Lost Focus – Johann Hari’s feasible solutions to our burning problems

April 13, 2022 at 4:08 am | Posted in capitalism, Democracy, depression, digital technology, dreams, Leisure, Living creatively, media negativity, mental illness, stress management, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Tsunamis of information are drowning us

We’ve lost our ability to focus. Tsunamis of information are coming at us, drenching us every minute of every waking hour. We can’t keep up with it, mentally or emotionally. What we sacrifice when we try is depth. Not to mention sanity, peace of mind and our democracy.

In other words, the stakes could not be higher. Johann Hari’s Stolen Focus (Bloomsbury, 2021) is an important book, beautifully written, which outlines practical solutions for the problems that unregulated social media has unleashed.

While researching this book, Hari interviewed 250 relevant experts worldwide. One of them was Aza Raskin. You mightn’t have heard of him but chances are, he’s influencing your behaviour every day. His dad invented the Apple Macintosh for Steve Jobs. The internet used to be divided into pages. When you got to the bottom of one, you had to decide to click a button to get to the next page – an active choice that gave you time to think: do I really want to continue reading this? Aza designed a code that took away that choice: infinite scrolling.

All social media now uses a version of this. It automatically loads more when it gets to the bottom. It will scroll infinitely.

Soon after his code took effect, Aza Raskin began noticing how his friends seemed unable to pull themselves away from their devices. He did some sums, and calculated that his invention was making people spend 50% more time than they otherwise would on sites like Twitter. For many it’s vastly more. He saw people becoming angry, hostile and lacking in empathy as their social media use rose. Had he invented something that not only drains away people’s time, but ‘that tears us, rips us, and breaks us’? (p. 116) Continue Reading Lost Focus – Johann Hari’s feasible solutions to our burning problems…

Gently altering the world – the arts

March 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm | Posted in art, arts and health, Common Good, creativity, humour, humour as medicine, rural Ireland, Stand-up comedy - Australian, stress management, value of the arts, writers' health | 5 Comments
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Returning from a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, in Ireland’s County Kerry – https://cillrialaigartscentre.com/residencies/ – it was weird to be back yet not be able to hop on my bike and see friends, go to tango lessons, films, cafés and libraries or walk around the lake.

I watched that ingenious ABC program You Can’t Ask That and this time it was on nudists. I thought they would just answer the questions in their clothes.

But no – there they were, all shapes and sizes, in the nude. It reminded me of an unusual art exhibition I heard about in Cork.

Near Kilkenny I stayed a week at the fabulous Shankill Castle – https://shankillcastle.com – home of painter Elizabeth Cope and her husband Geoffrey. I have one of her beautiful paintings, pictured above. You can see her work here – she does landscapes, still lifes and portraits. She had an exhibition in Cork of only her nudes. A group of nudists asked if they could view the exhibition in the nude. The gallery said yes. I suppose it wasn’t winter. Continue Reading Gently altering the world – the arts…

Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature

December 28, 2019 at 6:11 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Bookshops, capitalism, Charlotte Wood, creativity, depression, Inequality - Australia, mental illness, optimism, value of the arts, writers' health | Leave a comment
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When I was in Dublin in September I bought some wonderful books. A favourite is the intriguing, personal and beautifully written Hidden City: Adventures and explorations in Dublin by Karl Whitney (Penguin, 2014). (I’ve lent it and others to friends and can’t take a photo of its cover or some other favourites at the moment!)

Stitched Up: The anti-capitalist book of fashion (Pluto Press, London, 2014) is a compelling account of how the fashion industry exploits and damages both the environment and individuals. Tansy E. Hoskins’ exposé was an eye-watering shock to me on both counts.

I had no idea about the toxic chemicals involved in high-fashion clothes production, or how, for instance, models are sometimes treated as they are in the pornography industry – dispensable and beneath contempt.

Continue Reading Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature…

Jules Clancy’s new e-book, Love Your Waistline and Your Food

October 19, 2019 at 5:43 am | Posted in Cook books, health, nutrition, recipes, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Jules Clancy (pictured) was living in Cooma when I first discovered her blog, https://thestonesoup.com and I was working at the National Rural Health Alliance. Jules was a good example of an enterprising rural woman and I shared much of her nutritional and culinary advice as well as her blogs and books with my readers.

She is a good writer and has a knack for making healthy cooking fun. At her blog and website you’ll find a goldmine of easily digested information and this book is the latest of a long series of excellent e-books. Love Your Waist Line and Your Food: A food lover’s guide to healthy cooking and eating habits in 28 days includes a low-carbohydrate eating plan, simple recipes for meals, snacks and sweet treats, and much more, all written in Jules Clancy’s accessible style.

Why low-carb?

Carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels, creating a roller-coaster of highs and lows that you’ll notice in big fluctuations in your energy. Carbs are addictive, they interfere with hormones such as the ones that regulate hunger and the feeling of fullness, they affect brain health, feed cancer cells and give you wrinkles. If these reasons are enough for you, read on.

Continue Reading Jules Clancy’s new e-book, Love Your Waistline and Your Food…

Swimming, dancing, writing – or What I Did on My Summer Holiday

March 27, 2018 at 4:49 am | Posted in Argentine tango, arts and health, creativity, social capital, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Swimming

Swimming every morning in the clear turquoise water, surrounded by trees – oaks, chestnuts, London planes and gums, with swallows and parrots flying about and ten ducklings following their parents across the grass – plus coffee on the deck afterwards with a group of convivial co-swimmers: is it any wonder it’s been a long time since I posted a blog? It didn’t take all day but it did consume some morning writing time and I wouldn’t have traded talking and laughing with simpatico people for any number of blogs written.

My local swimming pool – see www.dicksonaquaticcentre.com.au – has a Lap Legends club where you write down the number of laps you do, aiming to get above 77 kilometres by the end of the season. That is the figure beyond which you’re in the running for some great prizes.

No, I didn’t win a prize (and I wasn’t really on holiday – it just felt like one) but I got up to 123 kilometres, the maximum I’ve ever done from October to March. It gave me a sense of achievement, the loss of some kilos and a heap of other health benefits.

Continue Reading Swimming, dancing, writing – or What I Did on My Summer Holiday…

When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?

January 9, 2018 at 1:24 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Cook books, depression, health, swimming, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Summer Cook Books

‘That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone do that,’ said my friend Sharon, standing above me on the turquoise-tiled rim of Dickson swimming pool.

‘Do what?’ I asked, as I completed my length and stood up in the shallow-end water.

‘Yawning while swimming,’ she said.

 

Continue Reading When the Couch-Potato Pill is invented will you take it?…

Cycling and writing

April 12, 2017 at 2:45 am | Posted in Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, depression, Living creatively, writers' health | Leave a comment
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A people-centred society

Riding a bicycle regularly has measurable benefits for your body and immeasurable ones for your brain and creativity. In my last blog I hinted at these benefits and in this one I have the space to expand on some of the glorious results of swapping four wheels for two, and I don’t mean the kind with the internal combustion engine attached. I mean the kind that relies on human muscle power.

That muscle power is the key to the benefits. Cycling improves the strength, tone and flexibility of muscles and sluices synovial fluid through the hip, knee and ankle joints, which eases arthritis. Pumping oxygen through the bloodstream enhances your energy, expands brain capacity and improves your complexion.

Continue Reading Cycling and writing…

How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers

April 2, 2017 at 7:10 am | Posted in Anti-ageing, Cycling - health benefits, cycling - mental benefits, sarah wilson, Tim Ferriss, writers' habits, writers' health | Leave a comment
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The human guinea pig

Ferriss

‘The 4-Hour Body’ – definitely an uncommon guide

It was already hot at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. My nightie was on the floor and the sheet kicked aside when I glanced over at my reflection in the large mirrored built-in wardrobe doors.

I groaned and said, ‘Oh, God – I’ve put on weight. I’m a beached whale!’

And my companion said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re a leaping porpoise.’

I took this as a compliment.

But I’d still rather be a gazelle. American writer and adventurer Tim Ferriss promises me that I can be. Not in those exact words but near enough. For all my complaints about Tim Ferriss and the gender imbalance of his books (see January 14 of www.penhanley.wordpress.com ) I’ve been won over by him. His enthusiasm is infectious, he’s insatiably curious, and he’s funny. I’m gripped by the boys’ adventure style of his prose. In the idiom of his native country, what’s not to like? Continue Reading How to be a gazelle – on health, fitness and match-making two writers…

A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir

February 5, 2017 at 11:24 pm | Posted in creativity, depression, mental illness, song writing, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Pet Sounds

When I was fourteen my older brother gave me the new Beachboys’ Pet Sounds album for Christmas. It was and remains my favourite. I’d never heard anything like those sophisticated, layered compositions and sublime harmonies – and neither had anyone else. No one had ever put together sounds like that before. It had a massive influence on future music. Without Pet Sounds the Beatles would never have made their Sergeant Peppers album.

I’ve been thinking about Pet Sounds a lot lately because I’ve been reading I Am Brian Wilson (with Ben Greenman, Coronet, 2016), a story of early success and mental illness, of creative genius and tragic loss, of addiction and second chances. I love this book. Continue Reading A struggle with mental illness – I Am Brian Wilson: A memoir…

Hope and optimism in a world of worry

January 7, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Posted in creativity, decluttering, Inequality, politics, writers' health | 1 Comment
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A single word

Rather than making a list of New Year’s resolutions, someone I know chooses a single word to guide her through the coming year. It could be ‘simplicity’ or ‘generosity’, ‘creativity’ or ‘serenity’. Careful thought about the choice of a meaningful word makes decisions during the year easier and quicker.

Even though a glance back at last year, especially politically, could plunge us into despair, there is a case to be made for choosing ‘hope’ or ‘optimism’ for 2017. You know how certain people float into your mind at odd times? I’ll recall them while cycling on quiet bike paths or in the shower or swimming laps at my local pool. Sometimes they’re people who give me hope.

Some Churchill Fellows in my book, Inspiring Australians (www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop ) are often on my mind because of the positive difference they make to this country, like environmental experts Hugh Lavery and Peter Cundall – more about them later. I also think about Al Gore. I’ve never met Al Gore but it’s because of his TED talk from last year, ‘The case for optimism on climate change’ – that I keep recalling him.

(See https://www.ted.com/talks/al_gore_the_case-for-optimism_on …)

He presents some bad news (of course) but much more significant good news about climate change. The bad is catastrophic and Gore presents the facts in accessible language. He asks, ‘Must we change?’ and ‘Will we change?’ and answers with the evidence that justifies a ‘Yes’ to both questions. It’s not too late to act – and we are acting.

Solving the crisis

‘We are solving this crisis,’ he says, pointing out that in China, Europe and the US, coal plants are being cancelled at a massive rate in favour of renewable sources of energy. Even though fossil fuels are still subsidised by many governments, solar energy is growing exponentially, so that renewables have achieved grid parity and are getting cheaper all the time.

He shows pictures of solar panels on grass huts and we learn that microcredit schemes enable even desperately poor people to buy them. At the other end of the scale (and this is my observation, not Gore’s) money is the only language some people understand – well, Al Gore presents the evidence that now there is more financial profit to be made from renewables than from coal and gas.

We’ve known that investing in renewable energy and not digging up more coal is backed by science, we’ve known it’s backed by reason, and now we know that it’s backed by better investment opportunities and financial profit. This last is what is now changing things in a hurry.

Hungry for decent leadership

People’s motives for abandoning fossil fuels don’t matter – what matters is that it’s finally happening, and Al Gore’s stirring words ring in my head: ‘The will to act is itself a renewable resource!’ In a world hungry for decent leadership we’re lucky to have some people like him showing breakthroughs like this and inspiring people to action, demonstrating a leadership rarely seen these days.

We don’t see leadership in most of our politicians and we’ve come not to expect any. Too many of them have vested interests in maintaining the status quo, to put it mildly and politely. Some visitor to Australia said recently, ‘They say a country gets the politicians it deserves, but nobody deserves Australia’s politicians!’

From their abusive treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, to say nothing of our own Indigenous people, we can see that most of our political leaders are morally bankrupt. If decisions are left to them they will soon bankrupt our nation financially too because of the same limited vision that causes their racism.

The only leadership we’re going to get is from ordinary people. Hugh Lavery AO, an early Churchill Fellow, from Queensland, with environmental qualifications, experience and awards as long as your arm (see www.churchilltrust.org.au/shop for Inspiring Australians, p. 76-77), learnt much from stockmen and fishermen, as well as those developers who ‘are informed and smart and who keep out of the news’. He maintains that the quality of the environment is ultimately delivered by the people and he agrees that ‘now, we have tough times. But it’s a good time for opportunity.’

Peter Cundall AO (Churchill Fellow, 1974) is optimistic about the future of the planet and about the wisdom of ordinary people once they see that things are wrong. He sees the environmental movement growing stronger every day and he believes that it is beyond politics. He says that people all over the world are improving the earth and the planet and they are doing it themselves: ‘The politicians won’t do it; the people have to.’

Life-changing magic!

What can we do? We can live more simply and harm the environment less. The program called ‘A Simple Year’ is a good one – it’s inspiring and keeps you on the right track. They focus on a different theme for each month, like January’s is ‘Clutter’ and February is ‘Busyness’. (See http://simpleyear.com/ )

See also Courtney Carver’s www.bemorewithless.com and Sarah Wilson’s blog on living a healthy and sustainable life, every Friday: www.sarahwilson.com

You could also check out the Australian Conservation Foundation’s website at http://www.acf.org.au and see how they focus on five big ideas, such as clean energy; laws to protect our air, water and wildlife; and putting the planet before profits.

Living a simpler, more sustainable life frees up your time and resources to do more meaningful and creative things, creating a happier you and a healthier planet. Does that sound saccharine? Well even if it does, I’m not deleting it because it’s true. Healing the planet is up to us – ordinary people, and it’s amazing the difference living simply makes.

Courtney Carver’s Be More with Less blog is where I discovered Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten-Speed Press, 2014). See my 2 Nov. 2015 blog post. This book is whacky and funny. The translator seems to have preserved the young author’s voice of originality and verve. If you go to the initial trouble of following her unusual advice, it really does make your life easier and happier. Before you know it, with the free time and mental clarity you have, you’ll be full of hope and optimism and chipping large chunks away from that world of worry the media keeps flinging at us every day.

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