Let’s Talk About Death

Let's talk about death blog pic

You’ve probably heard the saying: there’s two things in life you can’t avoid — death and taxes. For two things that can’t be avoided, we don’t seem to like talking about them. While it’s understandable that not too many people enjoy talking about taxes, I have been wondering why there’s a reluctance to talk about death. And it was in an unexpected arena recently where I was challenged to question my own reluctance to talk about death, but to also question my previous handling of it in a personal sense.

One of my teachers at university has a wonderful habit of starting each editing class with a general knowledge session (as editors, we need to have sound general knowledge so we are able to pick up on anomalies in manuscripts and check for factual inconsistencies). A few weeks ago, she asked that we research some terms that she had written on the whiteboard. There was a general theme in the terms — that of death and dying, mostly with a World War I/II reference. This laid the foundation for the extended discussion on death and dying that she so bravely approached in our most recent class.

Both of her parents succumbed to cancer in the last ten years. Some say time heals all wounds, but I question the validity of this when a close family member, or friend, or even family pet passes on. It might get easier to deal with over time, but the pain of losing someone close never goes away. Each time you’re reminded of this person (or pet), you might find a tear forming in your eye, or a choking feeling developing in your throat. My teacher did exactly this as she began to talk of the final weeks of her father’s life. Recounting how she and her sister sat by his side, trying to feed him when he didn’t want to eat (or couldn’t), when he didn’t want to drink, when he waited for the palliative care nurse to show up before he would relieve himself so that he didn’t have to make his daughters clean up after him. She choked back tears as she spoke of these things — obviously time has not healed the wounds of having to witness her father slowly waste away, but this did not stop her standing up in front of 20 or so postgrad students and expose the raw truth of what it is to embrace a situation that is clearly not in your control. I was so amazed at her strength — she has previously mentioned to me that she is an introvert and even with ten years’ worth of teaching experience, the fear of standing up in front of a class and teaching has not subsided; yet, here she was, opening up her rawest emotions in front of us, presumably to show us why death is to be embraced, rather than avoided.

It struck me instantly of how differently I handled my grandfather’s passing some years ago. While the circumstances were somewhat different to my teacher’s experience — my grandfather was a shell of himself after suffering through dementia, diabetes which affected his sight and a stroke which affected his independence — it still made me question my handling of the situation and why I acted in this way. As you watch someone close to you slowly fade away, you want nothing more than for them to jump out of bed and resume their previous activities. You know it’s not going to happen and that is part of the sadness. I visited my grandfather in the nursing home — where he was restrained to his bed to protect both himself and the nursing home staff. The dementia and stroke had made him violent; he was lashing out at the confusing place he had found himself in. He couldn’t remember me anymore and he would cry every now and again. I couldn’t see this — my once-strong, independent grandfather, who got on a boat from Italy all those years ago, by himself, to start a new life here in Melbourne and here he now was, breathing but not living. So, I stopped going to visit. I couldn’t handle this experience any longer. I regret that now.

As my teacher spoke of the beauty that she saw in caring for her father as he went through his final days, I thought about the way I shied away from it. I obviously wasn’t ready to deal with such a situation but I now wonder if my grandfather noticed that I (and maybe some others) stopped going to visit and whether he knew why, even though it was likely he wouldn’t remember any of that. I’m not even sure that the next time I’m faced with this situation that I’ll act any differently. I hope I will, but it’s one of those times in life that there’s surely no script for. How can you possibly prepare yourself for watching a loved one die? One thing is for sure though — we can’t be scared to talk about it and we can’t keep hoping that it won’t happen to us. The sad reality is that it will. I’m not suggesting it need be a daily topic of conversation, but it needs to be discussed at some point. Maybe talking about death before you’re faced with it makes you more ready to deal with it? I don’t know, but the awkwardness of not talking about it won’t make you ready to deal with it either.

This extends to helping friends deal with loss too. I’ve had a few friends recently experience the loss of a loved one and I’m always unsure what I should say or what I should do. Again, I don’t think there’s a script for this, but ignoring the situation doesn’t help anyone. While I’m conscious of not sounding generic when sending messages of hope or support, I need to remind myself that this situation isn’t about me, and that any act of compassion or support is probably greatly appreciated. My teacher spoke of taking food to the person looking after their loved one in their final days — even pet food if they have pets. They still need to eat and probably aren’t thinking of their next trip to the supermarket. Any little act of kindness surely goes a long way to that person who is obviously so preoccupied with the care of their loved one.

Feel free to continue to avoid talking about taxes, but let’s talk about death. Let’s try to help each other deal with an unavoidable grief and sense of helplessness, while hopefully reassuring the person who is passing that their final days will be as fulfilling as their strong days. Try to cherish each day that they are still here, don’t shy away from it. You won’t get a second go at it.

The Favourite

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If you watch sport, chances are you have seen sports gambling promotions. You have probably also noticed that the people in these promotions are usually male and they are usually smiling and winning. Like most promotional material though, the reality of the situation is a little different.

The reality is that if you watch sport on television, you will not avoid sports betting marketing. The value of sports betting advertising quadrupled between 2010 and 2012 (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In 2012, 3,069 individual sports betting advertisements were relayed over all forms of media, excluding social media. This included 528 individual sports betting advertisements, which were collectively played over 20,000 times on free-to-air TV and more frequently on pay TV (Hing, N. 2014). It is getting more prolific each year – over ten weeks from 30 August to 7 November 2014, the six main wagering providers collectively spent $12 million, running a total of 13,000 advertisements. Sportsbet spent the most during this time (over $5.5 million), while Tom Waterhouse paid for the most expensive individual advertisement, which cost $461,000 and was screened on television 347 times (Sproston, K., Hanley, C., Brook, K. (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

What does all this advertising do? Sports betting is the only gambling form for which participation rates have increased during the last decade (Gainsbury et al., 2014). Approximately one in seven (13%) adult Australians now gambles on sport (Hing, Gainsbury et al., 2014). Half of all sports betting is now conducted online (Hing, N., 2014) due to the 24/7 access via mobile apps and betting websites, as well as mobile wagering vans located at some sporting events. Yes, just in case you missed the many opportunities to gamble on your way to the game, you can rely on the mobile wagering van sitting outside the ground – useful if you don’t have a smartphone or access to the Internet, where you will also find many opportunities to gamble. Live coverage is streamed on some mobile betting apps, further incentivising sports enthusiasts into using this readily available medium.

Many sporting events, teams and stadiums have entered into commercial marketing arrangements with corporate bookmakers. This is most prominent in the two largest Australian sports, the Australian Football League (AFL) and the National Rugby League (NRL). These sports attract about half of all sports betting in Australia, with a doubling of turnover expected within five years from $750 million to $1.5 billion on the NRL and from $900 million to $1.8 billion for the AFL (Hing, N., 2014). As the sporting bodies receive marketing and product fees based on betting revenues, there is no incentive for them to reduce betting activity in the foreseeable future.

Sport is now used as a marketing platform to deploy huge investments of money by sports betting operators to recruit and retain customers. Particular concerns are that this marketing can encourage consumers to consider gambling as a sport, and that young people are learning about gambling through sport programming and merchandising, which can normalise and legitimise gambling uptake at a young age (Hing, N., 2014).

The embedding of sports betting promotions into live and televised sports is possibly the most controversial aspect of their marketing strategies, as it is mostly unavoidable for the viewing audience – many of which are likely to be children and young adults. I recall sitting at football games at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) seeing live betting odds splashed across the big screens while being announced to the crowd as a bit of harmless fun to talk about and follow throughout the game. Any number of live score apps come with betting odds right there next to the score, just in case you hadn’t seen those odds elsewhere. Even tipping websites (yes, footy tipping is considered harmless fun even though it’s usually a competition with a monetary prize) have live betting odds prominently displayed as well, presumably to help with deciding who you’re going to tip to win. Less subtle examples are when Tom Waterhouse was employed as a “special comments” analyst by Channel Nine during live broadcasts of NRL games, only to spruik the odds available at his betting agency. Or the financial market type newsflash segment, usually performed by an attractive female to get the target young male audience’s attention. This still occurs on subscription TV, as they cross to whichever betting agency has paid enough to get the slot and promote all those last minute options you have before the game starts, or during the game too. They usually wrap up these segments with a brief mention to gamble responsibly, after they have just saturated the TV viewing experience with their marketing strategies (more on this aspect later).

This embedded advertising can be particularly powerful because very little can be avoided, other than not watching the broadcast at all, or not attending the event. It is also likely to evoke an emotional response, rather than a rational one (Milner et al., 2013). Promotions occur at critical points when audiences are at their most attentive (e.g., when points are scored). Fixed advertising signs are all over stadiums, and some team uniforms. An audit of four live AFL matches held at two major stadiums in 2011 showed promotion of nine wagering brands during an average of 59 marketing communications (Milner et al., 2013; Thomas, Lewis, Duong et al., 2012).

The proliferation of sports betting advertising did result in community concern, especially in relation to the exposure to children and young adults. Some of the concern centred around the potential to normalise gambling among young viewers and potentially grooming a new generation of problem gamblers (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2013, 2014; Hunt, 2013; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011).

“This “gamblification” of sport may transfer images associated with sport to promote gambling as healthy, harmless fun that, like sport, relies primarily on skill (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014; Lamont et al., 2011; McMullan, 2011). Sports betting is becoming culturally embedded among young males, who report that peer discussions now include betting odds and that they feel pressured to gamble to fit in with their peers (Thomas, Lewis, McLeod et al., 2012). These promotions also undermine responsible gambling messages targeting young men, who are also the most at-risk group for gambling problems (Delfabbro, 2012)”.

Some evidence is showing that the proliferation of sports betting advertising is also negatively affecting problem gamblers. The University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic has found that “the proportion of clients with sports betting-related problems increased fourfold between 2006-07 and 2010-11, with sports-embedded promotions reported as contributing substantially to these clients’ problems and relapses” (University of Sydney Gambling Treatment Clinic, 2011).

The extent of community concern in relation to sports betting advertising led to three separate government inquiries during the period between 2011 and 2013. “Following community concerns raised in these inquiries, Australian government pressure led to amendments to broadcast advertising codes from August 2013 to stop in-match commentary and on-screen displays of betting odds. Other promotional practices continue, including live odds promotions before match commencement. Ironically, airing of the statutory message to “gamble responsibly” has decreased with curtailment of live odds messages” (Hing, Vitartas, & Lamont, 2014). This is where a large part of the issue lies. If you watch live sport, you simply cannot avoid sports gambling messages. Whether it’s the casual mention of favourites through commentary, or the market style betting update before a game commences, or the copious number of sports betting advertisements throughout each broadcast, you won’t be able to avoid a reminder that you can easily go and throw some money at the game you’re watching. Seemingly, the only way to avoid it is to not watch the broadcast at all, nor read a newspaper, nor check your favourite sporting app, nor go anywhere near a computer with an Internet connection. How likely is any of this if you like to watch sport either regularly, or even occasionally? There’s also concern that it took three government inquiries before the industry finally acted, and even then, they only went a very small way towards removing the constant signals they give sports followers to go and gamble. It shows they cannot be trusted to self-regulate and will only act when pressured to do so. To further highlight the lack of self-regulation in the industry, an audit of sports betting advertising conducted in 2014 found that “responsible gambling messages were not commonly seen in either the televised or live sports or racing events observed. They were not displayed in many advertisements included in the content analysis and there were generally problems with legibility whenever they were present” (ORC International), Hing, N., Gainsbury, S. (2015). Study on Marketing of Sports Betting and Racing. Melbourne: Gambling Research Australia).

It has been found that gambling advertising can have particularly negative impact on problem gamblers. They report gambling advertisements as being a greater stimulation to gamble, a larger influence on spending than intended, and an encouragement for them to think that they will win. They also report that these advertisements can remind them about gambling, trigger gambling urges and undermine attempts to moderate their gambling. Bonus offers for sports betting, such as money-back guarantees and “free” bets that require matching deposits appear to particularly increase Internet gambling among problem gamblers. While gambling advertising has to date not been found to motivate many people to commence gambling, it has been shown to increase gambling among existing gamblers (Hing, N. 2014).

As research into the impact of sports betting advertising is still relatively new and ongoing, lessons could be learned from the advertising of other potentially harmful products in sport. Research has indicated that exposure to alcohol, tobacco and junk food advertising contributes to their uptake and consumption, especially among adolescents (Hing, N. (2014). Sports Betting and Advertising (AGRC Discussion Paper No. 4). Melbourne: Australian Gambling Research Centre). In fact, tobacco advertising at sporting events in Australia was banned some years ago, even though this caused a great controversy with particular international events such as the Formula One Grand Prix. As research continues on the sports betting industry, it will be interesting to see if a similar ban on sports betting advertising at sports events and on sports broadcasts ever eventuates. Given the amount of money being made through royalties and commissions to sporting bodies, this move might not be very likely.

There is a need for updated research into the impact that sports betting marketing is having on the community, particularly problem gamblers and the target markets of these companies (predominately young males). The trends from existing research are not going in a favourable direction for anyone other than the sports betting companies and the sports bodies themselves and I am reasonably sure we don’t need to put any odds on where current trends are heading. If my viewing of sport is anything to go by, this issue has become much more problematic than it was three or four years ago.

Born This Way

It was just an ordinary day, which meant that one of Australia’s mainstream newspapers was due for some good old-fashioned hysteria, scare-mongering and lies. It’s usually an attempt to demonise a minority or just have some fun at the expense of those that cannot defend themselves. A few days ago, this unashamedly unethical ragtag decided it was time to attack the LGBTI community again. However, this time, they went for the lowest of lows – they went for the youth.

An article at the top of the front page of Wednesday’s edition – an exclusive by the way – was so ineloquently titled “Activists push taxpayer-funded gay manual in schools”. Presumably being in this prominent position meant that it was the most important story of the day, but I’ll leave you to decide whether there were more pressing issues on this Wednesday (I can think of at least one more important issue that involves 267 people about to be sent back to a life of abuse and mental torment, but maybe I just have a different perspective of the world). I’ve actively decided not to link the article here (nor name this shameful excuse of journalism) for two reasons – it’s behind a pay-wall and I really don’t want you to give them any money to read it. It’s also just so farcical from top to bottom, so I don’t want to waste your time. I do however want to draw attention to how damaging this kind of “reporting” is, and will continue to be, if it is left unchecked and unquestioned. Though the “taxpayer-funded” part is quite hilarious – I’m not sure what their point is, but is this a good time to remind them that their beloved church that they so vehemently defend at all times does not pay any tax, while also receiving large sums of funding from the government?

To be clear, there is no “gay manual”. What would a “gay manual” even do, or attempt to do? This strikes at one of the most hurtful aspects of what homophobes believe – that being gay is a choice. Who would choose this? Why would you bring all of this unwanted attention and subsequent disadvantage to yourself if you didn’t have to? I’ll never forget one of the first things my Mum said to me when I finally had the nerve to come out to her (at age 28 by the way) – she was really concerned that I was going to miss out on opportunities, or be treated differently, simply because of my sexuality. And here I was worried about her getting upset at not getting any grandchildren from me. The fact that it took me so long to officially come out to my Mother is a direct statement of the way I felt scared and anxious for the real me to be out there. The prime of my life was spent hiding away for the fear of being found out. I had no boyfriends and I didn’t go out much all those years, simply because I was so scared of being found out. Why did I feel like this? Well, that’s what twelve years of Catholic education will do to you. I’m not upset that my parents felt it necessary for me to go to a religious school, but I do greatly resent the education I received of a narrative of the world in which I was a freak while growing up and discovering myself, while they go through scandal after scandal of sexual abuse of children in their care without any attempts to correct the many wrongs they have committed.

It was during my high school years that I first began to feel attracted to another guy. To say that was a terrifying and utterly confusing experience would be one of the greatest understatements I’ve ever made. I only wish there was something reassuring available to me at the time that explained some of the possibilities of what I was thinking and experiencing. This is no “gay manual”. Labelling it this way implies that you can teach someone to be gay. That would be as effective as gay conversion therapy, which is hopefully and finally about to be made illegal in Victoria. This is a teaching aide that forms part of the Safe Schools Coalition. It is an anti-bullying document designed to help children – all children – understand the differences that make us our own unique individual, and that there’s simply no reason to pick on someone, or exclude someone who might not fit into some main category. I don’t see anything wrong with that, especially as 80 per cent of homophobic bullying involving LGBTI young people occurs at school and has a profound impact on their well-being and education (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) p 39). I like to be positive though and it gives me hope that LGBTI young people at schools where protective policies are in place are more likely to feel safe compared with those in schools without similar policies (75 per cent compared with 45 per cent). They are almost 50 per cent less likely to be physically abused at school, less likely to suffer other forms of homophobic abuse, less likely to self-harm and less likely to attempt suicide (T Jones and Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission, A report about discrimination and bullying on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Western Australian education (2012), p 11). I would think that having this resource available in schools can only have a positive impact, as it appears to be doing, and it certainly isn’t doing what this article is trying to suggest.

With the lack of such a resource in those times, I sought the advice of a teacher (who was also presumably gay, but I’ll never know for sure) who I felt comfortable enough with to share the thoughts I was having. He did help me understand that while I was probably having different thoughts to most of the other boys at school, there was nothing wrong with the thoughts I was having. I am very lucky to have had someone give me this reassurance at a time of need so I didn’t go down the path that sadly too many LGBTI youth go down.

The statistics glaringly show the disparity of mental health, self-harm and suicide in the LGBTI community to that of heterosexuals:

  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to have a high/very high level of psychological distress as their heterosexual peers (18.2% v. 9.2%). This makes them particularly vulnerable to mental health problems
  • The younger the age group, the starker the differences: 55% of LGBT women aged between 16 and 24 compared with 18% in the nation as a whole and 40% of LGBT men aged 16-24 compared with 7%
  • LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicidality of any population in Australia – 20% of trans Australians and 15.7% of lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians report current suicidal ideation (thoughts)
  • A UK study reported 84% of trans participants having thought about ending their lives at some point
  • Up to 50% of trans people have actually attempted suicide at least once in their lives
  • Same-sex attracted Australians have up to 14 times higher rates of suicide attempts than their heterosexual peers
  • Rates are 6 times higher for same-sex attracted young people (20-42% cf. 7-13%)
  • The average age of a first suicide attempt is 16 years – often before ‘coming out’ Source: Rosenstreich, G. (2013) LGBTI People Mental Health and Suicide. Revised 2nd Edition. National LGBTI Health Alliance. Sydney, p 5.

That all makes for very sobering reading. It also highlights just how critical it is for young people to be supported throughout their journey into adulthood, not to have some elitist set blast false headlines and news stories across their front pages suggesting otherwise. It’s because of continued homophobic examples like this that almost half of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in public for fear of violence or discrimination (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, note 7, p 46). It’s also why a large number of LGBTI people hide their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services (34 per cent), at social and community events (42 per cent) and at work (39 per cent). Young people aged 16 to 24 years are most likely to hide their sexuality or gender identity (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) pp 45-46). I wonder why that is.

I am a part of those statistics. Countless times, I have hidden my sexuality from friends, work colleagues, family, Barry next door – you name it. I have encountered discrimination based on my sexuality. A previous boss of mine commented to someone else at this workplace (after I had left that workplace) that he would not have hired me had he known I was gay. I am scared to hold the hand of another man in public for fear of being abused – something I have seen happen in Melbourne before. The number of conversations I have had where I actively used words to avoid questions of why I did not have a girlfriend all those years, or where I faked an interest in “blokey” conversations to keep the charade going. This was all due to the world around me – a world that still tells me I’m not equal. That my love for another man is not the same as the love between a man and a woman. Yes, it’s 2016 and we’re supposedly advancing, but the simple fact is that I am still discriminated against, simply for the love I have for someone of the same sex. So, if there is a teaching aide in our schools reaffirming that we are all the same even though we have our unique identifiers, and that those differences are to be embraced rather than shamed, I am all for that. I am hopeful that the youth of today have more confidence to be themselves and not hide their true identity for as many years as I felt I had to. But as long as mainstream media continues to peddle this hysterical and utterly damaging sensationalism, we still have a long way to go. LGBTI young people report experiencing verbal homophobic abuse (61 per cent), physical homophobic abuse (18 per cent) and other types of homophobia (9 per cent), including cyberbullying, graffiti, social exclusion and humiliation (Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University, Private Lives 2: The second national survey of the health and wellbeing of GLBT Australians (2012) pp 45-46). These headlines just perpetuate these experiences and the people that write them ought to be held accountable for these actions.

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Your Personal Legend

“To realise one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation. All things are one.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve just started reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, even though I actually purchased this book about four years ago. It sat on my bookshelf all those years, but something recently made me go find it and read it. Not knowing exactly what this book was about, I just felt like it was something that was worth reading. Within the first twenty pages, you find the above line. It’s closely followed by this passage:

“What’s the world’s greatest lie?”

“It’s this: that a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie”.

“Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realise their Personal Legend”.

You might be wondering what is meant by “Personal Legend” – it is what you have always wanted to accomplish. This book is a work of fiction, but its message is surely not. It is a story told through this message, and the importance of this message cannot be underestimated.

Before I started reading The Alchemist a few days ago, I had already written the words that follow. Things really do work in wonderful ways sometimes.

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I am having a “me” day today and I am not afraid to admit that. I think somehow the notion of taking time out for yourself, just doing the things that you want to do, on your own, has been given a bad name. You might think it’s selfish to be doing this, but I see it as the opposite. I see it as time spent reminding yourself about how important you are, and that this time is critical to your own personal fulfilment.

Most of us spend far too much time in each day doing things for other people, or worse, doing things we think that other people want us to do, but why have we forgotten to do the things that make us happy too? I’m not suggesting that you should do this all day every day, after all, life is about balance. There will inevitably be some things that you will need to do that you do not necessarily want to do, but when this becomes a daily habit, you’ll probably find yourself becoming unhappy and unfulfilled. It doesn’t even need to be a full day of “me” time either, so don’t think that you don’t have time for this – even spending a few hours a day for yourself is better than no hours at all.

I’ve read numerous quotes that ask a simple question – how can you love others if you don’t first love yourself? It might sound fluffy, but it is true. You need to know yourself and need to know what makes you happy. Then you can work on sharing that with others, whether it be with friends or a partner. Having regular “me” time will help you remember about the things that make you happy and might even lead you to some new ideas or hobbies that you can take up. It’s not selfish at all to take time for yourself – it’s just as important as other aspects of your health, both mental and physical. Personal time can be used to think about where you are, where you are going, or simply just to switch off and relax (something we all need to do more of too!). Listen to music, read a book, go for a walk or a run if you’re that way inclined. Go sit in a cafe and people watch. If you have children, it might be more difficult to find some personal time, but you owe it to yourself and your family to at least try. Even if it’s just one hour, I truly believe this will help you be a better person overall, someone that is more positive and caring. If you’re unhappy with yourself, you’ll find it difficult to be happy with others.

Personal time is even more important if you find yourself in an employment situation that doesn’t fulfil you and there’s no obvious way out of it (and I think most of us have been here at some point). I understand that it’s too simplistic to suggest that everyone can just throw in their job that they hate without any kind of backup plan, but personal time may help you deal with your less than fulfilling work a little better, or at the very least, remind you why put up with your job, so that you can do those other things in life that you want to do. It will help give you clarity on your other options too – don’t ever think that you don’t have another option. You might need to make changes to your lifestyle for this other option to be feasible, but if you truly want it, those changes will be a blessing.

The point is, just find a way to spend some time with yourself and make it a habit. Start small and build on it. Whatever start you make is a move in a different direction and you don’t know where that might take you. If you don’t make this time, you’ll still be in that same place in another year, and I’m pretty sure how that will make you feel.

Don’t allow that mysterious force to convince you that you can’t realise your Personal Legend. It might not be visible right now, or it might be quite a way down the track, but keep looking for it and keep putting in place whatever it is you need to do to make it happen. You are still in control of what is happening in your life, and you always will be. You owe it to yourself to keep going.

 

A New Year Ode

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The years, they come and they seemingly go,
Where that is, we don’t quite know.
As 2015 comes to its inevitable conclusion,
Let there be absolutely no illusion,
That it’s time to wish this year goodbye,
And look forward to the new things that you can try.
One thing is always true for ever more,
Don’t wait to knock, just open that door.
Do all of the things that will make you see,
Just how happy you can truly be,
When you do what it is that you want to do,
Not what others have in store for you.
Let go of what you no longer need,
Try each day to plant that seed.
Be you, be true, love and really live,
And whenever you can, remember to give.
Who knows what the new year will offer and bring,
But it’s surely time to let the next chapter begin!

 

The Social Experiment

I’m not the type that does New Year resolutions, but if I was going to focus on something for 2016, it would be to support social enterprise at every possible opportunity. If you don’t know much about what social enterprise even means, please read on.

There are a few definitions of social enterprise. Essentially, it is an organisation that exists to foster positive social impact (both human and environmental), as opposed to lining the pockets of its shareholders. Or, as Social Traders puts it:

“Social enterprises use the power of the market place to solve the most pressing societal problems. They are businesses that exist primarily to benefit the public and the community, rather than their shareholders and owners. Social enterprises are commercially viable businesses with a purpose of generating social impact”.

Generally, this means that a social enterprise will use the majority, or all of its profits to work towards a social cause and derive its income from trade, not from donations. It could also be set up to benefit an environmental, cultural or economic cause. There are various forms that this can take, and as I am discovering on an almost daily basis, there are a growing number of businesses that subscribe to this inspiring model.

My first exposure to the concept of social enterprise was from purchasing a humble muesli bar. This bar from a company based here in Melbourne called Thank You has started me on a journey of discovery. Not only do they make these delicious muesli bars (I like the cranberry & coconut variety pictured below), but they also sell bottled water, breakfast cereals, as well as hand and body care products. The best part of Thank You’s offering is that each purchase goes directly to impacting social change. For example, purchasing one pack of their cereal provides one week’s access to food aid for someone in need. Or, purchasing a bottle of their water provides access to safe drinking water to someone who doesn’t otherwise have this. Even better, they provide a tracking ID number on each package so you can go to their website and see the direct impact that your purchase is making. A local business working to make change on a global scale is definitely something I can get behind, especially when it’s as simple as buying a pack of cereal.

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Another local example of social enterprise is a cafe at Melbourne Central called Streat. It turns out that this cafe is only one part of their package, as they also run a catering company and a coffee roastery. What better way to get Melburnians’ attention than to serve great coffee? The Streat cafe works to stop youth homelessness and disadvantage. A simple yet critical mission. Not only do they have a loyalty program that provides a free coffee to someone experiencing homelessness, instead of you receiving your tenth coffee free, they also provide employment and training opportunities to youth in need of a helping hand. This (from their website) sums it up:

“We’re determined that our young people should gain the transferable employability skills that will stand them in good stead in any industry…but of even greater importance to us, is that our young people learn how deeply we care for them, and how much they really matter to us. We want them to know that not just our cafe doors – but also our hearts – will forever remain open to them, no matter what”.

That might sound a little over the top, but it goes to the heart of what social enterprise is all about (pun intended). It really is about community benefit by helping those that need it and those that do not have what we are lucky enough to have (and let’s face it, most of us are just so incredibly lucky in this country). Sounds like a simple way to make a difference too – simply change some of your current purchasing methods and your money will go to assisting positive social change, as opposed to even greater profits to the many multinational organisations in business (who incidentally don’t appear to be paying their fair share of tax either, but that’s another story).

As The Guardian reported back in July, the social enterprise cafe model is growing strongly in Australia, particularly here in Melbourne. There are currently 13 cafes, with more in the pipeline. There’s the well known Feast of Merit in Richmond, run by YGAP, where profits fund youth education and youth leadership projects in Australia and in parts of Asia and Africa. There’s the Fitzroy cafe, Charcoal Lane, that provides hospitality training for Indigenous students, as well as the Social Studio in Collingwood, which offers disadvantaged youth opportunities to work (as Streat does). One particular cafe in Richmond also extends their support to newly arrived refugees (who have been granted asylum, as those on temporary visas are forbidden to work). Long Street Coffee in Richmond has partnered with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to offer employment opportunities to our new members of the community, as they struggle to find that initial chance to get into the workforce and make their contribution. What a novel concept – actually trying to help refugees, rather than imprison or dehumanise them.

These all appear to be very straight forward ways of making a positive impact to someone who could use some help. As the festive season approaches, it is often a time of reflection of the year gone by and what we aspire to be in the new year. It seems a perfect time to consider how a small change for you might just make a significant change for someone in need.

Seasons Greetings and thanks for reading. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and look forward to positive change in 2016. Peace.

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Meet The Family

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October 28, 2015

Facebook has its good and its not so good side. This is definitely a story of its good side. While on my recent trip to Europe, which included a few stops around Italy, I was able to meet some of my extended family that live there, and it was all made possible from one seemingly simple photo being tagged on my Facebook wall.

I celebrated my birthday the week before my European adventure was to commence. While having brunch with my mother, my brother, my aunt and one of my cousins, the obligatory family picture was taken. As I usually do, I uploaded the picture to my Facebook wall and tagged those of us that exist in the social media world (I still have’t been able to convince my Mum why she should have a Facebook account. She has Instagram though, so I’ll take that as a win). The next few hours would lead me through a series of events that I never contemplated, nor thought possible.

As I was doing this trip on my own, and due to my basic Italian speaking abilities (I know words and can read street signs and menus, but don’t get me in a conversation as it’ll be mostly one way), I was not factoring in an opportunity to travel to my Mum’s home town of San Severo, a town in the beautiful province of Puglia, which is in the south-east corner of Italy (pretty much the area that makes up the heel of Italy, if you think Italy looks like a boot). I also wasn’t factoring in a chance to meet family there. However, after tagging my aunt in this photo, the family that she is friends with promptly starting adding me as a friend, and then the (Italian) conversations started to flow on Messenger. They consisted of brief but incredibly warm and friendly greetings and introductions to each other. I could understand some of the messages, but to be sure, I utilised the wonderful resource that is Google Translate to navigate my way through these unexpected yet fantastic conversations. I didn’t mention that I was about to travel to Italy, as I didn’t think it would work for me to go visit them without being able to speak fluent Italian, but I knew that once they saw that I was in Europe, they would want to meet at some stage. As I later discovered, English is relatively common in parts of Italy, but south of Rome does not appear to be one of those parts.

When I did arrive in Rome one week later, I received a message from my cousin in Italy, and as expected, she wanted to meet. I was heading north to Venice the next day, but had the final four days of the trip planned for Rome. I suggested we meet when I returned to Rome in a few weeks time and we made plans to do so. In the meantime, I pondered how I was going to manage this, however, any doubt was quickly consumed by the excitement of being able to visit my Mum’s home town and of course, meet some of the family.

When I returned to Rome at the back end of my trip, I decided to make a day trip out of the journey to San Severo, as it is close to a three-hour train ride from Rome. I worked out that I was able to get a train first thing in the morning and arrive in San Severo around 11am. I would get about six hours there before having to board the last train back to Rome that night, and while it wasn’t ideal to only have part of the day to spend with them, it was better than not going at all. You just never know when you’ll be able to go back, so I knew I had to take this opportunity.

When I arrived in San Severo, I looked around for the face that I’d only seen in pictures on Facebook. Suddenly, I hear an excited “Stefano!” from behind, and there she was – my cugina (cousin) Soccorsa and her partner Luigi, there to pick me up and take me to my Nonna’s brother’s house for lunch (of course) and to meet the rest of the family. There was no awkwardness – only hugs, kisses, smiles and laughing. Sure, there was some silence as they figured out pretty quickly that my Italian wasn’t exactly up to scratch, but we didn’t need words in this moment – we had the universal language of smiles and hugs. We walked to their car with some feeble attempts from me to string a sentence together, before we were on our way.

The town was much bigger and busier than I had pictured. There’s a story of my Mum having two birthdays and no birth certificate because of being born in a small town (and it taking four days for them to reach the birth registration office, which resulted in the two birthdays – the actual birthday, and the official birthday), but San Severo was bustling. Old streets and older buildings took centre stage, as did some very questionable driving from the locals, although this seems to be the norm in Italy – no order on the roads, but it somehow works. “La citta grande” (the city is big) was my best attempt at trying to convey my surprise at the larger than expected city I was being driven through. The roads were quite rough, pot holes were common. I got the feeling that affluence wasn’t synonymous with this part of Italy, but that’s what gives this area its charm. Many a story from my childhood involved upbringings where things were tough, and you made the most of what you had. Food was never wasted, and there was always a meal to be made by whatever ingredients you could get your hands on – something my Mum managed to do really well at home too. These parts don’t need polish – they have what’s most important to them already – family.

About 15 minutes from the train station, we arrived at our destination. Vladimiro, my Nonna’s brother, was standing on the porch as I got out of the car. He had lived in Australia for three years, but returned to Italy in 1965. Surprisingly, he can still speak some English, and this was much appreciated at times when I wasn’t able to get any conversation going. I went to greet him in the usual Italian way, but he seemed hesitant. My cousin explained who I was and suddenly, a big smile appeared on his face, followed by a swift tour around his house. I found it amazing that a mere 20 or so minutes later, the kitchen was a hive of activity and a steady flow of new arrivals continued to walk through the door. I was seeing first-hand what an actual Italian family feast looked like, and I somehow was a part of it all. As each family member would walk through the door, they’d approach me with the same warmth and affection as the person before them did, and they’d speak to me until they either realised the only reply they were going to get from me was a smile and a nervous nod, or someone else would let them know that I didn’t speak Italian, and they’d just laugh and hug me anyway. To top it off, they were cooking one of my all-time favourites – orecchiette (a local style of pasta, which as kids, we called “little hats” given its hat-like appearance – a picture of it is at the end of the story). I tried to help with the cooking, but was promptly told to return to my seat. I knew that would probably happen, but I felt I had to show some attempt to help anyway.

As we all sat down to eat lunch, I was struck by the moment. Here I was, in San Severo, travelling alone, but now finding myself surrounded by family that I had just met. Welcomed into their home and given an incredible meal to celebrate. The language barrier was gone – we were just enjoying each other’s company, and you don’t always need to speak to do that. There was robust discussion about various news stories that were on the TV and I tried to follow along with them. The vino rosso (red wine) was flowing freely too – it was a local drop, of course. When it came time to clean up, I again tried to help. Again, I was promptly told to return to my seat. The traditions are still very strong here, but there doesn’t seem to be any discontent on the way things are.

The final part of our day together was a delight – they took me out for a gelato! I probably had enough gelati on this trip, but when you’re in the presence of a food at its best, you indulge. I made my usual selection of Nutella gelato in a waffle cone (and yes, it was amazing!), and we walked the cobbled street back to the car. Almost as quickly as the events had unfolded, they were about to end. It truly was a whirlwind day, but it was an amazingly surreal experience. From the first sight of my cugina at the train station, to the energetic celebration around lunch, and to all the thoughts I was having about what life would be like here, this was a phenomenal experience – one that I am truly grateful for having the privilege to have had. There really is something so incredibly humbling about seeing where you’ve come from, even if it’s a distant connection. It certainly gives me an urge to ensure these wonderful traditions are maintained too. It might just be time to rekindle the sauce making, as well as the wine making. Even if it doesn’t taste all that good, it’ll be an excuse to get the family together, just like we did on this day that will be a fond memory for a long time. The simple things in life often are the best.

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Pictures: Top – a sneaky snap at San Severo train station as I was about to meet my cousin. Above – the action in the kitchen was just getting started before the family arrived for lunch. Of course, the vino rosso is ready to go. And more chairs were about to be added to the table as well.

Below – it wouldn’t be right not to include a picture of the first course of lunch. The very yummy orecchiette! If you think the serving size is huge, I had to ask them to stop adding more to it!

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Josef Himmelreich

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My recent trip to Europe resulted in many a museum visit (there’s just so many of them worth visiting), and there’s a reason that this one will keep a strong place in my mind. On October 19, I visited the Jewish Museum in Prague – a sobering collection of six venues clustered around the beautiful Jewish Quarter in the Old Town.

Two names are etched in my memory after this visit. Josef Himmelreich and Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. A visit to Europe for me usually means at least one trip to a WWII memorial. I’m not exactly sure why I’m drawn to the history of this unthinkable tragedy – one which I simply struggle to understand how it ever happened in the first place. (Having said this, it seems similar atrocities still occur today, albeit not at the scale of devastation seen in WWII, but you could debate this when you look at the current plight of Syria and its seemingly never-ending crisis). I think I want to understand what led to this war and how (or if) it can ever be avoided again. History has a habit of repeating, but this simply can’t repeat. It also strikes me that this isn’t some distant atrocity that can be put down to the Dark Ages – this occurred a mere 75 years ago. There are survivors who can tell harrowing stories to the rest of us, but I’d understand if they’d prefer to not revisit those stories. The impact of these times feels palatable when I visit a memorial such as the one I did this day in Prague.

The Jews began settling in the Prague area during the tenth century. There are numerous occurrences of mistreatment throughout their history in Prague (as in other parts of the World too), but it all pales into insignificance the moment you step into the Pinkas Synagogue.

There are three large rooms. 12 walls. Some of these walls are at least three metres high. On each wall, there are names inscribed in small text painted in black, surnames in red, with a gold star painted between each name. There are 77,297 names here. This is the number of Jews murdered during WWII from the Prague area. Entire families, young and old. Beside each name is their date of birth, followed by their date of death where known. The number of people in their twenties, thirties and forties really stands out. Initially sent to the Terezin ghettos, then sent onto those hell-on-earth camps.

As I solemnly make my way to each wall to read the names, the number of children start to get my emotions going. I was also feeling very sick in the stomach. Then, an uncontrollable grief takes over as I stand in front of one wall that has the name Josef Himmelreich on it. Born 8.IV.1942. Died 18.IV.1942. Josef lived ten days. Ten days. I find that incredibly difficult to comprehend. You might think that at least Josef didn’t really know what was going on and that he possibly didn’t suffer much, but Josef had as much right to live a fulfilling life as the rest of us do. I had to take a long pause here to collect my thoughts and ponder how the human race can be so unbelievably cruel to itself. I then remembered all the current examples where we continue to be cruel to each other and moved on to the next wall. I decided that it would be disrespectful to take photos inside this memorial, and I wish other visitors were doing the same. In fact, I think this Synagogue should enforce a rule to ban photography in there – it just doesn’t feel right. Thankfully though, there wasn’t a selfie stick in sight.

I then made my way upstairs to an exhibit of children’s paintings, all made possible by one amazing woman – Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. An artist and a school teacher, Friedl helped the children of the Terezin ghettos find an outlet of positivity and hope, in utterly unimaginable circumstances. Friedl gathered whatever materials she could find, any scraps of paper, paints, whatever could be used to allow the children to draw what they looked forward to. What they dreamed of. I find it incredible that children in this circumstance could ever think of something positive. Looking at their drawings was equally uplifting as it was totally devastating. Most of these children did not survive their experience in the camps, but thanks to Friedl who went to great lengths to conceal their work from those who would destroy it, we are able to visit this Synagogue and get an insight to their thoughts amidst the terror they must have seen on a daily basis.

It’s said that Prague remained relatively untouched by the horrors of WWII due to Hitler’s affection for it, but this obviously doesn’t apply to its citizens. The Jewish Quarter was to become a museum of a past people. I’m thankful that instead, it is a beautiful memorial that will forever tell the story of a people’s spirit that remained strong to the end, in utterly tragic times.

The Fear

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As children, we are happy enough to test uncharted territory and take a chance on the unknown. At some point as we grow older, we seem to become resistant to risk. The unknown becomes murky water that we don’t want to swim in. Often, this can be a real hindrance to making a decision – there’s that little voice in your head focussing on all the things that could possibly go wrong, even if it’s just a 0.01% chance. Each scenario is blown out of proportion and before you know it, years have gone by, as have many opportunities.

I am guilty of this and can recall at least three decision points in my life thus far where my risk aversion has led to a decision that I’ve later wished I’d acted differently. Some relate to love, some to professional aspirations and some probably fit into the “small stuff” category, but they all ended up the same – that troubling question “what if?”

What if I allowed that first crush at school to become something more? (Admittedly, other factors were at play here as I was not remotely ready or comfortable to accept myself as gay at the ripe age of seventeen at an all-boys school).

What if I lasted longer than three days in my first choice at Uni (Professional Writing, funnily enough) before the self-doubt kicked in about being able to forge a career in this field? (Side note: it may have taken eighteen years to come back to it, but I absolutely can’t wait to start my Professional Writing journey in a few months time).

What if I had chosen to live and work abroad in my twenties as I so often dreamed of doing? The fear voices were particularly strong on this one – my parents had recently separated and I felt I would have been abandoning my mother in her time of need to selfishly pursue my wish of living on the other side of the world.

I have come to realise that this is where it is important to understand something about choices – I believe the decision you make at a particular time is likely the best decision you could make at that time. You don’t know what you don’t know and it’s the journey you take that teaches you this. I can sit here now after all of these years and ponder what could have been if I had decided those scenarios differently, but I also know that those decisions I made were probably right for that time of my life, as I wasn’t ready for the other options at that time.

The other important factor is not to look at decisions you’d make differently now as a failure. Look for what you learned on the path that you actually took, rather than focussing on what you think you missed out on. It might even highlight the things you’ll do differently next time you face a similar decision point. My current (soon-to-be-ex) employment is an example of this – I went from one corporate finance role that I wasn’t enjoying to another corporate finance role, thinking that a change in scenery (and more money) would somehow fix everything. Six months later, I was as miserable in this new job as I was in the one I left. Has this six months been a risk that was not worth taking, or worse yet, has it been a failure? Not in my eyes, no. I choose to see this as the definitive proof I needed to cut ties with the corporate finance world and go back to a pursuit that makes me happy, makes me feel that I am contributing something positive to the world around me, while also being something I can sustain a lifestyle from. I’m embarking on a change that will see me shift the balance from being a life supported by a career, to a career that will support my life.

Try not to think that this kind of action is only for the brave. I have been surprised at the number of people who have told me they are impressed by my courage and bravery for making changes, pursuing a passion and downsizing the things which are not necessities to me. I don’t see it like this at all. This is about finding whatever it is that fulfils you, and importantly, sustains you. Money is not that shiny happy object, and it never will be. Yes, having enough money to get by is important (I’ve been on the verge of declaring bankrupt, so I know what it’s like to be on the wrong side of money too), but if you’re living a life that doesn’t fulfil you in any way other than your bank account, you might reach a point one day when you’ll do the same thing I’ve done. It isn’t brave to seek the things that make you happy, it’s what we all should be striving to do.

This brings me back to the fear. Why are we so afraid to fail? Life is about always learning and seeking new experiences to foster that learning. No one will ever have a 100% success rate at decision making, but I’m reasonably sure there’ll be a high percentage of regret if you keep missing out on opportunities as they present themselves, if the only reason you’re not taking them is from a fear of the unknown. Yes, you might not be ready, and that’s completely fine, but you need to take a chance at some point. There’ll be a time when you need to open that door.

A quote from the wonderful J.K. Rowling says it better than I ever could:

“It is impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case, you failed by default”.

Photo credit: http://www.gratisography.com/

A Table For One

22 October 2015

It’s two weeks in on my Europe 2015 adventure, and it feels like a good time to reflect on where I’m at. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this – to get out and see some of my favourite places in the world, and have the freedom to wake up each morning and decide what I want to do on that day. It’s a very liberating feeling, possibly one of the best aspects of travelling.

I’ve tried to remain free of any expectations on this trip, but one thought that has occurred to me a few times is that of loneliness. I wondered before the trip commenced whether I would feel alone at times, not having someone familiar with me to share in the experiences each day. Sure enough, it has been evident that this is indeed an issue thus far – particularly when something reminds me of friends or family. Taking photos and writing a journal is one way of sharing these moments, but it’s certainly not the same as having someone there to actually experience it with. Social media helps, but it doesn’t fill the void either.

This is not to say that there is no benefit to travelling solo – absolutely not. There have been some moments of personal growth and character building, especially when first arriving in unfamiliar places and not knowing where to go and not having anyone there to help. Venice and Prague come to mind here.

Venice was particularly challenging. I was told that I would surely get lost, but nothing quite prepares you for that feeling of helplessness. Your thoughts become clouded with doubt, and a mild panic sets in. You question yourself where you normally wouldn’t. I can read a map, but why can’t I now find this street? It undoubtedly gets frustrating and you just have to take a moment, stop, collect yourself with some deep breaths and remind yourself that you’re capable of figuring this out and that you’ll be fine. Eventually. A little tip for Venice too – don’t bother with Google Map walking directions, they are close to useless! It really comes down to intuition and asking for help.

Prague was a similar experience initially, although I think the weather played a significant role in my uneasy feelings here. It was getting dark (an added layer of complexity when you don’t know where you are), it was quite cold and it was raining steadily. By this stage of the trip, I’d figured out that the GPS function on my phone still works without a phone signal as long as you preload your walking directions when you have wifi, but for some reason, it didn’t seem to be helping once I’d left the main train station in Prague. I wandered the streets until I finally came across a hotel, where I went in and asked for help. Turns out I was heading in the right direction, but I still felt a little anxious. I continued on my way in the rain, past crowded alleys and beautiful sights (no time to enjoy them just yet though) until I made it to the Old Town Square. This made me a feel a little better as I knew I was close to finding my hotel, and sure enough, I made it shortly after this.

However, I didn’t feel comfortable in Prague until the next day, when I took the advice of friends and joined a free walking tour. As a social person that enjoys engaging with others, I really enjoyed being able to interact with other travellers after two weeks of almost no contact with familiar faces. I picked up the distinct Aussie twang of one of the girls on the tour, and it turned out she was also from Melbourne. We had a quick chat, but I wanted to interact with travellers from other countries. I next started chatting with a guy from Dubai, who had decided at the last minute that he was going to have a weekend in Prague (as you can do when you live in this part of the world). He was a Palestinian, so we started chatting about the current situation there and what might solve the crisis. He was very interesting to chat with, and even bought me a coffee when we had a quick break from the tour. I’d given him some small change for the toilet earlier (you always need change in your pocket in Europe if you want to use a toilet!), and he felt he had to repay the favour. We also discussed the sad state of affairs in Australian politics – I was somewhat surprised he knew a bit about what’s going on in Australia (in particular about our treatment of asylum seekers), but it just shows that we’re making headlines for the wrong reasons. I also had a chat with a lady from San Diego, who was on a three-month tour of Europe with her two brothers. They were winging it, and just going wherever they were enjoying the most. Part of me wished I’d done the same, instead of planning each stop and pre-booking all of my train trips. Each method has its pros and cons, but I feel like my next European adventure will be an unstructured one. I’ll buy one of those train passes and just go with the flow. I would have stayed longer in some places if I hadn’t organised each step – Verona for example, was utterly charming and 24 hours there simply wasn’t enough. Another thought I had while on this walking tour was how amazing it would be to do the same back in Melbourne, as a tour guide. Why not share the love I have for my home town with those that decide to travel there? Something for me to follow up, that’s for sure.

Inevitably though, when I go back to my room, or when I go out for dinner, the loneliness factor kicks back in. I wonder whether this might be a result of being in a long term relationship that’s recently ended. You get used to having your partner there to share experiences with, or even them simply just being there when you’re having a good or a bad moment. I was single for all of my twenties (another by-product of not coming out fully until I was 28), so I developed a pretty steady state of independence, but it feels different now. There’s no magic bullet and there’s no script on how these things are supposed to go, but maybe I’m not feeling all that comfortable in my own space right now. It’s been nearly three months since our break-up, but it can still be a presence in these times when I’m on my own, or after I’ve just had a positive experience followed by alone time in my room again. I know I’ll be OK and that I’ll come through the other side, but I think it’s important to acknowledge these feelings and deal with them as and when it feels right to. Things will be different when I return home, and that’s exactly what I need.

While it’s obviously a matter of personal preference of whether you travel solo, or with others, I think my next trip will be with at least one other person. It’ll probably be more spontaneous too. More time to live the moment, less time to follow a script – sort of sounds like how life in general should be. Plus, I’m a bit over asking for a table for one at dinner each night.