Thursday, January 30, 2020

January Reading

Equal by Carrie Gracie (Virago Press 2019)
When Gracie discovered that, despite an agreement to be paid the same for her job as China correspondent for the BBC, as the male North America correspondent, she was paid far, far less, she decided to take action. It was not that she wanted more money, she 'just' wanted to be treated equally, as a sign that she was properly valued by her employers She loves the BBC, has worked there for 30 years, but she wanted them to treat women equally. The more she investigated, the more she saw how pervasive the inequality was. The book tells the story of her personal fight, and also a huge amount of information from all over the world.

For me, it was eye-opening in that I had never considered the wider and long-term issues of lower pay, such as the effect on retirement income because of superannuation (or in NZ, Kiwi Saver) being contribution based - not only are the lower paid women's contributions lower, but so too, in the case of Kiwi Saver, are the employer's contributions.

The book is very well written, enlightening, disturbing, and essential reading for everyone.

Unfollow: a journey from hatred to hope, leaving the Westboro Baptist Church by Megan Phelps-Roper
I found this book fascinating in a horrid way but also hope-inspiring. Megan was born into one of the most openly hate-filled churches I've ever heard of, and grew up totally believing in them. I had not realized that these were well-educated people, nor that the grandfather, who started the church, spent 30 years supporting Black civil rights as a lawyer. It had never occurred to me that someone like that could be filled with hatred for other groups, such as gays and Jews. It is very ugly reading.

But it was also one that fills me with hope: if, after 26 years of indoctrination and hatred, Megan could see through the lies and hatred, and leave the church and her family, and change, then there is hope in the world. A wonderful book that will make you question yourself and your beliefs, but also fill your heart with gratitude and hope.

Madness Made Me by Mary O'Hagan
I really connected with this book. I have spent decades living with depression, sometimes very deep, suicidal depression. A couple of years after it started, I worked several university holidays at Tokanui Psychiatric Hospital, just 4-5 years before Mary started university in Dunedin, and first entered a psychiatric institution. The book brought memories of both my depression, and my horror at how patients fellow human beings were treated. The first time I became depressed, at age 16, my mother took me to a GP who told me to "stop being so selfish, upsetting my mother, and pull yourself together or I'll send you to Tokanui and I'll make sure you get electric shock treatment." So, to all appearances, I did just that. I was terrified of shock treatment, and a couple of years later when I worked there, my terror increased as I saw how it affected patients people, and also how it was used as a threat and as a punishment. As a result, I didn't seek any help for my  madness until over 40 years later. Reading this book makes me grateful for that!

The book examines the very concept of madness, the dehumanizing of people, the politics of it, the inadequate and often unscientific and or abusive treatments, and most of all, the failure of anyone to listen to and respond appropriately to people who are different. Because of my own personal experiences as a sometimes mad person, and as a nurse aid, I was surprised by little in this book, other than the enormity of it when put together clearly in one place.

Absolutely worth reading.

Wow - three brilliant books this month! (Plus a novel that was slightly amusing but I've forgotten it already.)

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Older Generation.

Three of my grandparents died
before I was old enough
to make memories.
The fourth, I saw rarely,
and remember
as very deaf,
blind in one eye,
short and bald,
and not having a lot to say
to a small girl.

My father died when I was 36
followed by my mother
nine months later
on New Year's Eve
when I was 37.
I started 1989
an orphan.

One by one
the uncles and aunts
joined my parents
and grandparents
and the greats and great greats
until the last death
left me the hereditary title:
The Older Generation.

Saturday, January 25, 2020


It's typical end-of-March weather:
the bones of the surrounding hills
are dried tinder-brown
by the hot winds;
the hens
are going off the lay;
and the clay bank behind the shed
is cracking wide enough
to swallow rats.

I'm ready for the cooler days
and winter rains
that arrive with April.


it's only January 26.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Summer Evening

the windmills
face south
almost still,
the twilight
turning them
pale lavender-pink
to match the eastern sky

in the west
the sun has gone down
and the pink is more yellow
the kereru takes a 
last bedtime snack
of tagasaste leaves
and the Australians*
screech like
argumentative teens
as they settle for the night
in the highest branches

* the Australians = sulfur-crested cockatoos

Sunday, November 17, 2019

For a Moment it Slipped My Mind....

As I pull on my favourite Fly London red boots
Bob waits on the other side of
the frosted glass back door
eager for pats and a run.

But when I go out
it's just someone's
size 10 black red bands
and the dog is still dead.

Monday, November 11, 2019


I have finally found time to curl up in a rug on this grey, cold, rainy day and to listen to the first session of Nest, another short course with Lucy
It was a real eye-opener for me. I was at first bewildered by the questions which didn't really make sense to me: the ones about when did my love story with nature begin? and childhood experiences? For me, there wasn't a memory of when it began - it was always there. Childhood experiences with nature? It would be far shorter to list the non-nature experiences!
My earliest memory is of riding on my mother's shoulders as she walked out into the surf at Kai Iwi beach near Whanganui. My childhood, other than the awful school hours, was spent playing in the swamp, or in the hay barn, or in the orchard, looking after the chooks, helping care for orphan lambs, or reading books in my favourite tree. Even the 5 mile ride to school was book-ended with stopping to pick wild roses, jumping in iced-over puddles, being chased by cows.
I have always been comfortable living in the natural world, but...... I have spent a ridiculous amount of life trying to fit into human 'civilization' and 'society'. Having a stroke nearly 2 years ago has left me with an inability to be around a lot of people talking: my brain crumples up, I stop understanding, then I stop being able to speak my words, then I stop being able to think my words, then my leg stops holding me upright - and as I write this, I wonder why this has bothered me so much - what a blessing it is for me to have an excuse not to be in situations that have always been so hard, so bewildering, so unpleasant and confusing!
My adult life has been one so filled with societal shoulds, I have spent most of it out of touch with the nature, gaia, that I knew so well as a child. I now know I am an introvert, but as a socially inept person I learned to constantly seek out other people to be told what to do, or what I was doing wrong, I could not rely on my gut feelings, my inner knowledge, because those were, apparently, unacceptable. Nature - sea, bush, garden - is where I go to soothe and calm, but I think the time has come for me to consciously make nature my home, and the other, the 'civilized / social' part of the world, just a place I visit occasionally.


This started out as a response to a post in the Facebook group associated with the short online course I did with Lucy. 
I have hated xmas for a very long time. I didn't like it much from age 16 when stopped believing in God, because for me the meaning was gone. When I had my first kid, it became a nightmare as we had to trek from one set of grandparents to the other with tired kid/s who had been fed food that hyped them up and upset them. When my oldest was 6-7 my parents died 9 months apart - my mother was diagnosed with cancer on 20/12, admitted to hospital on xmas eve, and died New Year's Eve, so that made xmas pretty miserable for years of remembering. Then there were the city-living years of feeling obliged to do all the xmas stuff so my kids wouldn't miss out on the things all the neighbours’ kids got. As they got older we cut back on the presents, all agreeing one year to give to Save The Children instead, just giving small presents to the kids. But the food, decorations and stuff - the husband and 4 sons all wanted that but didn't help more than extremely minimally. I got more and more resentful and bitter.
Eventually the kids were grown and I said, No More. But still my kids wanted to get together and so it has evolved: 25 December is Not-Xmas at our place, all day and into the next, for anyone who wants to come. BYO alcohol, bring food to share appropriate for whatever time you come. The only rule is, don’t use the C word (Christmas). Numbers have varied over the years, from 15 to 35, usually around 20, drifting through at different times. People who don’t ‘do’ xmas come. People who want to escape, come after overwhelming family lunches or dinners. People whose ex’s have their kids for the day, come. People bring friends I don’t know when they arrive. Young tourists far from home come. And I still make / buy extra food and drink, and do a bit of tidying and cleaning – but because it’s Not-Xmas, and it’s Not-Anything, I don’t feel the burden of expectations. It’s really lovely, and relaxed as we sit in the sun, and later sit by the brazier under the southern summer sky, and I guess it is, in its own way, a new tradition, almost ritual.
As I wrote about this, I realised that there’s a whole lot to be learned about listening to, and valuing myself, and about surrender. Having grown up learning that I was the least important person in the world, that everyone else’s wants and needs had a higher priority than mine, I lived (still do to a degree) in a state of resentment. When I believed in God, I found comfort in the belief that even though I was the least important, God still loved me, I was still important to him, but once God was gone, there was nothing, I was nothing.
I now realise that it is so important to be properly conscious of one’s own feelings and needs, and to acknowledge them as valid. If we start from there, it will be more likely that we can work out ways? compromises? (can’t find the right word, grrr) that work better for everyone. I can’t make other members of my family feel the same way as me about things, Christmas in this example, but there could surely have been ways to make it easier on me, rather than my doing it their way while filled with exhaustion, resentment and bitterness. A way that involved others contributing to the physical, emotional, mental workloads, and having agreed to that way, me surrendering lovingly to the compromise – a way that would then no longer be a ‘compromise’ but just the right way for our family.
The word ‘surrender’ when Lucy talked about it in the course, really stuck in my craw. I felt almost angry, listening to that session. And then I paused and went back and listened again.
At 68 I feel like I have spent most of my life ‘surrendering’ my life to others. But that is a different meaning of the word from how Lucy talks of it. My way of surrendering has been so negative, so grudging, so resentful, because I was giving up something of me that I wanted to keep, that I believed I needed. But by accepting the idea that I am a part of a bigger whole, I can allow my inner self to find ways to align to other parts of the whole – and for whatever reason, those words – accepting, align – feel more comfortable than ‘surrender’ which just has too many patriarchal, dominating undertones for me. And having acknowledged and written that, ‘surrender’ feels less intimidating!
Ah, I need to stop! And just sit with all this for a while – or rather to walk with it, as the wind has dropped, the rain and hail paused, and there is a little sunshine showing through the clouds.