Women of Letters - Anxiety and Shame

  9780143783947

I spoke at Women of Letters in October last year. The book is out today. Hooray! My appointed topic was 'A letter to the thorn in my side'.

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Hey Anxiety, hey Shame,

Life is much better on the other side of you. If I didn’t call you out, you most certainly would’ve overtaken me.

So, I guess, thank you? Even though there were awful moments. And if I dig deep enough, I’d find the solution to the many ways you manifest. Then I figure out the very reason why you were around me in the first place.

And if I learn from you properly, you’re a lesson of Shadow and Gold.

Anxiety

The Shadow

Age seventeen, 2001. Melbourne suburbs. A fitting for my year twelve formal. The first time I ever had a panic attack. I was dry-retching in my dress.

Why was I not as excited as every other girl in my class? Why did I feel like a major killjoy? And why was my stale attitude towards this ‘celebration’ on par with a Maths Methods exam or the beep test in P.E.?

The Gold

My first proper gay-girl date. Age thirty, March 2015, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She walked towards the cafe, coyly smiled, and gave a small wave. She looked like a young Alicia Keys. I almost died.

We stood in James Turrell’s centrepiece, ‘Breathing Light’. Hues of purple to pink to red shifted around us. And when I turned my head towards her, her freckles glowed. Her joy and beauty made me feel gooey inside.

No one can take that moment away from me.

That moment meant that my feelings were valid.

That moment meant there’s a place for me in the world.

And life, finally, made so much sense.

Shame

The Shadow

Kindergarten. Age five, sometime close to Christmas,1989. Art shame on a crafternoon.

It sounds so silly now, but it cut deep.

I shared my table with three other children; we were each given sheets of paper with an outline of a Christmas tree. And in the middle of the table were cotton balls, and bits and bobs, and glue.

We got to work. Minutes later, I looked up and noticed that everyone’s tree looked the same. A perfect zigzag of decorations, just like the very design the nun had held up in front of us earlier.

Then there was mine, a freestyle, joyful mess. Overloaded with cotton balls and glitter pieces and pipe cleaner. It was fabulous… to me.

I was told off in front of the other kids. The vibe: my pure idiocy. How could I have not known the instructions, especially if every other kid in the class knew? My creativity came to a sluggish stop.

It wasn’t until a routine doctor visit months later that the adults found out my ears were blocked and needed grommets. By then my creativity was dormant.

The Gold 

2 April, 2016 – a week before my thirty-second birthday. Mum’s house, Melbourne. Ella, my five-year-old niece, flies from interstate with my brother for a visit.

It was cold outside and I had few resources in the house. So I grabbed some coloured pens and sheets of paper from the printer.

Ella outlined our hands on two sheets and started to draw in one of her fingers.

I looked at the outline of my hands and asked myself, ‘How do I make this look good?’ Then I asked Ella, ‘What should I do?’ She shrugged: ‘You can do anything you want.’

I watched her. Swirls in one finger, polka dots in another, and the Tooth Fairy in her index finger.

Slowly, I became unbounded, liberated. Ella showed me there were no rules. I drew teddy bears and zigzags. She taught me how to draw snowflakes. She encouraged me and said my worked looked pretty. And I complimented her work in return.

This was a far cry from what I experienced at age five. It was fun, like how art and craft should be.

So you know, shame, I can't stop drawing or making things now. And I’m crafting felt toys.

Life is better. Life is so much better.

I’m picking up from when I was truly me.

Love,

Faustina

On the way to equality, the baton passes on.

Hey friends, really trying to stay positive here. Felt the vibe was best when I delivered a speech at the launch of Australia's first LGBTI Awards at the Sydney Opera House on Friday. Please take a read. Sending love. lgbtiawards

I'd like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of this land. And Respects to those who have fallen on this Remembrance Day.

When I heard about the first annual LGBTI awards a few months ago, I was elated. I instantly thought, this is a much needed cultural event, and more thrilled as the awards also champions the support and care of our straight allies. This matters, as we strive for inclusion.

I've spent much of the past few years in the US and been out for just two years.

And I'm sure, like a lot of you, if not all, I've been making sense of the events over the year, the past few months, and particularly the past few days.

My views are through the lens of being a woman of colour. Seeing what I've seen, traveling through the south where the confederate flag still flies high, to seeing old slave shacks on former tobacco plantations. Then in more socially progressive states in the US, like marching at LA Pride the morning after the Orlando tragedy, all while being abreast of the news back home - like the delays in marriage equality.

It can easily feel like a burden being a minority. A struggle. And at times, very lonely. We all have our moments. And when "our moments” intersect with news so defeating it makes you numb. We want to throw in the towel. I had one of those moments this morning. But I told myself to show up.

I looked for hope. And a lot of what I was reading wasn't helping. Soon, my mind turned to a play I saw in 2011 on Broadway called The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. The Mountaintop is based in the black civil rights era, and I often compare the movement with gay rights.

There are two characters in this play, Martin Luther King (who was played by Samuel L Jackson) and the motel maid, Camae (played by Angela Bassett). This play, fictional, though taken from real events is set the night before Martin Luther King's assassination.

Camae delivers a cup of coffee requested by Dr. King, they end up having an hour of deep conversation and (sorry to those who haven't yet seen the play) Camae turns out to be an angel of death. She tells Dr. King that he's to die the next day, and that she's been sent to take him to the other side.

Dr. King pleads with Camae - saying how much work he still needs to get done. For his vision to be complete. Then, accepting his fate, Dr. King wants to see what the future looks like after he dies. He asks Camae, "Is the future is as beautiful as you?" Camae very wisely replies, "Yes... and it's as ugly as me, too." 

It's then that Camae rips into a stunning monologue paired with images of the decades that follow - the good, the bad, the ugly of America and the world, of legislation, events (Katrina, Sept 11) African Americans (Spike Lee, Run DMC Tupac, Oprah, Biggie), slogans, "I'm black and I'm PROUD", to a Black President! She exclaims;

"The baton passes on! The baton passes on!

The baton passes on!  The baton passes on!"

And so here we are.

We’re not at The Mountaintop. But when we look behind to see how far we've come in gay rights, a lot of baton passing has happened. Its passed from the people who were once silent and lives were taken, to those who risked their safety and their livelihoods in the first Mardi Gras gathering. To openly gay and thriving Australian politicians like Senator Penny Wong, the heart-felt apology from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, to gay formals for high school kids, to a rainbow Qantas logo, a gayer presence on mainstream media than we've ever seen, to cracker journalists like LGBTI reporter, Lane Sainty at Buzzfeed, to Benjamin Law's literary genius, to seeing equal marriage in every English speaking country - to championing for our own. To our first LGBTI Awards. Every bit matters. Every person matters. The baton passes on.

So thank you to Awards Director, Silke Bader for accepting the baton once more, to adding to the celebrations, in the way the gay people know how. And thanks to you all for being here. There will always be ugliness but here's to more positive change; where we can feel a lot less lonely, where we can live in the world as true equals. Any step forward by our LGBTI community is a shared victory. The baton passes on.

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The first Inaugural LGBTI Awards is now open for public voting. You can vote here.

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My interview with The Pin

The Pin: On The Pin today: Faustina Agolley - DJ FUZZY  who made a comment particularly relevant to the recent tragedy that occurred in Orlando.

"Being a visible member of the LGBTQIA+ community is important in a time where there is systemic, obvious and covert homophobia, where Australia is the last English speaking country to not have marriage equality, where LGBTQIA+ people are six times more likely to suffer depression and take their own life, where people purposefully inflict violence on LGBTQIA+ people."

This has been my most gratifying interview to date. An open discussion about Race, Identity, Culture. Read it all here.

FaustinaThePin

DJ Fuzzy's Oprah Tour Mixtape x Thump x VICE

I made a mixtape of the 'An Evening Oprah' Tour. Thank you Thump for saying it's "banger after banger."

You can find the mix here.

And here's the full interview with Thump's Editor, Issy Beech.

What was it like DJing for Oprah?

More than my dreams come true.

From being glued to the tele, watching Oprah as a kid, then to fast forward fifteen years later and see Oprah in the flesh, dancing and twirling and asking for the volume to be turned up on choice cuts had me saying to myself, “Is this for real?! Is this really happening right now?! Cause I’m about to lose my marbles. Scream joy on the inside, Fo-Fo.”

Then to play a broad range of party songs and anthems to thousands of joyous Oprah fans while also giving Oprah the best possible lead-in - it was so humbling and such a privilege.

What is she like in person?

Graceful and full of love. When you’re in her orbit she gives you her full attention. And she gives the best cuddles.

Did you get an idea of her favourite song or genre or anything?

Personally, based on the time Oprah was born and the guests she’s had on the show, I knew Oprah particularly liked Motown.

I researched Oprah and found out that Paul Simon’s Graceland is one of her favourite albums.

Oprah loves Adele’s 25, particularly the song, “Send My Love To Your New Lover” so that got played in every city.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Higher Ground” are songs that Oprah personally chose for the show. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was played right before Oprah hit the stage.

And Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” was Oprah’s entrance song. It’s what Oprah is all about. “Going to keep on trying, until I reach my highest ground.”

And what are her fan base or VIP fans like?

Put up to 15,000 people, dressed to the nines in an arena anticipating seeing Oprah for the first time – or for some, the 7th or 17th time – the excitement is palpable.

Her VIP session was with fans who came in early to have a personal Q&A, take photos with her and sit up close to the stage for the show. They reminded me of how influential she’s been over decades – some of the fans opened up to Oprah to thank her for helping them overcome enormous personal struggles. It got emotional.

One cool moment – a man proposed to his girlfriend at the end of the Auckland show.

Big love to Issy at Thump, Josh at Vice, the Harpo Famly, Dainty Group, IMC, P-Money for his NZ intel, Nina Las Vegas for her ableton hot tip, KLP for her sister "rising tide" vibes and Caro Meldrum-Hanna for her awesomeness and filming the Oprah party in Sydney.

Sunday Life Article: "It's My Party"

Dear friends, In the lead up to co-hosting SBS' coverage of the Sydney Mardi Gras, Sunday Life asked for me to write a piece about coming out in the age of social media. Please enjoy! Love, Faustina.

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Sometimes the smallest action can set off a powerful chain of events. If I hadn’t chosen to dine alone one summer’s night two years ago, I may not have come to the realisation that I am a lesbian, nor have had the confidence to come out at a time when equality is still an issue in Australia. I’m sure my dinner for one was the reason why Brenda, then a stranger - with friends Michelle and Helen - initiated a conversation.

I had returned to London, the city where I was born, for work. The UK is renowned for creative television and I wanted to explore my options. My initial encounter with Bren, Mich and Helen was brief, but the instant connection I felt led us to make plans for later that week.

While Mich and Helen bailed, Bren showed up, a bright, direly Irish red heart with blue, jewel-like eyes and a chatty vivacious demeanour. And with the comfort of my anonymity, I felt secure to completely open up.

Bren had just come out of a relationship with a woman. I was shocked. Up until that point I assumed she was straight. Then she told me about Mich and Helen, a couple who had been together for almost a decade. The shock and surprise gave away to a sense of belonging. As she swiped through photos on their Instagram, particularly photos of Mich who, like me, is mixed-race, I thought “These are my people! This is me!”

It took a few more hours to drum up the courage to admit it out loud. As Brenda suggested we go and check out some men for me, I found myself saying, “I haven’t really told anyone his before but… I’m gay.”

No men entered our orbit that night other than the waiters who plied us with espresso martinis while a deep and meaningful conversation ensued til 3am. I had made a true ally and a friendship with a woman I felt I had known forever.

I went home and cried waves of emotions into my pillow, an outpouring of 30 years of repressed feelings. Elated, but also frustrated that it had taken so long. My mind was connecting all the dots; the feelings towards women when I was a kid and how I shut it down because I didn’t think it was right. All the gay slurs I’d heard - and even used myself - during my ignorant high school years.

I was making sense of all my social anxiety. The random - yet clearly intentional - gay girl dreams in my mid-20s; the steams of thoughts I’d never dare entertain. Then a bigger wave hit me - the overwhelming relating of having to tell my family and friends. What would they think of me? What did I think of me? I was realising the truth, hurt and emotion that comes with being a "minority of one”.

This idea is summed up succinctly in Magda Szubanski’s memoir, Reckoning “The crucial difference between Lesbian Gay Transgender Bisexual Intersex and Questioning people and other minorities is this: in every minority group the family ashes the minority status. In fact, it is often something that unites them. But gay people are a minority within the family.”

I wanted that summer with Bren, Mich and Helen to last for an eternity. They became my tribe. Life finally made sense. In their company, I felt whole. And never in my life had I felt so alive.

In LA, while armed with this new-found sense of self, I was apprehensive - no, terrified of dating. I delayed the obvious next step and borrowed a lesbian-living-how-to-guide from the library. When I told Bren she was bewildered. “What are you doing with an A-Z of lesbianism? Put the bloody book down and get out there!”

I told my family and a handful of friends. In the week leading up to my birthday I considered using the occasion to come out. I knew that being vocal in some way, would allow someone, out there, to feel the same sense of support. To extend the strength that Bren, Mich and Helen had given to me. And, in this small-worldly digital age, I also wanted to ensure the message came from me.

So in a gorgeous neighbourhood cafe in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, I got together with a small group of friends to celebrate with a rainbow cake. After the birthday party, I posted my coming-out blog on my site, then an image from the night on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. By then, it was late afternoon back in Australia.

The response was breathtaking, with Snapchats and direct messages on Instagram from young girls and boys caught in a time I had just left. The tribe had expanded. They told me they felt included, more comfortable with who they are, some even wanting to celebrate with their own rainbow cake!

I’ve met incredible, intelligent women over the past year. Women who counsel gay youth on suicide prevention lines (in a time where LGBTQI people are much more likely to suffer depression and take their own lives than heterosexuals), journalists, academics and writers with impressive and inspiring bodies of work, to teachers and lawyers.

I’ve learnt about the evolution and need for events like the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, now in it’s 38th year. I’m grateful to be out at a time when equality has become the centre of political and cultural debate. Not all of it is pretty, but every inch toward an equal society helps. My small decision to accept an offer of conversation from strangers helped me in ways I could never have imagined. How incredible would it be if we all acted, in some small way, to help eradicate the notion of a “minority of one” and instead foster acceptance for all.

My small decision to accept an offer of conversation from strangers helped me in ways I could never have imagined. How incredible would it be if we all acted, in some small way, to help eradicate the notion of a “minority of one” and instead foster acceptance for all.

Decisiveness

Decisiveness is an admirable quality in a person. You give clarity to a situation after thinking it through.

You're honest with the way you feel.

Decisiveness is respected in others because you don't string them along or leave them wondering.

Though on tender decisions, those that involve matters of the heart, requires a way to articulate yourself in the kindest and empathic way possible.

Trust life's unpredictability

I used to be hell bent on plans. I thought that's all we're meant to do - plan and achieve. So many plans were made that I left little room for anything else. Like, taking note of all the that was naturally happening within me and around me. I dulled that awareness and and allowed my stubborn-goal-driven-brain to take over.

That meant, by the time I could achieve/execute/seal the deal, it was sometimes a force fit. All to remain proud and committed to my goals. "Because it's the right thing to do." "Because I have to." "I've wanted this my whole life."

Then two years ago, someone who I seek counsel in told me that I wasn't really in control of my life. Life and its spontenaiety is what really happens. I had to take notice and go with it.

This idea frightened me. Up until that moment I thought I was boss.

Yet when I reflected on my life, I figured out that despite the fact that I had ticked off a whole lot of what I wanted to do, disappointment also came when I committed to a plan that I knew intuitively didn't serve me at that time.

So I started to learn to let go, relax a little. And that wasn't easy...

Letting go doesn't mean be lazy and complacent, it means loosen the tight grip on life and one's so-called future achievements.

It also meant that I didn't rest on my achievements, I gave permission to enjoy the process of being present.

It was a new way of living. I had to accept that I was uncomfortable a lot of the time as previously, I'd have blinkers on. I'd be so driven meant that there wasn't room for openness.

So why do I trust life's unpredictability?

My time in England last year showed me how.

This time, last year, I wandered through England to see family and pursue work opportunities.

I initially intended to only be there for a month. In that time, it was a challenge to pin people down for meetings because it was Summer.

Family commitments took over. The tragic passing of family friend's parents meant it was all hands on deck packing up homes, looking after my niece and seeing off some of my family to Australia.

After my initial planned month, work meetings kicked in again. I then had to find a base to continue working remotely, which had me in Shoreditch.

And on this date, last year, while having an early dinner and working away on my laptop was when I met the women who made me realise that I was gay. The women that I have a unique and unparalleled bond to.

Four weeks turned to nine weeks and I fell more deeply in love with life and its surprises. No part of my imagination could've have had me expecting anything of what I experienced.

Had I remained stubborn old me and only chose to be in London for a month, I would have been sore about not getting the meetings I wanted, worried about the next work related thing instead of being present with my family, I would've delayed a necessary life realisation, missed core friendships.

Sometimes it is all too easy to say, "go with the flow", "surrender", "just be." It takes a shift in the mind to practice it.

The only thing we can do is do our best, moment to moment, and show up for what life has to bring each day. Your plans can change, and that's okay. In fact, it's more than okay.

Marriage Equality: 7 In 10 Australians Want Me To Be Happy

I see an Australia even better than it is now. An Australia that allows its people to love who they love and live a life they want for themselves. A government which backs marriage equality will finally give value to all people, and lift a weight off the shoulders of those who have had it too hard for too long.

I write from personal experience, as an Australian living abroad where marriage is legal, and from the shared experience of my friends.

Tomorrow marks a year since I met the group of women who I felt safe enough to come out to. These are the women who gave me my voice and allowed me to step into a confidence that I had never known. I was in England when I met them, a country that passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013.

For the first time, life made sense to me. Two of my British friends, both professionals and over 40, have been in a relationship for 10 years, they share a home together and have a law that supports them. As soon as I was introduced to their world, my own life was realised, I kept saying to myself, “this is me."

The same feeling swept over me when the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. I currently live in Los Angeles. While same-sex marriage has been enacted in some parts of the US since 2008, to have nation-wide support on this human right made me feel visible, protected, and cared for in the eyes of the law and in every one of the 50 U.S. states. I felt connected to my gay friends more than ever and it gave us all a sense of belonging.

And in April of this year, when I had enough courage to come out, words had new meaning to me. I felt immense joy for knowing who I am. And the word pride had true gravitas, as for so long I felt different, confused and at times, ashamed.

I had a pretty happy upbringing, but I can’t help but think that it was our society’s derision and rejection of openly gay people that drove my sexuality so deep within me that it made it challenging for me to come out.

I’m old enough to know that I am not the only one that had a hard time with this. The stats around anxiety, depression and suicide rank higher than our hetero-sexual counterparts. A study by Concordia University, California says that those that are lesbian, gay or bisexual and exposed to homophobia are 14 times more likely to take their own life.

The rejection continues with the exclusion of same sex couples from legal marriage.

Polls show that more than 70 percent of Australians want the ability for people to live and love whoever they want, regardless of gender.

This is our opportunity to move from the sidelines, from supporting from a distance the forward thinking of nations like Ireland, New Zealand, England and the US, to joining them as leader in an important and necessary change.

Australia is so close to marriage equality. So much closer to equal respect. And so much closer to acknowledging its citizens as equals.

I’m hopeful that soon we’ll be able to increase the pride in our own country, and celebrate a government that supports the view of the majority of Australians, and continues to build a reputation for celebrating diversity.

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This blog post also features in the launch issue of Huffington Post Australia

Getting to that next point: Enjoy the process

Thinking of all the people working hard to get to that next point. The chase.

Quite often we can get bogged down. We become impatient, frustrated, restless. We long for the result. The end game.

Looking/saving for a house.

Bummed because we got turned down for a grand opportunity.

Worn down by another crappy date.

Stressed over the final product of a creative project.

In this time we miss out on the joy of the process -  we forget that we're learning great things along the way, connecting with amazing people, being exposed to new ideas.

If we remember to enjoy the process and be grateful with where we're at, a far more enjoyable experience can be had.

We weigh less of our happiness on results and we learn to live a happier, more mindful life, moment to moment.

And in that time, it can open ourselves to more opportunities than we couldn't have imagined.

Flight Mode

Flight mode is the best mode to get anything done. To block the noise. To not be pulled in 10 different directions.

Your friends will be there when you turn flight mode back on.

What I learnt from Jason Collins - NBA's first active gay player

Heard Jason Collins, NBA's first active gay player at the Los Angeles LGBT Center last week. Jason was in conversation with Chris Kluwe, a former NFL player who's advocacy for gay rights lead to his dismissal. Chris said that any closeted player would not be able to play to their full potential if they weren't able to be entirely themselves. The moderator asked Jason if he would he have been a better player through his career if he had come out earlier.

Jason said that in the NBA, the star players with the spotlight on them are those that score points. He excelled as a defender, though when he played offensively he wouldn't be anywhere near as good.

Jason admitted that he he didn't want to be exposed as a good offensive player that netted shots. He didn't want the spotlight - hence excelling as an defender and a "team player"... not a star.

He would worry about the attention he would receive if he did score points, that the press would then ask questions about his personal life. He didn't want the press to pry into the fact that he was 30 with no girlfriend. And he didn't want to lie about a girlfriend that was out of town that couldn't show up to games.

This, in addition to remaining silent when homophobic conversations were had in locker rooms.

He's adamant that's this is the reason why he couldn't be a better offensive player.

Self sabotage shaped by the society we live in.

When you're sad, give it the right attention

Had a heart to heart with a good friend recently. We were both kinda bummed out by life events. His friends wanted to take him out to drink at a fancy bar that night. He was reluctant.

It's nice to go out and be cheered up by your friends. But when you're in a temporary funk, sometimes you just want to be alone and let sadness do its thing.

When I asked him what he really wanted to do, his eyes lit up. "I want to buy some pineapple juice, pour it on ice, go home burn incense and watch 90s television."

I replied, "Then say to your friends, 'good idea, but not tonight' and go do your own thing. Sit in it."

He relished in his pineapple juice and 90s TV. That night, I chowed on raw veggies, called home to Mum and taught myself new things on Ableton Live.

I felt like a new woman the next day. And I know we were both much happier that we gave sadness the right attention.

Sleep better

I used to lie awake, toss and turn and grind my teeth in bed. I worried about what would lie ahead or what happened in the past. I used to over think a lot. There would be moments of respite, broken sleep, then I'd get up for the day, exhausted. I sleep soundly now.

Meditation had a lot to do with it. Meditation, twice a day - first thing in the morning and right before dinner. My mind puts worries into context, I'm humbled by past similar experiences, look to solutions and get on with it.

When I first got minimalism

Late last year, my home got flooded. A pipe burst in the street and my bedroom copped it. I had to clear out my belongings and allow the lengthy process of drying and repairing to take place. My first thoughts went to a regular news theme -  houses taken over by natural floods and fires. Adults by their tattered homes, grateful for their lives and only wishing they could have saved their family photos.

Images of memories, past experiences.

Nothing else mattered.

At that time, nothing else mattered than to fly to see a friend to celebrate her birthday. I didn't want to let her down. The flood spoiled the plan.

I then looked at all the "stuff". The stuff that was in the long slim storage box that sat under the bed. The telescope I bought two years prior. All the stuff I didn't use.

I then looked at other rooms, put everything into audit and I realised I didn't have attachment to any of it. Not that Vitamix I dreamed of for ages and thought I desperately needed. Not that teepee I deemed of pitching in the backyard that sat unused in my wardrobe for a year. Not the fancy kitchen knives or pots, not the countless number of clothes, not the hardly-if-ever worn baseball caps and not all the damn shoes.

The stuff I cared for were the things that I took with me everywhere I went: access to funds, keys, a pen and pad to write my thoughts, my phone, my laptop for work. Access to enough clothes, at least one rotation to fit into a work/social scene. The only indulgences were some incense sticks and a travelling drip coffee filter. Indulgences I could easily live without.

It was then that I was certain that experience was far greater than things... stuff.

Although I had to be responsible to the condition of the house, being forced in that state made me question my relationship with what I owned.

The internal monologue: If it's not being used regularly, can it be sold, given away, donated, borrowed instead? Why collect anything but experience and memories? Hats are meant to be worn, not collected for novelty. Have one cap not 20. Use it to its death or give it away. Hand over those uncomfortable heels to those who'd appreciate them. Those books, all those books, give them away. Go to the LA Public library and borrow them instead.

Sell those electronics, make that quick buck. Add it to your flight fund for frequent trips to see your dear friends.

A life of minimalism: keep only what you use, often. The rest can come and go. It means less stuff to think about and more attention to what matters most.

Start with courage

Everything is less intimidating - When you get started.

When you're committed.

When you practice.

When you learn from your errors.

When you take full responsibility.

When you allow the process to take longer than you expected.

Start with courage.

In life, there's only one thing that matters: How much did I love?

One night, I thought I was I was near the end of my life. I was on a Geography field trip with my University class in New Zealand and we had woken up to a tsunami warning. We evacuated our dorms and rushed up a mountain. We reached a point where our professor thought we'd be safe, though I sure as hell didn't feel like we were. Our class stood in the dark and looked out to the ocean… waiting.

I thought I was being handed my biggest fear - to be taken out by the scariest of natural disasters. Then some interesting thoughts came to me.

I quickly got over the grimness that my fate would be death following some tough growth through 15 years of school. I was getting started on life! I just landed my first boyfriend dammit! And then, I surrendered. I looked up to the sky to acknowledge whatever/whoever gave me a life and said, "thank you”.

It was then I realised that nature was bigger than me. I didn't get to decide if I can stick around. That whatever/whoever did.

The next thought delivered me my grand realisation. That was, "How much did I love?"

That question I posed to myself meant two things: how much did I care for living a life that was true to me? And did I devote the time and energy to my family and friends that they're so deserving of?

Gladly, I felt at ease with it. And if, at that moment, those were the number of years I were to be handed, then I had accomplished all I could do. And I was at peace with being ready to leave earth with loving thoughts of my family. Some people don't even get the opportunity to assess their life before they go, so I was thankful for that too.

You may have seen an article in an email forward or float on your Facebook feed: Top five regrets of the dying. Number five is the one that informs all points in the article and most importantly, how we should live. And that is, "I wish I had let myself be happier”.

The excerpt:

"Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

This is a daily quest. And though I was resolute back then, I'm reminded most days of the preciousness of life.

That night, thankfully, the tsunami didn’t come. But I know I’m not going to be living on this planet forever.

How much do I love? It matters with everything I do, every experience I have and everyone I share life with.

Deep Listening

Means full attention on your friend, to find empathy in what they're saying. It means less personalising, especially in your response. "Oh that's like what I'm going through with so and so..." - unless it's entirely relevant.

It means no distractions, like typing on your laptop or tidying your house while they open up over the phone, or texting while they talk at the table.

It means not laughing off what they're saying because you weren't prepared for a vulnerable conversation.

When there's genuine listening the other friend notices. The bond grows stronger because they're visible. Their words are valid. And there's trust.

You may not have answers or solutions, but listening is enough. Most of the time, it's the best support a friend can give.