Has Western Society Compromised Community For Adventure?

I read this article  by Hugh Mackay this morning, and it reinforced my view that one of the main reasons behind the increase in mental illness in the modern world is a disappearing sense of community and isolation. The accusation that perhaps we’ve got our priorities wrong in terms of our lifestyle choices makes perfect sense to me. adventure-1867386_1280-1

 

After the old man and I had one of those weekly regret-box conversations the other night, about where our lives went wrong, we came to the conclusion that we’ve moved house, neighbourhood and countries too often in our thirty-something years together – a decision that has not only affected the state of our personal wealth but more importantly, our connection to others.

 

We have good friends in both countries and in the neighbourhoods we’ve left behind, but the old man says that if my itchy feet hadn’t forced him to jump ship so frequently, we would have deep-rooted friendships by now and a true sense of security borne of being an integral part of a neighbourly community.

 

So sayeth the introvert.

 

‘But we’ve had more experiences,’ I always counter to his argument, ‘and anyway, you hate people…’

 

‘But we wouldn’t know what we’d missed if we’d remained in the same house for twenty years,’ he retaliated, the finger of blame pointed squarely at me.

 

Yawn…

 

Of course, there is hyperbole in my re-enactment of these discussions, because I’m certain that we are as fundamentally happy with our lot as the next middle-aged couple prone to whinging at this final stage of our quest for happiness in our lives. The influence of alcohol has a lot to answer for, because it increases this scourge of self-pity about our first world problems.

 

Which is probably why old people stop drinking.

 

And inevitably, I always come to the same conclusion that we are nothing more than spoilt, glass-half-empty, over-thinkers who will find something to moan about no matter how close we are to our neighbours and what decisions we make. That even though both of us are aware of the irrelevance of regrets, the ‘what if’ need to seek perfection culture  is something we share along with anxiety, and it can be hard to control as age and fear of death creeps up on us.

 

I’ve spoken many times before on this blog of the blight of migrant homesickness that can infuse our happiness as we age. Yet we made the choice to leave our motherland. Pity the other migrants, the Asylum seekers and refugees who switched countries for reasons of safety or even survival.

 

So ours must simply be a mild case of middle-class internal dissatisfaction that has emanated from ‘making our bed’ and questioning now why it isn’t completely perfect; an issue that has recently become more sensitive as we watch world borders being strengthened in the wake of the potential increase in fascism, and since NC broached the delicate topic of leaving Australia to go back to the UK to work. Needless to say, my anxiety has flipped into overdrive as I consider all the potential implications of both kids leaving us, being forced to raise grandchildren without us, and having to wipe my own bum in old age.

 

In reality, I know that many parents all over the world are deserted by their adult children and that it is nothing we’ve done wrong; rather, we should see this as a parental success. And it can be advantageous for the economic stability of backpackers-Central such as Earls Court in London, that would never have survived without its influx of Antipodeans. I know this, because I help those very same ambitious millennials on the ground here in Sydney, the fresh batches of twenty-somethings driven by opportunity, the promise of success, who each have a hunger for new experiences and the adventures they know they must enjoy before they have toddlers yapping at their heels.

 

I don’t doubt that there are friends of mine in the UK who sometimes sit in their kitchen and regret that they didn’t do more, didn’t travel more, or didn’t live in another country like we have; while I sit on my deck swatting flies and thinking melancholically about frost and The Sunday Times.

 

I do miss aspects of the community we gave up, yet I refuse to negate the opportunities and experiences that we’ve taken advantage of due to improved travel and communication technology. It’s not all bad. Many have been amazing experiences. No-one’s life is perfect and perhaps my infatuation with FB exacerbates the feeling of homesickness over what I’ve gained. Had we remained in England, I suspect that we would have still been nomads, just chilly ones.

A Helpful Safety Guide To Public Swimming Pool Etiquette For The Illiterate

 Dear Person Who Cannot Read/Swim,

 

yokusuka-89827_1280As a staunch supporter of community public services, I have commandeered myself to remind you of the swimming etiquette in our local public pools. For while the lifeguards are confident to chat for hours with Kardashian-esque 20-30 year old, svelte swimmers in itsy-bitsy bikinis  erect signs with suggested swimming styles/speeds for each lane, they do not see it as part of their job description to enforce them.

 

The pool is a wonderful local facility and one in which everyone is encouraged to swim. Note my use of the verb ‘swim’ here, because that is the aim of the majority of members that come to the pool.

 

Understandably though – and please believe me when I say that I am as inclusive as the next person – some people prefer to thrash about like idiots/frolic/and generally act like they’ve never seen water before, and that is why the recreational lane is kindly donated for them in which to express themselves.

 

Fortunately, this leaves another four or five lanes for the serious ‘swimmers’. These are allocated fairly, to accommodate every level of swimming ability, from the slowest, most painful creepers, to the Porsches of the swimming world. That is why the boards state respectively, ‘slow lane’, ‘medium lane’ and ‘fast lane’.

 

Allow me to explain this more coherently:

 

If you cannot swim at all, or walk faster than you swim, are heavily pregnant, have mastered no other stroke than a doggy paddle, like to jiggle around embarrassingly to music in water or prefer to walk in the water because some hippy yoga teacher called Bluebell told you that this counts as exercise, you belong in the slow lane.

 

If you suspect that you are an average swimmer, which means that you don’t need an inhaler to breast stroke or the aid of flippers or snorkel, you can reach the other end without stopping, have acquired some breathing technique and swim much faster than the swimmers that bottle-neck in the slow lane, you may promote yourself to the medium lane.

 

Unless:

 

The fast lane is as busy as the motorway to Mecca for the Hajj, causing the slower swimmers to hold up the roadrunners, who, (because they are familiar with swimming etiquette), have given way sulkily majestically and retrenched back into the medium lane. In that situation, you get back in the fucking slow lane with the kids and learners. News to you, I know, but it is indeed possible to switch lanes.

 

And so finally to the fast lane (sigh). On no account do you dip your toe in this holy water, unless: your body is as ripped as Michael Phelps and you possess the aquatic capabilities of the Man From Atlantis; you mastered not only free-style as a new-born, (even the breathing), you don’t splutter when water fills your goggles or gets up your nose, and you have the bionic speed to match the statement created by your bulging, white, G-string Speedos with matching swim cap; you also do a pretty good impression of the ‘butterfly’ stroke and have never second-guessed why it was invented or how silly it looks).

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Louisa Simmonds

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child…I Hope

Some people believe it takes a village to raise a child; in our case it will probably take a whole fucking city.The lengths you go to, to prevent your dysfunctional, magnet-attracting-trouble teenager, from creating havoc while you’re away. team-386673_1280

 

When Louisa Clare shared a post from Revolution From Home entitled In The Absence Of The Village, Mothers Struggle Most this week, she reminded me of the idea of the ‘village’ and the way many of our parents raised their children; with support from family and the local community. If you read the post, I’m certain that many of you will be able to identify with Beth’s list of the problems modern parents face today, that stem from not having the same life-line.

 

As she says, ‘In the absence of the village, we’re disadvantaged like never before. We may have more freedoms than our foremothers, but our burden remains disproportionately, oppressively heavy’.   

 

It often saddens me that we so rarely have a ‘village’ at our disposal to help raise our offspring. That extra support that so much of us go without today might be the missing link to premature burn out, mental health issues and divorce and certainly shouldn’t be ignored as one of the root triggers of the entitlement issues manifested by Generation Y today.

 

I was fortunate to have a ‘village’ to support my parents when I was growing up – a tight family network that rallied around when my mother became the first woman in the family to get divorced. We all lived in different suburbs, but congregated to the matriarch (Granny’s) at the weekend to be indulged and reminded about the importance of respecting our parents, taught how to share via rough play with cousins, forced to eat beetroot and salad cream – a lesson in managing our expectations, I assume – and treated with Space Saucers on our way out – something I now realise was probably a bribe for good behavior for the following week.

 

I know from my day job when I talk to my clients, (who come from all different cultures), that having a village to raise your child still happens in most third world countries, but it might surprise you to know that many European cultures still employ some of those traditional child-rearing methods, too. In Italy, the kids rarely leave home until they marry and once they do get hitched, they take on the responsibility for looking after their ageing parents. The majority of Asian countries follow a similar circle-of-life policy.

 

Could this be why many western kids are floundering now? Because they haven’t had the support and protection of close family around to help shape them – the only people close enough to be honest with them, to teach and incorporate within them the right values in their lives?

 

As you already know (here), the idea of relying on other people to look out for our own child is very pertinent for us right now, as the old man and I swan off to distant shores together for the first time child-free, removing some of the scaffolding that has supported Kurt up until now. Rest assured, I’ve been through every stage of guilt about this trip – the early ‘mother-guilt stage’, the stage where I told the old man he couldn’t possibly go after the latest Kurt-fuelled crisis, to this point, where I’ve finally reached a measure of acceptance, and we’re re-writing our wills.

 

And although I may not have the traditional ‘village’ to be ‘our eyes’ while we’re away, I have a bunch of wonderful surrogate family members who have offered their private detective/childcare services to protect the local community from our child.

 

In fact, it has really touched me how many offers of help we’ve received; especially when so many of those offers have come from people who read my blog. It has made me realise how much we Kurt needs this – in fact it could be the making of our boy.

 

So thanks to that friend who advised me that Kurt will be fine… but I might want to take a photo of how the apartment looked before we left, as well as to those friends who are Kurt-sitting for the middle weekend to give NC some space in which to restore her sanity, vocal chords and patience. Thanks also to those many girlfriends who have offered up their middle-aged husbands as bouncers in case an emergency extraction is required when the concierge realises that it is indeed our apartment on the roof terrace, that is hosting the newest live Sydney music festival, and all hell breaks loose.

Life’s ‘Colour’ Shouldn’t Cost Anything

I’ve been thinking a lot about how I overthink all the time, particularly these last few days in the light of the death of Robin Williams.


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Overthinking is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us remain accountable for our decisions and to think about whether we are making the most of each day.

 

 

 

But overthinking can be exhausting.

 

 

 

The ‘thinkers’ among us, and I don’t define a ‘thinker’ by intelligence, are those of us who are more prone to self-analysis, self-blame and general dissatisfaction as a result of those exhausting thought processes. We expose ourselves to setting the bar too high and then being disappointed, which can ultimately lead to depression.

 

 

 

I wish I was one of those people who have the fortunate disposition to embrace life no matter what shit it slings at them. I envy them. But many of us become bogged down by the nitty-gritty and what we perceive as bad luck – a bit like when you ski over a mud patch. We become ‘victims’ because even though we might believe that we make our own luck very, very deep down, when fate throws those curve balls to test our strength, we can’t dodge the feeling of inadequacy they create.

 

 

 

Being a victim is not an attractive trait and we’re very aware of that.  But sometimes the victim’s lair is a hard one to crawl out of.


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When that shit rains down on us personally, or we hear about something awful that has happened to someone we love and catch ourselves thinking ‘fuck, that could have been me’, we might have a short-term knee-jerk reaction and make a pathetic effort to try and remain positive for a while, but it usually only lasts until the next dollop of shit hits the fan.

 

 

 

From a global and superficial perspective, we know how lucky we are in the western world. In theory, we have very little reason to be unhappy. It is impossible to compare the poor in the west to the poor in the East, if you measure those riches in terms of money. We are fortunate to have the best health care systems, we take sanitation for granted, we suffer from little disease, have adequate employment and enough money for most of us to be able to feed our families.

 

 

 

Yet, still many of us aren’t happy, are we? Because we know that those riches aren’t the important ones. Rich people get depressed and commit suicide too.

 

 

 

An Indian client of mine told me the other day that his first impression of Sydney is of a lack of vibrancy and ‘colour’; and by ‘colour’ he was not describing different races.

 

 

 

I was surprised. There seems to be plenty of vibrancy and colour when you walk down Oxford St or into The Rocks late on a Saturday night.

 

 

 

But in his opinion, even though Indian society has so much less to offer in terms of monetary reward and benefit, the people have so much more to give. Their ‘colour’ is not superficial, it’s not dependent on things that cost money. The spirit and ‘colour’ of his country comes from its sense of community. A sense of community that offers an inner peace and happiness.

 

 

 

Interestingly, there is very little depression.    

 

 

 

The large western cities of the world can be isolating places to live – full of tourists and migrants who are alone and bereft of support from close family. The ‘colour’ of a community emanates from the love and warmth of family and friends and it can be lost when that family is divided. Community is created from spending time with people, knowing and understanding them and having a focus outside of work.

 

 

 

Religion can work to bring a community together too. It’s not all bad. I admit that I’m one of those sceptics that walks by my Christian church each week and watches their happy-clappy group love longingly, and then bitches about religion. Religion has its issues, and we certainly don’t need religion to build a community, but it can be a starting point.

 

 

 

Our children become more self-centred without elders to remind them about manners and respect. I see this problem in my own children. They haven’t had to sit through the rituals of family dinners or been knocked into shape by elderly, less tolerant relatives and so they have a tendency to be self-absorbed, to act ‘entitled’ – anything that doesn’t benefit them directly is too much for them.

 

 

 

We have failed in our responsibility to teach them how to give properly.

 

 

 

On the positive side, they are confident young adults because we have given them the opportunity to explore more of the world, absorb different cultures, the freedom of dual citizenship and access to a lifestyle that is more at one with nature.

 

 

 

But who do they turn to when they are pissed off with us? Who talks to them when we don’t know how to handle them? Communication with their friends is via their phones and social media these days, not at church, not around a raucous, Sunday lunch table with their extended family.

 

 

 

We are creating our own isolation and giving ourselves more time to overthink.

 

 

 

Perhaps that’s where western society has got it wrong. Life’s ‘colour’ shouldn’t cost anything.