A slowing down – sort of

Last night I watched a program on the ABC on the slow movement.  Titled Frantic Family Rescue, it detailed the efforts of three families to slow down the frantic pace of their lives, guided by journalist Carl Honoré.  Honoré is the author of “In Praise of Slow” and an advocate of the slow movement.



The pressures of my frantic life are not a revelation to me, nor are my regrets about the toll on the life of my son during his formative years.  For financial reasons it seemed that I had little choice as I tried desperately to support us in the face of inadequate employment and compensation.  Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough, or explore alternative options but I am not interested in beating myself up over something that I can’t change now.

I am interested in making positive changes from here on however and am considering how I can make that happen, whilst still doing what I need to do.  A key component of the experiment that was shown on television is the reduction of screen time.  At a time when I am in the process of establishing an online-based business, that would appear to be a challenge, as of course is the whole concept of slowing down.  I’m not prepared to put it in the too hard basket though.

Looking realistically at my day, I haven’t been using my time very effectively.  Working from home can be an easy way of losing focus and succumbing to diversions.  So … I am planning my day the evening before, making a realistic list of what needs to be achieved and am blocking out the time for the various tasks in my Outlook Calendar.  I know that one can use Tasks for tracking but I have never found that it worked well for me.  If anything I get irritated by the pop-ups, so Calendar it is.  I’m starting each day with one of those irritating phone calls that I usually need to make – to banks or utility companies or whatever where you know that you will be confronted with layers of confusing menus and then put on hold for ages.  Getting those calls out of the way early in the day and spreading them out over the days in the week is a sanity-saving strategy.

I am also scheduling some time away from the computer – i.e. weeding a patch of the garden, raking up the leaves, going for a walk.  I am not blocking out 9-5 totally, as there needs to be flexibility in the day to allow for the unexpected, or tasks that arise during the day (thanks email).  I am also alternating tasks so that I don’t get bored with the tedium and become less effective.  I figure that if I can maximise my productiveness during the day, I don’t have to work on the business at night.  I can read or joy or joys, I can work on the next novel manuscript.

An important part of my regime is going to bed at a reasonable time and this is going to take some working on.  I know that I would benefit from more sleep.  Supporting that goal is turning off screens at least half an hour before that so that I have wind-down time.  OK, I know that there should probably be more screenless time, but I’m working on it – okay?  It will just be checking emails and of course if I am working on the manuscript then probably I will have been typing.

Even more radical will be giving myself guilt-free weekends.  In all of my home-based businesses in the past, I have worked on them every day, and have felt incredibly guilty when domesticity has taken me away from those tasks.  Taking my weekends back feels incredibly self-indulgent but that’s what I am doing from now on.

My diversionary activity through the day is typically scanning through online media sites.  When there is no water-cooler activity happening in your workspace, there is a craving for some interaction and information about what is happening in the world.  My very first time block therefore is for reading the various sites.  I am not going to stop doing it, but I’m going to contain it to a reasonable time slot.

The other activity that I have introduced is walking and no, I am not actually scheduling this one.  This is first thing in the morning to blow away the cobwebs and to make a good start to the day.  With our recent wintry and drizzly weather, gloves and raincoat are my friends but I am still walking.  Sometimes I combine it with a supermarket trip so the car gets to stay in the drive.  Saving fuel – woo hoo!

This is a time of transition for me and I think that my recent redundancy has probably given me a gift.  What are your slow living strategies?  Please share them here.  What have the benefits been to you? I am interested in any tips you might have.



A Time of Transition

Although it is some time since I have posted to this site, it’s for good reason.  My current employer recently decided that my role, and that of several colleagues should be made redundant.  Fortunately I saw the writing on the wall some time before the axe fell, and even then it was with a bit of notice so I have had time to start planning the next phase of my career.  It’s not even Plan B.  It’s a positive diversion to the next adventure in my working life.

This period of employment for a Utility company has just spanned seven years and I am grateful for that period of financial stability.  It came at a time when I desperately needed it and of course I have learnt a lot along the way. I now know a lot more about power generation than I did seven years ago. Increasingly though, my tolerance for  corporate bureaucracy is decreasing and so the rising operational restrictions and containment of my working day are becoming more difficult to tolerate.  I’m jumping back into self-employment.  Woo Hoo.

I won’t pretend that I don’t have moments of scaring myself silly, because I do.  Here I am launcscared childhing into a new business which will have to start generating income relatively quickly.  That won’t be the same as I am currently receiving but it still needs to provide some income.  I face a precarious retirements in coming years if I don’t make a success of this.

What I’ve been doing is planning, and learning, and thinking, and studying, and talking to anyone who would listen and brainstorming and planning again.  I have come up with my business concept, which is fluid at this stage in recognition of the fact that it will evolve during the early days.  You have no idea how difficult it is these days to come up with a name that is relevant, that feels right, that is registerable and has available .com and .com.au domain names.  I reviewed and tested over a hundred options.

Then came the logo.  I knew more definitively what I didn’t want but was hazy on what I did want.  I commissioned several people via Fiverr to come up with a design, and they each produced cookie-cutter type designs that did not resonate at all. There was one that had elements that I liked and so I took it and developed it a bit further and then got a local graphic designer to add the finishing touches. That process took quite a few weeks as well.

I have completed my business plan, and incorporated within that my 90-day plan to keep me on track.  I am now working on my website which I hope to have in a launch-able state by 1 August.  This timing is influenced a bit by the fact that my current paid employment terminates on 31 July.  I’ll be making a transition from one to the other.  I still have to design and create the reference material that I need to support the business but that’s on August’s To Do list.

August will be very busy because I am also attending the annual conference of the Romance Writers of Australia, to be held in Melbourne.  Although my first novel was published, that publisher went out of business and rights reverted to me.  I will take the opportunity to pitch the novel to other publishers at the conference.  I have also been working on the second novel, which is a sequel to the first. A chance remark about conflict between characters made me think of an additional thread that would run through the first novel and carry over in the second, not only tying them more strongly together but strengthening the plot line of the first.  I have a bit of work to do therefore in modifying ‘The Red Heart’ before the pitch. Attending the conference is a huge expense, but it is also my treat to myself after all the stress and angst that has been taking place at work for many months now. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ll post further details of the new business when I’m ready to launch.  Hopefully I’ll also be able to report that a new publisher has taken up my book.  If that doesn’t happen, I will consider self-publishing.

Phoning Mother

This morning, just before waking, I dreamt of my mother. It was just a fleeting connection and very mundane.  I was at the kitchen sink doing the washing up and she brought me some more dirty cutlery to add to the pile needing to be washed.  Moments later, I woke up and felt both astonished at her appearance and bereft.

Ironic that it was today, Mother’s Day that she chose to appear.  She died with breast cancer twelve years ago, and of course I miss her – even though she often exasperated me or we disagreed on things.  I realise with hindsight though that although I was aware in a general sense that she did so much for me, I took a lot for granted and never really thanked her properly.  This morning’s episode reminded me of a story I wrote in the months following her death.


 Answer the phone Mother – answer the phone!  

     “This call is being diverted to another number.  Please hold.”

     Not again!

            “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

     My mother’s disembodied voice.  I listen intently, absorbing the tonal nuances and waiting for what else she might say.  You never know, this time it might be something different.  The two names are spoken distinctly, as though there is no association between them.  Nancy – pause – Shorne.  Two separate words, not Nancy Shorne, with the words running into each other with a combined inflective melody.  I listen to the message, hesitating.  Should I speak?  What should I say?    I dither and the silence extends into an embarrassment.  I hang up, feeling stupid and bereft.  Unfinished business is so unsettling.

       After a few moments I collect my thoughts and pick up the phone again. 

            “Nancy … Shorne.”

            “Ummm, it’s me Mum.  Just calling to see how you are.” 

     This time I’m prepared and hang up the phone quickly.  No pause.  I feel a little flushed and unsteady though. 

     It’s strange – it’s not as if I am a kid any more, but there are times when you still want your Mum.  I was surprised when it first hit me.  I was always quite independent and confident.  I had unexpected surgery a few years ago.  When I awoke, I was overcome by post-operative melancholy, to say nothing of pain, and all I could think was ‘I want my mum!’  That was bad luck, because we were in different parts of the country.  I wept miserably, saved only by a nurse of mature years who recognised my distress and isolation and sat with me for a while. 

     I would have phoned Mother then, but only local calls were permitted from my bedside phone, and I couldn’t walk down the hall to the pay phone.  I had to wait for her to call me, just like I am waiting now.  I wonder if she knows what time it is?  Perhaps that is why she hasn’t rung.

     Phones have become such a way of life.  They are more than just communication devices.   They are statements of personality, fashion accessories, reminders, companions, and cameras..  I have a theory that in the not too distant future, our phones will be the means of Big Brother keeping track of us all, and we will use them for everything.  They will hold all our identity information and through our personal phone number it will be possible to access our tax file number, credit card info, social security number, etc.  It will happen gradually and we will all be seduced by the gadgetry before we realise what is happening – a sort of pocket sized Trojan Horse.

     Mother’s phone is just of the basic variety.  It took a while to coach her on how to leave the message.  All she wants is to be able to make and receive calls.  It does have other features, but she never uses them and she seems to have lost the instruction book now anyway.

 Once, we used to solve our problems for ourselves, and now when we are unsure what to do, we automatically reach for the phone.  Our children are loosing survival skills, and are really dependent on their phones.  I know it, but I still reach for the phone for the simplest thing.

          “Nancy … Shorne.”

     “Mum, do you know where your address book is?  I need to do the Christmas cards and I don’t know where anyone lives.  I could send email cards instead, but it is nice at least once a year to actually post something.  I suppose all I really need to do is wait until other people send their cards and then just note the addresses from the back of the envelopes.  I’ll write some notes in the cards as well.  Is there anyone you particularly want me to write to?”

       While I wait for her to call back, I could have a look through her desk.  It seems a bit intrusive though – like looking in someone’s handbag.  They are such personal spaces.  If anyone looks in either my bag or goes through my desk it feels like a real invasion of privacy but how else can I find anything?  I’m very careful and try to put everything back just as I found it.  Hopefully she won’t even realise what I’ve been doing.

       Actually, I have been looking through her recipes too, but she never seems to file anything in a logical order.  A lot of stuff she just keeps in her head and never actually writes it down.  When you do read the recipes that she has written, she leaves out the crucial bits, like in which order ingredients should be added, or how long to cook things and at what temperature.  I have to sort of guess, or else give her a quick call at some crucial moment when I’m getting a bit panicky.

           “Nancy … Shorne.”

  “Mum, how long do you cook quince paste?  How do you know when it’s ready?  This stuff that I’ve got on the stove now looks more like jam.  It’s taken so long to peel and cook and sieve and cook, and it just doesn’t look like yours at all.  What do I do now?”

       I wait for a while, just in case she has just picked up the phone and has heard my message and is going to reply.  I know that’s silly, because although you can pick up the phone and interrupt a call to a land line that is connected to an answer phone machine, calls to mobile phones go to virtual mailboxes instead and you can’t interrupt those.  I still wait for a bit, but there is only silence, so I hang up.  With some answer phones, a silence is interpreted as a completed call anyway, and the device actually hangs up on you, the caller.  Bit rude.

     Having got this far with the quinces and seen how difficult it is, I think I will just buy some from the providores in future – there are some good stalls at the Central Market – but it seems such a waste to just throw out this batch.  I’ve invested so much time in it.  Perhaps I will just keep it as jam.  Pity I never eat it.  By the time she calls me back, it might well be Quince Toffee – a new culinary delight.

       Sometimes when I phone her I don’t wait.  I dial her number and that impersonal mechanical voice starts with This call is being diverted to …” and I just hang up.  I get a bit irritated.  I don’t want to hear that strange woman’s voice.  At least it’s not an American voice, like those you hear in lifts telling you what floor the lift is travelling to.  The phone companies seem to have developed some sensitivity to the local markets.  I haven’t thought about it before but perhaps this is a new job for current times.  Qualification – well modulated voice, slow delivery, absence of regional accent.  A bit strange – there would be exposure around the country, all day every day, but totally anonymous. 

     Even one of my printers talks to me, and tells me when it has a paper jam, or if it has finished printing.  Voices everywhere.  I wonder if there is an association for recorded voices, or whatever they might be called.  There is bound to be some very important sounding technological name.  What would happen if they all went on strike one day?  What would we do with the silence?

     Speaking of silences, I wish she would call me back.  It’s a bit of a one-way street, leaving messages and not getting a call in return.  I have my mobile with me most of the time, so I am always contactable.  I miss some calls when the phone is in the bottom of my bag and no matter how frantically I scrabble around, I can’t find it in time and it stops ringing just as I locate it.  She doesn’t have a silent number, so I would know if she had called.  Her number would be displayed as a missed call.

     Dad has the phone now.  He inherited it by default, but he is even more technologically illiterate than mother was, so he often forgets to take it with him, or even to switch it on.  As for changing the recording or even reading the messages, forget it.  He has no idea.  It means that any time I want to talk to Mother, she’s there, her voice permanently preserved in virtual reality.  It’s comforting in a bizarre sort of way. 

     “You have reached the mail box for …”

            “Nancy …  Shorne”

     “Hi Mum.”

                   24 June 2004


Shortly after this story was written, my father erased the recording, as he pressed random buttons on the phone, trying to figure out how things worked.  My trojan horse comment was more prophetic than I realised at the time.


Don’t Come Monday

Now that it has finally happened, I’m feeling a bit drained and over it all. More than a year ago, my senior manager indicated that projected work was not at the level previously anticipated and that this may have in impact on the team. A few months ago, he announced the process to be undertaken for a resources review within the team. A few weeks ago, he advised me that my position would not be carried forward into the new financial year and a few days ago, he confirmed the date and details of my departure.  Because of ongoing projects, that won’t be for three months yet, but at least there is a definite date.

Some people have no notice of impending redundancy, having their work ID card and mobile phone retrieved as they are being ushered out the back door. I can’t complain about the lack of notice, nor the redundancy payout which is more than fair. Between the sudden death approach though and the painfully drawn-out process that I have experienced, there should be a realistic and compassionate compromise.

All is not lost however. For some time the joys of corporate life have not necessarily been waning but the joys of working with decreasing autonomy and increasingly restrictive policies and procedures palled a long time ago.  Most people hit a peak in their career a long way before retirement age.  From then on, the opportunities are fewer, and career moves seem to be sideways rather than forwards.  Increasingly, I have been thinking ‘Is that all there is?’ Motivation has been at an all-time low, driven only by the salary that was deposited into my account each month.

I have been planning my escape route for a while and my redundancy payment will help to fund the start-up phase.  Of course my nearest and dearest are advising that I should be taking all sorts of actions now to attempt to secure another job and not to rely on my own devices, but you know what?  I am not going to listen.

For a start, I am what would be described as a mature-aged female and I know that options for re-employment are limited.  From about 40 onwards, I found that opportunities dried up significantly.  If I think back to the times in my working career when I have been the happiest and the most engaged, it has been when I was self-employed.  My success record has been a bit erratic, but in hindsight, I can see that I was under-funded, lacking in crucial knowledge or experience and without appropriate mentors.  In spite of those impediments, I still managed to support myself.

This time, I have a wealth of life and commercial experience, and a better understanding of what I don’t know.  I am up-skilling and on a massive learning curve.  At times it seems totally over-whelming but it’s exciting too and I can’t wait to be able to devote myself to growing the business full time.

It won’t be without challenges, and I will put together a risk management plan to mitigate those.  Social isolation, demotivation, and time management are a few of the issues that I will have to address.  I am relying on planning and networking to help here, plus explaining to others that working from home is still ‘working’ and explaining to my two cats that just because I am  here through the day, does not mean that I am available to constantly refill the food bowl.

I am really interested to learn how others have tackled the career change later in life, and in particular if you have started an entirely new business.  Did you feel more confident as an encorepreneur?  What were the problems that you encountered?  Are you glad that you did it?  Tell me.

At any given moment you have the power to say that this is not how the story is going to end.

Children born through IVF have no souls

An acquaintance reported recently that another guest at a BBQ was loudly critical of people who used IVF services and declared that children born via IVF ‘have no souls’.  As my friend (unknown to the gathering) was mid-cycle with her latest IVF attempt in conceiving a child, thins was highly distressing to her.  As the mother of a child conceived via IVF, the comment was insulting to my son and I was understandably indignant .  You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at dim-witted comments like that.

Young Donald is now 21 so I have had plenty of time to observe the soul-less creature.  He was a fairly conventional kid really.  Baulked at eating vegetables, had too much screen time, thought that I nagged him too much and protested at being made to walk or ride his bike when surely it would be much quicker for me to just drive him.

Admittedly he didn’t have much of a religious upbringing – well none really.  I had to attend a church service in an official capacity when he was about four and took him with me.  We sat up the front with the dignitaries.  During one of the hymns, all in attendance standing of course, I looked up from my hymn book to realise that he was standing on the pew along side of me, conducting the rest of the congregation.  I don’t think that we have attended a religious ceremony since then, except for a recent wedding in Japan in a Buddhist temple. I guess there wasn’t the need for someone without a soul.

When small Young Donald loved cuddle time (and still gives me beaut hugs), is always ready to give his mates a hand, and is very generous – especially for a soul-less person.  He has morphed from at times being a morose and moody juvenile to being a socially adept young man who charms one and all with his conversation.  It gives me a frisson of pleasure when people seek me out to tell me what a personable young man he is and how much they have enjoyed their conversation with him.  What a pity he doesn’t have a soul.

I am reminded of a Valentine’s Day a few years ago, when Daisy was very much a feature in young Donald’s life.  He took her out to dinner, selecting a cuisine the he knew she would enjoy.  When he brought her home, he had set up my massage table in his bedroom and scattered the whole room with red rose petals.  When they arrived home, she was greeted with soft lighting and massage oil.  Whatever else she was greeted with, I as his mother don’t really want to know, but think what he could have done if he actually had a soul.

I started to wonder just what might have been intended with the reference to ‘soul’ and resorted to online sources for interpretation and definition.  There were many, all much of a muchness and Wikipedia captured the essence with this explanation.

    “The soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and in many conceptions immortal essence of a living thing.”

I’m not going to debate the presence or otherwise of a soul, whether from the religious, philosophical or mythological perspective.  In my son however, I can see and hear the essence of many who have gone before – my parents and probably their parents and it is possible that his essence will be reflected in those who are to come.  I see mannerisms, I hear laughter, I see reasoning, I see a sense of social justice, I see an observant young man – and I see an individual.  This individual has a resonance that impacts not only on myself, but also on his mates and those he holds near and dear.  Does not that impact render one immortal and if so, is that the influence of a soul, that incorporeal essence of being?

Whether or not my son has a soul is irrelevant really.   What that man was insinuating was that my child, and others who were conceived via assisted reproductive services, is somehow deficient and not a complete human being.  It’s that sort of bigotry that has fuelled the justification of those who would impose segregation on others, and worse.  I just hope for his sake that when the time comes that he wants to reproduce, that his swimmers are up to the task. How would he cope with fathering soul-less children of his own?  That would be karma.

Scientific Justification for a Wandering Mind

I’ve always thought that I had a major problem with concentration – or lack of it.  It started in school which I would zone out during history or science, and lose myself in daydreams about endless what-if options, or whichever fantasy was top of my list that day.

Woe betide me of course if the teacher noted my blank expression and asked me a question.  How to be shown up and humiliated before a class full of peers.  I soon had a reputation and it wasn’t for my brilliance.

Then of course there are those team meetings at work.  Over an hour or so, the team discusses goal definition, project progress, moments of brilliance and safety issues.  It’s scintillating stuff. Where is my mind?  Not on the meeting, that’s for sure.

I’m doing a Walter Mitty with my head in the clouds, or dreaming of the next lotto win that will take me away from all this – or would if only I had bought a ticket.  I then have to ad-lib quickly when I’m called upon to contribute to the discussion.  It’s not easy to sound as if you know what you are talking about when you don’t, and I suspect that not many are fooled.

According to Malia Mason of the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, daydreaming is a form of mental multi-tasking, when the brain solves problems, contemplates and future and engages in cerebral brain-storming. It seems that the brain is engaged in a lot of hard and potentially productive work.

Dream-PictureSo, to those who have previously thought that I was half asleep, not engaged, or simply away with the fairies, I was in fact not just involved in serious contemplation; I had embarked on a meditative journey of complex resolution.

In Praise of the Entrepreneur

A few days ago, I read an article online about several bright young millennials who were feted for their entrepreneurial spirit, and rightly so for they had done well. I picked up the assumption on the part of the author that she thought that Gen Ys or the Millennials as they are also known, are a go-getter breed of entrepreneur, the likes of which have not been seen before.

Lemonade Stand

There were several reasons flagged for this by those who were interviewed within the article:

  • Millennials are not afraid to question authority;
  • They are flexible and entrepreneurial;
  • They harness new technology in the interest of getting things done easily and efficiently; and
  • They are hungry for success and have the confidence to go out on their own.

It was even said that ‘this special generation benefits from knowing how things were done before mobiles, the cloud and Google.’  (I snorted so hard my tea nearly came out my nose when I read that claim. Most millennials have never known a life without a mobile phone, or Google.) It was also noted on the negative side that Gen Ys can be impatient and too focussed on technology over face-to-face interaction.

It made me review my own businesses start-ups, the first of which was when I was 18.  It was an abysmal failure as I had no idea about marketing, location, pricing, or any of those essential details.  I had learnt a bit by the time that little enterprise folded.  My next businesses were in my twenties and they were more successful.  One, I now realise in hindsight would have probably set me up for life if I had developed it further and hadn’t sold out too soon.  I lacked formal business and financial training however and learnt on the job, often by making mistakes.  I so wish that I’d had a good mentor during those times but I was a female trespassing in traditional male spheres and the welcome mat wasn’t exactly thrown out.

The point is however, that although I am now a baby boomer, in my earlier years when I didn’t have mortgages, and a child to support and educate, I was able to act on my bright ideas.  I never saw them as taking risks, but more rising to the challenge and having a go.  I suspect that this has always been the case, and the Millennials of today are merely following in the footsteps of generations who have gone before.  With the benefit of internet-based technologies though, they are able to harness information and learnings that were not so easily accessible before.  They can contact other people online who are engaged in similar activities and set up mutually supportive networks.  They can even use crowd-funding to finance new ventures.

I have never stopped having the ideas, and have a file full of incipient business plans for the next great scheme that might just be challenging, and a bit of a winner.  An online bookshop did well for a decade, before more cashed up competition prompted its slow demise.   I also didn’t know what I didn’t know about internet marketing. Once more, I’ve learnt a lot.

Now that said child is off my hands and I have a little more financial flexibility, I can again consider the options for casting aside the corporate 9-5 and pursue some of my dreams again. I suspect that I’m not alone and that there are a few more budding seniorpreneurs working on their business start-ups.

What about it all you Gen Xs and Baby Boomers?  Has that entrepreneurial spirit spluttered and died, or are you biding your time for when you can give it a go again?  Are business start-ups the province of the young?