Halloween Horrors

Travelling around my usual haunts, I’ve noticed Halloween more this year than ever before. I’ve been feeling uneasy about this. Not because I’m scared of ghosts or spiders or anthropomorphized pumpkins, but because it’s so American. Or so I thought!

Before I did any research, this is what I was thinking: Halloween is an adopted tradition that has nothing to do with Aussies, that wastes food, that is garish and cheap and ugly, and that encourages bingeing on lollies. I know it’s an excuse for a party, and that’s very Australian, but we don’t really need an excuse! I’m wondering – dark eyed, bloodied, dead people walking around threatening neighbours with nasty deeds unless they hand over the goods – is that nice, is that ethical, is that what we should be encouraging in our children? And the gooey cobweb stuff like stretched cotton wool that’s encasing half the bushes in the suburb – is that good for the bushes or birds or bugs? I think not! It’s not good for the décor either. Whose house looks better with white or purple or orange threads engulfing the fence or hedge? And will it be removed in time for the Christmas decorations? I know, I’m a killjoy, right?

So, feeling a bit Grinch-like, I decided I better find out more about it. Maybe everyone else knows this, but I didn’t!

Halloween’s origins go back 2000 years to the Celts who lived in Ireland, the United Kingdom and France. They celebrated their new year on November 1 and believed that on the night before, the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead became blurred. The Celts gathered around huge bonfires, sacrificed crops and animals, wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and told fortunes.

Celtic, Roman and Christian traditions and beliefs merged over time. The festival was originally very limited in Protestant America. The first American celebrations were related to the harvest, and neighbours shared stories of the dead, told fortunes, danced and sang, in public parties. They also featured ghost stories and mischief making.

With the flood of Irish immigrants fleeing the Irish Potato Famine in the second half of the nineteenth century, Halloween was refreshed. Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money. This eventually became today’s “trick-or-treat” tradition.

In the late 1800s, there was a move to mold Halloween into a holiday to encourage community and neighbourly get-togethers. Superstitions and religious overtones were discouraged, and parties became secular. The event grew and now is the country’s second largest commercial holiday after Christmas.

So, I’ve changed my mind! It’s not an all-American tradition, it’s a heathen Celtic tradition. It was originally about people feeling closer to dead relatives and hoping for a lenient winter and a good year. That’s all very nice! I don’t mind that the ghosts turned ghastly and witches disguised themselves as black cats. I don’t really mind the sweets. I used to be an addict myself. And anything that encourages people to go out onto the street and meet each other is good. Unless it’s neighbour-rage or the “tricks” turn terrible! But the commercialism, the tacky decorations that waste resources, produce rubbish and violate my sense of the aesthetic… Oh dear, I really am a wet-blanket, aren’t I?!

Disclaimer: My comments on the tacky decorations that…  violate my sense of the aesthetic, do not apply to my friends’ houses that have been decorated with skill and tastefulness! Of course! You know who you are! 😉

 

The Power of Now

I need to learn to meditate! My mind races around like static. One thought bounces into another and pushes it out of the way. Is that why I’m getting forgetful? Often, there’s a load of rubbish or dirty washing going around – on the repeat cycle.

I believe this is a common problem; it’s just about universal. But some people achieve the stillness and peace that comes with successful meditating. It sounds appealing!

According to the book The Power of Now by Eckhardt Tolle, you start by learning to be more present, by paying attention to this moment and that’s all. Not the past. Not the future. But Now. He advises that you can start with paying attention to your breath or the nature around you, not broadly, but very specifically, like one flower. He talks about noticing and feeling the space between things and the silence between the noises.

As I’ve revealed in this blog, I’m a nature lover. I like to walk or kayak on my own, admiring the bush and waterways. I also like to walk at night and look at the stars. The following passage from the book resonated with me:

“Presence is needed to become aware of the beauty, the majesty, the sacredness of nature. Have you ever gazed up into the infinity of space on a clear night, awestruck by the absolute stillness and inconceivable vastness of it? Have you listened, truly listened, to the sound of a mountain stream in the forest? Or to the song of a blackbird at dusk on a quiet summer evening? To become aware of such things, the mind needs to be still…

Beyond the beauty of the external forms, there is more here: something that cannot be named, something ineffable, some deep, inner, holy essence. Whenever and wherever there is beauty, this inner essence shines through somehow. It only reveals itself to you when you are present. Could it be that this nameless essence and your presence are one and the same?”

In other words, put down your personal baggage of problems, of past and future, put aside your judgement and running commentary, and just feel the Now. SO EASILY SAID, SO DIFFICULT TO ACHIEVE! Except for Zen masters!

As a writer, this skill would be very useful to me. I’d notice more. And I think I’d be more productive if I made space in my mind by removing the clutter. Also, according to Mr Tolle, “Only if you are able to be conscious without thought can you use your mind creatively, and the easiest way to enter that state is through your body.”

If you want to understand that, you’ll have to read the book. I’m still working on it!

 

I’d highly recommend the App Insight Timer for guided meditations and meditative, relaxing music pieces. My favourites include chimes and nature sounds.

For further study – http://www.EckhartTolle.com

What three things couldn’t you live without?

What are three things you can’t live without? Not relationships, not children, not dogs – things! This was a recent conversation I had with friends and it proved to be far more than superficial. It was a window into each of us: childhood associations, memories, connections and what gives us joy.

Some of the answers were obvious, directly related to what we already knew of each other. And some were unexpected. But each contribution branched off into further conversation.

Mine were sunglasses, sea and strong, milky tea.

Why sunglasses? Because I have light-sensitive, blue eyes and I like to be outdoors for most of the day. Outdoors, especially amongst nature, is where I get my joy.

Why the sea? I love the smell of the sea: the saltiness and the seaweed. I love the sound of the sea: the thundering, the shooshing and the gentle lapping. I love the feeling of jumping into the ocean: the cold, salty water enveloping my face, my hair, my body. And its beauty: the glistening reflections on the surface, the aqua and deep blues, the clarity.

And the tea? The morning ritual, no matter how early, of boiling the kettle, warming the teapot, brewing the tea and sitting peacefully to enjoy the slow sipping. It’s a mindful start to the morning. I do this at the end of day too, to close off the business of the day. I was raised with tea: I’d drink it in bed as a child, lazily drinking while reading books on a Sunday morning. My grandmother introduced me to my brand – Lipton Quality Tips. It’s hard to get nowadays. People are trained to opt for the quicker teabag and many have forgotten what good tea tastes like.

My friends had some other things they couldn’t live without:

– Technology, mostly the iPhone and iPad, precious as a tool for taking and storing photos and for communication with loved ones by phone and Facebook.

– The car because of the pleasure of driving and for independent getting around.

–  the Thermomix!

– Music, a musical instrument

– Childhood teddy

– Pillow

– Photos in albums

– and unable to choose from so many!

As I said, all these led to further conversation as to why those things were so necessary to life. In all respects, the reasons related to lifestyle, comfort, sentimental connection or an innate need that was deep within us that gave us joy. It was well worth exploring.

What would be your choice?

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?

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

 

 

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?