Wednesday, March 19, 2014

An update...sort of

I've been pretty quiet on the blog-front this week, mainly due to having very little to discuss. Most of my time has been spent either working with Connor at his home-schooling, or keeping up with uni reading. So far I've read Robinson Crusoe and Mansfield Park and now I'm about to start Jane Eyre (literally, as in, as soon as I've posted this and poured myself a glass of wine.)

This week I did manage to catch up with my daughter, Cassandra. I love hanging out with Cass, particularly as she's now matured into a fine young woman and a wonderful mother. There was a time when I despaired of even being able to have a civil conversation with her, but now we manage to sit and talk about all sorts of things and I feel a lot more confident about where her life is going. Cassie has so much promise and I feel she'll come to advanced education rather late (as I did) but I know she can accomplish great things with time, support and a loving hand.

This Thursday I'm off to UWA to see Alexander McCall Smith give a speech. I love McCall Smith with much loving lovingness. His Mma Ramotswe is one of my two favourite novel characters (the other being Henry from The Time Traveller's Wife) and so I really look forward to hearing the creator talk about his product.

As an author I really love watching other authors discuss their work. Mma Ramotswe is the sort of character I like to create myself, as she is quiet, gentle and good. Yes, good. She is a good woman who does good things for other people. Sometimes her clients are not so good, but they always get what's coming to them, one way or the other. When I was a child my dad used to talk about his mother and how she was the last 'true lady'. I always liked this idea of being a 'lady' and I think Mma is the embodiment of the ideal I built up in my mind. I'm not always 'good' and I have done quite a few wrong things in my life, but, like Mma and the lessons she took from her horrendous marriage to Note Makote I have used them to move onwards and upwards.

Because that's always the better than the alternative.

A fine day out

The other thing we did as a family this week, was visit the "Sculpture by the Sea" exhibition. Now, I must say that I enjoyed quite a few of the pieces, but on the whole was rather underwhelmed by the exhibition as a whole. I had, previously, seen two pieces from last year's Castaways exhibition that seemed to have been transplanted from one beach to the other, but what really surprised me was the huge number of recycled works on display. When I last visited (two years ago) I'd say most of the pieces were built from original materials that had not been repurposed. However, this year, a great many of the artworks were built from recycled material. I couldn't help but feel that this was, in a large part, due to the impact of Castaways upon local sculptors.

Below are some photos of my favourite pieces in order. The bottom one is not an artwork, but a piece of natural beauty we found at Cottesloe Beach.

This photo does not do the work justice. The spinning arms caught the sun's rays and threw them off. The effect was nothing short of dazzling.

There is something about this man's work that captivates me over and over. Lee finds him somewhat derivative, but I love the simple beauty of the lovers.

This begged "Please, touch me." I did. 

Standing under this was the ultimate in visual stimulation. No matter where you stood, the effect was unique.

Another view. We stayed with this piece for ages.

A piece of recycling showing the effect our debris is having on our oceans. Apparently, everything in the glass container came from the oceans. Each piece (syringes, bubble wrap, a toy car) was made to look like a marine creature.

Okay, not a firm favourite, but a lovely photo of our whole family.

There were heaps of these walking along the rocks at the jetty. They were truly beautiful to behold.

Yeah, it's a PVC goon bag. No matter where you went on the beach, you could see this. 

Connor obviously loved this piece. He took 25 photos of it.

This artwork is really rather blah, but it seemed to both delight and anger the butcher bird at its base. The bird kept trying to fight it and stroke it at the same time.

I took a few laps with the bird as it tried to work out what was going on.

I loved this. Pure and simple, love.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Watch out! A cranky lady resides here.

Well, you know that's not really me. When it comes to angst, I tend to turn my grumbling on myself rather than others. I am, however, a person who admires a cantankerous nature in others, especially if it's the sort of nature that is directed towards not only Getting Things Done, but also Getting Things Changed.

As a woman who went though her formative years in the 70s and 80s, I've witnessed a lot of change, particularly in the areas pertaining to women. Oh, there's still along way to go, but I really do believe that my generation was the first to be taught "You can be anything you want in life" and actually believe they meant anything, not just secretary, teacher, nurse etc.

When I was a Mum-deprived child in my pre- to mid-teens, the person who had the most positive impact on my developing psyche was my Dad's best friend Maureen Smith. Maureen was a woman in her early 30s, happily married to the love of her life, Doug, and raising two sons, Glenn and Neil. She wore a classic 70s poodle-perm and worked as a crossing guard to bring in a little extra money. She saw Dad dropping my brother off at Kindy in the early days of the separation and asked if Mum was okay. Dad told her Mum was gone and Maureen immediately offered to help.

Within days she was at our house and organising to look after us while Dad sorted himself out. Maureen was not a Cranky Lady. Far from it. She was gentle, kind and full of love for those around her. She was, to me, the embodiment of grace and gentility. She was, in short, a real lady.

She was, also, extremely determined to help me grow up with some sort of feminine ideal. She took me as a proxy daughter and taught me all she thought I needed to know in order to be a strong woman of the future. My family life was pretty bad but Maureen was constantly telling me that I was wonderful, that I was loved, that I was smart and fantastic and the best. She approved of everything I did and never made me feel bad about myself.

I worshipped Maureen, so when she said "You can be anything you want when you grow up" I knew what I wanted to be; I wanted to be just like her. And I am.

Thanks to Maureen, I learned:
To knit.
To crochet.
To make a fruit cake from All-Bran.
To put family-time ahead of house-work (she'd be proud to see how well I applied that lesson :))
To dress nicely for my husband once a week in anticipation of his return from work.

Yes, a lot of women would feel some of these go against feminist principles (particularly the last one), but I really do find they suit me. I am a maternal woman and family is important to me. But, I have also faced a lot of adversity and difficulty in my life and, thanks to Maureen, I've come out of them with a strong sense of my own self-worth. Nothing has defeated me and I like the woman I've turned out to be. I wouldn't be the me you yourself call friend, lover or mother without Maureen Smith.

Thanks to Maureen, I can knit Tom Baker-esque scarves for my son.
And ignore the cushions lying on the floor.

Now, as a middle-aged woman of the 21st century, I find myself looking beyond family happiness and focussing on what the rest of the world is up to. All too often I watch in despair as I see us do terrible things to each other. I witness my own country commit crimes in the name of "Good Government" and I feel powerless to do anything but share my anger via Facebook.

Yes, I'm a slacktivist. But what can I do?

Which is why I wanted to use this stop on the Cranky Ladies of History tour to discuss my favourite hero, Beate Klarsfeld.

The 70s were a time of growing awareness for me. At some point I learned the truth of my heritage. Joe Dineley (Dinely?) my biological father was Irish. Okay, I thought. There's a certain coolness to this, as long as he's not IRA. My biological maternal Grandfather, Rudi (Rudy?) Sander was, however, a German immigrant, who came to Australia some time in the 40s.

Also, towards the end of the 70s I became aware of the work of a man named Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal's crusade to bring Nazis to justice made me aware of the atrocities of WWII and for the first time I came to understand the real horror that lay beyond the hi-jinx of Hogan's Heroes. People, I realised, had died during this time. Millions and millions of people. Later I would come to understand that it wasn't just the 6 million Jews, but also another 5-6 million non-Jews such as gypsies, homosexuals, intellectuals and yes, even my own Jehovah's Witnesses (called Bibelforscher in Germany). I was so embarrassed by this knowledge and the knowledge that I was, in part, German. However, I had no way of doing anything positive with it. So, I let it go.

Anyway, back to Wiesenthal. Simon Wiesenthal became, for me, the face of Nazi Hunting, but it was still an impersonal face. He was, after all, a Jewish man who had personally been exposed to the Holocaust. His cause was just that, his cause and the cause of those who suffered as he had suffered. I could see and appreciate what he did, but really it meant nothing to me.

Three years ago Lee and I were settling in for another night on the couch in front of the History Channel. The show we'd chosen to watch was one about Nazi Hunters and I was pretty certain the focus would be on Simon Wiesenthal. I was wrong. The first episode we saw was called The Monster and The Butcher. The story of Klaus Barbie (The Butcher of Lyon) was told and for the first time I heard her name: Beate Klarsfeld.

Beate Klarsfeld (nee Kunzel) was not born into a Jewish family. Quite the opposite, actually. Born in Germany in 1939, Beate was the daughter of a Wehrmacht soldier. Whilst her formative years were spent in relative ignorance of all that had gone on in her country, this changed when she moved to France to work as an au pair. One day, in 1960, she was standing at the Metro platform waiting for a train when a young man introduced himself as Serge Klarsfeld. A French Jew, Klarsfeld had been personally affected by the Nazi regime when his father had been rounded up and taken from the family in 1943. He never returned.

It didn't take long for Beate and Serge to become involved and, in 1963, they married and started their family.

Now most women, myself included, would have thought "How terrible. I wish I could do something, but I have a husband to look after and a baby to raise and really, it's all in the past. What can I possibly do?"

Not Beate. In 1966 Beate began campaigning against the West German Chancellor Kurt Kiesenger for his work within the Nazi propaganda department and as a result  lost her job. Now this, to me, is pretty amazing in and of itself and again, I think I would have been somewhat impressed with myself for this achievement had it been mine. I mean, apart from saying a few damning remarks on Facebook or Twitter, how many of us have actively led campaigns against an official in power? And, who would dare do so in a country that had an international reputation for dealing with those who spoke against authority?

Beate Klarsfeld would.

Beate Klarsfeld did.

In 1968, a year before I was born, Beate Klarsfeld took activism into her own hands, literally. Disguised as a reporter, Klarsfeld managed to confront Kiesenger during a conference, denounce him as a Nazi and slap his face. Yes, she was arrested and convicted to a year's imprisonment (reduced to 4 months), but this act of heroism had its effect. The following year, following denouncement after denouncement by Klarsfeld, Kiesenger was soundly defeated at the polls.

Klarsfeld, being arrested after the slap.

At this point I'm thinking "Well, glass of champagne for me and a good lie down before returning to the bosom of my family."

Uh uh. Not our Beate. She's already got her next target in her sights.

I could go on and on about all that she attempts and achieves (along with a few failures) after this, but I'm going to cut to the chase.

Klaus Barbie.

Growing up in Australia during the 70s and 80s, there were some Nazi names that equated to the Boogie Man for me. Hitler (obviously), Mengele and Eichmann were, in my young and impressionable mind, the most evil of men. They were the reason people hated all Germans. Klaus Barbie was a relative unknown to me, at least until that Nazi Hunters episode.

Known as the Butcher of Lyon, Barbie was a Gestapo officer placed in the French town of Lyon. Here he carried out acts of torture and barbarism against the citizens and was personally responsible for the deaths of 14,000 people including the 44 Jewish orphans he sent to Auschwitz.

After the war, a US intelligence service found him and offered him a position as an anti-communist agent. Once this became known he was moved to Bolivia. Tried and condemned as a war criminal in his absence, Klarsfeld turned her attention upon Barbie and began a campaign to have him extradited to France for trial. It took 12 years and her own arrest in Bolivia, but eventually Barbie was extradited and faced his accusers. Finally, in 1987 he was found guilty and imprisoned for his crimes. He died in his prison in Lyon, the scene of his worst crimes against humanity.

I fell head over heels for Beate Klarsfeld over this. Barbie was a man who was, to all intents and purposes, being protected and paid by the US and would have continued to be so if not for the ongoing actions of this woman. The plight of the Jews in France was not Beate Klarsfeld's problem, but once she knew the problem existed she got cranky and did her utmost to address it. The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation was started and as a result the following war criminals faced their day in court:

  • Klaus Barbie (1987)
  • Rene Bousquet (1993)
  • Jean Leguay (1989)
  • Maurice Papon (1998)
  • Paul Touvier (1994)
Today, Klarsfeld is alive, well and just as vocal as ever. She is hated within Germany and seen as a traitor to her country, but I see her as a hero to humanity. As a woman in her mid-life, I am inspired by Beate Klarsfeld and all she achieved. The example she and her husband Serge set is nothing short of outstanding. At a time when I find it hard to deal with family, my son's illness, my writing career and university, I look to her and think "She had a family AND caught Nazis. Who am I to say it's all too hard?"

So, there we have it, two of the women in my physical and intellectual life whom I love and wish I could be like. We all have them, we all take a piece of them into ourselves. Now, let's celebrate these Cranky Ladies of History.

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Saturday, March 01, 2014

This week's Mid-Life Crisis in review

Today my husband kicked me out of the house. "Get out. Go now. I want you out of my sight right now and I don't want to see you before 1pm." He really, really loves me.
So, here I am, with 4 hours free time up my sleeve. What shall I do with it?
Well, as we have limited internet at home at the moment, the plan is to blog the week's events at the Safety Bay Library (ta-da), blog about Cranky Women and their place in my life (with a focus on one in particular), take out many books on knitting and then head into Rockingham Proper in order to sit at Mash, have a glass of wine and start work on a short story. So first things, first, here is my week in review.
On Faith
I'm currently going through a crisis of faith. This is, in quite a large way, due to Connor's illness. Not because I believe God has anything to do with my boy being sick (not at all) but because of the reaction of those around me to this illness.
Connor has been since May last year. From the first moment of his illness, people of all walks of life and belief have shown our family a lot of support. Most of these are 'friends' whom I've come to know via the internet, particularly through Facebook, but over the past few months they have become a personal part of our lives as they send through gifts of tea, books, stamps, DVDs, internet games and all sorts, all with a view of cheering up this little boy whom they barely know.
Others who believe in God have sent prayers. All this has been offered with love and kindness. All of it has been received in gratitude.
So, where does the crisis of faith come into it? Well, I have had one real belief over the past 20 years or so, and that's that all goodness has gone from the world, that people are basically selfish and unthinking of others. However, despite this negativity, I belonged to a faith that believed in showing 'love amongst themselves' and that made me feel secure. 'My people' were a tightknit group and really were lovely and supportive. Now, however, almost all the support our family have received has come from outside my belief system. I'm seeing so much good from those who owe me and my family nothing, nothing at all. There is no selfishness, no agenda, just pure kindness from those who have it to give. Lee and I lay in bed recently discussing this outpouring of kindness and Lee pointed out that the largest portion of support has come from those who carry an atheistic view of life. I hadn't thought of it this way. All I'd seen was a group of people showing inclusiveness, not a group of people with or without a belief system. For the first time I began to think that maybe it's not the belief system that matters. It's what you do with it.
To all of you (believer and non-believer), I say thank you for being you.
On Sharon
I met Sharon 19 years ago when my previous husband and I moved to Kununurra. Sharon was part of the congregation and, as we were both young mums with 3 children (Blake was only 4 months away from being born), we both had a lot in common. We clicked and quickly became best friends.
Time wears away all things, but our friendship, which has gone through many trials, has somehow survived. I left Kununurra about a year after meeting Sharon, but we managed to keep the fires of our friendship alive. A few years later we were both divorced from our husbands and finding our feet in our new lives. We made mistakes, we discussed them, and, with an arm thrown around each others shoulders, we continued on.
Sharon and I both left our faith, but not each other. Oh, we've had our periods of separation, but we've always come back to each other full of news and love and understanding. We just 'get' each other and want happiness for each other.
Recently we met up for the first time in years. "Let's take Connor out on an excursion and catch up," Sharon said, and I fell in love with her all over again. It wasn't "Let's catch up and you can bring Connor along." No, this beautiful, generous person saw my difficulty and put it first. "Let's take Connor out on an excursion and catch up." It's all in the wording. The excursion became lunch and with that we're back on track with a view to introducing our husbands.
After several years of female-friend loneliness (my other best friend, Catherine, lives in the US with her new husband. There is a Catherine-shaped hole in my soul :( ) , I am starting to feel like I can breathe again.
On My Daughters
Yesterday was a happy day for me. I got to spend several hours with my daughter, Cassandra, as well as my grandchildren. As I sat on a couch and chatted to the oldest of my babies, I got to see how the years have treated my girl. The several troubled years of her teens are well behind her and now she's a confident, devoted mother who thinks of her children first and foremost. I am so proud of her.
After a while, however, we had to part ways. Erin was scheduled to sit the GATE exam in Claremont and I wanted to leave in plenty of time to find where we had to be as well as give her some time out before hand. We stopped at the Rose Gardens in Nedlands and for 15 glorious minutes Erin, Connor and I ran around, smelling the roses. And so, Goal 22 was ticked off: Take the kids to smell roses at least once. By the end of our time in the park, Erin was happy and calm and ready to face the test that would decide her future (not that we've said this to her, even once.) Three hours later the test was over and Erin walked out with a big smile on her face.
Now, here's the thing. Two weeks ago the GATE people sent out a practice exam so the kids could see what they faced. Erin struggled with a few of the maths questions, so I went to her teacher to ask for a handful of worksheets to help Erin gain an understanding of what might be included in the test. Her teacher sent about 30 worksheets, all filled with the maths subjects Erin will be learning this year. Over the next 10 days Erin learned an entire year's worth of work. We worked hard together starting with the basics and building and building until Erin had mastered an array of problems. She never gave up, never said it was too hard and she didn't want to do it. She just got on with it until it clicked. On Friday she received an Honour Certificate that showed that this effort hadn't been in vain, that her teacher had noticed her drive and had seen fit her reward her for it.
As it was, not one single thing she learned was in the exam. Not one fraction, not one percentage, nothing. However, as she said to me as we walked to the car: "It doesn't matter, Mum. It was your teaching me that gave me the confidence to walk in there and give it my best."
Oh, look, teary Mummy is teary.
Yeah, I'm so very proud of her.
On knitting
35 years ago my dad's best friend, Maureen, taught me to knit. I made all sorts of things for my dolls and I was quite adept. So, she taught me to crochet and I was good at that too. Actually, I found I preferred crochet to knitting and so I kept at that and dropped the knitting.
And then the 80s came and the 90s and craft work fell out of favour. Yes, to be honest, there's no way I'd leave the house with a knitted handbag, no matter how 'funky' the authors of the pattern claimed it was.
I left the woollen crafts behind and turned my creative attention towards writing instead.
Now, I want to return to knitting. And, oh goodness, I want to be as good as I was all that time ago. But I'm not. I'm trying to knit a pair of (toe up) socks but I keep doing the same two rows over and over. Cast on. (Yep.) Knit. (Yep.) Turn knitting upside down and knit into purl bump. (Say the heck, what?) How does that even work? Oh, goodness, I've mucked it up so I have to pull it out and start again. Cast on... I find I am getting frustrated by the inability of my reading brain and my doing fingers to communicate. I look at socks and I can't see why they'd be difficult to make and yet I can't make even the simplest of patterns work.
So, now I'm thinking of joining a knitting group but I'm nervous. I'm sure they'll be quick and clever and will be irritated by my clumsy attempts to make a garter square (Okay, I'm actually quite good at that, but you get my point.) I'm finding that, in my mid-life, I'm less inclined to put myself in situations of embarrassment. I don't want to be a newbie again, but I don't know what else to do in order to achieve the creations I know lie within.
On Writing
Usually, when I attend a Writers Festival (or conventions, or book launches, or dinner with writers) I leave feeling inspired and ready to add my voice to the art. This year, however, I'm left feeling flat and drained and totally uninspired. This Perth Writers Festival seemed, to me, to be an exercise in obtaining money rather than a discussion on the literary arts. Yes, I am aware that my beloved, Lee brought money into the household by being an "Artist" of the festival, but he did this by running a three hour workshop for would-be writers, rather than by sitting in a panel discussing how great his books are to paying readers.
So, I'm thinking that the only way to feel good about writing is to just sit down and write. I can't keep waiting for this magical community to appear that will help it all make sense. I just need to do it. I  have ideas and I have works that I'm half way through, but what I need is the motivation to take a work through to the end and the only one who can make that happen is me.
I know, it's an old revelation that verges on being a mantra, but sometimes I just need that gentle reminder to myself as to why I do the things I do. So, why do I write? I don't know why I write, anymore than I know why, despite my desire to lose weight, I have to eat cheese and crackers with a glass of wine when the kids go to bed. I do it because I can, I guess. And, maybe, because when I do it (the cheese, the crackers, the wine and the writing) I actually stop feeling flat, drained and totally uninspired.