The Price You Pay For Dreaming

Once upon a time, on the night of April 16th 2012 to be exact, I read an essay online that broke my heart. Isn’t it funny how, at the time, you don’t realise it’s your heart that’s breaking? You don’t hear the sound of snap like with a bone. This night I didn’t hear anything at all.

My husband was out at a meeting, and, because it was late, the kids were all asleep in bed. It was nine pm. I’m an early riser, and I tend to go to bed around then or just after, and read till I fall asleep. This night I didn’t though. This night I read the essay and shut the computer off quickly, but I couldn’t go to bed. I couldn’t say anything, and I was grateful that there was nobody there to not say anything to, because silence is awkward when you can’t, or don’t want to, explain it.

It took half an hour for me to realise something had broken. I washed the dishes and tidied up the lounge room and wandered back into the study to turn the computer on again and reread it and then thought better of it and brought the cat in and checked the sleeping children and eventually, because there was nothing else left to do, went into my bedroom and shut the door.

It must have been the click of the door jamb that did it, or maybe the so-familiar mess of discarded clothes and things to be dealt with. My unmade bed looked sad and empty, and suddenly I realised it was exactly like me. Words of an old song ran through my brain, and I looked away; turned my face into the coats hanging on the back of the door, and, just as suddenly as my heart had broken half an hour before, the sobs burst out of me.

I cried for half an hour, no less. Every time my tears subsided that song rang in my brain again like a punch to the gut. I hadn’t heard that song in years, and I hated it right then with a passion that I couldn’t contain, and everything it represented. It was an old Laura Branigan song, and that one line “I don’t wanna know the price I’m gonna pay for dreaming/Now that your dreams have come true” pummeled me again and again.

Dreams are hard to bear.

The essay was beautiful. It was written by the very talented Vila Gingerich, and spoke eloquently of her childhood passion to travel the world, and how she’d buried that dream only to one day be able to live it. It spoke to me in the deepest places of my own childhood passion, to see North, and how my own plans for an overseas trip six months earlier had been thwarted by circumstances beyond my control.

I still feel it in my body, that night of the heartbreak. I carry it with me, and maybe I always will, like a ridged scar where a wound has healed. I didn’t know then that, only seven months later, I’d be stepping off an aeroplane onto American soil for the very first time and getting my very first stamp in my virgin passport. You never know what’s going to happen in the future. This is the hard place. All you can do is bear the heartbreak of the present, and keep moving forward.

I didn’t know, either, when I sobbed my heart out back in Australia after I returned home with a heart full-to-bursting with love for the good old US of A, that I’d be going back again so soon; that I’d be packing up my entire family and planning a mammoth two-month hike over most of the North American continent. You never know what the future will hold. That can be a hard thing.

I’ve tried not to talk about the upcoming trip that much, mainly because I’m so painfully aware that, while this is my dream come true, so many of my friends and people I love dearly are still waiting for their dreams. It’s a hard place. There’s a price you pay for dreaming.

I’m not writing this to say “Hey folks, it’s okay! It all works out in the end, and you’ll get your dream!” I can’t say that. I’m writing it to say exactly what that song said to me: dreaming hurts. Waiting hurts. Not knowing the future hurts. Watching other people walk out into your dream hurts too.

This is why I’ll cry, yet again, when I’m on that aeroplane. This is why I’l never, ever, take my dreams for granted.

I know it hurts. But keep believing.

Stay

For anyone who doesn’t know, we’re doing the insane and slightly radical thing of packing up our family of five and chooffing round the US and Canada for eight weeks or so later on in the year. Needless to say, we’re very excited.

Just to recap, I’ve been dreaming of travelling like this for as long as I’ve known it was possible, that people do such things – since I was about five years old. I’m now quite a lot more than five years old. It’s been a long wait. My first ever overseas trip was November, where I discovered that Americans are, in fact, wonderful, and I didn’t get shot. Not even in Sacramento. Not even walking by myself in a forest in Sacramento. Nor did I see any dead bodies in said forest in Sacramento, which is terribly unusual for anyone who watches The Mentalist as much as I do.

I’ve also now (I’m sorry. True confession time) fallen hopelessly and completely in love with anyone with an American accent. Or a Canadian accent – and (oh aren’t I a clever clogs!) I’m learning to tell the difference.

So that’s the backstory. Most of you knew that…except the bit about me being hopelessly in love with anyone who talks to me in an American accent. By the way, TV doesn’t count. Not even if it’s Kevin Bacon. Not after Sleepers…

ANYWAY…

(This is, of course, why I haven’t blogged for a while. My brain is spitting out random sentences without any kind of art or design. AND I’m drinking tea, and it’s not helping.)

But here we go. Here’s the point of all the backstory (and the tea). My husband said to me the other day something along the lines of “we could have done this years ago, before we had children, but we didn’t know that we could“.

It made me ache with sadness.

I ached because for so many years I held that dream in my heart, the yearning to go, the desperate longing to see a world that was not mine and meet a people that were not like me, and everything in me rebelled against staying. I hated being here. I hated staying.

And then one day there was a day, a voice, a notion, a thought, a feeling. A sense. A word from God, and it was this: Bloom Where You’re Planted. Stay. Grow. Relax. Give it up.

I cried.

I said yes, because there’s nothing else to say really, but I gave the condition of only-if-I-can-go-to-the-mainland-at-least-once-a-year. I live on an island. Sometimes it feels like a prison colony still.

And that was that. I went to Melbourne pretty regularly, usually once or twice a year. Usually for work. I didn’t care why, or what I did there. I just wanted to go, and I did. And then I had kids, and the trips off the island got harder and more sporadic, and the need to go lessened, and then eventually I forgot the need at all, the need to see the world that was bigger than me.

I still don’t like to look at the ache.

We talked about it last night, my husband and I, about what he’d said and about what I felt, and we came to the conclusion that although physically it was true – we could have travelled years ago – mentally and psychologically it’s completely untrue. The walls that held us in were invisible but very, very real.

It was, in hindsight, good to learn how to be able to stay, to bloom, to grow, and to be happy.

Staying so long made walking out so much sweeter. The anticipation mixed with the ache and spiced with memories is, in fact, a delicious cocktail. I can’t say yet that I don’t regret not having gone earlier, but I’m sure one day in years to come I will.

But I never, ever thought I’d love Americans this much.

How about you? Have you ever had to give up a dream, only to have it given back to you? Do you understand the ache? Do you ever wonder if, with all the pain it causes, dreaming is still worth it?

I left my heart in yesterday

Want to know a secret? I think I can tell you now, that it’s all right, that even if everybody around us is secretly listening and blabs it all over the internet it’s still okay, but I wanted you to know. Really. You’ve been there for me through all the hard stuff, especially recently, and I wanted to share some good news with you too.

I’ve fallen in love.

It’s kind of weird admitting it, and saying it out loud has a strangeness about it, a kind of finality, that once you admit to it it has to be true, there’s no going back on such things, especially when people know. I know.

I’m going back to the land where it’s still called Yesterday, the place where I left my heart. I’m going back to America.

Now before you all throw your arms in the air and say “Megan how could you!” and other wild accusations, let me explain. I’m bringing the family this time. Packing up the husband and the three kids and enough snacks, books and gadgetry to allow us to survive a 14 hour flight, and figuring out the logistics of how to pack enough stuff into suitcases small enough for the children to handle, yet having enough to get us through a mammoth 6-week USA and Canada road trip.

Yes. You heard me. I left my heart there. I’m going back to find it again. By the looks of things, probably this September. Never ever…EVER thought that’d happen. Good thing I believe in miracles, because there’s been a few of them turning up lately.

What about you? Ever found yourself pining for a place you used to swear you’d never go to? Ever fallen in love with the most unexpected thing?

Something to eat?

Saturday was hot. A scorcher, one of those days when the sky is ripped open by the sun and a blanket falls on the earth and threatens to suffocate you every time you walk out the door. We pulled out the paddling pool and stretched it over the bleached brown and stalky grass of the back garden and let the hose run until there was water enough in there to wet the bottom half of you if you lay down and nip your ankles if you stood up, and the kids laughed and careened and jumped and threw the glorious stuff over themselves and, and over me. They came inside and dried off, then later, when the neighbours came over they went out and splashed and laughed and did the whole thing over again until the day cooled and we realised it was dinner time, and none of us cared.

Because it was Saturday, and because it had been so hot, and because we’d all laughed until our sides ached there was really only one thing to do for dinner, and we did it. I slipped on my thongs and walked down the road to the corner shop and came home with five dim sims, five potato cakes, five fish bites, two pieces of flake, a couple of pineapple fritters and two dollar’s chips, all wrapped up in white paper, and we opened it up on the lounge room floor and squeezed some tomato sauce around and ate it in front of the telly.

It was good, and I smiled and double-dipped my potato cake and thought to myself, This…THIS is Australia.

I’m far from the first person to realise the association of food with culture. We had lunch with our beautiful Russian friend a few weeks ago and she’d baked Russian delicacies for us all morning, and expressed with so much more than her words how her love of cooking came from her love of her family, and how food represented time together and family meals and recipes passed on from generations, and it happy-sadded me. I was happy because those things are important and need to be kept and valued, and sad because somehow in white suburban Australia we’d missed the importance of this, and embraced chicken nuggets and frozen peas.

However, it wasn’t until I was in the US that I realised that there WAS a food culture deep inside me that was all-Australian. There were no corner shops with dim sims and potato cakes or flake so battered you can barely find the fish inside it. There were no jars of vegemite in people’s pantries (unless I brought them), and when I asked for fish and chips from the menu at a restaurant the waitress asked me how I wanted my potato (CHIPS, woman! Is it not obvious?)…chips (crisps), fries (chips), or baked (what the…?) I ordered a lemon, lime and bitters and she had no idea what I meant, so I ordered a lemonade and she brought me a lemon juice and sugar drink. It was very nice, but there were no bubbles. Things are just different. There are burgers and Mexican food, and more burgers and more Mexican food, with a good amount of pizza thrown in for good measure. Trying to find a salad roll at an airport is like trying to find a kangaroo bounding down the main streets of Sydney.*

It wasn’t bad – well, no worse than ridiculous deep-friend batter masquerading as fish – but it wasn’t MY food. It wasn’t home. I wasn’t homesick, but, in a strange-sense of the word, I was food-sick.

And then my darling Michigan friend found me some Weetbix. Well, Weetabix, the Canadian version (tastes the same. God bless the Canadians!), and she made me a vegemite sandwich, and suddenly everything was okay again, and I felt normal. I’d found myself, centred myself, in food.

And this is why on Saturday walking home with my corner shop takeaway dinner after a scorching December day I felt blissfully and completely at home, and totally and absolutely Australian.

How about you? Have you ever noticed strong associations with food and culture, or mourned the lack of food culture in your childhood? I’d love to hear your stories.

*Actually I found the best salad roll in the entire USA at Dallas airport on my way home, which made me supremely happy. I made the comment to a friend that this may be because Dallas is almost Salad spelled backwards, although this was laughed down. I still believe though.

Honey, I’m home!

I came back from my Grand Adventure.

There is so much to say, and so much to think. How two weeks in the USA can change a person so profoundly is anybody’s guess, but it did. We are all different now: my house is different, my husband, my kids, we’ve all changed by this experience, and for the better. I will talk about it here, and the changes that have happened, but not just yet. Now is the time for quiet, and for remembering, and for allowing myself to stay different and not be swept back up again in the familiar routines and thoughts and expectations.

I’m looking at my photos. A lot. Just to remember that Michigan has funny yellow traffic lights that hang on a rope in the middle of the road, and that yellow school buses are real (they really are!), that LA doesn’t have trees, that pharmacies sell beer and Walmart sells guns (YES! It really does!!). That true friendships don’t mind about the fact that you may not see someone for ten years, or that you may never have met them (or even spoken to them) in person before. That Americans are just the most kind, loving and beautiful collection of people that I’ve ever met, and that the world will always feel just a little bit smaller now because I’ve wrapped my the silk thread from my heart around and around these people and trees and shops and bedrooms and couches and clocks and kitchens, and if I squeeze myself really close I can always pull that thread just a little bit tighter.

La la la…Los Angeles

I MADE IT! I’M IN THE USA!

I dragged my stupidly tired and jet-lagged self off a plane at 6.30 in the morning yesterday and waited in a stupidly long line with passengers from two other planes while a gorgeous Hispanic lady with so much make-up you’d think she was about film a TV show (oh heck, this is LA…maybe she was!) herded us through and into our places and made us giggle, which was no small feat considering we’d all been on a plane all night.

I caught a door-to-door shuttle bus to my friend Theresa’s house. These are amazing things, like group-taxis kind of, and it cost me $65 for an hour-and-a-half ride with a wonderful Lebanese-American man who told me heaps about LA and even bought me a coffee from Starbucks. Yes. Americans are wonderful.

The first thing I noticed was how much it looked like Melbourne. We didn’t see any of Downtown LA, but the suburbs are just…Melbourne…but bigger. And MORE. They even have Westfields, to complete the illusion – that IS a Aussie company, isn’t it? I felt the need to keep half an eye open for stray Banjos Bakeries, and felt sure that any minute my Lebanese-American driver was going to tell me he was really Lebanese-Australian, and that we’d be approaching the Dandenongs any time soon. Then I saw the mountains.

The mountains behind LA are beautiful. More than beautiful. They are spectacular. THey rise up out of the flat valley floor like a wrinkle in a blanket, and they’re wrinkly and ancient looking and at the same time look like the hand of God could come along and smooth them, blanketlike, at any time. My driver says they were pushed up by the movement of the earth plates. They are the result of the famous San Andreus Fault Line, and they go all the way up the West Coast of the USA and into Canada. I wanted to go and climb them and explore all over (which is not possible this trip). Theresa later told me that there are coyotes there, and it’s rattle snake season. Their house backs onto a sandy desert hill, and it’s not safe to explore there either, for the same reasons.

But I love it here. I love seeing old friends, and being able to hang out and relax and chat and simply spend time together. Any amount of sleeplessness is worth it to spend time with these lovely people again.

Here are the main bits of difference I’ve noticed day 1:

Milk comes in gallon-bottles.

There’s garbage disposal.

All the houses are made of stucco. There are no brick houses anywhere – they’d crack with all the earthquakes.

In this neighbourhood every second house has a US flag hanging on the front porch (I’ve been told this was for Remembrance day) and pumpkins out as decorations (go out for Halloween, stay out until Thanksgiving, and as soon as they come in the Christmas decorations go out). But they still don’t EAT pumpkins…only ones in cans.

I’m told it’s really hard to buy electric kettles. Most people have the old-fashioned sort that you put on the stove top and take ages to boil. Theresa bought her electric kettle in a Camping shop. (Yes. Because I’d pack an electric kettle if I was going bushwalking and living in a tent for a week too!)

Theresa’s kids are petrified of house flies. There was a tiny one outside on the deck, and the youngest screamed and ran inside. Here there are no flying insects! No flies, no mosquitos, definitely no enormous blowflies like at our place at the moment.

You can’t say the word “toilet” (Theresa’s kids don’t even know what it means! I told one of them I had to go to the toilet before I played another round of cards, and she looked at me funny and said “what?”) although you can – and should – wear ugg boots* in public. Here that is not at all Bogan. Here it is the height of fashion!

So Aussie friends, when you boil your kettle today think about America. And then, when you go to the supermarket and see people in ugg boots, congratulate them on their excellent fashion sense – even if it is in the wrong country.

Image

*I presume everybody knows what ugg boots are. Sheepskin boots. In Australia we think of them as bedroom slippers, and only wear them outside the house in desperate times…or if we forget.