Thursday, October 18, 2007

Back Link Redistributing/ Rechannelling Guilt

from bindi of the epossums blog

Susanne wrote recently of a mother's guilt. Her post has given me cause for reflection for a couple of weeks. Today my ideas crystallized...

I have been working hard this week. I am lucky in that my husband will take the children to school in the mornings and cook dinner in the evenings if I can't. Today I left as he was making the school lunches using pita bread from the freezer.

“Oh, no fresh bread!”, I remarked. “I hadn't realised we were close to running out because I didn't make the lunches yesterday”.

Notice here that my comment was motivated through guilt. Usually, stocking up the pantry is my domain. The result of my guilt-motivated comment was to subtly shift blame from myself onto him. The implicit message is, if you knew we were running low why didn't you buy some more bread, or even inform me? It is not my fault.

His reply was, “Yes, you have been absorbed in you own world lately”.

How did his comment make me feel? Slightly angry. It definitely fed my guilt.

As I drove off to work, I decided not to let his comment touch me. In my heart, I know he thinks I'm a good mum. The comment was pitched at the perfect level to push my buttons for the sake of argument, and that is all. It was a response to my attempt to redistribute my guilt. He is excellent at fighting fire with fire.

... I agree with Susanne. Guilt affects us all. However, what I hope to illustrate in my example above, is behaviour motivated by guilt. I think it is important to be able to make choices about the way we live.

Understanding how guilt motivates us is the first step towards being able to make the choice to live a different way.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Back Link Mommy guilt is not personal

from susanne of creative.mother.thinking

I know I have written about "mommy guilt" before but I want to try to put it together this time. For years I had thought that I wasn't suffering from it. After the first few months of being a mother where I was feeling guilty for going to work and not participating in any mother-and-baby-groups, or baby swimming or not massaging my son every day, I decided I had enough of that, that he just had to live with his life as it was and that he at least wasn't growing up being totally dependent on me. And so I proudly announced that there was no mommy guilt for me.

Only I did still feel guilty from time to time. Because I'm not the mother I want to be, because other mothers do different things with their children, and because - to be frank often I try to sneak away and do something on my own. Like computer things. And when you're a mother that's Wrong.

I read about mothers feeling guilty all the time on blogs even if the mothers I meet in real life rarely talk about it. But even if they don't talk about it you can feel it. Every time when two or more mothers meet you can sense it. And it isn't triggered by competimoms only, every single, innocent remark can, and probably will, trigger someone's guilt. "Look, we made cupcakes and decorated the room." someone says, and the likes of me think about how they never bake anything, and that their method of decoration is to give their children paper and scissors and afterwards saying, "That's really nice, of course you can tape it to the fence." On the other hand I then say, "Oh, my son isn't going to music class, but he likes to bang on the drums and piano, and walk around with the guitar pretending he is a rock star." and immediately all the other mothers feel guilty for not creating such a stimulating creative environment for their children, while I feel guilty that my son who is the son of two musicians grows up without any musical training. The list can go on and on. Someone says, "Oh, we go to the playground every day." and I feel rotten because I never go to the playground and my poor son has no peers to play with, and then I say, "Oh, we just open the door and let him out in the garden." and the other mother feels rotten because her son has to grow up in a tiny apartment without his own sandbox and swing.

In the end we all feel rotten, those of us who bake cupcakes, those of us who grow their own food, those of us who let their children watch TV, those of us who don't, those of us who work, those of us who stay at home, every single one. Every mother who cares about her children (and I'd say there are only very few who don't and they probably don't blog about it) feel guilty and like she isn't doing enough or doing things wrong.

I recently read a post by Chris Jordan on this: "The Modern Mother". She quotes her mother-in-law who said being a mother was easier fifty years ago. It might have been but I recall the stories my mother and my mother-in-law tell and they always had the feeling that they were not good enough as a mother somehow, plus they were feeling rotten because they wanted to work outside the home, and they couldn't.

So, I don't think that going back fifty years is the solution (and neither does Chris Jordan, by the way). I just think that when every single mother in the Western Hemisphere (or maybe only most of them) feel guilty about the way they are treating their children, this is not a personal phenomenon, this is social. And it is always a good thing to remember that societies are made by human beings and that the rules therefore can be changed by human beings too.

I have been reading the sentence, "I better start saving for my child's therapy bill because I ..." (yelled at her, lost my temper, have let my child down in any way) so often. And every single time I'd like to write a comment and say, "Cool down. If that's the worst that ever happens to your child it is very fortunate indeed." All this implicates that mothers should be somehow superhuman. Patience personified. Never making mistakes. Never treating their children unfair. We all have this image in our heads of the loving mother surrounded by her children, nurturing always. At the end of the day she sits in the midst of her children who all are smiling with perfectly brushed teeth wearing their hand-sewn pajamas, and reads them stories before tucking them in their beds. Do you realize that this is propaganda that is more than a hundred years old? Propaganda that got resurrected in the 1950s and that's still sitting in our heads? Only now we have to be hot, sexy, intelligent, self-reliable and making money too.

In 2005 I read "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women" by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels and it opened my eyes. We all have this image of the ideal mother in our heads, and it is blasted at us from all media too. Imagine a celebrity saying that she is overwhelmed by new motherhood! Somewhere inside of us we secretly still think that becoming a mother is the most fulfilling and joyful thing we can ever achieve. And in a way it might be but then we don't always feel fulfilled and joyful all day long. Blogs are giving us the opportunity to see real mothers in real life who also talk about the less joyful aspects of it all. Still we think that nothing we can ever do will be enough. Still we think that we are the key to our children's happiness. That we alone hold their fates in our hands.

Well, it's time to stop this. Our children are their own persons. They determine their own fates as much as the people around them. We should always be grateful that we live in places where we have the energy and time to worry about whether it's good for our children to have swimming lessons or too much cake. All the children of the people who read this have enough to eat, a roof over their heads, clothes to keep them warm and mothers and/or fathers who love them and care for them. Mommy guilt is a luxury problem that harms us and our children.

I have a little task for you: every time you catch yourself thinking, "I'm a bad mother." or "My child will need therapy because of me." or something similar, replace it with, "I love my child and trust him (or her) to turn out okay" or "Being myself is all I have to do.".

Okay, I don't seem to be good at making new slogans against mommy guilt. I'm afraid you have to help me out here. What will you be replacing your old mommy guilt phrases with?

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Back Link A Few Good Rules

from charlotte of charlotte’s web

I’ve just finished reading Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult’s version of the American school shooting phenomenon, in which she attributes the shooter’s act of vengeance to years of systematic bullying. Picoult spins a good tale, broad, encompassing, but never deep. Lionel Shriver’s novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, deals with the same subject matter - what makes a teenage murderer, how a community responds, how parents of a murderer feel - but far more provocatively and urgently. Her tale of a mother who fails, despite every good intention, to love her unlovable child, is chilling. If I had to choose between the two, I would recommend the latter. I admire Shriver’s brutal honesty and her determination to tackle deeply unpleasant topics.

Shriver’s story posits that Kevin, the teenage murderer, arrives on the planet evil. This alone, without the story’s horrific denouement, is hard to digest. We want to believe that babies are innocent, until we slowly imprint our weaknesses on them. We want to believe that the parents of an amoral child did their best to teach him. And we certainly want to believe that such a child might take revenge his schoolmates but never on his own family.

The murderer in Picoult’s tale starts out as an ordinary child, perhaps one who is more sensitive than most. On his first day of kindergarten, the bullying begins and it never stops. Each day at school is one of humiliation, shame and beatings. One part of the story I found hard to accept is that the adults around him, his parents and his teachers, are never aware of the extent of the bullying. His parents try to make him more acceptable to his peers by forcing him to play soccer, but continually compare him to his brother Josh who is socially competent, academic and sporty. Josh also teases his brother at school, calling him a “freak”, and how this fails to pan out in the family is never addressed.

In comparison to Shriver’s meaty broth, Picoult’s novel is a thin gruel, competent but never entirely satisfying. However, it did make me think a little more about bullying and how children loathe difference. When Lily arrived in her little German school class last year, she was swiftly dumped by the one child from her own kindergarten (they have since reconciled) and was left to face the hordes on her own. After two weeks of hearing that no-one wanted to play with her at break-time, I went on a playdate offensive, inviting children round, baking welcoming muffins and letting them see that while Lily may be a little different from the German norm in that she comes from an English/South African background, she is loved and cherished just like they are. Now she has lovely little friends, from whom she remains slightly independent, as is her way. Had I left it, perhaps she would have managed on her own, but perhaps she would not have. I’m just glad I acted swiftly.

However, with bullying on my mind, it was interesting that she came home today with list of rules for good behaviour at school. The children have cut them out and stuck them in their work books, and they are discussing them in class with their teacher. The rules are:

We listen to each other, and to the teacher

We don’t laugh at anyone when they make a mistake

We don’t blame each other

We help each other

We don’t run in the classroom, only in the playground

We speak politely to each other

We let each other finish our sentences

We keep our desks tidy

We work quietly, so as not to disturb each other

We solve our conflicts without violence

We wait our turn quietly

We put up our hands when we want to speak

I don’t know if this is school policy, or just the policy of Lily’s teacher, but I think they are a great set of principles, ones according to which I’d be happy to raise my children.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back Link Temporarily Suspended

gone_fishing_72

I'm temporarily signing off of the Red Ten Blog. Hopefully, temporarily, but it depends upon what conversation develops with the other authors of this blog. We all would like it to continue, but not necessarily in the same form.

Any suggestions?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Back Link End of a School Year

This Friday, Friday the 13th, is the end of the school year in northern Germany. The last weeks have been very hectic. This happens every year and yet, I don’t seem to cope any better with all the various obligations and events. An underlying tension is, of course, the up-and-coming report cards. Will the marks be fine? Who is going to have to repeat the year? Who is dropping out of school?

Sara, completing grade 6, will be graduating from the “orientation” years. High school starts with grade 5 and goes to grade 13 in the academic high schools (up to grade 10 for the trade high schools). They don’t fail any of the students during the orientation years, to give them time to adjust to the new system. A good idea, but it means that there is quite a fluctuation of students at the end of grade 6.

Julien is graduating from grade 10, which is also the end of an era, as it were. Students who don’t have the academic qualifications to complete their Baccalaureate leave the school to go into three-year trade apprenticeship programs, those whose marks are weak, repeat the year, others use the year for an exchange year.

The teachers I talk to worry about the students that are being left behind. The parents are worried their children are not succeeding academically. The students are frustrated with the whole antiquated system. What to do?

I read Leslie Madsen Brooks article in Blogher, Failure in the Classroom, this morning and I can’t stop thinking about why so many students fail to achieve academic success.

Have you all seen this video or presentation of Karl Fisch’s “Did you know” talk? There is so much here to reflect, discuss, and act upon.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Back Link Interesting Women

charlotte from charlotte’s web

I’ve always found the short story to be the novel’s poor relation. I love a fat book, groaning with characters and rich with parallel storylines, and in comparison short stories have seemed meagre and slightly disappointing (with the except of Raymond Carver). This weekend, I read a collection of short stories by Andrea Lee called Interesting Women, which is rich in its observations, its eccentric characters, its sensual images and wit. Almost every story was as satisfying as a novel.

I came to the book knowing nothing about Lee. After reading it, I googled her and discovered that she is an American living with her second husband, an Italian count, in Turin. She is the daughter of a Baptist minister from Philadelphia, and has said that living in Italy as a foreigner is akin to living in the USA as an African-American, where she felt like a foreigner...(more).

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Back Link A Special Deal

It being Sunday and a very sunny warm one at that, I want to offer you a special deal. I have in the last months bought and read two very interesting mystery series:

The Maisie Dobbs mystery series (4 paperbacks), by Jacqueline Winspear

and,

The Erast Fandorin mystery series (4 paperbacks), by Boris Akunin

The former takes place post WWI London and the later towards the end of the 19th century, in settings all over the European continent and beyond. I find the development of both protagonists many faceted and, as far as I can judge, historically authentic. I also enjoyed that all the books were interesting piece of writing in their own right.

If any one is interested in reading one of the series, please let me know and I will send you the four paperbacks by pony express. It doesn’t matter where you live, the books are light and if you are willing to wait for the package to arrive, I’d be delighted to pass them on. The only condition to the offer is you pass on the books after you have finished.

After note: Nomad Son has been sorting through his bookshelves yesterday and today. He is using the program GuruLib to aid him in this endeavour. He has just put in the first 100 books, but I think it sort of gives you a sense of why such a program might be nice to use.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back Link The Post Birthday World

charlotte from charlotte’s web

I just finished Lionel Shriver’s The Post Birthday World. For anyone who hasn’t yet read an online review of the book, it tells the story of a woman, Irina, who goes out for dinner with a friend - a snooker champion called Ramsey Acton - while her husband Lawrence is away on business, and at the end of the evening, either does or does not kiss Ramsey. The plot then forks, one strand following what happens if she does kiss him and the other what happens if she doesn’t. Shriver builds a parallel universe and each chapter alternates between each story strand. It’s a style that could be pedantic in the wrong hands, but in Shriver’s it’s gripping...(more).

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Back Link Anmutig altern: Trauer

christine von luebeck, deutschland

Meine Freundin Klara war leicht – sie brachte nicht viel Gewicht auf die Waage. Aber meine Freundin aß, wenn ihr ein Gericht zusagte, mit gutem Appetit. Meine Freundin verwandte nicht übermäßig viele Gedanken an modische Kleidung. Sie konnte sich aber sehr schick anziehen, wenn das aus irgendeinem Grund, den sie anerkannte, nötig war. Meine Klara verzichtete auf viel Make-up. Aber es kam vor, dass sie elegant geschminkt erschien. Klara erschien etlichen Beobachtern als emanzipiert- intellektuell. Dass sie familienorientiert und warmherzig-spontan sein konnte, fiel weniger und wenigen auf.

Meine Freundin konnte analysieren und abstrahieren. Sie besaß die Fähigkeit, komplizierte Sachverhalte zu vereinfachen (aber nicht: zu simplifizieren). Sie konnte, um ein Beispiel zu geben, das verzwickte Geflecht einer Shakespeare-Tragödie ins Moderne projizieren und die inneren Strukturen klar sichtbar machen. Hier fanden Transformationsprozesse ohne persönliche Ambitionen statt. Klara diente stets der Sache, der Problemlösung, dem weiterführenden Gesichtspunkt. Sie selbst als Person schien dabei weniger wichtig zu sein.

Meine Freundin konnte ungekünstelt und herzlich lachen – und was sie auch konnte: deutsche Volkslieder singen, - und zwar strophenweise und textgetreu. Ich habe all das erlebt.

Meine Freundin zählte zu den wenigen Menschen meines Freundeskreises, die das un-ambitionierte Understatement lebten, wobei „unambitioniert“ und „Understatement“ einen Pleonasmus darstellen. Gespräche mit ihr waren immer interessant und ertragreich, gleichgültig, worüber man sprach. Ein von ihr gern verwendeter Bibelspruch lautete sinngemäß. „Du musst Rechenschaft ablegen über jedes gesprochene Wort.“

Klara konnte intensiv zuhören – eine heute fast versunkene Tugend, aber beim Zuhören konnte sie plötzlich einhaken, insistieren, nachfragen, nicht lockerlassen – diese Linie hatte sie auf mindestens eines ihrer Kinder weitergegeben, nämlich ihre Tochter.

Bei dem Zugunglück von Eschede vor neune Jahren wurde meine Freundin mitsamt ihren beiden Kindern aus dem Leben gerissen. Ihr Mann versucht seitdem (vergeblich), ein Leben zu führen, das kein Restleben ist. Ich werde mein Leben lang dankbar dafür sein, sie gekannt zu haben, und darum trauern, dass wir nicht gemeinsam alt werden durften.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back Link Ein Jahr in den Ozark Mountains

Buchbesprechung von Caterina aus Lübeck

Sue Hubbell

Ein Jahr in den Ozark Mountains

Ich habe gerade dieses Buch gelesen und bin ganz eingetaucht in die wunderbaren Naturbeschreibungen und das Landleben in den Ozarks. Sue Hubbell hat einen ganz eigentümlichen, ruhig gelassenen Stil gefunden über die Tiere, Pflanzen und auch die Menschen ihrer Umgebung zu schreiben... (mehr).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back Link Gedichte der Monate März und April

march_tiles

Beruflich bedingt, habe ich eine Schweigepause eingelegt, aber keineswegs eine Erich-Kästner-Pause! Unser neunjähriger Sohn ist fasziniert von den Kinderromanen Erich Kästners...

Ich könnte noch manches andere Beispiel bringen, will mich aber den Gedichten zuwenden!

Hier sind sie... (weiter).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Back Link Mother’s Day, Peace Day

Tammy from Ann Arbour, Michigan, just sent me the text to Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother's Day Proclamation”. Julia Ward Howe was a social activist and poet. She wrote the proclamation in 1870 as an appeal to the women of the world to unite for peace. Tammy, as an American, sent the piece because she couldn’t help but notice how contemporary Ms. Howe’s message is.

Mother's Day Proclamation, by Julia Ward Howe

Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
Our own. It says: "Disarm! Disarm!
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
Nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
At the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home
For a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace...
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God -
In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

A few days ago, I wrote how my celebration of Mother’s Day over the years usually followed the Hallmark company guidelines and, thus, they were very unfulfilling. After watching the video and reading the text, I decided this year to celebrate Mother’s Day as whole-heartedly as possible, in a manner that will, hopefully, encourage and create peace. So, while walking around town this morning, I came up with the following list of possible ways to celebrate tomorrow in a somewhat grander way than I’ve previously done, back in my Hallmark company guideline days:

As a woman: spend some time reading the words of other women engaged in the courageous act of giving counsel (here and here),

As a mother: tell my children how much I love them and how their beings light up my life, cook a tasty meal, say a prayer of thanks,

As a wife: express some gesture of acknowledgement for his loving and generous nature,

As a friend: go out on a long walk with my walking buddy, call up a friend whose life is miserable and listen (this time) with patience and understanding, write some letters to dear friends far away,

As a daughter: spend some solitary time consciously contemplating/ remembering the good times spent with my mother, pick out a jewel of a moment and share it back with my mother,

As a member of my local community: spend some time in the school this week helping a class with their new blogging project concerning special needs children, invite my neighbour’s daughter over whose mother has to work,

As a member of our global community: send some (monetary) encouragement to those living in countries that have suffered or are suffering the rages of war, who are working hard for economical and financial independence (here).

And for a complete history of Mother's Day, which is interesting reading for any who have time... (here).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Back Link Everyman’s Photography

There is so much happening in the field of photography, for any one to use. I thought I’d link you to a few of the new applications or tutorials and gadgets for fun. When you have a selection of photos, there is so much you can do with them... here.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Back Link Was ist der Hospitality Club?

Caterina Rex aus Lübeck, Deutschland

Erste Erfahrungen als Gastgeber

Seit Dezember 2006 bin ich Mitglied im www.hospitalityclub.org. Das ist eine internationale Organisation, deren Mitglieder sich gegenseitig weltweit kostenlose, private Unterkünfte oder auch nur anderweitige Hilfe anbieten.

Nun hatte ich über Ostern zum ersten Mal Gäste bei mir zu Hause. Tarmo und Sigrid, ein estnisches Studentenpärchen, das zurzeit für zwei Jahre in Kopenhagen studiert, haben von Karfreitag bis Ostersonntag bei mir übernachtet.
Wir haben uns zunächst Freitagabend in meiner Bücherstube getroffen und sind zusammen zu Fuß zu mir nach Hause gegangen. Nachdem ich ihnen meine Wohnung gezeigt hatte, gab es für uns alle bei meiner Mutter, die gleich gegenüber wohnt, Spagetti und wir konnten uns bei einem ersten Gespräch kennen lernen. Da es für beide Seiten die erste Erfahrung mit dem Hospitality Club gewesen ist, war es für alle eine aufregende und spannende Sache, zu sehen, worauf man sich da so eingelassen hat.

Die Verständigung klappte mit etwas holperigem Englisch (vor allem meinerseits) sehr gut. Tarmo studiert Ingenieurwissenschaften für Akustik und Sigrid etwas im Transportwesen. Wir haben uns über Reiseerfahrungen ausgetauscht und Lübeck mit ihrer Heimatstadt Tallinn
verglichen. Bevor die beiden noch zu einem Abendbummel durch die Stadt aufgebrochen sind, haben wir noch schnell die Betten gebaut.

Nach einem gemeinsamen Frühstück am Samstagmorgen, sind Tarmo und Sigrid losgezogen, um sich den ganzen Tag Lübeck anzusehen. Abends waren die beiden dann noch in einem Jazzkonzert.

Am Sonntag habe ich sie mit dem Auto ganz früh zu ihrem Bus nach Kopenhagen gebracht.

Die beiden sind so nett und bescheiden, dass es wunderbar war, ihr Gastgeber im hospitalityclub gewesen zu sein.

Man richtet auf der Homepage eine eigene persönliche Seite ein, auf der man ein wenig von sich erzählt und einige Angaben zu seiner Person macht. Das System ist sehr gut geschützt. Man erhält kein Spam und auch keine direkten Anfragen. Die ersten Kontakte laufen zunächst immer erst über die Seite vom hospitalityclub. Man kann dann selbst entscheiden, ob man demjenigen, der eine Anfrage schickt, trauen will und einen direkten Kontakt über Email beginnt.

Als zusätzlichen Schutz muss der Gast seine Passnummer angeben, die man beim ersten Treffen kontrollieren kann.

Nach einem Besuch können beide, Gastgeber und Gast, im System Kommentare und Bewertungen abgeben, damit auch andere Mitglieder sich daran orientieren können.
Dieses erste Mal Gastgeber zu sein, war eine großartige und interessante Erfahrung. Ich bin schon gespannt, woher meine nächsten Gäste kommen werden.

Mir gefällt die Idee, sich auf diese Weise gegenseitig zu helfen und reisefreudige, nette Leute kennen zu lernen.

Man ist zu nichts verpflichtet; kann seine Gastfreundschaft so gestalten wie man möchte, mit mehr oder weniger Service drum herum, je nachdem, wie viel Zeit, Lust und auch finanzielle Mittel man investieren möchte. Die Gäste suchen eigentlich nur ein Dach über dem Kopf für die Nacht. Man kann nur Gastgeber sein, nur Gast oder auch beides.

Es wird nichts gegeneinander aufgerechnet. Es gibt schon mehrere tausend Leute, die weltweit Mitglieder sind und bereit sind, sich zu helfen. So findet man, wo immer man auch hin reisen möchte, immer eine Unterkunft.

Eine Einladung von Tarmo, ihn und Sigrid auch einmal in Kopenhagen oder Tallinn zu besuchen, habe ich schon.

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Back Link Emanzi

There is a commonly used swear word in German for a feminist, Emanzi. It is a shortened form of the word emancipist: stemming from women’s emancipation. Sometimes it is said ironically or with humour, most often not. I don’t know if there are any parallel words in other languages or countries.

You have to understand that Germany has, except superficially, not followed the wave of social or political changes when it comes to promoting women in business, as has happened in the States or Canada and some European countries. When I came to Germany twenty-five years ago, about 6% of women were in management. Now, all this time later, there has not been any noticeably positive development.

As far as I know, over 90% of managers in German companies are German men: then there are some German women: a smattering of foreign men managers: I’ve never heard of any foreign women in management posts, though they must exists.

About seventeen years ago, I got involved in a professional women’s group in the company I worked in at that time. The first three or four years of working in the group were very exciting. We managed, with the extensive support of the company, to start up kindergarten and day care, change the company’s union laws to permit a seven year leave of absence for employees on extended maternity leave or those needing to care for ailing relatives (guaranteeing re-employment), introduce a flexible office/home work model, set up some summer camps for employees children, amongst other things. And along the way the company won a lot of public and media recognition.

Unfortunately, when it came time to see what could be constructively done about promoting equal career opportunity for women within the company, the group quickly ran up against some walls of resistance, and eventually, inner group intriguing rendered the group useless. After seven years, the group dissolved. This saddened me greatly. The experience of seeing this once vitally active group dissolve into a squabbling mess, made me realise that I never wanted to become politically involved in any large group or party again.

I decided instead, to take my political conviction back into my home, my circle of friends, and amongst those I work with. My words and my actions are what make me a feminist. My husband’s words and actions make him a committed feminist sympathizer. And I hope that our daughter and son will be positively influenced as a result: learning to treat others with respect and dignity, and, equally important, to treat themselves with respect and dignity as well.

What breaks my heart sometimes is knowing that even though many good changes occurred through the feminist movement, equal opportunity and equal pay does not exists today. Like Bindi in the article below, I’ve also met younger women who do not know what changes were made by their mothers’ generation and at what cost. This is a shame. Equally, some young women do not believe there is any acute need for change facing them currently. How wrong could they be?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Back Link Feminism versus Activism: Personal Or Political

Bindi from the epossums blog

This is a synopsis of a conversation I had with a young woman in my book club a couple of years ago. She was twenty-two at the time and had recently been married. We were discussing the book ‘Anything we love can be saved’ by Alice Walker at this particular meeting. Alice Walker is a feminist activist and the book focused on issues such as female genital mutilation, and her active role in its prevention. Feminist were portrayed in this book as activists.

Older woman: I enjoyed the book. It made me reconnect with feminist issues.

Younger woman: Do you mean that you took up feminist issues or that you reconnected? Were you already a feminist or did the book start you thinking along feminist lines?

Older woman: Um, I mean reconnect.

Young woman: Well, I don’t think feminism has had an impact on my life!

Older woman: But, things have changed a lot for women as a result of the feminist movement. Have you spoken to your mother about it?

Young woman: My mother stayed at home with her children. I think it’s perfectly natural for a woman to stay home with her children when she has them. This is what I intend to do also!

Older woman: When you have children, the power relations in the family can subtly shift. I took ten years off to raise my children. Despite the fact that we feel like we are free to choose, I have found that when you become a mother, power relations between couples can shift. Women can feel as though they are in a less powerful position and that their options do become limited.

When I married and had children I held the belief that parenting roles in my marriage would be equitable. I acknowledged that I was the one who could breast feed and took it as my duty to stay home with the children in the first years of their lives. I believed that my husband could take over the full time parenting role when my job was done, or that we could alternate some how. This never eventuated, partly because we had subsequent children. I ended up either pregnant or breast feeding for eight years. After that time, if I chose to go back to my teaching job, I would have been on the same salary I was on prior to taking leave. However in those years, my husband had become a senior manager in his field through a series of promotions. To afford to be able to pay our mortgage and feed four children on my salary, we would have had to sell our house, down size and move out of our inner city area, which by this time had become our community through associations with playgroups, kindergartens and primary schools. It just did not make sense to do this. My husband became the breadwinner and I became the house wife. This was stressful for both of us for different reasons.

A month later, at book club again, the conversation continued. The younger woman had been thinking about things in the meantime:

Younger woman: I had a chat to a friend of mine who has had children and she agrees that she feels less powerful in her marriage because she is no longer earning her own money and she feels that when decisions are made about how money will be spent she consequently has less of a say than her husband. So I do agree with you now that there is an issue there, but I don’t know what the solution is.

I don’t know what the solution is either, but I think this snippet of dialogue does raise a few questions about feminism and its project. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  1. Why was the young woman oblivious to the ways in which her life has been shaped by the feminist struggle from a historical perspective?
  2. Who can call themselves a feminist?
  3. What is the project for young feminists in modern western society?
  4. Does the feminist project need to move beyond the woman as an individual and look at social practices, such as work place practices and conditions, parenting norms and different way to do parenting, measures in society that support parenting options?
  5. Does the feminist project need to broaden? For example, should fathers be enlisted in the struggle?
  6. How does it and how should it affect our lives as women?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Back Link No Time To Play

A few years ago, I read an interesting article in the New York Times about how busy our society had become. The journalist described how his five year old daughter talked to her imaginary friend on an imaginary cell phone and how they (the daughter and her imaginary friend) were forever making and breaking play dates because they were either “too busy” or “didn’t have time” to meet.

I found the article so interesting, not because it sadly exemplified a current social malaise, but because it reminded me of my younger brother’s imaginary friend, Dobby, and how the two of them used to play together day-in-and-day-out. Endlessly long days. The two of them were inseparable. Wherever my brother played, you’d always find Dobby. (Perhaps I was a bit envious; for who wouldn’t want a friend who always is there when you need him?)
clock_arms
Reflecting on the difference between the cell-phoning-date-cancelling New York imaginary friend and my brother’s ever-faithful Dobby, I was overcome with a sentimental yearning for times long gone. Times when we would “take time” for family, friends, or important activities, creative activities: all of those precious integral parts of our lives we now so often neglect. Times when we “had” spare time, or even, horror of all horrors, when we sometimes wasted time. Times when our lifestyles included concepts such as meandering, setting a leisurely pace, feeling as though time had stopped, anticipating an event (e.g., Christmas) far in the future… the list goes on.

Now we need the Slow Movement (here and here), Slow Food (here and here), and Slow Sex (sorry didn’t want to navigate my way through the links from Google with these search words) to jolt us out of our madness. And we are mad to choose to live the way we are living, there’s no doubt about that.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Back Link The Stay-At-Home Feminist

charlotte of charlotte’s web blog

I am a feminist because without feminism women would not have the choices they have today. I am a feminist because I feel patriarchy, and its nasty little brother sexism, as dark and heavy weights that need to be lifted from the planet. I am a feminist because I care about fairness and equality and opportunity for all. And I’ll be a feminist until women and children are no longer abused and raped. Until a certain kind of man stops acting out his fear of women as violence. Until a certain kind of man can recognise all women as his equal, and not use a holy book, or a stick, or his body to beat them down.

I recognise my feminism as a process. I’ve come a long way, from competing with men, from trying to play as hard as them, from using them, from being virulently angry with them. I clearly remember the point when I let go my anger and decided not to bother with men until the right one came along. Falling in love with him softened me. It opened my eyes to the fact that there are good and kind men in the world, who also want fairness, non-violence and equal opportunities, and who not only pay lip service to those words but actually act on them. Having been around so-called “progressive” men who were just as sexist and idiotic as the next unreconstructed dude, it was completely refreshing to love a man who didn’t mess about with principles, but who was - and still is - kind.

So having found my love, it was an easy decision for me to choose to stay at home with our children. Much of it was circumstantial - had I been still in South Africa, where we would have been locked into a mega-mortgage that needed two salaries to service it, where home help is affordable, where grannies live, I think I would have stayed in the workplace. When we left, I was about to enjoy a promotion to editor of the inhouse magazine I worked on, and I imagine, had I stayed at that company, I would have make steady progress upwards.

Instead to my shock, I find myself a stay-at-home mother in Germany of all places. Instead of setting goals and dealing with politics and motivating employees, I’m raising three children, cooking nourishing meals, keeping things tidy without being obsessed, making sure people have clean clothes to wear and shopping for food. I am doing the jobs I once ridiculed and which I once saw as degrading drudgery. Yet I’m happy and I’m still a feminist.

How do I manage to reconcile all this? It helps to have a partner who does his bit domestically. Sometimes he has to be asked, but he never says no. It helps to have an astonishing cleaning lady who comes once a week and makes things sparkle. It helps to have part-time work that earns some money and gives me something else to think about during my day. It helps to have wonderful, inspiring, interesting friends who are doing fascinating things with their lives, who are trying to be positive and creative parents, with whom I can talk books, movies, life, men and the best cheesecake recipe. It helps to blog and have made fascinating and varied blog friends whose ideas inspire me daily.

It also helps to have a role model in my mother-in-law who went back to work in her late forties, started her own business in her fifties and now, twenty years later, still puts on her spiffy business clothes and goes to the office. Her success inspires me. We seem to think it’s imperative to build a career in our thirties. Not so! I’m delaying that gratification until my forties. I know without doubt that it will happen.

I think it’s possible to have it all. It’s just not possible to have it all all at the same time. That road leads to madness, or extreme dissatisfaction. With that knowledge, I am happy doing the jobs I do now, knowing that in ten years time the jobs I do will have shifted. I had my me-time in my twenties, and believe me, I’m going to have it again. Until then, I remain the stay-at-home feminist. And a happy one, at that.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Back Link Gedicht des Monats Februar

kaestner

Emil Erich Kästner wurde am 23. Februar 1899 in Dresden geboren und als Sohn von Ida und Emil Kästner registriert. Die Legende, Sohn von Emil Kästner zu sein, verbreitete Erich Kästner zum Schutz (des Rufes) seiner Mutter selbst weiter, unter anderem in seinem Werk „Als ich ein kleiner Junge war“, durch das er seiner Geburtsstadt, dem barocken Elbflorenz, ein zauberhaftes Denkmal setzte.

Meine nächstjüngere Schwester und ich haben Erich Kästner in unserer Kindheit regelmäßig zum Geburtstag geschrieben. Und jedes Jahr bekamen wir jeweils eine Antwort! Von ihm selber handgeschrieben und persönlich an uns adressiert. Ich hebe diese freundlich- zugewandten Grüße wie kleine Schätze auf … (more).

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Back Link Climbing Precarious Heights

A few weeks ago, Tammy wrote about how parenting seems to get harder the older our children get. There’s a German expression that goes, “small children, small problems, big children, big problems”. Which I certainly didn’t think was true when my children were small. Taking care of babies and small children consumed every minute of my day, many moments of my nights, my thoughts, my intelligence… every bit of my heart and soul. I just couldn’t see that how raising older children could be more strenuous, worrying, nerve-wracking than trying to keep your young child alive, fed, comforted, and challenged.

Now that my two children are older (12 and 16), I still don’t know whether Tammy and popular German saying is right. Is parenting harder now than it was ten or twelve years ago? Are the problems bigger?

The only thing that I know to be true is, children, no matter what age only seek challenges where the outcome is uncertain. It seems part of human nature: don’t go after an easy catch.

Small children climb on furniture that is precariously high, they play with complex stereo equipment capable of intimidating any adult, and they willingly wash dishes only if they are small enough to fall into the sink while standing on their highchair. As a mother, every time your small child goes off on an adventure, you have to ask yourself “Can she or he survive this?” Survive, in the sense of, will-we-be-calling-the-ambulance type of survival.

Currently, some of my friends have babies and small children, and while I cringe to see the two-year old child running in the direction of a glass door (does he see it, will he stop, arggh, that must have hurt), the mother makes an executive decision about whether or not the child will survive the experience if he doesn’t stop soon. And, then she nonchalantly picks up the crying child and calmly kisses the bonked nose, and off the child goes on his next adventure.

Larger children also set out on various innocuous adventures every day, which parents have no control over: bus rides to school, shopping with friends, school trips to the big city, Friday night parties, travelling to visit their father on weekends, chat rooms in the Internet… Yes, as responsible parents we should try to supervise our children’s activities, minimise the risks, and talk about the dangers, but whether our children will survive these adventures is unknown. And that scares the bejeebies out of us.

A wise and wonderful friend of my mother once told me… there comes a time when your child no longer wants you as a protagonist in theatre of their life. They don’t even want you as one of the silent but mighty spear-bearers standing in the back of the stage. They might, just might, be willing to have you sit in a front row seat in the audience: cheering them on when they succeed, weeping at their disasters, and glowing with pride when strangers applaud.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Back Link Quality Time

Don’t you love it when a conversation with a friend leads you to a new understanding of some old dilemma? This is what happened to me yesterday, during a conversation about quality time and a three year old boy’s ability to make life difficult.

My friend was bemoaning the fact that her son refused to come to the dinner table, eat his dinner, change into his pyjamas, brush his teeth, and wash his face, every evening without making it into a Huge Production. Her three-year old son uses every means of procrastination… whining, ignoring, being belligerent, crying, screaming… wasting the precious time he and his mother have together. This exhausts his mother: who has been at work the whole day.

She just can’t understand what to do about her and her son’s difficulties. She is frustrated by the fact that the two or three hours she gets to spend with her son each day is, in most part, taken up in an endless petty battle and not edifying, playful, fun activities. Three quarters of their time is taken up with bickering and one quarter with cuddle up and read a book time.

And then it hit me… the reason Quality Time is such a farce is because no matter how much or how little time you spend with your children, three quarters of the time is spent “raising” them, and one quarter in pure enjoyment of them. There is just no way to change this balance. You cannot walk into a home to bathed, powdered, and pyjama-wearing children and expect their inner or emotional beings to bathed, powered, or pyjama-wearing. No, their inner child is whiny, stubborn, crying, and needy: relentlessly demanding the three quarter time before settling into the last short moment of pure enjoyment.

P.S. This piece, in no way, is a statement about the pros and cons of working moms versus stay-at-home moms.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back Link being and becoming

maureen from grenada, caribbean ... I think to myself, the only way I am going to move into my passion of writing is to write and to take on these new innovative writing projects. I have taken on a writing project here in Grenada that involves writing with a writing partner. Every Monday evening Joachim, my new writing partner, drops by to write. We do timed writing exercises and then write poems from these unedited pieces... (more).

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Back Link Poetry: Les Murray

Been listening and reading poems on the Poetry Archive. What a ray of sunshine on this grey winter day.

Most particularly, I listened to the wonderful Australian poet, Les Murray, read his poems:


The Tin Wash Dish (here)

He talks about “lank poverty, dank poverty; what it is, where it comes from, and how, having left it behind, it still has the power to draw you back.

The Last Hellos (here)

This is farewell to his father who died three months before he wrote the poem. Not in the least sentimental. Beautifully touching.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Back Link Times are a changing

If any of you are looking for information/inspiration about what sort of things should be happening in your schools (if you are an educator) or your children’s schools (if you are a parent) take a look at this. If you do not know what Jeff Utecht is talking about in this posting, then it is time you started informing yourself about how education could be.

What I particularly like about this posting is the following.. (more).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Back Link Parenting Just Gets Harder

tammy from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

This year, my 12-year old daughter wrote our annual family Christmas letter. She made this comment: “My mom and dad learned this year that parenting only gets harder.” I’m not entirely sure what she based that observation on, but I think it is a fair statement. When our three children were much younger, it was physically hard to care for them – diapers, baths, feeding, etc. Now that they are old enough to feed, cloth and bathe themselves, there’s less physical involvement day-to-day. What I find more difficult than the physical labor is the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual labor. It is increasingly difficult to provide a balanced moral and philosophical framework from which they make their choices in life. I find myself worrying about their intellectual and physical explorations. Explorations can be a dangerous thing in the teen years – many current choices can limit or greatly redirect future choices, e.g., early pregnancy, substance addiction. I find myself constantly struggling to find the balance between curtailing exploration into potentially dangerous directions without preventing necessary experiences or curbing their independence and zest for life. I wonder if I have done enough in their early years to give them the best chance at being sensible in their explorations. Parenting is not an easy business at all.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Back Link Gedicht des Monats Januar

christine from lübeck, germany

Erich Kästner ist als Autor von Kinderromanen bekannt und beliebt, weniger bekannt sind schon seine Romane für Erwachsene und noch weniger bekannt sind seine Gedichte. Dabei waren es Gedichtbände wie zum Beispiel „Herz auf Taille“, die den jungen Autor in den zwanziger Jahren des letzten Jahrhunderts schlagartig ebenso berühmt wie umstritten machten... (mehr).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Back Link Patchwork Creativity

After reading Charlotte’s article on handicrafts, I experienced a mental shift. She talks about how arts & crafts, homemaking, handicrafts, hobbies, are wonderfully creative art forms. They are expressions of “love, love of beauty, and love of family traditions”. Patchworking, baking homemade bread, creating scrapbooks, sewing your own wedding gowns are such divinely wonderful art forms, and yet, they are often viewed as insignificant. Could this be because the origins these art forms come from our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers?
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Like Charlotte, both my grandmothers were highly creative. My maternal grandmother was the Baking Queen of our family, she knitted mittens for church bazaars and customers from neighbouring churches would come to buy them, she embroidered, crocheted quilts, and the precious objects she made for her dowry attest to other skills as well. My paternal grandmother painted in oil and watercolours. My mother sewed our clothes for us when we were young and living in countries where there were no department stores. Or who knows, perhaps there were department stores, but none we could afford.

It is so odd, but I was raised to believe that homemaking activities, all of my grandmothers’ creative endeavours were done out of a sense of economy, or a vain indulgence (in the case of my paternal grandmother, who didn’t like housework and tended to “go painting” as many retired men “went fishing”). How ridiculous this belief is. I wish right here and now to apologise to my grandmothers for this oversight. It might have taken me a long time to finally see the light, but I am convinced their forgiving heavenly spirits will feel the sincerity of my remorse.

How could I have been so blind? Of course baking, knitting, painting, embroidering were just some of many creative ways they used to express their love and beliefs. On some sub-conscious level, I must have known this because I write, cook, make collages, knit (on occasion), and quietly explore other artistic venues. I learnt from my grandmothers that it not as important to be recognised as an artist, as it is to feel creatively alive.

Somewhere down the line, we seem to have misplaced this modest goal in life: to live creatively. Guess it got squished out, or swept away in our rushed lifestyles: struggling to keep deadlines, got-to-go-got-to-go telephone conversations, and we-really-should-get-together-soon wistful promises. Which is odd, for I know deep down that all of my insignificant artistic endeavours keep me (mostly) sane; they give me a sense of purpose when all else appears confused; and, in the last years, allow me to pass on traditions to my own children from family relatives they didn’t have the privilege to meet.

Back Link From the Heart

charlotte of charlotte’s web blog

Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web blog very kindly allowed us to reprint this entry of hers in the Redt Tent blog.

Back in the days when I wore suits, was known to give a presentation or write a report, and even enjoyed some business class travel, I was deeply, thoroughly, scathingly mocking of women who stayed at home and made stuff. To me, crafting and baking and - God forbid - knitting were tragic signs of averageness, for why make something when you can buy something shinier and prettier, why bake something when you can buy something tastier and why knit, period. To me, hand and homemade objects were sad and tatty versions of the lovely objects found in the temples of joy known as The Shops, and spending time making them was wasting hours that could be spent in restaurants, watching films or reading books.

Perhaps it was a partial rejection of where I was from, for most of the women of my family were practioners of genteel arts. My British grandmother was a milliner in Thirties London until she met her dashing young South African lawyer and, on the eve of the war, left her flourishing business to raise children and dogs in humid Pietermaritzburg. While she made herself the odd hat, for the races or for a wedding, she channelled her creativity into sewing, embroidery and cooking. She made entire wardrobes of dolls’ clothes for me and my cousins. My maternal grandmother was a talented seamstress, but a truly wonderful watercolourist. My mother’s home is filled with her beautiful paintings. As children, we would arrive in her home and the painting things would all be set up on the floor ready for us to splatter our artistic energy everywhere. All the women of my family were painters, embroiderers, bakers.

Somehow, though, when I was in my twenties, that was something to mock. I was too busy fighting racism, sexism and the over-arching patriarchy to waste my time with twee handicrafts that were too redolent of the Women’s Institute and getting third prize for the marmelade. There were bigger things to grapple with. Once I started working, I was too busy dealing with temperamental bosses and sleeping off the stress at weekends to do anything creative. When we moved to Germany to work, I made one friend who, puzzlingly, quilted and another who sewed herself clothes. While shopping with the latter (who went on to sew her own beautiful wedding-dress) in London one weekend, we ended up on the fourth floor of Liberty’s and, without knowing how or why, I found myself buying an embroidery kit. Perhaps Liberty’s reminded me of my English granny, who always kept her latest creative project in one of their lovely dark blue shopping bags, or maybe I was connecting to the young, glamorous milliner who had once had London at her feet, but there I was, fighter of the patriarchy, buying some violets to embroider.

Clumsily, lovingly, over many months, I turned those violets into a cushion and, when I next visited South Africa, presented it to my mother, who has a room decorated with pictures of violets and violet-decorated porcelain. She was so stunned she had to sit down, and I think I cried. There was something in that gift that said not only I love you, but I love your love of beauty, and I love the traditions of our family. I think it said fighting the patriarchy and having a great career on another continent is all very well, but my family and where I come from is also important to me.

And now that I am a mother, and have a family of my own, I’m starting to look at handicrafts and the skills that women pass to each other through the generations with new eyes. For me, there’s something about connecting with the women of my family who cooked, baked and sewed for me. There’s something about love, about beauty, about thriftiness and about the pure joy of making something good, whether it’s a pretty muffin or a scarf. I’m finding new levels of friendship with friends who’ve crafted and made things far longer - and far better - than me. While staying at home with my children is my choice, making something for them is my outlet for that energy that I used to give to my career or fighting the patriarchy.

People who’ve known me for a long time are still stunned that I might bake a cake. My husband is terrified that I might start sewing for him, and rightly so, because I’ve knitted everyone in the family a scarf and he’s up next. I expect my produce to be eaten or worn, and he may have to complement his chic working gear with a ratty homemade scarf, but he can always take it off in the car. My mother-in-law almost fainted when I made her a birthday cake last year. My girlfriends in South Africa, who may or may not be reading this, will laugh hysterically at my paean to handicrafts. As I fire up the knitting needles, I do enjoy a postmodernist cackle on my own behalf, because a little bit of irony goes a long way during a not-so-desperate housewife’s day.

However, between finishing one scarf and starting the next, I had the pleasure of teaching Lily to knit. Despite being left-handed, she picked it up quickly and made a scarf for one of Daisy’s dolls. There it was: her satisfaction in learning well and fast, in making something lovely, in giving it away for someone else’s pleasure. And I had taught her a skill that my mother taught me, from the heart. It felt good.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Back Link What Madame Bovary and Stephanie Plum Have In Common

charlotte of charlotte’s web blog

Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web blog very kindly allowed us to reprint this entry of hers in the Redt Tent blog Book Corner.

I’ve recently read two very different books, one set in the nineteenth century and the other set now, with two apparently very different protagonists. The first is Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, which I found surprisingly accessible, and, despite the tragedy, often amusing. The other is Janet Evanovich’s Eleven On Top, which is the eleventh novel in her series about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. It’s the only one of the series I’ve read, but a colleague recommended the Evanovich books to me many years ago as an example of witty crime writing. I remember thinking, “You’re German and you’re a man, what do you know?” which wasn’t entirely fair. If only I’d listened to him, I’d have had a decade of fun with Plum.

While the two are on opposite ends of a continuum of modern women, I found similarities between them... (more).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Back Link The Art Of Cooking (Part 2)

A year or so ago, I decided to do a sound-seeing tour (a podcast of sorts) for my family and friends. It was called, The Diary Of A Notorious Café Goer*. The idea of the sound-seeing tour was to mix music, stories, poems, and background sounds and create an audio collage about my love of cafés.

diary_soundseeing

(*I actually suspect that I didn’t move to Germany after finishing my university studies for professional reasons, but for the opportunity to spend an eternity sitting in wonderful cafés. The only downside to German cafés is that they are still smoked-filled. If ever, this country’s laws forbid smoking in restaurants and cafés, I will be living in paradise.)

While doing the podcast, I interviewed Dirk, one of my favourite cooks at a restaurant we love to go to. When I asked him what he loves to cook more than anything else he said “meat”, which for the vegetarian I am, was a bit of a let down. When I asked him what he thought of coriander as the queen of all spices, he poopooed this suggestion and said only wushes used coriander.

What I realised after interviewing him, is that he is a meat person. Thus he loves the meatiness, the muscle, the blood, the bones, the subtlety and substances that meat has to offer. For each season of the year, each mood of the moment, he thinks of meat and how to prepare it creatively. After reading Ms. Glaze (here) for the last year, it seems that meat is the nonplus-ultra of many chefs.

I, on the other hand, am an every-sort-of-lettuce, beet, pumpkin, couscous, spicy, hot, and yes, occasionally, coriander type of person. I’m what is growing locally at this time of year, what do I have in the refrigerator, and what-the-heck let me just throw it all together type of cook.

What I am not is the type of person who says “Let me look in a cookbook and see if I can find a recipe that uses the condiments presently available in my cupboard and my short supply of patience to produce a fantastically good meal”. No, what I need is a cookbook that allows me to choose what to cook according to my present mood. If my mood is light keep the food light, if heavy, than heavy.

I want a cookbook that tells various stories, suggests the appropriate background music or possible topics of conversation, pampers me when I am feeling vulnerable, or spurs me on to take risks when I am feeling bold and reckless. The chapters wouldn’t be divided up under meats, fish, soups, salads, but melancholy, joyful, flippant, or, jazz, candlelight, salsa. Just as I choose what book to read, music to listen to, what movie to watch, according to my present mood; I’d like to choose what to cook as well. Does that make any sense to you?

When you think of it, there are many fictional books written, whose narrative development are centred around or are accented by food: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg, Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler, Apricots on the Nile: A Memoir with Recipes by Colette Rossant, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, to name only a few that spontaneously come to mind. And movies, a whole slew of them: Mostly Martha (one of my all time favourite films), Strawberry & Chocolate, Babette's Feast, Bread and Tulips, Eat Drink Man Woman.

If food can be an integral part of a movie or book’s storyline, why can’t cooking be meshed in storyline, mood, atmosphere, and music? It’s just a thought.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Back Link The Art Of Cooking (Part 1)

Many years ago, nearly thirty years ago, I made a conscious decision to learn the art of cooking. I wanted cooking to be a part of in my day-to-day life: as a creative gesture, ritual, practice.

This decision initially stemmed from the sad experience of witnessing my grandmother try to starve herself, after she lost interest in life. She just did not see the sense in cooking a meal only for herself. She told me that she spent all of her adult life cooking for others. That was what cooking was for… for others. She stopped cooking then eventually she stopped eating. Nothing I said would convince her that she was worth cooking for. To this day, I do not know if her loss of interest in living caused her to stop cooking, or whether having stopped cooking she lost interest in living.

I was in my early twenties. Living alone some of the time. Sharing living quarters with other students the rest of the time. Cooking was just something we did to fill our stomaches. Eating did not hold any cultural, social, or artistic relevance. Drinking, smoking, dancing, studying, working, yes. Eating, no.

The experience of trying to understand my grandmother’s dilemma and then witnessing her detrition without the ability to help her alter her course, made me want to do differently in my life. I decided that no matter if I lived alone or with others, I’d always cook. And, I did the whole time I was single, which those of you who know me was a longlong time. No matter whether it was just for myself or for a group of people, I came home after work and made a nice meal.

When I was alone, I set the table, lit a candle, put on good music, and enjoyed my simple meal as best I could. Sometimes it was lovely, sometimes lonely. But, no matter what, it was my way of telling myself “you are worth it”.

Since having children, cooking has taken on a whole new meaning and importance.

When Nomad Son was a baby, I read an magazine article stating that babies didn’t have the necessary mechanisms to combat the adverse effects of environmental pollutants and chemicals in their foods. I will not go into details about the results of study cited in the article, but it very convincingly stated if you want to try and give your young baby a fighting chance to grow into a healthy and happy child, be conscientious about what your child eats.

So, for the first time in my life I started eating organic food, even though I was somewhat sceptical about integrity of the produce. Whatever it took to raise a healthy child, I was willing to give it a try.

Surprisingly, we found that, even though the organic food didn’t look so picture perfect, it tasted better than anything we ate from the mass grocery shops. So, we continue eating a lot of these produce even after our two babies grew into healthy and happy children.

In the last years, cooking our nightly meal has become one of my most creative contributions to my family’s wellbeing. We are all very much involved during the day in our individual pursuits; school, school, work and work. When I arrive home after work, Nomad Son and Nature Girl are often off to music lessons, gym classes, etc. Their extra curricular activities are varied, and sometimes I fear too many (this is some material for a later blog entry). When they and my dear Limpet finally arrive back into the secure nest of our home, a miasma of aimless disjointed unrest permeates our place.

The cure to this situation occurs the moment I start cutting up some fresh vegetables, putting on some Basmati rice to cook, or when I start sautéing some onions and garlic in a frying pan. I can literally feel how all the others breathe out the lingering trails of the day and settle into our comfy cosy family culture. Nearly every evening, one or the other of my family, comes in while I am cooking for a chat, or just briefly to touch base.

It is cutting food with sharp knives, mixing up different types of lettuce, hearing the sizzling sounds, setting the table, sharing a warm meal, looking at the mix of appealing wonderful colours, smelling and tasting many spices… it is all part of what makes cooking a creative art. Cooking, eating, sharing the daily going-ons over dinner, these more than anything else are what epitomises our family culture.

I am not a good cook, though I love to cook. I have never learnt to cook from cookbooks or recipes. Yet, I find blogs (here) or blog entries (here) concerning cooking fascinating. They do not necessarily motivate me to change my ways. But who knows, maybe one day I’ll take down and browse through any of the numerous cookbooks that sit tranquilly, completely unperturbed in the living room bookcase. What these passionate cooks do is make me think about the joys of cooking, and that is a lovely thing too.