Time and Age

One of the best things I enjoy about being 54 years old is that I’m moving out of my middle-life years and into seniority.

I am not afraid of old age. I am looking forward to it.

I had to start wearing glasses when I was 18. That was fine, my eyes needed them. My hair turned grey in my thirties, I started to go bald, and I embraced that, too. I have never used hair dye or tried to hide my scalp under a hat. I love the fact I don’t have to comb my hair so much!

Maybe my body is not as fit as it once was, but I’m not bad.  When I was 49 I climbed the highest mountain in Africa. When I was 51 I walked the Kokoda track in Papua New Guinea, which is a gruelling physical challenge. I am 168cms tall and weight 60 kgs (for any Americans out there who have not yet gone metric, that’s 5 feet 6 inches and 132 pounds).  I am fit enough for my age without getting silly about it.

But the best thing about getting older is time. I find the older I get the more time I have.

That may seem odd, given that every birthday I am another year closer to death. Shouldn’t I have less time? Shouldn’t I be running around (“like a chook with its head cut off” as my grandmother would have said) trying to cram in some sort of “bucket list?” Shouldn’t I be despairing the passing years?

I have no compulsion to make the rest of my time on Earth a mad dash for anything. I am not afraid of death. I have no belief in an after-life, I think that once you are dead, that’s it. Being dead is exactly like not having been born yet, and I wasn’t complaining then, so why start now? But I don’t fear death. When it happens, it happens. But I do know that I am not going to spend my remaining time alive regretting anything.

What I have found about getting older is that time slows down. I feel I have more time on my hands now to do things. As a teacher, I have had a lot of conversations with younger people, especially students. I have found teenagers, in particular, find it difficult to accept that when you get older, you have more time.

I think the reason is this: As you get older, you realise that some of the things you thought important no longer are. So you don’t have your days filled with unimportant things.

Maybe you are my age or older. Maybe you have paid off the house, or nearly so. Maybe the kids have grown up (finally!) and left the nest. Maybe you and your partner are thinking about retirement in a few years, and maybe you’ll go on that holiday you always talked about. Maybe these are important things to you.

I have found that I can now distinguish between what I need to do and what I think is important to do. And more and more, I realise that there are a lot of things I don’t need to do anymore. So I have fewer things to fill my day with, and time consequently seems to slow down.

I would try to tell  you what you might find important as opposed to what is important. Everyone is different, everyone has different priorities. Perhaps your children have left home, but now they are bringing back grandchildren to show you and it’s important to you to be with them. That’s perfect. But maybe at the same time you realise that it isn’t so important to do other things that were once vital to you.

A lot of teenagers I know find having friends and being socially accepted is important. And it is. For them. But I have few friends now, which means I don’t have to constantly keep up and try to stay popular. The friends I do have are very solid and loyal. The ones that weren’t fell by the wayside. I don’t feel any compulsion to replace them.

We change as grow older. Priorities change as well. Some things, I have found, become less important or even unimportant. When I was a teenager or in my twenties, there were so many things I had to do. Now, there are not so many. Some I achieved, some I just decided I didn’t need to do. So I have more time to do the things I want. I can make a better job of them.

I have more time.

A past acquaintance of mine hated turning forty. She cried. I myself loved turning forty. For the first time in my life, I felt that I owed no one anything, that no one could tell me what to do (or, to be more accurate, I didn’t feel compelled to listen to what people told me I should be doing). When I turned fifty, it was a bit anti-climactic. I was perhaps expecting some sort of divine wisdom or insight to suddenly kick in because I had passed the “Big 5-O”, the half-century. But it didn’t. But fifty was good too, and I have sixty to look forward to.

Sure, the kids these days don’t understand. How can I have more time as I get older? But they will get it one day. There will be a wonderful time when they realise (some of them, at least) that there are more important things they could be doing with themselves.

And hopefully, they will set out to do them.

Age is a wonderful thing. I embrace it happily.


Anti-vaccination Activists v The Obvious

Voltaire is usually attributed with the epigram:  “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Actually, it wasn’t Voltaire but his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall, who wrote that. But that’s a minor point.

The major point is, should we accept the advice? Should we allow just anyone and everyone to have an opinion?

Of course we should, but it’s hard to accept it sometimes. Take the case of Meryl Dorey, president of the Australian Vaccination Network. She has no medical qualifications and yet she dispenses medical advice regarding vaccinations, namely , that they are linked to autism. They aren’t. But that doesn’t stop her misleading people and openly advocating her ideas. The site states that it is there to promote the “right to free choice when it comes to vaccinations, vaccines and immunisations.” It’s a pity that the information it gives out to support the idea that vaccines and autism are linked is just plain wrong.  Free choice good. Misinformed choice bad.

Meryl Dorey is going to be a guest speaker at this year’s Woodford Folk Festival near Brisbane. There are a lot of families who attend this festival each year. Lots of kids. Lots of loving parents.

I don’t know about anyone else, but alarm bells go off in my head when an idea has to put so much effort into defending itself from critics. If what they claim is obviously right, then experts would accept it. If so many people disapprove of the claims, and it is therefore necessary to defend them, then surely those criticisms should be addressed before reliance on them is made. This is what peer-review is all about. Every scientific or medical idea must be reviewed and tested and questioned and the person relying on them must defend them, that is a given. But when a lot of energy must be directed into long-term, ongoing defence of an idea, and the criticisms of that idea are based on sound science and medicine, then surely the accuracy of the idea must be in some sort of doubt.

Meryl Dorey and her associates have every right to be wrong. But when they use their wrong ideas to influence others into making the same mistakes, which leads to their lives and their families’ lives being put at risk, then their right to express their wrong ideas must be questioned.


Climbing Kilimanjaro

In December, 2006, I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania. I know a lot of people do that, although only a small percentage of people actually make it all the way to the top. I made it all the way, and stood 5985 mteres above the African plains, feeling very tired but very proud.

On the summit.

It was a major challenge, especially since I’d never done anything like that before. I surprised even myself. I can’t say I broke any records but I did achieve a major boost in my own self-esteem at a time that I needed something like that.

Kilimanjaro is, of course, the highest mountain in Africa. It is a dormant volcano, which just added to the mystique of it all. It hasn’t erupted for 200 years, but the thought of “doing” a volcano was fun. There is (or was when I was there ) still a glacier on the top, but global warming is doing its part to destroy it. It is a popular climbing target, and the story of my climb was a lesson to me, and carried with it a personal story of loss.
So I’ve made my mind up to write a book about it. I’m trying to think of a suitable title: “Climbing Kilimanjaro” is a little trite. I’m not good with titles. Any suggestions? I’ve read a few books about people climbing the mountain in the past, but I’m hoping that my version will have a bit more to it, as there is a background story regarding my father and why I climbed the thing in the first place.
I am 3,500 words into it, and so far having fun. I want to work on it each day and get it out early next year.
If anyone is interested, let me know. If you have climbed Kilimanjaro or know someone who has, or have conquered some other mountain, I’d be interested in hearing from you. Just add a comment or contact me on rjp@cqnet.com.au.

Not Good News: Religious Indoctrination of Children

A Queensland mother has complained to the Education Department about Bibles being handed out to the children at her daughter’s school. Apparently it was the Gideons paying a visit and leaving the books with the kids.

Now, I don’t care – not really, not usually – about what religion you follow or whether you have one in the first place. But I have two rules for people who do follow any religion:

1) You must not allow your beliefs to harm anyone, including yourself;

2) You must not try to convert anyone to what you believe.

These are really bad things to do. I think the first goes without saying, but the second may raise a few eyebrows. It’s called proselytising, and it’s just about the most arrogant thing anyone can possibly do.

I don’t care what religion someone is. They should not go around telling people to believe what they believe. It’s just seeking safety in numbers. If others believe what they believe, they feel more justified. It’s got nothing to do with bringing unbelievers to the fold. It’s all about shoring up their own uncertainties.

As Richard Carrier says in his book Why I Am Not a Christian , “If God wants something from me, he would tell me. He wouldn’t leave someone else to do this. And he certainly would not leave fallible, confused and contradictory humans to deliver an endless plethora of confused and contradictory messages.” If God wants us to be whatever faith you care to name – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Animist, whatever – he would tell us directly.

Carrier makes the point that the fact that God does not do this is a demonstration of the fact that he does not exist. Fair enough, I am happy for people not to believe in God as much as I am happy (with reservations) for them to believe in him.

 But lay off the children. The concerned Queensland mother, Bridgette Linding, deliberately put her daughter in a government school because such schools do not have religious education. It was a further demonstration of her fortitude that she offered to distribute the Koran and Buddhist texts to the same kids. Good for her – give them freedom of choice about what they want to believe, including the right not to believe at all.

The indoctrination of children into religion is an appalling denial of their rights. When they are old enough to make up their minds, let them do so free of any attempt to sway them one way or another. The presentation of religious education must be balanced if it is done at all. All right, let the Gideons give them a Bible if it makes them (the Gideons) feel better but, as Mrs Linding suggests, give the children other holy texts as well. And give them the choice as to whether they want to know about it at all.

I’ve always felt that if you constantly have to persuade people that your religion is the right one, if you have to reassure each other that you are praying the right words or following the right ceremonies, if you have to threaten people with either worldly or after-worldly punishment if they fail to follow what you believe, there is probably something wrong with your religion.

What’s wrong with e-books?

What’s wrong with e-books?
Nothing, unless you are a print publisher, bookseller or ardent bibliophile. E-books have received a lot of adverse criticism, but is it justified?
I have a Kindle. I love it. It allows me to take a whole library with me wherever I go. And I have a mix of books loaded into it. I have the complete works of Jules Verne, all fourteen of Frank L. Baum’s Oz books, “Moby Dick”, Charles Dickens. And, my secret pleasure, a whole stack of Doctor Who novelisations. And I can take all of them with me anywhere.
Some of the books I have on my Kindle, like “Moby Dick”, I possess in “real” book for as well. Redundant? Not really. I’ve read Melville’s classic twice now and will no doubt read it a few more times before I go.
To me, the pleasure of reading is in the reading, not in whether I am holding paper in my hands or seearching through a book shop. Most book shops bore me to tears, and the ones with coffee shops attached to them are screaming out they are in financial trouble. Serving coffee to bring the customers in? Perhaps. There is a popular bookshop here in Brisbane that has a café attached to it – the problem is, the café is bigger than the bookshop and is the first thing you encounter as you walk through the door.
I read to read, not experience some sublime physical state of grace. I read because I like the story or the characters or I want to be entertained, not because, like Luke Madsen suggests in his article “Tatty books better than none at all” (Courier-Mail, 8.12.11), there is some olfactory joy in it. He seems to smell his way through a book.
E-books are a fantastic development, and the only people losing out seem to be the publishers and booksellers who, understandably, are missing out on the cash. Sure, some stuff doesn’t deserve to be published, and e-books allow anyone with a computer to publish whatever they damn well please. But rubbish literature usually goes one of two ways: either it isn’t read, so no harm done, or it sells millions, in which case good luck to them.
Failing to embrace the future is a mistake made too often. If publishers jump on the e-book phenomenon, they just might stay in business.

Personal Success

Success is what you make it.

Emphasis there is on the word you. Success isn’t what others tell you it is. It’s what you are.

I am a case in point. My career path is varied to say the least. In fact, I don’t know what’s going to happen to me next year. But one thing I know, I’m a success.

I don’t have a million dollars. I don’t even own a house. I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, and I can’t think of any famous people I hang around with. But I’m successful.

And yet so many people think things like money, fame and possessions are the hallmarks of success. They aren’t, but people break their skulls trying to be successful in ways that are unsuitable to them. And that is simply because try to live up to unrealistic expectations – expectations that other people put on them.

Let me describe my path to getting where I am now. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was at school. I had a vague notion about being a doctor, mainly because my father was one. But it was never a firm career decision. In fact, my marks at school were very quickly proving that I didn’t have what it takes for a medical career. I wasn’t particularly brilliant. Just before school finished, I decided I wanted to a lawyer. But my marks didn’t let me get into university to do law.

I went to uni anyway, doing a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Government and Ancient History. The theory was I could switch to Law at the end of the year. But two weeks into my first semester I was offered a job in a law firm as an articled clerk, so I took it. I could work five years as a clerk and study law at night.

Five years later, I left the firm as my tenure with them was up, but I hadn’t quite finished my exams. So I got a job with the Queensland Justice Department in the Magistrates Courts service. I did that for five years while I finished my qualifications and was admitted as a solicitor. Now I had changed plans. If I worked my way up through the public service ranks I could eventually become a magistrate. But it would be a long wait, about twenty years.

So I took a job in another law firm. I worked there for nine years as an associate solicitor in a two-man law practice in Central Queensland. Whilst there, I revived a life-long passion I had for the theatre and was involved in amateur theatre. I loved acting. After nine years as a lawyer, I decided I wanted to be a professional actor. So I walked into the boss’s office and told him I was auditioning for drama school. He asked “What if you don’t get in?” I said I was leaving anyway.

But I did get in. The next three years were the best in my life. I was the oldest student in my year at university. I obtained a degree in Creative Arts from the University of Southern Queensland. I then worked (or didn’t work) as a professional actor for a few years. I made a few advertisements, did a few film and TV roles, and appeared on stage. But there was little money in it, so I had to do other work to put food on the table.

I became a trainer with a company that taught medical software to doctors and clinical support staff. I would go out to medical conferences and doctors’ surgeries and teach them how to use the software. It was a lot of fun. The doctor who ran the company was also involved in adolescent health and he helped me obtain a position as a project officer in a programme that used Drama as a teaching medium for high school students to learn about adolescent health. I worked part time on that for a few years while I still tried to be an actor.

Eventually, I decided that I was better at teaching Drama than acting it. So I decided to become a teacher.

I went back to university – again – and studied for a Master of Teaching at the Queensland University of Technology. A few days after finishing I was fortunate enough to land a job at a Catholic boy’s school. I taught there for nine years, teaching Drama and Legal Studies, as well as English and a few other subjects.

I eventually decided I was sick of that. I wanted to move back to Brisbane. I quit school and moved. I became a tutor, working one-on-one with students in their own homes, supplementing their school learning. It was a lot of fun. And I landed myself another acting agent and launched back into acting to help pay the bills.

So here I am. A varied path, as I said. It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been very lucky and I have always made sure that I enjoyed what I was doing. And if ever I stopped enjoying it, I stopped doing it.

My father, as I said, was a doctor. He said he had patients who would come in and say “It hurts when I do this, doc.” Dad would tell them, “Well stop doing it.” I’ve tried to apply that to my life. When it starts to hurt, stop doing it.

Re-invent the meaning of success. Make your success personal, and maybe you can achieve it, too.

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