Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Keeping the faith in humanity...

I've been researching for an essay on investigative journalism this week,
which is gradually sapping my will to live.

There is nothing like trawling through endless articles
on all the death and mayhem in the world
to make you lose faith in humanity.

One of the things I like about studying Sociology
is that a lot of very clever people have wrestled with the problems
of the world and offered theories about this.

However even in spite of this, 
I have to say it is hard to see a cure for all the injustice
and inequality that is taking place right this very moment.

Part of me just wants to pretend it isn't happening.
We don't have tv in our home,
so it is fairly easy to ignore the problems in the world by just not following the news.

No matter how tempting it is to turn a blind eye,
I think that history teaches us thats the way to allowing
terrible things to continue happening to other people
(the Holocaust for example).

Having said that, there just seems to be so much stuff going on in the world
that I have no idea what one person can do,
or even a collective of individuals to make a difference. 

A Sociologist I admire, called Manuel Castells,
writes about Risk Society, where (as I understand it)
humanity needs to use the tools that we have
(such as global communication and technology)
to work together and effect real change and ensure a future for the planet.

I don't have any answers.
I'm not sure if it is enough to be raising children
who learn to respect those around them,
to be contributing humans and to follow their dreams.
I know that I can't really fix problems one quilt at a time,
(although I do try).

I guess the most important thing
if there is to be hope for the future is not to hide from the problems,
but to engage with them, to talk to each other about them,
so share those uncomfortable posts on Facebook
(last Sunday my feed was full of pictures of drowned children).

Because the minute we decide it is someone else's problem
then that's the moment we give up hope.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it [confucius]

I have to say that I've done a lot of learning this year.
I'm learning where my limits and boundaries are
and how to make them work for me.

It's not a pretty process, but its a good and healthy one.

Sometimes I find myself making the same mistake over and over,
but I'm learning to take a step back and see how I could change something
and how I can make it work.

And even the ugly parts are still part of my story and that is ok too.

I started this quilt with high hopes and then realised that I'd made a mistake and the background was too busy. I kept on and finished it, because #uglyquiltsstillkeepyouwarm but now that it is done, I've kind of fallen for its quirkiness. It's ugly for sure, but I sewed a lot of myself into this quilt, I sewed it while I say with Annie when she was sick, I sewed it in the car and on the couch. I sewed it with friends and by myself. It represents a pretty ugly period of my life, but one that I feel sure I'll look back at and realise there was beauty there too.

My life is a bit like this quilt, a funny mix of very broken parts
and very good parts. And I think that 
my task is to make them somehow work together.

For me I find it too easy to slide back into a passive role in my own life
and just let things steam roll over me.

But this year I am definitely learning to be brave
and to make changes so that things work out better for my family
and for myself.

 The children and I have been dealing with a lot of very hard things,
but inspite of this, we have managed to create a very tight family unit.
We have each other's backs
and we have learned to be strong for each other.

There's a lot of love in my house
and that is so precious.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Sociology of the City {Part 2(4) Sociology 355}

I never really thought much about how architecture effects city living until these last three weeks of lectures. On Wednesday we went for a wander about campus and Mike Grimshaw (he's the guy holding his hands up in the picture) talked to us about the various ugly interesting buildings that make up Canterbury University. Most of the time we don't really notice the buildings around us as we go about our daily lives, they are just there and that is that. But Mike explained to us the various structures and the thinking behind it, I don't think I'll ever look at the buildings the same way again.

Here's what a guy called Thomas Gieryn wrote about buildings...
"Buildings stabilise social life. They give structure to social institutions, durability to social networks, persistence to behaviour patterns. What we build solidifies society against time and its incessant forces for change."

A modern city is made up of many components, but the ones that we were focussed were suburbia, the gardens and urban environment and the architecture. It is interesting in all of the topics that we studied, that there seems to be a tension between functionality and the desire to make a statement. 

To understand better why a city looks like it does, we need to look back in time. The modern city is the result of industrialisation and the move of people from rural living to cities for work. This move away from patterns of life they were familiar with and community that supported each other to the impersonal city filled with pollution and overcrowding created unhealthy and unsanitary living environments for the workers. 

There was a desire by people like Ebenezer Howard to improve conditions for people living in cities and also to reference the rural environment they had left behind.

Ebenezer Howard designed the Garden City concept which was a city centre and separate suburbs interspersed with gardens. He wanted to incorporate the rural into the suburban environment to help maintain the city dwellers connection with nature.

Once again there is the tension between practical and useful gardens and making the environment pretty. As the pressure on cities grows with rising populations, we see gardens not as a place to grow food, but rather as a cultivated landscape.  Christchurch parades itself as the Garden City but actually in the context that Ebenezer Howard is writing about, it is really just a city of gardens.

There is a song on the radio at the moment which as a line that says, "you don't know you are up till you are down and you don't know what you've lost till it's gone". Here is Christchurch we are definitely living the truth of that. As time goes on it feels like the city gets less familiar and more alien as time goes on rather than the other way around. I would have thought with the buildings starting to go up, we would feel like we are getting some kind of form to the city again.

But we have no connection to the buildings at all and so seeing them just reinforces that you are in a strange place rather than the feeling of being home that the city previously gave us.

This is what Walter Benjamin writes about, when he talks about the relationship between the space and the memories that we have of the space. By taking away the buildings, this synergy is taken away also, leaving us feeling adrift in the space.

We are finding out the hard way that there is no magic recipe for creating a city. A city that can be experienced grows over time; when people design and build, alter and adapt their environment and actually live in the city. Living means leaving traces and it is these traces of living that make a city experience more authentic.

For those of you who are interested, these are the readings that I tried to read for this blog post:

Week four: Utopia or dystopia? Urban planning and nature
Graham Livesey, "Assemblage theory, gardens and the legacy of the early Garden City Movement”, Architectural Research Quarterly / Volume 15 / Issue 03 / September 2011, pp. 271 278
Witold Rybczynski, "How to Build a Suburb”, The Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Summer, 1995), pp. 114-126
Caroline L. Miller, "Theory poorly practised: the garden suburb in New Zealand”,Planning Perspectives, 2004 19:1, pp.37-55
Nathan McClintock (2014) "Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal:
coming to terms with urban agriculture's contradictions”, Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability, 19:2, pp.147-171
Week five: City architecture:the language and meaning of buildings
David Gartman, "Why Modern Architecture Emerged in Europe, not America: The New Class and the Aesthetics of Technocracy”, Theory Culture Society 2000 17: pp.75-96
Thomas F. Gieryn, "What Buildings Do”, Theory and Society, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), pp. 35-74
Felicity D. Scott, "An Army of Soldiers or a Meadow”, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 70, No. 3 (September 2011),pp. 330-353
Alexander Eisenschmidt, "Importing the City into Architecture. An Interview
with Bernard Tschumi”, Architectural Design Volume 82, Issue 5,pp.130-135,September/October 2012
Week six: case study: What was Christchurch?
Andrea Schollmann, Harvey C Perkins, Kevin Moore, "Intersecting global and local influences in urban place promotion: the case of Christchurch, New Zealand”, Environment and Planning A 2000, volume 32, pp. 55- 76
John Small, " 'Oracles & Miracles': And Lots of Errors”, Journal of New Zealand Literature, No. 9 (1991), pp. 23-34
SOCIETY OF CANTERBURY COLONISTS, "Brief information about the Canterbury settlement: with some account of the sources from which full information may be derived”, . Knowsley Pamphlet Collection, (1851)
Sally Carlton (2014) "Like you, I want to feel excitement and hope about our city”: 'Christchurch the city' in campaign material of the 2013 Christchurch City Council election”,Journal of Architecture and Urbanism, 38:1, pp.11-23

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sociology of the City {Part 1(4) Sociology 355}

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know that I am on the home straight with my studies. If all goes well, I’ll graduate at the end of this year with a double major in Sociology and Media/Communication. I fell into Sociology by accident when the bossy lady in the enrolment department told me I couldn’t just do Psychology. It turned out that I wasn’t suited for Psychology at all and completely fell in love with Sociology. This semester I’m doing a paper on Sociology of the City and for one of the assignments we have to write two 1000 word blog posts. Because I have a real blog with real readers (hello everyone) I have decided to actually write four shorter blog posts and give you all a glimpse of what I’ve been learning. Please don’t feel any pressure to read these, I’ll label them clearly and you can just skip them if you like. Normal programming will resume later in the week.

The best way that I have found to describe what Sociology is, is that it is the study of the theory of society. There seems to be theories on everything and all of them are different. At first it was quite confusing, but after a while you realise that Sociology is basically people making sense of how society works. And then it becomes interesting, because you become part of the process as you wrestle with the theories and make sense of them yourself.
Sociology of the city is the study of the various theories about cities. The first three weeks were about the emergence of the modern city (beginning with Venice and Paris), a mythical person who lives in the modern city (called a Flaneur) and suburbia and the folks who commute to the city to work.
It is particularly interesting to study the Sociology of the city, when you live in a city that is currently being rebuilt. Everybody who lives in Christchurch is affected by and has an opinion on what should or should not be built in Christchurch and why. “It is the fate of cities, if they are not made into museums, to be transformed by every generation of inhabitants, developers, architects, entrepreneurs, immigrants and property owners.”  Our city is being transformed by a natural disaster and Paris in the 1800s was transformed by a man called Haussmann who under Napoleon III undertook an ambitious program of public works which created the basis of Paris as we know it today. Either way, the changing of the city landscape polarises the inhabitants of the city as they grapple with the changing backdrop to their daily lives and the way they interact with it.

In Austria in the late 1800s - early 1900s, Otto Wagner was wrestling with with what being modern meant to architecture. He felt that “architecture bridged the gap between the engineer and the artist” and that it provided something that showed people how to be modern, how to live modern lives and engage with the city in a modern manner.

In this way both Haussmann and Wagner were striving to construct a modern environment for people to live in. The folks who shifted from the countryside to the modern city for employment had to leave behind their old ways of living. They had to make meaning of their lives away from the cues of the seasons and nature and into the city where commerce rules. The city makes you interact differently, it changes all aspects of daily life. The architecture is the structure of this life.
In Christchurch we experienced this when suddenly the centre of the city was fenced off. My children went to school on February 22, rushed out the door to catch their bus with barely a goodbye; and in the course of the day everything changed and we never went back. It was completely gone. Years later when the fence was gone, I went back to the spot and there was nothing there to mark the building that had been such a huge factor in our lives. The city had framed our comings and goings. The cafes were our living room, the library was our book shelf. The school was the heart of it all and in one afternoon it was taken away. For a long time we felt dislocated and alienated from our own city as we tried to find a new way to live in and engage with it.

It is little wonder then that there is so much angst in Christchurch about what is being built here and why. It is because we are trying to rebuild our home, our place in the world. You take most of the buildings out of the centre of the city and suddenly you wonder what holds the city together. Do we even have a city? What makes our place special? why should anyone come here? why do we stay here?
It turns out that the buildings of the city are not just the backdrop to our lives, we interacted with them, we could say, I’ll meet you at the Crossing at 12 and know exactly where to meet. In our emerging landscape, we don’t know how to find each other. It’s confusing and challenging.
Of course there are a lot of people who are happy to live in suburbia, to stay in their little islands and live all of their lives there. The city is not their neighbourhood, it is a place to commute into and work and then return to their lives of peace and quiet. Suburbia is a post war construction enabled in America by private car ownership allowing people to live further away from their place of work, and in Europe by public transport. Suburbia is a dream to those who hanker after a quiet life and a prison to those (young and restless) who strive to escape it. It is a place where people feel that they can live their dramas in private, where they can dream their dreams and create their own personal castle if they so desire. Funny enough though, I’ve noticed it is the suburban voices which clamour for the restoration of the Cathedral (even though they never went in it) and the saving of the heritage buildings (they never visited).
Yes indeed, everyone has an opinion in the city. I’m sure in time to come students of Sociology will be studying the architecture of Christchurch and how the new post-earthquake buildings have affected the ways Cantabrians live their lives and earn their livings here.

If you are interested the readings that accompany this blog post are as follows (I read them all #killmenow)
Week one:The emergence of the modern city: Vienna & Paris
Daniel Purdy, "The Cosmopolitan Geography of Adolf Loos” New German Critique no.99 modernism after postmodernity (fall 2006) pp.41-62
Roger Paden (2010),"Otto Wagner's modern architecture”,Ethics, Place & Environment: A Journal of Philosophy & Geography, 13:2, pp.229-246
David P. Jordan, "Haussmann and Haussmannisation : The Legacy for Paris”, French Historical Studies, Volume 27, Number 1, Winter 2004, pp.87-113
Walter Benjamin, "Paris: Capital of the Nineteenth Century”, Perspecta, Vol. 12 (1969), pp. 163-172
Week two: The Flaneur: street life and the urban gaze
Mike Grimshaw, "The Antimodern Manifesto of the Rural Flaneur: When DArcy and John Go For a Wander”, Journal of New Zealand Studies 13, pp. 144-153.
Richard Pope, "The Jouissance of the Flâneur: Rewriting Baudelaire and Modernity”, Space and Culture 2010 13 (1), pp. 4-16
Mike Featherstone, "The Flâneur, the City and Virtual Public Life”,
Urban Studies 1998 35, pp.909-925

Wiliam Helmrich: "Modern-day flâneur”. Theories and demographics are all very well, but to know New York City's inner life you need to walk and talk

Week three: The rise of suburbia and bourgeois commuter
Tim Foster,' "A Kingdom of a Thousand Princes but No Kings": The Postsuburban Network in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs', Western American Literature, Volume 46, Number 3, Fall 2011, pp.
Yoke-Sum Wong, "Modernism's Love Child: The Story of Happy Architectures”, Common Knowledge, Volume 14, Issue 3, Fall 2008, pp. 445-471
David Kolb (2011) "Many centers: suburban habitus”, City: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action, 15:2, pp.155-166,
Annabel Cooper, "Point Chev boys and the landscapes of suburban memory: autobiographies of Auckland childhoods”, Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography16:2, 121-138

Sunday, August 2, 2015

On friendship....

Recently I went to Auckland to stay with Cat.
Over the last five years, Cat has been teaching me
through her example,
what it means to be a good friend.

I'm actually socially quite reserved until I get to know you,
and Cat told me recently that the first time we met,
she thought I didn't like her.

Makes me wonder how many other people think this about me.
When the answer is that I don't like myself much
and struggle to see why someone would want to be my friend.

But Cat really does know how to be a good friend.
She messages you when she knows that your life is shit,
and when it's going well.

She knows how to laugh with you and cry with you.
She also can tell you when you are just being pathetic.

Being friends with Cat has made me a whole lot better
about texting people when I'm thinking of them
because I know how good it feels.

Being friends with Cat gives me confidence to tell her my secrets
because she shares her too.

My best friend Shenleigh up and left me a few weeks ago to go to live in Invercargill.
And now I'm having to actually be social with people
which turns out to be a good thing for me!

One of these days, I'm going to be one of those people
who effortlessly rings people up and goes to visit
rather than hides under the quilts and watches Netflix.

I'm pretty sure that until then Cat will keep on 
jollying me along from afar.

Thanks Cat! I love you xoxox

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sometimes it ends up different but it is better that way....

Sometimes we make plans and start along a path,
but as we go things change and we need to change the plan.
I find it really easy to feel like a failure at this point,
and often I keep doing things just because
I don't want to feel like I've failed.

Like this quilt for example.
I started it last year and had great plans for it.
But it was about the time when my hip completely gave up
and I couldn't stand on two legs anymore.

Turns out that paper piecing is easier to do if you can jump up and
use the cutting mat and press things,
so I laid the project aside and got stuck into making all the quilts.

Every now and again I'd pull the project out,
but somehow in the intervening time,
I'd lost the joy of the thing and just couldn't get enthusiastic about it.

So yesterday I unpicked the segments that I had completed
and made a cushion. Then I returned all the fabric to my stash
and cut up the scraps into 2 1/2" squares. 

It felt so good to have a resolution to the project.
Also we have a pretty stylish cushion for our old chair.

And although part of me feels like I failed,
I know that sometimes things don't work out;
actually finishing something useful
is more important than a guilt-inducing unfinished project
hiding in the cupboard.

Guilt is such an unproductive and unmotivating emotion,
I'm working on recognising it more often
and not letting my life decisions be driven by it.

Here's to changing plans
and here's to achievements
instead of wishful thinking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"It's not all sunshine and roses, but a good amount of it actually is"

The really good thing about hitting absolute rock bottom,
is that things can only get better. 

As a smart man called Adam says, it's all going to be ok.

Every day is a new day to keep right on trying,
and that's the whole point.

I'm kinda glad it's winter,
and we can hide huddle under quilts
and legitimately hibernate. 

We can eat hot soup for dinner
and only have one pot to clean at the end.

We can meet a friend for coffee in a cafe
and warm up by a heater that someone else is paying for.

We can make plans for the spring,
and watch as the evenings get slowly stay lighter for longer.

The thing about rock bottom is that while you are there,
you find out that its ok to just be in that space for a while,
you don't have to fight it,
as Pooh Bear said once....

sometimes I sits and thinks
and sometimes I just sits. 

It's all going to be all right in the end.
Spring will come. Times will change. It's going to be ok.

Adam sent me the cute
things from his shop.
You should visit it.