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2021 in Review

I remember spending new year’s eve of 2020 huddled around a fire in a friend’s backyard. You’d expect more of a buzz during one of these parties, but this moment was just silence. No one knew what to say. We were glad to be all together, but at the same time, we were sitting with the realisation of what we had all ensured that year. Then the silence broke. Someone muttered, “Well. We made it.” This lightened the mood.  And we all sighed in relief, believing it to be true. That the pandemic was over. Not realising how wrong we were…

2021 brought more than 100 additional days of lockdown, replacing Melbourne’s title of “the most livable city” with “the longest lockdown in the world”. Where the first portion of the pandemic brought a sense of novelty – online games, learning how to bake bread, zoom calls, and working from home. This time it was a grind from the get-go.

As COVID spread across the world, we started to realise how foolish we had been in thinking it could just go away. Even though the media would celebrate ‘donut days” – where there were 0 new cases – an Australia where COVID just vanishes was simply a fairytale. That’s when we turned our hopes to the happenings across the world where vacations were being developed. And soon enough we had a new weapon on our side. But I don’t any of us expected how much of a split it would cause in society as those with different views broke off into competing sides.

The implementation of the vaccine mandate absolutely shook everything up. There had always been a clear, somewhat sacred boundary between one’s body and the rest of society. And an understanding that it can’t be crossed without consent. But now there was no longer an agreement over where that line is – that’s if it even exists anymore. This wasn’t just a case of going to the speed limit for everyone’s safety; we were being told to get vaccinated. Something we hadn’t encountered before (beyond vaccinations as a baby which were the choice of parents). And a demand, on top of being having our movements limited, that topped off what understandably can be perceived as an attack on one’s inherent freedom and rights.

This platform has never been political, so I won’t tread too much further beyond saying that things aren’t black and white. The colours are a muddled mess. One’s perception of the situation is going to be completely different from where one stands. For example, working from home in a secure job, lockdowns were nowhere near as devastating to me as someone who had their entire livelihood tied in their own business which could no longer operate.

As frustrations boiled, Dan Andrews (Melbourne’s Premier) became more and more vilified. As if, due to his heart of evil, was enjoying seeing us all suffer. Major protests, unlike anything seen before, erupted. Footage of horses being punched and old women being pepper-sprayed circulated social media to only fan the flames of each side. It was heartbreaking to see. That from those good news stories of 2020 – acts of community kindness and celebration of frontline workers, of “being in this together” – we had become so divided.

I don’t see the Government as ‘evil’.  That’s a simplified understanding of the world that is enticing to our emotions, particularly anger. And while I certainly do feel angry about decisions like the closure of gyms and health initiatives such as Alcoholics Anonymous while bottle shops remained open, I keep things contained by my understanding that ultimately, I’m not an expert. I’ve come this far with a certain trust in the many working parts of a functioning society – that those who made a bridge did a good job and I won’t collapse on me to doctor giving me the right care during an operation – to stop now.

I did, however, become keenly interested in understanding why people were struggling to agree. The podcast, Conspirtuality was very informative as highlighted how people are not just shaped by the information that’s available, but also the consensus of their immediate group. Turns out not everyone is welcoming of scientists spouting research and facts. Especially when this information is contrary to that from their social media community and influencers they revere (regardless of their credentials) which have always provided a sense of community and acceptance. After all these years, we’re still tribal deep down.

Personally, I felt my identity was challenged. Where I previously would have called myself ‘spiritual’ quite loosely, I found myself reconsidering I saw various people and ideas that I didn’t agree with. Following discussions with a close friend who was closer to any of this than me (almost stepping away from a cult), I arrived at the belief that any sort of group attachment and identity should be treated with caution. And one should never be simply told what to think or be manipulated through their emotions. But rather, given the opportunity to freely critically analyse the situation and all available information without fearing the repercussions of social exclusion. My partner once said, “this is God to me” as we walked through the park during the golden hour of a sunny afternoon. And I”ll say the same about my sense of spirituality.

The other bit shift I experienced this year was regarding my sense of personal power. With lockdowns on and off, the tornado of information on social media, starting and stopping my fitness routine, I felt completely disoriented. Not only that, helpless. And from my past experiences with depression, I know how dangerous powerlessness can be. As the lockdowns got extended, again and again, I felt my spirit starting to wilt and witnessed the same in some close friends. One of the biggest learnings of this pandemic has been in regards to our needs. Like plants need adequate amounts of sunshine and water – if deprived of social interaction, purpose, exercise, play and adventure, people can quickly see their colour drain.

Exercise (weight training specifically) has always been vital to maintaining my positive mental health. Since I was 17, I’ve been a regular gym-goer. So not being able to train – and also living across the road from my empty gym – was particularly challenging. And even though I had more than enough equipment at home, I also had the firmly held belief that I needed the gym and working out at home “just wasn’t the same.” I’m correct there: it isn’t the same. But it is something. And that’s where my ‘awakening’ happened. I realised I was focusing way too much on things outside of my control and wasting away from it. I started with small minimalist home workouts which improved my eating and sleeping – and thus my mental health started to improve.

(Oh, and I also f***ed off Facebook.)

So much can stem from starting where you are. And this mantra was also lived in my career. After being made redundant in my previous position which I had for almost 3 years, I was able to secure a short-term contract which started in January. It wasn’t part of my plan, there were many elements that were unknown to me, but I stepped forward with the intention to do my best in the role and build connections with my co-workers. And from that, things blossomed. I’m going into my second year, having secured both a permanent position and an increase in pay. Not that I am a financially driven person, but it’s tied closely to security and the ability to focus on other things. It’s also somewhat comforting to remember that I was once I was exhausting myself in my early 20s working for a car dealership for minimum wage, I’m now earning more than double doing much more meaningful work under far better working conditions.

If you know my story, then you’ll understand that the feeling of stability is a welcome change. But the honest truth is, there’s still an itch that’s harder to scratch: purpose. I often listen to hour-long motivational compilation youtube videos while I go for walks. Most of what’s said goes through my ears after giving my brain a slight buzz, but one line has stuck: “Your career is what you’re paid to do. Your purpose is what you’re made to do.” You could argue that this is just poetic appealing; that things are more complex than simply chasing after your passion. And I’ll agree. But I’ve also seen it in effect. There’s a certain type of passion in my partner’s voice when she speaks about the kids she works with as a teacher. And there’s also a warm humming energy that pulses through me when I’m in flow and engaged.

I have an interest in counselling, but I also have concerns over emotionally burning out. So following the advice of an experienced cousellor and the support of my closest friends, I’ve taken the first step of directly offering my own counselling services. I have to say, I didn’t expect creating a page to be such a huge obstacle. The process pulled up a lot of negativity and self-doubt that I’m committed to working through.  Who would have thought, the guy who jumps on stage shirtless during a gig, dances in public, and has done stand-up comedy would have issues being stepping into being? A big help working through this has been Toko-pa Turner’s book, Belonging. This work is about offering my truest self and gifts to the world. Even if I’m not able to secure clients, I’m still growing in the process and go to sleep at night knowing I’m taking steps to live my dream as daunting as that is. Suitably, I typed a piece the other morning that read:

It takes courage to stand on the peak of an accomplishment. But perhaps, even more, to even start. To take that first step where things ‘as they are’ starts to rise into towards ‘as you wish them to be’.

With my first steps in my counselling career, I’m looking forward to making further progress in my art. Which funny enough, has seen me return to the starting point. Following my few minutes of fame last year (being in the paper and going semi-viral), I felt my connection to my creativity was somewhat severed. The metrics had me misguided, and I wasn’t sure why I was writing – whether it was dictated by a desire to appease the algorithm or intrinsic authentic expression. I took some time to think about it, patiently waiting for those sacred moments where something was coming up. And my experience started to become much more artistically satisfying.

Sad to say, but I feel artists are at risk of treating social media metrics like false idols, moving away from the recognition of what’s holy within them. There was a natural instinct I had towards play I’ve been longing for – present when I played with action figures for hours as a child and recorded raps in my bedroom closet as a young adult. That’s the place I’ve been working my way back towards. And in the new year, I’m looking forward to creating more: video interviews with the amazingly inspiring people I know, my first-ever public art exhibition, and my second book, Home.

I published my first book, Living in Cream in 2014. And had plans to start and finish Home in 2017. It was going to cover my life where Living in Cream ended – which is when I went to Tonga. I wanted to write about my life in Sydney and Melbourne, my diagnosis with ADHD, and connecting with an ex after several years to finally heal old wounds. The subtitle was “a book about returning to oneself”. But it never felt like it was the right time to start…. Perhaps because I hadn’t truly come home. But after this year, and all I’ve achieved, I feel ready.

Thank you for reading my unedited ramble – I just wanted to post before heading off to celebrate tonight. Although it’s been about me, I hope my energy, my resolve is contagious and you can go into 2022 with a similar kinda gusto.

Mmmm. Probably shouldn’t use the C-word.

Much love.

Ricky

2 Comments

  1. What a great piece, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! You’re right, things are still so uncertain, but learning to let go is so important!

    I really loved the quote you posted – “Your career is what you’re paid to do. Your purpose is what you’re made to do”. I’m going to read this often and remind myself that just because I am not exactly where I want to be, it doesn’t mean that I am not on the right path.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Jenna. Absolutely. Trajectory is more important than anything – and sometimes that takes us to odd places we didn’t expect.

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