Longing to belong

Belonging 2This week housemates Eve and Daniel were visited for three days by good friends of theirs, and as is usually the case the guests wove their way in and out of our lives throughout their time here. Afterward, Eve said, “Thank you for including our friends and making them feel so welcome.” The comment, about something that I would take for granted, had me stop for a moment as I was struck by how important feeling included is—to Eve, and to all of us.

Eve is a master at inclusivity. She often invites the rest of us when she and her guests are going out to dinner. She carefully informs us when she knows a tradesman is coming, or when some event is happening that might interest us. There’s no doubt that Eve’s sense of inclusion, of drawing people together and making them feel a part of things, was a big factor in the setting up of our Shedders household.

Team Australia

Would that the broader world had a glimmer of her wisdom! My mind can’t help leaping immediately to the refugees in detention camps who don’t belong anywhere, to the homeless, to the disenfranchised. It makes me think of a time a few months ago when Rick and I were overseas enjoying the Canadian summer. One morning, in bed with my tablet, I encountered a series of articles about a new concept in anti-terrorism: join Team Australia. Then-Prime-Minister Tony Abbott had discovered that a good many people who come to Australia from war-torn countries harbour terrorist notions, and that “everyone has got to be on Team Australia and…you don’t migrate to this country unless you want to join our team.” This table-thumping induced in me a strong and unpleasant emotion, which I can only describe as feeling excluded. After all, like these other non-team players, I was born far away, have an accent, host some cultural oddities, and express dissident opinions from time to time. I had the sullen thought—well, if that’s Team Australia, I don’t want to be on it. It was enough to have me toss my tablet onto the bedside table and pull the covers back over my head.

Border Force

That May-to-September period in Australia was rich in intolerance. As Rick and I were leaving Australia, in late May, Parliament was busily passing a new bill called the Australian Border Force Act, formed with the intention of militarising the functions of customs and immigration. Negative media focused on a few key aspects about how the Act was designed: to make a more threatening presence as one attempts to enter Australia, to make it easy to withdraw citizenship from undesirable folk, and to muzzle dissent about what happens in refugee detention centres.

Belonging 3By the time we returned to Australia in early September, the stamp of Border Force was imposingly in evidence. New and impressive insignia decorated the uniforms of security people. Guns rode on hips. Large BORDER FORCE signs reminded us in two simple words of strong boundaries and the fierceness with which those boundaries would be maintained. I sensed echoes of the same paranoia that abounded when we flew via the United States at a time when Homeland Security was first making its intimidating presence felt with fingerprinting, interrogation and big announcement screens.

Belonging 4You might remember the incident in Melbourne in September, where the city was to be flooded with Border Force officers performing random checks in public areas for people’s visas. Public outcry stopped that operation as the general population Belonging 5woke up to what it feels like to be threatened off Team Australia. That side of the Border Force legislation seems to be hiding its tail between its legs (where the tail will hopefully atrophy—or may only be biding its time for another big wag).

Zero tolerance

There’s a concept that I think is at the heart of much of this exclusionary behavior. It’s become fashionable to have zero tolerance for bad things. We regularly hear about someone having zero tolerance for illegal boat arrivals, for the abuse of women, for sexual interference with children, for the abuse of animals, for terrorism. Our schools have zero tolerance for bullying, I read just this morning.

In this way, we display our moral rectitude. I’m sure I’ve used the slogan myself on occasion, as there’s a certain swashbuckling quality to this pounding of righteous fists upon the table.

But in the end, zero tolerance is just sloganism, and a slogan doesn’t require us to bring thoughtfulness to an issue. Please rest assured that I am not in favour of bullying or abuse—but I do recognise that every case of wrongdoing has to be looked at on its own merits. We can’t afford to execute (and what is zero tolerance but a form of execution?) without deeply understanding the greater context.

Such concepts as zero tolerance, Border Force and Team Australia allow us to speak in empty concepts. We can identify and judge quickly. If it’s not white, it’s black—whereas in truth, every issue is its own shade of grey.

Our former Prime Minister had zero tolerance for a lot of things. We seem to have been at war with everyone, which is what happens when you have zero tolerance running amok. It’s quieter in the Australian world at the moment. Our new PM seems less inclined to strident opinions and catchphrases, and I find that most restful. It’s something to emulate.

 

Here’s a thought: maybe we should put Eve in charge of things for a while. She understands our deep human need to belong, and what happens when that need is denied.

Come fly with me

Helicopter at sunset over SydneyOh, Bronwyn.  I feel embarrassed to be joining the long list of detractors having a go at you at the moment. It’s too much like shooting fish in a barrel. However, you make it irresistible.

I mean, seriously, who charters a helicopter to avoid a one-hour car ride? Are you the kind of fabulously wealthy person who can snap your fingers and a helicopter appears? And even if you were that kind of wealthy, what on earth would make you want to do it? We know of people who could and would, for example Donald Trump – but then it’s not really a good time to be emulating him.

And Bronnie, on the public purse?! Words nearly fail me. My imagination doesn’t extend to hiring a helicopter, compliments of the taxpayer, for a tiny ride to a personal, partisan event. It’s painful to contemplate. I’m in Canada at the moment, and you’d think the turmoil Bronwyn Bishop plays the evil queenof Australian politics would be far over my horizon. However, I am unable to avoid a glance at the Sydney Morning Herald every now and then – and I find the entire news front is dominated by your shenanigans. Even the Canadian papers are having a laugh about it.

(For those of you from other parts of the world, who might be forgiven for not having noticed these Aussie antics: Bronwyn Bishop is a political VIP, Speaker of the House and favoured child of the Liberal Abbot government, who was recently discovered to have spent $5000-something for a helicopter charter for a short ride to a Liberal Party fundraiser. It hasn’t been going well for her since.)

I mean, our legislators could be finalising the new laws currently under discussion which will help to keep out asylum seekers (please note: that was irony), or revoke dual citizenship from people who might have communicated with an enraged Muslim (ditto), or increase surveillance aimed at omnipresent terrorists (ditto; sigh…). But Bronwyn’s exploits are keeping them busy in Parliament.

It would be an interesting mental exercise to calculate the cost. Consider several hundred parliamentarians on decent salaries, each spending several dozen hours on Bronwyn’s spending idiosyncrasies; then there’s all the staff involved who are busy finding evidence or finding excuses, and all the lawyers who are circling at several hundred dollars an hour—all at the taxpayer’s expense. That $5000 might have been bad enough, but it was only a molecule on the tip of the iceberg. If I were a less peaceful person, I would be beating my head against the wall.

$5000 might not seem like a lot of money, but in some circles it could go a long way. For example, my garden club spent hundreds of woman-hours fundraising to buy a swish new chair for the oncology department at the local hospital. Surely the heavens would have smiled on a politician for pouring $5000 in the direction of health care. Or think what the local public school, where I listen to the littlies reading, could have done with $5000 aimed at its dog-eared reading materials. That $5000 would even have filled a few potholes on our bedraggled local road. Am I incredibly naïve for thinking that a politician, who has chosen to make a career out of serving the public good, wouldn’t think of those kind of things as an alternative to chartering a helicopter? Doesn’t anyone in Parliament think that way?

But I guess Bronwyn was in a hurry that day. Or perhaps she was caught in the rapture of it. Picture the helicopter blades whipping dangerously through the air above you, while you smilingly hold your hair, skirt and dark sunglasses in place. The urgency of it! The raw power of that warlike machine! Part of me can really understand the thrill.

However, let us rein in those rogue emotions for a moment. Consider the possibility of an entirely different way of being. Imagine Bronwyn pulling up to her event in a little red Smart Car, where she’s been getting dictation done into a recorder on the seat beside her as she drives (I can tell you from experience, there is precedent for this).  Maybe I live on a different planet, but it seems to me that that arrival would garner a certain respect from people, and might even loosen their pockets for the Liberal coffers.

We do have to be a bit careful about this shooting of fish in the barrel: Bronwyn isn’t the only one of us guilty of confusing the source of respect. My own life rules for living well in community occasionally fall into disarray around me. I’ve been known to go unconscious about the consequences an action might have on myself, as well as on others. I sometimes spend where it’s unnecessary, or try to impress people, or get jealous when someone has more helicopters than me.

And while we’re practising a little humility, let’s remember that sometimes indulgence is just plain fun. We can’t afford to get too righteous about someone succumbing to the odd bit of extravagance.

But I’m not sure Bronwyn’s indulgences have ever been giving her fun—and they’re sure not fun now. So loosen your hair, Bronwyn. All of us old dogs can learn a few new tricks.

Fly girl

Shedder postscript. When we first started our Shedders adventure, I had a concern that we might turn out to have different spending habits. Perhaps someone would be more lavish with the communal pot than Rick and I, or more miserly. But it hasn’t worked out that way. We talk things through to our mutual satisfaction. There are no taxpayers’ dollars to rely on here, so we’re all responsible. Spending on behalf of others can work.

Fly 4

Antidote for community

Last week Rick and I slipped out of the house early one morning. We hefted our new Hobie kayak onto the car, and headed off toward a little river, the Wallamba, a half hour or so away. There wasn’t a rustle of breeze, the sun was out, and the temperature was fine considering we’re in the final days of autumn.

We found the ramp we were looking for, and wheeled the kayak down to the water. We climbed in, pushed out and sat quiet a moment. No drifting—the river was at low tide and there wasn’t a flicker of current. Then we slipped in the Hobie’s pedals and gently headed downstream. This is some of what we saw (excluding the jumping fish, which eluded my photographic capabilities):

Wallamba RiverHouse by the river
Cattle by the river
The river before us

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember when you were an impressionable romantic and loved the stories from olden times about beaux taking their belles for a spin through the English countryside in Punting downrivera punt, winding their way down tranquil streams between willow-dripping banks? It’s a bit like that in a Hobie, except you can actually get places rather rapidly.

If you have a moment and would like an extra taste of the serenity of our experience, watch this short video clip I took with my trusty little Canon: [click here]

In the six times we’ve had it out, I’ve become an unabashed champion of the Hobie. The entire kayak is brilliantly engineered and the pedals, which work under the boat like little penguin feet, are a masterful design. Rick and I love it because it’s VERY easy to propel, sort of like taking a casual walk while somehow lounging in an easy chair. It’s also stable as a barge and you don’t get wet. Rick sits behind me, strolling along, and I fade in and out of activity as the spirit moves me. Sometimes for fun we put on a burst of speed, producing enough wake to tip a duck and causing the countryside to flash by. But mostly we take advantage of the fact that the Hobie is almost totally quiet, making possible a blissfully meditative experience.

A few weeks ago we had the company of three dolphins enjoying the meander with us. They ambled not three metres from the kayak, cresting together with their little snorting breaths. Magic is alive and well on this planet.

Why am I telling you this, in a blog about community?

I refer you back to my blog title, which I admit is mostly tongue-in-cheek. But at this moment in time, when we are madly preparing for our annual three-month migration to Canada, quite a complex one this year; when the Shedders are working frantically to get 350 trees planted on our 4-acre property before winter; when our choir is preparing for weekend performances; when friends who will make any excuse for a party are determined to farewell us thoroughly—to have a few hours of perfect stillness is blessed.

Retirement opens up so many possibilities, and truthfully, sometimes one needs a rest from them.

***

If you’re good for ONE more taste of amateur kayak video, turn your volume up and listen to the magpies in this clip: [click here]. If you’re not Australian and haven’t sampled the magpie musical experience this is pretty much mandatory viewing.

Buttons? Who, me?

Hot button 1I’ve just read an article by Mira Luna, called “How to Start a Housing Co-op”. Mira explores the issue in a very readable manner, providing personal experience, a handful of references and a step-by-step how-to-go-about-it guide. It’s a worthy read if you have interest in going the co-op housing route.

Although the article’s focus is on starting a co-op, Mira does give us a glimpse of the other end. She says: “Although problems can come up in any housing situation, the issue most likely to destroy the co-op is internal conflict.” All of us have enough life experience to understand the process that terminates a relationship – we get irritated (perhaps enraged?) with someone, the offence occurs a number of times, and we start on the downhill slope, planning our exit. Concern about that is why we Shedders are often asked, “How do you deal with disagreements?” “Don’t you ever get cranky with each other?” “Do you fight?”

I don’t think I need to bother answering that question.

When Mira talks about “internal conflict”, she means internal within the co-op house. But to really address the question of conflict, we’ve got to go internal within ourselves. Here’s what I see: it’s all about having our buttons pushed. We all have, located somewhere not quite visible to the naked eye, clusters of little hot-buttons, our places of special sensitivity. One press and we’re in a dark place. When an important relationship begins to break down, it’s because we can no longer bear to have our buttons pushed by that person.

When my children were little, they had a well-polished set of buttons. For example, any time Michael wanted a ferocious reaction from his sister, he would say, innocent as a cat stretching in the sun (whilst eyeing a sparrow in the shrub nearby), “Jenny likes seafood.” Jenn could be absolutely counted on to go off like a rocket. “I HATE seafood,” she would shout, at decibels that would have the whole neighbourhood entertained. “You know I hate seafood. Don’t say I like seafood!” Things rarely went well from there. But she had a big button and her brother couldn’t resist pressing it.

By the time we get to middle-age, these buttons can be well-disguised. Let me give you an example. The guys in our household belong to a local Men’s Group – a collection of wonderful men who, for years now, have spent one night each week working on themselves and their relationships. Once a month they invite wives, partners and other guests to join their group. We have a potluck meal together, and then participate in a number of the group’s processes.

I have to say, these guys are very good at spotting when their buttons have been pressed. They’re good at identifying the emotional surge and the incident that triggered it. This week one of the guys offered to “do some work”, meaning he was willing to share an issue and open it up to the group for feedback.

“There I was,” he said, “at work in the middle of a perfectly fine afternoon, feeling good about myself and about life, and I made a perfectly simple mistake. I gave someone a wrong digit to a phone number and as a result they missed a critical appointment. When I discovered what had happened I was devastated. And I still am,” he added. “I can’t shake the feeling or stop thinking about what happened.” His error had had big consequences (for someone else), but he knew his personal reaction was out of proportion to having made an innocent mistake.

We talked about the incident and his reaction. Maybe his perfectionism means he can’t bear making a mistake. Maybe he’d been arrogant and got blind-sided. Maybe the slip-up played into a deeper conviction that he’s someone who really messes things up. Maybe it was just colossally embarrassing. He wasn’t sure where the reaction came from, but he was clear that a very hot button had been pressed that afternoon.

I can look at myself and glimpse my own well-worn hot buttons lurking in the shadows. There’s one on me somewhere that could be labelled “Misunderstood”. If someone has misinterpreted something I did to my detriment, I can be counted on to have a strong and out-of-character reaction. Another is “Abandoned!” Another rather deep one is something like, “I can’t be trusted.” Press any of the above and I’m instantly in a dark and scary place. Fear, shame and embarrassment take over my soul for a period of time, and to cover it up, I act…well, “not myself”, as Rick kindly describes it.

And while we’re on the subject of handling internal conflict, there’s another unattractive side to the existence of hot buttons, relating to how they get pressed. Sometimes they’re triggered by an incident, as with my friend in Men’s Group. But often a good detective might be able to identify someone’s fingerprints on the button. As with my ten year old son with the gleam in his eye, it can be an interesting and lively matter to deliberately trigger a reaction.

After almost 35 years of marriage I am gleefully aware of Rick’s hot buttons and am so good at finding them that I can do it without even thinking. And not to restrict myself to the marital relationship, I’ve caught myself on occasion having a go at a housemate’s button – and in hindsight have noticed that sometimes they have had a go at mine.

It’s a very human thing to do and a sure cure for boredom. We seem to have an endless penchant for mischief. But can you think of any more ridiculous behaviour if you are seeking harmony and enduring relationships?

Hot button 2In her article on co-housing, Mira concludes by saying, “Finding the right people and teaching others willing to learn how to get along (emphasis mine) is key.” Easy if you say it fast, but in reality it’s a lifetime project. I learn how (and how not) to get along from everyone here, on a daily basis. I’m a reasonably willing student. It begins with noticing my hot buttons, and those of others – followed shortly by compassion, generosity and honesty.

* * *

There is the smell of bushfire strongly in the air this morning, resulting from a big blaze that surged through an area across the river yesterday, closing off our local road for several hours. I notice that my nerves are slightly on edge, probably the result of something primal, perhaps the same thing that had the cattle next door bawling in a most perturbed fashion all evening yesterday. This reaction is not a true hot button, but it keeps me aware of how subtle are the influences on my behaviour, and how important it is that I stay vigilant.

* * *

Quote of the day: Parents know how to push your buttons because, hey, they sewed them on.” – Camryn Manheim

Announcing….

I have a very exciting announcement.Shedders Cover square

My book, Shedders, has been published on Amazon this week – it’s finally off my desk and out in the world. Check it out here. Isn’t it amazing that for a mere $3.99 anyone can learn how to create a life-long community, handle retirement in style and double the fun in life?!

Allow me to cite the first review, which says it all much better than I could:

Inspirational, informative, cautionary, interesting

May 23, 2013. Review from Shedders (Kindle Edition)

As a long-time, long-distance friend of the author, I was privileged to read a draft copy of this book. Then, I reread it as it was serialized on the author’s web site. Now that it’s on Kindle, I’ll be reading it again. I’ve already recommended it to everyone in my circle.

This book inspired me. For perhaps the first time in my six decades, I questioned my personal trade-off between privacy and community. More than any other, this account changed what my wife and I are looking for in our future living arrangements. It began to open our eyes to this and other forms of collaborative housing.

The book also scared me. The Shedders’ journey was hard work. The challenges the author, her husband and friends faced over a number of years grip the reader. I can see that some who try this may not succeed. Yet, the account also offers hope that, with good friends and good intentions – and perhaps a bit of luck – most obstacles can be overcome. And the attempt enriches lives.

For anyone making that attempt, “Shedders” is also full of lessons learned, and one of the best summaries of key issues you will need to address – underscored with emotion.

Finally, this is just a darn good read. For me, it was a page-turner … even on the second reading. The personalities come to life, and the depth of honest reporting and self-reporting in this account is most generous. I now feel as if I know all six of them personally.

Read it, and you may shed some of your own baggage and embark on new adventures in living … at any age.

Paul Miniato (Canada)
Founder, “South Delta Free at 55 Meetup”

If that’s inspired you to purchase, go for it! (click here).

Of course, I would love for anyone who’s read and enjoyed the book to review it on Kindle. It makes a big difference to future sales as well as provides feedback for my writing.

Also please pass on the link to people you know who might be interested.

For those of you who don’t have a Kindle, did you know you can download a (free) Kindle app to your computer or tablet? I watched with fingers crossed this week as a friend ordered the first copy of Shedders, then downloaded the Kindle app to her iPad so she could read it. It took only a minute or two, and the book looked great.

For those of you who prefer paper, I will be organising Print on Demand shortly – which means I can organise a printed paperback copy for you. Let me know by email if you might like a copy or copies and I’ll tell you how that works.

***

I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the tremendous support I’ve had in this publishing project from Housemate of the Month, Daniel Weinstein.

Watching Daniel in action has me realise how he got to be cluey about so many things. If you take an insatiable curiosity and combine that with deeply-entrenched technical skills, you come up with someone unstoppable – which is what is required in the face of such antagonists as mysterious .html codes, unruly photos and cranky tables of contents. He learned a whole new internet-publishing software package along the way (Sigil, for you future self-publishers) and taught it to me in his wake.

It’s not that he doesn’t already have a full and busy life. Daniel’s the one who transported his business to the country, bundled up inside his Mac. So in addition to earning a part-time living, staying abreast of his online interests and holding up his end of Shedders’ life, he’s put in a zillion hours of assistance on this project.

What can I say? – Another serious benefit of co-housing.

And between us, we’ve created an attractive, fully functional version of Shedders for your reading enjoyment.

***

Announcing 1Next week’s post will be written from the late-spring climes of coastal British Columbia, where Rick and I will be summering for three months – in an altogether different shared-living situation.

More on that as the weeks go by.

Welcome!

Welcome to the Shedders home page.

This site is receiving a lot of visitors this week (over 2000 hits at last count), as a result of ABC Radio National’s By Design show.

The attention isn’t a surprise. Almost everyone we talk to is interested in our story.IMG_0078 - 2 There is a hunger for community out there, as well as a concern about life in the traditional retirement village. Our initiative suggests an alternative way, as well as insights into the struggles and triumphs that you could expect on your own journey.

The ABC broadcast did a great job of exploring the design of the house, the support we’re able to provide for each other, and some of the elements of day to day life in our community.

I’ve written a book, called Shedders, soon available as an e-book. You can sample it on this website. Let me know if you’d like to be notified when the book is published.

Shedders is our story. What is yours? What interests you? What concerns you? What steps have you taken? What design would work for you? Would you live in the country? Would you share your retirement with other people in this way?

We’d love to hear from you. You can comment here on the blog or write me directly at hbolstler@gmail.com.

To follow the blog and interact regularly about life in this kind of alternative community, just click Follow Blog in the usual way.