9781408855706_309035
Books, Catholicism, Life, politics, refugees, Women

What should we read, right now?

9781408855706_309035.jpegDolores Umbridge: I am sorry, dear, but to question my practices is to question the Ministry, and by extension, the Minister himself. I am a tolerant woman, but the one thing I will not stand for is disloyalty. 
Minerva McGonagall: Disloyalty? 
Dolores Umbridge: Things at Hogwarts are far worse than I feared. 

If I were homeschooling now, in this age of fear of immigrants, of wishing to publish (weekly) crimes of ‘aliens’, of the rippling effects of such decisions across the world, I would re-read the Harry Potter books with my children. Heck, I’ll probably re-read them now myself, anyway.

J.K. Rowling got it right. The Ministry of Magic and Dolores Umbridge are perfect characterisations of swift, reactionary, dare I say populist policies delivered under the guise of protection. So that when others criticise the policies and actions, these others are criticised as simply being ‘others’, as being ‘disloyal’, as anti-ministry (anti-government) rebel rousers.

‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, in particular, demonstrates the creeping effect of policies and culture that choose to focus on what appears to be good, or even on what is actually good, while ignoring that which is also bad in the regime. Indeed, the swift action in trying people who are against the Ministry of Magic, of picking targets for fear and hate, allows the Ministry to create a culture of fear with misinformation.

Harry Potter: But if I keep popping in and out of the Ministry, won’t it look like I approve of what they’re doing? 

Rufus Scrimgeour: It would give everyone a boost to think that- 

Harry Potter: No, sorry. I don’t think that will work. I don’t like some of the things the Ministry are doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike, for one. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I would not expect you to understand. These are dangerous times. You are sixteen years old- 

Harry Potter: Dumbledore’s a lot older than sixteen, and he doesn’t think Stan should be locked up either. You’re making Stan a scapegoat, just like you’re trying to make me a mascot! Later. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: I see. You prefer – like your hero Dumbledore – to disassociate yourself from the Ministry. 

Harry Potter: I don’t want to be used. 

Rufus Scrimgeour: Some would say it’s your duty to be used by the Ministry! 

Harry Potter: Yeah, and others might say it’s your duty to check people actually are Death Eaters before you chuck them in prison! You’re doing what Barty Crouch did. You never get it right, you people, do you?! Either we’ve got Fudge, pretending everything’s lovely while people get murdered under their noses, or we’ve got you, putting the wrong people in prison and pretending you’ve got the Chosen One working for you!

The parallels with the current immigration crisis and subsequent vetos on immigration and dislike targeted towards groups of people, as though a few speak for the many, is evident.

And J. K. Rowling again got it right. Because the novels offer hope. Hope in the actions of those concerned for truth, compassion and mercy. Hope that we, too, like Harry and his friends, can make a positive difference in the narrative of fear. To fight for mercy, to be merciful, again and again.

[Harry thinks to himself] …’how they had talked about fighting a losing battle, and that it was important to fight, and to fight again, and to keep fighting, to keep evil at bay, though never quite eradicated.’

We can take positive action, in both small and big ways. Read, write, share information. Pray. Volunteer. Donate. Discuss. Take political action even. Look carefully at how we treat others and for whom we vote.

Remembering the dignity and respect that should be offered to all of humanity, even when it may be difficult or inconvenient or have an economic cost. For not everything can be counted in economic terms. Not everything is political. Most everything involves humanity, and remembering that people, you, me, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, not objects but people, are affected and are involved.

So that we keep on working for that which is good for all. There is no turning back once we realise the good.

You’ve said to us once before that there was a time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we? (Hermione, ‘Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince’).

download-xmas
Books, Christmas, Life, Movies

A booky Christmas

For those of us who love books, reading and writing, a Christmas without books would be unthinkable.

While others make lists of food and cards and Things To Do I make mental lists of books to read over the break. The Christmas break. The no work break ( who am I kidding??).

I keep wanting to add more and more and more books but I am trying to learn realistic time management – you know, where you actually plan for what is possible and not for superhuman, Wonder Woman Leonie who can cram 48 hours into 24. Or so she thinks.

These are currently on my booky Christmas want-to-read list:

  1. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read. An oldie but a nevertheless an easy to read, feel-good Christmas story by that quintessential British author, Miss Read. Miss Quinn enjoys her singleness but has become a trifle smug. One Christmas jolts her from such smugness.
  2.  The Twenty Four Days of Christmas by Madeleine L’engle. What can I say? This children’s book inspired me many years ago. As a young teen reader, I knew what sort of mother I wanted to be, one day. I learned, through literature, of  Christmas traditions. This shaped my mothering and my Christmases. I have to re-read it.
  3. The Conscience Pudding by E. Nesbit. Another classic and another children’s book. The Christmas after the death of their mother, the Constable children (Five Children and It) want to give away their Christmas. As is usual for the children, their endeavours end in situation comedy scenes.
  4. The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. The sequel to the book much loved by me and many others – The Twelve Storey Mountain (or Elected Silence) – and a book I have wanted to read for  long time. I found an original 1953 edition in a library. Treasuring his own story of conversion while looking at contemplation in my own life.
  5. Selected Writings of Dorothy Day. Dorothy Day may just be one of my modern day heroes. Her story of abortion, affairs, picking men who would not love her back and then, her love for her daughter, her life as a single parent, her love of Christ and her love-hate relationship with the Church, her writing of peace and compassion, especially for the poor and forgotten, the influence of Kropotkin and St Therese – these are the stuff of narrative lived in an authentic life.
  6. Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son by Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. Parenting, relationship, movies, told from a father and son point of view.
  7. Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding. This is my fluff reading. What can I say? Bridget makes me laugh! I love, too, how the baby becomes the donor in Bridget’s life – very Joseph Campbell.
  8. Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. A modern re-telling of The Tempest, set not on an island but in a Canadian prison. What Shakespeare buff could resist?
  9. Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I am a big Nick Hornby fan. I love his style of writing, the semi-autobiographical tone. I love his movies. The movie of this book, with a very young Colin Firth, is a story of family and community,  of love and despair, and  with the usual Hornby character who doesn’t quite fit in (cue story of my life). I love the movie and look forward to the book – a cheap, market find book for me.
  10.  All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. My book club book. It is not yet in my library but I Have to read it for book club. I am scared – will it make me cry?
  11. The 48 Hour Startup by Fraser Doherty. Yes. I am always wanting to start a book business. But I am reading this more like fiction than as a how-to book. The best way to read is through the lens of narrative.

So that is my booky Christmas. I have a smattering of unfinished books lying around, which are my pick up now and then books. Perhaps I will list them in another post.  But for now these are my Christmas books. Will I read them all? Probably not – but then, there is January and reading on the train to work!

 

 

marilyn
Catholicism, Life, Women

Marilyn Monroe and Pope John Paul II

marilyn

Watching Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” in an outdoor film fest, I was struck by more than the star’s beauty. In the cool summer night, amid the laughs of my fellow audience at the film’s superb comedic timing and dialogue, I saw Monroe as icon of human yearning and feminist ideals.

I am not alone in this. Feminists from Gloria Steinem to third wave feminist Erin Johansen have claimed Marilyn as their own, citing her life and roles as an example of why women need feminism. As feminist author Nancy Friday has said, Marilyn Monroe’s life sends a message to women – when the world forms young women into sex objects, the women lose themselves and, ultimately, their life.

St John Paul II echoed this warning in his work “Love and Responsibility”. He wrote that ‘A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person’, adding ‘Anyone who treats a person as the means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other’. Feminist writers have argued that the Hollywood film industry and 1950s American culture destroyed the essence of Marilyn Monroe, in  highlighting her sexuality as every man’s desire yet neglecting to see the essence of Marilyn as person.

It was this essence that enthralled in the movie “Some Like It Hot.” Having been introduced to Monroe as a comedic actress of high calibre, with august timing and exaggerated facial expressions in “How To Marry A Millionaire”, I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of a deeper quality in her work. While Monroe remains an object for the desires of others in this film, she skilfully hints at yearnings of her own, and thus at yearnings of humanity. We yearn for acknowledgement and acceptance. We yearn for a better life. We want hope in the suffering that we often experience in our every day, perhaps mundane or arduous, tasks and roles. Marilyn, as long-suffering ever hopeful Sugar, expresses these yearnings with a gaze, a pout, a glance of eyes brimming with sorrow. Indeed, the irony of the scene wherein Marilyn sings ‘I’m Through With Love’, while the club’s audience dances in oblivion to her suffering, is sublime. How often is humanity’s suffering experienced in a sea of oblivion and apathy?

It is apathy to suffering that can cost lives. Indeed, the suffering portrayed by Monroe on the screen reflected the suffering of her life. It seems that apathy to her off-screen image, in contrast to obsession with her on-screen objectification, cost Marilyn her life.

Heavy thoughts for a summer film festival. Yet, as Coppelia Kahn reminds us, comedies will mirror aspects of the human condition. And feminist authors are right in holding Marilyn as a feminist icon, suggesting that Marilyn’s life and movies encourage discussion on humanity and equality. It is such discussion that reminds us of respect for human dignity and essence while recognizing the truth of the final lines of “Some Like It Hot” – “Nobody’s perfect”.

learning habit
Life

A learning habit?

One thing we homeschoolers and unschoolers are often asked is ‘How do you teach your kids?’… Or, ‘Are you a teacher?’

What I have found it that it matters less what and how or if we teach.

What matters more is that we develop a learning habit and a learning environment. A habit where we peg activities onto other activities rather than a mad rush through the day .A habit that reinforces that which we know is most important – books, free time, family time, discussion, time outdoors.

A habit of reading and talking together. Sharing books and thoughts.

I have often felt that it is this learning habit, some rhythm in our days or week, with lots of reading and talking that has ‘made’ our education. People ask how it is that my sons do well at undergraduate and postgraduate study. I think it is because they have developed that learning habit, borne out of rhythm, experience, passion, and love.

It was gratifying to read of the importance of these factors (habit and reading) in a book called ‘The Learning Habit’. Yes, it is written to help parents and children with school homework and with establishing patterns of learning for school and college success. Yes, there are issues I have with the book concerning screen time and bedtime (but I also acknowledge that these issues are more important for families with children at school then they are for unschoolers).

However, it was encouraging to note the studies, experiences and anecdotes that describe the positive effect on children of ‘a learning habit’, namely a routine or rhythm in their life (not necessarily every day) and a value placed on reading and reading aloud and family time.

Almost a recipe for unschooling.learning habit

Gaudy_night
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.

Imperfect
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.’

Life

Mirette on the High Wire

The picture book “Mirette in the High Wire” describes Mirette facing her fears and walking on the high wire, the trapeze wire.

Have you had times when you feel like you are walking on that high wire? That balancing act, looking down for the safety net.

And sometimes that safety net is not there.

Gasp.

It’s weird. I never thought I would feel this.

This sense of being without a safety net.

I grew up in a feminist world. We are strong, we are told.

Yet now sometimes I feel a bit untethered. Unprotected.

I never wanted to be protected. But maybe, I knew it was always ok. Because even though I was a strong, independent woman, I felt, somehow unconsciously, that lurking in the wings, was a safety net.

For me, the illusion of having a safety net somewhere there was my safety net.

My feminist self cringes.

My wanting safety net self feels unsure.

Yet there is trust.

As St Teresa of Avila points out, we do have a safety net. It is trust in God.

“Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing frighten you
For all things pass save God
Who does not change.

Be patient, and at the last
You will find all fulfillment.
Hold God, and nothing
Will fail you, for God alone is all.”

Our feminist selves can trust in God. He is our protection.

Not quite Leonie on the high wire.