Another update!

Hello there! Long time, no speak. Yet again I have let this blog fall by the wayside a bit, but I can assure you there are very good reasons for doing so.

Last time I wrote, I was in the thick of my internship at the exquisitely ebullient little hub that is CityMag. I was there for about ten weeks in the end, researching and cold-calling and interviewing and tap tapping away on stories. That experience was a real eye-opener to the fast-paced world of journalism and really helped me sharpen my writing, as well as forcing me to not be so precious about how and what I write due to the speedy turnaround times for online publication. Funnily enough I ended up with a few articles about local eco-fashion businesses (read them here and here), which was really thought-provoking for me.

I’m most proud of the last couple of articles I wrote, which were way out of my comfort zone in terms of content and also presenting myself as a professional journo (which I guess you could say I am now… but more on that later). After a bit of a double-booking kerfuffle one afternoon, I was asked if I could help out by covering the launch of JamFactory‘s new furniture line. I thought I’d pop down to their Light Square workshops with a photographer, ask one of the designers a few quick questions and then just write up a very general, “LOOK AT THIS COOL STUFF” kind of article… But Josh and I arrived to find that we were in fact getting a bit of an exclusive sneak peek before the rest of Adelaide’s media, and that I’d get to interview all of the designers as well as Jon Goulder, Head of Furniture, and CEO Brian Parkes. No biggie. I was terrified but threw myself in anyway, and the article got a great response, even from JamFactory themselves, so that felt really lovely. Interviewing some of Adelaide’s best emerging health and medical professionals from SAHMRI was similarly daunting, but was also completely fascinating (all three women were what you might call “kick-ass”) and again, had a really positive outcome, with the article being shared on SAHMRI’s Facebook and other platforms.

Thanks to CityMag’s partnership with InDaily, some of the articles I wrote also got picked up for InDaily’s site, so I have a contributor page with them now (squee!) and also had quite a few pieces featured in their weekly emails. Yays! I miss popping into the office and seeing these charming folks on the reg., but I do have a contribution coming up in the next print edition of CityMag (014), so I still get to be part of it all – albeit from a bit further afield now.

The main thing that’s keeping me away from town geographically is that I’ve got a new job! I’m still doing the retail thing on weekends because it’s fun and I love my workmates and I kind of never want to leave them, but now I’m a proper employed editor person, which I’m still pinching myself about. Empire Times is the student magazine at Flinders Uni, where I’m completing the final semester of my highly-prized Arts degree (you’ll be glad when I save you from the robots). One of their 2016 editors, Simone, completed her Honours mid-year and as such could no longer be a student editor so they were on the lookout for someone to step in and wrap up the second half of the year (issues 43.6-43.10). I applied, I interviewed, I pitched my heart out, I got the job and I leapt straight into the deep end. Armed with my linguistic and journalistic know-how, one InDesign lesson and the support (and patience) of my co-editors Liam and Eleanor, I’m already well into the thick of things! Issues 6 and 7 have already been released, 8 is about to be printed and today we’re starting work on 9! People keep asking me what exactly we do as editors and the answer is basically everything except the actual printing: recruiting and liaising with contributors, editing, sub-editing, graphic design, distribution, social media, writing articles ourselves, producing content for our blog… the works! It’s a lot of work, but it’s work I take great pride in doing and which brings me a lot of satisfaction and even the occasional squealy moment of joy.

Also at Uni, I’m taking a Life Writing topic, for which I get to read and study some of my favourite authors like Helen Garner and Benjamin Law (Joe Cinque’s Consolation and The Family Law, respectively). I woke up in the middle of the night and scrawled through my journal like a woman possessed; my final piece for the topic spilled out of me like it had always been there waiting for the right moment. I’m looking forward to submitting it, and I may even share it on here down the track depending on how it goes.

On the side of all of this, I’ve been doing some freelance copyediting and copywriting as a sub-contractor for Little Bird PR & Communications, which has helped me hone a whole other set of writing-related skills. Producing copy for an exhibition is very different to writing a journalistic piece, as is reducing articles to 140-character Twitter posts. Each form has its own challenges, so combining them all keeps my overactive brain occupied.

I’ve also been reading a lot of Rookie (try this article here) and Lenny (especially this) and Darling (this was pretty inspiring) and Frankie (the cover art of their current issue is a dream) and Womankind (this story about the women of the Italian mafia was fascinating given my background of studying Italian), all of which are fabulous for reassuring myself that I’m on a promising path and that I am a perfectly flawed but full and whole human being. I recently spoke to some folks from Frankie at Finders Keepers markets and they were such darls and really encouraging, so that was a nice little moment.

So, what’s next? We Empire Times editors are heading to NYWF soon, which I’m hoping will basically just be a whole weekend of stimulating conversations and speeches and… well, just a whole lot of words really! I’ve tentatively agreed to do a spoken word piece at the next Speakeasy event on campus. I’ve got about 8 weeks left of my undergraduate degree and then who knows what’s next! I’m tossing up between a few options at the moment but am open to the possibilities, and feeling more and more comfortable with the unknown.

Until next time,

Lxx

 

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The problem with -spo

Trigger warning: Contains discussion of body image. Relates to mental heath, disordered eating and exercise patterns.

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Image of a print from Living Styles

I first encountered the -spo concept in the form of thinspo. As someone who (unfortunately) has wanted to lose weight for most of their life, I thought anything that would inspire me to exercise a little more enthusiastically or eat that little bit healthier could only be a good thing. And when you put it like that, yeah, it is. Sometimes we all need our butt kicked into gear a bit. The problem I found with thinspo was that it got very extreme very quickly. The messages went from “take care of your body” to “YOU NEED TO SEE BONES” in approximately 0.4 seconds. For a newly pubescent lil lady, it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Eventually, as I came towards the end of high school, fitspo came along. Now bones were okay but lean, mean, squatting machines were better. Again, the images and messages around fitspo varied greatly but reached pretty scary levels of obsessiveness (although, die-hard fitspo-ers would say that “obsessive is just a word that the lazy use to describe the dedicated”). For a young woman emerging from the cosy cocoon of high school, this was just another unreachable standard I felt the big wide world demanded of womanhood now.

And that’s the thing with -spo, regardless of whether it’s to do with your body or your home, your food, your children, your parties or your outfits: it sets the bar at an overwhelming height (I’m all of 5ft. tall, so perhaps this mental image is particularly scary for me). It seems so unreachable that you risk becoming obsessed with constantly bettering yourself and others at the expense of all else in your life. On the other hand, these images of perfection can seem so far from where you are that you become despondent and give up completely. I haven’t included any -spo images for this exact reason. I don’t believe they provide me, or anyone else for that matter, any deep or lasting benefit.

They’re also fleeting. They come flying at you: thick and fast and seemingly relentless. They’re in front of you for but a moment, but they can damage you for a long time. They are extreme, and they offer you nothing but an extreme reaction. Love or hate. Embrace or resent. Inspire or depress. They do not and cannot offer you any real support because they themselves are not real. They are far-removed from your life and may well be far removed from the way the people in them see their own lives too. We’re all guilty of presenting a brighter, shinier picture of our lives on the internet, and perhaps it’s worth thinking about the reality behind the -spo. Seek out real life connections with people whose values align with yours. Real life role models and mentors can offer you far more than any -spo could; they will show you the diversity of the meaning of ‘success’ and that complete ‘perfection’ does not actually exist. Appreciate what you have and do what you can with that. Be kind to yourself; from little things, big things grow. Be your own lifespo.

Lx

If any of the issues I’ve discussed in this post concern you, please reach out for support. There are fantastic services available if you are struggling with issues of mental health or body image.

For Australians:

And for South Aussies in particular (because I know you make up the majority of my readership):

When Lauren Met Clare

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This post, like many I write, has been a long time coming. Over a year ago I attended an afternoon tea/discussion arvo/performance hosted by the blissful Clare Bowditch and her Big Hearted Business (no really, that’s what it’s called). A big group of ladies and a smattering of gents (that’s the correct collective noun, is it not?) gathered at the Nexus Arts Centre. I had donned my favourite big blue coat, the one that makes me feel the snuggliest and sassiest and snazziest of all the coats. I was feeling the kind of uncomfortable apprehension that usually follows closely behind me when I attend events of an even vaguely networky nature. I had been ‘lost’ for about a year and was only just starting to find my feet. I was frustrated: intellectually, emotionally, creatively, socially. I was expecting a nice afternoon out with the best of all of my friends, my Mother, some pretty songs and a good cuppa. That’s exactly what I got, and then some.

Clare spoke eloquently and dreamily all at once. It was clear she was a woman with a soaring heart and a sharp mind to back it up. As she spoke about the need for creatives to hone their business brain and business folk to think more creatively, I furiously scrawled notes in my crisp new notebook. Some of my notes were quotes from Clare, but most were ideas that sparked off in my own mind from what she said. They weren’t all great ideas – in fact most of them were pretty terrible – but there were more than there had been in over a year and they were flowing freely. The creative floodgates were open; there was no going back.

Towards the end of Clare’s speech, she opened the discussion up to questions from the audience. I had so many, and they were swirling around so quickly that I could barely catch one. But I did, and I raised my hand tentatively. Eventually it was my turn, and I asked Clare the one question that had been underlying so many of my anxieties for so long: “Where do I start?” I’m a very expressive, creative type, but also a thinker. My head and my heart are often at odds and it was holding me back. I wanted to do it all, try it all, but couldn’t pin myself down to starting one particular thing. Clare beamed back at me and laughed a knowing laugh. She told me she could relate, and that she would answer me in song. This is that song.

You want an amazing life
But you can’t decide
You think you have to be fully formed already
Don’t you?
You want an amazing life
But you can’t decide
You do not have to be just one thing
But you have to start with something

I had to start with something. I knew that already, I think, but this was confirmation. This was me seeing through my fog and choosing to start. Rather than waiting for ‘inspiration’, I had to make conscious decisions to make little efforts in one direction. And so I did. I started jotting down phrases in notebooks with no real end goal, purely for the satisfaction of writing – creating something directly from the clash of heart and brain that was already going on. I started writing about my travels, and then when I came home I started this blog. The little words of encouragement from friends and strangers alike spurred me on, and soon I started submitted my writing elsewhere. I’ve had lots of love from the ladies who edited this year’s volume of On Dit in particular. They’ve published everything from an open letter to asylum seekers to cabaret reviews to a celebration of single lady-ness constructed entirely from Beyonce and Destiny’s Child lyrics. Because even as a writer, I know that I don’t have to be just one thing, but I had to start with something. And I started on that blustery winter’s day last year, with tears in the corners of my eyes and Clare’s words echoing in my mind. So really, I have Clare to thank, but also myself. Because those words were already there, they just needed to be spoken (or sung, in this case). I think that’s all we really need sometimes, don’t you?

Lessons of a Teetotaller

A few months ago, I decided to take up a challenge. An alcohol-free challenge, to be precise. Now, I’m not normally a big drinker (though I was for about my first year out of high school, but that’s a story for another time), nor is anyone in my family, so my reasons for giving up booze weren’t particularly urgent ones. More than anything, I suppose I was just curious to see just how hard it would be to give up something I didn’t think I was particularly attached to, to see how big a role it really played in my life.

So, I signed up for Hello Sunday Morning, an initiative that aims to change our drinking culture by encouraging people to pledge to go alcohol-less for a specified period of time. I chose three months, as I thought this would be tooootally do-able. “I don’t even drink very often anyway, so how hard could it be?”, I thought. Well, in some ways I was very right and in some ways I was very wrong. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt since becoming a short-term teetotaller.

1. So many social events are driven by alcohol. I was well aware that “Let’s catch up on Friday night” often really meant “Let’s go somewhere and spend all our money getting drunk!”, but I hadn’t realised just how many occasions called for a bevvie. High tea? With champagne, of course. Out for dinner? Would you like a matching wine with that? You’re having a baby? Let’s get pissed!

2. There is no such thing as a socially acceptable non-alcoholic alternative. Lemon lime and bitters is about as close as it gets (the amount of bitters in one totally doesn’t count, right?) but really, you can only really get through one on a night out before you get that furry-mouthed sugar-overloaded feeling (why do they always come in such massive glasses?!) Where are the mocktails, people? And why is it not okay for there to be mocktails? Surely there are other people out there who feel the same? Who want to go out of an evening and sip a refreshing beverage in a pretty, dressed-up glass but not get drunk..? What about the Muslim and Bahai and other religious communities that don’t drink? WHERE ARE THE MOCKTAILS?!

3. People are uncomfortable when you turn down a drink. “Oh, are you driving?” “No, just not drinking tonight.” They don’t know what to do. They will ask you again, and again, and again. “Are you sure you don’t want a chardonnay?” “Yeah, I’m still going on the gigantor lemon lime and bitters you thrust at me an hour ago when you declared, ‘Well you have to drink something’”.

4. People expect you to judge them. They will probably pay you back-handed compliments or casually throw in a joke about how awkward it is getting drunk around a sober person. But I don’t judge you. I really don’t. I’m not a born-again teetotaller, I’m not here to preach to you about how “I can see the light” or how much better your life would be if only you didn’t drink. Your body, your life, your choices. Seriously!

5. Social situations can be more awkward without that liquid confidence boost. I’mma be honest with this one; you can have just as much fun as your drinkin’ pals, but you’re probably going to have to work a bit harder at it (especially if you’re as socially anxious as I am).

6. Sunday mornings are great, and they’re especially great with a clear head and fresh eyes. But sometimes late party nights turn out great too (with or without alcohol). In fact, I can feel just as seedy after an alcohol-free late night as I can after a couple of bevs, so for me it’s a matter of moderation of alcohol and of late nights. Our current drinking patterns are doing us harm and we need to reassess how we, as individuals as well as collectively, view alcohol as an ‘all-or-nothing’ necessity to a night out.

7. You don’t have to choose sides, or stick with one once you’ve chosen. Unless you want to. As I said before, your body, your life, your choice. Just try not to be a dick about it (excuse my French), wherever you sit along the drinking spectrum.

So there you go, a collection of my feels during my three month alcoholic hiatus. I’m not sure if I’ll continue as a complete teetotaller or whether I’ll succumb to a glass of vino here, a cocktail there… But even if I do start drinking again, I’m determined that it will be in a more moderate, mindful way. Why don’t you give Hello Sunday Morning, or Ocsober, or Dry July, or some other initiative a go and see how your attitude towards drinking changes?

Lxx

Home is where the heart is

I love my little city, I really truly do. Being away for it for two months last year while I was travelling through Europe helped me realise that. Leaving Copenhagen airport, I realised that while I’d loved my time away, sometimes the best part of a holiday is coming home. And yeah, Adelaide is home.

What I hadn’t bargained for, however, was feeling so at home anywhere else on my travels. I thought that I would just be a tourist, an outsider, on the edge of all of these wonderful places, peering in. For the most part this held true. Most places I was just as content to leave as I was excited to arrive. Most places except one.

The land of Strindberg, ABBA, vikings, IKEA, the best seafood I’ve ever tasted, Bergmans (Ingrid and Ingmar, and I’m presuming many more), H&M, meatballs and lingonberry jam stole a little piece of my heart and I’m yet to get it back. You’d be justified in thinking that it felt so familiar because I have family there (seriously awesome family, might I add) who made me feel at home. I guess that is part of it, but there are plenty of places in the UK and even in Oz that equally as awesome members of my family live in and whilst I might feel at home with them, I don’t feel at home actually in their towns. Trudging through the cobblestoned streets of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan, sneaking into the back of a fisherman’s shop on the island of Orust to hold a ginormous lobster, strolling along the canal on a blustery afternoon in Gothenburg; these experiences were some of the many highlights of my time away and these places felt like home.

I’m so glad I got to spend some time in this most stunning part of the world with one of my best friends. I felt so grounded, so alive, so myself. Sweden, you’ve stolen a little bit of my heart. It’s okay, you can keep it, just as long as that means I can come back and see you again.

Lxx

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It’s Good to be Bad

The title of this post is in the same vein as “it’s hip to be square” but considerably less catchy and lacking a boppy 80’s Huey Lewis song. Regardless, I’m going to try and make it work. To give you a bit of context, we need to take a step back into my high school days. I was one of those annoying kids who, for most of my schooling, didn’t need to work all that hard to get by. I was a bit of an all-rounder: good at most things I turned my hand to but without a particular ‘calling’ or ‘special skill’. The only things I ever remember struggling with really badly were of a sporty nature (cheers for that, midget legs) and of course your run of the mill social issues (year five girls can be bloody cruel). In terms of learning and trying new things, I had a pretty cruisy time. I know, I know. Don’t worry, I even annoyed myself with that.

Of course, life outside the classroom demands a whole other set of tools. As I branched out of my safe little school bubble, I discovered new interests and pursued different types of study, jobs, relationships. You know what? Some of them I was good at, as I had gotten used to expecting. And some of them I have failed miserably at, be it through succumbing to my own self-doubt or actually just not being a natural chef/runner/conversationalist/biologist. It’s taken me a long time to get used to, but I’m learning just how good it is to be bad at stuff; to not ‘get it’ first go; to have to persist and chip away at something and maybe not see results for weeks or months or maybe not at all; to enjoy the attempt and the experience rather than the result/grade/tick on a checklist.

I no longer have the flexibility from my 10 years of dancing, but I enjoy the practice of Yoga and the mindfulness it awakes in me. I still cook pasta sauces that taste sweeter than your average dessert toppings and I’m still not great at keeping my room clean or parallel parking or using Microsoft Excel… The things worth remembering, worth holding onto, worth taking inspiration from are the little victories along the way. I can’t always control the outcome of things as much as I’d like, so I just have to go with it. As my soul sister J.K. Rowling once said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Tonight I went back and visited my high school’s Open Night. The news that I’m considering becoming a teacher was met with gasps and shrieks from my teachers, along with exclamations of, “Ohhh you’ll be great at that!” and “I’m so happy for you!” -all lovely responses and all justified considering my high school record. How I’m feeling about it, though, is quite different. I might very well become a good teacher, but I’m fully prepared to fail epically plenty of times along the way. That’s okay. That’s normal. That’s healthy. If I’m going to expect my students to persist through their mistakes and learn to love the process of learning, I’d better start practicing what I preach, right?

A Letter to My City

As you may have noticed, writing is an activity I find quite therapeutic. The focus it requires helps me clear my head of all the ‘stuff’ that I have going on in there and see things in a new light, or at least help me affirm how I feel about them. Sometimes when I’m struggling with something especially big and scary, or if I’m having problems connecting with a particular person in my life, I’ll get my thoughts out onto paper in the form of a letter. Recently, on returning home from my travels around Europe, I found myself with a bit of a case of post-travel-blues. I was happy to be home, sure, but the comforting cosiness of my little town felt claustrophobic and limiting and I was finding it difficult to feel settled again after my time away. So what did I do? I wrote a letter to my city. I thought it might be nice to share some of it here.

Dear Adelaide,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I hope you’ve been enjoying yourself while I’ve been gone. It certainly seems like you have! Cruising through your familiar framework of streets, I noticed you’ve gone and fancied yourself up a bit. New cafes (they seem to be all organic or burger places; what’s up with that?) and bars seem to have popped up all over the place. I see you’ve finally listened to at least one thing I was raving on about before I left and started to include some cool little arts spaces in your mini makeover too. Props for that one (pun intended)!

I don’t think your changes are entirely superficial though, are they? Something bigger’s going on here, I can feel it. Well, whatever happens, however you think you need to change, remember you don’t have to try and compete with the sleek, sprawling metropolis of Sydney or the quirky cool of Melbourne. You don’t have to copy the ‘big kids’; you can go your own way, babe. And you don’t have to figure out what your ‘thing’ is straight away. It could be your sumptuous food and wine, your unspoiled landscapes, your country town charm, your hidden laneway treasures, your festivals, your business start-ups, your sporting events, anything. It could be all or none of those things. Don’t rush to find it, it’ll happen. Try new things, make mistakes (you know how I feel about the debacle that is Rundle Mall) and figure it out as you go. You have time.

You’ve had a lot of people leave you over the years (myself included) for brighter lights in bigger cities. A lot of us come back, though. And even those who never do end up realising what a brilliant foundation you’ve laid in our lives so that we’re prepared for the glare of those brighter lights. Adelaide, you’re like a microcosm of the big scary world out there. You’ve taught me so much, not least of all that humble ambitions are no less valid than grand plans and that sometimes the safe path isn’t a cop-out, it’s looking after yourself. Now that I’m back, I’m committed to making the most of the rest of the time I have with you, however long that may be. I might come and go, like so many of the others before me. But you’ll always be ‘home’ to me and I know I’ll always be welcome.

My dear Adelaide, you’ve got a lot going on these days and a lot to be proud of, so don’t let those cocky Victorians tell you otherwise. Keep changing, keep growing, but don’t lose what makes you, you.

With love,
Lauren xx