Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Living Zen

There are moments in life when the right thing comes your way at just the right time. For me, it’s discovering a blog called Zen Habits.

Zen Habits appeared in my Twitter feed last week. The article was called, ‘Achieving without goals’ and it presented itself at a time of personal crisis, as I’m discovering that my measure of happiness is hinged on achieving goals. Big goals or little goals, it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s tangible. Getting a new job, finishing a book, finding the perfect coffee machine, booking a holiday. It’s a familiar pattern that has followed my entire life. The problem is when I sit still, when I’m not doing and just being, I’m no longer happy. I’m anxious, judgemental and self critical. I panic and I get melancholic. And it’s self destructive.

Zen Habits talks about goals as being completely made up, fantasies we have of how we want the future to go, and unnecessary to achieving ‘something’. Importantly, when we fixate on goals, we can close ourselves off from amazing opportunities, discoveries and new directions. I urge you to read it.

But what intrigued me next was discovering the subsequent posts on the blog. Just days later, the author Leo Babauta posted, ‘Why you should write daily’ followed by, just yesterday, ‘The 7-day vegan challenge’. How did he know that my resolution on 1 January 2013 was to:

1.    Write more
2.    Be a better vegan
3.    Live happier

Sure the third one is a bit vague but those were the exact words I had written in my diary.

I am certainly trying to find balance and zen in my life. I tried writing about it this year here and here. To limited success. I’m guessing there are others out there asking similar existential questions and discovering more questions than answers. For now I’m finding Zen Habits incredibly comforting. I connect with the writing and the topics continue to resonate.

I hope you get something out of this post or Leo’s blog.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The White Rabbit

Last year when I was job hunting, I came across an HR Coordinator role with Koko Black for which I applied, despite having no experience in HR. They were loose with their selection criteria and I have a loose grasp of reality. The cover letter started with, ‘To the wonderful people at Koko Black,’ and finished with this:

Yes, in a formal job application, I compared myself to the Koko Black mascot and included photos as evidence.* Please don’t institutionalise me.

This would not be the last time that I am compared to a white rabbit.

In the beloved children’s story Alice in Wonderland, we meet the white rabbit who runs about clutching his oversized pocket watch crying, ‘I’m late, I’m late!’ Late for what, exactly, we don’t really find out.

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty intense and neurotic person. Always on high alert, always running (figuratively), chasing an elusive something. So elusive even I don’t know what it is I’m running towards or from. Today, someone likened me to the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and I couldn’t agree with them more.

I am the white rabbit. I am constantly fretting over the time – how quickly can I get a task done, how much can I fit into a day, impatient to move onto the next big thing. My default state is restlessness.

Well, I don’t want to be the white rabbit anymore. I’m tired. I’m done with the running when there is no race. Life’s not a race but I’m acting as though it is. Does it not feel like we’re constantly operating at this incredible pace but if we stop to wonder why we’re doing it we simply draw a blank?

From now on, I choose to be the Cheshire Cat. Cool, unfazed and smiling. He accepts that we’re all mad and that’s ok. And occasionally, he turns invisible.

*I actually got an interview with Koko Black from that letter. Jury’s out as to who is madder.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The list will NEVER end. EVER.

This has been a major revelation for me. That list of things to do in our heads? We will die with it. Hopefully, we won’t die for a very long time and when we do, the list will look very different to the one that exists now but we will still die with an unfinished list in our heads. Scary shit, isn’t it?

It’s not uncommon for us busy creatures to have many things on the go at any one time, and still have a backlog of jobs to complete. Housework, paperwork, unreturned emails. The car needs servicing. Teeth are due to be cleaned and checked. I must get around to reading the Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. I should peel that expired parking permit sticker off the car. Must buy so-and-so’s birthday present. And a card. Should change the bed sheets. Haven’t got this month’s Frankie magazine yet. Must head into Medicare soon and get that rebate. If you’re anything like me and you write actual to do lists, that’s all well and good. Until you catch yourself adding, ‘Must write to do list’ to your mental to do list.

A while ago, I had planned a near perfect weekend. Friday night and Saturday were going to be my social/chores days. I saw people and I got stuff done. Lots of stuff. I went to bed on Saturday happy. The next morning, I woke to my specially prepared ‘quiet day’. Reading, writing, catching up on TV shows on iView. I had been looking forward to my Sunday all week. I woke up late on Sunday and staying in bed, read the final beautiful pages of my book. I then picked up another and launched straight in. And that was the precise moment the guilt kicked in. This is too indulgent. There is so much other stuff I should be doing. And at the top of the list? Consolidating my Super.

That’s right. At the age of 27, the thing that sits at the top of my to do list is to consolidate my Super. In my defence, I have been meaning to do this for a while, about ten months in fact. And they keep reminding you that you’re paying unnecessary fees. I have three accounts. That’s three lots of fees! So it has been bugging me. But, what a ridiculous thing to be spoiling my perfect Sunday!

Someone very wise told me about the never-ending list secret. I call it a secret because I honestly believe many people aren’t aware of this. We think we have to get through it in order to be able to enjoy ourselves, to sleep easy, or to move on to the next thing. But life’s to do list doesn’t work that way. You get through what you think is the entire list and then someone turns the effing page and you discover the list goes onto page 2, and 3, and you get the picture.

We tell ourselves, I’ll just do one more thing. It’ll only take fifteen minutes. But a lot of fifteen minutes add up to a long time. And as we all know, one thing will lead to another... if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, it leads to another five.

So, I’m teaching myself to be ok with an unfinished list. It’s not always easy, but I’m trying. In fact, it goes completely against my nature. And even as I write this, it’s killing me that I STILL haven’t gotten around to doing something about the three Super accounts. What are the implications of dying with that still on the list?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

People are 'Interesting'

Earlier this week, I dropped my phone on a concrete footpath. The phone was less than thrilled with this and is currently spending some time in the smartphone hospital. The nice man at Optus gave me a temporary phone while the insurance people sort things out. The temporary phone is a brick and a sign from the big man above to stop wasting time on social media.

So, as I waited the whole eight minutes for the tram to arrive today, I tried to explore the different features of my borrowed phone, all three of them. Text, call, change volume. Then I discovered something really cool. You know when a phone has exchanged many hands not by the number of scratches and dents but by the messages left behind. Yep, some people have saved their SMSs to the phone instead of their SIMs leaving glimpses into their faceless anonymous lives. This phone has a history, albeit a slightly disturbing one.

Here are some of my favourites:

If you had a 2 handed wank would be like watching an early looney tunes!!!

Am I too sheltered to get this reference or are other people just as confused? It’s nice to see that the Looney Tunes are still relevant though. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Bugs, Daffy and Co make an appearance in pop culture or referenced in conversation.

Person 1: Here now.. I know I really should wave to me too. G x
Person 2: Excuse i......?
Person 1: Sorry wrong number
Person 2: No I feel sorry for you

I wish Person 1 was my friend. Or Person 2.

My strange addiction... Stacey eats her dead husbands ashes up to 6 times a day! She is worried about what will happen when they run out cause “he’s not going to be there”!!!

That one had me puzzled for a long time. So much so that I had to Google it. Apparently, this is actually a true story on the TV show My Strange Addiction. The woman’s name is actually Casie (get it right, people), she lives in the States and the story is really very sad. The text message does speak the truth – she is addicted to eating her dead husband’s ashes.

I only have myself to blame for this.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Letter C

It’s the end of a long week and a few of us gathered at our friend Anthony’s apartment for drinks and take-away. The following conversation then unfolded between a grant writer, a bank teller and a prep teacher.

Me: I worked on three proposals today worth about $450,000.

Sarah: I completed about 20 settlements.

Anthony: I taught the letter C.

Hahaha, we all laughed, mostly at Anthony’s expense. Clearly, Sarah and I were both busy dealing with major transactions while Anth had the delightful job of controlling little people who will accidentally glue their homework to the desk and occasionally still wet themselves.

No, thank you.

But what happens when one of us no longer does our job properly? Let’s have a think about it. If I screwed up my job, the gallery would be $450,000 short of its exhibition budget which would suck for a lot of people. If Sarah screwed up, there would probably be some rather shitty property buyers, vendors and solicitors. But if Anthony didn’t do his job properly, HE WOULD BE DENYING CHILDREN THE GIFT OF THE LETTER C. A generation of hildren ould go through life missing a vital piee of the alphabet puzzle. No pressure.

Sure, on paper many of us might strut around looking and sounding important. But I know for a fact I could not do my job without the letter C. Or any other letter for that matter.

So, can we please better support our teachers? Surround them with the best resources, invest in world-class training and pay them generously. Teachers give each of us the building blocks to become our best selves. Back our teachers because their role in the community is vital for anyone with ambitions of becoming a writer, banker or virtually any other job that exists.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A proud Melburnian’s guide to being a crappy host

Last month, a group of friends came to visit Melbourne. Three from London and one from Adelaide. We had all worked together at Prostate Cancer UK once upon a time. Surely, there are few things less daunting in life than entertaining a bunch of well-travelled, heat-fearing Brits. Adelaidians, on the other hand, I am less fearful of. My beautiful friend from Adelaide is impressed by a yarn-bombed tree and the sight of more than three cafes in a row.

I had the self-imposed challenge of devising a fun-fuelled schedule that showed off the best of Melbourne and had the perfect balance of history, culture and booze. Excel spreadsheets may have been involved.

I have always suspected that my interests in Melbourne differ from many people’s interests in life. ‘Hey, look! Evidence of Melbourne’s earliest public underground toilets. They’re in disuse now but have been heritage listed,’ I said to no one because NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BE INTERESTED IN THIS SHIT. LITERALLY. Instead, I took them to Madam Brussels, a bar named after the renowned nineteenth century brothel owner, filled them with jugs of cocktails and told them about Melbourne’s sordid history of prostitution. History AND booze. Tick and tick. Later in the week, we also visited Seamstress for cocktails and a snapshot into the early twentieth century sweatshops and migrant workers who populated the north-east corner of the city, and Croft Institute where they discovered my fetish for syringes and realised there is actually no historical reference for this creepy laboratory set-up at the end of the bin-lined alleyway.

Occasionally, Australians like to make up stories for tourists. Drop bears, anyone? I don’t do that. But I’m not above making stories more colourful (or crass) for my audience. As we drove down the Great Ocean Road, towards the Twelve Apostles, I couldn’t wait to reach Loch Ard Gorge, the real gem of the shipwreck coast. There I could tell my favourite story, of the shipwreck Loch Ard and her two sole survivors, Tom Pearce and Eva Carmichael.

The Loch Ard sailed from England in 1878. After months at sea and within just days of reaching its destination, Melbourne, the ship clipped the reef at Mutton Bird Island and went under in just minutes. Tom, the 18-year-old apprentice, was a strong swimmer and made it to safety. He later went back into the water and saved the young lady Eva. They sheltered in the cave within the Gorge, had hot steamy sex, then Tom ascended the cliffs to get help.

Did you spot the bit I added in for effect? No, I didn’t fool anyone on the day either.

The offending bug
Later that night, the five of us bunked at a motel in Port Campbell where we encountered our first giant bug in the room. I was the lucky one who spotted it and the first one on the bed screaming for dear life, leaving my already insect-mauled friend Sachin to try and catch the bastard with the motel supplied teacup. In my defence, it was a massive and very predatory looking bug. The perception that Australians live in rugged landscapes surrounded by some of the most deadly creatures in the world? Shattered in a matter of moments. I believe that’s karma for all the drop bear fibs I told over the years.

What surprised me, though, are the kinds of things that tourist agencies tell tourists, with the pure motive, I suspect, to make those of us who live here look stupid. Like when my friend Natasha asked to see the place that was inspired by one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The what? You know, she said, that huge thing that is on a hill in the park and its design was based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. The WHAT? We saw it on top of the Eureka Tower and it’s in the middle of the park and next to this music stage and the voiceover man said it was based on one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – HOW DO YOU NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?

She was referring to the Shrine of Remembrance and, apparently, its design was based on the Mausoleum at Whatshisface. Who else knew about this? I demand to know. I told Natasha that no one in Melbourne knows this fact and therefore it’s not worth knowing. If she wanted to go to the Shrine she should’ve just said so and called it the Shrine.

Yes, I’m a delightful host.

I guess I can count on no one ever visiting me again.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A recent conversation at Melbourne Airport Europcar

Europcar guy: So that blue one's yours?

Me: Yep

Europcar guy: What's your rego?

Me: It starts with Y

Europcar guy: And the make?

Me: Sorry?

Europcar guy: Toyota Camry?

Me: Umm...

Europcar guy: Yaris?

Me: Oh, yes. That one.

Europcar guy: Do you know anything about your car?

Me: His name is Andi?

Awkward silence.

My Andi, next to his best mate Clive.

Monday, March 4, 2013

When you live overseas, people expect you to shit rainbows

Seriously. If you’re 20-something with a small savings, a HECs debt that’s not about to bother you and a dozen spare couches around the world from Facebook friends whose last names you’re unlikely to remember because they’ve changed their display name to Zozo Pozo, then the world is your oyster. Whether you like seafood or not.

You’re expected to take goofy pictures holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, do a star jump at the sun gate overlooking Machu Picchu, or be inappropriate in front of an erotic statue. You get a taste of snow in winter and complain about slipping on the black ice before posting a photo on Facebook of you and the giant snowman you built the very next day before going inside to eat lots of cheese. You casually brag that you walked past Sienna Miller on your way out of the Wolseley having high tea. You sleep at the airport and eat crackers for dinner as a ‘growing’ experience and to save money on a night’s accommodation to find you have the best night in a long time.

Yeah, ok, these were all pretty cool and definitely made it to the scrap book.

But I don’t remember putting on Facebook the week I had gastro, back pain and a migraine that lasted three days straight and there was no one to look after me or point me to the nearest GP. Or point out that you need to be registered at a GP before they can even see you. Or the time I hadn’t seen the sun for almost a month in November, at the beginning of my first harsh London winter, and I got so depressed I almost booked a flight home on the spot. Or the many times I received emails from friends who got married, separated, fell seriously ill, lost family members. Those were the hardest times where I felt most helpless and useless and distant.

And then there are the occasions where you could be standing somewhere magnificent, breathtaking, and all your instincts tell you to breathe in this moment and get lost in the euphoria. But all you can muster is a sense of underwhelm or, worse, indifference. No disrespect to Majorca. It’s not you, it’s me. When you catch yourself thinking a little too much, or just enough, why you’re even here? What’s the point of it all? What are you trying to find and can it be found inside a gelati cone?

You go to work and you leave. You battle the London Tube. You make 12 pounds an hour. Less than half of what you would back home. You decide whether to buy the cheaper milk or the cheaper cleaning detergent or the cheaper both and a bottle of Tesco wine. You sit on the couch with your housemate watching the fourth episode of Come Dine With Me in a row surrounded by filth because your other housemate is a dirty boy who leaves his shit everywhere and draws the occasional penis on things. Which is excusable because the fourth one picks his nose and leaves his nail clippings by the couch for you to discover.

Sometimes we forget to report on the ordinary. Mothers do it all the time. ‘Look! Little Timmy is watching a pigeon. Here’s an album with 60 photos and a video I uploaded to YouTube.’ And worse, we feel we can’t talk about the shit parts. Not when we’re overseas and supposedly having fun fun fun. But that just means the next person feels the added pressure of having the time of their fucking lives and any departure from that, even momentarily, is something to be ashamed of and hidden. Not true. Everyone is human and everyone’s lives are a bit messy. No matter where you are in the world, you’re allowed to – and expected to – have highs and lows and fun bits and sad bits and moments where you might question your very existence. If something really doesn’t feel right, move on, make a change. But if you’re just not in a constant state of appreciation and joy, well, take comfort in knowing that you’re probably just like everyone else who’s slept on that bunk bed before you. You’re normal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Case for Supporting the Arts

Chinese contemporary artist and political activist Ai Wei Wei once stated, ‘If there is no freedom of expression, then the beauty of art is lost. Participation in a society is not an artistic choice, it’s a human need.’

When Geoffrey Rush was named Australian of the Year in 2012, he talked about the responsibility that came with this title. His gong was not only recognition of his achievements but would, importantly, boost the visibility and credibility of the arts in Australia. We are a country that has traditionally been very good at acknowledging and supporting sports and celebrating sporting success but is trailing behind in giving equal recognition, and by extension funding, to arts training and creative expression.

There are many varying perspectives and opinions of what constitutes art and its value in society. Some consider art to be the things that make life richer, more indulgent and colourful. A night at the theatre, a beautiful vase and painting in the living room, a perfect haiku – the components of life that make you smile and inspire creative thinking. Some see those same things as luxuries one can ill afford for need of food and a roof. Buskers, mimes, those taxidermists who position poor dead animals in disturbing poses with questionable costumes – art or just wrong?

The truth is we experience the arts in myriad forms every day. It is almost impossible to imagine a world devoid of artistic expression and consumption. For most of us, there’s music on the radio, comedy and drama on television, the cinema, comedy festivals and stand-up, shelves and shelves of stories in libraries and bookstores, fashion and design in clothing, jewellery and homeware shops, architecture in the buildings, bridges and structures that surround us. If we just look around at any cosmopolitan city, we discover how much of it is shaped by expressions of art.

The National Gallery of Victoria is a well regarded art institution and is custodian to arguably Australia’s most extensive collection of artworks through the ages. Yet, few would know about a brilliant program that they offer called Art and Memory. This program brings into the gallery members of the community who live with advanced stage Alzheimer’s and dementia. In the presence of trained facilitators, these visitors experience an interactive tour of the NGV collection. As a result of the creative and visual interaction and mental stimulation, the overwhelming response from carers and families has been that they have witnessed more alertness and awareness from their patients and loved ones, not to mention the greater quality of life.

More and more, we’re beginning to understand that maintaining good health and wellbeing is more than simply diet and exercise. Being mentally stimulated, inspired and feeling socially connected is equally important to a person’s wellbeing and ability to prevent illness. Stories told through the medium of books, plays, art exhibitions or music can take the audience to a place they’ve never been before, or to see the world through a different pair of eyes. Equally, they can tell the stories of marginalised peoples, whose voice might not otherwise be heard in mainstream media. Indigenous Australia, refugees, migrants, people who are homeless, disabled or live rurally and are poorly represented. To belong in an under-represented group and to see your story being told or someone in your community telling their story can be an empowering movement and can lead to social change or softening of opinions or prejudices. Expressions of art have the capacity to humanise political issues; they add life, dialogue and emotion to the otherwise black and white images seen in newspapers.

There are some truly inspiring champions for the arts in Australia, and particularly in Melbourne. Last year’s Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush is one of many artists, philanthropists and major supporters for the arts who get its importance and relevance. Having worked in philanthropy in both the arts and non-arts sectors, it is evident to me that often when people think about giving to worthy causes, it is uncommon for the arts to spring to mind. This world in which we live is far, far from perfect and there is so much that we can do to make it safer, fairer, kinder, more democratic, equal, sustainable and liveable. As a people, we want to cure cancer and eradicate poverty. We aspire for our great grandchildren to have healthier and longer lives than ours.

This piece isn’t to position the arts in competition with all the important causes that deserve our attention, support and empathy. Simply, it aims to get people thinking towards the arts from a different perspective and to realise that art does not simply enhance life, rather it is life. We need ample space to create art and we need to give people access to experience the arts. And we must remember that every day, our art institutions from galleries to theatres are inspiring the next generation of designers, architects, writers and thinkers.