I’ve been out most of last week. I’d spent my money and my time on cocktails, dinners, and with women. In a way I’m living the dream, while another part knows I’m living like an arsehole.
Work has been fun. I’m spending all my time behind the busiest section of the bar making drinks a thousand times. The bar can be difficult when you’re working at high volume. You’ve got to work in the space you have, knowing there’s other bartenders in your personal space too. They’ve also got to work. You’re throwing bottles in the air and trying to grab the till. You look around to talk to customers but can easily walk into other bartenders.
I want it to be my space, my stage consuming all my energy, but it isn’t really. Some nights I have energy and like last Friday night you can’t do anything wrong. You tell jokes. The customers laugh. They enjoy themselves. But then on the Saturday you have nothing left to give.
Anxiety. I guess I always had it. But I’m starting to recognise it now. Its flare ups, the signs that it is building up. If I listen to it all the time and try to avoid anxiety then there’s nothing I really can get to do. If I go out once or twice a week I’m likely to increase my anxiety. If I avoid confrontation or even if I do I’m likely to have a flare-up. If the world around me isn’t perfect in any way I could get anxiety. If there’s a girl I like I’m seeing then I’m sure as hell going to be anxious about it. I need a predictable and controlled world, but the world doesn’t work like that. And I need to live.
I need a predictable and controlled world, but the world doesn’t work like that. And I need to live.
So I guess I try to go out and spend it with different people. I’m trying to enjoy the present.
On Sunday night after work I crashed hard. My body said ‘screw you!’ after a few days of pub food and late nights. I should have known it was coming. But then of course I had to call in sick on Monday and I’m still feeling guilty about it. I know that’s silly.
My day offs have been empty. They never used to be. Today I’m doing my laundry and sorted through my assessments. Uni starts next week! It was a shock to go through it all and double check my Grade Point Average, which has somehow dropped from a 6.5 to a 5.4.
My goal is to transfer overseas to Colombia but I’m going to need a minimum GPA of 5.5 in order to do that. Right now my mind is in a haze and I don’t know if it’s because I’m still sick, or something else is going on, but I know I need to straighten my life, or everything I’m doing is for nothing. Or is this knowledge, this need, only a flare-up, a fight to avoid remaining in the present? Regardless, what I have right now is doubt, and even then I feel I need that doubt to motivate myself, and to feel something more in order to do better. It’s a compulsion, you see. I need compulsion in order to do my best.
It happened fast. My body felt weak, I was a little off at work on Saturday night, I wanted to go home. And then as I was walking home I felt almost too weak to get a pizza. I forced myself, hungry, and halfway through the pizza, laying on my bed and trying a new show on Netflix out, I felt it.
There was a tension in my head, it built, my stomach was tense, it built, and when I fell asleep I was still aware of the pain, increasing all the time. I had bad dreams I now can’t remember. They weren’t exactly bad, but, these days, the vivid ones are the most unpleasant. I woke many times in pain and my body felt weighed down, as if I’d had a session at the gym and overdid it a bit all over my body, not simply limiting myself to leg day or arms or chest.
I knew then what it was.
It was hard to eat. I tried going back to the pizza 12 hours afterwards, in the middle of the afternoon, and although I did it, the cramps after were intense. I laid on the carpet because somehow that made me feel better. I tried a banana, eventually, and toast, but even the water was giving me cramps.
I figured early on the second day by the lack of coughing and the lack of chest pressure that it was food poisoning. That’s all. I went to get tested but I was confident in the result. I knew it was negative. I just wanted it to hurry in time so I could hang out with my friend-colleagues. We were going out to celebrate a late christmas and new year at a pooltop bar I’d always wanted to go to.
But the result didn’t come through. I stayed home. I drank a tequila and it made my guts squirm.
The result came through by text the next day. I was positive. I believed it, but the hard bit was telling the housemates. Did they blame me? Were they mad? It turned out they were sick as well but it hadn’t occurred to them that it was Covid. I found myself starving, unprepared for seven days of self isolation. I felt lonely and isolated in my room, feeling sincerely that the resources you have in your house and the people you are with make all the difference. And it was then that a friend and a boss (a new one actually) reached out and offered to do a food shop for me.
I don’t know how to thank him for this kindness. It means a lot.
OCTOBER. Nearly November. It’s been a while and I don’t know where to start without it being some sort of massive backstory.
I’ve tried to write about it for a while but I just haven’t felt like writing. How is this the case when I’ve been writing my whole life? What do I do when the core part of my identity no longer feels like me anymore?
JANUARY. I left Bundaberg for the Gold Coast….preparing to study. I found a place in the middle of the middle of it all…in Surfers Paradise. A few streets away from the beach, two streets away from all the nightclubs. It was a risk. The rent was a bit more than I was prepared to pay and far from the uni I would study at. My new housemate was a chef and he helped me with my resume, and so, within a few days, I did find a job at a bar/nightclub near by.
I became a glassie.
I quit Tinder. The best thing I did. I wasn’t looking for anyone or anything. At least on a page.
I couldn’t have picked a better place to move to if I wanted to learn more Spanish. It is everywhere. I hear it on the street twice a day. I can hear the neighbours in their house saying “que pasa?” I work with Spanish speakers. Customers are always from somewhere in the latin world. I met people from Peru and Spain and Colombia and Chile and Paraguay and Argentina. I gravitated to these speakers, fascinated, ready to speak, but I never seemed to fit quite right.
MARCH. I started uni again. It’s weird being in the early 30s and looking like you’re in your early to mid 20s. It doesn’t take long to realise that everyone around you is 18 or 19 or maybe as old as 20. I thought of uni as a place of liberal thinking but it all seemed to be a central place of conformity, everyone fresh from school and still bidden to pleasing the lecturers and tutors for the better marks. People offered opinions in the discussion parts of workshops but it all seemed a trap somehow, the tutors being guides and through their guiding moving the discussions along or phasing out the things they didn’t agree with.
Work was too much on weekends so I cut my subjects from four to three and finally to two…but of course, keeping my spanish subject. Spanish was amazing. I learned so much in months but always going back to the roots of grammar. My spanish colleagues would speak to me and correct me and see some improvement from when I started.
And then APRIL, and MAY, and JUNE, and JULY, and through these times I was having the best social life I’d had, and yet the worst. Those outside of hospitality seemed to disappear and I’d work late on weekends. “What time do you finish?” a girl might ask. “Um,” I’d say. “4am.” And that’s it. The conversation was over. Once a girl got my number but I worked on the weekends and she didn’t want to go out on the week days as she worked the following days. It was physically impossible to hang out. Schedules didn’t allow it. I’d hang out on Monday nights with my hospitality friends and we’d drink at the Irish pub and then finish off at karaoke.
I miss Peru so much. I miss the adventures and wandering around. But over the year I’m talking less about it. My friends all know my obsession.
I woke up one day and was afraid I might have had a fetish for latinas, but I thought it about some more, and realised I didn’t really. I didn’t fit in to the dance and the club scenes, I didn’t fit into the sub-culture of what Gold Coast latin life seemed to be, I tried to learn salsa, and it didn’t feel like me. I thought by being close to it I would be closer to how I felt in South America, but it wasn’t like that at all. I just felt fake by pretending to be someone I wasn’t, by trying too hard on things that weren’t my strengths, and weren’t natural to me. I stepped back, but still missed Peru, my friends overseas, and still missed the travel. And dare I say it, I missed my ex, I ruminated in what I was and who I was and who I still am, and knew that then and in the aftermath in Bundaberg I was a toxic and unhealthy creature, and awareness changed nothing. I was making the same mistakes I thought I learned.
I sent a short story to the uni magazine about that sort of world for it to be edited. I took a month off alcohol and the story was written and when it was done I was bloody proud. It was the best work I felt I’d written in years. The student editor tasked with editing it didn’t seem to get my piece, and as I stressed trying to edit it for him the worse the piece seemed to be. It didn’t feel like my writing anymore. I quit the project. And I didn’t get published.
And I didn’t really care.
SEPTEMBER I burnt out again with the study and the writing failure and work. I finally took mum’s advice and I started using a phone app to meditate. I started telling myself “so what?” If something wasn’t perfect, if I made a mistake, if I wasn’t good enough, “so what?” So what.
And OCTOBER. I got promoted and suddenly I wasn’t a glassie anymore, or a waiter, and I hadn’t really been just that for months. I was behind the bar more, and often surprising myself. I knew the cocktails we served by heart (I made them all at home anyway) and actually doing an okay job at that. I’d make espresso martinis and french martinis and long island ice teas and margaritas and bloody marys. Somehow I had become a new person; I felt like I was disappearing; still the same person too. And so what?
I was in the local liquor store last night to pick up some vodka on my way to a mate’s. The security guard said, “I hate to be a pain, but can I look at your ID?”
“You’re going to love this,” I said. “Check the date of birth carefully.” He checked it, gasped in surprise, and passed it onto his curious colleague.
‘Get out of here,” they said.
On the way out the girl at the register also asked for my ID. I smiled and handed it over, and she said, “what?” and passed it back. “You really don’t look it,” she said, to the point that it became overwhelming. I think I was blushing. I paid and grabbed the vodka and left to go to my friends’.
A friend I haven’t seen since before my trip to South America was staying over. He is from Central America and so I was excited to be able to practise my Spanish with him. I was nervous too. After a few drinks we began talking in Spanish. Afterwards, it wasn’t a long conversation, he said, “you speak well. But you get frustrated when you don’t know words.”
It wasn’t frustration and I told him. It was an excitement as I tried to find new ways of something something. Regardless, it was good feedback. He showed me how to take a drink, “para arriba, para abajo, para al centro, para adentro!”
As I entered the house that evening with the vodka, and bragging about how I had to show my ID at 30 years old, twice, in the same store, music was playing on Youtube.
THE worklife has been consuming. And I don’t mind that so much at all, because when it is consuming, life seems to go by faster. I have a Spanish lesson every weekend, I clean, cook, and maybe buy some collectible cards from the local hobby shop.
But in 27 days, give or take a day, I will be on my way to Peru. Assuming that the agent I bought my tickets from isn’t dodgy, because they’ve changed the time of my tickets so many times.
I’ve calculated I will be in Trujillo for a few days, where I lived, and while there I want to catch up with friends and visit the school and visit the students I work with. That’s why I made the trip! I will see my goddaughter and her family, the people that let me rent with them. I will see my ex’s mother. But who knows who else.
Then I will fly to Cusco, and the plan had been to stay a few days, stock up, and then head east over to Bolivia. But I had planned to leave on Easter Saturday. Now I think I will have to stay the day after Easter because travel will be a nightmare on the buses!
I’m not sure how many friends I will see when I return, and in the last few days it has started to sink in. I would love to of course. But in truth I wasn’t happy with the person I was when I lived there. I was tense, stressed, focused on work, and trying to control everything around me.
And I can’t say, as a person now, that I’ve changed too much at all.
I’ve been pushed to work, I end the week exhausted. Perhaps that is why I was reading a book, and realised that I was 10 minutes late into my Skype Spanish lesson.
I rushed onto the lesson, and she was there, but what with the stress from work and from being late to the lesson, I was stressed. I couldn’t absorb what she was saying, when normally it flowed.
She sensed my resistance, and asked if I wanted to have the lesson at another time. That was kind of her. But we pushed on.
It was a sign of a good teacher that she recognised my irritation, and we warmed up a bit before she introduced the concept of conjunctions used for when we’re doing things to our bodies.
But I was resistant to learning, already stress breathing when she introduced an entirely new concept. Unusually for her, she had to speak in English to explain things.
I knew the anxiety was happening. I knew why it was happening…but soon, it clicked. I understood. And it worked out well.
Until the lesson was due to finish. My Skype started mucking up and I basically had to hang up. We’ve booked another lesson, and I know in theory she won’t mind as she still gets paid the same.
But it reminds me that a loss of interest, or stress, or anxiety, can block the goal to become bilingual. As it was in Peru, and as it could be.
And yet as I overcame it, as the lesson developed and I didn’t let it get the better of me, and when I absorbed new knowledge, I felt the stress dissipate, and the mental oppression from work become irrelevant.
There was a TedX video I watched two weeks ago, in which the man teaching it said it was possible to be fluent in a language in six months. I dismissed the idea at first until he explained that it requires knowing a certain number of types of words in order to express yourself.
But immersing yourself in another country of another language won’t work. People will talk over the top of you and you won’t understand the meaning. You need a native language ‘parent’ who you can express yourself with, even if you’re wrong. I’ve found that in my teacher, but I felt a slight sense of disapproval today because I didn’t come into the lesson fully absorbed.
I’ve started writing again. That’s been one of the changes. Last weekend I told myself to sit down and write for an hour. And not to write something new, but to continue on something I already started.
I did. Then carried on for 20 minutes on the Monday night. And then I did another hour today.
For a bit I’ve felt empty, like I’ve run out of things to say, at least on social media. And that’s okay, maybe, if I’m writing other things.
Now I am. It’s sci-fi fantasy and involves a compilation of works, but the characters are already twisting the story to what they want, and I’m 5000 words in, so that’s a good sign that they are doing that. I just want to write and write and see what comes out of it. I’m hoping for a solid mess of 200,000 words or so. An epic.
The other night I decided to buy face moisturiser. I’ve rarely used it, and I’ve failed to see the need to put more chemicals in my body. But my budget allows me to buy something for hygiene each week, and I wasn’t really needing much food, so I decided to get it.
I tried it yesterday. My face stung a bit like it was sunburned, and then in the evening, something happened.
On the side of my face, next to my right eye, was a white spot. It became noticeable near the end of my Peru trip, and it was a sure sign of my age. I’ve been troubled by it more, and I’ve been touching it a lot, when I’m thinking.
Anyway, the white spot fell off after using the moisturiser.
The same night I went shopping, I bought a muffin tin for apple and cinnamon muffins I’m going to bake for my colleagues tomorrow, at Woolworths, and a work shirt from a clothes store. There’s a cute girl who works there, and I know she’s friendly because it helps her sell clothes, but her interest does seem genuine, like she wants to talk. I joined up a membership the last time we spoke, and she got my birth date, and she seemed so surprised. “That’s my age!” she said.
This time around, we talked about life, and our car troubles, and how she was borrowing her parents’ car. And then she dropped in, “I had to pick my son up.” And I hope I hid my surprise, and I hope it didn’t mean I failed some sort of test.
Girls used to drop in “my boyfriend and I” into the conversation somewhere, if there showed some attraction from either us. Then it got more subtle, and more of the usage of “we” when she did something or went somewhere.
But since coming back to Australia, the women my age who are single also happen to be mothers, and they mention their child. I guess it doesn’t bother me, I don’t want kids for a while, but I suppose then there’s a fear that I need to know exactly what I want. I need to know if I’m going to integrate into another family’s life, and if I don’t, then I should stay out. The time for certainty is now. Or before, perhaps. I’m unsure about when the certainty needs to come into play.
I was driving this afternoon for a short while, and even though the car is still making odd noises, after I took it to the mechanic – who discovered a wrecked head gasket – I feel happy, like I’m getting ahead. I live in a nice place, and I’m able to save a bit of each pay. It wasn’t obvious at first, but my work is paying off for me, financially.
Last night I went to Dan Murphy’s, where there was a Chilean brand of wine I liked to drink in Peru, called Casillero del Diablo. I swear it wasn’t as good when I drank the bottle last night, but I still had a good time. There were times I was holed up in my room in Peru, and I’d drink a bottle, and reach out to everyone I could think of.
I tried not to do that this time.
I’m working on getting more clothes. Most of the shirts I wear to work were the best shirts I couldn’t bear to throw away when I left for overseas. They were for races and rodeos, and so are a bit expensive to wear out. A pink shirt I wore to work for years, before continuing to wear in Peru, is getting shabby and sun worn. I threw it out today.
It’s funny. Things. You get attached to them.
I went to the races with a work friend last weekend. It was the first races I had been to since before Peru. We got drunk slowly and gambled on horses, and I won the first race at odds of 7/1. We met a couple who recently moved to the area, and they met in Iceland. He was Australian but lived in various places overseas for four years, and she was from the Czech Republic. It was a long story but after a year of being friends, they tried to make it work, and she moved to Australia. But all the loopholes they have to jump through, the stress, the difficulty, it seemed to me like it was hard.
And to me, the longer I was with them, the more I felt an underlining tension.
Work is okay. I’m finding ways to be more efficient and reduce my anxiety. One good way I found was to try to reduce my talking to everyone, and just work quietly. I don’t need to have a presence, or know everything, or have an opinion about what’s going on.
And I’ve found, by doing that, that I worry less about if I’ve said something wrong, or not doing the right thing.
Another thing I did was I bought a news subscription. When I wake up for work (at 7am, formerly at 7.40am) I switch on the TV to ABC, and then read my news subscription’s email which is sent every morning. It gives me the highlights. By the time I come to work, and I have a news meeting, I feel mentally prepared to know what the agenda of the day is. I’m not spending an hour or two trying to play catch up.
I love a good Zelda game. Nintendo released a classic from 1992. A Link to the Past. Geez, it’s good. And hard. And brings in the best elements of legit Zelda gameplay.
I guess I’m starting to feel like I’m not playing catch up.
I’ve been in Australia for a bit more than a week, and I have to admit it’s been a confronting experience. I suppose it’s up to me to try to put it into words as to why.
I landed in Brisbane Airport after more than 35 hours of travelling or being transient (12 hours in the Santiago Airport). I stayed at my friends’ place, and even there it all felt different. My friend Jon had married while I was away and he had moved out.
I couldn’t make decisions for days without questioning it. Everything was a mental haze. I didn’t really feel like speaking to anyone for long.
For 17 months I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and so instinctively I had to read body language. I had a theory that when I returned I would be overwhelmed by all the English spoken around me, and would be able to read body language extremely well.
That was partly true.
Instead I found in large places I didn’t notice the English spoken around me. It was all just noise and could have been any language.
And reading body language and tone was useful, but I could see quickly when people weren’t interested in what I was saying. Or could see they were not interested in what I was saying, but still cared about me.
I realised this too. I wanted to talk about Peru. They wanted to talk about their lives.
We all just wanted to talk about ourselves.
I bought a ticket to WA to see my family. My brother and his girlfriend recently built a house together. They have a proud Bengal cat. A job that’s only five minutes away in a recently built-up suburb. Big TV. There’s a hot water tap for the kitchen sink, and you get to flush the toilet paper. They let me stay at their place. I sleep on the couch. It’s extraordinarily comfortable.
Everything is spaced out and the houses have front and back yards. I can’t believe I miss the banana and strawberry sellers wheeling their carts on the roads, shouting, “fresas! platanos!” and annoying me while I’m trying to rest.
I made a joke that my brother had to drive his homeless brother somewhere. And then I realised it actually wasn’t a joke. For now I am homeless. I’m looking for work but my industry has changed a bit.
We went to the store the other day to buy food. And when we went through the auto check-out, I couldn’t find plastic bags.
“Oh, you have to buy them,” my brother said. Sometime recently the plastic bag was banned.
My mum, brother and I went to Rottnest Island to take selfies with Quokkas. I guess I wanted to show off to my Peruvian friends. The little marsupials were everywhere and have no fear of humans. We hired push bikes and cycled half the island, and this to me was the type of adventure that made me feel like I was still travelling in Peru.
There’s a shack in the jungle, by the river, in the national park of Pacaya-Samiria. I’m there two nights. Other people pass through in that time. Some take tours of three days, or four, or seven. Some can be in the national park for up to a month.
My guide Santiago takes me on a walking tour on the second day for a few hours, while it rains. We see monkeys, and rubber trees, and the sap stretches. He shows fruits, and I taste a little bitter yellow fruit. He cuts through scrub with a machete.
He chops pieces of bark for himself from trees which he says can help with vaginal pain, and cancer, and other sicknesses. Everything we truly need seems to be in the jungle.
We collect strange fish, not just piranhas, from nets. He cooks lunch, we rest, and have dinner. He gets exhausted by my need to speak Spanish when we can ask nearby translators for help, and soon he offers me a boat ride in the night to search for alligators.
“Oh crap, I’ve offended him,” I think as we searched the creek by torchlight. “What a terrible way to die.”
Eyes shine orange in the night. A branch resting near the canoe shakes, and I jump in fright. He shows me alligators close up but they aren’t anywhere near as big as salt water crocs. I relax.
Orange eyes in the dark stare, not looking away from their predator. Sometimes they disappear when I shine the light away and back.
Santiago can find frogs in the trees by torchlight, and shows me, and eventually we return to the shack.
The next day he’ll canoe us both upstream to the park’s entrance, barely stopping except for lunch and to signal the river otters. Sometimes he drinks a brew from a water bottle made from ingredients from the jungle, but offers me none.
This blog post is part of a collection of journal entries set while I journey alone to the Peruvian jungle. It begins with this post, if you are interested.
It’s been a year since I moved to Peru. Seeing the Facebook memories from November, 2017, is giving me perspective. This helps give me confidence. A year ago in Mancoura, I was wrestling with the pronunciation of ‘Gracias’, ‘aqui’, and ‘pan’. Today, I wrestle with the usage of ‘estaba’ and ‘estare’.
The dogs here are surprisingly very well behaved.
It was easy a year ago to think about coming to Peru and the adventure and escape that awaited. But at some point I have to return, and I have no way to do so easily. If you sell everything including your car, and leave your job, and go overseas, it seems romantic, but at some point in time you will have to begin again when you return.
The best cakes I have ever eaten were in Peru. Peruvians know how to eat sweet foods.
Intention is always misunderstood in a foreign country, no matter what you do and how hard you try. This is the part where loneliness really affects you.
Manners are important. The worst thing you can do to block yourself from the surrounding Spanish world is to respond with ‘no entiendo’ when people attempt to explain something to you. And people don’t really know how to respond when you cannot speak enough words.
The same issues of bigotry, hatred, racism, xenophobia, and even nationalistic pride exists on both sides of the world. But even ignorance of the countries surrounding your borders also exist. I couldn’t believe it when a few people asked me if I was Venezuelan. My first reaction was shock. “How could you think I am Venezuelan?” That was bigotry. Then I realised that people really don’t know the countries outside of their borders. Then I realised that I am the same when it comes to countries outside of Australia. I guess I just assumed that in South America everyone was more interconnected. So I started researching on BBC the countries outside of Australia. I began with New Zealand, where I learned there is a river that legally has the same rights as a living person, and then the island nations that made it very clear to me how much the Americans during the Pacific War influenced the emergence and awareness of such places.
It’s easier to see the faults of a system when you’re the outsider, the stranger. But then you realise those faults exist at home too.
Today my students asked me questions about where I lived, and somehow I googled myself in class, and showed them either photos of myself, or photos I have taken. Then they saw a Youtube video of me boxing a Pacific Islander 40 kgs above my weight. This man ended up becoming my housemate. Then I showed the students a video of camel racing. They loved it. And that’s when I realised, I have lived a full life. I knew that already. I guess it’s just that I desperately want others to recognise that. For a moment, these kids did. And it made me happy, and made me feel respected, and made me feel that these kids were seeing a new exciting world beyond the one they had been taught about (the United States!).
The more you learn, and the more you want to learn, and the more enthusiastic you are about what you learn, the more you want to express yourself. I’ve tried to do it on social media but people don’t seem to like it so much. Self-expression is important but if you are learning far more than you are used to in a short space of time, maybe self-expression should be private for a little while until you’ve truly developed.