Today being Christmas, proceedings began with a 7am wake up call from some very excited children (one guess why) followed by sitting in the living room, barely keeping my eyes open, while emitting little gasps when told that the half eatencarrots on the mantelpiece had been left by the reindeer who came through the night before. All in all, a pretty great reminder to me that when you take a leap into new territory, or follow your own inner compass, you will be caught on the other side.
This time four years ago, I was hoping and praying that I would make it to Melbourne, Australia by March of the following year. Three years ago I was praying and hoping I would get to stay there and continue my various creative practices. Two years ago, I was praying and hoping I'd make it back to New Zealand again. Go bloody figure. But then last year, something surprising happened. I was halfway between feeling like I'd abandoned my Kiwi family for a host of loveable (if not roguish-humoured) Australians, and halfway between just thinking 'wow' 'look at me' 'I made it and I'm still here!'.
Julia Cameron has a saying about following your dreams, especially those that scare you and resemble the exhilarating, terrifying act of jumping off a high cliff into deep water. She says 'Leap, and the net will appear', meaning of course that if you listen to your gut and take that risk that you've wanted to, you will be caught.
I wholeheartedly agree with Julia on this one, but might I add a little disclaimer here: Being caught doesn't always feel like a Mary Poppins style escapade, floating in through a sky of puffy white clouds while humming a tune that could set the average Joe up quite comfortably on royalties for the rest of his/her life. Sometimes it feels like the emergency crew throwing down a gym mat at the bottom of the cliff so you don't break your arse but only bruise your tailbone slightly.
After all my hoping, wishing, praying, ticket purchasing and eventually landing in Oz, I ended up in a friend of a friend's jeep being whisked away to Royal Women's Hospital to remove a huge growth that had formed in my lower abdomen. Luckily the day before this all happened, I had just been kicked out of the house where I was staying with a friend while the owner was away in Italy. All was well and good until (so the story goes) my friend told said owner she wasn't going to be at the house when he got back from his trip, and amidst a host of very rude and abrupt facebook messages we were both escorted off the property by a neighbour and told we'd have to find somewhere else for the remainder of the week.
If we hadn't been kicked out of said house, I would have been stuck in a regional Victorian town with 20 kilograms of luggage when I had my medical outbreak, but instead we bunked in together in the bed of a lovely friend of mine who lived in Fitzroy while she went to stay at her then -boyfriend's house. Perfect.
But not really perfect.
I woke up that morning with the sorest, weakest, achiest stomach I can remember and a feeling that someone might have just hit me in it with a large rubber mallet. Gagging in the front garden on Nicholson Street whilst passing traffic slowed to a stop at the traffic lights was far less than ideal. But eventually the pain got so bad that a housemate of said friend agreed to drive me to hospital, and a week later I was out and sleeping on the floor of yet another friend who graciously agreed to have me at her place in Northcote. It was there I stayed, watching Daria reruns and searching for jobs and places I could house share when I was strong enough to make it out the front door without feeling like my stitches might burst. Said friend is still around and we have these stories to laugh and cry about as we think about how far we've come since my early days in Melbs.
I had been working up until then at a design studio in Auckland, as well as self-contracting as a face painter, so when I scoured job listings for vacancies and didn't find the ideal job opportunities I'd been hoping for on arriving in 'the world's most liveable city' I decided nothing else was worth the time I'd be compromising by working in a job that wasn't completely creatively focused and I set about calling numerous companies asking if they had any vacancies for a resident face painter. After two months of sleeping on my dear friend's floor and healing enough that I could lug my bags around with me on trams and trains, eventually I found a house in Carlton North, where I would live for the next six months.
There was also a family-centred cafe just down the road, and they agreed to have me once or twice a week if I wanted to set a sign up and face paint outside for kids while their mums and dads were sipping lattes and stealing sidelong glances at me (until word got round that I was actually affiliated with the place, and not just a random off the street who was trying to take their money. Every Saturday and Sunday morning without fail, I would pack down my paper cutting desk in my room, stand this against the wall and wheel the desk that had held it up, along with a sign, my kit and my chairs, down to the park to begin work. With good weather, this little side venture was enough to pay my bills and food for the week, plus some rent, and not delve too deeply into my savings, while still giving me the time I needed to get up each day for my morning run, and start my artist day at around 9am. But casual work was not enough to sustain my bills and rent and six months later, I was a mess. Looking back, there were a great number of people who helped me through, and maintain to this day, the reason I am still here. Friends who bought my work, who booked me for illustration jobs, and who took a punt on a New Zealand artist and her enthusiasm, and supported me in some way, shape or form to keep doing what I'd come here to do. There was also a particularly talented couple who 'adopted' me early on. They ran (and still do) run a vegan, stone-fire bakery called Fruition, where they make scores of vegan sourdough loaves by hand for local buyers, cafes, their own bike polo team where I met them, and for a while, would regularly surprise me with loaves of freshly baked sourdough. I think they know now, but those loaves kept me going for weeks. At the time, I was struggling on brown rice and lemons I managed to scavenge from kindly Italian ladies in the neighbourhood, and they're one of the reasons I made it through that period of my life, and managed to stay long enough to find my feet when I had little to do but just put one foot in front of the other.
Toward the end of that first year, with the stress of not eating properly, and my growing fears about whether I'd be able to stay and work in Australia or whether I'd have to borrow money for a ticket home, I was struggling daily with major stress and depression, coupled with the pressure I was putting on my body to work harder to establish myself, and still the growing sense that I was a failure. There is more to this story than I will share with you tonight, but following that period I managed to get a job as a medical receptionist at a physiotherapy clinic in the city. The people there were kind and it was a family business, so they looked after each other and me, and while the work was hard, and I had a lot to learn, that job and the support of the team I worked with there, enabled me the chance I needed to pursue my work without worrying as much about my finances, while having time to pursuit my music and art.
That was the beginning of the next phase of my crash landing, which you'll undoubtedly hear more about in posts to come, but remembering that time always helps me keep myself in check when I think I'm not doing enough.
I would never have imagined back then that I could have achieved as much as I have now, and have so many people around me who I consider family, but it's happened. It happened not as I wanted to with my dream job on arrival, hitting the ground running with shows and exhibitions and my own band the day I landed, but by putting one foot in front of the other, choosing not to listen to the fearful voices in my head but instead to cling to the ones that said I could do what I wanted to if I just kept going, and somehow, blessedly I have ended up somewhere in between my ideals and meeting my dreams with my reality in a way that far exceeds those I might have ever conjured in my own head.
With all that, I leave you with this quote ~
The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ~ Michelangelo