REPORT A PROBLEM
Iíve decided Iím going to try and do something differently each day. Nothing outrageous necessarily, just something that breaks with routine. Last month I did that by writing my entire batch of 100 word entries on my iPod. It made me think about what a creature of habit Iíve become, which got me thinking about how unimaginatively I've been using my spare time lately. Routine can be a useful tool for getting things done but it can make for a pretty dull life unless broken from time to time. So today I took the train home instead of the tram.
There are many things in life that I just don't seem to make time for. Take reading for example. I really enjoy losing myself in a good book but if I find myself out of the habit for any length of time I can find it really hard to get back into it. To remedy the situation I've started reading a minimum of 40 pages a day. It may seem strange to anyone who considers themselves a committed reader but life can be so busy that it requires specific action to ensure you don't miss out on life's simpler pleasures.
I get to work especially early in order to catch up on my marking only to discover upon arriving that I've got both sets of apartment keys with me. So then I have to turn around and race back into the city so that my partner isn't left housebound all day. Needless to say I'm now even further behind in my marking, which in turn meant I wasn't as sharp and on the ball as I usually am. On a brighter note, it was a break with routine so at least I was able to tick that box for today.
I have this bad habit whereby I tend to put off responding to personal email or Facebook messages until I have more time. Meanwhile I'll have a mental conversation with those people in my head and then think Iíve responded to them when in fact I haven't. This can result in me forgetting to write back altogether, which is never my intention.
One of the problems with computers is we use them for so many different things Ė work, entertainment, communication and the like Ė that these different uses become muddled up. The irony is I used to be such a good letter writer.
I've been back in Australia long enough now to stop making constant comparisons between here and England. For a while Melbourne seemed to be so far away from the rest of the world and compared to London, a smaller and somewhat provincial city. Lately however, I find myself reconnecting with the place. I'm feeling a lot more at home and a lot more appreciative of the things that make Melbourne and Australia itself distinctly different from the rest of the world. After all, I've spent more years here than in England and it's helped to make me who I am.
Poring over the engineering drawings, all 20 pages of them, I begin to appreciate the scale of what we're building and the fact that we have to take into account every detail in order to ensure we don't end up with any unexpected surprises. Every little nook and cranny has to be accounted for; window sizes, shower screens placements, where we put the plug sockets, the best configuration for the solar panels, the lighting design: the list goes on and on. And it occurs to me that as creative projects go, this will be the most ambitious one to date.
I can't see her but I can hear her talking. She has one of those distinctly Australian voices that rises above the general din on the tram, distracting me from my Anne Tyler novel. She's telling her friend how she's tired of everyone monopolising her time. She's begun to notice how her old friends all seem to be in the same rut. She says it makes her realise how much she's changed. Even her friends tell her she's changed and she says yes, she has. She's at pains to point out she's not judging them she just notices, that's all.
I open up my account at work to check what the after school meeting is going to be about and I see an email from my boss simply labelled
. Ellen is the teacher for whom I've been filling in these past few weeks. The news is good, at least for me. Ellen has decided she won't be returning to work. An official announcement won't be made until the appropriate letters have been written and paperwork completed but in effect, I've got the job. It puts everything that's happened until now into a whole new perspective. The future has arrived.
It's a bit like ending a relationship: it takes a while before you allow yourself to open up to a new one, although what I'm experiencing now is not so much opening up, as becoming reacquainted with, a city I already know well. As the weeks and months roll by and the seasons change from cool to warm and back to cool again I find myself feeling ever more at home here and less inclined to compare and find it wanting, to the point that it occurs to me lately that my best years may still be ahead of me.
I've never been especially adept at pacing myself. I have a tendency to become over-enthused with something and then confuse my enthusiasm with a misguided sense of invincibility that can almost be drug-like. What I then do is use up my energy stocks and dip straight into my reserves without a thought for the consequences and unless I'm very careful I can end up exhausted in a heap. I'm getting better as I get older but with a demanding few months ahead of me I need to keep tabs on this one. Falling in a heap is not an option.
Standing outside Flinders Street Station waiting for the number 72 tram I can sense something in the air, a distinctly Australian quality that evokes memories of when I was younger and mornings held the promise of something new and potentially exciting and when all the years of my life were laid out before me stretching 70 or 80 years into the seemingly distant future. That future seems much less distant these days and the number of years behind me now exceed the ones in front but some days the air of excitement and potential still remains as potent as ever.
The past 12 months have been so packed with things to do that I find myself longing for the day when the house is built, our finances are sorted, we both have work and we can just sit back and enjoy life again. Not that I'm not enjoying it now: I am. It's just that being the lazy guy I am (not that anyone would guess that right now) I really crave being able to spend time doing the things I want to do in my spare time rather than spending time doing all the things I have to do.
It plays out like the most incredible disaster movie ever seen but what weíre watching is no movie. Itís very real and those are real people facing unimaginable horror, terror and in many instances death. Sitting comfortably in our apartment, watching it unfold before our eyes on our television screens we are yet again confronted with that awful feeling of helplessness, but more than that, with the awareness that so much of what we bemoan and worry about in life is nothing when compared to the horror of those trying to outrun or outdrive a tsunami travelling at 800 kph.
Everyone seems to be talking about how many disasters there have been over the last couple of years. Some blame global warming, some say itís purely coincidence while others preach the coming of the end with that self-satisfied air that speaks volumes, though not necessarily in the way they might have intended.
Given that there are twice as many people on the planet now than in my youth, it's hardly surprising that when disaster strikes the potential for casualties is that much greater. Ultimately though, I think people tend to have short memories because sadly, there's nothing new about disasters.
This is the earliest I've left work since I started. It's been a good day but despite having had the long weekend I find myself feeling tired and a little nauseous. I've not been sleeping well, waking in the night and not getting back to sleep for a while, or waking an hour before the alarm, alert but not really rested. The cumulative effect of this has today cut across my ability to focus anything other than the teaching itself. So rather than waste time swimming against the tide I've opted for an early getaway. Sometimes, you just have to.
Is it the date that really matters or the content? It's a question I'm constantly running up against and I'm sure I'm not the only one. I don't know how it is for you but despite the best of intentions and the many resolutions to do otherwise I inevitably find myself playing catch up. Life is busy. Life is full. Sometimes it feels like a race and I'm trailing at the rear rather than running at the front. No matter. Ultimately the decision is mine to make. The bottom line is I needed to fill a space and I did.
I'm reminded of how it was in my student days. I have two undergraduate degrees under my belt, a Bachelor of Education and a Bachelor of Design. I did the latter in my late twenties. To pay for it I worked 30+ hours a week at a local pub and there were times when I feared I wouldn't manage to make it over the line. So much of my life was on hold. It's a bit like that now. Every waking moment is spent either focused on the job or on the build, with little time left over for fun.
Teaching is not something that came naturally to me. I can remember being decidedly uncomfortable around children when I was in training. I would observe how other teachers interacted so fluidly and effortlessly in the classroom and sometimes despaired of ever being able to do the same. Once I was qualified and working under my own steam I quickly found my feet but even then there were many times when my confidence flagged. It was my time teaching in London working with such hardened, disadvantaged and disaffected teenagers that really established the bedrock of confidence from which I now operate.
I sometimes gaze around a class full of children and contemplate the idea that only a handful of years previously none of them even existed. Then I think about how there will be a time in the not too distant future when, short of any individual tragedies, these very same children will exist and I wonít. It puts me in mind of a time when I was in Year 8 and our unfortunately named Science teacher Mr. Cock gazed around the classroom and, thinking aloud, shared a similar sentiment. That was forty years ago.
I guess some things never change.
Iím reading again and loving every minute of it. Within seconds of climbing aboard the tram each morning Iím far removed from the sea of faces that share my daily journey out of the city. Thereís something magical about the power of the written word to give us access into another time and place where we get to know the intimate experiences of people, real or imaginary, whom weíll never meet and never know except between the pages of a book. Like dreaming, itís an experiential process that can reveal as much about ourselves as it does about anything else.
ďIíve just sent you a letter this afternoon offering you a one year contract,Ē says the Principal beaming broadly as I query her on where we are in terms of Ellen resigning.
My heart sinks. A one year contract? Whatever happened to Ďongoingí? Whatever happened to ĎEllen has accepted the fact she wonít be returning to work'?
Just a week ago I turned down an interview at Melbourneís top private school on the grounds that Iíd been assured by the Head of Junior School that my position at this one was assured.
Thereís an unsettling sense of de-ja-vu about this.
The uncertainty continues. It transpires that Ellen has reconsidered her position. She wonít be returning this year but sheís pulled back from the decision to retire and take a package. My frustration is tempered only by the dire circumstances of the woman in question. All I can do is take comfort in the fact that my position is assured until at least the end of the year, and a lot can happen in that time. The Principal assures me she wants me to stay but is unable to give any assurances.
Why am I not surprised?
Iíd be lying if I said I wasnít annoyed. Once again the gloss has been taken off a seemingly ideal situation. Not all is lost though. It is a very delicate situation and Iíve known that from the beginning. Itís just that once again I was led to believe one thing only to be told another. I suppose I should be used to that now. The bigger picture is I still have a good chance of staying on beyond the end of the year. Iím told the situation will be resolved by June.
Iíll believe it when I see it.
Gloss or no gloss the show must go on. I still love what Iím doing and in some respects the ongoing uncertainty prevents me from becoming complacent. So I focus on the smiling faces, the wonderful work produced, the laughter in the classroom, the sunshine streaming in through the window and the myriad of things that make each day worth the effort. If things happen for a reason then in time the reasons will reveal themselves. In the meantime thereís no point wasting energy dwelling on things over which I have no control. Thereís plenty to be going on with.
It doesnít matter where I work I always seem to end up putting in the hours. At the moment Iím arriving before 7:30am and Iím rarely out before 5:30pm. The time spent in front of the class is less than that spent attending to all the other things that allow the classes to function as well as they do. Preparation is essential, especially with Art. Work has to be mounted and labeled, displays have to be maintained, materials need to be laid out and prepared, not to mention the clean up. Then thereís, meetings, planning and assessment. It never ends.
Iíve started dreaming about Mum. It took a while. The dreams Iím having are generally resolution dreams. Whenever I see her sheís looking well and increasingly younger than the nearly 97 years she achieved. Not young, but younger. And happy, too, which is always reassuring. Theyíre not the stark reality dreams that people sometimes have after the loss of a loved one; rather, they merge in with whatever else Iím dreaming about, rather like she might do if she was still alive and well and living around the corner. Theyíre the kind of dreams I wake up from and smile.
We spent the day picking the pearly white river pebbles from the mass of ordinary beach pebbles we laid in the front garden 15 years ago. Over the years the two have become almost inextricably mixed. Weíre going to use them in the light court of the new house while the other ones will go on the roof to create a decorative guttering system around the roof garden. Thereís something rather meditative about sitting on pebbles and rummaging around for white ones, the kind of menial task that allows oneís mind to wander hither and thither for a few hours.
Iíve not been sleeping well. I keep waking up in the night with a sore back, vowing each time to get back into yoga but never seeming to find the time during the day. Once awake my mind becomes crowded with the seemingly endless list of things that need to be done, not just at work but also in relation to the new house and all the uncertainties that both of these areas of my life generate. During the day itís easy to keep the anxieties at bay but in the stillness of the night they all come crowding in.
Working ten hours a day doesnít mean that everything gets done. Itís the nature of the beast that the story never really ends. Itís important to not let that fact become an issue. There are things Iíve not done as well as I might have done these past couple of weeks. It ultimately comes down to prioritizing what really matters. With me, itís always the paperwork that suffers. After more than 30 years in the game I tend to resent the paperwork, however necessary it may be deemed to be. Itís the kids themselves Iíd rather focus my energies on.
Was it really less than a year ago that we were living in London? Both our mothers were still alive. I was renovating the flat. Australia was a distant dream and the house we were going to build even more so.
I began this month resolving to do something each day that was a little different. While I may not have entirely succeeded, there can be no denying that there have been many, many changes over the past year that have cumulatively led us to this point where nothing is as it was.
Or will be again for that matter.
In the end we have to go on believing that life will deliver. There are things in life we can control and things in life we canít. In amongst that are the many opportunities that get thrown up. What matters more than control is the ability to see where the opportunities exist and to take advantage of them as they arise.
Anxiety and stress can often be the result of a limited view of life based on a tendency to think that what we have is all weíll ever have.
Life is actually richer and much more complex than that.
The Tip Jar