Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The gap between "could do" and "do"

For a while, now, I've been thinking about what I should write in this blog.  I have a new blog at adropofcrystalwater.blogspot.com, where I record the little things I do while learning to take care of myself, mainly so that I can keep a count of how much I get to donate to charity:water.  It's not very much of a motivation, but it's something, and having it public keeps me accountable.  But as reading material, it's rather dull.

In this blog, though, I'm used to writing random musings, mainly for the purposes of putting my personality out there, I guess.  I've actually been preparing a series on "what I believe" for this blog, but at the same time wondering if it was worth writing on that subject at all.  Sure, I have interesting beliefs, some of them worthy, some of them silly, and some of them downright painful, and I'm good at explaining things ... But I don't want to be that person who tries to convert people to her belief system, just for the sake of having people agree with her.  I'm no evangelist, and so the idea of writing down what I believe doesn't seem like something that would be entertaining to others.  All it would do is let me clarify my thoughts.

So, if I'm not only going to write about what I believe, what can I write about?  Well, one of my strengths is brainstorming for exhaustive lists, so here goes:

All about me:
- what I believe
- what I want
- what I like
- what I hate
- what I love
- what I've seen
- what I've heard
- what I've noticed
- what I've thought about
- how I feel
- what I've been told
- what I've done
- what I wish for
- what I avoid
- what I'm afraid of
- what I know
- what I've learned
- what I've read/been shown
- what I remember

The world around us:
- what other people do
- what other people say
- how things work
- what things mean
- what other people might think
- what might help other people
- how people interact with each other
- what consequences actions might have
- about places
- about people I know
- about people I've met or noticed
- about imaginary places
- about imaginary people
- about situations and emotions
- about objects, aesthetics and functions
- about concepts and relations
- about things to do

Of course, many of these things link together.  So, for example, a discussion of something I've seen might link in with what I've thought about it, what kind of beliefs I have and why, and what I know about how things work.  It's more than likely that in attempting to write on one topic, I would branch off into tangents that range through each of the others and expand n them.  The problem is that I can't write down everything I'd like to, because there simply isn't enough time to collect all my thoughts and put them into words; and I'd like some universal theme.  And there, I have to make a choice.

Looking at the two lists above, a couple of things stick out at me.  Firstly, I'm most comfortable writing about things that relate to myself.  There are a few reasons for this, but mainly it's because I've recently gone through a period of spending a lot of time alone, trying to learn about myself, and also because I've always had an inclination towards analysis and reflection.  Also, there's a sense of uniqueness to it, as though I'm something of an expert: hardly anybody else is going to write from my point of view.

The second thing I noticed is related: In order to write about anything other than myself, I feel that I would have to go out and experience things more than I currently am doing.  I tend to involve myself in what other people think and feel, rather than taking detailed observations of other aspects such as the words they say, the way things look or where things are.  On the other hand, I also have an interest in technology and science, which makes me interested in how things work, and how to explain them to other people so they'll understand.  But actually going out and observing these things, finding people and concepts and situations, seems to be work that would take more time than I have. 

The irony of this is that to look at my life at the moment, I would seem to have nothing but time.  I'm currently unemployed, but in a relatively comfortable situation supported by my husband, in a middle-class society, so in theory I'm free as a bird.  I have very few actual obligations, and mostly my time is my own.  I have reasonable physical health, and an active mind that feels relatively flexible, so in theory I could be doing ... anything I wanted.  But what I'm actually doing is ... not very much at all.

It's the diversity of choice that is becoming a problem for me at the moment.  The list of things I could write about is a pale reflection of the seemingly-infinite list of things I could be doing.  But I cannot do everything I could do; I cannot even do everything I want to do; there isn't enough time in a lifetime, let alone enough time to fit it all in now.  As always ... I have to choose.

I hate choices.

So, for once in my life, it's time to focus my thinking - and my writing - on the choices I make.  And because I tend towards reflection and thought rather than action, to the point that I end up doing very little ... I need to turn around and focus on what I want to do.  Because all this thinking and analysis can come to nothing, if I don't actually do anything as a result. 

I will, of course, be bringing all my thoughts and reflections to the table in making these decisions about what I want to do, and when.  And when I've done something, and have something to show for it - only then will I be able to tell you about whether my beliefs and opinions are worthwhile.  But until then, I'll concentrate on writing the story of how I decide what to do, and how well I can carry it out.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


There's a woman I know ... and we just can't seem to get along with each other.

Don't laugh.  This is something that hardly ever happens to me.  In fact, it's a point of pride with me, that I try to get along with everyone, and that I try hard to listen to everyone's point of view.  And nearly all the time, it works.

It took me years and a lot of hindsight to work out why she and I can never get along.  And since then, I haven't got around to writing it down ... But now, I'm starting to talk with a mutual friend of ours on Facebook, and every time I post something public on her page, my comment is invisible to this person (and a couple others I have blocked).  I'm starting to wonder if she's noticing our friend replying to nobody.  So I figured it was time to explain why she and I never understand each other, and why I've decided it's not worth communicating with her. 

I guess I'll start by saying what isn't the problem.  She's not a nasty person - or at least, not these days.  She tries reasonably hard to be friendly, and she can be charming.  It's not like she's downright unlikeable.

And when I say we don't understand each other, it's not a problem with her - it's both of us.  She's not ignorant, or stupid.  In fact, I'd count her as rather intelligent.

And it's not like she's deliberately set out to hurt me - well, not to start with, at least.  She's said and written some things when she was angry and upset, but that was when she thought I'd done something to her.  The problem is, I never set out to hurt her, either.  And I don't know if she'd believe that.  I just did what I felt was right, after making sure other people agreed with me.  And those other people didn't include her.

Well, down to the problem itself.  Every time I say something, she thinks I mean something else.  And vice versa, I'm betting.  And I can't even qualify what I'm saying, I can't reassure her by adding "And I don't mean X" because her understanding of things is just so different to mine, that I wouldn't even think of seeing it her way at first, without being told.  We have totally different world views.

The problem is in the subtext, the things that you assume are implied without being said.  When I speak to people who know me, there are certain things that I think go without saying.  I don't feel the need to say "I don't want to hurt you" with every sentence.  I think it's a truism that "I'm listening."  I don't think everyone needs to be told that "I'm trying to understand your point of view," because that's why I'm listening to them in the first place.  I assume that people will start with the premise that I mean them no ill, because I do wish them well.  I may not want everything that they want, but I hope to make them happy.  That's always been my mission in life. 

So in the early days, when we were still trying to work things out, when she had the courage to tell me what she thought of me, many things about what her view of my attitude came as a shock to me.  My thought was always "Why on earth would she think I meant that?"  Why would she think I was taking someone else's side?  Why would she think I was trying to tell her she was doing something wrong?  I wasn't!  Why would she think I would punish her in some way?  For what?  The worst I had ever done was explain what I thought could be done differently, a couple of words here, a joke there, a question about what she thought ... and here she was talking about the most severe penalties she could think of, options that weren't even available to me.  It just seemed incomprehensible to me, that she (and her friends) could be afraid of what I would do, when I felt I had never done anything to earn that kind of mistrust.  And it hurt.

Not only did it hurt, but it was impossible to second-guess.  I don't know what kind of a life she's had, maybe she's used to people backstabbing her and treating her badly.  When I think of it now, maybe she thought she could hear me saying "I'm angry with you/I'm disappointed/You're a bad person/You deserve to be punished". But I didn't know how to make it clear to her that "That's not what I meant - I would never say that - I would never do that! - that's not who I am" because I had no idea what she was thinking.  And despite the fact that every other person I speak to eventually understands that I see them in a friendly way - and the fact that she and I were once friends - she seemed to think I was actively working against her.

She once told me she felt I spoke to her as if I was "walking on eggshells"; as if I were very careful only to say only certain things, and to leave out other things, as if I was afraid for her to hear them.  So it was left for her to imagine what those things were.  And one thing she does have is a vivid imagination.

What could I possibly have to say, that I would be afraid to tell her?  The answer is, nothing.  I say what I mean, and if I don't say something, that's because the thought didn't even cross my mind.  I do try to be precise with my words, to say exactly what I mean in the hope that most people will understand it ... So I don't mince words.  As a result, in a conversation I will usually say very little, and listen as much as possible. 

So when I spoke to her, I assumed she would understand my subtext of meaning her well, of actively trying to help her.  And instead she heard something completely different, so different I couldn't understand it.  Every time we tried to clarify things, it was painful ... because it struck at the heart of the way I saw myself.  And I can't help wondering if the same process was happening in reverse.

I do know that I pored over her words, again and again ... I looked at the things she was saying about me, and I wondered what else she meant.  What was she telling her friends about me?  Did they agree with her?  It's possible I was also reading things into what she said, that were never there.  Who knows ... Well, I certainly didn't. 

In the end, though, I decided it was enough.  It would take too much effort, too much time spent painfully clarifying everything, too much worry and personal distress, to make things right.  I didn't understand at the time why it wasn't working - I just knew that I couldn't keep working at it, or I'd end up jumping from something tall.  So I left.

And in the end ... it's not her fault.  It's not entirely my fault, either, although I guess there are things I could have done differently.  It's just that the way I see things - including myself - and the way she sees things are so different, that we go through misunderstanding with every single word.  And that makes any kind of communication ... pretty much impossible.

Earlier this year I had a message relayed by another mutual friend, that "I know you probably hate me".  It brought up all the old pain, but by then I knew what was happening between us, because I was seeing it happeng between two of my other friends.  Constant misunderstanding.  I can't hate her, I can't even blame her - but I can't blame myself either.  It just is the way it is.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Worm compost

I don't have a green thumb.

Mostly this is because I'm not good at routines and habits.  So I forget to water and tend my plants ... or let's say I choose not to remember.  As a result, my balcony garden looks like this:

Gardening tools: trowel and gloves (which may contain spiders, I don't know).  One planter which formerly contained bok choy and lemon thyme, which the caterpillars promptly ate.  The red ice cream tub contains the little pots that the bok choy and lemon thyme came in.  The two other pots are the remains of tomato seedlings I bought a few weeks ago in a flutter of enthusiasm.

Okay, I do have an excuse for not putting the tomato plants in the planter, and for not watering my planter.  Here is the reason:

It is supposedly a 'self-watering' planter.  In theory, water drains from the soil into a separate compartment at the bottom and can sustain the planter for a few days.  Excess water can be tipped out through the letterbox-shaped hole in the picture.

In practice, mosquitoes get into the water compartment through the hole, and breed there :( After that, I avoided opening the balcony door at all until the plants were dead.

I did buy some mesh to put over the hole, before I bought the tomato plants.  However I never got around to taping it on.  Or watering the tomato plants more than once, come to that.

Okay, so I can't sustain green life.  Hmm.  What can I do for practice?  Compost maybe?  After looking a little while at composting information, I decided that my planter would make a perfect worm compost farm.  All it needed was a lid with airholes, and mesh over the water compartment. The water compartment would  drain the compost so it didn't get too wet, and the lid with airholes would stop little flies from getting in the top and laying maggots.

Went off to my nearby hardware/nursery store (looking for lightbulbs, as it happened) and asked the DIY man how I could get a lid for my planter.  He suggested that someone could just cut a piece of plywood into shape, put a handle on it, and off I go.  He even offered to do it himself, when I said I didn't know anyone who had materials to do it for me.  He refused my offer to pay for materials, too.  I better bake him a cake or something.

He measured a planter that was in the shop, to make the lid.  Because he'd measured that one, I bought it to be sure the lid would fit.  So here's my future worm farm:

The shredded paper is for bedding for the worms.  I used duct tape to put a couple of layers of narrow flyscreen mesh over the hole.  Hopefully that will keep the mosquitoes out.  I'm also going to put in a couple of trowels of soil and some of the random brown stuff from my balcony, to give it more organic material.  And I'll soak it all before the worms go in.

I don't have the lid yet, he said I could probably pick it up tomorrow.  And I rang up the nursery, who said I could buy worms any day of the week :)

Meanwhile I've been collecting my kitchen waste in an icecream tub.  Not optimal, because it's rotting a bit, but oh well.  The worms can eat it later on.

Will post further on how it all goes!

Friday, 13 November 2009

Little sharp things...

Smith and I, changing lightbulbs.  Specifically, I bought them, he got up on a chair and put them in place, I reminded him to do so before the sun went down.

Then Smith says 'I think there might be something in my finger.'

Looked at his right index finger under the bright lights we'd just installed, and it was obvious there was something there, but it was tiny.  Tried to grasp it with my fingernails - definitely something hard there so not skin, but I couldn't grasp it.  Grabbed a pair of tweezers - still feeling the hard object, but no luck grasping it.

Now what?  Dig it out?  Me, who'd never dug anything out of skin before?  With no local anaesthetic?  Okay, well, I had pulled a 2cm "splinter" out of a man's foot before.  But that wasn't exactly hard.  This ... well.

The alternative?  No medical centres open.  Take him to the ED?   .... Err ... no.

No local anaesthetic in the house.  No sterile needles in the house - well, not your normal hollow ones anyway.  But I did have a sterile suture with a needle on the end of it, and it wasn't expired yet.  I was supposed to use it to practise suturing at some point (on a pork chop or something).  That, however, was years ago, and since then it was just clutter.  Might as well break it open.  There was supposedly a needle holder to go with it, but given the amount of clutter in my room, it was not to be found.

Slippery little J-curve needle had to be held one plane with my tweezers and supported in the plane with fingers.  The rest was no-touch technique and a little bit of scraping.

Smith, at one point, said 'That needle has some sharpness to it."  I took that to mean it hurt.  It turned out to mean that he actually didn't feel a thing.

End result:

That's it next to my fingernail.

A closer view:

The clear part was embedded right in the middle of the pad of his index finger.  The pink part is where the skin subsequently leaked a tiny bit of blood around it, I guess.

Will we wear gloves when changing light bulbs in future?

... Nah.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Letting go...

For a few months, I have been stewing over a hatchet job written about me, by someone I once (long ago, now) respected.

It is here. Yes, it laments the loss of a lot of things and the disappointment of many expectations. But she blames me.

She is not a stupid person. She is not without influence, either. As much as it was all old territory we'd been over many times before, I had food for thought.

Not that I responded, of course. But I considered it, a lot.

At 2am this morning I woke up to speak to a friend I had thought long lost. And I asked for, and was given, reassurance that yes ... the author of the above is completely delusional. The people who I still valued, the people who really mattered, have always been able to see what I truly meant and what I intended, and what effect it really had.

I still don't know how soon I will be able to get over it, though. My darned obsessional personality.

It seems this is a year for re-evaluating who I really am, from the outside in.

I am not just a precocious learner, I am not just the angel Jean, I am not just an Australian, I am not just a nerd, I am not just a doctor, I am not just a woman with a mental illness ...

And at the same time as discovering that I am more than the labels I have attached to myself, there are so many things I would like to be, that I may or may not become. Scientist, writer, lacemaker, musician, philanthropist, teacher, mother, champion ...

We will see. For now, I am just me.

Even I don't know who that is.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Small pleasures, small disappointments...

A single flower and some early buds in a plum tree...

A large magpie eyeing me warily as I walk by in a large green coat...

A crowd of people waiting at a train station, as the estimated time is blank...

Two trees full of large deep-red magnolias, half-open...

Wisps of steam from the building cooling tower...

The sun on my neck and the wind in my face as I walk between buildings...

Cement powder leaking from a pallet on a forklift rolling along, then piling up as he stops...

A friend's new hair colour which I would love to imitate, but would never dare...

... all reminding me that I'm still alive, as I take one day at a time.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

In reply to: Denial...

Gah, I just wrote a long reply to my friend's blog post here, and then realised I'd written more than the original post... Time to copy paste.

Cam's original post deals with a workmate who had an affair with a married woman, and tries to justify it.

My reply:

Oh dear. Yes, I agree completely on both counts. Denial of the truth occurs on so many levels, ... although it is usually the complexity of the situation which allows denial, justification and moral dilemmas in the first place.

Although I would add a qualifier to your first statement: Denial seems to be a way for the guilty to remain sane without learning anything from the experience. Don't worry, Cam, once we give up the false shield of denial, we "guilty" don't necessarily go insane all the time! (Although hey, some of us already have.) I hold out hope that a person can learn something from each time they do something they know is wrong ... even if they only thing they learn is "I'll never do that again." And admitting and atoning for the wrongdoing? Well, that takes it a couple of steps further, although whether it helps is debatable.

As for marriage ... by goodness, people are so complicated and wrapped in their own little world of desires and attitudes. It should be established fact that trust and mutual support are the basis of a good marriage, but hey, nobody's done the randomised controlled trials. People like that man and woman obviously choose to believe otherwise, or at least act like it. And I guess there are other people who go along with society's norms without really thinking about it, so plenty of marriages hold.

But it takes a certain degree of empathy to think about a situation like this before it is actually upon you. To say to yourself that no, you wouldn't like it if you were in the husband's shoes. And it takes a bigger leap of empathy to decide that the husband deserves to have what you would want - unbroken trust in his wife. I have a feeling that that particular level of mutual 'thinking about each other' is the basis of most happy marriages.

That first step, of making people think about these situations? Hey, that's why we tell each other stories like this. That's why I keep reading this blog.

Hang in there, Cam.