Monday, April 13, 2020

this staying home thing could be transformational

Somewhere along the way I taught my little guy about savouring. I don’t remember when exactly, and I’m not particularly good at doing it myself, but it was a lesson he took to heart. Often, just as I’m about to gobble down my last delicious mouthful of honey-drenched crumpet, he will look reproachfully at me over the top of his quarter-eaten, jam-covered crumpet and say, “Cec! You didn’t savour it!” And I will guilty admit that, indeed, I did not savour it, before praising him up for his excellent savouring skills. He often blows me away with his ability to hold back, hold on, delay gratification and relish every little morsel of his sweet treats. It is surely remarkable for a boy his age to be able to do that? At least I find it remarkable.

Savouring has to be a perfect example of mindfulness, doesn’t it, if mindfulness is deliberately choosing to notice something? Savouring is taking the time to be very present in the moment and feel all the feels - the tastes, the sights, the smells, the sounds - and appreciate them. (That would be the main difference to mindfulness. Mindfulness suspends judgement and notices what is, without deciding whether it is good or bad. Savouring adds an element of pleasure to the noticing.) Savour - squeeze every last drop of goodness out of the moment and hold it close to your heart. It’s a way to identify the good that is around us when sometimes we can’t see it through the mess of life.

I am reading Julia Baird’s book “Phosphoresence. On awe, wonder & things that sustain you when the world goes dark.” (Could there be a more appropriate book for this time. Or a more beautiful cover?!). She sees savouring as one way of getting through dark times. And there’s research to prove it. There is also research that shows the richer people are, the less likely they are to savour life’s pleasures. Julia Baird quotes Jordi Quiodbach: “experiencing the best things in life... may actually mitigate the delight one experiences in response to the more mundane joys of life, such as sunny days, cold beers and chocolate bars.” Or as Julia puts it, “a sense of pleasure can be dulled over time by repitition and abundance”. Too much of a good thing means we stop enjoying the good things.

Which makes me wonder if our enforced isolation might present us with an opportunity, not just a loss. I’m putting this out there tentatively, because I know I write from a place of safety and privilege. For many, isolation is placing them under stress and in danger. I do not want to minimise the horror and upheaval of this time.

But for those of us whose needs are met at this time, maybe our senses will be heightened by this isolation. Perhaps in being deprived of many of the things that give us pleasure and meaning, we can better savour the goodness of our lives. As our sensory overload is reduced, is it possible we will notice more, appreciate more, enjoy more? Not just when we are released from our homes and can sally forth into the world once more, but right here, right now in the four walls of our houses.

Maybe in staying home, we will rediscover some joy of living, right when we think much of the joy of life has been taken from us.

I hope so.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

i’m stuck at home so may as well blog

Here we all are, at home to keep COVID-19 at bay.

Such a strange turn of events, I don’t seem much able to get my head around it.

I mean I understand it, of course. A new coronavirus jumped across to humans in China towards the end of November last year, and we have no immunity to it so it’s spreading rapidly from person to person, and many people have a mild illness, but some people develop a severe illness that means they need hospital and may even die, and because so many of us will catch this novel virus, that means lots of people will need hospitalisation and our health systems may well be overwhelmed, in fact that is what is happening in Italy, Spain, the UK, and the USA. So to stop the health system in Australia from being oversubscribed, we are all ordered to stay home to slow the spread of the virus so less people need hospital all at once.

It all makes sense, and I’m happy to stay at home to ‘flatten the curve’. I certainly don’t mind having extra time to do lots of jobs I never usually get to. Like today, I pulled the plastic cover off the dining table and scrubbed both sides of it and sat it in the sun to dry. An excellent job to do. I was hoping the sun would flatten it out a bit so we have less annoying lumps on the table. But it’s April and the sun isn’t really strong enough for that these days. I’m still glad I tried though. It’s been on my list of things to do for a long time. Extra time at home isn’t all bad.

But I still can’t get my head around it.
I admit to being a little bit happy capitalism is getting a kick up the butt. The government is throwing fists full of money around to keep the economy ticking over. Please don’t think too much about how they are doing it in a way that still says the economy is king, using businesses as their vehicle to get the money out there rather than giving it straight to the people. Turn a blind eye to the insistence commercial landlords support commercial tenants, while there is minimal assistance for residential tenants. And best to ignore the way they are still racist and pejorative in their treatment of people from other lands... Just try and focus on how good it is that they are recognising people need money. I mean, they’ve (temporarily) increased Newstart to a figure that makes living more achievable! Haven’t they even changed the name of the payment to “Jobseeker”? They’ve decided people without jobs aren’t all bad, they’re just a victim of these cursed COVID-19 circumstances. They’ve had to make some pretty dramatic shifts in ideology to help people get through these crazy times and I love it.

But I can’t get my head around it!

I’ve been trying to do my bit to help other people keep going. Can you imagine being a restaurant or cafe and all of a sudden your business is entirely lost? Crazy, crazy stuff. So we’ve upped our takeaway intake to support those incredible businesses that have been flexible and adaptable and creative and innovative. They amaze me with their ingenuity and fleet footed decision making. But it’s weird you know - driving through dark, quiet streets with so few cars on the road. Parking right out front of the eatery before ducking in quickly and keeping our distance from each other.

What the hell? How did we end up like this? I still can’t get my head around it.

And at home. Schooling... or something. Work... or something. This isn’t what I signed up for!

My head gets it all. I totally understand. But my heart, my feelings, my soul? All stuck back in that other life, pre-COVID-19. Sure, there are things I hope change because of this, so many things. But I feel like I’m spinning on my axis and can’t stop and get my balance. Everything is out of whack and I’m OK and not OK all at once.

Will I ever get my head around it?

Friday, February 16, 2018

are they talking about me?!

I've just read 'Big Little Lies' by Liane Moriarty.  Gobbled it up in one weekend, not because I'm four years behind the rest of the world in discovering it's a cracking story, but because it really is a cracking story.  Filled with so many little observations of life that are just spot on.  Insightful about human nature and what makes us tick. And as I said, a cracking story.  I was bleary eyed for work on Monday because I had to know who did it.  Heck, I couldn't put it down because I didn't even know who had died, leave alone who did it!

Anyway, I began to wonder if Liane Moriarty modelled Madeline on me.  From the moment she jumped out of her car at the traffic lights to give the teenagers in front what for over texting while driving to her indignation over... everything.  Madeline is me.  I am Madeline. (OK, I've never actually got out of the car to tell someone off for using their phones, but I've been mad about it inside my car.  And I have stalked up to a group of teenagers who threw litter on the ground in City Park, snatched up the rubbish and told them tartly that littering is not OK, it's just not OK).

Page 239 was the clincher.  The whole page.  Change the name, and it is me.

"She didn't know how to be around Abigail anymore.  It reminded her of trying to be friends with an ex-boyfriend.  That studied casualness of your interactions.  The fragility of your feelings, the awareness that the little quirks of your personality were no longer so adorable; they might even be just plain annoying.

"Madeline had always played up to her role in the family as the comically crazy mother.  She got overly excited and overly angry about things.  When the children wouldn't do as they were told she huffed and she puffed.  She sang silly songs while she stood at the pantry door, 'Where oh where, are the tinned tomatoes?  Tomatoes, wherefore art thou?'  The kids and Ed loved making fun of her, teasing her about everything from her celebrity obsessions to her glittery eye-shadow.

"But now, when Abigail was visiting, Madeline felt like a parody of herself.  She was determined not to present to be someone she wasn't.  She was forty!  It was too late to be changing her personality.  But she kept seeing herself through Abigail's eyes and assuming that she was being compared unfavourably to Bonnie.  Because Abigail had chosen Bonnie, hadn't she?  Bonnie was the mother Abigail would prefer.  It actually had nothing to do with Nathan.  The mother set the tone of the household.  Every secret fear that Madeline had ever had about her own flaws (she was obviously too quick to anger, often too quick to judge, overly interested in clothes, spent far too much money on shoes, she thought she was cute and funny when perhaps she was just annoying and tacky {emphasis is mine}) was now at the forefront of her mind.  Grow up, she told herself.  Don't take this so personally.  Your daughter still loves you.  She's just chosen to live with her father.  It's no big deal.  But every interaction with Abigail was a constant battle between 'This is who I am, Abigail, take it or leave it' and 'Be better, Madeline, be calmer, be kinder, be more like Bonnie'."
Inside my head, I tell you. It was a bit of a worry actually, thinking that if Madeline was the murderer, perhaps that said something about me.  No spoilers here - if you haven't read it, I recommend the book.  And it may well have been Madeline who knocked another school parent off.  Or it may not have been.  Ha.

[In other news, I'm feeling good about reading a book last weekend, because I've set myself a goal of reading a book a month this year... I wasn't meaning novels when I set the goal, but I'll take it.  Got myself off Facebook enough to take in some dubious literature.  And now I've blogged about it.  Two goals ticked off.  Winning.  Kind of.  Now I'm off to find the TV series somewhere.]

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

before facebook i...

Read books
Looked at the sky
Cooked cakes
Wrote letters
Knitted jumpers
Had more time
Kept a journal
Hunted out information for myself
Tidied up
Grew vegetables
Made cards
Reflected on who I am and where I am going
Weeded the garden
Had coffee with friends
Dusted the house
Wrote a blog
Borrowed books from the library
Had original thoughts

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy Birthday to me!

Another new year, another birthday almost immediately afterwards.  So much opportunity for reflection in two short days.

I've had a lovely day.  Frank put a present out for me before I awoke, we went to the raspberry farm for lunch, the boy wrote me several sweet birthday notes and so many friends have sent me cards, gifts and lovely messages on facebook.

Here's the thing though.  Birthdays feel a little self indulgent to me.  I'm not that special and I've had enough birthdays to make the day feels like it's just a day.  I indulge myself by asking that I not have to cook... then spend the day feeling a bit guilty about how much money gets spent on eating out. (No one else cooks much around here)

I feel the love from other people, so it's not anyone else's problem.  It's me.

I'm still figuring out if I'm healthily humble and realistic about my place in the world, or if my birthday discomfort is yet another faulty signal from my busted sense of self worth.  Maybe it's both? 

I remember someone asking why we celebrate birthdays - it's not like they are any great achievement.  Stay alive for another 365 days and you've made it back to where you started, another birthday.  They are kind of inevitable.  Someone else told me that nobody in one of the more populous countries of the world thinks they are specially chosen to change the world and leave a mark - they are one of more than a billion and they are tiny.  Maybe my birthday discomfort has grown from these snatches of conversation - I'm no great person for surviving another 365 years, and in a world of seven billion and counting, I'm just one of the crowd.

I don't want to sound ungrateful - I've loved every message and greeting and wish and card and restaurant meal.  They have given me a sense of connection and place.  Thank you for every bit of love and care you have sent.  I'm feeling the love.  (But I did three loads of washing, stewed the rhubarb, made a cake and folded the washing to keep my feet on the ground.  It's not all about me, even on my birthday.)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year!

After four years of neglect, I am still able to access my blog account.  Piles of spam aside, keeping the same email address and mobile number has worked for me on this occasion. 

Hello happy chatter, and welcome back to the world of blogging.

It remains to be seen how long I stick with this, but one of my intentions for 2018 is to get back into writing.  I've missed it.  A personal journal might be a better place for most of my jumbled thoughts, but I like writing with readers in mind, so I'm officially kicking off again.

And since it's new year, here are some of my other intentions:

- have a go at yoga (a suitably broad intention - even if I just watch one YouTube vid... I've had a go)
- use less plastic (I've gotten a bit slack in this department.  I plan to sew some calico bags and get serious about reducing my plastic bag usage)
- clear out stuff from the recesses of my mind our overflowing cupboards
- practice more self-compassion (my revelation of 2017.  I want more to be revealed)
- mark the progress of time and the effect of life more deliberately (write, write, write...)
- be a nicer person

I'm sure a few other intentions have formed in my mind over the last few days, but alas, I have forgotten them.  They'll come to me again...  maybe by the time they do, I will have already worked my way through the above list.  (Kidding - that cupboard clearing is going to take all year at my pace)

Anyway, Happy New Year.  May 2018 be productive and fruitful and uplifting.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

a little birthday perspective

It's happened - I have officially entered the last year of my thirties... my fortieth year even. Woah.

Apart from wondering when this all happened, I have also been worrying about whether I look as old as I am, or (heaven forbid) perhaps older than my age!  Over the years many have thought me younger than I am, but lately not so much - a bit too much grey hair, a few too many crinkles at the edges.

Whatever anyone else thinks, I feel I don't know myself anymore, my face isn't what it used to be... I just don't look young anymore and I've lost my bearings.  This has been bothering me so much that I, a strong advocate of graceful greying and 'original highlights', have even been contemplating dying my hair.  Because that will make me younger. Ha.

I'm not sure which I find more confronting, the signs of aging or my obsession with them.  I've never been one for hiding my age - what is the point of being coy when we're all on the self same journey?  I am the age I am and no point pretending to be eternally 21.  What is there to be embarrassed about?  Time passes, I get older, so do you.  It's all very simple.  To find myself so caught up with appearances is, frankly, disappointing.  I thought I was better than that! I thought I was brave and strong, practical, and not given to (too much) superficiality, yet here I am quivering over an ever increasing head of grey hair, constantly assessing those around me to measure how I look for my age in comparison to them, considering giving up talking and smiling in order to preserve the smoothness of the skin around my eyes and mouth.  What is the source of such ridiculousness?!

I have a few thoughts on what my angst may stem from.  The first is not having children but wanting them.  I am fast running out of time - if I look older, I must be older, and that does not bode well for those ovaries and their precious eggs. Some romantic part of my brain seems to think that if I keep looking young then I just might be young and that baby is suddenly more likely.  Ah,  the games the mind does play.

The other source of my angst is probably the obsession of our society with eternal youth.  You just don't see many women who look their age sashaying their way around our screens and magazines.  Now I'm not one to spend a lot of time looking at screens and magazines, but the values of our culture have still seeped their way into my brain such that I feel a whole lot less worthy if I look older.  I look at a world full of young women and I want to shout at them, 'Don't just walk around without noticing how fabulous you look.  You are young and lovely.  Your skin is smooth, your hair lush, your eyes bright.  It won't last, so relish it while you have it!'  I also look around and see a plethora of gorgeous women (and men, but mostly I compare myself with women) who are aging gracefully and I think they look lovely and just right.  Age doesn't detract from their beauty.  But somehow, when it is me we're talking about, I worry that I might not be aging gracefully.  The rational part of my brain knows this is ridiculous, but I can't seem to help it. In short, I have double standards.

Today I discovered something of an antidote to my obsession with appearances.  I bumped into a work colleague I haven't seen for a few years.  We were buying fruit and vegetables next to each other and she turned to say hello, only I couldn't really understand her because her words slurred so much.  I thought she told me she had had a stroke and I was hopeful for her recovery, but once she gave up on my poor abilities to decipher her words she pulled out a note pad.  She hadn't had a stroke, she has motor neurone disease and has resigned from work because she is dying.  Slowly yes, but whichever way you look at it she is dying.  I cried after we said goodbye.  It was quite a shock to see her like that.  She might be in her fifties but she only has such a short time left.  Where is all my worry about appearances now?  Relegated to the dust bin I hope - people in the real world, outside of the movies and magazines, get sick and deteriorate and die, sometimes when they are old and sometimes well before their time.  When it all boils down, appearances don't count for that much really.  I'd rather be fit, healthy, grey haired and wrinkled than disintegrating or dead.  When you put it like that I have a whole lot to be thankful for.

Yesterday I read something else that also gave me pause.  I found it in 'Art as Therapy' by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong, part of a discussion about the moral messages of art.

Moral messages - messages that encourage our better selves - can be found in works of art that seem, initially, to have little interest in 'saying' anything to us.  Take a Korean moon jar.  Aside from being a useful receptacle, it is also a superlative homage to the virtue of modesty.  It stresses this quality by allowing minor blemishes to remain on its surface, by being full of variations of colour and having an imperfect glaze and an outline that does not follow an ideal oval trajectory.  Impurities have found their way into the kiln, resulting in a random array of black dots all over its surface.  The jar is modest because it seems not to mind about any of this.  Its flaws merely concede its disinterest in the race for status.  It has the wisdom not to ask to be thought too special.  It is not humble, just content with what it is.  For a person who is give to arrogance or anxiety about worldly status, and who frets about recognised at social gatherings, the sight of such a jar may be intensely moving as well as encouraging.  Seeing the ideal of modesty so clearly may make it obvious that one is in exile from it.  All the same, here it is, waiting for us in the jar.  It would be understandable if a person who was at heart sincere and good, whose arrogance was only a habit built up to protect a vulnerable part of themselves, shouls, as they contemplated the moon jar, find themselves yearning to make a change in their lives under the aegis of the values encoded in a piece of ceramic. (2014, p42)

The words that struck me most were these: The jar is modest because it seems not to mind about any of this... It is not humble, just content with what it is.  I dearly want to be like this.  At the moment I am caught up in minding all my seeming imperfections which aren't really imperfections. I grieve the loss of youth while forgetting the pleasures of increasing age such as a broadened outlook on life.  (This is exacerbated by not having had children to mark the years and remind me of their passing.)  I don't want to waste the rest of my life moaning that I am no longer young.  I want to not mind about any of this, to be content with what I am - grey hair and all.

So as I stare down the path of the next year to the big 4-0, I'm going to work at giving myself permission to stop worrying about the aging process.  Whether I can do this is a whole other question, but for now I'm going to embrace every one of my 39 years and who they have made me to be.  I'm alive and a whole lot bigger and wiser and better than I was the day I was born.  That's something worth celebrating!