Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Category: Personal (page 2 of 18)

This Teleconference Has Been Postponed…

At last! Another opportunity to catch up on the backlog of outstanding work.

A teleconConference Call Phoneference! I dialed in, entered the meeting identification, my pin and spoke my name.

Then I placed my phone in hands-off mode and muted myself.

I knew I was safe because:

  1. I wouldn’t be asked to contribute
  2. I had very little to contribute
  3. I didn’t want to contribute
  4. I had a document to compose.

As people signed into the teleconference, I started to listen absently. As it continued, my attention wandered even more. Meanwhile people were dropping in and out. This meeting I thought was starting to resemble Tripp & Tyler’s  A Conference Call In Real Life.

But once the momentum resumed, I every so often stopped what I was doing and jot down a few notes. I thought to myself this was a very unfocused conversation indeed. Perhaps a facilitator or mediator might help. Besides nearly everyone else was on a higher level than me. And as I discounted that idea chaos struck.

My phone began to blare hold music. I looked carefully at the console. No. None of the lights were flashing. I still was on mute and still connected to the conference.

As the participants realised what had happened, a dull and boring meeting had become a hunt for a culprit. Much like school roll call, one by one we re announced ourselves over the continuing hold music. I took two attempts as I had unmuted and then muted myself.

One person failed to respond. He had received another phone call mid conference. And in answering that call  had placed the current call (us) on hold. He had to be contacted as soon as possible to continue the conference and save our sanity.

One of the participants suggested calling him. Which sounded contradictory until he added the words “on his mobile.” The meeting collectively held its breath (as best you can over Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries) and waited for the call to put through. No. He wasn’t answering his mobile either.

Which meant a physical intervention was required. Somebody must find this person and physically remove him from his phone. We waited a few minutes until this was organised.

“Are you near his desk? “Can you see him?” “Can you catch his attention?”

No to all questions.

“Can you go to his office and speak with him?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”

Once more we collectively held our breath (Ride of the Valkyries is a long piece of music) and waited.  Upon his return the hold music still continued. The culprit was in his office on the phone and couldn’t be disturbed (in another teleconference).

This teleconference will be postponed until a later date and time…

 

Waiting for The Sequel

A Not So Crowded TrainOn a not-so-crowded train. She is the only one standing. Back pressed against the only space that is neither seat nor door. Light brown curly but wiry hair, clear open face, same colour eyes (my best guess as far as I can see), all fully engrossed and engaged.

The bumps and lurches of the train don’t bother her. She just doesn’t lose balance. She sways slightly to the rhythm of the carriage. She is not dancing though. Perhaps inwardly.

Her head is bowed. As if in prayer or contemplation.  And her forehead is smooth. Her face serene. And I watch to see if she will raise her head. It’s not just to look at her face.  For I’m curious as to her quiet calm and innate peace. Now she is even more fully engrossed and engaged. With her hands held up in front of her.

Not a newspaper. Not a smart phone. Not a magazine. Not even one of those slate-sized flickering whispering mini TVs.

For a second, time stops and everything around her is removed. So much so that I stop and wonder and look again.  Yes, now I know what it is. It’s like she’s behind a lectern. She’s reading. A tattered dog-eared hardback with yellow threads fraying the red cover. No title that I can see. The Story

I wait to see if she’ll read what holds her so aloud.

For the last person that held out a book like that let me read it.

And I wanted to read it aloud : it was that good…a children’s book too…

Perhaps I’m waiting for the sequel.

Walking Through Pendulums

A few weeks ago, I checked out Sydney Biennale‘s the Embassy of the Real at Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island is a now heritage listed former factory and shipyard and is fascinating in its own right.

Cockatoo Island Sydney

Cockatoo Island Sydney

But what I found fascinating were some of the exhibits of the Embassy of the Real including the dirigible on the left.

 

But then I walked through pendulums. Created by William Forsythe, Nowhere and Everywhere At the Same Time, a n open factory floor was filled with suspended plumb bobs (pendulums) slowly swinging from fishing lines. Mostly in the same direction and mostly in unison.

Walking Through Pendulums

Walking Through Pendulums

Which sounded innocuous at first and then looked foreboding upon second thought : I didn’t really want to be hit by those things.

Despite my misgivings, I nodded to the attendant and entered the open space. I really felt that I would spend the next few minutes or so dodging, ducking and weaving. But I was wrong.

The effect for me was like walking through light rain. It was as if I couldn’t get wet as I avoided each and every raindrop. And yes avoided the people going forward and backward. But for some reason that extra imposition wasn’t a worry at all.  And time stood still, until I found the exit.

In truth my overall sense of the experience was meditative : choosing your own destiny no matter what happened. I left with a gentle quiet surprise which still returns to me!

And perhaps some pendulums did change their swing for me?

From Melbourne to Sydney

One often says of oneself as a child, this is where I grew up.  But to me, at least, one doesn’t realise that one has grown up until one leaves that place and returns.

Yes I grew up in Canowindra (New South Wales). I grew up too in Kiama (New South Wales). And then Canberra and Brisbane (although I will never make it as a Queenslander!). And now that I have returned to Sydney that I realised I had grown up some more in Melbourne. And for that much like Mary Queen of Scots feels towards Calais I will be forever grateful.  For Melbourne will be forever in my heart.

 

That’s not to say I have lessons to be learned. I’ve learnt about the love and honesty (sometimes searingly so) of family and the support whether near or far of friends. I’ve learnt about friendship found false and true. I’ve learnt more about my own heart. I’ve learnt about resilience and faith. I’ve learnt how true it is that the universe both conspires to hinder you at every turn and consummate your hidden wishes once you turn towards it.

 

The last year or so has been difficult, financially, career wise, mentally and spiritually. Yet in the midst of those not so good times there was joy to be found, comfort within myself and people around me ultimately leading to a path of hope. The secret for me at least was to find out what was most important to me and step by step (in fact fingernail hold by fingernail hold) move towards it everyday. And in doing so, I had to be prepared to lose everything to gain that hope. For faith isn’t mere belief or suspended disbelief: it’s progress towards an unseen goal with absolute certainty that it’s the correct course with absolutely no certainty that it will happen.

 

But in the past four or so weeks I’ve seen my close family again, changed jobs, moved house, gained a glimpse of a new direction professionally and continued a current direction personally.  But I still have much to learn and still so far to journey.

 

The Instant Facilitator

Apart from school debating and one lecture presentation, nothing prepared me for my debut as an instant facilitator.

I was an attendee for a computer user conference at the World Congress Centre Melbourne at Crowne Plaza. As part of the Queensland branch of the group, I had been asked to introduce each speaker and then ask for questions once they had finished. This was easy. Usually there were no questions and I wrapped it up quickly. Or with too many questions, I left everyone to continue the conversation out the door after the presentation finished.

Which meant I was completely unprepared for the last session of the conference.

Participants in plenary sessionFifteen minutes beforehand, I was taken aside and asked to lead. I almost went into apocalyptic shock. This was a plenary session. Me in the middle, five geek gurus on my left and several hundred system managers, developers, engineers and sales people in front of me. I was outgunned and more than a little overwhelmed.

And my preparation didn’t help either. I quickly scanned the names of the experts. I saw that one of them had worked on an previous incarnation of the currently popular operating system. That old clunker had a command called show stardate. I thought I could use that as my icebreaker.

I turned around and the fifteen minutes have disappeared in seconds. I walked to the podium. I waited for the geek gurus to sit. Then I wait for the audience to file in.  I made sure to keep my hands behind the podium. If exposed they would be glistening from sweat.

I introduced myself. Then the experts. I make my joke about the show star date command. And I die. I received a dirty look for my failed joke.

I had no choice. I had to go on. Then it didn’t matter. I opened up the session for questions. And then I stepped into a different space and time. I’m suddenly aware of who was asking questions and what they really meant. Every so often, I would take a question and then ask for more information. Or paraphrase the question back to them for clarity. Both I found helped the experts with their answers.  I’m not sure but I may have asked questions of them myself : I now know I tend to do that if no one else is asking.Andrew Whalan Facilitating

It worked brilliantly. I was relaxed. I even apologised to the man at the back dressed in black sitting in front of a dark wall who I couldn’t see too well.

It went so easily. Except I’d never facilitated before and had only spoken in public on one other occasion. So what happened?

Laughter Yoga

It was the photo of the kookaburra that reminded me. But it wasn’t the kookaburra’s laugh!  Our kookaburra laugh : the one we did as a group…

CC BY-SA 3.0 File:Blue Winged Kookaburra - Berry Springs - Northern Territory - Australia.jpg Created: 18 April 2014

CC BY-SA 3.0
File:Blue Winged Kookaburra – Berry Springs – Northern Territory – Australia.jpg
Created: 18 April 2014

At laughter yoga : a group activity where people gather and voluntarily laugh until they don’t have to!!!

But how did I find it? By accident. It’s 2004 and I’ve hurt my back. With little relief in sight, I discover that my work is providing free massages and I sign up.

After a few sessions, my back came good. But then the masseuse started talking to me (isn’t it usually the other way around?).

I mentioned I was separated and wanted to meet new people. And she had an idea.

 She suggested I take the ferry to New Farm Park  in Brisbane and try laughter yoga.
I checked the web site. I set my alarm early that Saturday morning. And sidled to the ferry at South Bank. And alighted near the second Moreton Bay fig tree.

I had already passed the people practising tai chi. And the  group wielding sticks instead of light sabres. My first thought was somehow laughter yoga can’t be out of place at all.

When I arrived a small group of people had gathered. I couldn’t tell the regulars from the new starters.

When the leader arrived we began. By introducing ourselves…with a laugh. And each time it was the same for me. I felt silly at first. But then the awkwardness passed. And then, I don’t care what anyone thinks, I’m laughing anyway.  It helped that every so often people would walk past and start laughing for no reason too!

Terms of Use: 1/ All users of this image are required to attribute this work to "Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry" and the URL: " http://www.nambassa.com " is to accompany all use. 2/ Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor. 3/ For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Statement by Nambassa Trust and Peter Terry Mombas 13:33, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Laugh

The exercises would vary week from week and are too many to mention.  One of the most notable was the belly laugh. The aim was to laugh so deeply that the laugh went to your belly and feel it as you did so. If done right, your whole body quivered! 

 

But the one I loved was the kookaburra laugh. One of our regulars would lead this. She would stand in the middle of the group. It sounded just like the far away cackle. As she continued she would lean over and you could just hear her laugh. Then she would stand up and extend her arms high as she laughed louder and louder. The best part was that she was the perfect mimic of a real kookaburra. In the end it was contagious. And it worked everytime.

 

 

Every so often I hear a kookaburra. And start laughing for no reason. For the lesson I learnt was you can (and should) laugh anywhere and anytime regardless of circumstances. That was priceless.

 

Does The Pen Hear More than the Keyboard?

“I probably won’t be using that.”

 

It wasn’t a derisory or demeaning disclaimer. Just a calm statement: this is not for me.

 

I never was much of  a software salesman anyway. I had livened up a not-so-interesting training session by describing an upcoming software feature. It may or may not be in the next future possible major release! Geekspeak for I don’t know what the developers are doing).

 

Simply stated, instead of scanning in notes, they could be typed through an electronic form.

 

As my trainee wasn’t rude or abrupt, I nodded in agreement, at first. Only later did I realise how much of what she said really applied to me.

 

The conversation continued as she expanded upon her point. Besides the training session had ended and time was not of the essence.

 

She said that people say more when you take handwritten notes. She restated her point as people say less when you type notes on a computer.

Blue Pen on Paper

Blue Pen on Paper

 Instantly I thought of my last doctor’s appointment. As soon as he finished talking to me, he swivelled in his chair, he began  typing.

Automatically  I stopped talking. I waited until  he had entered his notes and printed the prescription. I only realised later that had I anything important to say, it would have been lost. Admittedly, medical personnel don’t have as much time as me.

But it was exactly as my trainee was saying to me. But it went deeper than that. It applied to me more than I knew.

 

As a desktop support operative, people used to make fun of what I carried around with me. It was rather ancient and certainly non-technical.  People thought that it was funny that I carried around a pen and two (paper) notebooks. One was a diary and the other was a scratchpad. So many people remembered that when I left, I received an electronic diary as a farewell present.

Sharp Electronic Organiser-open

But those two notebooks had a strange effect on myself and my workmates.  Firstly, it was quite odd how well I remembered what I didn’t write down. For as I recalled my notes, other details would be revealed. And secondly, in the presence of a (real) notebook, my workmates would reveal more detail about their problems than if I turned up empty handed. Often I found I solved more than one problem at once. Thirdly, I also was able to record my successes and failures. Which was useful for future reference and self-defence.

 

And this conversation, threw light on my weaknesses and strengths as a technical writer and trainer. Upon reflection, I found I recalled more from handwritten notes than typed ones. And certainly more from handwritten lecture notes too. And again,in the presence of the pen and notepad, subject matter experts revealed more detail than when the keyboard was listening. Which meant that I found out what people needed to know not what was nice to know. In other words, by picking up a pen and paper, I (unknowingly) did my job better.

 

And now as a writer (there I’ve said it now : there’s no turning back), I find the pen and paper are often better tools for me to express myself and record than a keyboard. I handwrite first and then type into the computer.  Although that doesn’t work for everyone, just me.

 

Besides, that was the role of my trainee : to find out as much as possible about people’s problems before making her diagnosis.

Two Views for the Price of None

I’m running downhill towards the railway station. I cock my wrist to see the time on my watch. It’s too close to 12:45pm for my liking. But I put my head down and keep running. I can hear my feet and my heart pounding as one. I slow down, get my student pass out. All the attendant sees is blue cardboard in a wallet as I run through the entrance.

It’s my fault for lingering over coffee with my friend that Saturday afternoon. But now I have to make a quick decision.

There are two trains at the platform to choose from. Both are rail motors : which look like ordinary carriages with a driver’s/guard’s compartment and cow-catchers at each end.

RailMotor

RailMotor

They both leave at exactly the same time : one for Kiama and one for Moss Vale. I jump on the first one. I hear the station master’s final call. In my relieved state, I know I’ve heard it right. I’m on the right train home. There are hardly any passengers with me but that’s not unusual.

 

The train started up. I’m at the front. I count down the stations home, Wollongong, Coniston and then Unanderra. After Unanderra, I heard the familiar clatter as the rail motor changes points. And then the train starts ascending. Up the Moss Vale line.  Oh No! I’m on the wrong train.
 
I better do something now  I thought. I rap the window of the train driver. I tell him I’m on the wrong train. I see but don’t hear him radio ahead. I think I’m going to  Moss Vale and I’m not coming back. But he says something to me about Summit Tank.
 
I then wait and enjoy the view of the Illawarra escarpment. For now I’m on a slow ascent on a gentle slope. The coast is on my left and the mountains to the right. And it is like seeing a snapshot, then resetting the camera and taking another one. I’m so mesmerised I forget the train is about to stop.
 

The line reaches the top of the mountains, veers right and we disappear into the forest. Summit Tank.

By Bluedawe - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10218971

Summit Tank

 
The train stops and nearby is another train. A goods train.I’m escorted to the guard’s van. And we take the descent downwards. Two views for the price of none. Although you don’t see much out of a guard’s van.
 
Note: Only a few years later the Moss Vale service was cancelled. Now it was revamped as the Cockatoo Run.

That Love of Loves

I still don’t know how that motorcyclist didn’t hit her. And me too I suppose.  Every so often I stop and wonder why. Considering what happened to her later. I just shake my head and muse upon the two memories I have of her.

We were standing at a bus stop. Near the Old Treasury Building in Brisbane. Waiting for the one solitary service that took us to Jimboomba and then Beaudesert. The time was about ten to five. I was early for a change. We were both standing near the edge of the footpath. She was on my right. That was both safe and dangerous.

As I looked to my right, I saw him. The glint of the sun on his helmet. White helmet, black rider, grey bike. He was going way too fast. His intent was to turn the corner to my left. But too late he realised his way was blocked. A car had stopped there. With nowhere to go, he jumped the footpath. And headed straight for us. And before I could reach out to grab her, he was past. He had turned back off the footpath. Back on the road to take the corner.

We just looked at each other. I mumbled something to the effect that I’m sorry I couldn’t get you out of the way. I completely forgot that I would’ve been hit first or been hit trying to save her.  Besides I only knew her vaguely. She had just started taking the bus.  As we had mutual acquaintances on the bus, I knew her name. I’d say hello. I had found out that she had finished school and had started her first job. That’s all I knew about her until that day or the next day, or another day, when she sat next to me.

There was something about her that day. A certain light in her eye. The way she held her smile lightly. How her dark brown hair circled her light face. How her pale skin seemed to shine with a quiet light. Yes she seemed more attractive than ever. Eighteen or nineteen? I wasn’t sure. But I knew it wasn’t me.

Normally, she sat with her friends, but not today. She sat herself down next to me and immediately began or resumed the conversation. She talked about her new job. I heard her enthusiasm and dedication. I thought it’s pleasing to hear someone telling me they loved their job. Just about everyone else I knew complained. But I heard another reason. One that brought it all together.

She told me. The two men in the seat behind me stopped talking. And started to listen too. But they thought she was talking about something else. During our conversation, I could hear the remarks they were making. It has nothing to do with me, I thought. And resisted the temptation to drape my arm over the seat, lean over and set them straight.

For here sitting next to me was a girl in love. For the very first time I thought.  And she was in love with everything now. So it didn’t matter who she told. Or how she told it. For to her it was the real thing. For she was telling me about both sides of this love : the joy and the difficulties too.  Behind me I knew the two watchers could see her moving around as she spoke to me. They thought something else was happening.  But they could not have been more wrong. Here was someone jumping out of her skin with an ultimate joy.

She was infatuated that was true. She spoke extraordinarily highly of her boyfriend. But mentioned how it wasn’t easy to see each other. And how they stayed in touch despite the distance. For this was before smartphones, social media and apps. Call me or don’t call me. Write me or don’t. And they were doing both! I mused to myself, she knows the way ahead isn’t easy but doesn’t care.

And she was in love now with the world. And that is what my backseat companions didn’t realise.  Once in love with love, now all was love. And that brought me joy and comfort in my situation.

And then the light went out. For I never saw her again. And then I heard what happened to her. But she had seen, heard and felt that love of loves.

 

 

An Unusual Visitor from Another Time?

It was a slight tap, so soft I could barely tell. Perhaps the venetians had touched the window in another room. I stretched out with my book and waited.

Old door knock and handle at the historical center of Yazd. Taken at yazd, Province of Yazd, Iran, April 2009.

Old door knock and handle at the historical center of Yazd.
Taken at yazd, Province of Yazd, Iran, April 2009.

No, there it was again. Perhaps a visitor. I stood up from my desk. I pushed back the chair. I stole to the front door and opened it.

A man stood six paces in front of the footpath and six back from the front door. He didn’t speak at first.  He was probably in his late thirties. In his hands he had an open loose-leaf folder.  The first thing I noticed were the drawings in that folder. The colours seemed familiar. And then I thought I’m sure I’ve seen diagrams like that before.

Then he stepped forward and spoke to me. Immediately I realised that he was hearing impaired. Then I knew why I recognised the diagrams. They were the same as those in a course I attended a few months ago.

As he spoke, he started pointing at the diagrams. I looked and saw that they were a pictorial introduction.

The course I attended was about communicating with deaf or hearing impaired people. The key point was to speak and gesture, as my visitor was doing now. In turn I read the introductory diagrams and responded as best as I could.  In truth, I think I did very poorly. I felt frustrated with myself. But he didn’t seem to mind at all. Despite the communication gap, there was no sense of frustration from him at all. That helped.

Yet he seemed to have a touch of the theatrical performer in him.  The way he was comfortable door-knocking strangers homes. The way he communicated without fear of the cost. The  way he was generous with his time and tolerant of my inability without concern for his own. The way he bounced from foot to foot as he spoke and gestured.  All from an unfettered  sense of joy and generosity.

What sort of person would do that? Certainly not the classic door-to-door salesperson. But I had no immediate answer.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I turned the puzzle over in my head. There was something both familiar and unfamiliar about him.

What sort of person would do that?

The clue finally came to me. He seemed to have visited me from another time. Then the answer. I laughed out loud. He was no door-to-door salesman. No I had been visited by a medieval travelling minstrel, a modern-day troubadour, from another time.

 

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