I’ve always been a dreamer; an idealist – someone who finds inspiration from the possibilities of the future, and someone who cannot help but see potential in others and places. There are two ways you can look at this: one, in the positive light, where I’m capable of seeing my glass half full most of the time; or two, that I don’t want to face reality.
It wasn’t until quite recently that I was forced to face the reality of a working adult’s life. After high school and during university, I was quite happy to coast along in jobs that I found either menial or draining, ignoring the fact that I had to work hard to get to the distant dreams I somehow convinced myself were to become a reality, someday… somehow… in the future. Then, during my time working as a conversation “teacher” in Spain for a school year, my parents told me they were going to enrol me in a TESOL [Teaching English to Students of Other Languages] course at the University of Adelaide, because they feared that I didn’t have enough drive. They were pretty much right – I had invested too much faith in my dreams, without realising that they could only come true if I was prepared to work hard for them. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true.
Of course, the question my parents then asked was what my dreams actually were. This part is hard for me to answer, because really I’d like to do a lot of things, but most of those creative things are based around writing, so I answered “writing” and by the end of that conversation, I promised myself I’d not waste any more time and just write and write.
Luckily I’d already been introduced to the world of zines and had published a couple (which will remain on the burn pile) before going to Spain. I’ve always championed zines as a great way of motivating writers to write, if there’s a tangible outcome for the words. So with this as a creative outlet, I returned home, studied how to become an ESL teacher, and started writing more zines. After a few months of procrastination during unemployment, I finally got a job as a teacher and my adult work life began.
Three years later, a lot had changed. Before I left Australia to come on this trip, I was a workaholic, and only had time to socialise through work. My love life was completely, and utterly non-existent. The best part of the day was riding home on my bike, cooking a meal with ingredients bought from Chinatown, and veging out in front of the television. Then, I’d get little sleep (highly strung, I would wake up if someone dropped a feather next door) and do it all again. But for the most part, I enjoyed what I was doing, because with the arts collective, I was finally in the process of turning dreams of others – and for myself – into a reality. I’d also completed my Masters in Creative Writing, which, three years earlier seemed like an elusive goal that didn’t have my name on it.
Three years later and I’m lugging my bag through the red, brown and gold remnants of Autumn and down a suburban street in Toronto lined with houses hung-over from Halloween. I’ve taken a detour to Canada to meet up with a friend, Lido, who is also working overtime to make her dreams come true. I’ve used a website that lets you rent out apartments or rooms all over the world for the same price as some hostels. I arrive at the house, am greeted by the owner and shown to my room. This is more me – no more do I have to share my sleeping quarters with strangers, and have to be constantly mindful of my possessions. (As someone pointed out to me after I told them about the German girl: where’s your self-respect?) I find some peace in the private space, and head out into the crisp, cold, Canadian November.
Unlike Northern Europe, the sky in Toronto is clear and big, but this only emphasises the cold. And it’s cold: my nose runs constantly, and my extremities throb as my heart works overtime to get the blood flowing. I really don’t like the cold. And by now, after months of it, the romantic Christmas card colour of the city is lost on me.
I meet up with Lido and we talk and catch up the way people do when they’ve only ever corresponded via the internet. Her story is much more determined than mine: she graduated school in Canada (she’s from Colombia) and had what she says were two options, get drunk every weekend and take drugs to appease boredom, or create, and create, and create… What we have in common is that zines were a stepping stone in that creative development. Now she makes truly great music, but is still studying art, and managing her own business recording and self-promoting.
I walk back to my accommodation and my head is swimming through a grey, rough sea of negativity. I look around. What is it? The streets are wide and the buildings are modern in that ‘We Heart Concrete’ way that overtook town planners in the sixties. Besides the double-storey wooden houses, I could be in Australia. It’s an intangible feeling that sweeps over me. The people have the same culture-less, lost look on their faces: herds grazing on chain store familiarity, people making ‘a day of it’ at the mall. Sure there are some interesting corners of the city to explore, but I can’t be bothered. This is why I feel the desire to leave Australia: I’m tired of feeling different and cornered by my interests in the place I live. All of a sudden I realised I’d gone through the looking glass – this was Australia in a cold climate. Both countries struggle with the dominance of US culture and still dream of our British pasts – neither really representing who we are, but all the time making us who we are. I’m really over that shit. (This is a feeling, not an opinion, flippant as it is.)
It’s unfortunate when your opinion of a place sours for reasons the place can’t control. But from then everything grated on me: the lack of politeness, which I thought Canadians were supposed to have; the female announcer on the metro system, who sounded like she’d woke up with a full nappy hanging over her mouth: “Bloor, the next station is BLOOR, you motherfucking assholes.”; and even the signs seemed over-the-top passive aggressive; a bad mix of British mollycoddling and American brashness. And, oh yeah, did I mention it was cold? I was told that in Montreal, the ‘cooler’ cultural capital of Canada (wow, good alliteration), it gets down to under minus 30 degrees in winter, and I thought to myself, fuck that for a joke. So by this stage, I was looking forward to returning to the States and spending a lot more time with another inspiring friend, Gabriela.
On the Greyhound bus ride back to New York (a good 12 hours), I had a wee word with myself: having met someone who works harder than I do at attaining their dream almost sent me back to a place of low self-esteem. I teetered on the edge of self-flagellating for not “doing enough”, for being too distracted by my restlessness and wanderlust and self-doubt; for being distracted by the shiny talents of other people. However, I’ve put in a lot more work on other fronts, for example, dealing with myself when I get this mopey, stopping the continual sense of guilt, stopping comparisons, because they are futile and envy requires too much energy – energy best preserved for work on my own projects.
I also reassessed what dreams would make me happiest. But they can seem so big and scary to believe in. That’s the point, though: when they’re that large, they’re more likely to fulfil you. And why is fulfilling my dreams a thing I fear? Is it all wrapped up in a lack of self-entitlement? Probably. Or is it pure laziness? Maybe. Either way, I started making plans for the next step, and wrote down something I knew I definitely didn’t want: never, ever live in Canada – at least not during winter.