May-June Reading Update

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The last two months have been somewhat dismal on the reading front with only a total of five books, and one of those I began quite a long time ago. Oh well, there’s always July.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguru28920

Ever since reading Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has become one of my favourite authors. Although he was born in Nagasaki, he moved to the UK when he was quite young and he credits growing up in a Japanese family for giving him a different perspective than his English peers. He has been nominated for the Man Booker prize four times, winning it for Remains of the Day, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. 

A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982, was his debut novel. Set in both Japan and the UK, the story centres on Etsuko as she reflects on her life after the recent death of her daughter. Ishiguro’s novels often don’t end with the kind of neat resolution that we have come to expect and this book is no exception. The ending was a little disturbing as we discover that things are not always what they seem. A thought provoking if unsettling read.   

Boys Will be Boys by Clementine Ford40737717._SY475_

At the beginning of May I attended a live and local screening of Ford’s session at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and then I read her book. Ford has a reputation as a radical feminist but I didn’t get that impression from either the panel discussion about toxic masculinity or her book. Yes, there’s “language”. Yes, she’s often sarcastic. But I believe that she is right about the negative and damaging impact of patriarchy and toxic masculinity not just upon women, but especially on men. I devoured this book in one day and was filled with anger, sadness and frustration.

 In a recent article about domestic violence,  Hayley Gleeson quotes Margaret Atwood,

 “Men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them.”

One of the most common responses to the issues of domestic violence, toxic masculinity and misogyny is “not all men”. True. It’s not all men and we know that it is not all men. But that’s not the point and Ford addresses the “not all men” response. There has been too much silence for too long. If we wish to create a society in which all people are respected and valued, then men and women need to stand together to call out bad behaviour, to intervene and to speak up.     

 Are Women Human by Dorothy L Sayers 320481

Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957)was an English crime writer and poet, friend of C.S Lewis and one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Although she finished with first-class honours in 1915, she had to wait a few years to receive her degree, as degrees were not awarded to women at that time. Typical! She is probably better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, however she also wrote many essays, of which two, ‘Are Women Human’ and ‘The Human-Not-Quite-Human’, are contained in this little book. 

Sayers discusses the way women are always seen in reference to men, always as the “opposite sex” and she wonders if there is a “neighbouring sex”. After all, as she points out, “women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings.” Sayers was writing in a time when women’s access to education and employment was restricted, so her main arguments focus on firstly, that women are human beings, just like men, and secondly, that every human being needs to have purpose and occupation. The upshot is that women want to be respected as individuals in their own right, with their own unique combination of abilities and interests, and not as a single homogeneous class. Perhaps the same could be said of every human being. 

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 841628

Douglas Adam’s (1952-2001) science fiction cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains time travel, aliens, a depressed robot, as well as the end of the world. It is a hilarious and madcap ride around the galaxy and through time and I loved it. Labelled a “trilogy in four parts”, the book also included The Restaurant at the End of the Universe;  Life, the Universe and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Apparently there is also a fifth book in the trilogy, Mostly Harmless, which I will obviously have to track down. Originating as a radio program, the “trilogy” has gone on to include plays, comics, computer games as well as television and film adaptations. A definite must read for those with a warped and zany sense of humour.

Paradise Lost by John Milton 13455114

First published in 1667, Paradise Lost has been described as “the greatest epic poem in English literature.” In poetic form, Milton (1608-1674) recounts the Fall of Man, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and their exclusion from the Garden of Eden. Teskey (2005) says “Growing to understand Paradise Lost is a lifelong adventure”, which is good because it has taken me five years to finally finish my first reading and I think I got the gist of it. One of the problems is that it was an ebook, so because it wasn’t sitting right in front of me on my bedside cupboard with a bookmark sticking out, I would tend to forget all about it. It was also a book that required a fair bit of concentration. Anyone who has ever read Shakespeare would understand what I mean. I found that the best way of reading Milton, was to read it out loud (you should probably do this in private to avoid strange looks though.) Reading it out loud helped me to both get the rhythm and a sense of the drama. I definitely would like to read again, perhaps in another five years, but next time I will use an edition that I picked up from a Lifeline sale, which includes footnotes and some critical commentary.

Book Bingo

I have been getting a bit behind on Book Bingo. Recent reads have not really been fitting into any categories but this month I am claiming The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as my comedy read. After all it did me make me laugh – a lot.

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Dangerous Liaisons

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On Friday night I went to see Queensland Ballet’s performance of Dangerous Liaisons at our local Empire Theatre as part of their regional tour for 2019. If you have read the book by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, first published in 1782, or seen the 1988 screen version starring Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer, then you may remember that it is a scandalous tale of seduction, revenge and betrayal set in pre-revolutionary France. The blurb on the back of my penguin edition says…

“Depicting decadence and moral corruption in pre-revolutionary France, Dangerous Liaisons is one of the most scandalous and controversial novels in European literature. Two aristocrats embark on a sophisticated game of seduction and manipulation to bring amusement to their jaded existences. As their intrigues become more duplicitous and they find their human pawns responding in ways they could not have predicted, the consequences prove to be more serious, and deadly, than Merteuil and Valmont could have guessed.”

I read the book a few years ago, as it is listed on the 1001 List – 1001 Books to Read Before You Die – but I haven’t seen the movie. Classic books are not always an easy read for contemporary readers, especially when they are written in an epistolary form, that is, as a series of letters, which is the case for Dangerous Liaisons. It can also be a bit tricky keeping the various characters with their french names clearly sorted out in your head as you read. Some readers find the story deliciously wicked and others have lauded the way it delves into the dark side of humanity. I don’t quite remember my initial reaction which probably means that I need to read it again. It may be one of those books that gets better with each read.

“a classic tale of seduction and betrayal”

Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted a number of times for stage, opera, ballet and screen, but this particular version by Queensland Ballet was a world premiere when it opened in Brisbane in March of this year. It was promoted variously as a “classic tale of seduction and betrayal”, “a hedonistic tale of love, virtue and humanity” and an “evocative and vivid work that will scintillate audiences” (QLD Ballet). It was also stressed that it was a production for a mature audience. Well, they got that right. It was the raunchiest ballet that I have ever seen. 

Now I did know the story, and I did expect it to be somewhat risqué. But hey, it’s ballet. How provocative could it be?

It was an incredible performance. The period costumes were fantastic. The music fitted perfectly. It was brilliantly executed and the emotion portrayed by the dancers was outstanding. It was also provocative because it clearly depicted the licentious and morally corrupt behaviour of the french aristocracy. Some reviews, that I read post-performance, described the production as brave and sensual, some noted the literal depictions of libertine behaviour, while one likened it to a strip club.  

I think it is the story itself that sits uncomfortably and causes a sense of disquiet. It is not the licentious behaviour of the french aristocracy so much, who obviously had way too much time on their hands and seemed determined to have sex with anybody and everybody. I do hasten to add that it was not all members of the aristocracy who were so inclined. No, it is the deliberate seduction and corruption of a young, naive, virginal girl for the sordid amusement and vengeance of of the two central villains, without a single thought or care for the consequences. Remember, this is the 18th century and there is a clear double standard when it comes to sex and morality. In the wake of the “Me Too” movement and regular reporting of revenge porn, domestic violence, sexual assault and catfishing, it is this part of the story that causes discomfit.  Perhaps discomfit is not what we expect from ballet. Perhaps we expect Swan Lake: beautiful, graceful, romantic, tragic.

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Art has many different purposes. It entertains us. It educates. It challenges. I like to read books that I know will challenge and expand my horizons. I go to see some movies for the same reason. One of the most memorable films for me was “Cry Freedom” (1987).  Set in South Africa during  the late 1970s, it depicted the reality of apartheid. One of the things that was particularly memorable for me came when the audience exited the cinema –  in absolute silence. We were shocked, stunned, appalled by what we had seen. Challenged. So, if we can expect to be challenged by literature and by film, why not ballet?

If you explore the Queensland Ballet website, you will see their motto – Move Boldly. 

If you read their vision statement this is what you will see…

“Our dream and our endeavour is to connect people and dance across Queensland through a program of delightful, exciting and challenging work, collaborating with leading artists and organisations.”

I did find Dangerous Liaisons somewhat challenging. It reminds us that the oppression, degradation and humiliation of women has a very very long history. It shows us the depths to which humanity so often descends. It provokes deep thought and reflection about the way women continue to be treated, the double standards that are still applied today and the very important role that art plays in culture and society. 

I am glad that Queensland Ballet is a company that seeks to challenge as well as entertain. I appreciate their goal to bring ballet to those of us who live out in the regions and I hope they will continue to stage challenging works in the future.

No More Plates

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Just to be clear, we have not decided to dispense with using dinner plates but have finally come to the end of attaching Provisional Driving plates onto the car. After four years of attaching yellow learner plates, then red provisional plates and finally green provisional plates, Bec has officially come off her Ps. So no more plates on the car. Hooray!

Learning to Drive in Queensland

Once Bec turned 16, she was able to sit a written test about road rules to obtain her learners. She had to be on her learners for at least a year, log a minimum of 100 hours of driving experience, including 10 hours of night driving, and display the yellow learner plates on the car whenever she was driving.

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At this time, we were still living in a small town out west, where it takes about five minutes to drive from one side of town to the other, so it was quite a challenge to log 100 hours. Fortunately, we took regular trips to Toowoomba and an occasional trip to Brisbane, as well as one road trip down to South Australia to visit family, so she eventually accumulated the 90 hours of day driving. The night hours were a bit more difficult. We hardly went anywhere at night, so when we moved to Toowoomba, we would deliberately go for a night drive. I would check out the Toowoomba map, chart out a route that would take us all over town, and off we would go.

After a year and 100 hours were logged, Bec could sit her driving test. I was quite nervous about how she would go but fortunately she had a lovely examiner who cracked some jokes and helped her to relax. After passing the test on her first attempt, Bec then had to spend a year on a provisional license with a red P plate. At the end of that year, she had to pass an online hazards test and then it was onto the green P plates. It was supposed to be only one year on the green Ps, but of course the rules were changed and she had to do two years on the green P plates. There were some restrictions for P plate drivers, mostly about who could be in the car late at night, but this never really affected Bec.

And now finally that is all over and we are both relieved. No more shuffling plates on and off the car. So often I would go out in the morning to take Dan to Yellow Bridge- oh, have to take the plates off. Sometimes if we were all going somewhere together, Bec would ask if she could drive – oh, have to put the plates on. I am so glad that’s all finished. I think it is an excellent system for preparing young drivers. Ensuring that everybody is safe on the roads is extremely important – the road toll is bad enough as it is.

I am also thankful that I only had one child to teach to drive.  I really feel for those parents who have three, four or more children. Teaching a teenager to drive is a very stressful job. Bec is a very responsible driver, but in those early months the brake pedal on the front passenger side didn’t seem to work at all! Funny how we push our foot to the floor, even though we know there is no brake there at all. Just habit, or panic, I guess.

People are sometimes surprised when I say that Dan will never be able to drive. I’m sure he’d love to. He loves driving the dodgems at the show and the driving games on the Wii, but that’s as close to driving a car as he’s ever going to get. He probably gets a little frustrated when he sees Bec hopping in the driver seat and he never gets to have a go.  It’s not that Dan couldn’t learn how to drive a car. I think he’d be able to steer the car quite well. He’d probably be ok driving the ute around a paddock, but not on the road.

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Dan would never pass the learners test to start with. While he knows some basic rules – red means stop, green means go – he has enough trouble crossing the road safely. Dan’s autism means that he can be very fixed in his routines and when he gets in “the zone”, he just goes. More importantly though, he lacks the ability to make those split-second decisions when the situation or routine changes or somebody else does the wrong thing. If the traffic light was green, he’d go. Regardless. Besides, having seen his driving technique on the Wii, I think it would be a lot safer for everyone if he stayed in the passenger seat!

People have suggested that driverless cars might provide an option for people with disabilities in the future. Maybe, but I don’t think I’d be willing to give them a go. I don’t fancy being in a car which drives itself. For now, Dan will just have to get used to being in the passenger seat and driving on the Wii and at the show. I’m just relieved that I can  hop in the car and not have to worry about taking the plates off. 

Good Intentions

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Every semester I swear that I will be better organised and plan it all out. (it never happens)

I swear that I will start early and not leave things to the last minute. (yeah, so much for that idea)

I even print out the very useful planning templates from the university and put them on the pinup board that has been painted for that very purpose. (at least it looked nice)

And still life turns out like this …

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Despite all the promises and beginning of semester resolutions, the last few weeks have been a mad sprint to the finish as I suddenly realised how many words I yet had to write before a series of fast looming due dates.

So I’ve been reading, reading, reading….and writing, writing, writing….

And at the end of that, I felt very much like this….

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So I promised myself that the next day I would just chill out.

I didn’t want to look at a screen.

I didn’t want to read a single word, let alone write one.

Just for one day.

One day stretched into a whole week.

I couldn’t even muster the energy to read for fun, and as someone who thinks that life without reading would be like living without breathing, well, that is so bad in so many ways.

But eventually life has returned to normal. I have finished agonising over what I should have written in that essay and didn’t and I’m slowly getting back to all the things that I pushed aside until… well, after.

It’s been hard getting the mojo back but I don’t think you can force these things. Sometimes we need to be kind to ourselves, follow our own schedule for a while and take time out to do the things that bring us joy.

And next semester I swear I will plan. I will actually fill in those templates. I will start early.  I will be better organised. (yeah, right)

April Reading Update

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April turned out to be quite a busy month, with Easter, ANZAC Day, and an Australian history essay to get done somewhere in between.  So the reading was a little steady, however I did manage to read …

  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan 
  • Eden by Candice Fox
  • Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

… and ticked off two more boxes for Book Bingo.

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  • Novella (less than 150 pages) – Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington
  • Crime – Eden by Candice Fox

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington was both a reread and part of an Australian history assignment. It tells the story of three young Aboriginal girls who are taken from their home in the Pilbara region of Western Australia to a settlement far away from their family. Molly, the oldest girl and Doris Pilkington’s mother, decides they’re not staying and so begins their long journey back home, following the rabbit-proof fence.

 It is 1931 and the child removal policy is in full swing. The child removal policy was at best misguided and at worst rooted in prejudiced and racist ideology. Indigenous children were separated from their families in an attempt to destroy the link with their culture and assimilate them into white society. They are the Stolen Generations. Sadly Doris was also separated from her mother Molly for many years. She says that writing the book helped her to reconnect with her family and culture, and heal the pain and trauma of the loss of her family, culture and identity. 

Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence belongs to a genre of writing often known as Aboriginal Life Writing and I think it is helpful to understand a bit about Aboriginal Life Writing when reading Pilkington or any other texts from this genre. Aboriginal Life Writing is often different from the usual kind of memoirs or autobiographies that are written in the western tradition. Storytelling is a very important tradition in Indigenous culture and Aboriginal Life Writing continues that tradition. But it also serves as a mechanism for healing the pain and trauma of dispossession, for reconnecting Indigenous people with their history and culture, for teaching non-Indigenous readers about Aboriginal culture and their own history, and for promoting the necessity of reconciliation for all of us.

 In 1992, the then Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating, said….

[Reconciliation] begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. (Attwood 2001, p. 201)

It is shocking to think that here we are almost 30 years later, and still little seems to have changed. Racism, inequity, poor health and shorter life expectancy plus numerous other social issues continue, but the capacity for Indigenous writers such as Pilkington to extend forgiveness and compassion is deeply humbling. In an interview with Anne Brewster, Doris explained how her involvement in the reconciliation process revealed her own need to forgive, saying

“…how can I expect them to say sorry to me, when I don’t have any forgiveness and compassion for them? ” (Brewster 2005, p. 145)

 Forgiveness. Compassion. Repentance. Respect. Dignity. Consideration. Equality. 

These are the building blocks of a kind, just and ethical society.

I live in hope. 

Happy Reading

 

Attwood, Bain 2001, ‘”Learning about the truth” The stolen generations narrative’ in B Attwood and F Magowan (eds) Telling Stories: Indigenous history and memory in Australia and New Zealand, Allen & Unwin: Crows Nest, NSW, pp. 183-212

Brewster, Anne 2005, ‘The Stolen Generations: Rites of Passage: Doris Pilkington interviewed by Anne Brewster’, Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol 41, No. 1, pp143-159

Lifeline Bookfest 2019

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Every year thousands of booklovers across Australia count down the days to their local Lifeline Bookfest. For Toowoomba booklovers this is usually the first weekend in March. Early on the Saturday morning a long of line vehicles can be seen crawling down Glenvale Road towards the entry gates of the Toowoomba Showgrounds. Inside the main pavilion sit rows and rows of boxes filled with books just waiting to find a new home. Like many other booklovers, we’ve been looking forward to this day so much it’s been highlighted on the calendar. 

Lifeline is an Australian charity organisation which provides a range of counselling and support services for children, youth and families as well as emergency relief. It was founded in 1963 by Reverend Dr. Sir Alan Walker. Concerned about the often devastating impact of loneliness, isolation and anxiety, he began a crisis line to provide critical support for people in need. Today Lifeline has around 40 centres across Australia, employing around 1,000 staff and attracting 11,000 volunteers who donate their time. The Lifeline book sales help to raise funds to continue this vital service.

 

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This year was the 39th Lifeline Bookfest held in Toowoomba and according to the local paper, it was going to be even bigger than before. There were seven shipping containers filled with books and volunteers worked throughout the week to have everything ready for 8am Saturday morning. The books are organised into a variety of categories including sci fi & fantasy, crime & thrillers, fiction, non-fiction and children’s. And it’s not just books. Pre-loved magazines and toys are on sale too.

Seasoned book-festers usually come prepared. Some bring shopping carts or wheeled suitcases. Some come with a list of desired titles. Others are just content to take home an armful of new books. We didn’t have a formal list of titles that we were looking for, but we did have a few things in mind. Bec was after some Star Wars novels and I was on the look-out for Australian, literary and award-winner titles, plus anything that might be on The List – the 1001 list, that is.

One of the cool things about the Bookfest is that you can hire a shopping trolley for $2. Do you know how many books you can fit in a shopping trolley? Quite a lot.  We weren’t the only ones with a shopping trolley, but we did get a few strange looks because our shopping trolley was pretty full. It also attracted a few comments, all good fun of course, about how much we read and how long the trolley load of books would last. A few weeks one person asked.  

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We were pretty happy with what we managed to find. Bec found some Star Wars books and some Kathy Reichs. I found some Anne Rice, Margaret Atwood, Richard Flanagan and the first ten books of Sookie Stackhouse – just to name a few. The Bookfest is always a bit of a lottery. You never know what treasures you might find. So yes, we did buy a trolley load of books but we also helped to raise money for a very worthy cause. The Toowoomba sale raised $75,000 for Lifeline, while the Bookfest held in Brisbane in January raised $1.4 million. That’s some serious money raised out of second-hand books.  

The only trouble now is to find some space on the bookshelves and more time to read.

 

Sidecar Racing in Stanthorpe

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Classic Sidecar Racing in the Netherlands

Just mention the word “sidecar” and I immediately think of the “Two Fat Ladies“- that iconic cooking show from the 90’s. So when Paul suggested last year that we go to see some sidecar racing, I couldn’t think of anything I would like less. One of Paul’s farmer mates from out west is a sidecar racer and he was going to be competing at the Carnell Classic in Stanthorpe. After being bribed with the promise of wine tasting I agreed to give it a go.

Stanthorpe is located in south east Queensland, about 237km south of Toowoomba, in a region known as the Granite Belt. It is a very beautiful area, known for its biennial Apple and Grape Festival and as a producer of some very fine wines. There are over 50 wineries in the Stanthorpe area and it has quickly become my favourite wine region in Queensland.

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Storm King Dam, Stanthorpe, QLD

We first visited Stanthorpe in September 2010 when we camped at Storm King Dam on the outskirts of Stanthorpe for about a week. September is usually a good time to go camping. It’s Spring – not too cold, but not too hot. But this was Stanthorpe. Possibly one of the coldest places in Queensland and it was absolutely freezing. Despite the weather, we did have a good time. At least I did. I love wine tasting. It’s fun to taste new wines and chat to the winemakers. Sadly, Bec doesn’t agree. She thinks it’s very boring, but we did do a few fun things for Dan and Bec as well.

The Granite Belt Maze is a great place for kids, big and small. There are a number of different maze adventures which involve collecting clues to solve a puzzle. They also have a mini golf course and a child size chess game. When we were there in 2010, the maze was a traditional hedge maze, but unfortunately in the Queensland floods of 2011, the maze was flooded and the trees died. A traditional tree maze takes a long time to grow, so they were forced to replace it with a timber maze. It’s still fun to do but not quite as challenging as the old one.

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The Granite Belt Maze before and after the QLD floods

Granite Belt Maze – Version 2

Well,  the sidecar racing turned out to be far more interesting than I expected. The side car was not much more than a platform on the left side of the bike. The passenger sat on the platform, leaning out over the back of the bike or over the sidecar as the bike went round the corners. Definitely not for the faint hearted! I couldn’t quite believe it at first when I saw them hanging out over the sidecar, almost touching the track. It was actually quite exciting.

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Sidecar Racing at Carnell Raceway, Stanthorpe, QLD

The sidecar racing was part of a motor bike competition called the Carnell Classic which features classic bikes, some as old as 70-80 years. It was amazing that they were still going and some of the riders seemed to be almost as old! It is a relaxed, semi-competitive event which gives bike lovers a chance to have some fun out on the track in a safe environment. Well, reasonably safe. The ambulance was on hand for any spills.

I ended up enjoying the racing so much that I told Paul I’d be happy to go again. In an amazing coincidence, just after our first experience of sidecar racing there was an interesting article about sidecar racing on the ABC which you can read about here. This year, when Paul suggested going to Stanthorpe again for the sidecar racing I was rearing to go.  So just a few weeks ago we headed down to Stanthorpe for some more sidecar racing and wine tasting (of course!).

Dan really enjoyed the racing. He loves anything with wheels. Sometimes when we’re driving around town you’ll see his head do a quick turn as he has noticed something interesting – a sports car, a Harley Davidson or just a shiny new truck. At the races Dan sat in his folding chair with his arm up in the air, just like the flag man, shouting out “GO GO GO” as the bikes zoomed off of the starting grid.

Who knows, maybe sidecar racing might become a regular event for us. Apparently later in the year, there is a sidecar event for those who are serious racers. Paul’s mate says those guys are really mad racers which just sounds like another reason to visit Stanthorpe again.

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Autism: To Have or To Be

 

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Here in Australia April is the middle month of Autumn. The weather is cooling down and the deciduous leaves are starting to change colour. April is also home to World Autism Day, Autism Awareness Week and Autism Awareness Month. It might seem a little funny to have one day or one week or a whole month to be “aware” of autism. For people with autism and their families, autism is an ongoing reality for the other 364 days, 51 weeks or 11 months of the year. We are just not “aware” of autism, we live and breathe it. Of course, it is good to increase awareness about autism, but what people with autism need more than just awareness is understanding – understanding that autism is not a condition to be cured but a way of being. 

Words can Build you Up and Words can Tear you Down

 We all know that words matter. Kind words can build somebody up and cruel words can tear someone down. In these days of political correctness, it can be confusing to know which words to use. Should we say “a person with autism” or “an autistic person”? There are strong feelings on both sides of this argument. Some people might insist that we should take a person-centred approach and say “a person with autism.” There is merit in this view. It puts the focus on the person and not on whatever condition or disability the person may or may not have. It is respectful, polite, positive.  

On the other hand, some people with autism are now proudly claiming the word autistic as a central part of their identity. They see their autism as a way of being, as core to who they are as a person. Their autism doesn’t just suddenly appear in certain situations or in the presence of others. It’s always there – every second of the day. They think, process, communicate, act and live autistically. For them, there is no other authentic way of being. 

I use both ways of speaking about Dan. Sometimes I say Dan has autism. Other times I say Dan is autistic. In the early days, I probably tended to lean towards using “a person with autism.” But the more I have learnt about autism and the more I have come to understand the way Dan ticks, the more I see autism as being central to who Dan is. 

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Dan’s autism is not an additional extra. It’s not like a layer of icing on a cake. You can’t lick it off and just have the cake. I cannot separate Dan from his autism and nor would I want to. He isn’t a young man who just happens to have autism, but one for whom autism is as natural as the blood flowing through his veins.  It has always been there. It will always be there.

Dan perceives the world in a uniquely autistic way. He relates to and communicates with others in a uniquely autistic way. He processes information and responds to stimuli, people and events in a uniquely autistic way. There is no other way for Dan to be. It’s different. Even entertaining at times. Sometimes it’s mind-boggling. It’s autistic. 

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Sometimes we forget that Dan is autistic. I know that sounds a little strange given how much autism is a part of our lives. But Dan’s way of being is so naturally “Dan”, we know no other way. Perhaps the truth is that in accepting Dan for who he is, for learning his language and accommodating his way of being, we are no longer a family with autism but an autistic family.   

I think the choice of terminology comes down to personal preference. I personally don’t mind whether people call Dan a person with autism or an autistic person, as long as they recognise and accept the essentially autistic nature of his being. Perhaps one day Dan will be able to tell us which one he prefers. 

Words do matter but the right for people on the spectrum to choose the words to describe themselves as a person also matters. The least we can do is respect their choice. Having or being – it’s still autism.

March Reading Update

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March has come and gone and I cannot believe that it is April already. Where has the time gone? March turned out to be a very busy month. Since late February I have been back into the study mode and that puts a big dent in my reading progress. This semester I am studying Ethics and Australian History, so there is a fair bit of heavy reading.

Last time I talked about how I like to read different types of books at different times of the day. I study during the day while Dan is at Yellow Bridge. It’s a bit hard to study when he is around – he gets rather vocal and it’s difficult to concentrate. So during the day, when I feel fresher and more alert (supposedly!) I have been reading about Utilitarianism, Deontology, Consequentialism, Human Rights, Indigenous History and the Frontier wars. Yeah, some really big words there! By the time evening comes around I’m feeling rather brain dead. I’m looking for some fun, laughter and escapism. Hence, there’s been a lot of Rick Riordan this month.

I knew this would happen once study rolled around again but that’s the rhythm of life. Reading for fun, like other things, has to fit around the ebb and flow of life. Luckily semester break is just around the corner so April may look a little better. But here’s what I managed to read during March…

  • The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
  • Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
  • The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
  • The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Elizabeth Costello by JM Coetzee
  • The Secret War: A true history of Queensland’s Native Police by Jonathan Richards

The Secret War is a non-fiction book I read for an Australian History tutorial presentation. It’s about the Frontier Wars in Queensland and particularly the role that the Queensland Native Police had in the dispossession of Aboriginal people.

“In Queensland, the Native Police played a major role in the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their land, the almost complete destruction of Aboriginal law, and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.” (Richards, 2008, p. 5)

I thought it was an excellent read. It is certainly a shocking and shameful part of Australia’s history. It’s uncomfortable facing the dark side of our human nature. Our capacity for cruelty, violence and inhumanity often seem to know no bounds. But we are also capable of so much more – honesty, compassion, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. True reconciliation requires us to acknowledge the past so that we can create a better future – a future that is based on equity, understanding, inclusion and belonging.  

Book Bingo for March

I only ticked off one book for this month – oh well. January and February were pretty good months so I guess it’s okay to have a slow month now and then.

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Book with a Red Cover: The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

Hopefully it won’t be another whole month before I see you here again. In the mean time…

Happy Reading

 

February Reading Update

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February turned out to be a stellar month for reading although I don’t expect that pace to continue. I tend to have a few books on the go at any one time. It can take a bit of juggling, but I like to read certain types of books at different times of the day. Books of a more serious nature I like to read during the day, when my mind is fresher and I can take notes for future reference.  Books that I read for pure escapism and fun, I tend to at night, in bed. The idea of reading something fun but not too demanding at night, is to help me sleep. It doesn’t always work out, though. Especially when you get to those exciting parts and you can’t bear to put the book down. Or when you’ve got only a few chapters to go, so you might as well finish it.

February’s list below is a bit longer than January – 10 books! But with my nose back to the books (study, that is), I expect the reading pace to drop off. I’ll still be reading of course, it will just be Ethics and Australian History. So, the list… 

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

A well-loved Australian classic. This is a reread and probably my most favourite Winton. After personal tragedy, the Pickles family and the Lamb family relocate to Perth where they end up sharing a house on Cloud Street. I really like the way Winton captures the everyday life of ordinary people, their ups and their downs, showing how two very different families can eventually come together to be one.

Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

An interesting book, this one. It took me a little while to get into but it explores themes of migration, travel and the role of the internet in changing the way we relate to each other. The internet gives us the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world from the comfort of our computer desk and the nature of modern life often means we are constantly on the move, flitting through life, meeting and leaving people. But where do we call home?

The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

Loosely based on the real historical characters of Mary and Charles Lamb, Ackroyd explores literary forgery, the obsession with Shakespeare and the sad story of Mary Lamb. Scarred by small pox, restricted by social conventions and incarcerated in mental asylums following the murder of her mother, Mary didn’t have an easy life. It was an enjoyable read, quite funny in parts, as well as being a bit saucy too.

Shroud by John Banville

I didn’t realise that Shroud is book 2 of the Cleave Trilogy, although I had no trouble reading it as a stand alone. The title initially suggested a death shroud to me, but  foreign translations on Goodreads had  “imposter” in the title. Anyway, the main character, Axel Vander, does travel to Turin… the Shroud of Turin…so possible forgery… It explores themes of identity, who we are, who we try to be and how we are always wanting to be somebody else. It’s not an easy read, as the narrative wanders a bit and is interspersed with sojourns into the soul and mind, but it was thought provoking.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

A memoir by Australian writer Maxine Beneba Clarke, this book portrays the racism she experienced growing up in Australia and continues to experience even now. Of African heritage, Maxine experienced racial abuse that was nothing short of abhorrent. The racial abuse was bad enough, but the fact that adults stood by, in silence, is even worse. I would call this my best read of the year so far.  A highly recommended read.

and I also read …

  • The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
  • The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
  • The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
  • The Serpents Shadow by Rick Riordan
  • The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Yes, there’s quite a bit of Rick Riordan. That’s what I’ve been reading at night. If you’ve ever read Rick Riordan, you’ll know that probably wasn’t a good idea. Why am I reading so much Rick Riordan? Well, Bec is a great fan of Rick Riordan and has read just about all the books. When Bec first started branching into YA, I would read the books as well. Partly so that I could keep tabs on the content, but also because it meant we could talk about the books together. And it’s something we continue to do and enjoy to this day.

Right from the start, I have enjoyed reading YA. I know that sometimes there is a bit of a thing going around about adults reading YA, which I really don’t understand at all.         As C. S. Lewis says:

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally and often far more worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

As far as I am concerned, a good book is a good book is a good book. If children’s books and YA are not considered good enough for adults to read, then why do we consider them good enough for children and young people to read. Surely in those critical years of growth and development, we should be giving them the best books possible. Sheree from Keeping Up with the Penguins has a great post about this topic which you can read here.

So I’ve been churning through the Rick Riordan books. I actually started last year but only picked it up again in February. My goal is to read them all over the coming months. I’m just loving them. They’re fun. I love his sense of humour – seriously, laugh out loud. And I get to learn about Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology at the same time.   

It’s been another good month for Book Bingo – another 3 boxes ticked off. But again, I don’t expect this rate to continue. At some point all the easy boxes will be ticked off and I will be challenged to step outside my usual fare to tick off the last boxes, which of course, is the whole point of a reading challenge. This is how the card is looking so far….

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  • Prize Winning Book – Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
  • Themes of Fantasy – The last Olympian by Rick Riordan
  • Written by Australian Man – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Well, that wraps up the reading for February. And yes, it is still called an update for want of a better title. Perhaps I will come up with something more interesting by next time.

Happy Reading!