Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Finding softness in a hard place


It's been over a week since I've landed in Darwin and there's a lifetime that has passed between then and now. I've sang songs, laughed till I cried, danced till my feet hurt, developed a high level of excellence in charades and incorporated dramatic charades, gestures and facial expressions into everyday life. More than that, I've had the pleasure of meeting people who have expanded my view of the world ten-fold and broken my heart and previous ideas of how life could and should be.

As the year draws to a close, as Christmas peeps through around the corner I can't help but feel change. The last couple of years of my life have passed without too much fuss, no earth-shattering news or feeling the ground change beneath me. It has been good to be grounded, good to be stable but now I can feel the world breaking in and a new one taking it's place

From my experience here in Darwin I have learned to leave my pride at the door, to reject the instinct that people will not smile back (because they do!). It's amazing what my experience has done for cementing a (hopefully) unbreakable faith in the innate goodness of humanity. Here I am waving at everyone, smiling and calling everyone by name. I am asking strangers how their day was and singing loudly, dancing stupidly to make them laugh and acting like a child - without the barriers that often keep us from approaching adults. There is an openness here and such a positive atmosphere of joy, happiness and enthusiasm for life which in a place like this is so refreshing, so inspiring and surprising. I say surprising because I have been taught that when things go wrong you tell everybody about it, you write about it on your facebook status, you repeat the horrors and pains to your friends in whinging voices. I have found so much softness in a place I expected to be so hard.

There's a lot to process so I apologise for the posts being general and not too specific but I want to do justice to my experiences. I will get there! I hope you are all able to enjoy this Christmas season and the excitement of 2010 drawing to a close. For me a huge year of preparation is finally over and the big, leaping jumping off has only just begun. I may not post until the new year but I will let you all know what is happening and what has happened.. I'm still free-falling so expect a full post when I finally land on my feet and am able to be more specific than just saying that what I am doing at the moment is amazing. Until then, Happy Christmas & Merry New Year :) [ see what I did there?]

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More secrets to living & the inevitability of bad things happening

Bad things happen all the time. People get sick, celebrities are paid too much attention, the founder of WikiLeaks gets arrested, miners get stuck underground and oil spills into the sea. Why is it then, that we are always shocked, dismayed and in despair when things such as these come about? Once again, it is the idea that things should go as planned, that life made a promise to us that it would stop with the shenanigans and deliver on the goods. 

As it turns out, life made no such promise. Like it or not, we have no more control over life than we do over the next reality TV show, what will come out of Sarah Palin's mouth next or what city FIFA will pick for the 2026 World Cup (Fiji, maybe?). Life is a hard-headed, stubborn and unpredictable woman with whom the lucky dip, the spinning wheel is a gamble. More often than not, you may come up with the short end of the deal. Inevitably, bad things happen.

So how do we deal? With all these terrible, nasty, horrible things happening surely somebody should sort life out. Set her straight and let her know that we will just NOT stand for this! We've had enough. Shotgun not telling her. The secret, which isn't really a secret as all good secrets are, is accepting that things will go wrong. Murphy's law. What can go wrong, will. The upside is that it doesn't end there. 

What can go wrong, will and in the mean time what you can do to prepare, to accept it and get over it you should. Knowing ahead of time automatically takes a bit of the sting out. 

On Saturday I was scheduled to leave Sydney for Darwin to undertake almost a month of volunteer work. I was preoccupied with saying goodbye, with being almost done with the application of my student visa to go to Spain and with making sure I had everything packed that once again, filo time crept on in.  My flight was scheduled to fly at 9:50am, long story short - I missed the check in and my flight was rebooked for that same night at 7:50pm. That meant I had 10 hours to kill at the airport, 4 of them outside the actual terminal because I wasn't allowed to check in until 6 hours before my flight. 

After the initial shock and the self-deprecation at missing my own flight wore off, I begun to think about what I was to do at the airport for 10 hours. Waiting at airports is nothing new and I don't flatter myself to think I'm the first person to be in this predicament. I had a lot of time to go over the reality that I was leaving, that I was coming back and that I was leaving again. I had plenty of time and plenty to think about. 

I've written before about having to let go of the idea that everything should go as planned. As with most things you can name and talk about, it's easier said than done and remains a work in progress. While I can say that I've improved, I don't break down (as easily or as often) as I used to, I still have the occasional Mariah Carey melt-down moments. Over and over I've had to get over the idea that life is neat, organised and will go to plan. I've had to get cosy with the reality that plans fall through, flights are missed, relationships get messy and the future can grow increasingly foggy. 

In a way missing my plane taught me that everything IS ok. The worst that can happen is only the worst that can happen and at the end of the day as long as I'm still here, living, I've still got so much to be thankful for. There have been a lot of events the last couple of months that have been lessons in thanks, humility and grace for me. Too many people I know have passed away. I've learned to appreciate my own health when the health of those around me has been threatened by illness. I've realised the true privilege of being free to enjoy all the joys and qualms of youth, idealism and future-plans in comparison to many I have met who don't enjoy such opportunities, and many more I may never meet. Situations are what they are, they only grow to epic proportions when they climb into my head, distorted by my own emotion and need to dramatise everything. 

Waiting at the airport I watched people stroll in and out with their luggage, planes speed down the run way and take off, somehow like magic and see the weary, eager and jaded faces of travelers in transit. People leaving and people coming back. Arrivals and Departures. People saying goodbye and those saying welcome home. I realised how I shouldn't fight off these situations, where things go wrong. Expecting them and being prepared is a better course of action than denial. It's always the stories of missed flights, thunderstorms striking, fuel running out and the still-can't-believe-it-happened stories that are shared eagerly years after. They give us a chance to veer off the known path and give thanks for the spontaneity and unpredictability of life. Being able to give thanks in situations that you may initially despair at or angst against is a true test. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Secrets to life & happiness

There's really nothing else to add, is there?

I'm in Darwin at the moment completely loving the volunteer work I'm doing. To say it is amazing is an understatement. To say it is eye-opening does not do it justice and although it has only been two days I am having the experience of a life time and words cannot come near to describing it. It's almost always thirty degrees and muggy all day with our 11 hour days but what happens in those 11 hours is life at its best and glorious. More on this in a future posts I'm sure when I have more time. For now I can so clearly affirm that volunteering and traveling has been one of the decisions I've made so far and definitely a step toward what I want to be doing - to freedom & happiness! (2011, I can see you just around the corner...)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Decisions, my future self & the value of being disturbed

Tomorrow I'm leaving Sydney for a month in Darwin without my family and friends. When I come back from Darwin I will have 2 and a half weeks before I leave for Spain for a year. It's the last month of the year, the delivery end of a long line of preparation. I've signed up for a skype account, I've packed my bags, I've cleared out my room and begun saying goodbyes.

It's surreal to be at a crossroads in my life when I know everything is about to change. I can look out and see this future self of mine. In my mind, she's a lot more fearless and quite different from who I am now. She's got dreadlocks and wears harem pants all the time, speaks spanish fluently and has stories upon stories of travel. She's meeting people from all over the world and doing things she never thought were possible, laughs at herself more and even drinks beer (this is the most shocking of all, I assure you). She still wants to change the world, but the difference between her and me is that she's a little closer to doing it.

A lot of people speak about growing up. Growing up and growing older. They respond to the zeal and idealism of young people and their wild, larger-than-life aspirations with a sigh often followed by 'You'll understand one day' or 'When will you grow up?'. Growing up for me hasn't been about shelving the dreams I used to have but rather making conscious and deliberate decisions in order to realise them fully. When we were young our parents picked our clothes, our food, every detail of our lives. As we got older we gladly decide where we go out to, what we wear, who our friends are. Beyond that is a world of decisions that smacks you right in the face.

Suddenly, you are faced with a universe of choices that looks less like a platter of delightful possibilities and more and more like a headache of impending doom, failure and the great unknown. 'Who are you going to be?' 'What are you going to do with your life?' 'What job are you going to end up with?' The onslaught of questions begin and they don't stop. The entire course of the rest of your life seems to weigh on what you are doing right this second. No pressure, but this isn't something you want to get wrong.

With all these decisions it weighs simply on the way you look at it. Having the freedom to choose how your life will turn out is scary to say the least but the pay off is taking steps to your future life full of all the chocolate you can eat, the beaches you can swim in and every sun-bathed dream you ever had. That future self is one of your own making, and one that is waiting on you to take those decisions now. 

Deep breaths, deep breaths and more deep breaths. Below is one of my favourite passages that drives the dreams I have, the decisions I make and the crazy image I have of my future self. Hopefully you all get to meet her next year and she doesn't disappoint. For now, here's something my now-self would like to leave you with.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fear & 5 things I've learned while writing a novel

Back at the beginning of November I undertook the Nano Wrimo challenge of writing a novel in a month. After multiple stress attacks, pulling out my hair, late nights in front of a glaring laptop, countless how-to self-help books and too many cups of peppermint tea these are 5 things I've learned along the way.

1. Nothing beats a chair and a desk.
2. Tea and acoustic music are my friend.
3. The secret to doing anything is to start and then just keep going.
4. There will always be excuses, there will not always be opportunities.
5. Sentences may not make sense, grammar may be shocking, but anything is better than a blank page.

I've always liked writing, short stories and essays were my calling. 50,000 words however was not something I had ever attempted before and I was doubtful, I was nervous, I was shaking in my boots. The easiest thing was for me to not do it. In fact, I went days without writing anything while other days the words flew out of my fingers. The days of no writing and lots of procrastinating (going through every single movie available on my hard drive, cleaning my room and deciding yes, I had to begin reading a 500 page russian novel right this second) were the hardest, and were the days I learned the most.

The main thing I've learned about is Fear. I've had to get over my fear of creating something I didn't like. I've had to get over my apprehension at poorly formed storylines and badly crafted paragraphs. I've had to get over myself. This 'thing' I was writing wasn't going to be a masterpiece and the sooner I accepted that, the sooner I could get working on it. I needed to let go of the idea in my head of the novel I wanted to write, and make room for the novel that it could be. I had to trust that whatever I produced could be edited, as long as I produced something.

It goes back to the basic fear that stops people from doing anything. Fear of failure, fear of looking like an idiot, fear of putting yourself out there. Fear and I are old friends, we go way back. She's been there when I sign up for things, when I join new groups, when I decide to do anything that will change my life
Fear has always been the friend that I run away from, that hangs around and just doesn't get the hint that I want her to go away. Despite this, she's the kind of friend I don't need to get rid of, but the one I need to work with. So writing this month I've learned whenever I realise what I'm scared of, it automatically disables the fear. When you can recognise your fear and call it by name, it's easier to sit down with it and turn it into action. I've written over 50,000 words - I haven't written a 'novel' by a long shot, but a draft is a huge step towards it. Admittedly, I haven't looked at it since I crossed that 50,000 word mark but fear isn't going to stop me from going back and (shock, horror and laughter) reading what I actually wrote, editing it, and writing some more.

If you're interested in taking up this challenge next year you can sign up here. Everybody has something to say, and if you've ever wanted to write a novel this is the best place to start - surrounded by other scared, nervous nano-wrimo noobs and novelists - it's 30 days of literary abandon that (as a first time nano-wrimo participant) I can say were definitely worth it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How NOT to pack up your life in 3 easy steps

3 steps to effectively keeping everything you ever owned when you're trying to pack up your life into a 20 kilogram suitcase. 

1. Keep everything with any shred of sentimental value
Whether it's a note you wrote from high school, a calendar from five years ago, a Christmas card from last year you thought was funny or a well-worn pair of joggers that have long past their used-by date, keep everything. Do not throw anything out. Form attachments to notebooks, trinkets, empty bottles and all the paraphernalia you have ever collected. Ignore the thick layer of dust it may collect, in fact, the more dust the better! The dust makes things older, which makes you nostalgic, which adds sentiment.

2. Constantly accumulate new things
Yes, you do need those new pillow cases from Ikea, that photo frame shaped like a camera, that large leopard-print bathrobe. They are all great investments. Give in to your inner impulse buyer, you deserve it - anything that tickles your fancy! Then, proceed to add said new items onto the large pile of unopened plastic bags and shoe boxes at the back of your closet.

3. Equate clutter with personal achievement
The more you have surely, the more you have achieved. The bigger, the better. The more, the merrier. Your brick of a mobile phone you had ten years ago is a relic, the dilapidated essays from university that one time you got a distinction - they are all markers (trophies, really) of your ascent into life's VIP club.

These three steps are how NOT to pack up your life. I've learned this from extensive spring cleaning and my attempt at clearing out my room to move to another country for a year. The number of trips I've had to make from my room to the garbage bin outside are too many to count - and that's just from things underneath my bed! I'm in the 'clearing out' stages of packing and haven't even begun ACTUAL packing (will be sure to update you guys as I go!) It always comes back to sayings, truisms and cliches - LESS IS MORE, PEOPLE.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"You don't have to live your life the way people expect you to"

J. K. Rowling - Harvard Commencement Speech 2008
The benefits of Failure & Imagination

Whether it's traveling to a foreign country, quitting your stable, cubicle job to pursue an uncertain future, deciding you're going to get that houseboat you always wanted or even deciding to deviate slightly from the path of Highschool, University, job, marriage - you're living a life people don't expect you to. This idea, that you don't have to live the way people expect you to, has been reiterated by many people - Chris from The Art of Non-Conformity and in J. K. Rowling's insightful speech above. It also, as of late, has become my little self-affirmation. Mostly because I've been beginning to do things that other people don't understand, and that I wouldn't have considering doing had I been in their position as well.

In October, I did over 500 push ups in 24 hours for Cancer Council Relay for Life, this November past I wrote my first nano-wrimo novel of 50,000 words in a month (more on that in an upcoming post). This month's challenge is far scarier and more difficult than both of these combined. Along with a friend I will be spending a month in Darwin getting to know the inside of a detention center, the refugees and asylum seekers that are detained within and the everyday runnings of a place of mandatory detention. It's not a place that typically springs to mind or an ideal place to spend my last Christmas and New Years before I go to Spain, but it's something I want to do. I've found in J. K. Rowling's speech some common threads of deviating from expectations and charging ahead, into the great unknown. And of course, I've had trouble explaining to people my reasoning and I guess a blog is a good a place as any to say what I need to say.

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers is one that is close my heart, it hits home. Having worked with refugee children from Sudanese and Burmese backgrounds through a program with St Vincent De Paul, I've seen first hand how lovely these children are and also learned of how heart-breaking their stories can be. Still, they don't complain. They laugh and play, as children do, and are so resilient and happy you would never have guessed many of them had spent years in a refugee camp without proper schooling and social structures. You would never have guessed how fearfully their parents packed up their lives and did all they could to make sure their children were safe. Before I go to live in Spain for a year, before I get to travel all over Europe and experience other cultures, other people, other languages - in short before I see more of the world that's out there; I want to see what's going on in my own backyard, in my world, here in Australia.

As somebody that is traveling to another country by choice, I want to learn firsthand about people who risked their lives fleeing from their home country because they had no choice. It's not going to be easy and I'm scared. I'm scared of what I am going to see and how I'm going to feel, I'm scared of the things I'll experience and the way it will change me. I don't have any expectations of what is going to happen, but all I know for sure is that it will change the way I think. I find it difficult, to say the least, the way Refugees and Asylum seekers are portrayed by the media in Australia as 'Boat People' 'Queue Jumpers' and 'Illegal Immigrants'. I'm not going there for a holiday, I'm not going on some trivial missionary notion that I can save them. I just want to experience first hand, what they  have experienced for months, if not years. As Rowling said, ' Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.'

These days I take it as a good sign when people's eyes widen, their mouths drop open as if to say, heads tilted at a weird angle in an attempt to understand, 'What are you doing?' or 'Why would you do that?'  I've come to realise that when people question what I'm doing, it's a sign that my life is going in a direction I wanted it to go; away from what I already know is expected, tried and tested - and towards something unknown, scary and life-changing. Everybody that's ever achieved anything has had to face criticism, which is by no means bad. The criticism is needed, it's more of a precursor to showing people why you don't have to live your life the way people expect you to. My month in Darwin isn't something I'm telling everybody to do, everybody has something different they are interested in and passionate about. Be it starting your own business, changing degrees, joining a group or starting something completely new that you've always thought about but never done. 'You don't have to live your life the way people expect you to' is something that applies to all fields and areas of life. You will face questioning, criticism and quizzical looks but in the end you don't live life to please others. Your life is your life, you are the one that will have to live with the decisions you make and the person you decide to be. I find that marching to the beat of your own drum is a cliche I can live with, and something I'm more than happy to strive towards.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On being yourself (because everyone else is taken)

Garden State - Natalie Portman & Zach Braff

"This is your one opportunity to do something that no one has ever done before and that no one will copy throughout human existence. And if nothing else, you will be remembered as the one guy who ever did this. This one thing."

If there's one thing I know for sure it's that there's nothing better somebody can offer the world than what they already have and who they actually are. No two people are the same and I honestly believe everybody has something to bring to the table, something to contribute in their own unique way. The good thing about differences is that they help bridge the gaps in our own vision, the blind spots we can't see ourselves. 

I've spent the better part of high school and even some of university figuring this truth out. That you shouldn't ever think you have to be somebody else to be as awesome as they are. Everybody is talented and unique in their own right and being a cheap imitation of somebody else never got anybody very far. Like Natalie Portman says, there's this 'one thing' that you can give that nobody else out there can. Figure out what it is, and run with it. The easy way out is copying somebody that's already admired by other people, instead of forging forward with somebody you are.

Sometimes, what gets me through the day when self-doubt creeps in, is realising that I could have a normal life if I wanted to, I could do things that other people do and take the path that I've been told I should. But why would I want to succeed in this idea other people have of who I should be - when there's a much better, alternative choose-your-own-ending that has a lot more action, fireworks and unexpected adventures than the pre-fabricated storyline that I already know the ending to? The answer is there's no reason. Life is more like a goosebumps novel, with a choose your own adventure section - make it what you will, just make sure its yours! 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Turning small talk into big dreams

Last week I went to two different sessions with speakers who were talking big. A friend of mine bought tickets to a guy she had been raving about - Sebastian from who has been traveling all over the world for the last year and half ticking off items from his bucketlist and raising money for charity and his friend Dave who has a knack for breaking records. The second talk was a gathering of volunteers for St Vincent De Paul's Sparks Program. There were three speakers at this session - a media officer from Amnesty International, a volunteer who had stayed at Christmas Island detention centre for a month and the creator of an after school program catering to newly arrived refugee children. Suffice to say two nights in a row I've been given a lot to think about.

What was common to all the talks is that they wanted to change the way people thought about the world, they wanted to get people talking, thinking, rethinking the way people viewed their role, position and relationship with the world and with other people. What I found most inspiring was that all the speakers weren't just talkers, they were 'doers.' They spoke from the experience of turning thoughts into words, words into action. From Louise from Amnesty or the volunteer who had visited Detention centers in Australia such as Christmas Island, Curtin and Darwin or Dave who had traveled across Australia over 4000km on skateboard or Seb who was aiming to raise $100,000 for Camp Quality by promoting Life in his own way.

Everyday we're confronted by so many messages, streams of news and hoards of information. We participate in small talk and sometimes we listen. What I've learned from these speakers is how to turn small talk into big dreams, how to turn big dreams into huge change. What struck me is that none of the speakers did what they did because other people expected them to. None of the speakers said things like 'Everybody supported me in the beginning' or 'Every decision I made was rational and calculated' they didn't say 'I never made a mistake' or 'It was easy and nobody every opposed me'. They were faced with opposition, criticism and skepticism and you know what? They did it anyway (I'm starting to think that might just be the secret).

Often times in order to succeed in changing the way people see the world, we need to start by living that change. No change comes without resistance, and to get people on board you need to give people a reason to change their way of thinking and living; you need to be a living example of that kind of change. I've said it before, and I'll quote it again (Thankyou, Ghandi) - 'Be the change you want to see in the world'. So, that's where I'm starting - with the Man in the Mirror (Thankyou Michael Jackson). I've got some big plans for next year in terms of mixing a few of my favourite things together - traveling, fundraising/volunteering and online videos! Let's just say I'm working on it for now, but all will be revealed. I've been inspired by a lot of good people and I can only hope to make half as much of an affect as they have.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Across the Universe

Across the Universe

Last time I checked dreams still come true, people change the world and the universe is waiting for somebody like you. The doubt, the questioning, the confusion and general stress is a prerequisite for everything that is about to happen; life-changing, ass-kicking, hyphenated glory.

All eyes on you,
                       - The Universe

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

5 things I've learned before traveling

Lost & Happy - Post secret

Traveling, besides completely changing everything you ever thought you knew and being more awesome than you ever thought possible, is stressful. More than that, preparing to go traveling can be even more so. This is something I've learnt in the long and terrible experience of applying for a student visa and preparing all the necessary paperwork to live in Spain. I'm not a stress head by any means and the last thing I do when there's an exam or an upcoming assignment is stress, I'm the last-minute type, the she'll-be-right type, the type who goes to the beach the day before the assignment is due, comes home, takes a nap and then starts writing after dinner. But travelling is a different story. Every trip I've taken, be it overseas or within Australia, I've never had to organise things for myself. Our last year of high school our ancient history class went on a 3 week trip to Italy and Greece, itinerary already made, accommodation booked - all we had to do was show up. Likewise for family trips to the Philippines or Fiji and university sports trips have all had everything arranged, no questions asked. The difference with all of this is that now I have to get my shit together. Pardon my french. Here are 5 things I've learned about preparing to travel.

1. Paperwork is a special kind of hell and a necessary evil when traveling. I have this mental image of people in suits with devils horns sitting in a meeting room concocting ineffectual and repetitive forms to fill out and processes that go in circles and at the end they call it 'bureacracy'. I am not a fan, never have been and never will. Still, a part of life and too often a big part of preparing to travel.

2. I am not as cool a cucumber as I initially thought. Despite my apparent status as a laissez-faire all-nighter student, this attitude doesn't translate when I have to re-apply for my citizenship certificate because I can't find the old one, or go back to the police station for the third fourth fifth time to get them to give me a fingerprint and clearance check, or applying for centrelink payments. I may or may not have cried about three times in the last couple of months on account of not being able to deal.

3. I need to let go of the idea that things are meant to go as planned. This has been my biggest learning curve when it comes to preparing to live by myself for a year. When things start to fall apart, when everything that can go wrong does, I can't (as I may have done in the last couple of  months..) become irrationally angry, inconsolably distressed or cry like the big fat twenty year old baby that I am. I need to learn to let things go, to let everything take its course and to believe people when they tell me 'It's going to be OK'. I'm wasting my time, tears, sweat and energy into being upset when I could just suck it up and let it go, or put my resources into doing something about it. There's no rule in the universe that says things should go as planned, they rarely do and it's not in my best interests or mental health to assume so. In fact, Murphy's law is probably a better idea.

4. I am in for a rude awakening. It comes as no surprise that next year, as I have been warned many times, I will have a mental break down at some point. Through the haze of tapas, paella, sangria and drunken spanish I will at some point be paying bills, doing laundry, planning my own meals etc. (things normal people living out of home do on a day to day basis but come as a shock to myself). In short, I'm going to have to look out for myself. If I break an arm, get arrested or find myself drunk and without my wallet (none of which I'm planning but let's face it all possibilities) I'm going to have to deal with everything on my own, more or less.

5. It is going to be EPIC. Despite all the paperwork, hair-pulling, teeth-grinding and tantrums I've had this year there's been so much excitement and anticipation of what lies ahead. The bottom line with traveling is that no matter how tired, hungry, stressed, annoyed or home-sick you might be at any given moment - the places you see, experiences you have and people you meet aren't things you'll forget any time soon and are worth all the preparation, stress and shock. So, I need to keep the big picture in mind that the excruciating paper work, processes and hair-pulling preparation for traveling will be given back ten fold in pure elation, experience and world-rocking adventures. TRUST.

Overall, my advice to everybody is to heed the spanish words que será, será (whatever will be, will be). Relajate, mi amigo, está bien - no está nada mal! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Be the change you want to see in the world"

Another short message from The Universe, courtesy of Jason Mraz (quoting a bit of Ghandi) and express delivered to you ;) . Awesomeness is not overrated. So go out there and get amongst it!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Habla Ingles?

Lost in Translation 

It's a standard misconception that people who don't speak English are somehow unintelligent, child-like and downright dumb. There is a number too large to count of people who get frustrated with people who don't know how to speak English, who are learning to speak it or don't speak it properly, and this number includes myself. I've gotten annoyed and flustered with people on the phone who don't understand what I'm saying or trying to explain something to a customer in my old job. The thing about learning a new language that I've come to realise is that, that is exactly the view I'm going to encounter speaking Spanish in Spain.

Learning a new language is difficult, to say the least. Even if you have a knack for linguistics, there are things you have to memorise, study and go over and over until they stick. And even then, it might not be perfect. You can't learn a language they way you take a business class, showing up for tutorials or doing all-nighters to finish assignments. You miss a class, you've missed an entire lesson on how to say things in the past. You don't do your homework, you can't get your head around the patterns of regular and irregular verbs.

Nowadays I have a whole lot of respect for people who speak with accented English, who sometimes get the grammar wrong, who are often hard to understand because it means English is their second language - and already, they're one language up on me. Balancing two or more different ways of speaking, communicating has me in awe, and I can only hope I'll be half as badly understood as them, and while I'm mumbling away in half-constructed sentences and spanglish that people have a little mercy!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why first days are harder than lasts

Photo from Champagne & Sequins

The last days you do something are always more memorable than the 'firsts'. At least in my experience. The first days have all the pressure of expectation, the last days come with a sigh of relief - a breath of fresh air. The last day on a job, my last day as an intern, my last HSC exam, my last day of high school - and most recently my last university day in Sydney this year, and for a year - before I jet off to live in Spain. Finishing always comes with a sense of accomplishment, a smiling weary face.

At the same time it gives you cause to look back and to remember before you push on. The last three years of uni have been interesting - at times I've wanted to change degrees, drop out, pack my bags and leave. At other times I've met great people, made a lot of memories, joined a sports club and traveled to Melbourne, Gold Coast, Bathurst and Coffs Harbour. There's less than two months till the last day of 2011 and I'm so lucky to say I'll be spending it with a good friend in Darwin doing something I never knew I always wanted to do. I'm terrified and excited; that probably sums up how I'll be spending the whole of next year. Terrified and excited.

While there have already been a lot of lasts there are going to be a lot of firsts. The first time I've moved out of home. The first time I've been to Spain and I'm sure a long list of rude awakenings. But for now, I have to get through to the rest of the 'lasts' for this year. Gearing up for a whole bunch of new adventures. The reality of getting ready to go leave everything I've known hasn't set in yet - it hasn't hit me that next year I won't be able to drop in at my best friends house to have coffee, because she'll be on the other side of the world. I won't be able to drive down to the shops. I won't be able to see my family and ask them how their day was over dinner. When I start to think about not coming home to my own room, my own home I must admit I break out into all sorts of mini panic attacks.. but like everything thats worthwhile, it has to scare you shitless first. So here's to the my last couple of months in Australia, and to all the firsts - the shiny, new everything!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Something that lasts forever

My 78-year-old Grandfather's tattoos

I post a lot of pictures of tattoos on here and I've spoken before about how getting a tattoo isn't on my bucketlist. But I wanted to share some of the tattoos that my grandfather has. He is now 78 years old and he's had these tattoos for 58 years, having started this little collection when he was 20. He saw the arms of his uncle, a retired Filipino naval officer from the American navy with tattoos of all the countries he had been up and down his arms. My lolo (grandpa in tagalog) naturally was impressionable and wanted to get some too. So here are a few of his favourites.

He has a scroll reading 'Death before dishonour', a bird, a star, 'Aug 5 1952' his birth date, a naked lady in a star, 'God is love', a snake, a horse-shoe and some of them he did himself. Not just the design, but that he physically tattooed on himself. They're old-school tattoos, not just because they're almost sixty years old, but because they're not the needle-point quality they have today. He always tells us when we jokingly tell him we're all getting tattoos that we should think long and hard because its permanent, and you can't take it back. He always says 'You know, if you are remorseful of your tattoos there's nothing you can do about it'. Fifty-eight years later, he's still got them, wrinkled skin and all. But one of my favourite ones that I'm happy to say he doesn't regret is 'Ala ala kita Laly' meaning 'Always remembering Laly' / 'I remember you always Laly' Laly, being his name for my lola (grandma) lolita (bit of a tongue twister there). Despite everything, and some regret he may have felt about having some of those tattoos (maybe the naked lady wasn't such a good idea for job interviews or parent-teacher nights) it's good do know that some things last forever. 'Ala ala kita'.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tastes so sweet

Last week it was one of my best friend's 21st birthday. We took her out to a small cafe/restaraunt in Glebe for Brunch. It was a really cool place where they had office chairs and served all day breakfast. Me and her have a slight obsession with canadian breakfast or midnight pancakes - you could say breakfast is our favourite meal for anytime other than morning. Afterwards, while it started to drizzle, under the cover of umbrellas we browsed through the stalls of recycled books and vintage denim, hand-made necklaces and assorted jewelery. We went to a Turkish restaraunt and had apple tea (Very sweet but great for the cold weather) and smoked Mint and Strawberry Shish. As University wraps up I'm finding catching up with old friends and delicious food is the order of the day. Three words. Nom nom nom !

Monday, November 8, 2010

Number 3: Write a Novel

Gotta use words

As I have a tendency to throw myself into things, this November I'll be participating in Nano Wrimo November novel-writing month. I signed up for it early in the year and the date has been slowly creeping up between university assignments and internships. Basically, you write at least 50,000 words (the minimum word count to be classified as a novel) between the 1st and 30th of November.

This goes straight to my bucket list - to write a novel. This is going to require me to write at least a thousand words a day, fourteen-hundred if I want to make it to 50,000 (which I do!). So far I've written about 9,000 amount of words, though I have to say I did cheat a little bit and since I signed up for Nano-Wrimo months ago I have been working on an outline and have written about 10,000 words on the novel. To comply with the rules I'll be starting from zero (but will eventually add whatever I write to my overall novel later on). The plan is not to write a best-seller, a literary classic or the next, 'Eat, Pray, Love' but the point is purely to write. Even if it doesn't make sense, especially if it doesn't make sense. And even if it's not worth the paper I'm writing on the plan is to keep writing anyway.

It's necessary preparation for next year when I plan on getting some serious travel writing done. Armed with hundreds of hours watching National Geographic Adventure travel shows, trawling through countless travel blogs of photographs and videos, campaigns and articles - I'll be taking off on my own adventure and hopefully my own writing. What's become apparent to be lately is that while travelling is always something I've wanted to do - there are many different ways you can travel - there's organised travel, backpacking, wandering, speed travelling, adventure travelling, luxury travelling, travel-hacking - just to name a few. Whatever the case, travelling - when it's over leaves a deep impression, and often a big hole. (cue post-europe-depression etc.) I want to be able to record through photographs, videos and words - all that I'm experiencing and learning so that when my year is over -I'll have something to show for it.

Though, I should probably go... there's a novel that needs writing. EEK!

Sunday, November 7, 2010



I remember being seven years old when Princess Diana died. I was watching the news on the television while my aunties and parents chatted in the lounge room. Not really knowing who exactly Princess Diana was or what it meant, I went to the room breaking the news with the air of announcing I was hungry or I had finished my homework. My aunty looked at me confused and asked, irritated, what I was talking about. I led them to the television where nobody could really believe it still.

That was over ten years ago now and I can still remember it so clearly. It's strange to think about what you were doing, how you found out, where you were when big things happen - moments that will go down in history as changing the world. It's strange to think my parents lived through the turbulence of the seventies, heard Michael Jackson on the radio when he first got big, watched the news when John Lennon was assassinated or the protest of the Vietnam war. Our generation has had big moments too. And the strange thing is, they're still happening. And one day we'll look back and wonder what we did and who we were and where we were when something happened.. which, now, may be just around the corner.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Some days are better than others

Balmoral Beach, Sydney Australia

Hazelnut Gelato. Climbing rocks. A beach without waves. Silence. Babies and prams and nannies. Old people with skin like tanned leather. Families. Co-operative weather. My sister. Fedoras. Summer songs. Beach. 

The weather finally decided to cooperate (well, for the first half of the day at least!) and Bas and I thought it would be the perfect time to clock in some beaching. The weather has been temperamental and I've only been to the beach once this spring (and there was a thunderstorm, lightning and all) so it was great to kick back, lay down the beach towel, close my eyes and relax. The best thing was that it was a weekday, the beach was quiet and weather absolutely gorgeous! Balmoral is one of my favourite beaches because the water is near still, it's a family beach and has the best hazelnut I've ever tasted, bar none. Some days are better than others. Some days are pure gold. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Because you can

'That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I'd just run across the great state of Alabama. And that's what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean. And when I got there, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going. When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I'd gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going'

Forrest Gump

I recently participated in a 24-hour Relay for Life that was raising funds and awareness for the Cancer Council here in Australia.  Each team had to have one person on the track at one time. The first lap was walked by Cancer survivors and their carers, many of whom walked the track for the rest of the day. It was an experience that really was unique and humbling.

While I was walking along the track I noticed there was an older man in short shorts and a running top who had lapped me quite a few times already. My brother spoke to him and found out he was about fifty years old and had been running marathons for years. He trains and runs at least 100kms a week, depending on how he's feeling. He wasn't a big man, probably not much taller than me. And yet he was an absolute giant on the tracks. What a guy! There was another guy from the State Emergency Services who walked for the entire 24 hours straight. He wasn't the most fit, he definitely wasn't the youngest but he was an absolute hero - I'm pretty sure everybody there knew how hard it was to even relay for a couple of hours, let alone the entire stretch.

Still amazes me what people can do, what people despite everything that stands in their way. Talkin' bout inspiration!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why they'll tell you not to, and why you should anyway

Emma Stone - Easy A

I've already said it's not easy to say out loud, to write on paper, to post onto the world wide ever-expanding-dont-do-anything-that-will-get-you-fired web your basic philosophy on life and plans for the future; Despite this there's a quote I love from the Mexican movie 'Amores Perros' that kind of explains it all, you know - Why they'll tell you not to, and why you should anyway.

Susana: 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans' 
Octavio: 'God can laugh all he wants, I still have my plans'. 
Of course God in my context doesn't mean God. 'God' is all those people who will laugh at you and tell you not to, the general universe that seems not to notice you unless you are climbing up the corporate ladder, or falling off it. And it seems I've been making a lot of plans, and hearing a lot of laughter. But that's OK because I'm not in this alone. I am only able to be annoyingly defiant, obnoxiously over-confident and completely opinionated thanks to a lot of good people who I wish to acknowledge here, not least because I think people need to know when they're being awesome but also because these people are on the side of 'Why you should anyway'. I will try and avoid the cheesiness of Oscar-winning speeches and hope it turns out a little more like fan-mail to people who are better than any baby-adopting celebrity out there (Angelina Jolie, I'm looking at you).

My parents, for having four other children to whom they can live vicariously through, easing the pressure on me to fulfill their every unmet dreams of youth - I've been spared from the obligation to become a child prodigy, world-class pianist, a maths and science guru and also, dare I say it - tall. I need to thank them also for nodding, smiling and keeping their knee-jerk reactions at bay when I quit my job and decided to work for free instead. For not deeming me mentally unsound when they repeatedly discovered my aversion to money (somewhat worrying) and my grand plans for my future that were about as far away as you can get from the medical-school-graduate they had planned.

To my friends, who have at times looked a little more confused than my parents. You've been my best critics and unknowingly (through the all too familiar slightly tilted head, eyebrows furrowed with a look that begs the question 'Are you serious?') helped me confront the realities of the challenges I'm going to face head on. For not letting me go off completely into lala land without warning me of the flying monkeys and fake-wizards that lay ahead, and then also - perhaps for lack of being able to restrain me - respectfully allowing me to take off onto my soap box and into my rants of life according to Grace.

A few people I don't know, who have unknowingly influenced me in the past month, the past years, or even the past couple of days through their websites, their stories and their unwavering conviction and vision of how they want the world to be. Chris at The Art of Non-Conformity, Marianne at Zen and the Art of Peace-keeping, Susannah Connaway and too many others to count.

Without these people, I wouldn't have had the courage to shout out loud everything I've been wanting to do but never really thought I could. Now, I'm not blaming you, but other people  might - just a heads up.. only kidding! Huge arms-wide-open thanks. God can laugh all he wants, thanks to you, I still have my plans!


- Grace

Friday, October 22, 2010

One whole year goes by in a blink

Nat Geo Adventure - Departures

Whenever I watch Departures I get the itch to pack my bags, book a round-the-world ticket, run out the door and never look back. 'One whole year goes by in a blink'. The views, places, cinematography and soundtrack never fail to make my jaw hit the floor and I get this burning feeling that I want to be as awesome as them. It makes me excited to go to Spain for a year, to travel, to take amazing videos and photographs and share them here with you all - and spread the travel-bug if you haven't already got it! Well, not sure how fast a year goes but starting January I'll let you know.. !

PS. There's a song that has been driving me crazy that I can't find anywhere that goes 'We walk on melting snow, inside making fire and tea, I met you while I was wondering, we've seen many worlds since then' - It's on the commercials for Departures and Nat Geo Adventure - If anyone knows what the song is called you'd be putting me out of my misery!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Getting out of the box you're in

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist

As part of an extra-curricular program I'm undertaking at uni, last week I went to attend a net-working event and seminar. I stood near the doorway entrance nervously, alone. I didn't know anybody and was looking around the room with an obvious mix of desperation and embarrassment pouring from my eyes like some sort of doe-eyed puppy awaiting adoption. I was tossing up whether to catch the first train home or hover near the free food pretending to be texting on my phone until the talk started when I thought - this is ridiculous. There are times in life when it's OK to back down, to slink away, to admit defeat but this was not one of them. This was one of those harden-up-pull-yourself-together moments. I began speaking to two guys who were in the elevator with me and with the mastery of some small-talk and jokes at my own expense I was saved from social exile. Who knew it could be that easy?

I have to say, as a person who  has seven members in her family, two brothers and two sisters - not to mention the long list of extended family and constant crowds of friends that seem to be dropping in at our house - I'm not used to going to anything by myself. Maybe it's a girl thing too, but in highschool we always had to go in pairs anywhere and everywhere. To the canteen, to the bathroom, to speak to a teacher, to drop off a library book. The fear of being alone was routinely tamed by constant companionship.

That was until I started paying taxes, complaining about school children being 'too noisy' and slowly morphing into a person who often prefers to drink peppermint tea and watch a movie than expend my now rapidly depleting resources of energy into constant socialising. Ever since I started this process of 'growing up' I've had to do a lot of things on my own and to my own shock and horror I love it. Independence, that is. The entire concept of 'growing up' still has my Peter-Pan instincts clinging to childhood but the part where I'm on my own doesn't scare me so much anymore. In fact, I revel in it.

The thing about being on your own is that you are no longer accountable to somebody else, you don't have to worry about upsetting another person, catering to their needs or walking on eggshells, you are allowed and indeed you have the perogative to follow your own dreams. While not having a familiar face around is hard, it pushes you out of where you're comfortable and into somewhere a lot more scary and infinitely more interesting. Not having anybody to hide behind anymore you're forced, in a way, to have new experiences, to meet different people and to have adventures all of your own. I'm not encouraging being lonely - but there's certainly something unique about doing things lone-wolf style.

As my first ever university tutor told me, "I'm more about getting out of the box I'm in, rather than better decorating it". I've always taken this to mean that, instead of accepting the life you're given without question and simply trying to 'make the best of it', you consciously look at what else is out there, what life you want - you seek it out and make it yours. Adventure, over decoration. I'd take the first any day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A bird, a feather and keeping it simple


Getting a tattoo is not on my bucketlist. I'm scared because I might as well get a tattoo of regret on my forehead, or else I'll go the complete other way and become addicted. Either way, there are too many decisions and I find I change my mind, my personality, my ideas too much and too often that there's nothing I see that I'd want for a lifetime, that I would still like when it's wrinkled and sun-spotted. Though, a girl can dream.. 'What If'.. So many choices...mmm

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Learning a language, in more ways than one

Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem & Scarlett Johansson -  Vicky Cristina Barcelona

So I may have mentioned a few (million) times that I am currently learning Spanish or Castellano as it is also called. What I probably have not mentioned however is how this actually going. When you're learning a new language, personally I think, it's easy enough to begin with the basics, Hello, how are you going? My name is Jim, I have 2 sisters and live in Melbourne etc. etc. You learn pick up lines and occasionally swear words, silly phrases and life-saving-lines (Where is the toilet? Call the Police etc.). Beyond that, I have discovered, is a big scary world of grammar, tenses and a lot of things you take for granted.

In Spanish classes you learn there are different past tenses, there are 'moods' which confusingly are not tenses, there are rules to follow diligently yet always there are exceptions and irrregular verbs to be learned. Apart from this, Spanish being a latin language, you learn some geeky nifty things about the english and spanish languages. For example 'Adios' in Spanish meaning Good bye translates literally meaning 'To God'. The name Dolores literally means pain, and being filipino also makes me appreciate more the influence of Spanish on so many filipino words.

And, of course, beyond the teaching and the words there is my spanish teacher - who is a force of nature in herself. People think that I am exaggerating when I describe her. Folks, I am not. Her dramatism is astounding; everything is 'increeeeeeeeeeeedible' 'wonderrrrful', 'amaaaaazing'. Maybe it's the natural rhythm of the language, the accent or the innate magnetism of spanish-speakers with drama, but at one point she even burst out into an 'hallelujah, hallelujah!' when somebody had formed a sentence in spanish and read it aloud in class. I kid you not. You've got to love her enthusiasm and passion - it certainly is infectious and makes learning spanish feel like more than just a class where you're learning a language. Sometimes I feel like I've discovered some enigmatic truth of life with the way she congratulates us on mastering the grammar of the subjunctive tense. Whatever the case, it is as she says .. increíble!!

I've found with all my spanish teachers that they are always great characters, they really are something else! Maybe it's because I'm impartial to anybody that speaks spanish but I find them endlessly fascinating, their accents completely taken for granted, and their general demeanor a source of curiosity and imitation. Learning Spanish for me is number one on the To-Do-List, and here's hoping it all pays off. There are a lot of languages that I want to learn - though I'll have to master this before I move onto anything else.. so who knows how long that will take! Que será será ! 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


A note from the universe arrived for you today, reader, and I was asked to pass it on.

In case I didn't already tell you, it's not me - it's all you. You're completely remarkable, it will all work out fine and nothing will happen that I know you can't handle. I have left you in complete control of the universe (just don't press the red button) - DREAM BIG and make it happen. Did I mention, you get to make the rules? (Yeah, it's the best part.. I thought so too). Oh, and the part where you dance till the sun rises, sing till your voice gives out and forget about things like laundry and taxes. And Yes, I'm talking to you, silly. 

         The Universe

Monday, October 11, 2010

First dates, expectations and changing the world


Starting a website, a business, a blog - any new adventure - is always a bit like going on a first date. You begin nervously, scared of what someone else will think of you. You don't know how to dress, what to wear, what to say or what is going to happen. Basically, you've taken a big leap of faith and are doing what a lot of people should do more often - you're putting yourself out there.

If you've ever been on a blind date, applied for a job, joined a sports team, approached a stranger or anything that's got you questioning your own self-worth, chances are you'll know what I'm talking about. That sweaty-palms feeling where you're not too sure you should have bought into the old latin phrase Carpe diem. This is what this year has felt like for me.

In a lot of ways I decided to stop living the way I thought everybody expect me to live, and I decided to go - All Out - on the big, crazy ideas I concocted when I was about fourteen and watched a documentary on the famine in Africa that moved me to tears. I decided, resolutely, that I was going to do something about it. In short, as an idealistic teenager with the cynicism, jadedness and critics not yet at work, I was going to change the world.

Since then, I made my way through highschool and started a five-year university degree without much thought or action as to making that conviction into reality. I had, up until fairly recently, not disappointed the expecatations of work, study and career path placed upon me by the usual suspects - well-meaning parents, career-thirsty colleagues, stern faced teachers and the anonymous masses that make up 'everybody'. It has become apparent to me that not only are these expecations not something I want to live up to, they are also something that I don't have to meet.

I started this blog a little nervous, a little tentative. Who was going to read it? What would they think? What if somebody thought it was wierd? - all of the rational arguments that stop people from taking big risks were at play. Nonetheless, I started it here, and now have gathered my courage enough to begin to share here, truthfully, what I am doing - what is going through my mind and brought me up until this point. It's fear that keeps me from posting too often about myself, it's fear that makes me second-guess what I want to post and if people will genuinely like what I have to say. Consequently too often I hide behind other peoples words, other peoples work.

With the encouragement from a few close friends and family - and the lovely words from a lot of like-minded people I have never met face to face but have thought enough to leave a friendly comment - I'll be sharing here more of where I am at, how I got here and where I want to be going - what I want to be doing.

I'm still nervous, I'm still scared - but as with all first dates, job applications or opportunities - once you get over the first few hiccups, the awkward silences and initial shyness - it can be the beginning of something great, something worthwhile or even just an epic adventure you never saw coming.