The importance of being uncomfortable: what I learned from the Syrian refugee crisis

I’m embarrassed to say it took the photo of Aylan Kurdi to finally wake me up to the reality and urgency of the Syrian refugee situation. You know, that photo of the three-year-old toddler who washed up on a beach. I almost thought the photo was doctored at first, because it was so shocking and confronting. And this is awful but true: would I have been just as affected if it had been an adult man instead of a cute toddler? I don’t know.

In his NYT column “Refugees Who Could Be Us”, Nick Kristof makes some excellent points about the current situation (so go check it out because I’m not repeating them here). To read the news these days is to subject yourself to the horrors of the world in which we live – partly because tragedy and bad news sell and so publications are extra motivated to stuff those down our throats – and when I came across this piece about Icelanders volunteering to house Syrian refugees, I swear I got a little bit emotional.

My dad has many faults, but one of the things I did get from him was generosity – I’ve always been happy to give to others. Would I, however, open up my home to strangers in need? Honestly, no. I could give you all the practical (and valid) reasons why I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, but the first reason that leaps to mind is simply this: I wouldn’t because it would be uncomfortable for me.

That’s when it hit me: what if we, the fortunate and privileged citizens of the world, are past the stage of being comfortable? Too much is going on, too little is being done, and we who are able and have plenty no longer get to hide in our cosy cocoons of willful ignorance. I’m not talking about just Syrian refugees or even other refugees, of which there are thousands if not millions more, I’m talking about lack and pain and suffering everywhere we look.

I’m not ready to house refugees, nor do I have a plan to change the world. Words are cheap and they mean even less when I’m typing them from the comfort of my home – I know that. But I can’t un-realise what I already do, and more importantly, I don’t want to. If knowing all this makes me uncomfortable, if coming face to face with my selfishness makes me uncomfortable, then so be it. The human race as a whole is long past the point of “being comfortable” anyway; just because most of us are less affected, blissfully unscathed even, doesn’t mean we get to ignore what’s going on.

The kid’s doing her school production this week, and whether by chance or circumstance, her class is singing ‘Man in the Mirror’. That’s one of my all-time favourite Michael Jackson songs, and we’ve been listening to the song on loop a fair bit. The lyrics touch on poverty, homelessness, grief, death and a “washed-out dream”, which, in light of what happened to Aylan Kurdi, seems to have been injected with new meaning.

And then, as if that weren’t enough, I found out that the whole school is also going to sing ‘We Are the World’, which, again, made the tiniest lump appear in my throat this morning when I played it for the kid and we started singing along.

(Part 2: 2015 is my Year of Kindness)


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I need to do better

It hit me the other night. While I was reading one of those parenting/mummy blog articles or some such. I can’t find the article now, but it was essentially about how we should treasure each moment with our kids because we never know when it’ll be the last time we… (insert mundane task here). In this particular case, it was washing her daughter’s hair.

That struck a chord. It was probably 9pm. It’s amazing how open and calm and full-of-good-intentions I am when the kid is fast asleep and the house is completely QUIET AND PEACEFUL. If I were half as good a parent when my child is asleep as when she is awake, I’d be kicking motherhood’s ass.

This isn’t a novel concept of course. Neither is it anything I didn’t already know in my head. But in my heart? In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, during moments when I can’t wait to tuck the kid into bed because she’d been whinging since we walked in the door after school? Not so much.

I need to do better.

Again, not a new idea. I’ve been thinking this exact phrase for months now. And the article was a good reminder for someone who regularly expresses her wonder and amazement at how fast time goes. We’re already halfway through the third term of school pretty much, which means it won’t be long before we hit term four, and then school holidays, AND THEN MY DAUGHTER WILL BE IN GRADE 1.

I can’t slow down time, but I can make the effort to be more present. It’s kind of morbid, I know, but imagine if you died tonight. I did. And the only thing I kept thinking was: I want to be there with/for my kid as she grows up. Not: I should have worked more, or done more writing, or watched more TV, or even travelled more.

As a single mum, I cut myself a lot of slack. I don’t push myself to take on too much, I understand what’s important to me right now, but I also think there are times when I could choose not to let the kid watch another hour of cartoons on the iPad. The great thing about parenting a 5yo is that every day is a new day. The kid is quick to forgive when I mess up, but it won’t be like that forever. She’s eager to hang out and loves to chat – sometimes I even get to choose the topic – and I can only hope and pray that this will last.

Telling myself that I need to do better is not me being judgy or comparing myself to other mums. It’s not me saying I want to be the best mum in the world because I’ll be honest and say I’m really not competitive enough to give a shit about that. It’s about me wanting to give this motherhood thing my best shot (and never give up), because that’s what I tell my kid all the time, and what would I be if I didn’t follow my own advice, right?


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This, too, shall pass

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Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever come out of whatever funk I’m in. Logic dictates that I will, of course, that time will heal everything, but that light at the end of the tunnel can be a lot harder to see than people would have you believe. Or perhaps I’m just looking in the wrong direction – backwards instead of forwards, down instead of up. Or maybe my eyes are closed because I’m so focused on myself that I’m not even looking for the light.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how quickly our lives can change. All it takes is a minute, an hour, a day, a week. It’s getting harder to keep track of time these days. And before I know it, a switch flips and the weight that bore down is gone. I test my heart to be sure – no, truly it has lifted. How odd. In the same way, a world that had seemed so perfect just moments before could crumble in an instant, and I am often left wondering if it had been a dream. All it takes is something, or someone.

This, too, shall pass. It is often used to refer to darkness; comforting words to encourage a wounded soul. But really, the saying should work both ways – bad and good. Because life is made up of seasons and nothing lasts forever. Remember?


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Knowing that I can’t have it all, and being totally okay with it

The more I read about successful people, the more I realise that you cannot have work/life balance if you want to be extraordinary. You can have work/life balance and be comfortable, content, affluent even, but to be extraordinary? To be vastly more successful than the average worker bee on the street? There just aren’t enough hours in a day. You don’t become super successful by working the same hours as everyone else. And if you’re not willing to put in the extra hours, well, there are plenty of people out there who are.

To become very successful at anything requires dedication and hard work (read: long hours spent on that thing you do, whatever it is). For some people that might mean sacrificing family time, for others it might mean forgoing sleep, exercise and their social life. The bottom line is sacrifices have to be made, which brings me to my other realisation: I cannot have it all.

I once asked Kimora Lee Simmons what she would say to women who want to “have it all”. Her answer was essentially: yes, she appears to “have it all” but she doesn’t sleep much and she doesn’t hang out with her friends a whole lot, because her waking moments are devoted to her kids and her partner and her fashion line and her reality TV show and… In other words, she doesn’t have a lot of time to rest or have fun. Christina Soong of The Hungry Australian put it another way: you can have it all, just not all at once. Which makes sense. Because again, there just aren’t enough hours in a day.

As a writer who works from home, I have what many mums would call an ideal arrangement. I’m able to earn an income while still being a pseudo full-time mum to the 5yo. I do school drop offs and pick ups, shuttling to gymnastics and swimming, and even parent helper duty once a week. I’m available for special events and occasions at school, and I’m also available for special events and occasions with my mostly stay-at-home-mum girlfriends. Do I love it? Absolutely, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But as a former entertainment journo, to say that I’m focused on my career at this point would be a gross exaggeration.

Penelope Trunk, whom I love and frequently link to, recently wrote about giving up her career for her kids. Early this year, I had a conversation with a girlfriend about pursuing a career in media, and we agreed that we just didn’t want it badly enough. I know I’m not willing to sacrifice being here for the kid, and if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I want to give up sleep, exercise and my vibrant social life that, most days, only takes place between the hours of 9 and 6. That’s 9am and 6pm in case you’re wondering, not the other way around.

I’m immensely grateful for all that I have and for this season in my life, but I am neither successful in my career nor do I have it all. Even better, I don’t care to pretend that I am, I do or I want to be. Like all seasons, this will pass and there will come a time when I might make a different choice or even do something else, but for now, this is totally okay by me. And it’s totally okay to say that.


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Aspiring to minimalist living, or my version of it

While hardly a true minimalist, I do love having as few possessions as possible. Either it appeals to the OCD side of me, knowing that everything is “in order” and “sorted”, or I really don’t care all that much about material stuff. Maybe it’s a bit of both. In any case, this article inspired me so much that I went through my entire house one weekend in an effort to declutter. I came away with half a recycle bin full of paper, mostly my 5yo’s artwork from the past year, a bag of trash and three bags of stuff to donate to the Salvo’s.

As I unceremoniously dumped a bag of the kid’s kinder artwork into the recycle bin, I remembered this quote from the article about memories not being in things. So true – mine are mostly in my head and hard drive, and besides, I honestly don’t think I’ll miss that stuff.

I read an interview with Will Smith in Esquire about how his son Jaden only has one pair of shoes, three pairs of pants and five shirts. A part of me wonders if it’s really true, but I admire the aspiration behind it all the same. Disclaimer: I love Will Smith, I think he’s all round one of the coolest people on the planet.

I know I will never be able to survive on just 100 items or whatever it is that minimalists do, but this is my version of living a minimalist life and I’m trying my best dammit. Also, I suspect most minimalists are not raising a 5yo in their super compact and trendy abodes.


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The most important thing I’ve learned about priorities

“Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option,” said the very wise Maya Angelou.

This has probably been one of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn over the past couple of years. I imagine most people already know this, instinctively if not in so many words. But I’m loyal by nature – perhaps too much so – and it’s taken me far longer than it should have to realise this.

My loyalty means I will continue to make someone a priority because of what we experienced together once upon a time. It means I will remember the good times, and, on the basis of what was once good, defend someone who is no longer worth defending. It means I will keep on trying, even when it is apparent that the other person is not.

It meant… My loyalty meant… Because I can only hope that I’ve learned my lesson.


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An interview with Misty Copeland, the ballerina who’s changing not just the stage but the world

Totally meant to start on my work but I’ve been spending the past hour watching this Teen Vogue interview with Misty Copeland. The first time I heard about Misty was through this New York Times article. Since then, she’s been named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and is the first dancer in a generation to be on the cover of the magazine. Success stories like these fascinate me – people who break the mould, who overcome stereotypes and adversity to show others what could be possible if they would only look beyond their carefully (and stubbornly) constructed boxes.

Misty is a soloist with the American Ballet Theatre at 32, which is a lot older than most soloists are. She started ballet at 13, which is also way, way older than when most ballerinas start. Most people, myself included, would have gone, I’m too old to ever be a ballerina, it’s too hard, let’s start looking for another dream. Not that I’ve ever aspired to be a ballerina – little known fact: my mum sent me to ballet classes when I was about 6. I lasted a month.

I don’t envy Misty because I know how incredibly, unbelievably hard she works and the sacrifices she has to make. But I do admire her, and what she’s doing is just amazing.


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One year ago: One more star in heaven

One year on, you are remembered and cherished. You are missed. Every time I watch a show you enjoyed, every time I read about an actor you liked, every time something happens that, normally, before one year ago, I would have simply picked up my phone and texted you.

I often think of your big, big heart, your never-ending exuberance for life, and the way you brought a ragtag bunch of people together who otherwise wouldn’t be in each others’ lives the way we are. I guess what I’m trying to say is: you’re still an inspiration.

Much love, always.


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The culture of celebrity, by the actor who plays King Joffrey on Game Of Thrones

I don’t often get my nerd on these days, but this great talk on the culture of celebrity by Jack Gleeson, a.k.a. King Joffrey on ‘Game of Thrones’, was a great addition to my lazy Saturday. It also brought me right back to my uni days.


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