Tuesday, December 12, 2006

the Grand Hotel

2006 Dec 06 grand

No, not the Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, not even the one with Greta Garbo. We were at the Grand Hotel in Huonville, on the banks of the Huon River and we were wearing funny hats and eating plum pudding.

Yes, it was that time of year again and we were all enjoying an early Christmas Dinner with a group from our church.

I even ran into a fellow blogger, John Dekker, who said "Glad to see you finished your novel."

After eating, my sister and I took a stroll into downtown Huonville (not a long trip). I wanted to get a newspaper and as we turned we were facing a plant nursery with a notice telling us to follow the signs to the bookshop.

Julie looked at me. "Want to take a look?" I sighed. If we hadn't seen the notice, I wouldn't have had to decide whether or not to go in.

I used to spend a lot of time in second-hand book shops but not in recent years. Three reasons. It doesn't cost a lot, but it costs something. It takes time, which I never seem to have enough of. And most importantly it fills up space, which is a big factor after forty years of buying books.

But we went on in. Julie was delighted to find the proprietors owned a small black kitten, which obligingly sat there washing itself while she took pictures.

We wandered around the shop, which had the look of having once been in a bigger store. The bookshelves were large and imposing, but they were crowded together as though they had once been in a larger establishment.

The subjects were arranged thematically, so I found the whodunits just below the True Crime stuff. I'm always on the look out for traditional mystery novels since Julie reads a lot of them and I need to keep one step ahead of her. I sorted out half a dozen for her, and picked up a few old issues of Argosy and The Countryman for myself.

Nowadays I'm not up to reading many novels. The concentration required and the strain on my eyes is a problem for me. It took me a long time to come to terms with this -- for years I kept buying books that I knew I'd never get around to reading.

So we wandered out of the store, through the refreshingly moist atmosphere of the newly watered plants in the nursery, and out into the street again. We finally made it to the newsagents, then up the street for a Devonshire Tea at a little cafe in the main block.

It was one of those long summer afternoons, so it was still light when we came out. We strolled back to the hotel to pick up the car, enjoying the sensation that our forefathers would have wandered along this same street on their trips to town in the 19th century. The town might have changed a little, but the hills of the Huon Valley would still look the same if my grandfather were to return for a visit.

Just across the main road from the Grand was a quiet little park on the riverbank. Spaced along the river were a series of wooden statues, carved from trees planted to celebrate the relief of Ladysmith in the Boer War. We ambled about, admiring the workmanship in the statues and the tranquillity of the river. Not a Jet Ski or a speedboat to be seen.

2006 Dec statues

The only subtle sign that all was not right with the world was that almost undetectable hint of smoke in the air. It was a long way to the fires on the east coast of the island, but the prevailing winds had blown some in.

Within five days of our idyllic afternoon in Huonville, the north-east part of the state was in flames. Gale force winds stirred up a virtual firestorm near St Helen's and the news was full of stories of disaster.

Casualties have been very light, but it was unsettling. Anybody who was in Tasmania during the terrible 1967 bushfires will never forget it. The sky filled with that terrible ruddiness, as though we were perched on the edge of an active volcano. The heated air that caught in your throat as you watched specks of ash drifting down from above.

Not happy memories.

Penelope Trunk, author and blogger, recently wrote a column on the subject of "burnout" and very thought-provoking it was.

Burnout doesn’t come from overwork but from an inability to get what you need from the work, according to Christina Maslach, professor at University of California, Berkeley. She created the widely used Maslach Burnout Inventory to test one’s level of burnout. The six areas of burnout to watch for:

1. Working too much
2. Working in an unjust environment
3. Working with little social support
4. Working with little agency or control
5. Working in the service of values we loathe
6. Working for insufficient reward, whether the currency is money, prestige, or positive feedback

People who are suffering from burnout tend to describe the sensation in metaphor of emptiness — they’re a dry teapot over a high flame, a drained battery that can no longer hold its charge.

Like most research about happiness, it comes down to your connections with other people. Maslach found that married people burnout less often than unmarried because a spouse provides another means for fulfilment.

So make sure you are reaching your goals and maintaining close friendships, and you probably won’t burn out.

That was certainly interesting, because I've experienced some similar emotional reactions, though I wouldn't say that I suffered any of the shortcomings listed above. My way of phrasing it was to compare myself with a motor vehicle -- one that was constantly used for short trips, day after day, and never had a chance to charge up its battery.

Eventually there comes a day when that car is not going to start, no matter how normal it may seem to look at.

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