This year has been a weird , slow process, and I really haven’t felt as though there has been much to write about- but I’ve had a few adventures. I went to Hawaii in February and then I went to Texas in March. Last month I visited Harstein Island again, and next week, we’ll be in Portland OR, and then in July, Montana. We’ve had brief catch ups with people from home and afar, and this has been as usual, a wonderful thing. And on another level, life has just meandered along, quite ordinary, and really, we could be at home, doing very similar things.
Hawaii was a warm, delicious, fragrant and relaxing pause in the interminable wet winter of 2017/18. I got to hang with beloved Kiwi mates, the Nicholsons, I got to wear shorts every single day. I got to swim with turtles, hold an octopus, and eat as much pineapple as I could. We sat on the beaches, watching surfers, hung out, drinking cocktails by the pool, and drove all over the island of Oahu. I watched Johnny drink as many Mai Tais as he possibly could. It is a wonderful thing to wake up every day, and consider how to have fun for an entire day, for 7 days in a row, especially with good mates from across the globe. I think times like this are really the icing on life’s cake. Luckily we got some lovely memories on film, and none better than the sunset cruise we finished our holiday with. I will remember this with so much joy.
And then it was over, and it was back to the routine rainy Seattle life. Only I changed it, I decided to leave the Literacy Source for a while, as I had a couple of little ‘things’ bothering me. One of them, was that I was just not feeling the joy any more, as I had been when I first began there. I still really loved my students, and whole premise of what we were doing, but I just wasn’t fitting in any more. I didn’t know where I belonged, I wasn’t really using my teaching skills, and felt quite useless. I knew they could spare me, so I thought I would gain back some free time, and also take care of this ‘other’ thing, which I will explain later. They were understanding , and gave me beautiful signed cards, and lots of love and best wishes. I know I can return some time in the future.
Then, the opportunity to go to Austin came up. I had been crossing my fingers and hoping for an invitation to join Sylvie and Takiaya, AKA ‘Divide and Dissolve’ on the road somewhere on their tour, and the SXSW (South by SouthWest) Festival in Austin provided the perfect timing and location. I was invited and was able to stay with my friends from Melbourne/Geelong, Mary and Carl. I couldn’t believe my luck- they extended their hospitality to me, and I didn’t have to ask if I could crash on them.
Austin was flat, it was warm, very warm, and expansive. I got to smell skunk, wafting through the evening air, as we drove. I received wonderful hospitality from my friends, which included Mary’s amazing Greek cooking, Carl’s car rides and home made waffles, and knowledgeable and experienced book-shop browsing. I scored well. I found Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes on CD for $2 and Marquez’ Autobiography for $1.
The Band seemed to be very chilled out, though excited to be in Austin. They were running on the ability to do things on autopilot I guess, after a month on tour. The 17-seater van had to pull up and disgorge its contents, and then parked in a legal parking space nearby, about 3 times a day, in a city that had virtually rerouted every main road through its middle, due to the festival. Venue hosts had to be buttered up and placated (or not!) It was the best place for people watching I’d been in for a while. None of this was easy, and I did what I could to help, including sitting front seat alongside the band driver, Marcus, and speaking to the Texas uniformed a couple of times while we negotiated the labyrinth. That was interesting, and yes, white female privilege is a reality that smacks you in the face in Texas.
It was such a delight that I got to watch my daughter’s band, somewhere completely different, and I got to wear a ‘Destroy White Supremacy’ tee-shirt. I sat in the swanky bar at the brand new hotel where the band stayed in the city, in this tee-shirt, and watched how it affected people. It was a real door opener – I got to shake a LOT of hands. I loved this unifying and instant recognition effect. I got to hang with my Sylvie and this was the ultimate joy. I had such late nights, and lived a rock-star life for just a few days, and I felt right at home! Takiaya, Marcus the Driver, and Bonnie the sound tech were such a great bunch to hang with. It was a real buzz for me. I hope they ask me to come along again one day.
I got to see that Austin is indeed the ‘Seattle’ of Texas, having a thriving artistic aspect, just going by the people I saw, and the places I got to peek into. Mary, my host, paints and works in collage/media in a studio she rents which is part of a much bigger collective, Canopy , located in a re-purposed manufacturing building. I met an Australian transplant, David Kerrigan, from Melbourne also, who had written a book about his journey through India on a motorbike, and was a mutual friend of my hosts. (You really should buy/read his book- Man, Dog, Bike, it’s a fun read). It was nice to mix with Australians, and connect over our lack of social niceties! (Seriously though, not really, just good people from home, who already understand the ways of Australians!)
The other ‘thing’ I mentioned earlier, that required me to take some down time, turned out to be a kidney stone. I’d had an inkling around Christmas time that things weren’t all good in that department, and some tests revealed a 1.6 cm one in my right kidney, and a developing one in my left kidney. The long and the short of it is that I eventually ended up being able to get a Lithotripsy (which is a procedure where they shatter the stone with sound waves, under a general anaesthetic). It takes about an hour; you spend half a day in the day surgery, then all going well, you go home, and prepare to pass fragments of stone. (I won’t apologise for the details of this stuff- because it could happen to any of YOU and you just might like horror stories anyway).
My initial recovery was about a week long, – although I initially looked like bouncing back in record time. Late on the first day, however, I started to become really ill. I got worse through the night, and in the finish spent a few hours in the ER having another CT scan and X-ray, pain relief and anti-nausea by IV, after many hours of agony and constant vomiting. Let me tell you people, these little buggers are not fun at all. Morphine did absolutely nothing. The hospital sorted me out though, and found something that worked a treat. Apparently stone fragments were moving along, and causing me the pain as they shredded through the tiny tubes.
I can only give the highest praise to the staff of that particular health provider. They were fantastic: patient, sensitive, thorough, respectful- I could put myself in their hands and feel really safe. Four days later I got some ’results’ and began to feel a lot better. I quit my pain meds that day. I got a head-cold on top of that recovery- so spent about 3 weeks out of action, wondering just when life might resemble normality, and my ribs might stop aching.
I began to think, ‘Hopefully I am well on the way, now’… After back spasms settled two weeks later again, (unrelated, or maybe not?) I am definitely over this period of enforced slow-down. It has taken so much longer to recover than I expected- but I have been able to write a lot, and think a lot. My writing has suffered though, hence the long gap between blog entries. I am gradually getting more routine and discipline in my week, and intend churning out a lot of words before I have to return home for visa renewals next May.
I’m feeling incredibly settled here. My apartment is groaning with objets d’amour and things I think that will be useful and keep us assured that we do a little more than just exist. This has been a ploy, somehow, to be able to comfort myself, (ourselves) with reminders of why we’re here, with just a little memorabilia from home, and somehow stave off feelings of loneliness and alienation. It has worked, to a degree, but not entirely. It’s taken a whole range of things to instill the connections that have really stopped that constant water-treading sensation, that of an overboard puppy in a huge sea. But it has happened.
The friendships, the involvement with local people and local issues, eg. going on the Women’s March, concerts, being guests at people’s vacation houses, being available to mind people’s pets and properties, extending hospitality as much as is possible in a tiny flat, have all counted towards feeling ‘at home’. So has being ill, as it turns out. As much as I have hated my constant connections with the health system, it has ALL not been so unpleasant, and certainly helps smash some of those anxieties about dealing with US bureaucracy. I often get to meet really decent people in such settings, (especially the health professionals). Yes, we do pay a lot of Health insurance, (and we did at home, as well).
While the month of April was a sad series of medical things, it was an appropriately desperate run to the finish of a miserably dank winter and finally the beginning of a warm and light May. Spring, which is notoriously cold and damp, thankfully was unusually warm, sunny, and fragrant. I am not sure I can live anywhere that doesn’t have four seasons anymore! Well, if I do, there will need to be a trade-off- a great one.
I joined another little writing group last fall, called the North Seattle Creative Writer’s Club which has turned out to be a lovely source of camaraderie and mutual encouragement. I also joined a book club, a very established one, ‘Great Books’ , which has been around since forever. This feels like being at Uni again, the book discussions are just like the ‘tutorial’ except without being quite as scary. I feel so at home in this environment. The only really noticeable thing is the ‘USA-centric’ content, of just about everything we read. I was actually asked if there was such a thing as ‘Australian Literature’ by another member. I live for such moments, by the way. I really love to bring an Aussie ‘take-down’, (just a little bit too much, maybe! 🙂 )
Yes, I occasionally still get very lonely, and get pangs of homesickness, or at least a yearning for the gums and rivers and beaches of Australia; the green, green grass of Aotearoa. I rarely have ‘news’ to share, I just like being held in someone’s thoughts, and them in mine. It doesn’t matter if it’s at home or here really. (I could have had the kidney sagas at home, just as easily! How tedious though. ) Connections get deep because of blood, because of a mutually shared experience(s) and existence at a given time. They can seem to be eternal. But they do require a constant watering and nurturing. This is what I have learned after nearly three years away from home.
I have had to let go of so many attachments here, and things of much affection, that I wanted to keep. Like my desire to move my dogs over to USA. Independence, and freedom to see my kids when ever we get an opportunity. Having a car, and being able to get do as much extra travel as my heart desires. Reality here is not that different from reality at home- you have to live within your means. I’ve had to let go of a lot of things, but not my deep connections, I hope.
I hope that people I’ve been really close to, will continue to be happy to be present in ongoing conversations, and that people will remember that we exist all the way over here, and are a part of your lives, still. I still thirst to hear people tell us about things, just ordinary things about their lives. Their haircuts and dental surgery. Their mishaps and exploits. We can’t sit around yacking all day, can we? But get on your Face Book Chat, and shoot me a line, I can reply while you sleep. A postcard. Or an Instagram photo. A short email. What ever you can spare- I’m still interested. I might be doing ordinary things here, just like you are there, but I still like to catch up. And you’re my life connections. My heart.