Turns out I fucking hate puzzles (and other COVID thoughts)

The other crisis

You felt it coming.

We all did.

A week into quarantine, the walls got stern, the world got quiet and you wondered – could we ever emerge from this the same?

Predictions started swirling, every pundit suddenly privy to the whisperings of the COVID crystal ball.

Sure, we might be saving ourselves from a hyper-communicable disease – but were we exposing ourselves to something much worse… ourselves?

You see, we weren’t built to be alone.

Tribal creatures, through and through, our DNA is wired to crave community, connection and the great comfort these things bring us.

We are social by nature and by nurture.

And so the looming months looked more like a prison sentence than a civic duty.

Articles started coming out.

My own favourite author predicted the ‘mental health crisis‘ that would await us before the end of all this.

Turns out I fucking hate puzzles

Isolation started to get tough.

We collectively began to pace and paw at the doors of our houses.

The days became sharp and pointed. So did our tongues.

We bought a puzzle – turns out I fucking hate puzzles.

The morning walk of the dog around the block became the only ray of sunshine in the day – and heaven forbid if rain clouds dared to interfere.

But quietly. Cautiously. Without fanfare or announcement. The slow life crept upon us.

Suddenly we’d been gifted time – the same present we’re all given every day that we repeatedly forget to unwrap.

Those 86,400 seconds we throw away, as though we can ever get them back again.

The hours you’d spend in transit, in lines and with people you probably shouldn’t – as though they were worthy of the precious minutes you gave them of your short little life.

Every video and phone call suddenly felt that much more important.

And damn if you didn’t make more of an effort to make and take those calls – they became your only link to the outside world.

And so I noticed – I began to breathe more deeply in this space.

In this great in-between.

The choice

It seems we’ve all been desperate for this.

We’re more resilient than we give ourselves credit for – even the science says so.

Funny how the universe gives us exactly what we don’t think we’d ever want and yet it turns out it might be the one thing we all need.

I don’t know what the world will look like next month or next year.

Our memories are short and our patience even shorter.

Will we be able to hold onto some small morsel of this shared magic?

Will you call you mum more often – and turn on the camera so you can see her face?

Will you work from home more days of the week now – so you can spend those extra moments with your kids, your dog, your partner – yourself?

Will you spend more weekends at home – because you know you can make your own fun there, without spending a dime, using up precious resources or looking any different?


Or perhaps we aren’t meant to remember this.

Perhaps it’s just this – a moment in time, we will point to and laugh at and make funny memes about.

I hope not.

I hope we learn.

I hope we grow.

I hope we change – if not for our own sake, for the planets.

And so I’ll leave you with this thought:

If the world turned back on tomorrow – what would you keep from this COVID life?

The Halo Effect | Why we’re so fucking vain

It’s the smallest thing that can make your day. A good coffee. A smile from a stranger. Or even better, the following words (accompanied by a smile!) from a stranger:

“I’m so sorry to interrupt and I hope I this isn’t impertinent but I just wanted to tell you that you’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen, you’re just stunning and I had to tell you. I hope you have a great day”.

It wasn’t a sleazy come-on. He had no ulterior motive that I could see, he didn’t want my number or even my name – he was exiting the cafe as he said it and didn’t even wait to for me to say thank you before he left. His intention, it seems, was to simply say something nice about how I look.

And despite the kind nature of his (unsolicited) words, I sat there thinking about my looks and the role they play in my life. Compliment economics aside, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’ve just been a part of a perpetuation of a pesky cognitive bias called the Halo Effect.

Compliments aren’t free

You see, it got me thinking. I know I’m much more than my exterior. I know that. And maybe I was having a good hair day or my particular genetic composition appealed to this man’s particular aesthetic preferences. Either way, I’m aware that how I look doesn’t define me.

He didn’t know a single thing about me except the shape of the vessel that houses my quintessence.

But the reality of life is that how we initially judge people is often based on looks. And therein lies the source of my inner conflict.

Does image matter? Yes. Yes it does.

The short answer is yes. It’s not all that matters – but it matters.

And no it’s not because of the patriarchy or your mums weird hangup about always wearing makeup.

The reason you should consider your image important is as old as the dawn of time – or the dawn of sapiens at least. And it’s because of a cognitive bias called the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect occurs when:

“a single quality – whether beauty, social status, age, etc. – produces in us a positive or negative impression that outshines everything else.”

The unfortunate, but very real side effect of this cognitive bias is that we are predisposed to regard good looks as an indicator of trustworthiness, likeability and intelligence – and there’s scientific consensus that we demonstrably do this.

Why the Halo Effect exists

Our brains are pre-programmed, thanks to thousands of years of evolutionary biology to favour pretty people, as they’re more likely to be healthy and therefore re-productively sound (which historically, was the determining factor of whether you and your genes survived). 

This unconscious bias is the driving force behind why we judge others based on their looks – because this mental shortcut allows us to make judgements about others more quickly and effectively.

The unfortunate part is that these snap judgements aren’t always right and they almost never tell the full story.

Body positive is getting negative

In a body positive world it is no longer kosher to be appraised for ones looks. Having unconscious bias is akin to having a disease – the symptoms are trigger warnings and micro-aggression’s and the medicine is (supposedly) re-training your brain to never take a mental shortcut again.

But this goes to the heart of the problem – how do we manage a tendency that is hardwired into our cognition?

Don’t get me wrong here. I want to make it very clear I believe people should be judged on much more than looks. In fact it’s vitally important that we consider the entirety of a person before we decide what kind of person they actually are. But this requires effort and more significantly, it takes time – certainly more than a 15 second interaction. Which is certainly more than our pre-programmed biology will allow us in that time frame.

And so, this seemingly innocuous interaction raised questions like:

  • Am I allowed to enjoy a compliment about my looks?
  • Is he a shallow asshole for saying it?
  • Am I a shallow asshole for appreciating it? Liking it, even?
  • Should I be offended?
  • Should I be upset?
  • Was I being objectified?

I know people that would have found it offensive. I know people that would have been triggered.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t. Does that make me a bad feminist? Am I anti-body-positivity?

Aren’t you more than your outside?

I know I’ve always wanted to be more than my outside.

Seven years ago the state of my ‘outside’ mattered a lot more than I care to admit. I was overweight. I was unhealthy. I didn’t exercise (like, ever) and I ate Macca’s at least 3 times a week. It was a self inflicted condition that I resented all the same.

It took two full years but I lost 20kgs. Five years on and I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been, I’ve maintained my weight loss. I feel good. My skin is clear, my body is strong and my mind is confident. I workout everyday at 6am. I’m about to take on the Kokoda Track.

By most peoples standards, I look better than I used to. Because I’m thinner. Now, I get complimented by strangers – that certainly never used to happen.

There’s less of me, so that makes me easier to look at. It’s a perplexing thing, because it shouldn’t matter how I look, it should only matter how I feel… right?

Overcoming external forces

There are a plethora of movements encouraging women to weigh more than the relationship between their body and the earth’s gravitational pull (looking at your good work here, Jameela Jamil). They serve an important purpose. Every body is not the same and nor should it be.

But these movements muddy the waters for those that love their body but want more from it and for it.

Beyonce, a categorical equality champion has written songs about how much ‘Pretty Hurts’. And yet she too is human and fallible – admitting in her recent documentary, Homecoming that she had cut out essentially all food except vegetables (she was dairy, gluten, carb and sugar free), and was excising for hours a day, to get back to her pre-baby body.

I’ve read scathing indictments filled with cries of ‘how could she’, questioning the validity of her commitment to feminism and equality – all because she wanted to work hard to gain her strength back to look and feel good.

This is the part I find problematic.

Is striving to be healthier, fitter, stronger – and yes, skinnier – now offensive?

Internalised misogyny personal growth

What concerns me is the radicalized notion that because I wasn’t *chokes in indignation* offended by a man finding my visual appealing, that I must have internalised the oppressive misogyny that (allegedly) pervades the world.

I reject this wholeheartedly. The halo effect is real – but so is every individuals ability to choose their thoughts and opinions. I contradict myself here knowingly and purposefully. Cognitive biases are immediate and most often go unnoticed – but deep thought and analysis are drawn out and unmissable.

I believe that all humans capable of rational and logical thought are also capable of analysing their attitudes and instincts and overcoming their initial reactions bought on by cognitive nuances like the Halo Effect.

I’m not thinner because of the pressure of the male gaze – I’m thinner because I chose health, nutrition, strength and stamina for myself.

I’m not a ‘bad feminist’ because I chose to believe that my body was capable of much more that I had been asking from it.

Fitspo for life

I love being healthy. I’m a #fitspo wanker that drinks green juice and does yoga. It’s a fun hobby… that keeps me in a socially acceptable weight range. I make my own granola and try (and just as often fail) to meditate and be mindful. These are all good things for my body and soul. But I think it’s important to recognize that I do these things as part of a wider need I feel to keep myself in a state suitable for social consumption.

For a long time the feminist in me wondered how good it was that I’d succumbed to the pressure every woman feels to fit in – was I just a part of the problem, piling even more tension into an already heavy conversation about female objectification and sexualisation?

I think it’s important to raise these questions. To consider my own actions – am I helping or harming? Is my ‘fitness journey’ really just another sad commentary on the importance placed on looking a certain way? I write all this while I sit here drinking my organic green tea in my moisture-wicking (what even is that?) Lulu Lemons and am reminded that image is everything. Wearing the right clothes, eating the right things, even just for their instagramableness (screw you dictionary, it’s a word now) MATTERS. The halo effect is real, guys.

Broken halo’s aren’t so bad

I’d like to think that it’s more important to be healthy and happy. That, given the startling increase in obesity rates, I’m part of a solution in a consumptive and excessive society. That self-love and self-care are the ultimate goals of the health and well-being movement that’s swept across Australia in the last few years.

I’m not going to stop using raw cacao (cocoa is so 5 years ago) and I’m not going to start taking offence when a stranger compliments me. Yes, I am more than my outside. Yes, how I look matters. But you know what? It should be OK for those two things to exist in parallel.

Dry 2017 | 3 months into my year without drinking

3 months stone cold sober

“Do you want a drink?”
“No I’m good thanks.”
“Not drinking tonight?”
“No… not drinking this year actually! I’m doing Dry 2017.”
The first (and my favourite) reaction is usually: “Good on you!”
The next comment is either “God, I could never do that!” or “But, wine?!”
Because not drinking for a year is a big deal in 2017. Because not drinking makes you a bit different and a bit weird and a bit confusing.. “Like, how do you have fun when you go out?”
And then of course comes the inevitable: “But, why?”

Why I started my year without drinking

For me it’s so simple. I dislike how alcohol tastes, how it makes me feel and how awful hangovers are in my old age.
But more than that – I just don’t need alcohol to have a good time. I enjoy every night out (or in!) stone cold sober because I enjoy the natural high I get from the people I surround myself with.

Ok, ok, the real reason..

The catalyst for this year was obvious for me – after a particularly rowdy New Years Eve that left me in bed until 7PM on New Years Day, I made the choice to stop drinking for a while.. and at some point I realised I could do this for ages. A whole year if I wanted. So that’s what I’m doing.
The side effects are numerous and include:
  • Uber-hydration
  • Strange looks
  • Interesting (remembered) conversations
  • Saved money
  • Productive weekends
  • A healthy liver
  • A clear mind

Sharing the sober life

The most interesting part to me though is the permeation of the idea to the sober curious people around me, an osmosis-like acceptance of the ‘dry’ approach.
My best friend and my boss have both launched into varying degrees of dryness, from a successful month to their own year long attempts.
To me this is by far the best part. Because it means I’m living breathing proof that you can have fun without drinking. That’s not to say I’ll never drink again or that I dislike or judge anyone that chooses to consume alcohol.
Come Jan 1st 2018 I may feel completely differently!
(Spoiler alert, I don’t – and you can read my 2019 #drylife update here).
For now though – it’s just not for me.
Could you do a whole year, completely dry? Or am I totally crazy for even trying? Tell me what you think: hello@missbethcan.com 

Minimalism | You need less shit than you think

Small but space craving

The house I occupy is small. One bedroom, one bathroom and a small living space.  It’s no mansion, but it’s big enough for a Beth. The possibility that the blank walls and empty space invites, does nothing for me. Because I’m a devotee of a new religion – called minimalism.

Despite the plentiful legroom I enjoy on pubic transport and air planes, I still crave space. Not just the physical kind though – I crave the mental and emotional expansiveness that comes with it, the space that brings me calm, peace and quiet.

I suppose that’s a pretty good summary of what minimalism means to me.

What does minimalism mean?

Before you assume I sleep on a mat on a concrete floor, let me explain what minimalism actually looks like in my life. My bedroom, for all its size and capacity has 2 items of furniture in it:

  1. A king bed
  2. A teak bedside table
The bedside table has a candle, a stack of books I’m currently reading and writing in and a dangling charger cord for my phone (hey, I’m minimalist, not perfect).

Every now and again I’ll add a vase of fresh flowers for a pop of colour against the plain white of my walls and sheets.

My bed doesn’t have a frame and instead rests on 9 wooden slats.

I’ve got a wardrobe that’s the entire length of the room but that’s only half full – because I’ve spent the last year cutting it’s contents down from over 300 pieces (of clothing, shoes and accessories) to ~100.

Inside it I also have a shelf that houses 3 Kikki.K folders full of documents important for adult-ing and a few rows of books.

Boiled down – the entire contents of my life fit (very comfortably) into this decent sized room.

And I could fit a lot more in here if I wanted.

I could add a mass of shelves, a giant TV, a desk, pictures, knick-knack’s, decorative pillows, plants, shoes… but I don’t want to.

Because I crave the space.

But more than the physical space, I crave the mental space to think and feel with ease and clarity without the weight of all the stuff I used to hold onto.

The stuff that I barely used or wore or looked at.

The stuff that simply took up space – precious space that I now use to move my body and create weird and wonderful things in my mind.

Because despite what you might think, practising minimalism isn’t about restricting yourself. It’s about freeing yourself from the things that restrict you.

And I’m more free now than I ever have been.

If you want more practical info on how to bring minimalism into your life you should definitely check out The Minimalists!

Jump, even when you don’t know what lies beyond the ledge

You’re standing at the edge of a cliff.

‘I’ve got you. It’s all going to be OK,’ said a voice on the wind. Or maybe it was your heart?

You’ve climbed so far to get here.

Some days you were dragged up – the wind pushed you, the rain beat you forward. On good days the path cleared just a little – to remind you that you are, in fact, going the right way.

You can remember how it felt to touch the clouds. At least you thought that’s what you could feel between your fingertips. You detoured off the path and climbed onto the roof of a broken house that you could never call home. When the doors stayed shut and the windows boarded up you realised – you had to keep climbing.

And now you’re here.

It’s loud.

The wind won’t stop. It carries the whispers of the past, opinions and ideas, suggestions and warnings, from everyone you’ve met on your ascent so far. They all know something you don’t, they all would do it differently. But they aren’t you. You have to do this all on your own.

It’s not the kind of mountain you can climb down. That’s not how life works. There’s only one way forward and it’s straight over the edge. You think you know what’s over there. But what if you’re wrong? You hope you’re going to land in the clouds – for real this time. But what if there are jagged rocks or deep, deep water that will never let you see the surface again?

You want to be sure and you want to be safe. But there’s no safe, there’s no sure. There’s no crystal ball and there are no guarantees.

There’s just the edge.

And you’re all on your own up here. Sure, you can phone a friend but they can’t do it for you. This is your life. And the next hour, the next day, the next month – the next ten years – will be guided by what you do next. And that’s the truly terrifying part. This is the flap of a butterfly’s wing. This is the chaos theory in full effect. What you do next will echo through the rest of your life, for all your years to come. It will set the tone and the standard, the course and the coast. Are you ready for it? Can you handle the pressure?

You’ve already survived so much worse. Your heels are scabbed, your back aches, you’re sunburnt and wind-whipped, there’s sand in your eyes and under your fingernails. You’re so fucking done. And you’ve done so fucking much. And now you have to leave it all behind.

You have to let it all go. All the hurt and pain. You have to finally move on, tackle the next mountain (or molehill) of your life. You have to let go.


It’s for your own good really.

Are you ready for it? Are you ready to jump? You can’t hold on to anything once you do it. You have to forget the whispers and the people they came from. You have to forgive the people who hurt you. You have to forgive yourself. Can you do that?

It’s nearly time to jump. To fall. To fly. Whatever happens, you have to move. You have to keep going.

Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.

Cry first if you have to. Feel sorry for yourself. Feel every ounce of hurt and pain that’s been inflicted on you and that you have undoubtedly inflicted. Sob your little heart out for the mistakes and the misunderstandings of the past. Be sad. Be sorry.

Then jump. Do it with your whole body and all of your spirit.

This isn’t the kind of thing you can fake or half-ass.

Throw yourself into the future. Embrace it. Enjoy it.

Remember that life happens for you not too you. You just have to know the difference and know that perspective is everything.



… Tell me what happens when you do?

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

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