Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Quakemas

I haven’t always been bah humbug about Christmas.

As a child, I loved the ritual of the tree. Our neighbours had two large pines, that all the local kids climbed. I'd come home sticky with resin, having had wistful conversations about the Faraway Tree, sitting on a branch near the top with my best friend Peter. Mid-December (never too early, my mother forestalling the inevitable pine needle problem) my big brother would clamber up with a saw and lop off a branch. They were never straight but back in the 1970’s. The tree was dressed with tinsel, glass balls (that diminished by the year), frayed paper lanterns and a small abandoned doll that doubled as an angel.

The best thing about the tree was not the decorations, it was the presents that grew underneath them. Shaking and prodding the wrapped offerings was discouraged and most made it through unscathed to Christmas day.  For a while there was an American family living next door. Their tree, of course, was huge and perfect. We were shocked to hear a third of the presents hadn’t survived the rigorous prods and shakes from the boisterous children, before the 25th. They got to eat exotic and colourful, sugary cereals every day as well.

For a year or two I took piano lessons once a week, with an ancient but stylish purple haired woman. I was one of a stream of ungrateful children who came to thump out scales on her grand piano. If she was in a good mood, there may be a Mallowpuff offered at the end of the lesson. My pudgy little hands would never grow to reach an octave. With no sense of rhythm and terminal impatience, I’d never be a pianist. But for a couple of years I’d clumsily attempt to play one handed carols on the piano at home.

I only began to detest the sound of carols after leasing an office in the centre of Melbourne, close to a busy corner that was favoured by the Salvation Army. From the 1st of December I’d be blasted by a trio of amateur musicians, playing carols on brass instruments all day.

By the time I was twenty I’d already had two Christmases away from home. The first, in Melbourne with my sister, was spent schlepping across the city by tram to lunch with a nice family that I didn’t know. It was odd observing other people’s traditions. Though alien, it was more boring than uncomfortable.

The next was when I was nineteen, with a boyfriend and a few waifs in Sydney. We drank cheap sparkling wine and perhaps because of that, I have no memory of what we ate. It was my inaugural kidult Christmas, and I rather liked it.

Back at uni in New Zealand, I was living in a shared house and a new yuletide ritual was born. We were quite a social trio* and often shared breakfast on the veranda together on sunny weekends. On the 25th we ate croissants and drank Bucks Fizz, fortifying ourselves for a day spent with our respective families. Bubbles at breakfast carried on through the decades, only screeching to a halt the year I had chemotherapy on Christmas eve.

In the intervening years I’ve chosen to have many solo Christmas days. Having lived in another country to my family for over half my life, coupled with being both an atheist and a non-meat eater, the season has lost most of it’s meaning. Many of my non-Christians friends talk about Christmas being about family and ritual but in the absence of a mother, a sibling and the turkey, it’s become a very hollow tradition.

But please save your pity. I love (and currently sorely miss) my non-Christmases. While most of you spend the day rushing around and being polite to people who drive you mad, I’d be lazing away the morning in bed reading and listening to the radio. Then eat a Spanish omelette or something simple for lunch, and recline in the backyard in the sun with another good book during the afternoon. I love the silence, not having to travel anywhere or making small talk with other people’s relatives.

There were also the Christmases spent deliciously coupled with a partner. No festive food, just a simple picnic, eaten on a blanket in a nearby park. The Not Boyfriend had his one and only Christmas alone with me a few years back, though his mother struggled to understand why I couldn’t possibly fly interstate for the day. Having just been pumped full of poison, I reclined on cushions in the park, only able to eat a solitary dolmade. The NB declared it his best Christmas ever! Two atheists enjoying the peace and quiet under a tree. Perfect. Except the bit about being nauseous and exhausted, in the shadow of cancer.

In recent years I’ve reluctantly made the pilgrimage ‘home’. As my mother descended into dementia, it became clear that I was the only family member capable of putting a meal on the table. Working in my business up to the 23rd, hopping on a late flight across the Tasman then getting my poor sleep deprived body up early to do the food shopping, is a modern ritual that I’ve come to dread. But as each year ‘might be the last’ (and certainly was for my mother five years ago), duty calls.

It’s odd having Christmas with two of our small family missing. There are also no grandchildren, nor a tree or turkey (sorry dad).  I’ve taken on my mother’s job of providing three cooked meals across the day. It starts and ends with the only surviving family rituals – fresh cherries before breakfast and chocolate mousse for dessert. But all the others have gone, especially with only one omnivore left standing.

Perhaps the most endearing tradition of my childhood was our trip to town on Christmas eve each year, with my father. We’d go to James Smith’s on Lambton Quay and choose our own ‘pick ‘n mix’. Afterwards we’d catch the cable car up and down the hill, sitting on the outside seats so we could try to touch the insides of the tunnels with our feet. Whether it was the sweets, the ride or just spending time with our workaholic father (or more likely the trifecta it created) this was one of my happiest memories of the season. Mum, of course, was at home wrapping presents, preparing the next day’s meal and hopefully having a gin or two in preparation for being awoken before dawn by three very excited children.

I look forward to the day when I can have non-Christmases again with the NB, but know they will come at a cost.

For now, I’m streaming RRR on full blast and having cooked and cleaned up after the first meal of the day am about to embark on the next.

I hope the 25th goes smoothly wherever you are, and however you spend it. It’s just one day and tomorrow the sun will shine!

*Vale Bruce my wonderful housemate who spearheaded this tradition. He died unexpectedly this year. I suspect each Christmas will bring a fresh sorrow from now on.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Senate Voting for Dummies: Australia 2016

Despite a degree in political science, I must admit I initially found the recent changes to senate voting a little perplexing. Previously you had a choice of handing over your democratic right to a single party by placing a mark in their box above the line. This is how Labor’s preferences elected a right wing nutbag from Family First in Victoria remember.

The other option was to vote below the line. Ranking every single candidate from 1 – gazillion. Wasn’t that fun!

Now there’s the seemingly complicated system where you choose to either rank preferred parties from 1 – 6 (or more) above the line, or rank individual candidates from 1 – 12 (or more) below the line.

Voting above the line still means your voting for the party, who rank their candidates in the party's preferred order. For example the some parties have 12 candidates under their party banner. Above the line means that you accept the order of the individual candidates in the order that the party puts them in. If you only vote for 1 rather than 6, a newly minted returns officer tells me your vote will still be counted, in the old way. You still open yourself up to all the party’s wheeling and dealing over preferences, like in the bad old days.

Voting below the line is about voting for candidates. Don’t like the order your preferred party has listed their candidates, detest an individual but like their running mates or support a variety of individuals running under different party banners – this is a fantastic option. Now you no longer have to decide who is the worst party in the endless numbering to the bottom and can decide who the most sane or like minded senators might be.

Who do I hate the most? Fun times voting below the line in 2013

Just select your preferred 12 or more candidates in the order you choose. It’s an excellent way to promote some positive affirmation if you would like to preference women or other ‘minorities’ in the Senate.

3 tools to make voting for the senate easier

No idea who on you want to vote for?

For finding 6 parties you don’t entirely hate if you vote above the line:

1.    Sort the wheat from the chaff with Clueyvoter's thumbs up (or double thumbs down sorting system. 
2.    Can't tell the nutbags from the fruitloops? Donkeyvoties offbeat look at each party can be a useful tool to refine your choices. 

A further step for refining your 12 or more candidates below the line

3.  Override party preferences and rank candidates below the line, this DIY senate voting card helps you rank individuals and create your own cheat sheet to take with you to the booth. 

You don’t have to hold a degree in political science to enjoy voting but let’s not do a Brexit by donkey or protest voting.

If you want more women in parliament I encourage you to consider the 3 step approach for below the line voting.

Don’t let any party tell you ‘how to vote’ again!

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Sunday, January 03, 2016

a good year

Monday, October 26, 2015

mindful capitalism: oxymoron or just New Age mumbo jumbo?

I notice an Australian 'Mindful' organisation advertising a part time job for a content producer. I’m not looking for work, though I know others who are. It’s an organisation I admire. How wonderful it could be to be part of something committed to “dedicating our efforts to something greater than ourselves”. 

“We are the change cultivating consciousness, self-care
and kindness”
organisation's manifesto

So how did this job stack up compared to working for a bog standard unmindful company?

The job description has the usual go-getter wording which seems at odd to the basis of mindfulness. For example, it enthuses the successful participant to multi-task, work out of hours and go above and beyond the call of duty.

It also fails to mention the salary range and terms and conditions of such a position. 

Is this mindful work or just the same old capitalism, dressing exploitation up is the latest version of New Age speak?

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Friday, October 31, 2014

What I learned from my first year of cancer

A few months after I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October 2013, I published the beginnings of this article elsewhere. This is an updated version, looking back on the first year after diagnosis and treatment.

There’s nothing like staring a life challenging diagnosis in the eye to get clear on what matters, is there? I’ll let you into a secret; there have been no revelations. Everything I’ve learned has confirmed the work I’ve already done.

The joy of journaling on a regular basis means that I have my first year of this strange new world in writing, along with my thought's before diagnosis.

What I know for sure

Love and connection is the most important thing:
Family and friends matter. And they’ve been there in spades for me at such a humbling time. I’ve shed more tears of love than sadness.

Travel feeds my soul:
As much as I love working for myself, I've always loved travelling. The last few years have seen my passport getting a workout, journeying to Bali, Europe, Russia, UK, USA Thailand, and to walk the Grand Traverse in New Zealand. Relieving my holiday three months earlier Chiang Mai kept me calm as I waited to be wheeled into surgery. Planning my next overseas trip cheered me up on the tough days through treatment.

I’ve been banging on about the philosophy that I try to live by for the last 15 years. For me it’s largely about finding the balance between work and living, exploring conscious consumption, being an active part of the community I live in and trying to decrease my carbon footprint.

Connections and experience ultimately mean more to me than me than ‘stuff’ Having said that, I needed to do a huge declutter before moving to Sydney. What I really enjoyed giving a large chunk of my possessions away to friends before relocating. I still have more than enough. But I'd trade 'stuff' for more time with friends and further adventures, any day. 

I admit resilience is an overused word, especially in the context of cancer. However I see it as the "work" I've done on myself through my adult life, that's been vital to help me through traversing this uncertain episode. The Buddhist study I explored in my early years  in Melbourne gives me insight into sitting with impermanence. The good food and healthy lifestyle, helped my body deal with the physical assaults of conventional treatment. Meditation and mindfulness training keeps me sane, Following the wonderful Brene Brown’s wisdom provides a mantra there’s no shame in having cancer”. Talking to a skilled psychologist, keeps me real.

I’ve often danced with the darkness in the past and am no stranger to grief. I accept that the shadows have as much right as the light, in my life. That’s not to say I don’t feel fear, just I’m not afraid to sit with it. Invite it in and become friends with it. If I’d spent my life running from difficult emotions, I know confronting time would be even more challenging.

Work is not static, it evolves:
Over the last decade I’ve watched so many valued colleagues and mentors burn-out. Partly it’s the nature of doing such intense work but it’s also the increasing strains of running a small business. Sometimes being both an advocate of work/life balance and an early adopter of social media can be at odds with each other.

Before I got unexpectedly sick, I knew I had to make some changes. It was time to move to Sydney to be with NB as we entered our second decade of loving each other. I just didn't want to reinvent the wheel and build my business from scratch. So I begun investigating how I could work online, be location independent and still give my clients what they needed.

I'm now hitting the quarter of century in my profession. I love mentoring the new generation and going back to the grass roots of what I believe. I no longer have the ongoing agony of dealing with landlords or the tedium of physically managing a clinic. Life really is a breeze without those burdens.

Some of the shit that people don't tell you about cancer and being in treatment

You really do find out who your friends are:
NB excelled himself. He literally dropped what he was doing and drove through the night to be with me. For the next 6 months he did almost everything for me. Actually I've not vacuumed the house ever since! As humbling as it is to accept the full help of a partner, so many friends amazed me with their time, love and support; helping out, cooking great food, going for slow walks with me and having a chat. But a year on I have to say I still feel utterly hurt by those who for whatever reasons were too immobilised with their own issues, that they disappeared off the face of the earth. Loosing my ovaries is one thing, a couple of good friends - a totally different issue. 

I've had no significant income for this first year and a truckload of life expenses (fortunately due to Medicare my treatment has been almost free). Starting a new business, even on a shoestring has been costly. I also supported NB, when he took months off care of me. Without substantial savings, I don't know what I'd have done. I was too sick to apply for government assistance. Being self-employed requires a ream of paperwork, old tax returns and masses of other documentation. I just physically couldn't do it. So I went it alone. My advice for anyone who doesn't know what they can do for a self-employed or single friend going through cancer treatment is if you can't cook or clean - give them money, pay some bills, and when they're well enough - take them out to lunch.

Being part of a club I never signed up for:
I’ve learned a secret, it’s not just health professionals with cancer that believe they belong in the “cancer club”. It’s universal. But I’m in some illustrious company of some Australians who I admire who were diagnosed in the same year, including Anna Bligh and Phillip Adams.

“The woman told Bligh how early into her first chemo round she phoned a friend and told her how she felt she didn't belong there among her fellow chemo patients. "Honey," her friend had said flatly. "They don't belong there either."
"It was the best thing she could have said to me," Bligh says now. "It's true, none of us belonged there."The Australian

I felt emotionally bruised for the best (or rather worst) part of a year. My time in the world has had a tentative quality, even after the 'all clear for now' blood tests. Losing the illusion of immortality, while an amazing but humbling experience, infuses body, mind and spirit with utter vulnerability. Nothing will ever be the same.

Our healthcare system is better than most but it's still f*cked
I'm incredibly grateful to have gone through treatment in Australia but gratitude doesn't mean we don't need to improve it. Did you know 50% of women with ovarian cancer have multiple visits to their GP before they're correctly diagnosed, despite displaying cardinal symptoms of the disease? That time is almost always deadly. Why aren't we instituting further training for each of them that miss it the first, second or third time? In the past twenty years there has been no significant change in treatment or survival. Think of the advances in HIV, HCV and other cancers? A disease of women, predominantly older women, just isn't that important. Or so that's how we're made to feel.

Everything changes, everything stays the same
The little niggles in life that should seem so insignificant actually don't go away. You change. You understand fear. You sit with the loss of innocence around impermanence but life just goes on around you.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

year in pictures


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Anne Summers in conversation with Julia Gillard

I’m not sure what I expected when I leapt online and grabbed a couple of tickets to this talkfest.

Who am I kidding? I know exactly what I hoped for. Spilling the beans on Kev. That’s what I dearly wanted. A bit of behind the scenes gossip.

And did we get that? Nope.

Was I disappointed? Just a little.

I guess the other thing I wanted was to see Gillard close up. To get a glimpse of the “real Julia” that I suspected was there during her steely leadership. That was something we got in spades.

Julia Gillard was warm, strong and amusing. But a bit evasive. The answers were short and pithy, skating on the surface.

Questions of her stance on asylum seekers, marriage equality and single parents were all answered with a smile. I sifted through her responses for any depth or a glimmer of something that would leave me feeling reconciled.

I really wanted to hear about some dark night of the soul, wrestling with her conscience on these issues.

But there was none.

What there was, by the bucket-load in Melbourne, was a room full of love. Staunch ALP love (I’d almost forgotten that the party stalwarts would of course be there in droves) and also deep female solidarity.

As much as I hoped for some goss and blood about the egotistical little man that toppled her, in some way our attendance was also a much needed thank you.

Thank you Julia for putting up with so much shit, just because you have a cunt not a cock between your legs.

Thank you Julia for demonstrating that a female leader can rule with both steel and grace.

Thank you Julia for publicly acknowledging that you choose not to be bitter, that you’re getting on with your life and seeing the bright side.

I still mightn’t support many of your policies or those of your party but sneakingly admire that you still defend them, instead of doing a hasty U-turn in the hope of garnering popularity.

I attended last night’s event because I’m a feminist. It felt good to be in a room with so many other feminists. Like our first female PM, I look forward to the day when gender and equality are no longer an issue in Australia. But for now it is, even more so with a new government that has Abbott as the self-appointed Minister for Women and Julie Bishop as the only cock-less member of the cabinet.

We’ve come a long way baby…but just not far enough.

Update 8.10.13: I've been ruminating on Gillard's response to the marriage equality question, relating her stance to her socio-generational roots. As a contemporary, I totally get the whole notion of 'we thought they'd be a whole new structure for relationships' philosophy but that's not what got stuck in my craw. Why now does she pull the personal ideology card over this policy, when she conveniently disregarded it over others. For example, as an atheist why increase the funding for the school chaplaincy program? Surely, she also thought that religion like marriage would loose relevance in an evolved society? The only reason I can come up with for her pick and mix approach to aligning personal belief with policies is that of vote buying. Why else would she pander to conservatives and christians on these issues?

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