Wednesday 27 October 2021

When words matter

In last month's post, I made mention of those people who, opposing vaccination passports, claim that this will create a kind of 'apartheid' society. I said that they weren't entirely wrong - and I still believe that these kinds of punitive and restrictive actions do have the (perhaps unintended) consequence of furthering inequalities in society and reinforcing misinformation amongst those who feel that they are being discriminated against. And whilst the vast majority of our population are on the way to being fully vaccination, there has been a slower take-up amongst marginalised communities - particularly people who are Indigenous, from migrant backgrounds or living with a disability.

But, as Mike pointed out, the use of the word 'apartheid' in this context is inaccurate and, let's be frank, offensive. Words matter, and for these groups to adopt language such as 'apartheid' and 'segregation' - that has historically referred to policies of cultural and racial discrimination - is creating a false equivalence. Nobody chose to be black in US states that adhered to Jim Crow laws. Nobody chose to be Indigenous in Australia at a time when they weren't even considered fit to vote until 1967. Whereas everybody now has a choice to be vaccinated (except those with a medical exemption). It's no more a case of discrimination as it is to prohibit people from smoking inside buildings and many public spaces - a habit that poses a health risk to others around them.

Similarly appalling is footage of anti-vaccination protests where people are chanting, 'My body, my choice' - a familiar feminist slogan in the ongoing fight for women's reproductive rights. To equate these public health measures to patriarchal oppression on women's bodies is, again, downright insulting to all who have fought for women's rights.

On the flip side, looking back at media reports and commentary around last month's anti-vax protests in Melbourne, the term 'thug' is often used to describe those protestors. Whilst this word has not historically been so problematic, the context of its common usage in recent years - especially in the US around police brutality and  the Black Lives Matter movement - indicates a strong racial element in its usage. And whilst these is an very strange irony about a group of predominantly white right-wing anti-vaxxers being described as 'thugs', it's time that we think a bit more carefully about the words that we chose, and the ways that they might be unintentionally loaded and misconstrued.

And finally, there's that word, 'freedom' - particularly common in regards to reports of 'new freedoms for vaccinated people' in media releases about easing of restrictions. It implies that that those who are not vaccinated are not free - which really is a misnomer. They always had a freedom of choice, and they are still free to get vaccinated. And living in lockdown, we were still relatively free from the risk of COVID - especially when you compare the statistics with those from other countries.

Words matter - they deserve our care. They have meaning to those who have historically suffered from discrimination, and they are not there for others to twist and adopt for their own unrelated grievances, and add insult to injury.

We're intelligent human beings - we have a responsibility to find better words to serve our purposes if we need them.

(Also - if you can, please get vaccinated. If you have doubts, talk to your medical professional about why you should get vaccinated.)

Wednesday 13 October 2021

A month of finding balance

When I'd first told people that I'd be resigning from my job, and taking 'a month or two' off working, the first thing everybody asked me was, 'What are you going to do?' My half-serious response was always, 'Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!'

But seriously, before making any grand plans or taking up new creative pursuits, I mostly just wanted to get my life in order. For the longest time, I've felt like I've been unable to adequately manage all of my 'life admin', that adult humans are generally expected to be able to manage in the time when they're not engaged in full-time work. To be frank, I'd feel accomplished if I'd managed to cook my meals, wash my clothes, and pay my bills in the waking hours between work and sleep.

And so, today marks one month of my self-imposed unpaid sabbatical, which seems like a good point in time to consider what I've achieved in that time in terms of imposing some better discipline in my life admin.


This was always going to be at the top of my list. For many years now, I haven't been doing enough exercise, and so this was the first thing that needed to change. In fairness, I'd ride my bike to and from work most days, but the switch to work from home arrangements in early August changed that. With the recent lockdown, residents were permitted two hours of exercise a day, which set my parameters. And so, my daily routine started out as:

  • Ride my bike 6.5km to the Australian War Memorial.
  • Walk up and down Mount Ainslie (4.5km return trip)
  • Ride my bike back home.
I've also taken the opportunity to switch things up and explore the many trails up Red Hill and Mount Majura.

One month in, I'm not sure if I'm actually any fitter yet - those hills are still a struggle to climb, with both my legs and lungs hating me for it, but I can usually manage it without too many stops along the way. However, there's something quite meditative about walking and pushing one's body's limits, and it's given my plenty of time to think and process where I am in life and where I want to be. And when that's a bit too much to tackle, I've also been exploring the world of podcasts.

I've also discovered that Spring has been an excellent time for flower-spotting - especially native orchids. I do plan to also visit Black Mountain very soon, as I keep reading accounts of other rare native wildflowers there.

As it's October, I've also been participating in the Great Cycle Challenge. In previous years, I've set my goals at 250km, but this time I decided to challenge myself to complete 500km in 31 days. So far, I'm on track to meet this target, having down 229km - almost halfway there! I'm also very grateful for those who have donated money to support cancer research (which you can do here if you like).


So, this isn't a new thing, but volunteering takes time. With my volunteer commitments at IFLA, I'd say that it averages at around five hours a week. But it can also easily snowball during busy times, and so this month has been a chance to immerse myself into the list of things that I meant to get done over the past three months - specifically, train myself up in using the new content management platform and repository systems, update parts of the website, and catalogue all of the Section's documents and publications from the old website onto the new repository - so far, over 100 records and still more to go. In essence, it feels like a part-time job, with irregular hours, but I know that this is just a busy time of change, and once I get over this hump of work, things will settle again. Plus, it's been a good opportunity to keep exercising my information skills in writing and editing online content, cataloguing records, liaising with web managers, and working on team projects.

Life Administration

I also made a list of all of the things that I'd been putting off, including:
  • Clearing my computer desktop and either deleting or organising all my electronic documents into folders
  • Backing up all of my important electronic documents
  • Setting up a hanging file to organise all of my paper documents and records
  • Clearing my personal email inbox
  • Reorganising my automated banking transactions
  • Contacting the property manager to fix a number of things around the apartment block which had been unreported for many months
These are all just little things that I've let slide, but really, they're low-hanging fruit, and it's been great to tick all of these things off.


Thankfully, going out to work on our garden patch at the Canberra City Farm has been a permitted activity during lockdown, and so I've headed out there every few days to do a bit more weeding, plant a few more seedlings (keeping my fingers crossed that the frost doesn't kill them) and lay down more fertiliser, compost and mulch. It's looking pretty amazing now!

Now I'm working on growing tomatoes. After last year's tomato crop, we kept a heap of seeds, so I've been germinating them over the past few weeks, and now have some successful seedlings growing.

I'm looking forward to getting these into the ground - after Melbourne Cup Day, of course. (That's the rule for Canberra tomatoes!)

Tidying up

Finally, it wouldn't be spring without some spring cleaning. I've been going through my clothes and methodically 'weeding my collection'. So far, I've realise that I have twice as many t-shirts as I actually need (or wear).

Being in lockdown, there have been reports that many of the usual 'op shop' organisations are overrun by donations of unwanted clothing. That's why I've decided to go with UPPAREL to upcycle/recycle my unwanted clothes. Yes, there's an associated cost involved (rather than just dropping them off at the op shop), but they are focused on minimising clothing waste, either sending wearable clothing to charities who need them, or upcycling and recycling textiles into new products - none of it ends up in landfill. I really do want to be more sustainable in the way I dispose of household materials, and this is one way that I can make a difference.

Other little things

  • Eating and sleeping at sensible hours - clearly I still need to work on getting to bed earlier!
  • Limiting my caffeine intake. While I was working, my day would start with a few cups of filter coffee, and then a double espresso coffee at morning tea time. I still start with filter coffee, but I'm cutting back on the espresso (especially since I no longer have the budget to buy daily coffees!)
  • Donating plasma - once every two weeks
  • Catching up with people - strangely enough, it's actually been easier to catch up with friends when they've been working at home, and looking for an excuse to leave the house and have an impromptu cuppa in the park.
  • Reading - I thought I'd have a lot more time to do this now, but I still need to work on setting that time aside. Still, I've made some headway in reducing my to-be-read pile of books.
So, what happens next? My main goal at the moment is to try to keeping drilling in daily routines that keep my mind and body healthy. I'm not sure if it's working yet, but I've definitely reached the point where I feel like I can actually do this, so I guess the next steps are to keep doing it!

The interesting thing, though, is that I still don't feel like I've suddenly got a whole bunch of free time. Those 37 hours a week that I would have spent working in a job has just filled itself up with what still just feels like the essentials of life. We talk a lot about work-life balance, and in the absence of work, these life essentials have consumed most of my time. The next-next step will be figuring out how, once I start working again, I keep my life in balance, and stay in control of all of the things, whilst finding some free time to spend on more creative pursuits.

Tuesday 5 October 2021


It was a moment five years ago, today - 3:25pm, Wednesday 5 October 2016 - when I stepped into the Arrivals Lounge at Canberra Airport. It was one of those crossroads moments. I didn't know what the future held in store, but it was time to take a leap in a new direction, and trust that my skills and experience would carry me.

I'd pressed the pause button on my career. My next options were to either un-pause or reset.

This was on the back of having spent much of the previous four years living and working abroad in the development sector, and a particularly enjoyable two months of backpacking around Europe for the summer. However, I'd decided that I'd done my stint of globetrotting and exploring weird and wonderful places, and it was time that I got on with being serious about my career and settling down. 

Canberra seemed as good a place as any - it had its share of cultural institutions and I wasn't ready to live in a big city yet. I didn't have a job to go to, but I had some promising leads, and within a couple of weeks I'd managed to land two jobs. One of them was in Sydney, which posed a logistical challenge, but I made it work for the short term until I finally committed full-time to the role in Canberra.

Five years on, I find myself back at those crossroads.

I feel like I've now come full-circle, and the time that I've taken in recent weeks has helped me re-centre and provide the opportunity to consider my future directions. (A couple of months backpacking in Europe would have also helped, but I clearly need to postpone that for the immediate future.)

Looking back, I realise that I've subconsciously been taking the time to 'reset' every 5 years or so. Ten years ago, in September 2011, I left my job to go and live in Japan - again putting my career on hold for a period of time, before seeking new career directions and adventures. Pause. Reset.

In hindsight, all of this has made me appreciate the importance of taking proper breaks in our working lives. Whilst I'm immersed in a busy job, I don't have the space and time to deeply consider my place in the world and what new opportunities to take. Now I'm on pause, I feel like I have all the time in the world before making the next move - whether I unpause and do more of the same, or completely reset and find a new direction.

And then... bring on 2026!