Thank You!

I hate getting nagged about stuff that I know I should be doing, but I haven’t been doing. The shame and guilt is uncomfortable, and instead of changing myself, I get even more resistant. I start to blame the person nagging me, because now I don’t want to do it because they are being such a nag about it.

If I don’t like it, I’m guessing you don’t either.

So… I’m sorry if I’ve been making you feel bad, or ashamed or guilty about your choices or inaction. It can be hard to remember compassion when you’re freaking out about Climate Change and how the world’s probably going to hell in a hand-basket, but you are the people I love most and nobody got anywhere by hurting their friends and family…

I still care about this stuff. Deeply.

But shame and guilt make it worse, not better.

They make us want to run away and hide… and our future depends on us being here, and now, and doing what we can.

SO instead, I want to say Thank You!

Thank you for every time you make a choice that makes a difference, no matter how small.

Thank you for every step you take that shows you care, about yourself, your children, your community and your future.

I love you, no matter what.

And here’s a happy turtle meme:

ReusableTurtle

Red in Paris

It’s a cold spring day and my belly is empty. You would think a baker’s daughter would never go hungry, but women come at dawn with their knives and their scowls, and my father sells every loaf at less than it cost him to make it. All except this crust, hidden in my skirt pocket. I wrap my tattered, once red cloak tight around my body and bow my head into the wind. Miserable, dirty people huddle on busy streets, casting murderous glares at the carriages which rattle past, spraying us all with mud.

I would dearly like to stop in an alley, somewhere dark and out of sight, and eat that crust, but I know that my mother is watching me, up in heaven. This crust is for my poor sick grand-mère, and so I struggle on.

Grand-mère lives in a tiny attic room at the top of my uncle’s printing shop, which is across the other side of Père Lachaise Cemetery.  I pause at the gates. Papa said there was a foul mood in the city this day, and I mustn’t tarry on my way to Grand-mère’s house. I think he is right. The people on the streets are clumping together with black looks on their faces. They are shouting all kinds of things. I’m sure Papa meant for me to avoid the cemetery, but I think I will be safer there than out on the streets. Besides, I haven’t visited mother in such a long time.

I hurry down the paved path, through the city of the dead. I could find my way to mother’s grave in the dead of night, though I wouldn’t dare. This place makes all my hairs stand on end. As I hurry along, I spy a fresh patch of dirt with a spray of snowdrops bursting up out of the cold earth. My heart stutters at the sight. It’s hard to reconcile such beauty in this cruel, unforgiving world. It is as if the saints are showing me a sign. Would it be so wrong to pick one for my mother’s grave? Perhaps another to brighten my Grand-mère’s bedside table?

I crouch to pluck a few flowers, but stiffen when I hear the crunch of boots on the gravel path behind me.

“The Comte d’Lope,” I cry when I see who has come. He is a big man with a thick black beard and wild hair that he doesn’t try to hide beneath powdered wigs like other aristocrats, though I know he is a cousin to the king. I throw myself to the ground in an exaggerated bow, swallowing the hard lump in my throat. What is he doing in this cemetery, without guards or attendants? And in such plain clothes…

“Roslyn?” he asks in a voice like honey. “Is that you. Little Roslyn? Why you have grown so big.”

“Monsieur?” I look up to see him crouched before me, offering a big open hand to help me up. “Why do you know me?”

“Your mother was a beautiful woman. I admired her greatly, when she was in my employ. You look so much like her.”

I stare at him, my mouth dry and my body shaking from more than just the cold. Someone walks past, barely sparing is a glance on their way to a nearby tomb. The Comte smiles warmly. “Where are you off to, Little Roslyn?”

“M…m…my grand-mère,” I stammer. “She’s lonely and hungry. I bring her food when I can.”

He tilts his head. “What a good girl you are. Where does your grand-mère live? Perhaps I could take you in my carriage. It is far too cold for you to be out here.”

“Oh no,” I say hurriedly. “It’s just outside the Porte Gambetta, on Rue de Rondeaux, in the little room above my uncle’s shop…”

“Ah,” he says with a knowing smile. “Well, I won’t delay you any longer then, eh?”

With that, he turns and walks away at a strangely brisk pace. Only when he is out of sight do I dare to breathe again.

I take a few flowers and hurry on to my mother’s grave. I kneel and cross myself, saying a quick prayer, but feel as if my mother is not here. I think she is with Grand-mère, scolding me for wasting so much time.

Foolish girl, I scold myself.

My hair whips across my face as I run toward the Porte Gambetta. Rue de Rondeaux is empty. Where is everyone? The back gate to my uncle’s courtyard is ajar. I cross the courtyard and climb the rickety old stair that leads up to grand-mère’s floor.

My hand is on the doorknob when I hear a scream and a muffled thud. I freeze in place. What on earth? My heart starts racing. What if grand-mère has fallen out of bed? The snowdrops flutter from my hand as I push the door open.

“Grand-mère?” I cry. “Grand-mère, it’s me, Roslyn. Are you alright?”

The room is dark. Much darker than normal. The cross that normally hangs above her bed is askew, but I can see her lying beneath the blankets, her bonnet pulled down unusually low on her brow.

“Grand-mère?” I murmur.

She gives a deep throated groan and I creep closer.

“Close the door,” she croaks.

She sounds horrible. Is she sick? I turn back and close the door.

“Did you scream, Grand-mère? What is wrong?”

“I’m so hungry,” Grand-mère says. “Did you bring me anything?”

I finger the crust in my pocket, murmuring, “Just a little. I’m sorry. The city is going crazy. There’s hardly anything…”

I am almost at her bedside when I hear banging from her wardrobe. I nearly jump out of my skin. At that very moment, Grand-mère sits up, a knife in her hand. Only she isn’t Grand-mère at all. My mind struggles to make sense of bearded face beneath the bonnet.

The wardrobe door crashes open, and the man, who I finally recognize as the Comte d’Lope, lunges out of bed to grab me. I felt the cold metal of the knife at my throat. My skinny, wrinkled grand-mère stumbles out of the wardrobe with grand-père’s old sword in one hand.

“What do you mean to do with that?” Monsieur Lope asks. His voice sounds so much colder than before.

“Wolf!” she wheezes, using the sword like a cane to keep her upright. “Devil! Holy Mother of God, give me the strength to run you through.”

“I think I will kill this waif and let you watch,” he states, with hardly any emotion.

“Over my dead body,” she says. Suddenly, she lunges at him. He is so surprised that he parries with his knife and lets go of my arm. I dart out of the way.

Grand-mère snarls, then tries to lift the sword. She is too slow. He easily dodges her strike and goes in for the kill. I grab his arm and pull sideways. He misses Grand-mère, snarls and lunges toward me.

I scramble backward, hoping Grand-mère will take advantage of his distraction to use that sword, but she really can’t lift it. I crash into the door and my hand locks around the handle. He’s almost on me. I yank the door open and he charges right on outside, crashing through the rotten banister with a yell of surprise. I wince as I hear the thud. I have no idea if that fall is enough to kill him, so I slam the door shut again and search about for something to barricade it with.

Grand-mère is breathing heavily, leaning against the foot of her bed. Grand-père’s sword rests against her knee.

“Can I borrow that?” I ask, not really waiting for permission. I jam the hilt under the door, wedging it shut, then hurry to drag her bedside table over. It’s heavier than it looks, and I’m grunting with the effort. Outside, I can hear a man groan and then begin to yell. He’s cursing black and blue. My heart is in my throat.

“Sorry, Grand-mère,” I say, “but I’m going to need your bed.”

She nods, looking just as scared as me. We hear heavy uneven footsteps on the stairs outside. The bed scrapes across the floor, making an awful racket. I push it into place, just as I hear the thud of his body against the door. It doesn’t budge. He begins to yell at us, threatening gruesome things if we don’t let him in, which is ridiculous, because of course we won’t let him in to kill us nicely.

Grand-mère sits down beside me, our backs pressing back against the side of the bed, adding what little strength we can to our barricade. We lock hands and she begins to pray. I think of my mother.

“Please,” I whisper. “If you’re up there, can you ask God to help us? I’m really scared.”

It’s hard to say why, but I feel like Mama is nearby. Something goes quiet inside me and I can breathe again. The rickety old staircase creaks and groans with all the commotion. Then suddenly, it just gives up. I can hear his screams, and the crash of wood against stone. Then silence.

Grand-mère and I wait a long time before we dare move. I pull the barricade aside. There’s nothing beyond the outer door. The Comte d’Lope lies unmoving on the cobblestones amongst a halo of broken planks. My uncle’s family have already gathered around, sharing horrified whispers and glancing up at me.

It takes a moment before I realize the nervous laughter is coming from me. We’re alive. Eventually, someone will bring us a ladder. Until then, I retreat back inside to sit with my Grand-mère once more. I pull the battered crust from my pocket.

“Would you like some bread, Grand-mère?”

She shakes her head. “You have it child. You’ve earned it.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I insist. “Why don’t we share.”

She nods and smiles. “You’re a good girl, Roslyn. Your mother would be proud.”

A little part of me knows it’s true.


Featured image: Cimetiere père-lachaise by Till Krech (Flickr – CC BY 2.0)

My New Zealand

MistressoftheInk – a friend in the Blogverse posted about being Filipino. I realized just how much I didn’t know – from Spanish Colonial government to the sheer number of islands and its impact on culture and language. When I mentioned I was from New Zealand, she suggested I write a similar post about my country and culture. So here it is.

Disclaimer: I am one person with a pretty biased lens. I’m a white, middle-class woman, with a Chinese first-generation New Zealand husband.

1. This is New Zealand

new-zealand-map

I’ve been to two out of our three islands (the big ones). I think our culture changes on a gradient from the cold south to the somewhat more tropical north. I’m not enough of an anthropologist to say exactly what the differences are, though I suspect it could have something to do with the south being much more white?

When my husband moved to Christchurch from Auckland as a kid, he had a very strong northern accent that he quickly dropped in order to fit in.

2. This is our national flag

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Still… yep. We had a vote about it recently, you see, and we spent an awful lot of money coming up with new designs, because our previous Prime Minister wanted to leave his mark by being the one who finally got our flag changed to something that better fit our country’s brand. It was a media frenzy. Most of us clearly didn’t think we needed a new flag – or at least we couldn’t stand the options they gave us, so we just voted to keep the old one.

So yeah, still the Union Jack in the corner (’cause we’re still Commonwealth aye). And the southern cross on the right (like Australia, but with two less stars).

3. One of our greatest national heroes is Sir Edmund Hillary

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We are very proud of him for being one of the first climbers to reach the top of Mt Everest (as far as we know). It’s a symbol of our Kiwi ingenuity, and courage, and determination and stuff. He’s on our five dollar note.

We like sports-people a lot, actually. We’ve knighted several ex-rugby players and a few Olympians. Although now that I come to think of it, knights used to be dudes who rode around in armor trying to kill each other, so that’s kind of appropriate.

As a feminist with a bent toward the political, however, I humbly offer a few of my favourite New Zealanders:

220px-Kate_Sheppard

Kate Sheppard was one of the most prominent leaders of the women’s suffrage movement. She was born in England, but lived in Christchurch for much of her adult life. Her hard work and determination led to New Zealand granting full suffrage for women in 1893 – considerably before the UK and the USA (who didn’t do so until after WWI).

She replaced the Queen to be the face of our ten dollar note in 1993.

This leads me to my second favorite New Zealander:

220px-Helen_Clark_UNDP_2010

Helen Clarke was the first woman to be voted in as Prime Minister. She was the first Prime Minister I remember, growing up, and although I had no idea about politics, I really liked that a girl could lead our country. I still have a lot of respect for her (and not much of a clue about her politics).

Helen Clarke is not on any of our currency, but she was the administrator of the United Nations Development Programme until last year – when she was in the running for the Secretary-Generalship.

And finally a new-comer:

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Our current Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the worlds youngest female head of government at 37. She’s also unmarried, pregnant and so incredibly positive and genuine that you wonder how she can be a politician. As a public-sector employee myself, I’m feeling a glimmer of hope that we might be able to shift some of those entrenched inequalities, as well as providing world leadership on stuff like Climate Change.

We’ll see.

4. New Zealand is beautiful

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The infamous church everyone tries to photograph in Tekapo.

It really is. Except for all the places that freedom campers are allowed to roam free, leaving all kinds of gross things in their wake. Our local councils are getting strict (be warned).

We like to sell ourselves on our clean, green, brand. This is not entirely accurate. There is considerable tension between environmental interests and economic (especially agricultural, mining and forestry) ones. I’m not really fluent in details, so I’ll leave it at that.

5. We eat… food…

When I try to think of stereotypical New Zealand cuisine, I think of pavlova, lamb steak, sausages on the barbecue… mussels…

I don’t eat these things very often, because my husband is our family chef, and he’s Chinese. Our food looks more like this:

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Mmmm! Garlic shoots!

But I think that’s a really important point. Aside from the Māori (who got here ages ago), our population is a huge melting pot of recent immigrants. The things we might think of as stereotypical ‘New Zealand’ cultural icons, like pavlovas and sausages, are pretty western. I will be really interested to see what kinds of things we think of as iconically New Zealand in a hundred years or so, once we’ve had a lot more time to simmer together.

6. We are a melting pot.

I know I just said this, but I’m gonna say it again. Us westerners are pretty individualist. We built a lot of the systems the rest of our population are trying to live inside, but we also signed a Treaty (of Waitangi) with a collectivist culture and that bit of paper is about all we’ve got by way of a meaningful founding document. As we try to come to terms with the darker side of our colonial backstory, and make good on promises we’ve largely been ignoring since the ink dried back in 1840, we are having to come to terms with the fact that the very structure of our individualist system has been hurting our indigenous people.

Joining a Chinese family has opened my eyes to what it means to be inside a collectivist world-view, and it’s not always a comfortable place to be. I can be rude without realizing, or miss opportunities to show hospitality, because I never learned the unspoken rules. Still, I’m learning and I’m grateful for the patience of those around me. I hope, similarly, that our country can find a way to balance these different perspectives and come to a mature understanding of who we are together.

7. Little can be big

No country is perfect, but I’m really proud of who we are in the world. We’re capable of standing up to bullies and of coming up with crazy ideas that might-just-work. My New Zealand is one where I feel safe, and free, and brave. I know we’ve got a long way to go, but we’re on the right road at least, and that gives me cause to hope. The future is in our hands, after all. Let’s make it a good one.

Publishing eBooks with Smashwords

I love Smashwords. It’s free, they give you step-by-step guides for how to do things and they distribute my stuff to most of the other retailers so I can manage my eBooks from a single interface.

Their meat-grinder (the way they turn your eBook into all the different formats various retailers require) is a bit clunky. I’ve learned so much over the last couple of weeks of mass uploading children’s’ anthologies, and I thought I’d share five of my favourites:

  1. Do not use the words ‘Prologue’, ‘Chapter’, ‘Part’, or ‘Epilogue’ in any of your headings unless you really want a page break.
    It turns out children writing 2000 word stories really like breaking their work into parts and chapters, which makes a total mess of the eBook, so this year I am outlawing all of these words in their section headings.
  2. The auto-generated table of contents doesn’t work.
    Apparently the meat-grinder will only accept manual TOCs, built with hyperlinks and bookmarks. This process makes up about half of my total formatting time, but there you have it.
  3. Word your bookmarks carefully
    Any special characters will break your bookmarks (e.g. * ( ‘ etc). Also, the bookmark won’t work if it is too long. Some children like very long titles, and I’ve had to chop a lot of them down to four or five words at the most.
  4. Be careful with pictures!
    Make sure you make them ‘non-wrapping’, or they will mess with your formatting.
  5. There is no obvious way to include additional authors in the eBook metadata, so I’ve been including a list of authors and their stories in the long description. (This is still an open question for me – is there a better way of tagging the authors included in anthologies?)

If your interested in reading the children’s’ anthologies, they’re available free here at Smashwords (or at your favourite eBook retailer).

Inside the Minds of Children

Have you ever wondered how kids see the world? Teaching creative writing to children over the last five years has been an eye-opening experience. Kids are observant, funny, deep and sometimes breathtakingly honest. From stories about bullying and popularity to tales of survival in post-apocalyptic wastelands, from the concentration camps of world war two to the pain of supporting a friend through mental illness, these young writers are tackling big themes with courage and compassion.

Now, for the first time, their stories are available for free through Smashwords (or your favourite eBook distributor). I’ve got a complete list of the anthologies and their authors here.

Happy reading!

Life Happens

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My last post was in August, 2015. By January, 2016, I was a Mummy. I had high hopes of being an author and a mummy, but it was not to be so.

Now that she’s two, I’m starting to feel inspired (and sufficiently well-rested) to dive back into the world of authorhood.

Wish me luck!

Oh, and if you want to follow my fun-filled adventures in comic form, check out Mind Bits (publishing weekly on WordPress, Facebook and Tumblr).

Seven Continents Challenge – Antarctica

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Book two in my Seven Continents Challenge complete! Chasing the Light: A Novel of Antarctica, by Jesse Blackadder, admittedly spent most of its time in Norway and at sea, but I loved the opportunity to explore the world of 1930’s Norwegian exploration (and whaling) through the eyes of three unusual Norwegian women caught up in the race to be the first woman to set foot on Antarctica.

One of the women, Ingrid Christensen (the wife of Norwegian whaling magnate Lars Christensen) ended up with a whole coast of Antarctica named after her – but would you believe there’s hardly any information about her available online? And yes, I was trying to spoil the ending by finding out who the winner was — I failed, so I just had finish reading the book.

Another of the women, Lillimor Rachlew, was a Norwegian living in London high society who met Amelia Earhart right near the beginning, used female contraceptive and was desperate to be the first woman to do something (anything really)! Through her storyline I discovered that there was a wealthy American woman named Louise Arner Boyd who had already spend much time and money exploring the North Pole region by this period of history.

The final competitor was Mathilde Wegger, mother of two who had lost her husband a year before and was thoroughly, clinically depressed. She didn’t even want to be on the expedition, but her husbands parents had given her an ultimatum – go to Antarctica or go to an asylum. I think they hoped she’d die so they could keep the kids.

What I learned from this? Antarctic waters are cold, full of icebergs and incredibly dangerous. Women in the 1930’s were just as determined to explore and discover new things as their male counterparts, but it was significantly harder for them to do so. In fact, in 1937, over 1300 women applied to join the British Antarctic Expedition, but none were accepted. Also, whaling is horrible… and really sad… and, well, I guess you can’t really condemn whaling without condemning all forms of farming for meat on those ethical grounds, but there is also the totally unsustainable thing – which was a theme running underneath this story of exploration. Definitely makes you think.

And the book itself? Interesting, though it took me a while to finish. I didn’t like the main characters all that much, except perhaps Mathilde, who started out depressed and found her strength over the course of the voyage – she was kinda cool. I also kept wondering, with such strong characterization, if these women shared anything at all in common with their real life counterparts – I suppose it’s impossible to know.

I did appreciate that Blackadder ended the book with a discussion of her research and the facts as she could ascertain them (much different in places to her portrayal in the novel). I certainly feel I’ve earned an interesting glimpse into a moment in time that I can build on with further reading and research.

And now, onto book three of my challenge – Asia!

Seven Continents Challenge – Africa

I did it! First book in the seven continents book challenge complete. I read “An Affair with Africa” by Alzada Carlisle Kistner. It’s the memoirs of a woman who longs for adventure and finds it travelling Africa on multiple expeditions during the 1960’s and early 1970’s – alongside her husband, a world expert on the beetles who live in ant and termite colonies. I chose this book because it traversed so much of Africa during a time of political upheaval. I liked that the author was a woman defying gender-norms (to a certain extent) by leaving her baby at home with grandparents to go adventuring – though this is not necessarily a decision I would make for myself…

Travelling across Africa with Alzada, I marveled at the way her American nationality and white skin acted as free passes to so many things. She and her husband survived the beginning of the Congo civil war, just by putting an American flag on the window of their jeep. They frequently explored the outback with a handful of black servants or ‘helpers’ loaned to them by friends or sponsors (like the diamond company in Angola). While occasionally surprised or even shocked by the treatment of black people by their white ‘masters’, this couple (and their two daughters) mostly chose to accept the way things were in order to keep the peace and get on with their very important scientific research. They seemed nearly oblivious, at times, to the nature of the political situation surrounding them, and disinclined to enter into any sort of moralizing. I wondered if this was partially a product of the times they were living in? During the 1960’s there was still segregation & discrimination in parts of the USA, and it seemed that, as scientists, they were somehow separate / above needing to engage with the politics in any personal way.

I’m not sure how I feel about this book, having come to the end. It was an interesting account of a family and a time, and I certainly learned quite a lot about the ants, termites, large mammals and scenery of different parts of Africa. I even got a really interesting glimpse into the White African experience in the last years before most of those colonies collapsed. The author expressed sadness for the fate of such beautiful countries, lost to civil war (and incidentally no longer accessible for specimen collection), but I’m not convinced she felt much empathy for the experiences of those who had to live there. Her ‘affair’ with Africa was with the land, the beautiful animals and the (mostly white) friends she made. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Still, the next book I read about Africa needs to be by an African. I read and loved “We Need New Names” by NoViolet Bulawayo – so if anyone can recommend another book along those lines, I’ll add it to my list!!

Only six more continents to go. I will have to extend my deadline as it takes me longer to read grown-up books than I thought it would.

Read Around the World

World Map

At the library, we’re all about promoting diversity, and that comes in so many different flavors. I’ve realized that until now, I’ve mostly been reading Sci Fi / Fantasy and Young Adult Novels – so I’m going to commit to doing something a bit different. Over the next month, I will read a book set in each of the following continents:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Australia
  • Antarctica

Fear not… I’ll be taking on other kinds of diversity in upcoming months. Here goes nothing!

Birthday Presents

I’m really bad at birthday presents. I always have been. I remember an old school friend of mine used to give all of us $20 and a card for our birthdays. A few other friends used to tease him, but I was jealous. If only I could be that impervious to criticism, that willing to pick a standard present and never have to think about it again!

I’ve tried, over the years, to come up with cool, super appropriate presents that my dear friends will always treasure, but every time, I’ve felt like a failure. Perhaps my standards for success are too high, but there’s another problem and it goes much deeper.

I don’t like consumerism. I resent the whole system of birthday presents. I hate the obligation to come up with just the right ‘thing’ to add to the clutter of other random things that they feel obliged to keep, but don’t really want and hardly ever use.

I know. I’ve got exactly those kinds of things lying around my house.

So I’ve decided that from this day forward, I am going to join the ranks of radical non-present givers. I won’t buy you a present, I won’t donate money to random countries in your honor or give you a twenty dollar bill.

In celebration of the anniversary of your birth, I promise to:
Think of you with love
Give you my time
Attempt to bake / cook yummy food in your honor
Potentially draw you a picture (or write you a poem, or anything else fun and creative that fits in this box)

And when it rolls around to the anniversary of my birth (June 24th, in case you were wondering), please respect my wishes. Don’t add clutter to my home. Don’t spend money on ‘things’ I don’t need. Give me a hug. Tell me you love me, and maybe, make me something nice to eat.

That is all.

B