Just Breathe

Here I am, one week out chanting my ‘Change is good’ mantra, and you ask – how’s that working for you?

Suddenly there’s a sound like a record needle scratching out my flow…

Okay.  So this is what change is really like.

I decided to start my weekend off with my first ever three day detox diet, in the hope of a good energy kick for the impending job hunt.

Lettuce

The inspiration came from fellow Aussie blogger, Melly Williams, herself a shining example of good health and fitness.  The recipes in themselves were great – especially the chia seed dessert – so simple, filling and yum.

But after a day of no carbs (except the few I added for necessity), as my stomach lining started turning on itself and I started feeling all lightheaded – I realised something.

If you already look like a borderline famine victim – maybe detox is not the thing you need?

Maybe – here’s a thought – maybe what you really need is to Eat. More. Food!

So, one failed detox later, I’m sitting at my computer clicking job ads.

Search

I’m not sure if the slightly sick feeling is from the detox or the job hunt.  But as I click on one job after another, I feel my determined ‘can do’ face slide into a familiar queasy mope.

There are certain key words that keep repeating themselves…

“Vibrant, outgoing personality.”

“Ability to multitask.”

No.  I’ve been down that road before.  It never ends well.

I quit searching the Administration section and decide maybe Customer Service is the way to go after all.

I manage to find two jobs that require “listening skills” and “attention to detail”, wade through the lengthy online application form, multiple choice questionnaire and the resume upload.  Oh, that’s right. Cover Letter.

How many ways can you say you’re eager, keen, delighted…goddamn desperate for a job?

The letter ends with something about being an asset to the team.  I finally upload and submit.  Phew.  A good day’s work in there already.

Several days later, and I’m at it again – I notice the two jobs I applied for have already readvertised.  Hmmm.  Guess I need to work on my pitch.

Sunflowers

This is usually the part where I curse the day I ever enrolled in that Bachelor of Arts.  Why didn’t I choose law?  Or counselling?  Or teaching, even – I could have been a good teacher.

At least I thought so, until I read fellow job hunter Anna Fonté’s post about the realities of teaching.  No.  I definitely could not have done that.

But why did I always choose meaningful over skilled?

There’s no answer to that question.  Except that was what I needed to do.  And now, here I am.  I’m exactly where I need to be.  Right now.

If you’ve ever doubted that, or need some reassurance about the direction that you’re heading in, read Nina Badzin’s post, on her journey towards the right path.

There’s something so very practical, and encouraging about her story of becoming a blogger and freelance writer.  She reminds me when I need to hear it most – that nothing is ever wasted.

Change is not going to be easy.  It never is.  And so I tell myself.

Just believe.  Just breathe.

Is there any change you’re finding challenging this year?  What gets you through?

Women, Anger and Blogging

In the last few weeks, I’ve been thrilled and surprised to meet some incredibly articulate young women in the blogosphere.

When I stumbled onto the not-so-rambly Ramblings of the Insane Girl, it was the brutal honesty of her post about being Allergic to Home  that propelled me to hit ‘Follow’.  At last, there was someone game enough to admit their family was dysfunctional!  It took me right back to 1992…

I was, as usual, hidden away in my room, brooding on the inevitability of changing schools for the third time since Year 7.

Dad, of course, was refusing to send me to boarding school in Melbourne on account of it having corrupted my sister.  I, in opposition, was enacting a cold war.

Three weeks before the term began, when still no decision had been made, Dad suddenly entered my room and offered – as if it was his idea all along – to send me off to Melbourne.

Freedom was never so sweet as the day when, age 15, I won my independence.

It took us another eighteen years to actually discuss what happened after that, but hey – at least we’ve called a truce!

When I discovered the self-proclaimed Pessimistic Optimizer, it was honesty of a different kind that had me hooked.  I gather, from her posts, she is past the college age.  But I love the way she is able to reconnect me with that naïve, wannabe teacher’s pet, whose ultimate goal was to be a goodly shining light.

Problem was, like her, I ended up far too pessimistic  for my own good.  As she says, “How could I not be?  Have you seen the world we live in?”

When I left the safe cocoon of my sheltered private school life and entered the real world of corporate blood lust, my brain nearly exploded.

How could everyone be so mean and sleazy and downright greedy?

The worst thing that can happen to a Taurean goody-two-shoes, at the age of 22, is being told you are just “young and idealistic”.  Needless to say, what ensued was what my Mother affectionately refers to as “another one of Alarna’s little bombshells”.

My dubious art from Year 10

That was when I discovered the fine line between bravery and stupidity.

But that’s another story 🙂

It is possible, for these reasons, I was drawn to read The Musings of a Pirate.  They came in the form of a Personal Rant filed under ‘Socially Deprived’ (Disclaimer: this post contains coarse language). “Don’t waste your time with this”, she said.  So, of course, I did.  And it most definitely was NOT a waste.

Whiney, selfish, righteous rants don’t interest me.  But this is different.  It is full of energy, passion and highly motivated, female ANGER.  Anger at restraint.  At the way in which boys are encouraged to achieve, while girls are deemed “not ready”.  At the way an angry girl is mocked.

If anyone has ever wondered what goes on in the mind of their angry young women, this is a must read.  What I love is the constructive note of the anger, borne out of a desire to “ACHIEVE something in this world”.

Anger in women is a much maligned emotion.  Just compare a Google search on ‘Angry Young Man’ to ‘Angry Young Woman’.  One has a Wikipedia page and is clearly expected.  The other is a problem to be understood.

But history is full of highly effective angry young women.  Check out Colin Falcolner’s informative posts on Princess Pingyang, Mary Shelley and Isabella, Braveheart of France – to name a few.

The signs are there that the new millennium is calling for young women to be a force for change.  Take Buffy or Brave or Britain’s new generation of young, angry, female playwrights, for instance.  Then there’s will.i.am’s Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocacy, aimed at encouraging girls from the ghetto to be the leaders of tomorrow, (see the Graham Norton interview, 11:20 minutes in).

The question is how we harness the rage into a creative, rather than destructive, force.  Here, I think The Pirate might have given us a clue:

“I’m not that much different than the dogs I train and I just want to know I’m on the right track, at least a little. You’d suck as a dog trainer. You don’t have any clear objective, you’re light with your praise and heavy on your criticism. That’s what good dog trainers realize traumatizes a dog.”

Next week I promise to discuss the concept of dog parenting.  But for now, I think what she is saying is, all we need is a little positive reinforcement 🙂

I love that these days a blogosphere exists, where women can and do support each other.  Thanks to these young women, I’ve been reconnected with the passion of my youth.  Together, maybe there’s a chance that we can keep the flame alive…

A Fairytale for Grown-ups

I’m so excited this week I don’t know where to start.  But it feels like there’s a buzz in the air – is this just me?

Earlier this week I read a post, again by The Man of the Minivan, which detailed a funny – but much more cynical view – of kids’ stories than the one I’m about to tell.  How a child’s book, read through an adult’s eyes, suddenly becomes a story about…politics?

Personally, I love the way that kids’ stories are able to whittle down the complex issues to their barest, human bones.

And that is exactly what this modern fairy tale does.  Just don’t expect a fluffy ride – it’s called Brave for a reason, right? 🙂

It is the perfect answer to my quandary last week, when I stumbled upon a Grimm tale about fear and bravery.  I’ll try not to include too many spoilers.

Merida is the gorgeous, spirited Princess from the Scottish ruling clan of four.  Presented with a bow and arrow for her birthday as a child, she grows into a fiery teen who breaks all rules of Princessly decorum.  What’s a girl to do when she’s the apple of her father’s burly eye?

The clincher comes when Merida learns of her planned betrothal to the winner of the Highland Games, where the three eldest sons of the other clans compete to win her hand.

From here, the story unfolds as a battle of wills between mother and daughter, duty and independence, tradition and progress.  And it’s one selfish little tantrum that she throws!

It might be hard to believe that a Princess of that time would be quite so rebellious.  But we are talking fiction, here, and the joy is living vicariously through characters much braver and more selfish than we could hope to be.  (Plus, one only has to take a look at the husbands-to-be to take that ride!)

Merida’s rebellion takes a dark turn involving a will-o’-the-wisp, a wicked witch and a (quite literal) return to the wild.  The only way through is the hardest of all – to mend that familial rift.

There’s lots of little fun things along the way – like her impish triplet brothers whom she bribes to do her will.  The warm, loving and otherwise clueless men of the clan who are too busy fighting and drinking to know what’s going on.  The buxom maid.  The rest – you’ll have to watch to see.

I love this movie.  It is PG rated, but it’s not for the faint hearted.  So beware of your grown-up sensitivities and if you’re scared of your child’s emancipation, maybe stick with Cinderalla 🙂

If not, you could learn a thing or two.

Bravery is a balance.  While it can call for might, it sometimes also requires a more humble kind of resoluteness.  It is the hardest thing in the world to do, because it means negotiation and a compromise.

The happily ever after is suspended for a much more grown-up take on hope.  And what I really dig is that neither Merida nor her mother come out of this unchanged.

In the end, they learn from each other.  The child teaches her mother the value of breaking tradition, and the daughter learns the value of the legends that have gone before.  The solution – surprise, surprise – benefits the entire kingdom somewhere along the lines of ‘make love, not war’.

In a world of uncertainty, where tradition seems somehow to fail us, it gives us hope.

As Merida says:

“Legends teach us things.  But we are young.  Our stories haven’t yet been told…”

There are lots of political lessons to be taken away from this, too, if you want to go there.  For example, the fact that the lead character is a red head caught in a political crossfire (anyone seen our PM lately?) is not lost on me.  But that’s a whole other sad story.

They might be the rarest of them all, but I think it’s fair to say, in this instance, the reds have it.

Have you seen the movie?  What are your thoughts?  Is it just another kids’ story, or are there worthy lessons to be learned?

Adults are Supposed to be Brave

If you’re lucky enough to be one of the significant adults in a child’s life, you’ve probably already discovered that your role is not exactly what you think it is.

A few months ago, I spent a day on the beach with my sister’s three kids – my Neephs.

After some time, my nephew had finally spotted a crab, and was busy explaining how I should pick it up.

“Why don’t you pick it up?” I enquire, hoping to be off the hook.

“’Cause I’m scared to,” says the little D.

“Well, then, so am I,” I say.

“But Aunty Nana, adults are supposed to be brave!”

It was a priceless opportunity, I thought, to give him a lesson in how adults aren’t always brave.

But we were there with his father, that day, and it wasn’t long before he was plucking some poor creature from the shallows and little D was giving me that look.

Great, I think, now I’ve just given him a lesson in how girls aren’t always brave!

Until that moment, it never occurred to me that our relationship was in the least bit gendered.  We were just people, fellow introverts, sharing a common fear of humans and other things that bite.

Clearly, I wasn’t the best person to be teaching him lessons about bravery 🙂

But it did lead me to question how we teach kids things.

The lesson, in fact, probably had nothing at all to do with bravery, and more to do with respecting natural boundaries.  A lesson in ‘live and let live’.  In co-existing with other creatures.

It would have been a simple lesson for a boy whose first response to others’ touch is often “Go away!”

All I had to say was “How do you think the crab would feel?” and he’d have gotten the point of empathy and kindness.

But even then, once Daddy came along to show him how it’s done, I suppose the lesson would have been that empathy and kindness is for girls. Grrrr.

Where did it all go wrong?

It used to be that Fairy Tales were the source of all things wise, where communities passed down lessons to their kids on how to coexist.

So I consulted with the Brothers Grimm, and it turns out, a little bit of healthy fear is not so bad!

Photo by samlevan courtesy stock.xchng

In “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was”, it seems the whole village knows what it is to shudder, except for one boy.  His inability to fear is a source of great shame, and eventually, he is cast out of home.  In his mission to learn how to shudder, he encounters seven swinging corpses, and a haunted castle filled with creatures of the night, his cousin’s corpse, a beggar and some body parts.

Not knowing how to fear, he starts off being kind to all the ghoulies.  The best is when he tries to warm his cousin’s corpse.  Instead of being grateful, the cousin turns into a zombie and tries to strangle him – to which the youth retaliates in kind!

Instead of learning how to fear, the youth learns how to fight.  In the end, his ruthlessness wins him a Princess and a place in the kingdom.  It is finally up to his new wife to teach him how to shudder, which she does by throwing a bucket of cold water on him in the night.  Cold shower, anyone?

The moral of the story, according to moi, is that communal life requires the skill of knowing just a little how to fear, and of respecting your place in the scheme of things.  What’s scary is that progress, in the world outside the home, seems to depend on a foolish and callous bravado.

Photo by Karen Barefoot courtesy stock.xchng

Is this the kind of brave we want our little ones to be? I can’t help wondering what will happen when little D no longer feels okay to admit that he’s afraid.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m looking forward to next week, when Brave hits our cinemas here in Oz.  Tune in then for my take on a modern tale!

In the meantime, I’m curious to know your thoughts.  Can bravery go too far? Should boys be braver than girls? How do we teach our kids empathy without making them weak?