Purple Nails

purple nails

Not my hands, but you get the general picture.

I found myself sitting in a nail bar in a suburban shopping mall the other day, snatching a few moments of time for myself following several screamingly busy weeks I had scheduled down to the last minute. The washing was on the line, drying beneath yet another blue-skied day in this bone dry, drought-stricken land. The kids had been deposited at school, one dressed for a regular day and the other for an excursion. The overseas guests who had stayed with us during a whirlwind visit had been dropped safely at the airport following a quick trip to Taronga Zoo ticking all the tourist boxes: kangaroo, koala, even a spotted quoll.

“Pick a colour,” said the nail technician, brandishing brandishing wheels of fake plastic nails painted an unimaginable variety of shades in my direction.

I attempt to comply, but I am tired. Weary. Nearly undone. Decision fatigue has set in, and instead of selecting a tried and tested shade of something sensible I find myself searching for my favourite colour — a rich, deep blue shot with pewtery grey. The colour of my bridesmaid’s dress at my wedding, a dozen years ago. The colour of the sea after a storm.  As you wish…

I find it, or something vaguely resembling it, and sit silently in my chair as my fingers soak, letting the sounds of the technicians’ murmured conversations wash over me. They are speaking a language I don’t understand, pausing every now and then to give me and the women around me simple instructions in English. Hand in the water. Out again. This I can do, in my depleted state. This is why I am here.

The technician begins applying paint to my nails.

“OK?” she asks.

I look down, and instead of a comforting shade of grey-blue twilight I see a slash of purple.

Vivid, vibrant purple.

I shrug, and find myself nodding. My simple act of self-care has gone slighty awry, but I’m too tired to care.

In the week that follows it dawns on me that I am not in possession of a single stitch of purple clothing. I also realise that the particular shade of purple my nails are now painted attracts attention. That my fingertips now convey the impression of an extroversion I can feign but do not feel.

purple boy

My new favourite book. Ever.

I retreat into myself, into the solitary pursuits that I savour — reading, writing, day dreaming and night thinking. Here I find the acts of self-care that actually restore me, and I notice one morning that my purple nails do match something after all: the cover of the book I’m reading, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe.

I am captivated — catapulted into a world that consumes me, into writing that overwhelms me to the point that I am forced to acknowledge that I might just have a new favourite book of all time.

Boy Swallows Universe.

Girl swallows book.

Later in the evening, only hours after the nail technician has finished polishing my freshly painted purple nails to a bright sheen, I’m dropping my younger child at a birthday party. A small blonde-haired boy, about four years old, is beginning to wail: it’s his sister’s big day, and he’s feeling left out.

“Hey, matey,” I crouch conspiratorially in front of him, “I had my nails painted today, and they’re not a normal colour. They’re not red, or pink, or anything boring like that. Do you know what colour they are?”

He eyes me suspiciously for a moment, still sniffing, but the distraction is working.

“Bet you can’t guess!”

He stops crying and grasps my hands, turning them over to reveal my purple fingernails, gleaming in the dusk and the light of the bright sunshine of the smile that is now plastered across his tear-streaked face.

“You’re funny!”

Yeah, I reckon I probably am.

Funny as in ha ha sometimes, and funny as in a bit weird at others. But I’m OK with it, and I’m OK with my introversion, and my need to let the words pour out of me, and with knowing that my solace comes from solitude, and that I come from a long line of drama queens and control freaks, and despite all that — or perhaps because of it — I’m even OK with my purple nails.

Laser Beams & Drishti Points

Focus is a funny, occasionally unpredictable, thing — and that’s one of the reasons I chose it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for July.

Take this image, for example:

focus

What did you focus on?

Was it the cars in the street, so far below? Or did you spot the coffee first, or the hand holding the mug? Or perhaps your eye was drawn to the reflection of the clouds within the cup?

There are no right or wrong answers here — it’s just a simple way of pointing out that we all see and experience the world differently, and that our circumstances and personalities and a multitude of internal and external factors cause us to focus on different things. That means that your focus is unique: it’s peculiar and particular to you.

But what I find fascinating (because of my own peculiar and particular focus, no doubt) is that there are different types of focus, too.

I’m not talking about different types of focus in a photographic sense, but in more of a “mental toolbox” sort of way. Because I know that I need different kinds of focus to perform different tasks. For me, focus is something you might measure on a spectrum.

Part of the reason I chose focus as my Word of the Month because I knew it was something I would need in abundance in July — and different kinds of focus, too. This month, I knew I needed to complete a whole pile of deadline-based tasks for my regular job as well as to honour a bunch of equally pressing commitments for clients in my freelance work, and fit all this around the time my children would be off school for Winter Holidays. Oh, and celebrating both their birthdays, too.

No pressure?!

focus laser

Pick your point and get it done…this is laser beam focus.

Now, I’m the first one to admit that a large part of getting things done is simply to being organised and doing what you need to do, but choosing your focus certainly helps.

At one end of the spectrum is Laser Beam Focus, which I would describe as being single minded, incredibly intense, and very specifically directed. Like laser beams themselves, this kind of focus has to be coherent, meaning it has to remain spatially and temporally constant. It’s an amplified kind of focus, and not something that is sustainable for long periods — we’re human beings, after all. That said, it’s fantastic if you’re screaming towards a deadline and really need to get something done.

focus drishti

Drishti point focus…not sure whether I’d be able to pull it off in these circumstances!

At the other end of the spectrum is Drishti Point Focus, which comes (as with many things I love) from yoga. Drishti translates from Sanskrit as focused gaze, but it relates also to pratyahara and dharana, the fifth and sixth limbs of yoga, which relate to sense withdrawal and concentration. In the yogic tradition there are nine different drishti points, but most of us who do yoga regularly will probably think of the spot you gaze at in the middle distance to help you find a combination of strength and ease within a pose — particularly if it involves balancing. For me, drishti point focus is active, but it is also characterised by softness and a meditative stillness. It’s focus alright, but it’s a sustainable and nourishing sort of focus.

So my suggestion for July? That you look at your to do list and apply whatever focus from the spectrum you need to get things done. Know that there are multiple solutions to each and every task and as many ways to focus on them as there are human beings, and that part of what makes your work and life your own is that you bring your unique focus to it and to everyone you meet.

 

We Need More Words

qualityThe Bloke and I don’t fight often. We’ve spent the better part of twenty years happily muddling along, quietly delighting in our continued coexistence.

But every now and then — because we’re real, normal human beings — we have a bit of a barney. Generally speaking these arguments are not over anything particularly controversial (such as just how many surfboards/boogie boards/random vessels of an inflatable variety a family of four might actually require on a weekend away), but last night…well, it was a different story.

We were watching Nanette, Hannah Gadsby’s hour-long stand up show, a vertiable tour de force explaining why she is choosing to leave comedy behind. Nanette is, simply, brilliant: it is a brutally honest and unbelievably courageous piece of story telling. It is also, in parts, uncomfortable viewing — particularly if you’re a straight, white male who has just been watching Season Two of Glow, complete with its depiction of a Harvey Weinsteinesque “meeting” involving a young and vulnerable actress, and if you had also happened to top that experience off by taking a look at Andrew Denton’s Interview with Tim Winton (the one who wrote my favourite book) speaking about toxic masculinity.

Straight, white male.

Now we all know that the straight, white male segment of the population is copping a bit of a caning at the moment. With good reason, of course — and let’s be clear: in my view, there’s nothing wrong with challenging a long-established framework of white, male privilege that has been propped up by centuries of patriarchy and misogyny. And I, as a straight, white female, last night felt the need to point out that those structures were the very things that silently condoned straight, white men heckling or wolf-whistling at me when I was a schoolgirl, walking past a construction site at the top of the street I lived in. That allowed a crowded platform of commuters to stand by and ignore the straight, white man who tried to look up my skirt, and who failed to assist me when he followed me onto the train. That normalised regular pay increases for the (overwhelmingly) straight, white male professionals in several firms in which I worked and did not even bother to schedule salary reviews for the (overwhelmingly) female support staff.  That continues to impose a tax on women’s sanitary products…but let me stop there. I could, as most women could, go on and on.

Straight, white male.

These were the words that sparked our disagreement, along with the onslaught being fairly and squarely directed at that particular segment of the population.

Because The Bloke identifies as a straight, white male — and, while I can’t dispute his logic, last night I also felt the need to point out that I don’t view him through that prism at all. I felt the need to explain that if he had been the sort of straight, white male who is currently — and with good reason — being called to account, I would never even have considered dated him, let alone marrying him. That I don’t believe him to be a misogynist. That I certainly don’t perceive him to be anything like Donald Trump.

I explained to The Bloke that when I look at him, I see a successful business owner who pays his male and female staff equally. I see a husband who consistently treats me as an equal in our life partnership. I see a father who is helping to raise two daughters to be the best human beings they can be. I see a person who frequently helps with housework and does not delineate duties on the basis of gender. I see a man who is willing to draw attention to language, attitudes and behaviours towards women that are unacceptable. I see a…feminist.

Feminist?!

Initially, The Bloke wasn’t quite sure what to make of that word, either, being aware of the many and varied connotations and convictions attached to it. But — because of the man he is — The Bloke listened to me and not only heard, but also made sure he understood my point of view.

unityAnd that’s where Hannah Gadsby is absolutely right — we need more words, people.

We need a multitude of words.

We need more words to describe the men who might, quite literally, be straight, white males, but who are also men whose own language, attitudes and behaviours are helping to dismantle the architecture of straight, white, male privilege. Men who support and empower women and girls not because they are female, but because they are human beings, and who encourage other men and raise their sons to do just the same. Men who, in my life, I feel fortunate to call father, brother, mentor, friend.

We need more words to define the things that unite us and celebrate all the things we hold in common — not more labels, or pigeonholes, or tiny little compartmentalised boxes.

We need more words.

Stairways & Stepping Stones

Steps 4It’s winter where I live.

The shortest day has already slipped past, sinking silently into the darkness. Even the stars look cold and distant, silver points of light piercing the fast-falling night sky.

I’ve written about winter before, probably because I am fascinated by the passing of the seasons — such as they are in this Great Southern Land. I’ve also written about winter being a time for self-care, though this year I’m looking at it from a different persective — through the prism of Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for June: ALIGNMENT.

Steps 2The word alignment comes from the French words à ligne, which translate as ‘into line’. For me, it instantly conjures up images of perfectly spaced poplar trees, of soldiers standing to attention, of lane ropes skimming the surface of a swimming pool.

But then, immediately afterwards, it occurred to me that lines are not always straight — and that the words ‘into line’ do not imply that those lines are horizontal, vertical, or parallel. Alignment, then, does not have to be something ruled or rigid.

Steps 1I then thought about lines in nature — of the fiddleheads of ferns and the inside of seashells and other swirling curves that fit the Fibonacci sequence. I thought of nights I spent in the Northern hemisphere, watching the sinuous lines of the Aurora Borealis. I thought of human spines, of all our vertibrae arranged in concave and convex curvatures.

And then I thought of stairways and stepping stones, and saw these as a simple yet effective metaphor for making sure we keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to where we want to go. Doing so depends on preparing for each step, keeping our balance, and moving forward.

We are best equipped to take those steps — and sometimes even leaps — when we live and work in alignment with our goals and our First Principles. When we do this, unforeseen obstacles become easier to deal with: instead of seeing them as insurmountable, we simply make the necessary adjustments to bring ourselves back into alignment with our path once more.

So this June, and all this winter, I wish you well on your journey — one step at a time, onwards and upwards, in alignment with your path, however straight or curved it may be.

Steps 3

Onwards!

momentum 2

Momentum demands movement.

It’s May, already.

And not only that, its coming towards the end of May.

Can you believe it?

The year is rolling on — faster and faster, I sometimes feel — and Blue Jai’s Word of the Month is MOMENTUM.

I’ve been more than usually busy lately, which is why I haven’t written this post until now, but while I’ve been busying myself with the various balls I’m managing to keep in the air at the moment I’ve been contemplating the nature of momentum and how important it is to being successfully busy, and successful in business, too.

And my musings have made me draw the following conclusions about momentum:

  • In physics, the law of momentum states that an object in motion will stay in motion until it meets a resisting force. To my mind, identifying the resisting forces in your world and finding ways to smooth them out will ensure that you keep moving forward. Eliminate distractions, and focus on what brings you closer to your aims.
  • Momentum, to me, is also something that builds. One of the things that enables me to build momentum is knowing the basic (often repetitive) tasks that I need to accomplish to ensure my day flows. Attending to these tasks enables me to create a more rhythmic approach to my day, and momentum often follows.
  • Finally, momentum demands movement — in order to create it, you have to be moving towards something.  So even when you have days when you don’t want to get out of bed, just do it. Keep on moving!

So this May, my challenge to you is to find your path, remove the resistance, and build your own momentum.

Onwards!

momentum 1

Eliminate distractions and resistance, and move towards your goals.

 

 

 

My Country in Monochrome

384 (4)Australia is a harsh country.

I was reminded of this on a recent road trip from Sydney out into the western plains of New South Wales. No one is exactly sure why Captain James Cook named this State as he did — though many suspect it was because it reminded him of South Wales — but anyone who has ventured west of the Great Dividing Range will know that the country there is very different from the verdant fields and hedgerows of Cymru.

The Australian landscape is fierce, and often flat. It’s relentless. It’s unforgiving.

And yet, for those of us who have grown up here, that same landscape, in its inhospitable and almost hostile glory, is always — absolutely and instantly — recognisable as home.

The person who perhaps discerned the differences between Australia and…well, just about everywhere else, was a woman named Dorothea Mackellar (1 July 1885 – 14 January 1968), who spent part of her life living on a property not far from Gunnedah, where she witnessed the overnight transformation of a desperate and drought-stricken country into a green haven. Later, as a nineteen year old travelling through Europe with her father, Mackellar wrote a poem originally (and romantically) entitled Core of My Heart that summed up Australians’ relationship with the land.

Quite obviously, the original inhabitants of our country, as members of the oldest continuous culture in the world, have had a much longer and far deeper relationship with the land than those of us who have been here since the end of the 18th century. Equally obviously, as a white woman who is only third-generation Australian, I cannot speak for them (nor for anyone else, for that matter). But I do think that Mackellar’s poem, which is now better known as My Country, captures a sense of Australia that most of us recognise and understand.

It’s dry again, out west —  in Kamilaroi Country and Wiradjuri Country, too.

But the rains will come eventually, as they always seem to do.

And in the meantime, I thought I’d share some images from that recent road trip, interspersed with the words of Dorothea Mackellar.

395 (2)This is my country, in monochrome.

The love of field and coppice 
Of green and shaded lanes, 
Of ordered woods and gardens 
Is running in your veins. 
Strong love of grey-blue distance, 
Brown streams and soft, dim skies 
I know, but cannot share it, 
My love is otherwise. 

415 (2)I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror 
The wide brown land for me! 

356 (3)The stark white ring-barked forests, 
All tragic to the moon, 
The sapphire-misted mountains, 
The hot gold hush of noon, 
Green tangle of the brushes 
Where lithe lianas coil, 
And orchids deck the tree-tops, 
And ferns the warm dark soil. 

409 (2)Core of my heart, my country! 
Her pitiless blue sky, 
When, sick at heart, around us 
We see the cattle die 
But then the grey clouds gather, 
And we can bless again 
The drumming of an army, 
The steady soaking rain. 

343 (3)Core of my heart, my country! 
Land of the rainbow gold, 
For flood and fire and famine 
She pays us back threefold. 
Over the thirsty paddocks, 
Watch, after many days, 
The filmy veil of greenness 
That thickens as we gaze … 

360 (3)An opal-hearted country, 
A wilful, lavish land 
All you who have not loved her, 
You will not understand 
though Earth holds many splendours, 
Wherever I may die, 
I know to what brown country 
My homing thoughts will fly. 

Dorothea Mackellar, 1908

A Sort of String Theory

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, as the great Robbie Burns wrote, gang aft agley.

How ironic that my post on my Word of the Month — INTENTION — should come at the end of April instead of at the beginning, as I had originally planned.  Then again, given that the word intention derives from the Old French word entencion, which translates as both stretching as well as purpose, perhaps it is fitting that I have somehow managed to stretch out my time sufficiently to squeeze this post in before April bids us farewell — and while I’m sure there’s some witty astrophysical reference I could be making here, my knowledge of string theory is woefully inadequate to make an appropriate cosmic joke.

stress

Intention is a very powerful tool.

Strangely enough, the reasons why this post is so late also relate to intention. A valued client, who over several months had carefully planned and then (seemingly) successfully executed a handover from one administrative support person to another, was let down suddenly and unexpectedly when the new staff member got cold feet and left without notice or warning. This outcome was, quite obviously, not intended.  And having seen the lengths that my client had gone to to ensure a smooth and stress-free transition, stepping into the breach to provide them with on-site administrative support was a no-brainer for me — even if it meant my own plans, including writing this post, were delayed.

Now, I’m not one to sugarcoat things: the situation was stressful for everyone involved. But what impressed me most was that my client, despite being sincerely disappointed, maintained a positive outlook in the face of such a massive setback. And when I asked my client how he had managed to continue being so upbeat — which went, genuinely, beyond putting on a brave face — he gave me this response:

I’m not going to let one person’s quitting stop me from doing what I set out to.

And there it was: intention in action.

Life is full of unexpected twists and snarls, where the strings we attempt to smooth and straighten and follow along their slender lengths sometimes slip out of our grasp or snap altogether. When confronting such circumstances, however, it is worth returning to your original intentions: recalling your original purpose and remembering the reasons behind your actions can provide sufficient impetus to keep you moving ahead, even when it feels like everything around you is turning into a twisted, tangled mess.

I know my client will go on to hire someone new, and will probably end up with a better, more functional business because of it. In the meantime, it has been a privilege to work with someone who fixes their mind firmly, with intention, on their goals and who sustains their business by working deliberately towards achieving those outcomes, even in the face of unexpected setbacks.

stress 3

Suspended Stone Circle II, by Ken Unsworth.

There is great strength to be found in such an approach — in setting your intention and sticking to it. And for some reason, my experiences in April reminded me of an installation by Ken Unsworth at the Art Gallery of NSW that I have visited time and time again. It is called Suspended Stone Circle II, and for me it sums up visually what it’s like to successfully manage a business, or a family, or even the thoughts in your own head.

This is the power of intention.