Posted in Life, Writing

2016 Writing challenge: Day #4

A helping hand can feel like a bridge from one part of your life to another
A helping hand can feel like a bridge from one part of your life to another

Today’s challenge is to tell us about the most surprising helping hand you’ve ever received.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of helping hands over the years but the most surprising one came at a period in my life when I was very down on my luck. It was 1992, I’d been living in a Salvation Army hostel for women with my two-year-old daughter for a few months when I finally managed to get on my feet enough to find a place to rent.

We moved in with our very meagre possessions – a small suitcase full of clothes each. And a beanbag, which was our bed for the first few weeks.

I was working full-time (in a voluntary capacity) at the local community radio station at the time, and a lovely older lady, Nan Walsh, cared for Emma through the day. Nan Walsh lived in a big house opposite the mouth of the river, and looked after children in the downstairs part of the house and lived upstairs. There was plenty of company for Emma, masses of toys to play with, books to read, good food and loads of warmth from Nan Walsh and her old-lady friends.

I’d finish work, pick Emma up and trudge home to our little unit that had no furniture in it apart from a bean bag that was both a bed and a couch – and a play area, a launching pad, an elephant. We had a bowl, a plate, a knife and fork, and a spoon. I think we also had a cup. I’d cadged those from the radio station.

Things were pretty bleak … but not for too long.

Trixie, who worked at the Salvation Army hostel, gave me an old single bed and a mattress. Emma was excited to sleep in a proper bed again.

Neil, the breakfast presenter at the radio station, was getting his mother’s old lounge suite and so he needed to pass his on. Generously he passed it on to me.

Sheridan, the manager of the radio station, gifted me a cutlery set that she’d been given as a wedding present twenty years before. They’d been given two and she felt that she no longer needed the second one. It had never been used.

Nan Walsh dug through her cupboards and found some towels, tea towels and sheets she could live without.

These people were generous and good and have no idea of the impact they made on my life.

Then one afternoon the doorbell rang. On the doorstep was a boxed crockery set and two shopping bags full of food, including a still hot barbecue chicken, fruit and vegetables, and some new tea towels. I looked out to the street to see an old lady walking briskly to her car. I dumbly waved my thanks.

Aren’t people amazing?

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

2016 Writing Challenge: Day #2

Looking up

The topic for today is to dig through the couch cushions, your purse, or your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find, then share what you were doing that year.

The first coin I laid my hands on was from 1993. It makes me wonder how many pockets it’s been in in the intervening years, and what it’s been used to buy, but that’s getting off-track, and I need to focus on the task at hand.

In 1993, which was twenty-three years ago (in case you were trying to do the calculation) I was in my first year of university. It was an exhilarating time, scary to be sure, but exhilarating. I turned 31 that year, and had had many years of wanting to use my brain and here I was, finally doing it.

I’d been volunteering (full-time) at a community radio station the year before I started university, doing everything from gathering and reading the news (in the time before the internet), updating the music database, creating music playlists for 16 hours of programs (each day), recording and editing sponsorship announcements, interviewing ‘celebrities’ (some of them were even real celebrities: Jeanne Little springs to mind), producing and presenting a talk show in the after lunch timeslot, organising the Schools Out program, and a host of other duties. I loved every minute of it, except the part where the station manager told me that her prayer group were praying for me because I was living in a ‘sinful relationship’. But everything else was fabulous. It was real work, I was learning heaps, and surprisingly I was good at it all.

I was enjoying this work, even though it didn’t pay the bills, and not thinking of venturing into other things. But then an opportunity came knocking, and a deep-seated desire for learning reared its head, and you can’t ignore deep-seated desires now, can you?

The opportunity was in the form of a brochure which appeared on the front counter at the radio station. It was from the University of Tasmania and was promoting a teaching degree in English, Speech and Drama.

I had no ambition to be a teacher, but the English and Drama bits appealed to me (a lot).

I applied, went through the interview process, and was accepted. I can gloss over those moments now, but at the time each of those steps was fraught with self-doubt, what if …, how do you…, but …; agonising over whether I could/should, considering what the practicalities meant (one practicality was having to move to Launceston. I lived a two-hour drive away and it wasn’t possible to travel every day.) There were other, more important, considerations, but this isn’t the place to air them. Suffice to say that throughout the process I was feeling all sorts of trepidation but when the acceptance letter came through, excitement took over. For a time, and then, when the reality struck, trepidation made a return.

I enrolled, bought a house, moved to Launceston mid-February, found a wonderful woman to look after my three-year old daughter, Emma, and in the final week of February started university.

First day, Monday morning, 9am, Drama in the Auditorium. The class was relatively small, less than 20 students, many of whom knew each other, all of whom had studied Drama in college, all of whom were 17 or 18 years old. I sat on the edge of stage wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into. I was struck by how much I was behind, before we’d even started. I had been in a theatre group in my teens, but that was around the time these young people were born. I’d completed senior secondary education, but that was 10 years before (we don’t have time for that story now) … I felt overwhelmed by my lack of experience, my lack of knowledge, my advanced age, my newness to Launceston, even by my lack of work experience. These young people had had more jobs in their 17 or 18 years than I’d had in my 31.

But they were generous and because we had all of our classes together, we got to know each other quickly. I don’t know if that was helped by having to get up close and personal in many of our classes. In Voice and Speech we spent time in the early weeks massaging each other, in Movement we had to choreograph, rehearse and present dance pieces together which sometimes meant rolling over each other on the floor (or eating cheezels off each other’s fingers), in Theatre we had to pair up to run seminars, which meant hours of working closely together, in Drama we had to devise performances and rehearse which again meant working closely with others. We were at uni a lot! We had 24 contact hours that first year and many (many) more spent in rehearsals of one sort or another.

The age difference wasn’t ever an issue; in fact it was an advantage. The others soon learnt that I knew when assignments were due, that I could bake biscuits, that I was reliable when it came time to rehearse, that I wasn’t scared of the lecturers, that I was prepared to negotiate on their behalf, that I would accompany them to meetings when they were worried about those meetings being at the lecturer’s house after dinner (that’s just creepy, Sharon/no it isn’t Ashley, he won’t hurt you), and that I had done the readings. I was worth getting to know!

That first year I studied Voice and Speech, Movement, Theatre, Drama, Tech Theatre, English Literature, and an Education subject. I spent my time outside of class in rehearsals, preparing for seminars and presentations, being an assistant stage manager for the third years, on a two-week placement learning what it was like to be a teacher, sourcing or making costumes and props, creating lighting plans, learning lines, learning how to use the library and how to write academically, reading, talking about plays and poetry and monologues, rolling my pelvis to release my breath, learning how to use my organs of articulation more effectively … learning, always learning.

It was the start of a learning journey that hasn’t stopped.

Do you have memories of 1993? Was it a big, risky, scary year for you too? Please feel free to share your memories in the comments section below.

Posted in Learning, Life

On moving …

On August 18, 1986, as a 24 year old mother of four young children, I moved from Brisbane to Tasmania; from being surrounded by family, to a place where we had no family; from a city to a sheep farm; from the relative warmth of a Queensland winter to the depths of a Tasmanian one.

I felt sentenced, although unsure of the length of my sentence.

****

It turns out my sentence was 27 years, 10 months, and 22 days (or thereabouts).

On Wednesday 25th June, 2014, my sentence ended.

Despite the ‘sentence’, Tasmania ended up being a good place to live – a cold one and I have complained often and bitterly over the years about the cold – but looking back it’s easy to focus on the good parts of living in the state that’s been the butt of mainlanders’ jokes for many years.

During my 27 years and a bit years, I (in no particular order):
* ran a general store in a very small country town
* had a fifth child
* worked in community radio
* completed an undergraduate degree specialising in English and Drama teaching
* taught in a high school and a senior secondary college
* got my bus licence
* taught Drama and English and Tourism Studies
* completed Cert IV in Workplace Training and Assessment
* worked for ABC Local Radio as a producer and presenter
* began A Kick in the Arts – a weekly community radio arts program
* returned to university and completed a PhD
* became an academic and took on a range of leadership roles
* was the chair of a local theatre company for a time
* lived in the north-east, the north-west, and the north – and then the north-west and then the north and then the north-west
* divorced
* re-married 19 years later
* undertook the year-long Tasmanian Leaders Program
* travelled to the mainland whenever I could
* travelled to New Zealand twice, then Scotland and England one year, to Paris and Germany the next and then to France, Italy and Germany the one after that
* published a number of journal articles, book chapters, and conference papers
* edited a textbook
* presented papers in Christchurch, Glasgow, Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, and Launceston
* welcomed eight grandchildren into the world
* taught more students than I could ever remember
* supervised four PhD candidates to completion
* put on lots of weight
* lost even more
* met some truly wonderful people

****

I moved to Tasmania because of my (then) husband’s job.

Almost 28 years later, I’ve moved away from Tasmania because of my (now) husband’s job.

****

It’s unsettling, this moving business. Sorting out possessions stashed in dark corners of cupboards; throwing out; packing up; spending weekends in Melbourne and week days in Burnie; moving between … between living with my husband in Melbourne on weekends and living with one of my daughters and her two sons through the week. Not feeling like either place is home … one new place that isn’t really mine, and the old, familiar place that is now filled with boys’ toys and laughter and tears and hugs and bubble baths – changed, in a good way, but not really mine. Moving between having my husband cook me dinner on the weekends and cooking dinner for my daughter through the week … between gyms … between relying on public transport and having no public transport … between there and here … and here and there.

My husband and I called two different places home … it was confusing for a time. Where? Oh, that home.

A long time in transition – four months of living between. Not long, looking back … but it felt long living through it.

And now it’s done. The final move … three trips across Bass Strait in five days, each rougher than the one before. Unpacking the car, finding dark corners of cupboards to stash our things, having one home rather than two.

I don’t feel sentenced, in this new place.

I already feel more connected.

And less.

 

 

Posted in Learning, Life

On success …

I’ve been reading a lot this week about the ways young people define success; I’ve also been reading about the aspirations of adolescent girls.

I’ve therefore been thinking quite a bit about aspirations and success.

What is success? Well, according to the year 7 students in Wendy’s study it’s a lot to do with having a goal and achieving it (it’s also, according to them, about fame and wealth). Wendy is another success story, but I’ll leave that for another day.

And aspirations? For the year 10 girls in Cherie’s study, there was a sense of uncertainty, a lack of clarity around their aspirations for the future. They had ideas/fantasies, but no concrete goals they were actively planning to achieve. There were so many options for them, that they found it difficult to project themselves one year or 10 years into the future and choose which of those options felt right for them. The girls had difficulty visualising life as anything but what it is now.

I empathise with that view. Do you? Can you imagine yourself 10 years older: what you’ll look like, what you’ll be doing, where you’ll be living, what kind of relationship you might be in (particularly if you aren’t in one now), where you might have travelled to? Could you have done that when you were 15 or 16?

I certainly couldn’t. I never imagined I’d be a university lecturer, for instance. I can’t believe I’ve been one for so long that I’m eligible for long service leave! It wasn’t something I had as a goal. Being a lecturer wasn’t something I strived for, or planned for, or worked towards attaining. It wasn’t on my to-do list. My life just led there. It’s just what happened.

For those of you who are planners, that might seem unnatural, not the proper way of doing things, it might even seem wrong. For those of you who have known me for the longest time (and I’m talking almost 40 years here. Yes, Michelle, it’s been that long) you might think I made decisions that inevitably led me to that destination – but if I did it was never with that destination consciously in mind. I didn’t at any point say “I have aspirations to be a lecturer”. It simply wouldn’t have occurred to me to aspire to that kind of role.

I don’t generally set goals. I hate the question “where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?” No, not hate. Loathe. I loathe that question. I don’t know where I’ll be in ten years’ time, but ten years ago I didn’t know I’d:

* be married (to the most fabulous man I know)
* be living in Burnie (and loving living here)
* have (almost) six more grandchildren than I did at the time
* have my doctorate
* be employed full-time as a lecturer
* have had the opportunity to be a Course Coordinator (and in so doing help change some lives)
* have had the privilege of being the Director of Student Engagement (and help to change a few more)
* have travelled to Paris (twice), been to Germany to visit Elke (twice), spent a week in Venice with Sarah and Ben, caught the train around France and Italy by myself, or been proposed to on the London Eye
* have seen Macbeth at the Globe Theatre in London, Les Mis on the West End, or Loch Ness
* be a student again, this time studying Media Communication.

And more … much more. I wouldn’t have thought of some of those things ten years ago, let alone planned to achieve them if they’d been goals – and look how much I would have missed out on. So for me, that’s a clear justification for not living your life according to five or ten year plans. I know others will see it differently, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying that I don’t live my life that way.

So … and I’m getting to the point now … imagine how surprised I was in November last year when I set myself a goal. Just one mind you, but it was a big one. It was one I wasn’t convinced at the time I could achieve, but I set it nonetheless. I couldn’t “see” myself into the future to see how I would look or feel if I achieved this goal, but that didn’t stop me from setting it.

And it didn’t stop me from working towards it.

You see, I’d become increasingly unhappy with my … physical self/weight/appearance/being treated by strangers as stupid just because I was fat. I wrote the following earlier this year as part of an assignment for university:

Lizzie* was fat. Morbidly obese, according to the chart in her doctor’s office. She’d
been that way for years, apart from the time, five years ago, when she lost 12 kilos.
Since then she’d managed to put on 20. Or more.

Lizzie knew that she was fat; she could feel it. When she laughed, her whole body
wobbled; Lizzie didn’t like that, so she stopped laughing. Her knees creaked under
her weight: with each stair she climbed or descended Lizzie was accompanied by a
painful musical chorus. Lizzie’s eyes grew squinty and her best friend commented,
rather rudely Lizzie thought, that she must be turning Japanese. Lizzie’s mummy-apron
grew bigger by the day. Her arms, her thighs, her wrists, her elbows … fat.

Fatness oozed from her shoes with every step.

In her fatness Lizzie was lumpy, unlovely, lost. Far beyond chubby or plump, Lizzie
was fleshy, hefty, corpulent.

And, unhappy.

*The name was changed to protect  … well, me.

So, yes I set myself a weight loss goal. By October 12, 2013 I wanted to weigh a lot (lot) less.

Daniel, son number 2, was getting married to Cathy in Byron Bay. I knew there were whales that went past Byron and I didn’t want to be one of them.

It was a goal I was determined to make.

******

I didn’t make it.

But I was close. Really, really close.

I came home from Byron even more determined to reach the goal I had set myself in November last year.

On Monday last week I was 800g away from it.

By the Wednesday I was 400g away.

On Monday this week, I was 600g away. Ouch! That really hurt.

On Wednesday I was 100g away. It was so close … but not quite there. I wanted to see the actual number I’d been striving for on the scales, not settle with ‘close enough’.

You can imagine my trepidation on Friday (yesterday) when I stood next to the scales with my health coach standing beside – prodding me to get on them.

What if I’d put on weight? What if … ah, this was no time for what ifs. I just got on.

Result? I’d blitzed it! I hadn’t just gone down by the 100g I needed to make my goal; I’d dropped 900g and was well on the way to achieving the next (much, much smaller) weight loss goal I’d already decided on.

So, here I am. Forty-nine weeks after having set my goal. Still full of determination and resolve but 35.5kgs lighter.

Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly: 35.5kgs.

In one way I’m horribly embarrassed that there was that much of me to lose, but that really doesn’t stop me feeling proud of myself for losing it.

It was an aspiration. To weigh less, to not look like a whale at Daniel’s wedding, to not embarrass him in front of Cathy’s family (which I hadn’t met).

I had a goal: a particular weight I wanted to be at a certain time (which meant losing 34.7kgs in just less than a year).

I had a plan: an eating and exercise one.

I was determined. Through this process I’ve been re-introduced to my determination. It’s pretty strong!

I worked hard and didn’t let anything deter me.

I didn’t stop when I didn’t make it, or when it got hard, or when the weight  wouldn’t move, when my body wouldn’t move, when my knee groaned harder than it had ever groaned before, when others around me ate cake or musk sticks or spearmint leaves or Turkish Delight (thanks Rochelle and Emma), or even toast and vegemite (thanks Mum, but no thanks).

I was determined. I was initially determined to do it for Daniel, but then it got to the point where I was doing it for myself. And my determination didn’t waver.

And I made it. Two weeks late, but hey, I’m not going to quibble.

I set a goal. I worked hard to achieve it. I made it.

If this is what success feels like … I like it!! I might not have fame or wealth, but this feeling of satisfaction more than makes up for that.

******

If I was brave enough I’d put up before and after shots.

You’ll notice from their absence that I’m not yet that brave!

******

I have to acknowledge Tim, my wonderful husband, for his unfailing, constant support, encouragement, and belief in me. You’re the best and I love you to bits!  

Thanks Helen and Robyn and Carolyn. You are the best encouragers! You always noticed and let me know that you noticed and that meant a lot to me.

Thanks to Warren and Ben for your quiet support and pride in me. You’re both like Dad/Grandad … you don’t say much in words, but your actions speak loudly.

Thanks to Rochelle for being my exercise buddy for a short time. It helped push me just that bit harder. I don’t do ‘love pats’ at boxing anymore thanks to you!

Finally, thanks to Carolyn and Delicia and Eve. Your support has been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Posted in Learning, Life

Living and re-living

Do you ever think “I’ve been here before”? I don’t mean that you lived in a different era in a different form (that you’ve re-incarnated from a cockroach into a human) but that you’ve lived an experience that now, at some slight remove, you’re living again. Re-living.

Maybe at the start of a new semester, when you read the unit outline at the end of Week 1 and realise that you’ve missed the deadline by two days for one part of your first assessment task. Or vacuuming the floor when it felt like only yesterday that you tried to get that same spot out of the carpet? Or reading the start of a book you didn’t think you’d read only to find that it’s so familiar that you know, at some point in the past, you’ve sat in the same spot, legs curled up under you, puppy pushed in beside you, the winter sun streaming through the windows … that you’ve been there before?

Life can be like that.

Years ago, you packed a bag, walked out the door, changed your life.

And then, twenty years later it happens again. Bags are packed, doors close, lives change.

Only this time it’s not your bag or your door or your life. But close enough to get a sense that you’ve been here before.

It comes as no surprise to find that life doesn’t happen in a straight line.  There are turns, and deviations, and unexpected detours that lead you down paths that are overgrown with lack of wear and just a tiny bit spooky, but interesting if you have a spirit of adventure and just a touch (or more) of courage – which you don’t realise you have until you’ve travelled that path and have the benefit of reflection and hindsight.

And there are seeming circles … you tread a path, and then without any encouragement or persuasion, your daughter treads a similar path.

The lines you once heard, she’s hearing (she’ll come to her senses – just give her time and she’ll be back). The fingers that wagged at you, now wag at her. The system that seemed stacked against you, now seems stacked against her. The sense of dislocation you felt, she’s now feeling. The questions you asked yourself, she’s also asking.

There’s living, and then there’s re-living.

Circles.

Different actors. Different lives. But so, so familiar.

Age gives me an advantage. I can see from a distance – having made it to the end of that dark and gloomy path she’s now treading. I know that it’ll  get lighter the further along she goes. That there are more options than she first thought, more warmth from others than she initially envisaged when everyone (or so it seems) was turned against her, more resilience and strength than she ever imagined was there, lurking within.

Living

and re-living.

Life.

Posted in Learning, Writing

Excitement/trepidation/learning

It’s the end of the first week of semester for me as a lecturer, and almost the beginning of semester for me as a student.

A range of emotions course through me when I allow myself to think about being a student: excitement (yay, I’m going to be learning about writing), and trepidation (I’m going to be learning about writing, and I’ll have to write, and I don’t like writing … except that I do, just not journal articles and conference papers). I read a little from my textbook on writing and realise that I’m doing it all wrong.

I don’t give myself enough time, I expect it to be perfect as I type it, I am impatient for the right words and want them to be the first words that emerge rather than the fifth or seventeenth. I want the ideas to tumble out of me as soon as I sit down to write, and that they will tumble in a logical order. I want insightful, inventive, wow-that’s-an-interesting/humorous/creative/original-way-of-saying-that, phrases and thoughts to roll directly from my imagination to my fingers without the need for agonising over each word, each idea, each choice I know I need to make.

I want it to be easy.

I expect it to be easy.

And then I realise/remember/am reminded that writing is a skill, a process, something to practice and develop, something to take time over, something to learn. And learning is a process – I told my students that last week during Orientation – it takes time and energy and commitment and can be frustrating and challenging and emotional and downright painful. Whoever said learning is fun needs to be sat down and given a good talking to! It isn’t fun. It’s hard. And it’s work. (But obviously worth doing.)

So, I’m feeling in two minds at the moment: me the teacher/me the learner.

As the teacher, I wrote a unit outline for my students, re-worked the learning outcomes, designed the assessment tasks, wrote introductions to each section of the textbook I put together from other people’s works, articulated my teaching philosophy, made my expectations clear, designed my online unit in a particular way (a way that is clear to understand, clear to work through, clear to follow).

Or so I thought.

As a learner, reading a unit outline that someone else has written puts a different slant on the idea of clear. I know what’s in my head (most of the time) and so my unit outline is clear to me. I read it and know what I mean. But I don’t yet know what is in my lecturers’ heads and so I read the unit outlines for the two units in which I’m enrolled and things are not immediately clear to me.

Questions buzz like wasps: where is; what is meant by; when do I; who will; where do I find; how can I; when should I; who should I; how does; why …?

They’re the questions of anxiety which can quickly morph into frustration if the answers don’t come immediately.

There are other kinds of questions though. Questions of excitement and exploration: I wonder how; I wonder who; I wonder when; I wonder what …?

Maybe I should start asking those questions. That would require me to step back, take a few deep breaths, know that I don’t have to do everything (all the readings, all the assignments, all the learning) in my first week.  I can give myself permission to learn rather than to worry; I can take my time knowing that learning will happen if I relax a little, ease the tension, free up some space in my mind from the anxiety and allow the curiosity and excitement I know is there to overtake the fear and trepidation.

There are plenty of things I don’t know in relation to the units I’m studying – but that’s why I’m studying: to find out. To learn. To be in that place of not knowing and know that it’s okay to be there. To know that over time, and with commitment and application, I will know.

Over time

Note to self: learning is a process.

Let the process begin!

Posted in Learning, Travel

Lesson #5

1984. Brisbane, Qld. An overnight train ride from Sydney to Murwillumbah, then a two hour drive to Brisbane.

A hotel room. Just one.

This was our new home until we found a house to live in.

Two weeks later. We found a house. It was empty, the carpet was green and leaves were scattered across the lounge room floor.

An empty house. No beds, no fridge, no table, no chairs. (The truck with our furniture was travelling at a snail’s pace from the south coast of NSW).

There was nothing in the house, except me and three children.

Their father went to work each morning, and that left me, a five year old, a three year old and a four month old to play hide and seek in an empty house.

One week later. It was hot and the cheese melted, so we bought a fridge.

The box added to the places we could hide in, in our daily games of hide and seek.

One week later. The truck finally arrived and the house filled up.

****

It was another beginning.

Our lives are full of beginnings: some are low key – we begin a new book and we have to get used to the tone, the author’s style, the language choices the author has made, the characters. If the transition to this new book and all it contains is relatively easy, we keep reading. If something jars – the number of times a character stumbles as she walks into a room, for instance, or we read that the male character cocks his head seventeen times in two pages – we put it down.

Some beginnings are more substantial: a new relationship, enrolling in a university course, moving from Kinder to Grade 1, moving interstate.

****

1986. Ringarooma, Tasmania. A flight from Brisbane to Launceston, then a two hour drive to Ringarooma. It was cold, the road was unlike roads we were used to. Narrow, windy, hilly, pot-holed.

Clouds clung to the hills; it was damp and grey. August. Winter. We’d thought winter in Brisbane was cold, but this was something else.

A farmhouse … a big one, a cold one. No heating except an open fire in the kitchen. There was nothing in this big, cold house, except me and four children.

Their father went to work each morning, and that left me, a seven year old, a five year old, a two year old and a five month old to play hide and seek in a big, cold, empty farmhouse.

****

Another beginning. This time away from family and friends, away from the warmth, away from civilisation even. We lived in a sheep farm out of town, (and it wasn’t even a big town).

How we manage the beginnings we have in our lives depends on our strength and our resilience. It depends on our expectations and how we cope with difference and change and it depends on the understanding of others.

****

The farmer’s wife brought scones for morning tea. She’d used bi-carb soda instead of flour, but it was a lovely gesture.