Wishing and Hoping

Standard

May you always …

Enjoy the peppery scent of a geranium, a fresh batch of scones
A cool breeze on a warm day, reflected glare of crystal blue lakes
Cinnamon buns, a stove, timber on a cold winter’s day

A soft towel after a warm shower, a fresh bar of soap
Knees deep in a meadow, candy coloured annuals at your side
Butterflies, ladybugs, dragonfly, to chase in the wind

Foamy waves that touch sun kissed ankles, sand between free toes
Many shiny days to sustain, during the dull ones that lie between
Smalt blue skies in your mind’s eye, charcoal grey clouds to paint

A secret, a promise, a surprise, perhaps a passionate kiss
Someone you wish to remember, somewhere you wish to go
Someone you wish to meet, a star, a friend, a brand new flower

Laughter, friends, sweet sweet music, jazz or pop
A spare room to which you can retreat, room in your life
For a new friend, dog, cat, plant, flower, scent

The joy of discovery, curiosity your faithful friend
The joy of freedom on a hot summer’s day, to walk
To run along the shimmering sands of beach and time

To hold a summer filled posy: sweet pea, cosmos, and lavender
The scent of freshly cut grass to tickle your nostrils
To swim out, to swim back, to return to your home

To be the change you wish to see in the world
Be the one who makes the difference in another’s life
And when the fury and cold whip around you
May you hold still, hold calm and be

© Maria E.FitzGerald
July, 2014

Advertisements

Four Waves and counting

Standard

We’re in a Fourth Wave of Feminism. Did you know that? I didn’t. The suggestion that society is feminist1-300x300-290x290in the grips of a fourth wave, saddens me. Why? Because I’m left wondering why we need a fourth wave when we have already had a first, second and third. Yes, I do know the previous waves dealt with different aspects of the same issues but it’s very sad to think, despite the mammoth efforts and life sacrifices made by previous generations, it remains the case that equality seems an impossible dream.

Discovering this new wave has left me with lots of questions, the answers to which are not easily found.  As a first step on my path to knowledge I decided to take matters into my own hands: last week I attended a conference in Dublin organised by the National Women’s Council of Ireland. I needed to find out why all these waves are crashing desperately at our shores. Before I go on, I must tell you that I’m not the kind of feminist that has or will burn her bra BUT I have throughout my life struggled to remove the corset that restricts me and countless others. You could say I have a problem with my under garments.  The corset that restricts women is not what you could call supportive: one in five women have experienced violence from a partner, 13.9% gender pay gap in Ireland, 30% gender equality target for political parties by 2016, 40% proposed gender equality target for Boards, 4,000 Irish women still travel to have abortions in the UK each year, 40,000 calls to help lines on Violence Against Women each year, 52% of women avoid certain areas for fear of violence and 98,000 are on the waiting list of social housing (Source: Women Rising/2014 Manifesto from NWCI). The facts speak for themselves.

To say I was excited to take part in this event would be an understatement. That morning, despite the very grey clouds that loomed over Ireland’s capital, I walked down O’Connell Street full of purpose. I imagined myself sitting in a room, full of people who were all dedicated to the cause – equality; people from all sorts of backgrounds, all ages, all creeds, women and men. I was in the company of two other feminist friends – educated, intelligent women who like me wanted to hear what our peers had to say. Where are we on the journey to equality? Why is it taking so long? A fourth wave, deary me are we just going around in roundabouts repeating the same mistakes?

In my opinion feminism means equality: for all. When I think of the word equality, I see an image of the Scales of Justice in my mind. A simple, yet very powerful image that needs no fancy explanation for what it represents or strives to achieve: a society of equals.  However, you don’t need to be a brain scientist to know that this is not how things are in the real world.  In our global economy, egalitarian thought is dying. In this world there is no real desire to address the re-distribution of wealth, never mind the fundamentals in life such as health care, education, housing, justice, poverty, and social inclusion for men or women. Equality has become more of an ideal than a practise – a remote god that is worshipped but not an actual experience. Not only this, but as soon as the word equality is mentioned its polar opposite i.e. inequality rears its ugly head.  Dare I say it, but has the word equality become a dirty one?  Isn’t it sad how words can become tarnished over the years? Isn’t it sad that we still say the fight for equality? Isn’t it sad that we can’t relax and assume that equality will just happenWhy is it always a fight?

At 9.15 am I left the grey skies outside and moved quickly into the warm lobby of the conference venue.  A quick glance revealed that the event was well subscribed, lots of women milling around however, one glaringly obvious fact: no men.  We entered the conference room via a set of stairs leading downstairs –as we descended the marble steps my friend whispered to me, “It feels like we’re going down into the basement, how bloody symbolic”.  We took our seats at the back, the top rows were not an option i.e. lots of eager feminists had claimed top row positions. Happy with our seats, we settled ourselves, had a cup of the complimentary coffee and a good look around.  After about ten minutes, the panel took their seats and it began: the BIG debate. The panel were introduced and one by one they took to the podium, told us their stories, their views and what feminism meant to them.  The individual speakers each raised very valid points and issues,  but I must admit I felt disappointed. They addressed an audience full of feminists – each of us converted in our own way – so I didn’t need to hear about what feminism is. All around me I saw women nod their heads in emphatic agreement. They preached to the converted.  It wasn’t a debate it was mild-mannered reflection. I wanted to hear about where we were heading, what amazing changes were on the horizon and what is the fourth wave? In my opinion, it felt too sanitized, safe and a little boring.

Towards the end there was a Q & A Session during which some very interesting issues were raised by the audience. The panellists did their best to answer those questions but to be completely honest from a panel of four speakers (not including the event organisers) I only felt and heard passion from two (young women who are making great strides in combating sexism that is found in the media).  That’s not to say the others didn’t feel passionate but in my opinion, if they did it was not imparted effectively, at least not to me. The real passion was in the audience: in the young women who had fabulous ideas on how to progress feminism through dynamic and inclusive Social Policy; I heard passion from one audience member who has worked for over 35 years with disadvantaged communities fighting for the right for women and men to have access to health care; and when an older lady spoke and explained about how she is currently working on changes in the education curriculum for our schools so that each boy and girl will learn about equality, I felt passion.

Thankfully two of the panellists knew and spoke about this new wave. What is its call to arms? Like the previous waves that began in response to particular elements, this wave is responding to a new set of challenges and notions. It appears that it is the internet that has enabled the shift from the third to the fourth wave.  In essence, it has created a “call-out” culture in which sexism or misogyny can be challenged.  In other words, challenging sexism as it appears in everyday life such as: advertising, film, TV, literature, the media etc. The internet has facilitated the creation of a global community of feminists but is that enough to mark a new era of feminism? I think it’s too early to say. On the flip side, one could argue that the internet has helped create some of the blatant media driven sexism we see all the time. It is a double edge sword.  The internet certainly provides a forum for discussion and a pathway for activism e.g. the Everyday Sexism Project and No More Page 3 campaign, two campaigns that have captured the imagination of the public.  But is that all that will happen? Capture imagination. The internet has re-invigorated feminism allowing like-minded people to connect, but will this lead to real change and transform political actions and decision making?

I left Dublin that day with more questions than I had arrived with. It is quite possible that I will spend the rest of my life trying to figure it all out. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that we can get our act together. I hope it won’t take a tsunami to change the way we treat and see each other; it might just wipe us clean off the planet and allow another species become the experts in equality.

For further information: everydaysexism.com &  nomorepage3.org

 

Fem 3

Fem 1

Fem 2

The Shock of the Fall

Standard

Over the past month, I have attempted to read several books. I have not been successful; each book has been returned to my local library within days of being checked out.  I wonder what this means. Am I loosing my skill at picking out a good read? Or is it the case that I’ve had my head stuck in too many books for too long a time? I’ve overloaded my brain with one story too many and things have got a bit mushy in that place I store my grey matter!

Then, something unusual happened. I could call it serendipitous, a lucky-find, or even suggest that the universe conspired to send something wonderful my way: yesterday, while sorting out the pile of magazines and unread books in my office, I came across a book a friend had given months ago (soon after Christmas, I think).  I remembered how she raved about how good it was, how full of feeling it was and that she was sure I would love it; that I would be hooked by the end of the first sentence.  Sure, I thought, that would be lovely but in actual fact I know from experience THAT type of book does not come around very often (the last time a book like that came into my life it was the unputdownable The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd), but I admired her enthusiasm and gratefully accepted the book. I had no notion of reading it for some time; I had more important books to get through, like the ones that had been especially ordered for me at the library. I thanked my friend and promised her that I would get to it soon.

I broke my promise.  That is, I broke my promise, until yesterday. In my attempt to get a handle on office-clutter, I spotted the book peeping out at me from under my desk.  The memory of my promise came ghosting after me, so I leaned in and pulled the book from the sloppy pile. I caught a glimpse of the red sticker, Costa Book Awards, Winner 2013: The Shock of the Fall.

Like a pro, I turned the book around in my hands and decided immediately that I liked the cover.  Forgive me for the cliché; I know a book should not be judged by its cover, but that’s exactly what I did. I loved the tree, its branches, its lovely little delicate leaves and the little birds peppered amongst the branches, but what really got me was the little boy sitting beneath the tree, his legs tucked up into his waist, a book in his hand and a little bird flying from the book he was holding.  It has a gentle cover I decided. I like gentle covers.  O’K, I thought, I’ll give you a go gentle covered book.  That was yesterday at approximately 10.30am – its 15.00 today, and I’m writing the review.

Told through the eyes of Matthew Holmes, a young schizophrenic boy, The Shock of the Fall SOFTFdetails Matthew’s struggles with not just his mental illness, but also the grief he feels in the aftermath of his brother Simon’s death.

Since his death, Matthew’s life hasn’t been an easy one. He is home-schooled by an over-protective mother (whose own life is shattered by her eldest son’s death) and who throughout Matthew’s life has rushed him to doctors at the mere sign of a sniffle. At seventeen he leaves home to live with a friend Jacob, the now-19-year-old constantly struggles with the overwhelming grief, and guilt, at the way Simon died. His time as a care worker, helping look after Jacob’s disabled mother, further illustrates Matthew’s caring nature all the time while he struggles with an illness that is trying to define him as a person.

Matthew is someone you warm to instantly. He displays genuine guilt for what his parents and extended family go through with his mental illness. Matthew’s story made me laugh and cry. His wicked sense of humour, his honesty and his courage ensured I was with him every step of the way – almost as if I was in his very head.  The story illustrates, how even in times of grief and sadness life still goes on, and how we must pick ourselves up and move into new chapters. It didn’t surprise me to discover that Nathan Filer is a mental health nurse: throughout the story there is insight and the knowledge of one who knows what the ordeal of mental illness means not just for the sufferers but also their family and friends.

This is a terrific story. It will stay with you for a long time. My hope is that Matthew, and all those who suffer similarly recover.

On Kindness

Standard

Above all try to be kind.

I have no doubt kindness is the greatest virtue.  You can find a million reasons in any one day to dislike people, to feel resentment or even loathing. But to be kind is to protect yourself from the worst parts of your own nature.  You may fear that to face people with an open heart leaves you vulnerable, open to abuse.  I rather doubt it.  The way of the hard face is much harder.  Be kind to others, especially the more difficult people you encounter, and that kindness will come back to you.

– Fergal Keane
journalist, writer, broadcaster

 

From 99 words collected by Liz Gray, published by Darton, Longman & Todd
www.99words.co.uk

Zephyr has arrived

Standard

FernAnd the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom – Anais Nin

May has slipped in.  A fructifying west wind has arrived carrying with it the promise of summer. The world is greener, illuminated by each blade of grass and leaf. The sheer beauty of the Irish countryside is overwhelming – refreshing tired eyes and like a soothing balm restores the soul.

The hedges that flank the countryside byways are overflowing with the white coronets of cow parsley, its ancient scent suffusing the air.  The birds sing their rapturous song, an invitation to explore Nature’s bounty. Each living thing knows exactly what to do: grow, and thrive.

The orange, daisy like flowers of self seeded Calendula pepper the garden, their orange heads bursting with vitality; the Sweet peas are ready and set to scramble towards heaven upon their canes, and the flowerbeds are alive with Ladybirds, baby spiders and thousands of biting ants.

Tightly coiled, Fiddlehead ferns appear on every lane preparing to unfurl into a new frond, their pre-historic forms ready to greet a new world. The first blooms of Hawthorn fill the air with their heady scent and bring with it the veritable sign that summer is finally here.

Each trip outdoors, with the help of the green haze of May, is an opportunity to transcend oneself and observe all that Gaia has to offer. A collection of unforgettable May moments, each filed in my memory bank – ready to be called upon in the future.

My hope is that these gathered seeds will remind me of my favourite month, and how blessed I am to witness, for forty times, the bounty of magical May.

 

(c) Maria.E.FitzGerald
Photo: Greendragonflygirl/Flickr


Recipe for Friendship

Standard

Baking just isn’t my thing.  Baking I try, really I do, but my successes are fewer than the hairs on a gooseberry. Although it is in my blood it certainly isn’t in my genes, I haven’t inherited that particular gene: the one my mother, two grandmothers, great-aunt and sister have. My mother is a dab hand at making almost anything. Her repertoire is impressive: scones, apple tart, rhubarb crumble, chocolate cake, brown bread, Irish soda bread (I could go on). Let me tell you what she creates does not resemble the countless bland varieties found in the food forecourts throughout the country. No, my mother is a pro – an unadulterated Irish mother who has no need for recipe books or the latest app – everything she needs is stored neatly like multi-coloured spreadsheet tabs in her brain ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice.

It is often said that genes can skip a generation. I believe this to be true for it has happened to me. During my embryonic stage, the baking gene took one look at my DNA structure, clearly found me to be an insufferable host, and thus went running and screaming up my DNA strand begging the Almighty to find a more suitable home. I did, however, inherit the gene for optimism: of the eternal kind! Each time I raid the baking cupboard I hope that I will hit the baking jackpot. But hitting the jackpot is a tricky business. Very. So, I try again, and in doing so I have developed the art of turning a blind eye to my baking failures.

I review my botched-up attempts and retrace my steps. Like any good detective I try and figure out where it all went askew. I blame the ingredients – the flour wasn’t fresh, maybe the eggs were too cold or the sour-milk wasn’t sour enough. Then some lucky, or rather unlucky person – usually my sister (who, by the way should seriously consider entering The Great Irish Bake-Off) will witness my rant and my musings but never really eat what I’ve just baked!   She’s a great sister and will patiently go through the recipe with me – she’s my Watson, and together we piece the jagged baking jigsaw puzzle. Deduce is what we do best.

Sis: Did you weigh the flour exactly as it states in the recipe?
Me: Yes, of course – 8oz exactly.
Sis: Did you use self-raising or plain flour?
Me: Self-raising 
Sis: Did you add a pinch of baking powder?
Me: No, sure why would I? It’s self-raising isn’t it?
Sis: Yes, but it’s always good to add a pinch, helps the bake rise more.
Me: Oh, no one ever told me that.
Sis: Ok, so did you add all the other ingredients correctly?
Me: Yeah, even added a few extra.
Sis: Extra, what do you mean by extra?
Me: I thought some ground almonds would add a bit of a crunch and some orange juice, but I only used a smidgen.

That’s when she usually raises an eyebrow and her mouth sort of goes lopsided with a smirk. 

Sis: Why did you think orange juice would work in this recipe?
Me: Dunno, just like the idea of almonds and orange essence together.
Sis: Orange essence, is that what you’re calling it?
Me: Well it is! Isn’t it?
Sis: No, not really. It’s orange juice, but I know what you mean!
Me: I put a few bits of grated orange peel in as well…just for effect.

At this point, she can hardly contain her amusement at my inventiveness and blatant disregard for following instructions.

Sis: OK, did you put in the oven at 180 degrees for 30 mins?
Me: Well, I used the fan oven so had to drop the temperature to 160 degrees, but I did leave them in for 30 minutes.
Sis: Bravo!
Me: Ha bloody ha!

Her line of questioning serves its purpose.  Perhaps IF I followed the recipe things would pan out a lot better. But sticking to recipes is not who I am – it is not in me. So onwards and upwards I must go – until I have my very own Eureka moment…but in the meantime I think Watson will have her hands full with unsolved cases!

Here’s one recipe I have no problem following…get baking your way!

Recipe for Friendship
Start with smiles and conversation
Next stir in appreciation
Slowly add, in equal parts fun and quiet heart-to-hearts
Mix in honesty and trust
A pinch of patience is a must
Don’t make a mess, but if you should, apologies are very good
Serve it warm and loving care
And lastly, don’t forget to share.
There’s nothing like one good friend and two good cookies.

 

Recipe for Friendship poem (c) Becky Kelly, Spoonful of Stars
Image courtesy of Doire Greenspan: At Home       

A Little History of The World

Standard

In 1935, Ernst Gombrich was invited to attempt a history of the world for younger readers.  He was 26 years old had a doctorate in art history and no prospect of a job. He completed the task Historyin six weeks.

This is a fascinating book. In 40 concise chapters, Gombrich tells the story of man, the story of us, from the Stone Age to the Atomic Bomb.  However, instead of providing the reader with a deluge of dates and facts, Gombrich leaves out the boring bits and recounts our history in an amiable way as if he is in the room with you – telling a story.

This story starts with ‘Once upon a time’ and as Gombrich weaves expertly in and out of real-life events we learn of humanity’s achievements and are reminded of our failings. We cannot see where the story ends, but we do hope there is a happy ending.

Ernst Gombrich’s wonderful book demonstrates that history does not need to be boring or stuffy; history books do not need to be covered with a thick layer of centuries old dust before they appear interesting. It is the tales contained within the covers that are important – it’s all about the stories!

 

Among E. H. GOMBRICH’s many writings are the international bestsellers The Story of Art and Art and Illusion. He was director of the Warburg Institute of the University of London from 1959 to 1976. For further information please click here