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'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?