everything where it’s meant to be

I just finished the first week of my first conservation job.

This was a long time coming — three years ago, on an aimless trip to Madrid, I stood in the Prado staring at the conservation labs, and immediately knew, just knew, that was where I needed to be.

Over the following months, I researched and applied for the Masters degree in Conservation at Melbourne University. They accepted me and I discovered the prohibitive cost of studying meant I would have to go part-time and find a job.

I started working as a lowly account manager in a telemarketing business. It was mind-numbing work, earning barely enough to support myself, so I started working extra hours on any admin or operations projects I could get close to. I worked 10-hour days, and studied in the evenings and on weekends, and when an opportunity arose I jumped and wriggled my way into a position that eventually became Operations Manager, and was salaried enough to pay for university.

For two years I worked so hard, spending 50+ hours a week at the office, whilst trying to console myself with the 8 weeks a year I got to spend at university. I am proud of myself for getting excellent marks all the way through that time (who can forget that 95 I got on my essay on conservation in areas of conflict? I certainly never will!), while simultaneously my diligence at work was increasingly recognised and rewarded.

But I was getting so sick. So anxious. So tired. My ulcerative colitis tripled in spread over those two years, and my doctors kept telling me to do less, work less, study less. I had to make a choice, and I thought the best thing to do would be to put university on hold for a year, negotiate a stiff raise, and save enough money to go back to school full time the following year.

That was a huge mistake, although even with hindsight I don’t know what else I could have done. Without my studies to keep the spark inside of me alive, I wilted. I burnt out. I went from being undeniably the hardest-working, most dedicated and capable person in our office, to someone who could hardly function. Of course, by most people’s standards, I continued to be a competent and reliable worker, but inside, I was boiling up with anxiety and anger and frustration and depression.

So I quit. I didn’t know how I would make things work without my big paycheck, but I knew I couldn’t go on, not even for a few more months. It took under 6 weeks (for 2 of which I was on holiday in Taiwan) to recruit and train my replacement, so I barely had time to gather my thoughts, when here I stood, unemployed, ready to apply for the dole for the first time in my almost-32 years.

My thoughts, when I gathered them, oscillated between terrified and relieved. I didn’t get to dwell on them for very long, however, as less than a week after leaving my job, I had been hired for a 2-week stint at the National Archives of Australia as a paper conservator, to clean 821 boxes of mould-covered books.

The night before I started my new job, my AirBnb hosts here in Sydney asked me if I was nervous. How could I be nervous? How could I be anything but elated? No, I was thrilled.

But the joy I felt before my job is nothing compared to the deep-seated happiness and satisfaction I am experiencing now I have my first week (and my first week’s paycheck!) under my belt. I knew this was my calling, so I am not surprised, but I am discovering how many ways this work is just made for me, I am made for it, and it is the most fulfilling occupation that I could ever conceive, no matter how humble the work at hand. It just fits. And even when it’s tedious, even when it’s physically exhausting, I will never take that for granted, thanks to the years spent in offices doing work I despised.

Tomorrow I am getting a police check finalised for my second job. On Monday I will be locking in dates for my third conservation position (a volunteer role). At the end of June I fly up to the northernmost tip of Arnhem Land to spend a week at an Indigenous community arts centre. I am spending my free time this month preparing a fellowship application to support research for my thesis next year. I look back at the past three years, where I was trapped waiting for my life to begin, and I am so happy to be where I am now, where everything I do is about conservation, there are no concessions to anything else. Of course, come August, I will probably have to get another full-time job with a real paycheck, that is not conservation-related, but at least I know now that I can do this, and it’s not for long, and I am already, at last, a conservator!

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keygen

It’s not always easy to get myself to yoga. I didn’t want to go yesterday morning — it was 5:45am, James was in bed after waiting so many months to be together again, and I had slept really badly and did NOT want to get up. I also was grumpy because I knew I had to buy a 1-month pass even though I’d be banned from exercise for a week (more on this below) and then we’re going to Taiwan. But it’s so expensive to do Bikram it’s rarely not worth getting a pass.

Anyway, I went, precisely because it was my very last chance before my one-week ban commenced, and I felt meh-to-neutral all the way through. But on the last shavasana, I felt incredible. I think it’s a bit like a Rubik’s Cube or a videogame cheat code — you have to configure your body in 26 different postures, twice each, feeling crap, and then ta-dah! You feel good.

And if there was a fairly simple cheat code you could use whenever you want, to feel happy and well… you would be a fool not to use it at least a couple times a week!

Anyway — exercise ban. This morning I had an appointment to get my right knee’s common peroneal nerve injected with cortisone to try and improve my shin pain/nerve damage. It was pretty horrid, and then my leg went rather numb, but it’s wearing off now. I am reassured that my shin is aching which suggests they hit the right nerve. However despite me cajoling the specialist, the doctor and the nurse separately, they are adamant that I cannot exercise for a week and no, not even yoga.

My volunteer stint for Oxfam Trailwalker is in 10 days so I am trusting I’ll be ok to hike 11km by then. I certainly am cringing at the idea of not going to yoga for a week! But at least James and I can relax and enjoy a lazy Easter weekend.

On the 13th of March, my replacement at work will be starting! So I am very close to an end and there is bright light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a little nervous about how quickly work wants me to move on (my boss mentioned me potentially not bothering to come back from my holiday, but if he thinks I can do a complete handover in 8 business days he is quite deluded). But I’ll certainly be out of there by the end of May.

I have been debating blowing some of my savings to go back to Europe in June. I’d like to go visit my grandmother in the UK, and I would also like to walk a couple hundred more km on the Camino. It’s probably not a very wise idea but… it’s at the back of my mind. First and foremost I need to call Immigration and work out if it will affect my Australian citizenship eligibility though.

views from the 11th floor

There have been ups and downs this week. Rather than follow a chronological narrative, here’s some of my ups, and then maybe I’ll have forgotten about the downs by the end.

  • Bikram is going great. I listen carefully and do exactly what the teacher says, and my body follows. I feel very strong despite my horrid shins (oh yes, update: definitely not a stress fracture; I’m on the waiting list to see a shin pain specialist) and I think I sat out maybe one position of my last 5 classes. I finish each class shaking and stand for as long as possible under a freezing cold shower, feeling wonderful.
  • To celebrate I got myself a new Bikram outfit from lululemon (who I had sworn off, because they are so dodgy, but I then got sucked back in because they do make such great clothes and I took Polly on a shopping spree to kit her out with running skirts and cute tops… WORTH IT). I have been hunting for a bikini in this Klein blue for years, and not only is this top adorable, but the ocean-print bottoms are great for Bikram because they camouflage the inevitable cameltoe.

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  • I also got myself a Camelbak insulated water bottle. I have been going back and forth between getting a Camelbak, which my work-wife Nat has and which is obviously awesome, and something insulated so I am not drinking hot water by the time the floor series starts. The one I got is gorgeous, but I am discovering it has the insulation properties of a paper cup so it’s not great. Regardless, it’s a great drinking bottle and I love how much more I drink because of it. Also, one of my staff got me a little desk fan which matches it perfectly!

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  • The desk fan is much needed, because as you will see from the below pictures, I am surrounded by glass and sunshine, and it gets very hot in my office. But so beautiful and sunny!

Glass wall behind my desk:
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Glass wall to the left of my desk:
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View to the front left sat at my desk:
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View to the rear left sat at my desk:
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View behind me when I turn right to talk to Nat:
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It’s not always bright and sunny… here’s a view from a more atmospheric morning of the week:
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In case you hadn’t got it yet… I love my view.

  • For an even happier picture of desk distractions cheering me: James DID order me my very own copy of Pioneer Girl. It’s a massive and beautiful coffee table book, wombat is not quite to scale but not far off! I am reading it very slowly as it is heavily annotated and has so much information about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her relationship with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. It’s also quite heavy and unwieldy so not the kind of book I can throw in my handbag to read on the tram, but in a sense I like it better that way, it lasts longer…

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  • On my way to Bikram I go past a car salesroom. When I am on my way to the 6am class, I see a man cleaning the salesroom almost every morning, and I always smile and wave. The first time, back in January, he was obviously startled but then immediately smiled and waved back, and it’s become a tradition for us to do so. I’m not sure why I had that impulse, except that early morning cities are a bit more like villages, and a cleaner behind a window is a safe person to smile and wave at, as opposed to the clubbers who are weaving their way along Chapel St looking for a cab. This Tuesday morning the man was waiting for me out the front, and he said “I wanted to say thank you for always saying hello in the morning!” and I felt very smiley and happy and “the world is such a wonderful place!”… then my yoga class was HARD and work kind of sucked, so I probably read too much into it. Still, it was nice.
  • Today I ran lots of errands for my soon-to-be new home, and now own a fridge and a chopping board and a fancy Scanpan knife that was $35 marked down from $80, and at long last, a salad spinner. I wore my Marcelline dress — another gift from James, who really is such a sweetheart, and I am terrible for never sending him anything in Iraq!! — which I hadn’t worn all summer because I felt too self-conscious, but actually I really like it!

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  • I also made a floor plan for my new home in InDesign, to scale, with all my furniture, plus a couch and table which I need to buy. This is a very consumerist post! I am sorry…

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  • Non-consumerly pictures I found unexpectedly this week, of James and me on my friend Benjin’s barge, in London, at St Katharine’s Docks, back in May 2011. Benjin runs a fantastic NFP called Floating Films where he screens films and documentaries on the barge, if you’re in London you should take a look!

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  • My manager (who went on maternity leave then moved to Queensland, and whom effectively I have been more or less replacing for the last six months, which is why I hate my job so much) is down for 10 days, and she brings the baby into the office. The baby is 4 months old and is so god damn cute my ovaries won’t stop wailing the entire time. She plays on the floor next to my desk, gurgling and doing happy baby pose, and I want a baby, I want a baby, I want a baby and NOT to have to work.
  • Last but not least: James has finally shaved his beard off! The whole time he has been in Iraq he has been growing a hideous “Wild Man of the Woods” mass of ginger hair and moustache and beard, and I hate them. I was so grumpy when he sent me a particularly hirsute picture, and so excited and happy when he sent me a second cleanshaven one as a surprise!

The downs were really just one down: at one point this week, I thought maybe my job was quite bearable after all, and was even thinking I could keep things up for longer, maybe even till the Spring/September. But URGH I had a horrible day on Friday and I know the real reason things have been ok is because somehow I haven’t had much work to do; there’s been a lull in my campaigns and it’s just the calm before the storm. But hey, 7 weeks down… maximum 43 weeks left to go?

mercury in retrograde

Title courtesy of James who was mocking my end-of-day bliss.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5:20 and onto the tram. As usual by the time I reached the studio I was glad to be there, but when I bent down to straighten my mat, pain shot through my ribs and chest. Every time I bent forward, nerve pain darted around, and I realised this was not going to be compatible with yoga, aka bendy-bendy-pretzel-sport. The teacher and I agreed I would see how the first exercise would go — but from the first deep breath I was in too much pain to even contemplate it, so I went home.

This gave me time to lay in bed, gawk at shoes from Bared (I need new sandals), and research methods for cleaning silicon shower caulk. I spent a pleasant twenty minutes scrubbing bleach into grout with a toothbrush, then headed into work. And I struggled to believe it myself, but today was pretty good! I got several nice emails from clients, which I filed under my Praise folder, because, yes, I have one, and it’s pretty dusty most of the time, because Operations is a thankless, praiseless task. I got all my reporting wrapped up in time to go to Bikram for the 6pm Focus60 class and was pretty excited to get a second chance since my back had stopped spasming.

Yoga was great. It was one of those really easy classes that happens every now and then, where I nailed every posture and never felt dizzy or overheated. Standing head to knee pose, normally a trigger for hip pain, was strong with both legs locked. My triangle was deeper than it’s been for a month. Everything felt wonderful. During class, the thunderstorm that had been brewing all afternoon finally exploded above us, and laying in shavasana with deafening rain and thunder drumming over my head was just blissful.

When I came out, the combination of the muggy heat and the torrential rain felt just like Taiwan. Did I mention James and I scored ultra-cheap flights to Taipei? My eternal gratitude to Graham who texted me to say Cathay had return flights from Melbourne for just $733!! Amazing. We are going on the 23rd of April and I cannot wait. But in the interim, it felt like a Taipei typhoon day, and I was grinning like an idiot all the way home.

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Then I came home and cooked dinner. Believe it or not, I appear to have cooked a healthy, fructose-friendly, vegetarian meal every night this week, often with leftovers for lunch the next day. I’ve done physio every time I do yoga, so every other day (which is how I’m currently planning my Bikram). Taking my ulcerative colitis medication religiously. My house is a complete mess, but I’m hitting lots of goals. This is in all likelihood linked to my purchase of an app called Way of Life, where you can set daily goals and habits and then check them off every day, building graphs. I love it so much. It’s the best $8 I ever spent on an app.

posit even

It’s so hard to stay positive! I am finding it hard to feel pleased with myself at the end of this weekend. I wait all week for work to be over, and then the weekend goes by and I have nothing to show for it but naps. What did I even do with myself?

  • I went to just one yoga class on Saturday, and none on Friday or Sunday, although it was a really good class. I’m starting to wonder if Bikram is more enjoyable going every other day instead of 5 times a week. Maybe if I set that as a goal I would stop beating myself up when I don’t go, too.
  • I taped up some boxes and packed up most of my books (they are always the easiest thing to pack, after all).
  • After a few issues, I finally installed the Blackboard application for the online workshop on intangible cultural heritage I have signed up for. The three sessions will be run on Thursday mornings in February from 10am to 12pm Melbourne time, which means I will have to be strong and determined and step away from my work for two hours, and not let anything stand in the way of that. I’m already worried about a meeting coming up this Thursday, which I’m pretty sure my boss hasn’t bothered to put into my diary but will want me to attend, but I will just have to put my foot down. The third session is the same day as an absolutely incredible-sounding lecture I want to attend at Deakin: Building Capacity for Reducing Disaster Risks to Cultural Heritage Challenges and Opportunities in Asia Pacific. So… so I will take the entire morning off work. Scary! But I have to get some small amount of study in, having otherwise given up uni this semester.

(This listing thing is cheering me immensely. This is why I have this blog, which is basically a long list of things I did)

  • I offered a load of my pre-loved high heels on Facebook to whomever amongst my friends wanted them. I was surprised by the positive response I had, and it feels really good to re-home them! Plus it means I have/will be seeing friends who come to shoe-shop, which is nice. James’ sister came over and picked up 3 pairs for a start.
  • Sent a huge pile of books off to donate to the op-shop.
  • Sorted through all my papers (and even organised them into an accordion file with little stickers and everything) whilst listening to the audiobook of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, for old times’ sake. Polly and I listened to the Red Dwarf audiobooks at least 20 times over the course of our childhood, and it’s very soothing to me!
  • Found no fewer than 5 unfinished needlework projects (a scarf I have been knitting for several years, and 4 different needlepoint projects (a duck, some lavendar, some wildflowers, and another which I have already forgotten again). These can go in the queue behind the sashiko I am literally 30 minutes away from finishing.
  • Cooked egg fried rice and tofu, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Yes that was the only thing I cooked. I don’t even know what else I ate in the last 48 hours, apart from ice cream.
  • Spent lots of time Skyping with my wonderful, albeit monstrously hirsute, boyfriend, who I just am too lucky to have, even if he sometimes does weird things like send me unsolicited, unwearable onesies. Although he has also booked us an AirBnb bush retreat for when he gets back from Iraq so it evens out (also following mysterious requests for my mailing address, I am pretty sure he has also got me Pioneer Girl, the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, which is pretty much sold out everywhere. Or maybe it was a salad spinner! both are highly coveted objects of desire…)!

So I suppose overall I have done SOME things. Eeeep it’s 10:45pm and I need to pack my bag for 6am Bikram… urgh… mornings… work… must resist temptation to get miserable again.

baked eggs and bikram

So it’s Thursday night and I’m almost done with week 5 at work. I started the week suffering from awful anxiety, and the entirety of Monday was spent trying desperately to hold on to my last French nerve (despite 6am Bikram); my whole chest felt tingly and I had a constant sense of dread. But the new office is actually quite a big improvement so far, quite unexpectedly. One of my biggest fears had been noise levels, but in fact everyone is uncharacteristically quiet and restrained, I haven’t had to wear my earplugs yet!

We’re on the 11th floor, and I have floor-to-ceiling windows right behind me and to my left — with the green of trees swaying and a huge expanse of bright blue sky, it really does lift my spirits when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I need to take more and better pictures, but of course most of the time taking photos for my blog is at the bottom of my daily task list.

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I have also been making an effort to cook meals in the evening, but I tend to slip into apathy as the week progresses. Monday night I made vegetable and egg fried rice noodles, Tuesday night I made a huge pan of mashed potatoes and ate the entire thing with tuna and sweetcorn. By Wednesday night I was in a crappy state of mind… My dinner was crisps and popcorn and ice cream, whilst finishing Top Of The Lake, which was such a brilliant piece of TV (if you like stunning landscapes and bleak detective stories of course).

Today I redeemed myself somewhat. This is perhaps because I got through my work day without any sense of panic, and took training new staff and client meetings in my stride; I had a lunch with my boss where we discussed the changes he is implementing to try to keep me (which, I’ll confess, I’m really impressed with so far. He is unrecognisable and it’s changing our workplace so much). I also had a frank discussion with an employee who has been very difficult and hopefully it will improve our working relationship also.

I went straight from work to Bikram, where I had a KICKASS class. I am not generally a fan of 6pm classes and I had never seen this teacher before, but when she called out a “Good job Rosie” during awkward pose… my keener instincts kicked in and I pushed myself so hard! I was nailing posture after posture, going deeper and stronger and feeling incredible, even delivering four good triangle poses despite my hips! — and then I hit a wall during the spine-strengthening series. I kept thinking I was going to vomit, and suddenly noticing how hot it was; I sat out most of half-tortoise, camel and rabbit, shaking and looking like I’d been punched in the stomach whenever I saw myself in the mirror… and then got my second wind and crushed my last few postures. But by the time I crawled into the shower, I felt like I’d run a marathon! The water ran ice-cold and I couldn’t adjust the temperature or even move, just stood there, trying to remember the faraway dreamlike world outside that shower.

Now I feel fabulous. I even cooked baked eggs with mushrooms and cheese when I got home, and it was really good. And tomorrow I have an exciting nuclear medicine bone scan, as my new sports doctor is obsessed with my mystery shin injury which has been haunting me for over 3 years now and keeping me from running. Who knows what she will do with the results, but I am intrigued to at least get a diagnosis.

50 days until James is back from Iraq!

week 4 down, how many left to go?

This past week I did some good things — catching up with the lovely Fiona on Tuesday, and attending the Confined 6 exhibition opening night with Kerry on Wednesday. This was my favourite painting:

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It’s called Echidna Dreaming After The Rain by Dennis Thorpe (2014).

This is a story about my family and me going camping for the weekend. It was a sunny day until the afternoon when the clouds came and it started to rain. So we cooked the fish we had caught and waited until the rain stopped. The next morning the sky was nice and clear and my mother said “We are going to find some echidnas because after the rain you can see the new dirt and follow their tracks”.

I did lots of yoga, as my hip injuries have slowly improved, and I can return to more and more postures, with only standing-head-to-knee pose and toe stand being off limits for now. I realised that because of the injuries I’ve learned to pay more attention in each pose, every movement I make. It’s probably, in a hippy kind of way, made me better at Bikram. Also I started doing my physio! Incroyable, non? I realised I should do the exercises in the yoga studio whilst I’m waiting for class to begin. So far, so good.

Every time I think about going to yoga without Polly, my eyes well up and my throat feels constricted. Today she left — following a lovely breakfast with Graham and Skye, who then drove us to the airport — and I feel so horribly empty without her here. I managed to lock myself out of my flat on my way out to yoga; of course, my spare keys were still inside the flat because Polly had only just given them back to me. Fortunately my landlord was in town and she came over after my Bikram class to let me back in. All of these statements are a bit of a mishmash; I’ll blame it on missing Polly.

That, and I’m kind of not great overall. Despite all the yoga, I had a meltdown at work on Thursday and told my bosses I can’t do it anymore. We’re moving to new offices tomorrow so everything is very hectic at the moment, and they have asked me to reconsider what it would take for me to stay, but it’s going to require so many changes that I don’t see how I could last much longer there. In any case, I have to stay for another couple of months as I am managing a software development project that would take just as long to train up someone else to take over, as it would to see through to completion, and once it’s done, it will be much quicker and easier to train my replacement. It feels good to have put my unhappiness on the table and have some open discussions about how I don’t want to be there anymore, so overall, I suppose my hatred of work is somewhat diminished, but I don’t know for how long. I am at least looking forward to going into work tomorrow to see my new workspace; I’ll try to remember to take pictures!