Some time ago I created a vision board to reflect my emerging two-to-five-year plan. The aim was for this to act as a visual reminder and an anchor. It included big picture items that take a bit of planning, such as a trip to overseas (Scandinavia, perhaps), finishing off our kitchen renovations and having an electric vehicle as our primary mode of transport. These are all still ticking along as background tasks, some more actively than others.

In terms of immediate personal plans, however, plausible outcomes seemed like the best working premise. So for this year I chose fairly simple goals – ones that I felt I could realistically conquer and that would leave future-me feeling the year had been a success.
personal goals 2015I aimed to increase my general fitness (somewhat-tick), establish a strong bond with our puppy (ohmygiddyaunt – so much tick!), get my memoir publication-ready (mostly-tick), blog regularly (tick) and spend more time doing things I enjoy (increasingly-tick). All in all, past-me made some sound choices and implemented most of them.

Looking back at the past year has made me think about past-me quite a lot and about some of the choices she made for me. I remember a young woman who used to say (rather flippantly) that she would age disgracefully, that she’d work at not growing up as she grew older (i.e. not get boring).

Now that past-me has turned into present-me, I conclude that this was a surprisingly good – and achievable – plan. Amongst other things, I’ve continued to wear jeans, sit on the floor, walk around barefoot, laugh out loud at things that amuse me and smile at strangers. All these things are intrinsic to who I am, although I gave them little thought until relatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAively recently. Over time, however, I’ve realised that they make me actively happy.

When I think about future-me, I’d like her to be happy too – and to continue not feel constrained by social pressures to become a tidy and conventional old lady. I’d like people to say to her (as they do to me) that she seems younger than her chronological years – and I’d like it to be because, like me, she enjoys life.

Of course, ageing does come with a few limiting factors: get-up-and-go that has sometimes got-up-and-gone, a reduced inclination to be tolerant of rudeness and bad service, and an occasional tendency to be forgetful – these have certainly all become part of my landscape.

But past-me found some useful coping strategies along the way, some of them in The Sunscreen Song. Somewhat surprisingly, many of those tips feel as relevant now as they did then – although some resonate age disgracefullymore strongly than others, including:
* be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone
* the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
* be nice to your siblings

But if I could add just one additional lyric for future-me, I think it would be:
Age disgracefully – it’s always more fun than you think.

 

I’m often met with puzzled looks when I mention that I’m involved with a group called GenghisCon. “What on earth is that?” or “Did you say Genghis Khan?” or “Say what?” are fairly standard responses. Despite the relative frequency with which I get those responses, I’m always slightly taken aback. After all, it’s been part of my milieu for about 16 years…

So what exactly is a GenghisCon and how did it start?

Essentially, it’s a low-cost, max-fun 3-day geek annual convention. GenghisCon provides a range of activities from table-top gaming/roleplaying/LARP/console gaming to panel discussions on technology/gaming/geek culture/science/etc., as well as hands-on creative workshops. There’s even a one-day marketplace with traders and stalls, selling a wide range of geek loot, books and handcrafted items. We sometimes have water-balloon and water-pistol fights (because we can), tend to eat junk food and have been known whack each other (gently) with foam rubber swords 🙂

It all started in 2001 with DaughterDearest. A science fiction enthusiast and, at that time, a member of MARS (the Murdoch Alternative Reality Society), she’d become increasingly indignant at the cost of the then one-and-only science fiction convention in Perth.

“It’s iniquitous!” she ranted. “How do they expect students to afford those prices? And it’s not like it’s even fun anymore!”

As the annual convention drew closer, her litany of irritated exclamations escalated. Dinnertime conversations centred on the topic long enough for the parental unit (me) to eventually find it tedious. We’d thrashed the topic to death, we all agreed on the basic points and I was over it. So I suggested that instead of complaining, perhaps she should do something about it – perhaps start her own (low cost, max fun) convention…

One thing about DD – she does rise to a challenge – and this time she did so in spades. The next day she thrashed the idea around with some friends at MARS, several of whom were very keen to roll with it, and invited a few of them over to the old homestead to take the discussions to the next level. Before we knew it, we’d been invaded by a flurry of students and our whiteboard was being colonised with ideas, strategies, timelines and possible convention names.

deej at gcon1_2002This group included Danielle Linder (aka DaughterDearest), Mark Turnley, Douglas Linder (aka Boychilde), John Blahusiak, Wendy Macdougall, Colm Kiely, Mike Fineberg and Dean Caruana. By the second meeting they’d been joined by Zara Astle, Robyn Creagh and Msquared – who also thought the idea of an all-new max-fun convention rocked. Together, this happy band made up the first committee.

A lot of brain storming later the name GenghisCon emerged – a nod towards Genghis Khan, who’s empire changed the face of the world…logo_gcon banner3Having a name anchored the convention as a reality, after which things rapidly gained momentum. Robyn drew a Mongolian horse-shield/UFO logo, which remains the identifiable GenghisCon image. Grant Stone  agreed to be our Patron Saint and his tacit support of the new convention helped it to gain traction with the broader SF community. An affordable venue was found, a programme of events – with a strong focus on interactive fun – was devised, and some fundraising was undertaken to pay for the venue and to keep costs down.

A Brains Trust was set up: Himself had attended the very first Swancon (back in 1976), Sibling#1 had served as Treasurer on various Swancon committees, DrMark – a regular visitor and a long-time Swancon-er – had been on the Board of WASFF, Boychilde had uber computer skills, and I had helped to establish a couple of not-for-profits in the past. Between us we could offer suggestions on incorporation, insurance, finances and venue options when needed.

From there it was a relatively short step to the realisation of DaugterDearest’s core idea: a small, student-and-impoverished-fan oriented science and speculative fiction convention, with a strong emphasis on interactive fun. GenghisCon is now a Perth institution, with successive volunteer committees keeping to the basic premise of providing a small, friendly, fun, and inexpensive annual event.

It goes to show that a small group of people with a cool idea can make things happen. If you have an idea, why not start a club, build a convention, join a committee – get involved and create the culture you want to enjoy. If not you, then who?

GenghisCon 15 runs from 15-17 January 2016. Bookings are open now.genghiscon2004_M2pie2

Grant Stone is an icon of WA science fiction fandom, an archivist, a renowned raconteur and one of my favourite people. Spending time with him is always good value and lunch this week was no exception.

As always, the conversation was peppered with fascinating titbits from Grant’s past and present, ranging from his early interest in botany to his later research into the cultural ecology of Barbie (dolls). This time the mix alsnik_1970o included some shared reminisces of our respective childhood years, in Johannesburg (RSA) and near Bunbury (WA).

The tales of Grant’s childhood and teenage years made them sound idyllic, a time of great freedom and adventure. I confess that by the time we parted I felt slightly regretful at not having grown up in WA, although my own childhood was not all that dissimilar.

Like Grant, I have a plethora of happy memories of racing around with friends (on and off bicycles), camping, climbing trees, collecting various things (stamps, plants, posters, etc.) and reading – so much reading. Quite simply, what’s not to love about all that?

Of course, just like everyone else, we also experienced sad, bad and boring times. But all those experiences were processed and allocated varying levels of importance in the time and context in which they took place. They became part of the complex memory-maze of our respective personal histories, which enables us to leave the sad/bad bits back in the past where they belong.

Shaping a coherent mental map that highlights the best in life is a way of being that can encompass all life experiences. One way to do this is try to be both participant and observer of your own life, to mindfully or self-reflexively create your history as you live it.

When I quit my day job I promised myself I’d use the ‘spare’ time creatively, that I’d do more things I enjoy and spend more time with people who’re important to me. In this way I’d be shaping a new part of my personal history as something I’ll both enjoy and want to remember.

Social interaction is a richly rewarding aspect of creating that history, but it takes planning and not insignificant amounts of mental energy. One week in, after catch-ups in all directions (including lunch with Grant, an Indie-rock concert and an elegant afternoon tea and lawn bowls with newly-married friends), my hermit tendencies have started to surface. The polite message they’re sending is that not all of this next chapter of my history needs to be shaped in the first week… who knew?  😛

Ragamuffin gardenThis week I found an all-but forgotten potted geranium had sprouted the most luscious pink blossoms. The totally unexpected flash of new colour in my ragamuffin garden made me laugh out loud – and then smile on and off for the rest of the day.

Geraniums do tend to look perky and pretty, particularly when in flower. But they were really just so much background scenery when I was growing up. Then I went to Europe, where I seemed to see window boxes full of bright red geraniums everywhere I went.

Seeing them in this new context, I realised that I’m actually rather fond of these hardy little plants. They’re great performers: water-wise, pest resistant, need minimal maintenance and can be relied on to flower regularly and brighten up pretty much any garden.

Forgotten geraniumOver the years I’ve added several varieties to our garden, including the vermillion ones that remind me of Europe, the cerise pink variety that always makes me smile, one with lime scented foliage and lavender flowers, and the stunning big red that I found a couple of years ago.

On Saturday, still full of enthusiasm from my mid-week geranium smiles, I decided to go hunting for some new varieties at the WA Geranium & Pelargonium Society Annual Sale Day. Daughter-dearest and I had great fun trawling through the stalls, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at all the pretties. It was like being in a candy store, rushing from display to display to admire the blossoms, smell the leaves and chat with other geranium enthusiasts.

One of the club members explained that the plants commonly called ‘geraniums’ are, in fact, pelargoniums. Confusion on this point is quite common, apparently, but affected our enthusiasm for plant-hunting not one whit! The sale day turned out to be a great opportunity to find varieties I’ve seldom (if ever) seen in suburban gardens.

Co-incidentally, Daughter-dearest has just recently taken up residence in her new home and it seemed like a good excuse to buy instead of just browse. She certainly wasn’t about to talk me out of shopping for pretties, so we ended up acquiring a couple at each stall until we ran out of hands. We then headed for home, armed with a veritable wealth of geraniums – ten different varieties in all.

Since they’re dead easy to propagate, we immediately set to work with secateurs and potting soil. The process is very simple. First step was to take a small cutting (approximately 10cm) from just above a leaf joint (node) on each of the new plants. We then trimmed each cutting so that there were only two or three leaves on it. This makes it easier for the cutting to thrive, because the plant doesn’t have to work too hard trying to keep lots of leaves alive. Next step was to pop each of the cuttings in a small tub of potting soil and water them lightly. Try it – the results are well worth the tiny amount of effort involved.

Propogating geraniums_Oct2015

I’ll continue to water the cuttings lightly every day and the first tiny roots should start to appear in about three days. After  about four weeks the new plants should be ready to transplant into slightly larger pots or, if I’m feeling brave, straight into the garden – both options have worked for me in the past. Either way, I’m looking forward to even more bright flashes of colour in my ragamuffin garden this summer.

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Remaining mentally active and maintaining strong and varied social contacts provides a surprising number of significant health benefits. It helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimers, promotes a longer lifespan and reduces stress, anxiety and depression. I’ve been thinking about this for a while – in fact ever since retirement later this year became an objective. How will I fill the many hours I will (hypothetically) have spare? I have any number of art, craft and writing projects I can finally fall upon like a starving wolf, but most of those can and will be done in isolation in my art shed or study. A little voice in my head tells me that I’ll need more than this, so a couple of months ago I decided I should probably start focusing on the issue now make life more fun for future-me.

I already do some volunteering and have no immediate desire to expand on that, but joining a couple of new social groups sounded plausible. Having decided this, the sociologist in me immediately started to think about the layers of complex verbal and non-verbal cues that would need to be decoded. Whilst many of these are resolved at a subconscious level, social encounters – particularly with new people – require a fair bit of interpretation. There’s always extra information that needs to be processed in any given situation in order to function effectively. This can be exhausting,  but in my experience it can also be stimulating, interesting – even amusing.

Of course, existing groups have their own dynamics, shared history, in-jokes and group behaviours and, as often as not, don’t actively reach out to include outsiders.  They are, after all, already formed and functional and very possibly don’t need to be outwardly focused. The more closely bonded the group, the more difficult it is to gain traction in it. A group of close friends who spend heaps of time together is generally a harder nut to crack than a social group that meets on a regular basis but doesn’t keep in regular contact between meetings – although this isn’t always the case. Either way, the need (of whatever sort and for what ever reason) is largely on the side of the person trying to join in – and it falls to them to do the running, to make the effort. This is obviously made easier if the group is at least somewhat accommodating, but the time and effort still needs to be put in by the wannabe participant.

So how does one go about cracking the code, finding the elusive cryptic clues or secret handshakes that will grease the social wheels sufficiently to promote easy social integration in new situations? In reality there is no one-size-fits-all solution to social interaction, no one thing that will simply make it happen. It takes determination, time, risk and the willingness to listen. Perhaps part of success in this also hinges on finding / choosing the right target audience.

After some thought, I hit on two options for my initial forays. The first of these was to join an aquarobics group at the local pool. This provides me with physical as well as mental stimulation, along with a fair bit of amusement a couple of times a week. My other selection, based on availability and ability,

was to join a knitting group with a friend. Settling in there has been slow going, but the assessing glances and pleasant (but distant) smiles became nods and smiles of recognition the second time round, then warm greetings the next time. We’re starting to fit in and I’ve started to remember some names – and some people seem to have remembered mine. I haven’t knitted much, but I do know quite a lot more about knitting projects that other people have completed (such as a wedding dress, jumpers, blankets, socks and knitted vegetables!) or have underway (just as varied). Common ground is slowly being uncovered – and I’m starting to look forward to the sessions – knitting, chatting, laughing, chocolate biscuits and all.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say mission accomplished, but I think I’m on my way.