Memo to a Younger Self

Toastmasters has been a fun activity for me for the past few years. I tried it out because I’d heard great things about it from friends and I thought it might help my writing – you have to write your own speeches. Speeches are essentially stories about how you feel (an opinion like wildlife conservation), an experience you’ve had (like travelling solo), or something you know (like floristry). Quite often you end up researching something you’re curious about and becoming even more interested.
There are lots of other opportunities too. This week I’m presenting the Salute to the Theme. For two minutes I’ll talk about the theme, What advice would you give your younger self? There are plenty of ways to tackle this and I could talk about studying more, listening to your father or backpacking through Europe. Maybe don’t get a perm. But I’m going to talk about doing things that build self-confidence and self-reliance and being part of a group or team.
Learning new skills gives you a sense of achievement which makes you feel good about yourself. Mixing those skills with other people makes you feel integrated, useful and joyful. Toastmasters includes all these things.
The group encourages you in every task, whether it be a speech or preparing morning tea. Everyone has a role on the day. There’s plenty of praise and evaluations involve the sandwich technique: point of praise, point for improvement, point of praise. So, you get better all the time.
I’ve read that one of the key indicators of longevity is sociability. People who talk to their neighbours, volunteer in community activity and join clubs, live longer.
My advice to my younger self would be Join in! Have a go! Learn something, don’t be afraid to make mistakes or worry what people will think. If you’re mixing with like-minded people, they’ll want you to succeed as well. Not being reliant on others, emotionally or physically, but being happy to give, share and accept help, as in a team, means you’ll be a stronger happier person; one who’s achieving what they want in life and who others are attracted to.
When it comes down to one line, I’d say join Girl Guides.

Conversation and Music

Once a month, a bunch of wise old birds, girlfriends of mine, gather to talk philosophy! Sort of! There’s a lot of eating of cake, as well. And the philosophy is on a minor level – our own! We talk about things that interest 50+ women: issues that need a bit of thought over the month before the next meeting.

It’s intriguing to find out about our earlier lives, what we believe affected our values, paths and decisions. Once, we brought in a photo of our young-self and asked, What was your dream and how did that go? Another time, What did your parents try to teach you that you ignored? There’s often a lot of laughter.

We might talk about something more current like, How does Procrastination affect your life? We’ve also handled big issues as a group. One month, we discussed and filled in an Advanced Care Directive, helping each other think through our answers.

I’d highly recommend this kind of gathering to anybody with a group of friends. To me, it’s like a more personal kind of book club.

Sometimes we just have fun with it.

This month’s topic was, What music did you listen to and love in your youth that makes you feel young again now? It was the most animated meeting we’ve had. Everyone had a list of music and it gathered volume as we took turns around the room. In the end, we were throwing names into the space and they were bouncing off the walls. We had playlists and vinyl records to show. Ladies were telling stories of father’s taking them to rock concerts, dancing with first loves, crying over special opera moments and driving through Europe with three cassettes.

Commonalities had us breaking into song with music from the sixties to eighties winning in our hearts. However, it was the seventies that reigned supreme. Was it our age or was it the music?

I’ll share my list and then throw in some of the others. See what you think.

Mine: Carole King, Janis Ian, Fleetwood Mac, Bee Gees, The Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Leo Sayer, Bread, America, Melanie Safka, Roger Daltrey, Neil Young, Meatloaf

Others: Dire Straits, Split Enz, Maryanne Faithful, The Supremes, The Beatles

And so many more.

What was your most loved music from your youth?

My phone was Japanese

Have you ever been conned?

I wrote a little story on this blog, titled Trials and Tribulations, on 10 July this year. In it, I mentioned the drowning of my phone in a Galway toilet and being ripped off purchasing a new phone in Donegal Town a day later. I have more to tell and it’s so ridiculous that, instead of being furious, I’m nearly insane with merriment. Is that hysteria?

So, to remind you, I bought what I thought was a new 128GB iPhone and got a 32GB used iPhone. As impossible as this might seem to a tech-savvy young person, to a panicked solo-senior (well, nearly), it’s understandable. It was like watching a magic show where a coin turns into a rabbit! The magician (mobile phone repairer-salesman con-artist) was so kind and helpfully offered me the phone at a good price, cared about what colour I had, threw in a protective cover and set up the basics for me. Relief and gratitude flooded over me as I clapped wholeheartedly.

And then the truth was unveiled. The rabbit was a mirage and the coin had devalued!

I had to learn to use the iCloud for storage, the only up-side of this story. But my phone storage was still showing FULL, so it was with some frustration that I went along to my local Apple store in Sydney and asked why. They were very helpful. Apparently, I have an excess of music and it was suggested I get rid of some if I want to free up some space. No way! I then proceeded to tell the twenty-year old girl the tale of the Great iPhone Rip-off. And she offered to look up the phone’s history. In just a minute, she had it.

The phone was was full of Japanese writing and she asked, does the camera make a shutter noise even if on silent? Yes, I said. That’s so annoying when you’re trying to take a sneaky photo! These two things told her it was made for the Japanese market. (It’s illegal to have the camera silenced in Japan.) Ok, interesting, right? But wait, there’s more! The phone has been exchanged in Japan twice before turning up in Ireland to be bought by a gullible Australian in June. The last time was in April 2017.

So, the phone wasn’t remotely new, spoke a language I didn’t and had been intimate with two others before me! I was shocked, hurt and flabbergasted. Ultimately, I was utterly entertained.

What a story! What a show! I’ll never believe in magic ever again!

Life sucks…..I don’t think so!

My writing journey has involved many sweet indulgences: writing courses on Sydney Harbour, workshops in Tasmania and retreats in Ubud. I love meeting other writerley people, talking writing and doing the work set. It’s challenging, rewarding and fun.

My current experience is an online course run by the Writers Studio at Bronte. Called Unlocking Creativity, it’s designed to help loosen me up, shove off the perfectionist-nag on my shoulder, get the flow of thoughts going, and get me writing every day. There’s daily homework and feedback to give and receive. It’s hard work.

One of last week’s writing prompts was Life sucks! I had successfully written on Standing in the rain, Coughing fit and Love hurts, but when it came to putting pen to paper on Life Sucks, I was stumped. That doesn’t say much for my imagination, does it? I thought about various hardships like the farmers struggling with drought or living in war-torn Syria, but they didn’t fit with the flippancy of the term. So I struggled with various catastrophes like losing your pack while hiking in torrential rain. That was the best I could come up with. Wow, what did that mean?

Fiction may be made-up but it comes from truths, and obviously my truth isn’t Life sucks, it’s life doesn’t suck!

I’m a very lucky girl. I was born in Australia, so I have an advantage. It’s pretty hard to say life sucks when you live in a country with this climate, beauty and level of safety. The culture is generally to look after your mates and be kind to animals. We love the great outdoors and barbeques. Every day, I feel blessed to call Australia home.

I have health, the love of friends and family, shelter and sustenance. These are the foundations for a happy life.

Of course, there’ll be shitty days, months, or even years. Things will go wrong. Life is chaos and we can only try to control it. Have you noticed that when you have bad luck, it happens in threes? I’m not sure about that but I can say, once something goes wrong, there seems to be a clump. Maybe that’s purely attitude. If you get the shits, you often notice the negative.

I have bad things happen to me like everyone else. My car breaks down, I’m going through divorce and my dogs got old. But that’s not life – that’s stuff! If you have the necessary foundations, the key to never having to say life sucks is attitude.

We alone are responsible for our responses.

‘Everything can be taken away from a 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 way.’                               Viktor Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning.

Next time you spill coffee down your white shirt, miss a plane connection, have a washed-out holiday or get a pimple in the middle of your forehead, don’t think life sucks, think that sucks. But if you have tales to tell that can prove me wrong, please do, because my imagination sucks and I could use them to do better writing.

‘Things always seem to turn out best for those who seem to make the most of how things turn out.’ Rod Junkins The Art of Creative Thinking

 

 

Facing Life’sChallenges

Springtime isn’t always easy. It’s a time of chaos, struggle, change and growth. There is violence in this. It’s hard. Renewal, any change, can be uncomfortable, disorienting, even tumultuous. But it’s worth it. It’s likely that the flowers will bloom and summer will be fine.

A butterfly’s metamorphosis from caterpillar to the fluttering, delicate, flying creature of beauty that it is, involves various stages of hard work, evolving and risk to life. When it first emerges from the chrysalis, its wings are soft and wet. It’s at its most vulnerable and can’t fly. But to be a butterfly is to be a marvel of nature.

Improving ourselves is a similar process. We must work hard, accept being bad and persevere, to improve on a new skill. Golf and Writing, my little shoulder companions (angel and devil) sing out in unison.

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down…” as the song goes. This is how I like to approach life. And I’ve been lucky. I haven’t had many knock-downs.

But it’s a truth that altering our life’s trajectory can be hard. It’s a journey of obstacles and challenges. If we’re at all spiritual, we’ll believe that they’re there for a reason. Each obstacle corrects our path. Each challenge makes us stronger. If we let them!

Maybe if the path is too easy, we forget to notice; we take our surroundings and interactions for granted and stop appreciating them. If we stop caring, trying and feeling, we’re barely living. Striving to improve allows us a bigger capacity to enjoy. It takes courage to face the challenges of change. We need to be brave to get around or over the obstacles that life might throw in our faces. But without bravery, life will remain small. An obstacle, a knock-down, might just be the catalyst needed to correct our path. So, accept it. Embrace it.

I’m glad to be driving a 4WD on my journey at the moment. The road is gravelly and there are pot holes. I can’t see the end yet but I know there’s a smooth bitumen highway after this.

I’ve lived the life of the caterpillar and the butterfly. I’ve lived through a Spring, a Summer, an Autumn and a Winter. Spring is in the air again. It’s a bit rough but it’s promising.

Bring it on!

 

A good Series is like a good book

Since I started spending swags of time in my house down the south coast of NSW, I’ve adopted the habit of watching DVDs of TV Drama Series. This is a far more satisfying way to spend an evening than trying to find something to watch on TV.

Being selective about what I watch means I don’t waste time scrolling through what’s on offer and then settling on something that isn’t very satisfying. That isn’t a great way to relax. Enjoying what I’m watching, especially a Series, means I’m engaged, entertained but also invested in a story.

A good Series is like a good book. Each episode starts with a CONFLICT, some obstacle that a character has to overcome, and that means ACTION. We are engaged most when we become involved with the CHARACTER, whether you love them or hate them. The personality of the character affects how we feel about them, as in real life. Great characters have multiple facets: they have good traits, interesting quirks and flaws. We relate to them and want to know what happens to them. We watch the interactions with other characters. We feel more engaged if the stakes are high. We want some resolution but to keep watching we need another conflict or complication to lead us into the next episode. What will be the character’s reaction to this dilemma? Sometimes we can’t wait to find out.

The visual also needs to be captivating. The SETTING, the time and place, adds to the entertainment. It needs to look good. In a book, we create pictures in our heads, but on a screen, the visual is there for us to see. Costume for me is also important. What are they wearing? Is it fabulous or awful? Of course we’re all judges!

Exploring THEMES is essential too. I love a point for discussion. My own opinion can be broadened or firmed up by watching a discussion between the characters or watching how they behave. Which brings in DIALOGUE. It’s essential that this is engaging, real and succinct. One-liners that catch my attention, whether hilarious or poignant, can make my night. Downton Abbey’s Violet Crawley (Maggie Smith) made me laugh out loud on many occasions but she was also full of good advice like: “You are a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.” Sex in the City has shocking one-liners flying out like corn popping.

My current Series-watching is the Australian Drama, A Place to Call Home. This ran from 2013-2018. It’s set in pastoral Australia in the early 1950’s. The characters are all multi-faceted: they are complicated, loveable, sickening and joyful. The setting is a magnificent house full of antiques, countryside that makes you want to run out and buy a farm and an arty apartment in Sydney. The costumes are gorgeous and appropriate to the characters. The young Anna Bligh (Abby Earl) in later series has the most fabulous dresses but manages to look like an angel even when riding a horse. There is a lot of visual appeal.

But it’s the themes that are the stand-out component in this show. The lead character, Sarah Adams (Marta Dusseldorp), is the catalyst for conflicts, complications and resolutions. The spin off from this character displays and explores the prejudices of the time including fear, hate and misconceptions towards Jews, Gays, Italian immigrants, experimental farmers and Aboriginals. Each episode reveals issues of the time: women’s health issues, ‘ownership’ of women by men, Bohemian lifestyles, assisted dying and unmarried mothers. It’s also about giving people a second chance, learning, changing, and the journey of self-improvement. It’s full of insights and like all good fiction, especially historical fiction, based on a lot of truths. Watching the show reminds me that we are evolving and becoming better people, but also that tension and prejudices lie just beneath the surface and should be remembered. It’s not a light or funny show but it’s entertaining nonetheless. The issues are often deep and therefore the insights are commonly earnest, like this one from Sarah Adams to George Bligh: “Loving children is not a quid pro quo transaction.”

So don’t waste your relaxation time. Get into a good Series. If it’s lasted past a few, it’s likely to be a compelling story with interesting characters and thought-provoking themes. It’s likely to be a world you can immerse yourself in, an escape from your day to day reality and an enjoyable experience.

Who knows, you might even learn something!

What TV Drama Series do you watch and enjoy?

Drought Distress

The drought in NSW and Queensland has finally hit the media: big time. If you live in the country you’ll know about the drought but if you’re in the city, you may not have heard that these states are in severe drought.

I love the country and therefore I’m more tuned in than some of my city friends, but even my own children, adults, didn’t know our state was in drought until I started talking about it. It came to my attention when I started following blogs and Facebook pages written by interesting, creative people with country links.

These are:

Photographer, adventurer and activist, Edwina Robertson whose recent activity includes interviewing drought-affected farmers and their families and educating city folk. https://www.facebook.com/onebucketofhope/

Edwina’s previous adventure, Wander of the West https://www.facebook.com/WANDEROFTHEWEST/ (A girl, her dog and a camera. A three month adventure around rural Australia without carrying a single dollar. 2017)

Farmer, journalist and children’s book author, Paula Stevenson http://paulastevensonwriter.com.au/category/blog/

The drought is worse than ever, despite Australia always having periods and areas of drought. Rainfall is at a record low, temperatures are at record highs and the area affected in these states is greater than ever before. A series of very hot summers and lessening cool-season rainfall have worsened conditions. Many dams have completely dried up or are close to it. Stock is being hand fed or sold. Cattle sale yards are bursting as agistment is no longer an alternative. I won’t go into the plight of our native wildlife.

The NSW Government has set up the NSW Drought Transport Fund of low-interest loans up to $20,000 but it seems that most farmers feel that there’s too much red tape to be eligible. Many feel it’s not enough anyway. It’s designed to help pay for farming freight-costs including water cartage, fodder transport and shifting stock. It’s complementary to existing measures but many farmers are already stretched financially too far.

Farmers are in a very low place. They’re resilient and perseverant, they don’t want to lose their top-breeding stock, their hundred-year old orange groves or their family owned properties. They’re struggling on and doing the best they can. The personal stories are heartbreaking: kids are driving trucks so that their parents can do the labour of getting hay bales in front of cattle, animals too weak to move are being destroyed, some pregnant cows are being sent to the abattoir and crops are being left to dry. This is their every-day experience.

Australia is a beautiful country: it’s full of extremes in geology, landscape, flora and fauna. It’s a paradise and a good provider for those of us lucky enough to live here. I feel that we need to share the load if we’re going to reap the benefits of living here. Living in the city is easy: many of us are on the coast and we get the sea-breeze, the sun and the rain and the luxury of going to the shops to buy our meat. We don’t even have to recognise that the meat comes from an animal if we don’t want to.

If our farmers are left to go broke, lose their family homes, abandon their properties and that iconic way of life that looks so romantic to us in the city, we will be left with dwindled resources, highly expensive meat, overseas buyers of our land, and the importing of more foodstuffs.

As Australians, we need firstly, to CARE! This may have been a tough Post to read but good people are suffering and need assistance. They need assistance to survive! So, secondly, we need to SHARE: share the message, share the load however you can. Don’t begrudge the extra cost of the milk or meat. Contribute what you can: volunteer, contribute financially, appreciate what you’ve got, encourage our State and Federal governments to treat drought relief like other catastrophe relief. Is drought different from flood and cyclone because it creeps up on us? Think about it! If we can get the farmers to survive the drought without being so far in debt that they lose the battle anyway, their farms will come good again. Rain will come.

Take the time to educate yourself even if it’s just on social media. Take a look at One Bucket of Hope. Let the farmers know we care and boost them with some hope.

Ref:

http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/climate-change-and-drought-factsheet/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/10/australia-doesnt-realise-worsening-drought-pushes-farmers-to-the-brink

Photo credit: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/mar/19/big-farming-across-australia-in-pictures