Thursday, April 20, 2006

Inside my head

This blog is a postcard for friends and family scattered across the globe, and a reminder of my own wanderings over the duration of this "voyage". Some of my long-suffering friends have asked for some more "what's going on in your head & heart" details, and my newer friends have asked how it all started. So ... risking death by lint-suffocation by falling into my own navel, here's the state of the nation.

I finished working at Microsoft in early April 2003 after a wild and frankly exhausting decade running developer events and designing/managing software features across a wide spectrum of uses. I wasn't tired of the work, but the US wasn't working for me and Microsoft couldn't figure out how to use an R&D program manager anywhere in the world except at its HQ. I had been in Seattle for 5 years, and it then took 3 months to up roots and return to Sydney, single again and with 2 dogs.

My intention was to take up to a year to travel and see where my diverse interests took me career-wise. I had a short but almost disastrous flirtation with the Sydney property market, spending 6 months in a house that just didn't work for me, and exiting it almost exactly a year after leaving Microsoft. Sadly I had to give up the younger of my dogs, Bondi's brother Dougal, finding him a new home with a new sister malamute near Adelaide.

It was at this time that I developed Plans A&B. Plan A was simply "find a job, a man or project to involve me in daily life in Sydney/Australia". Something like the palindromic "a man a plan a canal - Panama!". Plan B was "take Bondi travelling, and walk some of the long-distance paths in the UK". I had never taken off real time to explore the world, being more or less continually employed from the age of 14 through both my degrees until exiting Microsoft.

After nearly a year I realised that Plan A was not panning out. Bondi and I had toured Tasmania for 5 weeks, explored Melbourne for 4 more, bouncing between Sydney and other parts for nearly 6 months. I worked briefly in a bookstore with the wonderful Anita & Liz, giving my weeks a little more structure ... but any hopes for a personal Panama were fading. I came close to buying an apartment, but that fell through when the developer reneged on a promise to make provision in the contract for Bondi. In retrospect that probably was a good thing as the Sydney property market sank further and the apartment dropped in price.

While back in Sydney I worked on downsizing the material parts of my life: much furniture in storage was given away or loaned out; all my CDs, photos and important documents were digitized for security and portability. Bondi was also prepared for possible travel so that he wouldn't have to go through quarantine in the UK.

By February 2005, after a short arc towards heartbreak, I had set Plan B into full swing. Now I just had to finalize provisions for being able to stay away for 1-2 years. I didn't have an itinerary planned, preferring to "wing it", negotiating schools and special events along the way. The cost & quarantine issues surrounding Bondi's flights meant that this had to be a long expedition for those to be properly amortised.

At the end of May we arrived in the UK. Bondi was scheduled a day later than me, and I picked him up from Heathrow a few hours after his flight landed. In the nearly 11 months since then, we've spent about half the time in the UK, and the rest on the continent. We've seen a lot, but in some ways it's like we've hardly started.

Aside from not wanting to be separated from Bondi, I knew that taking him would make for quite a different adventure than would happen if I travelled solo. It's doubtful whether I would have seen so much countryside, as we have travelled by car throughout, and he does make for a congenial walking companion. Certainly I don't think I would have gotten to meet so many people and make as many wonderful new friends without him.

Homesickness? Yes of course, but being able to communicate over the 'net closes the distance - although it doesn't bring Aussie food any closer. Without a solution to Plan A in Australia, a return would be premature. In the last 12 years, I've spent less than half that time in Australia, but don't feel any less Australian for it: my horizons are simply a bit larger. The Australian diaspora is now well-documented and frequently discussed: there are a million Australians living outside of the country's borders, but looking back in.

So now...?

Meeting Chris last year was a pivotal, magical event. It's wonderful knowing a kindred soul is close by each day. Figuring out the practical issues of how we stay together is challenging as I have no work/residency rights in this part of the world. The UK Home Office needs to engage in some constructive talks with the British Tourist Authority, since the former thinks there is not enough to keep a visitor occupied in this country (of 60 million people, thousands of years of close-packed history and beautiful outdoors) other than seeking illegal employment. The phenomenon of grey nomads seems to elude government officials in this part of the world.

Anyhoo ... I still have to work out how to expend the fire in my belly "project-wise" on a more ongoing basis than my travel pastimes: learning languages, working on my family tree and "saving the world" (as Chris terms my participation in online software forums and beta-testing of Windows Vista). That will come, and I won't rush it.

The rest is the journey of life.

1 comment:

  1. Andrew6:55 am

    Mike - this is a really well crafted post that really puts everyone on the same page again. As a comms professional I love quality prose like this!