dolorosa_12: (flight of the conchords)
I was given these six questions by [livejournal.com profile] christinafairy as part of a meme. Answers are behind the cut.

Questions and answers )

Please comment if you would like six questions of your own.
dolorosa_12: (emily hanna)
There is a particular dish which is, to me, the very definition of comfort food. Growing up, I think we probably ate it once a week (both my parents cooked it, but their versions differed subtly). I think it was one of the first things I learnt how to cook, and after I moved out of home it was one of a set of several meals that I cycled through every couple of weeks. I've moved house (and country) lots of times in my adult life, and, almost without realising it, I fell into the habit of cooking this dish on the first night in a new house. It became something of a ritual to mark the fact that I'd become secure in a new suburb, city, or country: locate the ingredients for comfort food, make a new kitchen my own.

It's an incredibly simple dish, and requires only five ingredients and about twenty minutes of your time. It's based on a recipe by Marcella Hazan because my mother learnt to cook from my father in New York in the '80s, and Marcella Hazan was A Thing then.

Recipe behind the cut )

Do any of you have particular dishes that define comfort food for you?
dolorosa_12: (le guin)
Content note: death of a grandparent )

This is technically a eulogy, which is why some bits might read oddly for an LJ/Dreamwidth entry.

--------------------
*Note: The grandchildren call my grandfather 'Tony'.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
One of my friends on Tumblr asked me to talk about why John Marsden's Tomorrow series had such a profound impact on me as a child and teenager, and why I continue to care deeply about the series to this day. Because I don't like writing long posts on Tumblr, I'm answering him here.

Content note: It is impossible to discuss this series without talking about war, violence and rape.

I made a list )

I hope that answers any questions about what the Tomorrow series meant and means to me!
dolorosa_12: (sokka)
It's not unlikely that I've mentioned this before, but the best job I ever had was working as a sales assistant in a patisserie/chocolate shop in Sydney. I held this job for just under five years, beginning in 2004 when I was nineteen and finishing up in 2008 when I was 23. I also went back for a stint in the summer of 2010 when I was visiting my family for Christmas, in order to help with the busy pre-Christmas period.

It wasn't the most glamorous job I've ever had, and I've certainly had jobs that were more highly regarded in terms of social status. It was just that there was a perfect combination of circumstances surrounding the patisserie job that made it so wonderful.

Before I go into those circumstances in more detail, I should just point out that the patisserie was a small, family-run business. The owner was the head baker. He had two assistants. The shop itself was open Monday-Saturday. There was one older woman who worked in the shop on weekday mornings. Another woman worked Monday-Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The owner's wife worked Thursday and Friday afternoons. I initially worked only Saturdays from 10am-5pm, but was later roped in to work alongside the owner's wife on busy Friday evenings, and after realising how busy it got on Saturday afternoons, my boss hired my younger sister to work with me from 1-5pm (previously I had been completely alone in the shop).

So, why was it such a good job? I've narrowed it down to five main reasons:

~There was very good communication between everyone. Whenever someone new started working, they were shadowed by someone more senior for about four or five shifts until it was clear that they understood how to do everything. (I've worked in other jobs where there was no shadowing at all, or where it lasted only two hours.) If you had a question or needed help, you were never made to feel stupid or like a time-waster for needing assistance. And the boss consistently praised everyone when they did well. I've worked in so many environments where good work was met with silence and mistakes were met with loud criticism, and they were awful. The need to praise people for doing the right thing is really important, and I've always taken care since to do that whenever I'm in a position of authority.

~I was trusted and my opinion and input were valued. On Saturdays, it was my job to secure the cash and lock up the shop. I've worked in jobs where I wasn't even trusted to go into the room where the cash was kept, even when other workers were there, and it was extremely insulting. Also, in the patisserie job there were several instances where I worked out a better way to do tasks they'd been performing for years before I arrived on the scene, and my method was adopted because everyone realised it was better. When I said that it was too busy for me to work alone on Saturday afternoons, instead of running me off my feet, my boss hired my sister to work with me. (Incidentally, this was her first job aside from babysitting, and stood her in very good stead for later work.)

~My boss never let customers act like bullies. There was no attitude that 'the customer is always right', and I was allowed to get angry if they were unjustifiably rude to me. If they got too aggressive, he told them to get out and would never let them be served in the shop again. I've worked in service industry jobs on and off since I was fifteen, and let me tell you that his attitude is extremely rare. For the most part, customers are free to treat service staff like absolute garbage. I don't tolerate it, and if I see people being awful to waitstaff or sales assistants these days, I normally tell them off. Nine times out of ten, the fault is not with the service staff.

~I had a good rapport with my boss and the other workers. Whenever it had been a particularly busy shift, he would give me a raise of $20 or so, his family gave me book vouchers for my birthday every year, I used to advise them about books to give their teenage son, and we liked each other so much that the year I moved to Canberra, they gave my old shift to my sister, but whenever I was visiting Sydney, they didn't care which of us showed up as long as one of us was there. I felt so warmly towards them that I rocked up and offered to work for three weeks or so in the Christmas lead up in the summer of 2010, even though I'd been living in the UK for two years at that point.

~Most importantly, they paid their staff much more than they were required by law, simply in recognition of the value of their work. At that point, minimum wage in Australia started off at about $5.40 per hour for people aged fourteen and nine months (the youngest you were allowed to work) and increased incrementally until you were twenty-one. Minimum wage for people twenty-one and older was something like $16 per hour. (I'm sure this has gone up in the intervening five years.) However, my boss paid all the sales assistants $20 per hour, regardless of their age. (Recall, I was under twenty-one for most of the years I worked there, and my sister was aged fifteen to eighteen.) The pay was entirely cash-in-hand (although they did everything by the book in terms of taxes, unlike a lot of cash-in-hand places), and so it would've been perfectly easy for him to pay us sub-minimum wage. (Indeed, one of my previous jobs paid every single sales assistant $10 per hour, even though most were over twenty-one.)

This is all really simple stuff, but it's surprising how rarely it happens. The overall effect (for me at least) was to create a really loyal and hardworking worker. I mean, treat your staff with respect and give them a degree of freedom in the way they work, and they will do well. It's not exactly rocket science.

By the way, my thesis is eating my brain, which is why I've been rubbish at replying to stuff at the moment. I am reading, and will be replying eventually, but I'm not sure exactly when. Sorry about that.
dolorosa_12: by ginnystar on lj (robin marian)
I've got four links for you today.

First up, N. K. Jemisin talking about her experiences trying to publish a book in the face of industry racism:

But here’s something else I probably haven’t emphasized enough: I did have help. I’ve mentioned how crucial those early role models were in encouraging me to try for a pro career, and keeping me from quitting when things got ugly. But just as crucially, somewhere between my first and second attempts to break in as a novelist, the entire genre changed, just a little. Massive discussions about race and gender had begun to take place, spurred by early social media like Livejournal, and these were a clear signal to the SFF establishment that there was an audience out there for the kind of stuff I write. There always has been. More importantly, I did not have equal opportunity. In order to get my Nebula/WFA/Locus-nominated first novel published, I had to write a trilogy that got even more awards and nominations. I had to work around assumptions that a white writer writing white characters in a pseudo-medieval-European setting would not face, like Will anybody except “her people” read this book?

Malinda Lo talks about sexism (and racism, and homophobia) and self-promotion:

Leaning closer to me, the woman asked in a lowered voice, “Is this because you’re a lesbian?”

I was charmed by her question because I could tell she was gay, and she seemed to be whispering a secret to me through a keyhole. I smiled and said, “Yes. Yes, I’m a lesbian.”

She said, “Thank you so much for saying what you said at the panel. I never knew books like yours existed. I’m so glad you’re out.”

I told her, “You are the reason I came to this festival.”

And she was. No matter how disconcerting it is to be forced to come out over and over again, both in real life and online, no matter how frustrating it is to get homophobic messages or reviews, I have to remember that there are queer women out there sitting silent in the audience, or reading quietly online, who have never heard of my novels. Queer women who have never realized that they could read books about queer women who are allowed to fall in love and have happy, fulfilled lives.


Sarah Rees Brennan wrote a companion piece to Lo's article:

I have heard often that it’s wrong for lady creators to talk about sexism or how sexism negatively affects their lives, and that we’re making it up. I don’t know why this always shocks me so much: this is very familiar stuff at its core. “Those crazy wimmins, complaining about their lady treatment when they actually get treated SO well” is something ladies get a lot from anti-women’s-rights conservatives. I guess that’s why it’s surprising to hear it from other quarters, sometimes from other women, but at least it makes things very clear: people actually concerned about sexism do not go around saying that women should shut their dumb faces about it.

Nor, in a society set up to make sure women have poor opinions of themselves, is anyone taking on the system by characterising professional women as bragging and boasting. Those who use a rhetoric that insists “these women talking in any way positively about themselves or their work are too self-satisfied” are upholding the current system, where women are socialised not to have any confidence, and that is reinforced at every turn by people telling them that the tiny pieces of confidence they’ve managed to scrape together are far too much.


And, in a post both hilarious and misery-inducing, Foz Meadows wrote 'How Many Male SF/F Authors Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?'.

And now, on to the meme.

Meme questions and answers behind the cut )
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: (epic internet)
Marcella Hazan, who was a fabulous, wonderful chef, died. While 89 years is a good innings, I still feel a little melancholy. I grew up with her cooking. Her recipe for pasta with tuna sauce has been my comfort food since I was on solids. Whenever I move to a new house or city, the first meal I cook is always that tuna sauce. I don't feel at home without it.

I'm loving Tim Minchin's occasional address to graduating students at the University of Western Australia:

We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out onto the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.

Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance. We tend to generate false dichotomies, then try to argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.


Speaking of a failure to acknowledge nuance, check out Jon Stewart's magnificent rant about the US government shutdown. I am incapable of discussing the need for government-funded healthcare in a rational manner, and I cannot be charitable to its opponents. As individuals, or even as individual charities, we are incapable of paying for the healthcare of all who require it. To deny the need for government-funded healthcare is nothing short of heartless.

This post by Tumblr user fygirlcrush is interesting, in that almost nothing in it matches my own experiences, and yet I can see that it is saying something true and powerful. One of these days I may come back to this and discuss why the only part I relate to is this quoted excerpt:

I love teenage girls because even if they hate themselves, they love other people. I remember how I felt, seeing other girls go through what I was going through. It ruined me. I wanted so desperately to help them out of the muck, but when you’re submerged yourself, there’s not a lot you can do. Teenage girls understand, and they want to make sure no one else feels the way they do. I see it on websites like Tumblr all the time. It’s fucking beautiful.

I love teenage girls because society loves to blame them for everything. The self-obsessed teenage girl is always the face of the “problem” with youth today. Apparently, these superficial teenage girls who love their iPhones too much are the issue. Not, you know, the people conditioning them to believe that their worth is tied to how many Likes they got on their last selfie. No, you’re right, let’s focus on the girls who post on Facebook too much. Great.


I am loving the Game of Thrones vids by [personal profile] hollywoodgrrl. They're reminding me why I like the TV series, and how I can read between its lines to find a story that gives me hope and strength. This one, 'Smells Like Westeros Spirit', was new to me, and was pointed out to me by [personal profile] goodbyebird.

Right, back to the library.
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: (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: (sister finland)
[personal profile] umadoshi gave me the age 21 for the 'then and now' meme that's been going around. I was 21 from December 2005-December 2006. These are my answers.

The truth is that I'd probably do it again )

This meme is really good, because I've been feeling very down about my life, but looking back and seeing how far I've come really puts things in perspective. A lot of things then were easier, but wow, I was so unhappy. It's better now. It's good to be alive in here.
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: (le guin)
One of the benefits of growing up basically lacking any interest in watching TV* is that the primary exposure to stories that my sister and I gained was through books. And one thing that my mother did really well was pick books - both picture books that she read aloud to us, and novel-length books that we read to ourselves - that were very diverse in terms of the racial and ethnic identities of the characters therein. Part of this was simply because books aimed at younger children tend to be more diverse in this regard than books aimed at adults or even teenagers (which I think is actually pretty insulting towards adults. So a child is perfectly capable of identifying with someone of a different race and finding that person's story engaging, but an adult isn't? What a depressing thought), but part of it was, I think, deliberate.

My mother chose books that reflected my sister's and my interests, and what I was interested in as a child from a very early age was history and folk- and fairytales. I was fascinated in particular with how people lived in other times and places, and I was intrigued by patterns, tropes and recognisable archetypes in folk- and fairtales (although I didn't know the technical terms for these things at the time). I found it absolutely amazing that versions of the story most commonly known in the English-speaking West as Cinderella existed in China, Egypt and elsewhere. I adored seeing history through the eyes of children who were, I thought, just like me.

One of my fondest memories is the fact that whenever we went on a long holiday (anything lasting more than a weekend), we would borrow different books of folktales from the library and my mother would read her way through them over the course of the holiday. We read Russian folktales, Middle Eastern folktales, Celtic folktales, Japanese folktales, and, on one particularly awesome holiday, Fearless Girls, a collection of folktales from around the world where girls and women are the focus. (One of the best things about this book is that its stories represent a diverse range of female experiences. There are girls who fight monsters, there are girls who go on journeys, but there are also, in one Chinese story, a mother- and daughter-in-law who politely pretend not to have noticed that they inadvertently insulted one another when thinking they were alone. That is, the book represents more than one kind of heroism.)

I also remember beautiful picture books retelling Native American folktales and Indigenous Australian stories of the Dreamtime.

All of this is very well and good, but I'm not sure if all this was an entirely positive thing. The Indigenous stories are very telling. If all the stories about PoC that you are reading are set in the past, or at least in some indeterminate (but seemingly historical) folktale time, you run the risk (if you are white) of thinking that PoC being heroic and central to their own stories only in the past. At least in terms of the books I read, this problem was especially prevalent in terms of representation of Indigenous characters (most of the books I read that had a 'modern Australian' setting had a fairly representative range of characters in terms of the major immigrant (and I include white Australians in that) groups that lived in Australia at the time).

There was one picture book that I think did a good job of addressing this problem. Not coincidentally, it has been my favourite picture book for over twenty years. The book is My Place by Nadia Wheatley, illustrated by Donna Rawlins. It was published in 1988 to mark the bicentenary of white settlement in Australia - which could have been a problematic subject in terms of commemoration, but for the fact that Wheatley's writing an extremely pointed, subversive message.

The book begins in 1988. Each set of three pages represents one year in the life of a single house (and later, farm, and later still, area) in suburban Sydney. After a particular child (who lives in the house) describes his or her life, family and the house and surrounds (and background historical events: eg the character in 1918 talks about WWI, the character in 1938 talks about the Depression), you skip back 10 years and the whole process begins again with a different child. Sometimes a child will be the aunt or parent or grandparent of a previous child, and sometimes he or she will be the child of an entirely new family. The house's changing owners reflect the diversity of post-settlement Australia; there is a Greek family, an Irish family, a German family (who have to change their name from Müller to Miller during the First World War), a Chinese family who arrive at the time of the Gold Rush, a family whose members were convicts and so on.

Most importantly, the story is bookended with two Indigenous families. That is, it opens with an Indigenous family in 1988, and it closes with an Indigenous family in 1788 (who were nomadic, but whose narrator says, 'I belong to this place'). This is a powerful and important point to make in a book that would, if these people's stories were absent, be commemorating the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous people. By emphasising that Indigenous people were there before white settlement, and are still there now, the book totally reframes the discussion of place, identity and belonging. And it closes with an image of a yellow setting sun between a red sky and a black land in a deliberate echo of the Australian Aboriginal flag, with the words (a discussion between the final narrator and her (I think, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering correctly) father): 'How long will we belong to this place?' 'Forever and ever.'

I am not saying that reading these stories as a child made me magically free of racism (in many other ways, my education about issues of race was severely lacking, and I have messed up in this regard before and may do so again in the future). But I think having a diverse and representative** range of experiences depicted in literature and read by everyone is an important piece in the Educating Clueless White People puzzle. And because this piece is basically me remembering my childhood, and because I am white, I haven't talked about these things from the perspective of a PoC, but if these kinds of stories are important for Clueless White People, then I can only imagine that they are even more so for PoC. Because you can only see yourself doing brave and clever and amazing things, you can only see yourself as part of the story, if people write and publish and read your stories, and, most importantly, if you yourself are able to do so.



______________
*We did watch some TV, mainly shows on ABC Kids, but it was very restricted and for the most part, my sister and I preferred to play games or read books.
** I'm talking about race here, but this goes for representation in terms of sexuality, gender identity, disability etc as well.
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: (Default)
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Ah, Canberra. The best of places and the worst of places. What I love most about it is also what I think needs to change. Let me explain.

Canberra, the capital city of Australia, is a small place by Australian standards. It has a population of about 350,000, most of whom work in the public service or for the government in some way. And there's a strange sort of transience about the place. Almost everyone I knew, growing up there, were the first generation in their respective families to grow up in Canberra. Their parents had all moved there for work. And very few of my group of friends remain there: they've all moved to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or overseas. Even those who do live and work there spent many years after school or uni travelling the world.

So there is a certain instability. People aged between, say, three and 18, the sons and daughters of public servants and journalists and political staffers and diplomats, live among an unchanging crowd of the children of other middle-class professionals, all attending the same public schools, the same gymnastics clubs, the same summer music camps and cricket teams. This continues on, to a certain extent, during university (although I left for Sydney then), and, suddenly, everyone leaves. The young workforce I encountered upon returning to Canberra aged 22 was almost entirely comprised of people from out of town, bright young university graduates from Melbourne and Sydney and Perth and Newcastle or Wagga, keen to make their mark quickly so that they could move on to brighter lights, bigger cities.

The older members of the workforce were all friends of my parents.

Growing up in Canberra, everyone knew me, from the owner of the organic butchery my family frequented to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award coordinator at my highschool who just happened to be the mother of my former gymnastics coach. To this day, if I meet someone who lived in Canberra between the years of 1988-2005ish, if I talk to them for a while, I can usually find a connection, some friend or relative or former teacher in common. [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae, who is seven years younger than I am thus never attended an educational institution at the same time, has a Facebook friends list full of the younger brothers and sisters of people I know. That's just how it is.

The closeness, the familiarity, the sense of being a big fish in a small pond is at once joyous and suffocating. I am proud to be a Canberran, and I look back on my childhood there with great fondness. It is a source of great strength to me that I grew up being known. That everyone from my piano teacher to the staff at Silo Bakery, from my friends at school to my mother's coworkers had some sort of conception in their mind of who and what 'Ronni' was. They knew who I was and who was around me and where I came from. And it was wonderful.

And it was terrible. It was constraining and frustrating and inhibiting. When I went to university I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet. How could I function when nobody knew what school I'd gone to (and what it meant to have gone to such a school?), where my parents worked, what subjects I'd done well in at school? (I admit that almost everyone experiences this at university, not just people from small, close-knit communities.) And knowing these things myself, knowing how I was known and expected to behave put constraints upon my behaviour and made it very difficult to try to change and be different. I spent undergrad (and, indeed, the first year of my working life) struggling to come to terms with both Canberra's presence and its absence. I didn't know how to be without it, and how I was with Canberra affected my ability to become.

It took travelling halfway around the world for me to figure out who I really was, and for me to come to terms with all these things. I love Canberra. I love that I was and am a Canberran. It is no longer a restraining and constraining legacy, but rather something I wear comfortably, a component part of a fragmented identity. I wouldn't change Canberra's insularity for the world, but if I had my time over, I would see it more clearly for what it is: a mixed blessing.
dolorosa_12: (Default)
[Error: unknown template qotd]

Ah, Canberra. The best of places and the worst of places. What I love most about it is also what I think needs to change. Let me explain.

Canberra, the capital city of Australia, is a small place by Australian standards. It has a population of about 350,000, most of whom work in the public service or for the government in some way. And there's a strange sort of transience about the place. Almost everyone I knew, growing up there, were the first generation in their respective families to grow up in Canberra. Their parents had all moved there for work. And very few of my group of friends remain there: they've all moved to Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane or overseas. Even those who do live and work there spent many years after school or uni travelling the world.

So there is a certain instability. People aged between, say, three and 18, the sons and daughters of public servants and journalists and political staffers and diplomats, live among an unchanging crowd of the children of other middle-class professionals, all attending the same public schools, the same gymnastics clubs, the same summer music camps and cricket teams. This continues on, to a certain extent, during university (although I left for Sydney then), and, suddenly, everyone leaves. The young workforce I encountered upon returning to Canberra aged 22 was almost entirely comprised of people from out of town, bright young university graduates from Melbourne and Sydney and Perth and Newcastle or Wagga, keen to make their mark quickly so that they could move on to brighter lights, bigger cities.

The older members of the workforce were all friends of my parents.

Growing up in Canberra, everyone knew me, from the owner of the organic butchery my family frequented to the Duke of Edinburgh's Award coordinator at my highschool who just happened to be the mother of my former gymnastics coach. To this day, if I meet someone who lived in Canberra between the years of 1988-2005ish, if I talk to them for a while, I can usually find a connection, some friend or relative or former teacher in common. [livejournal.com profile] lucubratae, who is seven years younger than I am thus never attended an educational institution at the same time, has a Facebook friends list full of the younger brothers and sisters of people I know. That's just how it is.

The closeness, the familiarity, the sense of being a big fish in a small pond is at once joyous and suffocating. I am proud to be a Canberran, and I look back on my childhood there with great fondness. It is a source of great strength to me that I grew up being known. That everyone from my piano teacher to the staff at Silo Bakery, from my friends at school to my mother's coworkers had some sort of conception in their mind of who and what 'Ronni' was. They knew who I was and who was around me and where I came from. And it was wonderful.

And it was terrible. It was constraining and frustrating and inhibiting. When I went to university I felt like the rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet. How could I function when nobody knew what school I'd gone to (and what it meant to have gone to such a school?), where my parents worked, what subjects I'd done well in at school? (I admit that almost everyone experiences this at university, not just people from small, close-knit communities.) And knowing these things myself, knowing how I was known and expected to behave put constraints upon my behaviour and made it very difficult to try to change and be different. I spent undergrad (and, indeed, the first year of my working life) struggling to come to terms with both Canberra's presence and its absence. I didn't know how to be without it, and how I was with Canberra affected my ability to become.

It took travelling halfway around the world for me to figure out who I really was, and for me to come to terms with all these things. I love Canberra. I love that I was and am a Canberran. It is no longer a restraining and constraining legacy, but rather something I wear comfortably, a component part of a fragmented identity. I wouldn't change Canberra's insularity for the world, but if I had my time over, I would see it more clearly for what it is: a mixed blessing.
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.

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