The Tipping Point is Here


Image from Angelo Tsirekas under Creative Commons Licence

We’ve all heard the news. We’ve heard that our oceans are predicted to have more plastic than fish by 2050. We’ve heard the reports that the world’s carbon emissions are tracking on a 4-degree temperature rise rather than the below 2 degrees aim of the Paris Agreement. The Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Climate Change has said “We are running out of time to turn things around… we must significantly increase our efforts to reduce emissions”. But we don’t change. Why?

In his book “Being the Change” Peter Kalmus writes that we need to move beyond guilt environmentalism. “Hellfire and brimstone don’t inspire us to change; they lead to guilt… (and) guilt is an insincere self-apology for a painful internal fracture”. Guilt is essentially a feeling we get when we’re doing something we know is bad but we’re still going to keep doing it. What we need now is not guilt – what we need now is mass behavioural change. What we need now is a tipping point.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” investigates the moment when “ideas, trends and social behavior cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire” – when social behavior essentially becomes an epidemic and infects the world. In terms of social change, it is not guilt but hope that helps here. Because even though the world may seem immovable in terms of plastic pollution, or the move towards a low carbon world, with “the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.”

In Cape Town, Day Zero – the day when the cities taps will be turned off until rain comes, is fast approaching. Residents have been facing tighter and tighter water restrictions. Massive change in the ways they approached the use of water have become essential. Today, in Australia, recycling is on the brink of collapse in Victoria and other states may follow. The Age has reported that several councils have already had their recycling contracts cut off. The trigger? – China’s decision to ban waste imports (60% of waste generated in Australia is recycling and approximately 30% of that was being sent to China).

We’re beginning to see our tipping point. Change is being forced upon us and we are responding. In 2016 France became the first country in the world to ban plastic plates, cups and cutlery. The ban will come into effect in 2020. Smaller jurisdictions are following suit. From July 1, 2018 restaurants in Seattle will ban the use of plastic utensils. Last week it was announced that 30 tourism operators in Cairns and Port Douglas have banned the use of plastic straws. Yet to fast track change we need to do more than legislate, we need to change our behavior. In Cape Town behavioral change is being forced upon the population. In Australia, if our recycling systems fails it may be forced upon us too.

The world is drowning in stuff. We all buy stuff we don’t really need. Stuff which has short life spans and ends up in landfill. Kalmus writes that we need to drop the idea of “going green”. The philosophy of being “green” too often allows us to keep our existing habits. We can keep consuming at unsustainable rates as long as what we purchase is “green”. The better philosophy for us to adopt, Kalmus states, is “low energy”. Our immediate challenge in Australia is the potential recycling glut. We are all on the treadmill of consuming and recycling is a part of that – it is a “green” option to let us keep consuming. Kalmus writes “industrial society fetishizes recycling. Recycling seems like a good thing on the surface, but it contributes to the broken status quo”. Victoria councils are already urging residents to reduce what goes in their recycle bin. Like Cape Town, they might be forced to drastically reduce their waste. But this is something we can all get onboard with and make it our tipping point.

A simple way to reduce the waste in both your red and yellow bins is to be a conscious consumer, to have front and center some basic questions that you ask before you buy. Firstly, do I need to buy something at all, and secondly, if you do need to (or after careful thought really want to) buy something ask yourself if there is a low energy alternative to the product you usually buy. Is there a plastic free option? Is there an option that will last longer? Is there a biodegradable option so that when your product reaches the end of its life it won’t live on forever in landfill?

Here are ten simple ideas for ways you too can help create the tipping point to lower energy living today:

  1. Say no to straws or BYO reusable ones
  2. BYO coffee cup
  3. Choose take-away foods that aren’t packed in plastic – e.g. hot chips wrapped in paper, pizza in a cardboard box, sushi in a paper bag and not wrapped in cling film (and reject the plastic fish of soy sauce and ask to use sauce from a bottle).
  4. BYO containers to your local Thai, Chinese or Indian instead of using their plastic boxes. Likewise talk to your local deli or butcher if you eat meat about BYO containers.
  5. When buying things like pasta, sugar and flour choose products that come in paper or cardboard boxes and not plastic or consider bringing your own containers and buying in bulk if you live near a bulk food store.
  6. Use reusable produce bags and reusable bread bags at your local bakery rather than buying bread in a plastic bag.
  7. BYO water bottle. Change your diet and don’t drink flavoured drinks purchased in bottles – your waistline and teeth may thank you
  8. Change to reusable baby wipes or use moist paper towel. Or if you want to continue to use commercial baby wipes choose a biodegradable brand.
  9. The next time you need to buy pegs think about investing in stainless steel ones which will last a lifetime.
  10. When buying gifts for others think about giving experiences rather than “things”.


Posted in climate change, psychology, sustainability | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Plastic Alternative


“Clothes Pegs Crying” – Image from Feliciano Guimarães’ photo stream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

The past few months I’ve been working on reducing plastic (and waste generally) in our house. We are not big consumers. We don’t get take away much, we try to eat healthily (and avoid excess packaging) and the purchase of toys for the kids is generally reserved for birthdays or Christmas only. But we still make more impact than I want to in the amount of stuff we send to landfill. This has been weighing on my mind more and more. The world is at such a critical juncture with climate change, ocean pollution from single use plastics, and sustainability issues generally that I feel we all need to challenge ourselves to do more.

Our oceans are responsible for generating at least 50% of the oxygen we breathe and yet by 2050 it is predicted that there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans than fish. Currently, the world seems to be tracking on a 4-degree temperature rise rather than the below 2 degrees aim of the Paris Agreement. The UN Secretary stated at COP23 in Bonn that climate change is the “defining threat of our time” and that it is “our duty – to each other and to future generations – to raise ambition” around climate change action. The week before COP23 the World Meteorological Organization announced that CO2 levels had surged at record breaking speed with levels in 2016 higher than anything seen in at least 4.5 million years coinciding with 2017 likely to be the hottest year on record. As the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said at COP23 “We are running out of time to turn things around. To do so, we must significantly increase our efforts to reduce emissions and our carbon footprints”. We have both an ecological and moral imperative for change.

I truly believe we have all have a duty to examine our own lives and work out where we can make changes for the better. Our government is failing to take a lead so it must fall to the people to lead the change. I’m really trying to be model this. After watching the War on Waste as a family, it has also been easier to get the kids on board with some waste reduction projects so I’ve been seizing the moment. A big thing with change, is that some people delay making changes in their lives until they can do it “properly”. But waiting for the ideal time, or just waiting for X, Y r Z to fall into place first often means that the changes you want to implement never happen. We need a philosophy of “day one” not “one day”. We don’t have to achieve the perfect vision of sustainability straight away. It’s OK to start changing things slowly. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. In fact, it often makes change more sustainable in the long term if our changes are gradual and really worked into our lives bit by bit.

For years we have been bringing our own reusable shopping bags and using reusable produce bags for our fruit and veg. This was an easy step as there was not much behavioral change involved (it was more about remembering to take the bags!). For the past year or two we have also been collecting all our soft plastics (cereal liners, bread bags, plastic wrapping from crackers etc.) to Coles (Woolworths got a bad rap on the War on Waste) for recycling. I’d also been trying to do little things personally. Like occasionally on my way to or from work I’ll buy a bun from the Chinese bakery and I would always refuse the little plastic bag that they put buns in. If I’m just going to eat it then and there I don’t need a bag to carry it in. This may seem like a little step but it’s all about challenging norms. The norm when you purchase a bun is for the cashier to automatically put it in a small plastic bag. By refusing the bag we’re not only using less plastic, we’re helping the people around us think about our habits and they’re impacts – and most importantly – how it is possible to do things differently.

Challenging the ways that we traditionally do things isn’t always easy. It can be socially awkward to challenge norms. You can fear coming across all ‘holier than thou’ and being overly critical of others. You can fear refusal or rebuke. But it’s something that it is important we all step up and do. I’m not the world’s most outgoing person so it was a challenge to me to start doing this. But the other day when we ordered take away I summoned up the courage to ask if we could bring our own containers in rather than have it packed in plastic. To my relief the restaurant was really accommodating of it. I hope to continue to challenge myself socially like this in other ways – like shopping at local butchers and bakers and asking to use my own containers. This is a bigger step for me though – not because of the social confrontation – but because it is a real shake up of our household routine. The way we currently manage my week is a weekly shop at the supermarket. Changing our routine to shop at local butchers, bakers and fruit markets with perhaps an additional supermarket shop to pick up specialty items is a harder hurdle and because we need to work out a new routine. It’s a step I’m keen to take but it is a step that is a little further down the line for me as I need to weave it into tour lives and make it workable for us.

I’ve found myself asking a key question in our lives lately to try to make things more sustainable. That questions is ‘What’s the plastic alternative?’ Until recently I wasn’t as aware of my own personal contribution to the plastic issue. I did try to avoid single use plastics (especially drink bottles!) but in every year, there would be a lot of non-single use plastic items that our household recycles or throws away because they can no longer be used (broken lunch boxes, drink bottles, pegs etc.). Now when something breaks I’m actively researching non-plastic alternatives so that (hopefully) the next time it must be replaced it will be biodegradable, or if not, that it will at least last much longer.

Consumerism horrifies me. Recently we had Black Friday and my email inbox was assaulted with discount offers all aimed at getting me to buy, buy, buy. We never used to even really be aware of this day in Australia now we seem to be adding yet another day for spending to our calendars. What I do find confronting though is even though I know consciously that we need to consume less, I am still prone to wanting things. I fight it, but it is there. There is still consumerism in the sustainability world and wanting ‘bigger and better’ (or even just ‘more sustainable or useful’) is an issue too. Just because it is ‘green’ doesn’t mean we should not be reducing what we buy. Before I was aware of reducing my own plastics, I invested in some heavy-duty UV resistant plastic pegs. They’re wonderful pegs and I can see them possibly lasting 10 years or even more. They were about double the price of ordinary plastic pegs but worth the investment financially. Now that I’m more aware of my own personal use of plastics though I’ve found out about stainless steel pegs and wish that I had invested in those for a lifetime’s use. But I’m determined that even though I desire a different option I need to use what I have for its full life first. It is the same with my reusable shopping and produce bags. The ones I have now are made from recycled plastic. I am eyeing off cotton bags as they biodegrade at the end of their life -but I need to be a responsible consumer and use my plastic ones to the end of their life first.

So what are some of the plastic alterative changes we’ve made or are going to make?

  • Using reusable shopping and produce bags
  • Bringing our own water bottles and not buying single use plastic bottles of drink
  • Bokashi composting to reduce the majority of our food waste
  • Making our own margarine (simply soften 500g butter and blend the butter with 1 cup of your chosen oil) – no more plastic margarine containers.
  • If eating out choosing options that don’t have plastic (e.g. paper wrapped chips or burgers, sushi not wrapped in plastic)
  • Buying whole pumpkins, watermelons, rockmelons etc. where possible and not cut ones wrapped in cling film
  • Using beeswax wraps (we made our own) and Agreena wraps as substitutes for cling film, foil and baking paper
  • Recycling all the soft plastics we do get via Red Cycle.
  • Swapping to bamboo toothbrushes when our plastic toothbrushes need replacing
  • When our current shampoo in a plastic bottle runs out we will be replacing it with shampoo bars
  • Looking for cardboard or paper wrapped options in the supermarket (e.g. sugar and flour in paper bags, pasta in cardboard rather than plastic, soap in cardboard boxes etc.
  • Paper wrapped toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap
  • Bringing our own containers to get take away food
  • When our current deodorant runs out I’m looking at different options (you can buy deodorant pasts in tins, glass and even cardboard tubes now)
  • Stainless steel straws (we got given some as a present which were good). We have also tried bamboo straws but they are no good for milk based drinks. Probably the best option to go with though is just no straw though it sure would be a different milkshake experience without the slurp 😉

Things I am working my way into include:

  • Joining the local food coop and bringing my own containers to shop there
  • Shopping at the local butcher and baker and bringing my own containers/bags.
  • Shopping for kids clothing at op shops. We love hand-me-downs but never get enough to completely outfit all our kids. It is very convenient to just go to a shopping centre as you know you will be able to find what you need. Op shopping is a bit more hit and miss – but we need to start dealing with having less convenience for the tradeoff of more sustainability.
  • Making our own roti (frozen roti from the Indian Grocery that you cook yourself in a fry pan are a family favorite but they are covered in guilt ridden plastic. We need a sustainable alternative.
  • More sustainable options for gift giving – particularly for kid’s birthdays and in the silly season generally (check out my new blog Clear and Present Danger which will document this journey)


How have you reduced plastic and waste in your life?


What other steps do you want to take in the future?

Posted in uncategorized | 1 Comment

Agents of Change

Image taken from ND Strupler’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

I don’t recall a day that has depressed me more than the 8th Nov 2016. The feeling of heaviness that hung over me with the realization that Trump had been elected was stifling. That the world had come to this! At a time when we faced so many crucial global challenges the American government would be steering a path in the opposite direction to which we needed to go. Of course I’ve had days of personal tragedy in my life but somehow this day felt more crushing. This wasn’t an unfortunate event or accident. It was a path a great number of the world had chosen. Millions of people turned their back on a path that would address issues like climate change and chose to put issues like gender equality in reverse gear.

We don’t have Trump in Australia but sometimes it feels as if our government is sailing a similar course. The protections under our racial discrimination act have just faced a serious threat. We have a proposal for one of the world’s largest coal mines at a time when we need to be reducing emissions to meet the Paris Agreement and at a time when the Great Barrier Reef is suffering another major coral bleaching episode due to warmer water and ocean acidification. Our government wants to paint a very political picture of renewable energy as unreliable and a threat to the economy. Every day it feels like the hope of minimizing the impacts of climate change and becoming a more sustainable and just nation (and by extension a just and sustainable world) is slipping from our fingers.

It is easy to feel depressed. It is also easy to be apathetic and to hope and wait for our government to realise the error of their ways. Surely one day they’ll commit to major action on climate change or recognise that refugees have a fundamental right to be treated with dignity. But the trouble with climate change is that we really are running out of time. If we don’t act now to halt emissions climate impacts like we are already seeing (2016 was the hottest year on record as was 2015 and 2014 before it) the degree of impact we will feel (and our children will feel) in the future will be exponential. It is both heartening and depressing seeing various European nations announce they’re going coal free. It gives a sense of hope that maybe the world can come together to stabilise emissions but it also rubs salt in the wound that our government is so far from this. It is telling that on 1 April this year the Climate Council announced that Australia was committing to go 100% renewable by 2025. You would have to be an April Fool to believe it.

As an historian there were a couple of things I drew strength from when Trump was elected. The first was from a little understanding of revolutionary theory and historical change. Some of the periods of greatest positive change in history needed something to trigger them. Perhaps the election of Trump could be such a trigger. Perhaps we are at a global tipping point and the election of Trump will be the biggest prompt for action on climate change, women’s rights and other issues that we will ever get. The second was the old adage about the power of governments. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

If we’re concerned about our collective future – if we want a more sustainable and socially just world, NOW is the time for each of us to be the agents of this change. It is tempting to believe we are not powerful and to believe that we have to wait for our government to make the changes. It is tempting to lay the blame on our government (they do have a huge responsibility for their inaction). But more and more I am coming to believe that to get through these times, to try to achieve the outcomes we need, we must do what we can to travel the path ourselves.

When our government is not taking us on the path we need to be the nation that we want we must do what we can to travel it ourselves. It is daunting. We all work so hard already. We have precious little time. Where do we find room for change? But our reality is that we must change. If we do not we risk our children’s future.

We cannot all picket Adani. We cannot all run for parliament. Life commitments do constrain us. But each of us has the capacity for change in our own lives and now is the time we must realise this. Each of us must ask the question “How can I change?” or “How can my family change?” to help make a better future. Because we all must be prepared to make changes for a sustainable future. If we cannot rely on our government we can at least enact some change ourselves. Each of us has the capacity to make changes for the better. And even small changes, when enacted by many, make a difference. We cannot wait for government. We must examine our lives to find room for improvements. Bit by bit we can tweak our habits and bit by bit we will become more sustainable.

You may not be ready to give up disposable nappies, but you may be ready to give up buying bottled drinks. You mightn’t be ready for a zero-waste lifestyle but you may be ready to recycle all your soft plastic packaging. You mightn’t be ready to give up your take away coffee but you might be ready to always carry a keep-it-cup. Bit by bit – if we take responsibility for change – we can change the world.

What changes are you ready to make?


Here’s some ideas I’ve been trying to implement in our household and other possible changes to start implementing in your life today:

  • Recycle all your soft plastic packaging
  • Donate good quality items you no longer use to charity (don’t dump your rubbish on charities though)
  • Compost
  • Ride a bike or catch public transport (even changing one of your usual car journeys a week helps)
  • Eat more vegetarian meals (I’m keen to go to some vegetarian cooking classes to make my vege meals more appealing)
  • Consume less (try the 30 day minimalism game)
  • Kit your bag out with your own reusable coffee cups/straw/cutlery
  • Refuse plastic bags and straws (when I buy a bun at Breadtop nowadays I just grab it straight off the tray and refuse the bag – I don’t need it if I’m eating it then and there)
  • Drink tap water not juice/soft drink etc
  • Go solar
  • Give experiences rather than gifts
  • Get outdoors more for your own health and sustainable entertainment
  • Make your own beeswax wraps instead of glad wrap
  • Challenge norms (kids birthday parties for example are a huge consumerist feast where a child gets far more presents than they need. How can we start more sustainable habits here? Ask for second hand gifts or a joint gift from all the friends attending or no gifts – family will give them instead?)
  • Advocate for a cause you are passionate about
  • Push for more sustainable options in your childcare, schools and workplaces (be the one to introduce cloth nappies to your child care centre, ask your school to set up a compost and to encourage low waste options for children’s lunches, set up worm farms and recylcing in your workplace)
  • Donate money to great charities that address the issues we must act on at a global scale
  • Take three for the sea
  • And most importantly model your change to others. We need to show people that we are all capable of change (even if they are small changes) and that we are all responsible for changing the world for the better)
Posted in climate change, consumerism, society, sustainability | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How “double dipping” misses the point – reflections on the last decade of PPL policies


Image by Greenleftyidealist

Over the past decade I’ve had four kids. With each addition, I’ve become more and more aware of the issues facing women (particularly regarding balancing paid work and caring roles) in Australia and thus with each one, I’ve become more and more of a feminist. Often feminists are stereotyped as being perpetually angry. But, at least until recently, when I reflected on the past decade it was heartening to see the very real advances in parental leave and associated practices in what is a relatively short space of time.

When I had my first child in 2004 I was pleasantly surprised that although many women had no access to paid parental leave (PPL) in Australia I was fortunate to have access to 12 weeks paid parental leave whilst I was completing my PhD on an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship. When I started my first “real job” in 2005 my partner became our son’s primary carer but as I was still breastfeeding my son (he was 9 months old) I scurried back home every lunch hour to feed him (but had barely any break for myself in the process). In 2007 when our second child was born I had access to 14 weeks PPL from my workplace which I took over 28 weeks at half pay. For both my first and second child we also got the “baby bonus”. When our third child was born in 2012 I was able to access not only my employer provided leave but the Commonwealth Government’s PPL Scheme. I thought it was wonderful that Australia had made the advance in 2011 under Julia Gillard to offer universal PPL (both as a safety net for those whose employers provided no paid leave and as an advance for those who already had paid leave from their employer). I was also able to access paid breastfeeding breaks. If I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work I would no longer needed to use my lunch breaks to feed my baby (or express) and barely have time to feed myself.

When I commenced maternity leave for the fourth (and final) time in late 2014 I still had access to both my employer provided PPL and the Commonwealth PPL Scheme and fresh out of the 2014 Federal Election it looked like Tony Abbott’s promise of 6 months leave on full pay for women would at the very least see further advances for Australia in PPL in the near future. How wrong that turned out to be! As Michael Bradley wrote in his brilliant opinion piece, just when the issue of PPL was beginning to be taken seriously, “the Abbott Government has changed the conversation from one of social good to one of entitlement”. The conversation has turned away from the importance of parental leave to ensuring gender equity and giving the best start to the nation’s children to labelling parents accessing both employer provided and the Commonwealth provided PPL scheme as akin to welfare cheats – parents sipping café lattes at the tax payer’s expense.

This week my youngest son turned six months old. Yesterday was my last day of paid parental leave (taken at half pay) provided by my workplace. As of Monday I’m officially going to be a “double dipper” accessing the Commonwealth Paid Parental Leave Scheme. If the Abbott government had its way and ensured that only one scheme (either employer paid leave or the Commonwealth PPL could be accessed) I would be back to work on Monday. I cannot fathom how hard that would be with a baby who is still fully breastfed, won’t take a bottle of expressed milk, has only just started on solids (spitting most of it out!) and still wakes several times each night! Returning to work now would clearly not be in the best interests of either myself or my son.

The Government’s neo-liberalist philosophy tends to individualise issues instead of looking at them from a broader societal perspective. When there is a housing affordability crisis we’re told to “get a better job” to solve the issue. Individualise paid parental leave and you get parents being labelled as sponging off the government. But take a societal perspective of PPL and you see that it is not about a free ride but about trying to give our kids the best start and ensuring parents can take time out of the workforce to achieve this.

Paid maternity leave is a basic entitlement that women in paid work should be able to access. Paid maternity leave has been enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (Maternity Protection Convention). In terms of child health and development, the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding of infants until 6 month of age (where possible) and continuing breastfeeding into their second year. PPL is essential to fostering this recommendation. In 2009 Australia’s Productivity Commission wrote in a report into PPL that the benefits went beyond the individual “The gains do not only accrue to parents, as society often has to pay for health costs and other consequences of poorer outcomes for children and parents”. The report also cited an OECD publication which stated that “it seems that child development is negatively affected when an infant does not receive full-time personal care (breastfeeding issues aside…) for at least the first 6 to 12 months of his/her life”.

It is true (as the Productivity Commission points out) that there is no exact science for determining what the most appropriate period of paid parental leave is, however; international evidence seems to show we ought to be aiming for at least 6-12 months (and certainly not cutting leave options back by 18 weeks!). We also need to be thinking critically about parental leave that is specifically targeted at men. Countries that have enacted additional PPL entitlements which are available only to men (or the non-birth parent for same sex couples) have been shown to have the highest paternal participation rates in the world. In his recent piece on gendered jobs Paul Chai cites evidence that in Norway, since implementing PPL periods that can only be taken by men (or otherwise must be forfeited), not only has paternal involvement in caregiving increased, but rates of domestic violence have dropped by one third.

In Australia we are finally becoming aware of the extent to which domestic violence permeates Australian society (nearly one woman a week dies and nearly 1 in 6 have experienced violence from a current or former partner) and issues of gender equity seem more prominent in the media than ever before and yet we are being subject to cut backs across all areas of potential progress. Domestic violence shelters are losing funding, women may be means tested when they try to seek legal aid and now women trying to stay home longer with their babies are labelled social security rorters. What we desperately need is a wider, societal approach that looks beyond immediate budget savings to the bigger picture. As Norway shows there is a crucial intersectionality to these issues. We must start tackling gender equality from many different, yet interconnecting, angles. Adequate PPL for women AND PPL that is available for men (or non-birth parents), addressing (and properly funding programs for) domestic violence, helping women and men break into untraditional jobs (like getting more male childcare workers and more female tradies), strengthening flexible work conditions for parents to enable a more equal sharing of parental responsibilities, addressing the representation of women in parliament and leadership positions and breaking down other gender barriers and stereotypes.

It is 2015. It really is time for Australia to get serious on gender equality. If not now when? What are we waiting for? When will a real Minister for Women stand up?

Posted in equity, feminism, parenting, society, women, work | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Clawing back creativity

Image taken from nist66s' photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from nist66s’ photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

So it has been a real long time between posts. Time and time again I read some amazing articles, and have amazing ideas about what I’m reading, but I never seem to find the space and time to have more than a brief mental play with my thoughts (or at best scribbling down some seeds of ideas). I guess that is to be expected with the addition of our fourth child in late 2014 (hey I struggle to get time for a shower!)

There are so many wonderful things about being a parent (I’ll make this the subject of a different post at some stage) but I think one of the most challenging parts is getting time for yourself to pursue your own needs and interests. When doing anything requires organising someone else to be looking after the kids most things get put in the too hard basket.

More and more I have come to realise that there are three things that sustain me beyond the precious relationships I have with my family and friends. Those things are exercise, getting into nature, and writing. For me writing is my main creative and intellectual outlet. It allows me to crystallize thoughts and ideas on a wide variety of issues I’m passionate about (and share the expression of them with others). Exercise helps maintain both my mental and physical wellbeing and it is also essential to my creativity – it gives me both the time and meditative state to zone out from the everyday (not to mention providing a nice endorphin hit). Being in nature recharges my soul – without which I’m not inspired to be creative. These three elements have all been a bit too absent from my life of late. I’ll certainly accept that when I have this to snuggle and look at:

Image by Greenleftyidealist

Image by Greenleftyidealist

But I’m conscious of the importance of, little-by-little, trying to reclaim them in my life.

Many writers have commented on the close relationship between reading and writing; that you can’t write if you don’t read. Reading has always been something that prompts my writing – sparking the seeds of ideas. With these ideas sparked I’d then sit down and write – researching the issues further as I went, referencing other interesting bits I’d find – opening a gazillion tabs of interesting things to look at (and frustrating my partner in the process when the computer would be running slowly). But you need a dedicated hour or more to write like that. I don’t have that luxury at the moment.

I’ve probably only read 20 or so books in the last couple of intensive kid wrangling years. But they have been well chosen, life influencing books (How to be Free, How to be Idle, Radical Homemakers, The Ethics of What We Eat, The Life You Can Save, The Bitch in the House, The Meaning of Wife, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination – just to name a few). I used to read fiction but it has been a very long time since I’ve done that. Now I (mainly) read non-fiction. But it is a certain kind of non-fiction book that I crave – intellectual yet accessible discussion on the issues I’m passionate about (like feminism and equity, sustainability and ethics, parenting, connecting with nature, finding purpose and meaning, and dealing with grief and loss). I also lap up shorter pieces online. The collected blog posts on Greenleftyidealist are really a testimony to the exploration of ideas in all my areas of passion.

I keep saying when #4 sleeps through the night that I will start getting up early or going to bed late to make time for writing but I’ve realized that I’m not going to get dedicated space and time for a long while yet and that to sustain me I need to start writing blog posts jiggling babies up and down on my lap and snatching time here and there (though perhaps the results may be somewhat disconnected and not as satisfying as the well-crafted piece). I have to settle for a morsel when I’d really like a feast. But morsels can still help sustain us.

One of the frustrations with the lack of time to write is that I come across some amazing articles and then lose them in the ebb and flow of time passing and sleep deprivation. Many months ago I read a great piece on the implications for society when people don’t have enough time to be creative. A study showed something like 4/5 people feel they don’t have the time to be creative in their life. The study was all about what the loss to society is when we don’t value creativity. For a long time I’ve pondered this. I know personally I have so much I want to say and do in me but not the time to unleash it. The article talked about inventions and things that just would not have happened if people hadn’t been given the luxury of time and space.

Image taken from D. Keith Robinson's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from D. Keith Robinson’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Workplaces often value bums on seats and rarely appreciate the value of time and space to mull things over. This can really deaden creativity (and spirit!). Though perhaps it is changing a little with recent trends like corporations allowing employees time to colour in to de-stress (clearly every colouring minute isn’t billable!). Colouring allows the mind to wander and release which is an important step to fostering creativity, yet for my mind it is still a long way from it. Work forms such a large part of our lives I strongly believe it would lead to far more workplace satisfaction (and probably productive output too) if we were supported to unleash our creativity at work.

But if we can’t get creativity in our workplace how can we get more creativity in our lives? When you walk in the door from work or kid wrangle all day only to step up to a second shift of meal preparation, homework supervision, bathing and bedtime stories how can we make space and time for creativity (and indeed exercise!) when there doesn’t seem to be a spare hour in the day?

Over Lent I gave up Facebook. I also started to use Instagram more but not in the same way as I used Facebook (religiously checking in multiple times a day). I participated in the #fmsphotoaday challenge for a few weeks. It was interesting how it gave me a little bit of creativity  for a few moments every day – focusing on unique and beautiful ways to depict the “prompt for the day” in an image.

Social media is an interesting one because it has the potential to foster creativity like this and yet it also has its addictive side. If you can free yourself from the need to pursue likes and followers and just use it as an art form it can be great. I need to free myself more from Facebook (but not abandon it as it is an important social outlet for me) to use those cumulative snatches of time during the day to be more creative or to snatch 5 minutes of exercise instead. To choose the life affirming stuff, instead of the addictive and habitual time wasting stuff.

Exercise is also really important for creativity. The writer Haruki Murakami in, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, looks at the intersections between writing and running and how the one depends on the other for him. I’m a bit the same way.  Right now I’m pretty unfit (and perhaps not so coincidentally pretty writing unfit!). Dodgy knees don’t allow me to run and a crazy kid wrangling schedule doesn’t allow me to put the time in to fixing my knees.

Image from bronwynbatten via instagram

Thankfully (at least before the cold weather hit) I’ve been able to occasionally seek out exercise through swimming and welcomed the same zen-like meditative time out I can get in a long swim as I can in a long run. It allows me a kind of mental zone out which gives my thoughts precious time and space (often a writing idea gets work-shopped or a life direction mulled) whilst physically working my body and getting the amazing sensation of the “well oiled machine”. So I know I have to make space and time for this in my life just as I have to make the space and time to be in the places which inspire me and refresh my being.

Creativity for me is about living life fully. Embracing the detail of what I see around me and writing about it, or bringing out the beauty in it by capturing a moment in a photo, or helping my body move in a way that exercise becomes a thing of beauty and creativity in itself – my body working as it was meant to.  Bit by bit I’m determined to try and bring a bit more creativity into my life.

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The selfie that really raises breast cancer awareness

Almost everyone will have been confronted with the phenomenon of the “no makeup selfie” raising awareness for breast cancer. They’re everywhere on social media accompanied with the usual hash tags – #nomakeupselfie, #beatcancersooner #breastcancerawreness.

There’s been a lot of commentary around whether the makeup free selfie is really a good awareness raising tool or indeed whether it really is a “brave” thing to do, and whether it is actually encouraging a kind of vanity – being seen to look good naturally – which is actually decidedly unhelpful environment for those currently undergoing cancer treatment who look like a shadow of their former self. As people are want to do on social media there have also been endless spoofs of makeup free selfies. People have placed photos of anything from witches with boils on their face to dogs with funny expressions.

I want to share with you the breast cancer awareness raising selfie that we all need to see. Because there is one aspect of breast cancer that really does need awareness raising and there is a selfie pic that might achieve that. So here it is:


This is my dad. In the spirit of the exercise it is make up free (mind you he never wears it). And no it’s not a joke or a spoof. Most people are totally unaware that men can get breast cancer. When we think breast cancer we think pink – pink ribbons, pink products. We’ve tinged breast cancer awareness in this stereotypical female colour, yet it is not only a woman’s disease.

Men possess a small amount of breast tissue behind their nipples, so yes, they too can, and do, get breast cancer. According to statistics from Cancer Australia over 100 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year in Australia, and the numbers appear to be rising. In the US approximately 2000 men will be diagnosed each year and almost 400 men will die each year from breast cancer.

In our society breast cancer is seen as a woman’s disease when actually it is not gender specific. The lack of awareness in men (and women) about the existence of male breast cancer means that it is often diagnosed late. Men may be aware of a lump and not see a doctor. Even among doctors there is a lack of awareness about male breast cancer. When my dad went to the GP about his inverted nipple he sent him to a specialist. The specialist merely advised that it was likely to be hormonal and to reduce his consumption of chicken and chocolate and things that might influence hormone production. If he’d been female, there would have been no way he would have walked out of that office without a referral for an ultrasound or even a biopsy. When his cancer was ultimately diagnosed much later, like many male sufferers, the cancer was more aggressive and advanced. For some men, it has already spread to other parts of their body.

The lack of awareness about male breast cancer also has the unfortunate effect that, for many men, being diagnosed with breast cancer can be a source of shame and humiliation. The sea of pink that has arisen around breast cancer has probably made it the most feminised place to be in the world. Male sufferers have reported doing the ‘walk of shame’ into waiting rooms full of women, and being interrogated by nurses and receptionists as to whether they’re ‘in the right place.’ Explaining to friends and family that they have ‘breast cancer’, something they never thought was humanly possible for them (as a man) to get, can somehow make them feel emasculated.

So I hope this selfie really is an awareness raising tool. My dad likes to tell his story because, like many other male breast cancer sufferers, he thinks that if his story can reach just one man and help them to detect the disease early it is a story well shared. But for me it’s not just about helping men avoid late diagnosis. It’s about helping men like my dad feel more accepted.

Breast cancer networks and pink ribbon days need to reach out and include the male sufferers of the disease. Otherwise it’s always going to be such an incredibly hard road to walk for these men. Who needs to fight stigma on top of fighting cancer?

This post was first published on Women’s Agenda


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Cutting into gender discrimination

Image taken from Sean Freese's photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Image taken from Sean Freese’s photostream on Flickr under Creative Commons License

Recently I took my three kids to get haircuts. It was my 21 month old daughter’s first one. Like all my kids she had very little hair at birth and even with almost 2 years of growth her hair was still really fine and very short. The only reason she was getting the chop was because it was just beginning to get a little long around her eyes and I was taking her brothers anyway.

The boys went first – being old pros at the haircut business. When their turns came they sat in their chairs, their hair shaved and chopped away at for a good ten minutes or more in their usual ‘short back and sides’ styles. When my daughter’s turn came she was a little upset so I sat her on my lap so the hairdresser could do the few quick few snips required to chop the long wispy bits at the back of her head and shorten up her fringe. Albeit accompanied with the unpleasantness of a small child exercising their lungs, her haircut was over in less than 2 minutes. We got up, brushed the hair off, and went to pay.

It was then that I realised that I wasn’t just introducing my daughter to the concept of haircuts. I was introducing her to one of her first bouts of discrimination. Her haircut took less than a quarter the time of her brothers’ haircuts. Her haircut was a third more expensive – because she was a girl.

I live in quite a multicultural part of Sydney and at this particular establishment the language barriers were too great to have any kind of dialogue on sex discrimination and hairdressing. I also had a sense of unease in that I know that these hairdressers aren’t earning a lot to start with so who is to begrudge them a few extra dollars. But it really struck home to me that as my daughter grows older I’ll be introducing her to a world which will increasingly throw these kinds of issues at her (and at me as her mother).

In December 2012 Denmark (the bastion of gender equity) ruled through its Board of Equal Treatment that charging different prices for men and women‘s haircuts was illegal. I know that some people will say this is ridiculous, women’s haircuts take longer. Denmark did not rule that hairdressers could not charge more based on the length of time it took to do a haircut, or for different styles of cut. They just can’t charge more for a haircut simply on the basis of someone’s gender. And that to me is a great thing – a milestone which feminists should celebrate. A milestone that will hopefully one day (just like paid maternity leave and other Danish advances) be achieved in Australia also.

Image from with thanks to Sean Freese

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