catching chances

I’m an advocate for the belief that living a rich and remarkable life largely depends on taking risks and catching chances. It makes complete sense that we can never get anything different to what we have unless we first change some element of what we’re doing. Last week I asked you for your thoughts regarding when is too soon to consider moving in with a partner and during the week we decided, after much deliberating, reading, talking, umming and ahhing that we’re going to give it a shot. Like many of you pointed out, living together will either force a making or a breaking, and I have a good feeling. Of course, this is a big deal for me and I’m a little bit afraid. Still, this year was always going to be about pushing comfort zones, embracing vulnerabilities and taking the less obvious path, so this is just one of the ways in which I’m realising that objective.

As is often the case, once a decision is made, things seem to move quite quickly. Already we’ve been accepted for a cute little unit that we inspected on the weekend and we’ll be picking up the keys on Friday. We also made our first joint purchase; a rug for our living room floor. It really is exciting times. : )

 

When I moved to Melbourne at the beginning of January it was without a plan. No one can tell the future and it’s harder still when you’re at a total loss regarding what you might want for yourself. All I knew was that I wasn’t happy with what I had and I needed to do something about it before my battered spirit was damaged irreparably. I suppose I imagined that if I threw it all in and sought a clean slate, some magic might happen.

Six months and countless ups and downs later, I suppose that’s exactly what’s occurred. After some radical twists I’ve started paving myself an altogether different path to the one I was aimlessly wandering in 2011. When I reflect on the year to date, I think the biggest difference between my now and my then is that I’ve awarded myself a most precious gift: the permission to seek change.

For so many years I knew what I wanted to do (or rather what I didn’t want to do), but I lacked the courage to act. I don’t know what I was afraid would happen; perceiving it from my present state of mind, it’s hard to understand how I could have thought quitting my job and moving interstate would potentially herald the end of the world. But I guess at the time it was my fear of the unknown that was holding me to ransom. For whatever reason, back then I didn’t feel free.

In the last six months I’ve come to realise that one way or another, things will always work out. Also, you shouldn’t ever be afraid of failing because there is no such thing. Rather, there are simply limitless turning points that when taken will inevitably lead us in varied directions. And there are lessons. By golly, are there lessons.

In this life we can choose to remain on the one road, safe in the knowledge that we’re familiar with its contours and what might be over each rise, or we can take a chance and mosey off in a new and different direction. Sure, it might be risky, but there are sure to be wonderful things to see and to do. As for myself, let me always be the brave explorer. Because there is always that chance that the things we uncover really might be golden.

 

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on finding your way

discovering the void in ourselves is just the start of the journey…

When I moved to Melbourne I planned to do a lot of writing. I imagined that this would be my biggest challenge and in a lot of ways it has been. For quite some time I found I couldn’t write. I’d get up in the mornings and sit at my desk ready and willing but no matter what I did, the words refused to join me. It was terribly distressing; I felt like a failure. It didn’t make sense. I knew what I wanted to say and was prepared to put in the hours, but it was as if the timing wasn’t right, as if the words weren’t ready. I didn’t just sit there of course, I did write some things. But everything I scribed seemed clumsy and jarred. Kind of like someone had taken a song I knew well and then played it back, slightly out of key.

And then poetry reared its pretty head. On the day it arrived, writing became easy. Now I can sit and pen two pieces over my muesli. It’s like whatever wind is blowing them in will not be stilled or quieted. Unfortunately, poetry takes a person nowhere but to the warm cave inside of themselves. It’s awfully snug, but it’s not the type of writing that can be rationalised; there’s no chance these words will prove in any way self sustaining.

And now I have a bigger problem. I am running out of money. Surprisingly, finding work in the city is difficult. Initially I’d imagined that supporting myself with casual teaching would be simple. I visited stacks of schools and was sure I’d soon begin to hear from them. I started waking at six am in anticipation for the phone call and I would iron my clothes in the evenings in readiness for a last minute rush. But no one rang. I sent follow up emails and heard nothing. I broadened my scope by venturing further afield and still the line remained silent.

The dwindling of finances has left me certain that contentment doesn’t come from opting out. Being poor is stressful. Jobs are necessary. The challenge isn’t in figuring out how to avoid work, but rather finding an occupation that will allow you to keep the actual fire burning while also fueling your spirit, making your insides warm. I miss working. I enjoy time spent writing but I miss the sharing. I miss other voices and the laughter. I miss making someone else a cup of tea and seeing the smile that thanks me. Truly, writing can be such a lonely pursuit.

So a couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to begin to change some things. More than anything I suppose it was necessity that began to bump me outside of my box. I began applying for all types of jobs; not ones for which I’m acutely qualified, but ones I could imagine enjoying. This fortnight I have applied for upwards of ten non teaching jobs and I have grown unexpectedly excited by the prospect of being granted the opportunity to try something completely different.

This sudden feeling of hopefulness and exhilaration has led me to realise that somewhere along the line I’d lost track of what this year was about. To an extent, I’ve been waiting for fulfilment to kind of just rock up and join me while I go about the business of living. But I was being silly. If you want to be happy, you’ve got to bring it about for yourself. I don’t know why it’s taking me so long to realise that being passive doesn’t make things happen. I truly am the slowest of learners.

In the twenty first century it’s estimated that a person experiences an average of seven careers within their lifetime. These evolutions aren’t necessarily all radical; they may involve a promotion, for instance, or a change of duties within a profession. But the bottom line is that movement is an entirely normal element within the employment sphere. I’d come to this city searching for a change in scenery. It’s well and truly time to experiment with something new.

Some time after starting this journey, I forgot the point to it all. I’ve been dwelling on my need, rather than seeking my solution. This week I’ve come a little closer to synching with my purpose. And it feels good.

 

Have you undergone a career change during your working life? Were you glad that you did?

Peace and poetry, x

 

why school sux

Education is purposed to help us make sense of our identities while providing the skills for shaping positive and participating global citizens. In westernised countries, where we spend the majority of our waking formative years engaged in compulsory schooling, the role of education in fashioning well balanced contributors is undeniable. Unfortunately, the curriculum of the current system is so cluttered by meaningless requirements and bound by so much red tape that organic growth is stifled and significant exploration of self and world are commonly deemed unfeasible.

One of the biggest tragedies of this era is the way in which students’ inherent capacity for innovation is persistently and ruthlessly squandered through our education system. The way in which we continue to dismiss the value of creativity in favour of a blind and empty emphasis on reading, writing and arithmetic is a primary facilitator of this problem. Despite massive changes to educational theories, our approaches to teaching and learning continue to discourage intellectual risk taking, simplifying concepts and limiting discovery by implying that there is a right and a wrong answer to every question.

It’s absurd that in the twenty first century, we continue to award an apparent value to subjects on the basis of outdated perceptions of economic utility. Somehow, despite radical changes to the global climate, subjects such as mathematics and the sciences are still considered overwhelmingly more important than creative alternatives. Consequently, our education system remains geared toward right brain thinkers. Those with a propensity toward academia who respond to traditional forms of instruction and assessment are able to thrive, and are used as evidence that the system is working. Meanwhile, students who are otherwise inclined are abandoned by the system. Their inability to tow the line is interpreted as antagonism and behavioural rebellion and is typically remedied through discipline. Bombarded with blame and accosted by seamless experiences of crushing failure, these students see themselves as the stupid problem. Hopeless or hardened, they eventually enter the world with a sense of resignation that penetrates the core of their identity and what they could have been. On an individual level this is a tragedy. On a societal level, this epic loss of untapped potential is inexcusable.

Too large a portion of our country’s adult population spend their lives mindless and miserable, waiting for the weekend so they can drown their discontentment by indulging in excess. We waste our existence tolerating the greater part of our waking hours because from our earliest educational influences, we were discouraged from pursuing our passions and dismissed from developing a greater knowledge and understanding through poor teaching. Studies show that those fortunate enough to fall into fulfilling fields of work are more content, less aggressive and far superior contributors to their professions and broader communities. So why, when the benefits are evident, does our education system place so little value on individuality, programming us to fear failure, to strive for less?

Exponential growth in technology and rapid changes to cultural and lifestyle philosophies in the past half century are redefining the role of education. Possessing the skills necessary for survival in an increasingly left brained, beyond the box world is becoming increasingly requisite. Educators should be obliged to equip young people with these tools. Through necessity, our approach education needs to quickly evolve. Yet instead, we remain reliant on an outdated nineteenth century model, originally developed to meet the needs of the industrial age. A system of schooling which favours conformity and standardisation can have limited benefits in a twenty first century context. It’s time to rethink our view of intelligence, as we are entering an era where innovation, difference and diversity will be the qualifiers of success.

Every government makes a superficial attempt at reforming education. Unfortunately, their efforts are usually limited to adding more requirements to an already overloaded curriculum, placing unrealistic pressure on staff and students while leaving the archaic philosophies that undermine the model untouched. The system is failing. What we require is a fresh page on which to begin drawing something suitable for our shifting culture.

For better or worse, schools are shaping the next generations of our society’s adults. Our approach will dictate whether we use this time to prepare positive and passionate contributors or disheartened, indifferent drones. Education should be fuelling students’ fires. As it stands, our system does nothing but squander our kids’ enthusiasm, driving them to opt out; if not literally then certainly figuratively. The repercussions of this reach way beyond the realms of the playground. Education is the institution which is deciding the dynamic of our country’s populace. It’s imperative we begin to get it right.

 

For a deeper understanding of our need for an educational revolution, enjoy this informative presentation by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned expert in the field of education. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll post a selection of his more engaging pieces on the Facebook page.

 

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.)

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

on love bites and loneliness

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

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

I’ve always been a little anxious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

a resolve for the new year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

the selfish nature of giving

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays, guys. x