Popping the Inner West bubble

There is an old Jamaican proverb, “To eat an egg, you must break the shell”.

There is an old Australian saying,”To buy cheap fruit and veg, head west.” Okay, so there isn’t a saying like that, but it is good advice. As I ventured to Flemington Markets with the delightful Miss Powell I realised whilst waiting at Newtown station that it was the first time I had ever caught the train heading out of the city.

Living around Newtown is fantastic; we have endless options of bars, seedy pubs, trendy retro cafes and Thai restaurants coming out the wazoo. But safe in my little microcosm, have I become one of those myopic people I mock?

According to management theorist Alasdair A. K. White a comfort zone “is a behavioural state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviours to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.” I imagine with a name like Alasdair, his parents were risk-takers.

Are my surroundings a form of comfort zone? A geographical blankie? Definitely, although it is disconcerting how many women have brown hair and bangs around here which is counter-balanced with the militant style clientle of the Sly Fox. Same same creates a sense of belonging.

But today’s little outing has shown me even after a decade of living here, old Sydney has some untapped adventures yet if I choose to leave my Inner West comfort zone.

Time to jettison some physical and emotional baggage

Last year unbeknownst to me I began on a journey of decluttering my existence and renewal.

It began with letting go of a very unhealthy friendship I had. Every time I saw this person I felt worse off for it. The subtle put downs, her embarrassing sleazy behaviour, her negativity hanging around my neck like a dead albatross.

Once I removed this draining person from my life, I had a lot more time for my myriad of other fantastic, creative and positive people in my life.

Next to go was my unfulfilling job, giving me space to think of my next endeavour. Perhaps a little too much time.

With all this newfound time on my hands (thank you redundancy), I have continued to unclutter my physical and my social surroundings. According to the psychology of clutter, surrounding yourself with lots of stuff, activities, people can be a convenient way to keep yourself distracted from noticing the bigger issues you may have been ignoring, or going after what you really want in life. Hmm… sound familiar?

On the physical side of this decluttering process was my recent garage sale. A little money making venture, but mainly I wanted the things I never use to have a second life, to be of value again. One of the sales I delighted in was my Camper shoes going to a disabled girl with wide feet. The shoes are stretchy leather with Velcro straps, and for those of you that have owned Campers you know that they last forever. To me those shoes meant another trendy trophy to my Imelda Marcos-challenging shoe collection that I never wore because they didn’t quite fit. To this girl and her mum it meant she had a pair of shoes she could put by herself, unassisted, that were comfortable and of good quality.

The physical clutter is easy to deal with, but the emotional clutter – feeling socially obliged, self doubt, procrastination – are much harder to acknowledge and therefore deal with. But I’m getting there; it’s all a process.

This post is dedicated to Lyn Adamson, thank you for the gentle kick in the pants.

Beans, beans the magical fruit

I have always loved the poster boy of ‘Cool Britannia’ Jamie Oliver, not for his floppy hair, cute accent and retro scooter (ok, they are contributing factors) but for his passion and commitment to the idea that anyone can cook. And I think Jamie and I would agree we’re both flabbergasted when people don’t like cooking or food (remember his interview on Enough Rope with Andrew Denton?)

According to Harvard biological anthropologist and primatologist Richard Wrangham cooking is what makes us human. Heating food increases its calories so by increasing our calorie intake has had physical and social implications on us as a species (he has a great theory on how cooking led to marriage – read Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human for the full hypothesis). So to not like cooking is to deny your humanity, so climb back up your trees non-foodies and survive on your own nits and bitter berries.

Cooking makes me happy and I shouldn’t be a self-proclaimed Enjoyment Police, but seriously, what’s not to like about cooking? The amazing aromas, the tactile pleasure of cookie mixture, the licking of the beaters, the humour of your failed attempts and salvaging what you can (cover it in melted cheese if savoury, icing sugar if sweet).

So my latest culinary discovery is from Syria and it’s vegan. I was pleasantly surprised at how satisfying and filling a non-animal flesh meal could be. So here is the recipe for Fo seria Syrian Lentils (Shourabat adas if you want the proper name) – enjoy!

One cup of red, green or brown lentils (I used a tin of brown)
2 onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tsp ground cumin
juice of 1 lemon + lemon wedges to serve
olive oil
3 cups of water ( I left the water out because I used tinned lentils so it was thicker and served it with cous cous)

In the olive oil cook the garlic and onion, add the rest of the ingredients, simmer for 10 mins (longer if you are using dried lentils), when your house smells amazing it is ready to serve.

Back to Basics

I tried to think of a snazzier title for today’s blog, but then that would be defeating the whole purpose of this morning’s Fastbreak.

For the uninitiated, Fastbreak is a series of young, successful often highly attractive people who give an inspirational talk on a chosen topic and expose my insecurities at not having started my own social entrepreneurial start-up for orphans in Vietnam/ amazing carbon-neutral recycled clothing company/ flown to the moon to raise awareness for orphaned, disabled elephants.

Although seeing the work of self-taught paper engineer Benja Harney and Juliette Anich’s passion for The Clothing Exchange was really cool, the most engaging speakers took the theme of the day to heart. They stuck to the basics, no power point slides, just personal reflections on their life from 11Eleven Project Danielle Lauren’s undying love of her toy bunny that she’s had since she was six years old to Charles Prouse’s need to balance the role of CEO of the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA) with the simple pleasure of flying a kite.

But the real show stopper was Jude Lawrence, self confessed party boy and leukaemia survivor. While still on maintenance therapy, Jude formed the company I Like to Party that now runs snowboard tours to Japan and New Zealand and dive tours to Thailand. Nine months of chemotherapy treatment gives you a lot of time to think or as Jude eloquently put “hitting the pause button”. And he summed it up his life goals quite nicely by explaining what a perfect day would look like:

Feelings: the treasure trove of memories that we have stored in our minds and can be revisited whenever we choose.
Relationships: have meaning in al relationships, new and old.
Experiences: have an intense experience or at least plan one every day.
Exercise: push yourself every day.
Discovery: learn and explore new ideas and new ways of thinking.
Om: meditation, stillness – his second ‘o’ was orgasm, but was too bashful to go into detail
Make progress: but don’t become overpowered on focusing to achieve a goal
Sunset: take time to write a journal and document the day with a photograph or writing.

For me I’m going to to take a bit of time today to think about why I do what I do, and what I really want from life. Time to dream big people 🙂

NZ earthquake exposes Oz’s sloppy, self-interested media

Amongst the scores dead in New Zealand and the anxious wait for hundreds of families with people still missing  there has been one reported Australian fatality.

Not by any means denigrating the suffering and loss of this person to their loved ones, but seriously The Age should one Australian fatality really be the headline of the disaster that has affected thousands? I think we are all condition by these types of headline – Hundreds dead in some overcrowded ferry crash in Asia, 2 Caucasian Tourists dead – oh no! Or even more common, no Australian fatalities *phew*.

Somehow The Age’s headline is a particularly gross use of Othering, and some of the comments I have seen on online news sites are just plain off: “we should hold back on giving them money until we fix QLD” said one reader. Australia is the 10th wealthiest nation in the world in GDP per capita (2009, IMF figures). According to the United Nations Human Development Index, Australia has the 2nd highest quality of life in the world, after Norway. When people cry poor in Australia – it really shits me off. Yes we are a remote island but don’t go thinking that we are somehow disconnected from the rest of the world.

If anything the common bond of disasters and ‘getting on with it’ should bring us closer to our Kiwi mates. If you are a generous person and wish to extend your compassion across the Tasman Sea, donate to New Zealand Red Cross and follow their tweets @NZRedCross.

And the winner is – death and exploitation (again)

Looking at the recent winners of the World Press Photo 2010 winners calls to mind Daria’s Sick Sad World – when did the earth become so depressing? And that’s coming from me, a person who looks at infant morality rates and poverty related statistics all day for a living.

Yes, the world isn’t perfect but should we really be glorifying photojournalists who capture bodies being flung into piles, suicides from rooftops and severed heads? What about the humanity and the dignity of the subject, and the families they leave behind? These events need to be documented but there is something truly macabre about all the top photographs being centred on death and mutilation.

Which brings me to the winning portrait of Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Afghanistan who fled the violent treatment of her husband and was then captured by the Taliban to face ‘justice’. After a Taliban commander pronounced his verdict, Bibi’s brother-in-law held her down to allow her husband cut off her ears and then her nose. Bibi was rescued by the US military, has received surgery and is now living in America. Her suffering is unmeasurable and incomprehensible to my mind, but has her life been improved by being the subject of that portrait? Jodi Bieber the photographer of the image has certainly benefitted, as have the media with such a provocative* image.

Jury chair David Burnett said about the photo, “This could become one of those pictures – and we have maybe just ten in our lifetime – where if somebody says ‘you know, that picture of a girl…’, you know exactly which one they’re talking about.” Which to my mind objectifies Bibi and exploits a woman who has already been compromised and violated so savagely.

I believe World Press needs to rethink their selection criteria and not only choose the most shocking and violent images, but look deeper into the human condition and see the complexity and the beauty that lies within.

*code for demeaning, exploitative and just plain wrong.

“Papa Homer, you are so learn-ed”; “Learned, son. It’s pronounced learned.”

“All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.”
– Martin H. Fischer

Sitting in front of the interwebs all the time I guess I am constantly learning new things, social media tricks and gizmos, political situations, weather calamities and catastrophes and sometimes even some good news in developing countries.

But this week I sat in front of an eccentric academic (tautology?) with pen, paper, laptop and an inquisitive mind and realised how much I miss being a student.

This isn’t surprising if you add up all my school days – 13 years at school and 7 ½ years at university – that’s over 20 years of my life or 2/3rds of my existence. In addition to working at a university for 7 years, that is some serious time I’ve served in the line of education.

What am I learning? Video filming skills and editing on Final Cut Pro. I’m still rather green, accidently overwriting instead of inserting and those sort of slight slip of the mouse mistakes but I’m getting there. Nothing a Ctrl+Alt+Z wouldn’t fix, I mean Commmmmand+Z, quitting the PC habit of a lifetime.

We’ve also had a little play with Prezi – a zoom-in presentation tool which makes powerpoint look as dated as an overhead projector and Snapz Pro X which allows you to record anything on your screen, saving it as a QuickTime movie or screenshot that can be e-mailed or uploaded to the web. Fancy. We’ve also watched a lot of slightly dorky yet highly informative webinars from the 2 Reel Guys. All this info is out there for those who know how to find it but it is nice to take some time out of  day-to-day work to learn new skills as a group.

Or realising you can take the nerd out of uni, but you can’t take the urge to learn out of a nerd.

I heart thee Tweets

My big boss is not on Twitter, in their own words they ‘don’t get it’.

The rather disturbing implications of that statement for my career as the social media person aside, they are not the only one. I’ve heard it all from ‘I don’t get it’ to ‘it’s stupid’ and ‘what of value can be said in 140 characters or less?’ (they obviously don’t follow the Oscar Wilde of our times, the delectable and verbose champion of prose Stephen Fry).

But not everyone is such a social media scaredy cat, according to recent stats from Nielsen, sites like Facebook and Twitter now account for 22.7% of time spent on the web*

For tweet virgins here are my thoughts on the Twits:

Why do you want to play in this space in the first place? Is it for business or pleasure? If it’s for work is it the most suitable space for your brand, how will it increase traffic to your existing website? Too often people cry out for a social media strategy before they have the basics of the marketing mix sorted (remember you 4 Ps, or 7 or 8 or whatever it’s up to these days).

Don’t forget your phrasebook. You should always master ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘where is the toilet?’ whenever you enter a foreign land: the same applies to Twitter. Basic Twitter commands are:

1) Reply: by adding @username + your message you will answer any of the tweets (Twitter messages) one of your friends was recently posting. Remember this is for the whole wide webby world to see, so play nice.

2) Direct Message (DM): by adding D+username+message you will be sending direct messages (private ‘for your eyes only 007’ posts) to any of the users who follow your account, and no one else other than the recipient will see the message.

3) Re-tweet: by adding RT+username+message you will be sending a message which indicates that part of your tweet includes something you’re re-posting from another person’s tweet. With the 140 characters limitation, if you want to be RTed with your wonderful wordsmithery and have a bit of ownership of said fantasmagorical quote keep your username short and your quotes around 120 characters.

Birds of a feather tweet together: Just like high school, the cool kids hang out with other cool kids, nerds with other nerds etc etc. Find your clan and tap into their networks by following their ‘lists’. Instant posse.

I can understand why it’s a little daunting at first, but dive right in, follow me, the water is fine.

*these are Yankie Doodle stats, but Aussies are same same.

Pretty in garish pink

There are a lot of ‘Year of’ things around, for example 2011 is the ancient Chinese year of the Rabbit and the UN’s International Year of Forests. But did you know that Pantone, the gatekeepers of colour purity, have announced (drum roll please) that Honeysuckle is the official colour of 2011!?

“Honeysuckle derives its positive qualities from a powerful bond to its mother color red, the most physical, viscerally alive hue in the spectrum.”
Holy crap that’s deep man

Which is perhaps the most preposterous yet fabulous thing I have ever heard.

In addition to paint, the perky/pukie shade has already been rolled out into Visa cards and wedding dresses.

Pantone believes Honeysuckle “elevates our psyche beyond escape, instilling the confidence, courage and spirit to meet the exhaustive challenges that have become part of everyday life.” Which is a tall order for a  spectrum of light hitting your eyes.

How does one obtain these dizzying heights of euphoria? Do you smear it on like war paint across you cheeks, wear it in some sort of protective undergarment, put a lock of Honeysuckle fur under your pillow as you dream sweet, sweet Honeysuckle dreams? Something that powerful surely needs to be free-based, how is PANTONE® 18-2120 even legal?

For those curious souls out there who felt a little blue last year, blame it on the 2010 colour of the year Turquoise (PANTONE® 15-5519), which was meant to heal in stressful times (well it didn’t friggin work for me).

How will you Honeysuckle your 2011? I’m thinking 80s prom style froufrou dress, with extra taffeta.

Twenty Jen: the year that was

In Frankie this month there was an interesting slice of life from a variety of creative Frankie-types (you know, people who like owls and craft), who wrote a list of twenty things from the past year. Pick up a pen and notepad and do it, let the word processor between your ears torrent a stream of consciousness and see what’s flappin about.

So with your permission I will self indulge and divulge the year that was 2010:

1. Jono and Aya’s traditional Shinto wedding in Japan, complete with dancing girls, Aya’s beautiful family, an earthquake, fugu and drunken karaoke.

2. She Bangs She Bangs fringe cut.

3. Moved back to Sydney much to everyone’s surprise, including my own.

4. Finally cast off my academic albatross and much like the fable felt a slight loss at the end but didn’t become an opium fiend.

5. Visited the parental’s home in Tautavel (remember that episode of Ab Fab when they are in France? Yep, it’s like that).

6. Sprung back from disastrous and hilarious bad boy times (remember Joel the skirt boy?)

7. Mastered the art of smutney.

8. Learnt to let go of unhealthy friendships and revelled in making new ones.

9. Countless wine times at the Warren and phos at Pho Sure.

10. My house husband claiming we have “the happiest worms in Enmore” (Yes, of course we do dear).

11. Have an amazing blue bike and flying V uke (courtesy of my lovely house husband).

12. Been humble in defeat.

13. Total music sublimation.

14. Happy, healthy family.

15. Was the spunkiest palaeontologist the world has ever seen, or at least the Townie has ever seen at 3am.

16. Unabated impulsive behaviour.

17. Been confused.

18. Rediscovered my inner hornbag hausfrau and love of craft.

19. Last day of Rainbow in a spoonbill soup of delight.

20. If all else fails, love, love and love x

You’ve read it, you can’t unread it but I heartily suggest that you do this little self exploration exercise.