Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Way We Live: The one about running

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 30 JANUARY 2011

I’ve started running. “Running” of course being code for shuffling along like Cliff Young. Well without the short shorts. And the osteoarthritis. It’s hard to believe but I was fit once.    In fact five years ago I weighed ten kilos less than I do now.  I had muscle tone. I could do push-ups. I could run on a treadmill for an hour.  So what happened?  I got married. I said “I do” and then minutes later pulled a chair up to the fridge and started eating.  ‘All bets are off,’ I said to Brad. Well I would’ve said that if my mouth hadn’t been full of lasagne.

I should’ve had “Caveat Emptor” stamped on my forehead.

Since then I’ve exercised on and off.  Mainly off.  Although I do recall running for a bus in April 2009.   This is not helped by the fact I’m an emotional eater. Something to celebrate? Eat cake!  Dealing with bad news? Eat cake!  Feeling anxious, scared, grumpy, tired? Eat cake! Feel like eating cake? Eat cake! And let me assure you, I have never in my life uttered the sentence, “Gosh I was so busy I forgot to eat today!” Who are those people?  I’m thinking about lunch while I’m eating breakfast.

But I digress.  Lately my health and fitness has been, how do you say, in the toilet?  You know things are bad when you’re out of breath just walking up a few stairs. My exercise shoes and I were no longer speaking. So my gorgeous girlfriends stepped in.  They got together and bought me some personal training sessions. A lot of personal training sessions.  $1500 worth of personal training sessions with some guy called Jason, if we’re going to be precise.

It wasn’t about losing weight, they said.  It was about feeling fit.  Feeling strong again.  Putting down the cake fork and stepping outside.  I was thrilled. I spent the first few weeks staring at my voucher, eating cake and imagining my head on Jennifer Hawkin’s body.  Eventually Brad pointed out that I was actually going to have to USE the voucher.  Apparently it doesn’t work by osmosis.

The first time Jason arrived at our house, Brad looked out the window, took one look at Jason and then patted me on the arm and said, “Yeah. Good luck with that.”

Jason looks like the Commando from The Biggest Loser. That’s right. My personal trainer has the looks of the Commando and the personality of, well, The Commando.  Put it this way, during out first training session we went for a walk.  A fast walk. Up hills.  And whenever we hit traffic lights he made me do squats.  Yep.

But eight weeks later I’m feeling great.  I’ve lost a few centimetres.  I can manage push-ups. And I can even run. Well, shuffle. But best of all I’m feeling strong. As for cake and me? We’re no longer speaking.

The Way We Live: The One About Writers on Rafts ….

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 23 JANUARY 2011

I want you to go find five dollars. Right now. Go see if you’ve got a five-dollar note in your purse or wallet.  I’ll wait.

You see for five dollars I’m going to give you the chance to win Nick Earls. Or Frances Whiting. Or those two cheerful blonde women behind those 4 Ingredients cook books who have the MacGyver-like ability to make lasagne from a biro and a bit of string.

For the past ten days I’ve been working with the Queensland Writers Centre on Writers on Rafts – a sort of literary-aid to raise money for the Premier’s Flood Relief Fund. Our initial idea was simple. We would  “raffle off” some local Brisbane authors to book clubs, writing groups and schools as a way to raise a few funds for flood victims. Maybe even convince some authors to name their characters after members of the public.

But what started off as a little initiative involving half a dozen Brisbane authors has grown into a national initiative involving 130 writers, literary agents and publishers across the country.

So. Back to the five dollar bit.  You need to go to the website www.writersonrafts.com and you’ll see the chance to go in the draw for a range of different experiences. You could win Nick Earls. He’s offering to visit your book club or writing group or your school. My former mentor will spend an hour mentoring you, telling you everything he knows about writing novels.   He’ll probably even make you a cake. Okay I made that bit up. (Although he does make a great cake …). Ever wanted to meet Frances Whiting?  Course you have. She’ll come to your book club and spill the beans on what it’s like writing her weekly column. Actually ask her about the time she met Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson back in the mid-80s.  Better still ask her why she once tried to ripen an avocado in the microwave.  Rachael Bermingham and Kim McCosker == those gorgeous ladies from 4 Ingredients will share their secrets with your book club or writing group and tell you why they chose to self-publish. Then there’s the incredibly talented Ben Law who’s offering a mentoring session on writing non-fiction.  Law knows what he’s talking about.  His memoir, A Family Law, is rarely off the best-seller lists. If you’re an aspiring writer, you can’t go past the chance to have your manuscript read by Kristina Shultz, the Children and Young Adult’s Publisher at UQP.  Meanwhile Kate Hunter and John Birmingham are both offering to name a character after you in their next novels. That’s what you call the ultimate birthday present.  There are loads more experiences on offer. It’s your choice. And it’s just $5.

As for the big fundraiser – “The Ultimate Girlie High Tea”, big plans are underway. Can’t say much but keep Sunday 1st May free.  The list of special guests keeps growing.  (I even got an email of support from Megan Gale!).  For updates go to www.writersonrafts.com or follow me on twitter.com/RebeccaSparrow

The Way We Live: The one about strengths …

SUNDAY MAIL COLUMN FOR SUNDAY 16 JANUARY 2010

To say I’ve been searching for a bit of meaning over the past few months is an understatement.  Grief and trauma will do that to you.  You need a sense of purpose to get you out of bed.

So what’s helped me lately? Lots of things. Friends.  Talking. Exercise.  And reading.

Last year I stumbled upon a book that unexpectedly helped me clarify what I’m meant to be doing with my life.  How do you say, “big call”? Indeed. That book was ‘Go Put Your Strengths To Work’ by Marcus Buckingham.

I’m not usually into self-help books. Okay, I’m a bit into self-help books but I’m not usually into books that promise you a solution to all your problems. But I picked up Buckingham’s book and it changed the way I viewed my career.

So what’s in it? In a nutshell the author theorises that the key to feeling fulfilled by your job is to find one that plays to your strengths.  Um, dur.   But Buckingham explains that actually most of us don’t know what our strengths are.  This is where he began to capture my attention.

Most of us make the obvious mistake of thinking that just because we’re good at something, that it’s automatically one of our strengths.  Instead, according to Buckingham, a strength has to meet four criteria. He uses the acronym SIGN:  Success, Instinct, Growth and Need.

So a strength is something you have success in and something you have a natural instinct for.  But it’s also something you could engage in for hours and barely notice (like practicing the guitar or writing, or solving maths problems or organising and filing documents). Finally, a strength is an activity you have a need to do.  It feeds you. Gives you an absolute buzz.

How many of us have chosen careers based solely on the “success” aspect of SIGN? The high school student who tops accounting assumes they should be studying well, accounting.  The OP1 student assumes they have to do medicine. The popular babysitter thinks she should be in childcare.  But if accounting or medicine or childcare don’t give you that buzz then it’s really not a strength. Conversely, you can be deeply passionate about something – painting, singing, tennis – but if you don’t actually show any natural ability for it, well, it’s really just a hobby – it’s not a strength. The chance of you making a career out of singing if you never even place in any local competitions is pretty slim.  We routinely tell our teenagers that they can “do anything, be anything they want”.  Um, not really.  Sure, follow your dreams but just be smart enough to choose the right ones.

And one last thing:  Writers from all over Australia are banding together to help raise money for people affected by the floods.  Next week I’ll give you all the details about Writers on Rafts and how you can win tickets to the Ultimate Girlie High Tea with Frances Whiting, Jessica Rudd, Emily Jade O’Keefe, Mia Freedman and me.

 

Writers on Rafts: Australian authors helping victims of the Queensland floods


I’m currently working with the Queensland Writers Centre to organise “Writers On Rafts” — a fundraiser for the flood victims in Queensland. 100% of the proceeds will go to the Premier’s Flood Relief Program.
For a tiny ticket price you’ll go in the draw to win:
*  A personal visit to your book club OR school by one of Australia’s best loved writers
OR
* A one-on-one writing workshop or mentoring session with a well-known writer
OR
* A character named after you in an author’s next novel
OR
* A high tea with some of Australia’s best loved female writers
OR
* A whole stack of book packs, signed copies etc etc etc
OR
* a manuscript assessment from a literary agent or publisher
So far we have over 60 writers, publishers and agents onboard including Jessica Adams, Nick Earls, John Birmingham, Kim Wilkins, Jessica Adams, Allison Rushby, Pamela Rushby, Richard Glover, Anita Heiss, Mia Freedman, Tara Moss, Sarah Wilson, Zoe Foster, Emily Jade O’Keefe, Frances Whiting, Erica Bartle, Melina Marchetta, Markus Zusak, Sara Foster, Kate Hunter, Kerri Sackville, Kylie Ladd, Steve Biddulph, Venero Armanno, Josie Montano, Richard Newsome, Pippa Masson from Curtis Brown, University of Queensland Press, Inkwell Management, Rachael & Kim from 4 Ingredients and many, many, many (you get the idea) more.
Website coming soon. Watch this space for details.

The Way We Live: Why Jerry Seinfeld is wrong …

No wonder I’m tired. It seems that I’ve spent the last two years working in recruitment. I looked around at my closest girlfriends the other day and realised that one third of them are newbies. One third of my closest friends are women I’ve known for less than two years (actually one of them has only been in my life for four months). So it appears that in between writing and paying the bills and doing the groceries and trying to trick Ava into eating something other than vegemite sandwiches and blueberries and fish fingers, I’ve been on some kind of recruitment drive. At some point I started shopping for friends; collecting women and signing them up to Team Bec.

I find this a little odd. Mostly because I didn’t realise I actually had any positions vacant.

For years I smugly adopted the infamous Jerry Seinfeld approach to new friendships (as outlined in the Seinfeld episode ‘The Boyfriend’).

“When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now, that’s who you’re going with. You’re not
interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in
seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. They don’t know the activities. If I meet a guy in a club or the gym or
someplace, I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of
potential, but we’re just not hiring right now.”

That was me. Not interested. Not hiring. I couldn’t keep up with the friends I had, the last thing I needed was more people in my life. So what happened? How did I wind up in a situation with so many new friends in my life?

I wised up. And I realised that as much as I love Jerry Seinfeld, he’s wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It’s not new friendships many of us don’t have time for. It’s inauthentic ones.

I’m about to enter the last year of my 30s. What I don’t need are more superficial friendships. Connections that aren’t genuine, which are toxic or draining. Friends who want all the contact time but offer none of the depth. I’m done with that. But I will always have room for more people from my tribe.

To close yourself off from new friends altogether isn’t just arrogant, it’s foolish. An amazing friendship can happen when you least expect it. A great example is my favourite film of 2010 – The King’s Speech. It’s the story of the surprising friendship between King George VI of Britain and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.

It’s the first time in years I’ve been to a movie where the audience cheered and clapped for a character. The King’s Speech was the perfect reminder that some friendships are fated and that out of the blue an amazing new friend can come into your life and change how you see the world. And yourself.

So my motto for 2011?  Position vacant.

The Way We Live – Good intentions and keeping your shirt on ….

This is my favourite week of the year. The year ahead is at its most shiny, its most fresh.  Right now 2011 is perfect and ripe with possibility and potential. Unlike, say, July by which time you’ve gone on breakfast radio and confidently derided the Broncos for taking on Brendon Fevola only to be told he actually plays for the, um, Lions (March); allowed your daughter to eat peanut butter out of the jar if it means she’ll let you finish the feature you’re writing (May); and made a topless dash to the lounge room only to notice a delivery driver staring at you through the window next to the front door (April and don’t ask).

But on 2 January none of that’s gone down yet.  On 2 January you’re on track to be the smartest, funniest, thinnest, most widely read, most patient, most community-service minded version of yourself that it is possible to be without having a drinking problem.  Accidentally flashing a delivery driver while dashing around the house isn’t even on your radar because in 2011 there’s no dashing.  In 2011 you will glide (with a top on.)

This time last year you may recall I started our First Sunday Club with the goal of donating $10 per month to a specific cause.  My aim was to bring more meaning into my life (and, lets be honest, win a few Brownie points with God). As I detailed last week we made some amazing contributions in 2010. But this year I’m going to mix things up a little (because in 2011 I’m more creative and spontaneous, clearly).  Some months I’m going to ask you to do more than just write a cheque. Some months I’m going to ask you to get involved by donating items or even volunteering.

But enough from me (see? I’m less self-absorbed in 2011. Brad’s next to me rolling his eyes.). Let’s kick things off with Givit.org.au  Most of you will have heard of this innovative website set up last year by Brisbane woman Juliette Wright.  It’s like a matchmaking service for donated items. Charities get in touch with Juliette to tell them what they need and Juliette lists the items on her site in the hope that some good person will respond.  As I write this a homeless women’s service is looking for a lockable craft cupboard; some refugee claimants in Windsor would love some gardening tools to help start a community garden, and a previously homeless man with a disability needs a washing machine as he sets up his new home.

So here’s what I would like you do. Go online and see if you can help. Register to receive the weekly Givit list. There’s usually a long list of items that are needed from computers to desks to freezers to gardening equipment.

We all have way too much stuff. Start 2011 off on the right foot by giving something away. (Just not your top).  Visit www.givit.org.au or call (07) 3289 2590.