A dispatch from the other side of the Timor-Leste goodbye.
In the post I wrote earlier this week — my six-months-since-returning update — I included a short list subtitled ‘How to go home (in 10 easy steps).’ I’ve said a couple of times that I’m a little nervous to write a dispatch from the other side of the move back home; a guideline for relocation — but that the anxiety I felt before moving and the curiosity that remains about what internet friends did next burn brighter than those nerves. Here are some small things that I did immediately before and after I left Timor-Leste that, six months on, I’m realising helped me a lot with the move. If you’re on a similar precipice — either side of it, really — maybe it’ll help you, too?
How to go home, in those ten easy steps.
Step one: Listen to London Still by the Waifs fifteen times.
This particular song (and its level of cheese) are optional. But London Still came up in a my shuffle or an explore and I listened a couple of times to Donna’s Australian honey vocals saying today I dream of home and not of London anymore and you know those memes that are 12-year-old emo me with tears streaming cranking up the volume listening to Avril Lavigne singing I was left to cry there waiting outside there grinning with a lost stare in 2003? That was absolutely me.
Finding a fellow Western Australian who knows what it’s like to live away, and to want one place when you’re in the other, and who has distilled it into a early-aughts heart-wrenching bop for easy, uncomplicated listening was exactly what I needed in the complex stew of my pre-departure emotions.
Step two: Give everything away.
Before my official going-away party I invited friends round for porch dinners a couple of times. I did this partly because I wanted to see my friends and because I loved hosting shared dinners on the porch tiles with the fan whirring through the sticky evening heat — but also because I wanted to get rid of my things, and it felt easier to do this knowing they were going to people I cared about.
if you’re moving from Timor-Leste back to a place like an Australian capital city, please trust me when I say: you don’t need any of your Timor-Leste clothes back home. You’ll survive without them; you won’t even remember them, and they’ll only bulk out your bags. I culled probably 90 per cent of the secondhand clothes I bought before I left, and six months on, the only items I wear with any regularity are this blue top, this skirt, this sleeveless top, this dress, and, occasionally, the fresh top. In the cold light of home all the rest looked grimy, baggy, tatty, scrappy, sweat-stained — and handing such treasures off to friends before I left feels in retrospect like a gentle, but crucial, early way of contemplating going.
Step three: Stare mournfully and dramatically at your suitcase on your last night
My whole life, right there, in a single suitcase; this bag is all that there IS of me; who I am as a PERSON exists sucked into the space contained by that zipper. This bag IS me.
Step four: Decompress with a holiday stop-over
Close readers of this blog (hey, mum) will know I spent four days in Australia’s Northern Territory in between leaving Dili and returning home to Perth.
I flew into Darwin, where I spent a crucial couple of hours getting my phone SIMs switched, guzzling (some honestly pretty ordinary-tasting) tap water, and stocking up on snacks for a four-hour bus trip south to a town called Katherine, where my dear friend Clare lives. I had a beautiful few days in Katherine with Clare, which I now realise was a key step in my relocation: I was carrying a lot of emotions about my move which I could easily attach to both Dili and Perth, but Katherine was a neutral place where I could let the churned-up silt of my thoughts settle. And it was where I carried out a checklist of dumb, newly-returned-to-Australia things without shame or scrutiny: eating a lot of bagged baby spinach, forgetting that you can’t just step out in front of a moving car, marvelling over Campos coffee, enjoying sunshine with thin air, feeling overwhelmed and teary at the options in the supermarket, drinking beer poured from a keg, getting nostalgic about Pie Face.
Katherine was a joy and a gift — and would have been regardless; it’s a beautiful place and I’d love to return — but in addition, it was a crucial decompression in my return home.
Step five: Eat everything you missed
Partly because it’s there and you can, and partly because it’s very easy when you leave a place you love to only focus on the things you don’t have anymore. There’s no more fresh coconuts chopped open on the footpath drunk beneath the catalpa trees, but there is an omelette with goat’s cheese and fresh soft dill folded in served with sourdough or cibatta. There’s no more point-point warung lunch with tempeh and kangkung and brinjela til you’re full for $3.50 and a walk across the road for a $1 espresso, but there is orange sweet potato and salads with walnuts and spinach and red onion and feta. There’s no $1 cans of air soda at Black Box on a sweaty night out, but there is red beer and pale ale and Gage Roads and Otherside and new breweries you’ve never heard of but which you’ll learn about now because you’re here.
Step six: Give your new, blank days structure with easy plans
Strict to-dos are prohibitively planned and unnecessarily regimented. But the structure of a routine is grounding, and adds purpose to early days that can feel empty and listless.
When I first moved home, I set myself the goal of re-doing my writer website and updating all my clips. And I found out about a local literary arts organisation and asked them if I could volunteer. Suddenly, three of my days had structure, purpose — something I could say I was doing if I were asked.
Now, six months on, I’m quietly confident and settled in my life back home (and my own, terrible, routines of letting my coffee go stale and instagramming my books) and don’t instinctively feel like I need a checklist of items to validate me to someone else — but when I first moved back, I did. I wanted to slow down this year, do fewer things, and give myself more time and space to be intentional with the things I decide to bring into my life — and the part-time busy of work, projects, volunteering, cleaning, weekly pasta lunches and weekday friend time was enough to ward off existential spiralling without crushing me with expectations, obligations and to-dos.
Step seven: Temporarily mute your friends’ Instagram stories
Or whatever your equivalent is. While my move back home was largely uncomplicated, I did (and occasionally still do) feel deep and complicated pangs when I see little social media snippets of daily lives of the friends I left behind there. Particularly when they’re all hanging out together, going on a trip together, hiking in the hills together, drinking shitty fridge red wine together — it doesn’t matter that here I have access to far better and far cheaper red wine, and the climate to drink it in; I want that shitty, overpriced Lindeman’s shiraz, I want that night, I want those friends. Over time I grew petulent, childish, self-pitying — failing to see and appreciate what I had around me — and while I don’t begrudge myself for that; I was processing a lot of feelings, I now believe that temporarily muting those stories would have helped me focus more on the present and feel happier about being back at home.
Now, with time and space, I look at my friends’ stories and feel joy and curiosity about their lives; gratitude for the fact that Instagram can connect our everydays; and whatever feeling is best represented by the fire emoji, which is what I reply to almost every single one.
Step eight: Have faith in time sorting most of this out
Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, wrote Alan Watts.
Step nine: Expect less of yourself, and then expect less again
I have realised again and again over the last six months how many expectations I’ve had of myself in this relocation; every time, I’ve realised it after the fact, vowed not to do it again, and unfailingly repeated the same mistake. The only solution has been to expect less, and then expect less again.
I thought I needed to be perfect at relocating. I needed to immediately re-connect with all my dear old friends. I needed to unpack my bags, clear out my old room and re-settle in a weekend. I needed to line up a job, a hobby, a routine, some exercise, why not, within the week. And I type it here like that to make fun of it, but really, it was insidious and it was subtle and it was internal and I didn’t realise
Step ten: Realise one day it’s all completely normal and you’re home within yourself.
Through my work and volunteering I’ve met quite a few new people since moving back home, and in explaining to them that I’ve recently moved home from a couple of years abroad, I’ve found myself thinking recently as I say that, two years? did I really!?
The time felt long and I’m not trying (too hard) to gloss over it. But now, it feels so good and normal and steady and unremarkable to be back at home in Perth that I’m incredulous already about the time I spent abroad. And it’s not just Timor-Leste.
Every time I get a Facebook memory reminding me of the time I worked at Scoop Magazine (four years ago) or Live Below the Line (three years ago) or when I was in my old house in Dili (two years ago, before I moved in with Felix), I don’t believe how recently it all was — it feels like I’ve lived five lives in between wearing tea dresses and learning to like coffee with Georgie in Subiaco during Oaktree meetings, not five years; lapped the globe between cycling to the Fitzroy Baths and browsing for Isabelle Allende in that tiny old library and now, when I’m writing to you from the Town of Cambridge Library after swimming at the Scarborough Beach Pool, and it’s pockets of community and it’s jacaranda season and it’s today and it’s home and it’s here and I’m happy.