Written Replies – The First Results of my Letter Writing Experiments

When I started my (so far significantly lacking) attempt at Blog Every Day in August, I wrote about my love of letter writing. Over this last weekend, I’ve been seeing the full effect of my postal pastime, with results that have been both surprising and heart-warming.

I spent the weekend back home, spending time with family for my Poppy’s 80th birthday bash. I saw a whole stack of relatives, some of whom I haven’t seen in months.

Amongst the throng were a number of young cousins, to whom I have sent letters or postcards over the last few months. As I went around the room, I asked each of them if they had received the mail I had sent. To my surprise, my question often drew blank and confused looks: “No, I didn’t get a postcard?”

I was confused myself. “Maybe the postie hasn’t brought it yet?” I asked, even though I’d had confirmation from their mums and dads that their postal surprises had arrived. Then again, these kids ranged in age from three to ten, so I wasn’t about to hold a grudge.

But it did make me wonder: do kids not place any value on letters anymore? More importantly, was I as forgetful about the written correspondence from relatives when I was a child?

That second thought left me kind of confused. I can vividly remember receiving letters and birthday cards in the post from grandparents, and postcards from friends and relatives who had gone off globetrotting. I recall being incredibly excited about receiving letters in envelopes covered in pictures my Grandma had meticulously cut out of the various magazines she’d bought. I can even remember Mum telling me how grateful I should be, because Grandma’s arthritis made that crafty task incredibly difficult, so it really demonstrated just how much she loved my sister and I whenever she did so.

But did I write back? Did I at least make a phone call to thank the sender for their caring correspondence? Well, that I can’t remember. I wish I did – it would make me feel a lot better, but something tells me I didn’t. I was probably like my cousins are now: a bit forgetful.

What did surprise me was the number of people who confirmed that they are going to write back to me: three. I wasn’t expecting any! Instead, I got a confirmation from my cousin Gina and her mum that she had been working hard on a reply. Later on, when I was wandering around Sydney while waiting for a bus, I got a call from my mate Chris, who told me he was also working on writing back to me, as soon as he got a break from his insane schedule. While I was on the bus back to Canberra, I got a call from Tom, another friend, who promised me a typewritten letter.

I was so chuffed. So far, I’ve only had a response from my Aunt Joyanne and a letter from my Dad, who writes semi-regularly. It’s been nice to hear from them, but they’re from an era when letter-writing was more common; to hear from a bunch of Gen Y folks (and younger!) that they would have something to post to me in the coming weeks was incredibly thrilling, encouraging and heart-warming. I can’t wait to see them when the postie comes!

Potentially Problematic Opinion Month: Australia Should Withdraw From the UN Refugee Convention

That’s it. I’ve had it up to here with this nonsense. The race to the bottom has got to stop somewhere and it’s about time both parties spelled out exactly what that means.

The ultimate way to “stop the boats” is to withdraw Australia’s support for the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee.

Yes, the idea makes me sick. But really, it’s pretty much the only move that either party can make that can’t be beaten.

At this point, we’re already looking at a pair of parties whose policies on this issue have made me literally retch and cry. (Well, their policies on a lot of issues have pissed me off, but I can’t help feeling that the ones that deal with vulnerable people fleeing persecution are the the ones that make me the most disgusted.) I’m so furious at both of them that I have reached the point where I have refused to vote for either of them.

Both Labor and the Coalition seem to be always trying to one-up each other in terms of scare tactics, seemingly to see who can score the most votes from the southern-cross-tattooed, wife-beater-and-flag-wearing, racist-bumper-sticker-toting dickhead constituency.

So if you have the humane treatment of asylum seekers as an issue that could influence your vote, I’ve got some bad news – these are your options:

  • A government who will send people to a country that we already accept asylum seekers from, robbing them of the right to ever come to Australia, even if they already have family here. This government has already been found guilty by the United Nations of 150 breaches of the Refugee Convention over the treatment of a number of asylum seekers and the use of indefinite detention since the reinstatement of off-shore processing, with five more cases pending.
  • Or you can vote for a potential government that will not only maintain the status quo, but build on it, reinstating Temporary Protection Visas, which only allow certified refugees three years of residency in Australia, after which they have to reapply and be reassessed. This type of visa also rules out the possibility of family reunion, and has been accused of being the cause of a spike of women and children getting on boats to Australia to join male relatives, many of whom died in the SIEV X disaster. They are also suggesting a Work For The Dole-type scheme, which sounds good to the average punter, but if you ask anyone who has actually been on government payments, you’ll discover that these sorts of programs actually reduce the time that could be used to search for work, or to volunteer as part of the community.
Two “leaders”.
No vision. No compassion. No solutions.

Both parties have said they are trying to stop people smugglers by taking away their product, namely permanent residency in Australia, but really they are just trying to pander to poorly informed voters with action that looks like it’s doing something, without having to address the actual problem, which is that there is an increase of people fleeing persecution. Indonesia doesn’t want them, Malaysia doesn’t want them… Where else are they supposed to go? Perhaps to a country that is safe, can offer them support and has signed the UN Convention for the Rights of the Refugee? (Hint: That would be us.)

The fact that we have signed the Convention is the reason why they are coming here, but if we are so keen to breach it, why are we even on board any more?

It seems I’m not the first to ask this question. Kevin Rudd has already indicated he would like to “update” the Convention, saying it no longer addresses the traffic flow of asylum seekers. Tony Abbott has said that he supports the notion of changing the Convention, but experts say that changes to the 1951 Convention, which came about after the Second World War and the exposure of the full effects of the Holocaust, are unlikely.

So what are we waiting for? Well, Australia recently won a seat on the UN Security Council, so pulling out of one of the biggest UN Conventions would probably be a bad look for us right now, especially if the time comes that Australia has to shake a finger at other nations for breaching their human rights obligations.

But really, we don’t need to jump to end point that I have suggested. There is a far better option, but one that neither political party seems to have the balls to float to the electorate.

Human rights campaigner and QC, Julian Burnside has proposed an alternative solution: process asylum seekers in Indonesia using Australia resources, to reduce the waiting time and in turn eliminate the incentive to seek out people smugglers.

I entirely agree with this suggestion because it not only allows us to reduce the burden on our Indonesian neighbours, it also offers a range of opportunities for Australians. Consider this: Australian students studying social sciences like psychology, social work, law and other humanities could go to assist the work in Indonesia, and in return for a set period of work, receive a discount on their HECS/HELP debt. It also gives them priceless professional experience that will serve them throughout their careers, as well as bringing back cultural knowledge that they can share with family and friends, which would slowly spread through the community, making it easier to integrate asylum seekers and refugees into the community.

Julian Burnside also suggests that refugees could be required to live for a period of time in regional and rural areas, working locally and boosting populations in towns that are struggling to survive. This sounds like a brilliant idea to me, especially as it will expose Australians who otherwise might not have had previous interactions with other cultures to new experiences and perspectives.

So we might not need to pull out of the Refugee Convention just yet, but one thing is certain: our political leaders need to shift the focus of the discussion from simply stopping the boats to fixing the broader problem. It’s time to stop freaking out about the symptoms and treat the cause, and in turn, fulfil our obligations not only as a nation, but as human beings.

*****

If you’re looking for a little bit more info on what the difference is between refugees and asylum seekers and roughly how many we take a year, this video is a good place to start. It was produced by the ABC’s Hungry Beast in 2009, so the stats are a bit out of date, but the most important part of the message is pretty clear: for asylum seekers, there is no queue. This is something that is being conveniently left out of the debate by both sides of politics.

The other thing the video notes is that emotions tend to run high on this issue. As you can tell, I am no exception.

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month: I’m Fat. That’s Okay.

Don’t mind me. I’m just being fat and fabulous.

I am a fat woman. I have no qualms saying that this is who I am. While I’m not necessarily proud of it, I know it and I don’t need reminding. More importantly, despite the good intentions of many who do so, I don’t need to be chastised for it.

I have tried plenty of diets in an attempt to shed weight, and some have been fantastic in the short term, but more often than not they leave me feeling sluggish, bloated, agitated, hungry and generally awful to be around. The weight-loss shakes might initially taste okay, but my tastebuds always end up catching up with them, revealing their true, artificial nature, no matter how much I’m told to cover it with servings of extra fruit, soy milk, extra ice or by using a blender. (Yes, apparently using a blender makes a difference to taste. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either.) The eating plan might be full of nutrients, but it quickly becomes difficult to stick to when you’re eating something starkly less appetising than the delicious, home-cooked meal the rest of your family are eating. The exercise plan hurts, and believe it or not, I have little to no tolerance for things that hurt, especially when the pain extends for days or weeks afterwards.

I am fat. I have been for a very long time, and despite the holier-than-thou health-sermons people continue to throw at me (or at themselves in my presence, which is just as demoralising), I would rather accept it and enjoy my life in my current form than rob myself of simple pleasures in an attempt to change it.

And according to researchers at Monash University, the University of Canberra and the University of New England, that is a perfectly good response.

A recent study from the aforementioned scholarly institutions on the effects of the “Fatosphere”, a group of blogs about “fat acceptance” and what it means to be plus-sized, seems to indicate that acceptance of one’s shape and size actually results in individuals making better, more healthy lifestyle decisions. Despite arguments from some critics that these sorts of blogs, and the support groups that surround them, promote obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, the study indicates that this new culture is actually reducing dangerous behaviours like crash dieting, cycles of starvation and binge eating, and laxative abuse.

From a personal standpoint, I completely understand where they’re coming from. I’ve seen it in my own life.

In the ten months that I was at home with my family, I wasn’t going out very much, and the only people I was spending time with were folks to whom I was already very close. I didn’t have to worry about being judged for what I looked like, and was freshly armed with a collection of delightful (I would even go so far as to say life-changing, in their own way) plus-size dresses, so I wasn’t concerned about my body at all. Nobody around me was making remarks about their own weight, because we were all comfortable within ourselves. It was just cool all round. When I weighed myself in the morning (well, afternoon) before my shower, it was more out of curiosity than a need to see how much my weight had fluctuated. I was eating better (thanks to being fed good food by my family) and was eating less overall (because I was sleeping more, I wasn’t emotionally eating and had little to no junk food on hand).

Slowly, I started making changes to the way I was living. Unlike the bracketed elements above, these were choices I took entirely off my own back because I wanted to. They weren’t about losing weight; they weren’t about the way I looked… Well, they were actually about my wondering if I would ever be able to be a companion to The Doctor if he ever turned up on my doorstep. (There’s a lot of running involved, okay?) These decisions weren’t based on any kind of external pressure, and they weren’t for any other reason than because I thought they might be fun.

I started walking a few kilometres almost every day, churning through podcast after podcast. Once I week, I walked down to the nearby park and did a few rotations on the different equipment there. I even tried the Zombies, Run! app… (But that was an abysmal failure that left me unable to walk straight for almost two weeks, so I decided maybe I wasn’t ready for that yet.)

As the study linked above suggests, these healthy choices weren’t attached to changing the way I looked. They were about doing stuff I wanted to do. I made that decision not because I felt I had an obligation to do so, but because it just appealed to me. In fact, I’d even say that because there was no obligation, it actually made the choice more appealing.

In the ten months that I was at home, I lost 13kg. It’s not hard to do the maths.

Fast forward to my current situation: I’m working in the industry I love and writing commercials that make me really proud, but I’m also hanging around a lot more people who I’m still getting to know. Unlike back home, a lot of the people around me are very health conscious, which is really great for them.

What’s not so good for me is the way that their vocalness on the subject feels almost pervasive. Every day, there’s a comment about what’s good and what’s bad food. As a result, I am once again becoming increasingly conscious of my body and the way I look. The fact that I have so many brilliant dresses means I have a sort of armour, but the talk of carbs and protein and blood type diets is still confronting. It makes me concerned that because they’re judging themselves, I am also being judged for what’s on my plate or how much blubber is on my frame. It makes me anxious, and that makes me reach for the chocolate bar(s), despite my best efforts to nibble on carrots and apples and other greenery through the day.

That said, it’s not only the anxiety that makes me eat junk as a response; there’s also a significant degree of satisfaction to be had in erecting (and consuming) a great big middle (Kit-Kat) finger to the expectations of others. Being surrounded by negative opinions of certain beloved foods makes the defiant consumption of those things even more tempting: “Screw you! I’m having a whole bag of Doritos to myself and none of you kale-chompers are gonna stop me!”

I’ve become reluctant to go out and exercise because there are considerably more joggers and cyclists doing the rounds, and I inevitably end up making comparisons between them and myself. I walk to and from work most days, but that only really works because the stretch that I walk is pretty much deserted. My awareness levels in terms what I look like have shot through the roof.

And in the last month, I’ve gained 3 kilograms.

I’m more than willing to grant that this attitude could well be me trying to shirk off responsibility. I almost certainly need to address my weight in order to improve my health, but the fact remains that I am more responsible about my health when I don’t feel like I’m being coerced into it.

Putting all that aside, there is still one other issue that I want to make perfectly clear: the only person’s health you need to be concerned about is your own. My fat doesn’t have any effect on anyone but me, and therefore whether I want your advice on diet or exercise is up to me.

And to be perfectly frank, I don’t want it. You can keep that Potentially Problematic Opinion all to yourself.

*****

Potentially Problematic Opinions Month is a thing that runs all the way through August, and was initiated by the incredible Alexandra Neill of Adventures in TV-Land.

This week, Lizzy has written about how Sansa Stark is amazing, and there are more to come!

I was going to try and keep up with a post each week (nobody mention how many BEDA posts I’ve missed – this was meant to be for Sunday 11th but only went up on the 18th!), but I’m obviously way behind. There may be a late explosion of PPO’s though, just so you know. I’ll definitely have one next week. x

The End of Cursive Handwriting

Yesterday, I read an article that left me feeling pretty grim. It proclaimed that cursive script was well on the way to dying out, with only five American states maintaining the teaching of cursive writing as part of their curriculum, with most turning to increased typing skill instead.

As a lover of the medium of handwritten letters, I was horrified. So much personality can be portrayed in the curls and swishes of an individual’s hand, to the point where there is a (pseudoscientific) field built around it. Typing simply doesn’t have the same effect, pumping out letters without any kind of variety or way to distinguish the author. Sure, it’s quick, easy and necessary in the modern digital age, but there’s something a lot more satisfying about a swirling, handwritten note than a sterile email message.
One critic, who supported the death of cursive script (or “running writing”, as most of us called it in Grade 3), argued that it simply isn’t used enough to warrant the continued teaching of it to students, saying that most handwriting is done in the printing style, without the flourishes and embellishments of its more stylish counterpart. As I look at my notes for this blog and the letters and postcards I’ve written over the last few days, I can see that this argument is right, to a certain extent: I regularly switch back and forth between the two styles, depending on how quickly I’m writing (cursive if I’m in a real rush) or if I want to be clear (printing, or a mixture of the two).

While neither style is particularly prominent, I am incredibly grateful that I learned both when I was at school. Not only because I can use them to write in my day-to-day life and in my profession (there is a lot of taking notes involved in client meetings), but because it means that I can decipher the handwriting of some of my more… artistic friends and colleagues a lot better. It makes it easier to maintain a train of thought as I blast a sentence from pen to paper, the constant flow of letters facilitating my concentration a lot better than the regular starting and stopping of printing. I can pen a letter or note that looks more fluid and creative, and I get satisfaction from the fact that I have put a bit of extra time and effort into it to make it that little more appealing to the eye.

Add to all of that the suggestion that cursive handwriting may also have cognitive benefits, increasing connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and improving development in areas that are relevant to things like memory retention, language and general thinking processes. Anecdotal evidence even points to it improving concentration for those with learning difficulties. Other sources indicate that the use of cursive leads to less forgeable signatures, and increasing chances of career success (apparently some businesses place a high value on good penmanship – it gives an impression that you can work quickly and effectively, while also understanding the importance of keeping up appearances).

Judging from the articles I continued to stumble across on the New York Times website (where this is apparently a very hot topic), there is a significant mixture of opinions on whether or not cursive is on the way out, with a 50/50 split on whether it should be taught in schools, but with three out of the four articles arguing that it is still an important skill to have, both in terms of reading and writing the script.

From all these opinions, I can’t help but find myself at the conclusion that cursive still has a place in our lives. Certainly, typing is faster and more relevant in the current era, and the use of the basic printing style in handwriting is cleaner and clearer in most cases, but neither of them really offers the same amount of room for personal expression as cursive. The flourishes and the cleanliness of the lines and the flow of the letters: it’s as close as you can get to flying across the surface of a page. It can be magical, it can be swift, and it can be beautiful, and even though we may not all possess the ability to be great painters or architects or writers, through the freedom allowed to us through the development of our own personal cursive style, we have the opportunity to leave our own unique mark on the page of our choosing.

*****

Post Script: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered that American cursive is about a bajillion times more complicated than Australian cursive… Like, to the point where it’s too much. So yeah, maybe the U.S. should let go of their incredibly fancy old script and move towards the Australian model? I don’t know. Just a thought!

Walking the Dinosaur

LOOK. IT’S AMAZING.

One of the things that has always disappointed me about living in Canberra is my continuing inability to go out and absorb all the touristy delights it offers. Parliament House, Cockington Green, the Australian War Memorial, the Segways on Lake Burley-Griffin, the Skywhale, the giant owl statue that looks like a penis: I’ve missed them all. Sure, I’ve managed to tick off Questacon, the National Museum of Australia and Old Parliament House, but there’s still stacks of places that I haven’t gotten to yet.

Until recently, that number included the National Dinosaur Museum at Gold Creek. Yesterday, I succeeding in ticking that attraction off my list.

And oh my god, it was brilliant.

First and foremost, as you can see from the picture above, from the moment you roll up, you are confronted by exactly what this museum is all about – prehistoric pieces of fibreglass awesome. (Also, a bit of palaeontology, but you know, mostly badass dinosaur models.) You rock up to this museum and you immediately know you’re in for a good time. Even though it took me over an hour to get there by bus, I knew from the get go that it was definitely going to be worth going to all that effort.

Since it’s Science Week, the National Dinosaur Museum had been putting on special tours, and I arrived just in time for the second one. The guide was really nice and incredibly knowledgeable, and even tolerated some of my attempts at humour, which gets super huge bonus awesome points from me because my jokes are generally a special kind of awful. Some of the exhibits were a little underwhelming (mostly because there was so much information, and not enough moving dinosaurs), but when the time came for the motion-detecting models, I was totally sold. They all looked fantastic, and even encompassed a bunch of Australian dinosaurs. Some of my new dino pals even agreed to take selfies with me.

e2ef9-img_0200

Yep. I definitely had a good time.

But what is the most salient thing about the photos from my trip to the museum is that it’s just me (and my prehistoric pals). I didn’t have anyone to come with me.

Maybe it was because everyone I knew was busy, or I didn’t give enough warning, but judging by the general bewilderment expressed on the faces everyone I told about my weekend plans, I think there’s a certain degree of cringe involved with getting out and seeing those things about your town that are “just for the tourists”. I know that it existed for in terms of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, but that was more about the fact that it cost a ridiculous amount to go in and it was on the outskirts on the other side of town. But there’s plenty of fantastic things to do in Canberra that are relatively cheap (my dinosaur visit only set me back $14 for an adult ticket), so really there’s no excuse to not take the initiative and be a tourist in your own town, especially since the capital is currently in its Centenary year.

But really, it’s something we should all endeavour to do, no matter where we live. Get to know the tourist traps around your town, get stuck in and let your inner child run riot. Trust me. You’ll have an absolute ball.

Just ask my Parasaurolophus buddy here. He knows what’s going down.

 

A Farewell – Gigs Out West

Goodbye, Gigs Out West. It was fun while it lasted.

Today I did something that I have been putting off since I found out I had got a job in Canberra.

I closed Gigs Out West.

Hopefully someone will find it and want to give it the love and care it needs and deserves, but until then, it’s in a deep hibernation.

The blog post for today is here, and is the letter I wrote to explain why I am no longer running the site.

Excuse me. My heart hurts a little bit.

Zzzzzz…

Sleep is very important. It rests your mind and body, allows you to recharge for the next day, affects your mood, and is even noted as being an important factor in losing weight. (Hmm, that probably explains the 10kg or so I lost while I lived at home and slept fifteen hours a day. Or maybe not.)

For yours truly, it’s even more important than it is for the average Joe, because if I don’t get enough sleep, I not only get grumpy, can’t focus and look like death, I also put myself at significantly higher risk of seizure. Which is BAD.

This week, I have been awful at getting the full 8 hours we apparently need. (I maintain that in my case, it’s more like 12 hours, but that’s just not practical, is it?) I’ve been going to gigs, seeing friends and just generally being a busy little bee, so getting the proper amount of slumber has kind of fallen by the wayside. I am definitely going to pay for it this weekend, and I’m paying for it now – I’ve literally just woken up from a 40 minute nap.

As I muddle my way through the world, I can’t help noticing that there are plenty of people who seem to not be getting enough sleep. I know plenty of folks who are insomniacs, have seen countless co-workers yawning at desks and have occasionally been on the receiving end of an outburst quickly retracted with the line, “Sorry, I’m just tired.”

According to America’s National Sleep Foundation, one of the biggest factors in our societal sleep debt is the fact that work is eating more and more of our time. But if tired workers = less productivity, why are we maintaining the status quo? Surely, it will only just continue to snowball out of control unless we work out how to get a little more snoozin’ in our lives.

So what are we doing to fix it? Sweet eff all, really.

Despite there being plenty of evidence to demonstrate that they’re a really awesome idea, and it being adopted by some of the biggest companies in the world, naps at work are still a taboo topic in Australia – I have a friend who maintains that even a lunchtime kip, in your car, out of sight of all your co-workers, is profoundly unprofessional.

On the other hand, at my last job I would occasionally sacrifice my lunch break for the chance to duck out of sight under my desk and grab a bit of shut eye. Why shouldn’t I? Nobody could see me, I worked better, it was my own time, and in return, I would often work back another hour or so because I had enough energy to power through that little bit longer. Not only that, but it meant that I was never hitting up the office coffee supply. (Also, because I don’t like coffee, but that’s irrelevant.) What’s so wrong with that?

Seriously, there are enough positive benefits that there is an Australian lobby group dedicated to bringing naps to the workplace.

Either way, the fact remains that it is really hard to get the required amount of sleep we need in our lives, especially in mine. That’s probably the reason why this blog is suddenly getting awfully rambly – it’s way past my bedtime.

Good night.