Jan 31, 2014

12 Resolutions: February

This year I'm playing along with #12Resolutions on Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to set yourself short-term, achievable goals, one each month. 

For February, I'm setting myself a writing challenge. 

I could (and should) commit to doing Words for Wednesday every week instead of intermittently, and now Anna Spargo-Ryan has a writing prompt too, so there's no shortage of opportunity...

But I've been tinkering around with a few ideas, and I started writing two short stories some time ago, which I haven't touched for awhile but am very often thinking about.  So I thought I should finish them. Or if not them, write and finish something else.

After I formed my February resolution and shared it on the 12 Resolutions Facebook group (eeek), I started catching up on some blog reading. (After all, it's not February yet!).  And I came across this post which was perfect reading for me right now.  In it Anna Spargo-Ryan talks about how she has been "a writer on the inside" ever since she was a child and had always thought of herself as a writer, and was suddenly made to realise that she wasn't actually writing in reality. So she started writing in reality. (Read it - it's better than that).

I wrote poems and stories as a child and did writing classes when younger and have kept a notebook ever since I was a kid, and I read and am always toying with story ideas in my head (or my notebook), so it's time I started setting myself to actually WRITE SOME STUFF.  I've been meaning to for, oh, you know... thirty years... but am finding myself more urgently preoccupied by it in the last year or so.  These days it seems like everyone's a writer of some sort, and there is so much stuff out there to inspire and help - millions of excellent articles, stories and books of course, but also blogs and resources, how-to's, and information on every aspect of writing, reading and publishing that you could want (SO much to procrastinate with...) 

I've learned a lot from all this stuff. I've been practicing (and had one tiny thing published online), and I'm ready to go.  

So my resolution for February is to write two short stories.

By that I mean finish them to final draft status, so that I can try and submit them to writerly publishing outlets. My resolution is not to get published (though of course that's what I'd like). My resolution is just to write two stories

I can do that!

Meanwhile, thanks to January's resolution, I will also continue walking every day.


January: walk 5 times a week 
February: write 2 short stories

thaikrit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jan 30, 2014

12 Resolutions: January recap

This year I'm playing along with #12Resolutions on Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to set yourself short-term, achievable goals, one each month. 

My resolution for January was to walk 5 times a week.  It was very small, very easy, and that was the point. Any walk counted, whether it was 5 minutes or half an hour, slow or brisk.

For the first time in .... I don't know how long... I actually stuck with a resolution! 

I now walk the dog every morning. Well, I should say ALMOST every morning; I have skipped a couple but basically he will not let me get away with it!  Every morning now as soon as I sit up  in bed - or even just pull back the blankets before I sit up - he hears me from outside, and starts barking and scraping on the back door. And then when I let him in, he leaps around and quivers and stares at my face until I say "Do you wanna go for a WALK?!" and he barks and jumps around like a lunatic until we go.  

He's a little dog, and we only walk for 20 minutes. But it does us both a heap of good. He's no longer an annoying idiot for the rest of the day, and I have a little more pep in my step as well.

So: January's resolution is done, and will continue.

Next up: February's resolution.


January: walk 5 times a week

Image by vorakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Jan 25, 2014

Is the cost of living rising in Australia?

To many people, this would seem to be a silly question. Utility bills are going through the roof, healthcare costs are rising, health insurance premiums rise by a ridiculous amount every year, petrol costs three times what it used to, rent is higher than ever.... of course the cost of living is rising.

To the economists who disagree though, the cost of living is stable or even falling. Food is cheaper, clothing, books, toys and music are cheaper, and wages are higher.

My Twitter feed is full of snark about Cashed Up Bogans driving their SUVs to their huge McMansions and whinging about the high cost of gas and water while Brianna and Tyson have every toy and gadget in the world.

Or middle class whingers who complain about petrol and utility bills while unable to appreciate how cheaply they get their clothing.

According to this school of thought, which includes many economists, the middle class has no right to complain about the cost of living when most things they buy are cheaper than ever.

Wrapped up in these arguments are political and moral beliefs too, about the carbon tax, house size, sustainable living, consumption, public vs private school, cars vs public transport, and value judgments about what people spend money on. There is also annoyance or embarrassment at the tendency of Australians to forget we live in a prosperous country whose economy has survived the GFC and the Great Recession lightly compared to most other places. There is also anger from those who are locked out of the housing market and forced into ever-higher rentals, at those who are paying off mortgages daring to complain.

In short, there is more than a touch of judgement from some (who forget they are also, mostly, middle class) at the middle-class who can't see what they are spending every week while complaining about the cost of living.


Most people I know are middle class. I can pretend it is otherwise, and I can pretend to be something I'm not, with my history of low-paid work, my husband who works in hospitality and our 8-year-old car. But we're middle class, as are the majority of people running the commentary on Twitter, on radio and in the newspapers.

I won't pretend to be without privilege. But we don't have savings, our kids go to the local public school, and we live with low-level financial stress on a monthly basis. Like other families we know, we juggle bills: I mean really juggle them, paying the meanest ones first and letting the more lenient ones slide, always playing catch-up and always behind. It depresses me that we don't have more, that at our age we are still living, basically, paycheck to paycheck.

While I don't accept that raising kids is a "lifestyle choice" (it's actually biology), I do accept that we have chosen our way of life. We've chosen to buy a house and spend most of our money paying it off and we know that raising kids is expensive. It's why we have two kids instead of three. (Well, it's most of the reason why).

I know full well that we buy clothes, toys, books, music and stuff pretty cheaply. I know I spend more than I need to by driving to work, and buying my lunch on work days. I know my kids have far too many toys. I know we negated the savings we should have made when we cut out pay TV six years ago, by buying a million DVD kids' movies since then.

But I also know that utility bills, health insurance and the cost of filling my car have increased by 50% or more in the last few years. And our income has dropped - a lot.  My salary is 60% of what I earned before 2008. Looking back now, it seems like I was on a pretty good salary back then. I was, but it was not high for the work I did, in my field, back then. I was always trying to earn more, constantly aware that I was "behind" others who earned more. I may have worked for a big American stockbroker, but I was no fat cat. It was also pre- credit crunch, so I was carrying a lot of debt, and spending way more than I do now.

I'm happier now, and I was very happy to be made redundant and apply a circuit breaker to my life. And I know I was very lucky. I got my redundancy, took a few months off work, and got to start a new job with people who knew me, working fewer hours and doing work I really enjoy. All that is amazing, and I know it.

But even for us lucky ones, the cost of living is higher than it was, and it is harder to manage the budget. The fact we are lucky doesn't make that less true.

Knowing my own experience and our much-reduced income since 2008, I often think of the thousands of others who have been laid off since then, or whose businesses have failed. Try telling them the rising cost of living is all in their heads.

I think while many costs have fallen over the years (things we buy), and we are certainly taxed lower than in the past, bills are higher, and costs in general are more diffuse now.  Thirty years ago you earned less and you might have paid 40% income tax, and you didn't buy as much stuff, but your rent/mortgage payments were lower, utilities were much cheaper, and there were fewer bills to grapple with. You didn't have to compare costs for insurance, let alone "choose" your utility providers, and you had fewer bills and expenses. Bills might be electricity OR gas, water and telephone (no internet, mobile phone, pay TV, and there were fewer types of insurance to cover), and your weekly expenses might be travel/petrol, groceries and an amount set aside to cover clothing and other bits and pieces. I'm not saying things were better. And I have no desire to go backwards.  But there were simpler bills, fewer things to buy and less money to spend, and budgeting was once much, much easier than it is now.

Jan 22, 2014

Small Pleasures - the modern life version

I'm sure you don't need another same-old same-old list of the usual small pleasures in life - sand between the toes, sun on your back, first coffee of the morning, etc. So I thought I'd compile a list of some small pleasures that are (mostly) products of modern life.

Do any of these please you as well?

Simple pleasures: 2014 edition

  • Changing lanes on the freeway into a curve, and catching that inside-track advantage
  • Having your tweet re-tweeted
  • Comments on your blog posts
  • Realising when you 'touch off' that your Myki appears to have charged you less than it should (this only happened to me once and was probably my misunderstanding, but it felt good anyway)
  • Choosing your own seats when booking cinema tickets online
  • Coming home to find your spouse has unexpectedly cleaned up
  • The short-lived pleasure of a child's tidy room
  • Donating bags of good-quality clothes/shoes 
  • When you manage to organise parents' days off for school holidays so your kids don't have to go to a holiday program
  • When the dog doesn't have fleas
  • Discovering that the newspaper is no longer including a Leunig calendar for free in the new year edition and you will only be lumbered with it if you buy it (which is not going to happen)
  • The summer edition of the weekend newspaper which is half the weight and all the better for it
  • Free parking
  • A smile with your coffee from the barista
  • Working from home 
  • Being back in the office after working from home
  • Finding a game in the App Store that lets you level up without timing out if you don't pimp it out on Facebook
  • Finding a kids' game in the App Store that actually works and is not a scam for in-app purchases
  • Reading books on the iPhone in bed - no bedside light required
  • Night driving
  • Making CDs for your kids by copying songs from iTunes or other CDs, which gives them hours of pleasure for your half-hour investment
  • Finding a new blog or online magazine from a link in something else, that then becomes one of your new reads
  • Blog communities: linking up or joining in memes and themes
  • Effortlessly keeping up just the right amount of connectedness to acquaintances thanks to Facebook
  • Finding Ipanema thongs (flip-flops) on sale
  • An unexpectedly dark, clear night where thousands of stars and the Milky Way are visible from your front lawn

  • Finding a head lice product that actually gets rid of head lice (Full Marks Head Lice Solution)
  • Rediscovering museums, art galleries and libraries - places we used to go to and somehow don't very often, these days
  • Quiet time in the morning before anyone else gets up
  • Finding excellent e-books for less than $10

  • Finishing an e-book and releasing it didn't contain any spelling or grammatical errors
  • Taking a break from electronic reading and savouring the pleasure of a book, magazine or newspaper on paper

What are your modern life small pleasures?

Jan 21, 2014

Dear Pixar

Dear Pixar,

You make great movies. You really do. Up, Monsters Inc, the Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, WALL-E: all fantastic.

I just have one request, and it's not just mine; my daughter wishes it too. 
This is the request:

Can you do a movie with a girl protagonist? 

I know you're owned by Disney, and I know THEY do plenty of girls, but see, they're not NEUTRAL girls they way Pixar protagonists are neutral boys. The Disney girls are all beautiful, princessy and plucky. They're either princesses who want to be more than princesses, or girls who don't know they are princesses. They are the kind of game, doesn't-know-she's-beautiful heroine that has plagued girls' stories forever. (I love Tangled, but you KNOW what I'm talking about).

In contrast, the hero of every Pixar movie is Just A Boy. He's not special, or handsome, or a lost prince or a particular personality. He's just a boy. He can drive the story and be the star and every kid can relate to him because he's not spelled out or limiting in any way. Boys in stories can be that, you see. Because most writers are men they create a kind of neutral, go-to story protagonist who's Everykid.  When those same writers create a girl, they are suddenly creating someone "different", who is not Everykid. Hence all the lost princesses, the beauties, or the tomboys.

Can we have girls that are just Everykids? 

Not princesses. Not beauties. Not tomboys. Just kids. Who are girls.

If you're not sure how to do that, try this:

Write your next movie, starring your usual boy hero. Then after you've written it go back and change all the pronouns from he, him and his to she, her and hers.

Then get your illustrators to make the smallest number of changes possible to change their drawing from a boy to a girl. It should just be a matter of face and hair, in most cases.

A girl wearing jeans is not a tomboy. She's just a girl wearing jeans.

Can you try that - maybe?

Because I think that would be very cool.

If you want to see what that might look like, please take a look at the only two movies I know of which have "neutral girl" protagonists:  Coraline and Matilda.

You know what though - even those two use the girl's name as the name of the movie, which I don't think they would if the star had been a boy, so they're not entirely neutral. (The girl's name as the story name means the girl is "special"). But within the movie itself, I think both of those get this right.

My daughter was at first curious, and is now increasingly irritated, at why every movie has a boy as "the kid" in it. When she asks me about it, or voices her irritation, that's one thing. But worse is when she is bewildered and even - not to over-dramatise what may seem a trivial issue - a little hurt by it, and she asks me why this is how things are. Then I have to explain things to her that I wish were not the truth, and I say "this will change" and I really hope it's changing already and she doesn't have to wait until she's grown up and write these movies herself for things to actually change.

I know there are more pressing problems in the world and compared to them this is not a big deal. But it's an annoying thing, and it should be easy to fix.

So, if you could give this a go (and NOT name the movie after the girl in it) it would be much appreciated here.

P.S. Can you also please pass this letter on to Dreamworks, Sony Pictures and Paramount when you're done.

Thanks very much.

Jackie, A and M.

Jan 19, 2014

Sunday Selections #155

It's time for Sunday Selections!
Sunday Selections is a weekly meme hosted by River at Drifting Through Life. 

The rules are very simple:-
1. post photos of your choice, old or new, under the Sunday Selections title
2. link back to River somewhere in your post
3. leave a comment on River's post and visit some of the others who have posted and commented: for example:
    Andrew at High Riser
    Gillie at Random Thoughts From Abroad

This week I have no theme; these are some recent photos I like.

What else to do during last week's record heatwave, than to head to the beach every evening at 8pm?  Heaven.

The week before last we went as a family to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The kids loved the adventure of going to a grown-up movie with Mum and Dad, and coming home at midnight. Here they are skipping happily through the carpark after the movie.

From one extreme to the other: last week I took them to The Cat In The Hat (play) at the Arts Centre. It was very well done, but too young for the girls. I knew it would be but it was fairly cheap and I thought they'd still like it. Their verdict was pretty much "meh" - but they loved the free show on outside (The Chipolatas), which were excellent.   

An unknown rapt audience member

Back home:
We've been in this house 9 years, and I had never noticed till now how the back of my beautiful kitchen window looks. Huh.

You learn something new every day.

Lastly, some more tiny flowers (one a weed but it's still a flower).

Jan 13, 2014

10 ways humans and dogs are like each other

Dogs are great company, because we GET each other. That's because we're similar. All the things we love about dogs are things we enjoy in other humans, too. And the things we make fun of dogs for, we are guilty of as well.

Here are ten ways that dogs are like humans, or humans are like dogs:

1. We can't handle economic surplus.

Most humans can't, and you know it. How often, when you got a better paying job, did you think "I'm going to save the extra money". And how often did you actually do that?

Dogs also are of the "If there's extra, eat it all now!" life philosophy.  Sure, they'll bury a bone sometimes, just as humans will save money sometimes. But it doesn't happen every day.

2. We live for love.

We love our cats, but we kind of know they don't really love us back the same way. We love our dogs BECAUSE they love us back.

3. We get overly attached. But we can also (usually) move on when things change.

Dogs LOVE their owners. They will be very upset and will pine for their owners if they lose them. But in most cases, they will get over the loss and will form a new bond with a new owner, just as strong as the last. When I was a kid we had a black Labrador called George. He was the Best Dog Ever. He was loving, gentle, and smart. He loved us, especially my dad. When we moved to LA we had to give him away. He went to live with another family. A year later my dad went to visit him. He was overjoyed to see my dad, and gave him a warm slobbery welcome - and then went happily back to sit at the feet of his new dad.

Humans too, by and large, get over losing a partner and form an attachment to a new one. Which is as it should be.

4. We get jealous.

Another part of being suckers for love. We both get jealous when our special people cosy up to someone else.

5. We love ball games. (Well, when I say "we" I mean other humans, obviously)

Photo: invalid_argument/Flickr

Photo: NCReedplayer/Flickr

Mongolian ball game by Jeanne Menjoulet & Cie / Flickr

Photo: Jeff Shapiro / Flickr

Photo: Karah Levely-Rinaldi /Flickr

Photo: Russ Anderson / Flickr

Incidentally, there is a whole subset of photos on Flickr of people playing ball games next to signs that say NO BALL GAMES. I didn't realise so many public places banned ball throwing.

6. We like routine. 

Yes we do. Even though we also love adventure and recklessness, we crave and get comfort from routine. Whether we get up at the same time every day, sit in the same carriage on the train every morning, frequent the same few cafes, have a favourite chair, or read the same newspaper/visit the same sites every day, we are all attached to some level of routine.

Routine is a big part of what helps kids feel secure.

Routine is part of dogs' lives too.

When I get up in the morning, my dog Harry is a coiled spring, watching my every move and jumping up at me, until I put on my shoes and say "Do you want to go for a walk?" Then he goes briefly mental, cries with excitement, shivers in anticipation, and bolts for our very short (very short) run, and settles into our walk. When we get home he waits for his chewy treat, eats a mouthful of breakfast, laps up some water and flops down on the ground while I sit on a chair outside.

This morning routine is good for us both.  (And it's also keeping me on track for my January resolution).

7. We love the wind in our hair.

Photo: Anniruddha Sen Gupta/Flickr

Photo: Ko:(char*)hook/Flickr

8. We have been warped by our environments.

Humans have adapted very successfully to a range of environments, from the African steppes to the suburb-and-7-11. Unfortunately, we adapt in ways that don't help us, getting fatter and less fit where our environs allow it, unless we exert a lot of very difficult effort. And our canine friends get fat right along with us.  We have also bred our companions into all sorts of weird, wonderful and grotesque shapes, some of which are maladaptive (bulldogs that can't breathe, Alsatians with bad backs, tiny dogs that are too nervous to go out, huge dogs with short life spans). Our dogs now are further removed from wolves than we are from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. But we haven't had our best friends manipulating our gene pools for centuries; we've gone a bit slower on that on ourselves.

9. We both have a shame face.

You know that face politicians and sports people make in the news when they've been caught doing something wrong. Always this face:

Source unknown; thank you Internet!

That's not really a dog's shame face of course.

This is:

Photo: dogshaming.com

10. We both like trampolines!

Keep this video handy for next time you are feeling down.

Jan 7, 2014

The Antidote

I've just started reading The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. Mr Burkeman writes a column for The Guardian called This Column Will Change Your Life, which is one of my favourite reads.

In one of those columns he recently said: "Happiness is reality minus expectations."

There's been a bit of resistance to the "pursuit of happiness"/positive thinking paradigms in recent years, with books such as The Happiness Trap reminding us that trying to be happy seldom makes us happy and studies demonstrating the value of pessimism.  Work-related articles on the internet are finally starting to look beyond the whole "follow your bliss" theme we've been fed for some time. The only self-help book that I like, Maurice Seligman's Learned Optimism, espouses realistic strategies using cognitive behavioural therapy to combat depression and anxiety, and rejects the more common positive affirmations and mantras that tend to irk people like me.

I'm less than halfway through The Antidote, but I like it a lot.

Here are some excerpts that grabbed me:

That we yearn for neat, book-sized solutions to the problem of being human is understandable, but strip away the packaging, and you'll find that the messages of such works are frequently banal.

There are good reasons to believe that the whole notion of 'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with. For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place? Religions have never placed much explicit emphasis on it, at least as far as this world is concerned,; philosophers have certainly not been unanimous in endorsing it, either. And any evolutionary psychologist will tell you that evolution has little interest in you being happy.

This last reminded me of what a psychologist told me, when I told her about the anxiety I felt every day when my children were little, terrified something bad would happen to them; how I couldn't watch them play in the park without visualizing them falling off things. I was not terrified all the time, and I didn't stop them doing normal things, but I would have these constant intrusive visualizations and then feel annoyed with myself, or anxious. While I expected her to counsel me on how not to worry, she told me instead that my worrying was what was keeping my children safe. "Your brain is not interested in keeping you relaxed or making you happy," she said. Once I accepted that this worrying was there to stay, I was able to accept it.

On positive thinking:
...once you have resolved to embrace the ideology of positive thinking, you will find a way to interpret virtually any eventuality as a justification for thinking positively. You need never spend any time considering how your actions might go wrong.
And when bad things happen ("and such things will happen"):
Trying to see things in an exclusively positive light is an attitude that requires constant, effortful replenishment. Should your efforts falter, or prove insufficient...you'll sink back down into - possibly deeper - gloom.  

On 'positive visualization' as a way to achieve goals (a la The Secret):
...focusing on the outcome you desire may actually sabotage your efforts to achieve it.
...as the brain "subconsciously [confuses] visualising success with having already achieved it."

On outcomes:
[W]e habitually act as if our control over the world were much greater than it really is. Even such personal matters as our health, our finances, and our reputations are ultimately beyond our control

I think when it comes down to it, almost every philosophy we espouse is a way of convincing ourselves we can control what happens to us. We can do some things of course, and there's no benefit in being totally pessimistic and defeatist - but so, so much of what happens to us is down to luck.

That's no justification for inaction, just a way of looking at things and not shrinking from the bad:

'The cucumber is bitter? Put it down,' Marcus [Aurelius] advises. 'There are brambles in the path? Step to one side. That is enough, without also asking: "How did these things come into the world at all?"'

Of course, these philosophies are all easy from our part of the world, and when we're talking about the usual gamut of everyday trials and losses.   There are few among us who cannot ask "WHY?" when bad things happen. But I'm not a person who can totally embrace "positive thinking" and the type of philosophy this book promotes is indeed, for me, a good antidote.

What do you think?

Jan 6, 2014

Free hats

Four weeks later the kids still play with these hats and won't let me throw them away.

Jan 4, 2014

12 Resolutions

So, resolutions. I said I wouldn't make any this year (and then I more or less made one), but January always feels so new and optimistic that it is hard to resist.

So this year I'm playing along with #12Resolutions on Twitter and Facebook. The idea is to set yourself short-term, achievable goals, one each month.

My resolution for January is to walk 5 times a week.

That's it. Modest and achievable. When I walk the dog, that counts. If I do ten minutes on the treadmill, that counts. If I go for a short walk at lunchtime, that counts.

I can do this - easily.

I've already started.

I already have goals in mind for February and March, but none yet beyond that. I think this is how it's supposed to work. Setting and achieving modest goals kickstarts a change of attitude and new goals will present themselves.

If you would like to join in, use the hashtag #12Resolutions on Twitter, or ask to join Dr Bron's Facebook group 12 Resolutions. We'll all encourage each other!

Photo: Dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


January: walk 5 times a week


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...