Monday, August 31, 2015

Goal-setting: September

Well, well - the last day of technical-winter has arrived (although it's still tooooo cold) and with it, time to look at goal-setting for the first breezy, sneezy month of spring.

Let's review August's goals first up.


- Give my eldest a great 12th birthday party.
Status: Achieved. She had a great swimming party (despite the weather!) and a Tardis cake fit for a Doctor :-)

- Have a one on one outing with each member of my family.
Status: Achieved. Eldest and I went shopping; secondborn and I went out for afternoon tea; littlest and I went to church just the two of us; and husband and I went kitchen appliance shopping, which was more fun than it sounds, and also fitted in a brunch & walk.


- Write 5,000 more words on my novel.
 Status: Nope, not this time. Work, illness and family needs got in the way.

- Write, and deliver, 2x Booker Prize review pieces.
Status: Over-achieved. Reviews of A Spool  of Blue Thread, Lila and The Chimes published on Global Comment.


- Perform the booked days of paid freelance work, and book at least 6 for September.
Status: Achieved. I billed 15 days in August, and I have forward bookings for another 16 for September.

- Develop and publish a simple website listing my services.
Status: Still failed. I seem to have a mental block about this one for some reason.


- Catch up with at least 2 friends for coffee / lunch.
Status: Massively over-achieved :-) I clocked one walk, 3 lunches and 5 coffees with different people this month!

- Do 2x volunteering activities.
Status: Achieved. I helped with school cooking twice and also school Father's Day stall preparation.


- Sort and properly arrange our fairly large "library" (book collection)
Status: Nope, did not get near.

- Decide yes or no on kitchen renovation and if yes, book a supplier.
Status: Achieved - decision made. It's a YES! All booked, all deposits paid.

So that's 7/10 for this month, which is not bad. I'm actually tempted to call it 7.5/10 really, because I did something that was on last month's goal list (consolidate my super), so even though that wasn't technically a goal on this month's list, it was still a residual goal.

Now, on to September.


- Have at least one family outing somewhere we haven't been before in Melbourne
- Have, and enjoy, our next family mini-holiday.


- Submit at least two poems for consideration of publication or competitions.
- Write, and deliver, 2x Booker Prize review pieces.


- Perform the booked days of paid freelance work, and plan for a break in October.
- Promote my services through professional networks.


- Have a great Father's Day with my family.
- Do 2x volunteering activities.


- Get my filing sorted out!! (Super sick of losing paperwork)
- Sort out the kitchen contents, getting rid of all no longer used or needed appliances & crockery

We'll see how that all goes. As usual, I'll be satisfied with 7/10, but aspire to hit the heights of 8 or 9 one of these months :-)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sunk costs and chronic illnesses

I recently read, for the first time, this piece on Lifehack about the sunk cost fallacy, and it was a revelation, in more ways than one.

The explanation in the article is a model of lucidity and brevity, but to summarise even more, this amounts to the fallacy that once you have "paid" for something, in money or in any other way, you must commit to doing the thing fully to get value for your money (or emotional effort, or whatever other currency you "paid" with).

The reason this is a fallacy is clear when you think it through. You've already paid over the money / time / effort - nothing you do or don't do from this point will recover it. That cost is well and truly sunk. Persisting with doing a thing that is not working out for you, is unpleasant, or in some other way counter-productive, solely because you feel you have to recoup your sunk costs is therefore nonsense. 

The example that's easiest to explain is buying a ticket to a pub band and discovering three songs in that you hate them / you have a bad headache / you're too tired to really enjoy yourself. If you persist because "I've paid my money now", all you get then is a lost $50 AND a shitty night out. If you accept that the sunk cost shouldn't be a factor in making your decision, maybe you still stay because you want to expand your musical horizons or because you are keen to spend time with your friends, or maybe you leave, but it's not motivated by a desire to recover the (unrecoverable) $50 you spent walking in.

There is no doubt that I fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy a lot, and, like many people, that I also use it as a stick to beat myself into doing something I feel I ought to for some other reason. However, it struck me forcibly that there is one group of people for whom understanding and really internalising that sunk costs are are fallacy is critical. That group is people who, like me, suffer from relapsing/remitting chronic illnesses.

With my three interlocking health conditions, a fair portion of the time I'm as regular a person as anyone - normal capacity, normal energy, normal abilities. Then again, sometimes, and often with relatively little warning, I'm really not, and doing even everyday things becomes difficult, or painful, or unbearably stressful.

Yet, even when I am in a flare, I find it hard to feel OK about not doing things or going to things that I have planned to do, and invested something (be it money, effort or emotions) in doing. Sometimes, against my better judgement, I try to push on and do the thing anyway, usually with heinous results.  This is even more true when the investment I have made is not merely money, but emotional (ie it's much easier to let go of a plain old night at a show, than it is to let go of a night at a show with my daughters who are also excited about it).

Letting go of the notion that I can recover the sunk costs is going to help me, I think, counterbalance the natural frustration and disappointment and FOMO that I feel when my health means I can't do something I'd hoped or planned to do. It's also going to - in fact, already has - make me more cautious about the costs I sink, both in terms of money and emotions.

If I can free myself from the sunk cost fallacy, I'll work towards an attitude where I buy event tickets / make social commitments / put in efforts in a spirit of hopefulness and intention, but can accept that sometimes my best intentions won't get me over the line. That's when these sunk costs will be just that, and that has to be OK. Having "paid" for the thing is not a relevant factor in whether, when the time comes, it's the right decision to go ahead with the thing. That's what I have to remind myself, moving forward.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Thinking about summer and mini breaks

We have just booked in the manufacture of our new kitchen,  which is wonderful and something we have been wanting to do for ages. Choosing fittings, layout and appliances has been a lot of fun and I am very sure it will be a positive change in our lives, given how old, grotty and barely functional the current one is.

However great this will be,  there is no obscuring the fact that it's not a cheap exercise. Happily, my current freelancing project will cover most of it, but one thing that doing the kitchen does rule out is any possibility of an interstate summer holiday. We had been toying with a trip to either King Island or Tasmania, but realistically that's not going to happen now.

So instead we are going to make this the Summer of the Mini Break. We're planning a couple of nights away in Marysville,  possibly over NYE. We want to spend a weekend in Geelong,  as the kids are keen to go to the Adventure Park. We're thinking of a weekend in Ballarat too for Sovereign Hill.

Overall, I've worked out that we can do three one- or two-night mini trips, including the activities we want to do there, for less than our combined airfares to either King Island or Tassie - if we stay at economic places, and because we are using our own car.

The family is quite excited about it actually. The idea of a nice long summer with lots of beach and park days, library and museum days, home days, interspersed with three different places for nights away holds a definite appeal. I, being always now concerned that a flare of ill-health could spoil big holiday plans, find smaller plans like this (or even like our forthcoming 4 nights away in the spring holidays) much less scary and anxiety-inducing.

So I think this is going to turn out to be a really good summer. You don't have to go a long way for a long time to have fun.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The end of SRE? Good.

The news this morning is alive with the announcement that the Victorian Government will scrap Special Religious Instruction / Education in class time in Victorian public schools. If SRE is offered, it will be available in lunchtimes or before / after school. 

My reaction to this announcement? I agree with it completely and think it's long overdue.

I also give serious respect to Premier Andrews, himself a devout Catholic , for once again demonstrating that unlike our Prime Minister, he understands the principle of the separation of church and state, and really does seem committed to governing for all Victorians, not just the ones like him. (I'm reminded of his remarks during the passage of the Abortion Reform Act in 2008, when he was the Minister for Health: upon being advised by the church that the reforms were antithetical to Catholic teaching, he replied that he was going to act as the Victorian health minister, not the Catholic Church health minister).

My views on this issue are straightforward. Public schools are secular and should be places that are inclusive of all children from any (and no) faith tradition. I have always thought it was dubious and unfair that Special Religious Education equals "a particular kind of Christian education". The idea that this is equivalent to "values / ethics education" (which I support) is insulting, reinforcing the notion that all good values in the world derive from a particular brand of muscular Protestant Christianity. (Hint: They don't.)

If parents want their children to have religious instruction in a particular faith tradition, they are free to attend to this out of school time, or indeed by choosing a religious school. If you choose to send your child to a Catholic school, or an Islamic school, then I feel it is not reasonable to then complain that they are being taught the doctrines of that faith as part of their education. If you don't make that choice, if you choose a public or independent-non-religious school, then you should be able to do so in the knowledge that your child will not be either subjected to particular religious dogma or excluded from an activity in which their peers take part - and lose valuable class time as a result.

One of the attractions for us of our kids' primary school was the fact that no SRE has been on offer there - it promotes a much less divisive spirit within the diverse school population, which has a sizeable Muslim component. Our children are baptised into the Uniting Church and we discuss our own beliefs regularly with them, but this does not mean that I think our beliefs are (or should be) universal or raised above the beliefs of others. As a UC person myself, I find much of the teachings that Access Ministries has promoted in SRE to be risible, and I wouldn't have wanted my young children to take part.

So I think replacing SRE in public schools with ethics and world history / history of religions education, which is inclusive of everyone and (hopefully) not doctrinaire in any direction, is a brilliant idea. Another good move from what is shaping up to be an extremely solid and competent Victorian Labor government.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Man Booker Longlist Review #2: Marilynne Robinson's Lila

My second Man Booker Longlist review is up at Global Comment today. It's of Marilynne Robinson's concluding novel in her Gilead cycle - Lila. Come over and tell me your thoughts!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Protestant Shabbos

My friend Emily, who is Jewish, has been telling me a bit lately about how she recognises Shabbos. Starting with attendance at Friday night services at shul, she spends the 24 hours in a state of rest and disconnection from the online world. No work is done, but much reading, many family outings, and much restorative downtime is engaged in.

It occurred to me, as a low-church Protestant, that this concept of "the day apart" is something that Christians, as much as the non-religious, have really lost with the normalisation of Sunday into just another day. Sure, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches still have services on Sundays, but even people of faith don't attend as diligently as they once did, and people like us (the amorphous mass, believers-sort-of-sometimes-but-yes-it-still-matters-to-us) attend even less frequently.

Even when church is a thing on a Sunday morning, it's become entirely decoupled from the notion of a day of rest, reconnection and family. There's a large part of me that thinks this is a shame.

When I was a child (in the Dark Ages, as my kids would have it, or 30-35 years ago, to put it another way) and most shops other than convenience stores were closed on Sundays, the day *did* feel different. We went to church almost every Sunday morning. My father's veterinary surgery, open 6 days a week, was closed, although he would not turn away emergency patients. No-one played sport on Sundays, either (quite different from these days).

Our family often had guests for Sunday lunch; we tended to do a lot of reading, walking the dog, bike riding, afternoon napping, and watching of movies on TV. We didn't usually spend the day in deep spiritual contemplation, although my Dad did sometimes; but there was a decidedly different feel to the day than the regular week.

What we didn't do was work (including schoolwork, and even housework, other than cooking and dishes). It was a day off from the usual expectations, and was appreciated for that.

Of course, when I was a child in medieval times, screens were not nearly as dominant as they've now become in most of our lives. It's amazing to me sometimes to reflect that Twitter, for instance , is only 9 years old - and I myself have only been on it for 6 of those. But Twitter, and Facebook, and the Internet in general - wonderful as these things are (and they are!), they form part of the incessant background noise to our lives, the melding of work and play that means there is an element of work even in our play.

So what I've decided to do is this: I'm going to have a Protestant version of Shabbos. Yes, there will be no Friday night service to kick things off, but I'll light candles at Friday night dinner, and from when I do, there will be no work, no screens and no "everyday" for me until after Saturday evening meal. I will try to fill the day with meaningful things instead - writing poetry by hand, watching my girls play netball, cooking, walking, being with my family, reading, making personal memories.

If an element of the numinous comes into this - and I suspect it might, as it's when I am stilled that I can hear and feel the presence underlying the bones of the world - that would also be wonderful. But even if my chief benefit is hitting the reset button on a mind and heart spinning at top speed, that will be a great weekly benefit.

Minus the lighting of candles, I observed my Shabbos today. I cooked for a lot of the day - preparations for my eldest's birthday lunch tomorrow. I listened to music and a podcast while cooking. I read books, both my own, and aloud to the kids. I played games with my 6 year old. I drank tea in the sunshine. I did not turn on a device (other than my iPod for the music) until after we had eaten our Thai takeaway dinner.

It was a good day. I want to have more like it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Working Music: Week of 10th August

Now that I'm back to working at home as a freelancer, I've re-adopted one of my nicer old habits, which is the playing of music to work by. (Let's put aside that this is currently a necessity, not a discretion, to drown out my down-the-street-neighbours' bass thump...)

Here's a little selection of what's been powering this week.

The whole album, really, but particularly this song.

Again, the whole album's been on rotation ... reversion to youth!

The Reality Bites soundtrack has been dragged out. Yep, defo some retro going on here.

I go in and out with The Cranberries, but they're currently in.

This may be one of my favourite songs at the moment. I just find it touching and lovely.

I really like this song.

Working with music is ever so much nicer than working without :-)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Man Booker Longlist Review #1: Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread

My first review in the Man Booker 2015 Longlist challenge, of Anne Tyler's lovely A Spool of Blue Thread, is up today at Global Comment. Check it out if you are so minded!

The next one will be of Marilynne Robinson's Lila: look out for that one by mid next week.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The juggle

I have been, let's be totally honest, spoiled over the past 5 weeks.

Oh, sure, I've been *sick*, but that's situation normal with chronic illnesses at play. Yeah, I've had parenting and household duties as usual, including a week of solo parenting while my partner was away for work; but this is not different from any given week in any of the past 12 years. I've had a few extra community / family things to deal with, but that happens from time to time too.

What I haven't had, though, is paid work to juggle as well as all of the above. I've had the two weeks of the school holidays, then the first three weeks of term, where, other than writing and selling some review pieces (which is definitely nice!), I haven't been combining any form of income-generating labour with all the other kinds of labour and activity that I engage in.

This is, it must be said, the *very first such three weeks* in my life as an adult. I have always worked - often part-time (when finishing my Masters degree in my 20s, and later, from the birth of my eldest daughter until she was almost 9) but always juggling paid work with love's labours. I certainly have had several-month stretches of time out of paid work for maternity leave and long service leave, but these have always previously coincided with the having of babies and / or toddlers, so discretionary time has not really been a thing in my world.

It has been a luxury that I found strange at first. Being able to take my time grocery shopping, because there was no rush. Being able to clean my house the way I want to, without putting stuff off to the never never. Time for conversations and reading; time to try new recipes and spend half a day hunting down elements for Book Week costumes. Time to nap, after a bad night with a health flare. Time to watch the odd mystery movie, or listen to podcasts. Time to go for longer walks, and catch up with friends. Time to do more volunteering at the kids' school, and properly investigate my health issues. Time to have a date or two with my husband, sans kids.

This week, I've just started my first sizeable freelance project, and it's coincided with a busy week in our lives (because: naturally!) It's been borne home to me very quickly just HOW great those three weeks really were, with that 6 hours of time every week day. Of course, having the work is great, but the juggle is less so. Today, already, I had to opt out of going up to school for the 2-hour costume parade, because I just couldn't spare that long from the work. Next week the kids will be back in after care on one night, and, I suspect, left to their own devices on one or two more so I can meet my deadlines. Crashing fatigue, as ever, is my enemy, and I don't have the space to be as gentle with myself as I've been free to be, in the three weeks gone.

This project is slated to finish on or before 30 September. In itself, having an end date is an excellent thing for me psychologically; I can pace myself better if there is actually a finish line somewhere. We're going away not too long after that for a week, and I think I'm going to see if I can manage things to have another three-week interregnum before taking on more project work - a week away with the family, and a good couple of weeks gearing down in my daily life. After all, this is why I wanted to freelance again - ebbs and flows are the only way to really sustain myself.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Always Going Home (Poem)

On Saturday night, my family (my brother and his partner, my parents, and my husband, kids and I) gathered at my parents' house for fish and chips, chatter, and memories. My parents have sold the family home, where I lived from age 2 til 21 and my brother lived from birth til 25. They are moving out in a week's time, so this was the last opportunity to be inside the big red-brick 50s house that holds inside it the stories of our childhoods, all three of us - my brother and I, and our other brother who lived his short eight years of life inside those walls.

Emptied out, the rooms lie quiescent.
The paint looks all its years, bared of clocks and art and books on shelving
That one, there, was mine, I say to my daughters -
I painted that fascia, I chose that salmon pink. I can't remember why, now.
They already know, of course, but it seems like it might matter to say it, now
To name the barrenness of spaces stripped of meaning

Here is where my baby brother - yes, your uncle, that grown man there -
here is where he vomited Fanta on the floor. You can still see the tinge, look.
Here is where my mother made innumerable roast dinners; over here,
my father his laborious and occasional bolognese sauce.

Here I would lie in front of the gas heater, in my nightie, reading the Saturday paper
here, on this couch, my mother would stretch for a nap, or to watch Midsomer Murders.
Here the cricket flickered through on an older TV than this one; over here,
the ironing board exuded the scent of hot linen and effort.

Here is the pale pink bath, a survival of its sort; hard, skull-cracking porcelain,
not a place for toddlers to play.
Here, oh yes, here is where my parents have laid their heads to rest
the preponderence of these forty years -
my mother's perfumes tinging the air,
my father's socks lined up like Christmas hopes on the dresser.

Tucked away in here, the saddest room, the deepest -
here is where my lost brother lived, on his purpose-built bed, raised high
Mister Men wall friezes around his bed, the sharp scent of medicines
Here is where he went from, to the hospital and thence to whatever lies beyond -
This room, in truth, the longest emptied, the first to be drained.

Here is the sunroom, where we played with balls; here, the porch, a newer addition
(after my time living here, in fact. An intruder to memory, today).

Here is the house
Empty and strange, known unknown,
Here is the place to which the world clings

Here is the end of all the homecomings.

- Kathy, 3/8/15

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Goal-setting: August

It's goal-setting time again, but first: a review of July's goals, and the hits and misses therein.

On 20 June I set these goals for July:


- Have a memorable family holiday in Marysville and family fun at ComiCon.
Status: Yep, achieved. A great time was had by all.

- Get to Gold Class movie (using vouchers received for Christmas) with my partner.
Status: By the skin of our teeth ... on 30 July! We saw Ant Man and enjoyed ourselves.


- Write 5,000 more words on my novel.
Status: KILLED this one. I added 9,600 to the total this month.

- Write, and deliver, 2x review pieces.
Status:  Yep, overdone - reviews on The Eye of the Sheep and A God in Ruins completed, as well as an overview piece on the Man Booker longlist.


- Perform at least 2 days of paid freelance work, and book at least 5 more for August.
Status: I'm going to call this Achieved; I took a booking on 23 July for about 15 days' work, and although it didn't actually start til 31 July due to messing about with paperwork, I was doing prep for it earlier.

- Develop and publish a simple website listing my services.
Status: Failed: I just haven't done this.


- Host a dinner party for friends.
Status: Achieved: we had friends over on 4 July and it was lovely, I even made apple pie and brownies for dessert in honour of Independence Day!

- Contact the local community centre (crisis relief) to offer volunteering support commencing August.
Status: Failed. I didn't get to this in July, but really plan to in August.


- Consolidate my superannuation into one fund.
Status: Nope, haven't done it.

- Clean out my bedroom cupboard.
Status: Achieved! Bedroom cupboard is functionally useable again, and it's great.

So that's 7 / 10, which I'm happy with. It suggests that this level of goal-setting is about right for me - one or two gimmes, some very modest targets, and one or two stretchier goals per month hits the spot.

In that spirit, I present August's goals.


- Give my eldest a great 12th birthday party.
- Have a one-on-one outing with each member of my immediate family (all three girls and husband).


- Write 5,000 more words on my novel.
- Write, and deliver, 2x Booker Prize review pieces.


- Perform the booked days of paid freelance work, and book at least 6 for September.
- Develop and publish a simple website listing my services.


- Catch up with at least 2 friends for coffee / lunch / walk.
- Do 2x volunteering activities.


- Sort and properly arrange our fairly large "library" (book collection)
- Decide yes or no on kitchen renovation and if yes, book a supplier and choose the appliances.

Let's see how that all goes...