2014/15

2014 felt like a year of waiting for me. Maybe waiting isn’t the right word. A year of rest, perhaps. But not simply rest, more the relaxation between efforts. The moment of sitting down, stretching out legs and breathing deep, of letting muscles slacken and body sag, before slapping knees and standing to tackle the next job. 2014 was a year of repose.

But despite the sense of respite the year has left me with, things happened in 2014. The biggest and brightest that springs to mind was my trip through the United States. It was a trip that took me away from the comforts of home and family, and opened me up to new friendships and experiences. It wasn’t challenging in the way hiking up a mountain might be, or backpacking through a foreign country, instead it tested this introvert’s ability to participate and get involved without the safety net of heading home at the end of the night. I deliberately placed myself in a situation that didn’t include my normal supports in an effort to strengthen my rarely flexed social muscles.

The trip involved putting forty-two adults ranging between twenty-one and thirty-seven on a bus together, and driving that bus from one side of North America to the other. Not the usual past time of an introvert.

It took a while for me to ease into it, like lowering into a hot bath, my rigid and tense body sinking in small piece by small piece until, submerged and immersed, I relaxed. And a good thing I did too. Away from the stress and routine of work, I rediscovered the joy of impulsivity and spontaneity. I didn’t have to plan for things, to go to bed at certain times in order to be up at certain times, parceling my alertness to ensure I made it through the work day. I didn’t have to squeeze activities around an eight-hour shift, staggering to these events with the dregs of energy left to me.

Activities became my full-time job. Speaking to new people, sharing meals and experiences and drinks, was the sole expenditure of my vigour. Seeing new things, new environments, new communities, having new thoughts, was now the purpose of my day. And with that new purpose came new drive. I was surviving off five hours sleep at best each night and feeling more energetic than I ever had.

And by the time the trip wound to an end I knew this was what I’d been waiting for. This, this feeling, experience, frame of mind, was what I’d been inching towards the whole year without realising it. I was a hibernating bear sensing the first rays of spring, and that new season was kick starting my sluggish arteries. I decided I needed more of it; I was done hibernating.

 

Since before even leaving school, I knew what I had to do. I knew I had to be realistic, that once I left this complacent nest of learning and days dictated by ringing bells, I had to work towards supporting myself. I took two years to obtain a Diploma of Writing, an indulgence for myself I completed while working thirty-six hour weeks at Coles, but I knew in the real world people had to work, so I walked out of one tertiary building and straight into another, and began studying to become a nurse. Nursing meant job security.

I completed my three years of university, slogging through the trials of clinical placements, hours of lectures, and headache-inducing exams, without really giving any of it much consideration. I was being realistic, and on the right path. I completed the course, swapped the title of student for nurse, and started working. A lot of graduates entered the workforce doing only eight shifts a fortnight, an easing-in process. This I also didn’t give much thought to: I’d be working full-time. I knew this was what an adult did, had seen my father work endless hours, often weekends as well, and knew this was the lot of a grown-up. Of a provider. So I commenced full-time employment on forty-five hours a week.

I came out the other end of my graduate year almost burnt out, a withered black match with only a millimetre of unburnt wood left to me, pinched between shaking fingertips. I had gritted my teeth and clung to the resolution of adult work-ethic, and it had kicked my arse. I was ready to leave nursing — but not full-time employment, of course.

I found a job as a medical writer and worked in that position for three months until contracts dried up and I found myself unemployed. This felt very wrong to me. I was twenty-four and not working. This was not being very realistic. I found work as a district nurse, and discovered, much to my pleasure, that it was work I enjoyed. I was doing a forty-hour workweek again, and confident I was back on track.

I continued down the responsibility path and purchased a house with my girlfriend, and after a couple of years, garnered a promotion. My girlfriend and I split, but I bought her out of the house, my sense of adult responsibilities serving me well in still being able to make repayments. I was doing it, I was an adult, working full-time with a property to my name and succeeding in my job. And it wasn’t until this point, until I reached this peak of being a provider, this adulthood nirvana that I’d been slogging towards since leaving school, that I stopped to look around and question what the fuck I was doing.

Because I had overlooked a rather pertinent point. I had modelled my work ethic on a man who was providing for a family. A man who headed into work each day knowing he did so to feed and clothe his four children. I didn’t have four children. The only dependents I had were a lemon and lime tree that survived despite my months of neglect (Side note: Dad repositioned them to a sunnier location and probably saved their lives. You can see why he was an influential role model).

I had accepted the inevitable role of provider and the responsibilities that went with it without ever questioning if this was what I needed to do to survive. If, in fact, there were other patterns to self-sustainment, a plethora of varying patterns, that didn’t involve working forty-hour work weeks, particularly when the only one I had to provide for was myself.

This realisation opened up new avenues for me.

 

The combined insight that I was not a bear made for hibernating, nor a father providing for four, meant that the track I’d set myself on since before leaving school had played itself out. That track had given me incredible experiences and lessons, but they were lessons for a more black and white me. I was ready for a new path.

Which is why 2015 won’t be another year of repose, but a year of exploration. I have already moved out of my house and back into the comforting embrace of my previous residence in Brunswick West, and am once again enjoying the company of my brother and his girlfriend. But this is only a temporary lay-over. In March, I intend to fly to the United Kingdom which I will make my new home for at least twelve months. I will work, because I haven’t changed so much as to disregard the idea of a responsible income completely, but only casually, as a district nurse in Scotland, and later in London. My primary purpose will be to see. To experience. To explore. To engage. To discover. To act.

2014 was good for me in both the rest and insights it offered, but now it’s time to slap my knees, stand, and tackle the next adventure.

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2013/14

The year has wound out in its usual fashion and we all remarked on the speed with which it passed, despite the fact that time dripped on at the pace it always has. It’s us that have sped up. We’ve upgraded from the laconic endless days of childhood when a day was as long as we needed it to be, and we didn’t waste time thinking about its ending. When we didn’t have to parcel the hours to ensure the to-do list was completed before the sun finished its arc. Time moved differently because every moment was then-and-there and this-is-happening, and not what-next or yet-to-be-done. Now we are frantic in our awareness of time passing and we fill it with everything so we don’t miss out on anything. The blatant irony is the what-next attitude stops us savouring the everything we have packed into our day. Maybe if we did a little less and embraced the this-is-happening frame of mind we’d feel like we accomplished more.

I feel like I’m in a very different place here at the end of the year than I was at the start.  For me, 2013 was made up of periods of frenetic action with time jumping forward in rapid jolts, and stretches of lonely inaction, bubbles where time was sluggish and sloth-like. This best summarises my experience of being newly single.

The biggest change 2013 brought was the ending of my five-year relationship. It altered everything. On reflection, I’m proud with how something that was so hard and tender and painful played out. Neither I nor my girlfriend felt the need to sink to the numb-mind state of hurling insults and lashing out. We didn’t hate each other, you see, we loved each other. But we didn’t fit together. And because of that we conducted our break-up with the same love with which we had conducted our relationship.

Facing the realisation of it was horrible. We both stared down our lives to a future where the other person no longer played a vital part. Where odd thoughts and in-jokes could no longer be shared, and where unquestioned support we had come to rely on was suddenly pulled away. We hated that reality and so ignored the stalled one we were living in for as long as we could. But eventually we agreed that an uncertain future was less of a risk than a present we were no longer enjoying. And so in April of 2013 we broke up.

The last time I was single I was twenty-one. I was an adolescent university student. Nursing was a course I had just begun, and not a life-changing career I had immersed myself in. I lived in Gippsland with my parents. I thought in simpler patterns and had a very different set of priorities.

The silver side of the thunderhead that is a breakup is the inescapable self-reflection that follows. After my break-up I had time where I was alone. Time where my to-do list got done and I was left sitting in my house thinking all the thoughts I usually pushed to the edge of my brain. I thought about who I was, and more importantly, who I felt I should be. Inescapably, I looked at myself without the identifier of boyfriend, but just me, with just myself to keep happy. And I had to learn how to do that. I had to learn what made me happy, and what I wanted to do with all the time that had suddenly opened up before me. If I wanted to be selfish with that time, or spread it around to the people in my life. Without planning for it, I had choice.

I think every break-up, like every change, is the opportunity for metamorphosis. So I changed in ways I had always wanted to, but no longer had a good excuse to delay. I exercised. I read. I wrote. I created. I saw friends. I relaxed with family. And I did it all while learning how to be alone, and deal with the air pockets between these activities when I just missed having someone around who loved me.

So change happened to me in 2013, and I changed. But it wasn’t just me. In my immediate family alone, every one of them changed. My twin brother took the courageous step of tackling an entirely new profession and industry because it meant he would be doing something he was passionate about. He quit full-time work and the comfort of full-time income, and set himself up with part-time employment and the challenge of entering a new field. He has already been successful in this due to his diligence, determination, and the intelligent and hard-working way with which he approached his self-appointed task.

My parents continued their growth into the post-children world and made more of their year than I thought possible. Without question, their social calendar outstripped mine to the point where planning two weeks ahead was the safest way to ensure I saw them. They have embraced this period of their life, and, far from slowing down, have sped up.

My sister, in a similar vein to my brother, has excelled in her new profession of being a yoga teacher. She followed her passion and worked harder and with more dedication than I thought possible of one person, and has gone from strength the strength. I’ve had the pleasure of being her student and the professionalism and breadth of knowledge she displayed was inspiring.

And finally, my older brother became a father. I can’t even describe how incredible it is to write that sentence. I know in my bones that he will be an amazing dad, and can’t wait to watch as that relationship develops. It is a life-changing, family-changing event, and a joy to be a part of.

We all changed in the past twelve months, and if I wanted to I could continue to look at my extended family and friends, and find that change has affected them all. In the same way we remark on the increasing speed of a year despite its continued metronomic pace, we remark on what a big year 2013 has been despite the fact that they’re all big years. Every year contains change, but the beauty of book-ending these periods of time is in the nature of stopping, of sitting with the this-is-happening frame of mind, and appreciating all that was accomplished. Of letting go of the what-next attitude and marvelling at how we have evolved and are evolving.

So here’s to 2014, to change, and to less of the what-next and more of the this-is-happening.