You need a passport for a trip to oncology

Sometimes it can take a lot to get to where you can trust The System. Take it from friend Linda, who says she’s had to get a passport in order to take her to her destination in the remote country of Trust.

Chemo moonshineI spent most of the day yesterday in the oncology unit with Linda again, as she underwent her second chemo treatment, the first being three weeks ago. Both times we sat there glancing apprehensively at one another as one bag after another of ferocious toxins was fed into a little vein in her wrist. Especially unnerving is the fact that the staff are masked and gloved as they hook things up and handle the bags (“It’s just that we have to deal with this stuff all day, every day…”). Hmmm.

Linda knows about the contents of all those little bags. She’s studied them, can pronounce every exotic syllable, and knows every effect and possible side effect. She knows which ones attack her hair, her fingernails, her white blood cells, her serotonin. And given just how nasty something has to be to actually kill off a cancer cell, how can you trust that it’s not going to do you in as well?

So how do you get to where you can trust the complex medical science behind it all? And if you make it that far, how about trusting the Taree Base Hospital? And what about all the way down to Jenny in the oncology department? Most of all, how do you trust your own particular body to override all the fine print and allow you to survive this non-particular onslaught?

Clearly, you need a passport to travel all that way.

As an occupational therapist, Linda works inside the medical profession, and yet that somehow doesn’t qualify her for absolute trust of The System. [Why is there no irony font when you need one?] She’s seen the mistakes and the mis-matches, and she knows there’s no guarantee of a smooth ride.

Astonishing science

But I have to tell you, it’s amazing to observe the whole process. For one thing, the staff are SO careful. Every dose is set up by someone and checked by someone else. Linda’s treatment was held up for an hour or two while we waited for a report to come back from the pharmacy about a smear of oiliness spotted in one of the brews. It turned out normal, but no one was about to take that outcome for granted.

And then there’s the complexity of the interactions among the various medications. Chemo bagsWe’ve all seen the movies where the chemo patient is hanging over the toilet, suffering from the dreadful nausea that the drugs cause. But that result is no longer an absolute, nor are the other side effects. Linda spends an hour or so of her treatment (the first two or three bags) taking on board chemicals that combat consequences like nausea and gloominess. She takes chemicals that accelerate the repair of her white blood count after each treatment, in order to spend as short a time as possible without the ability to resist even the simplest infection.

One of the nurses told us she hadn’t worked on this ward for several months, and in that time so many of the medications and procedures had changed that she barely recognised the place. It takes your breath away to imagine all the research going on all over the world, all the assiduous compiling of data, all the effort to keep little Taree’s hospital at the leading edge of what’s available. I have to say: I felt awe.

Fifteen years ago I had a friend about my age who had breast cancer and couldn’t trust the system. All the homeopathic medicine and spiritual practice in the world couldn’t battle the progress of the disease, and a year later she was not alive to review her decision.

There’s a person inside there too

The System also turns out to be much more than just an intricate cocktail of chemicals being carefully poured into one’s system. Somebody understands that the human brain works in mysterious ways, as well as the body. Taree’s oncology department is a spacious, comfortable room with floor-to-ceiling windows that let the light pour in. There’s a little courtyard just outside the glass door where you can watch palm fronds and contemplate a perfect little bonsai tree. The staff are funny, self-expressive and entertaining. They encourage a dash of repartee among the patients and their offsiders. These professionals understand the main game, but they’re determined to bring some lightness along with it. They know there’s a lot more to battling a cancer cell than lambasting it with toxins. They know exactly what Linda’s going through, inside and out, and they bring a matter-of-factness that most of us could afford to emulate.

Other people in The System understand the complexities too. A volunteer by the name of Cynthia Crocheted beanieknits and crochets hats—warm beanies, cool ones, fluffy ones, sleek ones. She does hats in all colours of the rainbow, ones with little brims and ones that wrap and twist in fetching ways. Cynthia must know about the shock of contemplating one’s completely bald head in the mirror, and about being ready for that event; she’s wise about the role head-covering plays in keeping us warm, not to mention looking “normal”. (Factoid: one’s hair begins to fall out 15 days after the first treatment, and is gone, gone, gone by day 17.)

Linda thanked me for spending the day with her. Well, I can tell you, it was no sacrifice. For one thing, it never goes astray to spend time with Linda, who is wise and fun and an excellent role model for many things (singing, gardening and mastering trust spring to mind). But there is also magic in the oncology department—being in the presence of science at its leading edge, of a profound commitment to health and well-being, of goodwill, respect and empathy.

How can spending a day immersed in the evidence of humankind at its best be anything but time well spent?

Dusting the cactus

Housekeeping 4Friday is housecleaning day, and this week as usual I spent a few minutes out on the front deck sweeping the ever-resilient cobwebs off the walls, railing wires and window ledges. Our front deck is also the home of a big potted cactus, which in turn is home to several spiders and their incessant webs. And, as is often the case, I found myself whisking off the cobwebs with my brush. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure no one was looking. After all, what kind of person dusts a cactus?

Question #3 that we Shedders are asked is, “How does housekeeping work out?” Perhaps the question relates to our experience with crazed roommates in college days, because for some reason people have a deep concern about the housecleaning angle of things. (In case you’re curious, Questions #1 and #2 are, respectively, what do you do about meals, and what happens when you don’t agree about something?)

Think about it. Never in the history of the world have two or more people who shared a home had identical ways of viewing what’s important and what’s not in the cleanliness and tidiness of things. I defy you to find an exception.

There are six of us who live here, and as you might expect, standards differ. Perhaps they don’t differ all that dramatically, as we’re all housebroken: we generally pick up after ourselves, clean up the counter after making toast, wipe the spilled milk off the floor. But also as you might expect, every single one of us has pet peeves and pet customs. For example, I can’t bear cups being left in the sink, but have no qualms about leaving rinsed items in the dishrack. Any ant who challenges me to space in my kitchen is facing imminent doom; any spiders will be carefully removed to the great outdoors Cup in the sinkwhere their job is to search out mosquitoes and eliminate them. I reckon it’s time to dust the coffee table when you can write your name in it, but am compelled to remove the first flickering of cobweb from the bemused cactus.

In other words, there’s not a great deal of consistency within this one individual. What happens when the idiosyncrasies of six people hit the exponential curve? Housemates who shall remain nameless do leave their cups in the sink, get cranky about items left in the dishrack, protect ants fiercely, spray spiders on sight, and would roll their eyes clear into the back of their heads if they caught me dusting the cactus.

So given all the possible pitfalls, Question #3 is quite a sensible one. How DO we make housekeeping work?

Well, we cover it off in three different ways.

A few good structures

In the early days, we sat down and tried to establish some housekeeping accountabilities. This has evolved into a big date-driven spreadsheet that lists all the major housekeeping tasks (categorised by weekly, fortnightly, monthly, etc.) along with who has agreed to do them. This document is useful because it reminds us what we’ve agreed to, allows us to keep track of what we’ve done recently and what needs doing, and lets other people know what’s been done (in case it’s not obvious).

Another structure we use is a regular cleaning time, currently Friday mornings. You can do your cleaning any time you wish, but if you want to join in the fun and take advantage of group energy, Friday morning is the time to do it.

We also use a guideline for duration: roughly an hour and half. It’s just a guideline, and we often find ourselves happily stuck into something that eats up a few hours—but the guideline helps address the issue of fairness. Of course at our age, we’re far too mature to be concerned about such trivialities, but, well, you know, just in case.

Timely communication

There’s no getting around the miserable fact that nothing will work without communication, and its joyous corollary that anything can be worked out with communication.

When it’s just your partner, it’s easy: you can nag, whinge or shout. But with housemates, an extra bit of sophistication and skill is required. Some issues we handle (sensitively and professionally, of course) in our monthly house meetings; some are brought up over dinner; some we settle with one-on-one conversations.

Truth be told, we rarely have these conversations. Occasionally a health and safely issue will arise. Could you not leave your boots in the entrance to the door (where I trip over them)? Could you please put your crackers in an airtight container (so they don’t invite unwanted guests?)

But most issues get addressed through our final and most important way of dealing with them:

An accepting attitude

All of us Shedders have said at one time or other, in one way or other, that it’s the process of getting along, of accommodating differences, of practicing acceptance, that helps keep us flexible and strong. I know that if left entirely to my own devices, I would surely calcify. Life might be easier, but I’m not sure it would be good for me. When Fred’s cups are left in the sink (there are no Freds here; that’s how I’m protecting individual privacy), it’s a gentle reminder to me that there are more important things in life to worry about. It gives me a glimpse into Fred’s life and priorities, if I chose to take it. I can have an internal rant or I can practice some empathy. As the latter is the route to world peace, it’s not a bad thing to have the opportunity to practice it at the kitchen sink.

The importance of my opinions is just another thing I can work on Shedding.

I will, however, continue to dust the cactus.

***

Eve, Heather & Fiona

Eve, Heather & Fiona

For those of you who’ve been following the rise to fame of the Shedders:

Eve was recently contacted by Fiona Wyllie of ABC Radio in Port Macquarie, and she and I were interviewed last week on drive-time radio. Here’s a link to the session.

Tall poppies

Crocheted poppiesThere I sat, with about a hundred poppies coiled in my lap, and looking at ten times that many again in a long string across the tables in the room. Yvonne from my garden club was explaining to us all how local women had been crocheting these beautiful poppies, each about 4 inches in diameter with a black button at its centre, over the last weeks. They are being joined into a long rope, she explained, which will be used to drape across the cenotaph at the upcoming Anzac Day memorial.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the real thing to share with you. I was amazed by the display, as were most of the other women in the room. All these magnificent poppies; all the hours of work to bring them into existence. What were these women thinking of, I wondered, as their fingers whirled around the crochet hook? Was their zeal inspired by working together to create something as a community? Or by the fallen Diggers being commemorated by the service? Or by the desire to make a statement about peace, and war? Whatever the inspiration, the long chain spoke a fervent message. The individual whispers of crochet hooks tugging at red wool added up to this passionate declaration.

But what was it saying?

Remembrance Day

Poppies bring to mind the memorial services of my youth: Remembrance Day, it’s called in Canada, and it happens on November 11th (the date of the signing of the armistice at the end of WW1). As school children, we stood absolutely still at 11:00 a.m. and for two minutes of silence thought about the soldiers who died defending our country. And then we solemnly, often with tears in our eyes, recited in unison the poem which in the northern hemisphere is integrally linked to memorial services, In Flanders Fields. Here are the first two stanzas:Poppies 5

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Poppies in a French fieldEven today, though I am no longer a dewy-eyed teenager, the poem (written in 1915 by Canadian poet and WWI veteran/surgeon John McCrae) moves me. The poppy, blood red and blanketing the war-torn fields of France, has come to represent the sacrifice of the soldiers who also fell in those fields. Yvonne’s thousand poppies were sourced in McCrae’s poem.

The Anzac Legend

It’s a very different experience in Australia. I recall a few months after we first arrived, over 30 years ago, this unfamiliar event called Anzac Day came to my attention. A friend invited us out to the “dawn stand-in”, which involved a pancake breakfast and sounded like an interesting experience for the kids. As you might expect, it was much more than that. I was deeply touched by the alienness of the ceremony, and especially by all these old men who stood silent and alert, lost in their thoughts.

Some background for those of you who aren’t natives of Australia or New Zealand: Anzac Day happens on April 25 and is a holiday throughout much of the country. Its purpose is to commemorate the Australians and New Zealanders who served and died in various wars.

The origin of the event goes back 100 years. At dawn on the 25th of April, 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers stormed the shores of Gallipoli, with the intention of quickly capturing Constantinople in order to keep the Black Sea open for the Allied navies. Eight months later, with the campaign hopelessly bogged down and some 12,000 Aussies and Kiwis dead, the forces were evacuated. But that outcome could not have predicted the profound impact the event had at home. April 25 immediately became a day of celebrating the astonishing “digger” spirit, with their endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour, and mateship” in the face of horrific battlefield conditions.

In spite of the horror of all the deaths, something magical happened on that battlefield. Somehow it created the Anzac Legend, whereby these “knights of Gallipoli” became a symbol of how Australians and New Zealanders regarded themselves—so Dawn servicethat even today, with all the diggers long dead, people still gather in parks and war memorials for the dawn service, with its two minutes of silence and the lone bugler playing the Last Post and the Reveille. In the Australian tradition, the service sometimes includes the “gunfire breakfast” – coffee with a good shot of rum, as was the practice before the soldiers faced battle and sometimes certain death.

For decades, the day and its ceremonies were core to the heart of Australians and New Zealanders. During the 70s and 80s, the impact of Anzac Day dwindled, perhaps due to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War. That trend has been reversed in recent decades, and crowds again swell the memorial services.

The real digger message

Alec Campbell in GallipoliBut here’s the thing. Until I began reading about the “Anzac legend”, I hadn’t realised that, as the diggers grew old and became rare and famous, many of them spent their airtime on an anti-war message. The last digger to die, in 2002, Alec Campbell, was typical. He attended services and surrendered to interviews until his death. His conclusion, as expressed at age 103 on the eve of his last Anzac Day, was this:

Alec Campbell the Elder“The whole point of Anzac Day has been lost. It’s not for old diggers to remember, it’s for survivors to warn the young about the dangers of romanticising war.”

Campbell is also the one who famously said, “Politicians make up the wars. They don’t go to them.”

That comment needs no elaboration.

***

The poem In Flanders Fields ends like this:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

I’m no longer fond of this last stanza. Better the poet advised us, “Patch up our quarrel with the foe…”

This, I’ve decided, is the message of the poppies.

It seems to be what the diggers, seasoned as they were in war, hard slogging, mateship and sacrifice, came to realise. They could help write a better ending.

 

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.

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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 a 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.

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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