The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Tag: Thoughts (page 1 of 2)

Listening to the Universe

clancy

I’d always believed that writing was a gift bestowed only to the few who possessed the elusive talent.

But over the last few months, I’ve been looking into that a lot. And most blogs about writing urge: Practice. Discipline. Writing is something you must practice every day. Set a goal. Achieve it. I always knew I wanted to write, but I never knew how. My English and Journalism degrees were quickly discarded when nothing attractive presented itself in the post-colliegiate ‘real’ world, and writing dry news articles was more heartbreaking to my romantic sensibilities than pivoting Excel spreadsheets, which is what I ended up doing for 7 years instead. So when life threw a relatively interesting storyline to me, I used it as a source for my practice, and my discipline. Never mind that I didn’t realize it at the time.

The concept of beavering away at art never sounded very artistic to me. What true artist can’t just sit down at her canvas and conjure a masterpiece? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. What is art but practice and discipline, with the leavening agent of imagination? Every art form has its laws, which are learned before they are flouted. Every painter has to learn how to hold a brush. Every writer has to become comfortable with holding the pen.

So that’s what this blog has been for me. My flat, unleavened offering to the world. My practice, my discipline. My weekly word count, without the imagination necessary to really call it art. My attempts to capture people and places and see if I can’t bring them to life in words. Pulling apart my own emotions publicly to see what resonates.

I didn’t realize exactly what it was that I wanted until I was floating in the Andaman Sea, staring up at the wispy clouds overhead and really trying to piece together what I wanted from my future. And I thought about how much I had enjoyed writing about my travels the day before. Just the act of tapping out the words had given me a sense of bliss, writing without an agenda other than my own. And a thought floated from my subconscious into my consciousness like the wispy clouds overhead: I should write a novel. And at that moment, the previously placid water cradling me swelled, bobbing my entire body in the most pleasant way, as if the universe was excitedly egging me on. I smiled (the bobbing was really fun), and let my thoughts drift again, pushing the idea back to subconsciousness where it belonged. But ten minutes later, it floated back to the surface, and no sooner had I fixed on it again than the swell returned. It felt like I was being gently woken, like a kind voice was saying, ‘Wake up, I’m trying to tell you something important.’

So I’ve decided to listen. I have spent the past 12 months collecting places, personalities, experiences. My brain has slowly leaked out all the clutter I put into it about negotiating deals, balancing budgets, managing clients. I’ll give it the good old college try, and see if I can’t crack out a novel. I can’t promise it will be good, but I can promise that I will at least do it.

It’s frightening to put this out there and actually make myself accountable to it. Even with all my desperate raving about broken hearts and the like in years past, it’s probably the most personal thing I’ve written here. My plans. My refusal to get myself back into the ‘real world’ for a while longer, if at all.

Here’s to chasing dreams.

Writing1

Farewell Sydney

Goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

My departure is bittersweet, like the time I’ve spent with you. Drastic highs and the lowest lows. My throat caught by both beauty and despair, in merciless succession.

I’ve lost a lot while I’ve been with you, Sydney. You brought me despair-filled train rides over tin and terra cotta rooftops in the weak winter morning light. Aching homesickness alone in my beach apartment, having everything I thought I ever wanted and drowning in a sea of tears. You took the bulk of my entitlement and tore it from my white-knuckled grasp. You looked at what I thought I’d become, and stoically pushed me in the opposite direction. I flailed and I fought, and you impassively looked on through my laughter and tears and did what you were always going to do, anyway.

You’ve given me a lot too. You’ve helped me redefine success, and gave me the courage to look at things differently than I always had. You brought me dear friends and the love of my life. You introduced me to the gentlest and toughest people I have ever known, and I have spent the better part of three years trying to reconcile that paradox. You gave me sunsets unlike any I’ve ever seen, a violent hug of color embracing the dark line of the horizon. Like all the colors in world had to cling close to the dusky shape of the west, as though they couldn’t survive without that dark relief to define them.

You taught me that no color is as bright as the one that stands closest to the darkness. And you took me away from everything that came easy and thrust me toward the black. You forced me to make a stand, to say that there surely must be something beyond my wildest dreams. You didn’t let me settle, Sydney, so I won’t.

Instead I will leave my pride and my plans on your golden sandy beaches, in your aquamarine seas, mixed in with the red dust at your heart. I will float my fear over the terraced houses and art-deco apartment blocks, and leave a huge piece of my heart in your wide and welcoming harbour. And while I might think you’re mourning the loss of me, you’re probably just racking your brain, trying to remember my name.

So goodbye Sydney, I’m leaving you.

A Different Kind of Extremist

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gorgeous Sydney summer morning. It was the kind of day that made you grateful you lived here, perfect temperature, finally free of the oppressive humidity from last week’s storms. I was running late, as is my usual Monday routine, waiting for the bus and getting increasingly frustrated with each minute that ticked me closer to being really late for work.

The bus finally came, and as I walked up the steps to my office, a man walked into a cafe in Martin Place, took out a gun, and proceeded to take several cafe workers and patrons hostage. At 2:10 a.m. this morning, several hostages took advantage of their sleepy captor and rushed the door, awakening the hostage-taker, who fired his weapon and killed one of the hostages. Police swept in, and as the turmoil subsided three people were dead, including the gunman.

Rogue gunmen (with or without religious affiliations) are a much more common occurrence in the US, but in virtually weapon-free Australia, these events really shook everyone. By early afternoon, trying to get a taxi home was next to impossible as office workers streamed out of the city and back to their homes in the suburbs. There was little else on TV other than coverage of the hostage situation.

Listening to the news yammer on about ‘lone wolf’ terrorism and religious extremism whenever things like this happen is exhausting. Seeing racist reactions on social media is depressing. The men who commit acts such as these are hoping only to foment more of what they peddle: hatred from human beings toward other human beings. They want us to look at our differences, to blow them up to be so big that we could never connect with each other. To isolate ourselves from each other, to make it impossible to see the beauty within others.

We have a choice to react one of two ways: Give them what they want and approach life with fear, or choose to meet hatred with love. Overwhelming, all-encompassing, unconditional love.

Even those who hurt us should be met with love. Even this man who killed innocent people should be met with love. The only way to truly achieve peace amongst each other is to drown out all the hatred with its counterpoint. To accept that misguided people will always try to provoke hatred, and to simply love them anyway. To look past the horrific things they do and say and see the humanity in that person, and love that. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to be sure. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent senseless loss of life. But if we can put enough love into the world, if we can look at every single human being that we see as just that, a human being created for love, then I have every hope that this kind of energy can drown out the hatred and fear that has created so much pain. Let’s do things like the #illridewithyou movement that started last night, instead of allowing acts of hate to beget more hate.

Let’s be extremists of a different kind. Lets be fanatically devoted to loving the people around us, known or unknown to us. Let’s show the world what a devotion to kindness, understanding, and peace looks like. Let’s bomb the planet with compassion for our fellow human beings, no matter what they try to do us. That’s a cause I can get behind.

Love

As seen in my neighborhood a couple of months ago

Thankful

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted my third and final Thanksgiving as an expatriate (at least an expatriate in Australia). Having the opportunity to bring this American tradition to foreign shores has been an annual highlight of each holiday season I’ve spent here in Australia. It’s been an opportunity to take a step back and reflect, and benchmark upon which I can measure how my life and social circle have grown and been enriched.

My first Thanksgiving was a harried and hurried affair, cooked on a hangover and with a few friends and a few people I had only just met, the day after an all-day music festival.

My second Thanksgiving stood out in stark contrast to the last – surrounded by new friends, a new love, and an overwhelming gratitude that my first year in Australia hadn’t been quite as bad as I’d let myself believe.

And this Thanksgiving was a fitting cap to the tradition. The turkey was a success (whew!), all the necessary accouterments were laid out, nearly everyone who had been at that first small table in my apartment in Bondi was able to make a reappearance, and many of the friends from last year’s feast had been able to attend as well.

TurkeyDay3TurkeyDay2

As we went around the table of 18 and said what we were thankful for, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat as I told everyone the story of the small table at my first Thanksgiving, and how more than anything I was thankful that I had been put in the path of so many amazing people who wanted to share this tradition with me. I was thankful for a partner who had been nothing but supportive about packing up my life, leaving him with my dog and taking off without him for 6+ months, and to my first friend in Australia, Annie, without whom that first year would have been drastically more difficult.

American Girls!

American Girls!

This Thanksgiving celebration was the first time it really hit me that I’m leaving. I’d been happily plunking my head into the sand, in denial that anything was really going to change. And now here was the end of a tradition in my new home that I’d started, ready to be passed on to another of my American friends who was staying. And as much as I’m looking forward with excitement to whatever is coming next, I’m also desperately sad to be leaving behind such wonderful people and such a beautiful place. And though my feelings about my time in Seattle and Sydney are very different, I can still echo the sentiment I felt  in one of my earliest blogs about leaving the city I’d called home for a while:

How Lucky I Am

Til next time, xoxo

The Wizardess

You Gotta Keep Yourself Scared

Scared

Lately, I’ve been writhing with dissatisfaction. I have no idea where it’s coming from or why I’m feeling it, which makes it incredibly difficult to find a way to stop it. I end my days feeling unsettled, mildly unhappy, and completely bewildered. Little things tick me off. I sometimes overreact, and this makes me behave in a way that I don’t like. I’ve been twisting this new mentality around in my mind for the last few weeks, trying to solve the mystery of just what the hell is going with me.

My lightbulb moment came as I was self-lurking my LinkedIn profile and reflecting on my career of 3 years ago. Back then, I was thrown into things so far out of my depth that I had to run as fast as I could to make sure I could make them happen. I was quietly terrified all the time – sitting in meetings with people two or three times my age and having them actually listen to me. I was leading the meetings – I was telling one of the largest companies on the planet what to do, and they were doing it. All I really had to rely on at that point was mild creativity and a lot of common sense. I certainly didn’t have the years of experience to know what I was doing. I was making it up as I went along. And I was succeeding. Not every time, but most of the time. In retrospect, it’s astounding. At the time, it was motivating.

Reflecting back on that time in my career is humbling, and it’s also helped me uncover what I think is wrong with me. I’m not scared anymore.

I know what I’m doing now. I rarely get put into situations in my career where I feel out of my league. But maybe I need that. Whenever I felt like that in the past, I usually managed to reach down deep somewhere and pull out something groundbreaking. I have the years of experience, and have probably packed more experience into those years than many people do in an entire career. But I think I’m coming to a point where even my dynamic and social career is starting to feel repetitive and monotonous. Where I know more than I don’t know. And after that, it just becomes splitting hairs and debating the best way to phrase the idea, instead of the idea itself. And I’m the type who prefers substance over style.

So I’ve taken the first step: I’ve identified the problem. And though I have absolutely no idea what form the solution will take yet, I know that I gotta keep myself scared.

Scared to Death

18 Months

I’ve been living away from the US for a year and a half now. I’ve had two birthdays in Australia, I’ve missed a family Christmas, dozens of birthday parties, engagement parties, and baby showers. I’ve even missed the wedding of one my oldest and dearest friends. And missing the big events does bring the distance between myself and home into sharper perspective, but it’s the daily moments that I miss the most, I think. The coffee dates and brunches, days at the beach and happy hours on weeknights, dog parks and road trips and being able to see my mom and dad much more frequently than every six months. Not that I’m not doing many of these things in Australia, or that the people I’ve become close with here aren’t just as amazing, funny, fun, or intelligent as my friends in the US. But there is a big difference between being a part of someone’s daily life and being another email they put off sending.

Sometimes, you can feel yourself slipping out of other’s lives. Texts, emails, or Facebook messages become further and farther between, then stop. Wedding invitations don’t come. Birthdays pass unnoticed thanks to the international date line. A year and a half seems to be the point where friendship over time and distance is tested, and it’s either pass or fail.

I’m the first to admit that I am a difficult person to stay friends with, depending on your personality and definition of friendship. I’m shit at staying in touch with people, even though my communicative-ness (or lack thereof) is in no way an indicator of my feelings for another person. So I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise when an email scribbled out after months of non-contact goes unreturned. But with lives so busy for people our age – we’re getting engaged, having babies, buying houses, are in a critical stage of our professional lives – I understand that life moves quickly and many things seem much more important than remembering to give someone a call. It’s sometimes difficult to see the world turning without you and knowing there is nothing you can do to participate in these small moments.

As I read this, I know it seems whiny and depressing, which isn’t my intention. Just an observation that even in our hyper-connected world, with the Snapchats and the Tweets and the WhatsApps, it’s still very easy to lose touch.

Breakup Makeup

I have a friend who I love dearly, and for good reason. She is funny, sassy, clever, quick with a one liner, and we spent most of our early twenties turning into adults together. I have frequently referred to her as my heterosexual life partner, and thus far in our lives she has been, even through various moves to different states and countries on both our parts.

But there is a recurring theme in her life that drives me absolutely nuts: it takes her 5 or 6 times to break up with a serious boyfriend who is just not a match for her. For the last several years it’s been the following pattern with anyone serious:

Friend: I met a guy
Me: Ooh! Tell me more.
Friend: He’s just a guy, it’s not really serious but he’s pretty sweet. We’ll see how it goes.

**Couple of Weeks Later**

Friend: I think I’m starting to like this guy. He said/did (enter sweet thing here).
Me: Awwww he sounds sweet! (Insert inappropriate question about guy here [I can’t keep the dialog 100% authentic since my dad reads this])
Friend: You’re a pervert. But yeah, we’ll see how it goes. I don’t really want anything serious.

**Couple of weeks later, Facebook status changes**

Me: Oh I see we’re FBO now?
Friend: Yeah he’s great (proceeds to list great qualities)
Me: Sounds like a keeper!

**Several months to a year later**

Friend: I don’t think it’s working out, we’ve been fighting a lot about X or Y, there’s no reasoning with him, I’m trying to make it work because I love him though.
Me: (Offers some sort of relevant advice). I’m sure you guys can work it out.

**Weeks later**

Friend: It’s been amazing!

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobbing) I can’t handle it anymore.

**Weeks later**

Friend: I ended it.
Me: I’m really sorry babe (hugs and ice cream)

**Weeks later**

Friend: We’ve decided to give it another try.
Me: Despite X and/or Y? Do you really think that’s going to change?
Friend: We had a serious talk about it, I think it can change
Me: Great, I really hope it works out for you guys

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobbing) It’s not changing
Me (in my mind): Shock! I never saw that coming!
Me (out loud): I’m so sorry babe, probably better to just call it and find a better match
Friend: I know (sob)

**Weeks later**

Friend: We decided that if I make sure I do X, and he makes sure he does Y, we can sort out our differences.
Me: (raises eyebrows) Good luck!

**Weeks later**

Friend: (Sobs)
Me: (Facepalm)

Breakup Makeup

Anyway, I could probably continue this dialog a few more times around (depending on the ex-boyfriend we’re talking about) and it would be more or less accurate. To be fair, this hasn’t happened with every guy she’s dated, and she is not a perpetual monogamist either. But the last few serious relationships have slowly stuttered out of existence in this manner.

I’ve taken the understanding path: “I’m so sorry hon, I know how difficult the end of a relationship is and I’m here for you, whatever you need.”

I’ve taken the angry path: “I’m sorry friend, but are you fucking kidding me? You know the definition of insanity, right?”

I’ve taken the ‘I’m not your mom but I don’t approve’ path: “You’re an adult and can make your own decisions, but I’m disappointed.” [Stole that one directly from Mama Brown’s playbook, thanks ma!]

What shits me the most about the whole thing is that I know this woman better than almost anyone in the world. I know she is smart, and tough, and doesn’t take anyone’s bullshit. Unless she’s in love with him. Then it’s a bullshit free-for-all, and she rolls around in it until she can’t breathe, then stands up and shouts, “Hit me again, Johnny!”

And the only thing I can think to tell her is all the trite crap you can read in “It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken” and “He’s Just Not That Into You” and all the other books that have been published to pry money out of the hands of heartbroken women everywhere. “If it didn’t work then, it won’t work now” and “People don’t ever really change that drastically” and “They’re always on their best behavior for the first six months, then you find out who they really are. That means this is who he really is, and it sounds like he sucks.”

Unfortunately, despite her sass and her mental toughness, her fatal flaw is blinding herself to the realities of the person she has fallen in love with. As someone who loves her, this is infuriating and difficult to cope with.

So when I heard (not directly from her, of course, at this point I think she probably knew I would hit the roof) that after months of finally being free from the last one, she was back with him, I hit her with both the angry and the Mom responses, then stormed over to my blog and laid this out.

Men

So here’s my final word to both my dear friend and anyone else who reads this blog looking for love advice: Loving someone does not mean you need to blind yourself to their faults. Loving someone means you put their needs first, and that they should put yours first. And if at any point that other person puts him/herself and his/her own bullshit before you, loving them is not a good enough excuse to stay. You deserve more, and it is out there, if you can stop holding onto the past and can look forward.

your ex

We Gave Thanks

One really fun thing about being an expat is bringing the traditions of your home country to your new international friends.

And so several weeks ago, I created a Facebook event, called a butcher, and began the plan to recreate Thanksgiving with 18 of my friends. Due to the capacity of my oven, I had to outsource many meal elements to my fellow Americans who were joining to celebrate the day, as my primary task was the 17.5-pound Turkey I had a local butcher bring my way.

The crowd was heavily skewed toward non-Americans this year, whereas last year’s Thanksgiving only had a few Aussie interlopers. However, as I sat at a table full of English men and women and told them the history of Thanksgiving, I made the point that this holiday was technically begun by the English settlers of America, so it was as much their holiday as it was mine.

There we a few groans when I mentioned the tradition of going around the table and giving thanks, but everyone was a good sport and participated, with one of the single young men giving thanks for the single ladies of Sydney (fair shout). I looked around the room at the crowd, a few familiar faces from last year and several new faces who have entered my life only this year (including the English Muffin), and I knew that I was most grateful for how much life changes, bringing new people into and out of your world. How in one year many things that had been steady in my life before my move had changed, but that those things weren’t the ones that mattered. Because here I was sitting among people that I loved, but hadn’t even known this time last year. And so I was quietly grateful for the difficult times I had thrust upon my life by uprooting everything and moving to an island on the other side of the sea, because those difficulties have borne out the most beautiful and lovely life full of new friendships I never would have had otherwise. And most importantly, they brought me to a very kind man with a lovely soul that I never would have had the pleasure to know if even one little detail had been different.

More wine was downed, football was watched, dishes were cleared up, pumpkin pie was consumed (much to the bewilderment of many of the English in attendance, as pumpkin is meant to be savory), and a generally great Thanksgiving was had by all.

Comparing this to last year’s Thanksgiving of eight lovely people that I had newly met, to eighteen that could all be counted as friends, with a tip of the glass to the universe, I gave thanks.

A Delicious Massive Bird

A Delicious Massive Bird

The English Carving the Turkey

The English Carving the Turkey

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Dig In! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Pumpkin Pie! Photocred: Annie Bettis

Mr. Perfect

Have I not covered off on the Mr. Perfect story yet? Well, now that I’m all boring and coupled-up, I’ll have to dig into the archives for juicy dating (or lack thereof) stories.

I met Mr. Perfect late last year, not too long after my arrival in Sydney. I was still a bit in recovery over my attempted and failed foray into long-distance relationshipping, but had gotten enough distance to be out the wallowing zone and into the “prove you still got it” zone.

Enter: Mr. Perfect. Attractive, tall (6’3″!), educated (P.H.D!), amazing job ($$$) that allowed travel to lots of travel to cool places, great taste in food, great taste in booze (a scotch man), a working knowledge of wine, down-to-earth, witty, open-minded, friends with people of all ages and backgrounds… absolutely… perfect. My mother would have loved him, he probably would have been able to give my dad a run for his money on the golf course, he probably could have had an intelligent conversation with my brother about whatever the hell he does in finance while simultaneously delighting my sisters with his stories about abseiling in Jordan.

And I felt… nothing.

No pulse of romantic interest, no heart-flutters, no physical desire whatsoever. We had met through mutual friends and managed to have a few drinks together (in a non-romantic context) with some of our friends. And the more I got to know him, the more perfectly perfect he became, and the more I realized that perfect on paper rarely translates to perfection in reality. There was just no spark. No click. He was a lovely guy to spend some time with, and had a lot of amazing stories. And it’s fun to speak to someone very intelligent who works in a fascinating field that has nothing to do with your own.  But that’s about as far as it got. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his for a drink at the end of a night of boozing, I politely declined.

I know a lot of people who aren’t believers in “everything happens for a reason,” but I am one. And it’s probably not a mistake that the winds of fate didn’t create the right conditions for a spark to be struck and a flame kindled with this Mr. Perfect. And I know that no one is perfect and there’s probably a reason this smart, well-traveled, attractive guy is still single, but even if there wasn’t, I still somehow knew he wasn’t perfect for me. And that reason is most likely because I needed to meet my English Muffin, who IS perfect for me (Awwwwwwwww, sappiness!). So despite my initial frustration at not being able to force myself into an attraction with this guy, it’s all turned out well in the end, I suppose.

…And ladies, he’s still single.

Perfect

Oh, High School

According to various photos posted into my Facebook feed, this past weekend I missed my 10 year high school reunion. I knew this would be the case when the Facebook invite was sent around with a date of early October – only a few months after my most recent return home to America for my brother’s wedding. And as much as I’d love to spend $2,000+ just to see how far some people have fallen while simultaneously demonstrating that I am now smart, successful, and socially well-adjusted, I can think about 3,648 other things I’d like to do with $2k.

high school reunion

Whenever the topic of high school comes up, my Aussie and English friends here in Sydney excitedly quiz me about the experience, with the first question usually something along the lines of, “How much is like Mean Girls?!” My usual response is that it isn’t quite that dramatic, but now that I have insight into the UK/AU high school experience, I’ve found that it actually might be, in comparison.

High school in America can be cutthroat – academically (depending on the school), but so much more so socially. It’s an environment where the masses are desperate to put everyone into a group so they can easily classify each individual. There is the ever-desired “Popularity Quotient” that is then applied to each group, and this determines who you are allowed to sit with at lunch, who you try to sit next to in class, etc. And no matter how much you pretend you don’t care, when you’re 15 you really want your PQ to be high, because the higher the PQ, the hotter the boyfriend/girlfriend you can have, the easier it is to get asked to Prom, and the more you get invited to house parties instead of having to crash.

Just last week at a boozy work lunch, the topic of high school in the US came up, and I was posed this question: “What group were you in?” I hesitated before answering, at which point the asker rushed in with “You were definitely in the Mean Girls group, weren’t you?” I can see how he may have made that assumption based on who I am now (power bitch), but no. I actively avoided pushing my PQ in high school after particularly socially cruel treatment from the “Mean Girls” in middle school (yes, it starts early). When you get a smackdown that hard, you don’t really bother putting yourself in a position to let it happen again. So I mumbled out something about how I participated in theater in high school which probably aligned me most closely with the Drama Nerds (of which 100% are legit kicking ass at life – go you!), but the truth is I was a Drifter. Sometimes I hung out with my close friends from middle school, sometimes I hung out with the drama kids, but mostly I hung out with my closest friend, who was also a Drifter. And, when given the choice, we usually hung out with people who didn’t even go to our high school.

reunion

When I compare this to the high school experience of Australia and England, I find that the playing field there is generally much more level. No rush to badge and be badged, no panicked race to increase your PQ. You had your mates, but nobody was generally outright mean to anyone else, except the standard asshole bullies and troublemakers. None of the subtle slights and social maneuvering required of American high school. So what is it about the US that makes it so different? A capitalist government? The huge divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’? Hollywood perpetuating 80s stereotypes? My guess is a mix of several factors. My American friends, what do you think? And if we went to high school together and you actually read this (thanks!), what group would you say I was? I didn’t get to go to the reunion to find out, so… 

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