Fare thee well Auntie Yvonne!

To my great Auntie Yvonne,Yvonee

Today, 13th July 2015,  is your funeral day. I’m sorry not to be there to say goodbye in person and to pay tribute to your incredible life. Instead, I pay my tributes to you from here in Cambodia.

A few years back, someone (or perhaps it was you!?) created a facebook account in your name. Suddenly, I was receiving facebook likes from my 91 year old great aunt and I was impressed. I was even more impressed when the fb comments and chat appeared. Granted there were a few typos, a few too many commas and spaces, but it was typical of you to be so savvy – you were witty 500 victor in our family, the passionate bridge player, joker, curious and considerate great aunt. Your active mind kept you young for so long.

You were my granddad’s oldest sister and the last remaining of your siblings. I felt that your presence kept alive the memories we had of Mick and that he lived on through you. Over the last few years, you became to us an adopted grandparent and your presence at all important family occasions felt not only good, it felt right. There was someone missing if you were not there.

Your life was not easy. It was one of incredible ups and downs – not many have suffered the loss you have experienced in life and very few of us could maintain the incredible optimism, love, generosity and acceptance you have demonstrated in the face of great pain. That is perhaps one of the greatest lessons you have taught me – life can be very hard, but with family and friends by your side, love can get you through. Nothing could ever break your irrepressible spirit.

By lineage, you are my great aunt and great you are indeed. I will miss the sound of your voice down the hallway, your cane, your vibrant red hair and your tinted glasses. I will miss you calling me Emily. Mostly, I will miss the sound of your chuckle and your sight of your smile looking out to the Brisbane River with a “sparkling” in hand.

Fare thee well Auntie Yvonne and may all the beautiful qualities you possessed live on in us still here on earth.

As your sister-in-law would have said with a handkerchief in hand, “Hooray now.”

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Connection

A couple of months ago, I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and felt again that great rush of excitement as any new chapter reveals itself. This excitement hasn’t dissipated – it’s been an incredible experience so far. But it’s also been accompanied by a sense of real isolation from friends and family.

I am living alone for the first time in about 6 years. My friends are constantly posting photos of their lives in places that are not Phnom Penh. And for the first time, I’m starting to see really big changes happening within my immediate family – new members are being ‘recruited’ or born, homes are changing and we are all ageing. It’s provoked in me some existential questionings – if I’m feeling isolated, am I where I am supposed to be? Am I making the right life choices? Would I be better off abandoning my love of life abroad to return to my Australian roots? (i.e. What am I doing with my life?!?)

Last week I visited Germany for a close friend’s wedding. It was also a chance to rendezvous with Brighton-based Michaelle in Munich. We took a morning walk through the city. We sat at a cafe and over a spritz, we talked. We really talked. She listened and I talked. I talked and she listened. We talked about our relationships, our work, our families, our fears and our ever evolving philosophical ponderings. We could have continued just talking for hours, if I didn’t have to catch a flight.

Having returned to Cambodia, the fears I felt have started to ease and not because anything has actually changed, but because it felt so good to talk, to feel listened to and to feel understood by someone so close, someone who could relate. I felt real connection. ‘One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and be understood,’ said Senaca. And so I question whether the source of our fears might sometimes stem not solely from our problems themselves, but largely from the fact that we feel our problems go unknown to others, that they are un-shareable, and therefore that we are not understood, that we are alone.

It was a blessing then to see Michaelle in Munich, a reminder of the depth of our own friendship and how incredibly important friendship is. It was also a personal reminder that it’s so important invest time in the great friends and family I have regardless of the geographical distances between us, because feeling understood, feeling connected, feeling loved is so undeniably fundamental to feeling well.

Quality friendship helps ameliorate those seemingly un-shareable fears and it replaces them with perspective – nothing is more important, in my opinion, than the good we bring into the lives of the people around us and that starts just by listening. So for getting up at 3am to catch a flight into Munich, ‘just’ so we could talk, thanks Tauson.

Reunited over spritz in Munich

Reunited over spritz in Munich

27375 days on earth. But how to spend them?

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man [woman] is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London

IMG_0876I recently headed to the USA and came across this quote during my travels. I embraced it as a kind of guiding wisdom for two reasons. Firstly, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and entering the world of electric motorcycles in the hope of building a series of youtube clips about an incredible friend, Terry Hershner. Our journeys would involve dashing all over California on his motorcycle for a two-month period of filming. I felt this bold wisdom might help inspire.

Secondly, this wisdom challenges my views on how to build a happy life. As I’ve grown older, I’ve consciously slowed down and focused less on bold achievement and more on simply feeling content. I’ve worked at appreciating beauty in every moment, even the most simple, most mundane. I’ve focused more on yoga, meditation and eating well. My morning rituals have involved walks, pilates, coffee and quality time with my retired dad. Unlike my dad, however, I am not retired. I am young, I’m full of energy and there is much I have yet to give. So I starting wondering…  Had I prematurely become a ‘sleepy planet’? Do I really live or do I just exist?

To all my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, Terry needs an introduction. Terry Hershner is an extreme motorcycling adventurist who knows more about electric vehicles, battery technology and charging infrastructure in the United States than just about anyone on the planet. Given the urgent need to move away from our gas guzzling, fossil fuel dependent ways, he’s knowledgeable about some pretty critical stuff. He’s gained this knowledge over decades of pushing the extreme limits, both in terms of his own capabilities and the technology he’s working to develop and promote. Oh, and he has the most ridiculously bad ass electric motorcycle you’ve ever seen.IMG_1034

Terry doesn’t love electric vehicles; he is obsessed with them. When he wakes, his electric motorcycle is the first thing on his mind. His nightly dreams are full of ideas on how to improve the efficiency of his motorcycle, the new world records he is yet to claim and who he might work with to achieve his great ambitions (which are, you know, just the small things like ridding the earth of its addiction to oil before it’s all gone and combating climate change). For Terry, brilliant ideas spring forward as if they were transmitted to him overnight by some sort of celestial sleep being.

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Terry is to me like London’s proverbial meteor in magnificent glow, acutely aware of his own impermanence and in his burning desire to make a difference, destined for that brilliant blaze. Emboldened by Jack London, I found myself swept up by the urgency of his Terry’s ‘earthly assignment’. I found myself desperately craving to be more, live more, do more. I felt the anxiety of wasting my own life because of indecision or laziness or what felt like a lame preference for comfort over challenge. When in the company of Terry, I would – like Jack London – launch myself out into the unknown because I too would rather be ashes than dust! I would see the immeasurable richness of life pulsating with endless energy, I felt boundlessly wild and I could not but want to taste and feel everything.

So during my two months in America, and in the true spirit of Jack London, I surrendered my usual preference for yoga and meditation and became like Indiana Jones,  scurrying around as if the earth was about to melt and there was not a second to lose. We rushed from one electric vehicle event to another. I traversed California with him, helping film and document his journeys, his frustrations, his challenges in pushing boundaries, I met other incredible electric vehicle pioneers and I felt as though I travelled more, saw more, met more, tasted more, argued more, cried more and laughed more in a two-month span than most people do in a lifetime. Seriously. IMG_0975

Two months passed quickly and I left America feeling mentally exhausted, in desperate need for a meditation retreat, intensive daily yoga and the serenity of existing like an old sleepy planet. I left craving numbness and anonymity. I left feeling utterly exhausted, derailed of my focus and a bit scattered in my goals. And so I left for a little holiday. Now as I write, I’m facing backward on the Eurostar train in Spain, so that the coastal scenery flows calmly past me. This calmness could not be in sharper contrast to the days I spent squeezed into the back of Terry’s motorcycle, exposed to all the elements as we dashed about at stupid speeds through California’s mountain ranges.IMG_0312

I’m completely comfortable now and perhaps I instinctively prefer my sleepy Spanish carriage to the utterly exhausting journeys across California with extreme adventurist Terry.  But the funny thing is, while I left feeling exhausted and scattered, these two months were also ridiculously joyous. I loved learning about electric motorcycles. I loved meeting other pioneers in the field and I loved exploring new lands. In retrospect, I even loved the moments that were physically or emotionally hard. These moments brought a different kind of happiness, the kind of temporarily euphoric happiness that comes from doing something you didn’t ever imagine you would, or could. It’s the happiness that comes from feeling truly alive, even if momentarily it hurts. I miss California, I miss all the talk about electric motorcycles I became a part of and most of all, I miss Terry and his bold, irrepressible spirit.

So, Jack London: to live life as a superb meteor or to live life as a sleepy planet? You were neither right nor wrong, for it cannot – at least for me – be one or the other. What I’ve learnt from this experience is that in my own life, I absolutely must have both.

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AU- Get Alive

A friend introduced me to this song about two years ago. It remains on my playlist today because it’s exciting, jovial and full of energy. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like closing down the laptop, running outside and dancing in the rain.

GET ALIVE!!!

Help Me Lose My Mind

Self-reflection is good, but like all good things, balance is necessary. Sometimes, I find myself looking a little too greatly inward. My troubles seem immense, my thoughts far too complicated and my world nonsensical. This song helps me step outside my own messy thoughts and pretend that through connection with others, I’m able to leave my troubled mind behind. Travelling around America on a motorcycle is a liberating experience and I’m embracing this song. While the lyrics are hard to make sense of, this is kick back to the freeing, intoxicating, calming sounds of Help Me Lose My Mind by Disclosure (ft. London Grammar). Enjoy it!

Fear Versus Simple Acts of Kindness

Walking through downtown Santa Cruz today, a man approached me and asked for 25 cents. Before I could process his request, I had turned away the begging hands instinctively. As I walked on, I wondered why I didn’t give him that small amount of money. I turned back to find him, but he was gone.

Later on, I was sitting at a café when a homeless man passed by. He was filthy, smelt terrible and was loaded with bags. He also appeared to be blind. Despite his long white cane, he was headed directly toward a lamppost. I could have run to him to ensure he didn’t crash needlessly into this obstruction, but I sat in silence, hoping that somehow he would naturally swerve at the last moment. He didn’t. He walked right into the post. He cursed it, found he way around it and meandered on. I wondered why I had been unwilling to help.

I’d agreed to talk about fear in response to Jennie’s “Fear No More” post and her excellent advice for overcoming its unfavourable effects. But as I sat at this café, I felt stumped. Nothing came and I walked home feeling disappointed in myself. As I walked, I thought again about these two characters I saw. One needed only 25 cents, the other needed saving from a lamppost. I didn’t help these men because I was afraid. My responses to their predicaments were based not on a logical assessment of risk, but on uncalculated, kneejerk reaction: it was fear of getting too close to somebody I didn’t know and was unsure if I could trust.

We often talk about overcoming fear in the context of important life experiences or major decisions. But we are also so often blind to the small fears that commonly influence our daily interactions with those around us and inhibit simple acts of kindness. (And somehow those small acts are often not so small at all – they can be most meaningful.) Fear is natural and serves an important evolutionary function. But fear is arguably also at the heart of our prejudices, our aggressions, our conflicts and even our ability to ignore the obvious needs – or defend the rights – of those around us.

This is not to suggest we should abandon our fears. Fear is necessary and helps provide important guidance to our decision-making processes. But perhaps we should try to abandon the type of more cowardice fear that underlies the careful distances we keep from others in need of our support. There is an important question then, particularly for females who I would suggest often juggle the natural desire to nurture with a fear of vulnerability: how do we know when to trust our instinctive fears and when to brush them aside in favour of being kind?

While our needs might be different, there is not one person on this earth who does not need something every single day. We rely on each other to service those needs, or in other words, our livelihoods are completely dependent on the actions of others, no matter who we are. With this in mind, perhaps it doesn’t necessarily matter who it is we feel able to help so long as we do and so long as we do not let fear blind us to the broad spectrum of needs we have, including the needs of those we don’t know.

While I trust that somebody else found it in their heart to lend 25 cents to this passing man, I hope that my blind homeless friend (who probably had a shining bump on his forehead and wouldn’t consider me a friend at all had he been able to see the situation through my eyes!) has somewhere comfortable to sleep tonight and that there is someone far more fearless than I to take care of him.

Thoughts on Nomadic Friendship III

I’m drinking a glass of wine. I’m in bed. I’m in Santa Cruz, California and I’m alone. I’m here for two months working on a film project. After this, it’s off to Spain for a wedding and then Bangkok to see friends. And after that? Not a clue. This really is, as Michaelle says, a nomadic existence and while the idea of living without a permanent address is not for everyone – my mother is a prime example – the experience of living a modern day nomadic lifestyle can also be extremely rewarding. Continue reading