Thursday, May 2, 2013

Considering Desiderata & Disaster

There have been many occasions recently to ponder the vague randomness of the universe, to collect my thoughts on various things, to seek out those whose opinions or interests echo my own. It is always nice when your gut feeling is explained or reinforced by experts, and such was the case recently when an opinion piece appeared in The Press (22/4/13).

In 'Dance through disaster's small joys', clinical psychologist Gini McIntosh and psychiatrist Caroline Bell extolled the benefits of appreciating life's little joys - things like humour, exercise, feeling connected, engaging in hobbies, trying new things - as a way to improve coping and wellbeing after a disaster. These were the types of activities or mechanisms utilised by local residents who rated themselves as coping well with the stress of the last 2.5 years.

McIntosh & Bell were commenting on results of a recent survey, conducted as part of a wider mental health campaign called All Right?, in the greater Christchurch area. While many respondents reported that the double-blow of earthquakes and EQC/insurance had made life difficult and that they were struggling to cope with it all, there were some who, despite the adverse effects of the quakes, felt that their lives had been positively impacted overall. It was these people who were more likely to have been engaging in activities with a positive, feel-good factor.

This has long been my theory about going out to see live performances - not just music but also poetry, theatre, comedy, dance and magic shows* - they make you feel happy to be alive, whatever the circumstances are outside, beyond the venue doors. Just like a good book, a live show can take you to a different place, enabling you to lose yourself in the moment while sharing it with those around you.
*all this and more have taken place just this year at the darkroom bar

Since the earthquakes and general devastation of the CBD (through natural or mechanical causes) began, I swear hubby & I have been going out more than we ever used to. Having lost so much already it seems we're determined to make the most of what's left - of our lives and our city. And it's working. We're coping. We're doing ok. We're going out and having fun because why the hell not? It could all end tomorrow for, as we know all too well, life can be turned upside down when you least expect it.

And we've been trying new things, shaking up our lives intentionally and not just because the earth beneath us has her own ideas about stability or lack thereof. We've started running. Well, hubby started running earlier this year and - in the spirit of 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em' - I've taken the plunge as well. Early days for me as yet, but the programme is in place (and I'm not dead yet!).

Earlier this year I started Tribal belly dance classes with the School of Contemporary Belly Dance, at the school my children attended, in the very hall where I sat through so many excruciating end-of-year concerts. As a totally unexpected side-effect, these dance classes have also seen me conquer my fear of sewing machines long enough to complete my own shiny harem pants. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, despite sewing lessons in forms 1,2 & 3, and a batch of evening classes at Hagley while pregnant, this is the first garment I have ever actually completed.
in the beginning...

 oooohhh... an overlocker... scary stuff!

Having successfully made the pants, I'm now working on the (rather small) top part of the costume. I want to feel proud of it, I want to totally love my costume because, once it's on, there's going to be rather a lot of me exposed. It's a challenge, a goal - to not only learn all the moves, but to embrace my own curves and let go of the hangups that lurk in any woman's brain in spite of all the intellectual arguments we spout to the contrary.

It is so important to find enjoyment in life, especially here and now in Shakeytown. In the south-west suburbs that form my neighbourhood, more and more households are joining our family on the other side of the rebuild/repair drama. But among the houses that are being successfully repaired or totally rebuilt, there are other houses that still sport tarpaulins, covering the gaps where the brick wall used to be. All over the city families are facing their third winter in houses that are cracked and broken, with mould growing inside, or camping out in garages with no end in sight.

64% of the 800 respondents to the wellbeing survey felt guilty that others had been much more affected by the quakes. In September 2010, with our house broken and our belongings being trucked across town to a rental house, with our capped-sum insurance policy and no automatic rebuild, we were the ones our friends felt sorry for. We were the worse-case-scenario, 'there but for the grace of God** go I' etc.

As with every single part of this series of disasterous events and stressful processes, nothing is remotely even or fair. Obstacles can pile up until they seem insurmountable, some places and people seem to be worse off than others, and yet - for all of us - life goes on. It is important to look for ways to find joy, to connect with others around you, to embrace something (or someone) new.

Consider the Desiderata. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy. Live.

**as an agnostic/humanist/karma kind of person, any reference to God comes with a certain disclaimer of non-belief. My disdain for organised religion of any kind has been summed up perfectly, once again, by the fabulously talented Tim Minchin. Take it away, Tim...

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