Monday, June 05, 2006

You are here.

A month from now I turn thirty-eight. This is no longer my mid-thirties. Thirty-eight is definitely approaching forty.

When I was younger – at school, before I came out in second-year uni, I always assumed I would be well and truly married with children by thirty-eight. I suppose everyone does. Beyond planning my wedding (in a purple dress with flower girls in white, at dawn, by the timeball tower at Williamstown back beach), the picture was never terribly distinct. I remember feeling terribly bold, telling people, ‘If I’m not married by thirty I’m going to have children anyway.’ At twenty-two, when I decided I was a lesbian, I had to put a pin in the idea of finding some man with a high-flying job to support my domestic fantasies, and envisaged my future as a career woman. In my imagination, I became more and more successful throughout my thirties, getting involved with high-powered committees and lobbying for change. I would stride to work in a natty skirt suit, somewhere in the tall towers in the centre of Melbourne. There I am, amongst all the other grey-clad, grey-faced commuters, reading an awkwardly folded Age as the tram sways and hums its way into the CBD. Once I’m in the city I do – what? Something that involves policy and planning, making decisions at a statewide level, probably getting flown to Canberra to participate in national discussions and the direction of the national health system. I get a nice fat bureaucrat salary, and my partner, who is smart and gorgeous but not as career oriented as me, works a few days a week in something socially important and fulfilling to her, looks after the kids and manages the house. It’s all very nice, if somewhat heteronormative.

Instead, here I am in the bush with a foot in both worlds. Thursday to Monday I’m holed up in the little bush house, often in my pyjamas until midday. We poo in a hole in the ground which has no walls – but, wonder of modern conveniences, it does have a piece of corrugated iron on top in case of rain. There’s a two-metre long carpet python living on our roof and wallabies have put paid to any vegetable gardens until we can erect a tall, stout wire fence to protect the tempting buds. I play at being a freelance writer and manage to scrape a bit of pocket money from it, while Lovergirl is the passionate career woman who heads off to work each day to save the troubled youth of paradise.

My six-month project in Brisbane is giving me a fresh perspective on the mismatch between where I thought I’d be and where I am. Tuesdays to Thursdays I don the corporate look – or as much as I can muster from my wardrobe, which has slid decidedly into the casual in my years up here – take the three hour bus trip to the city for three days and try to determine where the mental health system of Queensland should be heading.

It’s a crazy-making dichotomy. On one hand my laid-back North Coast friends, urge me to follow my heart so the universe will move to provide for my greater good, and on the other, the frenzy of the social services, with their desperate striving to right the wrongs of the world and go into bat for the suffering and those unable to advocate for themselves.

I worry that I’m not reaching my potential. I worry that I’m not earning enough – for my life now, and my survival in the future. I worry that I’ll be left behind. I worry that I’m not contributing to society.

I read about a newly defined syndrome called ‘middlescence’, where those of us in our mid-to-late thirties start to come to terms with how our life has actually turned out, compared with how we imagined it would be. In middlescence, we realise that we are never going to be rock stars or screen goddesses, that we made the wrong choice when we filled out our university preference forms when we were sixteen, and that our financial and family commitments now prohibit us from making any different life decisions.

My imagined life now sounds tedious, humdrum and pointless, some sort of mechanical toy, going round and round on a track. I’m not living that life, so someone else is doing it, just as well, no doubt. No one misses me in that world. My current life is precarious and frightening. I don’t know where it’s going. I don’t know whether we are going to have children, I don’t know whether we will have enough money, I don’t know whether I will do anything useful or unique or even, gasp, beautiful and creative with my life here. Is it enough just to live, calm and small? I assume I have to be striving for change. While there is injustice in the world I will never rest! and so on.

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