When in Doubt, Grab a Brown Umbrella

Rainy Day Waves – Curl Curl, New South Wales – Picture by John Calderwood 2012

Last Saturday afternoon, around the time that I was thinking about writing something for this blog about matching up plastic lids with plastic food containers and learning to relinquish control of ephemeral things I could suddenly feel a shift somewhere in the atmosphere.

My heart felt exactly like someone was sitting on it. It was a bit hard to breathe and I felt anxious.

All of this was a bit odd because earlier in the day I’d taught a yoga class and helped a bunch of women find their inner warrior queens by lifting up from a deep pudgy squat (malasana) into Bakasana. I bloody love arm balances – there is nothing finer than realising that by fighting fear, losing your balance and then finding equilibrium you can literally learn to fly (see below).

Teaching yoga feeds my soul and until that moment my soul was feeling round bellied and content. Then from somewhere I had this sense that something somewhere was being stirred up – the first leaves dancing in a strong breeze with a more muscular force behind it. That feeling I get just before a storm when my eyelashes feel like they may be burning was there.

It was an odd feeling but I get odd feelings every so often. Of late, when I get these and have no idea about what is going on I will do – absolutely nothing at all. I simply sit and wait to see what happens. As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait.

Last night my family and I drove out to see our friend singer/songwriter Helen Perris perform in the Newsagency in Marrickville, Sydney. The Newsagency is a tiny little venue – a suburban shop strewn with paper lanterns and little plastic pre-school seats.

Helen Perris performing live at the Newsagency, Enmore Road, Marrickville: 16 June 2012

On the way to Helen’s gig my phone started dancing energetically in my bag. I thought about ignoring it. No one phones on a Saturday night unless it’s really important though right? So I answered it.

Have you received those emails?” It was my friend who owns the studio where I teach yoga.

Possibly, maybe, erm what emails?”

The shit has finally hit the fan, go look now“.

I was intrigued enough to sit and read backwards and forwards through a string of emails on an iPhone in a venue the size of my living room with 40 people around and about me.

Roughly the background to the emails is as follows:

Someone that I worked for last year didn’t pay me for quite a lot of the work that I did. Or more precisely that person put me on what is known here in Australia as the “the Drip” payment system.

Drip payers plead poverty and pay you just enough of your wages to keep you coming in to keep working for them in the hope that you will get all of your wages in due course. Of course in due course you never do.

In my case I gave up trying to get money back from this person when the amount owed to me reached over $5000. An excellent litigation lawyer in Melbourne kindly offered to try to help me get it back and sent a letter to the individual. The individual in turn got another lawyer to send me a letter back with several legal red herrings thrown in for good measure to ensure that I would spend more money chasing her. It was Christmas. I had not been paid for three months. I had no money to pay the rent let alone chase this person through the courts. So I sat and I did nothing. I was exhausted and disheartened and unwilling to throw any more money away.

I am still waiting for payment and so, allegedly, are at least 10 other people who worked for this person. A good proportion of the approximately $120,000 in wages this person owes in wages have, it would appear from the emails that I received been spent on the following items:

– get a professional hairdresser to attend the person’s home every Friday at cost of between $200.00 and $300.00 a week

– monthly visits to Sydney cosmetic surgeon Dr Van Park for skin resurfacing treatments and wrinkle reduction at an average cost of $850.00-$1450.00 per vist

– travel by taxis twice daily from Bondi Junction into the city and beyond at an average fare of $20.00-$50.00 per taxi ride.

– going out to eat/drink approximately 4-5 times per week at an average cost of $200.00 per night

– travel to and accommodation overseas every 10 weeks to New York, Bali (three times), Singapore and New Zealand.

In Glasgow one would employ a small shifty looking man with a nail gun to visit a person like this to suggest an immediate payment plan was anything but an option. In Australia it seems to be common business practice. This is the not the first employer who has not paid me wages and entitlements. Apparently in some US states in these people could be charged with the criminal offence of wage theft.

I realise that totally innocent victims are rare and that by trusting this person enough to keep working after having not been paid for a month and then two months and then three I allowed myself to override my better judgment and thereby to be taken advantage of. If I have one piece of advice to anyone who is reading this post it is: Know that you are worth it.

As Buddhists say: Thieves are sleepwalkers who steal from their own pockets.

So until the laws of karma redress the balance I am sitting waiting not so patiently to see what happens when all the shit that has just hit the fan finds a place to fall.

I am currently sitting quietly under a brown umbrella waiting for the flurry of slurry to land.

Such Beautiful Shit

About this time last year it seemed to me that I had a future full of possibilities.

In between then and now a number of things have happened which I rather wish had not.

The other night I was reading the Minx a bedtime story – this one:

The last time I read her this story was over two years ago. Before I left the law, before people who I thought were friends turned on me.  Before so many things.

And somewhere between the little baby’s trip to the park and waving good night to his parents in the mirror I could feel tears welling up.

One of my yoga students this weekend pulled up mention of my legal background. “You are a lawyer?” she asked in surprise. “I was a lawyer” I corrected as softly as I could.  There is no space in a yoga studio for left-over anger after all.

As I helped my class through their personal challenges – the lady who couldn’t push the floor away to bring herself to a seated position from savasana, someone else who has shed a husband and a house and is heading towards her new life – I realised that there is not none of us who gets to middle age without harm.

And with that I chose my closing guided meditation in the same way that I chose a bedtime story for my children. With an eye towards taking them on a journey.

You talk such beautiful shit” my friend and personal Pilates trainer Stacey tells me after one such journey at the end of one of my classes.

 I smile and ask the class members: “What do you remember from the journey I took you on?
Each of them remember something different. One finds herself floating on a boat, out at sea. Another is in a warm room in her grandmother’s house, reading books. Our imaginations can take us to places we never dreamed of going, we just have to let them free to roam.

When I have finished teaching a class I stand outside watching Sydney winter shadows slice through the suburbs, I realise while doing so that freedom, while costly and painful to achieve, is priceless.

Winter 2012 – Sunrise over Queenscliff, Manly, Australia by John Calderwood