Thursday, 19 June 2014

Art is a Facebook Status about your Winter Break

Poetry is not dead. Here, have some.

“I swear to every heaven ever imagined,
if I hear one more dead-eyed hipster
tell me that art is dead, I will personally summon Shakespeare
from the grave so he can tell them every reason
why he wishes he were born in a time where
he could have a damn Gmail account.
The day after I taught my mother
how to send pictures over Iphone she texted
me a blurry image of our cocker spaniel ten times in a row.
Don’t you dare try to tell me that that is not beautiful.
But whatever, go ahead and choose to stay in
your backwards-hoping-all-inclusive club
while the rest of us fall in love over Skype.
Send angry letters to state representatives,
as we record the years first sunrise so
we can remember what beginning feels like when
we are inches away from the trigger.
Lock yourself away in your Antoinette castle
while eat cake and tweet to the whole universe that we did.
Hashtag you’re a pretentious ass hole.
Van Gogh would have taken 20 selflies a day.
Sylvia Plath would have texted her lovers
nothing but heart eyed emojis when she ran out of words.
Andy Warhol would have had the worlds weirdest Vine account,
and we all would have checked it every morning while we
Snap Chat our coffee orders to the people
we wish were pressed against our lips instead of lattes.
This life is spilling over with 85 year olds
rewatching JFK’s assassination and
7 year olds teaching themselves guitar over Youtube videos.
Never again do I have to be afraid of forgetting
what my fathers voice sounds like.
No longer must we sneak into our families phonebook
to look up an eating disorder hotline for our best friend.
No more must I wonder what people in Australia sound like
or how grasshoppers procreate.
I will gleefully continue to take pictures of tulips
in public parks on my cellphone
and you will continue to scoff and that is okay.
But I hope, I pray, that one day you will realize how blessed
you are to be alive in a moment where you can google search
how to say I love you in 164 different languages.”

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Shampoo and Fairy Lights

A couple of posts ago I talked about finding your crowd - your fellow kite flyers.

This time I'm going to talk about what it's like when you can't find them anywhere, and then maybe what to do about it. I'm all about action, not words, after all.

Amongst the many bazillion pseudo-inspirational quotes going around these days, one quotation that has stuck with me is this: 

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

- George Bernard Shaw

If dear George is to be believed, then being an uppity know-it-all who wants to do things differently from everyone else is actually a good thing when it comes to changing the world. I have never been anything but an uppity know-it-all who wants to DO things, and I've always been made to feel that this was something to be ashamed of. The quote above makes me think that maybe there is value in not being like everyone else.

Yes, being uppity may upset a few people

Not Being Like Everyone Else is an easy thing to feel, but not an easy thing to do. Being the only one disagreeing, out loud, in a group environment is hard. Thinking that you disagree is easy. Walking out of a class you think is a waste of time takes courage and a certain amount of self-assured uppityness. Sitting through it wishing you weren't there is not brave, but it is easier than being looked at funny or talked about afterwards. The result of each of these actions is probably going to be the same - you get nothing from the lecture - so why is it so hard for us to act as we wish to, not as we are expected to?

Do you remember that point in your adult life when you realised that there was actually no one set of Universal Rules? Maybe it was when you lived by yourself for the first time and realised that Brushing Your Teeth Before Bed was not actually a hard and fast Rule, but something that your mother enforced on you? That dinner didn't have to happen if you didn't want it to, making your bed was optional, decorating your apartment in fairy lights 12 months of the year was you choice to make and that if you damn well wanted to leave the windows open when it rained, you would! Doing what you want to do feels good. Not having to please Mum, Dad or anyone else is freeing and also slightly scary. You experiment and become more like yourself.

Free to use fairy lights whenever I like!

Soon enough though, rules creep back in again, stealthy and sinister...

Finding people who value the same things as you makes you feel comfortable. Being around people who do not value what you do, and do not like the idea of fairy lights all year, is very uncomfortable. When you are stuck in a group, or a work place, or a classroom, with the anti-fairy-lights committee, it's sometimes easier to go along with them than have to take a stand on your view of annual fairy light display. "Who cares?" you will say, "It's just a silly thing I like to do, I can forget that I want this if it means acceptance." Soon enough, you find yourself in another group, or work place, or classroom, and this time the Bed Makers are on the march. You know that the guy you talked to at lunch doesn't make his bed either, and that you both think it's kind of funny that they take Bed Making so seriously, but you go back in to the room where the Decisions are being made and neither of you say anything. You are just two lazy duvet throwers in cahoots. Your ideas are condemned and the Rule Makers march on. But we know that there really is no such thing as Rules, they are just ideas that a group legitimises via their declared majority consensus. Much like democracy. So why do you feel bad when you go home and see your fairy lights still up and your bed a mess? You never used to care before the Anti-Fairy-Lights Committee and the Bed Makers expressed their opposition to your ways so vehemently.

At this point you might be thinking, Nicole, these examples are ridiculous. People have to make compromises all the time to get along, and this is a terrible story. Well, dear reader, those examples are meant to be ridiculous. Let me tell you why.

Heuristic reflex for Australians, cognitive process for visitors

Abiding by general rules, or heuristics, is how humans, with our majestically powerful brains, cope with life and prevent ourselves becoming so overwhelmed with minutiae that we can't make choices at all. It's the reason why I drive my car on the left side of the road everyday, why I don't smoke cigarettes and why I get so upset when the supermarket doesn't have the particular type of shampoo I use - if they don't stock the pink bottle of Palmolive that smells like strawberry, that I have already tested out and decided I like based on cost, hair shininess and smell, it means I have to think about which shampoo I want to use all over again, and this stresses my reptilian brain out. I am forced to come to a new conclusion based on what is presented in front of me, or go home with no shampoo, which is obviously not an acceptable outcome.

What makes one decision able to be made via short cut or heuristic neural pathway, and another require careful days of thoughtful consideration? Your humble psychoanalyst here thinks it has to do with the amount of concern you have for the outcome. If I decide to go with Herbal Botanicals shampoo in the case of Palmolive not being available, my life will probably keep going ok. When you decide to pack up your books and walk out of the lecture that is boring you to tears, you may have more repercussions to deal with. What I'm afraid of is that you will someday care as much about the value of your time that is being wasted in a lecture as you do about which shampoo you choose to buy this week. That you will start short-cutting the important decision making by using general rules rather than your own cognitive processes. That you will stop realising that there are no rules, really, and keep quiet about your love of fairy lights all year long.

The examples I used in this post may be ridiculous, but they are meant to be ridiculous in such a way that they reflect the very personal elements that make someone unique. The quirky, personal idiosyncrasies are the things that no one should compromise in order to fit in. Value what you like and do not like. Value the personality you have. Adapt and break rules as you see fit in order to be the best version of you there is. Because here's the rub - if you don't, after a while you won't really exist at all anymore. Someone who used to do the things you like will be all there is left, and that's a poor compromise for being accepted by people who never liked fairy lights in the first place.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Walk the Talk

Because I want to walk like a boss with heaps of pandas too

There are so many things in the world I want to change and want governments to legislate for so that being smart and green is law, not optional. However, in the spirit of Gandhi, I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world while I wait.

Complaining is pretty easy to do. Changing your way of doing things is a lot harder, but ultimately more rewarding. I sometimes forget the things I do that are actually making a small difference to the rest of the world.  So, in the interests of promoting action over talk, here is a list of things that do or have done in order to make smart and green the norm, not the exception:

1. I swapped my Super fund to Australian Ethical

Money speaks volumes when you decide to take it away from one person and then give it to someone else. Trust me, I have never received so much attention from my old super fund as the day I switched my savings to someone else. Letters and phone calls all week! SunSuper is a great fund, but they weren't as progressive as AE and they couldn't guarantee they had investigated the ethical practices of every investment partner they had. I like the idea of investing in green technology, and things like the cochlear implant people, and you know, not coal. So I switched.


2. I ride my bike to work 2 or 3 times a week

This does so many things for me! It's my mental health hour, it's my gym, it takes my car off the road and it saves me money. It was a conscious decision to take a job close enough to my house that I could cycle to and fro - there's even a bike path that goes 95% of the way, so it's like my very own personal freeway lane, right next to the cars stuck in a traffic jam. Gliding downhill past motionless cars never fails to make my day.

3. I live in a small house and I intend to live in a smaller house next time I move.

McMansions are possibly the most ghastly and grotesque beasts to grow from mindless consumerism. Say no to suburban caves. I love living in a small space - it means the things I buy to furnish it can be of better quality because I need less of them and can therefore afford to spend more money on them. I use less electricity to heat and cool and light my house, and oh, it's underneath someone else's house, so our collective footprint is smaller too. I really don't feel like I need to go out and occupy my allocated 1.1 square kilometres of Australia actually, I really don't.

4. I don't own a television. Nope.

I have a shiny MacBook, but I don't have my own television any more (correction, I put it in storage with all my Mum's stuff, but I intend to get rid of it properly now that I know how easy it is to live without). I fill up my evenings with study, books, internet surfing and Skype conversations with friends in far away lands. If I get desperate, I can traipse upstairs and watch TV with my brother, but that happens maybe once a week or so. I am not the person to discuss GOT plots with, sorry.

5. I take public transport in to the city as much as I can.

Living in a suburb on the fringes of Brisbane does pose its own special social challenges, however, most of the time the train will take me almost all the way to where I want to go. I can drink, and I can catch up on reading or simply gawk at the exotic types of human fauna that populate the Ipswich line (this is best done whilst wearing sunglasses, obviously). Having places to crash in the city does help though, because if I didn't, missing the last train would immediately turn me in to a grumpy pumpkin.

6. I took the 33 things challenge, and then kind of forgot about the rest of my wardrobe.

Courtney Carver, writer of excellent blog Be More With Less, had an interesting idea. What if people had to choose just 33 items to dress themselves with for 3 months. That includes shoes and accessories, but excludes underwear and gym gear. 33 things. I live in Queensland, so it is surprisingly easy to do this in summer, and hey, let's face it, also quite easy to do in winter if you own a decent pair of jeans and a good coat. So now I own a lot less clothes, and also buy a lot less because I realised I just didn't wear those excess items at all. The ones I do choose to put away are quickly forgotten about and when I go to change my wardrobe over for the next 3 months, it's like greeting old friends! Hey pretty scarf, I haven't seen you in ages! Try it, you will actually enjoy it I swear.

7. I don't like physical presents.

Clarification: I actually love receiving presents. You give me a thoughtful gift, I am yours. However, give me some thing and maybe I am not so thrilled underneath. When it comes to birthdays and Christmas, I ask for things that are not 'things' like massage vouchers and going out to dinner.
I did ask for a compost bin last Christmas, which was a pretty great present, but really, if you are not sure what to get me, don't get me anything! I love handmade cards and chocolate. A winner every time.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Do You Fly Kites?

How do you construct your world? Are you even aware that the world you occupy, how it sounds, smells, looks, feels, is all unique to you? That you are seeing life precisely as your experiences allow you to? How have you built your world? What occupies the most precious space in your existence? Your mother, your dog, your Facebook friends? Your children, your boss, your house?

My life has been in a constant state of flux for practically the last ten years. So many situations, people, circumstances and opportunities have come and gone that my answers to the above questions have always needed to be constantly updated. Not since I was 17 have I lived at the one address for longer than a year. Change has been my constant, and now, as I realise that I have lived at my current address for over a year, and that I am still wanting to be here, doing what I'm doing, I am trying to answer these existential questions for myself.

Life has already taught me that to live is to be a connected, social being. It's hard to be someone when no-one knows you and you know no-one - not on a meaningful level anyway. You just kind of exist for yourself, and after a while, you go mad. I've always marvelled at people who are content to stay in the same place, the same job, the same relationship. What about life? I would think. What about all that life going on out there that you aren't a part of? You are missing out, I would think. I still think that change is the one constant, and that gracefully adapting to change is a skill worth envying, however, I now want to try something new. I want to try staying physically still to dig deeper in to the people around me. That's right, I want to get my tentacles in to you. Uh oh.

Let me tell you a little about myself before I go reaching for your inner thoughts.

I am an introvert. A person that gets her strength and energy from being alone for a while. Being in my own little artistic creative world makes me happy, and when I emerge, I share that happy, creative shiny self with the people I know will enjoy it too. Having to elaborate, validate or over share myself with people who don't pick up on my ideas too readily in order to connect with them makes me grouchy, sullen and sarcastic. If I can't retreat back in to my own world fast enough, well then I'm just not pleasant to be around.


Lots of people will know what I mean, and lots of you won't. That's ok. I suggest Susan Cain's excellent book Quiet as a starting point. She also does a great TED talk on the introvert/extrovert dichotomy too. The point of all this self-confession is that I have reached the point where I don't know if only concentrating on those who do "get me" and ignoring or limiting my time with those who don't is a good thing to do or not. Surely everyone has something to offer me? I like to think that everyone I meet is part of the smorgasbord of prosaic wisdom offered up by the collective human condition, however, I find it hard to hold this point of view to be true all the time.  Especially after a week like this one.

Religion has many flaws, it is true, but it does offer some enticing short cuts to keeping sane. Human beings, at least in my own experience, like to have certainties. We like to know what's right and wrong, and how to correct our mistakes. Anyone with an Anglo-Saxon Christian heritage will probably be familiar with the concept that through suffering, a higher realisation can be reached. Through doing something we don't like, or resisting the pull of something we do, we will ultimately improve ourselves, be a better person. How about: No pain, no gain. Resist temptation. Turn the other cheek. Sound familiar? The concept of suffering for a noble purpose is what I am struggling with in my quest to dig in and really connect with those around me. I do not suffer fools gladly, and can become quite frustrated quite quickly when I realise I am not understood and will not be understood by those around me without quite a lot of effort on my behalf. Most of the time, the effort required far outweighs the gravity of the situation. Shopping centres drive me batty, yet when everyone in the group wants to eat at the food court and I want to sit on the hill outside and eat my sandwich in peace, it's easier to go along with the status quo than try to change the course of the proverbial river. This still leaves me resentful, underneath, as I genuinely don't want to even be on the proverbial river, I want to get off the boat and go fly a kite. So when I meet someone who prefers kite flying to rivers, I pretty much want to devour them.

What a lovely elephant you have there

I am told that I have a strong personality, which is really just a nice way of saying that I speak my mind when others wish I would shut up. If there's an elephant in the room, you know I'm going to ask how long it's been there, what it's name is and why you decided to get an elephant in the first place. I am that person. Having not stayed in one place long enough to make lots of interconnected, deep rooted relationships before, being the elephant spotter has never been much of an issue before now. I have suffered no serious repercussions. I even enjoy exercising this part of me to some degree. People either feel relieved or horrified at my impertinence. Personally, it makes it easier to spot the kite flyers for me, so I haven't bothered adapting my technique much. What I am grieved about is giving myself permission not to persevere. To identify and then discard those that I don't click with. I am not religious, so I don't feel bound by dogma to struggle for the sake of my soul. Will I miss some vital learning by tuning out? Will I be a terrible person if I don't try and at least get to know these river boaters better?

The time has come to say no.

I am going to build my life around the kite flyers. They are the ones who make me feel alive, the ones who make me feel I am worth something to someone else. We are a small club, but every time I meet another kite flyer, I hold on tight. My good, close friends, the ones I haven't seen for years but will drop everything for at a moment's notice, they never live near me, but they are the ones worth travelling to see and creating beautiful Christmas cards for. Through my travels I found a few at university, one or two in the Air Force, a few overseas and a few found me. My Demi-Gods are a good example of what I look for in a kite flyer.

So now you know how I intend to pursue my grounded life. With those who add most meaning to it. The people with the crazy I can relate to, not the crazy I can't stand.

Before I end this treatise, I feel it is important that I add a little disclaimer: I still want to know the people I don't click with. They are still important and they add colour to my life. My point is that I am not going to beat myself up every time I don't click with someone. I am going to be ok with not being instantly liked by other people sometimes, because maybe they see me as a lonely figure on a hill holding on to a kite when all they want is to find their own tribe, their own little river boat crew to glide through life with. And that's ok too.