my life

Ejo #142 – Words With Chryss (Volume 3)

Do you place any meaning in life, either for you or for our species, and what philosophy do you apply to living your life?
Funnily enough, I do have some Words With Chryss® brand ideas of what life is about.  What it means to be alive, why we are here.  And what happens when we die.  My philosophy about life (and death) has evolved in recent years, and is still evolving.  An ongoing search for my life’s “purpose” has led me to much introspection and internal deep-diving.  It has guided me towards meditation, therapy, yoga and lots of reading and learning.  And all of that has led me to the basic conclusion that life is a bizarre phenomenon that we cannot explain using the information that we are in currently in possession of.  Which goes some way towards explaining why the idea of a god that actually gives a shit about people has gained so much traction over the millennia.  So, god.  A fantastic being that isn’t just omniscient and omnipresent, but also (cue fireworks and harpsichords) omnipotent as well.  Seems a little convenient, don’t it?  Look, I just don’t buy into all that jazz.  It feels nonsensical to me, and in the absence of any evidence, I’m happy to risk eternal damnation for my disbelief. 

But hey, speaking of atheism, have you ever thought very deeply about something and formed a belief structure around your efforts only to discover that an olde worlde Dutch philosopher by the name of Bucher Spinoza came up with the same idea almost four hundred years ago?  LOL, me too.  Of course there are huge differences in the complexity of our ideas – mostly because he spent his entire life in deep, critical thought and I spend all my free time binging Netflix.  And yet… we still somehow landed on the same idea.  That the closest thing to “god” in physical, scientific reality is the universe that surrounds us.  The universe that is a part of us, and that we are a part of. 

When people think of the universe they think of galaxies and stars and black holes and the big bang and dark matter.  But everything on earth is composed of elements of the universe that existed billions of years ago.  We are literally all made of stardust.  If I did believe in a god, that would be it.  And I don’t mean to brag, but Einstein was totes on the same page.  He famously said, “I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.” 

Everything that exists in the universe, everything, is a part of the universe.  Including us.  I think that sometimes we tend to identify as observers of the universe, rather than understanding that we are inextricably woven into its fabric.  Personally, I subscribe to the notion that human beings are expressions of the universe, and that the minutiae of our lives are absolutely irrelevant, serving only as distractions to our attention.  I believe that the true purpose of our existence is to shrug off those distractions in order to focus our attention on the present moment, and to be fully aware of ourselves and our own awareness.  And… to simply release everything else.  What do I mean by “distraction”?  I mean breaking your favourite mug, being hungover, your car breaking down, people gossiping about you, failing an exam, being bullied, running late, overdue bills, headaches, pulling a muscle at the gym, an argument with your partner, being overlooked for a promotion or getting mugged.  And if you want to level up, distractions can also include divorce, cancer, or being thrown in jail and tortured for your political beliefs.  I mean, sure, that’s some Mt. Everest shrugging, but it is possible. 

I believe that the universe breathes life into us, in the form of energy flowing through us.  And I believe that we die when that energy ceases to flow.  For the most part people tend to live their lives in a kind of weird denial of the fact that we are only here for a finite time.  Which is a shame because far from being a morbid preoccupation to think of your own death, it can actually serve to crystallise the fact that this moment (in potentially being your last) can be transformed into something extraordinary. 

How would I see the world around me, the room around me, the people around me, if I knew that my next breath would be my last.  I honestly think that right now, I could take a deep breath and look around and feel happy, knowing that I’ve lived an amazing, textured life.  Knowing that I’ve lived true to myself.  Knowing that I’ve been loved.  Knowing that I’ve loved others, and loved myself.  And even if I weren’t ready to die, if I did know that it was coming, I would be grateful for everything that came before.  Every moment is a beautiful gift.  And the gift is that we are here to receive it.  The gift is that we are here to experience it.  And I’ll say it again, because it bears repeating: the gift is that you are here. 

What do I think happens to us after we die?  I think that’s it.  The end.  Lights out.  We return to the place we were before we were born.  We return to oblivion.  Darkness.  Nothingness.  We simply cease to exist.  And after a significant amount of time passes, even the memory of us will disappear.  Nothing of us remains.  The universe is vast, it is powerful, it is everywhere, it is everything.  It is old.  It is beautiful.  The universe is us, and we are the universe. 

What do you dream of achieving? 
Transcendence.  That may seem like a flippant answer, but I promise you it’s not.  Apart from retirement, I don’t really have very many corporeal ambitions.  Every single day, however, I toil to break free from the binds of being “only human”.  This is going to sound pretty new-agey, but I feel like I’ve figured out what my purpose in life is.  In simple terms, it is to be present and aware of this moment, because that’s all I have.  The long version is that I aspire to rise above (transcend) the dramas and emotions, the ups and downs, the constant rollercoaster of the human condition, and to identify with the purest, most unadulterated version of myself – my consciousness.  My awareness.  My life force. 

So what does it mean to “be present”?  It simply means that while I am writing this, I know that I’m writing.  It means that when you’re reading it, you know that you’re reading, almost like you’re watching yourself doing it.  Being present doesn’t mean that you can’t think about anything else, it just means that when you’re doing that, you know you are doing it.  It means that you don’t lose yourself when you’re thinking about those other things.  You remain here, and now.  Being present means not leaning into the next moment, and not clinging to the last. 

People are funny.  We spend so much of our time engrossed in thought about things that aren’t even in front of us, things that may never happen, or things that have happened that we can’t change.  We spend a lot of time responding and reacting to the world around us when, in fact, nothing is ever actually happening to us.  Things are just happening.  Ooooh yeah, let that sink in for a second.  Nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  Taking that to the highest level, (as much as it may have felt like it) my Mum’s death didn’t happen to me.  It was something that happened, but it didn’t happen to me.  (Fuck yeah, and if you want to get into some ninja-level shit, it didn’t even happen to her; it was just something that happened).

The concept that nothing is happening to *you* can be difficult to grasp.  You are the centre of your universe and it takes a bit of work to mentally shift your framework away from that sole point of reference.  It’s only when you are able to see yourself as being part of something bigger that your reference point can change.  Usually the “something bigger” is religion, right?  Because it’s organised, and actually designed to provide us with comfort and a sense of belonging.  It makes sense, to some degree.  But where it falls apart for me, personally, is that it’s all based on fantasy.  I totally get that seeing yourself as an expression of the universe is far weirder than imagining you are somehow descended from Adam and Eve, because we know very little about the mechanism behind how the universe works.  There’s no handbook.  Is the universe alive?  Is it conscious?  Is it self-designing?  Is it chaos?  Is it exerting a will?  If we are part of the universe, is our will our own, or are we just puppets being controlled by it?  If I am an expression of the universe, then….. shit, am I the universe?  These are big, scary questions for which we do not have answers.  My journey has taken me on a path that doesn’t even need answers.  I don’t need to make up stories to comfort myself.  I’m OK with the discomfort of not knowing.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m anywhere near achieving my goal of transcendence, but I’ve definitely seen some personal growth in my ability to just let shit go.  My progress is hardly linear though (as I’m sure David would attest).  Some days are more difficult than others, and I always do better after I’ve had a cleansing session with Zimmy.  I always do better when I lay off the booze.  But, I am no longer searching for my purpose.  I know my purpose, so I have a head start.  I just need to keep on trying.  Transcendence seems a long way off, but I am prepared to spend the rest of my life trying. 

What makes you angry? 
This was (hands down) the most difficult question anyone asked me.  I pondered this question almost every single day for months, trying to come up with what felt like the right answer.  It became a Gordian knot that I was driven to untangle. 

On a global scale, I’m angry at capitalism, I’m angry at massive, inscrutable corporations making zillions of dollars at humanity’s expense, I’m angry at governments for allowing it, and I’m angry at the injustice of it all.  I am angry that a handful of people benefit (obscenely) from the abject destruction of our beautiful earth.  The climate crisis is not the people’s fault.  It is capitalism which allows a very small number of people to gain everything, as the rest of us helplessly watch our home burn (and flood, and shake, and freeze, and fall apart).  I am angry about the information recently published in the Pandora Papers, exposing the billions of dollars of cash and assets hidden from public view by billionaires and government officials including kings, presidents and prime ministers from countries like Jordan, the Czech Republic, Kenya, Hong Kong, UAE, Chile, Sri Lanka and Ukraine.  Countries in which the divide between the rich and the poor isn’t just vast, it’s incalculable.  I’m angry that billionaires even exist.  Because to make a billionaire, millions of people must live below the poverty line.  I’m angry that capitalism lauds religion to soothe the poor and hungry masses, when it is the capitalists themselves who keep them poor and hungry.  I’m angry that despite it being a very broken system, we all cling to it because we believe that without it we may be stripped of all the nice, shiny things we’ve surrounded ourselves with under the illusion that they’ll make us happy.  I’m angry at Musk and Bezos for squandering billions in their small-dick race to colonise the planet Mars, our inhospitably dusty, red neighbour, when people are starving to death in muddy slums.  On this planet. 

WTF!

So yeah, I’m angry about a few things.  But these angers don’t burn red-hot in the pit of my stomach.  I feel them more as a dull, heavy weight, compressing me whenever I think about the state of the world.  It feels overwhelming, and hopeless, and I see no potential resolution for any of it.  I actually envisage it becoming worse.  If I allowed my anger to burn about these things, I would flame out and die. 

But hey, if we’re talking about anger on a personal level, that is something I have worked on a lot.  Holocaust survivor and psychologist Edith Eger mentions in her book, “The Gift” that anger is often caused when there’s a gap between our expectations and reality.  And I believe this to be the root cause of all anger.  Whether you are angry because you’ve lost your patience with someone, or you’re being disrespected, or you’ve suffered an injustice, it all boils down to reality not meeting the expectations that you had.  So, the easiest way to solve that problem is to not have any expectations.  Right? Well, actually it’s not easy at all; it’s extremely bloody hard.  It also happens to be one of the tenets of Buddhism. 

The Buddha considered “craving” to be the single greatest fetter (shackle, or chain) to achieving happiness and enlightenment.  Aspiring to something (a possession, a relationship, a state of being) is fine.  But as soon as you start to expect a desired outcome, it becomes a condition that can prevent you from being happy and at peace in your life. I want to be happy and at peace. Letting go of expectations doesn’t mean that you don’t give a shit about things or people. It just means that you can experience it all without gripping onto it for survival.  When you can learn to do that, you’ll be able to experience negative emotions, like anger, without reacting to them; and you will no longer be defined by these transient flows of energy.  You’ll be able to step off the rollercoaster.  And that’s a beautiful state to be in.

As well as learning to let go of anger mentally, and emotionally, I’m also learning to let go of it physically.  Last year, during the early months of COVID, I took up yoga as a way to keep my body moving, and I’ve been practising nearly every day since then.  At the end of every session there is a pose called savasana, also known as corpse pose, where you lie on the ground with your legs apart and your arms by your side.  Believe it or not, this is the single most important pose in yoga.  It is the pose in which we learn to relax our body on command, and I can’t stress enough what a gift that is.  Whenever I’m having trouble sleeping, I harness the power of savasana to assist my body and mind to just let go.  It has also helped me in moments of anger.  I might feel the anger rising up in my body, as a physical reaction, a tightness in my chest, but I am able to neutralise it, simply by relaxing my body, taking a deep breath and letting go of the tightness.  This is not the same as pushing the anger down or denying it.  I actually allow myself to feel the emotion, to honour it.  But then I just let it go. 

OK, so it’s not always as neat as I’m making it sound, and sometimes it’s extremely fucking messy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work at all, and the anger erupts and I snap or yell or tense up.  Despite all my efforts, I am still only human.  But I’m working on it.

Do you lash out or project your anger onto others? 
This is something that I definitely make a huge effort not to do.  You know, I think I used to be a much angrier young woman than I am now.  I think I used to stomp around feeling like I wasn’t getting mine, or whatever.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  I no longer feel like I’m owed anything.  By anyone, not even the universe.  And so, with effort I have learned to manage urges to lash out.  I have learned to view the world as neutral, something to be observed.  Remember; nothing is happening to me, things are just happening.  And so there is no need for me to ever feel targeted or victimised by anything that happens.  Ever.  Instead of being personally affronted by things that would have made me angry in the past, I try to see them as an opportunity for growth.  A chance to practise letting go, almost like a game.  Of course it doesn’t always work, and yes, things happen that might be a hassle, or annoying, but it no longer ruins my day.  I can shrug it off and even choose to be happy!  And therein lies the freedom of being able to transcend all the bullshit, rather than getting mired in it.  All day long, regardless of what’s going on around me, I can make the choice to be happy. 

Are you angry with yourself for being taken in?
I am usually less angry with myself and more disappointed if that happens. 

And ultimately can you let it go and move on? 
I am always letting go.  I wake up every morning with the intention of releasing everything, and not holding onto anything.  I don’t need to be right.  I don’t need to be understood.  I don’t need to have my way, and I don’t need to prove anything.  I just need to be happy, and I make that my priority. 

Are you pissed off that you weren’t taught how to spot the flags of abusers?
No.  What I’ve come to realise is that someone can teach you to spot all the flags, and in the end it still doesn’t stop abuse.  My Mum was always a bit of a worry wort.  She instilled in us the very real knowledge that there are bad people out there in the world and to never really trust anyone.  It didn’t prevent abuse. 

At whose feet do you lay the blame for that?
I blame nobody but the abuser. 

Ejo #141 – Words With Chryss (Volume 2)

Continuing on from last month’s 50th birthday bonanza free-for-all, here are some more fun, interesting, silly, thoughtful and intriguing questions. And of course, my answers. Enjoy.

Would you have sex with someone else for a million bucks?
Well, good morning to you too, Doug!  As you know, I’m already happily married to the sexiest man in the world.  Also, I can’t imagine having sex with someone I wasn’t attracted to, so I’d have to say no. (Now ask me if I’d have sex with someone else for a billion dollars.  😉 )

Which would be harder for you to give up, coffee or alcohol?
The timing of this question is impeccable because I’ve actually recently given up both.  Crazy, right??  I’ve “given up” alcohol a few times before and never had too much trouble with that (though I do keep going back to it so, maybe the trouble lies there).  Coffee on the other hand is something that I’ve drunk copious amounts of, almost daily, for over 20 years.  I’ve never even tried to give up coffee before so I had no idea what to expect. 

So, what was it like?  Absolutely fucking horrendous.  Firstly, I really missed the ritual of having an espresso with David to start our day together.  Secondly, we shift workers have coffee running through our veins.  (We think) we need that shit to stay awake and function at a relatively high level at work, keeping the world spinning while the rest of you babes are tucked away in bed, fast asleep. But worst of all, the physical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are absolutely no joke.  Some people have a hard time going cold turkey like I did, preferring to wean off it over a period of weeks (which shows you how hardcore it is). 

So, why??  A couple of months ago I decided to go on a very intense elimination diet which meant not eating any vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, beans, nightshades, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, coffee or alcohol.  Phew!  This basically left me with just meat and water.  Which has been fine, I’m OK with that.  In fact I’ve been thriving on it and have never felt better (shoutout carnivore!!). 

I can now reintroduce foods if I want to, but I’m debating whether or not to go back to them, especially coffee.  Why would I go back to a highly processed substance that I know is addictive, and which I’ve learned to live without just fine.  Yeah, I miss it sometimes, but do I need it?  I don’t think so.  I’m even breezing through night shifts without my customary two to five cups of joe to help me through.  I’m not saying I’ll give up coffee forever, but I’m OK without it right now. 

Alcohol is a completely different, and very interesting, beast.  It was our fifteen year wedding anniversary last week so David and I took a break from not drinking and cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate.  Even though I’d been looking forward to it, I have to say I didn’t really love it, and I certainly didn’t enjoy the hangover the next day.  I was more than happy to go back to not drinking, and it no longer feels like I’m giving something up anymore to not have booze. 

What body features would you change about yourself?
I’d have smaller boobs, better posture and big, dark, bushy eyebrows.

What is your worst emotional/personality trait?
The need for approval from others.  I hadn’t realised, before moving to Dubai, how much I relied on the approval of my family and friends to validate me.  I never realised how much my sense of self was dependent on those external sources.  Sources that were completely taken away from me when we moved here. And which I tried to replace with unsuitable substitutes.

Through my work with Zimmy, I had a breakthrough a couple of years ago, connecting this craving for approval to my strong desire to make my Dad proud of me when I was a kid.  Always striving to impress him, and then basking in the glow of his praise.  My father was loving, but strict, and he had high expectations of me growing up.  Expectations that I thrilled in achieving, thriving on the challenge.  So it all stems from my relationship to my Dad, but this thirst bled to my primary school teachers, and then, later in life, to my adult friendship group.  When David and I moved abroad, it insidiously radiated to people I didn’t even know (or particularly like) at my work in Dubai.  People whose opinion of me I didn’t actually care about at all.  And yet, subconsciously I was grovelling for their approval, thinking that if I could get them to “like” me, I would feel better about myself.  Ugh.

After having this epiphany of understanding the root cause of my unhappiness, I literally shed the need overnight.  It truly felt like a great weight and darkness was lifted from me.  It’s been so liberating to be released from the need for universal acceptance.  I still get off on approval, but now I know whom I need it from – my sisters, and other people that I love and respect.  As a result, my worst emotional trait has been rendered far less powerful than it once was. 

What is your biggest weakness?
Laziness.  I am, at heart, stupendously fucking lazy. 

What will never be the same for you after COVID?
The startling realisation that, as a species, we are so dreadfully divided.  I honestly had no idea how bad humanity’s polarisation was. I mean Trump gave me an inkling, but that felt like “America’s problem”, right?  COVID has brought into sharp relief that this division has always existed, bubbling away under the surface.  And now, it feels like an eruption.

I wonder if you remember, as vividly as I do, the first few weeks of the pandemic.  Do you remember that feeling of unity, of togetherness, of everyone being on the same side.  The funny videos, the breadmaking, the jokes, the collective fear and hope?  The daily applause to thank our doctors and nurses?  That shit was elating and uplifting, and it bonded us all together on a global scale.  I no longer feel like that.  We are not all in it together.  We are not united, and I find that so very sad. 

What are you really bad at?
I’m really bad at putting my phone down when I’m at home.  I’m great at putting it aside when we’re out or when I’m at work, but at home it’s a different story.  I am working on it, but I need to do better. 

What are you really good at?
I like to think that I’m very good at nurturing my relationships.  I haven’t always been.  It’s something that has matured and developed since moving to Dubai.  I like to stay in touch with the people that I care about, and so I make a real effort. And I do take pride in doing that well.  I’m also good at being on time and following through.

You’ve achieved so much and travelled the world.  I prefer to think of 50 as only half way through, so what do you want the second half of your life to be about?
I’ll tell you something.  My parents had this plan (it was their dream) of retiring, and then travelling around Australia in a campervan.  But they never got to do that because my Dad got sick and died.  We all have dreams for our future, but what I learned from my parents is that if we wait, we may end up missing out.  So I want the rest of my life, from this moment forward, to be about doing.  Doing the things that I want to do.  And not waiting anymore.  And the only thing stopping me is my obligation to work. 

I have lived a charmed life.  Landing a job in ATC completely altered my trajectory, and I am so grateful for that.  I really love being an air traffic controller, I love my job and I know I’ll miss it when it’s over, but to be honest, I would retire tomorrow if I could afford it.  For me, retirement will not mean replacing work with something new.  It will be everything else in my life naturally expanding to fill the space that work leaves behind.  I want the second half of my life to continue exactly as it is now, minus work.  I want to travel even more, I want to read more books, I want to swim naked in the waters of secluded Greek island beaches, I want to write a book, I want to learn the lyrics to my favourite rap songs and I want to perfect my downward dog.  I want to eat more, cook more and learn more.  I want to potter around, learn how to pick locks, volunteer, do some gardening and play lots more backgammon.  I want to spend more time with loved ones and I want to live and experience life, without the albatross of employment around my neck.  And I want to do that as soon as possible.  I want to do that now!

At what age did you lose your virginity?
Short answer: 19. 

Long answer: Always the late bloomer, I didn’t pop my cherry until the end of my first year at university.  It’s not that I didn’t want it!  I was a horny little teenager and the only reason I waited so long was because I was so cripplingly shy.  I was a huge nerd in high school, so it was never going to happen there, but I thought for sure I’d get laid when I started going to uni.  Wouldn’t you know it, the very first day, a guy called Ian claimed me and just like that I had a boyfriend.  I thought I was set!  But nope, Ian was a good boy and he wanted to wait. 

Ian was a real catch.  In addition to being precious about his purity, he also openly flirted with other girls, toyed with my feelings, lied to me, gaslighted me, played passive-aggressive mind games, put me down in front of other people and was often quite rough with me, “good-naturedly” pushing me around or expressing his disapproval physically (he once dropped a piece of dry ice into a hole in my jeans, causing a cryogenic burn, also known as frostbite, on my inner thigh).  Every now and again he would make up for all this shitfuckery with a Grand Romantic Gesture™ like covering my car with hundreds of flowers in the middle of the night.  Very normal.  My self esteem was so low, and I was so desperate to have a boyfriend, that despite him being quite the asshole, I didn’t break up with him, and I just put up with it. 

On 11th September 1990, about seven months into the relationship, I wrote this in my diary: “I’m hanging out to go skiing with Ian this/next week, but I need $255 minimum for three days. Unless I can get it off Dad, I doubt I’m going.

I couldn’t get the cash for the ski trip, so Ian and his family took off to their Falls Creek lodge without me.  While they were gone I went to their house to do some ironing (don’t ask, just… please don’t) and ran into Ian’s flirty 17 year old neighbour, Alex. Turns out that Ian had secretly taken someone else skiing with his family.  Oh yeah, my dickhead boyfriend was gallivanting around the ski fields of Falls Creek with our mutual friend (and his future ex-wife), Irena, while I was stuck at home ironing his goddamn underpants. 

Alex told me ALL about it.  I lost my virginity to Alex. Yep, that little freak gave me exactly what I wanted, and rocked my world with an earth-shattering orgasm to boot. Suck on that, Ian!

Do you think we are all bisexual, but just may not know it?
How strange (and wonderful) that you would ask me this, because this is exactly what I believe – that all humans are bisexual, on a spectrum.  So sure, some people may be less bisexual than others (i.e. have a strong affinity for the opposite sex), and other people may have a stronger affinity for their own sex, but it’s just a matter of having an open mind. And I understand that it might be more difficult for some people to accept, than others. But at the end of the day, your body is physically capable of being aroused by anyone (or anything) that is skillful enough. It’s just your mind that needs to be persuaded about it.

I want to be crystal clear here that having an “affinity” for either sex doesn’t imply that we have a choice about who we’re attracted to.  We are all born with our affinities and I’m super respectful of an individual’s sexuality and how they identify.  And I am particularly sensitive to members of the LGBTQI community because they’ve had to fight for the right to express who they are in a world which is cis heteronormative by default. 

Personally, I’ve never had a relationship with a woman, and I don’t make a big deal about it, but I do identify as bisexual, and I have done since I was a kid.  My attraction to girls started way before I was attracted to boys.  My first crush was a girl in primary school.  My first love letter was to a girl.  Most of my current crushes are women.  If we want to delve even deeper, I’ve lately been exploring the idea that I am actually pansexual, defined as being capable of loving a person regardless of their biological sex, gender, or gender identity.  Obviously this is difficult to determine as I am committed to one person and not prepared to do the research required to confirm or deny the hypothesis.  Nevertheless, I do think it’s wonderful to talk about the fluidity of sexuality and to move away from a cis and heteronormative paradigm.  I think the younger generations are doing a wonderful job with that so I’ll leave it in their trusty hands to keep up the good work. 

Which pop culture song/book/art/movie influenced you the most growing up?
I’m not sure I can select an example of a particular piece of pop culture, but the artist that influenced me the most growing up was Madonna.  Oh man, I wanted to be her so bad.  I styled my hair like hers (hairsprayed, teased to the max and tied up with big raggy bows), I wore the same clothes (including, of course, the rubber bracelets, the crucifixes and the fishnet crop tops).  I even bought coloured contact lenses and bleached my hair with lemon juice and Sun-In.  Her MTV music video premiers were major events in our house, and I bought all her albums and learned all the lyrics.  Her posters adorned the four walls of my bedroom, and I knew absolutely everything about her. 

I was fifteen years old.

Eighties Madonna was a really cool role model because she showed a dorky, shy bookworm like me that it was OK (nay, it was fucking awesome) to just be your own damn self and do your own damn thing and to not give a flying fuck what other people thought about you.  She gave me the courage to put my true self out there.  My true self was not always very well received, but it was transformative to realise that it was an option for me to step outside the little box I found myself in as a teen.  That I could actually exist outside of that box was mindblowing stuff, and she gave me the courage to do that. 

I still have the hots for eighties Madonna.

But OK, if I did have to pick a song/book/art/movie that influenced me growing up, I’d have to say Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.  My sisters and I watched it so often I’m pretty sure that between the three of us, we know the words to the entire movie off by heart, even after 35 years.

Have you had any traits or behaviours which you have not liked and which you have managed to overcome? If you have, what did it take to resolve these? Is there something that remains with you that you are frustrated to not be able to resolve, or do you accept that it cannot be changed?
Over the years I’ve been able to release my competitiveness, my need to win (it used to be pretty full-on).  Along those same lines, I feel like I’ve (mostly) overcome the need to be right.  I am far more willing now to listen to the other side, and to take other perspectives on board.  I know some people would say I’ve “gone soft” because of this, but I like myself much better this way.  The pursuit of truth is far more interesting to me than stubbornly holding onto ideas that are rooted in nothing more solid than my fragile ego. 

Something that does remain with me though, a behaviour which I really dislike in myself, is my reaction to a certain type of stress.  I’m usually pretty good at dealing with most stressors, but when I place a time based stress on myself (e.g. I’m running late for an appointment, or I’m running out of time to write my ejo, etc.) I turn into a fucking monster.  I become super anxious, hyper-sensitive and extremely reactive.  And I hate that.  I hate how out of control it makes me feel.  And no, I’m not prepared to just accept it.  Through my daily practices of meditation, yoga, and consciously “letting go” of energies that do not serve me, I have become aware of, and familiar with, an abiding inner peace that resides within me, which I would like to be able to harness in moments of great stress. I think we can change whatever we like about ourselves, if we put in the work, so for me, this is something that I will actively work on until I’ve mastered it. 

And speaking of mastering undesirable traits and behaviours, next month will be the conclusion of this series of Words With Chryss, in which I answer your final questions and talk about my ongoing quest for spiritual growth and enlightenment.  Shit’s about to get real, yo!

Ejo #140 – Words With Chryss (Volume 1)

My husband always teases me about how I like to get up on my soapbox and opine about the world around me. He likes to call it my “Words With Chryss”, (and to be honest, I don’t hate that). So I’m opinionated. I have opinions. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got 140 ejo’s worth of opinions, dating back to 2008. But to celebrate my half century, I decided to do something different. I recently gave my friends the opportunity to “ask me anything” so that I could open up and share a little bit more about myself. Here are the results.

Have you ever had a one night stand?
Wow, straight into it, hey? OK, let’s do this. Yes, in fact I’ve had a few one night stands. I was a bit of a goody two shoes growing up, so in my late twenties I went through a corrective “Sex and The City” phase to balance things out. I found it empowering to take charge of my sexuality in that way. To be able to separate sex from love, and to not feel like something was being taken from me in the process. Identifying my sexual needs, owning them and then acting on them gave me agency. Having said that, I can’t remember any of my one night stands being particularly gratifying, sexually. Which is why they only lasted for one night, I suppose. 😉

Have you ever stolen something from a shop, or not returned something you have not paid for?
Just the one time that I remember. I was shopping with my Mum and my sisters at the iconic discount department store, Dimmeys in Richmond, Melbourne. This place was huge and we’d all gone our separate ways to browse around. I was about 13 at the time and I remember just deciding to lift a cheap lipstick from one of those bargain bins piled high with nasty, no-name makeup. I never wore lipstick and I certainly didn’t want that particular frosted pink lippie. No-one forced me, or pressured me. I just wanted to do it, and to be honest I still don’t know why. I think I was bored. Or maybe I was testing boundaries.

I obviously didn’t do a very good job because I was caught, and taken by the security guard into a back room. As I cringed in my seat, they called my Mum over the PA system and we had to go through the whole excruciating rigmarole of whether or not they would call the police. I told them what they wanted to hear (I’m so sorry, I’ve learned my lesson, I’ll never do it again etc.) and was let off with a warning. My Mum was appalled, embarrassed and absolutely furious with me, but she did me the beautiful favour of not telling my Dad about it which I really appreciated. I think we both knew he would not have taken it well. She did me a solid that day, and I’ve always been grateful. And yes, I actually did learn my lesson.

What profession do you despise the most?
Most politicians are the scourge of the earth.

What profession do you admire the most?
I admire teachers and nurses. They’re in such difficult, thankless jobs, and they get paid a pittance. It’s a disgrace of our society that these professions are not more valued.

Are you still in the Gwyneth Paltrow fan club? 
LOL, no. Though I will say that despite not really being a huge fan of GOOP (a wellness and lifestyle brand and company founded by the actress), I still think that Gwyneth would be pretty fucking cool to hang out with as a person. I still think that about her. She looks like she’d be a lot of fun. She gets so much flack in the media for the GOOP shit, and I guess it’s fair enough, but at the end of the day it’s just a business, you know. The company has a net worth of USD250 million dollars. So, haters gonna hate, but who’s the one laughing all the way to the bank?

So, for those of you who aren’t in the know, I discovered this small Gwyneth Paltrow fan club online in 1996, a time when the internet was still pretty new. To remind you of exactly how new it was, there was a total (I said A TOTAL) of 257,601 websites on the internet. Today there are over 1.8 billion and that number is growing every second. In 1996, the few Americans with internet access spent less than half an hour a month browsing the web. Today, they spend almost 30 hours a month. So yeah, it was a pretty nascent scene. I think I was on the internet before most people because all of my friends were computer nerds (shout out to all my awesome nerd friends). And Ben, the guy who ran the fan site, was online because he was one of those genius types (aka also a nerd), studying at Caltech University in Pasadena, California.

And thus Ben and I struck up a friendship through our mutual love of Gwyneth Paltrow. We emailed each other constantly, getting to know one another. We racked up a pretty big phone bill too. Shit got pretty intense and I remember pissing my friend Svetlana off A LOT with the amount of time I spent in my room of our share house, on my crappy, hand-me-down 386 computer, hogging the modem. She would yell at me to come out, but I didn’t want to. My life outside of that room felt pretty shit at the time. I’d wasted three whole years in limbo, waiting to hear back about the air traffic control gig, and had no idea that it would be another three years before I would finally get it. I was in a dead-end job that I hated. My application to study at The Victorian College of The Arts Film School had been rejected. And my boyfriend at the time had taken off to Switzerland to learn how to be a ski instructor, suggesting at the airport that we have an open relationship while he was gone. Ugh, talk about blindsided.

So I was just drifting, not sure what direction my life was headed. My online friendship/romance with Ben consumed me. It was an escape. We made plans for me to go and visit him in California. And guess what, bitches!!? I did it. I don’t do pipe dreams, I do action. So, I quit my job and fucking flew all the way across the Pacific Ocean to hang out with my buddy Ben, squatting in the Caltech dorms for three whole months. We very quickly realised that the romance thing was a non-starter, but we did have a lot of fun together as friends. So. Much. Fun. So many wonderful memories. Also, I met his parents – they were, understandably, a little suspicious of my intentions. After all, I was a weird 25 year old Australian woman who had flown to the USA to spend time with their 19 year old son, whom she’d never met before. But you know what’s great? I am still friends with Ben. And I am still great friends with his parents, Ellen and Greg. I love them dearly and they are like family to me. Also, check this out. Through Ben I met my best friend Marya in 1999. She not only held my hand, as I had my nose pierced in San Francisco in September of that year, she is actually with me in Greece right now (RIGHT NOW), helping me to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. How wonderful is that? I have Gwyneth Paltrow to thank for all of these beautiful experiences and relationships in my life.

Just to show you how fucking cool this chick is, when Ben developed Burkitt lymphoma (a cancer of the lymphatic system) in 1999, Gwyneth went to visit him in San Francisco, California. Ben got to hang out with her a couple of times after that too. So seriously, if you have anything bad to say about GP as a person, you can just sit back down. I won’t allow it.

Are you afraid of anything?
I am afraid of being mediocre. And cockroaches.

How do you measure success?
Great question. I’ll start by telling you how I do not measure success. I don’t measure it by wealth, salary, job title, what kind of car you drive, where you live or where you went to school, what labels you wear, what handbags you own, how attractive your spouse is or where you vacation. That stuff is bullshit as a measure of success. To me anyway.

Most measures of success involve some concept of a ladder. The higher you climb, the more successful you are. And so, at my work, by those measures I am a dismal failure. I’ve repeatedly been asked to apply for office jobs – team leader, incident investigator, specialist, even operations manager. No thanks. If I wanted to work an office job, I never would have left office jobs to become an air traffic controller in the first place. In my mind, the job I do is the pinnacle of success for me. Every day that I get to plug in, play with aeroplanes, and plug out is a day that I am queen of my domain. How is that not considered success?

But because I’ve refused to ambitiously “climb the ladder”, or “take the next step” I’m viewed as a bit of an underachiever at work. People are perplexed. My senior managers are disappointed that I’m not fulfilling my “potential”. But I am 100% AOK with where I am and I have absolutely no intention of downgrading my job with a promotion to desk jockey. No way, José. I measure my own success, and I certainly don’t use other people’s yardsticks to do it.

Outside of work I measure success by how much I have to be grateful for. By that yardstick I am one of the most successful people in the world.

Are there particular songs or albums which you like but cannot bear to listen to due to the memories they associate with?
With one exception, I’d say no. I honestly don’t mind listening to albums or songs that I associate with difficult times. I quite like doing that actually, mostly because the emotions I associate with the painful experience have faded. Only the memory remains. It’s not the music’s fault, right? The exception I speak of are a small collection of my Mum’s favourite songs, and especially the ones that my sisters and I selected to play at her funeral. Oh boy, those ones are hard to listen to. It’s been more than two years, so I’ve started forcing myself to listen to them every now and again because they are beautiful songs and I want to be able to hear them and think of how much enjoyment my Mum got from them, rather than hear them and think only of what I’ve lost.

What does your heart of hearts want? 
My heart of hearts wants my Mum and Dad to be alive. I know that might not be the answer you were looking for, but the heart wants what the heart wants. If we’re talking realistically, my heart wants to spend more time with my sisters.

It’s kinda funny. Every time someone you love dies, you become better at loving the people you have left. When my Dad died and I realised I didn’t have any emails from him, I started saving every single email my Mum sent me. I just wanted to preserve that part of our relationship because I regretted not having that with my Dad. When my Mum died, I looked back and wondered why I didn’t just text her every single day. I mean, I know why, I didn’t want to be a nuisance, and I thought I had more time. But it turned out that I didn’t. So now I group message with my sisters every single day. I try to make it fun, so that it doesn’t become a nuisance. Because, apart from David, my sisters are my everything. My absolute everything. This pandemic has been really hard for a lot of people, but for me personally, the worst thing about it is that I haven’t seen Mary and Pieta since 2019. And that sucks a lot.

What human trait in the world do you hate the most?
Intolerance is the root of all the human traits I despise – racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Greed is also pretty shitty. Greed for money, greed for power, greed for control. I mean, eww, gross.

What’s the weirdest scar you have and how did you get it?
I don’t think I have any weird scars. But I do have a favourite scar on the back of my heel. I got it in Budapest when I reflexively stomped my foot on the leash of a runaway dog to stop it from running into traffic. The leash was one of those stiff, nylon jobbies, and the momentum of the dog whiplashed the leash around the back of my foot, ripping several layers of skin right off. It felt, and looked, like I’d been branded by a red hot poker. But hey, I saved that little fucker from being hit by a car so that was pretty cool. I was super proud of that scar for a long time. So much so that when it started to fade I considered having it tattooed on, for posterity.

Were you ever bullied at school or were you ever a bully?
I’ve never intended to bully anyone, but when I was in primary school I know that I engaged in behaviour that would be considered bullying. There was a boy in my Grade 4 class called Listen, and for some reason, every now and again, the kids would start singing, “One ball boy, one ball boy”, around him. To demonstrate how innocent I was, I had no idea that the word “ball”, in this context, meant testicle. Regardless, I occasionally joined in, albeit half-heartedly. I have no idea how many testicles the poor kid actually had, but it must have been awful for him. And I feel awful that I contributed to someone’s anguish, simply because I enjoyed the feeling of belonging to a group.

There was another kid in Grade 5 called Stephen. He was a burns victim and his skin was really fucked up; all twisted and knotted and melted, all over his body, including his face. I remember being sickened by him. And the only way I knew how to not show my disgust was to turn away from him. To never look into his eyes. It kills me now to think of how unseen he must have felt. I don’t think that he was bullied per se, because even though we were assholes, we weren’t complete cunts. But we all avoided Stephen like the plague, and I really wish I hadn’t done that. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for him. Kids are selfish and self-centred. They don’t realise how their actions and words can affect other people. It’s only now, looking back, that I see how horrible I was to those two boys. Who knows who else I hurt along the way.

Yes, I was bullied in primary school and high school. I was a shy, nerdy bookworm from an immigrant family. The outspoken, confident woman I am today bears very little resemblance to the awkward kid I used to be. I was always an outsider, and that was actually OK. But one particular kid at high school always liked to make fun of my appearance, my clothes, my Greekness, my face. And he wasn’t even in the same year as me – he was one year older. I never even knew his name. It didn’t really impact my self-esteem too much because that was already scraping rock bottom, but I did dread seeing him in the school grounds because I knew that he would single me out, and I just hated the attention. I only wanted to be left alone.

What career do you sometimes wish you could have had?
I really wish I could have made a living as a writer.