2018/19

2018 was one for the books.

This appropriate phrase was first uttered by my brother as he, his fiancée, myself and my then-fiancée, sat in an AirBnB in New Zealand, sharing a drink and fervently wishing the clingy and slightly creepy owner of the place wouldn’t come down to his lower storey where we were residing and interrupt us again. At the time the statement was more of a prediction as 2018 had yet to happen, but the plans were laid out before us and all signs indicated that it would indeed be a year for the books. My brother was not wrong.

Of course, not everything went to plan.

I referenced my partner as “then-fiancée” because in the past year she transition from my fiancee to my wife. That was part of the plan. At the time of writing this we’ve been married for four months, but do not live together. Not even in the same country, in fact. That is the part that did not go to plan.

But I should start from the start.

 

The first half of 2018 continued as my previous few years had. I toiled in London, working stupid hours as a Rapid Response nurse, while Alex continued to labour away in her office job in Vienna. Between these activities we also planned a wedding, and by we, I mean Alex. I contributed where I could and all decisions were reached as a team, but due to the language barrier, and distance barrier, the lioness’s share of the work fell on Alex’s shoulders. She somehow managed to balance this weight of work and produced spectacular results, both professionally and extracurricularly, and for this I will be forever grateful. Luckily for me, I am now legally bonded to her and so have a lifetime to repay her kindness.

This routine continued up until July when two best friends came knocking and the first of those well laid plans for a year worthy to be one for the books was enacted. My twin brother, Damian, and his fiancée, Holly, had taken three months of leave to spend a chunk of time with us, attend our wedding, and cross as much of Europe as they could in the process. They started with Austria, and I took two weeks off to revel in their company while simultaneously completing a two-week intensive German language course. Because what fun time isn’t improved by completing a two-week intensive German language course.

Having my people come to a place they had only previously visited via video chat was like putting the last jigsaw puzzle piece in the picture that was my new home. Despite my continued residence in London, Alex’s apartment was my true home on this side of the planet, and having Damian and Holly physically present gave it a solidity, turning my European fantasy into reality.

They saw the sights and the city, and thankfully for me fell in love with it all as much as I had. But the best times we spent together were dinners around the dining table, movie nights, picnics by the river and drinks on the balcony. Domestic things not unique to Vienna, and therefore all the more cherishable because it wasn’t the location that made it special but the company.

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Damian and Holly ventured on into forests and mountains, and for a brief period life resumed its normal rhythms. Alex and I added the extra task of collecting various documents for my residency in Austria amongst work and wedding planning, each of us reaching out to assorted governmental bodies for an equally assorted list of paperwork. Each of us had to prove identities, incomes, and criminal histories, the latter of which we thankfully had none. We hoarded these documents like a squirrel hoards nuts, ready for the day we acquired the final piece of paperwork, the marriage certificate, and could put them all into action.

Then family descended upon Vienna. If Damian and Holly gave my new home solidity, then having my brother and his family, my parents and my cousin and his partner, and Damian and Holly back again, all together in the same four walls made it as firm as a foundation. Which only made sense, as the foundation of my life is exactly what all these people are.

Life became wedding centric and after bbqs and crafternoons, buck’s nights and venue decorating, the day came and Alex and I were saturated in love for each other and from our community of family and friends. The rain pushed away, sunlight poured down on us, and we had a ridiculously picture perfect wedding day, the kind you see in wedding magazines, roll your eyes at and mutter “as if.” Yeah, we were those people.

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After soaking up as much family time as possible, Alex and I ran away to Greece to get to know one another as husband and wife, while my family ventured off into unknown parts of Austria and then on into wider Europe. The year once again was living up to its reputation.

To add to the book-worthy status, 2018 also saw my beautiful sister, Angela, have her first child, providing me with an adorable new nephew by the name of Eli. For the first time in years, all of my immediate family was off from work, either through annual leave or maternity leave, and all of us were adventuring. Our family thread of messages became clogged with photos of some of the most stunning and dramatic parts of central and eastern Europe. I watched my sister be a mother through videos provided by her fiance, Ben, and met my cherub of a nephew this way. I saw my other nephew and niece, Ella and Harry, casually take to planes, exotic landscapes, and new languages and cultures as if it was just another Wednesday, getting on with it and smiling all the way with the adaptability of kids. My ongoing video messages with my older brother, Matt, became a lot more interesting as the backgrounds behind our heads transition from the same tired bedroom settings to Santorini beaches and old beautiful cities.

 

Eventually this exotic period had to end, and Alex and I headed back to reality, jetting from the Greek Islands to Vienna for too few days before I had to return to London. Despite our new status as man and wife, that alone didn’t give us any rights to reside together, and so I had to say goodbye to my bride. After three years of a long-distance relationship we are sadly well-practiced at these goodbyes, but doing it as a newly married couple came like a punch to the gut, and the wedding high evaporated as I sat on a plane and took off from the place I really wanted to be.

I submitted my application for residency at the Austrian embassy in London the next day, slipping in amongst the mountain of other documents the all important marriage certificate stating I belonged to Alex and she to me, and therefore it would be nice if we could be together for our mutual ownership. I was told it would be approximately three months until I got any sort of response, and so I returned home and picked up my routine of work, trying hard to pretend every day wasn’t a small torture of missing my wife and waiting for an email that would say I was allowed to be with her.

After about a month this wait was briefly paused when a letter arrived in Alex’s mailbox, but it was only to ask for even more documentation. Alex had queried with three different officials if the police check I provided needed be from the UK where I’d resided for the past three years, or from Australia, where I had resided for the previous twenty-eight years. All three officials scoffed and said they didn’t care where I had lived, only where I did live, and that a UK police check was all that was necessary, please and thank you.

As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, that letter in Alex’s mailbox stated in no uncertain terms that we had failed to provide an Australian police check, and that we needed to do so in a timeframe of eight days. Apparently they hadn’t figured that postage time alone to get the document from Australia to Austria would exceed our allotted time, not to mention the collection of yet more documents and processing time required for the Australian government to run my background check and determine I was not a criminal. Alex contacted the residency office and explained the situation, and they very reluctantly granted us a bit more time, huffing all the while as if the delay was our fault and we were lucky to be getting the extension. How generous of them.

We resubmitted and the wait began again.

Thankfully, they arduous process was interrupted by the wedding of my best friends, the aforementioned Damian and Holly. The distraction was welcomed, and I’m sure they timed their wedding purely to give us something else to think about. They’re good like that.

Alex and I boarded a plane and flew away from our distance and our problems for a time, swapping winter for summer, her home country for mine, and landed in Australia and sunshine, and the always warm company of my family.

The next three weeks saw us visiting family and friends with the speed and frenzy of speed-daters, and amongst it all we geared up for the second wedding of the season. We also had a small sewage problem that constituted of the contents of the toilet bubbling up on the soon-to-be newlywed’s front lawn, that was ultimately remedied by diggers and the loss of the toilet the day before the wedding.

Despite this small hiccup, Damian and Holly’s wedding was a thing of beauty. Once again, the clouds rolled away, literally last-minute as the groom and I eyed the dark dripping sky on our way to the park where the wedding was to be held, a pocket of sunlight opening up and drenching the clearing with sunlight so warm a groomsman had to sit down mid-ceremony to avoid fainting. The pre-ceremony whiskey, beer, and lack of water may have also contributed to his condition.

Damian and Holly’s story was said for the benefit of the crowd and they exchanged vows so honest, so loving, so real, so silly, so thoughtful and so aptly them that there was not a dry eye in the garden, the eyes of yours truly amongst them.

The party kicked off and I danced with my family, and celebrated my two best friends legally bonding themselves to one another, and drank and laughed and sang too loud and all the good things you can do when life for the moment is just about love and nothing else. In short, the wedding was kick-ass and book-worthy.

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The three weeks passed too quickly and Alex and I found ourselves morosely packing suitcases for the return home, buzzed with the high of the wedding, but sad to be leaving when we’d just gotten into the holiday rhythms. The parting was as hard as ever, and I shed tears with my family, both happy and sad for it to hurt because as least it meant I was so lucky as to have a community who loved me and whom I loved that the distance mattered so greatly.

But I am doubly lucky, and upon touchdown we were greeted but the second community in our lives and soon celebrated Christmas with the Vienna side of our widespread family.

Throughout it all, despite my best efforts, my heart still raced every time my phone pinged announcing I had a new email. Logically I had reasoned that I wouldn’t get a response about my Austrian residency until the new year, despite the fact that the eighteenth of December marked the three-month anniversary of when the application was submitted. But every email was nothing of note, and at the time of writing this no decision has yet to be reached.

 

Which brings us back to where I started. As demonstrated, my brother did indeed prophesise correctly and 2018 was undisputedly one for the books.

But, sadly, the continued dual lodging of Alex and myself also demonstrates that not everything went to plan.

I fly back to London tomorrow, on the second of January, 2019, once again saying goodbye to my wife for a period of time. I don’t know what 2019 will hold, when residency will come and Alex and I can finally start building our life together under the same roof. I’m not setting dates in mind or making plans because it hurts too much when things don’t go according to those plans. But I know however the dust settles, 2019 will contain more family, and laughter, and problems, and solutions, and Alex, and that with our widespread community we’ll do everything we can to make 2019 one for the books.

That’s all any of us can ever do with a year.

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.

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.

TWENTY-TWELVE

The ending of a year and the commencement of a new one always struck me as a strange event. A non-event. Humans determined how long it takes the earth to fully circle the sun, gave this orbit a starting point, then decided to celebrate the anniversary of this fictitious starting point. And for a long time I couldn’t figure out why we gave such an obviously invented holiday any weight.

I remember as a kid sitting on the beach and feeling an electricity as the count down began. The tension increased until the final digit fell away and everyone along the sand exploded with a tremendous “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Bracing hugs were shared, kisses given, and fireworks would launch into the air. But as those coloured lights faded quickly from the night sky and normal conversation resumed among the adults, I remember thinking, Is that it? I don’t feel any different. Why is everyone making such a big deal? And by all outward appearances nothing had changed. The new year looked and felt suspiciously like the last year.

The anti-climax of new years turned me off the event. It seemed to me a desperate excuse to party, to drink, and generally do stuff you wouldn’t normally do. Creating an excuse to celebrate is no bad thing, but new years always came away as shallow because so much hung on it. We were closing the door to the problems of last year. We were resolving to be different and better people come the new year. But those pesky problems always seemed to find their way into the new year regardless of the closed door, and the new people we were meant to be had a lot of the flaws of the old.

There was too much pressure on this invented holiday that it ultimately failed to live up to the hype.

But as I’ve moved into adulthood and garnered adult pressures and responsibilities, the value of new years has started to emerge.

The first value: An excuse to party.

This didn’t carry much weight for a child who came home and read books and watched television, and whose major concern was a three-hour shift behind a supermarket register. The excuse to party was every weekend, and the chance to unwind wasn’t essential. I was pretty unwound to begin with.

But as an adult the chance to gather with friends, to turn off the train of thoughts linked to job, career, and finances, is like an oasis in a storm. And in that oasis you feel like resolutions are a good thing, and are accomplishable. Which leads us to…

The second value: Resolve.

New years is traditionally a time to make resolutions. An opportunity to improve. As a child I found this pointless; why wait for a made up date on a made up calendar? If you want to change, change. And why there is some truth to this, there’s also truth to the fact that after working a stressful eight and a half hour shift without a lunch break, the resolution of not eating junk and exercising is almost laughable. High fat foods and doing nothing when you get home are compulsory.

New years gives you an opportunity to reflect away from the exhaustion of work on what it is you really want to be achieving. Because while financial stability is an accomplishment, it’s not always satisfying. It’s not all you want to be doing. The fugue of endless work days makes this hard to remember, but new years is a marked point in time to stop, think, and resolve yourself to the person you really want to be. It doesn’t matter if you don’t stick to the goals word for word, only that you remember what you’re doing and why, and bit by bit, work towards them. This action is usually accompanied by reflection. Which leads us to…

The third value: Reflect.

The idea that the problems of last year will magically evaporate in the face of a new year is still a stupid one. Young me got that one right. But what new years does offer is the opportunity to reflect on those problems, to weigh them against the successes of a year, and realise that you may have done better than you thought you did. It’s a moment to summarise what’s not working, to appreciate what you accomplished, and to take those wins and losses and decide what you’ll do with them from that point onwards. And there is definitely value in this.

For me, 2012 was a big one. A year may only be a fictitious span of man-made time, but mine was an eventful fictitious span of man-made time. 2012 saw my first published work, my first purchased home, my first published illustrations, my first promotion, and my first hospitalisation. Phew. And I only really appreciated this list when I stopped to reflect, calculate, and appreciate what I had accomplished in a year.

Here’s hoping it only gets better.

Happy new year everyone, and all the best for 2013.