Just Write

keep-calm-and-just-write1. Because I’m sitting here and I can and I feel like I need to.

2. Because this week three people asked if I was writing and three out of three times I cringed.

3. Because I’ve caught up on all my favourite tv shows – my favoured form of procrastination.

4. Because things and thoughts need to be laid out to be seen and processed and sorted.

5. Because unlike when I speak, when I write I can edit and delete.

6. Because space and time and discipline that have been missing for a while eventually need to be forced to be found.

7. Because then something happened today that differed from every other day.

8. Because I will know that something was created and something was said.

9. Because it doesn’t actually matter if it matters to anyone else or if I am heard.

10. Because everything else is for everyone else, but this is just for me.

 

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My Audience With Madame Lagarde

Madame Christine Lagarde

Madame Christine Lagarde

Whenever Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde is mentioned in the news, I turn to my husband and say, “You know I met her, don’t you?” As the first woman to hold the IMF post, Madame Lagarde is without doubt one of the most powerful women in the world (she ranks #35 on Forbes Magazine’s Powerful People list). And I met her – once upon a time.

For those who witnessed her extended interview last night on ABC’s Q&A, there is no denying that Madame Lagarde is a rare breed – a politician who really listens, responds thoughtfully, is deeply knowledgeable across scores of issues and can calmly and clearly explain connections between and consequences of policy impacting economics, business and civic society on a global scale. Whether you agree or not with the premise and decisions of the organisation she represents, it would be wonderful to see more leaders like Madame Lagarde working intelligently and inclusively to make a difference in the world and using their profile positively to bring awareness to issues  – such as the need for greater investment in health and education – that affect us all now and in the future.

Before she became the first female Finance Minister of France and the first female head of the IMF, in 1999 Madame Lagarde was elected as the first female global chair of Baker & McKenzie, which at the time was the largest law firm in the world. Back then I was a Marketing Coordinator in Baker & McKenzie’s Sydney office. Soon after her election, it was announced that Madame Lagarde would visit our office for a few days as part of the Australian leg of a global roadshow, enabling her to meet the firm’s local Partners, staff and clients. I began working with my boss to schedule events, meetings and media commitments for Madame Lagarde. It was a very exciting time and we wanted everything to be perfect.

When Madame Lagarde arrived in Sydney she did not disappoint – indeed she dazzled. In the time we spent with her between meetings, she was elegant, articulate and very forthcoming with advice. She talked about swimming (she was a national synchronised swimming champion in France) and her children (two sons now in their twenties) and women in the workplace. Less importantly – but notably – she also had impeccable taste in jewellery. At the time I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have this small exchange of information with Madame Lagarde. She was amazing and I have not been at all surprised over the years to see her elevated further on the world’s stage.

My meeting with Madame Lagarde came just before I was married and before I’d hatched plans to have children. Now, a decade and a half down the track, as an experienced working mother and more advanced in my career, I wish I had asked Madame Lagarde for more specific advice on the juggle of balancing family and career. Back then her boys would have been similar to the ages that my sons are now. I’m sure she would have had valuable tips and insight which she would have been very willing to share. Last night as I watched Q&A, however, Madame Lagarde had this to say to me and all women on this very issue:

“From my personal experience, you don’t necessarily succeed on all fronts at the same time. So you should try to be yourself, do your best, and have as much confidence as you can in what you do, and not hesitate to call for help from other women, from other men, from family members, from husband, companion, however, because it’s a joint operation. It’s not flying solo.”

So every time I remind my husband that a long time ago I met Madame Lagarde, he smiles and indulges me by listening intently as I recount the story, because he understands that she left an impression on me and that all these years later she continues to impress.

Did you see Madame Lagarde on Q&A? What did you think? Were you impressed?

For those who say ‘Movies are not real life, you know.’

popcornFor me, a great movie is one that holds a mirror to my face and forces me think about my own life. I appreciate a film where the lesson resonates deeply and sticks with me through time, repeating and repeating as needed so I remember that I am not alone when life gets extreme.

Now I can find meaning and reflection in just about any film and am addicted to the potential each new story offers. When I enter the cinema I have expectations of inspiration. As the opening credits roll, I will the film to have the power to sweep me up in its mission, to captivate me in its layers and make me fall hard in love with its characters.

I love the penny-drop moments that come mid-experience at the movies and those that arrive later. I love to wrestle with and talk through the themes and ideas contained in each piece. I love to take sides and try the emotion on for size, then swap sides and see how that feels for a while. I love to have a physical reaction to a story – a gripping anxiety, a teary tug of joy, chest-crushing fear or disappointment so thick and cloying it makes me want to spit.

I love how film can change my views on the world, sometimes totally demolishing long held perspectives and filling the space with new, exciting and challenging ideals. I love watching a film at one age, then re-watching that film some years down the track to see if my reaction to the event is newly coloured by my age and stage and matured impressions.

In the past few weeks I’ve seen a lot of films and have taken something from each and stored them away in my mental self-help guide for future reference.

Movies are not real life, you know. But they sure can make life more real.

How much do you love films?

Movie Review – Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine

Last July I saw Cate Blanchett at the movies. That day she was in the audience with her kids and I was there with mine. We approached the cinema at the same time and had to wait a few minutes – just inches from each other – until the doors were opened. And though I tried to be cool, I just couldn’t stop staring – and I wasn’t the only one.  You see even on a day off as she tried to blend in with her kids, star struck patrons approached to remind her ‘Wow! You’re Cate Blanchett!’ Just in case she had forgotten. Because even dressed down in a suburban shopping centre Cate Blanchett was not like all the other parents. She had a natural elegance and striking stature that made her stand out from the crowd. Call it a presence, star quality or X factor, from what I could see Cate Blanchett has plenty of it.

Today I saw Cate Blanchett at the movies, but this time she was onscreen starring in Woody Allen’s latest release Blue Jasmine.  Blanchett plays Jasmine Francis, a stylish New York socialite who is forced to move in with her sister in San Francisco when her life of wealth and privilege suddenly comes crashing down.

We piece together Jasmine’s story, gaining insight into who she has become and why through flashbacks of her former life. Seemly and unseemly behaviour are intertwined with a series of events that are very believable in a post-GFC world. Jasmine is a very practised persona, who really does herself no favours as a selectively naïve wife choosing not to acknowledge all the evidence of deceit as it piles up around her. Yet, even when she is broken and everything seems lost including her sanity, Jasmine maintains a certain grace and mystique that whether genetic or hard-earned, are certainly palpable and compelling both to the audience and many of the characters.

Blue Jasmine is confronting and captivating. It is less whimsical than many of Woody Allen’s films. There is still a good dose of neuroses, but in this story the reasons for their existence are more clearly defined.

Blanchett’s performance and Allen’s screenplay are perfectly matched. I have no doubt that Cate Blanchett did Woody Allen very proud in Blue Jasmine and that she should enjoy all the accolades that I’m sure will come her way for this exceptional performance. There is also little doubt that Allen knew exactly what he was doing in casting Blanchett for this role. Because even in a role that is not always beautiful to watch, Cate Blanchett is not like all the other actresses. She is reliably strong, intelligent and refined which makes her stand out from the rest.

Even though my real life interaction with Cate Blanchett was very short and distant, I suspect she may empathise with her character Jasmine Francis. Because just like enormous wealth, enormous fame must sometimes come at a cost and some days things are just too good to be true.

Have you seen Blue Jasmine? What was your reaction? What is your favourite Woody Allen film?

 

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Ten Reasons Why These Floating Camellias Make Me Smile

Floating camellias

Floating camellias

1. When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a gorgeous, big camellia tree near her back door. Each year it was laden with bright, layered flowers – so many that at full flourish there was more pink than green to be seen.

2. I vividly remember how Grandma would pick a handful of blooms and float them in a bowl as a centerpiece for the dining table at family mealtimes.

3. Once I was grown up and had my own garden, camellias were a must have item. Over the years my small camellia trees have survived extreme heat and bracing cold as Melbourne’s radical seasons pass.

4. The fact that one bush has just bloomed is a welcome sign that this long, cold winter is about to break. Warmth is well overdue.

5. The irresistible colour and life of the flowers have tempted me out to eat my lunch in the sunshine for the first time in months.

6. My daughter shares my love of camellias.

7. On the weekend, as we were preparing for guests, we carefully cleaned the delicate fish bowl vase – a wedding gift that after a dozen years is still intact and put to regular use.

8. She skipped out to choose and pick the blooms. She treated them with such love as she gently dropped them into the water.

9. Now, she sits at the bench and possessively and protectively wraps her little arms around the globe and stares at the rosy treasures enclosed. She’s left lots of little fingerprints on the glass.

10. So now my daughter will have lovely and lasting childhood memories about camellias too.

What about you? Do you have childhood memories of flowers?

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Making Dreams Come True

What's your dream?

What’s your dream?

I posted a video today on www.straightshooter.com.au. It’s a presentation by Darren Rowse from ProBlogger. Click through to check it out, but careful…it might make your dreams come true.

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Pause and Reset

pauseToday is Monday – the start of another work week. Today is also the day I start my new weekly schedule. I’m half way through Day 1 and everything is on track. Wish me luck as I try to keep up this momentum.

As a Mum and a wife and a business owner and a writer and a friend and a daughter and all the other things I am, it’s very easy for me to get swallowed up with everything that is going on for everyone around me and to forget what I really need to be and to achieve.

So last Friday as I lamented that yet another week had rushed by with little time left for me to progress my plans, I knew I needed to pause and reset.

I used one of my favourite methods of organisation – the blank page technique (click through to read more about this).  Within minutes I could see space on the page. I could visualise how I could fit everything in. I felt relieved that everything was actually possible. I had taken back control of my time.

So this morning it seemed OK to sleep in for 15 minutes more. I completed my morning tasks calmly – you know, with actual time to breathe. I had a healthy, leisurely lunch and a lovely coffee. And now I sit at my computer – right on schedule – writing this post for you all.

Sometimes I just need to pause and reset to find peace and recharge so I can manage my busy life.

What about you? Do you need to pause and reset?

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Movie Review – Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Do you love it or loathe it when art imitates life? I love, love, love it and can’t get enough of it. Which is perhaps why I have been so drawn to the story of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) on their great adventure of coupledom in the three Before movies, directed by Richard Linklater. I’m not going to call them a trilogy, because I hope there will be more.

When Jesse and Celine met for the first time on the train in Before Sunrise in 1995, I was at an age when I was eagerly welcoming chance into my own life. I was 21, had dutifully finished school and university and was old enough to have discovered the hard way that you can only control so much of life and it doesn’t always go to plan. The upside being that I was also learning to recognise and appreciate that it is the random, unplanned events that can have the most lasting impact on life’s path. Every meeting or new person or unfamiliar occurrence was ripe and dripping with possibility. Every fresh day felt like my real life as a grown up was almost about to start. Every week was an intoxicating mix of adventure and misadventure. I had the luxury of saying yes to everything, trying choices on for size, racking up consequences and rationalising mistakes.

I had travelled and loved and dreamed massive dreams. I was unknowingly about to meet my own love of my life. At this time, Jesse and Celine’s rambling musings about life and promise reflected my own thoughts and conversations. We were old enough to sense that life could be enormous, but still too young to make giant decisions that might start narrowing the funnel of ‘what ifs?’. It was definitely still too soon to start answering life’s big questions.

I watched Before Sunset (2004) almost a decade later once huge long term decisions had been made and – like Jesse – I was married with a son. For Jesse, Celine and I, enough time had passed that real grown up experience had either lived up to its promise or not. The scourge of maturity is a growing sense of dissatisfaction – cognitive dissonance of choices made and a sense of confusion that this life you are left with might be as good as it is going to get. Jesse and Celine chose to change course – to re-open a door they once thought was closed. They left their lives behind and chose to be together. This is where our stories differed – but I understood their doubt and admired their willingness to risk it all just when society expected us to be settling down.

And now in 2013 as I watched Before Midnight I was reminded of our shared experiences to date and eager to use their most recent chapter as a barometer for my own life at this time. Jesse and Celine, now parents to twins as well as to Jesse’s son from his previous marriage, take a precious moment to stop and reflect while on a holiday in Greece. But as many of us know, reflection can be dangerous as inevitably both the good and the bad of life are considered. We watch this couple debate their choices and question their sense of satisfaction. How did they get where they are and is it enough?

I now also have three kids and a burgeoning bank of experience about relationships and life. My husband and I have survived and thrived against a series of unstoppable, joyous, challenging and weird instances and incidents each day, week and year that we never could have imagined happening – not even in the movies.

In Before Midnight I felt relieved to see Jesse and Celine having discussions just like I have had with my husband over the past decade. These are the honest and very real discussions between two characters in the midst of very real life situations.

When they are given a kid-free evening, Celine struggles with leaving her children even just for one night, perhaps intuitively sensing that when there is space to challenge the status quo, there are no guarantees of a happy ending for anyone involved.

They wrestle with balancing what is right for their kids without losing a sense of themselves – even with full knowledge that they have frequently made choices that put themselves and their needs ahead of their offspring’s. I have found it is often very easy to rationalise a case either way to justify such decisions and assuage any surrounding guilt. ‘If I am happy my children will also be happy’, sounds very similar to ‘If my children are happy then I am also happy’ but the two ideals are very different indeed, particularly once you try to put them into practice.

Had I been in Greece with Jesse and Celine and joined their lengthy discussion of our place in life at this age and stage, I would hope to have articulated my view that the biggest issue for the middle class masses is having too many choices rather than too few. Should I work full time or stay home to raise the children? Should we stay living where we are or move across the world to be closer to family? Red wine or white? Eat in or out? Such first world problems seem so important in the course of our day to day lives – and worse – each option sounds so tempting that when you choose one over the other, it feels like you are making such a huge sacrifice in forgoing the unchosen one.  It is so easy to focus on that thing you could have had but didn’t, instead of being grateful for the thing you did have that became part of your story.

You see we are really so lucky to have such wonderful options in the first place. The world is smaller and more connected so the avenues for getting what you want are endless. But just don’t hope for enough – because nothing will ever be enough. Just as you are reaching a point of satisfaction, another better option will fill the void and your longing for enough will continue and compound. Enough money, enough time, enough kids, enough things – we need to be comfortable with the fact that maybe there will never be enough. Or perhaps we already have it?

In the end, despite all the emotion and doubt circling the responsibilities of life, sometimes you just need to stop and to forget all the  drama and choices and to live for a moment. To take respite and breathe for a little while to steady yourself before you dive back into your everyday world and continue the next chapter of your story. There are no right answers to legitimise your life. You’ve just got to get in and live it.

In Greece, just before midnight, Jesse and Celine have the chance to do just this and – just like in real life – their story will continue.

I hope Linklater, Hawke and Delpy get busy soon on the next instalment from Jesse and Celine as I look forward to seeing how our paths converge and take the chance to hold a mirror up to my own experience – to remind myself of the power of chance, that it is never too late to change course and that enough needs to be enough. All of this adds up to a memorable and meaningful life story.

Have you seen any of these films? What did you think? Did they help you reflect on your own life?

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BIG HAPPY v small happy

happyHere is a great article I read recently in The Huffington Post written by Nataly Kogan, Co-Founder and Chief Happiness Officer, Happier, Inc. – what a title!

In life and work I’ve always been a great believer that if a task seems too big and overwhelming, start by breaking it down into manageable sized chunks. In my experience, just this process alone brings a great sense of relief and purpose.

Have a read and let me know what you think – 3 Things I Learned About How to be Happier.

 

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Perfect Pho

Beef Pho from Lam Lam in Northcote

Beef Pho from Lam Lam in Northcote

It’s been very chilly in Melbourne lately. Despite the cold, life continues to set a cracking pace. So after an early start this morning, by midday I was obsessed with the idea of noodle soup to warm me and wake me up.

I headed to one of my favourite local Vietnamese restaurants, Lam Lam in High Street Northcote, for a Chicken Pho (Pho Ga). This light and fresh soup is simple, steaming goodness that works its magic from your sinuses through to your stomach. It is satisfying, healthy and cheap – perfect and reliable for a quick lunch to perk you up ready to face the second half of your day. Choose chicken, beef or a combination of the two, add beansprouts, mint, lemon and chilli to taste. It’s all sorts of yum!

I loved my lunch so much and gobbled it up savouring every slurp. Some days I can’t possibly get through all the silky rice noodles, but today was not one of those days. If I could have tipped and licked the bowl I would have – but that would have been a very bad look.

Of course in the comfort of my own dining room, such social graces are easier to overlook. So very soon I will be trying this recipe for Chicken Pho and I can guarantee not a bit will be wasted.

Have you tried pho? Where is your favourite pho restaurant? Have you tried to make it at home?