An open letter to the neglected

This semester has been a particularly tedious one. During the intervals of insomnia, I have pondered topics including the value of social interaction, the importance of relationships, and how our perceptions influence our actions (or inaction).

I will start with a confession: Over the last month, I have made little to no effort to engage socially.

My study schedule has been demanding. Is this enough to justify my inaction? In a best case scenario, higher marks equate to higher earnings and increased social status. With full respect to those who pursue such goals, I must be honest and say that I cannot value material worth and status over a healthy mind. Friendship is a key part of that. Even for an introvert.

Formalised education is only one part of the picture for me. Yes, a certificate from an institution offers certain benefits, however I am loathe to hold one measure of one type of intelligence over all others. While I consider my further education a privilege and apply myself (often obsessively), I cannot say with honesty that this alone is the reason for my non-social behaviour.

So why then have I been so lax? Am I annoyed at or bored with the people I call my friends? Do I really value the interpersonal relationships in which I usually participate? How can I justify behaviour which conflicts with my values? I can’t.

I am not annoyed or bored. I do value the friendships (the real ones – not those in the ‘Facebook friends’ category) I am fortunate enough to be involved in. There’s just been so much to do, in so little time.

Are we as time poor as we would like to believe? Or does it come back to status? Being busy and important is such an ingrained dilemma. Ask someone how their weekend was – “Oh it was busy!”. Ask someone else how they are – “Oh I’ve been just so busy!”. Are we really that busy, or are we just talking ourselves up? Are we just making excuses to others and to ourselves to make peace with the possibility that we may be perpetual procrastinators?

I have a theory that if we really want to do something, we’ll find time. It’s a theory that has forced me to question my motivations (or lack thereof). Am I really so genuinely busy that I won’t find 10 minutes to check my email, 30 to get ready for work and over an hour of interspersed day dreaming? Nope.

We have been sold the ‘time poor’ mentality by clever marketing hacks and self-help writers clinging to quasi-psychological concepts. Yes, anxiety is real. Anxiety about running out of time is real. Is it the epidemic it is publicised as? No. Would Facebook, Twitter, etc be so economically viable and prolific if we weren’t feeling so time poor? “Facebook is crap, but I use it to keep in touch with friends, and I’m so busy – Facebook makes it easy”. Is that really code for: I can’t be bothered, so I’m going to publish a few self-promoting status updates per week so that a conglomerate of acquaintances can feed off the scraps of my ideal life? The perception of being time poor gives us so much creative license to justify an array of (ironically) unproductive behaviour. No time to clean – Too busy! Would love to stop and chat, but I shan’t – Too busy! Would stop and smell the roses if I hadn’t carelessly run them down with the lawn mower because I was so busy I had to move at lightening speed. Will the world end if we just take a moment and slow down?

I guess I’m disenchanted with cyber-socialisation. An email, instant messenger chat, text message, status update and/or tweet doesn’t really cut it for me when it comes to real friendship. There’s so much room for over analysis and so little contact that it just doesn’t feel worth it. I even hate using the phone to call people – I’ve no good reason to explain this reluctance. Maybe it’s introversion, maybe it’s because a phone wasn’t installed at home until I was a little older than most. So am I going to resume letter writing and wait for weeks with baited breath until I see a hand written envelope arrive in return? Maybe. For fun.

In the spirit of hypocrisy…

Dear Void of Nothingness,

I have missed you dearly, and apologise for the lack of attention I have afforded you.

Please accept my sincerest apologies.

Let’s be friends?

Agnes J. Stone

“It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say.”

– Primo Levi.

This quote, displayed in the lobby of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe Information Centre captures the importance of reflection and hope.

Today marks the 71st anniversary of Kristallnacht, a terrifying turning point in history. In the years that followed, Germany was a centre of genocide and oppression.

In a nation with a past filled with violent hate crimes, peaceful protest contributed to one of the most important moments in history. Without a shot fired, the people of Germany succeeded in changing their nation, and indeed the world. Today also marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The words of Levi emphasise the importance of learning. History can repeat, knowledge can empower.

We must never forget the devastation of war. This seems an obvious endeavour, though military conflict is so entrenched in day to day life that it is quite easy to forget that we are at war.

We must always question, and keep an open mind. No matter how convincing an argument, we need to find the facts.

We must always remember that we can bring about change.

Everyday, perhaps without realising, we are in a position to make a difference in our world. Some people campaign for change through overt protest. Others take silent stands to show their own disdain. The beauty of it is that changing the world need not cost you a cent. You don’t need to cancel your plans. All you have to do is be mindful.

Be mindful that thanking the person serving you might just make their day. Be mindful that smiling at a stranger may make them feel less alone in the world. Be mindful that your cheerful “Good morning” to the old man you meet on the footpath might be the only greeting he gets all week. Be mindful that friendships need nurturing. Be mindful that tomorrow, your loved one forgetting to make that phone call won’t matter. Be mindful that yes, leaving the extra lights on will contribute to make a difference. Turn it off.

Practice kindness. It is human nature to become absorbed with our own lives. It’s easy to forget that we aren’t the only ones with troubles. It costs nothing to be kind. You don’t need to become affiliated with a group. You don’t need to devote your weekends to it. All you need to do is think about it a little. Be surprised by the kindness of strangers by surprising strangers with your kindness.

By being mindful , we can learn to take bigger steps.

Berlin, once divided like the rest of Germany, is now a city of hope. In a land of people once governed by some of the most evil in history, faith in humanity has been reinvigorated.

Potsdamer Platz – 15th October, 2008.

Note the curve at the base of the slab. These cobble stones mark the path where the wall once stood.

All is not lost.

Remember that day we were in the car with mum and dad? It was just the four of us. Dad still had the old car and we were driving along a stretch of road which ended at a T-intersection. We were singing along so loud that dad was distracted and nearly ran into the sign marking the end of the road!

I’ve no idea where we were going. All that mattered was having fun along the way.

Complete

The journey took me to the other side of the world and back.

On reflection, like most people, I’ve had a year filled with highs and lows.

Looking at each photo, I’m transported back.

I expected to take a photo each day.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that looking through

the viewfinder changed my perspective on life itself.

I became fascinated with my surroundings, questioned my perspective

and challenged myself to find new ways of representing the “mundane”.

I fell in love with photography – I found inspiration.

Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

Sincerely,

Agnes J. Stone

Coming Soon

One year of Tin Foil Transmissions – 6th August, 2009

The finale of the 365 Day Project- 13th August, 2009

Guest appearances – Including a cameo spot with Frank

Celebrations – Including a Competition with Amazing, Great, Nice, Excellent and Special prizes

Thank you. Please come again.

Sincerely,
Agnes

There’s a monster under the bed

My biggest fear is losing my memory. Being an introvert (you can stop laughing now) means that much of my experience is internalised – I care more about taking a mental snapshot of a scene than engaging in it physically.

So losing my travel journal has left me feeling somewhat distraught.

Once my travel companion had fallen asleep, I would write about the events of the day… The shock of looking up from the map and seeing the Eiffel Tower right in front of me. Dreams jumping off the page. The fear of being stranded at a train station, preparing to spend the night there and wondering how to contact the Embassy the following day. The overwhelming relief when we were found! The elation of achieving a personal goal the night before we left.

On those travels I discovered so much. About myself, my relationship, the other people I traveled with, my culture, other cultures, the world. It was amazing. Overwhelming and something that I hope I never forget.

Memories do fade. I intend to re-write my travel journal, though I must remember that I will not be able to capture the same intensity of emotion that I was able to write with the first time around.

Cherish your memories. Take photos, make notes. Keep a catalogue of your world.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a sequinned umbrella

Each morning, I am deprived the simple pleasure of silence as I commute to work. These notes are the only peaceful way of dealing with the events that unfold.

Picture this: Fifteen high school students. Four mute males, all of them fascinated with their feet. Eleven females, in mandatory and optional uniforms. Their clothes are of school colours. Their bags, shoes and accessories are of their own choosing. All of them made the same choice to be ‘different’ by dressing the same. Conformity at it’s best. Given their physical duplicity, the only way these girls can assert their individuality is in conversation, which is almost always dominated with discussion of boys.

Ten years later, the school colours will have faded, though these girls will remain unchanged. They will still be asserting the facets of their personality via the choices they make in fashion. Their choices governed by trends, in addition to the criteria they must meet to conform with their peers. They will wear the same clothes, carry the same bags and walk in the same shoes. A token celebration of a friend’s life event will also enable an intense drive to tick the same boxes to protect the equilibrium – the equality. They will still obsess over boys.

They will look back at their high school days and smile. They will feel the enduring comfort of conformity.