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.

It will be like doing a PhD in one year…

October 27, 2013 at 9:29 am | Posted in arthritis, creativity, health, Leslie Kenton | Leave a comment
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It is very hard for me to narrow myself down to focus on only one thing. I have two jobs, I do Argentine tango dancing, I’m a film fanatic and I love theatre. I swim and do tai chi and yoga. And I always want to read as widely as I want.

This week in my spare time after work and after my second job (the commissioned book, of which more anon) I read Leslie Kenton’s Skin Revolution (London, Vermilion, 2003). Leslie Kenton is a gorgeous guru for health and beauty. She is a wonderful writer and I love her books.

She’s got a five day skin diet in this book – a lot like a paleo diet and not a lot unlike my normal diet – except no dairy and no coffee. Oh, and no alcohol. Yes, my skin does look better plus I lost a few pounds. Hardest thing of course was giving up my morning cafe au laits for green tea. But I did it! Yay!

She has these inspiring quotations in her books. One in this I liked was Á beautiful young person is an accident of nature. A beautiful old person is a work of art.’ I liked Louise Nevelson’s one too: Í never feel age … if you have creative work, you don’t have age or time.’ Wonderful words of wisdom; they make me feel so much better!

Leslie Kenton’s books are always inspiring plus she does extensive research. I was researching Infra Red saunas – meant to be good for arthritis – and she has a whole chapter on them in this book! She reckons they’re great too, and you really can trust her research. Sunlighten ones have had various recommendations. I bought one of those – will keep you posted.

So that book should really be the last one for quite some time not related to my commissioned book. The thing is, I must focus on one thing (besides my main job) or I won’t get this book written in time. And I do love it – it’s fascinating and worthwhile. But we’re rushing towards the end of the year and I’ll only have a bit of 2015. I won a Fellowship to write fiction at the Eleanor Dark Foundation, then there’s an interstate Conference on Arts and Health – my favourite part of my main job. Then we have a big work conference thing and then it’s virtually Christmas.

That means that 2014 for me will be like doing a PhD in one year. I will have to focus on only that one thing, and I’m happy to do it – it’s so interesting. But no more reading books on beauty on the side. I must read only on Churchill Fellows – well, that’s lucky because you could not get a wider variety of fields. Churchill Fellowships cover everything from health to glass blowing, zoology to hat-making, agriculture to baking. So it really suits me. Now I must stop this and do some more on it.

How to be Idle and The Two Percent Solution

May 5, 2013 at 1:45 am | Posted in Books, Quotations | Leave a comment
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It was the old days of telegrams. You paid per word for the speedy delivery of your message, so they often had a particular tone of terse urgency. They had a tendency to contain either very good or very bad news, news that could not wait for the post. Robert Hughes, late with his commissioned book, Art of Australia (published in 1970), in a spirit of affectionate mockery, wrote to his editor/publisher Geoffrey Dutton, exaggerating the flavour of Dutton’s previous telegrams to him:

‘DO YOU SERIOUSLY PROPOSE WRITING THIRTYFIVE THOUSAND REMAINING WORDS IN TWENTYFOUR HOURS WHAT IS HAPPENING DESPERATELY DUTTON’.

My situation will be like that if I don’t start seriously writing my own commissioned book soon. There is always so much else to do. (What did I say last week about time management, in ‘Big Rocks’? I need to heed my own advice.)

But we seem to have had so much more time before electronic communication was invented. In the bush my mother posted our correspondence ‘sets’ when we’d done all the work in them and we received the month’s new set by the post. I can’t remember how we got our post (once a fortnight?) but it was exciting when it happened. In the city it came twice a day. In Charles Darwin’s time the post came five times a day, which is practically as good as email. I guess it went gradually down until today’s once a day.

We’ve gained much from our instant electronic communication but I can’t help feeling we’ve lost much too. The speed of contemporary life can give you vertigo. Just like the speed of the cars. Last week’s book, Car Sick: Solutions for our car-addicted culture by Lynn Sloman does indeed have solutions. It is a very accessible book, fascinating, illuminating, full of hope and beautifully written. One of the solutions is decreasing the speed limit in suburbs, which radically reduces the accident, injury and death rates plus changes the feeling of places by making them safe for children and cyclists and improving social life and social cohesion.

We, most of us, have a tendency to go too fast in every area of our lives. There is always too much to do. And when are we supposed to squeeze in our art: our writing or singing or painting or dancing? Okay: two solutions. The first lies in Tom Hodgkinson’s How to be Idle (2004) and the second in Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution.

How to be Idle describes the slow food movement or the International Movement for the Defense of and the Right to Pleasure. Founded in 1986 by a group of left-wing Italians who were appalled by the cultural ascendancy of fast food, it aimed to bring pleasure, quality, variety and humanity back to the production and eating of food. It spread all over Europe and is now in the US and here as well. Their logo is a snail.

Their philosophy goes beyond food and is a protest against the dehumanising mechanisation of life. Their Manifesto states: ‘Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial civilisation, first invented the machine and took it as its life model. … We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life … May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency.’ (p. 65)

So how are we to write or paint or practise our art in these times of unprecedented frenzy? Another way is proposed by Marcia Hughes in The Two Percent Solution. She reckons that all we need to practise our art and then become fulfilled and happy is 2% of our day, ie, 30 minutes. Surely we can all squeeze 30 minutes for ourselves and our art every day?

Yeats wrote, ‘Art only comes when there is abandon, and a world of dreaming and waiting and passionate meditation.’ Could we get into that state within 30 minutes? Well, let me close with another quotation, from Marcia Hughes’ The Two Percent Solution: ‘Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible and achieves the impossible.’ (Anon, p. 33 of Hughes). So I think we can.

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