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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Women who have influenced me – Maya Angelou

I first heard of Maya Angelou on a day I was at home and sick and watching Oprah. From memory Maya read some of her poetry and from that moment I was hooked. Her poem “Phenomenal Woman” from her book And Still I Rise is one of my all time favorites and forever reminds me of just how wonderful women are and how we should all hold our heads high no matter what life throws at us.

It didn’t take me long to find Maya’s books in my local library and I’ve read through most of her autobiographical memoirs. Maya is everything I admire in a woman. She has had an incredible life, lived through some hard times, made some mistakes along the way, but at every stumbling block she encountered she managed to pick herself up, dust herself off, review the situation and move on. She never gave up on herself or on life in general.

This woman lived through some of the more tumultuous of times. She battled through poverty, her parent’s divorce, sexual molestation and the racial discrimination that was endemic in the Southern states. She forged a career as a performer and then moved into both the editorial and academic worlds. She worked with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr and has become a renowned author of contemporary literature, successful in both prose and poetry. She was even asked by President Clinton to write a poem for his inauguration.

I read Maya’s first autobiographical book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings without really knowing what to expect. What I discovered and enjoyed was a style of writing that pulled no punches. Her honesty is both insightful and confronting. I got the same pleasure from her other autobiographies, each portraying the next stage of her life. I can highly recommend her books and her poems. In case you haven’t read any of Maya’s poetry, here is Phenomenal Woman, my favorite:

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size
But when I start to tell them
They think I'm telling lies.
I say,
It's in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It's the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can't see.
I say
It's in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
'Cause I'm a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That's me.

from And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

Meeting the Girlfriend - part two

Just to update everyone - I met my eldest son's girlfriend and she is very nice! I think we got on well. I found her easy to talk to. She's also intelligent and seems to know what she wants out of life - things that are important to a mother! But the most important thing is that my son looks very happy and that makes me happy.

Now, if only my team would have won on Sunday...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Meeting the Girlfriend

This weekend I get to meet my eldest son’s girlfriend for the first time. They are coming to the football with me and my youngest son.

It’s a bit daunting to meet a girlfriend. I never know what to say or do. If I say the wrong thing I could either embarrass my son or alienate both of them!

I get the impression that my boys are often embarrassed by me. I admit I can be a bit eccentric, but I stand up for my right to be what I want to be in my own home! The other day my youngest son brought a friend home who I hadn’t met before. What did he expect walking in during the last three minutes of an incredibly exciting football game where my team was hanging onto the lead? Did he expect a docile female sitting quietly to watch her favorite team, currently fifteenth on the ladder beat a team in the top four?

What he got was excita-Mom! There I was jumping up and down, yelling at the television, only diverting my attention for a moment to open the front door for them. As the final siren went I flung my arms around my youngest son’s neck with joy (luckily he was the closest one to me). I paused for a moment to greet his friend and then proceeded to do a happy dance to my team’s song. What’s wrong with that?

I’m a social creature and I enjoy meeting my sons’ friends. They are most welcome to come to our house any time. I’m happy to have them stay for a meal, as long as I get a bit of warning. It can be a culinary nightmare to try to stretch meals designed for a set amount of people. Just how far can one steak stretch? Luckily I usually cook large meals based on either pasta or rice as all of us take leftovers to work and/or school the next day.

I’ve been trying to remember what it felt like to meet the parents of boyfriends. I do remember going out with one guy who rode a motorbike. The night I first met his parents I was still trying to take my helmet off as I walked through the screen door. Yes, through the screen door as opposed to opening it first! I guess I haven’t changed very much over the years.

My ex husband didn’t officially introduce me to his parents. They lived on a farm and the first time I went with him to meet them he left me sitting at the back door while he went to see his father in the dairy. I sat there for quite awhile until his mother came home and found me.

Back to meeting the girlfriend. It’s probably a good thing that we are meeting at the football. The game will give us something to talk about. I think we are going to go out for a drink and some food afterwards. It should be a nice afternoon.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Homelessness or Houselessness?

Another new suburb is opening in Melbourne. Its vast former farming lands will stretch the boundaries of our city once more. People slept in their cars over night to be first in line to buy empty blocks, just one more sign of the desperation felt by many who cannot afford housing in our wonderful city. But amazingly, there were also a good percentage of investors queuing up for the new blocks. One man and his wife were there to buy what will become their twelfth investment property.

So, where does this leave people who are yet to own their own home? With housing prices going through the roof, it is becoming more and more difficult to even save the deposit in order to buy a home. It is estimated that it will take couples at least five years to save for a deposit for a home in one of the outer suburbs. At least ten years to save for a deposit for a home closer to the city. I guess it would take even longer for single people to save.

Rents are sky rocketing and there is a distinct lack of social housing. More and more people are sleeping in their cars, couch surfing or taking to the streets. These are the new houseless members of our society. Why do we tolerate this? By the same token, Melbourne’s boundaries can only be stretched so far before the effects are felt with a lack of infrastructure, leaving these new suburbs in a state of disconnect from the rest of the city.

According to the website, homelessness is defined as: 'An inadequate experience of connectedness with family and or community,' (Dominic Mapstone). This fact is now recognized by Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.

Until I looked it up I didn’t realise there was a difference between homelessness and houselessness. Reading through the website it appears that homelessness is more about social connectivity and feeling a part of something, more than actually not having a roof above one’s head. There have been instances of people refusing shelter simply because the shelter offered is not in the geographic area that they consider themselves to be part of. And there are instances of people having shelter, but ending up on the streets because they are lonely in their accommodation and all their friends are still on the streets.

Of course there is also the matter of safety in some of our rooming houses and shelters. I’ve heard many stories of women and children dealing with environments that we wouldn’t want our animals to live in, let alone other human beings. There are corrupt and greedy landlords everywhere, but apparently there are more than enough of them preying on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

So what is the answer to both homelessness and houselessness? How do we prevent people suffering from loneliness and a lack of social connection? Will the same feeling prevail in our new distant suburbs, where people will be left in nice houses in the middle of nowhere, with little public transport? Have we not only created a society of haves and have nots, but also a society where the privileged are also geographically better off?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Books – Build Your Own Life Brand!

There are times in my life when I turn to music for healing and there are other times I turn to books. When things got rough for me six and a half years ago I turned to self- help books.

OK – don’t click out of here just yet! I know that some of you don’t believe in self- help books and, in some cases, I would agree with you. But for me most of the ones I’ve read have helped in some way. It might have been just one hint out of the whole book, it might have been the mention of another book or website or it might have been presenting things in a different way and making me think outside the square, but all of them have been useful.

One of the first books I bought and read was Stedman Graham’s “Build Your Own Life Brand!” I have no idea what attracted me to this book, perhaps it was the connection with Oprah. Graham was and probably could still be (I really don’t know) Oprah’s partner. I admire Oprah, so that could have been the appeal. Whatever it was I bought the book.

As the title indicates Graham’s book deals with branding and expands the concept to the individual. He asks us to look at ourselves as products and shows us how we can a “Life Brand” for ourselves “that will enable you to stand out not only in your work but also in your relationships and the greater “communities” that you belong to.”

Throughout the book Graham gives us real life examples, not only of individuals but also of individuals sorted by professions. There are lessons to be learnt and exercises to complete. I didn’t do them.

Once you have created a “Life Brand” Graham shows you how to market it to give yourself the best opportunities in life. He takes some marketing strategies from corporations and tailors them for the individual.

This isn’t a book that I would read over and over again as I found it slanted more toward the commercial world than I feel comfortable with. However I really liked the examples Graham gave of real life people. And I did take away some good points from the book.

At a time when I was struggling to deal with the chaos in my mind and in my heart, this book made me focus on who I was, where I was going and what I wanted in life. Over the years the things I want and the places I want to go have changed, but I couldn’t have started without working out who I was.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Eldest Son

This is my eldest son doing what he loves best, harness racing. In this shot, taken a few months ago, he had begun to drive the horses while they were training.

At the beginning of this year he moved to a country town about an hours drive away to study how to be a Harness Racing driver / trainer. Finally he had followed his heart and found his passion in life.

Like many teenager, my eldest son had no idea what he wanted to do when he left school. He’s a talented sportsman and toyed with the idea of trying to get to a USA College in a basketball program but decided against it. Then he thought he might try out for an Australian Rules football team, but decided against that too. In between he thought of going into different trades and even got his certification to be a Personal Trainer. But nothing he tried seemed to be right for him.

We talked about it often, sometimes we yelled at each other, that’s just the way we are. I’d like to think I’m close with him and his brothers. Eventually he told me he would really like to try harness racing. He had found a course and talked to the coordinator. I told him that if he really wanted to pursue harness racing as a career, he should go ahead and do it. My only condition was that he organised it all himself. See, I’d helped him with most of his other career choices and they had all fallen by the wayside. I finally realised he had to take the reins (so to speak) and take responsibility for his own life and his own decisions.

He has never looked back. I’ve still kept the text message he sent me after his first day at the course. It said “This is it. Found what I want to do. Love it!”

It’s a wonderful feeling when your children find something in life they are not only passionate about but they are also good at, as well as something that has the capacity to earn them a living. The life of a Harness Racing driver / trainer is not an easy one. There are 6am starts no matter what the time of year or weather. The horses have to be looked after, worked, groomed, fed, etc. It can be very physical and there is always the chance of being kicked or bitten. But every occupation has its downside and if the downside doesn’t faze you and, despite everything, you still love what you do, then you are truly one of the lucky ones.

I think finding his passion in life has also given him the confidence to be more independent. I get less text messages asking for me to call him than I did when he first moved away. He knows how to cook, clean and do his own laundry. This week he has a week off from his course and he organised some work experience at a large stable near his grandmother. On his own. Without anyone’s help.

I don’t get to see my eldest son very often. It might be only a short drive away but I still have obligations to my other two sons who still live at home, oh and there’s work too. But when I get the chance I go down to see him and he sometimes comes home for flying visits. I miss him dreadfully but I’m so happy that he’s happy. And I am very proud of him.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Women who have influenced me - Tina Turner

In early 2004, a few months after I was dumped by the man I believed to be my soulmate, as I was beginning to put myself together again, I was gripped by a desire to find out more about strong women. I was living with some friends at the time and my bed was just under their massive bookcase. I spent many days with their vast selection of books. It was almost like having a personal library.

One of the first books I read was “I, Tina”, the biography of Tina Turner. Now I was never a huge Tina Turner fan but I had bought “Private Dancer” – on cassette (do you remember cassettes?) and enjoyed it. I started reading and couldn’t put the book down.

From memory it was not the best written of books, but Tina’s story was sad and hard and, in the end, inspiring. Born into a dysfunctional family her life was punctuated by a lack of love and abuse. Yet, she managed to survive and, more than survive; she eventually thrived – once she left Ike – even though that step left her with millions of dollars of debt. Millions of dollars! I can’t even imagine trying to pull myself out of that kind of debt. Yet she did. At the time I had been left homeless, jobless and practically penniless after the break up. To read about someone who was in the same situation but also had that much debt and managed to work through it all, was just what I needed to hear.

And for all those people who are about to comment that Tina was a well known singer with the connections that allowed her to climb out of the hole, I believe she would have done the same thing if she had been a nobody. There are probably plenty of Tina’s out there that we have never heard of, who have left miserable lives with different measures of success.

It was “I, Tina” that first introduced me to Buddhism and chanting. Not that I’m a Buddhist, but I did try chanting for a bit. I was beginning my journey of self healing and it was one of the stops I made. Chanting is not for me but over the last year or so I have begun to meditate again – a practice I find frustrating at worst and blissful at best but I’m determined to persevere.

"I never felt sorry for myself. Once you start the self-pity, you're dead - you're in the box. I didn't allow myself to go in that friggin' box. That's the message. Don't accept it. Keep going." - Tina Turner

That is one of my favorite Tina quotes. Like Tina I didn’t want to go into that “friggin’ box”. I was down but not out and her story showed me that there are many people out there who are in far worse situations than I was or hopefully will ever be. Despite her situation, she never gave up. There’s something for us all to learn.

Another Tina quote: “Sometimes you've got to let everything go - purge yourself. If you are unhappy with anything . . . whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you'll find that when you're free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Finding my passions

Or rather sorting out the most important passions in my life!

There are many things I am passionate about but, in order to put some focus into my blog, I’m going to attempt to narrow them down to a few.

I am passionate about my family – close and extended. I love my boys with that ferocious, protective love that mothers know only too well. I’ve tried to bring them up with honesty, integrity and hard work and I hope it has rubbed off on them. I freely criticise when I see them doing wrong but am the first to pounce with open claws on anyone else who does the same. I love them and I’m proud of them.

I also love my friends – my extended family. As an only child I’m limited with immediate family, but I have many close friends that I think of as sisters. Some are my age, some older and some younger, but I treasure each of them. Each of my friends has played a special role in my life and I thank them for that.

I am passionate about writing and books. I love words. I love the feelings that words can initiate. I love that some words roll lusciously in your mouth, while others spit themselves out. Given the chance, I could read all day and all night. Although I have my favorite, well worn books, I’m not averse to discovering new ones. I love the books that take you on a journey through either fact or fiction.

I am passionate about women and women’s rights. Along the way I’ve discovered many strong, influential women; some who have become my heroes and some who have left an imprint on my soul. There have been and are some incredibly awesome women in this world.

I am passionate about justice and two of the injustices that stir my passion are the lack of affordable housing in Australia and the sad state of Indigenous health and education. We live in a first world country, yet a noticeable percentage of our population live in third world conditions. There must be a way to bring justice to these situations.

So there it is. I’ve narrowed my passions to these four:

- My family

- Books and Writing

- Influential Women

- Justice

I will attempt now to focus my blog on those four areas. What do you think? Will you still read me?