letting the light in

‘There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.’ Leonard Cohen

 

I like spending time with my sister; her easy happiness and inexhaustible passion are good for me. I’ve heard it said that beauty attracts beauty, and this goes a long way to explaining my sister. Her life hasn’t been a carnival; not by a long shot. Yet she tackles every day with daring and boundless optimism, which curiously, draws success and opportunity to her like a moth to flame. Knowing my sister has taught me that when you’re brave enough to release your hopes into the universe, you’ll often be rewarded by having them granted. It’s almost as if the very energies that combine to form this crazy world are backing you, desperate to give you what you want, if only you can be bold enough to ask.

My sister is light. I am much heavier. I have this way of approaching life like an obligation; something I’m committed to seeing through until the end. In the past, I’ve clung to convention and responsibility as if they were beacons, crucial for providing direction and constancy on a voyage which would otherwise seem rough and bewildering to me. But knowing someone like my sister acts as a constant reminder that there’s a better way of relating to the world; that if you can find the courage to throw yourself at it with open arms, it will shower you with grace.

On Saturday evening I enjoyed dinner with my sister and a couple of her friends. After a satisfyingly drawn out meal we meandered up the street toward her apartment. It was a deliciously balmy night and the footpaths were alive with energy as people spilled out of bars and cafes. My sister was in the arms of her lovely partner, her friends strolled a little way behind, hand in hand, and I was completely comfortable with the knowledge that I was alone. Later, as I commenced the twenty minute bike ride across town, I was surprised to realise that the prospect of returning to an empty room and an empty bed didn’t upset me, either.

Saturday was a pivotal moment in my personal history, as it marked the conclusion of my first month in my studio apartment. For the first time in my life I live entirely on my own and I’m not at all bothered by the solitude. Even more fascinating, I’ve been shocked to discover that I’m actually not lonely. For me, this is certainly cause for celebration.

Truth be told, in the back of my mind since ever I can remember, I’ve craved the companionship and comfort of a partner. Sure, I’ve spent time over the years happily single, but in one way or another, I’ve always been waiting for a man to come along and rescue me; someone who’ll protect me from the world and silence and myself. To be comfortably alone is an amazing and all together new experience for me.

Sometimes I wonder how I must appear to my more balanced friends; the ones who approach life with such an easy calm that the business of living seems simple. After all, I’m getting to that age where the majority of people I know are either having kids or getting married, yet I’m still trying to figure out who I am. Regular as clock work, just as I think I may have figured it out, the earth gives out beneath me and I’m floored once more. My life has been littered with a confusion of little crises, yet these friends of mine govern theirs with absolute purpose and a clear sense of direction. What prevents me from managing that which comes so easily to them? My instability makes me worry I’m becoming their token dysfunctional cot case. I don’t want to be that friend; the one who’s too high maintenance to invite to a dinner party, for fear they might say something awkward and emotional.

This week I’ve grown to realise that, in throwing in my job and moving away, I have unknowingly gifted myself something wonderful; the permission to take the time to figure out who I am and aspire towards making that person happy. I think that alone, without the constant pressure to move forward, I might be able to focus on orienting myself, and finally figure out which direction I need to walk to find where I’m heading.

Until now, any stability I’ve managed to muster has relied on avoiding the awful imperfections that undermine the integrity of my authentic self. But if Cohen is right (and he usually is), to see that light and enjoy its warmth, I may need to not only acknowledge the cracks, but move a little closer to them. I think I’m almost bold enough to do it. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that actually, I haven’t quit my life, at all; I’m in the process of discovering it.

 

the benefits of quitting

When we were kids we delivered junk mail twice weekly; dad figured it would be an ideal way to foster in us those wholesome qualities parents want for their children; a healthy work ethic, a sense of responsibility and so on. Lured by the prospect of having a couple of bucks to spend at the school canteen, my siblings and I willing consented, however by the time the novelty had worn off, the pamphlet run had established itself as an integral part of our weekly routine. In no time, catalogue distribution had simply become something we did. No exceptions. In hindsight, I suppose distributing advertising material did teach us accountability, though more significantly, we quickly learned the fundamental rules of survival; how to dodge a well aimed rock, for instance. The strength that lies in numbers. To never take the precious hour of twilight for granted. Needless to say, being the neighbourhood catalogue kids was tough.

Unsurprisingly, to varying degrees we resented the pamphlets, and as the years progressed, my sisters and brother slowly resigned, trading rubber bands and ink stained finger tips for the bright lights and heady delights of the hospitality industry. But although I’d harped on with the best of them, enraged at having my weekends interrupted by an ever growing mountain of advertising material, I found it difficult to give the job away. So while I accepted a position at the local fast food restaurant, commenced a full time university degree and willingly agreed to a regular babysitting commitment, I was hesitant to throw in the pamphlets; I didn’t want to let anyone down. Besides, at some point over the years I’d acquired an unhealthy degree of satisfaction from the speed and precision through which I could fill a street of letterboxes with my quota of commercial garbage. After a decade’s service there was no obstacle that could break my stride. My efficiency was without equal. I pumped out that junk like nobody’s business.

Despite how much it irritated me, throughout my youth and into adulthood, I excelled at keeping busy. It’s not that I enjoyed the constant demands imposed by my numerous obligations. In fact, my tendency to continue with something despite my disinterest and discontentment was a source of constant inner turmoil. But my reluctance to disappoint and my belief that quitting was a brand of failure had me resigning my autonomy and accepting a fate for which I felt I had no control. Time and time again.

When I decided last year that I needed to walk away from my life and begin anew, I had reached breaking point. I was terribly unhappy. I felt betrayed by a society that encourages us to embrace uniformity and behave conservatively. I was terrified of challenging the status quo; I was afraid I would fail. After identifying these feelings, I saw only one solution; quit it all, so that I might finally experience the liberty of standing on a shaky limb and leaping off.

Unfortunately, rather than approaching the experience with the grace and poise implied by the afore mentioned imagery, the reality has seen me dangling shamefully from the spindly branch, willing my raw fingers to loosen their grip so that I might begin the bumpy descent. It’s been more than a little scary.

I’ve quickly come to realise that behaving unconventionally is hard. It’s also virtually synonymous with being utterly broke. In my old life I had a job which provided a reliable source of income, savings that offered constant security and the assurance that I could make the rent and pay the bills each fortnight. It’s true that I was often miserable, but no matter how bad things became, I knew I could always pep myself up with life’s little luxuries; eating out, frequenting the cinema, purchasing pretty things. Those days are officially over.

This week saw me sitting for a little over two hours at the local Centrelink office, where I successfully registered for a fortnightly allowance. While I waited, an inner dialogue ensued in which I attempted to persuade myself it’s all about perspective; a lack of personal income is all part of the adventure, a sort of levelling exercise. The sceptic in me was unconvinced. It’s true I’d come armed with a book to keep me occupied through what I’d predicted would be an arduous wait, but if I’m honest, was it really my way of informing the room that I was above all this? After all, I wasn’t your standard dole bludger; I was the intellectual variety.

The changes are certainly radical when you exchange your conventional lifestyle for a spendable income of around ten dollars a day. Once you’ve covered the weekly groceries, you’ve about thirty bucks with which to play. This week I spent the majority of that on a second hand arm chair and a little adaptor that lets you plug your modem into the old style telecom phone socket.

Yet in spite of my new found relative poverty, I’m strangely content. I may not have money, but I have a library card, a cupboard full of Mi Goreng noodles and the wondrous internet; I think I’m going to be okay. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a simple life can be both cheap and very rich.

From the vantage point of my spindly branch, I’m grappling with a new truth. Perhaps bailing doesn’t have to be the indicator of failure that I’ve always believed. I’m beginning to sense that quitting may have its benefits; not all of which require a two hour stint in a Centrelink waiting room.

 

 

same sex marriage. or, what is quickly becoming gay marriage

Mar-riage

  • A relationship in which two people have pledged themselves to each other in the manner of a husband and wife.
  • The legal or religious ceremony that formalises the decision of two people to live as a married couple, including the accompanying social festivities.
  • Any close or intimate association or union.

For a long time now, the word ‘marriage’ has been applied figuratively to describe any close union, or the blending of two things that had once been separate. Originally, the word stems from the classic Latin verb maritare, meaning simply ‘to marry’, and is used to refer to the joining of people, animals and even the crossing of grapes in viticulture. This raises a poignant, if slightly obscure question: if grapes can get married, why can’t gay people?

The issue of gay marriage has been bombarding both public and political arenas of late. The focus of the debate is as follows: Is it time to change the laws of our country so that same sex couples can be permitted to enjoy the same marriage rights as their heterosexual counterparts? And the consensus? The general populace’s viewpoint (at least, that of the younger generations for whom I can reasonably speak) appears to be to each their own; let them marry if they wish, what does it matter? However, if you belong to a minority, such as an extremist religion or a political party, your opinion is that marriage is a sacred ritual and should not be bastardised by the likes of sinning homosexual couples. So far, the minority are owning this one.

Let me begin by addressing those individuals who, for religious reasons, disapprove of altering the age old tradition of marriage. Guys, I totally get it. You probably don’t approve of watching television, either, and if you’re a lady, you doubtlessly still wear a hat to church to cover your hair, which you’ve never in your life had cut. You believe that in marriage you must obey your husband (and this would become terribly confusing if at least one of you weren’t male). You live in the manner that the bible dictates and you are closed minded to anything which compromises the laws of your God.

Well, good for you, but let’s be realistic. Recognise that your closed minded ways, and I say this without negative connotations and with complete respect (after all, life for you in the twenty first century must be both tricky and tempting) make you very much a minority. The overwhelming majority of us are moving forward, god or no god, towards a more balanced and more comfortable future. Surely you must acknowledge that while your beliefs are valid, it wouldn’t be fair to expect that they should effect the larger population. In truth, I hope that you can continue to approach marriage with the same respect and caution as you always have (after all, since marriage is sacred, and I’m not arguing that it isn’t, you certainly wouldn’t condone an abomination such as divorce. Geez, what would Jesus do?)

That dealt with, if you are not a religious extremist, it is entirely illogical to perceive marriage with such rigidity that you cannot entertain making the glorious sanctity all inclusive. The truth is that, perhaps sadly, perhaps gladly, marriage is not now, nor has it been for a long while, the sacred ritual of days gone. Aside from countless other factors, for the vast majority of us, the underpinnings are barely religious at best and the ceremony is entirely rescindable.

The inability to accept change appears to be the largest issue preventing the legalisation of same sex marriage. This is confusing however, as changes in our cultural value systems have already affected marriage in big ways. If it’s okay for straight couples (incidentally, I hold the term ‘straight couple’ in contempt; the connotations are immediately suggestive of inflexibility and a depressing dullness. I may like boys, but I’m still an interesting person) to engage in second or third marriages when the first doesn’t work out, and if we’re alright with people entering into a marriage after having already lost their virginity, why uphold the gender specifications of the said parties? This is the twenty first century; if we are able to bend other components of the tradition when they become outmoded or are no longer relevant, what is preventing us from continuing this process in favour of equality? After all, it’s not as if you’re being made to marry a same sex person against your will (though in saying that, history dictates that the sanctity of marriage isn’t necessarily against forced unions). Same sex marriage is a non event.

And now we come to the point: I don’t think the majority of politicians really have a problem with gay marriage at all. I put it to you that the single reason the current government and their combatants are allowing the issue of same sex marriage to consume so much air time is that while our focus is directed at a valid yet relatively trivial topic, the public are being successfully distracted from important issues that should be receiving wider scrutiny. Truth be told, gay marriage is being used as a shield behind which the politicians are seeking shelter until the next election.

I think it’s worth entertaining the theory that the fuss being made over same sex marriage is bluff; an issue being used to absorb our attentions so that we fail to notice the parties’ inadequacies when dealing with the things that are fundamentally important to the strength and wellbeing of our rickety nation.

 

Gay marriage? Tell me about it.

 

 

a note of nostalgia and no regrets

Quote

This time last year I’d spent my weekend colour coding timetables, drawing up seating plans and stocking up on stationary. Through necessity and remedy in equal measure, I was keeping myself busy.

Standing expectantly at the door to my classroom, I awaited my new allocation of bright eyed students. Somehow I’d managed to rally myself to a state of quiet optimism, and I couldn’t help but envision the brilliant things that could potentially unfold within our humble space throughout the coming year.

There’s something pretty special about those first few weeks back to school at the beginning of first term; everyone is so hopeful and willing. The atmosphere buzzes with anticipation. Teachers and students alike allow themselves to get lost in that romantic notion of the possibility of the clean slate; something which lasts at least until that first fresh sheet is tainted with the clumsy scrawl of reality. At the beginning of a new year, the past has become a distant misdemeanour, easily forgiven. The kids exhibit an innate thirst for knowledge and discovery, and you’re blessed with a glimpse of what things could be like, were it not for a backward pedalling education system, intent on extinguishing their spark with watery, outdated doctrines.

As always, my hope was to extend those first week feelings at least until midterm. By then I would have to name a new source of motivation. After all, it wasn’t just the kids who grew quickly downhearted by the sheer multitude and rigidity of uninspiring syllabus requirements; I was busy convincing myself it was all worthwhile.

The truth is that this time last year, I’d spent my holidays battling with what had become an almost constant internal dilemma; what am I doing with my life? The prospect of returning to school for yet another tired year had left me feeling helplessly despondent. During that extended break I had considered throwing it all in and moving away. I’d even applied and attended an interview with RMIT University with the intention of commencing my masters in Journalism. I piked at the last minute. It didn’t feel natural to be abandoning four years of training and as many again spent dedicated to a profession. Besides, five weeks had been almost long enough for the truth to lose definition. Vague recollections of the idealistic notions and fanciful fictions that had attracted me to teaching in the first place had ebbed back into my mind, easing my doubts. When the hour eventually arrived to return to school, the past had been purged. Like the students, I’d tricked myself into thinking I wanted to be there.

However by the time the first influx of kids filed in and I began my usual welcoming spiel, the morning’s taste of bureaucracy had already turned my visions sour, and I was secretly consoling myself with the promise that this would be my last year. In 2012 I would get brave and try something different, no matter the cost.

And so here I am. The new chapter has begun and so has my chance at a fresh start. In the spirit of new years, I am eager and hopeful. This time, no amount of red tape will stifle my optimism.

Despite an undercurrent of discontentment, I’m glad I held on at school for that final twelve months. As well as injecting me with courage, the time I spent in classroom 1.11 offered countless memorable moments. One of the many benefits of being a teacher is that you’re privileged to share in the lives of many stunning individuals, occasionally impacting positively upon them. Fortunately it works both ways; a teacher with an open heart and mind learns so much more from their many pupils than they could possibly hope to impart. So thanks, guys; you know who you are.

I’m proud of myself for exhibiting the bravery necessary to quit everything and begin something new, whatever it turns out to be. I think of the new school year commencing and get a bit nostalgic, but the teacher within me, who doubtlessly will never be quieted, suggests I turn to Frost, and I’m somehow encouraged by his words, regardless of the ambiguity of the text therein.

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference.

my contempt for the sunburnt country

I hate unsubstantiated patriotism. National holidays like Australia Day seem to exist for no other reason than to incite a certain demographic to demonstrate their regard for king and country through donning the relevant flag, adorning themselves with the obligatory southern cross tattoo and drinking beyond excess. Meanwhile, they alternate between sitting, scantily clad, in a toddler’s long suffering wading pool and meandering the streets in a parade of obnoxious and deviant exhibitionism, seemingly mistaking their ignorant and racist chants and exclamations for national pride.

I am very much aware that this stance makes me entirely unpopular with the overwhelming majority, but I can’t help it; when I hear expressions of blind loyalty for the motherland, I cringe involuntarily, and if pressed, I am forced to admit that, actually, I have a lot of beefs with Australia. I can’t help but feel as if we’re being cheated somehow.

It’s quite perturbing that, whether he be the dinky die, double plugged, singlet wearing yokel in the pub, or the white collared businessman, buffing his virgin 4WD in the suburbs, the typical Australian can’t actually articulate what it is that he likes so much about the country he claims to vehemently admire. Instead, it’s somehow acceptable to simply stammer some meaningless gibberish about being ‘lucky’ and ‘free’, and as long as you make a vague references to the ‘Australian Spirit’ your efforts will be immediately met by gregarious applause and slaps on the backside. On the whole, we’re fairly eager to big up Australia, but what I’m wondering is, why should we?

Don’t misunderstand me; I am more than aware that as citizens of Australia, we’re relatively blessed. I mean, we can walk down the street at any given time and, depending on the neighbourhood in which we choose to dwell, we can expect not to be accosted by gun fire. Further, we have sewage, sanitation and clean water, and these are all good things. I also enjoy that there are supermarkets where we can purchase produce which, to all intents and purposes, appears fresh, and that the majority of us can boast having homes in which to live and cars that we can drive. Also, our stats suggest we’re better than America, and since we seem to rate them so highly, that’s got to be worth something. But ironically, it’s these exact fortunate circumstances that cause Australians to be easily amongst the most politically lethargic citizens in the world.

The truth is that the typical Australian has absolutely no interest in the political ups and downs that are shaping our country and are more informed and involved with the formation of the teams that have made it into the football grand final than the campaign leading up to any given federal election. In fact, due to a combination of ignorance and lack of interest, Australians have so little faith in the value of their vote, that they can be persuaded to exchange them for gifts. Call me a cynic, but being offered tangible goods in the lead up to voting day, screams bribery. But instead of wondering what shortfalls in the parties’ policies might have lead them to earn public support through the offering of material produce, like a child to the vacant parent who has skipped the last several access visits but comes bearing gifts, we approach them, hearts and palms open. Sure, we’ll blame them later when their bandaids prove useless against the sting of betrayal, but until the wheels fall off, we are content.

I get it that everyone can’t be described as politically lethargic. In fact, some people care very much. But why is it that, generally speaking, we couldn’t care less about our country’s leadership and the choices they make on our behalf? Why do we choose to remain uninformed? Why is it that we opt to vote above the line, simply to avoid having to spend an extra few minutes in the polling booth?

Fellow Australians: until we begin en masse to take an active interest in the decisions being made on our behalf by our government, we will be neither a free nor lucky nation. As we sit back, sipping our foreign owned, iconic Australian beers, and boasting unreservedly as to our privileged lifestyle, the cost of living is being needlessly hiked up around our armpits, our soldiers are being sent to fuel wars that are not our own, natural resources are being recklessly harvested, with no serious consideration as to their sustainability and the average wage is being reduced. Meanwhile, the decision makers and those with stakes in the big money are rewarding themselves with yet another pay rise. It may surprise you to know that the Australian ‘lifestyle’ we value so highly is amongst the most expensive in the western world. And there is no logical reason for this.

Instead of pointing an inactive finger in accusation at the government, it is time to admit some fault; it’s the laidback, lackadaisical Australian ethos that we know and love that is allowing the politicians to turn our country into their personal economy in order to satisfy their own agendas. We’ve allowed ourselves to develop such an inherent trust and obedience in authority that we don’t even think to look up once in a while to check what they’re doing with our things. It stopped being a government for the people a long time ago, but we only have ourselves to blame; we didn’t even notice.

So let’s take back the country of which you’re all so fond and transform it into something that might make us feel genuinely proud. This will not happen as a result of vague romantic sentiments that glorify the Australian spirit, but rather through our actions. To paraphrase a democrat, it really is time we started keeping them bastards honest.

 

 

on love bites and loneliness

When I was midway through the second grade, I was enrolled in what was to be my fourth new school in half as many years. On our first day, my siblings and I were escorted to the library where all the students were assembled. A wiry woman with pursed lips led us to various class groups and instructed us to sit down. Abandoned amongst a sea of strangers, I began to sink beneath the weight of my despair. Blinking back a sting of tears I somehow made it to recess when I was smacked with another shock; I wouldn’t be able to sit with my sister, as primary and infant students had separate playgrounds. I’d had enough. Desperate to go home, I gave myself a hickey on the inside of my arm and informed the nurse I’d been bitten by something big and deadly. With raised eyebrows, she phoned my dad. I stayed home with him for a week before he relented and re enrolled us in the school across town. It meant a thirty minute drive every morning, but it proved an instant cure for my stomach cramps.

Sometimes when we were kids, we’d go to our nanna’s place for the weekend; a prospect which delighted me to no end. I’d have a terrific time until the end of the first day, when the idea of sleeping in a strange bed after having eaten my evening meal from someone else’s dinner service became too overwhelming. Dad would get a phone call, and an hour later I’d be bundled into the car, where the relief of the familiar washed away my unease almost instantly. For the remainder of the weekend, I’d wander the house aimlessly, while the others phoned to relay excited stories of cinemas and trips for ice cream.

I’ve always been a little anxious.

The onslaught of change and uncertainty has devoured me this week. Once more I’m that lonely little girl with an ill feeling in the pit of my stomach, a shortness of breath, a lack of mental clarity. My instincts are to retreat. But gone are the days when a harmless love bite might herald a rescue party or offer refuge. I’m a grown up now, I know the secret; we are all alone.

Yet in the midst of attempting to quiet the raging cacophony banging away in my mind, and while doing what I can to ease the insistent churning of my gut, I’ve somehow managed to find myself a home; despite my attempts at self sabotage.

Having heard that the rental market in Melbourne is ridiculously competitive at this time of year, I figured it would be best to apply for absolutely everything. I dutifully attended approximately one billion inspections and filled in what felt like a trillion applications. While it was exhausting, it made me feel industrious and good. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I began to get calls congratulating me on my successful submissions. As it turns out, I was less than ready. A stammering mess, I hastily declined several perfectly acceptable offers before ardently attempting to proffer why each was unacceptable. However, while my friends and family empathised with my bout of bad luck, the reason in me was growing sceptical. The apartments were fine, it scoffed. The problem was me; I was being a noncommittal pansy. I had to toughen up.

Without allowing myself too much thought on the matter, I held my breath and said yes to the next offer. I’m now in possession of an inordinately pokey and ridiculously overpriced studio apartment. On the up side, it’s light and airy and very cute, and it’s near enough that I might feed off the life of the city; a feature which may prove essential once the money runs out.

From past experience, it’s unlikely that my nerves will abate until I establish some kind of normalcy. I need to do it soon; my instincts are urging me to retire, my long neglected creative side is growing impatient. But I’m still worried. While I’ve signed a lease and am ready to commit to a life of part time seclusion for the sake of my writing and self discovery, what if I discover I can’t sustain it?

So many of us seem stuck in a vicious cycle of having passions we want to pursue, but realising that to maintain a certain standard of lifestyle we need to work, leaving us no time to explore the potential of our whims. I suppose that’s why they call them struggling artists; when you choose your craft over comfort, the sacrifices are significant. And I’m not sure if an anxious creature like me has what it takes to handle the bumps. After all, behaving unconventionally is scary.

I keep thinking back to that little girl pottering absently through vacant rooms, desperately awaiting her siblings’ return from their holiday. She was young and had been through a lot for her age; her need for comfort was understandable. But even she could see that if only she’d had the courage to see out the night, things would probably have seemed better in the morning. Even she recognised the fun she might have enjoyed, had she only acted a little braver.

I suppose it’s time I waited out the dawn.

 

to melbourne, with love

I have always loved a city; the bright lights, the exhilarating hustle, the easy, perfect chaos of it all. Cities are always awake and wired; they draw in life like moths to a flame. 

In my brief life I have enjoyed some fantastic cities. I have walked, wide eyed through the scenic streets of Paris, wandered the delightful alley ways of Dublin and strolled the cobbled paths of London. I have found myself mesmerised in the back roads of Amsterdam, have been stunned by the fantastic beauty of Berlin and was charmed by the diversity of Rome.

Yet despite where I have been and regardless of where I am yet to go, my heart belongs to a single metropolis; Melbourne, the most beautiful city in the world.

Melbourne, I adore you. Every time I walk your streets, I fall in love anew.  Being with you is like coming home. Everybody loves a beauty and your simple and unassuming loveliness draws people to you. In fact, the most diverse of societal cross sections seem to unite here in their shared adoration of your gorgeous parks, historic trams, the eclecticism of your outer suburbs, the way your towering skyscrapers and age old architecture can somehow sit side by side in a happy, haphazard harmony.

On the tram on our way through the city we pass a park. A group of young people sit cross legged on the grass, sharing a guitar. A man snoozes on the bench beside a fountain while a woman reads the paper, sprawled on a red rug in the sunshine. Parents walk beside children who wobble precariously on small bicycles and a businessman paces briskly through the midst; head down, clutching his briefcase like a prize.

I have seen some terrific things in this short life. I’ve stood dwarfed by the Eiffel Tower, had my heart broken by the beauty of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and spent the shortest day of my life devouring the majesty of the Louvre. I’ve dived with whale sharks and swum in the phosphorescence off the coast of Mozambique, witnessed a lion take down an impala in South Africa  and had they let me stay, I would still be sipping Sangria in the crazy cottages jutting out of the rugged cliff face in the Cinque Terre. Yet in this moment I could trade it all for the freedom that comes from sitting in a warm tram, a mess of thoughts in my mind and the knowledge that I’m headed exactly where I want to go.

 

 

the legacy of the last to leave

I’ve always been a little conservative. Growing up in a family with four children, this was particularly evident. I was the child who put herself to bed while the others were lodging their cases regarding whether they’d eaten enough of their dinner to warrant dessert, or bickering over who should get the next turn on the Nintendo. Since ever I can remember I was self appointed dish rinser and bath runner, ate fruit because it was good for me and it never had to be asked; I had always done my homework.

In view of my prudent and level headed nature, it was taken for granted as we grew older that I would attend university once I’d finished school and that the only serious change I would experience during my adolescence would be evolving from a sensible child into a sensible adult.

Meanwhile, time lapsed and my siblings slowly but surely began to leave the nest. A spirited creature, my younger sister was unsurprisingly the first to fly, baited by the freedom of independence. My older sister was drawn south after having fallen together with a man whose life was already established elsewhere. Our brother ventured interstate to spend the weekend with a friend some four years ago and is yet to return, having found a much sought after brotherhood some place far off.

And so it came to pass that I became the daughter who didn’t move away. Having secured reliable employment within an hour of our family dwelling, while I moved out and even travelled overseas a couple of times, I was never far from home. If I’m honest, I suppose I liked it that way. I’m a terrible sook; I’ve only recently conquered my fear of the dark and letting go of things has always left me feeling overwhelming nostalgic and pathetically tearful. So it’s fair to say I enjoyed the safety net provided by my dad and the familiar. I wasn’t ready to wander off alone.

Call me naive, but until now it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be difficult to be the last to leave. It is. And complicated. Because just as I have grown used to the security of having family close by, so too has my father. And while I have decided it’s time for me to venture further afield and go it alone for a spell, he is dealing with the culture shock of having this decision thrust upon him. I empathise; I’m sure it’s less than easy.

The inevitable guilt of my decision dropped like a dead weight earlier this week and quickly became tangible. What does one do when she’s the last to go? The unexpected pressure has resulted in an onslaught of heated discussions amongst the numerous and all too opinionated voices in my head. The pessimists among them are incessantly claiming that I’m making a massive mistake and that my behaviours are clearly those of a selfish narcissist with an inflated sense of self worth. Mercifully, the majority remain faithfully on my side. Despite my many doubts, they assure me I’m doing the right thing. The truth is I’ve wanted this for years. I’ve simply lacked the courage.

So there’s been nothing for it but to lug the feelings of doubt and disloyalty with me, all the way to Melbourne. Despite what has become a full time search, I haven’t found a place yet, but I’m hoping when I do it will be big enough to contain the mountains of guilt I’ve had to haul along with me. In view of my budget, this is unlikely.

 

So this week is my dedication to all the kids out there who were the last to leave. Guys, I’m feeling you. To their siblings, spare a thought; remember the way their mere presence inadvertently assuaged your guilt when you knew it was your time to roll out. And to their parents, know that the guilt of the child is only marginally outweighed by their desperate desire to grow.

 

a resolve for the new year

The arrival of a new year is something very special, yet its importance is often overlooked due to its unfortunate proximity to Christmas. This is a shame, as celebrating the possibility of clean slates and second chances seems so much more deserving than the recognition awarded to the 25th of December. After all, what is Christmas but a pagan ceremony pilfered by the Christians and grafted ever so slightly to suit their dogma?*  And what has it become but the biggest marketing success story of all time; an event whose primary purpose is to encourage excess and indulgence, promoted for the support it provides the economy and which has survived due to its being successfully marketed as a day of generosity and giving?

This New Year is particularly important to me, as 2012 is the year I quit my life and commence the biggest adventure of my otherwise risk free existence. In just days I will venture to Melbourne in an effort to find a place to call home; somewhere I can allow myself the time to access my creative side and offer direction to my raging verve.

My resolve for a fresh start has come about in response to feelings of frustration regarding the life into which, in many ways, I feel I’ve been forced. Like many, I feel somewhat betrayed by a society that grooms us from childhood for a life of monotony and conformity, rather than fostering within us a thirst and appreciation for individuality and ingenuity. Like a child who has just discovered Santa Clause is fiction, this is a truth that’s been hard to reconcile.

As lovely as it can be, Christmas is just further evidence of the way in which our consumer driven culture prevents us from taking possession of our own lives. Playing on our innate goodness and generosity towards the ones we love, the Season of Giving encourages us to spend big and charge it to our long suffering credit cards. We take snaps of our Christmas trees, dwarfed by the gifts we’ve placed beneath them and proudly post them to social networking sites. Somehow we have been successfully convinced that the number of gifts we purchase or the amount we spend can be taken as an indicator of how much we love our families and friends, or how much fun we’re going to have on the big day. As a result of our kindness, shops become richer and many of us become increasingly enslaved to rebuilding our savings.

But of the gifts we bought and received over the Christmas period, how many did we need or even want? How many survived garbage night? What number did we purchase out of a secret sense of obligation, rather than with the needs or interests of the recipient in mind? Unfortunately, while the junk we’ve accumulated inevitably gets stored or abandoned after the conclusion of the festive season, our credit balance doesn’t disappear, and we return to work newly incarcerated by the prospect of paying next month’s credit card bill. In our minds we feel somewhat silly, but at least we had a happy Christmas.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that this unfortunate process is unnecessary. After all, the moments we remember long after the wrapping paper has been recycled and the tree has been disassembled are the times we spent laughing with our loved ones, rather than pouring over our newly obtained things. Perhaps we should abandon the concept of gift giving, or at least tone it down a few notches. If we were to do this, the importance of the season wouldn’t change, be we could rest easy in the knowledge that we weren’t being brainwashed by a very busy and very clever commercial sector.

I suppose the New Year really comes at the perfect time, as it heralds The Resolution, a notion adopted for its ability to console, making the Christmas come down easier to bear. Soon after Boxing Day the reality hits that the holiday will soon be over; for a great many of us this means returning to jobs we resent or at best tolerate. The resolves of the New Year make this fact easier to accept and we reassure ourselves that this time will be different; we’ll get a new job, pay off our credit card, lose the extra weight, landscape the back yard, wean ourselves off microwave dinners, spend more time with our families. And we believe in our resolves just long enough to survive January, the most depressing month; the new cycle has just commenced and the Christmas holidays have never been further away. It’s a frightening truth; so many of us endure the bulk of our lives for those two weeks of carelessness a year.

The thought process which has resulted in me throwing in my unstimulating job and generic lifestyle has led me to ponder a fundamental question: if our lives were more intrinsically satisfying, could the problems we unsuccessfully resolve to mend each year be prevented? Could it be that a sense of discontentment is what leads us to generate short term fixes, such as eating too much take away or buying too many DVDs, creating longer term problems in lives with which we aren’t entirely happy?

 

This year I propose we all resolve to begin the process of setting ourselves free. Many of us have at least elements of our lives we would like to quit, and why shouldn’t we? Instead of being beholden to the conditioning that’s weighed us down since we were old enough to believe we were making our own decisions, let’s begin to actively and consciously make the choices that shape our individual stories.

This year, my aspiration is to live in a way that will make me happier. How about making 2012 your year, too? After all, we only live once. No ambition we might have is beyond our capabilities; at the worst we’ll discover some particular thing isn’t for us. At which point, we try something else. For this year, let’s aim for the life most worth living.

What aspect of your life would you like to quit? And what is it that’s holding you back?

*Celebration of the pagan ceremony for the winter solstice, now recognised as Christmas, was initially forbidden by the early church. However, when they realised how deeply ingrained was the custom in the hearts and minds of the people, it was decided that they would keep the ceremony but slowly change its meaning. This proved successful over time because nothing from the original tradition was changed; the red and green colours of the Yule time (meaning ‘young’) remained, the festooned tree, which represented the pagan goddess was unaltered and the mistletoe and holly, symbols of fertility, also lingered. The Christians simply enforced a name change for the ceremony, calling it Christ and insisting it would from then on be considered a celebration of his birth, rather than commemorating the renewal of the sun’s solar course. Interesting, Easter is also a virtually unaltered Pagan celebration.

 

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