stuff they should have taught us at school

The most influential years of our lives are endured trapped within the confines of a classroom, yet looking back I can count on the fingers of one hand the beneficial things that I learned there. For instance, I remember hearing that Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains (though I couldn’t tell you when they did it or how it all went down), and I realise that the sum of the square of the two shorter sides of a triangle are equal to the square of the hypotenuse (learning that sure changed my life). However, there’s not been a single instance in the real world (wherever that is) where either of these little pearls has proven useful or relevant.

What I am wondering is why they don’t teach us the things we need to know; stuff that might help us become successful, well balanced human beings? Some people will tell you that life lessons have to be learned the hard way, but I’m not so sure. For myself, there are some things that, had I known them in advance, may have saved me a lot of angst. While I may not have understood them right away, having them told to me would have certainly set the mental ball rolling, saving me from needlessly wasting so many hours of my youth and young womanhood articulating my feelings into bite sized philosophies. When you think about it, there is little wonder teenagers are such melodramatic little buggers; we have them reinventing the emotional wheel!

I think it’s time for a handbook. The Stuff We Should Be Teaching You But Aren’t, Because We’re Too Busy With The Circumference Of A Circle And Other Such Irrelevancies handbook. And it should have DON’T PANIC written in large letters on the back cover, Hitchhiker style. Because God knows there are countless times when I could have benefitted from that little snippet of wisdom.

I have taken it upon myself to commence composition of the handbook and have outlined some ‘rules to live by’ in the space below. Of course, any suggestions from the floor would be much appreciated; I have every faith that the youth of tomorrow will be sure to thank us.

 

Perfection Is Dull

…your idiosyncrasies are what make you interesting.

Young people are too often preoccupied with trying to be like the film stars on the covers of teen magazines. They spend the majority of their time tanning and dieting, colouring their hair and figuring out what the media reckons they should wear. The sooner they realise that this cookie cutter mentality is shallow and boring, the sooner they will learn to love themselves. Think of the people at school that you admired. My bet is that they were the ones who had figured out the secret: individuality is a whole lot more interesting. (Though it needs to be noted that those who force individuality by assuming a certain style and practiced affectations are often pretentious, superficial and a royal pain in the backside. So don’t do that, either, okay?)

 

Mistakes Are A Good Thing

…they imply that you are learning.

Too often people mentally beat themselves up over the things they’ve done, whether in their relationships or their lives in general. Once we embrace the notion that it’s our past that shapes us, it’s much easier to make peace with the choices we make and the things we’ve done. The more colourful our past, the richer the tapestry of our lives, I reckon.

 

It’s Okay To Change Your Mind

…but (in the words of Joan Armatrading), if you’re going to do it, do it right.

There is nothing more irritating than people who do things half arsed. If you are going to do something, don’t waste our time with anything but your very best. If your heart isn’t in it, don’t whinge about it, do something to change it. We live but once.

 

Not Everything Old Is Boring

…not even your folks.

Okay, some parents are boring, as are some old things. But they aren’t boring because they’re old; they’re boring because they’re boring. Lots of old things are actually really interesting and entirely worthy of our time. So listen to vinyls and read books and spend some time watching old films. Doing these things does not make you a square, it makes you awesome.

 

In The End, The Love You Take, Is Equal To The Love You Make

….thanks, Beatles.

This is true for all realms of our lives; whatever we give out we will get back in equal measure. Said in another way, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The implication is that the more we send out into the universe, the more we will get back for ourselves. The harder we live, the more enjoyment we will receive. The greater the risk, the richer the reward. Get the drift?

 

Relax

…whatever will be, will be.

There is not a lot of point fretting over what ifs; nothing that is for us will ever pass us by. If something is supposed to happen, it will; if it isn’t supposed to, it won’t. Knowing this little truth can save a lot of anxiety and frees us up to live happily in the moment without becoming wrapped up in the hypotheticals of the future.

 

Nobody Is Happy All Of The Time

…enjoy your melancholy; all feelings are healthy.

It isn’t realistic to expect to be content all of the time; we are complex beings and there are countless emotions that contribute to making us dynamic and interesting. Melancholy is a place where a lot of great things happen; in fact, many of the most creative and poignant artistic expressions were dreamed up in the depths of despair. So indulge in these feelings, but realise they don’t belong to you alone. And when it’s time, pick yourself up and order yourself a slice of happy.

 

Remember To Breathe

…the little things are what it’s all about.

In the hustle and bustle of the daily grind it’s so easy to lose perspective and forget what’s really important. As often as you can, stop and breathe. It sounds corny, but it feels really grand. When you concentrate on nothing but filling your lungs with fresh air, you open yourself up to noticing the things around you. It’s a nice feeling. : )

 

Don’t Be Too Focused On Where You’re Going

…live in the here and now.

Too often we set our sights on the horizon and pour all our energies into reaching it. However, the horizon is an illusion, a destination impossible to reach. Forgive the cliché, but you are much better focusing on the journey, enjoying each day as it comes. Because when you do reach the end of your life, you will want to know that you made the most of every single day.

 

Life Is Short

…so make your own rules and never go to bed angry.

Forget what everybody else is doing; you would be much better off if you simply ran your own race. None of us dream the same, so dismiss convention and do your own thing. And never go to be angry; making love is a whole lot more fun than making war.

 

This Above All: To Thine Own Self Be True

…Shakespeare, you’re the boss.

To think it was all summed up by some guy who was kicking around four hundred years ago. Even Alicia Silverstone was down with this guy. (If you haven’t read or seen Hamlet, I would highly recommend it; it is easily one of Shakespeare’s finest.)

 

how to make friends

Being new in an unfamiliar city can be difficult, namely because you can no longer rely on the support and companionship of your friends; something which we often take for granted. Recently I realised that if I was going to properly enjoy this venture, I would need to form some local friendships; a concept which to me, is entirely intimidating.

I suppose I could be described as socially awkward; I never know what to say in group situations and as a result, often wind up saying the wrong thing, or else sitting mute and being considered quite peculiar. For this reason (among others), I’ve never been awesome at making friends. The few mates that I do have I’ve known since we were fairly young, and I couldn’t tell you where I found them, or why they’ve stuck with me for so long. On the rare occasion that I have made a friend as an adult, it’s gone swimmingly until the moment that I’ve realised that my newest bosom buddy is in fact a psychopath. At which point, I’ve been obliged to walk briskly in the opposite direction. True story.

So suffice to say, the necessity of making friends has left me feeling both bewildered and slightly nervous. In response to these feelings, I did what I always do when I need answers; I looked it up on the internet. Fortunately, the articles I read made it all seem fairly easy; basically, you just have to find people with shared interests and act friendly and approachable. (Though I must admit, I did wonder as to the intended audience of the stuff I was reading when one concluded with the slightly disconcerting suggestion that if you can, you should refrain from ‘pressuring others into being friends against their will’. Umm… )

Even so, I was left with the impression that there mustn’t be much to it, and that once I’d warmed up and got the knack, forming new friendships should be a fairly simple process; especially taking into account my blossoming confidence and new found willingness to climb out on the proverbial limb. In my head it went something like this:

Step One: Find people with whom you have something in common.

Step Two: Bond over said thing that the two of you have in common.

Step Three: Become the best of friends.

Unfortunately, what I’m finding (and this could be a result of the previously mentioned communication retardation), is that making friends is every bit as difficult as I’d originally expected.

In truth, approaching strangers can be an intimidating operation. After all, we’ve all experienced rejection by our peers, and unless we’re crazy, we’re unlikely to want to risk a reoccurrence of such an event.

One occasion in particular has left me scarred for life. It was when I was ten years old, and my dad and I were waiting for something or other beside a group of girls. I guess he’d seen I was looking lonely and, noticing the children nearby, urged me to go and introduce myself. Suitably wary of kids my age, I told him they seemed to have enough friends, but he said I was being silly; that you can never have too many friends. Braced by his optimism, I approached the girls and, as expected, was met by raised eyebrows and a pout that stated quite clearly: there’s something hideous standing quite close to me and I can’t figure out what it is or why it hasn’t gone away yet.

If you were wondering, I didn’t make any friends that day.

I reckon there’s a lot to be said for the argument I put forward almost two decades ago; people only need so many friends. As a result, working your way into an established clique can prove quite difficult. For the past few weeks I’ve been making a concerted effort to mingle, in an attempt to make some mates. Perhaps it just needs more time, but I’ve gotta say; so far, people haven’t been terribly receptive.

 

Do you agree that it’s difficult to make new friends, or do you find it fairly easy? Got any hot tips for this socially awkward individual?

 

When it comes to forming friendships, I’m about as clueless as Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. Watch him figure out and then apply an algorithm for making friends. Oh, if only.

 

just another four letter word

It cannot be refuted that as a species we are uncannily resilient and endlessly optimistic in love. It doesn’t seem to matter how often desire dies and our hearts are broken; even as we kiss goodbye one lover, our soul somehow allows itself to mend, enabling us to be wrapped in the arms of another with renewed vigour and a sense of boundless hope regarding how we’ll fare this time around.

It wouldn’t be fair to say I’ve been unlucky in love; harping on about one’s romantic misfortune seems fitfully reserved for those among us who’ve suffered heavily at the hands of the opposite (or same) sex. Thus, for me to complain would be altogether ungracious, as actually, I’ve been loved by some fantastic men over the years. Yet despite their many collectively admirable qualities, at one point or another, something’s gone awry, and here I am, journeying bumpily through the years and tears alone.

Recently I’ve spent a deal of time pondering the nature of love. It really is a deceptive beast; the way it colours each romance with the genuine shades of passion and devotion, making it feel like the real deal. For myself, I can’t help but wonder whether I might be an especially foolish breed of  romantic, as rather than learning to look where I’m going, I carelessly walk face first into the condition, repeatedly mistaking that concussed cluster of spinning stars for universal bliss.

I met my first heart breaker when I was in high school. I fell hard and hopelessly for this kid when we were fifteen, and as sure as day follows night, I was convinced we’d be together forever. Of course, with an attitude like that, I was in big trouble.

What I’ve found over the years is that although you can dive over and again into the very depths love, our hearts only truly break once. After that point, you’re already in pieces. Sure, lovers may come and go, shattering you shamelessly and taking the best bits with them. But although you may be left once again with the slow and arduous task of picking up the scattered pieces, wandering aimlessly in an effort to locate the things you lost so as to become whole again, that original smashing pain only ruins you once.

Needless to say, things didn’t end well with my high school sweetheart. He ripped me to shreds by dumping me over the phone one night, just days before what would have marked our fifth year together. It took weeks and an endless stream of bad television before I could finally crawl out of bed and begin to function again. At the time I resented the fact that I had to break while he could simply hang up the phone and get on with things. Now I realise that it’s only during that wretched process of putting ourselves back together that we’re gifted the rare opportunity of seeing our inner most components and the stuffs of our cores. As strange as it sounds, it wasn’t until that awful breakup that I grew to know myself.

That first time around I experienced the piercing glory of naive adoration. It was the tender type, founded on friendship and grieved like a loss. While the pain of it ending was sharp and deep, the wound was clean and healed well. Other varieties of love aren’t so harmless.

The kind of which you need to be particularly wary is that based principally on physical attraction, as this type comes partnered with the smack and reek of addiction. Knowing it was a bad idea, when met by the opportunity for this breed of love affair, I pushed against it with all my weight for many weeks, before waking one morning to find I’d fallen head first into the messy thrill of it. This guy was bad news; the sort who gave it away for free until the moment that I was hooked, at which point I began to pay the optimum price with my pride and humility. This is the kind of love that coats you in its sticky sweetness until you’re completely stuck. Worst of all, you don’t even mind that you’re slowly drowning in its saccharine syrup; it tastes so good! I guess that’s the nature of lust; accompanied by sleepless nights and melancholy, a complete abandonment of self respect is inevitable.

Perhaps the hardest love to bridge is the kind that seems as if it was never supposed to happen. When you’re hopelessly romantic, it’s these initial difficulties that concrete the idea of it in your mind. After all, anything that’s so hard to come by, but for which you’re willing to fight anyhow has to bare some kind of meaning. When I was faced with impossible love, I assumed I’d found my soul mate. Maybe I had. But while I’d concluded this meant spending eternity together, actually, a soul mate is simply a mirror; someone who shows you to yourself in all your flawed glory. This guy shook me up, giving me courage and introducing the notion that I could be a better version of myself. Unfortunately, once he’d done that, the love seemed to fizzle to no more than a soggy version of its former fireworks, and despite my sadness and regret, it was time to walk away.

Love is a curious thing. Every time you curl into that other person’s side, in your mind it’s for the first and the last time. I suppose therein lies its beauty; we’re able to bounce back and give each partner the real deal, regardless of how many lovers came before and how many may follow.

Perhaps the truth is that when it comes to the raw, untameable chaos that is love, our mind and our consciousness have nothing to do with it. It’s our souls who choose one another, and whether they bind for a year or a lifetime, it can never be discounted as a waste of time or energy or heart.

Maybe this is the reason behind our ability to revive like we do. Despite what our minds may think, our spirit is never defeated or cheated by a transpired love affair; some integral part of us knows that whatever the union was supposed to achieve, it fulfilled its purpose. But when our heart needs something other, we must permit it the freedom to seek it.

So I guess there’s no such thing as being unlucky in love; no matter its duration or motive, it’s a gift and a growth. And afterwards, there’s nothing to be done but gather our missing pieces so that in our entirety we can look forward to the next time our core connects, for as long as it will, with another.

 

the ‘no offence, but…’ pandemic

‘No offence, but…’ is a phrase which is slowly but surely sweeping the globe. An increasingly common method of insult which allows an individual to guise deeply personal criticisms as casual observation, ‘no offence, but…’ is used to create humour at the expense of a typically unsuspecting and undeserving victim, for the benefit of a non committal audience.

This expression is basically a self served license to insult someone by stating something typically personal and often irrelevant to the ebb and flow of the current conversation. The phrase is used as a flag, a method through which one captures an audience’s attention; say ‘no offence…’ in any social setting and everyone within earshot will pause to hear the outrageous and insulting quip you are about to discharge. The beauty of the term is that as well as removing any possible guilt or remorse from the mind of the insulter, the very wording of the phrase simultaneously forbids the subject from becoming openly offended. Since no offence was allegedly intended, the victim is expected to take it on the chin, to the point that any serious response or reaction on the subject’s behalf will immediately appear both unwarranted and uncool in the eyes of bystanders. After all, can’t you take a joke?

As a high school teacher, I have been gifted a rare insight into the dynamics of the adolescent social clique, and I am pained to witness on a daily basis the many cruel ways that children treat one another. Girls, I am ashamed to say, are the most vicious. I have seen boys literally knocking each other flat as a result of a ‘ya mum’ joke that went too far, but a hard and fast smack to the eardrum does a lot less damage to an individual when compared to the drip, drip, dripping of malicious insults, tapping slowly and torturously onto the forehead of another. Of course, the issue on which I am basing this rant is by no means confined to young people; there are countless adults who can be as callous, if not more so, than the children for whom we are supposed to be setting an example.

So how should we respond when this septic term is uttered, whether as the victim or a member of the audience? At the outset, it needs to be noted that anyone who uses the phrase is a spineless tool, and for two good reasons. Firstly, if the person in question wants to say something insulting to someone, they should be brave enough to own their comment, rather than hiding behind a pathetic preamble. Secondly, if the individual feels the need to put someone else down in order to make themselves look good, they are probably neither nice or interesting.

Unfortunately, as a victim of the pandemic there isn’t a whole lot you can do. I would suggest falling back on your humility with the consolation that everyone present who possesses half a brain realises the speaker is a cretin making a cheap shot at your expense. As the audience however, you have a bit more power in this scenario (no one has instructed you not to take offence, after all). One thing I have found to work particularly well is aiming a ‘no offence, but…’ back at the speaker. In doing this, you must be very careful to ensure that your retaliation has both more bite than the antagonists, and that it references their ridiculousness (so that those people within the circle of conversation who have a even a hint of intelligence can witness your outstanding wit and superior sarcasm).

So next time you hear a fool making a shallow and unreasonable statement in order to boost their own ego, close them down. Because if we can’t get rid of idiots, we can at least shut them up.

 

 

Footnote: ‘Nothing personal…’ is the evil twin of the above phrase. Ironically, this term is only uttered as a preface for something profoundly personal. Unfortunately, the irony is typically lost on the speaker, who isn’t trying to be clever, just mean.

 

how to be seen

On the occasional blue moon throughout my childhood, our mother would appear unannounced on the door step. Possessed by a sudden wave of bashfulness, we’d stand staring out at her from the hall, with no words to draw her across the threshold. Then, grinning like a Cheshire cat, she’d break the shocked silence with a gregarious gesture and in an instant a silly excitement would sweep through the house. Regardless of how long she’d been gone, we were always devastatingly pleased to see her. After all, she was our mother.

Never one for answering uncomfortable questions, she’d coat us with her sticky charm in order to avoid having to admit how long she planned to stay. So we’d hang on her every word, for fear it was her last, and furtively cancel our plans, knowing from experience that it would be while we were away that she’d surreptitiously take her leave. Of course we couldn’t avoid school, so after a few days we’d inevitably arrive home to learn that she was gone. Flattened with disappointment, we’d grieve our loss anew. She never stayed long, but knowing that did nothing to ease the sorrow.

As a result of her sporadic and unpredictable pattern of visitation, I developed an agonizing obsession of imagining every car turning into our street was hers, and I spent my early adolescence sneaking shameful glances down the road. It was all I could do to disguise this secret longing for someone I knew would never come. The painful truth was that as hard as I tried to will her to me, she and I were never connected.

For me, our mother’s visits were both glorious and wretched. While my siblings would willingly open their hearts like well worn books to the page on which she’d last written, I would covet mine in bitter defiance. I was angry that she could come and go as she pleased while I remained here, needing her. I’d learned the hard way that like a wild wind she’d no sooner arrive than she’d be gone again, and I couldn’t bear it. So during these rare and short lasting visits I kept her at arm’s length. I thought I was protecting myself from further hurt, but regardless of how detached I appeared the pain when she left was no less raw.

Since the earliest days of my childhood I’ve struggled with feeling vulnerable. What initially stemmed from a combination of pride and self preservation with regards to my mother is now an integral part of who I am. Perceiving emotional dependence as a brand of personal betrayal, I learnt to greedily guard my weakness. Now I’m wondering whether, had I been more like my siblings, who gladly offered theirs like a gift in open palms, I might possess more peace and contentment.

On Saturday I was at my weekly writing group in the city. A broad spectrum of individuals who write for both pleasure and profession, we meet weekly to discuss what we’ve been working on, offering suggestions and constructive criticism to one another. After having completed a five minute warm up writing activity, we’d commenced moving around the table and sharing what we’d written. Before long everyone’s eyes were on me. I didn’t want to share; what if they thought I was dumb? But I choked down the foul tasting fear and the words of decline that were dancing on my tongue and I began to read my work. Against my instincts, I permitted myself to connect. It felt good.

I’m realising that if I’m ever going to experience freedom in all its brilliance, I’m going to have to allow myself to be fragile. I know I can do it; I’m courageous. I just have to let go of the fear.

I think of how my mother looked as she stood on our front step, giddy with cheerfulness. I couldn’t understand how, after twenty five months of absence, she could show up and act so exuberant. But now I recognise that performance for what it was; a facade behind which she was sheltering her own vulnerability. While standing alone on the other side of the door, a part of her must have worried whether this time she’d be turned away. And she couldn’t bear to let us see how much that would sting. For all those years, I was incensed by her superficiality, but only now do I understand what was happening behind the veil. My mother, like me, was afraid to be truly seen.

I’ll close with an offering of wisdom spoken by Brene Brown, a lady who’s spent years researching the subject of vulnerability and whose uplifting and informative presentation I have included for your pleasure. It’s worth a watch; she’s quite the funny one.

There’s another way. We need to let ourselves be seen; deeply seen, vulnerably seen. We need to love with our whole heart, even though there’s no guarantee. We need to practice gratitude and joy in moments of complete terror and to just be grateful; feeling vulnerable means we’re alive. And we need to believe we’re enough. When we work from that place, we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

 

 

a past full of wasted present

I’ve always had a very clear vision of what my life will look like once I become a grown up.

I’ll live in an old, light filled house; the kind where if you leave the front and back doors open, a soft breeze flows right through the middle. It will be a calm house in a quiet suburb, with a white picket fence whose paint is peeling off in lazy flakes. In my house there’ll be a room that’s only mine, filled with so many books that they’re piled in the corners, and a fat couch on which I can sit to read them. Days will pass slowly and I’ll spend them nestled at my desk in a nook near the window, writing glorious words. My house will have red saucepans and floral wall paper and out the back a big garden, where vegetables and flowers will grow in a sort of crazy, hap hazard harmony.

In my house I’ll have a border collie whose name will be Mack, and she and I will go running together in the afternoons. And there’ll be nosey chooks that roam the yard and who we are forever shooing out of the kitchen. We’ll string fairy lights along the porch and our friends will visit on Friday evenings to drink bottles of wine. On Sunday mornings we’ll sit on the front steps, listening to vinyls, with bed hair and big cups of tea, and the slightly too long grass will be just one more testimony to our absolute contentment. Life will be so great; I’ll be so happy when I grow up.

 

Ever since ever I was a kid I’ve had trouble living in the current moment, preferring instead to while away perfectly valid years of my life, waiting for things to get wonderful. Impatient as the day is long, I’ve dismissed so much of my present, considering it nothing but a necessary inconvenience which must be endured in order to obtain my fantastic future. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that by remaining idle I was wasting precious years; that what I should have been doing was getting busy with my here and now.

Since downing tools at the end of last year, things have become a lot clearer. In the last couple of months, I’ve done more to actively fashion my life’s canvas than I’d done in the preceding decade. Sure, I’d played some big cards in that time; a visit to Africa, a few sweet moments in Europe. But when I returned from these adventures, I stupidly settled right back into a sort of passive discontentment.

For so long I believed it was normal for daily existence to be ordinary. During this time I owed my survival and sanity to fleeting moments of brilliance, snatched through rare displays of spontaneity. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I’d do what any conservative soul would do on the verge of a mental breakdown; I’d chuck a sickie. Then, fuelled by the short fused euphoria of stolen time, I’d cram as much living as I could into that single evening. I’d stay up all night, playing music, painting, writing, drinking booze and end it all with a pre dawn stroll through the sleeping streets. Finally, utterly exhausted, I’d crawl beneath the folds of doona, just as dreaded first light forced its way through my bedroom window, reminding me that time never stops and that the previous evening was nothing but a self indulgent, pointless protest. I see now that setting my sights on a distant, romanticised future was my way of enduring what I felt was a deeply unsatisfying existence.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve wasted the best part of my twenties learning a simple yet vital life lesson: if you want to wander off the beaten track, you will have to pave your own path. And for the first time, I’m doing just that. I didn’t know it then, but it was on those rare stolen nights that I was tasting the true essence of living; the rest was nothing but an empty waiting. Now suddenly my life has begun, and I have some serious catching up to do.

 

I watched a speech by the late Steve Jobs this week. He was addressing an audience of young people at their university graduation. What he told them really stuck in my gut. He said that to live a successful life, you have to find what you love. He urged his audience to never settle, and to continue searching until they discover their passion. He stressed that this is the only way to ever be truly satisfied, so once you find what you love, you have to remain true to it, no matter how hard this might seem.

I like it when someone successful says something like that. It reassures me that I’m on the right track; that as tough as it may at first appear, paving your own way is not only possible, but for a life worth living, it’s necessary.

Until recently, my past has been filled with wasted present; years spent waiting expectantly for a future that never arrives. Now I finally understand that it’s impossible to exist anywhere but in the here and now. And you know what? For the first time in my life, that’s exactly where I want to be.

 

 

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.