While the world takes a breath

I know we’re in the middle of an awful time.

People are sick and dying, all over the world we’re at the mercy of a common enemy that we don’t as yet have any way to attack, nor do we have any means to defend ourselves, apart from social distancing and isolation.

The world is taking a breath and exhaling in a long and luxurious fashion. Life is slower in many ways, smaller in many ways, and I can’t help but admit that I’m loving it.

I’m loving being at home. I know that I am privileged, living here in South Australia. Both our State and Federal governments have done well in doing what we can in this situation. The people have been sensible on the whole, and embraced the new restrictions gracefully, understanding the benefits for the common good.

My mind is working differently in this slow lane, and I’m remembering things that I thought I had forgotten, things from so long ago it seems like another life entirely.

Hubby and I walked the dogs the other day, and at one point we crossed a dry creek bed. My mind went back to when I was four or five years old, perhaps younger. We lived across the road from a large wood. I was forbidden to go there because of all manner of unnamed dangers. However I thought I had a handle on them as I knew all the fairy tales and what they said about going into the woods.

The problem was the three or four other children I played outside with were all months or one or two years older than me and they would lead us towards the woods and I would follow, despite knowing it was forbidden.

Just after entering the woods we would come across an obstacle. There was a small stream with muddy banks. It always went the same way; my older and taller companions would jump the stream one by one, clearing the banks. I would then try to do the same, but inevitably would land in the glaur, or mud.

We would play for a while amongst the trees, and then on return once again I would land in the middle of the glabber (yes, Scots do have a lot of words for mud).

I would go home, my feet slurping and squelching, my shoes and white socks covered in mud up to the ankles, and the conversation would always go the same way.

Mum: Have you been over to the woods?

Me: No (squelch, schlurp).

Mum: Then how did your feet get all wet and your shoes and socks all muddy?

Me: I don’t know.

Mum: You don’t know?

And then I’d get a couple of belts before she cleaned me up.

I wonder why I never learned.

But actually, thinking about it, I did learn. I knew what the consequences would be every time I went to the woods, but I had such a good time playing there that I was prepared to wear it. 

Eventually I got taller and was able to jump the stream without getting wet, and she never knew that I got to walk amongst the hip-high swathes of bluebells that carpeted those woods in summer. That was my secret. Until now.

And then suddenly I’m 58 years old and I don’t need that skill for jumping streams, because for much of the time the creeks are dry here in Australia, and I have a handsome husband to hold out his hand to help me across.

Another thing that the self isolation situation has brought about is that I’ve got back together with my colleagues Kate and Kehau and we’re ‘getting the band back together’. We toured a comedy show for about five years, called Three Stuffed Mums. Since about 2015 we’ve all been doing our own thing, comedy wise, but now we’re about to start doing an online show – The Viral Edition – to try to inject some levity into the new way we’re living.

Check us out at the Three Stuffed Mums facebook page for more details.

Like a Drunk in a Tumble Dryer

Yesterday one of my friends asked on Facebook – ‘How are you handling the new normal?’ and the instant reply that came into my head was ‘like a drunk in a tumble dryer’.

It describes perfectly the amount of grace, or lack of it, that I have on hand right now to handle this dystopian loony tune of a situation that both I and the rest of the world finds ourselves in right now.

After all, I have no control over anything much, and like the metaphorical drunk, I I tumble and fall at the whim of the ground beneath my feet.

I’m seldom literally drunk, though. Although I do enjoy alcohol, I don’t enjoy the feeling of inebriation, so I take it to the edge of tipsy usually, before retreating, wind in my hair and the waves crashing on the rocks below.

I’m ageing rapidly, and the invisibility I began to discover with horror as a 45-year old woman has now morphed as I screech towards the end of my fifth decade into kind of wholistic, healthy, tiny ball of Chernobyl-strength fury that sits somewhere near my root chakra.

It fires up whenever I lapse into being ‘nice me’ when it’s at the cost of being ‘real me’. If you’ve been there, you’ll know what I mean, and if you haven’t, no explanation will suffice. Just take my word for it.

My lovely husband has prostate cancer. This fact alone is the major feed of the tiny ball of fury, and gives it just enough radioactive anger to keep me seething along.

They can treat the cancer, but can’t operate on it or cure it. Best scenario is they come up with a cocktail that will prolong life as much as possible. We’re about 18 months into this journey (yeh I know, journey is such a hack expression but tell me a better one – voyage? escapade? experience? cruise? safari? road to hell?)

We were looking forward to growing old together, travelling, mucking around when it came time to retire. Now all that is up the swanee and we have to pack as much living into the near future because we don’t know if or when he’s going to be too ill to do that. And now that we are actually coming to grips with all that, the world decides to go on a pandemic sabbatical! You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Thank goodness we’re slightly extroverted introverts and don’t mind too much being at home.

Anyhow, by all accounts we’re just at the start of this COVID-19 hibernation, so join me as I document the experience.

Expect sarcasm, expect venting, expect to be treated to the details of my weirder than usual dreams (mangy satanic highland cows, for example). Expect alcohol. And swearing – expect swearing. One of my ex bosses said I was fluent in Wharfie.

Welcome. It’s good to have the company

Educating Rita, and me

We love theatre, movies and TV shows because they tell our stories.

When we see ourselves and our lives reflected back at us we know we’re not alone in our experiences, we feel connection with both the story and its writer, and life, for a while, seems to make more sense.

There’s a movie called “Educating Rita,” (written by one of my favourite writers, Willie Russell!), which has meant so much to me from the first time I saw it at the movies, with my mum.

It stars Michael Caine as a university professor and Julie Walters as Rita who comes from a working class family. In Rita’s family people don’t go to University. They leave school and get a job and that’s it, and if you are a woman, you get married, have children and resign yourself to your lot in life.

Rita is a hairdresser, married to a bloke who wants her to have a baby, but she doesn’t want to. She is hungry for education and feels there is so much more to life. Her studies begin to separate her from her family, because none of the others have trodden that path and they can’t seem to understand her need to fill that hunger, that curiosity.

In one tellingly emotional scene Rita is in the pub on a Saturday night with her family and they all begin to have a sing along in the pub. You can hear Rita’s voice narrating over the top of the scene, and she looks over and she sees her mum’s face. Her mum looks so miserable, so heart-breakingly sad.

In that moment Rita realises that her mum harbours all those same feelings for getting more out of life, and that she’s squashed those feelings down to fit in with the expectations of other people. Rita realises there are tears on her mum’s face, and says, ‘Why are you crying, Mother’, to which her mum replies “There must be better songs to sing than this.”

I can remember seeing that movie for the first time with my mum. I was 22 years old. I was also in the final stages of a four-year hairdressing apprenticeship and I too felt that ache for life to be something more, to sing a better song than this. I found myself sobbing there in the cinema, because right up there on that huge screen was my experience.

Then I turned to mum and she was crying too, because she also remembered her hopes and dreams that had been halted by life, and for a few moments we weren’t divided by generations, by history, a world war and the advent of feminism. We were simply women, equal in our hopes for a life well lived.

I recently saw a production of Educating Rita here in Adelaide and it blew me away. Stunningly, simply produced, directed and acted. It was everything I’d hoped it would be.

The great news is that this production is being given another outing due to the first run being totally sold out and I cannot recommend it enough. It has Lauren Renee and James McCluskey-Garcia in the roles of Rita and Frank, with direction by Nathan Quadrio of IpSkip Productions.

It runs next week, Wednesday 19 to Sunday 23 April at The Bakehouse Theatre and tickets are only $18.

If you love to see a great story well-told, go see it.  I promise you, it’s a wonderful night of theatre.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…

“Turn and face the strange”

We talk about the phases of life coming and going like the seasons, but that’s not really true, is it?

We know that as autumn ends and winter begins that if we keep going and don’t get careless and die, then sure as the sun rises we will see spring, summer and then another autumn. But life’s phases don’t ever come again. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

I think that is what makes them so scary; we get used to the known and we fear the new because it is unknown, and no matter how hard we wish it, the past will never return. We can create a present and future that is just as good or even better, but we can never relive the past, except in memory.

The week I originally wrote this post my son, our youngest, left home to make his own way in the world, and at the same time we sold the home in which he grew up. This house had one job… and it performed it beautifully.

In my life I leapt from parental home to flat share to reckless first marriage, the only positive result of which was said young man. After that came emigration, divorce and new marriage complete with grown up stepsons, and all the time raising son and looking after elderly Dad.

Now, Dad has passed and son is out on his own, and without the blessed yoke of our caregiving duties, my husband and I are slightly nonplussed as to exactly who we are and what we want. We’re a pair of senior delinquents blinking in the freedom of the sunshine like those chimps released from the science labs.

Looks like we’ll have to go find ourselves, hon.

The Martian Theory

I’ve never felt like I totally belonged here on earth.

I’ve always been slightly bemused, and felt alien towards most of life’s game rules. As a result I’m often puzzled, frequently amused and mostly lost (but not always in a bad way).

I call the way I brought my son up ‘The Martian Theory’. It was the best way I knew to explain to him about how life works here. I didn’t want to go the way of my parents and their hardline catholicism. Not that I’m criticising, they did the best they could and imagination, wine and a few exorcisms dealt with my own personal residue of that time of my life. For my son, though, I treated him as a visitor plopped on to the earth and it was my job to teach him the rules of the game here on this beautiful planet.

In essence, I steered away from things being labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and stuck more to appropriateness and resourcefulness. For instance, it’s better for everyone if we cooperate, have compassion and don’t be dicks to each other. It seemed to work for him, he’s turned out to be a nice person all round.

We’re all metaphorical Martians. We’re spirits conveyed by meatsuits, travelling through space and time on a beautiful planet that’s hurtling at 1040 mile per hour.

Life is fragile. Let’s not be dicks.

A Letter I Wish I Could Deliver

Dear 16 year old me,

I would have thought that by the time I was 55 that I would have it all sussed by now, but it seems not to be the case. I still don’t really have a clue what I’m doing, so I’m writing to you to say a few things about stuff I’ve picked up along the way, that I’m still learning, and what I wished I’d known waaay back there in 1977.

  1. You are a survivor. Good on you for your strength and your silliness.
  2. You are a beautiful creative soul; a trusting pure soul who looks only for the best in others and delights when she finds it. You are a prize and those around you should be worthy of that. Be careful because there will be some who are not. They will take your trust and abuse it. Do not hesitate to say goodbye to these people. They do not understand your essence. Wish them well and then turn and continue on your own path.
  3. You are strong. You have come through so much and you will go through so much, and yet despite it all you will always prevail.
  4. Did I say that you are beautiful? Just saying it again for good measure. Not enough people have told you this. In fact the person you needed to hear it from the most said quite opposite, horrible things. She was scared and angry and she took it out on you. What she did was wrong and she betrayed her position every time she abused it. So, you must learn to know this truth, and you must breathe it in and keep that thought, glowing rose pink enveloping your heart.
  5. You don’t have to be a good girl all the time. Just because up til now not being compliant has meant nasty repercussions in the form of emotional and physical abuse it won’t always be like this. Protect your essence and don’t let it be wiped away. Some of your sweetest memories will be from the times you didn’t do what you were told – look forward to them!
  6. You always have choices – even if at times it doesn’t seem like you do. This is where I wish I could reach back in time to take you, my dearest 16 year old bewildered, displaced and sad self, and show you that you do have options and choices, and tell you that you do not have to believe or comply with all that you are told.
  7. You have a good heart and a strong moral compass. Trust it more, listen to it more and trust yourself.
  8. Give yourself a break. You have been through more in your 16 years than many people have in a lifetime. Don’t feel sad at your feelings of separation from others who have not experienced all those things. Instead accept it. Your wisdom and maturity have been accelerated by all those events and those who have been through the same as you will recognise their fellow traveler and you will keep a sweet and rarefied company with them.
  9. You have insight. You realised early on that no matter what the cataclysm or disaster, that life goes on and the world keeps turning. There is no shame in moving on from a dark situation that could not be mended – or even in choosing not to mend a bad situation – remember that thing about choices? As much as you may want to you cannot step off the world. However you can deal with it the best way you know how, and that is usually to dance, to sing and to laugh and laugh and laugh.
  10. Never listen to people – often men – who will tell you that it is unladylike to swear. Fuck them! Remember that guy one night who, because you used your sharp wit in conversation, warned you that your “mouth would get you into trouble one day”? Well ignore him and his ilk. Never dim your light in any respect just to accommodate dull-witted trolls. They do not understand the beauty of banter, the gloriousness of the craic, the exquisiteness of the well placed curse or the basic principle of equal human rights. The men in your life, if they love you, will not censure you for swearing or tell you to be silent because you are singing or laughing. If anyone in your life does this, tell them to fuck off!

You are good, you are beautiful, you are strong and you are true.

With love,

From me (you) xxxx

Decision Making Sucks!

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Making decisions sucks – and making big decisions sucks big time

You not only want to make the right choice, but you also, underneath it all, want to win by making the right choice, and winning usually means saving yourself from feeling that you’ve stuffed up.

I have a system I’ve used for nearly 20 years when it comes to decision making.

This system hasn’t prevented me from making some beautifully spectacular stuff ups, but there are a lot less of them than there otherwise would have been, and this is how it goes.

 The Power of Three!

It’s all about the threes.

Picture this: you get a great idea, you’re fired up, your heart is racing, your muscles are twitching for action and you want to act on it now!

Don’t.

Do nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

Let it go and wave bye bye.

 This may sounds like the wrong thing to do.

But hear me out.

If, the next day, or in a couple of days’ time the same idea comes back to you again, recognise it.

Greet it like a new acquaintance. ‘Hi there! It’s you again. Lovely to see you!’

And then let it go again.

 

Byeeeeeee!

Then, after another passage of time, days, weeks or even months it comes back!

 

Now’s the time to move to stage two.

I’ve learned stage two more recently, and it dovetails beautifully with stage one.

With that persistent little bugger of an idea, now do this:

1. Check in with your head; does it feel zingy, sparkly and light?

2. Check in with your heart; does doing this thing feel light both in weight and in luminosity? Does it make you feel anticipatory, that something good is a-coming?

3. And most importantly, check in with your gut.

That’s the place that will give you the most information.

 

What is your gut telling you?

In Tai Chi and Taoism the belly, round about the navel or where your hands meet when they clasp, is your Dan Tien point.

 

Shitz’n’Giggles

After all, where do you get butterflies if you’re nervous?

Your gut.

From where do you shit yourself in fear?

Your gut.

 

Your Third Brain

Science now tells us what the Taoists have known for five thousand years – your gut is your third brain (yes third!).

You have neural networks in your head, your heart and your gut and your gut is all about self-preservation, courage, and core identity.

 

Leave it!

So, leave that brilliant idea until there have been three check ins with you, and then check that baby in with your head, your heart and your gut.

And, if it still feels great,

Do that thang!

 

Mind Games

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One of the fundamental tools of achieving a joyful life is actually taking the decision to choose joy. In other words, managing our mindset. 

To do that we need to believe that we always have a choice in how we to respond to circumstances.

This is where it gets interesting. Our choices are often dictated by our beliefs and values – but what if our beliefs and values have been chosen for us by someone else?

Step 1 – Beliefs and Values
In fact, many of our B & Vs are actually remnants of what were told was true when we were children.
So, the first thing to do is work out what are actually your beliefs and values and which of them belong to your parents or other authority figures that have been important in our lives.
Then, question them. Do you actually believe them to be true? Or did you just take them on trust?
When I was young it was considered to be a ‘bad thing’ to marry outside your religion. It made some people very angry, and even broke families up. Most people now know that was a sign of the times and not a fundamental truth in itself, and we’ve changed our views and adapted our values accordingly. Now it’s more important to have a loving and supportive partner than insist they share the same beliefs.
It comes down to this; in order to live a more contented life with a good dose of joy, we need to have that joy as one of our highest values, and we need to believe that to be a good thing, an essential thing, a right thing and something that is of our highest priority.

Step 2 – Habits
How we habitually react and respond will change if our values change.

We all know of someone who is negative in their outlook. Nothing is good enough for them. Would it surprise you to know that they probably don’t actually know they’re doing that? Often, for whatever reason they have developed the habit of looking for the negative in life and that’s what they find and report, and call it realism.
In contrast, optimists have developed the habit of looking for the positives in life, and that is what they find and report. This is also realism.
The funny thing is that realism is subjective. One person’s reality is another’s fantasy. It’s actually simple neuroscience; you tell the brain to show you evidence for what you believe and it will do so. Neither the positive nor the negative outlook is any truer than the other, but one is definitely much more resourceful than the other.
Many of us will have grown up in families where it was considered bad form to express too much joy, or affection or even enthusiasm, and so we tempered our feelings to fit in with society.
The problem is, even as we grow into independent adults we may still temper those feelings unnecessarily, and even express disapproval of those around us who are in the habit of expressing happiness. I know that as a child I was often told to ‘calm down’ and that I would be seen as ‘soft’ or ‘simple’ if I expressed joy or enthusiasm.
Think of a time when something happened that made you feel very happy. Did you censor your physical and emotional reaction? If the answer is yes, it’s time to get to work in changing those habits.
If you’re a habitual grump and it’s not working for you, you can change. Rehearse how you would feel and how you will express it the next time something good happens. It needn’t be a leap in the air and a loud ‘Yeeha!’. It could just as easily be a smile and a word of praise, thanks or encouragement.

Step 3 – Be Kind to Yourself
When you choose to live a joyful life It’s the beginning of a long and winding road . 
Like any new skill we’re not going to get it right all of the time and that is just fine.
However, starting on this purposeful road will set you up with the ability to achieve and maintain a greater level of contentment, fulfilment, happiness and joy. In turn that will help safeguard your emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual health, and that is also something we could do with much more of.

Until next time, stay happy. It will intrigue some people, and totally infuriate others!
Maggie x

PS – if you would like a free daily dose of practical joy to kick off your day, follow me on Twitter @thejoyprotocol, or email me with ‘Daily Dose’ in the subject line . 

 

When Joy Can Save Your Life!

 Sasha* one of my Stand-Up comedy students had come along to the class under duress.

She could not see the point of it.

Fun?

Why bother when her job, her family and her life in general seemed to be just constantly dragging her down. She felt like she was made of lead and did not feel like trying to make either herself or others laugh.

During the class time, though, something started to shift. As everyone in turn delivered the work they’d been preparing the laughter in the room grew and grew.

When it was Sasha’s turn she just had an all-round gripe at an incident that day with her husband. She really put some feeling into it and her authentic grumpiness and way with words got the entire group laughing.

She felt different. She hadn’t changed anything, not her demeanour, her grumpy mood or her irritation. However the mood and the context of the class had allowed her to not take herself so seriously. Everyone else had taken a part of their life and made it a comedy bit, and now she’d done the same and some sort of alchemical exchange had happened, she was looking at the situation quite differently now and felt herself literally lighten up.

When the world seems to be falling down around you, or even those days when life just seems dull and pointless, the getting of joy can seem to be not only remote, but also not really worth the effort.

Even using the term ‘joy’ often doesn’t help. It seems to conjure an ephemeral, uncatchable smoke-like substance. Joy and happiness can seem to be more like birds that alight on your shoulder and then take off again, totally at whim, with you having no control at all.

The great news is, that is a total fallacy. You can change how you look at things by training your mind to see the world from a particular angle. People who are constantly negative are often people who have just got used to seeing the world in that way – it’s a habit.

When you change the perspective, the angle, then the effect of the world on you changes, and that’s when the magic happens – because when you change your behaviour towards the world it all of a sudden starts to respond differently to you.

It sounds woo woo, but it’s actually plain old neuroscience.

There are some really good reasons why you should cultivate the skills and habits that will bring joy into your life on a regular basis.

According to the Mayo Clinic in the USA a joyful, positive and humorous mindset:

1. Reduces blood pressure,
2. Increases coping skills – especially in times of hardship and stress
3. Heightens psychological and physical well-being
4. Lowers rates of depression and distress
5. Increases the effectiveness of our immune system
6. Reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (damn good reason to get happy!)

Now that we know this for sure, this changes things. Joy and positivity are no longer a nice ‘extra’ to life; they are now a necessity for our mental, physical and emotional health.

In the next few weeks I’ll send you a series of short articles where we’ll discover practical and actionable ways of bringing more joy and happiness into your life.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and I’d love your feedback –  \n This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ” target=”_blank”>email me.

In the meantime, remember, you are unique – just like everyone else!

Keep on shining
Maggie x

*name changed to protect the (previously) grumpy

The Delicious Dram

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When it comes to whisky-making, the copper stills used to distill the spirit are often very very old, sometimes hundreds of years old.

Over time the stills get a bit bashed and each develops its unique pattern of bumps and dents. The wild thing is, this affects the taste of the whisky that particular still produces. Some whisky makers now depend on that unique taste as a mark of their brand and would never change the still, no matter how old or battered, as that would alter the taste.

Similarly, as human beings, if our efforts out in the world aren’t bringing the results we’re seeking, then it might be a useful time to regard our own ‘bumps and dents’.

Whatever is happening in our world is often a reflection of what’s going on inside us. The natural human reaction when the desired results aren’t happening is to push through, keep going. We believe more and more action needs to be taken.

This belief is a fallacy.

Action is actually the end point in the sequence, not the start point, not the catalyst.  A much more  useful strategy when, despite all good plans and action, progress is still not being made, is to delve inside and find out what’s going on in relation to that particular circumstance.

Our actions come from our thoughts; our thoughts come from our beliefs, and our beliefs come from the myriad experiences and teachings we’ve received throughout our lives – especially in childhood – that have combined to form our particular ‘map’ of the world. Tweak one thing and the belief changes, change the belief it changes the thoughts, change the thoughts it changes the action and change the action you change the results.

That tweak changes the taste of our particular whisky, and the more we work in a positive fashion on whom and what we want to become, the sweeter, more pungent and delicious the dram we produce.

Slainte!