The Wife Drought {Book Review}

the-wife-drought-book-review

I have finally read the luminous Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought. Annabel Crabb is an utterly reassuring person. What she contributes to our collective, Australian psyche is hard, I think, to overestimate. The fact that she has also reproduced (both the paper kind and flesh-and-blood kind) gives me hope in our collective future. She is the new kind of Aussie Character, taking over from the “Aussie Battler”, smart, energetic, witty, well dressed and so, so nice with her self-effacing grin softening every probing question.

How could you not totally adore her.

I have long loved her via Kitchen Cabinet, that rare gem of good television (thank you, ABC, you little ripper), and this book firmly entrenches Annabel (let’s not defer to last names here) as my number three celebrity crush. (Adam and Hugh are alongside her in equal ranks. Adam because, like Annabel, he effuses a new kind of Australian: eloquent, engaging and erudite. Hugh because as much as I like to see upandcomers do well it’s also good to see a nice British toff get all environmentalist and reformist, though I’m sure he makes a bit of cash off the back of it. Nevermind. I like him.)

So, I guess you can see, I rate the book. I do. She offers stats, data and interesting little anecdotes supporting the need for more help for women wanting to get back into the workforce. She relates to our common humanity, my favourite line: “My definition of breaking point is when you communicate exclusively in shrieks and can only work while drunk.” Oh yes, you get us, don’t you, Annabel! You know what it is like to be totally and unshakeably human. She does not downplay the challenges in living a balanced, or even unbalanced, life in Australia. She knows the statistics tell personal stories. She knows these matters are complex, and often personal, so she gives them careful treatment in all their shades of grey.

Not least she skirts very close to something I have long held questions about. That is that, yes, people do need the fulfillment of meaningful work, people do need to invest in their super so that they can retire without having to go dumpster diving (though some might enjoy that…aging hipsters?) and yes, careers can be fun but…men too need lives…and so she flirts with the unstated question: Do women actually have it pretty good in being (culturally acceptably) able to take several years off work (notwithstanding what that does to one’s professional life), but are men, therefore, missing out? So, perhaps then the single thing keeping women out of boardrooms is not just inequality of opportunity (i.e. no wives). The opposite side of that coin is that, well…maybe women don’t want to be competing in the workplace, not because it’s too difficult, but actually because they’ve got it worked out: family life is the good life! (If only it paid Super)  It’s the unasked question that Annabel doesn’t utter. And in uttering it myself I can happily say that I gladly “took time off” to raise kids (eight years in fact) and didn’t doubt myself or utter curses at the universe in the process. I wanted to do it. I would do it over. It would be nice if someone had contributed some super while I was doing it but…it was worth it. Many of the other mums I’ve met on the giggle and wiggle circuit feel the same. When I’m still working at 70 I’m sure it will still be worth it, because I’d rather work then than then, if you know what I mean. In fact, now, spookily mirroring the words of this book, my husband wants a turn. Having Annabel’s words cheering me on and validating this new turn of events is giving me the confidence and empathy to, why not, let him have it! It’s time for me to move over and let a man have a go, to switch the terminology around.

Despite only fully unpacking one side of this coin, Annabel moves between stories like mine and national statistics (or lack thereof) taking us along on a rollickingly good ride with herself as the compere. She does a bloody good job of it and by the end she has us all convinced (not that we weren’t already) that yes, women do need wives! And also, yes, men need lives! I’m all for her advocacy of a little bit of switcheroo happening in the spirit of give-and-give so that we can all ride the merry-go-round together in a spirit of sharing the load, whether that’s domestic servitude or corporate slavery, power broking or block building.

Biographies and people…crummy, beautiful people

Of every type of literature I like biographies, memoirs and autobiographies the best.

I am reading In Search of Stones by M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist who rose to fame after writing The Road Less Traveled. I am at once irritated and fascinated by this mini memoir (actually, the book is large, but it covers only three weeks of time along with numerous life accounts along the way).

I am getting the impression that he is a psychiatrist, not so much because he is fascinated by people (I’m sure he is that), but that he is fascinated by himself and the lifelong journey that he has pursued in unearthing all that is within him. I relate to this, but he is just a little too self-absorbed. He is one of those people who I would say likes the sound of his own voice. This is okay. He has stuff in his life to deal with, he has been dealing with it for over fifty years, the stuff is ongoing. I guess he serves as an example. We all serve as examples of one kind or another. The wonderful thing about books is that they can take us right to the heart of other people. Writing does that in a way that talking can’t and watching can only do on a mere surface level. M. Scott’s voice is in my head and I’m okay with it being there. There’s insight directly from him and there’s insight from within myself projected onto the experience he is recounting.

I find people endlessly fascinating. I myself have been on a journey into my own soul over the years and I’m a big believer in dealing with the dysfunction in your life. Dysfunction during development leads to faulty brain chemistry and I would hate to be projecting my dysfunction onto the people around me, especially my children. I’ve just always hoped that I could make the fix quick, but it seems to take a while, and takes fortitude and looking at oneself objectively.

I’ve also found that dealing with my stuff has allowed my husband and I to grow closer because instead of me reacting out of dysfunction I can instead be objective about myself and think ‘now, why am I angry about this? Is it a reasonable thing to be angry about? Where is this feeling coming from? Why do I feel threatened right now?’. It means that instead of attacking him out of hurt or insecurity I can bring him on board to really understand where I am coming from and this, in turn has allowed him to do the same. It’s been incredible for our relationship to live in this state of honesty. It is in fact deeply healing.

 

The thing about stuff

So, recently I’ve been on a mission to declutter, clear out, recycle, reuse, produce little waste etc. etc. One day when I was ranting on about this stuff to some new friends one kind soul piped up and said, “my view is that it costs you money to buy it and it costs you nothing to keep it.” This was in the middle of my throwing out everything stage (though, in reality, everything is not everything).

She’s had me thinking though and recently these thoughts have taken some kind of communicable form.

One thing which I have been wondering about has been the ‘why’ of why stuff can tug at our emotions and heart the way it sometimes does.

Some things I now regret tossing. So what’s with that???

There’s that pram I bought in New Zealand, those three mats which I thought weren’t my style any longer (turns out they still are and when we were in a house and needed a bath mat or two I had to go and buy another), that blackboard which was such a find at a monastery fete, which I passed on to a friend and since have a small longing for it which I continually squash, even some of my solid furniture (bookshelves and the like) which I also passed on and could actually use now and have had trouble replacing….even that desk which I loved and never bought and think ‘damn’ if only

What’s with stuff??

And it’s this (I think). We invite stuff into our life and when we do we take responsibility for it. From that point onwards it is our responsibility where that stuff ends up. Landfill, second-hand stalls, even when given to friends there is still that biting responsibility: is that stuff being used to the best of it’s ability? Is it being wasted? Will it go to landfill after several uses simply because the second or third person along the chain can not care for or repair it?

It is strange that even when friends hand stuff over to me there is still that element of: “oh, that is *Jenny’s* chair” even after a number of years. Sometimes I do not emotionally let go of stuff too and I think it’s tied up with this idea of responsibility. It’s a bit like children or puppies.

So I think this kind of approach toward stuff can fill us (or me, at least) with a new kind of trepidation when making something or buying something or taking something into my own life. When I stick my hand up to become an owner I am accepting responsibility for that object’s existence, it’s end, it’s care. Even if I casually pass something on to the second hand store that is not its end (I have heard that much of our second hand clothing ends up in poorer countries where traditional methods of clothing production are suffering because of an inundation of our (tacky, polyester) clothing rejects so…I mean, I don’t want to contribute to that!!). We can use the second-hand dealer as a bit of a cop-out to dealing with our stuff I think.

As the potential owner of stuff I have the responsibility to ensure that my stuff is well made, ethically made, high quality, cared for and when my use for it is over my responsibility is to ensure it’s end is a good one or at least pass it on carefully and conscientiously.

So, this is my thinking currently. Does anyone else have any ideas about this?

Blogs. This Blog

I saw a trailer for a movie about bloggers and…I’ve become a little blase about it all.

One thing the husband and I have been talking about (over the last several years – it’s been an ongoing and continually developing conversation) has been the quality of our lives on this earth. In a world where noise is everywhere, where the number of people currently making their lives here on this earth is growing, where addictive consumerism is everywhere, where mind numbing, brain dulling tools are numerous and at the tips of everyone’s fingertips (tv’s, phones, the internet, addictive computer games, food-food-food, fashion) what is it that we want our lives to count for?

The run through of most of these bloggers proved they were mostly women who blogged about ‘fashion, food, kids, craft’ and all of them, all of us I should say as…I blog…are contributing to the noise that exists on this wonderful world wide web, which is one of the final bastions of freedom, where, unlike the struggle of buying a house you can acquire a ‘page’, an online home, for free! Expression is relatively unfettered and it is a place where ideals seem real and attainable due mostly to the magic of photography, a medium which thrives within the four walls of a computer screen.

The thing is that I don’t know if I want to be contributing to this noise.

One reason I dropped craft oh so many moons ago is that I just couldn’t stand the thought of churning out thing after thing, maybe buying completely unnecessary bits and bobs from el cheapo craft stores in order to fulfill some fantastical ideal of being the mummy that makes things. How could I utilise junk to create more junk all for the sake of crafting for the sake of crafting. No. It’s not good enough. The days of sitting down to make a doily or paint dipped cutlery or adding ‘pops’ of colour to the back of a kitchen cabinet or sequining up a frock, these days are over for me simply because I am much more environmentally conscious than I was and I am sick of the treadmill of consumerism, which crafting can be a subtle cousin of.

Not that I am against making things, but my position is more: QUALITY

In a world where there are billions of people we need to forget about achieving simply many things in our small, short lives, need to stop rushing so much, need to back off the attainment of many things and instead seek to acquire very well made items which will last many many years. There needs to be fewer things of greater quality.

Working on our bus-home has been influencing me this way. I realise so strongly that I would rather our bus be completely beautiful and very strongly built and be a joy to live in for the next several years, even if it takes us a year or two longer to build than we thought. Later, I would rather build just one very good dwelling place (and a small one, not a waste-of-ground-space-mansion) instead of buy my way through several badly built excuses for houses. If I wrote books I would rather write just one worthwhile work than several money-spinners. If I were an artist I would rather paint (or insert medium) five masterpieces than churn out many works or unextraordinary forgettable nonsense. If I were in the business way I would want to build just one small, caring, high quality business without any thought for ‘taking over the world’ for fear the quality of it would be compromised. Think chain stores vs a local cafe.

You see where I’m going with this.

As a people we can’t afford to waste any more. The other 6 999 999 999 people deserve for my life to be one of quality not quantity, just adding to the noise, the chaos, the insipid waste of it all, this planet which is groaning under the weight of our garbage also deserves better.

And so, because I blog, instead of blogging up billions I have to stick by my values and refuse to contribute to the noise of all those mummy/fashion/food/craft/lifestyle blogs out there and instead stick to something which could be of more value. The idea is: less noise, more depth.

The 15 months we’ve spent in Young simply building are coming to an end. We are still going to be building, but we are just juggling things around a bit so that we can have a better quality of life while we (slowly) build. While this is happening and while I am beginning to invest in my photography business, and while I am studying, this blog is going to receive a bit of an overhaul as well. I’m not dropping it but I’m going to focus things so that they reflect some of these values which I’ve just mentioned.

I’m inspired by such blogs as Aurajoon and mnmlist, and my wish is to approach blogging without such a frenzy to post frequently or meaninglessly, to generate hits or cash or anything like that. When such things become the focus the things that really matter suffer.

Don’t worry. I’ll keep you in the loop.

Photography

I caught sight of a photograph of myself dancing.

Now, I do find dancing rather ridiculous. Mostly I see people dance and I think: ‘why would you dance?’ And other times I just wanna DANCE!

Dancing is an ephemeral activity, it is being at one with the moment and its translation to photography totally changes its meaning and purpose.

For one, my memory of dancing is contained through my own eyes, and photographing it to ‘capture’ that memory is hardly possible while you are boogeying your behind. To see a photograph of the act is to accept another persons translation of your own activity, it changes the memory, it even changes the activity.

For me, dancing is completely in the moment. It is, primarily, an experience for the dancer. It is, secondarily, a spectacle for the spectator. I wish I had done dancing lessons as a child. The experience of using your body to engage with the present moment is one I just love. It is freedom and joy and life. It is cathartic.

Once it is over it becomes a fuzzy memory. Maybe something I will not participate in for a long while yet. Something that in many ways I am glad to forget about or reduce to a fuzzy memory, where I don’t think about what an idiot I looked like (as I am certain I do!) but I remember my feelings in that moment, my beingness, these can’t be captured on film, they just become a part of your whole being, a sum of who you are and who you have been.

Sometimes photography fails us.

Do we have to reduce everything to a 2D image? Can’t some things, many things, most things remain inside our souls. The visual is not all there is to life. Reducing something to a visual diminishes life in many ways I think.

Photography is valuable in many ways, but it can not replace memories. We can not remember everything, though it seems, through our addiction to the medium (I wonder if we can blame our online lives for this), that we are trying to.

Martin Buber showed me the light

Martin Buber showed me the light.

Martin Buber was a philosopher on education. Now, that sounds slightly dull but, truly, it is not. If we take the point of view that education occurs every day of our lives through nearly every relationship then really he educates on relationships.

He was declared an exceptional teacher by his students (and you’d think they ought to know):

(He was) the greatest teacher of our generation. He was an educator in the true sense of the word and within the limits of his own definition of it. He did not try to impose a self-evident formula upon his pupils, but posed questions which forced them to find their own answers. He did not want his pupils to follow him docilely, but to take their own individual paths

(http://infed.org/mobi/martin-buber-on-education/)

The right way to teach, he said, was ‘the personal example springing spontaneously and naturally from the whole man’. This meant that the teacher should constantly examine his conscience. Indeed, every man should do this; but a teacher most of all, as he could not teach others if his own example was flawed.

(http://infed.org/mobi/martin-buber-on-education/)

What struck me while reading through some of Buber’s philosophies was his extraction of the term ‘dialogue’. Dialogue is what occurs between people.

There are three types of dialogue:

Technical (based on the need to acquire an objective understanding)

Monologue (men talking to themselves really, while pretending to talk to another) (this happens most of the time)

Genuine (meeting of souls, ‘I-Thou can be spoken only with the whole being’ (Buber 1958, 24). It is turning towards the other, is not found by seeking, but by grace

Too often (most often) our interactions with each other revolve around monologue. I say my monologue while you barely listen and then you say your monologue while I barely listen. I might seem to agree but my thoughts are still my own and your thoughts hardly affect mine. This is not true conversation, but it is what people often call dialogue, this is how people usually relate.

Buber’s take on dialogue firstly involves the important step of inclusion, which is not empathy, it is the ability to extend oneself and experience an event from the point of view of oneself as well as of the other at the same point in time, he called it developing a ‘dual sensation’.

What Buber is essentially prescribing as true dialogue is a connection of souls. He talks much of the in-between, what is in-between our words, what is in-between two people, he talks of walking the path where ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ becomes ‘we’.

Towards the end of his life he valued highly the state of silence, attentive silence where there was space, space to feel and to know.

I have seen the light because I used to be quite good at finding the in-between and connecting with ‘the divine’, and also I felt I was better able to reach the hearts of other people, or perhaps it was that my heart was involved in the connection more than it is today.

Over the years I’ve lost a little of this. I’ve become a lot more concerned with my own opinion and so I’ve become too monologous for my liking. (Would it be accurate to say that I lost my heart behind all my head knowledge? Perhaps)

I’ve lost too much dialogue in life.

There is not enough silence.

Actually I found this occurring more and more after having kids. I had to talk more with children (give instruction etc) and I had less time to talk adult to adult, and even less time to find space. When I met with friends I just regurgitated information or blurted out everything I’d not been able to all week or month or however long.

Sometimes I stepped back from myself and asked: ‘is this me?’

It was a different me.

I have also stepped into a realm of head knowledge, both through discussing the things my husband likes to discuss and through university studies. I am glad about this, but it has made me a little opinionated….

now, I am pretty happy to be opinionated about some things. I am so passionate about human beings treatment of this planet and its other inhabitants (both human and other) that I find it hard to see any greys (though I am realising that there are differences of ways here). And there are a bunch of ethical issues that I am pretty black and white about. I am anti-corporation and I despise global markets and abuse of military power….etc etc. blah blah. You get the picture.

But in all this lambasting there are people.

There are the people involved.

There are the people listening to me.

There are still the people around me.

And while it’s good to take a moral standpoint, it’s even more important to create a silence for truth (of heart) to emerge, to create with words and with silence an atmosphere of love and acceptance and stillness.

I’m going to have to rediscover this stillness, I’m going to have to still myself and my busy mind to get there.

But I like this in-betweenness, I get it and I want it.

*This is personal, but I feel it’s an important truth/philosophy/understanding to share. Maybe you will relate? In the quest for a pared back, less consumerist life, one that does not buy into some of our unchallenged Western ideas of ‘a good life’, I feel it is important to raise this issue as, surely, it is relationship that lies at the heart of meaningful living and understanding of ourselves.