Saturday, December 4, 2021

A Dog's Eye: I've moved.

Square Pegs posts can now be found at D.A.CAIRNS AUTHOR.

Quite a long time ago, Blogger changed their interface, (or whatever you call it - sorry for my non technical knowledge/awareness), and I was displeased. The functionality I had enjoyed since beginning Square Pegs back in 2009 had been impaired and it was no longer as easy or enjoyable to use.

Two things in particular annoyed me every time I wrote and posted an article on Blogger after the 'improvements'. One, I could no longer place a photo in the text. It had to sit alone between paragraphs or...or nowhere. The second thing was I could no longer scroll through my post to check it in any way other than using the side bar. I don't use a mouse, so you can imagine how irritating this process became.

Aside from the negative changes to the Blogger interface, I had for some time wanted an official author website; not a blog, but a professional looking, hosted website with my own domain. After exploring this move myself, and finding it above my pay grade. I checked out how much it might cost to hire someone one to build website for me.As I'm still waiting to make money from my writing, I found the cost prohibitive and shelved the project until such time as...well, until such time as the cost was no longer an obstacle. 

Fast forward to roughly a month ago, with the imminent launch of my first non fiction and first self-published book, I Used to be an Animal Lover, the time was right. However, it was only right because my sister stepped in with an offer to good to refuse. What was the financial incentive? What cleared the obstacle, making a path for a long held goal of mine? A payment plan.

In the end, with assistance from my children, and content from me, my sister built me a great website and I am now there. Not here. On the site, which is well worth a visit, you will not only find Square Pegs, but also information about me and my books, including preview and purchase links, links and downloads of my work, and a selection of writing services which I offer as a freelancer.

It's time to say good bye to Blogger and hello to D.A.CAIRNS AUTHOR. Please come and visit, have a look around a sign up for Square Pegs posts, and subscriber only content, including news and giveaways.

Thanks for the memories Blogger. Thanks to all those who have read, commented, and shared, especially those hundred odd people in Poland who followed my short lived food blog, I Don't Cook. Archived articles will remain available here, but all the new content can only be found at D.A.CAIRNS AUTHOR. See you there.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

A Dog's Eye: Much ado about nothing

The name of one of Shakespeare's plays. Much Ado About Nothing, entered the vernacular as an expression meaning to make a big deal about something which is either untrue or not such a big deal. The essence of it is found in two idioms.

1. to bark up the wrong tree which means to get worked up over something based on false assumption or an accepted lie. The dog starts pawing the trunk of a tree, looking up into it and barking in the belief there is something up there - a cat or some other creature which it feels compelled to attack - but it is barking at nothing, because there is nothing in that tree. Thus it is making a big fuss, much ado, about nothing.

2. To make a mountain out of a molehill means to get really upset over a small matter. To be fair, there is some element of subjectivity involved here in terms of what constitutes a mountain of an issue compared with a molehill of an issue, but the saying is used to express the idea that the person getting upset is overreacting. They are making much ado about nothing.

People say these things to other people when a. they know the truth and the receiver is acting on false information, or b. the speaker disagrees with the importance of the issue which the receiver is getting upset about it. The speaker does not feel the same way so naturally they perceive the others's expression of angst, fear, or outrage as 'over the top.'

Most people are passionate about something. Many people feel aggrieved when others don't share those passions or don't understand them. Many people support various causes and often request their friends, families and others to support those causes too. I'm growing a moustache for Movember again this year and as I usually do, I sent text messages to all my phone contacts asking for a donation. 95% of people didn't respond. A few people responded, but didn't donate. A handful of others donated, and even less people got so upset they felt the need to tell me how offended they were. In this case, I'm talking about one person in particular who suggested my cause was trivial compared to his and rambled about a lack of support for what he was doing. I knew nothing about it.

I also have a book launch coming up next week for my memoir, I Used to be an Animal Lover. It's not a cause, like Movember, because it's personal. I'm trying to sell my book and to do that I need to advertise. I've been using Facebook ads which have resulted in a massive increase in engagements on the I Used to be an Animal Lover page. What I was looking for, from those reactions, was people to sign up for Advanced Review Copies and register for the book launch. It's also great to get comments rather than just reactions. However, as with my Movember texts, the results of my advertising campaign have been predictably, but nonetheless disappointingly poor.

Zero event registrations. Zero ARC expressions of interest and only two comments on the most recently sponsored post. You can see the comments below, but essentially the only two people who took the time to comment were very upset about my ad appearing in their news feed. 

Here's my philosophy about all this in a nutshell.

1. If you don't appreciate something, or can't see any value in it, then ignore it.

2. Never expect people to care about your passions and causes as much as you do.

3. Be prepared to cop criticism or even abuse from those who don't follow number 2.

4. Life is too short to making much ado about nothing.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Mirror: Parental Guidance

In the 21st century, everything is apparently of interest to someone and the evidence of this can be found on social media and in reality television. Since the early noughties, reality television exploded in popularity with the advent of Survivor, Big Brother, The Biggest Loser, and American Idol, all of which went on to become global franchises in turn giving birth to a never ending stream of progeny.

These shows are popular because of the ages old appeal of vicarious living. The ability to live a life, to experience an adventure, to undergo a trial, or to find romance without leaving your home had traditionally been provided by fiction or documentary, in books, films and television. Reality TV ushered in a new and more personal way to connect.

I've watched and enjoyed a few of the these shows over the years without necessarily becoming a devotee. Mostly, I've avoided them because either I found them too morbidly addictive, dull, or offensive, but when I find something I like, I'll commit for a season, and my attachment is based on two things; people and philosophy. Although I understand how heavily edited these programs are, and how manipulative such editing is, I still find the shows interesting and entertaining because of the characters, both their personal stories and how their worldviews play out in life.

The latest reality show to hit Australian screens is Parental Guidance about which I'd heard nothing until I saw an ad for it while I was watching a James Bond film on the Nine network. It's marketed as a social experiment, which is fair enough because it isn't exactly a reality TV show, although it does have elements of the genre, and I like it...a lot.

Co-hosted by prominent child psychologist Dr. Justin Coulson, the show brings together ten couples with different parenting styles, examining the strengths and weaknesses of each methodology through group discussion and a series of family challenges. Irrespective of what you might think about any of the various parenting styles, one thing is clear: these parents really love their children and are committed to doing what's best for them. They may chose different paths but their broad goals are identical. The environment in which these discussions take place is one of respect and openness, which has no doubt been engineered by the structure of the show and the careful selection of participants, but it makes for compelling, albeit occasionally uncomfortable viewing.

In most families, it is unlikely that any particular parental style has been intentionally chosen and pursued by the parents. Most people muddle their way through child rearing, as they do through life, doing the best they can  However, any parent watching this show would certainly be able to identify with some or all of the parental practices displayed. Most parents use a mix of strategies to achieve their goals for their children and to ensure a healthy family life. The difference with the couples on the show is that they are very intentional and consistent.

I've found it impossible to keep my mouth closed while watching Parental Guidance. Whether I agree or disagree, praise or criticise, I'm fully engaged as watch and I'm sure I typify the reaction that the producers of the show desired. The show is about the conversation, about learning from each other, inspiring each other to be better parents and better people. 

I would argue that Parental Guidance is not only a clever and entertaining show, but also a necessary one. Does anyone not agree that parenting is the single most important job any person will ever have? Who doesn't want to be a better parent? What parent does not want the very best for their children? Who doesn't find parenting hard at times?

Although I find it tedious to have one same sex couple, or a same sex attracted person included in every show now, I think having Brett and Tony in Parental Guidance is important and valuable. I'm also pleased they included a single mum. I don't believe these are optimal parenting scenarios, but I do think good parenting should be acknowledged and supported no matter who is delivering it.

I only have three criticisms of the show. Firstly, it's too short. Opinions are delivered in 'grabs' designed to have maximum emotional impact on the viewer, but it doesn't go deep enough for me. However, as with most shows you can visit their website for additional content. Secondly, the disparate ages of the children skews the results of some of the challenges, and thirdly there is no accounting for, or representation of blended families. It is one thing to raise children from birth with a particular parenting style, but what happens when your parenting journey begins with an eleven year old and a thirteen year old, for example, as mine did. Perhaps the producers would consider a spin off which focusses on step parenting, which is unquestionably harder than parenting.

Parental Guidance ticks a lot of boxes for me as a viewer and a parent of four children. It's manipulative but not excessively, and it's controversial, but not for the sake of controversy I'm very much looking forward to the second week of the series, and I encourage you to check it out. Tune in, and take a look into the mirror. Do you like what you see? 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

relationDips: unpalatable and indigestible

Informally, we might use the word 'yuk' to describe such food which we don't like. We don't though. 'yuk' or 'yukky' tend to be used by children as adults have developed more sophisticated ways of saying they don't like or even can't eat certain foods. Imagine a five year old, sitting at the dining table, staring at a few florets of broccoli, saying, 'Mother, I'm afraid I find these particular vegetables unpalatable and indigestible.'

                                                                    photo source

I think some foods are yuk. Some of the dishes presented to me by my wife aren't appealing at all. Okra for example, is a vegetable I have tried to acquire a taste for but I can't get past the slimy texture. Certain other Asian greens taste okay but require exhaustive chewing to get value from them, and even then there is indigestible refuse to eject. I have a thing about having to put my fingers in my mouth while I'm eating, or having to spit things out. Nothing destroys my enjoyment of a meal like a fish bone jamming itself in my gum. I used to not eat cherries because I wanted fruit to put in my mouth, chew and swallow. I didn't want to have to negotiate a stone, then spit it out once I'd stripped the sweet flesh which surrounds it.

Eating shouldn't be hard work. There's usually enough hard work in the preparation, and the after meal cleaning. For me, eating is the part of the process which is enjoyable, or should be. Even if the food isn't great which is usually the case when I cook, the sitting down and eating should provide sensorial pleasure, and it should be relaxing. I don't enjoy cooking or cleaning, although I do find a certain satisfaction in those tasks. Eating is what I like.

There is something I like more than eating, from which I derive greater satisfaction, but even then not all elements of the procedure are equally enjoyable or rewarding. I love writing, but I don't love trying to find publishers or marketing. I love writing this blog. I've been doing it for 12 years, but thanks to Blogger's decision to change its interface, I'm no longer happy with the process. The writing is great. Adding photos and publishing? Not so great any more. I can write a short story of around 2000 words in a couple of hours. I'll usually spend an hour or so editing it, but then I can spend another hour or more sometimes trying to find a market for the story. After submitting it, I'll have to wait (sometimes forever), for a yes or no. If it's a no, I'll find another publisher and send it again. That isn't fun, but it's a part of the process. I wrote the first draft of my memoir in about six months. It's taken another twelve months after that to get it ready for publication and I can't tell you how many hours I've spent on various marketing endeavours. It will be available from November 22. You can visit the page here. 

There are elements of eating and writing which I don't enjoy, on both the consumption and production side. I don't stop eating after I've had a bad meal (unless it was so bad it made me sick and I couldn't eat for a while). Neither do I stop cooking just because I don't like it, can't be bothered, or I've cooked something inedible. (Ask my children about my lemon chicken.) I don't stop writing because my work doesn't sell well, or because I get a long list of rejections; or even because, again, it's too hard or I don't feel like it. I've read some rubbish books but that's never stopped me reading, and I continue to read experimentally, checking our different genres and authors.

None of these negatives put me off doing things I love doing because in my mind it's worth a bit of pain of discomfort to achieve pleasure and satisfaction. Most people have this attitude to things they care about it, and relationships are no different.

If your expectations meter is set to realistic, you know life isn't all strawberries and butterflies. You understand that weeds grow in your garden faster than roses and that if you don't get rid of the weeds and look after your roses, your garden will be 'unpalatable and indigestible.'

Whatever metaphor you want to use, the point is that good relationships require hard work, and if you're going to do your part, you'll need to push through the unpleasant parts while still giving them your best efforts. If I want to cook a horrible meal, I can avoid fresh ingredients and ignore the recipe. If I don't want anyone to read my work, I won't waste time refining and polishing the manuscript, then trying to marketing it. If I want an unhealthy relationship with my wife, I can easily achieve that by giving up. I can pick out all the unpleasant or unacceptable parts of the marriage and focus on them, using them as excuses for not working hard to make my marriage successful. The 'too hard basket' is always an option for those who lack courage.

The thing is, I want to eat healthy, tasty meals, I want to read inspiring, fascinating books, and I want to write books and stories which move people.  All of this requires effort on my part and it won't always be fun. And more than any of that, I want the best marriage I can possibly have. Loving my wife means I need to make an effort. My relationship with her is more important than food or books. She's not food which I can spit out or throw away. She's not a book I can put back on the shelf, then choose another. She's a person who needs me to love her unconditionally and consistently, to respect her, and to make her feel safe.

Perhaps if people took their relationships as seriously as they did their jobs, hobbies, and other passions, we'd have less broken relationships.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

A Dog's Eye: It's not just a lawnmower, mate.

Once upon a time I bought a house and the purchase of that house necessitated many other purchases. A great number of those purchases related to home maintenance which is not a thing when you're renting an apartment. Not only is there no lawn to mow, but any repairs which may be required are the responsibility of the owner of the property - for better or worse. (Unfortunately many renters find agents and landlords to be very diligent when they want you to sign a lease, but significantly less so when the tenancy begins.)

There are many benefits to home ownership, but there are also increased costs and, let's call them burdens, but overlook the negative connotations of that word. I bought my first house twenty years ago. My ex wife owns and lives in that house now, and since our separation I have lived quite a transient life. I'm the guy who needs extra pages for all his previous addresses on mandatory police checks for employment purposes. Before I moved to Darwin five years ago, I racked up five different addresses in about eighteen months. During my time in the Top End, I had six permanent addresses, and for the eighteen month period in which I was a house sitter, I slept in nearly forty different beds.

In all that time, six years now, I bought two lawnmowers. One, a brand new electric model and the other, five years after I got rid of the electric one because I didn't have a lawn to mow, was a second hand mower which I pushed around the yard in the tropical heat until it spat the dummy. The engine seized a couple of weeks before we moved from Darwin back to the Illawarra.

Since our return, we're already on our third address. This time, I'm hoping and praying that we can stay for at least two years or more, even until we are ready, God willing, to look at buying a home of our own. So keen am I to put down roots, I have come to see the lawnmower as a metaphor for commitment.

The house in which we are now living, and as I said, hopefully not leaving for some time, has a sizeable yard. Had we been more financial at this time, I might have considered paying someone to come and cut the grass. Firstly, to avoid having to do it myself, and secondly to avoid having to buy a lawnmower. Now don't get me wrong, I like lawnmowers and I like using them. Cutting the grass is one of those necessary chores which gives you exercise and an immediate sense of satisfaction once the job is done. It's not that I don't want to do it, it's just that I can think of many other things I would rather do.

I have a philosophy that getting older (I'm talking about the second half of life - post midlife crisis) is about reducing the 'have to' components. Many of them can be removed with a theoretically simple change of attitude, but others are about making wise choices. Choices aren't only facilitated by money, but whether or not you can afford to do something, or go somewhere, or hire someone to do something for you, is certainly impacted by your financial circumstances.

I tell you, if I was on a six figure income, I would pay someone to clean the house and cut the grass. However, limited money means limited choices.

So, I must cut my own grass which is certainly not the end of the world. Having made that decision, I then needed to purchase a lawn mower. I could have gone second hand again, but aligning with the 'lawnmower means commitment' metaphor, I knew a second hand mower wouldn't last as long as new one. It would also be louder, dirtier, and harder to use. I decided to show that I was in for the long run by buying a new lawnmower. The problem was, I still had a tight budget. After a brief search online for mowers I could buy at bricks and mortar stores, I was not happy with the prices, so I turned to old mate Amazon.

                                                                      Giantz 4 stroke lawnmower on Amazon

To cut a long story short, I spent a total of just under $300 for a no name brand mower built in Taiwan, where I'm pretty sure there aren't many lawns, and a jerry can, funnel, and a bottle of oil. In just over a week a big box from Amazon arrived at my door and three days later I unpacked and assembled my new toy.

It's beautiful looking machine, was easy to put together, easy to start, easy to use, it's quiet, and it did a great job. Although I was hot, sweaty, and in pain from a pulled buttock muscle, I gazed upon the finished lawn and smiled. I'll do that every time I cut the grass, even though some days will be much hotter, and I won't feel like it when I start.

I bought a new lawnmower, but it's much more than just a machine to cut a grass. It's a metaphor for commitment. I'm all in. A long term determination to make a 'have to' task, a joyful one and one for which I forego complaining to express gratitude.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Snake Oil: Seatbelts and COVID

In 1970 Victoria became the first state in the western world to introduce laws making the use of seatbelt in cars compulsory. within year and a half the other Australian states followed suit and by 1977, 90% of motorist were wearing seatbelts. Why? Because they recognized that although wearing a seatbelt could be something of an inconvenience, it also prevents death and more serious injury in the event of a car accident.  

"The Australian experience supports the view that legislation for compulsory wearing of seatbelts is the single most effective method available for the protection of vehicle occupants in road crashes."(1)

Seatbelts were first offered in vehicles by Nash in 1949, followed by Ford in 1955, but American buyers didn't initially want cars with seatbelts because they believed that needing to install a seatbelt meant the car itself wasn't safe. Apparently safety did not sell. It does now, but not back then.

The first sash seatbelts weren't much chop, and actually caused injuries in some cases but the technology continued to improve with Volvo introducing the three point belt, then later the advent of the pretensioner was brought to us by Daimler-Benz.

We, both motorists and passengers, exercise faith when we use motor vehicles. Time has proven we can trust manufacturers to make safe vehicles, but they can't do anything about dangerous or incompetent drivers. We have licensing, registration, and training to help with that of course, but when you're driving you can really only hope that other drivers are licensed and they know what they're doing.

The mandatory use of seatbelts is just one of numerous examples of governments acting to protect their citizens. There was no conspiracy to restrict our freedom or inconvenience us. The purpose was keeping us safe. Governments still run advertising campaigns to remind people to belt up when they get in car even though most of us do it automatically. Despite the initial protests and concerns, we got used to seatbelts. And they work.

Call it a long bow if you like, but I can't see any difference between seatbelts and COVID vaccinations and precautions. Governments around the world want people to get vaccinated to keep us safe. Seatbelts, vehicle testing and registration, driver training and licensing, and speed limits are all designed to keep us safe. Most people accept this, not as evidence of totalitarianism, but of natural and acceptable paternalism. Don't we want the government to keep us safe? Lockdowns, check ins, face masks, and vaccinations are not evidence of a conspiracy to control and repress us. The purpose is to keep us safe. In my opinion to see more in it than that, is to enter the realm of paranoia.

I'm double vaccinated and will happily display by certificate before being granted entry into a restaurant. When I drive, I would like to know the other drivers are licensed, and it's no different in the restaurant, I would like to know if my fellow diners are also vaccinated. I want to be safe. Who doesn't?

I have friends who have been pushing various conspiracies theories on me, and others, since the pandemic turned the world upside down early in 2020. I've never bought into it and I'm not about to. I've seen fear take the steering wheel of so many people's lives. I'm not doing that either. I've never been afraid, nor will I be. I'll do what I'm told regarding COVID rules. I don't like the inconvenience and I am definitely not a fan of wearing a face mask, but I'm taking reasonable precautions and following the advice of experts to stay safe, including getting vaccination.

COVID conspiracies are snake oil.

Source: (1) 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

A Dog's Eye: A Moving Story

Without wishing to downplay the stress involved in what happened, this is not a heartwarming, emotional post. It's a post about shifting: changing situations, attitudes, jobs, and addresses.

                                                     (unrelated cute dog photo to warm your heart)

If there has been one consistent theme to my prayers over the last 3-5 years, it has been peace and simplicity. These two things are not necessarily easy bedfellows, nor are they always found inhabiting reality. I would like a peaceful and simple life, but neither my choices nor the circumstances of my life - not all of which are the results of my choices - promote the achievement of that goal.

I'm forcing myself to write this because I haven't written for a while. I found a slot on Sundays before church in which I was regularly adding content to this blog. Two Sundays ago, we moved house which meant I not only didn't write but I wasn't able to attend church. Last Sunday, I was too tired which has become normal for me these days because I am having to get up ridiculously early to go to work.


Wait a minute, I hear you say. You're a writer. Why do need to get up before Sparrows to go to work? You set your own hours, so why not get up later to give yourself sufficient sleep? Alas, being a full time writer remains a dream for me, albeit one which I am pursuing with much more focus and vigour than I have previously done.

We've got bills to pay so I thought a part time delivery job would help, particularly as working AM shifts means I am free to write in the afternoons. I don't work every day at this delivery job which I've been doing for a month now, so I have full days which I can devote to writing. Theoretically.

Yesterday, I had 'all day 'for example, but I spent three hours trying to do something unrelated to work; a home project to help my wife. It would not have been so bad had I actually been successful, but I failed miserably which left me thinking I had wasted half a day. So much can happen every day; thousands of other needful things, distractions and interruptions all working against my plan. 

Speaking of thousands of things, it's incredible how every day at the delivery job throws up new challenges. It's much more difficult than I thought it was going to be, and I'm certain I will grow to hate doing it before too long. However, I prayed for a job, searched for jobs, applied for many, and this is the one I got. It's not all bad. I love meeting people, chatting on porches, driving around the Illawarra enjoying the beautiful scenery, and of course, I enjoy getting paid.

The problem is I can't shake the nagging doubt that it's taking me away from where my focus should be. Writing. At times it seems like there is a conspiracy operating against me. Even my own energy levels aren't supporting me in pursuing my dream. I feel stuck, and unsure what to do.

We didn't want to move from Albion Park Rail and it was a monumental hassle; not to mention stressful as we had a very short time to find a new home and make it all happen. Despite the pain and inconvenience, we are definitely better off. The new house is better situated, bigger, and cheaper. I've even got an office. What a luxury to have my own room in which to work. Sure, I don't have any furniture apart from a camping chair and a large carton which is serving as a desk, but I have the space and the space will be filled in due course.

Lockdown has finally ended, so my wife has been able to resume her hairdressing and massage business. She's happy, so I'm happy. Things just keep on changing and I keep on adjusting, remembering to always remain thankful, but it isn't quite how I want it to be.

Out of necessity, I deliberately override my feelings, and try to move into the right space - the right metaphorical space - by being positive and refusing to let go of the dream.

I say it often because I believe it. There is always hope. Everything is temporary, everything passes in time. The biblical injunction to give thanks in all circumstances and to rejoice always requires discipline. Living by faith means sometimes ignoring one's feelings and choosing to see things the way God sees them. I said everything is temporary, but things of the spirit are not. God is not. He doesn't change. I can trust him because he's good and he's proven himself faithful to me.

Money is tight. My freelance writing career is in a trough. I have no money to advance my personal writing projects. I'm doing a job I don't really like in order to pay off a large and long standing debt as well as contribute to rent, food and other household expenses. It doesn't feel right nor does it look right, but I have no sense that it is not right.

I'm going to watch television now and come back to this tomorrow after I deliver groceries, then come home and take a nap. On we go. Did I move you?