Sunday 23 November 2008

Where were you when...?

History is not just the stuff that is recorded in dusty old tomes in the backs of university libraries, it's the stuff that is happening, day to day, around us in the world we live in. I've only been alive for 26 years and so far several historic things have happened in my lifetime that my grandkids will know about.

"Wow, Granny, you mean you saw the Towers collapse on the news?!"

I got to thinking about this the other day and thought it might be worth thinking about all of the historic events that have happened so far in my lifetime. Especially seeing as thought we are in the wake of the ground-breaking event that is the election of Barack Obama.

Off the top of my head, these are the things that I can remember that have happened in my lifetime:

Gulf war (1990-91)
Beginning of the Bosnian War (1992-95)
Death of Princess Diana (1997)
The Asian Financial Crisis (1997)
Turn of the new millennium (do I really need to put in a date here??!)
9/11 (2001)
The declaration of the Iraq war by George W. Bush (2002)
The Boxing Day Tsunami (2004)
Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Capture and execution of Suddam Hussein (2006)
Election of first African-American president in USA (2008)

Interesting how most of them are "bad news" events. At least the most recent is a nice "good news" event.

I guess here I have focused on global events, not just stuff that's significant to NZ... Those are the ones I can think of just for now. Anyone else think of any others I have missed?

Sunday 16 November 2008

New government in NZ

Photo source:

So National won the election and today Prime Minister Elect, John Key, announced his new Cabinet. It's not the way I wanted the election to go, but the voice of the people has spoken and this is reality for the next three years so I guess I will have to put up with it.

On the "voice of the people" - I have to just make one comment. Voting for a party based purely on the fact that you fancy a change and you're bored with the current government who has done nothing drastically wrong in the last nine years or because you don't like Helen Clark for purely superficial or personal reasons is NOT a good enough reason to vote her out of office. But ah the joys of democracy when even the least well thought out and impulsive voice is heard alongside the others at equal volume.

Perhaps we were swept up in the excitement and calls for change in the American election which was only three days before our election. Perhaps the calls for change spilled over into our psyche and "change" for change's sake seemed like a good idea? Who knows - it would be interesting to see if you could quantify the effect that had on our election outcome. It's hardly the same though is it - changing from Bush to Obama is barely comparable to our situation. Helen Clark was a thoroughly competent and intelligent leader. One who kept us out of Iraq, one whose party has improved the welfare state, abolished interest on student loans, set up KiwiSaver and KiwiBank. I take my hat off to her.

I have no problem really with the direction of people's vote - so long as they make and intelligent and well-informed vote. Not one that goes something along the lines of "I think Helen Clark looks like a man so I'm voting National". In a world where not everyone gets to have their voice heard, it's important, I think, that we take this kind of thing seriously. Especially when electing a bad government can have such a devastating and lasting effect on the country.

I wish John Key and his new government all the best and hope that he can keep up the good work and build on the solid foundations that Labour has put in place. I also wish that some people would be a touch more thoughtful and mature with their vote, but like I said earlier - such are the pitfalls of democracy - there's no accounting for the 'idiot vote'.

Impending marriage and other fun things...

I'm getting married in a few months.


Even looking at that, black and white, typed on the page is a little bit unreal. Don't get me wrong, I am really excited about being married to my future hubby. It's not the being married to him that is strange and unreal to me. It's the fact that I'm 'here' already. I've looked forward to it for so long that it hardly seems that it can be true that it's so close now.

It's going to be a huge change for me, mentally. Although I already feel a part of my in-laws family, this is the sealing of the deal. The changing of my last name will be a good symbolic step I think. The leaving behind of past hurts and moving forward with a new identity (almost) into my future. It's a necessary and much welcomed step but there's still that tiny tug of apprehension that you always feel when you place your heart, trust and destiny in the hands of another. Having grown up in a situation where I couldn't trust those around me with the above mentioned things, I find it really difficult to let go and trust someone else completely.

I want to. I just need to let myself do it.

Friday 14 November 2008

Phantom, Research Day Out and Thesis...

I went to see the Phantom of the opera last night - something I had wanted to do for years and years and years. Literally. I love the music, I love the drama and culture surrounding an international stage performance... it's an energy that makes me feel more fully alive. Like I'm experiencing something worthwhile, something which will be noted in the memory banks as a Night To Remember for years to come. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience... and also part of a "self care" thing I'm working on. After years of hearing the words "No" and "Can't" it's hard to switch yourself into "Yes" and "Can" mode.

And now for something completely different... We had a Research Day Out at work today. Normally, work doesn't figure much on my blog, not because I don't like it - I do - I love it in fact. However I guess it's not really what I want to be rambling on about in my spare time. But today was different - 12 different grad students from both Massey and Waikato came together to present on their Masters/PhD research and the result was nothing short of stunning. From work engagement in aid organisations, to androgen's effect on adult gender identities, to homelessness, to emergency management, to the lived experiences of heavy metal fans, to resilience in migrant communities... we really had it all. THIS was the answer to the question I get asked so very often in my job: "What can I do with Psychology?" The answer, obviously, is just about anything you like!
The thing that really captured my attention and imagination though was one section of Darrin Hodgett's presentation which spoke about the homelessness project which he's involved in with Kerry Chamberlain from Massey. They found that a key space that homeless people engage with other in is the public library - here they have a place to be where they can read, engage with others, research things that interest them and get off the streets for a while. This really caught me as I too absolutely love public libraries. Just going ito one has an incredibly calming effect on me - a function of me being a total literophile I'm sure - something I have found from an early age. Nothing, but nothing will make me quite as happy in quite the same way as putting me amongst a bunch of books. And to find that others could also garner similar feelings from libraries was interesting - although no doubt the element of social engagement is more pertinent to those who are homeless. I also loved how this smashed any stereotype that may hang around about homeless people all being uneducated bums.

Speaking of education - the continuing of mine is rolling along nicely. I had some email correspondence with the person I have wanted to be my thesis supervisor since undergrad days about my ideas for my upcoming MA thesis. I'm thinking something in the area of post 9/11 literature and the domestic, I think. I'm just going to read as widely as I can at this stage and roll out from there. It's very exciting. Of anyone happens to be reading this and knows of something (anything) related to post 9/11 literature, please let me know. Cheers!

Sunday 9 November 2008

Book Review: Relative Strangers by Emma Neale

Ever since the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, 2001 there has been an ever increasing body of literature which has come to be referred to as "Post 9/11 Literature". Although my investigations into this field have only been cursory so far, it has captured my attention. As part of a wider field of trauma literature, post 9/11 literature deals with the Western world's processing and making sense of the atrocities of this day.

The majority of critical attention paid to post9/11 literature has been focused on American literary responses, however when I read Relative Strangers by Emma Neale, a NZ novel, it seemed to me to fit this field.

Relative Strangers starts with Chloe being found in Colin's lounge. She has wandered in there in a state of shock after a series of traumatic events have unfolded in her life. Colin, whom she has never met before, comes home to find this strange and bedraggled woman with her infant son, sat on his couch looking through his personal effects. This the story begins as the reader unravels the narratives of both Chloe and Colin. Coming together under unusual circumstances they find solace in each other - each are survivors of their own particular tragedies - and begin to work through their respective traumas. The glue in this pseudo domestic arrangement is Toby, Chloe's son. The privileging of the domestic and parenthood in this novel appears to be typical of post 9/11 literature - possibly the retreat into the comforting and familiar in the face of death and terror - and is seen as the avenue to healing of both the personal traumas of the protagonists and also the collective trauma of the post 9/11 world.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, Neale's prose is a delight to read - one of my favourite sentences was garnered from this book - and the positioning of New Zealand in the fall out from the 9/11 proves that although our little country may seem remote we are as connected to, and affected by, world events as anywhere else in the world.

I give this a book a solid 8/10.

Book Binge!!

To celebrate my release from the shackles of academia for the year, I decided to buy myself a book. Or six. OK, to be fair, I only planned on buying one. But it never quite works out that way. I have a running list of "Must Reads" which are on my shelf and "Must Buys" which I plan to acquire. They never get any shorter as there are just so many bloody good books out there and I haven't had nearly enough time to read even a fraction of them.

I guess a major life goal of mine is to be as widely read as possible and I feel a certain amount of urgency about this. The more I study in the field of literature the more I become aware that there is so much out there I haven't read that I need to. Being the youngest in my class a lot of the time through my Masters papers, there have been so many times when the "Have you read this?" question comes up in general discussion and yet again I am found lacking. Of course, I have had less time and I have done reasonably well in the time I have had BUT! The lists keep growing as does my passion about reading great books.

My acquisitions this week, in no particular order, are:
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova; On Beauty by Zadie Smith; Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Case Histories by Kate Atkinson; Perfume by Patrick Suskind and The inheritance of loss by Kiran Desai.

I have been accused of being a book snob on a few occasions (and a movie snob) as I tend not to spend much time reading or watching the more lightweight stuff. That doesn't mean I don't appreciate the more lightweight books - I do. I just don't see how I can spend time reading something I will quickly forget when I have so much serious catch up work to do on contemporary literature. Besides, I find reading a novel that challenges and surprises me far more satisfying.

I'm currently reading The book and the brotherhood by Iris Murdoch for the book club at work, which is going well. I've only really just got into it and figured out who everyone is. I was warned about the proliferation of characters before I started reading her (I'm a Murdoch novice) but I had no idea that you could include so many differing characters and keep the attention of the reader. It's a true testament to Murdoch's skill as a writer. In any case, more will follow on that I'm sure.

For now, I am going to add these six beauties to my ever swelling collection in my on-going quest to be even more of a book nerd than I am now. Happy reading!!