From the plane you can’t see the trees for the forests. Towns are dwarfed by the mountains. A thousand little lives worth nothing to the immensity of the world.
I’m sitting out front of this cozy Japanese restaurant in South Hobart, holding my coat tight around me. The inside is full – I just wandered in without a booking so the only option was bracing the exterior seating, at least half-shielded from the wind.
I’ve loved walking around this town just yesterday and today. We joke that Brisbane is just a big town but it’s certainly a city in comparison to here. So much of the architecture is historic, grounded, a perfect backdrop for what I need from these four nights away.
I walk past a cafe I bought a coffee from this morning. A sign on the door and inside had notified patrons that this is their last day before closing – no reason given. They’d invited people to celebrate and share one last drink. True enough, I see through the window there is merriment inside, friends and neighbours gathered around the tables. One of the staff members, an arm around her, wipes away a tear. I keep walking, but I hold that moment of bittersweet Life as I go.
In the last while I’ve been disoriented by changes, after what had been a slight diversion – after teaching at QUT for a single semester just after graduating, then taking a role on an underdog political campaign; seeing that campaign win and revolutionise this little party. Those have been growing pains for me no less than anyone else.
This has meant a 180 degree shift in career trajectories, and relegating creative work and filmmaking to a practically neglected hobby. But working in politics has at times been some of the most fulfilling and meaningful work I’ve ever done. Other times I feel like I desperately miss working towards artistic endeavours full-time.
I read the news – and sometimes I only need the summaries posted by activists on twitter. Another trans woman violently assaulted. Very recently, an older cisgender woman attacked because she was mistaken for being trans. I feel more fear for just existing now than I did half a decade ago, when I was less likely to pass, and had less self-confidence. Western conservatism has turned its ire on us more strongly than ever. How do you push through?
Sometimes, I feel like I am the most alive and somehow closest to achieving what I want out of living when I’m sitting around my dining table playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. I would usually dismiss that as just part of the feeling of enjoyment and fun. But in my position as the DM (dungeon master or game master, for the unaware), I’m often not nearly having as much fun as I plan, coordinate, try to predict a handful of outcomes and stress over non-player characters’ reactions to the situation.
It would make a lot more sense to reconceptualise it as something that fits in with what I want to do, love to do and find joy and fulfilment in — among everything else.
I’m maybe 11 or 12 years old, in the backyard and sobbing. Though I keep choking up, I manage to say what I need to say to Dad. ‘I struggle to talk to people. It hurts. I just can’t say what I want to say.’ That probably should have put me on a pathway to an autism diagnosis, I at least get hugs, love and reassurance. Some time afterwards, I feel I can’t cope with life and attempt suicide for the first time.
I think being in the cold for this holiday has been brilliant for what I’ve needed to do. In the cold I’ll walk quickly, and the movement keeps my head going. Being warm and sluggish is good for cuddling up, sleeping and recovering.
For my purposes, I need to move to reset and reenergise. To give myself the confidence to know I’m moving in the right direction. I’ve been doing as much of that back at home too, waking in the cold hours just to head to the gym before work, jogging almost every single day.
My face is flushed with shame, fear, embarrassment. After I last had a breakup I put up a lot of walls. I spent about four years just focusing on myself and hoping those walls would come down when the time was right. In the end I was surprised they did, but I fucked it all up over someone that doesn’t feel the same way. I remembered what one of my mentors says about always going for “radical honesty”. That wasn’t really meant to be about such personal matters, I don’t think, but I tried it anyway. So there I was, feeling both absolutely terrible and completely freed, all at once.
These last days I’ve put my mind to work on decoding this problem — if you thought someone like me would have made some real, proper life goals, you’d be wrong. It could be that I should have done this earlier, but winging it got me this far. There’s no point regretting that.
Here’s what I’ve come up with, as a draft at least, for some simple understanding of what I’m about and what’s actually driving me. It’s a little vague, but I think that’s good. It’s not restrictive, it’s freeing. I can do whatever the hell I want with myself – if it follows this I’m probably on the right track.
But first, I have to acknowledge this:
You are where you are and what you are because of a willpower and determination that you don’t give yourself credit for.
(How else did that scared, voiceless kid turn into the person I am today? Not on a whim. Not without great effort and sacrifice.)
I have to remember this because the same is true for the future. If I’m going to keep growing and be impressed with the changes I’ve made in the future, I have to keep up that strength and willpower. It’s not going to fall in my lap.
And so here are the goals I have set:
– To spend time using and developing a unique, original, and meaningful creative voice.
– To work for and leave a legacy for the benefit of others.
– To express competence and strive for expertise.
– To spend time learning and gaining understanding.
– To seek out and savour the moments of paradise wherever they may be found, especially in natural places.
As I look back on them again, they do seem vague but in particular the first point is essential and clarifying for me. Working on this unique, original and meaningful creative voice doesn’t specify a format for that voice. I’ll keep working on it in my writing for fun but I can do it as part of my work as well. I’ve told myself before that maybe I’ll come back to film and more creative endeavours at some point, but I’ve been desperate not to feel like I’ve been leaving it behind forever, the longer and longer it’s been. But this makes more sense. That voice is my own and I can find any number of meaningful outlets for it.
It was unintentional that the list was bookended by perhaps the two most important ones for me.
The creativity and words that I have had a drive to produce for as long as I can remember.
And the reminder to spend time seeking out and enjoying bliss even if it has nothing to do with following any other goal for myself. (I am calling this one the Alive in the Sunshine clause.)
I think I’m going to return from this time away feeling pretty okay. The real work happens every single day, if you know how to do it. I do now, a little better than I did before.
Anyway, I’d better go and pay for my ramen.