We’ve been back on Skye for just over 2 months, which was always meant to herald the end of An Turas (it is the final destination in The Journey, after all), but Life is not the movies and this ain’t no fairytale, so things continue to roll on in mystery and confusion. I’ve certainly not ridden over the Skye bridge into the sunset … things are the same, and not the same.
Due to the whole immigration process and the awful anti-migrant climate right now in the UK (rumours of HO bounty hunters!) I’ve decided to keep quiet on the blog front.
Flashback to the Autumn of 2002, when I’d just arrived on Skye for the first time and was so green the only jacket I owned was this thin duffle. I had to wear almost every other item of clothing I owned underneath and I still was not warm, but we were young and had our whole lives ahead of us, and the sea was navy blue.
Trying to think of a topic that is not immigration…but it is kind of our life just now. We are officially in our last 20 days of life as expats in China. In 20 days we will hurtle down from the 21st floor for the last time, and close the door on our 2 years in China.
I have mixed feelings, which I expected and did not expect.
Professionally, my 2 years here have been a crushing disappointment. The fire in my heart for libraries has completely died. In hindsight, I wish to God I’d had more confidence in my ability and aimed higher – taken a job in Shanghai or Guangzhou or a bigger school. When I chose a small school in a backwater – thinking it would be an easier transition back into teaching after 3 years in public libraries – I condemned myself to a role with no budget, and complete and utter ignorance of my purpose and that of libraries.
Many times in the past 2 years I have wanted to quit, and some beautiful opportunities have come my way – jobs in Scotland (impossible due to visa), and jobs on either side of Australia – one literally in “Eden”. I made the difficult decision to turn them down, because I’ve left my hometown many times with the end goal of Europe, and I have turned back every time when things got too difficult. I felt like this time, I had to stick it out.
And *happy dance* in a few weeks we will be on our way to Spain.
Plus, having all passion for my job crushed out of me has made me think about what my real passions are, what I dreamed of being when I was 10, or 16. And while my job may have been less than desirable, the salary was not, so now I am in a position to live those dreams.
My grandmother was a sewer. Inevitable with 6 children, the eldest born during the Great Depression. My mum was the baby, and often tells how every stitch of clothing she owned until she got her first job at 16 (including her underwear!) was made by Nanny. One of my aunts became a professional seamstress, and my mum always had a sewing machine set up in our house.
One of Dad’s birthday or Christmas gifts for Mum was a proper sewing desk/cupboard contraption that he picked up at a clearing sale. Mum made my sister and I a lot of outfits, usually in coordinated fabric. One of my favourite outfits was a retro circle skirt. She made it from her old honeymoon dresses. She sewed us coordinated bike shorts outfits in the early 90s, and I think the last thing she made me was a blue pinafore dress. I wore it to our Year 7 disco and copped such horrendous teasing I never wore it again. I’m trying to remember the last time she sewed us something, and I’m thinking it was probably as I entered high school, and my sister and I started complaining that she was making us look daggy and embarrassing.
Mum used the sewing machine as an office after that, typing up church flyers and newsletters. I spent most of 1995 in Mum’s sewing room, making costumes for a Christmas play. I made outfits for my baby cousins. The effort this required my aunts (from the other side of the family) never fully understood or appreciated. I think this was my final sewing project. After that I started senior high school, we got a computer and the room became my assignment room.
I don’t know where any of the clothes she made are now. Probably handed down to the cousins, and subsequently discarded. Shame.
Overnight transit in Yau Me Tei. Hong Kong seems like a magical land after 3 solid months in 2nd tier China without a break. We didn’t go away for CNY as it is a ridiculously expensive time to travel. We went down with Influenza B all holidays, so my frustration with flight prices and refusal to buy tickets was for the best in the end. We spent 4 days in bed, sick, freezing, band eing rocketed to oblivion by new year fireworks. By the end of the holiday we were both ready to kill the next person who hocked up form near us.
So I sent the 10 year old back to Australia for a month. She’s spent 3 weeks climbing trees, swimming, fishing and going crazy with her cousins. Not entirely sure she’ll get on the plane back here. But if she does make it, there’s only 12 weeks left in China and it won’t be minus 5
I have a week of holidays before I collect her. I can’t remember the last time I travelled on my own. I’m doing a hand papermaking workshop in Chiang Mai, meeting a friend in Bangkok, re-learning screen printing in Hong Kong, and meeting daughter off the plane at HKIA.
Today though, I’m spending Easter Sunday roaming the streets of Kowloon, thinking about how fortunate I am. It’s hard to say it without sounding like a prat, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to travel, to explore, see the crazy things I’ve seen; to be healthy, to have an amazing daughter who is growing into a super smart tween with a Hogwarts obsession; to be Australian and come from that crazy flat land where the sun and spiders and snakes are all conspiring to kill us; to hear that nasally drawl in backstreets or Cafes or airports always makes me smile.
And mostly, I am awfully grateful to have survived two difficult years in a not-so-awesome job in China, and grateful for the job and all its trials, because it is the means by which we will travel and live in Europe.
I was fortunate to meet Beijing-based US artist Elizabeth Briel this week. Actually, we’ve met (briefly) once before, but that was “BPO” – Before Paper Obsession, so I did not make the most of the opportunity. Elizabeth works for the same international school foundation as an “artist-in-residence”. Most of the time she is based in Beijing, but visits other campuses for week-long residencies. A very cool job and there have been many moments this week when I have cursed my fears that prevented me from following my heart to become an Art Teacher, but such is life.
Before Christmas, as my paper obsession was just beginning, I stumbled on Elizabeth’s website while searching paper in Asia. I discovered that she had pretty much “gone before me” and she had written a manuscript about it!
After a few brief chats with Elizabeth this week I now realise that if I allow my paper and papermaking obsession to grow, it is going to take over my life. I’m okay with that. I may also be having a sort of mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s the whole “Year of 35” thing, and the realisation of not just my mortality, but the end of my youth? Perhaps there really is a crafty grandma inside all of us, and this is me tipping over the ageing edge? There’s an element of rage against the machine though – I could also blame this rotten job, that has challenged me in all the wrong ways and burned my interest in teaching and earning money to a crisp. Who knows, but I am suddenly possessed with the desire to pursue all the art I left behind as a teenager. I also realise that I don’t have to fit anyone else’s idea of me. Gah – what a paragraph of cliches! But it’s true – I am overwhelmed by this feeling. If I was to suppress it I would be utterly miserable.
To this end, I am pursuing every opportunity I can to make stuff, to find out which making has the most allure for me. Easter holidays are only a few weeks away and I am returning to northern Thailand, this times sans Ms10 (who departed one VERY happy girl for a month-long holiday with my family in Australia last week). I have only a few days there due to the irritating flight connections from my 2nd tier Chinese city, but I plan to use Elizabeth’s manuscript as a guide to make the most of it, visiting paper street, and joining a papermaking course. I’ve also signed up for a screenprinting workshop in Hong Kong on the way back. Printmaking and papermaking seem to go hand-in-hand in the book arts world. In fact, it seems papermaking is the introverted, closeted sibling to the wildly popular printmaking. Weirdly printmaking was my biggest obsession at school. I was woefully inadequate at linoprint, but screenprinting…my mum even purchased a kit for me one birthday, and I spent many an evening printing random words (can’t remember any pictures or patterns) onto old clothes.
I’m torn by indecision about whether to commence a new blog for my studies in paper, or mesh it with my original. This indecision (perfectionist much?), has been a great tool for procrastinating! So I shall begin, and to hell with it.
I am a librarian who has been dreaming of running away to a remote island for over a decade. Part of the dream involves becoming a wildly (or even moderately) successful writer or artist, so I am able to spend my days pottering around my garden, or in my studio, or down the Co-op chatting to the old folks.
This is the hitch. If I’m a writer, I don’t know it yet. And an artist? Hilarious!
But the idea of it keeps nipping away. And every day I get a little bit older…
A few months ago, amid planning for Christmas holidays in Thailand, I stumbled across Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park.
So now, I am a librarian who is writing a research proposal and learning how to make paper by hand. And it is thrilling.
This blog is going to check in on my progress from time to time. And in the tough times, when it seems impossible, it is going to nip at my heels to keep moving.
P.S. I totally started a whole other blog and posted this over there, then changed my mind and dragged it bag here…hopeless!
“Without the opportunity to learn through the hands, the world remains abstract and distant, and the passions for learning will not be engaged.” An article that eloquently describes the thoughts I am having about career, future and life.
When I think of moving to Scotland, I think of chickens and ducks and goats, of learning about how to survive life on a croft, of living in the wild places. My Dad went through a similar ‘tree-change’ in his 30s, so perhaps it is my destiny. His choices gave me all the best memories of my childhood – caravanning around Australia, camping on the side of roads and in dry creek beds, running a piggery, and a small farm, so this adds the rose-tint to my visions. Ultimately it all ended in tragedy for my Dad, but that is a thought for another day.
If nothing else, my two years in this job have proven I wilt, not thrive in the school environment. I feel I have not been myself here, have fired on only half my cylinders. Some of that can be blamed on other factors, sure, but I know now that I am more motivated and effective in a community role, but even there I am frustrated by bureaucracy and envious of those private enterprise folk.
As Crawford writes, “good job requires a field of action where you can out your best capacities to work and see an effect on the world”