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. 

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." 

Crying On The Shoulder Of My Uber Driver

He pulls into the driveway and turns off the car. With tears in my eyes, I reach out to shake his hand. He leans in for a hug and we hold it for a while. I struggle to keep it together.

“Thank you for telling me your story” I say.
“Thank you for caring” he replies.

I grab my bags and swing the door shut. He waits in the driveway until I enter the house safely. I don’t look back.

~

Aba* smiles at me as I open the door, showing a mouth full of pearly whites. We get chatting straight away, and I ask whether he was born in Australia.

“I am from Rwanda” he says. “Rwanda is an African country near Uganda and the Congo. I have been in Australia three years now. I come to Australia to do my Masters with my wife and two little children. We had only $3000 in our bank account and we didn’t know where we were going to live or what we were going to do for work. Our English was very bad. I only speak French….”

He was unassuming and kind. I continued asking the standard Uber questions, but with a little more earnestness. “Most people ask these questions” he says, “but they don’t really want to listen”.

I asked him if he missed home.

“I don’t miss home, because home for me is not like home for you. I lost my parents and my brothers and sisters in mass killings when I was 16, a million dead in three months. I have nothing to miss, not really.”

I ask him if that was during the Rwandan genocide, with the Tutsis and the Hutus. He responds with, “you know about that?”, shocked that a young western woman would know of the genocidal mass slaughter of almost a million Rwandans over 100 days in 1994. (If we did, where were we? Why didn’t we do anything?) I told him I had seen Hotel Rwanda and he nodded. “That’s the one. But it was worse than that. It is something you can never explain, something too horrific to think about. But I remember it. I see every image and yet, I can’t describe it. I can’t say it, not even now…”

Aba stares out at the road ahead and I shy away in my passenger seat, watching the cars drive by, their lights like ribbons in the wind. I remember sobbing on a beanbag at a Rwandan charity evening after watching Hotel Rwanda, unable to process just how evil humans can be. The scene where the car is driving along a bumpy road at night, only to discover that all those bumps are human bodies haunts me.

And yet here before me is a survivor, a survivor that not only saw it, but felt it. 

“In our first week in Australia my family lived in a hotel, but we couldn’t afford it after that, so we moved to a hostel out of town. We were paying $500 for one room of bunk beds, and if they were busy more people would come and stay in our room too. It was hard, you know? We were running out of money very quickly and no one would give us a house- we didn’t have a rental history and we didn’t have enough money for bond. Most were asking for $6000 for 6 months. I didn’t even have $1000 to my name. So, one day I caught a train and thought to myself: I will just get off somewhere. I will just get off anywhere.”

He tells me he gets off at Parramatta station, an hour out of Sydney, and enters the first real-estate agent he passes on the main street. He talks to an agent and begs for a house. He tells him his story with faith in his heart and love in his eyes. He would give him every dollar his family owned. The man said he’d talk to his manager and to come back and see him in a couple of days.

Two days later he returned to the real estate agent with his wife, his four-month old, his two-year-old and their two bags of possessions. The man was moved by their sincerity and their need. He handed over a key to a unit in Blacktown and said: ‘Don’t tell my boss but go, go and move in and we’ll talk paperwork next week. Just get out of that damn hostel’. He walked up the road with his family and their bags and they moved under their first very own Australian roof. No bed, no mattress, no cutlery. Just two bags and each other. A week later they signed the papers and found a mattress on the side of the road. His wife was working, and he found a job too. He continued studying his Masters full time.

And then they struck luck, or maybe his Faith gave them a deserving gift. His wife got a promotion. They got permanent residency. He signed a contract for a full-time job. He bought a piece of land that, by the time it was registered, had doubled in value and thus no longer required a deposit. His two-storey house with a double garage is now being built. His children have just started at private schools. They have a bed to sleep on.

He calls his Australian life his resurrection. His second chance from his loving God. And he loves our country fiercely.

“I always hear people complaining that they will never be able to afford a house in this country and it makes me sad you know? Because I’ve only been here three years and I came with nothing. I have two children and a wife to provide for and I did it.” He did not speak boastfully, but with a kind of sadness. It was then that I understood the depth of my entitlement. The weight of my ignorance. My desperation to have things easy and to have things now.

~

I used to take out my phone when in an Uber. It was an automatic thing, like pulling out your phone when you’re on the toilet at work, or at a bus stop, or when your friend goes to the bathroom at a restaurant and you tell yourself you’ll look weird if you’re not doing SOMETHING. In an Uber, pulling out your phone builds a wall. We take comfort behind that wall, happy we don’t have to engage in surface level conversation with a stranger we’ll never see again. But the last few conversations I’ve had have taught me differently.

Uber has given a lot of people a chance to live. One girl I rode with was paying medical bills. Another was paying for his son’s education because he didn’t have a chance at a good education himself. Another was sending his earnings back home, so his family could eat and live and send his nieces and nephews to school. How many opportunities have Uber-users missed by pulling out their damned phones? How many people had stories they were willing to share if only a stranger cared about the questions they asked?

Aba taught me a lot about faith. He taught me a lot about my own privilege. He reminded me to listen and to think about what truly matters in my life. A Bible verse that has stayed with me, long past my Christian upbringing, seems fitting to leave at the end of this story in respect to Aba…

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for they may be angels in disguise” – Hebrews 13:2

 

*Name changed for privacy

2016 Reads | 3 Books That Changed Me

A book is just a fictionalised world imagined by a stranger and then regurgitated into letters and spaces and paragraphs. Through the anxieties, stresses and daydreams that no doubt consume every writer, they somehow manage to empty suitcases of feeling and personal anecdotes into each character and every storyline. Sometimes it resonates with the reader on an indescribable level and sometimes it passes them by. It's why I love to read.

According to Goodreads I read 27 books this year, 8934 pages. I was aiming for 50 books (I managed over 40 last year), but life got in the way. I travelled for two months, I worked full time, I moved to the city, I travelled interstate, I worked weekends, I studied my Masters, I got a boyfriend. You know, life. 

But there are three standout books of my 2016, three books that affected both the way that I saw and understood the world, and in the way that I now see and understand people. 

 

1.     A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara (published: 2015)

It is not often that literature paints the intimacies and struggles between a group of men so magnificently, if at all. A Little Life buried its way into my heart and I followed the story with more determination than I have with any other novel. 

The abuse and physical suffering that one character experiences is graphic and relentless. His pain is believable, and it seems as though you're right there beside him, except you're entirely ill-equipped to help him. This book will break you, and it won't do the honour of stitching you back up again. 

A Little Life painfully reminds you that people all over the world are experiencing horrific things and, unlike most narratives, it won't always be okay in the end. 

"You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” 

2.     The Riders - Tim Winton (published: 1994)

This has quickly become my favourite Tim Winton novel (move over, Cloudstreet). I think it’s because the protagonist traverses the European landscape in cities that I am familiar with, all the while longing for the sandy shores and deep blue seas of Australia that only Winton can articulate with such dignity. 

I read this book in a day because the storyline was addictive and Winton's descriptions vivid. His writing is an excellent reminder of the sheer beauty of the natural world that surrounds us, no matter where we are. 

“She wondered if you could love someone too much. If you could it wasn't fair. People didn't have a chance. Love was all you had in the end. It was like sleep, like clean water. When you fell off the world there was still love because love made the world. That's what she believed. That's how it was.” 

3.     The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle - Murakami (published: 1994)

This may not be my favourite Murakami, but it was the first of his I read this year. I didn’t know much about this Japanese author or his style, I just knew that he was someone I should read. To say it surprised me is an understatement. I read so much fiction (set in real, existing places and experienced by real and believable people) that I forget that as a writer, you have the power to fabricate completely impossible phenomena in a world that is also, equally impossible. Your characters can fly, they can interact with other dimensions, they can control their dreams and speak to animals. I had forgotten the joy in reading literature that is quirky and obscure. Salvador Dali-esque if I may.

If you're going to attempt to read this book, let me warn you that nothing will make sense and nothing is linear. Relax and enjoy it for all its obscurities. 

“I'd be smiling and chatting away, and my mind would be floating around somewhere else, like a balloon with a broken string.” 

Other books I read this year and would recommend are: The Boat by Nam Le, Kakfa on the Shore by Murakami and Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

March Update

My blog has been neglected mostly because I spent a few weeks driving Australia's east coast and because I got a Proper Adult Job. 

Driving down to the Great Ocean Road and Philip Island and up to Byron is really something else. Experiencing it with three Europeans who haven't seen Australia before enhances the appreciation for your country, too. I had the best time and couldn't be more thankful for the three that flew all the way here to adventure with me.

Coming Home

I'm home now and my feet are covered in blisters because after a month of scooting and clubbing and exploring barefoot I now have to confine my feet to little caves of plastic because I've been going to the theatre in Sydney and other nice grown up sounding things.

I didn't want to leave Canggu because I liked that most people there were staying long term and they were late-20s and okay with surfing all day for months at a time as if to say a big Fuck You to social norms. But now I'm home so here we are. I welcome the smell of eucalyptus and the cicadas and the birds. Nature's orchestra is glorious in Australia.

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I'm feeling a little lost and confused but it's nice to be home and to have a room to myself again. I moved the cobwebs from the hammock that hangs between the trees and sat with the cat on my lap and someone to write to. It's starting to mould and I'm waiting for it to buckle under my weight any day now but until then I will revel in the peace that it offers right by the water feature mum built last week. 

Last night someone with deep blue eyes held me close and told me I was beautiful. How meaningful that word becomes when someone looks you in the eyes, and cushions it in pauses. It transcends the superficial and penetrates that pulse behind your ribs. I believed it just for a moment. 

I've been reading 'The Lost Girl' by D. H. Lawrence on the train because a friend bought it for me at the second hand book store and I loved Lady Chatterley's Lover (but not Sons and Daughters) and my favourite place to read is the train. I wrote a lot last month and neglected my books so it's nice to feel the pages between my thumbs again.

Indo Immersion

The hours are passing and together we're chasing the sun in a convoy of scooters. Our skin is tanned and our feet are bare, the wind tickles our scalp and our backpacks are full of takeaway food. We're riding to Echo Beach, where the smell of grilled fish and street corn lingers in the warm concrete and the sea is full of long-haired surfing babes catching barrels.

Last weekend the team went to Ubud to write and explore. We swum under waterfalls, lounged by the pool and clambered up abandoned buildings that had been fitted out with art and free wifi. I was in Ubud a couple of months ago, so I wasn't as excited to explore. However, we did decide to scoot from Canggu to Ubud through the rice fields and across the countryside and that cushioned the trip in a glimmering gold.

I don't like the idea of leaving this place, not at all.

Canggu Feel The Love

So I landed in Denpasar, Bali with $0.03c in my bank account because I forgot that money takes three days to transfer. I made an active decision to befriend a guy on my plane that I stalked on Facebook doing the same program as me in the line at Visa on Arrival. This was so that I could look at him with helpless eyes and convince him to shout me 50 bucks if my other bank card didn't work. Thankfully it did, and I simply bonded like a normal human instead of appearing like a desperate cheapskate. I got 10 Canadian dollars exchanged at the shop and went on my merry way. (Dear Canadian Aunty, thank you for visiting 10 years ago and giving me that note. It saved my life.). We took a taxi to Canggu to begin an internship with Global Hobo and 30 others from around the globe. Keen and starving, we shoved our shit in the back of the van and got going. 

This internship involves a stack of Indonesian language classes (2 hours a day), writing workshops and a mega assignment that I'm super psyched about because I get super psyched about every kind of humongous potentially unachievable task. Apparently it's a book and I'm one of the editors and I'm shitting bricks.

I was terrified I would be 10x not cool enough for this gig, but it turns out every single person is cool in the most down to earth, welcoming kind of way. We got ourselves scooters and cemented a solid love in a food joint that makes the best smoothies and the most overwhelming amount of delicious tucker for $3 a plate. Stoked.

It's nothing unpredictable, but I lost my glasses. I don't remember how. One minute they were in my hand, the next I was on my scooter tapping my naked face wondering where they went. We put two and two together and concluded that I probably tucked it into my dress, it dislodged itself in the wind and was on its way to being crushed beneath a mound of tires before I could say 'hati-hati di jalan'. 

We cruised around through the streets of rice paddies and little homes and whooped and cheered and fist pumped in incredulity. I am sharing a moto with the legend I befriended at the airport to save dosh and secure ourselves designated drivers.

A stack of us went for a swim at sunset, bobbing around in the salty sea with the fading ball of fire and the pink, pink sky with smiles on our faces and bellies keen for beer.

Every day is busy and bustling, every corner lurks with conversation that dives deeper than surface level, and every couch is full of creatives reading and writing. I'm happy to say my money finally came in and I bought a Bintang and settled into my top bunk with my mosquitoes and blind eyes and very happy heart. I'm looking forward to the next four weeks. Hopefully I'll be fluent and running a blog in Indonesian by February. Terima kasih dan selamat tinggal!