choosing drama

Recently I was sitting with the 13 year old at a high school subject selection evening. She’s preparing for year 9, and has a couple of elective choices to make, so the school puts on an evening where all of this is explained to parents and students.

Helpful.

There are two things you need to know about this particular 13 year old. First, she’s very academically oriented (and I’d say gifted too…but them I’m biased). Second, she has inherited an intense introversion and dislike of public speaking from her parents.  We’ve both learned to do it, but it hasn’t been a fun ride.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh, right, subject selection.

In the end she had one choice left to make, and the list of options was long. A whole bunch of arts subjects, some industrial tech stuff, and geography.

I thought the choice was simple. She loves geography, would do well at it, would find it relatively easy. An easy choice.

Naturally, she didn’t choose it (I mean she could have, but then this would have been a dull story, right?).

She said to me “Dad, I’m going to choose drama”.

“Drama?”, I thought to myself.  “Drama? Seriously? What about geography?”

“Oh, that’s good” I said out loud, desperately trying to play the cool, supportive, helpful parent.  “Tell me why you’re thinking drama?”.

The answer, when it came, floored me.  Stopped me. Confronted me. Challenged me. Then and now.

“Because I know I’m not good at speaking in front of groups. It makes me nervous, and I’m not good at it. I think if I do drama for a year, it will help me to find my voice. I can always do geography later”.  Such is the wisdom of the 13 year old.

Now let me hasten to say at this point that I have no objection whatsoever to drama as a subject. I wish I had the courage to do it (I would be hopeless, but I still wish…).

It’s a choice that impressed me, and for several reasons:

  • She chose the unexpected
  • She thought it through enough to not just take the obvious choice
  • She chose to be challenged (and believe me, she will be challenged)
  • She chose her weakness
  • She chose to grow a new strength
  • She knows that choosing one (drama), involves letting go of another (geography)

So many of us (I raise my hand high) don’t take those kinds of choices. We stick with what we know. We stick with what we have already learned. We stick with what we have proven we can succeed in. We stick with the safe, the obvious.  To choose challenge, growth, weakness, risk?  That’s unusual.  Most of us would choose geography over drama every day of the week (it’s a metaphor…go with me):

  • We take a holiday to the same place (or at least the same kind of place).
  • We stick with the same kinds of food.
  • We make the safe, obvious career choice.

And so on. Geography over drama, every time.

In the organisation I work in, we are under some degree of stress. Our future is clouded.  Under such stress, we choose geography time after time after time. We choose what we know. We choose the obvious. We choose to keep doing what we’ve always done. I can’t help but think that at this point in our life cycle, we should be consciously choosing drama.

It’s left me both (a) incredibly proud of this child (even more than before…true); and (b) challenged in the way I go about my choices as a person, husband, father.

I’m wondering what it means for me to choose drama. I’m a little nervous about the next choice I have to make. And if I’m honest, a little sad too….because I quite like geography!

 

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the fear of making people afraid

IMG_1872Those who read regularly (hi!) will know I’m a some-times runner.

I’m not that good or that fast, but I enjoy it, and I run. When I travel for work or play, I’ll usually pack the shoes and go for a trot to explore new places. It’s a nice way to start a day, and to get to know the lay of the land wherever I happen to be.  I sometimes do the same with my bike…but it’s not quite as portable as a pair of running shoes!

Those who know me personally will also know I’m a bloke, and a fairly big and tall one.  That matters too, in the context of this story.

A while back I was on the Sunshine Coast, and early one morning laced up the shoes and headed out for a run from Coolum down to Mudjimba. It was a beautiful early morning, and quiet, with not many people out and about yet.  On the return leg I started taking little detours off the main road, into little beachside streets or waterfront walking tracks and then back out onto the main road. It was a nice bit of variety and a few extra metres each time.

The first time I did so, I came back out onto the main running track just in time to see a fellow runner (a woman, and yes, in this story, it matters) join the trail from a side street a little in front of me. I was traveling a slightly quicker, so passed her by, offering a quick “hello” as a greeting often shared by runners, and continued on my way. Soon after I turned off the trail onto another little side route, and when I returned to that main trail found myself just behind the same woman. As I said, I was running a little faster so I went past, and continued on my way. I took the next side-route and on rejoining the main road, once again found myself behind the same woman.

This happened about three or four times before I made it back to my starting point, turned off the trail once and for all and went home for breakfast.

Later that morning (I’m a bit slow to pick up on these things) it occurred to me that I could well have been causing my fellow runner to think she had a stalker…a middle aged, dark-sunglassed, huffing-and-puffing stalker who kept on detouring and then running up behind her.  She could well have been quite anxious about my presence, really worried in the quiet early morning about my motives.

I have to say it was a horrible feeling, that I could have been causing anxiety or fear in another, and even worse that I hadn’t realised the possibility until later (when it was too late to take a different route for example). It matters not that the repeated encounters were totally innocent. It matters not that I was there (on the trail) first. In some ways it matters not whether she actually was afraid or anxious (I have no idea). The very possibility was real.

What concerned me then, and concerns me now, is that we live in a world where the very presence of one (man) can and does cause anxiety or fear in another (woman). We live in a world in which I understand women are continuously targeted for harassment or intimidation. Where men (yes not all men, hopefully including me and most men that I personally know…but surely that’s not the point) continue to inflict violence upon women that they know (and don’t know).

And that my feeling of anxiety and fear about making another afraid and anxious while palpable to me completely pales into insignificance when compared to the experiences and feelings of many women every day.

We live in a world in which this video (released yesterday) depicts an everyday reality for some/many women. I can’t say from personal experience if this is genuinely what it’s like (for as already canvassed above…I am a bloke), but women I know and trust tell me that it is:

And we live in a world in which a well known V8 Supercar driver (my sport of choice, please don’t judge) said today:

Hello Adelaide! In town for the 2015 @Clipsal500 launch. Most pressing item for the day, what do the grid girl uniforms look like?

This is a man with a huge public following, and with a wife and young daughter. And who continues the culture-wide objectification of women. And who is defended in social media commentary as “just having some fun”. And this is the relatively innocent end of the spectrum.

And….I don’t know what to do with all of this. Really, I don’t.

I’m a man. Men cause this.  Maybe not me personally (to my knowledge). Maybe not many of the men who might read this.  But we do, collectively, harass, objectify, instil fear in women everyday.

And that’s just not right.

what happened to joy?

IMG_0811

There’s a 7-year old who shares my house, and my life.

She is ridiculously, relentlessly, noisily happy.

I mean, within moments of her eyes opening in the morning there’s a smile on her face, and it rarely leaves until the last giggling, cackling, out-loud goodnight tickle fades away.  She is just happy.

Her happiness is out-and-out infections, and those around cannot help but be swept up in the joyful life that bursts forth involuntarily.  She is just happy.

Even when disaster strikes (like a stubbed toe or an uncooperative older brother who refuses to play by her rules) the smile doesn’t fade for long. Wherever, whenever….just happy.

I feel the need to include an emoticon….  😀

It struck me this week, as once again I found myself marveling at this seven year old and her crazy antics, that somewhere along the line, we seem to have gradually lost this kind of general happiness.

And when I say we, I partly mean those of us who are a little older (and dare I say it, more sensible) as individuals.  But I mostly mean all of us collectively, our society.

It’s rare that I notice outright happiness, infectious laughter and non-stop smiling kind of behaviour.  How about you?

More and more we’re prone to expressing our frustration, disagreement, disapproval or downright dislike.  It seems like there’s a constant flow of dissatisfaction in our public discourse, and even in our private moments.

We’re more likely to be sadly observing how busy we are, how hard life is, how expensive everything has become, how the people around us just aren’t doing a good enough job (at anything!) than we are to just be loving life, out loud.

Maybe it’s years of advertising rammed down our throats 24/7 with the singular message “who you are, what you have is not good enough/beautiful enough”.

Maybe it’s the constant assault of “it’s all about you.”

Maybe it’s wall-to-wall media that is focused on stories of conflict and anger because they sell more advertising space.

Maybe it’s none or those things, or all of them.

I just know…when I watch the seven year old, I see in her this kind of raw happiness that I don’t observe anywhere near as much in the rest of my life.

And that makes me sad.

So my new month’s resolution (is that a thing? I think so!) is to strive for happiness. To find and enjoy moments of pure joy each day. Join me (if you’re not already there)?

PS: Happy birthday PG!

the value of training

This week I finally admitted it out loud:  I’m sick of training to run a marathon.

I woke up Thursday morning, alarm set early to head out for a mid-week run, and just did not want to go.  It wasn’t the consequence of a late night the previous evening, or too many days of running in the week, just the cumulative effect of weeks and months of running to try and get my middle-aged body in decent enough shape to run 42km.

This day, I was over it all.  I just wanted the race weekend to be here, and to be over, so that I can go back to bed. So that I can choose to run if I feel like it, instead of running to a schedule.

But, my schedule said run, and the last thing I’m going to do is let the months of training slide because of slackness in the last few weeks…so I dragged myself out the door and onto the pavement.

And I felt rotten the whole morning. I felt every twinge, every ache, every step. And I ran slow, and not very far.  There’s no question that state-of-mind has an impact on performance!

The next day I ran into a PE teacher/sports-trainer friend and was telling him my sob story. He said “You know Scott, those training miles, the ones that you do even when you most want to be at home in bed, they’re the most valuable training miles you will ever run”.

I didn’t believe him at the time, but with a week to ponder, I think maybe he’s right.  The moments when we somehow manage to talk ourselves into what we know is the right thing, even when we’d rather be elsewhere…those moments are important.  Maybe it’s the minutes I choose to spend reading night-time stories to the six-year old instead of snoozing on the couch. Maybe it’s the yard work, or time invested with the family, or volunteering at my community group….whatever the category, it’s the times we go when we’re just not motivated that really matter.

Anyway, a couple of days later I was scheduled for my longest run yet – 32km.  I think you can guess how much I wasn’t looking forward to that experience!  My previous longest at a little over 28km hadn’t ended well, with a little walking mixed in the last couple of km to nurse home some injured legs. That memory, together with the general funk about the whole project meant I was dreading that alarm bell.

What a surprise then, and a blessed relief, to find myself thoroughly enjoying the whole run.  Pace was good (still probably a little too fast for training…but such is life), the few aches and pains that popped up along the way disappeared as I plodded along, and to top it all off, the river was shrouded in fog to lend an ethereal quality to the early miles, before the sun came out to cheer me home. It was perhaps the best “long” run I’ve had, and definitely the best in weeks.

Don’t get me wrong. I was spent by the time I got home, and nursing a couple of pretty painful knees – but way better than my previous long run, and way better than I expected as I headed out the door that morning.

And with my 32.7k including quite a few hills (where the Gold Coast race is almost totally flat), the whole experience gave me a much needed shot of confidence that 42km is going to be achievable.

Not easy. And not pain-free. But achievable.

I guess that’s the value of the hours and hours of training. Even when it doesn’t feel like it to me, it’s been building and conditioning the muscles to do what they could not have done before. To churn out km after km on one Sunday in July, hopefully going the distance and enjoying the journey.

On this second-last long training run, I think my brain finally caught up with my body.  Everything feels like it’s nearly ready. The training is working.  There are a couple of weeks of solid running left, one more long run (35km) and then it’s into the blessed relief of the taper and pre-race rest.

I got to wondering (as I do) about parallels.  About other areas in life in which long hours of preparation, weeks and months and years of training quietly sneak up on you, preparing you for some new experience.

Maybe it’s education and formal training. Maybe it’s on-the-job learning. Maybe it’s hours of training sessions at a sport or hobby.  Maybe it’s years of practice as a first-time parent helping to prepare you for each new stage of a child’s life.

I don’t know what the answer is for you, or even necessarily for me.

I only know that training matters.  It prepares us, equips us, enables us.

Even when it’s not fun.

Training Since Last Blog

24/5  –  20km @ 5.35 p/km

27/5 – 10.4km @ 5.36 p/km

29/5 – 10.2km @ 5.33 p/km

1/6   –  32.7km @ 5.41 p/km

4/6  – Ride 40km

Details at strava

the family affair

On Mother’s Day we headed into Southbank, where Sheri, Riley and my mum joined some friends in a team entered in the Mother’s Day Classic Fun Run/Walk. It was kind of cool to see the three generations together walking/running in the 4.5k event, and all three enjoyed it a lot.

As did the other two kids and I, watching from the sidelines.  So we went home all inspired to all enter the event in 2015 and run/walk together…but that wasn’t quite soon enough so satisfy our craving for instant gratification.

So we scoured the internet for events, Mitch signed up for a kids try-athlon hosted by Weetbix this coming weekend at Southbank, and then we started looking further afield.

The Gold Coast Marathon came to mind…for the obvious reason that we’ll be there for the event anyway. When we dug a little deeper, the whole event includes a heap of different distances and categories…so we’ve signed up the whole gang. Mitch and MK will run the 2k kids dash, Sheri and Riley the 5.7k run, all on Saturday morning, and I’ll be there Sunday for the full distance event.

It’s given our whole family quite a buzz to all be entered. Training plans are developing and we’ve already had one whole-family training session on the street out the front – with Mitch practicing triathlon transitions on the footpath, and everybody else running laps of the block (including the dog…who thought it was awesome!).

It’s been nice to talk together about it this week, to be sharing a goal and as a family looking forward to an event that had up until now been mostly about my Sunday race.

Training for the marathon has continued, with a little bit of both up and down over the last couple of weeks.  I’ve managed two quite long runs at 25 and 28.7k respectively) but also run into a couple of little niggly injury worries – both problems I’ve had in the past.

With some time on the massage table, a few days rest and a session with a running-specialist physio at intraining, all seems under control for the moment, so I’ll just (cautiously) press on with the program. A quieter weekend this week (with long run at 18-20k) precedes what is planned as a 32k long run next weekend, so it’s definitely a week to look after the legs a little.

The other down moment this week was waking up one morning for my regular mid-distance run and almost pulling the pin. Mostly I’ve not struggled for motivation, and once I’m awake have been happy to get up and go.

This day however, I really struggled to get going. I had that thought “why am I doing this?” and for the first time, had no answer.  It was only that (a) I knew I would feel guilty if I didn’t go; and (b) I have some friends who have been great encouragers on the whole marathon project that got me out of bed and onto the streets.

I guess that’s life sometimes isn’t it.  No matter how much we like the idea of something (moving house, new job, parenthood, whatever your mountain might be) there are moments when the reality of the challenge overwhelms the theoretical motivation. There are moments when we say “why am I doing this?”.

On the whole I’m not advocating for guilt as a motivator, so that leaves me with the critical importance of friends and family that encourage and support us.  So, I’m thinking, next time you’re struggling for motivation, who can you turn to that will help you feel great about what you’re attempting?  And conversely, look around to see who in your life is trying something new….and fire some words of encouragement there way.

A little of that action goes a very long way.

Training since I last blogged:

10/5  –  25.3km @ 5.37 pace

12/5  –  47.5km road bike

13/5  –  10.0km @ 5.33 pace

15/5  –  10.2km @ 5.34 pace

19/5  –  28.7km @ 5.51 pace

22/5  –  8.2@km 5.53 pace

Full details at strava

on yellow cars and casual, cultural sexism

We play a game, our family.

It’s a driving game, it keeps the kids occupied on long trips, gives us something fun to rib each other about along the way.

We call it “Spotto”.  Maybe you play a similar game, but in our version it’s a point for each time you see a yellow car and call out “SPOTTO!” before anybody else does.  As with any family game there are a few quirky rules, some inside understandings of what is and isn’t yellow (Brisbane City Council buses for example, don’t qualify) and for some unknown reason lost in the sands of time spotting a purple car and calling “SPURPLE!” accrues double points.

Hey, it’s fun, and its in the privacy of our own car…

There’s a problem however, and it’s a big one.

Once you start spotting yellow cars (SPOTTO!) it’s just not that easy to stop.

And so now I find myself even when on my own (that’s right…no kids to use an excuse) making a mental note of every yellow car I pass.  I swear to you I haven’t said “SPOTTO!” out loud on my own….yet….but that’s the problem. To borrow a well known advertising catch phrase…once you pop, you just can’t stop.

At the same time as I find myself thinking about yellow cars (SPOTTO!) I’m become more and more conscious of the casual (and not so casual) sexism that still seems ingrained in so many levels of our society.  Maybe that’s a strange connection to make…but go with me here.

As a father of two girls and a boy, I’m very conscious of the opportunities Sheri and I want our girls to have, of the way we want them to be treated, and of the responsibility of our son to know just how he can and should act with regards the women in his now and future life.

And in our current world….there’s a pretty ugly reality that I’m noticing more and more often (SPOTTO!).

Not with me?

Take a look at any Saturday morning “video hits” TV show, where film clip after film clip treats women as little more than scantily clad window dressing.  Men dress in suits, jeans, shirts and women (even when they’re the star attraction) may as well be in body paint.

Take a look at my favourite sport of motor racing, where start grids filled with heroic male drivers have the decoration of a grid girl in Lycra close at hand (or maybe your favourite athletes are footballers and the grid girls come in the form of cheerleaders).  Ridiculously, sadly, even in my chosen hobby of R/C car racing (that’s right…I race toy cars) we sometimes have the stupidity of “trophy girls” at major events.  How do I introduce my daughters to this hobby when basically this is the image of women perpetuated in even this obscure hobby?

Take a look at any number of magazines aimed at women and perpetuating the stereotypes of make-up, fashion and appearance as underlying all self worth.  Even the recent “no make-up selfie” trend that whilst ostensibly has a cancer awareness message (and at best even cancer fund-raising) at heart underneath seems to be implying “no make-up = courageous”.

No man has to put up with such nonsense.

Women continue to be under-represented in leadership in nearly every corner of our society (Federal parliament?) and even where they are present are treated differently (can I say Julia Gillard as just one very visible example without getting into political point-scoring debates?).

They’re underpaid, misrepresented, rejected. Women are subject to totally degrading treatment on the basis of appearance and they are sexualised relentlessly.  Then there’s violence against women prevalent even in mainstream Australian society.

The more I think of it, the more I see it (SPOTTO!). It’s everywhere.  Even though there’s clearly been structural progress in recent decades, there’s still a lot of pretty ugly cultural sexism.

To be fair, there’s plenty of pretty rough male stereotypes as well (cue the witless, useless, clueless father figure than inhabits so many TV commercials and sitcoms), and there are some pretty serious issues around boys in education or even church models that seem more shaped in a way to which girls respond more readily…..but to my eyes (SPOTTO!) the girls have a much tougher road to walk.

And our daughters are growing up in this culture, and will be victim to it. They’ll face pressure to conform. They’ll face expectations about sex and sexuality. They’ll have to abide by different standards than the boys around them.

The more I see it (SPOTTO!) the more I am conscious of just how far we have to go, and of the fact that I’m only just starting to work this out, see what’s in front of me, and can only wonder at the times I’ve probably been complicit.

And more aware of just how much I want both our girls, and our boy to see through the surface of our culture, to find a different way, to live to a different standard.

The fact is our girls (and our boy) are awesome. They’re smart, funny, committed, compassionate, imaginative, creative and talented.  One is intense and motivated, the other non-stop joyful and social.  That’s the basis on which they should progress in life….not on gender, appearance, make-up, short skirts and photo-shop.

The thing is…while I hope I gradually stop seeing yellow cars (SPOTTO!) because to be honest, it’s an annoying game, I sincerely hope the only reason I stop spotting ingrained, cultural, casual sexism is because bit by bit we find a better way.

Bit by bit.

(spotto)

have you had a busy week?

A couple of days ago I was in the corner store picking up some bits and pieces. As I wandered up to the counter I asked the assistant “have you had a busy day?”

She answered in the affirmative and we got into a pretty typical shop-counter conversation about how busy life is.

I bet you recognise that conversation.  Lots of us have it, nearly every day.

Sometime over the last couple of years something has changed in our society.  It’s subtle, but I wonder if it’s important.

We used to start conversations with something like “how are you?” or “are you well?”…..but now it’s “have you been busy?” or “do you have a busy weekend coming up?”.

Busyness is the new in thing.

The expectation when we ask that question is that we’ll hear back “yep, flat out”.

Busyness is the new fashion accessory…the “new black” if you like.

We pride ourselves on how busy we are. The one with the most full diary is the most worthy. The one with the most evening commitments, the busiest social calendar for the weekend, with the most extra-curricular activities for the kids….the busiest wins.

There’s very little in our society today (apart from our treatment of the vulnerable, or the ongoing ingrained sexism in our world….but they’re stories for another day) that are more damaging I think to families, and to individuals than this perpetual obsession with busyness.

The costs of busyness are high.

Physical tiredness, mental exhaustion, emotional strain, spiritual flat-ness, relational distance.

And a messy house…though maybe that’s just my house…I can’t be sure.

I wonder too – and I worry – about the kind of example we’re setting for our kids with this perpetual busyness.

I wonder if we should be striving really hard to keep lots of empty space in our home diaries, make sure there are afternoons when we just go for a walk around the neighbourhood then come home for a simple dinner and hang out.  I wonder if we should prioritise the preservation of down-time on weekends rather than back-to-back-to-back social, sporting and other engagements.

I’m a big fan of couch time, or hammock time, or “promenade time” (as we used to call the kind of relaxed afternoon walk that we seem to preserve for holidays only) but it’s rare.  I don’t even really like being busy…but it’s such a point of pride I can’t help getting sucked into it, and filling any empty moment with something planned.

What might happen if the next time someone asks “are you free Tuesday night?” I answer “No, I’m having some relax time with my family”?

And will it be weird if I ask the shop assistant when I next stop by “have you got a quiet afternoon ahead”?

So how about you?

Had a busy day?