La-la Land

Posted: June 5, 2014 in Personal
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venice lights

The return to the US has been a process to say the least. Rebuilding your identity when you have effectively disappeared for 6 years save a passport, a social security number, and an idle bank account takes a tremendous amount of tedious work. And a fair amount of money.

The initial panic comes with finding a car, especially in a town like LA. If the US was built on the foundation of the roads that connect it, LA has crammed everyone into the basement. Then comes finding somewhere to live, followed immediately by things to put in it, and how to find your way around. In the midst of all this physical disorientation, there is also the sheer amount of bureaucratic paperwork that the US thrives on. Banks suddenly become alarmed that you are withdrawing money. Or depositing money. Or doing much of anything related to money. Banks here seem to have the emotional constitution of a traumatized fieldmouse. And of course there’s getting health insurance, which somehow feels sleazier than when you bought the car. And everyone wants your social security number for even the smallest transaction, which would be more reassuring if there weren’t all those stories of dogs getting credit cards.

Finally, when we had dealt with the part of getting here and we felt reasonably established, we had to tackle the particular issue of keeping Liesel here. Despite some bumps along the way, we had managed to survive the move with our relationship intact and even significantly improved, helped along by the lack of roommates and a drastic increase in people who actually thought we were kind of cool. Our wedding had been miraculously successful, due in no small part to that same sudden explosion of friends, but the paperwork was insane. Forms, letters, taxes, proof of second cousin’s car insurance, and of course the meetings and interviews. But nearly 6 months after our arrival, the last piece fit. We are now well and truly living in the US again.

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going the distance

Posted: August 24, 2013 in Uncategorized
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Even with a week left in Australia and two weeks before we hit LA, I’ve already begun planning road trips. Not A road trip, multiple road trips. And there really lies why I’m moving back.

That first month I moved to Australia, despite having an entire new city at my disposal, I needed to keep moving. Whenever I get to a new area, I tend to wander quite a bit to get my bearings and get some perspective on where I am. So, for my first bit of vacation time, I rented a car and drove for 2 days to Byron Bay and back, roughly 2000 kilometers. While the trip was interesting, I quickly realized on that trip that in Australia, there is a tremendous amount of nothing between often mediocre destinations, making road trips incredibly ponderous. I’ve only done one here since. Instead, I made my trips overseas, using the lack of local inspiration to send me anywhere a plane to take me.

The US has the opposite effect on me. There are so many places I still want to see within North America, international travel, something that has for so long been #1 on my list of priorities, has taken a back seat. Now the to-do list of places I planned to someday see, the road trips I had always pondered, and the destination trips friends and I had whimsically laid out, are all waiting to be realized. My destination potential has just skyrocketed, and I find it difficult to think about much else.

The added bonus of moving to LA is that this is a gateway to so many of the places I’ve wanted to see. The number of national parks within a couple days of driving is staggering; iconic names like Big Sur, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches. Many even defining landmarks of the ultimate US road trip icon, Route 66. These are part of the US road trip legacy, and ones I intend to add to my own.

step by step

Posted: August 16, 2013 in Personal
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The room is empty, the keys left on the corner of the kitchen counter, and the door has shut behind me. I’m now officially homeless again after 5 1/2 years.

Not to say I have nowhere to go, but back when I first moved to Australia, I struggled to define what made a place home, because for the first time in over 10 years, I didn’t feel like that place existed anymore. And for me, it boiled down to a bed. Somewhere that I had a bed that belonged to me, that was mine and no-one else’s, that was not a change of sheets away from the next person who you had never so much as met; that was what became home for me. As my bed now lies dismantled on the curb, I no longer live in Australia. I am an upwardly-mobile hobo.

It’s amazing to think back on what nearly 6 years can produce. From the first bleary, jetlag-addled cab ride down George St through Haymarket to my crash pad set up by work to keep me functional for the first month, I have both stretched and contracted in my life. I have woken to an entire city turned orange with the sunrise glow on a dust storm half the size of a continent. I’ve watched the first sunrise of the year from one of the first beaches on the globe to witness it. I’ve driven the Great Ocean Road of Victoria, snowboarded on the improbable snowfields of the Australian highlands, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef, gotten plastered on many occasions in pubs and wineries, gone to parties, avoided parties, met new people and grown apart again. I’ve traveled more than I ever dreamed, and I’ve grown increasingly distant from the mountains and wilderness I once defined so much of myself by.

And now we start on the next part, to see what it will bring. To see what it will make of me.

In response to a recent request by someone in the US self-admittedly ignorant to anything and everything about Australia, I gave them this quick synopsis that on review I thought should save for future use.

5-year veteran expat in Sydney here. Permit me to share some insights:

– The flight to Sydney is unspeakably long. It really doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, it will still take you a significant part of your life to get here that you will never get back. If at all possible, do not fly a US-based airline, as they are still unclear on the meaning of “food” and the bastards have started charging for booze in coach on international flights. If you’re going to be uncomfortable for 14 hours, you may as well be drunk or unconscious.

– Speaking of drinking, there is a remarkably good variety of beer and wine in Australia. Under no circumstances ask for a Fosters, the idea of advertising Fosters overseas when it’s not actually sold in Australia is one of the best long cons this country has devised. VB and Tooheys are the Coors and Budweiser of Australia, XXXX is the Hamms of Brisbane. “Goon” is cheap wine in a box and will destroy you in the most entertaining way possible, as well as garner you many friends.

– Through a freak of physics, sunshine in Australia is the equivalent of a sadistic 5-year-old holding a magnifying glass over you. Do not wear anything less than SPF 30 on a sunny day. If you are prone to sunburn, do not wear flammable synthetic clothing.

– Swear words are used more often than commas. Use them liberally and people will appreciate you as one of their own.

– If you’re going to tour different cities, here’s a quick breakdown:
Sydney: The Australian version of LA; it’s where all the famous people and places are, and everyone there knows it. Everything about the place is annoyingly pretty.
Melbourne: Australia’s San Francisco, complete with aggressively schizophrenic weather and even more volatile trendiness. The food and coffee is fantastic; breakfast is a competitive sport.
Brisbane: Beach city without a beach. Hard to be uptight when it’s always shorts weather. A little ways down the coast is the Gold Coast, which is where everyone goes for bachelor parties and regret.
Adelaide: You’re getting off the beaten path as tourist destinations go. The pace is slower, the wine is cheaper, and the shops close earlier.
Perth: New money territory with all the mining companies calling it home, so there’s plenty of friendly people out to have a good time but not quite sure how. Again, a much slower pace than the other coast.

– The danger of imminent death from everything is no joke, even some of the birds here are essentially ridiculous-looking velociraptors. However it’s impossible to live under the expectation that you could die by putting your hand in the silverware drawer, so Australians have championed the attitude of belligerent nonchalance. When you could die at any moment by anything from a tiny spider to a shark to standing too close to an Irishman on a sunny day, the Australians have decided to say, “Fuck it, good day for a beer.”

Enjoy your stay.

pain

Posted: August 11, 2013 in Fitness, Personal
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The past couple months, my body has been nothing like what I’m used to. With no real provocation, my achilles and my shoulders pretty much gave up on working without a fair amount of pain, and the physio appointments became more regular than my meal schedule. The physio of course laid it out as the inevitable result of youthful exuberance mixed with missing the youthful part, along with the fact that over the years I have been my shoulders’ worst enemy. I had no choice but to suck it up and calm down, at least for a while.

It’s weird to not feel like I can rely on my body. Even when I screwed myself and got injured, even when I had to get my shoulder repaired 20 years ahead of schedule, I knew I’d be able to bounce back and go back to kicking ass. I’m less sure of that now. I know I can build myself up to good shape again, but I’m walking a tenuous and gradually eroding cliff edge. It’s hard to be positive when you feel like an invalid without the pleasure of even earning it.

transition

Posted: August 6, 2013 in Personal
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In the space of a couple hours, the contents of my room have been collected, boxed, loaded, and shipped. All that remains are a couple empty shelves, my bed, the TV I can’t take with me because the power step-down would, I don’t know, make it slowly explode, and my suitcases. The room echos strangely whenever we talk. And yet, I’m already trying to remember what’s missing.

The rest of the house looks completely the same, my only contribution to the household furniture being the giant Sony TV that I’ve hardly used and the various kitchen implements that I’ll replace for $50 at Target. The past few days I’ve been pondering the difference between things I actually need and things I like to have around me. The sheer number of books on my shelves was an obvious one. The snowboarding, climbing, and camping gear I haven’t used in over a year. Little mementos, papers, and gadgets that don’t serve much purpose other than making me feel like I’m in my own place.

Now, in 3 months or so of having our own adventures, we’ll meet again in a new place. And that will be home.

My other hobby blog Failure To Land has been languishing for the better part of two years, and even when I was trying to put some effort in I was doing at best a couple posts a month. And so it went.

Last week, after one of my regular fits of bemoaning the fact that my writing muse had gone AWOL and I was wallowing in a stagnant puddle of Instagram snapshots and Facebook blurbs, something snapped and I banged out the rest of a draft I’d been sitting on for ages but had never found a way to finish. And the floodgates opened. Suddenly I was Posty McWriterson. Drafts came together. Ideas bubbled. I even created a Twitter account and Facebook page for the blog, and I felt like I was finally putting in some effort to do something with my writing, even if only to see if I could do it.

The social network bit was a puzzler though. Facebook has always been a thing for seeing what my friends and family are doing and sharing my own events. Twitter… well, I’ve never really gotten the hang of Twitter. I’ve burned through 3 accounts and always just kind of flailed around, mystified at how someone can collect 12,000 followers by explicitly live-tweeting their lunch experience. But as a marketing tool, it makes a bit more sense. People want to feel part of something, so you give them that interaction. But to make it work, of Facebook pages for that matter, you do seem to have to whore yourself out a bit, and that is definitely not my strong suit. I’m much more of a “work quietly and let people take notice by the quality of your work” kind of person, and frankly, that is not how the internet works.

At all.