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.

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.

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?

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.

Values and emotional intelligence

This week, we were asked to watch Prabakaran Thirumalai’s 2015 Youtube clip and comment upon both the speaker and the content. The video asks “What are your Values? What is the relation between Values and Beliefs?” It is a “Practical Thinking Course Video which explains the difference between values and beliefs and how it improves to handle our emotions effectively…”


What are your values? Emotional Intelligence by Brain Quotes

I love Thirumalai’s quote “Anger is like drinking poison and expecting [the] other person to die.” I definitely takes a lot of self-control to stop getting angry, but keeping that quote in mind might be very useful breaking that anger cycle.

Interesting that Thirumalai has noticed that people with “Average IQ outperform High IQ 70% of the time.” Not surprising – and, thinking about the quote, I have probably seen many examples in school classrooms over the years where a High IQ student gets stunned to see others excelling in some area of unexpected expertise. I particularly remember a Year 3 student, who had just returned from a term at another school in a dedicated class for Intellectually Mild (I.M.) children. He was supposed to stay for the rest of his primary school years, but something clicked with the opportunity to work in small groups, and they considered him now able to cope in a mixed ability class. I sat him next to my brightest student, a very talented young mathematician. He and I were both astounded when our returned class member turned out to be a whiz at matchstick puzzles and other spatial problems. The bright student was embarrassed to be soundly beaten by him in these types of activities. It was good for both of them.

Thirumalai notes that “Emotional Intelligence covers four skills, which are: Self Awareness; Social Awareness; Self Management; and Relationship Management.” He then moves on to Goals and says, “If your Goals are aligned with your Values you lead a happy life. And if your Goals are misaligned with your Values, life becomes a misery.”

We are then encouraged to identify and then rank our Values… After looking through many online resources for massage therapists, and taking into account my own Values from previous careers, I have chosen:

1. Clear lines of Communication.
2. A focus on Clients, ie. identifying their needs.
3. Best Practice, in particular Ergonomics (for self-care and longevity of career) and, especially in the current pandemic situation, hygiene.

Thirumalai suggests we then set some goals which align with these values but, after achieving them, now what? From there, we move to the Growth Cycle.

Growth Cycle

To interpret the diagram below, Skill leads to Effort, which leads to Results. A self-perpetuating cycle is achieved when Belief also funnels into that Effort. We are thus encouraged by the Results to keep putting in more Effort. Believing in oneself builds Confidence, which then improves the Results.

Values and Beliefs

It seems that our Emotions can be more efficiently altered by focusing on our Values and Beliefs, rather than our Behaviour. Sounds sensible to me!

I have been searching around for more quotes by Prabakaran Thirumalai and found this great one to finish up:

“Life is a game. It is up to you to be a toy or become a player.”

Reflecting on the making process

“We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey, quoted in User Generated Education blog by Jackie Gerstein, 5th October, 2015.

This week, we have been asked to think of a time, during our student lives, where something did not quite go as planned, or the outcome was not quite as desired. By using the steps in Gerstein’s flow chart, we should review the situation and answer each step individually, for sharing with the group (or beyond, with this blog).

Gerstein flowchart
A Making Reflection, Jackie Gerstein.

One of the most challenging assignments so far (for me) would be last year’s Business Plan. Ideally, this crucial assignment, completed via the guidance of online lecture notes and a blank template, would be scheduled towards the end of the one year Diploma course in Remedial Massage. Due to several unforeseen circumstances (and not even counting the new unforeseen circumstances of this year, ie. the current world pandemic, which has required that more subjects be reshuffled), we had to complete this assignment early. I was aware that, in a real-world situation, several of the elements of a Business Plan would be devised with the paid consultations with experts, and at times, I did find that going it alone was intimidating. However, I did survive!

Was I resourceful…?

For the Business Plan, when an aspect was causing me to feel indecisive, or in need of further information, I did a lot of Internet searches, used college resources (including a consultation with the lecturer at one perplexing point) and lecture notes.

Did I ask others…?

I also sought assistance from five different friends/contacts, making sure I directed specific questions in their realm of expertise. Their feedback was essential. This did require starting the assignment early enough, which I managed to do, to account for the extra time needed to field phone calls, set up meetings and collaborate on how to present aspects in the template. The assignment would certainly have been more stressful if I had left it until the week it was due.

Did I share…?

As a result of some of my discussions with my friends/contacts and the lecturer, I did offer advice to my fellow students on how I approached calculations used in the Business Plan. Of course, their answers would end up being very different, since we were all describing different business models in our plans.

Did I learn…?

I definitely felt like I learned lots of new things. Certain parts of the Business Plan were familiar to me, due to past experiences, such as: analysing the content and design of websites of the rival, local businesses; aspects of Work Health and Safety; and designing a meaningful, appealing business logo. New aspects included: determining market targets; estimating Profit & Loss; and laying out and interpreting a Financial Summary.

Did I play and have fun…?

While completing this assignment was very daunting, I found that really enjoyed comparing and analysing the local competitors and evolving my own logo.

Did I try to create…?

As much as I searched for existing sample Business Plans online, the uniqueness of my situation meant that the final assignment was uniquely mine, and wasn’t going to be valid if I tried to pass off an existing Business Plan as mine.

Did I approach learning as an open-ended process…?

The responses from my various contacts led me into areas I had not previously considered. Similarly, analysing the websites, shopfronts and services of my existing competitors, and the unique makeup of my local area’s residents needs (such as the large number of new nursing homes in Penrith), provided insights into very real gaps in the market that I had not previously considered.

Did I accept failure…?

I almost started the diagram’s cycle here, as the mere mention of “failure” can seem a bit negative – but since I know I passed the assignment, I obviously did not fail. Acceptance of the possibility of failure is always worth keeping in mind. It is the key attitudinal part of the process and I do typically use possibility of failure to inform my learning. Most educational institutions also offer a pathway to convert a failed assignment into a pass, but ideally it will be couched with feedback from the marker, further reading, discussions with the lecturer, etc.

I think the only (rare) times I have admitted defeat in my past – and walked away from an unfinished project – there has been some complicated political situation, in which I have felt that others in power were taking advantage of my efforts and motivations. Sometimes, for mental health reasons, walking away from a difficult project/situation can be… therapeutic.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

Glass half full

This week, our Zoom lecture focused upon building an awareness of self, and personal motivations and behaviours that are fundamental to creating: a strong and sustained manual therapies practice; and a fulfilled personal and professional life.

It was a conscious effort on my part, when creating this blog all those years ago, to keep an optimistic view when discussing aspects of my teaching, and I hope that I can maintain that philosophy with my new focus of undertaking tertiary education in a whole new field.

“Optimists have a tendency to hope for the best…” says Stephanie Stokes Oliver in Seven soulful secrets for finding your purpose and minding your mission (Crown, 2001). That doesn’t mean they hope for the best only sometimes, treating the glass as half full, instead of half empty, becomes a mindset.

When I moved back into school libraries, after a stint at State Office and then a return to the primary classroom, I noticed some teacher-librarian colleagues were using social media as a sounding board for complaints in their professional lives. But, it seemed to me, some of these people had a “glass half empty” view most of the time. A few would even angrily resist any help. (Now, one crucial aspect of working as a teacher-librarian is that one is usually the only teacher-librarian in the school. Teaching colleagues can be important people with whom one can debrief, but some issues are unique enough to require debriefing with another teacher-librarian.) I had a habit of wanting to share positive examples that I thought might provide comfort. It would sometimes have the opposite effect. I would regularly get admonished that I should let people “have a wallow” in their miserable situation, to offer them only my sympathy, and not give a pep talk or a personal success story. The complainer’s glass was not only half empty, it was half empty of spilt milk.

Sorry, but that attitude just seems so destructive, especially longterm. I became determined that, rather than get involved in someone else’s dilemma, I would put more effort into finding the positive angles to my own situations which I had found challenging, and share them here. As Oliver suggests, “there may be opportunity in the situation as well as trouble.” The feedback towards this blog, especially in its early days, was very encouraging. Several award nominations – and a win, the SLA NSW “John H. Lee Memorial Award” for 2012, for “excellence in leadership in innovative and collaborative teaching practice through the integration of learning technologies” – was a delightful vindication that the “glass half full” is right for me.

I love this quote: “If speakers describe positive things in positive terms, listeners should infer positive things from positive terms.” [Shlomi Sher & Craig C. R. McKenzie, “Information leakage from logically equivalent frames”, Cognition 101, Department of Psychology, University of California, San Diego, 2006.] It has certainly worked for me, and is a comforting touchstone to return to in (thankfully rare) gloomy times!

Life in lockdown

The days, weeks and months blur into each other in retirement. I am used to that already. But now the days, weeks – and months? – are blurring even more, due to the abrupt changes imposed upon the whole world as a result of the Coved-19 pandemic. The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the stuff of legend. After a crazy couple of years of drought in Australia, followed by 2019’s weeks, then months, of unprecedented bushfires – not to mention political turmoils in so many countries – a new worldwide coronavirus outbreak seemed like the last thing we all needed.


Ian as Massage Therapist

In July last year, after a couple of strange and frustrating dead ends, I finally commenced a full-time Diploma of Remedial Massage Therapy at Endeavour College, Sydney. Brave New World: terrifying and wonderful; challenging and rewarding. It should have been a four-term, one-year course, but we had already accepted that subjects would be stretched across five terms, mainly due to the small number of students who had joined us. Term 1 went swiftly enough, and the last term of 2019 switched to a fully online component, which caught us up on all the regular online subjects that usually would have been dripped throughout the course. No matter! As challenging as the Business Plan assignment was, it was nice to have at-home time to tackle it properly, and in context with the other online topics, which did complement the tasks in the business plan.

After decades of creating activities for young students that encouraged the sharing and discussion of ideas, and collaborating with teachers and teacher-librarian on units of work and conference programs, working on a business plan alone was not doing my confidence a lot of good. I was missing the daily banter with my colleagues, though. I did organise one in-person consultation with my lecturer, mainly to reassure myself that I was on the right track. But I survived! And I came to grips with a few of the trickier questions about my future possibilities for how this course might earn me some future spending money.


Towels

I also had a welcome reunion with former teaching colleagues when I attended their annual Christmas shopping bargain bus trip. (Once again, token male on the bus, but always such a fun day.) My mission, of course: towels for my future clinic. Twelve towels, in two sizes, plus four hand towels. I answered lots of questions about my course that day. And then: an afternoon on Youtube learning how to roll the towels to have a professional look. (I also taught this skill to the staff at my local bathroom renovation store, and their display towels look spectacular, as do my two new bathrooms!)

2020 started with clinic hours, with therapeutic/relation massages for real, paying clients, to reinforce all of our skills learned so far. Very daunting, but I am thrilled with how my confidence grew. So much more to learn. I came into this course as a novice. The other students all had some massage experience, or came from a sporting background. My only experience with massage was having had a few massages as a client. We barely made it to the end of the term before the national lockdowns happened. We knew the next term was going to be… unusual. Of course, therapeutic massages were one of the first “non essential” service industries to close. By government decree. (Remedial massages were still allowed, but we weren’t approved for those yet, of course, having not started any remedial work in our clinic sessions.)

So the current pandemic lockdowns mean that, instead of moving to our next set of practical clinic hours, to practise our newly-acquired remedial massage skills, we are back doing another online subject, although this time complemented by weekly Zoom meetings. (Very welcome addition, I think.) This one covers professional development, self-reflection and journal writing, so I have spent a few days reevaluating this blog (which I already pay for to get access its professional capacities). I am thinking that “Booked Inn” can morph into a series of self-reflections in further education, rather than its previous theme of self-reflections in teacher-librarianship. I have reconfigured a few of the attached “Pages” and I am sure other ideas will come to me.

As always: a “Glass Half Full” will be my attitude to any dilemmas. The power of positivity has always worked for me before, so I think it will be a good fit for this term’s reflective journal writing.