Thursday, October 28, 2010

ONLY JUST MADE IT

I knew there was something I had planned to do last weekend, and it wasn’t until I picked up the outgoing mail from the office yesterday to post on my way home that I remembered. Do you ever get those ‘on the tip of your tongue’ moments, only they’re on the tip of your brain, those things just on the periphery of your thinking which were very clear in your head at some point or other, but have sadly gone missing at the moment you need to recall them or actually do them.

For me, the writing on the envelope was the writing on the wall and brought it back to me in one fell swoop. A letter addressed to the tax office reminded me I’d intended to put aside some time on the weekend to prepare my tax return, seeing as this is the final week to get it in on time.

What could I have possibly found to do of more importance than my tax that suppressed the memory of needing to face such a vital task? Bit of gardening, out for a coffee with friends on Saturday arvo, relaxing evening, church on Sunday, load of washing, bit of paperwork, curl up in the recliner to watch a movie. Hmm, easy to see how the importance of these things far outweighed the need to do my tax.

So, what was I doing last night? My tax obviously. Was quite proud of myself, located and downloaded the 2010 version of e-tax without calling for help from anyone, filled the whole thing out after compiling all the data from my records, sent it to the ATO and still had the kettle on for a cuppa by midnight, and in the middle of it all even managed to find time to watch the IT Crowd and RPA.

Admittedly, my tax return is a fairly uncomplicated thing, like me, and I’m often amused how procrastination can mess with my head. I have one job at work which I loathe, and the longer I put it off the bigger it looms as it takes on proportions far greater than it deserves. It’s like a mountain so steep I know I can’t conquer it, so I try to skirt my way round the edges, hoping it will somehow go away if I ignore it long enough. Doesn’t work though, and we’ve all found it’s usually as we face just one bit of the mountain, take one step to chip away at it, that the task begins to look a little more manageable.

There are those who ‘never put off till tomorrow what you can do today,’ and others who ‘never do today what you can put off till tomorrow,’ but in the end we all run out of ‘putting off’ time for whatever it is we’re neglecting. Almost forgetting to do my tax isn’t anything of earth shattering importance, but I wonder what other things of lasting value I’ve relegated to the too hard basket I need to attend to.

Ticking items off the To Do list is one thing, and doing that can bring a real sense of relief and achievement, but it’s usually the ‘people’ stuff where we can come unstuck. Spending time with our children, telling someone we love them, setting aside time to heal a broken relationship, going out of our way to support someone who’s struggling, these and many more take time and effort and in some cases a lot of courage. Even as I write, I’m challenged and confronted, for I can be lazy when it comes to making the sacrifices necessary to see someone else become more of who they’re destined to be.

But I’m optimistic. All mountains have a way to the top. You just have to find the right path.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO......WHAT?

I always thought it was to those who wait. Not according to Holden’s latest TV ad though. Their line “good things come to those who want” took me back in a flash to the 1987 movie Wall St and Michael Douglas’ line as the character Gordon Gekko promoting with great relish “greed is good”. Twenty three years later Douglas has returned as Gekko in Wall St – Money Never Sleeps, which I must admit I haven’t seen yet so I don’t know whether Gekko is as greedy as ever or whether he has realised there is more to life than chasing the almighty dollar.

Whether you’re a Baby Boomer like me or part of Generation X, Y or Z or whatever, I find the incessant emphasis on me, me, me more than a little tiresome. The belief that our cravings have to be satisfied now rather than later, which is obviously the point of advertising anyway, strikes at the heart of so many people’s insurmountable financial burdens, where huge mortgages, multiple credit cards maxed out to the limit, and living beyond their means brings them to the point of unavoidable crisis.

I don’t begrudge anyone going out and buying a Holden, far from it. Holden’s intention could have simply been that if you want something good, get a Holden instead of a Ford, maybe that was their idea. Maybe the ‘waiting’ was inherent in their thinking, that if you dream of owning your particular model of General Motors merchandise long enough, it will eventually be yours. Maybe it was simply, here’s a new model, therefore you have to want it. Whatever was behind their choice of the phrase, it certainly grated on me.

What’s so bad about waiting anyway? What makes us think we need instant gratification? Do we really need to pursue the relentless accumulation of stuff as if it’s our birthright? Whatever level of income we’re on, there does come a point when enough is enough, even if we do think we need that extra gadget, gizmo, accessory, or upgrade of the current model of whatever.

As opposed to the Holden TV ad ending of "you can never have too much of a good thing," I prefer to quote a line from the movie Sabrina

“More isn’t necessarily better, sometimes more is just more.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PATTERNS ALL AROUND ME





















Working with numbers a great deal of the time, I take pleasure in patterns which pop up occasionally. I woke up in the early hours this morning, rolled over and discovered it was 4:44am, and adding a whole pile of figures on

the calculator today the total came to $2323.23. Maybe small things please small minds, but I like those moments. Have lost count of how many times I’ve glanced at the clock and it’s been 9:11, which is quite bizarre, but it helps remind me of the tragedy of that day, remember the lives lost and spare a thought and prayer for the families of those who were killed.


I’ve enjoyed crosswords and all number of word puzzles since I was a kid, playing with words and rearranging letters in Scrabble and Boggle and suchlike to find the best combinations, looking intently at the letters to unravel the multitude of possibilities that can come out of the jumble and be put in order.

There are some patterns though which I’ve managed to avoid most of my life, mainly sewing ones and knitting ones. I wasn’t great at either, and I think it had something to do with the fact there was really only one way of doing the thing. The pattern is there, you follow it to the letter, and you end up with something pretty much like the picture, but maybe my attention span was too short. It’s obvious you need a pattern to follow to get the desired result, but there was something too rigid about it which didn’t appeal to me.

But it’s probably in nature where patterns surround us in such abundance, that I find most satisfaction. The humble daisy with its petals perfectly formed around its centre, a fern frond, shells, a spider’s web, river pebbles, a single leaf or feather, all have their own unique beauty. There are patterns which have a degree of symmetry, then there are others equally pleasing if not more so, for their irregularity. I never get tired of looking at the countless textures and colours of bark, running my hand over their surface, or being fascinated by the variety of clouds which herald all kinds of weather.

We come to rely on the pattern of some things, expecting a certain similarity, a predictability. It fits in with our idea of the order of things, how things should be, and it’s probably the same with patterns of behaviour too. Our daily observations produce a store of information about those we live and work with, we get to know their habits and personalities, so if someone does something we perceive to be out of character, irregular or unpredictable, our little personal cosmos can go into a spin. We can feel threatened, distressed or simply disappointed that what we thought could be relied upon, is no longer there.

Living with ambiguities is simply part of life. People can be unpredictable, life is messy, we’re all complex creatures, and none of us knows what tomorrow might bring. Despite our circumstances not always being within our control, what we can choose is how we respond in the moment.

I can face each new day with a sense of foreboding or a sense of hope. I’d like to think I can keep my heart open as well as my eyes, so I don’t miss the gifts often right in front of me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

NOT QUITE THE 'BURNIE TEN'

Woke up to a leaden sky and relative calm after another overnight gusty wind, but no snow on our side of the mountain this morning. Today was Burnie Ten day, and with all my good intentions a couple of months ago of participating in the annual 10km race dashed by doing my back in, I decided to stage my own version and do the Poatina Ten all by myself. Heading out with great gusto at lunchtime into a cool breeze but beautiful sunshine, I had to make a diversion on lap 3 back home to peel off some layers, and continued merrily on my way.

The arthritis in my hips and feet kicked in on lap 4, but I valiantly soldiered on, determined to make it all the way to the end. With a circuit of the village measuring roughly 1.25km, the goal was to complete 8 laps, and as the most I usually do in one hit is two and half laps it was going to be interesting to see how long it was going to take me.

Picking up a stone and depositing it on a marker at the end of each lap as I knew I’d probably lose count of which lap I was up to, the distance to the end decreased as the time ticked away. On lap 7 the sun disappeared and rain started falling, not that I minded, it was quite refreshing, and by lap 8 the sun was out again.

By the time I arrived home, albeit rather pleased with myself, every arthritic part of my body was burning, so not sure if I’ve done my fitness regime a favour or not. Liam Adams from Melbourne (with that surname he must be related somehow) took line honours in the real Burnie Ten in just under 30 minutes, while Sydney runner Lara Tamsett celebrated her third win in a row in the women’s section in just under 34 minutes. And how long did it take me? Mind you, I was walking, but my little escapade took me 2 hours. I’ll have to check out tomorrow’s results in the paper to see if anyone took longer than me, though I doubt there’ll be many, if any at all.

But I did it. With a bare minimum of preparation, I actually completed something I set out to do, and with that comes a certain satisfaction. So many of our dreams and goals have a habit of falling by the wayside over the years as we seemingly become more sensible and responsible. The flicker of hope or passion, idealism or determination which instigated an idea can so easily be lost in the reality of facing what’s right in front of us each day.

It doesn’t hurt to pick up one of those goals now and again and stretch ourselves to see if it can be reached. They say each journey starts with a single step, so if my 12,500 steps today can set me off in the right direction, that has to be a good thing.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW

Thought it was spring didn’t we, had even stopped lighting the fire every night, but coming home late last night to yet another freezing gale force wind which kept me awake as the tea tree scratched incessantly on my bedroom window, I thought the mountain might be capped with snow by morning.

Surprise, surprise, no snow in sight, but as I headed out the door at 10 o’clock I was amazed as white flakes started to fall. Even more puzzling was that the sun was shining. Snow in the village is not a common sight as we’re only at 300m partway up the mountain on the northern side of the Great Western Tiers. We usually only see it as the wind blowing straight off the mountain brings drifts of it across town, but the wind of the night before had blown itself out.

On and off during the day the flakes have come down again, alternating with sleet and hail at one stage, and snow clouds along the top of the mountain most of the day mean there’s probably at least a light cover of snow up there by now. Suffice to say, the fire was lit and I took up my post on the couch after lunch with my cosy blanket and a book.

Despite arriving home in a howling wind last night, two local residents were still out and about and took fright as I drove round the corner heading for my driveway. A mother possum caught in the headlights streaked across the road, only to get confused and go this way and that before retreating back again to shelter under a car, all the time with the precious cargo of her baby clinging on to her back for dear life. It was quite comical, and even with their generous coating of fur I felt for them as they continued their nightly foraging, hoping they would find somewhere cosy to snuggle up before daylight. Only hope it wasn’t in my roof.

As I sign off, the mountain has completely disappeared from view under a snow cloud so I’m expecting there’ll be more than a smattering of white stuff up there by tomorrow morning. Time to head back to the couch.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

TEN TEN TEN HAS A NICE RING TO IT

I couldn’t pass up a date like 10.10.10 without writing something. Such dates only occur for twelve years each century, after 12.12.12 that’s it until the twenty second century. Made me think about what I was doing on Jan 1st 2000, which was 01.01.00 so doesn’t quiet fit the category, but being the first day not only of a new century but a new millennium (except for the purists who maintain the new millennium didn’t start until 01.01.01) when more than a few were suffering the effects of the monumental New Year’s Eve parties and worldwide extravaganzas of the night before, my family was somewhat otherwise preoccupied. My daughter in law Mel suffered a ruptured appendix on New Year's Eve, so we'll certainly never have trouble remembering where we all were at the time.

With probably millions of dollars changing hands in the lead up to the big day, we all managed to survive the Millennium Bug so many had led us to believe would bring the world of computers crashing to its knees. Some of us spent nothing and survived just the same.

Dug out some old diaries to discover if I’d written anything of significance on those dates as the years passed.

01.01.01

Can’t remember. Not because I had a hangover, don’t have that diary.

02.02.02

Was a Saturday, two and a half weeks after my husband Bob’s diagnosis of a brain tumour. The time had passed in a blur of appointments, CT scans, MRI, down to Hobart for a biopsy which was a risky procedure in itself, brain surgeon who deemed the tumour inoperable, oncology specialist, radiation oncologist, and the day before we had been to the Launceston hospital for Bob to be fitted with his ‘mask’ for mapping the precise area to be radiated.

So, on that Saturday, we were having a decent rest in preparation for the long journey that lay ahead.

03.03.03

Bob had his last dose of chemo in January, and blood tests and an MRI during February had meant we had just received the news there was no more treatment available that would improve his condition. While still able Bob wanted to visit our friends who manage Lethborg Funeral Services so he could have some input into his funeral arrangements. An interesting time as we moved into the latter stages of his illness. It’s funny that in the midst of all this happening the things I have in my diary are mostly practical. Pick up prescriptions, renew RACT membership, pay car registration, doctor’s appointment, pick up shower chair.

04.04.04

It was a Sunday, that’s all I know, don’t have that diary. Probably went to church and did some weeding in the afternoon, don’t mind weeding.

05.05.05

Just an ordinary Thursday at work.

06.06.06

Don’t have that diary either.

07.07.07

Gift hunting for son Kris who turns 33 tomorrow. Which actually means this was the 33rd anniversary of going into labour with him. Maybe he should’ve been the one giving me a present!

08.08.08

First day of the Olympics in Beijing, significant date on the Chinese calendar. Busy day in Launceston doing my usual Friday run around of work things before doing the grocery shopping with my granddaughter Bella in mind, seeing as she’ll be having her first sleepover at Nanny Di’s tomorrow without her Mum and Dad who will be in Hobart. It’ll be strange having her all to myself.

09.09.09

Normal Wednesday work day, though I left an hour early to cook and set up ready for the arrival of a dozen visitors as it’s my week to host Community Tea, a weekly event in our village where just about everybody heads out into the night with a casserole or such like under their arm to enjoy each other’s company over a shared meal. With a population around 140, we all know each other at one level, but even in a small community like this it takes time to go beyond pleasantries in order to live and work closely together with shared goals. (See June 26 for a run down on one I prepared earlier!).

10.10.10

And so to today. Had a fairly quiet one after using up most of my energy yesterday mowing, whipper snipping and weeding. Ah, don’t you love Spring. One lovely moment was when a friend from round the corner happened to be passing with a mower as I was about to start on the front yard, and proceeded to mow the entire back yard in half an hour, a project I was contemplating tackling over two days. His gift to me meant I didn’t have to overtax the old back which I’ve been very kind to over the past few weeks. That’s one of the things I find so encouraging about living here, being present in someone else’s thinking to the extent they’ll go out of their way to care for you.

I did make a bit of an effort though, heading out for a brisk 3.5km before a late breakfast. Couple of loads of washing, bit of reading, writing, even a little work related arithmetic, curled up with an even later lunch and watched Remember Me, not a bad movie, poignant ending, worth seeing.

We never know what each day may bring our way, and what we do on any given day may seem quite mundane and of little importance in the grand scheme of things, but one line from the movie sums it up well for me.

Whatever you do in life will be insignificant, but it’s very important that you do it - Gandhi

Saturday, October 9, 2010

HUMAN RIGHTS FOREVER ON THE AGENDA

My current reading matter is interesting in the light of events in two parts of the world during the week. Archbishop Desmond Tutu announced his retirement from public life on Thursday on his 79th birthday, and while I’m only half way through his biography Rabble Rouser for Peace by John Allen, it was interesting to hear him respond in an interview that he wondered whether he would have been able to achieve more if he had been less strident, as he put it.

I very much doubt it, for without his combination of compassion, strong moral stance and a voice which would not be silent, advocating for the rights of black South Africans suffering under the oppressive Apartheid regime, I wonder how we’d be viewing South Africa’s more recent history and current state. Truth, justice, reconciliation, mercy, compassion have always been uppermost for him as he has lived out his Christian faith in a very public arena where he had little choice but to be involved in the sphere of politics if he was to be true to what he believed.

And on the other side of the globe, jailed human rights activist Liu Xiaobo was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, much to the ire of the Chinese government. Coming under the government’s watchful eye since the Tiananmen Square student pro-democracy movement was dramatically crushed in 1989, Liu was jailed in December last year and faces an eleven year jail term for writing a manifesto calling for free speech and multi party elections.

Have just read The Vagrants by Yiyun Li, her debut novel set in Communist China during 1979. Mao Tse Tung’s decade long Cultural Revolution has run its course, Mao has died, but the country is firmly in the grip of Communist rule. Counter revolutionaries, or those deemed to be so, are frequently arrested, jailed, tried and denounced in a very public display, and many executed.

Set in a provincial town, news starts to leak through of the Democracy Wall in Beijing, an actual wall which from Dec 78 to Dec 79 was made available for people to post criticisms of previous leaders and failed government policies. Under the government’s policy of finding the truth through facts, the venture obviously backfired as the government found itself increasingly under attack. The wall where poets, writers, dissidents and human rights activists alike had felt free to have their say, was subsequently removed and relocated to a place where people had to sign in to use it, therefore suppressing any form of free political speech.

Li’s novel is set amid this turbulence, the main characters working through their reactions to the execution of a young woman disenchanted with the Communist government who has been in jail for ten years because of her outspoken views.

The general population were in a quandary as to how to react to the protest, which side to take. Offices became minefields where one had to watch out for oneself, constantly defining and redefining friends, enemies, and chameleons who could morph from friends to enemies and then back again. With their fates and their families’ futures in their hands, these people sleepwalked by day and shuddered by night.

Through the actions of the characters following the execution we get a glimpse of life under an oppressive regime, how power and order and obedience are maintained through fear and terror, suppression and deprivation. From reading not only these two books, I have the overwhelming sense both in Communist China and South Africa under Apartheid, of a vast population of the living dead or the walking wounded, people going through the motions of daily life, trying desperately to hang on to their personal dignity and integrity while suffering the indignities of rulers who deem their individual rights to be of little consequence.

Even the executed woman’s father couldn’t bring himself to protest. He tried not to think about what had happened outside his home – the only way to live on, he had known for most of his adulthood, was to focus on the small patch of life in front of one’s eyes.

Thank God there are those who are still prepared to look beyond that patch in front of their eyes and put their welfare at risk by taking on the governments and dictators and regimes which deny their people the basic right to be and become what they choose. Where there's no freedom there can be no trust. Where there’s no trust, there’s no freedom.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

HAPPINESS IS CONTAGIOUS

Hadn’t flicked over my desk calendar for almost two weeks as I’ve hardly been here to sit in front of the computer. Pre conference chaos, conference itself, then post conference tiredness has meant I’ve only done the bare minimum, especially in terms of housework. Thought for today on the calendar is Happiness is contagious. Start an epidemic today.

Sounds simple enough, probably trite to some, but there’s certainly an element of truth there. We’re in the middle of Adams Family celebration week, three birthdays and a wedding anniversary all in one week, so we all got together today with half an interest in the Grand Final rematch which was supposed to be a bang but fizzled to a whimper.

Bella had been to her best friend’s 5th birthday party at the The Fairies Shop so was looking very fairy princess like, and proceeded to rope most of us into spending the rest of the afternoon drawing which was a great hit. Even Zandar who is 16 months old got into the act, liberally covering his hands as well as the paper with the textas in between trying to taste test each colour.

It’s amazing how something so simple when enjoyed together really can be contagious. We can waste so much of our lives in the pursuit of happiness, for if we do, happiness as an end in itself will always elude us. For me, happiness is a by-product of life, only found when we pursue other things outside ourselves. Funnily enough, in the process of focusing on others and getting out there with a bunch of people doing something for someone else, the outcome brings a smile to your face and a sense of being in the right place at the right time.

Sometimes it takes a massive catastrophe like 9/11 or the Boxing Day tsunami or the floods in Pakistan for us to realise we are not the centre of the universe. The pain and suffering is on such an enormous scale we feel helpless, and the tendency can even be to switch off to the horror of it all as we withdraw into what we feel we can manage. Beyond making a donation to relief appeals there may not be other ways we can respond to these huge disasters, but making conscious decisions on whatever scale to step out of our immediate worlds and reach out to those of another certainly won’t hurt us.

So, here’s to birthdays and any other family get together or community celebration where you can simply sit around and enjoy each other’s company and be yourself, looking out for each other and finding ways to bring a little joy into someone else’s life. Sowing the seeds of joy or happiness or peace or reconciliation in even one person’s life can reap benefits many times over.