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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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.

 

the legacy of the last to leave

I’ve always been a little conservative. Growing up in a family with four children, this was particularly evident. I was the child who put herself to bed while the others were lodging their cases regarding whether they’d eaten enough of their dinner to warrant dessert, or bickering over who should get the next turn on the Nintendo. Since ever I can remember I was self appointed dish rinser and bath runner, ate fruit because it was good for me and it never had to be asked; I had always done my homework.

In view of my prudent and level headed nature, it was taken for granted as we grew older that I would attend university once I’d finished school and that the only serious change I would experience during my adolescence would be evolving from a sensible child into a sensible adult.

Meanwhile, time lapsed and my siblings slowly but surely began to leave the nest. A spirited creature, my younger sister was unsurprisingly the first to fly, baited by the freedom of independence. My older sister was drawn south after having fallen together with a man whose life was already established elsewhere. Our brother ventured interstate to spend the weekend with a friend some four years ago and is yet to return, having found a much sought after brotherhood some place far off.

And so it came to pass that I became the daughter who didn’t move away. Having secured reliable employment within an hour of our family dwelling, while I moved out and even travelled overseas a couple of times, I was never far from home. If I’m honest, I suppose I liked it that way. I’m a terrible sook; I’ve only recently conquered my fear of the dark and letting go of things has always left me feeling overwhelming nostalgic and pathetically tearful. So it’s fair to say I enjoyed the safety net provided by my dad and the familiar. I wasn’t ready to wander off alone.

Call me naive, but until now it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be difficult to be the last to leave. It is. And complicated. Because just as I have grown used to the security of having family close by, so too has my father. And while I have decided it’s time for me to venture further afield and go it alone for a spell, he is dealing with the culture shock of having this decision thrust upon him. I empathise; I’m sure it’s less than easy.

The inevitable guilt of my decision dropped like a dead weight earlier this week and quickly became tangible. What does one do when she’s the last to go? The unexpected pressure has resulted in an onslaught of heated discussions amongst the numerous and all too opinionated voices in my head. The pessimists among them are incessantly claiming that I’m making a massive mistake and that my behaviours are clearly those of a selfish narcissist with an inflated sense of self worth. Mercifully, the majority remain faithfully on my side. Despite my many doubts, they assure me I’m doing the right thing. The truth is I’ve wanted this for years. I’ve simply lacked the courage.

So there’s been nothing for it but to lug the feelings of doubt and disloyalty with me, all the way to Melbourne. Despite what has become a full time search, I haven’t found a place yet, but I’m hoping when I do it will be big enough to contain the mountains of guilt I’ve had to haul along with me. In view of my budget, this is unlikely.

 

So this week is my dedication to all the kids out there who were the last to leave. Guys, I’m feeling you. To their siblings, spare a thought; remember the way their mere presence inadvertently assuaged your guilt when you knew it was your time to roll out. And to their parents, know that the guilt of the child is only marginally outweighed by their desperate desire to grow.

 

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!