"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Simplicity
July 26, 2023

One Year In Melbourne

It’s been a year since I returned to Australia. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but the year I got was something else.

My family circumnavigated the Pacific when we immigrated from Chile to Australia. Aboard a series of Cathay Pacific planes we went from Santiago to Lima, Mexico City, Vancouver, Honolulu and Nandi, before arriving in Sydney. Long-haul travel was like that in those days. Many flights. Multiple layovers. Little convenience.

Upon arriving in Australia, our pilots were not familiar with the layout of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport. When instructed to take the first exit off the runway, they instead turned around and proceeded back down the runway, looking for a different exit.

There was a TAA flight waiting to take off on a short domestic flight, and its pilot assumed our plane would soon clear the runway. He started his take-off roll. By the time he realised we we were not about to move out of the way, he was already committed. He tried to pull up early.

His wheels clipped the tail of our plane, causing considerable damage. Of course, it could’ve been worse. We were unharmed and the TAA plane managed to turn around and land safely a few minutes later. Airport officials rushed us through customs, probably so we could get out before the press arrived. The family friends waiting for us at the airport couldn’t believe what had happened when we told them.

Last year, when I flew back to Australia after 23 years spent in various cities around the world, there was no such drama. The world was smaller and the two flights that brought me from London via Dubai were uneventful.

I was returning to the country where I’d grown up but there was no one waiting for me at the airport. I had a quiet trip to an empty apartment overlooking the Melbourne skyline, where I spend a couple of weeks alone, unpacking and getting over jet lag. Later I flew again, to see my parents in Adelaide.

Apparently I was “home” again.

The Contour Of A Year

Travel, loss, and transition defined my first year back in Australia. With my mother’s health failing I was travelling regularly to Adelaide. My daughter was in her final year of college so I was also travelling to the US. And my desire to return to the Japanese alps after the pandemic had kept me away meant trips to Japan as well.

When my mother died, less than two months after my return, I felt marooned. It was like a swimming pool suddenly being emptied while I was half way through a length.

As a consequence, I spent a lot more time in Adelaide. My plan had been to visit regularly. But instead of a few weeks I spent the equivalent of a few months of the year there.

My daughter’s story is hers to tell. But we all know young people who went through university during the pandemic and didn’t have anything close to a normal experience. I was keen to help her transition to post-college life and just spend more time with her. So that meant lots of time in the US as well.

And I had my own adjustments to make. Melbourne is a new city to me. I’d visited once, 25 years ago, but didn’t know the city or anyone who lived here. I had all the usual expat-type questions. Where do I shop for food? Get a haircut? Buy clothes? It was familiar in a way, since I know Australia, the way you know people you went to school with but haven’t seen in years, but unfamiliar in the kind of detail that makes daily life easy.

The Consequence of Love

My creative and professional desires over the past year were all about writing. Specifically, trying to pitch my next book and finding places to publish my writing beyond just on this blog. Progress has been slow but encouraging.

I had an essay published in the inaugural edition of Wilde Magazine. My submissions to other journals have all been rejected. But several of them were returned with the kind of detailed and encouraging notes that are a gift for a writer in my situation.

And while no one has accepted my book just yet, a few agents have taken a long look at it, and I’m satisfied that it is the best and most thorough book proposal I’ve ever put together.

Of course, I’m accepting of this slow progress in large part because I’ve chosen at this time to put family first. It’s not an excuse. It’s a consequence.

One of my favorite Gregory Porter songs is Consequence of Love. It’s a particular kind of love song because it focuses on self-sacrificial love. Porter sings “the gain for me is you.” The song doesn’t shy away from how challenging it can be to love someone deeply. Often it feels like a struggle and the emotions we experience as we love can be bittersweet.

“I begin to hate
Time and distance
‘Cause it makes me wait
That’s all I seem to do”

The Living Pattern

Long ago I settled on a way of life that has travel at the heart of it. I would escape northern summers to enjoy winters in Adelaide. My parents would wait at the windows of Adelaide airport to greet my family as we flew in to enjoy family meals, long bike rides, and walks along the beach.

Those visits were when I wrote previous versions of this essay as I took stock of the passing years in the places I lived, especially Delhi, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Since the start of 2022, when I began to pack up my life in London, I’ve made 56 flights and travelled the equivalent of six times around the world.

I don’t want to make that sound like a hardship because I have the opportunity to travel comfortably and the miles to enjoy some privileges when I do. Being able to pause for a shower and hand-rolled sushi at Narita airport en route from the US to Australia is something one shouldn’t take for granted.

And yet it is also several weeks’ worth of time spent on planes and in airports, as well as travelling to and from flights, and packing and unpacking. It’s time I could have spent finding a long-term home and building a new studio.

But this isn’t that season.

And it’s OK.

No amount of luxurious private airport lounges can compare to seeing familiar silhouettes waiting for you or waving goodbye.

I don’t have that any more, now my mother is gone and my father is more frail. That reminds me not to get ahead of myself by focusing on the future. To live fully in every day is to love completely in every way. This is a season to knit together the family I have left. As Porter sings “I’ll anticipate, with all my patience.”

Because every moment, every conversation, every step together, is precious. And I’ll travel as much as is needed to make it so.

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