Friday, October 2, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
I have been reading the proceedings of the conference on 'Happiness and its Causes' and am amazed to find out that life events account for only about 10% of the variance in people's subjective happiness levels. 50% is probably inherited and 40% is 'intentional activities'. This is based on over 20 years of research - it's fascinating. It seems we have a genetically predisposed 'set-point' of happiness (Andrew calls it the 'happy-hollard-leaving-the-door-open' thing with me). Just FYI the 6 key characteristics of happy people are:
investment in family and friends, helping others, practising optimism, savouring (see below), physical exercise and life-long ambitions. By manipulating three conditions researchers found they could boost subjective happiness: 1. 'count your blessings 2. perform random acts of kindness 3. cultivate optimism. This is from Sonya Lyubomirsky and extends the work of Martin Seligman who we all met in the seventies at Uni –
remember 'learned helplessness' or you can have a look at happiness.com!
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Beautiful day for a walk…running late as usual – parked in Coogee and got a cab to Bronte as I thought I'd miss the start of the walk. Thought I'd walk towards Bondi until I came across people jabbering in French. Look who I found!
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I have just learnt that the secret of happiness is to know how to savour. Happiest are those who take pleasure in the smallest details of experience, people who don't rush through life but who truly stop to 'smell the roses'. When I say I have just learnt, I mean that I have read it in a book, actually a fact sheet on Happiness from the Black Dog Institute where I'm working. Apparently now there is a science of happiness, which seeks to redress centuries of neglect while psychologists have been distracted studying the science of melancholia. Of course, I have always known this secret in my heart. From a young age I had only to observe my father as he inhaled freshly ground coffee beans or slipped us a 'tasty bit' of roast lamb as it was being served up. (My mother slapped our greedy fingers). My aunts, too, taught me to savour. One of my favourite aunts, eleven years older than I, invited me to a 'dinner party' – how grown up - when I was only sixteen, with my new boyfriend. She cooked carrot soup so delicious I still remember it thirty-three years on. We scraped out the carroty saucepan at the conclusion of that sophisticated evening. Another aunt served iced chocolates with real swirls, when everyone else's aunts plonked milk or cordial on the table. This particular aunt, yes, forty years on, is the envy of all my colleagues now; when I announce that I'm 'just off to her place for dinner', the jealous groans echo through the building. Somewhere along the line I must have learnt, too, to savour the freshness of fruit; my husband recalls a moment early in our relationship where he thought I must have had an orgasm biting into a fresh nectarine. The juice dripped down my chin and…well the rest is history…! The aunts taught me to savour moments too, it wasn't just food. Moments in life, in literature, in gardens, in relationships with their children, (my cousins, though much younger than me because of this half-generation thing). Moments of musing and contemplation and moments of great emotion, tragedies as well as blessed, wonderful things. I do wonder if this ability to savour can be a handicap, as well as bringing you the deepest of satisfactions in life. Surely the ability to experience fully and intensely works both ways. Almost twenty years ago, after I lost my first husband in an accident, and not long after our family had also lost a brother and son, I remember another 'aunt', actually a dear friend of my mother's, holding me and telling me that I had experienced something that no-one else in my circle of friends would ever quite understand. It could have sounded callous, as if to somehow top someone's else's personal tragedy was the game. But I knew what she meant. It was as if she understood that I had travelled to the furthest reaches of sadness, a double whammy that won the bad luck lottery, and that somehow as a result, I might one day be a more compassionate person, able to return understanding when it might be needed.
That was a while ago now, and I have learnt that happiness is not the exclusive domain of those who have never suffered. And to all those aunts, I am grateful (bless their cotton socks). Thank you for passing on this ancient art. I hope to pass it on to my own…
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"Dear Jenny, Michael and Jane,
We'd like to invite you to be the resident writers in LongLines Community
Week for 2009. The week takes place 19-24 October and this year we're doing
it differently from previous years. The model for this week is what we're
calling the Writing Week writers working on their writing during the day,
and in the evening coming together for conversation, sharing the experience
of writing, the problems that are always so individual and yet always so
relevant and illuminating for other experiences. As well as yourselves, we
will be inviting two Blue Mountains residents to join in the Varuna
residency experience. We will invite practising writers from the community
to join in one of the evening conversations, and during the week Thursday
most likely we will have a public event in the Varuna lounge-room a
presentation of the individual writers to the Varuna community."
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
I guess commuting can be a bit inconvenient if you have extra baggage. Fitting overnight bags if you have to catch a plane after work, as you do now and then, is a bit of a trial on the older trains – no real overhead space and you will get lots of glares if you try and take up an extra seat with your stuff. I catch the UNSW bus from Redfern – there we are greeted in the morning by a friendly young pierced guy in one of those yellow safety vests and a beanie, whose job it seems is to write down the numbers of the users of the buses to UNSW. He seems to know us all almost by name, and it’s really quite nice to arrive, slightly out of breath from your run from the station and be greeted for your morning trip across to Randwick. He tells you that you should have brought your gloves this morning or that you just have time to zip to the ATM or get a coffee. The bus drivers are also especially friendly. This morning we had the luxury coach and we were treated to Sarah Brightman in Las Vegas. “I’ll go around the block if you want to finish the show” he says. “It’s my favourite.” One time I had a few things I needed to deliver to Seb at UNSW. Some op shop clothes for his latest fancy dress social, and some posters in tubes. My cousin who’d babysat our house had also left the metal rod from his ute, so I thought I may as well make a meal of it and take them all at once. Manipulating the metal rod was interesting on the train and especially at Redfern, but I didn’t get arrested. It called for a few comments from the friendly pierced fellow and the bus driver. The latter kindly let me drop it off to Seb on my way to my stop, so I wouldn’t have to take it all the way to work (up the very steep hill from UNSW). The bus pulled in at the first UNSW stop where I spotted Seb waiting as instructed, we quickly made the handover (op shop clothes, shoes, poster tube and metal rod), then I jumped back on the bus. Who says it can’t be done? It saved a whole wasteful trip in the car, all those greenhouse gases, parking hassles and petrol. I love commuting!
Monday, May 4, 2009
I have something to get off my chest. This is before I even start to talk about all the wonderful things we’ve been doing - etc etc. It is not for nothing that psychologists rate moving house as among the most stressful of life events, pipped I think only by death of a spouse, child or other cataclysm. I know I am not the only human being to have experienced the joys of communicating with Australia’s major telecommunications provider, but if my story makes anyone else feel that they are not completely alone then I will have achieved two good things.
It starts with needing to get the telephone connected. The house hasn’t ever had one so we start from scratch. No problems, I get in nice and early, as soon as we anticipate a moving date. Gives them at least two weeks to get the process rolling along. After about ten days, well, I think, perhaps there has been a small hitch, since I haven’t heard from the pre-wiring technician, the one we need to start it all rolling. Okay, no drama, I call to enquire as to when it is likely that we will hear from a contractor regarding the pre-wiring, which we have already ordered but seems to have got lost in the system. Oh, I’m sorry there seems to have been a miscommunication, and I will send that request straight away, I do apologise, we’ll get that happening straight away. I’m cool, I’m polite, these things can happen (but we’ve just lost ten days in the rolling out process….) No worries. This time the contractor is prompt – someone has obviously put the wind up him about the delay in contacting him – as if it’s his fault! But he is also very busy and can’t come for ten days. Okay, no worries. I can wait. We’ve been waiting two months already without effective communications, what’s another (two times) ten days? Actually the contractor is very efficient – he turns up four days early to dig the trench – fantastic! Perhaps he detected the rising note of (polite) impatience in my voice…whatever, he turns up cheerfully on the Monday and gets all the pre-wiring done. Fantastic. Because of this I think, perhaps I’ll risk a call to see if I can get an earlier connection of the phone – after all, it’s been two months (and two times ten days). Of course it costs a fortune to call the “they will remain nameless telco” on a mobile so I brave the wet stormy weather and call from a phone box in the main street – I have to wait about 50 minutes but yes! I have my early connection arranged for the Friday instead of the Monday, again fantastic as I have to start work that week and I need to change over the registration for the car and be home anyway for the glass splashback installer guy that day etc etc….anyway, the day arrives. The connection guy calls (on the mobile) in the morning to ask whether we have a connection. Excuse me? Aren’t you the one doing the connection? The pre-wiring has to be done first so that you can do the next thing, yes? My cro-magnon intelligence about telecommunications only allows me minimal understanding of things to this point, only what they tell you when you call up to ask about the roll out of the process. No, no connection yet, sorry you might have to physically turn up on the premises (as pre-ordered, but never mind, small detail). So the guy arrives. First he asks what the pre-wiring chap has done. Excuse me? I don’t know, hasn’t he told you? I just want the phone connected, please. Ah, but that’s not my job, says the guy. Sorry, what is your job? I thought it was to do the connection. But I can’t step over the threshold of the house or I have to charge you $60 per quarter of an hour. Well, how, may I ask, do you sort out the connection if you are not allowed to step over the threshold of the house? I’m polite. I’m patient. What’s another few days (I suppose I can work around the fact that I can’t be home next week...) Take a deep breath. Stay polite. In the mean time the guy is pulling apart the boxes and searching for wires under the house and scratching his head and it doesn’t look too promising. It must be the pre-wiring guy’s fault, the connection guy claims. Or the electrician. He must have done some faulty wiring. Now hang on. Whose fault is it? Can’t you come inside and check the telephone connection, like inside the house? Oh no, you have to understand it from my point of view, it’s not my responsibility - what to connect the phone? Sorry, I have missed something fundamental here. It’s not your responsibility to connect the phone? Can I ask whose responsibility it is? I turn on my heel (yes, perhaps I am a little less than polite at this point) to call the electrician (I’ve already spoken to the pre-wiring guy who assures me he has done his bit.) The guy who is installing the glass in the kitchen calls out (I thought he was a wordless wonder but it turns out he can grunt) that the connection guy is waiting at the threshold of the house and, though he really shouldn’t, he is willing to cross it to check the connection in the house. I try and smile. Unfortunately he has to come in to my messy bedroom, and move my dressing table where I was sorting out all those stupid stockings I don’t know why I brought with me. This is a little embarrassing. Anyway, he dismantles the plug at the point and checks the connections. Amazing, he has to join a little red wire and a little black wire and hey presto, we have a connection. That, apparently wasn’t his responsibility. But putting all that aside, eureka, we have a phone connection and I can now give him his box of matches so he can have a fag and disappear from my life forever. But it is not over yet. There is more.
The internet modem package, ordered at the same time as the phone still hasn’t arrived. I get Andrew to call, since he ordered it – the account is under his name. After forty-five minutes he establishes that no, unfortunately something has gone astray in the communications and the package hasn’t been dispatched. So, no worries, we re-order (politely). What’s the worry? We’ve only been waiting a few weeks, a few months, what’s a few more days? Of course then it’s Easter and we’re away but finally we get the package on our return. Great – I have Seb to set it all up and visitors who know a thing or two. But no connection. Sigh, I have to call the helpline. I prepare myself, make sure I have a free afternoon (whoever has that, but, at least a good hour). After forty five minutes with the fellow from Mumbai, terribly polite, I am told he cannot continue with the call as I am not the authorized account holder, Andrew Goldsmith, is. What! I say? But you’ve been trying to help me for 45 minutes! How can you say I’m not the account holder? I’m sorry but there is an authorization failure he reports. But I share the same bed with Andrew Goldsmith! Are you going to tell me you can’t continue with the telephone support? Unfortunately I accidentally cut him off as I am trying to configure the line splitter while talking completely ineffectually with him. I am not too concerned as I think he had run out of options to help me and actually didn’t know how to wriggle out of the conversation. I take in a deep breath. I still have twenty minutes before I have to be somewhere else. I’ll try again. Oh, says the helpful woman from Malaysia, as she puts me through to code activation woman (in Australia, amazingly) (she had to call Andrew Goldsmith to verify that we do sleep in the same bed) - you just have to have the ADSL codes activated on the exchange. We can get that done for you on Thursday (it is Monday now). What’s the worry? Another four days won’t matter will it? Of course, it’s too logical for that to be ordered with the internet package, isn’t it? That might be asking a bit much. I’m told that they ‘stuff it up’ if they order the codes at the same time as the home package. No worries, I’m polite, it will all happen in good time. They have to actually physically go up to the exchange and put them on. But they will be activated by Thursday (she gives me the number to call in case, which makes me suspicious). So Thursday evening comes and I try again to connect. No dice. Who else can ring instead of me? I have plugged and unplugged and stuck their stupid help-me CD in the computer at least four times (“Take the CD_ROM out of this self-install kit and pop it into your computer. It’s that simple”) and I am the only one who knows what I have done in the sequence and what will not be done again (no matter how many times they tell me to unplug the cords and restart my computer). It has to be me, so I phone again. This time I get a not so nice chap from Mumbai and he is not at all patient and I am trying to be very patient with him but he is really testing it (to be fair, perhaps I am starting to test him). After he tells me that it is obviously a problem with my computer and I should just restart it, he hangs up on me. He seriously hangs up on me. He puts me on hold but he never comes back. In the mean time I have restarted my computer and the internet still doesn’t work. Now it is after hours but I am determined to get this happening, so I call and this time I get a robot. The robot tells me to check this and that and to ping and to restart and all sorts of clever things for a robot, he/it even goes ‘hmm, let’s try something else’ when it doesn’t work for the ninth time, but we can’t get a connection. By this stage I have lost it completely and go to bed. At least the robot was polite.
The next morning I figure I’ll try the laptop and see if the chap from Mumbai is right, that it is the fault of my computer and therefore my fault really for a being a stupid human being. The laptop does work, hurray! So I know it is just a matter of getting the settings right. I call back (amazingly the robot puts me straight though to a technician after asking me if I have already called about this problem and I speak to a lovely Malaysian woman and I am very polite and the story has a happy ending.
We have communication.
Friday, March 13, 2009
When you arrive in a city where you know just three people it can of course be a challenge to get to know some more. Andrew has a knack – because of his tentacle-like brain organisation that manages to find connections between people (and ideas), sometimes when none even exist! – of finding people and connections in the strangest of places and ways. He tells me about the guy he met on the plane whose aunty is related to his biology teacher at school…that kind of thing. We have found it actually quite fun seeing if we know anyone when we walk into a place. The first time this happened was at our favourite little café in Austinmer – the Fireworks café, where the chef (who used to live in Magill) has a monthly gourmet evening. This was our first night out in the region, and it was a Greek smorgasbord. We even got a babysitter as we thought we’d go out to the Rolling Stones cover band later (that we’d heard about at the Keyes, Cotton and Morris concert we went to on the first Sunday we were here - where we bumped into the weed man who advertises on the roadside on the way to Andrew’s work and Zoltan who spotted Andrew’s rolling stones shine a light T-shirt and sent us an invite to his show…). So we walk into the café, or rather, we sit out on the pavement as it is a beautiful balmy evening and we have the dramatic escarpment in front of us and the sound of the ocean just down the road. We have just finished our main course and a colleague of Andrew’s walks past with his family…(I told you we only knew 3 people in the region at that point!). I thought this only happened in Adelaide. Later at the pub we bump into another of Andrew’s colleagues and his wife – OK – that’s not so surprising, but three days later we walk into a Chinese restaurant and there are three of the Chinese Policemen he has just met the previous evening over here studying…well even that is not so surprising in a Chinese restaurant of course (they told us the best one to go to down the road…). We have had perfect strangers invite us to dinner – friends of friends in Adelaide. Very kind. Jack also has a knack. We go to the basketball stadium to try to join him up as there was no school team and just as he is folding his arms and saying he is not going to give it a go, no way, two of his TIGS mates come over, put their arms around him and jostle him into playing! Yesterday, scootering along the sea promenade he bumped into one of his little friends from school with his family and then last night, when Marinella, over to teach in Andrew’s course for a few days, joined us to eat out (at a lovely little restaurant overlooking the ocean), Jack walks in and another of his mates is sitting there with his dad - who owns the restaurant. We went to a special screening of a French film at Anita’s theatre in Thirroul (happens every two months or so). There was a stack of people. And yes, there was that real estate agent who has been faithfully pursuing us and who would love us to buy one of her houses (too late…) Actually I met the other faithful agent at Jack’s swimming carnival – she spotted me – which was good of her as we eventually have bought our house through a private sale despite all her hard work! As for me, I don’t have maybe as many possibilities to meet people, being not yet a full time member of the ranks of the employed, but I have twice had conversations about people I don’t even know, who are known by two separate and unrelated people that I also know…if you get what I mean! Like, at Uncle Tom’s 80th birthday at the RAA club off circular quay, I am sitting having a lovely conversation with a woman who knew the parents of someone in psychology at Wollongong Uni. When she mentioned the name – a very distinctive name, I immediately remembered the conversation I’d had with my physio in Adelaide, who had mentioned her cousin was partnered to someone of that same name…and they lived in Austinmer! Another woman came over to say she wanted to talk to me because I looked like I had a friendly face (that was nice!) and that she had heard we were moving to Thirroul, where her son lives – he works at UNSW and commutes in from Thirroul (something I might consider if I get a job in Sydney) - they live in the same street as Jack’s little friend (the first one to invite him over) and has two boys aged 9 and 11. I write all these names down in my little black Moleskin carnet that Ann-Marie gave me, as they will come in handy when I drop in to the psychology department at Wollongong Uni and ask for the chap, and let him know that he doesn’t know me, and I don’t know him but we both know two different people who know him and his partner…! But perhaps you have to be desperate to do this and I’m not feeling that desperate yet! You do of course meet people when you work and I’m sure that will all happen in the fullness of time…a house to move and settle into first, and a novel to edit – making some progress on that! On Monday we played tennis - we joined Wollongong tennis club for the social comp - and have since played and beaten some youngsters (OK – only division 2)! But apart from that we met a very nice woman in our team who works in a community legal centre and writes a column in the Mercury – the Wollongong daily. We had some interests in common – she’s interested in creative journalism. Of course it turns out she is well connected with the Law Faculty at Wollongong and everyone knows her there. And then one of our opponents is a parole officer who studied psychology and criminal justice at Bathurst – Andrew mentioned she might have studied his text book, and yes, sure enough, she had! (but then, he is famous, so we get to expect that!)
I guess all this ambling around is getting to the point that if you are open to it, you do tend to find points of connection with people, wherever you wash up in life! And that we are just meant to be connected as human beings. It’s easier when you work of course, when you don’t, there is always the P and F and school canteen (which I have always strenuously resisted, somewhat shamefacedly – Jack would love it…
And in the mean time, just observing is fun. I love going down to the beach at North Wollongong – there is a bikeway that goes through the park and all along the beach front, sort of like an Australian Riviera! Last week I rode my bike from Towradgi to the lighthouse at Wollongong Harbour (about 3 k) and this is what I saw: the surf life savers having a family bbq on the reserve, kids scootering and biking along the path as well as the more serious cyclists and joggers with their mp3 players and sweat, a group of seriously competitive Croatians all set up with their armchairs and picnic tables, playing whatever is their equivalent of the Italian bocce or the French pétanque, sky divers floating down onto the reserve, ‘Savvies’ fitness group members boxing each other, a group of touch footballers playing, another group of beach volleyballers enjoying a dusk game, a huge group of Spanish-Australians squabbling and ordering their fish and chips and gelati at Levendi’s, a family group sitting along the foreshore with Dad passing around the bong, a small team of surf life savers taking out their sleek little black rowing boat, pelicans and a small grey heron, lots of lizards (blue-tongues and quite large geckoes) a rabbit, two horseriders along the beach, countless pooches of many different breeds… I think that was all…!
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Went up on the train to Sydney today...had lunch in the Rocks with Mum, Dad Bronte, Amelia and James - it was lovely. Train trip back through Helensburgh was magnificent - the train hugs the side of the mountain high up, moving through lush rainforest and overlooking these beautiful bays and dramatic coastline...fantastic! If I had to work in Sydney it mightn't be so bad if you had that to see as you travelled...and you can listen to podcasts or the radio and read uninterrupted...