Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  
And there’s no better time to start than today.

ANZAC Day.

“They march to honour sacrifice…”

April 25th is ANZAC Day.

It’s the day that unites Australians and New Zealanders in remembering the sacrifices made to preserve our freedom and way of life by all Australian and New Zealander soldiers and  their allies, not just those who died at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.

Last year, on ANZAC Day, I wrote this poem. I published it on my blog then, and it appears in my book, ‘Nova’.

I wanted to share it with you again today, because it’s so important that we remember exactly what our rights and freedoms as Australians have cost. They didn’t just happen. Time and time again, young men and women have served our nation by fighting for the freedoms and values that we hold so dear. Many have lost their lives. Many have been injured – and not just physically. And many families still grieve for those who never returned.

‘Remembrance’ does not tell the whole story. It’s a glimpse of men and women, young and old, military and civilian, gathered together on ANZAC Day to pay tribute to those who served, and particularly those who gave their lives for their country.

Our country.

My country.

I can never repay that debt. I am not expected to.
But I can pay my own tribute.

Lest We Forget.

Promo Nova Remembrance ANZAC DAY

On Being A Writer.

Tonight, an author friend posed this question in a discussion group: Is being a writer just a pipe dream?

Tonight, an author friend posed this question in a discussion group: Is being a writer just a pipe dream?

She asked this in response to a controversial tweet by Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, last week:
‘English Major = Want Fries With That? Pick something that will give you enough money to write what you want.’ (Follow the link to the full article.)

It’s a thought-provoking question. Can I legitimately call myself a writer or a poet if that’s not my main source of income? Without a doubt, yes!

Authors throughout history have held other jobs to survive while they pursued their writing.  I’m just one in a very long list.

In this world, being “just” a writer is the domain of very few.

However, being a writer AND having another job doesn’t mean one is not a writer.
I don’t make enough out of writing to quit my job… far from it… but writing is both my passion and my therapy, so if I can cover my expenses… in my mind, that’s a good outcome.

If my writing helps someone feel that they’re less alone, or less weird, or can better understand someone else’s situation… that’s far more like what I want to achieve, particularly with my poetry.

I’d like to sell more books, sure. But not doing so isn’t going to stop me writing. And it won’t make me any less a writer.

You just wait til I’m dead. (Hopefully not any time soon.)
My poetry will go off the charts then.

Maybe you should buy a signed copy from me while you can.

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RIP George Michael et al 2016

“RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone…”

RIP George Michael,
Another favourite gone.
First Bowie, then Prince and Rickman
And then it was Leonard Cohen.
But Donald Trump is alive and well –
What drug has this year been on?

Love Trumps Hate. 

In the aftermath of the US election, it’s important to remember that there’s anger on both sides. Many, many people in the US, as well as elsewhere, feel marginalised and overlooked. For some, it’s been many years of actually being treated that way. For others, it’s hopes and dreams that have been kept out of reach by social forces that they haven’t been able to change or address. You only have to study a little bit of US history to see those things happening.

I think of this election as a pressure cooker – after a long time on “high”, the thing blew its lid off and left a heck of a mess when it did.

We must remember that people don’t always vote from a perspective of good policy. People vote because they long for a change, they yearn to be heard… or at least to feel as though they have been heard. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something as visceral as revulsion over what one candidate or the other has done or is accused of doing. There was a whole lot of all of that in this election.

This election in itself won’t fix anything. A new president, regardless of identity, is a figurehead. The real problems lie in the structure of the society under that leader. The anger and polarisation of the American society will only get worse while people engage in anger, vilification and distrust – of their leaders, yes, but particularly of each other.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t hold their government and its actions to account. I’m a very firm believer in doing that. But let’s not destroy each other in the process. Let’s ensure that our commentary is focused on what needs to happen, what needs to change, and how we can work together to achieve that.

Personally, I don’t think either candidate was a good choice for uniting the country, or solving the underlying problems. That has to come from the people, and it starts with one, then two, then more, choosing to build rather than tear down.
I pray for America, and I pray for the world that still looks to her for military and international leadership. I pray for Australia, because we’re guilty of all the same things.

Today, I choose love. I choose encouragement. I choose peace. I choose friendship. I choose positive over negative. I choose proactive over passive.

Will you join me? Will you work to make a difference, too?

Positive Reviews!

There’s always a bit of trepidation when you do something new and you’re not sure how it’s going to go.

There’s always a bit of trepidation when you do something new and you’re not sure how it’s going to go. ‘Leaf’ has been available for just over three months now, and I’m very thankful and excited to be getting positive reviews.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I am really thrilled about these two readers’ responses  that I’ve received recently.

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Both of these people, and others who have given my writing positive reviews and ratings, have encouraged me more than they realise.  Sometimes being a writer is a really lonely thing, because there’s a whole experience and process you have to go through before you can know if anyone is actually going to understand and connect with what you’ve written.  To know that my poetry has had such an effect on people is both motivating and incredibly humbling.

 

Right on.

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This was proven yet again yesterday when an old lady did something wonderful just by doing the right thing.

Her actions turned tears so smiles and disappointment to happiness, and restored a young woman’s faith in humanity in a most profound way.

In this world, it seems our focus is so easily drawn to the horrible things that people do to one another and the tragic events that occur.  A simple act of good faith can be enough to change that focus to something positive, and to encourage one person to pay it forward.

What if we all were determined to change our focus from the negative to the positive?
What if we all responded to hatefulness with grace and forgiveness?
What if we all worked so that evil was overcome with good?

It’s worth a try. And the best thing is, we can start with one person, or one family, or one community at a time.  Who knows what might grow from that?

I’m in. Are you?

Exhibiting the Courage to Care

Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.

We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II. 

Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them. 

  

The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same. 

Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.

I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.  

I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result. 

   

My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.

He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.

 It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.

Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather. 

I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did. 

I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre. 

Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander. 

There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.

All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.

  

The perils of creativity.

I’ve had a really productive and creative month, especially in my writing. This is a good thing in one way, but I’ve often observed that I am at my most creative when I feel oppressed or angry about something.  This has, in fact, caused me to wonder what sort of mood I’d have to be in, and for how long, if I were to actually try to write a whole book.

Perhaps luckily for my family and friends,, that’s not what I’ve been inspired to write. More than ever before, I’ve become really serious about writing poetry. There have been times when the ideas and words just poured out of me and landed on the page rather effectively. There have also been plenty of times when the writing and crafting of meaning was far more labour intensive because I wanted to make sure it was exactly right.

Last week, as I was driving home from somewhere – I can’t quite remember which day it was – the thought struck me that I should try my hand at a more conventional classical ballad style of poetry, like so many of the longer poems that I know and love. I’ve spent my life loving the work of poets such as Tennyson and Wordsworth, and while I am not pretending for a moment that I am anywhere near as good as them, the rich narrative style of their poems is something I thought I’d like to try to emulate.

Inspiration struck as I saw a picture in my mind’s eye and decided to develop it as an allegorical ballad with a fairy tale feeling and style about it.  Parts of the poem have flowed quite naturally, and others have been painstakingly written and rewritten.  At one point, I nearly threw the whole thing away and gave up on the whole thing as a ridiculously bad idea. I had hit the cold, hard barrier of writer’s block, and for several days this unfinished piece taunted me. Who was I kidding, anyway? I might be good with words, but I would never be that good.

In typical fashion, this famine of ideas turned out to be the ironic part of my life having a good old laugh at my own expense.  At the end of a week where I had three very long days at work, survived a stressful meeting, and was playing cordial host to a four-day-long tension headache, my brain woke me at 2am on Saturday with some lines that I had to either write down that instant or lose them forever.

I wrote those lines rather clumsily into my phone, hoping that autocorrect and my headachey,sleep deprived eye-finger coordination didn’t play merry hell with what I thought I was writing. You can imagine my surprise the following day when those lines actually turned out to be just what I had wanted. 

The poem isn’t finished yet. I am not sure how long it will take before I am happy enough to publish it. When I do, though, it won’t matter if nobody else likes it or understands it, or if it is not hailed as a work of literary genius. I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. What matters is what the poem means to me. 

For now, it’s a labour of love.  Hopefully I will be ready to share it with the world soon. 

My Canadian brother from another mother.

I have a friend that I love a lot. We live thousands of kilometres apart, but we spend part of every day talking with each other. It’s a beautiful friendship that has grown out of a chance meeting, a random response to a random tweet.

When I visited Canada last year, I spent some time at Sean’s house.
I remember we were both nervous about finally meeting each other after talking online for so long, but that first hug was just incredible. The next few days were proof that our friendship was real. Even our partners commented on how it seemed like Sean and I had known each other forever.

On the morning that we left, the mood was sombre. Goodbyes were tearful. As I was about to go, he said, “Please don’t leave.”

My response was immediate and honest. “I’ll never completely be gone. You’re my brother now. I’ll be back.”

When I do go back in September this year, Sean and I are going to have our own little adoption ceremony. What we have is a friendship more valuable than we ever realised it would be when we started joking with one another on Twitter way back when.

Today, when I signed into the instant messenger that we both use, I found these words from him.

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He may have known how timely his words were, but I don’t think he realises just how healing and restoring it was to read these words after a tough week in which I had confronted some tough challenges, both professionally and personally.

It’s so incredibly good to know you have someone who has your back, no matter what critics and problems life might throw at you. Sean is by no means the only one of my friends who does that, but I wouldn’t want to be without him. He has his own very special place in my heart, and nobody could replace him.

Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart, for your words and for being an amazing friend and brother.