The low

In life, you get ups and downs. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. You look forward to something, you have a great time, you reminisce with friends, it’s all good stuff. You tend not to remember the bad unless you’re wallowing in despair. You need a bit of bad to know just how good the good is. But when you’re experiencing the bad, it’s so hard to retain that perspective. 

Right now is a bad point. I’d love to blame it on PMS but I can’t. Since the very beginning, when we first talked about moving to Canada, there have been so many signs telling us not to go. I don’t want to say I’m reliant on omens or whatever because I’m not, I believe in putting in the hard yards and doing everything to achieve exactly what you want in life, but by the same token I’ve had too many experiences throughout my life to deny the existence of some kind of higher power, spiritual world, the universe, whatever you want to call it. The universe tells you what’s what, guides you along the path, presents you with opportunities to improve and progress, if you actually notice of course. The signs against going to Canada were there all along and it continues to be tough going. Not that it wouldn’t be even if the signs were positive and we were supposed to be doing this; no one is denying the enormity of what we’ve set out to do, moving halfway across the world based on a crazy dream of snow at Christmas and beautiful landscapes. We’ve done stuff like this before and it’s been so hard! But not like this. 

Since meeting, Mr Chewbacca and I have made many moves and overcome many obstacles during those moves. I remember finding our first place together in London, that was really difficult! Lots of stuff went wrong. I dinged the hire car. Our landlord was clearly dodgy and wanted rent paid by cheque or cash only. Then moving back to Australia, that was a massive drama. Not only did we have huge problems agreeing on where to go (I wish I’d stood my ground and we’d gone to Melbourne, things would be so different!), we struggled finding a place to live with only one of us working and just took the first thing that came along. Our wedding was organised last minute and my dress was accidentally transparent, I never tasted my awesome wedding cake that my mum bent over backwards to arrange at the last minute and I ended up in the worst job I’ve ever had. Our place turned out to be amazing but we had to move somewhere bigger because the Dude arrived. And that was shit as we had to settle for hell (ie. South West Sydney), the removalist wasn’t even a real removalist (just a small middle-aged couple with a graffitied truck), our house was fibro with no air con, and, well, other stuff happened that made it hard to remember that place fondly. 

Then, finally we could leave Sydney, but we had to move to Canberra for six months to live in my run-down investment property while we renovated enough to be able to sell it and afford a move to Melbourne. We actually did it. I got a job (narrowly losing to my job in Sydney as worst job ever), and somehow we managed to renovate and sell with no money, just credit cards. We did enjoy Canberra but the whole renovation was hard work and we got screwed by a dodgy handyman. 

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ah Melbourne. the Australian bush is so grey and washed-out compared to Canada

Finally, we made it to Melbourne. Okay, so it wasn’t perfect. It was super tough. Jobs were scarce and I was pregnant. We ended up with total assholes for neighbours. But it was Melbourne, and after 18 months there we’d begun to find our niche. I actually had friends, new friends, for the first time in years, and they were people that I had lots in common with. Mr C had a really great permanent job. Dude was in an awesome kindergarten. We had all we needed, a great car, nothing to want for. We were happy. Except, the weather. Those fucking 40 degree days. Bloody Australian summer. 

So why? Why did we go? The weather was a big reason, as I explained previously. I really wish people had been a bit more shocked about it when we told them. I wish I’d listened when people told me I’d be mad to leave Melbourne. Why did we take this leap, I asked myself every time something went wrong with this move. We’d ask each other as we ran up against barriers and logistical problems arose time and again and we grew slightly uneasy about whether we should really do this. But we knew that if we didn’t do it, we’d always wonder. 

 

Niagara Falls! you have to admit, it’s pretty awesome in winter. this is about an hour from where we live
 
I won’t go on. But this is a low point. One of those times when you just feel regret inching it’s way in, no matter how much you remind yourself how pointless it is. I hate it too because it reminds me of family who did stuff like this and could never stop going over the story of why they left and how big a mistake it was. This kind of a move, done wrong, can really screw up a kid. I’m just glad at least that ours are still little enough to bounce back. 

Every sign was there from the beginning. And right to the end. We almost didn’t even board our flight! And now, now we are left with nothing but the experience. And me with a degree. Is it enough? I hope so. We could be buying a house in Melbourne now but instead…

I end this post with an apology for its whiny negativity (a bit of perspective on my part wouldn’t go astray!) and a promise that the next one will be less ranty. I feel better already just for having written this!

To my extended family

I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.

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my family. none of the people in this photo are alive any more and i never met any of them. this is my great-grandparents’ wedding, taken at St Bartholemew’s somewhere in London’s East End, Boxing Day 1923

I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.

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countdown to departure, July 2007

I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.

So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.

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at Telstra Tower, Canberra, in 2013

When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.

Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.

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London. Nuff said

So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.

As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.

Pacific Ocean
I just don’t like Sydney but I must admit it was nice living across the road from this

I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.

Is snow enough?

It seems we moved to Canada for winter. Being an introvert, and having few friends due to so many moves, I thought connections could be made in time over here as they would be anywhere and the beautiful winter, proper fall and defined seasons would be enough to make me fall for Canada (no pun intended). Over Christmas I began to get increasingly down in the dumps. Despite it being cold outside, having a beautiful tree and millions of lights in the street, even a few flurries of snow, I still didn’t feel the Christmas spirit. 

It’s odd because in Australia it’s so hot at Christmas, too light for little kids to see any lights before bedtime, Californian pine trees that shed needles and droop, no holly or mistletoe… Going to the beach in 40 degree heat and finding ways to cool down are not Christmassy. But it’s how it is and it’s home. 

This winter, so far, is unseasonably mild here in Toronto. But we have had some snow, flurries, as they say. I adore the cold, I feel like I’m physically designed for it, like I’m more alive in winter. I love winter sports like skating and skiing. It’s been amazing actually owning skates for the first time ever, despite learning to skate as a kid. Dude has been having lessons and is really good, and after about ten lessons has gone from being unable to even stand on the ice without assistance to confidently shuffling himself from one end of the rink to the other. We sometimes go to a casual session as well which is fun although it’s getting increasingly difficult to wrangle Thumper who just wants to get out on the ice. I sometimes skate her around just with her feet on the ice and holding her under the arms which she loves but my back is not a fan! They also bring out some witch’s hat plastic cones for the less confident skaters to lean on so sometimes I get her to stand on the base of one and push her around. I think she’ll be getting skates for her second birthday! There’s a pond in the next street which apparently freezes in winter and the kids skate there and set up hockey goals and stuff so that’ll be fun. 

 

autumn
  
winter
 It’s a bit annoying keeping the kids warm and dry enough. Especially Thumper as she finds the bulky snow gear pretty restrictive and can’t play as much as she’d like. At least it’s easy to come by a large range of decent snow gear for cheap via all the consignment stores. They are one of my favourite things about living here, definitely something worth creating in Australia. The wind chill factor is what it’s all about here, the “feels like” temperature. So, for example, it’ll be 2 degrees but feel like -5. And it’s wet. I’ve owned my down jacket and Merrell hiking shoes for about six or seven years now and it’s only being here that I’ve discovered neither is waterproof! Of course I’m doing a lot of walking outside, especially with catching public transport back and forth to uni. I have no trouble doing 10,000 steps in a day. 

Anyway, back to the snow, yes, we’ve had a little and it’s been great. I enjoy the biting cold on my cheeks, much more pleasant than sun burning me in a few minutes. But. Now I’m here, feeling all this cold, and this is what I wanted, I don’t think it’s enough. Not that it’s not enough snow or cold, but just a cold climate isn’t enough to make me feel at home. I know with any new place you have to give it time but there isn’t a lot here to love (for me, anyway) and I’m feeling a pull to Australia. I can’t stand the city, does nothing for me and I have no desire to walk around it. It’s kind of like Sydney actually, kind of messy and dirty and always road works and stuff being built or repaired, shirtless homeless guys taking up the majority of the sidewalk next to intersections, everyone trying to get everywhere all the time. 

 

our street and a few lights
 
I also don’t love where we live. It’s an average suburban neighbourhood, the house is big and good enough although plenty of shortcomings. We’re 40km outside the city so it’s about an hour and a half to Toronto taking bus, train and subway with a walk at each end but that’s not an issue. Our neighbours are great, it’s so nice knowing so many of them. Lots of kids in the area go to the same school so there’s a sort of community feel which is nice too. But there’s something about all this that is extremely mundane and that bothers me. I’m not sure how to explain it but I kind of feel like people are just going through the motions around here and I feel like I want to be in a place of excellence, something exceptional. I can’t explain it but suffice it to say, if we stayed here we’d move. 

But can we really go back to all that heat, the tired bush, the overpriced coffee? Culturally there is a lot I don’t feel matches me in Australia. And that’s the struggle, still presenting itself after all these years. I wish I felt more affection for Canada, I really do, but I just don’t. If we’re talking love for a place, it goes back to the UK for me, hands down, yet I could never live there again. All signs are pointing to Australia… But… Snow!

A new way of being Australian

So it’s looking like we might be returning to Australia once my course is done. I finish at the end of April but I will likely need to stick around for graduation which will be May or June I think. We can legally stay until October so at least there’s a bit of leeway.

As I’ve alluded to previously, this whole journey, from the moment we decided to try Canada to now, has been fraught with obstacles, problems, challenges and frustrations. It’s been Murphy’s law the whole way through, and that’s putting it mildly. The Universe has been doing its best to show us the easy path to this point but we chose the hard one. No regrets. Worries, problems, stresses in the immediate, yes, but no regrets. I know with 100 per cent certainty that my Masters is going to lead to something special. And we will be alright.

 

this is how i remember Eric Bana. the quintessential bogan

What I wanted to write about is how I’m coming to terms with my Australian identity. It’s a major theme of this blog actually, and it may even warrant a rebranding as it’s emerging as the central theme. It also relates closely to my academic research interests and is part of what my (eventual) PhD thesis will discuss: finding where I belong and my culture.

I’m a mixture of European blood and I’ve struggled my whole life with an inability to identify with being Austalian. I’d actually go so far as to say I’ve had this underlying irrational disdain for Austalia and all things Aussie. I always looked down on it, was bothered by the lack of rich history or refinement that I perceived Europe to be about. This is all just my narrative though, a fairy story. After all, “the past is just a story we tell ourselves”. Australia has heaps of history and some exceptionally brilliant people. Everywhere has its pluses and minuses.

 

that quote is from the film “Her”. if you haven’t seen it, go look on Netflix now, it’s brilliant

Since beginning to come to terms with going back, I’m acutely aware of my new journey. I’m on a quest to find peace with my Aussie identity. This isn’t something I’ve been able to try seriously before. I was too busy rejecting Australia. I don’t really know for sure why I was always so vehemently anti-Australia, there’s more to be said about that, but suffice it to say now I’m officially beginning my mission to become an Australophile (I just invented that rather clunky word – I bet there’s a proper one I don’t know).

Maybe it’s slowly been creeping up since becoming a parent but there’s been this process of mellowing out, an increase in self-confidence perhaps, and not just an urge to settle down but an actual process of settling, wherever I am. I think it’s more accurate to say that the transition to family life has created a harmony or contentedness in me and it’s not just a new phase, it’s me now so no matter where I am, I’m living it. It’s showing in my marriage too. We’ve never been happier, despite how insane our lives have been since embarking on this move. And all I want to do is live that, the happy family life, full of routines and parenting highs and lows, searching out simpler ways to just be together and embrace our true selves. Gosh, it sounds so airy fairy! I don’t mean for it to be like that!

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s a revelation for me to find myself like this and I have this move to thank for it, partly anyway. I am finally able to see Australia as home and that is something pretty special.

So… should we?

It’s been only four months since our arrival in Toronto, but it feels like an eternity in some respects. Life isn’t easy here. Not that I thought it would be easy to study full time with two small children in a foreign country. I really don’t know how I’m doing this, but I am. No, it’s more than the general challenge of managing the workload and juggling priorities and responsibilities. I’m being reminded, yet again, that life in Australia is generally easier.

I don’t know how I’ll explain this properly, but I’ll try. From the age of about 11 or 12 I watched a fantastic teenage high school drama called Degrassi. Well, it has many iterations of that name: Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High. There was even a movie. And then came Degrassi: The Next Generation. It’s still running now but I don’t watch it any more, I’m kind of past it and none of the characters I used to watch are in it any more (well, technically a few are, playing parents and teachers, but still, it’s not the same). I watched during the “golden years” (the 80s!) and I attribute much of my sex education and learning about morals and ethics to this awesome show. Degrassi, for anyone who doesn’t know, was set at a community school in Toronto. So anything I knew about life here prior to moving was pretty much based on what I’d watched over the years.

Some of the original characters of Degrassi. Image taken from http://www.urbanexpress.ca/degrassi-high-where-are-they-now/
Aside from all the wonderful storylines and themes and amazing lessons I learnt, I think back now and I realise I did get a vague sense of life in Toronto. Nothing concrete, it wasn’t like they were trying to give an impression of life in this city through the show – it was about teenagers and coming of age and life lessons, not about Toronto. But there were references and because I watched every episode over and over again I absorbed every tiny detail of the characters’ lives. I gained insight into the types of people that lived in Toronto in this time, and I think the way they were portrayed was very realistic. These were everyday kids, some poor, some middle class, some from broken homes, some from stable families; some kids were from true working-class backgrounds, from different ethnicities, and a variety of cultural persuasions. This sense slowly emerged of life in Toronto being a little bit of a struggle. Perhaps not so much for the middle class kids, but most of the characters in the show had real struggles, and their socio-economic backgrounds were very clearly portrayed. Life was hard. I think this is still the case for the majority of Torontonians.

Okay so Degrassi was a dramatisation. And it happened in the 80s, coming up to 30 years ago now. But there’s something… yeah, I knew this would be hard to explain. There’s something hard about life that infiltrates the corners of many an episode, some kind of feeling or impression – walking in the cold, catching an old streetcar, dealing with money problems – something difficult about life that is there in the background. Maybe because it’s got a semi-industrial feel to it, I don’t know. And that feeling is here in Toronto. We don’t even live in Toronto proper, we live about 40km outside it, but I travel in most days to go to uni and I have a sense of the city now. I catch the subway and I see all the people doing it tough. I notice how many people are working their guts out for low wages, hating the cold, doing the same thing day in, day out, for what kind of reward? A badly constructed house? A Honda? A measly couple of weeks’ holiday a year?

This is a very inefficient city. It may just be a Toronto thing, or even an Ontario thing. I don’t think it’s a Canadian thing necessarily. But there are so many systems and processes that are outdated and a certain way because that’s how it’s been done for a long time. I think there’s a bit of this in the US too but I can only speak to what I’ve seen thus far. The point is, it’s getting me down. The frustrating protocols, ways of doing things, that are just so badly organised and out of date are the worst! I could list everything if I had a week. But I don’t want to put this place down because there’s a lot of goodness here. I’m beginning to realise that, for me, the bad outweighs the good though.

So… should we? I don’t even want to write it…

Should we go back? Was this a failed experiment? Will we return to Australia with our tails between our legs? Life was really good before we left. We had savings, nearly enough to put a deposit on a house. We had a fabulous new car, Mr Chewbacca had a great job and we had all that we needed at home. Oh I can’t bear to think of what we gave up to come here! The positive thing, and what I must keep reminding myself, is that I am getting a degree out of this, and hopefully it will forge a new career path that I will actually enjoy and be paid well in the process. I don’t even know what’s going to happen, maybe I should put all these thoughts on the shelf and focus on enjoying where we are and what I’m doing, because it is great. Now if only it would snow…

My research interests

I’m going to write a little bit about what I’m doing at uni, purely to document what’s happening. I am obsessed with documenting personal history, so this is part of that. So if you find academic stuff a bit boring, click away now!

One of the pages of the first edition Alice I had the chance to study
 
As I have mentioned, I’m doing an MA Italian Studies and a collaborative program in Book History and Print Culture. This means I’m doing six courses this term! I remember finding three or four a heavy workload, and that was during my undergraduate studies when I had no children or responsibilities. I didn’t even have a job!

Anyway, just as a bit of background, I mentioned previously what my journey to this masters program has been thus far. I went on to do a Graduate Diploma in creative/professional writing and got part way through another one in editing and publishing but it wasn’t really stimulating me so I didn’t re-enrol. I kind of wish I’d stuck that one out as maybe I’d have gotten some more editorial work. Anyway.

An illustration by Maggie Taylor from a 2008 edition of Alice
 
So upon planning to give Canada a go, and realising the easiest way to do that was for me to study, and given I’d wanted to do a masters for years, ten years actually, I set about deciding exactly what to study. Initially I planned for creative writing but I very quickly realised I didn’t have what it takes. Not only were my English marks shockingly poor during my BA, I didn’t do particularly well in my postgraduate writing studies either. I think the best word to describe my achievement level is “mediocre”. Marks in the 50s and 60s amounting to a Credit average. In addition to this, there was no way I could get the required two academic references from professors who probably didn’t know me during my study, let alone over a decade later… I found one program I could apply to using a portfolio, so I did that. I also applied to a comparative literature program, an English program, and an Italian program. I’d done well in Italian and my professors were only too happy to give me references, despite not having heard from me in about 13 years. I was a bit sneaky and asked them for references for the non-Italian programs too. I actually thought I might have a shot at the literary/writing programs and somehow they’d overlook my dodgy grades. Yeah right!

Alice talking to the Cheshire Cat, original printing of first 1865 edition
 
I ended up getting into only one of the four programs I applied for, the first one I’d applied for, the one I least expected because it was the most prestigious university of the lot. UofT apparently has the largest Italian department outside of Italy! Not to mention world-class teaching staff and amazing facilities. I must admit, though, as soon as I realised I was in, I developed a lump in my throat which I swallow at various intervals but which has remained since. I didn’t feel true drive and passion for Italian. But I was excited, and knowing how well I do with languages I knew this was the right choice as it would be easier for me than something literary. Little did I know that in fact it was a literary program I’d gotten into! Just Italian literature! Uh oh… my undergrad was pretty much straight language… and no, reading “Spotty va al circo” and a bit of Italo Calvino doesn’t count!

Anyway, I was excited. I had some time to think about my research interests and I had a vague idea that they resided in two areas: a kind of editorial/textual area, which involved loving words and books and language structure; and the other is about migration and cultural identity, how we come to know where we belong and find peace with our culture. So two totally different areas. My main goal through this program is to nail down exactly what my research interests are and specialise in one area. Not as easy as it sounds for an all-rounder lazy person like me.

When I finally worked out how to enrol in courses and that I’d be doing six of them (what?!?!), I found there wasn’t a big pool to choose from. I had to choose one particular introductory course for book history, then what was described as a “pedagogical” compulsory course for Italian. The other four courses were up to me, although there was only five to choose from. I opted out of studying Pirandello, given I’d never heard of him before and the prospect of having to read an entire book in Italian freaked me out. So I ended up enrolling in one about film and perceptions of China and Italy from both camps, one about something I’d never heard of before but that I got extremely excited about (philology), one with an extraordinarily long title that had something to do with new ways that Italian language and culture is being mixed into Canada and vice versa, and the last one was about a migratory diaspora from a particular part of Italy that I’d never heard of. Very exciting but very scary given how little I knew about what I’d be doing. I felt both thrilled and terrified.

Another stunning Maggie Taylor illustration from Alice
 
So this is supposed to explain my research interests. Well, I’m halfway through the first part of the program now, and I can safely say that my interests still lie in those two areas but I think I’m leaning more towards the migrant diaspora stuff. And not necessarily Italian. I’m finding the textual stuff interesting but there is also a lot of boring stuff that seems like much ado about nothing sometimes, whereas the cultural identity stuff feels like me, I want to know more, and my personal connection to and experience with these issues means it is somewhat cathartic for me to study this stuff. There is purpose there. I absolutely adore the philology, it’s amazing, but it feels, I don’t know, kind of abstract. Like it’s great but it doesn’t relate to me enough. Gee, that sounds so self-indulgent! Oh well.

I think I want to tell stories, those of people I know, myself, but also others. I want to create connections with culture and investigate the concept of home and belonging. It’s something I’ve been looking for in my life and I daresay there are many others in the same situation with less capacity for or interest in finding the answers. So that’s where I’m at. The density of information that I’m absorbing, the sheer volume of it, is surely going to mean I’ll be clear on exactly what I want to do after this, whether it’s a PhD or something else.

The right path

How do you know when you’re on the ‘right’ path? I feel like I used to know, before I got distracted by life. It’s like, in my teenage years and 20s I used to have huge amounts of time to ponder and think over things. Too much time really. An ex-boyfriend (who, when he was my boyfriend, wouldn’t commit enough to my liking and I desperately wanted him to buy me some jewellery to symbolise our commitment) once bought me a birthday present, I think when I was about 22. It was a silver ID bracelet and he’d had it engraved. On the front it had my name and on the back was “No Thinking Zone”. I think we’d been dating a year or so and he wasn’t really intellectually the right person for me but he easily saw my issue back then. I was thinking too much, going over every little thing, obsessing.

Oh if only I had the time to obsess now! Something happened, I think, around the time that first serious relationship started to break down, and life started to become full. I resisted, of course, and it was only because that boyfriend announced he was leaving for a stint in London that I pig-headedly pushed my way forward and ended up leaving for my own London adventure a few months before him. I resisted it all the way, was convinced I would be there for about six months, and I wasn’t going there to party it up like all the other antipodeans. Oh no, I was just going for, um, the experience, whatever that was… And I’d be back in six months anyway. I didn’t need to let my hair down and be stupid on the other side of the world to find out who I was. I was going to fix my relationship, get married, and settle down in Canberra. Or Melbourne. That was me eight years ago. I would sit and think things over, imagine myself in various scenarios, get a feeling, and know the right path. I don’t think that’s what I did with my decision to go to London, although I know for certain it was the right choice. I became a completely different person, a much better person, after living in London. And I met Mr Chewbacca, which is one of the best things that could have happened to me.

With my decision to step into a new life in London, I forfeited this process of assessing my future plans. I began to be spontaneous, and ended up doing a lot of things I would never have considered previously as a result. Some things I can’t say I’m particularly proud of, and I don’t know how positively they contributed to who I am now, but I’m here to tell the tale (not in a public forum though!) and I don’t regret anything. I do miss that clarity, however, those moments of contemplation which allowed me to see the right path. I haven’t got the time now, to sit and think and plan, and so much has happened, life and circumstances have descended upon me in layer upon layer of possible deviations from the right path so that there is now no going back. I can’t sort back through each layer, meticulously choosing my path at every turn. Too much has happened.

So now I am on the path I’m on. I’m here, in Canada, a country I never even envisaged visiting let alone living in, and I’m doing an MA at one of the top universities in North America. As a family, we’ve taken a huge risk coming here. A risk for what? Because we didn’t know for sure if Australia was the right place for us. We couldn’t handle any more 40 degree endless summers. We wanted snow and beautiful trees and piles of leaves and traditions at the ‘right’ time of year, to be in a place that feels like it’s a little more in touch with the world. The course I’m doing is certainly leading me in the right direction and it’s fantastic to be studying again, especially with a level of maturity that allows me to apply myself fully to the material and achieve good results. But it will be ending all too soon.

Many MA programs are two years but this one is unfortunately just one year. I love this university, I am so privileged to be taught by some exceptional academics. I seriously want to do a PhD. But there’s one problem: this university is in Toronto, in the city. I don’t want to live in the city. In fact although I live 40km out of the city, that’s still too close. I can’t wait to move. But if I wanted to do further study I’d have to stay close enough to commute.

I got some clarity around what we might do next yesterday and I know what our options are in terms of staying on in Canada once I’ve graduated next year in June. Unfortunately, none of those options is clearly the right one. We haven’t been here long enough to decide whether to go back home or stay on permanently, another year testing things out at least seems the right thing, but that’s not an easy thing to do. These decisions are depressing me! I wish it wasn’t so complicated, and so much about money!

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I listen to my Aussie music, stuff I never listened to when I was at home, and I actually miss home, I miss it for the first time since London. I don’t believe in regrets, they are a waste of time, everything happens exactly as it should. But there are so many things that, if I’d just thought at the time with some clarity, taken a few moments to sit and really make the decisions without rushing, I’d have gone a different way and things would be better. At least that’s what I tell myself. I’ll never know, there’s no such thing as Sliding Doors. Right now, we’ve got some serious thinking to do and big decisions loom yet again. Wasn’t it meant to be easier than this? Didn’t I plan to settle down and enjoy simple family life when I left London?

23 days

It’s really coming to the pointy end now. We’re really doing this. Selling all our stuff. Even our beloved car! Oh Boadicea, we will miss you!

Some good news though, we have a house in Canada! Finally we were accepted to rent a decent three bedroom townhouse type place backing onto a ravine, as they call it. I picture this giant chasm ala Grand Canyon but in reality I know it’s probably what we’d call a gully.

New terminology:
– splash pad: children’s water play park
– den: kind of a study type area in your house
– broadloom: carpet
– real estate broker: someone who goes out of their way to help you find even a rental as they get paid a commission and not by you.
– GO: the train system
– TO: Toronto

We are still feeling quite nervous about how this will all work out and it doesn’t help that so many things seem to take ages and lots of effort. It’s certainly not just falling into place easily. That’s making it even more daunting as throughout my life I’ve relied on things falling into place as a sign that I’m on the right path. This Canada thing is proving hard work at every turn! It’s kind of like a test to demonstrate that we really do want to do this.

Coming to a friend’s place today that I’d never seen before I found myself smiling as a twinge of excitement rose within me. The house was lovely and big and open with enough play space that didn’t have to encroach upon the living space. A real home. That’s what we’ll have, I thought. So exciting. It’s not perfect but it’s closer to what I want.

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Paintings at CERES, one of my regular Melbourne haunts for playgroup

I’m feeling a little sad about leaving Melbourne. It really is the best city in Australia. I say that having never been to Perth or Darwin or Alice Springs. But it beats Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane. That’s just from my perspective of course, you certainly can’t say one place is definitely better than another overall. It’s all relative to what suits those living in the place. Most people hate Melbourne weather and not because it’s “the rainy city” as I knew it growing up but because of the four seasons in one day. And I must admit, it’s really annoying to have to adjust your outfit to prepare for any weather throughout a single day. In terms of life and culture, it’s the best. It also has great food places and plenty to do, even with limited funds. The cost of living is high but no higher than any other large Australian city. I would come back to Melbourne if I had to return to Australia.

It’s funny, everyone immediately mentions how cold it will be in Canada as soon as we tell them we’re going. Usually it’s people who’ve never been to Canada too. But they are more shocked when we explain we’re looking forward to the cold, that it’s one of the reasons we want to go. At first I dismissed these kinds of concerns completely, then I went through the “smile and nod” phase, but in the last few weeks I’m beginning to wonder just how much we’ve romanticised the snow. Sure, it’s great if you like the cold and you get rugged up and have fun skiing or whatever. But then you go back to your warm house/ski lodge and drink hot chocolate/mulled wine and there’s an open fire and lots of yummy food and you think maybe I’ll just read or watch a movie and then go skiing again tomorrow. That’s not what it’ll be like on a daily basis. I don’t even know how to dress for minus 20 with a wind chill factor of minus 40! I need snow boots.

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Everything is awesome! This is our mantra!

So, the car is up for sale and we’re slowly offloading all our furniture and electrical, except for our second hand bookshelf which holds so much sentimental value with the kids’ height measurements marked on the sides. Oh, and we’re taking an old CD player Andrew bought when in Canada 13 years ago. It has a tape player on it and it’s only right that it goes “home”. We have to be ruthless with our stuff as the size of the container we can afford is the same size as our dining table, so not big! I’m kind of worried about what will happen if our stuff doesn’t fit as we won’t really know until it’s being packed. Allied Pickfords are doing it all, even the packing, which is a massive relief as there’s no way we could do it ourselves with the kids constantly underfoot and wanting to help. Dude keeps grabbing random toys he’s playing with and announcing he’s packing them.

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All the books get pulled off the shelf while mummy is distracted with moving stuff...

Little Thumper has no idea what’s going on, just that there are some cool boxes to explore and the Dude is handling it really well. He’s been through a couple of interstate moves already so I guess he has an idea of what to expect. It’s really hard selling his furniture from his bedroom though. I thought he’d freak when I took everything off his shelves but he was amazing and didn’t seem concerned. He knows about Canada (he only recently stopped calling it Can-da-da) and recognises the maple leaf already. I’m hoping that, as he’s a bit older now at four and a bit, he won’t pine for home as he didn’t when we came to Melbourne. He was about two and three quarters and he was a bit concerned about the truck taking our things but mainly excited. The excitement lasted a few hours into the eight hour drive from Canberra to Melbourne but soon he was asking to “go home” every little while. We couldn’t even reassure him that we were going to our new house as we didn’t have one and were set to stay with old friends of mine from years ago. Anyway he settled in there quickly and then didn’t want to leave two weeks later when we needed to move into our rental place.

So, selling furniture etc – check. Finding place to rent – check. Enrolling in my uni courses and discovering that I’m actually doing a kind of Italian literature degree – check (phew!) Being really scared and excited at the same time – double check! This better be worth it!

What is home? (Part 2)

The second part of my “how we decided to go to Canada” story. Following on from part 1.
So I broached the subject of applying to do something in Italian and I can’t remember what Mr Chewbacca said but it was probably along the lines of: “Didn’t I already tell you that? You should be doing some kind of language shit! Get it done, woman!” I am, as most who know me will agree, not spontaneous, and I need time to adjust. So I sat on it for a bit, withstood regular hassling by Mr C to email my ex professors to seek references, and we moved to Melbourne in January 2014.

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The exhibition building opposite the Melbourne Museum

Soon after that I finally began to look up what my options might be for an MA somehow incorporating Italian but also with something to do with creative writing or literature. I knew already that I couldn’t apply to somewhere like the University of Toronto as their creative writing program was insanely competitive but I noticed their Italian Studies program was actually pretty awesome and I could apply. So that was the first application, MA Italian Studies. My ex professors both immediately agreed to be my referees despite my not having been in touch with them since 2001 and I wrote up some convoluted statement of intent about wanting to research the formation of cultural identity and the part of language in that or something like that. I thought I’d be very unlikely to get into a program at Canada’s most prestigious university.

Secretly I still hoped I’d somehow get into creative writing. I started reading about studying creative writing and being a writer and I had so many ideas for what to write about. Typically, I didn’t get to write much down. But nevertheless I became motivated to apply to some other unis. Of course in my typically diplomatic way I didn’t confront Mr C about my desire to write, especially as I knew he was probably sick of hearing me talk about it and not do it. Instead, I suggested I apply to some other unis in case I don’t get into Toronto. He had no idea I was applying to creative writing rather than language programs. Guelph had a creative writing program and it relied on student portfolios to get in. Both Western Ontario and Calgary also had some appealing programs – English and Comparative Lit I think – and I found myself doing four separate applications. I casually asked my Italian professors to be my referees for these three other programs with nothing to do with Italian and they agreed.

There was a period of time where I just didn’t go out for one day on weekends. Mr C would take Dude swimming or something and I’d “do applications”. To be honest, this sometimes meant putting together the perfect YouTube play list, showering and making coffee for two hours and then quickly doing something for the last half hour before the boys came home. Ah, spare time, I’ve now forgotten what that’s like. I was halfway through my pregnancy with little Thumper by then and I was relishing the last months with no child distractions.

I did gather some writing and submit it but I shudder to think what the universities I sent it to thought. They must have thought I was mad, submitting all these unpolished ramblings! It’s an odd thing, about writing. I feel compelled to write, or at least spit out the thoughts and ideas that come to me, as though they have some value, yet I can never manage to actually write every day and create a whole, complete work. Mr C told me a few home truths of this sort when I hinted at applying to do creative writing and that just confurmed what I already knew: I would have to work in a completely different way to do it at this level, and I wasn’t sure I had it in me.

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It was a complete surprise to me when the first response, from the University of Toronto, was an acceptance to do the MA Italian Studies! I was shocked! Why did they think I was good enough? Did I really want this? Had my ex professors bigged me up too much? I immediately sent them each a thank you package of chocolate and coffee. This was not what I expected and I was terrified but also excited. The start date was down as mid September sometime and I still needed to get my visa approval letter. To be totally honest, I was glad I didn’t have to choose although slightly disillusioned when the next two letters – from Guelph and Western – were rejections. “After careful consideration, we regret to inform you…” Surely I had some literary talent? But English marks barely over 70 and crappy, stream-of-consciousness writing don’t get you into a good course. The fact is, I looked better on paper in my Italian Studies with the majority of my marks High Distinctions, a previous scholarship to study in Italy and great references.

Now came the hard part: coming to terms with actually going to Canada. Moving across the other side of the world to a country I’ve never visited. I’ve never even been to North America! I know next to nothing about Canada, unless you count what I learnt from watching Degrassi Junior High repeats. (“Everybody wants something, they’ll never give up!”)
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We knew we’d need to be there in plenty of time to get settled before school began, so we thought we’d aim for July. By the time we scraped together all the silly paperwork it was March when we submitted our visa applications via the least user-friendly system ever. No number or even email enquiry line to contact about getting our applications right, and no way of knowing when the letters would be sent. We held off booking our flights on advice from some online forums we joined, as obviously anything could go wrong. But when no visa was granted by May, we just booked.
It was a risk, yes, but the flight cost would be big if we waited.

It was the absolute worst, waiting for the go ahead from Canadian immigration. They asked for some further info which we provided within a few days but it turned out that the time frame they’d given within which to provide the info was also the time frame they adhered to in giving preapproval. In other words, they asked us to provide further info by 15th June and didn’t touch our application again until that date even though we provided the info in late May. Given we’d booked to fly out on 15th July, we realised we were cutting it too fine to be ready to leave then so we made the very costly decision to move our flights forward to 31st July. And within days the preapproval letters came through and thus began the wind down to departure. What a process, and that was just the beginning!

We were quite nervous about telling friends and family that we were going. Not only was it quite a big deal to be moving when we loved Melbourne so much but there didn’t seem to be much logic attached to our decision. I still don’t really know why we’re doing it, and we have questioned it all along and almost backed out throughout. Every evening after the kids were in bed or distracted Mr C and I would look at each other and one of us would say, “Are we really doing this?” Usually the other would be reassuring. We’d always come to the same conclusion: if we don’t do it and we stay in Melbourne and buy a house, we’d always wonder if we’d missed out, if we’d just settled for the easy option. There’s no way we’d subject our kids to a move like this when they’re older and we’ll established so it’s now or never. And frankly I can’t handle another big move. This has to work out.

I wonder if this is how my grandparents felt when they came to Australia. My dad’s parents in 1959 from London to Melbourne, and my mum’s parents in 1950 from Augsburg, Germany to Sydney. I think the urge to find our place is just strong with us. I know Mr C has always had a connection with North America and he could have ended up being American had his great great grandfather kept the family in Chicago where they migrated at the turn of the 20th century. The irony about all this is that we’re moving away from everything and everyone we know to find something that matches us. We expect to find our place somewhere completely foreign. So familiarity doesn’t equal comfort. It’s a contradiction really. Only time will tell but I hope for all our sakes that this is the last overseas move we make.

Materialism and minimalism

Drafted at the end of May this year. Two months until we flew to Canada.

So the latest thing we have to confront in our quest for a possible home in the northern hemisphere where it snows in winter is the cost of relocating our goods. To move everything across, excluding electrical appliances as the voltage differs too greatly, is simply not financially viable. We need to cull.
Now this shouldn’t be such an issue for us given we don’t have a lot of stuff as it is and the majority of what we do have was either free or cheap, but this isn’t just a matter of leaving out a few things we don’t really care about. This cull sees us leaving behind three quarters of our worldly possessions. These are things we’ve had not just since we first met but things that belonged to each of us years before, as children, even things that belonged to our parents and grandparents.
The bookshelf is the hardest piece of furniture to give up, even though we were given it free. It was blue, purple and pink and missing a shelf but we recognised it as a solid piece of furniture with style and we sanded it down, bought a new shelf, and painted it a chalky, off-white gloss. It wasn’t long before our then-toddler smashed the rocking chair into its base on many occasions and chipped off bits of paint. But we stood him against its side every six months and marked his height and the date with a felt tip pen. It was to be a portable height chart. When our daughter arrived we marked her length at birth on the other side. It was almost as good as owning our own family home and marking heights on a doorframe. But now, will even the bookshelf need to find a new home? And the books it holds?
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Today I chucked out some books I truly don’t like or want but it was just a handful. In truth, I love our collection of books, from Mr Chewbacca’s extensive Ian Ranking collection and the thick one about South African history that he assures me he’s actually read to all those Steiner ones ill probably never read and old favourites like Atonement or the Anthony Keidis autobiography or the Star Wars almanac. I’m struggling to come to terms with the possibility of leaving them behind to pursue an avenue that may actually prove wrong.
Everything is riding on this. It has to be right. But I’ve never felt so uncertain.