Friday, December 21, 2012

It's not the end of the world

Today is an important day. Not because the world is ending (it isn't) but because I just withdrew from my postgraduate studies.

I have long wrestled with this decision. I started my PhD with the dream of becoming a lecturer in British and Australian Literature. I lectured and tutored during my studies and I loved it, teaching a subject you truly love is wonderful. Researching a subject that inflames your intellectual passions is wonderful. What isn't wonderful is the reality of being a paid academic. The huge amounts of paperwork, the constant pressure to bring money into the department, journal articles and conference papers which have to be produced in your own time, the very long working weeks and the discrepancy between hours worked (and compensated) and output expected. Put bluntly, the dream was just that and reality wasn't doing it for me.

 Letting go of a dream is hard. I feel a certain sense of shame and of failure if I think of my decision as "dropping out". But if I can reframe it as simply changing the dream then it becomes freeing, an opportunity for change. I wasn't enjoying it anymore so I stopped doing it. How radical!

As W. C. Fields once said: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.’

I do have a safety net with an option to return to my studies without penalty as long as I do it within two years. That's a possibility but 20 years is more likely. There's so much I want to do.

First up is to write more and perhaps to try and get something into in a non-academic publication. I want to learn, once and for all, to sew. I want to work (post maternity leave) in a marketing communications/PR role for QLD tourism or the museum or a charity I feel strongly about. I want to enjoy time with my midgets without feeling I "should" be studying. In short, I want to do more of what makes me happy.

The decision I just made will allow me to do (or at least to attempt) all of those things.

In replacing the "dream" with goals that are different, though equally meaningful, it feels a little bit adventurous - as though I'm sailing away from the safety of the harbour and into the big wide blue.

It's an important day, but it's not the end of the world.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas and a splendid New Year. I hope it's a time of love, laughter and happiness.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In Loving Memory

Last week a good friend of mine passed away. Suddenly, unexpectedly and far from home.

His name was Elwin and he was one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life.

Elwin was Dutch and moved to Brisbane not long after Andy and I. As I had lived in Amsterdam for a year when I was 20, we shared a “Dutch connection” that meant I was always the lucky recipient of three Dutch kisses whenever we met.
Just thinking of this wonderful man brings tears to my eyes but it also makes me smile, he is one of the very few people I know where I can say with conviction that he was truly happy. He absolutely lived the dream of doing more of what makes us happy. Elwin loved fast (red) motorbikes, skydiving and cats. He played soccer and samba drums. He worked hard, had signed up for his first triathlon and loved to hang out with his many friends. He was generous in every way and an absolute natural with the kids in our group. One of my fondest memories is of how sweet he was with Agatha, I would have loved to see him become a husband and a father; I know he would have nailed it.

Agatha enjoys some toe-tickling fun with Uncle Elwin (left)
Last year, when I was heavily pregnant with Agatha, Andy would drive me home from my job in the city each day. Perhaps three times in the first fortnight a man on a moped would pull up at our window at the traffic lights and give it a little knock. We’d wind down the windows and there would be a smiling Elwin on his way home. We’d manage a brief chat before the lights changed and we were both swallowed by the traffic. Ever since then, whenever we were in the car and saw someone riding a moped, Andy and I would say “there’s Elwin” – even if the rider was clearly an elderly woman – and maybe once or twice more we got it right and it was our friend. It has become such a habit that I know we’ll do it again - only now with the knowledge that it never will be Elwin again, it never can be, he has gone.
All of Elwin’s friends and of course his beloved family feel his loss keenly; he was the sort of person you meet rarely – utterly good, extremely kind and completely devoid of bitterness or malice. But not so good as to be no fun, he was blessed with cheekiness and a great sense of humour; he smiled and laughed a lot. He threw himself into everything - sometimes literally as with skydiving - and enjoyed every minute of the ride, grinning all the way.

His was a short life but it was a full life – a life well-lived. The sort of life I aspire to live and the reason I created this blog. I don’t want to use my friend’s death as a “lesson” of some sort but I can’t help but be inspired to want to do better. To seek out every opportunity for joy, to eradicate the stuff that brings me down, to embrace happiness and to try everything. I think Elwin left a little of that behind in everyone who was lucky enough to spend time with him.
I know that this is not the most eloquent of eulogies; my emotions are pretty raw at the moment and my thoughts are scattered. But I hope it does some justice to Elwin and how very special he was.

I’ll miss you friend, go gently.