Check In: A tl;dr* special

The story so far
I set up this blog with the intention of writing about my New Exciting Life In Berlin, which was just sort of okay, and then Berlin fucked up and I started travelling instead. It is now a year since I left Berlin, a year of just me and my rucksack and whoever I met along the way. And there are quite a few things I want to address in this blog post. Therefore, here is today’s agenda:

I. Where I have been and what is going on
II. The importance of balance, which I will attempt to outline without sounding overly self-helpy
III. Stuff that is good

Listing all the countries I’ve been to since July 2010 feels like a pointless exercise, because who really cares besides me (there are a couple maps in the sidebar, anyway), but the new ones were Lithuania, Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. In addition to these I pinballed around quite a bit. It’s all about cheap flights and creative overland solutions and whatnot.

I think it’s about time I mentioned that I’m not actually a wreck any more, okay? I mean with regard to the whole break-up angst that prompted my departure from Berlin. That episode left me with a couple of issues, such as: reduced faith in humanity (oh, the melodrama!) and newfound fear of rejection, but those have faded somewhat with time. However, it’s hard not to tell my story without referencing it to some extent, since it was the impetus that caused me to begin travelling.

Berlin remains kind of a no-go zone for me for the foreseeable future, apart from its airports, which are handy for Leipzig purposes. But I’m okay with this. A big reason why I left Berlin was because I didn’t have a support network there to help me cope with the break-up. Some people opt to endure unpleasant situations to prove they can do it, in order to ‘win’. Whatever. I won by taking back a little control and getting the fuck out. Berlin still makes me feel kind of weird and uncomfortable to think about, which is why I don’t want to revisit it, rather than for fear of running into my ex or something. But that’s okay. Other people can have Berlin. I have the rest of the planet.

My only plan is to continue travelling. I’ve gotten into this mindset where it’s hard to imagine returning to Edinburgh – much as I still love it – unless circumstances conspire to make me. So I guess I will keep on moving for as long as I feel like it and can afford to. I have a few definite locations on my list and then some probables/hopefuls, but I like to keep some things as a surprise, plus you never know whether things will really happen until they happen (see: being stranded in Kurdistan). Income continues to be something I try to patch up as I go along. Results are not spectacular, but at least I can sustain this for a while yet.

You know how we’re all products of our experiences, both good and bad? I kind of woke up to that notion back when I was fifteen and got dumped by my pseudo-drug dealer punk boyfriend of two weeks and was all kind of miserable so I went into a second-hand bookshop in Bangor and treated myself to a book by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Who, it would seem, was in fact pretty goddamn creepy in his behaviour towards women followers! And I think there was some sexist and/or homophobic stuff in the book too but I can’t remember for sure and I never read the whole thing anyway. But there was this stuff about how you need a kind of balance, you need good and bad to co-exist, because if everything was all super wonderful all the time then you would have nothing to compare it to, blah blah blah. Perhaps he even used this perspective to legitimise his own creepy behaviour, which is not so great.

However, I read this when I was fifteen and I distinctly remember going WHOA. So I guess I kind of needed it; I think it gave me a better perspective on the sadness that seemed to be an inescapable part of me. (Also, not everything in my life was pre-empted by a break-up; it just maybe seems that way because I like writing about mopey things.) Anyway, the upshot of it all is that I guess I have accepted the bad things that have taken place in my life, because without them I would be on a different path, and I really like the one I’m on.

Which brings us to: stuff that is good! This is an effort to redress the balance of what I write about, based on my own perception – no-one else has actually raised this, although maybe they’re just being nice – that I focus too much on sadness and loneliness and things like that. I mean, that’s never really been the plan: I don’t want to make myself known as the mopey one who had a short-lived relationship in Berlin and was in bits forevermore, or some shit like that. And I find it worthwhile to record how I’ve coped with things and found my way through bad times and so forth. But if I write about family problems or bereavement or break-ups or anything else that makes me sad, it should not be inferred that these things are a) everything about me, or b) everything about any given day in my life. And this travelling that I’m doing? Sure, it was prompted by bad circumstances, but then it became its own thing.

With that in mind, here is an alphabetised rundown of some good things from the past few months.

Looking after other people’s pets every so often allows me the opportunity to relax and have some space to myself. Additionally, a lot of the people I stay with have their own pets. Currently I am staying in an anarchafeminist household in Auckland where a neighbourhood cat calls round every day and is known only as CatWithGoldenPaw. This cat is ludicrously affectionate as well as delightfully chunky. Prior to this, I was staying in Brisbane with my old friend Amanda, who has two new cats, Pickle (short for Piccolo) and Captain, also known as Squirrel (so named on account of his bushy tail; I call him Captain Squirrel). In addition to my dearly missed canine charge in Armidale, a noteworthy dog from recent months would be Footstool, the aptly-named Basset hound of Malaysian film-maker Linus Chung. Linus also breeds cockroaches, but was considerate and did not force me to have direct contact with them.

Significant non-domestic animals include the palm squirrels I discovered in Sri Lanka, which I think of as some sort of chipmunk-squirrel hybrid and as such are probably my ideal rodent. Kangaroos, with their peculiar design, also deserve a special mention: the Australian road signs advertising their presence make me smile every time I see them.

I am not an expert on birds but Australia has some pretty cool ones which make impressive noises and are sometimes colourful and/or funny-looking. Also, there are WILD TURKEYS wandering all over Brisbane, as well as the ibis, with its disarmingly solemn appearance.

Sometimes I am too distracted or lazy to prepare worthwhile food; other times I get really into it. Armidale had a great fruit and veg market where every day there’d be a discount section so I could surprise myself with what I was going to have for dinner. Sesame brussels sprouts became a regular feature: they are kind of the best things in the world ever. Today I had a burrito filled with a hash brown, scrambled eggs, spinach and onion: this was also kind of epic. I like discovering meals that other people make and then incorporating them into my own culinary repertoire as I continue to travel.

Alas! Karaoke Dick finished up on Saturday night before I had the chance to perform my Billy Bragg selection, but rest assured it would have been fabulous. I did, however, sing Breaking Up Is Hard To Do by Neil Sedaka (NO SIGNIFICANCE INTENDED I SWEAR). I was initially taken aback upon realising that my back-up singer had opted to growl her vocals in manner of Cookie Monster, but I took it in my stride and am told the results were marvellous. Admittedly the only feedback given came from a mutual friend, but seeing as I didn’t know anybody else in the room, it’s not of major concern anyway.

New Zealand English
Okay, so my best friend is from New Zealand and I also wound up hanging out with a ton of New Zealanders in Berlin, but it still required me to actually visit the country before I could identify what makes the New Zealand accent different to the Australian one (basically: new and exciting things happening to vowels). Frequently encountered vocabulary: choice, keen, totes, real, true, stink, bro, cheap as, cool as, tau iwi, pakeha, koha, tino rangatiratanga.

Trains in Australia
I am pretty happy about the fact that I covered over 1000 miles in Australia without resorting to planes. (Because obviously, given the amount of flying I do the rest of the time, this totally gets me off the hook. Oh wait.) Although I do not have extensive experience, I am a big fan of Australian trains, particularly compared to UK trains. Namely: they are affordable! Given the time taken and distance covered, they are pretty good value for money, not least because the price remains the same even if you buy your ticket on the day you’re travelling, as opposed to in the UK where you’re financially penalised if you failed to predict your travel plans three months in advance. Also, if you need to cancel a ticket, you can get a refund with the minimum of fuss, as opposed to enough e-mail correspondence to fill a novella followed by a copout that says you’re not getting your money anyway (I’m looking at you, Arriva Trains Wales).

I went to Wellington for the first time a few months ago and found myself an instant community. Over the course of ten days I watched cheesy films, went indoor climbing, ripped my trousers pretending to be a competent cyclist, bonded over the taboo nature of non-cyclists in anarchopunk communities, completed my longest (and possibly best, in my own opinion) zine yet, met and was hosted by the cryptic e-mail correspondent I’d had since the previous summer, had a picnic in the Botanic Gardens, read at an open mic night, saw tuatara, visited the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, hung out with alleged terrorists, played on a flying fox under the stars, finally remembered how to kiss people again, checked out the zine section in the public library, had a potluck dinner for my leaving do, and considered the implications of finding a home (in an overly hilly, wet and windy city) on the other side of the world.

The Australian and New Zealand zine scenes, as experienced through Sticky Institute, the MCA Zine Fair and Auckland Zinefest (with Dunedin Zinefest still to come) are pretty happening places to be. In the UK, I don’t especially feel like I’m part of a zine scene, but that is possibly due to not living in England, and it’s also possibly due to not making enough effort myself to connect with other zine kids. (Also, it should be noted that it’s not like nothing happens in Scotland: 7 August will see a zine fair in Edinburgh, and attendance is mandatory for any and all local readers of this blog.) But yeah, so here I somehow feel more like I’m part of something, despite being an outsider who only showed up in town for a little while.

I’ve picked up so many fantastic zines in this part of the world that it’s hard to know where to start, but my recommendations would include:

  • Blue Floral Gusset: John identifies as a transvestite, and discusses the awkwardness of navigating the public realm and people’s reactions and misconceptions. He wears skirts pretty much all the time, and writes about how his main fear has moved from being targeted for abuse, to concerns about things like ‘having to’ shave his legs. I don’t think I’ve read any similar zines, so I really appreciated his giving me a copy of this one.
  • Boy In A Big City: a super cute queer trans comic from New Zealand, which is both educational for people new to the issues, and affirming and fun to read for people who aren’t.
  • I Am A Camera #15: Vanessa Berry is kind of the queen of Australian zines, and in this issue she writes about her visit to Dunedin, which has taken on additional significance now that it turns out I’m going there myself. Vanessa and Simon went there on a quest to explore the world of Flying Nun Records, and her trademark attention to detail is always endearing.
  • Look Who’s Stalking: an entertaining zine by Mara Coson and Coco Quizon about obsessing over a musician called Jenny Lee Lindberg, and dealing with her performance in Melbourne by getting drunk and overly friendly. The details in the zine revealed that Coco lived around the corner from where I was staying in Northcote, so it seemed like it would be a really good idea to stalk her in turn (and then make a zine about it), but I failed to get started with that project. Instead I’m linking to her blog so that if she checks her stats she might be all HEY WAIT WTF IS THIS.
  • Mellow Yellow: a collaborative zine by radical Asian feminists in Aotearoa. This is epic. Topics covered include internalised racism, migrant experiences, western privilege, colonialism, queer identity, and underwear-stealing cats. You can download the first issue in PDF format. Also, I got a homemade No One Is Illegal sticker from their stall at Auckland Zine Fest, which is now proudly displayed on my netbook.
  • Mood Dictated By Sunset Gradient: a synaesthetic account of a period spent in hospital by a boy with cystic fibrosis, a terminal condition. Intense, breathtaking, overwhelming and ultimately uplifting.
  • Neighbour Cats: a small, charming, and laugh-out-loud hilarious guide to some of the cats of Wellington.
  • Not Afraid Of Ruins: my favourite issue is #2, which is about Israel/Palestine, zionism, Jewish identity and Stargate, but #1 is on mental health and capitalism, and #3 is on travelling in Europe; all are super-articulate, intense and valuable reads.
  • Strange: Seven Times With You: a deeply personal (you know, my favourite kind?) story of a sort-of relationship.
  • Sutures: okay, I haven’t finished this one yet, but I am pretty excited about it as I am aware of only a handful of zines concerning the Middle East. This one is by an Australian woman examining her Syrian, Lebanese and British roots. It is also intense.

Overly earnest conclusion
So this is where I’m at, on a sunny day in a place that’s as far from home as I’ve ever been. I have a lot more of the world to see, a lot more to learn about, and a lot more people to meet. At the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker or something, I’m constantly thankful for the experiences that I get to have along the way. People often say to me that they could never do what I’m doing, and I can’t pretend that it is equally easy for everybody – without this combination of white skin and an Irish passport, for example, it’s unlikely I’d find it so easy to get into so many countries, and without some amount of money you can’t leave home at all. However, most of the people who say this to me would seem to have similar privileges and resources, and instead what they’re referencing is fear. I don’t see anything to be afraid of, beyond financial instability which has been a feature ever since I joined the redundancy club anyway. I didn’t know I was going to do this until I did it; I’m not on a round the world ticket or a gap year, and I have no idea what awaits me whether I stop or not. But the people I meet along the way are frequently kind, friendly, and inspirational, and I value the opportunities for us to learn about each other’s experiences and perspectives. It’s a good life.

* tl;dr: short for Too Long; Didn’t Read. If anyone actually makes it to this footnote.

3 responses to “Check In: A tl;dr* special

  1. I won by taking back a little control and getting the fuck out.
    I don’t care how unhealthy various mental health practitioners tell me this practice is – I sorta hope it will be my approach for years to come.

    I was incredibly excited about seeing kangaroos in the wild when I got to Australia. When my Twin picked me up from the airport she said it was OK if I fell asleep in the back seat – she’d wake me up if we passed any.

    It was a good thing she didn’t, because I would have been sad if my first Genuine Kangaroos were roadkill :(

  2. I never thought of the sadder notes as defining your life/self, but I understand the urge to clarify – when I journal largely the sad/difficult stuff, I worry that I’m coming over as whiny. But then, the complicated stuff tends to be what requires venting, or at least deconstruction. I do know that I write less when I get inhibited by what other people might be thinking, so there’s also that!

    I’m enjoying your zine recs. Not Afraid of Ruins 1 was very helpful for reasons I’ll get into when I actually email you. As for your future travels, our sofa is always open… :)

  3. I have to admit I haven’t read all of the back story here, partly (stupidly) because it feels to personal, despite having written stuff related to my break-up with a married man. Perhaps that’s why it feels too personal..

    anyway; I love to read your stuff for the matter of fact approach to things that are totally different to my life. I get to travel quite a bit, with work, but at the end of the day I see factories and hotel rooms. I totally admire the ability to detach and reconnect in a different place that you seem to have, and the exuberance to keep on going. Thanks for another insight ;)

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