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.

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Books, Careers, Goals, Life, life hacks, self-help, Travel, Unschooling, Women

Travel far enough. You will meet yourself.

(A paraphrase of a thought, from the novel Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell).

IMG_20170610_115735
21 gun salute, seen from the Melbourne War Memorial.

This year I have been to Melbourne twice. I love Melbourne, its theatre and cafes and lane ways . The VGA and Southbank. The museum. The little bars across the city.

I love its warmth in summer but remain ambivalent about its cold-to-me winters.

My recent trip allowed exploration of the wintry Botanic Gardens and War Memorial, followed by a leisurely trek down Brunswick St. in Fitzroy.

It’s those leisurely treks in travelling, those long escapades of wandering without specific intent, that allow us to find ourselves when we travel. Our day to day lives seem to prohibit such meandering but travel? Travel enlarges it, downright demands it.

And in that meandering we discover a little more about who we are and what we want and the life that we wish to live.

Climbing the trails of the Botanic Gardens, autumn coloured leaves scattering with each of my steps, arriving to eat a spicy Indo-Chinese inspired breakfast at Jardin Tan, gave me active pause.

Active pause? Yes, the meditation and reflection that accompanies walking or other physical exercise, and is stimulated by conversation with others over food and drink. Sparkling is best, you know, at breakfast.

I thought about my life and study. Where do I see myself in three years or five years?

Now, I never really plan the future, apart from superannuation. I like to go with the flow. I have a fear of goals. I think my life might collapse (and in the past I have had this creeping fear of life, that when things go good hey must immediately be followed  by bad).

I know now that life just is. It is not to be feared.

I know now that the future will come whether I dream of it or not. So better to add some future dreams to my mindful present.

This I discovered on my Melbourne meanderings. To an outsider I was eating and walking and attending a twenty-one gun salute for the Queen’s Birthday and ransacking bookshops and secondhand shops in Brunswick St. While eating frozen custard.

But inside I was scavenging thoughts and emotions. Fossicking to find the me that sometimes gets lost in the busyness of life.

I realise that it is too tempting to live two lives instead of one. Too necessary for me. I cannot give up one interest or life for the other. This is me. The scanner.

I think it’s just too tempting to have two lives rather than one. Some people think that too much travel begets infidelity: Separation and opportunity test the bonds of love. I think it’s more likely that people who hate to make choices to settle on one thing or another are attracted to travel. Travel doesn’t beget a double life. The appeal of the double life begets travel. Elizabeth Eaves, Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents.

 

Books, Careers, Goals, Life, life hacks, self-help, Women

It’s not your fault you don’t have what you want.

‘It’s my own fault’, we say. ‘I should have just picked myself up and moved along’.

We love to play the blame game. Blame ourselves for our choices or for our indeficiencies.

But you know what? Life is not a fault-playing game. Very few of us go out and think ‘I hope I mess up my life. I hope I make dumb decisions. I hope my life sucks.’

Nope. Instead, we did what we could with what we had and who and where we were.

We made decisions and life choices that we may make differently now, but that shows learning. Growth. Change. Maybe we wouldn’t be who we are today if we hadn’t learned from choices and experiences.

We were not deficient. We were trying in any way we could to reach out to life and others. Things happened. We didn’t get what we wanted. But, in the process, we learned. We became examples for others, for our children, for the world (even if it was an example of what-not-to-do and of how-to-extricate-yourself-from-a-bad-situation).

Bootcamp programmes often tell us that ‘You’re not trying hard enough’. Self-help memes note that ‘You don’t really want to change’. As though blaming the person (you) is good business . I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

It’s also not good self-care.

Because you know what? You do want change. But you can’t try without the fuel to try. I mean, a car can’t run without fuel. We don’t tell the car it is not trying hard enough to go. We give the car fuel, and regular tuneups. We give it oil and run it through a car wash. We give it a little care.

And that is what we need to give ourselves. The fuel and care. It is okay that we haven’t yet achieved what we thought we would achieve. It is okay that we haven’t yet got what we wanted. Yes, it is even okay that we still aren’t sure we know what it is that we want. We couldn’t run on empty.

We did what we could. Maybe we even emptied ourselves in that doing . We couldn’t then get what we dreamed of. That doesn’t make our dreams , or ourselves, worthless.

We just need to re-fuel.

Then make some changes. Work on the problem, and on the dream.

The changes you make will be as individual as you are. And, don’t worry, you don’t have to achieve it all to be or get what you want. You will continue to learn even if or when you fail. No blame.

To paraphrase author Barbara Sher, don’t let  yourself and others judge you. Anyone can judge. Judging is cheap.

Reflection and learning and growth and change, on the other hand, are of significant value.

Indeed, iIMG_20170409_093826t’s not your fault. It’s your chance.

 

 

Books, Careers, Catholicism, compassion, family, Goals, Life, religion, speaking up, Women

I am finally living a life which I am actively participating in, rather than merely enduring.

No, I didn’t write that title. I got the quote from this blog post. And I am not entirely living that life of participation rather than enduring. But.. I am working on it.

Do you often note themes in your reading? Right now, nearly everything I read seems to involve change – Mercenary Mum (it’s okay, sons, I am not running away to be a mercenary…), Healthy is the New Skinny , Pope Francis’ The Name of God is Mercy.

And other books.

I realise that in my life, since I was a teen, a young mum, a business owner, a teacher  -and in my work and study and careers -the motif of endurance has often been pushed – snap! in place – right into the forefront. But when I endure I forget to participate. I forget to be active in my life. I am reactive rather than generative.

The trouble with endurance is that, sometimes, when I am so busy enduring, my life slips by. I stay stuck. I seem unable to become unstuck.

Pope Francis, in ‘The Name of God is Mercy’ reminds us that  “The name of God is mercy. There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand.”

This, I think, is important to remember.

There are some people (and some organisations) that exist by feeding us an unrelenting diet of belief in our own inadequacy. You will never be quite right, they say. Do this, be more, try more, study more ( or buy this…and follow that..).

But, you know, this is my only  life. Now. As Pope Francis noted, there is mercy – for me, as well as for others.

What would this look like in practical terms? The idea of mercy and participation in the place of only endurance?

I think I can see some practical jolts, that shock and startle participation and change.

  • It’s okay to have free time. Really. This is hard for me as I like to get up, read my morning book, walk or do other exercise, work on to do lists and have-tos….but thIMG_20170503_180218.jpgen I never get to want-tos. I never allow myself to sit and drink tea and just relax. Showing mercy to ourselves and others might just start here. With some free time. Without the nagging sense of “I should be doing…”
  • You are okay. Don’t let yourself and others fuel any inadequacy. You don’t need to lose 5 kg or be the best-all-the-time or always be the mediator. You don’t always get to be ignored either. You can speak up. Your voice matters.
  • And, if you’re not okay , then do something about it. Now. Seek help. Now.  Read. Look at retraining or adding to your knowledge. Change jobs – have a variety of jobs, a portfolio of jobs rather than one main work. Seek counselling. Just do it.
  • Then, finally, look at this list and throw it away. You don’t need me to tell you how to participate in life. Heck, I don’t even need this list (though writing it is an awesome reminder for me). Just do something today that makes you participate rather than endure. Then do more tomorrow. Laugh. Flick your hair. Grab a coffee. Look up that course or job online. Become a bartender. Write a blog post. Make biscuits with your children. Go for a walk  – on a different route.

Because nobody can tell you how to participate in life. You have to do it. (Though mercy, love and support from others can help, right?)

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Christmas, Life, new year, New Year resolutions, Women, word for the year

It’s not a word for the year. Or even a new year resolution.

white_t_shirt_by_alymunibari-d3fw9adDoing that word for a year thing seems so stale for me now. So old me.

But  to see the new year in without a promise or hope  hurts. It’s like putting a big, fat red cross on 2017 before the poor thing even properly starts.

What to do? It’s a dilemma….

Then, today, I put on my new white t-shirt. Ethically made. Simple. Clean. Clear cut lines. No adornment.

And I remember that I love white shirts. Especially white t-shirts.

Yeah, they show every dirt or stain. But -zap!- a soak in napisan and out they come, pristine. Almost.

They give a sense of a fresh start. Of Youth and of Summer. New promises, as yet unbroken. Even the many times washed white t-shirt. That looks good but not perfect. Like life, really. Promise of more with hints of that which has gone before.

I’m going to buy another new white t-shirt today. It’s like a promise to myself. Of newness and goodness and hope. To try, and to try again.

White t-shirts are a gift to the world.

In the end I find that it’s not that I need a word for the year. Or even a resolution.

What I need is a new white t-shirt (or two or three..). A symbol of hope and promise.

It’s my new New Year thing.

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!