How You Can Help Bridge The Gap Between Rich and Poor This Valentines Day

I hate to name-drop, but I found myself in the same breathing space as two former prime ministers a couple of days ago. The first was Malcolm Turnbull, one of the many speakers at the Side By Side conference run by the Wayside Chapel, who had been invited to discuss the crucial role of students in political conversation. And the second was an icon of mine, Julia Gillard, whose “misogyny” speech was voted the most unforgettable moment on Australian TV this week, and who was the special guest on The Guilty Feminist, a stage show of the popular podcast that was on at the Enmore Theatre.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Two Australian politicians from two different political parties, who share a similar vision when it comes to how to measure success and how to improve the way we care for the marginalised people in our community.

You may know that during his time as prime minister, Malcolm was criticised for his privilege – for being a wealthy, self-made man – and for not being a natural communicator when it came to the people. And in spite of his valiant attempts to prioritise climate policy in his party – a view that ultimately led to his downfall – he remained a somewhat elusive personality who the voters were frustrated to never really get to know.

From the other side of the tracks was Julia, our first female prime minister, who became a target of the predominantly middle-aged, white men in her party and the opposition party as a result of her gender. Throughout her stint as prime minister, she was forced to fight the sort of infantile sexism and snobbery you expect to find in an all-boys private school. Nevertheless, she stood her ground against it – hence, that speech – and if the level of applause at her arrival on Friday night was anything to go by, her reputation among Australian feminists is legendary.

How wonderful to see, in this terrifyingly narcissistic period of political history, two such prominent figures (who in spite of both being retired from politics), came together to help the marginalised community in our society.

Malcolm was appearing at the Side By Side conference run by The Wayside Chapel, to which I was invited (I assume) because of my paltry donation of a Christmas lunch to ease my guilt for one of their residents last year. The organisation, which is based in Kings Cross in Sydney, works predominantly with and for the homeless – for those who have hit rock bottom due to physical illness, job loss, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence, sexual abuse and trauma. They are citizens and victims who could be any one of us, who have fallen on bad times – typically through no fault of their own – who are being ignored by society.

The Side By Side conference was about reducing the stigma about poverty and exchanging ideas about how we can narrow the gap between us and them.

But change takes time. As Julia Gillard reminded us during her chat on The Guilty Feminist, it will probably take another century before we see any real equality in terms of female leadership in Australia – whether that’s in the workplace or in politics – and without women in those positions, we remain under-represented. The same is true for the poor. Unless society shows more compassion and changes its priorities, the gap will continue to widen.

What is certain is that to effect the necessary changes we need leaders who have vision and who are prepared to listen to our young people and our experts in the field.

It is not only middle-aged lefties like me who are disillusioned with the direction the western world is heading. When a government prioritises a Religious Freedom Bill over crucial preparations for the annual bushfire season, we have to ask why. And our kids are asking those questions too – which is perhaps one of the reasons so many are struggling with their mental health.

The Wayside Chapel’s conference was a call to action. Progressive, well-known CEOs spoke about how businesses can help donate part of their profits to help bridge the gap between rich and poor and to help protect the environment, and the message that stood out was that if we all become a little less focused on success and more on caring, there is a chance that we can do exactly that.

“Together we can make no ‘us and them,” was the clear message of the event. And they’re right. Imagine how frigging awesome it would be if everyone of us did something tiny that could make a real difference to the confidence of one person on the poverty line. Because, trust me, their situation could happen to any of us, and an increasing percentage of the current number of the homeless population are middle-aged women.

I’m aware that “activism” is harder than just sitting at home on the sofa, watching those heart-wrenching stories play out on the The Project. It requires a concerted “movement of feet.” And even though we’ve had to put our hands a little deeper into our pockets of late, I am certain that there is something that most of us can do. For example, this Valentines Day, instead of buying your partner a tacky card and a sad bunch of dead petrol station flowers, you could donate $20 to waysidechapel.org.au/valentines, or any organisation that helps people in need. That small donation will give someone a shower, a new pair of undies and socks and some toiletries. It’s a much more sustainable way to show someone you love them and it will make all the difference to someone who isn’t feeling the love right now.

I won’t be getting sober anytime soon but I am “drinking smarter”

Photo from Damir Spanic on Unsplash

I was a grown-up last weekend. The old man and I went on a date night to a swanky restaurant and I chose to drive.

In my last post I talked about the necessity of making choices in middle age, and prior to last night, I would have looked forward to washing down the posh grub with a bottle of expensive wine, and wasted the afternoon working out a feasible way to get to the restaurant on public transport. What can I say? I like drinking. Alcohol tastes nice. Drinking turns me into the interesting, cool girl I should have been…at least, until the next morning. It helps me cope, and gets me out of the house.

For me, drinking is also a form of self-care. Hear me out, peeps. You see, my list above doesn’t account for alcohol’s other, hidden benefits for me personally: its medicinal ones for colds, backache, and muscle pain; its effectiveness as a coping strategy for my social anxiety; its ability to foster connection; and the strength it provides me to contend with a society that writes women my age off, (or only draws attention to us for all the wrong reasons – Alexandra Grant).

Therefore, it was with some surprise that grown-up-me decided that night that (for the sake of a couple more drinks) I couldn’t be assed to sit on a bus full of obnoxious teenagers or work through a heinous hangover the next morning.

Anyway, everyone knows the first sip is the best.

A few years ago, I wrote in my first paid article for Mamamia on the subject of my concerns about my drinking and the increase in women’s drinking in middle age. I remember that what I was really aiming to do in that article was to empathize rather than shame women who drink. I can’t remember the exact headline I pitched to the editor for the story, but it was changed to ‘I am a functioning alcoholic and I’m not alone’ – and I was mortified. At the time I think I was looking for a new job.

BUT… if the decrease in the number of units our government deems healthy for us to drink is anything to go by, she had a point. AND…Maybe I’m paranoid, but drink shaming seems to be levelled more directly at women – and in particular middle-aged women. Granted, there are medical reasons for this – in that women’s bodies can’t process as much alcohol as men. But there is also this social construct that a woman who is drunk is far more shameful than a man, even though many men who have drunk too much go on to do terrible things, while a woman is more likely to fall asleep on the sofa. Just check out the photos of the after-race parties if you don’t believe me.

Why are men given license to have fun, while women are expected to stay at home and live like nuns? You can see that question in people’s heads when they see a group of drunk women – who’s looking after the kids while they’re out drinking? Well, Carol, who’s looking after the kids while their dad’s out drinking?

However, since I wrote that article, I have become more aware of the effect that alcohol has on my body – I’m getting old, Goddammit! – which is why, (and trust me when I promise that I am not getting sober and deserting my people entirely) – I’ve decided to “drink smarter” (in the words of Kate Spicer from The Sunday Times).

Menopause has played a huge role in that decision. I’m certain that many of you fifty-somethings will identify with the impossibility of being a functioning alcoholic when your hormones contrive to make your life – and in particular, your hangovers – as unpleasant as possible. Suffice it to say, I have to be fully committed to knock back a bottle of wine.

So, yes…the hangovers from hell, my aspirations to run 5kms (more than once), and that other cruel twist of menopause – weight gain – have guilted me into reducing the Rose and discarding the Chardy. I wish I could say that concerns about my longevity or longterm health were truly behind my decision, but after twenty years of smoking, a lifetime of anxiety, and a pretty shoddy family history when it comes to health, I know I’m fucked I’ve been playing Russian Roulette for a while now.

And I won’t deny it is a struggle. Alcohol is a wonderful crutch, it has been a loyal and reliable friend, and maintaining my commitment to Kombucha for just a couple of nights a week has stretched my self-discipline to the max. I am want to crumble at the first sign or conflict or stress.

But that’s okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say in this very convoluted post is that when the fun police make you feel bad about your drinking, don’t beat yourself up about it. You are not alone. Many of us have vices we’re not proud of – for some of us that is a glass or two of wine, for others it is several Magnums – as in the ice cream; for others still, it is leading corrupt governments and ignoring the voice of democracy.

Personally, I’ve never had a problem with drinking with non-drinkers or fellow alcoholics and I don’t need anyone to drink with me to have a good time (See symptoms of an alcoholic). I do see the benefits of sobriety, but I am also aware that swift judgments are easy to make; it takes much more time to look beneath the surface.

My intention is not to glorify alcohol, but there are still occasions in my life when I am dealing with stuff when I want/need to drink. There are also occasions when I want to celebrate that I’m still here and in a good place. And in the words of the author, Mike Gayle “We all do what we need to do to get by.”

It was the small, magical moments during our holiday to Hawaii that mattered most

Forgive me for my recent radio silence, but I’m struggling to get back into real time since our return from Hawaii.

No doubt, some of you will be interested to know how we fared, having spent so much time reading about my angst in relation to where the fuck to take an anxious, middle-aged man who didn’t want to leave his suburb. But, alas, I am no travel writer, so I’ve decided to style this post in the same way as Jamila Rizvi did here last week in The Age, and focus on the small things that made it feel so special.

Woman sitting on beach in front of view.
I call this photo “Come to Mama!”

I won’t lie, the holiday (in the company of my husband and our twenty-something daughter) wasn’t always the plain sailing experience I had prayed for prior to our departure from Sydney. However, I won’t bore you with the stories of when our two hire cars broke down – leading to the old man’s worldwide ban from AVIS – the loss of his bank card, or the time he turned the wrong way down a street. As I’m sure you can tell from this photo, he had a great time.

Man looking miserable at shopping center.
Have you ever seen such a vision of natural joy? He just LOVES shopping and Halloween.

And by normal standards, I imagine that the sort of holiday woes we experienced are the kind of par-for-the-course shit that everyone goes through, laughs about and puts down to travelling.

Admittedly, the bus tour between Honolulu and Haleiwa on the North Shore was not the anticipated 45 minute journey I had forecast in my itinerary – probably because I read the ‘by car’ calculation of time instead of ‘by stagecoach’ – but at least it included an educational tour of Honolulu’s military bases and a nostalgic trip back to the prison set where Hawaii 5-0 must have been shot. The return journey was even longer, and while none of us expected a three-hour circumnavigation of Oahu that took us into the night, we were all grateful for the scenic experience.

Many lessons were learned: we now know never to declare war on a feisty Hawaiian customer service lady who deals with entitled tourists on a daily basis; we learned that the portion sizes really are as terrifying in the US as we had been led to believe, and that you only need order a few plates to share; and finally, we now appreciate that the mountain temperature on our weather App is no guide to the temperature on the beach.

Mouthwatering plate of Tuna Tataki.
The TUNA!

There were the usual minor medical issues like blocked ears, dehydration, and some ongoing issues with obesity augmented by the portion size of the Rocky Road ice cream they sold at our local bar.

But let me get back to the small things that justified our thousands of dollars spent choice of destination, that still make my heart sing to the tune of Moana each time I think back to them:

  1. The landscape: What’s not to love about a destination that offers world-class beaches, the spirituality of a mountain landscape (that look like it belongs in Peru), and cheap, designer shopping that even the most ardent window shopper will find impossible to resist?
  2. The beaches: I can honestly say that Waikiki, the beaches on the North Shore of Honolulu, and those in Maui lived up to the paradise we had been promised. Living in Australia, it’s hard to impress us when it comes to beaches, but we weren’t disappointed – particularly by the ocean temperature, which made it dead easy to plunge into it several times a day.
  3. The turtles: I’ll be honest, we didn’t see flocks of them like I imagined – a bit like when we visited Kangaroo Valley and never saw any kangaroos – but we spotted several from the shoreline and a couple swam up close to us. Fact: they can be SERIOUSLY BIG MOTHERFUCKERS!
  4. The snorkelling: This time it was the relaxing experience I imagined it could be when I was growing up and wanted to be Jacques Cousteau. Pretty, unthreatening tropical fish were a welcome change from The Great Barrier Reef’s terrifyingly black Gropers and slimy cucumbers, and although NC swore she saw a sea snake, she only told me about it once we were on the plane home.
  5. The music: Hawaiian music comes from the soul and shoots straight through the heart. I will always remember the night the old man asked a Hawaiian singer to sing a song from Moana for NC, who ugly-cried (very publicly), and another when a heavily pregnant dancer performed the Hula.
  6. American coffee: It gets a bad rap around the world, but the choice of flavours is awesome. I mean, how can a Vanilla/Macadamia nut coffee be bad?
  7. The food: OMG! Sex is good but have you ever tried melt-in-your-mouth Ahi (tuna), sealed in hot butter, with sides of coleslaw and coconut rice?
  8. The sunsets: I’m usually half way down a bottle by sunset and never fully appreciate their beauty, but Maui’s sunsets light up the sky like fireworks and are impossible to ignore.
Restaurant view of stunning mountain landscape in Maui.
Not a bad view for lunch.

And then there were the cheap COCKTAILS, an overdue discovery of Fireball whisky. and the old man’s dishcloth dance – after aforementioned whisky. All in all, a myriad of magical moments thrown into twelve days and an experience I’d love to replicate, had the old man not thrown away his passport.

It’s Okay To Man-Hug

Two men hugging.
Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

We caught up with some friends at the weekend and when the husband and the old man did that awkward shuffle as they greeted each other, our male friend launched into the story of how he had tried to hug his elderly father once, who froze and brushed it off.

‘I’m not much of a man-hugger,’ he admitted to him.

‘But did you like it?’ my friend pushed.

‘It was surprisingly quite nice,’ his dad responded.

What a truly sad world we live in when there are men out there that have never been hugged by their fathers, sons or close friends?

And then, we wonder why they are so emotionally ill-equipped.

Upon further discussion, it turns out that there are rules of etiquette when it comes to man-hugging. Both the old man and our friend agreed that while they hug their inner circle of close friends, they don’t hug the next tier of their friendship group.

‘But I hug everyone,’ I admitted, because I think that women do, in general, once they’ve met once or twice.

But the boys were adamant that it was only their tight circle of friends that got the special treatment. So – obviously – we made them man-hug on the spot, in front of us, which was when we witnessed something truly beautiful happen.

Of course, I’m generalising here. I’m sure that some men are massive huggers, but there is still that stigma associated with men hugging men.

In her book, Boys Will Be Boys, Clementine Ford claims it has to do with the stigma of what the show of affection implied in the past, and the need to prove “compulsive heterosexuality” – one of the issues of “toxic masculinity”.

And she’s right. If we don’t teach our boys how to share respectful, caring relationships with each other, how can we expect them to do the same with women?

She says: “It breaks my heart to know that men – and young men especially – are conditioned against embracing the pleasures of a physically-expressed platonic love for each other for fear that the authenticity of their man-hood may be challenged.”

So let’s change that right now. Any men out there – give your father a big, fat man-hug the next time you see him. And fathers – remember to hug your sons as well as your daughters. Finally, men – for God’s sake, hug your goddamn friends. It’s not a sign that you’re weak or that you fancy them, it’s a sign that you value them.

The Poor Representation For Women In Politics: Never Has Gilead Felt So Close To Home

Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

Trigger warning: The following post may be a trigger to those meatheads who don’t believe in equality.

I know, I know… I should shy away from politics on this blog, but I can’t help myself. What can I say? I’ve got a big mouth and a soft heart.

However, before I take my latest leap onto the feminist soapbox, I would like you to know that I have heeded my own advice and taken some time for reflection before pushing the publish button on this rant.

And I’m glad I did, because that postponement has allowed me more time to become better informed about the real cost for women after the latest Federal election in Australia and the ongoing issues faced by women when they lack sufficient representation in politics. Suffice it to say, that uncharacteristic measure of self-control has done little to reduce my searing anger about what has been a disastrous week for the fairer sex – and in particular for those women in Alabama.

The results of the election last weekend added a liberal sprinkling of salt to the open wound created by Alabama. And although I won’t compare my tanty about the Liberal party’s re-election to the outright misogyny of certain states in the US, I would like someone to tell me what we can expect in terms of representation from a party that has so far governed with a cabinet (on average) of less than a quarter women?

And before you remind me – my legions of adoring male fans – I am fully aware that women make up only half of the population and that we live in a democracy. Nevertheless, silly old me truly believed when I placed my vote on Saturday that we were in the process of developing and changing as a nation.

I believed that as a nation we had recognised a need for growth – and not only in terms of the economy. I swear I saw the signs of compassion outrunning  greed in our future. I thought that this election would signal a transition from the narrow-minded views of a bunch of privileged, middle-aged tosspots and give another leadership the opportunity to narrow the distance between rich and poor, to tackle climate change more effectively, and to improve conditions for the sick and refugees.

So what happened? Why did Australia succumb to the resurgence in right-wing popularity that is gaining traction around around the world?

Because never has the fictional state of Gilead felt so close to home.

I can only assume that the Liberal party’s re-election is linked to fear of change or loss of control – Yawn! Which saddens me, when change stimulates growth and a stagnating government that refuses to listen either to its people or scientific evidence is as damaging and guilty as groups such as the anti-vaxxers.

What I will say – having reflected over several bottles of Chardonnay and several articles by women who voted for the Liberals last weekend – is that I do understand the need to put family above benevolence when it comes to putting food on the table, particularly when women are already penalised so heavily for having children. 

However, that’s as far as my empathy extends. I feel nothing but vitriol for the men who voted for the latest anti-abortion bill in the US.

These men are obviously confused about why women need control of their bodies. So why don’t they listen to them, rather than base their misguided opinions on the fictional (some believe) idealism found in antiquated books?

There was also a time when we thought that the earth was flat, guys!

How can they possibly understand what women have to consider in the event of an unplanned pregnancy? How can they slut-shame and brandish those women as self-centred child-killers when abortion is never an easy choice and usually connected to failure of contraception, threatening relationships, rape, and financial insecurity? Don’t they know that by refusing access to the procedure, many women will die because of what boils down to the religious aims of a radical bunch of nutters?

I have a better solution for avoiding unwanted pregnancies. Why don’t we force all men to have reversible vasectomies or make it a criminal offense for them not to wear condoms? Then they can see what it’s like to have someone take control of their bodies.

The election last weekend was an eye-opener. In a period of history when we have so much information about the dangers of narcissism and discrimination, a supposedly forward-thinking, evolving western country re-elects a party that refuses to move forward with the pace of the rest of the western world; a party whose priorities look more and more like self-service than public service.

I hear that Morrison will be offering two-for-one deals to Gilead very soon.

It Wasn’t The Lack Of Compassion That Hurt, It Was The Lack Of Understanding about Mental Illness and Addiction

I had been feeling upbeat over the past few weeks, ahead of our run for breast cancer – which we nailed by the way, raising in excess of $800 for research. And then I stumbled upon a FB share of an old article of mine that was published by News.com last year.

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

As a writer of contentious topics (for some) – ADHD, feminism, inequality, mental health – I realise that I put myself in a glass house when one of my articles is published, and I have learned not to read comments from trolls.

This particular article was a highly personal piece about Kurt, detailing his struggles with his mental health, and my reasons for coming full circle on my views about cannabis legalisation. It was an opinion piece – hence, bait for comment and constructive criticism – to which I am always open.

However, many of the comments were not constructive. They were subjective – targeted directly at me as the author and mother. They laid the blame for Kurt’s issues squarely at my feet, and it was that lack of understanding about mental health and addiction that hurt the most – even more than their lack of compassion.

It was a slap in the face to realise that in spite of the attempts of fantastic organizations such as Lifeline and Headspace and various media outlets to improve awareness about mental illness, (as well as the increasing numbers of kids that are taking their own lives), that many people still believe that kids with mental health issues deserve no support, and should even be punished for not towing the societal line.

I am used to being held responsible for Kurt’s choices. Sadly, blame starts with the parents when it comes to ADHD, although there has been a gradual shift in attitude in recent years, thanks in part to the increasing acknowledgement and support of the condition by world governments.

And I can (sort of) see why. A child with impulse control or oppositional issues can look like a monster when you peer in from the outside. However, that refusal to show compassion or to probe more deeply into understanding the condition is why so many of these kids end up being bullied, isolated and rejected, leading to depression, self-harm, OCD and self-medication.

When it comes to inclusion, attitude is the biggest problem we face. But trust me when I tell you that any child with mental health issues who self-mutilates or lines up pills on the carpet is not “attention-seeking” (by our common acceptance of the term). They are seeking attention for help.

Beyond the public condemnation, perhaps the hardest part of the journey for parents or carers is the lack of support, the sense of isolation and the self-blame. That’s why I wrote that article. For others out there, like us, going through what we did and feeling alone.

It has taken years for me to come to terms with the fact that I am not to blame for Kurt’s struggles.

Sure, if I had my time again I would handle some things differently, but I know that no child could have been loved more. We raised our kids identically. We put the same boundaries in place that we did for NC, and like any normal teenager, she tested those boundaries. The difference was, NC was able to distinguish which of her strikes for independence were worth the consequences – unlike Kurt, who was encumbered by poor impulse control.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt – at the very least until I have all the facts or I have met them personally. Rather than judging a book by its cover or from local gossip, I arm myself with as much information as I can before I draw my conclusions. When did we stop doing that as a society? When did we decide that it was acceptable behaviour to take a pop at someone for our own entertainment?

Surely, there can be no excuse for ignorance when we have access to information at our fingertips?

Social media has made it easy to bully without consequences and I fear that we are losing our sense of compassion. So before you jump right in with your heart rather than your head, remember that there is a real person at the other end of posts or comments, who is often motivated by doing good. That person has a heart and possibly a full wardrobe of skeletons that you know nothing about.

Is It Normal To Hate People Who Go On Exotic Holidays All The Time? Asking For A Friend

This is a follow on from my last post in which I discussed my chances of dragging my husband away on an exotic holiday this year. Thank you for the abundance of awesome recommendations (for anxious, middle-aged couples, with zero interests in common) that you kindly left on that post, and which have since been dissected, over-thought and (no doubt) put on the back burner until I force him to make a decision.

Image found on Pinterest from awakenmindset.com

I should point out that I have warned him that his refusal to commit is exactly the sort of thing that middle-aged couples divorce over, and in response he asked me when I am leaving.

I am not, by nature, a green-eyed monster, so I find this whole travel-envy thing to be quite peculiar. Indeed, I have always denied the impact of social media on my happiness – made easier in this case, I imagine, by our move to the other side of the world to a wonderful country that offers a wealth of different landscapes and natural beauty.

I was, (and still am), committed to the financial choices the old man we have made to semi-retire.

However, it does leave us with a very limited budget for holidays and lately I’ve started to get itchy feet, thanks to all of those inspirational memes about travel, adventures and growth that fill my FB home page, as well as the bunch of our friends that are starting to take advantage of their new empty-nester status and are therefore ALWAYS on fucking holiday.

So what’s changed? I suppose that when I entered this stage of my life I still had the arrogance of the European who feels like they’ve seen the world – when the reality is, I’ve visited a couple of European countries a lot of times. I may have lived in Europe for forty years, but I didn’t have the wisdom back then to make the most of what it had to offer.

Added to which, I came back from our last exotic trip to Bali in two minds about foreign holidays. I was pretty shaken up by the level of poverty – in what I had been led to believe was a paradise – hence, I spent much of our time there stressing about the families on scooters, food poisoning and feral dogswhich always made a beeline for me.

Unsurprisingly, our next holiday was to Forster.

I’m not certain what is behind this current attack of itchy feet. Is it an innate fear of time running out? Am I missing a diversity of culture that simply doesn’t exist on the Northern Beaches of Sydney? Or is it simply that I’m scared that I am cruising through life and getting boring?

While there are many benefits to working from home – the main one being that my desk is close to the fridge – one of the few downsides is that life can become very insular. And when you struggle from anxiety, the fact that you rarely have to leave the house can cultivate the problem.

Interestingly, when I think about my dream holiday, it isn’t about swanky hotels, exotic beaches or even two-for-one cocktails like it used to be – we have some pretty nice beaches here. No, the appeal is more linked to new experiences, new cultures, the challenge of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and growth. It is about sharing those experiences with my soulmate – rather than the typical mundanities we share each week, like when the dog last went out for a poo.

Don’t get me wrong. I am very content to get comfortable in certain areas of middleage-dom. I wouldn’t trade flat shoes, nightly Netflix and separate bedrooms for anything! But I can’t ignore that little voice that keeps nagging me to keep on exploring.