Cats - Sawyer: OMGYEY!

Halfway There

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And still, I've lost the taste for coffee. I wonder if I've become more sensitive to sugar? Maybe I should give black coffee a go instead of drinking what my friend Liz haughtily calls "coffee-flavoured beverages". ;)

I am loving the shit out of Zap Fitness in Kingston. My week-long trial is over but once the dust settles from the Melbourne trip and the Big Move, I think I'm going to join. It's $11 per week, no-contract - if there was a contract involved I wouldn't touch it with a fifty-foot pole.

I've deliberately not allowed any recent photos of myself on Facebook... I will only upload a picture again when I hit my target weight. I want to mess with people a little. Dollars to donuts nobody's going to notice a damn thing, but it amuses me, so hey. Joe's parents have helped my cause along by just recently uploading pics of their visit here early this year, when my weight peaked.

Oh, and I've hit the phase when the weight starts coming off my boobs. DAMN. Still, I'm a DD, I can afford to lose a bit there.

If you made it this far through my boring entry, you get high fives! *slap'd!*

A bit exhausted!

"A bit exhausted" is bad phrasing; I should really just state that I'm tired.

Work has really kicked in and I'm getting shifts like whoa, which means lots of moneys (good!) but a whole lot less time (bad!). My priorities have shifted accordingly and I've shelved some things for the time being - blogging, the novel, art, mostly the impractical / creative stuff. It'll all get time from me again eventually, but right now I'm focusing on working, saving money, and fitness. I've lost almost 10 kilos now, which puts me nearly at the halfway mark. I'm working out with weights heaps and have a respectable set of biceps, but I've still got fat on my upper arms that disguises just how awesome my biceps are. That's a shame, so I'm working on cutting that down. Aside from my home weights, I've been gleefully using a free trial at a gym in Kingston, and it's gone so well I think I'll join. Zap Fitness is one of those new 24 hour, no-contract gyms. You pay a month ahead (it's about $11 per week) and then you just pay by the month, and you can leave at any time. Handy! The equipment is top-notch too; the weight machines have some of the smoothest movement I've ever experienced, and the aerobic machines all interface with iPods and the internet so you can keep track of your workout stats. We live in the future!

Another thing keeping me away from Livejournal and the internet in general is our upcoming move. Mum's heading back up to QLD in early December. Joe and I have given notice to the real estate for the end of November. We're terminating the lease early, but it's not a lease break. The real estate failed to make requested repairs for months on end. Legally if they fail to make repairs within 28 days of the request, we're entitled to end the lease with only two weeks notice. We gave them a month. As we're jointly earning more money now than we ever have before, this time we're going to hire a bond cleaning company (we've requested the real estate recommend their own preferred cleaners) so that the final clean will be flawless, saving us time, effort, and potential loss of bond.

What else... I'm still art tutoring the next-door neighbor's son and nephew, though they're selling their house so they'll be moving on soon too. Hopefully the arrangement can continue in some way, but if not, I'm earning plenty elsewhere.

I purchased a HUGE cat run from another next-door neighbor (we have five... it's an oddly-shaped block). It's in compartments joinable by tunnels so right now we've just extended our existing run by adding a tunnel out to a large compartment on the lawn, so the cats can nom on lawn salad after every meal. They're loving it! The other bits are in storage, no point putting them up when we'll be moving so soon. The next place is going to be cat-tastic, though. I also got a scratching pole for them. Jangles was over the moon the instant he saw it. Nami no longer gets velcro'd to the carpet by her own claws. My washing basket is no longer being clawed to pieces. Everyone's happy. :D

So Joey and I are looking around Kingston and Huonville for our next rental; both are further out from the city, but in both places you get nicer houses for the same money. Particularly Huonville. That's where we want to wind up buying land and building a small shack, so we think that renting there for a couple of years while I study will be a good way to get to know the place, and see if it's what we hope it is.

Joey's going well - Subway is still paying too little for the amount of crap the job involves, but it's a job and Joe's getting plenty of hours, so for now it's enough. He's keeping an eye out for new opportunities, though. I think we're both content to pretty much do whatever for money right now. Our dreams seem to have perfectly aligned; all we want is a couple of acres of bushy land where we can build a small shack and start crafting awesome gardens. Good land is cheap down here so this is actually achieveable for us. We have one small debt each to clear - his is about three grand, mine is $1500 - and when that's done we're going to start saving for our deposit. Then I'll go to uni, Joe will consider what he wants to do longterm, I'll finish uni and (hopefully) get a steady job with the ambos, and sometime after that we plan to have a baby. Wow, it feels odd to write all that down. I was so blase about it the first time around, when I was engaged - I was doing it all because it was what I thought people were supposed to do. Now each step in that plan is something we've weighed up, and will continue to weigh up. Slow and steady does it.

In other news, we've met a really nice local couple - read into that what you will. We've got a whole lot in common with them and I look forward to getting to know them better.

Mum, inadvertently, is a source of stress at the moment. She's lovely and she's been a pleasure to live with, but since she got here she's been depressed for one reason or another - homesickness, job stress, and now her long distance boyfriend has broken up with her. I'm doing my best to comfort her, but she's taking it very hard, and I know firsthand that only the passage of time will really help. It's difficult watching her suffer so much in the meantime.

So yeah, tiredness has meant we've missed more than one social engagement lately in the name of giving ourselves some downtime. I am sorry for that. But for November, at least, I just need to focus on working, earning, planning and keeping fit. And that one little trip, heh.

STILL no word from the university on whether I've been accepted in the B Paramedic Practice. I work with a girl who's applied as well (which is nice; if we both get in we'll both already know one of our classmates) and she says she's been told we won't find out until late November.

I seem to have gone off coffee for no reason at all. Suspect it's a side-effect of getting healthier and a lower body mass - now when I drink caffeine I get a bit too buzzed and feel ill, and my appetite is generally pretty low anyway. That could just be worry about mum and my full-on work hours, I don't know.

Good things ahead: despite the fact that we're going to be busy as whoa with the move at the end of the month, we're taking a few days in the middle of November to fly to Melbourne and meet up with a whole bunch of beloved Brissie friends. We're nominally there to attend the Glen Keane Masterclass being held as part of the Dreams Come True exhibition at the Australian Center For The Moving Image, but I think we're mostly there to see each other. Damo is going to be there, hyperventilating over the chance to meet his animation hero. Helping Joey and I restrain him will be Mark, Rosa, Katie, JB, Amanda, Adele, and anyone they tow along with them. We're staying for five days so there's definitely going to be drunken karaoke and, for Joey, family visits. For anyone reading who isn't into animation (are there any of you who aren't??), Glen Keane is the artist who animated the Beast's transformation at the end of 'Beauty and the Beast'. He's also responsible for Aladdin, Ariel, Marahute the eagle, and a number of other beloved characters and Disney moments. The man is a genius with a pencil, possibly the foremost working animator in the world, and once upon a time I would have been pants-wettingly excited about meeting him. I'm not so supercharged over animation anymore - most of the appeal of this trip for me lies in seeing some of my very best friends - but I'm still pleased I'll get to meet him. I've got Andreas Deja's autograph in The Art of Lilo & Stitch, and I fully intend to add Glen Keane's signature to Bruce W Smith's drawing of Kerchack inside the front cover of The Art of Tarzan. Somewhere inside me, there's a twenty-year-old me geeking out a little. :D

Speaking of family (a bad segueway but I DID mention them somewhere in that last long paragraph), Joey's gran had a bad fall and is in hospital right now, so visiting her while we're in Melbs is essential. As for my extended family: my dad called recently to let me know that my Poppy's cancer has returned and this time there's nothing they can do. He only has six months to two years left. Nanna, in the depths of dementia, isn't much better off. So sometime early next year I expect I'll be organising to meet Dad in Sydney to say my goodbyes. I don't know how to feel about it. I never got the chance to get close to any of my grandparents. Truth be told, Poppy is the only one of the four who isn't either crazy or mean - and I don't say that lightly; two of my grandparents are literally crazy, and another is one of the cruellest men I've ever known. Poppy, on the other hand, is lovely. I wish I'd had the chance to know him better, so I'm not going to miss the chance to see him for what will probably be the last time.

I'm still reading everything you guys write on here.

Time to get ready for work!
CD - Darrell: ??

Commissions (briefly) open

Well, it's been a while - a couple of years at least - but I'm opening up for commissions, just briefly.

On offer: five slots for turnaround model sheets. Sorry, four (I opened on Twitter first, so one slot is already gone.) Three!

I had to do a lot of turnaround-style model sheets back when I was designing toys, and they've become a bit of a speciality. These sheets offer four views of your character (front, front 3/4, side, back 3/4) and will be in full colour.

I figure you guys already know what I do, but just in case, my portfolio is here:

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Five slots, each @ $200, each to be finished within a week from when I receive the details.

1. b_dingo
2. katarina42
Cats - Sawyer: OMGYEY!

Silly head!

Courtesy of hammond, I now have a silly head to go with my silly journal. Observe: tania

In other news, I've been taking it easy and putting off writing the second half of the Vipassana entry (soz to those who've been waiting).
Tania pratfall

Status update

I will do the rest of the Vipassana update tonight. For now, some general stuff:

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I've hit a plateau in my weightloss. Frustratingly, it's keeping me JUST over the 70kg mark. But, I soldier on. The number 69 has never seemed so appealing... hurr hurr. ;) If you think in pounds rather than kilos, I started at 169lbs, am currently 155lbs, and intend to reach 119lbs by the end of February next year.

I got the cinema job - did I mention that here? I'll be working in Gold Class. Paid training starts around the 10th of October; I'm filling in and sending back the forms today. I'm excited for this job, not because working in a cinema has ever been a dream of mine, but because it's not a supermarket or fast food place, because they've promised me as many hours as I want while I'm not at uni, and because it's the sort of job that'll fit in beautifully around my studies next year.

I don't yet know if I've been accepted into the B Paramedic Practice. UTAS doesn't start releasing offers of place for quota-restricted courses until Oct/Nov/Dec. Not knowing is killing me, but I'm working on increasing my patience, so this is a good thing to practice on.

Jangles has a little freckle on his nose. This worries me. Joey and I are broke until my current brochure client pays up, or until I get my first pay from the cinema job, whichever comes first (and it may well be the latter). I can't find a vet who allows deferred payment or even a payment plan, so this means no vet for Jangles until then. I'm trying not to worry too much, as worrying won't get him a vet checkup, it'll just get me stressed, and that won't help anyone.

Mum's decided to go back to QLD; she's in love with a guy up there and she found the winter too cold down here. Mind you, she moved down here in late May (the start of winter in the southern hemisphere) so she's only been here during winter and has known no other season. Spring is springing as we speak. Perhaps a nice summer will change her mind. I doubt it though; she once sold just about everything she owned to move to New Caledonia for a guy, so this is nothing in comparison.

Once upon a time I would have been disappointed, and probably angry, too. Joe and I went to a great deal of effort to find a house that would be suitable for mum and her dogs, putting aside many things we wanted in the process. We got a place that was more expensive than we'd have liked because mum wanted somewhere 'nice'. We turned down a lot of houses that we liked because mum needed a place that would take her dogs. We chose a suburb far closer to the city than we liked because mum wanted to be close to work. We also, obviously, got a bigger place than we'd have chosen for just the two of us. She's talking about leaving in February; the lease here doesn't expire until the end of April. Joe and I can't afford this place if she leaves.

It's all good, though. Once I'd have been upset because I'd have liked my parent to be more steadfast and mature than I am (and honestly, it's not a terribly high benchmark I've set there), but mum is what she is, and there are a great many things I like about her too. Wishing for someone you love to change is not healthy, nor constructive. We'll figure out some way to deal with the practical issue of the lease when we pick mum up from the airport tonight.

Once I'd also have been upset because I'd hoped mum would be around when Joe and I went ahead and had a child - we do intend to do that in three or so years, once we're both better-established but while we're still young - but if having a child is reliant on having family members around to help, that doesn't make us very committed parents, does it? I certainly hope we will be good enough parents that we can do it ourselves, without any help, tricky though that may be at times. I can't help feeling a little knot of anxiety when I think about doing it alone. We have no experience with babies. Childcare is expensive. Neither of us will ever be rich and I don't know that we can afford to have a child if one of us has to stop working for years to make it possible.

But, it's not my family's responsibility to help out with any part of it. Plenty of other couples have done it alone. And I've done most other things in my life on my own, and I'm still here.

It'll be nice, anyway, to have a place of our own again! I've enjoyed living in close contact with a family member - it's been a long time - but Joe and I live so well together now, I don't think we ever want to share again. We actually had 'come share with us' offer recently from a couple of new friends. They're awesome, but we turned them down because we just don't want to share with anyone again. Let nothing disturb our peace.

We're talking about buying a house when I finish uni and start working. We'll need six months or so to save a deposit, but it's do-able. I've checked the pay tables for graduate paramedics and it's a solid starting figure. As an artist, it took me ten years to reach a pay level that the Bureau of Stats tells us is the "average female wage" in Australia. As a paramedic, it'll take me only five years to get to that same figure - and that includes the two years of study. And Joe's management training starts next week, after which he should start getting full-time hours. Mind you, Subway's pay is criminally low, but if Joe spends a couple of years there as a manager while I'm studying and working casually at the cinema, we'll get by, and he'll be able to use that managerial experience to step up to a better-paid job around the same time I do. So in a couple years' time, if we hold the course, we should be ready to buy. The affordability of housing down here will work very well in our favour.

I have pretty much resigned myself to the idea that life will always be a financial struggle. As long as we're getting by, we'll be okay.

And now it's 2pm and I haven't eaten anything yet. THIS is why I'm getting stuck on a plateau, I suspect. No early breakfasts to kickstart my metabolism. Must work on that.
Tania pratfall

Vipassana Experience - part one

I've been away! Very far away from all things internet. From September 8th through September 19th, I took part in a ten-day Vipassana meditation course held on a private retreat up near Mt Dromedary, northwest of Hobart. It would turn out to be one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I've so much to cover here that I'm not going to attempt a structured approach... or editing... or brevity. Forgive me; I did not have time to make it short. ;)

Vipassana (pronounced "Vi-PASH-na") was first recommended to me by the lovely niaid. After having such a stressful time of my freelance contract earlier this year, I'd been wanting to take a break of a week or so and go holiday somewhere to rest and reset my mind. After I did some reading it became apparent that the Vipassana courses were far more than that - hardly a rest retreat - but I was intrigued; I had to know what this technique was, and what it could achieve. So I signed up and went in with an open, yet cautious, mind.

In English, Vipassana is often referred to as 'insight meditation' (though they never called it that at this camp), and I've seen similar techniques used in mainstream psychology - used, in fact, by the very respected and professional psychologist I saw back in 2007 - under the term 'mindfulness'. The basic idea is that happiness is not achieved by getting what you want; it's achieved by accepting what you have. That's a gross oversimplification; I'll expand on the concept later on.

Dhamma Pabha ("Radiance") is the Tasmanian Vipassana retreat; there are similar ones in most mainland Australian states. You'll also find them throughout Europe, the USA, India, South America... there are hundreds of retreats in hundreds of countries worldwide. With springtime springing just about everywhere you look in Tasmania right now, the land around Dhamma Pabha looked gorgeous. As the taxi wound the country roads around needle-topped Mt Dromedary, I drank in the sight of wattles in bloom everywhere, explosions of gold among the greenery. Within the campsite, the setting was no less gorgeous. What I liked best were the arrow-straight eucalypts with trunks of shimmering silver, sleek and bare of branches to the height of two or three telephone poles. When the wind blew hard (which it did often, that week) a billion leaves roared with the sound of a tidal wave washing over the camp. Red-gravelled walking tracks wove through the charred remnants of trunks that stood as monuments to a bushfire that almost crippled the retreat a few years ago. Everywhere I looked, fat little wrens darted among the bushes, including that most photographically elusive of Tasmanian birds, the Superb Fairy Wren. I call it the 'Nemesis Bird'. It delights in waiting until you've just got your DSLR focused and then, sometime between your finger hitting the shutter and the shutter actually releasing, literally vanishing. That's right, Tasmania is home to the world's only vanishing bird.

Fortunately, we were not permitted to take cameras (or notepads, pens, phones, medication, etc etc) onto the site, so I was not faced with the dilemma of the Nemesis Bird. I simply admired.

And everywhere I looked toward the ground, wombat poops. They're easy to spot: they're shaped like cubes (I'm not making this up) and wombats like to place them deliberately in view on top of stones or raised areas, anywhere to get attention. I also found a couple of inactive burrows, but never saw an actual wombat. Tricky buggers.

The accommodation was better than I expected: the camp was divided into a female and a male side, and each side had two sleeping buildings, each with six small, private rooms inside. The facility houses up to twelve males and twelve females at a time, plus volunteer servers, who sleep in separate caravans. So hooray for privacy! My room was very simple: door, light, single bed, bedside table, folding chair, and hooks for clothing. That was it. Oh, the heating there was fantastic - I think it was the in-floor type people are always going on about down here, as I never found a vent and it was SUPER-effective. Good thing, too, because the weather over the course was particularly foul. More on that in part two (yes, I'll talk about the weather - but only because something exceptionally cool happened!).

The setting also included the teacher's accommodation, the meditation hall (shared between men and women, with a sort of imaginary line down the middle where the heaters were kept. Males on one side of the heater-line, females on the other) and a kitchen/office building where we weren't permitted to go. There was also a toilet block and a laundry/shower block. The showers were the worst; the water was hot but the pressure was nonexistant. I'd somehow forgotten to bring shampoo, and the pressure was too low for the water to get through my thick hair, but I Macguyvered through my meagre possessions and discovered a plastic freezer bag. Each time I had to wash my hair I'd fill this with hand soap and use that as shampoo (it's seriously the same stuff; I'd wash my hair with laundry detergent if I found myself in need) and then repeatedly fill the bag with water under the shower head and tip it over myself to rinse my hair. It worked nicely and made showers bearable.

Finally, there were two greenhouse sort of structures which contained tables, a heater each, and stools made from large sections of tree-trunk with hand-sewn cushions on top. The greenhouses were temporary dining halls; next to them, a proper dining hall was under construction. As all Vipassana facilities run strictly on donations and are not for profit, building tends to be slow and steady.

So. I arrived on a Wednesday afternoon. From the moment we entered the camp we were separated, males and females, to keep any form of distraction or sexual misconduct as unlikely as possible. I wonder, have they considered the fact that at least some of the attendants will be LGBT?

The women cackled away like hens. We had only an hour or two to do so: after signing a couple of forms and listening to an orientation speech, we were to make our way to the meditation hall for our first session, at which time the rule of Noble Silence would take effect... for the next ten days. We were not to communicate with one another in any way: no speech, facial expressions, hand gestures or writing.

This in itself was interesting. So determined were we all to avoid breaking Noble Silence that I, and others, found ourselves avoiding looking at faces altogether by the end of the course, and it took a day or two to get back into the habit of making eye contact.

Speaking of habits, I ought to outline the rules we were facing. As well as agreeing to Noble Silence, we all signed a document to say that we'd stick out the full ten days without running away. The depth of mental tinkering this technique goes into could, they say, be harmful if not seen through until the end. They say Vipassana is like brain surgery you perform on yourself. To get up and walk off the operating table halfway through the procedure could be dangerous. Nevertheless, we lost four women - a good third of the total - and one man before the end of the course. One was a smoker who couldn't handle going cold turkey; one was a heavily pregnant woman; one was a German backpacker who got more than she bargained for, and one was a woman for whom the technique didn't seem to work. But even putting all those things aside, I completely understand why they left. I wanted to leave by the fifth day. By the seventh, I was climbing the walls. It was TOUGH.

The rules, or precepts, are actually a part of the Vipassana technique. A preparation, like not eating for however many hours before said operation. They are:

- to abstain from killing any being;
- to abstain from stealing;
- to abstain from all sexual activity;
- to abstain from telling lies;
- to abstain from all intoxicants.

In the interests of honesty, I'll admit I broke one before the course was through. I'll leave you to work out which.

The course was broken into sections. Each day was basically similar, the timetable something like this:

4:00am: Wake-up bell
4:30am: Start meditating in own room or in hall
6:30am: Breakfast and rest
8:30am: First group sitting of the day, an hour in the hall
9:30am: Continue meditating in own room or in hall
11:00am: Lunch and rest
1:00pm: Second group sitting of the day, an hour in the hall
2:00pm: Continue meditating in own room or in hall
5:00pm: Dinner and rest
6:00pm: Third group sitting of the day, an hour in the hall
7:00pm: Teacher's Evening Discourse
8:00pm: Continue to meditate in hall, followed by time for questions if desired
9:00pm: Bedtime

We each bought our own small alarm clock (after Noble Silence was lifted on the final day, there was much mirth over the lady who'd brought a clock which crowed like a rooster) but in case that didn't wake you up, one of the servers wandered the camp at appropriate times banging on a beautiful Tibetan-style bell/gong. It was the least annoying bell I've ever heard, which was sort of comforting at 4am.

Technique instructions were given to us via recordings (voice for the group sittings, video for the evening discourses) of S N Goenka, the course teacher. On hand to answer questions and offer guidance we had Andrea, the Assistant Teacher who trained under him.

The following picture is Goenka, addressing the U.N. - yeah, believe it or not, Vipassana and the ideas behind it are being taken pretty seriously.

He was an incredible speaker. Each of the discourses was about 90 minutes long, just him talking into the camera, and each was riveting. He had the charisma and laugh-out-loud-humor that you only see rarely, in very happy and well-adjusted people. Honesty, passion, logic - and the man could tell a story like no other.

This was the technique. We learned in four stages.

1. Anapana -

This was meditation based on awareness of one's breathing. For the first two days, every hour of meditation every day (and we spent about 12 hours per day meditating) was focused on watching one's own breath. Not controlling or changing it, that wasn't the point. The point was simply to observe what was there, in finer and finer detail. Nominally this technique is very calming, but that's a mere side effect. The aim was to sharpen the observational power of the mind. At first many of us had trouble perceiving our natural breath at all. By the end we were noticing the minutiae of it. This is what I experienced: the cool of inhalation; the warmth of exhalation; the movement of the tiny hairs of the nostril and upper lip; and, finally, the pulsing of the blood vessels beneath my skin. And beneath that, a tinier detail still; the faintest tingling.

Our minds were like monkeys, eager to skim away on some other mission the moment we stopped concentrating. Remembering the past, contemplating the future, and in my case, writing, writing, writing. Oh god, these techniques unlocked my creativity like nothing I've ever experienced. NOTHING. By the end of the ten days I'd outlined two novels. And, of course, we weren't allowed pen or paper. This rule was in place for people like me. Sadly, it did not entirely stop me thinking about the story; it's amazing what my usually-sieve-like brain can store when someone forces it into a corner.

On the night of Day Two (actually my third night, as we stayed the night after Orientation) something incredible happened.

It was the last session of the night, post-discourse, in the meditation hall. My back and legs had been hurting from the lotus position, so I set myself up against the wall. I relaxed, and put all stories and memories and plans out of my mind, and concentrated on my breathing, each breath sharpening the mind, in, out, like sharpening a razor against a piece of leather. Back and forth, honing the blade of my awareness with every stroke.

I sank, deep. Awareness of what was around me - the breathing of others, their soft movements - dwindled away, and I drifted down into the darkness. It was like swimming down into dark blue water, but never feeling any pressure, only softness all around. I was not asleep, quite the opposite. I was keenly aware of everything that was happening, but my awareness was focused inwards, not out. Time lost meaning. I remember noticing that my hands, resting on my knees, had seemed to vanish; I could no longer sense them. There was only my breathing.

I sank, and felt as though I found the bottom of the pool and... well, I'll leave that 'til last.

The session ended. I rose back to outside awareness, feeling a sense of calm the size of the world. I walked outside, and managed to get my shoes on, and headed back toward the dorms, crunching along the darkened gravel path. Completely at peace, overwhelmed by peace. I started to cry, silently, and when I reached my room I sobbed into my pillow - still silently; thin walls - for an hour before I found sleep.

And when I woke up, I remembered it all. The feeling was still strong, then. I cried, again, intermittently, for the rest of that morning. That happened to be the morning we had our individual meetings with the Assistant Teacher, Andrea. I told her what had happened, briefly, and that I couldn't stop crying. I cried a little as I told her. She smiled and said this was normal. Vipassana and Anapana are designed to get to deep-rooted issues in the mind, to clear them out of the unconscious. I was crying because I'd dug up some old and tangled roots, some hurt so deeply buried I had no memory or name attached to it. This was a good thing. This was progress.

I'll explain more about the function of Vipassana itself tomorrow (Anapana is merely training for Vipassana, though it's quite effective on its own). This entry is getting too long and I'm tired. The memory of that enormous calm was not always enough to sustain me through the eight days that followed - that second night represented the most overwhelmingly positive experience I had on the camp. I would do ten days for that feeling again, but only if I knew I would get it, and there's never any guarantee. You can't rely on getting a particular feeling from this sort of meditation; the whole point of Vipassana is that you accept what comes your way, good or bad, with awareness and equanimity. You're not supposed to have any aversion to the bad feelings, or craving for the good.

But still... but yet...

When I was down there at the bottom of the pool I reached out and touched something. I don't believe in any god, but I feel like I touched the place where gods are born. I won't say I would give anything to feel it again - that would be craving, and craving leads to longing, to misery. But I will say that, though the memory is slipping away day by day, I am so very grateful I felt it. The boundaries of my world pushed outward that night. I'll never forget.
Hot Fuzz

Writer's Block: Redo

If there was something you could change about your past, what would it be?

This is a weird question for me. There are a lot of things I'd have changed at the time, but nothing I'd change now. Does that make sense?

2007. I wanted to be anywhere but, well, in my own skin for over half of that year. It was one enormous cock-up. I regret the numerous personality defects that led me to that place (all of which I've worked on since); I regret being so blind with anger and pain and neediness that I hurt people while stumbling about trying to save myself. I regret not saying "no" on my worst day. I regret pursuing someone who was an incredibly poor choice - that, more than anything, demonstrates how messed-up I was around then.

A few moments in 2007 mark the closest I've ever been to suicidal, and I'm not that kind of person by nature; I always saw it as cowardice, weakness, and those are two things I can't stand. But there were times when I hurt so much I could barely stand. I'd never before experienced emotional pain with such depth it brought me to my knees and more than once, I just wanted it to end - I didn't care how.

Having survived that experience, if I could change it now - erase it so it never happened - I wouldn't, no way in hell. Pain is transformative, strengthening, illuminating. I wouldn't want to go through it again, but if changing it meant throwing away everything I learned from it, that's far too high a price to pay.

Other stuff: sometimes I think I should have finished my B Animation degree. Then I remember that if I'd stuck around beyond the halfway point I'd never have had the opportunity I took at Liquid Animation, and that choice led to ten years of work in the industry. No regrets there, except that it looks bad on paper to have only half-finished a degree - but screw what other people think; my subsequent work history and my abilities speak for themselves.

I wish I'd been more sexually open when I was younger. I was far more conservative in action than in attitude (I'm the same on abortion: I support a woman's right to choose 100%, but I don't think I could actually bring myself to have one, regardless of the circumstances) so I think I denied myself a lot of experiences out of this sense of responsibility, this idea that I wasn't allowed to make 'stupid' choices. I felt I had to get everything 'right'. Almost rushed into a premature marriage because of that.

Mistakes are a great way to learn. I don't think I allowed myself enough mistakes.

I know! If I regret anything, it's all the chocolate. Chocolate always winds up making me fat and then I have to become a friggin' fitness freak to pare myself back down to a healthier (and sexier) weight. I am not too good at moderation. With a father who has been obese all his adult life and a mother who has historically struggled with yo-yo dieting (though she's good now, the woman is tiny) I really ought to keep closer tabs on myself. I love being slim and sprightly and bouncy, I love having energy and strength; chocolate sneaks up on me and gradually takes that all away. So yes. If I have any regrets, they are all plastic-wrapped and sugar-filled.
Tania pratfall

Irons in the fire

Quick word on my last entry: it wasn't a criticism of any particular career. The point I was trying to make was that you will always be happier doing something that is important to you - and what's important differs for everyone.

The past few days have turned up a few interesting developments:

- CINEMA JOB OPPORTUNITY: One of our new Tassie friends who works at the cinema let me know that they're hiring, and promised if I got my resume in on Sunday she'd bring it to her boss's attention on Monday. Specifically the cinema is hiring people to work in Gold Class, which requires the RSA certification, but I found a place where you can do it online (the proper certification, I double-checked that) immediately for $75, takes about four hours. So I updated my resume, wrote a covering letter, sent it all in and now my fingers are crossed - it'd be a great casual job to have for the remainder of the year, and particularly while I'm studying next year.

- ART JOB OPPORTUNITY: Nepotism is the order of the week; my mother (who heads up a new child protection program) told me that her boss wants her to hire a casual artist to work theraputically with the teenagers in the program, and he actually suggested that she hire me, citing that it's a "family-oriented" business. They have to finish setting up the safety aspects of the program over the next couple of weeks, so they don't have a definite date for me yet. I feel vaguely weird that this opportunity came from my mother, but on the other hand, nepotism is definied as "awarding a job on basis of relationship, WITHOUT regard to merit", and I think my work history makes me a good choice for that job regardless of mum's position in the company. (Or, you know, whatever. Mum got me a job, neener neener. 9_9 )

- FREELANCE: My brochure job for Shayna's company is just about done - I'm finishing up today. It would have been Friday but for the real estate promising to do an inspection "sometime between 9 and 5" and then forgetting entirely. When I called to remind them, they hurriedly turned up at 5:30. ANYWAY. I've got a logo job to go on to afterwards, from one of my favourite clients. I'm also under consideration for an illustration job that hammond told me about, but I'm not gambling on getting that one.

- SCHOLARSHIPS: My goodness, applying to uni is so much easier than it used to be. The UTAS website itself provided a massive list of scholarships and their requirements. All I had to do was check the boxes of the ones relevant to me and upload my CV, and now I'm under consideration for about seven different scholarships for next year, a couple of which cover all HECS fees. I don't have high hopes and I'm certainly not relying on any windfalls, but it's nice to be in the running.


I was going to head back up to QLD in September for the CYA Conference (writing for kids) but my second draft isn't far enough along to warrant the cost, I think, and I'd rather wait and go up in October. Celebrate Joey's birthday, catch up with friends, etc.

From September 8 - 19, I'll be away from home at the Vipassana Meditation Centre taking part in one of their ten-day meditation courses. It's pretty full-on, and I'm nervous. For ten days you stay on-site. The vast majority of your time is spent in guided meditation. You eat what they give you - simple vegetarian meals - and sleep where they put you. You are placed with members of your own sex only, and you are not permitted to speak or communicate with the other students in any way for most of the course. No sexual activity, which is going to be tricky (I'm assuming 'solo' is included in that). No phones, no wandering off-site, you're not even meant to take anything to write on.

The part of my mind that generates stories is screaming, "OH MY GOD, WHAT IF IT'S A CULT?!" I shall have to get Joe to check me for zombie-like behaviour afterwards. ;)

The idea is that you're spending ten days exploring your subconscious to great depth. It's not religious, just intense. I forsee myself struggling with boredom, loneliness, the inability to speak, the desire to write things down (for me, that IS meditation), and the no-sexual-activity rule. Ten days without an orgasm? Joe had better be well-rested when I get home.

I'm doing this because it's very different to anything I've ever done, and that alone is a good reason to do it. I'm also doing it because, who knows? I might find out something new about myself. And even if I don't, even if it turns out I just spend ten days bored and itching with impatience, at least this'll teach me some patience. At least it'll only be ten days out of my life. And hey, I like vegetarian food.

More detail here:

The other issue I forsee is that phones are forbidden - I really hope I hear back about the cinema job before the start of the course, as I won't be able to receive / return calls during it. If I haven't heard back I'll alert my friend at the cinema before I go, so she can pass on my absence to her boss, and I'll leave my phone with Joe with instructions so he can field my calls.

So there you go, exciting times ahead! And I'll be sure to share it all with the four or so people who still read this journal. ;)
Cats: The way to heaven

Discussing apathy

Unstructured ramble ahoy!

Joe went to the doctor this morning to get a referral for a shrink. The doctor believes he's suffering from minor depression and major apathy.

Afterwards, we both had a laugh about it. We talk about everything and we both knew this diagnosis or something very much like it was coming, and I think we're both just glad we've got to the point where Joe's able to do something about it. The doc thinks he might wind up on medication for a little while, just to reset his brain. This concept makes perfect sense to me. After a horrendous 2007, during which I suffered from a few months worth of brief but powerful depression and made some bad choices, I started taking medication in early 2008. I was only on the meds for a few months and, along with a few sessions of therapy, they really helped me climb back on the sanity horse. Yee-ha.

Medication for a broken brain is like a cast for a broken leg. It takes the pressure off so you can continue to function while the wound heals.

So, a diagnosis of apathy. Is apathy an actual condition?

Apparently, the answer is "maybe". It's not officially recognised by psychiatrists in the same way depression is. Wikipedia tells us this:
Mental health journalist and author John McManamy argues that although psychiatrists do not explicitly deal with the condition of apathy, it is a psychological problem for some depressed people, in which they get a sense that "nothing matters", the "lack of will to go on and the inability to care about the consequences". He describes depressed people who "...cannot seem to make [themselves] do anything," who "can't complete anything," and who do not "feel any excitement about seeing loved ones." He acknowledges that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not discuss apathy. In a Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences article from 1991, Dr Robert Marin MD claimed that apathy occurs due to brain damage or neuropsychiatric illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson's, or Huntington’s, or else an event such as a stroke. Marin argues that apathy should be regarded as a syndrome or illness. A review article by Robert van Reekum MD et al. from the University of Toronto in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry (2005) claimed that "depression and apathy were a package deal" in some populations which may help illustrate what people mean when they say that "The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy."

Joe's apathy is not terrible. He functions as a human being. He does enjoy many parts of his life. He is in a strong relationship and he holds a job - not only that, his boss is impressed enough with his work that Joe's being promoted to store manager - but behind closed doors Joe struggles to find an overarching narrative or meaning to his life. I've faced this myself at times - I suppose it's something facing many of us who don't buy into religion or fiscal/social success as belief systems - the thought, "Why does any of this matter?" We aren't capable of religious belief; we ask too many questions and are dissatisfied with the answers we've received thus far, and we also know that promotions, money, fancy houses and nice cars don't actually bring you happiness. Generally, finding things in life that matter to you personally is enough to satisfy people like us; we create our own meaning. Joe sometimes struggles with that part.

I wonder, is apathy on the uprise? This is probably an assumption, but I think that we as a society live easier lives now than ever before. Gen Y has never faced conscription, or felt the shadow of a war that encompasses the entire world. In Australia we automatically get loans to attend university, our basic medical care is covered, and a safety net prevents unemployment from meaning "head directly to the streets, do not pass GO, do not collect $200". Most of what we want and need is delivered to us with minimal effort. Sometimes I think entertainment is such a big deal now because we need all those flashy films and shiny toys to distract us from the essential meaninglessness of our lives.

I think the happiest people may be those who feel like they're making some small difference to the world: social and medical workers, Christians preaching the word of God, architects working on projects that will literally change the face of the world in which they live, writers and activists espousing messages they care about deeply - and then, on the other end of the scale, there are those who enjoy the act of consumerism and the struggle for social success so much they don't stop to consider what it all means. Ignorance is bliss.

I think, therefore I am miserable.

Zooming back in on apathy, check out this interesting graph!

"Flow" is one of my favourite mental states. At Disney (and presumably elsewhere) they called it "The Zone". It's the zen-like trance you fall into when you're doing highly skilled work you've become so good at, it's second nature. This state is achievable when you've worked through the craft of your skill area - that massive mental checklist you need to go through to inbetween correctly, or shoot an arrow accurately, or perform dance moves with technical perfection - so often they are ingrained in your subconscious, so all that's left for your brain to do is let your artistry take over. Artistry is what happens when craft becomes second nature. In my experience, 'flow' is a difficult state to reach, but a rewarding one.

Apathy is on the opposite end of the scale, the state that exists between 'boredom' and 'worry'. It's also at the point of the graph where both 'challenge level' and 'skill level' are at their lowest. Is it any wonder we see so much apathy in our generation? Our world is designed for the lowest common denominator. We don't really have to think about anything. We've worked diligently for generations to make the western world practically automated: robotic vaccuums for our floors, news delivered in ultra-simplified headlines and soundbites, fast food standardised all over the world and served to you cheap, hot and ready in under a minute.

I lost a ten-year career to apathy. It's hard to make art when you just don't care about it anymore. My last job was making art for pokies - I don't know what they're called in America, but I'm referring to electronic slot machines. On good days the job was enjoyable, primarily because my coworkers were amazing people, and secondarily because it was easy - I was using expertise I'd already developed. On the graph above, my mood at that job fell under 'relaxation' - high skill, low effort. Sounds ideal, right?

There were two problems. One was that my skill level was enough of a match for the job that I didn't have to try terribly hard anymore. Relatively, my "high skill" no longer felt like "high skill" to me; it felt about as challenging as washing the dishes. Less challenging, actually. So when you're working at a low effort job and you feel like you're using low skill, you slide back into apathy. I could have worked to be a better artist - branched out into real media, for example - but the job didn't require it, and as time went by, I cared less and less.

The second problem was this: On the days when management frustrated me, I found myself thinking: "none of this matters!" I had no deeper meaning to turn to; I couldn't think to myself, "Well, management sucks but at least I'm out here helping people / changing lives / learning something new / pushing the boundaries of myself and/or my field." I couldn't even tell myself, "Well, at least my work is bringing joy to somebody" - it wasn't! I was making art to lure sad, poor, foolish people into throwing their money into the pockets of wealthy, immoral people. Nothing'll kill the last of an artist's creativity faster than being part of something like that. Sometimes I think I'll spend the rest of my life making up for it.

Our lives are not, by nature, particularly hard anymore. We need to make them hard for ourselves. It's not organic, sure - it's giving our lives meaning that we generate, not meaning pushed upon us by necessity - but there's a paralell that's summed up in a great exchange in "Back to the Future III" (of all places!):

Doc: "And in the future, we don't need horses. We have motorized carriages called automobiles."
Saloon Old-Timer #3: "If everybody's got one of these auto whatsits, does anybody walk or run anymore?"
Doc: "Of course we run, but for recreation, for fun."
Saloon Old-Timer #3: "Run for fun? What the hell kind of fun is that?"

Doc's explanation is not entirely accurate. He's right in that we no longer need to walk or run to live in this society. But the majority of us who run don't do it for fun. Running itself is actually kind of painful. The fun lies not in the act, but in the results: endorphins, a good body, a feeling of strength and wellbeing.

Likewise, a person could easily live a life in modern Australia with minimal effort. We no longer need to strive, or to put ourselves into difficult or challenging situations. But our minds crave a challenge. We need life to be hard not because being outside our comfort zone is fun, but because the fitter mind that results is fun... or at least, more fun than apathy.

Don't let yourself get bored, guys. Don't let everything become too easy. Think hard about your life. When was the last time you tried to learn something new? When was the last time you felt challenged? Frightened? Exhausted? Triumphant?

When was the last time you felt like your actions mattered?