Mothering Myself

This morning I woke up in my hotel room, feeling rested and calm. I stretched one foot out to the right, one arm out to the left, sliding them along the crisp white hotel sheets that I would never have to heave out of the washing machine.  The smile spread from the corners of my mouth all the way to my ears while my eyes stayed shut. It was beautiful. I’d gone to bed at 9pm and my watch informed me that eleven hours had passed between. Eleven. Deep sleeping hours!

For the good of our souls, sometimes just need a break from all the relational roles we carry.(2)

I woke, packed up my things and prepared for the day. I’m down in the hotel bar now having a coffee before I meet the beautiful Sarah, in person, at last. She’s an all-time favourite blogger of mine. The coffee was made for me by a barista who spoke about the complexity of the bean with an earnestness. I smiled at him, but thought about how I will not have to stack that cup in the dishwasher, or refill a kettle, or check the expiry date on that milk.  Just drink it.

I am such a fan of Sarah, as a writer and a person. Meeting her is very important to me.  I can’t wait to wrap her up in a big hug of thanks. To enjoy food and conversation with her and Annette from I Give You the Verbs! Dear Kate had to go and do some very exciting new work stuff, but you can check out her blog here (next time, Kate!) After our bloggy brunch, Miss Annette and I are lighting off for the Yarra Valley for a girls weekend. We’ll take the meandering way, and she promises that I can stop and take pictures to my heart’s content along the way.

Sarah, Annette and Rach
Sarah, Annette and Rach

This trip to Melbourne is something I’ve been longing to do for years. A chance to revisit my past, reconnect with people I haven’t seen for years and finally meet some I’ve been talking to online for a long time. But even more than the gorgeousness of all that, this trip, for me, is all about respite. I just needed to take some time out from all of the ‘adulting’ and be me, on my own, for a bit. The Rach who isn’t looking after anyone but herself, just for a few days.  I need to mother myself.

I need to stretch out, on a big big bed, all alone. To stand next to my soul sisters and spread my arms wide to the sky. To sleep and wake when I feel like it. To please myself doing anything I feel like doing; compromise free. I’ve explored, I’ve shopped, I’ve chatted and I’ve been blissfully quiet. I’ve drunk wine, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane at my old boarding school, I’ve eaten anything and everything I feel like eating without a single bite being cooked by me.

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It’s been gloriously selfish and deeply important for me to do all that.

When you become a mum, you don’t know that you are becoming something other than an ‘individual’. It’s something you have to learn. And once you have learned that by heart, there won’t be respite for a long, long time. My kids are now 8 and 11. The teenagers are now 17 and 18. The family has grown to a point that I’ve been able to set them up to manage their lives without me for a few days. The hubster is doing a stellar job with them. Their schedules are all being met.

I could probably have done this earlier, but I wasn’t internally strong enough to push for it. Sometimes, even with great families, it does take pushing for it. You have to fight for yourself the way you’d fight for your brood.

Respite is something we need to fight for as women, as givers, as mothers and wives. For the good of our souls, sometimes women just need a break from all the relational roles we carry. Freedom to just be ourselves, to turn the nurturing inward. To have a rest from all of that responsibility.  That’s what I’m doing.

I highly recommend it.

It might not be a trip to Melbourne. Maybe, if you have one, it’s a visit to your Mum’s place. Or camping in the spring, all alone. Or a solo movie. It might be a journey to see your cousin, or a drive down winding country roads. Find your respite, sisters of mine. I promise it will feed your soul and bring you joy.

It might be easier than you imagine to make it happen.

Go on.  Tell yourself to have and break and then, for goodness’ sake: go do what you’ve been told!

Bookish

The first book I ever read was made by my Mum. It was a scrapbook she put together for my oldest siblings.  By the time it had passed into my treasured possession, the newsprint corners were soft and well-thumbed.  My favourite page was the page for ‘red’.  There was a lady in red, red flowers, red strawberries, a big red floppy hat. A collage of pictures cut from the pages of magazines and newspapers and annotated with her copperplate script.  I loved that book. I used to read it while I sat on the potty, or when I had flopped on my tummy on the lawn, or when I had escaped into a world of make-believe in our garden playhouse.

Mum told me that I was reading at age three, probably because I just wanted to be doing what the big kids were. We had a huge library of Arch Books (bible stories retold in rhyming verse for the children of churchgoers). I loved those books, the rhymes, the illustrations; especially the story of Esther. I read anything I could get my hands on, just as long as it wasn’t a library book. Enid Blyton, the Sugar Creek Gang, Pick-a-path novels, the Narnia series, Little House on the Prairie, Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, Apple Paperbacks and anything about Nuclear War and post-apocalyptic survival. I liked the ones about mutants, like Children of the Dust.  And then there were the Janette Oke range of Christian Romance novels, oh!  I wanted to fall in love with a tall silent rancher out in the Wild Western Frontier.  Griddle cakes, corn bread and snapping on a fresh apron “afore my man came home”, sounded so good!  My books were usually hand-me-downs and garage sale books …I loved every one of them, because I could keep them!

I had a bit of a phobia of book-borrowing when I was a kid.  When my teachers insisted I had to borrow books from the school library I would beg to be let off. There were tears. Of course I wanted to read the books, desperately, but borrowing them was upsetting. I knew I wouldn’t want to give them back and keeping them was against the rules. I overcame my phobic silliness in later years, but it is fair to say that I am a book buyer more than a borrower. I see it as a committed relationship. We belong to each other. Me and my books. These books of mine are all dear to me.  I love them. I collect them and keep them close.  One day, I am going to have a little room of my own that is lined with bookshelves. There will be a reading chair that is just for me. Large, overstuffed, wing backed and red. There will be a lap rug and cushions and a drawer full of chocolate treats. There will be a kind of heaven in that place that only exists in the company of books.

On those shelves, you would see some of the books I talk about in the following list. This list of prompts was given to me by the lovely Claire Barnier, fellow blogger.  You can read her Living Library List here And these books I list? These are some of my friends.  My bookish buddies. Some of the truest and most spectacular friends I know.

A book that changed your life
Mister God, This is Anna
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A book you were proud to read
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkein.  My Granny posted it from New Zealand the first year we were in Papua New Guinea.  It was a challenging read for me at eight, but I was determined to get through it! My big brother Shaun had read all of the Tolkein series and I wanted to impress him.  I’m not sure  if I managed to, but I remember thinking that Bilbo was a very brave Hobbit. And I wished Gandalf hadn’t kept disappearing! I still love epic children’s stories and love introducing these old favourites to my own kids.

A book that inspired you to try something different, or do something differently:
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.  I working as an Aupair in Germany and had just done a little tour of Cambridge University. I was 19. I was utterly naive and deeply confused by independent life and the feminist feelings that were hammering in my head. Virginia Woolf was a suitably inspirational character, fighting the dons of ancient universities whose paths I had walked, awe-inspired and feeling intellectually tiny.  She wrote this book in 1929 and her courage and determination in the face of enormous odds blew my anitpodean mind. To me, this book was the beginning of understanding history and my infinitessimal place within it, as a woman. It was the context bringer for my feminism and a wonderful counter to all the Austen I had soaked myself in during Year 12, 3 unit English. I read this, and Mary Wollstonecraft, and returned from my OE a changed girl. A fierce girl.
I began to speak my mind and choose my own path. It was disastrous, at first! But the beginning, for me, of being my own person:

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”

A book that surprised you
Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda is the only book that I have ever started, loved, and not finished. It bested me. There was a point in the book when something unravelled in me. I felt used by the author, toyed with, disrespected. I threw the book across the room and cried and cried and cried. It was terrible. I was devastated, I just could not endure. I knew that wherever that book went, it was going to be bad. I love Peter Carey’s writing. It was probably a fit of ridiculous histrionics, perhaps it was more to do with my own circumstances at the time, but I felt deeply betrayed.  I was afraid of where Carey was taking his characters, I wanted a different story. I wonder sometimes, if I will ever finish this book. Maybe I will return to it one day.  Not finishing a book is very out of character for me. It is in fact,

“an improbable idea tearing the membrane between dreams and life.”
Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda

For now, the one that got away sits on my shelf, alone in it’s unfinished state. I imagine it holds some notoriety among the others on the shelf.  Do they whisper? That book over there…

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A book that made you cry
Most good books make me cry. Either because they are sad, or because they are so well written that I despair of ever writing my own!   The first book I cried over was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (she also wrote The Secret Garden).  I have just finished reading the longform poem: Autobiography of a Margeurite. So cleverly written, so heart catching. So beautiful. It made me cry too.  Sometimes my hubster walks in to find me with my eyes swollen from crying. He knows after all these years not to worry, he’ll just ask “Good book?”

A book that required dedication
Cries Unheard by Gitta Sereny.
It’s the life story of one of Britain’s most notorious female child murderers, Mary Bell. It is really a book about the criminal mind. About how criminals aren’t just random occurences within the populace, but the result of systemic abuse and neglect.  Their behaviour part of a psychological picture it is so hard to look at. But we must. We must begin to address the ways we fail children in this society, and how we perpetuate the terror by creating monsters. This book is a call for responsible parenting. It’s always stayed with me and weighed heavily on my heart.  It required dedication because it is very hard to sit with stories that are not fiction but are so horrific they haunt your dreams. Real people’s stories can be so much more distressing than fiction. But I stuck with this story because I needed to. We all need to stick with these stories. To keep them forefront in our minds when we are caring for the next generation. To do better by our babies.

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A book you are grateful for
Blank books, journals, this wordpress draft page, my wordprocessing software.  Since I was tiny, writing has been the best way for me to navigate my head and find my way out of the maze in there.  I love to read books. And one day I will write them.  Like a few other things in my life, the process towards backing myself has been slow, but I’m on my way.  I am most grateful for the most recent book-in-my-head that is growing out of a new idea. It happened during a writing workshop I did recently with Pip (you can do it too, click here!). Ideas come at different times, but this one has me more excited than the others. I’m working on a plot structure and feeling a bit excited about this little baby book!  I am grateful that it has begun.

A book you read when you were half your current age
Wild Swans by Jung Chang.  This book was the beginning of my fascination with Chinese authored literature, particularly women’s stories. I was fascinated by China because my parents were living there and because I knew nothing about it. China was for me the most exotic, extraordinary, intriguing place.  I read this book overnight. It is the story of three generations of Chinese women and spans the cultural revolution. A powerful read and fascinating insight into the tumultuous modern history of China.

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A favourite book from childhood
The Anne of Green Gables series. I love me a strong heroine!  Anne was probably the beginning of my feminist ideas, not that I could articulate that then. I liked her rebelliousness and her intelligence. Although now there is so much in those books that makes me cringe (including the sappy Gilbert Blythe), but they were a huge part of my early reading bookishness. I loved everything about those books.  The smell of them, the laminated glossy green and white covers and the beautiful cover illustrations. I even wrote an ode to Anne’s white woman (her stillborn baby) in my adolescent grief.

A book that will always have a special place in your heart
Z for Zachariah.  I think I it was 1988 when I read this one; it’s the story of a girl in a post nuclear holocaust world.  She lives in a valley which is a tiny micro-climate, unspoilt by the devastation beyond, and she is utterly alone. I was captured by her story and by the emotional conflict the arrival of a stranger created. It stayed with me, that book. But it’s special place in my heart is because the first time I ever went out for dinner with the hubster, we talked about survivalist literature. We bonded over this book.  Looked each other in the eye and realised we would be together. So I will always feel affection towards this book!  I can’t wait til Zed is old enough to read it.

The best movie or TV series adapted from a book you have read
Little House on the Prairie!  John Landon. Is the theme song playing in your head, now!?

The worst movie or TV adaptation of a book you have read
The Bridges of Madison County.  No adaptation can top the reading of that book for me. It holds all sorts of special memories. I read it aloud from cover to cover, on a dinghy, drifting out on Lake Macquarie. When the light went, I finished it by torchlight. It was a special book experience and even Meryl Streep can’t top that.

A disappointing book
The Bible. Disappointing is too strong a word… I’ve read it cover to cover a few times but I still struggle with the idea that all of the Bible is the inspired word of God. I question so much about it. If He was commissioning people to write on his behalf, He might have ensured a bit more of a balanced approach for the women’s perspective, ya know? Something a bit more accessible for future generations of readers? The bible contains some extraordinary and important stories and is a records some beautiful words.  But I have always wanted more from it than I found within it.  I have also found the literal translation of some of it by Christians to be devisive and uphelpful.  It’s a cultural/contextual problem.  I considered studying theology so I could understand it better, but back when I was considering it, theology seemed a directionless career for a woman so I abandoned it.  Nonetheless, and not wishing to sound sacreligious, just honest, I have often wished I could understand the deeper meanings of the bible better than I do.

A book that makes you smile every time you see it
Mrs Millie’s Paintings was written and illustrated by a Matt Ottley, who like me, grew up in PNG.  That influence shows all through the illustrations.  But my favourite part is the double page spread where ancient Mrs Millie is skinny dipping and her backside is showing. I like it because subsequent publications of the book censored her bottom, cladding her in a bikini.  But I’ve got the original with Mrs Millie’s bum!  Ha!
It’s also a poignant story with an important message about creativity. I love it.

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A book that made you want to learn more
Half the Sky is a book written by journalists, Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  In their many years writing for newspapers, they were struck most by the stories no one wanted. Stories about the plight of women across the globe. So they set out to write a book outlining the issues for women in our world. If you are interested, you can find it here. It’s a very important read.

A book or series you will never forget
Clan of Cavebear was something of a sex-ed series for me in my late teens. Perhaps caveman sex was a poor education, in hindsight. Some of those scenes are indelibly etched.

A book you would prefer to forget
I am such a fan of Chimamanda Ngoze Adiche’s work. I was swept up into Half of a Yellow Sun and no less captured by Purple Hibiscus, although darker and more difficult. So when Americanah came out I was really excited! But it is so different to her other work, somehow. I found myself wishing I hadn’t looked in on that American/African immigrant world, it felt like such a destruction of a culture I didn’t want amercianised. She raises important issues about race, culture and immigration, however. All topics close to my heart. It was beautifully written (I don’t think she could write badly if she tried to). It’s just that I’ve decided I really like her Nigerian based fiction much more than anything set in the States.  Maybe I’ll change my mind with her next novel.

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“Dear Non-American Black, when you make the choice to come to America, you become black. Stop arguing. Stop saying I’m Jamaican or I’m Ghanaian. America doesn’t care.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah

What you are currently reading
Buy me the Sky by Xinran.  She wrote The Good Women of China, one of my all time favourites from my sino-collection.  So when I saw Buy Me the Sky (about the only-child generations of China) I knew it would be worth the read. It has already given me so much insight into the social dynamics and fallout from the One Child Policy.

A book you come back to read time and time again
I rarely read a book more than once. Do you?

Would you like to join me, reflecting on Claire’s Library List?
(copy and paste below…)
I’d love to see your list!
Or hear your thoughts on mine…!
Are you bookish too?

A book that changed your life
A book you were proud to read
A book that inspired you to try something different, or do something differently
A book that surprised you
A book that made you cry
A book you couldn’t live without
A book that required dedication
A book you are grateful for
A book you read when you were half your current age
A favourite book from childhood
A book that will always have a special place in your heart
The best movie or TV series adapted from a book you have read
The worst movie or TV adaptation of a book you have read
A disappointing book
A book that makes you smile every time you see it
A book that made you want to learn more
A book or series you will never forget
A book you would prefer to forget
A book you come back to read time and time again
What you are currently reading

 

Dwelling in Uncertainty

I’ve been reading Margaret Wheatley’s book, ‘Perseverance’.

This book is a call to action; a calm reassurance, the wisdom of elders, food for the soul.  I urge you to read it, too. Particularly if you are a person with chronic illness. In her trademark gracious manner, Margaret Wheatley tackles the notion of perseverance. She asks “How is it that some people persevere..?”

Much better to dwell in uncertainty,

So much of her work strikes at the heart of me. So it was difficult for me to pick one excerpt to share with you.  But I eventually chose this one; I hope that this one will resonate with you, too.

“Some people despair about the darkening direction of the world today. Others are excited by the possibilities for creativity and new ways of living they see emerging out of the darkness.

Rather than thinking one perspective is preferable to the other, let’s notice that both are somewhat dangerous.  Either position, optimism or pessimism, keeps us from fully engaging with the complexity of this time.  If we see only troubles, or only opportunities, in both cases we are blinded by our need for certainty, our need to know what’s going on, to figure out so we can be useful.

Certainty is a very effective way of defending ourselves from the irresolvable nature of life.  If we’re certain, we don’t have to immerse ourselves in the strange puzzling paradoxes that always characterise a time of upheaval:

  • The potential for new beginnings born from the loss of treasured pasts
  • The grief of dreams dying with the exhilaration of what now might be,
  • The impotence and rage of failed ideals and the power of new aspirations,
  • The horrors inflicted on so many innocents that call us to greater compassion.

The challenge is to refuse to categorise ourselves.  We don’t have to take sides or define ourselves as either optimists or pessimists.  Much better to dwell in uncertainty, hold the paradoxes, live in the complexities and contradictions without needing them to resolve.

This is what uncertainty feels like and it’s a very healthy place to dwell”
-Margaret Wheatley, Perseverance pp.15

My poor little brain has been doing some stretching exercises since I started the Be.Leadership Programme. I feel like I am finally feeding my mind something really nourishing, and it is growing.  But like any travels into new domains, it is a time of uncertainty.  The ground I thought was solid, the terrain I knew… it is shifting into topography I’ve never traversed before. For instance, I am no longer sure that I know myself. But I feel more authentically ‘me’ than I have ever felt before.  They are two contradictory ideas that currently co-exist for me. It’s strange, this place.

And yet, some of this is familiar to me. There have been pre-emptive echoes in my writing.  Ideas about suffering and insight.  About anger and acceptance.  About finding an entirely new purpose and direction for my life. These ideas reverberate across my synapses.  Something is ‘becoming’ in my brain, I just don’t have the broad sweep, the bird’s eye view, to map it yet.  My mind-sight is gathering information and piecing it all together. And my soul watches as the slow picture shifts into focus.  I am dwelling in the uncertainty and letting it be what it is.

Something,

almost,

not quite,

nearly…

For a girl who prefers absolutes and is quick to assess things in definitive bytes, it’s an odd place to dwell.

How are you at ‘dwelling in uncertainty’?
Do you prefer to know exactly what you know, or are you happy to step out into not knowing?
Do you agree with Margaret Wheatley, that it is “Much better to dwell in uncertainty, hold the paradoxes, live in the complexities and contradictions without needing them to resolve”?

 

 

Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs

Book Review

This book was published by Penguin in 2005. It is the first novel from Linda Olsson, a New Zealand author of Swedish origin.  She uses both of her national “belongings” to stunning effect in this book of vivid description.

Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs by Linda Olsson

Linda Olsson wrote this book during a year of postgraduate study at the University of Auckland, under the much revered tutelage of Witi Ihimaera and Stephanie Johnson.

In the novel, her protagonist, Veronika, is an author who has retreated to the countryside of Sweden to write her second novel.  Veronika’s neighbour, the strange and reclusive Astrid, against all odds, becomes her friend.  The secrets and sadnesses they carry become the dialogue of their unlikely friendship.  Their kindnesses to one another forge a pathway for them both to return to a place of acceptance and love for themselves.

Bo Bergman ‘Sleepless’

Veronika, has run all the way from the hard light and treacherous coast of New Zealand.  Astrid is still running, from the terrors and loneliness of her youth.  Together, they walk the forests and fields of a gentle rural idyll in companionable silences; sharing only what is necessary, relieving each other of burdens as they come to know one another. Marking the passing of each season.  Their own growth follows the cycle of the natural world. Then, one full year after Veronika arrives, decisions for the future must be made. The shifting scene will change everything, for both women, forever.

This novel is a delicately woven tale of the strength of two women, solitary unique souls who have found love, experienced loss and lived, alone, on moments of memory until stumbling into a need of sustenance.  It is a tribute to the importance of community, of sharing.  Of feeling comfortable in the company of like-minded, non-judgemental souls.  I found Linda Olsson’s writing to be a warm and comfortable read; the wrapping around of soothing sounds.  Her style is itself a gentle song.

I liked her portrayal of women at different stages in their life, in this I felt she handled the subject of grief with deep understanding and respect.  Her description of summer-time country Sweden was evocative.  I felt I could see the quality of the light, the wildflowers, the little hillside hamlets and running rivers.  The words around the swimming in the lake made me feel like I too might float, for the first time, looking up into the great dome of blue.

I particularly loved the use of Swedish poetry throughout the book.  Poets like Karin Boye, Dan Andersson, Bo Bergmann, Edith Sodergran. I enjoyed reading them in Swedish and in English, sounding out the unfamiliar words; as the melody of the Swedish words seemed to hold just as much pleasure/ pain/ poignancy as the meaning.  Linda Olsson has woven them into her narrative with skill and artistry.

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This book is a beauty to look at.  I particularly loved the matt green of the inside covers, peeping out as I read.  But don’t judge the book only by it’s cover.  It is also a beauty to linger over the words.  I look forward to the author’s next foray into writing.  She has something special and I want to read more.