Soundtracks

Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.

Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.

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That time we found our place in the world

So, it’s official: we’re going home! Yes, that’s right, after… what is it, seven months? I don’t know, something like that… seven months in Canada, we have decided we actually belong in Melbourne. So we’re going home. It’s not been an easy decision, not at all, and although it’s completely thrilling to think we are going home, it’s also somewhat scary. And there’s that feeling of… I don’t know, disappointment? No, that’s not the right word. Not regret either. I don’t do regret, it’s a waste of time. But… there’s this feeling that we should have known. But you know, the longer I stumble along through life, the more I become aware that some lessons can only be learnt the “hard” way. That is, there was only one way we were going to come to the realisation that we belong where we were, and that was by going away.

Freshly fallen snow while I wait for the bus
Freshly fallen snow while I wait for the bus

It’s been a pretty amazing journey in a lot of ways. Well, I can really only speak for myself here, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this MA here at U of T. It’s taught me so much, and that’s not even including the stuff I’m actually meant to learn for the program itself! The more I do, the more I put myself out there, challenge myself, the more chances I take, the more I realise I have a right to do this too. Just because these people here are doing PhDs or studying at this amazing, prestigious university doesn’t make them any more special or talented than me. And no, it’s not a competition. But I think when you’re sitting at home in some backwater like Canberra you develop a little bit of an inferiority complex. Or rather, you think that all those people studying at Harvard or famous people in Hollywood or people who work for The Economist in London or some top PR guru at some swanky firm in Sydney have something you’ll never have. And that’s just not true. You can absolutely be up at the level of anyone else. There is no one “better” than you. Just because you’re studying photography at TAFE doesn’t mean you haven’t got the same potential as someone doing a PhD in English Lit at Oxford. It’s all perception and self-belief.

Anyway, It’s time to go home to Melbourne. I still have about six weeks of study left (what?! Is that it?!!) and then graduation in May plus the Dude will see out the school year up until the end of June. We’ve booked to fly out at the end of July and now I’m gathering quotes from moving companies. We will have some rest time at my mum’s before heading back down to lovely Melbourne and reconstructing a life there. Hopefully we can both get work fairly soon and a mortgage will be on the horizon. I balk slightly at the amount of work this is going to take, but my heart is warmed at the thought of finally setting up home somewhere. To think I was complaining about not being settled some eight years ago when Mr Chewbacca and I met!

I'm not sure if squirrels are supposed to hibernate but they seem to be hanging around throughout winter this year. These ones are in Queen's Park.
I’m not sure if squirrels are supposed to hibernate but they seem to be hanging around throughout winter this year. These ones are in Queen’s Park.

Some people might say this is history repeating itself. My British grandparents came to Melbourne as Ten Pound Poms in 1959. The decision to leave London was, I think, partly motivated by my grandfather who had travelled a lot during his time in the army and knew there was more out there than doing what ten generations of his family had done before him working at the docks in London. My grandmother was very much attached to familiarity and found it hard to leave her home. She didn’t feel safe a lot in her life and London gave her a feeling of safety which she left when she agreed to go to Australia. So they went. And it was hard, I think. But granddad got work and things were going well enough. Then he had an accident at work where two fingers were severed. It was serious enough to land him in hospital for a time and the family without an income. I’m pretty sure my grandmother was either heavily pregnant or had just given birth to my uncle at the time. My dad, who was about 12 or 13 when his brother was born, was the eldest. The story goes that he ended up on some kind of game show that donates money to families in need and apparently this helped the family get by while granddad was recovering. In the end, the accident was the best thing that could have happened as granddad received an insurance payout and for the first time ever the family had the opportunity to put a deposit on a property. While waiting for the payout to be awarded, another spanner brought the whole thing to a grinding halt: they had word from London that my granddad’s mother was ill and may not last long. With the insurance money through, the family actually had the means to return home for her funeral. But that would preclude any home-buying in Melbourne. Granddad, typically, left the family’s next move in the hands of fate. He decreed that if the property purchase was approved by the following Monday, they’d stay. If not, they’d return. And as fate would have it, they ended up returning. It was a mistake, of course. Well, nothing is a mistake. But returning to the UK was like a step backward and wasn’t really good for anyone. There’s a lot more to the story, lots I don’t know and probably some bits I got wrong, but I wanted to share this to illustrate why what’s happening for me and my family now is something of a repetition. This time, however, this time we’ve done it right. We are making the right decision. I know, because I have no doubts whatsoever about it.

As I write this, the snow is falling outside – probably the last snowfall of the season before spring descends and humidity returns with a vengeance. It is probably as close to a perfect winter’s day as you can get, exactly what we came for. It’s been generally a disappointing winter for the most part, quite mild and so erratic, although I suspect the latter is normal. I will definitely miss the snow when it goes. But we will go to the snow back home and take the Dude and Thumper skating at the only rink in Melbourne.

So it’s all happening, the wheels are in motion. There’s a lot more to write about this, in the context of why we decided to come to Canada in the first place. There are a few unanswered questions. I’ll get back to you later on those. While there is a slight feeling of disappointment that our little experiment didn’t quite work out, there’s a much stronger feeling of happiness that this is exactly where we need to be, right now. We are going home and we are satisfied that it’s our home. No more searching and wondering and restlessness. We’re for Melbourne.

Money, cars, houses, decisions

Reading a blog recently detailing the life of a man who migrated to Australia with $7 in his pocket and within a few years had bought a house, car, and established a successful career, I began thinking about nature versus nurture when it comes to practicalities, choices and material successes in life. It struck me that this story illustrated perfectly why my belief that my capacity to plan and organise is entirely inherited is actually total rubbish. I realised that being successful, making sound choices and managing finances sensibly is a skill, a lifestyle choice in fact. What is interesting about this story is that this man adopted a child from a very poor orphanage in a third world country who in turn became very successful, investing in property at a young age and running a number of businesses. So many of the choices the son made were based on parental advice and parental demonstration of good planning and hard work. Many of the qualities I would consider to be inherited genetically were actually passed on by example to the adopted son.

It’s hard not to feel envious of the kind of success this family enjoys. But I know that any envy is counterproductive and a waste of time. These people do not envy. They get on with being successful. That is one of the secrets of their success, not wasting time and energy comparing themselves with those they compete with.

For most of my life, I’ve had the distinct impression that my lack of success financially and my inability to plan and organise is genetic. I think this belief was cemented by family members, with their actions and words. There was always an undertone of lack of control over circumstances, a helplessness and despair that infiltrated my life growing up. Ambition was encouraged (the sky’s the limit, you are talented and capable) but ultimately there was no demonstration or guidance around the practical realities of achieving goals. Something was disconnected along the line somewhere.

I think it must have been about 1960 when my great grandfather – my father’s father’s father – died suddenly. He was only about 60, fairly young, but not for our family. He actually had assets when he died – a bit of savings and a house. My dad was 11, the eldest of four at that stage. He related this story to me a few times but I really don’t remember all the details. Suffice it to say, the six of them – my grandparents and four kids – were driving in their very old heavy car up a steep hill. My grandparents were having an argument about the money my grandfather’s father had left him. My grandfather had it with him, a wad of cash. I dare say this probably had to do with my great grandfather keeping his money in the mattress in cash. He was apparently a communist and didn’t like banks. He’d had an experience during the first world war that instilled this believe in him.

As the argument came to a head, my grandfather got frustrated and stopped the car halfway up the hill, throwing the pile of money up into the air and turning his back on the car to stomp off up the hill on foot. My grandmother didn’t often lose an argument, even if in the wrong. Like me.

Unbeknownst to grandad, the car’s handbrake wasn’t on properly and the heavy, iron chassis began to roll backwards down the hill. My grandmother would have been terrified as she never learnt to drive and was always stopping her children from doing anything that might result in an accident. Grandad heard screams and turned to see the car rolling down the hill so he began sprinting back down after it. There was no way he could catch up. My dad, having been around cars and mechanics fairly often, knew what to do. He jumped into the driver’s seat and applied the brake. All were saved.

This is so typical of my family, at least on my dad’s side. We end up in these ridiculous situations and they’re always to do with cars and money! Everyone used to talk about how cursed we all were when it came to cars. What it illustrates to me, however, is this constant lack of control over life. The car running down the hill is symbolic of this. I used to have nightmares as a child of being in a car rolling down a hill, out of control. It wasn’t the fear of crashing that was most frightening, it was that sense of helplessness.

I once heard someone say it is all about attitude. Attitude to life, to success, to finances, to relationships, to yourself. What what is attitude, exactly? Is it a choice? Those that have a bad one would probably say it isn’t. But I believe it is. And I believe making the choice about one’s attitude is easier if you have the results of maintaining a positive, confident attitude demonstrated to you growing up. I don’t think I had this, and I think it did me much damage. But I will do all I can to choose a positive attitude for the sake of my son, to make good choices. Everyone takes risks in life, but there’s a massive difference between a risk based on carelessness and disregard and one based on respect for yourself and those around you. I’m choosing the latter.