A message from Aristotle

This morning, I encountered Aristotle on the front lawn.  Before I can explain how this came about, I have to back track a little.  One of my favourite writers is Robert Moss.  I discovered him in 2001 when I was living in the tropics, and his book Conscious Dreaming changed my life.  It’s my ambition, one day, to get along to one of his workshops.  Meanwhile, I ‘make do’ with his books. 

From one of them I learnt the technique of stepping outside the house, and allowing the first out of the ordinary thing I see to become a kind of love letter from the universe.  Robert suggests being slightly more focussed, as in holding a problem or issue in your mind before stepping outside the house, and seeing if that first unusual thing can give you a fresh take on what it is that is troubling you.  Today, however, I just stepped outside.

This is how I how I met Aristotle on the front lawn.

I was setting out for my regular walk around my suburb, feeling grateful that the wind which plagues Canberra in spring was having a Bex and a good lie down.  It was also recycling day, so the advertising flyer which had employed Aristotle had ridden on the wind and landed in my front garden.  The bold type on the flyer attributed to the Big A read ‘Choice, not chance, determines your destiny’.  Definitely words to make a girl stop.  I picked up the flyer, secreted it in my pocket and continued my walk.

The reason why I was out walking at a civilised hour of the morning is because I am unemployed.  This was a choice, not something thrust upon me.  I resigned because I could no longer bear the appalling behaviour, and because, frankly, I hated it.  It had gotten to the point of needing to put myself to bed for an hour or so each evening just so I could find enough energy to face cooking dinner.  Hating what you are doing for most of your waking hours and forcing oneself to continue to do it is a profound unkindness to yourself. 

Having said that, it was also a massive shock.  I had removed myself from the world.  There’s no one to play with because all your friends are still at work and coming home exhausted, and to make matters worse, they are jealous of you and think that your new life must be better than theirs.  To them, feeling lost and lonely and suddenly unsure of anything you might have to offer to the world seems like a small imposition compared to being at the beck and call of their emotionally stunted senior managers. 

I would certainly rather endure my unpleasant feelings of loneliness and superfluity than return to my old job.  I’m going to hang out here in the luxury of unallocated time for as long as I possibly can.  Aside from daylight savings time being foisted upon me, this is the first time in my entire life when I have been free of the demands of the great institutions of our society.  I do not have to be anywhere at any particular time.  I don’t have to wear a certain type of clothes to convince people that my brain functions.  I don’t have employ corporate speak, or academic speak, or any of the other officially sanctioned languages we are forced to become fluent in.  I don’t have to hand anything in for assessment.  I don’t have to sit for hours enduring back pain to write something that a) some more senior bureaucrat will simply rewrite how they wanted it in the first place, to hand on up the line for each other person to rewrite in light of their take on the political winds or b) to please some marker who has the power to admit me to the ‘club’. 

Instead, I relish sleeping till when I’m ready to wake.  Having breakfast slowly.  Walking around my suburb and literally smelling the roses.  Getting the hang of this blog.  Working on my novel.  Visiting the library, the gallery, the gardens, anything that attracts me.  Napping if needed.  Ribbon therapy with the Iron Paw.  I’m living a very unremarkable life in many ways.  When my brother rings me and asks me what’s doing, all I can generally say is tell him which novel I’m reading out of my massive backlog.  Isn’t that wonderful?  It is to me, and as it’s my life, only my opinion counts.   

Resigning from that job is one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life.  My former work colleagues continually reinforce to me that I am missing nothing.  Except a pay cheque, I remind them.  My funds are starting to run low, and the utilities still want to be paid.  Unless I win Lotto, or my almost completed novel gets accepted at first try and turns out to be a remarkable best seller, I’m going to have to step back into that world of schedules and demands.  I wonder what choices I can make so that when I ask The Question at the end of the day my answer will be yes.  What’s the question, you ask?  The question is this: If I die in my sleep tonight, will I be happy that that is how I spent my last day on earth?

In my pre resignation life, the answer was always no.  These days, I’m so content that I regularly fail to even ask The Question.  Long may this blissful state of affairs continue. 


Sense of place, distinctiveness…and Brisbane


 I took this this photograph last week, and I am sure you are thinking ‘why on earth did she post that?’  That’s the reason.  Precisely.  It’s an instantly forgettable, modern urban cityscape, filled with hard surfaces, cars, advertising signs and shops.

It makes me feel sad.

Unless I tell you where it was taken, you’d be forgiven for having no clue about the location.  While I happened to be somewhere in Brisbane, it could just as easily be any other capital city in Australia or the US.  (I’m sure this type of development is in Europe too, but I’m confining my comment to what I have personally seen).  The major stores are the same, the predominance of the private car is the same, the architecture (if you can call it that) is the same.  The only hint of difference is the palm trees, which suggests that I was not in Hobart.  But I could conceivably have been anywhere in Queensland or northern NSW.  In my view, the vegetation was the only part of this visual experience that redeemed it from total despair.  These cityscapes are neither kind to the environment, gentle on the eyes and display not one whit of creativity.  Unfortunately, they are ubiquitous and we all accept them as normal.

Instead, the places we flock to on holidays or seek out for special events, are the opposite.  The parts of Brisbane that people take their visiting relatives to are precisely the places that mark themselves out from the uniform blandness that characterises most of the city.  When I went travelling this year, I wanted to see what was specific to that place.  What was specific and particular to Padua, or St Just in Penwith that gives me a vantage point, however small and partial, to the history and culture of that place?  Both towns of course predate the modern era, and therein lies part of the answer. 

How did this state of affairs come about?  At the risk of gross oversimplification, I think the answer is global capitalism.  Although, it probably started out innocently enough.  I don’t think anyone woke up one morning and said ‘I’m going to pioneer a type of retailing that sucks the living juice out of a place and creates the blandest, most banal and depressing streetscape that I can’.  That is what we got though, in the fullness of time.  It’s the type of streetscape that results from prioritising cars and goods over people.

These are our everyday spaces.  And because of that, they affect us more deeply than we perhaps imagine.  Do you want to linger in that place?  Does it feel inviting?  Of course not.  I couldn’t wait to get out of there!  So is there a solution?  Certainly not one that can be delivered in a blog post.  But I’d suggest to you, as participants in the relentless orgy of consumerism that is global capitalism, to vote with your feet.  Don’t go there, if you can possibly avoid it.   

PS: I was outside the Raby Bay Marina.

The book of good memories

Back in the dim, distant past (1987), I put down psychology as my second preference on Tertiary Entrance Examinations form.  My interest is therefore long standing (more than half my life, I am surprised to calculate) although it has largely remained informal.  In my mid thirties I enrolled in two courses, one at a university and one with a private trainer, but that is the extent of my formal study.  Instead, I’ve fed my interest with books.

One can’t help but notice, out of that half life time or so of reading, the rise of neuroscience.  Our understanding of how our minds work has been growing with the application of technology which allows us, incredibly, to see inside the brain of living people.  Some suggest that the results of this neurological probing validates the traditions of ancient sages who have maintained that the mind is creative and generative.  I find the word validating problematic, as it suggests that only the Western derived rationalist model of science should be accepted as the arbiter of goodness, when clearly, the very longevity of those traditions and teachings indicate their goodness.  I’m not elevating one above the other, as I believe that there is value in both.

I’ve been reading more about neuroscience of late, and this post was prompted by the intersection of a book, a CD and a person.  All three together have synergistically created the idea which I am leading up to.  The book reminded me of the importance of daily attention.  Specifically, dwelling on negative emotions reinforce those neural circuits and make them stronger, when really, you want the opposite.  You want to weaken your unhelpful thoughts and emotions.  The more you re-run those old circuits, the stronger and more entrenched they become.  The CD was one I purchased from one of my favourite shops in Canberra, The Heirophant, which has the widest selection of books and CDs on health, psychology and spirituality that I know of.  The CD talked about the idea of taking in the good.  Both book and CD agreed that to effect change, it was important for the images used to be vivid.  The more vivid and visceral the memory or image is, the more is seems to penetrate.  Finally, the man is a therapist I sometimes consult, whose method is a cross between hypnosis and guided visualisation, in addition to teaching meditation.  You can read more about Michael’s work through his website at Syandra Health Centre.

I began to wonder what else I can do to support this process of rewiring my brain, given I am not much of a meditator.  What other techniques could I use?  The book of good memories is my answer.  I am going to make an album of images that make me feel warm, happy, loved, appreciative, connected or in awe.  I will start with my own photographs, but I will also source other images.  Images which bring feelings of unalloyed goodness, of calmness and delight, wonder and serenity.  It can sit out somewhere on view, where I can daily pick it up and have a moment of visceral goodness.

This is not the kind of creative project that is quickly achieved.  For me, part of the value will be in the slow reflective process of sorting through images and memories, and writing about them.  I hope that this process of dwelling on the good will help to change my brain from glass half empty to glass half full.  I’ll share some of those here.  And, if any of you feel inspired to make your own book of good memories, I’d love to hear from you.

I think the first image will be of the Iron Paw, who was so calm and brave about being delivered to the cattery today…

On flowers and friends

I have friends and flowers, flowers who are friends and friends who are flowers. There is no point, I find, in making hard and fast rules between humans and nature.

Thank you to friend/flower H, who delivered me swanrivergirl friendly cake when she knew I was not feeling totally well.  H is one of a number of thoughtful, intelligent women I know for whom traditional careers are palling, and who seek ways of making a living that are both personally fulfilling and genuinely useful.  The chocolate mousse cake is an experiment of hers in a business idea. If the rest of her recipes are as good I think she’s onto a winner.  I saw many similar folk at the market this morning, selling the fruits of their creativity and hard work.  I finished up my shopping with two bunches of cornflowers from a local grower.  

When I grew up in Perth I don’t remember my family or my neighbours ever growing cornflowers.  My affection for them dates from the film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s book A Room With A View, from the early nineties.  (Or possibly the late eighties…).   Mr Emerson and his son George surprise the two spinster sisters, the Misses Allan, who are staying at the same pensione in Florence by bringing them wild cornflowers.

Cornflowers are field flowers, with a humble and at same time startling beauty.  I have mine unadorned with any greenery, in total contradiction to what I learnt at flower arranging workshop I went to a few weeks ago.  There, I learnt the principles of arranging an arrangement.  You know.  The kind of large bunch we usually reserve for significant events like birthdays, death days and other major milestones like graduations, retirements and of course weddings.  

I did the workshop because being a florist has been on the list of possible careers.  I was putting my toe in the water and found it to my liking.  It would, I think, deeply satisfy my right brain tendencies. My left brain isn’t convinced, threatening intellectual boredom and financial ruin.  It admonishes me that making a living from what is sadly an expensive luxury is a truly bad idea.My left brain maybe right.  But my heart does hold dear memories of flowers, big and small, that have lightened my life; my wedding bouquet, the flowers that adorned my parents’ coffins and small, somewhat worse for wear posies picked for me by small children.  All of them are dear to me,along with all the in situ flowers that I’ve met.  The freesias in my grandparents garden.  Swathes of kangaroo paws out at the block at Southern River.  My first sighting of jade vine in Cairns.  The first rugosa rose I ever smelt in mountainous Massachusetts…and so on.  My memories are garlanded in flowers.  Long may it be so.

On blogging and expertise

It’s been months since my last entry.  But seeing as I’m up before the cat, which is never a good start today my experience, perhaps it’s time to try again.  It’s not that I haven’t been writing.   Not at all.  I have 50,000 words on a novel to account for my silence.  I’ve been doing some more skeleton rattling in my family tree.  I’ve been jobhunting and another member of my family has gotten sick.  Another sick parent.  Enough, universe, enough.

So there’s been plenty going on to keep a girl occupied.  I’ve often thought about doing a post, but it’s been easier and more convenient not to write.  In short, my resistance is still terribly strong.  Partly I feel like other types of writing, the novel for example, are more valid. Opinions are like arseholes.  Everyone has one and after the recent election campaign I’m perfectly okay with silence.   Behind that there is the reason of self-doubt.  And behind that again?  Fear.  A blog is purely and unambiguously about the author; their thoughts and feelings and experiences.  A public diary, which, Until the advent of blogging, were not words I would ever have paired together. 

Blogs can also be subject based.  In fact, one of the first how to blog things I read advised me to pick a topic and stick to it.  To carve out a niche and establish my expertise.  So what am I expert in?  Not being a morning person, I’m an expert at sleeping in.  Totally expert in book buying ( thank you lifeline book fair!).  I’m expert in being messy and avoiding vacuuming.  I’m expert in what it’s like to be adopted. The letters after my name imply expertise in matters environmental and historical, but the process of acquiring those letters suggests a) the dubiousness of the word itself and b) the ongoing desire to rest from those two fields and try new things.  The only thing we can be truly expert in is being ourselves, coping with all our fears and hopes, vulnerabilities and strengths.  Other people seem to be A lot more au fair with doing that publicly.  I’m still working on that.