To Do, or Not To Do. That Is the Question.

There are people who write ‘to do’ lists, and people who don’t. I’m in the former group and I didn’t even realise there was a latter group until a few years ago.

I had offered to host Christmas Day lunch for my extended family and while it was a relatively small group, I was still overwhelmed by everything I had to do to prepare. The only way I got through it was to write the mother of all to do lists: 43 discrete tasks which I planned out and numbered, making sure that all dependencies were taken into account and contingencies covered.

And the system worked. I had everything so well organised that when the doorbell rang at lunchtime on Christmas Day I was the picture of cool and calm organisation.

When I proudly and enthusiastically showed my sister-in-law my list she gave me the most extraordinary look. It was as if I’d just told her that at night-time I grow a horn from my forehead and a bushy white tail and turn into a unicorn. After a minute she said, “Yes… A to do list.” [Long pause.] “How does that work?”

I blinked at her. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t you just know what needs to be done and then do it?”

“Ummmmmmmmm.”

I’d never met anyone that didn’t use to do lists of some kind. I didn’t know what to say. I’m also a believer on this topic that if you have to ask the question, you probably won’t understand the answer, so that was more or less the end of the discussion. Not to mention which it sounds rather sad to have to admit that life is so beyond you that without carefully planning every little detail, even something as mildly challenging as hosting lunch for seven people at Christmas would become impossible.

I’ve realised lately, however, that not all to do lists are created equal.

Very recently I spoke with a friend who, like me, is not in paid employment at the moment. We were talking about what we’ve been up to since finishing work and how we fill our days. At one point in the conversation she told me that she used to think that she wasn’t getting to things on her to do list because she was working full-time but now she realises that isn’t the case!

I could totally relate. My own to do list has gotten longer since I stopped working. My friend said that it was perhaps time to go through her list and decide if things are a priority or not. If so, do them. If not, perhaps it was time to take those things off the list.

Which is a very good point. I recently found an old to do list from the late 90’s. It was a bit depressing to discover I hadn’t done about 70 per cent of the things on that list. When I looked at those things, though, they were all non-essential, non-critical, ‘nice to have’ things. The important things had got done.

I’ve reviewed my current to do list and it turns out just over half the tasks are of the nice to have variety.

Will I ever do these things? I don’t know. Probably not.

Does it matter if I keep them on the list anyway? Again, probably not, as long as I’m honest with myself and modify my expectations. Understand that this list is part to do and part wish list.

And meanwhile, if I ever experience the heady high of a to do list ‘win’ again, as I did with that Christmas a few years back, I’ll think twice about sharing it with anyone but confirmed to do list people.

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Oh, To See the Sea

I’m not quite sure when my love affair with the beach and the sea began. What I can tell you is that going to the beach and seeing the sea has become synonymous in my life with meditation. It is calming. Centring. Perhaps because the sea connects us all, it helps me feel tuned into the broader picture, connected with far away places, with my fellow man, with the planet.

small waves crashing onto sand

The pull is so magnetic, so powerful, so magical, that I get a sense of excitement when I merely glimpse the sea, whether behind hills, through trees or gaps between houses, as I’m driving along the coast. Just one look and my heart skips a beat, my breath catches and I swoon.

boardwalk leading to the sea

It isn’t the sea on its own that attracts me. Several years ago I went on a cruise with some friends and I found it rather frightening being out in the middle of deep blue rolling waters that seemed more like a giant bowl of choppy dark blue jelly than the sea I’m familiar with. I felt as if the water was ready to swallow us up at any moment.

No, it’s seeing the sea from the comfort of land that does it for me. And it’s where the land meets the sea that I am most enthralled.

sand, sea and sky at dusk

I have friends who I know feel the same, and recently when I was in Greece I discovered that one of my cousins felt exactly the same way too. “Look,” she said, as the sea came into view when we were driving to the coast, “Doesn’t it make your heart sing?”

A few years ago I read a beautiful piece by Jason Newman called “I Like The Waves” that immediately resonated with me. First published in The Big Issue, it beautifully and eloquently sums up how I feel about the sea. Jason has kindly given his permission for it to be reprinted here:

I Like The Waves

Standing on the beach staring intently at the horizon. I like the way the ocean moves, pulsates, alive. Always moving and changing and yet seemingly still. I like the view of the water, makes me think of eternity.

Can there be nothingness? Where is the edge of everything?

I like how the waves keep moving.

It makes me feel free and at peace. Yet at the same time inspires within me an awesome feeling of how did we get here?

I like the way the ocean and the waves are like the moods of my life. Sometimes clear, calm and peaceful. Other times stormy, agitated and filled with fear.

I like how the waves, the ocean, the sound and smell can make me feel peaceful once again. Away from the chaos and drama of day to day life.

I like how the ocean and the sky meet and blend into one. I like the shoreline where the tides rise and fall. A forever changing zone or no man’s land, torn between two worlds.

by Jason Newman

tide washing over sand and shells and stones with weathered poles in background

I have a memory of being at the beach with my family and friends when I was around five years old and being extremely happy. I’m pretty sure it’s a memory manufactured from photos of the day in question, but that doesn’t make it any less reliable or strong. In the photos I’m frolicking in the waves, lying in the shallows with the waves tickling my toes; giggling, smiling, laughing.

Perhaps that day was when it all started. When I was charmed by the beach and fell in love with the sea.

child in water at the beach

To Forgive, Divine

Last year I learnt how to forgive. You might think that at 42 years of age forgiveness was something I probably should have already mastered but I’m not talking about schoolyard forgiveness. I’m talking about learning how to forgive the big things. The things that really hurt us.

I’d always thought forgiveness was over-rated. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget” used to be my mantra. I didn’t understand how people who had suffered terrible pain or loss at someone else’s hands could forgive that person. Understand why they had committed the crime or injustice, sure. But forgive them? How could you do that? And why would you want to?

The thing is, Izebelle, the woman who taught me how to forgive, made a very compelling argument. She explained that when someone does something to upset you, you need to thank that person because they have helped you identify something in you, some wound, that you need to heal.

You need to do this so you can release the anger or upset within you in order to find balance again. We are all flawed; none of us are perfect. Forgiveness, Izebelle said, is about not taking on board the negative emotions – fear, jealousy, rage, evil and so on – of the other person. These things manifest in you as anger and bitterness, but left unresolved can lead to stress and even serious illness.

No one had ever explained it to me like that before. What she said immediately resonated as I recognised a lot of the anger and bitterness I felt was caused by unresolved issues from the past. People that had hurt me and that I could not forgive. Things that I had done that I could not forgive myself for. Things I could not let go of.

I’d also had a lot of personal experience with stress causing illness, including serious illness, and a lot of secondhand evidence, too, from within my family. Suddenly it all made sense to me: I could see why forgiving people would be a good thing to do. As my friend Joanna, who works in healing and wellbeing, put it when I shared my revelation: you don’t forgive them for them; you forgive them for you.

One of the first things I did when I first learnt about forgiveness was to finally forgive a manager that had bullied me ten years before. I had felt an ongoing hatred of this person and had never been able to let go of the pain she’d caused me. Yet now it was actually easy to forgive her as I realised I no longer wanted inside of me that bitterness, hatred, pain and anger. She could take it back, thank you very much. I forgave her and moved on.

Since then I’ve forgiven a number of other people, too, including myself. I realised late last year that if I still feel any anger over an event in my past it is probably a case of unresolved forgiveness. I try to identify the wound that needs healing and once I’ve done that, I thank the person, forgive and let go. “It’s in the past, let it go” is my new mantra.

Whenever it happens, I feel lighter; less burdened. Like I am literally carrying less baggage.

There have been other unexpected benefits, too. I recently met up with a friend in the foyer of the building where he works. It happens to be the same building that I worked in when I was bullied. For a very long time my memories of that workplace were tainted with such distress that I found it too painful to even walk past that building. He brought this up but I told him it was okay, I no longer feel that way.

Suddenly a flood of happy memories from my time in that workplace before I was bullied, things I had forgotten for over a decade, overcame me. I realised that releasing the painful memories had allowed the happy memories to be set free. I felt like I was reclaiming some of the lost fun, happiness and joy in my life.

And it felt divine.

Which Way to Confusion Corner?

Have you ever been waiting for someone on the street and seen someone standing near you looking slightly confused? You know what I’m talking about. They look a little lost. Like they’re having an internal conversation with themselves, trying to figure out their next move but unsure which direction to move in.

Those are the people I have a weakness for. When I see people like that I have an overwhelming desire to walk up and ask if I can help them. The thing is, I’m trying to learn to control this urge because I have an unfortunate history of … well, getting it wrong.

It started a few years ago when I was waiting for my friend Turtle (long story) on the corner of Bourke and Spring Streets. Turtle and I used to meet every Monday for a coffee and at the time, we’d meet at Bourke and Spring and then walk down Spring Street one block to Café Excello. As I stood there and waited I noticed a little old lady near me, looking a bit lost. I asked if I could help and I can’t remember now where she said she wanted to go but I remember telling her she needed to catch the 112 tram, which for the non-Melbournians in the audience, you catch from Collins Street.

Now… that part of it was correct. The part I stuffed up was when I told her to catch the tram from the tram stop “just there” (ie on Bourke Street), because (and I know it sounds unlikely but it’s true) I thought I was on Collins Street at the time.

It was only once Turtle and I had got to the café and I was proudly telling him what a great citizen I was, that I realised my mistake. As if on cue, just as I was thinking about how annoyed the poor woman must’ve been when she realised I’d given her the wrong directions, she walked past the cafe, heading towards Collins Street to catch the 112 from the correct tram stop. And yes, she looked very annoyed.

Thereafter Turtle referred to our meeting spot at Bourke and Spring as “Confusion Corner”.

The second instance of my inadvertent unhelpfulness occurred about a year after the Confusion Corner incident. I was on a tram heading east along Bourke Street when, just before the Bourke Street Mall, the tram pulled up quite suddenly. After a minute or two the tram doors opened, despite not being at a designated stop. I poked my head out to take a look and saw that my tram was behind several others that were banked up.

There was only myself, a young man, and a family of five from India who were clearly tourists, on the tram. After another minute or so, the young man got off the tram and the Indian family looked a little hesitant. A little lost. Thinking that something had occurred on the line further down and that the tram would be terminating, I told the Indian family to hop off the tram as it would be travelling no further. They looked a bit unsure but I assured them that I worked in public transport, which I did at the time, and that was enough for them. They all stepped off the tram.

On the other hand, I wanted to investigate the matter so I headed to the front of the tram. I was just about to knock on the driver’s cabin door when the tram’s engine kicked into gear, the doors closed and we started moving. I looked onto the street where the Indian family that I had persuaded off the tram were all pointing and looking up at me with looks of utter confusion and utter disdain. I felt terrible because I really had meant to be helpful.

So after that I tried very hard not to give anyone directions or be helpful in any way. Best to just leave people to their initial confusion rather than confuse them more, I reasoned.

I was doing fine but then recently it happened again. It was on my road trip with my friend Joi. We’d stopped in Lakes Entrance for the night and had gone out to a really lovely dinner at Miriam’s. We were walking back along the Esplanade to our motel when a man coming towards us asked us if the KFC was “that way” (ie behind us).

Now, in my defence, I’d had a little bit to drink and I was really tired. “Yep! Right down there!” I said to him cheerfully, glad to be of service. Which is why it was such a shame that we walked another 20 metres or so and came upon the KFC… in exactly the opposite direction to the one in which I’d pointed.

Which is why if you’re ever feeling a little lost and you see me on the street, and I have a really helpful look on my face, it’s best you turn around and start walking away from me. Very very quickly.

My Top Ten Road Trip Tips (or, How to Road Trip with Your Friends Without Killing Each Other)

I recently come back from a five day trip away with my friend Joi. In the past we’ve gone to Mexico together, to Great Keppel Island, on a cruise along the Queensland coast (with two other friends), and even on a one day “Monopoly tour” of London.

This time we ventured on the road, driving from Melbourne to the South Coast of New South Wales, also known as the Sapphire Coast. Being in a confined space for an extended period of time with people you know, or even complete strangers for that matter, could be a recipe for disaster, so we were pretty pleased that our first road trip, which covered over 1,400 kilometres, was such a success.

road map marking Melbourne to Merimbula

On that basis, in case you and your friend(s) have decided to hit the road together, here are my top ten road tripping tips to keep you from killing each other.

Establish the ground rules before you set out; this will help avoid arguments and misunderstandings later on:

1. You may have a detailed itinerary or you may, like us, set off with a general direction in mind but without a specific plan. Either way, it’s critical that you agree on your approach to the road trip before you head off. This includes agreeing on the accommodation budget as well as whether you’re going to take the ‘roads less travelled’ or stick to the beaten track. Make sure everyone’s comfortable before you proceed and don’t assume anything. (You know what happens when you assume!)

2. Be open and honest with each other about your needs, without making it all about you. You can’t read each other’s minds so it’s best to speak up about your own needs while understanding and respecting your friend’s needs too. It’s about compromise.

Joi and I agreed that we would speak up if we were feeling too hot or cold in the car, if we were driving and were too tired, if we needed to stop to stretch our legs or go to the toilet or eat something or even if we needed to nap. We had a “driver gets to choose the music” rule but also a “music veto” sub-clause that meant if the driver chose music that the other person just couldn’t stand, the other person could veto it.

view of Victorian State Forest through windscreen with feet on dashboard

On the road:

3. Share the driving – or be prepared for lots of breaks. No one likes driving for hours on end without a break, not to mention it can be quite dangerous. So either take a break while your friend drives or take multiple breaks to stretch your legs and/or get some rest if you’re the lone driver.

4. Bring up-to-date paper maps with you; don’t just rely on your smartphone or sat-nav. If technology (or mobile reception) fails you, you can always rely on the good ol’ fold out touring map. We found that we used our hard copy maps 95 per cent of the time.

5. This may seem obvious but… always keep an eye on how much petrol you have left, keeping in mind how long your next block of driving is. You can fill up as you go or wait till you’re under a quarter tank full and then fill up; whatever your strategy you absolutely do not want to run out of petrol in the middle of nowhere.

6. Bring your own snacks so you don’t need to buy something every time you need to munch. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find something suitable to eat in every small town you stop at so have your own supply. I’d suggest a combination of healthy and not-so-healthy goodies (there are times when only chocolate will do).

7. Keep water in the car with you. The last thing you want is to get dehydrated as you’re driving and if you have it in the boot of the car with the rest of your supplies you’ll likely go several hours without drinking.

Sign at entry of Eden Killer Whale Museum

Off the road:

8. You’ve decided to stop somewhere for the night and you don’t have accommodation booked. There are a couple of options at this point to help you get the right accommodation and each has its pros and cons:

  • Head to the local Information Centre. The pro is that you get help from volunteer locals who do all the hard work for you (ie make calls to check for availability, etc). The con is that unless you ask questions or volunteer a bunch of information about your taste/needs/budget, the volunteers will make some assumptions and you may end up in some place you wouldn’t have picked for yourself.
  • Get out your smartphone and look for accommodation online. The pro here is that you feel empowered that you’re seeing all the options and can decide on something that suits you (based on the info and photos provided, of course). The con is that not every local place may be listed or discoverable online. Also, you have to do the ring-around yourself which can be a bit tiresome when you’re at the end of a long day’s drive.

Merimbula Aquarium and Wharf Restaurant

9. Know your budget. If you are intimately acquainted with your budget, or even if you just have a rough amount in mind of what to spend per day on food and accommodation, you will be able to make little adjustments along the way without blowing your budget. For example, choosing bargain accommodation for a night or two might mean you have the money to splurge on a classy dinner or more expensive accommodation later on.

Most important of all:

10. Give each other space when it’s needed. This is true for any trip away with friends but especially so if you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a confined space together. Maybe one of you wants to do something and the other doesn’t, perhaps one (or both) of you is feeling a little moody… whatever the reason, if you sense a bit of tension in the air, give each other some space till the tension clears. You don’t have to be in each other’s pocket all the time.

Happy road tripping!

water crashing on rocks at Tathra

Have you been on a road trip? Was it a success or an epic failure? Feel free to share your story and your own road trip tips.