Ushering in the New Year

2018/19 – in the midst of the Black Summer bushfires

Many people are glad to see the back of 2020. For all our projections of 2020 vision at the start of the year, our hopeful plans of what was to come, our 2020 hindsight is vastly different.

I know that when Victoria opened up (in November, out of our second lockdown, after nine months of iso), social events appeared in my diary again and I wondered, “Where did I find the time?” And that was with only one or two social events! It was a really different feeling after such a long time to be driving somewhere to something … rather than grabbing another cuppa to Zoom something …

With its enforced complete change of routine, 2020 allowed me to catch up on sleep for the first time in at least 20 years (since I joined the Motherhood Club) or even earlier! Consistently having one hour’s extra sleep because I was not commuting, alongside no social engagements keeping me up beyond my preferred bedtime, turns out to be a highly effective solution for wellness.

I wondered about my need for social interaction versus how much I – ‘endure’ is perhaps too strong a word (even if the sentiment is accurate). Turns out, as long as I have my husband around to cuddle I don’t need too much face-to-face contact with others. Not that I don’t like it, just that I can do without it. Another valuable learning from the year.

I realise how lucky I am to have a Significant Other around (my friends who live on their own had a vastly significantly different experience of lockdown), especially my Significant Other whose company I enjoy, and who enjoys my company. Our imposed working from home meant we spent a LOT of time together … and it turned out to be a rediscovery of things I hadn’t been aware we’d lost along the way, the busy demands of a modern lifestyle revolving around our children having slowly eroded our time together. How lovely to have the time to chat at leisure rather than firing off a curt reminder as we’re rushing out the door to our external demands. How amazing to find, looking back over three decades, that we still have things in common and WANT to share our time, that we both feel happier for that. I am grateful that the global Pause button turned out to be a Reconnect and Rediscover button (as it was for many people): that’s something I don’t want to lose sight of again.

Statements that 2020 hasn’t been all-bad have flushed the media, and I am certainly aware of the gains I have made personally. I am equally aware of the privilege of my position: living in a first-world country with stellar health care and government support for my trouble-and-strusband‘s lost work; my work (therefore, our income and as a flow-on, our ability to pay all our bills) unaffected; in a secure house not damaged by the Black Summer bushfires which preceded the Covid-19 lockdown by mere months (many are still living in caravans one year later); with fresh vegetables from our country garden forming the base of our daily meals … I recognise that we are very fortunate indeed and I am immensely grateful for that.

In terms of ushering in the New Year, Sydney is the first big display on the international circuit of fireworks. The multi-million dollar display from the Harbour Bridge is watched around the world. The ‘northern beaches outbreak’ (that’s where the best views of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House are from) has brought Sydney under lockdown again, over Christmas and into the New Year. This has necessitated curtailing of the New Year’s Eve festivities: no 9pm fireworks (the family-friendly version) and limited fireworks at midnight with few attendees, the “vantage points around the Harbour … reserved for frontline workers this New Year’s Eve to say thank you for keeping the community safe throughout the year“.

May we recognise – and appreciate – the positives of this incredibly difficult year.

May we give gratitude for the gains we made – and maintained – through iso.

May 2021 continue – and further – the blessings of 2020.

GLOSSARY:

trouble-and-strusband: the equal opportunity version of trouble-and-strife?

trouble-and-strife: rhyming slang for ‘wife’. Rhyming slang arrived in Australia with the cockney convicts. No longer in common usage, especially in millenial generations, it’s still fun to use.

Covid Christmas

To end a Covid-constrained year we now have a Covid-constrained holiday period. My thoughts go out to all the people who can’t share festivities – from all cultural and religious backgrounds – with their families this year. My heart is heavy from the people who are no longer with us, due to Covid (and indeed from other reasons).

It’s certainly been a year like no other that I’ve experienced! A year of changes on many levels, both external and internal = an opportunity for personal and societal realignment, and consequent growth. Individuals have their own reflections on the impact of the devastation and generosity of this year, in equal or unequal doses depending on personal circumstances. May we all recognise the gifts that this year brought, alongside the pain.

May the environment – the healing of which made such great progress when the world stopped in lockdown – be able to maintain its momentum towards health. May we humans take note – and not wantonly destroy it again, just to get jets in the sky ‘because our pleasure is more important than the health of our host planet’.

With Australia having predominantly Christian-settler background the biggest Christian festivals (Easter and Christmas) are granted public holidays. These two Christmas-themed items sum up 2020 as a year like no other:

West Gate Stories

Lightbulb moment: the West Gate Bridge is thusly named because it is the Gateway to the West!

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s something I never questioned: this feat of construction is something that was always in my childhood and I never stopped to think about its whys and the wherefores.

I had this elucidation mere months ago, while commuting from Melbourne’s northern suburbs (where my mother lives) to the western suburbs (where my son’s house recently burnt down). Traversing routes I don’t frequent caused me to reflect more closely on their names, and what they represent in the historical context of Melbourne town. Such as that Sunshine is the birthplace1 of the Sunshine Harvester, that piece of farming equipment that revolutionised the way farmers … you guessed it … harvested their crops, around the turn of the (19th to 20th) century. Who’d’a thunk?

Here’s a fun fact about Sunshine: I heard that Sunshine was called such because it has fewer rainy days than other areas of Melbourne. Lovely thought, isn’t it? However, it’s totally unverified – although the map in the link does support it…

When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s the western suburbs were dangerous places, where a lot of crime happened: if there were murders or bashings on the news, they always seemed to come from here. The Italian and Greek immigrants who settled there after the Second World War were, as first-generation immigrants often are, impoverished and working manual jobs (regardless of what qualifications they had and what jobs they used to do in their home countries). The western suburbs were not the only places these people settled – many moved to the eastern suburbs where I grew up as they became more affluent.

The arrival of Vietnamese refugees (as a consequence of the devastation of the war) into the western suburbs gentrified the area – not so much in Sunshine, but in adjacent suburbs. These days it’s a mix of ‘residential suburb with a mix of period and post-War homes, with a town centre that is an important retail centre in Melbourne’s west’. I’ve never spent much time in Sunshine – it wasn’t a place people went to willingly during the ’70s and ’80s, and I haven’t lived in Melbourne since then. Spending time hanging out with my son, I have been impressed with this little area of Melbourne and can understand why he likes to live there!

DRIVING THE BRIDGE

The West Gate Bridge is a little scary to drive for people who are not used to it. With five lanes in each direction the volume of traffic it carries at any one time is impressive. When an accident occurs the traffic is often stopped across all lanes in one direction, for hours – not an incentive to use that thoroughfare, especially for impatient people with lots to do.

With Son as learner driver we were trying to get to a suburb we weren’t familiar with. Using GPS we approached the Montague Street intersection. (Everyone who listens to Melbourne radio would be familiar with this street name, regardless of whether they have seen it in real life, because it is always on t

he traffic reports with hold-ups…)

Long story short, we were in the far right lane and worked out – too late – we had to be in one of the three left lanes to get to our destination. We had one suburban block to do it … in gridlocked traffic. Son enthused, “That’s ok, I can do that!” as he switched the left indicator on. To his credit, he got across two lanes … but we were still one short, so we ended up going over the bridge. Never one to miss a teaching moment, I used it to explain about bridge-etiquette: “Don’t change lanes on a bridge – or in a tunnel, for that matter – because if there is an accident there’s no way out, and you can be stuck for HOURS.”

When we got to the other side guess what the lady in my phone asked us to do: turn around and go right back again! So that’s what we did.

We did eventually find our destination, and we had enjoyed the scenic route.

1 Actually it appears that Sunshine was named after the harvester company; that town (completely separate to Melbourne) was originally named Braybrook Junction. These days Sunshine and Braybrook are adjacent western suburbs, with Sunshine being more ‘recognisable’, no doubt because it’s on the trainline, whereas Braybrook is not.

West Gate Story

Fifty years ago Australia experienced its second-worst construction disaster. Here are my memories: my humble contribution to this story of national psyche.

The West Gate Bridge is shown with the Yarra River in the foreground and Melbourne's skyline in the background.
The West Gate Bridge today

The West Gate Bridge is a vital piece of infrastructure which connects Melbourne’s Central Business District to the Western suburbs. Prior to the bridge’s completion this route was slow and haphazard, due to the geography of Melbourne having water to traverse.

It seems like I’ve always known the story of the West Gate Bridge’s collapse on during its construction: it’s always been part of my understanding of the world, despite my being too young on 15 October 1970 to actually remember it.

A black and white photograph of emergency workers at the scene of the collapsed West Gate Bridge in 1970.
35 people died and a further 18 were injured

The fiftieth anniversary of the collapse, with its accompanying interviews of survivors and media releases of the time played on the radio, brought these memories of mine to mind:

MY MEMORY:

The bridge was finished eight years after its collapse; the first cars went over it on 15 November 1978. I was in Grade Six, my last year of primary school. Our fantastic teacher, Mr Tyrell, took us on a school excursion to walk the bridge before it was opened up to traffic. Truthfully! It’s unfathomable, in contemporary times of government red-tape and legally-constrained risk management, that such a school excursion would be permitted … yet there we were, thirty ten-year-olds, walking around freely, 58 metres (190 feet) high in the sky, enjoying the view of the docks way down below, the cars like ants snaking through the streets … ‘protected from falling’ by a hip-height guard rail …

I remember taking it all in and saying to my friend, “You know how seagulls fly really high?” I waited till she nodded her affirmation, then continued, “Well, look at them way down there!” Her gasp of realisation confirmed my own cognition: This. Bridge. Is. High.

My Grade Six teacher was inspiring. However, I’m sure we were not the only school class to walk the bridge in the three months between its completion and official opening: still, a school excursion with ten-year-olds!! That would never happen today!

West Gate Bridge and Melbourne skyline, May 1978.
By about 3 pm it will be possible to walk across the bridge, from Port Melbourne to Williamstown. But it will be at least late August before West Gate is opened to traffic.

1978 was a different era: Melbourne was a provincial town with close-knit community and social interaction. Kids spent their days outside and were given responsibility to get themselves to and from places. My final observation is that my excursion – which we children took in our stride as something exciting and fun, yet not overly remarkable – occurred decades before the suicide-prevention fences went up.

Walking lightly on the earth

MINIMISING MY CARBON FOOTPRINT

Found in the shed:

a big box of shoes I didn’t remember.

Grroooaaaannnnn ……

 

They are dirty, covered in cobwebs and – even worse –

have been chewed by rodents.

Those innards coming out definitely have rat-sized teeth-marks around them.

 

Who’s going to want to wear them now?

Clearly not the people who put them in the shed in the first place!

Even more clearly, nobody else!

 

Luckily I have recently learned about

SAVE OUR SOLES

and shoe recycling which diverts such items from

LANDFILL WASTE

into

RAW RESOURCES

for creating playgrounds and weaving textiles …

which means I can use my trash for treasure,

thereby reducing my carbon footprint

and

walking more lightly on the Earth.

👣 🌏 🦶

 

Notes from the author:

1. Hopefully the reader will have realised that the “Free to Good Home” sign was not put up for the derelict shoes! Many moons ago our lemon tree was highly productive, so we placed the box outside our house so that passersby could indeed “share our bounty”.

2. May the shed clear-out continue to continue!

My Fellow Survivors

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There is a lot of hurting in the world. Sometimes it seems that the older I get, the more I hear about people’s suffering from when they were children. Maybe people from my generation, my friends, have more of a forum to talk about it now, in ways they couldn’t before. Maybe professional organisations are asking questions about past experiences now, in ways they didn’t before.

 

 

I’ve certainly noticed an increased openness to talk about historical abuse over the last five to ten years. The various investigations into the Catholic Church in different countries, Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse- its findings and recommendations, the #MeToo movement… they’ve all been pivotal in creating the space and the language to talk about it more openly than ever before.

This is good except for one thing: the extent of the hurt which is being exposed, incorporating the extent of the dysfunction that many survivors continue to live with- and the negative effect it has had, and continues to have, on their lives.

A common saying about caregivers, usually in the context of forgiveness for their lack of (appropriate) action, is “They were doing the best they could, with the tools (skills and knowledge) they had at the time”. This is true to a large degree but it falls way short in two key areas: when the same caregivers who should have protected someone are also the perpetrators of violence against them; and in its failure to include the addendum: “And so were you”.

The most vulnerable have the smallest, weakest voices and it’s great to see that these people are at last getting the platforms to be heard. Inside every one of us is our Little Child and if that is still damaged, so will the Adult be.

So to my fellow survivors I say: acknowledge the enormity of what you have achieved just to be here today! Recognise your achievements in holding down a job, a relationship, bringing up children… all the things which may seem routine and expected, but nevertheless are not easy to achieve in the transition from victim to survivor.

 

I send out the challenge: let us- who know from the inside what it’s like to be shut down, to have no voice- let us be the ones to open our hearts, our ears and our minds to those who need it now. Let us be the ones to step up and say, I will stand beside you and I am here for you. Let us- who know from personal experience how vital it is to have an advocate in a time of trauma- let us be the ones to offer our hands of friendship to those still lost, and struggling, in the dark.

Let us stand up for good.

Image References:

https://www.google.com/search?*q=victim+to+survivor&rlz=1C9BKJA_enAU792AU793&hl=de&prmd=inv&sxsrf

=ACYBGNTfqdIJJA2B30DEY_6IOpMd7n4Uew:1577613719640&source=

lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiZheiKzdrmAhUU7HMBHZqRAyIQ_AUoAXoECA0QAQ&biw

=1024&bih=659#imgrc=u6hSx1cjVhTpWM

Check out this Reverse Poem: going downwards it reads in victim-mindset, going upwards it reads in survivor mindset. Very clever! 

*https://www.socialworker.com/extras/social-work-month-2017/victim-to-survivor-reverse-poem/

 

 

Some People

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Some people shout their politics from the rooftops, waving banners and flags in the face of humanity going about its daily business.

I admire these people for standing up publicly, pinning their causes to their chests and making a public nuisance of themselves- that is, getting in other people’s way, forcing them to move out of their safe, comfortable routine and take notice of the activists blocking their way to their daily fix of coffee, croissant or Cruiser- because such protesters can loudly and proudly effect large-scale change.

I have to admit, I am not one of these people. I consider myself a quiet activist, a change merchant on a different scale. Rather than looking at the Big Picture of Global Politics and what I can change by participating in a thousand-strong rally or sit-in, I look at my Immediate Surroundings and what I can change right now, with every small decision I make throughout my day.

I also admit that sometimes I guard myself against fatigue rather than put myself on the frontline of making a positive contribution to the world, right now in this instance. I justify this as protecting myself for the long haul, extending my longevity by taking the time to heal when I am so burnt out and exhausted I cannot make effective contributions anyway. What use is a crusader who lacks the strength to raise their pen or sword?

Maybe this is construed as lazy, copping out or otherwise more convenient to me than to others, but it’s what I feel I can contribute on any given day, to make the world a better place … and I do consider it makes a positive change to others.

Teaching is a profession without immediate rewards. It’s often only years later, when my adolescent charges have grown up and become independent, that a chance meeting will reveal the impact I’ve had on their young lives: “You were kind to me when my grandparent/parent/sibling/cousin died, when I felt alone”; “You asked me where my Safe Space was when I disclosed I was depressed, so I knew you understood what I was going through”; “I felt like every time I saw you at the canteen I offloaded onto you, yet you always asked me how I was doing and encouraged me to answer from my heart”; “You gave me the space to talk to an adult and that helped me sort out my feelings, which meant they didn’t spiral out of control”.

As a career teacher I’m used to working in an environment with delayed feedback. I attribute this with influencing my ability to see action and progress where others may not.

Sometimes I wonder how outsiders perceive the way I live, particularly in reference to positive action. Sometimes I feel I lead a small life. That my day after day at work, early to bed as I am tired after the emotional energy spent with challenging students and then my commute, doesn’t amount to much.

I choose to think that my Modus operandi, however, makes a huge contribution to the hundreds of students I have daily contact with, thousands over the years. I might not see the rewards on a daily basis, and they may not be as obvious and grand-scale as stopping a coal mine or taking a whole town off the grid with sustainable, renewable energy … but they are real, nevertheless. Just less tangible.

I’m in the business of providing others with the skills, tools and knowledge they need to contribute proactively to the wider world, and their ability to do this in adulthood is my reward. So every “How are you? How are things going for you?” of mine, that boosts a student’s self-worth and ability to ask someone else the same questions with the genuine will, and time, to listen; every time someone remembers something I’ve said or done for them and chooses to act with more integrity and compassion than they otherwise would have done, in reflection of my response; every time someone in my sphere of influence chooses kind because that is what they have received from me … a widening circle of positive influence is created, and that is powerful.

My daily actions and contributions may be- or seem- small-scale, but the ripple effects that’s started from my small actions becomes bigger and wider, affecting more people, more lives, more positively. That’s something worthy to own!

… and the best part about this is … this power is within reach of all of us! Even if we’re temporarily blinded by fatigue, feeling pushed down and trampled on, it’s still there and still in reach: we just need to alter our focus to make it clear again.

Every action and reaction is a choice we make as individuals, and we all have the freedom to choose for good. Even those within restricted settings can still influence their thoughts and consequently behaviours. The ripple effect is never ending … and we can all be part of the positive influence.

Image Reference: https://www.google.com/search?q=ripple+effect&rlz=1C9BKJA_enAU792AU793&hl=de&prmd=imvn&sxsrf=

ACYBGNTqFW0lwPFRzJ_NddV68QF8ADUTqg:1577666557270&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiR–D1kdzmAhWG63MBHS4bDc8Q_AUoAXoECBAQAQ&biw=1024&bih=659#imgrc=01x6rFviUXeiZM

 

Remembering-Remembrance

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How to be remembered in three easy steps. 

Step 1: Live.

Step 2: Do something. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be noteworthy. It doesn’t have to be famous. It simply has to be something.

Step 3: Have someone notice you doing something. Again, that someone doesn’t have to be big, noteworthy or famous. They simply need to acknowledge your action.

 

When do we really die?

When our physical body gives up and transforms into its next, ethereal, form?

Or when the last person who knew us (directly or vicariously) forgets us?

Image Reference: https://www.google.com/search?q=crocheted+poppies&rlz=1C9BKJA_enAU792AU793&oq=crocheted+p&aqs=

chrome.1.69i57j0l3.8977j0j7&hl=de&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8#imgrc=UW9DRiVFw9X1uM:

Organisation

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I’ve decided I’m not disorganised, I’m differently organised.

What does it matter that I’m showering after breakfast because I got too hungry after sleeping in because my night was filled with fitful sleep, tossing and turning? Followed by half an hour’s yoga-like yoga practice to try to ease my way into the day, an attempt to enter the waking world peacefully (not entirely successful, as evident from my description)? Then a short walk with Miss Sore Paw who jerked along on three legs until her bowel and bladder released, because she’s too anxious from being in a new place, and at the vet’s, to go to the toilet in a relaxed manner?

…. and then I have my breakfast, followed by my shower?

What does it matter the precise order I complete my daily tasks in, as long as they get done? Who says that just because other people do things in a certain way, that it’s the right way, the only way they can be done?

I choose to follow my own rhythms. I still fulfil my commitments.

You be the judge: is this a serious post or am I merely an April Fool?

 

Image reference: https://www.google.com/search?q=to+do+list&rlz=1C9BKJA_enAU792AU793&oq=to+do+&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l3.11545j0j7&hl=de&sourceid=chrome-mobile&ie=UTF-8#imgrc=359eh5ddHnsJPM:

Where do all the letters go?

What happens to all the letters that get erased when writers realise they’ve made an error and go back to correct it? When they’re typing as they’re thinking, and change tack mid-thought? When they erase the bluntness of what they’re feeling in preference for kinder words which don’t attack the reader as much as their impatience and frustration first led them to express?

This kind of existential dilemma intrigues me: what happens to all those letters which were, and now are not? Did they ever exist? Clearly. Yet where is the evidence of their existence? There is none. Even more tenuous are the punctuation marks, which don’t mean much, if anything, in isolation … let alone the spaces that are erased: how can space be physically erased? It can be filled in and rearranged, but can it ever be really disappeared?

As I type I wonder about these lost symbols of my written communication. I like to think they’re floating about in the air, as in Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges are not the only Fruit, where people are employed to clear the skies of the residents’ forgotten thoughts, hovering over the city like smog, cluttering up the clear blue sky.

Or like Kryten, the android in Red Dwarf, the off-the-wall British comedy with humour that seriously tickles my funny bone. As Kryten amicably discusses his impending replacement by a newer model which will  make him redundant, he states to the crew that he will go to Silicone Heaven. When questioned about its existence he queries plaintively, “But … where do all the calculators go?” The mechanised android cannot perceive of something beyond what he has been programmed to believe.

So if you feel cluttered, or perplexed, take comfort in knowing that things will clear, that programming can be overwritten and redirected, and people continue on, nonetheless.

 

One of the hundreds of picture books borrowed from the library to share with my children was about a tooth fairy who looked like an archetypal bag lady with layers of clothes bulked out by bulging pockets. The story revealed that this fairy picked up forgotten things and kept them. I don’t recall what she did with them and how, or even if, she used them (beyond stuffing her copious pockets), but I do remember the young boy-protagonist’s look of utter surprise when she pulled out his odd sock which had disappeared in the washing machine. Come to think of it, that sounds like a bizarre plot for a book! Yet I can relate to it because there has been more than one occasion when I have stumbled across something I had totally forgotten about. This has happened around as many times I have looked for something and not found it, confident in the knowledge that I haven’t thrown it out, I have merely to look in the right place … wherever (and whenever, usually a year or so later, when the immediate need is long gone) that turns out to be …

And who can go past The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan? This wonderful book, then short film, describes the plot pictorially, with very little text except for in the traffic signs which are pivotal to the story. Stunning detailed pictures – to be expected from this brilliant author-artist – effectively depict the loneliness and despair of the harried everyday world, monochrome compared to the joyful, playful, fun-filled colour where the Lost Thing finds its home.

So next time you think something is lost – or if you feel lost – take comfort in the thought that everything has a home … it may just not be found yet.

 

Image references:

* https://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/random-letters.html?

* https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1669698/