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 🙂

His name is Spot, for fairly obvious reasons. I have no memory of actually playing with this toy dog, only of having him, of knowing he was mine. His tail is chewed, as are the edges  of his ears and his right front foot. I don’t know if that was done by a proto-version of me, by a real dog with a taste for soft plastic, or by a toy-destroying-sibling. What I do know that it was me that wrote my name across Spot’s brown and while rear end, irrefutably claiming him as mine.

In all my moves, from house to house, across continents, Spot has been a constant. Relegated to my memory-box, he grins up at me whenever I make foray into that Aladdin’s cave. It’s as if he’s asking me what I’m looking for, as I ferret around amongst birthday cards, diaries, theatre programmes, children’s drawings and report cards.

Spot keeps me company as my fingers wander idly through my past. I drift, lost on a sea of memories, oblivious to the the fading light as I take a brief holiday from the reality that is now. For a while we travel back to other times, other countries, shows I’ve seen, people who have disappeared from my life. Wisps of memory cling like fairly floss, leaving a residue of half-remembered moments that slowly dissolve, little more than a taste and a yearning for more.

Any time in the past 40 or more years I could have ‘re-homed’ Spot, passing him on to a child or dropping him off at a Thrift Store. After all, he’s faded and worn with time, my autograph is barely legible and his little body is no longer flexible. But somehow the moment of betrayal didn’t arrive. I’ve never been able to relinquish this one tangible piece of proof that Nicky-the-child, owner and protector of Spot-the-dog, really did pre-exist the Nicky of now.

How desperate was that little girl to assert ownership if she was prepared to forego the household rule of ‘do no damage’ and actually scrawl her name on this one toy? Was she punished for that, Spot? If so, it was worth it: the predator siblings left you alone. We are still together to share our past.

What is it that makes us who we are?

It’s often argued that the self is socially constructed, developed through the interconnectedness of the various aspects of the society in which we function. More specifically, the self could be seen as a complicated jigsaw puzzle of how we’re parented, our schooling, our social interaction with family and friends, and all our other life experiences.

But what happens if pieces of the puzzle that’s been created start to disappear? Are we still ourselves if we forget some of the bits that make us who we are?

What’s brought this to mind is my dear friend Mil. For a while she’s been getting more and more forgetful. But until fairly recently she just found it an inconvenience, something that could be considered an inevitable consequence of ageing. It was mostly variations on a theme of oh-dear-where-have-I put-xxx and not a cause for undue concern, she thought, considering that we all do that sort of thing sometimes.

Then suddenly great big gaps in her memory started to appear, seemingly overnight. The gaps seem random – her birthday party a couple of months ago, visitors from overseas last year, a tragic death in the family a few years before that, her youngest son and his family coming to stay last Xmas and a number of short-term gaps as well. Most worrying is that, despite visits to the hospital, consulting a neurologist and all manner of tests and scans, there appears to be no specific or discernible reason for it.  So there’s no clear diagnosis, just a great deal of confusion and worry.

Talking to her, I’ve realised that Mil feels as though she could wake up on any given morning and another little chunk of what makes her herself might be gone. Another memory – big or small – could have disappeared and, until told otherwise by family or friends, it will be as though the event never happened.

More frightening than the actual memory loss, she says, is the randomness of it all. For someone accustomed to being in control of her life, to planning events and taking an active interest in the world around her, who values logic very highly, this is a very scary place for Mil to find herself.

No matter how much I think about the situation or read up on memory loss, I find that I end up with more questions than answers. What does one do when events, days and years start to fizzle and disappear?

Standard advice seems to be to plan ahead once a diagnosis is obtained. This includes legal, financial and health planning. But the path to diagnosis, to discovering choices and to possible treatment seems to take so very long.

Starting to keep a journal seems to have helped. Mil’s found that simply making a note of things as they happen or writing down how she’s feeling on any given day provides her with reference points. When she pages back, even if she’s forgotten the events, she feels she can trust the words on the pages. She can see that she’s written them, even if she can’t remember having done so, and that distinction makes a big difference to her.

I find that this puts my years of intermittent journaling into a new perspective for me. Perhaps I’ve always been writing for a future me, providing myself with trustworthy breadcrumbs back to a past I’ll very possibly forget one day.

Perhaps it’s something we could all consider doing. That, and making sure that every year we have is as good a year as we can make it.

Since I’ve rather cleverly managed to end up with several part-time jobs (all at the same time), pups that need vets, walking and endless cuddling, and in-laws to keep an (active) eye on, normal things like grocery shopping, visits to the GPO for stamps, going to the gym, cooking and socialising have all taken a back seat for the moment. Pretty lame excuses, I know, dear Pen Pal, but there it is. So, until I have a little more free time, a quick-fix postcard to keep you going. Enjoy. Perhaps I’ll make the next one a recipe card – that’s almost like cooking, right?

 

 

 

Public Speaking is widely touted as being one of the top three fears that people have. It ranks up there with death of a loved one and terrorist attacks  — and well ahead of clowns.

So why did I join Toastmasters when we first moved to Australia?

Mostly it was to meet new people and to try to form connections, both personally and professionally. But it was also my all-or-nothing go at overcoming the shyness I tended to feel when speaking to strangers.

Right from the first meeting I had to work on overcoming the shaking hands, dry mouth and elevated heart-rate that arrived unfailingly every week – but I kept going. Feedback from people who had no vested interest in anything but my ability to speak in public was tremendously useful. I learned to ensure that my prepared project speeches addressed project criteria succinctly, to pace my delivery, and to be able to respond to impromptu topics or questions even when the subject matter was something I knew nothing about.

Much to my surprise, despite being quietly terrified every single time I stood up to speak, it was fun. The techniques for coping with delivering presentations and managing public speaking-related stress proved invaluable and I carried on going to meetings for a number years.

In due course and after conquering various speech challenges, taking part in competitions and so forth, I eventually moved on to other things – but I wasn’t ready to get rid of my file of prepared speeches and very insightful feedback reports, so I stashed the file in a cupboard for later.

Later happened this weekend. My study was due for a clear out and, in the process of sorting, tidying and binning, I unearthed the file… and had to decide whether to just chuck the whole lot out or to have a look. Predictably, curiosity won out.

Although the content is twenty years old, some of it still resonated — so I thought I might share one or two and see what people think 🙂

This one was my first ‘advanced’ TM speech. Entitled Get Personal, the speech objectives are: (1) to learn the elements of a good story,  and (2) to create and tell and original story based on a personal experience. Time: 6 – 8 minutes.

So: are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin

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There’s nothing like it

A perfect day. Clear skies, not too hot, and a steady 15-knot wind. What more could a novice windsurfing enthusiast hope for?

In a flurry of enthusiasm I rallied the troops, getting the children organised and hauling my younger brothers (who were staying with us at the time) out of bed. Next I rushed around like a headless chook, packing the car with the essentials: sailboard, picnic and muscle power (the brothers, B & R), then off we went. A day of fun at on the water was less than an hour away…

I’d only been on a windsurfer three or four times before, but I was your archetypal enthusiastic beginner: incredibly keen… but not very competent! I was at that (unfortunate) stage of being able to get a sailboard run with the wind… but turning round and coming back still posed something of a challenge!

After what seemed like an age, we were finally there and unpacked. Once the board was rigged: sail taut, mast secured and fin attached, I dibsed first turn. Squelching out through the muddy shallows, I stepped up onto the board and tipped the sail forward. Ignoring B & R,  who were standing knee-deep in the water behind me chorusing Don’t go too far out! You need to PRACTICE those turns…, I set off across the lake – the wind in my hair, the flies in my teeth, a grin from ear to ear. THIS was freedom! THIS was sheer exhilaration…

After a while I realised just how far I’d gone… oh-oh … time to turn around….
Now, how does it work again??: sail forward? NO! That makes it go faster!
Try sail back? Ooops…… Ka-splosh!

Wrong  choice!

That was the start of a long, frustrating and totally exhausting struggle to get back to shore. Water logged, I scrambled onto the board… got to my feet… pulled the sail up… got my balance… moved the sail….
Ka-splosh!
Right… Clambered onto the board… staggered to my feet… hauled the sail out of the water… slipped on the wet board… Ka-splosh!

And rinse and repeat, until I couldn’t think coherently past the sound of my heart racing… and tears weren’t far off.

What I didn’t know is that my brothers had been taking a keen interest in my activities, watching anxiously from the shore as I drifted further and further away. After a while it was obvious that I wasn’t going to make it back without help. So they flipped a coin as to who’d stay onshore to keep an eye on the children and who’d get the thankless task of swimming out to rescue me.

By this stage I’d given up to have a rest and was lying full length on the board, shivering, wheezing and oblivious to anything but my own sorry state of affairs. So my surprise and delight when a wet (and slightly abusive) younger brother popped his head over the edge of the board was heartfelt. Hero status immediately awarded!

Okay, Nik, you sit on the back and DON’T move: I’ll sail us in, okay?
I sat.

R – a regular and competent board sailor, effortlessly plucked the sail out of the water, turned the board and headed for shore. I sat on the back of the board like a stranded, bedraggled, miserable mermaid.

And it must have been these thoughts that caused me to move — ever so slightly — and catapult us both back into the water!

Even worse, there was no time to avoid the descending boom. It came flying towards me, hitting me squarely on the bridge of the nose as we exploded off the board.

Panic!
I didn’t know which way was up and had a blinding pain in my head. I kicked desperately, hoping to find the surface. The water was cold and murky, and the weeds seemed to wrap themselves around my legs as I struggled to get away.

Finally my head broke the surface and I drew in a giant breath as I was hauled up onto the board like so much limp washing.

Sit still and put that on your face!
R thrust his wet tee-shirt at me and started paddling frantically for shore. Bemused I put the tee-shirt up to my face, pulled it away and looked at it. It was covered in blood… MY blood.

B had been watching the action from the shore and, with rare anticipation, had grabbed all the picnic gear, flung it in the back of the car and strapped the children into their car seats. Then he raced down to the waters edge to help carry me and the board in.

After that things became somewhat confusing for a while.  The boys rushed me to the emergency ward of the local hospital, where people asked lots of questions that seemed totally irrelevant and got me to sign forms, so many forms, in triplicate.

It turned out that the sharp edge of the boom had made a deep ragged gash across the bridge of my nose and, just to make my day, x-rays showed that the force of the blow had actually also broken my nose. Luckily the break was a clean one and there was no displacement, so my nose didn’t have to be realigned.
Whew.

But I did have to have the obligatory anti-tetanus shot and the gash had to be stitched. The duty doctor injected a local anaesthetic into the wound, which was an eye-wateringly painful experience.  Then the stitching started – and I can only imagine what it would’ve been like without  the local anaesthetic!

By the time I left the hospital a couple of hours later my face had started to swell, my eyes were puffy and looked like I’d gone at least a couple of rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. Not a pretty sight.

The brothers were very kind. They minded the children, drove me home, made me tea and waited until I was safely settled on my bed with an ice pack on the swelling before saying ‘I told you so!’ in many and different ways. They read big sister the riot act about being irresponsible, which was such a role reversal that it was almost – but not quite – funny.

All of the week that followed, as the swelling gradually went down and the bruises on my face went through all the colours of the rainbow, I thought about what they had said and about what had happened. I felt silly — and my nose hurt A LOT, which re-enforced the silly-feeling. But I was determined it wouldn’t stop me from sailing. I’d learn how to turn that board so that I would never get stuck and have to be rescued again!

So, the next weekend, I was out on the water again – battered and bruised, looking like the walking wounded, practising turn after turn after turn, until I had it just right. Then I was off — flying across the water:  a plume of spray behind me — and a wealth of windsurfing ahead 🙂