Freedom. Or Perks?

It’s the time of year when we reflect on the past and look forward to the future. I’ve spent part of the past week at the Woodford Folk Festival and, unlike a lot of other festival-goers, for me it’s been a sobering experience.

Often we don’t notice the changes that occur in our everyday lives. The days slip by, the years flow on and we ease gracefully into other states of being. Well, that’s how I perceive it happening for other people. For myself any change is usually accompanied by much clashing and gnashing.

The first Woodford Festival I went to was a tribal experience. I drove up from Sydney with five others in a Kingswood called Gretel. We set up camp in amongst other people’s tent ropes and tarpaulins. I wandered wide-eyed and sleepless for the entire six days. I went to every jam session and danced all night in the Chai Tent. I joined the choir and made lanterns. I entered The Great Band Competition and circled every act in the program. I immersed myself in the Woodford experience and when it was time to resurface I couldn’t even remember my pin number.

My second Woodford Festival was spent as a performer. I played the Big Top and slept in the Performers’ Camp. I hung out in the Green Room and played in a few jams. I wore one of those coveted “access all areas” wristbands and got to watch packed out shows from the space beside the stage.

The next time I went as a radio announcer. It rained the entire time but I didn’t care. I was like a pig in the proverbial and there was plenty of that.  I interviewed as many performers as I could and when they played for me a crowd would gather. It was live radio at its best.

Since then I’ve produced and presented many national broadcasts from Woodford for the ABC. And when I became a published author I spent a couple of Woodfords on stage as a speaker. Every year I’ve had special privileges because of my position as a broadcaster, a performer and an author including parking spots, all-access wristbands, free tickets and speedy entry.

This year all that changed. It was the first year since that first tribal trip to Woodford that I’ve paid for a ticket. No access all areas, no special treatment.  At first I felt free; I had no responsibilities, no burden of care, nobody expected anything of me. I had no deadlines and no particular place to be. For the first time in almost twenty years I could experience the Woodford Folk Festival on my own terms. But when The Hubby and I had to park in the day parking area and catch the shuttle bus along with all the other punters, the reality sunk in and I didn’t like it. The truth is I enjoy being special. I love having perks and privileges. I scowled like a cranky toddler.

‘Don’t they realise who I am?’ I huffed.

‘Don’t you mean, who you were?’ The Hubby replied.

And it’s true. I love the freedom of retirement. Every day I’m grateful that I get to choose what I do, or don’t do. And after a lifetime in the public eye in one form or another, I adore the invisibility of anonymity. But freedom comes at a price. And for me that included the cost of a ticket and experiencing the festival as a mere member of the public.

So would I change anything about that experience? Would I shackle myself back to the burdens and responsibilities of a working life for the sake of a free ticket and more convenient parking?

I have had the experience of attending the Woodford Folk Festival in many different guises, and those roles of musician, broadcaster and speaker have suited me at the time. But times change and we change with them or we are doomed to a life of resentment and regret. Freedom is more important to me now than recognition, prestige and the perks of a media pass (even though, yes, sometimes I miss those perks).

So here’s to looking forward, to a life of freedom and choices based on that freedom. And if I get a bit huffy from time to time because I used to be someone, I hope I remember that I much prefer the someone that I am now.

Happy 2017.

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Before You Start That New Year’s Diet….

cakeThe festive season is a strange conundrum. First we’re encouraged to go to lots of parties, eat too much, drink and generally over indulge. Then suddenly it’s as if someone hits a switch. Magazines and newspaper life style lift-outs start wagging the finger and tell us that the good times are over and we must pay for all the excess. Instead of recipes for the perfect chocolate pavlova, the best Christmas pudding and the most impressive cocktail, we’re instructed in ways  to remove the undesirable poundage that the pavlova, pudding and fluffy drinks have deposited on our thighs, waists and chins. It’s like getting your first credit card statement of the year. New Year’s resolutions become abound as the fun times fly out the window.
I was tempted for a few seconds once by a seductive little New Year detox number that promised to clean out my system, get me in to my old jeans and supply me with the perfect life all within the space of 10 days. However when I read what I was expected to eat, or more importantly not eat, I came to my senses. I realised that 240 hours of sheer misery was too much to endure, even for the promised perfection at the end of the torture.
Let’s face it. Diets aren’t about reaching your healthy goal weight.
Diets are about reaching your goal happiness, your goal size smaller than your best friend, your goal boyfriend, your goal life and best of all –  your goal envious looks from other people. Diets are about being suddenly slim and glamorous, they’re about swanning around in sports cars and being lusted after by movie stars. Wouldn’t we all be deliriously happy, content and rich if only we were just a little bit slimmer?
I’ve waded through the sure-fire kilo-dropper starvation plans and the swathe of Celebrity Diets. There are only two things I’ve read that have made any sense. One was a famous singer saying that the only way to lose weight was to eat less and exercise more. The other was a famous actress telling us not to believe other actresses who say they eat whatever they like and stay stick thin. She said that she, like the rest of them, was hungry all the time.
 So when the over indulgence of the first part of the festive season turns into the cold light of a New Year, I don’t allow myself to be harangued into a life of deprivation. Thanks to a few honest celebrities I now know that people who are slimmer than me aren’t morally superior beings who live incredibly fulfilled and fascinating lives with their perfect partners. They are just people who are a bit hungrier than me.

The Rocking Chair

IMG_0835The Rocking Chair | Mary-Lou Stephens.

Every family has iconic photographs that tell a far greater story than the dots imprinted on paper or the pixels on the screen. One of my family’s photos is of me, at not much over a year old, wearing a pair of faded red overalls, dirty feet and a cheeky smile. For support I’m clutching the arm of an old rocking chair on the veranda of our shack. The composition of the photograph is perfect; the colours, the lighting and the moment, all captured with the deft hand of a very experienced photographer. Which he was. My grandfather. He left us a legacy of our childhood years in photographs and slides that adorn our walls, mantelpieces and bookshelves and still get shown at the special slide nights my sister arranges so beautifully.

The Rocking Chair, as we call this photo, was amongst the last he ever took.  He and my grandmother were driving back from the shack. There was an accident. He died almost immediately. My grandmother died in hospital not long after. Two more holiday statistics. The photos were developed later, after funerals and wakes and many tears. Over the festive season I wonder how many sons and daughters, or mothers and fathers, will be left with holiday snaps taken by someone they love who has just become a statistic.

Often when I pull onto the Bruce Highway, especially at this time of year, I find myself doing a quick calculation of the odds. I like to think of it as awareness. A momentary lapse in concentration, an unexpected occurrence, that’s all it takes. Some years ago a fellow driver decided they’d merge from a slip road across both lanes of traffic, forcing me onto the meridian strip and straight towards a concrete bridge. I’m still not sure how I managed to safely manoeuvre the car back onto the highway while the idiot sped off in front of me. I was shaking and crying from the near miss but determined not to show the shock and fear to my young niece who was happily strapped into her booster seat in the back. She was not going to be a statistic that day.

Statistics. We hear a lot about them during the holiday season. And those statistics don’t reveal the heartache experienced by those left behind at this time of year, every year, for many years to come. Or the trauma of the survivors who may be left with permanent physical and emotional injuries.

As you strap on your seat belt spare a thought for your friends, your family and the families of those you don’t know and ensure you have a Happy New Year.

*You’ll also find this post in the December issue of Holistic Bliss Magazine.