It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 29. Resolution 29. Learn to meditate. July 26, 2010

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‘I stress therefore I am’ appears to be the mantra of modern day society.  It’s an unfathomable contradiction that in a time when medicine strives to prolong our lives we are driving ourselves to death much faster.  Of course someone has to work to pay the taxes to maintain the hospitals to save us from ourselves.

When the time came to quit my last advertising job and care for my mother I was a nervous wreck.  I was drinking a lot, my nails were gnawed to mere slivers and I had permanent indigestion.  I’d been getting up at 5am, arriving home at 7:30pm and was asleep in front of the television by 9.  When Mum got sick I was spending all my nights and weekends in the hospital.

But quitting work to care for her gave me an opportunity to slow down and smell the priorities.  For too many years I’d watched my associates sacrifice their lives and their mental health in a quest to sell menial products to people who don’t need them and I no longer wanted to be a part of it.  And so after devouring a few self-help books I decided to change my career and go back to studying while working a casual retail job.  It was also the first time in 30 years that I stopped chewing my nails.

It is by no means a perfect situation.  These days I stress about money and not living up to society’s ideals.  It’s amazing how many people look unfavourably on those that choose not to participate in the rat-race or the cultivation of the perfect family.  But I have learnt to control my stress by reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living’.

At least I thought I had.  Recently, when offered an interview for my perfect job, I went into total stress meltdown.  My inner peace reacted by rocking back and forth in a wild-eyed fashion as all the stress I’d been avoiding came barrelling back.  It took two aspirin and forced sleep to calm my shattered nerves and I resolved not to let stress get the better of me again.

I’ve always thought meditation was for those people with dreadlocks who smell bad and have zero disregard for their fellow man in their quest for free love.  Well that’s not entirely true but any excuse to make fun of hippies.  Meditation is just not a tangible enough thing for me and I’m baffled by what it achieves, but as a popular method for stress relief I thought it worthy of a go.

I was adamant not to spend money on this resolution and so I ransacked Mum’s new age collection and discovered a book, Barry Long’s ‘Meditation A Foundation Course’ and an ‘Angels and Guides’ chakra meditation CD.  While Bazza’s advice on ignoring the myths surrounding meditation was pertinent (no need to ‘om’ or twist your limbs into the lotus position) I found his ‘removing the false self’ malarkey a little hard to swallow, but his book did provide a good foundation of what to expect.

I did my first meditation in bed before I went to sleep.  With all Barry’s talk of how difficult it is to empty your mind I was shocked and appalled to discover how very easy it was for me, but in retrospect I think my thoughts of ‘oh my god, I’m so talented at this’ were just occupying all my brain space.

The next night I put on the ‘Angels and Guides’ CD but instead of relaxing tones was met with Mr Solemn Voice talking about war heroes, followed by a rendition of the Last Post and a number of Australiana themed tracks.  I checked it three of four times before concluding that the CD had been mislabelled at the packaging stage.  Instead I popped in a CD of relaxing music but my thoughts wouldn’t still and I was itchy all over, probably thinking of those poor diggers.

While doing my tax the next day, a particularly stressful endeavour indeed, I discovered that a quick meditation to clear my mind worked a treat.  Meanwhile Mum found an old MP3 player filled with guided meditations and that night, sitting up in bed, a soothing lady voice instructed me to relax parts of my body while she intermittently rang a bell.  Someone really needs to tell that lady her bell ain’t so relaxing!  But nonetheless I found myself enjoying the meditation much more with a voice to guide my thoughts.  Although as a natural sloucher I am bewildered by how people sit with their back straight to meditate as it’s neither relaxing nor comfortable.

My next meditation was a 20-minute guided VISUAL meditation where a male voice, accompanied by warm positive synth sounds, encouraged me to imagine myself in a beautiful garden while filling and surrounding my body with light.  These visual meditations are much easier to respond to as the mind instinctively follows the instructions.  Although I couldn’t help wondering if I’d start behaving like a chicken whenever someone clicked their fingers.

Finally, I completed a series of three visually guided meditations.  The first I did during the day while sitting in a chair, drawing in the energy of the earth and the universe to achieve inner peace.  My dog barking loudly a metre away was not especially helpful.  The second was a five elements meditation and the last a chakra meditation.

There is an episode of Red Dwarf where the characters play a video game that makes all their wishes come true but Rimmer’s mind rebels and all he can imagine is bad things.  My mind behaves in exactly the same way which has often lead me to wonder if this is the very definition of a pessimist and if it may be the cause of my continued bad luck.  I found this distracting negativity began weaving its way into my meditations.

While I’ve enjoyed exploring meditation I can’t help but wonder if it’s responsible for my current feeling of being more scattered, listless and intolerant than usual with a nagging sense that something is missing, that I’m no longer quite anchored in reality, but this may just be the residual effects of that pesky flu.

Regardless I’m pleased to have another feather in my (skull)cap because if the universe has answers for me I’d bloody like to hear them.

Now I’m going to count backwards from ten …

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Week 28. Resolution 28. Be a tourist in my own city. July 21, 2010

Have you noticed that the farther you are away from home the more likely you are to catch the dreaded tourist disease?  Suddenly a handbag just isn’t as practical as a backpack, or worse, a bum-bag, to house your most precious items.  And the mere whiff of foreign soil finds you map underarm, camera at the ready, convinced everyone is going to mug you.

There’s no way you’d catch me wandering around Sydney or Melbourne nose deep in a Lonely Planet to ensure I don’t miss any important icons but as soon as I cross international waters my desire to see every inch of a town or city has me dragging myself out of bed at the first sign of light, off to experience some activity that is synonymous with local culture.

But while you may know certain nooks and crannies of your home town intimately, how many of you can say you’ve experienced your own city through a tourist’s eyes?  We are more than accommodating in showing the best our city has to offer to our out-of-towner friends but why do we so rarely experience these treasures for ourselves?

With this in mind I decided to spend a day as a tourist in my own city, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, to experience a larger scale picture of this place I call home.

Now there are a number of inevitabilities that occur whenever I go on holiday and one of these is that I will get sick right before I go, so with my proper holiday coming up I was well aware that I was running out of time before disease would find me.  I was not wrong.  I always thought this phenomenon had something to do with relief from work-stress but as I don’t currently suffer from that condition it turns out it that my body is simply hardwired to thwart my own happiness.  I have spent the last three days in bed suffering from flu-like symptoms, convinced I had swine flu or meningitis, although it’s more likely I just have normal flu and a flair for the dramatic.  But I mention my flu-addled brain in explanation of the delayed post this week.  And for some sympathy, if you can muster it.

Brisbane really only has one MAJOR draw card which is our murky brown river, but the many tourist attractions built around our river are what make it so special.  There are two main ways to traverse the river, which are the slower, older ferries and the sleeker, faster CityCats.  With Mum as my sidekick we began the tourist trail at Brett’s Wharf, the most northern CityCat terminal, where for $7.80 we purchased a ticket to travel all day.  From here we would ride to the most southern terminal at University of Queensland, a trip that would take just over an hour.

See attached map for journey. Brisbane trip map

I perched right at the front, Titanic style, so as not to miss a moment of my tourist adventure, while Mum chose to sit in the belly of the CityCat away from the sun and the wind.  And what a biting wind it was!  During the first leg of the journey I had tears streaming from my frozen eyes, although this could have been because I was so moved by the experience (but probably not).  I love being on the water, in fact I feel such an affinity with it that I’ve always thought I was a mermaid in a past life, and I’m not even going to make excuses for that.  There was a time when I had to catch the ferry across the river to work every day and the novelty NEVER wore off.

There’s roughly (I didn’t actually count) 15 stops along the journey, past the houses of Brisbane’s elite and through the metropolitan hub where the city’s many bridges and skyscrapers tower above.  It is a refreshing and beautiful way to view a city with an affordable price tag.

We travelled all the way to Uni of Qld and stayed on for the return journey back to South Bank Parklands, once home to Expo 88 and now housing restaurants, a fake beach, an open-air concert venue, the Cultural Centre, and a bougainvillea covered promenade.  And, our next stop, the Wheel of Brisbane.  Reminiscent of the London Eye, the wheel is a large ferris wheel overlooking the river, only a temporary fixture on our skyline until 2012.  For $15 you ride around six or so times while viewing Brisbane from above (and down below, and up above again).

After stopping for a brief lunch of pizza while watching the ibises frolic nearby, we began the walking leg of our journey, crossing over the Goodwill Bridge to the City Botanic Gardens to embark on the ‘Riverwalk’, a walking track which travels right around the Brisbane River.

I am particularly disgusted in myself to admit I went to the university housed beside the gardens for three years and never once set foot on the Riverwalk path.  I never knew there was a boardwalk there that meanders through the mangroves, transporting you to another world (not literally but that would be way cool).  This leads back onto the path which passes a section of moored boats, edging the Botanic Gardens, and through the city where there are all manner of enticing bars and restaurants with a river view.  Just after Customs House, we walked under Brisbane’s famous Story Bridge and through the last undeveloped area of the riverfront, Howard Smith’s Wharves, constructed under a portion of Brisbane’s huge volcanically formed cliff-face.  These wharves were used from the 1930s to the 60s and contain World War II air raid shelters.

This area then leads onto Brisbane’s floating walkway, an 870m pathway that rises and falls with the tide, allowing you to feel like you can walk on water while enjoying the city views.  At one point we passed a man on his bike who was having trouble riding along the moving path.  Even Jesus wasn’t that ambitious.  This was yet another marvellous and unique way to experience Brisbane.  There were countless moments I just couldn’t believe this was the same city I lived in and the feeling of being on holiday was overwhelming.  If you ever feel like you need a break but don’t have the money to get away, this is definitely the way to do it.

Back on land we headed to the nearby ferry stop to be whisked back to our starting location while the sun began to set, away from the beautiful city I have never really warmed to but was beginning to fall for.

 

Week 27. Resolution 27. Wander through a cemetery at night. July 12, 2010

I am terrified of the dark; an irrational fear which I blame solely on Bob from Twin Peaks and Lady Gaga.  While my imagination fails me when I need it most, it certainly loves to run off and get down and dirty with all manner of hellish monsters and nightmares when the lights go out.  Only in the last three years have I gradually desensitised myself enough to be able to watch violence or horror on TV without rocking back and forth afterwards.  This I am grateful for as True Blood would have once affected me so badly that I’d have been forced to cower under a blanket for days after viewing.  I can even remember a time not so long ago when I was too scared to take the bins out after watching Ghostbusters.  And there is a scene in The Last King of Scotland that ensured I turned all the lights in the house on and ran between rooms for months.

Yet there is something about the shadowy nature of darkness that I find so very appealing.  Nothing sets my heart a-flutterin’ like the romanticised notion of loneliness and timelessness conveyed in medieval tales of the supernatural, set amidst gothic architecture and accompanied by broody music.  If I could live in the mind of Tim Burton I would be the happiest, most miserable, lil’ goth girl alive because all the scary things that go bump in the night would be too normal to fear.

And so it is that I find graveyards such charming places and yet I’ve always been too scared to go to one.  However with the help of recent books set in cemeteries such as Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ and Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ they have become less foreboding places in my mind.

On mentioning my resolutional desire to go romping through a cemetery to a stranger at a wedding I was directed to check out Jack Sim’s ghost tours – http://www.ghost-tours.com.au/Pages/tour_haunted_brisbane_details.htm, a company that runs tours through various haunted sites in Brisbane.  The Toowong Cemetery tour seemed an obvious choice, being the biggest gravesite in Queensland.

It was a spooky coincidence that I happened to be reading a book called ‘Death Most Definite’ the night before the tour and was surprised to find a scene in the book was set in Toowong Cemetery.  This was all the evidence I needed to convince me I am the chosen one and that my own Merrick or Giles would rock up at any moment to bestow me with my first stake.

When trying to find a park near the cemetery I nearly gave everyone in the car a chance to experience the graveyard from six feet under.  Then, after finding a park and running to get off the road away from another car, I discovered firsthand what it was like to fly, after stacking it on someone’s driveway.  Very un-slayer like behaviour but the call of the dead was certainly strong.

These days there is little I believe in without seeing solid evidence but for the record I do believe in ghosts.  I saw a number of ghosts while living in an old share-house during my university days where I was continually haunted by one in particular for months.  Part of me was terrified that that disturbingly unfriendly spirit would find me again and resume terrorising my sleepless nights but the cemetery actually felt deserted, by the public and spirits alike.

The tour itself was interesting enough, although perhaps a little contrived at times.  But I imagine a ghost hunt is difficult to “undertake” without resorting to tacky measures.  Our host, a woman in black who wandered in the shadows away from the group was accompanied by the gate keeper, our darkly handsome guide who carried a lamp and brusquely directed us when to use our torches.  We learned of various tales, both real and of the ghostly variety, to accompany many of the monuments.  I was surprised to learn that Suncorp Stadium was originally the site of the Paddington cemetery although after health concerns the graves were interned and relocated elsewhere.  The 350 anonymous bodies that were discovered by archaeologists before building the stadium are now housed in two graves within Toowong cemetery.  That’s some deep graves.

After passing through the Valley of Death to the Grove, the one place in the cemetery where the homeless won’t sleep and also the (un)resting place of a potential vampire, we heard the story of the REAL lesbian vampire killer of Brisbane, Tracey Wiggington, now eligible for parole.  At the corner of 12th and 13th Avenue, said to be the middle point of the graveyard (there is no street sign to mark 13th Avenue as it is the most stolen street sign in Queensland) we joined hands and summoned the Angel of Death.  He must have been taking a night off.

The cemetery was opened in 1875 and houses over 120,000 bodies.  To be buried there now you have to have a relative who is already buried there, even if they’re as far removed as that distantly related famous person that every family has.  We passed by many graves, both new and old, to one of our final stops by the grave of a man adorned with his statue.  This statue is rumoured to move around and steal roses from a neighbouring garden.  Sometimes his skin is warm and a pulse can be felt in his veins which gave the tour group an opportunity to touch the statue and assess these claims for ourselves.  Cold and dead.  I gave him a parting glance to see if I could catch a wink but no such luck.

So, not a medium then, nor a slayer.  Well, that’s just great.  But alas, I faced a fear and found it wasn’t scary at all, instead discovering a beautiful, peaceful place that I would very much like to visit during the day for a closer look and then maybe every other cemetery in Brisbane, and then THE WORLD, slaying every villainous creature that comes my way!

So maybe my dreams take longer to die than my fears but that’s a good thing, right?

 

Week 26. Resolution 26. Go to Australia Zoo. July 3, 2010

I cannot fathom the reasons behind my own behaviour sometimes.  If there is a singular benefit to living in the sticks it’s that my house is smack bang between Brisbane’s two most popular zoos, each less than a 30 minute drive away.

Were I a hard-hearted animal hater I could probably justify never having been to either before this year but I love animals, more than I like most people, and I could happily spend all my days in a zoo.  In fact, it is my sincere hope that I am reincarnated as a zoo animal—any variety will do, although only if I can be in an Australian Zoo.

Graffiti found in London

Which gives me a perfect segue into talking about THE Australian zoo; aptly named, Australia Zoo.

I’m going to state right now that I thought Steve Irwin was great and if you think Steve Irwin was great too, then RIGHT ON.  If not, then nobody cares about your opinion you jaded asshole.  And so, with an honest to god tear in my eye, I found myself standing outside Australia Zoo, humbled by the man who has done so much for the flora and fauna of our country.

After a mortifying experience posing as the child of a family friend so they could get in cheaper on a family ticket, a ploy that did not work because I am not under 14, nor do I remotely resemble someone under 14 (mind you, when the entry price is $57 each you can’t blame people for trying), we were granted access to the Irwin’s playground.

First stop:  the kookaburras, followed by the lizards, alligators and turtles—all animals you can find in your local area if you’re lucky enough.  Well except for the alligators obviously, which would make you very unlucky indeed.  Oh, plus there was a komodo dragon which would just be downright freaky in your backyard.

Next we caught the ‘Otters LIVE’ show.  Did you know otters eat a third of their bodyweight every day?  We learned this and many other interesting facts during the otter feedings but I was too busy concentrating on getting a decent photo through the glass to be paying much attention.

Smile!

Afterwards I raced to the elephant feedings and was most excited to find an excellent vantage point to take photos.  This was when my vow to not take too many photos became obsolete.  It was also when the realisation began to dawn on me that while the animals have excellent enclosures and plenty of space to roam, they also work very hard for it, with hundreds of people queued up, armed with vegetables, to each handfeed one of the three elephants.  Throughout the day we also came across zoo rangers accompanied by dingos, an eagle, a cockatoo, lizards, a baby crocodile and a koala, for people to touch and take pictures of.  You can also pay extra for a one-on-one photo with your choice of zoo animal or take private behind-the-scenes tours.

This is all in keeping with Steve Irwin’s belief of ‘sharing not preaching’ and I think it’s nice that people can interact with the animals, provided they aren’t suffering any discomfort, which none of them looked like they were.  However it does continually remind you of the incredible marketing machine that is the Irwins.  In fact I was astounded not only by the immense amount of wealth that has been invested in the zoo but also by their involvement in so many different ventures. But it must be remembered that their primary motivation is always wildlife and land conservation.

Next we headed for the Crocoseum to watch Bindi’s live performance where she danced and sang with her jungle girls.  Unfortunately her singing has a lot to be desired but the kids love her.  Again, people have all kinds of opinions on whether this sort of upbringing is appropriate for a young girl, but as someone who was once a young girl too, I loved performing and had I had the opportunities to have my own TV show, star in a movie, hang out with zoo animals and speak publicly about my love for them, release my own set of books and sing and dance to my heart’s content, I would have loved every second.  And what better way to give a child a real world education and provide so many exciting career paths to choose from.

Following Bindi we watched the highly entertaining Wildlife Warriors show featuring snakes and lizards and amazingly trained beautiful birds flying around the arena.  Then Terri, Bindi and little Bob came out to feed the crocodiles.  Bob made a few tongue-in-cheek remarks about his father’s treatment by the media over that crocodile feeding incident but they certainly made sure Bob was out of the way when the crocs came out.  It made me sad that the controversy still lingers after everything else the Irwins have achieved and suffered.

Wanna dance?

A deer pig!

After lunch and losing members of our group to the gift shops we took a quick trip to check out the children’s zoo, the bouncing goats (cute overload), cassowary, sleeping dingoes, Tasmanian devil, crocodiles (paying special attention not to smile at them), before taking in the cheetah talk and watching a cheetah lick an iceblock.  All the talks are orchestrated so you’ll be in the right part of the park when they occur.

Just resting.

With exhaustion beginning to set in we raced through the huge kangaroo and wallaby park, although most of them were sitting in the ‘don’t bother us we’re resting’ area, past the ponies, wetlands birds and emu and into ‘Elephantasia’ which was easily the biggest space for elephants I’ve seen.  I alternated between watching the elephants play and throw dirt on themselves and taking photos of the red pandas wandering about (it’s rare to find them so active).  Then we entered the Tiger Temple while a talk was going on, joining what seemed like the rest of the zoo’s visitors which was strange since there was no promotional material about it.  But we still managed to watch the tigers jumping and climbing trees which explained why their area was entirely glassed off from the public because you wouldn’t want one leaping at you.

Entering the koala area we were surprised how close you could get to them, had you wanted to you could have reached up and plucked one from their tree for a little cuddle.  The staff seemed to have no problem with everyone taking flash photos which I found a touch worrying as a couple of koalas were carrying babies.

Next we passed through the red kangaroo area, the rainforest aviary and the snake enclosure, stopping to watch staff trying (and failing) to put a harness on a wombat to take it for a walk.

On our way out, free Crikey mag in hand, I had a chat to a couple of staff members about what it was like to work there and was handed a wad of application forms.  I must look like the kind of person who makes a lot of mistakes (how did they know?).

Our final stop was the Wildlife Hospital, which for a $2 entry fee, lets you see the animal incubation chamber and the smaller animal cages, mostly filled with sick koalas, although for a larger fee you can take a tour of the whole hospital.  The hospital was adorned with quotes from the Irwin family and heart-wrenching photos of Steve and his mother.  Another little tear may have slipped out.  The lady at the desk gave a talk about the hospital but I’m sure most people, like me, were fascinated with the bird on her shoulder wearing a purple sock to stop him from pulling out his own feathers.

There are plenty of great zoos in Australia and while Alma Park down the road has a bigger range of animals, Australia Zoo’s ‘point of difference’ is that it really is an emotional experience.  The Irwins have worked their way into our lives by letting us into theirs and the legacy left by Steve is evident everywhere in the zoo.  It’s hard not to get caught up in his enduring enthusiasm for the protection of wildlife.  Personally, I’m already looking into a season pass.

Photos courtesy of myself and my dear ol’ Dad.