The Cage

I can see it now –

The cage you built.

The cage you built with words.

Just words.

Words that control me.

Words that contain me.

Constrain me.

Your tight embrace

Moulds me

Even as I search for

the key.

©SD Wheelock

Twitter: @writer_SDW

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Speak up!

On a recent trip to Poland I learned about ‘The March of the Living’ which remembers victims of the Holocaust. I was deeply affected when faced with the horrors of the Jewish experience in Poland and I am hugely inspired by the universal goals of March of the Living that encourage us all to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

  1. Tell the story – deny victory to the perpetrators
  2. Pay tribute – acknowledge the courage of those who rebuild their lives and bear  witness, giving a voice to the victims
  3. Recognise and learn from the altruistic actions of those who teach us never to be a bystander in the face of oppression
  4. Honour those who resisted, whether physically or spiritually
  5. Never allow discrimination by any individual or group against another to gain strength, since all human beings deserve equal dignity and respect
  6. Inspire each other to build a world free of oppression and intolerance, a world of freedom, democracy and justice for all members of the human family – each of us has the ability to make a real and lasting difference in the world
  7. Enter into history – take part in order to proclaim that the victims have been remembered and will never be forgotten.

I have realised that the goals of the March of the Living can be the foundation of principles we live by today. There are still people who suffer maltreatment at the hands of those who seek profit or hope to gain or retain power.

“Never again should not be used as a catchphrase, nor should it only apply to Jews. We must work together to say never again to any form of hatred against any group of people in this world.” Ben Fine, Founder of STAND (Students taking action now, Darfur), March of the Living 2001.

When we see maltreatment we can speak up. We must speak up.

Thanks to the March of the Living for inspiring me to recognise suffering and to speak up for those that need a voice.

©SD Wheelock

The Moon

High in the skymoon-15709

the moon signals that

the day’s end

is nigh.

Sleep will soon

unleash the dreams.

Dreams that let me see

into my soul.

My secrets,

my fears,

my pain,

my hopes,

my love.

Laid bare.

After I wake

I work and wait –

hoping, yet dreading,

the next glimpse

of my soul

that may come

with the return

of the moon.

©SD Wheelock

Gift giving? Stop now!

In 2016 eBay predicted that there would be more than 115 million unwanted presents exchanged at Christmas time. The value of these unwanted gifts was over £2 billion.

Gift-giving can be a sensitive topic. There may be many reasons for gift giving. Some gifts are given generously and unconditionally, some due to social expectation or a sense of obligation. Whatever the reason for a gift, there is no guarantee that the recipient will like or appreciate it. Gifts may soon be re-gifted, donated or thrown away. Other gifts may be caught up in the next round of decluttering. Yet more are sold online, though the process may be time-consuming and largely unsuccessful when there is already a crowded market of novelty ties and onesies.cart

Shopping for cheap, throwaway gifts is an extension of the mindless consumerism of our society, which is especially apparent on days like Prime Day and Black Friday, or during the Christmas and New Year sales. Shopping as a leisure activity or as therapy is bleeding us all of time and money. Shopping for ourselves and others is now a major part of our everyday lives.

When will we say ‘Enough!’

In the early 20th century a frustration with gift-giving gave rise to the Society for the Prevention of Useless Giving (SPUG) and there have been recent calls for a revival of the SPUG ethos:

In 1912, Thousands of Women Rallied Against ‘Useless’ Christmas Giving

Reviving SPUG: A New Way to Celebrate the Season

Since we are now closer to next Christmas than last Christmas, it may be time to put some thought into your gift-giving plans for later in the year. Stop now if you have already started making a gift-list. Move away from the shopping cart (actual or on-line) and think about alternatives to another round of useless and unwanted gifts.

©SD Wheelock

All about me

I was born at the tail end of the sixties.

I am Australian.

I have lived in England since 1997.

I have two undergraduate degrees.

I have worked in public health, research, banking, finance, insurance, retail and hospitality.

I have volunteered my time and effort for various causes.

I have travelled on every continent except Antarctica.

I am a bit overweight but otherwise healthy. I have access to healthcare.

I like to read. A lot.

I do not like reality TV.

I do not like people, as a species. Some of their behaviours baffle me.

I try to make choices based on what I want rather than what ‘society’ expects.

I am married but we are childless by choice because we like to travel.

In order to travel we have managed to avoid the yoke of a mortgage.

Since we travel and rent we cannot have a dog.

I can obtain anything I want with minimal effort, usually by buying it.

I have a bit of a struggle with avoiding consumerism and managing materialism.

As I get older I appreciate the benefits of living a simple life.

I try to practice mindfulness and minimalism.

I like the idea of being a free spirit but I am quite conservative in practice.

Is it possible to be a conservative free spirit?

I am a wannabe writer and photographer. ‘Wannabe’ because I to need more practice in order to ‘be’ a writer and photographer.

I want to record my thoughts so that I can look back and remember. Or perhaps, to look back and be proud?

Perhaps I want other people to like me? Do they like me? Will other people appreciate my efforts? What is there to appreciate?

I can get a bit paranoid.

I am forgetful.

I procrastinate.

I am impatient.

I have the attention span of a goldfish and get distracted easily.

I spend time writing notes in my diary and compiling to-do lists.

I embody first world privilege.

I suffer only first world problems.

I hope that I am more than the sum of my parts.

My husband says that I am too hard on myself.

Despite my age I am still trying to find my purpose in life.

I am hoping to discover a passion that will burn brightly.

I have everything that I need to be happy – except a dog.

So when will I feel happy?

Time is short.

©SD Wheelock

Planning & organising a GAP YEAR

Let’s take a year off work, he said.

Mmmm…OK, I said.

When we started discussing taking a gap year in Central and South America, hubby and I thought it sounded like a great idea, imagining all of the amazing places we would see and the many experiences we might enjoy.

Planning and organising a gap year soon sapped our excitement for our expedition. Closing down our lives in rural England would require lots of thought, planning and organisation.

We decided on a do-it-yourself gap year, without a structured itinerary. We would land in Mexico City and head south when we were ready, moving from town to town, then country and country for about 12 months.

We allowed six months to save some money and organise ourselves. After choosing a departure date and buying our tickets, we started to think about what else might be required. There was soon a whole pile of decisions to be made. Choices were not as simple as we might have hoped.

Money – looking for information about daily budgets for travellers in Central and South America was fruitless. Books and websites had out-of-date information. We decided on saving as money much as we could (just in case) and set about shutting down regular and wasteful expenses. Goodbye Netflix, Kindle Unlimited and Starbucks.

Guide books – there are so many guide books available that we couldn’t decide what we wanted. Budget travel? Air-free? Camping? Volunteering? In the end we just looked for information about distances between cities and tried to get a feel for how to travel safely.

Packing – deciding on essentials was difficult as we sat in our living room in Sussex. All of the things we thought might be essential – sleeping bags, wet weather gear, tin plates and cups – were rarely used while travelling. It turned out that camping was unsafe so we stayed in hostels where bedding and kitchenware was available. We visited museums on rainy days. Unused equipment was eventually given to people we met along the way.

Clothing – we had one backpack each, so deciding on clothing for four seasons on an unfamiliar continent proved difficult. How may T-shirts? Trousers or shorts? Spare shoes? Toiletries? Cosmetics? We decided to pack for every eventuality but then had to dispose of heavy toiletries, books and food as soon as we arrived at the airport because our bags were overweight.

Paper-free – moving towards a paper-free existence was time consuming. Sorting and scanning documents and old photographs. organising on-line billing for utilities. Cancelling subscriptions.

Health – making appointments and allowing time for delays and follow-ups took more time than expected. Some travel jabs were available from our GP, but others were available only from a specialist travel clinic. Dental appointments for check-ups and then treatments – hygienist and fillings for me. Repeat prescriptions for one year. Haircuts.

Household bills – after bills were moved online they had to be finalised when we were ready to leave. Some utilities needing more of a notice period than others. So many bills – landline, gas, electricity, council tax, TV licence, changing mobiles to pay-as-you-go, organising to automatically pay the credit card minimum payment each month. Refunds and final bills that weren’t paper-free had to be posted to our friend’s house.

Storage – Next up was deciding how much storage space we would need for our belongings. Would we want our couch and dining table on our return? Probably. Bed? Yes. Bicycles? Yes. Kitchenware? Some of it. Books? Don’t make me decide! Whatever did not fit into the storage locker we rented would have to be discarded. The arguments were long. The decisions were not easy. In the end it came down to costs. Storage for a year was not cheap, so minimal storage space would be available…about half of our furniture and half of our clothes and books went to charity.

Moving – our rented flat had to be emptied and cleaned to a standard that made our landlord happy. A moving truck was required to move our belongings into storage, involving telephone calls, quotes and identifying convenient dates.

With so much to think about we were glad that we had six months to get organised. In the end we managed it all in a relatively stress-free manner. ‘Relatively’ because there will always be some stress when making radical changes.

Our planning and organisation enabled us to enjoy our gap year without having to think too much about the life that we had left behind. Wi-Fi access throughout Central and South America allowed us to take care of just a few things that had to be attended to as we travelled.

The experience of planning and undertaking a gap year started my journey towards minimalism. I appreciated the travel experience and began to understand that I did not need ‘things’ to be content. I am now far more grateful for the opportunity to travel than the opportunity to buy things.

As we start to plan another long trip I am reminded of the long To-Do list, but since we have done it before we know that we can do it again.

©SD Wheelock