Sunday, December 26, 2010

Self

Peter and I have been on holiday. Thank goodness. What a year. It's nice to take a break from running and just rest. Of course what this does mean is that we've had time to do things that are on our 'to do' list. One of these activities was a visit to the NGV exhibition 'The Naked Self: Self Portraits'. If you get a chance, I'd recommend you pop along.

It was an experience I hadn't anticipated. As I wove through the walls, deeper into the exhibition, more thought provoking concepts and challenging ideas whirred around my head. If you were asked to make a self portrait, how would you choose to represent yourself? It may sound easy, but can a picture truly show who you are? Do you self edit, to show something representative of who you want to be, who you think you are, or something that shows certain attributes while hiding others?

One of the fascinating things I noticed was how artists painted themselves. In their portraits, did the subjects gaze connect with my own, or were they posed looking off into the distance. Was there a feeling of truth in those that could look their observers square in the eye? Perhaps that gesture alone told more about the artist than the setting or clothes they chose to wear. But sometimes the stories that accompanied the artwork said more about the painter. Like Peter Kennedy's 'My ghost' showing the artists' cancer cells scanned into a mirror image of himself. Or Napier Waller's 'The Man in Black' showing the artist with two limbs, even though he had had one arm removed after being injured in the war.

This made me wonder about how much our physical image represents ourselves. Perhaps in my twenties I would have thought this more prominent. I certainly felt judged more by my external appearance, whether in reality or not, and maybe by myself more than society. And this is where it got very interesting in the exhibition. For my favourite piece was a work that showed no sign of what the artist looked like, but perhaps everything of who he is. And it blew my mind. Grayson Perry's 'Map of an Englishman' showed the humour, frailties and complexities of all humans. I could have sat and marvelled at it's cleverness and honesty for hours.

Interestingly the exhibition also tied self portraits back to more modern representations of the self, such as facebook. Peter commented that it's fascinating to note what picture we use for our profile. I use the same image I have for my blogger profile, and I never change it. Except once, to swap it for a picture of the cartoon character Daria. Peter uses pictures of writers, actors, musicians etc. Everyone from Orson Wells to Oscar Wilde. Some people change their profile picture regularly, and others use pictures of themselves from many years ago. It really is interesting to think about what this says of all of us.

Perhaps this is why I connected with Grayson's work. I feel like this blog is me trying to figure out who I am, and like his map, there is much contradiction and complexity there. This is what makes people the fascinating creatures they are. Shades of grey. As we get older, and change, do photographs, writing, or images just plot part of our journey? I saw this fabulous quote the other day. "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving" -- Albert Einstein. How true. The 'self' should keep changing, evolving, developing and perhaps these images are the breadcrumbs to help us see where we've been. I recently went back and read a lot of my earlier blog posts. It was a weird experience, but I am thrilled to have charted this course and to have it represented somewhere. And over time perhaps it will add up to make my self portrait.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Movers and Stayers

I have just gotten home after a work function. It was quite unlike any I have been to before. You see, it was an invitation from the University Senior Vice-Principal for general staff who have worked at the University for 20 years and over. Yep - believe it or not at the ripe old age of 40 I have clocked up almost 23 years working for the same institution. I began working on campus at 17. I had just finished high school and wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I needed a job and to put money in the bank.

Since that time, I have worked in 5 different jobs, and the last of which has had enormous changes over the 15 years I've worked there. I have watched things change, and change back. I have watched people come and go. I have seen the consequences of bad decisions and felt the love and support of wonderful colleagues. Friendships have been borne through my work, and they are very dear to me. However, lately I have wondered where I fit in.

You see, things are changing again. We have survived a constant state of restructure that we have found ourselves in for the last 10 years. But the new changes forecast, I am having trouble agreeing with. And what's worse, is there's a ridiculously short time frame and no room for real consultation, input or discussion. Our roles are changing and noone seems to care...except us. The filter feeders. I have been feeling quite despondent, distressed and disillusioned. I have wondered if it was because I have been exhausted by the events of the last couple of years. But in reality, there are so many of my colleagues who feel the same. In fact, seeing me close to tears today, just sitting at my computer, they were worried. I have become the section canary in the coal mine, and I'm dropping off my perch.

As I've mentioned, I have undertaken university study for my 'career' over the last 2 years. There are still many more subjects to come. But ultimately what this study has done is make me see my job differently. I feel more professionally focused and aware, which is also why I think I feel so disappointed by what I see happening around me. My study and many years work experience seem to count for nothing. So I have begun to wonder what my place is. Is it time to look elsewhere?

Tonight I rocked up to the function with a colleague. As we arrived we saw so many familiar faces. There were so many people there we knew. The Senior V-P gave a speech. He said this function was like one giant 'outing' of ourselves. We now all knew who'd been around for over 20 years. He also said that another big player at the University had once stated that there are two kinds of people 'movers and stayers'. And we should be celebrated for being stayers. Not because we were disillusioned, but because we all care about the job we did. I smiled with heartfelt recognition. I do care about what I do. I want to help people. I actually think on occasion that I can be quite good at it.

The Chancellor then spoke. He called us the back bone of the university and said we should be celebrated. Budgets are dwindling, student numbers are skyrocketing and staff numbers are plummeting. He said we were a group of survivors. We had outlasted numerous Vice-Chancellors, Chancellors and Senior executives. We were what kept this place running, because we were committed to our jobs. You know, it's funny. I had joked with many people after receiving the invitation, that perhaps they were getting us all in a room to gas us, poison our drinks and yell 'why the hell won't you people leave?!?!' But it was something else.

After feeling so down about the state of the working world, it was a small gesture of recognition, understanding and appreciation. A glass or three of something bubbly, a canape or six and a chance to talk to people and smile. It was a reminder for me about why I have rocked up to work every day for 22 + years. It was also a reminder about humanity. Small gestures can mean so much. A workforce is made up of people. Individuals. And it was nice to be thanked.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Happiness Part 2

I've been thinking a lot about happiness lately. There has been a wonderful show on telly (ABC for those of you playing at home) called Making Australia Happy. It has been interesting to watch a group of people deal with the issues in life that are holding them back. In the first episode, just merely speaking to the chosen participants, they were almost in tears at their own unhappiness. In watching them, I saw myself a few years ago. Anxious, unhappy, trapped, disempowered.

In watching them, I not only saw elements of myself, but of other people I know. The sheer feeling of helplessness, the suppression of feelings that are bubbling away under the surface. There are times when we push down how we are really feeling, but those emotions have a habit of fighting their way to the surface. It takes so much effort just to control and contain those feelings.

Interestingly, the doctors on the show worked with the individuals to help them deal with the pain that they have been carrying around for years. Whether it was grief, issues with family growing up, broken friendships, broken relationships, financial woes, chronic medical complaints, social phobias or being a workoholic. People were challenged to get out of their comfort zone and confront the pain they held on to, change bad behaviours, take control of their lives and learn to be happy.

So many bells rang with what I have experienced over the last 2 years. Perhaps I learnt the hard way, as these guys did it in 8 weeks! But then again, they had professional help. It made me think of someone I work with. She complains about being unhappy and trapped by her life. My friend Morfia gave her sage words of advice, that if she feels she's trapped in a box, the thing to realise is that you are the one holding the key. No one can do this for you. And it is so true.

The doctors on the show said that most people don't know what would make them happy, so how can you measure yourself against an abstract concept. And it's true. There were some poignant moments on the show. The idea that pain can be part of happiness. You need to feel the whole gamut of emotions to be happy. We can't run away from the hurt and unpleasantness that life throws at you. Also that taking control and facing things that scare us, won't actually kill us. In fact, it may make us more resilient. And finally, letting go of things sets us free.

Best of all, they hypothosized that happiness was viral. Meaning that by doing things (like being selfless and giving to others), we can make someone else feel happy, and this in turn makes us happy. And most interesting of all, that watching people being happy, can make us happy too. I was beaming while watching this portion of the happiness-fest on the teev.

We spend so much time beating ourselves up, or holding onto pain, anger, anxiety or grief. In the end we are the one with the key in our hands. We can unlock the box and make ourselves happy. Hell - I'm living proof. So to mark my happiness and hopefully turn it viral, I've uploaded a photo from my wedding. This is how I spent the whole day - a beaming, grinning fool. It makes me smile and happy to my core to see this photo, and I hope if makes you smile too. After all, we all deserve to be happy.