Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clues up or clueless: how do we know which?

When it comes to the people we love the most, most of us are a strange combination of clued up and completely clueless. Often at the same time, or nearly.

I used to see it all the time as a Kindermusik educator, parents who loved and cared for their child, probably more than they loved breathing and yet who had almost no idea of the best way to manage the child. From the outside it's almost pantomime: look out behind you! The audience is shrieking it, but the characters tread blindly on.

In any relationship, each person brings their needs and their vulnerabilities to any interaction. The more we feel, it sometimes seems to me, the stupider we become.

I experience this sensation from time to time in my marriage for example. I have a certain reputation for emotional and social insight. In many professional roles I worked with individuals who had a reputation for being 'difficult'. It goes away if my husband and I have a disagreement. Not every time (or we wouldn't still be married). I know this man intimately, and we've been married for nearly 20 years, but it's still hit and miss with me when it comes to managing discord in our relationship.

So, if anyone knows a sure fire way to tell when you're being clues up or clueless, please do write in. I think we could all use the help.

This is post 56 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Just say no.

We want what we want, there's no denying that. Except in very limited circumstances, we should not be made to feel ashamed of what we want. Yet so often we are, and so often that shame comes from outside ourselves. We're encouraged to feel ashamed for wanting what we're told we can't have, and implicitly shouldn't therefore want.

I watched some children having their faces painted. A child tried to draw Tired Parent's attention to the stand, looking wistful and hopeful all at once. Tired Parent frowned and said, "No." That's fine, parents can't always say yes. Motivated by guilt perhaps, at the child's fallen face, their evil genius prompted them to add, "What do you want to have them slop paint all over you anyway?" the child is now ashamed at having wanted it's face painted, and disappointed to not get it today or ever - the scorn in Tired Parent's face makes that clear.

So begins a lifetime of not only doing without what we want, but denying we ever wanted it in the first place. Boys who want to learn ballet, but play footy instead. Girls who like footy but transfer to hockey when they learn they're not supposed to play footy. Kids who 'hate art' because it's the fashion at their school. Spurned would-be lovers who are ridiculed for wanting someone who didn't reciprocate or not to the same degree.

I even hear adults do it with their friends: "Do you want to go and see Sex and the City 2?" one asks. Their 'friend' can't just say, "No thanks". It's the rider that's the killer: "wow! I can't believe you'd want to go see that!"

I think it's sometimes ego defence, we attempt to insulate ourselves from the disappointment of others by convincing ourselves they were wrong to want whatever it was we can't (or won't) give them/allow them to have. The next time you find yourself in this situation, just say no.

This is post 55 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What do you REALLY want?

What's your real heart's desire? What do you want more than anything? Want so much, that mere wishing and waiting aren't enough? Want so much, you're prepared to work for it. Want so much you're prepared to risk maybe NOT getting it?

A lot of what we think we want, we really only want if it's (relatively) safe and easy to get. We'd quite like to be rich, but not if it means mortgaging our house, working long hours, putting our reputations on the line, getting outside our comfort zone, etc.

Sometimes what we really want is a quiet life, and we might be afraid to admit that to our post-modern, inner-urban, right-thinking, chardy-swilling social circles. Sometimes we really want to be an artist, a recluse, a beachcomber, a lawyer, a nurse, a plumber, a gardener, a strawberry farmer.

Sometimes we chase a dream, when we could chase an ambition. Sometimes we chase an idea. Sometimes we give up too soon on a possibility. Sometimes we don't know the difference. Sometimes we'd rather not know.

What's your heart's desire? If you're not sure, what are you going to do to today to try and find out?

This is post 54 of 100 posts.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


It's Sunday and I'm contemplating my bed with longing.

Which reminded me of a great quote:

"Stars explode, worlds collide, there's hardly anywhere in the
universe where humans can live without being frozen or fried, and yet
you believe that a...a bed is a normal thing. It is the most amazing
talent. A very special kind if stupidity. You think the whole world is
inside your heads. You need to believe in things that aren't true. How
else can they BECOME?"
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

So tonight, if you get Sunday night blues and you're tempted to start
worrying about what might go wrong this week, remind yourself that
your thoughts are phantoms that are yet to be, and that your nice
warm, comfortable bed is real. Right here. Right now. Next week can
take care of itself for a few more hours.

This is post 52 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


We take a lot of good things for granted. One of them is being pain
free. Talk about 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone'.

The malign Migraine Fairy is on an extended visit, so this thought has
occurred to me several times of late.

This is post 52 of 100 posts.

Friday, June 25, 2010


I want to take a moment to reflect on this challenge, now that I'm more than half way through.

Habits form themselves remarkably easily, it seems. At the start I expected to struggle with remembering to post: I set myself up reminders in my iPhone, and had a note I placed on my pillow so that if I tried to get into bed without posting, it would remind me before it was too late.

Reminders weren't necessary for long. Now I just seem to remember. The times I've run late have been due to outside circumstances, not 'couldn't be bothered'-ness, or it's passive-aggressive brother 'look, I forgot ok? I've been really busy... '.

When I began blogging a couple of years back, I struggled to write once per week. Now I have a list of topics on which I plan to be opinionated. On any given day, I usually add more topics than I write about. Which is a great comfort on days when I'm not feeling inspired. A number of writers have commented that if they turn up at the page, the muse tends to drift in around the same time.

Now I have to start thinking about what my next challenge will be, and what my reward will be for completing this one. This writing space is taking attention away from other writing projects. Maybe the next 100 days will be about being more succinct? or writing on set themes? If you have a topic on which you'd like me to hold forth, drop me a line. Until tomorrow, then.

This is post 51 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

control & letting go

"Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket,
and let in the light, Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to
manage the lives around you - your children's lives, the lives of your
husband, your wife, your friends - because that is just what you are
powerless to do. Remember that the lives of other people are not your
business, they are their business."

Frederick Buechner's Telling Secrets quoted in What Dying People Want
(p 259)

And now I shall let go myself and take my migraine to bed.

This is post 50 of 100 posts in 100 days. (Half way!)

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Now is the best time to show someone you love them.

This is post 49 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The case of the offensive pastry

Today I had a positive customer service experience. I was at a Laurent Patisserie where I ordered a pain au chocolat to have with my cafe latte (there's nothing like a healthy breakfast, is there?)

Taking a bite from one end (luckily a small one) I found it was tough and chewy rather than light and flaky. I attracted the attention of a staff-member and quietly explained the problem. I find it bad manners as a customer to be extra-loud in complaining, unless you've been given the brush-off in which case you're left with little choice.

The staff member apologised and whisked the offensive pastry away. She was new, so she offered me a replacement, which I declined (being a bit put-off) and then she vaguely wondered, "did I want my money back?" I said, "No, that's fine, I just thought you should know." I only declined because I didn't feel up to fighting for a couple of dollars.

I continued to sip my latte while the staff member took the pastry to the manager. A low voiced discussion ensued. The staff member returned with my money and said, "Really, we have to return your money" she apologised again and explained that the problem seemed to be that the pastries had not risen properly during baking, so although they were inedible, I was in no danger. All the pain au chocolat was being pulled from sale, and a complaint would be registered with the central bakery.

I was impressed, and even more so when I saw the staff look around the cafe and discover another customer about to eat a pain au chocolat which had been served moments before I made the complaint. They rushed out and stopped the customer, who happily enough chose a different pastry.

I did wonder how the inadequate pastry had slipped through. I have never had a bad baked-goods experience at a Laurent. It appears to be a problem of success, the staff are so used to making and selling a good product, that they missed the subtle signs that there was a problem.

Did the baker not notice? There was nothing egregiously bad about the appearance of the pastry, but the sales staff later assured me it was "undersized" probably because it had not risen properly. I wonder if it is protocol to actually taste-test one of each "batch" of product, and the protocol was not done, or if they just eyeball the goods.

Then there's Gordon Ramsay's dictum, that if you wouldn't want to eat it, don't serve it. I wondered how the staff at the cafe had failed to notice a problem while putting the pastries out when they opened, and it was the same thing. Probably they start out being very careful to check, but after weeks - months? - of problem-free pastry, complacency kicks in, and no doubt waistlines kick out offering a double disincentive.

Good work overall, Laurent. I was respected as a customer, and left feeling that you care about the quality of your product. It is true that a well-resolved customer complaint can leave the customer more loyal than before. There's food for thought in that, eh Watson?

This is post 48 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A bit of professional fun

Who decided that fun is unprofessional?

And am I allowed to give that person a resounding kick in the pants?

It's a minority opinion in most successful workplaces, but its adherents can be found in the most unexpected places. For these sad souls, the words 'a not-quite pompous bureaucratic gravitas suitable to Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame' and 'professional' are synonymous.

I'm not in favour of fun that distracts workers from the task in hand. In general, we are not paid to play solitaire or minesweeper, for example (although I think five minutes break with a game is no more theft of an employer's time than is fussing over a task for five minutes longer than necessary in an attempt to look busy the boss is coming).

Humans are game players, it appears that our brains have evolved to love challenges, to love competition, to love creative exercise and play. Some humans have fun when they're making pots of lovely money for themselves and their shareholders. Richard Branson would be one example. Some humans have fun when they're researching the latest cancer treatments. Using their brains to explore one option after another, the puzzle of what works and what doesn't, that's fun to research scientists and I think we're all grateful for that. Indeed some of the most ground-breaking medical discoveries of the past were made by amateurs.

Mr O once worked in the funeral industry, and it often surprises people to discover that funeral directors usually have a great sense of humour. They don't inflict that sense of humour on the grieving families, of course, but among themselves they laugh and have fun in any way they can while maintaining the utmost respect in their behaviour to and speaking of their, er, late client.

The Fish! philosophy offers a unique recipe for work productivity - especially in roles and tasks that are necessary but not exciting or appealing - of which one of the four pillars is Play.

What part of your work do you find fun? Few of us like every aspect of our work, but if your answer is 'nothing whatsoever', I do wonder how good you are at your job.

This is post 47 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Generosity and compliance

The highway collectors have been out in force in my part of Melbourne. I do not approve of highway collection* - yet another thing I am opinionated about! Indirectly, the highway collectors got me thinking about generosity and giving in a general sense, rather than specifically to charity.

I am all for generosity. It never ceases to amaze me that toddlers share food. Even as young as 14 or 18 months of age, when their sandwich or their biscuit (cookie) is often the only thing they recognise that is truly theirs, the majority of toddlers will - at least some of the time - voluntarily offer to share food. And not only food they don't happen to want.

Toddlers are also a good example of how generosity cannot be forced. "Give Jack half your sandwich, Katie" says well-meaning Mummy. Katie considers the matter for a moment, then puts her arms around her plate, glowers and says, "No! Me sarnie!" At which point poor Mummy may well get half the sandwich off Katie, eventually, but generosity is not happening. Sharing is only barely happening in the face of authority and significant sanction, and when after massive intervention the sandwich is 'shared' the other child - wisely - will likely refuse to eat it.

When I've discussed this with adults in the past, they generally seem surprised at children's greed and how we have to teach them to share nicely. Which we do. Still, food is a pretty big trigger for most adults too. Watch what happens out at a restaurant when your partner or a close friend wants to share your luscious chocolate cake - perhaps they only want 'a taste', or perhaps they want to 'go halves' because they can't eat a whole one. Most of the time its fine, but sometimes we're looking forward to eating the whole damn thing ourself. Inside we feel they should bloody well get their own, but of course we can't say that, so instead you plaster a smile across your face and mutter, "Well, of course, if you'd like some...". (If you're highly socialised you may even add, "...what a good idea.")

I suspect everyone has areas in which generosity comes easily, and areas where we feel that others want a bit more from us than we're really prepared to give. Do you give - stuff, time, or whatever - because:
  1. You want to, because it feels authentic and right?
  2. Someone has begged you, or seems particularly needy or assumed an offer has been/or will be made based on past experience?
  3. You've internalised a voice from your childhood that says you have to or you're just being selfish?
If it's 2, you're being bullied (however unintentionally). If it's 3, you're bullying yourself. Neither is generous, and I'm not even sure it's kind to the recipient.

This is post 46 of 100 posts.

* For the record, my objection is from a OH&S point of view. It might have been all very well in the 1960s or 70s when it started, but I think it's downright dangerous in a 21st century city of nearly 5 million. I also don't like that charities use the risk to their collectors to add some moral suasion to the situation, but I will save that rant for a different day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thinking & feeling

"Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think." Jill Bolte Taylor
I am reading Jill Bolte Taylor's book: My Stroke of Insight. She is a neuroanatomist who suffered a huge stroke in 1996.

This is post 45 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Friday, June 18, 2010


I've been off to the flicks, where I was surprised by how much I
enjoyed "Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time".

It's often better to keep our expectations modest, so we can be
charmed or delighted. Mine were quite low but it looked pretty and I
was in the mood for some passive entertainment.

In this case, good British character actors and a bit of emotional
content took a visual feast and turned it into a very enjoyable evening.

It reminds me that when we're too busy demanding to get exactly what
we ordered (or at least expected) we miss out on being surprised.

This is post 44 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

aberration or indication?

Everyday we observe and make assumptions based on those observations of the people around us. Consciously or unconsciously, we look for meaning in the actions or words of others, that give us clues to what they're like. We tell stories. Other people tell stories about us. Our social lives will be more harmonious if we remember this.

How much a particular action will affect our story comes from whether we think its an aberration (a departure from the person's usual behavour) or an indication (of what they're "really" like).

You're waiting for a bus and you've been watching person A across the street who's waiting for someone, showing signs of impatience (looking at their watch, turning to look up and down the street, shifting from foot to foot), you can't help but begin to have a story about what you see.

What's your story? Do you think person A is being impatient and should learn to relax? Do you think person A has had to wait before? Do you think the person they're waiting for is late?

As you watch, person B comes rushing up, out of breath and already apologising: "I'm so sorry! Traffic was dreadful! I really thought I'd be here before this!"

What story do you make now? What's going to happen next?

Person A sighs, and says (pointedly), "Ok, but I do have a phone you know. Couldn't you have rung?" At which Person B says, "Well, I didn't want to stop to use my mobile or I would have been even more late and that would have annoyed you too. I really couldn't help it, traffic you know..."

What story do you make now? If the lateness is a once-off (or at least a rare occurrence) person A will probably let go of their irritation. Bad traffic, it does happen. If the lateness is indicative of a laissez-faire approach to time-keeping, the proffered excuse is likely to annoy.

The next time you find yourself needing to apologise for a social faux pas, ask yourself: would the other person be likely to see this as an aberration or an indication? And grade your grovel accordingly.

This is post 43 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When attack is positive feedback

If you've ever been involved in trying to change something - or someone - you know that at some point you'll come under attack.

You make a necessary criticism to your child or your employee. Your child says, "I hate you Mummy!" and your employee points out a minor dereliction of duty you committed six weeks ago (see, you're not so perfect and have no right to criticise.)

You set some necessary boundaries with a demanding friend, and the disappointed friend one says: "Why are you being such a bitch? Why are you being so mean? I thought you were different, but you're just selfish like everyone else."

In the work world the attack is likely to be to your credibility and competence: "I didn't want to tell you, but Doug thinks your idea is stupid," "We tried that before and it didn't work." "You haven't been here long enough/you're not senior enough to understand that..." That's going to hurt too, especially if the attack is made in public - and why should it be made in private, whose agenda would that serve?

What is going on here? Usually it's just a reflexive ego-defence by the attacker. It probably isn't personal, no matter how personal it seems. Your criticism, or boundary setting or new initiative is threatening them or the status-quo (often its the same thing). So, indirectly, the attack tells you you're onto something! Chances are, your criticism is spot on, your boundary setting is overdue and the initiative might actually lead to change if it goes ahead. Clearly you need to be stopped and stopped now.

Most of us roll with the first metaphorical punch, and maybe the second or third, but after that it starts to feel too hard, the feedback is too negative, and we fear we have too much to lose. So we stop. We retreat. Indirectly, we teach our families, friends and colleagues that if you push hard enough, we'll cave. Which is encouraging bullying, no matter how unconscious it might be.

So we need to take a deep breath, and remember that even if what we're proposing to change isn't the be-all-to-end-all, it may be better to pursue it all the way. Remember, an attack is positive feedback, when you're out to change the status-quo.

This is post 42 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Loving and caring

You can care for something without loving it. You can love something without caring for it. The most satisfying relationships are both loving and caring. I say relationships, even though I include some inanimate objects. We can have a relationship with a house, a car, a garden, even with a process.

You can love your first car while you give it no care whatsoever. A friend of mine was a committed 'non-materialist' and even during those first heady days of car ownership he refused to service his beloved alfa-romeo, what he called 'being materially invested in things'. The car was always breaking down - and not just because it was a late 70s alfa!

I've head some jobbing gardeners don't actually love gardening or plants - they just care for them. My inner romantic suspects that the plants don't grow as well if they're not loved, but it's true that love without care doesn't work on most plants.

When I have a massage, especially with a new masseur, I find it interesting and relaxing to be comforted by the competent care I'm receiving, care which is totally divorced from love. This care is also totally divorced from how good you are at your day job, how charming or good-looking you are, and how much you earn. You receive the care because you paid for it, that's the only essential qualification.

Baking bread is a process, as you mix the dough and knead it and watch it rise, and punch it down, and watch it rise again, then bake it. It's a process you can have a relationship with. You have to care (a bit) for it to work, and I think it's possible to feel a sort of love for the alchemy of it all.

Yet when it comes to our most precious personal relationships, I think we find it easy to focus on the love we feel. We feel caring, but we don't always take care. Giving care is, ultimately, about the needs of those we love. It is not necessarily caring to encourage others to depend on us to solve all their problems. It is not necessarily caring to indulge the poor choices our loved ones make. The impulses of our affection too often inspire us to give the care which is easiest or most obvious, the care that suits our own agenda. We give love, and we give the care we want to give, rather than the care those we love really need.

This is post 41 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Expiring to-dos:

This topic has been on my potential topic list for a while. As I am posting this late, it seems very a propos.

Expiring to-dos are those things that need to be done by a certain date/time and after that there's not much point. They're dead and that's that.

Hotel rooms expire: if they're not booked, they're not. Having a guest the next night doesn't change that. Front page deadlines for newspapers expire too - if you miss one day's deadline the story same can't catch the next one.

Birthdays expire too, perhaps not as drastically. A belated birthday card is better than nothing - to some people, others find it 'too much, too little, too late'.

I believe a lot of our 'to-dos' are like this, where a belated effort is a bit better than nothing but not genuinely satisfying. If you don't order air-conditioning during the winter, then the summer will be as hot as ever and knowing next summer will be cool won't make you feel much better.

A bit like this post, really, post 40 of 100 posts.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Passion + Purpose - Vision = Dis-traction

Today while I was committing a neatness, I came across an old notebook filled with quotes and observations, among them:
Do something useful Sarah's purpose said.
Be something remarkable Sarah's vision said.
Sarah's passion didn't care which master it was serving.
Michael Gerber, E-Myth Mastery, p.56
I am all-too-familiar with the results of passion slaved full throttle to purpose. Some of us have so much passion, we don't need a vision to give us impetus. The results tend to resemble what happens when you climb a ladder to get over something, only to discover you've leaned it against the wrong wall. But that's ok! There's always another wall! And this wall was pretty interesting, and actually I intended to climb it, yes, I wanted to get a - a better perspective on the other wall. This wall's probably a better wall too! I'll find that other wall later... don't bother me now, can't you see I'm busy climbing this ladder? Er... right.

So take a deep breath and ask yourself why. Why - ultimately - you're doing any given task, and if it is a step that will get you from here to the where you want to be going.

This is post 39 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Young kids are better at mimicry than following orders

Very young children are better at doing what we do, than they are at doing what we merely say.

Today I was at a shopping centre, and we stopped to have some dim sum for lunch. It was crowded, and a family of 3 (Mum, Dad & toddler) sat opposite. Mum wasn't eating, Dad had finished, and the toddler had a large half a sandwich before her, which she'd begun to ignore in favour of looking around. Mum and Dad were a bit bored, but patient, and didn't try to coax her into finishing (gold star for that).

I smiled at the toddler a couple of times, when our eyes met, and she smiled back. When Mr O returned from the queue with our food, she watched covertly as we began eating. Mr O is partial to a prawn dumpling, so he ate with evident enjoyment. I had chicken pie so I was happy too.

After perhaps 30 seconds, the toddler began to tackle her sandwich. Mum and Dad were delighted, but had no idea what had started her eating again.

It made me think how odd it must be to the child, when a parent sits them down and tries to feed them at what is self-evidently not an eating time.

I guess in the 'olden days' when it was the custom that children ate early and usually separate food as well, there was a Nanny present whom the children were used to obey. It was a different dynamic, and not one our society is keen to resume.

So, all things being equal*, if you want a small child to eat, the best thing to do is eat yourself.

*the child must be hungry, the food must be something they like or are prepared to try, and don't bother trying this in the middle of a tussle of wills!

This is post 38 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson says: "Bring on the learning revolution"

And now it's time for something a bit different:

Back in 2008, I posted Sir Ken's earlier talk at the 2006 TED on do schools kill creativity?

This includes some great anecdotes and an excellent discussion of talents. I also heartily recommend Sir Ken's book: The Element which you can buy on book depositry.

This is post 37 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lies, damned lies and good excuses

There are the lies we tell consciously, knowing that they're not the truth. Then there are the lies we tell when we make promises and don't act to ensure we keep them.

To say the latter is a lie is harsh, but it is also the truth. Yet we excuse ourselves as long as we tried (or we're able to convince ourselves we tried, if not those we have let down).

"Others have excuses," goes the line of the song*, "I have my reasons why."

Let's make sure they're good ones, or better yet a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

*Reasons Why by Nickel Creek, from their eponymous album.

This is post 36 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Is your glass half full, or half empty?

I'm not sure it matters, as long as it contains a beverage that won't actually make us sick.

If we have to ask the question, its clear we're not thinking of all the people in the world who don't even have taps, let alone clean drinking water.

I'm not sure it makes us happier to remember that there are people in the world a lot worse off than we are. Hopefully it makes us less prone to whining.

This is post 35 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Kids tell the truth - as they see it

Kids tell the truth - as they see it. It may be a mistake reading adult meanings into that truth.

What do I mean? An acquaintance told me today that her six year old was giving her a lovely cuddle recently, when he said, "Fat is an easy word to spell, isn't it?"

I was once asked by a four year old student if I had a baby in my tummy, as it was a very big tummy. I blinked a couple of times and said, "No sweetheart, that's just lots of good dinners." At intervals in the next few minutes, other class members joined in and helpfully pointed out other places I could have a baby. When they were done, there was a short silence. The little girl who started it said, "Well, I could sit on your lap and you could put your sweater over me and I could be your baby..."

I thought their issue was my fat, but really they were worried about me not having a baby. Or they were very, very tactful and socially aware four year olds. You choose.

This is post 34 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Doing and being.

When we're asked who we are, we often define ourselves in terms of what we do: I am a music teacher (my job), or I am a wife (my relationship with others), or I am a writer (my hobby or my other job, depending on the context).

One school of thought in overcoming self-esteem issues or depression is to go and do something. If you've ever been a manager - or a Mum - you know empty it can feel to work hard all day and not have 'anything' tangible to show for it, instead you helped everything else happen for everyone else. We need to see 'stuff', we want to see evidence of our own capability. The production company 10/13 - they made X-Files and Millenium - had a popular tag line at the end of their episodes: "I made this".

Self-worth through industry is all very well, but what if we can't do? There's nothing like a brush with incapacitating injury or illness to challenge our assumption that we are what we do. I spent several months, a while back, being able to do very little. My sense of my own self-worth vanished, not overnight, but within a very few days. I found it very hard to accept the help I needed, and when I did I couldn't relax into being helped a bit, and I found it very hard to be satisfied with just 'being'. (I considered the lillies: I considered them a bit of a waste of space, under the circumstances, but they, at least, were decorative!)

I was fortunate that those around me did not share my pessimistic view of my self-worth. In the end, I achieved a certain amount of 'attitude adjustment'. Which will no doubt come in useful should such a thing ever happen again. And, you know, sooner or later, it happens to all of us unless we drop dead of an unexpected cataclysmic event such as a heart attack or stroke.

So if you're the sort of person who gets bored on holiday and doesn't enjoy idleness, I encourage you to practice, just a little, just in case. You never know when it might come in useful. As the bumper sticker says: we're called human beings, not human doings.

This is post 33 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Not quite right

Do you get twitchy when something isn't quite right? We have a picture that we hung so it's not quite centred on the wall. We measured it up so the numbers matched, but it's clearly not quite right. I'm sitting opposite it as I write this, and it's hard to tear my awareness away.

What about clothes? Do you have clothes that are bit itchy? tight? baggy? Even if you're not aware of what's wrong, they're the items that sit in the wardrobe until the day when everything else is in the wash or you're so desperate to wear 'something different' that you give them a whirl - only to discover why they were sitting pristine after two years in the first place, it's because they're just not quite right.

What about people in your life? Do you have acquaintances who have never - quite - ripened into friends? We all have people we'd love to reconnect with in our lives, they're the friends we see after an absence and everything falls into place again. There are also friends who we keep 'meaning' to get in touch with, but when we do we (maybe) quietly wonder why we bothered. They're not bad, we still like them, they're just... not quite the friends they once were or we thought they were...

We even have it in our bodies. The day before you become sick, have you ever felt 'a bit off' - nothing specific, just... not quite right? A medical friend once told me that many people discover they have cancer when they go to the doctor complaining that 'something's wrong and I may be imagining it, but I'm just not quite right.'

For years I ignored - and was encouraged to ignore - such subtle signs of mis-fit. It was precious and unrealistic or just plain lacking in gratitude to worry about some weird idea of perfection, when I should be grateful for what I had. These days, being middle-aged as well as opinionated, I've learned to go with it. Maybe I can or can't work out what exactly is not - quite - right, but either way I'm more likely to back my own judgement. Whether I'm right or wrong, I'm more comfortable. And I'll be re-hanging that picture too.

This is post 32 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Forget love - what do you do?

The counsellor's exact words were:

"Yeah, yeah, you 'love' him, he 'loves' you. Most of the couples who come and see me 'love' each other." I could hear the inverted commas in his voice. "Forget love - what do you actually do?"

It's a challenging question, isn't it?

In 'What Happy People Know', Dan Baker states that you can't feel someone love you, that's their emotion: you can only feel the love you direct toward them. Baker is very persuasive that its the love we feel for others that can save us from misery and depression, not the love they feel for us.

In Just Listen, Mark Goulston gives many examples of the need to make sure people 'feel felt'. He tells of a couple in their 80s who arrive for marital counselling:
As I listened to them, it became clear that they actually still loved and were devoted to each other. After twenty minutes, I'd heard enough and said, "Stop!" to both of them.

Taken aback, they both feel silent. I said to Mrs Jackson, "Do you know that your husband thinks marrying you was the best thing he ever did?"

Mrs Jackson, caught surprised, said, "What?".... Mrs Jackson looked dumbfounded. I turned my attention to Mr. Jackson and said, "And as for you, do you know that Mrs Jackson thinks you're the best man she's ever known?"

I thought his jaw was going to fall off... "You've got to be kidding, she's always picking on me about something..."

Mrs Jackson replied, "I nitpick everyone. I'm a nitpicker. It drives our kids crazy too.".... Sadly each felt merely tolerated when in fact they were each treasured.
I suspect most of us have at least one relationship in which we feel merely tolerated rather than treasured, and one relationship in which the object our love and affection would be startled to discover the depths of our feelings.

Sometimes our love for one another is like the sea being over the next hill: you know its there because people have told you, and there are some supporting indications (you can see seagulls, or hear the surf, or smell ozone). Still, its possible you're mistaken. It's not the overwhelming and unmistakeable awareness of the sea you get from standing on the beach yourself.

How do you show someone you love them? What do you do?

This is post 31 of 100 posts in 100 days.

10 good things about winter

Winter: it's just too damn cold!
  1. But it does take pudding from an indulgence to a near-necessity and a glass of port and a mug of hot chocolate don't go astray either.
  2. Now that it's dark by 5.30, it doesn't seem so bad to be settled by the fire with a bowl of lamb stew by 6.30, and bed at 9.30 is merely practical as it means we can turn the heating down.
  3. I love the mystery of a foggy morning.
  4. I love the brilliance of the stars in the night sky. Banjo Patterson was right: the white stars fairly blaze at midnight in a cold and frosty sky. It's worth being half frozen to see them - they're so bright they're worth looking at even from the suburbs.
  5. I love sitting inside and listening to the rain falling on the roof. Even better if I'm enjoying crumpets and good book.
  6. I love walking in the cold holding a cup of coffee to keep my fingers warm.
  7. I love lying in bed and hearing the heater come on and knowing that means I still have 15 minutes of snooze time.
  8. I love the BBC dramas the ABC serves up on Friday or Saturday or Sunday nights.
  9. I love bright woolly hats and scarves.
  10. I love thinking about heading off somewhere warm for a holiday!
So there you have it, 10 bright sides to the cold.

This is post 30 of 100 posts.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Empathy, acknowledgement and neurons

Recently I posted about goodwill and acknowledgement. Today I've begun reading Just Listen by Mark Goulston. It turns out there may be a biological basis for our craving for acknowledgement:

You cringe when a coworker gets a paper cut and cheer when the movie hero gets the girl. That's because, for an instant, it's just as if these events are happening to you - and, in a way, they are.

Years ago, scientists studying specific nervecells in macaque monkeys' prefontal cortices found that the cells fired when the monkeys threw a ball or ate a banana. But here's the surprise: these same cells fired when the monkeys watched another monkey performing these acts.... (H)umans, just like macaques, have neurons that act as mirrors. In fact, studies suggest these remarkable cells may form the basis for human empathy....

My theory, which my clinical findings support, is that we constantly mirror the world, conforming to its needs, trying to win its love and approval. And each time we mirror the world, it creates a little reciprocal hunger to be mirrored back. If that hunger isn't filled, we develop what I refer to as "mirror neuron receptor defecit".

In today's world, it's easy to imagine that defecit growing into a deep ache. Many of the people I work with - from CEOs and managers to unhappy spouses to clinically depressed patients - feel that they give their best, only to be met day after day with apathy, hostility, or (possibly worst of all) no response at all. In my belief, this defecit explains why we feel so overwhelmed when someone acknowledges either our pain or our triumphs. (pp.18-19)

This is post 29 of 100 posts in 100 days.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Time flies

So, I'm more than 1/4 of the way through this challenge. I meant to make a big deal out of 25 posts, but time flies when you're having fun and I missed it.

Four weeks ago today, I just decided to extract the digit, get my skates on and Just Do It. I guess I'll celebrate that milestone instead.

There are varying ideas of how long you have to do something for it to become a habit. Some experts say two weeks. Others say a couple of months. From my own experience, the past couple of days are in the 'dangerous complacency' phase.

I've used up the emergency stash of short posts I had on hand for when inspiration failed. Haven't yet come up with more.

I no longer have the urgency to post as soon as I come home so I don't forget - I'm confident I won't forget. Over-confident, in fact: last night I was getting into bed when I remembered I hadn't posted!

Four weeks is a long time even though it's really no time at all. As a music teacher, I found dailyness could become the enemy. Familiarity does seem to breed contempt, at least it can turn something joyful and special into same-old same-old. You would think a positive experience would get richer with each iteration - and it can, if we let it.

Little rituals can keep us alive to what is happening each day. That's one of the ways the 100 days challenge is working for me. Because time flies fastest when we're not paying enough attention.

This is post 28 of 100 posts

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

5 things I'm feeling opinionated about..(2)

  1. When you send someone an email, always include a short greeting. Think of it as a virtual 'With Compliments' slip. An email with only a subject line and an attachment says that you view the recipient as a machine. This may be the case, but you ought to pretend otherwise.
  2. If you're going to the effort of baking a cake, and you have even a bit of freezer space, consider baking two. It saves time, it saves power and you have extra cake. Freeze it in slices and you'll thank yourself the next time you need a pick-me-up.
  3. Sometimes the kindest thing you can tell someone is, "No, I'm not interested. And no, I'm not going to change my mind."
  4. If you can't explain something in terms simple enough for a reasonably intelligent ten year old, you probably can't explain it simply enough for the rest of us either. It makes me wonder if you really understand it yourself.
  5. Don't be afraid to use vivid analogies or metaphors when you need to get someone's attention. Which is more memorable: 'I think you're accidentally reinforcing their behaviour', or 'if they were dogs, you'd be teaching them to pee on the floor'?

This is post 27 of 100 posts in 100 days.