One of the first things I learned when travelling in Europe, knowing only English, was to prioritise learning the word “sorry” when preparing to enter a new country.
There’s nothing wrong with learning “hello”, “thank you” and “please”, “I am…” and “where’s the nearest…”, but if you’re going to learn one word by heart, that’s the one I’d recommend. If you get yourself in trouble, it will likely be the word you need the most.
I speak from experience.
Last month I came across the story of an extremely “quiet” achiever: an Australian maths teacher who lived alone and, after retiring, started painting abstract art alone. Over a twenty-year period, he produced more than 7,000 paintings — naming, dating, and numbering each one.
After his death, his sister called them “rubbish” and told an estate auctioneer to get rid of them. But they didn’t look like rubbish to the auctioneer and, when he showed them to an experienced art valuer, she agreed.
I was packing for a weekend away with several other families when I made the mistake of thinking a bottle of red wine would be safest rolled up in a sleeping bag.
I didn’t know most of the families going but I knew the instigators, and that they’d have gathered a great crowd. Those other families probably thought so too – until ours showed up, reeking of wine, in the middle of the day.
It was fine. Really...
The main thing I learned in science class, apart from the fact teenagers can’t be trusted with Bunsen burners, is that experiments should begin with a hypothesis and end with a conclusion. You can’t jump straight to the conclusion. And yet, outside of science labs, when we’re making judgements in the world — especially about fellow human beings — that’s what we tend to do.
I’m not saying we can, or should, devise experiments to somehow test our assumptions about each other. I’m just wondering...
Our “appetite for newness” is not unique to our times, but habits of replacing not retaining are. We’re familiar with the impact on our world, but have we considered its impact on our minds?
The practice of “darning” — mending holes and tears in garments by interweaving yarn — was once a common one. Now few possess the skill, and fewer practice it. Why repair, if you can just replace?
One of the biggest shocks I had this year wasn’t the sound of my car scraping against another car, and the realisation that, in an absent moment, I’d gone straight into someone else’s lane instead of turning left. It was what happened next.
I pulled over and started vomiting apologies on to the driver of the ute I’d just scraped. I was sorry, it was completely my fault, I had no idea what I’d been thinking, or rather, I clearly hadn’t been thinking, at least not about the task at hand...
When productivity consultant Daniel Sih was writing Raising Tech-Healthy Humans, he asked his kids to think about their best experiences in life. Their fondest memories — listening to him play the guitar and read to them before bed, jumping on the trampoline with a neighbour, a family game of mini-golf — didn’t involve screens; they did involve spending time with loved ones. In his book, Sih reflects on their answers and what they had in common: they were tangible, relational, and unplugged.
There’s a story our year 11 and 12 students are hearing, one I heard at that age too, that isn’t true. The details change, but the take-home point is the anxiety-inducing idea that what they’ll do with “the rest of their lives” is a decision they must make now or very soon and that failing to make “the right choice” will have disastrous consequences.
I came across a surprising claim the other day. Shortly after reading that in the last 200 years, Australia has suffered the largest documented decline in biodiversity of any continent, I read that my home state’s habitat has remained “relatively unchanged” since 1936.
The quote was on a US biotech company’s website...
A few summers ago, my grandmother saw me look twice at a dress in a department store and made me try it on. It was dusty blue and sleeveless. Its high neck fastened with a button above an open back. One sash wrapped halfway round the waist; one emerged as if by magic from a slit. I tied them in a bow against my hip. From the waist to just below the knee, generous folds of fabric flowed. When I walked, they swished against my skin. I didn’t want to take it off. Last summer, I wore that dress so often that I joked it was my ‘summer uniform’...
If you were walking past a car on a hot day and saw an infant strapped within, the windows closed, what would you do? Assume a parent was nearby? Maybe scan to see?
What if nobody was in sight? Would you stop to tap the window, peer inside?
And if the child seemed motionless — eyes glazed or closed, no sign of breath — what then? Would you smash a window? Call for help?
It’s a dilemma people face from time to time, but looks can be deceiving...
I know what’s meant by “cost of living”. I know it’s about money, the economy; inflation, interest rates. But don’t you think those words, so often chanted in the news, could be taken from, or used to make, a poem?
Cost of living. I think less about the rising price of rent, of petrol, milk and bread, than of parents sick with worry, up all night, waiting for their teen to return home; a grown man, helping a father who no longer knows his name, to bed; a schoolgirl, who sees her friend “forgot” his lunch, again, and pretends to not want hers...
I recently started watching a television series with my eldest son. The more that I reflect on the experience, the more convinced I am that it’s been time well spent for both of us.
If you’d told me I’d be writing this article a year ago, and that the show in question would be Alone, I might have scoffed. Reality television has never really been my thing — it riles me when manufactured drama masquerades as “real” — and my kids get enough screen time after school without opening the gateway to...
One of the most memorable birthday parties I’ve hosted was also one of the easiest and cheapest. Our eldest son was turning five and wanted to invite his whole class. I wasn’t willing to host a party with more than 20 five-year-olds, but I was willing to invite them for a play in our back garden after school.
I used to think professional musicians, artists and writers were the epitome of creative success. They’d bypassed nine-to-five monotony and were travelling the world, being recognised for, and making a living from, their craft.
Twenty years on, I’ve started noticing different kinds of artists, a different kind of success: friends with “normal” jobs and “normal” lives who are still driven to create. Their ages mean they’re past their so-called prime; their circumstances mean it’s hard to find the time...