If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the pantry…

That was it. After brushing off my first solo Valentine’s Day in as long as I could remember with relative grace and nonchalance, it took one newspaper article to push me over the edge. I had, until this point, tolerated a marathon of lame Valentine’s Day advertising, tacky point-of-sale displays and questions about how many dates I have (none) with little more than a roll of my eyes. But then came this; the promise that I could live to be 200 years old with perfect skin, enviable intelligence and superhero-like cancer fighting abilities – if only I wasn’t disqualified for suffering the dirty affliction known as singlehood. And I’m pretty sure they cross-sell a scrub for that too. In truth, I wouldn’t know. Read it? Oh no. I just huffed indignantly, gave it the finger and recognised my metamorphosis into a crazy woman that gestures at inanimate objects.

I thought I was cynical about Valentine’s Day when I was in a relationship; now I realise that was kind of like feeling cynical about the Liberal Party before Tony Abbott was actually in power. It takes on a whole new meaning when you find yourself knee-deep in the trenches, deflecting looks of unnecessary pity from well-meaning couples like strikes against your armour (and your country selling off half its natural resources to the highest bidder).

You see, even prior to this heightened dislike for the occasion I was somewhat of a Valentine’s Day Grinch. I worked within the marketing team of a national gift company where I was responsible for crafting clever advertising messages (AKA thinly veiled guilt trips for people in relationships) and even better, we became an inbound customer service call centre the week of Valentine’s Day. So I generally felt nothing but contempt for the occasion and the entire human race by the time 5pm rolled around on the 14th of February. My last partner was equally as romantic, so we killed two fat baby cupids with one stone by also calling Valentine’s Day our anniversary and making a no-present rule for both. Instead, we’d enjoy a nice dinner together – he’d sometimes surprise me with a single red rose and I’d sometimes surprise him with a six pack of beer – and that was just the way we liked it.

And while I have little time for the commercialisation, I have to admit that I really looked forward to my Valentine’s Day dinners. Maybe because time spent with people we care about is what Valentine’s Day should be all about. Or, more likely, it was my unparalleled love of food and the fact that making it to a dinner table that night signalled the end of my customer service duties for another year.

In any case, my inner argumentative child decided that I shouldn’t have to forgo Valentine’s Day dinner just because I’m single. I refused to feel like a leather-skinned, half-brained cancer breeding ground thanks to a Sunday Herald Sun lift-out. I would take myself out to dinner, thank you very much! You’ve worked hard at your relationship and want to celebrate it? You’ll hear no complaints from me (provided you keep the PDA to a minimum). But I’ve worked hard to remain independent and genuinely content with my own company in a world that tells me I’d be TRULY happy if only I was a little thinner, a little less pasty, a little taller, a little more married and didn’t have that bump on my nose from the New Year’s Eve I walked into a door while yelling at a guy I’d just kissed. And I want to celebrate THAT.

I could already smell the tom yum soup, the yellow tofu curry and the looks of incredulousness from coupled-up patrons that I planned to snub my nose at superiorly. That was, until I checked my bank account and found a pitiful 50 cents in it. I did, luckily, find a pack of old Starbursts from last year in the back of Mum and Dad’s pantry, so that’s something to look forward to…

Not to put ideas in your head, but if you are planning on showering me with secret admiration today, I’m accepting cash, cheques and Coles Myer gift cards.

From hermit to humanist: How I learned to value Homo sapiens only slightly less than cats

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m not exactly a people person. I live on my own when the finances allow it, I find afternoons spent with animals to be sufficient social interaction and I’m usually the one on nights out with girlfriends that some douchebag – having picked up on my disinterest in engaging in bullshit banter – feels the need to point at and sarcastically address with “whoa girl, pipe down over there!” My friends have come to affectionately use the term ‘Tara time’ for the solitude I require after social outings, to regain my energy from the personal-space-breaching, aurally-pungent privacy thieves otherwise known as strangers.

So when I took off for the United States on a characteristically solo adventure, I’d never have guessed that as I sit here in my final Los Angeles hostel reflecting on what has made my journey so far, my answer would unquestionably be ‘the people’. The revolving door cast of characters that entered my life for a few hours, a few days or a few weeks and made me feel like I was watching my own personal Coen brothers character drama unfold from the inside.

Like the little Asian guy who left his affluent family to bike across America, including a three-day stint in federal prison when he forgot he was carrying four grams of weed across the Minnesota border. The firefighter who’d just returned from a two year tour of duty in Iraq. The Vancouver Canucks. The Las Vegas strip club promoter who kindly drove me around in his beat-up car at daybreak to search for my wallet after losing it in said strip club. The girl I met in a clothing store in sleepy Stonington Connecticut, who took me out for a night on the town and later to a family dinner on the Upper East Side, where her Uncle introduced us to a quaint piano bar and I actually cried at a particularly moving rendition of a show tune. Not to mention the many hostel nights when I walked into a room not knowing a soul at 6pm, only to wind up crashing at sunrise after too much wine, a bunch of new friends and some more crazy stories later. It would take pages to list them all and in fact, I began to. Rather than keeping a journal of my travels, I’d reflect occasionally on the people who had punctuated them and scribble down as many as I could remember, knowing that a quick read of that list later would stir a big smile and possibly a little wanderlust.


Myself and my fellow Homo sapiens enjoying Texas national parkland

And on the flipside, when I found myself in the periods of solitude I’d deliberately peppered throughout my time in New York – thinking they’d be my saving grace across an otherwise socially exhausting few months – I found myself longing for my new friend; people.

I’d had such romantic ideals about days on end of Tara time; taking in sprawling city skylines and studying New Yorkers in their native environment from behind the safety of my coffee cup and latest novel, a’ la Sir David Attenborough. But it was the complete lack of interaction on those days that moved me more than the sights themselves. Sights which felt a little – well, hollow – without someone to throw a knowing smile at and acknowledge what had just been witnessed. I found myself turning over in my head that clichéd expression I’d always detested; that life is only meaningful – or in the words of the great Alexander Supertramp, that happiness is only real – when shared. Oh how I’d hated that notion! What an insult to my independence and my ability to create my own happiness! I’d thought it was a weak position, if not an entirely dangerous one, to allow our experience to be defined by the company we kept.

But I’m so glad for even the low days in New York, because in contrast to the bustling month that preceded them they provided a surprising new perspective. Strangers didn’t feel like energy-drainers all of a sudden; they were opportunities for connection, giving energy to situations by elevating them through a moment of shared experience. I guess that’s why I began taking myself to East Village karaoke bars and asking nice U.S. naval officers to grab a bite to eat in Koreatown. There is a difference, it turns out, between finding meaning in interaction for interaction’s sake and allowing other people to validate you. Maybe that’s Homo sapiens 101 for the more socially apt – maybe an extrovert would have had the reverse experience on this trip, of finding unexpected satisfaction in moments of quiet solitude and learning to enjoy their own company. But with those things coming rather naturally to me, I guess it’s not surprising that the things that pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me question my beliefs were the things that delivered the real soul food.

It’s a nice little reminder to embrace that which we find daunting – it’s usually where the gems are…

All that I have sleeps beside me

As some of you know, a few days ago I finished up at my marketing gig of over five years, moved all my worldly possessions from my city apartment into a bedroom at my parents’ house in Gippsland and I’m less than a week away from trekking across the U.S. I know that you know this, because after I finish this post (and my second wine) I’m planning to throw my blog open to the scariest people in the world – my friends. Don’t get me wrong, you’re a pleasant-looking lot and all pretty tops people. But at this point I’ve shared my words with about zero people for fear that someone might, I don’t know, ACTUALLY READ THEM. This thought is at once both terrifying and – nope, just terrifying. But life is about to get all kinds of unnerving and exciting and if I’m ever going to share my journey, now’s the time right?

So as I sit here writing this, surrounded by every material object I have collected in my life so far, no job to get up for in the morning, not to mention having recently split from my partner, it’s a strange, leveling feeling. Between me and my cohort of stuff, everything I have done in my life until this point can be accounted for in this very room – and absolutely nothing else is expected of me right now. At the risk of sounding completely self-indulgent, it feels like a weird kind of rebirth; suddenly I’ve become acutely aware of the blank slate I’ve created for myself.
Erada quote
Yes, that’s exactly the way I designed it. But when I woke up this morning, jumped on the treadmill, cranked up the iPod and the first lyrics to permeate the air were “…sweet dreams, when I’m alone, all that I have sleeps beside me…” this strange water-like fluid starting gushing out of my eyes. Okay, I burst into tears. And I realised for the first time that this next week between my old life and my new one is going to be a tough slog. I’ve been so busy getting through the last few weeks of finishing up at work, moving house and catching up with friends that I haven’t had time to think about what I’m giving up and the people and experiences I’m going to miss. Well, my tear ducts decided that 8.30am this morning, after exactly 20 seconds on the treadmill, was the perfect time to consider all of this. And yes, I finished my workout, because endorphins are ace when you’re feeling like a big, vulnerable bag of emotions.

I know it’s the right decision for me; the travel alone will be a game-changer and I’m setting myself up to actively create the life I want when I get back. I can, thank god, still count my ex partner as one of my best mates. And no matter what happens, I have always lived by the belief that I’ll never regret anything I felt I needed to do at the time. But I am, admittedly, equal parts excited and shitting my pants.

Luckily I’ve had friends go through this exact same experience who warned me there would be days like these. Days when you question what the hell you’re doing, when you’re feeling exiled from your old life and not quite settled into your new one. They told me there would be tears. And thank god they’ve been right so far, because they also told me that after a good night’s sleep and the next morning’s fresh perspective, I’ll wake up knowing I’m exactly where I need to be, on the cusp of the most amazing experience of my life so far.

Which I guess I knew all along. Stupid Patience from The Grates and stupid, stupid tear ducts…

My first kiss, AKA the day hope died

At the risk of outraging every feminist I know with this sweeping generalization… What is it with chicks and rom coms?

I count myself among these trash-watching women. In fact, the trashier the better. Former Disney stars, straight-to-DVD movies, terribly unimaginative plot lines? Bliss. I secretly relish those Friday night trips to the video store when my boyfriend is out with friends and I can unashamedly pluck any terrible flick from the shelves. Well, almost unashamedly. My lowest point would have to be when the male cashier at Blockbuster looked at me, looked down at the cover I’d covertly slipped him across the counter, then looked back up at me and said “Really? High School Musical 2?” But I digress.

It’s a strange love/hate relationship with these films. With their dreamy Gosling and Tatum leads, beautiful pre-war houses and even-death-cannot-kill-us love (literally, thank you Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo). I pass it off now as escapism, but watch them in a moment of impressionability at your peril. Because as sure as I’ll see a new Ryan meme this week, if you watch them while pre-menstrual or post-break-up they’ll either make you feel shit about your own life or delusionally optimistic about how it’s going to play out. As an adult, it’s usually the former. Discontent, served to you in a plastic case for seven dollars (or two for ten on weekends). But I recall being burned as a child, when I was naïve enough to believe that life would genuinely turn out that way.

Ryan Gosling Husband Pillow

(Image courtesy of butyourelikereallypretty.com)

I distinctly remember it, the morning after my first kiss. The memory of last night’s disco swirling through my head, starring some awkward, scruffy boy who I don’t think even knew my name ramming his tongue down my throat. Not only did I feel orally violated, but in a weird way, I felt loss. I felt like I’d been robbed of this enriching, heart-warming, coming of age moment that every movie ever told me I was going to experience. And it dawned on me that day that life was NOT going to turn out the way my third parent – the television – had told me it was going to. I had seen beyond the curtain. And I kid you not, I lied in bed that morning and cried. Not for the sub-par experience – though it was especially sub-par – but for the fact that my long-held expectations of how my life would unfold had been instantly shattered beyond repair. Okay, I was a sensitive kid. But it was greater than that one, sloppy moment. My rose coloured glasses had been clean swiped off my little adolescent face and were never to return.

Yet, as an adult, I still can’t help getting swept up in the idealism of these films. No longer as an insight into the future and rarely as a misguided yardstick for measuring my own life, but rather the opposite. Escapism, in its trashiest form. Because you know it’s exactly what your life ISN’T going to look like.

Just don’t, for the love of God, watch them while sobbing into a tub of Cookies and Cream.

What’s your worth?

I dreamt this week that I was being attacked by a frenzied, Terminator-esque snake. Luckily, my friends were with me. But on the way to get help, they kept stopping to do trivial things like chat to passers-by or fix the hatch of the car we were in. Despite my loss of vision and objections of “I’m seriously dying guys, this is important!” no one really seemed to appreciate the urgency of the situation.

Now I’m not particularly phobic of slithering reptiles, but I have been watching a lot of Brene Brown lately. So I’m fairly certain this is all about self worth.

If you haven’t already watched Brene’s TED talk, it’s an absolute must. I don’t say wanky things like ‘absolute must’ a lot. If I was speaking to you in person, I’d probably tell you that you “seriously HAVE to watch it” while flailing my arms about wildly in demonstration of the most insightful moments. In any case, you know I’m serious. And look! Here’s an embedded video, so you needn’t put yourself through the arduous task of typing her name into Google:

I was incredibly lucky to hear Brene speak in Sydney recently as part of the CBA’s Wired for Wonder conference. In addition to some fascinating insights into shame and vulnerability, a lot of Brene’s research centres on worthiness. For example, her studies have shown that the only difference between people who have a deep sense of love and belonging and those who really struggle for it, is that those who have it believe they are worthy of it.

Like any other reasonably well-adjusted person, my first instinct is to say that of course I know I’m worthy. Worthy of love, of acceptance, of success… That’s not an issue.

But if we truly believe that, why do we feel the need to hold back little bits of ourselves? Why do we frame the way we want the world to see us? Why are we so hesitant to put our art out there? Could it be because underneath the logic and bravado, we really are just a little bit afraid that if someone truly saw us, all of us, we wouldn’t be enough?

It’s really worth thinking about. Because if Brene is right, developing a deep sense of worthiness and being open to vulnerability is the cornerstone of a wholehearted, connected and happy life. Seriously, go watch the talk.

Brene also just released her book ‘Daring Greatly’ in Australia, which I’ve cracked the first chapter of and will be sure to post more on once I’ve finished.

Masters of the unsaid words

I stopped writing almost five years ago. I had just started seeing my current partner when I came across an article that linked personal writing to anxiety and depression. It suggested that the introspective activity – complete with deconstruction and over analysis of every life experience – was like crack for neurotics.

Do we writers write because we’re always in our heads, or are we always in our heads because we write? At the time, it was a curious enough question to make me stop the activity altogether. I must have been having a particularly dramatic day, as I recall ripping up the pages I’d written about the relationship to date and stuffing my little black notebook into the top shelf of my wardrobe.

Around the same time, I started thinking about what I should be writing. I decided that since the holy grail of a wildly fulfilling, self-funded life path had not laid itself before me, it was time to start actively creating it.

I filled a new binder book with lots of very responsible words and diagrams. Start up ideas, capital sources, ways to potentially monetise a blog… But nothing of any real substance. Even those that started authentically quickly morphed into scalable business models, until they were so far from my true interests that they felt daunting and impossible to start. So I didn’t. Insert a few years at this point and frankly, life became stagnant.

Don’t get me wrong, I had it good – good job, good rental, good social life. I was leading a perfectly comfortable yet soul-deflating existence. I’d repressed my creative impulses for so long that they were practically non-existent.

So, I took a filmmaking course. I went to fashion design workshops. I tried (unsuccessfully) to learn guitar and I immersed myself in the philosophies of everyone from Eckhart Tolle to Friedrich Nietzsche. And these mini creativity fills were enough to sustain me, for a while. But I wanted a bigger change. I had accepted that the ‘good’ life just wasn’t cutting the mustard and I was ready to give it up for one of meaning and authentic purpose.

But here’s what I found about having it good; it’s a really effective roadblock to going out and getting something great. I felt like I had to uncover one hell of an artistic talent, a legitimate creative endeavour that I absolutely, unequivocally, 100% wanted to dedicate my life to, in order to justify leaving this comfortable existence. Not only did having it good give me something to lose, but it was starting to shape what I perceived to be a valid risk, a valid reward and a valid lifestyle.

So I did what any rational person with two maxed out credit cards would do. I gave notice at work, shipped my furniture off to my parents’ garage and myself into a share house to save money, armed with a big idea to trek across the Americas and absolutely no idea what I’ll do when I return home. I forced myself into a position of having nothing to lose. And for the first time in years, I’m facing an entirely uncertain future – with honest excitement.

So here we are. With twelve weeks left at work and home, one foot still in the ‘real’ world and the other already in an all-weather hiking boot. With all notions of what I should be doing now completely disregarded, it felt like as good a time as any to pick up personal writing again. After all, what’s a creative life without a little neurosis?