It was 2006.
I was just out of school, working at a restaurant, trying to figure out my life. I didn’t want to go to grad school yet; I was looking for some direction.
“A jug fills drop by drop.“–Buddha
I don’t know how long it’d gone on before I started to notice. These peculiar synchronicities started adding up. First thing in the morning, getting into the car, an ad for Qantas. Then the first customers of the day, a family of four from Sydney. Flop open a magazine and it land on an article about the burgeoning Aussie wine scene. Turn on Jeopardy to hear “What is Uluru?”
I’m sure it started slowly.
Eventually I took notice. Australia seemed to be everywhere. It made no sense. I’d never been there, never even thought of it outside of childhood enjoyment of Crocodile Dundee. My globetrotting grandparents, two of the most well-traveled people I knew, had never been there and nor had anyone else I knew. And yet there it was. It became daily. I kept a log for a while (which I have since lost).
Everyone around me started saying, “You have to go to Australia. There’s something calling you there. You have to go. You have to go! What are you still doing here?” Being freaked out is what I was still doing there. Freaked out and confused. What the hell was this and why was this happening to me?? It’s not like I had some cultural or personal role model to guide me through what was going on. It actually made me feel really alone because no one else really “got” what it was like.
There were also logistics to consider. A ticket to Australia is expensive, especially given with a flight time in the double digits that I’d reeeeally prefer not to go coach. So that became a decent excuse: “I’ll go when I can afford business class.” And the question of where that ticket was going to. It’s a HUGE country, roughly the size of the continental United States. Was I supposed to go to Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Hobart, Alice Springs, or one of the really fun-named ones like Wagga Wagga, Koolyanobbing, Goondiwindi, or Woolloomooloo? And what was I supposed to do when I got there? Step off the plane and hope fate would intercede? That’s a pretty big and costly gamble to take with no plan B. So I waited for more clarity.
Things changed. The signs, which had been coming with the speed of full labor contractions, began to slow, space out. This baby, it seems, was not ready to be born. Australia receded just as mysteriously as it had rushed.
I was more confused. Did I break it? Did I miss it? Did I overthink it? Is whatever was there gone? WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THIS?
A couple months of dormancy later, I had a dream about New Zealand. I dreamt that I was there looking for something. I remember thinking it was strange when I woke up. Why New Zealand? Laughing to myself, “Am I going to cycle through all of Oceania?” That day the Bill Bryson book that I’d ordered online came in the mail. I was excited. So what if I couldn’t afford to travel (and was therefore buying my books used online), at least I could read about it.
When I opened the book, something…unexpected happened. Something fell out of it.
That something was an Air New Zealand ticket stub, destination: Sydney.
Look, I’m not going to even try to put into words what that felt like. It’s pointless. I’m pretty sure the words don’t exist. Certainly not in English, this indelicate whore of a language. I can tell you that I sat on my bed with tears in my eyes looking around to see if I could find the cameras. This had to be a joke. Someone had to be filming me.
I still didn’t go.
I also still didn’t have the money to go but I felt that I knew then that once I did have the money, once I went, I wasn’t coming back.
(Over a year later, I had another dream about New Zealand, the first one since this one, and the next day I met someone from Melbourne. “WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO TELL ME??,” I demanded from him. “WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT FROM ME??” He didn’t know.)
Australia was a huge driving force in my going to Vancouver. I absolutely adore the city on its own merits but I always saw it as a stepping stone. The city that would jump start my expat confidence as I took bigger and bigger leaps to the land down under. And obviously, things didn’t go as
I’ve been watching Oprah’s Ultimate Australian Adventure over the past two days and I think it’s great. I’m so happy for the people that got to go. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The kind of thing that most, if not all of them, could not have even chanced to wish for. I think about my own connection to the land of Oz, the koala I keep on my dashboard (a gift from an Aussie family I’ve never met who heard of my story through a friend) and the postcard I keep in my visor (from a friend on her extended stay, which, through some magic of the post, got to me the date it was sent).
I think about Fringe.
I think about Wicked.
I think about other things I don’t blog about.
I wonder if maybe my connection to this place is like them, another case of the almosts. If maybe I am like the crystal merchant in The Alchemist, someone who will “never go to Mecca, just go through life wanting to do so.” I struggle because as a writer I tend to see my life as a story, and therefore all this foreshadowing must pay off. It’s a troublesome habit. I’m trying to break it.
(It’s 3:17 am. What is this post even about anymore?)
Tourism Australia’s last ad campaign was called So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?
Neither here nor there.