Cuba

This past July I returned to visit the wonderful sights, smells and spirit of Havana. 

It was the first time I'd travelled on my own for a long time (12+ years), and it made for thoroughly different experience than the last time I visited. Plus, Cuba is a different place than the last time I visited. Or maybe it's more that I'm different...

Habana Vieja

This time I stayed outside Old Havana, but still made the time to wander through. The fact that I was there during peak European Summer, combined with an increase in American tourism made this tourist magnet feel completely different than the last time we visited.

This time, I felt guilty getting my camera out, for the shame of feeling like all the German and American tourists who are here for the pretty colours, vintage cars and cheap rum. Despite the fact that my urge to document this beautiful place came from the same place of wonder and curiosity as the last time I visited, I was putting myself in the same category as those sitting on the roof of the newly instituted double decker bus for a whistle-stop tour of all the major photo spots of Havana. Because, really, who is to say I am all that different from them.

Arriving without a map and of course without internet, it was easier to make my way back to the area we became familiar with on our first trip. But even so, to some degree I judged myself for making a beeline for the familiar streets, where my very rusty spanish poses less of a challenge, and I know how to find my way around. Again, I was eternally grateful for the beautiful public parks and plazas throughout the city, where life happens, and the spaces seem perfectly designed for people watching.

But things didn't feel quite the same. I found it a little unnerving as a solo female traveller to constantly have (mostly male) spruikers trying to hustle me. The ban on advertising in Cuba means signage is minimal and people actively sell to passers by in the tourist hot spots instead. With not much confidence in my spanish, it was hard to shake people off, and it seems like the locals have lifted their hustling game since 3 years ago. Even if they are harmless, the "hola, where you from?" or "hello beautiful" quickly becomes exhausting. Mostly because it is a reminder of how separate we are as travellers from the locals who's home we're borrowing for our leisure time and discretionary spending. Experiencing any place is a completely different proposition when you can throw some money at any inconveniences in urban planning to ease the pain. And it is completely uncomfortable to be constantly reminded that your privileged whiteness means you're essentially someone's meal ticket. But I guess regardless of how much you love or hate a place, at least you can leave at the end of the trip. This is a particularly strange thing to have in mind when locals will likely never leave their whole lives...

Old Havana is beautiful, there's no denying it. The mix of old architectural wealth and unavoidable ruin looks as though it has been put there for perfect contrast and contradiction. But the number of (let's be honest, mostly women) tourists I saw waltzing through the city in perfectly styled "Caribbean flavoured" outfits for the benefit of their Instagram feed was a shock this trip... And the number of local women I saw in "old-style" Cuban costumes for the sake of a 5 CUC photo op for the benefit of a tourist Instagram feed wasn't something I remembered from last visit either... Honestly, it makes me feel a little ill to think of us white people treating these people and their home as a backdrop for our personal branding. But again, who is to say I'm any different...

It feels oh, so, strange to realise that the vast majority of "restoration" throughout this pocket of Havana is in areas that few locals (beyond those working in tourism) see on a daily basis - while the residential areas of the city mostly haven't had the same treatment. Homes of locals come with no guarantee of hot water. It is also perverse to realise that in a very well educated country, where the state regulated income is only 17 CUC a month (equivalent to approximately US$20), the smartest people (especially those with some english under their belts) turn to tourism for some supplementary income. In a country with world class doctors, teachers, and other highly skilled professionals, taxi drivers are the ones earning good money.

Once again, I was annoyed at myself for not having put more work into my spanish before I left, because I know this would have made it so much easier to get under the skin of this magical city. It really is the epitome of white arrogance to expect people in your destination country to speak english, but yet that's the exact situation I was in. I remember feeling in Vietnam that much of what I was seeing was perfectly constructed for the white tourist, and Old Havana felt more like that this visit - or perhaps I was just more aware this time around. I know enough to know that a lot of the great hospitality available to tourists isn't available to locals - at least not on a local salary... To say nothing of the architecturally beautiful but entirely inappropriate luxury mall right in the middle of Old Havana.

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Centro Habana

Centro Habana instantly feels more like the Havana the locals know. Its like as soon as you cross the threshold away from the grand hotels you're able to see Havana life at street level rather than a constructed approximation of Havana life. We saw so many groups of young people gathered - and not for the benefit of the tourist hoards. It feels quieter, and like life is lived more at the pace that suits cubans.

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Sunset by El Malécon

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Cuban night life happens in the bars and paladares of Old Havana, and this may well be true. But it looked to me like the night life of the locals happens along the water - with dancing, pop up street food, cheeky drinks and socialising happening as the sun sets behind...

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Vedado

I stayed in a private home just off the main streets of Vedado. My host was incredible, and persisted with me despite my broken Spanish and her limited English. I'm amazed by how these people open their modest homes to (mostly) rich westerners, giving them the best of what they've got, and never complaining that they've found themselves in a life of servitude purely by circumstance.

Walking anywhere was busy with locals, but the kinds of locals who were happy to let you mind your own business, rather than those who wanted to sell you something. Wandering through Vedado I was constantly mystified by how locals knew what was sold at each shop or restaurant, with minimal signage but often long queues - particularly at the places selling "helados" in the very humid summer weather - at all times of the day or night, or the spots for fresh crusty bread in the morning.

The caribbean colour and the gentle discolouration of the buildings mean that texture and personality are in abundance, but it is in the people that you see this absolutely overflowing. Even after all these years, I can't bring myself to photograph people like they're displays in a shop window, so I avoid doing this, but the cuban people are so friendly, respectful, and joyful that you definitely take a little bit of this attitude away with you when you leave...

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Viñales and the Pinar Valley

I was so pleased that I managed to fit in a day trip to Viñales this visit, complete with vintage taxi and the suspension to match. My driver was lovely, but had limited English, so it made for an interesting adventure with no doubt a great deal lost in translation. 

The highlight though was something I'd heard much about - no doubt constructed perfectly for tourist spending, but still managing to feel like a peek into Cuba's complex history - and present. I was lucky enough to visit a local who hand rolled cigars, showed me where they dried their tobacco and their home grown coffee, and assumed I understood his Spanish explanations for the processes involved. He told me he had begun smoking cigars at 16 and had smoked 10 a day for 60 years. He was wearing a t-shirt which read "Actually I'm in Havana". I want to be him forever.

Viñales is ridiculously beautiful. I was surprised how big the tourism obviously is in the area, with guest houses a plenty - all painted a riot of Caribbean colours. I guess that's the benefit of being only 2 or so hours drive from Havana. But it seems they've managed to keep the World Heritage farming region happily coexisting with the influx of visitors, complete with horse-and-carriages often competing for road space with the vintage corvettes and bikes.

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I left feeling a little conflicted by this trip to Cuba. I still feel disappointed in myself that after 2 trips I've hardly managed to scratch the surface of this mysterious place. I'm disappointed because I know it will be unlikely that I can return again soon, and I know the place is likely to be very much a different place next time I visit - although perhaps people were saying that in the 80s and 90s...

More than anything I think I still feel conflicted about life in Cuba. I know life would likely be a lot more comfortable for Cubans should a free market system be allowed to flourish in this long protected economy. And I know many Cubans very much want to be allowed access to the opportunities for wealth building that seem to come with being more active participants in the global marketplace. But I still feel strange about the fact that most of their opportunities are likely to come in the shape of tourism. And then it becomes yet another country curated for the benefit of wealthy westerners...

But as as global capitalism seems to be unravelling at an ever increasing rate, I still think there are a great number of things that Cuba has right that the rest of the world simply doesn't. As an outsider looking in, the social, family and community lives of Cubans seem enviable. Their wellbeing seems to have benefitted from far less of a presence of the "digital universe" and I definitely felt calmer after 5 days without "promotional messages" interrupting the public space I moved through. Cuba is renowned for it's health care and education systems, but there's no denying there are fewer opportunities for young people to "forge their own path". For me, there really seems a lot of sense to socialism - even if it means less of a sense of individual freedom. Even though it is an inaccurate representation - if the two poles we have to choose from are the US, where on paper, complete personal freedom is the ultimate goal, but the collateral damage for many are any sense of equality, community and quality of life - and Cuba, where a sense of community, shared endeavour and curbed freedom are daily reality, I think I know what I'd choose. But that's easy enough for me to say after 5 days visiting, from many hundreds of miles away, sitting on my comfy couch while typing on my internet enabled laptop.

I really do believe Cubans have a right to self determine, and it seems undeniable that their "democratic" system isn't necessarily enabling that at the moment. But I don't know that the American ideal they've been kept away from for 60 years is as great for them as they might have been led to believe. The sweets you've been told you're not allowed to have are rarely good for you.

Cuba is far too complex a place for me to get my head around in 2 visits totalling 10 days. I think this place will continue to mystify me for many years to come... And no doubt I will continue to think of it as my spiritual home, long after their political ideology I naively idealise has been consumed into the global mess.

FURTHER READING

Innocence

I've found myself browsing through old photos these past few days, reminiscing about the days of ill advised hairstyles, questionable outfit choices, silly friends, and ridiculous behaviour...

Remember that time when you were so blissfully unaware that things should be done a certain way and that growing up came with an unwritten rule book and a long list of harsh realities? When it didn't occur to you to think you should be anything else other than what you are? When you felt utterly uncomfortable in your own skin most of the time but you kind of loved yourself anyway? When you lived in the present, were free to experiment, get things wrong, and felt so damn sure that you could make something happen, because youthful optimism is a real thing?

I'm not sure when it started to evaporate - possibly the day before our year 12 results were released and my parents told me they'd charge me board unless I went to university. Possibly when I got my first job post uni which numbed my brain and primed me for a life full of professional boredom. Possibly when I realised I'd gained too much weight to wear singlet tops without being judged. Possibly when I bought my first apartment and regretfully settled in for a lifetime of mortgage repayments. Possibly when I took all my piercings out and cut off my long hair because that's what grown ups do.

Maybe this is what it is to get older - to feel nostalgic about days in the recent past when you felt different - lighter. When the sense of possibility was palpable and it didn't occur to you that it might one day not be there.

I feel like that's a lot of what our cultural obsession with youth (youthful looks, youthful identity, youthful thinking) is all about - selling lost youth to those who wish they could hold on to it for just a little bit longer. 

But I think what I'm realising is that the things we're missing from our long ago (or not so long ago) age of innocence should belong to us at any age - this is the natural human state. Living in the present, making impulsive decisions, coming from a place of possibility.  

Granted, life can be hard. Adulting is hard and there's a lot of fucked up shit happening in the world. But the "hard" we're worried about isn't the real hard stuff. Not really. And the difference is that when I was young I had unbounded energy to tackle obstacles and take on new challenges. I lived life with the attitude that everything was surmountable, or even if it wasn't we would have fun coming to terms with reality.

So that's what I want my 2017 to be about - that youthful feeling of possibility, energy, lightness. And holding on to the youthful optimism I had as a teenager and hope to have for years to come.

Stretching

In 2017 I'm sticking with tradition and changing things up ;)

This week, I made the decision to leave my job – to prioritise my health, to build a life around our farm, our friends and the things we love close to home, and to commit to working with regional communities like those I grew up in. I’m finally getting comfortable with the idea of my working life looking different to the type A “career” I thought I wanted, and beginning to think through what life might look like if I step away off this trajectory – maybe just a little way, or maybe completely.

At this risk of becoming the total embodiment of a white girl "Eat Pray Love" cliche, I'm kicking this off with some time in Bali doing yoga.

This Yoga Life

I’ve had a kind of distant love affair with yoga ever since the first classes I can remember, during my first weeks of college when a friend and I discovered it as a Saturday morning ritual and a great way to escape the cultural haze that consisted of hundreds of people in varying stages of drinking, drunk, and hung over. Those early hatha classes were an awkward pleasure – a way to learn to navigate the adolescent body I still didn’t understand, and a way to find stillness and ritual in a crazy and uncertain stage of life.

My next exposure to yoga came when my mother and I accompanied my boyfriend to classes while he undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The intended distraction may have had that affect for him, but I found myself lying there during the final savasana with thoughts racing through my head. I must admit it was nice to have the time to just let them…

The closest I’ve come to yoga monogamy is when I discovered Bikram Yoga at 22. That first class was possibly the hardest physical thing I’ve done, when my instincts were working against me, and it took all my focus to remain upright. I ignored instructions and followed my instincts – leaving the room to catch my breath and prevent the contents of my stomach from ending up all over the mat.

Bikram became a welcome relief from the daily chaos of my life – self-employed and studying full time while completing the CSL Fellowship Program, I would fit my regular Bikram classes in around my morning CrossFit session and my bike commute. The routine of the same 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises over and over freed up the headspace I was lacking, and let me stretch, sweat, and feel like I could achieve something in just a 90 minute session.

For a period of 5 or so years, I would dabble in other styles of yoga, but I craved the routine and the adrenaline rush that I got from Bikram. I ignored the fact that the ethos and ethics of the Bikram Yoga business (and the man himself) didn’t quite jive with me. At one point, a friend remarked that I was such an overachiever that even my yoga was full on. But by this point it was a full-fledged addiction, just like my habits of overworking, overcommitting and overeating.

It wasn’t me who put the brakes on in the end – my body did it for me. With what can only be described as burn out arriving unceremoniously just weeks after I got married. After slogging it out in the lead up to the wedding, trying to shed the weight I was gaining despite many hours in the gym, on the bike and on the mat, I’d hit my limit. I worked all through my honeymoon but when I came back I found I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing.

My doctor told to me my adrenal system was under too much pressure, and that it was buckling. She told me to give myself a break, focus on my health, and to avoid anything that wasn’t gentle and restorative. I tried to comply. Sometimes. But reverse programming the things I'd been doing proved to be a challenge...  

It took time to kick the habit of Bikram, and even today I still crave it, and indulge my cravings from time to time, but I've also found vinyasa and yin to be an ideal substitute for the adrenaline rush of the hot bikram room - challenging my body in all the right ways, and giving my brain a chance to rest, restore and find focus, and my soul a chance to open softly.

My first steps into vinyasa were at a studio that suited me perfectly and settled into a daily ritual of vinyasa, flow and yin. For me, Amy's beautiful morning vinyasa flow and hot yoga classes at Yoga Corner were very special - helping me find a practice that nourishes my mind, body and soul, rather than making my body stronger to the detriment of my emotional and spiritual wellbeing. The consistent routine didn't last long, but left me feeling nurtured and refilled. 

Changing

2 years ago my husband and I made the decision to dial back the hustle and bustle and move from inner city Melbourne to central Victoria, close to where I grew up. He has been working locally ever since, but I couldn’t quite let go of the pull to climb the career ladder, so I’ve been commuting for 4 hours every day into town for work, all the while feeling jealous of the lifestyle he was living close to home, and building up resentment for the situation I’d created for myself. Sadly the choice to follow the “corporate career path” has meant my physical and mental health have taken a back seat for the last 2 years and I’ve witnessed my habits, mental health, body and energy tracking in a direction I wasn’t happy with.  

I've tried to carve out time for yoga, with visits to Yoga 213 and Le Yoga closer to home, as well as the occasional Bikram class satisfying me in grabs. But my tired body and mind knew it was time to shift gears a little...

Next steps

From mid-January, I'll be spending 5 weeks in Bali doing a 200 hour Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training at the very lovely Serenity Yoga in Nusa Lembongan. I must admit, the teaching part didn't initially appeal to me - this time was more an effort to re-embed a more regular yoga practice into my routine (which has dismally failed since I've been commuting these past two years), but the more I think about it the more I think perhaps I'm under-appreciating the potential of being a teacher.

A month with Serenity is a huge first step. I’m so looking forward to focusing on the theory, the practice and the methodology. I’m craving the reset and recalibration opportunity it presents. I also see it as an opportunity to start unpicking some of the thinking and habits that got me here in the first place. I know I have plenty of work to do in this regard. I’m excited at the prospect of making a regular yoga practice a central part of my life again, and I know this will be a core element of an ongoing investment in my physical and mental health.

In anticipation, I've got a long list of materials to get through before I fly out. Here's the hit list recommended by Caroline at Serenity.

  • Light on Yoga – B.K.S Iyengar
  • Teaching Yoga – Mark Stephens
  • Yoga Sequencing – Mark Stephens
  • Yoga Anatomy – Leslie Kaminoff & Amy Matthews
  • Bhagavad Gita – Easwarn/Stephen Mitchell
  • The Yoga Bible – Christina Brown
  • The Women’s Health Big Book of Yoga – Kathryn Budig
  • The Key Muscles of Yoga – Ray Long
  • Yin Yoga – Bernie Clark

I also picked up Duncan Peak's Modern Yoga after a thoroughly incredible Power Living class in Manly recently. Adding it to the list. 

Despite this (somewhat intimidating) list of work ahead of me, I know that the majority of the work I do during this period (and forever really) will be internal. There's an awful lot of reverse programming to do, a lot of rethinking to happen, and a whole stack of challenging my assumptions that I need to undertake unless I want to find myself back in the same position at the same time next year.

I’m very much looking forward to the adventure.

So tell me yogis - does any of this sound familiar? Is there hope for me? What have you found most challenging about getting past this point?

Onward

So when reality started to set in yesterday I can’t say I was entirely surprised. Kind of devastated. Despondent - but mostly in a way that felt like this outcome was the only logical conclusion to a period of peak craziness. I’m not sure... There are a lot of feelings…

Part of me is heartbroken for the fact that a woman like Hillary Clinton – possibly the person most well qualified to hold elected office in the United States, ever – has been beaten to the post by a man who has no such qualifications.

But the rest of me knows it isn’t about gender, or about how qualified she is to do the job, or that it’s time for there to be a woman in the White House.

It is yet another indication that things are not working. Trump’s election is nothing if not a sharp departure away from business as usual. The whole thing is ready and ripe for disruption. And I don’t mean in a business buzz word kind of way that really doesn’t really change much of consequence. More in the way that the system isn’t working for most, and needs a major shake-up. Like things will probably never be the same again – but maybe not in the way we think.

The cynical side of me thinks Trump making it to the White House won’t even change anything. If real change through the traditional channels of democracy (ie, elected office) was even possible, surely we would have seen this with the first black President. But Obama himself has admitted to being frustrated by the lack of progress made in his two terms in office. It turns out democracy in a wildly capitalist global society full of embedded allegiances and legitimised corruption has its limitations…

The significance of the fact that Trump – a racist, bigoted, sexist human, legendary for his shady business ethics, who deals in the currency of exclusion and holds grudges like no-one else – has managed to capture the imagination of 120 million people in what was formerly the most affluent country in the world should not be diminished.

Image via the New Yorker

Image via the New Yorker

But isn’t it inevitable in a global culture that teaches us that our success is the most important thing? And that our success is relative and disconnected from fulfilment? The thing is, this is a feature – NOT a flaw – of the system. Wealth is supposed to concentrate in the hands of a few. This wealth is supposed to embed and reinforce cosmetic and other kinds of power. Disenfranchisement is supposed to prevent everyone else from organising and developing a sense of agency. This has happened by design, not by accident.

Trump’s election is just the last in a long line of these kinds of indicators that have been building for many years now. We should have twigged in 2008. The rise in deaths from so called “diseases of despair” (suicide, drug and alcohol misuse) in the developed world should have alerted us. And climate change, the ultimate canary in the mine, could have prompted us to act – if we could.

And now such indicators are too many to ignore. Here in Australia, the resurgence of Pauline Hanson could have triggered some soul searching, just like the election of Tony Abbott before her – not because of their political allegiances, but because of the values that brought them to power. The Brexit vote was a big one. But perhaps it took this big American “shock” to finally wake us up. (Everything is bigger in America, after all.) Perhaps it took a global circus of insanity to focus our attention.

Despite the examples I’ve called out here, I don’t think this is a question we can solve by choosing the better one from the political ideologies of the left and right at all. Indicators suggest Bernie Sanders would have done well in this election despite nominally sitting on the opposite end of the political continuum. In fact, like Stephen Colbert discussed in his Election Day show, the idea of political polarities is part of the problem. The fact that we’ve forgotten that we’re all in it together has magnified the cracks that are now showing. We’ve become bitter, full of blame and resentment - directed at everyone but those like us.

And I think if we’re going to successfully emerge from this still intact, we need everyone on board. For this to work, we need all the contributing factors to realign – beyond self-interest.

I imagine many in the media will be having a good hard look at themselves in the coming weeks, wondering how they didn’t see the signs. The reality is they created the signs – the wrong ones. They focused on the fact that stories about how Hillary’s email woes made her seem untrustworthy would attract clicks, and ignored the bigger story – the huge scale of personal and public dissatisfaction emerging globally which appointed Trump as their Pied Piper. It’s harder to write a good click bait headline for that.

I can just see the political class wondering how they got it so wrong. How an election campaign for an unqualified caricature that ignored all the conventional wisdom managed to succeed despite projections. I wonder if the idea that a political class exists in the first place will strike them as at all problematic. I’m intrigued to see how the GOP react to this unexpected victory – whether it will give them an incentive to rethink and really work to understand what makes a difference to the people living a long way from the halls of power, or whether they’ll take it as permission to be ever more dogmatic about their pro-market, pro-life agenda.

I suspect a lot of the wealthy business elite are quietly confident, happy to be sitting pretty where history has put them in - the best possible position to be able to buffer themselves for what comes next, and better yet, to profit from it. But I wonder which industries are most vulnerable to the inevitable shocks that will come (just like they did in 1929 – a year after the last occasion when Republicans controlled all 3 levels of US office) and whether they’ll adapt their business model to capitalise out of altruism or pursuit of profit.

I imagine many of Trump’s supporters are relieved that their hero has swept to power, just like many people were thrilled when Obama was elected proclaiming a different kind of change. (The irony that many Obama voters supported Trump this election cycle is crazy, but goes to show just how much the idea of change counts for these days.) But I wonder if they realise that the real work happens with them – that their hero is unable to change the way things look at the ground level, unless they themselves work to change it too.

I’m going to spend time with the people I love, build up energy and empathy to put into my community. I'm going to constantly remind myself that I'm not someone who will be most impacted by this decision - and work to love and protect people who have more to lose than I do. I'm going to have many conversations, exercise patience (or at least try), work to understand what motivates people who think differently than me, and focus on sending everyone love and kindness.

 

Further reading:

California

This September my husband and I spent a couple of weeks in California. We were there for the wedding of a very dear friend, but we also made the most of the trip to explore San Francisco and Yosemite. So predictably, this whirlwind trip was mostly about photographing murals (SF) and nature (everywhere else). When in Cali...

For the most part San Francisco is a rather lovely city with a really exceptional history - many waves of immigration brought on by various booms and busts (gold rush, tech rush, etc), geographical and natural disasters (fires and earthquakes), the emergence of social movements (gay rights and the hippies of the summer of love), and a generally quite liberal outlook. But as is happening in what seems like every major city right now, gentrification seems to be accelerating well past the normal rate of "change" and hurtling headlong toward alienating, marginalising and / or hiding those who can't keep up. If we were on a different kind of trip, I would have liked to have focused my "getting to know the city" activities on understanding the housing crisis there (the housing minister quit while we were there because she could no longer afford to live in SF herself), and interviewing some of the folks affected by it. And it seems there are many. The downsides to the tech boom..

Speaking of which - there was a major tech conference on (which added an extra 70,000 heads to the already difficult hunt for beds) making it a very expensive stay. Thank god we missed Salesforce's major event by two weeks. It apparently adds an approximate 170,000 people to the city, and they bring in cruise ships to add temporary accommodation capacity to the city.

We got our tourist on. We ate our hearts out and made up for it by riding the hills of SF. We were again disappointed by American coffee and lack of breakfast game. We were again impressed by their ridiculous burgers and exceptionally good martinis. We tried to get a sense of the city without getting cynical about the impact of the tech industry. Not sure if we succeeded there.

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Be dangerous, It's careful out there...

Be dangerous, It's careful out there...

We made our way to wedding adventures via a quick stop at Muir Woods. The experience of staring up at these Redwood and Sequoia trees was brief and calming. Nothing like a wander through a forest of hundreds-of-years-old trees to help you get some perspective...

The wedding itself was lovely and picturesque. It was such a pleasure to spend time with a great bunch of people from all over the world - most of whom I hadn't previously met because they're friends my global traveller friend has gathered from all across the globe. I will say that it's nice to know that good people find each other wherever they are. But I'll leave all that because it isn't my (love) story to tell. And because I have no doubt there will be far better photos than mine...

Our final stop was a few days of nature in Yosemite. After 3 hours of driving on the wrong side of the road, we arrived unscathed and ready to relax. Exploring Yosemite National Park was spectacular. There were cars and people everywhere so it was hard to find any kind of stillness for a moment to truly appreciate the landscape but it is truly awe inspiring. Like everything in the US, everything seems bigger.

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The biggest thing I learnt from this trip to remind myself just how good we have it in Australia.

Driving through California, I was genuinely stunned to see so many Trump signs in front yards. Isn't California supposed to be quite politically progressive? But when you stop to look, is it really so surprising? I found it so depressing to drive from place to place and see only multiplexes (complete with budget supermarkets and fast food restaurants) as the cultural landmarks. I found it so interesting to see what happens when cars are a a key causal factor in urban, suburban and rural design. It doesn't leave a lot of room for organic social touch points or serendipitous moments of connection with others. I wasn't entirely surprised to see a burger joint functioning as a kind of surrogate community centre. It doesn't seem to be a unique phenomenon across the country.

And Australia seems to be evolving in the same way. I remember reading Denniss and Hamilton's Affluenza many years back which essentially articulates that the more a country is like America the worse it fares in life satisfaction indicators. Surely the US is more a case study in what not to do? Yet why do we seem so keen to follow in their footsteps...?

So while I'm happy to visit, but America just feels like a less good version of Australia, and therefore doesn't make much sense to me. I'll have to satisfy myself with marvelling at their astounding natural landscape, and remind myself to do more of the same back in my own country.

Podlite

I've written previously about my long running and fully fledged addiction to podcasts, and I'm happy to report it has not subsided.

It has, however changed shape a little bit.

For some reason this year I decided I needed a little more levity in my listening habits. I also decided I want to hear more from literary and creative types, and a bit more narrative storytelling. My day job can get a little heavy from time to time, so it can be nice to have something a bit more playful and indulgent to plug in to, rather than being aurally hit over the head with all the problems of the world after a long day thinking of all the problems of the world...

So my listening roster has altered accordingly. Below are a few new or rediscovered listening indulgences I'm happy to recommend, for your listening pleasure. I hope you find something here you like.

 

POP CULTURE

Nerdist

I'm happy to report I have picked my way through much of the Nerdist backcatalogue. Granted, most of these folks are celeb types, but there have been a few interesting insights among them. Try this if you like Here's The Thing or WTF with Marc Maron. Stream / Subscribe

Mamamia's The Binge

Rosie Waterland is so great that I started watching The Bachelor just for her scathing wrap ups. Here she is talking TV, and it is gold. Even if you're not a fan of Mamamia, you might get a kick out of this. Try this if you like Pop Culture Happy Hour or The Rereaders. Stream / Subscribe

Switched On Pop

If you're a music fan, this has got to be the best podcast out there. It mixes musicology, history, pop culture, and analysis to deconstruct pop songs in a clever, insightful way. Try this if you like Song Exploder or All Songs Considered. Stream / Subscribe

New Yorker Radio Hour

The New Yorker's audio companion which pulls apart current day events and speaks to those "having a moment" on an international scale. Never fails to make for interesting listening. Try this if you like This American Life or Fresh Air. Stream / Subscribe

Monocycle

Honestly I don't know what category Monocycle fits into, but I find it very interesting. Sometimes fluffy, sometimes a raw and emotional overflow of emotion due to Leandra Medine's fertility battle. Always good. Try this if you like Women of the Hour or Chat 10 Looks 3. Stream / Subscribe

 

LITERATURE

Shakespeare and Co

Recorded readings from the iconic Parisian book shop which has hosted many a literary icon over it's long history. Some recordings (like some books) are better than others, but there are a lot of good ones. Try this if you like ABC's Book Club or The Rereaders. Stream / Subscribe

Slate's Audio Book Club

This has been going for quite a while, and there's a good backcatalogue of titles to choose from, whether you've read them or not. Choose from literary giants, contemporary highlights, future classics. Try this if you like Chat 10 Looks 3 or The Rereaders. Stream / Subscribe

 

HISTORY

Rum, Rebels and Ratbags

It's been a persistent gaping hole in my knowledge, so I've been on the hunt for a good podcast on Australian History for a while. This one is very much about the history of colonisation, and has left indigenous history alone. Try this if you like Stuff You Missed in History Class or Stuff You Should Know. Stream / Subscribe

Lore

I'm intrigued by ancient folklore, and I love this narrative exploration of some of the foundation narratives of our civilisations. Plenty of greek and norse gods, but also chinese and middle eastern legends and more recently history. Try this if you like Memory Palace or Stuff You Missed in History Class. Stream / Subscribe

Revisionist History

A relatively new podcast, this one comes from Malcolm Gladwell, and looks at somewhat unexplored or misunderstood moments in history. Promising so far. Try this if you like Freakonomics or RadioLab. Stream / Subscribe

RadioLab's More Perfect

This one is also new, and given it is an offshoot from RadioLab the quality shouldn't be surprising. The difference is it is looking specifically at historical moments in the life of the US Supreme Court. Try this if you like On the Media or RadioLab. Stream / Subscribe

 

SOCIAL SCIENCE / PSYCHOLOGY

Hidden Brain

Another firm favourite, Hidden Brain deconstructs unconscious biases and patterns behind our human behaviour. A mix of science and storytelling that feels fun and informative. Try this if you like Freakonomics or Reply All. Stream / Subscribe

Only Human

This one explores health in a very personal way - stories of people with unique physical and mental health stories. It makes for pretty compelling listening, and I hope a greater appreciation of health as our greatest asset. Try this if you like RadioLab or Note to Self. Stream / Subscribe

 

DOCUMENTARY

Embedded

This is how radio documentaries should be. Reporters go deep into a specific and unique situation, and deliver insightful interviews with those affected. Really good stuff. Try this if you like Serial or Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People. Stream / Subscribe

SBS True Stories

I'm so grateful for SBS's ability to highligh these wonderful stories that simultaneously feel so specific and personal, but also so universal. Australia is such a wonderful place. Try this if you like Conversations with Richard Fidler or Modern Love. Stream / Subscribe

 

WORTH A MENTION

Women of the Hour

If you're a Lena Dunham fan you probably subscribe to Lenny Letter, and you're probably eagerly anticipating the last ever season of Girls. Get this first season of her podcast into you in the meantime. Try this if you like Chat 10 Looks 3 or Desert Island Discs. Stream / Subscribe

Code Switch

Given where things are at with the race discussion in the US today (and here in Aus, might I add), this has quickly become essential listening. When they start with "we need to talk about whiteness" you know they're serious. Try this if you like This American Life or Death, Sex and Money. Stream / Subscribe

Subtle Disruptors

Adam Murray, the man behind Subtle Disruptors, has a lovely way of exploring people who are quietly making change in their own way, just beneath Melbourne's surface. Try this if you like On Being or She Does. Stream / Subscribe

 

ALSO

Podcast Broadcast

If, like me, you are constantly on the look out for new listening delights, you would be well advised to subscribe to this regular newsletter featuring recommendations and weekly highlights from the world of podcasts. Subscribe

I'm always on the hunt for other recommendations. Do you know something I'd like? Do you have a podcast obsession I haven't come across? I'm particularly on the hunt for any locally produced gems. TELL ME!

 

Touristing

Marcus and I took ourselves on a little mid-Winter adventure in June, timed to coincide with the football season break (of course). To Vietnam - a destination we arrived at by a process of elimination. Not too far to fly, not too expensive, not to far from beaches. It wasn't particularly high on either of our travel hit lists, but it checked the boxes.

It was a quick visit - a whistle stop tour from the top to the bottom of the country, hitting up the major destinations of Hanoi (with a quick interlude out to Halong Bay), Hoi An (with plenty of beach time), and Saigon (with a day trip out to the Mekong Delta) - all in just 10 days (which is just long enough to defrost from the Central Victorian winter, incidentally). Classic tourist stuff.

Distracted by the daily rhythm, I kind of forgot we were going on holiday until just a couple of days prior to departure. It was a bit of a strange experience - completely different to how I would normally approach a trip - with planning and research and language study. (NERD.) We had nothing more to go on than what we knew by travel folklore, a lonely planet we swiped (temporarily) from the local pub, and a post it note of recommendations from some friends who had recently returned.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don't feel like we really got under the skin of the place. Our lacklustre pre-trip planning meant getting comfortable with feeling like tourists. (Travelling with giant bearded white man also amplified that sense...) The tropical weather also meant getting comfortable with the eternal need to wipe sweat from your face. It was like two white people in a 10 day Bikram class.

It felt like the Vietnamese don't particularly love Westerners (which, by the way, is entirely understandable - especially given the history), but it felt very evident that parts of the country are very much engineered for the benefit of white tourist dollars. 

One thing is for sure - the food didn't disappoint. We were already well aware how lucky we are to have the Melbourne Vietnamese community at our door step. But we now know that even Melbourne's Vietnamese food is no match for the real stuff. So. Good.

Best. Pho. Ever. Pho 10 in Hanoi's Old Town.

Best. Pho. Ever. Pho 10 in Hanoi's Old Town.

Took a bit to get my head around eating noodles for breakfast. On the street. From a kids picnic table.

Took a bit to get my head around eating noodles for breakfast. On the street. From a kids picnic table.

Accidentally ate our first Vietnamese Banh Mi from what is apparently THE BEST Banh Mi in Vietnam according to Anthony Bordain. It was good.

Accidentally ate our first Vietnamese Banh Mi from what is apparently THE BEST Banh Mi in Vietnam according to Anthony Bordain. It was good.

Vietnamese BBQ.

Vietnamese BBQ.

Wonton Pizza - with pumpkin and pineapple. Surprisingly delicious.

Wonton Pizza - with pumpkin and pineapple. Surprisingly delicious.

Com ga. Accompanied by corn milk. Not so sure on the corn milk.

Com ga. Accompanied by corn milk. Not so sure on the corn milk.

Hen Xao - tiny baby mussels and peanut-y delicious goodness.

Hen Xao - tiny baby mussels and peanut-y delicious goodness.

So all in all, a bit of a funny trip. It was a nice holiday, but it felt like just that - a holiday, rather than anything close to an immersive adventure. Perhaps we had glimpses of local life, but even then, it felt like an approximation constructed for the benefit of tourists. I left feeling a little bit disappointed (in myself) that a visit to a country with such a colourful, contentious history felt like not much more than a tropical beach holiday. Complete with sunburn and serious bout of food poisoning. The thing is, I don't know that more proactive planning would have changed that?

I will say this though - it's not too bad for photos. There sure is a lot of colour to play with! (I am clearly a little out of practice though...)

Cruising around Halong Bay.

Cruising around Halong Bay.

Pearl farming...

Pearl farming...

Sung Sot Cave. Lots of colour.

Sung Sot Cave. Lots of colour.

Hanoi Old Town.

Hanoi Old Town.

Tropical colour in Hoi An.

Tropical colour in Hoi An.

Perfect mix of old and new / east and west. Too hot and rainy.

Perfect mix of old and new / east and west. Too hot and rainy.

Just after the downpour...

Just after the downpour...

Tips:

Airbnb was a big winner in Vietnam. We loved all of our three mini-hotels. I'd highly recommend it if you're planning a Vietnam trip.

We did a few food-related activities with the good people from Urban Adventures Vietnam. Even for experience travellers, I'd recommend it early on in your time in a new city as a way to drill a local for good recommendations, context, history - and excellent food! Highly recommended, particularly if you're keen to go beyond vietnamese coffee, pho and spring rolls. These guys do a great street food tour.

The cities are very much engineered for motorbikes and scooters. We found it difficult to walk around in Hanoi and Saigon, and we were very grateful for our villa-supplied bikes in Hoi An - so if you're game you might like to hire some wheels. 

While Vietnam is still nominally a Communist country, as a traveller you wouldn't necessarily know it - with quite a bit of development, international investment and elements of a thriving market system on display. The set up does seem to still impinge on the freedoms of local people and based on our conversations the appeal of a centralised economy has all but worn off for most Vietnamese, though they may not speak of it openly. 

There's so much more to Vietnamese history and culture than the War. Hundreds of years of feudalism and dynastic rule. Colonial disputes between the Chinese, French and Japanese. Ideologically fuelled wars and political coups. Many culturally diverse tribal groups. Not to mention the consequent religious diversity. Even still, we found it quite difficult to get to the bottom of it all beyond the touristy stuff. Ideally, do a bit of reading before you go, and make the most of the people you meet along the way to dig a little deeper.

If you do fancy finding out a bit about it the last days of the Vietnam War, read Viet Tranh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize winning The Sympathiser. (Read this glowing NY Times review.) And listen to his chat with NPR Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

So what do you think? Do we put our trip experience down to being lazy and inexperienced Asian travellers? Or did you have a similar experience in Vietnam? Or should I just be satisfied with a bit of beach time and be done with it? Thoughts? Feels? Opinions? (As always, play nice.)

Illusory

After 6 months of photography study at PSC, I totally understand why they warn us that our photos will get worse before they get better.

I feel like I've learned a great deal. The Dunning-Kruger effect also dictates that I've also learned just how much I don't know - how much more there is to learn. Any sense of illusory superiority has been thoroughly shattered - but that excites me! 

Here's a handful of shots from Semester 1.

McPherson_L_Landscape_#5.jpg

Noise

I turned 30 this week.

The week prior, and the beginning of this week was uncomfortable - because of the incremental realisation that I am simultaneously exhausted and bored. Exhausted because I feel like there is a disproportionate amount of attention and drama given to things that don't at all warrant it, and nowhere near enough focus on things of actual consequence. Bored because I feel like there's so little around me that actually inspires me in a way that nourishes my soul. Melbourne feels tedious - though this is much more a reflection of my headspace than what's actually going on around me.

I'm sick of people who treat seeming to be doing good work as as important as actually doing it. More activity than action.

I'm sick of people who are so concerned with looking a certain way, rather than being how they are. More appearances than substance.

And I'm petrified that I'm one of them.

There seems so little work of consequence, that when I do stumble across something that resonates I'm overwhelmed with enthusiasm, but I rarely give myself time to absorb all the subtleties and nuances of it - to really learn from it and let it nourish me -  before I'm off searching for the next one to inspire me and make me feel like there is something worthwhile to be found amongst the mess and noise. It's like I'm bingeing on all the sugary-sweet information I can get my hands on without even tasting it on the way down.

The problems is I'm consuming so much - critique, opinion, armchair journalism that barely skims the surface - that I'm not getting to the good stuff. Doubly problematic is that instead of inspiring me and focusing my thoughts, this information is creating paralysing doubt.

I'm craving the time and space to do the work, rather than just thinking and talking about it and second guessing it.

15 or so months ago, I had a lovely chat with the extraordinary Ming-zhu Hii which prompted (for better or worse) some kind of shift for her in the way she approached her work as an artist and activist. She wrote about it here. (Seriously read it.) About giving up talking about her work, and instead letting the work do the talking. I'm belatedly having a similar feeling.

We know about Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours principle. But what about when all your time and energy is spent on thinking about it, rather than actually developing your practice. Well, it will certainly take you a lot longer to get to mastery that way I imagine...

When Ming-zhu wrote about her own realisation, there was a strong sense of responsibility and obligation. As I've finally realised that this same sense has been stopping me from letting go too. As people who advocate for change, I think many of us have a feeling of responsibility to bring others along with us - and I don't say this to be sanctimonious. But as Ming-zhu realised all those months ago, I now see that as long as we're just talking about it - rather than diving headlong into it - we're really just playing on the fringes. Perhaps the only real way to create change is by example and let your work speak for itself.

So what to do? 30 seems too early to pull up stumps and just settle in to a life of simultaneous overwhelm and underwhelm - a life of mediocre change making. (What a funny contradiction in terms - but an all too common occurrence in my opinion.)

Though it feels quite trivial, my first step is to cull the information I'm exposed to and become far more selective about my media diet. This means deactivating my Facebook account, giving up social media and online news, getting rid of the tv, and severely limiting the amount of time I spend online - reserving the internet for creating rather than mindlessly consuming. This represents quite a fundamental lifestyle shift for me - someone who spends 10+ hours a day staring at a screen poking around the internet.

It means being very mindful of the quality of information I'm still allowing into my life. That goes for everything - writing, films, music, events, people and conversations.

Short of going on an epic wild global adventure that takes me entirely out of my comfort zone and reminds me how very small our problems are, I'm striving to find something real - something I can tangibly contribute to. Quieting the noise, taking small steps to achieve small goals - after all it is better than no steps toward big goals I think...

We'll see...

Primed

I was really floored when reading through the tweets celebrating the end of Tony's reign as King Idiot of Australia, and heralding the arrival of our new progressive leader, Malcolm Turnbull.

When I wrote a blog post two years ago now when the Coalition came to power I was despondent. I was so shocked that the whole country could prefer this elitist, nonsensical, scatter-gun slogans policy approach, and willingly put such a fool at the head of this country. To actively choose cruelty and short termism and vote in the Coalition off the back of Abbott's ego driven grandstanding. (Granted there wasn't much of an alternative, but that's another matter...)

I'm still stunned that my largely progressive friends and colleagues seem so delighted by Malcolm's new job. Although I suspect it has more to do with a sense of schadenfreude than anything else. I must admit I felt vaguely smug to realise that Tony has fallen 5 days short of the required term to take a 600K annual "former prime minister" pension. That sucks Tone.

That said, I really think any of us who truly care about a fair and equitable society need to be a little careful and wait to reserve judgement on our fifth fearless leader in five years. Turnbull is after all, still an enormously privileged, wealthy, white man, with a firm belief in the free market system we know is rapidly failing. Those of us who would traditionally sit on the Left side of the political spectrum have been primed to think of Turnbull as the progressive saviour of the Right. And I have a really hard time believing that to be the case.

A shot of our new Prime Minister from a recent GQ cover shoot.

A shot of our new Prime Minister from a recent GQ cover shoot.

Ultimately I don't care about which political party our leader belongs to. I care about their ability to form clear policy and to create positive change for the electorate they serve - informed by best possible knowledge from science, industry and the community. I care about their ability to gain support for decisions that may be unpopular in the short term, but are in fact best for Australia and the global community beyond the next opinion polls. I care about dealing with our dual major challenges of rising global inequality, and rising sea levels. I care about a return to a society who values people over things.

I'm stuck somewhere between feeling like this is how politics should work - the people are the ones running this show. Screw election terms - as we seem so be intent to do in Australia, at least for the last 5 years or so - let's get the best person in the job. But I also feel like the 24 hour news cycle, and a hungry and polarised Australian media is the biggest winner out of this whole circus, and that the formal democracy mechanism we've relied on all this time is fundamentally broken. Let's not forget too, that we've elected the party - the person who runs it may not be as significant a factor as we've been led to believe. As my friend Craig commented at the time of the last election,

"Elections are just there to give the illusion of choice and change. The 'machine' will just keep chugging along as normal."

Could the same be said for leadership changes?

Where's the leadership? Where's the long game? Where's getting on with the difficult job of actually being in government - of implementing intelligent policy, and bringing the Australian and international community along for the ride?

Maybe I should give Turnbull more credit. He has sat patiently for quite a while now, toeing the party line, and actively avoiding creating controversy... But it remains to be seen whether that tactic was a means to a political end, or whether that same patience and persistence will also serve this country.

I'm not doubting that he seems vastly more capable to lead our country than his predecessor, but it remains to be seen in which direction.

Barossa

This past weekend was spent in the Barossa - the perfect opportunity to test out my highly underdeveloped landscape photography skills in time for something to be submitted as part of my first semester folio. 8 weeks to go...

These photos prove a few things:

  • Our teacher Scott was right when he said "Your work will get worse before it gets better".
  • If in doubt, give it the Instagram treatment - high contrast and saturation. It can make very average photos look decent-ish.
  • Photography and an abundance of Shiraz are not really a happy combination...
  • The Barossa is quite beautiful, even if I can't do it justice here.
  • You should share your work anyway. Sharing is caring.

In search of…

I had a lovely experience this week when I met a fellow inquisitive human who seemed as pleased as I was to skip through all the pleasantries that typically come with meeting someone new. It was a delight to avoid that stage of getting to know someone via the all-too-common questions. You know the ones. What do you do? Where do you work? Where did you go to school? Blah, blah, blah.

It was such an uncommon pleasure to spend a rambling few hours discussing all matter of things that feel honest and important - no preconceptions, no judgement.

It makes me kind of sad to realise how rare these kinds of encounters are. How unusual it is to connect with someone to that extent that you both become more yourself over the course of a conversation. These experiences - and the people who illicit them - should be treasured. Those who are prepared to disregard pointless social conventions that prevent us from truly connecting with each other are a special breed I think.

It has reminded me just how important other people are in our happiness. For the last little while, I’ve been so focused on getting my own head straight that I think I’ve forgotten how big a factor other people are in the way we experience the world.

It has also reminded me that in many ways that’s what this whole game is all about. Isn’t that what we’re all after? Connection with another human being that goes beyond the trivial and cuts straight to the core of who we are? Helping each other experience true connection with ourselves and others? Recognising the humanity and wonder in another person, and experiencing it in yourself through someone else’s eyes?

This experience shouldn’t be as elusive as it is. But like other things, it takes practice. It takes being in the moment, and making no judgement of yourself or others. It takes an ability to truly listen. It takes a willingness to let down your own walls, and to keep an eye out for others who might be prepared to do the same. They appear where and when you least expect it.

I’m convinced that this sense of empathy and connection is a severely depleted resource in the world right now, but the good thing is, it is also renewable, and all it takes is a willingness to cultivate it. 

Here’s to more of it.

A few resources I’ve stumbled upon on this subject.

Figures Without Feelings

This post was first published on Be Collective.

Richard Denniss and The Australia Institute have been on fire these past few weeks.

Denniss published a piece entitled “Spreadsheets of Power: How economic modelling is used to circumvent democracy and shut down debate.” As you might guess from the title, he’s not mucking around.

In the piece, Denniss explains how easy it is for an economist to spin figures to serve their argument - any argument, whether or not it has any real value. Any economist or statistician will tell you that a dataset is only as good as the assumptions you’ve made when compiling it, and your assumptions can be as wide ranging as you like, if they serve your agenda.

Following on from this, Denniss also published a piece on the skewed nature of the tax debate in Australia - a specific example of how these discussions are being distorted.

As Jonathan Green wrote for ABC, “Surely we should talk about what sort of Australia we'd like to create before we discuss how we're going to raise the revenue to pay for it?” And he’s absolutely right in this suggestion - all the Intergenerational or IPCC reports in the world are useless to us, until we’ve reached some kind of consensus on where we want to be beyond the next election cycle.

Says Green:

“What if rather than some tense consideration of varying imposts considered in isolated contest with a predetermined well of spending, we had a preliminary conversation?

We might conclude that as Australians we wanted to create a place of truly equal opportunity, a place of incentive, both personal and entrepreneurial. A country with educational excellence for all. With health care that did not discriminate against wealth or circumstance. A place that felt secure in its geographical and psychological presence. A place that invested to facilitate Indigenous advancement through a free process of self-determination.

Perhaps our collective generosity is not flattered by the cynicism of a political debate that seeks only to keep taxes lower and spending down. We might opt to renew infrastructure, to ease the path of integration for the disabled. We could decide to house the homeless. To reframe conversations around violence and various forms of harm that grow from shadowy conspiracies of social circumstance and misfortune.

Or we might agree to disagree. Or settle on some compromised version of a debated national self that produced some general sense of harmonious agreement. It might be possible.”

Until now, Australia has been a relatively new and relatively small player on the world political stage, without hundreds of years of political ideology to fall back on (except obviously that of our indigenous population - from whom we can definitely learn some lessons). If the current political predicament we’re facing is anything to go by, it is certainly time for us to have that conversation as a nation.

At Be Collective, we think figures are useful - very much so! - but only when you’ve first considered values. Gladly we’ve already done a great deal of thinking on that front. We’re excited about the opportunity to measure where our efforts for positive social incomes are most impactful, or which areas can maximise their impact with additional support or funds.

We believe in greater transparency - we just want to make sure this is in support of the kind of country and community we want to create, not destroying it.

Monthly Musings - April 2015

This is my monthly newsletter. If you'd like to receive this in your inbox you can subscribe here.

Title image: the frosty mornings may have only just started in the city, but they're common in the High Country. This is a gorgeous February morning at Farmhouse Dederang.

HELLO!

Welcome to a very wanderlust-y Musings. Travel is always on my mind, but it has certainly been even more so the last little while. Perhaps it is the days getting shorter and colder...? Does this happen to you too, or am I the only one? Write to me with your travel plans for this chilly part of the year so I can Instagram stalk you and live vicariously through you as you frolic in warmer climates.

In the meantime, we had an amazing Salon on the topic of Intimacy v Internet. As always, it was so great to have such incredible people in the room. You can read more about the insights from our discussions here.

Hope the Easter break was good to you. Can you believe we're already a quarter of the way through 2015? What is it they say about the years getting faster as you get older..? xx

 

WORDS

Most of what you do today is not essential.  |  I've been reading a lot on the future of tech and humanity thanks toRebecca Lovitt and my work at Be Collective, and these two on The Shut-In Economy and What Blogging Has Become were both brilliant and scary predictions of what the future holds for us.  |  This pair of articles on why we should at persist in our attempts to create a better world were even better though. Why Not Utopia by Mark BittmanThe Most Important Thing We Can Do to Fight Climate Change is Try by Rebecca Solnit.  |  Laura Marling does Walk Alone from her new album (which I love, unsurprisingly) as part of the SXSW Lullaby Series. Divine.  |  Richard Denniss wrote a great piece for The Monthly on how "economic modelling" is being used to fuel dodgy policy debates.  | The Radical Humaneness of Norway's Halden Prison.  |    In Defence of Boredom - 200 years of ideas on the virtues of not doing.  |  Movies, art and money - Kristen Stewart on the actor's dilemma.

 

PICTURES

It seems like so much of my day is dedicated to simultaneously piquing and satisfying my wanderlust. I'm not sure if these photos of the Eiffel Tower as seen through various windows in Paris are helping.  |  The lovely Eliza Elliott's photos from her trip through Canada aren't either.  |  I finally watched Roman Holiday this week and this perfectly cute trailer will make you want to too.  |  I love this gorgeous piece by Alecia Wood about mushroom foraging. She sure is a talented lady.  |  Monique Welker's The Sunday Best blog is filled with everything I wish I spent my Sundays on. So lovely.  |  Broadsheet sent five photographers to Tasmania and the resulting images are just gorgeous.  |  A 5000 year old underground city was recently discovered in Turkey.  |  I've also been accumulating some really lovely photos over on my Pinterest board dedicated to just that.

 

CONVERSATIONS

Johann Hari discussed The Falsehood of Addiction and the War on Drugs on the Point of Inquiry podcast. It is some of the most intelligent and empathetic discussion of the topic I've come across. Read it with the stunning piece by Richard Butler on the ice epidemic destroying families and you'll start to think very deeply about what is creating this epidemic (hint, it isn't drugs). Heartbreaking stuff.  |  This RadioLab podcast on Los Frikis shows just how complex and fascinating the history of Cuba is. Punk, aids, rebellion. Go there, seriously.  |  I'm so glad the ABC put Making Australia Great on our televisions. Public broadcasting for the win!  |  Beyond Right and Wrong - Stories of Justice and Forgiveness.  |  A great super-short film by Matthew Frost entitled "Aspirational". Kids these days.  |  If you like this curated newsletter, you'll probably like Sophie Benjamin's even more. She does a great job - and she's much more consistent! Here's hers from this month.  |  The Rereaders is a recent podcast discovery thanks toJessica Stanley. It is so good. (Subscribe to her newsletter too.)  |  Wonderland - A short form documentary on creative commerce. I really enjoyed this but I'm pretty perplexed by there being only one woman featured (as part of a male/female partnership).  |  I love this interview with Fran Lebowitz about her daily uniform. 
 

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."

 

Musings Salon - February 2015

Our Musings Salon for February was on the topic of Intimacy v Internet, using a rambling essay I wrote recently as the jumping off point.

As always, it was absolutely delightful to have such clever people take part in a conversation about something that very much impacts our daily lives. A big thanks to Cameron Elliott, Sally Hill, Julia Sharwood and Rachel Service for their insights and their wonderful company. I feel so very lucky to get to spend such quality time with these wonderful humans:

A few notes from our discussion:

We spent a lot of time discussing how our relationship with our digital selves is evolving in an interesting way. In the early days of the social web, the people we connected with felt very authentic, but are becoming discernibly more curated and contrived. The more channels for "personal branding" and monetising personalities and influence emerge with digital media, the harder it is to figure out what is real and what isn't. The more corporatised and money making it becomes, the harder it is to find authentic connections and individuals amongst the noise.

Sally mentioned, "it's now second nature to us to 'manage' our profile / brand / image online. Those who don't seem to be doing so are actually the real pros." By that logic, perhaps it is actually people who are not concerned about accepted social media etiquette, often late adopters who haven't figured out the nuances, or who just have no interest in observing the idiosyncrasies of social media use. She recommended this piece on why your mum's Facebook use is likely to be more authentic than yours. As Sal said, "perhaps they're not so great at being humans on the internet but great at being humans". Maybe we can all learn a lesson from our mums in this regard.

While it wasn't what I was specifically hoping to address in my essay, we did talk a lot about connection, and whether true connection is possible digitally when the idea of authenticity is so problematic. Since we discussed it, I've noticed a rash of articles published on this very subject, many of which I've included in the further reading below.

Despite all the risks, we did all acknowledge the positive impact being digitally connected has had on our lives. To use Julia's words: "The good old days could be cruel and itchy sweater. Social media is more egalitarian. You can put your passion into making vines, or writing about culture, or taking beautiful party pictures and you'll find your tribe. They'll celebrate you for the things you love."

At the end of the day though, what really matters is that your nearest and dearest know you - the real you. And does digital help this? We didn't necessarily think so. As Sally said, "Although we had a lengthy discussion about authenticity, I think the outcome was that to be truly authentic we had to be disengaged from social media and not publishing or 'publicising' anything about ourselves."

All of us acknowledged that for the most part, that digital communities are only as good as the opportunities it presents to connect to connect with people in person. So if in doubt, remember to sit down and chat to people face to face - that way you can skip the life airbrushing and be sure you know exactly who you'e talking to.

 

Further reading / listening:

New Power and the Digital Revolution

This post was originally published on Be Collective.

After a whirlwind four days attending Pause Festival and Link Festival in Melbourne, the Be Collective office has been abuzz with discussion. What’s got us talking is the community of passionate individuals collaborating digitally to make the world a better place - not just here in Australia, but globally.

This shift hasn’t escaped the attention of some of the world’s most influential - with The Washington Post and Harvard Business Review both recently publishing reflections on the changing nature of global power.

“Power is decaying,” Moises Naim observes in the WP piece, pointing to military, political and business examples throughout the world. And he’s right - the big institutions we’re so used to deferring to no longer hold the influence they once did. The global power dynamic is changing in a big way - and the internet has a lot to do with it.

Directly from The Washington Post:

“The new breed of micropowers is opportunistically exploiting the weakness of entrenched but declining incumbents in disparate arenas. “Insurgents, fringe political parties, innovative start-ups, hackers, loosely organized activists, upstart citizen media, leaderless young people in city squares” and others “are shaking up the old order,” Naim concludes.”

And from Harvard Business Review:

“Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.”

The reason we’re so excited about this change is that this new framework of collective influence and distributed power sits squarely within the values framework we’re so passionate about at Be Collective. Collective Impact, Shared Value, Collaborative Consumption - all ideas getting plenty of buzz, but also frameworks for real change. We’re excited because we want to see communities self-organised and determining what works for them in their local area. We want individuals and small organisations to have the power to make decisions at their fingertips, and we want them to be based on the needs of the real people they see around them. We want to see power rise in a concentrated area to draw attention to an issue or solve a problem, and then dissipate or transfer to whereever else it is needed. We believe in the capacity of a powerful digital infrastructure to do all this and more.

We’re not naive enough to think that technology is going to save the world, but we do believe that empowered communities have the potential to really change what’s happening locally, and that if this is repeated throughout the world this could significantly change the way we determine what works and what’s important and make decisions that affect many. We’re talking about discussions that go right to the heart of how we structure ourselves as a civic society - big stuff, and important conversations to have.

If, as Naim suggests, the biggest challenge is in global cooperation to solve the big challenges, we hope networked infrastructure like Be Collective could help facilitate the kind of collaboration that helps. Naim’s thoughts also reinforce the value of the open eco-system we’re building – which is something we believe is key to success.

While the changing nature of global power may mean political instability in the short term, perhaps it is creating the opportunity we need to look seriously at whether we want our biggest policy and progress decisions to be made by those with vested interests. Perhaps exciting new digital tools are the catalyst we need for power de-centralisation, well-connected communities and greater civic engagement. And could that really be a bad thing?

Though it may create a lack of public consensus on policy, it makes an interesting change from the dominant ideologies which are solely focused on what’s going to deliver profit and drive growth. The dismantling of global power structures means more opportunities for individuals, local communities, and the collective global community to look at reconstructing global power with more intention, and greater consideration given to equality, wellbeing, health, connecting with others, and (ultimately) true prosperity.

So maybe the Third Revolution the emergence of digital technology is creating isn’t in the way we access information, nor is it Revolution in the sense of political revolt and overthrow. Perhaps it is in the way we reconfigure the systems that govern us, rewriting centuries of tradition, and removing layers of entrenched hierarchy.

Time will tell, but we’re certainly excited for what the future holds, and inspired by what we can unlock with what we’re creating.