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.)

 

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.

 

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.

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

 

a study of irrational rage

I find anger fascinating.

I’m not talking about the exasperation you feel when your partner insists on hanging the washing with mismatched pegs, or the irreconcilable irritation that comes from turning on the television to discover that the only programme you bother to watch has been thoughtlessly cancelled to enable the screening of some stupid sporting event. Nor am I referencing the mixed feelings of forlorn frustration when the nightly news reports the latest dumb decision made by politicians who insist on running our government fuelled solely by personal motives.

I’m referring to the raw and irrational anger that can be witnessed every day in the faces of people outside your front door; the blind rage that consumes the person in the car behind you when you forget to indicate at the traffic lights. Sitting, waiting anxiously for the lights to change, you observe them cussing violently and making rude and animated gestures in your direction through the rear view mirror. Or the fury that brews behind the blank faced expression of the woman in the cinema, driving her to turn and spew hatred in your direction when you accidently kick the back of her chair.

We’ve all observed this kind of unpredictable and unfounded anger. As for me, I’ve spent significant chunks of time reflecting on where it might come from. After all, it’s scary. In my mind these once normal, well balanced individuals have been possessed by some kind of mean demon who survives on equal portions of spite and malice and whose objective is to slowly consume otherwise reasonable people. Shackled within the confines of dead end lives which they can’t remember choosing, these poor souls can find no escape. Losing sight of what they were once striving for, or perhaps never having known in the first place, they’re filled with a sense of hopelessness, and in response they react in the only way they know how; primal, unashamed anger.

I think we’ve all made the rookie error of thinking it’s possible to reason with these people, and have attempted to talk them down by calmly pointing out their unnecessary or unjustifiable behaviour. When being accosted in the grocery store for sampling a grape for instance, I have endeavoured to explain to the dutiful citizen whose red face was all too close to mine that they need to relax. I wasn’t planning on pulling up a plinth and making like Midas; I was only going to try one, as a means of deciding if I wanted to purchase a bunch. But these acts of measured reason are time and again met by the inflated rage of the accuser, who is angered inconsolably by my slight misdemeanour against the rigid societal rules to which they have unwontedly or perhaps subconsciously kowtowed.

Truth be told, we owe these individuals big time. For myself, every time I see them blasting one another in the parking lot or dragging viciously at the arms of their bewildered children, I am reminded that I am lucky; I have a chance to get out before the resentment that’s eating them up starts taking chunks out of me. I smile at them with open eyes and am typically rewarded with a scowl, which I gladly accept; after all, that could have been me turned crazed hate monger. Or maybe they’re just good people having a bad day.

My quiet contemplation of these folk over the past week has helped me let go of the things I’m preparing to leave behind. After tomorrow I will be able to state with a measure of happiness and horror that my budding career as an educator is over. Despite my discontentment regarding my job, it’s been hard to let go; quitting has meant foregoing relationships that I’ve been developing for years and has required abandoning people who might need me. A sentimental person, this has been hard to accept. My emotional self has begun to confuse my rationality, and my pushover of a mindscape has led me to question the thoughts that have consumed me for the past few years; do I really dislike my job or have I simply been being self indulgent?

Nevertheless, being in a state of flux is oddly suiting me. I have given up my lovely house in Newcastle and am squatting back at my dad’s place until the big move. So much of me enjoys the disordered chaos of it all. There’s a certain liberation that comes from selling all your worldly possessions on eBay. Or more accurately, giving your things away; turns out no one really reckons my stuff’s worth much. But wonderfully, the less I have, the lighter I feel. In summation and paradoxically, in the midst of uncertainty, things have never felt so right.

So I suppose I should begin looking for a place to live, else I’ll be arriving in the city in the New Year the proverbial bohemian, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a mind full of romantic notions. Either way, Melbourne town, I’m on my way!

 

on escapes and clean slates

For the past week I’ve been waking, horror stricken in the night with the realisation that I can’t breathe. Don’t worry; so far it’s all false alarms. I sit in the stillness of the dark and rationalise that the thick warmth trapped in my room is in fact the result of the too much breathing that comes from possessing a mess bomb of a mind and being an anxious wreck while if anything, sleeping all too heavily. Opening a window, I release the fuggy night terrors onto the lamp lit lawn, before crawling back into bed.

Lately my slumbering self has been plagued by an overabundance of unwelcome dreams. You know the kind; you’re scrambling naked through some public place, entirely conspicuous, or you’re back at school and stuck in that moment before you give a speech, sweaty palmed before a staring, dumb faced class.  Worst still, the dream where your past lovers rock up in a posse and begin casually listing your many and numerous shortfalls, unanimously agreeing that you were singularly their biggest mistake. It’s very disconcerting.

The source of my sudden restlessness and increasingly fragile sense of self is that in the very near future I intend to quit my life. And I am terrified. As you know, I had already made the decision to relinquish my full time position in the New Year. In my mind I figured I could throw in my job, but remain in the area and work for my boss on a casual basis, as a kind of safe guard against the prospect of having to fend for myself. I figured it couldn’t hurt to establish for myself a safety net. After all, surely starting over isn’t something one should rush?

As is often the case, the sneaky little nuisance of a notion came to me without warning. I was chatting to my sister about the cultural Mecca that is Melbourne City, and suddenly I was announcing, in a tone that sounded all at once flippant and completely foreign to me, that I plan to move there before the year is out. Naturally, my sister was both shocked and impressed by my apparently sudden display of recklessness, and believe me, she wasn’t the only one. Me, who had always been grounded and sensible and safe was now announcing impulsively, yet with total conviction, that she planned to pick herself up and, with zero prospects, venture into the unknown. I have since learned that backing out of a terrifying decision is a lot more difficult once you have spoken it aloud, for I am as proud and stubborn as I am cowardly. Maybe I need to learn to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps I should have begun speaking my thoughts a long time ago.

If you’re thinking I sound a lot like a pathetic pansy, you’d be right, though it should be noted that although I become a cot case in the small hours of the morning, by the light of day I am typically quite composed. Sure, there are moments when the prospect of walking out on the life I’ve spent the past five years establishing summons my old friend Anxiety, who meanders in unannounced and casually sits on my chest, stripping me of appetite and making basic functions such as breathing an encumbering experience. But for the larger part, my pathetically irritating and unrealistically confident inner self is sitting back with an air of self righteousness and superiority, reflecting like a would-be philosopher on our very brave and risqué life decision; that by throwing it all in we are winning back our freedom. It is true that in some moments there is a sort of weightless calm that comes with recklessly abandoning everything, but I can’t help but think that this feeling is not dissimilar to that which is felt by a suicide bomber or a man enduring the final stages of a terminal illness. And I’m certain at times I possess the same desperate look in my eyes.

Needless to say, it’s not all bad. For a girl whose life has always been plagued by indecision, while I certainly don’t have a grasp of what it is I want, I do have a growing awareness of the things I could easily do without. My current life, for instance.

 

So. Know of anyone in the big smoke who’s in need of a writer? As of the New Year I am officially unemployed. Feel free to drop me a line, or look me up; address, Struggle Street.

 

the decision

This blog originated because for a long time now I’ve been feeling discontent and at odds with my lot in life.

Like countless others, I failed to stand back and take a good hard look as my life began to take shape. I forgot to consider whether where I was headed was anywhere near where I wanted to go. I suppose mine is the typical scenario; I finished school with a sense of exhausted relief and, as if driven by auto pilot, enrolled immediately into university without a thought regarding where exactly I was headed. I guess I figured I should just keep moving until I figured it out. After all, if you don’t tread water, you might sink, right? Four years passed in a blur of work, sweat and study and when I finally came up for air I was met with a certificate, a congratulatory handshake and the expectation that I would leave the murky dream pool without making a fuss, in order to commence what I suddenly realised would be a long and arduous career of working for the man.  If you’ve not detected the less than subtle allusions, I couldn’t help but feel as if somehow I’d been jibbed.

Over the past several years I have struggled to come to terms with the fact that this is it for me. And what’s made it all the more confusing is the discouragement I’ve received from others when I’ve expressed to them my feelings of dissatisfaction. Some reassured me that I would come to love my job, like one might a stray dog. I just need to give it time. Others admitted similar despondency regarding their own employment, but reiterated that this was the reality; that we aren’t supposed to like what we do. Apparently ‘job’ is supposed to be synonymous with ‘soul destroying’. One friend suggested I enrol in an evening class if I was feeling unstimulated. Or if that failed, had I considered having a baby? (I hadn’t realised breeding was an acceptable cure for boredom?) But when none of this helped, my continued complaints were either met by annoyed dismissal or an exasperated enquiry as to what I thought I might like to be doing instead. Oh, if only it were that easy. But if I knew what I was searching for, I would have surely already found it.

I secretly envy that particular breed of person who seems to possess a sort of easy contentment with themselves and their life. The way they leave their homes each morning to attend their nine til five job, and don’t seem to be bothered that they spend every weekend getting pissed at the same old local. The kind of person whose idea of a change of scenery is to repaint the feature wall in the living room every other Christmas. I am being entirely sincere when I say I would trade my complicated mind and all its baggage for the bliss of being that happy person.

Irritatingly, I have always sensed that there’s something more for me; that a taste of greatness is lingering, just beyond the boundaries of the ordinary and the reach of my desperately probing fingertips. I know what you’re thinking, and don’t worry; there have been countless occasions that have required me to have stern words with my inner egotist: what is it that makes you so special? But these thoughts aside, all attempts to make peace with my situation have simply resulted in the voice in my mind and the pressure of my heart joining forces to wage war on my sensibilities with renewed vigour. The message is clear; they need to get out. This musty air is killing them.

So six months ago I promised myself that this would be my final year in my current profession. I made a pact with my flailing sense of self that at the conclusion of this year, I would save her from the mediocrity in which she was drowning and the two of us would wander, hand in hand, into the middle distance, accompanied by some form of triumphant, non diegetic instrumental that would make it clear to the viewers at home that something wonderful had just occurred, and that together we would seek to find some semblance of meaning in this life. In response, my inner self conceded that she could probably manage to keep her head above water until then, but that I had better be serious. I felt as if I had made a positive step in the right direction and that made me feel good. And then I had to tell my boss.

Let it be noted at this point that I am a pathetic coward. Don’t misunderstand me; I mustered up the necessary courage and I informed my very reasonable and very thoughtful boss that I had intentions of making this my final full time year in the job. I offered that I would still be available to work on a casual basis and explained that I just needed some time with my thoughts for a while. She seemed to take it well, and in response to her calm smile and generally graceful demeanour, I left the meeting feeling relieved and reassured. Meanwhile, she turned back to whatever she was doing with full intentions of using any means necessary between then and the New Year to change my mind. After all, this particular lady was Cessnock born and bred; she doesn’t have it in her to give in quietly.

Now, with the year quickly nearing its end, she is very slowly yet very surely arranging the big guns in neat rows across the desk in her office. Needless to say, I am getting scared. It is becoming apparent that the amount of days until the end of the year directly correlate to the size of the fear growing in my gut. And the more pressure she applies, the more I begin to question whether my decision to throw in my career might actually be the stupidest, most crazy thought I have ever had. Sure I dislike my job, but no more than the next guy. In fact, some days I’m almost convinced I like it. I mean, I’m good at it, and that has to stand for something. After all, do I really think I can simply just do want I want to do instead? Is that the dumbest idea ever, or what?

I gather that the reason I’m feeling this way is that what I am intending to do is in direct conflict to the conditioning to which we’ve all fallen victim from the day we were first added as fuel to the deaf machine of life. The bottom line is that we aren’t supposed to choose our own path, experiment with our lives, seize the day and act spontaneously. We are supposed to conform. Get a job. Have babies. Feed the false economy. In theory, I get all of this. Likewise, I am totally aware that we only get one go at this life business, that the only things we will ever truly regret are the ones we never did; that there is no reward for refusing to step beyond our comfort zone. And so on and so forth. Regardless, I am still petrified.

For now, I’ve decided that I want to write. You should probably be aware at this point that if it hadn’t been for Marsden, I would have totally written the Tomorrow series. And if only Douglas Adams hadn’t been given the unfair advantage of having been born first, there is no way I wouldn’t have written his satirical masterpiece. Laugh if you want, but know that I’m not kidding.

 

So this coming year will be the year I quit my life, and I can only hope that when this nonsense is all over and this absurd neurosis is out of my system, my boss might take pity and give me my job back, and that I might have learned to value the mediocrity with which I’ve been blessed. Until then, I’ll be hiding under the bed sheets, mustering the energy to be brave. Don’t bother waiting for me; this might take a while.

 

 

the premise

The workforce of the world is cluttered with people who are trapped in the cogs of the social machine, enduring jobs that they hate. Our own fear of the unknown oils the spokes while our consumer driven culture, constantly encouraging us to buy more and charge it to our false economy, incarcerates us, preventing us from walking out on our bosses to try something new. As the years pass, we slowly yet surely accumulate more shackles, tying ourselves to a life we never actually chose. And as one day gives way to the next, we become increasingly afraid of setting ourselves free. Our jobs have begun to own us. We’re institutionalised and we’re too scared to do anything about it. It’s as if we’re addicted to the ties that bind. Here we are living in the easiest era in human history, and what do we do with the resources? Produce our own vices to clamp our dreams shut. Personally, I think our education system is to blame. But that’s a whole other issue.

Anyhow, in time we convince ourselves that only the elect get lucky and are blessed with jobs that they find stimulating and for which they feel passionate. We rationalise that we don’t live to work, we work to live, and convince ourselves that we’re fortunate to have all of our precious things. In our search for contentment we continue to buy, adding fuel to a raging fire…

Recently I began to ask myself; why don’t we aspire to find what it is that might make us happier? Why should we settle for mediocrity? Weren’t we always told we were more valuable than that? What do we really have to lose by chucking it all in with the hope of discovering a fulfilling and enriching alternative? What good is all our stuff really doing us?

 

The Year I Quit My Life is a record of the scariest decision I have ever made. Taking a leap of faith, I decided it was time to chuck it all in and begin the search for my dreams. It’s not easy to find something when you’re not entirely sure what it looks like, or where you should be looking. But one thing I know for certain; if I never start, I’ll never find it. At the end of 2011, I quit the career I had been painstakingly establishing for the past five years with the intent of exploring what the world might have to offer me.

Is true contentment even possible in this life? Let’s see if we can’t find out.