Binary choice

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It took years. This search for the answer to “who am I?” She doubts if she is any closer to the truth, assuming there is one. Each time she thought she was near, the road lengthened. She felt a sense of belonging in her world, moving within it with ease and confidence, only to be jolted by an unkind word or an ignorant perhaps innocent question. “Where are you from?” Betrayed by the colour of her skin.

Frankly, she never fully belonged in any one place. Something other always beckoning. Certainly not in her childhood. In that place far from where she is now, she was the loner. Children played on dusty streets, delighting in the after-school romps and occasional ice-cream from the ice-cream man, sweaty from the tropical sun as he leaned out from the little van. She was in her room immersed in her own world of words and thoughts, sometimes annoyed by the of sounds of glee punctuating her hard won quiet. Living in a modest single-storey 3-bedroom house and accommodating six, her moments of quiet were precious and rare. There in pages of her books she dreamt of a world far away, in fact quite similar to where she is now, where children are seen and respected as individuals with voice. Where her female-ness is cherished for more than its pretty-ness. It is easy now to look back and identify the insidious manner in which she was undermined. Being a young girl, her accomplishments, and there were many, were badges worn by her parents, an honour ascribed to her family. Where she was not a person yet but she would soon, or so she thought.

That did not come to pass. The struggle to be her own person intensified throughout her adolescence and teenage years. For every intelligent gesture, she was brought down by a fact she could not deny, she was a girl. For every intelligent word, she was told she would marry anyway and they would be in vain. For every little act of kindness and love, a show of vulnerability and compassion, she was confirmed as weak.

So she learnt to be tough, to armour up against a world which sought to “protect” women by disempowering them. She learnt to be like a man, though penis-envy did not last long. She learnt to use her intelligence to convince the rational men of her “right-ness”. Little did she know, she would only be labelled arrogant, a bitch. For intelligence in a man is privileged, in a woman it is threatening and deserving of scorn.

She left that oppressive world with cunning and great effort. Appealing to her father’s pride, she arrived in a land antithesis to hers. The freedom exhibited by those around her was exhilarating and full of promise. She had found the world of her childhood books. The possibilities inspiring and … intimidating. That was when she discovered she had not escaped after all. While she might peer into this world, she found herself restrained by an impulse to hide. While she longed for the limelight, she suspected she was not good enough. She played in the shadows, daring only to step into the peripheral of light in one aspect of her life which had never failed her – academia. Here at least she could be queen for a day. She knew then that unless she kept up with her efforts, this too would be lost to her. And she paid the price of self-sufficiency willingly, withdrawing further into a world of thoughts. The bars of her self-doubt and unworthiness caged around her, seemingly never to leave.

And when her knight in shining armour arrived, it was not on a noble steed but a black charger She found what she had lost many years ago in that far away land. The expression of her freedom and care free existence, and the power that came with giving the world the proverbial middle finger. She was happy, at last.

DINKs (Double Income No Kids), they were called and remained so for many years. She continued to exist within the boundaries of her cage, not that she knew or cared. Her world beguiled. And she met the expectations for a corporate professional living in a capitalist Western urban environment. Yet her past whispered incessantly, reminding her of what she had denounced. Amidst the oppressive world of her childhood, light did shine. The sense of connection and belonging to familiar rituals and common purpose; attuning to a sense of community and doing for a greater good than the self. Again, she fought. The self she had claimed within her so-called new world had equipped her with stronger armour – that of social and financial independence, freedom of speech and the language of rights – reinforcing the battle lines between old and new worlds. She had chosen, yet unease remained. She ought to be happy, contend at least but even that was slipping away.

Losing herself was something she never thought to experience or believed possible. But some things, she saw with hindsight, were beyond her control. That was at least a comforting thought. And this loss and the emptiness did not stand in her way of success and family. Ironically the portent from the life she thought she had escaped, the words “you’ll just marry and have children no matter how clever you are” had come to pass despite the resistance. She can now smile at her younger naïve self who believed in the dichotomy between marriage and family, and success. It is but an exercise in interpretation.

She had never fought so hard, but she did then – for herself and to know what she wanted from the one life she had. She saw now the lessons of her youth. The travels from being caged by her past through recriminations and blame to acknowledging the lessons of her youth. These well-intentioned lessons delivered via suspect means were valuable after all. Together with a parallel exploration of the flawed self and the integrated life she must live, change was inevitable.

She would not be a fugitive forever, running away, hiding and avoiding. She would be all of herself – the old, the new, the one to come and everything in-between – embracing them in her world that she has created. Yes, she has rediscovered her creativity too.

So it is that she is still taken aback when she is required to locate herself in one world or another. Where is she from? Where will she begin?

Life does not exist through binary choice – old or new, success or failure, married or single, holding on or letting go… It is a journey of continuous connections and separations, relationships and aloneness, belonging and isolation, lost and found; measured by the subjective internal barometer of “right-ness” which evolves.

And her heart still aches for that younger person who had experienced much, and fills with compassion for the one who is naming them.

 

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2017 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

On this day…

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Today we celebrate

  • the Women we have taken for granted,
  • the Women we have loved and lost,
  • the Women who have given us care, love and protection,
  • the Women who have chosen to go their own way,
  • the Women who have privileged our lives more than their own,
  • the Women who have shown us the way,
  • the Women who have sacrificed much so we can be here in this moment in our history.

Today we celebrate Being a Woman, and be reminded of the need to pay attention and be vigilant as we go into our future – to honour the women in our lives.

Let our wisdom guide us to appreciate the beauty of our uniqueness and difference, and our shared humanity.

Happy International Women’s Day!

 

Namaste

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2017 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Darker, by fifty shades?

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The text message read (in part):

“Ok who’s keen? Note it is next week!!!!…. We will follow this with a debriefing over drinks…”

I replied ‘me’ and why not? I am honestly curious as to how it will be. On a social side, how could I refuse the opportunity to catch up with a few girlfriends and watch “Fifty Shades Darker” on Ladies’ Night at the cinema :-)? On a ‘serious’ side, this is me engaging with pop culture? 🙂

The novelty of “Fifty Shades” seems to have worn off, or at least the upcoming release of this sequel hasn’t created the uproar as Fifty Shades of Grey’s release in 2015. So much so that I wrote a post on LitWorldInterviews protesting about the protest.

Perhaps I am speaking prematurely. The movie will officially be released on 9 February 2017 here in Australia, so let’s wait and see what the movie reviewers and social commentators have to say.

In the meantime, I am up for the lighter (or is it darker?) side of life, a laugh and giggle with girlfriends at the romanticized collision of the BDSM and fairy tale worlds.

Now, what would I say to questions such as these?

Why would she let him do that?

What is so appealing about Christian?

Can’t she see he’s just all about him, or is he?

What would you say to Ana if she was your daughter?

Ouch, right?

Does Christian’s childhood really turn him into someone with such sexual proclivities?

Is it real love or is it…?

And how could he still be friends with Elena after what she’s done to him?

Was Christian really a victim to Elena?

I am anticipating these questions because I have read the trilogy. I have little doubt these questions will feature in our ‘debriefing’ post-movie.

What are your answers?

And perhaps I will ‘report’ on the movie experience once I have watched it. I can only hope the movie plot line has improved since the previous one was rather ‘light’ on this front.

What the heck, I’ll just go for the ride and have fun! 🙂

 

With curiosity,

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2017 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

The politics of water

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“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?”

And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This well-known Buddhist story told by Alan Watts at the 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College have always resonated with me, in many contexts.

I had said, “I don’t like politics”, “I don’t do politics”, “I am not political”… and while the first remains true, I have come to re-consider my place in my mind, in my world about the latter.

I AM in water, rife with politics and I am impacted by it, like it or not. Perhaps I am at the lower end of the spectrum for the level of participation, yet there is no avoiding it. In fact, for every post, every tweet of gender equality, human rights, I am being political. I am glad to name it. Another self-awakening of a 40-something woman. 🙂

This realisation comes from recent events, namely the lead up to the now Trump Presidency and the Women’s March around the world. It is easy to say, as I have heard from others, that ‘they’ are about America thus none of our (Australians) business or the marches are anti-Trump rather than about women’s rights or they are exercises in futility. Hey, I even attempted to embrace these notions to arrest the listlessness and unease.

Yet it does not bring me peace.

There is a shift in global consciousness, signalled by the uneasiness and anger that I (and many others judging by the response to the Women’s March) feel despite being so far away from the source of the triggering events. The notions of ‘them’ and ‘us’, of ‘not this but that’ no longer hold water, we the people are connected, more so now than ever, and we in all we say and do influence and impact on each other, we are humanity as one.

So my response and the lessons from the recent events are these, expressed through those who came before:

Life is a circle. The end of one journey is the beginning of the next. ~ Joseph M Marshall III

We must recognize that the suffering of one person or one nation is the suffering of humanity. ~ Dalai Lama

Each of us is responsible for everything and to every human being. ~ Simone de Beauvoir

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see and learn.

Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful the spell you cast,
Not just on children.                           ~ Barbra Streisand, “Children Will Listen”

 

Oh, and I have no answer, and I suspect there is no ‘Answer’.  We have done things in fear no matter what it is called, what not try love? What have we to lose?

Life is for living; it is movement, constant and every-changing. Let it be a movement inspired by love.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Do not despair if the answers don’t come immediately. Some answers are only revealed with the passage of time.

Try to love the questions themselves. Do not look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

All along my denial of the political self, I now realise, is not about politics per se, but rather the politics of division, of hate, of exclusion… and even as I am reconciling to the fact “politics” is being played on me and vice –versa, this remains true – love and compassion, understanding and collaboration shall be my beacon. Though I may at times fail, these I strive to be.

One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion. ~ Simone de Beauvoir

One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.

~ Joseph Campbell

I am in water.

Namaste!

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2016 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Once a mother…

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“One day someone calls her “Mother”. That is what she remains for the rest of her life.”
Cao XueQin

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What a profound quote. And one which is open to many interpretations.

What does it mean to you? You women who are mothers, and who are not? Men who have known Mothers in your life?  What feelings rise to the fore as you read these words – joy, sadness, fear, resentment, uncertainty…?

My initial reaction was one of cynicism and somewhat scornful. So, this statement of popular sentiment became a subject for reflection. 

I don’t think Cao’s statement was intended to be limiting or denigrating to women. Here’s the context:

Cao was an 18th century Chinese writer whose novel “A Dream of Red Mansions” is considered a literary gem and was pronounced one of the Four Great Works of Chinese literature. The book was a romance novel on its face but represented a social commentary on family and social life within the Qing Dynasty. His book was, as Cao stated, “a memorial to the women he knew”, and the female protagonist though rebellious was a representation of aristocratic women of the times, restrained and fragile, and their unfortunate fate in feudal society. Cao’s awareness of the plight of women in a patriarchal and largely mysogynistic society suggests his sympathy.

So back to my less than enthusiastic reaction to this quote.

Like Cao, I am of Chinese origin. Unlike Cao, I am a modern woman and one who straddles two worlds – a woman who has lived in and thus familiar with a reserved collectivist Chinese culture and who now lives in a liberal individualistic ‘Western’ culture. I am a working mother of two, and myself a daughter who has experienced a version of ‘mother’.

Therefore, Cao’s statement is bittersweet.

The ‘bitter’ part of Cao’s statement is a suggestion on its face – that once a woman becomes a mother, that’s all she’ll ever be for the rest of her days. Her identity is entrenched in the role of ‘Mother’ and obliterating the other facets of ‘Woman’.

It brings forth the perceived universal ideals of ‘Mother’ – loving, caring, nurturing, protective, giving, selfless. But is it? These ideals have served to homogenise varied experiences of being a mother; they bind women in their expression of mothering. What of the mother who struggles to love her children, what of the mother who does not care or nurture according to societal expectations, what of the mother who ‘fails’ to protect, what of the mother who also takes?

Do these ideals give space for the “good enough” mother? I certainly prefer to operate on the ‘good enough’ principle, though my actions are informed in part by these ideals and will continue to do so, I’d imagine. I choose not to be bound by these ideals, and to celebrate the uniqueness of my individual children, my relationship with each of them and thus my mothering.

Cao’s reference to “Mother” may of course be intended to embrace the many faces of a mother. Of this, I will not know. Suffice to say, the ideals of ‘Mother’ are likely to be barriers to women’s social, economic and political empowerment. But only if we allow them to.

Am I a mother for the rest of my life? Yes, and with a joyous heart, I accepted this role many moons ago. I cannot unlearn what is within me nor do I want to. My children will always know me as mother and for that, I am grateful.

Am I the ‘Mother’? I don’t think so, and I am pleased.

Am I more than ‘mother’? Yes. As my children grow, they journey with me and experience me as a woman, whether they would be prescient to know this. They experience the mother as I am, and I fervently hope, a good enough mother.

Perhaps one day my children will see me as ‘Woman’ first, notwithstanding my mothering role – a woman who loves, who provides, who supports, who fights for those she loves and for her beliefs, who retreats to create peace, who forgives, who challenges, who celebrates her achievements, who creates. Perhaps one day, they may also forgive the woman who criticises, who gets angry because she was in a mood, who prefers to read instead of talking to them, who says ‘no’ without reason or explanation, who makes decisions without discussion. One day, they will see the complexity of the human experience, and that which I embody.

Woman is a ray of God: she is not the earthly beloved.
She is creative: you might say she is not created.
Rumi

– FlorenceT

[Edited 25 Nov 2016]

 

References:
Chineseculture.org, ‘Cao Xueqin’ at http://www1.chinaculture.org/library/2008-02/08/content_23134.htm
Wikipedia, ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_of_the_Red_Chamber

 

© 2014 Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

A woman, loss and politics

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I cannot escape this sense of loss, this great sorrow.

I am woman, and that alone is enough to speak to the many ways in which I am deeply disappointed by the outcome of the US election. I realised the energy, the hope I had invested to see a woman make it in what is purportedly the greatest country in the world.

I am not referring to party politics. I don’t want to speak of claims of fraud or lies, and misogynistic or corrupt behaviour. I am not calling it. My experience is not American, I am not one.

But I know the politics that is played out in my life, whether I have chosen to welcome it or intentionally invited it or have it imposed upon me. And the outcome of the election epitomised it.

So I will speak about being woman. What does it take for a woman to succeed? What does it take for a woman to be acknowledged as ‘qualified’?

Can a woman stand by her man, and not be tainted by the relationship? Can a woman remain loyal to the institution of marriage as many expected of her, and not be condemned for it? What if a woman leaves to maintain her integrity and perhaps ambition, refusing to be marked? What if she doesn’t leave? Can a woman be truly independent? What motivations do we ascribe to her?

Can a woman choose to be strong and ambitious, and still be a wife and mother? How much before she is too soft or weak to lead? How much before she is too ‘cold’, too ‘hard’ to be liked? Because women must be liked as they must be ‘nice’, don’t they?

Can a woman be like a man, and not threaten the established order? But a woman cannot be like a man for she will be ridiculed for being an imposter, won’t she? Can a woman choose to be herself and lose the faith of others, as their faith lies with conformity and acquiescence?

How many roles must a woman fulfil in order to be ‘good enough’? How much energy must still be expended for a woman to remind herself she is good enough?

When will fear cease at the sight of a successful woman, a strong woman? When will a woman be permitted to be flawed, to have an agenda or an opinion? When will permission be no longer an issue?

Tomorrow will be another day… and perhaps my daughter and yours will not feel lesser because once again, an intelligent capable woman with ample experience isn’t good enough unless she has impeccable virtue and full of grace, flawlessly perfect as men would have her.

Perhaps sitting in my bedroom in a country far away on the other side of the world, I am merely influenced by the media? What if the demons are not real? Maybe we are ascribing too much power to the US of A, as we see millions of dollars being wiped off financial markets worldwide.

What if we turn away, remove ourselves from the drama of it all and direct our energy to re-imagine a different world… I will certainly wake tomorrow less disorientated by what has happened.

For now, I will speak with my daughter who has been outraged and appalled, and choosing ridicule to cope; now I will share with her the dangers of labelling and dichotomising, and the importance of empathy for a people which she and I know little of.  We will speak of courage to stand out and stand up for being woman, unabashed in pursuing our calling, whatever it may be.

Perhaps, perhaps there is a historical lesson here for all of us, as time will tell, and I hope it is an inspiring one.

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2016 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Women friends

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Four women around a table, laden with scrumptious food and champagne. Conversations filled with laughter, some angst and silliness; bound by a connection which began more than 10 years ago.

How did they get to this place of ease with each other? They first met when 2 mothers were invited to post-drop-off coffee by another mother from the school and her friend, also a parent at the school. Being new to the school community, that invitation and subsequent ones were most welcomed. Over many coffee mornings and initial conversations revolving around their children, a bond was formed. Strangely (or maybe not so strangely?) this bond has lasted these many years.

The friendship was forged through sharing of many emotional events in their lives – the despair of perceived purposeless life, the joy of their children and family holidays, the stress of juggling the many duties as mother and wife, the pain of separations, the worries for teenage children, the sadness of loss of childhood eras, the elation of overcoming sickness and ill-health, and the celebration of personal achievements. The men in their lives secondary figures in the drama called life unfolding within the circle.

Many seasons later, even as their children no longer attend the same school where they had first met, these women kept coming back to their get-togethers, always to catch up on their news and to be seen.

What is the secret to this bond, this friendship?

These women have learnt to accept each other’s flaws and imperfections, to value each other’s insights and support; they have learnt to curb their tongue and permit each other space to grow and re-position themselves within the friendship.

There are more differences between them, than there appear to be of similarities. Except for this.

They are women who have lived lives of nurturing and care in service to their family while attempting to retain an identity beyond that of mothers and wives; they are women who continue to pursue the life they want. These are the steadfast women of courage and strength, depth and genuineness.

What more could a woman want in a friend?

~ FlorenceT

 

© 2016 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

The door will open…

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When one door closes, another opens… Or another five or ten open…but only when that one door closes.

Sometimes we don’t know what that one door is.

Sometimes we do know but do nothing about it. We do nothing about it because we need the promise of another door opening first.

Sometimes we see so many things in the way of closing that door, it is easier not to. Sometimes we are too tired to even try.

But this I know:

If you close that door with love and a positive attitude, you won’t need proof of the doors opening and those obstacles…well, they are just dust under your feet as you head out and quietly close that door behind you.

Love your self enough to no longer be bound by the expectations of others, to reject the hurtful moments when you had to deny yourself, to have to resign yourself to the ‘inevitable’; love your self enough to know you are worthy of all that your soul desires.

And the positive attitude…?

  • Be open to possibilities… those that even you, intelligent as you are, have never contemplated or would have even considered.
  • Be curious, say ‘yes’ to opportunities, to those things you’ve always wanted to but didn’t think you could.
  • Do these things for the love of them with joy of presence.
  • Be accepting of the not-known. The doors that are opening will appear when the moment is right, when you have said ‘yes’ enough times to what you love.

~ FlorenceT

© 2016 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.

Woman of your dreams

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If you could be the woman of your dreams, who would you be?

My answer: Me, myself and I.  No matter what my experiences might have been, are and may be, they are just that, experiences.  And I live them.  As you do yours.  You are amazing! 🙂

 

 

If you could be the woman of your dreams, who would you be?

In love,
FlorenceT

 

© 2016 FlorenceT Copyright reserved. The author asserts her moral and legal rights over this work.