Meditation challenge

This week’s challenge was ‘meditation’. This was not something I have ever been good at and I had no idea where to start. I began searching online for tips on how to meditate and was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of advice out there. In the end I decided to start small.

I found myself a quiet corner and closed my eyes for a moment. I tried to concentrate on my breathing and block out any thoughts. So far so good. The next day I went to two minutes and then four minutes the day after that. While I could handle a short space of time the longer I went the harder it was to keep my mind empty of random thoughts.

So I decided to change tack and rather than sit in silence I played some soft music. This was something I could do. I focused on one instrument or the singer’s voice until it felt like I was floating. I discovered some songs were better than others at helping to lose myself.

After a week of this I realised a few things about myself, some that I already knew. I find it hard to relax and some days my stress and anxiety levels are so high that no amount of quiet sitting helps. Other times though I found I was able to block out my rampant thoughts by focusing on one thing only. This gave me a way to help deal with my issues.

Maybe I need more practice meditating. But the best things all was making time to spend each day to just sit.

Love

Molly xx

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Book review – Ink by Alice Broadway

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Ink was such an interesting book that I was captured immediately. In the world of Ink a person’s every action is tattooed on their skin. I had to close my eyes to imagine what this must look like – actually, Ink would make a fabulous graphic novel. While I have never even thought about getting a tattoo this premise of the novel made it sound like such a beautiful concept. I couldn’t stop thinking about what tattoo would represent my story.

But then there was the sadness. The book started out with Leora mourning the loss of her dad, and this thread ran through the entire novel. At the end of their life a person’s skin was flayed (didn’t want to think about that for too long!) and turned into a book of their life, tattoo’s and all. The trouble begins when your story needs to be assessed by the government (never a good thing!) and there seemed to be something wrong with Leora’s dad’s story.

As if dealing with her loss wasn’t bad enough, Leora had to learn some things about her dad that might mean he wasn’t the perfect guy she thought he was. And what did that mean for Leora herself?

There were dystopian undertones to this novel, although I felt it wasn’t so strong that I would call it a dystopian novel. All the right ingredients were there – an overbearing government, too much public scrutiny of individual actions and lack of privacy, severe consequences for stepping out of line, and, of course, outsiders that had been banished from society and treated as a threat to the proper order of things. These people were the ‘blanks’. They didn’t have tattoos. Their skins were unblemished and for this they were hated by the society of Ink. To be a blank was the worst thing in the world so what if you found yourself sympathising with the blanks?

There were also religious undertones. Throughout the novel Leora questioned her beliefs. Everything she had ever been told might well be a lie. What if her dad had committed some crime? What if she didn’t want her story written on her skin? What if she wasn’t who she thought she was?

I was surprised by the ending (which is a good thing) but at the end of the novel I wasn’t quite sure what message Alice was trying to convey. I think it is okay to question your beliefs, to search for your true self and what is most important to give your life meaning. Perhaps it’s that the people who are different from you are not so different and not as bad as they seem.

I hope there is more to come from Alice Broadway. She is such a beautiful atmospheric writer. I know I wanted more of Leora’s world. Perhaps an Ink 2 where Leora discovers more about her true self by moving out of the confines of her society.

Fantastic book. You should definitely read it!

The role of schools in gender stereotyping

In 1972 Betty Levy published an article in Feminist Studies on the role of schools in gender sterotyping of girls. This week I want to discuss the observations made in this article and compare them with some more recent observation of gender-stereotyping of girls. Gender stereotypes are culturally-ingrained ideas about appropriate behaviours for females and males but this promotes inequality between the sexes and can set young people up to expect and accept power-imbalances within relationships.

The feminist critique of gender roles requires the study of how and where these roles are learned. Schools are important social institutions that play a key role in elaborating and reinforcing gender roles.

Children learn gender roles at an early age – it is one of the earliest concepts they learn.

As children grow their awareness of ‘appropriate’ gender role behaviour becomes increasingly more stereotyped.

Masculine activities are more highly valued than feminine activities – girls are allowed to do some masculine activities but boys cannot do feminine activities.

Students learn by observing how teachers treat each other, by the prizes they receive at school, or how teachers reward or discipline behaviour that adheres to accepted notions of gender, in particular preparing young women for their roles as daughter, wife and mother.

The gender role training of girls involves less tolerance for aggressive behaviour and greater encouragement of dependency.

Schools are an effective instrument of social control because of the functions they play: custodial care, social role selection, indoctrination and education.

Young people typically buy into these gender stereotypes and are often unaware of when and how stereotypes impact on their behaviours and choices.

Girls are so well trained in their gender roles that they continue to put domestic duties above their professional roles, a key reason why women do so many more hours of housework than men.

Gender differences arise through the interaction of biology and a child’s social environment. Schools affect gender differentiation through both teachers and peers.

The feminist objective is to make sure each individual can realise their potential and isn’t restricted by gender stereotypes, either the ones they have learned themselves or those forced on them by others.

It is sad that nothing seems to have changed and the same tired gender-stereotypes have only become more entrenched.

Girls who sit quietly are ignored, boys who act out receive more attention.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 3

In the evening Emily sat with her mother in the sitting room in front of an open fire. She had been hoping to find a secret door somewhere in the cottage but there was nothing.

The kitchen was old but too ordinary to have anything as wonderful as a secret door. An iron stove sat coldly in the corner, clashing with the modern refrigerator. There was a row of cooking utensils hanging on the wall. On the mantelpiece were a couple of ornaments and photographs.

Emily had studied the photographs but they were just a bunch of old people with stony faces sitting upright and stiff. Above the mantelpiece was a painting of a forest. She had only glanced at it quickly. It was just another boring landscape painting.

She turned the page in her novel and tried to focus but the fire made her sleepy. Emily stifled a yawn.

There wasn’t much to see in the sitting room either—just the usual stuff found in an old person’s home—more photos, lots of lace doilies and ornaments and the oldest furniture Emily had ever seen.

But no secret door.

Emily put the book down and looked around the room again. A tapestry hung on the wall but when she had looked behind it earlier there was nothing. The opposite wall was lined floor to ceiling with a bookcase. Most of the spines were brown and dusty.

She was about to turn back to her book when she noticed something glowing high on the bookshelf. Emily sat up but the glow had disappeared. Maybe it was just reflection from the fire. As she studied the shelf, there it was again. Just a glimmer for a moment before it disappeared.

Losing Henry Lawson

Henry Lawson

As a young teenager I went through a phase of discovering Australian writers. I loved stories and poetry that resonated with the small country town that I grew up in. One of these writers was Henry Lawson, the Australian poet and short story writer that helped define popular images of early Australia.

So when last semester I found I was to study Australian writers from the era of Federation (which occurred in 1901) I chose to revisit my teenage love of Henry Lawson.

Some analysts have argued that Henry Lawson’s work was particularly inspired by his childhood experiences and an 1892 trip to Bourke. Decline in the quality of his later work was put down to exhaustion of inspiration from those same experiences, rather than decline in his physical and mental health as a result of alcoholism.

Lawson’s typical bushman represents one kind of Australian ideal in the decades around the turn of the century. His early writing took place during economic depression that was destroying the basis of that ideal bushman and driving such characters from the land and into the city.

In 1900, Henry Lawson and his wife, Bertha, headed to London where Lawson hoped to further his name and fortune as a writer. But he struggled to find his way in London, struggling with the weather, the culture and the attitudes toward a writer from the colonies. When I read his work from that time I can see Lawson was trying to recreate characters and themes from the same material he used in Australia—the poor and working class people. Is the fact that these writings were less successful a reflection of Lawson’s lack of skill with such material, as has been suggested, or because he was really a writer of Australia and that’s what he did best? I think he saw similar problems in England to Australia, but to Henry Lawson England lacked that ‘typical bushman’ type that he found to be an ideal. How could you write about social problems without your ideal hero?

One critic described Lawson’s writing as ‘a cleverly executed photograph’, even though he criticised Lawson’s lack of art. Many other critics have also commented on the true to life aspect of Lawson’s writings. So many people have made similar comments that it seems accepted as the truth. Lawson saw the real Australia, he wrote about it, and nobody could deny it was the truth. But while there is likely some truth in what Henry Lawson portrayed, his focus on the ideal Australian meant that he did not sympathetically portray other experiences of Australia.

The real Australia is a myth. We all create our own myths while some buy into the myths created by others—through literature during Lawson’s time and more recently in other forms. Lawson wrote for others like himself that longed for a bygone era when things were somehow better. This was a time of romance based, I’m guessing, on stories told to a young Henry by his father. When things in the modern world aren’t going so well it is natural and common to yearn for those seemingly easier days from our childhood. From this yearning, Henry created his own myth and it resonated with many of his readers.

Lawson’s ‘realism’ in describing life in the bush was partly motivated by desire for change, a revolution to improve life for the working class. He recognised the disparity between the wealthy and the poor in Australia toward the end of the 1800s, a time that saw the beginning swell of the labour movement. By describing how things really were was perhaps one way that Lawson could effect change, much in the same way the Charles Dickens did in novels such as Oliver Twist  and Nicholas Nickleby.

Nevertheless, it is a little too simple to suggest that Henry Lawson portrayed only one type of ideal bushman. Lawson’s world was highly stratified and he was well aware of social structure. At the top of the pile was the squatter, wealthy landholders that claimed their land early in Australia’s history and made their money from wool. Various land Acts forced the squatters to relinquish some of their land for closer settlement. For the most part it was the poorer quality land that was made available while the squatters retained the better land. The selectors were required to work and improve the land while paying off their debt to the government. For most of these people life was hard. Another strata was the itinerant workers, particularly the shearers that would travel from shed to shed following the wool season. It was from this group that Henry Lawson took his ideal Australian bushman. All other types were to be pitied or despised to varying degrees.

There are parallels with Henry Lawson’s nostalgia for bygone, better days and the current political scene where an aim is to ‘make Australia/America/England great again’. But Lawson’s nostalgia is for an Australia and a freedom that largely never existed. His is a belief that he was born for better things and a return to a romanticised past would restore him to his rightful position.

More complicated is Henry Lawson’s relationship with women. In most of his stories women are portrayed as either virgin angels or broken down housewives. The inference is that young women can only stay virginal angels if they don’t settle down as a wife on a small selection. There is an underlying hint of domestic violence in many of these stories, often based on the man’s drunkenness, which is excused on the basis of trying to deal with the struggle and heartbreak of being a small selector.

Lawson idealises his angelic virgin but despises any woman that is not. This is usually done indirectly, such as through a comment made by a character or an aside from the narrator. In Lawson’s eyes women are small minded, concerned with details rather than big picture things. His male characters are often portrayed as being concerned with the wrongs of the world and are constantly frustrated by wives that want them to stay at home and worry about the family. According to Lawson it was women’s fault that men made fools of them self. He saw women as unjust and unreasonable, spoiling men’s pleasures with their domestic concerns.

Henry Lawson’s repeated exhortation of mateship as an Australian ideal is problematic from a feminist perspective. The use of mateship in Lawson’s writing is seen as membership of an exclusive group—the group of noble bushmen, shearers, drovers, wanderers on the track—that by definition excludes women. Women are always seen as ‘other’, outsiders to the group of ‘mates’.

AS a young woman in a more modern world I found it very difficult reading Henry Lawson’s open misogyny, particularly in his later writings when he was often drunk or in prison for failing to pay maintenance to his ex-wife. These stories openly advocate domestic violence and justifying it on the basis that ‘all women are liars’.

By the time I had finished reading and thinking about Henry Lawson’s writing I had lost something. Yes, there was that familiar childhood excitement about reading stories that were based on the same streets that I played. But now I’m only too aware of how Henry Lawson’s misogyny is still repeated today. Somewhere since I was thirteen years old I have lost my innocence of the world, and that is how I lost Henry Lawson as well.

 

I believe in love and Wonder Woman

In case you hadn’t already guessed, today I went to see Wonder Woman at the cinema. I have read so many reviews about what a wonderful movie this was but none of them prepared me for just how fantastic! There was so much to love about Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot is my new favourite actor, the storyline kept me enthralled, young Diana was played endearingly by 8-year old Lilly Aspell, enough feminist themes to upset your average action movie fan, Diana’s awesome fight scenes,  particularly the way the slow motion action shots showed her hair twirling and hopefully inspiring a whole generation of young girls and women to stand up for what they want. But all that aside, one of the main themes that continually leapt out at me was the futility of war.

I clearly remember visiting the Australian War Memorial in Canberra when I was 7 years old. The dioramas of First World War battle scenes gave me nightmares for years afterward. The mud and bodies and barbed wire kept cropping up in my dreams whenever my anxiety got out of control. I could never understand how anyone would knowingly put others in such situations.

As I am writing this, the television news is full of North Korean missiles, conflict in the Middle East and yet more terrorist acts. Have humans learned nothing?

Okay, so superhero action movies are escapist entertainment, but I felt like the most important statement in the movie was ‘I believe in love’. Maybe if we spread love instead of hate there would be no more 7 year old girls anywhere in the world having nightmares.

A day in Bathurst

Despite a cold, foggy start to the morning the sun soon came out and it was a glorious winter day. After an early morning swim I went to Bathurst for the day to meet up with my sister.

Bathurst is Australia’s oldest inland city and there are so many beautiful old buildings. This week is Bathurst’s winter festival and my sister and I started with a ride on aferris wheel followed by lots of laughing and falling over on the ice skating rink. We then wandered around the shops, exploring lots of lovely boutique shops. I contented myself with buying some scented candles because I have a thing for candles, oh and scarves… I just love scarves! The shop assistants were so friendly that I just have to go back.

After lunch in a delightful little bakery we ventured out to the Mount Panorama motor racing circuit. This is where Australia’s most famous race – the Bathurst 1000 – is held each year. I felt so racy in my little black Focus tearing around the track (at 60 km/h, it is a public road after all!).

All too soon the day was over and I’m now sitting snug in front of the heater waiting for my dinner. I wander what tomorrow will have in store?

Winter in Orange

This week I am having a break from uni and visiting family in my hometown of Orange, New South Wales. This is the place where I grew up so it’s always special to spend some time here wandering amongst my memories.

Orange is provincial city in the central west of New South Wales. It sits in the foothills of Mount Canobolas which gives Orange it’s cooler climate than the surrounding countryside.

After a long drive I arrived here last night in the dark, just as the temperature was starting to fall below zero.

When I woke this morning there was a light fall of rain but the air was icy. After brekky I went for a drive into the countryside, stopping to walk down a farm lane and breathe the serenity. This is where I really come alive!

Six years on WordPress

I was surprised to receive a notification the other day that it was my sixth anniversary as a blogger on WordPress. I don’t even remember what I called that first blog all those years ago but it would have been about poetry spilling from my 15 year old fingers. I turn 21 in two weeks and I guess this is as good a time as any to reflect on how my life and writing has changed in those six years.

First there was an empty space

At 15 I was a shy, unconfident girl who preferred spending her lunchtimes on her own in the school library reading. It was there that the urge to fill that empty space called out to me, getting stronger and stronger. That’s when I wrote my first, embarrassing poems about loneliness and desire.

In my last years of high school I discovered Romeo and Juliet, the essays of James Thurber and other classic readers were followed by King Lear, contemporary playwrights David Williamson (The Club and The Removalists) and Ray Lawler (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll), the poets Judith Wright, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Keats, and classic novelists Jane Austen and Emily Bronte.

When I finished school there was only ever one choice. I knew I had to write. I took a year off and worked on my first novel, Molly’s Dreams, which I self-published on Amazon (you can find it there if you look!).

Last year I started a Bachelor of Creative Writing at university in Canberra and moved away from home for the first time. I started this current blog at the same time. Sometimes I post with lots of energy, but at other times I get overwhelmed with my workload and the blog slows down. Through it all there have been many readers that have followed me, clicked like, left comments, and given me the encouragement to keep writing. I love you all.

Right now I am nearing the end of first semester and working hard on my second novel. It is a young adult fantasy about a 15 year old discovering she has a special power. With that power comes the ability to do good but also to hurt the people around her. She has to learn how to deal with this before others use her power against her.

Anyway, thank you all again for taking the time to visit and read my blog. You don’t know how much it means to me.

Love and best wishes

Molly-Louise Ashton

Molly

 

 

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