The lesson of 2016: Choose Life while you still can.

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I drafted a fresh post about George Michael on Boxing Day, but before I could hit publish, another icon, Carrie Fisher, had died. People we don’t know die every day, the loved ones of others. Sometimes it’s someone dear to us and it’s terrible. But when an icon dies, someone who may have occupied your thoughts and woven their sparkle into your pop-cultural tapestry of reference, you also feel the loss. Sometimes youre prepared for these events, other times not.

I was not prepared for George Michael’s death. 53 is young. Not to the 15-year-old me, but to me today, 53 is young. When David Bowie and Prince died this year, I felt sad. But George Michael was not just a musician to me, he was part of my emotional landscape for much of my teens and I just took it for granted that he would be around for a long time.

As I drafted this on Boxing Day, self-medicating with champagne and liqueur chocolates, I felt a poignant mix of sadness and gratitude. Sad that George Michael’s gone too soon, but grateful that such an artist existed in the first place and gave me, and all who wanted it, his gift of music.

George Michael may have  started as just a popstar, derided for his penchant for a gimmick (Choose Life, fluro clothes, happy brain-candy pop tunes and lyrics) but after the 1987 release of his solo album Faith, it was clear that George had real talent, the respect of other established artists (Elton John, Aretha Franklin) and the voice of an angel with a knack for lyrics and musical arrangement.

I know many people my age have uttered these words the past few days, but George Michael provided a soundtrack to much of my generation. He was there for every heartache of my teen years, and in troubled times I would look up at the poster on my bedroom wall, to see George gazing down at me. I felt reassured by his smile showing off amazing white teeth, and his blond tipped hair. I just felt assured that everything was going to be OK.

I first heard of the pop duo Wham! when the singles were released from their 1983 album Fantastic. I was 13 and thought Bad Boys was so cool when I heard it on Sydneys “Rock of the 80s” 2SM. They were bad boys in leather kissing girls in pearls, as the lyrics from Young Guns go. But in this era of one TV in the house, no video recorder and decades away from the internet, I didnt actually lay eyes on singer George Michael until a year later. It was at my friend Naughty Kates house, and Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Careless Whisper were both played on Countdown.

Whos THAT? I thought, immediately taken with his hair, his teeth, his shorts. Kate  and Nadia, my Wham!-partner-in-crime, seemed to know who he was. I was 14 and I was instantly in love.

It wasnt long afterwards that Wham! announced Sydney concert dates.  They played the  Entertainment Centre on 26th January 1985. Nadia and I were there with four other girls from school, right up the back, a gaggle of gigglers in electric blue mascara and tube skirts. And it was only days after this that I came face-to-face with George in the flesh after stalking him at the Sebel Town House, which is a whole other blog post.

My career plan from the age of 15 was literally, that when I turned 18 I was going to go to England, hunt down George Michael and marry him. Or if that didnt work out, I was going to join the cast of Neighbours. I was deluded, but at least I had the sense never to admit it to the careers counsellor at school, prefering to hide my true feelings behind the more socially acceptable “journalism”.  I maintained the facade of joining the real world sometime in the late 80s when I completed that Diploma in Journalism. Really, I saw it as an entree to the world of celebrity.

I was convinced George would be mine – I’d done my research. I knew, from reading the English version of Smash Hits, that Georges favourite foods were Mars Bars, Scotch, and Mayonnaise and that he liked to go to a London club called Stringfellows. A quick google search more than 30 years later, tells me Stringfellows is a lap-dancing club, but no matter, I’m sure it would’ve been a great place to start my search.

I knew George’s father ran a Greek restaurant on Edgware Road, Edgware. Again, thank you Smash Hits. My friend Nadia and I even rang the damn restaurant from the pay phone in the girls toilets during school recess once. We found the phone number without the internet thanks very much.

I found out all about his personal life. Oh the jealousy I felt towards; Pat Hernandez, his rumoured girlfriend, Brooke Shields, rumoured to be dating him, and even poor Pepsi and Shirely his backup singers, because at least they got to be actual friends with him. Oh why couldn’t I just be five years older, like Brooke Shields – then he’d be mine.

Nadia and I would get the bus to Grace Brothers Bondi Junction on Saturday mornings and stand in front of a video jukebox that had their song Club Tropicana as one of the selections -we could choose life in our Choose Life t-shirts but we couldnt even select the damn song on the department store jukebox- we had to wait for it to randomly come on. We would stand there for all morning, waiting to get a glimpse of Georges thigh jiggling in his white speedos. No, we didnt have a video recorder at home. Back in my day, we had to wait for things. My son, Spider Boy, who in a happy coincidence, is also called George (named after his Greek grandfather), just cant believe it. If he wants to see something now he just looks it up asks me to look it up on You Tube.

The problems of teenage life and school seemed to be diluted by a big Wham!-shaped distraction. Sticking pictures of George and Andrew in short white shorts, ever-present fluro tops and blonde tipped hair all over our school diaries, reading Smash Hits and Countdown Magazine out loud and squealing with delight at lunch, and fantasising about how our lives would be when we finally met George and Andy. But mainly George.

Nadia showed herself to be a true friend of the highest order when she announced to me in a study period one day, “You can have George”.

“What? Really?” I asked.

“Yes. I prefer George, but I know how much you like him, so when we meet them, you can have George. Ill have Andrew.” What a friend.

But sometimes Nadia liked to play bizarre mind games, one day randomly uttering to me in another year 10 study period, “You hate Georges mother.”

“What?” I asked.

You hate Georges mother” she repeated.

“Why? Why would I hate Georges mother?” I asked, incredulous.

“You think shes trying to take George away from you” she stated.

I got a strange sense of enjoyment from that exchange, because Nadia was acknowledging my “relationship” as a real-life thing. She was making it all seem possible.

It was this bizarre fantasy world we lived in that probably contributed to my abysmal HSC mark, or perhaps helped me cope with my teenage issues of the day.

We were famous for our Wham! obsession. Gigi, Nadias neighbour who Id heard of but hadnt met before, approached us at the bus-stop one day in the summer holidays of 1985. She smiled quizzically with her hot-pink lipsticked lips. “So Nadia, do you still like Wham!?” she questioned, as though liking Wham! was something vaguely amusing. Gigi was just a little bit cooler with her preference for Spandau Ballet. But Tony Hadley was no George Michael.

“Well yes, actually I do, and thats why Alex and I are going into the city today.” She told Gigi. Nadia and I were getting the bus into town to see a display of George Michaels concert outfits that were to be auctioned off for Live Aid, Bob Geldofs charity event to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia.

30 years later, it would be Gigi who first alerted me to Georges death, with her text on Boxing Day morning “Did you hear about George Michael?” with a crying emoji.

Our Wham reputation culminated in a school camp, where Nadia and I clearly couldnt cope with four nights away from our Wham! posters at home, so we just bought one to camp with us and hung it in our tent. The other girls started singing Wake Me Up Before You Go Go around the campfire. Not in the spirit of inclusiveness, but to mock us. You know when youre being mocked. The poster may have been defaced from memory. Im pretty sure it was. The cool girls liked Duran Duran and U2.

My love for Wham! never went away, I still listen to the music from time to time and love to belt out Georges brilliant lyrics in songs like Freedom (NOT 1990, but the 1984 song of the same name; Like a prisoner who has his own key, but I cant escape until you love me, I just go from day to day knowing all about the other boys… and Wham Rap. But my fan-obsessiveness fell away as I grew up and other things took its place, like actually growing up, real life, job, study, actual males and not just an image on a poster or a video.

Even though I never would meet him in his dads restaurant, or share a Mars Bar with him at Stringfellows, George gave me more than he could ever imagine; Not only did my crush provide me with a “boyfriend” without the hassle of actually having one, I was able to harness the passion I felt for him between 1984 – 1986 and later use it in my job as editor of Smash Hits magazine more than a decade later.

It was this understanding of the passion our readers felt for Taylor Hanson and Leonardo DiCaprio that allowed me to write down my vision for the relaunch for Smash Hits magazine in 1997 and turn it into the fastest growing magazine in Australian that year. I knew what our readers wanted. I knew that they really thought they were going to marry Taylor Hanson. Just the way I knew I was going to marry George. They wanted to be close to the stars and I knew how to make the readers feel that Smash Hits was their ticket to the first class carriage on the pop star express.

My love for George became a fond memory. Ive thought at various times in my life that I would be sad when he dies one day. When Im old. When he’s older.  It wasnt meant to happen now, and not on Christmas Day. But thats the thing about life isnt it? A sobering reminder that anything can happen and there’s so much we can’t control.

In Wham!‘s debut single Wham Rap (1982) George prophetically sang the words …you can dig your grave, I’m staying young... Well he did stay young, simply in the fact that he will now never grow old.

I like the advice he raps in the same song, Make the most of every day, don’t let hard times stand in your way, give a wham give a bam but don’t give a damn cos the benefit gang are gonna pay! Forgetting the last bit about doing what you want cos you can just get the dole, the sentiment about making the most of every day serves as a warning.

I stopped following George’s career closely after I gave up on my dream of marrying him, I only took a vague interest in news items about him in the ensuing years.  Did he make the most of every day? Maybe he did, probably more so after his near death from pneumonia in 2011. but in any case, it can serve the rest of us as a poignant reminder of how to live.

So remember to give a wham, give a bam (whatever the hell that is) but don’t give a damn. Don’t give any f*&%s about what’s not important, and make the most of your days. Each day. Because we just don’t know what the next day is going to bring.

I showed this post to Nadia who is still one of my dearest friends to this day and she texted me after reading”… the bit about me saying ‘You hate George’s mother’ etc, cracks me up as I’d forgotten about it.” I told her how funny and original she is, and she replied “…2017 is going to be the year of fun! I can feel it. Too many people dying and getting sick so remember YOLO – you only live once.”

So Wham Rap will be our new philosophy-in-a-song. Just as well, as Ill never be able to listen to Last Christmas, one of my favourites that does double duty as love song and Christmas carol, the same way again. We listened to it at Christmas.

My ex-husband who played DJ this year, told me “Alex, this ones for you”. We had no way of knowing that the very next day, the grim reaper would not give George’s heart away, but completely destroy it, as my ex joked about Georges character in the song having a new girlfriend and still being hung up on the one from last year.

I feel for George’s loved ones, including best friend and partner-in-Wham!, Andrew Ridgeley,  that they’ve lost George so young, so unexpectedly, and on Christmas Day. That song will take on an extra significance now.

Thank you for helping shape my youth, George. Thank you for providing a mental escape route from the hardships of growing up, and for a catalogue of songs that have added colour, melody and texture to the lives of a generation.

 

The science of resolutions: what will you do with 2016?

 

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Hello 2016!

I am lucky enough to have been blessed with the gift of seeing another year go by. Like many people, at this time of year I think about what I want to achieve and what I hope to change in the year ahead.

I just looked back to what I wrote a year ago on January 3, 2015:

Every year it’s the same. I think about several things I don’t like about myself and resolve to change them. I think about all the things I want for my life and resolve to get them. But then, before you know it, another year has rolled by, and I am exactly the same. Same rolls of fat around my middle, same bad habits, same character flaws.

I think maybe I should just save myself the time and grief and not make any resolutions. Because if I don’t make any in the first place, that’s one less thing to fail at, right?

But isn’t the definition of success simply picking yourself up one more time than you fall?… So here I am, 2015, picking myself up, again. This year is the year I really need to make these changes, because it’s amazing how quickly one year turns into five… especially as you get older.

My resolutions involve the three ‘Fs’. No, not ‘Fun’, ‘Funk’ or any other ‘F’ word. It’s the three sensible ‘F’ words: ‘Fitness’, ‘Finance’ and my favourite, ‘Furniture’.

Here’s what I plan to do with these F-words.

Fitness – I’m gonna get me some!

Finance – I’m taking control!

Furniture – I’m moving it to a new location!

As 2016 dawns I’ve almost achieved two out of the three things:

Furniture – Will be moved to a new location in a week’s time.

Finances – I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks.

It only took me a year!

As for the third ‘F’, Fitness – Got none of that. Tried (sort of, a bit). Failed. Never mind.

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Image: Care2.com

But if I were resolving to improve my fitness (oh let’s face it, I’m talking about fat loss), how would I stick to my resolution?

On New Year’s Eve, right before the midnight fireworks, I happened upon a video on the blog Be Like Water about the science of New Year’s resolutions (I know, such a party animal).

The video post How to commit to your new year goals (from The Science of Success) outlines practical steps for making and sticking to resolutions. I’ll recap them below.

First, some facts:

  • People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to change their behaviour than those who don’t make them.
  • 54% of people give up on their resolutions within 6 months of making them.
  • 8% of people ultimately succeed by the end of the year.

The video explains that there are two types of resolutions that will always fail:

  1. “Pie in the sky” resolutions. My “resolution” from last year of “Fitness – I’m gonna get me some” is a classic example of that. Now that was just silly. There was no actual plan.

Keeping a resolution is not easy. You can’t just say that this year I will lose 20kg, without a strategy for making it happen. And that lack of strategy has always been my problem. As the saying goes, “Hope is not a plan.”

  2. “All over the place” resolutions. When we take on too much at once, our brain chemistry works against us. Resolutions require self-control. This is an exhaustible resource.

So having too many new year’s resolutions is a recipe for not keeping any of them.

So how do we resolve this resolution issue? 

  1. Work on one thing at a time. When it comes to goals, less is more.

Instead of picking several resolutions that you’ll abandon, pick one that will give you the biggest pay off. It doesn’t mean you can’t work on more than one resolution per year, it just means you should only focus on one at a time.

2. Translate your resolution to specific behaviours.

People who change their behaviour achieve what is known as “habitual automaticity.” This is when you perform your new behaviour without even thinking about it.

The idea is to break down your resolution into particular behaviours and put them on a timetable. For example, instead of just saying, “Move more”, actually write in your diary, each week, what movement you’re going to do (e.g. walk to work?) and the day and time you’re going to do it, until it becomes as habitual as brushing your teeth.

3. Practice everyday. This one gives me hope (which is a good thing to have, despite it not being a plan). Daily practice allows people with average talent to achieve extraordinary things. By practicing everyday, you can achieve long-term traction with your new behaviours.

Clearly, I need to decide on realistic and specific actions to take, and work on that “habitual automaticity” thing for my fat loss strategy. And I need to practice those new behaviours. I need to practice a lot.

Then I may just have a chance at living the Vincent van Gogh quote I had stuck to my wall on a Post-it for most of 2014 (it must have fluttered away sometime in 2015):

Great things are not done by impulse but by a series of small things brought together.

At the moment, I’m just trying to get myself organised for the big changes coming up. 2016 marks the beginning of a whole new chapter of The Alexcellent Life. I’m really looking forward to seeing what it brings.

I will post about my plans in the next day or two.

As I said last January, it’s exciting just thinking about how things could be this time next year… change can be a bit scary, but it also is what’s exciting about life. Even change arising from hardship can mark a turn-around or bring a new opportunity.

What are your plans for 2016? Anything exciting coming up for you?

Image Bridget Jones: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

 

New Year’s Eve 2015

Here it is January 2 and I’m only just getting to my New Year’s Eve recap. Wow, that must have been some party.

No. I hung up my New Year’s Eve party shoes years ago. It was a quiet but lovely evening. Yesterday I was in a decluttering frame of mind – I’m moving soon.

Here are some pictures from the day and night that was New Year’s Eve 2015.

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I got to hang out with the invisible boy at Rose Bay beach. Lucky he was wearing his glasses!

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View of the 9pm fireworks from Rose Bay

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View from the TV at midnight. 

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Real life 9pm Vs TV at midnight.

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Thanks for the New Year cake Aunt Mary!

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Beautiful Rose Bay during the day

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Normally I’m a bit of a fireworks cynic. You know, that the money should be spent on something more useful and important.

But it is important to celebrate together as a city, to say we’ve made it to the end of another year.

We could say that fireworks are a contribution to this city’s sense of community,  celebration and culture. Fireworks, fleeting by nature, are part of the joy of life. Also, tourism dollars.

Apparently this year, the Sydney fireworks were meant to be “the best ones ever!” and I have to say that as Mum and I watched it all on TV, I did notice they were even more spectacular.

And Sydney does it better than any other city  – it’s the harbour, the cityscape, the attitude. Sorry Canberra.

Happy New Year to you! May 2016 be all that you want it to be.

 

 

Christmas recycling inspiration

On my web searches lately I’ve been seeing a lot of very creative Christmas decorating ideas using discarded items or just plain rubbish.

Apparently even plastic lunch bags and soft-drink can ring pulls can be turned into beautiful Christmas ornaments… It’s probably a bit late now to get your DIY on for this Christmas, but here’s a bit of Christmas craft eye-candy and perhaps some inspiration for next year.

One of my Instagram friends, Anne, made this incredible Christmas tree from an old ladder. Perfect to display her Christmas villages! Very clever.

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This egg-carton tree is not just for the birds…

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And this book tree is giving me ideas for next year. I need to start using my books as furniture, or a tree.

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Egg carton and book Christmas trees from  clabtrouse.com

And then there are the Christmas wreaths…

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This tin can wreath from  Etsy

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Don’t toss those ring pulls! This little ornament comes from dumpaday.com

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Plastic lunch bag wreath from allfreechristmascrafts.com

Christmas fun in general

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Plastic drinking cup snowman from Greenmoxie.com

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Bottle lids can be made into cute little snowmen. These are from Greenmoxie.com

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A very creative use for shower curtain rings at creative green living

Merry Christmas!

Feeling the Christmas spirit while shopping at the last minute

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and as usual, I STILL have a to-do list the size of my arm. Every year I tell myself I will start doing things in November or at least from December 1, but it NEVER happens. I still find myself rushing around at the last minute (well, the last 48 hours, but you know).

But ever the optimist, I tell myself that rushing around at the last minute can really help you feel the spirit of Christmas. Sometimes, you feel the Christmas spirit in a bar of your favourite carol (and sometimes in a bar… ho ho ho) piped through the sound system, or success in finding a gift that someone you love will really like.

But sometimes you feel that Christmas spirit while you’re waiting in a queue, waiting for the lift at Westfield, or waiting while the happy young retail assistants at JB Hi Fi and EB Games make phone calls for you to see if what you want is available. The Christmas spirit of waiting, when you need to be rushing. Oh what a feeling.

But during all that waiting, at least we can feast our eyes on wonderful Christmas displays such as this…

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Queen Victoria Building, Sydney

 

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Queen Victoria Building

 

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Westfield Bondi Junction

Meanwhile, the Christmas spirit can be felt all over the neighbourhood. Feast your eyes on these homes. Love that kind of Christmas spirit…

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Christmas wreaths…

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This one was handmade by Spider Boy at his After School Care…

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The cute little tree at Dad’s. Not quite as big as the shopping centre trees, but just as lovely in my opinion.

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And remember, when Christmas shopping and prep feels all too hard, here’s a nice little reminder from a local bookseller…

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So if Santa believes in you, you can believe in yourself this Christmas Eve.  My lovely grandmother (her nickname was Dear because she was such a Dear) use to say, “Do what you can, and can what you can’t!”

My grandmother is no longer with us, but Christmas Eve was her birthday. I remember all those special things about her, and that helps me feel the Christmas spirit too.

I hope it’s a good Christmas for you, my readers. Merry Christmas, and a big thank you for reading! X

Liberty, equality, fraternity.

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Reuters: Jason Reed

Last night the Sydney Opera House was lit up in the colours of the French flag to show our solidarity with the people of France in the wake of the violent attacks in Paris yesterday. The French flag was flown on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many other iconic buildings around the world were also lit in blue, white and red.

The Tricolour and the show of support for Paris made me think of France’s national motto: Liberty, equality, fraternity (liberté, égalité, fraternité).

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 defined liberty as being able to do anything that does not harm others; equality, in a judicial sense, as the law being the same for all, all citizens being equal in its eyes; and fraternity as being about community and harmony.

They are wonderful values to continue to embrace. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “Free societies like our own, like Australia’s, like France’s will not be cowed by terrorism. No matter how shocking.”

Sometimes the world IS shocking, with all the conflict and increasing episodes of terror. So how to live in a world where such terrible events happen?  With compassion. There are public battles on a grand scale. There are people’s own private battles. All we can do as individuals is to be kind. Because as the old saying goes, everyone is fighting a battle that you may know nothing about.

Horrific events such as yesterday’s serve to remind us that we really have no control over anything external. It’s very easy to feel helpless. but we can have control over ourselves. If we want to affect change in the world all we can really do is start with ourselves.

As Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world. As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as in being able to remake ourselves.” The idea is if individuals change how they think, they will change how they feel and what actions they take. And so the world itself will change. Well, it’s a starting point.

I was feeling particularly negative about the state of the world last Christmas, only 10 days after the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place where 18 people had been held hostage, resulting in the deaths of two people. The Christmas sermon at my local church reminded us that even when there is darkness, misery and terror in the world, we can still be surprised by joy. It made me feel a little better.

Surprised by joy. It’s an idea that I cling to in times like these. I am praying for the victims, their families, and for peace.