I have this memory.
It was summer and I was sitting out on our front porch, sometime in the late afternoon but while the sun hadn’t quite disappeared yet. We lived at the end of a valley, but opposite an enormous hill; it usually took a long time for the sun to completely disappear each day but when it did it dipped behind the hill the same way you imagine a sun would in a kid’s picture book: a big, perfectly round gold orb behind a bell curved slope. I loved that porch. In summer – at just that time of the afternoon – you could sit on it after it had been bathed in the warmth all day, and felt exactly like sitting down on some giant, smooth dinner plate that’s just been taken out of a hot dishwasher, perfectly clean and deeply warm. Next to me, our dog Sandy – a white kelpie given to my sister and when we were little, by our uncle – lay flopped and snoring on my knee. And it was perfect.
I was fourteen years old. And all I could think in that moment was that if it never got better than this then I was okay with that. I could not imagine being more at peace than I was there in that sunny, leafy place where the wind made the gumtrees creak and everything smelled like freshly turned earth and fresh pots of tea. It was home, and there was no better place to be.
That was eighteen years ago. Today I’m sitting in front of a computer; it’s winter; I am a very long way from that porch, and I have long forgotten what it is to be carefree. It’s strange how as we grow up we seem to develop a greater and greater appetite for what we think will satisfy us in life. Or perhaps a more accurate description is how easily we buy the idea when we’re told what we should want in life if we're being smart. What is already beautiful suddenly is not beautiful. What was quick now needs to be instant. The pace is faster, the costs are higher, the homes are bigger, families are smaller and the values of our forebears are forgotten. In short, according to this world, these days, no matter how good we think we are we will never be quite good enough without that next thing that is of course, always available at a reasonable price. For all the wonderful things this day and age has to provide us with – that we might live better lives – instead of experiencing it with our own eyes, we live it all through a lens and leave nothing to mystery, nothing to keep secret and just for us in the vaults of our own hearts.
It’s sad, really. I go back and I read the above and I wonder when the content little farm kid in the sun was replaced so completely by the jaded woman who woke up this morning and felt glad to go to work only because right now it is there she feels the most capable of living. Worse, it’s not an overstatement. It’s as true as the air in my lungs.
A month ago though, for me, it wasn’t. A month ago I embarked on an adventure that by all rights should have changed my life. And for all intents and purposes it did – just not the way I ever thought it would.
It started in November last year. I was approached to work for a website, to do what I loved – to write – about something I loved to write about: television. I’ve always been a TV kid. My parents will tell you that, so essentially then this was a dream job for me. Ever since I was a little I’ve had this penchant for getting completely absorbed in TV and movies of all kinds – good, bad, scary, courageous, romantic, heartbreaking, challenging, funny – and sucking up every moment like a sponge. Going with the metaphor then, it wasn’t surprising that I think my parents had to wring me out occasionally; remind me that there was a real world out there to be enjoyed, as well imaginary ones. In any case, here and now it seemed like the job I was born to do, and I gave everything – my time, my creativity, my time, my heart, my spirit – over to it, and to the person overseeing it. A person who, I realise now with great sadness, perhaps did not deserve all of those things.
In response to all that then - to what happened while I was away - it's hard because I know that it has to be acknowledged somehow, that I know what I want to write here, and yet by the same token I know the kind of person I'd have to turn into in order to write it. They're the words of a person I'm not and never want to be. In a weird way I wish I could just tip out all my bones, though. Take a cap off each of them and one by one replace the contaminated marrow; because what I have in me now honestly feels like tar.
But that feeling left me ultimately with a question. How exactly does a person disentangle the good memories out of bad experiences? Where would they start? Where could I start? After all. Life is too short to be so ungrateful a wretch as to toss out the gold you unearth just because it's covered in dirt, and I came home with so much of both. In some ways I still don't quite know how, but I'm going to start from a place I know. A place of thanks. And I need you, dear reader, to forgive me for sounding so self indulgent here. I'd understand if you clicked away now. But these are things I just need to say. I hope you understand.
Firstly, I want to say thank you to every kind person out there in the vast expanse of the interweb who to date has stopped by and read the things I've written; even more so if you were kind enough to stop and leave a comment, be it to agree with my thoughts or even to argue with them. More often than not I'd be sitting down reading what you had to say, in my pjs with a cup of tea in one hand and probably a bowl of cereal for dinner in the other (sorry mum - I'm trying to eat more vegetables now, but you know I'm terrible at the whole 'healthy' thing. And yes, it's still truly a wonder that I don't have scurvy). You have no idea how awesome it was to read your comments, people; to know that you were on the other side of the world and had taken the time to engage in a discussion over something we mutually appreciated. Often actually, when I was feeling really low, I'd go back and read some of the really kind, encouraging things you wrote, and you reminded me that even on my worst day I will always have something to be thankful for. That I have no excuse for handing in my second best when I press publish each time: because you are reading it.
For the record, when you comment it means a lot. It means a lot to writers like me when you take the time to leave your thoughts behind - when you've read what we've written, and either agree or challenge our views completely - those challenges are what stop us from becoming complacent and cocky. At least I know that's what you did for me.
Secondly, the people I want to thank are the people behind the people. Publicists and organisers and minders and so many other kinds of professionals with enormous jobs that go vastly unseen - and unappreciated - by us on the other side of the screen 99 percent of the time. When I first went to this event, I was encouraged to view these people with a certain sense of fear and trepidation, as though they were rich, petulant kids that are great when they're happy and spoilt with flattery but that would actively and unanimously make your life hell if you did something to annoy them. To be fair, there probably are ones like that, but to be even fairer, that's life: those kinds of people are everywhere, and regardless of where you encounter them, they're always going to be rubbish to deal with. The vast majority of publicists for me, though, were wonderful, professional and genuine, and it saddens me in a lost of ways that I have no opening to find them personally and say how much I appreciate what they did, and do. I had no idea how big your jobs were until this event.
Then there were the other people I met: actors, screenwriters, directors, composers...I mean good grief. When you actually stop and think about all the professionals whose individual work goes into making what you watch on TV and at the movies, you'll quickly start to feel mind blown. I know I did. My brain reeled at times when I stopped and thought about some of the people I'd talked to. Indeed an exquisite mind in motion is a stunning thing, so I know my life is better fror the experience of having engaged with such talented people: ones blessed not only with stories to tell but the creative means to tell them. One of the joys of working as a journalist at events dedicated to TV and film is that you'll spend a lot of time surrounded by many such clever minds; many dedicated and deeply committed artists with a passion and joy for their craft. They kind of reminded me of silversmiths: always bending the precious metals of their talents to take the shapes of the stories they are given to tell. Week in, week out, I experienced that talent for myself as a fan and a critic; writing about their work made me a better writer and for that I will always be eternally grateful. Their words of encouragement in turn will likewise always be precious to me. So if you are one of those people, and by some miracle you are reading this - I'd like to think that you know who you are - and even if you never come back: still, know from the bottom of my heart that I mean it when I say it. Thank you.
To the other journalists I met, you were really kind, and taught me so much. I don't know. Maybe a newbie like me - with my distinctly awkward and fumbling lack of knowledge and training - annoyed you horribly in those rooms where I met you: rooms packed toe to toe and nose to nose with so many experienced professionals. In some ways I feel like that's inevitable; you have all gone back to the glittering worlds you cover so well, fickle though they are so much of the time. But you accommodated me, and I learned much from you, despite being - if I'm honest - intimidated by your expertise most of the time. But you, my dear Melissa, Pam and Jayne - who were there and understand what happened - you were were the best thing about the whole experience, and I'm so thankful to be able to call you my friends. You exquisite, formidable, funny wonderful women, you.
And to Kathy. When you read this, know that the swift kick in the emotional pants you gave us that day (you know - at Chilis, before we went shopping and spent exhorbitant amounts on everything you nodded at) was the best thing that happened to us in the end. You reminded me that I was better than the doormat I was letting myself be so pathetically treated like. You reminded me that a strong person is one who not only knows their own worth, but treats themselves accordingly; and likewise that if they do the opposite, they have no-one to blame but themselves for not walking away. Indeed, know that I'm a better person for that day, and am blessed to have met you. And I'm not just saying that because you're the kind of friend who tells people that they will get suckerpunched if they don't buy those BCBG Max Azria wedges immediately.
For the record too, quite frankly I don't care how much everything I have said so far sounds like I'm sucking up. How much any of this does. I make no apologies. Not for being the person I was raised to be; because where I come from, we say please and thank you and we acknowledge the generosity of others. And there were so many people who were generous to me during this experience, especially in light of my inexperience. I met people who reminded me that even in a horribly conflicted world like ours is today, there are still so many things to be thankful for. A warm cup of tea in a clean cup. Fresh, crisp sheets that are still warm from all day in the sun. The smile of a friend. Nutella straight off the spoon. The successive green lights when you're driving to somewhere you really want to be. A little kid laughing. Your mum's cooking...we have so many reasons to be beautifully humbled under the weight of the unexpected loveliness that is the plain, soft, mundane life of every day. How much more thankful should we be when it's our childhood dreams coming to life? Because that's what happened for me.
And to Mum, Dad, Laura, Steve, Josie, Harry, RJ, Hannah and my plethora of beautiful family friends who were waiting here for me when I got back. You are the reason I suddenly understand why Dorothy was so glad to wake up from that dream on the other side of the rainbow. I love you with so much of my heart that sometimes it feels like none is left to give anyone else. You are the reason there is no place like home. You are my proof that the best things in life are not earned, or deserved, but are by the grace of God, given. I love you all so much.
Good grief. This post has gone on for days hasn't it. But looking back over it and the days I've spend dwelling over that 'publish' button, I can see and feel that it's out of my system now. I can begin the process of letting go.
And as for you, dear reader - if for some reason you've made it here to the end, having continued to scroll on from the beginning like a champ - know that I'm thankful to you too, and that I'll try to write in a way that acknowledges how grateful I am that you're here and reading this. With that, I bid you all a good night. Tomorrow is a new day, and I am, I think, finally ready for the sun to set on this one.