Friday, 20 March 2015

Death and Termites

“It is only when a man feels himself face to face with such horrors 
that he can understand their true import.” 

When I was young, I was absolutely terrified of vampires ... the most famous being, of course, Dracula. I was scared of all horror movies, but especially vampires. There is one scene from an old movie which really freaked me out. I can't remember the movie or the actors, but I can recall the scene involved a woman dressed in a long white nightgown lying in bed asleep. Outside her window lurked the infamous Dracula. According to my recollection, Dracula couldn't enter the bedroom chamber unless he was invited in, so he would appear outside her window each night, scratching at it with his long, hideous fingernails.
      The idea that the victim played a role in her own demise by accidentally inviting Dracula in (through evil trickery, of course) seemed to me to be highly objectionable. There was a particular terror and dread generated through the suspense of Dracula being just outside her window. I found this tension far worse than any of the gory scenes that ensued.
     Of course, it is this "anticipated dread" that keeps most of us living in fear our entire lives. When my children were young and we would take them to a restaurant, even if they were behaving themselves (a rare occurrence), I still couldn't relax and enjoy the experience because I was waiting for the moment when it would all unravel!
     I realised the other day that I am finally emerging from the dark place I have inhabited for the past few years ... well, it's more like a lifetime really, but the past few years have been especially difficult. Everything I had tried to run from caught up with me all at once! It was truly sink or swim time. As cliche as it sounds, I had completely lost my sense of self. I have always been reasonably sure of the "what", but not of the "why". Suddenly, I began to doubt everything. So began a desperate forensic search for clues about the real me. Who was I before the guilt, the shame, the fear set in? I have been on a quest to find this person. What music makes me want to sing and dance? What art takes my breath away or brings me to my knees? What books make me want to write? Who do I admire? Who and what do I aspire to be?
    There have been many discoveries along the way. I think the most important discovery has been just how little confidence and self-esteem I actually possess. When I was little, I used to dream about being discovered as a writer or an artist, because I thought it would make me feel confident and successful. I imagined myself at dinner parties entertaining and delighting people, because, of course, I would be transformed into someone interesting and knowledgeable ... an introvert no more! My dear friend did point out that even if I had achieved some measure of renown and success, that I was still not a likely candidate to be swanning around singing my praises!
     Now I understand that until and unless I believe in the value of my own work, regardless of what other people think, I will never feel like a "success" ... on any level. Being recognised publicly as a success is surely a little like going on a holiday, or buying a house, or eating an amazing meal. The experience itself is not everlasting. Ultimately, you need to take another trip, renovate or redecorate the house, or try something else on the menu! Thankfully, I have let go of my aspirations to be "famous". I simply want to create because I love creating. I am not opposed to being "successful", but I know that it can be more of a hindrance than a help. In obscurity, I am free to create what I want. I can take risks and fail and no-one is there to judge me.
     In an attempt to bolster my self-confidence and self-esteem, I have begun to simplify and declutter my life. I want to surround myself with things I genuinely love and have respect for. This includes family, friends, home, work, relationship and all other aspects of my life. I am trying to banish the oft-used phrases "I'm not sure" or "I don't know"! I may not be able to achieve the things I desire, but I do know what it is I want!
    Of course, I still experience the old feelings of dismay and dread. These are the habits of a lifetime. Perhaps this is a familiar scenario: 1. something amazing happens!
                                                        2. just as you begin to celebrate, a thought comes
                                                            into your head: "what if?"

Here are some classic examples of "what ifs":

I have just bought a really nice dress ... what if I discover tomorrow that I am dying? (I know it doesn't make sense, but that's how my head works!)

I have finally found a new art studio which I  love ... what if the building gets condemned?

I am living in a beautiful old house ... what if there are termites?

These are the crazy thoughts that come into my head and spoil whatever joy I might be experiencing! Even when I know the odds are in my favour, the thought alone is enough to create a seed of doubt, which grows into a tree of anxiety and dread! I have realised, with horror, that I am inviting Dracula in night after night!
    So, this is my homework! I am learning, slowly but surely, to do the opposite of what my anxious mother taught me to do ... I am tempting fate!! I am trying to experience whatever joy comes my way without giving notice to the dark forces outside my window. Bad things do happen ... death and termites are real! However, I need to stop experiencing the bad things before they've even happened. Quite simply, I need to shut the curtains!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Spare a Thought for the Losers

My son is at home today because he didn't want to go to his school swim carnival. Over the past few days, I've been debating in my head whether I should force him to go (character building?), or whether I should give him the day off! Obviously, I went with the latter. In the meantime, another parent whose kids attend a different school was singing his children's praises after their swim carnival. He gets up at 5am to take his kids to swim training, and they are indeed champions in the making. My big fear is that perhaps my relaxed attitude toward swim carnivals and sport in general is causing my kids to be weak, lazy, self-absorbed, pampered individuals who will have no backbone, resilience or determination. Oh, is that all?

I don't really care about the fact I won't be producing any Olympic champions, but I don't want to be responsible for unleashing Godzilla-like monsters on the rest of the unsuspecting world. I feel it's my civic duty to produce children who are polite, kind, responsible individuals. I want them to be good room-mates, good partners, good employees, good bosses, good citizens of the universe.

My eldest son used to play baseball when he was in primary school. I got a kick out of the fact that baseball was his chosen sport because, being from North America, at least I sort of understood the game! Perhaps, in retrospect, it would have been better if I hadn't had a clue. I have to say it was really painful watching him play. When he played T-ball, he was very easily distracted and would often be seen in the outfield using his glove as a puppet, or staring off into the sky. He frequently spaced out to the degree that when the ball finally went his way, he would stare at it as it flew past him as though it were some small delightful animal scampering by! Sometimes he would look around to see who was getting the ball, without any hint that it was meant to be him. You can imagine how the other parents and kids reacted with frustration. Every week I expected him to quit the game, but every week he showed up and gave it his best effort. His last season of T-ball he ended up winning a trophy with his team. He was surrounded by strong players and he blissfully rode on their coat-tails all the way to the top.

The following years, however, the game became more technical and skilful, and my son was way out of his league. I remember the coach painstakingly explaining the concept of stealing bases to my son. My heart sank because I knew how indecisive he was! He was a black and white kind of kid, and the choice of whether to stay on a base or steal it was agonising for him. Time after time, he would stand glued to the base with the coach, parents, and other players yelling at him to run. Of course, just as the moment to steal had safely passed, he would attempt to run! It was as though my hero Charlie Brown had come to life right in front of me, and I knew his familiar chant of "will I be the hero or the goat"?

It was the same with batting. He would stand with his bat cocked and ready, only to strike out every single time. I would like to say that he didn't get frustrated or upset, but he did. It broke my heart to see him fighting back the tears. His catching and throwing were so bad that the coach thought perhaps he should try the glove on his other hand! Even though I'm left-handed, and my son is clearly left-handed, in desperation I agreed to the ludicrous suggestion. Predictably, it made things worse and finally the coach had to admit that my son was just an extraordinarily bad player! At least the coach had a kind heart and was understanding. I can't say the same for the majority of parents and other players who laughed at my son, screamed at him from the sidelines, and basically made it known that he wasn't welcome on the field. And still, I waited for him to come to me and say he'd had enough. He never did. He played out that season and I marvelled at his courage to fail and keep on going. By another miracle his team won the championship game. In what can only be described as a classical cinematic moment, my son hit a wonky slow-motion line drive that was enough to allow two players to cross the line. After that season, he decided it was time to hang up his spikes! He still proudly displays his trophies, and his memories of his career are thankfully different from mine. He thinks he was a pretty good player.

It occurred to me this morning that what if all the "losers" decided not to show up? What if we all just stayed home and didn't participate? The simple answer is that some of the winners would have to become the losers! They might not like it! One of my son's team-mates, who was a talented player and used to bully my son, had the misfortune to strike out once. He put on quite the performance afterwards, swearing and kicking at the dirt. It may be character building, but the truth of it is, losing isn't much fun. My younger son went to the swimming carnival last year. He gave it a go and didn't enjoy it. He's not sporty and isn't really competitive. At least he gave it a go, but I don't think he needs to keep on losing to prove a point! My elder son played baseball because he loved the game. He loved going and he loved being part of a team and he loved the ice-cream he got after the game. Eventually it became too competitive and too serious and not much fun, so he quit. It's too bad that competition often takes the fun out of things. Winning is fun. Losing isn't so much fun!

So here's a message to all you winners out there, please remember that the losers play a valuable role. Without us, you wouldn't be having so much fun. And if we losers all decide to take a day off, then it might just be your turn to lose!

Monday, 1 September 2014

The Love Challenge!

I've been reading about "slacktivism" and the ice bucket challenge, which I'm sure you already know about, so I'm not going to bother explaining. I guess, though, my take on it is that surely anything anyone does that is positive, rather than negative, is a good thing? I was thinking about that on the drive home today from Sydney. I was also thinking about an elderly man I do work with. He is such a beautiful person, and today I saw him sitting on the toilet. I'm a volunteer, not a carer, so I don't have to do any of the bathroom stuff. But today I had to hold a roll of toilet paper while a carer ran off to get an absorbent liner thingy. The carer indicated that the man wouldn't mind if I saw him on the toilet. Thankfully he didn't notice me, because I minded on his behalf! Ageing really does suck.

But that's not my point! I was driving home thinking of how damn lucky I am to have privacy in the toilet! When I remember to lock the door, that is, and the kids don't bust in. Working with elderly clients has made me so appreciative of so many things. Mobility, freedom, privacy! Wow, these are all things I really have taken for granted. I am trying not to. I am trying to remember how important every second, of every minute, of every day is.

So, here's my point. I've come up with my own challenge! And perhaps it comes under the heading of "slacktivism", but I don't care. And I know that no-one actually reads this blog, but I don't care about that either! I am "putting it out in the universe", and that's all that matters. This is a personal challenge. I am sharing it because I hope other people might decide to take it on as well. There's no money involved, no-one to sponsor, and no cure! But I think this is really important.

Here's the challenge!! I challenge myself, and anyone else out there who reads this, to let go of the silly negative thoughts, to stop complaining at work, at the grocery store, at school pickup, at book club, at restaurants, at yoga, at home, at airports, at kids' birthday parties and on and on and on! I will try to think of my elderly friends and all that they represent, and all they have lost, and all they will continue to lose. I will try to be grateful for privacy and mobility and freedom, for being able to drive myself home, to make myself a cup of tea! Life is so simple, but we make it complicated. I don't want to complain anymore. I don't want to be part of the bad news I read and hear about. One of my heroes, Alice Herz-Sommer, who died recently, said this: "I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I look only for the good things."

I have a choice! We all have a choice. And I want to chose the good. I want to see the good, talk about the good, sing about the good, read about the good. The bad will come! It always does, and I'm not afraid of that. But I refuse to seek it out by complaining unnecessarily! Join me in this challenge. It's easy. Smile at people, be friendly, be joyful, be positive! Find something good about work, school, friends, family. Count your blessings, sing someone's praises. Say please and thank you. Ask people how they are. Hug someone. Slow down! Look around. Get off Facebook for a while. Look up from your phone. There is a beautiful piece of graffiti on a building in Newtown. I have it on my phone. It says: Love is the answer. When I spend a day with elderly people who are grateful for a smile and someone who notices them, I know this to be true.

My challenge is free and it's easy. I know that this isn't an original challenge, but when I was driving home, I had this thought of how great it would be if people complained just a tiny bit less. Of how nice it would be to walk into a grocery store where people were smiling and not looking sad or angry. Of newspapers that report positive stories as "news", rather than features for the lifestyle section. Of trains where people aren't afraid of making eye contact for fear of being abused. Of workplaces where people aren't complaining endlessly of being tired or caught up in the myriad of dramas that seem so important. Of family get-togethers where people aren't comparing houses, or jobs, or children, or achievements. Imagine that!

In the end, none of it matters. We are all subject to the same wheel of fortune, turning ceaselessly. So, choose happiness, choose love. Love is the answer! I will leave you with one more thought. This from Victor Frankl:

Everything can be taken from man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ... to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

Let me know how you go!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Do You Know Where You're Going To?

“Not all those who wander are lost.” 
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I am on a train heading into Sydney with a group of people from various other countries. They are being familiarised with taking the train to Sydney. The irony is not lost on me. I am, in some ways, probably more scared than they are!

I don't know them. I am not part of their group, but I am part of their journeyas they are now part of mine. Why should I be scared, you might ask? I have been in this country for many years. I am, for all intents and purposes, a privileged English-speaking white woman.

The lady across from me is outlining future excursions: a cooking workshop, a day spent decorating boomerangs and learning about Aboriginal culture, a bicycle trip. I am a bit envious. They all seem so eager and fresh and young! 

It brings back memories of my arrival in this country, of being plagued by a terror and a loneliness that threatened never to abate. Of course, I had the huge advantage of speaking the language, of understanding most (but not all!) of the customs, and the culture. With that, however, came assumptions. It was "understood" that I would fit in, that I needed no introduction, no explanation or assistance. And I felt obliged to hide my fearsto deny (even to myself) the depth of my insecurities, my isolation. 

Everything felt similar yet different. I was painfully aware that the onus was squarely on my shoulders to fit in, to belong. There was no interest in where I was from. It was as though my life had begun upon arrival in this country. My homesickness seemed inappropriateungrateful even! I felt the unspoken truth of what wasn't said out loud but rather implied: This is your life now. You are lucky to be here. Remember, though, because you weren't born here, you're not really one of us!

I survived the homesickness, the loneliness, the fear. I found a job, made new friends, had children, bought a house. I am lucky to be here! I have a truly wonderful life. And yet, that fear of arrival in a strange place has never left me. I am eternally the stranger, the visitor, the foreigner. I can't quite settle and relax completely. Everything still, after all these years, feels tentative. I have to "work" at feeling like I'm a part of things. I can't (I don't) take it for granted. I still get lost easily. I have just learned, after all this time, to drive to the outskirts of Sydney. I'm not yet ready to drive in the city. I'm running out of time though. I dare not leave it too late!

I am still scared of many things: being alone, homesickness, sadness, getting lost. The people on this trip are young. They are brave. And they have much greater barriers to overcome. I am glad they have a guide! I am glad they have each other. I am hopeful they will find their way, that they will have wonderful lives. I am inspired by their joy, their curiosity, their willingness to explore. Perhaps, I will never really feel as though I "belong" here, but being the witness, the observer, the stranger, gives me an awareness that I wouldn't otherwise have. I notice things others take for granted. It has made me more tolerant, more sensitive, more empathetic, more understanding. In short, it has made me a better person!

Monday, 11 November 2013

I don't know you ... I love you!

I haven't posted for a long time. There is plenty I could have written about, but I just couldn't seem to write it! I spoke it, though. I do like to talk!

I have a constant battle with myself about whether I should be writing at all. The ever-present crisis of confidence. The crisis I have about every aspect of my life. Am I a good mother ... am I a good editor ... am I a good friend ... am I a good [fill in the blank]??

There is one day of the week, however, where my inner critic takes a break, where I don't have time for the usual self-analysis. On this day, I spend time with people who have dementia. When I first started doing this, I felt all the usual trepidation, the usual doubt. Will I be good at this? Can I even handle being around people who are suffering such a cruel disease? I had some idea of what it would be like. My mum had dementia. It wasn't pretty. She had a slow agonising decline.

There is no doubt that dementia is a horrible illness. There is no doubt that watching someone you love slowly dying is heart-wrenching. I wasn't sure I had the "right stuff" to be around people with dementia.

I will admit, it's been a steep learning curve! It's not that I really "do" much. I sit with people, serve morning tea, do puzzles, serve lunch, chat. But you have to be completely "present" in what you do. It's the most important aspect of the job. Here's the amazing part. I love being there. It's a joy in so many unexpected ways. I don't know much about the past history of the people I'm with. I know very little of who they were before the disease took hold. This gives me an important advantage. Unlike their loved ones, I don't grieve for who they were. I can enjoy them for who they are now. I can be with them in the present. We sing, we dance, we laugh, we play with balloons, we talk, we comfort each other, sometimes we cry. They never fail to surprise me with their insight, their kindness, their gratitude. We take each day as it comes. Sometimes they remember me, usually they don't, but it doesn't matter. The only prerequisite is that I am "open" to whatever happens. I accept them for who they are now, and they accept me in the same way. There may not be a tomorrow.

A couple of weeks ago I was greeted with this by one of the dementia patients: "I don't know you ... I love you". If only we could all express that sentiment.

Today was Remembrance Day, and ironically I spent the day with people who are losing their memory. But it was the perfect place to be. One of the carers saw this quote on the way to work, and she wrote it on the board: "If the power of love could overcome the love of power, the world would be at peace"!

Remembrance Day, indeed.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Giving Good Blog!

So, I noticed a rather sizeable spike in my blog readership! Obviously, the strong, silent type readers, because they certainly haven't commented on anything I've written.

I am rather inclined to look for the cloud in any silver lining, so I was dubious about my new fan base. I decided to do a search on the domain that was providing my newfound popularity. According to other bloggers, it's a porn website! Imagine my surprise ... NOT!

I was trying to re-create the scenario. Joe Reader is online looking for his daily porn fix. He comes across one of my blogs entitled "Hooking in the Suburbs". "Ah," he thinks "this could be interesting. Perhaps a blog revealing the real secrets of desperate housewives!"

Instead, however, he discovers that the blog is talking about anxiety and the fine art of rug-hooking! Disappointed (and more than a little restless) Joe reads on, convinced at some point he will find what he's looking for. Then, an amazing thing happens, he becomes "hooked"! Yes, he was hoping for enormous boobs and shameless acts of debauchery, but instead he is drawn in by the subtle wit and stunning beauty of the prose he is reading. He is a convert!

This is fiction, of course. Joe and all of his friends came and went, or ... perhaps it was the other way around? Either way, you know what they say, what goes up must come down! And in my case it was the readership!

Fortunately, I'm not the least bit disappointed. Since starting this blog I have been discovering how much I like to write. How much I need to write. Sometimes, my inner critic tells me not to write. It is convinced that I have no business writing unless it's serious, unless it's important. But so much of my life is weighed down by seriousness. The thing that saves me is laughter. Funny things I read (like other people's blogs), funny friends, funny movies. I need laughter as much as I need writing! I like the serious stuff, too. In fact I've just finished reading the most beautiful, inspiring book, which I will share with you another time.

For now, though, I am just going to keep this one light. And to Joe, wherever you may be, thanks for the memories!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

My Induction into the Hall of Shame!

On Tuesday, I went for a WH&S induction. I was told that WH&S replaces the old OH&S framework. Apparently, HSRs help to monitor contractors. Contractors must ensure that appropriate PPE is used. Contractors must also provide up-to-date SDSs for all chemicals used on site. Furthermore, a PCBU has an absolute duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure health and safety of workers.

I wasn't sure if I was being inducted or if I'd stumbled into an English As a Second Language class! One acronym came to my mind ... WTF?!

In case you are wondering why I was participating in this induction (and surely you are!), I have been doing some volunteer work at a hospital in an arts program! Me and my new best friends (three electricians, an air cooling expert, and two cleaners at a mental health facility) were being inducted! 

I was very nervous. The course started at 8.30am and was held at the local hospital. I barely slept the night before. I've worked on my own for so long that I've forgotten what it's like to do any kind of course with real people in a real place of employment! This feels way too grownup for me!

"Do you think there will be a test?" I asked my husband. He had done this kind of thing before.
"Nah, not for this. You're just being inducted."
"Phew," I thought. 

"So," said the lady running the course, "first I will go through the presentation, then there will be a short quiz."

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck" (Me ... not her!)

"Now, don't worry," she assured us "no-one's failed it yet!"

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, I'm going to be the first person in history to fail." (me again!)

At least now I was alert and awake, despite my four hours of sleep. I then proceeded to annoy everyone by asking the teacher questions. I thought I'd better clarify things if there was going to be a quiz! Even she looked exasperated with me. I was slowing things down. People obviously had places to be. Finally, the moment of truth arrived. She handed out the quiz. 

"Now, I'm going to leave the room," she announced. "Feel free to discuss things, if necessary."

"Fuck, Fuck, Fuck, I came alone! People in front of me and behind me were whispering, comparing notes. Fuck, Fuck, Double Fuck!"

I read through the quiz. OK, I took a deep breath. I am an editor. The questions were multiple choice and seemed pretty obvious. Hesitantly, I answered the first few questions. So obvious!! What was I worried about. The cleaners behind me were agitated. The guys in front of me were crossing out answers. I was already done! 

The course instructor returned. She began marking the guys in front. Perfect score. The second guy (who looked to be the age of my eldest son) also got perfect! "Well done," praised the instructor. She must have had doubts about him! The next guy motioned for me to go. I knew he'd come with the others, so I let him go ahead. He looked pretty nervous. Perfect! 

Now, it was my turn. Correct, correct, correct ... and then a pause ... and then a big X! "Oh," she said, "looks like you've got one wrong!" 

I could feel my face getting hot. "Really?" I said.

She pointed to the question. It was a true or false answer: You are prohibited from consuming alcohol in the workplace.

I'd answered "False"!!!! 

"So, the correct answer would be?" she asked.

"Oh, yes, of course, the answer would be true!"

"It's OK, love," she said. "A lot of people get that one wrong. It's sort of a trick question."

I couldn't really see what was so tricky about it, other than the fact that you had to read the question carefully, which I obviously hadn't done ... unlike my friends, the electricians! Thankfully, I still passed the induction. I sheepishly accepted my card.

Something occurred to me later in the day. I work from home ... so, technically, I do allow alcohol in my workplace! 

I'm glad I didn't think of this at the time, however. I don't think the instructor would have appreciated my little joke!