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.

 

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.

 

 

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.