End of an Era

Tuesday 30th December

 

With 2015 just around the corner, it seems only natural to reflect on the year that’s been and how I’ve grown and how I haven’t. I’m so grateful I had this opportunity to move overseas and live by myself for a year, work fulltime and cook and clean and pay rent and all those other grown up things that seemed so scary but come so naturally once you have no other option.

I remember talking to my boss Nerissa a couple of years ago and freaking out that I wouldn’t know how to do anything and I wouldn’t even know where to begin and she said to me that when you’re in that situation, you just do it because you don’t have a choice and you’ll just get on with it. And its so true it just happens. You find yourself capable of doing things you really never thought you’d be able to do or that you’d have to have someone teach you to do.

True there have been times at the start where I have found myself eating chicken drenched in soy sauce or even worse uncooked chicken drenched in soy sauce, but food poisoning aside, this is how you learn and I’m so glad I had those experiences now when I’m young and its okay to screw up. In fact, I would like to make as many mistakes as I can possibly make in 2015. Let 2015 be the year of the screw ups! Because I’d rather make them all now and then never make them again later, when you’re older and it’s not as funny any more.

Looking back at the year that’s past, I thought I’d make a funny Top Ten list of all the things I did this year that I’ve never done before:

  1. Drove 550km in one day in Tasmania in my first ever experience driving long distance, stuck between two trucks at 140km per hour on the highway at 9.30pm with my friend yelling that this is exactly what it looks like in movies when the car gets hijacked
  2. Accidently dropped my toothbrush in the toilet and had to go to work without brushing my teeth because I had no time to buy another one on the way
  3. Had a tradie call me up personally to laugh at me because the hinges on my headboard came off and he had to come in and fix it (it was just wear and tear people!)
  4. Tore my skirt at work trying to step over the wet floor chain in the kitchen and then trying to cello tape the seam back together
  5. Found myself doing a hook turn in South Melbourne when I was following someone and started freaking out while a friend snapchatted my breakdown to his girlfriend
  6. Planned trips to Sydney, Tasmania and Thailand by myself and kicked ass at it whooo
  7. Did pull ups while I was tipsy and still beat half the guys there
  8. Had my face licked by a dingo – I think it thought I was a baby
  9. Eaten pancakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner because I was too lazy to cook one weekend
  10. And the hardest thing of them all: didn’t see my brother for 8 months

This year has been awesome in the way that it has made me much more confident about my own capabilities and my independence. I am so grateful to all the people who have supported me and given me advice like my parents, my brother, my cousin, my team at work, my boss from Auckland, my grandmas cousin and other colleagues, friends, and family.

While I’ve gotten a few things right, I’ve also gotten plenty more wrong, and I am happy that the universe threw them my way this year so that I will hopefully learn from it and not make the same stupid mistakes next time round. Probably not best to list my faults and advertise them, let’s keep this one a mental list shall we.

There are 47 days left until I return home to my family, and it will be strange in a way to not have to cook, and have someone look after me when I’m sick, and people drive me to places and pick me up from work. But it will be a welcome respite for a while. My journey began this year but it’s not over yet and I have no idea what life has in store for me. While this time last year, the unknown would phase me, now that bend in the road is just another mystery to look forward to. I believe this is called progress.

2015 is a year filled with promise and I hope that many of my dreams come true this year. I hope that God gives me the wisdom to make good decisions about my career, the friends I make, and my relationships with my family. I hope that I am more discerning in the year to come and less forthright. And I hope that people appreciate everything I have to give and my place in their lives and that I appreciate their place in mine.

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Goodbyes

28.12.2014

Goodbyes are hard to say. I’m that person who runs back for a last hug at the bus stop, the girl who cries in the back of the car on the way to the airport. I’m getting better at holding back the floodgates but it still happens sometimes.

Last week I had my work Christmas party at Forum and then hung out with ABC for a bit before my brother arrived on Saturday afternoon. I spent the day rushing around doing chores and cooking and cleaning and made detailed plans of stuff to do while he was here. We spent the week eating lots of chocolate and watching movies, walking around Melbourne, roadtripping around Great Ocean Road and climbing all over hanging rock. It was lovely having my brother here for Christmas and its nice knowing that the next time I see him will just be 2 months away.

Denver and I crammed as much as we could into his week in Melbourne, and I took him to my fave hot chocolate places, for red velvet cupcakes, ice cream at Messina and my vintage clothing haunts. He put up with this remarkably well and I even managed to make him watch Mindy Project with me which I didn’t think would ever happen. After dropping him off at Southern Cross today, it was nice in a way that there were no trains at that time in the morning and I had to walk home. It gave me a little over an hour to just pace myself and get adjusted to being alone again, with the cool 6am air fresh and crisp as I walked along St Kilda road.

It’s almost the end of the year and post-christmas I’m starting to get homesick again, so its good that I’m off to Thailand in 3 days. Not long to go now and just about to start packing today and getting organised for my trip. Hopefully I’ll come back with both kidneys and no monkey bites 😛

I just watched Desert Flower which is a movie about Waris Dirie’s amazing life, coming from a nomadic family in Somalia to her success as a model and role in raising awareness about Female Genital Mutilation. I read the story in a Readers Digest magazine when I was 11 years old and had nightmares for weeks about being tied to a wooden chair in a dimly lit room and being cut between my legs. I can only imagine what it would be like to actually experience this at 3 years old. There are so many African women who still go through this archaic tradition and it’s really really sad to think that being a woman and womanhood is such a painful experience for them.

I guess it has made me really reflective about my own life, and what I am grateful for. The relationship between Waris and her little brother reminded me of my own brother, and I think that is often the deciding factor for me in any situation. Whether it’s with love, friendship or work, I think subconsciously to some extent I always judge a man by the way he treats his sister.

Every tomorrow is a new beginning and there are a lot of things I would change about myself in this New Year and also a lot I wouldn’t. I hope that I have the courage to stand up for both those things and the wisdom to know the difference.

Happy New Year Everyone, see you in 2015 😛

The Book Thief  by Marcus Zusak

13.12.2014

‘Is it really you? Is it from your cheek,’ she thought ‘that I took the seed?’

The Book Thief is the story of a young German girl who despite losing so many people she loves still retains the hope and courage that saves her from punishing herself for living. Set in WWII Germany, it describes how a skinny little German girl Liesel loved a Jewish man who lived in her basement and wrote her stories and painted pictures of the sky with a cloud like a rope stretching across it and a yellow hole for a son. Losing her younger brother on the train and her parents to the war that has consumed them all, Liesel finds unconditional love from her foster parents the Hubermanns’. She is a typical tomboy who plays football with her next-door neighbour Rudy, steals apples, beats up boys in school and wets the bed in her nightmares. In her Papa she finds a friend who teaches her how to read and cultivates her voracious appetite for books. Over the course of her young life, the books she is given and the books she has stolen, come to define the events that take place. The first book she steals is at her brothers grave, The Gravedigger’s Handbook. Books come to be her most prized possession, and none more so than the one given to her by her beloved Jew Max on painted over pages of Mein Kamf.

While Death watches, Liesel grows stronger and brighter, becoming the woman her parents raised her to be, loved by Rudy who would do anything for her and a half-girl half-woman who will stay in a tree even when there are hundreds ready to chop it down. It is this that Max sees in her when he is on the verge of dying and Liesel sheds on solitary tear on his face. She is his angel, this child who paints with him in the basement, and gives him love when he has nothing. It is Liesel who tells him what the sky looks like, and about her friend Rudy with hair like lemons. Ilsa Hermann comes to represent what would happen to Liesel if she failed to keep her strength. Losing everything she loves, she continues to hope that one day after the war is over – if she lives – she will see a man with hair like twigs. And when she sees him, they both weep for what they have lost and that they are still living. For Liesel has lost her mama and papa, she has kissed the lips of her dead friend wishing she’d kissed him when he was living, and she has lost the life she had on Himmel Street.

There were two points in this novel that had me weeping silently. When Liesel sees Max in the parade of Jews being marched down the road in Munich she fights her way into the procession to be with him. When she is picked up and thrown out she fights her way back in and touches his beard, and he lets his mouth kiss her palm, one word shaker to another. She weeps as he is whipped and then lets herself be whipped before falling on the gravel road. And it is Rudy who holds her down and takes her punches to stop her from clawing her way back to Max. It is only Rudy who can save her then and keep his Saumensch safe. Rudy is her best friend, her partner in crime, he is a Saukerl in the best way possible and in her awkward 14 year old way, she realises that she loves him, Jesse Owens and all. The second time it reduced me to tears was at the end as Liesel comes out of the basement and finds her world has disappeared. The sky is bleeding red and Himmel Street is gone, along with the people who lived on it.

How is it that in the heart of Nazi Germany, two young people can be so innocent and see the fleetings of love as children, and leave pieces of bread on the streets for the Jews even as their own stomachs rumble. Would I be strong enough to do that at 14? Would I be strong enough to be the last man standing in the tree even as the whole world tries to chop it down? I do not know.

Yet another Russian novel

07.12.2014

I was an ambitious 15 year old when I started reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and I’m sure many of my teachers who watched me lugging it around school thought I’d never finish it but I did. I struggled through the first half hating it and labouring on, I pushed through the crown and loved it like a mother. Since then I haven’t ventured back into Russian literature, except of course Lolita but then Lolita is no ordinary Russian classic. But I digress, last week a friend of mine gave me Smoke by Ivan Turgenev to read which happens to be his favourite novel and intrigued by this choice and the things it might uncover about the reader, I decided to give it ago. Like Crime and Punishment, it took me a while to get into it, but once I did I couldn’t put it down and finished the second half of the book in a day. It wasn’t a long read by any means but it was perfect on this rainy Sunday, lying in bed reading with the rain on my roof.

The relationship between Irina and Litvinov is tumultuous and like most hasty romances, ends just as quickly as it begins. It reminds me of the song by Kelis ‘might trick me once but I won’t let you trick me twice’ which I’m sure comes from some more famous story but I have no idea what that is. Litvinov, like many men before him and after him, fell in love with Irina like every imaginable cliché, a moth to the flame, like honey to the bee, you name it.

However while Litvinov’s love was present from the very start, falling for the green flecks in her dark cat-like eyes, her stature and poise, her beauty and wit, the young Irina was indifferent to him until that point when he was about to give up, and then something changed and she wanted him. At the time it did seem ridiculous and coquettish but I dismissed it reading of how happy they were and how love made her blossom into a caring giving woman who helped her family and sang and chattered. Now in hindsight, it seems more like a whim on her part, to want what she no longer has, her desire growing only with how unattainable the object of it becomes. As quickly as she falls for him, she is able to drop him and move on, and years later begging his forgiveness, she claims to be plagued by the boredom of her elite society, the frivolous arguments and discussions and the arrogance of the aristocrats. Yet she still cannot give up this society. It seems to be Litvinov’s fate that Irina leave him not once, but twice. For her he renounces his word, his honour, and hurts a beautiful kind and sincere young fiancé, ready to elope and abandon his future for Irina with the feline eyes.

After begging him to never leave her, and forcing him into a position where he must choose, Litvinov tells Tanya they must part as he has fallen in love with someone else, and seeks to build a future with Irina. But Irina after all her passionate pleas and talks of renouncing all her wealth to run away with him, suddenly cannot bear to give up the lavish lifestyle she has become accustomed to, and tells him to move to Petersburg for her and they will give him a job, and he can continue to be near her. It is sad that he actually considers this after the initial hurt. By the end of the book I hated her and yet Irina is almost an exaggeration of how most women think in a way. I think women in general – or people – I’m not sure, want to be honest. And yet they also don’t want to hurt anyone. For example, naïve girls are more likely to lead a guy on than girls with more experience. If you are in a position where a guy is interested in you and you are unsure if you like them or not and cannot make up your mind, someone with more experience might say I’m sorry I don’t know what I want, you should move on and don’t wait for an answer cause you might never get one. Or if in doubt, just say no. But a girl with little experience, would strive to be honest, and in her idealistic little world, she is doing the right thing. She would voice her thoughts, what she likes and what confuses her, but as she tries not to hurt him, she would fail to say what she doesn’t like. Leading the guy to believe that she is wavering on the side of saying yes and is mostly attracted to him. So he keeps pursuing her as she continues to remain confused and leads him on until eventually he gives up and regrets the time he wasted on her. Of course if you respect yourself, a guy will wait for you to decide because you’re worth it blah blah but that only happens in an idealistic world.

The point of this rather large modern day example is to show how Irina is so much like most women even if we hate to admit it. We all want the best we can possibly have, and will fight for it blindly believing that we want it because surely, if someone wants us that bad, then we must want them as well. And when this object of our desire is within our grasp, we realise it was just a reflection of their own want and not our own. Or alternatively, not knowing what we want, we subconsciously try to keep all options open. Bored with her lavish lifestyle and mundane marriage, Irina stumbles across this first love of hers and truly believes that he can save her from her banal existence. Yet when the time comes to actually make a stand, she finds she cannot let go of the life of pomp and splendour that she thought was imprisoning her. She holds the key to the gates of her prison yet she does not have the heart to unlock them.

Litvinov is not the only victim of Irina’s whims and selfish requests. Poor Potugin has already sacrificed his independence and freedom to raise an orphan child at Irina’s request. His lengthy discussions on politics and art distract the reader from seeing his tender heart but it’s obvious when he talks to Tanya that he can read people and spot the diamond in the rough. And why might he be able to do so? Because he’s mistaken a shiny glass for a diamond before. I think the thing that makes me stall with these Russian novels is the lengthy philosophies on the politics at the time. Frankly I couldn’t care less about what Potugin thought of Russians and Russian art and the politics it was all very boring. Yet in hindsight, his intellect is interesting considering he is such a slave to Irina, giving up his personal freedom at her request.

In terms of writing style, Crime and Punishment, Metamorphis and Smoke are quite similar. Yet Lolita is completely different. To this day Lolita remains my favourite novel, followed by The God of Small things by Arundhati Roy and then Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Three very different books but the thing they all have in common is incest. Lol jokes. While that is true, the reason I like these three books is ability to paint a picture so vividly I could taste the salt on Annabel’s back in the south of france, smell the sticky sweet oranges in the theatre in Kochin, and feel the rich earth in my hands on Tara. While Smoke was a good read, and left me feeling drained and empty after, I don’t think I would necessarily read it again. Nevertheless, it is a classic for a reason, and I would urge anyone to give it ago for at least the first five chapters.

A reflection on Schindler’s List

6.12.2014

Schindler’s List is always mentioned in some sentence about epic directing or the contrast between a child’s red coat and the grey background, or some artistic rant about the subjugation of something or the other. I watched it, years ago, and didn’t really understand it. And I’m finally at that point in my life where I’ve given up (some) of my pretension and accepted the fact that I don’t have the time to read every classic I want to read or the inclination and if I want to understand all those literary references I pretend to get, I’m gonna have to start reading abridged versions cause there is just not enough time in this lifetime to waste on reading every classic back to back. Who knew I would ever agree with my mum but there you go, people change. So that is how I came to be reading an extremely abridged version of Schindler’s List by Penguin Readers, probably written for high school kids studying it at school. Ugh the lows we sink to….

Nevertheless, despite the lack of literary grandeur in this venture, it still got me thinking about a lot of different things based on the story line itself. I think Schindler’s List, more than any other true story, makes you realise that there is good and bad in every person. A quote from the Talmud stuck with Schindler, guiding him through those dark years ‘He who saves the life of one man, saves the world’. And in trying to save just one person and valuing that one life, Schindler valued so many Jewish lives and was able to save countless Jews by employing them in his factory where he fed them and housed them in better conditions than all the other concentration camps even though they continued to product nothing valuable. Even though Schindler was a terrible husband, a womaniser who had 4 women in his life at any point, he made up for his flaws in his personal life by saving the lives of so many Jews from death in the concentration camps. And in my mind at least, the goodness in him balances the hurt and pain he obviously caused his wife and his other girlfriends. And while I realise that it will never repair the damage he has caused them personally, it partially redeems him as a human being, when you see the good he has done, jeopardising his own life in the process.
However this leads to the question, if a man can redeem himself for the bad he has done to people in his personal life, by helping to save an entire population from extinction, then can the opposite also be true? It feels wrong to even think this, let alone say it, but here goes…could Hitler also redeem himself for the bad he has done to an entire nation of people, if he was a good husband, a good father? The very thought of it makes me shiver with revulsion and it feels like an instinctive no. There is no redemption for the systematic killing of a group of people for no fault of theirs, the methods of which were terrible and inhumane. I hope that the world will never allow a crime like that to ever happen again. But it does beg the question, was there good in Hitler too? Was he a good father, was he a husband who understood his wife and put their son to bed? Did his son ever wonder why people were afraid of his father? Did they smell the burning and not know why there was ash in the air?

I’ve read a few books on the holocaust over the years, The Diary of Anne Frank, Maus I & II, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to name a few. And this idea of Hitler as someone who had good in him reminds me of the father in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. He was obviously a loving father, a good husband at some point, yet over the course of the book he becomes immune to his wife’s depression, his job takes over his life, to the point where his job is what claims the life of his son. How could you live with yourself, knowing that your own child, your flesh and blood has been gassed in the concentration camp you created to kill boys just like him who happened to believe in a different God.

Another thing that Schindler’s List makes me wonder about is the generations after. Is there some sort of guilt that is passed down, from one generation to the next? I remember reading about guilt at some point vaguely in my Sociology of Emotions paper, about how one can feel shame at the crimes their country has committed and how this can lead to a shame and rage spiral as they internalise the guilt of their nation as their own. For example, many Australian’s felt shame about the treatment of the aboriginal people and internalised it, the consequence being to hide away the source of this shame so they were not confronted with it, leading to policies that disguise the problem and shove money at it, to fulfil their need to disassociate themselves from this shame. Similarly, do young German boys and girls, descendants of SS Officers and young girls marching around with Swastika’s on their arms, feel some sort of guilt for the crimes of their ancestors and make up for it subconsciously.

I wonder if this guilt would be enough to propel them towards being attracted to people of Hispanic, Jewish, dark-skinned backgrounds, whether they realise it or not. I hope that it isn’t, no one should have to pay for the sins of their ancestors. God knows if you look back far enough, we all have thieves, murderers, liars and cheats in all our families, it doesn’t matter where we come from – All that matters is where we’re going. And I hope that all they look for is someone who makes them happy, because the older I get, the less race matters, the less age matters, the less gender matters and all these lines and liminalities drop away because we’re all human at the end of the day.

So this is Christmas…

4.12.2014

There’s something about Christmas that makes me feel like a child and a woman all at the same time. Putting up lights on a Christmas tree and the little figurines in a crib at home always give me warm fuzzies, like Christmas is a feeling and it means safe and warm and nothing can go wrong. There is something sacred, about that biblical birth, that makes it tangible even because childbirth is a very human thing. And there are so many people who have children, so many women who are mothers, grandmothers, yearn to be mothers, that Christmas becomes something we can all relate to. Two of my favourite Christmas carols are Born in the Night and Star child earth child, and maybe its sacrilegious but it makes me want to carry baby Jesus and put him to bed, I think Christmas brings out the mother in all of us.

A couple of weeks back at Holden, I was singing Silver bells softly to myself at lunchtime and my friend Richard suddenly joined in and it was the cutest thing ever. Before you knew it, we were singing The Little Drummer Boy, with me singing the verse and him doing the echo ‘Pa rup a pum pum!’ It’s moments like that which make you believe in the miracle of Christmas, this miraculous birth that brings people together, and I wish that every child all over the world could be happy on Christmas Day. Star child earth child is a New Zealand Christmas carol talks about children who live in poverty, children on the street, children from all walks of life and how this year, let the day arrive that Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive. It’s a carol that always makes me tear up just a little, and it tugs at my uterus like I’m the cluckiest woman alive.

I’ve been listening to Christmas carols on and off since August so it feels a bit surreal that its finally here. Top faves would have to be Santa Baby, All I want for Christmas is you, and Last Christmas in the pop song list, and fave traditional Christmas carols are Born in the Night, Star child earth child, Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and Silver bells. Cannot get enough of them haha.

This will be my first Christmas away from home. And I’m so fortunate that my brother will be here with me. I was dreading the thought of waking up alone on Christmas day, when Christmas in my family is always busy, with people coming over for dinner, going to church on Christmas Eve, dressing up, big loud Indian families, and trips to the beach. I have dreams, of what Christmas would be like when I have my own family. We’d make our own traditions that our children will grow up believing always existed, because that’s all they’ve ever known. And Christmas will be just as magical for them. Christmas is not about the presents, or Santa, its about giving and sharing the love you feel for everyone around you. We’ve never really done presents in our family and I think I like it that way. It makes Christmas mean more.

I was Christmas shopping for presents for work, and my land lady yesterday, and I got swept up in the magic of it all, the musical windows at Myer, the toy train on the 6th Floor Giftorium, the buskers on Swanston street playing Christmas carols on my way to work. Seeing all those people, shopping for presents for their husbands, wives, children, grandkids, kind of made me realise that I wasn’t, and made it just a little bit sad. I cannot wait to have children and buy them gifts and fill their stockings but I hope that I can show them that Christmas is so much more than that. I don’t think I’ll ever be that mother who cooks a turkey and has a sit down dinner with 12 people like it’s a huge deal, my family will be sprawling all over the place, bursting at the seams. But maybe that’s how Christmas is meant to be.