Behind the masks

College started back again this week, and I was a bit flummoxed as to what my reflections might be today. I have stewed about writing it for days, then I realised that this selfie pic, of my massage course colleagues and me wearing Covid-19 face masks that featured my own artwork from my Redbubble store, might be inspirational.

Masks to be CovidSafe

As I had suspected, in the first few minutes of our new term, we had to focus on the new government and College requirements to keep our workspace CovidSafe – strict, new procedures for fetching and returning patient files, using PPE (personal protection equipment) correctly, appropriate physical distancing, etc – on top of the stress of moving from therapeutical to more remedial massage treatments in the Clinic sessions. The Monday and Tuesday train rides into the city were eerily quiet. My standing-room only express trains have been so empty, and yet a different trip on Friday, in the middle of the day, saw all of the socially-distant seating occupied. My masks are coming in handy, although as yet they are not compulsory.

I mentioned in a previous blog entry that I am struggling – as are most of the world’s population in this Bizarro World of the pandemic – and it is usual for me to feel this way for an extended period. I have recently made concerted efforts to reach out to a range of friends, relatives and acquaintances, with very mixed results. A lot of them are struggling, too. At the same time, I have been the sounding board for other contacts, who seem to be coping less-successfully than I am. So I am buoyed in the knowledge that I am not alone, but the extended periods of alone-time are daunting. More time for the voices in my head to interfere in my day. I am also aware that those not reaching out may also be in need. I am sure I have developed a phobia to using the telephone. The home line, which changed numbers when the National Broadband Network came, rarely rings. Magically the “junk” cold calls have also stopped. Somehow, they never found my new number? And recently many of those cold callers seem to have lost their jobs, although I always assumed they worked from home? Maybe not.

As the “second wave” attempts to take hold in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria, the debate rages about the effectiveness of face masks, so the ones I ordered for myself (and friends) from Redbubble, may became even more important if the virus keeps leaking into New South Wales. But I am struck by the irony that I seem to wear several masks that are not made of fabric. Very different times, for sure.

One year ago this week…

Facebook reminded me this week that my Diploma of Remedial Massage course at Endeavour College started one year ago. A four-term, one-year course that turned into five terms, as we spent the second term doing lots of the online subjects (that are normally evenly distributed throughout), while we waited for more students to do their Term 1, then combine the two groups to form one class.

Palpation

Unfortunately, that term did not run – and now we have just come from another term at home, due to the unanticipated delay created by the Coronavirus Pandemic lockdowns. We are now not scheduled to finish the course until the end of the year, but there is really only practical clinic sessions (and accompanying theory) to go. Frustrating, yes, but a comedy of errors that wasn’t really anyone’s fault. So we are just going with the flow. I am grateful not to be dependant on the delayed income from working as a massage therapist and the additional delay gives me more opportunity to consider my options for renovating the house to create clinic space.

Next week is the commencement of our delayed, penultimate term. First up we will be unpacking the latest updates for ensuring our space is – and remains – CovidSafe. A brave new world, and our “New Normal”, at least for the time being. Hopefully, Sydney continues to win the many battles. The recent return to lockdown for Melbourne reminds us all how tentative the situation still is.

I look forward to the next learning hurdles with some trepidation. I guess if I can palpate a human hair hidden under 16 sheets of newspaper, I can palpate a human client through disposable nitrile gloves…?

Grappling with Life After Lockdown

I have been struggling these last few weeks/months. As I have mentioned before, I do tend to be the Glass Half Full guy. In the current world pandemic situation, is is definitely getting harder to keep afloat, even though most of Australia has, seemingly, been making good progress.

None of us in Australia should be complaining too much – maybe my current negative feelings are more a product of Survivor Guilt. So many others in the rest of the world are dealing with situations far worse than us. I heard a theory a few months ago that, when singer David Bowie died, we were all propelled into an alternate timeline. As each month of 2020 has brought more new and unusual surprises – Australia’s horrendous bushfires, the awful smoke hazes, a drought (and water restrictions) that killed off any greenery that had not already been burnt… – that alternate timeline theory became more and more believable.

It was delightful to chat with a long-lost friend on the phone a few weeks ago; it really made my day to catch up with him after over 20 years, but I deliberately kept the first call short. I tend to talk way too much and I had this nagging thought that a brief conversation first might be wise after such a long time. But his followup emails of gossip and news have not been coming through to me. We have now had several more shortish calls trying to ascertain what was happening. His phone doesn’t receive texts, and emails seemed sensible. I’m trying not to be too paranoid, but he’s not the only one sending emails that apparently disappear into the void. With the prevalence of Junk Mail and phishing schemes in recent years, it is rare enough that I get many emails that I actually want to read (most of them are correspondences about online purchases these days). When you are really looking forward to an email – one that never comes, but supposedly was sent – it gets hugely frustrating. In my desperate searches, I have found a Social drawer, a Promotions drawer, a hidden email Junk drawer… So many places a stray, important email can hide.

Complicating matters, I had recently created a new Googlemail e-address because temporary codes to enter various sites were taking to long to arrive in my regular mail before expiring. When the new system asked if I wanted to copy across the full address book from my usual mailbox, it sounded a rather useful thing to do. What I actually managed was to let it pull across everything into the new, empty In-box. Now new emails come into one box, sit there a few minutes, then get whisked away to my new account. Sometimes they sit just long enough for a copy to come into my iPhone from the iCloud. While this accidental strategy has cut down on incoming email to my phone, the rest has to be checked manually via the laptop – and for both accounts. Do I really need more apps on the iPhone? I am hesitant to attempt to undo the transfers, but if mail keeps going missing, I will have to resolve this issue.

Several of my concerted efforts to make sure my life stays full and interesting into retirement have been unravelling. The “New Normal” we are having to expect and accept. My monthly writing group has to meet with Zoom, which is a totally different experience. Some benefits, but also some pitfalls, resulting in more preplanning. My literary agent is now semi-retired and no longer taking on any new children’s book manuscripts at all. (I can’t believe such a great advocate of mine is now essentially gone from my future plans. I really missed the boat with that, just as retirement had granted gave me the additional time to write – and rewrite.) The Young Adult novel manuscript still needs at least two more drafts before it is ready to show anyone.

But the old days of gregarious Star Trek clubs seem to be long gone, despite my best efforts to revive the local groups. The mainly US-based action figure collectors’ group, Playtrek, has, however, met twice by Zoom during the lockdowns. It was a fun way to lift everyone’s spirits.

PlaytrekFest on Zoom in June

My Diploma of Remedial Massage course has had to tread water with weekly Zoom lectures – where would we be without Zoom? – but the college has now exhausted all the remaining theory classes that can be converted to online modules. Most of the next two terms (extending our course, now, to an 18-month commitment instead of only one year) are highly practical Clinic sessions, requiring members of the general public booking in for remedial treatments. It is sounding like social distancing and full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are to be part of our New Normal. At this point, massaging through single-use nitrile gloves seems almost incompatible with using my newfound palpation skills. I know it’ll be possible – and is mandatory – but I do feel that some clients might have to be in considerable pain before they seek out a massage from gloved hands.

My doctor once asked how I was feeling (about a year before I retired) and I told him I was worried I was becoming depressed and he said, “You’re not depressed, you’re just lonely”. That line has given me much to think about. So many things were happening that were cutting me off from my reliable positivity networks, and several more were about to be lost (or at least strained) due to retirement. I was hating that I was getting invitations to funerals, but hearing about other gatherings after they had happened. I know other doctors who probably would have written a prescription on the spot, not that I was asking for one. I think he was probably right. I am trying to monitor the situation and firm up some networks, but building a new friend network is something that gets harder each decade, I think.

Online friendships are good, but different, and no replacement for what I am needing at the moment. The best thing about Facebook, for example, is its immediacy. Several of my penpals have become Facebook buddies, meaning the wait times between letters is greatly reduced. Especially now that interstate and international snail mail services have become so unreliable. I recently reconceived the Instagram account I set up (then ignored) years ago, and it is finally pulling some interest. I am digging up some old pics of various vacations. My Andorian Sock Monkey travel buddy is quite a drawcard, although a dedicated Facebook page for him, created a few years ago, received no traction at all.

Spinning globe in the Daily Planet building

I suspect I am not the only person feeling a cut off from reality in this New Normal of social distancing. Remember that line people used to put in autograph books? “Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.”

Hopefully the “old” is not too tarnished, eh? Wish me luck.

Good sport?

Today I took a brave first step towards future career-based networking. Simultaneously, I hope to renew my progress in attempting to lose some body mass and improve my flexibility. Diets and brisk walks around the block no longer seem to produce the dramatic effects I was experiencing in the 90s and 00s. So I have consulted with a professional personal trainer, whom I met last year while completing our mandatory one-day First Aid course.

I was able to relate the following anecdote concerning my introduction to secondary school sport:

One of the organisational things we had to do in those first days at high school in 1971 was to select a Sport, that we would be committed to every Tuesday afternoon. These were the times of 14- and 15-week school terms. I had never enjoyed class and house sport at primary school very much, and the thought of our high school choices – all of which required travelling away from the school for an afternoon – was really not appealing to me in any way. None of the possibilities on the list excited me. Ten-Pin Bowling and Ice-Skating were highly coveted – but way too popular – thus most places were reserved for those students who had participated in an Interschool team the previous term. That was never going to be me. I played it safe, choosing Tennis Coaching for Term 1 and Baseball for Term 2. (We didn’t have to choose Term 3 yet, but another rule was that no sport could be played two terms in a row. I figured Tennis Coaching was going to be tolerable, mainly because we would be taught the skills from scratch. I could even borrow Dad’s old tennis racket. A bus would be taking us to the courts and back, thus filling up most of the afternoon.

But my plans ground to a halt: my next six weeks of Term 1, I was confined to bed. I had been at high school for precisely one and a half days when I was diagnosed with (what was then known as) Infectious Hepatitis (later just “Hep A”). The remainder of that term was spent nursing my recovering liver in “Non Sport” (with all the students on sport detention, those with notes from their mothers, those who had managed to miss the bus, and those who had forgotten their sports gear). Luckily for me, the students with medical exemptions didn’t have to write our lines or multiplication tables.

Then came Term 2. I realised I could negotiate to do Tennis Coaching instead of the Baseball that I had been dreading. (So long as we didn’t do the same sport twice in a row.) Tennis Coaching was tolerable. The coach began calling me “Rod Laver”, which he thought was highly amusing.* The only extent of my resemblance to Rod Laver was my left-handedness; certainly not my undiscovered natural ability at performing amazing tennis moves. It would be a few more years before I realised who our coach actually was: a rather prominent referee in the world of professional tennis.

[* I should point out, through the lens of hindsight, this teasing by the coach might seem like bullying. It would definitely not be acceptable today. However, it never felt like malice at the time -and I don’t think the coach could believe that I kept bouncing back for more every second term. But I am still hopeless at all sports.]

Bonus Circle Whatcoulditbe

Term 3 dragged itself along along and we had to select a new sport. Baseball wasn’t on offer as a Summer sport, of course, so the only other tolerable option seemed to be… Athletics. Ugh. We could walk to this venue and the teacher, who turned out to be the young art teacher who liked us to use his Christian name. He had begun his first year in teaching alongside the rest of the newbies. Coincidentally, he was also my Roll Call teacher that year. (He departed teaching after that one year; it would be a few more decades before I realised whom he would eventually become: a rather prominent identity in the professional art world, with numerous works on permanent exhibition in Australian and international galleries. Wow!)

Our Athletics teacher’s concept of athletics was definitely at odds with his artistic vision, so his seeming disinterest in sport probably suited “the nerds”, “the shirkers” and “the smokers” perfectly. And equally. A typical Term 3 afternoon consisted of “the athletes” sitting on the grass, in the shade of a large tree, surrounded by sporting equipment. The older students lit up their cigarettes* and the rest of us pulled at tufts of grass as we gossiped about whatever crossed our minds. A few played cards, probably for money. Our only random interruption was when someone would spot the sportsmaster strolling towards us with his checklist. 



“Quick, everyone,” a voice would say, “Grab something and look busy.”

Suddenly, everyone was stubbing out butts, weighing up a shot-put in their hands, hefting a javelin, swinging a discus back and forth, dangerously close to others, or doing some halfhearted pushups. (The sportsmaster himself was already a rather prominent professional rugby union and rugby league player; I don’t think we fooled him one bit, but at least he didn’t bawl us out or put us on a detention list.) As the sportsmaster climbed back into his car, shaking his head sadly, we would returned to our spots under the shady tree. The cards and coins came back out. The cigarettes started glowing again. As you can appreciate, I was not setting any world on fire with my sporting prowess, and neither was anyone else.

[* Again, through the lens of hindsight, cigarettes in the secondary school environment came with some strange acceptances.]

The next year, Term 1 sport was no problem: I could safely go back to Tennis Coaching! Second time around didn’t improve my skills any, but it was a predictable option. One session was interrupted by an excursion to see one half of the movie David Copperfield – it had played with an unexpected Intermission, leading to us being taken back to school so the teachers could all be on their sports buses! I recall we actually missed the Tennis Coaching bus and had to walk all the way to the courts. It also set a precedent for the next year. Eventually the buses were cancelled and everyone had to make our way there on foot.

Term 2, of course, meant I could go back to Athletics! The art teacher had left at the end of the previous year. I presume he had to pay back his scholarship money to go back to his true calling. We turned up at the park. Our new mathematics teacher was dressed in appropriate sports gear instead of his familiar suit and tie. There was no equipment strewn on the grass. He soon put us to work, doing warmup stretches, pushups and back arches (which none of us could do). Then he schooled us in what we needed to know about breathing for our short sprints and then a longer jog. He took notes about our (lack of) ability in each activity. We were exhausted – and I hated it much as I hated any sport – but it was a contented type of exhaustion/hate that was both different and strangely comforting.

Something our maths teacher said made us ponder. We eventually checked out the school library’s copy of The Guinness Book of Records. In the Australian supplement at the back, there it was: Geoff J Smith was the Australian gold medal winner for the Decathlon at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. (So, strangely enough, all four of these sporting coaches from my school days ended up being famous.) We actually enjoyed turning up to Athletics each week, and were proud that Mr Smith was proud of us. At the end of that term we could all do many pushups, we could all make it around the block without getting a stitch, and we could all perform a perfect back arch. (I probably still can.) I have never been that fit ever again. I really am grateful for the boost to my self-esteem. The memories are still vivid decades later.

Term 3 was back to… yes! Tennis Coaching! I still wasn’t much better, and we held out for Term 1 of the next year, so we could get back to Athletics. We even made a hopeful delegation to Mr Smith: would be still be our Athletics teacher? I remember him saying, “They’ll probably put me on Tiddlywinks or something…”. Crazily, Mr Smith was moved on to another Sport. He ended up supervising one of the sports that only required students names being marked off. What a waste or human resources. You know, I can’t even remember who our new Athletics teacher was. The next time we had to choose a sport, a group of us ended up in a swimming group (that managed not to actually ever get wet). Then there was always Tennis Coaching in the alternate terms… until we negotiated to do just Tennis, without the coaching; that quasi-debacle consisted of a small group of us strolling to a tennis court a few suburbs away and whacking a ball over the net halfheartedly, only ever springing into serious play when we spotted the sportsmaster parking his car nearby.

Anyway, here’s hoping my next few weeks/months of physical activity results in a contented type of nostalgic exhaustion/hate that is simultaneously different and strangely comforting.

VARK learning styles

The VAK learning styles model* suggests that my preferred style of learning is “VISUAL”.

“Someone with a visual learning style has a preference for seen or observed things, including pictures, diagrams, demonstrations, displays, handouts, films, flipcharts, etc. These people will use phrases such as ‘show me’, ‘let’s have a look at that’ and will be best able to perform a new task after reading the instructions or watching someone else do it first. These are people who will work from lists and written directions and instructions.”



My results from the self-assessment questionnaire were: Visual 19, Auditory 6 and Kinesthetic 5. So quite convincingly “Visual”. (*In the VARK version of this model, an additional learning style is given as Reading/Writing.)

How would this impact upon the future professional development opportunities that I may seek to undertake?

The recent rise of online instructional videos (eg. on Youtube, etc) would be an efficient and cost-effective (sometimes free) professional development activity well-suited to my learning style. To this end, I have already begun ‘liking’ channels and practitioners that I find appealing or highly commended.

Recent changes enforced upon physical learning venues, due to Covid-19 lockdowns, have seen a huge jump in the uptake of conference software, such as Zoom, and I imagine the next few years will continue an exploration in its possibilities. I can see online conference facilities being useful for learning new skills, enhancing existing ones, building mentor relationships (both as mentee and mentor).

The various professional associations may well be moving more to audiovisual conferencing to satisfy the increasingly strict requirements (eg. social distancing) for a Covid-safe future, certainly as travel to interstate and overseas conferences continues to be unpredictable.



In my Business Plan assignment last year, I had established some goals for the next five years of a remedial massage therapy career. The ones relevant to planning for future Professional Development needs include:

• becoming certified in a new massage technique each year and add them to the treatment menu.

• continuing to network with other local massage and allied health professionals at professional development events.

• tracking referrals each month on a spreadsheet (online update of skills?)

• becoming certified in mindfulness techniques to complement the remedial massage therapies (ie. helping others to deal with post-traumatic stress, overcome sleep disturbance, reduce chronic pain and depression and rediscover their essential wholeness and resiliency).

An ideal week

The reflective task this week is to consider my typical weekly schedule and review/identify my “stress-combating” time and activities. Of course, my schedule in retirement is already far from the old “typical” – and in the current situation of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, it doesn’t resemble much of anything recognisable.

Last term, my college commitment required three weekdays (Mon-Fri) of early starts, on a peak-hour train into the city. The 50-minute ride provided a useful block of time for revising anatomy theory, or playing on Facebook, or some recreational reading. The return journey was usually more study time, followed by television watching and probably a little work on college assignments. I would often travel into the city again on the Thursday afternoon, coinciding with the arrival of new books at Galaxy Bookshop and new comics and collectibles at Kings Comics. This left Fridays and the weekend free, so walking around the block had become a positive habit for exercise Thurs-Sun. One Friday afternoon/evening per month is dedicated to a meeting of my writing group. There probably should be some time set aside for housework each week, but this usually resembles turning old piles of books and papers into new piles, and definitely needs a more disciplined approach. I have recently cleared out a four-drawer filing cabinet and made room for new things to file.

Towels

This term should have resembled last term, but the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions has seen my college commitment reduced to a weekly online Zoom each Thursday morning. (All practical Clinic sessions will be compressed into next term, covering the required time of two terms once lockdown ends.) Without the predictable 50-minute train rides, it is harder to make time for study, but I have tried to use this blog’s scheduling facility to have a reflective piece written and uploaded each Friday evening. A disciplined way to keep up with the online readings and force myself to continue being reflective. The Mon-Wed part of the week can vanish in the blink of an eye. Once the television goes on, it’s quite easy to waste the entire day multitasking on mindless TV viewing and Facebook frittering. Travelling into the city has only been possible in recent weeks and I have ventured in only three times so far. New comics at Kings Comics have only just started being imported again and, as their new shop set-up has been delayed by the mandated Covid restrictions and the building codes on a newly renovated shop it its heritage status. Luckily, I have been able to organise packages to be posted out. Daily walks around the block are now possible, but as the days grow colder and more inclement with the arrival of winter, this schedule has also been shaky. One Friday evening per month is now dedicated to a Zoom meeting with my writing group, and this new way of meeting has been quite popular.

My usual stress-combating time and activities have lost effectiveness as the lockdown requirements through my term into havoc, but walking is definitely a useful distraction when I get frustrated. This year, I have also noticed that I rarely use my extensive library of movie soundtrack CDs as I would have, mainly due to a change in the way iTunes works on my computer. Any albums downloaded to my laptop have now vanished – supposedly they are “in the Cloud” but I have not been successful in retrieving them, and working out new ways to use Apple Music has just been put in the too-hard basket for now. Many of my old favourite CDs are still in storage. I find I have now fallen out of the habit of playing music, and a previously-hassle-free way of de-stressing is not stressful, so I ignore it. Going to the movies or live theatre have always been great for de-stressing, and both of these activities have been impossible in Covid-19 lockdown. The home theatre option is there, but not really different enough to normal TV-watching to have the desired effect. Eating out has only just returned.

The activity in the lecture notes then suggest to “set out your ideal professional week” and I find that almost impossible to imagine or contemplate at the moment. My retirement funding arrangements mean that, when fully qualified as a remedial massage therapist, I am restricted to only doing ten hours of paid work per week. Whether I will scatter times in short blocks across the week, or restrict the allotted time to certain days, I am really not sure. It will depend on the local clientele, and whether I can reorganise a part of the house into a reliable workspace for massage treatments. Continuing to rid the house of old clutter and finding new locations for books and collectibles that have never had a permanent location would be my biggest hurdle at the moment. A routine for regular work on that problem would help.

So how sustainable, realistic and achievable is my “Ideal Week”? Again, I find imagining the next term (and how two term’s of practical Clinic will merge into the one remaining term), and the subsequent setting up of my future home clinic, is already totally different to what I had imagined when creating my Business Plan assignment at the end of last year. Things that seemed readily achievable then are now less so. My retirement fund advisor has urged me to plan for only ten hours per week of employment, and not the twenty hours I was originally told. The new short-term goal has to be readying the house for the future renovation. I have already procrastinated too much during lockdown. After that goal is achieved, maybe then I can reevaluate my new “Ideal Week”.

As if 2020 isn’t weird enough already?

S.W.O.T. and Personal Development Plans

This week’s lecture topic introduced the concept of a S.W.O.T. Analysis for a new business opportunity and how such an analysis might provide directions for future personal development opportunities.

S = Strengths (Internal – What are your strengths?)
W = Weaknesses (Internal – What are your weaknesses?)
O = Opportunities (External – What opportunities do you have available to you?)
T = Threats (External – What threats do you face as a therapist?).

We were then encouraged to watch a TEDTalk lecture by Brené Brown.

“Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word…”


Listening to shame | Brené Brown

One of Ms Brown’s viewers’ comments under this TEDTalk suggests that “Shakespeare summarised this talk in one line: ‘Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt…’

Activities performed to enhance professional practice can involve:
• Informal vs Formal
• Compulsory vs Voluntary
• Theory vs Practical,

which leads into our term’s main assignment, developing a personal Professional Development Plan (PDP). This activity certainly aligns with my previous career in primary education. There was a lot of emphasis on PDPs in my last few years of full-time employment.

The Future?

This week, we are encouraged to use a “mind-map” or a “flowchart” to create a “game plan” for what we, as students, can do to achieve our professional education/qualification goals in the next 3-5 years. The plan should include any additional skills/modalities/qualifications we would like to achieve, and to consider where we might gain these skills.

I found a useful online Mind Map generator at canva.com. There is a choice of templates, including one for Career Planning, designed by Luke Berry.

Career Planning template

My mind map:

Ian's mind map

CURRENT SKILLS
Professional: Palpation, Relaxation massage
Communication: Critical thinking, Diplomacy, Tact
Desired skills: Remedial massage, Special tests.

SELF-ASSESSMENT
Strengths: Regular blog entries, Conscientious, Glass half-full
Desired strengths: Fitness knowledge, Mentorship connections
Weaknesses: Procrastination.

IDEAL COMPANY
Values: Effective communication, Client-focussed, Best practice
Culture: Respond to needs of local clientele
Environment: Purpose-built home clinic.

POSSIBILITIES
New position: Home clinic, Assist in colleague’s new spa clinic?
Growth opportunities: Develop business in response to perceived needs and my strengths
New responsibilities: Promotion strategies, goal-setting.