It's a Resolution, Baby!

52 Weeks. 52 New Year's Resolutions.

Week 52. Resolution 52. Celebrate the New Year & Reflect on the Last. January 8, 2011

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One of the primary reasons I began this blog is that last New Year’s Eve I was filled with despondency at spending the most important night of the year playing Little Big Planet with my mum while the outside world erupted in fireworks and joviality.  I love my mum (and also Little Big Planet) but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being left out of a universal cause for celebration.  This ignited a lightbulb of realisation that I’d become the kind of person who waits around for life to happen instead of forcing it to work for me which could only end in another 12 months of failed expectations and false hopes that each successive year would be better.

 

Did these 52 resolutions make for a better year?  My initial response was no but that was because I was looking at it from the wrong perspective.  Sure I am still single, working a casual job and living with my parents.  If anything, the resolution challenge made it even more difficult to improve upon these areas, sapping all my money and spare time.  But it did give me a purpose, 52 personal achievements to be proud of and more confidence in my writing.  It sent me on many journeys I wouldn’t necessarily have taken and forced me to put aside excuses to learn and create things I’d always wanted to but would never have gotten around to otherwise.  While it distanced me from some, it brought me closer to others and it has given me a handy method to tackle all my tasks in future and an ingrained motivation to continually strive to be better in years to come.  Maybe I didn’t tick any of those big boxes but that certainly doesn’t mean that this blog has not been worthwhile.  Perhaps it wasn’t a brilliant year but it was by no means a bad year either considering it was rich and full and I was blessed in many ways.  There are two sides to everything—it’s just a matter of which one you choose to focus on.

 

For my 52nd resolution I was adamant to spend my New Year’s Eve doing SOMETHING.  Initially I had grand plans to finish my resolutions with a flourish but most people don’t like to think about New Years before Christmas and early efforts to rouse interest in friends fell on deaf ears.  This was my mistake in 2009 and the frantic scrambling for last minute activities was not something I wished to repeat.  Subsequently, ideas such as house boats, theme parks, beaches, golf and picnics were all thrown around as the ideal way to spend the day of New Year’s Eve but when I discovered I’d been scheduled to work, my plans shrunk in size.  Instead I considered a pre-eve dinner, gathering friends together before they set off on their drinking adventures but my work hours were extended and so all my plans became unfulfilled dreams.  No matter.  I still had a party to go to and nothing was going to get in my way.

 

After work I was a whirlwind of preparation cooking hors d’oeuvres and blending fresh raspberries, mint, and apple & cranberry juice to act as mixer for my vanilla vodka.  Both of these were enjoyed amidst my friend’s backyard tropical garden where the night was filled with chats, laughter, music, sparklers, toxic punch and the inevitable end of night Singstar screeching.  (I suspect our hosts practice a lot of Singstar in their spare time as I can never beat them.)  It was a fantastic evening among company that I always enjoy immensely, even if I did suffer a mammoth hangover, a shattered container, a grazed knee and a potentially fractured toe the next day.  But as the night ended at approximately 4:40am these ailments were probably to be expected.

 

The interesting thing I learnt in my process of concocting the perfect evening is that most people simply don’t care about New Year’s Eve.  Many folk I spoke to about their plans were more discouraged by having to stay up until midnight than the disappointment of spending the night at home.  It seems that they’d learnt a lesson I was still yet to learn.  That New Year’s Eve simply marks the end of another average year and the start of another mediocre one and no manner of crazy celebration is going to affect how the new year will turn out.  It made me realise that I shouldn’t feel resentful if I have no plans and in fact, if I hadn’t spent a New Year’s Eve at home I may never have devised the Resolution Challenge.

 

However, there’s also much to be said for sacrificing one night of sleep to spend tapping into universal good cheer with friends and family celebrating having made it through another year with all the trials and triumphs it bestowed and the glimmer of hope that the next year will be filled with good health, good fortune, inspiration, accomplishment, happy surprises, and more good days than bad.  And if nothing else, the recognition that it takes an average year to prepare for an amazing one.

 

There are two sides to everything—it’s just a matter of which one you choose to focus on.  And your choice may make all the difference.

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Week 51. Resolution 51. Give to Charity at Christmas. January 3, 2011

The Christmas story I’ve always found the most moving is the Hans Christian Andersen tale, ‘The Little Match Girl’ where a young match seller freezes to death while imagining the perfect Christmas for herself—the kind of decadent Christmas so many of us take for granted.

 

It seems ironic that our bizarre Christmas tradition, intended as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, generally results in gluttony and excess.  However, it can’t be denied that it is the one time of year where we can enthusiastically love and be loved, give and receive and show our appreciation for the people who enrich our lives.  They say charity begins at home and at no time is this truer than Christmas making it the perfect opportunity for some of this charity to spill over into the lives of those for whom Christmas is a struggle.

 

Over the years charity has become a controversial topic about which a lot of criticism, negative attitudes and judgement have arisen.  There was a time you could donate some blankets, tins of food or second-hand toys but now all the charities ask for is MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, and, in some cases, a signature on a petition.  Subsequently it’s become difficult to make a difference if you’re time or cash poor.  Most people are now sceptical about how much of their monetary contribution actually makes it to those in need with the establishment taking a sizeable scoop off the top.  Charity shops have become priced well out of the range of those in need because demand has outweighed supply and the dollar has become more important than provisions for the underprivileged.  Whatever your opinion it’s clear that charity certainly has a massive PR problem.

 

Furthermore, people are often judged for the nature of their contribution with a common belief being that the only valid way to help is by volunteering, while others simply use the guise of charity to falsely flaunt their philanthropic natures.  On the other hand, people who actively campaign for charity can become a financial burden on their friends and risk adopting a self righteous attitude.

 

Personally I’ve not always been an overly charitable person.  I’ve given here and there but never with great gusto and I, too, felt charitable organisations were not to be trusted.  Yet, gradually my attitude has changed over the past two years to the point that I now I find myself passionately adopting causes and donating unthinkingly.  I always empty my wallet of change whenever I see a collection box for the RSPCA, Leukaemia Foundation or the Guide Dogs and feel saddened when my coins makes a dull thud against the plastic instead of clinking upon a mountain of change.  I hope my gradual progression will evolve from “change for change” to eventually inspire me to put aside my insecurities and make a tangible difference through a hands-on contribution.

 

To work towards this end I began thinking about what I could do this Christmas.  My interest was initially sparked by an ad in a local magazine looking for gift-wrapping volunteers in support of the Leukaemia Foundation.  As someone who has directly experienced the helping hand of the Leukaemia Foundation I jumped at the chance to give something back, despite my extremely shoddy gift wrapping skills.  Unfortunately for me (but fortunately for them) they already had enough volunteers and so I was added to a standby list should they need extra assistance.

 

This is not the first time I’ve put myself forward for volunteer work and found that the charities in question were already full up with volunteers or had a list of demands that were impossible for the average Joe to meet—most likely because they’re looking to sift out the best from a charitable, but not necessarily qualified, bunch.  Naturally, to retain the best of the best, they then need to consider paying wages which is where the cost of running these organisations begins to skyrocket and why people become wary of how their contributions are being utilised.

 

I’ve personally chosen a number of charities to support of which I’m no longer suspicious about whether my money is directly reaching those in need because I’ve come to understand that the infrastructure and staff are equally crucial in making a difference.  Besides, if you gave money directly to a cause you’d likely find it would be squandered without proper procedures in place.  And let’s not forget that you need to spend money to make money.  Charity organisations may not be ideal but they’re the best vehicle we have.

 

With this in mind I put a small amount of money aside from my Christmas spend to divvy up between my favourite charities, being the Leukaemia Foundation, Amnesty International and the RSPCA in my support of health, human rights and animal protection; all charities I’ve seen direct action from and feel I can trust.  I also deposited some money into the commissary account of Damien Echols from the West Memphis Three to contribute to his nutrition while on death row, making a direct impact to his quality of life.

 

As my Christmas holiday involved a plane journey I ensured I put some money into the Guide Dog containers scattered throughout the airport and donated my change via the UNICEF envelope distributed with Qantas headphones.  I also signed petitions for World Vision and Amnesty for causes I believed in.  I purchased gift tags only from companies that gave a portion of the purchase price to charity and I picked up this little guy from IKEA to put under the Kmart Wishing Tree.  He made me smile and I hope he makes a child in need smile for a time too.  I considered at length whether I could bring myself to donate blood but simply the thought of giving a whole bag made me considerably squeamish and so I decided against it.

 

I expect some will judge me for my meagre contribution.  It would not be the first time.  But I believe I’ve made a difference that requires no approval and while it may not seem like much now, I know I’ve fuelled a  fire within myself that will lead me to make regular contributions by any means I can.  Perhaps I can urge you to do the same?

 

Week 40. Resolution 40. See the Tim Burton exhibition. October 11, 2010

To you Tim Burton may be that creepy wild-haired director who sodomises your favourite classic film by packing it full of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and the sense that there’s something dreadful lurking around every corner.  I have a friend who recently admitted she runs a mile from any project emblazoned with Burton’s name (an admission I find inconceivable because regardless of your feelings about Burton, surely the promise of spending two hours with Johnny Depp is enough?) so I’m well aware that Burton’s work is not for everyone and even I, committed fan, agree he has made some poor choices and had some poor choices thrust upon him.

 

But it is not Tim Burton’s directorial choices that fill my heart with boundless joy. It is the world of darkness that resides in his head, so evocative that it manifests in his films as moody set pieces, tormented creatures and shadowy landscapes.  Although I’m intensely fearful of horror films Tim Burton has a gift of making horror comforting, almost cartoonish, giving the sense that while you may find something terrifying beyond your wildest fears when you turn that corner, you may also find something equally sweet and simply misunderstood.  Only Tim Burton can make me recapture that feeling I had as a child when I still solemnly believed fairies and witches were real and if there were some way to step out of this world and into his, I WOULD DO IT, without second thought, without looking back (and regardless of whether Johnny Depp lived there or not).

 

Naturally, on hearing Tim Burton: The Exhibition was moving into Melbourne’s ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image) I was ready to sacrifice my favourite childhood toy if I thought it would help me get me there.  But lack of money being a source of unremitting frustration this year meant that I was going to have to stay home and live vicariously through the tweets of those who could go.  The exhibition was launched in Melbourne by Tim Burton himself, complete with red carpet arrival and the apparition of a headless horseman and carriage rolling around Melbourne streets.  To accompany the three-and-a-half month exhibition ACMI ran a Tim Burton Masterclass which was beamed to the watching public in Federation Square, the Burton Club—a nightclub featuring cabaret acts, workshops in subjects such as make up, animation and soundtrack, talks exploring his works, a film retrospective, a competition to find the horseman’s head and an online gallery to which artists could submit their Burton inspired works.  It’s enough to make your head spin (if you have one).

As any ardent fan knows having to live with the guilt of never making it to the exhibition would have been much, MUCH harder than whatever sacrifices it would take to get there and so I always knew I would get to Melbourne somehow.  Initially I suggested to ACMI that they should run a competition to fly Burton’s biggest fan to the exhibition and save on advertising costs by giving the prize to me.  (To which they replied ‘nice try’.)  But thanks to the note on my desktop with the exhibition’s closing date serving as a daily reminder and much scrimping (whatever that is) and saving I eventually booked my flight to Melbourne to attend the exhibition in its final week.

 

It was a perfectly overcast Tuesday morning when I made my way to Federation Square and after paying the $19 admission fee and passing by the Batmobile and inflatable Balloon Boy I reverently entered the exhibition while my insides did star jumps.  Descending the escalator into darkness I was first greeted by a topiary deer and Edward’s scissor hand, although having to view this from four people deep initially made me feel like going all scissorhands on their hair, but thankfully the crowds thinned eventually.  The first area addressed Burton’s youth, featuring childhood sketches, student films and school assignments, giving an excellent opportunity early on in which to relate personally to him.

 

The next room featured a dizzying display of drawings from his days studying at CalArts and working for Disney, covering a range of styles and techniques that alone would have constituted a fantastical art exhibition, clearly highlighting when his vision began to adopt its own style.  I was quite surprised as I hadn’t realised he was such a talented, diverse and prolific artist.  There were also large sculptures and a showing of Burton’s twisted Japanese short film adaptation of Hansel and Gretel.

 

I then entered the ‘Burtonarium’, a black-lit hallway surrounded by neon monsters ending in a carnival tent that contained a glowing carousel atop a plasma lamp.  The next few rooms extensively covered Burton’s film career with art, costumes, film snippets, sculptures, hand-written notes, storyboards, models and set pieces from all of Burton’s films—Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks!, The Adventures of Stain Boy, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, the upcoming feature Frankenweenie and all the pieces in between. *deep breath*

To explain any of the pieces to you would be an injustice to those I didn’t (the severed heads from Mars Attacks! were particularly cool even though I was unnerved about having to share my view of them with a little girl whose fascination bordered on disturbing) but the exhibition was so vast and wonderfully atmospheric that were I still living in Melbourne I would have bought a season pass and been there every day.  There were countless exhibits I wanted to rip off the wall and run away with, or even seek out someone I could ask about buying certain pieces, but I decided I’d have to settle with whatever the gift shop had to offer.

 

It was only later that I discovered the exhibition was curated by my new heroes Ron Magliozzi and Jenny He, curators of my second favourite exhibition ever ‘Pixar: 20 years of Animation’ (Tim Burton is now the first).  In an interview with them I read that the exhibition was so comprehensive in part due to Burton’s diligence in archiving his own career which, for some reason, makes me love him more.

 


Evil citizen

With some time to spare I began to wander back through the exhibition again and take an odd sneakyphoto on my iPhone until random cranky woman told me off for it.  I cannot stand when normal citizens take it upon themselves to uphold the photo law and was so put out that I left.  I most likely deserved it but that didn’t make me feel any less dejected.

 

I was all prepared to throw money I don’t have at everything in the gift shop until I read in the exhibition pamphlet, with great excitement, that I could buy a copy of ‘The Art of Tim Burton’ for $89.95.  You can imagine then how gutted I was to discover it had sold out, so I bought a copy of the exhibition book instead (why do these books never sufficiently capture the exhibition for people who want to relive their experience?) and dragged myself away.

 

Unfortunately most of the extra-curricular activities surrounding the exhibition occurred in the early days or on weekends and so I wasn’t able to partake in any of these fantastic events, although having already seen Burton speak in London I was not too fussed.  In fact, I was just so thrilled to have made it to the exhibition at all.

 

Ever since, I’ve been on a fanatical mission to acquire ‘The Art of Tim Burton’ having spent hours scouring the Internet for a copy, although as it turns out, you can only buy them online from the publisher for $69.95 US (if you’re prepared to fork out $130 for postage).  While I’m fighting this for now, I’ll no doubt give in eventually.

 

Cue Vincent Price voiceover.  Fade to black.

 

ACMI

Photos courtesy of ACMI, my SLR and sneaky iPhone, Sea of Ghosts and err, some other places on the web.

 

Week 37. Resolution 37. Eat my weight in chocolate. September 22, 2010

Chocolate.

Healer of heartache.

Soother of souls.

Warrior of weight gain.

According to the most popular bookmark we sell in our bookstore, ‘chocolate fixes everything’.  This is clearly rubbish and I’ve thought about it long enough to say so with certainty.  But chocolate does appear to contain some magical soma-like property that humans for thousands of years have failed to resist.

When making a list of New Year’s resolutions most people tend to gravitate to those that deprive them of something—quit smoking, drink less, eat healthier, exercise more, save money.  But the truth is if you really wanted to do any of these things you’d be doing them already.  Breaking a habit takes far more dedication and focus than most people are prepared for.  And preparation really is the key.

That’s why I’ve chosen to eat my weight in chocolate as one of my resolutions because it’s better to reward than to punish.  I’m not the kind of person who can eat a block of chocolate, a tub of ice cream, or a pack of biscuits in one sitting as the guilt would compel me to run around the block 50 times in penance.  (Or, more specifically, ONCE because I’m not that fit.)  However if there’s no chocolate in the house at precisely 8pm every night to accompany my evening cup of tea it’s not unusual to find me hiding in the cupboard snorting cocoa, eating spoonfuls of dry milo or swilling chocolate topping.

Having established in my last post how much I like a buffet then clearly a chocolate buffet is the absolute pinnacle of all dining experiences.  Sure, it may not offer as much variety as say, Sizzler (and I’m not just talking about types of bacteria) but it does offer more in the way of SIN.  Because according to the second commandment ‘thou shalt not eat their weight in chocolate’.  Strike me down oh Lord, because in the immortal words of Dawn French when faced with a chocolate fountain, I’m going in!!!

This month Bistro Allure is holding their seventh annual ‘40 days and 40 nights’ chocolate buffet for $25 a person (although if you happen to be looking for a Brisbane chocolate buffet experience outside of September/October then Stamford Plaza host their chocolate high tea every Saturday and Sunday for $42pp).  It took all of a second to convince my chocoholic mother to be my sweet-toothed date.

On arrival we did a whip around to survey the treats that were soon to be in our bellies.  On offer was a fridge ‘choc’ full of tarts and sweets, a chocolate fountain, a freezer of ice cream with a range of different toppings, a counter of cakes, vases full of jaffas and chocolate covered honeycomb as well as chocolate pancakes, croissants and puddings.  Is your mouth watering?  Well it should be.

But what to shove in our faces first?  A profiterole, a strawberry ramanoff and a pot of tea, that’s what.  I don’t really like profiteroles but I regularly forget this because it’s easy to get caught up in their hype.  This one was a little dry but the ramanoff was destined to be a hit as it combined my favourite flavours of berry and chocolate in a strawberry-topped-mousse-like package.

Next we bombarded the chocolate fountain with skewers of strawberries, melon and marshmallows. The chocolate was runny and thick, becoming hard on impact with the fruit but still soft enough to scoop off your plate by the finger load.  I did find an extremely suspicious hair in my chocolate but we shall forget about that in the interests of maintaining your jealousy.

Mum then went on to sample a white chocolate and berry cheesecake while I gutsed myself on ice cream flavours such a cookie dough, coconut, double chocolate and choc-mint.

By this time my sweet tooth was well and truly satiated and I began to crave a savoury.  Unfortunately, unlike the Stamford Plaza chocolate high tea which I’d sampled many eons ago there were no savouries on offer as part of the buffet (nor was there chocolate spaghetti but thou shalt not be picky) and so we decided to purchase a plate of sea salt encrusted chips from the regular lunch menu.  Delish!

Mum eventually had to prise my fingers from the table to get me to leave the land of chocolate, even though I was now so rotund that I had to be rolled out Violet Beauregarde style, but it’s simply not often enough that such a range of treats is there for guiltless scoffing.

So if you’re interested in getting your chocolate on there’s a couple more weeks to take your loved one along to the brunch, lunch or dinner sessions at the Sebel King George Square.  I’ll be the one standing outside with my face pressed against the window drooling.

 

Week 2. Resolution 2. Be a Better Photographer. January 17, 2010

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I figured the best way to make the ‘resolution challenge’ more interesting would be to document my progress with photos – so this week’s resolution was to learn to be a better photographer.  I’ve always loved photography and even studied black and white SLR photography at school, however having never been able to afford the equipment these skills fell by the wayside.  In the years since, I’ve done my best with various ‘point and shoots’ but beyond framing of the subject there’s not a lot of creative control that can be had without an SLR.  You can see some of my earlier work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/starlsy/.

For Christmas my dad gave himself a new SLR which meant his old one became mine – hooray!  Wanting to learn the ins and outs of this new machine I picked myself up a copy of Tom Ang’s ‘Digital Photography – An Introduction (3rd ed)’.  This guy is apparently the best in the business and has published a tonne of books on the subject.  I started resolution #2 by reading through the first half of the book which is dedicated to shooting (the 2nd half talks about retouching) but was quickly disappointed that there was very little of value to be learnt from this book, however it did give me a basis to explore some of the technical terms on my own.  After venting my frustration to a friend, who is also a stunning photographer, he explained a number of the areas that were causing me grief in ways that my research failed to do.  Here’s a little blog he whipped up for me and others who might be confused by the basics of SLR photography – http://www.stevenlippis.posterous.com/the-joy-of-depth-of-field/.

Next step was to read the camera manual for my Canon EOS 350D, which resulted in me taking far too many test shots

Test - Laptop & Blinds

of the TV, my laptop, and the blinds.

To make the challenge totally authentic it required a photography excursion.  Dad was also keen to try out his new camera so the family decided to go to Alma Park Zoo, which is just down the road and even though my folks have lived nearby for seven years, none of us have ever been.

Between Dad and I we took 800 photos (the majority of them mine).  Unfortunately I had my camera set on the wrong ISO setting for half the day, but I suppose that’s all part of the learning process!  Dad has a swanky zoom lens and only ever uses the automatic settings but you can see from the results just how much more interesting his photos are.  Although it was nice to have both cameras, with one documenting close-ups and the other getting a little more of the environment.

I planned to spend the remaining time getting to know Photoshop a little better so I could dazzle you with my photo skills however on Thursday I was struck down with an unusually painful cold and was bed-ridden for the rest of the week.  I expected the challenge to be thwarted at some point, but not so damn early on!  So unfortunately all the above photos are untouched.

As a result I’ve decided to tackle Photoshop as next week’s challenge.  I know it’s a cop-out but I think I’d really appreciate the extra time to spend with it since my knowledge of the program is only at about 7%.  And it’s something I’ve really wanted to do for years and only ever had the time to half-heartedly commit to it.

I am really passionate about taking photos and I loved this challenge so I plan to do a more in-depth photography course sometime within the next two years.  I’ve been a frustrated photographer for long enough!