Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sunday Slide Show

My vocal group rehearses in the hall attached to a Russian church.
While one of the other parts was rehearsing, I noticed the shadows thrown by the chandeliers.
© 2014 divacultura

Ghostly shadow.
© 2014 divacultura

From my "view from the office" series.
This is in the old part of the Royal Melbourne Hospital's Royal Park Campus.
© 2014 divacultura

Southgate sculpture.
I took this at about 6pm while I was waiting for my dinner date.
© 2014 divacultura

Taken the same night from Southgate looking across the Yarra River to Melbourne's CBD.
© 2014 divacultura
Early spring afternoon - Swanston Street, Melbourne
© 2014 divacultura

How was your week? Are you on Instagram? Why not pop over and say hello - I'd love to see your pictures.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The thronging crowd - a test of mettle

If you've ever been at Flinders Street Station during the evening peak then you know the experience of being in a crowd where people are so focused on their own objective that they lose - or disregard - the people around them.

A growing crowd of eager commuters stands at the traffic lights, waiting to cross the road and enter the Station. The green man appears on the lights and we surge forward. Like the release of a dam gate, we flow in the one direction until we hit the next barrier - the turnstiles we need to navigate to enter the station. There is a narrowing of focus. This is where the jostling starts. People suddenly change direction; they cut off another's trajectory. Their heads are down, their eyes trained straight ahead. We're through the turnstiles and then there are some stairs (about 10?) to negotiate. The arrivals and departures board is right above these stairs. People stop suddenly to look up and confirm the platform from which their train is leaving. People suddenly change direction to get around the people who have turned to pillars of stone. Down the stairs and we're in an even narrower space. Most people are going into the station and so have swelled to take up the whole space. Pity the people moving against this tide. They resort to bags and elbows. Some try to keep left, but then find themselves trapped behind a SMP (slow moving person). They change direction suddenly to cut in front, usually without regard to anyone who might be behind or beside them.

I run this gauntlet regularly. I try to remain aware of those around me, but find myself becoming more bullish as I'm whacked by urban weaponry - backpacks, shopping bags, umbrellas swinging wildly, even jauntily.

Today was particularly challenging even before I reached the station. It made me think about a drama warm up exercise which is about building physical awareness of the space and the people within it. Everyone moves slowly at first in any direction, dodging and weaving through the throng. The speed builds. People rarely collide. I believe it is because participants in such an exercise are absolutely present and acutely aware of their bodies in relation to others. I've done this in a group where half the group is blindfolded. Again, people rarely, collide.

Thinking about this today, I wondered about how this kind of awareness in everyday life and activities could improve crowd behaviour, making everything easier and happier. I was reminded about my first visit to India a few years ago. I visited the southern city of Chennai. My hotel was on the opposite side of the road to the location of the nearest bank. I needed to get cash and thought nothing of stepping out to engage in the ordinary activity of visiting an ATM.

On stepping out of the hotel's calm, I was immediately confronted with the practical problem of how to cross the road. The voluminous traffic never stopped. There were no designated crossings or traffic lights. Observing the traffic - reading it as a surfer might read the surf - the chaos soon revealed an order of cooperation and awareness. Vehicle horns were tooted, but the sound was a happy beep that said "Just letting you know I'm over here".

As I stood marooned on the wrong side of the road, I watched some locals cross the road. I was horrified when I saw them launch from the safety of the kerb. As they made their way across the road, the traffic happily moved around them. It was like throwing a pebble in a pond. I was astonished to see them arrive safely on the other side. I took a deep breath but my courage failed me. I waited for some more people to come along so I could follow in their wake. They did and I did. It resulted in terrified exhilaration. I suppose that living with so many people teaches you awareness.

If I applied the same principles to the evening rush at Flinders Street Station, I fear you would find my body, trampled and bruised at the end of the rush. Generally Melburnians are great to be in a crowd with. My theory is that practice makes the difference: attendance at AFL football games in huge crowds from an early age teaches people how to get from A to B when B isn't even visible and there are 10,000 people in the way. The personal electronic device is one of the problems. Headphones are plugged in. Heads are down, rather than being up and engaged with the world.

All of this thinking leaves me pondering a further question - will we evolve to have another set of eyes in the top of our heads so we can look at the device AND see where we're going and will we gain hearing sensors all over our bodies so we can be plugged in but still hear the rest of the world?

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

What to do when you meet someone famous.

Fame. Infamy. Celebrity. Many people crave these things like air, but I wonder what it would actually be like to be so recognisable that complete strangers think they know you. If your fame is over, then how do you reinvent yourself while the rest of the world sits on the sidelines reacting to you in accordance with their view of who you are and what you're capable of?

I had an encounter today which caused me to ponder these things. (I'm not going to reveal who this person is out of respect and professionalism.) I was playing a character and only interacted with this person while I was in character. I knew the identity of the person I was to work with beforehand so it wasn't a complete shock when I walked in, but there was still that strange moment of recognition. It felt like I knew this person and then remembered the truth. 

The work we were doing together was very far from the field in which this person had achieved their fame; this may have made it easier to forget about who they "had been". 

That idea of "had been" crossed my mind and I thought about how awful it would be to have to fight against an outmoded image of yourself. Reinvention - or even just progress - can be challenging for ordinary people. I can only imagine what it must be like when the world has you boxed into a particular place in that world.

During our encounter, nothing was mentioned of the old world. What a relief that must be!

The bigger lesson from today's experience was a reminder about meeting people as they are, with no preconceived ideas. Being present, interacting in the moment and responding according to how they are today is a good thing to do with anyone.  A deep level of authenticity and honesty is possible if both people in the conversation are doing this.

I'm pleased to have had the opportunity I had today. My only regret was that I didn't have the opportunity to engage with this impressive person as myself. Truthfully, I may have been a little bit star struck when it was all over.

What did you learn today? Who did you meet today?

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

I made a mistake today and I told the world.

You know that feeling when you think there's something you've forgotten, but don't know what it is? It's a niggly kind of feeling, but worrying the niggle does nothing to uncover the forgotten thing. Today my niggle was revealed: I had completely forgotten something very important in one of my projects.

I don't forget things very often (apart from bills I have to pay - and that's just because I'm busy and disorganised at home). At work, I'm super-organised. Working part time in many different places, including my own business, means that I have to be extremely organised and ready for everything well ahead of deadline.

Today I received a call from the secretariat of a conference where I'm putting flyers in the conference satchels to advertise. The satchels are being packed tomorrow on the Gold Coast and I have paid for 450 flyers to be placed in those satchels. I'm in Melbourne.

Firstly, I owned my mistake. I explored the possible options with the secretariat and then told my boss what the options were. My boss was excellent. We talked about where things stood, I proposed a solution, we made a decision and I went off to fix the problem.

Thanks to the digital age, I was able to easily find a local printer, email them the art work and have the flyers printed and delivered by 8:30 tomorrow morning to the place where the satchels are being packed. Phew!

Initially, I felt really stupid and was concerned that I had made such a mistake. I guess I also worried that I had let people down. Of course, everyone makes mistakes. I told myself this and then my little inner critic replied "but I don't". I shut that critic down. Of course I make mistakes. I just proved that today. Being open, honest and owning the error was the best thing I could do. This enabled collaboration on the solution my error had created and built trust. Yes! My boss will trust me more as a result of what happened today - not because I made a mistake, but because I didn't try to hide the error.

What do you do when you make a mistake?

What about the sign on this door? I notice it every day at my train station, but today I tried to understand what it means. I think someone made a mistake. What's the point of a door that no one is allowed to go through?

© 2014 divacultura

Monday, 18 August 2014

5:14pm to Laverton

The 5:14pm Laverton train was entertaining. The driver engaged with his cargo. As we pulled out of Flinders Street Station he greeted us and then said he wanted to acknowledge three very special groups of people travelling with us today.

"Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge all those people who gave up their seat to someone who really needed it. The second very special group I want to acknowledge is those who can actually hear what I'm saying. It means you haven't got your headphones on and turned up to eleven, which also means you're not driving everyone else nuts with [insert beat box sounds here] bleeding out of your headphones. And the third group I really want to acknowledge is those who are speaking on their mobile phone very softly. You're all outstanding people.

"I also wanted to let you know we are running a bit late, due to the tardy arrival of this train to Flinders Street. I'll do my best to make up time and get you home, as long as you're going anywhere on the Laverton Line, except South Kensington, where we're not stopping. If you're not going to any of these places, you're on the wrong train and I can't really help you! You should get off at the earliest opportunity."

As we pulled out of North Melbourne station, the train slowed right down. The driver was back.

"Good afternoon again, ladies and gentlemen. Very sorry to bother you again. I think the scenery we're now passing through is really worth having a look at - you know, under the freeway - lovely, the dirty old creek - it's so picturesque I decided to slow right down to give you a chance to take it in."

Some of us laughed.

He explained the train ahead of him was travelling very slowly, so he had no choice but to also drive slowly.

At various points, he also advertised a new bus service (the 901) running from Broadmeadows Station to the airport every 15 minutes and apologised for interrupting our reading.

I like this driver and hope he brings me home again soon.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Not if you're poor

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey says that poor people don't have cars and if they do, they don't drive them much as justification for increases in the fuel excise.

I hope his press secretary is furious, but we've been lucky to gain insight into how our Treasurer thinks.

We've just learned that if you're "poor" in Australia, the Treasurer is working to keep you down, not lift you up. It seems that if Hockey is right and you're poor and don't have a car, his policies are not going to help you get a car or afford fuel if you do have a car. You are dismissed.

How about the poor people who live in outer suburbs or regional areas away from good public transport infrastructure? Life will get harder. Put this together with proposed job search requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits and the burden just got heavier.

$510.50 is the maximum fortnightly Newstart Allowance payment for a single person with no dependents. I guess that qualifies you as "poor" if you have no other resources. And don't forget if you're under 30 years old, the Abbott Government proposes no financial support for you for six months if you're not "earning or learning". I suppose if you have no income at all, you'd be considered poor.

People driving cars aren't the only people paying fuel excise. How about the trucks that deliver our food and other goods and services? These increased costs will surely flow on to the community where poor people live and need to eat and clothe themselves and send their kids to school.

Regardless of the underpinning policy merits of taxing petrol, it's awful to hear such contempt being displayed to people who are struggling. I don't expect to agree with much that the Abbott Goverment says or does, but I do expect the people who have been elected to govern, do so for ALL people, not just the rich.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Team work - 12 pianists and one piano!

I just watched this video of a performance as part of the TEDMED series. Twelve people play one piece on one piano. The music is interesting and we get to hear the full range of the piano being fully explored.

I watched it again and it struck me that this is a great example of a high performing team. Each member has a part to play. They are expert in the part they play. No one tries to take over someone else's part. They have to work physically closely together without distraction. They look delighted to be working together. We don't see the hours of preparation, both individual and team, that would have been required to achieve the performance we see in the film. We also don't see the debrief afterwards where there would be celebration of success and perhaps some private conversation about errors made. Perhaps they would also plan for their next piece of work.

I'm sure there is a leader. At times I think I spotted one, only to think I saw someone else. I believe this is how it is in a truly high performing team - all members shoulder responsibility and accountability for the performance of the team.

Isn't that a team you'd like to be part of?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Leadership lessons - Shifting the boss/worker paradigm

A few weeks ago I was in the company of some former colleagues from my days as a union official. There were some people I was genuinely delighted to see. Years had passed and there were many questions about how I was now spending my time. I responded with passion and enthusiasm about the variety of things I'm working on, including leadership development for some big organisations. I was struck by the number of people who asked me outright, "Have you moved to the other side?"

The first time I was struck by the boldness of the question and could only manage a "no". After a few times, I started to react to the question with its inherent judgement and lack of curiosity. I pushed back.

"Why is leadership development perceived as being on the other side? What is the "other side" anyway?"

The answers were simplistic echoes of old class wars: you're supporting the bosses instead of the workers.

It was old-fashioned, limited thinking. I thought about the number of union members I'd talked to who had fallen victim to unskilled bosses and thought how much better it is for everyone if leaders in business are skilled in the business of leading their people. My response was met with a shrug.

People with locked in positions about workplace politics aren't limited to people working for trade unions.  In a recent conversation with senior leaders we were discussing what is within our control and considering where we focus our attention and energy. The group nodded and acknowledged the wisdom of understanding this. Then a member of the group said they hated the fact that they knew their team members would go "straight to the union" after particular conversations with them. I could see their frustration and feel the temperature in the group increase as others agreed.

I asked what bothered this leader about the actions of their people. They told me they had no control over how messages were conveyed to the union. I asked whether the team members were doing something wrong in talking to their union. The group agreed that there was nothing wrong with this. The frustration remained.

"What would happen if you acknowledged, out loud, the conversations that they would have with their union?" Uncomfortable shuffling ensued.

"What would happen if you facilitated that conversation somehow?" Angry eyes looked at me.

"After you speak to your team, how can you control who they speak to next? What they say?"

Further frustration boiled over: "We can't!" "We just have to accept it!" came the responses.


Imagine what might happen if the focus changed. Instead of directing energy in a negative way towards a futile goal (ie stopping people talking to each other), consider the power of accepting what is not within your control and instead directing energy in a positive way, for example facilitating or nurturing a relationship, starting a conversation.

It fascinates me that the people who are in the relationship of employer and union are often misguided about the nature of that relationship. Many probably would disagree with the concept that a relationship even exists. Even sworn enemies have a relationship with each other.

Where do you put your energy? Is it within your control? What would happen if you shifted your focus?

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sunday slide show

Some of my favourite shots I've taken lately. Lots of cityscapes as part of my "view from the office today" series on Instagram.

Looking east up Bourke Street, Melbourne, 20 floors up.
© 2014 divacultura

Looking west down Bourke Street, Melbourne, 10 floors up.
© 2014 divacultura

Stormy view of the Melbourne CBD from the backseat of a cab
on the Tullamarine Freeway
© 2014 divacultura

Same taxi ride a few moments later - the Melbourne wheel.
© 2014 divacultura

The clouds gathering above the Melbourne city - view from Southbank
© 2014 divacultura
Hope you like them! @divacultura is over on Instagram too.

What have you been photographing? 

Friday, 8 August 2014

Life at 9 and gratitude

I've come across many people this week who are in some kind of pain. Often their pain has been caused by their efforts to control things that are not within their control.

I also watched the excellent show on the ABC, Life at Nine which is following children as they grow up. This week's episode was about creativity and not only was it interesting to watch the children, but I also learned a bit about myself. 

These experiences influence what I'm grateful for everyday:

1. I am grateful for my creativity.

2. I am grateful for my imagination.

3. I am grateful for my resilience.

4. I am grateful for my own company.

5. I am grateful for my failures.

6. I am grateful that I have the capacity to write this post.

7. I am grateful that I have the freedom to publish this post.

8. I am grateful for the opportunities my parents gave me.

Here's two of my favourite photos from the week.

Shadow bike
© 2014 divacultura

Shot tower, Melbourne Central
© 2014 divacultura

What are you grateful for? Have you been watching the Life Series? Who's your favourite? (Mine's Wyatt, but don't tell anyone.)

Thursday, 7 August 2014

On teapots and punctuation

"We had to keep going you know  because I've only got a certain amount of energy available each day," the woman declared too loudly as she boarded the tram.

I looked up to check that she was in fact human. I was expecting something battery powered.

"Mmmm yes well shopping's shopping really isn't it?" said her companion.

They both lacked punctuation when they spoke.

"Yes it is everything is the same it doesn't matter where you go there's nothing new although we did see some lovely teapots only $100 each but then who really needs another teapot especially if you have to pay that much for it."

"No things aren't cheap over here are they $100 for a teapot seems like far too much but they were lovely but you have enough teapots you don't need another one."

I sat pondering the question of how many teapots does one have to have to be declared at that point of "enough"? I also worried that the conversation could involve a detailed, unpunctuated description of the various qualities of teapots.

My stop came and I never found out. My life will go on.

Why do people speak without punctuation? (Although having spent the day reading student evaluations, I could also ask why punctuation is not used for written communication. I think the language in which they write is English, but sometimes I honestly can't tell.)

I have a neat little stainless steel teapot that is perfect to make one sizeable cup of tea. It's round and welcoming and cost me far less than $100. I have the same teapot in a larger size for when there's more than one tea drinker in the house. I wouldn't dream of serving tea bags.

This reminds me of the time I was out with a dear friend and we went to a cafe in Hobart. I felt like a cup of tea, but have learned that assumptions about the quality of tea served must be checked.

After confirming that the establishment served tea, I asked whether they used leaves or a bag.  The girl looked very confused - perhaps conflicted.

"Well, they're leaves, but ... but...they're in a bag?" The upward inflection betrayed her uncertainty.

To stop me from laughing in her face I promptly ordered a cappuccino.

What's the most you've ever paid for a teapot? Do you use a pot or a bag?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wild ride home - danger in the air on the trains

A few months ago, works were undertaken at Seddon train station in the inner west of Melbourne. One of the undercover seats was removed and a room was renovated. An airconditioner was installed. Signs designating the area as being for "staff only" were hung. I waited to see who it was for. Weeks turned into months and there was no sign of anyone until a few weeks ago, two Protective Service Officers were standing out on the platform on a cold winter's night. They had just started that night and would be there every night from 6pm until the last train.

It's a good move actually. Seddon is very quiet and the streets around the station are deserted at night. I've often felt very alone and wondered what would happen if something happened. I always greet them whenever I see them and it feels like they're becoming part of the community.

canComing home from the Melbourne International Film Festival the other night, I boarded a train with my friend and immediately felt like we'd chosen the wrong carriage. Two men were in a heated, loud argument with each other. The argument was verbal only, but aggression was in the air and I was glad to be sitting quite apart from them. A banner on the wall of the train advertised "anti-hate spray". It felt like I could do with a can in my handbag. We stopped at North Melbourne station and then the train sat for longer than usual. The argument continued to rage and we struggled to hear the announcement from the driver that we were stuck for a while because of a police operation at the next station (South Kensington).

Announcements came reasonably frequently. The driver sounded more and more frustrated as the announcements turned into statements about how nothing had changed and we were still stuck. It sounded like he had a lamb roast waiting for him at home and this was the third time this week he was going to be late. Meanwhile, the two men continued to rage against each other. My friend and I talked and swapped notes on unlocking the mysteries of our iPhones.

Soon I noticed sitting at the other end of the carriage a woman who looked deeply distressed. She was quiet, but rolling her head back, wringing her hands and seemed to be inside her own head. Her face betrayed deep pain.

I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to move to another carriage. The aggression and distress in the air was starting to get to me. We moved forward one carriage. Before long, there was yelling and a woman screaming uncontrollably, coming from the carriage we had left. I wondered where the PSO's were. They arrived on the scene shortly. It was interesting to see how they worked. There were four of them, one took the lead to engage with one of the people and the others stood around, close enough, but far enough. I didn't hear what happened, but I was pleased that people were on hand to assist and diffuse. I was glad I had changed carriages.

When I arrived back at Seddon station, there were the PSO's waiting on the platform. I hope they never have to do anything. I think just their presence should be enough to make sure they don't. I hope the people yelling and crying got the help they needed.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Shaking my booty - memories of an undiscovered ballerina.

"Ah!" she said with a sense of realisation. "I see what you're doing."

I waited to receive my diagnosis.

"You turn like a ballerina," she declared.

That was quite unexpected. In all my life, I've never been told I do anything like an ballerina.

I've started a dance class. It's been a while since I took a class. I love to dance, but then I can't bear most people in the world of formal dance. I find the world intimidating. I can move, but usually the class goes too fast for me; I get left behind and before long, I feel useless and give up.

The class is not a ballet class, so turning like a ballerina is a redundant skill. The class is called Born to Boogie and is pitched for enjoyment, although we are learning a routine and will perform in a dance off with another class. I was doing so well until we came to the instruction to "turn". The first time I tried, I didn't make it all the way around. I tried again, and this time kept going. My legs were twisted around themselves like a corkscrew. I could not work out what was wrong. This is when the study was undertaken and the declaration made.

"Have you done some ballet?"

Making friends with my new jazz shoes -
on the feet of a latent ballerina.
© 2014 divacultura
"A long time ago," I whispered.

"Well, it's obviously in your muscle memory then."

I didn't dare tell her that the sum total of my ballet training consisted of about two classes when I was five years old. I hated it. They made us dance across the room in front of the other girls. I was embarrassed. Clearly I hadn't yet discovered my performance gene. I felt ungainly next to the other, wispy girls. Wispy is an adjective that has never and could never be applied to me. Substantial is more likely to be used and that doesn't really work for a ballerina, even when swathed in pastel pink tulle.

I must ask my mother how I came to be at ballet. I was also having piano lessons and went to art and craft classes and judo lessons. Piano turned into a lifelong passion. There is evidence of my participation in art and craft still in my parents' house; it takes the form of lumps of yellow glazed clay dishes, loosely designated as 'ashtrays'. I remember nothing about judo.

I think I must have been a high maintenance child as I always had lots of extra curricular activities. When I was about twelve I went to "cooking for adolescents". You can be forgiven for thinking that the class was for parents so they could cook delicious food for the teenagers. It did turn out to be a cunning way to give my mother the night off as whatever I produced was taken home for the family at the end of the night.

There were eight of us in the class and Mrs Quade was the ferocious teacher. I was perpetually in trouble. Using the tubular spaghetti as a straw may have been one of my transgressions. I thought it was excellent. The cuisine was basic, but I learned some great skills, like how to skin tomatoes and make fresh tomato sauce. My family feasted on such delights as rissoles, sausage casserole and something called "Apple Windsor". I carefully wrote out all the recipes in an anthology book. (Do you remember anthology books? They were a bit larger than an exercise book, one page was blank and the facing page had lines. Both pages had a decorative border. They were for writing out poems and drawing a matching picture. Talk about redundant. Isn't the poetry supposed to paint the picture? I can't draw, and am still haunted by a lumpy drawing of a malformed eagle to accompany the words "He clasps the crag with crooked claw". Well, the 'claw' was certainly crooked.)

My first dance class was great fun. I was complimented on my positive energy again. It seems to be appreciated, but I just hope it's not what people say when they're thinking "oh god, where are we going to hide her?"

In the meantime, I turn like a ballerina you know.

Do you dance? Have you rediscovered a love for something you didn't enjoy in your youth?