again but this is about Anzac Day). Yothu Yindi owned the world there for a few years. Neighbours and Home and Away still run home and OS. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was one of the best movies ever and is now a West End stage production. Jason Donovan still performs regularly and Adam Hills has his own comedy show on UK TV. Ozzies pop up all over the place and these days, because of the amount of talent and ability we have you may not instantly recognise them. This is a good thing – we are as good as the rest.

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Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan are our stellar writers. Both have won the Booker – Carey twice. Both write of our experiences and all manner of things that show that any notion of inferior literature being automatically associated with Australia is a notion that belongs in the dark past. Other writers have international impact, including Christos Tsiolkas and The Slap that sold phenomenally and was made into an excellent TV series. The Rosie Project has been an international hit and of course Eleanor Catton, from NZ, was the youngest ever Booker Prize winner with The Luminaries. Don’t forget other stars like Markus Zsusak (The Book Thief), Tim Winton, David Malouf and Thomas Kenneally who wrote many wonderful things but notably Schindler’s Ark which was made into a harrowing film.

This Anzac Day don’t dwell on the less acceptable side of our nation, the treatment of refugees and Aboriginals; ignore the vile exploits of Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart and their ilk. Ignore the idiot politicians, the division in our society that doesn’t need to be there at all. Remember our fallen soldiers, on that memorable day so long ago, so far away, and all the others who have fought for us, to make us into a great nation. We may not be as good or as kind or as clever as we should but we do have a great deal to be proud of and it is timely to be aware of the good things we are and do.

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We have come a long way since April 25, 1915, and indeed we have a long way to go, but we can pause and be proud of our cultural giants. We are no longer lone men riding the outback, surfers or convicts: we are world players. We compete. In fact we really punch above our weight. (Images from Private Collection)