Home is wherever I’m with you

We are coming to the end of our Canadian  adventure and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I kind of wish we’d have had the opportunity (or been coerced) to stay longer, another year. I wonder what may have happened had I been accepted at somewhere like Calgary instead, where the course was two years. I feel as if we’d stay in Canada for good if we were here another year. Like we’d be too ensconced.

A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada
A little collage I made to show the way the seasons passed along the ravine near our place in Canada

One thing’s for sure: I’m not in love with Canada. I don’t have the connection to North America that Mr Chewbacca does. He wishes we were staying. I kind of understand why but I still can’t quite get over not being ‘in love’ with Canada. It’s a beautiful country, the seasons happen at the right time of year and there are proper seasons that you really look forward to. The landscape is beautiful, as are the plants and animals and all of that appeals to me far more than the Australian equivalents. Canadians are good people, nice people. Similar to the Americans, they often don’t get sarcasm, they can be conservative and overly restrained but they love their country with humility and they welcome everyone as equals. You can’t fault that aspect. Australia could really take a leaf out of Canada’s book in that respect actually. I wish we’d had the chance to visit the west coast but it just wasn’t to be. I think we will return if only to see the rest of the country.

We did do some road trips to New York and Chicago which were awesome and I’m so glad I let Mr C talk me into it. I have to be honest and say I never really wanted to come to North America. It just never had that pull for me, I wanted to go to Europe instead, a place I imagined I’d fit into. And I did, when I went. I felt that connection to the place when I lived in London. Culturally it’s quite a homely place for me. Canada isn’t. But I suppose, given more time, it could be.

Anyway, it’s too late for that now, we’re off, in two weeks’ time. Almost on a daily basis someone asks me, ‘but why are you leaving?’ as if there’s no good reason. And to be honest, when I hear myself explaining the reasoning, it really doesn’t sound convincing.

“Oh, well, I came to do a masters and it was a one-year course and so I’ve just graduated and, yeah, that’s it, I’m done…”

“So what will you do with it, when you get back? What sort of work will you be looking for?”

“Oh. Well, nothing to do with my degree. I didn’t really do the degree for that. I did it so we could come to Canada really, for the experience, and because I knew I could do it. Yes, I like what I studied, I enjoyed doing it and I want to do more, but at the same time we really wanted to see whether Canada might be our forever home.”

“And it wasn’t.”

“No. I guess not.”

“Why is that?”

“Um… I… I don’t really know. I’m not even sure… Yeah. I don’t know.” <cue the awkward silence and rapid change of topic>

“So I hear this year we’re in for a big snow fall. Typical, just when we decide to go back, we’ll miss it!”

That’s pretty much how all the conversations go. Daily conversations. I find myself questioning our decision to leave all the time in my own head, but any time someone else questions it I try to justify our decision to go home. I guess I’ve just come to the conclusion that it needs to happen, that we’ll all be happier at home, and that staying here is like staying in limbo. I’m not sure if that’s right or not really, but I do feel really excited about the prospect of going home to Melbourne and starting something new, finally settling.

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.

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!

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?

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.

What is home? (Part 1)

I’ve had part of this post sitting in drafts for quite a while now, since January this year. When I hit ‘publish’, I’m making things real. I’m announcing to the world (or the one and a half people who read this blog) that yes, we are moving our family across the other side of the world. Here goes…

When I used to visit my friends in Melbourne about four or five years ago, I’d wake up in a state of pure bliss and relaxation just knowing I was here and not in smelly old Sydney. Here in Melbourne, the city I’d loved since my first visit at age 16.
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I vowed that once I was old enough I’d move there. But life happened. I finished school, went to uni, found a boyfriend, moved into a share house, got a job, a car, bought a house, broke up with my boyfriend, went overseas, came back, got married, had a baby, sold a house… and finally, the time was right. And I moved to Melbourne. And finally, finally I could make myself at home, feel settled, stop the search for home. Couldn’t I? No. It appears not.

As I mentioned previously, I don’t feel very Aussie and there’s a lot about this country that doesn’t work for me. So over the last year or two we’ve been toying with the idea of leaving Australia. The prospect scares the crap out of me, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t. But the prospect of staying in Australia is somehow more daunting.
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Let’s backtrack: about two years ago while living through yet another revolting, endless summer in the South Western suburbs of Sydney, Mr Chewbacca and I decided it was time to leave. Finally he’d come around to my way of thinking: Sydney was not for us. Not long after that, the tenants renting my house in Canberra for the past six years announced they were moving out. I had an agent go through the place and it became clear that the house was not really fit for renting out or sale without some freshening up. We decided selling was a good option as we’d never settle in Canberra and wanted to offload the house given how much work it needed. So in July 2013 we moved to Canberra for six months while we renovated and sold the house. Once that was done, we moved here to Melbourne, on Australia Day 2014.

The odd thing about all this though is that despite my desperation to move to Melbourne for so long, as soon as we made the decision to move and the wheels were in motion, we began discussions around moving away from Australia all together! When I realised just how little Australia fits us, I was so disappointed. I wished we’d come to this conclusion back in London, saved ourselves a bunch of money at least! But for some reason it didn’t work that way.
So, where to? We discussed our options at length. Staying in Australia was out: too hot, no winter, no defined seasons, southern hemisphere, cultural desert. New Zealand? No. The only thing it has going for it (for us) is breathtaking scenery and snow; we don’t identify culturally. And we still have the problem of it being in the wrong hemisphere. So back to the UK? No. That would be a step backwards. And we are used to the space now. Plus you’re not guaranteed proper winter and summer there either… Somewhere in Europe? But we don’t speak the language. Italy? Nah. I might speak the language and have a degree in it but culturally I don’t really identify. The US? I don’t think I could handle the political extremes. Plus it’s near impossible to get in as migrants. Somehow we narrowed it down to Canada. I still don’t really know how.

First we looked at what sort of migrant programs are available and discovered we don’t qualify on a skills basis. I know some people get jobs and sponsorship but that’s hard if you’re not in the know and making connections within your field. So the options were narrowed down to one really: study. I’ve been talking for years now about doing a Masters and there’s no reason why I can’t do it overseas. Why not Canada? At least if we don’t love it or it doesn’t work for some reason I’d have a Masters so would be more employable. But a Masters in what exactly? Oh dear, I think I finally need to specialise!

It has to be a creative writing MA, surely, I thought to myself in the few moments I had as we packed for our Melbourne move. But can I really do this? Do I have what it takes? Am I really cut out to be “a writer”? What if I’m total shit? Will I be laughed out of the program, told a few home truths about just how big a mountain I need to climb before my writing is good enough for a postgraduate level award? For publication? Fear of failure has caused me not to make an attempt in the past so I decided that this time I’d go for it and ignore all those little critical voices in my head. As I looked further into my options for writing masters’, I began to get excited. Some of the programs looked fantastic and I began to imagine myself as a published author, writing away in a warm study with snow outside. But then I noticed something which made my heart sink. A successful application required solid grades and great academic references, neither of which I had. My English marks were pathetic, and that’s being kind. And there’s no chance any of the tutors or lecturers would remember me after 14 years, and even if they did they wouldn’t give me a good reference as I frankly don’t deserve one. My postgrad marks weren’t much better, and that was pure creative writing. I even emailed a few faculties and asked if there was a way to get around the references, given its been so long. But they all said the same thing: apply to a program that doesn’t rely on references and grades if you haven’t got those, because ours does, deal with it. So I was at a dead end.

When I was cleaning out the shed at my old place in Canberra I came across all my notes from my uni days. I didn’t have the heart to throw out assignment after assignment with great marks and detailed comments from one of the best teachers I’ve had, my Italian teacher. I googled him, and was amazed to discover he was lecturing at a university in Melbourne! Then I looked at my academic transcript and suddenly it was a Gru moment: “Lightbulb!” My marks in Italian were good, excellent even, and given I’d received a scholarship from the Italian government I suddenly realised how good I looked on paper when it came to studying Italian. And I knew without a doubt that my Italian teacher and the departmental head would remember me and I was pretty sure they’d happily give me references.

To be continued in Part 2…

Melbourne contrasts

Over the last six months or so I’ve felt completely unemotional about Melbourne and then really sentimental about it. It’s been years since I’ve considered myself anywhere close to settling down in a place that’s really home. Melbourne was meant to be that, home.

I’d wanted to live here since my best friend and I came on the bus from Canberra at 16. It was about nine hours of stuffy cramped lurching and trying to resist using the on-board facilities for fear of passing out from the stench. We stayed at the YMCA in the city. Lord knows what the hell our parents were thinking letting us stay overnight alone in a strange city at that age. We shopped in Bourke Street mall and then spent much of the afternoon traipsing around Toorak (or was it Brighton?) trying to decipher which house might be Tommy Emmanuel’s based on a few glimpses of the driveway my friend got during an episode of Burke’s Backyard. (Gimme a home among the gum trees…) We speculated that we may well be walking past Darryl Sommers’ or Bert Newton’s place. And then we went home. Even then, 20 years ago, I knew Melbourne had something special to offer. I loved it. I wanted to move here as soon as I moved out of home when I was 18. Which didn’t happen of course. I was nearly 25 by the time I left home and by then my main focus was on my boyfriend.

Fast forward to 2009 and I was on a boat in London with a different boyfriend, a more serious one. The Tattershall Castle I think it was, one of those boats permanently moored along the Embankment with the whole thing decked out as a bar and nightclub. My boyfriend had just reluctantly agreed to move to Melbourne. I celebrated by doing shots with a new friend who happened to be from Melbourne.
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Why didn’t I just go with it? Why did I relent and say, “okay fine, no, let’s go to Sydney. You’re moving across the other side of the world for me. We’ll go where you want.” Why?!

Because of that decision, we aren’t totally happy where we live. That boyfriend and I are now married with two kids. But we can’t settle down because we don’t feel totally at home here. Why not?
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It’s strange but it comes down to climate for the most part. The older I get, the less tolerant of the heat I am. Seriously, if it never got hotter than about 27 I’d be totally happy. These summers of months of 30-something days are just not my bag. Same with Mr Chewbacca. And I want snow! Every winter! And green, proper green, not this washed out, tired, gumtree grey-brown excuse for green.
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So what has changed? I’m not totally sure but I think I have. I never felt particularly comfortable being an Australian but I’m realising more now that I don’t belong here, despite the familiarity. I completely hate this feeling of not belonging, of not having a home, but try as I might there are just so many things about this country that just don’t fit me. I think if I’d moved to Melbourne when I was 18 or in my early 20s things would have turned out very differently. I would have done my stint here and known sooner where I belong.

I also hate not being settled. I want a home for our family now. But I have to be true to myself and aim for the best. How can I build a home when I don’t feel I belong here? And when I say “here” I mean Australia.

Melbourne, I’d like to scoop you up and plonk you down somewhere in the northern hemisphere where there’s snow in winter, mild summers and deciduous trees. I want your village hubs, your great cafés and shops, your eclectic mix of people, your many forms of transport, your grid system, your amenities and opportunities and your friendly drivers. I’ll even take your beaches.