13 things I’ve learned since leaving

I’m sitting up at the high table under the heater at Piccante Cafe in Fitzroy North, nursing the end of an iced long black that I only now realise was ill-suited to this grey, rainy day. This is exactly where I used to sit when I lived here in Melbourne; exactly what I used to order—black coffee and a half-serve breakfast—and I actually just opened my laptop to email some friends and tried to type without putting my glasses on, because I wanted everything to be exactly the same as it was the last time I was here.

It’s obviously not—I’m three full years and one new astigmatism away from the girl who sat here typing on her last morning in Melbourne—but being back in this same comfortable, safe, home-y environment is, of course, making me feel nostalgic.

It’s been about four months since I moved home to Perth from Dili; I’ve bounced back and forth to Melbourne a few times to visit Felix, and I’m leaving here tomorrow.

On all these planes and in these long, slow days at home I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learnt from returning home to Perth; the lessons relocating taught me. This is not the how to move back blog post I talked about the last time I wrote here; but it is a summary of what I’ve learned since leaving—told to you in a screenshot patchwork.

1. You get there by realising you are already there

I read this on an Instagram post by the excellent sublime.jpg. I grabbed this months ago without thinking all that deeply about it, but in the months since moving back this has taken on a new meaning for me—it’s a neat summary of the strange situation I was discussing over pho with my friend Katie last month; that the seismic internal shift I feel has happened within me as a consequence of my time overseas has been somehow erased by the humdrum of my same-old surroundings.

“Maybe you were always this person and the change is you finally coming to terms with it,” Katie suggested.

You get there by realising you are already there.

2. You don’t get what you want until you’re brave enough to ask for it

This one came from The Cut’s Ask Polly advice column, in which Polly instructs a reader to demand what they want from a relationship. “You don’t get exactly what you want until you’re brave enough to ask for it,” she writes.

“You don’t become brave enough to ask for it until you know, for certain, that you deserve it.

You don’t know that you deserve it until you live your life by GIVING YOURSELF EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT.”

You may think that living overseas taught me humility; made me less self-centred. I hope it did. But in addition to that, moving away and coming back home made this ring true for me—the knowledge that a lot of things don’t just happen by accident; that I didn’t accidentally move to Timor-Leste, I didn’t accidentally find more work or get freelance bylines or fall in love. Don’t avoid trying something, or asking for something, because you’re scared of hearing no—you’re already giving yourself the no by not trying. Decide you’re allowed to ask and scream for it.

3. Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone

This is an Alan Watts line that I found extracted in Ann Friedman‘s newsletter a couple of weeks ago.

“This is the attitude I’m trying to reorient myself around this month, even as my inclination is to flail around in the muddy water, searching for fresh creative purpose,” she wrote.

I spent a lot of my time in Timor-Leste flailing around, trying to thrash my way through murky water and stirring up the chaff even more. Now, safe and quiet in my old familiar home, I still don’t know what’s happening next—where I’ll be next year, what I want to do, what I’m going to study—but I’m easing in and letting the murky water clear itself.

4. Be violently yourself

This one actually came from a Jenna Marbles YouTube video I watched on night, and I can’t remember which one it was. In it, she was cooking with her boyfriend Julian and offhandedly described him as “violently himself.” I loved it; I loved the standard. Violently means strong or vigorous, and—newly back home and still pretty troppo—I’d like nothing more than to have someone describe me as vigorously my own self.

5. Don’t freeze into your past

This is another Instagram post I’m not totally sure of the origin of, but it said something like, “People will try to freeze you into past; don’t let them.” I read it as permission to grow and change and learn—to unfold into a violent myself—and to be conscious of the fact that you’re a character in other people’s stories and there’s a risk they’ll want to typecast you into what they’ve once known of you.

People are allowed to change; change is a good thing. Thaw out and slop all over the ground.

6. Accept the hour badly spent

“Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.”

From a poem called One Art by Elizabeth Bishop and extracted in Laura Olin‘s newsletter a couple of months ago. For years I’ve been so tightly wound, so scared of failing I’ve not let myself mis-step. This line—and, I don’t know, probably the time in sunny-slow Timor-Leste—was a good firm reminder that it’s a lot easier to simply accept and welcome that time will be spent poorly; things will not go according to The Plan; life will go on.

7. Write your way forward

From this Roxane Gay piece for WeTransfer. It’s the very last line:

“What I crave more than anything is the luxury of those times when I start to write, and though I don’t yet know the shape of what will come, I write my way forward. I remember that the joy of these moments is the only thing that truly makes me a writer.”

Being back at home I’ve been spending a lot of time just kind of… hanging around. I read things online, I talk with my family, I’m doing a bit of work and some volunteering; and my life is good. I’m happy and settled. But there is a lot of in-between time: time thinking on buses going into the city for volunteering, time spent alone in bed with a book, time at 11:30am and 2pm and 9pm when there’s no one around or when I don’t want company and I settle in with myself. I like writing; I know this about myself, but I’ve never felt particularly driven by it nor drawn to it, in a compulsive sense. Writing isn’t my salve. But in those quiet, small moments, I’ve had time to heed this advice and I write: dumb lines in my journal that bring relief to my racing pre-bed mind. Notes tapped into my phone (the last one while wine-drunk as my Melbourne flight descended). Meandering blog posts like this one. I’m writing my way forward.

8. Not every decision matters

“When I was younger, I worried that every decision I made would send me down that path for LIFE. Every time I faced a choice of whether to accept a new job, move to a different city or stay in a relationship, I built it up as a definitive, forever-life-altering moment. And while that was true on some level — all the little choices do, in fact, add up to the life that you end up living — I wish I could go back in time and whisper in my own ear, ‘Let this decision just be this decision, not a loaded choice about the rest of your days on earth. You can always reroute.’”

This is again the writer Ann Friedman, whose newsletter I love, quoted in this Cup of Jo piece about advice-to-my-younger-self.

I didn’t think of like this until a friend told it back to me, but this year I’ve quit my full-time job, moved house, moved countries, and started a long-distance relationship. If someone had said to me five years ago, hey, Soph, you’re going to quit your job and move to a different country on nothing more than a gut feeling that it’s time; I would have been petrified. Now that I’ve sort-of done it, I’m like oh, actually, my life just adjusted around that decision and, touch wood, everything’s working out fine.

9. Getting your shit together requires an uncomfortable degree of honesty

I can’t remember where I read this one but it’s true. Uncomfortable, radical honesty. Having fewer busy distractions means more time for being alone with yourself, your true rad buried-deep self; sloughing though layers of stories and excuses. And it’s really uncomfortable.

10. “It’s more of a cornsilk”

“Because home isn’t really an actual place, but an idea about that place, and how that idea animates you.”

I’m a sucker for an article that discusses a subjective idea of home, and this is a great piece by Mitchell Kuga for Shondaland. (You may know Mitchell as artist Adam J Kurtzs’ husband; he’s a brilliant writer and has one of the funniest Instagrams I follow). Here, he writes about the white house he grew up in, and finishes with it’s not even white, more of a cornsilk.. but when I close my eyes it’s gleaming.

Two words here I love: animates and gleaming. I cannot put into words how good and right it feels to be back at home here in Perth, but I know being back animates me, and this city’s wide flat boring streets gleam for me.

11. Anything that makes you happy is productive and don’t let capitalism convince you otherwise

Again, another one I’m not totally sure of the origin of, but a good tweet I saw a while ago. Just this morning I was feeling guilty for the fact that I’d slept in, procrastinated my work, and faffed around on the internet while I did it—feeling hopeless and inefficent and lazy and sluggish and gross and omg, shhh, what I actually did this morning was: slept the hours my body needed, made mushrooms and rocket on toast for breakfast, read the news, called Felix, fixed a money problem that was stressing me out, posted something I liked on my Instagram and listened to Harry Styles’ and Kasey Musgrave’s cover of Still the One, by Shania Twain.

It all made me feel good, so it’s all productive. (Unconvinced by my own words, I just googled productive: its synonyms are “fertile, fruitful, rich, fecund and high-yielding”. Calling Felix is fertile. News and Instagram and pop covers are fruitful. Sleep is whatever the hell fecund is. I am fine).

12. Settling is…

Self-composure, arriving, resolving, recharging, resting, renewing.

I know this is from Extraordinary Routines but I can’t find a direct link t the post. Back at mum and dad’s, settled as hell, feeling like nothing more than arriving; not stagnating.

13. Get curious about what makes you feel good

Again, an Instagram post this one from—Emily McDowell—that I can’t find, but it said something like: ask yourself regularly what is it that you have loved. Get curious about what makes you feel good. You have to pay attention in a different way to figure this out.

Being back in my same old normal default city, I’m trying to focus on the things that have caused me to feel happiest; richest. Lately, that’s a maroon jacket. Missing the bus. In the background at a photo shoot. A beer in the sun bought by a friend who feels like an old one. Walking down golden William Street at 5:37pm. Visiting the library. Lunchbox salads. Two coffees every day. Good bread and teenage pop songs. (A crush on Louis Tomlinson). Long articles taking an hour each to read. Fewer tabs. Red wine on a Tuesday. Slow mornings. Clay masks. Mandarins. Back in my body.

Back in my city. It took me a few days to finish this post and I’m writing to you at 9:23pm on a Thursday night at the dining room table at mum and dad’s place. They’ve got this big open kitchen-lounge-dining room and this table’s the centre of everything. It’s where I told my friends in Dili I wanted to sit for hours when I went back home. Slow and still and soaking it all in. This is what I’m thinking about and this is what’s going in.

5 responses to “13 things I’ve learned since leaving”

  1. Oh thank you for leading me to Bishop’s poem, it made my day reading it.

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    1. 🙂 I’ve just come back here to read that poem again and I saw I hadn’t replied to your comment! Thank you for that 🙂

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  2. WOw it’s very useful to as an entrepreneur for me, Thanks

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  3. […] back home to Perth, and how initially I was dazed by the disconnect between the change I felt had happened within me and the fact that every physical part of my life was identical to the one I’d left five years […]

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  4. […] written a couple of times on this blog about how it felt to move back home from Timor-Leste, what I learned from leaving, and what I did to prepare myself for the discomfort of resettling back in Perth. And I’ve […]

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