30 October 2008

empty is the tao

My enviro-mentors from the Strezleckis came for lunch today. (The enviro-mentors who I planted a walnut grove with, who henceforth have looked upon me beamingly as their little green disciple. They who shall now be known as 'Gifted With Asparagus & Artichokes' for their bestowal of two shopping bags heaving with the season's best from their garden. I will be weeing green before the week is out!)


So after emptying several glasses of champagne - ten days til I clink the desk shackles back on & damned if I'm going to let the opportunity for daytime carousing pass - I told Gifted about my plans re work. He replied with a parable from the Tao Te Ching. Something about a cup of water being valuable, a cup of wine being even more valuable, and a cup of diamonds being more valuable still. But what trumps them all, he said, is the empty cup, which can be filled with anything.

Me: ......................

Hopefully I looked very zen. And not at all like someone experiencing mild panic over a recent and fairly life-altering decision after being ambushed with the Tao. And DEFINITELY not like someone wondering if the empty cup could be filled with champagne and that was why it was the most valuable.

No. I think the little parable turned something in me. When I was a desk hound, no one would've recited the Tao in response to something I said. Never. Nor would they have brought champagne and home-grown asparagus for lunch. I think it’s an achievement that I’ve trotted on my idealistic high horse back to reality. But it's still a way from the saddle to the 40-hour grey-walled commute-consume pantomime which I've philosophically divorced. For a long time before I left work, I felt like I didn't make sense in that world anymore. It's not just a different drummer thing. I feel like I'm on tour with the whole freakin' band.

Hrrrmmmmppph. Empty cup. Empty cup. Empty cup.

28 October 2008

life and desk

Finally, an outcome: I’m submitting to the desk shackles for one more year to get my long service leave. I have a week in Bingi before I will drive (again… hrrmph) back to Brissie.

Some very excellent things about the move: 1) sunshine 2) return to urban life including Campos coffee, West End markets and impossible-to-get-in-the-regions-fare like tofu 3) totally ace friends who don't desert me when I desert Brisbane, and 4) reclaiming my life in boxes. Eventually. Like next February, since I’ll be couch-surfing in November and cat-and-house-sitting during December and all of January. Which will bring me up to TWO YEARS of inhabiting other people’s spaces and/or couchsurfing.

Of course there’s also the excellent matter of $$$ and its central role in the procurement of real estate and attainment of grand plan.

Fortuitously it looks like there'll be no boat work to miss out on in the first half of next year and hopefully by then I'll be able to negotiate leave.

The other excellent notable is that my stupendously supportive and selfless manager is assisting in my search for work outside her area since she knows that the work inside her area will bore holes in my soul if I have to do it five days a week for a year.

Thank you to everyone who offered advice and support re the resign/return dilemma. After mentally prepping myself for the 'resign' option for a year it would have been difficult to change tack without some appeal to rationality!

22 October 2008



I'm having a minor freak out. [Cue golf-ball sized hailstorm - really.]

Last week, after about 14 months leave, my work asked me for my decision: return or resign. An 11th hour thought about long service leave has thrown me into the guts of a stinkng I-wish-I'd-never-asked type dilemma. If I return to work for one more year, I will get about 12 weeks paid leave. Which is a lot. At least from where I sit in under-employed povertysville.

It is very freaking tempting. I could squirrel my ass off and actually realistically be able to afford some land. Which is Step One of the oft-alluded to Grande Planne (something along the lines of the Hobbit House but somewhere sunny and with permaculture gardens and chickens and a boat).

And. AND. I could potentially negotiate extra leave to continue sailing type adventures. But I would pretty much have to return to work… NOW. I'm seeing my tax guru on Friday, which could also influence my decision. But of course I need to let work know... TODAY since there was a stuff up with the dates.

Just when I thought I'd made my decision, along comes this dastardly little carrot.

GAH! Help! All you non-commenters, speak up now or forever hold your peace. I need some advice. Lest it be curtains for Life After Desk. Gracias.

19 October 2008

master of unravelled plans and small detours

Ah Byron. A two-day detour into green rolly hills, rainbow-glimmery waterfalls and surf, where land prices make you cry and German snowboard instructors make you want to learn to surf. Again. And then go to Tibet. (After I just narrowed the focus of my wanderlust down to Western Australia. And India.)

There’s something frivolous about taking the long way home. And unravelling plans into the wind.

I was in Byron 15 years ago, pretty much to the day. (Before it was completely besmirched by the likes of Dominos and Supre, promulgating their cheap-ass chain-store mediocrity to affluent city-slaves searching for something they don’t realise is long since gone and which they have effectively helped kill off. Not that this was intended, nor that I can separate myself from them. But back to topic...)

I’d dropped out of uni for a semester and headed, for the second time, to Byron, to think and be. OK, there may have been some cavorting too, of the kind that it is natural for an academically focused 19yo to do when unchained from her small world. I hung out with loads of people from all over the world. I tried to surf. I sailed a hobicat. I stole a hubcap/ashtray from the Railway pub. I tried … a lot of … um, different stuff for the first time.

Oddly, I feel closer to my 19yo self than my 19yo self would have liked. (If my 19yo self could see me now.) Crazy to think that I knew back then that I was on the wrong path. Crazier still that it took me 15 years... 15 YEARS GODDAMNIT!! to alter course. Even more pathetic is that I still don’t have a clue where I’m going!

But maybe that’s OK, in some small, skewy, not-the-Hollywood-ending kind of way.

On my 19th birthday, I hitch-hiked from Byron to Nimbin with an English lad. I remember not quite knowing whether we would make it there, and if we did, where we would stay. We made it to Nimbin. That night I stayed in a little house which belonged to friends of friends, and fell asleep under a window of stars, stoned to the eyeballs, as two girls made love in the next room. It remains one of my most spontaneously lived birthdays, and one of the few I actually remember.

15 October 2008

the poverty of affluence

Today is Blog Action Day, a day where bloggers of conscience are encouraged to talk about issues of poverty.

Poverty, by definition, is a lack of the necessities of life. As well as the pressing forms of poverty caused by war and the failure of government policy and global markets, there’s a growing form of poverty that is so sneaky as not to be immediately recognisable as poverty. It is the poverty of affluence, now pervasive in Western society. In exchange for our material wealth, we have a diminished freedom of choice in how to live – freedom of choice being an assumed given in this culture. We are shoe-horned into wage slavery, into bondage to the markets, and sold the illusion of choice, convenience, status, mobility – all things that are certainly not poverty.

Since we no longer have free access to land, we must obtain the provisions for life within a market economy, where our wants – which we mistake for needs – grow in proportion to our ability to meet them. The lure of 'more' is reinforced at every turn. And so we experience life as the perpetual tension of desire.

Robert Dessaix wrote in the recent Weekend Australian magazine that “cacophonous emptiness is the postmodern condition”. Emptiness usually stems from a lack of purpose and meaningful human connection. It manifests as anxiety, frustration, depression – all normal responses to loss of control. These symptoms are never attributed to the all-powerful capitalist-democratic culture; the link between symptom and disease is so heavily obfuscated by glitz, and the power to change one’s circumstances so limited, that ignorance and denial succeed. Besides, to question the foundational assumptions of your own culture is anarchic.

These thoughts are not new. Leunig has despaired the “fake mass wellbeing and prosperity” and identified a “Western deprivation – a new kind of famine”. Bill McKibben in Deep Economy argues the need to pursue a broader prosperity – one that values community, environment and human happiness and chooses localism over globalism and ‘hyper-individualism’. Buckminster Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Bill Mollison, Daniel Quinn, Tom Hodgkinson, Carlo Petrini and Derrick Jensen are a few others.

Every time I return to a city after time spent in uncluttered landscapes, I’m struck by the busy purposelessness, the excess of consumption and waste and the denial of community that defines the urban lifestyle. The more I become removed from this way of life, the more keenly I sense its artifice. Its smells are always the first thing I notice. The deodorants and perfumes, laundry powders, handwashes and hair products. We are masters at disguising reality, dressing up the truth til we no longer recognise it.

I am happy to be bumping along the road out. Real freedom, real choice in how to live, to be able to use one’s skills and interests in a way that is self-sustaining and not harmful, to live in a community… these are the necessities of life. And necessary not just for an ethical existence, but for existence. For biodiversity. It is not a cultural imperative, but an environmental one.


“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it…” Henry David Thoreau

08 October 2008

the next part

Freedom. So elusive. Perhaps fortuitously so. Its attainment forces a very personal issue. How to use it? Given every liberty, what should we do? How to start tomorrow? These thoughts taunt me right now. For tomorrow I must answer them.

The Hope Vale project has finished. There’s loads of cool stuff that I could relate (eating turtle, kayaking from North Direction to Lizard Island, the impossible cuteness of a wordy two-year-old, meeting people living the cruising life, all the cool places I've seen/been, etc). But I’m sort of consumed at this late~early hour by crisis-of-purpose thoughts. After an exhausting but happy month, that now familiar blank canvas stretches out before me. Uncontracted infinitum. I know myself better than ever. But there is the interminable tension between wants and needs, habit and change. Between possible paths, divergent values. And of course, between two (geographic) states.

There is no rational reason that I should be so nervy about not knowing what I’m doing beyond next week, and where I’ll be doing it. So why is it doing my head in? Exhaustion? The perpetuity of uncertainty? I wish someone would bloody hire me to do something fantastically cool for the next few months and I could just put these stupid thoughts to bed. For now.

Since I'm asking, a sleep-in without a wordy two-year old who awakes at sparrow fart would also be grand. Please. Thank you. And now, me to bed...


Looking forward to:

Spending overdue time with friends in Brisvegas (and having the next 10 days sort of planned)
Officially resigning from my cushy permanent gig for the still wide unknown
Clean hair, clean fingernails, clean clothes, clean bed, etc.
Retaining inspiration aka a sense of infinite possibility