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

Late last year a friend told me he’d decided to focus on being more proactive about finding the good things in life in 2017 and on acquiring some achievable habits to promote that outlook. He’d had a tough year and I was (and am) impressed at his resolve and determination to rise above it all and to chooses to make positive changes to his life.

He later asked me, ‘Are you much in the way of New Year’s Resolutions?’ Well, although I do think about the year ahead, I’m actually not at all prone to making resolutions. Instead I generally just aim to get more things done, to be a bit more patient (!) and to do more stuff. None of these are resolutions, as such, and nor are they life changing, but I find they’re usually achievable. Perhaps because they’re so non-specific?

Then, on New Year’s Eve, my BBF told me about her resolution for 2017. Instead of making a list of wannas and gonnas (and having them turn into shouldas), she’s chosen one word around which to frame her year.

After much thought, the word that emerged was one that’ll encourage her to she achieve her goals and that she believes she can commit to on an ongoing basis for the entire year.

Accomplish 2017

As we talked (and sipped our NYE bubbly), I realised that choosing a word can provide direction, without being dictatorial. It’s both a clear focus and a soft target, covering any number of possible outcomes and thus a wide range of opportunities for success.

I could see that the process of reflecting on what you’d like to achieve, broadly speaking, and then condensing that into one word would be a valuable exercise. Actioning the word across the year… now that would be empowering. I loved the idea!

I went to sleep in the early hours of New Years Day thinking about it – and woke up with it still on my mind several hours later. Since it was pretty clear that inner-me was trying to tell me something, I spent the next few days considering what, in broad terms, I want to achieve this year. Is it the usual ‘get more things done in the year ahead, to be a bit more patient and to do more stuff’ or do I want more from this year?

Since 2016 was a relatively stagnant year, the short answer is I want more. More engagement, more activity, more learning, more fun. (But no more dogs; two is quite enough!)

Choosing just one word to encapsulate all that proved to be surprisingly difficult. It should be both broad enough to encompass many things and specific enough to result in action/outcomes. I need it to be something with direction,  with a certain amount of gravitas. And, whatever word I chose, it should be one that will influence the way I think, the way I behave and the choices I make.

In the end I came up with a short list and noticed a distinct trend in the sorts of words that had popped up: Achieve / Focus / Expand / Purposeful / Learn. All of these are active words, all of seem to want to carry me forward into the year, towards completing projects and starting new ones, into new experiences and opportunities. So, rolling all of this into one big glom, I’ve come up with my word.

This year I plan to be more ACTIVE – in all possible ways. What word would you choose?

Would you choose a word at all? I’m interested to know what people think of this idea.

Active 2017

Two bridges rideAfter a week of rain, my cycling excursion now seems a little like a delicious dream rather than a reality. But it definitely happened! Last weekend was sunny and I really did go on my first bike ride in absolutely ages. I even got a bit of a tan!

It was a glorious almost-spring afternoon, perfect for a ride around the two bridges. It’s only a 7.4km loop – although the extra 6.3km (each way) to and from the bridge turned it into a 20km round trip. Not an epic ride, certainly, but a personal best for some time.

As I started down the first hill and started to pick up speed, I felt indescribably free. For no clear reason, the mental soundtrack to my ride was  I’m Free – from the Pete Townshend musical, Tommy.  The opening lines encapsulated the moment perfectly: I’m free… I’m free… / And freedom tastes of reality!

Freedom is generally understood to be the ability to think or act as one wishes, whether an individual, group or nation state. In a world where so many people have so few personal freedoms – where they are denied freedom of movement, religious belief, political outlook and expression – my taste of reality may seem exceedingly superficial.

However, in the particular, freedom has specific connotations for every individual – and I’m very conscious of my good fortune. The freedom to do something like hop on my bike and go for a ride – just because I feel like it – is a gift beyond compare.

        If I told you what it takes / To reach the highest high, / You’d laugh and say, “Nothing’s that simple”.

But, for me, it is. Those two hours on my bike and on the river bank provided me with a mindful appreciation of my environment – which included seeing a small group of dolphins frolicking in the river, exercise, time to think, and renewal. Time well spent.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you use an expression that fits perfectly, but isn’t part of the local vernacular? A word or phrase that you’ve picked up somewhere, perhaps when living in another country or from popular culture/friends/associates?

Most often when I find myself doing so, the context makes the meaning apparent to others – even if the word/phrase isn’t in a language they’re familiar with. Sometimes, though, I get an odd look – admittedly this is usually when I make some obscure exclamation out loud to myself in public.

For example, when I try to carry too many things at once and end up dropping something… as often as not I end up exclaiming something along the lines of ‘Ja, jy wil mos!’ Unless another ex-South African is around, this sort of exclamation generally results in variations of the odd look. I guess I could use the English equivalent, but somehow it doesn’t feel as though it means the same thing. When I say ‘Jy will mos!, what I mean is Oh, come on, you knew that was stupid, but you would just go and do it anyway, wouldn’t you?’ And, seriously, who says something like that to themselves in the heat of the moment? 🙂

This use of random wordage came to mind earlier in the week, on one of my increasingly rare free-from-puppy-duties days. I’d crammed the day full of appointments, gym visits, shopping and so forth – racing from one to the other in order to get everything done before picking Cassie up from the vet after her sterilisation procedure.

CassieMolly_nap time

provitaOne of my stops was at the local Tastes of Africa shop, to pick up some of my favourite crackers (Provita) and to enjoy a vetkoek lunch. For those who have no idea what that is, vetkoek (pronounced fet-cook) is a traditional South African bread product made from yeast-based dough, shaped into medium-sized balls and then deep-fried. The result is something rather like a bread roll, but crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. You then add your preferred filling and eat it piping hot. I chose to go all traditional and have mine filled with delicious savoury mince, chutney and grated cheese. So much yum in every mouthful!

But I digress…

Having placed my order, I took my table number over to my chosen seat. When I put it down on the table I had to laugh out loud – the table numbers are all South African expressions or place names, and mine expressed to perfection in one word my general take on the day.

EishEish is another weird South Africanism – it encapsulates exasperation, disbelief, resignation – and a whole bunch more. It’s not a word I used when I lived there, but I found that I picked it up when travelling around Tasmania with my brother last November. He uses it quite a lot as we had a number of eish-moments, many ending in laughter. Perhaps that’s why it’s embedded itself in my vocab and made me smile over my (very tasty) lunch. Nostalgia’s a funny old thing.

Thinking about this later, I realised that there are quite a few random expressions in my lexicon: some Afrikaans-based ones from my childhood, some Yiddish from my high school years and so forth. This is just the start of the list and it’s by no means comprehensive, but it may help people who experience my occasional odd comments / outbursts in public places 😛

  • Aarde Genade (good heavens!) – actually a combination of earth+mercifulness, which makes no sense at all!
  • Oy vey (dismay) – a lot of this at high school
  • Chuzpah (cheek/gall) – and a fair bit of this too
  • Great Zot! (good grief!) – BC comic meme from my youth
  • Padkos (travel provisions) – literally: road food
  • Klutz! (clumsy twit) – usually what I say to myself immediately after saying Jy wil mos…
  • Jy wil mos (yeah, well, you would go and do it, wouldn’t you)
  • Muchas gracias (thanks heaps) – one of the few Spanish phrases I retained after our visit in 2007
  • Now now (soonish) – this one confuses the locals regularly 🙂
  • Oh my giddy aunt! (amazement) – I blame my friend Vicki for this one!

On a recent rainy afternoon (rather like today) I went hunting for something to read. As always, I had heaps of must-reads cluttering up my bedside table –  but none of them appealed. They all seemed too weighty or too complicated. Basically none of them fitted what I was after… so I went trawling through our library for something that felt right.  What I found was our remaining three Dick Francis paperbacks.

Dick Francis novels

I don’t remember when exactly started reading Dick Francis thrillers, but it was sometime in my teens. What I do remember is just how much I loved them. The writing style was clear and clever, the protagonists easy to identify with, and the detail on all aspects of the racing world intensely believable. I also remember that I was both surprised and gratified to discover that Dick Francis was a retired champion jockey. No wonder his words seemed to hold the ring of authenticity!

Over the years I’ve continued to read his books, some from the public library, some from stock – and even buying them from second-hand bookshops when on holiday. The man was a prolific writer, producing over 40 novels, along with an autobiography and the official biography of racing legend Lester Piggott. It’s been fun to discover and rediscover his version of the racing world each time I’ve delved into one of them.

Not long ago, we swapped many of our paper copies for eBook versions – and I confess I do miss those well-thumbed old paperbacks. Even so, Kindle in hand, I’ve romped through Banker, Bolt and Come to Grief over the past few days – revelling the adventures of Kit Fielding, Sid Halley and Tim Ekaterin, all top blokes and very dashing protagonists.

It’s been a bit like coming home after being away for ages – the feeling that I’m reacquainting myself with people I’ve half forgotten but who’s company I enjoy each time we meet up. I’m looking forward to spending time with Neil Griffon in Bonecrack next, then Gene Hawkins in Bloodsport. I’ve got the rest queued and ready to go – and if the rainy weather persists, I may make it through them all 🙂

Have you read any? If not, you could try your local library for a taster – it really doesn’t matter in which order you read them.