Thursday, 11 September 2014

Breaking the Silence...

So after almost six months of dedicated procrastination, I've decided it's time to end my blogging hiatus.  The widespread sentiment I've gathered from the friends/family I've been keeping up with is that I've all but given up on keeping the Western World up to speed on my adventures abroad, and I'd hate for that to be any indication that I've abandoned my roots. So without any further adieu, let me issue an update:

(Ferry Trip from Manly Beach back to Sydney at sunset... we've got a hell of a bridge here)

Winter is finally drawing to a close here in Sydney.  That doesn't mean much, however, since most "winter" days the temp fluctuates between 50-60 degrees with nominal windchill.  It is a bit haunting though that this was the first July/August I've ever spent away from summer and, despite the wonderful city that surrounds me... I miss home. The days have been short here and I'm forced to live vicariously through Snapchats of sunny days in Piedmont Park, Instagram pics of Sunday brunches in the Highlands, various Facebook beach trip albums, and annoyingly repetitive Buzzfeed articles. The American World goes offline at 2PM every day and the sun sets by 5:30, which eventually takes a toll on my evening morale. Needless to say, I live ten minutes from the Sydney's beaches and I'm ready for summer.

Some of you are probably thinking, "Thanks for the weather update, Swanson, that's really what we care about" which is a fair blast, so I should probably move on to the heavier stuff...  

In order to feel chronologically caught up, I'd like to fast-track a lighting round of sorts and so here are just a few of the noteworthy happenings that have taken place in my world these last few months:

(Not a bad first dive site, yeah?)
  • SCUBA diving - Aside from learning to surf -- impossible, for now -- the only other mandate I gave myself when moving here was to get SCUBA certified.  Australia is obviously home to the Great Barrier Reef and, with Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesian islands just a stones throw away, it made perfect sense to get acquainted with life under the sea while I was here (I've since met almost the entire cast of Finding Nemo, save a few sharks). So I dropped a few stacks of cash, ponied up, and got my PADI Scuba certification here in Sydney, doing two days worth of open ocean dives on the Eastern coast, with the primary goal of being eligible to step into the big leagues and do some diving on the wonderful islands of...
(Monuriki Island, Fiji - Tom Hanks tried to hang himself from that peak on the left)
  • Fiji - If I asked any of you to point to Fiji on an unlabeled map, could you do it? ...Neither could I, despite making a commitment to travel there more than a year ago for a wedding this past April. Turns out Fiji is only a 3-hour flight north of Sydney, kind of a volcano-less Hawaii of the Western Pacific. This made my commute perhaps the easiest of the rest of the wedding party -- which hailed from Boston and Perth. I can truly say it was the most tropical place I've ever visited. I won't ramble on with details, but I met dozens of new friends, snorkled around the tiny island where Tom Hanks filmed Cast Away, drank ceremonial Kava, fed a school of sharks at 10 meters depth, said "Bula" over a hundred times to complete strangers and, most importantly, witnessed my favorite couple, Brad and Chelsea, tie the knot... which is some much-needed closure to those Lansdowne days in Athens when, slowly but surely, we all realized they were soulmates. I even channeled some creativity and painted them a photo (which was a real photo mind you) as their wedding present. This leads me into my next segment...
(Acrylics and a bit of spray paint on canvas. Size: packable)
  • Painting - Not for a client, not on a wall, but for me... and, having eliminated quite a few distractions by displacing myself in a foreign country, I found it pretty easy to dive back into an old hobby. To be candid, I'm a firm believer that we should all seek some form of personal solitude to escape the other 23 hours of the day: be it strumming a guitar, pouring through pages of George R.R. Martin novels, smashing weights at the gym, slaying noobs on XBox, or writing silly blogs like this. It's really that "me time" that makes you step outside the routine others have mandated for you and remind yourself that, like the stars and stripes of our great American flag, your freedom should be exactly that: free. What was at first an "escape" (I've got more projects I'll post soon), painting became a borderline compulsion after a week or two so, in an effort to make sure I didn't become a complete recluse, I accepted a friend's invitation and tried out for a local team playing...
(Home ground baseball fields in Northmead... could be worse, right?)
  • Baseball - Who knew I'd travel half way around the world to play one of the most Americanized sports on the planet? Let's be real: I hadn't picked up a baseball since I had a learner's permit in high school, but I think my American accent (and my inconspicuously fake Braves jersey) earned me some street cred on day one and, after two weeks of trials, I somehow made the team. 60% of my throws were off-target but I'd always played catcher, so my glove skills and batting was enough to earn me a spot on the lowest-grade "development" squad at the club. Honestly, I didn't even know what team I was trying out for at first but, as it turns out, it ended up being Sydney University's baseball program. Apparently, much unlike American NCAA sports, most university teams in Australia don't require any tangible affiliation to the actual school, which is such a backwards-ass form of competition I can barely understand it even after a full season. All I know is that it was awesome playing baseball with a dozen or so Aussie blokes, all yelling at each other from the dugout with the same language I'd known growing up, only now distinctly foreign and with weird accents, teammates chanting: "C'mon moyyte, it's yowah pitch now, give it a royyde yeeah kid!" In retrospect, I apologize for not Snapchatting this. We placed third in the comp and missed out on the grand finals by a one-run margin.  Regardless, I made some great "True Blue" Australian friends and it was awesome getting to travel around the Sydney suburbs every weekend for games, as I'd only really seen the city until...
(What the drive looked like heading out to camp)
  • Camping - Made a trip out to the Blue Mountains a few months ago with Zac (best Sherpa mate) and Brian (best Google mate) for some hiking, fly-fishing, and general bourbon-fueled campfire banter. I'd have never known that Sydney has a legit Mountain range only a few hours drive West and was lucky enough to be invited along for a proper lads trip out into the Aussie Bush. I posted the photos to Facebook forever ago it feels like, so add me if you haven't seen them, but the scenery was nothing less than divine. Also, to my surprise, I came to realize that kangaroos aren't just this idealized rare Australian mammal, they're actually so abundant that they're impossible to miss! I've grown up seeing deer here and there driving through the Appalachians, but these Kangas are everywhere! Packs of three, four, five of them at a time just hopping along the roadside as you pass through rural highways... they're all dumb as bricks but I'll be damned if they don't look really cool when they're doing their thing. The exposure to nature outside the day-to-day metro world was priceless and, between the three of us, Brian, Zac, and I probably spent 10 hours casting and didn't catch a single fish. That being said, I wouldn't have changed a single thing about that weekend.
(Dodgers vs. D-Backs opener - the Aussie crowd thought every foul ball was a home run)

While there are still a bunch more ridiculous national holidays and off-beat adventures I could outline here, such as attending the Dodgers first 2014 game which they for some reason scheduled here at a Cricket Grounds in Sydney (above), I'd rather leave it at that for now. I've planned a vacation up to Cairns (Northern Tropical Australia) this weekend with my housemates and will likely have some updates on that a week from now.  Poppa Swanson sent me a GoPro for my birthday so I'm hoping I can get some beach, scuba, rainforest, and waterfall clips and put together a solid video after the fact.

It's been roughly 9 months since I moved here and, looking back, I remember thinking that life in Oz would be a brilliant journey of self-awakening and that, without the common distractions of everyone/everything I knew in Atlanta, I would blossom into this acutely upstanding and responsible version of my former self.  To be culturally relevant, my thought process moving here was a fusion of "You only live once, n***a YOLO that's the motto" and "Oh yeah, that's right, I'm doing me" - who knew I had so much in common with our boy Drake?

In many ways, that's been the case... tons of new experiences, good habits, and even a subtle degree of maturity I can attribute to this journey... but I've likewise come to realize just how important those homegrown connections can be, and that, despite my opportunities and advances, home will always be home. More and more every day, the culture here rubs off on me... my fake Bogan accent is coming along nicely and I have a distinctly Aussie-hipster haircut as of late. I also tend to wear clothes that actually fit me now (the unbuttoned "Southern-frat" look just comes off awkward and sloppy here). On top of that, I'm a complete and total coffee snob. I follow three different rugby leagues... and yet, I miss Waffle House, Taco Bell, and trying to keep up with College and NFL football games these next few months means waking up at 3am and streaming low-res channels in a jersey and sweatpants. Sacrifices... I think they call them.

More to come, much more to come. It's easy to make excuses every time I think of sitting down and divulging my thoughts one keystroke at a time... working too much, projects to finish, books to read, etc. but I definitely owe it to my friends, my mates, my colleagues, and (most importantly) my Mom to not go radio-silent despite a full schedule and ridiculous time-zone difference.

To my friends back home, please keep the Snapchats coming... and I'll uphold my obligation to inform the 404, the 706, and even the 303 of my happenings in the "other other deep South."

Much love,


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Straya Slang

Obviously I'm living in a country that speaks English, but quite clearly its not the same tone, dialect, or even vernacular that we, as Americans, are used to.  So therefore I wanted to take a quick break from "status update" posts and outline some of my favorite slang words that are used around the great country of Oz. For those of you that watched Summer Heights High or Angry Boys... a lot of these should seem familiar:
  • Mate - Australians LITERALLY couldn't have been any more stereotypical in their use of this word. It equates to: dude, man, bud, bro, buddy, guy, babe, even sir in some situations. I was, and still am, shocked how much this country loves using this word. Zac told me that when the military colonized Australia, they decided to refer to everyone as "mate" so as not to create a class system or any social hierarchy. I'll buy it.
  • Keen - This one is hard to describe.  In America, it means "sharp" or "quick-witted" but here, it's used with much more variety; meaning "eager" or "willing" essentially. ["Are you keen to join us?" or "I think he was keen to take advantage of you!"] This word will inevitably follow me back home.
  • Legend! - Legendary; a very satisfying term of endearment... like if I get off a strong sales call and the dude says "Legend, mate! Talk to you soon." I'm feeling quite accomplished!
  • Good'onya - Another term of endearment or congratulations (e.g. "way to go" or "well done"), but also synonymous as a sign-off, similar to "have a good one" or "take it easy" in American. I still don't understand this phrase... where is the "good" coming from and who, exactly, is putting it on me?!
  • No worries or No dramas - No problem... also a sign-off that signifies there being no ill feelings between two parties, used all the time and EVERYWHERE!
  • Ow’ya going? - "How's it going?" or "How are you doing?" -- the phrase can be reciprocated with "I'm going well," this clearly also makes no sense to me still, despite hearing it every day.
  • Reckon – suppose (e.g. “You reckon?!” or “I reckon that…”) however, it's very commonplace and not considered redneck, in stark opposition to it's usage in the South.
  • Flat out - tired, spent, overworked. ["I tried to call her but she was flat out all week"]
  • Cooked or cooked out - another synonym for tired... but moreso meaning wasted, exhausted, or hammered. I like this one.
  • Skull - Chug. ["Let's skull these beers and make moves!"]
  • Arvo - Afternoon. ["Meet me tomorrow arvo at the station"]
  • Sesh - Session, outing. Often used to describe an afternoon of recreational drinking or hanging out. ["Are you keen for a Sunday Sesh at the beach this weekend?"]
  • Straya - a slang term for Australia
  • Bogan - An Australian redneck, or someone who's known to get pissed all day drinking and not caring about their general appearance.
  • Pissed, on the piss - drunk
  • Taking the piss (out of) - making fun of someone ["She was taking the piss out of Mike all night"]
  • Thongs - Flip-flops.
  • Runners – Running shoes.
  • Heaps - Used the same way we use "lots" in the States, only more often ["There were heaps of bogans on the beach that day"]... strangely enough, it can also be used to emphasize an adjective, such as "heaps cool" or "heaps crowded."
  • Maccas – slang term for McDonald's, which I still haven't eaten at since I landed here #silentprotest
  • Yank - the word most commonly used to describe Americans
  • Root – synonym for “F&%$" ...but generally more socially acceptable ["Your tires are totally rooted!" or "Do you think she was looking to root?"] Be careful not to use this to mean "cheer for" or you'll get some strange looks.
  • Spewing - Visibly agitated, frustrated, or angry ["That guy was spewing when you were talking to his girl"]
  • Garbs – trash, rubbish, worthless (I’m pretty sure only my roommate Cam uses this word, but it's a classic)
It should be clear at this point that Australians are lazy to the point of abbreviating words like an eighth-grade girl does (#totes #obvi), and clearly the most popular of these abbreviations seems to be cutting a word down to one syllable and adding an "ie"...

Here's a list of slang words that are abbreviated with the long E (which I find quite entertaining):
  • Aussie - Australian, not pronounced with S's, but rather with Z's; like Ozzie
  • Dunny - toilet
  • Lollie - means any type of candy, not just lollipops
  • Sickie - a sick day ("chucking a sickie" means playing hookie or falsely calling off work)
  • Sunnies - sunglasses
  • Footie - Australian Football League
  • Prossie - prostitute
  • Facie - slang for Facebook
  • Barbie - short for BBQ, which means "grill" here (also super stereo-Australian)
  • Scratchie - instant lotto ticket, or scratch-off, as we call them
  • Chrissie – Christmas
  • Rellie - relative
  • Brekkie - breakfast
  • Boardie - board shorts, or swimsuit
  • Cozzie - swimsuit, or short for "swim costume" on girls
  • Rashie - wetsuit, the shortened version of "rashguard"
  • Stubby – a standard bottle of beer
  • Tinny – a standard can of beer
  • Greenie – hippie, environmentalist, used in a derogatory way
  • Lippy – lipstick
  • Mozzie - mosquito
  • Bitie – any other insect that bites
  • Brully – umbrella
  • Polly - politician 
  • Bodgy – inferior quality
  • Dodgy - sketchy
  • Postie – postman
  • Truckie – truck driver
Don't text and drive.



Monday, 3 March 2014

(Near) Death and the Oscars...

Lots to say so let me get right to it: I came down with a nasty flu virus on Wednesday and have been in bed for almost four straight days now.  I’m almost back to normal, can only sleep 3-4 hours at a time still, but it was literally the sickest I’ve been since Grade 12.  Mom, I apologize in advance for not telling you, but I didn’t want both of us losing sleep, so I played this one close to the chest because I know, having spent two years developing antibodies in that crumbling petri dish of fraternity house in college, I now have the hardened immune system of a Rhinoceros and I’m not losing my life to something microscopic.

I felt a little off Wednesday night and was a few degrees above normal, so what? I woke up Thursday morning, however, with a fever of 102… no bueno.  Spent the day drinking gatorade, eating miso soup, and answering emails from home, before finally feeling like, by 9 or 10PM Thursday night, I had conquered this petty little virus and would be back to normal the next morning.  Total fake out.  I took two Advil, fell asleep at midnight, and woke up at 3am with full-body tremors and a 103.7 fever.  After I got myself to stop shaking, I stripped down, turned my fan on full blast, and chugged a few liters ice water to keep my body temp down until 8am the next morning when all the nearby doctors offices opened and I wouldn’t have to ride 30 mins across the city to the ER.  My head was POUNDING, every time I bent over I thought my eyes were gonna pop out of my skull, but I stomped into some high-tops and threw on an old Matt Ryan jersey to go see an MD across the block.  I figured who better to help break a fever than some “Matty Ice,” am I right?

The answer was definitely no… after last season, I should have known: the only thing Matt Ryan’s worth breaking at this point is his contract.

So the doctor said I had the flu, couldn’t prescribe me anything, and sent me home to continue my helpless regiment of OTC remedies. I get home, sip on some soup, catch up on every single episode of True Detective (a remarkable series by the way!), and finally doze off around 3pm to try my luck at sleep again. Three hours later, BOOM!  I wake up in a sweaty puddle, this time boasting a 104.3 fever! ONE HUNDRED AND FOUR!  Now having not been sick in several years, I’m not sure why/how I packed a thermometer, but I do know that THIS PARTICULAR thermometer has been in my family since I was six-years-old, and I am absolutely certain that I just set the all time high score on the damn thing!

PROOF (like I wasn’t gonna capture that):

Being that over 104 degrees is like “brain damage” level temperature, or so I read, I headed out for a second opinion… thinking that my condition had worsened to something more along the lines of viral meningitis (still not deadly Mom).  Second Aussie doc reassured me that I didn’t have anything more than a very harsh flu virus - as my American flu vaccines don’t cover the strains over here - and that my body temperature was so high because it was trying to “cook” the virus out of my system.  I just stared at him, so soaking with sweat it looked like I’d stepped out of the shower, and waited for him to tell me there still wasn’t anything he could prescribe me that would help.  He did tell me that I was the most “visibly ill” person he’d diagnosed in a long time… that did kinda make me feel less crazy.

So I was fighting this battle on my own it now looked like… just me and my friends Earl Grey, Panadol, Loperamide, AsproClear, Gastrolyte, and of course Ibuprofen.  I luckily had some Xanax leftover from the flight, so could call in the big guns if sleeping became impossible. Even with all my over-the-counter disease mercenaries… it was due to be a long next 48 hours with a fever that, I kid you not, didn't break below 102 for more than an hour until this morning.

Being the optimistic person I am, here are the few positive things I took out of this:
  • The weather is Sydney was shit… cold, rainy, easy to stay indoors
  • Having eaten nothing but soup and fruit, I’d probably lose a few pounds
  • Being so close to the Oscars meant I could illegally download perfect HD copies of almost every good movie in theatres -- there are always tons of quality leaks around big awards ceremonies

I remembered back in high school when I was quarantined at home with Mono and decided that, in order to cope with being violently ill and antisocial I needed to come up with a hobby. Back then, I purchased a World of Warcraft account, played it into the ground for two weeks, then deactivated it and returned to normal social activity.  But now, I’m a grown-ass man and really only had two days to come up with something… which needed to require little to no mental effort.  So I decided my hobby-in-sickness would be… (drumroll please)

Me Actually Giving a Shit About the Oscars

No joke. I took the seven leading Oscar contenders and watched them all start to finish this weekend.  Below are my admittedly biased, yet completely honest takes on each of these movies, which I have divided into two fair categories, as well as my predictions for the seven Oscars these films will take home.  No spoilers, I promise:


Dallas Buyer’s Club
Superlative: Most likely to make you go “yikes”
Will win: Best Actor (McConaughey), Best Supporting Actor (Leto)
Being from Kilgore, Texas, Matthew McConaughey essentially plays himself, only a bit older, grittier, drug-addicted… oh and of course, with full-blown AIDS.  He lost 46 freaking pounds for the role and that, coupled with an all-too-believable Texan swagger will likely win him Best Actor.  Dallas Buyer’s Club is a two-hour bloodstorm against the FDA and Big Pharma, but it’s extremely touching, nonetheless, especially coming from someone that missed the chaos of the mid-80s AIDS epidemic and can only chalk it up to the loss of Freddie Mercury, Arthur Ashe, and celebrities of the like.  I didn’t even realize that Rayon, McConaughey’s bald cross-dressing sidekick, was actually Jared Leto until the scene, 2/3rds into the movie, where he actually puts on a man’s suit.  Five years it’s been since Leto has acted and this is the role he came back to? I heard he stayed in character for the duration of the shooting too. Bravo sir. Bravo.  If you haven’t seen this movie, do it.  Not right now, and not only if they both Oscars for it, but because I can’t think of another movie out there that gives AIDS any justice and this one reminds you just how short-sighted our country can be at times, whether its towards a sexual orientation or the treatment of a deadly disease. Or maybe I just sympathized especially hard because of my present illness and own personal feelings of neglect around such.

Wolf of Wall Street
Superlative: Most “bro” movie of the year
Will win: Nothing… It’s just too bad it’s not considered a Documentary
It’s hard not to come into this movie with a thousand expectations: A record-setting amount of “F Bombs,” non-stop drug use, busty prossies in every other scene, an incestuous Jonah Hill with huge caricature-esque chiclet teeth.  Despite my preexistent knowledge that Jordan Belfort is, in fact, a complete shoestringing scumbag… I couldn’t help but feel like I was rooting for him.  Maybe because it’s Leo, maybe because, despite the clear and present robbery, it still somehow seemed like the American Dream?  Either way, the role he took on was one-of-a-kind and the way Scorcese drew it all together with a host of narrations, camera-friendly asides, and painfully lengthy dialogues of Tarantino-worthy banter… remains unchallenged.  I went into it expecting a comedic documentary, but what I found was more of a dramatic comedy.  Seeing it on opening night here in Sydney, the entire stadium was in stitches constantly!  Only a few weeks ago, and I still watched it again yesterday for critiquing purposes. I actually want to suggest it be considered for Best Picture but then I have to remind myself that I am, in fact, a 25-year-old White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP, as the film refers to) who still plans to get rich quickly and take my fair share of the world, so my vantage point is clearly biased.  That being said, I still put 10 bucks down on Leo winning this Oscar (pays 5:1)... though I see now that was almost certainly a mistake.

Lone Survivor
Superlative: Most predictable -- based solely on its name
Will win: Also nothing, I only wish Best Soundtrack was a category because Explosions in the Sky did this one and absolutely killed it!
SPOILER ALERT! Only one dude survives.  But seriously, if you didn’t already realize that, you should be renting Frozen from the RedBox down the street right now, because you’re clearly not mature enough for the earth-shattering gunfights that take place in this power patrio-flick.  Sadly, I had already seen the riveting 60 Minutes interview with the hero/survivor Marcus Luttrell which, although it diluted the shock value of the plotline, did validate to me that this is a very factual account of the conflict that took place on the Afghani mountainside. The odds are reminiscent of the movie 300, where even the exceptional skillsets of this Navy Seal quartet couldn’t outweigh the sheer strength of a hundred Taliban rebels armed to the teeth and bearing down from high ground and at all sides.  It’s a constant reminder of why, despite some of our country’s shortcomings, we can never forget to honor and support the brave men and women that fight to defend the U.S.A. and the civil values it stands for.  It makes me want to adopt a bald eagle and wear an American Flag as a cape to work this week.  Plus… Mark Wahlberg.

12 Years a Slave
Superlative: Hardest to watch, in a good way
Will win: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Nyong’o)
Performance-wise? Wow! When I can say that Brad Pitt’s acting is actually the least-impressive in a feature film, that goes a long way. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, American Gangster) plays the protagonist and, from the opening scene, there is not a single bead of emotion that is lost between frames!  His performance could easily earn him Best Actor, if not for perhaps a slight lack of dialogue and a sheer disadvantage to being up against Matthew and Leo’s tenure. Lupita Nyong’o, in her feature film debut, however, WILL take home Best Supporting Actress, as her portrayal of the tragically gifted slave woman with nearly every odd stacked against her is unwavering!  Every time she cried out, it pierced a very soft spot in my chest.  I am a child of the Deep South, and I truly FEEL for this story, for the centuries of grave mistreatment we bestowed upon a equal race we considered so inferior, but I dare say that it would bring quite the same rise out of anyone who sits in for two hours and pays mind to the sheer brutality of it all.  I made my Aussie roommate watch it and had to answer questions about why blacks could be free in New York but slaves in Georgia.  Despite my birthplace having no tie to this time period, providing an answer still stung a bit… as it should.  I don’t know who this director, the “new” Steve McQueen is, but he is the King of Cool in my book. Well done.


Superlative: Most unexpectedly satisfying
Will win: Best Original Screenplay

Spike Jonze, to have written and directed this one... hat's off! I came in knowing that this movie was about a lonely middle-aged man who falls in love with an OS (if you’re still reading this Mom, that’s kind of what Siri is on your iPhone), but I didn’t expect to be so touched by a movie with such a whimsical plotline.  Jonze is truly a visionary into how the Digital Era is breeding a more desperate and disconnected society than ever before. (Tinder, anyone?) Joaquin Phoenix who, like Jared Leto, also recently took five years off of acting to pursue a "musical career", and has retuned to play a an extremely lovable, albeit pathetic, middle-aged man named Theodore. Scarlett Johanessen plays the voice of the A.I. (on Phoenix's phone essentially) and wishes throughout the film that she only had a body in order to act out her emotions towards him in full physical form.  I wish the film had, too, given her a body so that she could be at least nominated for Best Actress because the sexy, witty voiceover she provided was otherworldly!  I would have fallen in love with that little gadget too I think.  I think Her actually invented its own genre: a Science Fiction Romantic Comedy.  So to all my non-single friends out there, suggest a SciFi RomCom to your significant other when this one hits OnDemand and you won’t be unimpressed.

Superlative: Most unrealistic, not in a good way
Will win: Best Director, Best Graphics/Visual Effects or whatever the hell they call it
Let me start by saying I was STOKED TO THE MAX to see this movie. As a youngster, I always wanted to be an astronaut but, unlike most other kids, I actually maintained this belief until high school (when I found out I didn’t have 20/20 vision and liked chasing girls).  My Grandpa, a Navy Vet from Huntsville, AL, actually sent my cousin Tyler and I to Space Camp/Academy THREE TIMES!  Based on the amount of knowledge we acquired there (in middle school have you), I can tell you that Gravity is a completely unrealistic and inaccurate depiction of how both outer space and general space missions work!  So simply put, if critiquing this movie were a Jury Duty summons, I’d be relieved of it immediately. However, despite hating both the main (and only two) characters, it IS visually breathtaking and I commend the production of a movie that took place almost entirely on an artificial zero-gravity set. Being one of those movies with absolutely no backstory or plot build whatsoever, that just takes place over the course of its length essentially, I'll admit I did find it entertaining and it had plenty of shock value! But I take solace in the fact that the great Carl Sagan is similarly rolling his eyes in a grave somewhere. Don't ever watch this movie with me or you will hate me by the time it's over.

American Hustle
Superlative: Hardest to recall, just for me though
Will win: Sadly, I predict it will win zero Oscars
Okay, so I didnt’ really watch American Hustle.  To be fair, I did “watch” it, but it was when it was still in theatres in the States and, since we’d crushed two bottles of wine before we got there and snuck in two more… I can honestly say I don’t remember anything relevant after the first fifteen minutes of it, aside from me not having to drive home.  What did stick out to me was that Amy Adams stole the show, Christian Bale REALLY let his physical self go, and the haircuts… boy THESE HAIRCUTS were brilliant!  Bradley Cooper with a Jheri Curl and Bale with a combover to rule them all!  I’m sure it was a good flick, but I wasn’t even tempted to re-watch it a second time during my stint as a part-time movie critic which means, meh… its a flop. In fact, I kinda wish we’d all stayed home and watched The Departed that night.  There’s your most one-sided and clearly unprofessional critique of the lot.  Deal with it.

And that’s it.  Due to my lack of even follow-through at this point, I doubt there's a career in it for me. But like I said, I feel a fair bit better tonight, and that's all that matter. I'm still waiting for my body clock to reset… but I bought a scale this morning and I lost 9 pounds over the course of the gut-wrenching evening! I only wish I had the self-control to continue sleeping in 3-hour intervals and avoiding solid foods.

For those of you who finished this post, I have a surprise for you that I'll share later this week on Facebook. Stay tuned, wash your hands, and take plenty of vitamins kids!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Surfing 101: A Seppo Barney Kook

So among the top of the goals I have set for myself living abroad here are two distinct milestones: scuba dive the barrier reefs, and learn how to surf.  I got cracking on the latter of those this past weekend.

As someone who acts like they understand art: surfing is a art form. Kinetic energy forms way out in the depths of the ocean and, through a series of rifts, currents, wind and atmosphere, manages to make its way ashore in the form of a single wave; a single direction of fluid matter and force, enabling those with ability to tap into it, managing friction, inertia, and gravity all at once... to harmoniously connect to the spirit of the ocean as it makes its way ashore.  The most popular way to do-so is using a 7-foot long, meticulously carved piece of artwork known, most commonly, as a surfboard.

Spoiler alert: surfing ain't easy. I’ve snowskied, waterskied, snowboarded, wakeboarded, and wakesurfed all without much problem.  I even consider myself a quiet master of the Ripstick (for those that know).  But surfing… surfing is some serious work!  Unlike wakeboarding, there is no motor to pull you up and, unlike snowboarding, there is no hill to sit down on when you get too tired to continue.  You are simply paddling for your life the entire time you are out there and hoping, just maybe, you are in the right place at the right time, moving fast enough in the right direction to actually catch a wave, at which point you then fight the odds on being swift enough to stand up.  I’m assuming everything after that is a cake walk.

Zac lives up in Manly Beach and, because there was a surf competition going on this past weekend, decided to host a poker night as his place.  I hopped on the ferry and made it up there right after noon so I could catch some of the action.  When I arrived, a few of the guys were already hanging out so we, weathering the bogus rainy weather, decided to go catch the late heats of the surfing semi-finals down on the beach.

Watching a surf competition is like attending a baseball game, in my opinion.  You're often so busy people watching that you forget why you're even there until something important happens. And by then, you've missed it completely. Once the heats ended, we snagged some Chipotle-worthy Mexican grub and headed back to the apartment.  Zac, at this point, offered to take me out for a surf lesson.

He offered me a wetsuit top, which I reluctantly accepted (Thank God! Or else my nipples would have rubbed off and be halfway to New Zealand by now) and, as we were leaving, he looked at the guys and said, “We’ll probably be back in 45 minutes... (looking at me now) no offense Jared.”  I laughed, wrote this off as a clear underestimation of my athleticism and aptitude for board sports… whatever. I borrowed a board and we marched out towards the beach.

Before I begin, let’s talk about how ideal this scenario is real quick.  Zac, my only American coworker, lives about two blocks from Manly Beach, the longest beach in Sydney, well known for its surfing prominence, and has about five surf boards he rotates through, creating an excellent opportunity for me to learn the art of surfing without taking on any significant financial burden. Not to mention I’m lucky enough to have a confidant that really knows his stuff.

Back to my baseball reference... and even moreso to reference one of my favorite childhood movies: The Sandlot. Imagine Zac, the native Hawaiian, the been-doing-it-since-birth Surf King, as Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez was in the Sandlot.  A master in his trade.  And here I am, Scotty Smalls, a pipsqueak inland-American nobody.  As I'm paddling out into the surf, I found myself reciting in my head over and over, just as he did, "Don't be a goofus! DON'T BE a goofus!"

For those of you that have never surfed outside of the Gulf of Mexico, or another clearly inadequate American coastline, I'm sure you picture it like this:
  • Grab your surfboard
  • Cruise on out into deep water
  • Wait for a good-looking wave to break
  • Kick/paddle a few times
  • Stand up, enjoy the glory, and ride carelessly back into the beach
Reality check... it's a whoooole lot more than that, especially in Manly Beach this past Saturday. First off, hands down, the single hardest part of surfing is actually getting all the way the $%&# out there, past where the waves break over your head and just bury you in a salty grave of turmoil, only to lose twenty-feet of ground, reset and try again. Paddle paddle, get smashed, paddle again. Repeat.

I'm trying desperately to keep up with Zac as we work to get past the breaks.  Every muscle in my body already aches and I can barely breathe.  I'm convinced his board is floatier than mine and waxed with Waffle House butter, but nonetheless, every time he looks back, I try and maintain a look on my face that I'm doing just fine and that my heart rate isn't 190 bpms.  We finally make it.

Now, in order to look you aren't a complete "Kook" or "Barney" (both bogus rookie surf terms), you're expected to not wade in the water with your arms hanging over your board, but rather mount the damn thing like a mechanical bull and casually sit upright and out of the water looking for waves on the horizon. Truth be told: this is really difficult and extremely uncomfortable.  Once I'm able to actually climb onto my surfboard and position myself at a seemingly sustainable point of buoyancy, I then have to hinge both my knees inward and keep this thing in submission by tightening my calves under it like a Jui Jitsu fighter... which would be only mildly tough if we were in a lake or a pool, only we're in the freaking Pacific Ocean!

Here's where compounding variables kick in... there's a surf competition that just finished 100 yards down the beach and, despite the shit weather, every able-bodied surfer and his brother seems to be out in the ocean around us.... Queue my feeling of extreme self-consciousness.  I can tell that THEY can tell that I have no clue what in the world what I'm doing.  Granted, I do have a loyal surfing Sensei advising me, but with a dozen Aussie-born wave crushers on either side of me, I can't help but feel vulnerable and extremely "in the way."  I'm like a buoy with a sharp edge attached to it and it's actually palpable how much these dudes wish I wasn't there. But as my faithful colleague has reminded me, everybody has to start somewhere. I do my best to shake it off.

Zac is being extremely patient at this point. I get the concept and am doing my best... the wave comes, I paddle, I lose. Then, in order to not get swept all the way back onto the beach, I'm forced to climb back onto this wretched piece of styrofoam and plexiglass and use every ounce of strength to paddle back out past the breaks.  I'm again trying to play it off like I haven't been out of breath since our feet left the shoreline. I've swallowed probably two full Nalgenes of saltwater at this point. I'm gasping for air, but all I can taste is the Mexican food we had for lunch less than an hour ago (bad form). I give him a thumbs up, and we continue.

Now having grown up spending many a summer on the touristy beaches of the Florida Gulf, I was quite the dick-dragging boogie boarder... so my ability to actually know a worthy wave from a waste of time was pretty solid. Problem is, every time I spotted one and tried to paddle into it, I'd for some reason get so excited that I'd close my eyes, black out immediately, and come to in the midst of what I like to call the "Blender Effect" -- which is where the force of the wave flips you upside down and you're cast into a tumbling vortex of sea foam for 8-10 seconds before being able to resurface, narrowly missing having one of your eyebrows carved off by the whirling death fins of your own surfboard.  There's only so much of this a man can handle.

To give myself credit, I did catch one solid wave... at the right time and right place with my back arched and eyes open, only I was so surprised I forget to pop my feet up underneath me and actually partake in this thing they call "surfing" (boogie-boarder instinct kicked in I guess).  I didn't care. I looked back and Zac was smiling.  We'll call that progress.

I gave it a few more goes and, once the muscles in my lower back were tweaking with electric shock and both calves cramping to the point of grabbing the balls of my feet and pulling them towards my knees underwater, I figured it was time to call it a day.  It took me 10 minutes to doggie-paddle ashore, hobbling along trying to avoid the ever-pressing embarrassment of all my muscles locking up and me drowning in 5-feet of water.

We both get back to the beach. My head is POUNDING like Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Every orifice in my head is filled to the brim with sand and saltwater and I'm limping like a stork trying to keep my toes from curling and re-initiating a series of unrecoverable lower body cramps.  We get back finally and, despite my struggles, I'm proud to have known I spent probably two solid hours out in the surf holding my own. As the sliding doors to the lobby open up, I ask Zac to check his watch for the time:

It had been exactly 45 minutes.

Commence a great night of poker and belligerence. A few Advil had me back on my feet and we enjoyed a solid night of flops, turns, and rivers -- most of which completely screwed me and stole my chips. However, I enjoyed a well-deserved night's rest and, despite the vivid Maker's Mark hangover, I headed back out to surf again around noon because, why not?  The second time around was much more comfortable, as I'd regulated my pace and set my expectations. That being said, it wasn't nearly as worthy of a lengthy blog narration as the day preceding, so I'll leave it at that. Give me another day or two out there, and I plan to report some real success as a would-be Seppo surfer.

There are muscles in my core I haven't used in years that are still, now three days after my last attempt, sore as they can be.  Yet all I can think about is the next chance I'll have to get back out there.  Truly addicting, this is.

Stay tuned folks. More to come.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Saying goodbye + Meaning it

So I just made it back from a return trip to the States this morning.  Aggressively soon, right?  That’s part of the reason I didn’t exactly advertise it.  I knew I was gonna be back in Atlanta for a sales conference and felt like a coward announcing it to everyone after making such a big deal about “going abroad” indefinitely.  That and, selfishly, I knew I only had a few days to spare and wanted to still be in charge of what I did with them.  In simple terms, I miss you guys more than you miss me after three weeks… so the week was mine to dictate.

It was essentially an eight-day return trip with 5 of those days being dedicated to work.  Got put up in a five-star (yes 5) in Buckhead which was overdone but exceptional and, despite having structured work functions from sunrise to bedtime every day, managed to sneak away Wednesday night to do something for myself.

Yes… I skipped a work dinner for the Kings of Leon concert at Philips Arena.  I’d acted like it was a “spur of the moment” decision, but I'd been monitoring ticket prices for weeks.  I really like those guys: their old stuff is killer and their new stuff’s not bad either.  Plus I think Caleb is sober now, good for him.  Truth be told, there were only two songs in the whole set I didn’t know every word to.  And for all of you haters out there that would call them a “pop band” or brand them as “sellouts,” I apologize for actually liking a band that consistently produces music that sounds good and that other people like too.  Now go listen to the Black Keys or the Arctic Monkeys and ponder the real difference.  Thanks.

On either end of the kickoff/workshop/conference/corporate hullabaloo, I spent most of both weekends at parties pretending I still lived at the Solace penthouses, managed to see every living member of my family that resides in Georgia, and even spent a solid $700 at the outlet malls buying all the things I knew I’d eventually need here but could never afford.

The two things I regret not bringing back with me are jeans and Adderall.  Adderall, because I still use it as a crutch a few times a week when I’m lacking sleep or feeling disinterested in whatever work I need to do.  However, despite the fact that my prescription now says “Adult Attention Deficit Disorder,” let’s be honest, it’s an advantage that most adults would write themselves twice daily if we could all get away with it.  My biggest fear in life would be me at thirty-five years old, feeling like I needed to take Amphetamines because I’m not motivated enough to play with my children. So after two Walgreens, a Target, and a CVS all told me they were all out of stock this past weekend, I finally threw my hands up on Sunday morning, called it an Act of God, and said, “Whatever… we’ve all got to grow up some time.”  Like I said in my first entry, the easiest habits to build/break are the ones you’re forced into.

(And for my many friends that doubt my sincerity here: yes, I DO acknowledge the somewhat likely possibility that I will ultimately break down and have a bottle of those little orange monsters shipped to me. But it never hurts to be optimistic.)

And jeans I regret not bringing with me because… actually, hold on, let me be more specific, Levi’s I regret not bringing more of because, dammit, it took me a really long time to figure out what all those numbers meant - 514s, 501s, 511s, 508s, - and I like the fact that I can spend only twenty minutes there and walk away with two new pairs of pants every time I go, without having to try on two hundred.  I looked up what they cost here and it’s well over $120 a pair (as opposed to $45-$50 back at Lenox).  Also, business frat casual is for squares.  I wear jeans to work every day now.

Skipping the uneventful flight back to Sydney, I’m unpacking over 100lbs of luggage today and, for the first time in months, I felt some genuine sadness, more so I'd describe it as a chilling sense of despair… tied to the week I’d just spent seeing all the friends and family that, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be without.  I thought about my birthday this summer which, for the first time ever, will be in the dead of winter.  I thought about the 4th of July weekend tradition I’d more than surely miss at Rayburn’s uncle’s place on Lake Weiss.  I thought about all the late weeknights I'd miss drinking wine with my Sherpa girls, still glued to our laptops at 11pm. I thought about Georgia gamedays in the fall, the smell of bourbon swimming in a sea of Red and Black, that even my crew out in Denver would inevitably make it home for.  I thought about the first Thanksgiving in three years that I wouldn't be cooking a turkey.  More painful than anything though, I thought about Christmas… and how much, especially 10 months from now, I’ll be willing to sell a few toes for a trip home to see my family in December… what do pinky toes go for these days anyway?

I’d imagine there is some psychologic condition, some paragraph in a medical journal somewhere, that explains this sense of anticipatory nostalgia.  Maybe they call it “pre-traumatic stress disorder.”  I reckon PTSD can only have one meaning though.  I really hate feeling bad for myself, so put some Jack Johnson in my headphones and decided to unwrap and iron all the dozen oxford shirts I bought this weekend until the feeling subsided.  Even for a heterosexual man, there’s nothing some feel-good acoustic melodies and retail therapy can’t wash away.

By the time I’d finished, I had realized that Atlanta might just freeze over again tomorrow, that dozens of people will be left out on the streets huddling together for warmth under that one overpass takes you to Edgewood, and that I might just be sipping a bottle of cold chilly under the sweet sun of the Australian beaches.  It’s all about perspective, really, isn’t it?

On an even lighter note, I signed up for a Delta SkyMiles Account less than 6 months ago and I’ve already hit Silver Medallion Status -- Seattle, Vegas, Philly, NYC, and two round trips to Sydney later, who knew?

This time last year I was playing XBox at a ground-floor apartment in Lindbergh.  That’s as close as I can probably say I was to “starting from the bottom” ...and now I’m here.

I just realized I didn't post a photo, so here are some shots from the Big Day Out Festival the weekend before last on Australia Day. I never covered it in the blog because it was too much fun and I felt braggy. Arcade Fire was a divine live show and I got to cross Pearl Jam off my bucket list of acts to see before I die. Eddie Vedder managed to crush two bottle of wine on stage during the set and couldn't complete sentences by the end of the night, but he still put on a hell of a performance.