Last week I was presented with the choice of 20+ fridge magnets and an invitation to choose as many as I’d like. The magnets were created by a friend from original photographs that he took, in and around Perth. He combined the images with words to create positive messages for himself – and then decided to share them.

The art work is terrific and part of me wanted to grab all 20 and whack them up all over my fridge. But instead I showed some restraint and spent a bit of time sorting through to see if any of them really leapt out at me and said ‘take me home’.

What I discovered is that, although they’re all lovely, only two of them really resonated with me on that particular day. One because it’s who I am and the other because I need the reminder. 

I must have looked at those magnets dozens of times since I put them up. Whenever I open and close the fridge, there they are. They remind me to take a mental step back from rushing around and be present in the moment  – and they’ve made me smile. Every time.

So thanks, friend, for sharing your thoughts and smiles. They’re greatly appreciated. Smiles are huge and happy and lovely and can totally make someone’s day – especially if they’re shared.

So here are my smiles, dear tea leaf readers. I hope they work for you too – and that you share them around 🙂

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a micromanager (mM), then you probably know just how frustrating and demotivating it can be. The mM blithely delegates tasks and then follows up on them in painstaking detail, seemingly never quite satisfied with the outcomes. Indeed, their responses imply regret at having delegated the tasks in the first place.

The perceived lack of trust that piggybacks on this style of management invariably results in loss of productivity and generalised workplace dissatisfaction. Oddly enough, as often as not, the mM seems not to realise what they’re doing – or the impact they’re having.

This is where I confess that I’m something of a control freak (!). I like having things around me organised, straightforward and on track – and preferably done my way. I don’t enjoy having things random and disorganised – at home or in the work place. It’s a thing.

On the upside, my EQ has developed sufficiently with time for me to self-manage this personality ‘feature’ reasonably well. I’ve come to accept that even if I have a preferred way for a task to be accomplished, once I’ve allocated the task to someone else, whether at home or at work, then I need to step away from the process and let things take their course.

Sometimes things don’t pan out the way I’d hoped – but, in general, most things work out most times. Tasks are conquered, the responsible parties achieve job satisfaction and I haven’t had to do whatever it was that needed doing. Communication and pragmatism are key elements.

An example of this was when I suggested handing the catering arrangements for Christmas lunch over to DaughterDearest, BoyChilde and their partners a couple of years ago. To my surprise they agreed with a fair amount of enthusiasm. Time passed… Then, about a month before Christmas, just when I was starting to have some doubts, they let me know they’d scheduled a get together to plan the menu and to allocate tasks.

In due course I was presented with a shopping list (my agreed contribution to the process) and informed that everything was on track and that I should just sit back and let it happen. So I did.

On Xmas Day, I armed myself with a good book, settled down in a hammock next to the pool and left them to it. I admit that at some level I was itching to get in there and be involved, but it was their gig – so I kept out of it. Their collaboration produced a fabulous spread for 20 people – and they’re now officially in the catering chair for Christmas events. A win all round.

In a work situation, things are sometimes less straightforward. Perhaps it’s the lack of hammocks, but micromanagement is ubiquitous in the work place and can wreak havoc. Poor communication results in task lists getting longer rather than shorter, promoting a perception of worker incompetence. The mM often exacerbates this by stonewalling, subtly or overtly withholding resources and information to a degree that can make workdays frustrating for individual staff members and for the team as a whole. Overall it hampers productivity and increases staff stress levels as people fell unable to do their job effectively. These frustrations often mount when micromanagement escalates to loosely disguised bullying.

It occurs to me that this style of management may be based on fear. Perhaps the manager fears a loss of control and associated status?

From the subordinate’s point of view it really doesn’t matter. Finding any sort of rationale for the negative behaviour is well nigh impossible, reminiscent of trying to wade through marshmallow – messy and unsatisfying.

Industry advice suggests prioritising tasks, devising request lists, scheduling meetings and setting limits on direct contact hours. And all these work-arounds can help to off set the impact of the micromanager to some degree. But they can also result in an escalation in all the existing passive-aggressive behaviours, along with a few new ones for good measure. To stay ‘in control’ the micromanager may well start to actively interfere, send prescriptive text messages and introduce delaying tactics of various sorts.

The quandary for the micromanaged often comes down to trying to figure out how to resolve the situation with the least damage to all concerned. As it seldom self corrects, grievance complaints, mediation and even staff losses are not uncommon.

Perhaps management training should include a greater emphasis on the difference between ‘managing’ and ‘micromanaging.’ Or perhaps some sessions on how to improve your EQ might do the trick.

Being super busy wasn’t the plan. It just sort of evolved that way, sneaking up on me with each new commitment I’ve added to the existing glom. But trying to fit all the things and all the people in all the time has gradually resulted in days being largely indistinguishable from one another in the flurry of work / life / dog-wrangling, etc.

In the past, periods of self-inflicted busyness of this sort ended up with my best creative work being done in the wee smalls… those times when the rest of household is generally asleep. But this has fallen by the wayside over the past months, largely because I’ve simply been too knackered for many 4am gigs. Those I have managed haven’t been unduly successful, since one or both pups usually decides they’re sooo lonely (aka needing attention) and hunt down some quality lap-time. At my desk. In front of my computer. Cute, but not productive.

Lately this means creativity’s been reduced to what I make for dinner and/or how much (practical) productive activity I can manage to magically squeeze into my complicated work/life arrangements. Not ideal, but – eh – life.

Then, this week, I spent a day doing data entry down the coast. Although it’s not my usual day job, the morning started off pretty much the same as any other: puppy chaos, a wild scramble to be ready on time and a hasty goodbye kiss at the door. Then I headed  out to brave the back-to-school early morning traffic.

When I reached the first set of traffic lights, I leaned over to press play on my audio book. Shock-horror-gasp! I’d managed to leave my beloved travel companion behind. Rats! And I was so ready for next chapters in The Rivers of London saga by Ben Aaronovitch. Without Kobna Holbrook-Smith to keep me company on my drive, the day suddenly felt drab.

Even so, I prefer silence to morning radio and I resigned myself to letting the parts of my brain that would otherwise be listening to the adventures of Police Constable Peter Grant do as they wished. And what they did was notice things.

I found I was looking around, observing, categorising… and ideas were popping up. This was familiar ground. A few years ago this was my standard route to work. I’d drive to the coast in early morning traffic contemplating something I’d seen or heard, putting it together with other mental notes and turning them into new puzzle pieces to niggle at. In point of fact, I used to do this whenever I drove anywhere on my own. More often than not,  the puzzle pieces would shape themselves into blogposts, writing projects, outings and social events, craft craziness and so on.

This brought Murdoch University’s new Free Your Think advertising campaign to mind. The catch phrase in the ad (free  your think) shapes think as a noun, rather than a verb, and it occurred to me that my (creative) think has actually been, if not imprisoned, at least hibernating somewhere for far too long – and definitely needed freeing.

No wonder I’ve felt as though I’m flailing around in a fog… my think was trying to find its way out into the light of day!

By the time I reached my destination, we (my think and I) were well on the way to getting reacquainted. We’d given each other the once over, received tentative nods of recognition, spent some time reminiscing and even elicited promises to to get together again soon.

So: hello Think – I didn’t know it, but I missed you. You’re formally invited back and your place at the table is assured. Turn up whenever you’re ready. I’ll be here.

Some years ago a delightful young man I know asked if he could photograph my hands for a piece he was writing for a ‘zine.  Now, I’m all for the creative process but, even so, I was suprised that anyone would be interested in my rather weathered appendages. Since I can’t be bothered with manicures, acrylic nails, etc., my cuticles tend towards scruffy. As a hands-on sort of person, I also prefer to keep my nails short to make cleaning them after gardening, painting and the like easier. So the best that can be said for them, really, is that my hands are utilitarian. Definitely not beautiful.

So why photograph them?

Well, this particular edition of the ‘zine was entitled Attrition – and perhaps that says it all, really. Like everything else, hands age. Given enough time they transition from the most beautiful soft little baby bits to worn and wrinkled crone hands. What do they see in that time? What experiences do our hands have? What do they say about us?

Whilst my hands weren’t crone-like quite yet, they definitely had stories to tell – and Mike took a number of shots from various angles to capture some aspect of that. Although he’d assured me that the photo he used wouldn’t be captioned, that my hand/s would be anonymous, I found myself inordinately self conscious during the photo shoot. It was as though I was seeing my own hands for the first time, thinking of them as independent of me rather than part of me.

The identifying (and rather telling) crescent shaped scar on my left palm was acquired when I was about six years old and playing chasey (tag). I ran straight at a fence and hurdled over it by bracing my hand on the top strands. The rip, the blood and the ensuing drama come to mind whenever I notice the scar. It should have been both a lesson and a salient reminder to look before I leap. If so, it’s one I’ve managed to steadfastly ignore 🙂

What brought all this to mind was at least partly as a result of having developed something called trigger finger. This sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is, bringing to mind as it does (at least for me) cowboys and shootouts at high noon. Instead, I unexpectedly found the index finger on my right hand inexplicably locked in place against the palm one morning. I turned a kitchen tap off and my finger simply wouldn’t straighten out, no matter what I tried. I massaged it, put ice on it, tried gentle pressure – nothing helped.

As a writer, crafter, gardener, sometimes-kitchen-goddess and bike rider, the loss of one of my hands – even for a short a time – was frightening. Gradual loss of dexterity due to ageing and arthritis is one thing… this was a whole new ballpark. I finally resorted to soaking my hand in the warm washing up water, wriggling my fingers gently and hoping for the best. This all really (really) focused my attention on the 101 (and more) situations in my life where hands – both hands – are needed.

When the warm water finally did the trick – and my finger finally snapped audibly back into place, the wash of gratitude and relief was overwhelming. Isn’t it interesting how the value of something is so very often only perceived when it’s at risk or lost?

Walking away from the bus the other day I was shocked by the hot wash of feeling that rushed across me. It was accompanied by the prickle of supressed tears, hunched shoulders and a powerful desire to avert my gaze. What could possibly have happened to produce such a powerful reaction?

Fracturing my kneecap in early December last year is as good a place to start as any.

After six weeks in a very restrictive, heavily padded and reinforced splint, I was more than ready to hear that I could ditch it. The doc said I could also ditch one crutch and start doing physio. All excellent news.

So, as soon as possible, my single crutch and I headed off to the indoor pool. Since driving wasn’t on the agenda yet, the bus seemed a straightforward enough alternative. There’s a bus stop about 250m from our place – an easy walk. The bus would take me the 2km to the pool and then I’d walk about the same distance at the other end before doing my exercises and then heading back. After weeks of being mostly housebound, I was more than ready to give it a go.

Whilst getting on to the bus was easy enough, what I didn’t take into account was the dismount. And that proved to be more challenging than I could have anticipated.

The bus driver stopped a short distance from the kerb, rather than right up against it. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem. But standing at the open doorway, I could see I’d have to take a very big step down onto the road and that, with my limited mobility, I would probably fall flat on my face if I tried. I hovered indecisively in the doorway, effectively blocking the way out for the people who’d politely stood aside for me. It was really quite an awkward-panda moment.

On the upside, the bus was one of the Transperth ‘fully accessible vehicles’ – as designated by the wheelchair symbol on the front windscreen. So the solution was obvious. All the driver needed to do was to lower the side of the bus so that I could step down safely. Unfortunately, he hadn’t noticed my predicament, so I had to turn and ask him to lower the bus. Awkward-panda moment number 2.

But it got worse.

As he lowered the side, he said Oh, do you want the ramp as well? – meaning the ramp for mobility aids, kiddies’ prams and so on. Without waiting for an answer, he closed the bus doors so that he could extend said ramp. Slowly. So very, very slowly.

By now I could feel every eye in the bus focused on me. Embarrassing just doesn’t cover it. But the ramp was finally fully extruded, the door opened and, with a tiny squawked thank you, I fled as fast as my knee, crutch and protectively hunched shoulders would allow.

I thought about my reactions while I was flailing around in the pool a little while later. Since all that had really happened was that I’d found getting off the bus a bit awkward, why on earth did I feel – not just embarrassed – but ashamed? I’d transgressed no social boundaries, knew no-one on the bus, certainly couldn’t describe any of them, and would probably never see any of them again even if I could. So why the hunched shoulders, tight chest, etc.?

But there you go: shame is a tricky emotion. It’s sneaky and can catch you unawares. According to dictionaries it’s caused by feelings of guilt, shortcoming or impropriety. Since I’ve always tended towards a rather casual approach to social norms and not been overly concerned about the opinions of others, this clearly wasn’t a case of guilt or impropriety.

That left shortcoming – and there it is: I realised that I was ashamed of being inadequate. It wasn’t the people on the bus I wanted to hide from, but from myself. My inability to do something as simple as get off a bus, no matter the reason, had made me feel that I’d fallen short of being me. I was feeling diminished by my inability to live up to some internal picture of myself. I wasn’t good enough and had let the side down.

And I think that’s what shame is: an uncomfortably self-focused emotion, resulting from feelings that you’re bad or unworthy in some way. Effectively, it highlights your worst fears about yourself. It doesn’t matter if others see the reasoning as silly, irrational or incorrect; you’ve been your own judge and jury behind the scenes without even realising it.

So how does one go about dealing with shame, whatever its cause?

There lies an entire box of tricks that I’m under qualified to open. All I can say is that, in my case, I think a good starting point was to step back and acknowledge the feelings. Accepting that they’re there and that the source was internal wasn’t all that difficult.

The next bit was harder though, as it involved trying to figure out what their root cause might be. I’ve had to be both introspective as well as analytical so that I can hunt down the source. I think I’m getting there.

In the meantime, I’ve made a pact with myself to be firmer with bus drivers – and to be a bit kinder to myself as I coddiwomple on through life. Sharing this story is an exercise in vulnerability and acknowledgement to help me along the way. I’ve no idea if it’ll help anyone else, but I think articulating it has helped me. Thanks.

Photo credit: Douglas Linder 2013