Coming out of the stationery cabinet

I have long identified as an introvert.

In primary school, I was content to sit by myself during recess and lunchtime.

Teachers, and other kids, would drop by occasionally, genuinely concerned – asking, for instance, whether some group had kicked me out, or if I had hurt myself during a game.

Yet I was busy – happily daydreaming about the adventures on which my pet rabbit, Rabby, was embarking.

While I found more socially acceptable ways to keep to myself, this nucleus of my personality seemed fixed.

Slowly I learned how to break the ice with others – yet felt as if all was bravado and role-playing.

Like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in Brick, I came to know all the angles – but still chose to stay on the outside.

Self-improvement versus romance

Is fervent self-improvement and romance mutually exclusive?

Sure – the cooler we are the more we are likely to attract others.

Yet perhaps we can only grow those appealing qualities when other people are not actually around.

The ‘evolution’ of domestic violence

As a kid, I was aware of the discussions going on around me on the ethics of corporal punishment for children at school and home.

I recall the challenge parents and teachers found themselves facing – namely, how to exert control without a cane.

Some were aware even then that this would actually ‘force the hand’ of some adults.

With the state having denied them their strongest weapon against defiance – whether that be a literal slap of the wrist, or a belting – they would simply find a work-around.

They would resort to a more insidious form of operant conditioning – the emotional and psychological.

Moreover, the wounds of such punishments would be all the easier to hide.

The torment of child rearing

Read the following signs of emotional abuse in intimate partner violence:
  1. Your partner demands that you account for your time.
  2. Your partner freaks out when they can’t reach you whenever they feel like it.
  3. Your partner tries to control your money.
  4. Your partner tries to keep you from your friends and family.
  5. Your partner makes you question your sanity.
Now try replacing ‘partner’ with ‘parent’ and read it again.

That is right – most of the manifestations of emotional abuse are par for the course in parenting.

Social media, smart phones, and relationships

Much has been made of how tech such as smart phones and the internets has changed relationships.

Yet this has largely focused on, say, the processes – for example, how online dating apps have morphed dating.

Instead, I am more curious about how technology has changed how we *relate* in relationships.

Smartphones have become extensions of ourselves – and the internet the external hard drive of our memories.

Thus, when we are dating someone we can feel like we are also dating his or her gadgets.

On the importance of empathy

I came to appreciate how much my very positive relationship with my late father helped me in building a relationship with three kids whom I helped look after for twelve months.

I would like to think that it was a highly customized approach –

I took the best bits that I had learned from my own childhood experiences, updated it for the 21st Century, and added my own twist.

However, I can see that the core of my approach was very much thanks to the affection that, I take for granted, my father had for my family and me.

Role models, intentions, and the little gestures – a few throwaway observations from looking after children

I had the awesome pleasure and privilege of parenting three children – one single digits, two in their early teens – a couple of years ago.

Knowing how much a bad experienceeven those experienced vicariously – can ‘break’ children, I was acutely aware of how much was at stake in my own parental experience.

Yet I focused on the other side of this – that positive experiences in childhood can also ‘make’ a person’s life.

I chose not to handle them with kitten gloves out of fear that some offhand remark I made towards them would give them some complex (possibly requiring decades of psychoanalysis to undo).

Instead, I just tried to approach them in as dignifying and humanising manner as possible.

Intergenerational awesomeness

There is a libertarian fantasy that children are ‘thrown’ into the world, emerging behind a Rawlsian Veil of Ignorance, so that they make of their lives what they will.

Yet we are products of our family’s history as well as our own.

It is tempting to focus on the negative angle of this – like when I hear stats about the abused children going on to become abusive adults themselves.

Such inherited violence does not simply dissipate – like a financial windfall – but echoes in eternity.

Honeypots, canary traps, and sacrificial territories

To gauge how well your parent or (prospective) partner respects your boundaries – just make one up.

This could be a physical space or a sensitive topic that – you at least tell them – is strictly off limits.

You can use such artificial boundaries whether facing off against a controlling persona or filtering out the psychopaths.

For instance, you would use a honey pot as a type of bulwark against their further encroachment.

Or you could use a canary trap as – at risk of mixing metaphors – a canary in a coalmine; that is, an early warning system. 

(Mal)adaptive strategies of dealing with narcissists

I have been privy to what it is like to have an abusive parent or partner via the accounts of a few of my close friends.

Some of my friends have decided to keep their ex-abuser at arm’s length.

Others have pushed that parent or former spouse entirely out of the picture.

Their abuser may have been – or still is – a certifiable narcissist.

In other cases – maybe the parent or partner was just a horrible asshole.

Are we gaming ourselves? A holistic self-assessment

In a recent yoga class, our instructor explained how we could extend our practice beyond the confines of the studio.

To paraphrase his remarks –
“Every action and move can be an asana.”
I had probably heard similar sentiments expressed before – from either holistic health articles or new age websites.

Yet something about it resonated on this occasion.

It made me think of how readily I might compartmentalize aspects of my life – to treat things in isolation.

I can become so fixated on reaching some arbitrary number – how much I can deadlift, or how fast I can cycle – that I can start to ignore the cost of the journey.

After all, if corporations game themselves, individuals can as well.

Some tricks on fitting in 10 000 hours of deliberate practice

Malcom Gladwell’s rule of 10 000 hours states:
“The key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.”
I figure that the idea that strategic and sustained effort is a – or even the only – path to awesomeness tends to appeal to me largely because I am meritocratic and Libertarian

That is, I have embraced Gladwell’s rule – that deliberate practice is a pre-requisite to expertise – largely because like to believe that I am an agent of my own destiny. 

Contrastingly, I would probably be a lot less receptive to Gladwell were I to believe that the ‘game is rigged’, that ‘life is unfair’, and that forces beyond my control negate all my own efforts.

For me, then, the question that remains is, ‘How I can spend more of my time on getting better – and less on grunt work?’

Winning the battle and losing the war in marketing

I have long wondered – having worked in university marketing now for a decade – about the financial return our advertising efforts procure.

Typically, our customers are students, and our products are the courses they study.

Our budgets and jobs are safe if a new website design, or SEM campaign, seems to have secured more ‘bums on seats’.

However, the operative word here is *seems*.

For in spite of being in an age of big data – website Analytics, heat mapping, and CRM databases – there remains little effort to correlate a campaign’s metrics to, say, enrolment and retention numbers.

Probably because we are afraid of not getting the right result.

And rightly so: when we try to tell our customer that marketing is money well spent, it’s our jobs – even our profession’s reputation – that’s on the line.

Thus, we resort to vanity metrics like how many people ‘favorited’ their Instagram photo.

Paid work that complements our passions

I have about four to five hours of quality creative work in me per day – and that is if I play it right.

Conversely, full-time work requires me to spend some seven to eight hours a day on my job.

This means that I am potentially losing three to four hours a day on repetitive tasks that I could be doing in my sleep – or perhaps should not be doing at all.

When I spend those four hours in a time and place of my choosing, my sole interruptions tend to be an occasional coffee break or walk around the block.

When it comes to paid work, on the other hand, I have to accommodate all the distractions of an open plan office.

Becoming a 3 x expert every eight years

One of the biggest things that I like about Gladwell’s 10 000-rule is how many different domains to which it can apply.

From billionaires to The Beatles, Gladwell shows that the simple notion of putting quality time into making good art can pay off.

Sure, there are exceptions – such as less ‘structured’ domains like pop stars and entrepreneurs.

However, I would argue that being a celebrity is not synonymous with being superb – just smooth.

Moreover, I might have trouble taking pride in ‘faking it until I make it’ – particularly if I want to make something meaningful.

The question then arises: how much can I reasonably expect to dedicate towards my deliberate practice, each day, while remaining efficient.

Ensuring our victories are not Pyrrhic

“If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”
-- Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus
It is easy for me to get a sense of my equivalent hourly wage even when I am salaried.

To get a better idea of how much if at all I am actually profiting from a job, I take my net fortnightly income – and subtract overheads such as those business shirts, the weekly public transport passes, and those long-weekend holidays to the country to decompress.

Yet a true account for ‘profit’ is one that factors in the activity’s expenses – both financial and temporal.

That is why I then divide the above figure by my actual time worked – including unpaid overtime, commute, plus lunch break, and extra-curricular Rest and Recreation.

Work culture, office morale, and surrogate activities

I had a short contract early this year at an organisation for whom I had worked several years previously.

Since my previous stint, the sector had fallen on tough times – more players, vying for fewer government funds.

This was probably why morale had failed to improve since I was there last.

Nevertheless, it was intriguing – at times affirming, other times less so – to see how my temporary coworkers still sought satisfaction amidst the grind.

On the road again

I'm back on the road after a long hiatus and so far it's been awesome.

A lot of the survival skills and hand signs have come back naturally - from having a sixth sense for cars about to pull out, to pointing out potholes to those drafting behind me.

After eight months off the saddle, though, I feel I've also gained some much needed perspective on the risk profile of bike riding around Melbourne.

I came uncomfortably close to getting struck by a car door a couple of times while riding along Beach Road on Saturday.

And while commuting up St. Kilda Road to work this morning, a bunch of us in the bike lane had to come to a very abrupt stop to avoid riding into a taxi driver who was climbing out of his vehicle.

And these are stretches that are no stranger to bikes - a lot of people could have seen their day turn out very differently, for instance, if that taxi driver hadn't responded to the scream of that lead cyclist.

Ego depletion and inner-city living

My recent adventures around simple, cheap and healthy living has helped me realised how much of our society is geared towards the complete opposite:
“We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”
The challenge I wanted to solve was how to live a satisfied life with a routine that allowed me to indulge in my ambitious projects - whether relating to health, or fitness, or creativity - without being distracted by all the things that a city like Melbourne has to offer.

Monk Mode, green tea smoothies, and downward dogs

I spent much of last summer on ‘staycation’ - taking time out of work while remaining in my home city.

However, I took my staycation a level further - I went into Monk Mode: a minimalist style of living that lets us focus on our own personal projects.

In my case, these involved my creative writing folio, health and fitness, and overall well being.

Haruki Murakami - one of my favorite authors and a runner of marathons - was one inspiration for my Monk Mode adventures:
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind. But to hold to such repetition for so long—six months to a year—requires a good amount of mental and physical strength. In that sense, writing a long novel is like survival training. Physical strength is as necessary as artistic sensitivity.” (The Paris Review, Summer 2004)
Being a Monk, by the way, doesn’t mean being a hermit. And if you think about it, monks can be very social and light-hearted: they spend all their time hanging out with like-minded people in an environment dedicated to self-betterment, simple living, minimum distractions, learning and adding to knowledge, and taking time to savor the moment.

Quantum leaping in yoga

For the four years that I have practiced yoga, I have yearned to get into a headstand or handstand.

These are the cool ‘inversions’ - the kind of pose that you’d put on your Facebook timeline.

So strong was this desire that I would practice taking a Runner’s Lunge in front of a wall in my apartment, and pressing my hands firmly against the ground, kick off, swing up, and reach my legs up into the air - the wall catching me with a slam before I tilted over.

My apologies to neighbors of all aspiring yogis and gymnasts.

Climb a mountain, tell no one - except your diary

“So you pick up this picture, this two-dimensional image, and you say, ‘That's me.’ Well, to connect this baby in this weird little image with yourself living and breathing in the present, you have to make up a story like, ‘This was me when I was a year old,and later I had long hair, and then we moved to Riverdale, and now here I am.’ So it takes a story that’s actually a fiction to make you and the baby in the picture identical to create your identity.” - Waking Life
Humans are storytelling animals: we form narratives around otherwise chaotic events in our lives to bring them meaning.

Narrative creates a causational and moral thread, letting us connect the dots, weigh up the overall benefits and significance of thing that happen in our life, and relate to one another.

Yet the kinds of narratives that we form are entirely dependent on our memories and perceptions.

And memory is a frail, imperfect thing.

Wanderings around Melbourne - a work in progress

I’ve been writing a novelette for the past couple of weeks and it is at a point where I’m ready to share it - even if it’s not complete.

The story follows a young couple for a day, as they explore inner-city Melbourne: wandering through the Royal Botanical Gardens, exploring the National Gallery, and eating cake on Acland Street.

It’s currently sitting at 12 000 words, which makes for about a 45 minute read. If you’d like to make any comments or recommended changes, let me know and I’ll set up a Google Document of the story, which you’ll be able to collaborate in.

I’ve drawn inspiration from the Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke movie Before Sunset, and Haruki Murakami’s book South of the Border, West of the Sun .

The result is that there’s plenty of dialogue, as well a lot of what editors euphemistically call ‘internality’ - that is, “coming from, produced, or motivated by the psyche or inner recesses of the mind.” (In other words, the characters talk a lot - but they also think a lot).

Some of the themes explored include romance versus friendship; innocence versus experience; mortality versus renewal; memory versus forgetting; responsibilities versus authenticity; and conversation versus introspection.

While it’s hoped to be a stand-alone narrative, it’s actually a continuation of a couple of stories I’ve written over the years - ‘The Year of the Rat’ and ‘The Forty-Seventh Ronin’, some of which has been published for real.

Year of the Rat (fiction)


It is a quiet night at the bistro.

Four people and three courses make up the largest party of the night. For drinks, two glasses of white, a Berry Smoothy, and a Virgin Mary. Entrée is fresh oysters al natural for two, gazpacho soup and tom yum; for main, salmon cutlet with salad, grilled seafood platter, a veggie burger with chips from the kids menu, and risotto with bottled white wine. For desert - crepes liqueur for two, fried soy ice-cream, and fruit salad and afterwards two cappuccinos, a soy hot chocolate, and an espresso.

Half the fish remains on the two plates - the other two, though, leave no remnant of butter in the saucers, no shred of carrot on the side of their plates, no cube of ice in their glasses.

Carrying a bucket of hot water to the Bistro’s toilets, Florian turns a corner and confronts a tall, thin woman in her late twenties. Both reel back like waves hitting an invisible barrier: Florian stooped with bucket in one hand and mop in the other like an aged prophet and she with pants and a top that hung like pyjamas. Water leaps from of the bucket and onto aged yet well maintained Doc Martens that extend over her jeans and half way to her knees. Now the Doc Martens are soaked. Florian leans the mop against the wall as he lowers the bucket, and pulls out the tea-towel from his belt.

Should he get down on his knees and start drying or hand her the towel?

“Oh shit.” He says to her feet. She takes a careful step backwards out of the small puddle and stares down through narrow glasses, then reaches out and squeezes his shoulder.

How will it end?

We seem to live in a strange terror of break-ups.

Separation itself, after all, is not a betrayal - just as with sex, we’re not ‘entitled’ to a person’s presence in our lives.

And there are some benefits of being with someone who doesn’t live in fear of a sudden breakup, who figures that it’s better to speak their truth (even if that means being thought a fool) than remain silent: they’re more likely to say what they want, stick to their own boundaries, and thus respect ours.

How a relationship ends might then be the best sign of how healthy it was while it existed.

If our partner never held anything back, then there won’t be any unpleasant surprises in that final fight.

It might even be relatively pleasant; there’s a great scene in the film 5 to 7, where the female protagonist tells her departing love interest:
“Should you change your mind, I will continue to be out there [in that] smoking nook on Fridays. But if I never see you again, do know that I will always remember you very fondly.”
I would love to have the opportunity to quote that passage to someone.