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.

Slow-Life

 

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.

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.

What do you want to be?

What do you want to be when you grow up?  How many times were you asked that as a child?  If you were anything like me, you really had no idea of what the options were, let alone what you wanted to do, beyond be successful and happy in your choice.  I had no idea when I would be ‘grown up’ and with the passage of time, that milestone seemed to keep moving into the distance ahead of me, much the same as a mirage.

Journey

I was also flummoxed by too many ideas.  I toyed with being an actor, a journalist, a psychologist, working in advertising, and perhaps being a social worker.  I definitely knew that I didn’t want to be a teacher, or a nurse (conventional female choices at that time) and although interested in sciences, this was not a field in which I excelled academically.  Actually, my academic achievements were not terribly high in any area by the time that I finished high school and I had totally lost confidence in myself and my abilities, as had done my parents.

There are a range of career advisers available today that didn’t exist at that time.  However, the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES for those who remember) did have an adviser for school leavers and my mother sent me off to undertake their testing and interview process.  From memory, I don’t think that I was handed a career in a box, or given any real practical suggestions.  What stunned me though was the interviewer saying that “I don’t know why you are thinking of social work.  Your results indicate that you don’t like people.”

I was both astonished and demoralised by this assertion and although I thought that she must be wrong, was pushed off balance.  What followed was a period of drifting in and out of courses that I took because I didn’t know what else to do, dropping out, travelling a bit, odd jobs here and there and finally falling into the property industry.  Along the way, I have acquired a few degrees and qualifications, worked in real estate sales, had my own agency, sold and built houses, have been a research analyst and a property adviser for various corporations and government departments.  It just sort of happened.  There have also been some business start-ups in that time, and a lot of lessons learnt.

All along though, I said to myself, I wonder what I will be when I grow up?  I’m a few decades along from when I first posed this question, and I’m still not totally sure when the grown up thing happens, but I have learnt a few things along the way.  Besides acquiring a range of business skills and experiences, (how I wish I’d had those business smarts when younger) I also know that being older doesn’t mean that decisions are any easier.  I also know that circumstances change at any age, whether by choice or factors outside of your control, and know that decisions on what to do next can still be over-whelming.

Friends and family all have different opinions and usually none of their suggestions really light your fire.  It can be easier not to consult them and just to agonise on the options on your own.  At least then you only have your own conflicted voice to listen to and not half a dozen others.

Some of my own experiences in this area Decisionshave led me to pursue training in coaching, focussing on those key transitional times in our lives. It complements work that I have exploring with Life Choices – how to make the decisions that are right for us. I wish that I’d had help like this earlier in life. Stay tuned for further detail that I would love to share with you on my journey of decision-making discovery.

A key area of interest is helping people to make decisions at transitional times in their lives.  It might be having to change career direction or having to re-invent yourself or it may be at other major transitional changes.  The biggies are birth, marriage, children, , divorce, death but there are other variations that are just as important when we are grappling with our decisions.

I’m also really interested in learning how others manage their decision making processes.  If you have time, leave a response and share it with us all.

 

The Journey

My son has returned home.  He got a big hug rather than a fatted calf and it was good to have him with me again, however briefly that might be.

When he left aged 18 to seek work and fortune interstate, it was a wrenching moment, but one that I knew he had to make.  Think ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’, or ‘The Journey’ by John Marsden or all those classic stories relating to The Journey that you may have read.  It is a time when a young person leaves the safety and security of home to seek the learning and experience that life outside of the home has to offer them.  There is the call to adventure, entering the labyrinth, fighting the demons, achieving, reaching an understanding, etc. as described by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero’s Journey’.

Journey

Young Donald had reached a crossroads in his life.  He had realised that his relationship with Daisy was destructive and based on the web of lies that she continually spun.  (Donald and Daisy are discussed in earlier posts.)  He was played for the sucker.  He had dropped out of school and had no prospects, beyond the casual pub job that he had.  He was bored at home and I was forever on his back about helping around the house and just doing something.

I was fed up with the piles of dirty dishes around the house and other things just dumped anywhere and had made the decision at work that day that when I got home, we would have a serious talk.  Either he needed to leave home, or he needed to start paying board.  He got in first.  He said that he had been thinking and perhaps he would go to Perth and look for work.  I was both stunned and relieved.

Perth was not such a big deal in that my sister lives in that city and his donor father is also there, although Donald and his father hardly knew each other.  They certainly did not have a father/son relationship.  Still it was far away and it meant that Donald was going to have to find accommodation, a job, and to make a new life for himself.

While away, he did labouring work, did some TAFE study in the mining sector and got a job at the remote Woodie Woodie mine site in the Pilbara region.  He had to work with characters who Donald described as racist, sexist and homophobic.  (I was relieved that he recognised these people for what they were.  It meant that I had done something right.)  He found himself somewhere to live and made new friends.  Those were the social skills.

On the practical side, he learnt self-resilience, how to budget on minimal income, how to shop economically, and how to keep himself healthy with wise food choices.  He can drive a 4-Wheel Drive and change a spark plug.  He has a range of technical skills that surprise me.  He also has a new confidence in himself that I welcome.

OK – there are not total miracles here.  There are still dirty plates hibernating in his room but not as many and he is better at washing up and domestic chores and cooking dinner for us both too.  Importantly, it was a teenager who left and it is a young man who has come back.  It is so good to have him home again.  I didn’t realise how much I had missed that kiss goodnight before he went to bed or he went out with his friends.  It’s great to have someone with whom I can discuss issues and share decisions.  At some stage, Donald will move on and make his own life elsewhere, but for now I like the feeling of company and understanding.

I realised when he left that this was a move that he needed to make but it is only now that I have understood that it was a version of the epic Journey.  Thinking back, it is very similar to a journey of self-discovery that I made decades before, and that was important to my self-learning as well.  It is a pity that all young people are not able to make this trip of discovery though many of them do.

Did you make a journey?  What changes did it make for you?

Walking with my shoes, talking with my heart

It really is time for a parting or the ways.  There is little sole left between us anymore, but I still hold on to the memories.  We are moulded together, you and I and have that comfortable relationship that doesn’t evolve over night.

It is approaching ten years since my mother died.  Breast Cancer.  We knew it was aggressive; we knew what the outcome would be but there was still the shocked disbelief when it happened so quickly.  I found myself wandering around wearing the purple floppy hat that she used to wear while hanging out the washing in the summer sun, clinging to that vestige of contact with her.  I even used to ring her mobile to listen to her stating her name, clearly and precisely.  I was never sure whether to talk to her during those calls or not.  Would she get my message?  I was desperate for those connections not to disappear.

The clean-up of clothes and possessions was one of those tasks to be endured.  Lots of stuff went to the local charity shop, and other bits and pieces were claimed by family members.  Other things, we simply didn’t know what to do with – too good to throw away but perhaps too old, too out of style or just simply not needed.  A conundrum that is no doubt being addressed by so many right at this moment.

It was during one of these sessions that I encountered you.  You were not really my type, with me favouring options that were more open and less restrained, but probably still seeking that connection with mother I gave you a try.  Oh how comfortable.  To my surprise, the fit was good.  I rocked backwards and forwards, testing the cushioning and support  and after a few tentative steps, we walked out together.  It was the beginning of a dependent relationship and I soon fell in love with a pair of black Rockport walking shoes.

***

Mother had done the hard work for me, with her feet moulding the soft leather and creating a comfortable cocoon across the toes.  The back was softened too, so that it embraced and shielded rather than abraded my heel.  I was so delighted that I even wrote a poem entitled ‘Walking in my mother’s shoes’.  I liked the support that they gave me and the ability to walk and walk and walk. I guess that is why they were called walkers. 

I wore them to work and on field trips – even times when I should have been wearing a steel-capped variety.  Regular polishing maintained the soft leather and I took pride in their gleaming presentation.  I am not sure how long mother wore those shoes, but as the years of my custodianship passed, the soles took a battering and in time began to separate from the uppers.  I flopped and flapped around for a while, walking with a strange strut because of it but finally presented them for inspection at the shoe repair booth.  There was a lot of umming and ahhing, but eventually I was told that they could be re-soled.

This involved slicing off the old sole and gluing a replacement in place.  It worked – for a while and then either left or right would become loose again and I would carefully reglue.  The gaps between gluing became shorter and shorter resulting in more flipping and flapping.  In the end I had to accept that the re-soling had not been a success.  They were retired to the shoe rack in my cupboard.  I was not ready to let them go, even if they were not wearable any more.

It has got me thinking about shoes and the connotations that we bestow upon them.  I have tarty shoes and practical shoes; dancing shoes and running shoes; working shoes and playing shoes.  Each pair creates a mood and ambiance with which I have a co-dependant relationship.  I both create it and assume it on wearing the shoes.  They don’t quite have a life of their own like the red shoes of Hans Christian Anderson but they each have a personality none-the-less.

***

A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of a clean-out.  It is part of the de-clutter program that I wrote about here.  You smiled at me gummily from the rack, with your soles clearly separating around the toes.  I knew that I had to act quickly before you talked me out of my resolve.  I felt such a traitor and kept my eyes averted from your lolling tongue.  I hope you understand but it was time.  I had to do it.   The lid slapped down with finality, not just on you but yet another link with my mother.

Sorting the Linen Press

What do you do on a wet and wild weekend?  OK, stay in bed is one option but this morning I have been sorting and tidying the linen press.  Who would believe that there would be favourite sheets that are still retained when thin and see through?  There is a lot of history in that cupboard, and as I put out the various sizes ranging from single through king single, double and queen size – I remember which bed accommodated those sheets and who slept in the bed and when.  There are so many memories associated with each.

I don’t need so many and it is time for the cull.  Not just because I am running out of cupboard space, but because this is part of the process of de-cluttering my life.  It was started over a year ago (see A life in boxes).  These things take longer than expected, particularly when memories and life in general intervenes.  There is a great sense of achievement however when another sector of the house is reviewed and cleared.

My next question is what to do with towels and sheets that are excess to my needs.  Not all are thin and past their use-by date, but beds have changed and so not all of them are needed.  I am not so keen on the suggestion of giving them away for drop-sheets or similar.  Do I drop them into the charity bin, or would the refugee association or other organisation that looks after homeless people find a use for them?  Is it tacky to give away used bed-linen?  Questions to sort out before the end of the day.  I am just so grateful that my circumstances are such that spare sheets are a problem.