Dear ALIA Board Nominees – I’ve got some questions

It’s ALIA Board Election time again. And this year, rather than just making my mind up on the scant information provided by ALIA, I want to know their thoughts on a bunch of issues within the industry.

For this reason, I’ve written 11 questions with the input of industry peers and emailed these to nominees. The email sent and questions are available below. As stated I will be posting responses to the questions without editing of contents. I will be using the hashtag #ALIAVotes2020 for any social media posts – the responses will be posted on #ALIAVotes2020 – responses.

I’ve been an ALIA member my entire career but have increasingly started to wonder if it is worth being a member. I desperately want ALIA to be an organisation that is grassroots, proactive and reflective of members needs, as well as responding appropriately to trends within the industry.

It seems to me that to be any of these things it starts with who is representing us on the board. And to ensure we are getting directors who meet these needs we need to know more than the brief information we are provided for by ALIA.

Text of email and questions are below

I wanted to thank you for nominating for the important role of Director of the ALIA board in our national professional association.

As a career long ALIA member, I want to be involved in an organisation that is inclusive, responsive and reflects the views and needs of members. While ALIA has provided some information about you, to make an informed choice on who to vote for I feel like I need further information about your views on some of the issues facing the industry.

The questions below represent some of those issues and were compiled by me and industry peers. For transparency the questions and any responses will be posted to my blog so that a wider audience of ALIA members can also understand your views on these issues. The questions have been sent to all nominees for individual board positions and responses will be posted without editing.

Participation, is of course voluntary but would be very much appreciated by myself and other members who often feel that our voices are not heard by our professional association.

  1. There is a very top down approach to ALIA professional association, do you have any ideas or proposals for enabling more ALIA members to be directly involved at a grass roots level in developing ALIA policy and the running of the organisation?
  2. ALIA has a relevancy and retention problem with many library workers choosing to not be members. What changes to ALIA do you feel need to be made in order to make it a more appealing organisation to a wider range of people in the industry?
  3. In the draft report on the ALIA sustainable development goals, ALIA has made open access a priority for library services. Should ALIA be leading by example and making all research publications with ALIA branding including JALIA open access and why/why not?
  4. ALIA released the Diversity Trends Report last year, which made a number of recommendations about diversifying the industry. What do you feel is a way forward that both ALIA and the industry can do to attract and retain people from diverse backgrounds?
  5. In the same report ALIA identified that the industry is made up of 17% of people who identify as men and 83% who identify as women. The report also highlighted that men are paid more than women. What issues do you believe this highlights for the industry and what steps will you be taking to address the unequal pay issue?
  6. Do you believe that LIS education programs are producing graduates with the skills needed to work in contemporary libraries or as information professionals in a range of other industries? If so, what are those key skills and if not, why not?
  7. #Critlib has become a needed movement for reflection and change within the library industry. What does critical librarianship mean to you and how will it help inform your role as an ALIA board member?
  8. What is your opinion on the state of employment in the library industry? 
  9. Many library workers become disillusioned and burnt out by the industry after a few years. What do you think are the causes of this and how can ALIA help address this problem?
  10. Climate change is a major concern going forward into the new decade, how should ALIA respond to this challenge?
  11. Is there anything else you would like to add?

 Thanks again for taking the time to respond to these questions, it’s very much appreciated. As voting opens on the 20 January, if your response could be received by that date, it would help to ensure people had enough time to read and reflect before they vote. I will post responses right through until the voting period (18 February).

Good luck with your nomination, I am looking forward to hearing from you.

I will be posting responses as they are sent to me. And again I thank the board nominees for taking the time to respond and engage with this process.

I hope ALIA members feel this is useful in helping them make informed decisions about who to vote for.

And I especially wanted to thank Hugh, Clare, Steven and Heidi for their input into these questions and for Hugh who many years ago decided to start this process.

 

 

Ten things I hate about you – part 2

It seems fitting, as I reflect on 10 years in libraries that it’s also the end of the decade. So much of my life has been focused around my career that in reflecting on my time in libraries, I’m also reflecting on my life in general. My first post was about the patriarchy and capitalism at the heart of the industry, this time I wanted to say something positive.

I am not the person I was ten years ago. That says both everything and nothing at all. Nobody is the same person they were ten years ago, because life and other catastrophes  changes you. But I’m not the same person largely because of my profession in both good and bad ways.

Ten years ago my world was certainly very different. I grew up in a white middle class town, with white middle-class views. While I’ve always been a swinging voter, I probably leaned more towards the right. I would not have considered myself a feminist in anything but the most general terms.

In public libraries, you are confronted with the hardest things in the community; refugees trying to make a go of it, unemployment, language barriers, drugs, mental-health – you name it and public libraries are dealing with it. And the thing about seeing and dealing with it, means you end up understanding it or at least trying too.

Understanding it, means you come to see how political and societal systems negatively impact the community you are supporting. And this is at both a personal level – that is how your views and votes matter, and in the bigger picture view. Librarianship changed that for me, as I could see the direct result of the harm being done by government policy in a range of areas. It made me intentional in aligning my politics to my values.

Exposure to different world views has be key to changing perspectives and this has come from the relationships I’ve built both in person and online. Twitter is often a bin-fire, but it’s also been a place of learning and information gathering, which I’ve used to learn and grow.

I’ve often called on library twitter for help with an issue and always found useful advice and connections. But it’s also been a primary source for news and connecting with people from across the world and with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Getting the chance to read and sometimes discuss but often just learn has been at times confronting but also a joy.

The single best thing about the library profession is the people who work in the industry. I want to say that again… The single best thing about being a librarian is the people you share the journey with. Generous with our time, supportive, ready to advocate and argue for what is good and right; we accept everyone (although there is a strictly enforced no dickheads policy), we especially look out for the quiet ones who may not feel they fit in anywhere else.

But it’s more than just acceptance though – it’s welcoming, it’s saying come sit at the table with us. It makes complete sense – in an industry where we deal with community at both its best and worst, it would be difficult to not have the same compassionate and welcoming stance with each other.

In libraries, I’ve found a safe space to be creative, shape my talents and use my voice. Ten years ago I was would have been too scared to share my opinions in a blog. But through the acceptance of the industry and the gentle encouragement of friends and colleagues, I’ve found out who I am, what matters to me and I’ve become bold enough to speak up.

The courage I’ve gained through finding a place among librarians has had a real world impact. This year, as a member of parish council, I raised the issue of Acknowledgement of Country at services. It was a bumpier road than what I was expecting but we are now saying a prayer, which acknowledges the traditional owners of the lands where our church meets.

Key for me pressing this issue, was the knowledge I’d gained about it’s importance through my learning and conversations with other librarians and GLAM sector workers. I knew many of you were supporting and encouraging me to be brave and raise issues that meant something to me – as you always are, on a range of issues.

In a ten year career, you meet a lot of people some become friends and others just pass through. If I was to thank everyone, it would be a long list and I would probably forget to name someone anyway – also not an Oscars acceptance speech. But there are key influencers, mentors and advisors I’ve turned to for help and support, who have shaped my career – sometimes literally, my thinking and my life.

These people have qualities that I admire and desperately hope I have and want to mentor others to have. They are deep thinkers about library services and the world in general. They like to get stuff done the easiest way possible without necessarily caring too much about the hierarchy. In all cases they have given me plenty to think about and the safe space to work things through – and that is a precious gift.

So thank you to those people (you know who you are) and to everyone else as well. For ten years of acceptance and for challenging me to be a better librarian and more importantly a better person too.

For all the difficult things facing this industry and the uncertainty I feel going forward in it, I still find myself breaking into a smile when someone asks me what I do for a living. Because I’m a librarian, which has been both the greatest gift and the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it’s all been made easier because of all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On LIS careers and volunteering

Many people on Twitter saw this thread by Megan Chorusch, on the dilemma and cost of LIS Volunteering.

It hurt my heart and made me angry to think that we have people who are have to consider giving up so much for a chance in this industry. It also made me think about my own journey and the way we all contribute to this problem. @Lissertations has also written on this and I encourage you to read her wise and angry words.

The first thing I need to say that Megan’s story is the story of so many, including my own. The fact that ten years has gone by and we are still in the same spiral is alarming and a sad indictment on the industry.

When I started studying librarianship, I knew I would need to get a library job as soon as possible. I left a permanent job, for a 12 month part time contract – it became much much longer and full time but still casual.

I took another casual job at a librarian level. While I was finishing my masters and working two jobs – I was so stressed I developed eczema around my eyes. It was horrendous and I was exhausted running from one job to another and trying to study.

While studying I also did voluntary work at a couple of places. One project I loved and did for six months or more. It was as much for interest as for my CV.  I volunteered to be on an ALIA committee, I showed everyone I cared, was enthusiastic, engaged. Was active on social media. And all of this still wasn’t enough…

I went for a job, didn’t get it, was offered casual work… Took that (happened twice). From 2011-2012 I worked casually at three public libraries. Worse, I was competing with others in the same boat and we’d play a game of fastest finger first to see who would get that day’s offered shift.

If it wasn’t for the cheap accomodation and support of my family, I would not have been able to do this. But it was also disillusioning and made me question who I was, and the industry as a whole.

When I managed to get a permanent part time job I still felt that this wouldn’t be enough because there was limited desk work, so I continued working my casual jobs as well. At one point I had four jobs.

And from 2012-2016, most weeks I worked six-days-a-week. The longest stretch I ever worked was 10 days and then had one day off before working another six. I was perpetually exhausted and had no life. Thought it was worth it though and I’d be rewarded for my hard work.

But all of this still wasn’t enough… (Honestly whatever public libraries are looking for, clearly I don’t have it).

I’d like to tell Megan and co. not to volunteer, or give up too much for the industry on the hopes that it might lead to something because it’s not worth it. But of course I can’t. The reason this model exists is because out of it jobs do come – sometimes.

Part of me wants to see what would happen if we all went – about that volunteering that keeps the industry running; yeah, nah we aren’t doing it anymore. But there’s almost no chance everyone would agree to that. And then we’d have a situation where we’d all feel like we have too, to be seen as one of those who are engaged. Thus creating the problem we have now.

I still do casual work and volunteer, though it’s much more manageable these days. I also think about it differently now – I’m not trying to impress anyone or show them I’m engaged. It’s about giving back, increasing my own knowledge, helping new grads avoid the pitfalls and maybe changing things a little.

One of my volunteer roles is reviewing CVs for ALIA. As well as talking about their translatable skills, I often tell them to volunteer or take casual work. I see now that this is bad advice that perpetuates exploitation and gives false hope to new graduates. But there’s nothing else I can say…

There are no paths into the industry that don’t require years of slog and a whole lot of good luck. I often review CVs knowing there’s little chance of them getting a job in a public library at all. (I’ve only ever reviewed CVs for people interested in public library roles). This is not to say they wouldn’t be great at it or have translatable skills that would be an asset, just that there are others at the same level or better.

It’s unendingly depressing seeing the enthusiasm of students and new graduates, knowing that the jobs aren’t there and they’ll likely end up with their hopes dashed. I often want to tell them to run, run as far away as they can; that they have been sold a myth and only a very lucky will find the promised land.

I don’t have any answers on how we can change this. Beyond the twitter echo chamber, I doubt many see this as a problem. And without recognition from those in positions to change things, well, we are tilting at windmills.

A major issues with librarianship is that there is no single voice to advocate for workers. We have our sector unions but these can never address the totality of issues within the industry. A voice that actually speaks for us, a library union, is needed to support workers and make real changes in the industry.

As for me, working so much contributed to burn-out. But the disillusionment started long before, when I realised that all the volunteering and extra jobs was not getting me anywhere. It was never going to be enough.

So my advice to new grads and students is don’t give up everything for a career in libraries; think more broadly about your skills, don’t tie yourself to a particular library sector and if you are going to volunteer do it because you want to not with the hopes of getting anything out of it.

And remember that no library job is more important than life or your relationships… You are enough.

 

 

 

 

Ten things I hate about you – (part 1)

I’ve been in libraries for ten years this year. Ten years, which feels like both yesterday and a long time ago as well. There’s much to say about all of that so here’s my attempt in a multi-part series to reflect on ten years. Part one is careers, capitalism and the patriarchy.

The first thing I need to say is, I’ve had two permanent jobs in ten years. That’s right just two – I’ve gotten through the rest of the time with casual work and contracts. There’s a whole blog post in all the feels I’ve gone through around that situation which I’ll write, eventually. And I know it’s not just a library profession issue but let’s just say it’s been tough and I’ve often considered walking away, if I could ever work out what I want to do.

When I decided to become a librarian, it was because I loved books and between editing and librarianship, it seemed the more stable profession. Oh how I laugh now about that naivety because getting work in this industry is tough. There are more people than there are roles. For ten years I’ve read the ALIA employment trends report and looked for the promised land of “boomers retiring™” but although this has started to happen, the jobs still aren’t there. The industry is shrinking, caused by a range of issues including funding, outsourcing, and automation.

At my graduation, the keynote speaker talked about librarianship being a skill needed in the future. And it’s true – our ability to curate, analysis and contextualise information should see us in many non-traditional industries, as well as in libraries (whatever they look like in the future). But library degrees from my experience don’t seem to provide the broad level skills needed and unfortunately as an industry we are still far too much tied to the romanticism of libraries to really adapt.

Libraries are conceptually a very romantic idea. Everyone (in theory) is allowed in, and within the four walls is a representation of all human knowledge to a greater or lesser extent. Libraries, even more so than galleries or museums capture people’s imaginations. And yes libraries can and do play an important role in providing access to information, which is a core principle of democratic society.

While all that is lovely, it’s built a mythology around librarianship that is very bad for the industry and the people in it. It makes librarianship out to be a calling, not a job: you’re a freedom fighter doing something big and important. But the truth is, the myth doesn’t hold up in reality.

Burnout caused by “vocational awe” amongst librarians is very real. My own experience of it was brutal and I’ve watched friends and colleagues go through the same heartbreak. It’s appalling to me that we as an industry we could want this. But we feed off vocational awe, manipulating idealistic newbies into the belief that they can change the world.

As a profession, we are deeply rooted in the patriarchy with all the gender stereotypes that go along with it. From my own experience, we particularly love the imagery of women in libraries as the “lady bountiful”, centring women as nurturers, doing the emotional labour for their workplace and their communities. It’s not necessarily intentional but all of us continually re-enforce this because of how we have been socialised to understand the world.

The #critlib movement has done much to raise the knowledge of the patriarchal and colonial mindset that forms the basis of library and information services. But it is often individuals who advocate and highlight these concerns both in their workplaces and in the broader industry.

Professional associations should be on the front line of this movement but while they seemingly embrace it on one level, they also largely continue to re-enforce the status quo. Earlier this year ALIA released the diversity trends report, which among other things recommended that we need to hire more men, in the interests of diversity.

The same report highlights pay inequality and across all sectors of GLAM there is one. Unsurprisingly (though depressingly), it’s not women who get paid more, despite making up 84% of the industry. The fact that in a predominately female industry one exists at all is infuriating, while it’s equally alarming that it’s not being addressed.

As a career-long member of ALIA I was deeply offended by the report, feeling it was demeaning to women who turn up everyday and keep the industry running. I raised some concerns about it with ALIA but was told it is about diversity and not equality – as though they are not two sides of the same issue.

Their extraordinary bad take on this and other recommendations in the report shows, an organisation out of touch with its members; history, and societal context of the industry they advocate for. How no one thought that telling a predominantly female profession that it would be a better industry if it hired more men, shows a level of disconnect that is both astonishing and distressing. I’m certainly not suggesting that ALIA was anything other than unthinking but it also fits the patriarchal mindset to devalue the role of women, even in an industry that is predominately female.

Libraries, I believe, think that because we hire more women, we are somehow above all this and we have dealt with these issues and are all about female empowerment. But this is clearly untrue. We know gender oppression in libraries is very real, women in the industry face harassment particularly from the community, and from my own experience that library tech and leadership is disproportionately male in comparison to their participation in the industry.

Female library leadership and libraries sit within the patriarchal system and abides by the same rules. Women have only as much power as the system grants us and we play our roles in re-enforcing the gender roles we have been told to play.

While all of that might sound unendingly depressing… There’s an upside.

Once you go through the fire and emerge singed and cynical, it’s still completely possible to function, engage with the industry and be good at what you do. In fact, I believe now without the emotional baggage of trying to make the world a better place I’m way more effective. Sure, feeling like you are just a cog in a big fat capitalist wheel is no way near as much fun, but it is safer and does give you a clear-eyed perspective on your value.

While I dislike intensely the idea that we are commodity, in a neo-liberal capitalist system when you’re unemployed, you need to get very real about things – including your value. For me, I recognised my value and, in fact, what all the years in libraries had taught me, by looking at my skills from a broader perspective then just libraries.  What I found was real bankable skills that make me employable in the age of information.

My skills include developing and implementing processes and systems, people management, relationship development and maintenance; tech skills, information gathering, organisation and dissemination, as well as analytical, problem-solving and creative thinking skills. These (and many more) are needed and useful skills that all librarians have but we are not encouraged to shout them from the rooftop or think of them pragmatically.

Recognising these skills means I’m more confident in my abilities, and have been able to thrive in a completely new sector. I’m now in a non-traditional library role, where I rarely see books but it suits my skills, and challenges me everyday and in all the ways I love.

If there’s anything I could hope for going forward is that we lose romanticism that ties us down and actually focus on our knowledge and skills and all the ways we can use them. For a million reasons we’d all be better off and we might just have a chance to really change the world.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s no secret: I love romance

At the Melbourne Writers Festival this year there was a fantastic “Day of Romance” dedicated to romance writers, readers and books. I wasn’t able to go to all the sessions I wanted to because, life but I went to three, which were fascinating.

A few things struck me about the day – firstly that many attendees were super grateful there was a day dedicated to books we love but we are often shamed for reading. And secondly, a question from the audience about why they couldn’t get romance novels at their local library, which is what inspired me to write this post.

I’ve been a romance reader since I was a teen. The first book I bought was written in the 1970s and set in the French Revolution. Part of the appeal of it was that it looked and sounded dodgy. And frankly it was – consent was apparently not a thing and “passionate rape” could lead to love.

Even more so then because I clearly naive and was easily influenced, reading smutty books was frowned on – all the sex and romance could have a terrible effect on outlook and character. But I loved them as a way of escaping they were just fun, naughty and I felt rebellious choosing them.

As the genre has grown and changed over the years, the appeal of these books essentially hasn’t changed. I still feel rebellious reading them and still like them because they make me laugh.

Sometimes they aren’t meant to make me laugh but they are written with sincerity and sense of joy, they honestly just make me happy. It’s no more complicated than that. They are a fantasy where everyone lives happily ever after, the sexy times are always plentiful and no one ever needs to go to the bathroom or spills lunch on their top.

As a librarian into romance I’ve encountered much side eye because of my love of the genre. Once someone said they wouldn’t take manga recommendations from me because I read romance. As though my understanding and knowledge of one genre is clearly affected by my seemingly poor taste in reading material. While many are not so openly rude, the secret biases against these books are often discernible in collections.

At best collecting romance seems haphazard. If someone has a passion for it, you’ll get a decent collection, mostly it’ll be by coincidence rather than on purpose. Librarians like many in the general population don’t think romance novels as proper literature. Though there are other factors like profile buying, and format size that also play a role – seriously this is a thing.

It’s hard to understand why. Romance novels cover diverse topics like rape, child abuse, depression, war, relationships, consent and most of all the role of women in society – in everything from fantasy to historical contexts. If you’re into shape shifting hedgehogs or aliens you can find that too.

These stories centre the role of women; fighting against the constricts of society, their families – this is highly relatable, even if done in a way that is formulaic. And formulaic doesn’t mean poorly written – it’s as hard to write a romance novel as any other book. And I’d argue that all books are more of less formulaic anyway – so let’s get off our high horses about that.

Collection acquisition plays a role in re-enforcing these biases as well. With libraries largely outsourcing collections, there’s not enough time or resources for that personal touch. Standing orders are a necessity because there are authors you just want but these need to be reviewed every year for new authors or trends.

Profile buying is the worst and should die a thousand deaths. While convenient for saving time and money its ensuring libraries are becoming homogenous, with bland collections, not tailored to community needs. And don’t get me started on ebooks – you buy a package and leave it up to the platform to choose your collection – as though that’s going to lead to anything good.

And because there’s a perception around the quality of romance novels in publishing, this perpetrates into libraries as well, despite the fact librarians think they are somehow immune to these biases. Librarians don’t necessarily want to believe they have inherent biases but we do. As much as we try for balance the biases are real and it’s as apparent in our collections as it is in our programming, which is a much bigger issue than I can cover here.

As an example, when I was doing acquisitions I brought things that appealed to me, a middle class white woman, that I thought others might like. The problem with this is obvious, though in some cases it worked – the romance novel collection I started was a great success, the coffee table books less so.

Stuart Kells, in a recent talk as part of the Pulp Fiction exhibition at La Trobe University talked about how libraries have long ignored the collection and preservation of romance pulp fiction because it was seen as too lowbrow for collecting. While this has started to change in a historical context, it still holds true for contemporary romance novel publishing.

Librarians should know and do better than this. Romance and erotica, make billions of dollars in sales. They are super popular and efforts should be placed into curating romance collections that appeal to their community. And not just for the perceived readers – older women who want large print Mills and Boon but actual readers women between the ages of 30-54.

As an industry we are doing a disservice to our communities if we look down our noses at women who choose to read romance rather than the latest literary sensation. Just because something is literary doesn’t mean it’s good or appeals to all readers. Worse, we are contributing to the patriarchal and colonial world view that we know what’s best for women and that is improving literature.

As a public library user rather than worker now, I want to see my interests and tastes reflected in the collection. I also want to be surprised finding books by diverse authors and stories. It doesn’t matter whether romance novels are your thing or not, they appeal to a lot of people and it’s time we understood them better and showed them a little love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press Freedom In Australia

Originally published in ALIA’s Member magazine, INCITE, Volume 40, Issue 9/10, page 30 (https://www.alia.org.au/incite)

In June this year, the Australian Federal Police executed warrants at the Canberra home of Newscorp journalist Annika Smethurst and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney. The raids rang alarm bells over press freedom and public interest journalism in Australia and were widely condemned both here and internationally.

Unlike other countries, Australia does not enshrine freedom of the press or freedom of speech in the constitution. This means journalists have no inherent protection when publishing stories in the public interest which are critical of the government. In fact, Australia offers less protection to journalists than many other western democracies.

In the 2019 annual index of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, Australia was ranked 21 behind countries like Germany, Canada and New Zealand (rsf.org/en/ranking). The score indicates significant issues with press freedom in Australia attributed to ’draconian legislation’, such as our defamation and secrecy laws.

The ability to report on the government, especially when the story is unfavourable, is vital to a robust democracy. Public interest journalism contributes to the flow of information and ensures people are getting the full picture on government activities.

It would be harmful to everyone if media organisations or journalists were unable to report on stories in the public interest. And for libraries, it would result in being unable to support their communities to make informed decisions and fully participate in democracy.

Libraries exist to ensure people can access the information they need and ALIA mandates this human right in its constitution. The principles of journalism in providing a record of events, disclosing information and ideas are the same as libraries – contributing to people’s knowledge by having access to information.

Indirectly, the ALIA constitution addresses the role of libraries in supporting press freedom. In its statement on Free Access to Information (bit.ly/2APWIck), it says libraries need to work towards the amendment of any laws or regulations that inhibit us meeting the obligations of providing access to information.

As a profession this means we all must act to lobby the government to change the laws that criminalise journalism. Organisations and individuals can follow ALIA’s lead and contact the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Minister of Home Affairs, the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, and your local member of parliament to express their concerns about these risks.

Libraries must continue to provide access to authentic and reliable information from reputable sources. Providing access to a range of news sources via print, radio, television and online is essential to give people a broad range of information, analysis and opinion. Being able to demonstrate how these news sources are reliable is also key. Libraries can do this by teaching people skills to evaluate the reliability of an information source whether it is a newspaper report or something they read on the internet.

Librarians and libraries should be alarmed by these recent events and the government’s attempts to legislate away the public’s right to know. Journalism is not a crime and we need to shout this from the rooftops for the sake of democracy.

 

Life isn’t fair… But that’s not the whole story.

Life isn’t fair. We know this. We know this every single day. As we know that the sun will come up and go down. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Justice is rarely swift, nor is it blind.

The cards are stacked against you, either by the design of greedy people who think they control the universe or the unknown mystery of fate which does. There’s no escape for any of us.

Some days the weight of it all gets you down. And so defeated, you trudge home miserable and alone. Maybe you open a bottle a wine because a drink or two helps make the world a little less sharp. Exhausted and heart sick you retreat into the arms of  Morpheus, wanting to stay safely asleep forever.

If you’re lucky, the miracle of sleep scours the pain away and in the morning light it’s dulled enough for you to restart the fight.  If you’re not, then it lasts for days, walking around with you like your shadow self. Until a flower or a bird, a friend or a cat (or a friend with a cat) somehow crumples it, making it small and manageable again.

And when it is only a dull ache, you find hope again. And it’s equally foolish friend, empathy. They warm you and make you laugh; making the world full of light and wonder.

Hope makes you believe that it’s glittery promises of something better can be reached if you just try. So bright does it shine, that like a siren you cannot resist, and must move towards it, though something better is eternally one step away.

Empathy hurts and groans, as we all hurt and groan. We fail in empathy and feel the burn of it for others. The burning makes you angry that such unfairness can exist. And  it compels to try and do something (anything!), to fight back against a loaded system, push the line slightly closer to the light.

And you relish the small victories. Because there are only small victories. A tiny shift happens every time you act against the unfairness. The ultimate win maybe not be yours but that’s not the point. It’s about standing up for what is right; about not letting the things get away unchallenged.

You feel sometimes that you are fighting alone, like a row boat against the power of a hurricane. But if you lift your head and look around, or call out, you see others fighting too. And as one becomes many, the line shifts closer, ever closer. 

Life isn’t fair. You know this. But you even as you know it, you must also believe you can change things. So you stand up, fight, then fall, and then return again, in an endless cycle. You do so because it’s worth it, for the dream of what is good and fair and right, and for other people – even complete strangers. This is the point of life and it’s everything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing my religion

Last night we had a parish council meeting, and it was long and hard and I lost out on something that mattered to me. Of course right now I’m massively emoting, it’s early and I’ve not had much sleep.

I feel pretty foolish; I wrote something about it in the church newsletter, which clearly just looks silly now. As does my joy at clawing a little bit of the injustice that is swamping us.

I raised this issue because it was important to be seen to do something. It’s a small gesture that I hoped would shift minds and hearts, and set us on the path to larger actions.

I raised it because I want the Jesus I love – the radical street preacher who spoke truth to power to be the Jesus I meet in church. I don’t want my Jesus to be the nice safe white man who made up a set of rules we follow. I want to see the person who cared for the sick, the outcasts, who challenged people, who was political and who took a side reflected in my church. I’m not sure if I find him there.

And that’s down to me… Perhaps I need to look harder, or look elsewhere. For some time I’ve wondered if I’m a good fit for that church. It’s been easy and safe to go there but maybe that’s the problem – Jesus is not easy or safe.

It would be a wrench of course because they are good people, some of who I love and consider friends, most I’ve known for half my life. And right I’m hurting and prone to making rash decisions. But I can’t keep ignoring this, so maybe it’s time to stop, reflect and seriously think; what kind of Christian am I called to be, and is my current church is equipping me to do this.

I hope the answer is yes, but I don’t know unless I ask. And if the answer is no, then I hope God gives me the strength to take a new path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to high school: facing demons

I just finished reading a book by Jill Stark called Happy Never After. It was about her struggles with anxiety and depression. Some of this book was difficult for me to read. Her experience of anxiety was a lot like mine. Even more her experience with bullies and feeling friendless in high school resonated.

When I was in high school I had very few friends. I don’t know why, you’d need to ask those girls who said they didn’t want to be my friend. I cannot to this day explain to you why no one wanted to hang out with me.

Social media is on these occasions a blessing and a curse. I’m friends with a few people I went to high school with but I’m picky. I didn’t have a lot in common with those people then and perhaps less so now. Some of those who weren’t kind to me have messaged me to say they wonder what happened to me. I haven’t responded.

What happened to me is that I grew up. I went to uni and found people who had broader minds than them with their middle class snobbery. I found my people amongst book nerds and librarians. I found people who have accepted me with all my weirdness, just as I am.

But it hurt. Like only rejection can. It felt fundamental that somehow I’d been made wrong. And it made me scared too. Scared that what I was into was weird and stupid. That I was weird and stupid.

At 15 I wanted to kill myself because it got too much. No one liked me, I was a terrible person. These days that would trigger alarms and get you some help. This was the 90s and no one believed me. When I tried to talk about it, I just felt like I was disappointing people. so I pushed it aside and got on with things.

I went back to my high school for the first time a few weeks ago. Some friends and I snuck in. It looked exactly the same, with its white tower and 19th century English stately home vibe.

For a girl with a romantic heart such a school was the perfect place – it had a croquet lawn and history. Mostly, I just remember it being cold not just in the winter but cold and unkind. Ironic for a Christian School, where one should have expected generosity and acceptance.

The school format didn’t help with its English grammar school pretensions, ranked classes and prefects. Nothing is more irritating than being told what to do by a 17 year old with a little bit of power and a superior attitude.

Of course it wasn’t all bad. In the last two years things were mostly better or at least bearable. I made friends through the school play, a shared love of literature and there were some people who were genuinely kind.

But there was a cost – being scared of my own shadow, feeling like I didn’t deserve to occupy a place in the world and the need to be validated. When the opportunity arose, I had a completely inappropriate relationship with a man 15 years older than me. I was an adult but he was not kind and I was too naive to see he wasn’t perfect. It ended as one would expect.

About five years ago I got an invite to my 20 year high school reunion. You won’t be surprised to find out I didn’t go. I told the person who asked me, that I’d rather stick needles in my eye. Given the generally awful experience sitting around reminiscing about “the good times”, and feeling like I had to justify my life didn’t seem like a healthy choice.

I’ve now reached the end of this post, and I wonder why I’ve written this. It’s water under a very distant bridge. I’m not that person anymore, as I’m sure the people I went to high school have changed too. But experiences shape you for good and bad.

The hole they created – still hurts sometimes. It’s a faint feeling that I’m still not in on the joke that everyone else gets. I sometimes feel physically awkward – like my body is weird and wrong. I have tried to be invisible and take up as small a space in the world as possible.

While this is a painful story to write, it’s also been joyous. I’m not unhappy. Your life is your life; you do the best you can, play the hand you have been given. I’ve been privileged and blessed. And I hope that this experience has made me more compassionate, with a heart for outsiders.

I’m still working on the forgiveness thing. I know Jesus was rejected and still loved but I’m not at that level of grace. Perhaps it’s also forgiveness for myself for not being whatever it is they needed. I was quiet, and did the right thing, to afraid of upsetting people. Rightly or wrongly, I was heavily influenced by my family. I was in no ways cool, I liked whimsy and romance and by their reckoning had poor taste in clothing or music. I was not brave enough to own that. I am now.

Jesus shines a light in dark places, he gathers up those who have been hurt. So perhaps in telling this story, in reckoning with the sadness  and sharing it, it stops being painful and the healing starts.

Post script… If you are experiencing difficulties or this post has triggered things for you please consider talking to your doctor or call these numbers

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where are you going with your life?

Some friends and I decided to sit down and think about what we wanted to do with our lives. We are going through some changes at work, and it seems to be a good time to do a check in. I’m not much of a planner so rather than a firm idea I was hoping to uncover some sense of not just wondering about aimlessly.

I hate the question where do you want to be in five years. Because the answer to that is always on the beach, with an endless supply of books and cocktails.

Here are the questions we talked about… I hope you find them useful if you too are asking yourself the question – what do I want to do with my life?

-How does this job fit into my life?
-What tasks inspire me/what tasks drain me?
-Am I progressing how I would imagine?
-What am I really passionate about and why?
-What does my dream job look like?
-Is my career allowing me to do what’s important?

The last question I think is the best and most useful one. Because in answering it, you need to think about where you career fits into your life.