“Christmas tree!” My daughter yells as we step onto the escalator at David Jones. It's October and it's a timely reminder that the end of the year is about to hit me with light speed.
The Christmas tree sighting releases a small surge of panic, but I’m thankful to DJ’s for triggering my annual burst of planning for the next year. It doesn’t matter when you initiate this. Another great time is as soon as the 2019 diaries start to appear. Go for the diaries which start in December because in my realm, a year is thirteen months.
It can be stressful to hit the road in January. I know. I should have posted this in November.
With a bit of forethought you can ease into the weight of expectation, excitement, inspiration, order, chaos or introspection that can overwhelm us in January with the start of another new year.
Here are some thoughts to get you started...
Holidays. A good place to start is to block out your leave/holiday dates on a single page calendar or your new diary where the whole year is on a page or a double page. Using different colours and annotating what you intend to do helps to lift the spirits as you anticipate the journeys or events you’ll make in the coming twelve months. It’s motivating as it’s always good to have something to look forward to.
Do you keep a diary? My friend keeps a diary which he writes only throughout the month of January. I see him having lunch on the benches of the high-rise building where we work. He writes long-hand in an A4 notebook and the look on his face as he writes is one of calm and accomplishment. Then January is over and the the exercise book is put away for another year.
Academic Paul Dolan is a Professor of Behavioural Science in the UK and has advised the UK government on wellbeing. In his ground-breaking 2014 book Happiness by Design, Paul describes how being happier means allocating attention more efficiently; towards things that bring us pleasure and purpose.
After interviewing Paul in 2015, I decided to do my own annual happiness stock-take, which I’ve done for the last three years. I keep the lists in a locked file on my phone.
Doing an annual stock-take gets me thinking about what’s important to me.
The more I look at the list, the more resolved I feel.
One thing I noticed was that I did quite a few projects for people, simply because they asked me to. Sometimes I took things on, because there was a decent payment attached to it. Often, it wasn’t really work I wanted to do. So I decided to draw up some rules about the types of projects I wanted to take on. I also learned that if I didn’t want to do something, I should let people know immediately. These two strategies allowed me to say ‘no’ to work that didn’t align with my intentions.
The start of the year tends to move slowly for some of us. At around this time some years back, I asked someone I respected if I could meet them for a coffee to discuss a few career-related issues. Now I schedule coffee-chats or quick lunches throughout the year. You could even suggest a walk-talk. In many cases, if you explain that you a) admire someone’s work b) want to learn c) you are patient with their shortage of time d) can be focused about what you want to gain from talking with them, it’s unlikely they will turn you down.
Related to the coffee-chats is a habit I was taught when I did a life-coaching course a decade ago. Our tutor asked us about self-care. She told us to make a list of people we enjoyed seeing and other ways that we could look after ourselves. We were urged to put regular dates in the calendar: exercise sessions, massage or hair appointments, lunch-dates during the working week with interesting/inspiring friends. When I told my friend about the strategy, over one of our lunches at a Japanese restaurant (where we sit at the same table each time ;)) she gave me some extra tips which I am passing on: “Life is about choices," and "every little bit counts.”
Whether you are saving for a something, trying to lose weight, or attempting to start a big project, making small inroads is better than fretting about the mountain which lies ahead.
In my neighbourhood, someone started a public wishing hedge. It's a lovely idea but to make your wishes come true, you have to make a plan.
I am always feel a little low at New Year. The introvert in me makes an appearance. So I won't wish you a happy 2019, but a thoughtful one where planning can make a difference. Do the stock-take and let me know what you think.
After our Sea Stones & Stories group left Ramallah on our quick visit to the Palestinian Territories, we entered Bethlehem from the Shepherd's Field where an angel was said to have announced the birth of Jesus.
Unlike many travellers to the Holy Land, our group wasn't part of a pilgrimage but some of us quickly became converts of a different kind. I've always enjoyed the graffiti art of the Palestinian territories, so seeing Banksy in Bethlehem seemed to be a good fit.
This was the first Banksy our group saw:
Banksy has had a decade-long connection with the West Bank city since he 'decorated' part of the Israeli security barrier. He's been in the news recently after an auction of his work where he made his famous 'Girl with a balloon' artwork self-destruct.
Destruction and renewal are themes we found in the artwork within his Walled Off Hotel, a boutique establishment directly across from Israel's concrete security barrier. The tiny exhibition inside the hotel was well-worth the visit.
(Walled Off Hotel, front view)(Concierge, on the left)
One of the highlights of the Sea, Stones & Stories tour was a day in the Palestinian Territories. For me, I had travelled extensively to the West Bank and Gaza as a correspondent in 2000, 2003-5, but so far, my tour group had only glimpsed Arab villages as the tour bus travelled from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan Valley and through to Jerusalem on Israel’s sophisticated highway network.
(Below: me in Gaza, 2000)
First stop was the seat of the Palestinian government, the city of Ramallah. I was last here in 2004 reporting on the return of Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat’s body, carried in a Jordanian military helicopter following his death in Paris.
Today, at the site of Arafat’s former compound, you can visit his tomb. There’s also a museum with an evocative exhibition focusing on the story of how Palestinians ended up with the patchwork of territory they have today.
Until our visit, I don’t think the group fully grasped the complexities of ‘the situation’ today and I was keen for them to experience this. To get to Ramallah (approximately 10 kms from Jerusalem) we had to switch tour buses and drivers. Our regular Israeli tour guide wasn’t allowed to travel with us.
This daunting red sign is placed at the entry to Palestinian cities. The 'Area A' is a reference to territory under the administration of the Palestinian Authority in accordance with the Oslo peace accords.
The bus climbed the hill out of Jerusalem and eventually we reached Qalandia checkpoint, Israel’s fortified entry/exit point with the Palestinian Territories. Palestinians were passing through the checkpoint on foot, in cars and mini-buses to go to jobs, schools and universities either in Jerusalem or other West Bank cities like Bethlehem or Hebron.
In Israel, the government takes care of the roads. They are often lined with purple and pink bougainvillea. Palestinian roads are littered with plastic bags and bottles. The checkpoint and the West Bank security fence, as Israel calls it, presents an image of control, of occupation.
The bus pulled over and we waited for our Palestinian guide who had phoned to say he was running late. He’d tried to get a permit from the Israeli military enabling him to pass through Jerusalem in order to meet us, but the permit didn’t come through so he had travelled from Bethlehem (on the other side of Jerusalem) via Palestinian roads. He’d left his home at 6.30 am and it was nearly 8.50 am.
“I’ll be there in around ten minutes,” he promised.
True to his word, the Palestinian guide, Motasem Amro, a cheerful young Palestinian in his late twenties, hopped aboard our bus ten minutes later.
The first thing he did was to show me a photo on his phone.
“Know this guy?”he asked with a twinkle.
The photo showed him standing with former Australian PM Tony Abbott who visited the Middle-East in late 2016.
“I was told to give him a purely religious tour. I was not to talk to him about politics,” he said, laughing.
“But personally, I like to talk about the political situation,” he continued. “In fact, I believe it’s my mission.”
Our Australian group were already hooked, keen to see for themselves what life was like on the other side of the fence.
And so the Sea, Stones & Stories tour continues. I was looking forward to visiting Degania Bet, one of the earliest kibbutzim to be established in the land of Palestine, (now Israel) in 1920. Kibbutz means ‘gathering’ and each kibbutz was originally a socialist community of pioneers, acquiring land for farming or industry. There are currently 274 kibbutzes (or kibbutzim, as the are known), although in recent decades many have been privatised.
Very few retain the original communal way of life.
Degania Bet recently celebrated 98 years of communal living. It runs a large dairy and produces food including bananas and avocados as well as owning a small factory.
Our guide, Idan Ben Shalom describes himself as a ‘native patriot of this place’.
He’s a kibbutz member (Degania B has 210 members) and a film-maker. He doesn’t receive a salary and any money members make goes to the kibbutz and is shared equally among the members. No-one gets more than their neighboor. No-one is different or better than their neighbour.
Idan says all kibbutz members are looked after in their own homes until they die.
Until the age of three Idan stayed apart from his parents in a kindergarten. But separating children from their parents during childhood wasn’t a feature at this particular kibbutz.
I love these brilliant, idealised images of Degania Bet taken in the late 1930’s and 1940’s by Israeli-Hungarian photographer Zoltan Kluger. (Wikimedia Commons, from the National Photo Collection of Israel).
I enjoyed Degania Bet’s archive which is housed in the former home of Levi Eshkol, Israel’s Prime Minister from 1963-1969. He lived on a kibbutz like former Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defence Minister Moshe Dayan (who actually lived in the neighbouring kibbutz, Degania Alef).
Each year since the 1940’s, someone with excellent Hebrew hand-writing (the archivist) writes down the history of the kibbutz: who was born, who died, what milestones were achieved. The history is recorded in these large volumes.
It was great for our group to catch a quick glimpse of this lifestyle which sounds like an admirable antidote to 21st century life. This is the original sharing economy. I gather however, that below the surface it's not as idyllic as it seems.
Being a member of a community involves the need to conform and there are implications if you don't.
One of the highlights of the Sea Stones & Stories tour, as we prepare to leave Tel Aviv, was the home of former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion.
Most of the Tel Aviv house is now home to Ben Gurion's library.
The founding Prime Minister was, like many leaders, an insomniac. He collected more than 22,000 books in eleven languages! Our young guide said he taught himself so many languages because he believed it was important to read a book in the language in which it was written.
Other facts about Ben Gurion which I enjoyed, the gnome-like leader practised Feldenkrais and was taught to do a headstand. Apparently he summoned the media to the beach so they could capture him posing. The buff gentleman in the background is his bodyguard.
We heard so many glowing things about DBG I asked whether, apart from being a great Prime Minister, he was a good husband and father.
Our young guide admitted that he was not.
A book about Ben Gurion's private life, published this year by historian Tom Segev, poses the question "if the leader isn’t faithful to his wife, maybe he’s not faithful to his voters, either".
I enjoyed the peek into his shrine former home. It made me think about the creation of myths. They abound in this land.
So I’m trying to stay awake watching the sun sink over the Mediterranean Sea.
When I was asked to lead this tour, I chose the title Sea, Stones and Stories because I felt these elements were images I retained from the time I lived in the Middle-East from 2003-5. I always felt the presence of the sea, whether it was the ocean or the Dead Sea. The sea is also part of the story-telling landscape. Stones, because all over the West Bank, incredible rocks dot the biblical landscape. And Stories because every person, every issue here tells a story. Sometimes it’s a mythologised story, but there’s always a narrative and I am here in my capacity as a storyteller.
So with Sea, Stones and Stories in mind, here’s the culture list I provided to members of the Renaissance Tours group I'm about to meet.
I've read most of the books and I’ll be using the content in my presentations. The films and newspaper articles are useful background and context. I'm so excited to be in the Mid-East. Happy Reading!
Jerusalem, the biography - Simon Sebag Montefiore
City of Oranges - Adam LaBor
Jerusalem (the cookbook) - Yotam Ottolenghi
Where the Line is Drawn - Raja Shehadeh (memoir)
In Search of Fatima - Ghada Karmi (memoir)
To the End of the Land - David Grossman (novel)
Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life - Sayed Kashua (personal essays)
Kingdom of Olives and Ash - Michael Chabon, Ayelet Waldman (commentary)
American Priestess - Janet Fletcher Geniesse (non-fiction biography)
City on a Hilltop - Sara Yael Hirschhorn (commentary)
Letters to my Palestinian Neighbour - Yossi Klein Halevi (commentary)