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Why I write.

28 Dec

I started this blog as a uni assignment. I’d enrolled in a Masters of Creative Writing at Macquarie University and our lecturer advised us to write every day. I had a new baby and two older children to care for. I knew I wouldn’t write every day unless forced.

Starting a blog had been on my mind for a while. I’d had to leave my radio career behind due to my children’s extra needs – food allergies and Autism Spectrum Disorder – and was looking for some kind of outlet. Writing blog posts appealed to me because I could write about whatever I wanted, with no demands placed on me by an employer.

My brother became sick of me mentioning my intention to start a blog and never getting around to it so one day he set it up for me, emailed me the details and told me to get started. I couldn’t have loved him more.

Since then I started writing almost daily. My blog soothed me during difficult days and gave me back my voice. It helped me with my uni degree which ended up going pretty darn well and led me to my current career as a writer for Mamamia Women’s Network (MWN), a job I plan to have until the day I die.

As a result of my very brilliant career at MWN, I have been neglecting this blog. The posts I used to write here have now found a new home so I didn’t know what to write about.

Then I realised that this blog doesn’t have to be anything at all. It can evolve and change and be whatever I want it to be. For now, I want it to be a place I can go to express those thoughts and feelings that don’t necessarily appeal to the masses.

Me and the kids

Modern life is incredibly busy and incredibly isolating.

Some say blogs are self-serving and narcissistic. For me, blog writing is therapy.

Modern life is busy but it is also incredibly isolating. Technology has removed the need for personal interaction and instead of fighting it I have ended up embracing it, and isolating myself even further.

Having the ability to write and express myself has been a life-saver. However over the next 12 months I plan to try and get “out there” even more while maintaining all of my amazing work opportunities.

Life is for the living.

My children have picked up on my home body habits so I’ll be pushing them out the door more too. Or maybe they are natural home bodies. It’s hard to tell at their current ages of 11, seven and six. I suppose I’ll discover their true nature soon enough. Parenting isn’t anything if not an eye-opening adventure.

That’s all for today. I wanted to reach out, say hi and tell you all that life is for the taking, it’s never too late to pursue your dreams, do better, be better and so on, and so forth. I say these things to myself each and every day and I try and live my own advice as much as possible.

The New Year always starts for me straight after Christmas so I suppose this post is a New Year’s resolution of sorts. It certainly sounds like it, doesn’t it.

I wish you love and light and health and happiness during the year ahead.

It’s never too late to change EVERYTHING.

13 Mar

You are in control of your life. You just forgot that you were.

My first university experience was fresh out of high school. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to be. I had a rough idea in my own head of the kind of path I wanted to take. Also my parents (my dad) had bashed me over the head with his expectation. “You should be a financial journalist”, he would say to me. However something I’ve always been good at is knowing my limitations. I loved high school Commerce and Economics but was in know way smart enough ‘that way’ to write about it everyday.

So my career went something line this:

Grocery store

Toy store

Bar tender/waitress

Radio announcer

Author

Traffic reporter

Journalist

Not too shabby, right?

It wasn’t an easy ride. I could write a book about each and every one. But it’s mostly the transition from traffic reporter to journalist that I want to talk about, that I am asked about and that I am the most proud of.

I was sitting at home a few years ago with a son in school, a toddler and a baby, feeling like my life was over. I felt like my best and most productive career years were way behind me and I didn’t have what it took to be a full time working mum. I have always understood and accepted my limitations and handling stress is not one of my strengths.

So I started dabbling in writing from home. Then I went to Google and started looking at writing courses.

I had always dreamed of going back to university and actually studying my first choice field and my first choice university. For me that was writing at Macquarie University.

Filling out the application form/s was an exercise itself. It felt like a cruel and grueling test which I thankfully endured and I got in. Then I actually managed to do okay at it and graduate.

Now I am back there again studying something new. I have more plans after that.

Here comes the lesson: It’s never to late to completely change your life.

Ever since I posted my graduation photo on Facebook last November I have been inundated with friends and acquaintances asking for advice on pursuing their dreams. I know countless reality TV contestants have said, “Follow your dreams no matter what” but it can be scary, and impractical.

I had to consider my children, my husband’s schedule and sadly, money. I kept fiddling around and snooping around until I found a way to do it that worked for me. There is always a way, if you want it badly enough.

Uni grad

Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but have never gotten around to? The great thing about life is that we are in control of it. We aren’t just at the mercy of it. It can be so easy to forget that. I never let my children forget it. I constantly tell them, “You can be anything you want to be” but it wasn’t until I started saying that to myself that I really comprehended it.

Parents, partners, bosses, friends and colleagues can’t control our lives. We can let them control our lives if it suits us. We can listen to opinions and advice, accept jobs and factor in peoples feelings. At the end of the day, however, we have to please ourselves.

We are all running our own race, no matter what our circumstances are. So run it well, or change tracks if you’re not happy.

It is never too late and I am an example that it can be done.

Do you think it’s realistic to change careers later in life? How much should you let family pressure influence your dreams?

Why is it so hard for me to be an organised mother?

4 May

My nook

I’ve always wanted to be the kind of mother who had a school bag nook. I’d carefully and lovingly design the nook in the perfect position in our home. At the start of each day I’d pack my children’s bags and they’d retrieve them from their designated hook on their way out the door. When they arrived home they’d hang them back up without me having to remind them because I’m super organised and so are they. Our family runs like a well-oiled machine.

Instead our bags are piled on a chair that is always so full we can never actually sit on it. I dig through the artwork, notes and toys to find the bags to pack them and then yell at the kids as soon as we arrive home to put their bags on the chair. Sometimes they listen.

The pile of school bags on the chair often collapses and only in the middle of the night to create maximum terror and panic.

I came across an amazing website called The Organised Housewife and her most recent post was all about how she’d craft the perfect nook for her family. I want to be just like her!

My style of parenting is complete chaos, despite the best of intentions. We’ll have a good day here and there, a good week but something will happen and chaos reigns. Sickness, extreme fatigue, forgetting to buy ham, a washing machine that is on the blink…

This month is has been moving house.

I can’t quite describe the challenge of viewing houses with three reluctant children who you have warned in the car on the way to behave so the agent doesn’t put a giant red cross across our application with a note saying, “Nightmare children.” We viewed several houses but each had a non-negotiable issue like no air conditioning, a giant tree in the backyard that had killed all the grass and created a mud pit, too small, too far from school…

Then, I found our new house or should I say, our new house found us.

I viewed a house near where we are now and it turns out it’s owned by a friend who approved us immediately. And, it has a school back nook!

Six retro hooks hang in the kitchen near where we have put our fridge. It is the PERFECT place for school bags. This house has been waiting for me.

I’m a more organised housewife in this house by default because they hooks are pre-existing but just like this amazing house that is cleverly designed for maximum living pleasure, I too plan to create a schedule that works, take the vitamins necessary to complete said schedule and make the most of life with a nook.

The nook is a metaphor for the kind of mother I’ve always wanted to be. The nook symbolises a mother who doesn’t forget birthday parties, who uses proper name tags on items, who attends P & F meetings, who uses sticker charts to moderate her well-dressed and clean children.

The nook has raised the bar and I plan to meet it.

A new era of motherhood has arrived. My children aged 9, 5 and 3 can look forward to a functioning home with no yelling, no last minute drying of the school shirts on heaters the morning of, plenty of ham and red apples in the fridge and set chores which they will complete without complaint because the organisation is infectious.

Working 9-5…sort of

19 Mar

WG

I haven’t worked traditional work hours…ever. Every job I’ve had has been early in the morning, late at night or weekends only – the joys of radio.

On Monday I start my first ‘proper’ job and I’m SO EXCITED. I get to wake up, get the kids ready for school, drop them off at school, go to work and be grown up and productive and then pick my children up.

It’s all happened quite fast. A week ago my year was going to be one way and now it’s going to be another. As soon as I found out this job was a possibility I started quizzing every working mother I’ve come across asking them how they make it work. I asked school mums, mums at children’s activities, at the grocery store, within my family…

The bottom line is, if you want to work when you have kids, organisation is the key. You don’t have the luxury of sleeping in or of falling behind on anything. This means you have a lot of prep to do the night before including washing the kids, ironing their clothes and yours, packing bags, making sure the shopping is done, charging your phone…

Two days a week isn’t quite enough to make the most of your job but three days is manageable. But once you get to four or five days a week you need a cleaner, you’ll have a pile of laundry and one form of childcare isn’t enough.

My sister gave me excellent advice. She said take one day at a time. There’s no way you can organise the entire week because shit happens – children become sick, things go wrong. Take one day at a time and you won’t stuff up or feel overwhelmed.

And give yourself time to adjust. Of course I’m going to feel guilty that first day. Of course I’m going to feel a little uncomfortable driving so far away from their schools. Those first few weeks will be a struggle but I have to give it a proper go because I’ll get used to it. I’ll get used to it and they’ll get used to it.

Finally, make sure you have back up in case you run late or get stuck in traffic. Have at least two other people who could in a pinch pick up your kids.

And breathe, enjoy. You’ve earned this opportunity and you deserve to work. Because kids grow up. Before I know it they won’t want to kiss me goodbye or hold my hand in public. They will need me differently, less hands on. I know it’s a while until that happens but knowing I have a career that matters to me, waiting for me makes me feel better. I want my children to see me working, I want them to be happy and well-cared for.

I want this new phase of my life to work, pun intended.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

Dear Lleyton and Sam, we’ve all crashed and burned before…

16 Jan

lleyton

Poor Lleyton Hewitt. There’s no doubt Lleyton is one of the best Australian tennis players of all time and he’s done enough in his career to rest up and enjoy the good life. But he isn’t giving up yet. Like Andre Agassi before him, Lleyton Hewitt senses that he’s not done yet and flashes of brilliance such as winning the Kooyong Classic just days ago prove that. So how is it that he’s out of the Australian Open in the first round?

My husband cycled with the Australian cycling team for years and he always says, “Competing is ten percent physical and 90 per cent mental.” As Samantha Stosur and athletes before her know all too well, it doesn’t matter how fit you are if your confidence is lagging.

We’ve all crashed and burned at key moments. Not being an athlete I have no stories of failed attempts to win rounds of anything, but as a public speaker, host and radio announcer I have had more than my fair share of spectacular failures and funnily enough they occurred when I was hosting events for family and friends as opposed to big, flashy functions.

My worst performance as a public speaker occurred as maid of honour for my friend and then my sister. Those speeches were so bad and I managed to offend in both.

Why why why? I’m a professional public speaker for crying out loud. I’m prepared. I’ve practiced. But I crashed and burned because my mind wasn’t right. At my friend’s wedding I felt her over-confidence that I’d be funny was the nail in my coffin. My jokes weren’t too bad but I think they were a little Australian for the mostly Canadian crowd. “I thought cruises were all about promiscuous sex but as Michelle and Rod have shown us, they can result in true love.”

Silence. Someone awkwardly clearing their throats.

And at my sister’s wedding I managed to forget we had close relatives in Melbourne, commenting that I was happy she was getting married because she’d have family in Melbourne now. Oh gosh. Cracking under pressure seemed to be my new specialty.

Pressure is a funny thing. Sometimes it brings out the best in us and at other times it completely undoes us. It’s this very fact, that it can go either way, that makes sport so mesmerizing because no matter how confident we are that an athlete or team will do well, sometimes, for no obvious reason, they don’t.

Lleyton Hewitt deserves as much credit for never giving up as he does for his achievements and as nerve-wracking as it is to watch Samantha Stosur and the Parramatta Eels for that matter, I will persevere because if they won’t give up, then neither will I.

Now, let’s raise our glasses…

What ever happened to live radio?

15 Jan

Spidergirl

What ever happened to live radio?

I remember when I first started in radio EVERYTHING was live except for the advertising and station IDs. In those days we’d cut, splice and load the carts. The sound of a jock getting ready for a shift was reading the newspaper and magazines and the clang and crash of retrieving and loading carts. Quite often one wouldn’t fire off and you’d need to quickly push it in properly and off it went.

But we always came on live after the commercial break. It was scary. The adrenalin would pump. Who knew what we’d say. Maybe that was the problem? Maybe that was the beauty of it.

Radio is in my blood and I will cling to a semblance of a radio career until the day I die. Radio is magic. It’s a one-on-one medium. How close do you feel to your favourite radio personalities? Their voices, their stories, the music they play and topics they discuss really do shape our day.

Not a lot of it is live anymore. If it is live it is delayed. The shows that are clearly live are the ones I love. As a traffic reporter in this new radio age, most of my work is pre-recorded but for the next three weeks I am live on two stations and it is so much fun! We’re interacting. We’re connecting. I’m being asked questions and included in discussions. Isn’t this what radio is all about? Isn’t this how radio maintains its soul?

Gosh how I wish we were more like Howard Stern in Private Parts. Boy did that take some guts. I have watched that movie hundreds of times. He was so brave. Some of his management were so brave. Other announcers have tried to take a leaf out of his book with mixed results. Sometimes when it works, radio magic is made.

Why is everyone so cautious these days? Why can’t we just let the conversation flow? My favourite shows are the ones that are so comfortable and familiar that they could only have taken years to build. It takes months and years for that initial chemistry to segue into brilliance, not just one survey result. Radio is so jittery these days. Honestly, I can’t keep up with the changes and the desperate promotion of shows yet to air.

As proven by recent pre-recorded radio segment scandals, pre-recording segments and shows doesn’t necessarily result from or in good judgement. Sometimes you go too far because you figure that because it is a pre-record, you can edit it or just not play it. When you are live you have to have your wits about you. Good judgement has to become instinct.

I remember an episode of The Simpsons which aired while I was a breakfast radio announcer. In the episode a machine called something like the “DJ 1000” is brought into the studio. The jocks are horrified. One says, “Don’t praise the  machine.” This became a mantra my co-host and I lived by. Each time we were told to pre-record something we could easily have done live, we would say to each other, “Don’t praise the machine, don’t praise the machine.”

I make more mistakes when I have to pre-record. When I’m live, I make less mistakes.

Radio sure has changed since I made my first desperate attempt to get a job as a jock some twenty years ago. I do have to say that the truly gifted announcers out there have the ability to make pre-recorded shows sound utterly and completely live, because after they hit record they are in the moment. In their minds, they are live. They connect. They have a background in live radio so they know what it takes, how it feels.

Everyone in radio should have to go live for years, as part of their training. Ironically it is only through the awkward mistakes, moments of dead air and unplanned content that you can truly become a gifted announcer today. And the stories we all have about what when to air are just gold. Like the guy lined up at Ticketek who dropped both the ‘c’ and the ‘f’ bomb during our show one day. It was horrific at the time but boy have I told that story a few times! He communicated his frustration. He connected. He just got us into massive trouble in doing so and that was the trigger for our segments to all be pre-recorded.

I really miss live radio. Sometimes when it’s live just gold.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

 

I’ve never worked regular hours

1 Jan

Moon

Trying to buy milk at 5am is quite a challenge. All the service stations go into lock-down and you have to use the ‘Night Pay’ window which is an anti-social metal slot designed to prevent robberies. I usually indulge in a bit of a diet at this time of the year mainly due to my birthday in three weeks (37 – yikes!) so I really need to buy skim milk.

There are two workers at the service station I choose. I ask for skim milk and am told they don’t stock it. They stock Paul’s so I can choose from 2% or no-fat. I ask for no -fat and the girl points out that the 2% tastes just like real milk without the fat and the other one is really watery. I asked for the watery one and am met with a look of disapproval. I am too tired to explain that because I want to drink it I prefer it to be watery and that I already have 2% at work for my coffee. I slip my coins into the slot and he lifts his side and puts the milk in a metal container which I can access from my side too. I was wondering how he was going to fit it through that little slot. I was picturing him opening the sliding doors quickly, leaving it on the ground and then ducking back inside. Everything about me says ‘robber’ because I am after all not wearing any makeup and my children assure me I look scary at this time of the day. “Mum, you look like a monster,” my son helpfully pointed out one morning.

“It’s just like America, isn’t it,” a man joined me at the window to buy cigarettes.

“No, if it were America we’d be allowed in but they’d have guns and so would we.” He chuckled.

“True.”

“Are you working,” I asked.

“Just starting,” he confirmed.

“Me too.”

Clutching my skim milk I scampered back to the car and continued the drive to work.

I’ve never worked regular hours. All my jobs have required early morning or late night shifts. My first step towards my chosen profession of radio was volunteering to do the breakfast shift at my local community radio station. My first paid job in radio was a late night show. Then breakfast again which lasted almost a decade and required me to wake up at 3.30am.

“At least you have the rest of the day free,” my 9-5 colleagues would comment.

“Except I’m in a coma and feel constantly jet lagged.”

“Oh,” they’d look at me skeptically, as though I was exaggerating. Don’t they know that by about 3pm I’ll be feeling like someone has microwaved my brain. Naps just made it worse.

In my current job they have something charmingly referred to as a ‘split shift’ where you work four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon so you are faced with the choice of staying at work like a loser waiting for your next shift to begin or going home for 1-2 hours before turning around and heading back to work. In the morning everyone is pretty energetic but by the afternoon all the office doors are closed and socialising is kept to a minimum. A lot of carbs are consumed in the form of noodles, chocolate and biscuits and we’re too tired to even wash our coffee mugs. It’s pretty sad.

Sometimes I watch movies and imagine myself working regular hours in a job where I have to wear special clothes. In most of my jobs I could have turned up in a track suit and no-one would have batted an eyelid. Often I’ve been tempted to turn up in my PJs…at least the pants because they are so comfy and it would be great when I power napped at my desk during a ‘double shift’ which is a horrible as it sounds but great on pay day.

Structuring your meals is also a challenge when you work irregular hours. My husband has been doing shift work for the past four years after decades of 9-5 jobs. I’d pack his food for the day or night depending on the shift he was working and he’d always eat his dinner for breakfast and end the day with cereal.

My colleagues and I are split into two groups – there are those of us who eat as soon as we wake up and those us who hold out until at least the sun is up. Those who eat breakfast before 6am have a problem later in the day where they want lunch at 9am and usually end up eating either two lunches or two dinners. Those of us who hold out usually manage a more regular eating pattern and a milky coffee first thing is an excellent stalling mechanism. But we all hit that wall somewhere between 3 and 4pm where fatigue segues into sugar cravings and MUST BE RESISTED, or not. Have you tried Ben and Jerry’s Peanut Brittle ice-cream yet? They sell it at the video shop near my house.

The closest I have come to a normal life is when I’m off work and strangely enough I have trouble getting to sleep and trouble waking up. For some reason I find it easier to wake up at 4am rather than 6am. When I sleep normally with no alarm and no schedule I wake up naturally at around 7.15 but this leaves only 45 minutes to get three children ready for school and various activities, pack lunches, shower, brush teeth…it’s just not enough time and I prefer not to start the day yelling at my children.

So spare a thought for shift workers or those who are working while you are tucked into bed. There are plenty of them keeping the wheels churning and when you’re at work going about your day they’re trying to stay awake to enjoy at least part of their day, eating lunch at 9am or napping in awkward places in awkward positions.

La Dolce Vita,

Jo Abi

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