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HAVE A NICE DAY

Of all the modern-day expressions that people use frequently, the one that is most common is, ‘Have a nice day.’ This flows from the lips automatically, yet do people really think about what they are saying?

Can having a nice day be guaranteed? Each morning we wake up and the day unfolds. It is only at the end of the day that we can decide whether or not it was nice. Our lives are full of random events. Each day, we interact with others who can treat us well, or abusively. Each day we encounter situations that are either pleasant or horrible. We have mood changes or our circadian rhythms have gone awry.  People who say they love us seem to hate us.   The weather can be erratic. Events on the news send us into despair about the state of the planet. All of this permeates our lives, but we are still told to. ‘Have a nice day.’

The instruction,’Take Care’ seems much more meaningful. This is something that can be controlled. Consciously, we can look out for dangers. We can respond to people in ways that lower their aggression. Helping others can inject a sense of well-being. Thinking ‘How can I make a difference?’ can mean making a difference. It can help individuals to have a nice day.

Stock phrases hide reality.  People say ‘All good.’ when the opposite is the case. The sad fact is that many individuals don’t want to hear negative comments. They don’t want to listen; to be helpful or sympathetic. It could lead to not having a nice day.

It is possible to visit a supermarket around midnight. As you leave, the person on the check-out smiles and says, ‘Have a nice day.’ What day is meant – the one just gone or the one just beginning?

Apparently, a few years ago in California, there was a concern that ‘Have a nice day.’ was becoming meaningless. A new phrase was suggested, and customers found that as they moved away from the checkout, the employee would lean over the cash register, and intone, ‘Missing you already.’

We need to use language in ways that draw us closer together.  Individual responses, coupled with a smile, do more to establish a connection than glib phrases uttered because management instructs its employees to do so.

Of course, I could close this piece with ‘Have a nice day.” but it would be meaningless. Each person who reads this should think of how they would personally like to greet or farewell someone. This would be more endearing, and certainly more sincere.

 

GYMNASIUMS

Gyms are full of mirrors. People can look at themselves while exerting influence on weights, and marvel at the streaks of sweat traversing foreheads and cheeks. Others can see contorted faces as arms and legs attempt to raise bars with heavy disks on each end. Legs are raised in leg presses, while against the wall, bicycles, and treadmills allow the super-athletic to run or cycle the equivalent of the Tour de France or the Boston Marathon.

Gyms are usually staffed by handsome men wearing tight T-shirts so that the six-pack is straining to get out. Women instructors are usually tall, blond, and have limited vocabularies. Words such as “wow” and “awesome” trip off the tongue in an avalanche of shallow language. The only punctuation that is heard in a gym is the thud of boxing gloves, the sharp clang of weights being dropped, and the occasional deep sigh as a fitness fanatic is attempting a personal best on the lifting machine.

Of course, there are those who are inactive, even though they are in a gym. These are the ‘mirror-gazers’. Beautifully sculpted, these individuals adopt a number of poses in front of mirrors so that their figures, muscles, profiles, waistlines and weight distribution can be studied at length. There is nothing more admirable than self-admiration.

More and more gyms are open 24 hours. Sighs of the frustrated permeate the night air.  Dissatisfied humans strive for perfection under the lurid lights of the gym. After work or study, a designer bag stuffed with designer track-suits, sneakers, and T-shirts emblazoned with the ubiquitous dynamic swoosh or the three fig-leaves, or the leaping feline, head for the gym.  At the entrance is a fridge stocked with energy drinks. These are to ensure that all of the kilojoules taken off can be replaced easily.

Medicos and politicians keep reminding us of the ‘obesity epidemic’. This divides citizens into two camps – those who spend hours at a gym to ensure that obesity never comes their way, and others who head for a couch, bags of chips and cans of beer in hand, to watch hours of sport. There is the euphoria of weight increasing over the whole body. A healthy body is the least of their worries, whereas the fitness aficionados diligently work out and regularly check their image in the nearest mirror.

Unfortunately, those committed to health and fitness, give up at some point. All that lovely muscle turns to fat. The bottom takes on an aspect of bottomless expansion. Men develop paunches and women begin to sag. The last thing people want is a mirror to show up their imperfections. Yet the cycle goes on, and the gymnasium will continue to weigh constantly on those who prefer image over substance.

LONELINESS

She felt the kiss of the sun on her cheek. Each day, if possible, she would place her chair on the verandah and turn her face to the sun.  It was reassuring; it was comforting. In the warmth, she felt a sense of belonging.  The sun was her friend – her only friend.

As a child, her intelligence and outspokenness had estranged her from other children. At school, teachers told her to be quiet; at home, her parents banished her to her room, tired of the endless questions she would ask or the uncomfortable observations she would make. Other children did not associate with her because they sensed their inferiority. Cousins shied away, considering that they had nothing in common. The silent stacks of books in the local library spoke to her as no person could or would. It was through the windows of the library that she was first aware of the sun’s kiss.

In her teens, many boys approached. She had conversations, but the boys never returned. No-one asked her for a date; she was never invited to parties and no girl befriended her. She exchanged her glasses for contact lenses; her straight teeth embraced braces; she put on a padded bra, but none of these strategies improved her position in society.  Little sparks of light bounced off her braces as she smiled into the sunlight. She imagined the sun kissing her open lips and the radiance danced on the band of metal across her teeth.

She excelled at university. In tutorials, her expositions reduced other students to silence. She tried to get close to those studying the same subjects as her, but after a few conversations, they would avoid her. She sat in the cafeteria, a cup of coffee her only companion.

A career followed. She had her own office. Her colleagues respected her but did not socialise with her. She bought an apartment and spent each lonely night looking down on the activities of the city. She suspected each light was looking at her, trying to infiltrate her soul.

Despite the outward success, she felt an inner failure. The loneliness was seeping through her skin. She longed for a companion, a soul-mate, a person whose kiss was as warm as the sun’s had been. She dismissed the idea of internet dating.  She did not believe in God so there was no point joining a church. She was already well educated so she did not want to undertake further study.

Travelling seemed a good idea. Not a cruise of any sort, not a package tour of European hot-spots.  She decided on a walking tour where there was likely to be people similar to herself  – essentially solitary but looking for possibilities

On the first day, a man asked to walk with her. The second day saw them deep in conversation and she laughed often. During the third day, they stood on a cliff-top and watched the waves.  It was overcast and slightly windy. Suddenly, she felt the warmth of a kiss on her neck. It could not have possibly been the sun.

LANGUAGE

One of the things that contribute to our identity is language. In considering what we would least like to lose, language is often neglected.  People mention sight, hearing, mental impairment as faculties that they could not do without, yet language, if it became unavailable, would cause untold difficulties in our everyday lives.

Language is communication.  A baby learns to talk quickly because then it can make its wishes known, even if it’s only monosyllabically. Childhood development depends on language development. A child who cannot talk, or read adequately at an early age, is doomed to be disadvantaged thereafter.

In social interaction, language affects how others see us and how we see those with whom we fraternise. Status can be inferred by language.  Those who speak well, know forms of politeness, have extensive vocabularies, and are witty, are often deemed to be socially desirable. Many people, for instance in job interviews, are firstly judged on appearance, then by how they speak. Written applications are often rejected if grammar and spelling are inaccurate.

Context also affects language. In many cultures, there are taboo words. these words can cause offence if uttered or written in situations that are not appropriate. Certain words are not politically correct, and swearing can be completely out of order. Culturally or religiously sensitive contexts can make certain words and expressions a violation of what normally would be expected.

Language can be used to separate, or maintain secrets.  Jargon is often used by professionals to keep outsiders from knowing the inner workings of organisations and institutions. Teenagers often use ‘teenspeak’ to keep their parents out of the loop.  There is ‘hatespeak’ to express racist or prejudicial ideas. Some people have pet names for their beloved. We can ‘personalise’ language to meet our individual needs, but we should never lose sight of the social responsibilities we have in communicating with others.

Of course, there are pleasant aspects of language.  There is ‘the language of love’ which has inspired poetry, letters, songs and personal declarations.  Language can invoke sympathy and reassurance. Humour is a wonderfully therapeutic use of language.

All in all, we should appreciate how language is a superbly effective for communicating how we feel, what we think, and even what we hope for. Our own language defines us. We can be better if our language is better. Each day, let us work to improve and extend our language.

CURIOSITY

Of all the human virtues, curiosity is one of the best. It stimulates the mind to explore, examine and to forage into the unknown. It is the liniment of life-long learning. It excites possibilities and provides satisfaction in discovery.

There can be downfalls.  The child who plunges a fork into an electric socket;  the adolescent who injects an illicit drug; the adult who embarks on an affair – all these excursions of curiosity might not end well.

Leaving these negative aspects aside, curiosity can invest a life with possibilities for expanding knowledge and extending horizons.  Centuries ago, curiosity propelled seafarers to sail the oceans and find new lands. Admittedly, they were also motivated by greed, politics, and religion, but they still had a vestige of curiosity that overcame a sense of danger and perhaps ‘dropping off the edge’.

Medical advances have resulted from curiosity about what causes disease and how human illness can be controlled or eliminated.  Endless hours of research, of testing, of experimenting, and even self-sacrifice,  have gradually contributed to longer, healthier lives.

What about space exploration? The quest to find out the secrets of the solar system and beyond has raised the level of curiosity to new heights.  The stuff of science-fiction has become the stuff of reality as a landing on the moon, and the probing of the planets has proved. Frontiers of the universe will continue to be challenged.

Personal curiosity has led to growth, understanding, and a desire to better human relationships. Students excel when they are curious. Teachers love it when students reach out from the teacher’s words and seek to build on what the teacher has said. Those learning a musical instrument fiddle around with notes and harmonies to sound out the capabilities of the instruments they choose to play.

The new-born baby is curious. Its eyes dart about,  recognising and evaluating the environment that it has emerged into. The playpen and the playground encourage new opportunities. Later, relationships inform each person about the wonderful variety of humanity.

We should all treasure the gift of curiosity. Don’t accept what the various screens in our lives tell us. Go out and be ruled by your curiosity. The rewards will be without measure.

WHAT ARE CHILDREN FOR?

A child is a gift.  It is a gift because it brings happiness. There is a special feeling in seeing a child develop, particularly as a parent knows that something of what the child is has been created by them.

Children teach parents a number of things:

*they teach parents how to love more deeply

*they teach parents how to be humble  and admit when they are wrong

*they show how to forgive and help parents to see how kindness and caring can be rewarding

*they teach parents about the importance of individual lives

*they teach parents the nobility of self-sacrifice

*they can give parents a fresh and different perspective on life.

Children are not extensions of their parents. They are individual lives with separate intelligences and talents.  Each child should be nurtured to be the best that it can be in line with its abilities. A child should not be made into something that it is not.  A child should feel fulfilled, happy and contented and, above all, grateful to its parents for allowing him or her to be itself. Also,  a child should be permitted to be a child for as long as it needs to be.  Parents should recognise adolescence as a time of confusion and testing and encourage with cautious advice. In adulthood,  a child should be a companion to its parents.

A child, when it grows up, should be able to say, “I thank my parents for what they have given me: freedom and control; love and correction; guidance, and an allowance to make mistakes.”  Above all,  a child in adulthood should be able to say, “I am what I am because of the way my parents shaped me, and it feels good.”

 

 

CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

There was no car. There was no phone. Winter nights were spent around the wood fire, burning and sparking in the hearth, behind a metal screen. Mother sat in a chair and rolled wool into a ball. One child knelt with arms outstretched, and the skein of wool was held between the two arms. Father sat, with his eyes closed. He had worked hard all day, and now he listened to a serial coming from the radio. Other children read from a novel or comic. It was warm and cosy.

Each weekday, the children would walk to school. Satchels were placed on backs and each contained a few exercise books; a lunch-box and a brown paper bag in which ‘play-lunch’ was kept; usually a cake or bread roll, filled with cheese or Vegemite, or sometimes both. Some children rode bicycles. No helmet was needed, and many bikes were rusty, and the wheels had missing or twisted spokes. “Dinking” was commonplace. This was where one person sat on the bar of the bicycle behind the handlebars whilst the rider of the bike pedalled furiously and strove to maintain stability. Girls’ bikes had netting protecting the back wheel so that skirts would not get caught. Girls never wore slacks or trousers as this was ‘unladylike’.

School could be a brutal place. Each teacher had a strap, and this varied in length and thickness. Some teachers oiled their straps for extra hardness. Many women had little straps with bits of fluff protruding from the end. Even if a female teacher gave the maximum six strokes. it had little effect. Straps owned by the men were a different matter. One blow could really hurt and six meant a day of misery. Physical Education teachers used their metal whistles to whip across students’ knuckles.  Art teachers used long, wooden rulers. Woodwork teachers would bend a boy over a bench and whack his backside with a whetstone. The end result of all this was that students learnt information which was never forgotten.

In Primary School, boys and girls were segregated; not only in the classroom but in the playground, where a thick, white painted line was drawn across the ground as a point of demarcation. This created a sense that the opposite gender was a strange and forbidden set of humans and often resulted in a break-out of lust when children reached secondary school.

Childhood, however, had its pleasant side. Children could roam free all day without a thought of ‘stranger danger’.  Relatives were often close by so there was always a haven for a drink or a sandwich. Vacant land was in abundance and there were trees to climb, creeks to cross, and unimpeded access to areas where bikes could be ridden at breakneck speed.   Exhausted, children would return home in the evening; would have dinner; then sit around the radio to listen to the weekly serials or play board games.  Lives were not disrupted by television or social media.  There was communication and a sense of family life. In the winter nights, each child would be kept warm by a jumper knitted by Mum from the wool that the child had probably helped roll into a ball. There was a sense that all was well.

 

URBAN OBSERVATIONS (2)

Modern streetscapes are a tribute to functionality not to beauty. The first requirement of any new development is to cut down all offending trees. These trees are offensive because they shed leaves and bark, and have nesting birds in their branches. Obviously, there are bird droppings in driveways and these natural processes are deemed to be ‘unhygienic’.  There should be no overhanging branches creeping on to the non-existent footways. The carriageways are so narrow that no vehicle can pass or park. House frontages are almost on the roadway. Backyards are no more than nine square metres in area and can permit a lonely dwarf succulent to stand forlornly at a corner of the artificial grass.

Each house has a garage barely two metres from the street. All have doors activated by remotely controlled devices, and people move from the garage to the house so that they remain unobserved and not inconvenienced by the movement of wind or rain. Deficiencies of Vitamin D are commonplace are people are never in the sun. At night, lights come on as sensitive sensors pick up every movement because house frontages are so close to the street.

Often the street has delivery vans blocking access as residents order their groceries on-line. On garbage collection days, buns are left on the roadway as there is no other place for them. Garbage trucks have to reverse as there is no room for a turning circle.

Inside the house, there are ducts and vents to distribute hot and cold air.  Windows cannot be opened because, if they are, they would touch the wall of the house next door. Everywhere there are sockets to enable the myriad electronic devices to be plugged in. One wall of the living room is covered by a gigantic television screen with all chairs pointing towards it as if towards a sacrificial altar.

Every member of the family has his or her own room. They communicate via phone or email. Each person is an individual, occupying a uniquely decorated room with a ‘No Admittance’ sign on the door. They are modern cave-dwellers sitting in the gloom of light coming from a screen or two. Their heads have earplugs or headphones as an almost permanent feature.

The night is broken by wailing sirens or hovering helicopters. Dwellers of suburbia are protected. They are cocooned from life, emerging daily from each chrysalis, fluttering with anxiety, neuroses, and mechanically moving on the treadmill of existence.  Some would call it civilisation but who would call it civilised?

URBAN OBSERVATIONS (1)

Shopping centres contain lots of seats – more and more of them. They also contain fewer rubbish bins. Why are there more of one and less of the other?

More and more people have smartphones. Seats provide a place for them to sit and send an SMS, or to make calls, or to engage with the internet. For some, this activity is central to their lives, so a place to sit and hold a phone is paramount. Seats used to be places where lovers sat holding hands and gazing with a kind of droopy look at each other. There was never a phone in sight. Nowadays, a lover sits on the seat and looks at the beloved on a screen whilst they hold a phone instead of a hand. No longer can fingers be intertwined or palms stroked. The only finger movement is across a keyboard or pressing an app.

Some people used the seat as a resting place. Often the sitter would have bags of purchases in each hand and the seat provided a temporary platform for both shoppers and bags to rest. The seated person often indulged in people-watching; a kind of satisfying surveillance.  However, in these modern times, all of the people being watched are only doing one thing- speaking or texting on their mobile phones.

The rise in terrorism has resulted in the decline of the bin. Bureaucrats of all persuasions have decided that the bin is the perfect receptacle for a bomb. It looms larger than the loneliness of an abandoned bag at an airport. Rubbish is either placed in pockets or sometimes under the seats. The litter is usually swept up by a newly arrived unskilled immigrant who has to get such a job so that the latest mobile phone can be purchased.

The absence of bins provides more space for seating. Strategically placed, the seating provides an artistic sculptural adjunct to the shopping mall.Seats can be benches or beautifully tailored leather armchairs from which there is a reluctance to leave. For many people, a backrest is essential. Reclining with legs crossed, newspaper in hand, is a lovely pleasure only interrupted by the syrupy ringtone of the phone owned by the person in the adjoining seat.

There is no doubt that the evolutionary process will eventually produce an ear shaped like a mobile phone.  By then, shopping malls will not exist and people will not need seats as they will float on a cushion of air and hover inconsequentially over those places where seats used to be.

NAMES

When people are asked about their identity, they point to culture, language, religion and so on. Often, they don’t mention their name, and yet, this is the single most important feature of their identity.  It is true that our names are not chosen by us, and depending on the education and social preferences of our parents, children are saddled with all kinds of names. How many Catholic women are called Mary? How many Spanish or South American men are called Jesus? Are the parents hoping that their children will contain some Divine spark? Children of the hippie generation were blessed with Ebony, Jade and even Starbuck. Unimaginative parents came up with John, Robert, Anne or Lisa. The Bible propelled some parents to go for Rebekah, Rachel,  Simon or Solomon. When visiting the Middle East it is impossible to avoid being swamped by Mohammeds or Jasmines.  Every second male in the Czech Republic seems to be called Vaclav.

In Australia, there is a tendency to alter names to influence mateship. John becomes Jonno; David becomes Davo and Stephen becomes Stevo. This seems to be a masculine thing.  Women’s’ names tend to be shortened. Shirley becomes Shirl; Pamela becomes Pam and Jennifer is reduced to Jenny.

Is there anything in a name? Celebrities become known by their names and it is a tragedy for them when their names are forgotten. They strive for individuality. Think of Elvis or Madonna. What kind of celebrity would call himself Alan or herself Rhonda? It’s a no-no. Go for the exotic or the obscure.

Some cultures believe that a name can bring good or bad luck. If life seems unfortunate, some will give themselves a new name to ensure future prosperity or health.

Signatures are our names signed with a flourish or a brief squiggle. Expansive signatures are said to express a strong ego, whilst miserable, hunched-up signatures signal a repressed personality. Alphabetic letters can be loopy or scrunched into indecipherable droppings as if a swarm of fleas has landed on the paper.

In the end, it’s a name on a tombstone that leaves the lasting impression – there to be eroded by time and the weather until the name is but an etching on historical progress. The name, like the person who bore it, is no more.