Monday, August 4, 2014

29/52 Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing

It is no surprise that Evie Wyld's All the Birds, Singing won Australia's biggest literary prize, the 2014 Miles Franklin Award.

This is a novel with a distinctly Australian voice and feel,  reminding me in parts of another wonderful Australian novel, Romy Ash's Floundering.  

It is beautifully structured and plotted,  moving back and forth in time and place, leaving  the reader guessing until the very end. And that ending takes us all the way back to the beginning, revealing what exactly Jake has been running from.

It is a book that manages to be both brutal and beautiful, retaining an air of mystery and suspense while at the same time refusing to protect the reader for even a moment from the ugliness (and terror) that the protagonist lives through. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BlogHer14: An Unapologetically Feminist Conference

In the same week that the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism was trending on Twitter, I attended the 10th annual BlogHer conference in San Jose, California. An unapologetically feminist affair attended by thousands of women and a handful of men, it is a conference that puts women's voices front and centre.

BlogHer co-founder, Elisa Camahort Page @ElisaC

A conference does not grow this large without sponsors and swag. For some (probably many) an event like this is primarily about building relationships with brands and learning how to best monetise online spaces. And for their part, companies are more than happy to co-opt the language of female empowerment to better sell their products.

Yet for all the fluff and commercialism - including a surprise appearance by a Kardashian at the HairFinity stand - the heart of this conference lay elsewhere.

One Kardashian does not erase a mainstage that included keynotes by author and blogging superstar Jenny Lawson (@TheBloggess), comedian Tig Notaro (who many of us discovered via her memorable appearances on NPR’s This American Life), HuffPo founder, author and in the words of her interviewer Guy Kawasaki “quote machine” Arianna Huffington, and the politically outspoken star of Scandal Kerry Washington.

Comedian Tig Notaro

Kerry Washington (left) being interviewed by Demetria Lucas @abelleinbk

One Kardashian does not erase the appearance of feared and revered Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) - whose line "Bossy has worked for me, Sheryl Sandberg" drew huge laughs and applause from the audience - interviewing Twitter's Melissa Barnes, that rarest of species, the female high tech executive.

Arianna Huffington being interviewed by Guy Kawasaki

And one Kardashian does not erase the importance of the decision to make the intersection of race, gender, feminism and the internet the focus of the closing keynote , a panel discussion led by and  featuring no less than six women of colour.

The closing keynote Intersectionality panel 

Intersectionality panellist @FeministaJones

Away from the mainstage, the breakout sessions on Digital Activism (led by fellow expat Australian Jo White @MediaMum) and the Future of Mom Blogging, were exceptional. To see the phenomenon of "Mom Blogging" discussed as a serious and potentially radical enterprise was a revelation and a relief. And the diversity of this panel - which saw a self-described white Jewish lesbian Dana Rudolph (@mombian) seated beside Natasha Taylor-Nicholes, an evangelical homeschooling and gay marriage accepting African American woman - to me drew attention to the way that conversations change and are enriched when 'other' voices are given a seat at the table. 

BlogHer is that rarest of opportunities, a chance for women to join together as a community, to celebrate friendships that are founded on shared values and interests rather than mere proximity (thanks to the talented Alexandra Rosas @GDRPempress for this insight during her inspired 10x10) and to move beyond the silos and echo chambers that our online - and for that matter – real lives often become, far more so than many of us would like to admit.  

At no point in the conference was this more apparent to me than during A’Driane Nieves reading of her Voices of the Year (VOTY) post, “America not here for us”. The reading shook the room, made many uncomfortable, and saw others give a standing ovation. For a few minutes those of us who have not experienced a lifetime of racism were asked to consider what it really means to be black in a country founded on slavery. 

I am now considered a BlogHer veteran, having attended the conference for three years running. In some ways I still feel like an outsider, and on most days an imposter. The fact that this feeling, of being an imposter, was raised multiple times by some of the most impressive women in the room is something I find both comforting and disturbing. One cannot imagine the same sentiment being expressed - let alone experienced - by men who have achieved at the same levels. 

Contrary to the sentiments expressed under the #womenagainstfeminism hashtag, we  do need feminism, and as feminists we desperately need and deserve that rare opportunity that BlogHer provides: to step out of our online spaces and spend real time in a forum where women's voices and experiences are given the space to be expressed, debated and treated with a level of gravitas that is too often missing in all the spheres in which we live out our lives.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Some thoughts on finishing C25K

I have been attempting to not just start, but actually finish, the C25K* program for the past 3 years. 

I spent roughly 5 months before beginning C25K walking at least 5 out of 7 days for 40 minutes. And I started C25K again on a bit of a whim after convincing my teen to do it with me. He got sick and dropped out and I decided to just keep going.

The smartest decision I made was to name the 3 days each week I would run and stick to it. So each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I headed out no matter what. This approach left no room for "I don't feel like it today, I'll go tomorrow instead."

My biggest fear was, and remains, injury. My knees are not fantastic and I am carrying a lot of extra weight. I "ran" slowly, no heroics, so slowly that power walkers easily passed me. 

Rather than feeling defeated by my pace, by being passed by every other runner (and some walkers) on my route,  I have tried really hard to turn what could be a negative into inspiration. 

I am not a "natural" runner, but for some reason I really do love running.  The feeling of both achievement and well-being that settles over me at the end of each run more than makes up for the less happy feelings experienced while tackling a difficult stretch that I now refer to as Bastard Hill Rd.

I am disappointed that my son dropped out but thrilled my tween daughter is now more than halfway through C25K herself. She has attempted it before but never finished. She will make it this time and I am hoping will be my running partner for years to come.

Finishing C25K is not an ending but a beginning. For the next 6 months I plan to continue running for 30 minutes 3 times per week and adding in some weights work on my non-running days. And then I will be tackling C210K. 

* C25K is popular running app that is designed to get the 'couch potato' running continuously for 5km or 30 minutes in 8 weeks. I used the free app by Zen Labs and played my own music using Pandora.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Places we call home: watching the World Cup

We are a family that talks about politics in the same way many obsess over sports, so when watching the World Cup it is not so surprising that my youngest asks "Who should we 'vote' for?"

The earnest discussion that follows this question is all about finding the connections, however tenuous, between 'us' and the rest of the world.

When England plays Italy I say that we will 'vote' for Italy: "Dad's grandfather was from Sicily."

"But" interjects Mr9 "my best friend's Dad is from England".

This morning it is Croatia v Mexico. My heart is with Mexico, because I know that good friends of all four of my children will be cheering them on wildly from their homes in California. Then I remember that one of Mr14's best friends is about to visit Croatia for the first time, to meet his mother's extended family.

When Australia plays there is no argument. We are Team Australia. And the same applies when America plays.

My youngest - like the rest of us, a dual citizen - cannot keep things straight in his own mind when the country of his birth  or the country he now lives in play. 

"Is Australia winning?" he asks during the Portugal v USA match.

"No, America is playing, not Australia," I say.

Australia and America are in his mind interchangeable. They both represent and bring forth the feelings associated with the places we call "home". 

My son's loyalties are not divided, nor are they in competition with each other. In fact the opposite is the case. Like immigrants the world over, he feels more connections not less, and this is in my mind something to be celebrated. 




Monday, June 9, 2014


An Australian and American sit behind me, sharing a coffee and shooting the breeze on a rainy Tuesday morning in Sydney.

The conversation shifts gears, from Syria to Hilary. Will she, won't she? 

I anaesthetise my young boys with treats and technology. Please just let me have a moment of peace. 

I am counting down the days until my husband arrives. I miss him. I also miss, desperately, the ability to escape for an hour or three. 

I flip through the paper. No surprise, the cartoonists sum up the events of the day best with just a few squiggly lines and well chosen words. Boom. 

I tune back in. The men are now talking domestic policy, sharing their exasperation at the absence of a science minister and befuddlement over last night's #qanda. I want to add in my two cents.

I have something to say here in a way I never will about the goings on in Silicon Valley. Just as importantly, I have people to say it to.

We leave the cafe, and I ready myself for the sort of shopping experience I could just as easily have in the US at a generic and dreary discount department store. The only thing that distinguishes this store from any other are the rows and rows of packaged lollies. And even though they are second rate home brand versions of my childhood favourites I still have to restrain myself, cutting a bargain that will no doubt be broken before the week is out.

At the self-serve check-out - the only sort on offer - we ring up our purchases. A clothes horse to hang washing that I would normally lazily throw in the dryer; track suit pants for the kids that are so cheap I would rather not reflect too hard on the conditions under which they were made; and a bag of crappy plastic pirate figures and "accessories" that I plan to point at each time the boys demand an electronic.

Today I missed home a little bit. Not only my husband, but also the dog and - if I am being completely honest - the dryer. When the kids weren't shouting at each other they were shouting at me. Mostly it felt like the opposite of a holiday.

Maybe that is a good thing. If it doesn't feel like a holiday then it must mean that we are, in a sense, home. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Where is the boost for the "bus kids"? Buses again serve as potent symbol of inequality in Silicon Valley

In The Bus Kids: Children's Experiences with Voluntary Desegregation, Ira W. Lit follows the lives of a group of children who are bused from their homes in a low income minority community to the privileged school district on the other side of the freeway. His book shines a light on how school busing between districts for the purposes of desegregation impacts the children who are its intended beneficiaries.

The pseudonymous school district profiled in Lit's book is the one my own children attend, and of late I have noticed that the rickety yellow school buses that pull up each day to collect the most disadvantaged children in our school have been joined by a very different type of bus service. This service is the children's equivalent of the infamous Google (also Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft) buses that fly up and down 101, delivering engineers in air conditioned and wifi connected comfort from their homes in San Francisco to lucrative jobs in Silicon Valley.

The brand new Mercedes buses, promoted as a concierge service for children, are plastered with the company name "Boost". Ironically they are being marketed to the parents of children who least need a boost but are most likely to be given one every step of the way.

The Boost buses deliver children from school to enriching after school activities and home again. During the commute they are rescued from the dangers of boredom by the presence of on bus entertainers. All for $25 a ride and of course, this being Silicon Valley, booked via an app.

Lit writes poignantly of the particular traumas that children experience while riding the yellow school bus, accompanied only by a driver who cannot possibly supervise, let alone protect, entertain or even educate her charges while driving. And while the difficulties that the children Lit profiles in his book are not unique - many children in the US ride the bus to and from school each day - that bus trip serves to compound the pre-existing disadvantages these children have compared to their counterparts who live within the school district.

The experience of riding the yellow school bus fis the very opposite of the boost these children so badly need. And while it is only one aspect of their school day, it is one that is for the most part completely overlooked when examining the achievement gap between the "bus kids" and their classroom peers who by contrast arrive at school each day accompanied by a parent and with a back pack full to overflowing with inherited social, educational and financial capital.

Just as the much protested Google buses are more fairly characterized as a symbol rather than the cause of income inequality and the accompanying housing crisis in San Francisco and the Bay Area, the Boost buses will not impact the children who are bused each day from the other side of the freeway on rickety yellow buses. They just serve as a particularly stark reminder of the gross inequality that we seem to have become far too comfortable with as a community.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Read more, write less?

The two most common pieces of advice I hear from writers are some version of: "if you don't have time to read you don't have time to write" and "write everyday".

Ironically, an unforeseen side effect of my #52books52weeks commitment to read more has been that I am definitely writing less. In part this is for the obvious reason that reading more leaves less time for other activities, including writing (but also catching up on Breaking Bad and Mad Men). 

The less obvious reason is that immersing myself in great books has made the actual task of writing even more daunting. The voice of that nagging and destructive inner-critic that Dani Shapiro describes as "the toxic little troll sitting on my left shoulder" in her excellent memoir Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, has gone from a whisper to a roar. And setting ambitious reading goals has provided me with the perfect excuse to avoid what I fear.

My solution to this state of affairs is not to lower my annual reading goal, but to set myself the new goal of writing daily (weekends excluded). I am not setting word count or time goals, nor am I specifying what type of writing it must be. Instead, I am following the advice of Dani Shapiro:

"Anchor yourself somewhere - anywhere - on the page. You are committing, yes - but the commitment is to this tiny corner. One word. One image. One detail. Go ahead. Then see what happens next."