I’m sitting upstairs at the RSL at a table for one. It’s a big room with a wooden floor and a low roof. It has fluro lighting. It feels like the mess halls in the Pilbara, except with more old people and families and no hi-viz. There’s no serve yourself buffet, you have to order your schnitty at the bar. Instead of listening to the big screen TVs blaring Masterchef, there’s Anthony Callea on repeat.
A few weeks ago I threw myself a party here in Tasmania, down the road in a shearing shed. It was an excellent party. I sung and danced and everybody danced and had a good time. At one point I was singing ‘You’ve got a friend’ and everyone was waving their arms in time and singing along to the words I had printed out on signs and I just milked it for as long as I could and we all repeated that line over and over, louder and louder. In that moment I had a few thoughts simultaneously:
1) I love everyone in this room
2) They all love me
3) Maybe, just like happiness, maybe sometimes loneliness is a choice. Maybe all I have to do is call.
4) I really love this place. As lonely as I sometimes am here, I love this community, these people, this place.
5) It’s going to be really hard to leave, and I’d better be damned sure I really want to.
I spread the glow of that party for as long as possible – calling friends and reliving the memories and only looking at a few photos of the party each week.
It lasted three weeks. Now I’m sitting in this fluro lit RSL listening to Anthony fucking Callea. The idea of giving this up and moving to the city to increase my likelihood of meeting suitable men seems somehow more plausible now, although it still feels lame and desperate. Maybe no one’s really judging me. Maybe it’s just me. Realising I’m an adult now. This is real, adult life. Right now. I’m living it.
Six years ago I wrote:
30 used to seem so far away. All the things I thought I would have achieved by then – a house, a husband and a child. I guess if that shit was still my priority, I wouldn’t be ‘wasting my time’ in barren Alice Springs. I know that I’ll be single for as long as I’m here. I’m still ‘too busy’ to settle down.
I’ve been looking over everything I’ve written over the last fifteen years, like a high school student scanning a key text for overarching narrative through-lines, plotting character development and identifying key themes.
Two years ago I wrote from the Pilbara:
I can’t wait for friends and family to just be a normal part of my life again. Not something that I get excited about for weeks in advance.
Last year, after I’d only been in Tasmania for a month, I wrote:
I’m already lonely. I forgot how hard it is starting over. Maybe it’s different this time, maybe I’m leaving behind more than I’m moving toward. Maybe work is no longer enough, maybe I know my gypsy days are numbered.
I know that Melbourne won’t be an easy answer.
At the end of last year I sat upstairs at the Thousand Pound Bend in Melbourne, alone in public like I am now, but with better ambience. I wrote:
I used to think that drinking alone in public was a bit fucken miserable.
This used to be the place where I danced in the dark at No Lights No Lycra. Now it’s dimly lit with lots of dark wood and maroon leather and old books. Some strangers are laughing softly in a booth nearby. There’s some foliage in a glass jar and a candle on my table in between my laptop and my whiskey.
This miserableness isn’t as loud as anxiety. It’s a quiet, gentle hum in the background that I only tune into when all the noise of being around friends, being busy at work and stimulated when I visit the city.
I don’t know if it’s small town blues, work that sometimes brings more weight than wonder, being on the edge of learning, nostalgia, saying goodbye to my grandmothers, realizing my parents are no longer my moral compass or that those happy free single art babe women I looked up to maybe aren’t as happy as I always thought they were.
Maybe I just need to run more and meditate and do the self-care things. Or maybe I just need to sit with this feeling. Listen to what it’s trying to tell me.
Perhaps I already know. Perhaps it’s been telling me the same thing for the past nine years.
That I don’t want to be alone any more.
That what I want now, more than anything else, is to share my life with someone. More than I want to do interesting work. More than I want to be near my family and friends. Maybe whatever I do, wherever I go, this vague sense of emptiness will follow, if I keep travelling, on my own.
I’m ok about being a bit miserable. I’m mostly ok with being alone. But maybe my faith in the idea that I won’t be alone for much longer wavers sometimes, when my joyful hope that it will end gives way to pragmatism.
Being alone takes faith.
It takes courage and strength.
Tonight, it also takes cheap Irish whiskey, a candle and some softly laughing strangers nearby.
Yesterday I went back to the shearing shed where I held my party. My 30th birthday. I found this sign on the floor where I’d left it, as if the universe knew I needed reminding that even when you’re alone…