authors, Books, childhood, compassion, family, Life, Unschooling

Divergent…and other stories

“We believe in ordinary acts of bravery, in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.” …

This quote, from the novel Divergent, highlights why some of what I read is Young Adult fiction.

I read for truth. Truth and hope. Divergent_(book)_by_Veronica_Roth_US_Hardcover_2011

Young adult novels, regardless of genre, reflect the virtue of hope. They are not afraid to honestly portray hope as a human desire. The worlds of YA novels are not tainted by unnervng, unforgiving, unending cyncicism. For, while cynicism, exists, as in Quicksilver by R. J. Anderson, the cynicism of  a girl who is different and who learns to mistrust others, there also exists a parallel of hope . Maybe things can be different. Maybe “… two people who care deeply about something bigger than each other,……drawn together by a shared commitment to that common ideal or goal” can describe both friendship – and love.

It is this hope that marks the call to action one encounters in YA fiction. YA fiction has a strong voice. It is often written in first person. It bends genres – think of Eleanor and Park – romance fiction but also realistic fiction, with some humour and the marks of pop culture. The novel, of despair tinged with hope and love, with a celebration of  different, is also, in its way, a coming of age and school story , with overtones of philosphical fiction (What does it mean to be us? What  is love? Who and what are we?).

Young adult fiction forms and informs the reader (And for those of us who are no longer young adults, it reminds us of this formation and youth).

Who can forget the strength, resilience and search for roots in Dicey, from Homecoming and Dicey’s Song?

Or the advice given to Opal, in Because of Winn Dixie, to hold those we love loosely, in the palms of our hands.

Young adult fiction encourages new writers. The writing is often superb. Articulate voices craft these stories. They invite us into the narrative, into the minds and souls of the characters. We become a different person after immersion in the lives of others.

We remember. And we look to the future.

We, like the young adults for whom YA fiction is written, begin to understand more of our complex world and more of the complexity of others.

YA fiction pushes us towards positive change.

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authors, Books, Travel

All roads lead to Austen?

Are you a Jane Austen fan? I am. And I have often wondered how the simple stories of villages and the fate of women can hold so many generations.

I think it comes down to style. Jane has a quiet satirical style. For her novels are not really romances (though Hollywood might disagree). Romances are  not enough to hold my attention. And, I think, the attention of generations. Instead, her novels tell of the raw  life of women – in her time, and in ours.

Jane Austen is thus a mistress of much deeper emotion than appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offers is, apparently, a trifle, yet is composed of something that expands in the reader’s mind and endows with the most enduring form of life scenes which are outwardly trivial. Always the stress is laid upon character……Here ……are all the elements of Jane Austen’s greatness. It has the permanent quality of literature. Think away the surface animation, the likeness to life, and there remains, to provide a deeper pleasure, an exquisite discrimination of human values. Virginia Woolf

Looking deeper into Austen’s novels has thus become a habit of mine. Her characterisation is, indeed, her genius. Her commentary on social mores and the lives of women are both humorous and full of depth. So, you can imagine my delight at finding a copy of  All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year Long Journey with Jane by Amy Smith at a local thrift shop. All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane

Smith, a literature professor at a college in California, embarked on a sabbatical of travel through South America. I don’t know about you, but I love travel stories and travel diaries. During this year, Smith taught some classes to American exchange students, gave some lectures and talks on her travels, and on Jane Austen ( her special interest). Importantly,  however, for the book and for Austen fans (whom Smith calls ‘Jane-ites’) Amy Smith runs Jane Austen book club discussions in each of the six countries she visits.

Smith’s writing style, alas, is not as poetic or delightful as is the style of Jane Austen. Indeed, parts of Smith’s book seem simplistic and, well, a tad boring. Overall, however, I have enjoyed the book – for two main reasons.

The first is the description of Smith’s travels. I adore travel. I also adore armchair travel, reading about the travels of others . Having never visited South America, I became engaged in the descriptions of the six countries that Smith visited, their similarities and their differences, their culture, their food, their bookshops. For Smith, rather than imposing  the English Austen on her audiences, also engages in collegial book sharing. Each book club she visits makes suggestions for Smith on must-read novels and authors from that region. As a book-lover myself, the suggestions of new-to-me authors, against the backdrop of their culture, was an introduction to new reading and new paths of exploration.

The second reason why I enjoyed All Roads Lead to Austen, regardless of the somewhat prosaic writing style, is the discussion of how Jane Austen’s novels superseded culture and time. Each book group found something of value in Austen’s works. Each found connections with characters and conflict. Each book group, in each of the six South American countries,  found time to read a translation of an Austen classic in order to discover or re-discover the relationship between art and humanity, that relationship which marks human solidarity.

As one of the book club participants in Ecuador said, while reading and discussing Pride and Prejudice, “If you don’t fight for space in your life for art and conversation, so much will pass you by—for anybody, but especially for women, since we’re always taking care of others.” 

A feminist thought that Jane Austen echoed, in her life and in her work.

compassion, family, Life, Motherhood, Unschooling, Women

Family is our heritage

Eat. Chocolate. The heritage of the family. Or, as Blaise Paschal would say, the heart of the family.

I have often written of this heritage as  ‘strength’. That ability to cope, to keep going, to persevere. The heritage of strength. To never give up and, rightly or wrongly, to stick to being themselves, my family, with their agency and decision-making, both individualistic and collective.

Present, too, in my family, has been the strength to know when to cut your losses and make a change.

So, strength has been a theme, a thread, in the heritage of the family.

But I think there is more. To be honest, when I think of family love and family battles, of parties fading to fights, of solidarity and connectedness, I think of family itself. I realize that the heritage is more than a character trait or a story weaving its way through our lives, a tradition that keeps on being traditional. No, to reduce the family heritage to such simplicity is to do the heritage injustice. Because, ultimately, the heritage of our family is ‘family’ itself.

The ties that wind and bind, with love and sometimes dislike, inexplicably wrap us together as family. We pass on the intensity of the experience to our children. They, too, come to know family as a heritage that one can never quite escape.

And, surprisingly, we come to understand that the heritage of family is something you do not want to escape. It is you, your heritage. It is in all the good and all the bad. It is both the utopia and the dystopia.

It, family,  is there in the books and movies and music and quotes. The shared memories of childhood. The standing together against all odds, even in the busyness of life and the rare opportunity to gather as family.

We know life because of family.

This is our heritage.

family, Life, Maybehedoesnthityou, religion, speaking up, Women

What happens when women speak up.

What happens when women speak up, speak up about abuse and control, start afresh, move on, create a happy life for themselves and their children?

I will tell you what happens. The abusive partner fears losing control and takes steps to punish the woman for moving on and for daring to speak up for other women, against abuse. He threatens. He tries to manipulate the children. he generates fear in the woman, he implies possible legal action, so much so that she almost stops speaking up. For herself, and for others.

Why can’t he move on? She ponders.

And – Maybe I should stop speaking about women and abuse because, you know, he is  causing trouble. Again.

Let me start with the first question. Why can’t he move on? To understand this one has to understand the mind of those who manipulate and control and abuse.

Step one involves the angry partner refuting the claim of abuse. ‘I wasn’t violent’ is a common refrain. But, as Lundy Bancroft writes in Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men:

“Physical aggression by a man toward his partner is abuse, even if it happens only once. If he raises a fist; punches a hole in the wall; throws things at you; blocks your way; restrains you; grabs, pushes, or pokes you; or threatens to hurt you, that’s physical abuse. He is creating fear and using your need for physical freedom and safety as a way to control you.”

Step two reminds the woman of why, exactly, he can’t let go. They, the abusers, see their partners (yes, even ex-partners) and their children (especially their children) a16266029_10212021609395491_5537952951364669240_ns possessions.The abuser become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over the woman – or, if it seems that they have lost control, they become almost crazy at the thought of losing control over their children. (Although, who am I fooling with the ‘almost’. Seriously.). Children become a weapon in the fight against the woman, a fight always couched in terms of ‘justice’ and ‘charity’.

The third step allows the woman to separate the rhetoric from the truth. She comes to see that he never lets go because (in some families) he uses religious language, and the misguided support of some in the church, as a weapon. It is a misuse of such religious language, of course.

An understanding of the initial question (Why can’t he let go?) does not always help with the next question the woman asks. Should she stop speaking up about abuse, since he may use the speaking up in retribution?

The choice is hers, and hers alone. But I am reminded of a history of silencing  people and groups who have suffered, the don’t-rock-the-boat mentality,  and how, in the end, that doesn’t serve to help women like me. Or the woman of this narrative.

To speak up is to raise awareness. To name abuse, for those who are able, for those who are safe (for safety of women and children is of prime importance)  is to give it less power.

And to continue to speak up, even when threatened or when someone tries to silence you, takes courage.

It, the speaking up, is not for everyone. There are concerns for mental and physical health and protection.  But for some (for me) it is both a necessity and a virtue
.

 

Catholicism, Christmas, family, Life, religion, Women

Not the Brady Bunch

The end of the year.

The Feast of the Holy Family.

I should see their love. I know it is there. Image result for the holy family

But instead I see how often others hold up the Holy Family as an idealised model. As a tool with which to bludgeon others, to make others fit into a mould, a mould into which probably even the Holy Family did not fit.

Those of us who have grow up in different families can be made to feel inferior. I know I did. So I searched for normal. Only to find that normal did not, in fact, mean a Brady Bunch perfect family.

Those of us who have lived in horrible, gut-wrenching, nit-picking, cutting-wrists relationships also know different. We know that the false image of perfection in family life is a razor sharp picture that stabs us as we try, vainly, to snip at ourselves here and there on a path of reconstruction. A reconstruction that can never be achieved. Never.

Because the feast of the Holy Family is an icon. An icon that has been used by some to make family life what they want it to be. Like re-runs of I Love Lucy or Eight is Not Enough. Romanticised reminiscing of family life.

The Holy Family, itself, however, is not an icon. The Family were people.Are people. Jesus, Mary His Mother, Joseph her Spouse. Even in holiness they had their idiosyncrasies, I am sure. Even in holiness they lived rather than acted out scenes for others to copy.

Perhaps it is the living that counts on this feast day. So that, while I am tempted to cringe at the blows and hits of others who manipulate the feast, I can remember that life is lived. In a family and with others.

Living and praying. Trying and failing. Grace and grins. Anger and sorrow. As Thomas Merton reflected, life is lived  – who we are, truly, right deep inside, before God.

‘For me to be a saint means to be myself.’ Thomas Merton, The Seven-Storey Mountain

‘The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them’ Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.

 

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”.