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BEING HUMAN

the fire to stay human and the hope to stay alive

The “so how’s the book going” series: #3 finding my writing practice

I’m posting this a bit later than I intended because last week was taken up by one of my kids needing some emergency dental work. But I’m showing up now anyway for the sake of continuity.

For the entire month of May I managed to write almost daily for the first time in ages. This is a big deal for me because it means I have figured out a writing practice that works for me at this point in time. I find it hard to keep up with the flow of life and had slipped out of the practice. It is a big deal for you guys because it means the magic of your attention is working. At least, that is what I choose to believe.

It was not book writing but it was article writing on a topic I’ve wanted to explain to myself for a really long time. The original note to self about this sat in my Evernote folder since December 2015 under the title “unpaid work infographic”.

Even though the actual infographic turned out to be a shonky looking scribble I did by hand, the rest of what I had to say ballooned out to 6000 words which I didn’t quite mean to do but I wasn’t sure I could edit any further without losing the point of what I had to say.

Besides, I like reading long form articles and have pretty much resigned myself to producing long form articles even though the internet doesn’t like that very much. And this one felt like a manifesto for me to live, or the beginnings of one. Maybe the other things I have to say won’t be quite so wordy, it was feeling pretty unwieldy by the end of the process, or maybe I’ll just get better at expressing myself if I keep on trying.

In any case it was good to clear the channel of that thought. The post is here if you want to read about the value of unpaid domestic work and what I think needs to be done about it. I posted it on Medium as well as my own website because I love the look of Medium and there might be people there who want to read my stuff.

Now that my article/manifesto exists I find it somehow easier to remember to advocate for my own time and my writing. There has just always been something magic for me in putting words to paper, it really crystallises things for me. Even more so, when I’m trying to make it make sense for other people too.

It reminds me of the reality (that women still do the majority of the work at home even when they work out of the home too), the world I’d rather live in (one where assuming shared responsibility of the housework is natural to everyone) and the ways I can begin building that world in my own home (by actively working against the ways I’ve learnt to just do everything myself).

What was useful about committing myself to completing this article was it gave me a focal point which forced me to figure out a way around distractions. While my job search languished at a standstill with my limp resume doing me no favours, the act of writing the article made me more and more adamant about insisting that everyone pull their weight. So all I was left with was figuring out how to consistently manage my internal distractions and focus on writing.

Finally, finally, through making myself stick with this article I have useful data about the conditions I need, internal and external, to be able to concentrate on writing as though it is my job (one day I hope it will be).

I’ve always known I needed a routine and wasted lots of my life trying to perfect one on paper before actually testing it out. Also, life is always shifting, especially with kids and when you own a business, so whenever I would come up with something I thought could work, something would show up to throw everything off course.

I spent years writing late at night, I’ve tried writing first thing in the morning before anyone woke up, I’ve tried doing little bits at a time and I’ve tried forcing myself to sit for hours trying to produce something. This past month I found out that my very best hours are the morning ones, straight after the kids have left the house.

I made a decision to protect the child-free hours I have as though writing is already my job. This took a bit of brain training but what helped was making a list of everything I need to get done and allocated it to either the morning or the evening hours when I’m with the kids.

I was doing my workout at 9.30 am previously, which meant I was effectively wasting my best hours for mental work, on physical activity. Instead, I switched to an afternoon class which is when I am more or less brain dead anyway and never get anything done. Working out at this time also helps me to be more alert and more relaxed and patient for the evening routine with the kids.

Finally, I employed all sorts of tricks to manage the way my mind would wander even if the house was completely clean, the door was shut to my husband working in the other room, the kids were in school and I was at my most mentally alert. What I learnt was that every day, resistance shows up in a different form, so I needed different strategies depending on the day.

Some days it was enough to just be ready to write. Other days I needed apps to block the internet. Quite often it helped to use a timer and write to the clock. I’d also switch between hand writing and typing depending on whether I was expressing myself or fleshing out an idea. And some days, no matter what I did I would end up with 17 tabs open and those were the days that taking a nap or getting out of the house was all I could do.

The main thing that was different this month though, was that every single day I showed up and found a way. Along the ways I found, I took notes about what worked for safe keeping. What I also realised is that the more I write, the more I can write. Which seems weird. But it was how it worked for me. Writing out my thoughts alongside writing something to share seems to help everything move easier.

After getting through the cycle of writing a thing, putting it out there and dealing with the internal freak out of having exposed myself, I gave myself a couple of days to just relax and do other things. Distraction, fear, resistance are nifty creatures however and the couple of days turned into a whole week. Then we had the whole dental emergency last week too which distracted me.

So right now I am here to re-instate the cycle and start all over again. What I remember from the last month’s efforts was reassuring. It showed me that as hard as it is to start a new habit, it really does become easier to do than not do after a few days of consistent effort. But the opposite is also true: not doing it so easily becomes a habit too.

The next time I publish something I will try going straight onto the next thing rather than having a break so that distraction can’t get a foot in.

The other thing I want to do is to use the past month of daily writing as a template for the book writing too. There is no reason why I can’t be writing daily on some shorter piece and then also having a daily book session as well. It’s just fear and resistance and floppy executive functions. I know this is obvious, but on the ground, with all the distractions and an uncooperative human body and brain, it can seem impossible. 

That’s what these updates are for. For me to talk through why I’m not doing the thing I said I want to do and to re-adjust and keep my eye on the prize. Here’s hoping that the next book update is one that is actually about the book.

The best explanation ever for what we do all day

“You don’t even work!” he yelled.
 
I hadn’t heard those four little words for a while. When I heard them recently they dug deep and remained there, a question mark hooked into my brain matter. Even though I knew he didn’t mean it the question mark didn’t leave me alone.
 
Fair enough that he thinks I don’t work, I thought, he’s never been in my position, he doesn’t get it.
 
But what about me? Why do *I* sometimes think it too?
 
I knew that what I did in the home was a core part of the social structure that enabled my husband to even work at all. I knew that the unpaid work I did in the house was real work. I knew it in my head, but I realised with my nose scrunched up, I didn’t truly believe it.
 
How did I end up with this perception that only paid work had any value? I’ve never believed that money is the only measure of value. Yet I was carrying around a conflicting myth that my life so far had no value.
 
And I knew it was because I’d spent most of my adult life as a stay at home mother.
 
When filling out forms I usually stated that I didn’t work, for simplicity’s sake. In conversation I usually ended up saying I hadn’t really done anything with my life yet. And feeling apologetic for it.
 
Friends would exclaim “but you’ve had four children!” and take pains to cajole me into seeing the value of the work that I’d undertaken raising them. It’s not that I didn’t think raising four kids and running a household was worth doing, I’d grown pretty attached to the whole package. It’s that I didn’t feel like that work actually counted – to society.
 
I had absorbed the idea that there was more dignity and worth in scrubbing someone else’s toilets for money, than in scrubbing your own toilets.
 
Like many women who “didn’t work” I struggled with both the burden and the invisibility of unpaid work in the home.
 
There must be a way to quantify the unpaid work of the home, I thought. I wanted to stop depending on others to see what I do as valuable. I wanted to convince myself of the value of the unpaid work I’ve done for the last 16 years.
 
What exactly do you mean by unpaid work anyway?
 
The simplest definition of unpaid work is “activity which involves all the essential tasks done in and in relation to the home”. Meals, laundry, hygiene, tending to the space and caring for the dependents*.
 
(*I use the word dependent rather than children because they’re not necessarily always children. No judgement, just fact.)
 
To understand the unpaid worker’s perspective, we have to accept that there are things you only notice when you are the one doing it. Our work isn’t invisible because people are arseholes or set out to take advantage of others. It’s how it is with any kind of work – it’s impossible to know what it is like from within unless you’ve had experience with it. All the more when it is not measured, quantified or paid for.
 
It is safe to say that this is a fair, accurate and not exaggerated list:
 
– Unpaid work is work that gets noticed when it is neglected.
– Unpaid work maintains normalcy, restores order and supports forward movement, growth and harmony.
– Unpaid work wreaks havoc on the internal, external and professional well-being of the person who takes on the role.
– Unpaid work is undervalued.
– Unpaid work is assumed to be “something that mothers do”.
– Unpaid work is losing it’s identity as women’s work in theory but in practice it defaults to women.
– Unpaid work is work you are expected to do while sick, injured, on your day off from your ‘real’ job, on weekends and, get this, on vacation.
 
I am a person who has observed this role for a decade and a half. I have been in this role for as long as I have been an adult and I have burnt myself out for it many candles over. I don’t have grand plans to tear down The Patriarchy. All I want is to write before the sea of unpaid work drowns out my fire, for good.
 
I believe that unpaid work in the home is right on the cusp of shifting from being women’s work to simply being work.
 
We just need a little push to get there, as a society.
 
I don’t think women can afford not to figure out a way out of the lingering cultural hostage situation that is the assumed gender of unpaid work.
 
I don’t think the world can afford it either.
 
What do the statistics tell us about this type of work?
 
What the statistics tell us is that we haven’t measured household work for the last 11 years. The last time-use survey happened in 2006 so we have no idea what’s been going on in the home for over a decade. All our figures are from before Instagram scrolling even existed as a pastime. So I’m going to assume then that my guess about the situation today in 2017 is as good as anyone’s.
 
They tell us that the most accurate form of measuring unpaid work is this diary-based time-use survey. This is ‘internationally accepted best practice’ which Australia used to be good at doing it but doesn’t really feel like doing at the moment. Our top statisticians are ok with relying on each individual’s assessment of what they do with their time as being a satisfactory indicator of what they are actually doing. So I assume I can also trust my time use diary which has been a daily musing on ‘how the hell do I get everything done?’ is data enough for the purposes of this post.
 
They tell us that the way unpaid work is valued is by using an ‘individual function replacement cost’ method to estimate the value. This method assigns value to the time spent on unpaid work according to what it would cost to pay someone else to do the job. For example, time spent on gardening is valued at the rate of pay for a commercial gardener. Seems fair enough.
 
They tell us that unpaid work is still the domain of women, even the ones who have entered the workforce. Huh. More women than men performed household work in 1997 – 96% compared with 85%. They also spend more time on these activities than men – 287 minutes per day compared with 170 minutes per day. So, household work consumed almost one third of women’s waking hours and one fifth of men’s.
Who is doing the housework? Here are the figures:
 
Even women who work are still doing more unpaid work than men. This tells us that this isn’t some sort of logistical challenge and it isn’t staying the way it is because “men work”. It is much more likely that we need to consciously reassign the work at home. More on that in a minute.
 
They tell us that unpaid work is actually more than one activity according to the ABS. Alongside your primary activity there is “something else you were doing at the same time”. This is called your secondary activity. Secondary activities basically consist of all the stuff you’re trying to get done while the kids interrupt you.
 
When taking secondary activities into account, the time a parent spends on childcare increases but the overall trends do not change.
 
For example, in couple families in which both parents were employed, fathers spend an average of 28 hours a week on child care (compared with 8 hours as a primary activity), while mothers spent over 57 hours a week (compared with 19 hours).
[2006 time-use survey]
 
This doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. Just that the things you try to do while looking after kids, take longer than they otherwise would. Also, that mothers still spend double the time that fathers do, being interrupted by their kids while trying to get some other unpaid work accomplished slower than they otherwise would.
 
A little bit of a thought exercise
 
Looking at data and statistics across millions of people can be pretty dry and dull. When I was looking into this I wanted to see if there was a way of putting a dollar figure to the unpaid work done in the home.
 
So I thought about the types of things I and many others do when they are responsible for the invisible work of the home. I’d spent many years trying to figure out how to do it all while looking after four children. Running a household. Making regular meals from scratch wherever possible. Cleaning, oh so much cleaning. Tidying. Sorting through the assorted paraphernalia of the lives of six different people. I had so many lists of things to do.
 
I paired groups of items with the most workable role in the workforce today. This is so that we can get an idea of what that role is worth in the terms that society understands: in dollar figures.
 
While thinking through this list we’re keeping in mind that the average unpaid worker can stay in pyjamas all day. But they also have no formal sick or holiday leave and can’t usually completely quit these roles without finding a suitable replacement. And they don’t get paid.
 
Obviously it is not exactly the same thing, which is why this is just a thought exercise. But we can get a feel for the task load of the average unpaid worker, while also getting a rough idea of it’s value in the paid workforce.
 
Let’s go.
 
Do you often find yourself:
  • preparing materials and equipment for children’s education and recreational activities?
  • managing children’s behaviour and guiding children’s social development?
  • preparing and conducting activities for children?
  • entertaining children by reading and playing games?
  • supervising children in recreational activities?
  • supervising the daily routine of children?
  • Tending to or supervising the hygiene of children?
  • planning and structuring both indoor and outdoor learning environments using a variety of materials and equipment to facilitate children’s development?
  • providing a variety of experiences and activities to develop motor skills, cooperative social skills, confidence and understanding?
  • promoting language development through story telling, role play, songs, rhymes and informal discussions held individually and within groups?
  • observing children to check progress and to detect signs of ill health, emotional disturbance and other disabilities?
  • observing nutritional health, welfare and safety needs of children and identifying factors which may impede their progress?
  • discussing children’s progress with teachers and other caregivers?
  • participating in community and family activities as appropriate?
Then you’re performing the work of a full time, live in nanny/childcare worker who earns an average weekly wage of $800 before tax.
 
Do you ever find yourself:
  • vacuuming carpets, curtains and upholstered furniture?
  • sweeping, mopping, waxing or polishing tiled, vinyl, timber or concrete floors?
  • tidying rooms, emptying wastepaper bins, removing refuse and recyclable material?
  • cleaning, disinfecting and deodorising kitchens, bathrooms and toilets?
  • dusting, cleaning and polishing furniture and other homewares?
  • cleaning windows and other glass surfaces?
  • cleaning the interior of buildings and the immediate outside areas?
  • dusting and polishing furniture, fixtures and fittings?
  • picking up rubbish, emptying bins, and taking contents to waste areas for removal?
  • replenishing items such as groceries, clothing, linen, stationary etc?
  • stripping and making beds, and changing bed linen?
  • picking up, sorting, washing, drying, ironing and mending linen and clothes?
Then you’re performing the work of a full time domestic cleaner/housekeeper who earns an average weekly wage of $909 before tax.
 
Do you ever find yourself:
  • cleaning kitchens and food preparation areas?
  • cleaning cooking and general utensils?
  • transferring groceries to fridge, freezer, pantry and storage?
  • assembling and preparing ingredients for cooking, and preparing salads, savouries and sandwiches?
  • packing food and beverage for consumption outside of the house?
  • cooking, toasting and heating simple food items?
  • planning menus, estimating food and time costs, and ordering or procuring food supplies?
  • monitoring quality of dishes at all stages of preparation and presentation?
  • preparing and cooking food?
  • explaining and enforcing hygiene rules?
  • freezing and preserving foods?
  • examining foodstuffs to ensure quality?
  • regulating temperatures of ovens, grills and other cooking equipment?
  • portioning food, placing it on plates, and adding gravies, sauces and garnishes?
  • storing food in temperature controlled facilities?
  • preparing food to meet special dietary requirements?
  • planning menus and estimating food requirements and cost?
  • training other kitchen staff and apprentices?
Then you’re performing the work of both a kitchen hand AND a personal cook/chef who earns a combined average weekly wage of $1775 before tax.
 
Do you ever find yourself:
  • liaising with other family members on matters relating to the family’s operations or individual member’s lives?
  • Researching, preparing correspondence and other routine documents?
  • maintaining files and documents?
  • attending meetings and acting as secretary as required?
  • maintaining appointment diaries and making travel arrangements?
  • processing incoming and outgoing mail?
  • screening telephone calls and answering inquiries?
  • taking and transcribing dictation of letters and other documents?
  • taking care of household pets and plants, receiving visitors, answering telephones, delivering messages, and shopping for groceries?
Then you’re performing the work of a personal assistant who earns an average weekly wage of $1150 before tax.
 
You still with me? It’s a lot, I know.
 
And then there is this whole OTHER category.
 
There are many other hats that unpaid workers wear in the house. None of us is equal in our strengths and what we bring to our home life. Some of us also have green thumbs and some of us are guns in the kitchen. But most of us are performing at least one other role which fits into the other category. Here is a list of possible roles you are quite likely also performing, on top of all the above.
 
– life coach/therapist
– personal shopper/stylist
– bookkeeper
– gardener
– dietician
– nutritionist
– mental health advocate
– physical health advocate
– seamstress
– interior designer
– taxi driver
– professional organiser
– travel agent
– research assistant
 
None of these are accounted for in my statistics, it is an “other” category. Optional. So bear that in mind if you are currently beating yourself up for your perceived unworthiness when you browse Pinterest. When you thought to yourself “but I DON’T polish the furniture” or when you cringed while dodging yet another request from the school to volunteer, remember one thing.
This is all the equivalent of unpaid overtime.
 
Inside the average unpaid worker is a hidden squad, an invisible, domesticated Spice Girls, worth about a quarter of a million dollars per year
 
When we’re talking about unpaid work, we’re talking about the work of one person (usually a woman) that is equal to five+ roles which when combined and quantified in the world outside the home, average close to a quarter of a million dollars per year in savings.
 
I know this is a big claim to make. But this is what it feels like to be a real life unpaid worker, this is their hidden value to their family and I got to this figure without taking much of a different angle to the ABS method.
 
These are conservative figures on purpose. I’ve used average weekly earnings and for simplicity’s sake combined the kitchen hand and cook/chef into one role. This isn’t a comprehensive statistical model of the life of the average unpaid worker. But it’s the most relatable one I could think of which is also accurate enough to make a point.
 
The point is to make sense of our reality. In a way that we can explain in the heat of the moment to a skeptical audience and in dollar figures. I want to provoke the things that society needs to start saying. Things that light a fire inside of the average unpaid worker for her own under-appreciated, decimated personal life trajectory. Before it’s too late.
 
And not only that. That we can believe in. We can’t quite articulate it when talking about ourselves but we know we’re fulfilling all these roles and then some. Apply this idea to someone you do not hate, because otherwise you’ll be judging her output with a fine-tooth comb. I bet you would believe that she is fulfilling at least these roles and then some.
 
I know at least five other actual real women right now who are performing these roles to a standard that is functionally useful.
 
I know another handful who are performing these roles to a standard that is off the charts wizard activity but they might cry themselves to sleep at night, so I’m not sure they’re sustainable models.
 
The mere mortals among us might not be doing it to the level of a professional but its five+ roles and all for free! How productive would you be if I piled on four extra roles for you to perform without pay?
Remember that video prank where they spoke to people for the job role that was actually the description of a motherEveryone got the point of the joke – this workload is unconscionable anywhere but in the home.
 
We’re doing pretty damn well switching between five+ roles and keeping people alive at the same time. This is the reason we’re all so tired, cranky and irritable. We definitely do work.
And we’re most definitely NOT making a quarter of a million dollars per year from it. It is not realistic for one person, full stop.
 
Through cultural osmosis, from watching TV, from how our parents talk or their parents talk, we’ve absorbed the idea that unpaid work in the home is our role. We’ve assumed that unpaid work is a part of who we are and we’re distracted from who we really are not only by the work itself, but by the guilt that we’re not doing enough of it and we’re not doing it well enough.
 
An aside, because it is sure to come up: No. The gift of being a mother is not compensation enough.
 
Unless you are five different people living in seperate apartments who get together for cocktails on their days off to discuss their autonomous choices – it’s not the same thing.
 
If I’m describing your life here too, remember, your five people are all YOU.
 
Yes. This is why you’re feeling a little crazy.
 
The conclusion I’ve come to is that in real monetary terms we’re actually worth a packet.
 
But this situation is unsustainable. It is unrealistic and unhealthy on a personal, societal and spiritual level. 
 
How do you do it?!
Everyone asks women who juggle the house, the kids and any kind of other activity on top of that, ‘how do you do it?!’
 
We’ve all either heard this question or had this question. It’s meant as a compliment. Always with a raised eyebrow, any time you look like you’re not falling apart at the seams. It is because we’re all still trying to figure out how to do it.
 
I’m here to tell you, there’s no point in trying to do something so plainly impossible. Nobody can do it. We need a different mission.
It took me a while to even write this post in part because of my unpaid work duties and the constant struggle to do anything else. But when I got past the self-doubt embedded in my gender, like a virus that hides in the operating system?
 
Hunkering down to look at the maths made me realise my gut instinct has been right all along. This gig is a sham.
 
I know this is a heteronormative point to make but there is a reason there is a famous article entitled “I want a wife”. It’s symbolism holds truth.
 
We didn’t stop doing so much around the house when we started working for pay because it was assumed we can handle it. And it was assumed because we continued to put all our energy into figuring out how to handle it.
  
Our predecessors put in a massive effort getting societal attitudes to the point where women can work, vote and enter the public domain. They figured out what we want (equality) and why we want it (duh), but nobody told us how to actually do it. If they did I missed it during the last 15 years of unpaid work. 
 
There is a very simple reason for this. They were making big sweeping societal changes that addressed the what and the why. What worked then isn’t what is going to work now. We’ve got to make personal changes because the how is always personal. What works for one person and their family isn’t what works for another.
 
The fact is, the mission of our generation is figuring out the how.
 
We do have a voice. We do have the ability and the rights to make different choices about how we live. We have to both release ourselves from doing too much, while requiring those around us to begin doing more. But to do that we have to ask different questions.
It’s not about figuring out how to do it all anymore. It is about getting other people to do more. 
How are we going to convince anyone who isn’t a woman to do more of the unpaid work?
 
This is what I know so far about challenging an unconscious assumption that underpins much of society:
 
Making adjustments to social norms is always going to be uncomfortable for people who are fine with things the way they are, because they are the ones who will be inconvenienced by the changes.
 
But it is a broken system when it is built on the ruins of one person’s hopes, dreams and personal resources. We can’t just not change it because it inconveniences someone but it can be intimidating to let someone know you intend to change their status quo. If we can get clear on what matters to us, then we can access the inner fire to deal with the push back from those around us.
 
The obvious thing is that women need to do less of the work in the house and expect others to do more of the work. We do need men and children to get on board at home. There isn’t a quick solution to getting them to do things that up until this point they never had to concern themselves with.
 
I’ve been watching this play out throughout the rise of social media. It is obvious that nothing changes through whinging about men or children and going on strike. Nor does it change by treating those with time to themselves with suspicion and elevating ourselves for taking on more than we can handle. Or vice versa. Both ends of that spectrum only create further division between people while delaying the re-distribution of labour.
 
The best way to convince someone to engage with the reality on the ground is to have an attitude that matches it. We’re not doing anyone any favours in the long run by letting the unpaid work they create remain invisible to them. There are few spheres of life where people are not expected to be a team player or at the very least, pick up after themselves. Even tiny children in creche know how to pack up a room when they hear the pack up music playing.
 There is no reason for the burden of unpaid work to be contained in the head of one person. There’s literally no reason that person has to be female (obvious exceptions are pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding so don’t get on my case about that, it’s a whole other topic). The reality is that unpaid work in the home is a normal part of life, for everyone. Everyone who creates the work, should be doing the work.
It is a formidable task to focus only on what we are responsible for but we’re only responsible for our attitude to this work and for asking for what we want. We’re not responsible for their reactions. We’re not responsible for their emotions about it. And we’re not responsible for the inconveniences that this reality check brings. Even though we often love these people we’re talking about.
In a world that proliferates with quick fixes, divisive language and short term gratification, long term societal change on this mundane level hardly rates a mention. But what we’re talking about, at the root of this, is a more functional home as the norm. If that isn’t something to strive for, I don’t know what is.
 
How do we adopt an attitude that promotes work in the home as ‘a normal part of life’?
 
By putting all our energy into transforming our own relationship to unpaid work in the home so that our ambitions can take a front seat.
 
Every family will have a different distribution of things that people do in the home. If you’re happy in a traditional gender role or you’re in a phase of life where it makes the most sense, I’m not speaking up as an assault on your way of life. If you’re stuck in a situation where there is no way to do the things I’m advocating, I’m not speaking up to make your lot in life harder. I’ve been there and I get it.
 
This attitude change is not about prescribing a particular way of dividing work in the home. It is about how we rationally and successfully adjust things when there is one person who feels that they do an unfair proportion of the work at home. It is about encouraging people to override traditional roles if they want to, because we can.
 
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell discusses work satisfaction. He says that for work to be meaningful it has to have autonomy, complexity and a clear link between effort and reward. I realised that finding personal ways of unhooking gender from unpaid work in my home makes the role of unpaid worker into a meaningful one for me.
 
Who would you be if you weren’t caught up in the Bermuda triangle of dishes, laundry and meal prep? I know I’d be much further along in my book. I’d also be more myself, happier and less stressed. To have autonomy in this work we have to realise we do actually have a choice to do this work to an extent and in a way that suits us and our current energy levels for it.
 
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to become more organised before I was ready to drop my standards. Today I’m in a situation where I have streamlined my chores enough that I have the entire school day free to write. I did this by caring less about things that weren’t essential, becoming more efficient and delegating tasks to everyone else in the house.
 
This required radically dropping my expectations for myself in the home and getting honest with myself about what I really wanted to do with my one wild life. As I put it to a writer friend, “would you rather be able to say that you had a clean kitchen all year or that you finished your book this year?” Or, as Tiffany Dufu says it in her book Dropping the Ball, “I expect far less of myself and far more of my husband than the average woman.”
 
The men I’ve observed are skilful at identifying what work around the house they are willing to call their own. It is about identity and we can learn from them but first we have to untangle who we are from what we do in the house. Even if we’ve become very good at it and society tells us it’s what we should be doing – our unpaid work is not our identity.
 
This then gives us the necessary distance to decide like men do, what we want to do in the house and to negotiate it. Managing teamwork is an inherently more complex task than letting life be a groundhog day of chores over and over. But it isn’t possible to do this until we know in our guts that the state of the house is not a reflection of our worth.
The state of our homes is actually a reflection of our progress in establishing a new social order on a microcosmic level. No one said the revolution had to be tidy. 
 
We’ve all resorted to ‘I’ll just bloody do it myself’ and I don’t blame us, because it can seem like an impossible change to make. But if we want things to change we have to give up that response. We have to steady ourselves for standing our ground otherwise our families will always call our bluff.
 
They will never have a reason to make an effort if they know you’re going to swoop in if they do it poorly enough. Instead we have to train ourselves to stand seeing things undone about the house. We have to accept the challenge of reminding people of their tasks. We have to get skilled at deflecting the tasks we’ve decided are no longer ours.
 
The smartest thing I did in my resistance was to keep the jobs I really cared about seeing done well, for myself. This made me much more patient with the societal change I was bringing about in my house. It didn’t bother me that much if the quality of the work I did hand over to them was affected while they got used to doing it.
 
Earlier this year, I completely lost my cooking mojo after doing it single-handedly for 16 years. So I stopped. I bought a heap of frozen food and easy food to make and I stopped. I knew my husband would cook if he got hungry. I didn’t mind that he over-seasoned the food at first because I cared more about not having to do it. Gradually, he learned and improved. 
 
It takes time and patience but the rewards from this kind of effort in the home is so much more satisfying than the momentary pride of having all the rooms in the house clean at the same time for exactly 30 seconds before it gets messed up and you have to start all over again.
 
When our kids get better at doing things they didn’t do before, the first time they do it without complaining, or being reminded, is a huge step toward building the kind of world we want to live in.
 
When your partner adjusts and begins to see it as no big deal, or when someone else in the house learns to cook because you’ve stepped back it’s a satisfying feeling of support and camaraderie.
 
When you fall ill and for the first time everything continues on pretty much as normal without you needing to bark instructions from bed, it is sweet relief.
 When you call out that it’s time for a family cleaning blitz, switch off the screens and turn on the music, and everyone seems almost convivial about something that once elicited loud groans – it really is worth the effort to train them to see housework as a normal part of life – for everyone.
Stepping back, biting my tongue and making myself obsolete in the house, one little task at a time, to the point where I could actually leave for a few days without stressing out about what will happen at home, is a worthy trade-off in my mind.
 
The greatest reward, to me, is in knowing that one day all my children will be carrying forward this attitude. That as a direct result of my training, less women in the future will be expected to do, or expect of themselves, ridiculous levels of unpaid work in the home.
 
A movement to unhook gender from household work
 
“A movement happens when people are inspired by somebody, but they do it themselves. You don’t wait for someone else. You do it yourself. I think we just need each other’s company and support. I don’t think we need one person. We need a cell. There’s always a certain number of people who are thinking the same thing you are, so it kind of coalesces. And they can’t fire me! So this is a good thing. Movements need a certain number of people who can’t be fired.”
~ Gloria Steinem for Esquire Magazine
 
There is a lot that needs to change in the world. But if there is one thing whose time has come, it is a movement to unhook gender from household work. I started moving in this direction in my own home because I had a burning desire to write. But it was also because I knew if I didn’t shift some of this stuff off my plate, it would extinguish my fire. Permanently, I feared.
 
In theory, most people agree with equality. But in our homes, we know it still remains women’s work for the majority. People will argue with this and this is great because it leaves them with two options. They can either do more household work and make sure that wily feminists can’t claim that it is still women’s work. Or they can argue that it actually should remain women’s work and prove why this post is in no way redundant in 2017.
 
Our job now is to overcome this burden on the micro level and we’re the only ones who can. We are the circuit breakers. If there is a place where we have the power to interrupt this cycle of women’s work, it is in our homes. This isn’t something we can take to the streets and protest. This is a more refined protest. It is a nuanced mission requiring patience and steely determination.
 
We hold the power to change this world where assumed servitude puts out the fire of women while pitting loved ones against each other over bin night.
 
We’re the ones who can build a different world where families are team members working to shape functional members of society who go on to make more functional families.
 
How do we do this?
 
That is a question I am on fire about finding answers to. This is why I wrote this manifesto. I wanted to share my thoughts with you, but also, to make sure I don’t forget.
 

I want household work created by the people of the house done by the people in that house.

 
That’s it! That’s the tweetable! No biggie.
 
 
‘You won’t know yourself!’
 
Oh but you will and that’s the whole point.
The revolution is not yet complete.
Women still accept this state of affairs where it matters: in their homes.
 
When people find out we’ve managed to barter a bit of time to do something with our lives, we still laugh amicably when they warn us that we won’t know ourselves.
 
We still accept this unspoken warning that to know ourselves is risky, selfish or dangerous to the status quo.
 
The warning is correct: it is risky, selfish and dangerous to the status quo for women to know themselves.
 
But if status quo is shit for us, why would we continue propping it up with our very lives?
 
To begin to fix this broken system, one microcosmic home at a time, what we need the most is women who are clear on the value of what they do all day and supported to burn bright with the fire of their most personal ambitions. 

The “so how’s the book going” series: #2 Distraction

 

This past month has been defined largely by distraction. Today is my very first child-free day in April. Which slightly bewildering, how is that even possible? School holidays, travelling with kids, public holidays, it all just rolled into one big ball of one thing after another. Obviously I love my kids, but they’re distracting. Obviously I love going on holiday, who doesn’t. But it is distracting.

You’re not supposed to let that kind of stuff distract you. If you’re ambitious at all, you’re not supposed to let anything distract you. You’re supposed to have laser sharp focus, and do the thing you say you want to do, every day, for at least an hour. Fuck! I don’t currently have that much control over my ability to focus. I can hyper focus. The other day coming off jet lag I couldn’t sleep and I cleaned for four hours at 4 am. But I can’t predict when this will happen, or that I will be thinking about the book when it sets in.

Everyone likes to tell you, and I am the worst culprit of this, that it is all about routine, about building a habit, about just sitting down and shutting the door and just writing. Of course it is exactly like that but doing that is HARD. I wish I could say that it is harder for *me* but all my problems are everyhuman’s problems.

So instead of sucking it up and working on the book, that only I care if I do it anyway, like I truly care about it, I’ve been immersed this month in writing a long post about the precise way it IS harder for me to just sit and do the work. Which might seem counter-intuitive but it is all a process. Trust me. The book will get written much easier once I write this.

Also, once I get this off my chest, I will have killed my personal demon of “what do you do all day?” once and for all. As well as created kryptonite for anyone who has ever seethed inarticulately with rage in response to that question too. That feels pretty noble. It’s probably just a distraction. But it is an important one.

Another thing that has been distracting this month has been hitting the point in my life where I can no longer legitimately put off getting a job. I don’t know if the whole theme of the book I’m writing – being an adult – is rubbing off on me but I’ve been trying to get my head around our accounts for a while now and I can’t lie to myself anymore.

Like many overgrown children on the planet, we’ve been spending more money than we have. Hence: CREDIT CARD DEBT. Even after whittling down expenses in an emergency crack down the hard truth is nigh. The business we’ve worked so hard to build doesn’t cover all our expenses. So we need a second income.

Sarah needs to get a job. At first, of course I had a tantrum about this. But then the idea kind of grew on me. It should be distracting but it’s actually galvanising. In realising that I refuse to look for anything other than waitressing or cleaning jobs, I’ve realised just how committed I am to this writing gig. I would much rather do something I know I am good at, takes relatively little brain power and keeps me on my feet all day (to counter all the butt in chair time I dream of coming home to).

Besides, the irony is not lost on me that I will earn more dignity and dollars doing the exact same thing outside of the house than that which I do within the house for free.

My mother was trying to give me encouragement about how I can go back out into the workforce after essentially having less than a year’s experience in paid work over the last 15 years (since having my first child) and I think she had a glimmer of hope that I’d perhaps find myself a nice office job and stop mooching off of her so much.

But this was just further fuel for my devotion to doing exactly what I came to this world to do. I am sitting here doing this today out of sheer panic that the impending loss of many writing hours has put me into. Of course I regret squandering the time I once had. Suddenly, I value my own time, because it is about to disappear.

I am committed to this writing thing. It is the only thing that makes sense to me. I might be 50 before I publish anything. I might not overcome my issues around distraction and I may never figure out how to actually build a daily writing habit. But I know one thing. I am here to write. And my job choice will slot in around and reflect that. Not because of some romantic ideal about making it big. Just because at this point there isn’t anything else for me. Also when people ask me what I do I can say I work the floor or I clean floors and avoid having to talk about writing at all, which is always awkward.

Now that I am back in my studio and sitting at my desk writing, I wanted to get this update done so I can log something to remember later. One of the biggest distractions for me, besides the internet, the state of the house, that beeping sound outside, my phone, the way the tag on my dress is rubbing against my skin, and how my relationship is going, is remembering to just get started and write.

Today I did some catch up housework. I had a lunch of leftovers and chatted to my husband. I put a bunch of things from the holidays away. I listened to a webinar about budgeting. I wrote in my journal. I showered. And as I was showering, I was thinking how all I have to do now is sit down to write. All I have to do is ensure that on the path from showering and getting dressed, to sitting with fingers atop keys on my laptop, that I am not deterred by anything. I am making sure I am bypassing the waitbutwhy article I’m in the middle of reading, bypassing the kottke.org website, not opening John Safran’s new book, not opening the book about co-dependency I’m nearly finished reading, not checking instagram, and just opening up my scrivener file and writing.

Is it normal to struggle this much with distraction? I’m not sure. But I know I could easily distract myself with an investigation into whether or not I am normal, so I muster all my strength to let the uncertainty hang in the air.

The other day, in a lack-of-sleep-induced burst of inspiration I had a sudden thought about the book and the direction it’s taking. I quickly pulled out a yellow pad and scribbled it down. As I was doing this, a sense of calm came over me. I always used to panic so much about the times I was not forcing myself to write, even though you’d think I’d be used to them by now, since they constitute the majority of my life.

I think I was calm because I understood that this isn’t going away. This isn’t a fad. It is the only constant in my life. It doesn’t get me any kind of accolade, since I’ve made no money from it and no fame has touched my life, it is just a fact of my life. I am constantly, comically distracted from my work, but it is my work.

Somehow, accepting this, accepting that even in a month of just relentless life item after life item taking up my attention, the book is bubbling away somewhere, and I’ve enough faculties to write down some thoughts. Not only that. To recognise them AS thoughts about the book.

No matter how distracted I am or how disabled by distraction I am or how naturally distracting real life truly is, especially when you are in a position which garners the question “so what do you do all day?”, I’m going to write. It might say on my tombstone “could have gotten somewhere had she not the internet” or any of the many overly dramatic things I will have written down as suggestions as a way of distracting myself from my work on a day when the distractions were uncharacteristically absent.

But I think I am mildly ok with this. It might even read “at least she tried”.

At this point, because 37 feels like the edge of time (even though sweet, actually old people insist I am “a baby” and reassuring friends remind me that writers don’t really hit their stride until they’re 50), I don’t see any point in doing anything else than trying.

Time to open that file up and get stuck back into it before pick up. Wish me luck. The path from this text window to the other file is littered with distraction.

The “so, how’s the book going?” Series: #1 Just fine, thank you very much

Be careful what you ask a writer.

If you ask them how the book is going, they might just tell you.

Recently I was talking to my best friend and I realised that during our last catch up I’d told her a whole elaborate story about my personal life and left her with a completely different picture of where I was at than where I actually was. My psychologist also was in the dark wondering how a particular thing was going for me once I got back from overseas after having whatsapp messaged her while away and I thought I’d made myself perfectly clear.

So maybe travelling across timezones has scrambled my brain because it seems I’m not particularly lucid at the moment.

Is this an excuse for not writing to you either? Maybe. But it’s more of a warning that sometimes, I ramble and then make no discernible sense. The plan is that you’ll go with it because you’ll warm to me and I’ll make enough sense to follow along with, on average, over multiple posts.

The idea of these book update posts is that I will tell you all about how I am going with my mission to finish this book. You will cheer me on and find it inspiring and perhaps stay interested in what I am doing and also be triggered to ponder the things you’re doing and how they are going.

Instead I’ve been going around in circles with the concept and having trouble getting it off the ground because it seems a bit weird to write an update on how the writing is going when I haven’t actually been writing. It also seemed like a lame way to start a book update post.

Hey guys, not writing much at the moment!

But then the writing kept not happening and it isn’t true there is nothing to talk about until it is. And besides, people in real life keep asking me how the book is going, because of the habit I’ve formed of telling everyone I know that I am writing a book.

So I figured you guys are the ones I can say what I really want to say when people ask “so, how’s the book going?”

Because when people ask that, they don’t REALLY want to know. They’re being polite, usually. At the very least I know they’re not thinking that I will rattle out a 2000 word length essay while we’re standing there in the grocery line. So I be polite back and I paper over my abject fear and panic at the direction of my life which their question has brought up at the very core of my being and we smile and go on our merry ways.

But you guys liked the page which indicates at least some willingness to let me take you on a ride on one of my thought trains for a couple thousand words.

So here we go.

This is my first book update post. I started writing it while I was travelling for two weeks and then I took a while to come back to it. This update, that is. Not even the book.

The book is on it’s second edit right now. I haven’t been writing while travelling. I mean, I’ve been doing my usual free form writing but that is a different beast. I try not to make judgement calls about the different forms of writing I do but I can’t help thinking of it like this – it is PROPER writing. Book writing is proper writing. I haven’t been doing ANY “proper” writing.

Think of it like exercise. Right now I am thinking a lot about exercise because my entire body hurts from it. After getting back from overseas I’ve been back to regular workouts and just don’t talk to me about it. Everything hurts. So I am doing proper exercise. When I was away, I didn’t do any proper exercise. I used my body, sure. I walked a lot and I exerted myself a bit but it wasn’t the regular programming. I wasn’t *not* exercising my body but I wasn’t Exercising.

That is the situation with the writing too. I churn out thousands of free flow, zero pressure words a day in various private locations and now, this one fun and novel public location. But there is no proper writing. There are no brain muscles hurting. There is lots of thinking and preparing and “is today the day we begin again?” and talking to myself, but no proper writing. I know. I had higher hopes too.

The book is outlined and has a lot of re-writing to do. I haven’t been doing any of that. At some point in the past few months, the message of the book suddenly morphed to a deeper, richer version than the one I’d written to previously. Maybe because the magic of the book was working on me and I grew up a bit? I’ve been doing lots of pre-writing. Lots of writing about my schedule, shoring things up, getting painfully close to being ready for the muscle burn of brain exertion. For real work.

But that hasn’t been my work. Real work hasn’t been my work right now. Only psyching myself up to do real work.

The main work now for me has been in catching up with myself inside about it and making sure I’m fulling owning and embodying the current iteration. Or rather, its been about talking myself into it and convincing myself that I am the person who is meant to be writing this book.

I have a lot of re-writing to do. It is daunting. Mostly because I wonder if I’m going to be able to do the re-writing in time before the message morphs and changes AGAIN. I’m in a race between how long it takes me to gain momentum with my writing practice so as to finish this thing once and for all, and the natural progression of who I am as person over time influencing what the book is all about.

Because if this book is a manifesto of sorts from the life I’ve lived so far, and if I let perfectionism get a hold over me as I am often wont to do, I could technically be writing this book for the rest of my life and never really finish it.

And that would be a kind of special hell.

So let’s think of it more as a talisman. It is a living artifact I am creating with my own hands as a memento and reminder, an encapsulation of who I am and what I’ve learnt and if my life were a story, what the message is so far. It’s truly a living thing to me. And the more I examine what I know so far, the more I realise I am yet to know and learn and understand. So really, summing up just this tiny chapter of my knowing shouldn’t be so hard, right?

It’s about finding that slight slant I have to put on life where I am summing up what wen’t before while still continuing on the forward journey.

I know that sounds like a super vague mission and I’m not even that sure how to hit it on a regular basis so it is probably lucky nobody is paying me to do this.

I am sure though, that the message is richer, deeper, broader than before, in a way that makes me feel slightly too small for. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was 21. The book I would have written in my twenties is not the book I would have written 5 years ago and it is not the book I am writing today. Yet the writing builds on itself. I think in a way, the multiple times around this spiral of writing makes the words sink deeper into me and become deeper, like they’re touching a more clear and true part of me each time.

And I want to do it justice. I want it to be right in my bones. Not right-perfect. In the bones right. This focus on the bones comes from a teacher of mine these past few years, that’s his language. When you know something in your bones, there is just this quiet confidence of, yes, this is right. This is it. It is like love, it is like life, it is like picking up the phone and knowing who is on the other end before they speak, it is like following a hunch.

Following hunches is something that takes training. It takes practice to discern when you’re in the presence of one. And that is what all writing is I guess. Following the hunch of which letters ought be typed next. You’re never quite sure (and certainly, getting past the terror of that lack of control is one of my main obstacles) but there is a felt quality inside, like a frequency that you’re tuning into when you write.

You’re not so much thinking as you are playing with the keys on the keyboard as though tapping out a rhythm silent to the outside world. I don’t know if anyone else writes like this. Sometimes I don’t even remember that I write like this between all the hustle and bustle the muck and the mess of real life.

But in the quiet of the morning where I am back again, now that I am home and at my desk doing my thing, I can pick up on it again.

I get other language from another teacher. This is the lot of the writer, everything you think being a sort of bricolage. A little bit from here, a little bit from there. If you can’t keep all the pieces corralled in some sort of manageable form, these pieces of you and your worldview, it can make you feel a little unhinged, a little crazy. And that’s what my normal writing guards against, it writes me home, it grounds me and helps me keep a pace of what I think.

But proper writing feels like something else altogether. Proper writing is more like architecture, you’re building to a structure, you’re sketching but you’re a scientist at the same time. You have to be more precise and more artful. I’ve got to work up the courage for that again, like the courage to go to the gym and lift something heavy in the morning.

My other teacher called this one folder of language learning sheets, all eight of them, my linguistic universe for my trip overseas. And I loved that, I love a good phrase. This is a perfect phrase. And the book, the book is my talismanic universe. It is everything I’ve needed to know and everything I need to distill and tell you. It is my indigenous language. Like any hero, I did not pick my journey. I did not pick that it would be about the ordinary challenge of becoming an adult.

But it is mine.

And so with these two concepts, the idea of how things feel in my bones, the place where truth vibrates most clearly, to guide me in the dark, and the idea that the book is my personal universe, I can go forth and write.

That’s what this book is for me. For now it is my entire universe and I have to find my way to live within it while I write it into articulation. Once it’s written I’ll see the world beyond but for now it has to be my entire reality.

Writing on a schedule didn’t happen while I was travelling and now that I am home, it needs to begin in earnest.

While traveling I’ve been gathering up pieces of me that I left behind.

I’ve been finding my closed up wounds of grief that I didn’t know I was overdue to feel.

I’ve been living into the depths of my life.

I’ve been integrating new understanding about who I am which tweaks the material slightly but significantly.

It’s not writing but it’s still part of the writing. It serves the writing and informs it and gives it the richness it needs.

It is hard to trust the not writing will lead to writing and you have to always be vigilant that you’re not making an excuse and that’s always a fine line to perceive. An even harder one to admit, especially with yourself.

But I think you know it’s avoidance because when you feel inside you find fear.

And I think you know it’s procrastination because when you feel inside it’s boredom and a kind of listlessness about life.

And I think you know it’s just resistance because when you feel inside there’s a kind of leaning away which doesn’t feel sincere.

What I saw while away is all the ways, at home, I’m just getting in my own way. There is literally nothing in my way at home.

While travelling I didn’t have one spot I could return to whereas at home I have my desk and my room and the door that closes.

While travelling I didn’t have a fixed time to work whereas at home I have plenty of time to myself to get the words written.

While travelling all the normal support structures of sleep and food and routine are thrown out of whack whereas at home there is no one stopping me but me.

Before I went away I wasn’t turning toward my writing. I wasn’t believing in the time frame of the book.

Letting go of control of when the book is finished is the hardest thing.

I’ve always had an idea of when I’d be done and I’ve always been wrong.

Now I realise I simply don’t know. And this is the most freeing thing. To not need to control when means I can just concentrate on the work. I know you guys get it. That this is all part of it. I’m the only one standing here expecting perfection even after the countless times it’s existence has been disproven. I have to remember I am not a machine churning out a product. I am a human being performing a craft.

A silent kind of craft, with a temperamental, finely tuned instrument, invisible guides, and a vast blank white page for a map.

When I put it like that, even I, text-book perfectionist, can let go a little, laugh a little and trust that not all of the writing of a book is about proper writing. When I dig deep into the well of ancestral forerunners, I see all their quotes, all their wry laughter about the nature of writing swirl up at me and I realise, I already get it. I am doing it.

The short answer for the grocery line is simply: the book is going just fine.

a beautiful and strange otherness

The grief and sense of loss, that we often interpret as a failure in our personality, is actually a feeling of emptiness where a beautiful and strange otherness should have been encountered.

Paul Shepard, human biologist

Sometimes, when I listen to music that hums a frequency that feels like me at my very core, I ache. Sometimes, when I am in nature, in real, wild nature, where the path is messy and the wild is real and a little threatening, like waves you’re not familiar with, grass that’s too long, trees too tall to see the top of, it is like a part of me is aching to push through my skin and touch it.

I’m in a city who also immediately brings out that ache. It has been barely 24 hours and just the air tastes like longing. The streets are dirty, cosmopolitan, suburban, raw, and trying, just trying so hard to live. The nights are lit up with pockets of life, so comforting. And it is places like this that bring that pang, that ache, they press on it.

It would be so natural, so forgivable, so human, to recoil. To find safety instead in a flattened and one-dimensional interaction with this place. I mean, I do it all the time in my non-travel life. All the more so now.

It would be understandable to let the lack of rhythm, the lack of space, the changing nature of my home base during these beautiful spare weeks of travelling in another country, to throw me. To throw me off my writing path, to throw me out of sync with myself, to let the stress of change and relentless minor decisions agitate everything.

Yet at the same time, at the very same time, as this wanting to curl up in a little ball, there’s a call to take delight in what is.

While travelling, it is obvious that we should delight in each day. It’s why we travel. We want adventure, we want to see new things, we want to see how other people live in other parts of the world. That’s always been what’s most interesting to me. How do people do their groceries here? What do people do for fun? What does it feel like to walk down the street?

And it brings to a stark focus how many times back home, I miss this call, when it is less obvious that I am doing so. I get so caught up instead inside my own head, analysing everything, missing countless opportunities to be in a new moment, a new adventure.

But no matter how much we push it away, there is always this call to delight in this one precious and wild life, to really feel, to really be, to truly accept that this moment is exactly as it is.

In the same place as the call there is the urge to dull it out, to find the numbing agent for this particular otherness and apply quickly.

A competing tug of war of inner urges, exhausting the crap out of me. Perhaps other people live more simply? They must. I’d like to learn what they know.

Before this trip, I spent three months learning Hebrew. I had an excellent teacher and he taught me well. Intuitively, like how children learn. Through the whole process, I resisted. I couldn’t help it, it was just how my brain was wired, to just protect me so instinctively from any chance of looking stupid. Through the resistance, I also learnt, I practiced, I worked as hard as I was able at it.

I wanted to come here and be a natural at it, something I’ve never been at anything, except that one time putting a new babe to my breast for the first time and the midwife called it, she said, “you’re a natural”.

Even though I’ve read all about how expertise is developed, even though I know there is no such thing as a natural, that studies have shown that even something as apparently genetically endowed as perfect pitch, can be learned.

Despite all that, I still invested more in my fantasy of being a natural than the actual work.

I still felt dejected and down when I arrived here and promptly froze for days in response to the wild onslaught of a foreign language.

Even though I’ve done it before, living in a part of Brazil where no one spoke English, even though I have vivid memories of how cognitively difficult that was, I still held up this impossible expectation that it might be quick and painless for me this time.

No. And so it is with travel. And so it is with life. Being human is sometimes really hard.

It is so much easier to want what is easy. It is so much easier to forfeit effort. It is so much easier to delay.

Whether it’s summoning up the guts to ask for the bill in Hebrew when it feels awkward and silly.

Whether it’s walking off the knot of fear in your gut and finding a way to a beach in a city you’ve never been to.

Whether it is waking up and finding the ways to your ways to your deep work no matter what life brings each morning.

It isn’t easy to make an effort. It is why easy is the default. But I can’t live like that. I can’t ignore the call to delight in the challenge to actually be alive. Even though the method is always changing. Even though what works one day, won’t work the next. Even though even though even though.

All I know is that the choice is clear. All I know is that it would be undignified not to try – to love, to live, to breathe new air. All I know is that this moment and every moment, I have a choice.

To encounter the strange and beautiful otherness within it.

Or to push it away and anaesthetise the emptiness with what I already know, pretending it isn’t there.

It is there alright. It is there in the ways we look away on the street, in our quickness to anger, our lack of compassion, our mess and muck covering the unbearable wildness of nature. It’s in the wifi on the buses and strangers not talking much anymore.

What is also there is how we erect tiny ordinary monuments to our desperate longing need.

The art covering the walls with starbursts of colour, little reminders that humans be here.

Cafes on every corner, the meeting places of displaced souls.

The well worn paths of mass pilgrimage to the edges of our coasts, to the tops of our mountains, to the holy of the holiest of our human tribes.

I see it everywhere and in the same moment it threatens to envelop me in it’s strange and beautiful otherness, I try be brave and swallow it first.

May we all be satiated by a brave willingness to digest whatever it right in front of us, no matter how much other it may contain.

It is the only way to delight in this existence and to delight in this existence is the fastest way to dignify it.

That is what I want today. That is what I want for you. For myself. For humanity.

Why write a blog when you’ve got a book to write?

The trouble with writing a book, is that it does not exist until it is finished. Not in a tangible form that can be shared with others. So I have to imagine it existing in order to work on it in order for it to exist one day and I’ve found that hard to do in isolation. The idea behind this blog is that by engaging your attention, I’m gathering enough social fuel to keep remembering that the book is a real thing, that it is just intangible right now.

As you gather around and begin to pay attention to what I am doing, the pressure and momentum of writing this will gain an added, external force. This is my working theory. As much as I like to pretend to myself that I am a free agent, a total individual, alas, I am human too. I have a social brain and the fact is that knowing that you, yes even a stranger who I have not yet met, are watching what I am doing (or not doing) is likely to have more swaying power on my actions that my exhausted internal voice does.

I’ve spent longer than I want to think about, researching and teaching myself ways to get through different blocks to just doing the work of writing.

I’ve got a ritual about my work. When I do it, how long I do it for. No more than 45 minutes at a time, at least 45 minutes on the book and at least 45 minutes on the blog each day, every day. Open the computer, turn off everything else, turn on Freedom if I need, turn on the timer, write, write down my word count in spreadsheet that is visible at all times.

I know what I am aiming for, how many words a day – 1000 words a day on the blog, 1000 words a day on the book.

I have a way to clear out all the distractions to doing my work. Burn a candle, pull some cards, headphones on and listen to music I’ve listened to a thousand times before, have courage, go forth with faith and start.

And now, I have you. You make it real, you make it that even when the mental looping tells me to give up, tells me its too hard, tells me it doesn’t matter, I feel compelled to show up anyway, even if it is only because I said I would. Even if it is only because there will be noticeable gaps in my blog posting schedule, my Facebook page will look empty, my Instagram feed will feel lonely.

I don’t think there is much use in judging ourselves for needing each other. I used to think that the highest badge of honour was being able to do everything myself. But I am not three years old anymore and it is unseemly to wear the attitude of a three year old when you’re no longer in pre-school.

The truth is, as much as writing this book feels like it is all about me, it isn’t and it wouldn’t be worth doing if it was anyway. I’m writing it because of an unavoidable sense of mission that sometimes makes me feel a little bit insane but I am also writing this book for anyone who can make use of it’s message.

I feel the same way about this blog. As much as it is a bit of an experiment in revealing my struggle to do something that feels impossible in order to gather an audience external to myself who will hold just the right amount of guilt-pressure-expectation power over me to get me through the hump days, it is also a way of sharing so that you might gain something from watching my work-in-progress.

Everything that’s good in life for me has always been that way. A little bit about me and a little bit about you. We can’t avoid the fact that being human is like this, so we might as well play with ways to use it to our advantage.

Every single time I meet someone new I am always wondering, what makes them come alive? And then I wonder, why aren’t they doing it? What’s getting in the way?

I don’t believe you’re reading this by accident. And so I wonder too about you what makes you come alive. What is the thing that you’re not doing because you’re in your own way, you don’t know how to do, you lack the courage to do it, you can’t truly see yourself doing it?

More than anything, even more than getting this book birthed out of me so I can clear the goddam channel and keep working, this is what I hope being near me sparks in you. This question, this fire, this hope for what you long for.

Most of all, this knowing that I’ve lived with all my life, that not only are you absolutely capable, but that you MUST live your life through and through to your inner fire burning as bright as it possibly can, this is what I hope rubs off on you while you’re in my orbit.

Why write a blog when I’m already struggling to write a book? Because of this theory, this way of thinking that we need each other. That even something as lonely and seemingly individual as writing a book day in and day out, is actually done in concert with unseen forces guiding, compelling, helping and holding us to account.

If you read this blog you will, according to my worldview, be literally part of bringing this book into the world. There is something magical and beautiful and uniquely human about that. And being human is what matters most of all to me. There is nothing more human than the urge to bridge the gap between an experience and a way to “tell about it in the best possible conjunction of words” as Mary Oliver puts it.

If this blog goes as planned, it will not only become something I could not possibly orchestrate on my own, spurred on by unseen forces, but it will help me fulfil that urge AND hopefully provoke it’s stirring in you.

Here’s to the web of unseen connections that facilitates this wild experiment in being human in the age of the internet.

Without it, our journeys would not have met and we couldn’t help each other in whatever way we are meant to help each other.

I’m so very grateful that now we can.