Sea Green

Ephemera etc.

Monday, June 13, 2011

a space

Golly blogger is so forgiving isn't it? Holding a space in - well, space - for you to think in, write in, share in. Today is a quietish, coldish kind of a day. A scamper to the toilet because you've drunk too much tea kind of a day. A 'can't I just knit on the sofa?' kind of a day. A soup and stewed fruit kind of a day. And it's a long weekend (which doesn't mean much to me because I don't work Mondays), but still, the idea is nice.

I have done some knitting, a glorious mossy moss green scarf made from alpacca fluff, yarned up, and now knitted up with quick sharp light metal needles in a size tinier than I have ever used. It's so light, and textured, I love it. And will love it more when it's long enough to wrap around me in winter. Couch, knitting, Grand Designs and a cup of tea - a glorious way to whittle some moments from the fat of the day.

Its been a weekend of making things, projects. Projects real and imagined, projects talked about but not started, projects you enjoy doing and those you enjoy imagining done or imagine you enjoy doing - very different beasts. I imagine I enjoy finishing publications for work, but don't. I imagine I enjoy long term projects with delayed gratification and gradual completion - but I don't. I am a quick fix addict, a 'show me the fruits or I will not labour' kind of project-or. And this weekend featured long meandering talks with my betrothed about our different relationship to projects - the projects I want done, that he wants to enjoy and linger over, the projects I want to abandon half done to do something else, that he can see the benefit in me seeing through. It's telling, about of each of us don't you think, this, our relationships with the idea of and plan of doing things.

Projects I currently feel guilt about not doing/ doing more of/ doing right now:
- all work things
- getting ready to do my tax
- finally getting rid of those dusty boxes of Goddess knows what under my bed
- sorting my budget
- seeing a therapist to help get over old family stuff
- becoming a calmer/ gentler more spiritually developed person
- meditating/ yoga/ some kind of good for me natural therapy

Projects I want magically done but don't want to do:
- my tax
- getting those leaves in the green bin today, in the rain
- sorting out my regrowth and eyebrows and hairy wintery legs
- a giant cupboard clean out with fresh new cups and dinner set to put in there, and the pantry sorted so there are only plastic containers that have lids (and no feeling sorry for the lidless ones and sneaking them back in in case their lids show up)

Projects I feel I could happily do all week if they were on shuffle through the ipod of my day:
- making shapes out of sculpy ready to make molds and cast them in resin
- knitting
- making soup
- picking flowers out of the garden
- doing my [weight loss / healthy eating plan brand name here] food planning and tracking
- reading library books on vintage costume jewellry and wardrobe refreshing and macrobiotic cooking
- mending clothes and earrings that have been in the broken box for aeons

Projects I think I want to do but am not really sure I would even if I had the opportunity:
- learn to paint in oils and do a series of portraits on all my favourite people from history and win the archibald prize
- start a business doing some wacky workshops or consulting to business on how to do something or other better
- become an art therapist and qualified facilitator and career coach and nutritionist and feng shui consultant

Do we really know what we want? Does what we say we want tell us more than what we actually do?

What do we do to chase pleasure and what do we do to avoid pain?

What drives us to do anything much at all?

How do we feel when projects are unfinished?

I am currently avoiding a very specific project that involves very detailed word and idea crafting, and it's about as appealing as the tax and dusty boxes.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


Have not written here for a bit but have just put some pics here and a story about a craft project here.

Have also been at a very inspiring 3-day workshop full of lovely whimsical, funny academics and practitioners. Feel a bit more inspired about creating the kinds of projects I'm interested to work on at work, rather than following other people's interests. Such a balance between wanting to do 'real world and useful' (ie problems/ issues/ project ideas dreamt up by others) on the one hand, and on the other hand thinking 'you know what, if I'm going to do the work I'd rather it was something I dreamt up and am passionate about'.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

a fresh year just out of its wrapper

Welcome to 2011. I suppose you've already met it? Shy fellow, doesn't talk much, but will probably get going as the evening wears on.

New Year for me has been about homes, and holidays, work, and crafty projects.

Home, in that I'm buying a house! My significant other is already buying and living in it, but as of tomorrow when the bank settles the new loan, we both will be (buying it that is, not living in it - more on that later). Funny how something that previously I had held in my mind as this huge, contested, confusing and slightly overwhelming life decision / stage/ task just crept in as a very tangible, practical possibility with not much philosophical angst (the nature of owning property, the idea of carving up and privately owning land) and surprisingly little commitment angst (I have never even committed to a phone plan, surprises me that signing up to a 25 year loan hasn't freaked me out completely). I think it's in no small part due to the relationship, doing something with someone else can be less daunting than doing it yourself (total hats off to all the single folk who manage to do property solo, you have more courage than me!), and doing it with someone who cares about you and who is practical, stable, good with money and who you trust helps.

So, house. Yes and apart from endless bank paperwork, which fingers crossed should be done with on MONDAY when we are due to settle (property purchase talk for loan is now yours), there has been painting and hardware and door handles. Which I find I like. Except for the unrelenting unfinishedness of it all (for the love of gaia can one room please be completely painted and not have any tools left in it) and also less keen on the purely algebraic tradeoff beween hours spent discussing logistics versus time with your sweetheart doing lovely fun cultural excusions, bushwalks or dinner out. X is time painting and talking about painting (or similar) and y is time doing other things and z is the total time off you have together. You get the idea. This because we don't live together and I still expect Quality Time to be the main thing we do together. It's a transition into another phase of being in relationship I guess, one where you willingly trade some rnr and the money you would have spent on outings to work together on a project you both want done. Fortunately we both enjoy doing hands on things and we work well together, and find doing the house stuff satisfying. I can even handle (large hardware chain) with him, even if it's still not my favourite place to visit (too big and overwhelming and dusty and crammed full of products and raises lots of uncomfortable feelings about consumption and DIY and what happens to all the old stuff etc). Actually, truth be told I quite like the plants and paint swatches and even buy coffee there sometimes.

In terms of living arrangements, for now I am staying put in my inner west share house, and spending at least a day a week at the other house. This seems extravagant probably, and does mean we will save more slowly for the renovations, but it's important for me. I think one step at a time in terms of commitment is my preferred approach, and personal space is by far my most contested and precious commodity - far more precious to me than my finances. I think that when I feel ready I will know, and then I will move in.

Also, moving in would require I swap suburbs (living space aside) and that is something I'm not ready to do yet. Sure, I could so not afford to buy the house I'm renting (unless my income doubled or quadrupled) but I have grown very fond of living the inner city life with cafes a short walk away, harbour views, book shops etc. Suburbia is also a contested concept for me (which significant other doesn't really get, he's very practical and thinks everything that's metro sydney is sydney, ie what's the difference really - that and he loves the quiet of living near bushland) and I do have some reservations about the area (does anyone down there read? does anyone other than me walk anywhere? are all the teenage boys violent thugs who look like they need a good feed and some face wash?). Oh goddess, listen to me - I am a snob, there is totally no two ways about it.

Holidays are the other thing I've been spending time and thought on so far this year. We go away for 5 weeks in late March and all of April to London, other bits of the UK, Scotland and Paris. Holiday is to go to significant other's sister's wedding but using the 'while we're there' principle has grown into a decent sized break with some exciting new places to visit. Am researching old things / afternoon teas/ zine shops/ book shops/ old art/ new art/ new craft/ enviro stuff (as long as its kind of creative and interesting) to see. I know it's a cliche, but I can say with some gusto 'I really need a break'. Not least because.. segway here to work...I am really really tired.

Yes so work. It feels like every December for the last few years (sometimes earlier - last year it was start of November) I get 'over it' and can barely imagine how I'll be able to get through the last days until Christmas break. It's this tired / over it / stopped caring feeling that makes it really hard to ramp up and get anything done. And my job doesn't have a lot of 'busy work' that I can noodle through when feeling demotivated. I suppose like a lot of people's jobs, it's all about making something new, thinking up something new, finding something new, reading more content and synthesising it. But the thing is none of that feels possible when you're tired/ over it / don't care. So I hang in there until the break and then think 'surely this year will be different - I can't be in that position again this end of year' - enter the January Career Crisis. On loop.

And why do I think this is?

Well I have lots of alternating theories about styles of work, work tasks, why I picked the field/ role to begin with, but a few random observations of things that I think probably don't help:
- taking annual leave - last year I took leave to do uni, go to conferences etc because I'd run out of work professional development time to do things. Bad idea. Note to self: annual leave is for resting or adventuring, not for doing extra work that doesn't fit into work time (unless it's particularly fun).
- facing another generation of keen beans - we recruited some young and fresh faced folk last year and I think the contrast between their wide eyed bushy tailed and my lacklustre tail and puffy half asleep eyes has been a shock. It has reminded me of what enthusiasm for what we do looks like and reminds me that I don't have it. Any more? Did I ever? I certainly had anxiety about doing a good job of it, and that provided lots of energy. But I'm not sure I even have that now.
- the exposure to new folk as above has also brought out a rather unbecoming internal response of 'I KNOW THAT ALREADY!!! I DID THAT YEARS AGO!!!!' which booms through my head in a very irritated snippy voice loaded with exasperation anytime someone remarks with wonder about a program they've just heard about or an idea of how to do something which I feel like I know inside out. I feel like I'm surrounded by people just discovering stuff that I have read about, tried, tried again and seen done in several contexts.
- Curiosity. My job requires a lot of curiositity (or discipline and I lack the latter). I feel like doing my job without feeling curious is like eating without feeling hungry - pointless, uncomfortable and kind of makes you feel sick.

It has made me think about cycles of interest and cycles of activity and recharge. I think I could do my job for 6 months of the year - 12 is just far too many. Or I think I could do my job if all I did was review other people's work and come up with ideas and not have to actually read any more technical reports or articles on things I don't care about (namely anything enviro-technical, enviro anything, education anything, anything I've done years of). I feel like I could have done my job for 3 years, but 5 plus (this year is entering the plus) is just too many. I like the idea of sabbaticals, and for me, I would want one every 3 years (or 5 years at the latest)no matter what organisation or field I worked in. Time to do versus time to reflect and review. Time to work in teams with people versus time to work alone. Time to try and then time to write up and share the learnings and find new fields that interest you.

So maybe that's the problem as much as anything (assuming for the sake of argument that the problem is not just that I'm lazy, a whinger, crazy, middle class and ungrateful for having a decent job which after all is permanent and pays the bills and doesn't send me down a salt mine) - cycles. No one really helps you figure out what it is you like from your work and what kind of career you'll need in terms of what the main things are that interest you or you get out of things. Everyone seems to think if you like a topic (trains for instance) and you have a job to do with trains that pays OK and has all the nice cosy things (friendly people to work with! afternoon teas! nice decor! stamps from the teacher when you do a good job! annual leave! a pay packet that chugs upwards each year! status so people are impressed when you tell them at dinner parties what you do!) that thsi will be enough. How do you figure out whether maybe you like learning and after 3 years you'll have it figured out and be bored and that you should move on to something new? Or what the underlying drivers are for you in work and how to do the things that satisfy you most (so that you can keep doing them, and you want to do them well)?

I think there is something about the learning curve, and the kinds of things I like learning about, and how I like to share the learning/ apply it to new situations.

My current job has an aura of diversity about it, but after time I feel a bit like I'm stuck in school, doing the same grade subject each year. Yes, it's year 11 physics again. And year 11 math, and English. Sure the basic thing we'll do is the same, but hey, we have thought up different assignment wording! If we change the name of the client and the town it's based in and the random grant funding it's attached to and make you read new facts and figures from some new reports you might even be fooled into thinking this is something new! The details change, but the tasks stay the same. But I'm surrounded by people who think this is Fun! and Interesting! It makes me want to groan. Or growl in that way and old dog would who is surrounded by very loud puppies who wont let it rest.

So. Lets leave that there and get onto craft projects. My projects for the moment and dreaming for the year are:
- finish knitted rug for charity
- maybe make lap rugs out of the squares I have that I thought I would make a double bed blanket out of
- print and distribute (including to some Euro zine shops if possible while on hols) a bunch of the drawn, written and in a shoe box zine backlog
- run some craft workshops for friends/ friends of friends/ the general public
- submit some illustrations to some publications whilst also learning illustrator, photoshop, making a creative cv, getting an image website up and running and maybe blogging about the process (I call this as yet unstarted project a piece of auto-ethnographical social research the 'I want to be an illustrator' project)
- go to some sewing classes so I can get some basic sewing skills, to help with backlog of modification and new garment ideas
- do a painting class and start a series of portraits of people from history who I find interesting

Oh and finish my Masters. If that's a craft project. Oh I wish it was - if only I could finish it using paintings or perhaps a series of painted dollies about the issues facing strategic planning / enviro policy/ international development. My masters has been limping along erraticaly since 2004. No wonder I'm sick of that too (and the topics are all the same as work - ugh).

Oops, so much for finishing on an up note!

Anyway, that's what's hot and not this January 2011 in the very small corner of the world I'm in.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Funny how our lives run in parallel isn’t it? Not just that we each do the same kinds of cyclic seasonal and diurnal things in parallel to each other (birthdays, lunch, going to the toilet, getting the flu, getting better), but the bigger struggles/ journeys/ realisations that we each have, no doubt someone out there is having them too. Got a parcel a few weeks ago from a friend overseas, someone I used to work with. He is working in London, doing the same kind of thing he did here, that we both did here. He is smart as a whip, organised, tidy, but inward – he is quiet and reserves comment at work, serious, stern even. He is detail focused and strategic. All that. And. And he yearns for something else, something less deadline bound, desk bound, something that comes from colour and expression. Something where he can be spontaneous, silly, expressive. He wants to be a graphic designer, or do community art projects, or similar. And he does that stuff – he’s designed a bunch of brochures, ads, covers for reports (and done a cracking job) at work alongside of doing his actual work his work (and as a volunteer for a not for profit he volunteers at). Just recently he’s got his first paid design gig, for a shop, he was recommended by a friend. In his letter he talks about how the feedback has been a confidence booster and how he realises that feeling comfortable with it is the only way he’s going to be able to transition career.

It resonates for me as I the past few weeks lash out and be daring and think ‘f*k it maybe I can just do some stuff for fun, and make it a big part of my life, even if it doesn’t pay or pay well or pay well straight away, even if it’s a bit ‘indulgent’, or it rings my ‘selfish’ internal alarm bells’. And I know the main way I can do this is to demystify it. Reach out to the unknown, the far away, and bring it close enough to sniff. Make it known. Sleep with it under my pillow so that it smells familiar and not far away and strange and potentially full of risk. So to speak. So I’ve been meeting with people (who I’ve never met before), talking to them about their experiences, asking for suggestions. Which is funny considering how often I’ve suggested that strategy to others seeking career shifts, but never done myself (because I wasn’t ready, I guess). It brings these options closer and makes them more tangible, less spooky and imbued with otherness.

So he and I both grapple with this in parallel. Making something different feel possible. And before anyone springs to the comments button with a vaguely condescending but steadfastly encouraging comment about ‘of course it’s possible, you can do anything’, let me say, yes yes, I know. But the thing, the really important thing here is there is knowing and then there is feeling. I can know, but have the strongest internal emotional aversion to something. We are more than our rationality, more than our moonlight sliver thin story of rationality. Underlying this are our stories, our fears, our aversions, our survival stories. And they run deep, like roots, running sideways in the dark dirt, we barely remember they’re there until we come across one up close, exposed, with earthy must still dusted along its reedy length. And then we are surprised, and stare in wonder at how far they must reach, beneath this soil that we stand on.

Stranger hobbies

The bookseller said ‘oops, I stole your five cents’. He reopens the drawer and gets me my change.
I laughed. 'Well that will make you rich', after a pause conceded: 'Well, actually I guess maybe they add up.'
He says ‘ I collect five cents’
I say ‘like a hobby?’
He says ‘ no, in a jar. At the end of the year I have maybe $40 worth, and I don’t know what to do with them'.
He is uncommonly tall, this man, and I have never spoken to him beyond the barest rudimentaries associated with the transaction of book buying. He is so much taller I think of him as living up there on a slightly different slice of life to me. Not tree top versus ground dweller exactly but nonetheless some different piece of sky our faces brush through daily.
‘It’s the kind of thing an old man would do’ he tells me somewhat ruefully, self chastising, but baffled at it to, like this jar and his five cent collecting sits beyond his own comprehension. His face, behind glasses, towering above me with his extra height, lights up, opens when he tells me this. I realise it’s the only exchange we’ve had like this, we are carving our new ground. He seems genuinely baffled at his own proclivities. We laugh together at his unknowable, unchartable, jar of the deep mysteries of ourselves and our own behaviours.

Monday, November 01, 2010

morning calm

Last day in Korea and I am somewhat sad to go. I have met some lovely people – academics who are soft and gentle but wry and bright eyed with a hunger for learning and a great openness to new ways of doing things – qualities so rare in anyone anywhere. I get invited to dinner at someone’s home and am in awe, I think of how rarely I would ever consider doing that for an international guest to our office. Probably never. Out to dinner somewhere neutral, somewhere where my own lfe is not opened up to them, where I can walk away and have someone else do the dishes and I can go back to my comfortable non-work nest – sure. But to my own home? Probably only if they had been around for several months and I felt like we were friends, then I would. But I can’t think of anytime I’ve been so welcoming to invite someone I’ve known for only a few days and who is about to leave into my home. It makes me wonder at this division between work-life and home-life and how we keep that wall up and why. It shames and inspires me into being more open hearted to visitors in future.

Three is something sweet about the culture here that I can’t quite put my finger on. Locals have talked to me about how it is competitive, how everyone tries to get ahead and do better than everyone else. They also talk about corruption and the very real struggle for job security. But from my comfortable salaried, outsider vantage point all I see is children being adored and being safe, young men who almost universally embody elements of well-groomed and gentle and don’t come across as aggressive or dangerous, the edges between masculine and feminine seem less ferociously guarded, women’s bodies are not uniformly used as commodity in advertising (but not due to any particular rigid religious prudity about bodies), and a softness in the faces of young people, without glazed disaffectedness or hostility.

Adults who wear bunny socks without irony because they’re cute and warm. Road blocks that have cheery faces on them. A transit system where instead of guards that vibe power and the threat of violence in their dark blue uniforms there are signs with pictures of guards as smiling uniformed cartoon squirrels who look joyous that you want to catch the subway and are keen to help. A downtown area where slick new bicycles are left on their stands and not locked up because no-one will steal them. I kid you not. Is that not amazing?

Friday, October 29, 2010

talk? done.

This thing of being away for work and always feeling like you have just one more thing to do to get ready for the next thing, is actually incredibly tiring. I forget that, between trips. I think that being out of the office is like having a holiday, until I remember that at least the office is safe and familiar, I can sleep in my own bed afterwards, I can have some degree of confidence that I know what I’m doing and not feel like I have to translate my concepts into different cultural contexts, professional backgrounds, and then have it translated into another language. Goddess only knows what it comes out as through that many rounds of translation. I also forget the subtle posturing and quizzing and establishing of common ground that goes on in the conversations between international folk thrown in together in a professional context. Some of it is curiosity, and welcome, and is not some of it (theirs and mine) the chance to wheel out some factoid or personal experience or little nugget of expertise you have, as if to say ‘I know stuff, look at me, I’m clever, I exist’. That, I find absolutely exhausting.

Also I think I would enjoy conferences more if speaking at them was more like stand up comedy – that you could say out loud our fears and foibles, and context, and not just tell the room some success story you’re proud of. I want to name the elephant in the room, all the elephants, it’s like the elephant is all I can see. I want to frame a talk with ‘isn’t it weird that we don’t know each other, and I’ve never even been to your country and yet here I am about to tell you something so random and hope for the best that it means something to you and meanwhile I’m petrified that my story isn’t interesting or that I’m a phony or that actually this whole thing is professional posturing and not something I like’. On second thoughts, maybe listening to everyone’s internal monologue before their talk would not be very funny.

And despite this hyper awareness of the thing I’m doing (let’s face it, probably because of it), I still manage to botch it a bit. I am my own worst conference nightmare. I accidentally become everything I absolutely know that presenters shouldn’t be – intangible, theoretical, esoteric. I have a boring power point presentation and botch the pictures (where did they go? I swear they showed up on my computer) so I am left with a text skeleton without the colourful flesh around it. Even a nicely crafted story that captures key trends in approach to something will only appeal to a tiny sub section of the audience (pedants like me maybe), everybody else likes stories of things they can see and hear and touch. We built this, did this, this happened, this many people came, it was big and red and shiny, and this is how much it cost. Conference goers who are practitioners like tangibles, and my work ends up sounding so woolly (I think). But oh well. Ideas and process innovations are hard to photograph. Maybe this is more confirmation that being the holder of technical knowledge is just not what I love being or doing. I hate to be the expert, my view of reality is something that shifts and dances, how can you pick just one story to tell of it? The map is not the terrain, the cross section is not the engine, my arbitrary decision of how to structure my talk is not the whole of what I see happening or would like to tell you. Conversations are refractory and kaleidoscopic, conference presentations are dull nuggets. Maybe this can be my last conference as a presenter. Maybe I can only do workshops from now on. Is that a reasonable decision to come to? Am I allowed?

I'm tired.
The city is great, the people are wonderful. Frank, gentle, insightful, stylish, pushy, doing cool enviro stuff. The working culture seems delightfully egalitarian and minimally pomp and posturing despite being located in a strong central governance.
The food is fresh and delicious.
The socks with local television stars as cartoons on them are great (but too small for my feet).
I'm tired.
One cup of coffee in the hotel costs more than a plate of pasta and a coffee at a cafe bar down the street which in turn costs twice as much as noodles at the markets.
There is pine nut tea.
The city is safe.
I'm tired.
The people seem to value peace - even hello and goodbye are phrases to do with wishing you peace. Gotta dig that.

Work holiday hotel away talk giving polite conversation remember to eat set alarm don't wake up weird times, look neat, be defferential, talk content, make yourself look like a valuable international guest. etc.