Is life a Rube Goldberg Machine?

I’m feeling overwhelmed at the moment. Life is still locked down – this week is the 13th week I think and there’s another four(?) to go. I’m tired and feeling anxious. The anxiety stemmed in part from job hunting. In my quest to live more intentionally and move closer to family, I am looking for a job in Armidale.

Job Hunting

I haven’t had to look for a new job for a long time but a suitable temporary job came up and I applied. It was only a six month placement but it was a foot in the door. I felt confident that it was a good match for my skills. Same job in a different school. The investment of time and emotional energy used in writing the application was draining and the wait was excruciating! Not helped by the said family asking every day if I had the job! The job was shortlisted last week, and given the silence, I assume I am not going to the next stage.

The emotional drain spilled over into a very unproductive cycle of rumination. IF I had been successful it would have triggered a cascade of events, none of which could have been started in advance.

The rumination generated a number of unanswerable questions that would have needed answers in a very short time frame and would be exponentially compounded by a Statewide lockdown! 

The list of unponderables

The list was long and included (but was not limited) to:

  1. Finding suitable and affordable accommodation in Armidale
  2. Finding tenants for my current place
    1. Leading to do I rent it furnished?
    2. Unfurnished?
    3. And what do I do with my stuff!
  3. Actually physically packing up my stuff and
    1. OMG! How did I get so much freaking stuff?
    2. Move all my stuff or some if it – and then
    3. Do I move it or store it?
  4. Handing over for my current job (while we are in lockdown) to my successor
    1. Finding a successor at such short notice
    2. And finding a successor for the successor!
  5. Saying a hasty online goodbye to colleagues – some of whom I have worked with for close to 20 years.

Shit! No wonder I was anxious! No wonder I still feel like I’m recovering. 

Rube and his machines.

Being the sort of person who loves a good analogy this cascade of actions reminded me of a Rube Goldberg machine. You know, those chain reaction contraptions where one rolling marble bumps against another to set off a chain of events.? There is an old Honda ad which if it’s real, and not CGI, is amazing! 

I think life is just one big Rube Goldberg machine where you tinker with the bits and hope you put them in the right place so they all work together in a nice steady series of movements towards a satisfying end. The pieces in life’s Rube Goldberg machines are the time, skills, resources and people you have built your life with and have available to you.

What happens if it doesn’t work?

I explained my analogy to a colleague. He asked what happens if you don’t put the things in the right place? If your bits don’t line up and the motion comes to a halt? I hadn’t actually thought out the analogy that well, and I didn’t know how to answer so I just shrugged.

I guess you just keep experimenting? It’s not as if you can go back to the beginning. You just restart from where you are. Perhaps you would be able to re-purpose or recycle some of the parts and use them again?  You might even change your design altogether.

But you just keep moving forward. 

At least it was spring!

Strategies for Intentional Living 1 – Morning Pages

As part of my meanderings around the idea of slow living, I have been listening to Brooke and Ben Macalary’s Slow Home Podcast. A lot of what they talk about resonates with me. “Slow” living is a loaded phrase. It has connotations of laziness or “dropping out” attached to it which might be hard to accept especially for people like me who prefer to be “busy”. Brooke suggests another label for slow living.  She says many prefer to think of it as intentional living.

What is intentional living?

Intentional living means that you maintain a lifestyle that adheres to your beliefs and values and you don’t just live on autopilot. Rather than floating along with the dominant culture’s tide, you steer your own boat. My values include reducing my consumption, a value shared by many, but not supported by the dominant culture of capitalism. “Culture” wants to buy lots and buy often. I am digging this groove because while I’ve been living “fast”, I have been living intentionally for some time. I have worked on my life’s purpose, I have values and beliefs which I stick to. 

Curiosity about how other people live intentionally sent me down an internet vortex. There is plenty out there on the interwebs about this topic. Looks like I wasn’t late to this party, just that I have been partying in the dark for a while! Label-less!

How do other people “do” intentional living?

In one pod episode,  Brooke describes her morning routine and refers to “Morning Pages”. The idea intrigued me. Like Brooke, I aim to get up early. In summer, I usually do some exercise in an attempt to beat the heat and humidity. In winter,  It’s hard to get the runners on when it’s dark and cold, so it’s more likely that I will settle down with a cup of tea and do some writing. Morning Pages might be my thing.

Morning Pages

Morning Pages were “invented” by Julia Cameron back in 1992. The idea is that you write three sides of standard US letter paper (A4 for us Aussies!) first thing in the morning before you do anything else. It’s a stream of consciousness style of writing. Just write the things that pop into your head. Don’t censor it, don’t stop to think, just write. The first thought that comes into my mind is that it’s a waste of one side of a piece of paper! The rule about “before you do anything else” is so you capture your thoughts before they are waylaid by the realities of the day.  

Thinks to self: I’m presuming it’s OK to pee but NO cup of tea? That’s a bit extreme.

After you’ve written your three pages in longhand you are supposed to throw them out. This way you are free to write anything without the fear of someone else reading your private thoughts.   Frankly, I hope that someone will, one day, actually read my scribbled, illegible journal notes! I leave them messages! Sometimes I laugh out loud at my little notes to a future reader! Such wit and humour!!  

Journalling vs Morning Pages.

Stream of consciousness scribbling can lead to the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the writing rainbow. First, you write draft zero, get all the rubbish out of the way and then you *might* find the pot of good thoughts. Your flow hits the perfect viscosity. I often experience this when I am out running or walking. A great story idea pops into my head. sometimes I’ll stop and record a breathless voice message because invariably, I have forgotten the said brilliant idea before I get home!

I have used my own photos to order unlined books through Photobook Australia.

I keep a journal,  so far I am up to Volume 10.  I use an A5 hardbound notebook with unlined pages and write in pencil although I don’t write in it every day. It’s a hotchpotch of shopping lists, to-do lists, ta-da lists, ideas for blog posts, self-recriminations, summary notes I’ve taken while listening to online courses or Youtube. It serves as my travel diary. It even holds some deep dark secrets! I’d love to be able to decorate it with beautiful sketches and calligraphy but doodles are as far as I go in the artistic department.

I don’t want to throw my jottings away!  My first intentional decision then is to stick to journalling.  My journal serves a similar purpose. One day I’m hoping some of my descendents will read it and say “What a funny old chook Great Grandma was, I wish I had met her!” Through the pages of my journal, I think they can. 

Tree change to slow living

Last week I introduced my new series about slow living and making a tree change to Armidale in northern NSW. Before I start packing, I need to get my ducks in a row. The biggest “ducks” are having somewhere to live and a job. I am trying to open my mind to all the possibilities. However, deep down the sensible voice keeps telling me not to take too big a risk. I still have a mortgage to pay, I’m sixty and getting a new job might not be so easy as keeping the one I’ve got. I don’t want to end up poor and homeless which is an unfortunately common scenario for single women my age. Sure, I want to live simply but I still want to eat!

A blurry image of grass blowing in the ewind

The day job.

My current day job is secure and satisfying yet very reactive. Dealing with teenagers and their families everyday is draining. The idea of changing jobs gives me so many things to think about! Do I need the same sort of job as I have now, earning as much as I do now? Do I want to stay in the same intense people-centric job? Could I scale back? Could I get a job selling widgets who don’t yell at you and bully each other on social media? Could I go freelance? I’d like to. 

Some options for a tree change

As any good list maker like myself does, I sat down and came up with some scenarios. Ranging from going the “whole nine-yards”, selling everything, buying a tiny house and living off the grid, right down to doing nothing and staying put. Then, there is everything in between. Renting my place, renting something cheaper up there or even sharing with my family.  Here are two of the options I came up with from riskiest to safest. There were 7 other options in between!

Go really hard  – tree change deluxe model

  1. Sell up
  2. Buy a tiny house
  3. Find somewhere to park it – you might need to rent someone’s backyard 
  4. Grow veggies and chickens
  5. Live off the grid
  6. Get rid of most of your stuff
  7. Quit work –  go freelance!!!

Safest – Stay here – do nothing.

  1. Keep your stuff
  2. Keep working
  3. No veggies or chickens
  4. No cost.

Complex property decisions

It’s complicated by the fact that while the housing options in Armidale are more affordable, the gap between there and my current property is not huge. Probably not enough for me to  come out of the transaction debt free. 

The better news is that rent is cheaper and if I rent my place I can cover the mortgage and other related expenses. (just!). If I do sell I will never be able to get back into the coastal property market without winning the lottery. Ackkkkk!!!!!

I also have to acknowledge that I have the privilege to make these decisions in the first place.

Are my expectations too high

The best case scenario would be to be debt free and able to retire or at least work less than I do now. Then I can explore freelance work and a simple lifestyle. I don’t want to go backwards in terms of my finances but I don’t want to be separated from my family waiting for the magic unicorn of a job to appear.

Am I expecting too much? Does making the tree change to living simply and slowly mean you have to be broke? I know I am overthinking it. Should I just chuck it in and take the plunge?

I know I would have 30 years ago, because I did.