21 December 2013

Happy New Year!!

Whaddya mean, Happy New Year?  It’s December 21st

I don’t wish to write a treatise on the stupidity of the modern calendar and the selection of seemingly arbitrary dates for marking the beginning/end of a circular event, but it seems far more obvious that the trajectory should align with some sort of inversion, and since today is the solstice and I happen to be awake and reasonably alert and in the mood for some reflection – well, here we go.

2013 – You can go get fucked.

Seriously, what a shit year that was. And I am not the only one who felt this way.  A lot of things went poorly for a lot of people.  For me personally, it was a very dark year – medically, professionally, geographically, and I am really happy to be putting it into my rear view.  I am not so na├»ve as to imagine that the relative tilt of the earth’s axis to the plane of the orbit around the sun is sufficient to drive a turnaround in circumstance, fortune, and personal energy – but fuck it, I could benefit from a little more magic in my life.  It’s not like I am going to start attending incense laden prayer circles and hugging trees in school parking lots…

I thought I might recap the horror show of the preceding months that brought me to the notion that I am about to commence a new chapter, but I don’t even feel like revisiting the trauma of Kevin’s journey through treatment for Hepatitis C, or my mother’s through breast cancer, or the soul-sucking pageantry of working in sales, or the overshadowing feeling of isolation and loneliness that sneak up and envelop expats on occasion, sometimes for months on end…but in truth, I really do not feel like touching any of it, even if it is to pack it up into tidy suitcases so I can slip them into a corner of my mental attic.  Better to just close the door on that room altogether – or maybe rent a dumpster and resist the temptation to sort through each pain as I toss it…but that tactic never works – I live with a hoarder who sneaks into the rubbish after I have gone to sleep and brings the emotional garbage back into the house, piling it in corners and walkways.

Although there is no question that I am beginning a new chapter – what with a continental shift in my homestead, a new job, and a new set of revitalized relationships, I truly have no reason other than intense desire to believe that 2014 will be any better…that I will mysteriously acquire better coping mechanisms, that the distress of aging will diminish, or that my hoarder will suddenly start releasing his hurts to the high seas.  But here’s to the glorious wonder of hope – and of saying to the universe ”This is what I want, what I deserve.  It is mine by rights, and you shall give it to me, asshole.”

Wishing you all a wonderful, magical, mystical, practical, and healthy 2014!

 

Oh, and this marks the final entry into Audra’s Australian Adventures.  I hope you have enjoyed this chapter and thank you for your kind patronage.  I can’t make any promises of launching Audra’s American Adventures in any formal sense, because new chapters require new formats, otherwise it gets stale and obligatory and stops resembling fun.  And also because I know the new job will be using up a lot of my brain-space until I develop a degree of mastery or run off to Borneo, whichever comes first.

01 June 2013

Repatriation FAQ


What?!
                Yes, we are moving back to the United States.
Why?
I want to be closer to my family and the friends I have loved all my life.  I hate my job.  Kevin has been very sick and is finishing treatment and we want to start a new chapter.  We move every three years and the clock ran out on Adelaide last month.  I am bored.  There is no place like home.  Why not?
Do you have jobs?
                No
Where are you going to live?
                That has yet to be decided.
Where are you going to stay?
                Not sure yet.
What are you going to do?
                Ask me later.
Are you taking your stuff?
Yes, the movers are coming on June 24/25.  They do all the packing, so we just need to sort through stuff.  We are selling everything that runs on electricity or explosive fuels.
What about Kevin’s treatment?
Kevin takes his last injection on June 19th and his last pills on June 26 – which is the day we will leave Adelaide!  He’ll have his final blood work done and will be free from the tyranny of his 8 hour eating schedule.  It will still be several months before the side effects dissipate, and he won’t be feeling tip-top by any means, but we just can’t stomach the thought of sitting around, waiting to feel better…he’ll get some meds to take with us, and then we’ll find a doctor in the US for some follow up care.
What about health insurance?
Yeah, well isn’t that a question that keeps people trapped, eh?  We will take out travel insurance to cover any serious accidents, but otherwise we will be paying as we go until we get jobs and have proper insurance that hopefully won’t exclude Kevin from everything.  We are Australian citizens, so worse comes to worst we can always come back and go on the dole…we have an emergency cash fund for such an eventuality.
What about Bad, Bad Kitty?
As you can see from my answers to the above questions, we won’t be very stable when we land.  BBK doesn’t take to change well, and we didn’t feel we could keep her safe and happy, so we decided to find her a new home.  BBK has gone to live on 5 acres in the Adelaide Hills with a lovely American man and his Aussie/American wife, where she will have cat doors, kangaroo meat, a bounty of rodents to chase, and fresh steamed broccoli. They have a good understanding of cat psychology.  They don’ have kids and they have two other cats – which will be a challenging social experiment for her, but hey, it is a time for all of us to spread our wings and fly.  Actually, she got a pretty darn good deal out of this and I suspect will be happier there than she was with us…it has been a tough year for everyone in our household.
Are you coming to Melbourne?
Yes, we will be driving to Melbourne arriving Thursday June 27 for a three day good-bye piss-up.
Are you coming to Sydney?
Yes.  We will be arriving in Sydney on July 1st.  July 4th will be our final night.  I propose a red, white, and blue party, but have yet to organize anything…we will be staying in the CBD, near Chinatown.
Wow.
                Yeah.  No Shit.

52 Card Pick Up


A little over 7 years ago, our life was in a bit of a lull.  Still reeling from the failure of our Mexico venture and the emotional chaos that followed Dusty’s suicide, we retreated to our house in Northern California and watched the rain fall.  Days became measured by the interval between the morning news and the commencement of happy hour, weeks by the gap in morning news programs, months by the stacks of recycling piled beside the garage.  With no jobs, no prospects, and a dwindling savings account, Kevin informed me that he had always wanted to live in Australia. 

We came over for a 2 month scouting mission, rented a campervan, bought a map, and set out to see if a life could be made here.  We toured a large loop through the eastern half of the country, exploring the capitol cities, visiting significant and insignificant landmarks, and soaking up the flavour of the outback.  (In case you are wondering, it doesn’t taste like a bloomin’ onion, it tastes like red dust and flies.) Although I always enjoy travel and the shift in perspective that it brings, I wasn’t overly impressed with Australia on the whole.  I found it pleasant enough, foreign yet familiar, comfortable yet confounding, exotic yet ordinary.  I concluded that I didn’t especially want to live there.

So naturally, we moved to Sydney.

We settled in Sydney and I quickly realized that living there was much more fun than vacationing there – and yet, when I look back on my time in Sydney, it feels like a paid vacation.  Living and working there provided an anchor, a feeling of belonging, of insideness.  It is a very dynamic city, with much to explore and discover.  The harbour is a magnificent center piece to the city and each morning, click-clacking across the bridge on the train, I would smile down at the Opera House and the ferries and wonder how the other commuters could remain so indifferent.  Sheltered by their personal listening devices and reading material, how could they ignore the majesty passing by just on the other side of the glass – and I knew, that one day, I too would find it ordinary, that the day I crossed the bridge and didn’t acknowledge the magic would be my signal that it was time to leave.

So naturally, we moved to Adelaide.

WHAT?!?!  Sydney became ordinary so you moved to Adelaide?!?!  And do you also treat rashes with a tincture of poison oak and stinging nettle? 

Sydney is a vibrant cosmopolitan city, buzzing with international visitors.  Adelaide is a provincial cow town, humming with domestic breeding stock.  I can’t really say anything bad about Adelaide – it is an easy, pleasant place to live, convenient, comfortable, safe, and completely uninteresting. 

Circumstances conspired against us to make our life in Adelaide exceptionally mundane.  Kevin’s dream job became a nightmare.  I never had any delusions about my job – I fully expected it to be a nightmare right from the beginning, and I was not disappointed.  However, I did not anticipate just how much my new job would hijack my brain, that it would consume all the energy that I would normally turn towards socializing and writing and exploring.  Like some hideous emotional vacuum cleaner, my job sucked up all of my curiosity, all of my words, all of my joy.  By the end of a work day, there was nothing of me left to invest in making a life. 

Just as we were to conclude that the Adelaide experiment had been a failure, Kevin received a diagnosis of Hepatits C accompanied by a long and convoluted plan for treatment that eventually took two years to come to fruition.  The decision to remain and see it through was clear and obvious, but strangulating nonetheless.  Trapped, life once more became a matter of passing time.  It is a shitty way to live, feeling like you are merely waiting…especially when you are waiting for nothing…

And once the treatment commenced, life became less than ordinary.  Lack of curiosity yielded to paranoid agoraphobia.  What was merely social awkwardness became complete isolationism.  Mild amusement became obscured by a thick fog of depression, happiness only existing in photographs and memories.  And there is no distraction in daydreaming.  The present is currently so dismal, that the future doesn’t even exist.  The pipe dreams and fantasies that normally sustain us through dark times do not bring comfort because nothing seems possible.

I often use a river as a metaphor for life, flowing from humble beginnings, there are times when the swift current keeps you moving, there are tumultuous rapids, and there are peaceful stretches of lazy flat water and there are eddies – still quiet spots where nothing happens.  Against that, my life at present is an oxbow lake – I am stranded outside the main channel, stagnant, muddy, swatting mosquitos.  I can hear the tug of riverboats and steamships…If only a good flood would come wash me over the banks.

So naturally, we are moving to America.

The decision feels both easy and complicated.  From a practical standpoint, it is not logical or financially sound, but emotionally, it is invigorating, liberating.  The dark corners of my mind are now filled with details and plans, and the stress is a welcome relief from the tedium of the last 18 months.  A lot of factors weighed into the decision – family, friends, Taco Bell - but ultimately it is, like most of our major decisions, a matter of impulse.  Oooh, I just hallucinated that I was the captain “Impulse Power, Mr Scott. Take us out of orbit.”

I have no ‘grass is greener’ delusions about the next chapter of our life – quite the opposite, I know moving back to the US will mean a step down in quality of life and financial security – assuming that either of those actually exist.  I know that moving to America won’t make health issues disappear, won’t erase the signs of aging nor automatically bring a sense of peace and belonging, but it doesn’t matter.  It is what I am doing.  I figure, I got about 2 or 3 more major mistakes left in me…

I toss it all around a lot in my head, and depending on the day or the hour, I draw a different conclusions, as if I can distil it down to a singular essence that makes sense to me and everyone else.  Sometimes it is that I want to be closer to my family, sometimes it is that I want desperately to be away from Adelaide and my horrible job.  But if I had to pick 1 reason for making this drastic change it is this:

On June 26th, Kevin will complete the treatment regimen that has consumed our lives for the last 12 months, and while I know that things won’t get better immediately just because he has taken the last pill, I want it to be very clear that that chapter of our life is over.  I want there to be a clear demarcation of life ‘after treatment’.  I want Hepatitis C to be something that happened ‘back there’.

You got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to throw the whole deck into the air, watch the cards flutter down, pick them up one by one and deal the next hand.

25 April 2013

A Game of Solitaire

Compulsively, once more, I shuffle the deck and flip the cards one by one, sorting them into four piles, count the cards in each. Even. Reshuffle. Do it again. The cards always fall the same.


Spades

1) My job sucks the joy out of my soul on a daily basis

2) Relatively homogenous nationwide culture

3) Bogans

4) Prams

5) Cost of Living

6) Boring news programs

7) Lack of local meteorologists

8) Serious lack of tacos

9) Not belonging

10) Seasonal incongruity of holidays

11) Faded sense of adventure and discovery

12) Grocery store locations

13) Hugh Jackman


Diamonds

1) I work with a wonderful team of people

2) A great network of friends all across the country, a place to say in every Capital City

3) Career Opportunities

4) Sales Meetings

5) Decent health care that is not linked to my job, so I don’t feel trapped

6) Polite school children

7) Koalas

8) Not being afraid of the Police

9) Readily available and clean public toilets

10) Socially endorsed binge drinking

11) The Opera House and Harbour Bridge

12) 4 Weeks Annual Leave

13) Diminutive names



Clubs

1) Gun Violence

2) Dissipated relationships

3) Lack of healthcare

4) Rednecks

5) Fiscally insolvent national policies

6) Presidential campaigns

7) Stubborn stupidity

8) Dissipated relationships

9) Smog

10) Political Lobbies

11) Soccer Moms

12) Recession

13) Job hunting


Hearts

1) Halloween

2) Watching football during normal operating hours

3) Friends with history

4) The National Park System

5) Redwood Trees

6) Affordable and more frequent family visits

7) Localities with distinct personalities

8) The Star Spangled Banner

9) Corona Light

10) Mexican food

11) Taco Bell

12) Affordable Homeownership

…no matter what order the cards may land, the final card is always the same and she trumps them all:





My mother raised me to be an independent woman – but I am not. My existence is contextual, defined by my relationships and my impact on the world. She taught me to think for myself and made it very clear that none of my decisions ever be made solely to please her. In this regard, I am sure I have been successful. So I am being careful with myself, checking and double checking my motivation, testing to see if her present vulnerability is appropriately weighted against my own desire to be closer to her.

I survey my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Australians in general and Adelaideans in particular have a strong attachment to home and family. Though most wander, nearly all return home to be near their parents, some to take care of them, some to be taken care of. Any regrets? None - the most important and best decision they ever made…

All decisions are merely junctions and very few lead to real dead ends, save for those that end in genuine death. Yet, when facing a decision, especially a big one, I tend to think in terms of finality and inevitability, as if the consequences become destiny. This is, of course ridiculous, as each decision, each junction leads only to a new section of the map of life, where there will be more intersections, more opportunities, more decisions.

Sometimes, not all the roads are on the map. Sometimes, the map is wrong. Sometimes, you can’t see the next road until you turn the corner and walk a few paces. Sometimes, the streets aren’t marked.

Sometimes, you just need to follow your hearts.         

02 April 2013

Goin' Bush


I was feeling rather feral when I walked through my front door, like a precious housecat who had been locked out for 5 days and comes home dirty, fur matted, covered in scratches and smelling of urine.  A bath, the first order of business – but I am rather proud of my filthy appearance and wish to show it off.  Alas, Kevin is not home – no audience for bragging, so I retire to a hot tub to review the weekend.

The plot begins with an invitation from Alison to spend the long-Easter weekend camping on her property near Bredbo in New South Wales – which, according to Apple Maps is 1270 km from my house and should take me 13 hours and 32 minutes to drive.  It took 17.  I was craving a long cross-country jaunt  – the landscape whizzing by, curious signs for mysterious attractions, new towns, truck stops, McDonalds – but 17 hours was pushing me to the brink of sanity, or rather, of insanity...maybe...

I met up with Alison at midnight in front of the Bredbo Inn and we camped in front of a cemetery at the end of a road leading to the river.  You’d think it would be a quiet location, but there was a considerable amount of action down that road into the wee hours, such is life in small town Australia.  The next morning, we (and when I say we, I mean, Alison) strapped my gear to the RumPig and splashed through the river and over the mountains on the other side. 


The road was rough enough to make the destination feel isolated, but the scenery was gorgeous and rugged  – except for the part where we had to stop and chat with some local colour.  Seems Jr. got a new rifle for his birthday and he wanted to shoot a fox, or a roo, or a deer, or a pig, or a wild dog, or a rabbit, (all of which inhabit the area).  Not a wombat?  Personally, I think they should spend their money on orthodontia, not ammunition.

After a few road-related mishaps, Michael and Bec and Cheryl  arrived later that day and we set up camp at the base of a large clearing near the shade of a small creek, which soon drops over a 300 meter cliff and joins the substantial Murrumbidgee River below.  Her property stretches along the river for 500 meters, and encompasses 2,000 acres all up – and, it has room for a helipad, as soon as Alison gets her license…



The next three days were a blur of laughter and activity, the busy resourcefulness that surrounds applying civilization upon untouched wilderness.  When it comes to camping accessories, Australians are world champions.  They had something for everything!  Lucky for me, since all I had was a tent and a coffee cup.  Since I could not contribute in materials, I put myself in charge of security and:

·         Defended the campsite from a kangaroo by chasing it through the paddock on a quad bike.
·         Defended the campsite from rogue beer cans by shooting them with lead pellets.
·         Defended the campsite from wasps by building a trap from a Coke bottle and a plastic bag.
·         Defended the campsite from pirates by performing a shoreline survey in kayaks.
·         Defended the campsite from amorous possums by cowering in my tent yelling, “What the fuck was that hideous noise?”
·         Defended the campsite from the ground by repeatedly shooting arrows into it.
·         Defended the campsite from Yabbies by making sure they stayed in the river and not in my net.
·         Defended the campsite from stray branches by incinerating them in a 55 gallon stove.
·         Defended the campsite from drunken poachers by chasing them through the pitch black darkness on a motorcycle  - oh wait, that wasn’t me, that was Alison…





The drive home took a total of 24 hours, with some dawdling and some sleeping.  As a rule, Australians do not drive at night, and for good reason.  It is a problem that does not get much attention in the public forum, and one which clearly plagues the nation.  I have decided that it is time for me to take action.  I am going to initiate an awareness campaign to help shed light on the debilitating effects of marsupial depression.  Each night, thousands of depressed marsupials march to the edge of the highway, hopeless, dejected, and fling themselves into traffic in a desperate bid for relief from their sufferings. Please visit my website, www.beyond-roo.org and help support the mental health of Australian Outback Wildlife.