compassion, Life, Movies, New Year resolutions, Unschooling, Women

The exception, not the rule

I think somehow that those people who are held up as examples are exceptions, not the rule. The ‘He’s Just Not That Into You’ downloadthing. You know, those times when we, and others, point out the exceptions to say – look, it’s possible, if  they can do it so can you.

But we do ourselves a disservice when this happens. For the exceptions are not the rule.

The rule is the rest of us, living messy lives, stringing life and money and events and people together in a sometimes haphazard, sometimes organised, often chaotic fashion

I see it with money. Some people just sock it away, make amazing investments, own three houses, retire early. We can learn from them – but, in our own way.

They, these people,  are exceptions because of the cost, the life cost, the opportunity cost, the experience cost. There is always a cost to our actions, whatever that cost may be. And the cost for others may not be do-able, or even want-able. So we, the others not the exceptions, save and put money away for retirement but, no (sigh?), we don’t always make the best choices.

The same with food and exercise. Some seek perfection (a nebulous word, really, when one speaks in physical terms). They attain their version of this perfection. Yet, there are those of us who work hard, and eat well, but who also know that not all happiness is attained in physical terms. We count the cost of believing in physical beauty.

Homeschoolers do this, too. Some search for and write out the perfect schedule, the orderly classical curriculum, with children on track for early university and scholarships and ‘success’. Others do a bit of this, a bit of that, a great deal of messy learning and discussion while still reaching academic goals. This, indeed, is the norm and not the exception.

So, is it okay not to be exceptional?

Isn’t  this just a version of accepting and promoting mediocrity?

I think not.

I think it is a version of wanting the good, of working towards that which is good, within the complexities of self, others and community.

I think that just keeping on, towards the good, can be a compassionate approach to life.Showing compassion and understanding for oneself and for others, both when we succeed and when we falter. In our messy, non-exceptional lives.

 

 

 

 

 

Catholicism, Life, Motherhood, religion, Unschooling, Women

It’s the small things

Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa
Life, Movies, Unschooling

A happiness project?

Hector_and_the_Search_for_Happiness_poster (1)

‘He took comfort in the rich random patterns of his life.’

So Says Christopher Plummer, in the movie Hector and the Search for Happiness.

Hector, a psychiatrist perturbed by his life and its rhythms and routines, takes off for an adventure. He travels the world, he reconnects with old friends, and he asks people if they are happy and what makes them so. He scribbles their answers in his notebook, amongst sketches and quotes and dreams.

Hector asks, really, what is the nature of happiness.

I was reminded of this film by two things. An excellent blogpost by my friend on The Happiness Advantage, and a discussion with students at work yesterday, on what it means to be happy.

We, the students and I, pondered questions along these lines…..Is it enough to be happy or do we want meaning or flourishing or achievement in our lives? What about the role of pleasure? We compared Epicurus and Aristotle on happiness and eudaemonia. Thus, we discussed the nature of happiness…is it pleasure? Can a truly altruistic life be happy, or do we need some pleasures as well in our lives? Enjoying a cup of coffee, the smile of another, stretching out after a hard day. The ecstasy of prayer.

Ultimately, the students wondered about universal principles of happiness. Aristotle thought there were these principles, principles that lead to eudaemonia or flourishing. These build on what it means to be human and the idea of virtue.

Surprisingly, much of what Hector notes mirrors that of Aristotle. Aristotle points out, for example, that ‘Man is a political creature’, so that ‘man is a rational creature who lives in poleis (societies)’. Hector also notes the role of societies in happiness, writing that ‘It’s harder to be happy in a country run by bad people’.

This leads me to ponder happiness and human flourishing. Part of this is purpose and that corresponding P word, passion.

It helps to be aware of our purpose. To lead a life on purpose implies intention. For this, it seems to me, we need some time for prayer and reflection, as an ongoing thing and not just once-a-year. We also need to look at what it is that makes us smile, interests us, breeds enthusiasm (our passions).

And some of that is, simply, self-care. It’s hard to be purposive if we are generally tired or unwell or so busy that we don’t have time to just sit and be and pray. That’s the bone-tired that many mothers of young children feel. And yet it is doubly important that they, too, have time for self-care, for reflection, for enjoying nature and the world and their children and life, to help with burnout.

For parents, too, understanding flourishing means we can promote this flourishing in our children. It is a holistic approach.

No-one is always happy, or flourishing, or being intentional and purposive. That’s okay. We know that.

Overall, however, our life should have meaning and growth and pleasure, caring for others and caring for ourselves. Yes, I am talking here of loving God and neighbour.

To quote Cheryl, a character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, yet-another-movie-about-life-and-happiness: ‘I love mysteries. There’s parts you think can’t connect and then in the end they do.’

I think she is talking about life. And meaning. And purpose. And happiness.

Books, Life, Unschooling

Woman vs Woman

A colleague of mine was due for her yearly student review, at the university where she works. In student reviews, students in your classes complete a questionnaire about your lecturing and teaching, with space for additional comments concerning performance, if required. My colleague was upset, however. Why? A young female student came to her after completing the review, to let her know that she was the one who criticised the lecturer’s dress in additional comments

Now, let me say one thing. Many male lecturers dress casually and no student ever comments on their clothing. Yet, when asked to review a woman lecturer’s lecturing and teaching performance, another woman feels she must comment on dress. And fashion.

Why do women do this to each other? Why are we our own worst enemies?

Recently, researchers in North Carolina in the U.S. ran online courses for students. The lecturers ran one course under their actual names and gender and, simultaneously, the same course under a different name, changing their gender. The results? When students were told the lecturer was male, they rated their lecturer higher in performance rankings. When students were told their lecturers were female, well, the lecturer performance ratings took a dive.

And female students rated female lecturers more harshly.

Now, some have posited that this animosity among women is a natural thing….boys will be boys and women will be haters…to other women. However, it seems to me that it is more learned behaviour than natural behaviour. And thus, if it can be learned, it can also be unlearned.

Unfortunately, as Juliette Frette writes, much of the tension between women, much of the general meanness, concerns looks, weight, beauty. You know, you attend a class and afterwards, over coffee, your female friends around the table start criticising another woman’s body, or fashion choices, or makeup, or…

As though looks define our femininity.

On the other hand, in some circles, it is not our looks that are considered suitable fodder for dissecting and discussing and just general dissing.

No, in other circles, it’s our qualifications, our intellect…we are seen as too smart for our own good, in completing our PhD, or not quite making the grade because our thesis is on women and family related issues.

In still other arenas, it is our mothering style. Having been labelled as unattractive, a poor housekeeper and a poor mother by a woman I admired, I know the hurt that such tensions creates. These are the so-called mommy wars – debates over breastfeeding, working, homeschooling, ways to homeschool (unschooling? School at home? Should her kid start university courses so early?), parenting styles, wifely duties (“Did you hear they split up? He left her. I bet it’s because she was too busy for him/spent too much time on the kids/works/homeschools/you name it”…ignoring the fact that this is private information and, just perhaps, it wasn’t that the husband left her…).

Seriously, this has to stop. Frette lists ways we can change the tensions among women. My stance is to become pro-woman, pro other women. To take the other’s side. To change the topic of conversation. To have a meta-discussion about discussing other women.

To remember, in the words of Harriet Vane, in Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, that we are ‘cursed with both hearts and brains’, with the responsibility of using both wisely; especially in resolving the women vs women debates.

Books, Life, Unschooling

Promiscuous reading

Author (Paradise Lost) John Milton argued for promiscuous reading.

Now, the word promiscuous has certain connotations in our culture. Yet, promiscuous, removed from sexual connotations, initially implied random, casual, indiscriminate behaviour.

It is the idea of random reading that I am exploring here, under the banner of promiscuous reading. That kind of reading that just happens, casually, because books are strewn around the house. Or on your bedside table. Or on the higgledy-piggledy bookshelves, so that when you go to search for one book, you become lost in a book-savouring haze, and come away with another six books that you want to read and re-read, in addition to the original book for which you were searching.

This is promiscuous reading at I'd like to see you have a little direction.its best. Reading from a variety of books, different genres, unrelated authors, prose, poetry, non-fiction, biography, classics, graphic novels,  apologetics. Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, rather than working through a prescribed booklist.

In some ways, the prescribed booklist limits the experience of reading. It limits the reader’s exploration, and blocks mental conversation with a number of contradicting  ideas. When we read promiscuously, however, we explore a number of ideas, we stretch ourselves mentally, we enter into dialogue with authors, ideas, writing styles; and with others, our colleagues, friends, family. Is Dumbledore right, for example, in asking Snape to kill him, to protect Draco? Does the act of killing affect us, as explored in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment? We make connections with Nietzsche’s discussion of man as a ‘sick animal’ and contrast this with the hope of St John Paul II’s ‘theological anthropology’, viewing humanity as a complex whole, body, soul, heart and conscience, mind and will, with a vocation to love.

These kinds of links are made with promiscuous reading. Indeed, promiscuous reading often manifests itself in ‘having more than one book on the go”. It has been likened to being a ‘book-adulterer’ but I think it has more worth than that.

In my case right now, that means Woman by Edith Stein, The Brokers by John Grisham, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Trials of Theology by Brian Rosner and some Advent/Christmas reading – Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Pope John Paul II and The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read. An eclectic bunch, a promiscuous bunch, with books picked up to read at disparate times, according to mental agility and/or tiredness in the moment. It’s those reading rhythms of life.

Promiscuous reading was something I encouraged in our homeschooling. Strewing books on the table, in baskets, near the computer. Sharing books avidly. Reading picture books and contemporary fiction alongside classics and  books like Supertrucks and The Way Things Work. Coming to realise, as Donnalyn Miller describes in The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child,  ‘that every lesson, conference, response, and assignment I taught must lead students away from me and toward their autonomy as literate people.

Promiscuous strewing and sharing of books can lead to promiscuous readers, whose lives will be made richer through their contact with a range of topics, genres, authors. And I agree with Ms Miller (hers is a great book, by the way, on encouraging reading in children): ‘the purpose of school (I would say education) should not be to prepare students for more school (or only for possible future needs). We should be seeking to have fully engaged students now.’