I don’t know what to call this post: Or, on a life of chronic indecisiveness.

My friend Eleanor is one of the most decisive people I know. In the time I’ve had the pleasure of calling her friend, I don’t think I’ve ever seen her doubt herself, once. She knows what she wants in life, in meals, in relationships, in fashion choices, in her faith, and in her tile choice (you can refer back to this post to know just how deeply I respect this particular skill). Not only do I admire her for her steadfast steadfastness, but to be honest it baffles me somewhat, because it is a trait that does not come readily to me. In fact, I would say that my relationship to everyday indecisiveness is one of the longest ones in my life.

What do you want for dinner? I don’t care.

How do you want to spend the day? I don’t mind.

What movie would you like to watch? Whatever you want.

The list goes on.

In fact, one of my most deeply terrifying annoying and recurring nightmares is simply that I cannot decide what to wear on a given day. It takes me hours. In the dream I have important appointment to go do, and people waiting for me, but I cannot make a choice. The clothing is piled up high on the bed, and I’m trying on outfit #54, desperate to get out of the house, but seemingly unable to.

The problem runs subconsciously deep.

But if I was actually honest with myself, all decision making does not allude me. I don’t have a problem with making big decisions. Marriage? Travel? Jobs? Land purchase? All made without hesitation. Nor do I regret the big decisions made in my life either. So I must have some self assurance lurking in there.

Nor is the problem, I believe, a lack of opinion; I have some deeply passionate stances about many issues (climbing mount everest, collectable spoons, vintage clothing, grace, socialisation, how to spend a weekend in the Adelaide hills, individualism, historic fiction to name a few).

I don’t have a problem with knowing what I want. The opinions are there – under the surface, quiet in the conversation – but they aren’t often given air time when there is someone else in the mix or equation.

When there’s a stake beyond my own, I won’t make the call.

I’m not indecisive – I defer my opinion to others.

So here, now, we come to it.

Looking back over my teenage/young adult relationships, especially with people I wanted to impress (read: popular people, impressive people, or especially people of the opposite sex), I developed the habit of ‘not caring’, ‘not minding’, because far far worse than not getting the pick of choice of eats/movie/destination is the fear of having someone else be disappointed in my choice. “They can’t hate me if I didn’t make the call!”, I would say to myself, and I would let the other person pick the movie. Again.

But surely this is a likeable character trait, right? Being agreeable and amenable at every turn? I’m the perfect companion, right?

Maybe not – not really. A few years into our marriage, my husband, exasperated, shared with me how frustrating it was to be on the receiving end of constant deferral. “Do you realise how exhausting it is having to make all the decisions all the time?”, he lamented. I apologised. And made a decision to try to be better at decisions moving forward.

Because sure, being agreeable is nice – especially when the intent is to be hospitable to someone else’s opinions on a given matter.

But being always agreeable creates its own set of problems, because in giving away your opinion, you are giving the burden of responsibility to someone else to shoulder.

And if i’m being completely honest, that’s what my main MO has been.

I’m not indecisive because I don’t know what I want.

Nor am I indecisive because I am always happy to surrender the choice to provide room for someone else’s.

When I defer choice, I am absolving myself of blame if the situation goes south.

In removing opportunities for people to protest my actions, I am in the very deeply ingrained habit of aiming to be as you-can’t-complain-about-me as possible.

The behaviour is insidious because it forces other people to make calls before I do. And not only that, it creates more opportunities to twist situations or narratives to make me look powerless, or less powerful at minimum, in order to avoid responsibility.

It hurts to admit, but I would say that I have adjusted scripts and retelling of scenarios to make it look like I was less insistent or demanding in a given situation, not because that was necessarily the reality, but in the attempt to absolve myself of blame when someone else is even potentially unhappy with a result.

That’s embarrassing. Because I’m better than that.

The fear of disappointing others runs so deep though, that I will meet that need, even if it is fabricated, even if it is inconvenient or less than ideal, because I would prefer them to be happy (read: with me).

That’s incredibly selfish, hey.

It’s not generous to absolve myself of leadership or responsibility in relationship. Especially, especially, in relationships with your loved ones.

It’s not nice nor helpful not to back myself in the everyday. This doesn’t help me. It doesn’t help my colleagues. My students. My church. My community. My friends. My husband. My children.

If I don’t back myself, I by default make other people do the work for me. And perhaps even more depressing, I deprive myself of the pride of what it feels like when you do carry that responsibility; the gift that failure or disappointment can bring in teaching (even if it sucks at the time); and the joy of success when a decision bring victory and fruit.

I want to own my wins more. I want to own my failures a little more, too.

Maybe there’s a way to back myself without being in danger of arrogance.

Maybe there’s a way to be more helpful to myself – and others – than what complete deferral in an attempt to be likeable does; I have a feeling that people like me because of what I actually bring to the table rather than what I keep it clean from.

Even if the choice goes horribly (or a little bit) wrong – maybe I have to risk that the people in my life will be ok with me despite that. Taking responsibility is what growing up is.

There is a horrendous roundabout in Adelaide called the Britannia roundabout. It’s actually 2 roundabouts in one and brings together about 15 roads. Of course, it’s less than that; We’re no european city roundabout monstrocity. But it sure feels like 15 in rush hour. I know many drivers who will simply refuse to drive down the roads that connect at the roundabout, driving a long route around to avoid it. But I travel it everyday to work. And I kinda like it. Because when I do, I hear my mum’s voice in my head, who took me through the roundabout when I was learning to drive. She loved the roundabout too, and told me the only way to be able to navigate it:

“Assertive, Kirsten. You don’t have to be aggressive when you drive, but you need to be assertive. Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it. It won’t lead you astray”.

– Mum.

I think of her every time I drive it.

Maybe my choices could do with a little more assertiveness, too.

Take the space that’s there. Indicate your intention and go for it.
It won’t lead you astray”.

x

On controlling a narrative vs living a legacy: Maybe there are times to tell the full story

Travers: “Mary Poppins is the very enemy of whimsy and sentiment. She’s truthful. She doesn’t sugarcoat the darkness in the world that these children will eventually, inevitably, come to know – she prepares them for it. She deals in honesty. One must clean one’s room. It won’t magically do it by itself. This entire script is flim-flam!…Where is its heart? Where is its reality? Where is the gravitas?

Disney: “‘No whimsy or sentiment’; says the woman who sent a flying nanny with a talking umbrella to save the children!”

Travers: “You think Mary Poppins has come to save the children, Mr Disney? Oh Dear.”

Disney: “It’s not the children she comes to save. It’s their father – it’s your father.”

Conversations between P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, and Walt Disney, during the making of said film, in the movie Saving Mr Banks, 2013.

The movie Saving Mr Banks slayed me when I first saw it. It still does. P.L. Travers was a woman haunted by her past, but also deeply attached to her father, despite his significant struggles and failings as a parent. The movie depicted her desperate drive to protect the story of her father, often times to her own detriment. He was her hero, as parents often are, and in most cases, should be. Seeing her story, I couldn’t help but think of my own. It was hard to watch.

Protecting others’ stories

For those of us who have been unfortunate to lose someone that is dear to us, an interesting task is often bequeathed as a side affect of the loss: you are now the bearers of their legacy. Your (often self-appointed) job is to guard the story and narrative of those dear in your life – whether they are members of your family, friends, or simply people that we look up to. It is a gift to know them and carry their legacies forward.

This can be a beautiful and wonderful thing. We get to recall and relate stories of their antics in our own lives; we can teach our children who never-know-who-they-miss of the quirks and strengths of their relations; for example, of my own deceased parents – the way he pioneered water saving techniques, to the way he ate jam and cream sandwiches, from the way she, without fail, over catered every meal like we were a herd of 15, the way she mispronounced seemingly un-mispronouncable words, or the love and care she invested into her students. One of the glorious ways to grieve is to tell these stories; it keeps memories alive and releases a little bit of the grief-pressure valve.

For me, the task of narrative-keeper has been particularly strong for my Dad; he took his own life in 2000 after a long relationship with bi-polar disorder, and from the day he died I felt like it’s been my responsibility to dispel interpretations of suicide being a shameful, sinful act: this was particularly pertinent in a church context. This post isn’t about debunking myths of depression, however*. My point is that because dad died – and particularly how he died, I’ve felt a consistent pressure to tell ‘that’ story of him, even if it is to me. I felt like it’s my responsibility to defend him because he’s not here to. I have the responsibility to carry Dad’s legacy – and not his illness – in a love of education, the Adelaide hills, a love of wine – you name it.

This is mostly a joyful task –

except when it’s not.

Or perhaps, put another way, the legacy is a little more complex than one story arc.

Even if the person we speak of hasn’t died but is influential or dear to us, we can feel the pressure to curate a particular narrative of their lives and role, especially in a public context.

But what if the narrative under your charge isn’t straight forward? What if you had – or have – a complicated relationship with your loved one? What if you are grieving for them – but also because of them?

I say this only because sometimes it hard to navigate the both/and space.

A while back I was sitting in my therapist’s rooms, spending the session speaking of my parents, and she had the gall wisdom to interrupt my monologue with a simple question –

You know it’s ok to be angry at your Dad, right?

stupid wise therapist

The question took me back, and I dismissed it quickly, before she pressed again

“You can be sad that they’re gone, but also angry at them for failing you as a parent.”

Man, that was hard to hear, especially since dad died when I was 16, I’ve built a ‘career’ on defending him and his mental illness. I was also brought up to ‘honour our parents’ – so this admission flies in the face of that, right?

I ask you – how do you tell the story that is complicated? – of our loved ones – but even, maybe of ourselves?

In my own case, I ask, how do I speak out to garner a greater understanding of mental illness – when my story is also coloured by disappointments that he decided to leave when I wasn’t done with being a kid yet?

Because it has been traumatic. It has been a lot to deal with. Dad’s depression and subsequent death – it coloured my relationship with my mum; it nearly ruined her. It coloured my relationship with myself, and it set in motion many patterns of behaviour that I’ve had to unpack and work through into a healthy space.

I think it’s ok to acknowledge that.

This doesn’t change who he is as a man. It doesn’t make him any less worthy to be loved or remembered. but giving myself permission to “be angry at him – while still loving him” – what it does do, is place my relationship with him, and my remembrance of him, in a healthier space – because it is a more honest space. I have the freedom of remembering all of him, rather than being limited to aspects that are shiny or impressive.

Living a legacy does not mean protecting a particular narrative. There are more stories to tell.

Protecting our story

I’ve noticed that the more we try and control a story, the more we feel we have to lose. The very notion of a narrative is a version of events, steering the audience to a particular conclusion. So when we feel we need to protect and maintain one particular (and therefore limited) version of a person or time, it is often a little bit about fear and a lot about control. Thus it may be helpful to consider what that control costs us, in energy, in honesty, and in the freedom for us to see the whole of these people – as people, and not one-dimensional narratives that look a little cleaner, but are a whole lot less real.

What would it look like to have a culture that had spaces to acknowledge the whole of a person, or story – even the parts that are shameful, cancelable, and hard to swallow – and have them acknowledged in tandem with the parts that are beautiful, digestible, and shiny? This isn’t about justifying or condoning ‘bad’ behaviour – far from it – but it is a comment on how we don’t really know how to do this in our society. We aren’t practiced in dealing with failings, especially when one has a public platform or comes from a place of privilege. We have done great work in our world in identifying historically (and often systematically) silenced abuse, neglect and shameful behaviour and bringing it to light- but we don’t really know what to do with that person afterwards.

It is a dehumanising process when we reduce others – and ourselves – to one story, one season, one act. I wonder where is the role of restoration? Where is the role of redemption? Where is the role of confession? Where is the role of grace? I ask these questions not to open a can of worms but because I believe it’s important – the implications run true both from an individual level to a societal movement. What narratives do we curate, to convey and maintain a particular idea, view, or value? What are we silencing to retain a semblance of control?

Expanding the narrative

I’ve been working hard on giving myself permission to see all, or previously quieted, aspects of my parents. Some of this has been joyful and releasing – like seeing myself in my mum, when previously I have allowed my 25-year old frustration to dominate the memory. Other times it has been painful – like voicing the disappointment that in many ways I’ve had to parent myself since I was a young teenager. The distinction between narrative and legacy has been beneficial – and somehow lessens the burden of the story. Often times we need distance and time for this to be possible or even helpful.

But where I am most heartened is the permission it can give in my current relationships. I can be honest in what narrative I shape in the different roles that I hold in my life. Am I pouring inordinate energy into a particular connection, to be the ‘helpful’ one or the ‘fun’ one or the ‘smart’ one or the ‘leader’ one or the ‘low maintenance’ or ‘together’ one? Maybe there is scope – where appropriate – to shift the focus and expand the narrative.

A good friend shared with me some parenting advice she had once encountered: A mother confessed to her daughter;

There are going to be times in my life when I’m not going to be the parent that you need me to be – just because of who I am as a person, and because of who you are as a person.

I’m sorry that it will.

But when it does, I want you to come and talk to me about it.

– Smart Parent

That thought is an invitation and comfort to me, two fold.

Firstly – as a daughter – as a child – I have permission to see all of who my parents (or insert other loved one) are. It serves them – and me – to know that I don’t have to preserve a narrative that tells one story (and silences others).

Secondly – as a mother – (or one in power/privilege) – I have permission to show a realistic story of who I am. Sometimes vulnerable, sometimes mastering, sometimes learning, sometimes failing. What a gift – not using all that energy to maintain a particular reach to perfection, or a censored version of events.

If it is freeing, know that you don’t have to bear the burden of a narrative, telling only one story (and silencing others).

If it is freeing, know that as a parent, as the ‘responsible’ person, don’t feel that you need to perfect a narrative to your loved ones that you care for…

Expand the story. There’s more to tell. Fill in the detail. It makes for a beautiful-even if hard won-view.

x

*So many of us are impacted by the force of depression and mental illness. If this is you, I’m so sorry you’re navigating this space, whether it is yourself or a loved one. There are people to reach out if you need help such as Beyond Blue

A Jack of all trades, Master of none; On being a bridge between worlds when we’re left of centre

A few months back I finished a lecture in one of my Sociology of Gender classes. It was a great, dynamic exchange with students: the conversation was lively and engaged. But as I returned to my office, I felt the overwhelming need to burst into tears. I was wracked by doubt both in my status and ability, asking myself; Did I say the right thing? Am I guiding these adults in the right path?

I know my skill and expertise in this area: trust me, this is not a pity party post. But that day we were discussing important, deeply personal and integral concepts of identity – and I felt the weight of it. I felt the burden of ‘doing a good job’ according to myself as an academic, and also the institution for which I teach.

As an academic, I desperately want to introduce students to ‘good’, solid sociological concepts that will give students perspective and power to ‘make the invisible visible’1, to empower them to change their context for the better. But also in the context where I teach, I want to offer wisdom in a faith perspective. It’s not easy to straddle both. Again, I felt the weight of the topic, and the importance of the knowledge in my students’ lives.

In that moment, I didn’t feel like I was doing a good job of either role. I felt I wasn’t qualified to be in that space, because I wasn’t ‘pure’ or wholly located in a cultural discipline: Being a traitor to both sociology and theology, I made a meal of it all.

There is something to be said for those of us – and for the times in our lives – where we dig deep. We sink roots into the soil of knowledge and master a craft, or settle into a space/learning/field, gaining wisdom and expertise in an area. We can and should celebrate knowledge and specialties: this can be true of a learning major, a work field, of a hobby; but it also can speak of a community or relationship. We dig deep into a context; building relationships and immersing ourselves where we are placed. This is a glorious and deeply gratifying space. We can – and should – look to the experts in these fields for wisdom, truth, and guidance.

But my question is – what happens if we sit left of centre, out of the thick of things? What if you don’t have a specialty? What if your cultural heritage is different to that which we live? What if you have more than one passion? What if you have multiple groups of friends and networks? What if you are negotiating more than one context at a time, straddling across space?

What if you don’t share everything in common with those around you, and feel on the margins in your perspective, world view and connections?

If you do so,

If this is you, I just wanted to offer encouragement. If you’ve ever felt the weight of not being in the ‘one’ space, not being in the thick of it, not in the centre of the crowd, nor in the heart of the field – if you look at those who seem that they are connected (more than you) and are educated (more than you) and have authority in a space (more than you do) –

I see you.

You are completely valid in who you are, and what you’re doing.

and more than that, more than a lip-service acknowledgement of ‘you’re doing great – thumbs up – etc’

I want to offer the possibility that you’re not necessarily in the wrong space.

The world needs bridges between worlds and concepts.

I’ll say that again.

We need – The world needs – Bridges.

Maybe you feel left of centre – because you’re the one bridging the gap between one space and the next, giving others access they wouldn’t otherwise have.

I was sharing my frustration with a dear friend Mandy (who has featured in this space before – she’s often the ‘wise friend’ I refer to) about this topic; feeling like a jack of all trades and master of none, and she shared such a helpful analogy with me. Her grandfather had once said to her;

“Mandy, you will never speak English as well as the white kids, and you’ll never speak Cantonese as well as the Chinese kids. You’ll just have to work harder.”

(Mandy): As a kid I remember thinking, well that’s super depressing and not at all inspiring; Thanks Grandpa! But now as a 36 year old woman, I see how the extra “effort” it took/takes me to manage both language “worlds” has offered me a more adaptable and flexible brain (amongst other things). I think my grandpa was still right even if he didn’t see that it was/is a brilliant thing that I had to (and got to) navigate two languages…if we were to talk “advantage”, it actually put me “ahead”, and not behind.

What a perspective. We often interpret the navigation of different worlds as a disadvantage – and perhaps it is in some ways. But everyday, we all – experts and amateurs alike – negotiate and internalise different sources of knowledge. And it is in the synthesis of those truths – the way that we filter, discern, question, then create, produce and imagine – this is where the beauty is, friends. This is the money*.

The innovators are the ones who bring a new field of expertise to a persistent problem. The leaders are the ones who bring together systems and people from different spaces and get them to operate in concert. The creators are those who suspend assumption to make new connections between ideas and form. If you’re a believing person, Jesus as God and man – bridging those two worlds – did – and was – this very thing. The incarnation of deity into humanity is a major part of Jesus’ identity.

If you exist in two different worlds, everyday you are working and weaving the two in meaningful, practical ways.

Here is some more wisdom from Mandy:

Kirst, yes perhaps it is true that you and your beautiful brain have to work harder to understand and cultivate knowledge of two different “worlds” and somehow bridge and weave the two in meaningful and practical ways. That is tremendous work and the fruit is/will be incredible.
The feeling of “not being expert of either” is a natural part of that, I think. Perhaps it’s because you’re not aiming for/supposed to be that.
You’re creating and growing something else.

For those of us bridging worlds and crossing contexts, what I’m trying to do in my own work is attempt to reframe my position not as an awkward balancing act, but an opportunity to notice and translate. The best teachers I’ve ever witnessed aren’t about filling ’empty brains’ with information; rather, teachers do the job of interpreting and contextualising knowledge so that it can be embodied and internalised in their student’s lives. This is the very work of those who straddle worlds. We do the introduction, and then point our hearers to the experts (who thankfully know more than us) to dig deep and learn more. This is a joy and opportunity, not a sign that we’re not worthy of speaking in the first place.

Alternatively, when we think about being on the edge of a community, those who are in the immersed in the ‘centre’ are often not aware of those who feel disconnected. Perhaps we can be the ones who notice others on the edge and extended welcome and connection.

The world needs bridges.

Maybe you’re not a Jack of all trades and master of none.

Maybe you’re not left of centre.

Maybe you’re a bridge.

x

*unfortunately I can’t predict that this will actually earn you money. But it is often where our humanity finds its sweet spot.

  1. Mills, C. W. (1970). The sociological imagination . Penguin.

What if I’m not special? The myth of individuality

(on creativity & contribution, Part 1)

Mt Crawford Forest, Adelaide Hills

My new favourite place is the Mt Crawford Forest. My family and I ‘discovered’ it during the recent lockdown and consequently found ourselves returning there every few days: It’s a beautiful place, stuff your Narnia-dreams are made of. Closed to traffic, it was so quiet, and hardly seeing any other people there, it felt like ‘ours’. It was easy to spend many hours exploring; I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the stillness amongst the seemingly never-ending rows of trees. We had picnics and played hide and seek and drank coffee and read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – perfection, right?! There’s a large part of me that wishes it was still locked to traffic so that it can be that quiet and idyllic again.

Now if you take a walk amongst those seemingly thousands of trees, they’re all different in their own way: Height, branches, number of pinecones, if they are situated on a hill or on a flat, if they’re sheltered in the middle of the row or exposed on the edge; you could spend a lifetime describing the details that make all of these trees unique and distinctive.

In contrast however, one day Shan and I hiked to the lookout of the same forest and before us spread the expanse of the plantation. It was hard to pick out the afore mentioned distinction of the trees: the carpet of green was similarly impressive – but at that height, in its uniformity, not in its ‘specialness’.

So. If a tree [actually] looks like all the other trees in a forest, is it still beautiful?
Does it retain value and worth – even if it is hard to distinguish it from others?

…What happens to us when we’re not unique?

Now we come to one of the pressing identity dilemmas of our generation: in our culture, our worth has become intrinsically linked with the idea of uniqueness, of specialness. Who we are is only really valuable if we’re not like everyone else: if we’re a new/exciting reinterpretation or voice on the stage, we can rest assured in our worth.

Please hear me that I’m not denying the goodness in fresh expressions or new stories, or even strangeness and uniqueness. There is bravery and courage and intelligence when people do find a ‘new space’ or a new voice. Furthermore, the impetus to be different and unique can often come as a healthy push back against unhelpful voices of conformity and ‘sameness’, the peer pressure and group think to conform to the status quo. The pursuit of being ‘normal’ can also fall in this unhelpful category.

But in our day and age, there is a real shadow side and danger for us when we pursue difference for the sake of it, when it is championed to the detriment of all other qualities of our contribution or identity.

We don’t need to be telling each other or ourselves that we need to be new and shiny to be desirable.

My girlfriend commented recently that she was reflecting on some dreams and projects she has in her chosen vocation. She said she was scrolling Instagram and the thought hit her; “You don’t have original thought. That’s not special. Don’t worry about it. Go home”. This accusation came not because she had been proven wrong, just because she saw a post that resonated with what she was already thinking. Instead of reading that post as an affirmation of her ideas, the fear of ‘being the same’ – or arriving at an idea second – turned a moment of confirmation into a narrative of dismissal.

Wouldn’t it be incredible if when thoughts are heard in concert, when you thought the same way as someone else, it was not taken as a criticism of your own lack of creativity, but rather an affirmation of the humanity that we share?1

I am aware that there is danger in only engaging with ideas that we agree with instead of educating our selves about diverse perspectives. Please hear me. This is not what I’m talking about here. I’m just curious why the most revered form of creative judgement – and indeed identity judgement – is in the form of UNIQUENESS = WORTH.

Yes we are different. Yes we carry incredible stories of wins/loss/pain/love. And our stories and context are the very things that shape our contribution. You know, I even wrote an entire piece on this. It utilised the French oenological (wine) term of terroir to make the point. But I’m not going to publish it. Because we hear enough about the pursuit of individualism in our culture: it is implicit in our consumerism, in our relationships, in our spiritual life:

Indeed, our entire political and social model is supported by the concept of individualism: the core of individualism insists that we see our lives through the lens and unit of the individual: instead of communities or collectives, we champion a life that is autonomous and choice-based. Many, many other people (especially sociologists) have written about the story of individualism in our lives, but in short, the ‘gift’ of modernity is the reported stripping-off the burdens of race, religion, class distinctions, giving us a ‘project of the self’ where we can be whoever we want to be.

life is not about finding yourself – it’s about creating yourself

George Bernard Shaw

What an inspiring quote…right?

We have the freedom to be anyone we want. We don’t have to be the same.

This is a wonderful idea. Of course. But we also need to recognise that it is an idea.

Firstly, we still continue to live in a society with realities of race (ism), wealth (poverty), gender (discrimination) and power (imbalance). We can’t always ‘live our best lives’, because our reality may be incredibly hard.

Furthermore, if we can no longer rely on ‘concrete labels’ of identity that our previous generations wore, then “Identity is no longer a ‘given’ on the basis of belonging to a collective, but has become a ‘task’” (Cortois 2017). The consequence? We judge people on their ‘ability’ to make the best life for themselves, even when their social circumstances make that project a really hard – or unachievable – task. This means that those with privilege usually get more opportunities to be ‘acceptably special’.

Secondly, the story of an autonomous, powerful actor, is that –

An idea. A myth – a story of how life is best lived. Here we think of a myth not just as an un-reality, a ‘fake’ or wrong narrative, but a teaching-story. As Cortois (2017) tells us, a myth offers us ‘guidance for orienting ourselves’, and offers us clear expressions of cultural stories – of the values we hold dear.

So what do we learn about our cultural values from a myth of individualism?

I don’t think it’s that we necessarily or always like to be different, or separate from anyone else, because the pressure to be different runs parallel to stories of belonging, of being part of something bigger than ourselves.

The story of being an individual – at its heart- is perhaps a longing for us simply to be seen and recognised.

We want to be special. We want to feel worth something.

And if the loudest voice of society is that in order to do that, you have to do or be someone worth noticing,

than the consequences of that society – are that many of us are exhausted. And intimidated. And paralysed.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that this thinking can impact and hinder so many aspects of our lives – that we need to prove ourselves so that we can be worthy. We curate our wardrobes, our social media profiles, our podcast selections, in order to be interesting and notable. I’ve noticed it in my relationships, but also in my work life, and even in my faith life – that I need to sprout the newest instagrammable-sharable-profile that becomes a business but also a ministry so that I am reassured in my acceptance and love. It’s exhausting. And not something I want to be modelling to those around me.

I could finish this post by sprouting encouraging and comforting ideas that if your voice is the ‘same’ as someone else, it’s no less beautiful: indeed, a choir of harmonised and echoed voices is one of the most beautiful sounds you’ll here.

But I won’t do that (even though yes I have written a post about that too)

I could tell you to dance like nobody’s watching

But I’m not going to tell you that either.

I do, however, think one of the most important things we can do is recognise the times in our lives or perhaps the parts of ourselves that lean into either or both of these needs –

the need to be recognised (as different),
the need to belong (with others)

and be friends with both parts of ourselves in that moment.

….

nb: This is just the beginning of hopefully a series on the story of creativity in our lives: I want to explore how we view/how society shapes our creativity or simply contribution. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this if you’re inclined.

1The fear that is loud in this space speaks of the myth of a scarcity model of contribution– something I’m planning on teasing and debunking out in a future post.

Liza Cortois (2017) The myth of individualism: From individualisation to a cultural sociology of individualism, European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 4:4, 407-429, DOI: 10.1080/23254823.2017.1334568

“I just can’t feel any more feels”; On emotional lethargy & trauma

In the summer of 2003, my sister and I travelled around the United States, spending a number of days in Washington D.C. Now what does one spend their time doing in Washington D.C.? Museums, of course. Museums, museums and more museums. It was an interesting, sometimes wonderful, and often-times somber trip. We saw monuments and memorials and spaceships and piles of suitcases and sparkly sequinned red shoes. I loved it. I was emotional in many moments of the few days, standing in front of Abraham Lincoln and reading his Gettysburg Address, visiting the Holocaust museum, and gazing up at Iwo Jima at Arlington Cemetery.

Our museum tour culminated in our visit to the Library of Congress. Exciting, right? Very famous treasure maps pieces of paper. The thing is, as we were standing in front of the Declaration of Independence, I felt nothing.

My brain was telling myself that it was a really important document and I should be excited seeing it – but I got nothing from my heart. I was spent. It wasn’t possible for me to emote any more about American History in that moment. We had reached emotional saturation and lethargy. So that night we went to the movies. We felt guilty for doing so, for it seemed almost sacrilegious – but we just needed something different, something that didn’t require an emotional response; an escape.

Have you ever felt that way? In a season of immersion, or even grief and trauma, we emote and respond – up to a point. There is surprise, fear, anxiety, warmth, sorrow – appropriate responses to the information and situation presented. Good or bad, there seems to be a latent response mechanism present in our emotional arsenal.

But if it continues too long,
if the days trickle into weeks and months,
if the list of hits keep coming,
if the cancer comes back again- and again- and again,
sometimes we’re too tired to respond with the same level of grief and sorrow – even if the news is the worst we’ve heard yet.

Lethargic, tired, and guilty, our response may come out in a surprising way:
In an inappropriate joke
in a laugh when you ‘should’ be crying
in a dismissal-like acceptance when we may expect a full-blown riot against what is happening.

…but is that always a bad thing?

Many of you would know that my mum went through a long journey of cancer before she passed in 2010. Her story was not an uncommon tale: diagnosis, shock, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, grief, pain, hair loss, sickness, (repeat), remission, lymph node removal, lymphedema, sickness, deterioration…the process went on for many years.

I remember at one point during the last couple of months, amongst being surrounded by many prayers and hope of healing, that I just felt exhausted. I was even exhausted by the thought of mum miraculously getting better. It had been such a long few months of contemplating life without her, of tending her bedside, of sorting through financial and medical matters, that the long journey back to health seemed like an insurmountable process. So I couldn’t entertain the idea.

Of course this was a symptom of grief, of depression, of trauma, but I felt guilty feeling this way. Shouldn’t I care? Shouldn’t I want her to get better? Of course I did – the healthy and whole part of me of course did – but I had reached emotional saturation. I didn’t have capacity to emote any more at that point in time.

We can grit our teeth and clench our fists and ‘think’ our way into a response that we ‘should’ be engaging in in prolonged periods of suffering, but maybe that’s not the most helpful thing to do. Perhaps our body and soul is craving a release valve and respite, a some-thing other than the options our grief story is offering us.

Take for example; a side affect to doctors removing lymph nodes in mum’s arm was lymphedema. Her arm swelled up to around 3 times its original size, to the point where she had to constantly support her massive left arm with her right. It was horrible and debilitating. But man it was also hilarious, watching her having to deliberately move her hand from place to place; her ‘throwing’ her left arm into a high five was a particular highlight. I know this is in poor humour. But it offered a light moment and relief to my family during those awful months.

This is why compartmentalism/bad taste humour/online shopping/watching bad TV/not talking about Covid-19/etc can be helpful, life giving, and dare I argue, necessary. Long term or continual trauma is a marathon, not a sprint. We only have so much emotional capacity or energy before we get saturated and tired. I believe it is a life giving process for us to find spaces of respite that allow us to tend both heaviness and lightness at the same time.

Even if we think about this time of pandemic. We’ve had significant restrictions of our way of life for a number of weeks now, and even if some social distancing measures start opening up in the near future, we won’t be returning to ‘normal’ for a really long time: indeed for many around the world, Covid-19 is not just an inconvenience, it is – and will continue to be- a harbinger of long-term emotional, physical, social and financial trauma. So how do we sustain? How can we seek rhythms of rest amongst the enduring circumstance?

Rest – true rest – is a long term goal that is supported and maintained through intentional rhythms. It is spaces of self care and gratefulness and consideration. It is found in relationship and faith and peace and hope…but it doesn’t happen over night.

So in the mean time, while the trauma continues, while the exhaustion is present, I think it is far more important to celebrate and enable respite than it is to police ourselves (read: others) in our behavioural response. We don’t know other people’s stories. Most likely, there has already been tears – and there will most likely be more tears to come. Even more likely, they’re just tired.

So firstly, an acknowledgement of lethargy is paramount. Having grace for our tired souls is the first thing we should seek.

Repeat after me: “I’m tired. I’ve reached my emotional capacity”: The saying, the seeing, is important.

Secondly, we create spaces of respite:
Permission it for yourself. Champion it for others.

Laugh at the joke. Go for a meal. Watch the bad TV. Send the meme. Moments of lightness allow spaces – and breath – for the heaviness to be continued to be carried. Let’s not judge ourselves or others in their handling of trauma – but encourage and enable spaces for relief, respite and restoration.

XX

we the redeem-able, we the restor-able

2018 has not been an easy year for my family. There were job changes and losses and juggling. There was stress and sickness. There was the learning of how to parent a 2 year old that never forgets ANYTHING. And there was also the building of a house which seconded and underpinned all of our energy, finance, time and attention. My dear husband has basically been working 7 days/nights a week at his ‘real’ job and then at site to make it ready enough for us – But it is a site no more, because as of two weeks ago, we finally moved into our home. It is beautiful. I’m so proud of us. Of Shannon in particular, but of both of us – that we actually made it here.

Many times this year I’ve had conversations with friends and family who ask about the house or how we’ve been going, and I shared mostly about the hard work that a self build-off the grid-custom house is, and the toll that it’s taken. Please understand, I don’t want to whinge: So many people only dream about the opportunity that we have had to build this place. I get how privileged we are. It is a beautiful thing.

But it has been costly. And by costly I mean in time. And in relationships. And in health. And in sanity. I think about the disagreements that Shannon and I have had this year and all most of them have simply arisen from the fact that we’re both so tired and desperately just wished our partner would acknowledge how hard we’ve been working.

Anyone with me?

I’m just tired. and done. And after yet another Christmas where sickness has taken us out of celebrations, and after all the work and stress and frustration and envy of other-people’s-seemingly-simpler-lives, this is the prayer that I’ve been repeating – as I sit in our beautiful home – a beautiful home at the end of a really long, hard year

“Jesus. It’s been really really hard.
Can you redeem this for us? Can you redeem me?”

I really really hope so.

There are many names for Jesus – we are reminded of them at Christmas – but one of my favourites is Jesus the Redeemer.

Redemption is Deliverance. Rescue.

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us…Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

Romans 3 (MSG)

To redeem is to gain or regain possession of (something/someone) in exchange for payment. Redemption costs something. It also requires a third party, the redeemer, to pay up. So Jesus being our redeemer, has freed us from slavery and death, in payment of himself.

As an aside – thinking about Jesus the Redeemer makes me thinking of the amazing statue called Christ the Redeemer that stands above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It’s truly magnificent: I’ve always loved how Jesus stands guard over the city, his arms raised high.

I have not seen it in person.

But what I have witnessed is in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. You take a suburban bus and come across a gem called Tierra Santa or the Holy Land, a Jesus theme park. You heard it right kids. An entire theme park exists where you can visit reenactments of the creation, of Jesus’ life, and you can dress up as biblical characters. What Tierra Santa also has is a Jesus that resurrects (and rotates) out of a mountain on the hour, every hour. It’s so good. Take that Rio De Janeiro.

But back to the Redeemer. This name for Jesus is truly wonderful.

Redemption is a powerful, enticing idea. And it is something that I long for so often.

I think it’s something that we all long for really.

Can those parts of us, of our lives, that have been, or are presently, destructive, painful, shameful – can they be freed?

I think that’s the real prayer I’ve been making. Not that my entire life would be replaced and made perfect – although that would be nice – just that the elements which are broken can be redeemed and made to be life giving.

The thing is, I think Jesus is all over that too. Because what is also encaptured in this concept of REDEMPTION, is RESTORATION.

Redemption means freedom FROM something, yet restoration – a closely linked process – is the act by which we are brought TO something.

Redemption FREES, but Restoration PROVIDES – provides new life, peace, meaning & relationship.

The two work hand in hand in the biblical story – both in small lives but also across whole groups and nations. God is in the business of offering MERCY to redeem us, but also GRACE in the restoration to beauty, wholeness & life.

I didn’t want to get too preachy in this post. Sorry about this. But it’s so good. YES. God redeems. YES Jesus restores. He tells us that he does. And I’ve seen it happen.

We often hear about the stories of people meeting Jesus and their whole lives have been transformed in one moment – like Paul on the road to Damascus, or the drug dealer who suddenly becomes sober – and as a young person I remember feeling so jealous of their stories when mine was a far more mundane one.

But the way I’ve seen God work in my life is within it – restoring and redeeming the stories of heartbreak, the feelings of loss or loneliness, the times of intimidation or embarrassment. What I’ve come to realise is that it’s an equally valid & transformational story.

He has redeemed my whole being of course – but every day, and within and through my life, he restores it.

Moreover, the thing that I’m so comforted by is the thought that the very nature of restoration and redemption assumes that there is something worth saving.

It assumes that I’m worth saving.

The very nature of restoring an old car, house, chair, person – assumes that they have worth. There are parts of me, of you, that are worth the effort. The very point of redemption is that you don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but recognise the beauty & creation in something’s, or someone’s, essence & soul.

This is the thought that has warmed my cynical, clapped-out heart this past two weeks.

If he is the redeemer,

I am the redeemable.

if he is the restorer,

I am the restorable.

x

black friday, true crime podcasts, and everything anxious

You may have heard that my husband and I are building a house. Which we have been building for the last 299409 years. She is a beauty and I can’t believe that we’ll be actually living in it someday soon. This piece is not about building a house – I’m sure many will come of the like – but it is about the fact that when you’re at the end of a house build, you rarely have money. The money you do have should and does go into buying boring things like curtains. and septic tanks. and doors. You know, the things that make a house liveable…but not sexy. Septic tanks are not sexy.

Now despite the reality that I know I should be buying roller door fire retardant seals (clearly the most exciting product on the planet), this weekend I have found myself scrolling Instagram and Facebook, seeing add after add of “BLACK FRIDAY SALE”, and wanting so desperately to buy all of it. Whatever IT was. Not only do did I want 1200 thread count sheets at 70% off, or that gorgeous Gorman dress that would be so amazing over summer, but the hard truth is that I cared less about how wonderful all these purchases would make me feel  (which is the #1 rule and trick of consumerism) and the identity I am creating (which is the #2 rule and trick of consumerism), and more about how anxious I was on missing out on the opportunity to feel better about myself and support the image that I am creating (which is really the driving force behind #1 and #2).

Let’s state that again. Yes I want wanted dresses and sheets and crockery and Rollie shoes and environmentally sound keep cups. But the anxiety on missing out on the opportunity to gather these items was a far stronger force than any desire for discounted Kikki K 2019 diaries.

I just didn’t want to miss out.

The thing is, this is what the consumerist society is designed to do.

Consumerism is DESIGNED TO MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF.
SO THAT YOU BUY MORE STUFF. It is defined as Perpetual non-satisfaction.
IT is BEST FRIENDS WITH ANXIETY and man, do they have a good working relationship.
The system works so well: Guys, buy stuff to make you feel good & represent your identity. But more than that, do it NOW so that you won’t miss out on becoming/staying part of the in crowd who have already done so.  

I’m not knocking purchasing. I do it all the time – just take a look at my 63 strong hoard collection of vintage dresses. I’m not even talking about the role of of unethical purchasing or irresponsible stewardship of our money, which are both really important things to consider in our purchasing habits.

But if you are feeling anxious about shopping – and what you’re missing out on, please. take a breath. wait a minute or hour or day to purchase.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE CLOTHES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE HOUSES.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE T2.
THERE WILL ALWAYS BE ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY.

Perhaps you are one of the chosen ones in our society who aren’t implored to shop. But maybe you like podcasts instead. I love podcasts. They’re so good. Give me a true crime, or a revisionist history, or a tv show dissection, or a Cultural Theory, and I am done. I am happy. and I am probably smug that you haven’t heard of the podcast yet and I get to introduce it to you.

But here’s the thing. I have been anxious about podcasts too! In my work commute I have an hour of juicy time to listen to my episodes. But more frequently than I care to admit, I have caught myself thinking “What podcast am I missing out on? What knowledge or in joke or unbelievable-but-true crime am I missing out on knowing the ins and outs of?”

This is dumb.

Podcasts are a privilege of the elite and learned. Podcasts are a joy of creation and thinking and sharing of knowledge and humour and wisdom and musical theatre. We should delight in the fact that they’re free and that we get to listen to them. We don’t have to be anxious about what we’re missing out on. Just put it on the list and you’ll get to it if and when you can.

We don’t have to add a consumerism lens to our resources and time.
We just don’t. It’s exhausting and robs us of joy and peace.
Maybe we can choose not to. 

You and I, dear friends, have far greater things to spend our time and energy on than feeling anxious about the purchases that we should be making to feel good or the podcast that we’re missing out on.

If you are feeling anxious, I implore you: Name it if that’s what you’re feeling, and consider why you are feeling like you’re missing out or feeling crap about yourself today. Talk to someone about it. Pray about it. Read some truths about yourself – Such as you are an incredible masterpiece, a gift, a delight, someone worthwhile.

It might save you some dollars and maybe also give you some joy and peace that lasts longer than it takes to open the package.

Can you advocate for me?

So you’ve had an illness for some weeks now. Maybe it’s a cough, maybe it’s a headache that just won’t go away no matter how many pills you pop, maybe it’s your kid who has had 17 ear infections in the past year. So you go to the doctor, perhaps again. You can’t get into the Doctor you normally see and so you’re scheduled with a very educated and very well meaning other stranger doctor who hears your story, checks your symptoms, maybe writes you a script, or if worse comes to worse, tells you to keep up the fluids and to ‘wait and see’. 

You still don’t feel better. 

You walk  away from the experience feeling disappointed and unsatisfied. 

Why is that? I mean the obvious answer is that it’s annoying because the doctor couldn’t or didn’t fix us. We go to doctors to get help, right? 


I’ve got nothing against the medical profession by the way – I’m grateful for those in our midst who were willing to sacrifice the years of study to know way more about the human body than I will ever  do – but again, so many times when I’ve sought help from health or other services I walk away feeling deflated. 

Maybe it’s because there’s something else going on under the surface. I think the disappoint may also lie in the fact that what we really long for is someone to be our advocate. Someone to take up our cause and say “I see you! I hear your problem. Let’s make this better for you.” We long for someone to follow through with that promise and not to stop until they’ve exhausted all options and it DOES feel better. 

The thing is, that’s not necessarily going to happen at your local gp’s office. I mean, who’s got time for that? 

I was reading this this morning though and it stopped me in my tracks.

“I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear to my cry for help!’ You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ “You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life.”

‭‭Lamentations‬ ‭3:55-58‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Be careful, oh my soul. Be alert, Kirsten. As weary as you may be, Be aware of who you’re looking to to save you…but take heart. 

Do I want someone to follow through on their promise?

Do I want someone who knew me then, knows me now and will know me in the future?

Do I want someone to hear me and advocate for my cause? 

Here he is. 

Expertly Amateur

I’ve been a mum for 2 weeks now. As others have said before me, prior to meeting your bubs, you try to imagine both the emotion you’ll feel for your little one, and also the way that it will change your life. Both imaginations failed dismally to what I’ve felt and experienced in the past two weeks. I mean, the girl is scrumptious.

K&A

The sleep deprivation is not.

And neither has been that feeling of complete incompetence I’ve felt over the past 17 days. Like when my husband and I attempted to change our screaming bubs in and out of 5 outfits last night because we couldn’t judge the size of said garments compared to baby’s dimensions yet. Our daughter looked at us with this face that said – “Seriously, come on guys. It can’t be that difficult.”

Can’t it? I mean, how difficult is it to dress/feed/cuddle such a lovely one?

Heaps, apparently.

In the last 17 days I have found myself exposed to my own (and my imagined daughter’s) criticism in a way that is supremely uncomfortable. I’m an amateur.  Seriously. I don’t know squat. And that, my friends, is the thing that I’m afraid of MOST in the whole world. Forget spiders, heights, *collectable spoons and cancer. I can face them. But looking like an idiot? Please God, NO.

I’ve built my career and relationships on the fact that I know stuff. And that I can contribute. Not only have I learned big words in the past to sound impressive in conversations, but I have also actively avoided activities because I have trouble being vulnerable enough to learn things and not be an expert immediately (just ask how I went learning how to play tennis).

But now I’m faced with the task of needing to learn how to be a mum -and fast- so that my child can live and thrive. Not fun. The fact that she’s learning too hasn’t provided comfort yet because I am still the adult, right? In this situation, I’m the one who is supposed to be in control, and yet I’ve found myself being intimidated by a person who is only days old because I want to do so right by them, but I’m not sure if I can.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that I can do some stuff, and some stuff I’m actually not terrible at. Here’s the rub though- I’m an amateur in Everything. EVERYTHING! Who am I kidding?! My dear God looks at my ridiculous attempts to impress him, and he says thanks love, but you don’t need to. I just love you. It’s ok.

There is so much beauty and space to breathe when I finally come with humility and realise that my state of amateurism can actually be one step closer to experiencing his grace for me. I’m so grateful that it’s ok to not to be an expert in life yet. My weakness and willingness to be taught can be a statement to his glory.

What a gift for me to be reminded of In Easter week.

Oh Dear Jesus, thanks for saving me from myself…

And please keep reminding me of this.

Kirst x

*Collectable spoons still terrify me.

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”
2 Cor‬ ‭12:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬