What I saw written on the bathroom wall

The women’s facilities near one of the classrooms where I teach have been annoying all year because of their leaky taps.
As we all know, a dripping tap wastes a huge amount of water, which is expensive for the institution, and environmentally irresponsible, particularly in a water-challenged country such as Australia.
Anyway, recently, two identical notices went up in this bathroom, one on each wall. This is what they said:
Tap1
One of them was directly above the worst tap, which now runs, rather than drips, and which is nearly impossible to turn completely off, even if you twist it as hard as you can. Here is a picture of how much it runs (a few weeks ago, it only dripped):

Tap2
A few days after these notices went up, some bright spark added in pen to the notice above that constantly running tap, “Or…you could fix the tap”.
Well maintenance would be a fine thing, but it seems to be at a minimum these days. The maintenance staff simply don’t have time to fix everything.

And it seems sarcastic comments are not appreciated, either (even when they tell the truth).
Yesterday, I found that the notice with the graffiti had been taken down, leaving the other unannotated notice, on the other side to the faulty tap. However, by mid-morning, this had happened to that remaining notice:
Tap3
Same message, worded slightly differently. I wonder if anyone will actually get the message, or will it too be removed?
By the way, at least three of the six taps in that washroom drip. I wonder how much water is wasted across the entire university because there are no longer enough maintenance staff. In some bathrooms, there is a notice with a number to ring to report faulty equipment, but not in this one.
I might add that in another building, there is a faulty toilet cubicle door that hasn’t closed properly for 10 years…

Australians: lazy and overpaid? I think not

The bakery—good business but hard work. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

All stocked for a busy day at the bakery—good business but hard work. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

Everyone I know is working harder, in every industry—and I know a lot of people. Let me tell you about the manager of a bakery/lunch bar from which I buy a sandwich and a coffee three days a week. She commented to me on Tuesday that I had an early start that day, when I uncharacteristically bought a chai latte at 8.30am.

I said, “But you had a much earlier start.”

“Yes,” she said. “I start at 7am every day.”

“And what time do you finish?” I asked.

“7pm,” she said.

Turns out she works 7am-7pm from Monday to Friday, but she also starts at 7am on Saturdays and Sundays.

“And what time do you finish on weekends?’

“Oh, finish early – 5.30pm,” she said.

So she works 81 hours a week, and there’s travel time to and from work on top of that. I thought I was doing it hard at 65-70 hours, much of which I can do from the comfort of my own home.

“It’s a good business though, isn’t it?” I said. There are loads of customers at all hours at the bakery, because the food is ultra-fresh and tasty, the service fast and always with a smile.

“Yes, but we just keep afloat,” she said, adding that she should earn more money than she does.

Ironically—or perhaps just coincidentally—this conversation happened on Budget Day.

As I said, every Australian worker I know, including me, is toiling harder than ever before, many of them for less pay than they received previously. So I took it as a personal insult when Dr Sharman Stone, a Member of Parliament (Murray) in the current federal government, inferred on Monday on the ABC TV panel show Q and A, that Australian workers were lazy and overpaid.

Dr Stone did this by claiming that Australia had one of the lowest productivity rates of any workers in “developed” nations of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and in the next breath noting that Australians had one of the highest minimum wage rates in the world (she said that like it’s a bad thing).

Dr Stone, a former Minister for Workplace Participation (2006-7),  has a PhD in economics and business, but it seems here that she’s letting her politics get in the way of her education; she’s manipulating statistics to frame her agenda.

This is what she said, from the transcript to the show on the ABC website: “Australia has some of the lowest productivity per worker in the developed world and it has been going down over the last 10 years. We have about the highest, I have to say, minimum wage as well in the developed world…

“If we have a very high minimum wage and we have very low productivity, when we have a highly regulated work force, so there’s very little flexibility…” (http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3985872.htm)

The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, this year criticised the ABC for not supporting Australia. So how is it that one of the most long-standing MPs in his party felt it was OK on national television to put down every Australian worker?

For a start, her use of OECD productivity figures ( http://stats.oecd.org/index.aspx?queryid=32480#) is misleading. Our productivity as estimated by the OECD is above that of Japan, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Finland, Italy and Spain, amongst others. But more importantly, her assertion that Australians are not pulling their weight is offensive.

If you read the OECD statistics, you realise they are not suitable for application to a judgement on whether individuals or groups work hard or not and whether they are thus overpaid. To use them as such is a logical fallacy. They are a macro-type guide for big business, exporters and so on. The OECD itself has a disclaimer on its website, saying that the statistics as “[e]stimates of productivity levels are more uncertain than estimates of productivity growth; therefore, some caution may be warranted when interpreting those measures.”

Meanwhile, Dr Stone seems to think that cutting people’s wages will result in them working harder. So, my message to Dr Stone is this: look around you and see that people are already working hard, many for so little that they can barely afford to put a roof over their heads, such are our exorbitant housing prices in Australia.

And, crucially, this: You don’t get more productivity by paying people less, including cutting the minimum wage, though in the (very) short-term, some statistics might make it appear so. In the medium and long term, you get better productivity by paying people fairly, by providing good working conditions, job security and ongoing training.

That would seem obvious but, apparently, it’s not.

What I heard on the train: why new graduates can’t get a job

trainHaving been paid to be nosy as a journalist for decades, I still have the habit of listening in to other people’s conversations, just in case there’s a story idea there.
This morning, standing in the peak-hour crush in an overcrowded train (not the one pictured left, that was my nicer going-home train), I overheard two middle-aged lawyers talking about the state of their industry.
It transpired that one of them worked for a huge company that I won’t name here. He was talking about job opportunities for lawyers.
There’s a big debate in Australia at the moment about how difficult it is for people over 50 to find jobs. However, there are also great difficulties for new graduates to get their first “proper” job. I hear it’s almost impossible for a fully qualified law graduate  to find a job as a junior lawyer in Melbourne now, and you’re most likely to be paying to do another expensive course to get your articles, rather than finding a job as an articled clerk as most used to.
Anyway, this guy on the train said, “Graduates used to come in at entry-level and do all the research and initial leg-work for cases. No longer. It’s all outsourced. Can you believe that? It’s all outsourced overseas, and it’s much cheaper. But it’s just not the same. Mind you, my company still charges out to clients at $5000 a day, even for outsourced material.
“No wonder graduates can’t get jobs any more. And then more experienced lawyers are being brought in on what used to be entry-level rates, but they’re not doing entry-level work; they’re expected to do the work of a lawyer on a trainee-level wage.”

I suspect this is happening in many other industries, too.

Long-Ago Interviews: Lord Jeffrey Archer, author

In a previous career, I was a journalist who specialised in writing about the entertainment industry, celebrities, books and authors. I did this from the 1980s until 2008, when I became a university lecturer in media studies and journalism. In this series, “Long Ago Interviews”, I want to share some anecdotes from some of my more memorable interview subjects.

In the mid-to-late 1980s, I was books editor at the Sunday Star newspaper in New Zealand (now the Sunday Star Times). I had moved back to the big city, where I was brought up, after paying my dues from the age of 17 working at rural newspapers at Waipukurau in Hawke’s Bay and Warkworth, north of Auckland. I was still only in my early 20s when I became books editor of this major newspaper, but in those days, because we started so young, we were quite accomplished by age 23 or 24.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview.

An example of my Sunday Star books page from 1986. Unfortunately, I no longer have a clipping of my Jeffrey Archer interview

Books editor

When I say I was books editor, this was an extra duty. I was primarily employed as the TV-page writer/editor, and before that the arts writer/editor of the Auckland Star Monday to Saturday. When the new Sunday edition was being planned, I sent the Editor—the big man upstairs who we lowly reporters barely ever saw—a proposal for a books page in the Sunday Star, because management had asked for ideas from staff and were prepared to give everyone a go. My proposal for a weekly books page was accepted, but it was additional to my role as arts editor then, later, TV editor. They paid me an extra $50 a week, but as all book lovers would know, it wasn’t about the money. I would be thrilled with anticipation every day as boxes of new books were delivered from publishers hoping to get a mention on the page.

Each week, as well as reviews by myself and other journalists happy to grab a free book (they got paid for reviews too, by the way), I wrote a news story about the book industry and did an interview with an author. It was a broadsheet newspaper, so there was lots of room.

As you can imagine, I was very busy, basically doing two jobs. As TV editor, every day I had to write a page of interviews and stories about local TV, and I also had to type out the program guide with witty comments! On Saturdays, I produced a TV lift-out. Then Sunday was thrown into the mix, though I’m not sure now if it was a dedicated TV page or just a news story or two.

“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him”

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

Jeffrey Archer in 1998. Picture courtesy London School of Economics.

One of the interviews I remember vividly from this time was with the British author, Jeffrey Archer (now Lord Archer, but back then, plain old “Mr”). Before I write further, let me say I do not agree with his politics at all, and I wouldn’t comment on his private life, of which there are many versions (for an interesting article on truth versus fiction in his life, click here). Nevertheless, I have to say he was a most charming interviewee, humorous and talkative. In addition, he is one of only a very few among hundreds of authors I have interviewed who sent me a personally signed letter  after the interview, thanking me for my time. I still have that letter.

Jeffrey Archer was extremely famous in the 1980s, and few authors could match his sales. He is perhaps best known for Kane And Abel, of which a 30th anniversary edition was released last year, and which alone has sold 37 million copies, according to Archer himself on his blog. I’ve read several of his books and enjoyed them immensely.

Anyway, Archer’s publishing company’s publicist had called me to set up an interview time, assuming I would go to his hotel. When I said that I was actually too busy to go out to an interview that day and that Mr Archer would have to come to the Star building to see me, the publicist was aghast:
“Mr Archer doesn’t go to interviews; you go to him,” she said.

I said that unfortunately, then, I would have to pass on the interview. She then got back to me with the exciting news that the author would indeed go to the journalist.

He duly arrived. I met him in the foyer, and up the rickety elevator we went in the ancient but quaint Auckland Star building, to an interview room on the editorial floor. He was with a young male assistant, who I prefer to think of as a sort of manservant (and I’ll tell you why in a moment).

Now, when I say interview room, think monk’s cellar. These rooms were just cubbyholes, really, with only a small table and a couple of chairs inside. Nothing on the drab grey walls, rather musty smelling, no windows. They were like interview rooms you see in those old hard-boiled cop movies. Nevertheless, I got him a bad cup of instant coffee in a paper cup and away we went.

Ask a rude question…

In the 1980s, young people still mostly lived by a lot of rules about how to behave in company and, especially, to have respect for their elders. You did not talk about money, religion or politics, as a rule, and you never asked a woman over 30 her age. But as journalists, we had to forget these rules, and we used to have to ask what I saw as tough questions, which you always kept until last. For Jeffrey Archer, the tough question I had to ask was, “How much money do you earn from your writing?”

He laughed and told me he had no idea. I don’t believe that for a moment, but he qualified it with some good material for my story. This is not the exact quotation, as unfortunately, I no longer have the clipping, but he answered something like this: “Let’s just put it this way. I have enough money to go anywhere I want to and to buy anything I want without having to check if there is enough money in my bank account.” He told me he had Louis Vuitton luggage, which was very impressive. He also told me that the sole reason he had started writing his first novel, Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less, was because he desperately needed money to stop himself going bankrupt.

One’s manservant has the pen

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch.

Archer signs books in Bangalore, India, 2009. Picture: Mike Lynch

Another thing that has changed in journalism is that, in those days, you would never ask a celebrity for their autograph if you were a professional reporter. You would never show that you were “star struck”. This is the one time I broke the rules: I asked Jeffrey Archer if he would sign my paperback review copy of his book First Among Equals, which was what he was in New Zealand to publicise. He agreed, then held up his right arm with palm outstretched. Immediately, the “manservant” took a pen from his pocket and placed it in Archer’s hand. Archer signed the book, and handed the pen back to the assistant. I still have that signed paperback: you can see Archer’s signature and find out what happened to my copy of the book here.

I say “manservant”, because in New Zealand, we had nowhere like as rigid or apparent a class system as existed in England. No one else I knew or had interviewed had ever had someone else to carry their pen for them, including the then-Prime Minister, David Lange, who I met at the Beehive (as the Parliament Buildings executive area is known) in Wellington in the 1980s. Well, whatever the real reason the assistant had the pen, it makes a good story and is something that has stuck in my memory all these years.

Spooky little Monday morning

All year, I’ve been promising myself that one Monday, I would lie in bed until lunchtime, reading a book and thumbing my nose at the workaday world that normally rules my life.

Today, I did just that.

In an instant, my cat Lucy Locket—a main-chancer as all her species are—was up on the bed and ready for a daytime nap. Even the flash of the camera didn’t dissuade her. She was staying put for the morning too! I laughed when I saw this picture with the ghostly eyes—my spooky little cat was born on Halloween, so it’s her seventh birthday on Thursday.

Halloween birthday girl-to-be Lucy Locket gets spooky on Monday morning.  Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

Halloween birthday girl-to-be Lucy Locket gets spooky on Monday morning.
Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

And I did read away the rest of the morning. I’ve always loved lying on my bed and reading, since I was a small child. There’s something enormously decadent about it—yet you feel smug that you’re not wasting time, because you’re engaged with literature, after all.

What I’m reading though—oh my! It’s the wonderful novel The Luminaries, which has just won the Man Booker Prize for its 28-year-old writer, my compatriot Eleanor Catton. (I will write more on The Luminaries in a separate post when I’ve finished it).

For now, I am lost in this story set in and around the goldfields of New Zealand’s South Island in the 1860s.

While I’m reading, and the rain is falling gently outside, and the cat snuggles closer, the rest of the world has slipped away.

Nintendo president reveals why he doesn’t believe in staff cuts

I wish more businesses would take the Nintendo approach. Thanks to RocketNews 24 for this post.

SoraNews24 -Japan News-

NES-controllerDuring a Q&A session at The 73rd Annual General Meeting of Shareholders, Nintendo President, Satoru Iwata, announced that he doesn’t believe in staff layoffs or downsizing during periods of economic difficulty. Particularly outside of Japan, it is not unusual for employees in the game industry to be faced with redundancies as part of business restructuring. However, while there are many possible reasons why a company may need to shed some weight, Mr. Iwata emphasised that he is strongly against such an approach.

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Position vacant: journalist. (Journalists need not apply)

I came across a job advertised online this week in which a website for sports fans was seeking a journalist to write for it. Read on, though, and you are told the successful candidate “WON’T have any professional journalism experience or qualifications” (my emphasis).

Yet, in another paragraph, it says the successful candidate is  probably already doing this journalism in their “free time”. If you get the job, you will “Write articles, generate discussion, host forums and use the…platform to grow your online following and generate copious amounts of discussion around a topic we all love. SPORT.”

To me, all those things constitute journalism in some of its many and varied forms today. What they really mean is that you must never have been paid to write. Pity if you’ve had to make a living in the meantime—but I digress.

The great irony is that this job pays—not much, but $10,000-$20,000 a year “OTE” (which, as I’ve discovered after seeing it in several job ads, means “on target earnings”, traditionally used for sales positions as a guide for what the company thinks you might be able to make).

Given that you’re never to have been paid for any journalism, wouldn’t the first story you wrote for the sports website actually then preclude you from continuing with the job? Anyway, it would disqualify you from getting another such job, since you are now a professional journalist.

I agree that in the digital world, you don’t necessarily have to have trained and been paid as a journalist or to have formal qualifications in journalism to practise journalism. There are many great aspects of citizen journalism that I like—and certainly, it cannot be ignored.

But I wonder what it is about journalists or people who have studied journalism that this company so dreads? They have a very old fashioned idea of what a journalist is or is not: these days, the term “journalist” has a very broad application, and can’t be easily delineated.

And what is “professional journalism”? For example, if you write a blog and you get free tickets to a concert, or a free book or meal for review, technically, you are being paid for writing. Does that mean a blogger who has accepted one freebie couldn’t apply for the aforementioned job?

What nonsense.

Journalists are among the most adaptable people I know. If the job requires them to write like a fan, they’ll write like a fan. You CAN be a sports fan…and one of those dratted  journalists, too, amazingly.

The sad case of Margaret Mary, professor of the working poor

gownWho are the “working poor”? They’re not who you might think.  Well, they are, but in addition to the stereotypical image—a person working in drudgery at a lowly paid and insecure non-skilled job with no hope of dragging themselves out of it—is another, largely forgotten by governments and media alike.

The hidden working poor in western countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the US, include some of our most highly skilled, highly educated professionals. One of those professions is tertiary education. You probably don’t realise that more than 50%—and in some cases up to 75%—of the academic staff at the uni you or your children study at are paid on hourly rates for what is clearly not a casual job, and for little more than half the year.

On paper, the hourly rates look quite good. But not if you factor in actual hours worked, the high amount of extra unpaid work required, the fact that you don’t get paid if you are sick or have to take any other leave, or if your rostered hours fall on a public holiday, that you receive no holiday pay, no security, and that employment is available for only 30 weeks or less a year. I know all about this, because I’m one of them; for six years, my primary employment has been as an academic on sessional or short-term contracts.

This post was inspired by a very sad story this week, posted by my friend Jane on Facebook. “Death of an adjunct”, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on September 18, told of Margaret Mary Vojtko, who worked as an “adjunct professor” (a “sessional academic” in Australia) of French at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania for 25 years.

She was being treated for cancer and had huge medical bills. She was penniless and mortified about being in such reduced circumstances that protective services authorities had threatened to take her into care. She died on September 1 at the age of 83, after a heart attack.

She had recently been fired from her job, and when she was contacted by Adult Protective Services demanding she meet them to discuss her dire situation, she called Daniel Kovalik to intervene. He is the senior associate general counsel for the United Steelworkers union (more about that below).  Kovalik wrote her story for the Post Gazette, and I’ll let him continue here:

“I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, ‘She was a professor?’ I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

“Of course, what the caseworker didn’t understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course. Adjuncts now make up well over 50 per cent of the faculty at colleges and universities…”

Kovalik says the most she could earn, when teaching three classes a semester and two over summer, earned her less than $25,000 a year net, with no health care benefits. Then she became ill and had to cut back on classes, earning less than $10,000 a year. She could no longer afford electricity. Kovalik continues:

“She therefore took to working at an Eat’n Park at night and then trying to catch some sleep during the day at her office at Duquesne. When this was discovered by the university, the police were called in to eject her from her office. Still, despite her cancer and her poverty, she never missed a day of class.

“Finally, in the spring, she was let go by the university, which told her she was no longer effective as an instructor — despite many glowing evaluations from students.”

If you want to read more about Margaret Mary, there’s a link to Kovalik’s story here.

Now, Duquesne University is the largest Catholic University in Pennsylvania and has 10,000 students. On its website, Duquesne says its staff “are the catalyst behind the University’s growth and prosperity. The University’s remarkable advances in higher education, technology and research are a testament to their hard work and drive.”

I think of Margaret Mary and know there is something wrong with those website claims. A line from Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Her story went viral this week, and a follow-up on Inside Higher Ed explains that when Duquesne adjuncts voted to join the United Steelworkers Union last year, they were blocked by legal action taken by the university on the grounds it should be exempt from labour laws because it was a religious organisation.

In Australia, there are many people in the same situation as Margaret Mary. Every year in November, tens of thousands of academics across Australia brace themselves for the long, lean times ahead with no pay at all until the semester starts again at the end of February or beginning of March—and that’s if they get a job at all. They often don’t know until a couple of weeks or even days before the semester starts. Mid-year, it’s the same, though not as long a break.

Some find casual jobs working at supermarkets or homeware superstores, waiting tables, or perhaps the very lucky ones might get some shifts at a book shop. Many just hunker down for the lean summer months—at least they won’t have to pay for heating—and wish away their well-deserved break.

Of course, academia is not the only area of mass casualisation. I use it as a case study to point out this growing problem of “working poor”. It is short sighted in the extreme: it means so many more people in the future will be reliant on welfare to survive. Or, they will just work until they die.

This is particularly so of single people who don’t have any other person’s income to help with expenses or to cover the lean times. Over the last few weeks, I have been talking to several of my friends, women in their 40s and 50s, who are terrified of what their financial future holds because they can’t find a permanent job.

The New Zealand Listener magazine this year focused on this mass casualisation in a story about “the rise of the precariat class and the end of the golden era of work” (by Karl du Fresne, May 18-24, 2013). The term “precariat”, a portmanteau of “precarious proletariat”, was coined by the British economist Guy Standing in his book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (2011). Initially, it referred to people in unskilled casual jobs, with little education and no prospects. The article, which you can read here, said that in New Zealand—and I’m widening that to Australia as well—the term had morphed to include many well educated people in skilled jobs and professions.

Those in the precariat, according to the article, include accountants, air crew, government employees, and educators at all levels from pre-school teachers to university lecturers.

We will probably never go back to the era when a job meant full-time employment and entitlements. But as a society, we need to think more deeply about sustainable patterns of work and employment.  What we have at the moment is just not good enough.

Writer’s Diary #6: How to finish your novel: ditch the to-do list

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.17.44 AMWe’re constantly thinking up new things we want or need to do, adding them to the never-ending list, then moaning about never having time to do them. If you are a writer, you probably complain that so many things get in the way to thwart you that you will never finish your novel.

The answer? Don’t have a list! Obviously, it’s good to have goals, but when you have so many that you’ll never have any hope of achieving them, it’s counter-productive. Often you have so much to do, you don’t know where to start.

So, the idea is, only put on your list what you can reasonably achieve.

In one weekend, no matter how enthusiastic you are at the start, you will not be able to clean out the cupboards, start your novel, read a whole book and go to the movies. Pick one and do it. Then you’ll be happy you achieved your goal, and you won’t be disappointed in yourself for not finishing four other things on the list.

Sometimes one day at a time is better than making five-year plans.

I’ve got a long-term to-do list that has been the same for about five years. I never cross anything off it, because I never get to it. So it’s always lurking there on my virtual computer sticky notes, reminding me what a disappointment I am to myself and others. I’m going to get rid of this list soon.

I gave away superfluous clothes from my wardrobe recently. Two big bags full, so now I can find the clothes I wear. The clothes that went to charity were all things I thought I’d wear again. But I haven’t, so out they went, except for a few classics.

So now I want to take the same philosophy to my to-do list. I have to realise that I am not going to be able to write 10 more novels in the foreseeable future—and probably not ever. But I think I might be able to write one, and possibly two or three. So I should just pick my top three ideas and forget about the others. I’ve started all three of them anyway. Yes, I know. I should choose one and go for it. Actually, I’ve got a new idea that I think would be great and for which I could happily put all others aside for a year.

I’m making a new plan to finish my third book and to have it published. To do that, I will have to put all other things aside, particularly to-do lists, though unless I am successful in attaining a government grant, I won’t be able to give up paid employment. Still, eligible applicants have about a one in 10 chance of getting a grant in my category, so it’s better odds than buying a Lotto ticket.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.27.07 AM

Peacetime at home

Even if you can't afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

Even if you can’t afford a trip to a beach like this at Phuket, Thailand, you can still take a vacation at home. Painting in PanPastels on board, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

This post is written in response to Kozo’s June Peace Challenge at Everyday Gurus, to write about maintaining peace at home.

In our hectic lives when every minute of the waking day seems to be filled with work, chores, to-do lists and regrets about so few items on those lists we’ve crossed off,  sometimes we forget that relentlessly, every minute, time is passing us by.

We often neglect relationships with the people closest to us in the pursuit of making those very people’s lives better: trying to make more money to buy them more things, trying to achieve what we suppose are life’s goals.

Yet on our death beds, we will never be glad we made more money, spent more hours working, bought more stuff or cleaned the house more often. We might, however, regret not spending more time on just being with those we love, listening to them and facilitating peace between us.

It’s so important to replenish, rejuvenate and find a sense of joy and peace in our lives, without feeling guilty for taking time out.

I’ve compiled a list of six things I think are important to promote a sense of well being, peace and inner health: I am not saying I follow these things all the time. Too often, I too forget that the world won’t collapse if I don’t meet a deadline.

1. Recycle some stuff you don’t need. There’s something cathartic about de-cluttering your house, and even better if that stuff can go to a good cause and your trash can be someone else’s treasure.

2. Read inspiring novels. Great books teach us empathy, something that is sorely missing in this society that sees angry people constantly tooting horns, pushing in front of each other, and discriminating against their fellow people. Read the classics: anything by Charles Dickens or Elizabeth Gaskell, or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; read recent novels—anything by Mitch Albom, for example; read historical novels such as March by Geraldine Brooks.

3. Take a vacation, or holiday, as we call it in Australia. Of course, not everyone can afford to actually go away on vacation to an exotic tropical beach, but you could take a holiday at home, even if it’s only over a weekend. A holiday at home means you vow to do no work—not even housework—on those days; it means the majority of every day is relaxing and enjoyable—read a book, watch a movie with your family, make a picnic lunch, lie in bed reading the newspaper.

4. Be a tourist in your own city, and visit the art galleries, museums, or other places of culture you’ve been meaning to see. Go to a live theatre show, particularly if you’ve never been to one before. Small, independent theatre companies desperately need your support and can often be surprisingly affordable.

5. Contact a friend you’ve been neglecting because you’re always too busy. If we don’t keep working at friendships, they are in danger of fading away. And even if this is the sort of person you know you could pick up with again at any time, it’s sad to get out of touch and miss the events, big and small, that are important in each other’s lives.

6. Go for a walk and get to know your neighbourhood. We spend so much time at our computers, in our cars, sitting in the train or bus, that we forget to walk. I walk most days, and often towards dusk, I pass an elderly Greek couple sitting on the veranda of their neat-as-a-pin house overlooking their carefully tended garden. We nod and chat now, even though our conversations are limited by a language barrier. But no matter, we mean each other well. On another street, there’s an old black and white cat who suns himself every afternoon on the warm concrete path outside the apartment where he lives. Then there’s an old man who looks about 90, who rides an ancient bicycle to and from the shops every day. There are all sorts of modes of transport round our neigbourhood: the other day, I saw a young man casually riding a unicycle along the street. Every day, I notice something I have never seen before.

For more on establishing and maintaining a peaceful home, check out blogger Julianne Victoria’s inspirations at Through the Peacock’s Eyes, and to discover what ducks have to do with peace, see the blog My Little Spacebook.