Tag Archives: serendipity

The Great Sunday Sleep-In.

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans- John Lennon

While some people might actively be seeking adventure and fresh challenges, personally I’ve overdosed on personal development. I’ve been stretched so far beyond my comfort zone that my inner elastic is about to snap…permanently. Life might be a journey but I’ve been on enough journeys. I’ve taken the road less traveled, the superhighway and even wondered off the beaten track photographing wildflowers in Western Australia. I’ve skied, play the violin and even wore high heels the other day. In what now feels a lifetime ago, I backpacked through Europe. This may not be an exhaustive list but everyone needs to press the pause button once in awhile and just stop. Now, it’s my turn to vegetate at home and I don’t even care if I sprout. I don’t want to be stretched. I desperately need some time out and to simply snooze for a bit.

However, while some things are meant to be, other things are simply doomed, almost from the outset.

It was Sunday morning. Geoff was taking the kids off to cub scouts for a billycart derby. It all sounded like a lot of fun but we’d been out at a party the night before and I decided to stay home and rest. Pace myself. I didn’t want to end up in bed for another week recovering from too much activity. While I am well at the moment, I am missing the high doses of prednisone which allowed me to lead several lives at once and still fly to the moon and back. That stuff has dreadful side-effects but certainly can give me an incredible energy boost…until I’m on the way down and then it’s just plain nasty. That’s where I’m at right now. I dropped my dose two weeks ago and so I’m feeling sleepy…very, very sleepy. It’s now rest time at the zoo.

After waving Geoff and the kids off, I staggered back to bed and had my nose in a book: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. I had just reached a turning point and was starting to feel that sense of giddy excitement as I galloped towards the finish when the phone rang.

That’s right the phone rang, penetrating through my precious silence like a jack hammer blasting through bedrock.   Like an almighty crack of thunder resonating through a still, dark sky.

I missed the phone the first time but then the phone rang again…insistent!

Trouble was on the horizon and it was closing in. With two attempts, either someone was dying or it was Geoff and that only meant one thing. “Houston,” meaning me, “we have a problem”.

At times like this, don’t you just curse the “royal we”?!! Then again, isn’t that what true love is all about and it’s usually me ringing Geoff with the dire, “jump-right-this –very-second” emergency.

Turned out that in the sheer uphill battle to get the kids out the door, Geoff had left his wallet at home. They were about half an hour’s drive away at the service station filling up and of course, I had been summonsed. There was no opportunity to say no. I couldn’t plea fatigue, tiredness or a near-death experience. I had to go. To make matters worse, Geoff reminded me that I needed to get petrol on the way. Damn! It was bad enough that I had to get up and drive somewhere, especially when I was enjoying peace, silence and my book and now I was having to get petrol as well. Talk about the pits. I don’t do petrol and I don’t like driving so my peaceful Sunday morning just took an absolute u-turn.

Now, if you are one of those personal development types, you’ll probably think it would do me some good. Filling the car up with petrol never killed anybody outside Hollywood and a bit of a drive wasn’t the end of the world either. It could be worse…much worse.

However, as I said, I’ve overdosed on personal development lately. I don’t want to be stretched. I want to be left alone…especially when I’m galloping towards the end of the best book I’ve read (at least for this week) and it’s just won the Man Booker Prize. I mean we are talking about superlative literature and instead what happens to me???

I’m having to fill the car up with petrol all by myself.

Stop laughing. Where’s your sensitivity? Empathy? Compassion? Have a heart!

While I might sound like a lousy feminist getting my husband to put the petrol in the car, I have my reasons. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a severe muscle-wasting disease and at times, I don’t have the muscle strength to operate the pump. My other justification has been having the kids in the car. It is illegal to leave your kids unaccompanied in the car, even just to dash into the servo to pay up. Of course, there have been absolute horror stories where harried mums have dashed in and dashed straight out again only to find that their cars and children gone. Given the oppressive Australian summer heat, these car-jackings are a matter of life and death. If these are justification enough, there’s also the whole matter of splashing petrol on myself and how much that vile stuff stinks!!

Obviously, it’s much easier for my husband to get the petrol. That way, he has to remember which side of the car the petrol cap is on and being a rugged Aussie bloke, he doesn’t convulse when he gets petrol on his pretty, little hands either.

However, now I was having to take on the dreaded petrol bowser beast but this is what you do for your family. Some people go to war. I’m heading for the servo.

While you might find filling up your car with petrol a relatively simple task, it’s mission impossible for me and I know it’s going to end badly before I even pull up. I can’t remember whether the patrol cap is on the left or the right but there’s an available bowser on the left so off I go. Let serendipity or fate decide. Hmm. Not such a good strategy, after all. Of course, it’s the wrong side. Being in a serious hurry, I decide to stretch the hose over the top of the car and I could just force in the nozzle. Relief! I know this looks ridiculous…absolutely ridiculous with the hose draped over the top of the car but I’ve got to get moving. The kids are now running seriously late for the billycart derby and I didn’t want them to miss out. I didn’t have time to change bowsers.

petrol man

Where’s one of these when you need one? I say bring back the bowser man!! There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of old-fashioned service!

However, my relief was short-lived. The pump wasn’t working. Every time I pressed the trigger, it impotently click, click, clicked like an infernal cricket. It clearly did not like being stretched within an inch of its life and was refusing to cooperate. Rather than not working at all, I somehow managed to dribble about $1.15 worth of petrol into the tank so I couldn’t just drive off to a different bowser without consequences. Instead, I had to make it work. I can’t remember the last time I filled up and I was so out of my depth, lost and helpless. I even asked some shady looking dudes if they could help. Of course not. These days I’m definitely on the cougar side of 40 and wasn’t worth their effort. There weren’t any driveway attendants either. They were rendered obsolete decades ago. I was on my own. I jiggled and fiddled with the blasted thing and finally I felt it gush like a fountain. Phew!

Mister jusyt about to take off down the hill. Not so pretty at the other end.

Mister just about to take off down the hill. Not so pretty at the other end.

By this time, I’d decided that I wasn’t meant to spend the day at home and sacrificed peace, serenity and a jolly good book for a hilarious day watching billycarts, kids and hapless leaders career down the hill. There was all the excitement and tension of any race with the added bonus that these vehicles were hand-made and brakes, wheels and all sorts of bits and pieces fell off down the hill. Our daughter refused to get on until they were packing up but there also water pistol fights, slip and slide and a bushwalk through to some caves. I had a relaxing day basking in the sun, chatting and being part of community and while I’ve since spent a few days in bed, sometimes, you need to take a walk on the wild side and that means being stretched beyond your wildest dreams and fears and finally learning to fly.

As John Lennon said: Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

xx Rowena

The Love of a Stranger

You can make fun of Cupid with his bow and arrows but sometimes love does just strike out of the blue and Cupid makes as much sense as anything else.

In this instance, I’m not referring to romantic love. Rather, I’m talking about the love of a stranger…someone you have never met before. Someone you don’t know from a bar of soap. Yet, for some strange reason they have loved you or you have loved them and really, genuinely cared.

I am not going to quote those who have gone before me and come up with all sorts of elaborate definitions of love. As much as I usually love classifying and defining things with Darwinian precision, right now I’m feeling that love needs to be free and unfettered. Let out of its cage and not put back into any kind of “box”.

That’s because the love of a stranger doesn’t make sense. We expect even demand love and its implicit attention and understanding from our close family and friends and conversely expect the reverse of a stranger. However, sometimes a stranger “gets us” in a way that our nearest and dearest do not and we make a connection that is very much “outside the square” or outside our inner circle and we are almost bamboozled when it happens.

Why is it so?

I am a very extroverted person and it is quite usual for me to chat to strangers. As much as I need to be alone to write, paint and create, I’m usually chatting to somebody in my head while I’m doing these things so I’m not really so alone after all. People are the centre of my universe. I don’t always love them but they intrigue and fascinate me. I try to nut them out. I know there are no definitive answers but life is also about the journey.

So it’s not surprising that I am quite familiar with the love of a stranger. I’ve had quite a few of these experiences and can no longer just write them off as “chance”.  They were meant to be. There had to be a reason!

Every now and then, someone comes into my heart. Sometimes, I know them. Sometimes, I don’t. That person comes into my heart and I care about them in a way that really defies explanation. While this might seem like a fabulous thing, it can actually be quite awkward as well and I can find myself trying to pull back my emotions like reigning in a wild horse. I care so much but how can I possibly convey that love to a stranger without intruding or looking like some kind of fruitcake?

I end up doing what a lot of people probably do with this very, very special love. I keep it to myself. Hide my love away. I might write poems, which never get read and some of them have been quite beautiful. I’m not talking about my writing style here but the vision that I’ve had of that person and I really would like to somehow step across that divide….that gap that exists between strangers…and connect. Surely, this is why this person has been put in my heart in the first place? There has to be some point to it all!

So while there is so much beauty in the love of a stranger, there can also be this sense of overwhelming distance, inhibition and frustration and it can all just get too difficult in the end…another mission impossible!

I recently experienced the love of a stranger myself in a very powerful and life changing way.

Last October, I found out I had mild Institial Lung Disease, a known complication from my auto-immune disease. This news was absolutely devastating. This disease can be quite dormant or it can go out of control like wild fire and basically take you out very quickly. My kids were only 7 and 5 at the time and my daughter still pretty much clung to my leg. The thought of them losing their mum was extremely intense. You can just imagine the kind of very dark place I was in at the time. I should, of course, mention the upside is that this lung disease can be quite dormant and there is treatment available but that treatment can get very toxic. I’ve known all of this for five years so it wasn’t a surprise but once my nemesis had finally arrived, I still felt shattered (so far I am in the dormant category which has been fabulous news!)

After getting this news, I wandered into the hospital volunteer shop. Our volunteers are called the Pink Ladies and they have a stall selling second hand books, toys and all those hand-knitted items you find in hospital shops.

I can’t even remember what I was buying but as I was paying, I burst into tears. I am not the bursting into tears in public kind of person. Most of us do like to think of ourselves as somewhat stoic, even when we’ve just been given dreadful news.

Well, one of the pink ladies takes my hand and smiles at me and I’m pretty sure she even told me I would be alright. Usually, when someone tells me I’m going to be all right in the middle of a crisis, I’m rather rebellious and my inner cynic growls and snaps away like a rabid dog. “What would you know?” Growl! Growl! Growl! But this time it was very, very different. As she held my hand, I felt the most amazingly intense sense of love almost like a white light. I felt such warmth, comfort and strangely in the midst of all this heartache, I felt a sense of peace.

I had been touched by a stranger.

As much as I am loved by my husband, my kids, my family and friends, this was different.  I really believed I’d been touched by God. That God reached out to me through the love of a stranger. Perhaps for some people, that might make perfect logical sense but for me, it was still a very steep learning curve. You see, I’ve had a few chats with God about why I have this disease and not all of them have been particularly pretty.

As I’ve thought about this recently, I have also wondered how or even if this experience affected the pink lady at all. Was she conscious of feeling this great love for me at the time or was she just some kind of vessel…that God just moved through her without her even being aware of it at all? I would like to find out. I am always curious.

Yet, despite all my frequent hospital visits, to the best of my knowledge, I’ve never seen this pink lady again. Funny that!

As wonderful and life changing as it was for me to experience being loved by a stranger, it can be quite a different thing to love a stranger yourself. How are you supposed to express that love and very deep sense of concern about this person you don’t even know or might know a little bit but not enough “to intrude”?

Recently, I found myself in quite an awkward situation. One of my doctors became quite ill and the whole thing was kept very quiet. That’s understandable. Every patient is entitled to their privacy and as a doctor, your privacy is probably something you have to fight pretty hard to preserve. I get that. At the same time, my doctor had saved my life and so it was only natural that I would, at the very least, care about him. But there is a real line in the sand between doctors and patients.  Even though he knew all about me, I knew almost nothing about him at all. He was as good as a stranger. I saw him in shared rooms in the hospital clinic where there was nothing even remotely personal so I hadn’t even seen a family photo…nothing. But as my doctor became a patient himself, I was subconsciously barracking for him like all of Australia calling out: “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi! at the Olympics. I really, really wanted him to win. Not for me but for his family. Sadly, I couldn’t tell him any of this although I did send him a couple of cards. As much as you care, you also need to respect other people’s space, their privacy and their need to deal with their issues in their own way. Not everyone blogs their innermost thoughts onto the Internet hoping to attract as many readers as possible. Most of my closest friends and family are ironically extremely private people.

Unfortunately, my doctor passed away. Again, I was deeply saddened but not for myself. I felt a very strong connection to his wife for some reason. A woman I didn’t know existed before the notice appeared in the paper. She was really on my mind. I don’t know why. Certainly, some of my mother’s friends are starting to lose their husbands and Mum has shared some of their struggles with me…what it is like to lose your soul mate, your partner. Perhaps, that was it.

Anyway, I wrote his wife a card and delivered that while I was still working on my letter. I wanted to give his family a few anecdotes about him from a patient’s perspective. When my grandmother passed away, we received some extraordinary letters and insights and they were such treasures…diamonds! I have this sense that when you lose someone you love, you want to hold onto as much of them as possible and every little story and anecdote is precious.

But I guess this writing process intensified my sense of connection and soon I was doing my usual thing of walking round in someone else’s shoes and experiencing grief that wasn’t mine. Fortunately, I went away for a week and that helped break that connection, which was a good thing. Feeling so intensely for a stranger who I wouldn’t see and couldn’t connect with, wasn’t helping anyone. Moreover, there are so many people closer to home, especially my husband and kids, who really needed me back.

Thinking things through, love in action is probably the best way of conveying your love for a stranger. When someone is going through hard times, you can cook them a meal, pick up their kids or make a donatation. These are socially acceptable avenues, safe ways of expressing your love, respect and concern for a stranger. People are understandably wary when strangers turn up on their doorstep unannounced.

One of the greatest stories about the love of a stranger in action, involves rescuing the survivors of the Titanic. I came across this story around the time that my doctor passed away and it showed me that loving and caring for a stranger, particular someone who is hurting, isn’t such a strange thing after all. It is part of being human and being more than just a cold and calculating machine!

When Carpathia received the distress signal from the sinking Titanic, she was 51 miles and close to 4 hours away. Instead of thinking “it’s not my problem” and ignoring the situation, Captain Rostrum, the crew and the passengers all rallied together and pushed themselves and that ship well beyond its limits to come to the aid of total strangers. Of course, Carpathia was travelling through the very same icy waters which had sunk Titanic and was also at high risk of a collision with an iceberg herself. She wasn’t exactly the latest and greatest ship either and as Captain Rostrum exceeded her maximum speeds, there was every possibility that her boilers could blow. The heaters were turned off to conserve power and everything went into getting that boat there as fast as possible. The cooks were ordered to make soup and passengers gave up their cabins for the survivors and even gave them some of their clothes. You didn’t hear anybody cry: “Oh the Titanic sank and ruined my holiday!”

That was the love of a stranger.

More recently, in January 2011, we had the Brisbane Floods.   I was staying near Byron Bay in Northern NSW at the time and we experienced similar weather conditions. It felt like the entire Pacific Ocean was somehow falling from the sky and it rained and rained and rained for days on end. All of this rain didn’t go down well in Brisbane, which I found out has been built on a glorified flood plain. I have been on picnics beside the Brisbane River where she looked so calm and still but she was really just a sleeping giant. With all this rain, the Brisbane River burst its banks spewing mud and guts everywhere. There was mass devastation.

Almost immediately, huge bands of volunteers mobilised, bringing along their own mops, buckets, gum boots and even cleaning products. They went into strangers’ homes and cleaned up the mess. You could just imagine the mess too. What it was like to clean up all that filthy, stinky river mud. It’s the sort of thing nobody wants to deal with and certainly not a job any sensible person would go chasing and yet they did. I even heard of a stranger clearing a dead cow out of a complete stranger’s  home in Ipswich. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

I’ve written a lot here about the love of a stranger in difficult or tragic circumstances but I also wanted to share another situation which means a lot to me.

Last year, when I went down to the Sydney Writer’s Festival, I attempted to buy some new clothes. That might sound simple enough but I couldn’t find anything which fit and had such a dreadfully demoralising shopping experience. I had been alternating between two identical pairs of jeans just to keep myself covered up and was really desperate for some new clothes.  Since I’ve been on prednisone, I have put on weight and it’s been very hard to find anything which fit let alone reflected my personality or character at all. I came back from Sydney feeling so defeated. I’d given up on clothes shopping for life!!

A few days later, however, I was going to my local fruit shop with the kids when I noticed the most extraordinary scarf in a shop window nearby. This scarf literally pulled me in off the street and I was mesmerised. I had to have it. Now, this is the great thing about scarves because they really are one size fits all. they can reflect your personal style and also camouflage a few sins.

The next day, I went back into the shop and instead of the usual neglect, I was suddenly treated like a movie star and my new found “friend” took me through such a range of clothes and looks that I’d never ever considered before and really pampered me. She spent time with me introducing me to a weird contraption called the shrug, a cape and I think I bought a black top and a knitted jacket.  More than just buying clothes, she helped me feel validated, worthwhile and special. She was so positive and as we chatted, we found out we had a lot in common. Slowly but surely, my “muse” as I’ll call her has encouraged me, listened and become such a lifesaving friend. I go into the shop which I’ll call “The Sanctuary” and I now have “my chair” and I sit out the back and we chat about so many personal and precious things. I am not the only person who visits the muse either. There is a little following, which is what happens when you love people. People gravitate towards you. They want to be with you…a part of you even.

(Just a small digression here…I have subsequently lost 10 kilos!!)

Even though I still feel somewhat awkward about loving and caring for strangers, I am realising that it’s not so weird after all. Loving a stranger is actually quite beautiful and often very altruistic involving much more give than take. But it can take a bit of courage and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone to take that risk. While it can be difficult to know quite how to share our love with a stranger, somehow we need to persevere instead of doing what I’ve been doing and hiding my love away, keeping it secret. Love isn’t something you want to keep trapped in a bottle or some kind of bug catcher. Love needs to free… as free as a butterfly in flight!

When you rotate “Understanding” 45 degrees, you get a butterfly. Just an interesting thought. It’s amazing what you discover when you doodle.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…Two hearts that beat as one.

Butterfly in a Love Bubble…two hearts that beat as one.

So on that note, it’s time for me to leave my inner labyrinth and go with the flow…love’s flow instead of being so ridiculously inhibited. I have sent off one of my poems this week and I’m going to finish off that letter to my doctor’s wife. My doctor’s obituary recently appeared in the paper and it was very warm and intimate, providing me I guess with a bridge of some sort…some way of reaching across the great divide.

I just had this thought…

If we could only paint the world with love, perhaps the Earth could even glow like the sun…and not through global warming either!

What are we waiting for?

I’ll race you…

On your marks! Get set! Go!

Last one there’s a rotten egg!

Tai Chi and the Fork in the Road

I don’t know about you but most of the time, I miss the huge fork stuck right in the middle of the road and just keep driving.

With my head up in the clouds or all my thoughts wrapped up in some creative project, it’s not surprising. I’ve been accused of living in my own little world…my own bubble…often enough.

This week, on the other hand, the fork was so big…so glaringly obvious that even I couldn’t miss it.

In my last post, I wrote about my daughter wanting me to take up physie. After she suggested we go roller skating together, I’ve since realised that she just wanted us to do things together and so I’ve been let off the hook.

So while I’ve scratched physie off the list, going through those thought processes made me realise that I really need to pick up some form of regular exercise. Exercise is quite problematic for me so choosing something suitable isn’t easy.

You might recall that I actually mentioned Tai chi in my last post.

Well, the very next day, I was driving home and I saw a huge sign in front our local community centre: “Beginner Tai Chi Classes”. I couldn’t believe it. It was like that sign was put there just for me and I knew it. The classes are even on during the day at a very convenient time. Moreover, just as I was wondering how I could possibly remember the phone number, I realised that it was only two digits different to our phone number. How easy was that?

When things are meant to be, they are really meant to be. Everything comes together so smoothly without any effort like a huge enormous present just left on your doorstep. Freaky!

Today, I even called the number. That was an achievement!

We all know that it’s one thing to see a sign. It’s another thing to know that glaring neon sign was put there for you. But it’s a huge, enormous step to actually pick up the phone and make the call!

I did it!

Now, I’m on my way only I can’t get there for two weeks. This is a serious hurdle. Everyone knows that when you close the deal, you need immediate action…no time or space to back out and reconsider…or forget.

I have to remind myself that I am committed to doing anything to improve my health and when I say anything that means everything. No holes barred. It means being 100% focused, which for me is going to be almost impossible considering I’m spread pretty thin at the moment but I can only do my best.

If Tai Chi only lives up to half its claims, things will be looking up. The Australian Tai Chi website suggests:

‘From a psychological point of view, Tai Chi helps release emotional tensions, increases concentration and awareness and decreases stressful psychological and physiological reactions… One becomes more centred, more at peace with oneself and less subject to outside influences.” http://www.taichiaustralia.com.au/TaiChi/Benefits.htm

After some of the clashes I’ve had with my son lately, being less affected by outside influences sounds absolutely fabulous!!

Tai Chi will be a dramatic shift for me.

For anyone who knows me, the thought of me doing anything relaxing that requires silence, concentration and no talking, is mission impossible… a complete joke. I even manage to strike up in depth conversations with my dentist during root canal therapy. I get restless waiting for trains. I just can’t sit still. I’m always moving, talking, thinking, planning, pondering. I have no idea what it’s like to just BE!

I need to find out! This really could be radically life changing. I know that. I need to keep reminding myself of that like a mantra so I’ll really take it seriously:

 

Rowena you are going to go to Tai Chi.

You are going to go to Tai Chi.

You are going to go to Tai Chi.

I know I’m sounding very serious and committed to this new direction but I’ve had very good intentions in the past. I’ve had the proverbial fork rammed right up my nose and yet still I’ve managed to ignore it. That takes serious effort and real commitment.

The Neon Fork.

Last year, I had every intention of getting into yoga and meditation. One afternoon a week, I used to take my kids to swimming lessons where I chatted poolside with a yoga instructor. If ever there was someone who needed to do yoga, it was me a year ago. Despite all these good intentions, I never quite got there. I even wrote a poem about these good intentions…about how you find the acorn. Put it in your pocket with every good intention of planting it but the poor old acorn gets left in your pocket. Goes through the wash. Gets left by the bed. It goes on a grand royal tour but never finds its way into the ground.

That’s me. Great intentions but I struggle with implementation!

But that’s the old me. This is the new me and the new me is working overtime to convert good intentions not only into concrete actions but into life changing commitment. Change is all about the long-haul to be effective….perseverance in other words!

I am so good with all this motivational talk stuff but now I have to walk the talk or in this instance…Tai Chi it!

I am so determined to follow through on this, which is going to be difficult. As I said, I can’t get there for the next few weeks. It is hard enough to start a new path, especially one involving exercise but how can I possibly stick with it when I can’t get started straight away? This is going to take some serious willpower. Determination or perhaps a huge sign in my diary. “Tai Chi starts today”. I have to keep reminding myself.

This brings me to the following question… “If we know what we should
be doing something, why don’t we just do it? Why don’t we stick with it?

Does it mean we haven’t really decided? We still have a foot in both camps? Are we just lazy? I’m sure there is some fancy scientific equation for all of this. It might be Newton’s Law of Inertia? I like a law of inertia, by the way. I can be very inert at times although
you’d never know it. Everyone always comments on how I never stop but perhaps that is also a form of inertia. Bouncing around not doing the things you really ought to be doing.

It’s definitely avoidance.

Avoidance was a great thing in the days before we found out about brain plasticity. You could just decide that something wasn’t your thing and be done with it.

Now, we know that when we avoid something, that part of our brain is actually shrinking, putting us under enormous pressure to perform. Nobody likes the idea of a shrinking brain…especially when it’s your own brain that’s wasting away!

Avoidance isn’t the end of it either. When you avoid something, your brain shrinks but when you overdo it, your brain produces this superhighway of cabling. So you can’t just go and have a panic attack and get away with it anymore either. You have to be calm….otherwise your brain will look like an LA freeway with layers and layers of criss-crossing freeways looping around and around each other into a great big tangled knot of fear.
This is all very scary stuff.

That’s why I have just put a glaring note in my diary. Tai Chi starts today…Well make that the 12th of September. It’s written in red pen and I’ve committed myself with the World Wide Web as my witness. Now, I really do have to go ahead and do it.
Just two weeks to go…

Of course, as soon as I put the note in my diary, a meeting changed but it has brought things forward a week but put in a gap. Now I’m now wondering whether I should just wait three weeks so I can just get into some kind of rhythm. No Rowena. Don’t wait. Get started. This is exactly the sort of thinking that killed off yoga.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

I wonder if he did Tai Chi…

How do you overcome procrastination? I’d love to hear your comments.

xx Rowena

Quit Before You Try?

When do you step out there, extend yourself and try something new? Something that you know isn’t your thing but you acknowledge that it might be good for you, extend yourself in some way and may indeed help you overcome a few of your weaknesses?

Alternatively, when do quit while you’re ahead? Leave the door shut and dash the other way?

Let yourself off with one of the usual excuses:

A)      “I can’t do it!”

B)      “I’m too busy!”

C)      “It’s not my thing!”

D)     All of the above.

This is my dilemma. Today, our daughter issued me with my next challenge.

We were baking ANZAC Biscuits when she almost knocked my socks off. “Mummy,” she says in her very cutest, 6 year old, high-pitched squeaky voice: “I want you to do physie.” (Physie is short for physical culture  and involves a combination of marching, dance and gymnastics).

I would have been laughing hysterically if she wasn’t so completely serious…deadpan even.

“Why do you think I should do physie?” I asked. I was rather curious. She had seen some other mums competing at her physie competition that morning and it must have given her ideas… ideas well beyond my station!!

“You’re a good dancer,” she replied.

I could have died laughing. Only a few days ago, both kids had told me I was “clumsy” in no uncertain terms. Neither of them stood up for me at all. It’s a pretty apt description. I was not only born with two left feet but they are usually heading the wrong direction. I’m sure I’ve also broken a few toes in my time. On top of that, there’s my muscle disease. It takes a crane to get me out of bed most mornings.

I’ve never heard of someone who is clumsy being a good dancer before and you can’t blame me for feeling confused.

When it comes to physie, I’m quite happy to drive the taxi instead of taking to the floor.

But…

But…

If the idea of me taking up physie is so ridiculous, why didn’t I just dismiss it outright?

I suspect that the idea was so far left of left field that I couldn’t ignore it. Why physie? Why physie of all things? I could understand something more sedentary but physie is pretty physically active. I mean you need to learn to do the splits. That’s usually something I only do when my ankle gives way…which it does pretty often by the way.

There’s also the matter of wearing a leotard in public.

However…

Sometimes somebody else can see things in you which you can’t see in yourself and they can lead you onto an entirely new path of self-discovery. Is this one of those things? Should I just dip my toe  in the water and give physie a go? Is it something I need to do like going to the dentist or going on a diet? You do it because know it’s going to be good for you. I’ve had root canal before. Even though going public in a leotard could be painful, it isn’t root canal. We all need to work on our weaknesses and besides, I might actually have fun, meet new people and extend myself.

All this positive, motivational talk stuff is great. However, there are some serious downsides to taking up physie.

Top of the list has to be strutting around a crowded room in a leotard flaunting my six pack. Nobody 40+ really wants to be doing that without some serious camouflage and there is none. At least at the beach, you can wear a sarong or hide beneath your towel.

Then, there’s the matter of the hair and make-up. My hair is usually a very neglected after-thought and I’m certainly not up on hair styles of any sort or using curlers or applying hair spray through a fire hose. Make-up isn’t my thing either. These days, lipstick is usually reserved for exceptionally formal occasions and I usually struggle to find one anyway.

But surely physie is more than leotards, hair and make-up? I’ve looked into all of this for my daughter. Physie builds up all those all-important mind, body, spirit connections that somehow come together to enhance brain plasticity. I could use a bit of brain enhancement.

Then again, I don’t know why I’m even considering taking up physie. We only got into physie because:

1)      Her friends were doing it.

2)      It was convenient.

3)      They offered two free lessons and I didn’t expect her to take it up.

4)      My daughter thought physie actually meant fizzy drinks.

Who am I kidding? I know I’ll never take up physie. I know that I shouldn’t call myself defective but it feels like there isn’t much of this body which really works anymore. That doesn’t hugely bother me most of the time because I’ve never been sporty. In fact, I’ve always had quite an allergy to sport. But what with all this personal development stuff and trying to maximise my health, I am seriously wondering whether I should be extending myself? Work on my weakness! By putting myself in this “bad at sport” pigeon-hole, am I in fact selling myself short? Could I actually do it? Or, should I just  have a go and do what I can? Surely, something is better than nothing? I know stretching is good for my muscles and Tai Chi has been recommended before.

Perhaps, I could just test the waters doing physie with my daughter at home in secret. That would mean no leotards, so fancy hairstyles or make-up and if I have a nasty accident, I could just quietly call the ambulance in private instead of winding up in the local paper or even on the news! Physie Mum Breaks Neck…I can just see the headlines now!

I’m also not sure whether someone who uses a walking stick now can actually do physie. It does give a new slant on twirling the baton.

Perhaps, taking on physie is a bit beyond me…certainly at the moment when my muscle disease has flared up. Maybe, it’s okay to explain to my daughter that Mummy isn’t super human and I can’t do everything. Just like anybody else, there are things that I can do and things which I can’t. That’s no big deal but…

How can I tell my kids not only to have a go but to persevere at things when I won’t have a go myself? I’ve taken up the violin and practiced almost daily for the last six months initially to encourage our daughter. Provide an example. Show her how to persevere through the squeaks, playing two strings at the same time, and then being able to play beautiful music.

A few years ago, I reluctantly did a very basic Aussie Rules Football (AFL) coaching course to help our son with his AFL. Every year, they have the annual parents versus kids’ game at the end of season and I got way ahead of myself and the next thing I knew, one of the kids had tackled me. AFL was something I needed to watch from the sidelines.

I am open to possibility, trying new things, extending myself but…

I should just learn to say no. I really am too busy, over-extended and I really need to focus. As it is, I am being split in so many different directions that I don’t know where I’m going. No, I definitely do not have the time, mental space or energy for any new activities right now.

Besides, last night my husband suggested I learn the basics of the guitar to help our son with his guitar practice. Since I took up the violin to help our daughter, I feel I should support our son even if my husband is already helping him. He really seems quite keen and he may have found his thing. We have been looking for his thing and I really want to encourage him along. The thing is I just can’t get my head around the guitar with chords and things. I grew up playing piano and the guitar seems a very different beast. But I have decided to have a go. I’ll at least try to look like I understand what he’s talking about. I’ll get him to teach me. He’ll like that!!

I also wonder whether I am taking things too far. Just because my kids are interested something, that doesn’t mean I have to take it up as well. But I don’t like the idea of just being Mum’s taxi either. I’d prefer a much more interactive, proactive role…not just passive. I also want to be involved in their lives and do things together. Take an interest. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have to live their lives. Become them. I don’t have to take up their each and every interest just listen, observer and gently encourage.

I am also wondering whether suggesting physie was a serious suggestion or was it nothing more profound than wanting to spend more time with Mummy?

I might just ask her teacher about adult classes for beginners tomorrow. Meanwhile, I’m hoping our daughter will forget all about it and I might just get off the hook.

Being extended is all very good but nobody wants to snap!

Battery People

When you are outside the system, you can develop a different perspective.

That’s what’s happened with me and “work”.

Although I work in paid employment one to two days a week, I am definitely not part of the rat race. I only dip my little toe in the water.

This hasn’t been by choice but is the result of my numerous health problems as well as wanting to spend time with the kids. I also write quite furiously and that is a job in itself but at this point it is “unpaid” and as such “doesn’t count”. I also volunteer both at the school and on the Status of Women Committee at our local council. I am busy, work hard, am inspired and very motivated but largely operate outside the   9 to 5 grind.

I am also able to do this and have a roof over our heads because my husband plays “the rat”. He commutes one and a half hours each way on the train to Sydney every day. He also works one Sunday a month and is also on call. He puts in long hours at work and is also my carer.

All of this means that when it comes to work, I am more of an observer and outside the system.

So this is my question: why has work turned into such a religion for so many, many people? An obsession? The only source of meaningful fulfillment? I know for many it is sheer necessity but work certainly has a cult following. Why?

I understand the need to buy your own home. Provide well for your family and be able to indulge in a few niceties. Nobody wants to go without. We all need to put food on the table and be financially independent.

However, I’m not just talking about work itself here but more about attitude.How work is put up on such a mighty deis in our society, when it’s really just a means to an end.

Furthermore, this definition of all meaningful work as “paid work” is extremely narrow. It has nothing to do with being industrious, productive or innovative. It’s all about exchanging labour for money. For some reason, being paid somehow turns work into “work” with some kind of golden halo.

But is money the right yardstick for measuring fulfillment? The more you are paid, the more you contribute to our society. The more important you are.

Perhaps, we should ask Mother Theresa?

What I am seeing is actually a new form of slavery. That’s a strong word but how else can you accurately describe the 9 to 5 rat race especially when you consider that the 9 to 5 part of the equation has now spun out of control. So many are now leashed to work almost 24/7 via mobiles phones and email?

Is that your definition of fulfillment?

A lot of my friends have chickens at home. They insist their chickens roam free range. The chickens have to be free but what about people? What are we doing to ourselves? Are we the next generation of battery hens locking ourselves up in our cubicles at work?

We don’t want to admit to it but there’s more than just a bit of truth, isn’t there?!!

When was the last time you went for a stroll along the beach? Fed the ducks? Smelt the roses? Do you even know whether the sun is actually shining outside or even on the inside? How in tune are you with your own emotions?

Do you even know your own children, your partner or even yourself?

Or do you know your job like the back of your own hand?

Work can be so comfortable like an old, worn pair of jeans. Work is often so much easier to fathom than people. We usually know what we’re doing which is certainly much easier than managing relationships.

I’m not saying I have all the answers but I’m certainly asking a lot of questions.

It has taken me a long, long time to reach this point where I’m no longer dependent on paid work for my self-esteem, identity, sense of belonging and feeling essentially “human”.

I literally had grief counseling when I had brain surgery 15 years ago. I was told I was a “human being, not a human doing”” As much as that all sounded great at the time, it didn’t change how I saw myself. Who I was to myself as a person and that was not only as a working person but as a professional, a career woman, an achiever. I certainly didn’t relate to this new person in a tracksuit and sneakers being driven to and from rehab appointments by her mum. I was 28 years old. Why would I? I was a free and independent woman. I’d just been living on the other side of the country. I’d live overseas. I was well and truly my own person. I really grieved for that person and felt such an intensely painful sense of loss. For awhile there where I didn’t know whether I would ever regain some semblance of a “normal” life back, I felt like I had died and this shell, my body, had just gone on living. I didn’t relate to this new me at all.

It is true what they say about how time heals. Certainly, I recovered almost fully form the brain surgery and went back to work. Met and married my husband. Had kids. Picked up another rare and life threatening medical condition. Life goes on.

Through all of this, I slowly came to realise that work wasn’t everything and that I was still essentially me whether I worked or not.

Fortunately, I got into photography. This not only got me out of the house. It gave me a new and perhaps even more exciting identity. I was no longer the “invalid”. I somehow became a photographer. People were much more interested in talking about photography than work anyway. I had been working with marketing databases and really that was very boring and not me anyway.

Fast-forwarding just a little and getting back to the here and now, even though most of my work is unpaid at the moment, I can also get just as lost in my work as the next person. I write poetry, songs and stories while having breakfast with the kids and switch off and go into the zone. I can chat and chat and chat to my friends instead of focusing on the kids at times as well. I can also place myself in a stranger’s shoes and sometimes “understand” them better than my own family or close friends. That doesn’t make any sense to me either but it happens. I struggle to get the basics done and yet write, paint and play my violin. I can’t remember the last time I went to the beach even though it’s only metres away although I do indulge in a hot chocolate and a chat with my friend in at the boutique at least one morning a week. It’s also been a long time since I last fed the ducks.

I do put in a lot of time with the kids but like anyone I could always do more…but I could also do less. Moreover, it’s not just about doing either. It’s about love and being there. That is as much a spiritual connection as it is physical. You know when you are loved. Well, maybe not. Things do get lost in the translation. Love is a lot more complicated and tricky than any of us ever believed possible when we walked down the aisle to “Here Comes the bride” or gave birth to our beloved offspring.

I remember what my GP told me not long after our son was born. It’s about being a good enough parent… not the perfect parent. This applies to your spouse as well. As much as we’d all like to be perfect and I am really, really hard on myself at times, I have to remind myself that good enough is sufficient. I don’t have to be Supermum or Superwife… just me in all my quirky, technicolour glory. Most of the time, I can’t pull off being somebody else anyway. I trip over both feet and land face first in the mud.

So many of us are really struggling to find a meaningful work life balance whether that is in paid or unpaid work. But no matter who we are and what we do, we all need downtime and the opportunity to be free range or we risk becoming battery human beings. I ask you whether any amount of money or status is really worth selling your soul?

Lastly, we all need to respect anybody and everybody in unpaid work. We are all equal . Whether we are paid or unpaid for our labour, doesn’t reflect our character, our values or our contribution to our family, our community or the environment.

I would particularly like to elevate mothers who generally make many, many sacrifices not only to bring up their own children but also to volunteer and contribute to the community even through doing the reading at school or helping out on canteen. Many are doing this in addition to some form of paid work. Yet so often, I hear people putting mothers down. It really is a disgrace. Without our mothers, we wouldn’t have no people anymore.

I would also like to note that I do feel this post was somewhat “inspired”. I wrote it this morning in one go after breakfast and it’s barely been edited. I thought it should pretty much be read as is and readers could make their own conclusions and comments.

PS. You won’t believe this. Speaking of being inspired, after just writing about taking time out to feed the ducks, my husband was just putting out the garbage and called me out the front. There was a pair of wild ducks at our front door. It was all a bit freaky to be honest. I write about feeding the ducks and then there they are like a home delivery service. We have lived in this house for over 12 years and I can’t remember ever seeing ducks here before. It’s all a bit freaky if you ask me!

Taking time out to feed the ducks.

If any of you are familiar with the work of writer and cartoonist Michael Leunig,  he often incorporates a duck into his work. I think he even has a rather quirky duck with a teapot on its head. This moment seemed very Leunigesque. It is after all 10.00 o’clock at night. What were they doing here? Were they looking for a bit of a last minute takeaway snack?

Yes, I fed the ducks a bit of bread and the dog is currently doing circuits round the lounge. Somehow, I don’t think he is looking for friendship.

Good night and best wishes,

Rowena

You can visit Michael Leunig at http://www.leunig.com.au

PS After having the ducks turn up last night, I ended up with even more serendipity today. A friend called up needing some scenic beach photos so I actually ended up walking along the beach in the sun with my camera. I have had quite a stressful morning with our son and that was exactly what I needed.

Self-portrait at the beach… another touch of serendipity.

Meant to Be… Whale Beach Revisited.

Recently, I had the strangest experience. One of those freaky coincidence experiences that really makes you wonder how the universe operates and how these seemingly unrelated cogs suddenly end up whirling together in unison.

Whether you believe in God or not is almost irrelevant because it’s hard to believe that God who operates on such a grand scale such as creating the universe, would have time to be bothered with the minutiae of things. But then something happens that makes you question all of that. God strangely seems to have all his fingers in your pie, guiding and directing you in such small and subtle ways that it’s all quite mind blowing.

I use the word “serendipity” to describe these moments. Sometimes things happen that are just too slick for any kind of explanation and I guess you’re just left with what was “meant to be”.

Only the night before, I’d been discussing serendipity with a friend. Since I’ve sort exited the rat race  due to my health issues, I’ve ended up in a spot where to some extent, I can let my life go with the flow a bit. I am a bit more flexible and can respond to changes of direction instead of being stuck on the old railroad track. I’ve had my plans but I’ve also been on some fabulous goat trails which have extended me so far beyond what I ever considered possible. This has included starting to learn the violin this year.

As John Lennon said:

Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans…

Just for the sake of honesty and disclosure, I am a Christian but I’m not a ram it down your throat Christian. I experience a spiritual God who actively guides my life even when I’m focused on other things. I am a human, breathing miracle just like every other person on this planet.

So often we miss what God is doing in our lives or don’t understand that suffering is necessary for growth and as much as we don’t like adversity, it is part of life. Ironically, without adversity, we do not build resilience and we lack backbone, inner fortitude and we fall apart at the first sign of trouble. Adversity is as essential to personal growth as air is for breathing.

That doesn’t mean I like it but life is what it is.

Anyway, yesterday morning my daughter was competing in her first physical culture (physie) competition down at Terrey Hills. She had to be there at 8.30 AM so we stayed at my parents’ place in Sydney the night before and we had a 6.30AM start. That’s incredibly early for a pair of night owls.

Physie is a combination of march, dance and gymnastics set to music. The girls have to remember quite detailed routines and it strikes me as being very precise and disciplined. My daughter does it with her friends after school and our club has a fabulous sense of community and fun as well as encouraging the girls to apply and extend themselves.

As I mentioned before, this was Amelia’s first competition and although we’d had a trial run the week before, it was still quite nerve-wracking as it is when you try something new. I usually chat to my friends during physie and miss the gist of what’s going on. Hence, I had to a buy the regulation leotard in a stressful, last-minute panic. I also remembered hearing something about the hair and curls and being being able to buy some kind of twisty doobywackers to do the job. Not being much of a hair person myself, I didn’t bother filing that thought along with a thousand and one erroneous pieces of paper which are floating around this place like lost swans. You know how it is. You just get completely overloaded!!

In the end, her hair looked  gorgeous in a straight ponytail and I thought I was Mighty Mum just because I’d managed to get a hair ribbon in a matching colour. I’m just trying to keep things simple, especially for our first competition.  You can get dreadful performance anxiety as a mother. Not because you’re worried your kid is going to screw up. You just have this awful sinking feeling you’ve forgotten something and that you will be the weakest link.

The performance part was almost an anti-climax. There was no big catastrophe.  She remembered her routine. She didn’t get a place but she was happy with her pink participation medal. It was all over quite early and we had the rest of the day ahead of us.

Now, any sensible “sick” person would have gone straight home to bed after all of that excitement but not this little black duck.

We were off to Whale Beach.

I know this plan sounds somewhat insane given that I’m currently on 50mg a day of prednisone and my muscles are starting to waste away. Instead, you would think that I would have a nice, quiet day instead. But I am who I am. Carpe diem… seize the day. Tomorrow, I can crash. Besides, on this much prednisone, I’m like a Morris Minor with a V8 engine. I’m zooming along with all sorts of bits falling off. I’m probably about to combust. But I literally can’t stop!!

This was the first time I have driven down to Sydney myself in at least 8 years. I can’t even remember the last time I’d driven down to Sydney myself. So there I was in Sydney with the car halfway to the Northern Beaches and a trip to Whale Beach made such perfect practical sense.  I have only driven past the house once or twice since we sold it over ten years ago. That place was like my heart and soul being turned inside out and painted onto an enormous canvas. I desperately wanted to go back. See the house. Go and sit on my rock and absorb the waves. Share it all with my little girl! It would be so, so special!

Recently, I had realised that Whale Beach has dropped out of our family narrative. We’ve  moved on and I didn’t think the kids knew much about it at all. You can’t live in the past but I want them to know me. Experience me. Whale Beach has been such a significant chapter that I couldn’t leave it out. It’s still etched into my fingerprints, my heartbeat, my very being.

So our adventure began. Driving up Mona Vale Road past the Baha’i Temple, I slipped back in time. I have driven up and down this road hundreds of times before and even though it’s been a very long time, I still know it  like the back of my hand. I am going home. I am so excited but there is a little bit of caution too. What if they have knocked the place down? It’s been over ten years…a long time when you’re a 1960s shoebox shack with million dollar views.

As I park opposite the old house, I notice some people outside and wonder if they’re connected with the house. I don’t know what I was really thinking at this point. I was just grateful the house was still there.

When we first bought the place, it was painted primer pink and the cupboards were filled with all sorts of relics from the 1960s….old Women’s Weeklies, an old porcelain jug, empty Chianti bottles. There was even an ancient bottle of Detol.  There were all sorts of funny bits and pieces tucked away all over the place and we kept them. They were fascinating.

Mum and Dad had bought Whale Beach, well our little patch of it anyway, while I was still at uni. As a uni student, you really couldn’t ask for anything better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t drive at the time so there were grueling trips from Wynyard Station on the 190 bus and a hellish climb over the hill to reach paradise. Of course, there were parties. New Year’s Eve  staying up all night at the beach by the campfire and watching the sunrise over the water…a new beginning. For some strange reason, I still believe that life starts over on January 1st each year. Silly me!

There were also many, many hours of deep contemplative reflection, atomic angst and bust ups, broken hearts. The storms weren’t always over the sea.

But ultimately, it was a place of healing. Sewing broken hearts back together. Writing, journaling, working through stuff as I watched the street light twist and turn like a snake shining across the waves down the southern end of the beach.

Anyway, as I get out of the car, this young bloke calls out to me and asks if I could give him a jump start. From my point of view, he’s just asked me to perform open heart surgery on his vehicle. I can feel myself starting to panic a little. I really want to help but this is way out of my league. As anybody who knows me knows, I am not technical. I am certainly not mechanical and I’m really not practical either. The only thing I know about my car is that it’s blue and it has a luggage pod on top and that’s how I find it in the car park.

I am also a reformed nervous driver. I have realised that I have serious spatial deficits and it’s all about parking and manoeuvring the car in tight situations that’s the problem …not the actual driving itself. This doesn’t help me with the jump starting.  I will need to jiggle the car into position and this is looking very tricky indeed. Jump starting this car on windy narrow beach road presses all my alarm bells but I am feeling strangely confident. After all, I am on 50mg of prednisone and it really does make you feel like you can do just about anything.

The bloke senses my hesitation and asks if I’m in a hurry and then asks what I’m doing there. Not in an interrogative way but it’s not the tourist end of town. I tell him that my Dad used to own the house across the road. He tells me that his Dad currently owns the house. Suddenly, we are no longer two strangers passing by daylight. There is this link. Suddenly, the seemingly impossible becomes a reality and I am suddenly standing inside my parents’ old beach house and he is taking a photo of my daughter and I standing on the balcony with all of Whale Beach stretching out behind us. I am in absolute heaven.

I had never thought in my wildest dreams that this would ever happen but I can also  hear my mother saying: “only you Rowena”. I am always meeting strangers and establishing strange coincidences.

But we still haven’t jump started the car yet. Of all the people this poor guy had to ask for help, he must have picked the worst. Just turning the car around was a challenge and I no idea how to open the bonnet. I felt like such an idiot but we can’t be good at everything. I offer an emotional philosophical breakdown service. I’m not the NRMA but I came through. He got his car started and our paths deviated once again.

Mummy on the rocks.

I was on top of the world gushing with so much thought and emotion seeing the old place again but I still wanted to show Miss my rock down on the southern end of Whale Beach. The rock overlooks the surging waves and I just sit there watching them smash against the rocks exploding into a million million water droplets. The waves sound deep like there is some kind of underground cave. I am impressed by the sheer force and power of the waves…the energy. I can almost hear them breathing.

Miss is collecting blue periwinkle shells and lining them up and watches the snails stick their tongues out below and wiggle their tails. She is mesmerised. She runs off with the video camera and starts filming her own documentary. She is wearing a black vinyl jacket and looks very much the film director…just gorgeous.

I find some rock pools filled with squiggly snail trails. I remember photographing these many years ago and show them to Miss. I want to photograph her feet next to them. She tells me that “snails make the best drawers” and she films her feet while I take the photos. I can’t help looking at her and seeing a glimpse of my own reflection. She has told me before that I have stolen her hair and we look quite similar but she also sees the world through the lens and finds herself stranded on a rock surrounded by the waves with the video camera in hand. She is crying. I can’t reach her but a stranger comes to her rescue. She was never in any danger but at that moment, I knew she had the bug. She’d do anything for the shot!!

Anything to get the shot.

It was hard to leave Whale Beach but Geoff and our son were arriving on the Palm Beach Ferry. They’d been to football and were meeting up to go back to my parents’ place for my birthday party.

Family portrait at Palm Beach Wharf

This was my last day of being 42. If you have ever read the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, you will know that 42 is answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. This day kind of finished things up rather poignantly. I was satisfied…content. I could move forward.

I am now wondering, now that the mystery has finally been unraveled, what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?

That’s right. Now, I just need to find out: “What was the question?”