Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
75 or 80 years of life are packaged into an hour-long service with a fifteen-minute eulogy. It's hard to imagine it being done any differently, and yet it just seems like an impossible task to do well - how do you do justice to decades of life, of breathing in and out, of raising children, making dinners, wiping grandkids' noses, building houses, running marathons, knitting jumpers, growing roses, playing the organ?
The memories are always in the stories; never in mere 'attributes'. So in a sense the real 'eulogy' happens in the days, weeks, months, years that follow when friends come together and stories are shared. Or even when you're alone, and replay an episode from the person's life just in your own mind.
What does it teach me? That no eulogy will ever do justice to the person who has just died, and that the best thing I can do while I relate to any other living person is learn to be as fully present as possible.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Yesterday, we were back down in the St George region catching up with some friends for a birthday brunch (Happy Birthday, M.H.!).
It's been nine months since we lived in these parts, and one of the loveliest things about the area is the seabreeze. Just when you think you're about to boil away on a summer day, the breeze rolls through in the afternoon.
We used to open up both doors of the house (front and back), and let the breeze roll down through the hallway. Amazing.
We miss that in the west. It gets that bit hotter out here, and the air seems to sit pretty still. Besides that, we don't have many mature trees out here - and nothing cools an area like trees.
Nevertheless, we're super-close to the edge of Sydney here. Literally five minutes in the car, and you would think you were in country NSW (if you don't believe me, take a drive along Richmond / Blacktown Rd past Rooty Hill Rd North). I think that's pretty cool.
What do you like about the geography / weather of the area you live in?
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Avenues of trees, Corinthian columns, monoliths. We love 'em.
But why? What is it about the engineering of the human mind that loves not only the concept of straight lines, but parallel lines, and preferably with a path down the middle?
This one leads to the Governor General's residence, and is especially impressive. But why? Why does it feel so impressive?
And - come to think of it - why am I so obsessed with photographing trees?
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
This afternoon, a client and I ended up in an interesting discussion about life experience and wisdom.
He said to me that he often imagines taking the wisdom from a whole person’s life, and seeking to download it all in about 2 minutes into the brain of some hapless young person.
I agreed with him that there is so much wisdom to be gained from spending time with older people. Most of our wisest friends are on the older end of the spectrum.
But as good as it might be to download the megabytes of wisdom from an old brain into a young one, perhaps what is more necessary is the need to read our situation well. There is no point having a brain full of ‘wisdom’ if there is no capacity to learn to read our own story with an eye to the patterns and the pitfalls.
There is much blessing to come from ‘hanging out’ with those who have a few more greys than ourselves – even better when they patiently spend time with us, helping us to make sense of what we see and experience.
A brainful of wisdom sounds good, but the ability to read life wisely holds more appeal to me – complete with many blunders and ‘learning experiences’. I don’t know that you get wisdom outside of making some of those painful mistakes yourself!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
What is it about your office that does this? Is it the highly motivated people you work with? It is the coffee shop just over the road? Is it the fabulous layout of the space? Is there something airy and fresh about your office - perhaps that window which you open that lets in the afternoon breeze? Is it the sensational lunch that gets laid before you on Friday afternoons?
I would love to know what it is for you. Put my tick in the box 'Good coffee shop over the road'.
By all means - if you don't work in an office, we would still appreciate your thoughts. One of the highlights of working on a farm (which I did in another previous life) was jumping in the dam at lunchtime on a hot day.
Monday, September 22, 2008
It really wasn't all that long ago that horses were doing basically what they'd done for thousands of years. And now electricity and petrol engines have changed everything - forever.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Allender's contention is that the best thing any leader can do is admit and work with her many weaknesses and shortcomings. The capacity to lead well won't come through 'saving face' and protecting an image of what leadership 'should' look like. We lead best not through inviolability, but through recognition that whatever our gifts and abilities might be, we are wholly inadequate for the task.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Caelan knows that peas, potatoes and beans are to be respected and treated with caution. Not so ice cream. It invites not only ingestion but absorption.
Sometimes we hold back from rich experiences in life because of over-caution (see my jumping in puddles post from a few months back). Kids are a good reminder to us that occasionally it pays to throw caution and reserve to the wind.
There’s nothing like the pleasant indignity of having to deal with a running ice cream on a super hot day. There’s something fun about sharing dripping ice creams with a bunch of friends, something that reminds us that caution isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be.
So if you’ve become the ‘over-cautious’ type with the passage of time, this might be just the time to grab yourself a chocolate ice cream and sit in the sun.
Whenever you see a parcel of bush that has been hit by a bushfire perhaps some 6 months to 2 years previous, it’s the contrast to the blackness that you notice: the bright green epicormic shoots exploding from the eucalypts, and the vibrant new under-storey growth.
It’s a parable of human existence too. That sometimes we have to go through the fire for new things to be birthed. That sometimes all those ideas we held at no cost are subjected to a blast of scrutiny, and we come out the other side of that ‘humbling’ more vitalised though chastened, more certain of that which has weathered the heat, and perhaps more hopeful.
Sometimes we have no choice but to stay in the kitchen and wear the heat – and yet live to see what newness emerges out the other side of it.
In other news, yes, you will probably have noticed that my blogging has now officially missed a day. Ahhhhh!!!!
I guess this has forced me to realise the inevitable anyway: that sooner or later I was going to be forced to miss a day – was expecting it would probably happen during our trip to Tassie in November. Oh well, happened a little sooner than expected; that’s life.
If our internet’s not up-and-running by the morning (which I doubt it will be), then I guess I’ll be blogging at work over lunch. Hope you can all hold out until then. If you need support, I’d recommend you call LifeLine (I’d give you their number if I had access to the internet). So probably ‘000’ will do the trick for now.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
This place, just outside Bellingen, was once someone's home.
I don't know how long it's been since someone lived here, but there was a time when the residents of this house closed the door for the last time and said 'Goodbye'.
I wonder what feelings they experienced as they did that. What drove them to walk away? Age or infirmity? A death? The state of the house? A family move?
Why did they leave? And what did it do to them?
I've moved house a couple of times in the last few years, and my sense is that every time I move, I leave a piece of myself behind.
Perhaps you've experienced it - that when you drive past a house you used to live in, there's something inside you that yearns (or that churns!), or that just remembers. You stop and look at the house. Yes, that old tree is still there. Oh, they've painted the window frames. Ah, the letterbox has been kicked in again.
When you close the door for the last time, your heart seems to leave a window open somewhere. Funny how the familiarity of a particular 'pile' of bricks and mortar gets inside us.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It's an interesting song which makes a plain enough point: uncaused action cannot bespeak meaning to our lives.
Here's a chunk of the lyrics:
'Cause if you're not really here
then the stars don't even matter.
Now I'm filled to the top with fear
but it's all just a bunch of matter.
'Cause if you're not really here
then I don't want to be either
I wanna be next to you -
black and gold, black and gold, black and gold.
Design? Or chance? It does make a difference to our sense of purpose.
Monday, September 15, 2008
A number of years ago a friend and I were fooling around with the concept that someone's personality could give you enough information to work out how they liked their steak done.
We were both studying at the same institution at the time, and so a fair place to begin seemed to be the faculty. Probably most lecturers were deemed to be medium or medium rare, there were a few 'rares' in there, and one or two 'well dones' (to the point where a steak becomes a slab of smouldering charcoal).
There were also a few debatables in there ... those people who at first glance might have appeared to be medium to well done, but who, as you got to know them, were real surprise packets ... sometimes a 'rare' can be mistaken for a 'well done' if you don't stick a fork in and look beyond the surface.
Try your hand at the following, and post your answers:
*Kevin Rudd (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - Niu rou (Mandarin for 'beef'))
*Bono (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - Sunday, Bloody Sunday)
*Paris (A - Like, cooked; B - Ummm; C - Same colour as my handbag; D - Meat! Oohhh, yucky.)
*Barack Obama (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - Easy on the lipstick, pig)
*Jeannie Little (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - As it comes, darrrrllling!)
*John Howard (A - Well done; B - Well done; C - Well done; D - Same as Peter - pie & chips, please)
*Horatio Caine (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - No, it's my turn to ask the questions around here.)
*Condelleeza Rice (A - Well done; B - Medium; C - Medium rare; D - Lightly sizzled on the bonnet of a Humvee)
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
With this turning of the seasons, we know more will come. The jumpers will get packed away, the kikuyu will have a stretch and a yawn after its dormancy, and fire back into life again. The shadecloth will go back up over the concrete slab near the back door.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Occasionally, our company gets involved with sportsfield renovations. When you're doing your research for a renovation, one thing you will do is go out to the existing ground, have a dig around and remove some soil for testing.
At the start of the year, I bought myself a small trowel for this job. But a small trowel won't get you down to 200mm, which is the sort of the depth we want. Nevertheless, I don't feel like carrying a full-size shovel in my car all the time when it only comes in useful once every few months.
What's needed is a handy mid-size shovel that stores easily but digs well.
And we used to have one. That is, we used to have one before we got all motivated last year and gave away a whole lot of junk that never got used.
I can still see it - it would have been perfect for my car. But where is it now? Rusting away in someone else's garage until it gets thrown away after their demise.
Right now, I miss it. A lot. Would have been perfect.
But hang on! I think dad and mum had a similar one in their garden shed! Better get on the phone before they go to bed ...
What have you parted company with that you really miss now?
Thursday, September 11, 2008
I guess it depends on what you're spending.
My dad was always very economical with chocolate. Most of what he got given at Easter was still in circulation on his bedside table at Christmas. Was it because he didn't like chocolate? No. It had more to do with four years spent in a concentration camp: there was no guarantee that what you had today was going to be available tomorrow. So use it sparingly.
For some people it's time. If you get an audience with the prime minister for half an hour, you probably won't spend 25 minutes talking about how he preserves those boyish looks of his - and you can guarantee he won't stick around if you do.
Perhaps it's fuel. If you're paying $1.70 per litre, you want to maximise the value you get out of each tank. Walk when you can. Fix as many things into one trip as possible. Sell your V8.
Maybe it's that last skerrick of butter that sits around the edges of the carton. You'd normally do one slice with it, but tonight it's too late to go to the shops, and you have two pieces of steaming, browned raisin toast in front of you.
Was it seeing the ridiculous excess of others? Did this confront your own sense of wastage, and call you to economise? Was it seeing the poverty of others that did the same?
Holidays: do you see how many people you (sort of) know within a particular geographical range, and then decide to holiday there, camping in the garages and rumpus rooms of others?
Is your sense of economy driven by genetics? Do you come from a family of tightwads - sorry, thrifty individuals?
What is it that drives you to economise?
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I sat in a session this evening over at my alma mater where the facilitator showed some grounded wisdom in getting useable information out of a bunch of people at the end of their working day. The lolly bowl was also well-stocked with some interesting and zesty things (point 4?).
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
This used to be one of my baby sister's favourite words.
It was a word that could be applied to any rabbit the cat had partially digested in the confines of the outside shower, or to any pimple-faced teenager attempting to grow a beard.
It's also about the only word I can apply to the inside of our garbage bin lid.
Even though at least twice a week I attack the bin with mountains of paper towel and Sugar Soap and Glen 20, I still can't seem to win this war of defestification (enjoy using that word before I take out copyright on it).
Why can't anyone design a bin that doesn't end up grossing out the general populace? Doesn't seem to matter whether it's got a swinging lid, or a pedal lid or if it's just a plastic bag hanging on the inside of a cupboard door; they all end up gross - especially when prawn juice gets involved (you cringing yet?).
Why can't anyone seem to build a bin without lots of nooks and crannies for grot to hide in? How hard would it be to make a bin that doesn't take ages to clean properly?
Someone, anyone, please, please do something. Anything. Anything to defestify the world's bins.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I've often wondered how it works, and finally my lifelong quest comes to an end.
Really simple, really effective. One flick, and sight is restored.
Elmer Berger has been credited with inventing the rear-view mirror - without the day-night switch. I have no idea who came up with the day-night switch, but that guy can have a free beer on me anytime.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
All-in-all, it was an enjoyable time, but it’s really good to be back at home base with my family.
In my post yesterday, I mentioned the value of networking and learning. I want to say a little more about the quality of learning that goes on here.
There is a wider contextualisation of issues that occurs. Big ideas – really big ideas – get pulled to the surface and mulled over.
Much of our everyday experience is grounded in very localised issues and questions of specification. While it is possible (and, I believe, desirable) to engage a client at the level of values, it is still often very local in nature; necessarily so.
But at a conference level we get to consider all those locals issues and values against the backdrop of the macro issues and contexts – global warming, demographics, national and global geographical, geological and ecological challenges.
This gives fresh perspective to local issues, and the presence of so many practitioners seems to urge the incarnation of the principle ‘Think globally, act locally.’
The second major influence on the shape of learning at conferences is the presence of interlocutors: people who are willing to throw down the gauntlet when they hear an idea presented that they don’t agree with. This is where localised, specific knowledge comes into its own.
Of course anyone who wishes to volunteer their ideas in the presence of 300 experts needs to be prepared to be wrong. If no one is prepared to be wrong, nothing of substance will be shared or debated.
I’m grateful for those who are willing to engage in this marketplace of ideas. I find it easy to be wowed by a presentation, only to have someone put their hand up at the end, and ask a pertinent question that forces me to see another angle.
No one has a corner on all knowledge. We learn by being willing to be wrong, and by bringing together people who share something of our own direction and heart for the work.
It was really good to spend the last few days with a bunch of people passionate about working well with trees – people who care enough to think big, and to engage each other thoughtfully.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Our company is a sponsor for a large national event for our industry. A couple of us are down here, manning a stall and rubbing shoulders with existing and potential clients.
This event gives us a lot of exposure to these guys, and so we get to meet with some great people.
But we also get the benefit of learning. When we're not manning the stall, we've got opportunities to sit in on the various seminars.
There's so much to learn. This morning a couple of experts in climate change addressed us. The focus then shifted from the global to the local, and the examination of national demographic trends and national water issues. Then finally down to the local.
I really appreciate this opportunity to learn. Even though a lot of these people will probably never work with our technology, they have so much excellent knowledge to impart. From my perspective, the value we get out of paying sponsorship dollars isn't only in terms of coming along to promote our technology; it's to get alongside people who know their disciplines well, and to learn from them.
'Networking' is a dirty word to many because it often smells of using people to get what you want from them. I'm not seeing networking that way; for me this is a golden opportunity to get alongside people who care about their work, know their disciplines well, and are willing to share.
Sure, some of the contacts will be business. But a lot of them will open up the sheer joy of learning something new, something useful. I'm looking forward to coming away armed with a few scraps of new knowledge that make me a bit more useful to the world I live in.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I've just finished watching a National Geographic doco on the life of an M1 Abrams tank. Incredibly, these tanks don't get sent to the scrapyard at the end of their working life; instead, they are completely disassembled, stripped down, repaired, upgraded, and rebuilt.
The tired old Abrams arrives at Aniston to begin the stripping down process. Over 12,000 parts (all barcoded) are removed from the tank, refurbished (including the tracks) and stored in a building with shelves 27 metres high and accessed by an automated robotic retrieval system.
Here at Aniston its massive jet-powered 1500h.p. engine is rebuilt (the plant that originally made the engines stopped doing so in 1992, so no new engines are being produced). An engine rebuild on this sucker takes about 4 weeks.
When the tank is completely disassembled, the bare 20-tonne shell (minus turret) is blasted with stainless steel shot for 90 minutes, removing all paint and rust.
The components are now shipped to Lima, Ohio, for the reassembly process. In a plant with over 500,000 square metres of manufacturing space, each tank is pieced back together over 6 months. Older tanks will require retrofitting of upgraded technology, which means plenty of drilling and chopping.
When the tank is complete, the guns calibrated, and the respray done, the tank is taken to an army base in Fort Bliss, Texas for test firing. It is then shipped overseas for use on the battlefield.
The Abrams has been around for over 25 years now. And the US Army has plans to keep it operational till 2040. Incredible.
And nice to know that 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' is more than just a jingle for the US Army.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Having grown up on a farm, I guess I’ve always known it: human beings are incredibly adaptable and resilient.
My father came to Australia in 1950. They scratched an existence out of the bush, without a decent house to live in, with no tar roads, with no running water or electricity.
And they survived. They stuck at it. They believed that coming to Australia would work.
And in the end, it did – with lots of sweat, blood and tears.
Whenever I visit the bush I’m struck by people’s resourcefulness. It’s amazing how the drive to survive and succeed can cause people to ride out so many droughts, bushfires, floods – and still leave their mark.
Monday, September 1, 2008
For a few days, life packs down into a suitcase.
Kind of strange, isn't it?
We spend our lives living in a space that we fill with all kinds of stuff. Even just in terms of 'the basics' (as we know them) we seem to have so much.
But then we go away, and it all comes down to a few shirts and socks and undies in a suitcase.
For some people, the suitcase I'll take on the plane would more than contain their life belongings.
Funny how our western opulence makes us redefine what 'the basics' really are. I'm not even so sure that my trip to Adelaide has really helped me appreciate what 'travelling light' looks like.
Perhaps I need to go back through our photos from China to remind myself what travelling light / living light looks like.