Sunday, May 30, 2010

LISTING TO STARBOARD

Crook back Day 4. Actually managed to get out of bed in a standing position this morning instead of slithering out lizard style and crawling to the bathroom. Amazing how hard the rest of your body has to work to keep your lower back stable when it’s threatening to throw you into the screaming jeebies at the slightest provocation. Abdominals have been working overtime. Shuffled with a distinct lean to starboard until I could make it to the shower and dispense with a few hundred more litres of hot water in order to get my body moving and into an upright position.

Went through the delicate process of dressing, have invented a few interesting manoeuvres over the years when in this painful state. Ever wondered how to put on your undies, socks and trackie pants when you can’t bend? Maybe I should put out a self help manual for the countless thousands with chronic back pain, complete with pictures. Illustrations mind you, not photos, it’s not a pretty sight.

So, with the house in a shambles, the fire roaring to keep me nice and warm, went for a walk round the block which is the best thing I could do, managed a few gentle exercises to begin the road to recovery, too sleepy to read so dug out some more movies which I’ve seen umpteen times seeing as there was still nothing worth watching on the box.

Here’s hoping I can front up to work tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

OOOH......IT'S A PAIN IN THE..................BACK!

Many many moons ago I fronted up to our local brand spanking new sports centre for a complementary aerobics session and spa courtesy of a friend who’d just joined up. This’d be a bit of fun I thought, but it proved to be my first and last aerobics lesson, for the next day I was in hospital trying to undo the damage, and now, 26 years later, I am still paying the price. Seems the innocent enough stretching exercise sitting on the mat was my undoing, and I now know why so many programs include the disclaimer of suggesting you seek doctor’s advice before embarking on such endeavours which I discovered were fraught with danger. Not that I’d ever had a problem with my back before then, but since that day my poor body hasn’t been the same.

Without boring you with the details of how many visits I’ve had back and forth to doctors and physios, being carted off to hospital in screaming agony because I’m stuck and can’t get up or down, Xrays of this and that which don’t show anything amiss, medication of one sort or another, I’m now back in that unfortunate place where I have to go back to square one and deal with the debilitating pain before I can come out the other side and be properly functional again. For some reason, in all those years, no-one had thought to investigate any further to come up with a definitive diagnosis, so it wasn’t until I pushed four years ago that I had a CT scan which revealed three protrubing lumbar discs which had a habit of moving a millimeter or two and getting themselves jammed in between the vertebrae. Pain, pain, spasm, spasm.

Gotta get up and walk around, even sitting for two paragraphs doesn’t help.

Back again. I have long abandoned the advice which seemed to be the norm in the past, that of rest and lying flat on your back. All that did was seize me up completely and prolong the problem, so I experimented with keeping as mobile as possible within the confines of what I was able, which has been borne out in advice of more recent years. Sitting doesn’t help, going to bed is the worst, especially when the only way you can get out again is to slither backwards on your stomach then crawl on hands and knees to where you can hang on to something you’re not going to rip out of the wall to pull yourself up again. Long hot showers are the best time of day, too bad about the environmental impact, this is survival.

It’s been four years since I had to endure one of these extreme episodes. 95% of the time I manage the restrictions of the original injury well, but I didn’t anticipate getting a plate out of the cupboard for my morning toast was going to jeopardise my wellbeing. So, this is Day 3, thank goodness it’s the weekend. With some happy pills to help me get through the first few agonizing days I’m back to doing gentle mobilization routines on the floor and the exercise ball, my neighbours have been kind enough to bring in my shopping and stack wood in the heater, the place is cosy and warm and I’m watching old movies ‘cause there’s nothing decent on TV. Even managed to do the last two day’s dishes.

Soup for dinner, no energy to attempt anything more adventurous.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

BULKY BARGAINS?

When is a special not a special? The practice of supermarkets offering specials on selected grocery items if they are purchased other than as single items is nothing new, but the more recent trend of only offering the special price if purchased in ever increasing numbers has been aggravating me for quite some time.

Having to purchase two loaves of bread to get the special is one thing, but when it starts to stretch to four or five items to get the special price it’s beginning to become a bit of a joke. Perusing the specials for this week, I find Woolies have gone a bit over the top. I always have a supply of the small tins of flavoured tuna in the cupboard, but to get the special price this week I have to buy ten. Now come on Woolies, if you can afford to sell them off at 10 for $10, then you can afford to sell them for $1 each, which would probably net you more income anyway because more people would buy them.

Then there’s 2 blocks of chocolate (do we really need 2), 4 bottles of soft drink (way more sugar than we need), 3 packets of pasta & sauce, 5 tins of baked beans (Blazing Saddles flashback), 2 packets of Tim Tams (even more sugar), 2 packets of disposable nappies, 4 tins of cat food, 2 packets of potato chips, 5 Lean Cuisine meals and the list goes on. Now, it’s obvious none of these things are going to be wasted, but I often wonder at the reasoning of the supermarket chains on this insistence to buy in bulk. No supermarket is going to intentionally lose money, so you can bet your boots they’ll make a profit even if an item is reduced, and whether you buy one or more.

For those trying to balance the weekly grocery budget, especially those on low incomes, Centrelink benefits or pensions who need to take advantage of specials just to get through the week, purchasing those items is not always an option. Buying multiples of one thing means you have to leave other things behind, and for those who don’t need ten tins of tuna in one hit but would rather buy one so they can spend their grocery budget wisely, the choice simply is not there. I know I feel robbed if I buy only 1 item of a bulk special, and feel somewhat discriminated against simply because I don’t have sufficient funds to buy more.

A bargain is a bargain, and Woolies certainly have some good ones this week, but items are either on special or they’re not, so if they are, how about a return to giving customers the choice to purchase according to their own need.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

COLOURS OF AUTUMN




Have long puzzled over the mass migration to the north of the country and the supposed delights of never ending sunshine, long walks on sandy beaches at sunset, barbecues whenever you feel like it, getting your washing dry the same day you do it, spending more time outside than in, lush tropical rainforests, rarely having to drag out a warm jumper…….hmmm, when you put it that way, I guess it does sound inviting.

Not for me though. Been there, done that, had my northern exposure for eight years, and there’s definitely another side to the equation. Mainly the heat, the never ending sunshine, the six months of dripping sweat, the humidity which breeds mould on your shoes at the back of the wardrobe, the cockroaches in every nook and cranny, the three showers a day in summer just to survive because you feel like peeling your skin off, the dirty sock smell of your washing because it’s been rained on and almost dried several times before coming in off the line, oh, did I mention the heat, and the never ending sunshine? Beautiful one day, perfect the next? Nah!

During my sojourn in the North, headed down south of the border on one occasion and began to sense something different but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Took a while, but suddenly realised it was the presence of autumn colours, something I wasn’t accustomed to, unless you headed inland to cooler regions and happened to find some deciduous trees. Believe it or not, the perennial greenery can become tiresome, and the sight of the burnished tones of autumn can be a real tonic to one who delights in the cycle of seasons.

Woke to a crisp frost this morning, brilliant clear blue sky, a bite in the air to make you feel alive. Not sure I would’ve wanted to have felt quite as alive as those up on the Great Western Tiers at Liawenee today for the Trout Festival who almost managed a record low with -9C overnight. Don’t think the fingers would have been able to successfully bait a hook to throw in, nor would I have had the patience to stand in one place and freeze in the unlikely event I would’ve been rewarded with a fishy lunch.

So, the North can keep the heat and humidity, I don’t miss it, gets plenty hot enough for me here, and when it’s not there’s always the fire to keep you warm, mornings shrouded in mist, brisk walks rugged up against the cold, robin redbreasts in the garden, snow on top of the Western Tiers of a winter’s morning, the distinct characteristics of each season, thermals to keep out the cold, a big pot of thick homemade soup simmering on the stove, weekends curled up on the couch reading a book or watching a movie.

Autumn and Winter, I love it. Better go chop some wood, supposed to get below zero tonight.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

OUTCASTS UNITED - THE CHALLENGE OF ASSIMILATION

I struggle to read non fiction most of the time. Unless it’s something I really want to research or is an enthralling subject in its own right, it feels like I’m back in High School reading textbooks about events and people far removed from my own experience. Despite the fact they may have had global impact, the reading matter can be very dry and rarely comes to life.

Perusing the first few pages of yet another “special” from one of my favourite bookstores, Outcasts United looked like it was going to be very different. Admittedly, the subject is very current, the resettlement of refugees from war torn nations around the world, but to enter the world of the vast range of people groups brought together in one place on the other side of the world, and those attempting to ease their transition into this new world, was inspiring yet confronting.

This immensely readable story of Jordanian born Luma Mufleh who single handedly established the Fugees soccer teams in Clarkston US, comes from Warren St John, a reporter with the New York Times. Moving to Atlanta to spend time with Luma and the Clarkston community, he follows the boys through a full season as they take on their opposing teams, most of whom are long established and well financed. We join this disparate group as they take their first tentative steps into a new culture, and live through their victories and setbacks, not only on the playing field.

We enter a world no one should have to cope with, especially young children, but what for many is becoming more the norm as they suffer at the mercy of military dictatorships, autocrats, despots, warring factions within nations, racial and religious oppression. For whatever reason, the choice eventually becomes very clear, you flee or die, so the refugee camps around the world swell to alarming rates and the laborious process of resettlement begins.

Imagine if you will this town in America’s south, on the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia. We’re talking a hop, step and jump from Ku Klux Klan territory, and somehow, somewhere a decision is made to designate Clarkston as a refugee resettlement area. Not one person here and there, not just one family who a community would probably feel equipped to welcome and look out for, but from the 1990s literally thousands have come to Clarkston and been housed in apartment blocks, changing the demographic within this traditional Southern town.

Luma Mufleh, who decides to settle in America after completing her university studies, moves south simply because the climate suits her better, a decision which will bring her into the lives of countless refugees who she sees struggling to integrate themselves into their new home. It is also obvious the surrounding community is struggling to accommodate this invasion of people from cultures totally foreign to them. As a keen player herself, Luma believes football would be a good contribution to make as a way for the young boys to occupy their time.

Her role becomes much more than football coach, for to make real progress she finds it necessary to extend beyond the game and work with the boys and their families, advocating on their behalf in all sorts of situations. Finding only a few locals who have adapted to the influx of the refugees, it is an uphill battle to instil the confidence the boys need to compete, as well as bring them together as a cohesive group.

St John’s writing style reads almost like a novel, making you want to turn the pages to follow this unravelling story of trauma, grief, dislocation, poverty, determination and hope. In the whole book he only uses three pages in which to theorise, quoting British researcher Steven Vertovec’s findings into his studies of what he calls super diversity, the result of a broad range of cultures being brought together in one place. For the remainder, the attitudes and values of the individuals and community and their consequences are depicted as the story unfolds.

What I found challenging was not only the courage of this woman who wouldn’t take no for an answer, who was determined to set up a structure which would have a future, but the impact the refugee resettlement had on the local community. What St John notes as he spends time with long term Clarkston residents is not that they are necessarily racially prejudiced in their attitude to the multitudes coming into their town, but rather they are dealing with a sense of loss of what they have known all their lives. Their social cohesion has come into question, they fear the unknown, and are at a loss to know how to relate to people so different from themselves.

It was interesting when moving to Tasmania fifteen years ago to see how predominantly “white Caucasian” the population was after living on the mainland. In the intervening years refugees from Kosovo and African nations have been resettled here, but not to the extent in Clarkston. What the residents there failed to realise when they referred to the refugees in one lump, as a group totally foreign to them, was that each resettled people group felt as much apart from the other nationalities they were living next to, as the culture into which they had been brought.

The challenge was for this community within a community to find a voice, and in doing so, find their place within the wider community and feel accepted enough to make it their new home. To make space for those different from ourselves is always a challenge, whether they are from another culture or not. We have to be prepared for the chaos they might bring, for the demand it may make on our time and lifestyle. When the question is asked, what will be my response?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

CAN'T SEE THE WOOD FOR THE TREES

Crunch time, out came my humble little offering of Where’s Grandpa? to be hung, drawn and quartered by my writing peers. Amazing how just a few minutes of someone else’s perusal of your supposed ’work of art’ can bring to light issues or features previously unrecognized. We are too close to how we act to see ourselves as others see us, and too close to our creative efforts to see the finer points or rough edges which others may see quite clearly.

In small groups at my ‘Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books’ Adult Ed course on the weekend, we had a go at critiquing each other’s work, not with a view to pulling them apart, but having a go at the process we will have to do more stringently for ourselves when we’re operating in isolation. Noting those things which grab us, either good or bad, things which are confusing or ambiguous, in order that the finished product will improve in the process.

It’s no simple thing, allowing someone else to read what you think is a fairly ok piece of writing, especially a bunch of strangers. Armed with the directives of “don’t take it personally” and for constructive feedback to include both positives and negatives, it was quite a liberating experience, making it easy to listen and overcome the temptation to be defensive. In the creative session which followed my 524 word story lost 122 superfluous words, and I think was much better for it.

Actually, having people you’ve never met before look over your work is a darn sight more profitable than sharing it around your family and close friends. Those closest to you are rarely objective enough to be of much use, because their response will usually be dependent on their relationship with you. When you need someone to look constructively at what you’ve produced, go further afield. That way, you eliminate any confusion of a critique of your work being a criticism of you as a person.

Funny how difficult it is to separate ourselves from what we do or what we create. We are judged by our behaviour, our skills and our achievements. If in our own mind we don’t measure up to the one standing next us, it’s easy to assume we are therefore a lesser human being. What doesn’t come into the equation is our intention, our desire to try something new, our attempts to step outside our comfort zone, those moments when we have the courage to not let the past determine the future. If we could rate ourselves on that basis, and not on the final product, then maybe we’d be a little gentler on ourselves.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

SHORT AND SWEET

In the back of my mind these past few decades, and obviously too far in the back, has been the notion that somewhere inside of me is a novel germinating just waiting to be brought to life. Unfortunately, nothing has burnt a big enough hole in my brain or awakened a big enough passion to spur me on to complete any of the umpteen shelved stories which seemed like a good idea at the time. So I’m taking a different tack.

If I can’t sustain a storyline over a long period of time with myriads of characters and plot twists then I’ll keep it simple. Great Grandpa Percy’s Garden is 499 words long, and Where’s Grandpa? 524 words. There you go, two complete stories printed out ready to be critiqued and pulled apart at this week’s Adult Ed ‘Writing and Illustrating Children’s books’ course. One main character, very little dialogue, simple story, sounds like a breeze. A children’s story may not take an eternity to write, but if the intention is for it to be a picture story book, then the road ahead is littered with as many obstacles, if not more, as a regular book with no pictures.

Finding a publisher willing to even contemplate your little offering can take an eternity in itself, giving your story to an illustrator can be like handing over your children for someone else to raise, and waiting the three years or more for the whole process to come to fruition if you are fortunate enough to be published, takes a monumental amount of patience. Not to mention the determination to see it through to the end. With a $40,000 price tag on a first run for a children’s picture book, no publisher is going to do you any favours unless there’s a profit to be made down the track.

My reactions when I scour the shelves in any book store are a mixture of awe and discouragement. Awe, that so many people have managed to actually complete something considered worthy of publication, and discouragement that as a late starter I may never make it that far. Maybe I really have nothing worth saying that will make a dent in the market, and the thought of pouring my blood, sweat and tears into a lengthy tome, only to have it gather dust after countless rejections, makes me not want to even bother beginning.

So the same conundrum keeps coming back to haunt me. To reach the desired outcome you have to make a start, you have to put in the hard yards, and if, and it’s a big if, you do actually manage to complete something, you then have to go right back to square one to begin the next cycle of sending the thing on its way as it negotiates the rocky road to publication. But, if you don’t start, you don’t get there. A bit like the old Northern Territory tourism advert.

You’ll never never know, if you never never go.

Monday, May 3, 2010

IN THE DOG-HOUSE

Oh dear, after leading for three quarters last Friday night, the Saints did it again and whipped the Doggies in the last quarter. Dreadful low scoring game, and at the end of Round 6 I managed to score 5 and slipped a further 1,777 places down the ladder in the AFL comp to position number 35,076. As compensation though, I am in first position in my family comp, but then there are only three of us in that one, plus seventh out of seventeen in our local village comp. Will see how things are going in a few weeks, hopefully I can attempt to crawl back up the ladder and be in a slightly more respectable position.