The rhythm of life

The same only differentI learned a new Law a couple of weeks ago. It’s called, The Law of differing frequency of interest in mutual endeavours.

Any self-respecting law has to be unintelligible at first sight, but don’t worry; this turns out to be one of those where you slap your forehead and say, of course, I knew that all along. Let me explain.

It was raised in a workshop I attended. A woman was at the mike, interacting with the facilitator, and shared about her husband who doesn’t seem to be interested any longer in intimate conversations. As the exchange unfolded, it transpired that, well, yes, he likely is interested, he says he’s interested, he just doesn’t seem to ever bring up a personal topic any more.

“Ahhh,” said the facilitator. “This seems to be a case of the Law of differing frequency of interest in mutual endeavours.”

Simply put, people that we are attracted to have things in common with us (“interest in mutual endeavours”). But problems can arise as we become closer and spend more time with that person, when it begins to look like they no longer have an interest in something that initially brought us close.

What the law explains is that it’s not that they don’t have an interest, but rather that they don’t have quite as frequent an interest. And the practical result is that they never get to express their interest.

Think about it. Rick and I are both interested in going for a coffee and doing a crossword. But Rick is on a different frequency. He gets a hankering for it every day; I get a hankering every other day. That means that he comes along and suggests going for a coffee. As we just went for one yesterday, and I’m not feeling the pressure until tomorrow, it’s not me who suggests it. As a matter of fact, it means it’s never me who suggests it. To an undiscerning eye (the kind that all of us humans have), it eventually looks like I’m not interested.

Similarly, I could kayak every week. Rick’s frequency is more like once a month. That means it’s always me who’s bringing it up. I could get the feeling that he’s not interested in kayaking, even though there is a great deal of other evidence to the contrary. It would be easy to step into the trap of assuming something here.

Rythm on the reefThese aren’t particularly profound examples. But you can see that the Law applies equally to more important, and potentially disruptive, issues. Sex, for example. If you can believe the movies, most couples seem to be on differing frequencies in this regard. Equally, it applies to any kind of physical contact. We all need a hug, but some of us need one considerably more often. Or, take the example that came up in the workshop: intimate conversations. The woman’s need-an-intimate-conversation well runs dry more quickly than her husband’s does.

The Law was only mentioned in passing in the workshop, and somewhat playfully. Its creator would be the first to acknowledge that it doesn’t explain a staggering amount in the complex domain of human dissimilarities. But The Law snagged my interest. I like the way it reminds us about what we have in common, rather than focusing purely on our differences.

I like how the Law focuses on the differing frequency of interest, rather than the differing amount of interest. When we focus on the amount of interest, we can easily fall into a familiar spiral. We begin at: “He/he never initiates…(fill in the blanks: talking, going to the movies, sex, working in the garden, going out for dinner…). We start to think: “He/she doesn’t want to….any more.” That can devolve rapidly to: “We don’t have interests in common any more.”

And finally one arrives at the doorstep of: “We don’t like/love each other anymore.” End of friendship, romance, marriage.

On the other hand, when we look at the issue as one of frequency, rather than of amount, it becomes a mere scheduling problem. Rick and I can talk about the coffee thing, then agree to go for a coffee every day, or every other day, or some creative in-between compromise.

Simple reflectionsIt’s a simple law. Another law I like, Occam’s razor, says that the simplest explanation is most likely the accurate one. And then there’s Heather’s law, which says that There is Nothing Wrong Here. These bits of scientific rigour all align nicely.

By all means, let’s keep it simple.

***

A tip of the hat to Jason Weston who conjured up this Law, from his vast bank of observation of human nature data—and apologies for my subjective interpretation of it.

Judith Lucy is all courage

I could count on the fingers of a half-a-hand the number of times our household has gathered in the entertainment room to watch a real-time TV show—but the exception happened this week. As I forewarned you recently, we were to be featured in the final episode of Judith Lucy is All Woman. So last Wednesday evening there we all hovered, waiting for the show to air at 9:00 pm.

None of us were nearly as buoyant as usual. I spent the waiting time working at a hangnail that was deeply troubling me. We were all well aware of the (admittedly slight) chance that the day of filming we’d undertaken with Judith and her crew about a year ago could result in an ego massacre. But there seemed like a very good chance that our exposure could be downright embarrassing.

To our immense relief, neither of those possibilities eventuated. Judith, who wrote and featured in the show, was as enthusiastic and kindly as the day she visited us. We were Lucy 1there to help her make the point that there are alternatives to traditional living arrangements, and that when you and your friends say, in an affectionate moment, “Gosh, we should all live together,” you can actually make it happen. She wanted the message out that there are unconventional ways of approaching retirement and old age, and ours was one such story.

So in the end I was happy with our little segment, and, to tell the truth, proud to be part of the episode and of the whole series.

Here’s the official line from the ABC site:

“One of Australia’s favourite comedians, Judith Lucy, is out to discover where women are at in modern Australia and what it means to men – talking to people from all walks of life from all over the country.”

Well, that happened in the series—but underneath this mere voyage of discovery, Judith Lucy is a lot of womanJudith was clearly out to make point: that feminism is not dead; that women should, and do, rock. The final segment of the program, a collage of powerful Australian chanteuses singing Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman”, fired an emotional canon at her audience. Go for it, she’s telling Australian women. Roar.

However, in my view the real contribution of the series lies another level deeper. Judith becomes a strong voice for both women and men making big choices, taking risks, having adventures, living sometimes on the edge. Throughout the series, she role-models courage, good humour and a willingness to shine—or flounder. As a girl, she says, “…it didn’t occur to me that there was anything I couldn’t do”. She acknowledges that during the filming of the show, she’s “…met so many people who are going against expectations”. She adds, “Doing this show has really stopped me wanting to judge other women’s choices.”

Get in the game, she’s saying. It doesn’t even matter what game, but get in and play Judith Lucy takes aimhard. You’ve got to be in it to win it. I’m told by the show’s producer and director, Anna Bateman, that some 600,000 Australians watched the show on Wednesday. That’s a lot of people who might be out there taking a few more chances today as a result.

In the segment featuring the Shedders, Judith sits at our table and speculates on moving in with us. In the somewhat unlikely event that that should happen, life will get a lot more colourful here on Mitchells Island. You can’t be around Judith Lucy without taking big bites of the apple.

If you’d like to view the whole episode (I recommend it), or the entire series, you can see it on ABC’s iView. (For those of you off-shore who’d like to see the whole show, let me know and I’ll set you up with a link.)

To view just the Shedders segment of the final episode, click here.

Shedders at twilight

Shedders strolling into the sunset

 

Making love with your ears

Love, glorious loveFor three days last weekend, I was immersed in a warm bath of…well, to put it baldly, love. I was attending a residential workshop, and the theme of it was Being the Source of Love. For a whole weekend, I and another 60 or 70 participants got to look at the experience of love, at what gets in the way, and at what creates it.

To give you a taste: for some timeless spell, I sat snuggled in close to a new friend, looking straight at her and listening with all my being to what was happening in her world. My heart actually felt pulpy. And I had the thought, it doesn’t get any better than this. It wasn’t that either of us had anything life-altering to say—just that we were experiencing such a strong connection.

In this way, over the weekend I became more and more attuned to when I was experiencing love and when I wasn’t. When it was there, it manifested as a surge of connection—interest, appreciation, respect, aliveness. When it wasn’t—well, early in the workshop we undertook an ominous process exploring the question, “How do I take myself out of love?” Here’s where we came nose to nose with the messy business of actively choosing NOT to be in love. It took a while to get below the surface, but eventually we encountered a raft of ways in which we deliberately or accidentally take ourselves away from love.

The people in my workshop decided to create a post-course discussion group online to continue to share the things we notice about how we take ourselves out of love. The communications over this week have been rich in their sharing. Having expectations, someone says. Resentment. Stress. Being preoccupied with oneself. Other people’s anger. A feeling of injustice. Making assumptions. Feeling like the victim. Being judgmental. Over the week I’ve had a taste of my own version of all of these. It’s been humbling.

Of course, we also explored how we bring ourselves back to love. I came to see a lot of It's okay to judge me. Just remember to be perfect for the rest of your life.avenues, but here’s the one I most want to share with you: listening. I began to notice that when I most experience love is when I am listening. And being listened to. Times of communication, of connection.

I found when I was really listening, I put away my usual yardsticks for measuring success. I am quick to judge based on someone’s wisdom, choice of career, grooming, hobbies, interests, healthfulness. Now, figure this one out: every soul at that workshop was full of wisdom and lives an interesting life. What are the odds?! Admittedly these people might not have been a completely random selection of humanity, but the implication dawns on me that it’s not that all those people (amazingly) were lovable—but that for a whole weekend I was being loving.

Mostly what it took was listening.

You may have experienced workshops or seminars where the process is to respond to a question with a partner, where you each have a turn at speaking without comment or interruption, and correspondingly of listening. It’s not what we normally do in the real world, and when I think about it, I can’t for the life of me see why not. Why don’t I routinely just sit and listen for minutes at a time—without working out what I am going to say, without performing judgement on what’s being said, without figuring out how things relate to or reflect on me.

The parallel experience, of speaking, was just as profound. Not being involved in the cut and thrust of conversation, I found I looked deeply into myself to see what I could express that captured something real. I felt a sense of a deep respect for the person who was listening to me, and I wanted to lay nothing less than the truth at their feet. Connections SPARKED under those circumstances. Love was in the air.

We were treated to a quote from Alan Alda, which I now offer to you:

“The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid. One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually, I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues.” (Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned)

I was in a casual conversation today with a number of people, where someone was speaking about an area of interest. It was a conversation I’d heard a number of times before, and I parked myself in the Pretending to Listen zone. Then I noticed someone else listening in the Alan Alda way—as if there was something deeply important that could be learned. The experience caught me off guard, and I decided to listen. It was transformative. I felt that strong sense of connection.

Fancy hanging on someone’s every word like my future depended on it. What if I listened to Rick that way? My family? My housemates? Old friends?

And why not? What else is there to do in the moment?

By the end of the weekend—not to mention after a full week since—I am present not just to love but to the other key word in the workshop’s title: source. “Being the SOURCE of love.”

Many times this week, I’ve found myself speaking and listening with a desire for connection. I have indeed listened to Rick (as he described finishing up the accounts for the year, for example) with as much appreciation as if we’d just fallen in love.

I’ve also noticed feeling bored, or guarded, or railroaded, or judgmental. But behind both ways of being, I’ve experienced being the SOURCE. And that’s the trick. I can be a victim of other people and of my circumstances (which = no love), or I can be the source of love. It’s a choice I have.

If I have love around, it’s because I put it there. And if not?—well!—I can bring it back.

***

While in the process of researching the Alan Alda quote, I came across another gem:When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other.

What can you say?

Laughing and listening. They make a good start.

Judith Lucy meets the Shedders

Many moons ago, comedian Judith Lucy showed up at our house. She had two cameramen, a sound guy and a director with her. She walked up to our front door (a half hour after she had made a quiet back door entrance, during which time she got Judith Lucy 1dressed, put on her signature red lipstick and fixed her hair in my ensuite bathroom), rang the doorbell and greeted us warmly, while two cameras rolled in the background and the director signalled the six of us who live here about where to stand.

We’d been contacted by the producer a few weeks earlier, and asked if we Shedders would be willing to be interviewed for a segment in the Judith Lucy is All Woman show, scheduled to air in the far-distant future. Judith wanted to explore alternatives to standard ageing accommodation, especially with women in mind. She’s a take-the-mickey-out-of-you interviewer, but usually in a respectful way and always in aid of something (a) with viewer-allure, and (b) of social importance. So with some trepidation, and after much internal discussion, we agreed to the interview.

You can imagine the somewhat nervous group that met her, shaking hands and smiling broadly for the cameras. Having to get through a day of being interviewed and filmed was problematic enough, but what about down the track when the show gets aired and we have to handle the embarrassment of facing our community? These thoughts were in our minds as Judith radiantly made her way into our home.

At any rate, Judith and her team were lively, fun-filled and passionate people, all of them interested in how we manage our co-householding arrangement. She filmed us having a semi-normal house meeting, captured us putting lunch together (out of the barbecued chicken and salad her crew had brought with them), and interviewed us separately and jointly. She, Eve, Judy and I had a girl-chat standing in front of the Yoga Shed, all of us worryingly miked.

After Judith and the crew left that afternoon, the Shedders dropped into chairs for a glass of wine. We could have taken off our smiles at that point, but we didn’t really need to. It had been a fun day and the team had been engrossed in our lives and our approach to ageing.

Almost a year has passed since then. We received word a few weeks ago that the show was going to air, and that we would have a segment in the final episode. That happens (get your calendars out) Wednesday, March 18, on ABC at 9:01. Four episodes have been aired so far.

So I’m giving you advance notice, and you’ll be watching it at the same time we are, though perhaps not as nervously. I may change my mind about having alerted you after viewing the episode—but I think no matter how the Shedders come out in the wash, there’ll be interest value.

Note: Viewer discretion advised. Judith is notoriously bawdy. Take heed via this blurb on the trailer for the show: “One of Australia’s favourite funny ladies is back with Judith Lucy Is All Woman. If you’ve ever been a woman, been in one, or come out of one, this six part series is for you.”

Consider yourself warned.

***

Speaking of co-householding, I recently read an interesting snippet from a Vancouver paper about a housing phenomenon that’s sweeping the Vancouver area. Apparently, foreign investors—often Chinese—have been buying up pricey properties in Vancouver and its suburbs. So there are a lot of big houses—mansions, really—that have been put up for rent. The rent tends to be far more than the average family can afford, and any families with that kind of money are investing in their own homes. So who can these offshore owners and absentee landlords lease their houses to?

You may have guessed it: cooperative householders. The ideal market turns out to be young urban professionals on nice salaries wJudith Lucy 2ho can’t possibly afford a sprawling mansion of their own, but would rather share one than live alone (for more rent) in a tiny downtown apartment. By living this way, tenants get a beautiful home and gardens, heaps of space, nicely outfitted accommodation—and a community. Two or three friends get together, make the decision and take up the lease. Then they canvas their own communities for a few other people who’ll occupy the remaining bedrooms. The group sets up house rules, organises regular meetings, and somehow manages the myriad conflicts that come up and require communication.

These households are also somewhat careful to stay below the radar. Most Vancouver suburbs have ancient legislation in place which specifies that only families may occupy a home, or a family with at most one or two satellite individuals. Councils have traditionally wanted to have some control over the tenancy of properties (likely to control prostitution), but are turning a blind eye to this new phenomenon. What can be wrong with people who live peaceably, pay the rent, don’t make more noise than anyone else on the street, and help keep the pressure on housing down?

For the whole article, read here.

The article resonated with me in part because we Shedders, as you may remember, put ourselves in a similar situation before we built on and moved to Mitchells Island. We decided to test out the prospect of buying (and living) together by renting for a year or two. For a visceral experience of that period, sample a chapter or two from my book, Shedders: for example Heaven on the Harbour or Yours, Mine and Ours.

House on Tambourine BayI have very fond memories of that time. After two years of communal living, we’d met our main objective of seeing if we could live comfortably together. We relished living in big house right on Tambourine Bay, and appreciated the economies. It felt like we were leaving a smaller footprint on the planet, while still having a somewhat luxurious lifestyle. It felt sane and sensible. It was also fun, and I discovered that sharing in this way had great benefits. It led us to where we are today—which you’ll find out about on the Judith Lucy show.

So—who knows what Judith Lucy will do with us on the upcoming segment? But I suspect the show will reflect what the six of us, and all these young professionals in Vancouver, have discovered: a small co-housing community is a fun, economical and healthy way to live.

***

Judith Lucy 4“Great comedians have time for a sip of water after delivering a punchline. There were times when Lucy could have gone to the bar for a glass of red and we’d still be laughing when she got back.” – The Age

Protecting the children

This morning I drove down to the local public school, where I spent a delightful hour listening to year 1 and 2 students practice their reading. This is my second year of this fortnightly ritual. I sit just outside the classroom window on a big chair, and Stephen's beethe littlies come out one at a time to sit beside me on a small chair, reading their books or flash cards. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience. They’re each of them determined and focused; they relish their stories and love showing off their ability to read. While one swoops off and another comes sidling out, I catch glimpses of what’s happening in the classroom. In cooler weather we sit in the sun and put on our jackets, but at the moment, in late summer, we do our work in the building’s shade.

There’s only the tiniest problem about it all, and that’s this 4-page form sitting on the desk beside me. Up until today it’s been lurking deep in the pile on my desk, but I’ve been reminded by the school secretary that I must complete it each year, so now it looms at my elbow.

Here’s how the form goes:

Page 1 asks for my name, address and date of birth.

Page 2 starts to get more exciting. It wants me to know that it is an offence for a disqualified person as defined in section 18 of the Child Protection (Working with Children) Act 2012 to be completing this form. If I have been involved in the murder of a child, or causing grievous bodily harm, or attempted rape, or incest or kidnapping or a whole page of other stuff I don’t even like reading about, then I am not welcome to apply.

Pages 3 and 4 continue the severe and lawyerly tone, dealing with proof of identity. I’m informed of how many points I need, and of all the categories in which I can get points, and how many points I get for each item. The exception to all this point-gathering, I am told, is if I am Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in a remote area/community, and if my identity is verified by two persons recognised as “Community Leaders”. This clause strikes me as being quite sensible, though I’m not sure why it applies only to Aboriginals and not to me.

It’s not that I don’t understand what the issue is. If I needed reminding, it was all over the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald today: “Disturbing claims of abuse heard at Royal Commission into Knox Grammar School”. A past teacher at an elite Sydney school has been charged with some pretty nasty behaviour.

If only Knox Grammar School had used this 4-page form all their trouble could have been prevented. (Pardon the dripping sarcasm.) Clearly, what with rogue teachers,  Godzilla versus the bureaucracypriests and boarding school caretakers, children do need protecting, but I reckon this form is no part of the solution. To the contrary, it represents a good deal of what’s wrong with the world today.

Start with the waste of time, money and energy. Fancy the hours that were spent compiling that document; imagine the layers of public servants who created and read and proofed it, and the lawyers who went through it to make it insurance-claim proof. The invested time didn’t end there. At my little local school, tight on budget with an over-worked staff, somebody has to distribute the forms, chase them up, file them away, throw them out. Would-be volunteers have to put in an hour or so of time wading through irrelevant information and digging up documents.

Worse, it gives a false sense of security. Somewhere up the food chain bureaucrats can say they’ve done all they could do—and hope that they’ll be able to stay out of the news if the proverbial hits the fan. (False hope, amigos. The media will get you no matter how many reams of paper you barricade yourself in with.) Neither the bureaucrats, nor the staff at school, nor the children are protected in the slightest.

The problem is that common sense has been abandoned. If we lose our common sense—our personal sense of responsibility—we have no anchor, no guideposts, no markers in the channel. Common sense says that a woman of A Certain Age, sitting in plain view just outside the classroom window, someone who is part of the community and known favourably to many people therein, is not likely to be a threat to children. Common sense says potential volunteers will be put off by the 4-page form. Common sense says the young boys at Knox Grammar, or these little Mitchells Island children, would not be protected by any form.

Common sense says that for children to be safe, the adults around them have to be committed to their well-being and their safety. And I can assure you that that is the case at Mitchells Island Public School. If any reading volunteer so much as raised an eyebrow at one of the children, their vigilant teacher would be out that door in seconds. It likely hasn’t crossed her mind that the 4-page form provides her with any certainty or gives her reason to abdicate her vigilance.

—All of which should help explain why the offending document has been unattended on my desk. It’s become a question of conscience. On the one hand, I think of the service I am providing for the littlies of Mitchells Island, and the pleasure I get from that. On the other hand is the ignorance represented by this form, and whether I can afford to ignore the issue.

But enough agonising. The children, with their shy smiles and faces uncluttered by any of the dilemmas I chew over, represent the here and now—the tangible reality of what’s possible in community. The murky mindset that thinks a 4-page form will solve a problem is only a concept. And I can’t work out how to stage a meaningful protest without throwing out the babies with the bathwater. So I’ll sign.

Villawood Detention Centre

Villawood Detention Centre

***

Last night at choir, we learned, in four parts, a poignant song protesting the holding of children in immigrant detention centres. The song evoked “prison wire and terrified kids”, and when combined with the harmonies it was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

Now that’s a worthy problem for a community to tackle.

Hoping for a scot-free future

Friend Linda is still on my mind (see last week’s blog), so permit me a Chapter 2 in her story.

After publishing the post, I wrote Linda about it, saying I hoped I hadn’t negligently understated the situation she’s facing. Here’s the email she sent in reply:

Understated?—possibly. Maybe like me, your mind is running overtime to truly comprehend my reality, let alone really internalise this reframing business.

Maybe there is just too much going on, too many layers, too many unknowns floating out there waiting to land, regardless of our unbridled optimism for a scott-free future.

Maybe being “understated” is how we can move forward, putting one foot in front of the other, and hold our course, fears and all.

We can wax lyrical when the other side is safely trod.

I love that. All of it.

I try to put myself in Linda’s place. Have a think about what she’s dealing with:

First, there’s the surgery. Removing a breast is no small thing, especially when your breast is no small thing. When you hug me, you get enthusiasm but also some solid contact with ribcage and shoulder blade. When you hug Linda, as I did after the party on Saturday night, I could have hugged her cushiony self forever. Now, that’s a hug.

So what would it be like to remove an ample bosom that has played a major role, for better or for worse, in one’s life? They’re relatively impractical attachments but we have a lot of history with them. If you didn’t read Kate Llewellyn’s poem when I linked it to my post last week, read it now. Or just enjoy these excerpts:

As I lean over to write
one breast warm as a breast from the sun
hangs over as if to read what I’m writing
these breasts always want to know everything
sometimes exploring the inside curve of my Fly with meelbow
sometimes measuring a man’s hand

And:

these are my body’s curious fruit
wanting to know everything
always getting there first
strange as white beetroot
exotic as unicorns
useless as an out of order dishwasher

Granted that Kate is unapologetically personifying a piece of flesh that clings to the front of some of us—but her words capture the spirit of something about the way we women regard our breasts.

My own B-cup bosom rarely peaks into my armpit or gets hooked on the top rail of the fence, as Kate’s does, but I would still miss it if it were to be removed. Linda, like Kate, has lived with an assertive set of companions since she was a teenager. Imagine getting your head around losing them.

And that’s only one side of the scot-free equation for Linda. The other looming issue is what that lump inside has been doing, and what impact it might have on her coming months and years. There’s no point even going there until next Friday when the pathology results come in—but try not going there! Our heads don’t work that way.

This business that Linda describes as “our unbridled enthusiasm for a scot-free future”—what a species we are. You gotta love us human beings. We ache for that scot-free future, and then we try to ignore that ache, and that causes us more ache. Etc. Scot-free is not in the cards.

Nobody ever described our predicament more poignantly than Leunig, who always knows exactly what to say:

Leunig manages lifeache

***

We saw Linda this afternoon, the day after her surgery. I had texted her first, wondering if it was too soon to drop in for “a five-minute visit”. She replied: come soon and be prepared to stay for a lot longer than five minutes.

Linda looked terrific. Perhaps it was the civility of modern-day anaesthetics, or more likely her own indomitable life-force, but she was in great shape (though admittedly a somewhat concave one). She talked about the surgery, pain (none), the hospital food (great), the prognosis (no point speculating til Friday), and her gardens (loving the rain)—and had a go at Tony Abbott, which is when I knew for sure she was doing all right.

Will Linda get away scot-free? Will any of us? Perhaps all we can do is face our issues as straight and courageously as Linda has done, and maybe “manage the symptoms” of the Leunig-style lifeache. Linda, please remind us one more time:

“…Maybe being understated is how we can move forward, putting one foot in front of the other, and hold our course, fears and all.”

***

If you’re something of an etymologist, don’t miss this description of the origin of the phrase “scot-free” (especially if you’re wondering whether it’s “scot” or “scott”, as I was).

Let’s not be beating our breasts

You know how much fun it is to walk into a party through streamers and gently swaying balloons? Well, last night’s affair was like that, except we came in through a billowing display of thirty or forty dangling bras. That’s not counting the big triple-D cup that swung loosely from the front gate, to announce the party venue.Dangling bra

Given the nature of the hostess, my good friend Linda, and of the party invitation she’d handed out a couple nights ago at choir, it wasn’t really a surprise. This is what her invitation said:

“My right breast and I must reluctantly part company in the very near future, shortly followed by the left.

Everyone who feels inclined is cordially invited to join in celebration of the amazing diversity, inherent beauty, wondrous sensuality and extreme functionality of breasts in general, and to give my particular breasts the send-off they so richly deserve.”

Linda’s right breast has a large lump, apparently not yet spreading, so the breast has to go. It’s happened very quickly. Only two weekends ago Linda was kayaking with us and slightly nervous about her appointment with the doctor the following Tuesday. Within a week, surgery was set, and will happen this coming Thursday. Reconstruction isn’t on the cards, hence the removal of the left breast as well.

Twelve days isn’t a lot of time to get your head around something, never mind to rally people around you so you’re not travelling the journey alone. But Linda has managed. There we all were, in the guise of celebrating breasts, and in reality drawing close around Linda to show our support and solidarity. Linda’s father was there, and her mother, her brother and sister, her daughters and a passel of grandchildren, along with mates from work and from choir.

There was much conversation, as we stood among the suspended bras, about the bizarrely conservative approach our culture has to breasts, breast-feeding, and breast Disney princess with breast removal scarscancer. At one point in the evening Linda dug out her iPad and showed us a controversial photo of Joanne Jackson, a woman who recently created a stir when Facebook removed “pornographic” photos she had posted showing the scar after her breast removal. I found the photos to be touching, inspiring and educational. Linda had shown one to her granddaughter that morning by way of explaining the surgery and its result.

Housemate Daniel sang a country and western song about breasts by Rodney Carrington; choir-mate Leslie read a poem by Australian poet Kate Llewellyn, and Linda’s daughter recited a limerick she’d written:

“Once was a breast beyond compare
Of hard work it had done it’s fair share
sadly it must go
but we want you to know
the stuff we treasure most is still there.”

There were many hugs and perhaps a few covert tears.

Peter, a musician well-known in the Manning Valley, led us in an evening’s medley of fabulous old love songs—capturing the intimate spirit of the evening as well as giving a nod to Valentine’s Day.

Linda gave a short speech at one point, and I wish I’d taped it so I could give it to you exactly as she said it. She thanked us all, and acknowledged her wonderful breasts. Linda 4And then she spoke about “reframing” her situation. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it means roughly to find a way to relook at a situation from a new perspective, rather than the one that our emotions toss us into. Wiki defines reframing as “a way of viewing and experiencing events, ideas, concepts and emotions to find more positive alternatives…a technique that consists of identifying and then disputing irrational or maladaptive thoughts.” It’s not difficult to bump into maladaptive thoughts when the word “cancer” is lurking.

Linda said she was reframing for her benefit, and her daughters’ and her grandchildren’s.

“I’m feeling good tonight,” she said in conclusion. “I may not always feel that way over the next while, but tonight, buoyed by your goodwill, I’m terrific.”

My own emotions were on edge all evening. None of us are indifferent to the challenges ahead, but Linda’s approach—generous, inclusive and life-affirming—is a powerful lesson in reframing for me, as well.

Another guest at the party was Susan, also from choir, and someone who had held Linda’s hand at her doctor’s visit last week. Poor Susan took a spill earlier this week Reframingfrom the back of a tractor. In the process she broke the tip of her scapula, an injury that her doctor says will come good but which has to be altering her lifestyle in the meantime. However, none of that stopped her from coming along to share Linda’s pre-surgery party, nor kept her from dancing, testing out the hula-hoop and singing up a storm. A couple of days ago her long hair found its way onto the hairdresser’s floor, replaced by a perky gamine cut that she’ll be able to manage with one hand. Not to miss out on the spirit of the evening, her own breasts were marshalled into a formidable bustier. Susan is an impressive reframer in her own right.

I’ll give the last word to two-and-a-half-year-old philosopher Ash, who is housemate Michael’s granddaughter. She recently had a peeing accident, as you do when you’re very little. As her father was helping her get sorted out, he hugged her and said, “It’s no big deal.”

Ash hugged him back, replying, “Yes, it’s just a deal.”

She’s following in Linda’s wise and wonderful footsteps.