10 Lessons From A Year Self-Employed

It’s been a year since I decided to work for myself. I quit my previous job in an erratic act of self defiance, romanticising the millionaire sob story to live my own dreams against a backdrop of improbable success.

With $1000 to my name, not a single client, $4000 of debt and my only mode of transport (a 2001 SR250 motorbike) without brakes, I was well and truly in the deep end of the pool.

I was determined to swim.

My parents offered me 3 generous months rent-free in their garage, where I hauled a second hand kitchen table to the centre of the room, pushed a bed under the dusty, exposed roof and set up shop. If I couldn’t afford rent by the end of 3 months, I was going to go job hunting. That was the deal.

I moved out within the first month thanks to some quick but significant wins. During the year I flew interstate 6 times, went to Sri Lanka for two weeks and spent 3 months driving around Europe. I turned 24, paid off my debt, saved a bunch for travel and managed to spend 4 months working ~8 hours a week. AND NOW YOU TOO CAN BUY MY E-COURSE AND DISCOVER HOW YOU CAN MAKE MILLIONS FROM THE COMFORTS OF YOUR HOME. Jokes. I’m not rich.

But the important thing is, I survived, and I’ve got enough to keep on surviving.

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Here’s a bunch of stuff I’ve learnt thanks to patient and understanding clients. This list looks pretty much identical to any other you’ll find on the internet, but I find that recommendations from people I actually know seem more legitimate. So friends, here’s what I’ve got.

For the record, I’ve been working as a writer/digital marketer/community engagement consultant predominantly in the social impact/education/environment space.

1. The “hustle”

Eugh, I’m so cynical about the word “hustle”, but it’s probably the best word we’ve got to describe exactly what it is. If you don’t enjoy sniffing out opportunities and the constant “I’ve got to find a client this week otherwise I can’t pay rent lol”, then freelancing is not for you. You need the hunger, because it’s the hunger that motivates you to crawl out of bed, open up your laptop, stare at an empty inbox and press “Compose” for the 800th time that week.

It’s also important to use the hustle to upskill so that you can offer your clients more, especially if they’re startups. My lack of graphic design skills have been a real hinderance.

2. The importance of networking

Every time I collect a business card, I write where I meet the person and something interesting about them on the back and file it. Sometimes I run off to the bathroom directly after a conversation at a conference, sitting down on the loo and hurriedly jotting down their favourite sporting team and the fact they have a son.

On the first day of my Brand New Life™, I pulled out all the business cards I had saved over the years, wrote a long list of friends and mentors and proceeded to send everyone a personalised email. I sent about 20 per day at the beginning. Sometimes they were simply “let’s grab a coffee”, while others were more explicit in relation to my service offering. All of them referenced that tiny personal detail from when we first met.

Keep in mind, if you collect business cards from people during events paid for, hosted or attended on behalf of a previous employer, you cannot initiate conversation. I made sure only to reach out to those I had met independent to previous employment. Most employment contracts are pretty explicit about this, so be sure to read the fine print. My previous short-lived job said I couldn’t work for another innovation consultancy company for three years after leaving.

Don’t look at networking as something you have to change yourself for. Just look to befriend interesting people in interesting industries. Share your contacts in a way that you’d hope someone would share theirs with you. This is less about what you can gain and more about what you can offer.

Finally, if you’re a freelance writer, don’t just go to writer-related networking events. If you’re passionate about makeup, go to conferences and trade shows about makeup. Talk to the vendors. Become an expert in the area. If a vendor holder asks you what you do for a living, say that you’re a writer in the cosmetics industry. Ask for their card.

3. Schedule follow up emails

Just because you don’t hear back, it doesn’t mean it’s a no. As soon as I send an email, I write myself a reminder to follow up 7-10 days later. If you’re a service provider, personalised touch-points are incredibly valuable.

4. Pitch ideas you want to execute

If you’ve got a good idea that another company could execute well, pitch it to them. Pitch it in enough detail to land a meeting, win them over with your personality and what you can offer, then send over a proposal to deliver it. I did this with a Federal Politician who wanted someone to run her social media. I came to the meeting with case studies and a half baked idea to do more than just “run social media”. I pitched a concept and ended up writing a strategy, executing a campaign and writing a speech for the House of Representatives.

I’m not worried about people stealing ideas and running with them without me. I just monitor the heck out of them if they do, learn from their failings, and pitch something better to someone else.

5. Ask questions first

If you manage to score a meeting with an individual or company you want to work with, try and spend the first 5 minutes asking them questions and figuring out their pain points. Then you can tailor your response and your service offerings to their pain points, as opposed to shooting in the dark and hoping the way you word your offering lands. 

6. Invest in great project management tools

Set up these structures from day 1. You’ll thank me later.

  • Toggl is amazing for time tracking and it’s free (!!). Make sure you label your tasks so that when a client asks exactly why a particular week or month is higher than others, you can download a report and send it their way. If you’re charging for project-based work, it’s important to track your hours anyway. This way, you can figure out how much you worked per hour based on what you charged, and whether that was fair for you.

  • Asana is incredible for project management and I don’t think I could do life without it now. You can add people to projects, create deadlines, add to do lists and tasks within projects. Amazing. Oh, and it’s also free.

7. Values-driven opportunities

I find it incredibly difficult to concentrate if I’m working on something I hate. I have turned down opportunities purely for this reason, which kept my space free to say yes to opportunities that aligned with my values.

It sucks writing content about things you’re not passionate about. You spend so much time researching and if you’re paid per word, you end up in the red. In contrast, writing content about something you know a lot about means you’re more valuable to the people that hire you, and you have a much higher profit margin because you can pump those words out without having to think too much about it.

8. A mentor is the most valuable thing to have

Meet with them regularly. Stress that you’ll buy their coffee even though they always refuse and beat you to the counter. Listen to them, especially when they scrawl in pen “CHARGE MORE MONEY” (hi Phil). Do the worksheets they send you. Value the people they introduce you to. Remember that their reputation is on the line as well.

It’s easy enough to find a mentor. Find someone in your life that you know, or know of, or are connected with on LinkedIn and simply ask them. Slide into those DMs. Ask them for coffee because you have some questions about their industry. Keep meeting them for coffee. Most of the time, the relationship will form organically.

Make sure to give back and mentor others when you’re ready. Be the person you wish you had when you were starting out.

9. Know why you charge what you do

People will question you on it. Be prepared to break it down, especially if you’re working for SMEs. Deduct tax, deduct super, deduct HECS payments, reinstate your years of experience, reinstate how much they’re saving by hiring you as opposed to hiring someone on the books. Stress your flexibility and (if true) your out of office hours access. 

10. Subtly allude to your other skills in emails

“Sorry I can’t make it Tuesday! You mentioned you were struggling getting bums on seats - I work in digital marketing if you haven’t explored that avenue yet. Happy to help :)”. A little line like this has been surprisingly helpful and quite an organic way to provide a service to a client. Choose when to use this wisely.

~

There’s a false illusion that being a freelancer is smooth sailing. In truth, I built up to becoming a freelancer for years, albeit unintentionally. Your networks are your strongest asset.

I wanted to live a particular lifestyle and I didn’t know of an employer who would afford me that. So I carved my own. The current employment landscape is giving us unprecedented freedom to do so, so I grabbed the opportunity and ran as fast as I could. What a ride!

If you have any questions, or want an e-intro to someone, I’ll do what I can to help. Slide into my DMs.

Yours in love and procrastination,

Ruby

VISUAL DIARY | Month 2 in Europe

25/8/18 - 25/9/18
Copenhagen (Denmark) | Berlin, Gransee (Germany) | Gembloux (Belgium) | Tours, Lyon, Mondragon, Mauguio, Cabrepsine, Vougeot, Oz (France) | Cantabria, Madrid (Spain) | Milan (Italy) 

I haul myself out of my motel bed at 11:30. I was supposed to get up at 7 and drive 2 and a half hours to do a 7-hour hike, but I decided to wallow in bed instead. It’s the inevitable slump. It often arrives when you’re alone, some place new, without the comforts of home. I sink into it pretty badly when I’m travelling, spending hours of daylight in bed, frustrated that I have to leave to find food and vowing to stock up for next time. 

I wander out of the motel unshowered and bare-foot and start hauling clothes from the boot of the car, all of which have been scattered from font to back, mixed with dirty t-shirts and muddy hiking boots. The pegs are falling out of the tent bag and my muesli has managed to sprinkle its way through everything as well. Goddamnit. 

I look up and realise the french lady in the dark sun glasses with a phone pressed to her ear and a cigarette between her lips is looking at me with eyebrows raised. She probably thinks I’m going through a rough time, especially with the state of the car and my poor sense of personal hygiene. I revel in her assumptions. She has no idea I’ll write about her on the internet later and that someone else, way over in Australia, will probably read about it.

I drive into the city of Lyon in France. I stick up a sign on the back windscreen that says “Sorry for my driving, I’m Australian” after one too many beeps and hurried overtaking from frustrated Europeans.

It’s my second month in Europe. It began in Copenhagen, watching the flying boy from home compete in the World Championships in what will be my only experience of VIP ever.  I drank booze and got to wear a yellow lanyard.

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I swum in the river in Gransee and jumped out of a plane just above it, strapped to the flying boy who coaxed me through the process with a kind, reassuring voice. I tried to tell myself that this skydive would be different, that I wouldn’t feel like emptying my guts in the sky like the first time I did it, but my blue lips told a different story. 

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I spent a late night in a sheisha bar, trying to smoke rings, winning round upon round of backgammon until luck turned against me. On the final night in Berlin, I went to a karaoke bar with new friends and stumbled my way through Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” on stage. Old men sung Bon Jovi. Boys in turtlenecks sung Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce. Fiery women with jet black bangs sang Florence and the Machine. Someone got naked in a karaoke booth that swirled with cigarette smoke. Sweat was dripping down everyone’s faces. It was glorious. 

Then the drive from Berlin to Madrid happened. All the way down the continent. The first few nights were spent in Belgium seeing an old friend, who palmed beer after beer into every empty hand he saw. Flying boy and I spent the evenings curled up in the top of a renovated windmill overlooking the countryside, watching the fog roll over the farmland in the mornings. 

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We had BBQs, heard stories and ran amuck with the kids who, despite the language barrier, communicated incredibly well with noises and animated faces.

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Then to France and on to Spain. Lots of red wine. Lots of baths. Most of the time, red wine in baths. 

Coastal walks, expansive beaches, old buildings, amazing seafood food and litres of sangria. Spain was so good to us as I said a big, drunken goodbye to my travelling companion in a nice hotel, with red wine and high heels and lipstick. Sometimes, you should dress up as fancy as you can, just for the hell of it, and if you have no money, find the cheapest thing in the closest street and eat there. That’s exactly what we did. 

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~

Now alone, with my podcasts and playlists, I drove across Spain and up the east coast, sleeping in the car on the side of the highway while a thunderstorm commandeered the sky. I had to pull off because I couldn’t see the road anymore- the rain was so heavy, the lightning like a strobe light.

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I drove up to the mountains in France and rented an Airbnb in a tiny town with no shops. I stayed there for 4 days, spread out my stuff, pranced around naked and wrote a lot of words. It was a little stoney cave with grapes growing over the awnings on the balcony just outside, where I sat and devoured an entire watermelon with a spoon.

I drove further north and found a secluded spot by a river in a small town and set up camp. In the morning I hopped over the pebbles to have a bath while early rising locals looked on from the other side of the river, somewhat confused.

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I continued moving up the country. I sat in a cafe and drank fresh orange juice and met a couple and their 4-year-old son (who could speak 3 languages in 4-year-old proficiency) who had ridden their bicycles through Mongolia and South America for a year, living out of their tent and the odd motel. They bestowed their wisdom and their home address, offering their place by the sea as refuge from my increasingly dirty car. People who have roughed it on the road always know how to host. 

The man said something interesting midway through our conversation, as we were talking about why some people can “up and go” and why others feel like they have to stay, burdened by responsibility, sitting on their phones late at night, scrolling through lives they want but feel they can never have, or can’t have “yet”. He said:

There are two different types of people in the world. People who write a list of things holding them back, and people who write a list of things they have to deal with in order to get to where they want to go. For the most part, both of them have the same things on their lists. Unless you’re a person with a disability, or you are in significant financial strife, or you are looking after a sick friend or family member or you have a bunch of kids, it’s usually the same things. Mortgage. Study. Partner. Car. Community…

Again, I moved further north, this time to have lunch with one of my mentors from home. She’s been my mentor since grade 10 (she took me in my first taxi and to my very first office where people wore suits), so it was wonderful to wine and dine with her family in France. Days later I received a confirmation email stating that I had been selected for the Chairman’s Committee for the Commonwealth Youth Council, a two-year commitment serving 1.2 billion young people around the world. This kick started a series of plans for 2019 which look equal parts challenging and rewarding.

And then I turned around. Went back down through France. Pulled over on the side of the road, climbed down to a river I’d been following. I stripped down, ate salad, washed my hair and read my book while the sound of highway cars wooshed by.

I continued driving, following the furthest road I could find on the map at the top of the French Alps. I camped nestled amongst blueberry bushes and rock cliffs, and read all night while the rain battered down on my tent. It sounded like a family was walking past in thongs.

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Now I’m in Milan, Italy, lying in a hostel while a dirty load of washing gets soapy. I ran out of clean underwear a few days ago.

I have a number of friends I spent many sticky 45-degree Aussie days picking peaches with when I was freshly 18 living in San Marino, and so that is my next destination.

Until then,

Ruby x

Growing Up in Australia’s Backyard

You’re 8 years old. You’re home from another tough day at primary school learning about ancient Egypt and you’ve got no ice left in your water bottle. It’s 40 degrees.

You burst through the door, throw your school bag in the corner of the room and kick off your black Payless lace-ups. Noni and her sunflower pants are talking to you from the television, but you don’t feel like Playschool today. Your friends are already outside riding their bikes.

Mum yells “be home when the street lights turn on!” from the kitchen as you race past, picking up a handful of pikelets and jam on the way.

You hobble over the grass as the bindies prick into the soles of your feet. You spot lizards and snails and caterpillars everywhere. Where were they hiding when you built your shoebox mansion for them last weekend? You yank your bicycle from the retaining wall and kick off, hoping your neighbours down the road will let you swim in their pool.

It’s summer time, which means it’s two-minute showers and recycled laundry water running through Bunnings tubes in the garden. Bath water must be scooped out with a bucket and poured onto the pot plants. Can’t waste anything now, can we little wombat?  

On the weekends, you sit in the back seat cradling your bucket and spade. Mum’s already swiped zinc all over your nose and your rashy seems tight around the arms. Mum just looks over and says “you’re getting so big now!” but doesn’t let you take it off. Dad smokes a ciggy from the driver’s seat. 

At the pink ice-cream truck in the carpark overlooking the expansive sea, you clutch a choc-top between your hands. It’s dripping down your arms, down your legs, down into your thongs. “Run along to the shore now” says Mum. “Clean your feet in the shallows - leave your shoes here!”. Over the hot cement you run. Hot pavers. Hot feet. Run, run, run you little barefooted creature! The sand is no refuge- head to the ocean, quick smart!

The siren sounds; there’s a shark not far away. The people mill out of the water begrudgingly. Kids grab hold of their beach balls, lovers pause their canoodling, Dad puts down his little yellow spade and counts his children who lost their enthusiasm for sand castle building a long time ago.

Sandy-haired surfers take their time padding to shore, trying to catch a glimpse of the fin, sitting in the shallows with their boards until a lifeguard yells through a speaker to get out. You can usually only drag a surfer out of the water if you promise them a choccy milk and a burger with the lot. Pineapple and beetroot? Of course, are you crazy?

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The drive home takes a long time. Everyone is tired and grumpy, despite the bucket of shells collected for the crafts you’ll never finish. You build a wall of pillows between your sister because you don’t want her touching your side of the car. In fact, you want to make it impossible for her to even get a glimpse out your window. You both throw punches in the safety net of cushion and scream at each other. Mum and Dad sigh a lot, too exhausted to interfere. 

Someone needs to go to the toilet, really badly, despite being 15 minutes from home. Dad pulls off at the next rest stop and someone runs to the bathroom to pee, holding their nose and taking a breath before rushing into the drop hole toilet cubicle. Don’t look down, you don’t want to fall in!

When you get home, Mum says you have to do jobs. You pull the towels off the hills hoist, letting the pegs fall to the ground, and hope this is enough to secure your gold coin pocket money at the end of the week. Last you heard the newsagent had been re-stocked with ghost drops.

On school holidays, you go on road trips. It seems like the right thing to do. There are more pillow walls and nose-holding drop toilets. There are Vegemite sandwiches and blackcurrant Life Savers and “I’m thinking off an animal starting with B”.

In the car, your Mum hands over a paper map of the coast showing you where you’ve been. You realise the 5 hours of driving you’ve just sat through has barely left a dent. Australia is big, but you can’t comprehend the size just yet. To you, Australia is the whole world.

Your parents pitch a tent. They manage to argue about it in low voices even though you’ve watched them successfully pitch the tent hundreds of times before. You spend the afternoon collecting firewood, fearful of brown snakes lurking under logs, trying to stamp your feet as hard as you can because, turns out, snakes are blind. It’s all about the vibrations. Stamp, stamp, stamp. 

The kookaburra sitting in the gumtree laughs while the family gather round the fire, pushing potatoes wrapped in silver foil into the embers and toasting marshmallows on long sticks. After dinner, Dad leans back into his fold out chair and announces he’s “fuller than a state school bike rack”.

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You spend the days at the beach again. Collecting more shells, building more sandcastles. Mum reads a lot of books and Dad naps. You find other kids to play with and all the parents smile at each other, thankful for the break. The kids are finally old enough to play on their own. 

On the last day the sky is turning a dark grey, so you start packing up the tent. Dad tries to hustle everyone along and says “come on kids, we’re not here to fuck spiders” and Mum looks at him with wide eyes while she’s folding the beach towels. You don’t really know what fucking spiders means, you just know that ‘fucking’ is something you shouldn’t say when Mum’s around.

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The summer storms in Australia are big and bold and scary. The dogs always run away and the sky is always black. Dad makes you run around the house and turn off the computer and switch off all the plugs, just in case. You flop on the couch and yell to no one in particular that you’re bored. Mum tells you “only boring people are bored”. You tell her you don’t mind being a boring person, you’re still facing the problem of being bored.

Sometimes, when it hails, you run outside and gather the biggest piece of hail you can find and wedge it in the back of the freezer. You always forget about it until it’s your turn to haul the box of Sunny Boys out on the next 40-degree day.

Then you turn 9. 10 comes around quickly too. Then 11, 12, 13. Puberty arrives. You don’t go outside as much because you’re nervous about your new lumps and bumps and hair. Soon, you’re a teenager, and now you’re, well, you’re you.

You’ve grown up. You’re no longer that 8-year-old kid. But it’s almost summer in Australia. There are 8-year-old kids all over the country with faces ready for a smear of zinc, feet ready for salt water kisses and fearful eyes ready for stormy black skies.

Are you as excited as I am?

~

1 | brotherfish, 2 | yourpaleocean, 3 | debrismeetsthesea

VISUAL DIARY: Month 1 in Europe

25/7/18 - 25/8/18
Hamburg, Berlin, Gransee (Germany) | Basel (Switzerland) | Prague, Klatovy (Czech Republic) | Grenoble (France) | Herning (Denmark). 

I've been rolling around Europe for a month now, every day as unplanned as the one before it.

I've been sleeping in tents on the side of highways, nestled between bushes scattered with toilet paper and human faeces. Turns out, the more you wild camp and the more you skip showers, the more your budget can justify a two-star hotel here and there. 

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I’ve been climbing mountains and getting naked at the summit under thunder-fuelled skies. Driving up and over and round the mountains in the south of France, a hand on my knee. Eating fresh blueberries and chocolate biscuits in the rain. Scrunching snow beneath my hiking boots. 

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I’ve been driving. A lot. Thousands of kilometres across the continent topping speeds of 200km/h. I’ve teared up listening to M83’s Wait on a rainy drive through Denmark and grinned through Jonathan Boulet's "You're A Animal" on a drive through Germany. I’ve laughed at Dr. Karl and shaken my head at true crime podcasts and squinted my way through death metal with an eyebrow raised. 

I’ve been watching skydivers jump from planes in competitions, following the world cup series trail with a flying boy from home and a plastic cup of red wine in tow. 

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I’ve been riding bicycles and sleeping on buses and slouching on trains and putting my feet up on the dashboard of cars that become homes for my dirty washing and muddy boots. 

In the afternoon sun I’ve been rolling off jetties into lakes, watching river snakes and skies full of birds, floating down the Rhine, running in the pouring rain, enjoying picnics and eating homemade apricot pie in the countryside. I’ve been drawing faces in the dead hearts of sunflowers and eating a punnet of raspberries and a chocolate croissant as often as possible.

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In the evening's I've been drinking and dancing in small pubs and local clubs. Ring the bell and it’s a round of shots on you, the hangover is always worth it (is it?). I assure you there have been more nights curled up on sofas yarning to old friends, or beneath the sheets in a caravan giggling. 

I’ve pitched tents on runways and in campsites and hovered between a few hours of work and science fiction classics beside a river on the outskirts of Prague. I’ve become a fan of Asimov and read more of Czech literary master Kundera (one must, when in the Czech Republic). In his book Immortality he writes: “The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.” I liked that.

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In my spare moments I’ve been writing about Rick Ridgeway and Dr. Bob Brown. I’ve been writing about religion. And my hometown. And the takayna/Tarkine

I’ve questioned my purpose, both here and in the greater scheme of things, torn between a life on the road (selfish?) and the life in a suit (greedy?). My internet browser has a Canadian work visa application, a Stanford University scholarship application, a few jobs in Germany and a number of workaway families needing help on their off-the-grid properties minimised on my browser. I love the fact I haven’t locked anything in yet - no house, no partner, no children, no graduate study, no career. At the same time, the possibilities before me are so immense it’s overwhelming. What do I do now? What do I want? How can I impact the world and/or my community in a positive way? Who am I to say that I can? Is all this reflection just narcissistic bullshit and I need to lighten up, stop being so anal and just fucking live? Yikes. The wormhole. 

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I’m going to be back on my own for the latter half of September. I'm going to go and visit some old friends from my peach picking days. I'm looking forward to sitting around a wine in Italy and soaking up the lives that have been lived in the swirling current of time that has passed between us. 

Until the next rolls are developed,

Ruby x

Today I moved to Europe

I’m sitting in a plane 34,000 feet above Ahmedabad, India. I’m listening to “Lovesick in a Hotel Wildfire” by Korey Dane. There’s a little girl in the isle next to me who looks just like Boo from Monsters Inc. and she’s been trying to take a straw out of its plastic wrapper for the last 15 minutes. She keeps shaking the packet and looking up at her mum, who has fallen asleep in the chair beside her. 

I am on my way to Frankfurt, Germany with 30kgs of belongings, a tent and sleeping bag, a near-empty wallet and a desire to taste and love and breathe all that is Europe. I booked this trip just over a month ago during a brief but intense travel fling in Sri Lanka. It was the catalyst for something I had been flirting with for a while: to live somewhere else. I’m sure I could have satisfied that desire by moving to Hobart or Margaret River, but the allure of foreign languages seduced me. The last time I was in Europe I was a devout Christian in a committed relationship studying utopic fiction at Utrecht University in Holland. I no longer feel attached to that Ruby, so I’m excited to see the continent from a different perspective. 

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Naturally I will be writing about the experience. I struggle with treading the line between narcissism (who really gives a shit about my life, honestly?) and my love of words. I liken the act of publishing them on the internet to the way we used etch our initials into tree trunks and wooden tables as teenagers. This is me. I exist. My life is meaningful. Ruby was here. 

In part, it’s probably an attempt to justify my “unconventional” approach to stability. While I have recently reconciled my distaste of the word and adopted the belief that stability is different for everyone, insecurities remain. 

For me, a stable life is one which feeds my insatiable thirst for stories that make me feel more connected to humanity. At the moment, this usually looks like suitcases and tea-stained moleskine pages, red-eye flights and long blog posts. For my friends with babies in their bellies, rings on their fingers, 9-5 jobs and signed mortgages in filing cabinets, stability is the amalgam of these more “conventional” achievements. I relish and admire the strength required to commit to them, but only if they are happy doing so. If not, (and I can usually see it in their eyes after a few too many drinks in a dingy pub that’s calling for last drinks), I push and push and push. “Dive into the deep end! Come and tread water with me- you have more strength than you realise!” 

I don’t know what awaits me in Europe. I’m trying not to romanticise the possibilities too much (I have a tendency). I know I’ll write a lot and shoot a lot on my point-and-shoot camera. I know I’ll look for big baths with open windows for cold winter nights. I’ll look for expansive beaches on the warmer days and big green parks during those afternoons where cardigans are optional. I know there will be mundane days and grey skies, of late nights with homesick tears and hangovers that don’t deserve any written attention. Just a toilet bowl and some pain killers. 

Watch this space. I may last a week, I may last a month, I may last a few years. Who knows.

The Goo Goo Dolls have just shuffled their way onto my playlist and now I’m feeling wistful and nostalgic. Time for sleep I think. 6 hours to go. 

A Letter to 70-year-old Me

Dear 70-year-old me, 

Firstly, congratulations. You made it. 

I’m writing this to you from Mum and Dad’s couch at the ripe age of 24. I’m moving to Europe in a month and I’m kind of living between houses, mostly on the couches and in the beds of friends. I’m self-employed, however I’ve only been working around 5 hours a week lately. I've shaved off my workload so I can enjoy my final month in Australia on dance floors and under waterfalls. 

To be honest, I’m kind of scared about what the earth is going to look like if it’s still around in 2065. The Great Barrier Reef probably doesn’t exist anymore. Thankfully, the big supermarket chains have just banned single-use plastic bags so I'd like to think we've extended the life of some marine species by a few years. I hope the 24-year-olds of your day don’t even know what plastic bags are. 

I can’t comprehend where technology will be at, either. Maybe you’re on Mars right now.  Maybe you don’t know how to read anymore because all of this is just channeling through a chip in your brain. It’s funny how chips can be potatoes and also things that store entire worlds of data. They can both be fried, too. 

I’ve got a real thirst for life at the moment. I feel like I’m on the brink of a pretty remarkable time in history, especially for young women. I mean, we’re still fucking dying at the hands of male violence every damn week, but our voices are louder. We’re standing together. It’s really empowering. I hope the young women you know feel safe walking down the street and don’t feel like they have to put a thumb over the head of their bottles in clubs anymore. Remember when we used to do that? 

I’m really fucking confused about God right now. I’m sure you’re even more confused now that, objectively speaking, you’re a heck of a lot closer to death. I wonder what you think of death. Right now, it doesn't really scare me. Not because I think I'm invinsible or anything, but because I'm happy with what I've done so far. Of course, I don't feel finished... but if someone told me I was going to die in 100 days, I wouldn't deviate from the path I'm on. I wonder if you maintained this perspective throughout your 40s and 50s and 60s. 

I hope you haven’t dyed your hair. There are probably a handful of people in your life who haven’t made it far enough to see their hair greying at the roots, greying all the way to the ends. Remember how proud Dad was of Mum’s grey hair? He believed it was such an honour to grow old together. I hope you haven’t forgotten the fact that age is a gift. 

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I hope you wrote a book. You used to be so damn scared of committing to a big project because of the damage your pride would suffer if it wasn’t purchased by a publishing house or if it wasn’t enjoyed by others. I hope you just wrote a bloody book regardless. 

I hope you’re wildly inappropriate at family dinners. I feel like old people get away with stuff. I saw an elderly man cross a busy street in Sydney just last week. He didn’t care, he didn’t even wait for a break in traffic. He just put one foot forward, raised a hand to slow down the five lanes of traffic and got on with his life. Nobody seemed to care. I hope you’re stepping into metaphorical traffic with dinner conversations. Now’s the time to talk about your experiences with sex and drugs. There’s no career to damage and no digital footprint to follow you in a way that will haunt you. 

I hope you’ve tasted love, I hope you’ve drunk litres of the stuff, I hope you’re drunk on it now! I can’t imagine being loved up but I do hope that future me is. I don't mind if it's not a husband. Maybe you're juggling a few flings in your old age. That would be pretty badass. 

I hope you still dance. I hope that at the weddings of younger generations you’ve still got the energy to get out of your chair and swing your hips. Flirt incessantly with the young men, they secretly love it. They’ll probably joke about it on social media (if it still exists?) and post a photo of you. Make sure you keep sticking your butt out when you drop it low. Embrace it all. 

I hope you've retired now. But not retired-retired. I hope you're still committing to a life of service. I don't know what kind of impact one person can truly make, and I'm a little confused about where I can slot in to contribute to systemic change, but I hope at 70, you feel like you've found that place. I'm sure there's still lots more work to do. The average life expectancy of a woman in Australia is around 85, so thankfully you still have 15 more years. A lot can be done in that time I should think. 

There are some things I pray you remember. I hope you're sitting back in a cane chair on a balcony somewhere sunny and you close your eyes and think about them for a while. Maybe roll yourself a joint. Marijuana isn't legal yet, but it will be in 2065. If not, you know what to do. 

Remember this? Sitting by Bellambi pools at sundown with your housemates sinking tinnies and watching the cockatoos perch on the fences of the housing commission blocks in your cul-de-sac. The taste of Mum’s chocolate cookies with the coloured sprinkles on top. The sound of Dad’s laughter after he’d say something that definitely wasn’t as funny as he thought it was. Your first teethy kiss in the church storeroom. Gloria playing the piano in the morning before school. Running through the ocean in the nude in the middle of the day with long lost lovers you recall only by their profession or by the weird inanimate object that lived on the dashboard of their car. The feeling of the wind on your body when you rode your motorbike through Wollongong naked. Camping on the beach in Italy. Hiking in Borneo. Smoking on the balcony in Sri Lanka. Climbing up the ladder above the peach trees and the fog in Araluen valley as the sun rose. The first time you heard ‘Fly’ by Ludovico Einaudi.

I hope you can think of a thousand more beautiful moments. I hope you've written them all down somewhere, so you can hand them over to a little one in your life. I hope you've maintained the belief that a mortgage and a career won't make you happy, that it's the combination of moments of love that make you the richest person alive. 

All my love in youthful ignorance,

Ruby

“I’m Valid”: Conversations with an Afghani Orphan in Sri Lanka

“What really counted was the possibility of escape, a leap of freedom, out of the implacable ritual, a wild run for it that would give whatever chance for hope there was. Of course, hope meant being cut down on some street corner, as you ran like man, by a random bullet. But when I really thought it through, nothing was going to allow me such a luxury. Everything was against it…”  – Albert Camus, The Stranger

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I’m in Sri Lanka with Craig, a friend from my home town, and we’ve been having trouble sourcing cigarettes and beer. 

In the hostel we’ve checked in to, we ask a boisterous young man from Afghanistan, a man smoking and drinking a beer in the courtyard, whether he knows a place. He offers to take us himself so we say “sweet, in 15 minutes?” and he says “the future is unpredictable! The future is now! You never know what is going to happen!”. So we push our unwashed bodies off the couch, pull on our shoes and march out of the house.

From the hostel awning, we watch the afternoon storm roll in and settle above Colombo city. The rain begins to fall and our bare, sticky arms welcome it.

“When it rains we go inside and when it’s sunny we go in the shade.” The Afghani says. “If I say I love you, will you run away?”. He turns to us and flashes a smile, bringing a beedi to his lips before offering the packet to Craig.

The three of us walk through the bustling Sri Lankan streets with tobacco in our lungs. Later, we'll discover that smoking in major cities and train stations here is illegal, but at this point, the blissful ignorance that comes with arriving in a foreign land is enough to prevent us from questioning our cultural assumptions. 

The man whose name we don’t know tells us he’s been in Sri Lanka only a week or so and that it is here he tasted the ocean on his lips for the first time. I could sense the shock from Craig, an avid surfer, beside me.

“To me, this is heaven.” he says, with his hands outstretched. “Afghanistan was hell and now I have escaped, I am free!”.

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We learn he was an orphan. His father died when he was very young and his mother had to sell him like a slave. He lived on the streets and never went to school.

I don’t know what school is like, but I love learning. When I was little and working on a farm, whenever new people came, I would point to things in books and tell them to explain. This is how I learnt English.

We learn he also knows how to speak Persian and Indian and that he’s learning Spanish too, because he wants to marry a Spanish girl.

He weaves around tuk tuks on the bustling streets with agility. He looks over to us and smiles.

But last year, I found Mum on Facebook and yesterday, my VISA to Canada was approved so I can go and meet her! I don’t know what it’s like to have a Mum, but I have one! I messaged so many people on Facebook and many blocked me, but Mum wrote back and asked if I have a birthmark on my leg and I do.

He reaches down and pulls up a pant leg. There is a small birthmark, the size of a milk bottle lid, on the inside of his calf.

I have been looking for her for 20 years and she has been looking for me too. I am the happiest man in the world!

Craig and I look over to him and smile. “I bet you can’t wait to see her.”

“I’ll be her husband, I’ll be her son. I’ll be everything! I’ll dedicate my life to her and I’ll never leave her side man!”. He pulls the beedi from his mouth and drops it into a street bin. He turns to me and says “I call you man because you are outside. Women cannot go outside like this where I am from so you are a man”. He walks ahead.

We ask him what he did for work, before he came to Sri Lanka. He tells us he worked in search engine optimisation which meant presumably, he was one of those people many of us with websites outsource our SEO to. I wonder how often we think of the human life behind the email.

He tells us he loves to write as it was books that opened his eyes to the world.

Have you read Camus? The Stranger is my favourite book – it’s my life. Camus has written my life, we are like brothers. Growing up in Afghanistan, of course I was Muslim, but The Stranger broke me. It made me realise my life was based on one story.

I remember once I was writing for 7 days straight with no sleep. I took a lot of ecstasy and at the end of the week I fell asleep on the floor and I was exhausted. When I woke up, everything had been erased. People began talking, telling me they knew I was writing against the Taliban and against all the gods. I received a letter that told me to stop. That’s when I got out. You don’t understand. It’s different there.

We make our way to the counter that sells alcohol. $2.10 for a 500mL beer. Craig buys 6 and we start talking about how we will carry them back to the hostel.

“You enjoy her, she enjoys you and I enjoy the both of you” he says, a smile glued to his face. Later we tell him that we're simply friends and he can't believe it. Two friends of the opposite sex travelling together? He couldn't comprehend it. 

As we near the hostel entrance, I ask him what his name is, a nicety that is often futile in hostel lobbies, emerging only once a connection has been established.

“I’m Vaild*.
And yes, I’m valid too.” He laughs. “And you?”
“I’m Ruby”
“I’m Craig”
“Like Craigslist?”
“Yes, like Craigslist.”

We walk into the hostel together and open a beer.

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*His name is spelt Walid, but pronounced with a V. 
All shots taken with my little point and shoot film camera.

Reflections on 75 Days of Self-Employment

It’s been 75 days since I quit my job and decided to dive into the world of self-employment.

In that time, I drove around Tasmania's North West and kept warm by beach fires. I camped in pine forests and jumped off bridges into freshwater lakes. I drove the south coast of Western Australia and lived in a van and swum in bodies of water every single day. I ran down a highway naked. I went to Melbourne twice and hiked the Grampians and cooled off under waterfalls. I rode my motorbike in the nude through the back streets of a familiar town I once lived in. I was filmed for a Woolworths TV commercial. I hiked in five different states. I started working with politicians and universities and adventure brands. I took 9 planes. I slept in the Royal National Park and stayed in Jervis Bay. I got drunk on Tinder dates. I danced the salsa in clubs and in bedrooms at midnight until I was covered in sweat. I made double what I would have made if I stayed in my 9-6.

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I was sexually assaulted. I wasn’t allowed to board a plane because I wasn’t wearing shoes. I stressed about the financial security of my business. My motorbike needed significant repairs. On four separate occasions, I felt uncomfortable walking home due to wolf whistles and beeping and snide remarks. The garage in which I live in was invaded by thousands of little caterpillars. I was fined for taking a hire car off-road. I got incredibly sunburnt. I recognised that my heart was ultimately empty and that I would struggle to allow someone to curl up and make a home in there again. I mourned the loss of friendships and I expected too much from those at an arm’s length. I battled with the arrogance that comes with starting something successful when old friends doubted you. I sent stupid texts in bouts of insecurity. I broke a heart.

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I worked at a desk and missed having colleagues. I worked at a beach-side café and was thankful for the diversity of spaces. I went four days without showering. I listened to alt-J on repeat. I ran Skype meetings with a nice blouse and no pants on. I had a bowl of ice-cream in the bath at lunch time. I discovered that business has an entirely different moral code to personal relationships. I embraced spontaneity because I owned my schedule in its entirety. I wondered what I would do if I got sick and what would happen when I retire because tax and super and HECS-HELP payments are up to me now. I decided to think about those things later.

Later.

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I tried to learn how to love my body more by being naked in front of friends and by being naked in front of strangers. I drew nude portraits of myself, studying the curves and folds that remain hidden in photos and behind full-piece swimsuits. With my pencil and a mirror, I explored the shadows. It became a nightly ritual.

I didn’t allow myself to slow down. I said yes to every single business opportunity, to the point where I had more work than I could handle, to the point where I am now looking into registering a company and hiring staff.

I forgot to dedicate time for the things I love like books and baths and handwritten letters. I realised there were some things I loved that I had to sacrifice for a while.

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I learnt that if I speak the passion that dwells at the core of my being, then it will reach the right ears. Better friendships and bolder business opportunities sprout in those conversations and what joy it is to walk away from them feeling lighter, happier.

It is my hope that the next 75 days are as full of the ecstasy of risk as the first 75. 

Black History, White Lies: The Day an Aboriginal Man Revealed My Ignorance

The three of us are lying in the back of our rented camper in a carpark by Margaret River in Western Australia. Our noses are buried in books and our legs are twisted around a naked doona we bought from K-mart earlier in the day. We’ve been on the road for about a week now, comfortable with the light layer of red sand sifted through the roots of our hair.

“Hey girls!” we hear, as a man approaches the van. He looks like he’s in his mid-30s and he’s of Aboriginal appearance. He continues talking like he knows us except we’re not listening. We have never seen this man before and the three of us instinctively rise to protect ourselves as women are prone to do when they are approached by a male stranger.

“Oh, sorry girls. I thought youse was German! No bullshit!” he says with a friendly smile. “They was drivin’ around in the same kind of van!”

We started making small talk with the man whose name was Malaak and soon we were bounding through the forest behind him searching for hairy marrons, a species of endangered crayfish (“I can’t believe youse ‘aven’t seen ‘em yet!”) and picking bush foods from the shrubs.

“You girls want a feed? We can catch one right now if you want!” he says enthusiastically, pointing down at the hairy marrons in the murky water below.

We could barely keep up in our bare feet and singlets and we didn’t know whether to be excited or wary. Is he drunk? Is that alcohol in the water bottle he is carrying? Are we safe? Should I put a jumper over my singlet? Do we really want to follow him into the bush? What are his ulterior motives?

The hesitations and questions that arose were directly correlated to the racist messaging that the government has funnelled through media channels since I was a small girl. Ugly stereotypes were swirling about in my subconscious, rising to the surface like a crocodile ready to defend its territory. My territory?

Reminder: his territory.

According to the Reconciliation Barometer’s Key Findings Fact Sheet of 2010, only 9% of Aboriginal Australians believe the media presents a balanced view of them. I will not hesitate when I say that I don’t think those numbers would be very different now, 8 years later.

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After running around the river for a while, we found ourselves squatting on a log jutting out across the river bank. The moon was plump and golden and seemed to cloak Margaret River in a kind of ethereal glow.

“Let me tell youse girls some yarns! Wanna hear some yarns?”

We nod eagerly. We had never heard a yarn from an Australian Aboriginal, not in a way that wasn’t staged or done for the sake of upholding some kind of image. This was a great honour and we were all keen to ask our questions.

As conversation started to breathe a rhythm, I realised how little I knew about the first peoples. Where were these stories in our classrooms? Where were the indigenous voices? Where was the emphasis on the true effects of colonisation?

Did you know, in a matter of 30 years in Tasmania, the indigenous population fell from 5,000-10,000 to 300?

Malaak started calling us sisters and soon, the local Noongar word for woman. By the end he referred to us as spirits because “we’re all one here”.

He told us that the reason women cannot play the didgeridoo is because the Noongar people believe the vibrations will damage a woman’s reproductive organs.

He told us that the white fellas, our ancestors, poisoned their rivers and their creeks, so they had to go to the rivers the white fellas claimed as theirs, where they were greeted with guns and death.

“The white people thought we were dumb because we didn’t know their way of life. But we didn’t need a pen and paper to tell us how to look after our land... we’d been looking after it for a long time without their help. The white fellas were our friends at the start, we taught them everything we knew. Then some of them saw the prosperity of the land and got greedy. If the land could speak, it would say it doesn’t care about your money.

Australia’s prosperity is on our broken backs.”

Their backs are still breaking. The war is not over.

“People look at me walking through the streets like I’m a foreigner, but this is my home… I still walk down the road and feel the compressed weight of the people saying I’m worthless. Even in forms we're a separate nation. "Are you Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander?"”

I’m sorry.

“I wanted to go to the Cronulla riots with my mob with our paint and our didgeridoos and yell “what the fuck are you fighting about? You haven’t made peace with us! The war is still happening here!” That would have really fucked them up, don’t you think? I would have liked to have seen that happen.”

Perspective. 

“Australia Day is like celebrating Hitler if he won the war. Australia Day feels like a celebration of war crimes. There has been no treaty, the war is still happening and the wound is still open.”

Change the date.

“You tell me I’m lazy because I don’t work, but you forget we never needed to work. For tens of thousands of years we survived working with nature, not against her. I would happily live out there with nothing. Sometimes I go out there for 2 weeks with nothing but the clothes on my back.”

How quickly he destroyed everything I thought I knew about the history of the place I call home. How dare I expect Indigenous Australians to work and to embed themselves in their invader’s culture? How had I not understood their resentment and frustration until now?

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The more Malaak shares, the more we want to know. He shifts on the log and let his legs dangle out to the water.

We ask him how he greets the land when he arrives at a new place. He tells us he picks up some earth and throws it towards the wind. Then he listens.

“One click, and you’re safe” he says, and clicks his fingers once.

“Two clicks, and you shouldn’t stay there for the night”.

He clicks his fingers twice and the sound echoes down the river. Beside the log we were perched on something rustles in the bushes, frightening us, and he smiles. Two clicks.

~

Time seems like a strange commodity of a Brave New World when you’re in nature and immersed in story. Nevertheless, time passes and the late evening breeze sweeps through the river and rushes past our tanned bodies. Malaak turns to us and asks one final question:

“Imagine sitting here, on this log hundreds of years ago. What word would you use to describe this?” He turns to the sky of stars with arms outstretched to the river.

There is a pause before I turn to him and whisper, “home”.

He turns to me and nods, "yes, sister, you got it. This is home."

Slowly we scramble off the log and walk back to the van. Somehow our desire to meet cute boys at the local pub seems superficial, there are more important things to think about. 

“You girls want me to tell you some more yarns and show you some good spots tomorrow?” he asks after we hug him goodbye. We arrange to pick him up at 8am the following morning.

~

The following day, Malaak directs us out to the dirt roads that weave through the outskirts of Western Australian towns. We bring him a pie for breakfast from the local bakery. He smiles and thanks us but says “I don’t eat this stuff, but thanks for the thought girls.”

That morning he teaches us how to make bush cordial and catch a goanna and together we make damper over a fire from flour he’s brought in a zip-lock bag.

“Are you sure you don’t have any blackfella in you?” he asks us “’cause this is some of the best damper I ever had!”.

While we’re sitting around the fire, Malaak’s brother calls. We hear muffled sentences from the other end of the line asking him why he’s with white fellas and whether he’s safe. I guess this is what my parents would ask if I told them I was in the bush with 3 older men I had never met.

While the damper cools, he pulls out some paint made from pigments at a sacred indigenous site not far from where we were. Using sticks by the fire he proceeds to paint artworks on our bodies. He paints a kangaroo on my arm, the spirit animal of his grandfather, a dolphin on my friend’s leg and a goanna on the back of the other. What a beautiful thing it is to watch someone deep in thought while painting.

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At the end of the day, after spending eight hours circling through dirt roads, pulling up to river beds and swimming in water holes, I ask him what we can do to make things better. How three white women living comfortable lives in one of the world’s most expensive cities can do anything at all. 

“You’re a writer?” he asks me. “Good. You can tell this story. That’s all I ask. All I want is for people to tell our truth. "

~

I would like to acknowledge and pay my respect to the traditional owners of the Noongar boodja past, present and emerging, on which we met Malaak and had the great honour of sharing his spirit. 

My Favourite Books of 2017

Every year I challenge myself to read 50 books. In 2017 I moved four times, changed jobs 3 times and, as ridiculous as it sounds, lived my most stable 365 days in 5 years. I didn't manage to hit 50. 

In 2017 I read 41 books which, according to Goodreads, totalled to over 11, 794 pages. I read so many incredible books that I'm genuinely struggling to list my favourites. Anything by Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig and Australian writer Tim Winton is amazing, so I won't bother going into detail there. Purchase and consume literally any of their works. You'll thank me later.

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Favourite Fiction:

Let The Great World Spin - Colum McCann
A boy on Instagram recommended this book to me and I adored it. I posted it to another friend immediately after finishing it.

It's one of those books that follows multiple storylines centred around an event in history: a man walking a tight rope between the Twin Towers. This actually happened, and there's a really awesome documentary about it called Man On Wire. The book is incredibly poetic, with some strong social commentary about religion and class. For my post-Christian-still-spiritual readers, you'll love one character in particular, Corrigan. 

“Corrigan told me once that Christ was quite easy to understand. He went where He was supposed to go. He stayed where He was needed. He took little or nothing along, a pair of sandals, a bit of a shirt, a few odds and ends to stave off the loneliness. He never rejected the world. If He had rejected it, He would have been rejecting mystery. And if He rejected mystery, He would have been rejecting faith.” 

“What Corrigan wanted was a fully believable God, one you could find in the grime of the everyday...he consoled himself with the fact that, in the real world, when he looked closely into the darkness he might find the presence of a light, damaged and bruised, but a little light all the same. He wanted, quite simply, for the world to be a better place, and he was in the habit of hoping for it.” 

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
This was a heavy read about a fictional kid who committed a fictional mass shooting in America. It addresses the blame we place on parents, and how a young person may reach the point where they commit such an atrocity. I inhaled this book and the ending shook me.

My Name is Leon - Kit de Waal
If you're after a consumable read, this should be next on your list. I didn't leave the couch until the final page had been devoured. A beautiful story documenting two brothers who are separated as children and put into foster care. It vividly portrays all of the pain and anger that comes with. 

The Atomic Weight of Love - Elizabeth J. Church
Set in the 1940s, this novel is about one woman's quest to be recognised as an intellectual in her own right. Exploring many of the challenges that women faced in this period and woven with romance and bird watching, this book left me feeling grateful for the sacrifices women have made in the name of feminism. 

“Take one Naive Girl. Bring to room temperature in the Big City. Add three cups Academia. If in one cup Encouragement. Fold in two drop Love. Sprinkle with one teaspoon Adoration. Mix thoroughly. Spoon carefully into greased Pan of Matrimony. Bake in Desert Heat for 25. Test doneness with Careless Toothpick. Let cool on Wire Rack of Inertia. Serve with generous dollops of Benign Neglect.” 

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Ah, my favourite genre, Speculative Fiction. Anyone who loves reading loves reading books about books. This is such a fun and beautiful 1-day read about what the world would be like without books. Spoiler alert: it sucks. 

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” 

Favourite Non-Fiction:

Without You There Is No Us - Suki Kim
A journalist goes undercover as a missionary who goes undercover as a university tutor in a North Korean university for elite young men. What an incredible insight into a world I had no understanding of. I told a very hungover young man all about it in Margaret River, WA on New Years Day I was so excited about it. It's one of those non-fiction reads that flows more like a story than an academic piece of literature. I promise you will be shocked by the contents.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari
This is a big fella and has been held in high acclaim largely due to its accessibility. The first half of this book was addictive as I followed the evolution of mankind across the continents. Growing up in the church and in a school with limited teaching on history, I had no idea how much science had discovered about the origin of our species (screw you, Creationists). I was absolutely shocked by my own ignorance, and it was a joy to be enlightened. I slowed down in the final quarter, but there was a lot of meaty bits and I'd encourage you to give it a read. 

2018 Goal

Yup, another 50. I want to dive into more non-fiction this year, so feel free to shoot through your recommendations! What did you love in 2017? What are you looking forward to reading this year? I have just started The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and I'm being hit with some crazy revelations. My pen is permanently tucked behind my ear or in my messy bun. 

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"By the 1980s beauty had come to play in women's status-seeking the same role as money plays in that of men: a defensive proof to aggressive competitors of womanhood or manhood. Since both value systems are reductive, neither reward is ever enough, and each quickly loses any relationship to real-life values. Throughout the decade, as money's ability to buy time for comfort and leisure was abandoned in the stratospheric pursuit of wealth for wealth's sale, the competition for "beauty" saw a parallel inflation: The material pleasures once presented as its goals- sex, love, intimacy, self-expression- were lost in a desperate struggle within a sealed economy, becoming distant and quaint memories."