Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unplugged rules

After several years with a digital piano (in an upstairs apartment), I have at last returned to my unplugged acoustic roots with a real - wood & wire - piano.


Mr O claims it 'talks back to you' in a way the digital never did or could. I agree that the right piano responds in subtle ways that makes playing a completely different experience. The sound is totally different (I hope the neighbors enjoy it too), generated from steel wires and wood keys rather than a computer chip and a transistor.

We make music for the joy of the experience. The 'wrong' instrument discourages joy and keeps your attention on the mechanics of playing. Its the quality of driver experience that sells cars, even though it is so hard to define. The right instrument may be as personal a choice as the right car or the right life partner. In each case it's wonderful when you find the right one.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A learning opportunity

I'm teaching myself a new knitting pattern. For a reasonably intelligent woman, with a strong practical 'knack' I've been making a real pigs ear of it. Each stitch is something I've more or less used before, just in an unfamiliar grouping.

I pull most fancy pattern (ie fancier than plain knitting) out five or six times at least before I get the hang of it. That's normal for me. This time though, I'd done it so often the thread was wearing out. I thought the specialty yarn I'm using might be contributing to the problem: yep, a poor workman always blames his tools.

Then I had the Ah Ha! Moment. After several days experimentation and much groaning and unpicking, I worked out the problem: I'd misread a 1 as a 2. No wonder I was running out of stitches before I ran out of instructions!

After the first time, I must have been seeing what I knew was there, rather than what was really there. Which raises the question of where else in my life I do that. In the meantime, the knitting is coming along nicely.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Cruelty, kindness and consequences

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

It's one of those truisms that I instinctively distrust (right up there with 'you make your own happiness' and 'honesty is the best policy'), even as I broadly agree with it. Yes, it's usually true, but I find myself wondering what your agenda is when you bring it up...

It is an easy and available excuse for all sorts of casually cruel or ungenerous behaviour.

On the other hand, sometimes you DO have to be cruel to be kind. I do deem it a kindness to allow those we love to experience the consequences of their actions. If we always protect them from negative consequences, we insulate them from learning anything, we also teach them need.

I recently overheard a woman at a cafe, talking about one of her adult offspring*. The offspring is now (temporarily) back at home due to an unfortunate financial reverse. Based on what she said, this woman is keen to get her offspring back on its feet, but at the same time be self-responsible, so she demanded living expenses - partly out of her own financial necessity, and partly to demonstrate there are no free rides. Her friend was just congratulating her on her great parenting when she added that if the offspring ran out of money between pay days, she put up the difference.

Um.... wait, what? It's possible I missed something - after all, I was involuntarily eavesdropping - but it sounded like this woman was bank rolling an adult, and totally removing the pain of running out of money before next pay day. Which, back 'when I were a lad' was the only thing that taught us feckless young uns to live within our means.

If you drank your bus fare, you had to walk. If you bought clothes with your food money, you ate tinned soup (if you had any) or had the humiliation of going home to the folks for dinner six nights running. If you parents were like mine, they cooked generous meals, but were quietly deeply disappointed in you and you quickly decided it wasn't worth it for a cheap top that wasn't quite the right colour, and didn't make the chap of the moment look twice at you, and shrank in the wash: multiple consequences from one bad decision and a world of learning to be had. Plus, your friends laughed at you if you tried to 'poor me' to them.

These consequences, while painful at the time, are appropriate to the financial behaviour that created them.

What happens to this woman's offspring? Er... apparently nothing whatsoever. In fact, I suspect that her insistence that she is being a financial hard-ass may even dilute any appreciation or embarrassment her offspring might feel about battening off good old Mum. (If you apologise to me and I deny there is anything to apologise for, because no transgression occurred, what are you to think? How do you deal with that?)

Kindnesses that lead children - even adult children - to have an unrealistic expectation of how life works are not really very kind. In those cases, the cruelty of letting a child experience harsh cold reality might really be the kindest thing to do...

* The gender is not germane to the story.

This is post 2 of the non-challenge challenge.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


The thing that amazes me about jetlag is that it is different every time you do long-haul travel. It's recognizably jetlag, but the experience is always a bit different.'This is a bad one, in spite of my hard won list of travel dos and don'ts. It's a bit like having a temporary brain-ectomy! Basically, I got cocky. Last time I travelled I went to work the same morning I came home much to my colleagues' surprise. This time I assumed I would be ok the next day and I wasn't. Oops.

We all make the mistake of treating our bodies like a machine, and expecting it to behave identically every time. It doesn't and it's quite zany to expect it to (not to mention futile). Short of invasive medical procedures, there can't be anything more unnatural than sitting in a too small seat in a large tin can being propelled at unendurable speed through the upper atmosphere that would freeze us and doesn't contain enough oxygen to sustain life. We do this while sitting still for about 24 hours of a 30 hour period, with 700+ sneezing and expectorating companions. We pass through about 10 time zones and invert the pattern of day and night. We eat too much snap frozen fatty food, don't drink enough water and watch WAY too much small screen entertainment. Then we wonder why we feel a bit seedy and below par for the next few days.

Isn't it astounding how quickly the previously impossible becomes the mundane?

This is post 1 of the challenge-free challenge.
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Friday, September 17, 2010

A learning experience

Oh dear. I have failed miserably at my 365 day challenge. So much so that I'm officially abandoning it as a Bad Idea.

Three points strike me:
  1. It was asking a lot of myself to start an initiative while on holiday away from home.
  2. 365 days is - self-evidently - too long be an incentive, so I need a challenge bigger than 100 days, but smaller than 365.
  3. If I was doing this for money, I would have no trouble whatsoever with compliance, so I am not as self-motivated as I'd like to believe. (I suspect I am not solo-ing on this point.)
Once I would have felt woefully inadequate and probably abandoned the whole blog because I was such a Useless Failure who did not deserve to pollute the internet with my presence. It would have remained a festering mental loss-of-confidence wound for years. Now at least, I just seek to understand what went wrong, then move on. Middle age has its compensations.

I will keep writing daily while I attempt to come up with a new challenge. Suggestions welcomed, and taken under advisement.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Spending time, wasting time, making time

How do you spend your time? I am on holiday just now, and I'm having a great time in spending my time on fripperies... you know: exercise, creative endeavour, a social life, quiet time... all the things I usually don't have time for.

I'm feeling much better for it, too. So how do I bring some of this space and time back into my regular life? Short of winning a lottery (and for that I'd have to have taken a ticket) and giving up paid work, what do I actually do?

Previously, I contented myself with wishing, and threw myself back into the daily grind...

This time I want to effect a more thorough change, and I'll have to say, 'No' to someone, and mostly that will be myself!

I'll have to decide what degree of domestic organisation I need to be comfortable, yet still sneak a little time away from those tasks. (Perhaps I simply need to be more efficient?)

I'll have to resist the urge to do one 'good' activity, in favour of another. We can, with effort, say no to the situations that feel obligatory - and even enjoy our rebellion. When the choices are equally desirable in different ways... Do I weed the garden, or take a walk in the nearby park? Do I join friends for a function, or indulge in some 'alone time'? Do I finish some sewing or knit or write on my blog?

I'm grateful to have such palatable choices, very grateful, but that doesn't make the conundrum any easier... Ultimately, we need to remember that our life is formed from the moment to moment choices. I can't tell you what are good choices for you. I'm still too busy working out what are good choices for me. I do know that when I get the balance right, there seems to be enough time, so part of choosing well is making time, and not just spending or wasting it.

This is post 17 of 365 posts in 365 days.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A friend took me to a local historical site where they were having a big open day. My friend was there as a volunteer and I spent part of the afternoon also helping to dispense tea and cake to the hungry hordes.

It was quite pleasant labour, and reminded me of how often an event is more enjoyable when you have a job to do. The other volunteers were approving, the venue was beautiful, the weather was suitable, and the public were (mostly) polite and appreciative. What's not to like?!

When we think of volunteering, some is us shy away from the commitment. We don't have one day per week to ourselves, let alone to a cause, charity or community group! Instead we ought to look for casual or one-off events where we can volunteer a limited amount of our precious spare time.

It feels good to do something for others, and today the extra charm was in being the 'bonus' helper they weren't expecting to have. An extra pair of hands during cleaning up will always be appreciated.

This is post 17 of 365 posts in 365 days.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nine years ago

Nine years ago I headed off to teach Kindermusik classes (it was a Wednesday) and was shocked to hear about the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. My concern was personal as well as generally humanitarian: I number several Americans among my friends.

Four years later, I landed at Heathrow from a conference in the USA, and was warned not to go to London as various stations had been blown up.

The world I grew up in was o e in which such atrocities existed only on the news or in the history books. Tonight a young person I know made an off the cuff remark that there is too much fuss being made of 911, which has "nothing to do with us". I recall when I was a teen, adults would bang on about where they were when Kennedy was assassinated - we used to be as disinterested as my young friend is today.

Nine years ago, the world changed. It does everyday of course, but sometimes the changes are immediately recogniseable.

This is post 16 of 365 posts in 365 days.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The value of asking nicely

It's always worth asking nicely, quite often people will help you get what you need. All you need is a willingness to be told 'no' and the perseverence to keep asking - nicely at regular reasonable intervals - until you get an answer.

And always thank people for their time, no matter how trivial it seems to you, it is valuable to them.

This is post 15 of 365 posts in 365 days.
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Going solo is a handy skill to keep up

It's a good idea to practice successfully being alone, being independent. It's a skill like any other, and needs to be used to be kept up. As a middle-aged woman, I've begun to notice that I seldom go out alone at night, and less and less do I make decisions in isolation. It's a short step from seldom doing something to never doing it, to it becoming unthinkable to do it.

It's one thing to consciously choose to stop doing something: overspending, overdrinking, overeating, overpleasing, etc. It's another to allow a capacity to accidentally slip into disuse.

For many people in their 30s, 40s & 50s, life becomes very full of people: partners, parents, children, friends, colleagues, etc. We may (sometimes) yearn for a bit of 'alone time' but we're fairly bad at putting it to use.

When we're out of practice at being alone, we become lonely after a short while alone. We want someone to react to, so we don't have to think up actions for ourselves. This often makes itself felt if we go on holiday where we don't have our usual duties and responsibilities to fill the time. There you are, on the beach, in the sunshine, and feeling...well... a bit bored... (Boredom is often the more socially acceptable, ego-friendly face of loneliness.)

If you haven't been alone for a while, start with a small but significant block of time - say, two hours. (It doesn't count as 'alone' if you surf the internet or talk on the phone, by the way.) Part of being alone is learning to entertain yourself without the pabulum of modern media. At some point you may feel bored, lonely or even irritated, but after a while it begins to feel more normal.

Who knows, you may even like it.

This is post 14 of 365 posts in 365 days.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Uniform dissent

From time to time I have rainbow coloured hair. Not rainbow like a clown, more like a swirl of colours through the otherwise brown and grey. I don't wear it to gain attention, I don't think it's particularly 'out there' though I do realise I'm bound to get some attention, sometimes.

Today I was at a cafe where another patron had a hot pink mohawk - but guess whose hair attracted more attention?

I couldn't work out why, but I think it may be because the chap with the mohawk had a leather jacket, a trendy pair of stovepipe jeans, boots and some piercings. His individuality was expressed in a fairly standard punk-ish sub-culture way. He was uniform in his dissent.

I am guessing that for some people, an otherwise regular middle-aged lady with rainbow coloured hair is an unexpected juxtaposition. It's not a known variation or subculture. Neither fish, flesh, fowl nor good red herring! Just a bit eccentric.

It seems most of us wear a uniform, even to assert our individuality.

This is post 13 of 365 posts in 365 days.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Are your loved ones pieces of you?

Watching parents with their children is always interesting, but it recently prompted an 'ah hah' moment. The degree of embarrassment or distress a parent feels at their child's behaviour is an indicator of the degree the parent believes the child is a piece of themself. The old saying is, 'a chip off the old block'.

A toddler who throws a paddy in the middle of the bank is always going to leave a parent feeling some frustration and exposure. If the parent instinctively accepts the toddler as their own person, a completely separate - if currently dependent - entity, then the parent feels the annoyance or anxiety of the situation alone. Sure if some people 'tut tut' it's aggravating, but it's the kid who's having the paddy, and the kid is toddler, and stuff happens. If the parent views the child as an extension of themself, then the child's behaviour reflects on the parent to such an extent that, for all practical purposes, the child IS the parent.

It's a cliche that teenagers go through this in spades when they find their parents so horribly, horribly embarrassing: they're not embarrassing because they're parents, they're embarrassing because they're MY parents. [You may prefer to substitute your relationship of choice here.]

Husbands and wives do it all the time too. A social faux-pas is not just a faux-pas by your partner, it somehow reflects poorly on YOU as well. This is encouraged by the common human behaviour of manipulation, whereby person X wants something from Y so they ask Y's life partner for advice/help/permission/emotional blackmail.

If you catch yourself being mortified or made angry by the behaviour of someone around you (friend, colleague, family member, etc.) remind yourself that their behaviour is their behaviour alone. See if that helps you be less overwhelmed by the sticky social situation which ensues. Our loved ones are not pieces of us, they are themselves first and foremost, and our child/parent/lover/colleague/boss/etc second.

This is post 12 of 365 posts in 365 days.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stickability & Stopability

I've been struggling with my knitting. I chose an Aran-style jumper (sweater) with some fancy cables I ha en't done before. I practiced each pattern a bit so I understood what to do, and then launched.

Six times I cast on, knitted about 10-12 rows with frocious attention, got lost, pulled it out, started again. I had to pull it out because A) I couldn't find where I'd gone astray, and B) the smocked cables were confusing once undone so I couldn't work out where I was to start knitting up again.

That would be the stickability part.

Disaster struck on take 4 as well. It took the combined efforts of a very talented peer group to work out what had happened - I'd lost 2 stitches at some point, but even they could not be sure where it had happened or how!

On attempt 7 I decided to simplify the pattern, using an easier and more familiar combination of rib and cables.

That's the stopability.

Progress is now occurring and although its not the jumper I set out to knit, it is attractive and has some hope of being completed in the forseeable future.

There is no magic formula for which trait should be best applied I a given situation. I'm proud I gave it my best shot, but I acknowledge that at this point the original pattern is beyond my ability and not just beyond my comfort zone. The purpose of the exercise is congenial employment for my hands with a garment at the end of it.

So if you're about to give up on something "too hard" ask yourself if you should give it another go and what information or skill you need to ensure success. If you're about to keep pursuing a goal To the point of obsession, ask yourself if persistence serves the wider outcome you're after and whether the effort and the uncertain conclusion are worth it.

This is post 11 of 365 posts in 365 days.
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