dolorosa_12: (what's left? me)
I'm sure I've mentioned before that I was a competitive gymnast for the majority of my childhood and all of my adolescence. I was never naturally particularly good at it, but I trained at it for nine hours every week from the age of nine, and towards the end I was training twelve hours a week, and you don't train that long without becoming at least competent at something. I look back on my years as a gymnast with a great deal of affection and gratitude, because even though I never got good enough to make a career out of it, gymnastics taught me a lot of useful things about myself, and I find myself going back to it constantly whenever I want to understand important things about how I function. The same goes for a lot of the other things I did as a child and adolescent: piano exams and competitions, dance performances, drama productions, circus displays and even exams, class presentations and other public speaking. You'll notice that all these things have a strong performative element, and indeed necessitate performing well (in all sense of the word) in a public setting.

Looking back at all these things made me realise how productive an emotion fear has been in my life.

I want to be very clear here that this is a specific type of fear. It is not anxiety and it is not at all irrational. It may more correctly be understood as adrenaline, and the overall effect is to create a sort of calm clarity and certainty in my mind whenever I'm doing something that involves performing in public. I'll go back to gymnastics because it is the easiest to demonstrate.

Training in gymnastics involves a lot of different elements. Part of it is doing strength and flexibility exercises in order to increase those qualities (e.g. large numbers of situps, lifting weights, climbing up and down ropes without using your legs, or stretching). Part of it involves doing the actual gymnastics moves repetitively until you can do them consistently well, building up the degree of difficulty. For example, learning to do a backflip generally begins on a trampoline or soft mat with your coach helping you. Once you've mastered it there, you can move to the sprung floor, and from there you can learn to do it on the beam or in combination with other moves. Once you've built up enough skills, you train in putting them together into a routine and practice the routine repetitively until the routine as a whole is consistently performed well. So an average training session will involve strength and flexibility exercises, practicing routines, and learning new skills that are more difficult in order to work them into new routines. The point is that while doing all this, there's no pressure to perform publicly, except the knowledge that practice will make you perform better in competitions. The mental state is very different, and if you make mistakes, it's not a problem.

For me, once the competitive element was introduced, my mindset was entirely different. The best I can describe it is as a kind of fearful certainty: I got up on that beam, and knew I would not fall off, because my fear of doing so was greater than every other consideration. (Indeed, I very rarely fell in competitions.) In practice I occasionally 'baulked' at doing my vault routine (that is, I would run to the horse but stop before completing the exercise, usually because my run-up to the horse 'felt wrong'). I never baulked in competitions, even if the run-up 'felt wrong'. I know that some kinds of fear can be crippling, but this particular type produced in me a kind of clear certainty: I was so afraid of looking bad in public, of being scored badly, that I knew (in the same way that I knew my hair was brown or I lived in Canberra) I would not fall. That is not to say that I got amazing scores: like I said, I had no natural talent and was merely competent, the same way any able-bodied person would be if they trained for nine-twelve hours per week.

That is what I mean when I talk about 'productive fear', though. It worked the same in piano exams and competitions: I might've made mistakes in practice or occasionally lost my place in memorised pieces, but I wouldn't forget anything when it came to those competitive situations. Same goes for dance or drama performances: I was too afraid of looking bad to forget a move or a line. You might say that my prime motivation in all such situations was the intense fear of looking stupid or being thought badly of in public.

And the reason why I'm working so hard to draw a distinction between that kind of fear and other types is that it's actually quite a wonderful feeling. I never feel so much like myself, as if I'm in complete control of myself, as if I know myself completely, as when I feel that kind of fear.* It's as if the rest of the world around me is a blank space, within which I can move with confidence. It only lasts as long as the 'performance' (I've noticed, for example, that I feel it while giving conference papers, but not while answering questions afterwards). It makes my mind feel sharp and awake, and is the only time I feel truly alive.

I'm writing all this not to say 'be afraid more often! it's awesome!' but more for ongoing personal reference. A fearful nature is often viewed as being something of a hindrance, and I'm trying to articulate why this is not always something that needs criticism. It's clear to me that the type of fear I'm describing is almost indistinguishable from joy. It lasts as long as I need it to get where I need to go.

________________________
* Oddly enough, the same feeling arises when I do things which I have endeavoured to keep entirely non-competitive: ice-skating, rollerblading, skiing, jogging and swimming. My mind empties of everything except the certainty that I will not fall (in the case of skating or skiing), that I could run on forever (in the case of jogging) or that the ocean will hold me (in the case of swimming).
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I seem to be on fire with blogging at the moment. It's probably partly procrastination, but I do genuinely have stuff to say! Today, it's an A to Z book/reading meme.

Answers behind the cut )
dolorosa_12: (matilda)
I'm sorry I've been so quiet recently. I'm trying to get a full draft of my thesis in to my supervisor by the end of the week (eek!) and, as you can imagine, pretty much every waking moment is spent writing, writing, writing, and editing, editing, editing. But I read a recent post by Foz Meadows about her struggles with the SFF canon (and with notions of canonicity in general) that so closely mirrors my own thoughts and describes my own experiences as a reader that I had to post a link.

'If I’ve never read the Classics, then how did I get into SFF in the first place?

That last question is one I really have been asked – sometimes overtly, and sometimes only by implication, but always in a tone of genuine surprise, and always by men, as though my interlocutor couldn’t conceive of a journey into SFF fandom that didn’t involve neatly-spaced stopovers at Herbert, Lem, Dick, Matheson, Eddings, Feist, and Goodkind, preferably in that order.

By the same token, it’s also a question that tends to be linked to a lot of anxiety about SFF being forced away from its roots, and whether or not this constitutes progress or perversion. In some respects, this is an understandable question: whatever the genre, the stories that first draw us in are often the ones for which we feel the greatest personal affinity, and which, as a consequence, we not only want to emulate, but whose tropes and themes (we believe) aren’t just common to the genre, but actively necessary to it.'


Apart from Dune, my experience of the 'classics' is similarly limited. And, Redwall aside, my childhood and adolescent reading list was remarkably similar to Meadows'. (This is, perhaps, unsurprising, given the fact that we were both bookish Australians who grew up in the '90s.) She notes as formative the works of Jackie French, Victor Kelleher, Isobelle Carmody, Sara Douglass, Garth Nix, Philip Pullman, Whedonverse shows and Daria.

And Catherine Jinks.

Oh, my heart.
dolorosa_12: (doctor horrible)
Everyone expected me to become a journalist. My parents are journalists, and all their friends are journalists, and I grew up in Canberra, where it sometimes feels like everyone is either a journalist, a politician or a public servant. When I was growing up, the concepts of 'adult' and 'journalist' were almost interchangeable.

I say 'journalists', but what I really mean is 'political journalists'. My father is a very senior political journalist, and so are most of his friends. Hell, even the woman who introduced my dad to my stepmother is a senior political journalist.

I could tell you any number of wacky stories relating to politicians - like the time Paul Keating rang our home number in a blistering rage in 1992 because Dad had said something unflattering on the news, and I, a seven-year-old, answered the phone and had a rather surreal conversation with the surly Prime Minister. Or the time I got roped into a dinner at Bill Shorten's house (because his then-partner knew my stepmother) before Shorten became a politician, where everyone smoked indoors and he tried not to make his ambitions so obvious. Or the time when I was 22 years old and accidentally met Wayne Swan while I was wearing my pyjamas and he proceeded to grill me about opinions of Labor among young people.

Political journalists were my mentors. When I was a child they treated me like a sort of precocious pet, when I was a teenager they tried to steer me in that direction as a career, and when I did, briefly, become a journalist as an adult, they treated me as one of their own. I looked up to them and thought there could be no one as clever and eloquent and cynical and powerful as them. When my father broke very important political stories, I basked in reflected glory, and when Kevin Rudd first emerged as a credible candidate in 2007, I stood in the newsroom with the other journalists, glued to the TV and feeling as if I were participating in something powerful.

And I think it's fairly obvious that I'm extremely left-leaning, so I don't feel like I need to say anything about the horrors that have been going on in the Labor Party since it came to power, because you know what I will say, and what I will feel.

I have always responded to Australian politics like a journalist, even as a child, and even now, when it's five years since I could call myself such a thing. And that is why it hurts. Because political journalism in Australia, particularly after Gillard came to power, is a disgrace. It has reduced everything to personality - and so personality, not policy, came to matter. I am ashamed to have been a journalist, and to have had a journalist's mentality. My childhood memories are tainted. I feel like my trust has been betrayed.

The recent leadership spill upset me less because it will hand Australia to Tony Abbott on a plate, than because it is the crowning moment in a series of things that have shown the Australian political media in an extremely poor light. I know these priorities of mine are messed up, but it is what it is.
dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
When I was a child and teenager, I consumed stories with an urgent, hungry intensity. I reread favourite books again and again until I could quote them verbatim,* I wandered around the garden pretending to be Snow White or Ariel from The Little Mermaid or Jessica Rabbit.** I had a pretty constant narrative running through my head the whole time I was awake, for the most part consisting of me being the character of a favourite story doing whatever activity I, Ronni, happened to be doing at the time. (No wonder I was a such a vague child: every activity required an extra layer of concentration in order for me to figure out why, say, the dinosaurs from The Land Before Time would be learning multiplication at a Canberra primary school.) The more I learnt about literary scholarship, the more insufferable I became, because I would talk at people about how 'URSULA LE GUIN WROTE A STORY WHERE EVERYTHING HAS A TRUE, SECRET NAME AND THEN ANOTHER USE-NAME AND ISN'T THAT AMAZING IN WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT IDENTITY?!?!' For the most part, I don't inhabit stories to the same extent, and they don't inhabit me to the same degree, although there are rare exceptions to this.

The rare exceptions tend to be things that sort of satisfy my soul in some deep and slightly subconscious way.*** And the funny thing is that although I can write lengthy essays explaining why something both appeals to me on this hungry, emotional level and is a good work of literature (indeed, I have been known to dedicate a whole blog to this), I can also remember a specific moment when reading/watching these texts and they suddenly became THE BEST THING EVER. I can remember exactly what it was for all of them.

The following is somewhat spoilerish for Romanitas, Sunshine by Robin McKinley, Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Demon's Lexicon, The King's Peace by Jo Walton, Parkland by Victor Kelleher, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Robin Hood: Men in Tights,
Ten Things I Hate About You, Cirque du Soleil, Pagan's Crusade by Catherine Jinks and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.


Probably a closer look at my subconscious than is comfortable )

Do you have moments like that?
____________
*Which led to a very awkward moment in Year 5 when our teacher was reading Hating Alison Ashley out loud to the class, but would skip bits from time to time - whereupon I would correct her.
**(whose appeal was less that she wasn't 'bad, just drawn that way' and more due to the fact that she wore an awesome dress)
***I've seen people describe fanfic like this as 'idfic', but for me this tends to be a phenomenon of professionally published fiction.
dolorosa_12: (doctor horrible)
There are certain things that I simply do not post on Facebook, even though posting them on Dreamwidth/LJ is essentially preaching to the choir. It's because I know that even though the majority of my Facebook friends will either react positively or benignly ignore anything I say about rape culture, there'll always be someone who attempts to take me to task, makes stupid victim-blaming 'you wouldn't walk around with money dangling out of your pockets or leave your house door unlocked' analogies or accuses me of thinking badly of all men. I just don't have the energy to engage with that sort of stuff, but I always have a lot of feelings about this particular issue and need to talk about them somewhere. So, lucky you. You get to read them.

Cut for discussion of bullying and rape culture )
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This afternoon, in order to clear my head, I walked out to Grantchester, which is a small village about half an hour's walk from Cambridge proper. It's a lovely little walk along the river, but one thing struck me: no matter where you go in Britain, you are within sight of signs of human habitation.*

In Australia, this is not the case. I grew up in suburbia, but there was a big national park just out of town, and my family frequently went hiking there with friends and the extended family. Later, I would hike there as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, as well as in other national parks. These hikes were very challenging, because we didn't follow the paths, but went bush-bashing, navigating only with maps and compasses. We usually didn't see another human being for the duration of the hikes.

On other family holidays we went to the beach, usually to Broulee or Bawley Point down the south coast, but often to extremely rough camping areas - usually Mystery Bay or Pebbly Beach. These had no electricity, and Mystery Bay didn't even have hot water or flushing toilets. Although you saw other campers, there were no other signs of human activity - no shops, no visible houses or roads. There certainly weren't any people on the beaches beyond those who were swimming or walking.

Even within the big cities, there were areas of wildness. My grandparents lived in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and everything was very controlled and picket-fenced. However, just down the road was a patch of bushland, and if you walked for a minute or so, the houses disappeared from view, the sound of cars vanished and was replaced by birdsong and cicadas.

There was a wildness about nature that I haven't encountered in the UK. And I know East Anglia isn't really the place for it, but even in more remote areas I've visited, such as North Wales and Cornwall, everything seems smaller, tamer, with more evidence of human hands. And there's nothing wrong with that! But the feeling of swimming in the cold water at Pebbly in the autumn, tossed by waves, looking out across the grey sea and seeing nothing but water and a few small islands, salt-washed and exultant, is almost impossible to replicate.

Sometimes I just miss those landscapes.

_______________________________
*With the caveat that this only extends to places I've personally visited - there may be places in Britain that don't fit this description.
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
This afternoon, in order to clear my head, I walked out to Grantchester, which is a small village about half an hour's walk from Cambridge proper. It's a lovely little walk along the river, but one thing struck me: no matter where you go in Britain, you are within sight of signs of human habitation.*

In Australia, this is not the case. I grew up in suburbia, but there was a big national park just out of town, and my family frequently went hiking there with friends and the extended family. Later, I would hike there as part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, as well as in other national parks. These hikes were very challenging, because we didn't follow the paths, but went bush-bashing, navigating only with maps and compasses. We usually didn't see another human being for the duration of the hikes.

On other family holidays we went to the beach, usually to Broulee or Bawley Point down the south coast, but often to extremely rough camping areas - usually Mystery Bay or Pebbly Beach. These had no electricity, and Mystery Bay didn't even have hot water or flushing toilets. Although you saw other campers, there were no other signs of human activity - no shops, no visible houses or roads. There certainly weren't any people on the beaches beyond those who were swimming or walking.

Even within the big cities, there were areas of wildness. My grandparents lived in the northern suburbs of Sydney, and everything was very controlled and picket-fenced. However, just down the road was a patch of bushland, and if you walked for a minute or so, the houses disappeared from view, the sound of cars vanished and was replaced by birdsong and cicadas.

There was a wildness about nature that I haven't encountered in the UK. And I know East Anglia isn't really the place for it, but even in more remote areas I've visited, such as North Wales and Cornwall, everything seems smaller, tamer, with more evidence of human hands. And there's nothing wrong with that! But the feeling of swimming in the cold water at Pebbly in the autumn, tossed by waves, looking out across the grey sea and seeing nothing but water and a few small islands, salt-washed and exultant, is almost impossible to replicate.

Sometimes I just miss those landscapes.

_______________________________
*With the caveat that this only extends to places I've personally visited - there may be places in Britain that don't fit this description.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
So, if you've been reading this blog at any point in the last, oh, nine years, you probably know that there are certain series of books that I adore and rave about constantly. And if I had to narrow the list down to 'the most life-changing books I have ever read', to the books I would take with me on a desert island, to the books I would carry around in order to keep myself sane in a post-apocalyptic scenario, I would name three series: the Pagan Chronicles by Catherine Jinks, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman and Romanitas by [profile] sophiamcdougall. These series all came into my life at precisely the right time, and have affected, influenced and transformed me in various ways. I could read them again and again and again and still discover something new.

But what struck me this morning is how close I came to not reading any of them at all. The sheer crazy random happenstance that caused me to read all these series is completely ridiculous.

memory lane is full of strange twists and turns )
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
I can't seem to stop thinking about Canberra.

Photobucket

My mother grew up in the suburbs of Sydney, and I was always incredulous as a child when she told me how stultifying, how suffocating, how smothering she found it. Canberra itself is suburb incarnate, empty streets laid out like spokes of a wheel, extending outwards from Capital Hill, quarter-acre blocks, dry grass, blue sky so bright it burns you. And I loved it.

Like most Canberrans my age, I got out. There are two great mass exoduses from Canberra. The first is of eighteen-year-olds, off to university in other cities, or to travel the world. The second is of 22-year-olds, who elected to stay in Canberra for university, but only as a stepping stone to brighter lights, bigger cities.

It took me a long time to feel at home anywhere else. And I confused matters by moving back to Canberra for a year after I finished university. It was at once the stupidest and most important thing I ever did in my life.* I think for a long time, the problem was that I confused home with childhood. I was underwhelmed by adulthood. I was bereft, adrift. I didn't feel the things that people around me seemed to be feeling, I didn't want the things they wanted.** Home was an age, not a place, it was the place where I was a certain age, an age and a place where I was no longer.

It took me a very long time to feel at home in a place that wasn't Canberra. What it took, in fact, was to feel at home in an age that wasn't childhood. But still, that city, that sky, those lunarscapes of suburban shopping-centres are impressed, burnt into my eyelids. And every time I think about growing up, moving on, shedding skins, I find my thoughts returning there. To those roundabouts.

All this is by way of preamble to my friend [profile] lucubratae's amazing poem 'Those Evocative London Placenames'. His journey in a way is the complete opposite of mine, but what he says about growing up hit me right in the heart. I highly recommend it.

______________
* Stupid because I was miserable, but important, because it's what convinced me to apply to Cambridge, where I found myself.
** I realise now, of course, that I was far from unique in this regard.
dolorosa_12: (una)
Oh people people people, I just have to link you to a FANTASTIC post by [livejournal.com profile] sophiamcdougall. In it, she reacts to an (admittedly old) quote by Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat, which is as follows:

"There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. ... Well, the world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male."

If there's one thing you can rely on, it's McDougall calling out privilege in an eloquent and (for want of a better word) compassionate way. Thus:

First, it needs to be said, of course, that not all women played at weddings when they were little. I know plenty who didn’t. But I want to talk about the ones that did. Let’s assume I was one of them – I can’t completely remember whether I ever went as far as acting out a wedding, but I know I thought and talked to my friends about how I wanted my wedding dress to be. Long, swishy and dramatic, of course, but not white, because that’s boring! Why wouldn’t I want to wear my favourite colour? My wedding dress, I promised myself, would be blue – a deep, rich, bright blue.

But you know what I didn’t daydream about? You know what never entered my mind?

The groom.

Never, when I thought about My Wedding, did I promise myself that on this day of days, at last my innate female loneliness would be over. I never even imagined how handsome he’d be or how much he’d love me. Not even “He’ll be a kind, nice man.” The poor fellow never got a look-in. I knew he’d have to be there, vaguely, but that was a detail as negligible as the seating arrangements, and frankly, if I could have had the wedding without the husband that would have been just fine by me.

Yes, I am afraid, Steven, little girls’ wedding fantasies are not about you. You can relax; packs of little girls are not being reared from infancy to hunt you. It’s just the dress. That’s the fantasy. It’s about wearing an awesome outfit and getting to be the centre of attention.


I wish I had an applause gif right now, because her whole post just made me want to stand on my chair and clap.

Because I was one of those girls who played getting married (and indeed, if wedding ceremonies are legally binding if officiated by a seven-year-old girl from Canberra draped in sarongs and doubling as an organist, I'm currently married to the younger brother of my childhood best friend), but it wasn't all I played.

Because the game that my sister and I most consistently played was that we were some form of single-mother-headed family, with a mother (me), an absent (and never-mentioned) father, a resourceful oldest daughter (her) and a gaggle of younger children represented by our (exclusively female) dolls. No matter what the setting (and we had several different versions of the game, but the two most common iterations were: struggling single-parent family lives in the top floor of a block of flats, is oppressed by the cartoonish rich family in the neighbourhood, and single mother is wrongfully imprisoned but is able to slip in and out of the bars on her cell and goes and has adventures with her friend, who lives an Aladdin-like existence in the streets*, and all are oppressed by the cartoonish rich family who owns the prison) the game was always about overcoming adversity through trickery and just generally being awesome.

Because the characters from books I played at being were Naomi and Chava Bernstein from The Girls in the Velvet Frame (impoverished Jewish family in British Mandate Palestine, widowed mother, five sisters being awesome) and Sara Crewe from A Little Princess (impoverished formerly privileged girl uses the power of the imagination to triumph over her horrible circumstances).

Because when my cousin S and my sister and I played together we pretended to be Sadako Sasaki or characters from Heian-era Japan (to cut a long story short, every game involved my sister being a cheeky child with a menagerie of animals, my cousin dying from some terrible disease and me being forced to make a political marriage with someone horrible (and off-screen)).

Because when I played dinosaurs with my sister and whatever friends came around, we were always herbivorous dinosaurs in a dinosaur boarding school run by carnivores who maltreated us.

Because, when I think back on it, pretty much every imaginative game I played as a child involved combating some kind of injustice with deviousness and cleverness and resourcefulness or just sheer endurance and acceptance. Because those were the ways girls and women were heroic in the kinds of books I read. Because they made themselves the centre of their stories by slipping in sideways. They weren't the Chosen One, they were the ones scrambling around trying to live in the margins, on the boundaries of a world that would never have a Chosen One come and save it. And because no one ever told me that that wasn't heroic, that compromise and shiftiness and bargaining and moral ambiguity were what saved people, I grew up wanting to be like those girls, like those people.

Men were kind of absent and irrelevant to my childhood imagination. That's the truth of it. Sometimes, it's just not about the men. And usually, when it's little girls playing, it's not about wanting to force the poor oppressed middle-class men to the altar.

______________________________________
* When I look back on the things I imagined and played, I cringe a little. I was middle-class, white and clueless. I had no direct experience of the kinds of oppression that I was playing at opposing, which I think is why they captured my imagination at the time.
dolorosa_12: (una)
Oh people people people, I just have to link you to a FANTASTIC post by [livejournal.com profile] sophiamcdougall. In it, she reacts to an (admittedly old) quote by Doctor Who showrunner Stephen Moffat, which is as follows:

"There’s this issue you’re not allowed to discuss: that women are needy. Men can go for longer, more happily, without women. That’s the truth. We don’t, as little boys, play at being married - we try to avoid it for as long as possible. Meanwhile women are out there hunting for husbands. ... Well, the world is vastly counted in favour of men at every level - except if you live in a civilised country and you’re sort of educated and middle-class, because then you’re almost certainly junior in your relationship and in a state of permanent, crippled apology. Your preferences are routinely mocked. There’s a huge, unfortunate lack of respect for anything male."

If there's one thing you can rely on, it's McDougall calling out privilege in an eloquent and (for want of a better word) compassionate way. Thus:

First, it needs to be said, of course, that not all women played at weddings when they were little. I know plenty who didn’t. But I want to talk about the ones that did. Let’s assume I was one of them – I can’t completely remember whether I ever went as far as acting out a wedding, but I know I thought and talked to my friends about how I wanted my wedding dress to be. Long, swishy and dramatic, of course, but not white, because that’s boring! Why wouldn’t I want to wear my favourite colour? My wedding dress, I promised myself, would be blue – a deep, rich, bright blue.

But you know what I didn’t daydream about? You know what never entered my mind?

The groom.

Never, when I thought about My Wedding, did I promise myself that on this day of days, at last my innate female loneliness would be over. I never even imagined how handsome he’d be or how much he’d love me. Not even “He’ll be a kind, nice man.” The poor fellow never got a look-in. I knew he’d have to be there, vaguely, but that was a detail as negligible as the seating arrangements, and frankly, if I could have had the wedding without the husband that would have been just fine by me.

Yes, I am afraid, Steven, little girls’ wedding fantasies are not about you. You can relax; packs of little girls are not being reared from infancy to hunt you. It’s just the dress. That’s the fantasy. It’s about wearing an awesome outfit and getting to be the centre of attention.


I wish I had an applause gif right now, because her whole post just made me want to stand on my chair and clap.

Because I was one of those girls who played getting married (and indeed, if wedding ceremonies are legally binding if officiated by a seven-year-old girl from Canberra draped in sarongs and doubling as an organist, I'm currently married to the younger brother of my childhood best friend), but it wasn't all I played.

Because the game that my sister and I most consistently played was that we were some form of single-mother-headed family, with a mother (me), an absent (and never-mentioned) father, a resourceful oldest daughter (her) and a gaggle of younger children represented by our (exclusively female) dolls. No matter what the setting (and we had several different versions of the game, but the two most common iterations were: struggling single-parent family lives in the top floor of a block of flats, is oppressed by the cartoonish rich family in the neighbourhood, and single mother is wrongfully imprisoned but is able to slip in and out of the bars on her cell and goes and has adventures with her friend, who lives an Aladdin-like existence in the streets*, and all are oppressed by the cartoonish rich family who owns the prison) the game was always about overcoming adversity through trickery and just generally being awesome.

Because the characters from books I played at being were Naomi and Chava Bernstein from The Girls in the Velvet Frame (impoverished Jewish family in British Mandate Palestine, widowed mother, five sisters being awesome) and Sara Crewe from A Little Princess (impoverished formerly privileged girl uses the power of the imagination to triumph over her horrible circumstances).

Because when my cousin S and my sister and I played together we pretended to be Sadako Sasaki or characters from Heian-era Japan (to cut a long story short, every game involved my sister being a cheeky child with a menagerie of animals, my cousin dying from some terrible disease and me being forced to make a political marriage with someone horrible (and off-screen)).

Because when I played dinosaurs with my sister and whatever friends came around, we were always herbivorous dinosaurs in a dinosaur boarding school run by carnivores who maltreated us.

Because, when I think back on it, pretty much every imaginative game I played as a child involved combating some kind of injustice with deviousness and cleverness and resourcefulness or just sheer endurance and acceptance. Because those were the ways girls and women were heroic in the kinds of books I read. Because they made themselves the centre of their stories by slipping in sideways. They weren't the Chosen One, they were the ones scrambling around trying to live in the margins, on the boundaries of a world that would never have a Chosen One come and save it. And because no one ever told me that that wasn't heroic, that compromise and shiftiness and bargaining and moral ambiguity were what saved people, I grew up wanting to be like those girls, like those people.

Men were kind of absent and irrelevant to my childhood imagination. That's the truth of it. Sometimes, it's just not about the men. And usually, when it's little girls playing, it's not about wanting to force the poor oppressed middle-class men to the altar.

______________________________________
* When I look back on the things I imagined and played, I cringe a little. I was middle-class, white and clueless. I had no direct experience of the kinds of oppression that I was playing at opposing, which I think is why they captured my imagination at the time.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I could start this anywhere. I could start this with the day my mother first put a book into my hands, some American picture book I can no longer remember. I could start with the day I finally learnt how to read, and how the feeling was so shocking it was like a clap of thunder. Or I could start with how I used to pretend to be Sara Crewe from A Little Princess because her ability to escape her surroundings by imagining herself elsewhere seemed extremely desirable to me.

But really, there are only two places I can start. One day, I was ten, and I read a book where one (illiterate) character said to another, 'People who read are always a little bit like you. You can't just tell them, you have to tell them why', and I leapt up to write this down in the little notebook I always carried around, because it was so true, so perfect and so exactly what I thought, expressed in words I myself did not possess.

And one day, when I was 15, I read a book, the third in a trilogy, a book I'd been yearning to read for three years, and one character urged us all to 'tell them stories', and I, with tears streaming down my face (because this book has one of the saddest endings of any work of literature), nodded, because it was so true, so perfect and so exactly what I believed, expressed in words I myself did not possess.

Tell them stories. People who can read must be told why. These two things are true. And they must be the starting point for any response to yet another odious attack on 'depraved' modern YA literature.

I was lucky enough to have an almost trouble-free childhood and adolescence. I had an engaged, thoughtful and empathetic mother who had been buying me books as presents before I could even read, who always answered any questions I had truthfully and without a shade of embarrassment (I remember her explaining to me 'where babies came from' when I was three. I didn't understand her answer, but I'm really happy she actually bothered to explain). My sister and I were always very comfortable discussing everything with our mother, and enjoyed a relationship of openness and mutual respect which continues to this day.

Like most nerdy children, I suffered the usual bullying in primary school, and had the misfortune to be in a group of friends with whom I was incompatible in the early years of high school, and lacked self-confidence until well into adulthood, and books were an escape and a comfort, but compared to what some other people have gone through, it was nothing. I was lucky enough to have really good friends outside my 'group' (I was in higher classes than my 'group', so I knew a whole other bunch of people from those classes, and I also had good friends outside school from gymnastics, piano, Kumon, family friends and, later, my part-time job), and it was less bullying per se than a kind of bewildered indifference. We had formed our group in early Year 7, when people's personalities were less defined, and then, too late, realised we had very little in common besides a hyper-awareness of (and indeed anxiety about) other people's opinions. In any case, I loved reading and was consoled by it, but I don't want to describe it as an escape as I don't really think I had that much to be escaping from at that point in my life.

To be honest, most of the really awful things that have happened to me happened in adulthood. I was ill-prepared for adulthood in a psychological sense and became increasingly depressed as the years after high school continued. The low point was 2007, when I graduated from uni and moved back to Canberra to work in a job that I hated and dreaded. In that year, it was a YA book that saved me, as it brought me to the internet, to The Republic of Heaven, and to a truly wonderful group of people who, and I wish I could say I was exaggerating, gave me something to live for. They saved me, and they have continued to save me for nearly five years now.

But I digress. I'm happy now, and, in any case, in going into my own personal story of how YA literature saved me, I'm wandering away from the main point I'm trying to argue. Which is that literature gives you words.

If you are lucky like me, and grew up, for the most part, without significant pain or sadness, it gives you the words to articulate your beliefs and feelings, and it gives words to those outside your experience, who did and do suffer. I never had an eating disorder or a problem with body image, I was never a teenage victim of abuse, I did not have a problem with poverty or drugs or alcohol or self-harm, I had no disability, I was not pressured into sex as a teenager, I never had to come out or experience homophobia, I never experienced war or violence, my society did not view me as Other. But in reading stories about people who did, I was given the words of people who had experienced these things, and I like to think, or at least I hope, that in having the words of fictional people who experienced these things, I was better equipped to empathise with, and indeed to recognise the common humanity of real people who had. But the point is that if those words were of benefit to me, how much more must they have helped real people who had experienced all these things? Because those stories give them words - words to articulate their experiences and beliefs and feelings.

(I'm uncomfortable talking any further on behalf of others, as I recognise that I have various privileges: white privilege and straight privilege and cis privilege and so on, and indeed if anyone sees anything that's problematic, feel free to let me know either in the comments or via PM, but I did want to at least try not to make this all about me.)

We need stories. We need words. Because they are an essential starting point for really important conversations. Without words or stories, children and teenagers - and, indeed, adults - won't be able to think more critically about, well, anything. Stories and words are the starting-point. Some people would prefer their children not to think about these things at all - indeed, not to know about these things at all - but these are precisely the things that teenagers should be thinking about. Ignorance helps nobody.

Tell them stories. Always ask why. These are the beginnings of all things. They are not a luxury. They are dangerous and powerful. They are essential.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
I could start this anywhere. I could start this with the day my mother first put a book into my hands, some American picture book I can no longer remember. I could start with the day I finally learnt how to read, and how the feeling was so shocking it was like a clap of thunder. Or I could start with how I used to pretend to be Sara Crewe from A Little Princess because her ability to escape her surroundings by imagining herself elsewhere seemed extremely desirable to me.

But really, there are only two places I can start. One day, I was ten, and I read a book where one (illiterate) character said to another, 'People who read are always a little bit like you. You can't just tell them, you have to tell them why', and I leapt up to write this down in the little notebook I always carried around, because it was so true, so perfect and so exactly what I thought, expressed in words I myself did not possess.

And one day, when I was 15, I read a book, the third in a trilogy, a book I'd been yearning to read for three years, and one character urged us all to 'tell them stories', and I, with tears streaming down my face (because this book has one of the saddest endings of any work of literature), nodded, because it was so true, so perfect and so exactly what I believed, expressed in words I myself did not possess.

Tell them stories. People who can read must be told why. These two things are true. And they must be the starting point for any response to yet another odious attack on 'depraved' modern YA literature.

I was lucky enough to have an almost trouble-free childhood and adolescence. I had an engaged, thoughtful and empathetic mother who had been buying me books as presents before I could even read, who always answered any questions I had truthfully and without a shade of embarrassment (I remember her explaining to me 'where babies came from' when I was three. I didn't understand her answer, but I'm really happy she actually bothered to explain). My sister and I were always very comfortable discussing everything with our mother, and enjoyed a relationship of openness and mutual respect which continues to this day.

Like most nerdy children, I suffered the usual bullying in primary school, and had the misfortune to be in a group of friends with whom I was incompatible in the early years of high school, and lacked self-confidence until well into adulthood, and books were an escape and a comfort, but compared to what some other people have gone through, it was nothing. I was lucky enough to have really good friends outside my 'group' (I was in higher classes than my 'group', so I knew a whole other bunch of people from those classes, and I also had good friends outside school from gymnastics, piano, Kumon, family friends and, later, my part-time job), and it was less bullying per se than a kind of bewildered indifference. We had formed our group in early Year 7, when people's personalities were less defined, and then, too late, realised we had very little in common besides a hyper-awareness of (and indeed anxiety about) other people's opinions. In any case, I loved reading and was consoled by it, but I don't want to describe it as an escape as I don't really think I had that much to be escaping from at that point in my life.

To be honest, most of the really awful things that have happened to me happened in adulthood. I was ill-prepared for adulthood in a psychological sense and became increasingly depressed as the years after high school continued. The low point was 2007, when I graduated from uni and moved back to Canberra to work in a job that I hated and dreaded. In that year, it was a YA book that saved me, as it brought me to the internet, to The Republic of Heaven, and to a truly wonderful group of people who, and I wish I could say I was exaggerating, gave me something to live for. They saved me, and they have continued to save me for nearly five years now.

But I digress. I'm happy now, and, in any case, in going into my own personal story of how YA literature saved me, I'm wandering away from the main point I'm trying to argue. Which is that literature gives you words.

If you are lucky like me, and grew up, for the most part, without significant pain or sadness, it gives you the words to articulate your beliefs and feelings, and it gives words to those outside your experience, who did and do suffer. I never had an eating disorder or a problem with body image, I was never a teenage victim of abuse, I did not have a problem with poverty or drugs or alcohol or self-harm, I had no disability, I was not pressured into sex as a teenager, I never had to come out or experience homophobia, I never experienced war or violence, my society did not view me as Other. But in reading stories about people who did, I was given the words of people who had experienced these things, and I like to think, or at least I hope, that in having the words of fictional people who experienced these things, I was better equipped to empathise with, and indeed to recognise the common humanity of real people who had. But the point is that if those words were of benefit to me, how much more must they have helped real people who had experienced all these things? Because those stories give them words - words to articulate their experiences and beliefs and feelings.

(I'm uncomfortable talking any further on behalf of others, as I recognise that I have various privileges: white privilege and straight privilege and cis privilege and so on, and indeed if anyone sees anything that's problematic, feel free to let me know either in the comments or via PM, but I did want to at least try not to make this all about me.)

We need stories. We need words. Because they are an essential starting point for really important conversations. Without words or stories, children and teenagers - and, indeed, adults - won't be able to think more critically about, well, anything. Stories and words are the starting-point. Some people would prefer their children not to think about these things at all - indeed, not to know about these things at all - but these are precisely the things that teenagers should be thinking about. Ignorance helps nobody.

Tell them stories. Always ask why. These are the beginnings of all things. They are not a luxury. They are dangerous and powerful. They are essential.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This is a book meme taken from [livejournal.com profile] ansketil_rose


Meme this way )
dolorosa_12: (Default)
This is a book meme taken from [livejournal.com profile] ansketil_rose


Meme this way )
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
My right arm ached for all of Monday after I played cricket with my friends on Sunday. This on its own is insignificant, but then I realised that not only was it hurting on Monday, actually throwing the ball while playing was both excruciating and effortful. And that got me thinking about, well, how much things had changed.

I am not an unfit person. I run every day for up to an hour and no less than half an hour. I walk everywhere. Stairs do not leave me breathless, and I imagine if I swam laps, I would be able to do about 20 of a 50-metre pool before I really started to feel it.

But I am clumsy, oh so very clumsy. I walked into the sides of beds and tables, I trip over anything and everything, I whack my arms and shoulders against doorframes. My legs are covered in bruises. It's as if my body no longer knows its own dimensions.

And I am weak. My arms lack strength, and gone are the days when I could do 100 sit-ups without even feeling it. My hands and wrists are ruined by 10 years spent hunched over a computer.

None of this would matter, but I used to be a gymnast, and I notice the difference.

There was a time when I could do handstands and cartwheels and even backflips on a beam of wood only 10cm wide. I could tumble and flip across a sprung floor or over a vaulting horse and launch myself into the air as if I expected to fly. I could do 50 chin-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, walk around on my hands and even climb up a rope with weights strapped to my feet without using my legs. And, most importantly, I could fly around the uneven bars. I could do a glide kip (start from 6.20, the rest is all training), a long kip (at 0.08), and even giants (that girl's technique isn't great, by the way). I loved bars so much. The feeling of flying, leaping, circling around those two bars is incredible and I have never found anything remotely similar in any other sport.

I don't want to act like all this stuff came naturally, that it was easy. It was the result of 10 years of training, seven years of which consisted of 9-10 hours per week. Each of those skills was hard-won, and I fell over, stumbled, and struggled before I was able to do any of them. The strength I had took years to achieve. But once I had achieved it, it was amazing.

What gymnastics gave me was an incredible sense of control. I have never felt so secure in and comfortable with my body as when I was a gymnast. This was nothing to do with how my body looked, but rather because it did exactly what I wanted. I was balanced, I was supple, I was strong and agile and powerful. I never understood physics better than when I was doing a glide kip; I understood instinctively that if I held my head this way, that would happen, if I flicked my wrists just so, brought my toes to the bar at just that moment I would end up not under the bar but above it, poised to flow into the next move in my routine.

And now I am bruised and clumsy and my arms lack the strength to throw a cricket ball and although I can run fast I cannot launch myself into a somersault and above all I am earthbound. And sometimes that makes me kind of unhappy.*


___________________________
* I am aware that mine are the very definition of First World problems.
dolorosa_12: (dreaming)
My right arm ached for all of Monday after I played cricket with my friends on Sunday. This on its own is insignificant, but then I realised that not only was it hurting on Monday, actually throwing the ball while playing was both excruciating and effortful. And that got me thinking about, well, how much things had changed.

I am not an unfit person. I run every day for up to an hour and no less than half an hour. I walk everywhere. Stairs do not leave me breathless, and I imagine if I swam laps, I would be able to do about 20 of a 50-metre pool before I really started to feel it.

But I am clumsy, oh so very clumsy. I walked into the sides of beds and tables, I trip over anything and everything, I whack my arms and shoulders against doorframes. My legs are covered in bruises. It's as if my body no longer knows its own dimensions.

And I am weak. My arms lack strength, and gone are the days when I could do 100 sit-ups without even feeling it. My hands and wrists are ruined by 10 years spent hunched over a computer.

None of this would matter, but I used to be a gymnast, and I notice the difference.

There was a time when I could do handstands and cartwheels and even backflips on a beam of wood only 10cm wide. I could tumble and flip across a sprung floor or over a vaulting horse and launch myself into the air as if I expected to fly. I could do 50 chin-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, walk around on my hands and even climb up a rope with weights strapped to my feet without using my legs. And, most importantly, I could fly around the uneven bars. I could do a glide kip (start from 6.20, the rest is all training), a long kip (at 0.08), and even giants (that girl's technique isn't great, by the way). I loved bars so much. The feeling of flying, leaping, circling around those two bars is incredible and I have never found anything remotely similar in any other sport.

I don't want to act like all this stuff came naturally, that it was easy. It was the result of 10 years of training, seven years of which consisted of 9-10 hours per week. Each of those skills was hard-won, and I fell over, stumbled, and struggled before I was able to do any of them. The strength I had took years to achieve. But once I had achieved it, it was amazing.

What gymnastics gave me was an incredible sense of control. I have never felt so secure in and comfortable with my body as when I was a gymnast. This was nothing to do with how my body looked, but rather because it did exactly what I wanted. I was balanced, I was supple, I was strong and agile and powerful. I never understood physics better than when I was doing a glide kip; I understood instinctively that if I held my head this way, that would happen, if I flicked my wrists just so, brought my toes to the bar at just that moment I would end up not under the bar but above it, poised to flow into the next move in my routine.

And now I am bruised and clumsy and my arms lack the strength to throw a cricket ball and although I can run fast I cannot launch myself into a somersault and above all I am earthbound. And sometimes that makes me kind of unhappy.*


___________________________
* I am aware that mine are the very definition of First World problems.
dolorosa_12: (una)
This was my involuntary response after (and during) reading Savage City, the third book in [livejournal.com profile] sophiamcdougall's Romanitas trilogy. I read the book with a kind of desperate, yearning hunger. I'd been waiting for it for several years, I loved its characters (in particular, its heroine, fierce, introverted, determined Una), and I couldn't bear not knowing how things would end.

The last time I read a book like that, I was 22, and it was the final Harry Potter book. I think this is significant, because the last time before that, I would've been in high school, reading Darksong, the follow-up to Isobelle Carmody's Darkfall. And, indeed, this was the way I read all my favourite books, as a child and teenager.

I devoured them, much the same way as Sara Crewe (a childhood heroine) is said to 'devour books' in A Little Princess. Their characters were as real, as close to me, as real people. Their lives mattered as much or more. I felt every blow that landed upon them, and I wanted their happiness with a fierceness that I couldn't even believe I was capable of feeling. When I read those books, curled up in the wing chair in the living room, my feet resting on the coffee table, as a child and teenager in Canberra, I was oblivious to everything else, as my family will attest. I didn't hear when people spoke to me. I didn't notice when the natural light disappeared. My heart-rate increased. My mouth was dry. I was terrified for the characters.

I'm so much more detached these days. Oh, I still enjoy books, and I still find books that I love, but it is a different kind of love, a different kind of enjoyment. Less emotional investment and identification, more literary analysis and serenity. More thinking, less feeling.

I cannot regret these changes. They snuck up on me as quietly and imperceptibly as the day I looked at my old dolls and realised I no longer knew how to play. That girl, who cried for three days without stopping upon reading the ending of The Amber Spyglass, who rewrote Catherine Jinks' Pagan Chronicles because she couldn't bear not knowing what happened to Pagan, who finished the sixth Harry Potter book and then sat on the floor, literally beating her fists on the floorboards, begging her sister and mother to finish the book so she could talk to someone, anyone, about what had just happened, she is both me, and not me. I lived like that, I felt like that, it shaped me and strengthened me and taught me.

She was me, she is me, and I love her. But she is mostly gone.

And that is why I am so grateful to Romanitas, and to Sophia McDougall. She has written something that allowed me to get back, if only for a few hours, to that place, to that girl, once more. It was wonderful. It was perfect. It could never have been any other way. But it was exhausting. Loving in such a fierce, desperate, focused way, caring that much, feeling that much - I honestly don't know how I did it.

This post originally appeared on Wordpress, but I think it's more a Livejournal-style post (according to the way I organise my blogging) so I put it here too.
dolorosa_12: (una)
This was my involuntary response after (and during) reading Savage City, the third book in [livejournal.com profile] sophiamcdougall's Romanitas trilogy. I read the book with a kind of desperate, yearning hunger. I'd been waiting for it for several years, I loved its characters (in particular, its heroine, fierce, introverted, determined Una), and I couldn't bear not knowing how things would end.

The last time I read a book like that, I was 22, and it was the final Harry Potter book. I think this is significant, because the last time before that, I would've been in high school, reading Darksong, the follow-up to Isobelle Carmody's Darkfall. And, indeed, this was the way I read all my favourite books, as a child and teenager.

I devoured them, much the same way as Sara Crewe (a childhood heroine) is said to 'devour books' in A Little Princess. Their characters were as real, as close to me, as real people. Their lives mattered as much or more. I felt every blow that landed upon them, and I wanted their happiness with a fierceness that I couldn't even believe I was capable of feeling. When I read those books, curled up in the wing chair in the living room, my feet resting on the coffee table, as a child and teenager in Canberra, I was oblivious to everything else, as my family will attest. I didn't hear when people spoke to me. I didn't notice when the natural light disappeared. My heart-rate increased. My mouth was dry. I was terrified for the characters.

I'm so much more detached these days. Oh, I still enjoy books, and I still find books that I love, but it is a different kind of love, a different kind of enjoyment. Less emotional investment and identification, more literary analysis and serenity. More thinking, less feeling.

I cannot regret these changes. They snuck up on me as quietly and imperceptibly as the day I looked at my old dolls and realised I no longer knew how to play. That girl, who cried for three days without stopping upon reading the ending of The Amber Spyglass, who rewrote Catherine Jinks' Pagan Chronicles because she couldn't bear not knowing what happened to Pagan, who finished the sixth Harry Potter book and then sat on the floor, literally beating her fists on the floorboards, begging her sister and mother to finish the book so she could talk to someone, anyone, about what had just happened, she is both me, and not me. I lived like that, I felt like that, it shaped me and strengthened me and taught me.

She was me, she is me, and I love her. But she is mostly gone.

And that is why I am so grateful to Romanitas, and to Sophia McDougall. She has written something that allowed me to get back, if only for a few hours, to that place, to that girl, once more. It was wonderful. It was perfect. It could never have been any other way. But it was exhausting. Loving in such a fierce, desperate, focused way, caring that much, feeling that much - I honestly don't know how I did it.

This post originally appeared on Wordpress, but I think it's more a Livejournal-style post (according to the way I organise my blogging) so I put it here too.

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