the stirring

Only The Elect Are Free

One of my many loathings is societal conditioning. Yet at the same time, I can’t help but admire the genius that devised the conspiracy. From day one we are programmed to contribute to the machine. When we are infants we are sent to school and the training begins. We’re taught maths and spelling and the position of America on the map, but most importantly we learn to do what we are told. Wear your uniform. Arrive on time. Follow the rules. Funnily, it takes only the most minimal and pathetic of recognitions to maintain these behaviours; a worthless commendation, a passing word of praise. In no time at all, we’re hooked.

We are indoctrinated so thoroughly that before long we begin to see those who do not entirely conform as pathetic failures. Those who take a day off here and there because they can’t be arsed doing something which seems to them utterly superfluous are frowned upon en mass. The guy who wears what in the hell he wants because he reckons the school administered blazer looks ridiculous is chastised and outcast. Why is he refusing to follow the rules?

Eventually we either drop out of school or graduate. Some are lucky enough to have fallen for the scam and actually celebrate the fact that they are finally free whilst arranging their ties and passively preparing to head off for another colourless day in the office. The less fortunate of us are more than aware that we are trapped. We are the ones that hate ourselves, because despite the most conscious of realisations, we do it anyway.

I hate the thought of dragging myself off to work every day, just because that’s what I’m expected to do. Last month I told my dad I’d been thinking of chucking in my job and trying something different. He almost had a stroke. The thought of four years training down the drain…

I just figure it would be better than the reality of a decade of life wasted when in ten years time, I’m still miserable. We only get to live once, right? Should our single aspiration really be to have a great big house, a dependable job and financial security..? I, for one would prefer to have a bloody good time.

And yet I haven’t quit yet. Go figure.

March, 2011

 

Last week I was quite ill. High on the dopey fuzz of cold and flu medication, I used the down time to restore some semblance of order to the many document files I’ve confused with obscure thoughts, unrealised ideas and the incomplete ponderings of my scattered mind over the past few years.

During the reading and deleting process, I stumbled upon the above rambling. I suspect that younger me would be both pleased and surprised to learn of the changes that have transpired since the moment when, in her hopelessness, she penned this piece. If the feelings of my present self are indicative, it’s a fair certainty.

 

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all women are fickle

“all women are fickle” or

Opinions Won’t Keep You Warm At Night.

 

fick-le

1. Marked by erratic changeableness in affections or attachments

2. Erratic: liable to sudden and unpredictable change

3. Insincere; not loyal or reliable

4. Faithlessness: unfaithful by virtue of being unreliable or treacherous

5. Unstable, especially with regard to affections or attachments

 

Yesterday evening I was enjoying the company of a typically lovely male companion, when he casually dropped this statement. Initially I was convinced that he was simply baiting me, so I humoured him somewhat, feigning insult and injury whilst generally playing along with what I had thought was a rouse. However, it wasn’t long before I realised that he had in fact meant exactly what he said; he truly believed that, collectively, women can be described using the term above defined.

Naturally I got serious very quickly, and had it not been for him backing down (he lives with a woman after all, and isn’t a silly fellow), things could have become messy quite quickly. As a self confessed feminist (let’s leave that one alone for another time) and a lady who prides herself on possessing strong and unwavering convictions, I found it difficult to hear such sweeping generalisations about what is obviously the fairer sex. (That’s a joke. Or is it?) As well as this, I was indignant; how can a person (regardless of gender) truly believe that all women can be characterised as insincere, unreliable beings who are unable to form lasting attachments to others, or even their own perspectives?

Thankfully we were able to bury the issue and enjoyed a perfectly amiable evening of wine and music, but the conversation got me thinking about the merits of saying the things that we think. Is honesty the best policy, or are there times when we should stifle our thoughts for the sake of the feelings of our significant (and insignificant) others?

 

For the most part, we all censure ourselves to some extent. This happens naturally in social discourse and is considered a necessary way of keeping the peace and maintaining pleasantries, whilst also ensuring the feelings of others are respected. Biting our tongue is something we are trained to do at a very young age; observe any toddler in a social setting with their parent and you can watch the conditioning taking place. I remember my sister telling me a while back about a time she’d been in a Doctor’s surgery with my niece, who was two and a half at the time. Turning to an older lady sitting on a chair nearby, she had stated as a matter of fact, ‘you’re very fat.’ Of course, this was followed by much embarrassment and flustered apologising on my sister’s behalf, who then proceeded to explain to my niece in no uncertain terms that you aren’t supposed to ever say such things out loud, regardless of whether they are true. In the given context, this lesson was clearly necessary; there is little to be gained by pointing out to a lady in a doctor’s surgery that she’s eaten too many doughnuts, after all. But having said this, are there times when speaking the truth and being blunt with our beliefs could prove beneficial?

Some people, as a result of the wiring of their minds, are unable to refrain from expressing their thoughts honestly and without inhibition. While this can occasionally be hurtful, it is often charming and refreshing. A perfect example comes to mind regarding a young man I used to teach (for the benefit of this anecdote, let’s call him James). James has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a condition that impairs one’s ability to understand and respond to social cues and conventions. A gangly fourteen year old with awkward mannerisms and a perpetual smile dwelling on the edge of his lips, this young fellow is a joy. However, on one occasion I happened to have a particularly nasty looking sore on my top lip, and while most people had been subtle enough not to mention it, James barrelled up to me whilst entering the classroom and exclaimed loudly ‘Geez, Miss what happened to your face?! It’s not very pretty today!’ To which I replied, ‘yeah, thanks dude. I hadn’t noticed.’ To which he responded (remembering that he has Asperger’s and comprehends purely on a literal level) ‘Oh. Well there’s a huge sore on your face. Go and have a look in the mirror, it’s gross!’ Thanks, James. Big up, man.

I think that possibly, there simply aren’t enough James’ in this world. Because whilst I clearly didn’t need to be reminded about the throbbing, oozing sore on my face (don’t worry, I’m exaggerating), it takes a certain strength and courage to stand proudly and with a big loud voice, state what everyone else is pretending not to see. I guess what I’m saying is that having an opinion and expressing it with passion cannot be a bad thing. After all, if you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything.

Just make sure when you’re voicing your opinions that they’re something for which you’re willing to fall, fighting.

To end where we began, I am sure that when he accused my gender of being fickle, my gentleman friend wasn’t considering the extent of the negative connotations that the word implies, but rather simply meant that generally, women have the tendency to be more indecisive when making decisions and are typically more likely to weigh and consider multiple perspectives in comparison to our male counterparts. I suppose that if nothing else, this is a lesson in selecting our words so that what we say is in direct correlation to what we mean.

 

Because whilst we women may not be fickle, we can be terribly touchy when scorned.

 

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.

 

the fruit of courage

On Monday I delivered my very first spoken word poetry performance at the local pub’s fortnightly meeting of Passionate Tongues. I think it’s fair to say I’ve been on a natural high ever since. That I had the courage to stand on a stage in front of many dozens of people and share my words is a concept that’s hard to fathom. It’s not that I wasn’t scared; I was freaking terrified. But I’d told myself this was something I could do and I needed to know that I was right.

‘I’m new to Melbourne; fresh from Newcastle, NSW’ I told an audience of raised eyebrows. ‘If you’ve never been, it’s the kind of place where if you write poetry, you mainly keep it to yourself.’ Back when I was at university, I wrote a lot of poetry. I enjoyed the way you could be sparing with your words yet still say so much. But after being awarded a measly credit by my creative writing teacher, I decided poetry clearly wasn’t my calling and turned to wordier varieties of self expression. Nevertheless, poetry has remained a guilty pleasure, and when I discovered that Melbourne was home to so many awesome poets, my excitement was tangible.

I was the tenth speaker on the open microphone, which meant I was beckoned after the stage had been warmed by feature poet Skye Loneragan and several other established writers. After a weekend of nervous anticipation, suddenly all eyes were on me. To my complete surprise, I remembered all my words and performed two poems entirely from memory. When I finished, the room began to applaud and I was consumed by an absolute euphoria. I felt as if I was on fire. Members of the audience and fellow poets were patting me on the back, praising my efforts; it was the best feeling I have ever had.

My personal pride at this achievement goes beyond being happy that I was able to perform for a crowded room. Since ever I was a kid, I’ve been afraid of letting people see me; ignored the pilot light burning within and it’s longing to catch aflame. All my life I’ve allowed insecurities to govern my actions and struggled with an inability to show others my whole self. Now I see exactly how limiting this has been.

After performing my poetry for a full bar, I’m pretty sure I can do anything. I’m no longer willing to keep a leash on my hopes and dreams, withholding that buzz for fear of failure. I’ve tasted the fruit of courage; watch as I eat my fill.

 

 

an uninvited house guest

When you move to a big city and the only people you know are your sister, her partner and your ex boyfriend, it’s easy to feel a little isolated. For the first month I enjoyed the seclusion, revelled in the quiet and the knowledge that I didn’t have to please anyone but myself, immersed myself in my writing and the harmony of words. I guess I’d classify myself as an introvert; I enjoy my own company and don’t require frequent socialisation to exist contentedly. But if you spend too much time on your own, what I’ve found is that slowly, almost immeasurably and without you realising, your contentment equilibrium steadily drops, and you begin to feel heavier. Introvert or not, people need people.

So inevitably, after a couple of months the Loneliness moved in. She took to sitting at the end of my bed, all droopy shoulders and forlornly upturned eyes while I worked on my computer. Or she’d wander in while I was in the bath and sit dejected on the toilet seat, full of sighs and heavy heart. When I was in the kitchen she’d linger at the breakfast bar, staring indifferently out the window and forcing me to question why I would even bother to fix a meal when she didn’t eat and I was no longer hungry.

Soon I began to wonder, whether as a result of her constant mumblings, or my own mind’s manifestations, why I bothered moving to Melbourne in the first place. After all, I was spending the larger part of my time alone in my little studio, secluded from the goings on of a city that was just outside my door. Until now I’d been telling myself that I was choosing to stay pent up; it meant I was being productive. But if productivity was my sole purpose, I needn’t have bothered changing states; I could have written words anywhere. The truth was that I had no idea how to discover or access the activities the grand metropolis had to offer.

I was feeling pathetic and totally dejected; an inevitable side effect when you begin taking life advice from an abstract embodiment of your own emotions. Clearly it was time to get out. Meet some people. See some things. After all, it was fairly unlikely that anyone was going to knock on my door and enquire as to whether I’d like to join them for coffee. Besides, that would be strange and slightly creepy. I’d have to take matters into my own hands. Order my own hot beverages.

If you’ve struggled to shake off the company of Loneliness, you know that she can be a nasty hanger-on. But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve managed to find a number of activities she doesn’t enjoy so much. I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think she may have moved out.

What I’ve learned is that Loneliness hates to help people (she really is a selfish piece of work). Seeing that they needed assistance, I started volunteering twice weekly at Lentil as Anything, which is a local vegetarian non for profit restaurant. This place offers three meals a day, serving a combination of vegetarian and vegan dishes. It’s not a soup kitchen; guests from all walks of life frequent the eatery. The philosophy is that once you’ve enjoyed your fill, you’re invited to pay whatever you feel your meal and experience were worth, depending on your means.

It’s an awesome place with terrific food and an inviting atmosphere, yet when I was preparing for my first shift, Loneliness made it very clear she had no intention of coming with me. In the end she climbed grudgingly into the passenger seat, but when we pulled up she refused to get out of the car. After a fantastic first shift, I returned to find she’d given up on waiting. It was days before she showed up on the door step, wandering in wordlessly and without any explanation as to where she had been.

The more time you spend with Loneliness, the less you want to; she is quite the wet mop. Perusing the markets with my sister a few weekends back (Loneliness hates group activities. Like a jealous lover, she resents having to share you, so she stays at home, sulking), I stumbled across a woman who described herself as a spoken word poet. It turns out Melbourne has a thriving performance poetry scene. Basically, some dozens of people meet in any number of pubs throughout the week to drink beer and perform their poems for an audience. Once I began getting involved with the spoken word, Loneliness gave up on me completely.

Which brings me to a rather terrifying share; tonight I plan to deliver my very first poem at one of the local poetry gigs. I say ‘plan to’ because waves of nausea have already begun knocking the wind out of me. By the time tonight rolls around, I imagine I’ll be too comatose to leave my apartment, let alone mount a stage. But last week I witnessed firsthand the performance of Sarah Kaye, an American performance poet who I’ve been following for the past few years, and I decided I needed to try. Besides complete public humiliation, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

So spare a thought for me tonight, but for now, enjoy a performance by the gorgeous Sarah Kaye. x

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.