I moved my family back to Australia last month.
It was all a bit of an adventure, unfortunately. I say ‘unfortunately’ because real-life adventures tend to be less enjoyable than the tourism industry would have us believe. Marketing departments seem to have co-opted the word ‘adventure’ in much the same way that ultra-capitalist gigacorporations have co-opted words like ‘revolution’ and ‘revolutionary’. Which is how the term ‘adventure’ became synonymous with a weekend in wine country, staying at a five-star bed-and-breakfast, and enjoying a bit of artisanal cheese, or perhaps even taking a hot-air balloon ride with an irritatingly attractive companion who looks like they breed horses recreationally.
None of which, of course, is an adventure.
Adventures are harrowing, perilous ordeals. They don’t end when you grow bored; they go on and on and on, like some of my recent sentences, while you blunder about through a snow-laden wilderness, nursing a concussion, and trying not to get eaten by terrifying mixed metaphors.
The only thing that’s fun about an adventure is cashing the royalty checks from your (ideally) ghostwritten autobiography. Presuming you survived, that is, and that you don’t have to blow your funds on hospital bills or therapists specialising in post-traumatic stress disorder.
And deep down, I think this is all fairly tacit, even if we don’t like to think about it much.
If your plane crashes in the Andes and you somehow manage to walk back to civilisation – a journey of twenty-three days, fighting off giant snakes, dysentery, amorous monkeys, and carnivorous bats – well in that case, you’ve had an adventure.
If it took you seventeen minutes to locate your car in an underground parking garage – that’s not an adventure. And I’m not gatekeeping here – on the contrary, I’m suggesting that the gatekeepers of our language these days are precisely the sort of people who take balloon rides in wine country. You know – individuals who can purchase artisanal cheese without swearing angrily at the cash register.
One time, years ago, I was at work, chatting with one of my colleague. His name was – or is, rather – Mehmut, and he’s a Uyghur, from north west China. Mehmut had the odd distinction of looking roughly twenty-five years younger than he actually was, so we were all a bit amazed when he revealed that he’d been a teenager during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.
Mao Zedong decided to close all the schools in China, so my friend joined a street gang and roamed the countryside with friends, getting into all sorts of mischief. In the loosest summary, Mehmut had spent a few years working as a bandit. Nowadays, he’s a Stanford scientist – but what a life! Anyway, my point is that one day, my friend was telling us a fascinating tale, centered around how difficult it was to find scrap metal of any variety in rural China, and how this led Mehmut and his hooligan friends to have a crazy idea…
Unfortunately, I don’t know what that crazy idea was because a nineteen-year-old intern interrupted Mehmut’s story to talk about a hiking trip she’d taken the previous summer in Maine, with a bunch of college friends from North Eastern University. Her story wasn’t quite as good as the interrupted confessions of a former bandit from north-west China, so I can’t recall the details. Apparently there was some rain and – if I’m remembering correctly – someone lost a pack of biscuits or something.
But do you see how some people have a rather narrow and superficial conception of what constitutes an ‘adventure’?
How do you know you’re on an adventure, anyway? Well, first of all, you’re probably not enjoying yourself too much. And second, you’re likely experiencing disquiet and general unease.
On a real adventure, your inner dialogue turns into a bit of a harangue. You’re cross with yourself. You’ve started to mentally backtrack through revent events in an effort to determine how in hell’s name you wound up in your present circumstances.
In my experience, it’s a process accompanied by a lot of swearing. And earnest promises to yourself. Henceforth, you will behave. You will be less rash. And if you can somehow manage to extricate yourself from the current scenario, then you will undeniably live a quiet and orderly life somewhere. Lots of books and contemplation, etcetera, and maybe you’ll try your hand at some light gardening.
Anyway, that’s my yardstick – that’s how I know when I’m on adventure. Mental swearing, and a lot of self-admonishment and promises to pick up a book about gardening at the earliest convenience. A pervasive feeling that somehow, somewhere, one has erred.
In short, it’s almost the exact same lucidity I experience whenever I visit the dentist. Nothing makes me want to reform my life like a dentist’s chair. One moment I’m fine. The next, I’m pinned under a mountain of regret, acutely aware of all my failings as a person, as evidenced by my recent forgetfulness vis-à-vis flossing.
My life is hectic, man, I want to tell the dentist, who I can tell is silently judging me. My children are voluble! They have questions – many, many questions! Plus, I’m writing books and trying to survive, and … But what’s the point in making excuses? I can do better. No, I tell myself. I will do better.
I never once left a dentist’s chair without promising to reform just about every aspect of my life.
But the point here is – that dread! That sinking feeling in the pit of one’s stomach, when you’re forcibly made to reflect upon past errors … That is what an adventure feels like. It’s a sickening realisation that you’ve made a complete dog’s breakfast out of your life. You want nothing more than to go back in time and take a different path – one with fewer carnivorous bats and amorous monkeys – but you can’t! You have no choice but to keep trudging forward, and hopefully find your way back to civilisation.
I’ve been on several adventures in my life, and one of those adventures was moving my family back to Australia. It wasn’t an easy process. Unfortunately, the journey is largely beyond the scope of one of these newsletters. I can’t get into it all here and now, though I do plan to circle back to various bits of the story later on. Which I promise to do once I’ve finished reading this gardening book I checked out of the library.
In short – I have a lot to tell you about! But it all has to wait.
For now, I’m on the Redcliffe Peninsula, just north of Brisbane. Blue skies, magpies swooping about (and occasionally attacking people). It’s pretty weird to be back, let me tell you.
The good news is that I can once again purchase a carton of coffee flavoured milk at almost every single shop in the country. The bad news is that mullets seem to have come back into fashion here.
(I actually didn’t know about the mullet thing; I stepped out of quarantine in Sydney and … well, I was understandably shaken. But I’m sure my idea to move back to Australia will prove itself to be sound in due course. Just not as immediately as I had hoped…)
Anyway, you lot – hope you’re all safe and well. I promise to write again soon.
Yours truly (if with a mounting sense of unease),
Kris St Gabriel