Long Live Letters!

Women of LettersThis is not just about alliteration. Over the weekend, I wrote a letter. Yes, you read that right: I wrote a letter. With a pen. On a piece of paper. Several pieces of paper, as a matter of fact. Four long pages of long-forgotten cursive writing that my friend, Kathy, will have to endure when she receives the letter in approximately a week’s time, if Australia Post and Royal Mail are co-operative.

It has been a very long time since I have hand-written a letter, probably several years. Every year, at Christmas, I would attempt to write a short missive inside Christmas cards to overseas friends and relatives, just to give them a quick update on what I’d been up to over the course of the year. I never bothered to do a “standard” computer-printed letter insert that people frequently use, mostly because I never had that much to tell – just a couple of highlights such as “I spent five weeks around the US for the first time in more than 10 years” would generally suffice. After all, who wants to hear you brag about what a glorious time you had wandering around New York City for two weeks going to Broadway shows and meeting Alec Baldwin?

Anyway, I digress.

Letter-writing has become a lost art in the last twenty years since the rapid growth of the use of computers, internet, electronic mail, mobile phones, tablets and so on. Whilst I am a big fan of technological growth – many of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook well know I can barely go a few hours without checking my phone – I also remain a steadfast and loyal servant of the humble paper and pen. I still prefer to read a book in paper form, unless the book requires a cherrypicker to lift from my bookshelf. There is still a special excitement when I can turn a physical page in a book and being able to see your progress as the left side of the book starts to get thicker than the right side (unless you are reading a book in Chinese or Arabic, in which case you would be reading from right to left).

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Boston, We Heart You

IMG_20140416_103452On Monday, April 15th, 2013, a couple of brothers set off a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon that killed three and wounded hundreds of others. Just as I remembered exactly where I was and what I was doing when the tragedy of 9/11 happened, I still remember clearly where I was when I heard the news of this latest tragedy.

I had been spending the day with two friends who had travelled from Atlanta, GA, to Charleston, SC, to meet me on my long-overdue return to the USA.  We’d spent the day at Drayton Hall, a former plantation that is now owned and managed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It had been a rainy day but an enjoyable one hanging out with friends.

When I got back “home” to where I had been staying with my university friend (and the reason for my visit to Charleston) in the early evening, she’d had the television on while preparing dinner. The coverage of the bombing was all over the news. First reactions always include: Who would do such a thing? Why? How many innocent lives have been lost or are injured? Where are those responsible? The manhunt commenced immediately, of course, and  security was heightened everywhere.

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Benedict Cumberbatch and the British Invasion Into My Psyche

On a clear Friday morning, 7th March, 2014, I started my morning ritual by grabbing my iPad Mini while still in bed, checked my Facebook news feed as usual (don’t judge me – I bet many of you do the same), and almost jumped right out of bed when I read this announcement from Oz Comic-Con:

Oz Comic-Con are very pleased to announce Benedict Cumberbatch is set to join the fun at Oz Comic-Con Adelaide and appear at two exclusive Oz Comic-Con Q&A events in Sydney.

WHAT?! SHERLOCK IS COMING TO MY HOME TOWN??? 

From that point on, there was no turning back or calming down. It took the organisers another two days to announce details for ticket sales. But I was online and ready with my credit card details as soon as the box office opened. However, judging by the fact that there were about 150 other people sitting closer to the stage I guess getting my tickets within a minute of the box office opening was still not good enough. However, we did have excellent seats and I have absolutely no complaints. Anyway, I digress…

Cumberbatch in Sydney

 

There were 33 sleeps from the time I bought tickets to the day I, and my friend Asha, were due to see this very talented actor, and they felt like the longest 33 days ever. I found myself re-watching all three series of BBC’s Sherlock and going back through my “Cumber-collection” of his many other works that range from playing Hugh Laurie’s eldest son in the 2003 comedy series Fortysomething, to his short films (make sure you check out Inseparable) and even his various radio serials for BBC Radio (Cabin Pressure, Rumpole and Neverwhere) and audiobooks (your life will never be the same again after you hear Cumberbatch as Casanova).

Benedict U2 photobombWhile you may have never heard of Benedict Cumberbatch until you saw him photobomb U2 at the Oscars or heard Ellen DeGeneres introduce him as “the man with the best name ever”, once you look at his long list of filmography, you will realise you have probably seen him in a million things before without realising who he was. Ever since the announcement a little while ago that he was set to return to the London stage in autumn of 2015 to play the title role in Hamlet, I bet there’s been a renewed interest in reading the Bard again. Heck, he’s the only reason I paid to see Star Trek: Into Darkness (nothing against Trekkies, I’ve just never been one of them).

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Defining Success

You’re valuable just because you exist, and you are worthy of doing something just because it’s nice with no achievement.

- Rebekka Tauqiri, psychologist

SBS Insight Program “Pushing for Success

 

successOur society likes to put labels on people – are they successful? What are their achievements? When someone asks “how are you?” are they really asking “what have you achieved lately?” If someone was to ask you “are you happy?” how would you respond?  How do you define success? Or do you let success define you? Do you measure your success by how much “better” you are than someone else?

First impressions are important in both our personal and professional lives, and very often, these are intertwined. For example, when you meet someone for the first time at a party, a function or some event, you introduce yourself by your name and, depending on the occasion, by your profession. Do you ever catch yourself immediately judging your new acquaintance or yourself by this introduction? If someone told you they were a doctor or lawyer, do you react differently to them than if they told you they were a janitor?

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Shopping Should Be A Joyful Experience!

I'm not a shopaholicIt should come as no surprise that I like shopping. After all, my Twitter handle is @valshopaholic. However, as much as shopping can be a form of therapy – for we live in a society where we are taught to believe that having is better than not having, regardless of what it is that we have or how much of it we have – shopping is not always a pleasant experience.

I recently caught up on a wonderful British television series called Mr Selfridge which is a dramatisation of the life of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the self-made American entrepreneur who took his ideals to England and introduced a wonderful concept to the people called “the customer is always right” with his grand department store, Selfridges. The show is well-written and brilliantly acted and you cannot help but fall in love with every single one of the characters (or, in the case of the evil Lord Loxley and the jealous Mr Thackeray, you hate them from the moment you lay eyes on them).

But as much as I have loved the way the characters have been written, I have also become fascinated by the concepts around the act of shopping as an experience, much of which we take for granted now, more than a hundred years after Selfridges first opened its doors in London’s Oxford Street. Whilst we are all accustomed to the sight of cosmetics counters at the front of department stores and it may seem unfathomable that we are not allowed to try on clothes and accessories before paying for them, there once was a time when even touching a pair of gloves at the accessory counter was a big no-no. Harry Selfridge had the grand vision that shopping should be an experience for his customers and that his store should be presented as a place to dream, relax, enjoy, and basically spend their days (and fortunes).

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