Author Archives: Jay Verney

Ask The Memoir Detective: Which is the most useless of all?


Dear Dr MD

Can you please tell me which one of these is the most useless?

(a)  War

(b)  Fancy cookery shows

(c)  A hip-pocket in a singlet

(d)  An ashtray on a motorbike

Many thanks


Dear Finbar

First of all, this is clearly a trick question.  Plus, it lacks the most important option: an (e) all of the above.  For (e) is the correct answer, my dear, with some qualifications, as always.

As George Orwell wrote in Animal Farm, All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.  Or words to that effect.  War is, as we all know, both useless and tragic.  But many thousands of memoirs have been written about wars – perhaps for those very reasons of uselessness and tragedy – by soldiers, foreign correspondents, politicians, and victims, to name a few.

If I were you, I’d stick with memoirs by the correspondents: they usually have fewer biases and are more likely to present a picture that doesn’t demonise The Other.  Also, war victims’ memoirs, while cathartic and moving, can be quite traumatic and overwhelming.  Perhaps you don’t feel that you want to invite such sadness into your life.  It’s your choice, of course.

You may, however, actually enjoy ABC correspondent, Eric Campbell’s account of his time in several weird, wonderful and dangerous places, some of them at war, on the brink of it, or trying to clean up after it.  It’s called Absurdistan, for reasons that become very clear very early on.

Now, as to fancy cookery shows, Fin – may I call you Fin – they, too, though frequently entertaining, are quite useless, and wasteful, but in a different way from war.  At least as you eat your way to a solidified left ventricle while imitating your favourite TV chefs in the comfort of your designer kitchen, you may enjoy a few mouthfuls of delicious creamy pasta rather than a faceful of shrapnel before you drop off for the longest sleep of all.

You’d be better off, though, eating more steamed vegies, fewer steaks, and drinking plenty of black tea with your breakfast oats. 

Famous cooks, by the way, write their memoirs as cookery books whether they realise it or not.  Check out Kylie Kwong, Jamie Oliver, and the Two Fat Ladies.  This is a far more useful pursuit, as these texts often contain beautiful, and droolworthy shots of dishes that don’t always require three ovens and 48 separate processes to achieve.

Indeed, Fin, why not create your own cookbook memoir by compiling your own, or your family’s favourite dishes in one handy volume?  Add comments about why you love each dish, and when you prefer to eat or serve it, and to whom.

Incorporate some photos of the dishes as they are created, and then when they’re served on the plate.  Don’t be shy about including in the photos whoever might be in the kitchen or dining-room with you at the time.  Gather quotations from those satisfied diners, and place them in the sidebars of your recipe pages.  Note the dates and times at which the comments were made, and the ages of those quoted. 

Develop your cookbook as a history of your tribe’s and even your culture’s changing culinary tastes.

You’ll have a mindful and meaningful family heirloom to give to succeeding generations of grateful gourmands, and the youngest ones will see the timeline of their maturity as they grow from loathing to loving garlic, mushrooms, broccoli, and green beans (stir-fry, add a little stock and low-fat cream, and serve on rice, couscous, or noodles – brought to you by RBS: Recipes By Stealth).

Finally, Finnie baby, (c) and (d) are there to get us to (e) really, and because they remind me of my father, who was fond of a joke or two.  So they function for me as micro memoirs: memoirs you can write in a sentence or two, and which then open entire worlds of memory to you about loved ones, events, and places.

As useless as a hip-pocket in a singlet, darl, Dad would explain as we’d watch yet another politician bloviating on TV about the Vietnam war, oh so very long ago. 

As useful as an ashtray on a motorbike, he’d say as we’d laugh over whether or not the latest K-Tel product came with steak knives, and wonder about its capacity to create radish roses.

So, Fin, Finnie, Finbar, dearest, why not write your own micro memoir now before you forget, and start that cookbook memoir with your next meal.  A line or two, a soupcon of pepper, and you’re on your way, and that’s a very useful thing to be doing in a world undone by conflicts and confits.

Remember, Grasshoppers: Life = Memoir = Now

Possum Magic, or How to Feel 100 Grams Better in a Bad, Mad Season


La Nina has come to visit and she’s outstayed her welcome here in formerly sunny-almost-every-day Queensland.  Enough with the rain, enough with the floods, enough with the inland tsunami.

The dams are beyond fuller than full.  Adults and children are dead or missing.  Houses are wrecked and their occupants homeless.  Enough.

What is it with this crazed climatic family?  Before La N., El Nino hung around for years and years, kicking dust in our faces, spitting desiccated chips in our eyes, killing our native animals and livestock, burning off bushland, burning down houses, and burning out the light in so many people’s eyes all over Australia.

They’re like guests who come to holiday with you, this Nina, this Nino.  They arrive smiling with promise and potential, and their baggage – and don’t they have so much of it – but, like glitter, twist ties, and repeats of Two and a Half Men, you just can’t get rid of them.

What can you do about power that’s way beyond the control of teeny-weeny humans?

The other day, our state Premier, Anna Bligh, stood up to be counted, after a long period of dilly-dallying and less than inspiring shenanigans from the government benches.  She made a speech in which she called on everyone to remember who we are, and it bears repeating.

We are Queenslanders, she said.  We’re the ones they breed tough north of the border.  We’re the ones they knock down, and we get up again.

Strange to say, but a small marsupial must have been listening in at the window when Our Anna roused the citizens to get up again.

Meet Claudette, the sweetest little ring-tailed possum to grace our garden since – well, she’s the only one we’ve found so far.  But you get the drift – see photo for adorability factor up to wazoo.

Claudette – her name appeared from nowhere on a breeze of idle thought – was abandoned, we think, by her mother.  The pair may have been attacked, or frightened, or both, and in these circumstances, the baby – who usually travels on her mother’s back once she’s big enough to leave the pouch – gets shaken off as the mother goes into defensive mode and tries to save herself.  Unfortunately, possums don’t always return to collect their possumettes.

Lola found Claudette in a palm frond, wide-eyed, alone, waiting.  We waited, too, and watched, hoping for Claudette, senior, to return.  By the afternoon, with butcher birds gathering above Claudette’s tiny head, ready to knock her off her perch and – let’s not go there – we stopped watching and took action.

Once we managed to retrieve her from the tree – courtesy of Lola’s magical marsupial manoeuvrings – and place her in a comfy container, she went instantly to sleep, probably a little dehydrated, and certainly exhausted by the effort to remain alert.

We phoned the local vet for some wildlife carers’ names, and found Lyndal, a possum expert and all-round decent human being.  Lyndal put Claudette in a custom-made possum pouch – soft, bunny-rug fabric, just the right size for a 100 gram ring-tailed girl – so she could warm up and calm down sufficiently to be fed a special wildlife formula.

Lyndal phoned us later to let us know that Claudette was feeding and sleeping and doing all the things small furry beings do.  She said Claudette is particularly loving and gentle and she feels confident that once she reaches 500 grams or so, she can go to a soft-release site – an enclosed aviary-style area.  Here, other local carers – all of them volunteers like Lyndal – keep watch as possums like Claudette get used to natural surroundings again and meet other possums – they’re a community-minded bunch, the ring-tails, Lyndal tells us – before their full release into the open.

The moral of this everyday memoir?  Take from it whatever feels good, and I’d like to think that Claudette hung on instinctively until she could make it – with a little help from her friends – to somewhere safer, somewhere loving.

Not everyone has been or will be as lucky as Claudette, but I have to say I’m very proud of all of our fellow citizens who’ve stood up to be counted as these terrible floods wreak havoc and tragedy.

In the end, what we have are the mindful moments that make up our lives and, if we’re lucky – and by now we surely know that nature is random, and careless – each other.


An Everyday Memoir from Flood Central and the Power of Positive Affirmations


This is the sky we’re all looking forward to, physically and metaphorically

Here in Queensland, we’re in the middle of an ongoing flood crisis.  Most of the state is under water, many cities and towns are seriously affected and the damage will continue to affect us for months and, in some cases, years to come.

A number of people, including children, have drowned, many more are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise significantly as emergency services workers, police and the military search for survivors and check abandoned cars and homes.

In Brisbane, the river hasn’t yet peaked, but is expected to exceed the levels that devastated the city in 1974.  The extent of the situation is overwhelming, and I can’t begin to imagine the grief of those who’ve lost their loved ones, and in such cruel circumstances.

There are many confronting and unforgettable images and stories emerging from the affected areas.  In my lifetime, and like so many others, I’m sure, I’ve never seen or experienced anything like the scale and intensity of this ongoing event.

I was born and raised in a river city prone to flooding, and I now live in a river city prone to flooding, and perhaps because of both those facts, I live in a suburb beyond the reach of the immediate flood zone and I’m extremely grateful that I do.

But it wasn’t always so, and I noted in today’s paper a list of streets as long as your arm likely to be affected by the flooding in the days ahead as the river rises.  Three of them were streets where I’ve lived previously, and I have friends who live in others.  And in my old hometown, where they’re waiting patiently for the river level to drop, it seems like everyone is snorkelling.

The street list reminded me of the unpredictable nature of our existence in this dimension and the concept of chance.  If this flood had happened some years ago, I’d be in the firing line along with thousands of others around town.  I wondered how I’d react.

A reporter speaking with a woman whose 76th birthday is just around the corner, asked her how she was feeling.  She looked around the wrecked kitchen of her wrecked home, and said that after living for so long, she now had nothing to show for it.

In another affected town, a woman helping her mother, who has dementia, move to higher ground, was asked by the interviewer how she was able to cope with the stress of the floods and her mother’s condition and the move, and she replied, “You just have to get on with it.”

I’d like to give both these women a big hug, and I’d like to say to the first that she has so much to show for her nearly 76 years.  She has her physical self and her resilience, for a start.  And she has so many memories and experiences, and skills she may not even realise she possesses.  She has her heart and soul, her love for others and their love for her.  (Her children, grandchildren and friends were helping her clean up).

But it’s hard to remember these things when devastation is all around you.  Like the second woman, stoic and determined, all anyone can do is try and get on with it.

It’s hard, yes, but is isn’t impossible.

Two comments keep coming into my mind: “This, too, shall pass,” and Robert Frost’s succinct truth, “Life goes on.”

They may seem trite – and I’m the first to pull Pollyanna’s pulsating plaits – but try them out as affirmations when you’re feeling low.  I know, from experience, that they work, and they work best if you focus on each word, ingesting its meaning like a sustaining, present-moment protein. 

It may just take a few hundred repetitions in the early days before their power begins to show.  But it will.  Trust me, grasshoppers, I’m a flood kid, born and bred.

An Adventure in the Mindless Zone and How Habit can Become Your Enemy or Your Faithful Friend


These 2 gadgets are so alike, they’re almost twins, right?  Right?

This morning, fellow grasshoppers – and in my defence I must point out that it was before breakfast – I single-handedly engineered the briefest of entertainments from the Mindless Zone.  And I’m betting that, like me, you do something similar quite regularly, too.  Can we learn something from it?  Only future moments will tell.

The Mindless Habit Scenario.  Lola and I go for a walk most mornings, and I’ve developed the habit of slinging my camera in its bag over my shoulder and taking it with me, after once spectacularly failing to capture some fabulous shots of ducks (a mother and her duckling – irresistible, n’est pas?) under my favourite tree in the park.  Annie Leibowitz would not have missed these shots.

During today’s morning walk, Lola snapped off a few shots with her compact and, in the end, I didn’t use my camera at all.

Later.  The Mindless Habit – Exposed.  After breakfast every day, I do an exercise routine and use my mobile phone’s timer to count down the sets.  This morning, I couldn’t find the phone in its usual spot on the table in the back room, so I went to the kitchen.  No phone.  Back to the usual spot. No phone.

Unusual spots.  You guess it – nada.  Phone missing, no visible signs of burglary by felons unknown, or lip-smacking consumption by felines known to the household.  I can’t call the phone because it’s turned off.

Next.  Worry for a while and wonder about grey matter turning into blanc mange.  Worry further and fling papers about, re-check all suspect places.

Note presence of camera on table in back room where phone normally lives.  Developing sense of panic interrupted by slow realisation.

The Mindless Zone Strikes.

How did my camera remove itself from its bag – left on the kitchen bench after our walk – and travel from there to the study?  Poltergeist?  Pack cat? Our Dotty always looks suspicious, but no, she has no interest in gadget theft, only food.  Pack rat?  None we know of, and surely they prefer real chips not digital ones.

I step lively to the kitchen, grab my camera bag and find the answer.  The camera never left the house.  The phone nestles inside where I placed it this morning as I proceeded to gather myself together for our walk.

I don’t remember a thing about the event itself – the bagging of the phone and not the camera – because I was travelling in the vague territory that is the Mindless Zone, where phones and cameras sitting close together appear indistinguishable from each other, and because the Mindless Zone creates Mindless Eyes, and Mindless Eyes might as well be wearing a blindfold.  The Mindless Zone also creates Mindless Hands, and Mindless Hands might as well be wearing Antarctic gloves for all the sensitivity they contain.

Habit can be efficient and useful, and it can be mindless and ridiculous.  the results depend, of course, on whether we’re travelling in the Mindless or the Mindful Zone.

A Mindful, Habitual Answer

The third time I locked my keys in the car because I was zooming along in the Mindless Zone, I taught myself the new habit  of taking those keys out of the ignition with Mindful Hands and looking at them with Mindful Eyes before exiting the car and locking the door in the Mindful Zone.  (I haven’t called the auto club since).

I’ll try that with my camera and phone.  Of course, travelling at my own pace and getting ready the night before has much to recommend it, too.

Which one do you prefer?  Why not do both – with a belt and braces you can’t go wrong, and you’ll be living in the now where the only and the very best memoir happens.

Remember: Memoir = Life = Now


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Which Words Will Inspire You in 2011



This is a detail from a work by Rosalie Gascoigne called Lamp Lit (1989)

Which words, attitudes and approaches will you take with you into 2011?  Will they be useful or will they cause difficulties as you go about your mindful moments?  Here are a few that I want to use more often, in no particular order:














Why not add your own to the list?  Think about each one for a few minutes and how you can make it a part of your life.  Make a mindmap, or simply write down connections that apply in your life to each word or idea – people, events, situations in which these words, attitudes and approaches may be most helpful.

You can see where we’re going with this, can’t you?

It’s all about the quality of the light in our lives.

While we’re at it, how about a few pithy quotations to guide and help us.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives – it is the one that is most adaptable to change – Charles Darwin

It always seems impossible until its done – Nelson Mandela

Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace – Amelia Earhart

The way to heal myself of almost anything is to be alone long enough – Kate Llewellyn, author

Less is more – Jan McKemmish, author, friend and mentor

Enjoy your Mindful Zone, Grasshoppers.

Resolution? Isn’t that something to with your Computer Screen?



Resolutions are like snowstorms in the northern hemisphere and floods in the southern at the moment – they’re everywhere.  And like snowstorms and floods, they’re treacherous, dangerous and indiscriminate about who they harm and how they do it.

Resolutions are, to a resolve, to be viewed with caution while holding a sturdy club of some kind behind your back.

Which brings us to:

Tip Number 1:

Always be ready to defend yourself against a resolutionary guerilla attack, especially at this time of year.

A Case in Point, Part 1: I had the best of intentions yesterday regarding my resolutions.  And the day before yesterday as it happens.  Two very significant days for those of us who take such things seriously: the last day of the old year and the first of the new.

I definitely had resolutions on the boil.  I was caught up in the hustle of the moment but I wasn’t in the moment.  As a result, I fell out of the Mindful Zone, a victim of the resolution guerillas, who point us towards …

Tip Number 2:

Do not project yourself into the future, but rather remain here in the present moment.  Take a deep breath, hold for a count of three – one, two, three – exhale, and then, boil the kettle and make a beverage of your choice.  Sit quietly with the beverage, breathe, and sip in the Mindful Zone.

A Case in Point, Part 2:

Mindmaps, vision boards, brainstorming, inspiration  from people with clearly superior resolve, exhortations from every media source ever invented – I had them all and then … then, my beloved PC, Nostromo, began a menacing beep on startup, and I suspected then that he might not make it to the new year.

There had been warnings, of course, there often are in the leadup to potential disaster: frozen screens, shivering and occasionally frozen mice, blank screens, and blank looks (these mostly from my cat, Dotty), unaccountable shutdowns (rather like those fly-by-cyber-night online fraudsters), a pervasive sulkiness, and a resentful reluctance to load pages.

For a happy few delusional hours, I thought Nostromo would make it with me into the new year and beyond, but … we arrived instead at:

Tip Number 3: No amount of planning can protect you from the unpredictable, so when change arrives, scare the pants off it by embracing, rather than avoiding it.

A Case in Point, Part 3: Before Nostromo sailed into the heart of digital darkness forever, I returned to the Mindful Zone and applied the mindmaps, vision boards, brainstorming, inspiration and exhortations to finding a new PC at a reasonable price from a reputable seller.

His name is Julius (the PC, not the seller – that’s Nick), and, after a small altercation with a pesky DirectX control (okay – so I didn’t read the fine print on the Sony PMB installation disc), he sits upon my desktop behaving like a – well, a perfect desktop PC. 

Nostromo booted up one more time on New Year’s day to allow transfers of precious files and bookmarks – thank you, Nostromo, for years of mostly loyal and occasionally narky service.

Between them, Nostromo and Julius nobbled the resolutionary guerillas and stopped them in their temporal tracks.  They brought me back to the moment.  Which is why The Memoir Detective’s next post will be all about how to remain resolute in 2011: Our Year in the Magical Mindful Zone.  I hope you’ll join me.

Happy New Year, Grasshoppers

PS  Julius, my new PC, is named after Professor Julius Sumner Miller, a scientist who presented a program on Australian TV when I was a kid.  The show was called “Why is it So?”  Professor Miller stood in front of a blackboard and demonstrated the glorious wonders of physics and maths and other amazing scientific-y subjects.  I had little aptitude for science but many of us watched because Professor Miller was so entertaining and full of passion for his subject.  He’s a hero of my childhood.  Nostromo was named after the spaceship in the movie, “Alien,” which in turn was named after the actual marine vessel Nostromo in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”.  Considering Nostromo’s recent demise, enough said.


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How to Keep Faith with your New Year’s Resolutions with One Powerful Technique



Here at the tail-end of the Western calendar year, countless numbers of people with good intentions make New Year’s Resolutions, and countless numbers of us fail to keep them, usually after day 1, New Year’s Day.

So today, several days before THE DAY, I want to share with you one very powerful technique that will keep you on the road to RH (Resolution Heaven).

But first, a little history that most of us probably share.

Day 1, New Year’s Day.  Sometimes, RF (Resolution Failure) happens on the day itself, by about 3 in the afternoon, when your energy is down and your ability to focus is lower than my cat, Dotty’s interest in having her own gym membership.

Just one teensy little puff at the – you guessed it – tail-end of a phenomenally draining day laden with so much portent, intent, and latent anxiety.

Week 1.  Sometimes, it happens within a few days or a week – you begin with all kinds of jittery, energetic motivation for your resolutions, but you can’t keep it up because these new activities, these new approaches to old problems bear little, or worse, no resemblance to anything you’ve experienced before.

You don’t even have habit to fall back on.  How could you when you haven’t been doing this new thing for even as long as Dory’s short-term memory.

So you fall back, all right, on old habits, old, bad, comforting habits … aaahhh … just the one slice of vintage Cracker Barrel, darling; a single, weeny cube of caramello (attached to the rest of the Family Block); it’s about to rain – we’ll walk tomorrow, Scarlett.

Perhaps you join the gym and attend several sessions in succession (try saying that when you’re full of muesli and soy milk), and by Thursday you’re buggered and you’ve gained weight (it’s the pesky muscles that weigh more than fat, apparently – I didn’t stick around long enough for the trainer to explain 20 years ago).

You get the picture, don’t you, grasshopper.  After a while, maybe a week or two, or even a month for the holdouts, the energy and focus dissipate and drain away.  The hour is lost, or rather, that day, THE DAY on which we were going to change forever, is lost – again, for another year at least and, miserably, we return to our usual form, with regret and a truckload of disappointment.

We’ve managed to snatch cheesy, chocolaty, sedentary RF defeat from the well-toned, perfectly-aligned jaws of RH victory.

However.  (There’s always a however).

The solution to all this clutter and chaos of perceived failure, is The Mindful Zone.

How?  In The Mindful Zone, New Year’s Day, THE DAY, doesn’t matter, because every day is THE DAY, every moment is THE MOMENT.

Too often, we place incredible pressure on ourselves to begin anew at a special time, and too often this is an imposition from without rather than from within.  It may work for some of us, but for most of us, its meaning is superficial, and therefore, short-lived.

You can change at any moment by deliberately changing your thoughts and actions, your habits and routines, by being mindful of the moments that make up your life, and by making a commitment to those moments.  It’s simple, but it isn’t easy.

And it’s flexible as well – every moment is a new moment, ready and willing to help us here and now.  Forget about New Year’s Day, begin now, get ahead of everyone and you’ll be developing a new habit by the time THE DAY dawns.

Try this if you want to make walking (or running) a more frequent part of your healthy life: when you wake up in the morning (shiftworkers adjust accordingly), enjoy those moments of returning to this level of consciousness by taking a deep breath and stretching your entire body and, as you do so, slowly rise to a sitting position – you’re up.

Commit yourself to do this every day for just one week, because once you’re up, you’re up for anything, including walking, running, meditating, writing, reading, cooking, anything as you breathe in and breathe out in The Mindful Zone.

After just one week, take a moment to commit to another week, and find yourself in the orbit of Resolution Heaven.

Remember, Grasshopper – any day can be THE DAY: the day of the week on which

  • you were born
  • you discovered the brilliance of Anne Tyler’s novels
  • you took a perfect photo of a rain droplet (this morning, actually)
  • you knew you could do without red meat until the 12th of forever
  • the sun rises and sets
  • you declutter your life, discover your truth, and create your legacy as The Memoir Detective

The Mindful Zone is the only place to Be

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After the Excessive, the Nano of course



Christmas Day is full of memories and memoirs lost and found.  It’s a perfect time for nano memoirs of every kind.  Whatever may occur to you, write it down, make a few notes, and have a little think about Christmases past. 

I have a friend who can recall her history word for word, scene by scene, and keep her audiences entertained for hours with stories.  Not everyone is so blessed, or cursed, depending on how you prefer to see it. 

Sometimes it’s a good thing, or a neutral thing, or it means exactly nothing to have no memory whatsoever of particular symbolic days like Christmas.  For instance, I have very sketchy memories of Christmas as a teenager, and none at all of Christmas as a child.  I should have made some notes in that five-year lockable diary I never used because I was too busy reading Donald Duck comics and blowing up soldiers and (old, not the new) Matchbox cars under the house with my brother.

So, in honour of this Christmas Day, may I invite you to write a couple of nano memoirs of your day as gifts to yourself.  I guarantee they’ll suggest so much more to you. 

For example, a couple of mine go something like this:

Trifle: The trifle only happens on Christmas Day, and I can’t remember when it began, sometime within the last decade and a half.  Trifle has nothing to do with my mother – she wasn’t big on desserts, although her sister, my Aunty Ag made a mean pavlova.  It has to do with a woman, Mrs Paterson, who was a friend of our extended family.  She was famous for her trifles, and she always came to visit not on Christmas but on New Year’s Day. 

Her trifles were legendary and, although I ate them every year for years on end, I couldn’t tell you exactly what was in them because Mrs Paterson had a few secrets to preserve relating to her trifle.  Secrets are how people retain a little power, and how they remain unique and valued by their tribe, how they’re invited back, year upon year.  Which reminds me of Uncle Arnie’s ham glaze and The Year of the Cockroach, but that’s a nano for another time.

Oh, the trifle recipe, or receipt, as Jennifer Paterson (no relation to my Mrs Paterson) would say: layer a bowl (I always use Mum’s crystal salad bowl) with pieces of jam roll or other sponge and splash some cream sherry around (preferably on the jam roll).  Add a layer of Aeroplane Port Wine jelly and peach slices (in natural juice, not that sugary syrup) and pour custard over the top.  Start again with a layer of jam roll and a splash of sherry, then more peaches and jelly and custard.  Refrigerate. 

When serving, scoop into individual bowls (if you can resist the temptation to eat the whole thing yourself before the guests arrive) and squirt some whipped cream on top (from one of those spray can varieties, already ready to go and slam your left ventricle firmly shut).  Enjoy.

Beijing:  A long time ago, longer than I care to remember, and certainly before 700,000 cars were revving onto the streets of that great city every year, I went for a holiday to Beijing with a couple of friends.  The only thing I want to note about that trip in this nano memoir is that on Christmas Day we went out as usual – we went out every day on a tour or a trip or shopping or eating – and completely forgot what day it was until later in the evening when we arrived back at our hotel. 

We went straight to the bar for a beer – Beijing beer in those days was delicious, not sure what it’s like now – and there in the corner was a Christmas tree, erected especially for the Western tourists because in China, not a Christian country, of course, Christmas Day was just another work day. 

I don’t remember where we went that day, but I remember that we forgot it was Christmas.  Without the benefit of cultural and social reminders, we lost the day.  It fell clean out of our heads, all three of us, and it was quite liberating.  The burdens of significance and ritual were gone, just for once.

As you can see, nano memoirs can suggest everything.  You can decide where to take them, and how to shape them.  They’ll lead to other nanos without a doubt.

In the meantime, as a friend said to me the other day – and I didn’t forget (forgive the phonetic spelling):

Mala kaleeki maka, or in the old money: Merry Christmas to you.

How Snail’s Pace Wins The Race – The Mindful Zone of the Memoir Mind



Are you the kind of person who travels best at a particular speed as you move through your days?  I know I am.  I think most of us are – whether or not we recognise it as such, our particular speed is there.

There may be a little wriggle room either side – slightly faster, slightly slower, depending on the time, circumstances, degree of perceived urgency – but you find that, at a certain rhythm, at a certain pace, you hit your straps, and all is well.  The sun, moon and stars smile upon you and accidents are rare.

Like the snail in the picture, you travel the way you’re built to travel, physically and mentally.

Let’s call it the Mindful Zone,  because you’re a Gershwin baby: you’ve got rhythm, you’ve got music, you’ve got your house in fine order.

It’s a little like the concept of flow, described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.  But rather than a state of rapture, or the sort of focus attributed to the artist Michelangelo, an extreme example of flow – days of total focus on, and absorption in his art to the exclusion of sleep, food and breaks – I’m interested in the everyday rhythms and speeds of our daily lives – a couple of the elements that contribute to flow.

Your Mindful Zone may equate to a waltz in its timing, a two-step, a tango, a polka, or a salsa, a foxtrot or a cakewalk.  It doesn’t matter which, as long as it gets you through the dance card that makes up your day.

Outside your Mindful Zone, however, too far above or beneath your optimum rhythm and speed, beyond the wriggle room, bad things tend to happen:

  • You slice your finger cutting the vegies too fast with a new knife
  • You jump the gutter backing out of the driveway in a hurry, and you’ve already projected yourself to your destination
  • You forget to buy stamps at the post office because you were running late for the termite inspection
  • You flip the omelette onto the hotplate instead of the dinner plate because it’s way past dinner time and the omelette was supposed to be the easy option
  • Or you flip the omelette onto the hotplate because you contemplate the required wrist flick and pan turn for far too long; you visualise the MasterChef doing it the other night in slo-mo and you overthink it
  • You put the milk in the pantry and the crackers in the freezer because you’re distracted, by something, anything.
  • You think you should keep pace with your partner, offspring, sibling, parent, anyone else who isn’t you.

These are symptoms of the Mindless Zone and it’s a scary place.

At its worst, the Mindless Zone can be tragic, or fatal: after jumping the gutter and bottoming out, that car’s driver my go on to encounter only a bingle, or something far less savoury and entirely life-changing.

The Mindless Zone is like the Twilight Zone, except that you’re here, now – and that’s the answerHere and Now. The Mindful Zone.

You instinctively know your own pace – your best rhythm and speed, your unique time signature: waltz, samba, cossack kicks, do-si-do.  Feel for it, listen to it.  Be here, now.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs.  Was the fox jumping within its Mindful Zone?  Were the dogs simply enjoying their Mindful rather than Lazy Zone?  Only they can tell.  Only you can tell when you’ve discovered this truth and become a Gershwin baby in the Mindful Zone of the *Memoir Mind.

So hasten slowly like the snail and find the time signature that is your Mindful Zone.

*Memoir Mind – a state of mind in which you are calmly aware, from moment to moment, of your life and thoughts.  In this state of mind, you are able to see things from a different perspective.  You may be in a position to begin decluttering, discovering some important truths, and creating your legacy.

Memoir mind: a state of calm excitement.

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Make Your Day The Compassionate Way With Customer Service Up To Wazoo – Everyday Memoirs for Every Day


You can practise mindful compassion and good customer service any time and with any sentient beings as long as you actively choose to do so.

I was reminded of this truth earlier today, and then discovered Seth Godin’s pithy take on the whole deal in my in-box at lunch time when I began to write this post.  Call it kismet, call it synchronicity, and never call me late for dinner.

Here’s how today’s everyday memoir went down.

This morning on our walk we came across two dogs strolling around the neighbourhood without a care, or any visible owner.

There was that nano-second of temptation to turn the corner and struggle up the hill to home and breakfast and copious cups of black tea at Veranda Life – so close and yet – and then the actual response, which was to call out to them and see if they went the other way, or came to us.  They came to us as though we’d been mates forever, tails wagging, smiling – they’re both smiley dogs, you  know the type – and our morning became another kind of Saturday entirely.

The dogs were two labrador retrievers, or close to it, a male and a female, older, calm, well-behaved and friendly, not barky or scratchy or rowdy.  Let’s call them Sweetheart and Darling, two of my favourite diminutives for my cat, Dotty, also known as Dotteleh, O’Dot, Dotskoya, Dottelini, Dottois, Dottybaba, and any other nationality that springs to mind at any given moment.  She is well travelled herself, this Dotty Donut, if only nominally, never mind the wayfaring dogs.

But let’s mind them for a moment, because the moment we made contact, Sweetheart and Darling became, in effect, our customers.  They had a need and we could provide the service.  So we brought them home and parked them on the patio where Dotty could observe proceedings and keep them in line.

We watered and fed them (Dotty’s lamb and vegetables casserole) and we registered them as found with the city council  and the RSPCA.  I snapped their photos, my partner phoned a dozen vet surgeries in the area, took them to the vet around the corner to scan them for micro chips (no luck), and then made up some Found posters with the photos and went for a long walk to staple them to handy power poles.

One of the vets we called offered to take them for a few days before the pound beckoned.  We decided this was the best option given our lack of dog facilities and our desire to see them reunited with their owner and not with dog heaven.  So we drove them to that vet, who both refused our offer of cash to pay for food and so on, and said she’d also look at the minor injuries on the male’s face and head and give them both the once over.  You’ve got to love a loving vet.

We left our details and left for home, hopeful for Sweetheart and Darling.

Enter Seth Godin in my in-box and his post about Moo business cards with a variety of his aphorisms on the reverse side.  The one that struck me, given our experience, was this:

Care.  That, in just one word, seems to be the essence of good customer service.

I realised that that was what all of us had been doing all morning.  It had been a mindful effort of community care, from our accidental meeting with Sweetheart and Darling, to notifying the RSPCA and the council, to the vet with his microchip wand, and the other generous vet willing to care for them for several days at her own expense.

And if Seth doesn’t mind, I’d like to slightly revise his little gem of wisdom to this:

Care.  That, in just one word, seems to be the essence of good human service.

I think it’s Wayne Dyer who says, Don’t die with the music in you.  Let’s not die with the care and compassion in us, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

Don’t turn the corner and leave – take a mindful nano-second to welcome the opportunity to help, however you can.

As Saint Mary Mackillop said, Never see a need without doing something about it.  Mindful compassion: it’s a wonderful way to create our legacies as memoir detectives and strengthen our ties with one another.

Postscript: At 1.05 this afternoon, Brendan from the council phoned to tell us that Sweetheart and Darling’s owner had contacted them and explained they’d escaped during last night’s thunderstorm.  We told Brendan where they were, and a little while ago we learned from the vet that their owner, Cathy, had picked them up and taken them home to their own comfy beds.  So there you go.  

Who says the days of Happily Ever After are over.  Not me, grasshopper.