I’m gliding over a sea of midnight blue clouds as the sun sets over the wing of my plane and over my home town below, Sydney, in a brilliant and mournful blood red glow. My MP3 player decides in it’s shuffle mode wisdom to begin playing the emotional crescendo of ‘Unity of Cultures’ by Tentura vs Zymosis, an epic piece of electronic music perfectly suited to life changing moments or the births of small planets. The whole scene seems to have been arranged just to mark this moment. The moment I leave the ground. I don’t know when I’ll see my family and friends again. Picturing their tearful faces I kissed goodbye only an hour ago, I’m reminded guiltily that I’ve made it harder for the people I care about most to be happy for a while. They’re staying, I’m going. I’m on a plane, and it’s the final culmination of so much planning and preparation that I don’t even know what to feel right now. Why am I doing this again? I’m confused.
Going away seems to get harder as you get older. Or maybe it’s that you develop the maturity to understand that the people you love are a real commitment, and you can’t just go around getting that love everywhere- it’s precious. I don’t take love for granted the way I used to when I was 20, and so leaving it behind for a while is much more like getting out of a warm bed on a really cold day in the middle of a glacier, and much less like getting out of a warm bed into the tropical beach resort of youthful self assurance. Not that you leave love behind when you travel- but you know, it’s not there every day to hold your hand. Saying goodbye was hard. Getting involved with a beautiful man before I left sure didn’t make it any easier. Well, never did make things easy for myself, it seems, and as my clever friend Jola said- ‘at least you know you’re not dead’.
So about two hours ago now my parents dropped me at the airport, then my friends came to see me off. We cried, gave each other strong smiles and resolute hugs. I marched off down through customs, my emotions wheeling between elation, a strange sort of surreal indifference and misery. As I made my way through the weird experience that is the duty free shopping area (how on earth did they manage to turn airports into malls without us noticing?), I tried hard to remind myself that I arranged this whole thing for a bunch of good reasons. It was like going through a break up that I instigated myself. You know it’s for the best, but knowing that doesn’t stop it from sucking. It wasn’t until I felt the stomach-dropping sensation of the ground pulling away from beneath my feet that I started to let the reality sink in that I’m doing what I want. It wasn’t until I looked out the window and saw a perfect view of my home city, concrete and shining, that I remembered how much I don’t want to be there, working the grind of some unfulfilling job instead of chasing the world in it’s runaway cycle of change.
So I guess that’s why I’m doing this. Essentially, it’s about living a meaningful life. Discovering the world and wondering at it, seeing again through the eyes of a child. Going on adventures, finding new things, meeting new people with new perspectives, pushing myself out of what makes me comfortable so that I am reminded of what life has to truly offer. Living before I die. But when I say living meaningfully, it’s also about having meaning in that life. Feeling as though your existence meant something, something good. Feeling that you contributed to something bigger than yourself, something which will go on evolving long after the atoms from which you are constructed have flung themselves out into the world again spinning, to become furniture or insects or dirt underneath someone’s fingernail. Whether it’s God or Allah or human rights or your country or sustainability, no matter how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ it might be, we all generally need something to live for that’s at least a little transcendent. For me, the grand narrative of our time is whether we drag ourselves out of this developmental catastrophe known as the unsustainable society. So in a selfish way, immersing myself in this grand narrative as an actor seems a natural way of contributing to something bigger than myself. This journey and my baby, GroundRoots, are my mission for the time being.
The last few months of preparation have been hectic- but for some strange and stupid reason it never occurred to me that running a creative project could be so.. well, technical. Some moments of making GroundRoots happen couldn’t be further away from Lord of the Rings if they tried. Some of these less interesting but essential things include: cold emailing potential sponsors, scouting around for the best available portable hard drives, installing software, writing a contact spreadsheet and filling in endless visa application forms. Like war, it seems that being a travelling greenie is at least 50% an exercise in logistics. Like war (not sure how appropriate this analogy is but I’ll roll with it), it comes with victories and defeats. I’ve made some presentations, finished my first video piece, had a little local media coverage and got some publishing interest. I’ve also made a bunch of stupid mistakes, and lost out on some funding here and there. But I’m sighing with relief at being on this plane for another reason. At least now with most of the organisational stuff out of the way, I can start being a bit more creative, and man it feels good to just write, right now.
When I was five years old, I wanted to write stories. I would make these elaborate and long stories up and get my parents to type them up and bind them, so that I could illustrate them. They were always stories about animals going on adventures. I was so proud of those stories, and I had so much fun writing them that I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. As a teenager I discovered that the wider world is a wonderful place but that it could nonetheless use a little improvement and decided a little sadly (and slightly arrogantly) to leave the creative stuff alone as a career, and start learning more about politics. And now it’s all come full circle again, in a remarkable way. Not only am I telling stories, I am also now an animal going on an adventure. If only that little girl had known, she would have been thrilled, or more likely just confused by the whole idea of multimedia storytelling. So here I am. On a plane, eating a small, bland and expensive Jetstar meal out of a PET container, wondering what is to come.
I land in Bali, Indonesia in approximately six hours. I’ve got a place booked for the first night, then, who knows. Tomorrow I’ll be writing an article for the Climate Spectator, chasing up some contacts in Jakarta, doing a little research on the environmental movement in Indonesia and deforestation in Sumatra, looking at bus timetables and trying not to freak out. Maybe I’ll go for a swim too, and have a cocktail on the beach. It can’t be all work, right? The next sunset I see will be from a view I’ve never seen it from before. I’ll let you know how I’m feeling then. Who knows what wisdom tomorrows shuffle mode will bring.
That’s it for me on flight QJ31 except to say a special I love you to mum, dad and Al, and to my besties Nys, Jol, Amy, and everyone else, the hutchies, doofers and Marrickville children – you know who you are, and a special thanks to Matt for patiently helping me with premier and to Tyler for the beautiful last month of learning. No matter where I am, knowing I’m loved by lovely people is like knowing even when I’ve been caught in the rain and it’s gotten cold all of a sudden that I’ll be home soon and I can have really hot shower, and then wrap myself up in a fluffy towel. I already miss you terribly. Now I have to go before I start bawling all over my laptop.