Australia / North America / Travel Piece

Identikit

I’m home now.

“Home.”

At the moment home means my parent’s house, which as a soon-to-be 27 year old, isn’t too gnarly, but I know it is temporary and their love of having me around is comforting. Especially since the last two weeks after getting back from the States have been very disorientating. I arrived on the first Monday of the year, went to work on the Tuesday to double-check when I’d be starting back, and was told “Oh, tomorrow.” I have worked nonstop since then because I’ve also dived back into Format and we’re organising the 2011 festival.

It was nice to see my desk was left untouched in the five months I was away, and the same old faces bore the same old smiles. Unfortunately, I got some complaints from students in the first couple of days of teaching. Fair enough: I was probably a zombie. Though I don’t think I’m over the jetlag and the adjustment yet, made worse by getting back into a very similar routine I had before I left. Every moment I feel like I’m processing a thousand thoughts. It takes a lot of effort, and I suppose my face reflects this. One Korean student said to a co-worker yesterday: “Sam’s a good teacher, but he doesn’t smile enough. And he’s very shrit.”

“Strict,” I corrected.

*

‘Home’ has always been a terribly awkward word for me. At the age of six my family moved to Adelaide from Melbourne – my childhood ‘home’ ripped away. To make matters worse, my family didn’t exactly warm to Adelaide, so for a very long time I wondered what the heck we were doing here; here in this “big town” – as they called it – away from all of our family and friends “back home” in Melbourne.

This time returning to Adelaide hasn’t been as painful as other returns – notably from the UK, Spain and South America. I don’t look down on the city anymore. Sure, I’d like to see it change and grow in some ways, but I think I have finally made peace with the fact that it doesn’t have to reach my expectations anymore. I can always leave. And now I know a few places in the world where I would like to make base camp. Also, I am a part of a small operation that is unique in trying to change the social landscape in the city, so what more could I expect of myself here? Because that’s the point: if you’re frustrated with a city, it’s only a reflection on frustrations you have with yourself.

Well.

A less introspective analysis proves that that’s too simple an answer. While I do believe it’s up to oneself to flourish wherever one is, certain outside factors do contribute to ones happiness in a place.

I’m still trying to process all this, and I’m sure I’ll look back on this entry and think, “Really?”. However, these are my thoughts at the moment:

I am lucky:

I live in a gift-horse of a country. I work in a gift-horse of a job.

The weather is not shit here.

I’ve met scores of amazing, interesting, talented people just in this city alone.

But I’ve stayed in this city like staying in a bad relationship. No, not bad. Just stagnant. I walk around Adelaide like a shadow. And while I love pretending to be an ocker Australian – I constantly feel like an outsider here.

Scene:

Settling into my seat on the Qantas 747, San Francisco to Sydney. The flight attendant – a middle aged man with salt and pepper hair – leans in towards the lady in front of me and says, gesturing at her mobile phone: “That has to be off. You can turn it on again when we land, but it has to be off right now.”

Ah yes. I remembered. Australian officiousness. Just because you’re saying it with a smile, doesn’t make it any less patronising. (See also, “too easy, mate” and “no worries, mate”.) Though, rather than roll my eyes, I was glad to find I just accepted it as another trait of another national stereotype. In no time, the cabin crew made me warm to them when they weren’t enforcing Rules (Australians love rules), because they were quick to smile genuinely and make jokes. As we arrived in Australia on a cloudy day, the pilot welcomed us to “sunny Sydney”. Australians have irony deeply imbedded in the national psyche.

*

So I don’t know.

I left the country hoping to fall in love with another place; rationally telling myself to treat the trip as shopping for a new city. But like with people relationships, you never know how things will turn out at the point of commitment, and until then it’s all just superficial; a string of flings. I have some lovely memories of places, but I don’t have any more clarity on the whole new-place-to-live-and-commit-to thing. Damn my fluttering, romantic restlessness.

(I did, however, leave my soul in Mexico, and I will be back there to visit it from time to time, forever, thank you very much.)

My thoughts continue with:

Where I am is my family and my friends, but they cannot be my lovers.

A practical choice would be London because I also have family and friends there, and maybe I’d like the challenge. Also, I can get my ancestry visa. The downside of New York (however much I love it) is working or studying there is either too hard or too expensive.

But before I leave Adelaide I have a few goals I want to accomplish here. I can suck it up until then.

*

The trip has given me stronger self-esteem. I can better snap out of my doldrums: feel the sadness and let go. I am “good enough”. I don’t begrudge my Australian heritage, because we are extremely lucky to be born here. But my identity is not patriotically Australian. Patriotism is quite stupid. I see now that my frustrations with myself and where I live are all seeds of perfectionism that I have to keep weeding. Why can’t Adelaide and Australia be “good enough” too?

I also believe in self-improvement.

Sorry this is all extremely self-indulgent. But isn’t it artistically subtle ‘n’ shit that there’s no closure? Instead, I’ll leave you, and the blog of this journey, with a story about remembering who you are.

I had a six hour layover in Sydney airport before flying to Adelaide and I kept myself awake in the terminal (and I look forward to doing this every time) by eating. Of course, this leads to needing the bathroom – sorry… toilet, I’m not in the States anymore – and I made a mad dash to the men’s only to find it full. So, not to worry, I quickly walked to another one further down the terminal hall. Again, it was full. And before I knew it, these words, this very Australian turn of phrase, entered my head:

“God damn it, every dickhead and his arsehole’s here.”

And I laughed.

And on my way to the third lavatory, I passed under a banner saying “Welcome Back”, and I teared up a little.

When I finally sat down, it was a relief to take a bog on home soil.

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