Sunday, July 28, 2013

What have you turned off?

I have just finished reading David Sedaris' new book 'Let's explore Diabetes with Owls'.  I had heard a few stories from this book live when he toured in 2011.  It may sound weird to pay to hear someone read stories to you, but David has such a dry wit and distinct voice it really is a pleasure to listen to the author speak.  I guess you can tell I'm a bit of a fan girl.

One story 'Laugh Kookaburra' is, not surprisingly by the title, based on a visit to Melbourne.  There is a particularly interesting passage that had me thinking:
"Pat was driving, and as we passed the turnoff for a shopping center she invited us to picture a four-burner stove.  
“Gas or electric?” Hugh asked, and she said that it didn’t matter.
This was not a real stove but a symbolic one, used to prove a point at a management seminar she’d once attended. “One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two."
Re-reading this reminded me of a conversation I'd had recently with a friend.  We were talking about how busy our lives were and the unfortunate consequences of this.  Working full time and studying Uni part time leaves me with little spare head space.  I lamented that without social networking sites I'd never be in contact with friends - unless of course I stumbled across them as part of my day.  Thinking deeper, I guess I've 'turned off' my family a bit too.  Over the last 5 years of study I haven't had a lot of time to go visit my folks - which is made harder by the fact they're over an hours drive away.  There's no 'popping round', it's more like a day trip.  Thank goodness for phones. But I also know this means I didn't see my Dad a lot in the last few years of his life.

The other burner that's off is my health.  Struggling with a big study load last semester I was reading most nights and weekends.  Sure, I passed my subject (and passed really well), but I have become so sedentary and put on a bit of weight.  Also, when semester finished I caught a virus and was sick for 2 weeks.  I know I've had a lot on my plate in the last 12 months and I'm prone to keep pushing myself.  That is, until my body or brain  decides otherwise.  Sometimes you just need to live in your pajamas for a while and watch 3 seasons of Game of Thrones between doctors visits.

In all honesty, I don't like the fact that many of my burners are off.  I hate it.  It makes me feel like a crappy friend, as I haven't kept in touch with people that I'd really like to. There's nothing worse than feeling like a bit of a failure in this department.  So - if any of my friends are reading this, and I haven't seen you in a while, please know I think about you often.  And I know I need to look at getting fit (well, fitter), as that would make me feel better about myself.  

My only consolation is that many of my friends feel the same.  Juggling everything is something we all struggle with.  I am amazed by some people who seem to cram so much into life, and do it effortlessly.  I truly am in awe of them.  But I think most of us compromise our life experience in some way.  Do we look after everyone else at the expense of ourselves?  Do we strive to excel at work and end up with little to go home to?  Is it possible to have all 4 burners blazing?

Right now I'm looking forward to completing my degree at the end of this year.  Then dear friends, perhaps I can settle for a slow sizzle in all areas of my life. If not, you're welcome to visit with a packet of fire starters in your hand!  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Kindness

"The only way to have a friend is to be one." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have been lucky enough in the last few months to experience the sweet joy of dear friends.  I mean, the really supportive, kind and generous friendship that is the stuff of greeting cards.  It has blown me away.  I have been gobsmacked by how I find myself surrounded with such lovely people.

I have written before about how hard it can be to let people look after you.  Being vulnerable can be excruciating.  When life gives you lemons, it's not always easy to cut a wedge for your G&T.  It's easier  to keep a lot of the crap and hardship to yourself.  Even if people see the tip of the trauma iceberg, there is usually a lot more going on underneath in those quiet moments alone, that they don't see.   But somehow people were paying attention.

Life has been hard.  And some of it is down to one thing we don't talk about much.  Money.  Sure it can't buy happiness, but being able to pay the bills does help you sleep at night.  Since Peter was made redundant last year things have been tough.  I enquired last year, when Peter was in a dark place, about trying to get some sort of financial assistance.  There are short term sickness payments and I was all smiles thinking this was the answer...until I was told I earned too much for him to qualify.  There was no concession on public transport or medication either.  I wept.  After working for 25 years and paying taxes, I was holding out a hand and asking for help.  I was turned away.  It made me realise how dire things really needed to be before I could get help, but also how easily some people must fall through the cracks.

We picked ourselves up, and have kept going.  Peter picked up casual work, but it's a rollercoaster from one pay check to the next.  Some weeks there's almost too much work, while others there is almost nothing at all.  This hasn't made life easy to juggle, especially when I don't earn enough to pay the mortgage and bills on my own.  But it's not as dire as when I had asked for help.  A few months ago Peter missed out on getting a full time job, by the tiniest of margins.  It would have been a great job, with great people, but the financial security would have changed life for us.  A toss of a coin, a sliding doors moment and life could have been different.  But it isn't.

It was around this time that I posted the photo of myself with the frozen peas - trying to stop the swelling of my tear-swollen eyes.  A friend then conspired with Peter to get me to the hairdressers.  I hadn't had it cut or coloured in over 5 months.  It was a stunning gesture of kindness and made me feel more like my old self and a bit in control.  I could actually see again, out from under the fringe I tend to hide behind.  And it meant I didn't have grey hairs showing for my birthday!

But part of my birthday was spent accounting for every cent I earn to the bank and threats about money owed.  It is hard when the bank doesn't let you account for food in your budget, only bills.  Again I cried.  When catching up with some friends for my birthday they handed over an envelope with money for me to go and have a massage and treat myself.  Amazing.  Again a gesture so kindly thought through, it seemed like an oasis in the grey and harsh reality.  We've had friends shout us drinks at the pub, bought tickets for Peter to see bands, and a belated birthday dinner for me.  We really do know some of the most amazing and beautiful people.

I had a very full on time over the last six months with Uni and work.  I kept my head down and kept pushing.  I finished the semester with a really good mark and a sigh of relief.  I then of course got sick.  I've been sick for the last fortnight with a virus and infected sinuses, dizziness and conjunctivitis.   Yep - life was insisting I stay at home in my pajamas and watch Game of Thrones.  Another friend phoned me with an offer of homemade soup delivered to my door (she actually arrived with olive bread, cupcakes and biscuits too!).  She loves making care parcels for people.  I said how hard it is to say 'Yes' to people helping.  But I guess there are times when the kindness of your friends comes into shining focus.  In the last five years I've had people help me get my cats to the vet when I had no car and give me lifts home.  I've had people take me in when I needed the shoulder of a friend. I have been so lucky to be surrounded by people who care.

I'm not quite Blanche DuBois, as the kindness extended to me is from friends not strangers.  But I guess I've been considering how very lucky I am.  Heartfelt, generous kindness has been extended to Peter and I.  I don't know if our dear friends have any idea how greatly appreciated they truly are.  In a time when a lot of society seems to be a little self obsessed and only seeing life and political decisions in relation to themselves, my dear friends are bucking the trend.  And I thank them for their altruistic tendencies.  Please know that there is always a hug, a kiss, and a warm dinner for you anytime at our house.  And much gratefulness in our hearts...for you are indeed champs.  Thank you for your kindness.