Smelling the roses.

Every morning I run the gamut of coffee shops on the way to work. The throngs of people that clog the walkways and obstruct people who have already got their morning beverage trying to get to their desks to show that they are on time and ready to do their company’s bidding.

Pre-made food slapped on a hot surface speedily heat it to a point that it becomes palatable. Coffee in its various configurations. Sugar enriched snacks that will give that rush that allows you to smile as you enter the room that you will spend the next 8 hours. It is a curious thing that somewhere along the way, even though we have all the technology, all these things that make life easier, life seems to be speeding up.

When I was in Croatia, a person I had met decided she wanted to get a take away coffee from the local beachside café. The staff member looked slightly confused, though to be fair this could have been a slight language area, but dutifully went off to prepare said take away cappuccino. The staff member returned moments later with a cappuccino prepared in a plastic see through cup that you would more often see at a children’s birthday party and sticking out of the coffee in the plastic cup was a straw. A coffee on the go, it seems is unusual in a country like Croatia.

On my travels I visited many places where the day’s work coexists with enjoying the day. When a shop is empty, the vendor sits out the front of the store playing chess with another vendor who has an empty store. Coffee in Turkey and Croatia is a social event rather than something that must be consumed on the run. In fact, many countries seem to take longer to do things. Turkey, it’s hard to find an open café before about 9am. Slovenia still clings to that slightly slower pace but a leisurely morning is slowly being absorbed into a more EU approach. Someone is certainly benefitting from earlier mornings, longer days and 24hr access to their staff but you would be hard pressed to prove it is the rank and file workers.

Over the years I have work more than my share of jobs in more than my share of industries. I have seen innovations come and go. Open plan offices, hot desks, flexitime. It all seems like good things but consider the next time you are at the office, when you arrive and do a little extra before you officially start work, sit at your desk and work through your lunch break or stay a little later to sort out that one last issue so your team can make service, consider that many employers count on workers doing that. Think about how many hours you are contributing each year to a business and not being compensated for. Some smaller businesses will certainly appreciate it, but when you work for a company that posts a $6Billion profit for 6 months, if they really cared that the work you are doing in your free time got done, they could most certainly pay you to do it (or perhaps even hire enough staff to do it).

It’s hard to break a cycle like that. In a world of constant pull, I have been finding it harder to hang on to those moments of quiet reflection. Those moments where you just get to sit and enjoy your lunch, a coffee or a meal with a friend. I’m a morning person, I admit it. Though not always the most alert, for the most part my body functions well enough in the wee AM to allow me to get into a day a little earlier than most. When I wake up, I stretch, (if my body doesn’t tell me to go forth and multiply) I like to cook myself some breakfast and then sit and have a coffee. Getting up a little earlier to enjoy the day is a little counter intuitive if you love a cosy bed and hitting that snooze button but not having to madly rush everywhere is also pleasant. I had also noticed of late that I found myself constantly refreshing my Facebook while I was on the train, needing a constant stream of activity to fill up the minutes of the day. I have started forcing myself to relinquish the hold my phone has on me. Not bringing it to meals. Only refreshing once every hour. They are little things but they seem to make a difference.

Everyone has to make their lives work for them as best as they can, some escape into a class of some sort for an hour or so, some cook (or watch cooking shows) and some never stop long enough to think if they could use some slowing down. Allowing yourself to take the time to enjoy something is important, I really believe that. At the end of your life you certainly wont be looking back and remembering that instagram update, or even this blog, but you may remember an amazing sunrise, a good meal with a friend where you sat and talked for hours or a leisurely walk somewhere.

 

Advertisements

Interpretation

One night on my travels, whilst I was in Split I ended up at the Marcs Marvlvs bar. (as I frequently did) This night in particular, there was a poetry night on. Random strangers crowded in and recited poems, original or ones that just stuck with them. My friend, Tin, the bartender was an accomplished poet and had several on hand, (in Spanish) and knowing that it was a passion, I thought that I should make an effort to contribute to the evening. One poem was scratched out over a glass of Dalmatian Red on my phone.

I charge to damage and wound

The absence of malice irrelevant

The rhythm of the feet a drum

The blood rises, the fever overtakes

I fly and the fire explodes

Sanity returns

The fever subsides

I press off the ground and charge again.

What I didn’t realise that was after every poem people would talk about the poems and about how they interpreted the poem. It was an interesting experience. The depth that people brought to my poem was astounding. I’m certain that the alcohol had some impact but as I listened I was amazed at how wrong some of the ideas were.

All through high school and college, I struggled with the idea of breaking down epic works to what the author was really getting at. “Clearly the author was referencing blah…” Time and again the discussion raged and I couldn’t help myself attempt to disrupt the class by asking the same question. “Isn’t it possible the author was on drugs or something and just telling a story?” Usually the only response was a glare from the teacher.

Now I don’t pretend for one second to consider myself a writer of the calibre of Twain, Shakespeare, Atwood, Keats, Yeats and of course Wilde, but the poem above was nothing more than me trying to describe the feeling that occurs when, in the midst of an Aikido rundori (basically a group of Aikidoka, Aikido students, attack a single target in a series of attacks), you get thrown across the room, and land on the hard floor, your legs slam together and catch your balls between them basically knackering yourself. Not wanting to make the Tori (Executor of the techniques) look bad, you drag yourself from the floor and keep attacking.

When you read what I actually meant, the poem, (such as it is) makes more sense. I guess this is my verbose way of saying that the next time you are dealing with someone whose behaviour frustrates you, consider that perhaps, despite your own insightful observations, you may not be reading the tale with the same context as the author. Slammed

Completing. The secret of success?

Over the years I have dabbled in many things. Always searching for success in whatever I attempted to do. It doesn’t always come easily. I think I often go out of my way to pick things that are not my natural strengths as a I like to think that if I can become good at them it is a more worthy achievement.

Writing has always been one thing that has been a struggle. I have imagination, but then again so do many people. If you don’t believe me, just go to a party and tell people you are a writer and straight away you will find out so many other people have stories that they want to tell. I have trouble, frequently, with spelling and grammar. (If you have ever read any of my stuff you will know this already.) Even when I recheck, there are mistakes that slip through the cracks and it can be quite embarrassing.  The big thing though, the major impediment to success as a writer, (and many other projects) is completing.

It’s a very simple step in the process and the one that many people I have spoken to over the years struggle with. I have spent a great deal of time listening to talks by writers, film makers, artists of every stripe and the main difference between those that are successful and those who are not, is completing. Whatever project you start, you need to make certain that you take that struggling beast to the end of the line and then wrestle it over the line.

That is not to say what you create will be perfect. I remember someone telling me that “Directors never finish films, they just move on.” I feel a little like that about my writing sometimes. I will frequently find myself revising works to try and get every last drop out of it. This can be helpful a few times but if you are just tweaking so that you don’t have to finish it, then you should just make the decision that it is finished and move on.

Completing shouldn’t be that hard but as I am certain many people could tell you, it can be the most daunting thing in the world. The reasons for completing can also be quite daunting. For me personally, the biggest issue that I have ever had with completing was always a silly fear that I clung too. Simply put, over the years people told me that I was smart and creative and had talent. All positive things it’s true, but somewhere in the twisted recesses of my mind it became a major impediment, after all what would happen if I did complete something and it was terrible? What if that project that I had such a great idea for was poorly executed and completely wasted? Would everyone hate and shun me? Would they cast me out and not want me as a friend?

Yes these are all stupid thoughts but fears are rarely logical and the consequences come from deep down inside. I have also spoken to those with similar issues and another common fear is the one that, people think they are worthless and if they try and fail at something, then it proves that they are indeed worthless. Neither of these are particularly inspiring motivators to finish projects and certainly would impede someone’s desire to show their work to get honest feedback. I’m a harsh critic of my work but I am lucky to know a few people who have been good enough to give constructive feedback. Feedback is good but it can be tough to hear, especially when it isn’t the good stuff. I appreciate the bad stuff, if it’s constructive. It gives me somewhere to go and might help me see what I am missing, but again, if your work is bound up in your fears it can make you gun shy. In the end you have to take that leap of faith.

No matter the task, even something as simple as cleaning a room or washing the dishes, I think completing the task at hand is extremely important. Maybe it’s a shift in thinking that comes with getting older? It may just be a simple satisfaction that produces it’s own charge that can never, and should never be underestimated, especially when you are trying to achieve anything of value. Completing what you start is a habit, much like any other that you incorporate into your life. It will be interesting to see if it makes any long term difference in mine.

Play it again, Sam.

When I was in primary school I was a prolific writer.  My imagination unrestrained, every other day I had a new story that I was working on. Acts of great heroism, death, issues of the day. (As you have when you are in grade 5.) I still have a folder somewhere of all these old stories. Writing was something I loved to do. I don’t remember the day that it happened, (I’m guessing it was around the time I discovered girls and video games.) but slowly the volume of work I produced diminished until the day that I never returned to scribbles and tales of high adventure.

My creative impulses never went away, but I fed them with the works of others. I read novels and comic books, watched film and TV voraciously but I stopped creating myself. I have often wondered if it was purely the result of getting older of if it is something more to do with how we view people who do creative things as they get older, and more importantly, how we view these endeavours. Some people buck the trend and study the creative arts, some doggedly pursue this creative impulse despite the highs and lows. Most people, however, do not.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Creativity

I remember the old story I believe attributed to the Cherokee Indians, about the wolves. The long and the short is that there are two wolves inside us in terms of the person we are and the one you choose to feed is the one that will be strongest. I believe there are many aspects to everyone and the more you take the time to feed the different aspects, the happier you feel. If you had strong creative impulse when you were young, that aspect always remains, often though, I think that people neglect this part of themselves.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find that someone out there has done a paper or studied this but for me it was more just an observation of people over the years. When I started writing and creating again, there was indeed a charge that came with just the act of doing the writing. Sure, the results were less than impressive but that is never really the point. I have struggled with a lack of any musical ability and my forays in piano playing and trumpet playing were tortuous on both my ears and the surrounding population, (all creatures great and small.) I was given a guitar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

when I hit the ripe old age of 30 but it has only been recently that I started making a serious effort. An interesting side note, as I have started practicing the guitar I have noticed that I have become much more aware of music, hearing  details in many songs that I have missed out on at a conscious level. It is a wonderful realisation and invites you to listen to old favourites for those touches that elevate the music.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Art in it’s many forms

My writing has progressed over the years and though much of what I created will never see the light of day. It certainly has made a difference to myself and how I feel. I knew many creative people when I was in school. It surprises me that often I meet them later on in life and most have let their creative self, fall by the wayside. I’m not certain why we decide that the creative aspect of ourselves isn’t worth of the same attention we used to give it when we get older. It may not always be practical to feed that specific beast but for some reason I think when I do, I feel more real and more whole as a person. For something so simple with so much potential, it may just be worth a go.

Too buff for the wet suit.

There was a time when I was ripped. Not an ounce of fat could be found on me. I could (and did) swim a 20km swim to raise money for something and I was firing on all cylinders like a champion. I was twelve. At the time, I was swimming 13 times a week, average session length was 2hrs. I was about as fit as someone can get. I don’t swim like that anymore. I can’t imagine how I did it at the time. I have a life now that precludes that insane level of training. As I slowly stopped swimming the fitness dropped. What can I say, there was high school and of course there were girls. The idea of spending that much time staring at a line in the bottom of a pool lost its importance.

Time went on. I still maintained a fairly good figure with little effort. I was doing a little martial arts, occasional swimming and always up to stuff with my mates on the weekend. My metabolism was incredible. Not matter how much I ate, I burned it all off. Then one day I turned 30. It wasn’t like the Cinderella and the midnight sort of event. I didn’t simply hit 30 and boom, the spare tyre appeared. It was a progression. I was eating like I did when I was a teenager but sitting down more. Worse, I had money so my diet was becoming something that was more completely under my control. These days there are so many diets and articles floating around, analysing food types and what does what, but back when I was younger, this stuff just wasn’t as prolific as it is these days. I started writing when I wasn’t sitting at a desk and work and exercise became something I did a couple of times a week. After a few years of that I noticed that the spare tyre just wasn’t going away. The crystallising moment for me was the day I went to try on a wetsuit and couldn’t fit into my usual size. Sure the humble wetsuit isn’t the slip on accessory we all imagine but even after excessive inhalation and contortions, I had arrived at the conclusion that, I had pulled that suit on as far as it was ever going to go. The store assistant called from beyond the flimsy moth eaten curtain. “How you going in there?” What I am certain he really wanted to tell me, was that if I split that suit I was going to be buying it. I admitted defeat and called out. “Sorry mate. I’m too fat for this one.” His response was what you would expect from a male surfer and was very much indicative of the male mindset as you start to add a few extra kilos. “Mate, around here, we say, you’re too buff for the wetsuit.”

These days I eat better, my health is excellent, (I made it through India and Nepal and never got sick once.) but the spare tyre hangs around. I know women have all those body issues and I even hear now that men are also now struggling to meet rise up to the expectations set by the models and actors that we see plastered all over the place. (I am fairly certain that if a single issue of Men’s Health went to print without the promise of “Rock Hard Abs” somewhere inside, it would unleash untold horrors onto the world. (As Bruce Campbell is about to do in the new Ash vs the Evil Dead series. Sorry, but I’m really excited about it.) My abs may indeed be rock hard but they are carefully packed away under a little extra padding. I never gave those magazines and films that much time. I know how hard those guys work. For me, the drive comes from the Santa Cruz crew. My friends clustered in and around Bondi. They eat well, exercise and as a general rule, all look in pretty good condition. (Those sons of bitches.) They don’t really care if I am sporting a gut but it helps as a reminder that I should be making an effort, so I am motivated. I don’t want to be the buffest guy at Bondi, but I always make an effort to try and get into shape other than Buddha shape. The trouble is exercise. And food. And the fact that I enjoy writing.

Exercise and I have an interesting relationship. I always enjoy when I am doing it. Getting the pump, the stretch, sweating, the fresh air. Early morning wakes ups don’t even bother me. Getting out of bed though. That is where the problem lies. I’m no fool. I set an alarm. It goes off, and even when my mind is sharp and I am feeling refreshed, the evil monster inside of me reminds me of how comfortable my bed is. How good that perfect warmth is. How the pillow is now in the perfect mould around my head. The idea of forcing myself from this condition and completing even a solitary push up is sometimes unthinkable. I’m staying with my parents as I rebuild my finances. The place they live has a heated lap pool. Yes, that’s right. Heated. And if you think for one second I am going to leave my cosy bed and jump into a pool at 6am, you are out of your mind.

Food, glorious food. I love food. I eat well. I love a simple meal of steamed veggies, salad and a bit of meat or eggs. Not much in the way of pasta, grains or potato in my diet. I have even cut out the desserts (mostly) and the late night chocolate or biscuits (on occasion, though that is mostly because I didn’t pick some up from the shops.) Of course when I start writing, I like to snack. When I binge watch TV a snack or two goes well. Go to the movies, better get a choc top. Visit friends. Food time! Yup, I love my food. I like to cook too. You can bet that they are all meals that aren’t going to help with the weight loss, especially when it tastes so darn good that I have a bit extra. Luckily there is wine to wash it all down.

Yup. The war between myself and the spare tyre goes on. I will be moving back to Bondi in time for some of the summer and I am looking forward to the runs on the beaches, the work out on the bars. The swimming in the ocean. My favourite butcher, coffee shop, gelato bar, fruit and veggie market, and places to have a cheeky drink or three. Luckily I have my friends as a reminder, except when they are busy exercising. (Because screw that.) It’s a war of attrition and sooner or later one of us will emerge the victor. Let’s just hope it’s not the Michelin Man.

Back in the groove again.

After some extended travel, being back in a nine to five existence is an interesting counterpoint. I hit the ground, in a little debt, and feeling out of place in a city that when I left, felt like a tshirt that you wear far too often. (You know the one. It smells a little funky. Slips on a little too easily and is probably due for a change.) I started to reconnect with family and friends and it felt good. There are lows that come with being back. No longer is every day a new adventure seeing wonders of the world and meeting new people who’s life experience is far removed from my own and the stories that come from it. The regular life is certainly a different one. Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the old life from the new one. 2015-09-13 09.23.16

I live a little away from where I work, so my daily commute involves a twenty-minute walk to the station and fifty-minute train ride to the city. It gives me a lot of time every day to just enjoy the morning before I get into the office. Riding the train every day you start to see the same faces, in the same carriages, often in the same seats. I look at the people on the train, staring at their phones, sleeping, reading kindles, books, magazine and laptops. Many stare off into their own world and I find myself wondering what they are thinking about. I know where I go when I get the stare. I end up in fantasy worlds, imagining myself, a story, what could be, where I would rather be. The announcer’s garbled voice calls to me and reminds me where I am. The people begin their weary march to the office.

I will readily admit that the first few days of doing this were incredibly tough. You look at all the blank faces. You breathe in the stale air. You walk through the throng of people up the stairs and into the heart of the city. The city in the morning as it slowly fills with people, is both a little depressing and also quite lovely. Everyone looks so fresh. Ready for a new day. Hair done, shirt ironed. (Except for me, the iron only comes out as a last resort.) You would think that the day to day existence for these people would be a misery. 2015-09-14 13.37.07

One of my first major upheavals in my life came on a bus on the way to work. I was heading to a job and I decided my life was not going where I wanted it to go so I decided then and there that I was going to change it. The job I landed is in a call centre. It’s not what I want to be doing but the people are nice and the atmosphere is my kind of atmosphere. As you step off the train, the crowd of people explode from the gates and make the mad dash to the office, or more likely, their coffee shop. The queue politely and wait for their chance to exchange a few brief words with their barista as they wait for whatever exotic combination gets them through the day. (With a twist of lemon if need be.)

It sounds unbearable and it is in some ways it sort of is. You would think it is a miserable existence but then every so often you see a bright spark. The barista who genuinely enjoys the day to day moments with his customers. He knows their order and takes great delight in making that coffee to perfection. The people on the train that always sit in the same seat, they have their familiar faces and catch up on whatever it is that fires them up. The workers rush to their offices, gym gear ready for a lunch or post 5pm work out to melt the day away.  2015-09-14 13.42.57

I like to think I have always been pretty good at noticing things but I think that the travel time has sharpened it up a little more. I think that I appreciate those moments of joy and happiness a little more now than I did before. No matter where you go and what you see, those moments are special. No life is ideal. When you travel there are the downs too, but as the moments drift into memory and you start to remember the moments in the way that makes you smile. Nine to five isn’t a horrible existence and who knows what will happen in a month, or even a week. If you are in the now and you happen to be present for a moment like that, make sure you enjoy it, after all a change, even in attitude can be as good as a holiday. 2015-09-14 13.44.21

The end of the road?

“Are you sure you really want this job?” The lady asked. Hair up in a bun, glasses and eye infection which prevented her from shaking hands but didn’t prevent her from sharing the gruesome details.

Very much Croatia

Very much Croatia

Holland was the last stop on my trip. I had seen family I hadn’t seen in years and some children that I had never seen. I noticed an interesting transition place in me, as my return date was growing closer. I really started to feel fatigue. Despite the numerous sights and limited time to see them, it was hard to find the motivation to head out into the Netherlands and explore. My bank account was drained and mentally I just was hoping for the day to arrive when I could jump on the plane and head back to Oz. That being said, even as I was driving to the airport, I was missing my European family and new friends. As an Australian, you are acutely aware of just how far everything is from where we are and the idea of simply being able to jump on a plane and visit some of these countries for a long weekend was soon to be impossible.

Back to Bondi Beach

Back to Bondi Beach

I have now spent enough time in airport limbo that I am getting quite effective at finding ways to survive the downtime. I try and keep moving, as I know that the flight ahead of me will force me into a seat for a prolonged period. Every step prior to the commencement of the journey becomes something to be treasured. Screaming kids aren’t a huge problem for me. Having a hoodie cuts down extraneous light and noise. I had a strange passenger who decided that he liked my window seat so much that he had settled into it by the time I got on the plane and with every bathroom trip I made, I would find him sitting comfortably in my seat when I returned. In exchange for not getting the seat he wanted, he would elbow me quite hard every time I rested my elbow on our common armrest and kick me whenever my feet crossed what he perceived to be the boundary between out two seats leg space. After a few beers his mood did not improve. And he got so vocal that the flight attendant had to come and tell him he was causing problems. There were no window seats available for him to be moved to so he refused to move. When the flight attendant asked if I wished to be moved I politely declined, after all, if I moved this man would then get the seat he wanted and screw that guy.

Good old Taj

Good old Taj

Getting back to Australia was a fun experience. Clearing customs was honestly quite painless, the guards happily steering people through the latest and greatest in tech to register and document my movements. Standing at the carousel waiting for my bags was the first sign I was back in Australia. The voice came over the speakers announcing that they were experiencing technical issues that were causing delays in the arrival of our luggage. “Bullshit.” Said one of the airport staff to me. “Fuckers are understaffed as usual.” Yes, I was indeed back in Australia.

Coffee Time

Coffee Time

The joy of seeing family and friends again after a long absence cannot be understated. My trip was only seven months but seeing my dad waiting at the gate was a great feeling. A bottle of water waiting for me I the delays were enough that I got to experience the joys of Sydney weekday morning traffic. The weather was typical early spring weather, cool and sunny and to be honest about the same temperature as the Dutch summer I was leaving.

Settling in back at home presented the usual issues, not the least of which was the fact that I was coming back to a life I had packed away with no clear plan for when I returned. Clothes in boxes and scattered through family homes and garages. (Some clothes remain with friends.) No job to go back to, or even poorly defined career path. I hadn’t had any writing breakthroughs that would allow me a career as a writer, (though I would be lying if I did not say I felt I had made substantial progress.)

Celebrating with a mate

Celebrating with a mate

On the plus side, I now have more than one pair of pants and clothes start to have a little variety again. The washing machine is accessible and any food I leave in the household fridge overnight will be there in the morning. I headed down to Bondi Beach to soak it all in. Coffee at my favourite coffee/second hand book store, a walk on the beach, dinner at one of my favourite eateries. Amusingly over the course of a meal, six of my good friends all came there for dinner and my quite evening became a catch up. Being home has it’s benefits.

Lunch in Slovenia

Lunch in Slovenia

I’ve been back two weeks now and I have caught up with the immediate family and friends that I could squeeze in. I have started job hunting for anything that will pay money to fund my next adventure, (though I recommend never mentioning that at interviews) and I have started to find a routine of sorts. I have gone up a belt notch and my body is craving those days of 12 hour walks through strange cities full of undiscovered sights, sounds and smells. A friend told me that he always felt depressed after a long vacation and I could see what he means. I sat on a bus after the interview with the woman with the droopy eye and considered briefly that perhaps this was the life that I get now, full of nine to five, and full of the ordinary. I didn’t really want the job, and as fate would have it, I didn’t end up getting it. To be honest there was a feeling of relief when I got the news.

Waiting for the train from Normanhurst

Waiting for the train from Normanhurst

The feeling passed, as with all feelings. The travel has sharpened my senses to look at the mundane and look for those little treats that often get overlooked in a life of routine. Things as simple as, the trees at the train station, the smell of the air and the joy of a meal with friends. I imagine things are going to be topsy turvey for a while and until I find some direction, I have plenty to look back on and plenty in Sydney to keep me occupied.

Home again

Home again