— Simran Sethi in Dumbo Feather, Issue 39.
— Patrick Stokes, Making the hamster love its wheel in New Philosopher mag
I’m part of a new book club, which is quite simply fabulous. Mixing three of my favourite things - friends, reading, and critical reflection - is a lot of fun. And we’ve read some fantastic books worth recommending:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie (NYT review)
Half of a Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngoze Adichie (Guardian review), and
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (Guardian review)
are three very different but equally wonderful novels I’ve read recently. If you’re looking for young and talented women writers to sink your ‘reading’ teeth into, this is a great place to start.
Kayaking in the Tarkine Wilderness, Tasmania.
I have been quiet here. I mix of the intensity of finding my way around a new role at work, a few weeks of holidaying off the grid, and a shift in the way I use my ‘free’ time.
In this first year of our marriage, I am content spending long stretches of time with him. I’m conscious of how easy it is with busy lives and large social circles and a job that takes me away on planes from time to time that becoming friends who share a house but not a life could happen.
Not that I even worry that is what’s happening, it isn’t happening. But I like being conscious of actively connecting anyway. We have good habits, so far. I love this. Our relationship. This beautiful marriage.
But it has left me with little to say that is shareable. For now.
Unless you think the journey of creating and nurturing shared meaning is interesting. Which I do.
The same thing is happening with my family. My siblings have both had children, and I marvel (in the way that humanity can do over and over again) at the wonder of life. At the curious fact that the act of sex can produce a whole new life. A life I’m related to and love, without any effort on my part. It’s fun and incredible.
At the same time as that, my work takes me into the hard territory of a life lived in extreme poverty, and the devastation of emergencies. It has been six months since Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines (how was that only six months ago!?). The people, and especially the women and children, of South Sudan are facing violence and a food crisis. The Central African Republic. Syria and its refugees.
This is a job which keeps you very real.
This artwork is by a very talented friend of mine, ingrid k. brooker. I like her stuff. A lot. But I’ve never bought anything. I don’t know why that is.
So this year, I’m going to change that. You can too by clicking on the link above to a site where ingrid has some things for sale.
Alternatively, you may have your own friend who does something creative you love that you’ve never bought before. That’s one thing you could do this week that would tip the scales of the world a little more in the right direction.
I know a lot of people have problems with Sheryl Sandberg and her Lean In movement, but I’m not one of them.
I recently spent a few weeks debating about whether I should try and change things up in my career and apply for a new opportunity, but spent a lot of time doubting myself.
And then I heard Sheryl, or at least what she sounded like in my head before I’d also watched her TED talk and knew how she sounded, saying,
"Fake confidence until you have it"
"Sit at the table"
And the rest.
So I listened, I dusted off the resume, I applied, and I wait.
Even if I don’t get the role, I’m relieved I didn’t sit on my hands and watch the opportunity go by.
Leaning in feels good!
p.s. I got the job!
Image: Meeting a community farm group led by a headstrong, delightful woman (in the red head scarf) in Zimbabwe.
It’s 5am and I’m listening to the birds wakeup around me, the crickets chirp. It’s quiet, apart from the wildlife.
Today is my first day out of a week where I’m working in Malawi, interviewing people who are part of CARE’s projects. I love this part of my job, and feel privileged that I get to connect with the people we work for in Australia. It feels good to feel the world connected and close.
I’m reading Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, enjoying it, and am wondering what should come next.
And in all this reading and traveling, and knowing that in our world of plane travel, we are never really more than a day away from wherever it is you think is far away, it becomes impossible to ignore “over there”. Nothing is really “over there” anymore.
Not our carbon emissions, not our environmental pollution, not the people who make our clothes, or package our food, or build and design our gadgets. In this connected world we are all neighbours.
There is no excuse for turning away.
I have experience in airports. Rating them has, unsurprisingly become a habit. Perth International Airport gets. 2.5. One point for the view, one for the air conditioning (it was 43 degrees outside at 6pm. Really.) and half a point for the man next to me playing his iPad music collection without earphones. Hello ABBA, it’s been a while.
With two hours passed and another three to go, I am recalling the banality of Brunei International Airport and remembering to be thankful. At least there aren’t toy oil rigs for sale here. Yet.
But what makes a five star airport? Here are a few suggestions:
- enough adequate seating
- free internet
- a newsagent/book shop
- clean toilets, bonus for free showers
- free computers to use free internet
- good duty free options
- money exchange place with reasonable rates
- post office or place to buy stamps and post mail.
- free drinking water.
Perth, you’re half way there.
And just like that 2013 has come to an end. The year was a significant one for me personally. A quick look back at what happened, and what it all means is always a good way to start a new year. I’ve picked three things to focus on, so here goes.
1. Engaged and Married
I wasn’t going to include engaged in this bit, and just refer to the marriage, however this would be leaving out an intense six month period. In February, he proposed in the middle of the bush. We drank champagne by the waters’ edge, watching it cascade down the rocks. Joy, love, and excitement at the deepening of us filled me to bursting. It was a special day, and an incredible time getting used to the idea that someone loved me that much and I loved them that much back.
We celebrated. A lot. And we soon decided a swift wedding was a good idea.
Together we planned the actual wedding day, and also began really contemplating a whole l-i-f-e together, well into our old age. We talked about the things we wanted to do together, the kind of lives we want to lead with each other, our priorities, and our love.
And then our wedding day came, and we stood before our family and friends and made that huge commitment and had a fabulous love party. It was sensational, and the following five months of marriage have been too.
2. Content with my work
For the first time in my adult life I have clocked up three years in the same job, at the same work place. As the time has passed, the role has grown into one which is mostly fulfilling, generally rewarding, and I feel lucky to have a special bunch of colleagues who make turning up every day a good thing. It helps that I believe deeply in the work of helping to empower people living in extreme poverty to improve their lives. I also worked out that by the end of 2013, I have spoken to around 30,000 Australians about poverty and its solutions since I started the job. Unbelievable.
3. Learning about meaning
This one sounds strange, I know. To explain, I have spent a lot of time reading about the things which help to live a ‘good’/’meaningful’ life. For years now I have accepted that the work/money/stuff cycle is ultimately unfulfilling. But what I have struggled with more is defining, or ‘knowing’ perhaps, what is important to include in living a meaningful life.
After a few years of toying around the edges, I really focused on this in 2013. I’ve consulted books, articles, magazines, links, people, films and more, and have found the following particularly helpful in this: Brain Pickings, Dumbo Feather mag, New Philosopher mag, Lean In (the book), High Sobriety (the book), Jessica Stanley’s Read.Look.Think, in case you want to explore yourself.
And all of this has helped lead me to my theme for 2014: you are what you do every day.
Because I have been very good at making big changes like eating more ethically, not shopping at the duopoly, composting all household food scraps, growing herbs, making mindful purchases, saving well, traveling, loving deeply - all New Years’ Resolutions of the past, but what I falter on is consistently doing the things needed to live a good and meaningful life.
So much of the above requires substituting one thing for another. Vegetables and sustainably-caught seafood for meat. The local grocer over Coles. You get the idea. But less ‘obvious’ is the way to achieve the overall sense of a life well lived.
Throughout 2013, the process of understanding what this is for myself was challenging and rewarding. And here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- It’s all about people. Love them, listen to them, visit them, connect with them. A life without loved ones is empty, and love takes time - there are no short cuts.
- Work hard in an area that keeps you interested, but not at the expense of people. Work well and get the job done, and always leave enough time for your people every day.
- Sleep - get enough.
- Daydream - idle minds are great idea generators.
- Food - “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.
- Money - control it before it controls you (thanks Barefoot). Share your wealth with those less fortunate, too.
It’s a work in progress, but I feel better equipped this Jan 1 to live a good/meaningful life than I did last Jan 1.
Now, to do more of that, and consolidate that list.
Image: My niece reaching out to one of her great loves.
Annie Dillard as quoted in the wonderful Brain Pickings.
This is my theme for 2014: you are what you do everyday.