Sunday, June 21, 2015

Hold on a minute...

Your potential is not your ability to chair meetings, shake hands or use appropriately and without sarcasm the term 'touch base'. You are more than the emails you send and the work plan written out for you. You, the worker. The worker of modern times whose back is curved and muscles are slack. The worker who must find time in the day for exercise. Once upon a time we worked for our food in a literal sense and a person who ran to run did not exist, at least to my knowledge.

You are more than a worker and what you do forty hours of the week. You are worth more than what you are paid, are more than your title. You are a person. You work with and for other people. We are people first. When did we all forget that?

When did we arrive here at this sterile adult playground? Who decided everything? I want a word. That word is no. No to living life half asleep full time or being a part time full force in the wrong direction. Explorers who charge on, oblivious of their oblivion. Ignorant of their ignorance. Senses numbed but ambition heightened. 

You the worker who comes alive two out of the seven days of the week. And even if you like your job. Even if you love your job. You are still more than your work. Don't forget that. Never forget that. Work hard sure, love your work, sure but do not for a moment believe that that is all you are.

Remember the value of human relationships and remember to keep coming back to what a small space you, we, all of us, occupy in the world. The moment you forget that you will be sucked into a black hole of solipsism and a vague half-emptiness from which you will spend your entire life trying to get out of or fill in.

You are a soul and a body and a mind that is made of stardust. You pulse and thirst and have hunger; you can be broken and can break things and people and have a potential of which you know not the limits. You cannot do anything, be anything but surely you can be many things, do many things or perhaps one thing exceptionally. Get to know your potential outside of your resume. Understand who you are when you are not working to the plan set out for you. Do you know what you want your own life to be, ultimately? When your soul is released and your body pulseless, when the stardust you were returns to the stardust of the earth? That'll get you started. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Where I am

A few months ago a friend of mine I had met in Cochabamba, worked with, traveled with, laughed with, was drunk with - he wrote to me how six words I'd shared with him had really struck him. I had forgotten that I'd shared it and was, in turn, struck myself.

Wherever you are, be all there. Jim Elliot

At the end of last year as I was preparing to make the move back home to Sydney this was exactly what I needed to remember. The life I led there and then seems like a dream now as I write this from my bed in my room in the house of my family. Where I've been is no longer where I am. And where am I?

I'm in a life that is fully my own. While I dive into conversations about camping in the countryside of Cuba or teaching yoga in Mexico or building a tiny house on wheels and travelling all over the united states - my being is here with me. It's a special and unique thing to be entirely where you are. There is always the temptation to fall into falling in love with possibility to the extent that it replaces reality. There is that obsession with being everywhere at once, doing everything all the time, wanting and having all of the things. It's a special skill to learn to be where you are.

I've thought about why this is, of how and why I am here - all here - and it comes down to what I have realised are my core values. All that I need: To be part of a community; To have close relationships with people I love; To have a purpose or reason to wake up in the morning. Three things with which I could live anywhere, be anywhere. That anywhere is here.

It's been a long time coming that I have felt so together, so at ease. At times in South America my heart was falta algo. The transient nature of the volunteer and expat community I was part of meant that the friends I had made were always leaving and I was left behind. The guy I fell for went back home. When he did finally come back I was fatigued by new faces and the same beginner conversations. All I wanted was to be surrounded by all the people that I let so close to me without having to say a goodbye.

The hardest thing about South America was leaving my world open to people coming into it. With every person that left I became a little more wary of those who wanted to come in. If I'm telling it straight I became downright detached and disinterested in making new friends towards the end. I knew it was time to come home,  to be amongst those who knew me best and longest and not move anywhere for a while.

This is where I'm at. I'm here at home, being all here. It's fantastic. I know more or less that I will be here for at least another year. I have some vague plans for overseas living or travel after then but they don't consume my time now or replace what I experience day to day.

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard

I wake up, he makes me breakfast, we eat together and talk on the couch until it's time to go, I go to work which he always jokes is full of coffee dates and vietnamese rolls, I'll feel productive and challenged but will leave on time and have a few laughs with the people there that I enjoy working with. I'll plan a dinner with a friend or go home to the family. Each day I spend time with people I love, I share a meal with them and talk about what is happening in our lives, I laugh a lot. I am lucky, I am happy, I am here.

He says to me often, we live a great life, don't we? And it's not because of the places or the travel or the food - of course that is part of it - it's about the choices we make. To live fully and consciously. To live with intention instead of out of absent-mindedness. To decide why you live and what life means and to proceed unwaveringly in that direction.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What's keeping the stars apart

It can be difficult to pay attention to the goings-on of politics, economics, society and all the very adult realities without losing some of your air supply. I'll admit it, I get choked up. I prefer to close my eyes sometimes and pretend that I'm somewhere else rather than deal with what is often exactly what Thomas Bloody Hobbes said life was - 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short'. There is a lot that sucks the air out from around you, that cuts your breath and leaves your throat dry. 

I've seen little in the political landscape of Australia's treatment of the most vulnerable groups of society - namely asylum-seekers, refugees and the indigenous people of Australia - to make me believe in anything other than what Hobbes describes life as. The myth of mateship and a fair go turn out, in practice, to apply to those with money, significant sway come election time and lower levels of melanin. People in power make decisions, the consequences affect people they do not know and do not care for. It's life, it's history. 

And yet. That's not the end. It's just a part of history, just a part of life. It's not all there is, thankfully. As much as cruelty does not make sense, as much as hatred is nothing more than something that occurs in our minds and is reflected in our actions - so too is that which keeps the stars apart. It's what they've said before and they'll say again. It's that which we cannot see. The fourth dimension. The intangible yet very real connections that go beyond that which can be explained. Human connection. and love. 

'Love heals. Heals and liberates. I use the word love, not meaning sentimentality, but a condition so strong that it may be that which holds the stars in their heavenly positions and that which causes the blood to flow orderly in our veins' - Maya Angelou, who else?

That's all I got. That's the best I can come up with. Because without it we're bunk. We cannot fix all of our own problems. We are human and fallible. We will not end poverty no more than we will end greed. We will not end wars or genocide any more than we will end prejudice and power and fear. But we can love. We can make that our mantra. We can focus steadfastly on what that means - not the way popular culture defines it - but in the way we feel when we know our hearts want to break but they don't. The way a hug feels. Warm and solid. Like holding hands. That's all I got. Love is all I got. Not a theoretical proposition but a real way of life. Love motherfucker. It's a powerful tool, the most powerful one. Love built on trust and vulnerability, not on strength and pride. Love built on the sharing of burden rather than the shoring up of successes and failures. No islands here man, just a big stretch of land that rises and falls, divided by glaciers and rivers but connected all the same as far as the eye can see. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Warning: Adult content

Nobody told me there would be a photocopier. Or that there would be chatter amongst it, adults swarming around it like a waterhole. I was not warned that the game of charades would go on for so long. Sometimes I don't want to play at all. It's not fun but it's something else. And there is merit in things that are not fun.

Being an adult is not at all like how you imagine it as a child. You imagine a fullness, a completeness that is satisfying, a tick in a box, the way you feel when you connect the dots in one of those numbered drawing books or on Mr. Squiggle. I would be lying if I said it was empty but it is a strange world to navigate, at least at first.

At first you feel like a fraud. Do people know that I don't know what I'm doing? Nobody knows what they're doing. It's just that nobody tells. Everybody gets so good at pretending to know what they're doing they begin to believe it, that they know what they're doing even when and especially when they don't.

They don't tell you what small talk really means. Small talk is when adults take words that have so much potential and completely drain them of life and meaning. They reduce the possibility of words to communicate something honest, interesting and strange and make it as tiny and insignificant as possible. Adults have a funny way of turning things on their head. Not all adults of course but a big bunch of them.

Lots of them believe that the work they do is everything and their world shrinks to the size of their small talk. Their minds become as small as their words and pretty soon their entire adult world could be closed up in the tiny fist of an infant.

But not all of them, of course. A lot of them, like the Dad in Peter Pan, takes out his dreams at night and watches them dance and fly fast from the drawers. And each night it gets harder and harder to put those dreams back in the drawers. And some adults don't at all and stop playing charades and starting playing for real.

The hardest thing about being an adult is trying not to laugh when you really want to and when it's really inappropriate. Another difficulty I have is knowing how long to keep eye contact in a meeting. Sometimes I'm too busy making sure I am looking at each adult for an appropriate amount of time that I don't listen to what they are saying. Adults take themselves too seriously. Which is why I'm only going to be a part time adult and a full time unicorn.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The light, the light, the light

I like to wear white. My skin is dark - my first spanish friends in Spain who happened to be two little old men who ran a second hand store out of a garage said I was darker than the ass of a saucepan - and white only brings that out. Apart from that I gravitate towards things that flow, are loose, light. I am happy most of the time, which is lucky.

But of course, there are many things that bring me down. Down is a real place I do not like to be, where I brood and do not speak because I am not fluent in the heavy sounds that fall flat, the sharp flicks of the tongue that punctuate them. I am accustomed to the world of Up, where every word flies out of the mouth and ricochets off the walls.

Needless to say this makes dealing with any downward motion difficult. I struggle against it and the more I wriggle the deeper I sink, it's quicksand. When I believe myself sunk I begin to berate myself for not fighting harder and of course I sink deeper and quicker still. Realising I have sunk more I try my best to conjure up all the lightest feelings and brightest thoughts to lift me out of the Down but to no avail. I am not used to carrying this load, I have been conditioned to cast off weight not take it on.

How do you reconcile a creature of flight with a beast of burden?

I think back to one of the first secondhand words that really stuck with me which were...

Those things that hurt instruct. 

To use the words of all university tutors and lecturers ever - let's unpack this, shall we?
What I take this to mean is that there is meaning in suffering. Not just that you can find meaning in pain but that it fundamentally teaches you (about what exactly is another question). 

This perhaps was my first A-HA! moment. There is something I can learn here. There is a point to this, a method to the madness. The point is sharp but exists, the method obscure but certain. What you learn (or don't) is basically up to you, which is both helpful and unhelpful. What do you do with this information? You could seek the lesson yourself and pick the pieces from whatever catches. This was my method for many years, until fairly recently.

If we look at the words again, Those things meaning there is a multitude of unnamed possibilities that hurt but also instruct. It's not immediately clear what is being hurt; you? your pride? your future? your sense of self? Is this a general hurt that permeates your day to day life like body odour or the smell of burnt toast? Or is it the quick clean hurt of a paper cut?

How do you go from being hurt to being instructed to getting back to the light? is what I wanted to know. I knew from the first reading of the above quote until now that I had to pay attention to suffering, that it was necessary and important but did not realise that there was another step beyond that. I thought if I could just pay enough attention to this darker place I could more quickly get back to the light. Half-right.

I needed to change the way I thought about Those Things themselves. I had changed the way I thought about Hurt itself but not about the things that caused it. It was this root, along with the idea that pain was fundamentally didactic, that I needed to tie back to something that meant anything to me. I needed to tie the darkness to the light and only wait until the shadows disappeared.

Every time you feel the gravity of anxiety, self-doubt, wounded pride or any of Those Things That Hurt you find a reason why or how this is bigger than you, what you're going to do about it or think about it and that, for me at least, is usually enough to lead you back up.

It may not make sense to anyone but me because I am writing in my own kind of double-speak but the beauty of writing is that you are in control of what is and isn't on the page. And that is all. And I'm ending it here and I hope you find the light.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To Be Honest, or as the youths say TBH

My new boss is all about honest conversations. He wants me to come to him about anything I do not understand the reasoning behind. It took me a while to take this seriously. I was temporarily floored for many reasons, not the least of which is the constant background feeling that I am a child actor in an adult play called Life who the professionals humour by pretending that my input matters. Another misgiving I have is that Real Honesty has never been profitable or even invited in my understanding of How The World Works.

Example: I used to work in telemarketing for which a special place is reserved for me in Hell. I sold insurance to people over the phone. If I was being honest with myself I knew these people did not need it, did not understand fully what they were being sold and that there was a reasonable chance that many months would pass before they realised there was a sizeable automatic deduction from their account for which they would no doubt have any recollection authorising. But the pay was good and the hours were flexible and I wanted to go to Spain. So I did it for a year and shelved the Truth somewhere in the back of my mind when I could afford to think about it.

Back to the question at hand. Honest Conversations are to be avoided the same way young foreigners in bright T-shirts and clipboards for Save The -Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing are treated like beggars, with your eyes cast down and a very purposeful stride in the shape of a wide arc to circumvent them. It's not that human beings as such are naturally uncharitable but just that you know once you are there and he/she is building rapport with you, smiling from ear to ear and being generally earnest, that when they slip in some uncomfortable Truth about related Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing and hand you a form with an opportunity to contribute in some way to its Attempted Resolution, the chances of Not Giving are pretty slim.

It's not that honesty isn't powerful, it's that we know its power to make us uncomfortable and to fundamentally unsettle the way we currently live our lives or do our business that it's best to avoid it altogether. Except in cases where the stars align. Example: I HONESTLY love this cronut. Vegan baked goods are ACTUALLY the best things invented. etc. etc. (also true of non related food matters such as TV shows, animal-related viral content and travel destinations).

What Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace and Louis C.K all have in common is that cutting ability to sit down at the dinner table and speak honestly of the metaphysical. They don't turn away from it but rather use their craft - their humour, their writing - to have with us the very honest conversations we do not often have with ourselves. Listening or reading them there is no way around the metaphorical Clipboard Advocate for Truth, they look them right in the eyes and start asking questions. Why are we here? For jobs, really? For money, surely not? For Progress and Economic Growth - huh? Are we still humans if we divorce ourselves from nature? Is cooking a lobster alive cruel? How can we be less lonely? They ask these questions, trust me.

The real value of this is, like all worthwhile things, almost impossible to quantify. In the context of my work the Honest Conversations my boss was willing to have went back to rudimentary criticisms of all Community Development, Charity and Aid industries. If we are, in our attempt to "help", in actual fact not helping those we said we would "help" - what are we doing? Why are we getting paid? Why does our service/profession/organisation even exist?

It takes my breath away. What better questions can you ask of anything? Any self-interested professional would quickly understand that these Honest Conversations endanger ones own status and yet on a human to human level, a Human To World Scale it is powerfully simple, simply powerful. These conversations start small and they grow. If we can start to be honest on this micro level the huge, very honest questions readily emerge. If we can step away from the immediate feelings of uncertainty about how these questions may unsettle our lives it more quickly becomes evident that Real Honest Conversations are the ones we should be having, always and ceaselessly.

What are we doing?
Why are we here?
Does it even matter?
What are we doing if not answering these questions?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014: Some things I've "learned" (in theory)

Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things I've learned in a year, which one would hope to number more than six. I've left off many things that are glaringly obvious and for which I need no reminder (one can make life-long friends from other countries who one will probably never see again, I would marry the spanish language if it were legal, I am hardwired to be peripatetic, Life is fun, quinoa is good for you, etc.)

Disclaimer 2: I put the learned in quotation marks because getting an education is distinct from, yet often confused for, putting it into practice. Because knowing something to be true is not a guaranteed precursor to living life as if it were. But it helps, somewhat. Essentially what I'm saying is that I've learned these things previously, many times over but often behave in direct contradiction to these lessons. I think they call that "living".

ANYYYYYWAY here's a list of things you probably already knew or didn't need to:

1. Trying to be the cool girl in a relationship is not beneficial to anyone. The cool girl, who is too proud to care, too secure to be bothered, too busy looking like whatever, such is life, either way, that's cool. The girl that is unruffled and aloof - that girl is not me. I am not the cool girl, I was never the cool girl. Small things can hurt my oversensitive self immensely and I have never had a poker face. It has injured my pride no small amount to discover I am in fact the girl that can be irrational, insecure and quite frankly embarrassing. That's okay though because being the cool girl is overrated. What's cool about not caring enough to be hurt?

2. God I love to read books. How did I forget this essential part of my life? Somehow I got caught up with articles, so abundant, so accessible. Fiction, non-fiction, contemporary, 18th-century, historical analysis, memoir, collections of essays, diaries. Give me nothing but books and a comfy couch and quietly close the door behind you.

3. Be my friend if you want to talk about books and their ideas. I want to discuss everything. This is not so much a lesson as a demand.

4. You can be discontent in so many beautiful places. It does not matter what waterfall you are under or what famed city the bus is taking you, your mental state will follow you there. It's true that perhaps a place can momentarily remind you of the wonder and beauty of life, or that living there can show you some alternate way of living and/or looking at life but places do not fix much. You were unhappy somewhere else, and now you can be unhappy here too. The common denominator is you.

5. I have become more discriminatory about what I get enthusiastic about. Everything used to excite me, now only some things do. It's probably not healthy to maintain that level of energy about every party, every person, every conversation. I am unable to muster the adequate smiles and wide eyes necessary for long recounts of stories that sound the same with people I no longer know very well. My ever shrinking batteries can only give out so much.

6. Despite my natural disposition towards extreme emotion I am learning (very often failing) the art of polite disagreement. The importance of this ability has never been so plain as when I landed myself in a relationship. It's okay, even encouraged, to scream at your friends over dinner and wine. Less so with the person who you supposedly love and respect. This has allowed me to refrain from yelling abuse at my laptop as I furiously type rebuttals to bigoted facebook updates (yes, I am one of those people). It's also, like, allowed me to admit when I am, on the odd occasion, wrong*.

That's about it.

Of course there are things I've learned that haven't made it to that list, mostly to do with learning what style of life I can lead and what standards of hygiene can be adjusted when one lives in a country that is poor in money and rich in culture. Things that have confirmed the direction I've taken in my 'career' and what values I want that to reflect. Other things I've learned have to do with being in a long-term relationship (like, that they have to  love put up with you). Mainly if you paid attention to this list you would learn I am a non-cool book nerd who is consistently dissatisfied, increasingly unenthusiastic but learning to smile while saying you are wrong. It sounds bad but it's really not. Happy new year!

*my boyfriend may disagree