2016, or the year I travelled

pdx-rainbow

Another year is drawing to its conclusion, and with it, comes the inevitable review of the year that was. It seems each year goes by faster than the one before it, but this year was so different.

If anyone suggested to me the path that my 2016 was going to take, I’m not sure what my reaction would have been. I smiled, I laughed, I got upset, I cried, I loved, I lost love, I had moments of unbridled joy and moments of inconsolable pain. I experienced completely new things and saw parts of the world I’d either wanted to see for years, or parts of the world that just happened to present themselves to me by chance.

The year started innocently enough at a local gay bar where I enjoyed a tacky, but hilarious drag show to ring in the new year. This new year also heralded a return to formal study for the first time in some years. I’d somehow managed to make the cut to the prestigious Masters of Writing and Publishing at RMIT University, and this brought with it many mixed emotions – I was excited, I was nervous, I felt inadequate and at times, I felt old (most of my class were much younger, not that it matters really). I was finally doing something I truly had a passion for and had made what some saw as a risky decision to do so, walking away from a senior role that paid me much more than I deserved, or needed. But I hated that job, so it was an easy decision to make.

While I’ve only completed one semester thus far, it was an incredibly positive and re-affirming experience. I was surrounded by equally passionate and talented individuals, all here for various reasons but for a common goal – to express a love of the written word, or maybe even the graphic kind. We worked on exciting projects and published books, zines and even a 10-day periodical for the Emerging Writers’ Festival. I greatly miss the people I shared these moments with and hope to be able to find the time to get back into this course in the coming years.

The Masters took a pause as a very unexpected job opportunity presented itself about half way through the year. Going back to Uni meant working part-time at a fitness centre (another passion that sadly doesn’t really pay the bills on its own), so it was fair to say that the opportunity of full-time work appealed, as did the amazing presence I was feeling from the team through the various interviews and challenges I was asked to complete. We say at my workplace that we are a family, and it truly feels that way sometimes. Maybe because we spend a lot of time together (more time than I do with my actual family, which maybe isn’t a great thing), but there’s a strong support that I’ve not felt in many other workplaces and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have met so many wonderful new friends there this year.

Travel was a theme of 2016. I was lucky enough to experience Thailand for the first time, the USA twice, and also to a country I’ve dreamed of visiting for more than 15 years – Canada. My trips to the USA took me to San Francisco twice and to Portland on the second trip. Both cities have their charms and like most cities, have their issues too. I fell in deep love with SF on my first trip there – a 6-week odyssey of discovery, mostly work-related but also of the personal and tourist kind on weekends. It just happened that some friends had already planned trips while I was there too, so it was really wonderful to see familiar faces on the opposite side of the world while I was away for an extended period (to date, my longest time spent away from Melbourne).

It surprised me how my SF love affair vanished so promptly on the second trip. The glamour I saw everywhere the first trip had become more troubling – or, maybe I just noticed all of SF’s issues this time. The great divide between the haves and have-nots is so evident there – a city seemingly thriving on the tech money machine, while simultaneously spitting out the ones left behind. The homelessness in SF is hard to comprehend. A city so friendly and welcoming in a lot of aspects, just leaves a significant group of its residents to the side of the street. Melbourne’s struggle with homelessness pales in comparison with that of SF and there’s some guilt that I play a part in that. I don’t have an answer – only a hope that it will somehow work itself out, but that hope is an ever-fading reality.

Portland (the pic above) had a very different feel. So friendly that it felt at times the residents had had lobotomies, yet, a familiar charm met me everywhere I went. Yes, it rains a lot in Portland, but if the weather is a city’s main drawback, it’s going pretty well. A welcoming, open city, with a thriving food-truck scene that mixes with great restaurants, cafes and independent stores. An easy-to-navigate downtown and central area with only a little of the big city noise. Yes, there’s homelessness there too, but for whatever reason, it didn’t seem as hopeless. Portland felt comfortable, but not in a dreary way.

Canada seemingly came out of nowhere. I had long dreamed of visiting since I was offered a chance to go study in Toronto for a semester at Uni all the way back in 2000. I regret not taking that chance, but that’s another story. I flew into Vancouver from Portland and was greeted by one of the stricter border control officers I’ve encountered (not the welcome I was expecting). Sadly, my stay in Vancouver was very brief – a few hours waiting for my flight to Montreal, and then my flight to Halifax. A city I needed to google when I first heard of it, situated in a beautiful part of the world along the Atlantic coastline of Canada. I was struck by the history and the rugged beauty of Halifax. I didn’t have any expectations – it’s hard to when you don’t really know anything about a city, but I was taken in by its charm and its friendliness (a general Canadian theme). I got to see actual snow fall from the sky for the first time and that sent me into a childish bliss – until I had to walk in it! Halifax’s food is comparable to Melbourne – no shortage of options for dining of all kinds, and the experiences I had were all wonderful – from the cafes, to the pubs and even the fine dining. My time in Halifax is personal, but I will say that I very much look forward to going back there if the opportunity allows – the 39-hour return flight was well worth the experience there.

It has to be said that 2016 has been a year of upheaval. Personal and career challenges all colliding, the ending of a long-term relationship and moving home for the first time in six years bringing a general sense of unease. It’s probably no surprise that I find myself feeling the way I do. I don’t fit in my current circumstances, but I don’t see a way out. I continue to search for the elusive element that will give my life a higher purpose – one that is greater than just the day-to-day being in my own sphere and one that reaches out to people who aren’t as fortunate as I am. I truly believe that’s my calling (in a non-religious way of course) and it will present itself to me one day – I just hope it’s soon. It’s not a nice feeling when you don’t fit. I just want to be happy again.

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