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!
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.
I'm lucky, I know.
I have a partner who tells me he loves me.
I have a son who tells me he loves me.
I have family who tell me they love me.
I have friends who tell me they love me.
And I like that.
Someday, Mark and I will be able to marry and have it recognized at a federal level, both in the U.S. and Australia. Fortunately, I could move to Australia as Mark's partner, which is something the U.S. doesn't allow. It is infuriating that international, opposite-sex couples can marry and have that union recognized for immigration in the U.S. It is a right denied to Mark and me...and to many other same-sex couples.
It is unfair. Simply unfair.
I'm glad times are changing, but there's still much work to be done.
Please go here to illustrate your support for Freedom to Marry week...at whatever level.
As many know, I've been looking for work.
What some don't know is that I'm sick of it. Sick to death. And I'm burned.
To this point, I've been somewhat cryptic on this blog when it comes to specifics about my pursuit of a career. Now, given that I'm "over it" [apologies for the 90s flashback phrase], I have nothing to hide really. Plus I need to vent. If you're not in the mood to hear it, you might want to just visit some of my favorite blogs linked on the left. Undoubtedly, they'll be far less whinging in nature.
First of all, let me state that I do not overestimate the availability of jobs in my field. I am a trained musician, and even without the need to watch the various Idol permutations, I know that life in this industry is tough.
Having said that, it hasn't discouraged me from pursuing my craft all these years. The bulk of my studies in secondary school, as well as nearly all of my tertiary education, has been in music. A few years ago, after spending 20+ years as a singer with various side jobs of one sort or another, I decided to return to university and obtain terminal degrees in music. This was done for a few reasons: in order to stop splitting my focus between music and some other type of job, to obtain qualifications to begin teaching at the university level, to achieve a relative degree of stability, to begin saving for retirement years, to have a commute that didn't require boarding a train or plane.
I had held off teaching in higher-ed for many years, having always opined that one needs to spend some time working in the field before moving on to train and nurture others. Then, as I approached the age of 40, I figured that all of my work as a professional performer, along with various honors like a Fulbright scholarship and summa cum laude status, were all indicators that it was now time. I embraced the opportunity to begin sharing the knowledge and experiences I had accumulated with new generations of budding music students. At long last I could work full-time in music.
Unfortunately, this hasn't panned out. Granted, circumstances have taken me in a somewhat different direction than I anticipated, in that I now have a wonderful partner and stepson and have moved across the globe to a really fab, but woefully expensive, city. But what I didn't account for was that there would be no jobs for me in Australia. None.
Even if I had accounted for that, would it have made a difference? No. I would not have called it quits on a loving and meaningful relationship, simply because I didn't readily see an immediate career trajectory for me in the country to which my Australian partner was forced to return because of antiquated, conservative immigration laws in my own home country.
"Gee, sorry, Mark & Zane, I love you both, but you're not worth it." Uh, no. Not my style.
So I moved and held out hope that, given my experience, talent, encouragement from colleagues, and a fairly impressive curriculum vita, something would turn up. Nothing has. In the nearly three years I have been in this sunburnt land, there have been a total of three positions open in the field of tertiary music teaching. Two of them were out of my league, for despite my degrees, I don't have the university teaching experience to be head of department yet. The other position, a fill-in for someone on maternity leave, I didn't even get an interview for.
There are probably many reasons for this. It could be that, at the time of most of those applications, I was only a temporary resident (more on that in a bit). It surely has to do with the fact that Australia has a much lower population than the U.S., resulting in very few jobs to begin with. I'm positive that it also has to do with the different set-up of music departments within higher-ed institutions, which means there are fewer jobs in my specific field. There's also the fact that music (and the arts in general) are only given lip-service in public and most private primary and secondary schools, resulting in a lack of need for certified music teachers that the aforementioned higher-ed music departments would train. (You think it's bad in the U.S.? You have no idea.) Heck, it could even be a case or two of anti-Americanism. Whatever it is, it has been frustrating. But I've held my head high and waited.
In August of last year, I had served my immigrant time and was granted permanent Australian residency, which means I can freely travel in and out of the country without having to reapply for more migrant visas and/or risk losing my right to be here. It didn't affect my right to work, for even as a temporary resident, the status I received when I immigrated here as Mark's partner, I had the right to work legally. Strangely, however, some places (like Qantas) have internal policies that state they will not hire temporary residents. I don't know how that can be legally justified, but apparently it is.
So, following a number of difficult and sometimes tearful conversations, Mark and I both decided that it was time for me to begin looking for work in the U.S., where the jobs in my field are. We decided, jointly, that my overall mental well-being included job satisfaction, and it was evident that the likelihood of achieving that in Australia was diminishing with each passing month. Sitting outside of academia for more than a year or two after receiving one's doctorate is professional suicide. As in Marcus Aurelius's river, the strong current of time is rapidly bringing this deadline worryingly close. As a permanent Australian resident, I could spend the academic year working in the U.S. and the other time back here with my hubby and son. It wasn't ideal, but it was work.
I have now applied for around 15 academic positions in the U.S. For whatever reason, be it my residency in Australia, an über-competitive job market, a glut of recent choral conducting DMA graduates, my age, a misguided sense of skill and talent, or a sad mixture of the above, I have had one nibble. Actually, it was a bite. As I've written before, I was one of three candidates flown to this particular university for what was, in the end, an unsuccessful interview.
After I recovered enough from the sting of getting only a dryly formal rejection e-mail and not a phone call as they'd promised me upon departure from their hallowed halls, I sent a request to two members of the committee for some feedback to find out where I might improve in what I hoped would be subsequent interviews at other institutions. One of the committee members is a fellow choral conductor, with whom at the time I seemed to connect well enough in such a friendly and collegial fashion that I could call upon her for all kinds of professional advice. I've received nothing, however...not even a reply that, unfortunately, due to legal constraints they weren't able to go on record with any kind of interview feedback, in which case I'd have understood and thanked her for responding anyway. Now, instead, I'm checking out voodoo-doll-making books from the local library.
I have been waiting for the universe to help point me in a direction that suits my skills and talents. Waiting to find my niche. I thought this was finally it. I'm not naive, in that I realize how silly it is to call it quits after one failed interview, but the whole experience has presented a firm challenge to the faith I have always placed in my own skills and ability. I am seriously questioning whether it's worth it, but then again, what would I do instead?
A blogger buddy recently offered words of sympathy and recommended I start thinking laterally. That's not a bad idea. I do have some things up my sleeve, but it's difficult moving to a blank slate after sinking so much time, effort and money in the pursuit of a specific goal without having had the chance even to try it.
Not to worry, however. My gumption will return. Someday.
Being nomadic has a price with many facets. It's one, however, that I've always been willing to pay. That's partly because I am happy exploring, partly because I've moved where the opportunities have taken me for study or career, and also to enjoy my life in the company of a loving partner.
Australia is the fourth country in which I have lived. (The others are the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands.) Being an itinerant musician makes for a hectic, transient existence. In my mid-40s, life has all but slowed down, but I do find that I'm still migratory. Despite that, today I gained a sense of belonging that I had not experienced for a long time.
You see, yesterday I received official notice that my Australian permanent residency visa had been granted. This was a hurdle that Mark and I have been longing to jump. Today we exuberantly did just that. After dropping Zane off at school, we immediately went to the Sydney office of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to have the visa pasted in my passport.
Hey, who said I couldn't stick with anything for more than a week?
When I conceptualized this blog (oh, so many moons ago), I had the idea that I would use it as a means to diarize the process of my same-sex partner migration to Australia. It was (and still is) an arduous journey which I thought others might find at least interesting. I thought, too, that it might be of some support to others who are planning on embarking upon the same endeavor. While I did not achieve the purpose of documenting the process from the start, I can at least share some of what Mark and I have experienced along the way.
But first a brief, relevant historical overview:
When Mark was obligated to return to Australia, upon expiration of his student visa, we discussed where to go from there. It was obvious that our relationship was solid and committed, but the thought of keeping it intact in an inter-hemispheric [is that even a word?] way was daunting. In retrospect, it is amazing how very few times we actually questioned whether it was all too hard. A valid question, indeed, but our immediate responses were a resounding, "NO!" So we wrestled with the limited ways in which we could all legally stay together. The immigration laws in the U.S. are antiquated, restrictive and cumbersome. Mark and I are not formally recognized by the U.S. government as partners in a way that opposite-sex couples are. Therefore, the avenue of migrating to the U.S. as my partner was closed to him, and applying as a skilled worker is a very lengthy process with no guarantees. And winning the Green Card lottery is, well, it's a lottery with very difficult odds.
Thankfully, even though Australia is currently in the grip of a very conservative government, there is a brightly shining piece of liberal-minded [notice the small "l"] legislation that potentially allows same-sex partners of Australian citizens to migrate to Australia on an "interdependency" visa. Although I also qualified for migration as a skilled worker, Mark and I decided to pursue the interdependency visa as a personal statement. It is, however, not a guarantee of residency, and the application process, cost and requirements are undoubtedly prohibitive for many people. Probably the biggest stumbling block for most international couples is the requirement that you must have lived together for 12 consecutive months prior to lodging the application. Let's face it, unless you have extenuating work or study circumstances (as we did), how many folks really can satisfy this requirement? Reportedly, there are exceptions to this rule, but I have never heard of anyone who successfully got past it. At any rate, Mark and I had lived together in Tucson for over a year and could provide a copy of our rental agreement that showed as much. We had joint memberships in various organizations, joint bank accounts and a plethora of folks who could vouch for our committed, ongoing and interdependent relationship. As part of the application process, at least two people must submit statutory declarations that serve to further verify the relationship. We also hoped that our coparenting of Zane would be a decisive factor in the potential approval of the application. All in all, the application was huge and included copies of documents, photos, the stat dec's, and other materials that illustrated the interdependent nature of our relationship in a personal, social and financial way.
The application fee is steep. We're talking in the thousands. Lodging it outside of Australia saved us some money, but it also meant that I had to go out of Australia for the visa to be awarded. So, in October of 2005, when I received an e-mail from my migration officer that the visa had been approved, I immediately booked a flight to New Zealand and spent a week in Auckland while the paperwork was shuffled and the visa sticker affixed to my passport. I must say there was a good amount of pride swelling in my breast when I re-entered Australia, sauntered up to the C&I official at Sydney airport and flashed the sparkling new visa that proclaimed me to be an official temporary resident of my new home, Australia. As always in matters like this, however, the internal pomp and circumstance greatly outweighed the external. The dispassionate clerk rather UNceremoniously performed her glance, swipe & stamp, and then roughly waved me through the door.
In a couple of months, the two-year waiting period between the issuance of the temporary and permanent residency visas will be over. Will they congratulate me then? Probably not, but they don't have to. Mark, Zane and I are already planning the celebratory dinner at our local budget sushi restaurant. Hey, don't chuckle...now we have to pay off the credit-card debt accrued during this jolly process. OUCH!
As an American living abroad, I find it interesting to draw comparisons between my home country and my home-away-from-home country.
|Land mass||3,794,083 sq mi||2,967,909 sq mi|
|Population||just under 300 million||just over 20 million|
|No. of mobile phones||219 million||18 million|
|No. of airports||14,858||455|
|HIV/AIDS-related deaths||approx. 14,000||approx. 200|
|% of population living in the 10 largest cities||less than 10%||more than 60%|
|Indigenous peoples as percentage of population||1.20%||2.40%|