Friday, November 23, 2012

Royal Society of New Zealand 2012 Research Honours Dinner

The annual awards evening celebrating top NewZealand researchers was held at Auckland Museum on Wednesday.

Huge congratulations to Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble, CNZM FRSNZ, School of Chemical Sciences, The University of Auckland, who last night became the second woman to win the Royal Society of New Zealand's Rutherford Medal.

She was quoted by Fairfax at

“I am personally very pleased that New Zealand has now recognised me, not for being a woman in science, but for my science.”

The Rutherford Medal was awarded to chemist Professor Brimble, for her world-leading contributions to the synthesis of bioactive natural products.  Part of her work in chemical sciences has been research benefitting those who have experienced brain injury by modifying a naturally occurring peptide found in the brain after an injury, which helps to prevent secondary cell death.

 If you are interested in reading more about her research, please go to the university website for more information.

Other women who won during the presentation of thirteen awards on Wednesday night were:
The Dame Joan Metge Medal for excellence and building relationships in the social science research community.

Professor Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the School of Māori and Pacific Development, University of Waikato, for inspiring, mentoring and developing Māori researchers.

Professor Janet Holmes FRSNZ, Chair in Linguistics, Victoria University of Wellington, for her outstanding contribution to linguistics.
Congratulations to all the winners on Wednesday night, you are inspirations.

I am going to try and focus more on the amazing work of New Zealand women, who, unless they are in film and television tend to slip through the cracks of NZ media, making small headlines no matter how outstanding their work is. Those who are already in their field appreciate them for the work they do, lives they change, and ideas they bring forward.
I will be recognising them here with the original drive due to the fact this is a feminist space, but in the hope that the circle of people who appreciate the work being done will widen. Please don’t hesitate to link to further information on the work these women are doing, or information about their achievements.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The end of another Decade

Image thanks to @AlastairJNZ
Every year I try and use my birthday as a marker point for “where I am at”. It’s a chance to review, and look back on how I’m doing, where I’m headed, and if I want to stay in that direction.
This year is a little different. Partly because I’m turning 30, and am old enough to see aging for the bitch it is, and young enough for decades to still mean a lot.
The other part is that this year has been really really hard.
I don’t mean, “oh yeah, work has been stressful and I hated my flatmates” hard.
I mean, “name an aspect of my life and there is a high probability that it has had to change substantially” hard.

I was sitting in training tonight with a phenomenal view over Auckland harbour. The light was pouring in from the west, and there was an enormous black cloud to the east, out over the harbour and covering the Coromandle and east Auckland.  There was some SERIOUSLY bad weather going on over there, the clouds blocked any kind of view, and it was clear the rain was torrential.
But from where I was sitting, and the way the light was hitting it, it was the most stunning sunset I have seen this year.
The clouds were lit up purple, the sea was a deep pearly grey black, and the yachts were lit up like fairies, flying across the water returning into safe berth. The sun was lighting the clouds over me from below, and they were breaking up and showing all different shades of pink and orange.
I sat there a bit stunned by the gorgeousness of it all, and stupidly overwhelmed with how well tonight’s sunset summarised my year.
Those big black metaphorical clouds, haven’t been long gone. I can still smell the rain in the air, and it’s going to take a while to clear up. But right now, having gotten past the storm, life is as beautiful as it has ever been. And sometimes that’s all you can ask.

This year in summary.

I have experienced Loss.
I have lost friends.
I have lost family.
I have lost a love.
I have lost a future that I held as certain as I have ever held any future.
I have lost the body I was proud of, the strength I was sure of, and the certainty of what my health will be in the future.
I have lost an element of hope and optimism, and I’m sorry to say my heart is harder than it was.
I have lost something deeply important to me, which I’m still not ready to admit or talk about.

I have Gained.
I have gained friends.
Oh my god. You guys are AMAZING. I have met the most vibrant, exciting, scintillating, fascinating, brilliant, kind and generous people this year. I have made more new friends this year than I did in the four years previous combined.
I have strengthened and rejuvenated old friendships.
I’m so so proud to say that the same girls that jumped up and down dancing like loons at my 21st will all be there on Saturday for my 30th. We have fewer things in common, but they are my sisters. They know my heart, and I love them so deeply.
I have gained a new space in my heart.
I became a godmother, my friends have had children and I have found a whole new space in my chest, all ready to adore these little people. Every time I see my godson and his sisters I’m surprised by the depth of how much I adore them, and I feel a great sense of honour that their parents allow me to be so much a part of their family. This participation means more than they can possibly know.
I have gained a career.
For the first time in my life I feel as though I have a career, not just a job. I have a sense of purpose, job satisfaction, I am making a very real difference, and I can see a career path that excites me deeply.
I have gained strength.
What feels like a cruel, bitter hardening of my heart right now will eventually soften, and these experiences have given me new skills, ways to cope, and resilience for the future.
I have gained pride.
I have overcome a lot this year and although I’ve had a huge amount of support when I called for it, I have essentially done it alone. No one else got me out of bed and into work. No one else kept me doing what I needed to do to keep my mind well through all that grief. I did it.
I fucking survived, and right now is the first time I’ve taken the time to feel proud of what I have made it through.
I have gained new skills.
I am learning new tricks, have passed a correspondence course, have started a new volunteer job and am learning an instrument.
Partly this is because some of my old hobbies have had to stop, with the Arthritis, but I’m genuinely excited about these new skills, and pleased to say in spite of all the turmoil, I’ve continued to grow and achieve.
I have gained independence.
I’ve always enjoyed and been good at being single, but the last year has been a real learning curve. For the first time I feel truly independent, less chained to what other people think, and confident enough to follow my own path.  I have maintained my sense of community, while realising that I can’t save anyone but myself, and to TRULY let that go was a challenge.  Living my own life, with integrity, is something I am feeling more confident in.

I feel like my world has literally been turned upside down.
It seemed like a bad thing when it was happening. But now, now I look at my life and it’s something I’m proud of. This plant may have its roots in shit, but it grew twice as fast and 10x as strong because of it.

I won’t ever wish for a smooth ride, because boring isn’t something I do well. But the ability to sail through a storm, and be able to use my support crew, and my own skills to get through it, that’s a hell of a gift.
To those of you reading this who have been there with me for the ride.
Thank you .
I can’t thank you enough.

Let me get you a drink and a hug on Saturday.
Image thanks to @PaulaAMelville

Monday, November 5, 2012

You dont have to...

This has been written from the perspective of someone who celebrates Christmas holidays, so it is ‘christmas-centric” but there are  many other celebrations that put stress on families at this time of year.

You don’t have to…
You don’t have to is one of the most powerful reminders of the end-of-year season.

You don’t have to buy gifts.
You don’t have to attend functions
You don’t have to write cards.
You don’t have to spend too much.

We are more and more prone to forget this, the later in the year we get. And it is heart breaking. My friend is about to have her child’s first Christmas, and rather than looking forward to showing the baby off and seeing all the family, she is in a panic state in November, because the obligation to host everyone who wants to come and see baby will bankrupt them while they are only on one income.

I just said, “Do you have to? And her head just about exploded. Mind. Blown. What else would she do, if not decorate, cook, buy gifts for, and host an entire family? When you take a step back, the expectation that a young family with a new baby would want to, let alone be ABLE to do the above is patently ridiculous.

Whatever your religion/spirituality or holiday schedule, there will no doubt be something at the end of the year that puts the pressure on you to deliver “perfection”.
I say, walk away.
This holiday season we are taking the family camping. No presents. No fuss. No stress.
I cannot wait. Yes, I enjoy carols and decorations so there will be tinsel and fairy lights on my tent, and my mum loves Christmas cake, so that will no doubt be in attendance. But once we were actually honest about what was causing stress, it was the cost.
Not just the cost of gifts.
The cost of time and pressure to achieve “perfect memories” every single December, regardless of what else is going on.
I’ve handmade dried orange and cinnamon stick wreaths, chutneys, sweets, truffles, and crafts in an effort to cut costs by making presents, and resulted in a wonderful haze of exhaustion by the time I actually got a holiday. Money isn’t the only cost to Christmas and more and more, as a result of my arthritis I am aware of not wanting to waste the precious commodity that is my strength and energy.

November/December without presents to buy is a special kind of heaven, and the end of year, without trying to bake and decorate is awesome.  What will probably happen is that I will feel like doing a little baking close to the time, and I will. But it will be because I want to and have the energy reserves, and that is how it should be. No obligations.

So go have a chat to your families. Talk about what is needed, what is wanted, and what is painfully pointless tradition.  Empower your family with their own traditions.

Our tradition until this year has been for everyone to bring one gift, and through opening the presents and “stealing” off each other, we finally get to keep the gift we can steal three times.
This Christmas I will be missing my Nan dreadfully, but I will have the memory of tears of laughter last Christmas where we did a “secret Santa steal” and Nan REALLY wanted one of the gifts, and people kept taking it off her. She used her wiles, sneakiness and a bit of blackmail to get it back, and the fun of the challenge was more important than the gift. I have a wonderful photo of her grinning like a loon and clutching something to her chest. Her smile will be one of my favorite memories for years to come, not the gift.

In fact, come to think of it, I can’t remember what the gift was.


Some gentle alternatives to consider.

Dinner at a RSA/Pub/Café where each person pays their own way.

‘Bring a plate’ Christmas dinner.

Perhaps a “progressive celebration” where each course is served at a different family member’s house?

A cost limit on gifts.

Instead of gifts, ask that everyone brings an offer of a service which they can provide and use it as a lucky draw to see who gets whose offering?

Why not hold Christmas day two days late, and purchase everything you need in the Boxing Day sales?