Down The Rabbit Hole

Miss Kyra shared her bunny with me

December 2004 (not my bunny — it’s too pink!)

Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, I was in Melbourne, Australia, working for a company that sold books door-to-door. I was living in a flat in St. Kilda with my workmates, a motley mix of foreigners — mostly Brits — and young, itinerant Australians. At 19, I was usually the youngest and the only Canadian on my teams (I did meet one other Canadian from Victoria, but he didn’t last long). I’d just met them but was expected to spend all my waking hours with them in a hyper-communal living arrangement. Not only were we sharing expenses via a kitty, buying groceries together and divvying up the housework, we were on a company mandate to spend all of our free time together to “bond” as salespeople. Those first six months in Australia working for two rival companies with nearly identical employee training programs and policies turned out to be some of the most absurd yet strangely rewarding months of my life, where I made friends I still have to this day. It’s also where I learned a great deal about myself, human nature, and more about Australian people than I could ever, ever want to know…

Even though all this time has passed, I still don’t talk much about the first six months in Australia because it was such a weird time, based in these isolated quasi-communes and living like we were in some kind of transient work cult. Today, we would be a reality show and we’d be making money from the weirdness. But back then it was a way of life, a situation that could only be possible in the pre-internet days on the gigantic island that is Australia, cut off from the rest of the world and where news came by traditional media like TV, radio, and print. We lived in a bubble. A fun bubble in a Willie Wonka sort of way, but a bubble nonetheless.

Due to the nature of the work, the places where we lived became a revolving door of people. Many of us were on short-term visas, mostly Working Holiday category, living out of bags and going where the wind took us. Teams were changing constantly. We’d basically given up our freedom in exchange for accommodation, being continuously on the road in the company of other young people, and the promise of well-paid commissions for hard work. We had few responsibilities like finding places to live, but we made a deal with the devil and had to abide by a slew of rules. We were associated with cults because communication with “outsiders” was virtually impossible: nobody had mobile phones, pay phone calls were expensive, and we were monitored to a degree that still disturbs me a bit when I think about it. Later, when I was still in Australia but working elsewhere, someone told me there was an exposé on television about these companies and their dodgy practices and I was in it, portrayed as a “victim”, but I never got to see it. Probably a good thing!

The terms of employment were such that the companies dictated our social lives. We were strongly discouraged — nay, forbidden — to make friends apart from our workmates who were already living with us, but at the same time it was verboten to sleep with each other because that would “fracture” the team. Which of course, as you can imagine, invited a lot of clandestine rule-breaking. As if that wasn’t enough drama, the learning curve for our jobs was very steep and not everyone in the teams got along. There were personality conflicts, sexual tension, and the type of behaviour you’d expect when a bunch of strangers are thrown together in close quarters. Everyone was far from home, we only had each other, and this compression bubble turned us into a de facto family — a very dysfunctional one at times. We ate together, worked together, went clubbing together, did everything together. Between the two companies, around Canberra and Melbourne, I spent six months in these roving bands of sales teams.  It was like a portable, real-life version of Big Brother, with jobs but without the prize money.

I still think about some of those people from time to time, because of what we experienced together. I’ve reconnected with some later, in particular one friend who returned to England and set up in London. I’d met up with her a number of times over the years between living in Scotland and passing through London. Some people leave a strong impression, either for their personality or from something that happened. One individual I remember from those days was one of the funniest people I’d ever met, one of the few from that team whose name stuck in my head. I’ve often wondered over the years what he’d done since then and if he’d returned to Wales. I don’t know what possessed me to plug his name into the search bar today, but to my great surprise I found his name (a common one) in Amazon — by some crazy coincidence he’d just published a book about those very days in Australia!

Now, if you’d met anyone who’d worked for either of those two companies in Australia, you’d likely hear some variation of “I could write a book about those crazy times” passing their lips within five minutes. Because it’s true — even six months to a year of this nomadic and intense lifestyle could easily fill a book with outrageous stories, names changed of course. But here we are 20 years later and finally someone DID actually write a book about it, and it happens to be a guy I’d been wondering about all along. My curiosity got the better of me. I started reading some chapters of the book and indeed, he’s changed people’s names, but the stories are not exaggerated…

… and down the rabbit hole I went.

The Bohemian Has Left The Building

From my boss. #LastDayAtWork

From my boss. #LastDayAtWork

My corporate life is officially over. Today was a little surreal. I can’t remember the last time I was hugged this much in one afternoon.

It’s bizarre because this is the investment industry, where everyone shakes hands and makes elevator talk (god help you if you work in the top section of a skyscraper, that’s a lot of elevator talk!). Bay Street is not a touchy-feely environment by any stretch of the imagination. A lot of people come and go. I wasn’t expecting the outpouring of affection, even after bringing in a boatload of Portuguese food for lunch to share with the entire floor. But considering I only worked there part-time for four years, it was the warmest send-off I could have imagined. Take THAT, Friday the 13th!

I am also relieved I made it through to my last day without someone pranking me. (That probably speaks more about my experience there than the goodbye hugs.)

I’m 41 and life just gets better and better. Let’s drink to that! *clink*

Get Unstuck

M1, circa April 2004, in my Beach Ave apartment in Vancouver

M1, circa April 2004, in my Beach Ave apartment in Vancouver

Life is too short to be stuck. If you don’t feel stuck, feel free to skip over this post — there are (to date) 4,749 others.

I’m down to nine half-days at The Firm, and as my last day draws closer these are the most frequently given/asked comments/questions:

You must be so excited!
What an adventure!
What do you plan to do in Portugal?
What will you do for work?
Do you speak Portuguese?

What many at The Firm don’t know is that I’ve done this three times before — this is my fourth expat experience. The big difference with this one is that I will be living in another language. Of course, there are some other differences, too, but this one is the one that will affect me the most.

But that’s OK, because what I have noticed about myself during the past 23 years of mostly solo travel around the world — and Quebec :) — is that when I’m immersed in a different language, I feel differently and think differently, and that’s the point! (That’s probably why it’s more peculiar for me in Quebec, because it’s so familiar yet not, at the same time.) Learning to think differently is a good thing, in my book. Why make the brain tread the same neural pathways when it has the capacity to do more?

Feeling stuck is what happens after living the same way for too long, especially when it’s not ideal. The further away from ideal, the greater the feeling of being stuck. But feeling stuck is not the same as being stuck. Much of it is a mindset of inertia, that the effort it takes to get closer to the ideal is too much of burden.

Some people call this restlessness, but I think there’s more to it than that. Restlessness comes from boredom, which is more of a short-term problem. I’m creative and thoughtful enough to come up with plenty of ideas to not let myself slip into boredom. Canada is a huge country that supports a variety of lifestyles, all of which are available to me. But it’s still operating in the same language (except for Quebec, and yes, I seriously considered moving to Quebec after Toronto).

Choosing to move to another country is more than scratching a boredom itch, it is a choice to adapt to another country’s culture and traditions. I’m moving from the New World to the Old World, which is puzzling to some who firmly believe that the New World — ideologically more pro-change than the Old World — is a more suitable place to live for the non-traditional.

However, I will also say that the New World is filled with people who have created their own traditions, their own quasi-religions, and are just as rooted in their own ideas. Those of the New World are just as capable of being “stuck” as are people in the Old World.

Take, for example, the New World urban dwellers. I’m sure you’ve heard this before, from people who live in New York City, Toronto, Sydney, or any number of large urban centres where the salaries are high to keep up with the cost of living:

I’m a ___-sider, why would I go to the (other) ___ side?
I live in the best neighbourhood in the city! Even the (real estate institution which ranks and rates) says so! 
My commute is ______ long, but I’m used to it. Other people commute more than I do.
I live in the best city in the world! Even the (institution which ranks and rates) says so! Why would I live anywhere else?
I live in the best country in the world! Even the (institution which ranks and rates) says so! (Have you lived anywhere else?)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand where much of this thinking comes from: immigration. The New World is populated by immigrants who want more than what their parents had, to achieve lifestyles which were previously unattainable by the rigid social and economic structures of the Old World, or were escaping conflicts (war) and political corruption in the Developing and Third Worlds. The basis for immigration comes from the desire for more opportunities. But upward mobility comes at a cost — more working hours, less family time. People get stuck because of material pressures such as the cost of real estate and child care. There’s a lot of New World guilt, debate, and conflicted feelings over what constitutes as success versus excess.

I was born in the Third World, so why wouldn’t I head that way if I wanted a change? Well, lots of reasons. I don’t have much in common with Filipinos, culture-wise. In fact, it’s related to immigration as mentioned previously: the average Filipino is not ambitious, and the ambitious ones, the ones who truly want change, leave. Here’s an article which touches on some of the reasons why I find the behaviour frustrating. (Note that is only some of it.) And if you think I’m being harsh, remember that it took MONTHS of a needlessly lengthy process to get a copy of my birth certificate earlier this year.

I was raised in Canada, and my lifestyle choices are geared towards living in an equivalent society where I want to raise children, and I definitely don’t want to raise children in the Philippines. It would be like taking my parents’ many sacrifices to immigrate and undoing it all. It would be going backwards. The whole point for them to bring us here is to provide us with options we would otherwise not have, and to be in a position to exercise these options is a freedom I’m grateful for. They paid for it, yet I’m the one who benefits.

If I wasn’t planning on raising children, I would have different ideas about where to live in the future because it wouldn’t involve schools or proximity to the family support network (eg. grandparents) or making child-friendly employment choices. I will be the first to say that choosing change for the sake of change is a luxury afforded to people who have no dependents. But I plan to have dependents, and I’m choosing the change I want for myself which will benefit them, before they come along.

But before I wander too far away from my post title of “Get Unstuck”, the point to this post has less to do with choosing a place to raise children and everything to do with changing one’s environment in order to live closer to your lifestyle ideal, whatever it may be. This might mean moving away from the city and closer to nature, or if you like sailing to move from an inland location to a coastal city, or if you’re more into the arts to leave the big house in the suburbs and downsize to an apartment that’s convenient to arts events. It takes planning and sacrifice, but these are very achievable goals.

If you like to travel like I do, living in a relatively small country such as Portugal means it’s easy to see more of it without needing to fly everywhere. Also, living in a densely-populated geographic area such as Europe with lots of discount carriers means more opportunities to see other countries without spending as much time and money. If I were a homebody these conveniences would be lost on me, but I’m consciously choosing where I live based on lifestyle rather than choosing to stay in the place where I was raised because of inertia.

I’m over 40, but I have a lot of living to do, even if I accept that I’m only theoretically halfway to the average life expectancy for a Canadian woman. I certainly don’t take for granted that I will live that long. After all, David didn’t make it to 39, Vinny didn’t make it to 12, Arliin didn’t make it to 50, and Tyrone didn’t make it to 40. And those are just four people I’ve chosen to memorialize in less than eight years, there are many others I know who have died far too young.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again in a multitude of ways: life is too short to be stuck. I’m saying it as an ordinary person with an ordinary income who comes from a less-than-privileged background. I have no special powers and it’s no secret: we all know money isn’t the main barrier to most goals, it’s the mindset to get there.

More Bloomberg Nuggets

Tuesday's Bloomberg: Buddy Hackett

Tuesday’s Bloomberg: Buddy Hackett

As is evident by this post and others prior, I am spending FAR TOO MUCH TIME WITH BLOOMBERG. I’ve been sitting in front of this terminal every weekday at 6:30 in the morning since the beginning of last week, and tomorrow is my last 6:30am… after tomorrow, Bloomberg, we’re through! I can stay up late again, I don’t have to set two alarms again, I don’t have to take the streetcar at 5:30am anymore. My five weeks per year of super-early-morning office days are completely over, once I get through tomorrow.

Roll on Friday!

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Laurence J. Peter

Laurence J. Peter

The (TGI)Friday Files

Today's Bloomberg: Steve Martin

Today’s Bloomberg: Steve Martin

It’s tempting to give a recap of the last week in one word: WORK. But it’s not entirely true, I did meet up with one of my past second-shooters on Tuesday for a dinner rendez-vous that lasted for six hours. That was a welcome reprieve from the brutal workload of this past week, although I certainly wasn’t expecting the rendez-vous downtown to last that long. And in order to make the next day’s workload manageable I stretched the day even more by going back to the office after dinner to finish what I was working on. It’s behaviour quite fitting of the Financial District (people working too many hours), but this is not going to happen again — I’ve got five full days and nine half days left.

Thursday's Bloomberg: Elbert Hubbard

Thursday’s Bloomberg: Elbert Hubbard

I’ve been having many discussions lately about working life, especially corporate life. The Financial District has very much a live-to-work mentality; I’ll be glad to leave the workaholic part of the city behind.

Ah Bloomberg, I will miss your quotes!

Wednesday’s Bloomberg: Jim Carrey

A Weekend In The Life Of A Wedding Photographer

… in phone pics, because I’m wiped out after four hours of driving and two hours of traffic on the 401 home. If you’ve seen my Instagram or Twitter account, it is a reprise. Real pics forthcoming, after a proper sleep.

Equipment check. (4 camera bodies, 4 flashes, 8 lenses, dozens of batteries x 4 types, 2 triggers, 2 transceivers, et cetera et cetera.)

Equipment check. (4 camera bodies, 4 flashes, 8 lenses, dozens of batteries x 4 types, 2 triggers, 2 transceivers, et cetera et cetera.)

Bride on a boat. Perfect day for a wedding!

Bride on a boat. Perfect day for a wedding!

Very Canadian weddings have late night poutine. Yum!

Very Canadian weddings have late night poutine.

My last wedding shoot in Canada was the first time I saw my new name on a seating chart. Endings overlapping with beginnings.

My last wedding shoot in Canada was the first time I saw my new name on a seating chart. Endings overlapping with beginnings.

I got some perks at the hotel, but then I broke a light fixture this morning. You win some, you lose some.

I got some perks at the hotel, but then I broke a light fixture this morning. You win some, you lose some.

one last brunch with Ottawa friends before I push off for Portugal

One last brunch with Ottawa friends before I push off for Portugal. Croque Madame, we meet again.

Things To Avoid When Feeling Blue

Scranton Times Building (film shot: Pentax K-1000)

Scranton Times Building (film shot: Pentax K-1000)

  • news on social media
  • news headlines on RSS Reader
  • news on any media sites
  • news via email
  • news via television (not that I have one)
  • news via advertising on other websites

News is depressing! I’m not a bury-head-in-sand kind of person, I’m actually more of an information junkie, but maybe my news filter is broken and the torrent of despair is just too much. I need some humour today.

Back to work…