I’m making a film!

Hey guys!

I am a hopeless blogger these days. I have been so busy at work (I find and relocate wild animals from major construction jobs for a living which can be really hectic!). I’m also so close to being done with my masters degree I can taste it. I was originally planning to go straight into a phd but I decided recently that I need a break. And I want to make a film.

I’ve been thinking a lot, too, about my cousin Sam who we recently tragically lost at 24 years of age. He was such a cool guy and I know that so many of you reading this knew and loved Sam like I did. He and I used to always talk about making a tv show or a film together one day. He always thought the stuff that I did was really rad and you know what, he would think I was incredibly retarded if decided to go to SCHOOL instead of making an awesome film. And he’d be right. School will always be there but wildlife film making has always been my dream. I have done lots of little films and random tv stuff before but never a really big project and I think the time has come.

Lots more about this later but for now, here is a little mini movie I made yesterday after a recent snorkel trip to Byron Bay. It was my first time using a go pro and first time using iMovie!

Sorkeling Byron Bay from Carly Wilson on Vimeo.

Homeless no longer! But keeping it simple.

Thank you to all who have followed me over the past year and a half on my journey to a simpler life. You encouraged me as I de-frumped my wardrobe, had several attempts at buying almost nothing for various periods of time, and eventually gave up any kind of structural residence and lived out of my car for three months. I went over a year with virtually no furniture to my name (just a book case) and learned that it is possible to be happy in life without all the ‘stuff’.

I also learned that I am more resourceful that I ever realized and I was surprised by the way that I really didn’t miss the many boxes of possessions that were safely stored while I ventured into volunteer homelessness. I also realized that despite all I had learned along the journey, I actually really do like having somewhere to live.

For most people that would be an obvious thing to know about oneself but for me it really wasn’t. I had always harboured this romantic notion of living life out of a car with no strings and the wind at my back. I soon realized though that the sense of liberation wasn’t worth the general annoyance. For instance, it’s not always easy to find a shady place to park up at night that is reasonably safe, close to a public toilet, and not out in the complete sunlight. It doesn’t take many hours of daylight, as I discovered, for the Australian sun to COOK a human woman inside a Subaru forester.
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I also found it incredibly challenging to find a way to complete all the writing of my master’s thesis that I was in the middle of writing when I started the volunteer homelessness challenge. Libraries were very helpful but I seem to be one of those people that strangers want to have long, in-depth conversation with for no apparent reason. I don’t usually mind that but when the library closes at four or at one on Saturdays and then doesn’t even open on Sundays you really don’t have time to socialize. Luckily my friends came to my rescue in this respect and a couple of them offered me their homes to stay and write as needed. I really don’t know what I would have done without them.

I normally wouldn’t have attempted such a full-on challenge with a major assignment so nearing its due date but I didn’t realize when I first started the challenge how much writing I was going to have to do for my thesis (I didn’t realize for a long time that a substantial literature review was required). When I embarked on the challenge I was also expecting to get a lot more away-work than ended up happening. I am usually away for weeks on end, happily living and working out of hotel rooms but ironically just when I got rid of a permanent structure over my head our company experienced a lull.

In the end I did end up moving into a smallish (though plenty ample for me) apartment which for me was the right move. The apartment is literally about 100 metres from the beach. Even with the windows closed I can hear the roar of the sea as I drift off to sleep. I don’t know what it is but there is something about seaside living that just perfectly lends itself to someone such as myself who is searching, amidst chaos, for a simple life.

Since moving in I have allowed myself the freedom to furnish the place but in keeping with the spirit of minimal consumerism for the sake of the environment I have purchased almost everything secondhand from Gumtree (the Australian equivalent of Craigslist). The place is by no means sparse but I am trying to maintain and employ many of the lessons I have learned in my dabblings into minimalism. I am trying to keep the space uncluttered and relatively – though not obsessively – organized. I want there to be room to breathe, room for the sea breeze to flow freely and not become stagnated and stale by getting caught on tchotchkes or other random objects with no use, purpose, or meaning.
uncluttered bookcase
I also want to have a purpose for every room and to not let other purposes infiltrate those spaces. For instance, I am going to make a serious effort to keep the guest room as a sanctuary for friends and family and not let it become an overflow storage space for myself (admittedly I have already commandeered the closet though … sorry guys).

restful bedroomMost of all I want to use what I have learned over the past year and a half to allow my new home and any future homes to be a place that you can enter after a long hectic day and find respite from the many troubles of the world.

It’s good to be home 🙂

Looking back through a mirror

Voluntary homelessness – progress update

Hi everyone,

Some of you have been asking me about my adventures in voluntary homelessness.

It’s been both good and bad. For some reason I had always had this romantic notion of what it be like to live out of my car – or in a van if I could be so lucky (which I am not although I love my little Subaru, not complaining!) The lifestyle had always seemed to me so delightfully gypsy-like and etheric. It’s so free. Nothing to hold you back. The world at your fingertips. No rent. The reality, however, has turned out to be somewhat different.

I’m a month away from submitting my master’s thesis which is a bit of a daunting thing. I have been making a lot of use of libraries which has helped but as much as I love libraries they are not always ideal. They are only open for limited hours and not at the times when I do my best work (aka at night). They are also only open for a couple of hours on Saturdays and virtually never on Sundays. I won’t rant on about this but I really don’t understand the point of that and why so many other institutions that we all need (the post office, the bank, etc.) are never open on weekends when people are actually free! Anyway … oh and you tend to run into a lot of colourful characters in libraries which isn’t always fantastic – especially when they want to tell you their life story and you really just need to get some work done. Despite this, libraries are truly incredible places, though. Especially considering that they are air conditioned!

That’s the other thing .. sleeping in your car is messy business when you live in Queensland, Australia and it is SUMMER! My car bed is actually really comfortable because my car is long enough that I can put the back seats down and stretch completely out. BUT shady parking places are not easy to come by which means you often have to park out in the open and will wake up COVERED in sweat. Suffice to say, I don’t imagine I will keep up with this lifestyle much longer. I have been impressed, though, by how possible it is to live this way. A good friend of mine has been living the lifestyle for over eight months, now. I love her, she taught me that you can always find a hot shower at a truck stop because the truckies need to have facilities. I had never thought of that before but it makes sense. I am also grateful for the experience in the way that it has hi-lighted for me what it would be like to be actually homeless – aka homeless because there was no other option. I have options. I am actually choosing to live this way. And I have a car. That’s a major, major thing. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to wander the streets with nothing and no-one. I was never one to judge homeless people but I especially never would now. People tend to judge homeless people as being lazy and wonder ‘why don’t they just get a job?’. Well I imagine they have tried. I imagine there is much, much more to the story.

Oh well .. I don’t really want to get into a rant about that either. .

I will just say I am grateful for the experience and even more grateful for friends who will extend to me the use of their couch. For now I am house sitting for a friend who is away for a couple of weeks. I’m so appreciative for that as it gives me a bit of an opportunity to work hard at my thesis and get it all squared away. I don’t want to move into a place of my own just yet because my day job situation is up in the air at the moment and I haven’t quite worked out what state I am going to be settling in. But I’ll work that out soon enough.

Blessings to you, everyone 🙂

Extreme simple living – voluntary homelessness!

Some of you would remember when I did a personal experiment on simple living and vowed not to buy anything for myself (sans the usual grocery items) for a month. It was a challenge but really helped me to identify the luxuries in life that were free or that I already owned. I saved quite a lot of money that month and it put me on a path of thinking harder about the financial and environmental consequences of my daily purchases. I realized that I had fallen into a pattern of absentmindedly buying stuff to ignore the feelings of boredom or glumness that were showing up in my life. I also realized that the practice wasn’t really accomplishing anything. I had fallen into debt and I was becoming irritated by all the clutter, further adding to the rather shitty emotions I was experiencing.

Even shittier, I started feeling really guilty about what I was doing because I knew I didn’t want to be so actively participating in our culture’s emphasis on constant acquisition. It was costing me a lot and I knew it was stupid to get sucked into the modern day acceptance of credit card debt. I was also feeling guilty because we live in a world of finite resources and it felt selfish to be consuming so much when so little of it was necessary and almost none of it contributed to a more fulfilling life.

A few months after the month long experiment I completed a three month experiment which I called a ‘consumerism detox’. Even though this challenge was three times as long I found it easier. I had sort of realized by then that it’s actually ok to sit and wait and want something for a while and that you don’t have to just immediately rush out and buy (or charge) whatever it is that you’re wanting. I had also started to get used to enjoying what I already owned – my books, my movies, my internet connection. In the end I was more excited about getting rid of stuff than getting new stuff, especially on the day I de-frumped my closet.

Well it’s now been nine months since I completed the three month challenge. Since then I’ve continued to live a more simple life although I haven’t had any specific ‘rules’ to live by. I paid off my car and almost all of my consumer debt (just about one more month to go on that) and have just began a new experiment, this time with no specific end date in mind. I am sure it will seem extreme to many of you but I have actually become willingly homeless.

I have moved out of the house that I shared with two friends and into a storage unit with no plans to get another place any time soon. My friends were going to be moving out of the house we shared anyway and since I am away most of the time with work I don’t really want to waste my money on rent when I could pay the same (or less) and just get a hotel for a few days or camp out somewhere. I usually only have a week or so off in between work assignments so my plan at this stage is just to cruise around when I am off work. Go visit people, travel, volunteer, work on the film that I have been needing to head up to the Atherton Tablelands to get footage for, stuff like that.

The only problem that I can see with it is that I am one of those people that loves to be at home. The idea of not having a home is a little confronting but I do think that this experiment will be character building and will (hopefully!) allow me to save up to actually buy a little place somewhere in the next year or two – hopefully somewhere peaceful in the hinterlands and not to far from the beach.

I shall keep you posted!

To see how I’m going with this, click here

Bat research is fascinating

my research project on sperm competition in bats

Hi folks – long time, no blog!

I have written before about the relationship between testes size and brain size in micro bats (aka echolocating, insect-eating bats as opposed to fruit or nectar eating bats). Many of you have also emailed me information about the scientific study that was published in 2006 by research team Pitnick et al. that first demonstrated this relationship. Thank you very much for that and in exchange I thought I might give you a bit of an update on what I am in the middle of doing to further our understanding of the brain-testes relationship in bats.

For my masters degree I am looking at whether or not there are any differences in the brain volume of male and female micro bats. I have been wondering if there might be ever since reading about Pitnick et al.’s study. My thinking was that if there is, indeed, some sort of inverse relationship in bats between brain size and testes size whereby the two metabolically expensive organs trade off against each other then it stands to reason that perhaps females could have larger brains than males since they don’t have testes competing with their brains for dominance in the body. At least, I thought, this might be the case in species where males have very small brains due to their enormous testes which hog all the body’s resources.

My study is fairly small in scale but I am hoping that it will still prove interesting. I am comparing averages of male and female brain volumes in 9 Australian micro bat species – some that have mating structures where females are promiscuous and some where females are loyal to a single mate (a dominant male harem leader). To do this we are CT scanning a collection of skulls and then using computer technology to create 3D models of the brains as a way to ascertain volume.

Here’s a picture of the first skull we scanned. It makes me laugh every time I look at it – such a big machine to scan such a tiny object (that little spot on the blue towel is the skull):
going through the CT scanner

And here is a model I am putting together of that same skull. It needs work but it’s still pretty cool:
model of a bat skull - in progress!

Interestingly, the factor that influences testes size in micro bats in female sexual behaviour. When females are highly promiscuous and take many sexual partners the males tend to have much larger testes than species where females are loyal to a single mate. It is assumed that the large testes trait develops in species where females are promiscuous because there is greater competition among sperm for access to the eggs in these individuals and so those males with more sperm available tend to be selected for over time. It is similar to how if you are really keen to win a meat raffle you will buy more tickets.

The same relationship between female promiscuity and testes size occurs in primates, including humans and for that matter, basically all animals. You can look at most any wild animal and get a good idea of the level of female promiscuity by looking at the testicles of the males. The difference with bats is that because bats weigh very little (as little as 2 grams!!) and have an extremely tight energy budget they cannot afford to have both heavy brains and heavy testes and so they trade one tissue type against the other.

Pitnick and his colleagues in their landmark study originally predicted that the opposite relationship would occur – ie that large brains would equal large testicles. They postulated that species with promiscuous females would have larger brains as a way for the males to avoid being cuckolded. They were surprised when they discovered that the opposite was true and remarked that “perhaps monogamy is more neurologically demanding.” I think many of us would attest to the truth of this statement!

If my study shows that there are any size differences in male and female bat brains as a function of testes size it may potentially mean that female promiscuity is a force strong enough to influence male intelligence in a measurable way. An intriguing notion but at this stage very much a theoretical one.

*Sidenote: the boys on the construction sites where I have been working have heard me talk about animal testicles so much that they have become terrified I’m going to show up at their bedroom door one day with my calipers! Actually that’s not completely true .. some have actually volunteered for the job! .. all in the name of science, right? 😉

** Oh and yes the bat in the picture above is alive! It was just very very cold because I pulled it from a tree which had just been buldozed on a construction site in the very early hours of a winter morning.