10 things I’m excited for in 2015

year.png

A new year, and a new opportunity to reflect and to set some goals for the coming 12 months. 

This year, I've done my typical end of year stocktake slightly differently (see previous posts here and here) and I thought it was worth highlighting some great things ahead this year for me personally, to kick off on a positive note.

 

Working with Be Collective

I’m super excited about the discussions happening around the for-benefit sector in Australia involving both for-profits and non-profits, and I’m especially happy to see an attitude of collaboration and resource sharing really gaining momentum. I’m also thrilled to be spending time with the wonderful people at Be Collective, and putting some energy into building their digital community, and seeing what can be done when a digital infrastructure is built to help foster the kind of collaboration we really need to see significant social change happen.

 

Taking more photos

I’ve always been a keen photo-taker, but it’s only recently that I’m learning how easy it is to take a better than average happy snap. I’m hoping to fit in some more formal training in photography so I can formally graduate from average to some kind of technique, but in the meantime, I’m really looking forward to recording more amazing moments in my life - especially because it seems there will be lots of good ones to capture in 2015.

 

Farm Life

Among my favourite photo subjects is our new farm. Our farm dream has been in slow progress for over 3 years, but as of this weekend our house will be (almost) finished and we’ll officially be living on our farm. So all that remains is for us to actually build the farm itself. I must admit I’m well and truly ready for this change of scenery and I’m so excited for this next stage of our adventure as fledgling farmers. Get ready for some chooks, maybe some tasty four legged friends, and a pretty spectacular kitchen garden. Brace yourself for some interesting experiments in preserving and fermenting all sorts of food.

 

Seeing more of the world

As an incurable wanderluster, I have a long list of places I’d like to see in 2015. At the top of the list is a European summer - another visit to France, a few weeks in Italy, and a quick stop over in the Greek Islands. Bliss. I’m also hoping to sneak in something toward the end of the year. Maybe Vietnam or Morocco to get my food tourist on, or perhaps an island getaway to Ubud or Hawaii. At any rate, I’m hoping there will be plenty of time to keep exploring country Victoria, because we’ve got it pretty damn good in our own backyard, really.

 

Changing where my food comes from

I know it isn’t an excuse, but living in the city I find I’m far too inclined to shop for convenience, and I really hope the shift out of city schedules means I can break some of my bad city habits. No more getting food from the big two. More picking from the garden, more buying direct from my favourite producers via farm gates and farmers markets. More eating seasonally and locally, and putting my money where my mouth is where food ethics are concerned.

 

Spending more time with my husband

One of the best parts of my 2014 was being able to spend over a month travelling with Marcus, which affirmed for me that we could really do anything together. One of the great things about the move to the farm is the likelihood that we might be able to see a bit more of each other. I’m also really glad that he will have more scope to spend time on things he really loves, and beyond excited to really get into a pretty huge shared project in developing the farm with him. He’s pretty great.

 

Spending more time with myself

The older I get, the more I realise I need lots of time on my own. Many of my favourite things are best done alone - reading, writing, thinking, watching films, yoga, wandering around taking photos, perusing the internets, spending time in nature. I’ve amassed a long list of books to read, and I have every intention of knocking quite a few off it this year. 

 

Meeting out-of-towners

I’ve had so many conversations lately about how many people are doing great things in the country, and I’m so excited to meet some of them now that we’re country folk too. I was so delighted to discover Outer-towners - profiles of country creatives with beautiful photos of their place of work or home. It really inspires me to make the most of this extra space (literally and figuratively) and put some energy into my own creative endeavours. Its such an interesting project - I wish I’d done it first!

 

Let’s Go Somewhere

Speaking of interesting projects, two that I’m particularly excited about in 2015 happen to be driven by two very clever people that I know, and I can wait to see how they unfold. The first is Let’s Go Somewhere - a beautiful travel site complete with absolutely stunning photos of beautiful Australian locations, perfectly complemented by simple typography and design. It’s the brain child of my friend Andy Braithwaite (a supremely talented fella) and his partner. Gorgeous stuff.

 

CONTNT

My other project to watch for 2015 is being spearheaded by one of the most dynamic people I know - my personal cheerleader, Rachel Service. This woman is worth her weight in gold, and with CONTNT she’s putting her brilliant business mind, incredible knack for strategic entrepreneurial thinking and relentless pursuit of personal development to its intended us. The site promises to be one that you’ll want to constantly bookmark, and word is there will also be a series of events you’ll want to get in early for too.

 

What are you looking forward to in 2015? What can you add to my list here?

Summertime

Driving across burnt landscapes with the cricket playing a timeless summer soundtrack.
Long languid days that end with games of twilight tennis.
Beautiful sunrises on cool mornings shared with new and old friends.
Spectacular sunsets that remind us what a blessing it is to see the horizon.
Lots of babies up to lots of mischief and not much sleeping...
Spoiling winter skin with sunshine and gentle dips in the cool water.
Time to nourish ourselves with lots of beautiful food and reflection.
A new year that brings hope, opportunities and promises made to ourselves.

These shots were taken at Mitchelton Wines, Moama in Victoria, and the Farmhouse Dederang (plus a sneaky one at Bridge Road Brewers in Beechworth).

IMG_4755.JPG
IMG_4750.JPG
IMG_4790.JPG
IMG_4851.JPG

10 people who made my life better in 2014

Rachel Service

Rachel is one of the dynamic people I've ever met. Not only is she an amazing operator and great business mind - strategic, entrepreneurial, well connected, and proactive - she's been my personal cheerleader this year, which I'm SO grateful for. Rachel is more committed to personal and professional development than anyone I've ever met, and she has taught me so much about myself, exploring my own potential and working to remove the limitations I place on myself. She is so incredibly herself that spending time with her is always inspiring and enlightening, and every time we catch up I learn something new about myself or the world. And just quietly, I reckon she's destined for big things in 2015 and beyond. Watch this space.

David Seignior

I first met Dave when he was the facilitator of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program I took part in, way back in 2011, and he became a colleague when I joined their team in 2013. Dave is one of those wonderful people who thinks a great deal about what's important and cares a great deal about good people doing good things, and these traits makes him undoubtably the best coworker I've ever had. The valuable lesson I learned from Dave during the time I spent with him in 2014 is the importance of playfulness in a life that is always pressurised, often serious, sometimes tragic. Dave lives and breathes this in his work and creative pursuits, and he's a wonderful human for it.

Tammi Jonas

I'm so glad to have been introduced to Tammi by my friend Kate so many years ago. Though we've been digital friends for a while now, it was only this year that we met in person. Tammi is a passionate and articulate advocate for food ethics and regenerative agriculture. Her and her husband farm ethical pork at Jonai Farms in Egantown, near Daylesford, and will soon be our down-the-road neighbours when we officially shift to Curracloe Farm. I've heard her speak on food and what can be done by growers and consumers to create a more fair food system, and she blew my tiny mind. This is a woman who absolutely knows her stuff, is also a walking manifestation of her beliefs, and is using her knowledge to bring others along with her. Plus, her pork is damn delicious.

Lani Holmberg

Lani was one of those people who seemed to be perpetually popping up on my radar for 2 or so years before we finally connected in person, and it was probably the best first friend date I've ever had. Lani is a phenomenal photographer and story teller. Her body of work kind of speaks for itself, but I was especially entranced by her documentary film/photography project And Holland Has Tulips that was released into the world this year. We spoke (very excitedly) about all things story telling, ethics, creating, and I hope we'll keep talking about it for a long time to come. And fingers crossed we'll get a chance to flex our story telling muscles on a shared project one day soon...

Brian Bailey

Brian is an elusive creature on the other side of the world I know from the internet, and his creation Uncommon has been one of my ongoing digital pleasures over the past few years. Grounded in Slow Web principles (which is quickly becoming a movement), the platform is a rare opportunity for genuine connection with others all over the globe. My most regular contact point is with Uncommon's beautifully considered, thoughtful and intimate newsletters, and Brian's knack for perspective and gentle collective introspection, delicate curation and inherent patience has been an absolute delight, and it has been a timely reminder of my need to slow down in many areas of my life.

Ben Grosz & Laura Camelliri

It was an absolutely pleasure to have Ben and Laura in my life this year. I was introduced to this dynamic duo by Rachel Service who told me "they just get it" and she was absolutely right. With a really interesting mix of creative disciplines under their belts (dance, graphic design, fashion and costume, illustration, fine art) these two totally embody "multidisciplinary" and really know "collaboration". These two totally get my obsession with creative process, and my belief that the process is the outcome. They're working on a bunch of awesome stuff and I have no doubt whatsoever we'll see more awesome stuff from them in the new year. Can't wait to see what it looks like.

Alberto the Taxi Driver

Alberto was exactly the kind of person you want to meet when you arrive in Havana without any money, cards, or way to get around. After I accidentally left our wallet on a plane to Cuba, we had almost resigned ourselves to sleeping in the airport until we could figure out a way to access some cash. Alberto was good enough to take us to our home-stay, saying "we look after each other in Cuba". He and his unbelievable 54 Cadillac (with retrofitted air conditioning) also drove us to and from the Embassy so we could rectify our money situation, and took us back to the airport on our way home - all on trust. Alberto (and our Cuba trip in general) restored my faith in humanity.

Hayley Carroll

Mademoiselle Carroll is my former dance floor partner in crime and an all round wonderful woman. When she lived in Melbourne in my early twenties we were inseparable, and somehow we've managed to continue a version of that now that she's back in her native Toronto. In our first visit there this year she absolutely turned it on - showing off her city and giving us the royal treatment. I can't even describe what a magical thing it is to final be able to spend time with your best friend after a long separation, and how wonderful a thing it is to have such a great friendship persist despite significant geographical barriers. So very grateful to have her in my life, even if mostly via Skype.

Marcus Goonan

This year we've travelled together, embarked on our biggest official shared project and set (very ambitious, but very very exciting) new goals. I remember when I first met Marcus it struck me how proud he was of his family and his background, and how absolutely unapologetically comfortable he seemed in his own skin, and after more than 7 years these are traits I still find incredibly compelling in him every day. His work ethic, self belief, practicality and compassion are things I'm so grateful to have in my corner. Can't wait to see what 2015 has in store for us.

10 people 2014 (and the future) should be thankful for

If you're like me and hoping to one day see a world that values honesty, integrity and equality, 2014 has been an interesting rollercoaster ride.

It hasn't been all sunshine and roses, but I think it is important to remind ourselves of all the good stuff that's going on in the world as we tiptoe into the new year. And so, I've compiled a list of people I think have made incredible contributions to the global community here.

Interestingly, none of those I've listed here hail from Australia - that's not to say there isn't awesome work being done locally, but it seems that those who are leading in Australia are doing just that - leading, in Australia, and that is no small feat given the current political dynamic. Anyone who can persist in applying their passion for change to the local environment despite what our leaders are doing deserves a medal in my opinion. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this list, I'm looking at people who have set the bar high and contributed to change on an international level. So in no particular order, the people we should (and will) be grateful for are:

Naomi Klein

Canadian activist / author Klein has long been celebrated for her best selling critiques of globalisation, neoliberal economics, and the vastly insufficient global response to the climate change crisis. She even placed the blame squarely on Barack Obama at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. This Changes Everything, her novel published in 2014, argues that the climate crisis presents an opportunity for us to examine the pressure our economic system is placing on the natural environment we rely on, and use this as a chance to build a better world - exploring in detail the links that we know exist between capitalism and climate change. A documentary film based on the book is scheduled for a 2015 release.

Thomas Piketty

French economist Piketty had spent 13 years researching his book Capital in the Twenty First Century (a nifty play on Marx' Das Kapital) prior to its english publication earlier in the year. The 800 page novel's central thesis is that wealth inequality and concentration are not an unintended consequence of capitalism, but a feature of it, and that this becomes a risk for a functioning democracy. It shows that when the rate of return on capital is greater than the rate of growth, inequality is inevitable. The book became an unexpected best seller, a prompted unprecedented discussion of a global wealth tax, greater investment in education, or other measures to curb wealth concentration, and ensure the spoils of economic advancement are shared. For a book that has been claimed to have been the most unread book of the year, it sure has prompted debate, and Piketty and his adorably thick french accent have been part of these debates all around the world. (Read this handy 4 paragraph summary by The Economist for the shortcut.)

Jose Mujica

Uruguay's outgoing President has been in the top job since 2010, and since that time has created amazing change in his tiny South American country. A former member of the leftist revolutionary group Tupamaro that formed following the Cuban Revolution, Mujica (who is commonly referred to by the diminutive Pepe) spent over a decade subjected to torture as a political prisoner. He's a vocal critic of senseless consumption and needless growth. Since he was elected to power, his government has overseen incredible reform including legalisation of abortion, a huge upswing in renewable energy and in power export, and amazing results in bringing Uruguayans out of poverty. He's also legalised cannabis, breaking the destroying cycle of illegal drug trafficking so common to South America. Even with this incredible record, the way he lives his life is even more remarkable - simply, frugally, and with a three-legged dog, saying he should live like the majority of people he serves. His unusual living conditions have led to him being called the world's most radical President and the world's poorest President - he donates most of his salary to charity and drives a beaten up Volkswagon beetle. In a recent profile he said, "Living light is no sacrifice for me - its an affirmation of freedom, of having the greatest amount of time available for what motivates me. It's the price of my individual freedom. I'm richer this way." 

Russell Brand

Following on from his interview with Jeremy Paxton in October 2013, British comic/actor Russell Brand has refashioned himself as the voice of a disillusioned, dissatisfied and disengaged public who want to see real economic and political alternatives, and real change. This year he published his fourth book, which is like a handbook for revolution, aptly titled Revolution. He's copped his fair share of flack, been called a hypocrite and has more than a few dissenters, and he certainly doesn't claim to have all the answers, but few can deny that those he speaks for are joining together, and that the revolution he speaks of is gaining momentum. His YouTube channel and his regular "The Trews" (The news if the news were true) updates are edging close to 1 million subscribers. I certainly don't agree with everything he says, but to me he's like a strange cross between a court jester who gets away with sharp critique because it is said with a sense of humour, and a canary in a mine who acts as the warning that could avert disaster. And you certainly can't fault his passion.

Malala Yousafzai

In 2012, when Pakistani teenager Malala was shot in the head by the Taliban for daring to insist on an education for herself and her fellow female classmates following the First Battle of Swat, I thought it would be yet another tragedy that we'd hardly hear about again. But this incredible woman has gone on to be the youngest ever Nobel Laureate after being awarded a shared Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. With ongoing support from her father (himself an education activist), she has blogged about her life in Taliban occupied Pakistan for the BBC, written a book, been listed as one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People, and been awarded Pakistan's first National Peace Prize, and set up a fund in her name - all before her 18th birthday. Having fully recovered from her earlier injuries, Malala is now a fully fledged political activist, speaking before the UN, meeting world leaders and campaigning for the rights of children globally, and leaving people everywhere speechless at her maturity and compassion. She gives a human face to what often feels like an abstract political crisis, reminding us that there is hope in the humanity we don't see.

Elizabeth Warren

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren is a force to be reckoned with. Once a Harvard Law Professor and a specialist in bankruptcy law, she led the team that oversaw the banks bailout in the 2008 Financial Crisis. She is a champion of consumer protection and has been relentless in her interrogation and critique of the US banking system, lack of regulation and need for reform. She is whip smart, and far more concerned with justice and integrity than her own reputation. Having only been elected to the Senate in 2012, she is already recognised as a leader among the Democratic Party, and despite her insistence that she has no desire to run, she has been hotly tipped as a contender for the Presidential election. I say it could make for a very interesting race, and could be the one thing that brings real reform to the US and international financial system.

Umair Haque

London business consultant, economist and writer Haque is one of my top tweeters of 2014. He's unflinching and scathing in his takedown of what he calls "The Bullshit Machine". He writes often and honestly (sometimes for Harvard Business Review) about how we're completely missing the point, with some of our generations brightest minds applying their intellect to incremental innovation (apps that help rich white people do rich white things), rather than the real creative and strategic problems of the world that have the potential for real change. He's an advocate for thinking outside the box and doing exactly what other people aren't, and for abandoning our obsession with ourselves in favour of serving others around the world. He talks about a future of business and humanity that actually helps us (the global community) live a life of true meaning. My kind of guy.

George Monbiot

English journalist Monbiot is like the squeaky wheel of the mainstream press. He's been doing his progressive investigative journalism thing for many years now, but in 2014 I feel like the rest of the press finally woke up to all the things he's been parroting on about for quite some time. He consistently produces clearly considered writing for The Guardian on everything from corporate regulation to Zoology (he trained as a zoologist), and manages to walk a fine line between urgency and hysteria. His latest book Feral advocates "rewilding the land, sea and human life" as a new way to live and bring wonder back to our lives. Amen.

Pope Francis

Those who know me know I'm not a big fan of organised religion (or indeed, any religion), but I'm a big fan of Pope Francis nonetheless. He's had a good year. With his message of compassion, the Pontiff has already gained a reputation for reform - of the church, of catholic attitudes, culture and lack of empathy, of the way we deal with global slavery and people trafficking, of politics and economics, and now of how we approach climate change. He has helped to facilitate the thawing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, and will now turned his influence to the UN Climate talks in Paris in 2015. So far he has succeeded in diplomatic challenges where money others have failed, so perhaps he is the wildcard non-politician this global problem needs.

Lena Dunham

The amazing Ms Dunham has been a breath of fresh air and a burst of sunshine in the past few years of my life. I'm so glad that someone like her - young, informed, female, and not the typical blonde-haired doe-eyed Hollywood-skinny type - has found a mainstream audience, if only for some diversity of perspective and experiences, but also certainly for the quality of her creative output. It is so refreshing to see the way she handles herself with such humour, honesty and humanity, and also the way she is unapologetically open in presenting the full spectrum of her own existence - mental health issues, body image issues, crazy family experiences and all. I read her book Not That Kind of Girl while travelling this year and felt by the end of it that I had just made a new best friend, it is so direct, unflinching and intimate, but also funny, engaging and comfortably conversational. Unsurprisingly, as a young woman in the public eye she has her detractors who brand her narcissistic, ugly and humourless, and for someone of her age to handle the critique and scrutiny with grace and such joyfulness, gratitude and good humour make her an absolute pleasure to watch. What an incredible and rare role model for young women and people everywhere. More please.

Monthly Musings - December 2014

Title image: A shot from my time in fascinating Havana, Cuba. Full post with reflections here.

 

HELLO!

Thank you to so many of you who got in touch after receiving my first ever newsletter. And an extra big thank you to those who attended the first ever Salon. Have a read here if you're interested to find out what eventuated in our discussion.

Ok so I know the very title of this email suggests that you should be receiving one monthly (duh) but between our epic trip and our farmhouse renovation, I've been a little slow getting this out. Regardless, I hope you all find something of interest amongst the 3 months worth of musings below. Let me know if you come across something that should be shared.

Feel free to forward this on to anyone you think might be keen to receive this on a (hopefully) monthly basis, or who would be a good addition to our Salon discussions. I've got a particularly juicy topic coming up in the new year...

Best wishes for a glorious festive season. xx


 

PRESENTS V PRESENCE

It is the festive season. And the last minute present shopping frenzy got me thinking about what it is all for, and what I need most out of a Christmas break. I'll give you a clue, it isn't more stuff. (Seasonal grinchy-ness not intended.) Read more > 

 

WORDS

Tullia Jack and Michael Leunig on being attractive versus being vulnerable. | Given how much of a fan I am of empathy, I found this perspective on it quite intriguing. | In the interests of simplicity, the thought of having of a uniform is really growing on me. | The push for a shorter working week isn't new, but it has been cropping up in unexpected quarters of late. | I'm a fan of anything that allows us to better understand our own humanity, and I love this perspective on parkour as a tool for just that. | This beautiful profile of Hannah Arendt reminds us of her formidable intellect. | The career choice nobody tells you about. | Read this piece about Tavi Gevinson on the occasion of her 18th birthday and feel both old, and youthfully optimistic about the future. | This gorgeous visual poem called "How to be alone" is perfectly complemented by this piece on the intimacy of solitude. | Andrew P Street's final 10 Things column on The Vine was a reminder of just why we should be hopeful despite the mess.

 

PICTURES

These gorgeous photos of Cuba had me very excited prior to our visit. | Matt Crump's gorgeous #candyminimal photos have been a source of endless fascination lately. | These photos of old Melbourne buildings and the modern ones that replaced them are intriguing and disappointing. | Not to be too morbid, but I've been thinking quite a bit about how we think about death, and I found these gorgeous portraits of people facing death peacefully very beautiful. | Photographer Nick Hedges photographed people in British tenements in the 60s and 70s, and the resulting photos seem simultaneously so familiar, and eerily ancient. | I finally saw the stunning Charlie's Countrywhich has been selected as Australia's entry for a foreign language Oscar. Beautiful and heartbreaking. Go see it. | My wonderful friend Rachel Service features in this new short film about women who ride fixed by Melbourne filmmaker Raechel Harding. Beautiful shots of ladies cruising the city. Perfectly articulates everything I love about riding.

 

CONVERSATIONS

My friends at Aphra Mag published their first print edition in October. Editor Lucy Macdonald's letter to Creativity sounds like a chat I've had before. | Melbourne philosopher Damon Young spoke to BBC6 about embracing exercise as a physical, mental and emotional pursuit. | I love how the Unfuckers are changing the conversation around behaviour change for sustainability. | I had some wonderful conversations with Laura and Ben from Grosz Co. Lab which prompted me to revisit this piece about the links between scent and memory. | I really enjoyed this discussion about the maker of Wonder Woman, which led me to this article about Wonder Woman as a feminist, and learning about Alberto Vargas.

 

NEW YEAR


I've been really enjoying reading the many "Year in Review" posts popping up in my feed. Here are a few favourites and a few ideas if you'd like to do one of your own. Hoping to spend some time thinking about mine over the break. Do you do an annual review? | Garance Dore on things she learned in 2014. | Seth Godin's list of things to read/listen to for the year. | Chris Guillbeau's personal review + his guide on how to do an annual review if you are so inclined. | Thoughts on decluttering from Uncluttered White Spaces and their advice to Slow Down to Go Faster.

"Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?" - Danielle LaPorte

Presents v Presence

The Festive Season is here again. 

And maybe its just me, but I've noticed that perhaps even more so than previous years, there seems to be a palpable sense of exhaustion at the crazy consumer merry-go-round that inevitably takes over what should be an otherwise reflective and peaceful time of year.

On the one hand, I feel like the whole circus is on steroids this year - from magazine spreads touting "the perfect festive table" to online publications listing "10 meaningful Christmas gifts under $10" and "the guilt free Christmas dinner" or "how to survive the festive season". 

But on the other hand, I've had so many conversations with people who are altogether sick of it. Not the Christmas part, but the rest of it. It’s a familiar conversation.

I love reconnecting with family and friends as much as the next person - and anyone who knows me knows I really love a delicious dinner shared with those I love. But surely, in our era of hyper connectedness, as consumers we now know too much to stay on the merry go round.

Too much to fool ourselves into thinking that things are what this holiday is about. 
Too much about where our cheap and cheerful stuffing stockers are made, and unable to take consumer products at face value without considering all the hidden externalities. 
Too much about the implications of unnecessary or unsustainable personal debt and the flow on effects that last long into the year.
Too much to ignore the persistent suffering and going without of others over the globe, and indeed in our own part of the world.
Too much to forget that there are people all over the globe fighting for the right to the kinds of religious rituals we're so lucky to enjoy, but are also too happy to see overtaken by shopping.  

Yet we do it.

So knowing all that, how can we approach this time of year consciously, with ethics and empathy? Can we suspend this knowledge and participate anyway, for fun? Does ethical consumption even exist at Christmas time?

For most of us living in times of such abundance (and they are, even despite all the dire financial reports we read in the press), this annual consumption frenzy is almost an rite of passage. The focus changes year on year - from childhood when excitement over the man in the red suit brings you close to bursting, to adolescence when it might be more about the parties or a new gadget in your stocking, through to adulthood when the focus shifts back to the children you or others have added to their family - but still something doesn’t feel quite right.

A dear friend who is driven to create social good in the world recently lamented to me that she wishes she were a better ethical consumer - that she had better visibility over where the things she purchases come from, what conditions they're made in, etc. They say every dollar spent is a vote for the world you want to see. What about at Christmas time? Do we cast it all aside in the name of a Boxing Day bargain?

Many a conversation has been had this week about how to avoid the festive frenzy without feeling like a grinch. And Joshua Becker from Becoming Minimalist has some simple advice. “Don’t buy what you don’t need.” 

As Chitra Ramaswamy wrote this week in The Guardian, avoiding the Christmas consumption circus comes with a strange sense of liberation and lightness. She calls it “replacing shopping with living”. She also noticed that nothing really changed, despite new behaviours she anticipated would take some getting used to. “Life, in other words, is exactly the same as it was when I spent money I didn’t have on Christmas.”

We know that excess consumption leads to less financial freedom, less generosity, less contentment - all the while contributing to greater global inequality, environmental imbalance, and dissatisfaction. 

As Ramaswamy notes in her article, “Whatever we’re buying, and buying into, it’s not working.”

I don't want to be the contrarian - and I assure you that is not what this post is about - more a reminder that the festive season is festive regardless of how much money we spend, how many presents we buy, just as long as we remember that.

We’ve been told for so many years that Christmas should be about friends and family not about things, about caring for others not about us, about peace for us all as individuals and for the global community. So this festive season, why not give yourself and your family the best present? 

Nothing but love.

Wandering

Marcus and I took ourselves on a holiday this past October. 

Melbourne > Boston > NYC > Washington DC > Toronto > Montreal > Havana > Melbourne

It was so great. Some photos:

The historic Harvard Quad awash with Autumn colour.

The historic Harvard Quad awash with Autumn colour.

Lots of quality time in the parks throughout Boston.

Lots of quality time in the parks throughout Boston.

The Jimmy Rooftop in NYC - the most spectacular views of the city at dusk, complete with gorgeous drinks.

The Jimmy Rooftop in NYC - the most spectacular views of the city at dusk, complete with gorgeous drinks.

IMG_4287.jpg
Over the Brooklyn Bridge on an overcast Columbus Day.

Over the Brooklyn Bridge on an overcast Columbus Day.

Park Slope in full colour.

Park Slope in full colour.

IMG_4367.jpg
More colour in DC.

More colour in DC.

Our time in the US was really quite lovely. We were so lucky to reconnect with quite a few wonderful friends living in NYC, and after a few days I thought I could really see myself living there and taking in everything the city has to offer. Thanks to a long list of recommendations from friends we had an impressive hit list of things to see and do, but in the end what we mostly spent our time doing was just wandering and people watching, particularly in NYC. There are no lack of things to see and do on the streets. I do feel a bit bad that we didn't get to any of the museums and galleries I had on my list, but there's always next time.

I had an interesting conversation with our dear friend Kath about the subtle differences in attitude between Americans and Australians. The comment that stands out is her observation that in Australia, our  behaviour is regulated (and particularly when it puts others at risk), but in the US opinions and morals are regulated, and behaviour is of less concern. It's like you're free to do whatever you like in the US, and please or upset whoever along the way, as long as it is coming from a place of self righteousness. For us, no one cares about your morals as long as you're not creating unintended negative outcomes. Such a subtle difference in attitude to personal responsibility. It was interesting to observe this nuance in so many instances - work, public liability, alcohol consumption. I wonder if it has something to do with the differences in the way our two countries were founded. 

This was my first trip to the US and in NYC I had quite a few moments of feeling like no photo I could take would be original, no observation I would make would be unique, and a perpetual feeling of "oh, that famous place that I've seen in every tv show". It's a strange feeling - and meant I hardly took any photos! But there's also something to be said for being in a city where even the smallest underground ideas are happening on a global scale - NYC really is the world's creative hub.

I could not stop gaping at the trees in Canada. Perfect time of year for it.

I could not stop gaping at the trees in Canada. Perfect time of year for it.

Cottage Country - Muskoka in the Lakes District.

Cottage Country - Muskoka in the Lakes District.

IMG_4402.jpg
St Joseph's Oratory in the suburban streets of Montreal.

St Joseph's Oratory in the suburban streets of Montreal.

Toronto's answer to the Yarra Valley.

Toronto's answer to the Yarra Valley.

Canada was pretty special - very postcard picture perfect with Fall leaves in full colour everywhere we went. We got the full Canadian treatment with a visit to Cottage Country, winery tours, a night at the museum. Pretty spectacular. We even walked home on Halloween with the snow falling around us...

And what's better than spending a couple of weeks with your best friend - the hostess with the most-ess - in her home town?! Wish it wasn't quite so far away...

I totally fell in love with the craziness that is Montreal. While Toronto feels very much like Melbourne, Montreal feels like a confused European country - although you can totally understand how that would happen. The language politics are a mess of imperialistic sensitivity, french arrogance and some kind of cultural paranoia - and I mean that in the nicest way possible. I totally understand why the tension between the english and french speakers exists, and ultimately I feel like it creates a pretty fascinating dynamic. All of that said, the city still feels like a bit of a work in progress. I was really nice to get my french out again after far too long in storage. I loved it!

Old Havana.

Old Havana.

Cuba was a crazy, complicated, illogical dream. It was so full of colour and movement and such good people.

Knowing a bit about the history was barely enough - the years of african slavery and occupation, independence wars, and of course the Revolution have created a layered mess of contradictions that I still haven't really been able to get my head around.

The country was once incredibly rich, and incredibly corrupt thanks to an abundance of sugar and tobacco and a US backed dictator. International trade has almost come to a complete halt thanks to trade sanctions from the US that have been in place for 50 years. This means that Havana is a sight to behold, with beautiful boulevards that could just as easily belong in Paris or Madrid, mixed in with cobbled together streets that look more like Rwanda. The new part of town has barely been touched since the Revolution, and some parts are falling down more than others. Some of the key parts of Old Havana have enjoyed restoration recently - and it is seriously impressive.

Everywhere you turn you see celebrations of the Revolution, and shrines to Fidel, Raul and Che, as well as Independence catalyst Jose Marti, but just under the surface it's quite easy to see that Fidel's Marxist / Leninist regime has created it's fair share of problems.  We had some intriguing conversations with some really clever people (over cigars, naturally), and they echoed our feeling that things were certainly bubbling away. Despite that, there is such a sense of pride for their city, their country and their way of doing things.

Where once the Revolution was revered by the people for the positive changes it created (agrarian reform, impressive literacy and education efforts, greatly reduced rural poverty), the positives have slowly become outnumbered by the negatives. Conveniently though, it is hard to tell which of the negatives are as a result of the government, and which are due to the US trade embargo. Their once abundant rations are now very sparse, and basic supplies are almost impossible to get unless they come from Russia or are grown at home. 

What's clear though, is that most Cubans see through the propaganda and recognise that the regime as it stands is on it's last legs. While Fidel is apparently convalescing, his brother Raul has been slowly and slightly relaxing some of the most restrictive limitations on private enterprise, and many people acknowledge a change in attitude is inevitable with Obama in the Oval Office.

I must say though, I think in many ways it would be a real shame. There's so much good stuff, and I can't help but feel that a lot of it could be lost if money flooded in all of a sudden. I feel like it would be a real shame to see this country change its ways for the sake of American tourism and earning a buck. Despite the fact they don't have much, people are so generous and so proud of what they have. Their small commercial operations are run with heart at the centre. Trade limitations make for some really beautiful things - their gorgeous and painstakingly restored classic cars, a real pride in Cuban tradition, and a real sense that they're all in this together. They're beautiful people - like I've never seen before, and I'll probably never experience again. My tiny left-leaning mind almost exploded faced with the complexity of how things work in reality when we do things differently.

If I were you - I'd get there soon. Who knows what will happen to this magical little island once the US decides they should be friends again.

In the meantime, I highly recommend some pre-viewing:

  • The Motorcycle Diaries - a feature film starring Gael Garcia Bernal exploring Che Guevara's adventure through South America, which was the foundation of much of his philosophical and political thinking.
  • The Buena Vista Social Club - a beautiful film about the rediscovery and reconnection of many of the legendary musicians of Cuba. Really gorgeous stuff and incredible music if you don't already know it.
  • Che - a 2-part film by Steven Soderberg and starring Benicio Del Toro. It looks closely at the unfolding of the Cuban Revolution, and also at Guevara's work in Bolivia where he was eventually assassinated.

(EDIT: It was announced today that the US are resuming diplomatic contact with Cuba. Hate to say I told you so.)

On Feminism and Femininity

Beyonce, feminism and the whole damn thing

 

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, and I blame Beyonce.

The discussion of the tension (or contradiction) between feminism and femininity has reached fever pitch in the last few weeks, and it’s forced me to really think about what resonates with me and what my take on it is.

Firstly though, some definitions from dictionary.com.

Feminist: Advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.

Feminine: Having qualities traditionally ascribed to women, such as sensitivity or gentleness.

To be one's own woman: (of females) to be free from restrictions, control, or dictatorial influence; be independent.

 

Fem(me) vs Fem(me)

It seems we can’t go a day without someone with a public profile weighing into the debate around femininity, sexuality and a woman’s sense of agency, usually in relation to other women with a public profile, typically those who are (arguably) most visible to the masses - pop stars.

This week, it was Mayim Bialik - a star of The Big Bang Theory and 90s teenage fashion icon thanks to her show Blossom, a mother of two who holds PhD in neuroscience, and by her own admission a “socially conservative liberal”. She penned a piece asking if Ariana Grande “has a talent (is she a singer?), then why does she have to sell herself in lingerie?” 

Cast your mind back to the hoopla surrounding Miley with the release of her Bangerz album and her VMA’s performance with Robin Thicke. Her many public appearances prompted a heartfelt open letter (several in fact) from Sinead O’Connor imploring Miley not to let herself be sexualised, taken advantage of, and exploited. This spurred very well articulated counter response from Amanda Palmer, and a whole lot more controversy. 

As far as I can tell, this discussion is about the tension between commodification and femininity, and the notion of control. As Amanda Palmer says, “being a female musician/rockstar/whatever is a pretty fucking impossible and mind-bendingly frustrating job… we’re either scolded for looking sexy or we’re scolded for not playing the game.”

We see women trying to take ownership of their bodies and their creative and sexual expression, making it central to their brand or public persona. These women are dismissing the more demure and socially approved version of what a publicly visible female should look like in favour of more openly sexual, visibly powerful, and direct personal expression. And with that comes body shaming, slut shaming, the waves of public opinion, popularity and controversy. See Gaga, Nicki, Katy, et al.

The interesting thing is, this isn’t new - you could argue that Madonna has been playing with the commodification of her sexuality, a different kind of femininity, and ideas of control for years. Many a lady pop star has been there, done that.

Where it gets interesting though, is when the other f-word: “feminism”, is brought into the conversation.

 

Enter Queen Bey

As has been very well documented by now, Beyonce was honoured with a Video Vanguard Award at August’s MTV VMAs and performed a medley of the already iconic self-titled album she released without warning in December last year. This moment was revelatory, not because she’d earned herself the title of video innovator thanks to one epic visual album, but because she ended the 15 minute performance with the word “feminist” projected in bold bright writing behind her, in what was possibly the strongest public feminist statement in a generation.

feminist.jpeg

When Beyoncé dodged the traditional media circus and announced her self titled visual album was available to download in the iTunes store via Instagram, industry folk called it "game changing”.  Music insiders, indie and mainstream journalists, pop-culture commentators, and almost every pop music punter on the planet lapped it up.

And the accolades flowed in. In April, Beyonce was featured on the cover of Time's 100 Most Influential People issue, (a coveted spot previously held by Mark Zuckerberg and the Pope) in acknowledgement of the influence she wields.


Beyonce’s feminism: It’s complicated

I remember when Beyonce’s Run the World (Girls) was released back in 2011. The strong female empowerment message of the song and sexy styling of the video prompted many an interesting conversation. Along the lines of, “she’s such a hypocrite to be trumpeting women’s empowerment and wearing that”, or “I’d believe her more if she covered herself up.” These discussions really stuck with me. 

Fast forward to December 2013 and the launch of her visual opus. As a long time committed fan I was not exempt from slightly ridiculous levels of excitement. I had watched the whole album no less than 10 times in it's entirety in the week after it's release. There were tears. At track 1. (Yes, really.) 

The album opens with Pretty Hurts (written by incredible Australian Sia Furler), and a video which points directly at all the trappings of celebrity in a culture obsessed with looks, femininity and ideas of how women should look. The clip doesn’t pull any punches, tackling many of the issues connected to our beauty obsession - eating disorders, body dysmorphia, hyper sexualisation, and plastic surgery in pursuit of perfection - and looks beyond it to dig into exactly what’s behind this obsession. It’s scathing, confronting, and eerily familiar, and perhaps for this reason watching it for the first was a profoundly moving experience. Hence the tears.

(The official release of this clip also coincided with a campaign around redefining what pretty means :: Join the #WHATISPRETTY conversation. Upload a photo or video to Instagram tagged #whatispretty that captures what the word 'pretty' means to you.)

But I couldn’t ignore the apparent contradictions as soon as Haunted rolled around. It’s unbridled sexuality and hyper stylised aesthetic seemed in direct contrast to Pretty Hurts. I was frustrated, and I felt almost insulted, to have identified so much with the “perfection is the disease of a nation” message of the previous track, and to now see Beyonce seemingly perpetuating the problematic sexualisation of women and embracing the pursuit of this perfection, almost in the same breath. 

This contradiction wasn’t lost on Muslim-American spoken word poet Bhatti, who says "if she was a boy even just for a day, she wouldn't have to crawl on all fours to crawl up the charts." As Bhatti says in an interview with Mic, ”You can advocate for social justice and still be complicit in systems of racism, patriarchy, exploitation.” 

And in some senses Bhatti is right. But here’s the thing, Beyonce does what she says, not what anyone else says.

 

The bit where I finally get it

It took me a while to get my head around it. (Clearly I should have taken Gender Studies or Women’s Studies at uni - I’m still quite new to this and I’m a bit slow on the uptake.) As I made my way through the album I finally began to understand. 

The contradiction is the point. 
The multiplicity of the female experience is the point. 
Beyonce’s ability to do this in such a way that she is in such supreme control of her own experience and her own image is the point.

The way she released this album all at once, rather than drip feeding singles as other artists might, reinforces that this is a complete piece of work. Each song is intended to be taken as part of a whole, complementary and contradictory sides of the same story.

There are elements of the album that I still find slightly problematic, particularly a reference to domestic violence in the Ike and Tina Turner film in What’s Love Got to Do With It from Drunk In Love. (Jay-Z’s verse: I'm Ike, Turner, turn up / Baby no I don't play / now eat the cake, Anna Mae / Said, "Eat the cake, Anna Mae!) 

The thing is, I don’t have to be totally ok with it, let alone like it, and nor does anyone else, because this is Beyonce's experience - no one else’s, and to see someone like her fully exploring and embracing the apparent contradictions of being a wife, a mother, a business woman, a creative, a human being, is intimate and empowering in a very contemporary and unusual way. Seeing a woman with such supreme control of her own brand being unapologetically vulnerable, sexual, in control, controlled, playful, strong, sexy - to me, it epitomises modern feminism.

Fans will be familiar with the struggle she’s been through to separate herself from her father and manager Matthew Knowles and become the controller of her own destiny. She documented this in her docu-film Year of 4, for those of you playing at home. (See also album bonus track Grown Woman.)

Her ability to come out of that experience, to step out of the control of a man (or anyone, for that matter), and to document her personal narrative about the complexity of her experience in musical and visual form is the reason why this album is kind of a big deal. The fact that she’s done it entirely on her own terms (without the publicity, distribution, media circus we’d normally expect) makes it all the more significant.

To quote Jamia Wilson in Rookie Magazine’s Great Big Beyonce Roundtable:

“This album is about being the CEO of your own life, not rising to the top of someone else’s industry. Beyoncé moves the conversation from “run shit within someone else’s institution” to “RUN YOUR OWN SHIT,” and that is the goal for real. This is something I’ve seen mischaracterised as selfish, but it is necessary and smart. People spend their whole lives toiling away on things that have nothing to do with their real purpose and joy and regretting it. Beyoncé worked hard to get where she is, and it took decades.”

And this exactly why Beyoncé managed to speak to me (and millions of others) in such a real way, despite the vast difference in our experiences and our situation. The fact that she is being exactly herself and being successful on her own terms means she is a feminist role model on another level, and the fact that she has embraced this and brought others along with her is really the icing on the cake.

 

Next Gen Fem

So why should we care about Beyonce’s feminism?

Well for one thing, Beyonce has succeeded where many a dogmatic feminist has previously failed. She has overcome feminism’s notoriously bad branding and made it totally ok - and actually cool - for thousands of women young and old to identify as feminists. Feminism is now a pop culture phenomenon. All of a sudden, women who would otherwise not have identified with the feminist cause understand how gender inequality impacts on their personal and professional lives.

Beyonce has redefined what a feminist looks like. True, feminism has been undergoing a gentle transition in recent times, but in embracing the title rather than being concerned about it becoming isolating or alienating, she has created a new tribe of feminists. 

The exciting thing, as Laurie Penny wrote in New Statesman, is that:

“Beyoncé, before she is anything else, is an artist of the market. She would never release an album, especially a surprise album, that her public was not in some significant way ready for, and the mainstream, dance-pop listening world was ready for this. It was ready for an album about feminism and sexual confidence and compassion that gets you on your feet and then gets you critiquing beauty culture and then runs through the streets burning cop cars in an insanely glammed-out version of black bloc. Beyoncé is good at giving her audience what they want, and the fact that we wanted this is significant.”

In many ways, this shift could not have come earlier, as it requires a mass audience that can be communicated with directly, easily facilitated by digital technology and social media, but Beyonce has timed things perfectly. She’s perfectly captured the zeitgeist and effectively rebranded feminism (with help from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her TED Talk We should all be feminists, which was sampled in Beyonce’s song ***Flawless).

And the impact has been profound and immediate. Where there was once ambivalence or active resistance from many a pop cultural influencer, the likes of Taylor Swift have joined the cause, with Swift recently saying, “I think a lot of girls have had a feminist awakening because they understand what the word means”.

What I find exciting about this is, as The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti explored, Beyonce calling herself a feminist, opens the door for celebrities to support social justice in other ways, beyond tokenistic brand alignment or spokesmodel contracts. It paves the way for women with a public profile - and women everywhere - to be ever more active in important parts of civic life, and to continue to improve the lot of others.

As Beyonce says in the ***Flawless remix with Nicki Minaj, “I’m the shit, I’m the shit, I’m the shit. I want everyone to feel like this, tonight.” It’s this unparalleled opportunity to bring others along with her that puts Beyonce heads and shoulders beyond every feminist before her.

 

Pop-feminism

In January, Beyonce Carter-Knowles contributed a short essay entitled “Gender Equality is a Myth” to The Shriver Report on women, gender and equality. In less than 200 words, she officially claimed the feminist title, and was promptly derided for being a pop culture figure, rather than a “real” feminist. (It’s those high heels, sparkly leotards and gorgeous tresses again, isn’t it?)

This blows my mind. Beyonce is under no obligation to be anyone’s perfect feminist. She is not and will never be every woman’s saviour, and we shouldn’t expect her to be.

Is it fundamentally problematic that our most visible female role models are pop stars are not business leaders, politicians, etc, like they are more likely to be for men? Yes.
Is pop music a great access point for women who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to or even interested in feminism? Yes.
Is Beyonce’s message less valuable because she’s a pop culture figure? Is she less worthy of critical and theoretical interrogation because of her relevance to a mainstream audience? I’d argue the opposite.

Beyonce’s feminism is interesting for so many reasons. She shouldn’t be disregarded because she doesn’t she fit the stereotype of earlier women’s lib style feminists. She should be celebrated because she’s has catalysed a discussion beyond the tall walls of academia and social theory. She’s bringing the conversation out in the open, somewhere other than the women’s pages, and this in itself means she is worthy of interrogation.

The fact that she removed the need to ask for permission, the way she moves away from any kind of prescriptive femininity - that makes Beyonce’s feminism accessible in a way previous waves have never been. She has made our own version of feminism AND our own version of femininity, sexuality, power, womanhood, something that we define for ourselves.

In my opinion, the more critical thinking and popular culture interact, and the more we bring this kind of discourse into the mainstream instead of keeping it locked up among a qualified few, the more valuable it becomes.

And that’s entirely the point. Feminism isn’t something that someone else - ANYONE else - defines for us. If we wait for academics, politicians, business leaders, or Beyonce herself to tell us what feminism should look like, then we might as well keep waiting another couple of generations for real equality to be realised.

The kind of feminism I want to see isn’t dogmatic, it is personal. As Harvey Keitel as the pageant king shows in the Pretty Hurts clip, the point is a woman being able to define her own aspirations in life, beyond being someone else’s version of attractive, successful, feminine: "What is your aspiration in life?" And Beyonce's answer: “Are you happy with yourself?”

That’s a kind of feminism I can get on board with: Freedom to figure it out for ourselves, free from any kind of prescriptive finger-pointing.

Monthly Musings - September 2014

This is the first Monthly Musings, a selection of words, pictures and conversations on my radar each month.

If you'd like to receive something like this in your inbox each month, you can subscribe here.

Title image: A photo of the beautiful spring magnolias at Farmhouse Dederang in Victoria's High Country.

 

On Feminism and Femininity

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism, and I blame Beyonce. The discussion of the tension (or contradiction) between feminism and femininity has reached fever pitch in the last few weeks, and it’s forced me to really think about what resonates with me and what my take on it is. Read more.

WORDS

A film about Yolngu elder Djalu Gurruwiwi - a spiritual keeper and master didgeridoo craftsman - is in it's final stages. | Research confirms the 1970's Club of Rome predictions that we're headed for collapse. | My friend Rachel Service has been churning out some great content, including this one on 4 ways to break perfection paralysis. | Reflections on three years of farm life from Jonai Farms - Happiness is hard work. | The ethics of travel boycotts. | Ross Gittins explores how ethics, politics and economics are blurring together in Australia. | How to make your weekends more awesome. | The importance of doing things that don't scale. | Research is pointing to conscientiousness as the one-trait-to-rule-them-all in terms of future success, both career-wise and personal. | “Something is always far away… After all we hardly know our own depths.” Brain Pickings' Maria Popova on Rebecca Solnit's A Field Guide to Getting Lost. | Umair Haque ponders whether we've run out of big world changing ideas.
 

PICTURES

Paris through the lens of the legendary Pentax 67. | Snippets of 11 movies that will make you want to go travelling, all in one place. | The questions we ask - short film about what pushes us to do amazing things. | Old Habits - a series on the dwindling numbers of missionary nuns living in rural Australia by Lani Holmberg. | This has surely got to be one of the all time cutest little kids you'll ever see. | Time is nothing - a timelapse across 17 countries. | I found myself feeling very jealous of this amazing food tour of the Victorian High Country, all beautifully documented in full colour. I don't feel too bad though, because I did have my own version a little while back... | The last season of HBO's stunning Boardwalk Empire kicked off with flashbacks to the end of the 19th century, and glimpses of 1930s Havana.
 

CONVERSATIONS

Arianna Huffington was recently in the country ahead of the launch of the Huffington Post in Australia / New Zealand. Here she is talking to Marie Forleo about redefining success. | Lessons in reason on the 100 year anniversary of the Great War. | "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" - Amanda Vanstone talks to John Allen Gay about voluntourism, joyful benevolence, and the White Messiah Complex. | Uncommon in Common - a front porch for the internet. | A feminist podcast reading of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg's cultural significance. | 20 years since his seminal album Grace was released, and 17 years since his death, Double J profiles Jeff Buckley for their returning J Files series. Still blissful. | Terry Gross interviews one of my favourite film makers, Richard Linklater, about his extraordinary film Boyhood. | Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton announced today that their incredible 28 year run on At the Movies will end in 2014.

 

“You must unlearn what you have been programmed to believe since birth. That software no longer serves you if you want to live in a world where all things are possible!”

-Jacqueline E. Purcell, via The Mind Unleashed

Character Profile

Following on from a conversation with my wonderful friend Katie recently, and taking my cue from the brilliant Eddie Harran, I was interested this week to compile all the results of the various personality tests I've taken over the years to create what Eddie calls a Character Profile that explains who I am, how I think, what makes me tick and how I work best.

Typically, I take these kinds of tests with a grain of salt - in my opinion, the results can be impacted a lot by where you are and what's going on in your life at that particular moment in time. But I must admit that when I take a step back to look at the results as a whole, there are certainly some consistencies emerging.

 

  • Intelligence strengths - based on Howard Garner, Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 1983.

My results: Musical, Linguistic, Intrapersonal, Logic, Interpersonal.

People with musical-rhythmic intelligence learn best when music is playing in the background. They may also learn well through lectures, audio recordings, and oral storytelling.

People who are strong in verbal-linguistic intelligence often have a gift for learning foreign languages, teaching, telling jokes and stories, and delivering passionate speeches. They learn best through reading, writing, listening to lectures, and debating topics with others.

People with strong intrapersonal intelligence often have a deep sensitivity to the spiritual realm and make excellent philosophers, writers, theologians and counselors. Because they need a lot of time alone, they tend to learn best when they can work alone in the peace and quiet of their own rooms and offices.

People who are strong in logical-mathematical intelligence are often good at computer programming, playing chess, and accounting. They learn best when they can turn information into formulas, calculations and precise dimensions.

People with a strong interpersonal intelligence often make wonderful teachers, counselors, coaches and therapists. They have a knack for managing others and may also be excellent politicians. They learn best by working in teams with others.

More information - http://www.learningdoorway.com/multiple-intelligences.html

 

  • Strengths Finder - based on Gallup Clinton Strengths Finder.

My results: Input, Connectedness, Futuristic, Strategic, Maximiser.

People strong in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.

People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has a reason.

People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.

People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.

More information - http://strengths.gallup.com/110440/about-strengthsfinder-20.aspx

 

  • Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS) - based on Character Strengths and Virtues Handbook (CSV) by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman.

My results: Love of Learning, Curiosity, Leadership, Creativity, Perspective.

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

More information - http://www.viacharacter.org/www/

 

  • Core purpose drivers - The Purpose Economy - Purpose Imperatives.

My results: Who - Society, Why - Karma, How - Human Centred.

Your purpose is to work to help communities and societies. (Examples: implementing a new policy, conversation with like-minded peers, seeing others promoting your solution/ideas, seeing a community benefiting from a change you made.)

You are driven to create opportunities for success. (Examples: Figuring out a strategy that solves a problem quickly, getting ahead faster than my competitors, finding opportunities to be competitive and win, creating opportunities to change the way things have been done, individual recognition and personal achievement.)

You generate purpose most when you work to create contexts and experiences that address the needs of people and their environment. (Examples: uncovering a new insight about a need or behaviour, seeing an environment transformed, creating an innovative solution, talking to people about a challenge or opportunity, exploring options, seeing someone interact with what you designed.)

More information - https://s3.amazonaws.com/imperative/media/PurposeEconCh6.pdf

 

  • Carl Jung Typology - based on C Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers.

My results: ENFP.

ENFPs have an unusually broad range of skills and talents. They are good at most things which interest them. Project-oriented, they may go through several different careers during their lifetime. To onlookers, the ENFP may seem directionless and without purpose, but ENFPs are actually quite consistent, in that they have a strong sense of values which they live with throughout their lives. Everything that they do must be in line with their values. An ENFP needs to feel that they are living their lives as their true Self, walking in step with what they believe is right. They see meaning in everything, and are on a continuous quest to adapt their lives and values to achieve inner peace. They’re constantly aware and somewhat fearful of losing touch with themselves. Since emotional excitement is usually an important part of the ENFP’s life, and because they are focused on keeping “centered”, the ENFP is usually an intense individual, with highly evolved values.

An ENFP needs to focus on following through with their projects. This can be a problem area for some of these individuals. Unlike other Extraverted types, ENFPs need time alone to center themselves, and make sure they are moving in a direction which is in sync with their values. ENFPs who remain centered will usually be quite successful at their endeavors. Others may fall into the habit of dropping a project when they become excited about a new possibility, and thus they never achieve the great accomplishments which they are capable of achieving.

More information - http://www.personalitypage.com/ENFP.html

 

  • Ennegram - based on Personality Types by Don Richard Riso, 1996.

4 - The Individualist.

Fours are self-aware, sensitive, and reserved. They are emotionally honest, creative, and personal, but can also be moody and self-conscious. Withholding themselves from others due to feeling vulnerable and defective, they can also feel disdainful and exempt from ordinary ways of living. They typically have problems with melancholy, self-indulgence, and self-pity. At their Best: inspired and highly creative, they are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.

More information - http://www.enneagraminstitute.com/typefour.asp#.U79Dvo2SywE

 

So with all of this information it becomes quite easy for me to distill some key insights. 

I love learning and crave new information and perspectives. I’m a communicator who loves people, but needs time alone to reflect, create and look for connections and opportunities. I’m strategic, and like to create structure and systems from disparate information. I’m competitive and obsessed with doing things better, and the possibility of a better for future everyone inspires and drives me. I’m excited by new opportunities, but also easily distracted so I need to focus on follow through. Values and purpose are central to how I work, and working collaboratively with (and for the benefit of) others who share my values is a dream come true. I believe in the bigger picture and the power of individuals, and I love meeting and understanding other people.

 

Those of you who know me - what do you think - is this accurate? Have you taken any of these tests? How you found them useful? Which have been the most insightful for you?

Long Weekend

Long drives through rolling green hills as far as the eye can see.
Frosty mornings and a heavy fog, lifting to perfect weather and spectacular sunshine that warms your back as you read the morning papers. 
Exploring quiet country towns that house decades of stories and local legends.
Amazing food and drink. Lamb shank soup, cheese, mulled wine, apple crumble. (Too much.) 
A roaring bonfire, and camp ovens filled to bursting with juicy meat.
Flannel sheets and electric blankets. Ugg boots, scarves, games of cards.
Smiling babies and a slower pace, both bringing a sense of balance, simplicity and perspective.
Silliness, seriousness, and a long-yearned-for connection with old and new friends.

These shots were taken at the Farmhouse Dederang and Gapsted Wines.

IMG_3388.JPG

Remarkable

I've had an illuminating series of conversations over the past few weeks, which have culminated in a few uncomfortable, but thoroughly valuable revelations. The crux of it is this:

You can be busy or remarkable - but not both.

- Cal Newport. Read the full article here.

You can churn out a stack of work that meets a client brief or brings in a steady stream of revenue, but it won't be the kind of work that lights you up, or lights anyone else up for that matter.

Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that good work - and by that I mean work that is truly personally fulfilling - is expensive. It takes time and free headspace to do work that feels good, and that also touches others in a positive way too. It takes discipline and focus, neither of which are easy to come by in an age of overstimulation and constant connectedness, and both of which are difficult to charge for. All of which are difficult to jam in around work that actually pays the bills.

Good work isn't easy to monetise. Almost all the people I know who are doing interesting creative, academic and entrepreneurial work find it a struggle financially at times. You can't charge for the hours of thinking, researching, analysis, thinking, bursts of inspiration, rethinking and working that go into realising a good idea to the full extent of your capabilities.

Inevitably, financial responsibilities, risk minimisation, and the rules of supply and demand take priority over doing good work. I imagine a lot of people (Gen Ys in particular) start off in their career with grand intentions of doing something great, before the reality of having to pay the bills sets in. Sometimes we don't even realise what's happened, but before you know it, the work you're doing is a pale imitation of what you actually want to do and what you actually could do. If only you had the time, money, headspace...

An awful lot of people spend their time being busy instead of remarkable. We're chasing dollars and racing the clock, and as a result we're doing work that is valuable (in the sense that people pay us to do it), but not enthralling. Satisfactory, but not truly satisfying.

So many work days are filled with activity rather than action - busyness for the sake of busyness, instead of strategic and creative thinking, and doing - for impact. It makes me really sad to see that what's remarkable and what's profitable is rarely the same thing, and there's much that I'd like to say on this subject in general, but I'll save it for another blog post.

So what do I do with this information?

Recalibrate. Cull. Create space and find focus. Play. Strive for quality over quantity. Aim for remarkable.

A dear friend reminded me of the Cal Newport quote just when I needed to hear it. Having adopted this as his motto for 2014, it has catalysed big personal and professional changes for him. In a strange serendipitous twist, he'd originally come across the post via an earlier tweet of mine, which I'd promptly forgotten about. That's what you call coming full circle! He passed the wisdom back on to me, as he was finishing up a consulting role to move back into an impact driven organisation he feels passionately about. Brilliant.

Recently, I've been splitting my work days over two different jobs, with two organisations I believe in. On good days, it is an absolute delight to work with people who are values aligned, on big goals that I feel have real merit. On a bad day, I can't sleep or concentrate for thinking about the tasks I have to complete, the opportunities we have to capitalise on, and the contacts we need to exploit. I've come to realise that despite their big ambitions and fact that they're doing some really good stuff, I'm not actually able to do great work. Too much work and not enough time or headspace to do any of it well equals an unfulfilling work dynamic.

As serendipity would have it, just as I was coming to my busy/remarkable realisation, an opportunity that was too good to pass up presented itself. So, I will be starting a new role at Intrepid Travel from this week. This is really exciting for me, mixing the kind of work I'm passionate about with the global perspective I've been craving. I can't wait.

I'm excited about this change as it also makes space for me to do some other things I'm really passionate about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to repack that newly acquired brain space with stuff. Instead, I'm going to focus my attention on one job and some study, and on hopefully doing them both justice. I'm going to give myself some time to revisit projects I've put on the shelf. It's been too long since I've given myself some creative scope to explore these things, and I'm excited to be able to start playing with them again. Hopefully this will also include being able to write more on some of these themes. There really is a lot to cover.

But first, some thank yous. It is somewhat bittersweet to leave behind the CSL family, and a massive thank you in particular to Kate Harris, Dave Seignior and the whole team who have made the experience such an inspiring time in my life. I'm also leaving Net Balance after a short but sweet stint and I'm very grateful for the experience and the relationships I've built there. Big hugs to my friends Cameron Neil, Fiona Silke and Alice Howard-Vyse for being wonderful and really helping me get my head around this. And to Amy Bolger for talking me in to applying for her wonderful job at Intrepid in the first place.

Onward!

Some related further reading from some most excellent people:

ANZAC

20140425-082326.jpg

I was moved this morning to be among 60,000 odd people attending the Dawn Service at The Shrine of Remembrance.

In record numbers, we stood and reflected on the sacrifices of thousands of service men and women throughout Australia's short history.

Having resisted this very public and very nationalistic acknowledgement of our imperialistic military history for almost all of my life, I went to my first ever Dawn Service last year. I was surprised at my own reaction. I found it an almost overwhelmingly emotional experience to stand in solemn silence for an hour with tens of thousands of others to pay tribute to those who have given their lives for us.

Similarly this year, as I stood there listening to the words of a returned serviceman, I was struck by the way we once romanticised war. Our naive willingness to send healthy young men to fight and die seems absurd today.

The rose-tint of nostalgia that colours the eras of the first and second world war has since worn off. The good-versus-bad narrative that conflicts once thrived on seems far too simplistic today. The era of blind patriotism has passed. We know too much.

Once upon a time, half of all men who we're eligible to serve voluntarily left their jobs and families to fight for their country and to preserve the sovereignty of a country they'd never visited, often against a largely unfamiliar adversary. Off they went to foreign lands with a vague sense of adventure and grand notions of national service.

For every 10 men, two would not return, 4 would return physically wounded, 1 would suffer from debilitating mental illness, and the final three would never be the same - and nor would the people they left at home.

It is still a tragedy. One that continues to impact on successive generations of families and individuals globally. But honestly, I think (and I hope) it is a tragedy that could and will never happen again. To us at least.

While people all over the world are still battling for the freedom we now enjoy thanks to the sacrifices of those so many years ago, surely we know too much to put ourselves a situation of that scale again - both as individuals and as a country.

Yet people still serve. But at least now they do so with their eyes open, unable to avoid the historic (and current) reality that war is a game that can't be won.

In a country like (white) Australia - a young country with so few traditions and rituals - the annual commemoration of our shared history and good fortune is a rare collective experience. The display of empathy and compassion we see on Anzac Day is a reminder of our true nature that is often confused and lost among political rhetoric, and a welcome chance to reflect on what we have, and how much we were once prepared to sacrifice for the freedom and quality of life we take for granted in this country.

And a last word from the brilliant Michael Leunig.

 

Excellent further reading:

The Anzac tradition is one of justice, of equality and of that much-used term - mateship. It is not the whole story of our nation, but it forms part of our story. Their legacy is not something to be taken lightly.

Statement of Intent

Someone told me once that your professional life only make sense when you look back on it. Though I may be only 10 years in, I find this to be very much the case for my fledgling career. My key areas of interest are ethics, economics and the places of intersection between these two seemingly disparate disciplines. I’m obsessed by why we do what we do, why we often do what is easy rather than what is good, and how we can begin to do things better. I want to explore how macro forces impact on our personal lives, and how our individual values shape the systems that govern us. I want to encourage others to be active participants in their own decision making. And I want to actually do things that go against the common belief that business and ethics cannot coexist.

My inclination has always been to try and make sense of things, and I’ve played with a bunch of different roles and approaches to try and get right to the core of it. My professional background is as a community strategist – bringing people together around a central issue, initiative or organisation using a mix of traditional communications (public relations, marketing, and events) and digital communications (social media, video, community management strategies). Alongside this though, I’m a writer and researcher and I’ve had my work published in a diverse range of print and online publications.

I spent several years embedded in the local fashion industry, developing a reputation as a thought leader for ethics and sustainability in the sector. I assembled an online community of more than 600 people working in fashion, who are working on initiatives or businesses focused on sustainability. I carved out a niche for myself in the industry, acting as an advisor, speaker, lecturer and project contractor to key industry groups (the Council of Textile and Fashion Industries of Australia, Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, RMIT University, The Spirit of the Black Dress, Melbourne Bike Fest, Melbourne Tweed Ride, The City of Melbourne, Melbourne School of Fashion, the Clothing Exchange, Kangan Institute). Even now, more than 18 months after I made the decision to leave the sector, I’m often approached to mentor and advise businesses and individuals still working through the complexities of the sector.

My work in the fashion industry allowed me to gain a strong understanding of a complex system, and a preliminary idea of how global economic systems create positive and/or negative outcomes for huge number of people around the world. My decision to leave the sector came from the realisation that the fashion sector is just a microcosm of the larger economic system. I left in search of bigger leverage points.

Right now, I’m really interested in how economics intersects with philosophy, social and cultural theory, and politics, and how it has emerged as the dominant theoretical framework for human systems. I’m acutely aware that where Law might have once been the discipline that governed us, the flow of capital through international markets now serves that a more important role as the law struggles to keep up and effectively regulate.

I fundamentally believe that the field of economics is at a very interesting junction point, and that consumer awareness (facilitated by digital communication) is forcing business and government to change they way they administer economic policy so that it serves the people as a global collective, rather than a privileged few. I am inspired by a business sector that is focusing on new approaches that hold collective benefit as the highest priority (shared value, Benefit Corporations, completely transparent reporting). I believe that active consumers can have a positive impact, but I also think that consumption isn’t going to solve our biggest problems – this is where strategic, practical and ambitious changes will play a role. I’m frustrated by a global political structure that is completely inadequate when it comes to solving the complex problems we’ve created. I’m intrigued by the fact that what we now call “economic theory” was once considered to have more in common with philosophy, than its current perceived companions “finance” and “business”. I firmly believe that our biggest challenges will be solved by people who understand that creativity and strategic thinking are not opposed but complementary. (And that’s why I followed my Bachelor of Arts (French) with a Commerce Masters, and a Graduate Diploma of Economics, and it’s also why I looked for different kinds of training that don’t play to this false dichotomy with the likes of Centre for Sustainability Leadership Fellowship Program and the RMIT Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program.)

At 28, my long term professional goal is to use a mix of economics, philosophy and social theory to answer questions that are important to all of us, and to do so in a way that engages those who might not typically be interested in the big questions. I’d like to combine my skills in communications, digital and community strategy to bring cross-disciplinary academic research to the masses, and to find creative ways to engage and interact with the public around these big ideas.

For me, the final piece of the puzzle is our ability to take a global perspective. I believe it is all too easy for us to forget that our incredibly fortunate position also comes with the responsibility to improve the lot of those we’ve stepped over to get here. I know that we have much more to learn from the areas of the world who haven’t built their social, political and economic structures on models that have a finite lifespan. I am passionate about economic justice, and I see global equality as the next major civil rights struggle we will face, and I sincerely hope it is one with will win.

I want to combine my progressive views with academic diligence and in a way that is still engaging and palatable to those with no economics education. My professional role models are people like Michael J. Sandel, Jeffrey Sachs, Stephen Fry – people who use a mix of skills and disciplines to engage the public in discussions about big things – the moral failings of markets, the opportunities and limitations of foreign aid, the role and importance of language, respectively.

Taking time

I wrote at the start of the year about all of my many plans for 2014.

Predictably though, I'm realising now - just a month in, that I probably over committed, and as expected I've already failed on a few fronts. And even though I started the year full of good intentions, goal setting and big ambitions, I've hardly even noticed now that I'm not striving so hard to meet them.

Instead of stressing and feeling guilty, I'm just letting things go, relaxing into the year. Taking time.

And you know why? I've finally realised that I'm always learning and growing, even if I'm not trying - even if it doesn't feel like effort. Just because I'm not striving, stretching, pushing, doesn't mean I'm not getting somewhere.

I've also been reminded that there is much to learn from doing exactly what feels good, instead of what feels like work.

So I've been spending time listening to music, watching movies, some great reading, thinking, being with friends, planning, wanderlusting, moving my body, listening, talking, stopping. Taking time.

And it feels good.

Play this. Seriously.

Next

A new year and a clean slate holds a certain appeal. I always appreciate a fresh start, and the chance to pause and reflect on my goals and recalibrate my focus. The new year feels like such an opportunity to dream big and use your imagination to do some futures forecasting for your own life. What a fun opportunity!

Rarely do I stop to reflect on past achievements, but today I'm glad to see I've knocked over a few major goals in the second half of 2013, with still a few more to tackle in the coming year.

2013 Wins

  • Taught myself that I'm a good saver when I put my mind to it by doubling my goal of 5K.
  • Made great gains in my adrenal fatigue recovering journey by taking control of my own health, and getting support from the professionals, which I'm looking to build on in 2014.

So, to 2014. I've already set some goals for my job, but it is nice to look beyond that and reflect on personal goals for the year.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a perpetual planner and a chronic goal setter. So I've come up with a mix of big ambitious goals and rituals to form my fairly comprehensive list. I tend to aim big, but try not to beat myself up too much if I don't meet all of my goals. I feel like there's a whole lot of value in the process, but too much pressure makes things get stressful, and a perfectionist like me tends to get overwhelmed. I prefer to think of these as ambitious guidelines.

Goals and Rituals for 2014

Academic

  • Finish my first Masters and get Distinction or better for my last few subjects.
  • Knock 26 books off my reading list by reading one a fortnight.
  • Make time to write and publish a blog post a week, either a book review or a reflective piece.

Health

  • Lose 20 kgs by finding balance with my eating habits and losing the all-or-nothing mentality.
  • Work out every day, over and above my daily bike commute with a mix of crossfit, bikram and running, or even just a dance class, a long lazy ride or a walk - just as long as it is something.
  • Run a sub 60 min 10 km race. Aiming for Run Melbourne on July 27.

Money

  • Remain debt free and stick to a budget to save another 20K by October.
  • Finish renovating Curracloe Farm and have both it and our apartment done.
  • Simplify all our finances.

Work

  • Confirm my next move for study and get accepted into my new course.
  • Explore the ethics/economics space more and refine my goals and next steps.
  • Get some funding for my research project idea.

Personal

  • Refine what I own down to essentials and only things I really love.
  • Go to Beyonce dance classes to get my sass on.
  • Get up at 5.15 with Marcus every weekday morning.

Rituals

On top of this long list, I really love the idea of sprint goals - extra points of focus over a short term which are designed to shake up and reshape your habits. They say it only takes 30 days for a new habit to be established. I've been brainstorming a list of habits I'd like to form that I'll attempt throughout the year:

Sprint Goals

  • Do at least 1 page of journalling everyday.
  • Get out of bed before 6 am everyday - not just week days.
  • No TV.
  • Meditate for at least 30 minutes daily.
  • No sugar.
  • Bikram 30 day challenge.
  • Practice spanish for 30 mins daily.
  • Photo a day challenge.
  • Practice guitar for 30 mins daily.
  • 30 min walk every evening.
  • Eat only food made at home.
  • Make the bed for 30 days in a row.

So there you have it. A long, ambitious list of targets for 2014. It feels good to do some longer term thinking and planning. Don't forget to have fun, be happy, and appreciate how amazing life is.

Bring on 2014!

What are you celebrating in 2013? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

Hello Sunday Morning

I woke up this morning - the final Sunday of the year and last weekend of a 12 month self-imposed drinking ban - and thought it was high time I wrote a few words about it. Depending on what the silly season has been like, this post could be either perfect timing for those teetering on the edge of a dramatic new years resolution or an uncomfortable discussion to be having at this stage of the year. But first...

The Back Story

Most people who know me think the idea of me not drinking is a bit of a joke - kind of like someone who doesn't eat sweets taking a year off chocolate. This is not my first no booze stint, and not the first time I've written about not drinking. Growing up, alcohol was barely on my radar as my mum doesn't drink, and my dad only rarely. During high school I was too worried about what I might do if booze got the better of me at a weekend party, so I stayed away from it when everyone was "experimenting". Even after I turned 18 I was usually the designated driver when one was needed. I remember calling my mum not long before I turned 18 to ask if it was ok for me to go and have one drink at a pub with my boyfriend, and then answering my own question before she even had a chance. "You're right, bad idea, I'll just come home." Too sensible for my own good.

My 22nd Birthday
My 22nd Birthday

That changed when I found myself single and working in hospitality in my early twenties. I needed liquid courage for flirty nights on the dance floor, and a way to excuse behaviour I probably would have been very embarrassed about in the sober light of day. I became a loud, proud, beer drinking party girl - if only for a short time, building my identity as a twenty-something around nights at the bar, outlandish stories of drunken exploits, and good times on the dance floor with girlfriends. It was great fun, but looking back now I'd say it was an easy way for me to avoid dealing with things that were sitting just under the surface for a long time - the residue of a bad break up, unexamined body image issues, probably a lack of self confidence, loneliness, a way to avoid thinking, feeling, and actually addressing these issues. Why take the hard road when you can just go to the bar, have a few drinks and strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger, or failing that, the bar staff?

Since then though, I've mostly given it up. It wasn't the hangovers, drunken social mistakes, inappropriate behaviour at work functions or anything else of the sort that made me consider a solid 12 months off. It was an observation that so many people I know tend to drink as a way to avoid actually thinking and feeling. A chat with a good friend almost 2 years ago about his drinking habits really started my brain ticking on whether or not I was using booze (or other things) to numb anything uncomfortable. The realisation that I had certainly so in the past, and that I was probably still doing it in my own strange (mostly sober) way prompted me to actually do something to investigate.

I've been a frequent non-drinker, so I'm quite aware that officially abstaining is not as intimidating a proposition to me as it seems to most people. Even still, that chat forced me to make a conscious decision that I want to be the sort of person who "gets in and under things" rather than just covering them up. I want to actually tackle moments of discomfort rather than just avoid them.

So with that, I signed up for another 12 months with Hello Sunday Morning.

The Bigger Picture

Hello Sunday Morning (HSM) is a non-profit based in Brisbane, and founded by Chris Raine. Chris woke up one Sunday morning in his early twenties after an epic night out with a hangover, a fuzzy memory, and a resolution that he wanted to do something more with his life than spend his Sundays recovering from the night before. So he decided to take 12 months off drinking, and began documenting the process via his blog. From this small start, HSM has gone from challenging individuals to change their relationship with alcohol, to forcing policy makers, health professionals and others to examine the way drinking is embedded into Australian culture.

One notable HSM participant is Jill Stark, a Fairfax Health Editor and former-Scot, who was ironically also a closeted weekend binge drinker. After a similar experience one New Years Day, Jill took 12 months off booze, and wrote about it, resulting in her acclaimed book High Sobriety.

Watch this very tidy little wrap up by the guys at First Tuesday Book Club.

As the panel discuss here, the book is an interesting exploration of the way drinking has been so cleverly embedded into Australian culture, and also looks closely at the way this impacts on each of us as individuals, with Jill laying herself bare about her own habits. (On a side note: I'm a big fan of Marieke Hardy, but I was almost put off her when I read her book and saw the way she admonishes her friends for inevitably giving up drinking in their thirties as they grow up, have babies, etc. I was thoroughly impressed to hear that she stopped drinking after reading Jill's book and was forced to examine her relationship with alcohol - along with fellow panellist Paul Dempsey and Cate Kennedy - and I think that demonstrates just how much of an impact a book like this can have, and why it is such an important piece of writing. I'm intrigued to know how long their dry stints lasted though...)

I went along to hear Jill speak at The Wheeler Centre in early in 2013, at the beginning of my own 12 month HSM. She spoke very articulately on some of the themes raised by the Book Club panel in the previous video. Her talk is below.

There are a few things that Jill highlights that I think deserve further interrogation, and at the risk of sounding slightly preachy, I'm going to note a few of them here. Stay with me.

  • Australian identity - alcohol is so bound up with the way we relate to ourselves as Australians. There is not a national celebration (or commiseration) that doesn't involve drinking. ANZAC day - a day steeped in history, and a central part of the narrative of Australian identity - is the biggest drinking day on the calendar.
  • This is deliberate - alcohol companies know that this is powerful, and they intentionally market their product in a way that creates strong connections between sport, celebration, history, youth, beach culture, summer - all the things we know and love about our country. There's a huge amount of money at stake, and they're not silly. (Another side note: I can't help but observe that something similar is happening with gambling, but that's a subject for another time.)
  • Costs - the costs of drinking have never been lower, but the broader social and economics costs of alcohol have never been higher. There are huge links between public health costs and drinking, breast cancer and drinking, violence and drinking - and we're picking up the tab. Anyone who gets the basic principles of supply and demand understands that tax and market mechanisms are actually incentivising the behaviour we want to discourage.
  • Drinks companies encouraging binge drinking in young people - alcopops are designed to taste like soft drink, not alcohol. They're meant to be drunk a lot, and fast. The debate around taxing these kinds of drinks has been going on a while now, but the broader implications around starting kids on booze young tend to be ignored. Alcopops aren't the only problem. Young people are being taught that you're antisocial unless you have a drink in your hand. It is insidious and it is everywhere.
  • Alcohol and friends go hand in hand - young people are taught to use alcohol to deal with confidence issues and unfamiliar social situations. Uninhibited social behaviour is becoming normalised. Alcohol is no longer just something to enjoy, but is now something to need, particularly in a social situation.

I'm not going to go into more depth on these, because Jill does this so well in her book, and because even after 12 months of clearheadedness I still don't have my head around all the complexities of this picture. But even at a glance, it seems to me like the issues surrounding alcohol are being intentionally avoided by a whole lot of people. And you can kind of understand why. It is an uncomfortable conversation to have over a drink...

On the bandwagon

Jill and I aren't the only ones giving up the booze. Pip Lincolne from Meet Me At Mikes wrote about her time off booze in a blog post titled "The Cool Thing I Did This Year". In the gentle, humourous way only she can, Pip lays out her reasons for her time off the drink and a few reflections, beautifully articulating a few things that really resonated with me. Seriously, read her post.

Wendy Squires wrote a piece in yesterday's Age entitled "Is getting smashed the new definition of socialising?" outlining her experiences this festive season, and why she's taking a break. She paints a startling picture of excess in inner city Melbourne, and asks "Is this really what a fun night out has become? If so, I'm staying in and staying sober because it not only disgusted me, it left me feeling depressed." And I feel a bit the same - is this the only way we know how to socialise? Is this what we call fun these days? Is it really so impossible for anyone to have a great time with friends without booze? I just think that's really sad. Like, sad in my heart kind of sad.

But maybe I'm the only one. I was shocked at the number of people I know who really struggled with the idea of me being sober for a whole year. "But what do you do if you have a wedding on?" "Well, I go to the wedding, and I don't drink." "But what if a heap of your friends were coming from overseas?" "Then I'd go to the wedding and not drink." "Did you drink while you were in Africa?" "No, the same rules still apply if you're in a different country." I'm kind of stunned at the number of people who really can not get their heads around being in these kinds of situations without alcohol. And this is not intended to be a judgement on them, but an observation of just how intrinsically linked these kinds of cultural landmarks are to booze. It kind of blew my mind.

Another uncomfortable (but important) element of my 12 months off was how uneasy my non-drinking made a lot of people around me. One of my key motivations for committing to the 12 months off was to see if it would prompt others around me to examine their own behaviour. I'm not sure if it worked, but I can't tell you how many people felt the need to justify their own drinking behaviours to me when they realised I was not drinking. Just as Jill, Marieke and Paul discuss above, I was very aware of people feeling like they were being judged for drinking, or for drinking to excess. As a seasoned non-drinker, I'm pretty ok with being the only person not drinking at social events, but I still got entirely sick of having to explain and justify myself. And after a while I just stopped trying to tell people that it isn't me who needs to be ok with their drinking habits. Ultimately, I'm not the one they're impacting on.

So... How do you feel?

Most people asked me if I felt amazingly fresh, healthy and young without booze. And mostly I felt good, much like I usually feel. It kind of helped that I'm not really meant to drink what with all my crazy hormones. I've only suffered one single solitary hangover in all my 28 years, and that was enough. I honestly can't understand why you would voluntarily make a habit of waking up feeling shitty, no matter how much hazy fun was had the night before. But it really wasn't about the physical stuff, and the longer it went on, the more evident this became.

This 12 months wasn't a purely rational, intellectual experiment for me, even if it started off that way - it was a bit of an emotional experiment too. I was vaguely aware of the way I'd used alcohol as a bit of a crutch in the past. But knowing this doesn't eliminate it, and I was surprised at how many moments of discomfort I encountered throughout the year. The first one was when I found myself stone-cold sober on the dance floor at a friend's wedding. Self-conscious thanks to recent weight gain and a rushed outfit decision, I didn't last long up there, preferring to sit alone at the table rather than to move awkwardly among the crowd of unfamiliar faces, even despite knowing that almost everyone dancing had drunk enough not to notice me, and even if they did, would hardly care anyway. This was the first time in a long time that I can recall feeling so self-conscious, and the first time ever that I haven't been able to nix those feelings with a few shots of liquid courage.

And there were other times like this too. At my 10 year high school reunion, when I really would have liked something to soften the vague unfamiliarity that comes with seeing the people you grew up with for the first time in a decade. At an event with my husband's ex-girlfriend and her friends who not-so-secretly don't like me. At fashion week events with a crowd that loves to judge and be judged. At the MCG on election night with a bunch of people who care more about the outcome of a football game than about who would be running our country.

So you know how I felt? Uncomfortable. Sometimes self-conscious, sometimes upset. But you know what, this doesn't last long. Those moments pass. And if they don't, it probably means there's something there that needs to be looked at purposefully and consciously. Dulling that sensation sure isn't going to help.

So... What did you learn?

Taking a page from Pip's book, I thought I'd list a few reflections too, in case you're curious:

  • I'm a chronic over-thinker, and hence I'm super aware of the impact that alcohol has on our community. It is pretty hard to avoid it, and like Pip, I feel guilty about it. Yes, really. I feel better knowing I'm not contributing to this.
  • Drinking reinforces a whole heap of associated behaviours that I really don't like, as Wendy alludes to in her article. Thanks to some reflection this year, I realise now that in the past when I was drinking, I put myself in situations I wouldn't like other young women to find themselves in, but I know they're all too common. I think drinking and the associated state of reckless abandon is particularly problematic for young girls who consequently behave a certain way with men, and other women. And it is an issue for young men who are taught to relate to women and their mates in a certain way. This is certainly not just down to alcohol - there's a whole other objectification and sexualisation of women piece to be explore here - but I really believe it plays a significant part.
  • Throughout the whole of 2013 there were only a handful of times when I wanted to drink and cursed my sobriety. But they were there. There were moments when I really wanted to taste an amazing cocktail, or when I would have really liked a cold beer, or when a wine with my husband would have been wonderful. I went to more than one wine tasting when I didn't actually taste the wine - and people did think me a little strange for sniffing other people's wine. I really don't feel as though I've missed out on anything major, but I do think there is a place for alcohol when it is used for pleasure.
  • Given I'm recently married, have recently gained weight, and am also not drinking, there were far too many times when people assumed I wasn't drinking because I was pregnant. I actually had to say "that's not what that is" to quite a few friends. It doesn't make you feel good. I'll probably write about this soon.
  • I distinctly remember one night about five years ago as the first and only time I consciously used alcohol to avoid feelings I didn't want to deal with. I didn't quite realise though, that I've been doing exactly the same thing unconsciously since I was old enough to drink. Not much, but now I feel that doing this at all is too much.
  • This year has helped me reaffirm what I care about, the people I want in my life, and the things I want to invest my time and energy in. I feel free to really embrace and own the things I'm passionate about, and not feel the need to apologise for my choices, just like I did with my sobriety. It is really nice to feel empowered to do exactly what you want to do for no other reason than because you want to, rather than doing what you think you should do because everybody else is.
  • I want to bond over bigger and better things than booze. I want to talk about things that are really important, that really define me, and that really define us as human beings. I want to be able to be myself, my real self, not my boozy, woozy self. I just feel there's so much more to life than dulling your senses.
  • This may sound touchy-feely, but I think alcohol really limits our capacity for meaningful emotional and sexual relationships, particularly in adolescence. If all our relationships and all our early sexual encounters are based on too many nights out and lots of liquid courage, then what do you think this means for the way we'll develop as emotional and sexual beings into adulthood? And I reckon there has to be a connection with alcohol and the extended adolescence phenomenon we're seeing in our generation. Just a guess.
  • There were quite a few times when people agreed with me that their drinking and social expectations around drinking have gone too far, and remarked that it would be nice not to have to drink all the time. What I can't understand is why more people don't give it up, even for a while. Just do it! You don't need a FebFast charity or a reason to do something like this for yourself.

It has been really illuminating, even for someone who wasn't in the habit of drinking. I've been surprised by how much my not drinking has challenged other people. I think taking this time off (completely), has really allowed me to clarify my own attitude to booze - for pleasure, socialising, feeling, thinking - and to define my own sense of balance. For most of the year I've hardly missed it, and I thought for a while that I wouldn't ever drink again. But forever is a long time, and I'm quite looking forward to going on a wine tour in the south of France, or doing a whiskey tasting for the tasting and not the whiskey.

The biggest thing that I've taken away from this year is exactly what I took into it - I want to feel like I can really tackle things rather than gloss over them. As Pip says, "I want to live my life with the switch on, with my eyes open and my head clear." This is part of an ongoing theme for me that I suspect I'll explore more here in the coming months.

I guess when it comes down to it, just as Mr New York says below, alcohol is just one way to avoid things. And the problem isn't really that we do it, the problem is that it is so socially accepted, expected, even encouraged. In a lot of ways this experiment has created more questions than it has answered, but that's kind of the point.

Like this guy says:

HONY
HONY

"If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?" "Try your best to deal with life without medicating yourself." "You mean drugs?" "I mean drugs, food, shopping, money, whatever. I ain’t judging anybody, either. I was hooked on heroin for years. But now I’ve learned that every feeling will pass if you give it time. And if you learn to deal with your feelings, they’ll pass by faster each time. So don’t rush to cover them up by medicating them. You’ve got to deal with them."

Posted on my Tumblr (lalalara) via the wonderful Humans of New York.

I'm curious to see if this has rubbed off on anyone else who would like an excuse to change their own behaviours. 

So what do you think? Could you? Would you? How has your attitude to booze changed as you've got older? Tell me everything.

Natural Habitat

I've been on safari in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania with my family the last little while, and it has been absolutely amazing to see the magnificent creatures of Africa in their natural habitat. We were lucky enough to have great guides with us to explain the social, predatory and sexual behaviours of all the different species and the biggest thing I learned from this is that they're so much like us. The way they interact, learn, look out for each other, the way they team up with other species for mutual benefit. The efficiencies, practicalities, and partnerships that eventuate when living in the wild are really quite amazing. Instinct is so clever!

IMG_1922
IMG_2992
IMG_2739
_MG_1816

What I found even more amazing though, is seeing human beings in their natural habitat. (If that sounds like I've been observing people as though they're displays in a zoo I apologise - that's certainly not the way I intend it. I mean it with a huge amount of curiosity and respect.)

In Rwanda, we saw people farming the green rolling hills. Every single inch of fertile land was terraced and sown with irish potatoes, maize, and bananas. Goats were tied to trees to make the most of any available shoots of grass. Mud huts were just big enough for a family, with an outdoor kitchen and simple ventilation. The roads were bustling. Every hilly spiralling road was a hive of social activity, as people ferried produce and water up and down, back and forth on bikes or by foot. Kids were playing with friends, walking to and from school. People seem happy and healthy.

_MG_1265

In Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai are pastoralists, walking their herds of cattle and goats across the flat dry land for the day and taking shelter under trees in the warmest part of the afternoon. They keep their cattle safe from predators or thieves overnight by housing them within their communal village boundaries, surrounded by houses and fences made of sticks and trees. They don't hunt the game on the reserves, but have a deep respect for their environment and the opportunities tourism can create for their communities. They are joyful - music and dance are a big part of life, colour and movement are everywhere.

The Maasai and the Rwandans reminded me that we need very little to thrive. We need good food, exercise, strong social connections, something to work towards and something to bring us joy. They also reminded me just how far we in the west have moved away from our natural state of being. I know I've written about this before, but I really believe we are not designed to be cubicle bound all day. We are not meant to be controlled by a series of screens in our daily lives. We are meant to use our bodies to challenge ourselves physically, to related to others on a personal level, to look after those we know and to work to find mutually beneficial outcomes in dealings with those we don't know so well, and to pursue meaning.

There is so much we can learn from indigenous cultures around the world and here in Australia. Lessons of shared history, simplicity, connection to place, resilience, working in symbiosis with our surroundings. Despite the misconception that we in the developed world are "more advanced" than these communities, they are millions of years ahead of us, especially when it comes to respecting the land, and each other, and focusing on the important things in life.

I heard a great definition of indigenous today: meaning "a product of their environment". In that sense, we're all indigenous, but all too often we're moulded by the environment we've created for ourselves and not the natural environment we live in. This trip reminded me of the capabilities we all possess to adapt to our surroundings, to find a good outcome - and really, to survive.

Also, here's a timelapse from Cam of our sunset over Ngorongoro Crater.

If you're planning a trip of your own, I recommend:

Check out what the awesome people at Intrepid Travel are doing. They have a huge variety of trips throughout Africa.

Ideally, go early in the migration season or you risk missing out on seeing the big herds in the Serengeti. If possible, avoid the national parks and spend time in the private conservancies where you can go off road and get up close and personal.

Also, keep enough cash on your for tips, visas, and any incidentals because ATMs are hard to come by.

Key spots:

Unexpected Guru

A video post featuring Tim Minchin kept popping up in my Facebook feed today. You know, this guy:

Not being much of a fan of stand-up comedy myself, I didn't know much about him, and I'd assumed he was kind of Australia's answer to Russell Brand (which is not necessarily a bad thing, at all).

This short video was an entirely unexpected surprise. In between musing on the critical importance of the Arts and Sciences together to communicate scientific knowledge despite the "recent, stupid and damaging idea" that the two areas are opposed, Tim taught me 10 life lessons, which I've paraphrased for you below:

1. You don't have to have a dream. It's very American talent show. If you don't, try micro-ambition - passionate dedication to the pursuit of short term goals. And keep your eye out for the next thing to capture your attention...

2. Don't seek happiness. Keep busy and try to make someone else happy and you might find you get some as a side-effect.

3. Life is all luck. Understanding that you can't truly take credit for your success nor truly blame others for your failures will humble you and make you more compassionate.

4. Exercise. Your long, luxurious life is going to make you depressed but there is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise.

5. Be hard on your opinions. Be intellectually rigorous. Identify your biases, your prejudices and your privileges. Most of society's arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknlowledge nuance.

6. Be a teacher. Even if you're not a teacher, be a teacher. Share your ideas. Don't take for granted your education. Rejoice in what you learn.

7. Define yourself by what you LOVE. Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire. Be PRO stuff, not just ANTI stuff.

8. Respect people with less power than you.

9. Don't rush. Don't panic if you don't know what you want to do with the rest of your life. There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence - FILL IT! Life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you're doing, having compassion, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic. (And love, travel, wine, sex, art, kids, giving, mountain climbing...)

10. This one doesn't come from Mr Minchin, but from me. Absorb inspiration and wisdom from all possible sources, because you can learn something from every single person in the world, even a musical comedian with crazy hair from Perth.

The awesome thing about this, is at the ripe old age of 27 (for another few days at least) I reckon these would be exactly my handy hints for life too. Glad someone else has gone and put them out there for me, and in a much more clearly and simply articulated way. Now to go and live by this advice...

Watch the full video here:

Hope For Us Yet

Just when things were getting the better of me and I was starting to think my belief that things will work out for the best was unreasonably optimistic, this past week has restored my faith. After the election result a few weeks ago I was in a vastly different place, but things have turned around for me in a big way.

I spent most of the week in the Yarra Valley with 50 of the most inspired and inspiring emerging leaders you could ever hope to fit in one room, each of whom is passionate and driven to make the world a better place. This incredible meeting of the minds was all thanks to the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, who hosts this week-long Retreat as part of their annual Fellowship Program.

hope

(In the interests of full disclosure, I need to remind you that I am employed by CSL, and I am absolutely biased because I think what they/we do is amazing. I completed their Fellowship Program in 2011.)

Having attended the Retreat as a Fellow in 2011, and also last year as a Speaker, I had a fair idea what to expect at this year's retreat. But again, I was blown away by the energy, commitment and steadfast belief in the possiblities. Every year, the people in the room think big, learn key skills, and start to understand what can be achieved when we tap into the the power of cross-sector collaboration. Seriously awesome stuff.

While all this was happening in the Yarra Valley, some amazing things were happening on a broader scale too. My friend Cameron Neil started a conversation about crowdfunding an independent replacement to the Climate Commission that had been axed days earlier by Tony Abbott, prompting a wave of public support. Fast forward 1 week, and The Climate Council has been set up thanks to a huge ground swell of public support, and had collected over $550,000 in donations and 55,500 Facebook followers in less than 5 days. For the record, it is now up to $800,000 + and 63,000 or so Facebook followers, and counting. If you care about unbiased science-based information being made available to the Australian public and you haven't donated already, I suggest you do.

CC
CC

For me, the fact that both of these things have happened right now, just as the IPCC release their report reiterating the certainty and magnitude of the issues we're facing, is a welcome relief. It is a reminder that great things can be done by individuals, and even greater things can be achieved when we come together as a collective.

So, go forth and do good stuff.