I always hesitate to publish articles like the last one, because of course when I write them I am feeling emotional. I’ve learned a few things during my time on earth, and one of the earliest lessons I taught myself was not to speak in anger – I still do it of course, and more often than I’d like, but I try my best to avoid it. I remember as a kid in primary school having arguments with family and friends, and feeling rotten afterwards as the anger subsides and the empathy creeps in and guilt shades everything. I feel guilty about telling Australia to fuck off, is what I’m trying to say. Sorry Australia. You have your flaws, but so does everywhere, everyone, and everything.
I really struggled with the decision to publish the last article at all, as it was negative in tone and I don’t particularly want to add any negativity to a world that has oodles of it as-is. But also, I want to be honest. Lord knows, the world could use some more of that. So I chose to be honest about how I was feeling, and I’ve felt bad about slandering this country ever since.
My experience here has been rough – rougher than I have bothered to detail, as I don’t imagine that anybody would be overly keen to read four thousand words of my complaining about how unfair things are and how skint I am. It would be tedious; people’s lives are hard enough without reading the ramblings of some gloomy whoever on the far side of the world.
So: away from all that – two nights ago I finished my third night shift in a row, and for the third night in a row I found myself sitting wide awake, mind clenched in the palm of caffeine, as the hours ground by and night became day.
I was standing on the balcony in the kitchen, one storey above pavement, looking at the skyscrapers of the CBD. They are impressive and iconic, they make for an excellent photo, but in the four months I’ve lived here, I only found them beautiful in the first week. Since then they’ve just been dark towers of metal and glass, reflecting upon me the distant vision of a life of wealth and means that I sincerely doubt I will ever know.
I had finished another long shift spent lifting heavy boxes and running around an under-construction office block attempting to make sense of the delivery sheet, and at the end of it all I ought to have gone straight to bed, but the previous two nights had convinced me that it would be fruitless; I would lie awake and stare at the ceiling and remember everything and regret everything and think and think and think and… no.
I had a cigarette and didn’t particularly enjoy it, as despite having smoked regularly for one year now, I can’t shake the guilt that grips me every time I spark up. I enjoy smoking when I’m drunk, it is sociable and satisfying and communal and, dare I say it, pleasurable. When I’m sober, it is nothing but a bad habit. I crave a cigarette, I smoke it, I wish I hadn’t. But I was tired and wide awake at once, and the city was asleep before me, and I had a smoke.
I poured myself a glass of red wine from a bottle that some housemate had been foolish enough to leave opened on the kitchen table, and smoked and watched the city beyond and thought about everything. I had headphones in and songs were playing but I wasn’t paying attention. Just thinking.
After a while, I began to smile. I don’t know where it came from, but everything suddenly seemed very cute. People sleep. Isn’t that silly? A whole city asleep. Everybody, five million people, in bed. All the lights off, everybody snuggled up under the covers in their sleep clothes, all snoring and farting and dreaming together. What a curious fact of existence. To be asleep; your mind dancing in moonbeams while your body works hard to fix the damage you did it through the daylight hours. I think sleep might be one of the most beautiful things there is.
A song came on in my headphones. You won’t know it; nobody knows it. Maybe that’s why it’s so special to me. It’s by a now-broken-up band called Sharks, and the song is called It All Relates. I’ve probably written about it before; I tend to repeat myself; I am boring. But I’ve not listened to the song in months, and the sudden apparition in my headphones did something special to my heart; something I thought would never happen again.
See, something has happened to me over the last year. It’s hard to put into words, but perhaps it is best summarised in a Wes Anderson-esque title card:
THE DEATH OF A ROMANTIC
I was the quintessential romantic in Berlin. I attended protests and went to poetry nights and I ranted about injustice and talked of love and belief and fate and of my journey to become a writer. And you know what? It made me a cunt. I believed in romance and story just as any religion believes in their god. And I used this end to justify the means. I did horrendous things to people I loved; I was selfish, callous, awful, and yet in the warped mind of 2016/7/8 Dan, it was all justified – because I was growing and changing and becoming the writer I was always meant to be; any pain on the way – felt or inflicted – was the price.
Man, that Dan is dead. I don’t know when he died. Maybe it was on the blueberry farm. Maybe it was in Melbourne. Perhaps a long time before. But he is gone. Today I do not believe there’s a special path laid out for me; I no longer believe that all my experiences have meaning and are rounding me out as both a writer and a human. Everything is random; I had a run of good luck and it turned me into a twat. I’ve had a run of bad luck and it has made me… I dunno. Quiet, I suppose. A large portion of my personality has disintegrated, and I’m glad. I can be a better person now.
So, back on the balcony; the song kicked in and I felt a flare of a long-abandoned romance. The heat in my heart, the quickening pulse of blood through my veins; it felt like the kiss of a long lost love – illicit and intoxicating. I’d missed it.
The song is one of the band’s last before their split; it is about hope and failure; about setting out with the best intentions, working hard, and falling apart anyway. Here are the lyrics in full.
Thrown into the wind of the drawn out last breath
We don’t waste, we charge straight into death
With the risk of never taking it to the end
So proffer something new, I’m willing to learn
Never allow yourself to forget to burn
Against and through the darkness
We’d steal, but not to break common trade
But for desire to create
To give back what we took in
And watch it bloom from the beginning again
I’ve never liked my voice anyways
And rock ‘n’ roll needs tragedy
So if these bones collide well at least we tried
And besides, I could do with some daylight
Christ we’re dangled in the sights of nihilist ways
Exhausted from sleeping for days
The body gives up but the mind remains, it all relates
So proffer something new, I’m willing to burn
Never allow yourself to forget to run
Against and through the darkness
And I’m looking at my artificial desire
Guaranteed misery and a heart on fire
But down the bittersweet sensibility
And see what is written for you and me
Read into it what you will, but to me, these lyrics ring of hope; of one last laugh in the face of oblivion. I’m not sure I believe in the notion anymore, though three years ago I could think of nothing more perfect than to die in a noble fight for justice. Passion and doom are entwined, inescapably; I learned that from a book a few years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. And despite the fact that my worldview has changed, I am still extremely susceptible to the allure of this sort of romance – to foregone failure. Isn’t failure a thrill? To have an excuse to hurt, to hate, to rage and thrash about like a sautéed woodlouse? We feel all these things anyway, all the time – and isn’t it fantastic to have a reason behind it?
I stood on the balcony and thought of everybody sleeping in the city beyond, and it occurred to me that I have failed in Australia. I have failed again and again and again, in a hundred small ways and half a dozen huge ones, and consequently I look back on my time in this endless country with anger and regret. But, like a bad acid trip, even though your time may have been less than pleasant, there is still value to be found.
Australia has kicked the shit out of me. That’s the truth. But you know what? I gave it every ounce of energy and optimism I have. I gave this country everything; I grafted and sweated and bled, and despite everything, for that alone I am proud. I wasn’t able to build the life I hoped for, but the struggle has imparted a sorely-needed understanding of the wider world and of adult life. Plans go wrong and things aren’t fair, and sooner or later you’re going to fall flat on your face – and while you’re down there in the mud chances are somebody’ll come along and trample all over you, just for good measure. But that’s not important. It’s only important that you get up.
I am glad that the romantic in me is gone. I am glad that I can attempt to be rational and leave my ego out – for the most part – of my decision making. I am happy in my head, leaving all the worries of the world for those who are qualified and educated to deal with them. After everything I’ve seen and done, I’m just a kid, really. I’m nobody at all now, and it’s better that way. The quixotic twinkle in my eye may have faded as I’ve grown older but… man… I still welcome a little sprinkle of magic every now and then. I hope it always stays with me.