2017 in review
2017 has been an interesting year, mostly continuing on with life changes I began after leaving religion and particularly after returning home from a long trip to the UK. I started a blog, did plenty of hiking, and continued to discover how well these two fit together. Compared to 2016, I’ve stayed much closer to home, but have still found plenty of boundaries to push.
Sticking close to home
Unlike last year, when I spent months on the other side of the world, this year I haven’t left my home state of Victoria. Rather than just travelling to a different country to see a different world, I have tried to be more conscious of the world around me and how it changes through the year. I’ve also tried to be a little more systematic in how I explore that world, particularly in my local playground, the Dandenong Ranges. There are many opportunities available to use my time, but whether I use those opportunities and what I use them for is entirely up to me.
I’ve already explored this change in philosophy and some of its results in three different blog posts:
I may not have reached the heights of previous years, but I have climbed the two tallest peaks in Victoria and explored the Mount Buffalo plateau. I’ve also seen snow in Australia for the first time, and re-visited tourist hot-spots like the Great Ocean Road and the Grampians.
I do still want to travel further afield, both inside Australia and overseas - probably to more places than I will ever manage to reach. And if nothing major changes I’m sure some of that travel will happen. But at the moment I’m enjoying life as it is, so I’m not too worried about whether it happens in 2018, or in 2019, or even later.
Continuing to leave religion behind
Compared with last year’s review, this year had a lot less turbulence, and a lot less to prove to myself and to others. Most of the big things I did were continuations of what I started last year. And the things I did change were largely driven by me rather than being a direct consequence of leaving the religious community.
But in some ways it was a test whether I could last a full year without a god and without organised religion, while still remaining in touch with friends and family who have both. I didn’t really expect this to be a big problem. However, sometimes doubts can seem worse during long winter nights, and I knew keeping up the daily routine year round would involve different challenges from wandering the UK with religion left on the other side of the world.
One interesting consequence of leaving religion is that in some ways I’m more free to discuss religion with non-Christadelphians. This is because I can aim to understand their point of view rather than trying to persuade them to take mine (or feeling guilty for not persuading them). Though don’t get me wrong: I don’t usually seek out conversations on religion, and I don’t always enjoy them.
Purely from the point of view of time usage, it became fairly clear this year that my main replacement for religious activities on weekends is hiking, and my main replacement for the frantic all-out effort and late nights of Bible talk preparation is blog post writing. But that doesn’t mean I’m out for converts: If anything, I think I feel more evangelical about the benefits of hiking than I do about religious topics. Certainly the posts I highlighted in the previous section have much more relevance to my day-to-day life than any of my religious posts do.
In summary, over the year, my former religion has been making less and less sense, while the world around me continues to make sense and I continue to learn more about it. I’m not surprised that this is the case, but I am glad of it because it makes life easier and (mostly) happier.
One of the great things about hiking is that, no matter how carefully you plan, there’s always the possibility of something unexpected happening. Particularly when I give myself the freedom to change my plans part-way through. Often it’s the birds or animals popping up to say hello or to serenade, but sometimes it’s the weather.
I mostly try to avoid inclement weather, but over the year I’ve still been rained on, hailed on, and caught in thunderstorms with lightning flashing about. And, once I’ve accepted it, it’s actually been a lot of fun. After all, while the lightning can be threatening it can also be beautiful, and the rain can lead to beautiful rainbows.
This year, the most common place for me to be visiting on a weekend was the great gardens of the Dandenong Ranges: Dandenong Ranges Botanical Gardens (formerly Rhodedendron Gardens), Alfred Nicholas, George Tindale, Pirianda, and RJ Hamer Arboretum. In fact, I visited each of them at least four times. They are particularly beautiful in autumn and spring, but well worth visiting any time of the year.
During the year, the Rhodedendron Gardens became my favourite go-to garden. It had been my favourite spring garden since I discovered it a few years ago, but this year I decided that it just held an edge in autumn, and was well worth visiting in summer and winter (though a bit cold in winter…). It was recognised as a Botanical Garden because of the variety of trees and plants on display, and it has lovely views of the Yarra Valley and plenty of birds about.
Starting a blog was the biggest change I planned for 2017, and I’m proud to have kept going with it, even crossing 100,000 words for the year. I find it a big jump up from casual, throw-away conversations to being more rigorous and checking and double-checking every point. I have a much greater respect for the effort other bloggers have put in after doing some of it myself.
Recently, I wrote about how my hiking went hand-in-hand with blogging. But I was also interested in seeing how my blog affected other parts of my life, as I read particular books or visited particular places as part of the research for a blog post.
Probably the best example was a post about gold fever, which is still one of my favourite posts. Of the three places I listed, Oriental Claims was the only place that I had planned to visit. It fascinated me, and gave me the idea of visiting a couple of other places affected by gold mining for comparison. I might have visited them anyway, but I’m sure it made a difference that I was planning to write a post which needed examples and photos.
As already stated, religion no longer plays a large part in my day to day life. However, it has played a large part in this blog: Around half my posts so far have landed in the “Religion” category, and quite a few of the other ones have involved religious conclusions. It’s an area I have a lot of specialist knowledge in, and over time I realised that much of what I thought I knew was wrong or at least misleading. For better or for worse, many of my current positions have been formed in opposition to the religion I grew up with. I also used a number of significant anniversaries as opportunities to reflect on past experiences with religion and the process of doubt and quitting.
Almost all of my most popular posts have been about religion. The most popular one was remembering the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, and how it fits into Christadelphian prophetic expectations. At 5,500 words (including 1,000 words quoted from Christadelphian sources), it is my longest article. So obviously if I want more readers I just need to keep writing longer posts…
Sometimes I feel like I write about these topics in excruciating detail, but the reality is that I find I need that level of exhaustive analysis so that I can then make simpler statements like “I don’t view the nativity stories as any more true than stories of Santa Claus”. So maybe if I seem dismissive of a particular religious idea or teaching it shows that I’ve thought too much about it rather than too little…
In the long term, I would like to be writing less about religion, and more about some of the other topics that fascinate me: for example, history, culture, literary criticism, space travel, and hiking. I’m sure the religious content will wind down over time, but I doubt it will happen in 2018, as I still have a lot left that I want to say. However, hopefully I will be able to have fewer articles triggered by anniversaries, and thus will be able to be more systematic about the topics I want to explore.
One final thing I would like to do with this blog this year is to share more photos. At the moment I have no good way other than manually embedding a few photos in a post like this. This is also the main thing that continues to hold up my promised “Pennine Way, Part 2” post (originally promised for August, and more than half written at that point).
It started with an alumni newsletter talking about the launch of the Native Australian Animals Trust. It was an evening seminar and sounded like it might be interesting, so I went along. It was really good, with a number of speakers from the department explaining interesting results from their research. For me one of the takeaway points was that natural selection is the default starting point for biosciences research, and that the results described don’t make sense in light of special creation.
Once I’d started, I began to see more opportunities. I went along to several more seminars at Melbourne University. During Science Week I went to a number of events, and ended up on a Swinburne mailing list. This led me to more events, and since the main Swinburne campus is within walking distance of my work this is even more convenient for me than Melbourne Uni.
So, is this a good idea? Well, I have gained knowledge in fields that have nothing to do with software development (though naturally some use software). But that is what I already do in my reading outside of work.
Some of it might be hard to justify, but it is interesting making connections between different fields. The seminars are free, there are experts talking, and I get to pick and choose which ones interest me and which don’t. Most of the time I’m the odd one out, since the other attendees are students or academics in the particular field, but that’s OK.
Have I achieved enough?
Often I worry about whether I’m really getting done all the things I want to do. I can be my own worst critic, and there is a certain performance anxiety which in my saner moments I see is utterly uncalled for.
And so at the end of a year I have to acknowledge I’ve had 52 weeks in which I have not achieved everything I planned for that week. But at the same time, in each of those 52 weeks I achieved things that I valued. Is that enough? No idea.
I aim for contentment and acceptance, but often I find it easier to write about than actually feel. Sometimes I get frustrated or angry by the things I fail to achieve, particularly when the failure continues week after week. But I think I got slightly better at dealing with it this year: after all, you can’t keep beating yourself up for failing in the same predictable ways week after week.
If I look at the times when I’ve felt most content it’s been when I’m out hiking and am able to wander without any particular goal or deadline and just be “in the moment”. Again, I’m not sure this is a good thing, since one part of my brain tells me I’m not “achieving” anything. But being enough in control of my time usage that I don’t have to always pursue the next transitory goal is something I value.
I generally try to present the positive side of my life, so if it sounds too idyllic or like I get too many things done I’ve probably done a good job of presenting that positive side. But if it sounds unbearable, then it’s probably a good thing that it’s me living it, not you.
The year ahead
Since I missed the traditional “end of the year” publication date, I can talk a little about the year ahead as well. But really, I don’t see a lot changing in 2018. I’m sure details will change, but I would expect to keep following the same trajectory. Maybe I’ll surprise myself by trying something radically different. I guess I’ll know by the end of the year.
In last year’s review, I noted that that evening I had seen an echidna crossing the trail within inches of my feet. This time round, on New Year’s Day I was in the Dandenong Ranges and spent 15 minutes watching an echidna who crossed the trail, rooted around for a bit, then crossed back again. Today at Cardinia Reservoir I saw another echidna. I’m sure that would be a good omen if I believed in omens. But I’m glad evolution and geographic isolation gifted us such a cool set of animals.
2017 is dead. Long live 2018!