Listening For The Answer

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Last Thursday was R U OK? Day in Australia. Founded by Gavin Larkin after the suicide of his father, it is a day to remind us to check in with our fellow travellers through life starting with the simple question “Are you okay?”

This year’s R U OK? Day took on particular poignancy in the wake of the death a few days before of a well-known Australian footballer and coach in a single vehicle crash that investigations seem to indicate was deliberate.

We can never really know the pain another is carrying so it’s important to start a conversation that may save a life.

But before you ask the question “Are you okay?” here’s a couple of things to think about:

1. Be prepared to listen to the answer

This is no “How are you?” automatic piece of politeness. If you’re going to ask someone if they are okay, you need to be prepared to listen to the answer. And don’t take any preconceived ideas into the conversation about what you think may be wrong. If the answer doesn’t match your preconceptions, you run the risk of dismissing the answer or ending the conversation because it’s not as bad as you thought or you don’t think it’s something worth talking about. Which brings me to the next point.

2. The experience of pain is unique to each person

The “Orchid Hypothesis” put forward by David Dobbs supposes that some children are more strongly affected by both positive and negative experiences in their lives while ‘dandelions’ thrive in whatever life throws at them. In a similar vein, Jerome Kagan researched the effect new experiences had on a group of 4-month-old babies and predicted (correctly) that those who reacted strongly by loud cries and rapid movement were the ones most likely to grow up to be introverts while those who remained quieter and calmer would likely be extroverts. He introduced the terms “high-reactive” and “low-reactive” to describe those who are deeply affected by new experiences and those who are less so. And this has a physiological basis. High-reactive people have a more reactive amygdala, the part of the brain that controls many of our basic emotions such as fear.*

All this sciencey stuff is just to say that people have different pain thresholds for mental and emotional pain just as they do for physical pain. So, when you ask “Are you okay?”, the other person may describe an experience that has made them not okay that may seem trivial to you. But the pain to that person is real and deserves as much care and attention as any other experience.

It’s also worth noting that high-reactive people are often aware that their reaction to an event may seem minor to others and may use words such as “It’s nothing”, “It’s stupid” or “It’s really nothing worth talking about”. They need to be told that it is something, it’s not stupid and you do want to listen if they want to talk about it.

3. Empathy not sympathy

In responding to a person’s answer, it’s important to respond with empathy not sympathy. I could explain the difference but I think this video does it in a much clearer and more entertaining way:

 

So, take the time to look around you, notice the people in your life and find out if they’re okay. The R U OK? website has some fantastic resources for having these conversations.

I’m not going to expect you to answer “Are you okay?” in the public forum of the comments on this blog but I do ask you that question and hope you can find someone you trust to talk to if your answer is “No.” There are also trusted services such as Lifeline you can call.

Blessings.

*Reference: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

PS I’m also not going to answer the question in this public forum. I will admit to some mental health struggles in recent times which has prompted this post but I am receiving good support and assistance and while the seas are still a bit choppy, I am no longer feeling swamped. Thanks for asking. 🙂

 

Fighting the Fear and Finding ‘I am’

I joined the school choir in Grade 2 when I was seven. I was a part of the choir at three different schools throughout my schooling. That’s eleven years of school choirs. In my final year of school I was in both the main choir and the twelve-member madrigal choir and I played the Scarecrow in the school production of the Wizard of Oz. This performance garnered me a scholarship from a local theatre company (of which I was a member) for a year of singing lessons.

I was a member of a church singing group for more years than I can be bothered going back to figure out.

I spent eight years performing musical theatre with a local amateur group.

I’ve been a member of community singing groups for the past twelve years.

And yet, you won’t hear the phrase “I am a singer” come out of my mouth.

(Yes, those of you who have been following this blog long enough may think this sounds familiar. I had similar issues with calling myself a runner until I successfully completed my first marathon. What can I say? My psyche is not built for self-confidence.)

I had piano lessons as a child/teenager and I can, to varying basic levels, also play guitar, ukulele and banjo. At various points in my life I have picked up and then discarded the flute and harmonica. (I also learned to play the recorder at school but everybody does that so it doesn’t deserve a mention.)

Not just a Jack of All Trades but a Jack of All Players.

But I’ve never sat a music exam. Ever.

Why not?

Good question and one I’ve had to ask myself a bit over the past several months.

And?

And it comes down to fear as these things usually do. For me, a fear of judgement and not living up to expectations.

My mother informs me it has always been this way for me since childhood.

Sometimes the genetic lottery gives you a messed up hand of life-cards.

My fear and dislike of judgement is so deep, I have to walk out of the room during those TV talent shows when the judges make their comments. I can’t even bear it for a total stranger.

So how was it that on Friday 21st June, I found myself standing in front of an examiner about to try and prove myself in a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam?

Another very good question.

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How did I get here?

Last year, when the opportunity was offered via email from the leader of my singing group to sign up for preparing for an exam in March this year, I declined the offer on the basis that I would be away at that time. Devastated, I was. [cough]

Then, one night I messaged to confirm my participation in a singing technique workshop the next day only to find out that my booking had been misplaced and the workshop had in fact been cancelled with only one other participant having signed up. I was informed that, however, there was the first workshop for the Grade 3 exam candidates. Maybe I’d like to come? I could always do the exam at a later date if I was going to be away. Or, I suggested, maybe I could come with the agreement that I didn’t have to actually do the exam.

This is my ideal situation – a chance to learn but no commitment to prove it.

It was agreed.

But you did the exam. What happened?

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out. My singing leader, also a dear friend, is a champion button pusher and she knows exactly which buttons to push and when. At some point – I think when I was in the middle of solving a problem on her laptop – she suggested that really I could do the Grade 5 exam.

Firstly, it turned out the exam would actually be in May or June, it was just the deadline to sign up was in March. So I didn’t have my absence as an excuse.

Secondly, I am both pathologically obsessed with knowing everything about a situation and chronically dedicated to ‘doing the right thing’. So, about to head overseas and out of reach of any sort of contact, I was aware from my research that the closing date for exam applications would come while I was in the Himalayas of Nepal. Of course it was tempting to disappear overseas and then return to the online world with a ‘oh shucks, sorry’ but my need to always do the right thing meant that I pointed out before I left that I would need to answer the question of doing the exam before I left.

Okay, so my other failing is a weakness for pushing myself outside my comfort zone.

In the way of the universe, this quote had also floated across my online vision a few days before:

Neil Gaiman quote

 

“Are you happy for me to enrol you while you are away?” I was asked.

“Do it,” I replied. Then I flew away to Nepal.

Did I wonder what I was thinking? You bet.

Even more so when I got back and headed straight into final training for Oxfam Trailwalker and after that the Great Ocean Road Marathon. Seriously, what was I thinking? Did I plan to permanently live outside my comfort zone??

Of course, the addition of a blood clot in my lung that made breathing painful (let alone the deep breaths needed for some of my singing exercises) was a complication I didn’t expect. I suppose I was grateful that when the exam date came it was some weeks afterwards when I was on the mend but my preparation was definitely compromised.

I prepared as best I could. On days I was stressed, I would undertake more ‘academic’ work – I would write out all my general knowledge answers or research all the musical terms in my sheet music for my songs. It was calming for me.

Exam day came. My exam wasn’t until 3.20pm which was somewhat painful. Then, when I arrived, they were running late and so I had to wait even longer. Here’s me trying to be cool about it (while a jelly of nerves inside).

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If you’re thinking the person I’m talking to looks calm that’s because she’s already done her exam. Lucky duck.

 

I think I should point out that this exam was like a Sara Lee dessert of all the worst things for me – layer upon layer upon layer. I had to:

  1. be the centre of attention
  2. sing solo
  3. sing solo to a total stranger
  4. be judged on that singing

I thought the worst thing was having to sing to a stranger but in fact, I found it easier. I wrapped myself in my invisible theatre cloak and put on the act. And, somehow, pulled it off. My singing leader/teacher/friend came in to accompany me for my last song (the previous three songs being performed to a backing track) and gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up as she came in.

Even now, with the results in my hand, I can’t believe I did what I did.

And? What were the results??

It was an anxious wait for the results but not as fraught as you might think. In order to help me try and stay calm in the lead up to the exam, I had decided to put it into marathon terms. I was, I decided, happy to just cross the finish line. For the exam, this meant just completing the exam to the best of my ability. After all, I’d never done a music exam. Just going through the process was an achievement of which to be proud. A ‘respectable time’ or in this case, a pass was just a bonus. A PB was an unimaginable flight of fancy.

And after the exam that’s how I felt. I was proud of myself for going through the exam and completing it to the best of my ability. Obviously, a pass would be appreciated but I had no ambitions beyond that.

Oh, for Pete’s sake! What was the result?!?

Okay. Okay.

I achieved Honours. A score of 89%. (Embarrassingly, I will confess that the over-achiever in me was a bit annoyed I didn’t crack the 90. Some people are hopeless….)

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It was interesting to note in the report that most marks were lost because of tension in my chest, neck and jaw. Well, let’s see. I am in the process of recovering from a pulmonary embolism and I was undertaking my first ever music exam. Imagine what I could have achieved without those….

And so there you have it. I not only undertook a challenge I had not intended to entertain but achieved a grade unimaginable.

Will I do another?

Not on your life.

However.

As part of preparing for my exam, I did some music theory study. I found it fascinating and helpful in so many ways. So that is my next challenge. I’d like to tackle a music theory exam. How’s the weather out there in that Uncomfortable Zone?

Some people are hopeless…

Addendum

The wash-up from this exam – not only for me but for the other six candidates – has left me thinking about the value of external validation. To be honest, some of the impetus for signing up for the exam was yearning for proof that I can sing. I guess I got that. I guess that maybe I can start rehearsing the line “I am a singer”.

In the end, however, the judgement of someone’s singing ability is subjective. It sits in narrow parameters and disallows the additional factors that make a singer’s contribution to the world that represents true musicality and impact.

I now possess a piece of paper that says I can pass a Grade 5 Modern Singing exam but does it show that I can work as a team member of a group and support my fellow singers to produce the most pleasing sound? Does it really represent the emotion – the joy, the sorrow, the frustration, the confusion – that I can experience in the act of singing? Does a piece of paper truly represent the hurdles that each of us has had to overcome? More importantly, does the lack of a piece of paper dictate the lack of value of a singer?

No, it does not.

I am incredibly blessed to be tutored by some immensely talented and generous singers. Would a professional organisation value the skill and love these singers impart to we lesser mortals to the extent they deserve? No, they wouldn’t. The reality is that exams are a narrow qualification of skill and talent. For me, the selfless sharing of talent, knowledge, care and support is unassessable. Someone out there ought to create a qualification that evaluates the impact someone has in terms of fostering a love of singing, especially in those who have been told for too many years that they should not sing. There are beautiful singers out there just waiting to be discovered by the right spirit. It’s an incredible gift to give the world and too unappreciated by the ‘powers that be’. I have personally witnessed the awakening of amazing singers who have hidden away since being told as a shy twelve-year-old to just ‘mime the words’. I have also witnessed the encouragement of an incredible teacher reveal those reluctant singers to be powerhouses of talent.

I would not be where I am without those incredible people. They are talented and knowledgeable singers but more importantly, generous sharers of that talent and knowledge.

I am a singer.

But only because I have been blessed by knowing such talented people as my singing teacher friends. You people rock and are the rock of my singing life.

 

Walking The Walk

How long do you think it would take you to walk 100 kilometres? Could you do it in 36 hours? 24? Less than 20? (Ultra-marathoners need not apply – you people are freaks.)

Each year, around the world, international charity organisation Oxfam gives you the opportunity to answer that question and to raise money for their work to eliminate poverty worldwide.

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Oxfam Trailwalker “was established in 1981 by Brigadier Mervyn Lee in Hong Kong as a training exercise by the Queen’s Gurkha Signals, part of the Brigade of Gurkhas of the British Army, which was at the time based in the British colony. In 1986, teams of civilians were allowed to take part and Oxfam Hong Kong was invited to co-organise the event.

In 1997, with the handover of Hong Kong to China, the Gurkha regiments were relocated to the United Kingdom. The Trailwalker event followed the Gurkhas’ relocation and was organised over the South Downs in Sussex, with Oxfam in the UK acting as partner since 2002, alongside the Gurkha Welfare Trust. Oxfam Hong Kong continued to organise the original event without the Gurkhas and the event has grown with 17 events now taking place across 10 countries worldwide.” [Wikipedia]

This year, Oxfam Australia celebrated 20 years of Trailwalker, the Sydney event starting in 1999 with Melbourne not long after in 2003. A Brisbane event was established in 2011 and one in Perth in 2013 (although it was decided not to run this event this year).

Trailwalker involves a team of four completing a 100 kilometre trail within a set time. The time varies across events but ranges from 30 to 48 hours. This year the Melbourne event hosted a brand new trail and reduced the previous 48 hour cut off to 36 hours.

If this is sounding all very familiar and you’re thinking, “Hang on. Haven’t you done this event before?”, you are correct. I did the Melbourne event in 2014 (read about it here) after previously participating in 2012. Despite both times having sworn I’d never do it again (usually about 80km in at 3 o’clock in the morning when everything is aching and you think you’ll never see the sun again), I signed up again this year. Hey, it was a new trail. And being the 20th Anniversary, there was BLING!

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The first challenge when you decide to take on Trailwalker is to find a team. It always made me laugh when I’d start telling someone about it and they’d sound keen until they realised it wasn’t a relay event. “No, you don’t walk 25km each. You have to walk the whole 100km.” Often I then had to move on to finding another victim candidate.

The key to selecting a team is not so much about physical fitness (although, obviously a good level of fitness is necessary) but about mental toughness. It’s a gruelling event, particularly for your mind and you need people who can push through when your body is screaming for you to stop. Obviously, given you’re going to be together for many hours, it’s a good idea if you also get along well.

For this year’s team, I managed to rope in my brother who completed the event with me in 2014 and my marathon-running friend from my 2012 team. The fourth member was a friend from work who is a bushwalker and has walked the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea.

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The Captains on the Trail

What is also crucial is an excellent support crew. I’ve been lucky to have two friends who have volunteered for this role for each of my Trailwalker attempts. They are the champions of support crews and I am grateful beyond suitable words for their willingness to repeatedly participate in this role.

 

Obviously, serious training goes into such an event. We walked increasingly longer lengths of the trail, including one memorable 47km leg on a 37°C day. The last big walk was two weeks before the event when we walked two 40km efforts, one on Saturday afternoon, the second on Sunday morning. Of course, despite the aching legs and blistered feet, who could complain about the chance to walk in beautiful settings with people you like?

 

This was my third crack at Trailwalker but you never stop learning. We’ve taken lessons away from each of the events I’ve completed from how a team should respond to a team member becoming very slow to never underestimating the importance of foot care. Also, nothing beats an egg and bacon roll for breakfast after walking all night. (Or egg and cheese for the vegetarians. I don’t know what vegans should do.)

This year also taught me just how much the event is a psychological challenge more than a physical one. It’s not just pushing yourself past your limits but it’s the fact you’re also trying to push three other people to the finish line. So when a team member struggles at a difficult section and you have to wait for them to push through, you need to pull on every bit of patience you can find in yourself. When a team member slows down in the later sections, you’ve got to find words of encouragement when your brain just wants to shut down. Perhaps because I’ve been the one to put the team together (and therefore designated ‘Team Leader’), I’ve felt a higher level of responsibility for everyone in the team, worrying if they’re okay, if they’re happy, talking through frustrations, willing everyone to the finish line.

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Gripe: The team running in the middle finished in 15 hours. The three other teams who lined up at the front finished in 28-30 hours. And this was their target time. Why do people put themselves at the front when they know large numbers are going to have to get past them? (© Kris Smythe)

This year we had a target time of 24 hours. Having completed the 2012 and 2014 events in 26:15 and 25:35 respectively, and the new trail seeming a bit less challenging it was a target that seemed achievable.

Until things fell apart in the second section of the trail. The newbie member of the team suddenly found the going tough when we encountered the first serious hills only 12.5km into the trail. We hadn’t walked this section in training as it was a last minute change to the course due to protests from local walking groups about one of the original sections. My brother and I had walked it before as it had been part of the 2014 trail but it was new for this member. As the going got slower and slower, we could see that we were not going to remain on track. By the time we reached the checkpoint we were nearly 2 hours behind schedule.

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The Lyrebird Track – such a pretty name for a most definitely unpretty hill.

This meant an adjustment to our plan and we had to shift dinner and breakfast stops. But here’s the interesting thing: in many ways the change worked out better than the original plan.

Firstly we were able to combine a warm clothes change stop and our dinner stop into one thus saving 30 minutes. Not long after we sat down under cover for dinner, the rain came pouring down. Had we been on the original plan, we’d have been out in it.

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Please stop before we have to walk again. (© Kris Smythe)

Dinner was at a more convenient time for our support crew members to get to and settle into their accommodation before needing to meet us for breakfast.

The night leg is always the hardest. Many teams choose to sleep but I can’t imagine trying to get my legs to start moving again after lying down for a few hours. I’ve always found it best to just push through.

We left our support crew after dinner at 9pm and didn’t see them again until breakfast at 5.30am but they are always on call if we need them. Even if it’s just to vent via messages about another team member. (Hey, siblings are allowed to get pissed off about each other.) It’s a long and tiring leg and there may have been tears.

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All you can do is watch the bobbing circle from your head torch and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

After the challenges of section 2, everyone seemed to find their walking groove overnight and we made good progress but we were still an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we stopped for breakfast one checkpoint earlier than planned. This also turned out to be for the best as it had more and closer parking than the next checkpoint.

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I look remarkably perky for 5.30am and 81km, 19.5 hours completed. (© Kris Smythe)

Egg and bacon rolls were consumed, coffee was drunk, water supplies were replenished, naps were taken and feet attended to. For the first time in my Trailwalker history, I had to take painkillers.

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I still had to cover 19km on this foot. (© Kris Smythe)

Every time I’ve done Trailwalker, the shift in mood after the breakfast stop is amazing. There’s something about a hot breakfast and the sun coming up that gives you new vigour and returns a smile to your face.

And it must have all worked because despite my planning including extra time for the last two sections on the assumption that we would be tired and therefore slower, we in fact did not slow down and in some miraculous way made up time. And this despite the rain coming down in earnest about 10km from the finish line.

Anyone who has completed Trailwalker will tell you that crossing that finish line is huge. It’s hard to describe the sense of achievement and relief but just check out those smiles. (© Kris Smythe)

 

 

We crossed that line (and got to the sign in tent – your finish time isn’t registered until you check in) in 24 hours and 2 minutes. It was a mysterious result given early indications but I’ll take it.

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Happy Little Trailwalkers (© Kris Smythe)

Of course, it’s not just about the walk. It’s about supporting Oxfam and helping people you’ve never met. At the close of fundraising, we had raised a total of $3,428. And that’s where this is more than a team of four event or even a team and support crew event. It’s about the people around you that support, encourage and contribute to all your efforts that makes the experience all the more worthwhile. There’s something about Oxfam Trailwalker that extends beyond just an ultra-distance event. It’s knowing you’re making the world just a little bit better at the same time. That’s worth any number of blisters.

Oh, and that 3am promise that I’ll never do it again? Didn’t happen. I’ve got my sights set on becoming a Trailwalker ‘Legend’ which means I need two more events under my belt.

So. How long do you think it would take you to walk 100km?

 

 

Postscript: Someone asked me how I reconcile supporting Oxfam in light of the recent sex scandal. My response is that in a large international organisation there will always be those who do the wrong thing and in fact, in the wake of the Oxfam revelations, other aid organisations including International Red Cross, Médecins Sans Frontières, Save the Children and Plan International have been implicated in similar allegations. As this article explains better than I can, I believe that punishing an NGO by withdrawing support only ends up hurting the ones who can afford it least and risks pushing the behaviour even more underground. Providing the organisation has shown action in the wake of allegations to fix the problem, I believe they still deserve support to do the work they do that is so desperately needed around the world.

 

 

Unbound from the ‘book

I joined Facebook in early 2007. It opened to anyone with an email address (as opposed to being limited to educational institutions) in September 2006. So I’ve been on Facebook for most of its public life. That’s quite a long time for an old person. The young whippersnappers are quite gobsmacked when they ask if I’m on Facebook and I tell them “Sonny, I was on Facebook before you were born.”

(Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit. Also, I was lying. Real young whippersnappers aren’t on Facebook anymore.)

Facebook is one of those plus and minus things in your life. I won’t elaborate. Anyone on Facebook knows what I’m talking about. Anyone not on Facebook by now doesn’t want to know the pluses anyway.

I’ve found it useful at times. The year I was training for my first marathon, I would put updates on my page titled “Diary of a Mad Wannabe Marathon Woman”. It made me accountable and got me out training when I didn’t feel like it. And it gave me something to think about as I ran.

I’ve also discovered some pretty cool running opportunities that have popped up in my Facebook newsfeed. (It’s odd. If you post a lot of stuff about running, Facebook puts running ads in your feed. How do they know to do that?? 🙄 )

About a year ago, I deactivated my account. It wasn’t in response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Anyone shocked by what came out about all that, clearly doesn’t understand you don’t get something free for nothing.

In my case, I got out after I posted one too many “a trouble shared is a trouble halved” posts in a time of stress which broke a couple of rules and I got in trouble at work. I’m not a fan of getting in trouble. So my response was to deactivate my account.

After two weeks, I reactivated it because I had an attack of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It wasn’t that I was missing what people were eating when they went out for dinner or photographs of their feet at a beach or pool in some exotic location. I had a fear of missing out on photographs and stories of some special little people in my life that I don’t get to see in person very often. Also, some of the wackiest and most exhilarating running events I’ve participated in have come about because an ad about it popped up in my feed. I didn’t want to miss out on the next exciting night run or crazy cosplay race. There were also a couple of pages that were informational and I was worried about missing out on things I wanted to do because I wouldn’t know about them.

I returned to Facebook under new conditions. I reduced my ‘friends’ by about two thirds, narrowed the pages I was following to just the ones from which I really wanted information and ramped up my privacy settings to maximum level. It at least felt a little safer.

However, I’ve just deactivated my account again and this time I mean it. The only reason I’ve chosen deactivation over total deletion is that I need to maintain a Messenger presence for family reasons. I’m also, for now, hanging onto the Facebook page for my blog so in some ways, I still have a presence there but without all the extra….er…stuff.

So why now? And what happened to FOMO?

The thing is, photos of little people I love will never make up for in-person cuddles and giggles. There are other places I can look up running events I might wish to participate in (and maybe missing a few and not cramming my life so full is a good thing.) I’m hoping friends holding music gigs or workshops will keep me in mind and spread the news beyond Facebook.

Life changes and sometimes parts of your life that have been important come to an end either by choice or unexpectedly. Facebook can have an unfortunate tendency to keep those parts of your life in your face. If the ending was not your choice, it can be painful to be reminded of what you have lost. Photos from outings to which you’re no longer invited, glowing posts about events that you know you will never be involved in again. De-friending or un-following is not always the easy answer.

Maybe it’s also a chance to increase opportunities for real world interactions and sharing beyond just a click on Like or leaving a passing comment.

So I’m choosing to care for me, cutting myself some slack and unbinding from the ‘book.

And the big plus side? In my need for human connection, I’ll come looking for it in the blogosphere. Look out, MOSY is back!

What’s your relationship with Facebook? Avid fan, necessary user or full anti-Zuckerberg?

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Guilty.

When The Universe Cares

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What’s your relationship with the universe? Is it friend or foe? Or is it more like an annoying parent doing things you don’t like for your own good?

I joke a lot about the universe having a sick sense of humour. Like when I decide the universe is telling me not to do something because nothing is working out and then suddenly everything falls into place.

Today the universe decided to show me kindness.

As I approach the worst day of the year, anxiety is high and tears are close. I’m not sleeping or eating properly and everything feels difficult.

Today the universe chose to tell me I am needed, I am useful, I am loved and I am worthy.

After two failed past attempts and an almost third, I was able to successfully complete a plasma donation and know I have saved lives.

Chance sent me a stranger I could help with a meal and a train ticket.

A friend reached out, unwilling to let me slip away into social solitude.

I won a pair of trail runners because of something I wrote about running.

A day that began with stress ended with peace and happiness.

It’s still a tricky week but I’m grateful for the small things that help me keep going.

Desiderata Universe quote

 

 

 

How May I Serve You?

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I was born with a servant gene as were my mother and father before me and my siblings beside me. We have met and married other genetic servants and produced children with the same gene.

What does it mean to have the servant gene?

It means that helping others is as instinctive and integral to our being as being right- or left-handed. It means always putting our hand up when volunteers are sought. It means always looking for ways to relieve another’s burden. It means always seeking ways to be of assistance to others whether near or far, loved ones or strangers.

Why do you do it?

Not for gain, that is certain. A quid pro quo or obligation to repay never enters a genetic servant’s head when offering a service. Indeed, the very act of serving, the satisfaction that brings, is our payment. Any offer of reward or payment for service is viewed with embarrassment.

Do you ever tire of it?

No. Never. We may feel tired, as we are often trying to meet many demands, unable to say no to any request, but we never tire of it. In fact, it is often the opposite. A request for help from a friend and the ability to then fulfil that request is likely to be the highlight of the day and leave us in a positive state of mind for the rest of the week.

What are the downsides?

It’s true that we can become over-stretched as we try to meet as many demands as possible. This does not lead to resentment at the imposition but only sadness that we are not fulfilling our full service by being an effective servant to all who need us. Some people do not understand the mindset of a person with the servant gene and will reject assistance or refuse to ask for help for fear of imposing. This also makes us sad because being of service is what fills our hearts and souls with happiness.

How do children exhibit the servant gene?

They are always the ones to attend events to support their school, club, a charity or friends. They take on the bulk of the grunt work in group projects. They make friends with the otherwise friendless kids and invite them to their birthday parties. They stay behind to help clean up. They always help when asked and offer help unprompted.

How do I know if I have the servant gene?

Are you always looking for ways to help, especially when attending events? Do you usually find yourself in the kitchen doing the dishes or staying behind to help clean up? Do you notice when your friends may need help and offer a practical way to be of assistance? Are you always on the lookout for ways to participate in events to raise money for charities or awareness of important social issues? Most of all, does doing these things bring you great joy and satisfaction?

I used to sometimes think that I was cursed with the servant gene but I have come to know that it is indeed a blessing and that we are an important part of any tribe.

Do you have the servant gene? Is it a blessing or a curse for you?

 

 

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The Best of Friends

friends

What makes the best of friends?

The best of friends stick with you through the good times and the bad.

The best of friends do not abandon you when life changes.

The best of friends forgive your mistakes, thoughtless words and careless actions. Time and time again.

The best of friends are there for you when you need them even if you haven’t spoken in a year.

The best of friends receive an offer of help with joy and not a sense of obligation because they know that helping them makes you happy.

The best of friends can pick up where you left off no matter how much time has passed.

The best of friends let you know where you stand and tell you to your face when you’re being a pain.

The best of friends celebrate your successes and mourn your losses.

The best of friends never leave you hanging.

The best of friends take a genuine interest in your passions even when they are not their own.

The best of friends can live close or far, see you every day or only once a year but are always your friend.

The best of friends can read between the lines and respond to what has not been said.

The best of friends know the worst sides of you but love you anyway.

The best of friends are a rare and precious gift.

 

What makes the best of friends for you?

 

 

 

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We Are The Champions

Australians like to think of themselves as a sporting nation. We have our own native football game, a Formula One Grand Prix, one of the greatest horse races in the world and we tend to punch above our weight in the Olympics, at least in the pool. We even have Winter Olympic gold medallists. Not bad for a country with no snow for most of the year.

Steven Bradbury

At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Steven Bradbury won gold in the 1,000m short track speed skating event. He won because he managed to stay on his feet while all his opponents fell over.

In Australia, achieving something because everybody else failed is now known as “doing a Bradbury”.

 

Australians love a winner but we especially love a winner against the odds.

Anyone who knows me well will be wondering what on earth inspired me to write a post about sport because it’s not my favourite thing in the world. In fact, I actually loathe our national game. Living in a town obsessed with its football club, this is tantamount to treason and I’ve had many a robust discussion with fans about the (to me) undue influence the club holds (particularly on the local government purse strings).

But let’s not get into that.

So why am I talking about sport now?

Because Australia has just proved itself the true champion of the world with a spectacular win in an international sporting competition.

We just won the Quidditch World Cup.

Quidditch World Cup 1

Photo Credit: Ajantha Abey Quidditch Photography

For the uninitiated (or those who have been living under a rock for the past twenty years), Quidditch is the sport played in the Harry Potter books written by J.K. Rowling. It’s been adapted to be played by people who can’t actually fly and is now an international sensation with sporting clubs all over the world.

I have felt compelled to share this news for three reasons:

  1. As a nerd, knowing there is a sport out there based on a series of books about wizards is pretty cool.
  2. I am in love with the national Quidditch team’s name. They’re called the Dropbears. Australians use the existence of the highly dangerous dropbear to scare tourists about the dangers of walking in the bush. (At least, we use it on those easily susceptible to bullshit.)
  3. The coach who led this team to victory over the until-then-undefeated United States is my niece. That is very cool.

That’s a sports victory I can definitely get behind.

Congratulations to the Dropbears and especially to their coach, Gen Gibson. You are the champions!

 

 

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Open Letter To A Game Of Thrones Fan

Jon-Snow-reads-a-letter

Dear Game of Thrones Fan,

I don’t watch Game of Thrones. Never have.

Now, before you go rushing to the comments section at the bottom of the page to tell me how astonished you are (no doubt in a tone of admonishment), let me finish.

I missed the initial viewing boat when Game of Thrones began because it was only available on Pay TV and we didn’t have it.

Now, before you go rushing to the comments section at the bottom of the page to tell me about streaming services, dvds and nefarious means of watching television shows (I know all that), let me finish.

You see, I’m not actually interested in watching Game of Thrones. At all.

“But you don’t know what you’re missing!”

Well, if I don’t know, I won’t miss it. I don’t think my life will be any the lesser for it.

“But…”

You know, the more you tell me I must watch it, the more determined I’m going to become to never, ever watch it.

Contrary Mary, that’s me.

“That kind of attitude could mean you miss out on the best things in life!”

Now, tell me, honestly, if someone asked you, “What are the best things in your life?” what would you say? Would a television show make the list? Family, friends, music, art, travel…these would be on my list. I’m not sure television would rate very highly, if at all.

A bit of perspective, please.

What bothers me the most, however, is watching someone share the fact that they’ve never watched Game of Thrones on social media and seeing the comments fill with insults.

“Loser”, “Idiot” and worse.

Now, I look around the world and do you know what I think is wrong with a lot of it? We’re sinking into a mire of intolerance. If someone looks different, worships a different god, speaks in a different language, has different abilities, believes in something different, loves someone different, the shouty voices come out.

Goodness knows, we have issues we need to discuss and to find some commonality to move forward in peace and humanity. Insisting that I love the same television show that you do is not one of them.

So, let’s respect each other’s likes and dislikes and please don’t insist that I watch Game of Thrones.

And I won’t call you a loser if you don’t watch Doctor Who.

 

 

 

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Freeing The Captive Creative Soul

We all have a need to create. Whether we are a writer, artist, photographer, musician, decorator, gardener, programmer, cook or athlete, we all feel the joy of seeing something that has come from us. It feeds our soul and lightens our days.

But what if you couldn’t create?

What happens to the writer who is jailed because of his words? What happens to the musician who is shunned by her community because of the style of music she chooses to play? What happens to the artist who is locked away and told “You must do nothing”?

The writer may continue to write in the hope of regime change. The musician may move to another community in the hope of bringing awareness to the restrictions placed on others. But what does the captive do?

A young man held in immigration detention for many years said the worst thing about being locked away was not the lack of freedom of movement or the indignity of security measures but being able to do nothing. With nothing to do, there is only time to think. “You are useless, Mohammad.” “You are worth nothing, Mohammad.”

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending an art exhibition of works by those currently or formerly held in immigration detention in Melbourne. A small band of volunteers had supplied the asylum seekers with art materials and encouraged them to express themselves. The works were amazing and often heartbreaking.

Screaming Freedom

‘Screaming Freedom’ and ‘Freedom’ by Sina Pourhorayed

Guards

‘Guards’ by Mostafa Deilami

Shamans Wand

‘Shaman’s Wand’ by Mostafa Deilami  Constructed from objects found around the detention centre grounds.

Nimsay Mask

‘Nimsay’ by Mostafa Deilami (L) and ‘Mask’ by Sahar (R)

Mudslide

‘Mudslide’ by Leila Hamidavi

 

“I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

 

Over The Fence

My thanks to the artists from the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, the volunteer visitors and Lisa Stewart (originator and curator of the exhibition) for an enlightening and moving event. Thanks also to Elly McDonald for the photos.

 

 

 

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