The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Philosophy (page 1 of 3)

Listening to the Universe

clancy

I’d always believed that writing was a gift bestowed only to the few who possessed the elusive talent.

But over the last few months, I’ve been looking into that a lot. And most blogs about writing urge: Practice. Discipline. Writing is something you must practice every day. Set a goal. Achieve it. I always knew I wanted to write, but I never knew how. My English and Journalism degrees were quickly discarded when nothing attractive presented itself in the post-colliegiate ‘real’ world, and writing dry news articles was more heartbreaking to my romantic sensibilities than pivoting Excel spreadsheets, which is what I ended up doing for 7 years instead. So when life threw a relatively interesting storyline to me, I used it as a source for my practice, and my discipline. Never mind that I didn’t realize it at the time.

The concept of beavering away at art never sounded very artistic to me. What true artist can’t just sit down at her canvas and conjure a masterpiece? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. What is art but practice and discipline, with the leavening agent of imagination? Every art form has its laws, which are learned before they are flouted. Every painter has to learn how to hold a brush. Every writer has to become comfortable with holding the pen.

So that’s what this blog has been for me. My flat, unleavened offering to the world. My practice, my discipline. My weekly word count, without the imagination necessary to really call it art. My attempts to capture people and places and see if I can’t bring them to life in words. Pulling apart my own emotions publicly to see what resonates.

I didn’t realize exactly what it was that I wanted until I was floating in the Andaman Sea, staring up at the wispy clouds overhead and really trying to piece together what I wanted from my future. And I thought about how much I had enjoyed writing about my travels the day before. Just the act of tapping out the words had given me a sense of bliss, writing without an agenda other than my own. And a thought floated from my subconscious into my consciousness like the wispy clouds overhead: I should write a novel. And at that moment, the previously placid water cradling me swelled, bobbing my entire body in the most pleasant way, as if the universe was excitedly egging me on. I smiled (the bobbing was really fun), and let my thoughts drift again, pushing the idea back to subconsciousness where it belonged. But ten minutes later, it floated back to the surface, and no sooner had I fixed on it again than the swell returned. It felt like I was being gently woken, like a kind voice was saying, ‘Wake up, I’m trying to tell you something important.’

So I’ve decided to listen. I have spent the past 12 months collecting places, personalities, experiences. My brain has slowly leaked out all the clutter I put into it about negotiating deals, balancing budgets, managing clients. I’ll give it the good old college try, and see if I can’t crack out a novel. I can’t promise it will be good, but I can promise that I will at least do it.

It’s frightening to put this out there and actually make myself accountable to it. Even with all my desperate raving about broken hearts and the like in years past, it’s probably the most personal thing I’ve written here. My plans. My refusal to get myself back into the ‘real world’ for a while longer, if at all.

Here’s to chasing dreams.

Writing1

Farewell Sydney

Goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

My departure is bittersweet, like the time I’ve spent with you. Drastic highs and the lowest lows. My throat caught by both beauty and despair, in merciless succession.

I’ve lost a lot while I’ve been with you, Sydney. You brought me despair-filled train rides over tin and terra cotta rooftops in the weak winter morning light. Aching homesickness alone in my beach apartment, having everything I thought I ever wanted and drowning in a sea of tears. You took the bulk of my entitlement and tore it from my white-knuckled grasp. You looked at what I thought I’d become, and stoically pushed me in the opposite direction. I flailed and I fought, and you impassively looked on through my laughter and tears and did what you were always going to do, anyway.

You’ve given me a lot too. You’ve helped me redefine success, and gave me the courage to look at things differently than I always had. You brought me dear friends and the love of my life. You introduced me to the gentlest and toughest people I have ever known, and I have spent the better part of three years trying to reconcile that paradox. You gave me sunsets unlike any I’ve ever seen, a violent hug of color embracing the dark line of the horizon. Like all the colors in world had to cling close to the dusky shape of the west, as though they couldn’t survive without that dark relief to define them.

You taught me that no color is as bright as the one that stands closest to the darkness. And you took me away from everything that came easy and thrust me toward the black. You forced me to make a stand, to say that there surely must be something beyond my wildest dreams. You didn’t let me settle, Sydney, so I won’t.

Instead I will leave my pride and my plans on your golden sandy beaches, in your aquamarine seas, mixed in with the red dust at your heart. I will float my fear over the terraced houses and art-deco apartment blocks, and leave a huge piece of my heart in your wide and welcoming harbour. And while I might think you’re mourning the loss of me, you’re probably just racking your brain, trying to remember my name.

So goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

A Different Kind of Extremist

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gorgeous Sydney summer morning. It was the kind of day that made you grateful you lived here, perfect temperature, finally free of the oppressive humidity from last week’s storms. I was running late, as is my usual Monday routine, waiting for the bus and getting increasingly frustrated with each minute that ticked me closer to being really late for work.

The bus finally came, and as I walked up the steps to my office, a man walked into a cafe in Martin Place, took out a gun, and proceeded to take several cafe workers and patrons hostage. At 2:10 a.m. this morning, several hostages took advantage of their sleepy captor and rushed the door, awakening the hostage-taker, who fired his weapon and killed one of the hostages. Police swept in, and as the turmoil subsided three people were dead, including the gunman.

Rogue gunmen (with or without religious affiliations) are a much more common occurrence in the US, but in virtually weapon-free Australia, these events really shook everyone. By early afternoon, trying to get a taxi home was next to impossible as office workers streamed out of the city and back to their homes in the suburbs. There was little else on TV other than coverage of the hostage situation.

Listening to the news yammer on about ‘lone wolf’ terrorism and religious extremism whenever things like this happen is exhausting. Seeing racist reactions on social media is depressing. The men who commit acts such as these are hoping only to foment more of what they peddle: hatred from human beings toward other human beings. They want us to look at our differences, to blow them up to be so big that we could never connect with each other. To isolate ourselves from each other, to make it impossible to see the beauty within others.

We have a choice to react one of two ways: Give them what they want and approach life with fear, or choose to meet hatred with love. Overwhelming, all-encompassing, unconditional love.

Even those who hurt us should be met with love. Even this man who killed innocent people should be met with love. The only way to truly achieve peace amongst each other is to drown out all the hatred with its counterpoint. To accept that misguided people will always try to provoke hatred, and to simply love them anyway. To look past the horrific things they do and say and see the humanity in that person, and love that. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to be sure. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent senseless loss of life. But if we can put enough love into the world, if we can look at every single human being that we see as just that, a human being created for love, then I have every hope that this kind of energy can drown out the hatred and fear that has created so much pain. Let’s do things like the #illridewithyou movement that started last night, instead of allowing acts of hate to beget more hate.

Let’s be extremists of a different kind. Lets be fanatically devoted to loving the people around us, known or unknown to us. Let’s show the world what a devotion to kindness, understanding, and peace looks like. Let’s bomb the planet with compassion for our fellow human beings, no matter what they try to do us. That’s a cause I can get behind.

Love

As seen in my neighborhood a couple of months ago

You Gotta Keep Yourself Scared

Scared

Lately, I’ve been writhing with dissatisfaction. I have no idea where it’s coming from or why I’m feeling it, which makes it incredibly difficult to find a way to stop it. I end my days feeling unsettled, mildly unhappy, and completely bewildered. Little things tick me off. I sometimes overreact, and this makes me behave in a way that I don’t like. I’ve been twisting this new mentality around in my mind for the last few weeks, trying to solve the mystery of just what the hell is going with me.

My lightbulb moment came as I was self-lurking my LinkedIn profile and reflecting on my career of 3 years ago. Back then, I was thrown into things so far out of my depth that I had to run as fast as I could to make sure I could make them happen. I was quietly terrified all the time – sitting in meetings with people two or three times my age and having them actually listen to me. I was leading the meetings – I was telling one of the largest companies on the planet what to do, and they were doing it. All I really had to rely on at that point was mild creativity and a lot of common sense. I certainly didn’t have the years of experience to know what I was doing. I was making it up as I went along. And I was succeeding. Not every time, but most of the time. In retrospect, it’s astounding. At the time, it was motivating.

Reflecting back on that time in my career is humbling, and it’s also helped me uncover what I think is wrong with me. I’m not scared anymore.

I know what I’m doing now. I rarely get put into situations in my career where I feel out of my league. But maybe I need that. Whenever I felt like that in the past, I usually managed to reach down deep somewhere and pull out something groundbreaking. I have the years of experience, and have probably packed more experience into those years than many people do in an entire career. But I think I’m coming to a point where even my dynamic and social career is starting to feel repetitive and monotonous. Where I know more than I don’t know. And after that, it just becomes splitting hairs and debating the best way to phrase the idea, instead of the idea itself. And I’m the type who prefers substance over style.

So I’ve taken the first step: I’ve identified the problem. And though I have absolutely no idea what form the solution will take yet, I know that I gotta keep myself scared.

Scared to Death

Mr. Perfect

Have I not covered off on the Mr. Perfect story yet? Well, now that I’m all boring and coupled-up, I’ll have to dig into the archives for juicy dating (or lack thereof) stories.

I met Mr. Perfect late last year, not too long after my arrival in Sydney. I was still a bit in recovery over my attempted and failed foray into long-distance relationshipping, but had gotten enough distance to be out the wallowing zone and into the “prove you still got it” zone.

Enter: Mr. Perfect. Attractive, tall (6’3″!), educated (P.H.D!), amazing job ($$$) that allowed travel to lots of travel to cool places, great taste in food, great taste in booze (a scotch man), a working knowledge of wine, down-to-earth, witty, open-minded, friends with people of all ages and backgrounds… absolutely… perfect. My mother would have loved him, he probably would have been able to give my dad a run for his money on the golf course, he probably could have had an intelligent conversation with my brother about whatever the hell he does in finance while simultaneously delighting my sisters with his stories about abseiling in Jordan.

And I felt… nothing.

No pulse of romantic interest, no heart-flutters, no physical desire whatsoever. We had met through mutual friends and managed to have a few drinks together (in a non-romantic context) with some of our friends. And the more I got to know him, the more perfectly perfect he became, and the more I realized that perfect on paper rarely translates to perfection in reality. There was just no spark. No click. He was a lovely guy to spend some time with, and had a lot of amazing stories. And it’s fun to speak to someone very intelligent who works in a fascinating field that has nothing to do with your own.  But that’s about as far as it got. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his for a drink at the end of a night of boozing, I politely declined.

I know a lot of people who aren’t believers in “everything happens for a reason,” but I am one. And it’s probably not a mistake that the winds of fate didn’t create the right conditions for a spark to be struck and a flame kindled with this Mr. Perfect. And I know that no one is perfect and there’s probably a reason this smart, well-traveled, attractive guy is still single, but even if there wasn’t, I still somehow knew he wasn’t perfect for me. And that reason is most likely because I needed to meet my English Muffin, who IS perfect for me (Awwwwwwwww, sappiness!). So despite my initial frustration at not being able to force myself into an attraction with this guy, it’s all turned out well in the end, I suppose.

…And ladies, he’s still single.

Perfect

Oh, Hello Holiday Hangover

Nothing like a Monday to back-hand you in the face with a resounding thump of homesickness and exhaustion. Celebrating my birthday with copious amounts of drink for three days straight likely isn’t helping matters much, and the fact that it’s Monday morning is just adding insult to injury, but approximately 27 days after my departure from the USA, I have finally been inflicted with the most vicious of the expat afflictions: The Holiday Hangover.

The Holiday Hangover is a unique variant of the homesickness virus. Onset usually begins over some ocean somewhere in the world as you are returning to your country of residence from your country of birth. But symptoms are rarely expressed for weeks, sometimes months, after onset. Then, it hits you like a freight train: you’ve just used up your entire vacation day allowance visiting home, you have nothing to look forward to, and you’re not likely to see any of your family members or friends for months (if you’re lucky).

I expected my Hangover to hit much earlier than it did, and I even thought maybe I’d gotten off clean this trip home. But no, that sneaky little asshole was just storing up his energy waiting to deliver a stronger wallop than normal. After a deep psycho-self-analysis, I’ve determined that this is likely due to anticipation for my (now-passed) birthday, the fact that my only family member in this country is preparing for her return to the US, an incredibly stressful few weeks at work (and not much hope of it letting up anytime soon), and some disappointments in my personal life that I’d tried to convince myself didn’t really matter (but actually kinda do). A glorious snowball effect that reached critical mass this morning as I booted up my computer and tried to swallow a lump in my throat.

For the first time, I’ve realized that my homesickness isn’t just the result of missing the people and places I’ve left behind, but is brought on by the ever-present restlessness of soul that seems to have become much more pronounced the past year I’ve been here in Australia. Somehow I feel like something is supposed to be happening that just isn’t, and maybe that’s why I keep feeling like I want to go back, because I feel like I’m not going forward anymore.

As I’ve mentioned before when the homesickness beast reared it’s ugly head, I know that this too shall pass and tomorrow will be a brighter day, etc. etc. but today, I’m just giving it up to the Holiday Hangover.

homesick

The Click

The evolution of my interpersonal relationships has been a varied one – from a painfully shy young childhood to an ever-increasing social adeptness that some might call “charm” (if you were trying to pay me a compliment) as I became an adult. The formulation of friendships in the early years was rooted nearly entirely in a quick emotional connection with a classmate or neighborhood kid, generally because I rarely said more than two words to stranger unless pressed until I reached the age of seven. As my shyness wore off and my social skills increased, friendships slowly evolved out of that sphere and were based on shallower foundations – popularity, prettiness, being in the same social group in high school. I never subscribed too much to the popularity pressures, but they changed the way my relationships formed nonetheless.

And so my relationships with my fellow species evolved to the point where “the click,” which had been the basis of my younger year friendships, became more and more rare as I grew older.

You’ve probably heard it said before, “Oh we met and just clicked.” And that’s how it goes: Two people meet each other, and after the initial friction of making room for a new personality in one’s life (masked by clever one-liners and a few too many beers), they find out if they “click.” I think the click means that two souls align on some fundamental level that cannot be explained by science or reason.

The click isn’t just a romantic one – best friends are formed by the click, family members are confused when they don’t click (it’s actually pretty rare that they ever do), colleagues are expedited into friends in a very short span of time thanks to the click. It’s different than forming a new friendship through what would considered “work,” coffee dates or post-work beers repeated often enough that an acquaintanceship tentatively and slowly steps toward friendship. It’s a few meetings like that, or sometimes even one, and then it happens. You click.

I have made some good friends out here in this past year in Australia, but clicks have been rare (as they have been more and more in my adult life). Many of the friendships I started were of the “work” variety – friend dates, setups from mutual friends, repeated exposure until we knew enough about each other to be considered friends. By no means am I discounting this type of friendship, it’s just a valuable as the click – but it is nice to be able to bypass that once in a while.

It’s a sudden recognition, a feeling of “oh I found you,” but you weren’t even really looking. Something that makes you realize you aren’t alone, because you have found another one of your kind. That thrilling feeling when you reveal the unpolished bits of yourself and are met with delight instead of repulsion. When silences aren’t awkward, when you know they’ll “get” your joke when someone else definitely would not. People who believe in reincarnation believe that it’s one soul finding another soul that had been important to them in a past life. I’m not sure about all that, but I definitely am sure of the click.
Friendship

Friends

 

Living Isn’t for Everyone

It’s hard to live in a part of the world that is so isolated from everything else. Where things are cooling down but everywhere else they are heating up. To huddle in a blanket and look at the photos of people you love in places you love basking in sunshine and each other’s company. Knowing that part of the departure was for the rebuilding, and knowing it was always going to be work, damnit, but starting to wonder how much stamina you have left in you to keeping leaving all the time.

Yes, the new people have all the makings of the next great, lifelong friendship, but feeling the vastness of the distance you’ve placed between yourself and the lifelong friendships created in years past still stings. Especially with the seasons changing, the cold air creeping into the corners of the poorly-insulated cinderblock, the silence of a beach town Sunday night in the off-season, the newness faded and monotonous, oppressive familiarity loosening questions already asked on other dark, lonely nights when the sky felt like it was falling.

It’s nights like this that create the restlessness, the need to stay in motion to avoid falling over the edge of homesickness and into a pool of despair. The end of a sad novel, a particularly chilly night, a group of friends enjoying their sun-soaked weekend in a city that still has pieces of your heart buried all over it, the shrapnel of your expatriated life scattered across the floor and haphazardly shoved into boxes in preparation for the next movement, the next departure, the next step in the ever-forward march.

I passed a sign in a shop on a blurry Wednesday night that read, “Living isn’t for everyone.” I can understand why simply existing is a much easier choice.

Some Life Advice for a Younger Me

I saw a prompt to write the alma mater speech for my high school. Though I have only been out of high school ten years, this seemed like an interesting way to think about and collate the ideals and things I’ve learned in the past ten years. I’ve done some hard yards and been blessed beyond belief, but here’s my take on some life advice I would have liked to hear when I was 18 (but probably would have ignored):

Celebrate all five of your senses as often as you can. Lift your eyes from the iPhone screen and look out the window at the riot of beauty outside. Taste a freshly-picked blackberry. Feel the warm grass under your feet. Hear the waves crash. Smell the jasmine and frangipani when you walk down the street. Stop and take a deep inhale of air. It may not always be pleasant, but use those five senses to their fullest extent.

Watching Television

Travel. Spend your disposable income on plane tickets instead of clothes or fancy cars. It is the single-best gift you can give to yourself, and it will be the highlights of these trips that you think of when you look back on your life someday. It is these trips that will change you.

Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.

– Mark Jenkins

Get your heart broken, but sometimes, break it yourself. It’s easy to be a victim, but much harder to be the one who looks around and decides not to settle, or to demand more. This goes for friendships just as much as romantic relationships.

the Best

Do not ever compare yourself to someone else. It’s sells out what you’re worth, what you’ve done, who you are. Nobody’s life is a charmed as it seems, some people are just better at being grateful.

Comparison

No matter how successful you become, at some point, you will fail. Accept it early, and remember it when it’s happening. It will never be the end of the world. In some cases, it may be the beginning of it.

Experience

No matter how hard things get, when you start wallowing in that pit of despair, stop and think of three things you are grateful for. A clear day, a mother who loves you, snuggles from a dog. There is always something to be thankful for.

Alive

Risk everything, at least once in your life. Don’t live your life in the shadow of fear. You will never regret trying, but you will always regret not trying.

Risk

Have goals, set them high. Achieve when you can, be motivated, do great things. But don’t forget to enjoy working toward them. Don’t forget that goals are allowed to change with your circumstances and passions. Don’t finish for the sake of finishing, finish for the joy of the result.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

– Ernest Hemingway

Out of the Box

In life, you will meet people who will be very eager to put you in a little box with a pretty bow and say, “there, that’s where you belong.” And when you peek your eyes out to see what’s happening, they will do everything in their power to slam the lid down on your head. And sometimes you might not realize you’re being put in the box until the lid comes down and it gets dark for a moment. But when that happens, you need to do every single thing in your power to rip the box apart at the seams, escape, and flourish out in the light and open air. You may need help doing this, and that’s a humbling experience. But once you’ve done it, you’ll emerge smart enough to know how to stay out of the boxes people wish to place you into, you’ll know the people who will be by your side when you need them, and you’ll witness and be empowered by your own mental and emotional strength. You will re-emerge smarter, stronger, tougher, and more aware. So don’t despair when things get tough (well, okay, despair a little bit because that’s only natural), it is just life’s way of identifying that you need to grow a little bit. So grab it, feel it, and grow.

Bring You Down

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