"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Monday, 27 June 2016

Each Act is New

I want to some interesting quotes I found online recently.

"He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future."

I feel this is quite accurate and intelligent. In each generation, whatever the youth believes or holds dear becomes the norm, and then that norm becomes the against which the next generation rallies.

"It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge."

Again, this seems like a very intelligent observation. Someone who deals in facts and logic can be convinced of their own inaccuracy. Someone who reasons with belief suddenly starts to ignore contradicting facts and fight harder for that belief.

"Words build bridges into unexplored regions."

As a writer (a blog writer but it still counts), I'm a firm believer in the power of words. The right choice of words can convey any idea and can literally change mankind.

All three of these quotes are wise and profound, and they all came from the same person.

Who was the person?

Adolf Hitler.

This is an example of how our own biases colour new information. If I'd presented the above information as "Here are three things that Adolf Hitler said" and then listed the quotes, they would have seemed much more dark and foreboding. The quotes would have been given less relevance simply because "it's Hitler". This attitude happens a lot. I hear from many people who no longer think Bill Cosby is funny and in some sort of 1984-esque mind trick are convinced that he never was. I see the same thing with Mike Tyson - they can't enjoy his appearances in films etc because they know he was once convicted of rape. I'm not exactly saying this attitude is wrong, but it's not how I choose to look at the world.

In the Australian legal system (and I presume those of other western countries), once you've paid your punishment for a crime, you're given a clean slate. In the eyes of the law, that crime is independent of the rest of your life and is only brought up again if you commit another crime. That's more how I look at people. As an example, I generally consider Donald Trump a bad person (as many do). But each new thing he says, I view independently of the other unrelated things he's said in the past. If I agree with something he says, I admit it. If he announces a policy I support, I like him a little more.

There was a recent incident in Australia where Matchbox 20 lead singer Rob Thomas said something at one of his concerts that was racist and frankly just fucking stupid. But when I saw the footage of it, I just thought "Oh man, I hope this doesn't ruin his life." He did a very, very dumb thing, but if you put it on the graph of good and bad things he's done in his life, it would be an outlier. I'd hate to hear people say "That Rob Thomas, what a racist ass-hole. Did you see what he said at that concert in Sydney?" Same with Michael Richards - I believe him when he claims he's not racist. I just think he made a very dumb mistake while trying to be funny. I know I'd hate to have done something stupid and then for that mistake to define me.

It happens on a much, much smaller scale too. I've seen it happen where someone says something and if the people around them like them, they laugh or agree. If the person is disliked by those around them, the exact same comment is seen as weird or unfunny. I try to view it the other way. I try not to let my opinion of an action be coloured by my overall opinion of the person who committed the act. Each act is new in my eyes.

Friday, 24 June 2016

New Experience Challenge Week 41: Pole Dancing!

(Originally published on October 20, 2014)

This is part three of what I'm deciding to call the Crash Course Trilogy - three situations where a friend of mine has brought me along to a class she's taking part in. Part one was a Zumba class with my mum. Part two was a salsa class with Jerida. This week, Sarah took me to The Pole Boutique, where she'd been taking pole dancing classes for the last few months. I wanted her to come with me for emotional support, but we couldn't find a beginner's class when we were both free. So Sarah had the fantastic idea to book a private lesson.

'Ask for Olivia,' she said to me. 'She's my instructor at the moment, she's the one I told about your situation. Or Rosie. She was my first instructor and she's a little firecracker, she'll give you tough love if you need it.'
'Is there anyone named Charli?' I asked.
'No, why?'
'That's a shame. The last couple of classes I've taken have both had really hot instructors named Charli.'
'Oh yeah, I read about that. Sorry to disappoint you Mikey.'
'That's okay, I'm sure we can get their names legally changed...'

When I called up the place to ask for a private lesson, the girl on the phone sounded confused.
'So wait... You want to book a private lesson?'
'Yes please.'
'...And you're male?'
'Last time I checked.'
'Do you want a male instructor?'
'Do you have one?'
'A female's fine. I've been told to ask for Olivia or Rosie.' This was starting to feel like I was hiring an escort.
'Have you been told how much it costs?' Not helping.
'I sure have.'
'Alright, I'll have a chat to them both and see who can book you in for that time. We'll give you a call back.'

The next day, I got a call from a much less confused-sounding person.
'Hi Michael, this is Olivia from The Pole Boutique. I heard you'd like to book a private class?'
'Yes please. Weird question, is it okay if someone's there taking photos?'
'Oh, are you the guy Sarah was telling me about?'
'Yeah, that's fine. So we'll book it in for this Wednesday at three.'
'Sounds good, can't wait!'
I broke the news to Sarah over Facebook.
'All booked in. This Wednesday at three.'
'Yay! I'm so excited for pole!' she said.
Mustn't... make... jokes...

When Sarah and I walked into the studio on Wednesday, all I could see was a desk and a giant curtain blocking off view from the street. I guess they'd get a lot of gawkers who want to see women in hotpants dancing. Olivia greeted us and took us behind the curtain.There were two rows of poles, one along each wall, and a mirror facing each one. One pole at the end was being used by an incredibly toned woman who seemed to be working on a routine. She was playing some slow music from a speaker that was set up near her and getting into all sorts of crazy, gravity-defying poses. She was very good.

I got changed in the bathroom. I'd been told to wear shorts so that I could use my skin to grip the pole. But I only own two pairs of shorts and they both come down to my knees, so I wasn't sure how much help they'd be. When I got out, Olivia and Sarah were already waiting in their gear.

'Hi, I'll be teaching you a few tricks today. I'm Olivia.'
I wondered how she'd feel about me calling her Charli for the next hour. I wanted it to be a hilarious through-line for my trilogy. I'm weird like that. Olivia continued, pointing at the woman on the pole.
'And that girl in the corner is the owner of the studio. Her name's Carlie.'

...Oh, snap!

'Were there any particular tricks you wanted to learn?'
'Not really, I don't know any tricks to begin with.'
'Well if you're doing this new experience thing, I'll give you a taste of a whole variety of tricks. That way you'll get the best idea of what it's about.' That was unusual to hear. Up until now, my friends and I were the only people who'd known about the challenge. This was the first time a person had been forewarned about it. It was nice.
'Good idea,' I said. 'Sarah, better get out the camera...'

The Warm-Up
So naturally, the first thing we went through was the warm-up Olivia took me through a series of weird stretches I'd never done before, a lot of which used the pole for support.

The Pike
As the last part of the warm up, Olivia got me to grab onto the pole and tuck my knees up to my chest, then drop them and kick them almost above my head. Sarah gave me a little bottle of solution that was meant to make my hands sticky so I could grip the pole. I think the sweat on my hands melted it off, is that possible? I grabbed onto the pole and instantly slid down a few inches.

'Um, this isn't going to work,' I said. I tried washing my hands and reapplying the solution. Still slippery.
'Maybe try without the solution,' said Olivia and she grabbed a rag and spray bottle to wipe down the pole. For the rest of the afternoon, I had to use that rag to wipe down the pole (and my hands) so I could actually keep hold of it.

The Shoulder Tuck The first actual trick I did, it involves standing with your back against the pole and using your shoulder to roll yourself upwards into another trick.
The Forward Spin I had to stand next to the pole, wrap my inside leg around it and kick off with my other foot, bringing my feet together in a point and spinning for a while. It made me dizzy. Meanwhile, Sarah busied herself with a few tricks on the pole next to me. She was amazing. She has a long background as a dancer, so her form on all her tricks was pretty much perfect. Not to mention that she's made of muscle and bone, so she could hold herself in  the air for minutes at a time. Anyway, here's my spin.
The Reverse Spin This one was a little harder, because I had to start spinning before I left the ground. Watch in the mirror how quickly and effortlessly Olivia does it, then watch how pathetically I fail.
But I think I got it in the end.
The Climb It's amazing how many times she had to repeat it. 'One foot hooking around behind. The other foot in front. Knees together. Use your elbow to lock yourself in place, then lift the feet up and move your lower hand to the top.' No matter how many times she said it, I kept just trying to pull myself up with my arms. My feet were in an uncomfortable position and the shorts were stopping my knees from being able to grip. The shorts had to go. 'Would it be weird if I took my shorts off and just did this in my underwear?' Sarah and Olivia looked at each other and I realized they'd practically been in their underwear the whole time. So I took them off. Much easier.
The Twirl Now I had to use that same leg-grip to twirl around the pole. You can hear Sarah's tiny celebration when I got that one right.
Olivia paused and thought to herself for a second. 'Do you want to go upside down?' she asked. 'Nothing would make me happier,' I replied. Going Upside Down Going upside down basically involves just holding onto the pole and kicking yourself into half a back flip. Here's what happened on my first attempt.
It didn't get much better from there.
And then it got downright weird.
But I think I got it in the end.
The Flagpole This one's a staple of anything gymnastic. It's the ability to hold yourself in the air horizontally. I've always struggled with this one. My attempts ranged from this...
...to this.
'Well done, that's great!' Olivia said. 'You're doing things that it usually takes three months to work up to. Not many people have that kind of upper body strength.' I grinned, embarrassed. 'Hahaha thanks I guess. I don't know how, it's not like I work out or anything...' 'Oh, so you're just gifted. I hate that,' she said, making Sarah laugh. She looked at her watch and then at Sarah. 'We've got a few minutes left, should we show him the Hello Boys?' Sarah perked up and grinned. 'Ooh, yes! Show him that one!' The Hello Boys! Olivia stood facing her pole. 'So here's how it's done,' she said. 'Grab the pole with both hands, take the top hand, arc it behind your back and with the thumb pointing straight up in the air like you're about to stick it in your bum, grab the pole again from between your legs. Once you've done that, kick your legs up into a V over your head. It looks like this.' She did the trick and I almost had to look away. They were right about the name...
Disclaimer: Her legs went ALOT further back.
Time for me to give it a go. 'So... how do I do it without crushing my... um...' 'Oh, right,' she said. 'Well, just be careful I guess.' 'Thanks, I feel better now.'
So that was everything for the afternoon. Olivia congratulated me again and took me through the warm down. 'How do you feel?' she asked. 'Sore,' I replied. I'd slightly pulled both of my hips during one trick and the tops of my feet were peeling off from when I climbed up and slid down the pole. 'Yeah, since you don't work out, you'll really feel it tomorrow,' she said. 'Have fun with that.' 'Do you think you'll be back?' asked Sarah. 'No way,' I replied. 'It was really fun, but I can't keep taking pole like that. I just feel too rooted.' Couldn't resist sneaking one pole joke in there ;)


This post was republished as part of the Flashback Friday series. Participants use the last Friday of each month to repost an old post that either needed more attention or that you're very proud of. This particular post was big for me because it marked the point that my readership exploded (in comparison to what I'd been getting previously). If you'd like to join in, add your name to the list below.

Monday, 20 June 2016

10 Sentimental Thoughts that Are Kind of Bull

The single mum that looks after her kids and works two jobs to make ends meet, while very admirable, is not a hero. Aquaman's a hero.

It matters whether you win or lose. It's perfectly okay to lose, but if you don't care at all about winning, why take part in a contest?
"To get fit!"
Hit the gym.
"To meet new people!"
Join a book club.

You can be MOST things you want to be.

Most people already are "being themselves". Trying to please somebody so they'll like you isn't "not being yourself", it's just "not being a dick".

I don't care one bit that there are people in worse off positions than me. That doesn't make my situation any better.

You can stick your "A for effort" up something else that begins with A.

Clouds don't have silver linings. Shit things are just shit.

Nothing happens for a reason. It's all random. You were an accident.

On the rare occasion, violence can solve things.

"Respecting others opinions" would be a great one if anyone actually did it.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Elitism Is Addictive

I've always hated elitism - the idea that one is better than another because of the school they went to, the clothes they wear, the money they make, the company they keep or the privileges they have. I've talked before about my struggle with what I choose to wear. I feel judged whenever I wear anything other than a suit to a milestone birthday and upon trying to get into a nightclub, I've literally been told "Those shoes have laces, I can't let you in." Despite how proud I am of the work I do for a living, there's always people that give me a blank expression when they discover I'm not studying anything at university. And I've been a part of systems that are run by an exclusive inner circle of people, where the only way to succeed in that system is to find a way into that circle. As someone who tries hard not to feel like I'm better than anyone else, these attitudes deeply frustrate me.

But something happened recently that challenged my whole perspective of elitism. It happened during footy umpiring. In South Australia you've got the SA National Football League (SANFL), the state's professional level of football, and the SA Amateur Football League (SAAFL), the premier non-professional comp. When I started goal umpiring, by a stroke of fate, I was put straight into the SANFL system. I only ever umpired the lowest level of that competition, but I still had to adhere to the league's strict standards. There was an exact way I had to wave my flags, there were no phones allowed in the change rooms, I had to get to each game at least an hour early wearing a shirt and tie and there were protocols including the colour of boots I had to wear, the way I wrote down the scores, the speed with which I went to confirm the scores with the other umpire after each quarter and even the way I held my flags as I first walked out onto the ground. After a while, that particular competition ended and I was shifted down to the SAAFL. Suddenly all those protocols were gone. Umpires were allowed to turn up five minutes before game time, wave their flags in any manner they felt comfortable and do whatever they wanted with their scorecard. An I'm sad to say I very quickly developed an air of superiority.

Although the two leagues have different sets of uniforms, the SANFL umpires are allowed to wear their professional green uniforms in the SAAFL comp. That means that immediately as you walk out onto the field, players and officials get an idea that the guys in green are at a higher lever than the orange and white dressed people around them. I really enjoyed having that recognition. In the very first game I did at that level, the other goal umpire turned to me and said "Just so you know, I don't run into the middle at half time." I'm embarrassed to say that I thought less of him as an umpire at that point. And the worst bit was a couple of games later, I was confirming the scores with the other umpire and when he realised that I hadn't written my scores the same way he did, he said "The best way to do it is to put a little tally mark in each quarter, for goals and one for behinds, and add them up at the end." I got annoyed and passive-aggressively replied "Oh okay. I'm just used to the way they do it in the SANFL." That statement got the effect I was hoping for and I went back to my post and continued putting in way more effort than was required at that level. And that was the moment I realised I was being the elitist that I'd hated so much.

Maybe the only reason I hate elitism is that I've got nothing to be elitist about. Maybe I get aggravated by rich business people in suits because I'm just jealous that they have money and respect and I don't. Maybe the reason I refuse to go to university is that I had such a crappy time in high school and assume that tertiary education will be more of the same. I don't like to think that that's the case, but the fact remains that the moment I had something I could hold over everyone else, I did so.

Or maybe I do hate elitism like I first thought, but like cigarettes, alcohol or junk food, elitism is just something you can become hooked on. We all like to think we're better than others in small ways. That's where the concept of keeping up with the Joneses comes from. Maybe once I have more things to be elitist about, I'll become that thing against which I've rallied so hard.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Way Too Busy to Write

I intended to write a post over the weekend, but I was just too busy. It began when I went to the footy - Port Adelaide vs the Bulldogs. It was the first time in weeks I'd been available to see a whole football game. I'd been asked to be an umpire for the Auskick kids at half time, which is something I enjoy, but which is always over far too quickly. The game didn't start until 1:10pm, so I took my sweet time getting ready in the morning. Then a quick call to the organiser of the umpires revealed that I had to be there by 11:30, so I suddenly had to eat breakfast pretty quickly and head out. There are always six games going on during that half time break. Four with kids under ten representing Auskick. One with older kids who are wearing the guernsies of the teams that are playing that particular game. And another which is the same, except played by people in their mid-teens. That's the most senior one. I was asked to do the second one. It was the first time I'd been asked to do one of the games with the bigger kids and indicated that I was now one of the senior umpires.

It was a great game to watch, but Port lost by three points. It was heartbreaking not just for the loss, but because a win would have put them in the top 8 (which is the teams that make it to post-season).

From there I went straight to host a QuizzaMe show. Last week the management for the venue had told us they were considering cancelling the show, but the great atmosphere that had happened that night may have been enough to save it for a few weeks. So I was really looking to back up that good performance this week in order to save the show. Well, I'm not sure that happened. Less than half of the tables that were there had any interest in playing and it took a while for the tables that did play to really get into it. The biggest team got bored with it because they were losing and left at half time. But on the other hand, one team that said they were going to leave after the first round ended up staying for the whole show. The teams that played did seem to have fun, they just weren't very vocal about it. Watch this space.

After QuizzaMe, I went into town, where I'd gotten free tickets to a party because I knew the DJ. That sounds very socialite of me, but it's the first time I've been able to say that.

Now, some very interesting things happened at that party, but I'm not going to talk about them. I view the telling of personal stories the same way as I would losing my virginity - the first time you do it is a big deal and once it's done, it can't be undone. And telling the stories for the first time online in a public space like this is akin to having your first time filmed and uploaded to the internet. There are two people I know who were there and of those, only one that knows everything that happened. That's how it will remain, not because I'm embarrassed/private/mistrustful/etc about it. Just because I'm usually so open, it's exciting to me to have something to keep to myself.

I know, I'm a tease right?

I got home at 3am that night. That in itself is unusual for me because I usually get antsy if I'm up past 11:00. But as I explained to someone else, I hadn't gotten there until 10 because of QuizzaMe and once it passes midnight my attitude is usually "Well, in for a penny, in for a pound". I slept for four hours and then got up, had a casual breakfast and went out for a round of golf.

There's very few things I miss about drinking, but one thing I actually did enjoy was the morning after. I was too young to have proper hangovers, but me and the rest of my friends would still be feeling tired and queasy. We'd all have breakfast at McDonalds, looking disheveled and unapproachable and barely talking to each other. But there would be this unspoken bond that had forged itself out of having had a shared experience and the understanding that those around us were feeling the exact same way as we were at that moment. The social barriers that the alcohol had broken down the night before would still be down and wouldn't be rebuilt until the next day. I got to experience some semblance of this while golfing at 10am on a sunny Sunday morning, having been to bed at 3:00 last night and standing there in my leather jacket and sunglasses. All I needed was a cigarette (and to be a smoker) and I would have completed the look.

I was shocking at golf. It was a par 3 course and I was averaging about six or seven shots per hole. Each drive from the tee would hook away to the left and I couldn't sink a putt unless it was less than a foot from the hole (sometimes not even then). But after the first nine, one of the other players gave me a suggestion to step half a foot to my left when I swing. Based just on that tip, my back nine was the equal best round of nine holes that any of us had ever played. It was like on The Simpsons when Marge meets Jacques at the bowling alley.

After that I had footy training. Last year I was in a competition called the Community Cup - a game of charity football played between the media and the musicians of Adelaide. Training for this year's cup started a couple of months ago, but as I usually have umpiring on Sundays, I couldn't get to training, putting my spot in the team in jeopardy. Since there were no games this weekend due to the long weekend, I could join back in just for one week.

There's not too many people coming so far,which means as long as I make the effort to come when I can my spot should be safe.

Finally, I went to my friend Kelsey's house to hang out - something we rarely ever got to do. We watched the second half of that night's footy match and then watched the movie Focus. We don't often agree on movies, but we both enjoyed Focus. It was unique in its structure and intensity and Will Smith and Margot Robbie are always great to watch, Michael recommends.

So with all that, there was no chance for a post this morning. Keep checking back though. I'm sure I'll think of something good for Friday.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Modern Masculinity: What Makes a Man?

I'm about to head into dangerous territory here. Part of the equalism movement involves breaking down the expectations of what a man or a woman should or shouldn't be. But I can't ignore that there are behaviours that make me feel more "masculine". They don't include any of the classic pitfalls of what we call "toxic masculinity" - the idea of needing to keep your feelings to yourself or ensure that you wear the pants in your relationship. Rather, this is my own personal, more updated and much more healthy list of the attributes that make a man... a man. The best thing is that if you're a female reading this (or any other gender), you'll likely see some points that relate just as easily to you're own sex. That's great too and I won't argue. Like I said, this is just my list.

A man is comfortable with who he is.
He has his own style and personality, accepts that not everyone will be okay with that and spends the majority of his attention on the people that are.

A man doesn't feel threatened.
He doesn't get all "testosteroney" when another man comes along who's stronger/funnier/smarter/better looking than him. He doesn't get possessive when his girlfriend spends time without him. He doesn't worry that other people have more friends or better jobs.

A man is calm.
He's slow to anger, doesn't freak out and doesn't act rashly. Everything he does is considered, and every mistake is a learning experience.

A man must be quick to both give and ask for help.
If a man is in a position to help someone out (and only then), he will. It doesn't matter who the person is - they could be a friend, a stranger, someone who bullied you in high school or a sexist/racist/homophobe. If it's someone who treated you poorly or is making bad choices, you can address that later. But right now they need your help.

In addition (and this is the biggest difference between my own rules for masculinity and the traditional media portrayal), if a man needs help, he won't be afraid to ask. He might be going through some emotional turmoil, there might be something he's not able to get on top of, or he might just need help lifting something heavy. In all of those cases, he doesn't try to shoulder the load himself. He doesn't think "I'm a man, I should be able to do this by myself." These days, it's much manlier to admit when there's things you can't do.

A man respects women.
This is an obvious one. But the problem is that everyone has different ideas for what that means. For me, it just means that when I meet a girl, I shouldn't let her attractiveness be the first thing I think about.

A man compromises.
Whenever he has to work with other people, he tries to work in a way that makes all parties happy, including himself.

A man doesn't whine.
Complaining is not an attractive thing to do. I'm not talking about in a sexual sense, I mean as a person. You turn people off when you complain.

A man shows a sense of responsibility.
This is the broadest of the rules as it encompasses the most. If a man makes a commitment, he sticks to it. When he goes to work, he does as good a job as he can. If he doesn't want to see a girl any more, he tells her in person rather than ignoring her calls. If someone needs his help, he doesn't ignore them. If there's a hard conversation he needs to have, he has it. If he's done something wrong, he admits it and apologises. Responsibility is a big concept and for me it's a very, very important one.

A man cares.
Making (or attempting to make) someone feel bad about themselves is a horrible thing to do. Just this week, someone at footy training called me a "pussy" for having a small water bottle. True story. He didn't realise that what he'd said was offensive, he just thought he was having a laugh. But it's this attitude that causes bigger problems in other situations. Think about every gay kid who felt like he didn't fit in because he thought the people around him would reject him if they knew. How about all the times that teenagers attempt to define themselves by belittling others, either unaware or uncaring of the long-term effects of their actions. Statistics show that 1 in 5 people are diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives, but how many people do you know that have admitted to having it? In my opinion, the most important trait that a man can have is the ability to empathise, understand and care about everyone else.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Question of the Month: My Next Travel Destination

Today on Question of the Month, the question we're to answer is:

"Of all the places in the world to which you haven't yet been, where would you like to go next?"

As I've recently mentioned, it's been a very long-standing dream of mine to visit every continent at least once. I was lucky as a child. My Dad was in a job that made him a lot of money. A lot. While he was in that job, he took his family to Italy and to the USA (twice). Then circumstances changed and Dad had to choose between accepting a new pay-check that was just a fraction of the old one or just outright quit. After that, the overseas travel opportunities dried up.

Earlier this year when I had an opportunity to go to Singapore - my first time overseas in ten years. And even though Singapore is - as my friend Jason describes it - Asia lite, I considered it an official completion of my fourth continent. So that leaves Africa, South America and Antarctica left to visit. If I get the chance to go overseas again, it'll be to one of those places.

But where in those places would I go? I'm huge on pop culture. I tend to want to experience whatever's most firmly in the public zeitgeist. I have a list of all the most classic books and films that I want to get through, all the music I listen to is heavily mainstream and I'm pretty sure the reason I'm so into Aussie Rules football is that everyone here into Aussie Rules. Following this logic, I want to see all the places in the world that are most entrenched in people's awareness. The place that I can think of that fills this criterion the most is Egypt. The pyramids have been around longer than recorded history and they hold many secrets. It's the only remaining ancient wonder of the world and I'm fairly certain it was voted as one of the modern wonders of the world as well. Aside from that, it has the Sphinx, the Nile and a ton of unique and fascinating history. If I got my pick of anywhere in the world, it would be there next.

This is a monthly thing! Join the email list below and we'll email you with next month's question! It's a lot of fun and often gets you thinking. I'll see you next month.

Friday, 3 June 2016

How Do You Let Go of Something You're Afraid to Lose?

I've recently found myself in a situation where I've had to consider that question. I have to be very light on the details because there's sensitive parties involved. But basically, since I left high school, my relatively simple dream has been to make a sustainable living from the entertainment industry in some way, whatever that may entail. My actual interest in entertainment came much earlier than that, probably about the time I started to talk. Recently, I achieved that goal when I started the routine of hosting five pub trivia nights per week. It's not what a lot of people come up with when they think of the entertainment industry, but it's certainly entertainment. I love it for a number of reasons and it seems to come really easily to me (probably because I love it so much).

But the problem is I was only able to achieve this by working for two separate trivia companies. They happen to be in competition with each other and in short, Mum and Dad are fighting. There's a possibility that I may have to choose between the two, or worse, that one might lose patience and get rid of me. As well looked-after as I am, there are a lot of people who can do the job I do, which makes me expendable. So that's lead me to this question - after trying for six years to get into a position like this, what would happen if I lost it?

I consider myself to be a vulnerable, but ultimately resilient person. I've lost friends, possessions and of course jobs before. When faced with the possibility of losing my car, I certainly felt sad, but I was also already thinking about the next one. I think if I lost my house, if my parents got divorced, if my laptop with all my important information was stolen, I'd eventually get over it. I would hate it, sure. But time would heal that wound just like any other. There are two situations in which I can't imagine that being the case. One is if I was involved in some sort of horrible accident which left me dismembered or disfigured. The other is if I lost this dream job and had to go back to going whole fortnights without any income, no longer making progress towards owning my own property and finally moving out of my parents'.

This makes me think of Yoda and a teenage Anakin Skywalker, sitting in a dark room in one of the Star Wars movies. Anakin reveals that his fear of losing Padme is giving him nightmares and premonitions. Yoda's simple response is "Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose." It's not something you want to do - letting go of the things you're afraid to lose seems to me like a paradox. But you have to reluctantly accept that it's the perfect advice. You're afraid to lose it? Put yourself in a place where you're not. Simple. The harder question is, how on Earth do you do that?

For me, putting my thoughts in writing has helped. It's put things in better perspective and made me realise that if I got to that position once, I'm sure I could do it again. It might take another six years, much to my parents (and my) dismay, but it could happen. But that hasn't yet made it all better. What else can I do?
Quit before I can be fired?
Just snap my fingers and stop caring?

Normally with these posts I at least provide some form of answer, but this time I've got nothing. What's the thing in your life that you're most afraid to lose? How do you deal with that fear?

Monday, 30 May 2016

You Can Help a Man Achieve His Dream

My bucket list used to be seven pages long. I was obsessed with all those adventurous things you could do to get the most out of life. Since then, I've culled it dramatically. I've shortened it from just a list of cool stuff to do to a list of things without which I couldn't really consider my life complete. The oldest of these is to travel at least once to every continent.

Many people know that this is a goal of mine, as I talk about it a lot. Earlier this year I got to cross Asia off the list with a five-day trip to Singapore. But what no one's ever heard is where this dream came from. It's pretty embarrassing, so you have to promise not to laugh. Promise? I'll assume you promised. When I was very young, I was watching an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (hey, you promised!). Sabrina had graduated high school (or college, I forget) and was applying for a job as a journalist. The sassy black manager of the journalism place turned her down, giving this speech...

"Listen kid. You got a lot of spunk, I'll give you that. But you're missing one very important thing that you can't learn in school - life experience. Rita over there has her own fashion line on the side. Lucy had dinner with the President last week. James has been to every continent..."

I couldn't have been any older than eleven at the time, so I'd never heard this concept of life experience. To me it sounded like something akin to The Force - something magical and mystical that you can only achieve through rigorous effort. I can't really tell how profound an effect that completely innocuous moment had on the rest of my life, but at the very least, something clicked in my brain that made me equate "traveling to every continent" with "experiencing the most of life".

The reason I bring this up is that I now have a very real chance of being able to earn myself a free trip to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. South America - along with Africa and Antarctica - is one of the three continents to which I haven't yet been. So I REALLY want to take this opportunity up.

One of the pub trivia companies I work for (named Quiz Meisters) has entered itself into a competition called the Small Business Olympics. The first prize for this competition is $75 000 and a trip for two to the games. The geniuses at head office, fully aware of the power of networking and viral marketing, has made this offer to all of its hosts around the country - get as many people as you can to vote for Quiz Meisters and if we win, we'll give one of the two spots in the trip to Rio to the host that got us the most votes. Make sure the voter puts the host's name and venue into the section that says "I'm voting for this business because..." so we know it's from you.

So far, Quiz Meisters is looking to be in a very good position. An early count saw them with 25% of all the votes cast in the comp. I had contributed a good deal of those votes. Then I saw this.

I was certainly doing very well, but now... I have an enemy. "Skip" Strudwicke is the much-loved state manager for South Australia. He was SA's first Quiz Meisters host and knows practically everyone from every show. The show he does on Wednesdays is the biggest show in the state. He hosts the annual Ultimate Trivia Challenge Grand Final, which sees 200 of the best quizzers come to what's essentially a cross between a quiz night and a college dorm party, and if that's not enough he also runs the music for the Adelaide 36ers basketball team home games and has contacts through them. Like his superiors, Skip is quite a tastemaker. He's good at making things go viral amongst his circles. Shortly after this post, I saw this on my Facebook news feed:

Gah, why is he so likeable?! I need your help to combat this evil, wonderful man. Please go to biz.vote/qm (if you're on a phone) or https://www.olympicsforsmallbusiness.com.au/qm/quiz-meisters (if you're on a computer) and put in a vote for the business. When you get to the part that says "I voted for this business because", you can put anything you want as long as it has the name "Michael D" somewhere in it. Also, feel free to put in a fake email address when they ask for it. I wouldn't want to repay your kindness with endless amounts of spam ;)

And lastly, if you're feeling very generous please share this around. Maybe on your own blogs (probably the best) or maybe on your social media (#SendMichaelToRio). This has literally been a lifelong dream and I'd love to be able to cross this off my bucket list.

Friday, 27 May 2016

New Experience Challenge Week 24: An Exciting Opportunity

(Originally published 18/06/14)

I have trouble telling people no. It's a serious weakness. So when Dad came to me one night and told me our family friend Tony was going to call me with a business offer, I was very apprehensive.

'He's started selling coffee. He wanted me to sell it with him and I told him no. So he said he'd give you a try. He reckons you'd be good at it with all your promotional work and stuff. Just warning you ahead of time.'

Tony is one of those western people who thinks he's an eastern person. He meditates in a weekly class where he's the only white person, he drinks and eats all sorts of herbs which contain the sound "asha" or "rishi" and he's dumbfounded by a lot of western humour. He brought me along to his meditation classes for a few weeks, but I stopped going when I realised that I was 21 and had better things to do. Since then he's contacted me a few times about catching up and I keep telling him I'm busy. Mostly because I am.

But anyway, I heeded the warning. The first couple of times he called me I just didn't answer.On the third time I thought I'd better pick up. There's no way you can pull off 'Oh, I'm sorry I missed you' that many times.

'Yeah, Michael, it's Tony. How's the stand-up comedy going?'
'Yeah, alright. Still plugging away at those open mic nights. Haven't got a proper gig in months, but...'
'Hey, that's great! Listen listen - do you drink coffee?'
'Not really...'
'That's ok. My wife Teresa, she's gotten on board with this great new brand, it's called Organo Gold. It's all based off this secret ingredient called the Rishi Mushroom. She's been doing really well, so I've gotten on board too. But listen, how would you like to make some extra money?' I was in a corner on that one.
'Yeah, that would be nice.'
'Well all you have to do is sign up to this program. You can help sell this coffee, you can get people to work for you and you can get a percentage of whatever they sell. How does that sound?'

Now I've been involved in a pyramid scheme before. For a few months back in 2012, I was a door-to-door salesman. I started at a dingy little place called ASAP and then - by sheer coincidence - my resume was found online by a much more respectable place called White Rhino. But despite the differences between their professionalism, ambition and success, they both had one thing in common - the promise of untold riches limited only by your own desires. It's a system that certainly can work, but only if you're a certain type of person. The type for whom money is the most important thing in life. I learned a lot during those few months and I'm glad for it. But if I ever get a job like that again, it'll be too soon. If only I didn't find it so hard to say no...

'Oh, well look it sounds nice, but I wouldn't have the time to do it justice.'
'It takes as much time as you want. You can fit it in around your work. I know you've got a busy schedule.' At the moment I'm only working on weekends, but he doesn't need to know that.
'I don't know, what would you need me to do?'
'Well come around to my place, Teresa will give you the presentation. We'll show you how it's done.'
'I-well... um... oh, alright.'

So that Wednesday I went to their house to hear the spiel. The first thing they did was offer me a coffee. Oh, so trying to hook me in early were they? It's alright, I knew what I was doing.
'I'll have a tea thanks.'
'Green tea?'
'That's great, because Organo Gold do a great green tea. It's not bitter like most teas and it's got great health benefits.'

They sat me down on the end of their dinner table and took up a seat to either side they showed me a nine minute video explaining the brand. It told me how a brand of expensive coffee could make me rich. It featured a bunch of suited, charismatic people of all ethnicities talking about the people they knew who joined up and became wildly successful.

"My sister joined up and she's now a diamond-level seller."
"My niece started doing it in her spare time and now she's the third highest earner in the company."
"I knew a guy who never finished high school and now he's got his old teachers working for him."
"My sister's daughter is still in primary school and now she's getting dinner requests from the Pope."
"My mentally challenged uncle accidentally put his name down during a seizure and a year later a West African tribe started a religion in his honour."

Next, they talked about the secret behind this amazing success. The Ganoderma Lucidium - better known as the Rishi Mushroom.

"The Ganoderma was a sacred mushroom that was only given to Emperors. It's a completely organic product with amazing magical health benefits. Some attribute it as the reason that the Emperors lived to be over 150 years old."

Finally, they finished with an interesting sentiment.

"People see our salespeople brandishing their index fingers and say "You people are so full of yourselves. You think you're number one". We never said we think we're number one. That finger represents our mantra - that we aim to own 1% of the coffee market in every country we enter. We're nearly there and I can't wait for the moment when our salespeople can move on to the next target and start holding up two fingers."

The presentation ended and my tea had cooled down enough to drink. I gave it a tentative sip... and I had to admit it tasted bloody good. Sweet, not bitter, exactly like they said.

'Now Michael,' said Tony. 'One thing they didn't tell you about is how good it is for you.' He showed me a brochure. 'See, it says here that you need 17 cups of water to neutralise the negative effects of one cup of coffee. Normal coffee dehydrates you. It creates an addiction and gives you withdrawal symptoms. It raises stress. Organo Gold coffee calms you down, keeps you hydrated and you won't get addicted to it at all. It actually balances out the pH levels in your body so that you're not too acidic.'
'Is that so?'
'Yeah, that's right! And you know what? I used to have a bit of arthritis in my hands. Since drinking this stuff I haven't felt any pain at all.' Teresa piped up -
'Yeah, I gave this to my cousin who suffers from diabetes and after two months, he's stopped taking the um, what are they called... injections, the insulin.'
Tony again - 'Our next door neighbour used to be on crutches, he's thrown them away now.'
'Some people are using it as part of their treatment for cancer.'
'You know that guy who got cured of AIDS? He drank about four cups a day.'

And at long last they ran me through the remuneration process. No surprises there, just the standard pyramid scheme layout. Get a percentage of what you sell. Hire people to work for you and get a percentage of what they sell. And so the pattern goes until one box of coffee earns you more than the annual salary of the people making it.

'So,' said Teresa, closing her reference material. 'What do you think?'
Ok, it's that time of the day. I have to work out how to tell them no without hurting their feelings.
'Well, I-'
There was a knock at the door. Teresa looked at her watch and said 'Ah, Maria's early. We're still not done here.' Tony got up to get the door while I hurriedly asked who Maria was. In walked a middle aged Italian woman who I assumed could only be there to hear the same spiel as me. We chatted for a bit about a variety of things other than coffee and then Teresa said
'Ok Michael, so call me back in a couple of days and we'll keep talking about it. I'll leave you a sample pack so you can try the rest of the range. They don't give you the green tea, I don't know why.'
Hm, maybe it's because that's the one I wanted.
'And I'll catch up with you soon!'

In case you were hoping for it - no, my new experience for this week was not becoming a coffee salesman. It was simply to sit in on a pyramid sales pitch. I still haven't called them back. I don't know what I'll say when I do. Perhaps I could get my mum to ring them up and say that I'd died?

No, that wouldn't work. They'd come around with a percolator and say "Don't worry, just give him some of this."


This post was part of a new bloghop called Flashback Friday, where on the last Friday of each month, we dig up an old post which has been buried deep in the RSS feed and needs to see light again. If you'd like to join the hop, join the Linky list below.

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