Galvanize Me

I’ve been feeling rather at odds with the world in the past couple of weeks. It’s like I’ve reached a tipping point and I’m just so fed up with all that is wrong with the world—the lack of female representation in the media and in my work environment;  the casual disowning by retiring baby-boomers of the myriad issues facing their children and grandchildren; the modern economic lens that frames every decision as ultimately selfish; the way so many people are locked into a consume-and-dispose mindset…

At the same time, I’m surrounded by events that roar with love—close friends getting engaged, another recently married, and the celebration of some big milestones in my own marriage.

And a part of me realises that this slow-burning fury can galvanize me into action, into living as though a better world is possible. After all, surely the point of anger is to help us protect ourselves and those we love most. So, in that spirit (and with an unapologetically cheesy wedding theme), here are a few things that have been inspiring me recently:

Something old: I’ve rediscovered the pop punk anthems of my teen years—and I still love them! I was amused (but somewhat disheartened) to find that the rebellious songs of my youth still feel so applicable, what with all the condescending advice older generations keep spitting in the local media.

Something new: I’ve started using instagram, and it’s bringing me a lot of joy. The combination of artful pictures and simple words packs a powerful punch. I’m even tempted to start posting my own photos, although I’ve always preferred to express myself using words rather than images.

Something borrowed: A wonderful blog post by Ryan Cope on Plastic-Free Tuesday highlights the gossamer-thin line between being either weighed down or motivated to keep fighting by the endless stream of plastic waste humanity is generating.

And some blues: Mahogany L. Browne’s poem, litany, captures some the essence of blues music, as well as some of my own recent feelings of frustration. I’ve written before about my love for blues dancing, but reading litany made me question whether I—as a privileged white woman from halfway around the world—have the right to seek and receive so much pleasure from a music style with deep roots in hardship and struggle. Perhaps the answer is to further educate myself about the history of blues while continuing to appreciate the music and the dance for the joy it brings me and others in my community. After all, it’s times like these we most need shared moments of joy to bring us together and remind us what’s most important in life.

“I don’t like who defined what authority sounds like. I reject it.”

As a young woman working in a male-dominated profession, I often come across (and even seek out) advice to be more confident, more assertive, more vocal; to stop phrasing statements as cautious suggestions; to stop apologising so damn much; to back myself; to lean in as Sheryl Sandberg put it.

This advice all sound sensible. How else will women get equal pay if we don’t demand higher salaries during pay negotiations? How else will women get our voices heard if we don’t speak up in meetings? How else will women get people to take us seriously if we don’t sound confident in our suggestions?

But I had an ‘aha’ moment when I spied these tweets by Marian Call* on my husband’s computer screen last night:

Reading Marian Call’s tweets, I realised all the sensible pieces of advice for women to be more assertive, confident, authoritative, are variations on one troubling theme: Women need to act more like men to get by in this world.

In hindsight, I’ve come across similar concepts before. For example, in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain encourages introverts to work with their strengths instead of trying to conform to the expectations of an extroverted world, and I found a strong parallel between this and the expectations on women in a man’s world — constantly being urged to speak up, make yourself heard, act assertively to make people like and listen to you.

So instead, I encourage you to reject a wholly masculine image of power. The world needs more authority figures who speak gently and with consideration for their fellow human beings. The world needs more men and women who embrace their feelings. The world needs more leaders who apologise when they have made a mistake. The world needs a new definition of what authority sounds like.


*For those who know me well, Marian Call wrote the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding:

Mining Trees

Last year while wedding planning, I spent a lot of time thinking about what type of wedding ring I wanted. A wedding ring is the physical symbol of marriage, and one of the few tangible results of wedding planning that sticks around after the wedding itself is over, so it was important to me to choose a ring that I was comfortable with ethically as well as aesthetically.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a (sparkly) rock for years, I’m pretty sure you’ll already know about the ethical concerns surrounding diamond mining. A less-discussed but still very real set of issues also surround gold mining. Gold is relatively rare and can require a significant amount of processing to extract and purify — a Forest & Bird article from last years states that “several tonnes of toxic waste is created to produce enough gold for a single ring.” What’s more, the largest use of gold is for making jewellery. Knowing all this, I was adamant that I didn’t want a brand new gold wedding ring.*

I knew that second-hand was an option, but some beautiful wooden rings had also caught my eye. The wood used to make a single ring has a much smaller environmental footprint than the same amount of precious metal and stones, making a wooden ring a great option for the environmentally conscious bride-to-be. I was also delighted to discover some makers of wooden rings even offered the option of using swamp kauri from here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

At the time my main concern was that a wooden ring would never have the longevity of a metal ring — and I’d be counting on my wedding ring to last “til death do us part”! But I was seriously considering a wooden wedding ring. Then my grandmother offered to give me her own mother’s wedding ring, which was perfect in so many ways, and — feeling exceedingly grateful — I never looked back.

Fast-forward half a year or so, and I am now oh-so-glad I didn’t choose that swamp kauri ring. Several recent blog posts and news articles have described the mining and illegal exporting of ancient swamp kauri from our wetlands. Unlike wood harvested from sustainably grown forests, swamp kauri is a finite resource, and excavating swamp kauri from ecologically significant wetlands is a destructive activity akin to open-cast mining. Adding insult to injury, it appears much of the swamp kauri that gets shipped overseas may be being exported illegally.

So what I thought of as a sustainable and ethical choice — a wooden wedding ring — turned out to be a terribly destructive, unsustainable option. While this obviously doesn’t hold true for all types of wood, it’s ultimately a reminder to think carefully about what we buy: How are the materials sourced? How is it made? And do I truly need to buy it at all?


*I also flat out refused to have an engagement ring, both because of the ecological and ethical concerns associated with gold and diamond mining, and because the typical gender distribution of engagement rings is inherently unfair.

What Next?

Takaka-two-trees

It’s been a while, more than two months since I last posted here. In that time I got married then escaped with my brand new husband to Te Wai Pounamu, the South Island of New Zealand, for a much-needed break. (Just one year ago, that word—”husband”—and equally “wife”—used to sound disconcertingly more grown-up than I could claim to feel myself. At some point during the past twelve months, without even realising how it happened, it appears I have finally started to feel like an adult [of sorts]. Should I blame all the wedding and marriage preparations, the 10–6 professional job, the hordes of friends buying their first homes? Or, more likely, a myriad of moments too enmeshed to tease out a single one. Still, it will take some time before “my husband” no longer feels deliciously alien in my mouth.)

As I start an exciting new chapter in my life, it feels like a good moment to take stock: I’ve accomplished a lot in the past year. Not only did I get married to a wonderful man, I also completed my thesis, graduated with my PhD, and finished my first year of professional full-time work!

So, what next?

Takaka-sunrise

Many people warned me towards the end of writing my thesis that I would feel lost and desperate for something to do once I finished. At the time I scoffed, “Don’t be silly, I’m going to enjoy relaxing at the beach with a pile of good books!” As it turned out, I got engaged instead… And, the day after the wedding I (briefly) found myself feeling lost and wondering what I would do with my time! The answer was, of course, immediately obvious — I should enjoy relaxing. Full-time work means I can’t sit at the beach with a pile of books, but I can certainly give myself time to settle into the rhythm and routine of a regular working life without taking on any new big projects.

And after that?

The world awaits

Lake-Hawea

Count Your Blessings

A recent death in the family — sudden but not unexpected — has made me realise how much I take for granted.¹  It’s so easy to assume that there will be time to catch up with family and friends next week, next month or next year, but the reality is that we never know how much longer we have.

On the other hand, seeing everyone pull together to help and support each other through such a difficult time has made me appreciate the strength and value of family bonds so much more than ever before. With that thought in mind, a somewhat bittersweet list of things I am grateful for at the moment:

  • Having a loving and supportive extended family
  • The connection and growth of families through marriages, partnerships and friendships
  • Time spent with loved ones
  • The way people work together and look out for each other
  • The ability to move freely and experience life fully
  • Living in a country with good sanitation and healthcare

 

¹ It’s also reconfirmed for me what a bitch of a disease metastatic melanoma is. Stay safe everyone — be sun smart!

A wish

Can you believe we’re nearly a month into 2015 already? I suspect the first third of this year will go whizzing by without much in the way of blogging from me – it turns out planning a wedding is as much of a time-suck as everyone always says it is. Who would’ve thought? But I do enjoy the writing, the thinking and the reading, so I’ll try to pop by from time to time.

I had intended to set some goals for 2015, but then I realised I’d written some perfectly serviceable goals during Matariki last June and there was no point in updating them. So instead I took a leaf out of Neil Gaiman’s book and wrote a new year’s wish for myself and for the world:

May your year be full of love and compassion for yourself and for the world around you. May you experience serenity and excitement, whichever you need most at any moment. May you feel grateful, always.
May you be fully present for the important moments in life – both big and small.
May you dare to create, to give and receive, to be vulnerable and brave.
May you live in harmony with the natural world.
May this year be easier than the last one.

What makes a home?

My partner and I moved into our own place together for the first time a few months ago. No flatmates, no family, just the two of us. In anticipation of this event, I got incredibly nesty and found myself lusting over homeware catalogues and decor-filled pinterest boards. For some reason, the purchase of homeware became synonymous with making a home a place of my own.

This all vanished as soon as we moved in — partly because I was acutely aware that we didn’t have space in our tiny apartment for any more stuff, but mostly because the desire for a place of our own had been fulfilled.

"Home is where the books are" (photo by Kamal Hamid, https://www.flickr.com/photos/evergreenkamal/3774469213/)

Home is where the books are (photo by Kamal Hamid, https://www.flickr.com/photos/evergreenkamal/3774469213/)

The question of homeware acquisition is coming to the forefront of my mind again in a different way, as we plan our wedding gift registry. Like many modern couples, we’ve been living away from home for several years and already have a lot of what we need. Replacing it all with shiny new items doesn’t appeal to me. More importantly, we know we’re going to be living in a pre-furnished house for at least another year after we get married, so any homeware gifts we receive will just join our existing boxes full of stuff in storage. What’s the point? Why not receive something we can use right now, instead of acquiring yet more items that we’ll forget we even own?

But when I recently read the story of another couple who have had a similar experience with wedding gifts sitting in storage for a couple of years, I began to see that my short-term thinking is at odds with the long-term planning of a marriage. What does it matter if we have to store our household belongings for one more year, or even several years? We all intend for a marriage to last the rest of our lives, and good quality wedding gifts can serve us for that entire time. Then, as we grow old and grey(er) together, we can look around our home and be reminded of the love and support of our wedding guests all those years ago.