When your buttons are pushed

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons you just have to abandon your adult sensibilities and join forces with your  inner child.          Shannyn Steel

Every now and then someone comes along and pushes all your buttons.  Those great big red buttons, best used in case of emergencies. The ones best avoided due to the inevitable ugliness that can arise. Sometimes those very same people push those very same buttons on a seemingly regular occurrence.  The worst button pushers, in my book, are the stealthy ones.  The ones who won’t actually confront you, who actively avoid direct contact with you but make a raft of comments to others, provide input when you are not present and actively and subtly undermine you.  They just seem to make those comments, dismiss and devalue you and your work in a calm, off-handed yet deeply cutting way.  Their many small jibes, combined, are as strong and powerful as an upfront all out attack. Those buttons, once pushed, can send you reeling, into an internal rage or plummeting into an abyss of self-doubt and torture.

Of course, psychologists, and those whose buttons haven’t been pushed in the moment, will tell us the other person cannot make us feel a particular way, it’s our choice how we react to the momentum they use to push our buttons. They are, after all, our buttons.  I agree and good advice suggests we attend to our buttons.

My first question in situations like this is always – where am I at fault?  Is there some justification for the way this person is behaving (not that I condone bullying but behaviour happens in a context). It’s hard to stay calm and so terribly easy to dissolve into a trade of unpleasantness, behind the person’s back. But it’s wise not to go there, apparently (but by golly it does feel good to let it all out with a trusted friend). Sage advice also suggests we avoid confrontation.  I’m onboard with that, though taking a direct and civil approach has yielded good outcomes for me in the past.

When calm reason fails, peacemaking doesn’t work and the professional advice just don’t cut it, I abandon my adult sensibilities and join forces with my inner child.

I actively avoid my inner child as a rule but she comes out to play, in ways never intended by the gurus, coaches and psychologists, when flummoxed by a button pusher and when I’ve failed to deal with my own buttons. At times like these, thank goodness they don’t happen often, I feel my demeanour slip and I slide dizzyingly into a place where biting, kicking, stamping and yelling feel like the best course of action.  Of course, this isn’t entirely appropriate in many settings (mind you, I haven’t actually succumbed and staged this drama for real) but no one else sees the montage playing in my head, right!  The physical and mental relief that would flow from a good old tantrum might just have a much-needed transformative effect.  That got me thinking about healthy ways adults could unleash the inner beast of frustration in socially acceptable ways.

Running is good.  People tell me drinking helps them but that doesn’t meet the healthy criteria (and this was all about avoiding self punishment), getting out in nature and sitting on the grass under a tree rates highly, walking too. Writing your frustrations is suggested by many (hey, I’m a genius and didn’t know it).  Talking to a friend and a myriad of other great tips exist to relieve the frustration and stress of a situation.

Exercise and physical movement get high marks by a lot of sources.  I guess we all knew that, though in a light bulb moment the realisation dawned that if our emotions, our stress, our anxiety can trigger chemical reactions which effect our physical health causing inflammation, a weakened immune system and more, then reversing the equation could have a similarly positive effect. Combined with the instinctual need to throw a tantrum I hit upon the single best outlet for dealing with the aftermath of your buttons being pushed.

When peacemaking doesn’t work and you can’t deal with the button pusher, or your own buttons. When you can’t seem to move on and things are weighing you down and you just have to punch the shit out of something;  go a round with a boxing bag. You can hit and kick and yell and grunt and flay about until you have nothing left to give. It’s acceptable adult behaviour, and it’s a damned good salve for a raging mind, a wounded heart and a dinted ego. Plus, there are a whole raft of physical benefits from the release of endorphins. A good old round with a boxing bag can not only reduce the stress that’s mounted but stave off anxiety, boost self-esteem and improve sleep too.

Have you stumbled on any unique and successful ways to cope with an awkward situation and regain your equilibrium?

On a serious note: if you are experiencing workplace bullying or are in a difficult situation, don’t ignore it.  It won’t go away on its own.  Seek the assistance of the workplace advisor, a health care professional or a skilled and trusted colleague. 

 

 

Underground arias

“The aria, after all, is the soul of opera.”
— Richard Strauss

A phone call from my son sent me on a fact-finding expedition. We had spoken about an upcoming event in the limestone caves of Rockhampton, a north Queensland regional town. It was opera, a form of entertainment neither of us have fully explored before but one that intrigued us given the venue.

Keen to know more I headed to Google and discovered Brisbane Underground Opera. The company began in 2007 and perform not only in the caves but in abandoned buildings, mines, tunnels and airport hangers. An event was scheduled in my city in a heritage listed water reservoir. A place I had passed a week or so before on my Churches and Shrines walk. I bought a ticket.

The Springhill reservoirs, there were two I learnt, were not always covered by the odd-looking orange hut like structures that are there now. Built in the late 1800’s the set in-ground reservoirs provided water for the city of Brisbane  until 1962. Abandoned for nearly 50 years by almost everyone expect the homeless, misguided teenagers and possums, the site was reopened in 2014 by the Brisbane Underground Opera.  A most unlikely and extraordinary venue —once filled with water it is now filled with song and sound and joy. The space has been transformed and the experience is transformative.

One enters the chamber from above, down a rigged scaffold staircase. My first impression on entering this historical site was of wonder for the marvelous structure and architecture. The interior features columns and brick arches. A small stage in the centre provides a focal point. Clever lighting cast blue hues creating an interesting mood. Projected images of water bubbles cast upon the walls provided a reference to the history of the venue.

It’s an intimate setting, which allows the audience close access to the performers. I was the second row from the front, in the north wing, and could have reached out and touched the performers, so close was my seat. It is a theatre in the round design that works well. Performers adeptly played to the four sides and filled the space with their voices, sans microphones. As you’ve guessed there are no full-blown operas performed here with staging and sets, rather various arias. Let me not diminish the entertainment value and the clever use of minimal props to create stories for the audience. The cast had not only wonderful voices but also a keen sense of humour and delightful stage presence.

The performance I attended was a compilation of arias from a range of Operas and stage shows. Those featured included La Traviatta, Sweeny Todd, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, The Mikado, Phantom of the Opera and The Gondoliers. A good first time introduction I think. The surrounding brick walls, arches and tunnels provided arresting acoustics. A number of times I closed my eyes to shut out the visual input and absorb the elegance of being wrapped in sound.

This experience has not a convert to Opera made, though I would be keen to attend another event in the caves and an abandoned castle a short drive away. Carols in the reservoir sounds like something I’d like on my bucket list for this year too. The ambiance of a place adds much to the experience. The outstanding talent of the performers is something I can definitely appreciate.

Have you attended an event in an unlikely venue that has left a lingering memory?

Remembering and giving thanks

The bugle is sounded; it’s playing The Last Post.
The diggers spring to attention when they hear that mournful note.
They have two minutes silence.
You don’t hear a sound.
That’s in respect for the soldier in the ground.

The diggers wear a flower, the poppy is red
They throw it in the grave when a soldier he is dead.

Joe McSweeny – Soldier

 

War 1914

What a mug I have been
fighting in the war for the Queen
trying to dodge the enemy lead
jumping over the stinking dead.
Someone said you got good pay;
the mighty sum of four bob a day.

You chase the enemy day and night
strike me lucky, they give you a fright.
There are bursting shells of every type,
this goes on all the night.
I feel so crook and half fed,
I’d give a quid for a night in bed.
My legs are aching, my feet are sore
I have a toothache and a very sore jaw.

The Sergeant said, “In you go.”
The trenches is cold and covered in snow.
You shake and shiver to early morn
Out you hop, over the top, at the break of dawn.
Now the big guns boom and bark
they send big shells out in the dark.

Now the Diggers brave and true,
they hop over the top, same as you.
They fight the enemy, they were brave,
the hungry Digger without a shave.
Now they laugh and give a cheer
we would give a quid for an Aussie beer.

The soldier’s life it’s like being in hell
They take him out and give him a spell
They march him round and he is feeling fine
Seven days later, he is back in the line.

The Aussie boys are fighting machines,
They proved that by beating the enemy at the city of Messines,
In the trenches in Belgium and on the fields to the south
They Howitzer the enemy and bayoneted them out.

Now the war is over you can hear people say
‘Thanks to the Diggers, we will keep it that way’.

The bloke that wrote this was a backwoods kid
Everybody laughed at whatever he did.
Now he is old, his hair is grey
and if he was writing for money he would starve the next day.

Now you have heard my prattle and chatter,
No wonder I am as mad as a hatter.

Joe McSweeny

The bloke who wrote this was my great-grandfather.  A quiet and gentle man when I knew him.  He wrote a few ‘poems’ about his time in the war and while there are only several pages of notes and few words the essence, between the larrikin humour and the now political incorrectness, reveals a horror I hope never to face.

Lest we forget.

For peace of mind, focus on the small spaces in-between

Image

The simple things bring lasting pleasure

Notice the small things. The rewards are inversely proportional.
Liz Vassey

Pausing the monkey mind was once a major priority for me. The constant chatter was deafening and debilitating. A wise woman shared with me a strategy; focus on the silence between the Oms in meditation.  It worked.  Those tiny spaces, for a breath, between the rhythmic chanting allowed my mind to rest and I eventually turned down and tuned out the monkey mind.

Today I see a great need to soothe nervous tension and anxiety, whether caused by work related stress or the result of too many responsibilities and expectations.  A great many people are being pulled into the eddy of chronic psychological dis-ease. Without discounting the support of professionals there may be a way we can help ourselves to resurface and recreate a more joyful life, using a similar strategy as described above. Instead, the attention would be on the small moments of joy between the larger grey periods.  Leader in the field of positive-psychology Marty Seligman, found that by consciously focusing our attention on what we want more of in life we increase our chance of getting it.  So turn your attention away from what you don’t want and see the things you do.  This is tough when you feel overwhelmed, on edge, lacking energy or can’t leave the house. So start small.

A posy of home-grown flowers from a friend, watching birds and animals in the wild (substitute garden), the soft ache of used muscles at the end of a long walk. These things bring me joy. As do following the path of a balloon as it rises into the sky until it is no longer visible or spotting a brightly coloured bush flower in a sea of green undergrowth as well as taking a moment to appreciate the magic of a giant tree soaring overhead while feeling the texture of its bark.  Filling the house with warm and soothing aromas on a cold, wet afternoon while baking cookies and brewing chai tea, the sound of a child’s laughter,  a smile from a stranger. These are the pauses in between.

Peace can be ours. We can rebuild joyful lives and it need cost nothing. Harmony can be restored. These things can be ours if we appreciate the many small moments in life. The first step is to notice. Notice where you focus most of your attention and refocus it if necessary.

My plans went awry today and it was great!

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh

Wilderness places and the natural world are antidotes for an anxious mind and tired body. I went for a drive today.  It was longer than expected ― the way was blocked by a landslide close to my destination. I rerouted, the long way, and after more hours than intended I arrived high up in the hinterland where a cool breeze whispered around my body and danced in my hair.

I set out with the intention of shrugging off months of overwork and brain drain on a 17 kilometre walk. Alas, it was not to be. The track was closed due to recent weather events and was unsafe. This was not shaping up to be the day or the soothing balm I had intended. Not to be deterred I opted for a much shorter though highly picturesque walk and drank in the gifts around me.

 

Making Modernism and me

Art has the power to transform, to illuminate, to educate, inspire and motivate. Harvey Fierstein

I have to confess, the majority of my favourite artists are men. Is it because there are fewer female artists or is it, as is the case with sport, that female artist have not enjoyed the same exposure as male artists or is it simply a gross carelessness on my part not to delve deeper and wider? Perhaps a combination of all three. The work of performance artist Marina Abramović, painter Margaret Ollie, sculptor Louise Joséphine Bourgeois move me. I am surrounded by female artists, many colleagues and friends are fine artists, sculptors, glass blowers, performers and I own art work by female artists. Yet, male artists seem to gain much space on gallery walls, in print and media. So I was excited, though unsure of what I would see, when I went along to the most recent exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery. Making Modernism is a combined exhibit of works by three female artists – Margaret Preston, Georgia O’Keeffe and Grace Cossington Smith.

Preston and Cossington Smith are Australian and O’Keeffe, American. The gallery space was intimate yet displayed a generous number of works by each artist making for a unique and pleasing experience.

I felt an immediate affinity with Preston and a familiarity with her work that I realised came from having explored the same places, tended the same flowers and photographed the same bush flora she depicts in her art. I was propelled back to a childhood home that had tongue in groove walls when admiring a still life, I knew the texture of the wild flowers and banksias, and I was surprised to see a painting titled White and Red Hibiscus dated 1925. I recently discovered a white hibiscus plant, a colour so rare, even my grandmother, an avid gardener had never seen.

I felt a comfort in viewing her work.  It is immediately very Australian, not only in the subject matter but the restricted colour palette which closely resembles the colours chosen by indigenous Australian artists. Her woodcuts are absorbing, her still lifes strong and potent.

Moving into the space reserved for Cossington Smith’s work I was taken from a tryst in nature to a celebration of the urban environment. Her work is post impressionistic. Her use of colour is energetic and elicits emotion. On seeing The Curve of the Bridge and The Bridge in Building I recalled Ashley Hay’s The Body in the Clouds, a novel that explores three intertwined stories from different times on the site where the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built.

Standing back and surveying the works there are a strong reflections of Van Gogh and Cezanne in a distinctly Australian setting. The effect was transformative and surreal.

The landscapes of New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona fascinate me. I wish to explore and roam those places. A short time with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work strengthened that desire. I felt a strong connection with her,  not through a familiarity of setting as it was with Preston but sensing a shared love of and affinity with nature. O’Keeffe, like me, was pulled by nature. Her landscapes are expansive, luminous and evocative of place. Her flowers bring us in intimate closeness with nature. Having a habit of narrowing in with the camera I enjoyed Canna Leaves and Corn No 2 for the detail. I responded quite emotionally to many of her works. The flowers were pleasing, Pelvis a stark, compelling portal and Black Place, Grey and Pink caused a fleeting, wrenching despair, I felt drawn into the void.

Three distinctive styles, three incredible women, three strong artists.  This was an enriching exhibition, well worth a visit.

Returning to Maycomb County


“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seethe.”  Isaiah 21:6

The release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman was a hot topic of conversation a couple of years ago.  I missed it.  Somehow I was otherwise distracted and so didn’t read anything about it or engage in any conversations other than the passing acknowledgement that it was available.

I came across a hardcover copy last year in a second-hand book store for $5:00.  It sat neglected for months until this last fortnight, when I could not settle into a book after reading a riveting crime novel.  Within moments of realising I was spending time with Atticus and Scout, I was drawn in and satisfactorily engaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s blockbuster, has long held a spot high on my list of favourite books.  Having to teach it to reluctant teenagers did not tarnish its lustre.  While I had a significant adjustment to make to the older Scout in Go Set a Watchman I was compensated by recollections of her childhood which provided a good and detailed account of the passage of time in the lives of many of the main characters.

My beloved Atticus, gentle, wise and honourable, who reminds me of my grandfather, was not as forward facing as I’d have liked.  And I’ll admit I was at first a little disoriented and confused by his portrayal, though I was delighted by the large roles of the critical and complex Aunt Zandra and the charming and captivating Uncle John.  I missed Jem and Dill and Calpurnia, though Lee cleverly fed me enough information to propel me forward.  This is not a novel about Atticus, neither perhaps was To Kill a Mockingbird though I made it so.  Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age novel about one Miss Jean Louise Finch. She probably narrated her 1930’s childhood summer at the age she appears in this current novel.

Though the narrative was disturbing and meandering it held my interest. It’s a powerful and brutal bildungsroman.  It’s a brutal coming of age for Scout and a brutal read for devotees who find the idyllic Maycomb ravaged and transformed by historical events.  The ample dialogue caused me some consternation and rereading when I confused speakers. The novel ends satisfactorily with an invitation for Scout to return to Maycomb, to join forces with others, who, through strength of character, righteousness and will, could set the moral compass for Maycomb and be the watchmen of the town.

What was your experience, returning to Maycomb County?

Satisfying wanderlust at home

Old Mill built 1829 by convict labour

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” ― Anatole France

My current situation does not allow for extended voyages across the sea to distant shores and yet my wanderlust must be sated.

A powerful desire to journey, to sightsee, to expand and grow saw me wandering my city on a very hot and muggy Sunday morning.  It was 33 degrees celsius and, I swear the  humidity was at 90% at 7am.  It was uncomfortable.  It would have been more sensible to stay at home in air-conditioned ease. I have been accused of being too sensible for so long now that I’m starting to resent the title and so, to spite myself, I went out to follow a trail that would take me to some of the interesting historical sites, churches and shrines in my city.

As an art lover I am as easily captivated by architecture as a painting on a gallery wall. I revel in the juxtaposition of old and new as my mind tries to make sense of history in a modern landscape.  I wonder at the skill and the talent of those who design and then build absorbing edifices.  I marvel at how function and aesthetics combine.

The trail did not take me to previously uncharted territory.  I was familiar with all the streets and lanes I found myself in, though wandering about on foot provides a different perspective from which to view the canvas. You notice things, you can take longer to appreciate the placement of structures in the environment. Being one of very few crazy people out on this particular Sunday, I had many places to myself for the majority of the walk.  What a rare treat in a busy city.

Brisbane was once noted for a particular domestic architecture dominated by timber houses, raised on high stumps with wide verandahs wrapped around the outside to catch the breeze. In contrast, many of the early public buildings were made of stone and brick; a reminder of English origins.  There has been some rapid and interesting changes in the architecture of Brisbane in the last twenty years but my focus on this particular morning was on the quaint buildings, quiet parks, and many charming churches and shrines located at the top end of the city, a hilly location, once a very fashionable residential area, that is now known for its many medical clinics.

Some of the churches were closed, others were filled with worshipers.  To avoid disrupting Mass by taking photographs, I plan to return during the week when, I was assured by church elders, I will be welcome to enjoy the space and take as many photos as I please.  En route I had a lovely conversation with a bus driver who, thinking I was lost, asked if I was visiting the city.  He was surprised to learn I had lived here for over 20 years and then revealed that he too enjoys wandering the city to take in her offerings.  He suggested a public art walk I hadn’t previously been aware of, that is now on my list of ways to satisfy wanderlust between trips.

What hidden gems would your city reveal if you had the time to wander about, on foot, with no other agenda than to absorb and notice? I’d be keen to hear how you satisfy your wanderlust when the itch arises but the timing isn’t right to travel.

Emma Miller Place

 

My polyester castle in the forest

My whinstone house my castle is, I have my own four walls.
                                                                        Thomas Carlyle

In my plans for this year I resolved to go on a solo overnight hike. I decided to experience life this year through being more adventurous, for me anyway.  Sometimes adventure is simply venturing out the front door and going some place new and sometimes adventure is, well, just what we expect adventure to be: an exploit or escapade.  I’m no newcomer to multi-day hikes but I usually embark on them with my beloved at my side. Going solo, a reckless escapade to some, is to me a compelling  imperative.

I am most at peace in nature and I have a thing for sleeping with my back to the earth, and while I love to share these experiences I want to experience something different.  I want to go it alone, to experience real surrender and solitude and to rely totally on myself, outside the normal routines of life. I am getting closer to my goal each day.

I bought my own tent last week. I’m pretty chuffed. My research turned up a neat little three season tent made for one.  It’s perfect for the walks I want to do but not great for snow and ice but I don’t plan on going to Everest anytime soon. I ordered my tent online and it arrived two days later.  I was bouncing with excitement as I collected my package from the post office. The Postie asked if I was going camping.  I’m doing more than camping.  I’m escaping.

More exhilarating is that I actually managed to erect the tent without help in about three minutes flat.  I known that’s not exactly a huge achievement but when one defers tasks to another on a regular basis it is affirming to know you’re capable.  It’s funny how a little thing like this can cause so much excitement.

My beloved was horrified at its size.
“It’s small.”
Exactly – it’s meant to be.
My polyester castle is roomy enough to sleep in and wriggle in and out of clothes. It’s a shelter from the elements and bugs and best of all, it’s only 1.3 kilograms.  What else would a girl need? Well, as luck would have it, the one other thing that I did want was a vestibule for my hiking pack and voila, this little tent has a very generous space for that.

The weeks draw closer to my first solo overnight hike and I find I am well prepared. I have my tent, my permit and a spirit for adventure. I know roughing it outdoors isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but there is something magical about choosing a spot of rough ground to call home for the night that transforms it.  That rough bit of ground, a small nook in the woods, begins to transform into a haven, a place of comfort and rest by the time one has pitched a tent and claimed a spot for the night. For a long time now I have delighted in the solace of nature, the calm it brings and the return to simplicity and I am looking forward to returning to it.  I’ll let you know how it all goes.

 

Good fences make good neighbours

old_wooden_fence-2

There, by the starlit fences the wanderer halts and hears my soul that lingers sighing about the glimmering weirs.       A.E Housman

I wasn’t keen on a new fence and I wasn’t on board with the design or the height. Though I lament I can’t fault the workmanship or the expediency with which it was built. I have no quarrel there. Now this fence has been constructed I recall thoughts I had in Berlin where I started thinking about the concept of walls and barriers; to segregate and mark territory, to keep some within and some out. I recall too when I stood on the Great Wall of China and traipsed along Hadrian’s Wall and had similar thoughts. I realise, these structures are walls and not to be confused with fences which are made of lighter weight materials and usually for different purposes.  Nevertheless, a fence is a barrier. Plain and simple.

I’ve mix feelings about this new wall of ours. I can’t help agreeing with Frost who, communicates in his poem Mending Wall that a fence is unnecessary and unfriendly.  Though others would no doubt side with his neighbour who believes “Good fences make good neighbours.”  I can’t see my neighbours anymore. I like them. I’d have been glad not to see the previous neighbours but alas no fence would have stopped their repugnant reverberations from drifting across the top in the wee hours.

“A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.”  Oh, Baer, too true. Though if I can’t see them I can’t smile at them. Our old, decrepit fence was low enough for me to hurdle which was fortuitous on a number of occasions:  one night to check on the elderly lady adjacent to my property during an electrical blackout and on another, leaping the fence enabled me to help a neighbour after she fell in her garden.  There are times jumping fences is acceptable.

“To be fenced in is to be withheld.” – Kurt Tippett I hear you. I feel hemmed in. I liked the openness between yards, the view to the forest unimpeded by barriers or blockades. Now this timber wall confronts me each and everyday and I immediately feel enclosed.

Fences are not new. We humans have a long history of fence building and of erecting barriers for all manner and purposes. The moat was a type of fence.  I could just about live with a moat, I think, though I’d have to brush up on my long jumping skills.  As I become accustomed to the new boundary around my home I’ll leave you with some interesting fence trivia.

  • Hedge fencing and topiary fencing is one of the earliest forms of fencing ever recorded and were first used for enclosing cereal crops.
  • Military areas, zoos and industrial plants are required by law to have appropriate fencing.
  • In 1873, barbed wire fencing was invented at the De Kalb County Fair in Illinois.
  • Strangely, Marilyn Monroe was quoted as saying ‘A women’s dress should be like a barbed wire fence: serving it’s purpose without obstructing the view’. (The analogy is a harsh one in my mind.)
  • The ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ in Western Australia was more than 3000 kilometres long.
  • The ‘Dingo Fence’, also in Australia, is the longest fence on earth at 5,600 kilometres.
  • A fence hidden in a ditch is called a Ha-ha.
  • There is a tiny town called Fence in Aurora County in Wisconsin, USA.