Monday, December 28, 2009

The Year that Was

It is customary at the close of the year to reflect on the events of the past 12 months. The purpose, for me, is to see where I was 12 months ago and where I'm headed in the upcoming year.

2009 began with my first trip to India and ended with a new friend's first trip to Sydney. In between, I experienced a host of interesting events, which I will attempt to sum up briefly here.

3rd January 2009: I return home from a Christmas trip to Phoenix.

4th January 2009: I depart for New Dehli, India for a week long business trip. I know what you're thinking: how does one survive a 15-hour flight from the United States to Australia, only to turn around and take another 13-hour flight to India from Australia? The answer: business class upgrade on my LAX to Sydney flight!

My week in India was fascinating and grueling at the same time. I had a class with 20 students, but also managed to get in the sights of the city with some fellow co-workers, as well as a day trip to see the Taj Mahal. As impressive as the structure is, it is still a tomb. I prefer monuments to the living, which is why skyscrapers have always fascinated me.

Over the several months after the trip, I began settling into my new life in Sydney more and more. I made some new friends and attended my very first Australian Football League game. I am not much for sport, but I found the AFL game fast moving and exciting.

Throughout the year I had several out of country visitors, starting with my old friend Daniel who flew down from Montréal en route to Bali and then back to Sydney again to spend several days with me. In August I welcomed my parents to Australia for an entire month and practically exhausted them, I think, with escapades all over Sydney, as well as to the Hunter Valley, Melbourne, and Port Douglas in North Queensland. Finally in December my friends Randy and John came down for several weeks to experience summer in winter, so to speak. It was John's first trip down, so I was amused to see his reaction to Sydney and to my eclectic mix of friends and neighbours. We even attended a number of parties and partook in Janets Pies, which are about the best I've had in the area. John is now a huge fan of the meat pie!

If my first year in Sydney was a little solitary, then the second has turned out to be much less so. After careful thought and planning (is there any other way?) I decided to move to a larger apartment away from the centre of the city. I found a lovely little townhouse apartment in Alexandria, which is an inner city suburb not too far from the Sydney Airport. At the same time, it is still only minutes away from my office, so it was no compromise for me. I fell in love with it the minute I walked in. Two full bedrooms and bathrooms. The guest bedroom downstairs even has its own bathroom, so my guests needn't bother coming upstairs. It also has a decent sized balcony with doors that open all the way. Perfect for entertaining!

The nicest surprise of the new neighbourhood is the Love Grub cafe, just downstairs from me. The staff and patrons alike are friendly and full of life. Within weeks, I'd met several new people, many of whom I call friends now. Thanks to the Love Grub, I met Wendy and Daniel, a lovely couple who run a photography studio up the street from me. I was even able to take their beginner's course at the end of 2009. In October, Jacqui and Justin - who run the Love Grub - moved into the unit next to mine. And to round things out, Jacqui's sister Domonique lives in the one-bedroom apartment just above the cafe. Domi quipped that we've become Melrose Place, and I tend to agree!

2009 was not without its sorrows, too. In September my dear friend's mother passed away after many years of battling cancer. The loss of Marilyn was a terrible blow to the family and to me, too. I even dedicated my first blog post to her. It was my way of ensuring that her memory lives on. She is sorely missed.

I have deliberately skipped discussing politics in this article, for the obvious reason that I do not wish to engage in topics of little value to me these days. Until a man of integrity and principle rises to steer my home country back towards its proper founding ideals, I will have little to say on the matter.

In closing, I'd like to recommend my two favourite films of the year: Up and Julie & Julia, which I have discussed in greater detail in previous articles. Both appealed to my childlike sense of wonder at the world I live in, as well as my admiration for great achievements in life. And yes, two of my goals in 2010 are to perfect Julia's Boeuf à la bourguignonne AND to de-bone a duck. Take that, Julie Powell!

Here is to a fruitful and value-laden 2010!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Who Should I Be?

What kind of man do I want to be? When I was a boy, I frequently asked myself that question. In the mind of a small boy, the question is too abstract, so it frequently takes the form of 'what do I want to be when I grow up?' A child understands what people are based on the adults he observes around him: my father worked for a newspaper, Mr Casey next door worked in the food business, still another neighbour was an architect who designed the new swimming pool complex at my local high school. All three men were productive in one way or another, so I thought it perfectly normal to aspire to the same.

As I grew older, I began to grasp the specifics of the work these men did. My father was an editor for a city newspaper and contributed to the quality of the end product. Mr Casey was a food broker who bought and sold products not for direct consumption by everyday people, but for bridging the gap between producers and sellers. Mr Kahler had to know an enormous amount about structural engineering and aesthetics to produce sound, elegant and practical buildings. I never once thought there were other types of men - men who existed to seek advancement in life not by their skills, but by their ability to seek influence.

Today, of course, as a fully-grown man, I understand all too well the type of men who exist not for the sake of their own abilities, but who stand in the way of those who do. This brings me back to my initial question, which I can now state in the present tense: what kind of man am I? People who know me well can answer easily: I am a man who seeks out achievements, wherever they may be. When I get an idea in my head about a future project, I observe, think, plan and act. It never occurs to me to consider the opinions of others, nor does it worry me. I may get an idea for some new achievement based on a conversation I've had, but the work itself is its own motivation for me.

As a teenager, I decided I was going to become fluent in French. A worthy goal, right? Some expressed doubt that I was capable of mastering a second language well after the muscles to produce the sounds of French had atrophied in my mouth. As it turns out, for me they hadn't, and so I was able to mimic the sounds of French effortlessly. The looking in the mirror exercises that the teacher had recommended were unnecessary, so I didn't do them. The teacher was never the wiser for it. It was easy for me and I loved it. I always got the best marks in French class and happily continued acquiring vocabulary and more complex verbal constructions.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, there were a number of fellow students who resented me for my skills. They thought I was haughty and a show-off. They thought I was the teacher's pet. This attitude became clearer to me years later as a student at the Université Laval in Québec City. I recall one afternoon sitting in the student coffee lounge, overhearing a conversation two English Canadians were having with one another. Apparently I was an offensive jerk for refusing to speak English and becoming part of the Anglophone community. I thought: how odd that these women I didn't even know would concern themselves with my life. What was it to them really? I had neither harmed nor maligned these two strangers. I simply went about my business.

I began to formulate the idea that some people do not live their lives to seek out achievement, but rather to malign those who do - or worse, attempt to stop them from attaining success in life. These are men and women whose driving force in their lives is envy of others. Envy is that emotion that moves people not to admire ability - as I do - but to denigrate it.

Why, I wondered. Why do people care what others do? What do they hope to gain? Why the focus on others when they could be expending that same energy achieving for themselves? As I moved into the work world, the same ugly emotions manifested themselves in the men and women who took pleasure in playing office politics. Another concept emerged for me: the notion that some people prefer to curry favour rather than do their jobs. They want desperately to be liked, but do everything in their power to sabotage legitimate business relationships. Time and again I have seen this play out in my current job, but because I have a rational and high achieving boss, every attempt at treachery in the office is thwarted. The schemers are always cut off at the pass and wonder why they never succeed at their task.

I could become a cynic. I could conclude that men are rotten to the core. I could proclaim that these creatures seeking to suck the lifeblood out of others are the rule, not the exception. Human history is rife with examples of envy destroying good people: Socrates, Galileo and even Bill Gates who did nothing so odious as to produce software that others wanted at prices they were willing to pay. And yet, I pay these examples no heed. I know that, despite the evil intentions of some men, vast achievements are all around us to admire. When I walk down the gleaming streets of Sydney and Melbourne, I see high achievement in the skyscrapers and shop windows. When I enter the Apple Store in Sydney, I see employees and patrons alike marvelling at the array of fantastic products available to the public at large. When I order my strong flat white coffee in the morning from my local cafe, I watch admiringly as the barista prepares my delicious beverage for me.

In all my years of living, I have never worried what other people thought of me. I have only concerned myself with my own goals. I realise that I am the kind of man who exists to live fully, and even though there are bumps in the road and occasional set-backs, nothing stops me from that singular focus.

What kind of man are you?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Interlude

Hello friends and followers,

As you can see, my blogging of late has been non-existent. Fear not! Due to a busy work schedule and visiting friends from the US, my writing has been on the back burner. I fully intend to continue with the momentum very shortly. I have heaps of new topics and here's a shocker: I may weigh in on the nonsense that is 'climate change'.

Stay tuned and Christmas wishes to all!