It’s possible! Who needs lots of money to be happy?

You can do it! You can stop working full-time and have enough to eat, somewhere to live, your basic needs met and enjoy being alive. Trust me, I’m doing it, so I know what I’m talking about. (The tiny house movement is just one example of doing it differently.)

 

I remember the anxiety and fear. Sometimes I think it was terror- of the future, of what might happen, of all the what ifs. I dreaded being old and homeless, joining the community who lived on the street.

I remember the constant anxiety before I bought a house. The constant worry of when I would have to move again. Rentals get sold or the owners want it for something else or… the one certainty in life was that sooner or later I would have to move. There would come the search for somewhere suitable, finding the best possible home that I could afford, then the packing and cleaning; the expense and the disruption and the stress.

I remember finally, at last buying a house. I was fifty-one and I had lived for years without even the hope that this might happen. I was given the keys to my house and that evening I sat on the floor, I simply sat there,  and  the fears and the tensions and the worries melted away. I had a home. I could plant a garden. It was mine. (Well, yes, there was a mortgage, but…)

Manning Regional Art Gallery's photo.

After many years of insomnia I started sleeping. I fed birds from the deck through the day and possums at night. I sat by the lake and was content or wandered into the rainforest across the road and breathed in the trees.

And then ( there always seems to be an “and then”). Illness happened. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I couldn’t work for almost twelve months. Then a gradual return: a half day, two half days, one full day… I reached four days. Then brain surgery, then a heart condition… In six years I was never able to return to work a five day week in my full-time permanent job.

The fear and the anxiety returned. What if I couldn’t pay my mortgage? What if I lost my job? What if I was too ill to continue working even part-time? The bag lady spectre came back.

Eventually I sold my house. A work flat was available, furnished and the changes had begun. A friend in a similar situation ( single, unable to buy a home by herself ) was happy to buy a house with me.

And we lived happily ever after. Well, you can fill in the next events. They aren’t what matter here.

What I really want to tell you is how part of this story, the part before I resigned from my job, meant facing the possibility of poverty- looking the fear in the face and asking if I could cope. (This is a wonderful post exploring some of the possibilities.)

Harvest from the garden.

Harvest from the garden.

What if I couldn’t afford to have a car? What if I couldn’t afford heating?  No new clothes? Dentists? Food? Doctors?  Never have another massage? Or see a chiropractor? What if I couldn’t afford the restaurant get-togethers? Meeting friends for coffee? Would I have to live with hairy legs, no more waxing? Concerts? Theatre?

Of course I went through the self reprimands of how privileged my life had been, of how I had frittered money, if only I’d been more frugal, if I’d stayed in one job and worked my way up, if …but that’s another story.

Two and a half years later I can tell you that it is possible! I still have my car but if I can’t replace it in the future I live in a small town where I can walk to the things I need or catch a bus.

Shared bounty from a friend.

Shared bounty from a friend.

I know that if I have no money left for food one week there is enough in my pantry to feed us. My neighbours have hens and can give me eggs. The vegetable garden is developing and will supply some food. There’s always rice and lentils and …

If it’s freezing and the heating bill is high, then… more clothes, warm underwear… there are secondhand clothing shops, there’s the world of online buying and selling… I need special clothes for an occasion? someone might lend me something…

The most significant awareness I have and that which I believe with all my being is that we must  join together. A group of people on limited incomes can support each other in times of need. We must reach out and not be alone. A pestilence of our modern lifestyle is isolation and loneliness. We can find ways of living together and of sharing and of caring for each other.

It is possible! Not only is it possible, it’s fun and exciting. I have challenges, things to strive for and the endless possibilities that come with stepping out of the box.

Never give up, I say.

 

Take the step and throw yourself in.

Take the step and throw yourself in.

Imagine walking a mile in someone else’s headline: Monica Lewinsky speaks at TED2015

In praise of a noble woman.

Monica Lewinski. We are all familiar with that name. But we can forget that behind the name stands a human being, a person, a woman.
I have thought of her over the years; I have wondered how she was; aware, in some way, of how much she must have suffered; wondered how anyone could possibly survive such a maelstrom.
I am so glad she has survived- through great pain and at great cost and has become a person of great integrity, honesty and compassion. I am awed by her courage- in choosing to live, in facing the pain and now in choosing to stand tall and proud, to hide no longer.

I have been moved and inspired by her TED talk and by her recent essay. This is the TED blog summarizing the talk she has just given. The post contains links to the talk itself and to the essay in Vanity Fair.
Thank you Monica Lewinsky, firstly for your courage in choosing to live and now for your courage in choosing to speak with vulnerability and integrity. You are a hero of our time.

TED Blog

At TED2015, Monica Lewinsky calls herself "Patient Zero" for online harassment. Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED. “Public humiliation as a blood sport has to stop,” says Monica Lewinsky onstage at TED2015. “We need to return to a long-held value of compassion and empathy.” Photo: James Duncan Davidson/TED.

Monica Lewinsky is one of very few people over the age of 40 who has no interest in being 22 again.

“At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss,” she says bluntly as she begins her talk on the TED2015 stage, her hands clasped in front of her. “At the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences. “

Lewinsky asks for a show of hands: “Who didn’t make a mistake at 22?”

“Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply,” she continues. “In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal…

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Blocked

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I feel overwhelmed. Stuck. Blocked. Frustrated. Can’t move forward. Can’t move back. Can’t move sideways. Haven’t been writing, haven’t been to the gym, the “to do” list just keeps on getting longer.

Know that feeling?

I live in a spacious house. All by myself. Large rooms- back deck and front porch; wide, long room downstairs; gracious loungeroom and a huge, sunny family room + kitchen. When my co-housing partner lives here, there will be the grand total of two of us

scary, isn't it?

scary, isn’t it?

But. I can’t settle my work space. Right now I’m camped in the dining room (yes, there’s a dining room as well) – computers set up on the dining table, papers strewn everywhere, books stacked…Angie, my co-housemate suggests the second bedroom is my space and some stuff is in there-  left over clothes of mine that don’t fit in my bedroom, a largeish table, full boxes and plastic crates, all my paperwork, stationery…Downstairs is stuffed with furniture- a desk, a workbench, cupboards, bookshelves, books and books and books, filing cabinets, plastic crates full of stuff belonging to both of us, all my parents’ family photos waiting to be sorted, my notes from courses I have run, old letters (of course!), boxes of Angie’s…all waiting to be sorted. There’s no garage, so downstairs is where it’s all at. My stuff, and it is stuff, is scattered in three places. No wonder I keep losing things.

Where do I settle my study? upstairs? second bedroom? downstairs? the dining room? turn the loungeroom into a work space? Where do we put guests?

questions,

questions,

I haven’t mentioned the garden. You remember the garden? One of our aims is to be as self sufficient as possible, so the garden is a top priority. Well, here I am, eighteen months later, and I’ve only been playing around the edges. Where will I create the beds? How will I make them? Where do I start? Treated pine edging or colorbond or?  If I put a tree there, will it stop the sun?  Questions, uncertainty, indecision… and I’m back where I started from, feeling stuck.

By now, you’re probably feeling irritated with me and want to tell me to “stop carrying on , just get on with it!” I’m irritated with me!

However. And there is usually an however. I have watched people talking about how they feel blocked and I have seen that they have solutions. I’ve watched them reject any options or possibilities. For some reason they didn’t want to move forward.

What does this tell me now? That I am refusing solutions? Choosing to stay stuck? Why do I keep rejecting any possible solutions?  What am I frightened of?

This is a life lesson, of course. It’s not just in our homes or gardens we get stuck. How many times have you been at a point where you have felt powerless, you can’t make a choice and  your life’s been  in a holding pattern?

And isn’t it an uncomfortable place to be? No energy, restless, I take to prowling about, unable to settle anywhere. Nothing gets done.

What was I told once? It doesn’t matter where you start, you’ll always get to where you need. Here and now, it doesn’t matter what choice I make. All that matters is to start. It’s my old friend, fear- the fear of making a mistake. What did I learn, many years ago, from Susan Jeffers? To “feel the fear, and do it anyway”. What do I have to lose?

a Spring bouquet to cheer me up.

a Spring bouquet to cheer me up.

P.S. If you have an idea about the garden or the house, I’d love to hear it. Think outside the square!

 

 

 

 

Celebrating generosity

The thrill of  a wonderful surprise! And even better, it leaves a glow.

Two days ago there was a ring on my doorbell, and there was my lovely parcel delivery man. Now I’m expecting a parcel so I wasn’t surprised to see him, but I was surprised to see two cartons.

imagesDEQMWLV5He said something about wine but that wasn’t what I’d ordered so I didn’t take any notice. Refused his offer to carry them inside, couldn’t easily lift them and realised… they were cartons of wine! Huge excitement! This was only the second time in my life anyone had ever sent me wine. The last time it was champagne as a house moving present. That was pretty special.

Now I had a fairly good idea of who had sent them and I think a surprise is even better when you can work it out. There’s the pleasure of the unexpectedness, of how perfect the choice is, and of the generosity. I didn’t realise how generous it was until I opened one carton, to find not six, but twelve bottles. I had been sent two dozen bottles of wine!  Wow! Talk about feel spoilt!  It isn’t just the delight from such a surprise , but the feeling of being valued and of being worth such a gift.

Maybe it’s serendipity, but I’ve been thinking about generosity and unexpected gifts. During a very long, traumatic and scary hospital stay, several months of which were in Fort Worth, Texas, I received many, many gifts, often from people I didn’t know.

My veins are very narrow, making it difficult to insert  cannulas or extract blood samples. I’ve been remembering one time in particular, when a young medical intern was attempting to get a syringe in. Now I was used to nurses and doctors needing to keep on trying, sometimes giving up. I’d learnt to gaze out the window, think of other things, grit my teeth and endure it. This time, I had reached the end, for the first time ever. As I was about to ask him to stop, he did. We talked a moment and he left. It was one of those times when you truly meet someone- I guess the experience was intense for both of us and we were probably around the same age. I was far from home, desperately ill.

they're not yellow, but they sure are beautiful.

they’re not yellow, but they sure are beautiful.

The next day, a huge bunch of yellow roses, an absolute abundance of roses, was delivered- no name, just love and best wishes. I knew who had sent them. I was overwhelmed- really, the scraping at my veins hadn’t been that bad. . They carried me through the next difficult hours. How could I not continue to hang in when I could look at those roses and be reminded of compassion and kindness. So, young Texan doctor, I think Dr Macdonald, all these years later, I have never forgotten you and those roses.  From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Me

One lesson I need to keep learning from such memories is to be generous myself. And generosity is not only about things that cost money. It’s the gift of time when someone needs it, even though I may not think I have that time to spare. And it isn’t simply taking the time, it’s giving it without counting the cost.  I forget about the little things: sending the card, writing the letter, making the phone call, asking how someone is.

May I always remember to give back, I, to whom so much has been given.

And thank you for flowers, wine, visits, cards, listening, money when I ‘ve been desperate… the list goes on and on.

 

 

if only…

if only...

if only…I don't think "if only" crossed the minds of Bear or Pusska.

 
I don’t think “if only” crossed the minds of Bear or Pusska.

if only I’d… asked for help… told someone how I felt… known I was valued… taken the chance to… spoken up for myself… told my side of the story… let  them know I loved them … gone to visit that last time… gardened at every opportunity… gone to the beach every possible moment… rung when I thought of it… this list is straight off the top of my head and I could go on and on…

I wonder if you live with some “if only’s” in your life and what they might be.

You might be thinking it sounds negative, as if I’m judging myself, but I find the opposite is true. My if only’s are learning moments. They can lead to self understanding and to insights about myself. I’d like to think that by learning from them I don’t repeat them. If only that were true! I can be a very slow learner.

The if only I’ve been thinking about happened a long time ago. I was teaching in a very good private school in Melbourne, a few years after I had been desperately ill and spent many months in hospital. I was still frail, with limited energy and had moved to Melbourne after finishing an Arts degree the year before- full-time study had taken less energy than working full-time…although, if only I’d had more energy…

Back to this story- I had a wonderful class, bright, sassy and I loved almost all of them. The principal liked me and showed me he valued me. I had, unwittingly, come after an unpleasant situation and, without knowing, saved the day for him.

Not having taught for about five years I found I had lost my confidence. At night after work, I quite simply lacked the energy to plan and organize. I felt unable to deal with any classroom management issues- not that there were many, this was the dream class; I couldn’t have organized programs and all the other things expected of teachers.

So… you can probably guess how this story ends. The shared household where I was living was proving to be more difficult than I’d expected, I certainly lacked the skills and confidence to deal with that, so… I ran away back to my home city. Couldn’t face the Principal, wrote a letter in the holidays.

What did learn I from that, many years later, when I was a bigger person? You’ve probably been shaking your head, wondering how anyone could be so dense. Yes, I could have gone to him, told him how I was feeling and, I am absolutely certain, I would have been given unlimited help. It was that kind of place. I could have been happy there and may have reclaimed my teaching career- but that is pointless conjecture.

What I do know, clear down to my bones, is that a plea for help would have been heard and answered.

However, to ask for help, I needed to know that I could. Sounds obvious? Somewhere along the way I learnt not to ask for help, that it wasn’t OK to ask for help. I’ve spent many years unlearning that. And to ask for help  I needed to feel safe enough and courageous enough to be vulnerable, to be able to say that I wasn’t perfect. My belief that I wasn’t perfect was part of what prevented me from asking for help. My response was to try to hide this, so no one would find out, so I wouldn’t get into trouble. My very need worked against me.

It’s obvious what I keep learning from this story. Have the courage to be vulnerable. Ask for help. Believe in  myself. An essential part of my humanness is my imperfection.

In sharing my vulnerabilities  other people may find the courage and the space to share theirs.

I’d really like to know if you have some if only stories and I’d also like to hear your response to this story of mine- but only if you want to!