Question as gift

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“Darling, do I understand you enough, or am I making you suffer? Please tell me so that I can learn to love you properly. I don’t want to make you suffer, and if I do so because of my ignorance, please tell me so that I can love you better, so that you can be happy.”

~ Question to ask those you love, as suggested by Thich Nhat Hanh; from Peace is every step.

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Image: The first camellia of winter.

Who are you wearing?

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Now I’m in my 50s, I look around and see little on offer when it comes to inspiring archetypes in dress and appearance. Where I live, there’s pretty much just two styles: Toorak Woman – caramel tones, black Range Rover, highlights, shops at Thomas Dux – and The Artistic One – red flats with leather daisy, stripey top, grey bob (she also has a cousin who only ever wears variations on a theme, the theme being, as a friend put it, “menopause mauve”).

So. Boring.

In fact, the deficit has been there for decades, only it’s covered up till a woman gets into her mid-40s by the whole paraphenalia that goes with playing the role of the “desire-awakening maiden”*. Once a woman outgrows the role she’s been obliged to play since she was 12, she looks around and sees … what?

I’ve been lucky. I grew up to be tall and willowy, with the square shoulders and long legs of a model and people would say, “hey, you should be a model …” I could wear a sack and make it look good. I was confident and inventive in what I wore. I made clothes by knitting or crochet – I crocheted myself a sky-blue bikini when I was 12 – and was mad about customising them, cutting off sleeves or sewing on braid or ribbon. I’d pick up bits and pieces and turn them into things to wear. A man’s tie I found somewhere I wore for years as a belt, and in Balmain market I found the beautiful buckle below which I also made into a belt. It touches me today to see what a good job I made of it and how tiny my waist was.

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Fast forward several decades, and now what? I realise writing this that I’ve been asleep in the “delight in dressing up” department for years and I’ve mostly become a conventional dresser. So where to next? The game’s not over. I can walk into a room and turn heads. I know it’s in response to a certain presence, rather than fresh skin and child-bearing potential, and it suits me fine. In fact, it suits me better than it often suited me in the past, for then I felt owned by men looking and some of the crude and frightening stuff that went along with it.

What does it look like if I want to take up another version of that earlier delight in dressing? Have you done this yourself? What did you develop? Ideas welcome.

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* The quote is from Polly Young-Eisendrath, Women and Desire

Image: Michelle Jank (right), Australian-born designer and stylist, a former style inspiration for me, with model

“Standing quietly by the fence …”

“Standing quietly by the fence
You smile your wondrous smile
I am speechless
And my senses are filled
by the sounds of your beautiful song
Beginningless and endless
I bow deeply to you.”

The you refers to a flower, a dahlia.

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Quoted in Peace is every step by Thich Nhat Hanh, written by a young friend he once knew.

How do you tell when there’s a piece of the past in your future?

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I’ve learnt that whenever the thought occurs to me – “I should do [x]” – that is the very reason not to do [x], and instead, I need to bide my time and let something else emerge.

The “should” thought is a barometer, a register, for those times when I have a piece of the past in my future. To say it another way, it’s my own personal register for when a breakdown has occurred or is about to occur.

No good ever comes of the actions I take under the influence of that thought, and in many cases, it’s associated with something going unmistakeably pear-shaped. I cause trouble for myself and others whenever I act on this thought.

Last week, I was speaking to a woman, a Landmark graduate, who told me of her personal register for having a piece of the past in her future. Whenever she starts telling herself Landmark is all about “sales and marketing”, she said, she knows she’s in troubled waters, and she stops and gathers herself, and looks afresh at what’s going on for her. While it’s a common thing that graduates say when something’s not working for them, it’s less common to go on to get the insight she’s gotten about it.

Another woman I know of uses the state of her purse as her personal register. Whenever it’s stuffed full of dockets and store receipts, she knows something is up and that she needs to start paying attention to something.

What about you? Do you have a personal register for those times and occasions when there’s a piece of the past in your future?

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The ladder

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“My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognises them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.)”

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

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“Death is not an event in life …”

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“Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present. Our life has no end in just the way in which our visual field has no limits.”

~ Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

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Image: Glory with Brocken Spectre created by the photographer’s shadow on a rising cloud at a South ridge of Peak Korzhenvskaya during a summit day on August 14th, 2006, classic route from Moskvina glacier. Part of a photo collection of Pamir 2006 expedition led by Dmitry Shapovalov. Expedition members: Dmitry Shapovalov, Alexey Nesterov, Ekaterina Ananyeva, Sasha Kornienko. Courtesy of Wikiquote.

Correction to post about Radio National

I wrote about Radio National recently, and forgot to list Richard Aedy and Jason Di Rosso among The Indispensables. Big oversight!

Richard Aedy is an extraordinary interviewer and listener. On radio or off, there are few who can listen as skilfully as he does. Jason Di Rosso must also have unlimited budget. His movie reviews are insightful and he refuses to patronise or suck up to the audience.

Original post has been amended.

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Fix. Change. Resist. Repeat.

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The man on the phone is speaking about his relationship with his teenage son. Things are not going well. The man has the experience that the son is keeping him at arm’s length, not allowing he, the father, to get close to him. Whatever overtures he makes, the son ignores or rejects them.

At the same time, the man is worried his son doesn’t have the drive and commitment to finish things or take action. The son has the opportunity to apply for a scholarship for a specialist training program and a good chance of winning it. However, instead of applying, the son puts it off and plays computer games, and the man’s frustration and hurt and anxiety grows.

Listening to him, I feel compassion for the man and his son, and also recognition. I have one or two relationships like this, as do my friends.

There is something else there for me in listening to him. I can hear what is giving the situation, whereas, being close to it, I can’t always hear it in my own situation.

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It’s clear the man is attempting to fix or change his son, and the son is, rightly, resisting it.

The more the man tries to fix or change, the more the son resists and retreats. It cannot be any other way because change always reproduces the issue. In attempting to fix or change a person or a situation, we are effectively declaring the person or situation is not OK as it is. Therefore, the more we attempt to fix or change, the more the person or situation shows up as not OK. It has to be this way. It cannot be any other way. Each facet of the situation – on the one hand, the fixing and changing, and on the other, the not OK-ness – gives the other.

As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“, or as others put it, “Resistance causes persistence”.

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There are two things to get about such a situation:

  1. the sooner the man gives up the attempt to fix or change, the better
  2. underneath the not OK-ness of the situation is some story the man is telling himself about himself, and it will be an old story that he’s been telling himself since he was a child which sounds like one of the following, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m bad”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m not smart”, “I don’t matter” and other variations; to say it another way, it has little to do with the son and everything to do with the man himself.

As it is for the man, so it is for you and me.

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Transformation required: The death throes of a once great radio station, Radio National

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Attention: Mark Scott

While this post is about what’s happening to radio here in Australia, the issue is one you may have in your country too.

When I’m at home I always have the radio on. I even sleep with the radio under my pillow in case I wake up in the middle of the night. I’m a real radiohead. I love it, and feel like the announcers are my friends and companions.

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The women I spent IWD with. Aren’t they beautiful?

I went to an African headwrap party for International Women’s Day. Here are the women I was with. Don’t they look beautiful, regal, queenly in their headwraps? Mandi, the beautiful young woman in the blue headwrap in the front, is the same koala woman who featured up a tree in this post. She spoke about our country, our peoples, being in need of healing from our past. She said it well.

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A book written by no-one and everyone

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Once upon a time, I bought a little book from a secondhand shop in Hobart for the title, The simplest book God ever wrote.* There is another author’s name on the front cover and it’s not important, and that’s what the title means. The book was written by no-one and everyone.

In homely, unpoetic language, the book speaks about what I discovered on the corner of Exhibition Street and Collins Street four years ago: that who we are is love.

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