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There are some people in this world who should never have children. My mother is one of them. As a product of Ireland, and married at the tail-end of the 1960s, she had little choice but to have babies, though. Unfortunately for me, I was one of them.

I’m not going to bore you with details of my horrendous childhood – not least because I’d bore myself if I tried – but suffice to say that there were no hugs or cuddles. I used to think that my mother just didn’t know how. Then I had my first child – after years of trying – and I couldn’t understand how she couldn’t know how.

A few years ago, I mentioned to my mother that I really wanted more children (I have two, but no husband/partner/significant other any more) and she shuddered.

‘Why?’ she asked, looking perplexed.

‘Because I love having babies, I love children,’ I told her.

‘Really? Kids? No thanks. The fewer you have the better.’

This would be one thing if she was chatting to one of her girlfriends, but she was talking to one of her own kids! And she wasn’t joking.

Another time, I was in a department store with her.

‘I always end up in the maternity section!’ I exclaimed, lost on my way to regular gúnas.

‘Only passing through it  to somewhere better,’ she harrumphed behind me.

I thought that when I had my own children, I would understand my mother better. I was wrong.  I understood her less and less. I couldn’t understand, no matter how hard I tried, how she could choose her husband over her children. I couldn’t understand how she could stay with a man she knew had abused – and was abusing – her own children. If anyone dared to even look sideways at one of mine, I’d kill first and ask questions later.

Not so my mother. She has a blind eye, a deaf ear and a cold heart. Eighteen months ago, I took the step of severing contact. I didn’t want my children around her and her dysfunction. I didn’t want to have to play ‘happy families’ when ours was anything but happy. I didn’t trust her choice in men, so I certainly didn’t want my children around whomever she might bring home.

I have never been happier – and I have never had an eighteen month period wherein I achieved as much as I have since April of 2010.

Like I said, some people are just not meant to have children – and the kindest, healthiest thing we can do is acknowledge that, and not expect them to be something they simply cannot be.

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Sinéad Keogh on what her grandad taught her about life and loss.

Driving with my Granddad is my predominant memory of being a kid. Driving across The Wicklow Gap in the passenger seat of the car, being terribly impressed by the drop down on one side. Work driving – travelling around in the cab of his lorry, listening to the CB radio and reading books when he was out on the crane offloading blocks. I was a little novelty of blonde hair and whatever building site we pitched up on meant people pressing chocolate and coins into my hands and saying ‘you must love your granddad, bringing you all around the country and buying you things’. He did, and I did.

It’s the possibility in a bright early morning that sticks with me. Mountain air and glaring sun makes me picture a hundred breakfasts in a hundred cafes the length and breath of Leinster, middle aged ladies talking to him across counters – ‘How are you, Jim?’ and my Granddad in a trousers and shirt and big brown steelcapped boots. I remember the cab of the lorry – a Volvo FL10 that my aunt once reversed into while learning to drive (‘sure how would you notice a big thing like that?’ – Granddad). It was filled with green order dockets all stacked together, rain gear, jackets, flasks and things in tin foil. A permanent curiosity to my mind, the radio was in a panel above our heads. He used to record his lines for parts in drama group onto a tape and listen to it while he was driving to learn them off. Then, I never knew what it would mean to me beyond enjoying a day out, now I know it was a glimpse into somebody’s world. It was his space. He spent every day in the cab, and some days I got to be his sidekick and go along.

He loved going places. He would point at new builds – and older builds – and say that he’d supplied the blocks for them. We’d pass by pubs and he’d say ‘I drank porter in there’. He was happy. Car drives on Sundays in the classics used to lead to country houses and roast dinners with stops for curiosities along the way. I still have an improbable fondness for corner shops that I’ve never been to before. Setting foot in new-to-me places always makes me wonder about how for someone, it’s what they see every day. Out of habit, I can’t help looking even now when a corner shop has a selection of stationary or toys, because when I was a kid that’s where my Sunday presents invariably came from.

His favourite place was Wicklow. The mountains, where he grew up, and the rest of it really. It all reminds me of him. When I was little, East Wicklow was such a novelty. Up early, toast crumbs, yawning in the car, old brown tax books and sights I wasn’t used to. I don’t think the little novelty blonde me could imagine being in her mid twenties and driving there herself. Occasionally, because it’s where my flatmate is from, I find myself doing the run over and back for a pick-up. It always makes me think about how foreign and exotic a place it was to me when I was little, it always makes me think of those drives. This morning at 7am, the combination of the time of day as I was speeding through Rathnew, the early sun high and blinding, the stupid decision to stop for a muffin in a corner shop, the way country wind is a sort of pleasant in your face, made me think of it suddenly and sharply.

Mostly I was smiling – realising that I really don’t mind being up early, that I love the possibility of morning time in the country – that I have that love for gazing up at mountains that he had – but a lot of me is having an awful hard time knowing that we’ll never go for a drive again. It’s the thing you’re not supposed to say – but my grandparents were my parents to me. My Mum was young and and never that maternal and they did all the things that grown ups are supposed to do. Mum made sure I was in school on time and did my homework. My grandparents made sure I went places and saw things and believed in knowledge and charity and doing good things because you can.

He had a little blue book of phone numbers and important things and facts for table quizzes. Sometimes, when looking for a contact, he would come out with a question. ‘Do you know what the secret police were called in Russia?’ I’d shake my head, he would tell me and say ‘well now you know’. I learned that knowing was important – but not to be smart or to advance at anything, just that you could take pleasure in knowing. Knowing was good.

My Granddad died of prostate cancer two months ago after a year-long battle. One day, I really hope that knowing, trying and doing my best makes me happy in the way that it did him. I miss the kid who got up early for a drive to the tax office because the things she enjoyed were early mornings, looking out the windows on long drives, being told ‘well now you know’ and the stretched out possibility of the day.

I miss you Big Jim. I used to fit on one of your knees at the kitchen table and start eating your dinner before mine was served (‘Your dinner’s on the table’ – Granny. ‘Have you no plates?’ – Granddad). I can remember lying across your legs when you were the one who realised that TCP took the itch out of my hives when I was allergic to orange. You used to say ‘you’re getting too big for me now’ and I don’t know how I never quite got that you were getting older too. I got taller and you got smaller and it’s so hard to keep remembering that you’re not there anymore.

I spent less time with you as I got older. I moved away for college and never moved back home, but I still showed up for table quizzes and bought all of my cars with you beside me, revving engines and knowing what was what. You were the source of the ‘Granddad Bridging Loan’ (‘Can I have fifty quid ’til Thursday please?’) and you always knew more than I did, no matter how many courses I took. I saw you less, but I needed you more with every inch more grown up I became. I told all my friends about you. Granddad will know, I’ll ring Granddad, my first costume for a school play was a skirt belonging to my Granddad from when he was in Cinderella, I just have to answer a text Granddad has a question from his crossword. Granddad’s sick, everyone, and he only has maybe 12 weeks. That was Christmas, but he stuck it out ’til July.

It’s like my brain can’t understand all the things it knows about death. I can’t figure out where I want to believe that your mind has gone. I know your eyes closed but I don’t know how I could talk to you one week and not the next. Where are you? Because I don’t feel like you’re up above or all around or any of that. Do you just not exist at all? You had unshakeable faith so out of respect to you, I ought to think you are in heaven, but instead the only thought I can make peace with is that somewhere, you are with Granny, who you missed for seven years just like I miss you now.

Sometimes, when we’re two months down the line and I am still liable to cry at the smell of Brut aftershave, because I’ve woken up to see your camera in my eyeline on the dressing table again or by merely contemplating the thought of taking my inherited car for a drive, I think people must be sick of me. Who cries over their Granddad two months later? Grandparents are not parents or boyfriends or children. Luckily, I have a best friend who says that nobody can tell you who to miss. Nobody knows the point of intersection between two people. Some links are obvious and some barely known. You can be twenty-four and count your mid-seventies granddad among your friends who you find funny and wicked and good and nobody can tell you any different.

I don’t think I ever really understood loss before. It’s the desire to keep on looking for something you know you can never find. For the first time I can’t think my way out of something. Granddad, I wish you could somehow be here for a second and open your blue book and say ‘Do you know what happened to me?’ so I could shake my head and have you explain and say ‘well now you know’.

Knowing is important. Knowing is good. Nobody can tell you who to miss.

Sinéad Keogh runs Culch.ie and edits books for her real job. She likes poker and knitting and politics. She was a Granddad’s pet ’til the age of 24.’

At the Tweet Treats launch, Twitter kept popping up in conversation. It being a book created through Twitter – it’s a cute stocking-stuffer with 140-character recipes from celebrity Tweeters, profits going to charity – that perhaps wasn’t surprising. Perhaps more surprising was the mix of attitudes towards it (in between wishing people had name-tags with their usernames on them) – the kind you don’t get from, oh, your average group.

Your average group will have many people who have never used it – “I just can’t get into it”, “I just don’t see the point”, “I have an account but I don’t actually do anything with it”, “I’ve heard of it, I think”, etc. Then at the other extreme, you’ve got the business-y, network-y, social-media-guru-y end of things, spouting on about the amazingness of Twitter and/or whatever the new shiny internet thing might be. The kind of people who talk about ‘branding’.

Like many writers I find myself quoting from the latter group’s bible every so often, as a kind of justification for spending time on Twitter. Particularly when you’re online during typical ‘work hours’ – the 9 to 5, Monday to Friday thing – it can feel as though you must justify having a spare second or three to share something with the universe (or, more realistically, a certain percentage of your followers). It’s very visible – unlike the casual chat you might have with a co-worker in the next cubicle, say, there’s a record that at, oh, 10.13am, you were not at that moment working. Unless of course Twitter counts as work. In which case it’s all okay and your spiralling Tweetcount is proof of your incredible productivity.

It’s not that simple, of course. The mixed feelings kick in when people start apologising for not keeping up with the Tweeters they’re following, or when they talk about how they can’t find time to Tweet anymore, or we hear or read figures of the number of Tweets posted over the past year, usually paired up with “that’d add up to a book/two books/ten books”. The latter is nonsense – or it should be. If you want to write and there’s as much energy goes into your Tweets as would go into a book, you’re doing something wrong. But we’ve justified it as work, or work-related, and suddenly we start looking at it through lenses that might not quite suit.

I suspect that for most of us spending time on Twitter, it’s hovering in that awkward area that is both work and play – that zone familiar to anyone working more than one job, which applies to so many freelancer types, so many people working from home, so many people trying to write a novel or do other creative work alongside a day job and/or caring responsibilities. And that makes it a difficult one to justify or to factor into your life.

For me, going on Twitter is partly work-related. It’s where I get some of my information about upcoming events, many interesting articles about creative writing, information about publishing, etc. It’s one of the places where I share details of events I’m involved in. But it’s also where I connect with other writers – and this is the tricky part. Is this supposed to be ‘networking’, that semi-soulless calculated approaching of people, assessing their potential worth and then cosying up to them accordingly? Because if so I’m doing it wrong – it feels more like a casual chat, overhearing something said in the office, tossing a reply out, and seeing what happens, or throwing a question out to the floor and catching the responses from all corners as they come in.

That’s water-cooler talk, not networking.

Does that make it any less valid as something to be spending a few minutes of my time on? I work from home much of the time, often at strange hours; half an hour in the morning is often outside of my ‘working day’. And again, like so many of us without a clearly defined one-thing-that-is-work, with passions that spill out into our ‘free time’, much of that day is blurry.

For example: in the past week, I have read books for a variety of reasons. One to review, with a critical eye open even as I kept turning the pages to see what would happen. Another to consciously dissect from a writer’s perspective – why does this story work, and how can I apply those techniques to my own writing? Another, non-fiction, to see what it says about writing, to see how or whether I can apply these things to my own writing but also what from it I can incorporate into classes I teach. And then others for fun, allegedly, but at the back of my brain there’s always the chance for a reading experience to turn into something more critical or useful – what am I learning about this book as a writer? Or, oh, isn’t this book a good example of that aspect of writing we were discussing in a workshop last week?

We speak of ‘switching off’, like we’re the gadgets or computers so many of us work with or next to all day long. If we don’t – if we can’t – then it’s not just a technology issue, and it’s not just a Twitter issue. It’s because in so many cases, there is a potential ‘work’ component to even the supposedly ‘fun’ things we do. If I go for a drink or two with some writerly friends, and we talk about work – what we’re writing, the state of publishing, what-have-you – is that work or play? If the stressed-out mother logs on to Twitter and finds tips for dealing with a kid-related issue, is that a break or part of her job as a mother? If we’re in an office and exchanging gossip at the same time as working on a project, does that distract us or keep us at our desks working on it?

And it goes the other way – there’s a potential ‘fun’ component to most ‘work’ things, too. The internet makes it more visible, but in many cases it doesn’t ‘make’ us waste time – it just redirects our attention during that time. We can’t be working all the time.

So I am sceptical of books like ‘How to leave Twitter’, or the aforementioned “if only I’d been writing instead of Tweeting and I’d have a book by now” mentality, because they seem to ignore that grey work/play area that’s present in so many lives anyway. Because they seem to ignore the need that we all have to do things other than just ‘plain hard work’, that we can’t be 100% productive all the time, and that just because parts of our quasi-productive time are documented online doesn’t mean that they’d have been any more productive were we offline.

My manifesto for Twitter, the next time someone asks: yeah, I use it. I like it – it’s the best way I’ve found to keep up with stuff I like and that’s useful online, and to connect with people in a casual chatty way. It is not the One True Way of being a writer, a writing teacher, a part-owner in a small business, or anything like that; it is not something that I am obliged to spend time on if I do not have it; it is not where I spend my productive time, only my quasi-productive time. It is not the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, but I like it, and anything that continues to complement real-life friendships and acquaintanceships rather than replace them works for me.

Of course, anyone who’s asking for such a thing will almost certainly wish I’d managed to cram all that into 140 characters.

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Film Club #4 takes place at the Workman’s Club, Dublin on Wednesday, October 26th and given the proximity to Halloween, we thought we might go for something spooky. The following films are just suggestions pulled from this post, so if you want to suggest something else, check the ‘other’ box and write your film (and your reason for picking it) in the comments section.

Let the voting begin!

 

Mythogyny

I stumbled into a quandary in my first year of Uni. I was sharing a house with three other students – all male – who suddenly upped and left because I was so impossible to live with they had found a bigger gaff they could share with their own friends. For some reason, I found myself tasked with procuring new housemates; this was in the days before daft.ie, and I guess my landlord thought I was better equipped to sort through student applicants than he was, despite the fact that I was only seventeen and had the cop-on of roadkill. Anyway, I remember scribbling down the notice for the student centre message board: “Two double rooms available in house ten minutes walk from campus. All mod cons. Lads preferred.”

Why such a stipulation? It wasn’t that I was some sort of weakling, unable to open jars or take out the rubbish without male assistance. It wasn’t that I was a voracious lover intent on building up a stable of studmuffins. It’s that I had been convinced by all and sundry that girls were impossible to live with. That if I surrounded myself with women, I would end up cat-fighting from dawn to dusk over boyfriends and curling tongs and shoes. That harems were indistinguishable from Dante’s circles. That women were best kept in isolation, lest they rip each other limb from fake-tanned limb in a frenzy provoked by territorial vaginas. Women are bitches. Women hate other women. Everyone knows this.

What’s most alarming about this notion is that everyone knows it even though it’s complete nonsense.

I mean complete nonsense. There’s more truth in a shill’s reveal. To claim that women hate each other is as valid a social observation as “all men are secretly gay”, or “Chinese restaurants make a killing off sweet n’ sour wildcat”. It’s a dash of urban legend, peppered with prejudice and overpowered by a deep-rooted terror of anything more complex than a game of hopscotch. And yet it’s ubiquitous. This idea that women hate other women is almost religious in its grip on the common sense of those who should know better; there’s no evidence for it, but it’s fervently adopted as a great and unfortunate truth, to the extent that there’s a huge amount of young women who have accepted its legitimacy totally. I hear it in conversation, I read it in magazine articles, I see it in mindless movies actually marketed at those they’re about to debase. Despite the fact that they have a great relationship with their mother, or have utter trust in their best female friends, or got excellent exam results in their single-sex school, a startling amount of girls go into the wider world with this ludicrous notion that women are bitches and women will scheme and women will wear other women down. It’s as perplexing as it is frustrating.

Possibly the greatest “proof” wheeled out to bolster this malicious waffle is how biting women can be towards attractive young things. Any female criticism of a model, or pop star, or exotic dancer is dismissed as jealousy, because, of course, women are so shallow and hate each other so much that even accidental beauty will get you impaled on the cruel, cruel barbs of resentful harridans. It’s true, to an extent, that other women can be very dismissive of attractive young things, but it’s not because they’re attractive. I see far more evidence of women hatin’ on those who shoehorn their beauty into a male ideal than women hatin’ on pretty girls just because they’re pretty. That doesn’t make it ok, mind. There’s a reason we have the term “slut-shaming”, and a lot of varying and complex reasons why so many of us (male and female) indulge in it. That’s a topic too cavernous to get into now, though, and examining the compulsion to engage in slut-shaming is certainly beyond my intellectual capacity.

I have noticed, though, that women are far more withering about the aesthetic aspirations of Jordan or Britney or the Hunky Dory models than they are about Erin O’Connor or Lily Allen or Caroline Wozniacki, and I think it’s got plenty to do with the cynicism required to present oneself to appeal solely to straight, male sexual appetites (or at least to the over-simplified notion of what a straight, male sexual appetite is). Women appreciate beauty as much as the next … erm, gender. It’s just that we don’t necessarily react well to overly-conscious image manipulation. No one likes a peacock.

But how many times have any of us ladies been complimented on our hair, or frock, or shoes, or figure, by a female stranger on a night out? How many of us cheer when we see a female stranger doing well, whether it be Kathryn Bigelow winning an Oscar, or an all-female team winning a challenge on Masterchef? How many take part in mini-marathons and other events to raise funds for breast cancer? How many of us have defended a female stranger or celebrity when a man expresses his disappointment with her for not being thin enough, or competitive enough, or quick enough with the witty put-downs? In my own experience (and I refuse to believe I’m unique) women are very quick to defend each other against criticism. The bitchiest people I know are male (and some of the most sensitive too, lest you think I’m splashing all men with the same meow swipe).

Naturally, I’m not suggesting that there’s no animosity between women apart from what’s dreamt up by manipulative misogynists. Being female does not negate being insecure, aggressive, pitiless. And I’m not suggesting that the sisterhood wins out every time. Of course it doesn’t.

Mean girls are mean because they are mean, not because they are girls. You don’t need a degree in sociology to work that out.

I turned thirty earlier this year, and I’m ashamed to say it’s only now I’m realising how friendly, supportive and thoughtful women are towards one another, pretty much across the board. It’s not that such support was hidden from me up to now. It’s not that it’s only available to the over-30s. It’s that it took me that long to question this silly assumption that women exist only to belittle other women, that their friendships are automatically toxic, and that they’ll batter each other to death with on-sale handbags should the sniff of a bargain filter through their venomous perfumes.

Oh, and in second year at Uni, I moved into a house with four other young women. It was bliss, and we are, and will continue to be, steadfast friends.

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Cold, cold, heart

It has come to my attention lately that I must be quite heartless. For the second time in 24 hours I’ve been left wondering if I’m somehow lacking or just not quite getting it.

Case one, the unfortunate – indeed tragic – early death of Steve Jobs that has whipped up a maelstrom of grief and sorrow has left me curiously blank. Now of course it is always a shame to hear of a man dying in his prime, especially one as obviously talented as he was. But can’t honestly say his passing really has brought out any great feelings in me. I understand he was brilliant, and I love Apple products but it’s not as though he made my ipod especially for me, or gifted humanity with technology out of any philanthropic ideology. Now am not saying it’s wrong to be grieving over his death, I just don’t understand it.

Case two, Twilight. Last night the film was shown on national television and as I’ve neither read the books nor seen any of the films before, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. In the past more than one friend has gushed over them, swearing that I’d adore them – ‘My God, you’d LOVE them, Jude!”. I lasted all of about 10 minutes.

What truly a deeply unlikeable pair of characters ‘Bella’ and  ‘Edward’ are. I desperately hoped someone would serve them both with a good boot in the backside after about five minutes’ viewing.

Now, I’m not comparing either of these situations in terms of their importance in the world or comparing how people feel about one as opposed to another, they’re just two examples where I’ve found myself lost and just not able to empathise.

Am I hopelessly stony-hearted or just missing the point, an incredibly unfeeling individual or simply not getting the whole picture? Or are we sometimes expected to portray more emotion over things than we necessarily feel, almost trying to out-do one other in competitive displays of feelings.

I just don’t know.

 

How wonderful to hear that the Nobel Committee has awarded the 2011 Peace Prize to three women who have made a huge contribution to improving conditions in their home countries and furthering the cause of women there and all over the world. In a press release the Norwegian Nobel Committee explained that it had “decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 is to be divided in three equal parts between Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their non-violent  struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation  in peace-building work”.  They added “We cannot  achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same  opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society”.

In  October 2000, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325.  The resolution for the first time made  violence against women in armed conflict an international security issue.  It underlined the need for women to become  participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work  in general. I wrote about this resolution in a previous Anti Room post. Colm O’Gorman, Director of Amnesty International Ireland hailed the decision as “one of the most meaningful Nobel decisions in years.”

So who exactly are these women and why have they received such well deserved recognition?

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf:

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of war torn Liberia in 2005, the first woman to be democratically elected as President of an African country. At that time an estimated 300,000 citizens of Liberia’s 3 million had lost their lives during a bloody civil war. Many more had been displaced and were living in intolerable conditions. Unemployment  stood at an extraordinary 85% and women in particular had suffered the horrors of war and deprivation with an estimated 75% having experienced rape.

During her inauguration address she vowed, “My administration shall empower Liberian women in all areas of our national life.” A highly educated woman she places a strong emphasis on education as a means of lifting her people out of poverty and since she was elected the rate of school enrolment has risen by 40%. Many of the new pupils are young girls. Born in the Liberian capital Monrovia in 1938 she studied economics at the College of West Africa in Monrovia, continuing her studies and achieving an undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado in America. She read economics at Harvard from 1969 to 1971, gaining a masters degree in public administration before returning to her native Liberia and serving as Minister for Finance in the early 1970’s.

In the wake of a military coup in 1980 Johnson Sirleaf fled to Kenya but returned to contest the 1985 election and was placed under house arrest. She was sentenced to 10 years in jail but after a short time was allowed to go into exile once again and spent several years working for Citibank and HSBC in both Washington and Nairobi before assuming the role of Assistant Administrator, and then Director, of the UN Development Program Regional Bureau for Africa between 1992 and 1997.

She returned to her native Liberia once again in 1997 to stand for election in opposition to Charles Taylor and came a distant second with just 10% of the vote in what was deemed a free and fair election. From 1999 the country was torn by a civil war that lasted until 2003 when an historic peace accord was signed between rebels and the new interim government and new elections were planned for 2005. Finally Johnson Sirleaf, by then in her late sixties, was successfully elected President.

To date her achievements have included the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the decades of unrest in her country. She has also made debt reduction a priority and secured debt forgiveness from the US and significant financial aid from Germany in addition to buying back millions of dollars worth of government debt at a 97% discount. She has reached out a hand
of friendship to neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire as well as strengthening links to the US, China and other world powers. Crucially she is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an international network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers who engage in collective action on equality and issues of specific importance to women. Her administration is in its final year
and faces elections in 2011.

 

Leymah Gbowee:

Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee has been recognised for her work in mobilizing fellow Liberian women from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to oppose and bring to an end the bloody war in Liberia and to ensure that women would participate in free and fair elections there. In order to do this she established the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.

Leymah Gbowee

Initially the women gathered in central Monrovia to pray and protest wearing distinctive white tee shirts to symbolise peace and solidarity. Frustrated with the slow pace of change the women staged a “sex strike” in 2002 and vowed to withhold sex from their husbands until serious efforts were made to bring peace and stability to the country. Demands included an immediate ceasefire, negotiations
between government and rebels and the involvement of an effective intervention force to ensure that any resulting peace agreement was adhered to. At one stage a group of 200 women blocked the exit to the building in which warring factions were holding peace talks in order to prevent them from leaving without reaching agreement. This incident is included in the award winning documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.

Once peace was achieved and elections were held in 2005 Gbowee mobilised many thousands of women to get out and vote. The result was the election of fellow Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. As a qualified Social Worker Gbowee has also worked with former child  soldiers and as a trauma counsellor. She is founder and executive director of the Ghana based Women, Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A) and was awarded the 2009 Gruber Women’s Rights Prize for her work in bringing about significant advances in peace and gender equality in Africa. She also served as the Commissioner-designate for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission and was awarded a Masters Degree in Conflict Transformation. She is mother to six children.

 

Tawakkul Karman:

Tawakkul Karman

Tawakkul Karman is a Yemeni human rights activist and a leading figure in mass protests against the Yemeni government. In 2005 she established and heads up the organisation Women Journalists Without Chains. Her organisation applied for the right to establish a newspaper and television station but this was rejected by the Ministry for Information. She is a tireless activist and has been arrested several times this year alone for her involvement in organising public protests in her native Yeman. She is the first Arab woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and was also nominated for the US State Department Woman of Courage Award last year.

Advising women not to wait for permission before demanding their rights she said: “If you go to the protests now, you will see something you never saw before: hundreds of women. They shout and sing, they even sleep there in tents. This is not just a political revolution, it’s a social revolution.” Karmen is also a mother of three and is campaigning to have the legal age at which a Yemani girl can marry raised to 17.

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Is there anything that doesn’t have its own occasion these days? Daffodil Day, Arthur’s Day,  Heritage Week, Book Week, Culture Night even Fish ‘n’ Chip day. Some of these are awareness raising, some are nothing more than marketing ploys. They seem to work in that the public masses go out of their way to focus on what they’re supposed to at the designated time. Overall, having a day/night/week to celebrate your product or charity is good for business.

The author and her son in 2007.

In 2005 I had my first child. I sometimes attended a breastfeeding support group with him run by my local public health nurse. Even though I had no breastfeeding difficulties, it was nice to meet other women around my own age, also flailing around trying to come to terms with who they were now; trying to accept that their new lives revolved around these whole other tiny people now permanently attached to their breasts, each generating more laundry than a busy hotel and every stranger on the street seemed determined to share their strong, knowing but vastly differing opinions on how the child should be treated. The group usually consisted of a bit of friendly chat, comparison of developmental milestones, discussions on where to get the best nursing bras and a teabag in a mug. If we were lucky we got a biscuit. My public health nurse was of the ‘watch the baby not the scales’ persuasion so although she would weigh a baby at a mother’s request, it wasn’t often part of the morning. The first week in October I turned up to find nice sandwiches, proper coffee and  cake all laid on for us by the HSE to celebrate National Breastfeeding Week. What is the point of having a week, I wondered briefly, surely you either breastfeed or you don’t? There was some talk of the launch of  the Breastfeeding in Ireland 5 Year Strategic Action Plan to increase rates of breastfeeding in Ireland. I shrugged, shifted my baby to my other hip and helped myself to a chocolate eclair.

I moved house soon after that and spent a great deal of time in my new area trekking along to various coffee mornings, parent and toddler groups and nursing toddler mornings. I knew no one in the area and figured it was important to make friends, if not just for me, for my son. Some of these I liked more than others. In some, where my older baby was the only one still breastfed, the only one who had never slept anywhere but my bed and the only one who wouldn’t let a puréed vegetable pass his lips, I felt pressured and judged. I frequented the nursing toddler mornings more often than the others. I was far more comfortable there.

In 2007 I had my second son and the women in my local La Leche League group were fabulous in supporting me through the ups and downs of breastfeeding through pregnancy and tandem nursing beyond.  Something I hadn’t even considered possible before. When he was three weeks old we attended the launch of National Breastfeeding Week 2007 back in the Rotunda where he was born.

By then I saw the point of it. This year the focus of the week was Your Network of Support, something I now realised was incredibly important even for those who breastfed with no physical difficulty. It’s hard to stand up for yourself against the grain of what is seen as normal in this country. Even when what you are doing intuitively feels right, mothering your first child is always filled with questions and doubts. Having people to talk to who don’t give ‘advice’ who just listen and act as a sounding board, gave me options and suggestions and left the decision making up to me was empowering and helped me become more confident in my mothering. It’s also great to have someone to call if there is pain or other complications. Someone who will offer a breastfeeding solution to a breastfeeding problem because there very often is one. Whatever support group suits you best, they really are a great asset because unfortunately in our society, being home alone with a baby or toddler is a very lonely place to be.

This year, National Breastfeeding Week runs from 1st- 7th October. The theme is ‘Breastfeeding Friendly’ with a focus on supporting breastfeeding families and encouraging greater acceptance of this important and natural process. Many events, talks and coffee mornings are happening around the country. Most of these are organised by voluntary breastfeeding support groups such as Friends of Breastfeeding, La Leche League and Ciudiú. Some of them are available here   http://www.friendsofbreastfeeding.ie/NBW2011.html  but keep an eye out locally too.

I’ll be at some of them handing out the coffee, cake and leaflets because as far as I’m concerned, if only one new mother finds herself a name, phone number or group to reach out to when she doubts her own mothering skills,  someone who will reassure her and not undermine her; or if one pregnant woman decides to come along to see what its all about and meets someone supportive, the whole week will have been a success. I am also looking forward to the cake.

Some useful breastfeeding support sites:

http://www.breastfeeding.ie/

http://www.lalecheleagueireland.com/

http://www.friendsofbreastfeeding.ie/

Jenny Foxe is fond of finding more interesting things to do than housework. You can find her on too many community boards of management usually championing the underdog. She is mother to two boys and a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor. One of these days she’ll find time for a job that actually pays money. She blogs at http://www.jennyfoxe.blogspot.com and is on Twitter at @jennyfoxe

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Dealing with her is no longer a way of life: my mother is unreliable, a unique instance of probability where everything that could, went wrong. It’s a dreadful sight; she weighs nothing, shuffles, she’s broken and bumpy all over, wan and lost. Her hugs are what birch branches must feel like to sleep on, harsh and unpleasant. She is the most repellent, resilient creature I know.

Ireland in the past was a tough place to be a woman, but the mammy is venerated to this day. I hope I get to experience that respect when I’m old. That I get in a sulk about having a ma who didn’t give a shit what I was doing cos she was at the International. Witnness. The Voodoo Lounge. Ri Ra. Having a session in the living room at 8am when I wanted to watch cartoons. What’s not to love about mothers, givers of life? A mother with her own life is a fine measure of independence for a child and respect is good. When you can’t respect your ma, it’s very bad.

Of course I’ve tried. I still have a cup of tea occasionally but I just can’t handle the scenes when I look carefully around the room wondering if I’ll be asked to recall the night in detail by the police again. Although she never saved a scribble or lectured me about college she’s taught me to be prepared for anything. It’s so infuriating because I don’t know whether to dismiss her as a write-off or to believe again that she might wake up one morning! Drink some water! Think about the day ahead, quit the fags and booze, eat some fruit and vegetables! Get some exercise. Socialise, meet new people, find a purpose. It’s that simple to claw a way out of the hole of self-pity that has left her such a shell.

Adopted as a baby into a traditional Catholic family, she received maternal love that came to a crushing halt at age 11 after the death of her mother from cancer. Before that was the granny with a bun of silver hair and a fox fur stole that died in the bed beside her when she was six. It’s a sad thing that life can chew someone up at eleven years old but I reckon that was enough to severe her bonds with reality. I’d say she got by by not trusting anyone after that. She’s been utterly heartless since and every misfortune is a catalyst for conflict.

The psychological implications of understanding my mother’s biology has had a weird effect on me. I hope that flare in our genes burns out. In the meantime I have to be detatched so that I don’t go mad, abandon all hope based on what I’ve seen from the supposed beacon of my life. I almost did go mad at first, babbling things into notebooks that I couldn’t tell God or my friends. Then I leapt to science for answers, phenotypes and nature vs. nurture. Game Theory. How much of her do I carry? What are my chances of winning? Mostly, I’ve learnt that life is mainly about control. As a result I dream about wild animals attacking my children.

It’s hard for me to accept that all the painful rages and pleas were for nothing, and she’s still out of reach all these years later. It’s taken a real toll on us when there’s nothing we’d like more than to rush to her side. There’s assurance in knowing your children want you in their life. Despite the fact she’s fought, kicked and spat, we’re still offering her a future. You’d almost swear she didn’t believe in the future.

At 21 she wasn’t best equipped to handle a child. But she did her best and I became, followed by two others.  Her best wasn’t good enough: ask social services. Ask the neighbours. The police. The doctors, the string of people she gave her time up to be with that she’s never seen since.

If I can justify being alive, can I justify everything she’s done?

I may not be enough to balance the scales, but I find it fair to say my children are. So I live with the guilt that even though I’ve found the world a worse place with her in it, ultimately I benefitted. I just have to put up with her, try and keep her alive. She has her own story and I could keep you here all night. Entranced, appalled. Emigration from hardline council flats of the ’80s to ritzy London of the ’90s, returning home to a booming suburb and cosmopolitan city? It should have been so easy, all she had to do was stand on her own two feet. A successful executive, she was in demand in her field and impressed bosses with her acumen. As a sharp wit, she had more interest in her social life. She looked good and could have shown the heart to turn out loyal. One thing that didn’t happen was that she found a steady partner, settled into her job and planned for the future. She just destructed.

Through different times, by age 50 she’d been adopted, abandoned, addicted, bereaved, destitute, employed, evicted, fired, fractured, graduated, helped, hired, impregnated, injured, medicated, morally bankrupt, prosecuted, resuscitated and was left living in povery, ratty over a few euro in her purse and tobacco in a pouch, buying yellow-sticker food from Tesco and €5 bottles of wine. Her boyfriend gets it wrong with man and mouse, their dog is too big for the house. Volleys of abuse fly. The dining table usually comes off worst and there’s always some painful main course to be served up. Love and hate are merely condiments.

The hardest thing to grapple with is her attitude to the family. We’ve never been enough for her to pin her hopes for the future on. We simply don’t win out over a bottle of wine. I can’t bring myself to examine much further than that crutch because it doesn’t bear thinking about. Huge losses have been accrued in reaching this point. It’s messy. My hope for maternal love is dead: I’ll never trust my mother’s touch. We all feel let down but we stick around because there’s next to nothing left, just a little branch floating in the sea. The emotional circus of her life is a show I’m bored of seeing. Now with anorexia, epilepsy and ephysema the only place she walks is a tightrope across our lives, overseeing everything we do. I’ve trained her into some weird intrustive theatre character imposing on my life. If she’s going to pretend that black eye is make-up, then fuck it, so will I.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous

iSad

I woke up at 4am on Wednesday night, and couldn’t go back to sleep. I picked up my phone and looked at Twitter. It took roughly five seconds to realise Steve Jobs was dead. #iSad was already trending. Most of Europe wasn’t awake yet, but America was in full mourning for the man who has to have had the biggest name recognition of any CEO in a global company. I read the commencement day speech he gave to Stanford students in 2005, and wondered how those former students were feeling today, and if any of their lives had been profoundly influenced by his stirring, marvellous, inspirational speech.

The laptop that changed everything

It’s a life over too soon for everybody – his family, colleagues, and the millions he never met, but who bought the products he devised and designed. I read about his death on the iPhone he designed.

I’m not a tecchie. I’m poor with most technology. It befuddles me. I get frustrated. I feel stupid. I used to assume I was going to lose everything I wrote, and that I was constantly engaged in some battle between me and a word processor or the company Toshiba laptop I borrowed for assignments on the road; battles I frequently lost. And everything I wrote on was black, the colour of obfuscation.

And then one day I saw a colleague with a Clamshell iBook. It was white, with orange detail. The keyboard was white. You could carry it by an orange handle that fitted back into the lid. It was like a fabulous handbag. I loved the look of it. I coveted it like I have never before or since coveted a material object in my life. I bought what seemed to be last Clamshell iBook in Dublin, taking a taxi out to some faraway industrial estate to buy a blue-trimmed laptop; the last remaining one, I was told. Everyone else was already moving on to the more advanced Power Book. I no longer felt intimidated by technology. For some reason, once I got that laptop, my confidence grew. I wrote two books on it, and countless newspaper articles. I never got tired of looking at it. It was a beautiful, useful object.

What Steve Jobs did for me was to make difficult things easy. I now have an iPhone, and I actually know how to use many of its features. I just wish I hadn’t had to read about the death of Apple’s genius inventor on it.

#iSad. #iverySad for the other things he’ll never now invent. Thank you, Steve Jobs, for giving me confidence with technology.

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