I Will Come Home

I could count my moments of homesickness in a few ways;
Instagram posts I’ve deleted an hour after posting because they were too melancholic.
Facebook status updates that have met the same fate.
Emails to Mum sharing the overflow of emotion I don’t know how to share with anyone else.
Hours spent alone in beautiful locations in search of some divine intervention.
Scraps of paper containing song lyrics and mindless musings.
But so far I can’t count it in dollars spent on plane tickets home.

When my mind wanders and I lose focus on anything important or tangible, subconsciously I visualise the backyard of my parents’ home.
I’m sitting at the outdoor dining table, and maybe Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album is playing on the speakers overhead.
It’s either that or The Waifs’ live album; my memory of my parents’ musical tastes spans about four albums total.
The view from the porch is the same I had while my veterinarian father euthanised our geriatric blue heeler, Holly.
The same view I had while I looked up from reading an obituary in The Australian about the death of Heath Ledger.
The same view my dad posted a photo of on Facebook recently, noteworthy as the lawn played host to a family of kangaroos.
It’s where I go in my head when I think about nothing; when little else seems important.
It’s home – and it is always there, even if it seems like there is nothing else.

I don’t write letters anymore; in truth I rarely even write emails.
I tell myself my long winded Instagram captions and Facebook musings are enough to let my friends and family know how I’m doing.
I recently joined Snapchat because a friend, whose writing I admire, told me it’s a good way of ‘keeping long distance relationships on life support,’ just enough to keep them alive.
The irony of hearing that from a friend living on the other side of the country was not lost on me.
I think myself a luddite if I don’t adapt to the newest ways of communicating, and a victim to trends if I do.
The reality is that the people who deserve updates on where I am and what I’m doing are the ones who won’t get them, at least not direct from the source.
As Dan Mangan sang; “It’s so easy to be awful to the ones you need the most, so in the end all I hope is that they know.”

Yesterday I felt more at home than I have in months, but that may just be because I got the worst sunburn I’ve had in the northern hemisphere.
There’s just something about a whisky enhanced breakfast that relegates any self preservation such as sunscreen or not snowboarding under the influence to the back seat.
I joined friends from Noosa in their Revelstoke kitchen for a breakfast that included thick cut bacon, avocado and Vegemite on toast and I felt at home.
We stood in the sun on their patio casting our gaze to the mountain, drinking coffee and Revelstoke Pecan Spiced Whisky and I felt at home.
I spoke with a friend from work about how he was in Margaret River about a month after I left in 2014, while he cooked up one of the best potato bakes I’ve ever eaten.
Up on the mountain the sun was out and with it came the kind of mass celebrated nudity you might find on a European beach.
It was Gnar Day, a day dedicated to Shane McConkey; a professional skier who thought the sport took itself too seriously, and amongst my naked and drunken friends, I felt at home. 

Home is safe. Home is familiar. Home is a catchy-as-fuck folk song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes.
Right now I’m sitting in a local restaurant being served by a friend I went snowboarding with a few days ago.
I’m about to ride my bike to my apartment and I’ll probably whistle the tune of the Edward Sharpe song on my way there.
I might see some friends on my way, and their presence will comfort me.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and decide the people I need to see most are my family, in Australia, and that’s where home will be.
But for today, home is just the idea of love.
And I’m full of ideas. 

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2015, Year of the Narcissist

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A few weeks ago I wrote a thousand or so words on fear.
I didn’t share it, and I haven’t even saved the document I wrote it on.
It still sits there, open on my desktop, maybe waiting for my six-year-old computer to crash and for the file to be corrupted, or maybe for a further spell of inspiration to turn a few hundred words of bullshit in to something worth reading.
It was an attempt at humour framed by a back injury which had landed me in hospital earlier in December, and the idea that the fear of such injuries could hold me back from this life of adventure and fantasy I’ve sought for myself in the last 18 months.

But what it really came down to, after I’d ill-advisedly made a link between the fears I hold for myself and the world at large, was that I was again just writing a self-indulgent rant.
And so I realised that this year, which began for me being yelled at by some spoilt son drunk on Dad’s dime in the restaurant I bartend at, and which will likely end in a similar fashion, was the Year of the Narcissist.
The following is a few paragraphs from what I wrote earlier in the month, before I realised that the year ending was not one worth relating to fear or sadness, but to all things great.

“I’m not scared of spiders or snakes.
I don’t fear rapture or the fall.
It’s the hitting the ground, the nothingness of oblivion I can’t handle.
I’m scared of ideologies, of forced lifestyles and an existence out of my control.
When I was young I feared failure; I avoided talking to girls and trying new experiences for fear of it not working out in my favour.
The introversion I suffered from has been eroded over the years since I left high school and I’ve come to meet people who admire the skills I have and the person I’ve become.
So I travel, and I search for those whose passions I can share in and who will bring out the  best version of myself, while hoping I can do the same for them.
But still fear drives me from both directions; the fear of inadequacy swells behind me, pushing me on, while the fear of having the ability to move forward taken away seems to hover at the horizon.

There’s nothing to do there, like Cold War Kids sang, in a hospital bed, but to lie and complain.
The fear of a snow-season-ending injury crawled around my head, as I flirted with the nurses in grunts, gasping for breath as a pain like a vice made an attempt to introduce my sternum to my spine, disregarding my protesting ribs.
It’s a fear I’ve felt throughout my travels; that some injury will send me home, bags packed and without a chance of return; leaving stones unturned, people unmet, destinations unvisited. Those Italian operas and Vietnamese fishing trips.

I’ve felt fear and been hysterical.
I’ve met fear with an attempt at bravery.
The protagonist of every movie or book or tv show or radio serial you’ve ever loved has been guided by fear.
It is as ever present as love, as we fear the loss of love.
Just as the protagonist needs the antagonist for the story to progress, I need fear push me to do the things I love.
Fear is the catalyst for the world’s many and varied issues.
A mass hysteria.
A broadcast xenophobia.
A reason to perpetuate hatred under the guise of safety.” 

Somehow, I managed to convince myself that my masturbatory teenage shyness could be related within a few hundred words to the idea that Donald Trump’s hatred is more dangerous than the danger posed by extremists of all nationalities and religions around the world.
Really, I was just writing about myself and not accepting that, but instead hoping to write something that would reach further, that would hit home for those not concerned that I spent an afternoon in hospital and the resulting bills may mean I have to wait a few extra weeks for a new piece of snowboarding paraphernalia.
i.e; everyone.

Each and every movement I made in 2015 was for my own personal gain; for my own thrill seeking selfishness; for my own self indulgent adventure; for something to write about in the hopes that you would read it and think about me and how fucking interesting my life is.
It’s the social media effect; the perfectly curated online presence validated by double taps on an Instagram account.
But as the curtains close on 2015 a flash of awareness has dawned across your narrator’s face, and although I have no qualms with my year of well documented introspection, I look forward to 2016 with excitement of seeing my family for the first time in nearly two years, thinking that maybe, maybe I could learn to live not for the things I fear, but for the people I love and those who tolerate me in return.

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Lighting Fires

Last night it took me four attempts to get my campfire going.
I’ve never claimed to be the most manly of men, but that sort of effort is akin to having one’s genitals removed to be replaced only by a deep pit of shame.
I could have forgiven myself if it had taken four attempts after I had foraged in the wet Washington wilderness with nought but my axe to gather a campfire’s worth of timber.
Timber that was soaking wet, but ready to be burnt by a cunning outdoorsmen such as I thought myself.
But, nah, I’d just picked up two rolls of perfectly dry cedar from the gas station outside the beachside campground and dropped it in the rusted truck wheel at my campsite.
The whole tragedy also included an entire local newspaper (including advertising liftouts), several pages of the very notebook I drafted this pisstake of a post in, and the dust cover of Richard Flanagan’s 2014 Man Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Don’t worry, the book itself is fine, and a spectacularly depressing world war two novel that owes a great deal to classical Japanese literature; if you’re into that sort of thing.
After I’d managed to deplete the small supply of twigs that came with the firewood I’d bought, I split one of the logs into a better stack of kindling with my trusty axe (that, in retrospect, I scarcely deserve) and rebuilt the fire.
And I only managed to get that going after another two attempts with the aforementioned toilet roll, noteboook papers, a string of expletives and a couple swigs from the “Loser” Pale Ale I’d bought to keep me warm in case my fire lighting skills did leave something to be desired.
The beer’s label proclaims that ‘Corporate Beer Still Sucks’ is an homage to Sub Pop Records, the home of Nirvana. And indie beers. Or something.
But on that fourth attempt, having rebuilt my teepee of kindling, replaced the noteboook paper, readjusted the toilet paper (Oh yeah! My third attempt was so god awful I had somehow fucked up setting a roll of toilet paper on fire successfully), and stepped down the enthusiasm of my fanning, she caught.
She caught and she caught beautifully, rising from the base of the luxury three-ply through the structurally integral teepee of identical hewn kindling and then outwards to the larger logs, no doubt fighting for the oxygen I sought to inhale between gaping sighs of relief.
Not only did I retain the right to call myself an outdoorsy type dude in any future online dating profiles, I had something to use to cook my shitty, processed, barely-even-food Franks hotdogs.

Worth it!

It was night number 10 of however many nights it’s going to take me to run my Chevy Astro, Laika, in to the ground on this great Pacific North West road trip, and I’d just circumnavigated the entire Olympic Peninsular.
I’d hiked some beautiful trails, encountered some of the country’s most notorious fauna and scored some rad beach break surf; goddamn, I was going to celebrate with a decent beer, some shitty food and a campfire.
It was only the fourth fire I’d had, despite having camped every night but the two I spent at a hostel in Victoria, where I hear they frown on you lighting fires next to your bed.
I would have lit one on my second night, on the edge of Horne Lake and under a mountain peak the name of which I’m let to learn, but I forgot a lighter and I’m yet to master creating fire by rubbing two sticks together.
It wasn’t until two nights later on the west coast of Vancouver Island, at the Sombrio campground on the Juan De Fuca hiking trail, that I managed to get a decent fire going with a combination of driftwood and previous campers’ left over kindling.
And the third campfire, on the shores of La Push, I can’t even claim as mine – but I was invited to share it with a few great people, so I count it as a success.
But maybe it doesn’t get easier with practice.
Maybe even with perfect conditions and the right equipment, even the most well built campfire can collapse and leave nothing but a smoldering pile of ashes from which I can attempt to revive something worth gathering around.
Each of these days I gather the necessary supplies for a day’s efforts; some days it catches in to just the spark of an idea and occasionally the roar of a full blown adventure.
But I’m yet to figure out the perfect mix that will leave my lying in bed at the end of the day without some lingering feeling I could have done more.
Maybe that’s not the idea though, maybe there’s something that will always be left undone and something that will be worth doing again tomorrow.
So I will continue to light these fires and hope that the spit and hiss of the flame whispers something in my ear worth listening to.

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My Body is a Machine

My body is a machine!
All rods and ribs. All torque and tongue.
My body is a machine!
All guts and gauges. All pistons and personality.
My body is a machine!
A well-used, poorly-maintained, 26-year-old machine limping across the starting line of the adventure that is today.

I treat my body like I treat my car.
With great enthusiasm, and very little understanding.
I treat my body like I treat my car.
With horrendous abuse, and great expectations of survival.
Brand new I came with parts missing, barely off the showroom floor I was all bursting valves and return trips to the mechanic.
After 10 years and many thousands of kilometres on the clock I had sustained a decent amount of front end damage experimenting with tasks I wasn’t designed for, couldn’t complete and would go on to attempt again and again for years on end.
After 20 years the damage had only continued, but if the cracks and scars, the leaks and smoke have left me with nothing but a well-weathered patina at least I know I still look good in the right light.
And the intervening six years have brought me here, physically comparing myself to my Chevy Astro Van.

While she waits on a spare wheel that isn’t rusted to her undercarriage and a coolant line inbound from Alberta, I patiently and routinely swallow penicillin to defeat a bout of strep throat, moving gingerly from the couch to the fridge hoping to find something that will provide some nutrients to ease joints and muscles aching from a dehydrated and malnourished week in bed.
Sometimes I envy machines – sentience is such a burden.
It was my choice to surf Canadian waters last Monday morning despite the early signs of a sore throat, and then to attempt to drink away said sore throat with Tofino Brewing Company’s excellent Kettle Sour ale on Monday afternoon.
It was my choice to take 4000mg of ibuprofen in 24 hours on Wednesday after I hadn’t managed to use a bout of gastro to shit and/or vomit the other sickness out of my system, which resulted in a wildly attractive rash on my torso and arms.
So on Friday afternoon with a fever approaching 40ºC and a new found of appreciation of Powerade, I stumbled into the pharmacy for the third time that week to collect a penicillin prescription from my lady surfer Dr Gilbert and the pharmacist had good laugh at me for being a one-man-band of theatrical illnesses.
I like her for that.

There was a point on Wednesday night where I was convinced I must be healthy again because I woke up and went to grab a sip of water and poured the majority down my nose and all of my face/pillow, and began laughing immediately.
In such slumbered confusion I could only laugh. And then vomit profusely.
It’s a brutal realisation that the only occasion you’ve had for laughter in a couple of days also caused you to bring up your dinner of salted crackers, Powerade and lemon ginger tea.
But worse things have happened to better people, and I write none of this for sympathy.
Maybe it’s just self deprecation, self flagellation and a PSA about reading the dosage labels on medicine bottles.
But after a week of missed work Tofino has once again sunk it’s beautiful claws deeper into my wanting skin I am finding it harder to leave this town I came to for two weeks five months ago.
So maybe I will stop making plans.
I will forgo a little sentience and hope my body can simply fire on all cylinders, headed straight on a winding road with someone entertaining riding shotgun and a version of myself carrying a little spontaneity and indifference to the destination at the wheel.

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The Quality of Our Suffering

Disclaimer: the following may be dramatised for entertainment purposes, which are different from entertainment porpoises and which I believe Sea World deals in.

I am a juggler; mid throw, slow motion.
This life is a circus and I am a clown, the colourful misrepresentation of much quoted Shakespeare.
In this caricature I envision my face painted, complete with a gaping smile and wide eyes cast upwards as my entire arsenal of juggling paraphernalia is overcome by gravity and their weighted ends are turned back on me.
As my eyes find these tools of entertainment I’ve sent skyward I realise they are knives and axes, flaming torches and hand grenades.
Although I must be the one who has sent these objects skyward I have absolutely no idea how to juggle and I am now caught in a shitstorm of explosives and sharp objects.

Traveling and living overseas is a personal philosophical journey, whether or not that is sought by the traveler.
We travel to experience, to indulge, to learn and to grow.
You surround yourself with new people in new places because your departure point has become stable, and stability is for bridges and people who can deal with responsibility.
And as each of these experiences, indulgences and opportunities to learn and grow present themselves you react accordingly.
And, human as I am, my reaction is often to catch the knife by the handle and the torch by the flame.
So I attempt to fan the flame with the blade of a knife, and forge myself an entirely new ordeal.
And then I wake, sober and wondering where all these cuts and burns came from.

I came to Tofino for two weeks five months ago.
It sucked me in like a black hole and showed me a summer from all points in time and everything I could hope to enjoy and learn from.
In this metaphor I am Matthew McConnaughy with only the most basic understanding of black holes and this town is my Interstellar book case.
And one day here does seem to be a lifetime back home, as a new Prime Minister is sworn in and it seems maybe we’ve gone Back to the Future from 1959 to somewhere nearing October 21, 2015.

At the pub every day people ask me why I am in Tofino, and how I got to Tofino.
Aside from the usual money-grabbing responses re: “to serve lovely people such as yourselves, of course,” my answer is often to look around at the scenery and tell them I came down out of the mountains in search of the ocean.
Because, shit, either tourists love an eloquent server or I am just pretentious.
But although that holds true and having the ocean within pissing distance of my front door is key to my survival, it’s always the people who I am privileged enough to call my friends along the way who keep me from wandering off too soon.

And although this town has had me dancing through the battlegrounds of a personal psychological warfare for those same people, I can still sit here on a fold out couch in the living room of staff accommodation wondering about how goddamn good I’ve had it.
Or maybe I simply dwell on glaring examples of my own failings and indulge in fantasies of inadequacy to have something to write about.
“The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering,” said Tom Waits, according to a picture my Dad shared with me on Facebook.

A week ago I went skinny dipping in the Tofino Inlet at around three in the morning.
With every footfall and flailing arm splashing in the shallow waters a flash of coloured phosphorescence would light the gaggle of limbs which were accompanied by shrieks of surprise and delight.
As far as experiences and opportunities go, it started as an innocuous evening that came charging in to my life full of surprise, and in the following week has given me cause to learn and grow.

Maybe I’ve grown, maybe I haven’t learnt a thing.
Maybe I’ve just used it as a catalyst for writing something in an attempt to improve upon the quality of our suffering.
But I know I will continue to throw these dangerous objects in the air, practicing and perfecting my style so that in the future I may catch fewer flames and more handles.

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I rock shorts in single digits

I rock shorts in single digits, and wonder what my life has become.
I grew up living life in front of a fully cranked heater on brisk Queensland mornings.
They were no less than ten degrees in the new money, and they required layers.
Now I rock shorts in single digits, and wonder what everyone on a website on the other side of the world is complaining about.
I sit in the sun drinking beer and stealing wifi from a restaurant that asks me to seek shelter, and my gaze lands upon snow capped mountains.
Winter hits back home, with all the ferocity of a kitten wrapped in cotton balls.
And right there I wanted to write puppy, but any chance for alliteration I will jump at. Jumping around at nothing that means anything, like a six-week-old chocolate fucking labrador.
I rock shorts in single digits, and wonder, while sitting around getting drunk on local ale and stealing wifi, what my life has become.
Perhaps nothing of what it could have been.
But potential can only be attained if matched by ambition and ambition is a fickle beast, stuck in the headlights of a passing parade.
To be fair though, with its bright lights and beautiful people, I fucking love this parade.

As I round the final bend on a year in the Americas and the weather comes full circle, ambition and potential become as relevant to me as the weather.
These are things I think about at the edges of everything else that goes on but nothing worth giving any real consideration to – not just yet.
It’s a brief, a passing, where I stick my head out the window of my existence and throw a jacket in the van just in case a fog rolls in while I surf.
And surfing here is enough of a challenge to relegate any aspirations of the future to the passenger’s seat, along with that seldom worn jacket.
Because I rock shorts in single digits on the beach, and attempt to apply the same foolhardy mentality to the ocean which I enter daily, and which is so changeable on the north west coast of North America that I am never not caught by surprise.

I am surprised as three days of northerly winds can blow in such a change in the ocean’s temperature that I can last only thirty minutes before frozen limbs leave me limping from Long Beach on low tide.
I’m surprised as I have surfed the last month without rubber boots (or party pants) and managed two hour sessions with only a few frozen digits at a time.
(It’s important to note that frozen toes encourages surfing my backhand, which always needs improvement.)
But all in, I’m surprised that two months in I can don the 4/3 and booties and regard it as the most natural way to enter the ocean, impersonating a seal as closely as possible in waters where seals aren’t high on the food chain, and not feel fear.

The pub I work in overlooks water where orcas have been breaching in the last few weeks, and overlooks a marina home to a sealion named Oscar.
The Oregon coastline, only a few hundred clicks to the south, is a great-white-shark breeding ground, and regarded as the source of the cold water currents which make their way north to Vancouver Island.
The nature of this part of the Pacific Ocean is enough to kill any ill equipped human, and given the chance the creatures that dwell therein are certainly adapted to cull any stragglers from the food chain.
But for the same reasons I don’t allow fear to keep from the water in Western Australia, I can pretend to tease the limits of my mortality here on the west coast of North America.

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Oscar

There is a sea lion who knows that each day, as the fishing charter boats return to port, he will be fed.
He’s a massive, cranky old bastard, and he’s known as Oscar.
The fisherman arrive in port and begin gutting and filleting their catch of salmon and halibut, throwing Oscar the remains of fish which sell for upwards of $50 per kilo.
He thrashes his great blubbery body and tosses dead fish through the air.
He pretends to himself that he is the great, natural born predator he would be without human intervention.
This is not a story about Oscar (the sealion).
But it is a story about a man I had in the bar who I’ve given the name of Oscar, because he was a grumpy old bastard with yellow teeth and a nose squashed flat to his face.
Oscar (the sealion) may not be mentioned again. This a story about Oscar (the man).

At 3pm on a Wednesday, Oscar (the man) ordered a pint and a shot of tequila.
Oscar paid cash and did not tip.
Oscar then fed twenty dollars into the tabs lotto, which would win him three dollars which he would celebrate with another pint.
All the while he spoke, or muttered, or grunted occasionally intelligible words which made their escape through a mouth and nose which protruded from his face roughly the same distance.
But his eyes seemed excited, betraying whatever anger he held and telling of an enthusiasm.
For anger, maybe, or sadness.
He fed another twenty dollars in the machine and broke about halfway even, somewhat justifying his excited eyes.

Oscar lived up the way, he gestured, up past the hostel and over looking the bay.
“I was renting a holiday house up that way with some friends when I first got to town,” I told Oscar, for some reason, while pouring another pint and another shot of tequila.
He grunted the name of the family owning the land, and I nodded.
“People staying there have no respect. No respect for the property.
“I had some of them shooting fireworks at my house one night! From the headland, straight at my house!
“I yelled at them to fucking quit it but they kept at it, so I was going to go over there with Louis.”
“Louis?” I asked.
“Louis. The Louisville Slugger. The baseball bat in the closet. Show them what’s what.”
“What good would that have done?” I asked.
“Well, if it was one on one it would have been good fun at least.”
He ordered another pint and an order of hot wings, paid cash and did not tip.

I decided not to tell Oscar (the man) that it would not have been one on one.
He didn’t need to know he would have found over a dozen people, all experiencing a happy delirium and without any inclination to fight or indulge his anger.
I didn’t feel the need to correct him about the trajectory of the fireworks (skyward), if he was able to find some peace in his continuing anger.
He could remain unaware that it was his unassuming bartender and a group of friends, having taken a shared a few tabs of acid, hanging out on the cliff overlooking the sea on the property we had rented, who were letting off fireworks one night for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I felt it was best to let Oscar (the man) tell his story, thrashing his head in his anger and tossing his ill gotten ideas around like a sea lion with an already dead fish.

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