Getting back to business

It’s been a long time between blogs! I started a new job a month ago which, although part-time, has taken up a lot of my energy and headspace. Since 2007, I’ve worked mainly freelance from home, so adjusting to the environment of an office – the politics, the gossip, the rules, procedures, policies and timesheets, KPIs and performance appraisals, crazy workload and deadlines, meetings and the need for frequent injections of caffeine and sugar – felt a bit like going back to school. I make sandwiches and pack my satchel the night before and make sure I have done my homework. Because part-time jobs always spill over into non-work time. Especially in the not-for-profit sector.

Having said all that it’s an interesting role in the fundraising department of one of Melbourne’s best-loved charities, one that has been looking after the homeless and disadvantaged for over 30 years. As I’m covering for someone on maternity leave, I’m only there for six months so I was in at the deep end from day one. It was super intense to begin with as I gave myself a crash course in everything from their systems, databases, computer idiosyncrasies (don’t get me started…) and programs to the people I would need to get on-side.

images[7]

Now I’ve learnt Google Mail (not nearly as efficient as Outlook), a new database and figured out how the online timesheets work, not to mention the phones, things are beginning to calm down and I am no longer working like a headless chicken. In fact, I worked so fast and furiously to start with that I wrote down my bank details incorrectly, which meant that my first pay cheque bounced. Perhaps it was a Freudian slip and I’ve got stuck in lack mode. Poor me…

But no! Something seems to have shifted in the last few days. I feel a need to discard things, habits and behaviours that are no longer serving me and to challenge some of the limiting beliefs standing in my way. It’s the old head versus heart argument. It’s great to be in a good job, writing funding submissions but what happened to the calling of the soul aka creativity? It’s definitely time to pick up my book again – I keep getting little nudges from the universe.

A friend recently invited me to a motivational workshop entitled: “The Beginner’s Guide to Becoming an Author.” The focus was not on the writing itself but on developing the discipline of writing and of creating a clear vision of the published book, then working out what steps you need to take to achieve that goal. One of the steps is to identify any negative beliefs getting in the way. You know the ones: What will people think?; I’m not good enough; Who would want to read my story?; I don’t have enough time; I’ll never make it and so on.

As we went through the exercise of dumping unhelpful beliefs in an imaginary bin, I had an aha moment! I realised why I had abandoned my book a couple of years ago. I got as far as finishing it and submitting it to publishers and nearly made it over the line. But despite some of the very encouraging and positive feedback I received, I only listened to the rejections. It all seemed too hard and I gave up.

Soon after the motivational workshop a friend emailed me a link to a book that is about a woman coming out of her shell. She said it reminded her of me and that I should not give up on my book. Then this week I had a kinesiologist staying as an Airbnb guest. I mentioned my book – en passant – and the following day she said she had a strong feeling I should persevere with it. She also very generously gave me a treatment as she sensed that I had a few ‘blocks’ she could help to clear. How lucky am I?! Marie is hugely intuitive and picked up on all sorts of aspects of my life, past and present. That is what’s so wonderful about kinesiology – it’s not a talk therapy; instead it works on muscle testing and feedback from the body. AND the body never lies.

So this week I’m going to dive back in to my book –as in getting back to the REAL business – and follow the advice of my friend in Felicity. Throw caution to the wind, write as if no one is looking or listening and see what comes out. Don’t think about the reader, just write. As if to underline that message I saw a great Natalie Goldberg quote this week: “Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”

Embracing Community and the Kindness of Strangers

As I approach the final furlong of my Sea Change in Anglesea (for new readers, my Melbourne house is having a bit of a makeover), I’m really getting into life down here. As a not-for-profit grant-writer, I often talk about promoting or creating community connectedness and a sense of belonging. Well, recently, I’ve had the good fortune to experience both.

Last Friday, I joined in a monthly ‘Big Sing’ in a local township – well more like a hamlet actually. I was welcomed with open arms and felt instantly at ease to join in the warm-ups which, a bit like at my Melbourne-based choir, require a total absence of inhibition – blowing out your lips like a horse, wailing like a siren and generally waving your arms around. We then sang in canon using the words of a GPS navigator to the tune of London Bridge. After a few gospel numbers, a Maori song to mark Anzac Day and an Aboriginal Stolen Generations song, it was time for supper. With candles dotted around and gum tree leaves decking the walls of the community hall, we tucked into home-made soup and crusty bread. This was definitely choir Country Style.

Then on the weekend I went to the Lighthouse Literary Fest at nearby Fairhaven. I had booked back in February (just as well as it sold out fast) and knew I would need to find childcare for Bertie; I couldn’t leave him in solitary confinement in the laundry for two days running. Nearer the time, something or somebody would turn up I told myself. But the dog-sitter I left him with on a return trip to Melbourne was booked up, my neighbours were going off to Hawaii and I couldn’t really ask 89-year-old Dolly over the road. As it was, Bertie had already barked imperiously at her when she put her bins out.

Sold-out-banner1

Early on in the piece, a lovely woman, Pauline, came up and admired Bertie when we were sitting outside a cafe. We got chatting and she told me her daughter had a cocker spaniel called Theodore aka Teddy. So when I bumped into her again several weeks later (she runs one of the thrift shops here), I mentioned that I was looking for a dog-sitter over Anzac weekend and wondered if one of her children might be able to help. It turned out that her kids were busy but, sure enough, Pauline and her husband Andrew volunteered. What’s more they refused to take any payment.

What I find so wonderful and generous about their gesture is that they hardly know me and yet they were happy to spend their weekend minding Bertie. Needless to say they fell in love with my boy who had – excuse the terrible pun – a ball. They took him to church, out to lunch, lavished him with cuddles, treated him to few choice snacks and several walk, and on the Saturday, invited Teddy down from Melbourne to keep him company.

All the while I was free to immerse myself in two days of cultural nourishment and stimulation. Much as I have loved all the beach and river walks, prolific bird life, friendly cafes and charity shop fossicking, I was ready for a bit of bookiness and bookish company. From the venue – a newly built Surf Life Saving Club with big ship-like timber beams overlooking the ocean to yummy paper bag lunches and a program of talks and panel discussions with actors, ABC radio presenters, journalists, film directors, emerging and established authors –it was a treat from beginning to end.

One of the discussions look at health and what makes us sick. Much of the discussion revolved around the corporatisation of food and the inability of those who are socially and economically disadvantaged to make healthy choices. We learnt about fast food producers and doctors being in cahoots on corporate boards and that wherever Coca Cola features on the world map, there’s obesity.

Other sessions explored memoir writing: how do we write about friends and people we know – do we disguise them (change their hair colour, sex and geography), do we write about them as they are and get their permission, or do we ultimately betray them? And how do we tackle writing about parents, whether dead or alive? Then there’s the dilemma of self-exposure for those that have written memoirs. Are we introverts (shrinking violets), extroverts (show-offs) or what American writer Susan Cain refers to as ambiverts, a mix of both?!

At the end of each session a musical double act, Nice Work, performed a song with a ukulele accompaniment. A bit like a sorbet cleanses the palate during a rich meal, the two young men (pretty much boys really) provided the ideal inter session refreshment.

The festival ended with a fascinating and humorous presentation by screenwriter David Roach in conversation with Graeme Simsion (of The Rosie Project fame). A chance meeting with a Master of Wine on a plane was the genesis of the documentary, Red Obsession, about China’s voracious appetite for wines produced by the great chateaux in Bordeaux. We saw clips of the film, one of my favourites featuring the owner of one of the big name chateaux (I forget which) in Bordeaux. He said it all came down to love (or lurv in his French accent) – loving the wine, loving drinking it and loving the cultivation of it grape by grape. He should know; he’d drunk something like a couple of bottles with lunch day.

Coming back to the kindness of strangers, I gave Pauline and Andrew a bottle of local Shiraz as a thank-you for looking after Bertie. Not quite in the same league as the top notch Bordeaux wines the Chinese are buying for up to $250,000 a bottle, but a token of appreciation nevertheless. I’m going to miss my new coastal community.