Asking for help – often and gracefully

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Amanda Palmer is a transparent artist. She was the first musician to raise over $1 million for an album on Kickstarter. When she tours, she stays with audience members and while on stage, she talks frankly about what’s going on in her life and what her struggles are.

I cooked for her when she was toured through D.C in 2009. In no small accounts, she was a very strong role model when my life was in a spin cycle (It’s a really good read, if I do say so myself). To thank her, I cooked lots of food, dropped it off backstage, felt awkward, got really drunk and took some photos of the gig.

Anyway.

When I read the end of Amanda Palmer’s book ‘The art of asking’, I cried. That’s not true. I cried throughout the whole book.

This book was all about asking for help, without any shame, guilt or apologies. To figure out what you want and then to ask for it gracefully and without embarrassment.

If the art of asking is not easy, the art of not asking is even harder.

I decided to run a little experiment on this by asking for three things I really wanted.

I asked the cabin owner if I could check out earlier from what I had booked. She said yes. It was like a thousand little weights were just lifted from my body and I stayed for a week, knowing that I had flexibility.

I was stuck on a Crowded House song on my ukuele and asked a musician playing at a restaurant for help. He said yes and showed me some strumming variations but also told me to just go with my intuition. We shared a love for sad songs and I bought him some cake.

I needed to make a visual design course more flexible as I travelled throughout this month, so I asked the school if I can have some catch up sessions and they said yes, and in fact, others would benefit as well.

These were amazing, great experiences that I, for the most of my life, have been too scared/worried/polite to have, just by asking.

So this is going to be me. Asking for help – often and gracefully.

It probably means I’m going to be crying alot more, because I’ll inherently be more open and vulnerable. But that’s a good thing.

Thank you Amanda, for writing this book. I think you guys would dig it.

A week without civilisation

The last six months has been packed with stuff. So naturally, I made plans to stay in a cabin in the middle of a forest, just to see what would happen.

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I wanted to explore who I was amongst natural surroundings and limited resources. I was tethered to my phone like it was life support. I had neck problems from staring at my computer for too long. And, more importantly, I’ve been surrounded by people all my life (aren’t we all?) so I wanted to see if I changed when I was by myself.

I packed up my things last week and drove five hours south to a cabin that had one gas stove, no electricity and no connectivity.

Reverting to 18th century living is not poetic nor is it graceful.

You know that moment where you’re at the top of a roller coaster and you realise, not only is this silly but you’ve irrevocably committed to it until the end?

That was my cabin adventure.

I had time aplenty to think of where my life’s heading.

I wanted to see who I was without my partner. We’ve been inseparable since I was 20 and I feared that I had fundamentally changed who I am, unknowingly, throughout our relationship.

People look at us from the outside and think we’re similar: two Sri Lankans that met in Australia. But if you look closer, we have sharp edges in our different principles and behaviours, and I am so happy that we do.

We toe around each other’s madness and rub away the sharp, rough edges, which is a good thing in life; where there are many different ways of doing the same thing.

When I thought about our relationship as I walked through the forest, I kept on thinking about two trees together. We grow next to each other, but don’t rely too much on each other. It becomes dangerous when one is a vine and the other is the trunk. But as long as it’s two trees growing together, with space in between as needed, it’s a healthy, balanced relationship. Ok, enough of this shitty ass metaphor.

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I ate less that I normally do, and what I ate was better for me. Not having a fridge means that your meals revolve around the vegetables on the shelf.

I slept for longer but walked less than I do in the city (I used a jawbone to track all of this).

The thing that I didn’t anticipate was my fear of being raped and killed in the middle of a forest.

It was a tangible fear that hung in the air like a fog whenever the sun set. The thunder and lightning every night didn’t help.

I say it’s an irrational fear for me because women are 90% more likely to be raped or killed by someone they know (source). 10% of assaults are what all of our myths and horror stories revolve around – a woman being by herself, in the dark, no connection to the outside world, blah blah, fucking blah.

I hated my fear.

I hated that as a woman in 2014, I didn’t feel safe.

I hated it so much that I opened all the windows and doors and looked out at the trees through the lightning and lashings of rain, daring some hooded asshole to appear. And then I locked everything to go to sleep.

But I was out there, and I was being present through the fear, worry and adrenaline. And I returned, not in a coffin.

How do other women get past this? Is it just a matter of putting myself through these kind of experiences more often so that I harden my resolve? Maybe I should brush up on self-defence again.

I read three books and learnt eight songs on my ukulele. I painted and wrote. I swam in deserted beaches and watched wallabies eat in the dusk.

It had previously took me a month to learn one song on my ukulele and in one week I learnt eight songs.

I think this just points out how much value we should place in focus and how important the allocated time we have on earth is. I sing flat and fuck up chords, but there’s an unnamed joy in making music.

I also painted my ukulele. It’s a eucalyptus leaf on a uke. Euc on a uke. Get it? In Australia, the shortened word for a eucalyptus tree is pronounced like ‘uke’. Yeah, use that one the next time you want to impress someone with your worldliness.

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For the first day, I looked at my watch every half hour. By the third day, I had taken it off and was just waking up with the sun.

I imagine that people from the 18th century longed for the 16th century and so on and so forth from the beginning of time. We romanticise the past for it’s simplicity and we’ll continue to do so until humanity blows up.

Our grandchildren will probably pine for a world where a GPS didn’t tell you when you were, indeed, on the road less travelled.

If I’m being completely truthful, I much prefer the background din of a local pub or a crashing ocean to the laughing sound of kookaburras and the rustle of trees.

There is something to be said of loosing track of time and going back to basics.

Here’s a little home video I made of the week.

Get into more barrels

When I was in Bologna, Italy, one of my dear friends, Monica, organised for us to visit a family that has been making balsamic vinegar for three generations. They don’t normally offer tours to the public, so it was a huge honour.

The extended family all lived in this huge stone complex surrounded by olive trees in the middle of Modena. The sun was setting and they were preparing a family dinner outside. I was in love, love, love with the whole experience.

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You know how there are some women that just exuberate sophistication with ease? That was the owner of the balsamic vinegar company. Her father taught her, and his father taught him. She knew what she wanted to do with her life, and she was doing it well.

The pregnant owner of the balsamic vinegar company told me that as a new family member is born, a new barrel of balsamic vinegar is made for them. As they age, so does their inheritance. As the new family member goes through life landmarks, they use the balsamic vinegar to celebrate: birthdays, marriages, birth of children. She showed the barrel that held the balsamic vinegar from her birth and the new barrel that was being made for her child. It was a beautiful thing.

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The cheaper balsamic vinegar (most of what we see in supermarkets) is matured from six months to a year. The best stuff is 25+ years old and the best stuff was what this family did.

As we walked through the attic of this beautiful old house, the owner explained how to make amazing balsamic vinegar.

Every couple of years, balsamic vinegar is transferred from one wooden barrel to another. A little is left in the barrel, to add as a stock to the new vinegar. Each barrel steeps it’s flavour into the balsamic over time. The vinegar moves from local chestnut barrels, to oak, mulberry, ash, cherry and juniper. Each time the vinegar is moved, it gets more concentrated.

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New dates are marked in chalk on the barrels and the balsamic is allowed to breathe and mature.

Over years, the balsamic turns from an acidic runny start to a sweet viscosity akin to honey. Each time the balsamic is moved, it gains a new flavour, a new depth.

There’s a minimum amount of time for the balsamic vinegar to age, but the maximum time is all by taste.

It’s a long game, but it’s worth it.

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Great whiskeys and stocks do the same thing. A little of the rich flavour is added to a new batch and time takes over.

I see the similarity between how good balsamic vinegar is made and our lives and our locations. If we’re the balsamic vinegar, then our immediate environment is the barrel.

Each environment and experience adds depth and flavour – and we have to choose if that’s the flavour we want to add to ourselves, or whether we should move barrels to get a different flavour.

Personally, I love moving barrels. Even if it’s a bad experience, if you move quickly, it’s still depth. It might not be the major flavour in your character, but it’s an undertone, a richness to your being that others can recognise.

And when you get into the right barrel, and you recognise the new flavour as something you want to absorb, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Over time, we add more flavours to who we are, we just have to be more conscious about the barrels we get into and when it’s time to add a new richness to ourselves.

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What tattoo parlours know about willpower

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My wonderful friend Becc

Good tattoo artists caution you to do a couple of things before a giant tattoo.

If you listen carefully, this advice can be applied to not just a tattoo, it’s just as relevant for every other nerves-inducing moment in your life.

Get your glucose levels up: Tattoo artists ask you to eat a hearty meal before a big tattoo session. Studies have found that when you have low blood sugar, you have trouble concentrating and controlling negative emotions.

So you could think you’re in more pain than you actually are. If your glucose levels are low, you have less willpower, which means your pain threshold could be shorter, or you could flunk the exam because you think it’s too hard.

You are literally more likely to give up and think things are worse than they are if you’re hungry. So have something filling before any big decision or action.

Speak your mind or live with the consequences: Your tattoo artist will have opinions of what will look best on you. Often, they’ll increase the size of the tattoo to get more detail in or suggest another placement.

However, it’s your body. So you should take on their opinion but do what’s best for you.

Like many decisions in life, you’re going to be the one wearing it.

Don’t drink booze to dull the pain: Alcohol thins your blood and makes your glucose levels plummet. Your body treats alcohol like a poison and uses all of it’s reserves to restore the balance. And like we already know, low glucose levels makes us grumpy. So don’t drink before anything that could be stressful.

An XX+UX event in Australia

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In the theme of better late than never, I wanted to tell you about how we ran the first XX+UX event in Australia. A colleague asked if Atlassian would like to host the night and I offered to organise it.

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What’s XX+UX? It’s a place where women in UX (user experience design) catch up over food + brew. An amazing handful of women in Google got the community started. Go have a look at it.

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For the night, I showed people how to make a zine about how they got into UX, so there was a practical, hands-on element where people could talk about their careers and how they got there, without it turning into a boring networking night.

Man, everyone was so talented. There was painting, scrapbooking, calligraphy and comic books.

Once everyone had completed their zines, we swapped with another person. So you went home with a new story and more contacts.

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I thought it would be a two hour night, but people stayed for way later, just talking, getting crafty and eating the great spread Atlassian provided. There was also a pavlova bar, which might have something to do with how long people hung around.

We’ll run the next one soon!

Why I’m glad I can’t read a map

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We were looking for a museum that was on the outskirts of Istanbul. I was navigating through the unsigned roads that intersected the highway. Invariably, I picked the wrong side and we had to walk a 6 kilometer detour. In the heat. After already walking some 20,000 steps.

There’s usually a moment at every journey where I lose my way. I actually think having a map in front of me at all times make it worse. I’m much better with the occasional glance and then setting off.

To be honest, I embrace the part of me that can’t read maps. Getting lost is part of the adventure.

On this particular lost adventure, my partner and I walked through some ruins that skirted the highways. Gypsies were cooking over a fire and old men chain-smoked in crevices of what looked like the remnants of a castle.

It looked like the bones of the building had gone through quite a battering.

We had to walk through and skirt around the place.

Eventually, we found the museum – and you’ll never guess, the museum was dedicated to a story that took place in the very ruins we had walked through. Back in 1453, the Fall of Constantinople took place in the area we just walked through. You know, no big deal.

It was an amazing serendipity and reminded me of J. R. Tolkien’s line “Not all those who wander are lost.”

And that is why I’m glad I can’t read a map.

What defines simple for your work? Or, how to get started on the work that matters

What defines simple for your work?

I think that creativity comes out of placing restrictions on yourself.

Georgia O’Keeffe restarted her love for art by only sketching in black charcoal on cheap paper. Henri Cartier-Bresson used a 35mm lens for his photography. When Picasso started learning pottery, he only used the clay that was available in the small town he was staying.

Once you have a theme and constraints, it’s easier to create something.

It’s the difference between a blank sheet of paper and a blank sheet of paper with a pencil.

With restrictions, you let go of some control and it’s easier to create.

You don’t need an app, or a new productivity hack.

The way to do it is to just fucking do it with what you have with you.

Your knowledge.

Your limited tools.

It’s more than enough.

 

On audacity and artists

Very often audacity, not talent, makes one person an artist and another a shadow artist – hiding in the shadows, afraid to step out and expose the dream to the light, fearful that it will disintegrate to the touch.

– The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

I may not agree with all of the exercises and theories in the Artist’s Way, but it does have bits of truth, and is worth the read for thoughts like this quote.

 

The best writing advice I got from a journalism degree

The best writing advice I was ever given came from a smart, grumpy as fuck journalist that I adored precisely because he was a grumpy as fuck journalist.

I was in a room with other hopefuls that dreamed of reporting at the front lines. It was the first day at a university known for it’s journalism degree.

“Half of you won’t make it to the end of this course. Those of you that want to be writers for writing’s sake will fail. We want people that report stories, facts.”

I think he just wanted to scare the shit out of fresh-out-of-school kids, and it was working.

“Don’t try to sound smart. If you have a simpler way to say something, say it. Your job isn’t to use jargon to make yourself look good. Your job is to convey an idea.”

That was the jist of the whole course. Cut out the crap and say it simpler, say it so a 12-year-old could understand it. With a methodical manner, Chris McGillion went through every written piece and covered every unnecessary word in red circles.

And I’m grateful for that.

Even if my most of my writing nowadays is in a conversational tone, it does mean that I hate fancy, long words that don’t add any extra meaning. And that’s grounding. Keep it simple stupid.