on love bites and loneliness

When I was midway through the second grade, I was enrolled in what was to be my fourth new school in half as many years. On our first day, my siblings and I were escorted to the library where all the students were assembled. A wiry woman with pursed lips led us to various class groups and instructed us to sit down. Abandoned amongst a sea of strangers, I began to sink beneath the weight of my despair. Blinking back a sting of tears I somehow made it to recess when I was smacked with another shock; I wouldn’t be able to sit with my sister, as primary and infant students had separate playgrounds. I’d had enough. Desperate to go home, I gave myself a hickey on the inside of my arm and informed the nurse I’d been bitten by something big and deadly. With raised eyebrows, she phoned my dad. I stayed home with him for a week before he relented and re enrolled us in the school across town. It meant a thirty minute drive every morning, but it proved an instant cure for my stomach cramps.

Sometimes when we were kids, we’d go to our nanna’s place for the weekend; a prospect which delighted me to no end. I’d have a terrific time until the end of the first day, when the idea of sleeping in a strange bed after having eaten my evening meal from someone else’s dinner service became too overwhelming. Dad would get a phone call, and an hour later I’d be bundled into the car, where the relief of the familiar washed away my unease almost instantly. For the remainder of the weekend, I’d wander the house aimlessly, while the others phoned to relay excited stories of cinemas and trips for ice cream.

I’ve always been a little anxious.

The onslaught of change and uncertainty has devoured me this week. Once more I’m that lonely little girl with an ill feeling in the pit of my stomach, a shortness of breath, a lack of mental clarity. My instincts are to retreat. But gone are the days when a harmless love bite might herald a rescue party or offer refuge. I’m a grown up now, I know the secret; we are all alone.

Yet in the midst of attempting to quiet the raging cacophony banging away in my mind, and while doing what I can to ease the insistent churning of my gut, I’ve somehow managed to find myself a home; despite my attempts at self sabotage.

Having heard that the rental market in Melbourne is ridiculously competitive at this time of year, I figured it would be best to apply for absolutely everything. I dutifully attended approximately one billion inspections and filled in what felt like a trillion applications. While it was exhausting, it made me feel industrious and good. In hindsight, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I began to get calls congratulating me on my successful submissions. As it turns out, I was less than ready. A stammering mess, I hastily declined several perfectly acceptable offers before ardently attempting to proffer why each was unacceptable. However, while my friends and family empathised with my bout of bad luck, the reason in me was growing sceptical. The apartments were fine, it scoffed. The problem was me; I was being a noncommittal pansy. I had to toughen up.

Without allowing myself too much thought on the matter, I held my breath and said yes to the next offer. I’m now in possession of an inordinately pokey and ridiculously overpriced studio apartment. On the up side, it’s light and airy and very cute, and it’s near enough that I might feed off the life of the city; a feature which may prove essential once the money runs out.

From past experience, it’s unlikely that my nerves will abate until I establish some kind of normalcy. I need to do it soon; my instincts are urging me to retire, my long neglected creative side is growing impatient. But I’m still worried. While I’ve signed a lease and am ready to commit to a life of part time seclusion for the sake of my writing and self discovery, what if I discover I can’t sustain it?

So many of us seem stuck in a vicious cycle of having passions we want to pursue, but realising that to maintain a certain standard of lifestyle we need to work, leaving us no time to explore the potential of our whims. I suppose that’s why they call them struggling artists; when you choose your craft over comfort, the sacrifices are significant. And I’m not sure if an anxious creature like me has what it takes to handle the bumps. After all, behaving unconventionally is scary.

I keep thinking back to that little girl pottering absently through vacant rooms, desperately awaiting her siblings’ return from their holiday. She was young and had been through a lot for her age; her need for comfort was understandable. But even she could see that if only she’d had the courage to see out the night, things would probably have seemed better in the morning. Even she recognised the fun she might have enjoyed, had she only acted a little braver.

I suppose it’s time I waited out the dawn.

 

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to melbourne, with love

I have always loved a city; the bright lights, the exhilarating hustle, the easy, perfect chaos of it all. Cities are always awake and wired; they draw in life like moths to a flame. 

In my brief life I have enjoyed some fantastic cities. I have walked, wide eyed through the scenic streets of Paris, wandered the delightful alley ways of Dublin and strolled the cobbled paths of London. I have found myself mesmerised in the back roads of Amsterdam, have been stunned by the fantastic beauty of Berlin and was charmed by the diversity of Rome.

Yet despite where I have been and regardless of where I am yet to go, my heart belongs to a single metropolis; Melbourne, the most beautiful city in the world.

Melbourne, I adore you. Every time I walk your streets, I fall in love anew.  Being with you is like coming home. Everybody loves a beauty and your simple and unassuming loveliness draws people to you. In fact, the most diverse of societal cross sections seem to unite here in their shared adoration of your gorgeous parks, historic trams, the eclecticism of your outer suburbs, the way your towering skyscrapers and age old architecture can somehow sit side by side in a happy, haphazard harmony.

On the tram on our way through the city we pass a park. A group of young people sit cross legged on the grass, sharing a guitar. A man snoozes on the bench beside a fountain while a woman reads the paper, sprawled on a red rug in the sunshine. Parents walk beside children who wobble precariously on small bicycles and a businessman paces briskly through the midst; head down, clutching his briefcase like a prize.

I have seen some terrific things in this short life. I’ve stood dwarfed by the Eiffel Tower, had my heart broken by the beauty of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and spent the shortest day of my life devouring the majesty of the Louvre. I’ve dived with whale sharks and swum in the phosphorescence off the coast of Mozambique, witnessed a lion take down an impala in South Africa  and had they let me stay, I would still be sipping Sangria in the crazy cottages jutting out of the rugged cliff face in the Cinque Terre. Yet in this moment I could trade it all for the freedom that comes from sitting in a warm tram, a mess of thoughts in my mind and the knowledge that I’m headed exactly where I want to go.

 

 

the legacy of the last to leave

I’ve always been a little conservative. Growing up in a family with four children, this was particularly evident. I was the child who put herself to bed while the others were lodging their cases regarding whether they’d eaten enough of their dinner to warrant dessert, or bickering over who should get the next turn on the Nintendo. Since ever I can remember I was self appointed dish rinser and bath runner, ate fruit because it was good for me and it never had to be asked; I had always done my homework.

In view of my prudent and level headed nature, it was taken for granted as we grew older that I would attend university once I’d finished school and that the only serious change I would experience during my adolescence would be evolving from a sensible child into a sensible adult.

Meanwhile, time lapsed and my siblings slowly but surely began to leave the nest. A spirited creature, my younger sister was unsurprisingly the first to fly, baited by the freedom of independence. My older sister was drawn south after having fallen together with a man whose life was already established elsewhere. Our brother ventured interstate to spend the weekend with a friend some four years ago and is yet to return, having found a much sought after brotherhood some place far off.

And so it came to pass that I became the daughter who didn’t move away. Having secured reliable employment within an hour of our family dwelling, while I moved out and even travelled overseas a couple of times, I was never far from home. If I’m honest, I suppose I liked it that way. I’m a terrible sook; I’ve only recently conquered my fear of the dark and letting go of things has always left me feeling overwhelming nostalgic and pathetically tearful. So it’s fair to say I enjoyed the safety net provided by my dad and the familiar. I wasn’t ready to wander off alone.

Call me naive, but until now it hadn’t occurred to me that it might be difficult to be the last to leave. It is. And complicated. Because just as I have grown used to the security of having family close by, so too has my father. And while I have decided it’s time for me to venture further afield and go it alone for a spell, he is dealing with the culture shock of having this decision thrust upon him. I empathise; I’m sure it’s less than easy.

The inevitable guilt of my decision dropped like a dead weight earlier this week and quickly became tangible. What does one do when she’s the last to go? The unexpected pressure has resulted in an onslaught of heated discussions amongst the numerous and all too opinionated voices in my head. The pessimists among them are incessantly claiming that I’m making a massive mistake and that my behaviours are clearly those of a selfish narcissist with an inflated sense of self worth. Mercifully, the majority remain faithfully on my side. Despite my many doubts, they assure me I’m doing the right thing. The truth is I’ve wanted this for years. I’ve simply lacked the courage.

So there’s been nothing for it but to lug the feelings of doubt and disloyalty with me, all the way to Melbourne. Despite what has become a full time search, I haven’t found a place yet, but I’m hoping when I do it will be big enough to contain the mountains of guilt I’ve had to haul along with me. In view of my budget, this is unlikely.

 

So this week is my dedication to all the kids out there who were the last to leave. Guys, I’m feeling you. To their siblings, spare a thought; remember the way their mere presence inadvertently assuaged your guilt when you knew it was your time to roll out. And to their parents, know that the guilt of the child is only marginally outweighed by their desperate desire to grow.

 

a study of irrational rage

I find anger fascinating.

I’m not talking about the exasperation you feel when your partner insists on hanging the washing with mismatched pegs, or the irreconcilable irritation that comes from turning on the television to discover that the only programme you bother to watch has been thoughtlessly cancelled to enable the screening of some stupid sporting event. Nor am I referencing the mixed feelings of forlorn frustration when the nightly news reports the latest dumb decision made by politicians who insist on running our government fuelled solely by personal motives.

I’m referring to the raw and irrational anger that can be witnessed every day in the faces of people outside your front door; the blind rage that consumes the person in the car behind you when you forget to indicate at the traffic lights. Sitting, waiting anxiously for the lights to change, you observe them cussing violently and making rude and animated gestures in your direction through the rear view mirror. Or the fury that brews behind the blank faced expression of the woman in the cinema, driving her to turn and spew hatred in your direction when you accidently kick the back of her chair.

We’ve all observed this kind of unpredictable and unfounded anger. As for me, I’ve spent significant chunks of time reflecting on where it might come from. After all, it’s scary. In my mind these once normal, well balanced individuals have been possessed by some kind of mean demon who survives on equal portions of spite and malice and whose objective is to slowly consume otherwise reasonable people. Shackled within the confines of dead end lives which they can’t remember choosing, these poor souls can find no escape. Losing sight of what they were once striving for, or perhaps never having known in the first place, they’re filled with a sense of hopelessness, and in response they react in the only way they know how; primal, unashamed anger.

I think we’ve all made the rookie error of thinking it’s possible to reason with these people, and have attempted to talk them down by calmly pointing out their unnecessary or unjustifiable behaviour. When being accosted in the grocery store for sampling a grape for instance, I have endeavoured to explain to the dutiful citizen whose red face was all too close to mine that they need to relax. I wasn’t planning on pulling up a plinth and making like Midas; I was only going to try one, as a means of deciding if I wanted to purchase a bunch. But these acts of measured reason are time and again met by the inflated rage of the accuser, who is angered inconsolably by my slight misdemeanour against the rigid societal rules to which they have unwontedly or perhaps subconsciously kowtowed.

Truth be told, we owe these individuals big time. For myself, every time I see them blasting one another in the parking lot or dragging viciously at the arms of their bewildered children, I am reminded that I am lucky; I have a chance to get out before the resentment that’s eating them up starts taking chunks out of me. I smile at them with open eyes and am typically rewarded with a scowl, which I gladly accept; after all, that could have been me turned crazed hate monger. Or maybe they’re just good people having a bad day.

My quiet contemplation of these folk over the past week has helped me let go of the things I’m preparing to leave behind. After tomorrow I will be able to state with a measure of happiness and horror that my budding career as an educator is over. Despite my discontentment regarding my job, it’s been hard to let go; quitting has meant foregoing relationships that I’ve been developing for years and has required abandoning people who might need me. A sentimental person, this has been hard to accept. My emotional self has begun to confuse my rationality, and my pushover of a mindscape has led me to question the thoughts that have consumed me for the past few years; do I really dislike my job or have I simply been being self indulgent?

Nevertheless, being in a state of flux is oddly suiting me. I have given up my lovely house in Newcastle and am squatting back at my dad’s place until the big move. So much of me enjoys the disordered chaos of it all. There’s a certain liberation that comes from selling all your worldly possessions on eBay. Or more accurately, giving your things away; turns out no one really reckons my stuff’s worth much. But wonderfully, the less I have, the lighter I feel. In summation and paradoxically, in the midst of uncertainty, things have never felt so right.

So I suppose I should begin looking for a place to live, else I’ll be arriving in the city in the New Year the proverbial bohemian, with nothing but the clothes on my back and a mind full of romantic notions. Either way, Melbourne town, I’m on my way!