It is currently Independence Day in my native country, and I am sitting in front of my laptop in my adoptive country, looking for work (still) and feeling homesick. But I'm not sad. I will always be grateful to this place for offering me support and refuge following the horrific events over the past year.
To all my friends and family across the Pacific, I wish a glorious day's end to one of our most cherished public holidays, particularly after the most recent Supreme Court rulings that allowed us all to jump another giant hurdle toward the finish line of equality for all.
There's a lot to celebrate. Enjoy the fireworks!
The flatmate came into my room at midnight to see if I was breathing. He was off his tree, but that didn't matter. I was, too, from the healthy dose of Nyquil I had guzzled. I'm not sick, just needed help going to sleep.
With public assistance that amounts to a living allowance of $10 per day, I can't afford zolpidem. Finding a bottle of night-time cold medicine in the mosaic of suitcases that occupy floorspace and double as furniture in my room was a gift from the gods.
When I finally opened my eyes, red as brake lights, I could see that he was standing a few feet from me, hesitantly reaching forward with two extended fingers that offered sharp, quickly retracting jabs to my knee. To him, I was a beached aquatic lifeform that might suddenly blurge to life and devour him in a fatal, slimy movement.
That's the problem when you admit to a previous self-harm attempt. People care for you like they do an inherited piece of ugly, fragile porcelain. Casually and with distaste, they do things like spit on their thumb to wipe off a smudge, or, horrified that someone important might see you, freak out upon realizing they have allowed you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for all to see. There's a certain amount of poetic honesty in that, which I admire but regard with sadness that makes my heart seep.
My flatmate has made it no secret to me that he is concerned he will arrive home and find me dead. According to the ex, my step-son voiced the same fears to him shortly before I was asked to leave our home of nine years. Fair enough. I can accept that from a 14 year-old, but from someone who is nearly 50?
It hurts to hear it, more than his prodding fingers ever could.
Responding to a Facebook status update in which I asked for advice on a tenancy snafu I am currently experiencing, a friend asked if there was was a compelling reason why I am not planning a return to the US. (She probably asked this in consideration of the sum of my personal upheavals this year). Many others have also posed this question, and it is a concept I have struggled with, particularly over the past six months.
There are, indeed, compelling reasons for me to remain in Australia, at least for the time being. Some are complex, inherently personal and difficult to describe. Others are simple and direct. I'll start with the latter, and if after I have explained those, I feel I haven't grown weary or simply want to end the writing of this blog post, I will try to give some insight into the more complicated reasons.
In my current situation, Australia provides a safety net that the US does not. I am eligible for financial assistance through a social welfare system that is far from perfect, but provides for its citizenry and permanent residents (C/PR) in an admirable way. (My Aussie friends may scoff at that, but I ask them to take my word for it.) Like many going through incredibly tough emotional, physical and financial turmoil, it was tough for me to admit the need for welfare assistance and make that first appointment to seek it, but when I did, I was treated with compassion and without judgment by all involved.
Setting aside (with difficulty) the fact that a great number of asylum seekers, including children and physically/mentally disabled people, are wasting their existence behind razor wire in off-shore detention camps, I mean, "processing facilities", the Australian government looks after C/PRs in ways that include mental and physical health, and by providing financial help. Yes, my US friends, that's right. For those who meet the criteria and survive requisite waiting periods, money is deposited directly by the government into one's bank account (or a check is mailed) on a fortnightly basis.
In my case, it's called a "Newstart" allowance. Even the nomenclature makes me feel better, but then I worked as a lexicographer for over a decade. Words mean a lot. Plus, I can save the phrase "on the dole" for conversations among those who know where I'm coming from, and for joke mileage among those who don't. It's the funny thing about epithets: they are treasured hypocorisms among those who own them, but the crudest insolence when used by those with the gall to co-opt them.
The financial benefit provided by Newstart (and a smidgeon of separately calculated rental assistance) isn't all that much, but it is, I think, 100% more than I would get in the USA. Centrelink, the Australian government agency responsible for welfare assistance, has its detractors (and its abusers, as does any welfare system), but it helped me enormously after, 1) my split as a de facto partner with my ex, and, 2) my lay-off from the abovementioned lexicographer job. And now, after being bullied six weeks ago to the point of resignation from a job I loved, it will help me again. I am grateful it is there. [Sidebar: it is my aim to pay things forward through volunteer service in some capacity. One could argue that I have "earned" assistance in a number of ways, but I feel it is time for me to return some of the good that has managed to rise to the frothy surface of muck in which I have swum since leaving the Northern Hemisphere in July of 2005.]
The second, most directly compelling reason for me to stay in Australia is that I have access to free or low-cost healthcare. I have been fortunate in life, in that I have had good health. I am a firm believer in preventive medicine, and my healthcare coverage here provides that. It will also help me if the touching of (and knocking on) wood that I just did upon typing this paragraph's second sentence proves an ineffective superstition, and I am stricken with a broken tooth, bone fracture, another kidney stone (please NO!) or something far worse. [Another sidebar: my fellow US citizens who may be reading this, I implore you NOT to underestimate the importance of access to free or affordable healthcare.]
As for the more complex reasons for staying in Australia, I think I'll leave that explanation for later. First, I'll need to look at the aspects of shame, defeat, obstinance, parenting, depression and other topics that I will no doubt begin to explore when I resume therapy over the next couple of weeks.
My path forward is shrouded in a thick haze that over the past few weeks has seemed to clot my lungs with suffocating fear and sadness. I am still scared. I remain profoundly sad. But, at this point, tiny beams of optimism are finally piercing that shroud. However long I end up staying in Australia, I am thankful for those beams. Yes, many of them come from friends, but some of them come from a system that is helping me edge my way forward. Honestly, aside from my wonderful and much-loved friends in the US, I think the system would fail me. And I cannot bring myself even to imagine what that might bring. Let's hope for the better there. Or pray, if that's what you do. Please. I don't mean to sound maudlin, but there are people in worse shape than I am.
It's official: I'm on the dole.
I am not proud. Rather, I am humbled. I am also thankful. And I am sad.
I have never accessed welfare benefits before, and I must admit it has been difficult to admit that I have to resort to it. But nine months of continued unemployment tend to hack away at the confidence in one's ability to self sustain. Fuck the stigma.
Ever since Mark ended our relationship a few weeks ago, a few folks have asked why I don't just pack up and move back to the US. There are a number of reasons for that, some simple and some complex. Unless they have been through it, I don't think anyone understands what it means to move to another country for a partner--especially during middle age and after just receiving a doctorate, (thereby charting a professional path that would ultimately lead nowhere in the new hemisphere). It wasn't easy to get here. Why the hell should it be easy to leave?
Anyway, being on welfare won't be forever. It may not even be for a month. But for however long it lasts, I am thankful. I wouldn't receive the same benefits in the US. Not at all.
I am optimistic regarding my chances of finding work in Sydney. I like Melbourne, but obviously my shingle wasn't welcome to hang there. So be it.
Mark, Zane and I caught the early train to Ballarat yesterday morning. The journey is a quick 1.5 hours by rail, during which time you zoom through some beautiful countryside.
After arriving in Ballarat, we enjoyed breakfast near the station at the adequate, yet uninspired Java Lounge. The eggs Benedict managed to hit the spot and the coffee was weak, but it served the purpose.
After breakfast, we visited the Art Gallery of Ballarat (AGB), which proved to be the highlight of our trip. Like the Bendigo Art Gallery, the AGB is a regional arts center that is highly notable for drawing internationally recognized exhibits. The role it played in exhibiting segments of the Ballarat International Foto Biennale was first rate.
From Brian Duffy to Roger Donaldson to Louviere/Vanessa, the displays were as good as any I have seen in the four countries and half-dozen or so world-class cities in which I have lived. My favorite photographer of the day was Lisa Robinson. Her collection "Snowbound" has been exhibited in many places over the past few years. I am a better person for having seen it.
(Ballarat photo by b00ng, licensed via Creative Commons.)
Who knew that losing my jobs would lead to weight gain? I guess it's because I have more time to stuff my gob now. And drink.
Give or take a few pounds, I have been the same weight since I graduated from high school. But now I think I am close to weighing more than I ever have, and when you're my height and build, an extra 5kg is really noticeable. We don't have a scale, thank goodness.
I'll turn it around, however, and in true warrior fashion, I have taken advantage of the early spring weather, jumped on my Mongoose and cycled over 100km in the past two days. As my grandpa would say, my tired is hanging out.
Yesterday, I cycled around Royal Park and then up the Railway Canal Path, and then a bit of the Moonee Ponds Creek Trail. It's a decent ride, but not terribly photo-worthy along the segments that I rode.
Today's ride was much nicer. I took the Capital City Trail to the Merri Creek Trail, cycling all the way from our home in Brunswick to Coburg Lake. The weather was equally spectacular as yesterday, but today the paths and surrounding scenery were better. It was also a more demanding ride, which I appreciated from a fitness standpoint, although I fear that I will be moving very slowly the next couple of days.
The day is almost upon us. By the time I rise tomorrow morning, Mark and Zane (and I, by extension) will be enjoying a final evening in Tucson. The time for their return to Australia is here. Neither is happy about it in a way. Quite simply, they love the life we shared while in the US.
Through the experience of earning his doctorate and the subsequent year in academic training, Mark has further matured professionally and is eager to enter the world of academic law. During the two years in Tucson, Zane has shed the skin of childhood and entered those delicate years as a teenager. His development and maturity during the past couple of years still astound us. He excelled academically, achieved a sense of independence and became a highly competitive swimmer. During the year that I lived in Tucson with them (July 2009 to May 2010), we managed to reconnect with family and friends in the Northern Hemisphere, but we also made new friends. There are a great many memories I will cherish forever.
Although they are both excited for us all to be under the same roof again, I am sure Mark and Zane are grieving over the need to leave their life, our life, in a very different and unique place. I experienced it when I had to leave Tucson in May 2010 and return to Sydney, in order to begin my new position with Coro Innominata.
I like Tucson very much, and over the 9 or 10 years I have lived there on and off, I have been happy to call it home. It saddens me to think that this may have been the last time. Oh, yes. We will be back in Tucson for visits, but for now, I will rejoice in the fact that my family will be together again. Finally.