The Lost Art of: conversation.

Screen shot of my new phone.

Screen shot of my new phone, apps at the ready.

Previously, I hinted at my tongue-tied-ness.  As a typical introvert, how often have I found myself at a function where I do not know many people, struggling to make conversation, only for it to sound forced and stilted?  Or for the conversation to fall back on the easy standbys rather than being a sparkling conversationalist?

(FYI:  Yes, that is a ring on my finger.  Yes, I have been married relatively recently.  No, I’m not as young as you think I am.  No, it is none of your business as to whether I am planning to have children.)

However, I think this experience is only a magnified example of what is becoming a common trend in everyday life.  The ubiquity of the smart phone has made people (myself very much included) lazy conversationalists.  Where there are gaps of knowledge, rather than being content to thrash out the issues and test our skills of extrapolation and hypothesising (and having a damn good conversation in the process), we instead keep our smart phone at the ready to google it.  (As an aside, since when did “to google” become accepted as a verb in our everyday lexicon?)

I was at a conference recently and at the table where I was seated, no-one really knew anyone else.  After the usual introductions and small talk were made, the group descended into silence.  Eye-contact was avoided.  And then, one by one, we each reached for our phones and became engrossed in … what?  Emails that were so important, they couldn’t wait until we got back to the office, even though we had decided to attend the conference despite it meaning a day away from our desk?  Facebook?  (I have a feeling it was more likely the latter rather than the former.)

Reaching for your phone is so easy.  More and more, it is a little summary of one’s life, encapsulating phone calls, texts, address book, emails (work and personal), time and date, calendar, to do list, camera, calculator … the list is endless.  Lost?  Google Map it.  Want to capture that special moment?  Instagram it.  Need something to read on the bus?  Catch up on the blogs you follow on Feedly.  Not to mention the myriad of apps to make your life easier: banking apps to transfer money; the Transperth app to plan your public transport journey; the Urbanspoon app to decide whether you want to try the newest up and coming coffee shop.

Next time you are out with your friends, I challenge you to turn your phone onto silent, pop it into your handbag and not check it until you are home again.  Actually talk to the people you are with, without the conversation being punctuated with text messages to people who aren’t there or backlit by the glow of your smart phone screen.  It will be difficult to begin with, but as the conversation flows and your relationship with those people becomes all the more rich for being 100% committed to enjoying the time you spend with them, it will be totally worth it.

Home.

View from my balcony.

View from my balcony.

So, hi!  Come here often?  Obviously I wouldn’t know, given I have been MIA for the last 5 months or so …

I was so full of good, regular posting intentions and then, you know, life happened.  My baby sister got married and I, as chief and only bridesmaid, was swept up in the wonderful, frantic whirlwind of it all (yay!).  The organisation I work for was defunded and ensuing cutbacks meant that I was made redundant, my last day being this Friday (not so yay).

What with the wedding madness and the craziness that comes with wanting to finish everything at work before you leave and hand it all over to someone else, I had precious little time to myself to just curl up at home with a book.  Soon, I will have all the time in the world.

The whole redundancy thing is scaring the hell out of me, but the spending time in the quiet of my home thing?  Can’t wait.

Short Story: The letter.

No one sends letters these days.  Only junk mail and bills.  I ripped open the envelope, ready to exclaim in indignation at the exorbitant cost of utilities.

But it was a letter, slipped in my mailbox by mistake and now unthinkingly desecrated by me.  I skimmed the contents absent-mindedly.  Mundane details of a stranger’s life in a delicate penmanship, on an almost transparent page.  The postscript caught my eye and guilt washed over me.  “P.S.  I still love you.”

Tacked at the end, almost as if an after-thought.  Who knew though the import of it to the intended recipient.  Perhaps someone had been waiting a long time to hear that throwaway line.  Perhaps, it was the standard postscript between two correspondents: an understanding between them encapsulated in the shorthand of four short words.  Or perhaps my imagination had run away with me again.

Whatever the reason, I had already betrayed the writer’s trust in the confidentiality of the postal system.  The least I could do was return the letter to rightful recipient.

Written as part of WordPress’ Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit challenge.

The Lost Art of: letter writing.

 

My paternal grandparents on their wedding day.  I imagine my grandmother sent her thank you cards well within the recommended 3 months.

My paternal grandparents on their wedding day.  I imagine my grandmother sent her wedding thank you cards well within the recommended 3 months.

My paternal grandmother was a great one for letter writing when I was growing up.  With 2,000-odd kilometres separating us, regular visits were not possible.  Telephone conversations were much more frequent, although the 1.5 to 2.5 hours time difference depending on daylight savings, coupled with this young, bashful girl’s tongue-tied-ness, still made them difficult.

(“How are you?”  “Good.”  “Tell me about your new bike.”  “It’s fun.”)

Instead, she entrenched herself in our lives with her constant flow of letters.

The letters were often filled with the ordinary: her charity work, which flowers were in bloom in the garden at the moment, how many inches of rain they had, what the extended family were up to, what that blanky dog did when he snuck into the kitchen (whole tray of biscuits fresh out of the oven in preparation for the church bake sale: gone).  But more than that, the letters were of love and tenderness.

Eventually, she succumbed to old age and its inevitable tax on one’s mind and body.  For the last few years of her life, she couldn’t write at all.  She has since passed away, but so strong are the memory of her letters that I cannot see her spidery blue scrawl without imagining her lilting voice and warm embrace.

Who these days writes letters?  Perhaps a birthday card here or there, or if you’re dedicated, a Christmas letter (although, they tend to be typed on the computer and mass produced).  The last hand-written letters I sent were the thank you cards after our wedding.  Knowing what an epic task was before me, I put it off for ages, well after the 3 month post wedding grace period.  However, once I got going (and my hand got used to writing again), it was strangely cathartic as I remembered each guest at the wedding and our celebration together.

In this age of instant communication with telephone, email, texting, skype and the whole gamut of options which social media offers, letters are not the most popular mode of communication.  Even the ongoing commercial viability of Australia Post is questioned as the nation slips further and further into a letter-writing decline.  Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the value of receiving a letter:  the thrill of excitement upon receiving something in the mail; a tactile expression from someone who thought the recipient and the subject matter both important enough to take the time and effort to write and send a letter.  Now, the rarity of receiving a personal letter only serves increases that value and thrill.

So, here is to the lost art of letter writing.  Despite their decline, may hand-written letters continue to be vessels of emotion which touch people’s hearts.

Written as part of WordPress’ Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit challenge.

3 most important songs in my life.

Well, I’m not sure about “most important”.  How about just “important”?  Or “3 songs which embody 3 significant phases in my life and are therefore important to me”?  

1.  My first dance song.  Cheesy, I know.  Despite always running late, I know that Boy Robin will wait for me.  Plus, it was so much fun to dance to.

2.  The anthem of my exchange year.  Yet another cheesy song, but I cannot hear this song without my heart swelling.

3.  Finally, a song from my childhood.  Because it would seem that I cannot get away from the cheese.  Or the dancing.

Written as part of WordPress’ Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit challenge.

(A nest) with a view.

A room with a viewLately, newlywed life has seemed wearisome.  Alarm goes off.  Procrastinate by listening to the radio, before hauling out of bed.  Get ready for work.  Go to work.  Come home.  Make dinner.  Make a half-hearted effort to wash up / tidy up / water the sad little herb garden on the balcony, but ultimately slump in front of the tv before collapsing into bed.  On some days, get to ballet classes (at least that’s one tick on my resolution list).  Rinse and repeat.

There is a slight variation on weekends, where instead of work, there seems to be other commitments – never-ending errands, obligatory family get-togethers, catching up on reading research papers for work, volunteer work (or in Boy Robin’s case, just more work) … Our house has become a place to exist in transit, as we rush from one item on our to do list to the other.

Since when did all the excitement of nesting dissipate and unbearable weight of everyday life take over?  I’m not talking about a modified social life, but a more overall feeling of stagnation.  That existential, self-indulgent navel-gazing which leads to thoughts of “What is the point of all this anyway?  Is this rinse and repeat cycle all I have to look forward to for the rest of my life?”  The Coulda Shoulda Wouldas raise their collective heads.

I used to have vague daydreams of the future of marrying someone exotic and foreign (obviously with a wonderfully attractive accent), living abroad in a vibrant city, employed in some exciting, high-powered job and leading a sparkly, fast-paced life, against a backdrop of culture, art and history.  Paris?  Berlin?  Don’t mind if I do.

Instead, I work as a policy officer for a not-for-profit.  I think it’s important work, but not particularly exciting or high-powered.  And I fell for a country boy with a broad Australian twang, who likes nothing better than the wide open spaces of the farm.  Not quite the exotic accent I had in mind.  Perth would seem to be a suitable compromise for us both: the biggest country town in the world trying its darnedest to be a city.  But sometimes, I look at the monotony that life represents and it makes me restless.

So, if I could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would I go to right now?  My first thought was London in the Summer.  A bustling cultural heartland, full of people to meet (and people-watch) and things to do, heaving with the electric energy of beautiful weather in place where sunshine is a precious commodity.  Everything that our little nest is not, especially as we approach the depths of Winter (well, as deep as Winter gets in Perth … Today a maximum of 24 degrees Celsius was forecast).

But that would most likely mean a life without Boy Robin, which would be unthinkable.  For the time being, work has rooted us here.  Although we’ve talked about spending a year living abroad, it is still a distant plan.  And to be honest, as much as I would love to pack a suitcase and fly to London tomorrow, I’m not entirely convinced that having to deal with the normalities of life: work, paying the bills, putting food on the table and trying to keep the house halfway tidy, wouldn’t take the shine off London as well.  It’s something to look forward to, but perhaps I need to get the hang of everyday life first.

On reflection, where I would really like to be is our house, but with the time and energy to make it our home, looking with anticipation to the future.

Written as part of WordPress’ Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring! (erm … Autumn!)

Autumn morning

A crisp Autumn morning on my way to work.

This week’s Weekly Photo Challenge by Daily Post was to share a photo which describes what Spring means to you.  While the northern hemisphere is revelling in Winter slipping away and giving way to green, growing things, here in the southern hemisphere we are steeling ourselves as the temperature starts to drop, the leaves change colour and the days get shorter.

However, it’s not all bad.  After what feels like an eternity of hot, parched weather, Autumn is here with the sound of cooling rain on a tin roof and promises of hot chocolate in the evening.

There are no eggs in this nest.

And these are not childbearing hips (yet).

Wedding Hips

Tomorrow is Boy Robin’s and my first wedding anniversary.  I can hardly believe one whole year has gone by.  It kind of snuck up on me (hence my running around last night after work and again this morning, putting together Boy Robin’s anniversary gift, but that is a topic for another post).  The year has gone by so fast.  We are still totally newlyweds, right?

Certainly, we haven’t graduated to “old married couple” just yet.  We’re still savouring the newness of it all.  Still settling into our roles of husband and wife.  Granted, they’re not much different from boyfriend and girlfriend or fiancé and and fiancée, but different nonetheless.  I still get a secret thrill when I say “my husband”, or someone calls me “Mrs Robin” (although I studiously put “Ms” on any form I fill in, because whether I’m married or not is really none of your business, random customer satisfaction questionnaire).

While we’re still savouring newlywed life, it would seem that all and sundry want us to race to the future.  Well-meaning friends, family and acquaintances ask me when we intend to have children (note me, I’ve checked and Boy Robin seems to completely escape this line of interrogation).  My mother-in-law more than once has told other people in front of me that she has already put in her order for grandchildren, with the unspoken sentiment being that she is impatiently waiting for the order to be filled.

Of course, Boy Robin and I have talked about children.  Funnily enough, before vowing to love and honour each other all the days of our life, we sat down and talked about whether we both want to have children (we do).  I have known more than one relationship which has been unable to survive one person wanting children in the future while the other person does not.

I understand this line of questioning.  People seem to ask it as a matter of course and without any thought of the implications.  To have children is the next logical step and people fall back onto it as a conversation filler.  Not to mention society generally views children a joy.  Why wouldn’t anyone want to jump on the baby-making train as soon as possible?

However, it is a deeply personal decision, with so many personal tangents.  Children are life changers.  They are permanent.  A certain financial position makes having children a lot easier than if you have not reached that position.  And on the other side of the coin, what if we were trying to have children and failing miserably?  Such questions would be rubbing salt into an already painful wound.

In any event, I’m still revelling in this wife thing and children seem a long way off.  There is so much I want to do with Boy Robin before we settle down to have children – see where our careers take us, travel the world, enjoy our little nest (which, by the way, is not particularly child-friendly).

Have you seen The Ugly Volvo‘s Why You Should Never, Ever, Ever Get a Tattoo (but Having a Baby is Fine)?  Hilarious.  I’ve known some people to respond to the question of  when they will have children with: “Unfortunately, I’m barren.”  Usually my response to people who ask when we will have children is: “Boy Robin and I have talked about it and have come to the conclusion the world is overpopulated enough as it is and we’d rather not contribute to that overpopulation.”

Maybe the next time I am asked, I will respond with: “You know, when I think about it, having children seems like such an expensive, permanent decision which will cause people to judge me, limit my career, ruin my body and cause me a great deal of pain.  I’m thinking of getting a tattoo instead.”

Sexy naked women.

A "naked" tree.  The image I found amongst my collection which kind of tied into the title, which also happened it was G-rated.

A “naked” tree.  It was the first image I found amongst my collection which kind of tied into the title, which luckily also happened to be G-rated.*

Oh my goodness – this.

Kate  of eat the damn cake posted sexy naked women absolutely everywhere last month, but I came across it today on the “Daily Life” section of a news site, which pulls some of its content from the Sydney Morning Herald, for which Kate is a regular contributor. (I was browsing the news for work.  I promise.)

It takes a look at how images of “sexy naked women” seems to have permeated advertising, so that we are surrounded by them as we go about our day to day.

On seeing a particular advertisement featuring a sexy, naked woman, Kate’s first reaction is one of discomfort.  Her second reaction is critical of her first.  She doesn’t want to be prudish or offended.  Her reaction is “uncool. […]  [A] rant.  No one cares.”  Her third reaction is that something must be off with her if she’s put-off by the images.  She concludes that she is supposed to ignore the fact that the same kinds of bodies are used almost all the time, sexualising young women.   She wonders about her baby daughter and what she’ll think when she grows up.

Finally, she imagines a scenario of trying to explain it to her daughter when her daughter is confronted with such an image and is old enough to be aware of it:

I see that she’s looking at the huge naked butt.

“Isn’t that ridiculous?” I say. “What a stupid ad, right?”

We laugh a little. We agree. It’s very, very stupid. We go on with our day. At least she knows: this isn’t just normal. It’s not creatively liberated, either. It’s listing towards insanity. It’s laughably, seriously absurd. It may be right in front of us but we know there’s something wrong.

(source)

Bravo, Kate.

Do you see sexy naked women absolutely everywhere?

* Hmmm … not that I have non-G-rated images in my collection that tie into the title.  I think I’ll just stop digging this hole.