Thursday, September 23, 2010

A First!

Well, it's official. One of my short stories is to appear in print. I am thrilled and honoured to have been selected to be one of the authors in the forthcoming "New Australian Stories 2". It is an exciting achievement for me, and one that is inspiring me to forge onwards with renewed vigour in my writing endeavours.

For further details, you can check out the Scribe Publishers website.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happy Birthday David!

Yesterday was David's birthday, which means he's a Gemini.

Even though being a pragmatic soul I don’t place a lot of credence in astrology, my imaginative side finds it kind of intriguing. I’ll happily get excited about anything nice the stars say, and just as happily ignore anything nasty.

So what about David? Well they say a lot of nice things about him, and I can vouch for them being true. Mythologically, according to one website, “Gemini’s ruler was Mercury, the light footed messenger of the Gods who darted back and forth across the heavens delivering news!!!”

This must explain why David is a newsagent! Geminis are also “terminally curious and sometimes even mischievous” – mischievous in a nice way I have to add. They are also “multi-faceted souls who enjoy knowing a little bit of everything” – this is true and harmonises well with Annabel, the eternal seeker of truth, knowledge, etc. (see above)!

Now here’s a typical David characteristic – “Geminis have also gained the reputation of being the incessant talkers of the zodiac. They are gifted with the “gift of the gab”. As anyone who knows David can attest, he loves a chat!

Whatever the astrologers say, I have to say, David is my Mr Right and I think he’s pretty fantastic. After a long time scanning the horizon in vain waiting for him to make an appearance, and a few distractions by impersonators along the way (it was their white horses that tricked me!), he’s finally showed up.

And was he worth waiting for!

Happy birthday dear David and I look forward to helping you celebrate many more.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Dog Friends

Blimey, she's finally posted something. Have been sooooo flat out with writing, work etc.
But here's a nice pic of Fergus and Lottie (David's lovely Red Setter) coming home from the Million Paws Walk a couple of weeks ago. This is a great initiative put on by the RSPCA to raise funds for animals, and takes place nationally each year. The sight of hundreds of human and doggie feet tramping the banks of the Torrens in quest of staying fit and raising funds for a good cause, is one worth seeing! Our two look exhausted, but then they walked their little paws off. They assured us though that they had lots of fun and are dying to go again next year!
Fergus and Lottie, fortunately, have become the best of friends. Fortunately, because of course their Mum and Dad respectively are the bestest of friends (and more). There is a dramatic difference in their height, colour, and facial features (the dogs that is), but the one thing they have in common is that good ole doggy tongue .... pant pant pant. We're hot, we're tired, we're thirsty, but gee thanks Mum and Dad for a great day out!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Together we can make it

This week saw the release of the much heralded Federal Treasurer's Intergenerational report 2010. One of the themes of the report is the challenges posed to this nation, as to many others, of an ageing population. Given the media reaction, one could be forgiven for thinking the older generation is dragging the country to its knees. At the well worn feet of our senior citizens has been laid the blame for the most pressing problems facing this country today. According to the report, Australia is facing escalating pressures on its social, economic, and health systems. Commentaries on the report suggest the country is reeling under the escalating burden of those among us who have the temerity to keep on keeping on, despite their wrinkles and grey hair.

One can't help but think, being so unjustly targeted as the prime cause of their country's woes, our ageing citizens may well react with escalating pressures of their own. Perhaps this is the aim. As we all know, raised blood pressure leads to cardiac crises, sudden strokes and other such nasties, which with a bit of luck may take a few more oldies out of the game and give poor old Oz a bit of breathing space.

Falling just within the demographic that could be statistically (if unkindly) defined as ageing, I am beginning to take exception to this. Philosophically speaking, we are all ageing, indeed from the very moment we spring from the womb. Some of us are however getting a lot closer to the bottoming-out end of the slippery dip, and that's the point. The tide of life is going out for us, whether we like it or not. Despite grasping at bits of driftwood here and there, otherwise known variously as Viagra, HRT, Botox, dermal fillers and the like, we will inevitably wash up at the final shore.

Articles about the societal ills this country will face over the next 40 years leave me cold I have to say, as cold as I'll doubtless be by the time 40 years have elapsed. It is only the young who can realistically see themselves dealing with the next 40 or 50 years and it's all very well for them to write about it in tones of dire foreboding. What they tend to forget is that by then they will have joined the ranks of the dreaded ageing themselves.

This I think is where the problem lies with all this blathering on about the imminent geriatric takeover of the world. Just because the baby boomers caused a demographic blip back when our parents thought the war to end all wars actually had, doesn't mean the world will grind to a halt under the weight of an unprecedented mass of oldies. Subsequent generations are, after all, continuing to have babies, even if the Gen X'ers and Y'ers wait a bit longer. Even the Gen Z'ers are probably already thinking about it. In fact the very Intergenerational report that so castigates the grey haired brigade states that Australia's population is, if not booming, definitely on the increase thanks to a higher than expected rate of childbirth. This can hardly be attributed to the euphoria of post-war celebrations this time, so one can only guess it must have been our late un-lamented Treasurer's exhortation to the nation's families to have "one for your husband, one for your wife and one for the country".

Rather than so fixedly delineating the generations, as government reports and human resource managers tend to do, perhaps it would be more fruitful to adopt a more holistic approach. Generations are comprised of individuals, who while they may share birth dates within a certain range, are equally as multi-skilled, talented and diverse one from the other as grandparents are from their grandchildren. This is not to deny the existence of generational traits which clearly manifest themselves and can be glaringly obvious in such things as choices in clothes, hairstyles, music, attitudes to sex and in a multitude of other ways. What I'm saying though is that these characteristics are not the whole person.

Like sexism, ageism sadly focuses on casting people beyond the pale, based on a small component of their identity, over which they have no control, about which a huge fuss is often made, and on the basis of which it is totally unjust to judge their worth in any context whatsoever.

I would like to suggest that rather than shuffling people into generational compartments and correlating their capacity to make a contribution or not to their span of years, we build bridges between the generations. How do we do that? Although the phrase "celebrate diversity" has become trite with over-use, that is what is needed in the fullest sense of its meaning. And as well as celebrating we need to sanction and honour that diversity.

Older people have much to learn from the young exuberance, enthusiasm, idealism, adventurousness and a hunger to question and learn. There is much to be gained by appreciating the brashness of youth, their courage to forge ahead despite setbacks, unencumbered by bitterness, cynicism or regrets. Sure, they have a lot to learn and because they never listen to our advice or warnings, we know they'll come a cropper eventually. But, that is just how you do learn and hang on just a sec, how many of us turned a deaf ear to parental remonstrations, thinking what could those old fogies know about life?

Well actually they do know something and it is precisely that richness of knowledge that older people bring to the mix, whether it's within the family or the workplace. We might not look as good as the young, but we have wisdom, often gained at a price, and too often only in hindsight. There are those wholly undervalued skills honed at the university of life, where no-one gives you a degree at the end, but you know they are there to be called upon when needed. OK, so we're getting a bit droopy here and there and we may not bound from bed in the mornings with the same zest as a Gen Y, X or Z'er, but we can be relied upon in the long haul. We have that innate knowledge that even though things can look totally black today, the sun will still come up again, eventually. None of us are saints, but mostly the edges have been rubbed away, we've calmed down, learnt patience, acceptance and compassion.

We, both old and young, would benefit from recognising that we have unique and valuable ingredients to add to the recipe. More can be achieved by working together in mutual respect and collaboration, than by pointing fingers. The aged already comprise a major component of most workplaces. Although the government has raised the retirement age and the message on the wall is clearly that we who are still working will have to keep on keeping on for longer than ever before, ageism continues to prevail. Bias against older workers manifests itself in various forms, from the none too subtle implication that they are past it, not worth spending money on to train or develop, to the refusal to pay any more than lip service to the concept of flexible working hours and transition to retirement arrangements. Apart from seriously devaluing the worth of an organisation's most loyal and committed employees, this is short sighted in the extreme.

Benefits to the organisation of respecting and accommodating the needs of its older workers should be glaringly obvious. The up and comers rely upon the wisdom, support and mentorship of older employees. Often the intellectual property of an organisation depends upon the wealth of knowledge, skill and experience, usually unacknowledged, of a handful of its older employees. If there is a mass exodus of grey power, many work places will be, not just impoverished, but crippled. There are younger workers with qualifications, that isn't the problem, although there are some who would do well to polish up their spelling and writing skills. Talented though they are, what they don't have though is experience, either in their chosen career or in life. This is the stuff that can't be measured or rated, but leaves a huge gaping hole when it isn't there. A recent report commissioned by the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre found that the loss to the nation's economy by not using the skills and experience of older Australians can be measured, and amounts to some $10 billion a year.

That's serious bickies, and when measured across the nation's work places, would be enough you would think to make a few decision makers sit up and take notice. It's no use bureaucrats sending down recommendations from on high. Unless they have the weight of law, they can be too easily ignored. Those who deal in human resources, which, let's face it, are our most precious and indispensable resources, must sit up and take notice.

Let's get real. Let's drop the stereotypes of all the generations. Let's address the needs rather than the differences of all our citizens and learn ways of adapting to them. If we don't, we risk confronting not only an economic, social or health care crisis, but a crisis of humanity, where our young are left floundering, and our older people are disempowered, devalued and cast out on the scrap heap.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Power of Positive Thinking ??

Having been an unquestioning subscriber to the PPT theory for as long as I've understood what it was, I was intrigued to read an article in last weekend's "Weekend Australian Magazine" written by a breast cancer victim, who had an interesting take on the ubiquitous "smile though your heart is breaking" school of thought.

Barbara Ehrenreich has recently written a book entitled "Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America & The World". The article is based on an extract from her book which states it was her experience with breast cancer that changed her irrevocably from an optimist to a pessimist; or rather, not necessarily a pessimist, but a realist.

Despite having (as far as she knew) no predisposing factors, she was diagnosed following a routine mammogram. Her subsequent experience of surgery and chemotherapy exposed her to an environment where despite the potentially lethal nature of the disease she had, the mood was consistently if unnaturally upbeat. She felt obliged to assume the mantle of a survivor, not a victim, to consider herself in some way fortunate to have the opportunity of joining the cheerful sisterhood of brave battlers. Understandably she saw this as a form of denial, a perception that was strengthened by books such as one she came across called "The Gift of Cancer".

She remarks also on the burgeoning commercialisation of breast cancer evidenced in the flood of pink beribboned items we are encouraged to buy, presumably to demonstrate our support for victims or our enlistment in the fight against the disease. The emphasis in the consumables market interestingly is on the ultra-feminine, perhaps to compensate for the radically de-feminising experience that breast cancer can be for many women, which now that she mentions it, does seem a tad patronising.

There is nothing inherently wrong about the relentless message of cheerfulness conveyed by pink ribbons unless it also imparts the idea that it is not acceptable to feel bad. This is the message conveyed to this author by all the forced cheer surrounding her, and what she found so alarming about her own encounter with the mythology that surrounds cancer.

Perhaps the most insidious of the contemporary theories about disease is based on the concept that we can directly affect our immune system, through either negative or positive thinking. This of course is just a more specific example of the generalised idea that if something in life goes wrong, it's your attitude that's to blame (which I've ranted about excessively before). It is a particularly compelling theory when it comes to physical illness. There is something neatly rational about the hypothesis that nasty feelings will invade our cells and stimulate those pernicious little viruses or bacteria or tumours into life. And, so the logic continues, if the doom and gloom linger on, the nasties will start to permeate our bodies like salt damp in a wall and pretty soon the rot will set in. Unless of course we get a grip, turn the dazzle of our pearly whites on the world and bask in the heady glow of the bright side, however minuscule a glimmer on the horizon it happens to be. Otherwise, we're goners and we've only ourselves to blame.

This is not just an undeserved castigation of those who are sad, frightened or anxious about their illness but unhealthy in itself because it hits them over the head with guilt, an emotion that helps no-one. As Barbara Ehrenreich points out, wallowing in guilt because you've got a disease is unhelpful in another way. It can distract you from attempting to understand what real factors contributed to the disease, an endeavour that is often unlikely to be assisted by the medical profession. In her case, she believes her breast cancer resulted from taking HRT, a possibility which needs to be looked at a lot more closely than it has to date (and I dare to suggest would be if men had breasts). There is also the as yet insufficiently researched link between the rising incidence of breast cancer and highly industrialised societies, to the extent that the environment is arguably a predisposing factor equally as significant as genetics.

Justified discontent is not bad. Anger, grief and fear are aspects of the human emotional spectrum equally as valid as happiness, optimism and acceptance, and sometimes they are not only more relevant to the situation, but precipitators of a search for meaning. If blind optimism means we stop questioning, then it is not only blind but stupid.

There is a time for feeling bad and serious illness has to be one of those times. By trying to disguise our distress by smiling through gritted teeth, we not only do ourselves a disservice we are subscribing to the puerile notion that the feel-good school of philosophy rules.

The power of positive thinking I'm sure has a place, somewhere, but the exhortation to adopt an eternal smile come what may is, as Barbara Ehrenreich so eloquently points out in her book, not only facile, but dangerous.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to a Tiger of a Year

Well here we are, having survived the noughties and moving inexorably into the .... what ... teenies? Teenie naughties of course brings other thoughts to mind, but my philosophy has always been, if you're going to be naughty, make it a biggie!

The old year was certainly a biggie for many people, in good as well as bad ways, although sadly we always hear more about, or rather get beaten about the head with, the bad. The world moving into 2010 is still the incorrigible messy disaster it's always been as we steer our course towards environmental annihilation, according to some, while having had a miraculous escape, at least this time, from economic annihilation. In terms of the environment, hopefully the old globe will be able to stagger on for a while yet, although if the abject failure of the world's leaders to reach consensus at the recent Circus of Copenhagen is any example, perhaps we shouldn't hold our collective breaths.

On a personal level, I feel a sense of achievement in that I have spent the year consolidating my aspirations for the foreseeable future. As I've written about before, my latent passion for writing has become a much more fully fledged reality and I have been steadily working away trying to learn the craft, through voluminous reading and many attempts at writing, some of which have been satisfying, others of which have been clumsy and frustrating. Having laboured in solitude mostly, I have reached the conclusion that as writing is largely a craft, certainly a skill and arguably a God-given gift, like all other such ambitions, it should be possible to learn from the experts. As a result I applied late last year to undertake a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at Macquarie University, and to my delight was accepted. This begins in late February and is a two year part-time degree. To qualify, I will have to produce a significant creative work, suitable for publication, so there can be no more excuses for putting off that challenge. It is an exciting prospect and I am looking forward to it, albeit with some trepidation as it will demand all those skills of self-discipline and time management that I had to rely on so heavily when I did my under-graduate degree. For me though, this is simply a matter of following my dream and I will make it happen.

On an even more personal note, I have been enormously fortunate in meeting a wonderful man and we are in the process of developing what I hope might be the relationship I have been dreaming of all my life. As well as being a source of great joy, such relationships of course, especially in their early stages, demand sensitivity, openness, courage and willingness to move ahead in optimism and understanding, while being aware that both people come from long lives of other experiences and commitments. It is exhilirating and especially delightful for me, having reached a few bumpy patches in the road before now and sworn "never again". I'm not swearing anything now, just being grateful for every moment.

My friends and family have all experienced highs and lows over the year and some are struggling still with health problems, either of their own or affecting their loved ones, with bereavement, loneliness, loss of beloved pets, career crises and a multitude of life's challenges. We will never be without those, but let's hope that they are balanced out for all of us in this year ahead by joyful moments and times of love, peace and contentment.

Happy New Year in this, the Year of the Tiger!!!