Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Letter-writing - rediscovering simple joy

When I was a recently-transplanted Pom, back in the mid-1960s, one of the most exciting things ever was the arrival of a letter or a card all the way from England, with Nana or Grandad’s handwriting on the envelope.

As a teenager I had an English penfriend. For years we sent each other monstrous epistles on thin, lightweight airmail paper, sharing our thoughts, our joys and woes and our deepest secrets. My brother Mick and I did the same, packing enormous wads of paper into small envelopes that bulged mightily with closely-written pages and pages of news and secrets. The year that I lived in Japan, the post was a lifeline to home.

The thrill of an envelope hand-addressed to me has stayed with me all my life.

And then came email. How immediate! How exciting! I,fickle creature that I am, and most of my fickle generation, abandoned letter-writing in favour of emails, online chat, sms texts and the biggest letter-writing killer of all – social networking sites. Long, newsy letters to individuals, and the creation of a shared ‘history for two’ have given way to short, pithy status updates or 140-character tweets to an entire network of friends and acquaintances. Intimacy has been sacrificed on the altar of immediacy. It’s sad.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the fact that I can stay in contact with so many people so easily. But staying in touch via a series of generic and impersonal bytes of life isn't the same as the written equivalent of a whispered message in the ear of a friend, meant for them and them alone. Besides, I miss the thrill of seeing my name handwritten on an envelope.

Think about it – when someone writes you a letter, it means that they care enough about you to write something that is just for you; to fold it and address it, attach a stamp to it and take it to a mailing point - each action a ritual of friendship that they have considered worth spending time on. Think for one second about how very special that is!

Every day I put hundreds of postal articles into hundreds of mailboxes. Tragically, the small handwritten envelope is almost extinct. The only things that travel through the post these days (apart from the thousands of parcels - online shopping booty that is killing the retail industry in the same way that online communication is killing letter-writing) are bills, advertising bumf and super-aggressive Readers Digest marketing ‘letters’ masquerading as sweepstake entries. Those are the things keeping the postal system alive – and they suck!

The Readers Digest 'mail' that has cluttered up my letterbox over the last month or so. They must spend a fortune on postage - no wonder their merchandise is so expensive! I'm saving up all my letters, and when I have enough to fill a small box - won't be long now - I will send them back with a nice letter.
Here's something to think about:

If everyone in Australia wrote just ONE personal letter a fortnight, the volume of mail would increase a hundredfold, and the joy quotient a thousandfold.
I read Jane Austen’s Lady Susan a while ago, and the epistolary style of the novel made me nostalgic for the shared world of letters between friends. I was inspired to take up letter-writing again, after many years of thumping away at a keyboard, embroiled in e-comms. Oh, what a pleasure it was, constructing sentences in my head and committing them to paper without the middleman of a keyboard with a delete button! But it was nothing compared to the pleasure when, yesterday, during the execution of my mail-sorting duties, I came across a letter addressed to me in my friend Anna’s hand. I collected it from my PO Box at the end of my shift and, quivering, carried it home to read. It made my day – my week, in fact.
No email, no pithy text or witty tweet can compare to tucking into the juicy words of a real, hand-written letter that is just for you. I am so glad I rediscovered that joy, and I am so so sorry knowing that so many youngsters will probably never know that joy for themselves.
Write a letter to someone today – go on!

Friday, 24 January 2014

Stop the World!

Have human beings always been such arseholes?

Just recently, while listening to the radio in the mornings as I sort the mail, I’ve been shaking my head so much that I probably look like a Parkinsons patient. It’s awful. Actually, it's worse than awful.

If it’s not the Queensland government citing VLAD as a good reason to walk over the population in jackboots, and pretending it’s all because of outlaw motorcyclists, it’s men in Taiji luring and slaughtering thousands of innocent dolphins until the water of the harbour is a thick, angry red. Or some fucking council of chieftains in India ordering the GANG-RAPE (by middle-aged men) of a girl whose only ‘crime’ was to fall in love with a - gasp -  Muslim from another village.

On top of all this, our Prime Minister wants taxpayers to give Aussie newlyweds a $200 voucher for counselling services, while rich tax-cheats get an amnesty and the welfare system looks like being overhauled (because, you know, as one Queensland pollie mentioned earlier this week, people on the dole don't care about the community and are trying to screw the system.)

Oh, and meanwhile, our illustrious PM says, for the record, after a bunch of asylum seekers with burns accused the Australian Navy of mistreatment, something along the lines of “Who are you going to believe?  The Australian Navy or a bunch of lawbreaking illegal wannabe immigrants?” (yep, always believe the guys in uniforms, right?) 

Um. Well. If recent headlines about shenanigans in the defence forces are anything to go by, I’ll believe the asylum seekers, thanks.  Our defence forces, to their eternal shame, have made the headlines for hazing, bullying and sexual misconduct AGAINST THEIR OWN MEMBERS….. while asylum seekers have made the headlines for, um, seeking asylum.

And all that crap isn't even the TIP of the bloody iceberg of man's inhumanity to man (or, very often, woman). 

As for the environment - well, it's PROFIT BEFORE PEOPLE. Always. Fuck the future, all that matters is profit NOW, for RICH PEOPLE here, now. Let's remove all the red tape that stops rich people getting richer, kick poor people in the guts so the bastards will work harder, fuck the environment if there's a buck to be made from it..... 

Am I angry? You bet I am. And even angrier that I am so powerless to do anything about any of it. All I have are angry words: words to send to governments via letter and email (and get back some bullshit pap of standard words copied-and-pasted by some arse-covering public servant); words on petitions that go God-knows-where; words on my blog, which sits out here in cyberspace reaching about fifty people if I'm lucky... words words words. If the pen is mightier than the sword, then the sword must be fucking useless. The world is going down the toilet, and every thinking person knows it. We're destroying the planet at such a rate ....

Ah, there's the answer. We're shitting in our own nest, big-time. It can't last. Perhaps the sooner we send ourselves to oblivion, and let the planet get on without the human race, the better. Sad, innit?

I'm so so so SO sick of it! I’m sorry. I’ve had enough of this shit. Stop the world. I want to get off.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

*blink* and another year’s gone…

This year - oops, last year – has disappeared into that irretrievable void that we call The Past. Gone. Kaput. It no longer exists. The only thing that keeps it alive, for good or ill, is memory – aided by the media and all those ‘the year that was’ photos and videos. There are many things I'd like to forget - like the fact I only rode the motorbike half a dozen times, or that I suffered an inordinate amount of joint pain. That I became fat from a deadly combination of prednisolone, red wine and late-night snacks. That I cleaned so many dunnies my arms nearly dropped off. That Kate's beautiful cat, Aldwyn, was laid to rest in my front garden.

There are also many things I would like to remember about 2013, though. Singing with the Mallacoota Community Choir; joining Mallacoota's rockin'est ukulele girl-band, the Strumaleles; learning watercolour painting in the U3A art class; making some wonderful new friends in my adopted hometown, reconnecting with nature and rediscovering the joy of gardening. Memory is a double-edged sword, isn't it?
This year is what it is and all that it is going to be because of all those bits and pieces - good and bad - of last year and the year before and the year before that, all the way back to forever. Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything is interconnected. The kneebone's connected to the -- you know how it goes.

On the bad side, I guess that’s why Campbell Newman and his VLAD-loving cronies are still jack-booting about and terrorising Queensland, and why Mallacoota's beautiful Bastion Point is still ‘under reconstruction’ (Grrr). It’s why Tony Abbott and his secretive government are hiding boats and denying climate change and selling our precious environment to the mega-rich, while simultaneously trampling all over the most vulnerable people in our society. 

Seeing as memory doesn’t actually seem to be teaching us anything as a society (like how NOT to let governments get too much power), is it actually worth having? Is it a blessing or a burden?
I sometimes ponder life without the double-edged sword of Memory. How is it for Basil, I wonder, whose life is lived from day to day, and who doesn’t seem to worry about anything at all, ever? He seems pretty happy, actually. Here he is, sitting on a nice warm rock in the cat palace and looking very handsome:
Photo by Kate Berry
Poop. I hadn’t intended being philosophical. I had resolved not to think too much this year, in fact, because thinking too much can be such a downer. Clearly this resolution went the way of just about every other resolution, ever. I’m doomed to think and think. But I may have found a partial solution.
I read a sappy thing on Facebook the other day – one of those True Stories designed to tug at the heartstrings – and one line really stood out for me, and created the foundation for a resolution I hope I will be able to keep in 2014.
‘Don’t put the key to your happiness in anybody else’s pocket.’
Wow. That really blew me away, as I realised, in my over-thinking way, that I do exactly that. I do it a lot. And it never occurs to me that this is a choice I make – a ridiculous, self-defeating choice that hands over the power over my precious happiness to other people, some of whom I don’t even like very much! How very empowering for them
2014, then, is going to be the year that I keep the key to my happiness safely in my own pocket. I love my own little world, with its ukulele, its Basil, its birds, its watercolours and its lovely work-in-progress garden. I love the friends and family in it. I love doing my own thing in my little house in this beautiful, tiny little town. Obnoxious people, bosses and governments may have the power to irritate, much like this summer's persistent flies, but I will not give them the power to make me feel less worthy or less happy than I deserve to be.
Onwards and upwards, and Happy New Year!