Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Bush Poem Out of Dresden - Part One: German Roots

Feeling way more German as a tourist in Bayern than I ever did living in Baden-Wurttemberg.
I'm an Aussie out of Dresden via Washington, D.C.
And, since you asked, I'll tell the tale of how that came to be.

The bombs they fell on Dresden as my dad was born nearby.
The "good" guys fighting evil,  dropping evil from the sky.
So I wasn't even born yet, but became a refuge
When my father and his family fled westward to be free.

My dad was born in Rathen, which is now an exclusive resort town just outside of Dresden.  It was used by the DDR as an exclusive holiday resort for high-ranking Communist officials.
We are so psyched to be in the town that Opa was born in that we take pictures under every sign saying Rathen.

To think, Opa grew up among these very same houses.

A world away another man was out there fighting Japs.
He was there as Darwin burned, to help those Aussie chaps.
The Yanks, 'tis true, did have a rep - and tendency- to ogle
And, sure enough, his eye did land upon a sheila from Cayogle.

(It's their daughter, born in Brisbane, that I have got to thank.
She's why I find myself in Oz, although SHE'S now a Yank!)

My first few of Dresden.  The Catholic Church viewed from across the Elbe.

Back to the land of Dirndls, Lederhosen, Brats und Bier
'Cause MY parents haven't met yet and so I'm not really here!
'Tis a THIRD man sends his daughter overseas to learn and play.
She comes back speaking German.  And in the family way.

The Frauenkirche rebuilt.  My German heart.  My dad saw it last as a pile of rubble. 

She's young and doesn't get it, what the fuss is all about.
"So many nice American boys," her grandmother, she shouts.
But the deed it's been accomplished and they know it could be worse.
Although my dad's a German, at least they married first!

My kids playing in the Elbe, the same river Opa played in as a child  before emigrating to The West at the age of thirteen.

My mom, she graduates from school.  I'm born in finals week.
And I get my first passport, before I even speak.

So I grow up speaking German, learning English nights at home.
A rootless German Yankee with a tendency to roam.
Oh.  Here I am.  Feeling my roots among the cobblestone streets of Dresden.

Monday, February 21, 2011

My NEW Writers' Group is a Bunch of Poets! (With Photos From Australia Day!)

Australia Day, January 26.  Blending right in.
I went in search of a Writers' Group last week.  I'm missing that part of myself that The Group in Stuttgart helped me rediscover, the regular encouragement to work on what I enjoy, the validation that I am a person besides mother and household manager. 

Sigh.  I really really miss you guys.

So, what I found here, at a Tuesday morning book opening at the Strathpine library, was a roomful of poets.  For those of you who remember reading my one attempt at poetry a few years back (and I'm sorry if you do!), poetry is NOT my strong point.  Andrew seems to have that rhythm, but I don't. 

Still, I can enjoy it and so I walked right in.

The Canadian Mounted they ain't!  But then again, we don't have any aggressive neighbours to the south to protect against!  

First off these are Aussies.  So I was welcomed with open arms.  Secondly, they were mostly men, retired, and so....yeah, I was welcomed with open arms. (Never mind make-up and exercising, just head into a room of men in their sixties for a quick pick-me up!)  And when I mentioned that I wrote mostly personal narrative right now that didn't stop 'em for a minute.  In fact, a couple of them started right in reciting their poetry.


And that is how I was introduced to Australian Bush Poetry, a cousin of American Cowboy Poetry, an artform I find lively, sharp, witty, insightful, entertaining and imminently accessible to the masses.  I like it.  Whether I have any talent in that direction remains to be seen, but I have been invited to BI-MONTHLY meetings.  In any case, I need the push of creative individuals around me again.  And I am certainly more than willing to try something new.  Even in a roomful of poets.

Australian Pride.  If only we didn't have that British heritage that is going to force this poor child to eat Lammingtons.  How about a good fudge brownie instead?

Funny enough, I had been on Jim's photo blog  http://jimmartinphotoblog.blogspot.com/  only the day before and bemoaning the fact that I was unable to find a way to create those pictures in words.  I appreciate the visual much more than I ever did but I still feel my strong point is words.  (And Jim, your words TO the pictures make the pictures come alive for me.  The shots themselves are beautiful, but for me at least, it's the words you add to the pictures that make the story breathe.)  I'm a words lady, I guess.   (No kidding, right?!) 

And here these guys are, creating living images out of words. 

The other thing I liked is that Noel is able to write about something very personal, like national pride or national spirit, without becoming bogged down in trite sentiment and moralizing.  Two of my weaknesses.  These poems are FUN.  They convey the message, but they do it with light-hearted laughter.  There is no need for explanation.  (Oh dear, whatever will I do without my pithy life lessons at the end of every essay?!)

I'm still a shy photographer at best.  But I can catch'em on the sly!

So that I went right home that night and stayed up three hours composing the beginnings of my OWN Bush Ballad.  I had the rhythms in my head from Noel's reading and I believe I may have finally found a form to convey my sense of self without beating you all over the head with it.

The judgement is still out on whether reminiscences about GERMANY can be called AUSTRALIAN poetry but, unlike Germany and England who have officially declared multiculturalism to be a failure in their countries (and you'd better believe I have an essay on that!), Australia is proud of its migrant heritage. 

So here goes.  And even if it IS terrible, I've got some photos from Dresden interspersed to make it worth your while.  If noone else, I think my Daddy will get a kick out of it!
My Southern Cross!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Creative Masochism

Claire and Lindsey at our August meeting in Stuttgart.  A rare day of sun. 
It must be a 'creative person'  thing. 

Jim said it best, or most succinctly anyway, at one of our Writers' Group meetings a few years back. 

"Sometimes I wonder if I'm a masochist."  he said.  "I don't write and I don't write and I don't write and I am miserable.  And then I write and I feel great.  And then I go ahead and stop writing again.  Somehow I must like being miserable to keep putting myself in that position."

He probably said it better than that but I can't find my notes.  And yes, I took notes, but only because it fit my situation so perfectly.

Claire says it all the time.  And Liz.  And Lindsey.

Except that, now that I think about it, we all say it about exercising too.  And eating well.  And getting fresh air.  And all those other things that are good for us.

By 'we' I mean most everyone I know at one point or another about one thing or another.

Caroline, Jim and Ken showing that you can't judge a creative person by their covering!

So that maybe its just a condition of human nature that we need to overcome.

Me?  I find that when I write, the house is cleaner, the meals are healthier and more things get checked off the 'to do' list than when I don't write.  I create the energy to live my life through writing. 

Why I'd stop writing - even for a few short weeks - is really beyond me.

Unless that quick burst of joyous energy that comes from starting again makes up for the pain.  Which makes us adrenaline junkies, not masochists.

Or maybe just makes us human!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Twin Thing

Matthew (red) and Aidan (blue) in Playmobilland, Germany. 
Okay.  Here's a cute little thing that happened at school.

The twins have best friends. 

All I heard about the first week of school was Thomas.  Their best friend Thomas.

Then their teacher told me that she'd been noticing that MY twins had been spending an inordinate amount of time with the OTHER set of twins in the class.  She said she didn't even notice it at first - all of the kids are wearing the same uniform after all - but just sat down at a table with four boys.  And realized those four boys were two sets of twins working together.  After that, she noticed it more and more.

Thomas's brother's name is Lachlan.  Which my boys can't pronounce and which is why I had only heard about Thomas.

Thomas and Lachlan are fraternal twins as well, which is nice because, since they are all blonde and have short haircuts, it is really rather difficult to tell the FOUR of them apart.  (Thomas and Lachlan have black school shoes and Aidan and Matthew wear white sneakers.  Tennies for the Aussies, I believe!)

Iglersreuth, Germany.  A rare treat - TWO tractors!

The four of them ARE branching out and meeting other friends as well.  Which is good since there are so many cool kids to meet who AREN'T twins.  But I do think that twins respond to eachother in a special way.  I'd noticed it before in Germany when my two boys met another two boys at a play area in a department store.  The four of them played for over an hour, patiently taking turns on a small trampoline.  Mind you, they were all about three, and mind you, this was Germany.  And children anywhere are going to start bickering and pushing after a while.

But not these four.  I think its because they had HAD to learn to share things equally.  Even more so than an older or younger sibling, there is no discussion on equitable distribution of resources among a population of two that has the EXACT SAME needs at the EXACT SAME AGE.  No, well honey, Lisa is two years older than you and......  Or Mark is younger than you are and.......

Twins are together, sharing the same stages of development.  And together a lot.  If life is going to work out at all these little people are going to have to learn to work it out.  I don't think it's premeditated or that twin parents are better at it.  I think its necessity.  (The same reason that my kids will eat an apple without it being peeled and sliced or slinkied.  The same reason they will generally eat what is put in front of them or know that they'll go hungry.)

Aidan and Matthew and Thomas and Lachlan obviously aren't thinking about this as they choose playmates.  My two didn't even realize the other two were twins until the third week of school.  But I do think there is an ease, a familiarity with how they interact with oneanother as siblings and as twins that feels comfortable to another set of twins.

I like Thomas and Lachlan's mother too.  And we have similar parenting experiences.  So that it is all really easy and natural.

Just like finding a best friend - or two - should be!

Really gotta love those coordinated sweaters.  I obviously do.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ryan's Turn

First day homeschooling.  Iglersreuth, Germany,early October.
There's kids that shine.  You know'em.  Bright as stars, fast as a comet.  They light up a room.  They are easy to love, a joy to teach, and you know they'll go far.

And then there's Ryan.

God bless her, the kid's got class.

Unfortunately class isn't something that's appreciated in a 10 year old.  Or even noticed.  Not when there's a couple comets flying about and a star brother eclipsing her.

And here's another reason I love Lawnton State School and all the teachers and parents there.

They give Ryan room to shine.

Treasure-hunting at Playmobilland. 

Ryan got another Value Award two weeks ago.  This one 'for consistently completing her classwork with effort."  Every Friday morning the entire school - and more than a handful of addicted parents - gathers to sing the national anthem, discuss the week's successes and celebrate individual effort.  How fantastic to watch individual children, some of who have been struggling with behaviour and/or academic problems, be rewarded for their efforts. 

Everyone leaves with heads held high.  Proud to be Australian, proud to be at Lawnton State School, and proud of who they are individually.
The most amazing thing is that this isn't at all fake.  I still cry when I hear those kids singing.  And I clap loudly for each and every one of them.

Ryan is valued here in a way she never could be in Germany.  She is valued for being herself, for being a good kid, for doing her best.  Her best was never good enough at her previous school.  She was too slow.  She was too quiet.  She day-dreamed. 

Here she is being given a chance to shine.

And she is. 

In the kitchen in Iglersreuth.

"Ryan loves to read." said her teacher to us on parents' night.  "Come again?" asked Damon.  "She's got a book open every minute of her spare time." 

And she's reading LITERATURE.  The Wizard of Oz, borrowed from the school library.

Could it be that, number one, there IS a school library and that number two, the classroom is better managed than her previous classroom so that she can feel comfortable opening up a book?

Ryan's in a class of 25.  17 of them are boys.  Just like her previous four years.  Her teacher said she felt bad for her, and her two best girlfriends, who are always sitting in a row, books opened, listening and ready for the lesson while the boys jump around the classroom. 

Uh.  No sweat there.  Ryan's been slumming it among spoiled little princes up to this point.

Really.  Ryan spent FOUR years among a class of boys who were bright and quick but also unruly and unmanageable.  Or in a system that refused to manage them.

CONSEQUENT?  That's a big German word for 'are you following through on your discipline at home?'   But there was NO discipline in school.  (Not much at homes either, from the behaviour the children- and spoiled parents - showed.  Even teachers agreed with me on this.)  The teachers spent four years yelling at these children, trying to get them to behave.  But there was no attempt at discipline.  Oh.  That red mark next to your name on the board.  Like that bothers anyone. 

Parents would have whined and screamed worse than the kids if the school had told them their children were less than perfect. 

HORSES!  At Playmobilland.

Here, every class follows a set of rules for discipline.  Even the twins know it already. 
1.  First you get the look.
2.  Then the teacher asks you to stop your disruptive behaviour.
3.  Next you are asked to sit on the 'reflection chair' and think about why your behaviour is inappropriate.  Was it safe?  Was it respectful?  Was it learning? 
4.  If that doesn't work you need to go see the principal and sit in the reflection room.  (Some classes have an 'exit chair' before this step, I believe.)
5.  Physical contact goes straight to the principal. 
6.  Parents are informed.

And the thing is, they really DO this!  So that sure, kids still misbehave, but they are held to the consequences of their actions.  And the teacher doesn't spend all of her time screaming and yelling at a class that never really has the incentive to settle down. 

And, whatever it is, it works.  The kids we have met here, at Lawnton State School and all around the Brisbane area, are respectful, polite and helpful.  It is unbelievable. It is such a joy.

So that the ADULTS here are respectful, polite and helpful.

So that I still don't know if the education system represents the values of the society or the values of the society reflect what is taught in the education system, but I strongly suspect the former.  (Can you even IMAGINE a German school where physical contact was punished with a trip to the principal?!  My God, the kids are told to work it out themselves.  And they do.  Punching and kicking and ganging up on eachother.  The principal would be WAY too important to get involved with the students.  And anyway, kids will be kids.  Fighting is normal, isn't it?)

And I don't care.  This is about Ryan.  This is about having room to shine, about having space to grow and about the RIGHT to feel safe being yourself.  Even proud to be yourself. 

How was she ever going to get anywhere sitting quietly in a corner, her needs unmet, her every effort marked as unsatisfactory?

Everything here is geared towards helping every child reach their full potential.  Not labelling them and sorting them.  I don't know.  Maybe the German system DOES get better in the fifth grade.  Do the smart kids get a library and computers?  Do the smart kids finally learn some manners?  (Big sighs here from the international community!!!)

Bike-riding in Iglersreuth. 

Ryan is reading.  Ryan is remembering her multiplication tables.  She has volunteered to mentor younger children in the morning reading program.  She's joined the Glee Club.  And wants to play the flute.  A child who was withering away before my eyes is now a child who matters, someone who WANTS to contribute and be a part of her school, because her school values her.

When the child psychologist I took her to in Germany said he thought it was all that traveling that was affecting her (even though we'd lived at the same address for six out of her ten years!) I thought back on when I had really lost her.

I began to lose her when we moved to Germany.  The kindergarten was wild.  And, in retrospect, the system doesn't reinforce the values that we personally have at home.

Respect for others.  Sharing with others.  Being kind to others.

They are a recipe for disaster in system that really only emphasizes taking care of yourself. 

I am not strong enough, and neither was Ryan, to live in a society so at odds with my personal beliefs.

But I am strong enough to fight for my children.  ALL of them.

And lucky enough to be somewhere where I don't have to anymore.
Ryan, with her two best friends,  receiving awards for consistently showing the school values of safety, respect and learning.  How can I not love a country that loves my daughter?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Word From Andrew

Reading is fun, yeah.  School is fun, yeah.  But fighting?  How would fighting be fun?  I hate, just HATE; fighting.  Man, war is the same, hate it.  Just be happy about YOUR land!, and betting: well, better than WAR and FIGHTING, but I don't like it.

(They ARE listening!  And how did a kid of MINE get to be a poet?!  Andrew got a star for his work.  The punctuation needs some work.  And I've not sure how that part about betting got in there.  (My best guess is a television commerical or ad campaign on the train somewhere!)  But that's what an editor is for right?!  For now, they are just letting the kids WRITE.  What a joy!