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32. Listen carefully.
Every collaborator who enters our orbit brings with him or her a world more strange and complex than any we could ever hope to imagine. By listening to the details and the subtlety of their needs, desires, or ambitions, we fold their world onto our own. Neither party will ever be the same.
Blogging, it turns out, is a pastime fraught with peril.
As the reader is probably aware, this blog was born of a unique blend of boredom, frustration and too much time. Like many things I’ve started, it was a relatively an ill-considered venture, probably begun in the early hours of dawn and possibly whilst under the influence of a pre-hangover high.
Since the birth of my blog, and amidst a tight-knit pack of devoted readers (Kirsty, I know you’re reading this), I had an attack of Blogger’s Block.
For those of you who have not yet fallen prey to the promise of a free blog account, Blogger’s Block is what happens when you think you have something to say, then find out you don’t have enough time to say it.
In my case, Blogger’s block, was exasperated by the birth of a business and the vacuum it created in all the free time left over from toddler-wrangling and devoted wife-ing *cough cough*.
So what brings me back, you might ask?
In this case it’s a unique blend of stimuli. You see, in the intervening months, my blogging career hasn’t just gone cold. Rather, I’ve taken a more behind-the-scenes role in the world of blogging. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve actually been hard at work in another accidental blogging adventure, Secrets of Fatherhood.
Amid a heavy-handed dab of artistic license, readers of Secrets of Fatherhood may recognise my cameo appearances on couches, in birthing stories and some of the more excited fantasies of the blog’s blogger (who at this point still refuses the title of author or writer).
Once the novelty of having my life blogged again wore off, the reality of such fame set in. Minor inconsistencies in my new, online character began to appear. I noticed that my new online persona had been using my iPhone for explicit photos, and seemed to be caught in some altered reality, pre-, mid and post-baby bearing.
So finally, one morning at 3am, the misgivings of a muse woke me.
I lay pondering the eleven unwritten (Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth totals 43 statements) blogs in my writing future.
Then it hit me: 32 – Listen Carefully. Which is the very thing I’ve been doing since I last blogged. The very thing my marketing clients pay me for.
Because what you hear, is not often what you expect to hear.
After several months of listening, it seems I have my blogging mojo back. Thank you, Bruce.
31. Don’t borrow money.
Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.
A word before you start…
This project began as a response to Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto, as a designer. But it quickly morphed into a writer’s exercise. On returning after a six month break, I find it has taken another step.
Although this is even further from Mau’s original intention, it’s even closer to me as a writer.
And now the story…
Amy stares at her hands. The unforgiving flicker of fluorescent light picks out their blotchy appearance, painting them a sickly shade of green. It’s how she feels, right down to the creeping cold that numbs her fingertips.
A nearby rattle of change makes her glance up quickly. “You got a dollar, Mate? Me and m’ mates are trying to get enough for a burger between us.”
Amy watches greedily as the guy in the business suit gropes in his pocket and drops a few coins into the outstretched hand of the fidgeting youth. The coins clink, and both turn away, relieved, transaction complete.
From the corner of her eye she observes. The youth saunters past, returning triumphant to his cohorts. She is careful to avoid eye contact, or any clue that she sees him. It’s one of the rules she’s learning in this alien environment.
He drops the coins into a pocket and the satisfying clatter of a heavy purse can be faintly heard. “Reckon that’s enough for a Bundy!” he crows.
Alone, on her bone-chilling step, Amy feels the heat of embarrassment warm her face despite the July chill. She tries not to think of the dollar she dropped into that hand half an hour ago, nor calculate the percentage it represents of her total wealth. Another lesson learned on this cold night. She huddles deeper into the faux fur trim of the vinyl jacket, wishing she’d thought to grab a scarf in her enraged exit.
Around her, the Brisbane Queen Street Mall sulks in the Winter air. Like any Brisbane native, it seems rudely shocked at any interruption of summer, and bitterly unprepared for sub 20 degree temperatures.
Amy huddles deeper in her vinyl cocoon, trying to shut the cold, the discomfort, the uncertainty out, without compromising her heightened awareness of every passerby. She is exhausted from the simple act of trying to remain invisible on a street of drunks and uninhibited urchins. She feels every set of eyes, like daggers and is intent on remaining unremarkable. Even her shivers are muted, lest the movement attracts attention.
A police constable stops in front of her. His mouth opens to move her along but his youthful eyes betray concern. They both know it’s an offence to loiter here, on the garden edge below the Mall Police Beat sign, but they both know the risk is worth the slight protection it brings. She stares back biting her lip, waiting for the order to move. He sighs and moves away, leaving her in the renewed misery of another’s acknowledgement of her hopeless plight.
The unnoticed approach of the speaker makes her jump. He is standing within metres, fully aware of her, and awaiting a response.
“Are you, er, hungry?” he continues.
“No thank you” she returns, willing a detached coolness to her voice amid the thunder of blood pounding in her ears.
The man sits, a careful metre away from her on the garden edge. She notices the cold bite through the material of his suit pants, and the involuntary grimace it brings to his face. Although she keeps her face carefully averted, eyes staring nonchalantly forward, scanning the mall, as though expecting someone.
The scrape of a lighter causes her attention to flicker towards him. Her disloyal gaze lingers too long on the cigarette in his hand, the smell of nicotine tugging at her senses. It’s a strategic error, a sign of engagement, and a clue of her true weakness.
He offers the packet. It spans the safe distance between them, calling to her like the forbidden fruit. There is a momentary struggle within, the instinctive will to remain aloof battles with the bodily desire to inhale. Her traitorous hand reaches out.
The lighter sparks, smoke curls in the wintry air and the two smokers inhale in silence.
The glow of nicotine warms her limbs, the unexpected cigarette thaws her cool and the kindness of a stranger loosens some of her wariness. They chat, the careful chatter of strangers not wanting to engage, not wanting to pry.
After a while he stands. “Look, I know you don’t know me, I don’t know you. But it’s obvious you don’t have anywhere to go tonight.”
His candor catches her offgaurd. She begins a desperate protest, vainly trying to invent a story with someone to meet, somewhere to go.
“Hey, it’s okay…” He hold his hands up to soothe her outburst.
“All I’m saying is, I have a room in town tonight, and you’re welcome to crash. Nothing funny, just one person offering another a hand,” he finishes quickly.
Amy tries to ignore the cold, the exhaustion, the mental fatigue of remaining constantly alert. She searches for an answer, something polite, something definite, something sensible.
“Okay.” It’s the response of a half-frozen kid aching for a soft bed, not a 19 year old girl facing the night alone in a hotel room with an unknown guy.
As they walk past the Police Beat door, the young constable meets her eye. The concern fades, replaced by something else, unreadable. She turns away, pretending not to understand, pretending that she hasn’t just made a deal, that she hasn’t just borrowed something that requires a return payment.
30. Organization = Liberty.
Real innovation in design, or any other field, happens in context. That context is usually some form of cooperatively managed enterprise. Frank Gehry, for instance, is only able to realize Bilbao because his studio can deliver it on budget. The myth of a split between “creatives” and “suits” is what Leonard Cohen calls a ‘charming artifact of the past.’
Too late, I realise that nine months of romantic notions of motherhood are poor preparation for the first few hours of the real thing.
Leo is born at 1.18am on a Friday morning. The first two hours of his life are a blur in my memory. The memories are like polaroids in a washing machine. I have vivid images burned into my mind, but the feats of labour and childbirth have distorted all sense of time, continuity and reason. For the frst time I am happy to defer to my husband’s recollection of events. Around 4.30am he leaves the two of us. Both of us swaddled side-by-side in the hospital garb of our new positions in the world, and asleep before he can close the door to our room.
Once, I am vaguely aware of the light hands of a nurse, measuring my blood pressure, but she makes no real attempt at conversation, so I ignore her, roll one eye towards the peaceful bundle in his crib beside me and endeavour to remain asleep.
“Hell-ooooo…… are you awake?”
My eyelids open before my brain has time to engage and I stare catatonically at the apparition standing at the foot of my bed in the dim morning light. I feel the creases from the sheets on my face and the sandpaper of eyelids that blur my vision with each blink.
The figure waves excitedly and begins to speak. My groggy vision clears and I stare past the speaker at the wall clock. 6:30am. It means so much and yet nothing.
“How are you love?”
Something about the question tugs at me. I offer my arm for the nurse to take my blood pressure, waving at the history clipped to the bottom of my bed.
“It’s all in there if you want to read it.”
Yes, almost twenty hours of induced labour, the curtain raiser to my motherhood, neatly reduced to vital statistics and drug dosages.
“He’s beautiful, Love.”
The empathy of the statement reaches into my stupor. My mother-in-law bends over the crib, rearranging the blanket, touching the tiny face, squeezing the minute finger that clasps the wrap. Her deft movements prick my attention, and I am suddenly aware of an urge to shield my son against any intrusion. As if in response to the thought, he nestles against his wrappings and utters a tiny, newborn squeak.
And thus begins Day One. After my mother-in-law, there is a nurse to check on us, followed by a breakfast tray, tea lady and newspaper delivery. A midwife then helps me to the bathroom, to shower, get dressed, sag back into fresh sheets and begin the clumsy process of breastfeeding. I feel like a fish trying to play guitar and wonder how dogs, cats and horses manage without a midwife standing at their shoulder and repositioning their nipples. By ten o-clock my husband returns, looking irritatingly refreshed and bearing a list of eager visitors. I resist the urge to lock the door and pull down the shades. We are moved to a new room in a procession of bags, flowers, sleeping baby, hobbling mother and grinning father.
The unstoppable hustle and bustle of matronly hospital routine is the curtain-raiser for the next 20 years of motherhood. I don’t know it now, but this force of organisation will become the backbone of our tentative steps as new parents.
But here, at it’s inception, I am too dazed from lack of sleep and my mixed pharmaceutical cocktail of labour-inducers to begin to imagine where Liberty might be found.
This post is different.
Firstly, it does not follow the rules I imposed on this blog at the beginning: it was not written on a work day, it has no conscious structure and it has even less to do with design than any of the 30 preceeding it. Secondly, it wrote itself. I had no intention of writing it until I went to send a brief thank-you to two beautiful friends for sharing a remarkable video on Facebook. I have included the video link at the bottom as a reference for my wonder.
As you may know, we ran the Finding the Flow workshop last weekend, and to tell you the truth it shook me up quite a bit. It stirred up the silt of my depression, which has swirled around me this past week. Two days ago I had a “bad” day, my first in a long time. All of my negativity, depression, anger, frustration rose up and threatened to swallow me whole. In the middle of it I cursed God and told him to prove himself to me or fuck off and take everything.
Then I laid out my cycling gear for the first time in three weeks, set my alarm clock and fell asleep.
I woke half an hour before my alarm, and spent the extra time staring at Adam’s back and the view of the dawn rising over the hill opposite our house. On the way out of the house, my three year old son, Leo came over to me, sleep befuddled, hugged me and told me to have “a wonderful ride”. Which I did. I followed a rainbow between two rain fronts and got only the lightest of sprays on me, despite the rain still streaming off the road in front of me.
My day rolled easily out before me in a series of touching encounters. With my kids, with Adam, with the mother of a professional athlete who empathised with me when Leo ran 200 metres down the street with me trying to catch him, with my Mother, and my Sister. And with Truffles, a random echidna who touched noses with me, which was golden thanks for pulling a paralysis tick of him/her the day before.
And that night we went to a party we were dreading to find several people we already knew, and who knew people we knew and we had a really great time. I invited the neighbours to come see our Christmas tree when it arrives and one shyly asked me if I might leave one little decoration unhung for her to put up as they are not getting a tree. They showed us the open heart of where we live and how beautiful it is to live among ordinary people.
This morning I awoke with the strange enthuisiasm for life that hangovers bless me with. And I gardened with the kids, delighting in simple things like hunting borers in the hedge and finding a dead snake full of blow flies. Which is fascinating stuff when you are almost two, or three, or thirty-one.
Then the three of us took turns to persuade Dad out of his hibernation in the cave of his office. We applied cups of tea and helping hands as he fixed the bikes for us. The the three of us were on our best behaviour as we set of for our first family bike ride together. We let him go first, tell us what to do, what not to do and change his mind as often as he liked. And we loved it.
We rode one and a half kilometres, like ducklings in a line, without straying, swearing or arguing once. Then we found excellent gluten-free grilled fish with chips to eat in view of the river. And carrot cake. Sophia waved shyly at a curly-haired boy her age and I caught a glimpse of the woman she will become in the blush that tinged her cheeks when he waved back.
Our duckling line wove, laughing, along the path behind Dad on the way back and we waved cheekily to the pelicans standing like judges at the waters edge. Even the rain waited for the last belt buckle to clip before bursting out of the sky like an answer to my wishes for a clean car.
And would you believe, we even sang on the way home? Like that Austrian family in the Sound of Music, but without the Alps, the tune or the talent. Just a postcard glow in the heart, that more than makes up for talent, which I hear is cheap anyway.
And what finds me at home but sleeping kids, a cricket-satiated husband and a list of beautiful, inspirational friends sharing wonder through the ether of the internet.
As my heart swells to bursting, I am moved to write my thanks. About gratitude for my life and an answer from a God I cursed. An answer that says, we are all connected and your happiness in life ripples with the power to change the world.
(You see, it begins there, then ripples out into the world as a vibration of gratitude for a beautiful life.)
Here is the video in which I received my unexpected answer.
Feel free to keep the ripples going.