Being a change

One of the things that I love about traveling is meeting different people and sharing their experience of their own country. On my last great trip I met some amazing people who in their own way are shaping their country.

Recently one of the places I had spent some time has been in the news. It was a fairly secular country but more and more, under the present leadership that country has been changing. One of the things I tried to do when I travelled was to just stay in one area for a while in the hopes that I could see a little beyond the surface.

One of the friends I made on the journey was quite concerned about the changes that were taking place in their country. Months later when I saw them again they remarked over a beer that they were feeling less safe walking down the street in than they did only a few months ago. Freedoms of the press were being curtailed, a more hardline religious tone was coming out of their leaders and many terrible things were occurring in the country as it was heading towards an election.

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Effort required.

My friend was justifiably concerned about the direction they felt their nation was going but they also were living in a position where they were less comfortable saying anything in any format that might have been interpreted as negative of their leaders. (Even as I write this I was conscious to not provide anything that might make them easily identifiable.) It seems strange to me, as I follow the news of that country, to see what has happened in such a short period of time.

I take a lot of things for granted. The idea that my country will always remain my country as I think of it is one of them. Maybe that is why I went to the protest a couple of weekends back? For those of you in Australia, I would hope that you are aware of what has been happening in New South Wales and especially Sydney in relation to the changing of laws to limit where and what time you can go to bars. The removal of elected councils that fall into the same development areas that the government is trying to push an infrastructure project through, the new powers that are being given to police and law enforcement agencies that given them greater authority as to where I can go and whom I can congregate with.

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So many reasons to protest.

All these changes mean more to me now than they previously did because I have witnessed just how quickly these little changes can impact on the life I want to lead. Don’t get me wrong, I have no interest in breaking laws or getting into trouble, but now the police can decide that a group of people coming together over an issue could be considered a threat to public safety and they can make us disperse. They can decide that if I am gong somewhere they don’t like they can pass a law restricting my movements. There is also less recourse for people like me to challenge these decisions and even less transparency from our officials to justify their decisions.

I watched and I listened and the more I listened the more concerned I became. The people cheered at the right moments, the speakers were loud and angry. The police stood around and made certain that the protestors stayed in the designated area. Walked the designated route at the designated time. Several undercover police moved through the crowd. All in all, it was a perfectly acceptable protest.

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Exercising your freedoms over designated routes only.

I found myself chuckling as one speaker announced that if things didn’t change, the elected officials of our state would get a nasty surprise in three years. Yup. Three years. Does anyone remember Kony 2014, or even what you were doing last weekend? This protest was likely to achieve nothing because the people in power know that in three years, if by some miracle someone remembers, they may get voted out of office.

It would scarcely matter by then as they will have destroyed Sydney’s night life enough that the developers can move into the parts of the city that have been off limits to them because of thriving businesses. The elected councils that were removed and replaced with people beholden to the same corporation that is trying to get the massive building project up and running may go back to the people but by then all the official approvals will have been passed and the project commenced. Perhaps even a few brown paper bags will have been filled with money or the promise of future employment secured.

How do I know this? The corruption is always there. Not limited to any nation. Everyone knows it. I have heard people speak of former ministers well known for such flexible behaviour. These days it appears less and less like something they care to hide and I am complicit in this. I vote once every few years and then I go back to my life. I bitch and moan about my leaders but I never joined a party, or took any time to find someone that would stand up for what I wanted. (Or God forbid, stood up myself.)

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And perhaps we should be.

Be the change you want to see in the world is a quote I see get bandied about from time to time. Perhaps it is time for me to figure out how to do that beyond the walls of a Facebook like.

Starting all over again

It’s been a while. A long while since I had the urge to write. Actually, that is not exactly true. I have had the urge but I always found a way to put it off. Stories in my head and words on a page are two very different beasts. In my head, my ideas are brilliant. They are perfect and there is no risk. Once I start committing to paper (or any other medium) I run the risk of not being as great as I am in my head.

The trigger that took me off writing was another failure. It happens when you are a writer. You hear stories about all the rejection letters that famous writers got and then one day they became successful. Letters aren’t so bad. Even if it is a form letter, there is some recognition of your work. It gets hard when you hear nothing. No letter, no email, no feedback. You submit something and then you wait till one day you decide that you will not hear anything and move on.

When I was offered the opportunity of writing for a TV show, I was understandably nervous. My first attempt had been a solid effort but it had been a while since and so whilst I wanted to grasp the brass ring with both hands, I was hesitant. At the time I had one request in taking on this task. Feedback. I asked that someone give me feedback on what I was submitting so I could see what was going on and work out where improvements needed to be made. I wanted to do it right and I would rather have had less work and be submitting good work than just take the money. The feedback never came. Nothing. I would just get called and given another script and to be fair, I never asked if there was anything to work on, after all I had asked for feedback and if nothing was given that meant that I must be doing something right. Right?

Then one day the phone stopped ringing. No calls, no emails, nothing. I never knew if it was personal or professional or both. (Having been a script coordinator for a few years I had seen personality issues with the head writer see writers get struck from the writers list.) In the end I had to assume that they didn’t like my writing but again with no feedback it was hard to know where to begin to improve. I was left to my imagination as to what went wrong and when you have a writers imagination unleashed, it can be quite terrible.

That can shake the confidence but as any successful writer tells you, you have to persevere. So I did. I had a couple of old bosses, one in particular that would give me his time and advice on my work and I pressed on. I wrote a short play that was moderately successful but many of my other projects missed the mark. When I had a miss I would go back to my friend and get the pearls of wisdom when he had time. I did a couple of courses as well, run by people who were good at what they did and the feedback was always very solid. I did a submission for another former boss who gave me great feedback (he always did when I wrote scenes as a coordinator) but before I could really get back into the serial writing, my friend and mentor passed away.

I had already decided to do some traveling but without his assurance it was hard to find the enthusiasm to jump back into a world that he had so intrinsically been a part of for me so I hid. I kept writing though and tried to find that formula. I would occasionally submit things but never get any response and with no one to bounce off the work it became harder to maintain the enthusiasm. Then I had one project that I felt was great. I had refined my craft and I thought provided something that was short and punchy and exactly what they were after but again there was no response.

My friend James once said to me “Being a writer requires a massive ego. You have to believe without a doubt that you are the best person to tell the story that you are telling.” He also threw in some swear words and a few insults as James was that sort of guy, but without him as a constant antagonist and mentor my enthusiasm wasn’t there. So I stopped.

I still had the stories in my head and the ideas always seemed to flow but I didn’t want to share them. I took a break with the intention of not writing again and see how it felt.

To be honest, there was relief. No demands of myself, to produce, to be judged, but there was also an absence. I like writing, I like the ideas, I like that feeling that I have a story that is worth telling, but sometimes I felt like I needed that mentor to remind me of this and to encourage me. Family and friends are one thing but having someone who really understands what you do and reads your work is a rare find.

I’m not certain if there was a trigger to start again. I have been revisiting projects to try and understand how to improve them. I have stood in front of my keyboard and started to gingerly type the words. I have lost momentum and I can feel it when I write. It takes time but I can’t help but think that when the wheels come off if you aren’t happy with where you have ended up, it’s worth putting the wheels on and having another drive. It will be interesting to see where the road goes from here.

Exploring other roads.

Whilst I was travelling I would often research places online when I was trying to decide where I was going. I would Google a few places and read a few articles. After I was finished I headed back to Facebook and started catching up on my messages and checking the feed. The next thing I knew, I was being flooded with ad for places where I was searching. My email box started getting great offers and newsfeeds were suggesting many relevant sites.

This is nothing new. I understand that the cost of business on Facebook is that I lose my privacy. I end up on mailing lists that will be spamming me until I die and long after my trip ended, I would still be receiving “Great Offers” for one or more travel destinations that I was yearning to see. None of this bothered me. As I said, it is the cost of business. What I started to realize is that with the abundance of information out there, I could filter the information so specifically that I only needed to be exposed to the information that fit my system of beliefs.

There are so many hours in the day and only so long anyone can spend surfing the net. Between the clickbait, the targeted ads and the constant stream of useless information we only have so much time to allocate to the rest of the world. In order to find out as much as possible, we choose, very specifically, our sources of information. Those sources know their audience. They get very specific feedback about them. They then try to provide more of what their audience wants to keep them. It all makes good sense. It’s also incredibly limiting.

I have liberal tendencies. I make no effort to hide them. I like guns but can’t understand why anyone who lives in a city needs one. I have a preference to explore alternative therapies and will avoid all contact with Doctors unless absolutely necessary and I believe in science, climate change and that social justice is a good thing. The trouble is, when I only expose myself to the things that support my views, I run the risk of limiting new ideas and becoming a little less tolerant to those who hold opposing views.

I like an argument. Not a shouting match, but intelligent argument where someone tries to convince me of his or her point of view. One of my favourite arguments I ever had was with my little brother. He won me to his side after a long discussion. My older brother is a constant source of political information that I would otherwise make no effort to explore. He constantly is making me aware of things that I would otherwise be happily ignorant about. I have a cousin that is very pro gun. He has yet to put together an argument regarding his position that in my opinion genuinely moves beyond, he likes guns and bad people have them, but I enjoy the back and forth. I won’t ever change his mind and he won’t ever change mine but that’s okay, besides, we agree on a lot of other things.

I think that it is important to ensure that you are constantly exploring sources of information outside of your usual sources and especially those that challenge your ideas. That is not to say that everyone has a valid point of view. Being selective is important. Someone once told me that they could scientifically prove that climate change was a hoax. I politely suggested that they should publish their evidence, get it peer reviewed and get back to me when it is done and I will happily read it. (And if they ever do, I most certainly would.) Ludicrous statements that have nothing to support them can make you switch off to another perspective but it is always worthwhile trying to find to cogent argument at the heart of the matter. After all, everyone out there approaches the world in their own way and just because I have learned one way doesn’t mean there isn’t a better one.

Moving beyond old limitations.

I had an interesting experience a couple of weeks ago. I was getting a massage treatment when the masseuse realised that one of my ribs was in fact, dislocated. It wasn’t a recent development, there was no accident in which it had occurred. It was just my rib cage and it had always been like that. My bottom right rib, raised up jutting out a little from my body. The masseuse promptly took the opportunity to try and put the rib back where it was supposed to be.

Now let me say this up front, having a rib slot back into place isn’t a pleasing experience. In fact it’s a fairly crappy experience, especially when it has been out of place for as long as one can remember. As people, I have found that we often build much of our identity around who we are and what we can do, especially physically. In my case the rib has always been something I have disliked about myself and something that has caused me much distress over the years. It led to me feeling very self conscious about taking my shirt off. Subconsciously I felt exposed on some level and as a result I hunched and developed a curvature of the spine, I also had a massive discomfort at the idea of anyone touching my chest region. As you can imagine, over my formative years this must have had an impact on my social and personal development.How could it not? Whenever I looked in a mirror I saw something that was ugly and freakish about me.

I am lucky though. I’ve never had any pain from this problem and my body functions well enough to let me do all that I wish. For that I am grateful, but it has been one of those things about myself I have been trying to fix for over twenty years. On this day though the problem was seemingly identified and sure enough though the rib went back where it was supposed to go. In moments this freakish aspect of myself was no more.

When it happened there was a lot going through my head. Why after all the people have I seen over the years for various conditions, (including fractured ribs that required x-rays), had no one realised until now? A sort of mental anguish washed over me. An action so simple had rectified this problem. Something so simple that if it had been done twenty years ago, I had to wonder if I would have been the same person I am today. Would I have kept the same friends? Pursued the same studies? Might I have been more active in sports if I subconsciously wasn’t always protecting myself.  I often muse on the idea that who you are today is a result of the things that occur to you over your life. Sometime there is a specific event you can pinpoint, other times it is a random moment lost in the shroud of time.

It may not even make a difference. After all, perhaps we are at this moment who we are at this moment and everything else doesn’t exist. There is so much to consider when you reflect on yourself, especially in the aftermath of profound change. I always thought my of my problems were fixable, contrary to the opinions of specialists, did that have an impact? The desire for self healing and change can be powerful. It can move mountains. Gautama Buddha said “With our thoughts we make the world.” and even though I remember this because it was at the start of the old TV show Monkey Magic, the statement still rings true to me.

It can be hard to change yourself, especially when it comes to those aspects of you that have been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. It can be harder changing when everyone says that is just how it is and sometimes the problem is that which you can’t clearly see. I remember reading somewhere, and it is something that I have often repeated, that the one constant in everything in your life is you. You need to accept that you are in charge of you and being able to make better decisions about your own life you would think, would have to include being aware of yourself as much as possible.

So a new chapter begins and it will be interesting to see how much of issues in my life that I am dissatisfied with will start to shift with the physical changes. Will my interactions with other be different, even the way I use my body in the day to day must be affected. Then there is all the physical things that I do in life. They will certainly be affected by the change. That is part of the fun when you have those real moments of change. Shifts in old patterns and behaviours, recognising what you do and why you do it. It is those moments that open a new world of possibility and make you start to wonder if other things can be changed too. It only took twenty years to sort this problem, I am certain I can solve the next one a lot faster.

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.

 

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

Rebuilding and Determination

Germany has a wide and varied history and World War Two had an impact on how it changed. Not just the war years but the post war years where living in a fractured country provided a stark contrast into the development of the country and most recently, the reunification, all comes together in a melting pot of places that develop their very different flavours. Dresden is one of those places. The city is split into two separate parts.

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The statue, made of gold was too heavy for the bridge it was supposed to go on.

Old Town and New Town. (Interestingly, due to the bombings in World War 2, New Town has more original and older buildings than the Old Town.)

The city has an almost fractured personality, that old school art, culture and business and then the other side of the river with a distinct contemporary artistic and hippy vibe. There is a distinct joy jumping from one side to the other. Both beautiful and fascinating, it creates an experience that pulls equally at you. Fashion, food music, urban art and even the time places closed are deeply affected by the part of town you occupy. If nothing else, it really is a great example of how diverse people are when they get the chance to express it.

I love the space in these large cities, perhaps a little excessive when you are doing most of your travelling on foot. (Too cheap to hire a bike and I still love pottering on foot.) The weather fluctuated between good Sydney weather and then the next day average Sydney winter weather. The people make do and go about their lives with the same determination and occasional smiles in the old town and with those same smiles and a subtle look to the nearby cafes and bars in the new town. Dresden was a city where it seemed you could really chase your desires and still make a go of it. (I guess that comes from the same determination that rebuilt some of the amazing structures after the war.)

Leipzig was my destination after

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Street art in Dresden

Dresden and that too was a contrast, though more in the difference between cities than people. Certainly being a smaller city, Leipzig was a more comfortable fit for me. I could easily wander the streets looking for interesting places and people as well as exercising my desire for a little stability and routine when I wished to write. I found a place for breakfast overlooking the main market place in the mornings and watched people prepare to begin their days. There are fruit and vegetables, truck drivers, musicians and other students. You see a person sneaking in a 9am beer before work. When you find a perch, life can be a very entertaining spectacle.

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Bach. 

Leipzig is an interesting place with lots of history. A major trading town over the years, and you can see it everywhere.

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Leipzig, where even the modern churches are breathtaking.

It’s also interesting to see a place that has such an amazing musical culture. It was incredible to listen to music coming from all corners. Not just classical but a mixture of everything. I was in one of the museums and heard Bach coming from the sound system, it was perfect and beautiful and actually from the buskers out on the street. Another time a major dance party in a market square drowned out the classic with techno and still the same people enjoyed their beer listening to very different sounds with the same enjoyment.

I sat and wrote, I drank coffee and ate schnitzel that was so big I wondered from what prehistoric animal the meat had come from I found myself slowly getting into the rhythm of Germany and this quiet but beautiful city. I visited Colditz castle and read up on the crazy stories about all the escape attempts. Fails and successes, I found that people are amazing and determined and it is always a nice thing to see reminders of this in trying circumstances.

Sitting at a keyboard isn’t always a win for me. Often it is a frustrating endeavour and its hard not to place the blame squarely at my own feet so when you see places that were levelled and rebuilt, people who almost escaped to freedom but were caught and sent back to the POW camps or even cities finding a balance between the creative and the practical, it is encouraging.

Travelling, you always find great stories and with several weeks left on my travel clock I look forward to finding several more.

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Because if you are going to escape from a POW camp do it in style.