Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Being 15 again - or where's the thermostat?

After spending Christmas in Queensland with my family, I found myself sitting in the backseat of my parents' car with Alfie, the dog, driving back to the farm in NSW. Suddenly I was fifteen again. The radio in the car was intermittent and when it worked, was permanently tuned in to the cricket with heavy dose of static. The only thing worse than cricket on TV is cricket on the radio. The CD player has given up the ghost. This may have been a blessing as the selection was likely to include Slim Dusty live in Wagga Wagga. I put my earphones in and listened to my ipod. I'm enjoying discovering the dark corners of my music collections by setting it to shuffle all songs; although with my eclectic taste in music there can be moments of surprise as I lurch from Miles Davis to Michael Nyman and everything in between. Most startling is the voice recordings of invoices to do for my brother that have made their way onto my ipod the last time I synced. The move from Mozart to "standard horse dental" is quite confusing - especially if it happens when I'm dozing.

Overall the trip was pretty good and I've been enjoying the garden at my parents' home. It is alive with birds and native wildlife.

On the first afternoon I spotted a large koala in one of the trees in the front yard. I marveled at its strength as it was able to rest on two twigs and happily sleep while the branches blew in the breeze. He looked down at me and stretched, giving me a good glimpse of his strong claws. At one point he growled, reminding me that he was a wild animal and not a cute cuddly toy.

At dusk every evening, a tiny rabbit and a family of kangaroos come in to graze on the green lawn. I've discovered that the kangaroos rest under the bushy row of oleanders that shield the house from the road. I'm trying to sneak out and capture them on film, but so far my efforts have resulted in lovely shots of grass with a dark smudge in a far corner as the kangaroo hops away.

Yesterday while Alfie and I were out for our evening stroll, he went one way and I went the other. Suddenly I heard a yelp and Alfie streaked past me. I couldn't see what he was chasing but wasn't concerned because he's slowing in his old age. When he was younger, he'd give everything in pursuit of hares and kangaroos, but now he's back to a more sedate pace and seems to run just for the enjoyment.

White cockatoos are noisy in the trees at any time of day. They chatter amongst themselves, sometimes amiably and at other times they sound like a cranky parent arguing with the children. Whenever I open the door to go out, the noise crescendos and dozens of birds fly overhead, a slight tinge of yellow visible in their white wingspans.

The other challenge I face while with my parents is temperature control. Anything higher than "polar" causes my mother to declare that she's hot. Constant questions about whether the temperature is right for me result in nothing, despite constant responses that I can't speak because I'm busy chipping away at the layer of ice that has formed all over my body. I blink my eyes and ask if she can hear that noise - it's the sound of ice cracking on my eyelashes. The thermostat on the car remains on 18 degrees Celsius. The thermostat in the house remains on 20 degrees Celsius. At one point my teeth were chattering and this too resulted in no further action except silent contemplation. As I was travelling during summer, I didn't think to pack my thermals, but clearly I should have. I'll have to remember for my next visit.

That's all I can manage to write today as I'm not wearing my fingerless gloves while I type. Knitting some is out of the question as my fingers would surely snap off while underway and the resulting trip to the hospital on New Year's Eve is too much to contemplate, especially since I'd be travelling in the car with that layer of ice forming. At least I won't bleed to death. I empathise with the people on the boat stranded in the Antarctic ice at the moment.

I don't understand what happens to mothers and temperature control. When I was younger my mother's sole mission was to ensure that I was warm enough. This quest resulted in me always being required to wear singlet and socks to ensure no loss of body heat. At one stage I defined a singlet as "something you wear when your mother's cold". What happened?

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas wishes - with a twist

I'm switching off for Christmas holidays. I'll be spending time with family, heading off to music camp to write my annual song and generally lying around with a book (well, my e-reader actually).

Thank you to you, my readers; you add a very special dimension to divacultura. Knowing you're out there means a lot.

I wish you peace, joy and love - whatever your beliefs.

Or in "Spanish":

For lease navidad!
© divacultura 2013
NB I did not deface this sign, just noticed it in the street and laughed out loud. Now try getting the song out of your head!

Friday, 20 December 2013

A new take on Christmas carols - for the psychiatrically challenged

I received this list from a member of my vocal group. I was eating toast when I read it and am still finding bits of soggy toast in the computer keyboard and stuck to the wall as a result of the guffaw that resulted as I read it. On one hand, it's lazy for me to repost this, but on the other hand, so accurate I'm thinking of including it in briefings for actors working in my mental health simulation program.

Thank you to whoever wrote this list!


Schizophrenia --- Do You Hear What I Hear?

Multiple Personality Disorder --- We Three Queens Disoriented Are

Amnesia --- I Don't Know if I'll be Home for Christmas

Narcissistic --- Hark the Herald Angels Sing About Me

Manic --- Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town and Cars and Buses and Trucks and Trees and Fire Hydrants and ...

Paranoid --- Santa Claus is Coming to Get Me

Borderline Personality Disorder --- Thoughts of Roasting on an Open Fire

Personality Disorder --- You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, Maybe I'll tell You Why

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ---Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells .

Agoraphobia --- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day But Wouldn't Leave My House

Autistic --- Jingle Bell Rock and Rock and Rock and Rock .

Senile Dementia --- Walking in a Winter Wonderland Miles From My House in My Slippers and Robe

Oppositional Defiant Disorder --- I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus So I Burned Down the House

Social Anxiety Disorder --- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas While I Sit Here and Hyperventilate.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Just don't wish him "Merry Christmas" - neighbourly encounter

As I arrived home last night I encountered my whacko neighbour. I feel slightly bad describing Gottfried like that because I think he likes me.

I saw him walk in the front gate ahead of me and knew that we would meet at his front door. He was just putting the key in his door when I came around and the corner and said hello.

"Oh, it's you, Tanya. Hello Tanya! How are you Tanya?"

Did I mention that one of the things that freaks me out is that he drops my name every three or four words?

"Hello Gottfried."

"Tanya, don't tell me you're getting caught up in this Christmas thing! Tanya!"

I was carrying what looked like several bags, but really one was my handbag, one contained my mail and the other was a huge bag from David Jones which contained a new hat I had bought for the beach.

"Oh I don't know. There's lots to organise!" I said, overly cheerful.

"Well Tanya, I can imagine that you're..."

"No one will know what hit them," I quickly inserted, afraid of what he might say next.

"No Tanya. Nothing will hit anyone. You'll have everything so organised Tanya!"

Oh god, was that a blush I saw rising on his cheeks?

"I don't know about that Gottfried."

I changed the subject.

"I know that you don't celebrate Christmas or New Year, but have a nice time over this period whatever you do." (I'd previously been ungraciously chastised for having the temerity to wish him happy Christmas and new year in previous years.)

"Oh I'll be doing exactly what I usually do Tanya."

"Well enjoy that."

"I will Tanya. Thank you Tanya."

"Ok then..." I maneuvered to get past him and up the stairs to my place.

"I heard you playing the piano the other day Tanya," he added. "It was very nice Tanya. I'd like to hear more Tanya!"

"Thank you Gottfried. I was revisiting some Janis Ian."

"Well whatever it was, it was very nice. You should play more often Tanya."

He looked pleased with himself.

Compared to some of the exchanges we've had in the past, this one was quite pleasant. Since we have locked gates on the front of the property, people don't wander in and park in his vacant car space either. Perhaps this has relieved some ever-pressing stress.

Do you know your neighbours?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

A wig is not a hat - rules for modern living.

There are some strange people out and about at the moment. I have two pieces of advice to offer. If heeded, I believe much trouble in the world could be saved.

1. A wig is not a hat.

It seems obvious at first. A wig is not a hat. As far as I know this is a statement of irrefutable fact, yet I have seen at least two people in the last two days - representative of both genders - who are labouring under the misapprehension that the opposite is true. They believe that a wig IS a hat. They must, otherwise, they would not be walking out of the house with that...that...arrangement sitting on their head.

I've looked a few times, maybe I've even stared. I should disclose one assumption that I'm making: that the thing on the head, which is hairy, is a wig. It may not be. It may be an actual hat which some milliner with an outrageous sense of humour, duped this poor woman into purchasing. Perhaps it was heavily discounted and in the bargain bin because to anyone else, it looked like a wig. Or like something scraped off the road with a shovel.

How can I describe the effect of the piece? Well it hangs before the face, like hairy drapes blowing in the wind. The rest of the outfit was very smart - crisp white shirt, houndstooth checked trousers with a black patent pump, but the smear of red lipstick was a little off. It wasn't quite the clown mouth, but one more lap with the Retro Red and the effect would have been more Ronald McDonald than Anna Wintour.

The woman in question engaged a staff member at Flinders Street Station in a conversation about how she had tried to buy chocolate, but the vendor said that its purchase price was 70,000 (what, I didn't quite hear). She went on at length to the man in the orange high-vis vest whom I suspected of not actually listening, until she posed the ultimate question: "How are you supposed to get ahead when that's the price of chocolate?"

I stopped myself from running over to her and answering: "Go into the chocolate business! And get that thing off your head! A wig is NOT a hat! That's how you get ahead!"

Although maybe she was actually asking how you are supposed to get "a head". Perhaps she was unaware that she already had a head, but then the wearing of the wig as if it was a hat would make no sense, as a head is an essential part of such an exercise.

2. A baby's jumpsuit is not a hat.

Again, this seems to be self-evident, but with another hot day forecast in Melbourne, I feel compelled to make this proclamation. On our last hot day, I spied a man wearing an electric blue, baby's jumpsuit on his head. It was very strange. I assume it was some kind of heat combat unit, but am mystified as to how this would work.

3. Leggings are not pants.

Again, I don't understand why there is any confusion about this.

Given all the uncertainty over head coverings, I have turned to the dictionary for the final word.

Dictionary.com says:

Wig:  an artificial covering of hair for all or most of the head, of either synthetic or natural hair, worn  to be stylish or more attractive. [emphasis mine].

Hat: a shaped covering for the head, usually with a crown and brim, especially for wear 

Those last few words in the definition of "wig" should clear it up for ever: "worn to be stylish or more attractive". I know they don't though as most times the wig fails to deliver. I will concede that a hat made of hair could also be a wig if the reason for wearing such a monstrosity was unclear. At this point I feel compelled to disclose that I own a wig. It is bright purple and I sometimes wear it to parties with the intention of being stylish. Mostly I don't wear it because I find it is hot and itchy.

Oh lord! All I can conclude is that if people are staring, chant the mantra "a wig is not a hat" and cover your leggings - they are not pants! Oh, and go into the chocolate business. (Unless "chocolate" is a slang term for whatever the kids are taking these days. In that case do not go into the "chocolate" business as I don't advocate the drug trade as a viable livelihood.)

Do you own a wig? Do you wear a wig? Is a wig a hat?

Monday, 16 December 2013

Playing in the park

I worked yesterday. On a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon. I didn't mind a bit. In fact, I had a blast. I'd been engaged to provide some unusual entertainment at a group's Christmas Party.

The brief was to lead a group of people, who are used to speaking in public, in some "impro". Initially my heart raced. To many people watching any form of improvisation, it can seem like a piece of cake. It is - if you practise and train and hone your craft. It's not something that you just walk up and start doing. Whenever we watch skilled experts doing anything, they make it look easy and we often think we can just start at the same level. (This seems to happen with actors more than musicians).

I've learned that good improvisation has rules (which may seem counter-intuitive) and that there's an essential mindset that must be developed. These rules are quite opposite to how much of the world generally operates: "there are no mistakes", "say 'YES'", "don't edit, go with your instinct" and so on. So what to do with a group of novices for two hours at the Christmas party?

Start simple and emphasise fun and the value of letting go and trying stuff.  Before long people were removing - or rearranging - items of clothing, moving wildly to music, creating a barnyard of animals (everything from mosquitos to crocodiles, dogs to pigs and a koala who just hung onto a tree). We created an orchestra where every person was an instrument which had only one sound.

While we were hanging around waiting for everyone to arrive, as they introduced themselves, several people took the opportunity to put caveats on the extent of the participation for the afternoon:  "I don't sing." "I like watching, but don't want to do anything." "I'm not funny." "Just don't make me...[insert specific fear here]." As the afternoon progressed, I noticed that as more fun was had, inhibitions faded away and people threw themselves in. There were some genuinely funny moments as self-consciousness slipped away and people were appreciated for their offers.

There were some children also participating and they provided excellent instruction for the adults. Children don't hesitate to throw their bodies and souls into anything imaginative. At one point we were doing a word at a time story. It was pretty whacky already and then one of the children added a word which was unexpected. An adult "corrected" the child and offered the word that most of the group was probably expecting. Disappointment and fear flitted across her face. I asked her for her word again which she offered and that was the word incorporated as I reminded the group that there are no mistakes and the mantra is "yes". The level of discomfort in the group rose and then ebbed as the story progressed anyway.

I started thinking about how exciting the unexpected can be and wondering why our default is often to steer things to be how we expect them. I suppose it's a fear and a desire to control.

At the end of the afternoon, people were singing Christmas carols with the lyrics taken from the "Chairman's Guide to Meetings and Organisations" and "Real Estate Mistakes". Suddenly any idea that "I don't sing solo" had disappeared and people asked to have a go.

This was the perfect place to finish. For a couple of hours, the people had been able to play freely. Working in the beautiful gardens on a sunny Sunday afternoon, playing with people, was the best place I could have been. I love my work.

When was the last time you played?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Lunch with a stranger

After running some errands in the village, I decided to see if I could get a table for some lunch at the latest cafe/bakery that has opened in Yarraville. There was a baguette with cheddar and housemade dill pickles that had my name on it and a table to go with it! I took a seat, the last one vacant.

As I was pouring my water I overheard a woman who was looking for a quick bite for lunch. She was told there were no tables and as she turned to leave I offered her the other seat at my table. She accepted and the waiter was delighted.

Her name was Nadine and she was an ex-resident who had moved over the other side of the bridge and was really missing life in the village. She was doing some shopping and also coming over to have a full body salt scrub at a local salon.

We talked about sugar when she asked me how I had resisted the peanut butter and jelly on brioche sandwich. We were surrounded by things like salt caramel donuts and chocolate tarts. Thank goodness, I don't eat sugar anymore - I'd be eating those caramel donuts, I'm sure.

We talked about Christmas plans and she mentioned that her job was going to be "very intense" right up until the end of Christmas Eve. Naturally I asked her what she did for work and she said she worked for "Corrections". She told me she had been a case manager for the last four years and that she "absolutely loved it". She'd had 10 years in finance before that and saw the ad in the paper one day when she'd had enough. She told me that she loves her work because she feels she is making some small difference to world.

Just as we were getting into a really interesting conversation about the role of parole and recent tragedies caused by offenders who were on parole, she had finished her lunch and had to leave.

The waiter asked me if I had enjoyed my date and thanked me for being accommodating. I would like to share my table with a stranger more often!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Status games - observations in the wild and closer to home.

One of the things I like to observe is the status of people. It's one of the first things you learn in theatre improvisation and it can be a quick way to create character. When facilitating groups, tuning into status can really help stay on top of a group's dynamics.

Walking across Princes Bridge today, I deliberately played high status. My path was on the left of the pathway and there was no one who was going to move me from my route. I said nothing, but people moved out of my way. I was even walking up behind some people going in the same direction as I was and they moved out of my way; again with no words from me and without seeing me. They could obviously "feel me". If I was playing low status, no one would move. Ever had an "invisible day"? That's low status.

One of the other interesting places to observe status - apart from the zoo -  is in the workplace. Some people are bestowed with status because of their title or job role. Sometimes their personal status might align with the hierarchical status; other times it might be at odds.  Think of the leader who is personally low status. They fail to command respect and won't last long. The person who is lowest in the hierarchy might have high status, however, and it's interesting to observe the dynamics that creates.

I'm thinking about this tonight because I've been watching  the television show "Survivor", which is another great place to observe status games playing out. How do people acquire their status? Do they naturally have high status? Will they be able to keep it? What are the thought processes and behaviours that emerge when someone is aware that their status has shifted?

There's a woman in the office of one of my clients who is dominant in the workplace, but I've had a hard time picking her status. I've decided that she is high status. Her role is middle on one consideration, but on another she wields power. In her mind, she appears as though she is the ruler of the roost. It's classic "head of the typing pool" syndrome.

She and I have had some interesting encounters. In the constructed hierarchy of this particular workplace, I know I have low status. However, I know that I personally carry high status. One of the things that gives me high status is that I don't care about the hierarchy. I just care about doing good work and getting on with people. Sometimes this gets me into trouble. Mostly, it serves me well and I'm consequently well-connected throughout the workplaces in which I move. I've observed that people with a misalignment between their status accorded them by the constructed hierarchy and their personal status, really don't know what to do about people who disregard their high status position.  They often want to lash out, but know they will be let down by their ultimate lack of authority. Or they will turn into bullies.

Another way to think about status is in terms of the "natural leader". Generally my observation is that people whom we perceive as natural leaders, carry high personal status.  Nelson Mandela is a good example - he was born with low status in his country (a black man in a country imposing apartheid) yet rose to be one of the most respected men and leaders in the world. One of the things he had was high personal status.

Recent Australian politicial history is interesting to consider through this lens of status. The last two leaders of the Australian Labor Party (Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd) were both elevated to leader of the party and the country. Before their elevation, I would argue they had high status, but as soon as they were in the position, both lost their status.

Back to the particular woman in the client's workplace...she often stops talking when I enter the room. Recently, I heard my name said just before she stopped talking and responded from a high status position. I told her I heard my name and made strong eye contact with her. She said nothing further, but the person with whom she was speaking, made excuses of denial. Meanwhile, I said nothing (again, a high status move).  In another classic move, this woman "shooshed" me once when I was just talking to someone around the workplace. I looked her in the eye and told that her that I don't respond to "shooshing". She didn't respond.

I think that when relationships are functional, we hardly notice status at all. People just smoothly get on with it. The social satisfaction gained in this functional world will keep everyone humming along, usually until something changes, for example, someone new arrives. It's no wonder that "stranger comes to town" is one of the archetypal stories we've been telling down through the ages.

As a freelancer, I'm often the stranger coming to town, paid to observe and to challenge. To do this, I need to be secure and good willed. Mostly it works.

In the crowds of Christmas shoppers, it can be interesting (and useful) to play high status. Why not try it next time you're trying to go somewhere? Imagine you are the top dog, the big cheese, the king of the jungle and that you are entitled to take whatever path you choose. Carry this thought and make eye contact and watch people move out of your way! Have a go at doing the opposite and see what happens when your status is low.  Further fine tune your observation skills by studying the status people in your workplace hold. See if you can identify what it is that makes a person high or low status.

It can be a real eye-opener.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Violence is never appropriate.

Yesterday I signed a petition. There are so many these days. I'm choosy about what I sign. The link from a friend arrived in my inbox not long after I had seen the story reported on the ABC television news.

In July this year a 15 year old girl tried to fare evade by slipping through an open gate at Flinders Street Station. She was physically assaulted by a gang of Metro Trains authorised officers. A bystander filmed the event on his mobile phone and it was reported that a state Member of Parliament requested the security camera footage under Freedom of Information.

You can read the petition and see the footage here.

I signed the petition and also tweeted the link. Nothing unusual in that. What's interesting is the mudslinging that I have received from one person on Twitter.

The person's profile says they are "right leaning" and that they are "passionate about correcting left bias". Consider their response.  They ask me whether I watched the video and said that the girl took a swipe first. Well, I say that a 15 year old girl is a child and that a group of adult males carry the responsibility to act appropriately and not over-react.

They then ask me to define "appropriate violence". I thought about this only for a moment - no violence is appropriate.

I believe in responsibility and fairness.  People catching public transport have a responsibility to pay the fares. This makes the system fair and sustainable. When people don't fulfill their responsibility, the operators have a responsibility to educate and minimise the amount of fare evasion. Their response in doing this should be fair and proportionate.

The fare evaded could have been anywhere between $1.75 and $5.92, depending on where she had travelled. (I'm assuming she was entitled to a concession.)  When I consider this and then see the physical force used against her, I am shocked. This girl's stupidity could have cost her her life or resulted in serious, permanent injury. Yet, I'm told by my twitter troll that I am the one overreacting!

As a regular and committed public transport user, I don't want people to evade fares. I want them to pay. I want the authorised officers who have the unenviable job of dealing with the fare evading public to take an approach that is mature and educational. Instead, we have a disproportionate and violent response by people who get to wear a uniform and carry the word "authorised" in their titles. The perpetrators in question give all their colleagues a bad name and make their job harder.

Interestingly, the people with the power are the ones who get to exercise it. The girl has reportedly been charged with assault while the Metro Trains' investigation has found that the officer "exercised his functions reasonably".  I have not read or heard anything about the officers who stood by and facilitated their colleague to assault the girl.

I wonder what they think this girl (and her friends and family) will think of the system and the people operating it now? I'm sure that they will be hostile and are likely to be primed to violence at the earliest hint of an encounter with the Authorised Officers. I shudder to think about the Protective Services Officers who are armed.

There's some good information over at Lawstuff about your rights and the role of various uniformed people involved in public transport.

What do you think? Were the actions of the Officers justified? Am I overreacting?

Friday, 6 December 2013

Lawyers & politicians - taking calls on the train to Footscray.

Travelling home last night I was reminded why my heart sank with the recent news that aviation authorities are considering lifting the ban on the use of mobile phones on aircraft.

Just in front of me a bored looking young woman, dressed in a chain store suit, pale blue shirt and adorned with fake pearls, made a call.  She was like, oh-my-god, like, describing how awful her job is? But also how, like, busy she is and she just realised - oh-my-god - they'd be stuffed without her. To add to the charm of this inane public conversation, her voice had a particular quality; it struck right at the heart of my brain - loud, piercing and monotonous. She stared into space and her lips barely moved as she spoke.

She's working at a law firm. Two of the clients are witnesses in the royal commission looking at churches who abused kids and stuff, you know, whatever that things is.  Oh my god. She rolled her eyes and looked at her phone. Thankfully she had fallen victim to the mobile phone black spots on the train line to Footscray and the call had been terminated. We had all been spared. Not for long. Her phone soon rang and the conversation continued.

A whole bunch of documents had been delivered to the law firm and they had just sent them over to the barrister, thinking all the documents were in the order on the index, but then they weren't!

The call cut out again. Another brief reprieve for the rest of us.

This happened 10 more times.  I wouldn't have the patience for that. I'd send a text and tell the other person that I would call when I arrived home and could talk in privacy.

Just before Footscray, a phone rang behind me and a woman answered.
"What? Oh crap! Is that man, whose name I can't mention because I'm on a train, being obstructive? I thought we had the support of the Minister and the Secretary on this! .... Is Lucy there? Well, she's such a B - I - T - C - H!'

I felt like turning around and telling her that we could all spell.

This was the atmosphere in the train carriage for about 15 minutes and it was unbearable. Can you imagine being on a long haul flight for twenty or so hours and being subjected to other people's endless phone conversations?

I'm sure that if you were sitting next to me on a train or a plane and I was engaged in a conversation on my mobile phone, I would come across just as awfully as these two women.

I remember once sitting on a tram and a woman opposite me was issuing directives to someone on the other end of her phone. It was like sitting in a meeting at work and at the end of a long day at work, the last thing I wanted was to feel like I was still there. I didn't say anything verbally, but my body language must have been telling her to shut up! She interrupted her call and asked me if I had a problem. I told her that I did actually and that I probably wasn't the only one.  People around me started to nod, so I continued, telling her that we had all finished work for the day and didn't care to sit in her meeting.

She looked stunned and was about to push back when other people nearby gave me a round of applause!  She hung up and then gave me some body language to let me know she was not happy. The rest of the tram was though!

I've noticed since I updated the software on my iphone, I can send a text with the push of a button if I don't want to or can't answer the phone. Why can't people wait until they have some privacy and can also be considerate of others? Or why can't they be witty, erudite and speak in melodious tones? Perhaps we really do live in a post-privacy world.

What do you think about allowing mobile phones on planes? Do you answer your phone in public and talk at length? Are any subjects off limits?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Stream of consciousness - musings on journeys and problems and Melburnians.

Today I'm grateful that the most obvious to response to this information: "I'm going to get my hair done." isn't, "Which one?"

That sentence was really quite difficult to punctuate. How did I go?

Every time I have been to the hairdresser in 2013 it has rained on my way home. This is definitely a first world problem.

Speaking of first world problems, the other day I was at Flinders Street Station trying to locate my train (you'd think this would be easier than it actually is). I'd been waiting at Platform 8 for a while. This wasn't random, the signs all pointed to the fact that this was the place for the 5:36 pm to Laverton. A train arrived on the platform. The crowd of waiters (not the drinks kind) surged forward under the impression that the train would be the 5:36 pm to Laverton. As we surged, the sign changed its mind and informed us that it was the 5:40 pm to somewhere else, like Frankston or Packenham. We held back. An announcement informed us that the train on platform 8 was indeed the 5:36pm to Laverton. We surged forward and settled into our seats. "Settled" isn't really the right word. We were unsettled, but I don't know how to unsettle. The sign inside the train suggested the train was going to Packenham or Frankston. People dithered. Who to trust? The written word on a sign that has been wrong before or the live announcement from a human. I assume it was a human. Just as I relaxed in preparation for my journey homeward, an faint announcement was heard outside the train which sent a ripple of anger, a shiver of confusion through the commuters on board who had foolishly trusted the announcement last time. This announcement told us that we were on a train going to Frankston or Packenham and that the 5:36pm Laverton train was now arriving on platform 9! Could we trust the announcement? We surged from the train on to the platform and found a small moustached man wearing an orange high-vis vest and asked him the pertinent question: what the hell is going on? He shrugged in response.

The shrug was like an ember on a stream of petrol. Teeth were bared. We just needed to know which train, where, so we could go home.

Off to one side of the group a woman announced:  "First world problems people! First world problems! Some people don't have a home to go to, let alone a train to get there on. These are first world problems."

That didn't even make sense. As she wasn't getting on any train, but just hanging around the platforms passing moral judgement on people responding to chaos and the cosmic joke that is Flinders Street and Metro Trains at peak hour, I wondered where she was trying to go.

Another man tried to argue to logic of how the 5:40pm train had arrived before the 5:36pm train and it should be ours! I wanted to start singing songs from "Les Mis". I refrained. By that I mean I didn't. I don't mean that I sang a chorus.  Another shrug and he would have hijacked the train and taken us all west. We would have heard the people sing!

Once you're on a train in peak hour there's the added problem trying to navigate overcrowding of the aisles when there are lots of seats vacant. They're vacant because people don't move over and fill the seats furthest from the aisles first. They hog the outside seats hoping to have a bank of two or three to themselves.

I ask people nicely if I may have their seat. They look shocked. Then they move over. I always get a seat.

Then I hand them a tissue because they will inevitably be sniffing the entire liquid contents of their head back into their nasal passages. Repeatedly. What is with Melburnians and sniffing on public transport?

This was a diversion from the hairy, smelly man who was engaging himself in detailed conversation this morning on the way into the city. I didn't mind the conversation, but the smell was hard to take in closed quarters.

Then I heard that the baby elephant born at the Melbourne Zoo nearly a year ago died overnight. I never met Sanook but I had watched a documentary about the elephants at the zoo. I felt sad.

The rain fell, providing a sympathetic background of Shakespearean proportions and a mechanism to negate the efforts of my hairdresser.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Man needed! The day I couldn't shut the door.

Yesterday was Melbourne's hottest day since March; around 36 degrees (Celsius). I had sealed my apartment shut when I left in the morning, closing windows, drawing blinds and closing internal doors. It worked. When I walked in the front door it felt several degrees cooler inside than it was outside.

I was doing the customary after work potter. There was mail to read, dinner to plan, washing to bring in. I'd had my sheets on the line and they were dried as stiffly as if they had been meticulously starched. I turned the radio on and heard the presenter ask the audience if the cool change had reached us yet. 

I looked out the window. It "looked" cooler. I opened a door and could feel the temperature had dropped significantly. This was my cue to open everything up again. It was reported on the news later that the temperature had dropped 13 degrees in less than forty minutes! The bricks were holding the heat, but the cool breeze was bliss.

The door from my lounge room to my balcony kept slamming shut as the wind forced it shut. I had some blocks of wood lying around and used one of them to chock the door open. Problem solved.

At about 10pm I decided it was time to go to bed and went to remove the block of wood and lock the door for the night. Neither the block of wood, nor the door would budge. I pulled. I kicked. I shook. I tried to lift. Nothing. My burly Irish neighbour was out on his balcony, smoking, and he asked if I needed help. Very kind of him, but I had no memory of his name. I could tell you the names of his last three predecessors, but his name escaped me. I decided to buy some time and said that I just wanted to get my hammer and see if hitting it (the block of wood, not the door) really hard would work. I found my hammer right away, so there wasn't much time to recall my neighbour's name. 

Out to the balcony I went, armed with my pink-handled hammer. I hit the block of wood. I may as well have whipped it with a piece of dental floss. My trusty neighbour was ready to come and help. He'd even put on a shirt. I succumbed. I'm quite happy to ask for the help I need, but I need to first establish that the help is actually needed. As we met at out front doors, I confessed I had forgotten his name.

"It's Allan!" he replied very cheerfully.

I handed him the hammer. He looked at its pink-handled girlishness with disdain. He hit the block of wood with it. I felt a bit better because the dental floss analogy was still relevant. He returned to his apartment to retrieve a more manly hammer. I was relieved that it wasn't a sledge hammer as I noticed that the door was now at quite an unnatural angle.  

Allan started to really hit that block of wood. I silently apologised to the entire western suburbs for the noise. At one point, I even saw sparks as there was movement in that block of wood. Two more whacks with gusto and the wood split in two, but the bulk of it was still stubbornly wedged and the angle of the door was terrifying. Just as I started to plan the conversation with the real estate agent, the wood moved and the door moved and I was moved! 

I thanked Allan as he showed me the hammer, proud that he'd been able to assist a damsel in distress.

"Next time, use a smaller piece of wood," he said as he left.

Tonight the door is tied open with kitchen twine.

What's in your toolkit? Do you know your neighbour's name/s? What would have happened if the door couldn't be closed securely? (eek!)

Monday, 2 December 2013

Sunday slide show

 1 December is World AIDS Day. There was an enormous sign on the Princess Bridge to remind us

© divacultura 2013
 I went to a fabulous 40th birthday party on Saturday night. It was held at a private club with a rooftop lounge and bar. This is the view looking towards Crown Casino and the Exhibition Centre.
© divacultura 2013

I work in lots of different places and always like to see what the view is like out the windows. Here's the latest in my "view from the office" series.

From the seventh floor at Australian Catholic University looking back towards the city.
The tram is the 112 on Brunswick Street.
© divacultura 2013
Here are a couple of selfies with a difference. I noticed when I was rehearsing with the band at the Paris Cat Jazz Club that the mirrors and lights provided an interesting opportunity. This was taken from behind the bar, facing the mirror and capturing the reflection of the band on stage behind me.

© divacultura 2013
Lastly, the repeating selfie - straight from a French psychodrama...

© divacultura 2013
Have a great week!

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Under my skin - mockery in the group

This week I worked with a group that I found really challenging.  There was one man in particular who seemed to get under my skin and make me feel unsettled.

Initially I found him thoughtful.  He would wait until others had finished speaking and then quietly offer a considered opinion. His energy was calm at these moments. However, any activity or discussion that went for  more than about 15 minutes and he would be jiggling and fidgeting. The worst thing was that he then had this smirk on his face and would throw comments in that were only audible to the people sitting immediately near him.  They would all laugh and then no one would make eye contact with me.  I didn't know what was being said, but it didn't feel good.

During small group activities he continued this persona and it started to feel like mockery. The group around him seemed to like him and respond positively to whatever he was saying but he was actually taking the group away from their task.

He was doing my head in and I felt myself becoming snippy - I was sick to death of his smirking and just wanted to tell him to stop and take things seriously. I resisted.  No purpose would be served by putting my stuff on the table in front of the group. I did however ask him to speak up so the whole group could hear his contributions. That slowed down the flow of comments but didn't remove the smirk.

I spoke to my cofacilitator about it. She wasn't having the same issue with him but she described him as "taking the piss".  Yes!  That's exactly what it felt like.

Overnight I examined what it was about his behaviour that was rattling my wind chimes.  It was both simple and complex.  Simply, I felt like he was mocking me, doing it in such a way that I couldn't call him on it without losing my authority in the group.  On another level, the program was about leadership and the fact he didn't appear to be taking it seriously. He didn't have to be there. Sure, his employer had sent him, but it seemed that that was the only reason he was there.

Mockery is such a hard thing to deal with. It's a very effective way of putting someone off balance. Depending on the status of the person doing it within their group it can also be a weapon to wield or steal power.  I think the man I encountered this week was stealing power.

So I did nothing about it. Whenever he would do it, I went into neutral body stance, listened and then offered no comments. After doing this a few times, his behaviour shifted. His focus turned to his peer group.  It was almost as though he was looking to them for validation.  They continued to respond, but he was getting nothing from me.

After two days of this, I was exhausted. I reflected and continued to wonder what it was about him that I had reacted to, but I also congratulated myself on being aware and not engaging with his behaviour.

What gets under your skin? Who gets under your skin? What do you do about it?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Fuse blown - who you gonna call?

As I was cooking some rice for last night's dinner, I heard a pop and then realised the microwave was no longer working. The exhaust fan had gone off and the fridge was off.  The rice only had two more minutes to go and my stirfry was ready, so I decided I would eat first and investigate later.

The rice was okay and once I'd finished I checked all the power points and lights in my apartment. That took only short time because I suffer from a dire shortage of power points. When I realised that the power point in the kitchen wasn't working and neither was the one in the bathroom, my options for boiling the kettle were in my bedroom or behind the TV in the loungeroom. I didn't bother! I knew that I had probably blown a fuse, but my fuse board is old still has the old ceramic fuse holders.  I didn't feel confident to fix it and also wasn't entirely sure that that was actually the problem. I'd had dinner and could cope for the rest of the night, but the next day (today) was forecast to be hot and I was worried about my fridge and freezer full of food.

It was about 8:30pm when I called the office of the real estate agent, expecting that there would be a message with the number to call in an emergency.  There was.  I wrote it down, hung up and then called the emergency number. 

"We're sorry. The number you have dialled is disconnected.  Please check the number before dialling again."

Oh.  I concluded that I must have written the number down wrongly after I double checked what I'd dialled and what I'd written down.  

I called the real estate number again.  The number I had written down was exactly the number provided on the message.  I tried once more. Still disconnected.

I called my property manager's mobile number and left a voice message.  As I was writing a back up text message, she called me back.

"I don't know what we can do. It's after 8:30 at night! I don't think electricians would be able to fix this after the shops are closed."

I struggled to understand her argument, but then gave up.  Variations on "no" and "it's not possible" seem to be standard in the rental property managers' phrase book.  

I suggested that if it was a fuse, an electrician would have what they need to fix that any time. After more sighing and to-ing and fro-ing, I pulled the card for the last electrician who had visited and suggested that I call him.  I knew he lived locally and he was a lovely, friendly man who would at least be able to advise me.

Before I hung up I apologised for disturbing her and told her about the emergency maintenance number being disconnected.  Her answer was along the lines of: "Oh yes. It is disonnected.  We're in the process of writing letters with all new numbers of tradesmen to call." Her tone suggested that she failed to understand how ridiculous this was. I started to say something about the definition of "emergency" and comment on the poor planning and execution, but decided not to bother.

I called the electrician. He asked some questions, remembered who I was and then said he'd be around in about half an hour.  He was here in under 15 minutes and the problem was cheerfully fixed. I was also given suggestions for what to have on hand to avoid this problem or be ready if/when it happens again. 

Thank goodness for the local man who understands the value of good service and loyal customers providing repeat business.

Meanwhile, I wonder how long it will be before I receive my new instructions for what to do when  need out of hours assistance. 

Is your first response "yes" or "no"?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Being a patient - for real this time.

This time last week I was recovering from general anaesthetic. Hence my absence from writing. Beforehand I was a little anxious and just didn't have the headspace to write.  Afterwards, I was recovering, sleeping and thinking and just needed space.

Thanks for bearing with me.  Thanks also for the love and support sent my way at this time.

While I'm very experienced in being a patient interacting with the health care system, I'm not usually sick. Everything feels completely different when you're confronting surgery. From the moment of walking in the front door of the hospital (if you're lucky enough to be able to walk in), doing paperwork and making payments, to following instructions and having observations taken, the power relationship shifts. Suddenly I went from being an independent woman who acts on my own behalf and decides whether or not to follow rules and obey instructions, to being completely passive and following all instructions without question or comment.

Luckily I had a solid and trusted person with me who helped me keep perspective and stop me from worrying myself into a puddle on the floor.

Waking from a general anaesthetic is surreal.  One minute you're listening to the friendly and soothing chat from the anaesthetist as whatever marvellous stuff he has given you starts to loosen your hold on consciousness; you're noticing a mask being placed over your face.  Next thing you're hearing your name, you're somewhere else and you're in pain.

Pain was attended to swiftly and with gentle concern. Even as I shook uncontrollably for what seemed like ages, I was aware of the care and attention I was receiving. When the shaking didn't stop, I started to become distressed and tears started to flow. It seemed like a biological reaction which I was observing from afar. Unpleasant. It took a long time to make it out of the first stage of recovery. I kept falling asleep and my oxygen saturation was low. An alarm kept sounding and I was being reminded to breathe. I would and the alarm would stop.

I was relieved to be moved to another area and see my friend arrive. God knows what we talked about. I can't really remember. I hope I wasn't rude and didn't reveal any secrets.  A different nurse took over. She  didn't introduce herself and I felt she was very matter of fact and not very empathetic. My friend said she was doing a fine job from his perspective and I should appreciate that. I did. I've spent so much time thinking about and teaching empathy to health care professionals that I really notice when it's not there.

We arrived home after 8pm and my friends changed shift. My friend who stayed the night had a quiet night of it. The next morning I thanked her for staying and apologised for there being no middle-of-the-night emergency. We both have an appreciation for drama and she said she was a little bit let down she hadn't been required to play the scene requiring her to drive me somewhere, in my car. The kicker is that it would have been her first driving practice in about 20 years.

We both understood that we were joking.

On Friday, I had a half day of simulated patient work. I was back in a hospital gown and lying on a trolley. While the case was very different from my own circumstances, I felt that my recent surgical experience was adding to my authenticity in the role. Several students checked to see whether I would be okay as they finished their exam station. (Now that's empathy!)

Monday, I was back in shapeless blue piece of material, hopefully (ironically?) referred to as a "gown" as I went to have an MRI on my knee. (This is the one I fell on back in August.) The procedure was straightforward and painless and required me to follow one simple instruction: lie perfectly still.  Suddenly, this was an impossible task. My right arm was at a funny angle. Could I move it? Only it? Surely if I just shifted it a little, it wouldn't move my right knee?  Would it? I can't breathe! Oh, yes I can, but am I moving too much when I breathe? Or maybe I'm not breathing enough? Is that why my left big toe is suddenly incredibly ITCHY? I've got pins and needles in my left hand! Just lie still! Just lie still! Only 17 more minutes to go. I hear the machine go quiet. The technician reads my mind and just as I think I can move, her voice instructs me through the headphones to "keep lying still...only five more minutes to go...you're doing really well!" Look how much my chest moves when I breathe! How deeply can I breathe without moving my whole body? Wow, suddenly I'm aware of my earlobes...

And so it went for the whole 20 minutes.

I was told I'd been very still and given a well done as I carried my basket of clothes back to a cubicle to extricate myself from what I hope will be the last gown I'll wear for real for a while.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Rain soaked...observations from a bleak spring day

Federal Parliament has started again. Promises of new approaches and maturity and dignity, made only yesterday, are already hollow echoes.

It's STILL raining in Melbourne. It's summer in 18 days and I'm still wearing winter clothes and putting the electric blanket on at night.

Is there an increased incidence of death by umbrella spike?

Whenever I have been to the hairdresser this year it has rained.  Anyone need rain? I know how to make it happen.

Driving in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I saw a sign advising that "Rickety Street is closed". So it should be. Who opened it in the first place?

Seen on the side of a crane while driving in Sydney - Men are from Mars, but this crane is from Maher's.

I'm working on a new song. The working title is "Hot Desking Blues".

How to alienate someone (unintentionally I'm sure): have them work part time, make them hot desk, have no where for them sit when they arrive at work, have unreliable email and don't invite them to events attended by the whole office. See where I get my inspiration?

An ad on television has me puzzled. It was a Christmas sale for one of those cut price chemists. In preparation for Christmas, Nurofen is on sale. Who gives Nurofen as a Christmas gift? If you're going to give me drugs for Christmas, make it worthwhile please. Why not a tube of toothpaste while you're there? An example of the commercialisation of Christmas. More to come I fear.

The corners of my mouth turned up at Flinders Street today as I made my way to the advertised platform. Upon arrival, staff announced a platform change by using the term "musical platforms". Finally, recognition of the reality!

I think the rain is getting to me. It could be worse.

How are you?

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Death by Power Point - are you a slave to technology?

Today's question: why is it that when people are asked to do a presentation, they immediately open Power Point and write a hundred slides?

Tomorrow's question: why is that when people ask me to do a presentation, they expect that I will have a Power Point presentation with a hundred slides?

My practice when asked to present or develop a presentation is to have a conversation upfront about expectations. I make it clear that I don't use Power Point as my speakers' notes - I have notes for that. I don't write out slides that I will then read to the audience - if the audience can read, I can email them the material and save them the trouble of turning up. I certainly don't feel the need to demonstrate my skill as a reader. I use Power Point to show visual material that will support what I'm talking about. By "visual material" I mean pictures, cartoons, film footage or single words presented with impact to act as signposts in the presentation.

Usually when I have this conversation, the other person nods and says that that's fine and that's how they use Power Point too.

I breathe a sigh of relief and then go and put together around six slides. I hand it over. At this point, comments like "when will you have the rest?", "great outline", "it doesn't say anything". To the last comment my response is, "No it doesn't say anything - I'll be doing the talking.  That's what I'm there for!"

If I don't have control, then this is a losing battle and I do my best to engage my audience in spite of inflicting "death by Power Point". If I have control, then I'll usually receive feedback about how refreshing it was to witness an engaging presentation that did not rely on the standard slides.

I met someone at the printer today who was printing out his Power Point presentation. As the machine spat out the pages, he stood there shaking his head and muttering about presentations. I ventured to enquire about what he was saying.  He responded saying that he was preparing a presentation. I commented that it looked like a long one.  "Not really. There are just a lot of slides."

I couldn't help myself. I spruiked my view. Power Point is a classic example of a piece of technology that drives human behaviour, rather than being a tool which helps us.

He agreed with me, before shrugging and saying he had to go and finish preparing his slides. He could make a different choice, but maybe he's had the conversation with his boss and is resigned to producing another death by Power Point experience.

What's your relationship with Power Point? What's the best presentation you've ever seen?

Monday, 11 November 2013

All the "stupid people"

Some days I wonder what I would write about if I drove my car everywhere and never caught public transport. Other days I wonder whether my experiences are a true reflection of the public transport experience.

I was waiting at the tram stop in front of the State Library on Swanston Street. My hairdresser had called to tell me he could fit me in half an hour earlier if I could get there. I could. I had just been planning how to fill in half an hour when he called. So there I am, waiting for the advertised three minutes before the number 8 tram was due to arrive. 

"Excuse me!" I heard a man's voice say. I looked around, more out of curiosity than any specific reason for thinking his plea was directed to me.

"Excuse me! You, lady, come over here!" He seemed to be addressing me. I pointed at myself and cocked an eyebrow.

"Yes, you!"

I was taken aback. I was just standing waiting for a tram. I felt like I was being summoned to the headmaster's office. What could I have done? I didn't want to be commanded by a man in uniform to do anything  - those desires were quenched when I went through a misguided "I want to join the airforce and fly fighter jets" phase, fed by seeing the film "Top Gun" - even if the said uniform consisted of a fetching orange high-vis vest with the words "customer service" plastered across the back.

"What do you want?" I asked.

"Just come over here." He pointed to something behind the tram stop on the lawn in front of the library.

I took a tentative step. The high-vis vest didn't give him the amount of power he was exercising.

"Look at those stupid people!" he pointed and exclaimed.

I saw two punks with spectacular hair. One, the woman, had fire engine red in a mohawk with spikes that were at least 30 centimetres long. The other was a man and he had the same spikes, but in jet black. He was standing behind her and doing something with her hair. 

"Who?" I asked.

"The ones with the stupid hair! How ridiculous.  People are stupid you know!"

I shrugged nervously. I didn't really think they were stupid. 

"Each to their own," I chirruped.  

The man shook his head and looked at me before saying, "People in this world are so stupid. Don't you think?"

"Not really. That's my tram."  It really was the number 8, although I would have happily boarded the next tram to anywhere just to avoid a continuation of the proclamation.

I took my seat and looked again at the two punks, just ordinary people in each other's company, albeit with spectacular hair. I wondered what the tram man had seen in me that caused him to think I would be sympathetic to his conservatism. I rethought my entire outfit and wondered whether I should ask my hairdresser to do something wild with my hair. Then I wondered what the man was so insecure about that he needed to point others out to complete strangers. It wasn't as though the two punks were imposing their hairstyles or choices on the tram man. Although if I saw him in his high-vis customer service vest, I wonder whether I'd think he was stupid.

I was jolted out of my thoughts by a woman screaming at her children to sit down. I could hear her over the music on my ipod. I looked around and saw three small boys cowering in silence. She continued with a tirade of contemplation about why they had to all be so stupid. 

She should be careful, they could all grow up to be punks.

Here's how I came out of the hairdresser. Brighter red, but no spikes!

Infinite selfie.
© divacultura 2013

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Congratulations Rose Wintergreen - Artist of the Year!

I'm so excited for my friend Rose Wintergreen who featured on divacultura a little over a year ago. She has been awarded Australian Independent Music Awards Dance/Electronic Artist of the Year for 2013 for her song Feet in the Sand.

Congratulations Rose!

A little over a year ago Rose mentioned in her interview with divacultura that she was "also working on songs for a new recording". Well Rose has certainly achieved that. I've watched Rose plan the project and then work really hard, riding the highs and the lows, and it's so great to see her vision and hard work pay off. 

Rose crowd funded her album and I remember talking to her just before the deadline about how it was all going. There were some nervous moments, but we got her over the line. Thanks to everyone who joined me in contributing to bringing this artist's work into a  wider world.

Visit Rose's blog to see photos from the Awards night and find out more. Maybe even say hello!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Car registration and licence renewal - sticky business.

Why is it so hard to remove the old registration sticker from the windscreen? My old one was peeling off on one side and tricked me into thinking it would be a piece of cake to remove it.  Boy, was I wrong! How can it be that one half of something just peels itself off and the other side requires a sand blaster and at least a week to remove?

Armed with my bottle of eucalyptus oil and a palette knife, I thought it would take a few minutes. Half an hour later, the windows were fogged and I was as high as a koala on eucalyptus. It seemed little progress had been made, but there was a carpet of tiny, sticky shavings of the old blue registration sticker all over the front seat.

At last I felt that enough had been removed to allow me to apply the new sticker. I pressed very lightly, hoping that this time next year, the removal process would be quick and easy. I have this thought every year. Every year I am disappointed.

The digital age is yet to reach Vic Roads. Surely we should just have a permanent bar code or a chip or something, but we're still on old, cumbersome technology.

I was actually late with my payment and realised the same day that my driver's licence had also expired. It hadn't been a problem because I only drive occasionally and I had been away travelling interstate. I logged onto internet banking ready to make the payments. I looked at all the paperwork I had received and could find no information about how to pay electronically. I called the call centre and was invited to pay over the phone - a method requiring credit card with only Visa or Mastercard offered as options. I enquired about BPay and was advised that because I needed a photo for my licence that option wasn't offered. In relation to the car registration, I was not able to pay by BPay because the payment was overdue. I would need to go to a Vic Roads office.  I opted to pay by credit card.

When I asked the woman about the lack of flexible payment options, she reminded me that my payment was overdue. Eternal damnation for me!

I confirmed with her that now that I had written the receipt number she provided on the driver's licence renewal I should take that to a "photo point"...? This seemed to be what the booklet and the form suggested.

"NO! Because your payment is overdue, you need to wait for me to send a zero balance data card to you in the mail. You then take that to the photo point. They won't take your photo if your renewal notice is showing a balance."

"Okay. But if I had paid on time, over the phone, I would be able to go to a photo point and they would take my photo?"


"But the renewal would not be showing a zero balance...?"

"I've already explained that your payment is overdue. I've explained that to you."

It truly did feel that the minute the clock struck midnight Vic Roads was going to make the process unbearably difficult - perhaps to motivate me to be more organised in ten years' time when my licence expires!

In the meantime, my car smells like eucalyptus and the new sticker is threatening to curl its corners.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Creature feature - from the bottom of the toilet

HELLO! I've had a little journey. First for work and then to celebrate my birthday (Halloween) with family in the country. Long days of work and then other things to pay attention to, meant that I haven't been here.  Back and refreshed now!

On arrival home at about 9:30pm, after I put my bags down and turned the hot water service back on (I turn it off when I'm away to save electricity), I visited the toilet.  When I lifted the lid, there was a critter in there! A long critter; a spiny critter; a critter with more than four or eight legs. It had antennae too.

I stared at it, trying to ascertain whether it was alive or dead. I'd never seen anything like it before, so I had no way of knowing. It seemed to be moving, but that could have been the water making it move.  For my homecoming, I had not planned to find myself starring in my very own creature feature.

I'd been away for over a week, so I knew it hadn't come out of me!

Images of horror ran through my mind.

The creature was activated by the light let in when I opened the lid, growing enormously as it emerged from the toilet bowl and devoured me whole.

If I sat, I risked the creature finding its way to my brain via a lower orifice. It would control me. From the outside I would look the same, but there would be a flash of something in my eyes that people would think they saw, but wouldn't be sure.

What if I flushed and it was still there? What if it wasn't really there and I was imagining it? What if I looked in the mirror and saw it standing behind me?

I looked more closely. Maybe it wasn't organic! It might be some kind of high tech wizardry, made to look organic, but actually it was a literal bug...but what a strange place to put it? It would be hard to hear my conversations from the bottom of the loo. I don't really have many conversations there. Maybe it was a government surveillance device, designed to assess my diet or see whether I was being affected by some secret chemical they are covertly putting in the water.

Taking a breath, I decided that it was just a strange thing that had somehow crawled through or been washed through and landed in my pristine toilet bowl. I sat. Very focussed on whether I could feel any creepy crawly sensations. There were none. I tried to see if it was still there before I flushed, but the view was, ahem, obscured.

I paused. Had one of my freaky imaginings come true?


I flushed.

As the creature surfed his way back to the sewers, I imagined that he would join the secret colony of sewer creatures. Maybe he was an advance guard, doing reconnaissance to find a new home. What if he came back? With his whole family?

I lowered the lid, turned off the light and closed the door.

Was that a sound I heard? Why was I suddenly itchy? ...

Have you ever found a creature at the bottom of the toilet? What was it? 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Behind the scenes - my Million Dollar Minute

My latest outing on television game shows aired this week. I can now reveal, for those who didn't see Million Dollar Minute, that I am not a millionaire. Repeat, NOT a millionaire. I'm not even a few bucks richer. They gave me a box of chocolates - a nice gesture, but of course I don't eat sugar. It's moments like these that I realise how sugar driven the world is. Small rewards usually come in the form of sugar. Even an order of sock yarn arrived with a lollipop in the package the other day.

But I digress.

Watching the show was strangely nerve wracking, even though I knew the outcome. I think I was worried that my slow start would leave me looking like some dumb person who answered one question and it was about Versace. You know?

While there's lots I'm contractually bound not to talk about, I can say that game shows are a fascinating opportunity to examine a cross section of the community. A bunch of twelve or so strangers are flung together in the green room for hours on end. It's easy to spot the ones who are deadly serious about their purpose: they don't say a lot and when asked anything they are reticent. Being the extrovert that I am, I talk to everyone and find out as much as I can, meanwhile, there's a guy asleep on the couch (how did they remove the sleep lines before he went to air?)

With the daily newspapers at hand, I decided to lead the quizzes. This is a great way to test the mettle of the deadly serious ones. They can't help but reveal their knowledge. At this point I ask if anyone needs me to shut up. They laugh and the crew who is minding us says "no" in a "thank god you're here" kind of way. It's their job to sit in a room babysitting adults all day. They were terrific.

A television, tuned to the home network, plays in the corner. It's infomercial hour, so after ten minutes of that we're all ready to shoot the television. DVDs have been provided for our entertainment, as well as several jigsaw puzzles. No Scrabble set though. I choose a retrospective of the comedy show "Fast Forward" which proves to be a hit. We all marvel at the cleverness and the fact that much of the humour would not be allowed on television today (think Magda Subanski in black face!). Ages of fellow competitors were revealed as people in my age group could quote along with the skits and characters.

There were some formalities - rules, contracts etc - and the opportunity to practise on the buzzers and the touch screen. I was first in and happily got all five questions in the practise round correct. Julius, one of the other contestants, said my name was written down by everyone else when I got the question about the fennec fox correct . It's renowned for its large ears. Apparently. I fluked that one, but they didn't need to know that.

I was glad to have my knitting with me. It's always handy for passing the time when you have to just wait. Nothing else, just waiting. We were in a time vortex with nothing much happening, but immense anticipation in the air. Contestants would come back from their filming either jubilant at winning some money or devastated after losing their chance.

I will confess that I sledged the champ in between sessions. Nicely. But I did want to get under his skin and rattle him a bit. He was an air traffic controller and cool as a cucumber. Meanwhile, I was in some weird tunnel for the first round. It took ages for me to hear and process the question before I could even get around to pressing the buzzer. I gave myself a good talking to and things picked up from there.

In the end, I got the second last question wrong which locked me out for the next one (which I knew) and I was beaten by 15 points. The champ had bought 15 points earlier in the game. It was an exciting battle at the end. It would have been more exciting if it was me playing for $20,000, but that's life.

My next sit-com idea will be set in a the green room of a game show.

Have you won anything lately?

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen - The art of being MC

I've spent the last three days as an MC at Work Safe Week at the Melbourne Convention Centre. One of the great things about being an MC is that you get to meet lots of really interesting people and learn from them. I've spent time learning about everything from manual handling risks and solutions to removing slip, trip and fall hazards; the impact of fatigue on safety at work to how injured or sick people think. I've chaired panels of Work Safe Inspectors and Health and Safety Representatives and there was never a moment when I was anything less than interested in what I was hearing.

There was a common passion all of these people had - the desire to make sure everyone comes home from work safely and the desire to support people in workplaces across the state to help make this a reality.

At the end of each presentation I facilitated a Q & A session. Generally people had genuine questions and were pleased to have the opportunity to ask and respectful of the people asking them. Occasionally, the soap box would be wheeled out and an audience member would ramble on with a story, or argue with the answer they had been given. On one occasion, an attendee attacked the panel on the quality of their presentation. My other favourite thing is when someone argues from the floor about whether or not they really need to use the microphone to ask their questions. Usually the audience will tell them that they do need to use it, as they struggle to actually hear what is being asked.

It's these moments that cause clients to congratulate themselves on the decision to hire an MC, presenters to thank the gods that they don't have to manage the situation. Other members of the audience will breathe a sigh of relief and silently (or actually) applaud when tricky audience situations are sensitively and firmly handled. It's moments like these that cause me to wonder what's going on for a person who feels the need to publicly have a go at volunteers who are serving their workplace community.

The Sufi saying about being aware that every single person you meet is in a silent battle with something that you don't know about, springs to mind.

One of the themes for the event was that change begins with a single action. I asked participants to consider what "one thing" they would do when they returned to their workplace.

My workplace varies wildly from day to day; often I'm at work at the kitchen table at home. My apartment was built in the days where each room only had one power point, so I have electrical cords running all over the place. I'm off to buy some gaffer tape and some extension leads so I can secure the cords out of the way and reduce my risk of a slip, trip or fall at home.

I spent the whole event working in the one room with the same tech guy. He was great to work with and instilled confidence in me and the presenters that he would make sure everything worked smoothly. I spent time every day talking to him and appreciating him; this morning I gave him a small box of chocolates to say thank you. He was chuffed. It was a small gesture that was easy to do and sincerely intended and I know that I have someone in my network who would not hesitate to recommend my work.

Did you go to the Work Safe Week event? What's the one thing you need to do in your workplace to remove a hazard or risk? Do you go out of your way to show appreciation to the people you rely on? How easy are you to work with?

And lastly, having spent three days in the MC role and contemplating my appearance on Million Dollar Minute (on the television in 8 minutes) I do wonder why game show hosts are usually male. Why is that?

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

View from the office - Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

This week I'm MC at Worksafe Week at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. It's a really interesting - if tiring - gig.

This morning on the way in to prepare for the morning's first session, I stopped to pay attention to the building. It is enormous and I find it very appealing. There are many angles and I enjoyed stopping to take some photographs.

© divacultura 2013

Looking out.
© divacultura 2013

Looking down
© divacultura 2013

Looking down at an angle
© divacultura 2013
What was the view from your office today?

Monday, 21 October 2013

Support Travellers' Aid - grab a funky myki cover

I just discovered this fundraising activity for Travellers' Aid, an organisation that provides assistance to people needing extra help when using public transport. (Thanks Daniel Bowen.) You can order a funky holder for your myki card and help support a good cause at the same time. Covers are free and you pay $2.50 postage and handling.

I walk past the Travellers' Aid centre at Flinders Street station most days, on my way to platform 10 and have often wondered what they do. After reading their website, I was very happy to also make a donation to support their work. As well as providing physical facilities in four Victorian locations, they also provide people - carers and medical companions for people who need assistance to attend medical appointments. I imagine that this service is appreciated and valuable for many people.

One of the benefits of having my myki is a special cover is that it will help me avoid the embarrassment of accidentally using something like my library card and wondering why the gates won't open!

They'd be a cute stocking stuffer for the public transport user in your life at Christmas time too.

Which one/s do you like?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

All the world's a stage.- including the hospital ward

Here's what my office looked like on Friday:

My favourite workspace
© divacultura 2013
I spent the day lying in bed and receiving bad news, repeatedly.

Sometimes I was required to react angrily and other times I was directed to be shocked or disbelieving. Usually I reached the point of tears, depending on the interaction with the particular doctor.

Students (practising surgeons) were receiving feedback on their communication and ability to manage emotions. Generally they did very well. What struck me during the debriefing was how sincere they were about wanting the best outcome for their patient (me). Where a mistake had been made, they were appalled on my behalf.

Wardrobe and special FX done.
© divacultura 2013

In the debriefing after scenarios where I had been directed to be angry and was introduced to the students by my own name, some of them looked a little wary. I always wave and smile and introduce myself in the friendliest way possible to prove that the threat is gone. Once they realise this, I notice many of them looking at me, fascinated. Only a moment before I was lying on a hospital bed, the day after my operation, attacking them and wanting to find someone to blame; yet there I am, moments later, looking and sounding completely different.

I love this work!

One of the students had a lovely way of contextualising each piece of information he provided. He explained afterwards that we all come with stories - the patient, the doctor etc - and that each event or interaction adds to that story. I loved his way of thinking. He was wonderful to talk to - empathetic, respectful and caring.

Wardrobe and makeup was really easy. Hospital gowns are the least flattering garments on the planet, but they ARE comfortable. The bandage on my arm is to keep my fake IV in place and I have a hospital bracelet to make sure I'm identified correctly as the simulated patient.

As in life, my simulated husband's presence was repeatedly requested by the doctors. My simulated husband was not there when I needed him. He was running his simulated business but was going to pick up the simulated children from school and come in later in the day.

Everytime I cry during these jobs, I receive questions about "how do you do that?" I now borrow my friend's response: "How do you do surgery?"

In my line of work, all the world IS a stage and they don't call it an operating theatre for nothing.