Archive | October, 2011

Spiral Work Days by Justyna

28 Oct

Back in the day, when I was a fresh uni graduate, I couldn’t find work in my ‘field’ for just over three months. I remember it as a period where I was rudely awaken to the fact that having a uni degree and some decent marks meant very little. My days consisted of various physically exerting activities. I was the fittest I had ever been. I would wake up, spend the morning applying for jobs that did not always exist (the ‘stab in the dark’ application was the most depressing, whereby I sent my resume to law firms that were not actually looking for anyone but I seemed to think that I would blow them away with my undergraduate credentials and my absolute lack of experience), then I would ride my bike to my local pool at Emerton and would swim like a billion laps. Often I would be the only one there, a swimming madwoman, and would get tips from the bored lifeguards, who assumed I was training for something or other, and who would advise me on how to strengthen my freestyle kick.

Emerton, for those who are not aware of Western Sydney’s demographic stats, is not in any shape of form on the ‘fit list’ of Sydney’s suburbs. The exact opposite in fact, with the McDonald’s directly adjacent to the pool getting more traffic in a day than the pool would see in its entire open season.

Then I would ride back home, check my rejections in my inbox and then go out running in the very ugly suburban clearings of Plumpton. On Thursdays I would head off to the local Centrelink office for my dole check at the Druitt and resume my physical exertion the very next morning so as not to slit my wrists. But the spiral effect worked in the reverse. I was propelled out rather than sunken to the bottom. The moment of clarity came, when standing in the dole queue I spotted Mem with whom I went to uni. We looked at each other and bitterly laughed. Mem had finished psychology with first class honours, and he too was grovelling for his $300 fortnightly pick-me-up. Unemployment all of a sudden wasn’t the complete pits. In fact we started regularly playing squash, after Thursday Dole Day, until we were both happily settled in 9 to 5s.

My first job out of uni was as a judge’s associate. And a different kind of spiral kicked in. Namely the circuit spiral. I was for the next two years propelled out to various nooks and crannies of NSW country towns on a regular basis. From hot and sweaty Moree (where the local pool still exercised its apartheid – ‘blacks at one end’ and ‘whites at the other’), to the locust infested Dubbo (yes, I was there during the biblical Plague), to Inverell where the squash court was in a tin shed and you played in about 89 degrees temperatures, to Coonamble, a hamlet of 70 with a courthouse that looked like a toilet block (the architect apparently soon after designing it topped himself).

The job in retrospect taught me loads about the State I lived in, and how as a Sydneysider, I had no actual idea about rural and country NSW. It was straining on my friendships and relationship (somewhat) because I was never home, but now I think I was so lucky then to be a domestic frequent flyer. I’m happy my judge was crazy enough to never want to sit in Sydney. My skin got thicker and my city-dwelling preconceptions were somewhat put in their place. Now being stagnant in the one town for the last six years, I miss the mobility of my old job. But maybe what I miss most is that then I was younger and responsibility-free and could undertake such ventures without having to take much of anything else into consideration.

Spiral – by Karen

27 Oct

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

That’s from a poem called The Second Coming, by WB Yeats, and it is in all honesty, the first thing that sprung to mind when I read this week’s topic. I think that goes to show how deeply highschool imprinted its texts on my brain. If you told me a poem today, or no, let’s update that, if I were flicking between ten tabs on my web browser, and my Google reader were open in one of them, and one of my RSS feeds happened to quote a poem, and I scanned that part of the post before moving on to the next tab…. well, I would probably not be recalling that poem fifteen years from now.

Woah, fifteen years.

Reading again, that is one absolute cracker of a poem. And it brings back memories of 3 Unit English, and indeed 2 Unit English, both of which were taught by a cracker of a woman, Mrs Grimm. I believe I may once have blogged about her before, perhaps on my Livejournal (since we’re being sentimental), but she bears repeating. This is a woman who I believe was in her sixties, but with a figure that proudly looked a trim 40, who every day took a train from her no doubt rocking Redfern pad to godforsaken Pennant Hills (40 mins), walked the 20 minutes from the station with a spring in every step, and proceeded to PASSIONATELY lay down the literature for a bunch of prudish, pimpled, unimagining embryonics such as I was. Whether they were crippled by shyness or bursting with teenage bolshevism, this woman actually cared about each of her students, I have not a doubt in my mind about that to this day, and actually thought it was important to teach English literature to them. At the end of our year she carefully chose a line from Shakespeare as a gift for each student. Astonishing to recollect.

At the time though, the most striking thing about her was her obsession with sex. Much like Tabitha, she saw sexual innuendo in everything, but she relished it in a way that I’m not sure Tabitha ever has in front of a class full of teenagers. Heather and I used to go into transports of hysteria over her manifestos on the true meaning of the swan’s “feathered glory” in Leda and the Swan (really?? a feathery penis?), but like me, Heather must have been touched in some deeper way as she ended up naming her daughter Leda.

I did hear later that Mrs Grimm died of cancer, so she won’t be around to read my blog, but I am very happy that even my teenaged self had the sense to thank her with a gift and heartfelt card at the end of that year. In those intense and intensely bored years, she was one of the few figures who contributed something epic to my small suburban life. I hope I can do the same for some other pained and peinlich teen one day.

Spiral of despair – by Tabitha

25 Oct

I recently caught up with a friend who I hadn’t seen in a few years. Her account of the intervening period since we’d last been in touch was a litany of failures, disappointments and dark days. She was in that place where unhappiness perpetuates, unrelenting, bulldozing through whatever hopefulness or positivity you lay down to curb it.

I was reminded of one of the many self-improvement courses which I (and everyone else – it wasn’t just me needing improving!) was sent on by Vodafone as part of their generally excellent human resources program. It was billed as a course on “resilience”, and I have thought of it often, because as I get older it seems to me that resilience is probably one of the most useful life skills a person can have. That and being able to roll your tongue like a taco.

There was nothing particularly groundbreaking about the content of the course; it basically put forward a toolkit of resources you can apply to bounce back from setbacks. There was practical stuff about sleep patterns and exercise, and mental tricks for overcoming critical thinking. One of the ideas was about how to stop yourself sliding down the spiral of despair, where negativity begets negativity, and then next thing you know you’re listening to Fiona Apple on repeat.

It’s a lot easier to stop yourself when you’re close to the stop of the spiral, before you’ve gathered too much momentum. Even then, it’s a struggle. You claw yourself back up, slide down a bit, and claw up again, until hopefully you can get a stable foothold. This, to me, is basically the difference between despair and depression: a depressed person completely loses the resources within themselves to even cling to the sides, let alone drag themselves back up. My friend had plummeted to the bottom of the spiral with a thud, but she was ready to make the long climb back, and just working out how.

Thank God I have never experienced depression, but I’ve listened to some Fiona Apple in my time. I’ve received such good advice from friends over the years that I find I can now draw on that to life-coach myself out of most tailspins these days. I also feel I’m so much better at recognising patterns in my own behaviour and kyboshing any teetering steps in the direction of that spiral. Isn’t getting older just the most amazing thing? I feel I’ve left wallowing behind me for good, along with French existentialist literature.

I also keep in reserve the Things That Make Me Happy. If, one day, I find that these Things That Make Me Happy don’t in fact make me happy anymore, I’ll know it’s time to head to the doctor’s office.

Things That Make Me Happy:

  • Videos of pugs on YouTube
  • Chocolate
  • Sleep.

Where the homing pigeons roam – by Beth

24 Oct

One of my favourite things in the whole world is watching a flock of homing pigeons going for a fly to stretch their wings. Marrickville luckily, sports the highest ratio homes to homing pigeons I’ve ever seen, and almost every day I see a flock go for one of their organised fly-pasts, with all the precision of an airshow. Do you have homing pigeons where you are? I’m guessing maybe not, but you never know…

I took these photos in our backyard yesterday afternoon. I find it hard to describe their manoeuvres, so I was grateful of the excuse to call it a spiral (this week’s theme). Like a genie let out of a lamp, they soar into the sky as if connected by invisible spiderweb, turning corners sharply as one, in order to stay close to home. After several swoops, they decide they really ought to be getting back to their home (probably prompted by food). They gracefully spiral down back down and into their roost, like water down a plug hole. I wonder if they spiral down in a different direction in the northern hemisphere?

Is it Essential to…? by Justyna

21 Oct

Install a bidet in your bathroom?

We’ve lived in five different apartments since moving to Krakow, and two of them have had bidets installed. In fact, it appears, that once you are a happy tenant or owner of a spacious bathroom, more often than not it will come with a bidet. Why? Poles follow the general trend of other European countries by wiping their butts with toilet paper, so the immediate need to flush out your backside with a running stream of water whilst perched on a cold, low-mounted, ceramic sanitary fixture, seems unwarranted. Further, apartments and houses usually don’t have separate space allocated for laundries and washing machines (the latter are either installed in bathrooms or in kitchens), yet the bidet will somehow find its way to be part of your bathroom decor. It’s a fixture that continues to trouble me to this day, spurred recently into life since having moved yet again into an apartment that has this contraption. Why do you need it? When do you use it? At the end of the day, when, instead of having a shower you feel a need for clean genitalia only? No, I don’t need clean pits tonight thanks, just a clean bum. And if you’re the type, if there is such a type, who feels that paper wiping isn’t adequate and you prefer the bidet option, you end up half washing yourself anyway, since the contraption forces you to remove your pants and undies, leaving you dripping wet, resulting in a semi-shower state anyway (a towel in the nearby vicinity a must). What a bother.

There have been occasions I must admit, when I and Michal have used the bidet. Two occasions actually. Namely, for washing our feet in in the summer time since Krakow has fairly grimy streets and in sandal weather you return home with black toes. The bidet proved quite convenient as you didn’t have to bend too far down or sit on the slippery edge of a bathtub when scrubbing the grime away from in-between your toes. Secondly for washing off the top layer of infant poo from non-disposable nappies. Somehow the bidet, since it is after all designed for poo washing, seemed a more appropriate place for it than doing it in the bathroom sink. And that’s it. Essential? No.

Buy ‘veggie soup parcels’ wrapped in twine?

Every fruit and veg shop and supermarket in this country sells these veggie packs or veggie soup portions. It is a small collection of the essential vegetables needed when making a soup stock. So you get two carrots, a turnip, half a celeriac, a cabbage leaf and some parsley and maybe a bit of onion, all neatly wrapped in twine, ready to be popped into your pot. When I came here I thought it was an unnecessary extravagance. If you live in Europe’s soup capital and consider yourself a bit of a cook, you should have all the soup ingredients in your fridge anyway and in large quantities, I thought. How infantile and naive I was then. The veggie soup parcel is an essential element of every busy person’s fridge in Poland. It is the equivalent of the convenient ready-made, reheatable meal. It is the same thoughtless twin brother of microwave pizza. You buy, you chuck it in, hey presto, an hour and a half later you have a soup base you can do anything with! A pizza you remove from the box and then from its wrapping. A veggie soup parcel, you unravel the twine, you wash and peel the vegetables, and Bob’s your uncle. Easy and essential? Yes!

Have a really large dog in your very small apartment?

Krakow is the dog capital of Poland. The highest number of dogs per capita than any other city in the country, and from what I’ve read in the top five in all of Europe. That’s great for all the dog lovers out there. Great for Kazek who can walk about making woof woof sounds and exclaiming at the various sizes and hairiness of the four-legged creatures. Yay for dogs. My question is, is it really essential, when selecting the breed of the dog, to decide on something that weighs 80kg and is the size of a large professional athlete, whilst you, your family and the canine live on 40 meters squared?

My aunt and uncle and their 193cm son lived in a typical commie two bedroom apartment, which was the equivalent size of an Australian one bedder unit. Without laundry space. And no bidet. They were also the proud owners of a very large and very hairy collie. When it wasn’t walked three times a day it spent its hours either sprawled with its largeness and hairiness on the balcony (tiny) or in the hallway (tinier). When you wanted to leave the living room and enter either the bathroom or the kitchen, you had to traverse over the mammoth dog mound, carefully avoiding not to step on one of its limbs or its sensitive hairy bits. I was so mad at them for having this dog in this confined living space despite their utter and complete love for it, that I began to resent the dog for existing even though it was probably in constant, personal prison hell. Lucky they all moved to a massive house in the country with acres and acres of cherry orchards, otherwise I would have had to boycott all family visits.

Annoyingly my aunt and uncle were not the only ones with such a large hound indoors. You see them being walked in parks everywhere, leaving the narrow stairwells of their  doggy prisons. Golden retrievers, dalmatians, German shepherds, dobermans etc. Why? Isn’t it more convenient and economical to have a dachshund or a yapping terrier? What is it that makes a person decide to own a giant if they cannot provide the room for it? And I’m not even going to start on the poo factor. Essential? No. Annoying and borderline torturous? Yes.

Essential by Leyla by Karen

19 Oct

I made myself a little bored contemplating what essential meant to my navel this week, so I decided to ask someone else.

This is my friend Leyla, the person I happened to meet up with on this fine Far Flung Four posting day.

The head growing out of her abdomen is called Sebastien. Ok, it’s not a growth, it’s an exceptionally beautiful child. But whatever. We are here to find out what is essential to Leyla.

The most delightful thing about interviewing for my entry this week, aside from not having to do any work, was watching the beautiful thoughtful softening that crosses someone’s face when you ask them a serious question.

Leyla was quite keen that I rewrite her words rather than uploading the recording, which I consider self-sabotage when your accent is as lovely as hers, but alright. Here are Leyla’s thoughts on essential.

I guess when I think of essential I think of the things I can’t live without, and that makes me think of  my outlook on life. So let me see. Respect for life I think is essential. Not just human beings but life around us. I’m trying to make a bigger effort to [interrupted by child, speaks in French]… to be more appreciative of how important life is – for example we were talking just now about cruelty in Halal practices. I used to just think, well that’s a cultural practice and all cultural practices are to be respected, but now I don’t think that way so much any more. I’m planning to make a bigger stand that yes, there are religious issues, but it’s more important that life is respected. And yes, we kill animals and you could say we shouldn’t do that, but if you are going to kill animals, you can at least do it humanely. 

Essential to me is also about relationships. Having balanced relationships, caring relationships. I’m a very social person, and I think as humans we all need to have people around us. But essential means making sure that that’s not harmful  – that there’s a good dynamic in the relationship and that it’s more mutually respectful. 

We’ve talked about religion before. One of the reasons that I want to be more verbal about evolution is that, when you realise how long it took for all these people to be here, that would be one way to know how precious, how unique the world is.

Without being harmful, while being respectful, there are some things that are essential that should be brought up. So I’m going to make an effort to stand up a bit more about what I believe in, rather than worrying about whether people like me. To put things that are essential in the forefront. 

Essential ingredients for an extremely satisfying day – by Tabitha

18 Oct

Today I finished an epic piece of English-editing work which had been paining me greatly. Not only because of its practically unintelligible English, but because it was crammed with an insane amount of Clip Art which would leap around the document whenever I tried to make changes. The document author had actually created entire little scenes out of individual pieces of Clip Art. Amazing!

Saying goodbye to all my little Clip Art friends would make today satisfying enough on its own, but here are Ten Other Things That Made Today A Satisfying Day For Me.

1. We received our wedding rings in the mail. This was particularly satisfying as we purchased the rings online from a discount retailer based in Orem, Utah, which is an anagram for “ear mouth” and also “ham outré”. And despite what everyone tried to convince us would happen, the rings did arrive, and they are exactly what we want, and they do fit perfectly. So suck on that, haters.

2. At circuit training this morning a new guy turned up who is 23-years old, Irish and of normal size and shape. I then proceeded to outdo him on all the exercises, including push-ups, which I do LIKE A MAN, and then he VOMITED IN THE TOILET from exhaustion. My god, was that satisfying! The trainer then said to him, “That 30-something housewife just kicked your butt” which was both satisfying (butt kicking) and a little alarming (30-something housewife).

3. A fruit vendor up-sold me on a second pomelo after assuring me it was “rất ngon” which means very delicious. I was sceptical, but she was telling the truth. That pomelo was freaking rất ngon. Win.

4. I scrubbed the label off a jar of Bonne Maman jam (which was being used to store icing sugar, or rather, as we recently discovered, a fully-functioning ant farm) so it could become the latest addition to my “deconstructed terrarium”. This is essentially a collection of jars, bottles and a teapot whose lid broke which I’m using as vessels to grow cuttings from our houseplant. I saw how to do this while visiting Karen Gould’s house, and to me it is the perfect way to have greenery in the home without having to invest in pot plants. While discussing this with Karen at the time, she mentioned that she doesn’t like variegated plants, which struck me as a very specific and unfair beef to have with nature.

5. Nathan called to ask if I wanted to go out to dinner to celebrate the completion of my English-editing work. Even though I had already shopped for dinner, this was an extremely satisfying reminder of what a thoughtful and wonderful fiancé I have.

6. I made a rất ngon dinner of green bananas with tofu and turmeric, and rice paper rolls with pineapple and egg. I look forward to wheeling out dishes like this for the rest of my dinner party-hosting life. However, if I were to buy the ingredients for this meal in Australia, it would probably cost a lot more than the $3.50 it cost here (satisfying). But maybe I can use that as fodder for dinner party conversation: “When we were living in Vietnam, a darling old lady with black teeth would have sold me this jicama for 20 cents”.
7. The title of this post reminded me of the shop The Essential Ingredient, and of their inexplicable – but awesome – logo of a goose, whose silhouette used to loom over Parramatta Road.

8. I fulfilled some key domestic duties including putting the washing up away, making the bed, doing the vacuuming and putting on two loads of laundry. The completion of household tasks is always extremely satisfying to me. I think one of my top ten most defining character traits would be “houseproud”.

9. Our upstairs neighbour, Maddy, come over after dinner to play Settlers of Catan. We have played that game so embarrassingly often over the past two years and yet every game holds new excitement for me. One of the most entertaining aspects of playing the game is how seriously Nathan takes it. He’s not so much competitive as serious. One time, after he won for the third time in a row, and Simon, Sarah and I were complaining about the boringness of his repeated victories, he had a full-blown tantrum about how we didn’t give him due praise for his game-playing skill and only bemoaned his success. And he was not joking. We all sat there in silent shock. He is also very serious about the condition of the Settlers of Catan game pieces and is always wiping up condensation from glasses which might dampen a game tile. And then one day he spilled an enormous cup of boiling hot lapsang souchong all over the entire game. That was a very satisfying day indeed. Maybe even more satisfying than today.

10. While walking to the market I thought I saw a horse coming down the street, but it was actually just two girls on a bicycle. And then, as I rounded the corner, I thought I saw a large teddy bear standing by the side of the road, but it was actually just the cardboard box for a child’s wading pool. I would have preferred a horse and a teddy bear, but just the thought of them was satisfying enough. Also, an indication that I’ve drunk too much tea today.