Saturday, August 31, 2013

August Reading

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

 A deceptively simple tale told from the viewpoint of a 5 year old imaginary friend (Budo) who was brought into existence by Max now 8. Max is 'on the spectrum' and suffers from people who don't understand him, and in some cases, especially at school, people who are unkind and bullying. Max is kidnapped and it is up to Budo to rescue him, which is difficult given he can only talk to other imaginary friends, and can't affect the physical world. Superficially it could almost be a children's book, but it isn't. It is a book about friendship, choices, individuality, morality, love, grief, death, mental illness, acceptance - life, in fact. It is a really easy, delightful read yet has substance. Highly recommended.

Knight Assassin: The Second Book of Talon and Assassination in Al Qahirah by James Boschert
I didn't realise until I started reading Knight Assassin that it was the second volume of a series. Usually I find that extremely annoying, but this time I realised that I had already read the first volume a few years ago. The story lines in these books are very unsurprising and the characters not particularly well developed, but the background knowledge shows in the detailed descriptions of clothes, architecture, weapons, food, everything! They are a fascinating way of learning about the period of time of the Crusades and if you are interested in a bit of light, easy history, these books are well worth a read.

Bend, Not Break by Ping Fu with MeiMei Fox

The story of two halves: Ping Fu was born in China and lived there until she was 25. She suffered under Mao's regime - poverty, physical beatings, emotional abuse, rape - yet survived, looking after her little sister as well. After the cultural revolution ended she went to university, but wrote a paper on the way female babies were abandoned and killed by parents wanting a son but restricted to just the one child. The paper escaped the academic world and made it into the general arena - all over the world, in fact, and she was told to leave the country. She went to America, and after doing a course in English, studied computer science. The American part of the story is mostly about her rise in the computer world - she is now President and CEO of Geomagic, Inc. This a fascinating book about someone just nine years younger than me, who has had to struggle yet who has made it in the world in ways I never even imagined. I am happy in my life, and certainly didn't finish the book thinking, 'I wish that was me,' but I am filled with admiration. The one thing that really had me gobsmacked though was when I got to the end feeling that I had a good idea of what this high powered business woman was like: I continued reading for a moment before I realised I had past the end and was reading the acknowledgements.  "To my coauthor, MeiMei Fox, whom I met at Burning Man in 2010." Where did that come from? Burning Man? I realise that this book only scratches the surface; there are way more layers to her than are shown in this book!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Expressing Feelings: should we or shouldn't we?

After a small conversation on Facebook, I want to write again about depression. And about how our culture makes life so much harder than is necessary for those of us who suffer from it.

As I child growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was told off and punished for showing my feelings. If I got angry, I was not shown how to express it in an acceptable way, but rather, I was smacked and sent to my room. If I was unhappy, I wasn't smacked, but I was sent to my room until I 'cheered up' and wasn't going to spoil everyone else's day with my long face. I even remember being  happy and dancing around the house, and being told to "go be happy somewhere else, I'm not in the mood." Thanks, Mum.

So when I was depressed at age 16, it took a while before I told anyone. In fact, it was only after I spent a couple of hours waiting by the railway track for a train to throw myself under, that I finally asked for help - you know that you are a total loser when the train fails to show up.

My mother took me to our GP, who told me to pull myself together and stop upsetting my poor mother or he'd send me to Tokanui (psychiatric hospital) and make sure I got electric shock treatment. Message: don't show your feelings. No one else wants to know about them. Or in today's terms - just harden the fuck up.

So I spent the next 35 years suffering from bouts of depression. And my husband and sons suffered too. No one else really wanted to know. Especially as I had nothing to be miserable about, not like___________ (fill in the blank with just about anyone else's name.) I had several more episodes where I came very close to suicide, but I'd learned my lesson well - I had no right to these feeling, I had no right to upset others, I had no right to put myself out of my misery. I guess I'm glad - life is so good now.

Anyway, at age 50 I asked for help again, with encouragement from three friends. Counselling certainly helped a bit, but then the counsellor told me she couldn't help me any more, that I was now as well as I was ever going to be. Which was pretty depressing in itself, because I didn't feel that much better.

So I struggled along for another 10 years, better than I had been, but still fighting the Black Dog a lot of the time. Three years ago I had another major depressive episode, which for the first time included major anxiety and a panic attack. I got help - I've gone into that before, so suffice to say, I am better now than I can remember ever having been.

I believe that some people have a tendency towards depression, but that environmental factors also play a large part. For me, I have discovered that dietary factors have a big effect on my state of mind.

But most of all, the lessons I learned as a small child, and which have been reinforced by others (including my parents, my doctor, and 'friends') for decades, made it incredibly difficult for me to ask for help. How much happier would my life have been - and the lives of my husband and sons - if I had gotten help when I was sixteen? Or twenty six? Or thirty six? Or forty six?

I have tried not to teach my children that they should hide their feelings from others or themselves. I didn't want them to suffer as I have. I want them to feel able to express their feelings and ask for help if they need to. I don't want them to be told to harden the fuck up - nor to be told that they are 'gay' for expressing positive feelings. It doesn't matter that it's a friend and 'it's a joke' - every time it is another twig on the fire that burns the soul for those of us who are not comfortable with our own being.

Connecting with Sun and Earth

This morning I went to my weekly yoga class - although 'weekly' is a bit of a misnomer, because I had missed four weeks due to illness, grandchildren and laziness.

While we were doing the asanas, the teacher kept telling us to focus on imagining connecting with the earth, and with the sun above us. I found myself imagining standing on the grass facing slightly north of Mt Karioi, and wondering why I wasn't actually there!

So home I went, and after a quick lunch, got out there and connected with real earth and real sun. I weeded for three and a half hours, and planted two beautiful hellebores that I bought at Wairere Nurseries at the weekend. It's been a good day.

Note the cool gardener's bag I bought at Trade Aid last week.

July Reading

Well, July reading, but first a book from November, because I just found my review sitting there in draft form!

Louise Nicholas: My Story by Louise Nicholas and Philip Kitchin
The story of Louise Nicholas, who was raped by policemen over a number of years, as told by Louise, and by investigative reporter Phil Kitchin. It is a horrible story of the intolerable situation of women raped, and left with nowhere to go to complain, because of the determination of other police to cover it all up. It is also the story of an amazingly courageous woman, with an amazing family. It is written with alternating chapters, one by Louise presenting the personal story, and one by Phil presenting his investigation as a journalist. This works really well. Louise's writing is simple and personal which, despite the extraordinary subject matter, would become irritating if the whole book was just her writing. Phil writes like the journalist he is, which again, would get irritating if the whole book was written as a series of articles. Together it works. I found it hard to put down, and despite the horrendous, matter of fact descriptions of the rapes, is an important read. It offers much to consider about the nature of society, the foolishness of trusting people just because of their job, and about the importance of loyalty and how loyalty must have boundaries. Louise sets such a wonderful example to us all: she didn't give up on exposing the truth; she didn't give up on herself; and even after all she has been through, she doesn't give up on the police, recognising and acknowledging that there are good cops. This is one amazing woman. 

And so, on to the books I've read this last month - and we'll just have to forget about all the books I read from December to June!


The Adoption by Anne Berry
Lucilla discovers when she is 14 that she was adopted, but it is not until she is in her late forties and her adoptive mother dies that she obtains information that enables her to search for her mother. The story is told from the perspective of Lucilla, her natural mother, Bethan, and her adoptive mother, and examines mother - daughter relationships, and other family relationships. It is well written, and best of all, it does not have a sickly, happy-ever-after ending, but rather a hopeful and unexpected ending. I really enjoyed this book.

So Happy Together by Maryann McFadden
Claire Noble is a single mother and history teacher. She has also been trying to care for her aging parents. Claire is engaged to Rick Saunders, who is offering her both security and the opportunity to travel. Before their wedding, she is planning to spend a summer at Cape Cod studying with a well known photographer.
However just before she is due to leave, her estranged daughter suddenly shows up pregnant, and her father's health deteriorates. Eventually, Claire, her parents, and her daughter, all go to Cape Cod, and the book revolves around the relationships between the characters, their own personal development, and again, the examination of inter-generational relationships and contrasts. I really enjoyed this library book, to the degree that I bought a second novel of McFadden's to read on my Kindle.

 The Book Lover by Maryann McFadden
Books have been Ruth Hardaway's passion all her life, and she has owned a book shop for 30 years. Lucinda Barrett's life has fallen apart around her, and so she decides to go after her dream for one last time. She has submitted a novels to many agents and been turned down, so now she decides to self publish and to publicise it herslf also. She drives across the country trying to get book shops to take her book, and eventually meets Ruth. This book is interesting because although it seems implausible, it is, in fact, what McFadden did with her first book, which proved popular enough that a publisher approached her and took over.
The book is about relationships, both the romantic / lover / marriage sort, and friendships. It doesn't have the depth of So Happy Together but is also quite good - I would say it falls somewhere between the previous two books above, and the three below.

The following are all reasonably well written, but lack anything for the mind to feed on.  They lack depth of plot and character, and, should be saved for those days when you need something easy and non-challenging  for a day in bed with a cold or a tummy bug.
Dune Road by Jane Green
The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick
Artistic Licence by Katie Fforde


Four Seasons with a Grumpy Goat by Carol Altman 
As someone who lives on a life sentence style block, I like reading about other people's experiences as they live in a similar way but in different places. This book had the added interest of being set in Tasmania, where my oldest son's partner grew up.  Carol and her partner moved from Adelaide to Neika, 18 kilometres south of Hobart. Carol is a journalist, and so although I didn't learn lots of tips for country living, it is well written and fun to read. It would be a good read for anyone considering a move to the country, as it covers the first year of their life there, with salutatory tales, many of which apply where ever you plan to settle.  An enjoyable read in front of a winter fire.

Backyard Bounty by Janet Luke
Janet, her husband and three sons moved from Auckland to Havelock North to a house on a suburban section - but it is not like the usual section! She grows her own food, and after about five years living there she made a New Year's resolution that, for four months, they should eat only what she grew, or could barter for with food she grew. This book is about that four months, and also about her food growing, particularly her animals. She has the usual family cat and dog, but also food animals: hens, quail, rabbits, dairy goats, a worm farm and bees. Having met Janet, and been impressed with her energy I was interested to read more about her, and would recommend this as a good read for anyone wanting to become more self-sufficient in food. I like that at the end of each chapter there is a link to YouTube clips - and if you are lucky enough to have a new phone or tablet with the right apps, you don't even have to type the link in, you can just show the little square thingie, which I am sure has a name of its own, to you phone / tablet and watch away.
The one thing I didn't like was that she self-published, and there are typos, grammatical errors, misplaced apostrophes, and a stylistic awkwardness, all of which would have been easily corrected by a good editor. It isn't too horrific in this aspect, but it annoyed me because to some extent it spoiled an otherwise interesting book.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

This is Not a Garden Shed

We have a double garage but no garden shed. In the garage the Important Stuff is kept

This is Important Stuff, even though it could be mistaken for a garden shed.

 I am allowed one small corner to keep garden stuff in. It is a corner, not a garden shed.

The rest of my garden stuff is kept here. This is not a garden shed.

Then the wind blows.

This is not a garden shed.

This could be a garden shed. It just needs taking out of its packaging and erecting somewhere outside the garage.

When we bought our land, someone told Mac, "make sure you build the garage before the house, or you'll never get one."  Pity they didn't tell me, "make sure you build the garden shed before the garage, or you'll never get one."  Sigh.