the selfish nature of giving

 

In the season of indulgence and excess, people find themselves thinking of Africa. Whether briefly or otherwise, we allow our thoughts to wander to the various third world poster nations and we proffer throw away statements to families who doze with bursting bellies; if only there was a way to share our leftovers with the needy. After having this thought and recognising the impractical nature of such a venture, for the most part we feel better, though for those of us who have a guilt that’s slightly harder to abate, we can call the number on the screen and commit to a dollar a day before breathing a sigh of relief that we’ve done our bit for another year.

This time three years ago I was commencing my first trip into the big world on my own. I flew to Africa and spent six weeks on a volunteer project in Swaziland, assisting in a day centre for orphans and building mud brick houses for disadvantaged families. This programme was coordinated by a not for profit organisation who offered various packages to people wishing to see the world while ‘making a difference’. As I boarded the plane that day in early January, a warm glow surrounded me; I was doing something noble and good. I had been blessed with a life of opportunity and privilege, and now I had a chance to give back by voyaging into the third world with the vague intention of ‘helping’ in an effort to prove that I was open minded and generous. After all, I was under no disillusion; I was one of the lucky ones.

Being born beneath the star of cynicism, while others blindly embraced the tour, as the weeks unfolded I became increasingly aware that the ‘aid project’ with which I was involved was in fact just another tool of the western world. Rather than existing to bring about a shift in the social taboos of the SiSwati people and instead of possessing the intention of building infrastructures and providing educational opportunities to close the gap for the African nation, the programme was little more than a commercial venture fuelled by the discontentment, guilt and arrogance of the first world; people like me, who had tricked ourselves into thinking we were there for others. Actually, we had come purely for selfish gain, hoping to find ‘meaning’ in our lives, or else to offer some kind of something as a means of making ourselves feel better about the fact that we’re doing nothing significant to adjust the disparity between the first and third worlds. We ‘volunteers’ give a month of our time and believe that we’re square; we pay our tribute before returning to our modern conveniences without having to feel responsible. Of course, it didn’t work out that way and I came home feeling a fool for the ignorance that I had exhibited regarding the state of poverty stricken nations.

However, visiting Africa certainly taught me many things that I hadn’t expected to learn. For one thing, I was shocked when I was informed that in countries such as Swaziland, our ‘help’ is actually enabling a self destructive ethos for the local people. During my visit in their country, I spent a weekend with a man named Myxo who still lived the traditional lifestyle of the SiSwati people. He explained that by sending money or visiting his country we are being unwontedly selfish; that in a Kingdom where the soil is fertile and land is freely given by the King to any SiSwati man willing to reside and work it, his people are choosing to migrate to the townships frequented by white tourists in order to sit with destitute expressions and be given cash by ignorant but good intentioned westerners, rather than bothering to earn an honest living for themselves.

I also returned with the sobering realisation that no amount of ‘giving’ is going to abate those feelings of discontentment with which so many of us from the first world are plagued. After being back for a few weeks, while I remained abstractly aware of the blessed lifestyle I enjoy in Australia, I was no happier about my job or personal prospects. This desensitisation led me to wonder at whether, rather than being justifiable feelings, perhaps I was simply a victim of the western condition; that in the absence of genuine problems over which to fret, we invent our own sources of grief and suffering. Upon considering this theory, suddenly my various basis of angst seemed pathetic and invalid.

Without a doubt I consider it is good and healthy to open our minds to other places in the world, whether through travel or by other means of educating ourselves. In saying that, I am ashamed to admit that despite the sobering realisations I made regarding Africa and our bandaid treatment of the country, I have done nothing for these people since arriving back in the land of opportunity. I guess the size of it made me feel impotent, though I know that’s just an excuse to make me feel better.

Please be aware that I realise that I’m judging we westerners harshly here. I have a lot of faith in the human spirit and on a basic level it’s great that we consider others and recognise that we are lucky people. I also recognise that when we donate to one of many and numerous charities to ‘save the children’ we’re trying to help in the only way we know; by sending money, the single entity we value above all else, aside from our comfort and lifestyle. We are also targeting our efforts towards the only continent the majority of mainstream organisations encourage us to assist. When it comes to Africa, we’ve been alerted to a problem and we’re doing what we can to fix it. This can only be a good thing.

Certainly, it’s imperative that we recognise that it isn’t only in Africa that people are having a hard time. In fact, there are many places where communities are finding things much, much worse; at least the majority of African countries endure their poverty in relative peace (though of course there are exceptions to this; the Ivory Coast has been in a constant state of war for many decades). Unfortunately, many places sorely requiring foreign aid aren’t considered trendy to assist. Somebody’s agenda clearly dictates it either unfavourable or unbeneficial to acknowledge the humanitarian needs of political refugees in war torn countries, for example. It’s hard to accept that those who are most in need of our support are the very ones whom the government and popular media of our country have chosen to censor.

So this holiday period, why not dedicate some of your spare time to considering the places in the world which are currently most in need of our support. Africa will not be forgotten if you spend an hour reading about the current climate in Palestine, for instance. For an easy to follow explanation of the history of the conflict, here is a website you can visit: http://www.merip.org/palestine-israel_primer/intro-pal-isr-primer.html. Or to view current statistics regarding the war and learn more: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/.

If you learn something new, tell a friend about it. Because more than anything else, well intended Australians simply need more information regarding the political climate of what is rapidly becoming a global village. Let’s face it, being the barer of this information will feel much more rewarding than providing your bank details to an automated voice message recorded by an organisation preying on your guilt and already maxed out credit card.

Happy holidays, guys. x

 

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a study of irrational rage

I find anger fascinating.

I’m not talking about the exasperation you feel when your partner insists on hanging the washing with mismatched pegs, or the irreconcilable irritation that comes from turning on the television to discover that the only programme you bother to watch has been thoughtlessly cancelled to enable the screening of some stupid sporting event. Nor am I referencing the mixed feelings of forlorn frustration when the nightly news reports the latest dumb decision made by politicians who insist on running our government fuelled solely by personal motives.

I’m referring to the raw and irrational anger that can be witnessed every day in the faces of people outside your front door; the blind rage that consumes the person in the car behind you when you forget to indicate at the traffic lights. Sitting, waiting anxiously for the lights to change, you observe them cussing violently and making rude and animated gestures in your direction through the rear view mirror. Or the fury that brews behind the blank faced expression of the woman in the cinema, driving her to turn and spew hatred in your direction when you accidently kick the back of her chair.

We’ve all observed this kind of unpredictable and unfounded anger. As for me, I’ve spent significant chunks of time reflecting on where it might come from. After all, it’s scary. In my mind these once normal, well balanced individuals have been possessed by some kind of mean demon who survives on equal portions of spite and malice and whose objective is to slowly consume otherwise reasonable people. Shackled within the confines of dead end lives which they can’t remember choosing, these poor souls can find no escape. Losing sight of what they were once striving for, or perhaps never having known in the first place, they’re filled with a sense of hopelessness, and in response they react in the only way they know how; primal, unashamed anger.

I think we’ve all made the rookie error of thinking it’s possible to reason with these people, and have attempted to talk them down by calmly pointing out their unnecessary or unjustifiable behaviour. When being accosted in the grocery store for sampling a grape for instance, I have endeavoured to explain to the dutiful citizen whose red face was all too close to mine that they need to relax. I wasn’t planning on pulling up a plinth and making like Midas; I was only going to try one, as a means of deciding if I wanted to purchase a bunch. But these acts of measured reason are time and again met by the inflated rage of the accuser, who is angered inconsolably by my slight misdemeanour against the rigid societal rules to which they have unwontedly or perhaps subconsciously kowtowed.

Truth be told, we owe these individuals big time. For myself, every time I see them blasting one another in the parking lot or dragging viciously at the arms of their bewildered children, I am reminded that I am lucky; I have a chance to get out before the resentment that’s eating them up starts taking chunks out of me. I smile at them with open eyes and am typically rewarded with a scowl, which I gladly accept; after all, that could have been me turned crazed hate monger. Or maybe they’re just good people having a bad day.

My quiet contemplation of these folk over the past week has helped me let go of the things I’m preparing to leave behind. After tomorrow I will be able to state with a measure of happiness and horror that my budding career as an educator is over. Despite my discontentment regarding my job, it’s been hard to let go; quitting has meant foregoing relationships that I’ve been developing for years and has required abandoning people who might need me. A sentimental person, this has been hard to accept. My emotional self has begun to confuse my rationality, and my pushover of a mindscape has led me to question the thoughts that have consumed me for the past few years; do I really dislike my job or have I simply been being self indulgent?

Nevertheless, being in a state of flux is oddly suiting me. I have given up my lovely house in Newcastle and am squatting back at my dad’s place until the big move. So much of me enjoys the disordered chaos of it all. There’s a certain liberation that comes from selling all your worldly possessions on eBay. Or more accurately, giving your things away; turns out no one really reckons my stuff’s worth much. But wonderfully, the less I have, the lighter I feel. In summation and paradoxically, in the midst of uncertainty, things have never felt so right.

So I suppose I should begin looking for a place to live, else I’ll be arriving in the city in the New Year the proverbial bohemian, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a mind full of romantic notions. Either way, Melbourne town, I’m on my way!

 

on escapes and clean slates

For the past week I’ve been waking, horror stricken in the night with the realisation that I can’t breathe. Don’t worry; so far it’s all false alarms. I sit in the stillness of the dark and rationalise that the thick warmth trapped in my room is in fact the result of the too much breathing that comes from possessing a mess bomb of a mind and being an anxious wreck while if anything, sleeping all too heavily. Opening a window, I release the fuggy night terrors onto the lamp lit lawn, before crawling back into bed.

Lately my slumbering self has been plagued by an overabundance of unwelcome dreams. You know the kind; you’re scrambling naked through some public place, entirely conspicuous, or you’re back at school and stuck in that moment before you give a speech, sweaty palmed before a staring, dumb faced class.  Worst still, the dream where your past lovers rock up in a posse and begin casually listing your many and numerous shortfalls, unanimously agreeing that you were singularly their biggest mistake. It’s very disconcerting.

The source of my sudden restlessness and increasingly fragile sense of self is that in the very near future I intend to quit my life. And I am terrified. As you know, I had already made the decision to relinquish my full time position in the New Year. In my mind I figured I could throw in my job, but remain in the area and work for my boss on a casual basis, as a kind of safe guard against the prospect of having to fend for myself. I figured it couldn’t hurt to establish for myself a safety net. After all, surely starting over isn’t something one should rush?

As is often the case, the sneaky little nuisance of a notion came to me without warning. I was chatting to my sister about the cultural Mecca that is Melbourne City, and suddenly I was announcing, in a tone that sounded all at once flippant and completely foreign to me, that I plan to move there before the year is out. Naturally, my sister was both shocked and impressed by my apparently sudden display of recklessness, and believe me, she wasn’t the only one. Me, who had always been grounded and sensible and safe was now announcing impulsively, yet with total conviction, that she planned to pick herself up and, with zero prospects, venture into the unknown. I have since learned that backing out of a terrifying decision is a lot more difficult once you have spoken it aloud, for I am as proud and stubborn as I am cowardly. Maybe I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps I should have begun speaking my thoughts a long time ago.

If you’re thinking I sound a lot like a pathetic pansy, you’d be right, though it should be noted that although I become a cot case in the small hours of the morning, by the light of day I am typically quite composed. Sure, there are moments when the prospect of walking out on the life I’ve spent the past five years establishing summons my old friend Anxiety, who meanders in unannounced and casually sits on my chest, stripping me of appetite and making basic functions such as breathing an encumbering experience. But for the larger part, my pathetically irritating and unrealistically confident inner self is sitting back with an air of self righteousness and superiority, reflecting like a would-be philosopher on our very brave and risqué life decision; that by throwing it all in we are winning back our freedom. It is true that in some moments there is a sort of weightless calm that comes with recklessly abandoning everything, but I can’t help but think that this feeling is not dissimilar to that which is felt by a suicide bomber or a man enduring the final stages of a terminal illness. And I’m certain at times I possess the same desperate look in my eyes.

Needless to say, it’s not all bad. For a girl whose life has always been plagued by indecision, while I certainly don’t have a grasp of what it is I want, I do have a growing awareness of the things I could easily do without. My current life, for instance.

 

So. Know of anyone in the big smoke who’s in need of a writer? As of the New Year I am officially unemployed. Feel free to drop me a line, or look me up; address, Struggle Street.

 

the decision

This blog originated because for a long time now I’ve been feeling discontent and at odds with my lot in life.

Like countless others, I failed to stand back and take a good hard look as my life began to take shape. I forgot to consider whether where I was headed was anywhere near where I wanted to go. I suppose mine is the typical scenario; I finished school with a sense of exhausted relief and, as if driven by auto pilot, enrolled immediately into university without a thought regarding where exactly I was headed. I guess I figured I should just keep moving until I figured it out. After all, if you don’t tread water, you might sink, right? Four years passed in a blur of work, sweat and study and when I finally came up for air I was met with a certificate, a congratulatory handshake and the expectation that I would leave the murky dream pool without making a fuss, in order to commence what I suddenly realised would be a long and arduous career of working for the man.  If you’ve not detected the less than subtle allusions, I couldn’t help but feel as if somehow I’d been jibbed.

Over the past several years I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that this is it for me. And what’s made it all the more confusing is the discouragement I’ve received from others when I’ve expressed to them my feelings of dissatisfaction. Some reassured me that I would come to love my job, like one might a stray dog. I just need to give it time. Others admitted similar despondency regarding their own employment, but reiterated that this was the reality; that we aren’t supposed to like what we do. Apparently ‘job’ is supposed to be synonymous with ‘soul destroying’. One friend suggested I enrol in an evening class if I was feeling unstimulated. Or if that failed, had I considered having a baby? (I hadn’t realised breeding was an acceptable cure for boredom?) But when none of this helped, my continued complaints were either met by annoyed dismissal or an exasperated enquiry as to what I thought I might like to be doing instead. Oh, if only it were that easy. But if I knew what I was searching for, I would have surely already found it.

I secretly envy that particular breed of person who seems to possess a sort of easy contentment with themselves and their life. The way they leave their homes each morning to attend their nine til five job, and don’t seem to be bothered that they spend every weekend getting pissed at the same old local. The kind of person whose idea of a change of scenery is to repaint the feature wall in the living room every other Christmas. I am being entirely sincere when I say I would trade my complicated mind and all its baggage for the bliss of being that happy person.

Irritatingly, I have always sensed that there’s something more for me; that a taste of greatness is lingering, just beyond the boundaries of the ordinary and the reach of my desperately probing fingertips. I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry; there have been countless occasions that have required me to have stern words with my inner egotist: what is it that makes you so special? But these thoughts aside, all attempts to make peace with my situation have simply resulted in the voice in my mind and the pressure of my heart joining forces to wage war on my sensibilities with renewed vigour. The message is clear; they need to get out. This musty air is killing them.

So six months ago I promised myself that this would be my final year in my current profession. I made a pact with my flailing sense of self that at the conclusion of this year, I would save her from the mediocrity in which she was drowning and the two of us would wander, hand in hand, into the middle distance, accompanied by some form of triumphant, non diegetic instrumental that would make it clear to the viewers at home that something wonderful had just occurred, and that together we would seek to find some semblance of meaning in this life. In response, my inner self conceded that she could probably manage to keep her head above water until then, but that I had better be serious. I felt as if I had made a positive step in the right direction and that made me feel good. And then I had to tell my boss.

Let it be noted at this point that I am a pathetic coward. Don’t misunderstand me; I mustered up the necessary courage and I informed my very reasonable and very thoughtful boss that I had intentions of making this my final full time year in the job. I offered that I would still be available to work on a casual basis and explained that I just needed some time with my thoughts for a while. She seemed to take it well, and in response to her calm smile and generally graceful demeanour, I left the meeting feeling relieved and reassured. Meanwhile, she turned back to whatever she was doing with full intentions of using any means necessary between then and the New Year to change my mind. After all, this particular lady was Cessnock born and bred; she doesn’t have it in her to give in quietly.

Now, with the year quickly nearing its end, she is very slowly yet very surely arranging the big guns in neat rows across the desk in her office. Needless to say, I am getting scared. It is becoming apparent that the amount of days until the end of the year directly correlate to the size of the fear growing in my gut. And the more pressure she applies, the more I begin to question whether my decision to throw in my career might actually be the stupidest, most crazy thought I have ever had. Sure I dislike my job, but no more than the next guy. In fact, some days I’m almost convinced I like it. I mean, I’m good at it, and that has to stand for something. After all, do I really think I can simply just do want I want to do instead? Is that the dumbest idea ever, or what?

I gather that the reason I’m feeling this way is that what I am intending to do is in direct conflict to the conditioning to which we’ve all fallen victim from the day we were first added as fuel to the deaf machine of life. The bottom line is that we aren’t supposed to choose our own path, experiment with our lives, seize the day and act spontaneously. We are supposed to conform. Get a job. Have babies. Feed the false economy. In theory, I get all of this. Likewise, I am totally aware that we only get one go at this life business, that the only things we will ever truly regret are the ones we never did; that there is no reward for refusing to step beyond our comfort zone. And so on and so forth. Regardless, I am still petrified.

For now, I’ve decided that I want to write. You should probably be aware at this point that if it hadn’t been for Marsden, I would have totally written the Tomorrow series. And if only Douglas Adams hadn’t been given the unfair advantage of having been born first, there is no way I wouldn’t have written his satirical masterpiece. Laugh if you want, but know that I’m not kidding.

 

So this coming year will be the year I quit my life, and I can only hope that when this nonsense is all over and this absurd neurosis is out of my system, my boss might take pity and give me my job back, and that I might have learned to value the mediocrity with which I’ve been blessed. Until then, I’ll be hiding under the bed sheets, mustering the energy to be brave. Don’t bother waiting for me; this might take a while.

 

 

the premise

The workforce of the world is cluttered with people who are trapped in the cogs of the social machine, enduring jobs that they hate. Our own fear of the unknown oils the spokes while our consumer driven culture, constantly encouraging us to buy more and charge it to our false economy, incarcerates us, preventing us from walking out on our bosses to try something new. As the years pass, we slowly yet surely accumulate more shackles, tying ourselves to a life we never actually chose. And as one day gives way to the next, we become increasingly afraid of setting ourselves free. Our jobs have begun to own us. We’re institutionalised and we’re too scared to do anything about it. It’s as if we’re addicted to the ties that bind. Here we are living in the easiest era in human history, and what do we do with the resources? Produce our own vices to clamp our dreams shut. Personally, I think our education system is to blame. But that’s a whole other issue.

Anyhow, in time we convince ourselves that only the elect get lucky and are blessed with jobs that they find stimulating and for which they feel passionate. We rationalise that we don’t live to work, we work to live, and convince ourselves that we’re fortunate to have all of our precious things. In our search for contentment we continue to buy, adding fuel to a raging fire…

Recently I began to ask myself; why don’t we aspire to find what it is that might make us happier? Why should we settle for mediocrity? Weren’t we always told we were more valuable than that? What do we really have to lose by chucking it all in with the hope of discovering a fulfilling and enriching alternative? What good is all our stuff really doing us?

 

The Year I Quit My Life is a record of the scariest decision I have ever made. Taking a leap of faith, I decided it was time to chuck it all in and begin the search for my dreams. It’s not easy to find something when you’re not entirely sure what it looks like, or where you should be looking. But one thing I know for certain; if I never start, I’ll never find it. At the end of 2011, I quit the career I had been painstakingly establishing for the past five years with the intent of exploring what the world might have to offer me.

Is true contentment even possible in this life? Let’s see if we can’t find out.