What it everything was perfect just the way it is?

imperfectionI have been asking myself this question quite a few times this week.  It is a question to calm my spirit as I try and feel am consistently failing at making a positive difference in the world through the endless committees that I sit on.

This morning for example I am attending a forum about advocacy in the victim services sector, a subject close to my heart.  Only I have found out a key agency won’t be attending.  I know I should not be surprised, but I am, and deflated too.

It seems to be such a fine line between being useful, and being tokenistic.

I know what I would like to happen, and that is change, positive change.  I sit on these committees, hoping to be influential, to somehow access levers of influence that would allow these positive changes to occur.  Victims of sexual assault to have access to end to end advocacy to assist them through the many different stages of the process from offence to final legal judgement or final extinction of all hope that there will be legal redress.

I am not really sure you can do that without power or money.  I want to be someone who has easy access to the $1m plus it would take to get started with an advocacy service, and some clever way of making it self-sustaining and ongoing.

But I don’t seem to be in that kind of paradigm.

I don’t think grassroots works, today.  It feels like it is all about power, money and which school you went to.

Am I wrong? And is everything ok even if it is imperfect?

A room of one’s own

Melbourne hotel viewIt’s been two weekends since Melbourne, and I have had a few wistful moments thinking about the East Melbourne hotel room I stayed in, and worked my way through an impressive list of projects that had stalled just due to lack of time.  Not just a room of one’s own, but a serviced room, where there are no requirements to do any housework.


Now that I am back home, I do have a room, it’s just not mine.  You can be halfway through a beautiful sentence in your head and then – boom – an interruption and it is gone.

However, I am not lonely this weekend, and for that I am definitely, truly grateful.

It can be hard being a Gemini, wanting solitude and company at the same time.

But overwhelmingly today, I think a room of one’s own beckons!


Doubt yourself!

online contentSome of you may know I have an (ahem) addiction to buying, downloading, reading things on-line.  But there is so much fantastic stuff out there!  How can one stop?

One of my current favourite websites belongs to The Organized Artist – Samantha Bennett – who is an inspiring example of being artistic and abundant all at once.

I love her posts and poems which liven up the inbox, but this particularly resonated for me – her blog entitled “Fear of Failure is Perfectly Reasonable”

When not being brash and confident, I am someone who can be irritatingly self-effacing.  The constant “it’ll never work” inner dialogue about my creative pursuits can be quite deafening.  It was very cheering therefore to see this written:

I’ve heard it said that only dilettantes and amateurs never doubt their talent.

And I’ve noticed that the more daring the creative idea, the more vicious and violent those critical inner voices can become.

So over time, I’ve learned this:

the louder & meaner the voices in my head are, the greater the probability that I’ve just had a really juicy idea.

Well that is very encouraging.  I must be onto lots of juicy ideas, because since shaking up the party and making a break from my highly responsible job to a more fluid, project-based position, there has been quite a few loud and mean voices.

All right.  Time to stand up to them mean and loud voices. Or to finish with another quote from the article:

Fear of failure is entirely reasonable. But it’s no reason not to do your work.

Am I being clear?

clarityI would answer that yes, I am usually very clear.  It is sad and rather humbling to realise that we treasure these illusions about ourselves until compelling evidence to the contrary comes our way.  I will admit, I am somewhat over-confident in my writing and communicating skills.  Sure, I do have these but – clarity is not always a key feature.  Rapidity is.  Clarity – not so much.

I will take this chastisement from Mr Darcy, originally intended for Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice;

“…you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting.”

On more occasions than I care to remember, a missing half of a sentence or a vital absent noun will be remarked on by recipients of my emails.  Especially long, complicated emails which have required me to jump in and out of the rabbit hole of my inbox (see here) and get thoroughly distracted before hitting send.

Yesterday was fascinating.  I sent what I thought was a really clear text.  “Hey one and all! Can you please update your mobile contact for me, Pip Brennan to 0406 290 923”.  What I meant was, I now have a new number, please replace the current number you have for me with this new number.  Why didn’t I just write that???

I would say 50% of people got what I meant, the other 50% have texted me with their name. I can only hope that they also update the number while they are at it.

Others of course texted me with messages of concern about what on earth I was doing with my life and had I gone mad, leaving my job? Or worse still, been kicked out?

So if you did get my text and am wondering, it is all part of the plan.  I am taking a conscious decision to move on to a new chapter of my life, and am lucky enough to have someone good to take over the reins.  Now I just need a bit of clarity around my new direction…

Habits of the Heart

habits of the heartIn mid-October, I was lucky enough to attend a retreat which meant I had a whole weekend to myself, no chores,  and a chance to connect with a like-minded group of people.  Most of them I hadn’t met prior to the Retreat, but true Perth-style, managed to work out I was connected to most of them in some way or other.

The theme of the Retreat was “Habits of the Heart” and reflects the work of Parker J Palmer, who I hadn’t really heard of before the Retreat;

“Habits of the heart” are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose in life. I believe that these five taken together are critical to sustaining a democracy”

Most of us who attended the Retreat are involved in social change in one way or another; through managing not for profits, being in politics, helping managers and organisations work in a functional and healthy way, through living our own lives with some consciousness of what we think and how we want to behave.

There are five habits of the human heart:

1. Understanding we are all in this together

2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness”

3.  An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways

4.  A sense of personal voice

5. A capacity to create community

I am not 100% certain that I was holding the tension of last night’s discussion with darling husband in life-giving ways. In fact it felt a little more like the red mist may soon have been coming down if I didn’t remove myself from the vicinity to think things through.

It is just possible that my restless, reforming spirit looks at the world with a reformist’s eye, itching to roll up my sleeves and get involved actively in making change.  And accordingly, as I create what I see, I see opportunities for improvements everywhere 🙂  It is in fact possible that everything is unfolding just as it should.

But does that mean we stand by and let people go under that might have been saved with a helping hand?  Does that mean that we just maintain an “I’m all right Jack, pull the ladder up” attitude?  I think no!  and I don’t think waiting for the government to do things is a sensible idea.  I believe we are all creating our own lives and by extension the lives of our communities.

So, I guess that means I am going to carry on being quite busy.  And occasionally a little bit snappy in marital conversations relating to social justice.

I’m one of the 26%…

InspirationApparently it used to be about 5% of the population, now it has shot up to 26%.  People who procrastinate, that is. (Steele, 2007)

Alas, it appears that I am one of the 26%.  Perhaps starting a daily blog challenge in the middle of changing jobs was a little ambitious, but at the time it felt exciting, challenging and eminently achievable.It started with a missed day here and there, and then a creeping sense of failure for not having done my daily blog for more than two days then – boom – a week has gone past.  The date-stamping of the blogs leave me no room for prevaricating around the bush.  I have not met my daily blog challenge.

No matter, I can re-commit now to a daily blog and neatly avert that ongoing sense of failure and procrastination. To paraphrase a well known marketing tag line – “Just re-do it.”

It seems the most important thing is to get the creative wheel re-started.  It certainly is easier to keep the wheel bowling along when it already has momentum, whereas re-starting the stationary creative wheel moving takes more energy.

But imperfect action is what it is all about – action being the really important defining thing.  Turning up. Taking imperfect action and hoping for that inspiration to come and find you, hard at work!

Last night in Melbourne…

greta002I want to be alone!  I have been largely holed up in a hotel, Greta Garbo style, working on my projects since my arrival on Monday. I spent some time today listing what I had done in this time.

I needed to, as the alone-ness had teetered into loneliness, and it was hard not to long for a beautiful walk and swim on South Beach this morning with my beloved rather than walking, hunched against the biting wind, in Melbourne.

Not all my social plans came off, but my projects sure did.

We humans are such contradictory creatures, that despite my huge excitement at anticipating my week of me-time, I ended up feeling quite bereft wandering around the streets and the National Gallery without my daughter to soak it all in.  There was much less jumping on and off trams and getting excited about all the different shops and attractions Melbourne has to offer.

But I just had to move past the feelings of being Nelly No Mates and savour the time I had.  I offered up all the work, all the progress on my projects, all the hours of listening to training tapes, all the effort in wrestling the book manuscript from one form into another, it all went up to the altar of gratitude.  Gratitude that I have a beautiful family in Perth to return to.

And a very impressive-looking to do list, with lots of ticks on it!



How to Make Gravy

Paul KellyI am old enough to recall going to the Herdsman Hotel in Perth in 1990, to catch the last set of a Paul Kelly gig before leaving for Europe. No queue, no charge. All the time I lived in Europe, which was pretty much all of the 90’s, I never stopped playing his music.  It drove my Northern flat mate around the twist.  She didn’t get Paul Kelly; he is our voice.

He told first person Australian stories as men, women, black, white, cruel, victimised.

While I thoroughly enjoy all his new material, there are two songs of his that have prodded painful feelings, difficult to articulate. They were a lament, and finally, a call to action.

My karma became entangled with another person’s when he intruded into my home and assaulted me.  I of course reported it, but 14 months passed before he was found.

I had never been a fan of the prison system, no doubt deeply coloured by the experience as a young adult of visiting a friend in maximum security (at the medieval Fremantle Prison before it became a museum).

After the strange limbo of 14 months of not knowing who this person was and if he had struck again, abruptly he was found through DNA back-capture and the police once again required to formalise paperwork and facilitate his arrest.

All weekend, I knew, and he didn’t, that an arrest was about to happen.  Instead of feeling elated I felt a terrible sadness at the waste of his life, from boy to man, in and out of corrective institutions’ revolving doors. A profound grief that we put people right outside society where there is no way back into the fold.  Over and over again I played God’s Hotel that weekend, to help articulate and move these feelings through.

Nearly another year passed before he was sentenced to nine years, seven with parole.  God’s Hotel was joined by How To Make Gravy for obvious reasons. When I heard Paul Kelly play it live some years after that in a vineyard (huge queue, definitely not free now) I couldn’t stop the tears from seeping down my face from behind my dark glasses.

I mobilised on my emotions about incarceration by volunteering to attend a restorative justice Sycamore Tree program in a Perth prison.  I took in a CD and played God’s Hotel and read out my diary entry of how I had felt about the perpetrator being arrested, and cried. A few of the prisoners cried, too. One talked about how he couldn’t ever imagine a victim of crime feeling sad about the lot of the prisoner.

Still, How To Make Gravy  haunted me, encouraging me to take the step of doing a Victim Offender Mediation conference with the unknown perpetrator.

And finally, in his sixth year in prison, I did. I had spent much of the intervening six years feeing that profound loss on his part, for being completely shut out of society. I shared this with very few people as it was an unacceptable feeling. Everyone wanted him dead, or thought about him as little as possible. I could seep tears listening to How to Make Gravy when no-one was looking. Or once, not that long before the actual mediation conference was organised, I startled my 11 year old daughter my crying quite loudly and impulsively in the car when it came on when we were driving home.

The feeling wasn’t going anywhere.

Neither was the Victim Offender Mediation Office, who had created a file for me six years earlier when I had mentioned I was thinking about doing a mediation conference. Every now and then they would touch base with me, ask me if the time was right, back away gently when they sensed my ambivalence.

So when I was sure, they dusted off the file, and just six weeks after startling my daughter, I was sitting opposite the faceless perpetrator, having a mediation conference. He was no longer faceless but I certainly would have walked past him in the street, I would not have known him at all. I had seen him once, six years earlier in the court room, but it was only a quick glance and his features hadn’t stayed with me.

I began the conversation by explaining why I was there, how I felt that the prison and legal system were somewhat flawed, and that I had always felt somewhat distressed by the whole situation. He listened, then when it was his turn to speak, he said he was sorry.

Then, he said how glad he was that he’d had a long sentence so that he could get clean, loosen the hold of the drugs that were threatening to kill him.

And just like that, the heavy feeling I had carried around for six years dissipated.

I can’t say that I never tear up when I hear How to Make Gravy  but I walked out of there a lighter woman.

I’ll end with a question: why he would break into my house and assault me rather than attend a drug rehabilitation service that would have rolled out the red recovery carpet? This is the conundrum I am still pondering to this day.

Book cover image, ISBN number – do we have lift-off?

Mosaic Image for Book CoverAs you may know, I am using my few more days in Melbourne as thinking time, rounding off time, getting things squared away.

It certainly feels very indulgent to have so much time to myself and my projects! No housework, no school wash, no work, no worries.  My big to-do list item was making final edits to my book, and getting a cover done.

Yesterday I sent my eyes quite spare by doing the grammatical changes that had been lovingly marked up by a fellow Book Club member who like everyone, read the draft for me, but actually marked it up for me, page by page.  I was so grateful for her time and effort, and rejoiced yesterday as I picked up the (let’s hope) last typo errors.  I then got stuck into the search and replace editing which can go so horribly wrong at the touch of a button (thank heavens for Control + Z!).  More than once I had that discombobulating experience of suddenly wondering at the spelling of words like “does” which had morphed into an alien appearing word instead of a commonplace verb.

Having done that I was allowed to play with the cover ideas, and get that in progress while I do some more of that dull fine-tuning stuff.  I already have an ISBN and I just need to get it all together and hit send.

Sounds very straight-forward but I am overwhelmed at my audacity.  Must be on the right track then!



Put… the … smartphone … down

imageYou know the time has come to go off-line when your fingers are itching to send the response “spoil sport” to the Health bureaucrat’s email politely requesting that you don’t include LGBTI in the client survey form.  Especially when that impulse is accompanied by uncontrollable public giggling.

It is Melbourne time, and past time to switch off from checking and responding to Perth emails in a responsible way.

Fighting the good fight as a health consumer advocate, in my case specifically as a maternity health consumer advocate is always going to be a delicate balancing act.  Keeping the conversation going – while remaining civil – and yet not rolling over – is a constant tightrope walk.  I am always acutely aware that I could not think of anything worse than being on call 24/7 to provide support for labouring women and any of my many gripes about the system have to take this reality into account.

And, grumpy old woman style, my gripes are many.  I feel frustration that despite WA Health having a statewide home birth policy AND an Operational Directive for all public maternity hospitals in Perth to provide back up services for the Community Midwifery Program more than half of them don’t – *and there are no consequences for these hospitals*. I feel frustration that our National Maternity Services Plan highlights the importance of continuity of midwifery care for women, as supported by all the evidence, and yet there is no funding to make this happen, and an incredible force of inertia against making this happen in our public maternity hospitals.

Some of the stories I have heard in the last few days of the hostility women and midwives face from hospitals when trying to make these models a reality make me beyond grumpy – more sad and a wee bit despondent.

I am trying to re-frame this hostility to the last stage – just before we win. And all women can access a midwife. And everyone in Australia can pronounce “midwifery” correctly – even customer support staff from telcos…