Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Funding for the National Chaplaincy Program, CPSWs and general thoughts from a former chaplain and all round God-girl

I've been wanting to comment on this one for awhile. The Federal Budget has stated that the multi-million dollar Nation Schools Chaplaincy Program will be rolled over for the next three years. And this makes me feel... well, a bit bit awkward.

It shouldn't.
I was a chaplain for four years. I adored my ministry. I loved the students and the community and all the good I felt like I was doing. I made some mistakes (who wouldn't after four years), but over all I loved being a chaplain. Our State Government then decided that we couldn't be chaplains (something to do with being misleading and only some chappies being ordained) and we were given the title of Christian Pastoral Support Worker. In some ways it suited the role to a tee. But on the other hand, it was still vague and gave permission for unskilled workers to work in pastoral support. Since my time, and I finished in 2009, CPSWs now have to have minimum qualifications after a certain period of time.

I believe that schools need chappies.
You just have to talk to someone who is passionate about their role to know what an amazing job they do. In some ways, chappies are unsung heroes, in others they are the cool kid you wanted to be friends with in school, and couldn't... until now. Even though I was a Christian, I never really had a lot to do with my school chaplains, they seemed to spend time with kids they knew, or the Year 8s, who probably needed them the most.

But I don't believe that the government should be funding the program.
This might sound a bit rich coming from me, but here is what you don't know.

My first twelve months as a chaplain I worked five hours a week. I was paid a $1000 honorarium for the whole year, which worked out to $25 a week. It didn't even cover my petrol. But, we are talking about a ministry. If my employing group, which was made up of local churches, had phoned and said they couldn't afford to pay me anymore, I would have continued working in my ministry. Why? I loved it. I gave of myself, but I also got a lot back too.

In 2006 John Howard brought in a bunch of new laws (hello, WorkChoices) surround Industrial Relations. In a role, such as mine, honorariums were declared as unlawful and I was paid at a base rate per hour. It wasn't much, but it was above minimum wage and I was making enough money in my role for petrol and food on the table. I was still paid by an employing group which brings a whole lot of issues - I was paid at spasmodic times, I would often call to remind someone I had to be paid, a WorkCover claim got very confusing as no one had dealt with it before. It goes on.

My school site then applied for the Grant which would give the CPSW a further five hours per week. This was paid by the government, with the other half being my original funding agreement.

I haven't had anything to do with CPSW work since 2010, apart from working with some. At that stage in 2010 some chaplaincies were given partial payments from employing groups, some were only government grant based and only one was entirely funded by an employing group.

Why does this bother me?

From my understanding, chaplaincy within schools is about helping churches network with their communities, supporting the work of the chaplain and working alongside of them. By giving the financial responsibility to the government, all this changes. I believe that there is less accountablity from everyone.

But, probably more importantly, why are we expecting the Federal Government to pay for people working in ministry? Pastoral support is great in schools who have complex issues, who are small sites with no counsellor, who are large sites with not enough counselling staff. Actually, pastoral support is good in all schools. But as CPSWs are not counsellors and are not ordained ministers or deacons, and are not allowed to "proselytise" this gives both a limited scope for ministry purposes, and a far too wide scope for what pastoral support actually is.

Despite all these things, I have friends who are CPSWs. I have friends who used to be, and wouldn't be now because they are at a different time in their life. I have a great respect for many CPSWs. As a teacher, I probably see the role a little bit differently to how I once did.  I think a few things about the program need a rethink. Here are some:

1. Where should your CPSW be based? Ideally I think they need their own space, but not one that is isolated, and preferably one with plenty of foot traffic. I used to have a box in the teacher prep room which was fine until I doubled my hours and had too much paperwork.

2. What should and shouldn't a CPSW do? You need to look at each school and carefully consider this. Lots of CPSWs run SRCs. In fact, I did for a few years. And I wasn't the right person for the job, they really needed an actual teacher to do it, and for all intents and purposes, a CPSW is not a teacher.

3. How is your CPSW connecting with local churches? I'll be honest, this is really hard. I think it works best when you attend a local church in your own area and/or you have a supportive group of local churches.

4. What about the God stuff? This makes me feel really sad, and probably should be first and foremost. So, essentially we are sending CPSWs into schools, who can't be called chaplains, who can't be seen to make 'converts' of Christianity, who had to present a well-rounded and totally accepting view of all denominations. This is where I feel that the problem is that we become, well, a little irrelevant. Any nice person can do pastoral support, based on their religion (or lack thereof) of their choice. I loved Christian Education lessons while growing up in my public school in Victoria. They were all about God, Jesus, Prayer, Christian celebrations etc.Now it seems that this is readily being done away with, and this makes me feel disappointed. Chaplains can help organise school seminars (but they shouldn't be organising them) and they can distribute religious materials (with parent permission).

Despite all of this, chappies have the opportunity to be a shining light in their schools. And this is what we should remember. But who should fund it? It shouldn't entirely be given from the Federal Budget. We, as church communities and Christian communities too, need to start investing, and to start taking back some territory.

What can we do to help?
My home church regularly connects to our area's school CPSWs. We pray for them every week and know them by name. They run two breakfast programs in different schools. As a chappy, I always admired people who were willing to come in and help, and do what they could.

And, we can support where we can. Maybe my home church is an exception, but we shouldn't be. Churches aren't always the most visible groups out there. Okay, so people know use from branding, such as Anglicare, but how often do they put two-and-two together? Some churches are a lot better at it than others. Maybe you would say that churches who have a reason to be there should be meeting a need. My home church has no young people. No children, no teenagers. Some young (ish) adults. And they do it to meet a need that has no real benefit to their church.

A ministry meets a need. Chaplaincy is a need, but it needs to be sustainable, and the current funding model really isn't. I'll be honest. I'd rather see these co-payments done away with than have a federally funded chaplaincy program. Dollar for dollar that's not plausible, we are talking about 250 million here. But we need to be relevant and reliable. Relying on the government to be paid for ministry while school families are going to struggle more than what they are now a little more than unsettling.

I'm not saying to do away with chappies in any way, state or form. This is just my commentary on it, and I'm quite happy to be wrong.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Fighting depression, some unhelpful tips and little musings.

For about eight months I had mild/moderate depression.

I have tried to write about this a little bit, but it is really hard to do so until you get out of it. At least, in my case, it has been.

Lots of people seek to know the cause of someone else's depression. Is it a chemical or situational reason? When you're depressed it's hard to address these questions, even if you need to.

For me, I am convinced, it was both chemical and situational. I have had depressive episodes before, but usually I could snap out of them after a few weeks... hence, an 'episode'. This one I just couldn't. It really wasn't a matter of choosing to be unhappy or happy, I just seemed completely stuck in a rut and aimless in many things.

It was really hard for me to talk with people in many ways. I was emotional and felt that the whole world really was against me. I wanted to be myself, but I also kept saying that I didn't really know who I was anymore, and that 'old Lisa' had gone away. Whoever 'new Lisa' was, she didn't seem like the person I wanted to be in any way, shape or form. I spent days on the couch, doing, well, nothing. I kept up a pretty good facade, and I was better if I was busy, though I was exhausted all the time too. I could have (and often did) stay in bed most of the morning. I made excuses. I slept during the day. I didn't read for a couple of months. I just wasn't myself.

I didn't need anyone to tell me that 'new Lisa' was a bad person. If she was anything, she was just a shell of whoever I was, and wasn't anything like whoever the real me was.

The interesting thing (if you want to call it that), was that although I was withdrawing from most of my every day activities - work, friendship, things I liked, I really only made priorities of things that were time commitments I felt I couldn't break, and didn't want to. I got myself to Guide meetings, to musical rehearsals and to derby. Lots of advice about depression is about doing things you enjoy. I enjoyed these things, but once I was home again, I wouldn't sit around thinking how awesome that previous experience had been, or waiting with eager anticipation. I enjoyed those things while I was part of it, and then that was it.

A lot of people say things like "happiness is a choice," or "this is a first world problem". Let's address these misconceptions:

Happiness is a choice.
I think this is both cliche and something people genuinely believe. I don't think it's true. I mean, if I could choose to be happy, don't you think I just would have been? Depression is not a nice place to visit and no one wants to stay too long.

When things go wrong for you, when you lose someone, when someone you love is hurting, you are responsible only for the way you feel, and at these times, happiness should not be shoved at you as a choice all of the time. It's okay to be sad and mad and angry. But, no. Everyone just says things like "You have so much, you should be happy!" "Remember the good times!" "You used to be so happy/fun to be around/skinny... etc." Or, and, most dreaded, "these are first world problems!"

Are we always happy though? Or just content? I think we are content much more often than happy, and happiness is a state which is rare to achieve in every ordinary day. Please see the fabulous movie The Pursuit of Happyness for more information.

I think that people who think or say this have either motivation: 1) they don't want to be the cause of your "unhappiness", or be seen to be supporting it in anyway or 2) they have had blessings beyond measure and can't see anyone else's pain or sorrow.

First world problems.
Depression is not just a first world problem.

"First world" countries have a higher rate of depression than developing nations (yes, I'm PC about that one). I believe this is because depression is not seen as an illness and probably doesn't top the chart when it is considered alongside countries who face a HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Just because it is a so called "first world problem", it doesn't mean that depression (or anything else for that matter) is a problem.

Okay, so this is probably the place where I'm meant to tell you about some kind of miracle cure for depression. Look.... there isn't one.

My healing process was very slow and stop-start, but here is my little depression timeline in general.

April 2013: I visited a GP and asked for some tablets to help with anxiety as I kept having chest pains and felt this was due to stress. He gave me a script for medication, but also told me that it could cause a whole heap of side effects, including unmasking schizophrenia. I didn't get that script filled.

June 2013: Back to the GP for stress leave.

July 2013: Back to the GP for stress leave and a depression questionnaire. I went onto the waiting list for counselling.

Started a four week contract teaching Upper Primary.

August 2013: Lots of relief work all through term three.

September 2013: Finally moved off the waiting list for counselling and had sessions fortnightly.
Started my internship. Yay!

October 2013: Start of my low lows times. Two and a half days of relief work for the entire Term 4.
November 2013: Still doing counselling, but found that it probably wasn't supporting me enough. Felt incredibly lonely and isolated, even though this wasn't truth. I made a few calls to Lifeline, some more helpful than others. I was incredibly sad to be leaving my internship in mid December, and this was weighing on my mind a lot.

Got accepted to go to India for Girl Guides.

December 2013: Finished up my internship. Started looking into different study pathways, realised I already had a lot on my plate and no money to do things.

Sent off my application for financial support for my trip. We got new furniture and started doing things like socialising and spending time with my family.

January 2014: Last counselling sessions. Felt like I could manage a lot better than I had a few months about, but I would still have bouts of crying and general sadness. Spent lots of time with my Mum who gave me a lot of pep talks. Got pepped up again. Received financial support for my trip and started my new job. Went on a cruise with my family. Was reminded, and needed to be, that I have an awesome family who love me and want the best for me.

February 2014: What depression?! I realised that my trip was getting closer, and I was staying up at night worrying about my personal safety on the trip. Lots of self education, thank you Mr Google.

March 2014: Trip to India with girl Guides. Felt as if I could do ANYTHING. (Still do, actually.)

June 2014: Finally being able to speak about all of this without a) crying and b) getting worried about where conversations were going. Felt strong enough to fight.

In fairness, some of my depression was due to my responses to situations. I knew that I felt my career was a reflection of who I was, but I didn't see this as a bad thing. Now I know otherwise. What you do doesn't mean you are that persona of what a teacher, or an employed worker, or whatever you do. I also felt that at this time I was seeking advice and taking all of it on board. I let other people's opinions, ideas and world view shape my own for far too long.

Depression is something you can't just snap out of. You won't want to talk to every Tom, Dick and Hars about your problems (or lack thereof), but everyone will want to talk to you because they want to be "helpful". Some people are much more helpful than others, and plenty push their own opinions onto you without you even realising! Simple solutions don't always fix every problem.

Like I said, part of the reason I "came good" again was because my circumstances changed. I started a full time job, which I didn't really enjoy, but it was much better than sitting at home, trying to coax myself into going to gym (at which I failed epically) or eating chocolate biscuits (which I am very good at doing). My trip away did cause a lot of stress before I left, and while I was away I connected with lots of new people who I could really be myself with. It wasn't that seeing a country like India put my life into perspective, as many people would claim. It was being with other like minded ladies, and having fun, and hearing other people's stories that changed a little about how I see the world.

I want to apologise for the length of this post, but part of me knows it deserves to be this long.

I have a great support network, and lots of people were supportive when they didn't even know I was depressed. I hear often that I am a "happy" or "bubbly" person, and this is true. I am an introverted extrovert. I do get a lot of energy from other people I love most, and from doing things I thoroughly enjoy. But I need a lot of downtime too, and my extroverted ways only last when I'm with certain groups of people and not others. I tire easily of intense social situations, even ones I thoroughly enjoy.

Anyway, the cat would dearly like to be in front of the heater and it is time for gym and mystery shopping. Thanks for reading, if you got this far that is.

Love from Lisa xx

Defining the notion of family, friends and general togetherness

I sometimes become very confused at the way families work, especially given that I have spend most of my adult working life working in schools. Everybody is related. There's nothing quite like finding out that three boys in the same class are all actually brothers with different last names. (I can explain that one, but I won't.) And over the past few years I've seen plenty of aggravation around the idea of "I'll get you if you hurt my sweet and innocent sibling," which is kind of funny because Miss Sweet and Innocent most likely started it. Way back when I was not interested in any way, shape or form what my brother was doing on the playground - most likely doing boring boys things. Times, they are a changin'.

I still believe in wishing wells.

So in my house there lived Mum, Dad, Matt, Trent and I. And I had my small but extended family, including my four grandmothers and two grandfathers. If that's confusing, it isn't intentional.

Then I moved to Adelaide, made friends and then decided that friends can be just like family.

We don't usually go out in swimming attire for breakfast. The Temptation was calling our names.
Okay, with some notable exceptions.

Things that Urban Families can't do:
1. Do to the doctor with you. Alright, go and actually see the doctor with you. Because that is kind of creepy.
2. Keep holding onto your possessions for a really long time, to the point where they have assumed that you have taken it back, and actually it's just hidden behind their sheets in the linen press or something.
3. Actually be related to you by blood.
4. Pay for your wedding.
5. A whole bunch of other things families do and uphold. No one will get our strange Holbrook in jokes quite the same way, even if they are explained. In detail.

But Urban Families can do this:
1. Be on your side always, even when you are wrong.
2. Come around at most hours of the evening or night, especially when you're sick, sad or heartbroken.
3. Take you out to mend a broken heart, get drunk themselves and make you go to HJs for their burger cravings in your own car.
4. Drop boring stuff at the drop of a hat to do something fun.
5. Be your friend, not because they have to be but because they want to be.

Of course, Urban Families don't have half as much wisdom or insight as your own family. But they are pretty special.

For awhile there I had my family and my urban family. Of course, my real family remained the same core group of special people. My urban family grew and declined, but is essentially made up of most of the same members who started it all. Like the Baby Sitters Club, but better.

Now, I'd always had boyfriends, but somewhere along the way I realised Stephen was really my partner. Not because we lived together, because we didn't until after we were married. But we were making decisions and including one another in them - big decisions like purchasing things for our future home and bigger decisions like deciding to stay within a reasonable distance from one another. The way I saw it, a boyfriend was a nice guy who took you out on dates and may or not want to marry you. A partner was long term and someone you shared pretty much everything with, and not just to do with money, but experiences, and the really tough times too. And goals and secrets, and dreams and all sorts of things boyfriends aren't always very good for. Or, as I have decided, if your partner hasn't seen you without makeup, I don't think it counts as partnership. Not that you shouldn't dress up for your significant other, just sometimes it doesn't happen. So anyway, here we were, going on holidays and planning school work together and co-ordinating our incredibly jam-packed timetables...

And one day this happened:

The First Look. Yes, the grin looked even cheekier in real life. If you know Stephen, you'll understand.
So for a long time I'd kind of thought we were a couple with a cat and not an actual family. Fortunately a few things settled this lie for me.

Why couples are a family:
1. Statistics. ABS declare that a couple is a family.
2. Family leave.
3. Just because couples have a small family structure, doesn't mean they aren't an actual family. My mum has always said that family comes first, and since being married I think we have done that with relative success.
4. I don't know about you, but at night I come home to my family. Okay, so maybe I don't have any demands like mums do, and maybe I do just have a cat to feed and that's it, but home is really where the heart is.
5. Because you can choose who you marry in this country. In fact, it is the law to choose who you marry! So I chose Stephen and we are a family.

A lot of people tend to politely say things like "Sooooooo... when are you going to start a family?" Rational Lisa knows that this is their polite way of saying they want to know when we plan on having children. As I've been informed, this is a common occurrence for newlyweds. But it shouldn't be.

The stock answer I give to everyone, and it isn't a white lie or otherwise, is that we are enjoying just spending time together. We never lived together before we were married, we didn't spend every day together, seeing as we lived apart all the time we were dating. Can't we just be married and not worry about children? But then, I also consider that fact that we might not be blessed with children. There's no evidence saying this will happen, but what if we couldn't?

I dread hearing this family question, but I also dread it more for those couple who desperately want children or have lost children, or just can't have them in the foreseeable future. You, my coupled friends, are a family now. You started on the day you were married, or decided on your partnership, however long ago that ways.

So, when are we going to start a family?
We already are one.

I have three families. That makes me just a little bit special.

Gumnut Guides: Part of Lisa's Guiding History Lesson.

Last night we had a Girl Guide event called 'Back to Guiding and Scouting'. Lots of the girls have parents and grandparents who were part of the Movement, and we are often inundated with historical goodies the girls bring on seemingly random occasions. I LOVE learning about Guiding History. I wrote up a little poster for the girls about my time at Gumnut Guides. Enjoy.

When I was 7 I joined Gumnut Guides in Warrnambool.

Some of our activities were:

  •  Craft and cooking
  •  Service (like Clean Up Australia and fetes for Guides)
  • Walks and hikes
  • Excursions to different coastal areas around Warrnambool
  • Learning first aid skills
  • Dad and Daughter night (we had a lot of nights mums were invited to help, I guess they thought the dads were missing out!)

We had to pay a 50 cents each week for Unit fees. We all had a little dilly bag to put our money in, look after the prayer book and take crafts home. We were given a few badges from other countries, and also were given badges for special things we did, like an event with Scouts or when the Brownies came to visit us.

Our uniform was a tunic with the Gumnut Guides logo on it. The leaders looked after our tunics each week and we couldn’t always wear the same one. I always wanted to be early so I could get my favourite  pink tunic.

At the end of the night we would stand on the Brownie Ring and Sing the Gumnut Guides song:

We are Gumnut Guides, Gumnut Guides, listen to us sing.
Gumnut Guides, Gumnut Guides dancing in a ring.
We will try to care and share, you will find us everywhere.
Gumnut Guides, Gumnut Guides, listen to our song.
Gumnut Guides, Gumnut Guides, helping all day long

My favourite leader was Pinkisa. All out Guide Leaders had Guiding Names, most of them were to do with flora.

Each week a girl would take turns of bringing home the Gumnut Guide Prayer Book. We would write a special prayer in it and bring it back the next week.

For a few weeks we learned about fire safety. The leaders would put some paper designed to look like fire somewhere in the hall and we would have to leave safely. I found this a bit scary because it seemed very real! Dad was not amused by my sudden fire freak out one day, I don't think he realised I was a little bit petrified of this activity.

One penny hike we stopped off at our leader’s house and made a bird feeder for winter. We coated pinecones with peanut butter and used spoons to spread bird seed on them. This was a night which Mum came along to, and we often made these bird feeders afterwards.

After Gumnut Guides, which was a Friday night, Mum would take my brother and I to McDonald’s for a soft serve cone.

I had two friends at Gumnuts, Sherry and Kirsty. Kirsty and I made our Promise together when we became Brownies. We had lots of different girls come to visit us at Gumnuts, but they didn’t always stay. Because we were a younger unit we didn't go on camps or have sleepovers, but we were day visitors for a Brownie Camp once.

I loved being a Gumnut Guide!

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Another response to another Christian blogger: divorce parties and change - oh, my!

I might have bitten off more than I can chew here, but let's go on this anyway.

A guy called Matt Walsh writes a blog. He's conservative and has opinions long than a five year old's Christmas list. Scratch that, he probably doesn't believe in Santa either.

The blog I both agreed and disagreed with is this one: My wife is not the same woman I married.

But, really, the blog only touches on this topic.In lots of aspects, I can relate to Matt. Sure, we have only been married half the time he has and have no children, but we have certainly overcome a lot and done some pretty damn amazing this together. As my more newlywedded friends suggest, the honeymoon doesn't seem to wear off. But, if it does, we can work it out.

I'm a member of the Offbeat Bride Tribe. It has really be one of the best things I have ever done. Our online community is caring, kind and non-judgmental. Quite a number of those women have been married previously. And that gives me some kind of hope. As I said to one of my divorced friends, I often value their opinion much higher than my married friends. Because, so often, they can recognise their mistakes, and those of their previous partners.

This blog is anti-divorce and against divorce celebrations. Surely, we shouldn't be celebrating someone's divorce? It's not really about that. As some people know, I've been part of one of these so-called celebrations, and it isn't about saying 'yeah, marriage is stupid! Good on your for forsaking your vows!' No. It's about solidarity. It's about saying 'this time has really sucked and we want to do something fun with you to help you through it and recoginise where you have been'. At least, that's what it was about the one and only time I have been part of such an evening - even if it wasn't exactly stated quite that way at the time. Such things do not always need to be said.

Some great advice I was given a few years ago was that I can only worry about my own relationship, not other people's. They have to make their own mistakes and learn. And anyway, if I were to be in charge of everyone's romantic entanglements we would have plenty of unhappy people!

The other interesting thing about this blog is that it talks about how people change. Of course they do! We don't know the ins and outs of Matt's friend and his relationship. Perhaps it was more than what he led on. How many people give an offhanded comment when things don't turn out the way they expect? How many little white lies do we tell? Hundreds. Could this be such a case? Probably. But also, maybe marriage doesn't mean the same thing to him as it does to Matt. That doesn't make it right, but it does explain a lot. And it's okay not to have the same understanding of marriage. Even in our eyes, if it it is wrong, it doesn't mean we have to project all our beliefs onto the other person who is probably pretty miserable.

What gives everyone the right to be such a Judgy McJudgerstein anyway?
There are lots of great comments below this blog which are well worth the read. Matt makes so valid points, but it is so exclusive and unkind it is sometimes hard to get past it and look at where is heart is. Recently Matt has also responded to being seen as a hateful person. I don't believe he actually is, he just knows what be believes and uses other people's stories to validate his points, or attempt to discredit them completely. I just thought I'd respond here. Perhaps I am too inclusive, perhaps how I feel about things doesn't fit in with the conservative model of thinking, but at least I can love without constantly pointing out splinters and planks and so forth.

Why are we always looking backwards? All the other cool kids do it!

I saw a title of what I'm sure is a terrible article recemtly:

Was footy better in the 90s?

I didn't read it. I have read so many articles about the awesome stuff in the 90s from Buzzfeed that I no longer see references of 'Are You Afraid of the Dark' as some kind of novelty. Surely the 90s is recent enough that w don't need to be looking back at thinking 'Oh, the good old days'. Of course, the 'naughties', or at least the years from 2000-2009 are already been seen in a similar way.

I admit I love 90s stuff. I love 90s nights at the Hilton and Swish (sorry, Viva), and all the other dozens of places that host them. But a few too many 5ive replays and my head starts to hurt. What's cool about these nights out is that during the 90s we listened to these songs as children, and certainly couldn't go out dancing to BSB at the ripe old age of 13. So, some could say, we are making the most of it.

But should we?

Some commentators mention the lack of anything that isn't especially mainstream - there seems to be either pop, pop or more pop, even those the 90s were the age of grunge - makes this 90s flashback phase unauthentic.. Others have said that Gen Ys are crazy to be looking back fondly as their childhood television shows. Those tick lists appear randomly saying things like "We grew up with Harry Potter". "Streetlights were our curfew." Gen Xers think we are crazy, and just not really ready to be so nostalgic.

We probably are. I mean, we are now in 2014. I was almost fourteen at the turn of the millennium - that's half my lifetime. Also, I have very vivid memories of the 80s Lunch hour on 3YB in 1994. Part of the issue seems to stem from the fact that Gen Ys are able to access a lot of their good old days online. You can watch whole seasons and series of television shows online. You can download music easily without having to hunt them down at Capricorn Records and get reprimanded for not buying a U2 single when it was released (and not three years later - true story). You can easily locate friends from school using social media. We are doing what every generation has done before us in a completely different way. We are transparent about it, and that is the difference.

For awhile there I was really obsessed with stuff from my childhood. This happened at a really crappy time of my life and I found myself rereading old books, listening to "my" music and watching old television shows. Fortunately my brother set me straight and told me to move on. I have tried so very hard to stop reminiscing and get my head out of my "old time" stories. I have succeeded beyond my expectations. But I still like these girls:

Friday, 6 June 2014

Anna's Story by Bronwyn Donaghy: A book review

I have read and reread Anna's Story numerous times since first stumbling across it in the school library. It's a biograohy of Anna Wood, a fifteen year old girl who died due to risk taking behaviour. It could have been prevented. Anna's death was explored and reported by the media and her family have spent years infroming teenagers across Australia about the dangers of taking drugs.

Sadly, Bronwyn Donaghy, the author this this book passed away in 2002. The book was published soon after Anna's death and before a coroner's report was made available, so there is a little bit of misinformation in here. However, the book also covers a lot of information surrounding drugs, alcohol and the effect it has on young people. As a writer, Donaghy was sympathetic to the plight of the Wood family and diplomatic in the way she dealt with Anna's large assortment of best friends.

The book is made up of three parts, but I've devised my own 'parts'.

Part One: We learn about Anna.
I think I would have liked Anna. She seemed really cool and fun to be with. She liked the underdog. She liked helping people. She liked beauty and hair and all sorts of things.

Everyone who was friends with Anna says at the start of their chapter (yes, they have their own chapters) 'I am ____. I was Anna's best friend.'

Everybody is Anna's best friend. Then again, I remember being a teenager well enough. Everyone was either my best friend, someone I worked with or someone I didn't like. That was it. Maybe it is the same for Anna. They all say she liked hugs (one friend suggests teenagers hug so much because their parents don't hug them enough), that she didn't really approve of drugs but she tried some ecstasy previous to her second lethal dose. She smoked sometimes and she was trying to give it up.

As a straight edge kid (no smoking, no drinking, certainly never exceeding my midnight curfew), and someone who lies with great difficulty, Anna seemed much more sophisticated than me. Maybe that's just me though, I don't know.

Part Two: Information and advice (as scattered around the book)
Forget harm minimisation, these kids should have known better. They should have been smarter. They should have been educated enough to dial am ambulance. They coulda shoulda woulda done a lot of things, but we are speaking about children here. Yes, almost adults, but still, they are children. I did some stupid things at fifteen, and had I been in Chloe's shoes I probably would have listened to the nurse in the toilets who said to give her lots of water and put her to bed, rather than calling my parents and telling them what happened.

Then again, they are my parents and I probably would have called them.

Anna's family have continued to call for zero tolerance of drugs and it has been stated elsewhere that this stance, as would have been accepted in the community in 1995 even more so than today, may have been a contributing factor to Anna's death. Those kids were scared of being in trouble with their families and with the police, even though some of them had not had anything to do with drugs, other than accompanying Anna to the nightclub.

It has made me wonder what my stance on drugs is. This is one of the reasons why I think this book works, but only if you keep your own judgement thinking cap on. I am a believer in harm minimization. I have never taken illegal drugs - I've never even smoked. I only ever drank underage twice, with my parents' consent. I would hate for other people I love to be involved in this, but I never want to leave someone without an option the way Anna's friends felt - at least, I assume they felt from reading this book.

Anyway. Plenty of information scattered around this book as a way of helping inform teenagers about risks associated with risk taking.

Part Three: Anna's death and aftermath
Using all of the accounts of the interviewees, Donaghy captured a detailed narrative of the Saturday night and Sunday morning, the last 24 hours Anna was really 'with' her friends and family. We are told of a list of people to keep away from the Woods and the hospital, and of Alice's reaction to one of Anna's friends's being minformed regarding her list status. We hear a tale of some hyper teenagers, who share ecstasy tablets, teenagers who dance to techno music and them become rapidly ill, one of whom becomes so ill that she dies due to the effect of the drug. The book refers countless times to the fact that had Anna been sent to hospital sooner, she would probably be alive. The coroner's report and other readings have not supported this claim, and I'm not sure whether that means a speedier trip to the hospital would have helped. Of course we can only speculate now, right?

It simply isn't fair.
What if Anna has said no to taking the tablet that night?
What if she had just stayed in with her family?

This isn't a bloggy book review I ever wanted to write. It's a sad, sad story.

But here's some more quick thoughts from me (adult Lisa, not teenage version) about the book.

1. Family.
I'm not a parent, and not going to lay into Anna's parents because by most accounts they were loving people who were kind and thoughtful. Obviously, we are talking about a close knit community, where people know friends of friends. I so wish that Anna had left school earlier, had been taken away from her friends or had been discouraged to see them. But teenage Lisa knows that is virtually impossible. Also, what was the deal with George? Does he really not remember promising Tony to look after his daughter? Or did it ever happen?

Following her death, Tony and Angela Wood has been outspoken on their view on drugs. Tony especially has been asked to give commentary on similar circumstances, such as his response to Annabel Catt's death in 2007.  One particular comment doesn't sit right with me, and that is the instance that Anna didn't know ecstasy was illegal, especially seeing as Anna was often told to be encouraging her friends not to take drugs and that he friends were scared of being caught. But, who am I to really know?

2. Techno music.
Or dance music, as I like to call it, is an old friend of mine.It's described in the book this way 'Techno music relies on a repetitive thudding beat. It is raucous, continuous, monotonous and loud'. Oh, my poor dance music. I am sorry you were described this way. I still want to know how Anna and her friends managed to get into the club, and why if Chloe wasn't in, how did Anna manage to know so many people in club?

This aside, clubbing, raves and the dance scene don't kill people. Drugs sometimes kill people and how people deal with drugs being in their body also sometimes kills them. Yes, perhaps I am a bit naive, however labelling music as a gateway to drugs is really not cool. Plus, Geri Haliwell said after returning from her first rave "I've found my people". I love Geri.

3. Why did Anna die?
It depends on how you want to look at it, but Anna's death was a result of water intoxication, which resulted in her brain swelling and blood being unable to travel to it. This wouldn't have happened under normal circumstances, had Anna just not taken the tablet. The book was published too soon after her death to discuss the report which you can access here.

It is sad that is story needs to be told at all. It's almost twenty years since Anna's death, and it is still being talked about. Simply do a search on Google and you'll be surprised at the result. Rest in peace sweet girl.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Reflections on India, three months down the road.

The past few weeks I have been saying things like:

I miss India.

I'll be going back sometime soon.

I'll be going back after awhile to see how Pune has changed.

I don't need to go to (name a random holiday destination), I've already been to India this year.

The WAGGGS World Flag
Mostly though I have been saying how much I miss India, which may seem a little silly as I did only spend a week there. But a week felt like a very long time. We were busy almost 24/7 - yes, sleep is included in that. I miss the sights and the sounds and the colour of what is an incredibly diverse country.

And I miss Sangam, which was the real reason I went. Sangam is one of the four World Centres of the Girl Guide Movement. You can read about Sangam on their website. You can also read about why I encountered on my first International Girl Guide trip elsewhere on my blog.

I've been a Girl Guide since I was six, and then had a very long time away from it. When I married Stephen and moved to Kadina, I decided I wanted to still be a Girl Guide. In fact, I wanted to volunteer my time with the girls there and maybe become an Olave member. The great thing about the Movement is that once you're in; you're in. Yes, I remade my Promise again (no toadstools this time), and I am diligently working my way through a Leadership Qualification - much move involved than one would usually expect from a volunteer organisation. I don't mind, it really is much more than that. 10 million girls can't be wrong after all.
Off to buy saris on Laxmi Road. we just had to leave Sangam first.
Guides have something special they learn early on - the Links of Unity/Symbols of the Movement. The right handed salute and the left hand shake are some you will probably more commonly see. Our World Flag, and the World Song were especially important to me while I was at Sangam. But it is more than that. When I am a Girl Guide and with other people from the Movement, I am home. When I am in uniform I am brave. When I'm snuggled up in my bedroll and I listen to the sounds of giggling girls (and in the case of adult residentials also), I am at peace. Standing on the lines of a Brownie Ring, I am both six and twenty eight, all at once.

To me, going to Sangam was like going home. There were aspects I struggled with - communal mealtimes and the lack of privacy were two that I anticipated but coped with better than I expected. Over all I was waking up and going about my day with girls from all around the world who may be incredibly different to me in terms of backgrounds, but essentially had a similar worldview and wanted the very best for their Units of girls, wherever they may meet.

When I left on the last day, the girls sang me a Farewell song and I tried my hardest not to cry. Actually, I cried and composed myself enough to call out "Goodbye" at the gate in my loudest voice. You see, I was actually ready to go back home to Australia and my own family and my own Girls. But seeing as you can have many homes wherever you like, I was leaving one and coming back to another.
Our Peace Ceremony. You can only carry flags of another country, not your own.

Do I miss India, or Sangam, or my time at the Be the Change MDG3 event?

This question has been plaguing me for awhile now, and the simple answer is 'well, probably all three.' Of course, there are plenty of things I don't miss - homesickness, the unexpected nature of India, being bitten by bugs when it rained. But a lot of those things are trivial in comparison to what I experienced. The other thing is - if I can admit it - is that come a few weeks before I was due to fly out I was pretty terrified. Flying on my own two two foreign countries? Check. Midnight til dawn car ride for four hours? Check. Squat toilets? Check. A country where I should be prepared to almost anything, but couldn't anticipate what may happen to me? Check.

Why did I do it?

Because it was all paid for.
Because everyone was so incredibly excited and nervous and happy for me.
Because I said I would, and I meant what I said. But most of all...

Because I'm a Girl Guide and I can do anything.

No, really. If I have learnt anything at all from my time away, I really can do anything. Collectively. I've got 10 million girls by my side.

Sari time! Love these ladies.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Some quiet reflection on Laura, the Little House books and the daughter who may have penned them.

At eleven years old I fell truly, madly and deeply in love with the Little House books. They are a series of eight books about Laura Ingalls and her family who lived a travelling life in the colonial years of America. Starting in Pepin, Wisconsin and concluding in Det Smet, South Dakota, we follow the Ingalls around on their trek to 'the West'. It's idealistic, fun and a tale of an almost completely self sufficient family. As a main character, Laura is a lot of fun and has a great sense of humour.

Like almost every girl who has read the Little House books, to me Laura is a true friend. On some of my most important occasions, including my first eisteddfod, my wedding, my first year of marriage, the day before I started teaching and even when trying survive a heat wave (I thought 'The Long Winter' would help me cool down), I have reread Laura's words and found a companion I will never meet but truly know. Laura's world is not one I can relate to in any way. She has three sisters by the conclusion of the series, she is very clever and noble and she is an excellent seamstress. She is also American, and though one of my biographies include a map of the places Laura lived, I am still quite poor at American geography. Why love Laura though? I guess if you haven't done so, you should read the books.

Laura's books are Little House books is as historically accurate as possible, with Laura researching the Native Americans (Osage) who lived near her family because she wanted to give historically accurate information to her young readers. The books don't touch on the 'lost years', including the death of Laura's brother Freddie, and the fact that the Ingalls family was  working for murderous innkeepers. After all, these are stories written for children, the former would not be addressed in books written in the early 20th century; while the latter who not be written about now, regardless. Laura's own chronological story also changes, making herself older the the first few books, but then skipping 'the lost years' meant she caught up in the age gap.
what is known as 'historical fiction'. Essentially this broad genre captures the essence of a time and place, it may be based on fact, but there are elements within the text which make it fictional. I have read that much of the

From some of my own research, I have done much reading about the contested authorship of the Little House books. Here is some basic information you may find interesting. I know I did.

Pioneer Girl
The Little House books began when Laura produced 'Pioneer Girl', a serial to be published in newspapers or magazines about her life growing up on the prairie. This was never picked up, and instead her daughter Rose helped shape the idea of a book series.

Laura's Literary Career
Laura didn't finish high school, and this fact often opens the argument as to whether Laura would be able to write this books without creative assistance. In These Happy Golden Years, Laura's teacher is distraught by the fact that he held Laura back so she could graduate with her classmates at the same time, which points to the fact that she would have finished school, had she been permitted to attend after she was married, or if her teacher let her graduate without the other students.

Laura had written columns for her local newspapers under such titles as 'How the farm woman thinks'. She was no stranger to writing and had kept journals, wrote frequent letters and loved to read. To me the argument that Laura could not have written her novels is invalid based solely on this point. I do concede that she had assistance in her writing, perhaps from her daughter Rose.

Rose - journalist and author
First things first. I really dislike Rose. She was kind of a jerk.

Rose was a journalist who travelled oversea for a range of assignments. She was considered a bit of a hack in writing circles. She wrote novels including Let the Hurricane Roar, which is essentially a plot based on her knowledge of the Little House books. She allegedly did not get along with her parents very well, but built them a stone house on their own property which she had wired and expected them to live in, while she herself remodelled their former home. Laura and Almanzo never liked it and lived their very briefly before returning to their house. Rose had written Forewords and Afterwards in On the Way Home (when the Wilders moved to the Ozarks) and I found her writing condescending and rough at best. I didn't like it. Also, I probably never forgave Rose for setting Laura and Almanzo's house on fire when she was very little.

All those things aside, there is plenty of proof that Rose did have a hand in editing the Little House books. Correspondence between mother and daughter suggest that books were penned by Laura, then edited and typed by Rose. Some scholars have suggested that Laura gave the stories and plot, Rose gave it style. It seems that it was rather seamless in the way this has been done, until you look at The First Four Years.

The First Four Years
It depends where you believe the canon books end, but this one is the eighth book in the series. Many prefer to see These Happy Golden Years being the conclusion to the canon as Laura and Almanzo ride off into the sunset together - literally.

This book was published after the deaths of Laura and Rose, and an introduction states this was an unpublished first draft. Much shorter than the other books, this one outlines the first few years of marriage from Laura's point of view. In my opinion, very few things go right for our favourite heroine. The newly wedded Wilders faced failing crops, huge debts, a bout of diphtheria which  left Almanzo permanently unable to walk unassisted. Laura gave birth to a healthy daughter, Rose, but family friends the Boasts propositioned to buy her from the Wilders as Mrs Boast could never have children. Even trusty Shep, Almanzo's sheepdog, runs off in a huff. Typically Lauraesque, the book finished on an optimistic note, but in reality the Wilders faced quite a few more difficult years after these first four.

This book, while a good read, is stylistically different to the others in the series. There is less about the fashion, less dialogue and less detail about almost everything. When compared to the way Laura describes her first house in These Happy Golden Years (swoon - if only every new bride could have a house like that), there is a remarkable difference between the two. However, we must remember that is was a draft, and a project which Laura has lost interest in having published. If you use it for the argument that Rose styled a lot of the writing, this is most likely correct.

The big question still remains - who wrote the books?
Laura, of course.
Bur Rose helped along the way, and was never acknowledged for her assistance, at least not within the books the same way other authors may do now.
We will probably never know, though I have read that it is probably 70% Laura's work and 30% Rose's. But it is still Laura's story.

I love you Laura.