I have returned from a brief holiday in Melbourne and am trying to settle back into a routine. We were on the move so much on the holiday that it wasn’t viable to keep up the posts, apart from a few pictures that found their way onto Facebook. It was good to get away and be a “traveller” absorbed in the basics such as working out how to get to places, find food and drink, and locating our beds for the night.

Before I went away I had embarked on the task of learning more about a few issues that are of concern to me, such as climate change and the refugee situation in Australia. The experience of working on a polling booth handing out “how to vote cards” taught me that although I understand what I think is  important and why, I’m not able to explain my position well to others, particularly if they are coming at the issue from a different perspective. I couldn’t quote facts or direct people to resources that would explain the issues, and I wasn’t adept at parrying questions and deflecting jibes. It seemed like a good idea to get better informed.

What I quickly found is that while there is a lot of information available on these topics, its impossible for me to approach this as an intellectual exercise. Reading about threats to biodiversity and the risks of climate change is very confronting, and can be really discouraging. Engaging with the problems faced by refugees is also very troubling. Having seen the pendulum swing back towards a more conservative government in Australia, there is a feeling of discouragement and dismay amongst those involved in the environmental and social justice movements that can be overwhelming if you aren’t feeling strong yourself.

Rather than brave this onslaught of seriousness head on, I decided to take a side track and read something by Joanna Macy. Joanna is an author involved in the movements for peace, justice and ecology who approaches her activism from a Buddhist perspective. I had tried to read one of her books before, but abandoned the attempt because I wasn’t ready for it, and found it too heavy. This time around I came across a new book “Active Hope” by Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone which provided some encouragement that its possible to use a spiritual foundation to steady yourself while facing up to some of the big issues of our time.

In Active Hope, the authors acknowledge that we are facing major problems due to increasing human population and patterns of excessive consumption which are overwhelming the resources available to us. Rather than being overwhelmed by discouragement, the book encourages us to act to bring about what we hope for, even while the future is uncertain and we don’t know what is possible. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for.”

One aspect of the book that I found helpful was the Three Stories of Our Time. The first is Business As Usual, which assumes that there isn’t a problem with the way we live.  This includes the belief that economic growth can go on forever without any consequesnces. The second story, The Great Unraveling, points out the disasters that Business as Usual is leading us towards by ignoring and abusing the finite resources available to us. It tells a story of the collapse of ecological systems, changes to climate, and the potentially disastrous consequences. The third story is “held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word”. The book is about how to get behind that third story and work towards a life sustaining civilisation.

This book was the right thing for me, because it acknowledges that we have a problem while offering a hopeful way to cope with the situation and be involved in working towards a positive outcome. Barraging people with frightening facts isn’t successful, because its just too much to take in. Most people, myself included, need a more positive picture that they can embrace that makes change seem not only necessary and possible, but desireable and meaningful.

P1060353I was in the tour bus at Werribee Zoo in Melbourne, driving through an open range area where the large animals roam. We could see other visitors staring in at us from the viewing area. The tour guide pointed to the human visitors and said “look, there’s another endangered species”. I don’t think he was joking. Jokes like that make me sad.

Its a weird feeling to be contemplating the future of humanity whilst going about my own form business as usual. I am enjoying the warm sunny days, knowing that it is not normally so hot this early in the Spring. Its hard to know what to think and how to respond. Yet it seems important to be open to what is going on around me, while at the same time remaining grounded and take care of myself through the process.


Tomorrow I will be heading to Melbourne Australia with some of my devices. The digitals are getting a sabbatical. Or a working holiday.

It’s taken more time to charge, install, update, upload, download, delete (and watch youtubes) in readiness to go away than it did to pack actual stuff to take.

Perhaps it would make more sense to disconnect altogether but I don’t want to go into digital withdrawal. So I am patiently tapping out this post on the iPod as a trial run.

Things change so fast. Yesterday I took my toner cartridges in for a refill. The guy laughed and said “I remember these!” Yes folks my printer is EIGHT YEARS OLD. (Bold courtesy of guy in shop.) As old as a child! Hang on – that’s not old is it?

Are printers running on dog years like all the other devices and aps. Or mosquito years? Seems like we are chewing up time and stuff at breakneck speed.

In the meantime I will keep trying to squeeze utility out of what I’ve got – self and devices.

The Sound of Music was on of the first “grown up” movies that I saw as a child in the 1960s. I loved the first part, although I didn’t like it when the war started. The story took a sinister turn when Austrian Captain Von Trapp was under pressure to join the nazis. The Von Trapps had to flee the dangers of the nazi war machine by running over the alps to safety. The soaring Sound of Music theme tells us that that they will triumph over adversity.

In the movie its understood that the family needs to flee for their safety. Nobody accuses the Von Trapp family of invading Switzerland. They are not turned back at the border because the didn’t wait in line to get across. In World War II people had to escape danger by whatever means possible, whether that meant walking across mountains, jumping trains, or crowding into fishing vessels. They were allowed to enter safe havens and if necessary resettled in countries like the USA and Australia.

These days people fleeing persecution seek to enter Australia by boat. How to respond to these ‘Boat People’ is a contentious issue. Unlike the Von Trapps they are not bouyed up by a rousing swell of orchestral music indicating that all will be well. Although it is not illegal to seek asylum, there is some support in Australia for the strategy of turing back the boats, or detaining those who arrive in remote and inhospitable places for long periods of time while they are processed. It seems like the reasons that people are fleeing their homes today are not as clear in our hearts and minds as the reasons that people had to flee in old World War II movies.

However the power of music to communicate the essence of a story remains true today. Were You There?.. Giving Hope to Asylum Seekers is a moving video which encourages us to make a more compassionate response when people seek our help. It reminds us that we are all responsible for what takes place in our midst and in our name.

Sadly our new government wants to turn the boats away. I hope this video goes viral and gives them something to think about.

I have been making a few trips into the city lately, and often end up buying lunch on the run. Being gluten free and not fond of cooking, I find it difficult to think of tasty, portable meals that don’t require heating or refrigeration that I can take with me. Instead I tend to look for takeaway Asian food, and this often involves eating in noisy, crowded underground shopping centres, railway station platforms, and trains. It also produces a lot of waste in the form of plastic containers and water bottles.

I decided to challenge my belief that eating bought meals while out of the house had to mean dining on bad food in lousy environments and creating a lot of waste. I realised I had been telling myself that it was “too expensive” to buy lunch in a sit down establishment with propper (non-disposeable) crockery and cutlery, or that I didn’t have time to wait. But these days time is something I do have, so maybe I could use it to give myself a better quality of experience.

What I have found is that takeaway food can be still be expensive, especially by the time you add in a bottle of drink. Places with an eat-in lunch special often provide free water, so when you are looking at gluten free meals the overall cost is comparable.

I made a checklist of what I am looking for in an ideal city eatery and came up with the following:

  1. Premises directly facing the street or in a protected environment (rather than buried in a shopping mall).
  2. Quiet with minimal ambient noise
  3. Comfortable space to sit with some privacy from other tables
  4. Comfortable climate; not too hot, too cold, too sunny or too windy.
  5. Food served on real crockery with real cutlery that a real person will wash up
  6. Free water in a glass made of glass
  7. Good food ready to serve or to order freshly made

Now what I need to do is scout out a few “favourites” in areas that I frequent so that I can plan my meals on my trips into the city. I found a place recently that provides good food with real cutlery and crockery. It was in a noisy shopping centre and rather stuffy, but at least it was better than eating hot chips standing on the railway platform.

Today I wanted to head for home rather than stop to eat so I made a compromise. I bought a sushi roll and took it down to the railway platform. However I waited for the train and ate sitting down in comfort once the train arrived. I wasn’t ideal, but I felt better to be putting some thought into the quality of what and where I was eating.

Next step is to make better choices from the menu.

How do you solve the “finding food while out and about” issue?

If you read a lot of lifestyle blogs like I do, I’m sure you have come across the word “passion” a few times. We are encouraged to “follow our passion” or if we don’t know what it is, to “find our passion”. People with multiple interests are encouraged to merge their many passions into one over-arching mega passion, or be dextrous multi-passionate plate spinners.

The idea of following a passion has certainly caught on in the collective imagination, with many people are getting out of their comfort zones (or discomfort zones) and pursuing what they are passionate about. This is exciting stuff; its energising to think that one really can live a passionate life.

Having said that I’m more of your moderate, middle of the road kind of personality. I have things that interest and concern me, but I try to keep calm about it. I don’t generally describe myself as passionate about things because I’m not an exuberantly emotional person.

I have been looking through the job ads for casual and part-time work, and this is given me cause to question the marketability of my tranquil nature. I have seen a few jobs that I might be interested in, but then I come across this requirement:

Must be passionate about …..

Hmm. So if I want a job as a casual sales assistant in an office supplies store, I need to be passionate about stationery. Really?

Now I must confess I do like stationery. I have been known to get excited about a matching set of six well made highlighter pens in pretty colours. I do get it, that people like stationery. But its not one of my life’s passions.

It seems that employers are also attracted to the passion principle, and are seeking staff with a passion for their products. But I wonder if passion really is an essential criteria for a successful working arrangement. A declaration of passion seems like a lot to ask for in a job application, particularly if is a role that doesn’t offer high pay or a long term commitment in return.

This puts me in a tricky position because if I am going to be passionate about anything its going to be a value or a principle, rather than a physical object. For example I could get passionate about “authenticity”. That’s inconvenient. It makes it difficult for me claim that I am passionate about pens and pencils.

Actually think I’d make a pretty good stationery store employee if what they are looking for is calm and friendly competence. But I can’t pretend to be what I’m not. I don’t want to fake an over-inflated enthusiasm I don’t feel and it bothers me that job applicants are put in the position of having to distort their personality to fit in with a narrow corporate culture.

So here’s my dilemma. If I am passionate about authenticity and honesty, then I’m going to be tempted to use my blog to holdup a mirror to the values of our culture. Thats going to mean writing blog posts that make it difficult to get a job in a chain store. Unless that chain store recognises that casual and part-time workers are there to fulfill a worthwhile purpose, but it’s not necessarily a life’s passion, and they’re going to bring their own personalities and interests with them.

Related Links:

Lorilee Lippincott on Passion and Purpose.

The next book on my reading list for people with multiple interests is Mash-Up!: How to Use Your Multiple Skills to Give You an Edge, Make Money and Be Happier by Ian Sanders & David Sloly. Ian and David focus on how to develop a multi-faceted work life that takes advantage of multiple talents and interests. They contend that rather than diluting one’s abilities, being able to mix up a variety of skills provides an advantage in the contemporary workplace. This interests me because I have been exploring a number of possible avenues for earning an income and the possibility of a varied worklife is very appealing.

For Ian and David the key to success as a masher is to define your ‘personal unifier’ which describes the common denominator that runs through all your varied skills and interests. It that allows people to ‘get’ what is at the core of what you do. I haven’t come up with mine yet, but its probably going to relate to topics addressed in this blog, such as simplicity, intuition and decision-making, growth and spirituality.

Even when you are clear about your personal unifier, it can sometimes be difficult to know how to present yourself to a potential employer or client. Ian and David advise telling your story in a way that grabs attention, clearly communicates what you are offering, and provides the person you are talking to with a way to take the next step to using your service.

The great benefit of a mashed up life is the satisfaction of utilising different aspects of your skillset. People attracted to this lifestyle relish flexibility and the freedom to take advantage of the opportunities which arise. In fact, Mashed-Up recommends adopting an “unplan”,  an attitude which allows you to follow your instinct and go “where the water flows.”

The book is written in the language of the digital age. People are identified by their Twitter handle.  It has a Gen X feel that made me question whether as a young Baby Boomer I was too old to pursue a mashed up existence.

Fortunately I didn’t need to think about it for too long. People have been mashing it up for centuries, and there is no age limit on who can get involved. The digital age just makes it easier to link up with like-minded people and convey what you are up to. They way I see it, retirees are the ultimate mashers.  They often enjoy a freedom to explore their own interests and determine their own schedules that can be harder to come by in mid-life.

Retirement takes on new meaning when you are living a mashed up life. If you already love what you do, and the roles that you take on are flexible, there is less reason to announce an abrupt and final end to your working life. People with artistic and creative careers already know about this. The urge to paint or write doesn’t suddenly die at 60 or 65. If you are lucky enough to be retired with access to an annuity or pension, you are free to explore a mashed up existence that can include paid or voluntary work that is both interesting and rewarding.

I am not sure if I have retired early, or I am never going to retire. If I can construct a Mashed Up life with multiple income streams, I may never have to decide.

Participating in an election campaign is a great way to learn about how the democratic process works. Despite all the silliness and tomfoolery that goes on in the media around election time I still feel very lucky to live in a country where the democratic process works well.

For democracy to be effective, everybody has to “play nice” which means respecting each others right to hold and express opinions different from your own. Political assassinations, kidnappings, beatings, tear gas attacks and worse are obviously NOT playing nice. Fortunately in Australia its safe to hand out How to Vote cards or post political views on Facebook without fear of reprisals. I wish others around the world had this opportunity.

Standing outside the Early Voting Centre and handing out How to Vote Flyers means entering a microcosm of the political landscape. At the Centre I have been attending the people representing the different parties help each other pack up and carry the placards and boxes of flyers upstairs. The Electoral Commission who run the election allow us to keep our materials stored in their foyer, so we don’t have to carry it all back and forth every day. They also allow all the candidates to leave How to Vote Materials on a table near where people are voting so that they can access the information they need.

This basic level of cooperation is possible because there is adequate trust between parties and a shared commitment to a fair process on all sides. There has been a problem in the past with people trying to vote but using the wrong numbering method, in which case their vote does not count. Giving them access on information about how to vote according the recommendations of their preferred party serves a useful purpose because helps people have their say with a valid vote.

Early voting runs for three weeks before the election day and manning the polling booth during this time is a big effort, especially when so many people can’t help because they are at work. Representatives from the two major parties are out in force, and smaller parties sometimes have someone there when resources permit. Because their time is more flexible, retirees and students play a big role in doing the footwork in the lead up to the actual election day.

Although there is a very slight frisson of tension in the air, on the whole I have found there to be a good atmosphere amongst the people handing out How to Votes for the different parties. I try to keep things friendly, respectful and upbeat. The unaccustomed heat of the warm spring weather is making everyone sweat, and the setting sun is glaring in everyones eyes, regardless of their political affiliation.

What a bunch of characters we are. Some of us want to talk politics and engage in good natured stirring. Mostly its given and and taken with a smile. Now and then some of us grow weary of the unrelenting youthful arrogance of one character who just won’t give it a rest.

When its quiet I get roped into interesting side conversations that accidentally veer onto controversial topics. I want to say “Keep your voice down!” when people start loudly bagging out the opposition during our private conversation which is being held at full volume on the public footpath. Even so, the side talk is valuable.  I learn things I don’t know from political long timers who are happy to share their story about why they are there.

My favourite moment was when I arrived at the Voting Centre in the late afternoon to help out for an hour before closing. A lady from the party that was the furtherest from mine in outlook came up to me, welcomed me with a smile, and introduced herself. In many respects her conservative values reflect a very different outlook to my more progressive views. But we agree on one thing. Treating other people with a basic level respect and acceptance is how democracy should be done.

Australian Language Notes:

To be roped in = to be engaged in an activity by someone else on the spur of the moment
Bagging Out = Criticising
Stirring = stirring the pot, teasing. A great Australian passtime.
Give it a rest = Shut up. Stop going on about it.

Notes on Australian Language Notes:

Rather than neutralise or Americanise my vocabulary my policy is to write as I speak in the Australian vernacular and explain any terms that might not be familiar. Having said that, I don’t always know what is uniquely Australian English or for that matter UK English so its going to be pot luck on the definitions.