Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The 1960s: Mine, and Hidden Figures

Last night I went to the movies to see Hidden Figures, the blurb for which reads:
The incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson - brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation's confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.
I was born in 1951. So the 1960s, the time in which the movie is set, covered, in today's terms, my school years from Year 5 to 13 plus my first year at university.

I remember the excitement surrounding the space race, the excitement and fear of the Cold War. I remember lying awake in bed, looking out my window at the stars, wondering if tonight would be the night the atomic bombs came. I remember that fear, nay, terror, which filled me especially strongly after my Standard Six (Year 8) teacher, Mr Thomas, taught us about the Cold War.

I remember the amazement and excitement, but also fear, when the Russians got to space first: Sputnik was a fabulous monster. I remember the excitement and pride when the Americans got there too, and the huge joy that surrounded the moon landing by the 'free world'. We didn't have tv, but were invited to watch it at friends of my parents.

At school, in those days, 'history' meant European history - British history plus, as described by my text book title, 'Europe Since Napoleon'. We learned little about colonialist New Zealand history, even less about Maori history, and what tiny bit I learned about America was mostly in relation to Britain, or to WWII (the Boston Tea Party, the bombing of Pearl Harbour in the Pacific.)

In my mid-teens, my mother bought me a magazine subscription one birthday or Christmas: the american 'Seventeen' magazine. Mostly for the fashions, so that she, and I with her help, could make clothes that were fashionable before other kiwi teens knew they were fashionable. But these also had articles in them that I read with complete bewilderment. Why were people upset about some people catching buses to school? I asked questions, which were mostly shrugged off, with, 'oh things are different there.' I couldn't seem to find out what 'desegregation' meant. I thought America wasn't like South Africa with it's apartheid system, yet there was obviously something weird happening.

You have to remember that back in the 60s in New Zealand only a few people had tv. In our house, we got our news from the NZ Herald, the pink-covered, picture-filled Auckland Weekly News, the NZ Broadcasting Corporation (National Radio), and the once a week, several weeks out of date, News of the World at our Friday movie night, held in the Te Kauwhata Town Hall. (Saturday afternoons in winter, the hall turned into a roller-skating rink.) There was no internet - hell, we still had a phone that hung high on the wall so I couldn't even sit down when talking, and no privacy - even if no one was around home, there was still the other people on the party line - Mrs Kearney for sure - and the exchange operator listening in! The local library was in a room about the size of our laundry, and no non-fiction. Information was hard to come by.

Racism was deeply embedded in our culture, and not recognised as such. Racism, back then, was what South Africa had, and the idea that Blacks there (I cannot use the words used for them back then) were lesser creatures, sub-human even, was only just starting to be questioned among the general population. Maori were regarded proudly as the most advanced of the 'native peoples'.

But gradually the ideas of the American civil rights campaigners, the feminists, the anti-apartheid campaigners, the anti-Vietnem War people, the 'make love not war' hippies started spreading, and in my years at university I absorbed many of those ideas.

Then came travel and children and homeschooling and depression and joy and So. Much. Learning!

When I look back at how much my ideas, and the world, have changed over my life, it astounds me. When I look at how much I am still learning and thinking and changing, it excites me.

But when I went to see Hidden Figures, it overwhelmed me. I re-experienced the excitement, the fear, the joy of those days. I remembered the terrible tears and fear when JFK was assassinated. I rejoiced in the lives of those amazing, brave women who stood up and created a doorway to a new world. And I cried all the way through, realising that all through those cruel and difficult times, I was living a life of white, privileged ignorance. Was? I still am! I am aware of it, but only when I think of it, and I can easily avoid thinking about it if I want. Some days I do just that - retreat into a media-free day and make art or garden or go to the beach. I don't HAVE to feel it all the time. That's a huge privilege.

In the era of Brexit and Trump I am increasingly aware that I need to stay aware, to stay in the world, and to do what small things I can to keep our world from the new Dark Age that seems to be threatening to eclipse our sun.

(ps - those amazing women learned FORTRAN and how to put it onto punch cards! I failed that three times at university! And I'm still clueless about hoe to work a computer properly!)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Firewood Days

Last winter we had a tornado go through our area: this tree was ripped in half. It's pine nut tree, and it was the first year it had cones on it. Being a type of pine, the fallen part will presumably be good for burning, and we got a good trailer load from it.

A few days later we cleaned the driveway up  bit. Mac used the tractor to pull some of the big gorse out by the roots, and chainsawed up some of the bigger stuff. It's fantastic wood as it burns really hot.
The tornado also ripped a large kahikatea out of the ground, but when we went to look at it, found it was going to be just too hard to cut it up, and to get the wood out of the bush would need a lot more people and effort than Mac and I have.
 So, under the supervision of the flock of cockatoos, we sawed up a fallen gum tree instead.
 It's incredibly satisfying to cut your own firewood, and to clean up gorse and fallen trees at the same time. Sure beats doing housework! And best of all, my health has improved sufficiently for me to do some of the chainsawing again, for the first time in 3 years.
  We parked the trailer of wood under the pohutukawa tree for a couple of days before transfering it to the wood shed.
  Such glorious trees.
 They even make the old trailer beautiful!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Weed Walk

I try to go for a walk most days, if only down the drive and to the short end of the road - which is just 1 km each way. I love how I see different flowers aka weeds each time.
I know these are noxious weeds, but the only way to get rid of them would be lots of poison, which would also poison the stream, so I just have to breathe and enjoy their glorious orange flowers.
There's the daisies, and then there's even more daisies: those tiny white dots are some sort of daisy-like flower but so small you can't tell until get right up close.
Dandelions are not really weeds: apart from their sunny smiles, they can be used for food and drink.
These were my favourite as a child: I picked large bunches of them on the way home from school to put in vases when I got home. Hint - they don't last long once picked.
 This is one I hate - it strangles trees, and I don't even like the flowers.
 But these, these are the very best!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Draw Every Day

Art has always been something for other people: I have never felt it was for me. I could always write, and I could work on my writing and get better at it, but art - I judged myself by my inability to draw or paint anything that looked like anything. However, colour, texture, shape all attracted my attention, and I loved doing art with my homeschooled sons and friends, and with my kids I never felt embarrassed by my inadequacies. I felt joyful when they did better than me, and learned so much, particularly from Simon, who taught me how to look at the world afresh.

My desire to create has increased over the years, and has found expression in craft work: sewing, knitting, fabric art, book binding, flag making. My book making has been evolving, very slowly, in a less formal, more expressive way, and involving the use of dyes, inks, stamps, stencils, stitching, collage and more.

Still, I'm not an artist. I still operate from a mindset that, as my school reports said, I lack talent and ability. I can't draw. Over the years I've bought and borrowed and read 'how to' art books, and been to classes, and given up.

The desire has never gone away, and a month ago I bought a book:
 I decided that the only way I'd ever learn to draw / paint was to actually practice - imagine that! This book has you draw every day. It has a page, or part of a page for you to use each day for a year. Each month has a theme (the first is 'nature',) and gives a brief tutorial, and tells you what art supplies to use (the first uses markers and a black pen.) Each day has a prompt. I have taken a deep breath and started yesterday - yes, on 1 January. Not a New Year Resolution so much as a determination.

I have been a procrastinator and a perfectionist most of my life - I put everything off because if I can't be sure I can do something perfectly, I won't even try. Not least because my mother and my teachers were of that generation who believed that the way to inspire children to do better was to point out all the things they did wrong, and to not praise anything in case the child stopped trying. No more. I have spent years trying to work out who I am. I'm still not perfectly clear on that, but I've come to the conclusion that I am too old to procrastinate any longer. I need to do as well as be - otherwise 'being' is pointless: if I am a creative person, I need to create, however badly. And I need to do it without shame or embarrassment - but that's going to take a bit of work!

My instinct is to hide what I do, but even though I know these aren't great, I also know that if I stick at it, the practice will not make perfect, but better, and there is pride, not shame, in trying. I must also say thank you to my wonderfully artistic son, Simon, for his encouragement. These are my first two days efforts.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Weeds and Wood

Today we chopped out some big gorse from beside the driveway. As I walked down, I enjoyed plants that others would have pulled out as soon as they saw them. I leave them: there is so much joy in them, some 'weeds', some 'plants' gone to seed.

 Wild carrot - I love the little speck of red on some of the flowers.
 Silverbeet - isn't it gorgeous?
 Parsley and dandelion.

 These were my favourites when I was a child.
 A little bit of loveliness between the garage and my bee shed.
And though gorse is indeed a weed, it has its uses: a nursery plant for natives; a food source for bees, and eventually, firewood. The gorse, combined with pine from a pinenut tree destroyed by the winter tornado, filled a trailer with plenty more to come. A good afternoon's work.

The Sun Sets on 2016

After dinner, when I ate more than I should have, we went for a walk to burn off calories, and to see the sun set on 2016. The clouds made it so much more beautiful than a completely clear sky would have been. But I've always been a cloud lover.


It's been a hard year for me. There are ups and downs in any year, but starting the year with a tooth infection, followed by waking up one morning to find I had gone near blind overnight, and thus discovering I had Type 2 diabetes, systemic candida and an extremely persistent urinary tract infection, all added up to a difficult and pretty traumatic year. On the plus side, without my awareness of my blood sugar levels, I would have stayed home with my feet up, instead of going for a walk on the best beach in the world.