Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dear Extended Family

I used to squirm being in a room for extended periods of time with my relatives. Aunties who told me I was too skinny and should be eating more or that I was getting fat because I was eating too much. When dinners of roasted lechon and pots full of rice were an excuse to pry into your life. Who was courting you? Who was your boyprend? they would ask in that psuedo-american yet distinctly filipino accent. It made me anxious, bored, annoyed.

And then this kind of funny thing happens. 

You stop getting anxious, bored, annoyed. Because maybe you've been away for a while or maybe you've seen somebody without copious amounts of relatives or some other alternative universe that makes you appreciate the gifts you get for christmas that you will never use in a million years, or the way that only your relatives can get away with calling you by that name

Because it means you're part of this Family. And that one day, too, you might be that aunty giving identical pairs of t-shirts you got at a bargain price from K-Mart to all your nephews at Christmas. You could be that uncle that gets drunk and says inappropriate things at all the appropriate occasions. 

It grounds you and gives you roots. And having roots is essential. Otherwise you float away. Grounding in the form of your parents' parents who changed your nappies when you were a child and fed you and put you to sleep. Grounding in the form of cousins who know what you looked like when you were hitting puberty with craters of pimples between your eyes and all the dorky clothes you used to wear.

Relatives are like a living museum, a collection of memorabilia that remind you that you will always have a seat at a Christmas dinner, that there will always be a gift wrapped under the tree with your name on it, that you are not forgotten and will not be forgot. 

Family that looks like a fun-house mirror reflection of yourself. The way that you start off as that cute little baby that gets passed around and somehow transition into that kind-of-adult that's playing with the little kids and teaching them how to assemble lego models of cars or ambulances or trucks.

I somehow forgot how much I missed it all. The routines and the traditions and the belly-ache of too much food. The huge chaos of noise that is the sum of the movie the kids are trying to watch, the stories some aunt is always trying to tell, the comment some other aunt is trying to interrupt with and the murmurs of the men drinking beer and talking politics. Somewhere in the midst of all the noise is the soundtrack to years of family memories.

I guess after having two Christmases away from home, being back just felt good. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Value Of My Arts Degree

After five years, ten semesters and endless 9 am lectures missed and two hour classes spent staring at the ceiling - what have I learned? What is the value of my higher education, beyond the government-sponsored debt I have incurred?

Beyond meeting like-minded individuals, prolonged coffee breaks and deliciously cheap student discounted specials. Besides the common experience of all nighter essays, made up references, bluffing your way through presentations, readings about Foucault or Said, deconstructing Everything You've Ever Known. Beyond university parties and learning to scull beer, having your friends write your name on the role in classes you haven't attended, beyond spending hours at university just because you're rich in time. Beyond learning to sound pretentious, alternate, intellectually sound. What was it all for?

They say it teaches you How To Think. I'd argue that is also teaches you How To Learn. Learning for the sake of learning. Thinking for the sake of thinking. Because when else do you have time to question the colonial discourse around the term 'Yellow Fever' or understand the complicated web of events and people of The Past and how they've shaped everything to do with the Right Now? 

Unlike medical studies, business degrees, law qualifications or bachelors in engineering - Arts degrees are deliberately broad, vague. What can you do with it? What job will it get you? How much money will you make? The short answer is, not any job in a failing economy and not much money at all. The hidden truth is that you have to think and learn and analyse and deconstruct ideas, history, events that matter. You are forced to know, you are forced to think, and in short you are forced to care about understanding the worldBecause when you have people learning how to build buildings, how to make money, how to make new laws, you need people outside of this framework who are thinking about what the building and the money and the laws mean and amount to.

David Foster Wallace's commencement speech blew my mind. He argues that it's more about the choice we have of what to think about. He argues that the default setting we have is to think about ourselves, to think in terms of ourselves, from our own views, from our own experience - solipsism. But that it doesn't have to be this way, we can think outside of this.

He argues that it is the obvious that is the most important, that we have to continue to remind ourselves that we are not the centres of the universe, that life is more than the everyday. That we have the power to create meaning where and of what we will. And perhaps this is why I am always ranting here about what my friends like to call that kind of stuff meaning the stuff that sometimes makes you sigh and sometimes makes you cringe. But it's necessary, this writing and rewriting of the obvious and the inane questions.

The truth of his speech is that to think is to create. Create meaning, value, ideas, works. If we're creating without thinking, we are zombies, puppets. Without thinking about what we're doing, the value it's really worth, the way we are living or affecting other people - we become casualties of everyday life. Everybody can go through life in this default setting, not knowing 'This is water', this is life. The unexamined life is not worth living.

What I think he's really saying is that an Arts Degree can better equip you to think and consequently make choices that have everything to do with your own freedom. To make better choices, and life is a laundry line of choices strung together and hung out to dry. Each choice is something we put on, we wear day in and day out, it shapes us and makes us. And eventually somebody will look fleetingly at our choices, or maybe we'll look back at our own and either we'll be impressed, dismayed, ashamed, confused, proud...

Choose well. Choose better. Choose to make meaning, choose to add, instead of take away. Choose to worship something other than yourself. Choose to see a world beyond that which is immediately apparent to you.

'The real value of a real education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over..'

'It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliche turns out to be true: your education really is the job of a lifetime'

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Good Company: A love letter to all my lady friends

Fear is a shaky hand you hide behind your back, a smile through gritted teeth and a nod of fake confidence you believe will mask it all. I've written before how nobody really knows what they're doing, but how everybody appears to. I've written a lot about my old bed-fellows fear and anxiety but not so much about the other side. The side of bravery that slices your life in two or the side of courage that looks a lot like fear unmasked. Funny that.

I'm surrounded by a group of incredible and brave young ladies on whom I have many a girl crush. This is a love letter to all of you, you know who you are because I've probably told you already but if I haven't this is my confession, my little serenading love song just for you.

Bravery looks a lot like fear, the difference is in the doing it anyway. And everyday I speak to or write to or think about these friends of mine who I adore and admire to the ends of the earth, it makes one side of my mouth go up and gape a little open in disbelief. The awesomeness of them borders on the fictitious.

There's my cousin who has known me since I was a baby, whom I look up to for countless reasons and the most recent of which is that she had the super-grande lady-balls to book a one way ticket out of a comfortable, safe and happy life in order to keep her future self from wondering, like a sad song on repeat, What if... What if... What if... 

There's my sister who is ambitious without being narrow-minded and who is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She is a hurricane of unapologetic demands of herself to be better, to do more, to learn and to know and to discover. She ignored our creased foreheads and pursed lips, quit university and decided instead to do what she wanted to do but didn't know if she could yet. She can and she has and she never looked back. 

There's my best friend who continues to roll with the punches, who is taking chances and allowing her five year plan to be re-written over and over, or to remain an ominous question mark when she used to want a detailed, paragraphed, five point plan. There is so much courage in forfeiting control of your life, to learn to silence the constant hum of What will happen next?

There are my countless lovely lady friends, new kindred spirits who make me realise just how normal and okay it is to be confused, to not know, to surrender to the what the fuck?-ness of it all. They challenge my ideas and my character over red wine or an apple pie cocktail. We plan holidays and hope, without tact or regard, that perhaps none of us will get real jobs just so we can continue living in this glorious unknown where the only certains are each other. We retreat earnestly into the way a cheeky drink and a good friend can take the edge off the sharp, angular questions the world asks of us and of which we refuse, stubbornly, to answer.

There's that spanish saying, which I have no idea if they actually say but I've read somewhere in a book, 'Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres' or in the English version - 'You are the company you keep'. Without a doubt I am in love with you all, my lovely lady friends (all seediness of that expression intended). I adore your bravery, which you might mistake for weakness or doubt but which really is the secure courage of allowing yourself to be insecure and vulnerable. I admire, I adore, I love you all. That is all.

And now I have to run, because I'm meeting a few of you at a bar in about five minutes for apple pie cocktails.

Besos <3

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"What the hell is water?"

Starting a public blog is kind of like a strip tease, you start off tentatively and unsure. Maybe nobody is even watching, you take this in confidence and begin to undress. You close your eyes and shake off the insecurity, who cares anyway? Bit by bit the clothing falls away somewhat unconsciously while your eyes remain shut. Somewhere between when you thought it would be a good idea and afterward when you're naked on stage and there's no time for any regret or self-possession to kick in, you feel dumb-struck by a dozen wandering eyes stuck on you. Fuck. Oh my.

A metaphorical strip tease, obviously. Because there really is nothing sexy about a blog. It's awkward and personal and most of the time an overshare. I write here because it's cathartic and it helps me air out the piles of messy brain explosions that occur on a day to day basis - while I'm sitting in traffic or eating granola for breakfast or clicking open a thousand tabs on my browser at 2am in the morning because I can't go to sleep. Does that ever happen to you?

And while I share my thoughts on my parents getting older, childhood friendships disappearing and new ones taking their place, on being young and all that that implies, on dissenting from the status quo or any number of otherwise standard thought processes, I don't share what helps me get through the day or what I'm looking at all day, or night. The links and the sites and the books and the documentaries, the recipes or obsessions or internet digging that turns up intellectually stimulating gold flecks amongst the heap of very distracting, colourful, yet largely meaningless, confetti. 

I'm going to do what everybody does but nobody asked anyone to do - let you inside my head. Just so you too, can share in the chaotic melt-down of that space between my ears.

Fittingly I'll leave you with one of my favourite graduation speeches, as I've finished university and await graduating myself. It's not inspirational, motivational or uplifting, nor will it fit on your wrist in cursive tattooed writing. It's challenging, long and somewhat bleak but like all those necessary truths it is terrible and real and will blow your mind, if you listen closely and let it all sink in.

The transcript to the entire speech is here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Where do you go when you're gone?

When you lose yourself
in your mind's eye
that swarm of ceaseless
dreaming, that is not sleep

Do you escape to a
white plastered cliff
somewhere in the mediterranean

or to some cold riverbank
in the heart of europe
where the locals drink rum
on bottles hanging from
their canoes

Do your thoughts run along
a postcard of
the great wall of

or to the fans and paintings
of a spain you knew
by touch and feeling

You realise now you don't
go anywhere when you're gone
because that restless heart of yours
beats in the present
and has no need to be transplanted
elsewhere, anymore

or at least not for now

Monday, November 26, 2012

You can go home again

It's been over ten months since I've come home to Sydney. I didn't know before I came back if you can really go home again. Turns out, you can.

I thought I would be allergic to everything about my life before. I was anxious that I wouldn't be able to fit back into the life I used to have, the old routines, the long train rides and traffic, the monday mornings, part-time work and interning. I thought I'd be lost wandering through Sydney as if it were some awkward stranger, as if I couldn't live here anymore.

You can go home again. You appreciate it more, you know it better, you seek out what's changed and what has stayed the same with the eyes of a tourist coming here for the first time, with an added sense of de ja vu.

I love Sydney and its chai lattes, its abundance of all kinds of ethnic food, its weather - the thunderstorms and the thirty degree heat and the warm autumn days. And I've realised that I've brought the best parts of Spain back with me. Last year I was going on road trips with friends, hanging out at beaches, drinking lots of coffee and constantly, constantly eating out.

Not that much has changed. From exploring new eateries in Sydney, weekends away, thirsty thursdays and sangria saturdays the porque no? motto lives on. We empty bottle of champagnes to celebrate uni finishing, we talk politics and sexism over beer and wine happy hour and then cocktail happy hour at the uni bar. We are young and free and happy here in Sydney too.

Australia's a pretty damn great place to live. After couch surfing in Melbourne, road tripping to the Great Ocean Road and the upcoming trips over New Years to Peats Ridge Festival and Uluru with the family, perhaps even a sneaky Gold Coast trip to visit a friend - home acquires all kinds of charms when you've been away.

Our flora and fauna amazes me. Seriously, we have the weirdest freaking animals and plants. And they're all ours. The purple jacaranda trees, paper trees, gum trees, koalas, echidnas, wombats!! Desert and rocks and beaches galore. What is this weird island continent that I live on and why have I never seen it like this before?

You can go home again, you can always go home again - because absence does all kinds of crazy shit to your memory, it makes you fall in love with this place you knew all along, waking up one day after an overseas love affair and being completely taken in and enamoured with the friend you never noticed but who was always there.

Home is here, and knowing I can go away for a year and come back makes it feel Okay to leave. I can change and it can change but I will make my way back here, home will always be here. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

I wish I'd realised earlier

The most success I've ever had was realising I didn't want to be successful. At least not in the generally accepted definition of the term. I never wanted to be rich, or even wealthy, or even upper middle class. Even though I am (middle class, that is). I've always been willing to settle financially on what could get me by. Money, in that sense, is not an issue for me.

I didn't want to do business, corporate law or anything that was the picture of ambition in a suit. It never was my style. The best moments I have and keep having are realising that what I actually want and what other people want me to want are so disparate that it renders it a little hilarious.

No thanks, I don't want to buy investment properties. No thanks, I'm not interested in owning my own car. No thanks, I don't want a graduate job or to climb any ladders or get my foot in any of those doors. The only things I climb are trees and the only doors I clamour to get inside of are those of airplanes.

It's this incredible release of pressure when you realise - wait a minute - I don't actually want any of this. Because that then means you can stop trying to get it. And it all falls into place. That's half the battle, trying to figure out what you actually want. I can live with this.

And then you have to figure out what you will do and how you can live to get it. I've laid to rest any misguided expectations of my own to be financially stable, to earn 50 k a year my first year out of uni (now I cannot even fathom that amount of money) or put a deposit down on a house. I've come to terms with this, and it's OK, it's what I want.

Because instead of this, I'm trying to set up a life I don't have to run away from. I don't want to live for the weekends or annual leave. I would rather work an unpaid internship that allows me to be where I want to be, doing what I want to do, than get paid an amount that would satisfy only my bank account and leave me struggling for air forty plus hours a week.

Everybody is different. To be a shaved-head hippy in a country nobody has heard of or very little about is definitely not everybody's dream of success (although I personally will argue for the intrinsic value of being completely bald at least once in your life). Each to their own.

Growing up and all this 'maturity' business is really just about one decision. Choosing to make others happy or choosing to make yourself happy. Sometimes they overlap, a lot of the time they don't. You just gotta make the call.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Things my parents taught me

Maybe because I'm getting older, and my parents are getting older, and it's closer to me leaving for another indefinite period of time, that I appreciate them now more than ever. As the distance between my teenage 'growing-pains' years and adulthood grows, things have become clearer. The blur of my childhood has had its focus sharpened on the infinite ways I owe my parents my life, literally and figuratively, for all the things they've taught me.

1. You can be anything you want to be

This, perhaps, is what every child of our generation was taught. It's particularly true for us children of migrants whose parents have left language and culture and land behind with the casual air of those that are accustomed to struggle. We are now able to do what they were not - and don't we forget it! Yes, dad, I know, *nodding* you walked 10 kilometres to go to school.. in the rain... without shoes.. on an empty stomach. We know. Instead, we can bludge our way through highschool, we can take up arts degrees and gap years and galavant across the globe in search of no more noble a cause than ourselves. But they let us, and they tell us - you can be anything you want to be. Be it a bum or a business man.

2. Live within your means, money is only a means to an end

Don't spend more than you earn. Don't buy crap. Don't spend your life chasing cars, the rich, fast, leather two-seater kind that are meant only for those in advertisements for what they tell you is success.  Don't gamble, don't develop a drug addiction. Money comes and money goes. You can't eat it, you can't drink it and you certainly can't grow it on trees. Know this, accept this.

Back when I was shorter than I am now in a way that was proportional to my age, I remember how we lived before we'd 'made it,' so to speak. We were living in a small rented house with bunk beds, tree houses, chickens and goats running around in the backyard like the fresh-from-the-philippines filipinos we were. We'd run through sprinklers in the summer because we didn't have a pool. We had a small car and too many children so sometimes me and my brothers would have to lie down in the boot of the toyota or have my little sister crouch in the front passenger seat so the police wouldn't see, like a magical circus car full of midget clowns. The money we didn't have meant little then, and the money we have now doesn't mean all that much today. It can buy you holidays and cars and houses but it doesn't change the quality of your memories or the volume of nostalgia you'll feel years later for a life lived well.

3. What love actually is

It's nothing to do with big romantic gestures, of running to airports to catch the love of your life before they leave on the wrong plane before some over-dramatic, articulate speech detailing all the reasons they should stay or all the ways you know some stupid mannerism they have that makes them somehow different from every other person of that sex you've ever met. Love is my dad making dinner for my mum before she gets home, waiting to eat with her even if we've all already eaten because she doesn't like to eat alone. It's her always forgiving him for his sarcastic jokes about her taking too long to get ready all the time - and that he always forgives her for taking too long to get ready all the time. It's folded laundry and tea made without asking and a thousand daily tasks that whisper always and steadily, I am here for you.

The more I am away from my family and the more I come back I realise this all. That I am the way I am because of who they are. Because of everything they've taught me. The lessons that never end, the parts of your parents lives before you were born that you learn only later, when you're old enough to understand what it all means. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The way we were

This is how you get through life. You put one foot in front of the other. You try and walk in a straight line. You take detours, get lost, lose the map you were never given and ask people for directions that are only more contradictory and nonsensical the more you ask. Walk straight. Go right. Keep going. Turn around.

But after five years or so, everything comes full circle. Five and a half years ago I was sitting at Bondi Beach with my best friend celebrating my seventeenth birthday with the April warmth of Autumn and a bottle of baileys (because clearly, I was a young woman of class). I don't remember what we talked about. Only that we laughed and talked and jumped around in the night.

Today I sat with the same best friend at Bondi thinking about that stretch of time between our seventeen year old selves and now. Things have changed and they've stayed the same.

It's correct to say that we are not who we thought we would be. We are strange, altered versions of ourselves. The straight lines and sharp corners have been smoothed by experience. We've learned to bend, or else be broken. And we think differently and believe with more caution and wish with more thought and dream with the knowledge that it may all just come true. Because it has before.

We've dreamed of living overseas, of finding loves, of being friends throughout it all. And it happened, and we found ourselves back here - to this beach that is iconic to us in a way that has nothing to do with tourists or backpackers or billboards and everything to do with the way we were and are and will be.

And as tradition called we made new predictions, dangerous jinxes on our future selves. The only sure thing was that you never know. Because we didn't know, five and a half years ago that this is who we'd be, having been where we've been, having done what we've done. Wouldn't have guessed it.

So we blaze forward with international flight tickets in our hands, ready once again to jump off into new eras marked by job changes or residential shifts in continent, by hair cut phases and long-term relationships, by acquired tastes in wine and that bittersweet aftertaste of change and goodbye-for-nows.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Permission Slip

You're allowed to feel strange around
friends you used to get along with
and it's okay that things aren't the way
they used to always be

You're allowed to stop being able to relate
to shit that doesn't relate to you
because that's when you know
you've actually changed

You're allowed to have new kindred spirits
that get you, or the "new you"
the wanderlust and running away
and coming back all drops of jupiter

You're allowed to not know what the hell
you're doing, or meant to be doing
or where you'll be in five years
because five weeks months years is a long time

You're allowed to because
you can't even make a decision about
what to eat for lunch so it goes without saying
that you can't rush food life

You're allowed to be conflicted
because who the hell was born
knowing everything and what would
be the point in that anyway

What you're not allowed to do
is feel guilty about change
or try to camouflage your
dreams so they match the masses

Because you could be anywhere
with anyone, at anytime
so why would you copy
somebody else's answers

What you're allowed to do is
make your own mistakes and
be the mastermind of your rise
and your own breath-taking fall

You're allowed to try and fail
as long as you mute the
nagging voice in your head
that says you need approval

Because you don't
You have my permission
to kick ass in life

. inspired by this

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The road is home

The Great Ocean Road starts discreetly enough, with a sign you will miss if you're looking out the other side of the window or changing songs on the radio. You drive on a road that starts off like any other. And then it becomes good, and then it becomes great.

There are signs for crossing wombats, koalas, echidnas and kangaroos. It'd be a while before you saw any that weren't roadkill, the animal speed bumps on the highway from Sydney to Melbourne. The beach side views begin at Bells Beach and continue through to Angle Sea, and through to the a lighthouse with a red cap straight from the nostalgia of your childhood TV series Round The Twist. You sing the theme song on repeat in the car, aghast that you are face to face with a ghost of your younger years, here on the Victorian coast.

And the road begins to turn, a shoe lace through national park and that big ole pool of water; blue, green, big and beautiful. And then there are the wild koalas that move at dusk at the back of a caravan park. Slowly they migrate from small forks of gum tree branches you think will snap underneath the weight of lazy fur. You go on a bear hunt in socks and sandals, neck bent upward squinting. They sit in their respective trees, inconspicuous except for the moon-shaped shadows they cast. You count the koalas on your hands and run out of fingers. Two kookaburras sit and watch, you don't hear them laughing but you feel like they are.

Your excitement fills the car, wildlife has that effect on all of you. Giddy like children after the bear hunt. You make daisy chains in Lorne to hang on the car's rear view and slide down a grassy knoll on a skateboard. The hostel in Apollo Bay has a fire place and a glass interior you see from the outside. You wake up to see the sunrise from the rooftop and fall back to sleep. The twelve apostles are waiting, or the nine that are still there; the troopers that continue after the others flung themselves into the waves below.

The sun is generous when you thought it would be stingy. So you walk bare foot in the sand and your friends climb rocks and you dance around the bush with a native american head dress on, making tribal calls and beating on an African drum while photos are taken and tourists laugh. You have no shame, shame is overrated.

Driving from rock formation to rock formation, eating fish and chips by the sea and speeding back to see the sun set at the twelve apostles. Darkness sets in and you find yourself driving to Melba Gully on a hunt for glow worms. You meet a german couple and set off into the forest, scared, excited and armed only with a flash light. They surprise you, these glow worms that light the sides of the track like nature's fairy lights. A constellation of blue stars dotting the moss covered rocks and disappearing at dawn.

You love this road, your favourite road. Where on your last night you dance around a bonfire, outnumbered by germans who you teach drinking games. The smell of bushfire stains your clothes, the odour clinging to your skin as you reach Melbourne - a reminder of the country in the city that seems too urban after a week of small towns.

And it's here that you discover, again, how beautiful your own country is. How awesome and strange and adventurous it is. The bizarre animals, products of thousands of years of isolation and the sheer scale of this island continent. You climb a fence to frolick in a canola field, you drink sangria in a roof top bar in Melbourne that plays 80s video clips on it's big screen, you sing at the top of your lungs in the car with the windows down and eat, and eat, and eat.

You're saying hello and saying goodbye at the same time to the road, to your friends, to your country. The dates are rushing by you and you will never be here again. So you breathe deep and keep driving, vowing and wishing over and over to come back to this place some day.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reasons you should be selfish (when it comes to your own heart)

It was Dear Sugar who wrote, sometimes you have to be brave enough to break your own heart.

That means a lot of different things, for whatever situation you might be in, but it always means the same thing - saying no. No to the toxic relationship you know won't work, no to the friend that always brings you down, no to the poisonous habits of comparison, narcissism or ruthless competition. No to the things that will leave you eating your body weight in nutella and wallowing in self-loathing. The bad relationships, the people or things or habits in your life that are the equivalent of emotional cutting.

There's value in deciding your own emotional health and general well being outweighs the desire to satisfy some self-destructive vacuum. There's value in cutting ties and burning bridges (the ones that are going to collapse of their own accord anyway). Not everything needs to be set alight, but sometimes you gotta do a little back burning. Not everybody is good for you. Not everything is worth your time. There are precious things worthy of your suffering. You have to break your own heart, sometimes.

Not that it's easy. We're all a little masochistic, and I think everybody's 'been there'. To that place where you can't let go.. of people that took a special place in your life but for whatever reason have been relegated to the outskirts, that are out-laws in your little circle of trust, that don't get a seat at your future.

I'm a bit of a sucker for sentimentality and approval. On the other hand, it feels insanely liberating not to be at the mercy of a black hole of emotional drainage. That's why it's a tough gig. It's cognitive dissonance. Logically we know. Emotionally, we don't care. Doing things that press on our hearts in millions of tiny little ways. Like insisting on keeping in touch with your ex even though it's pointless and takes away that 'one step forward'. Or prior to keeping in touch with an ex, the being man enough to euthanise your own relationship. It's the goodbye to things that keep you paralysed, the burning of the bridge that always leads to nowhere. That's the big, brave part. The necessary part.

You just have to pick up a match and start the bonfire. And then just chuck in all of the self-destruction. No more unnecessary bad days, no more self-inflicted sufferings, no more pity parties as a consequence of That Thing or That Person or That Voice in Your Head/Life that shouldn't be there anymore.

Growing up Catholic, I know all about the interwoven threads of suffering and life. But I'm not about replaying painful dramas just for kicks. If you've learned, and you know better, just say no.. to The Bad Things. Instead, do the Better thing. Choose yourself. Be selfish. Be a bad ass. Break your own heart. You'll thank yourself for it.

When the world is full of small armies full of like-minded people who will just get you and ideas that will blow your mind and experiences that will build you up in ways you've never imagined - why waste your time?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Here's what I know

Here's the biggest kept secret that nobody knows: No matter how old you are or how much outer appearances may project, nobody has their shit together. Not a clue. And everybody is secretly wondering if somebody else is suspecting them, everybody is waiting to be caught out on the fact that life is one big ad-hoc act, an improv stunt that lasts for longer than you expect it to.

Just about everybody in my family is going through some sort of vocational crisis. I helped my dad write his resume and cover letter the other day, talked to my mum about her change in work load, laughed at my brother for being on the verge of post grad and pushed my little sis in discovering possible channels post-highschool that aren't a University Arts Degree (I can say that because I've got two of 'em!).

No matter what age you are, how accomplished you may seem, how long or impressive your resume is, who really knows what they're doing? Or what they want to be doing?  Or that what they think they want to be doing is what they will actually be doing?

It comforts me to know that my twenties are set to be, and already have been, a series of wanderings. With an average of seven predicted job changes, the decade of the twenties is prime time for self-indulgent voyages into bizarre jobs and anecdotal adventures. Beyond that, however, I never thought that the wandering would continue. Not really.

When the biological clock starts ticking or I get tired of couch-surfing and eating migoreng for dinner, I will grow up and the never-ending fountain of possibilities will dry up. I'll spend my thirties secretly pining for my twenties while pretending I'm OK with burping babies and having 2 weeks of vacation at a year. I resigned myself to this idea that at age 29, I would hang up my Native-American-Head-Dress-Party-Hat and call it a decade.

But if people are still chop and changing in their fifties, this idea is a little shot to pieces. When I was seven and people asked me what I wanted to do, I thought I would know at seventeen, at seventeen, I thought I would know at Twenty-two. I'm twenty-two and have direction, but it's liable to change and to be honest I really still have no idea. Change and having no clue, both states of being of which I'm a little addicted to.

So here's the thing, it's too early to call but I probably will have no idea what I'm doing at thirty, at forty, at fifty and well into the wrinkled, cane-stick stage beyond that. But it's comforting, and exciting. God, I am a change addict. But there it is, the fun part. The not knowing, the never knowing.

Monday, September 3, 2012

In defence of caring

The world doesn't need another bleeding heart, but here I am anyway.

I suffer from soap-box syndrome and an overdose of idealism. I get into arguments, I get all arked up, my blood runs hot and quick when I read headlines that scream Stop The Boats or hear people talk about Queue Jumpers or watch a whole conversation revolve around Us Versus Them. When what I'm really angry about is rhetoric, what I'm mad about is opinion, what I'm shaking my head and stamping my feet and internally combusting over is values.

There is no famine of issues in the world, no drought of wars, no cease fire of reasons to feel angry, torn and helpless at life's bitter injustices. All you have to do is tune into a news bulletin, pick up a book, rent a movie or a documentary and it's there. Sex slavery, poverty, war, natural disasters, mass murder, take your pick.

There are endless cliches about westerners and all of us here in the first world, being changed, being heart broken, being shattered and devastated and moved to action by children too skinny to be real, stories too sharply horrifying to have taken place. A friend of mine went to Cambodia and saw ever briefly a collage of a country, shredded by war and being haphazardly pieced together. Another friend, a young medical student travelled to East Africa where familiar images, swarms of large-eyed children with finger-sized-wrists became smooth flesh and warm, pulsating blood.

And then you come back home, stumped and mute. Where to from here? Back to hot showers and $4.00 coffees, complaints about the accent of our prime minister or the latest reality TV show disaster on Channel 10. Back to vietnamese rolls and fleeting gossip, tedious facebook updates and a knee jerk reaction to everything that used to be.

Why do we go through this and why do we care? What is the point of walking a corridor you know can steal away your comfort and open secret doors you'd prefer sealed shut? Because one more bleeding heart is one less clenched fist. Because we're born human, are people, first and foremost. Because you can't come face to face with another persons humanity and not be moved.

Which is why there are not for profits and social enterprises popping up on every corner, like the dot com boom in silicon valley, the bleeding hearts are setting up shop trying to appease first-world guilt and make sense of past experience. These approaches have issues in and of themselves, and development experts have a lot to say about amateurs with good intentions trying to save the "poor brown people". But it starts here, with the glass wall shattering so you can step on through to the other side.

I am speaking about the reason we shouldn't shy away from caring about shit that is real. I've stood through enough rolled eyes and 'yeah, yeahs' to know that I'm not the first bleeding heart and I won't be the last. People care, and that's inherently a good thing. It's not enough, but it's where is starts.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

What Travelling teaches you

Travelling teaches you that you will still wake up with your heartache and your loneliness and that sinking feeling, on a mountain top in Eastern Europe or a sunset in Portugal. You may be thousands of kilometres away from where your problems began and the people that it started with, but you can't leave your mind in a cardboard box, at home somewhere in the back of your closet.

Travelling teaches you about that tiniest, humblest of spaces you occupy in the world. You travel to places filled with people whose names you don't know and they accost your eyes with strangeness and familiarity. They have lives, cultures, customs, languages of which you are not privy, that exist outside of you. You are small and the world is big. This is humbling, you will feel meek and grateful.

Travelling teaches you about the limits of your own mortality. Things could happen to you, in this big, bad world. You could break a leg, or break a rule or cross a line that is more dangerous, more stupid in a country that is not yours. You could disappear, somewhere on this other side. And it's frightening and enlightening and you eat more humble pie.

Travelling teaches you about difference. You are still surprised when you arrive in a place that is different to yours, even though you know from books and movies and past experience that Your World is not the only one. People do things differently, from driving to the other side of the road to the way they dress, their general disposition on life that makes you think beyond the square you had carefully drawn around yourself.

Travelling teaches you about commonalities. Because despite the weird words that stumble awkwardly on your tongue, and the architecture you've never seen and the history that is visible and palpitating, people in this place are still happy and sad, young and old, have families, are looking for jobs, are a different face of the same humanity that it is comforting to know exists.

Travelling teaches you the gaping, astounding, breadth of the world; to get lost in, to navigate, to retreat to, to escape from. It teaches you about the strengths and weaknesses of your own character. And it pokes you and prods you and makes you reconsider things, or perhaps it reaffirms you but it is a priceless, relentless, teacher, nonetheless. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A First World Dilemma

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 

The schizophrenia at this dilemma is unreal. This past week I've been pulled to the latter because of not knowing whether to give up on the former. I've been disgusted, ashamed and disheartened discovering all the new (but mostly old) ways in which humanity turns in on itself. I finished reading Stasiland, one of the most engaging non-fiction books I have ever read. I took Genocide Studies as an elective last semester, which was a horrific tour through The Worst humankind has to offer from the beginning of time right up til the present day. I'm taking another humanities subject which details the history of Colonialism, racism and the like. My most recent fall into the pits of despair, however, was brought on by the Gillard government's announcement of a return to the off-shore processing centre in Nauru for asylum-seekers, that was closed down after a lot of public out-cry and petitioning by human rights groups. It's re-opening its doors. Really? Really?

Why, though, was I surprised to hear that a political party backflipped on their campaign promises? Apparently I did have some sort of misguided faith that the present was different; we were done with the inhumane "solutions" of the past, we were self-conscious of our past mistakes, we had overcome. 

It's not hard to see why so many of us are so quickly jaded, harassed by the media to care about so many different issues that repeat without end in sight. When we were children, and everything was experienced for the first time, we had an acute sense of justice, of empathy, of everything. As you get older, the effects wane and things don't move you, the guilt lessens and you learn to put up a wall so all the horrible, messy, disasters of the outside world don't take toll on the important task of Getting Through The Day.

You can't let everything get to you, if you did you would never get through the day. If I let myself feel all the anger I have at the injustices of all the many Bad Complicated Things, I would so quickly retreat into myself I wouldn't implode, but cease functioning. So you have to pick your battles. While it's impossible to care about everything, it is important to have something to care about, and act on. 

So half the time I want to take up this mantra of our 'me' generation, that has everything our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents never had, 'Carpe diem the hell out of that shit' (otherwise known as the annoying acronym YOLO 'You Only Live Once'). I am addicted to all the Tumblr pictures that tell me to Be An Adventurer, that The World Is At Your Feet, to Keep Calm and Party Hard etc. What's not to love in a motto that tells you to go wild with self-indulgence?

It's hard to know whether you want to resign yourself to the inevitable shitty realities of life and party down on this sinking ship, or use all that youthful energy to improve the world we reside in. Some days I get so down I just want to shut it all out and other days it's all I can think about. It's a good thing, like most cases, these are not mutually exclusive. Some days you just need to enjoy what you have, and other days you need to demand more of the world and yourself than Happy Hour and TGIFs.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dear Mum & Dad

Last weekend a young kid, in between my attempts at small talk about his age and Ben 10, stopped me mid conversation and asked, "What happened?" He raised his index finger to just below my nose. It took me a while to realise there wasn't any unusual deformity on my face; he was pointing, eyes wide with fascination, at the small mole above my upper lip.

It's a legacy I have from my dad, this little mole. Like a lot of things I've inherited from my parents, it's only now that I've really come to realise how much I resemble them in all the right ways. Anybody over the age of twenty can tell you about that strange slow-motion sensation that taps you on the shoulder one day, when you realise your parents are not immortal. The truth steps out from the shadows and you finally see that your parents are people too; people that aren't going to be around forever.

You start paying attention. You learn to ask questions, and you learn to listen to the answers. You learn to be a little patient with them, trying to resurrect memories where they have been patient with you as a child, a teenager, even now. You learn about how they were at your age, who they were, and try to match up that fuzzy hologram to the weightier version of reality that is flesh and bone, and an older version of you.

I think back to times when I was younger, and times not so long ago where the flush of embarrassment and shame would seize me. I was too old to hold hands with my parents in public. I was too old to say "I love you too" on the phone before hanging up. All that mattered to me was my friends, people I wanted to be my friends and protecting all my own insecurities. God forbid they do anything to embarrass me.

These days, there's a new kind of shame that rises up in my chest; a knotted, knowing fist that thuds somewhere at my insides. I wonder if my kids will be like this to me, treat me flippantly like a child after I had raised them and fed them and put them to bed every night for years. I wonder if I will get this karmic payback in the form of the same patronising treatment that I often dish out, brisk answers to questions about computers and directions to the city. Rolled eyes and sharped tongued replies. And I know the answer is yes.

It's only now that this kind of thinking has dawned upon me, that I've taken a step back with slight horror and a shake of the head at myself. It's only now, after my parents have completed a half a century of living that I understand that the ignorance of youth extends beyond political apathy and willing self-involvement; it's there everyday in the way we treat the people who brought us into this world, too. The way we treat our parents tells a story we sometimes would prefer not to have told.

Perhaps it's the natural order of things that due respect is given only after we've become old enough to understand the true meaning of the word. Every family is different, of course; often relationships with parents are riddled with land-mines and trip-wires, issues that bubble over or maybe never surface. This isn't the case with my own parents. They are too good, almost to a fault. They are not perfect people, but in all the ways that count they are perfect parents.

I used to be weird about my little mole, especially when 'mole' became the insult of choice around the playground. As I slide into my twenties I'm growing into my own skin, not letting my teenage standards of norms and expectations dictate how I act or how I am. I've woken up to the store I've put by people I know little in comparison to the value I should place on making it right with my mum and dad. My little mole isn't a sore point anymore, but a reminder that I'm not somebody that came into the world of my own accord; I'm the sum of two people I'm never too old to say "I love you" to in public.

An ode to the parents, you golden oldies, to putting up with us kids all these years.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Long Game

One of my best friends is engaged to a guy who has been chasing her for years. From the get-go he was in pursuit of her affection, taking her out on dates, wooing her with his charm, trying to prove his character and the value he would bring to her life as Prince Charming. For years she shut him down, for one reason or another. She wasn't ready for a relationship, she couldn't see herself being with him and on the list went. He was sure, though. He was steady. In the end, the long game won out and now they're getting married. Or that's the short version anyway.

I'm an Aries, and even though Horoscopes are amusing, contradictory and vague at best, one of my traits as a Ram is that I'm not so good at the long game. I get excited about projects I want to start, I jump head first into the millions of possibilities I have playing out in my head. When I think about the future I think about the most obscure, random place I'd like to be; I think of being a documentary film maker in the Philippines or of working in development in Bolivia. I want to do this. I want to go there. If I was an Olympian I would be a sprinter, the one that took the lead early and didn't know how to finish. 

Let's face it though, life is a long game. Anything that is worth having usually takes a while to get. For the lucky few who score their first love, dream job and the awesome life they always wanted without breaking a sweat - kudos to you - for the rest of us plebians, there is good news and there is bad news. The bad news is that the long game is... you guessed it, long. An extended period of time that can seem eternal, depending on your patience levels (and horoscope, obviously!).

The good news is that the benefits of the long game are that life isn't just a string of brief sighs of temporary relief amongst a constant blur of mediocrity. The benefits of the long game are that you get where you want to be, eventually. Whether it's figuring out how to travel and work for the rest of your life or relocating to the other side of the globe, living on a house-boat or creating a social enterprise. The long game will get you there.

This is something I've been learning, slowly. Fighting my instincts to run away to far off pastures with little money and the idealistic notion that I'll do well as a busker and be fine living off the hospitality of strangers, I've "come to". The long game wins, it always wins. Anything else is a bandaid.

It's not to say that life has to be a ten year plan, just that once you know where you want to go or even where you don't want to (which is a good place to start) being prepared for the long haul is necessary. It took me a few years of meandering to get some sort of proper direction. Now that I've got a "True North" the Long Game has become the compass I live by. It's not always fun, it's frequently frustrating and tiresome but it's worth it.

I can't say what I'm going to be doing for the rest of my life, but I can say that for the places I want to go, the things I want to do I'm in it for The Long Game. It's not a bad tip for the dating world either, ladies and gentlemen. If you're willing to prove your worth, you might just get where you want to go.

As Seth Godin said,"Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from."

Because the best things worth having require commitment, time, passion and a lot of hard work. For my best friend her future husband didn't just show up one day out of the blue as some Knight in Shining Armour, he had to fight a lot of battles before he won her over. The Long games, ladies and gentleman, the long game.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Saying "Yes", and then saying "No"

Not even two months ago I met a girl who we will call A. She was 19 years old, alone in Australia by herself far from her home town on the islands of Hawaii. We hit it off, and only a few days later A had invited me to the Art Gallery of NSW's "After Hours" where we listened to a Jazz band and a talk on the work of psychologists influencing Modern Art. She asked, "Wanna come?" and without thinking I said, "Yes."

Everyday since I've met her she has had stories to tell about her adventures that start without fail with a chance-meeting of strangers at bus stops and ended always in a grand finale that make me laugh and cringe and sigh in succession. For someone who came to Australia knowing nobody, she has seen more of Sydney than I had known existed and had spoken to more interesting people than I had in my entire university degree. It's that kind of confidence you see on people and wonder if you hang around long enough, it'll catch on. It kind of does. I've come to call her The Yes Woman, on account of her never turning down an adventure, however strange or questionable. 

She reminds me of my long-haired, rather reckless but uninhibited self as I traipsed around Europe "throwing caution to the wind" (Defined by English Idioms website as: to engage in a risky or uncharacteristic behavior when the outcome may not be known). If that wasn't a definition of my behaviour circa 2011 I don't know what is. Tequila shots and a 4am night the same morning I had a train to catch and a connecting flight? Why not?

In Europe the answer was always, por que no? Why not? It rolled off the tongue so easily and went so well with a shrug of the shoulders and that C'est la vie attitude. If you can't live a little when you're overseas, alone and have malleable standards and judgment-calls not yet set in stone - when can you? 

Apparently, the 'Yes' honey-moon ends when you get home. Because home is different. You know people here and you're not leaving the country. Things happen here and they stay here and it's no longer 'What happens in Spain stays in Spain'. It's 'What happens in Sydney ends up on your facebook and then follows you around for a while until you make another error in judgement'. That's not catchy or fun.

When do we stop saying 'Yes' and why do we start saying 'No'? 

There are plenty of good reasons to say 'No' in certain situations. Like that time in Lisbon when I decided to take a midnight stroll to explore the city (I blame Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris). It was then a fifty-something swiss man, under the guise of asking me for directions, began offering to buy me dinner and wanting to 'just talk' because he was lonely, roaming the streets by himself past 12am.. who does that? *ahem* Needless to say, that was a resounding HELL No - followed rapidly by the quickest I'd ever run back to a hostel where I wrapped myself in a thick layer of self-loathing, after trying to shower off the disgust at my own idiocy.

Apart from safety concerns and street smarts, what's stopping us from doing things that we know we'll probably enjoy, or where we'll probably do awesome things or probably meet great people? Well apparently The Shire is on and people would rather go home and watch that great documentary expose on the noble and complex human condition instead.

Take a lesson from A. Don't sit and watch reality TV. Say 'Yes' a little more when you'd rather go to sleep than go out dancing at this cool Cuban bar your friend is telling you about. Say 'Yes' to volunteering when you're hippie sister tells you the kids are great and what else are you doing with your time anyway? Say 'Yes' to French classes you've always secretly wanted to take even though you're not good at languages and your accent is horrific.

Say 'Yes' to Tiger Airways flights for $10 to Melbourne and couch-surfing for the first time with people you don't know and have never met and are hoping are not creepy and weird. Because that's what I did and I'm hoping this 'Yes' business works out. Or again, I will be deceived by hollywood movies and their carefully constructed plots and catchy titles. Go on, say yes.

(But by all means, then say No to the creepy men at bus stops or the inebriated friend that bets you you can't jump down all of town hall steps blind folded, neither of these will end well)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Kissing Strangers, Shame & Self-validation

"You could of had an Italian, tonight," a friend said suggestively with raised eyebrows and an off-handed grin. She wasn't referring to the ravioli siciliana I ordered on Norton street but to a short, dark-haired miniature of the type of Italian men in women's fantasies and TV advertisements for classic roasted coffee beans. I don't remember his name anymore, can't remember if he even told me. Marco, I think it was. Go figure.

I've always fought a hard battle with shame, regret and kissing strangers. There was the revolutionary moment in my life when kissing strangers seemed like the best thing in the world, quickly followed - like all revolutions - by a period of sober re-assessment and the absence of all former enthusiasm. It was that time in my life when I'd just turned 18 and I was invincible in ways only explainable by having one hand punching the air and the other holding a glass pink with grenadine and smelling of vodka.

When you're drunk, young and untouchable, shame isn't something you think about. When you're sober, the impulsive decisions you made the night before that seemed daring and courageous, are in the light of day blindingly stupid, embarrassing, they smell not of vodka but of shame (though sometimes those are one in the same, sometimes the vodka is the lesser of two evils).

Everybody's limits are different, everybody's shame takes a different form. Unlike fear, so famous and well-known, shame slips in somewhere between falling asleep and the on-set of morning breath. But it's a necessary rite of passage, like walking with your heels in your hands at 5am in the middle of Sydney centre - shame teaches you the boundaries of your own supposed invincibility. It sets the limits and draws lines around dark corners that need no further exploration. 

There's no shame in kissing strangers, there's no shame in kissing an Italian man whose name is Marco at some bar on a Saturday night; the shame is of doing things you don't want to, that you never wanted to, of letting somebody else make decisions of which you're not comfortable with nor took time to consider. Shame isn't making the decision to have as many free champagnes as possible before the bar-tab ran out, but it is what happens after. Shame was having my youngest sister see me carried up the stairs at some unholy hour of the morning, barely conscious, with my short dress riding up and my head lolling around like some pathetic discarded rag-doll. There was shame in her eyes and there would have been shame in mine, had I been conscious enough to open them. 

These things catch up with you, they shape you, and you move on from the shame. For me, the shame I felt for doing the things I did was wrapped up in issues of validation and some misguided idea of who I wanted to be or more realistically, how I wanted to feel. The crazy thing is sometimes you have to overstep the line to be taught which side of it you should stand on. You don't learn instantaneously, but you get there - to the other side of the line with all the self-validation and wisdom behind you.

And then you find yourself on the dance floor, years after your first forays into clubbing and kissing strangers, politely indulging the conversation of some Italian man, smiling as you reject his advances and realising how smug you are in the knowledge you've decided something, rather than letting the night sweep you away into places you realise you don't want to be too late. You can still feel invincible, without the vodka in hand. You realise certain things as you move from the awkward teens to the early twenties, or as you mature. The insecurities that rested so squarely on chance encounters and run-ins with strangers, blurry stares across bars and glimpses in-between fluorescent lights on the dance floor, they've officially left the building.

Because it was never about what happened that night or the other, it was about whether you could step up and make a call about what was happening, instead of having something just 'happen' to you. Shame is doing things you didn't want to, because you thought it was cool or because this that or the other. You pick up those lessons somewhere along that strange, windy alley-way of growing up, learning and overcoming binge-drinking. Ain't no shame in that. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Labours of love and fear: What I'm Doing Now

To put it eloquently, lately shit has been getting real.

The last couple of weeks have been full on and I have been inundated with new challenges, ideas, people, events, responsibilities and opportunities. If life had given me lemons, I would have been too preoccupied micro-managing myself to have come up with a funny, new end to that line.

Busy is my middle name. My week-to-week life consists of interning, work, networking (a new, different kind of work) and working on my baby project Will Travel For Life. These could all be separate, neatly organised blog posts about each colour-coded post-it noted segment of my activities... but seeing as life is more organised chaos than structured story-line, so too will be this post.

Interning at a not-for-profit youth organisation run on volunteer interns has its perks. You run the show, are the voice, the backbone, the guts of the place you work. You aren't sitting in on meetings taking notes on the corner, you're organising them and attending them as the main contact and putting in your two cents, and then some. You're pushed, pulled and dragged upward into spreadsheets, cc'd emails,  sponsorships, partnerships and press releases to write - things that make you feel important and confused (do all adults feel this way?).

Then there is the little-written about project I've been working on the last couple of months, Will Travel For Life, the child of my confusion and travel experiences. It has grown into an online documentary series of which I am now, suddenly, awkwardly thrust into - more unknown territory. I have never made an online documentary series, I have only a basic grasp of iMovie, I've never been a producer, an interviewer, or had any knowledge of what those both entail. Yet, here I am.

Both of these areas of my life right now are both intolerably frustrating and endlessly gratifying in equal measure. Maddening children I want to strangle and embrace at once. I am doing these both voluntarily (though not without the occasional whinge) yet free at anytime to renounce them, clear my bank account and go on a year-long, life-escaping "Find-Yourself" sabbatical again.

But I don't, because I'm bound to what I'm doing. Like the best relationships you'll ever have, they push you to be better than you are, pull the rug out from under you and take you so far out of your comfort zones it'll make you question what you were doing all your life prior to this point. I wouldn't choose to be anywhere else, doing anything else - as much as I might be tempted to flee and despite how much easier my life would be otherwise.

Life isn't about easy (although sometimes it is about sipping mojitos, re: spain 2011). It's feeding off that whole 'Constant Terror of Being Alive' business; the fear is there but so is the excitement, there's the failures and the challenges, the successes and the glorious moments of satisfaction. In between flailing over projects I am little qualified, yet overly passionate about, I eat a lot of brownies and drink a lot of tea, which helps immensely. And I take time to be a little self-congratulatory. The small victories need to be celebrated. 

I am embracing that nerve-racking, heart-racing, sweat-inducing fear that near paralyses me everyday. Feeding off it, giving into it and getting past it. Fear and I, we're old friends. Fear is one of those friends that keeps you in check. My general rule of thumb is that if I'm scared, I'm doing something right. 

At interning I'm scared of doing things wrong, of forgetting important details, of not doing enough. For Will Travel For Life I'm scared I won't finish it, even before it's really started; I'm scared people won't get it, I'm scared I won't like the final product, I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared. 

I'm scared of posting this, and having somebody comment. I'm scared of posting this, and having nobody comment. I'm scared endlessly by the possibility of failure. I'm scared when I am not busy and the ugly beast of self-doubt creeps in. I'm scared when I'm not busy, that I should be doing more. I'm scared of the scariness of responsibility, decision and adulthood.

Going by my rule of thumb on fear, all this being scared must mean I'm doing a whole lot right with my life, or I have some sort of pathological addiction to anxiety and fear. Let's go with the former!

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Constant Terror of Being Alive

Life doesn’t stop, it’s the fast speed train that knocks you over, the endless carriages that whiz by as you try and count them down – waiting for it all to pass. And you hope desperately that it will all go faster, so you can board the final carriage and sit blissfully at the end, able to just enjoy the ride. At least, I've been waiting on that platform for a while, checking the time and waiting for all the heavy work carriages to pass me by so that I can sit in comfortable first-class seats.

The problem with this is, life is relentless. It doesn't stop until it's over. There are always tests, tax to do, bills to pay, emails to be written, calls to make, deadlines to meet, things you don’t want to do, days you want to retire from the everyday and take a vacation to an only slightly-deserted island where the other inhabitants exist solely to bring you mojitos and play soothing Jack Johnson tunes.

When I was in highschool the world was more or less the same for six years, we were all craving change so desperately we created it within the melo-dramas of our lives. For the most part, highschool was the collective moan of wanting to be somewhere else. It was always counting down the days of term, wanting it to finally be the school holidays. It was kicking down the door to Growing Up, getting our licenses, being able to drink, being able to Make Our Own (often embarrassing-now, great idea at the time) decisions. We, or at least I, was more often that not playing the waiting game. Waiting for my graduation ceremony, so that my Life could begin.

And highschool ended, and the life I was so looking forward to began. It didn’t disappoint but what followed me was the anxiety of more and greater responsibility and expectation. I was often terrorized by the ambiguity of my own direction in life, while I met friends during university breaks and wasn’t suffocated by the routine of highschool – the familiar faces of self-doubt and fear still found me, dressed up in new party clothes.

So I went to Spain, and finally – finally – I would have my peace. A rest from the #firstworldproblems of having to choose a career path as my degree drew to a close and my peers became increasingly more serious, successful and damaging to by self-esteem. For a year I would escape the terrors of everyday life and live only for adventure, fiestas and mid-afternoon naps. The summer months would be dedicated wholly to the expansion of my horizons (whatever that meant at the time).

Lo and behold, life doesn’t respect the artistically painted Van Gogh idea you have in your head. That time in my life would excite me and show me dizzingly the endless wonders of this world but it wouldn’t let me cut ties with reality. It was about as close to the sky I could get without leaving the ground.

It’s like Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Life is this dichotomy between floating away and sinking down. You can’t have one without the other. And even amongst all the brimming glory of travel, anonymity and wonder, I was still frequently paralysed by fear, terrorised by the anxiety of making decisions, doing things I didn’t want to do and the expectations and responsibility placed upon me (or that I placed so masochist-like around on myself).

It is this Constant Terror of Being Alive - that we are at once given the hard-won task of being in control of our own lives. As soon as you race to end of some marathon-week, the next one appears unexpectedly at your door step demanding more. You work so hard to close a door and the window flings open – I’m aware that’s not how the axiom goes but sometimes you just want to be in a room by yourself where you can shut everything out just for a minute to let yourself breathe. But as I said, life is relentless.

So in lieu of giving up, just give in to the fact that life is ball-breaking. Lean into the current rather than against the tide and make sure you are well aware of the fact that life will likely terrorise you well into the future. It’s just like taking a tequila shot, you never expect it to taste good – you just take it and know that at first it will make you want to gag, and then it will make you stronger, and then you will dance on tables without respect for social norms believing in your own invincibility (vodka also does the trick).

It’s this coping mechanism that’s got me through the disasters that life throws mercilessly upon us (and no, I’m not still talking about tequila…because that would be my other blog ‘Grace What Are You Drinking’). Somewhere between highschool and now I got to remembering that every single time I would swear to myself there was no conceivable end to the situation I was in, it would end, and it would turn out OK.

You can’t live life with your fingers crossed, hoping that one day all the annoying, terrifying or gut-wrenching realities of life will pick up and change residence. There is always something, there will always be something. So be all Ghandi like and give it up. You have two options:

  1. Accept the things you can’t change.
  2. Change the things you can’t accept.

It will get you everywhere, give it up – take that nasty, surprisingly sobering, tequila shot, swallow that sour-tasting fact that life is relentless – you’ll be better for it. Promise. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Talkin' bout my generation

"Our generation has had no great war, 
no great depression. 
Our war is spiritual, 
our depression is our lives."

It's not a pretty picture, is it? The not-so-heart-warming quote from Fight Club writer Chuck Palahniuk has some merit. There's a lot to be said about our generation; I've heard jokes-a-plenty cracked by sly 40-something journalists and my parents, aunties, relatives. We are the Me generation the no-time generation the ipod-MTV-have-it-all generation. According to Seal on The Voice our cumulative suffering, pain and weight as a generation is pressing down on the shoulders of Karise Eden (really, Seal?).

With all these catchy labels being bandied around shouldn't we have a say in how we're portrayed? We aren't incapable of speaking for ourselves, despite Seal's nationally televised assertions to the contrary. We are vocal opponents to the rising popularity of jeggings, strong supporters of free downloadable music (thankyou, Spotify) and have gone through some serious cognitive dissonance in regards to the role of Hipsters in society (the love/hate relationship is never-ending). We 'like' things constantly, 'share' our thoughts, 'update' our statuses and 'tweet' to our hearts content without really knowing where those 140 characters are meant to end up or what having a twitter account is actually meant to achieve besides adding hashtags to words. We aren't a shy bunch.

We share more of our lives with more people than any other generation in the history of the world. There's a scary thought. Then why all the fuss? What's this about our generation they were saying again? Maybe it got lost somewhere between instagraming what we ate for breakfast and checking in at Kmart with @AngeGreen 'Late night shopping with my bff!' I, too, am party to the instagram community - who doesn't love the ability to instantly make everything you do look like a vintage 70s slideshow? The point is between all of that social-"networking" we don't even get a chance question if there's something else going on we should be paying attention to.

We Follow people on twitter and Like pages on Facebook, we're so connected we can't miss a train without everybody knowing how long the next one will be. There is something to be said about the deteriorating quality of information we send out and the exponential growth of, for lack of a better word crap that we upload, share and send out into the universe every minute of the day.

It's not that I'm suggesting we all become luddites and adopt the Amish way of life but with that amount of useless clicking eating up our late nights, what are we losing out on? The internet was hailed as a revolution for globalising the world, reducing the disconnect and enabling wisdom to be shared the world-over. Somehow we've just developed ridiculous obsessions with cat videos and bizarre fan-cult-personalities (I sometimes have night-mares about the Britney fan guy and that crazy Twilight chic).

There's no shortage of issues going on in the world, there are constant famines and economic crisises, the never-ending political footballing over asylum-seekers, our very own Great Barrier Reef is under threat from the lucrative mining industry and small islands are sinking lower every year as climate sceptics refuse to believe the we've screwed up Mother Nature's Feng shui.

All this, while you were tweeting.

It's not to say I'm not surrounded by and have the honour of knowing young people bucking the trend, becoming social entrepreneurs, taking up a cause, being interested in social justice or abstaining from joining the half a billion people who have Facebook accounts - I've met my fair share; but these are the exception, not the norm.

There was the awkward situation with Tony, I mean Kony (was that his name?), our passing interest in shows like Go Back To Where You Came From and the current ABC series Dumb, Drunk and Racist. We'll occasionally watch Q&A, The Gruen Transfer or even read all the way to the end of an online article on The Conversation or The Punch (when we're not reading Thought Catalog).

But how does this measure up to what all the other generations have done before us, and what they're saying now? All those baby boomers looking down at us from the comfort of middle-age, just happy to be out of the lime-light and behind the panel of judges. What name are we giving ourselves, or are we happy to let others hashtag us #generationwhydontyoudosomething?

I'm no coach for Karise Eden, so I'm not speaking for a generation here - just as one tiny little blogger in the sea of internet personas. All I'm saying is that Chuck had it right with his quote.. great wars and great depressions breed even greater heroes, even greater triumphs; logically following do daily ego-wars and first-world-depression breed a generation that can't see past our own mac-book-pro-reflections?


Read more 'Why Gen Y will be running the world by 2020'  here on these low on words high on graphics article about Generation Y or as they like to call us 'the Millenials.'

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Love and other drugs.. my reality TV version.

Since the age of fourteen, when my best friend got her first boyfriend, people have been giving me unsolicited advice on relationships. I was accosted with the 'privilege' of being the lone single girl who was yet to validate her existence. They hypothesised about how one day, when I was worthy enough and pimple-free, I would 'understand'; one day I would overcome that last bastion to social status and attain a boyfriend.

Almost eight years later, somewhere in the south of Spain this 'one day' came, and I 'understood'. All sarcasm aside, I finally understood what everybody was crying over, stuffing their faces with ice-cream for and breaking down randomly at Adele songs on the radio. More than that, I got my very own personal tour of the irrationality of being in a Relationship. There is no logic, no formula, no grounded sense of reason. It hit me then why nobody listened to me when I told them He's No Good For You, You'll Be Fine, Let It Go, among other variations.

I learned a lot from being knee-deep in a relationship, instead of watching from the outside. It was every bit as dramatic as one could have dreamt it to be. I was swallowed whole by the novelty of being overseas, going on dates in Spanish with a European whose name was straight out of an Almodovar movie. The lesson wasn't that a Colombian Telenovela can actually happen to you in real-life, when you're in Spain and find a guy whose name rhymes with Taco (although that was certainly a hilarious enlightenment on the possibilities of life).

It was that crossing the relationship line is like having an iPad. When you don't have one you look at people with iPads and think they are idiots, you don't understand the attachment, the adoration, the cooing and the ahhing, the obsession with having to be connected. And then you find yourself at the Apple store hyped up on impulse-buying-adrenalin with an iPad2, purchasing all the unnecessary accessories for it and advocating like a Jehovah's witness for all the benefits it will bring into your life.

You're just another addict to the relationship drug. And it is an addiction of sorts. Want to know why? Well, what I learned is that the most attractive thing about another person is how much they like you. It sounds egotistical but is it not the truth? Having somebody tell you and truly believe you are every bit as awesome as you have known all along you were, is one of the most gratifying experiences somebody can ever have. It's affirmation embodied in another person. Who's going to give that up? 

I asked a friend recently, "Who's your ideal guy?" to which she replied, "Somebody who loves me and tells me I'm guapa everyday" (guapa is spanish for beautiful). There's nothing in that answer about if he's a witty, financially stable lawyer of a suitable height and conventional good looks. It's not even about if he reads books or votes Labor. It's about how much he loves you, after all. 

That's it? I hear you ask. Really? That's all? After holding out for 21 years that's all you've come up with? That relationships are all about somebody holding up a mirror to reflect your own ego? Well, yes. and no. It's also about companionship, about having somebody to plan adventures with, try new restaurants with, drag along to things you don't want to do by yourself. You could get a dog, but boyfriends and girlfriends seem to be the more socially acceptable option to bring along to a movie.

Don't get me wrong, obviously it's also about who so-and-so is 'as a person', but it's mostly about things you don't account for. Do they make you cups of tea without you asking? Do they listen when you're talking? Are they interested in what you're trying to say? I'm opening myself up to all kinds of backlash by the masses of people with years of dysfunctional relationship experience waiting to tell me I'm wrong. Which I might be, but this is what I've learned so far. It's not what I thought I would 'understand' when that 'one day' came. But it's come and gone and I'm still standing, living to tell the tale. 

The tale of how what I learned about being in a relationship is that it's possible that somebody else other than yourself believes you are as awesome as you think you are (just as I suspected!). Now that I have my validation, what's next?

Monday, June 18, 2012

What I'm Actually Doing

I write a lot on here about general issues that go on in this bizarre experiment of The Universe we call 'life'; I usually avoid specifics of what's actually going on with me despite the fact this is called Grace What Are You Doing. To rectify the possible misconception that my mind is constantly filled with deep reflections on the circumstances plaguing our generation, here's the low down on What I've Actually Been Doing.

I'm big on To Do Lists and before I even came back from Spain I had drafted a get-my-ass-into-gear-list that looked something like this:
- Get a job
- Get an internship
- Get involved in everything I could
- Be awesome at uni, (no more of this "Ps get Degrees" business)
- Keep practising Spanish
- Pay back the money I owed my parents
- Save money to go to South America

Second to soy chai lattes and free food samples there's nothing more satisfying than crossing off to-do-list items. I'm currently at a part-time job where I can listen to all the triple J and Spotify I want, wear pyjamas to work and enjoy the company of a furry four-legged colleague (the home-office dog, Louie). And did I mention it pays well enough that I can pay for a full tank of gas, eat out frequently and still have money to pay my parents? I am restraining myself from hashtagging "winning" here.

After 'Job' was ticked off came the internship. Last week was my first big day at the non-for-profit youth run organisation that is actually everything I never got but always wanted from my last 2 internships. It's a lot of responsibility, deep-end this-is-real responsibility - no coffee-runs or grunt work here (though, there is the occasional spreadsheet). It's a strange sensation to have so much motivation and drive to work for something you're not even getting paid for. Is that what it's like when you love your job? If so, why do people choose otherwise? Though now all I need to do is find a way to get paid for it..

The rest of the check list items are getting ticked off slowly. I've thrown myself into programs and projects that have me waking up at 2am to write down an idea I just thought of or turn on my laptop for the 5th time at the crack of dawn to send an email. All that idleness from the year-long European holiday has been replaced by a rapacious hunger for productivity. Who Am I??? Like they say - I can't go back to yesterday, I was a different person then.

Admittedly I haven't been practising my Spanish as much as I would like to be. Luckily foxtel allows me to series record Spanish News, there's also my new found love for Calle 13 a South American duo with real lyrical talent. Not to forget the Sydney Spanish Film Festival with hilarious movies like 'Chinese Take Away' or 'Un Cuento Chino'. For some real-life speaking there's the weekly intercambios with spanish speakers over drinks in the city. All that's missing is my attendance. It's a work in progress..

And then there's money, which I'm lucky and grateful isn't a big issue for me. The Bank of Mum & Dad have kindly allowed me to pay them back without interest in my own time. I have promptly informed them that the loan will not be paid back any time soon, but by the time it will I will probably need a new loan to fund my South America Adventure. Fingers crossed that doesn't happen but Money Management & Grace aren't fully acquainted yet so I'm playing it by ear.

So really that is What I'm Doing. Trying to keep my head above water with a lot of red wine, baked goods and great company. It's not a bad life and I do love the problems I have, if you can call them that. This is What I'm Doing - juggling a to-do-list with small rituals that involve lots of food, hot drinks and I'm going to write it again... red, red, wine.

Makes me wonder what other peoples To-Do Lists look like?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Unattractive Necessity of Growing Up

Growing up is supposed to be about a lot of things. Pushing past the initial gag-reaction to espresso style coffee and fostering an addiction to it. Realising you'd prefer to stay indoors with a pre-recorded tv show or downloaded movie than go out til 3am "just cause". Getting a job where you're not allowed to wear clothes with rips, studs or holes in them (unless you're a creative, in which case get your hipster on). It's said to be about letting go of a lot of routines that involve hangovers, bad choices and misadventures.

Yet behind the transition from binge-drinking to wine-snobbery there's the bigger indicators that distinguish actually growing up from just learning to look the part. Coffee and a blazer don't make a legitimate adult. If that were true, every girl in my Public Relations cohort would have a certificate of maturity - with honours (and that just isn't true).

When you separate the image from reality it's obvious that it's not glamorous, it's not even tumblr worthy. Growing up is about responsibility and decisions. You can't put that on instagram - who would like it?

It's not about responsibility for your taxes, your own laundry or even feeding yourself (although that's part of it); it's more about understanding that our youth isn't a disclaimer of non-accountability. It's about waking up and taking into account people and situations from a perspective outside of ourselves.

God knows I've still got a hell of a lot of growing up to do but this post is coming from a place of learning curves. What happens when you grow up is that you realise you're not the only person that matters, you realise what a tiny space you occupy in the world and that makes you first scared and then in awe. After that passes, the understanding comes and you can't go back to tantrums, selfishness or that ever-attractive youthful ignorance.

You have to choose whether you're going to be the "bigger person," take the "high road". You have to decide what's good for you, who is good for you and equally what you're good for and who you're good for. That responsibility is no mean feat. It often means not ending up with what you want. Mostly it means breaking things up, letting things go and moving on. Where's the fun in that?

And growing up isn't confined to the ages of 16 - 25, some people are forced to grow up young and others won't be pushed to do so until late in life. Whatever the age, it's separating the kids from the big boys. The kids are fun, funny, fun-loving but you wouldn't necessarily trust them to be there when you're in between a rock and a hard place. It's the big boys that make the tough calls, hard-fought decisions of conscience and reason that make the difference in the end.

So here's my revelation for the week. Growing up isn't fun, it's not meant to be.. but it sure as hell beats making the same mistakes and not getting anywhere. It's no motivating promo ad for sportswear but Growing Up is about being in the right with your decisions, even though being wrong would have been easier and more fun.

Here's to being alright with making it right. 'Cause that's how grown ups do.