I’ve been back in Perth for about eight weeks now, though it feels like less, since I spent some of that time down south and then in Bali. It’s amusing that all my jaunts have ended with me crawling back to Daddy: teaching in Korea, backpacking the world, and now living in Melbourne. I mean, the first two made sense, but I thought I’d really cut the apron strings and become a grown-up this time. I had an office job and a rental lease and dental insurance and everything.
That’s part of the appeal, of course, something that was joyously swishing around in my head as I counted down my last days at work. I am 25 years old. This is likely the last time in my life I’ll be able to throw myself back on the mercy of my father and live rent-free, without working, for several months. I can, however briefly, recapture those glorious university-era years where I could stay up until 3:00am every night playing video games, sleep in until noon and go to the beach every day.
Of course, reality often fails to meet our daydreams. My Dad’s house isn’t the same as I left it; my younger sister lives here now, for a start, and she took my room. That might seem like a minor thing, but the room I’m now living in has a window that faces east. When you are a night owl living in Perth, you really do not want a bedroom window facing east. The sun rises at 6:00am, with nothing standing between its fiery surface and my bedroom window. By 7:30am the temperature in the room is up to about 35 degrees. Yesterday I papered the window with alfoil, which seemed to work to block the light, but it rustled in the wind all night. My sister also took my desk, which impacts on writing. The most important tool a writer has is a door which he can close, and there was no way I could write in my 35-degree bedroom, sitting on the bed with my hot, whirring laptop on my legs. I went to the tip and bought an old desk for $15.
But it’s not just those mild changes; I still feel restless. I haven’t been able to slip into my lazy endless summer the way I thought I would. One reason would be that now I’ve seen the grim tedium of the workaday world, and realised that if I ever want to break free from it I need to forge a writing career, so I’ve internalised a nagging guilt that sits inside me every time I have leisure time I spend doing something other than writing. Another reason would be that I’m not 17 years old anymore and time goes faster than it used to and this summer doesn’t feel endless – it feels like it has two months left in it at the most, because it does. It was all well and good to look forward to it in Melbourne, but now London looms in April, which also involves returning to the aforementioned grim tedium of the workaday world.
It’s funny, the work thing. People are uncomfortable that I’m spending four months wilfully unemployed. Never mind that I have a plan at the end of this summer sojourn, that I have virtually no expenditures, that I have over $20,000 in cash, stocks and assets, and that I’m trying to use this time (at least in part) to practise what I really want to do for a living. All of a sudden everyone’s a Calvinist. How I spend my days has no effect on them personally, but it bothers them that someone would willingly spend any amount of time outside the economic machine. It goes to show how deeply our society has internalised the supposed value of capital. It’s also interesting that their response when I ask who would hire somebody who’s leaving in a few months is that I should simply not tell my employer; this concept that we’re all just trying to wring as much money out of each other as we can and there’s nothing wrong with dishonesty. It’s also interesting that – depending on the employer in question – I totally agree, from a worker’s point of view. But I would personally never be able to lie like that. Good thing it’s a moot point.
Meanwhile I’ve been at the beach. Perth’s metropolitan beaches are marvellous. In three years in Melbourne I went swimming exactly once – an uninspiring wallow in brown water near Portarlington, which took Chris and I hour to drive to. In Perth I go almost every day. The stretch of coastline between Trigg and Hillarys is as close as you will come to paradise on Earth. Limestone reefs weaving a patchwork of dark indigo against aquamarine water, powder-white sand, the sun sparkling on the waves… I can’t describe it. Its beauty is literally indescribable. You can’t even take a photo which does it justice (I know, because I’ve checked Flickr), because to truly appreciate it you need to stand at the lip of the road and look out over it with polarised sunglasses and feel the warm easterly breeze on your arms. I will never, ever get tired of looking out over the Indian Ocean, and I pause to survey it every time I arrive and every time I leave.
The problem these days is sharks. Regardless of what you may think about the Barnett Government’s cull, it’s hard to deny that the water feels a bit different these days. The statistical likelihood of a swimmer or snorkeller being taken at North Beach (as opposed to a surfer or diver further out) is minuscule. That’s what I know up on the cliffs, looking down on that maze of reefs. Out in the water, though, when you’re snorkelling in the maze, and you look out, underwater, into the limitless blue distance of the ocean… it feels a little different. I don’t venture out too deep. I’m not afraid to admit that when I put the snorkel and mask back up by my towel and just go swimming back and forth (I’m trying to get in shape) I keep a wary eye on the dark shapes beneath me even though I know full well that they’re just rock formations. There was a time back when I first returned, in January, and I was swimming above a patch of sand when I was unnerved to see a blurry dark shape beneath me which seemed to be moving. It took me a moment to realise – and I am slightly ashamed to admit this – that I was literally scared of my own shadow.
What else have I been doing, aside from fruitlessly trying to treat writing like a 9-5 job and lazing around on the beach? I’ve been clearing out the shed, since Dad has grand designs of building a granny flat to live in in the backyard and renting out the house, and he ordered me to get rid of my shit. When I moved to Melbourne I threw some clothes in my backpack and rode my Kawasaki off down the road; apparently Dad later faithfully put all my belongings in waterproof containers and stacked them up in the shed. I have a significant library of books which I need to cull on eBay; I’m fighting a losing battle to convince Dad that books furnish a room and belong on a shelf rather in the shed. Less difficult to toss in the trash were the dozens upon dozens of folders and schoolwork from high school and university, which for some reason I kept. High school feels like a distant dream now, and even university has faded into a dull memory. I spent some time flicking through these old files out of curiosity, and it was startling to realise how much of a colossal waste of time and money my pretentious, infantile university degree was – and how I could have failed to realise that at the time. On the other hand, one of my old creative writing assignments had a character spitting out his line of dialogue by “exclaiming angrily,” so at least it hacked that out of my system.
Speaking of writing, I’m ploughing through End Times, for anyone who still cares. I went from November 21 to December 7 in the space of a few weeks, and I’m confident I’ll finish it in the next month or two.