Mum trumps all

I don’t normally write about my private life on here, (other than my private creative endeavors of course), but this week is different. This week my child had gastroenteritis serious enough to get us admitted to hospital.

He is starting to turn the corner, I hope, but it has really brought home to me some truths about being a mother like a snowball to the face.

Firstly, there is nothing more important than your child, especially when they are sick. I love my partner dearly, and so I almost hesitate to type that, but being an adult he can look after himself, rationalise things, and he can seek help and resources outside me. My bub, especially as he can’t speak more than a few words, is entirely dependent on us to help him. We are his entire world. Sometimes all you can do is cuddle him. My professional work and my creative work, come so far down the list of priorities in comparison that they don’t even rate a number on the list.

The other thing is that gender equality and that delicate balance we weave as joint partners in bringing up this little person go completely out the window. My child is no respecter of politics, or even other people’s feelings. All week he has pushed his father away (and is grandfather is out of the question), because he needs ME. Intensely, 24 hours, and in close contact at all times. It’s been hard on my partner to be left feeling second best, especially as they have such fun when he is well.

Someone at my work recently suggested that a colleague who was going on maternity leave at the end of the month would have a lovely relaxing time when the baby comes, reading books and putting her feet up. I confess that I did have to pipe up and put him straight – about the intensity of the relationship – about how it is hard to explain what you do all day, but your days are completely full – about how my child was so demanding when he was tiny that I lost weight as I had no chance to eat.

One of our reviewers (Ella Dee) for ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’ said that as she is not a mother, reading the book was like reading science fiction, the worlds of mothers’ real and honest experiences were so different from her own. I can completely agree with that. I don’t think you can have any real idea of the intensity of the relationship until you are caught up in its whirlwind.

Hopefully this particular whirlwind will set us down somewhere a little sunnier and calmer soon.

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Welsh cakes

March 1st is St David’s Day – the patron saint of Wales. I am perhaps a little late, but being Welsh-born I celebrated today by making Welsh Cakes for the first time.

In my memory, my mother always made Welsh Cakes on St. David’s Day, and on various other days, although this is probably the gilding of time. However, I can tell you that I loved them, and ate them in gluttonous quantities, for they are what my partner describes as ‘very more-ish’. For those of you know don’t know – they are small flat cakes – perhaps more like pikelets – full of currants, which are cooked on a griddle.

Mine don’t look quite like this…these must be the caucasian version.

Making them proved rather more time consuming than when I recall my mother doing it, which I suppose is true of a lot of the things in childhood. However, it made me happy for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it was nice to be doing something for relaxation – it’s been rather busy of late, as evidenced by my atrocious lack of attention to my blog lately.

Also, we don’t have a lot in the way of family traditions, but I like the idea of passing along the enjoyment of Welsh cakes to my lad, who has a Welsh name. I can report that he likes them just as gluttonously as I.

Finally, as I rubbed in the butter and rolled out the dough, I found the words from that great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, trickling through my mind.

Evans the Death, the undertaker,
laughs high and aloud in his sleep and curls up his toes as
he sees, upon waking fifty years ago, snow lie deep on the
goosefield behind the sleeping house ; and he runs out into
the field where his mother is making welsh-cakes in the
snow, and steals a fistful of snowflakes and currants and
climbs back to bed to eat them cold and sweet under the
warm, white clothes while his mother dances in the snow
kitchen crying out for her lost currants.

I’m sure I’ll be making them again in the future. They are delicious, even if mine did come out just like my mother used to bake – slightly burnt!

What are your family traditions? Do any of them have links to literature? Would love to hear about them. 🙂

Giving yourself a Green Light

ImageHave you heard of slashies?

It’s a label that is being attached to people who do multiple things, typically actor / writer / dancer / superheroine, etc.

Somehow I’ve managed to become a slashie, and I can tell you, at times that slash feels like a physical one. Personally, I’m a writer/ mother/ landscape architect. But with the writer part, there also comes the baggage of writer / publicist / marketer, which I’m really not all that keen on. There are other slashes I could add, but let’s not go crazy here. Yet. Going crazy might let some of the things I’m balancing topple.

The other day, all my slashes were starting to wear me down a bit, I confess. I think particularly because I have a little one, time out without him is so precious that I feel I have to stuff in something useful. I’m new at this parenting lark, so I guess I’m still trying to find the right balance, but it had gone too far into the “All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl,” territory.

So I chucked it all in, and in my precious free time, ripped into the garden. I pulled out weeds, snapped dead branches, and stuffed them enthusiastically into the green bin. I clipped and pruned and freed poor light starved plants. It was tiring, but so cathartic. At work, I try to remind myself that I need to get up from my computer and go for a walk in the park at lunchtime. It may not be directly productive, but I’ve come to the conclusion that some green time is like sleep.

You need some time out, preferably in nature, to recharge.

It’s actually one of the principles that they use in Bhutan to measure how happy their population is, and they are a country taking happiness seriously, since they use it instead of GDP to see how they are doing as a nation.

My best ideas usually come not when I’m slogging away at my keyboard, but when I’m idle – although sometimes that mental idleness has to be forced upon me, like when walking with my bub in his pusher, or when the trains have been cancelled. I understand that it’s actually a recognised phenomenon, which has something to do with allowing the right brain to have a bit of a kick outside the controlling influence of that stern task-master, the left brain.

So if I have a New Year’s resolution, it’s to give myself the Green Light. ‘Go’ to getting out there: ‘Go’ to a bit more balance: and ‘Go’ to some guilt free idleness. 🙂

Have you resolved to be more idle too? Would love to chat about the idea.

Author interview: Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

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The latest in this series of Author Profiles is Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali, who is also one of the wonderful women who have contributed their thoughts and feelings about motherhood to the newly released ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’, with a letter written to her 21 year old son. As you’ll read below, she is a fascinating person….

I love the way that you must blow away people’s stereotype of a Muslim woman. What is your take on this? Is the stereotype annoying, baseless, or just a lazy and convenient way of putting people into boxes?

 Yes to all of the above, especially the lazy part. It is easy for people to stereotype because it frees them from having to engage, and learn, and overcome their own insecurities and fears. Overcoming stereotypes requires effort… or someone like me who is more than willing to kick down the door of stereotypes for you.
But seriously, as much as I would like to say that I purposefully work to deconstruct stereotypes, the fact is I don’t. I’m just me. It just so happens that the me that I am won’t fit into a box.
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You have a very varied and exotic list of interests, including zombies, video games, sewing and maintaining an organic garden. Two questions: how did you develop such a diverse range of passions, and how do you find time to indulge them?
 
I’ll answer the question about time first.I work full time and I have a family. I don’t have a lot of time but I do believe in putting that time to the best use that I can. I make conscious choices about what I’m willing to give my time to. I try to spend every free moment doing the things I love. So, I’m not doing all of those things all of the time, but I get around to all of them in time.
As for how I developed such a range that is more difficult to answer. I started sewing years ago because I couldn’t afford to by the kinds of clothes that I wanted to wear. So I learned to make them cheaply. I spend a lot of time with my children and I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I developed an interest in video games late in life from watching my kids play them. They’re now ages 22, 20, and 12 and they still play video games. I play right along with them and we have a blast. Zombies are the only horror trope that gives me pause. A little. Most other horror bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to grow my own food, so when I moved into my home seven years ago, I decided to give it a go. I’m not always successful, but I always try.
I don’t want to be the type of person who in later years says “I wish I would have…” so if something interests me, and it isn’t harmful, I see no reason not to indulge, right now. Life is but the blink of an eye.
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I understand that you work as an oncology nurse, and have spoken at seminars about this subject. Does working with cancer patients change your outlook on life? I’m particularly wondering if it makes you reassess your priorities for life, rather than just drifting along as many of us do?
 
I think that in many ways I have become a bit desensitized. I often see death in a very compartmentalized way. It’s one stop on the continuum of life. It is the thing that happens to other people. The times when I reassess my life is when I meet that one patient who having faced their own mortality has accepted their fate. Notice I that didn’t say that they had given up hope or faith. That’s different. Accepting the inevitable, facing that frightening fate is a miracle and not an easy place to journey to. When a patient reaches that place, they have given up their anger and disbelief and have resolved to live their last days with peace and grace. Seeing a person make that journey is soul warming and a lesson for me that my petty concerns really aren’t worth the effort it takes to give them thought.
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When did you start writing? Did you have to take a break while your children were small?
 
I’ve always written. But there was a time in my early to mid 20s that I forgot about writing. At the time I was trying on new selves. I was learning who I was and deciding who I wanted to be. That took about seven or eight years. Then in my late 20s (about 1998), when my children were still small I started to write An Unproductive Woman. It took me about two years. AUW sat in a box in the closet or garage for the next several years while I went to nursing school and started working. I decided to publish AUW in 2008 and I’ve been writing in some capacity since then.
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Your novel ‘An Unproductive Woman’, has very different subject matter to the field in which I first found you, where you were involved with the Yuva science fiction anthology. Do you write across many genres? Do you find that a challenge as an indie author?
 
ImageI wrote An Unproductive Woman a lifetime ago. I was a different woman then. Since then, my tastes and self-confidence have grown exponentially. In short, I write the types of stories I would like to read. At the moment that falls in the range of SFF, dystopian/utopian fiction. It may change later, and if and when that happens, my writing will reflect likely that.
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Tell me about the Yuva anthology. How did it start? How are things progressing?
 
The Yuva anthology started with a comment I made on Matthew Williams’ site (http://storiesbywilliams.com/) wherein I mentioned how I’d always dreamed my son would become an astronaut and go to space. Matt responded by saying how inspired he was. I challenged him, if memory serves, to organize a group and do an anthology about space and space travel. He met that challenge and that is where you found us. Since then there have been several contributions to the anthology but we still need more people to come forward and contribute, so we’re in a holding pattern.
If you know anyone who might be interested…
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Forgive me for being nosy, but I’m fascinated to know if you ever find philosophical contradictions between your faith and science fiction?
 
Yes, and no. On the most basic level, my faith validates science and science validates my faith. There is no contradiction for me between science and my faith. Science fiction can be stickier. For me, the contradictions present themselves when science fiction works to debunk God, or reinvent God, or ignore his presence. It is usually the latter and I question this often. Science fiction tends to be more comfortable with fictional faith. I’m not certain why that is.
My current project meets matters of religion and faith head on, which I think can be difficult to do without scaring people away or making them feel as if they’re being preached at. I think I was able to do that with An Unproductive Woman though. Most of my readers have been non-Muslim, and most of them loved the story regardless, if my 4+ stars is any indication.
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Thank you for this opportunity Kasia!
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You can find Khaalidah on Facebook, and at her Blog.

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

MOFK COVER front final

The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!

Fighting the Boredom Beast

office_boredomI’m back at work now, pretending to be all grown up. My partner is taking some time off his work to be a full-time Dad, which is wonderful for us all. I can go to work knowing that my lad (who we have dubbed The Beast) is going to have a fun day, and my partner gets some time with our little guy while he’s still little, which is something I suspect many dads miss out on.Sounds great, right?

It is, and yet, and yet…

I suppose it’s part of human nature to not be able to bask in the glow of contentment for long. Don’t get me wrong – I know I am incredibly lucky, in so many ways which I won’t enumerate here. But take yesterday, as an example. The chaps went to Healesville Sanctuary, and had a lovely time looking at Australian animals in the sunshine. I was bored out of my brain behind a computer terminal. Work just isn’t that interesting. It’s a ridiculously middle class, privileged viewpoint, but I’m interested in discussing what the implications of that boredom are.

I remember quite clearly that in all honesty, I was pretty bored some days when I was at home full time with The Beast, as well. Am I easily bored? My mother would say so, but left to my own devices, I am more than competent at filling in a day. There are an awful lot of things which I’d like to be doing, which engage me and which I can totally lose myself in. The experts apparently call this state ‘flow’.

I watched a documentary on the weekend about the pursuit of happiness, and how having a profession where you are in a state of ‘flow’ much of the time is a big help. All of us who write, or paint, or draw, know that blissful feeling of being carried away to the extent that you forget to eat, and hours zoom by win the blink of an eye. Some people get it through running, or cooking. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of boredom. Instead of time dragging, it evaporates. You emerge tousled, exhausted, and yet joyful.

It’s for this reason that I can’t take on board the prescribed wisdom that to write, you must do so every day, whether you feel like it or not. For me, creativity is a great form of pleasure, and one which should be indulged as a spoilt child – frequently, frivolously, and without imposed rules and schedules.

What are your thoughts? Is being bored a privileged position? Is it necessary to experience boredom to appreciate the joy of ‘flow’?