hard times; easy choices

This is a talk I delivered at my local toastmasters club on Monday 17th July, 2017.

In the first four and a half months of this year I visited 10 cities in 4 countries, mostly for work, some for leisure.

In early May, in the midst of this whirlwind of movement, I visited my local library, as I often do, and I was drawn to this book: The Art of Stillness: adventures in going nowhere. I'm not sure why I was so drawn to the book but it ended up in a pile of books that I borrowed that day.

Continue reading hard times; easy choices

mount cordeaux / bare rock

A mate and I headed out of the city first thing this morning to Cunningham’s Gap: a break in the Great Dividing Range of the East Coast of Australia where there’s a few trails to some of the peaks.

Today we tackled Mount Cordeaux and then Bare Rock which is an extension to the same trail.

It was sunny when we got to Mount Cordeaux but as we arrived to Bare Rock fog had crept up and over the mountain which gave us some great contrasting landscapes.

There was another little trail off the main track called Morgan’s Walk which was short but overgrown and not really worth it.

The walk was very graded and there weren’t any tough parts which was a little disappointing but the views, particularly from Cordeaux made the trip worthwhile.

Distance: 14.3km return
Altitude Gain: 610m
Time: 2:19 up 1:36 down (with breaks)

 

half the confusion in the world…

After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”

one of the strange laws of the contemplative life…

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life, is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: you bear with them until somehow they solve themselves. Or until life solves them for you”

Thomas Merton, via The Art of Stillness by Pico Lyer

I love using walking in natures as a method to contemplate problems – and it works.

frequently used emoji – 2017 edition

A colleague recently posted his frequently used Slack emoji which reminded me that I posted my frequently used emoji last August.

I thought it would be a good time to compare my current set of frequently used with those from almost 12 months ago to see what person I’ve become…

July 2017 (present):

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August 2016:

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Remarkably the 🌵 emoji has dropped out of the game – probably because 🌵 have become so darn popular.

A new entrant is the 💯 emoji which is probably my favourite discovery for 2017 (and suitably overused)

The 🍆 remains strong which makes me feel a bit 😳 (a new entrant)

It also seems like I have poultry on my mind although I have been cooking a mean red 🦆 curry lately (and boasting about it!)

Even though I’ve 🤔 about it a lot, I still don’t know what 🙃 means so I just use it sporadically for kicks.

But that’s enough emoji analysis for now; I need to get some 💤

it’s equal but is it fair?

One thing I've struggled with as the father of three children of different ages is teaching our boys the difference between equal and fair.

For example, only one our boys has homework to do each night from school so the amount of homework the boys each do is not equal; is that fair?

Sometimes the kids get different treats or different time spent with them depending on various factors including their needs and ages. This isn't equal; is it fair?

This also applies to non-parenting things: kitty and I share a small bag of chips: even though she is much smaller than me, do I split the bag of chips equally between us: is this fair?

Only recently did I truly understand that equal often seems fair but is often not fair. Just like unequal can seem unfair, but it's often fair.

For example, some organisations allow their employees to fly premium economy on long-haul flights only if they're over 190cm tall – is this equal? Definitely not. Fair? Probably – since if you're that tall regular economy seats on long haul flights are pretty painful for your legs.

I recently used the diagram from the Interaction Institute for Social Change Artist Angus Maguir to explain this to our oldest child:

The diagram uses the terms equality vs equity but I prefer equality vs fairness as I find it easier to use equal and fair, vs equal and equitable – especially with young children. I have found by simply looking at a situation and asking separate questions of whether it's equal and whether it's fair means it's easier to separate the two.

public spaces can be okay

In the children’s hospital recently, there was a man in a suit with a straight back and pointy shoes rushing to catch the lift. He was clutching a large stuffed meerkat. With their straight backs, big eyes and anxious expressions, he and the meerkat seemed related. He patted it absently in the lift, but caught himself doing it and stopped. One floor up, a kid with a prostethic leg got in. “I really like your meerkat,” he said after a minute. “Thank you,” said the man. “You’re welcome,” said the kid. “Nice eyes.” Public spaces can be okay.

Lorin Clarke in The Big Issue #535

i’m not really a straight-cut potato

“I’m not really a straight-cut potato, I have a couple of curves to me. I also had a few difficulties growing up, but it’s always about never giving up. I’ve always thought that if you look at the brighter side of life and focus on something positive; you might be able to work out the answer to a tough situation.

Thankfully I don’t have any addictions. I try to help people going through homelessness and addiction by giving them support. Sometimes reminding them to look on the light side will help them out. Once you care for people, the goodness that it brings out of them – the kindness and respect – shows. Once you show love it mirrors back, it’s pretty cool.”

Jacob S sells The Big Issue on the corner of Pitt and Bathurst Streets, Sydney

when we start these things…

“WHEN WE start these things, in that gloriously alive state of vulnerability and excitement and hope, we can see so few pieces of the puzzle. We are primed to believe in the goodness of people, and truth as the default position. We want so much that we turn our heads away from the flaws and the oddities. Don’t look, we think, they do not matter. We are complicit. And once immersed in intimacy, extrication can seem impossible. This is the human condition in the effort of love.”

Stephanie Wood reveals a remarkable story about how she was tricked into love by an unknown man. 

i reckon it’s grouse…

“I reckon it’s grouse that more men and women are getting tattoos, and they have jobs. Years ago, if you had a tatt you were judged. Now, no-one can judge no more. I don’t see myself as a criminal anymore, I see myself as a recovering citizen. I’ve been out 24 years.”

Tattooed The Big Issue vendor Allan C shares his views on tattoos. 

;

“I got my tattoo about a year ago. It was my first, and I got it after I was diagnosed with depression. It’s a reminder to keep strong and positive when I am having a bad day. The semicolon tattoo is a badge of pride for those experiencing mental health issues. It represents a pause rather than an ending. When I look at my tattoo, it inspires me to try to be happy, and to keep living every day.”

Caroline sells The Big Issue in London Court, Perth. 

celebrate and dance for free

“Celebrate eucalyptus. The most patriotic smell on earth.

Celebrate the weird little performances of manners that humans perform. The handshake. How odd. To briefly hold the hand of someone whose name you are learning.

Celebrate the outlines of leaf skeletons in concrete that was set decades ago.

Celebrate shared glances and moments of stillness and kind offers and toasted sandwiches and the way the evening light softens the day around you and makes you feel nostalgic for things that haven’t happened yet.

In this day and age, it is important to constantly update this list. Be vigilant. Celebrate whenever possible, with reckless abandon if circumstances allow (in silent solitude if required).”

A small part of the list of things that Lorin Clarke calls for celebration of in The Big Issue #529

selling the big issue…

“Selling The Big Issue helps me buy my groceries and sometimes shout myself something like Subway. It’s good to make extra money, but the social side is what I enjoy most. It’s not just customers, but the local community that you get to know. I have met local police officers, courier drivers, security guards – all sorts of people who are regulars around the city. I like the community feel it has.”

Luke M, who sells The Big Issue at James Place in Adelaide.

the opposite of addiction 

This is a 7 minute talk I presented recently at my local Toastmasters club.


Heroin. Sex. Facebook. Gambling. Working too much. Exercise. Alcohol.

What’s common about all these things?

They are all forms of addiction.

One of my favourite philosophers, Alain de Botton, once said: “almost everyone is an addict, when addiction is defined as a manic reliance on something as a defence against dark thoughts”.

Also, Russell Brand, a rather famous former alcholic and heroin addict once said “I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked the call of the wild is too strong”.

But is addiction this bad? Can we overcome?

There’s a common belief about heroin addiction that if you take heroin enough times then you will become a heroin addict.

This came from a series of experiments last century where they put a rat into a small cage and they gave the rat two choices: water and water mixed with heroin. What they found over and over again is the rat would drink the heroin water and then couldn’t stop drinking it, ultimately overdosing and killing itself. This same thing happened over and over again leading us to think what we think about heroin addiction.

But imagine you seriously injured yourself today. You’d probably be taken to hospital in an ambulance and you’d most likely be given heroin. It would be much like street heroin, only more pure and effective. And when you discharged from hospital, chances are you’d continue on with your life. You wouldn’t be a heroin addict. But this contradicts what we think about addiction.

In the seventies there was another series of experiments with rats. Instead of putting a single rat in a small cage alone, they built a much larger cage, called Rat Park, and put lots of nice things inside: ramps and amusements, fresh food and lots of rats. Rats could connect with other and have sex with each other, and they provided the same drinking options: plain water and water mixed with heroin. But what they found this time around is whilst some rats tried the heroin water out of curiosity, not a single rat became hooked, not a single rat overdosed, not a single rat died from the heroin.

It seems the original rats died from lack of connection instead of addiction.

But what about seemingly good addictions? Like exercise, or working hard all the time?

Can “good” addictions be bad?

These seemingly good addictions are bad because they are about avoiding inner thoughts of our mind. They’re not about connecting with others.

I’m a reader and big supporter of The Big Issue magazine in Australia. The Big Issue is a unique publication in that it’s sold on the street by homeless people who become street vendors, they each get to keep half of the cover price which is currently $3.50 of seven bucks.

But I’ve read numerous stories about the biggest difference being a street vendor for The Big Issue makes to a homeless person’s life isn’t the income, it certainly helps, but the connections that are created between the vendor and their customers. Having customers the vendors get to know mean they start establishing human connection: something that is missing for a lot of homeless people.

We may never overcome addiction, so the key is to choose the least harmful one.

Get addicted to connecting with and helping others.

Johann Hari once said “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it’s connection”.

I recently saw the sequel to the cult classic 90s film about heroin addiction called Trainspotting. I’ll leave you tonight with a quote from the sequel to that film:

“You are an addict, so be addicted. Just be addicted to something else. Choose the ones you love. Choose your future. Choose life.”

Audience erupts in thunderous applause.

cho-cha foodstore, kuala lumpur

We didn’t have one bad meal on our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, so the bar is very high, but the one meal I remember most was a snack I had during a 9km walk I did around the city on Sunday morning.

The place was called Cho-Cha Foodstore which is a restaurant in an old hotel building at the Southern end of Chinatown/Petaling Street.

From the outside it looks like an old hotel:

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As soon as you enter inside you find a restaurant but they’ve kept a lot of the original interior design and have given it a modern/urban/industrial edge:

I ordered the fried chilli squid and a homemade pineapple soda. It was hands-down the best fried chilli squid I’ve ever eaten: so much flavour including kaffir lime leaves, lemon, fresh lime and it came with nuoc cham which complimented it perfectly.

Feeling very satisified I left to continue to explore the great street art around Southern chinatown in Kuala Lumpur.

10/10 would eat fried chilli squid at Cho-Cha again 😊

five qantas international cabin classes

I’ve been lucky enough to fly Qantas internationally in all cabin classes. One of the key differentiators of cabin classes is usually quality and variety of alcohol but since I don’t drink I’ll compare the tea.

  1. Qantas Economy (B747/A380): narrow seat with average leg room, tea comes pre-brewed in paper cup, no amenities kits, cabin smells like fart.
  2. Qantas Premium Economy (B747): a slightly wider seat with slightly more leg room, tea comes pre-brewed in small porcelain cup, small ‘Country Road’ amenities pouch (toothbrush and eye mask), lots of people pretending to be people they’re not, and wine discussion; cabin smells less like fart.
  3. Qantas Business (A380/B747): a wide seat turns into a fully flat bed (with the world’s thinnest mattress topper), tea comes freshly made in small porcelain cup, amenties kits contain actually useful products; feels like a rich person pyjama party.
  4. Qantas Business (B747 Upper Deck): same as Business class on the lower deck of the B747 but a much cosier cabin size, especially when you have a whole row of four seats to yourself. Plus you can see the cockpit (see pic). Feels like flying on a private jet; so worth it.
  5. Qantas First Class (A380): instead of having a seat you have a suite which is like a mini cabin all to yourself. There’s no meal or drinks service, you order whatever you want whenever you want. There are so many staff as soon as you turn your head someone is there. Amazing SK-II amenities kits. Tea comes freshly made in a pot. The pilots come and say hello. As close as you can get to heaven at 40,000 feet.