What I learned from eating at Sydney’s best restaurants

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My friends and I ate at Sydney’s finest, poshest restaurants* for our birthdays.

We’re not fancy people. I’m more at home at a greasy pub than a fancy restaurant. I don’t own high heels and have never learnt to straighten my curls. I cook en masse, not for tablespoon portions. So, it was an interesting experience to make-believe for a night.

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Here’s what I learnt from these four crazy expensive adventures.

Some formalities are just antiquitated:

Tetsuya and Quay was the only places in real life where I’ve been addressed “Good evening madam”. Turns out, I’m not Elizabeth Bennet. At both potential moments of graceful acknowledgement, I shot back a “hey” and plodded to the table.

Being present is the real trick:

I honestly think that waiters at fancy restaurants have to talk five minutes for each course, or they get fired. The cool thing about this is that it really forces you to focus on your food. I wonder if the lady at my local pho restaurant told me every ingredient and where it came from, I’d probably appreciate the flavours at a whole other level. It’s like your whole body focuses on your tastebuds, the textures in your mouth, the way the cutlery feels against the plate. It’s much better than eating dinner in front of the television. Imagine if we ate with this much mindfulness every day? There, I said it. I said the hippy thing.

You will need coffee if you overeat:

There’s a halfway point through a fancy ten course meal where I always panic “We’re half way through. I’m still hungry. I just wasted $200 to still be hungry. Fuuuuuccckkk” and then the next tiny little sliver of rich food tips me over to “There’s no more room. Why did I eat potato? Rooky move.” We all start rubbing our eyes open and aching in our bellies. And that’s where the coffee at the last course comes in. If they didn’t serve those tiny little cups of espresso dynamite my friends and I would have literally crawled out after the last petite four. It’s just like that monthy python sketch (which is more disgusting than what I remember).

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Unless you take notes of your experiences, it all blends into one blur:

Quay was the only restaurant where I took photos of every course, and because of that, we’re able to have a much better recollection of each flavour. All of the other restaurants blended into vague feelings. Except for Rockpool because the boys went all gaga over a waitress that looked like the dragon lady from Game of Thrones.

It’s good to commit to crazy things and make a big deal:

I feel like Australians are so casual that we sometimes miss out on the delight of making a big formal deal out of things. It was kinda nice to change out of the 12-year-old jeans and into a dress. But only because I knew it was a special occasion.

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My friends and I have conversations that are mainly inappropriate for fancy situations:

I’m not going to lie. We are perpetually stuck in 16-year-old sex jokes. I mean, we were making “seamen” jokes while we watched a cruise ship depart from Circular Quay. The moon was just coming out, the Sydney Opera House was glowing from the receding sunlight, and we were making dick jokes in one of the fanciest restaurants in Australia. Sometimes those jokes were a little louder than anticipated and we would all slink into our chairs, you know, like the adults we are.

Would I do it all again? Probably not. I’d much rather have a Lebanese meal down the road and put the extra money towards something more useful, you know, like feeding others. But it was a hell of a fun ride.

*The restaurants were Tetsuya, Aria, Rockpool and Quay – for the curious.

A study finally proves you’re not born creative, you learn it

Illustration by Alex Alex Schlegel (source)

Illustration by Alex Alex Schlegel (source)

A scientific study proves that being creative is not something that you’re born with, it comes from the act of doing creative stuff, like drawing.

Psychologists recruited 35 college students for a three month study, 17 of these grads did a beginner’s course in drawing or painting. The others did nothing. Throughtout the three months, all participants had fMRI scans while doing a standard test of creative thinking: fluency, originality and the use of imagery and language in new ways.

What they found was that learning a new art in just three months significantly altered the way you think. The psychologists were able to see the students’ white matter change over time.

“The fine-grained patterns of drawing-related neural activity in the cerebellum and cerebral cortex increasingly differentiated the art students from the control group over the course of the study.” said Dartmouth College psychologist Alex Schlegel.

While the study sample is small, I think that we’ll see alot more results like this in the creativity field.

Which to me, means, the idea of being born a creative person is a bit of a hoax. It just comes down to the willinginess to give something a proper go. I think is pretty fantastic, considering how many people say “I’m just not creative”. Dude! It’s all about learning and experimentation.

So even if you think that you weren’t born a creative person, you can fake it till you make it, and your brain will do all of the hard work.

“I hope our study will help to debunk the notion that there are ‘artists’ and ‘the rest of us’…We think a lot of creative thought depends on such a flexible mental workspace, but creativity comes in many forms and probably requires much more than what we found.” said Schlegel.

Do you feel like you belong to more than one country?

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What happens if you don’t really have a culture?

It struck me the other day, when I was in a dancehall workshop, that I could never teach something like it came from my ‘home country’, because I haven’t really got one.

My cultural influence is a potluck.

I’m a Sri Lankan that grew up in Dubai and lives in Australia. There are moments when I feel Sri Lankan, there are moments when I feel Australian and then there are times where I feel like I-don’t-know-where-I’m-from.

I don’t feel sufficinetly Sri Lankan enough to give anything more than tourist advice, my Sinhalese is halting and embarrasing. I don’t feel Australian enough to talk specifics. There are whole swatches of the map that are considered so old money that they’re practically invisible to me (although in Australia, a fledgling country, anything considered old is laughable).

And then, to add to it, because I was taught by American teachers in Dubai (All expats go to international schools) and lived in Washington D.C for a while, I often get mistaken for an American, mainly while I’m making small talk.

Apparently, my polite voice comes with an American twang.

So, if I was to teach anything based on my background, what would I teach? How to get along with any culture?

I felt most self-conscious about this when I was younger. Among the Sri Lankans, there was a depth of culture that just went over my head. With the Australians, I felt like the brown girl in the gang. Now I’m “meh” about it.

I’ve talked to others with similar backgrounds. Saudis in America, Fijians in Scotland. This potluck heritage feels like; wherever you are, you’re always watching it from the outside.

I guess I’m writing this because I’m curious if anyone else feels the same way. Do people who are born in the country they live in feel this way? Is this how all humans feel? Or is it an expat, traveller kind of deal?

And, if you do have a potluck kind of culture, what history do you draw on to define who you are?

Thom Yorke, of Radiohead, talks about the creative process

Radiohead’s music moves and inspires me, always has, for the last two decades. Despite the time that I’ve admired their work, I only started researching their creative process recently. I was listening to Alec Baldwin interview Thom Yorke and three things struck me:

  • Yorke chose to never learn sheet music because he believes it’s so far removed from the rhythm of making music.
  • Alec Baldwin’s throaty, gruffy voice is amazing.
  • And thirdly, Yorke summarises in a couple of sentences the whole creative struggle one feels in life:

“My family and friends know that I’m a nicer person when I’m working, and especially when I’m into what I’m working. There’s a period where I’m fairly unbearable when I’m not working at all…

If you want to shift with your work, with your writing, with being creative at all, you kinda have to stop – to make that shift.

Because if you’re constantly creating, you’re making the basic mistake of assuming that all your ideas are brilliant.

I need to go and do normal shit. I can’t write until I have a period where I reset, where it’s just normal, normal, normal, normal.”
(Alec Baldwin/Thom Yorke podcast on WYNC)

This rings true for me. It was like Yorke named the unnamed feeling I’ve had ever since I started creating things.

I need breaks between projects, because when I don’t leave these breathing spaces in between my work, I end up either producing mediocre stuff or I feel so drained I need a month off.

That’s what happened at the start of 2015. I had been working on this huge project for all of December and January, then in early February I gave a talk on creativity and that was the last of it. It was like all the energy leaked out of my shoes and all I could do was watch episodes of 30 rock every night and move further inward into myself (Note: This might be why I love Alec Baldwin so much).

I’m an asshole when I’m not working on a creative project; it feels like all of my energy is blocked up and I’m not fun to be around.

But at the same times I need breaks in between. Breathing space.

It’s always a balance between being joyfully absorbed by your work and allowing the breathing space to give you distance between the good and the bad ideas. I just find it all so fascinating.

A study found that gratitude makes us more creative

How many Jayasinghes does it take to open a champagne bottle?

There’s a definitive connection between positive emotion and creativity. Gratitude leads to more happiness, which leads to more creativity. 

“We looked at specific emotions as well as overall mood (the aggregate of a person’s positive and negative emotions during the day). Overall, the more positive a person’s mood on a given day, the more creative thinking s/he did that day. Across all study participants, there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a creative idea on days when people reported positive moods, compared with days when they reported negative moods.” – The progress principle by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer

So, how do you change something that seems unchangeable? Your mood is often attributed to different things, your work, your personal life and relationships, but even when some of those things are going to shit, there’s ways to lift your mood.
Start by noting down things you’re grateful for. It’s as simple, and as challenging, as that.
It sounds too simple to work, but The man who wrote the book on happiness suggests it. Just try it for a week and see how it goes.
My list often goes something like this:
1. Clean water and air
2. Family and friends that love me
3. Coffee walks
4. A really productive morning
5. The happy crinkles that form around the eyes when people genuinly smile. I live for that.
Most of this is stuff that happens every day, but I wouldn’t pay attention to it. Being grateful gives a pause for these ordinarily wonderful things. 
Experiment with being more grateful and see how it effects your mood and creativity.

When to get feedback in art and business

Ruth Blatt looks at the intersection of rock music and business collaboration. She wrote an article about how feedback in used in the creative process and it really struck me.

The biggest point is to get feedback when an idea is half-baked, not when it’s polished and published. 

 “Rather than a lone genius polishing a diamond in isolation, most creative people share early unfinished prototypes to get developmental feedback that helps move the emerging idea along.” 

 Another neat idea is to give and recieve context when sharing an idea.  

 “Feedback sessions by creative workers are inherently interactive…rather than passively waiting for judgement, creative workers talk about the history of the prototype, the thinking that went into it and the options they’ve considered.” 

 When I’m most enthusiastic about an idea, I suck at this. Words trip out of my mouth and I feel like I have to physically restrain myself from bounding out “This is the best idea ever!”. Once I show the earlier work and how it’s evolved, the feedback makes it even better. 

 I just think it’s fascinating how when you open up to getting more feedback, earlier on, things get even better than you what can imagine. Maybe that’s why humans have done so well in the world compared to other animals, our tendency to want to work together, to collaborate and create societies, works in our favour.

Read Blatt’s article, Ask and you shall recieve: the productive use of feedback in a creative process

How to track your time across all devices

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Earlier in this Run Wild adventure, I decided to track how much time I spend across anything that’s connected to the internet.

The reason behind this is: You can’t change a habit if you don’t know your baseline.

Back then, it was impossible to estimate how much time was spent on devices, but that’s changed (and will hopefully get better with more time).

On your iPhone, the only useful app is called Moment. While it doesn’t drill down to what apps have been used, it does track how much time you spend on your device and, more telling, how many times you swipe it open.

So Moment is effectively tracking how many times you glance at your phone. It’s kinda scary seeing that. I pick up my phone 15 – 30 times throughout a day. And that’s me being mindful!

You can export your results, which is cool. Because Moment constantly runs in the background, it drains the phone battery, so only run this for two weeks to get a baseline then experiment for two weeks to break the habit and run the app again to see if you’ve changed the results.

Android (of course) is more open when it comes to accessibility. There’s an app that tracks how long you spend head down in your phone and what apps you spend the most time in. I’ve heard good things about it.

I still use RescueTime to track time spent on my computer and I believe RescueTime is experimenting with an iOS version. I glance at the weekly email summary of my app usage for my mac, but don’t worry too much. My computer is slowly turning into a to-do list, rather than a research or social media hub, so I know that in general I’m doing useful stuff.

What do you use to track your current online habits? Anything else I should look at?

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Write your good ideas down (before they disappear)

I’ve had a journal in one form or the other, since I was eight. My best friend Alicia bought me a gaudy pink journal with a cheap golden lock for my birthday and that was it.

Over the years, I’ve moved away from ‘dear diary’ entries. Now I scribble down mix of ideas, things that inspire me and the odd old-fashioned list of things to do.

I don’t think I’ve found the best sketch book, but the idea is to keep it as simple as possible, keep it so simple that you carry it around with you everywhere.

Right now, I’m using a small moleskin book with a rubber band and my father’s fountain pen. It’s almost the same size as my phone, so I think nothing of stuffing it into my back pocket and heading out the door.

You can buy a three pack of these books for $13. I got the rubber band from my vegetables and the fountain pen costs about $1 to refill from an ink pot (oh, the love I take out of refilling the pen, ink stains in the crevices of my fingerprints).

Sure, you could use your phone to take notes, but with all of the notifications and the internet (see: the history of the world) at your fingertips, I often get distracted when I swipe it open.

I was going to buy a beautiful handmade canvas cahier for my journals from Etsy – but then I thought I should keep it simple. There’s a fine line between investing in your art and then buying things for the sake of it.

In your sketchbook, you should write down everything: every hunch, every half-baked idea, a point that sparks your imagination, a tickle in your brain. Jot it down before it disappears.

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Unlined sketchbooks are best, you know, so your ideas aren’t pinned down by lines.

I used visual art diaries with big black covers for the longest time, but now I enjoy the way salt water soaks into my notes and makes the ink run and the way the book creases with each journey.

Here’s the real gold of carrying a notepad: reviewing your ideas and connecting the dots where you thought there were no connections.

Having your ideas in one place and looking through them every once in a while is invaluable for ideas, as well as nostalgia.

Ideas don’t just circulate among people, they also run circles and collide in our minds, but only if we remember them.

How to start being an artist by Georgia O’Keeffe

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Photo by Christopher Springmann (source)

 

Georgia O’Keeffee was a prolific artist from 1916 to 1984. During her peak, she sold the highest piece of art and in 2014 her White flower no 1was sold at $44.4 million, doubling the previous highest paying female artist. What’s most interesting to me is her strong character and dedication to her work. She had decades of fluxing between extreme introversion to extraversion and back again.

While she’s well-known for her microscopic paintings of flowers, she started using clay after 57 years in the business, while she was going blind. That shows courage, picking up a new skill set after half a century.

Early in her career, she was taught by a teacher to paint a picture a day.

“The idea was a multifaceted lesson of genius.

Painting a picture a day trains you to:

a) not take your work or yourself too seriously;

b) capture the energy that led you to paint this particular thing in the first place;

c) loosen up (you’ve only got a day, so no fussing around);

d) remember there are more where this one came from (there’s always tomorrow); and

e) love the process; the enjoyment you had painting that kitten in a basket is more valuable than the painting itself.”

– How Georgia became O’Keeffe by Karen Karbo

For me, this is how I’ve trained myself to think. It didn’t come naturally, it’s been a hard slog. I always use to struggle on getting started, because once you start, failure is inevitable.

But actually, all of that messy failure, scary fear and dose of adrenalin has to be consumed. That’s the stuff of a life well-lived.

Start small, don’t be precious about your ideas and keep on building on it. I quite like this approach over labouring over making everything perfect.

In Georgia’s later years, she would get asked on how to become an artist.

She always said, or wrote, the same thing. Go work. Go work now.

I recently read this book on Georgia O’Keeffe that made me realise just how diverse she is. Her art really is amazing and I loved reading such a candid biography. Karen Karbo, I’m sure Georgia would approve.

Georgia O'Keeffe, hands 1918, photo by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O’Keeffe, hands 1918, photo by Alfred Stieglitz

 

 

 

What I noticed about musicians

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That hand reaching out before the body slam kills me. Quite proud of this shot of Dillinger Escape Plan.

I went to a birthday party for a musician. He had an open mic where he called up his friends to play on the stage for a bit.

What was interesting was how they supported each other with their whole bodies.

They bopped, they swayed, they danced and cheered their support of each other. They were really into the music with their whole selves, in an unabashed, almost childish way.

It was so unlike some gigs I’ve been to where people strain to look cool and composed in their seats, like they just woke up and put on faintly ironic clothes and couldn’t care where they are.

As I’ve started to play more music, I’ve noticed that I appreciate it a whole lot more, cause you know, I still haven’t gotten to that stage where I’m comfortable playing in front of others.

When I hear live music now, I try to show my appreciation with my whole body, without any embarrassment, because fuck it, the musos are putting themselves out on a limb, the least I could do is reciprocate.

Now dance.