Custom printed slings

After walking around my workplace today in a sling occasioned by careless and clumsy misuse of my arm muscles last night, it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I needed some kind of generic t-shirt printed. Something along the lines of:

“Yes, I hurt myself.

No, it was just a clumsy accident.

Yes, it’s quite painful.

No, don’t know how long it will be until it gets better.

Thanks for your concern.”

This was after the (roughly) fiftieth repetition of my somewhat embarrassing tale of muscular woe. Each inquiry was kind, well meant, and faintly embarrassing, and many of the people around me wound up hearing the tale rather more often than they cared to (ie once). Fortunately tonight my husband came up with an idea whose time has clearly come:

Custom printed bandages, slings and casts.

I envisage an ordering process that starts with type of injury, proceeds through body part, pain levels, expected recovery time, and finishes with a catch-all thank you message.

Something like this:

“Yes, I <pulled/sprained/cut/tore/broke/severed>

my <neck/arm/wrist/leg/knee/ankle/foot/toe/entire body>.

It was a <skiing/snow boarding/cycling/running/psychotic team sport/random act of startling clumsiness> injury.

It’s <not too bad/a little sore/quite painful but I’m trying to be brave/utterly agonising/worse than sitting through question time in Parliament/way hay look at the pretty rainbow unicorns eating painkillers what did you ask me again?>.

It’s going to take <no time at all/just a few days/the rest of my natural life, don’t remind me it’s driving me MAD>

before I can <ski/snow board/run/ride/beat people up and call it a sport/walk like a normal person/pretend to be coordinated> again.

Thanks so much for your <concern/sympathy/cruel mockery/open mirth>,

it really makes me <feel better/despair/want to stab you in the eye with my bandage fasteners (Man! Those things could do you a real injury!)>.

I think we may be onto a winner here. If I can just find a few days in a row where I am sufficiently uninjured to commercialise it. Ouch. Mind that floor. It’s deceptively flat and unimpeded.*

(With apologies to Rowan Atkinson, I can never resist that line.)

The Successful Thing

The Thankful Thing is a powerful device. Taking the time to list the things we are thankful for forces us to notice the positives that happen, even on bad days – like “I’m thankful that Simon tried to cheer me up today, even though I didn’t let him,” and “I’m thankful that Will is funny”. When we’re really in the swing of things we come out with the big stuff, like “all the good friends and family I have that help me through the hard times” – which is one my 10 year old came up with tonight.

We fell out of the habit of doing the Thankful Thing for a while, and only restarted this week. Once again it worked its usual magic, making us all smile. We hit the sweet spot where both kids raced to find more and more positive things, and we all wound up laughing and cheerful as a result.

This time I added another device – the “Successful Thing”. After the thankful thing, we each had to name something we had achieved that day. I’ve become increasingly aware lately that I get very focused on all the things I haven’t achieved. Which is crazy because I’ve had some great feedback recently, and when I stop and think about it, I’m getting a lot done. It’s just that my aspirational to do list is longer than any one person can possibly achieve.

I don’t actually want to trash my to do list, though, because reaching further than I think I can manage is a way of pushing myself to achieve bigger and better things. I want to keep reaching for the stars. But the consequence has been that I berate myself for every star I fail to bring home, completely ignoring the magnificent constellation I have already collected.

So now, as well as noting the things I am thankful for, I note the things I have achieved today. From small things like “writing a good exam question” (which might not be something my students are thankful for!), to “keeping my temper under extreme provocation”. From “mastering a new rope trick” to “helping a student understand a tricky concept.”

Sometimes it’s achievements to do with balance, like “making time to go for a walk with Cath to get coffee”, or “spending half an hour playing the piano.” Sometimes it’s doing something nice for someone else. It might be getting an article published, or doing some volunteer work. Or it might be clearing a particularly feral patch of weeds from the garden. Anything that I can feel a sense of achievement about.

The first night we did it I was feeling impressively morose, and I doubted my ability to find even one thing to put on my list. But to encourage my girls I figured I should go first, and when I put my mind to it I discovered I had actually achieved a lot that day. My miserable mood was based on an entirely erroneous perception of how things had gone.

The kids found it hard at first, even a little embarrassing, but they soon got on a roll and started clamouring to tell us all the things they were proud of doing.

I sat down to that dinner feeling tired, dispirited and overwhelmed. But by the time we had finished both the thankful and successful things, I was feeling pretty good about my life.

Now that’s an achievement!

Calling a spade a gun

The astonishingly dishonourable Scott Morrison, MP, has directed the staff of the Australian Department of Immigration to refer to asylum seekers who arrive by boat as “Illegal Maritime Arrivals”, or “IMA”s. This piece of breathtaking demonisation sparked a predictable outcry from the thinking, feeling, caring public, prompting Mr Morrison to rather huffily declare that he was merely calling “a spade a spade”. Being direct. Saying it like it is.

People who have entered Australia illegally by boat have illegally entered by boat,” he said.

I’ve never said that it is illegal to claim asylum. That’s not what the term refers to. It refers to their mode of entry.’

It’s fascinating, then, that the directive fails to refer to those who arrive by plane and then illegally overstay their visas as “Illegal Visa Overstayers” (IVOs). That’s not a big surprise, though, because IVOs are People Like Us. They are cashed up people taking advantage of a legal kind of domestic blindness to stay in the country and spend their glorious wads of cash.

Boat people, in contrast, are scary people from scary places. They jumped non-existent queues to get here. Clearly they are a threat to our very way of life. They are IMAs. Second only to WMDs in their power to wreak imaginary havoc and conjure up the demons of fear with every hysterical political utterance.

This is so clearly not a case of calling a spade a spade. It is calling a spade a gun. Conjuring up a threat where none exists. Creating fear and harsh judgement where only compassion belongs.

Years ago my friend James told me a story about a time just after he moved into his very middle class suburb of Camberwell. There was an auction in his street, and when it was won by a very excited Italian couple there was a muttering in the background along the lines of “there goes the neighbourhood” and “bloody Eye-ties, invading our turf” and words to that effect.

Time went on and the Italian family was joined by Greek families and differences were forgotten. 20 years later there was another auction, and the house went to a thrilled Vietnamese couple. My friend James, spectating in the crowd, heard the muttering again. When he looked around, the perpetrators of the “there goes the neighbourhood” style comments were, you guessed it, the very same Italian couple. This was now their turf, and they didn’t want to see it invaded by people who aren’t “like us”.

Ultimately we are all “people like us”. We have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We have hopes, fears and dreams. We will do anything to protect our loved ones. Having experienced unimaginable horrors, who among us could swear that we would not take a chance at freedom if it were held out to us?

I hope that if life throws its worst at me, there will be people nearby who will hold out their hands to help me up. Who will offer shoulders for me to cry on, and arms to lean on. Who will recognise that regardless of the colour of my skin, the country I was born in, the language I speak, and the way I got here, I am a human being just like them. Nothing more, and nothing less.

I hope that I would never pass by someone who needed my help.

If only I could say the same of my Government.

Balancing Act

Some years ago, when I was leaving my job in academia and wondering what my next career would look like, I did a bunch of questionnaires designed to tell me things about myself. Like many such devices, they were really tools to highlight things that I already knew, but they were remarkably useful. They brought my priorities into sharp relief.

Among other things, the resulting analysis made it clear that I needed to do something I believed in. Something I felt passionate about. Something I knew was going to make the world a better place.

Being of a rather literal turn of mind, I started to do pro-bono work for Oxfam Australia, then worked for the Breastfeeding Association of Australia. Both roles and organisations I felt strongly about, but not jobs where I really experienced flow. Flow, if you haven’t met it before, is the state of complete focus that you achieve when you are doing something you love, something you are good at, and something that you are challenged by – challenged enough that you are stretched and working hard, but not challenged so much that you are frustrated and not achieving.

I believe flow is closely related to mindfulness – in that you are wholly committed to what you are doing in the present moment. Your every sense and faculty is devoted to your task. It’s a great feeling, and I get it when I am teaching – especially when I am teaching content that I know well, that I feel strongly about, and that my students are engaging with and challenging me on.  The greatest moments in my classes are usually when my students argue with me.

You can throw your hands up
You can be the clock
You can move a mountain
You can break rocks
You can be a master
Don’t wait for luck
Dedicate yourself and you can find yourself Standing in the hall of fame
And the world’s gonna know your name
Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And the world’s gonna know your name
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame
Hall of Fame, The Script.

While I was still working one day per week with the Breastfeeding Association I got the opportunity to start doing a little bit of curriculum development with my current school, and every time I set foot in a class I experienced the most amazing flow. It was a massive rush. The incredible attraction of the job and the school meant that it wasn’t long before I gave up my other work commitments and devoted myself wholly to teaching.

Last night our latest crop of year 12s had their valedictory dinner, and our illustrious leader made a comment about all of us – teachers and students alike – having stepped out of our comfort zone in order to move to our school. For me that was particularly poignant, as my first day at this school was the start of a completely new career. It was a massive step for me. It’s strange, in your late 30s, to feel as young, naive and ignorant as a new graduate, yet there I was. Established in one career, but nonetheless leaping off the deep end into an entirely different one. New workplace. New vocation. New life.

I don’t think I have spent a day inside my comfort zone since I started. And yet that is precisely why I experience flow so often in this job. I love it. I give it everything I have. And I push the boundaries every day. Every year I learn to know and love a new class of students, and every year it breaks my heart to say goodbye to them, even as I am excited and challenged by the next group. Every year I give my students everything I’ve got, and get more in return than I could possibly imagine.

Of course this does raise the question of balance. The problem with doing a job you love and believe in is that it’s very easy to want to do everything all at once. To reach higher, run faster, and do more every day. Sooner or later that doesn’t end well. It’s such a privilege to have a job that gives me astonishing joy, but it comes with a price that I have not yet learned to manage. I struggle to remember to take deep breaths and postpone some tasks until tomorrow, next week, or even next year. A colleague today teasingly implied that I effectively work full time hours for half time pay, and I was somewhat lost for a reply. It’s a lot more true than I’d like it to be.

At the very least, working the hours that I do, I would like to be doing my job better. To be more organised. To be more creative. To just be better at… well… at everything. But even working far more hours than I am supposed to, there just isn’t time.

Today a games developer friend of mine told my students that he has found that late nights mean more bugs. That starting at 9 and finishing at 5:30 ultimately gets the work done faster, and at higher quality, than trying to pull all nighters and work 60 hour weeks. I did a lot of not very subtle nudging of my students and saying “see? see??? more bugs!” and yet it took me all day to realise that I need to heed that lesson at least as much as my students do.

To have a job that fills me with such vivid delight is worth almost any price, but maybe I can negotiate the terms a little. With that in mind, perhaps I will go home on time today. Or at least less late than usual.

A trick of the light

Health scares are funny things. There’s the moment when you notice something odd, often followed by a longish period of time where you try to convince yourself it’s nothing. Finally you make an appointment to see a doctor about it, and the very act of making an appointment ramps up the stress, because you are taking it seriously now, so it might actually be something.

Of course, it’s probably nothing (and if you repeat that to yourself often enough you might actually believe it, despite the little voice whispering “what if it’s not???” in your ear all night). It’s almost certainly not something. These things almost never are. But that “almost” chisels open a crack in your soul and chips away at your stability. But because it’s probably nothing, you don’t tell anyone. You feel a little silly, fretting over a spot, a lump, a strange feeling, a lack of feeling. It’s sure to be nothing. You don’t want to look like a hypochondriac, or seem to be seeking attention.

So you go through the every day motions of life, hyper alert and yet not quite awake, wondering if the monster lurking in the shadows is truly a monster of terrifying dimensions, or just a trick of the light converting a jacket hanging on a hook into a looming Frankenstein.

You see your doctor, who finds stuff, but says it doesn’t seem like nasty stuff – but it’s better to get tests, just to be sure. Then we can decide what to do. Inside your head you are frantically oscillating between clinging to “it doesn’t seem nasty” and “we’ll have to decide what to do.

Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try and try and try

Pink – Try

And still you don’t tell anyone, because you haven’t actually had any tests yet, despite having been poked and prodded and scheduled for tests with alarming names. (Isn’t it funny how you tell a doctor something hurts, so they spend the next 10 minutes poking and prodding it until you want to scream?) There really isn’t anything to tell, after all. This time next week it will probably all seem like a sick joke, when the test results come back. You’ll feel really silly for stressing. After all, the doctor blithely says “I don’t want you to stress about this at this stage.”

So you wonder – is there a stage for stressing? Will there be a time when she does want me to stress?

And so you wait. And you don’t tell anyone that your world is wobbling on its axes. And then you get your results, and you either do feel silly for stressing, or you are engulfed in the trauma of the results, and the period of not knowing seems like the happiest time of your life by comparison. Either way, you never talk about it, because there is so much else to worry about now.

Which means that the next time someone goes through that – the next person you know who finds a lump, or begins to bleed early in a longed-for pregnancy, or has pins and needles in his feet at odd times – they, too, go through it alone. The only person ever to have felt this way. The only one they know who has carried this burden. Utterly unprepared for the trauma, and entirely unaware that there is someone who knows exactly how she feels sitting right next to her at this very moment.

Maybe silence isn’t as golden as we think?

Hear me Roar

Tonight I went to a Wheeler Centre Fifth Estate discussion on Climate Change. I left home feeling despairing about climate change, politics, Australia’s treatment of refugees and my children’s chance of a future. I arrived at the talk buoyed by a catch up with a dear friend, yearning to find hope in a very bleak environmental and political landscape.

While they painted the initial picture, there were many moments when I sighed deeply and slumped in my seat. I am pretty well educated about climate change and its effects, but there was new information I really didn’t want to hear, and the general consensus was that we have left it way too late and are fairly seriously stuffed.

There is a tendency among people like me to gaze sadly into our lattes and bemoan the ignorance of the masses. To lambast the people who voted for Tony Abbott (never people we know). To assert that we would sort it out pdq if only our preferred political group were in power, for any given value of “sort” and “it” and indeed “political”.

We tend not to debate politics with those we don’t know, for fear of hearing something we might not like, or perhaps more charitably for fear of offending others. We don’t talk politics, religion or climate change, because they are too contentious. Upon hearing others spouting rubbish in the guise of facts, whether it’s about climate, refugees or vaccination, we sigh, or sneer, and turn away. We don’t take them on, because that wouldn’t be nice, or comfortable, or polite.

I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything

Katy Perry – Roar.

True, it’s difficult to debate these hot button topics without getting worked up – I am a clear cautionary tale. I find it incredibly challenging to discuss these issues calmly and with a clear head, because I am passionate about them. And yet that is precisely the reason why I should engage, discuss, dispute and contend at every available opportunity. One of the comments made tonight that resonated wildly with me is that the media has become a part of the corporate system.  There is no space between the interests of big business and the voice of the media. Because we are in a country where the political agenda is massively skewed by the interests of the resources sector, it is phenomenally important that independent voices are heard.

It is crucial that academics, writers, artists, teachers – anyone who thinks, reads, and engages with current issues, regardless of their trade or profession – have a huge responsibility to speak out. To write. To speak. To debate. To engage, not just in the comfortable sanctuary of like minded friends with lattes and chardonnay at the ready, but out in the real world, wherever people are talking, reading, listening and acting.

This is part of the reason I write. It’s not so that people will agree with me. Some of the best articles I’ve ever written have been the ones that people have disagreed with quite vehemently, because they have resulted in debate and forced me to think about my opinions – sometimes to change them. I write in the faint and desperate hope that people might think a little about the issues I write about.

We need more thought, and less doing what the advertising industry tells us to do. We need to think and talk about where we are headed, and what we want to do about it. We need to speak up.

On the way home I heard a snippet of  “Roar” by Katy Perry. It seemed appropriate. I am going to roar. Wherever possible I will roar politely and calmly, but roar I will. Join me. Engage. Debate. Roar.

To that end, I have included some of the most interesting quotes from this evening for your inspiration. The group consisted of Nobel Prize winning scientist Peter Doherty, CEO of Greenpeace Australia David Ritter, and writer & investigative journalist Chloe Hooper.

“All scientists are skeptics, and we are most skeptical about our own work. The one thing you will find about [climate change] deniers is that they are never skeptical about their own statements.” Peter Doherty.

“Climate change has been allowed to become a point in the culture wars.” David Ritter.

“I was operating under a set of assumptions about how much contact people have with the natural world.” David Ritter.

“The experience that people do have is increasingly mediated through screens.” David Ritter (or possibly Peter Doherty, I really need to learn shorthand or take a laptop to these events.)

“The problem is that the media has become part of the corporate system. There’s no space between the media and the interests of these big corporations.” Peter Doherty.

It is so important in a country where the political economy is so influenced by the resources sector that the thinking people of the country are vocal and honest about what they think – David Ritter (paraphrased).

“It’s very bad that this has been badged as a left/right issue.” Peter Doherty.

“It’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong, and the right is wrong and the left is right.” Rod Quantock.

“It is so fundamental that we get climate change out of the cul de sac of the culture wars.” David Ritter.

“The rise of renewables is to some extent inexorable.” David Ritter.

“I’d like to see us being a lot more hardnosed about our economic forecasting. If we plug our future in to fossil fuels I think we’re mad, quite frankly.” Peter Doherty. “We don’t seem to be capable of doing the wargaming around the economy and the effects of climate change.”

“Everything now is presented as though there is going to be no pain… We can’t tackle this issue without making very substantial changes, and that’s not going to be easy, because people don’t like change.” Peter Doherty.

“The time has come for civil disobedience… we have exhausted all of the existing lawful means for challenging the dominance of the fossil fuel industry and we are seeing criminal negligence in the face of civilization’s collapse.” (slightly paraphrased because I can’t write fast enough) David Ritter.

“I think it’s important not to take a reflexive ideological view of any technology, but I have not seen any modeling that says that [nuclear energy] can get there in time.” David Ritter.