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.