I tend to make decisions with my heart, not my head.
This doesn’t always serve me well.
Once, when apartment-hunting in Sydney, I stumbled across a warehouse where I would be one of ten artistic types. A creative dream come true, I thought. I paid my deposit on the spot. A few days later, when I arrived with a truck jam-packed with my life’s belongings, the truth was laid bare. In my mind, I had conjured up a picture of late-night singing sessions and a place for me to write a book surrounded by bohemian souls. But on arrival, I realised this slightly damp warehouse, littered with junk, was probably going to be a soul-suck. And how could I write a book when, as my landlord quickly pointed out, my new room didn’t have light-fittings or powerpoints?
Almost nine months later, I made another decision lead by my heart: to leave my life in Sydney behind and move to Montreal for a year, then to London for a few years after that. Do you think I made this decision after watching a ground-breaking Tony Robbins talk or after a series of long, pivotal conversations with family? Oh, hell no. The a-ha moment came to me while riding the bus home one Tuesday after work, just hours after a pigeon flew into my head. (Let it be known that while I’m unusually intimidated by birds, said pigeon did not drive me out of Australia. This is pure and utter coincidence; you can be sure of it.)
Within a few weeks, I had booked my tickets, secured the appropriate visas, and given notice at work. Never mind that I was only 21. Never mind that I didn’t have any money saved. I would figure it out. In the oft-quoted words of Jack Kerouac, I had “nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Or so I dreamed.
But here’s what was actually ahead of me.
I learned to adapt quickly.
In the movie Sabrina, Audrey Hepburn says, “Paris is always a good idea.” Paris might be, but this writer quickly discovered Montreal wasn’t. I had fallen in love with the city a few years earlier: the streets, my Parisian-esque hotel balcony, the jazz festival, Tam Tams in the park. I still remember what I ate. (Felafels, Indian curry, ice-cream.) What I had failed to remember, though, was that everyone in Montreal speaks French. On arrival, I moved into an apartment I found on Craigslist. My new roommate cautioned me that it would be hard to find a job if I wasn’t bilingual. A few days later, my heart sank: she was right. This wasn’t going to work. I left Montreal a year early and rebooked my flights. Fast forward to London.
I realised I could be brave.
I arrived in London on a Sunday at 9am. By midday, I had narrowly avoided being robbed. You may be surprised to hear it, but I’m actually more scared of being robbed than I am of low-flying pigeons. So, colour me shocked when I found myself standing on a London street in broad daylight, shouting down my would-be robber and demanding he return my purse. In one final act of defiance, he threw it at my feet. It was then I realised I could be brave in a crisis, but not necessarily sensible or shrewd.
I sometimes wanted to go home.
About six weeks after I arrived in London, the 7/7 London bombings happened. Without going into detail, when I finally emerged from King’s Cross St. Pancras station that morning, I saw things I will never forget. Riding the tube the next morning was a daunting proposition, but it seemed to me I needed to adopt the famous British attitude and “keep calm and carry on.” So, I did. Unfortunately, Britain is also renowned for its scaremongering tabloids and their sensational headlines. In the weeks after, there were plenty of moments where I wondered if I was safe in London. Should I just call time on my adventure and head home? After Montreal, though, I didn’t want to give in again. I didn’t want to give up. Looking back, I’m so glad I stayed.
I taught myself to hang out alone.
Riddle me this. How was it possible that I could journey solo across the world to a foreign city, but I couldn’t eat alone at a restaurant? I cringed at the very thought. Luckily, a ravioli craving got the best of me. I had only been in London a few weeks, and my temporary digs didn’t have a kitchen. So, to satiate my craving, I had to venture to an Italian restaurant. Now, this is back before iPhones, so I had nothing to feign interest in. Nothing that would make me look busy. Nothing but my plate of ravioli. But sometimes that’s all it takes. I made it through my meal, and slowly but surely, the Ravioli Method helped me reprogram my brain. I didn’t just learn to be alone; I discovered I could enjoy being alone just as much as I enjoy being with friends.
I realised that I don’t always know where home is – until I do.
After two years in London, I moved to America, where I would spend four years. On visits back to Australia, a strange thing occurs to me: I don’t feel at home, anywhere. I stand in the taxi line at Sydney airport on one visit, surrounded by tourists, and yet the city feels as unfamiliar to me as I’m sure it does to them. But England didn’t feel like home, and America doesn’t either. When I look back now, I think of myself, and I see a character not unlike Scarlett Johansson’s Charlotte in Lost in Translation, wandering the streets of a foreign city, disconnected. There I am, in London, in New York, in Sydney – a foreigner. (And sadly, Bill Murray does not show up to do karaoke with me.) But now, a few years after I tapped my red heels together and returned to Australia for good, I finally feel at home. I don’t know what it says about my time overseas, but I know what it means about Australia.
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