Michelle Obama's Book Becoming - a review: Part 1

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I'm very late to the party in picking up Michelle Obama's autobiography, Becoming.
I've been busy with University studies, but the light is at the end of that particular tunnel on Friday when I complete the semester with the final exam, so I have been - maybe a little too early when I should be studying - indulging in some leisurely reading.

I don't know about you, but I love biographies. I like them more than novels. Real people's lives are so fascinating.

I've always liked Michelle as a person and thought she would be a pretty interesting person to sit down and have a cup of tea with, and her book has only piqued my interest. She seems so wise and very down to earth, intelligent and relatable.
But there is so much in her book that I want to talk about, so I've decided to review the book in two parts.

I've been so enjoying hearing about her childhood growing up on the south side of Chicago. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart for the year I spent living there.

I like the way she thinks. I like her tenacity. I like her grass-roots upbringing and I like that in her book she is not afraid to talk about the things that matter. She's a straight-talker but careful in her wording and gracious. I was excited to learn that she was a Sociology Major at College! No wonder I liked her!
In her book she is not afraid to talk about the things that had social consequence on her and her family. Things like racism.

This has always been a topic close to my heart because I've never understood racism. I still remember the shock I felt upon learning of slavery in my school Social Studies Class when I was 13 years old. That feeling has sat deep with me all these years.  Taking Sociology this year has helped me understand the why's of racism and how it has impacted our world so dramatically.

One of the most interesting aspects about Michelle's book is seeing her world through her eyes and through the eyes of the child she remembered as herself who is African American. She doesn't really directly talk about racism or growing up with racism,  she just talks about her family and friends and what she did as child, but for someone like me, not having grown up in America and not having grown up as African American, several things stood out to me in her writing:

Segregation was part of her life. She talks about white communities and black communities and the white part of town and the black part of town.

At college her roommate was moved out of her room because the mother objected to her daughter sharing with an African American girl.

Through the story of her childhood, the lens she wrote through was always with an acute awareness of her difference to the 'ruling race' in America at the time and yet she seems to have written it without fully being conscious of it. That's what I found fascinating.

It brought to mind this quote from my sociology class this semester:

W.E.B Dubois - "Those who are oppressed by race develop a dual consciousness, ever aware of their status in the eyes of others but also have a collective identity as African American, for example".

She spells that out in her books - whether it was deliberate or not, that lens is there.

I like this journey with her through her youth as she grows, matures, develops. I'm not even up to the part where she meets Barack yet - the part I imagine everyone wanted to read from that point on.
I like the cut of her gib, as the old saying goes. I'm enjoying her company.

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”  Michelle Obama, Becoming

She's a true sociologist. America is lucky to have had her as their First Lady, and lucky to still have her influence.

Labour Weekend - Getting the House Summer Ready

Sunday, October 27, 2019
Our first summer in our new home and I am enjoying our private garden and outdoor area so much.

We haven't had a ready-made garden since we lived in the old house in Alexandra and it is wonderful to add our own stamp on things. The former owners who were retiring and going to a much smaller place left us some lovely potted outdoor plants in some big, beautiful pots, along with some outdoor seating and a shade cloth. We put the cloth up last night and already we are benefitting from it as the sun is HOT today.

Traditionally in New Zealand, Labour weekend is for putting in your summer plants, and this tradition still holds firm judging by the number of people at the garden centre this morning.

We have a lovely lot of edibles in the garden - a plum tree absolutely laden with a type of plum that we're not sure about - until it ripens. With the number of fruit on this, I'll definitely be keeping an eye on those cheeky birds and netting it when I need to. I have a Mandarin ready to go in, a Tamarillo thriving, celery ready to harvest and at the bidding of my second son today I got two raspberry vines to put in.

We are getting ready for Theo to go to NASA in December and doing some fundraising to help. I've been testing out an old fashioned lemonade recipe given to me by my hockey mum friend, Sue. It's seriously the best lemonade but I think the recipe is a bit of a secret. I've been putting the syrup into bottles and will sell them soon, but of course we had to test it first!

I hope that you will be able to come and enjoy a drink with me sometime over the summer. 
Warmth and shade from the hot sun and good company in the outdoors with lemonade (and maybe a cocktail or two) sounds very enjoyable indeed!

And of course Ginger will be here to give you a very joyous welcome.

I Am (Hopefully) Back to Blogging Again

Saturday, October 19, 2019
The great thing about reaching middle age is that you do really find out who you are. It's true what they tell you about that.
You've spent quite a bit of time with yourself by now, and things start becoming clearer. What you like, who you are, how you think, feel, love, respond, what your core values and beliefs are and most importantly, how you want to spend the rest of your life. And maybe even more importantly, how you don't want to spend the rest of your life.

That's what has happened to me.

I've spent the last few years sorting out the past. Dealing with things that needed to be dealt with, and a lot of reflection and self-evaluation. I've learned boundaries. I've learned not to be so gullible. I've become a little cynical. I have learned to trust my judgement and my instincts. I've learned what sort of friend I am and how to find friends that I like and how to cultivate those friendships.

I've also learned that I need to write.
Which is why I'm picking up blogging again.

I have little side projects on the go, and I just finished writing my first academic essay - which I agonised over. Faint echoes of my old teachers telling me to stick to creative writing or fiction and not structural essays lingering in my memory. That I was weak in essay writing- my greatest writing weakness - those words linger in my past.  I have a huge learning curve ahead, but I got my first one written and achieved a B grade, which I'm trying to tell myself is not so bad for my first essay - considering the last time I wrote one was when I was 17 years old and I have a major phobia around them.

I still harbour ambitions of a New Zealand novel - and that may or may not be my summer project while I take a hiatus from Sociology studies. But like it or not. I have to write - and I think that's been my biggest lesson this year. I can't just let it go. I need it.

So, here I am. Back on beloved blogger. It's like an old familiar friend.

Downton Abbey Final - contains spoilers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016
This post contains SPOILERS, so if you have not see the final yet, I suggest you come back later.

Because we got to see Downton before America!

Downton Abbey and me have had a rough relationship.

Like half the planet I fell in love with it from the beginning and then I got mad at writer and creator Julian Fellowes for killing off Matthew Crawley just as he was at his happiest, and refused to watch it again until I had forgiven him,

Julian Fellowes....

...and then I got bored of seeing Anna and Mr Bates trot off to prison every other episode, so you might say this has been a very up and down relationship.

It was like Julian Fellowes was a happiness killer for 6 whole, entire seasons.

Ok, so maybe I haven't quite forgiven him completely yet.
But he does do his best to make us like him again in the final.

So the other week when the Christmas Special Final showed in New Zealand I happened to be out at our beach house. I thought I'd just have to wait until it came out on DVD to watch it because we don't have a television at the beach house and reception has never been very good out there anyway. But not this year! The cousins had managed to hook up a tv and we were all booked in for a Downton Abbey beach-fest screening - served with a delicious Rhubarb crumble.

Have you seen the final? What did you think of it?

I am going to miss watching Maggie Smith so much. She made the series. She really did.

There are a few words I could use to sum up the final episode of Downton Abbey.

Weddings. Predictable. Happy Ending.

Julian Fellowes decided not to kill happiness.

And that pretty much sums up the last episode.

I could have given it a scathing review because if there is another tv show that trumps this final for trying to cram as many romances and weddings into it as Downton did in the last final, I have never heard of it. We lost count of how many times the violins played and just about everyone ends up with a romance, marriage, or the potential of a romance or marriage. But in the end, you just can't hate Downton - even in all it's predictableness and one-liners. It's been a brilliant show to watch and I'm going to miss it.

It seems like the whole series has been one big fight to find love and happiness.

And Julian Fellowes gives us that in bucketloads in the last special. He lathers it on in syrup, lavender and everything coming up roses. And while it is everything you could wish for - a happy ending - everyone goes off to live lovely and fulfilling lives - where everything comes right in the end, and truth be known, I always like a happy ending, but it did feel rather predicatable and rather squashed in.

So to sum up:

Lord Grantham is miserable and then he is happy.
Lady Mary is nasty and then she is nice.
Lady Edith is miserable and can't make up her mind and then she is suddenly happy and can make up her mind.

The Dowager Lady Grantham is just the same as always - and has the best lines.

(This. Truly. My life at the moment)!

Mrs Crawley is miserable and then she is happy.
Branson is miserable and then he is happy.
Carson is miserable and then he is happy.
Mrs. Hughes is miserable and then she is happy.
Daisy is miserable and then she is happy.
Thomas is miserable and then he is happy.

Molsely is miserable and then he is happy.
Mrs Patmore is not looking for love and then finds she quite likes it - in the last few minutes of the show.
Anna and Mr Bates have been miserable for the whole darn show, but finally in the last show they are happy and nothing bad happens.
To them.
To anyone.

Except maybe Carson.

So we bid farewell to Downton. It's the ending of a happy romance - a blissful escape from reality.
Thank you Julian Fellowes for the pleasure. I know you had to end it sometime, but I think we all hoped it would carry on forever.

We've really loved it, you know.

Love Many. Trust Few.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

One of the things that comes when you are growing into yourself, is an awareness of your vulnerabilities and your strengths. It’s strange that the two can be closely intertwined but they are.

My Vulnerability:
I have been exposed to narcissism all my life. Narcissism is an extreme selfishness - but can often be manifested in many different ways. Sometimes the narcissist is obvious - the charismatic leader who draws people to themselves, but where everything is engineered to feed their great need for the world to revolve around them. Sometimes the narcissist is not so obvious - you might think of them as a giving person - unselfish - but their unselfishness feeds their need to be needed, and they often control those who revolve in their world. 

Narcissism is a personality disorder. Most likely the person you know with this is not even aware they have it. Narcissism also means that the person who has it has most likely had some terrible hurt in their lives and this is their way of coping.

My narcissism radar is on high alert these days. It’s easy to see a narcissist behind every lamp post so I have to be careful who I label with this in my mind, as it sets a prejudice, and I do not want that, but in my journey to healing from having my life impacted by narcissism, I have been pondering over something that a wise person said to me recently. And that is that once you have had a narcissist in your life, you can spot it a mile away.  This wise lady told me that she never allows herself to get involved with a narcissist. Ever. Not even in the smallest way. You run. You protect yourself. You set the boundary.

My Strength:
My strength - and that is my intuition. That ‘still, small voice’ that sends out little alarms. I am still learning to use it - I am trying to embrace it. It’s always been there, but I’ve never had the confidence in it before. Now, I do.

We who have the Myers-Briggs personality type of INFJ (Introvert/Intuitive/Feeling/Justice), have this thing called the ‘INFJ Door Slam’. To me this is setting boundaries which I no longer allow people to cross over to manipulate me. It goes completely against how I have behaved up until this age. I have always been open, friendly, welcoming and accepting of people - a little naive perhaps, but through the last few years as I have learned about my vulnerabilities and strengths, I realise that this is not altogether healthy. People can and will take advantage of that. Manipulators can and will take advantage of that, which is why it’s important to recognise your vulnerabilities and then to use your strengths to counteract that.

Narcissism radar and INFJ door slam - I welcome you. It’s a new day for me. I’m no longer a door mat. I am learning to be confident in myself and to choose who I welcome into my life.

What Lies Ahead

Thursday, December 31, 2015
The Myers Briggs Personality test changed my life in 2015. I found out I have the rarest type, INFJ. Only 1% of the world's population has it, but more than that, it helped me understand myself and understand my tortuous mind and feelings and the explanations behind a whole lot of how and why I function the way I do, both in the real world and in my own mind (a world in itself). Oh to have known this at 13 years old!

And I went to see Oprah Winfrey this year - and she has the same personality type and she explained how to use your in-built intuition and drive to accomplish what you want out of life. And before you start thinking that it all sounds a bit like I've got my head in the clouds, believe me, I do! But I also have two good feet firmly on the ground, and that is partly the struggle that all INFJ's wrestle with through life.

So, in my annual New Year post where I collect favourite quotes from the past year and put them over some of my best photographs, this year I've chosen to do it a slightly different way, and I'm only using quotes from other INFJ personalities - those who are well-known in the world and have made a difference.

Oprah Winfrey
Eleanor Roosevelt
JK Rowling
Leonard Cohen
Agatha Christie
Noam Chomsky
Martin Luther King, Jr
Emily Bronte

These quotes are important to me, and I plan on using them through 2016 to inspire me and to help me through the days when I need strength, and I know there are a few of those coming up this year. It will be an epic year for me - I will have to face some of my fears head on, but I know that in the end, there will be triumph.

This is the quote of the year for me. I love it. I heard Oprah say it in person and it sent chills up my spine. What tragedy and hope there is all mixed up in these few, simple words.

Kia Kaha - Be Strong. Stand Strong. This is a particularly special and beautiful saying for me for the year of 2016. It will be close to my heart for a long time.

I feel this often. It is in my nature to feel this. But I have learned a lot these past few years. I feel more confident now. My self-talk is better.

The truth has always been very important to me.

With my memory, the past is always with me. It's learning to use that to move forward. To be aware of what has gone before me. What has led me to this point in my life and how I can learn from that to build my future.

Maybe this is a maturity thing. I'm past 40 now. Everyone says that once you reach 40 the things that matter are so different to what they were when you were 20, and that is true. And I am finding the value in limiting my friendships, as hard as that has been to do, in surrounding myself with people who love me for me, not for who I once was, or for some past historic connection, but they like me and I like them, and being with them gives me energy. This has narrowed the field somewhat - but my handful of close friends are few and precious. I like having lots of friends, but in the past that has been a trap to give me self-worth and the trap was superficial and, in the end, disappointing. I like loyalty - even when I am not the best friend in the world - I am so bad at friendship, partly because my memory works in such a way that if I saw you a year ago, it feels like yesterday to me. And partly because life, in this season, is so incredibly busy for me at the moment. I don't have time to waste on superficiality, or people who don't understand me.

I love this quote from one of my favourite authors, and fellow INFJ. Every day is a gift, a treasure.

Not many people like change. We get comfortable, never realising that when the hard things hit us, they are often the catalyst to shift us from our complacency and to move forward in life. Life is never still. It is always moving, changing, bringing fresh challenges. I have had some cataclysmic changes the past few years. They have changed me. I'm not the same person I was before.
But what a gift it has been.

Don't you wish the whole world could hear this message? But hearing is one thing. Doing is another.

Sometimes I feel like life is just starting for me. With age comes awareness of who you are and what you want out of life. I still have dreams. I still have beautiful dreams.

Emily Bronte. Another favourite author. Another fellow INFJ. Maybe it is only INFJ's who will 'get' this quote. The intrinsic, fundamental knowledge that we are old souls. That we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and all the love of the world in our hearts.

How do we use our gifts and our passions to better the world? To dream and to live it out? It is an eternal question, never answered.

This is one of my favourite quotes, and I can't even articulate why!

As we bid farewell to 2015 and turn the page of a new year, what lies ahead for you? What dreams do you have for the year ahead? Whatever they are,  I wish you well in the pursuit of them.

A Plebeian's Experience at the New Zealand Oprah Show

Friday, December 18, 2015
I remember when Oprah Winfrey started screening on television in New Zealand. We used to discuss her shows in the school playground during our lunch breaks. Fresh 15 year olds solving the problems of dysfunctional adults. It was really among the first of those kind of shows to come to New Zealand and we were all fascinated by Oprah.

Photo Source

Over the years, on and off, as I left school, went overseas, worked, lived my life, Oprah came in and out of my life as time allowed.

And then I went to Chicago.

Photo Source
Sometimes when we'd drive downtown, I'd look up at those tall buildings and wonder which one belonged to Oprah. I'd keep an eye out for her studio. I never saw it, and I never saw her. I didn't even watch her show during that time. There were no televisions where I was living. I never even went to one of her shows even though for one short year we lived in the same city.

But time passes and Oprah came back into my life again when I was married and had small children and was having trouble with breast-feeding. So I'd sit down in my living room with my small baby, turn on the television and watch lunchtime Oprah, while feeding my baby.

And oh the things I learned. The little seeds I gathered. Oprah was very influential in my early mid-life years. Sometimes lonely years as I'd left many friends behind in America, my husband and I moved clear to the other side of the country and lived on a rural lifestyle block. I was just emerging out of the cult that we had become involved with and it was a crucial time for me of re-adjusting my views of the world. Re-adjusting my life and little whispers of new ideas and questions that Oprah raised on her show began to wander restlessly in my mind. She reached out from the television screen and met my heart.

We share the same Myers Briggs personality type... except she's an extrovert and I'm an introvert. INFJ for me. ENFJ for Oprah. But Oprah just has this way of being real, whatever your personality type is. She instinctively meets you where you are and knows, with an authenticity that is at times, uncanny.

So when the opportunity came to go and see her in Auckland, I was waiting in line when booking opened.

Going to see Oprah has to be one of the highlights of this year for me.

Whatever you think of Oprah (and there have been some cynical reviews written about her show, and sure, the music was a bit cheezy at times, but I wasn't there for the music), you have to admire her for what she has done with her life. For where she has come from and what she has achieved, and her generous big heartedness to others. Her good intentions of wanting to help others. She is a woman among women and no matter whether you find her inspiring or not, or you roll your eyes at her words of hope and encouragment, she demands respect for that reason alone.

A friend and I got two of the cheapest tickets we could - the rich and entitled paid thousands for the best seats in the house - but most of us mere plebeians had to settle for seats way up the back of the arena. And it was still good. We were way up the back, but we were looking full on to the stage. And they had music playing with a DJ before Oprah came out. The camera would zoom in on random people in the audience who would cheer, dance or pull faces. I love Kiwis.

Oprah said she felt a contentment in New Zealand that she hasn't felt anywhere else in any other country. Maybe she was flattering us, but maybe there is some truth to that too. I think New Zealanders are generally down-to-earth and real about life and we don't really go in for a lot of fluff.

What she had to say that night came at a crucial time in my life. I know I was meant to be there.
Sometimes things like this happen in your life and you know they happened for a reason. That night was one of those moments.

Oprah shared one of her favourite poems with us. She said the name of this author twice, and I locked it away in my memory because I wanted to be sure to find it when I got home. Thank you Oprah, for saying his name twice.

When I read this poem, I think over my life - I remember my happy childhood and my turbulent romances of my teen years. I remember the years of my early adulthood that were stolen from me by a manipulative and powerful man from Chicago.
And I think it's kind of ironic that two people from Chicago could have two such opposing influence over me. One for evil. One for good.

And then I recall Oprah's words to us on Wednesday night.

"Everything that has happened to you, was also happening for you".

Oprah talked a lot that night about co-authoring our lives with God. If I take anything away from her show, it is those words. It is the wisdom in those words. When you have come from my experience of having someone tell you that God is a dictator and that he has a plan for your life whether you like that plan or not, these words have the power to bring great healing and clarification.

She talked about the importance of meeting with God everyday. Talking over as you would with a close friend, your plans and decisions. Sometimes during the evening, it almost felt a little like we were at a revival meeting. She unashamedly talked about her relationship with God.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience. To deny that, is to deny our purpose for being here.

Oprah kept stressing, over and over, that God has a plan for every single person. That we are not a mistake. That we are not insignificant. That it doesn't matter where we come from or what we have done. That God has given us a unique passion, a job to do, a life-fulfilment, a legacy to enjoy and to leave behind.

I know what it is I want to do with my life. I think I've always known, but this past year I have allowed other things to crowd out those little whispers. Oprah told us a story of her personal assistant who wanted a filing cabinet for her 8th birthday. I thought 'what did I want for my 8th birthday?" I know exactly what it was I wanted for my 8th birthday. I wanted blank notebooks to write my stories inside. And the desire is still the same all these years later. It's not the notebook or the pens, it's the desire to write and to do something good with the writing.

I came away from Oprah with a determination to use this summer break to really sit back and think about how to make each day count in the pursuit of my dreams, the pursuit of my intentions. To again, re-adjust the path of my life. I was inspired by her words, her passion, her experience and her wisdom. She has been a great influence in my life at various times over the years and Wednesday night was no exception.

To co-author with God - the things he has in store for my life.

That's what I love about that poem by Derek Walcott. That one day I will come back to meet my old self, and we will smile at each other.

photo credit: P1110007 via photopin (license)

photo credit: Chicago (ILL) Willis Tower ( Ex. SEARS Tower ) 1974, N-E side " the loop " + notes via photopin (license)
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