living with hippies

I thought I wouldn’t have a problem living with hippies. I was wrong about that.

I only moved in with them out of desperation. Trying to find a long-term place to live in Australia while I was still in China proved to be almost impossible, and in the end the only thing I was able to get was a one-month stay where I was taking the room of a guy who was going on vacation. And I only got it by lying.

We had a house interview over Skype, and one of the questions the girl asked me, in her perky Australian accent, was “What’s your favorite vegetarian meal to cook?” I told her it was eggplant risotto.

That was a lie. I’ve never cooked eggplant risotto in my life. In fact, I’ve never cooked anything with eggplant in it. I don’t even like eggplant. But I figured since I’ve never cooked any vegetarian meal in my life, my ‘favorite’ one was kind of an arbitrary distinction.

Still, I just sort of assumed I’d adapt and get into the swing of things once I moved in. I didn’t. Yes, I understand the concept of communal living, but I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. I always felt guilty when I was digging into food that I didn’t buy, and they often wouldn’t eat the food I bought because it wasn’t organic enough, or something.

There was one point where we all went to this big outdoor market to buy fresh produce and whatnot. I figured I’d buy some milk and eggs and other staple foods that someone besides me was likely to eat, and my housemate helpfully pointed out where the eggs were. Sure enough, there were stacked cartons of free-range, organic, carefree-chickens-who-live-full-happy-lives, eggs.

For $12 a carton.

Fuck that. I mean, I don’t want chickens to suffer unnecessarily (as much as they’re capable of ‘suffering’ with a brain the size of a raisin), but I’m not paying $12 for eggs. And that’s Australian dollars too, which is like….something more than $12…..in American money. For that much the chickens should be coming to my house and clucking out the national anthem while laying the eggs directly into the frying pan and then turning around and picking out the eggshells with their beaks.

Which, to be fair, would be pretty awesome. Hell I’d even pay as much as $13 for that.

Seriously though, we had a party my first Friday in Melbourne, and my housemate made vegetarian Mexican food. Which was pretty good for the most part, but it seemed like every hippy had some kind of food allergy or aversion. So we had to have regular and rennin-free cheese, regular and gluten-free tortillas, guacamole with and without garlic and onions, and so on. And the funniest part? At one point they started talking about how when they went on vacation and could no longer force everyone to cater to their whims, their allergies ‘mysteriously disappeared’.

And that, pretty much, is why I hate hippies.

Well, maybe ‘hate’ is too strong a word. And my housemates were both really, really cool. Both continued to share their food with me even though I never cooked (well, I cooked once, risotto sans eggplant), and I tried to do the dishes as much as possible to make up for it. Still, despite my efforts it was pretty obvious I didn’t fit in with the dynamic of the house at all.

Thankfully, I moved to a new place. I’m now living with Indian guys, and it’s fucking awesome. I get along with them really well, I can buy whatever food I want and not worry about it, and I don’t feel like I have to ‘fit in’ with their lifestyle or anything. One of the guys cooked dinner for me—a wonderful chicken curry—so I’m going to cook Mexican food for him one of these nights. And the thing is, it’s cool because I actually want to do it, rather than feeling like I’m obligated to do it because I’m living in a hippy house.

Plus it was like $585 a month. Here it’s only $300. That’s like $285 more of beer money per month!

vision

A few nights ago I watched the original Star Wars with my housemates. I’ve seen it dozens of times, but it never seems to get old. Hell, I could probably go watch it again right now and still enjoy it.

… …

Ok I’m back. Yeah, I still enjoyed it. It’s just that great of a movie. But really, why is it such a great movie? Even if you don’t like it personally, you have to acknowledge that it spawned one of the most popular and well-loved franchises ever. But what is it exactly that makes it so great?

It all started with a man with a vision. That man was George Lucas, and the vision was, well, pretty dumb. At least at first. Yeah, originally it was called “The Journal of the Whills”, the Force was a giant crystal, and Han Solo was a green-skinned creature with no nose and gills. But fortunately for us there were plenty of people who told Lucas that he had some good ideas but the overall product was too complicated, too hard to understand, and kind of stupid.

Lucas had to listen to these people if he wanted to have any hope of getting his movie made. So he made changes based on the advice he got from friends and colleagues, and the result was the series that we all now know and love.

Well, I love it anyway. I’m sure there’s people out there who don’t enjoy it, but they’re probably all just jerks or something.

Now imagine if Lucas had ignored his friends and just self-published “The Journal of the Whills” as a story. It’s quite possible that no one today would know anything about Jedi, the Force, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, or Boba Fett.

And that would be a real shame.

Some would argue that this would be a small price to pay if it meant the world was spared from the presence of Jar Jar Binks–and they’d have a fair point–but that in itself is another lesson. Because with the original trilogy (episodes IV-VI), Lucas listened to the people around him and the effort was more of a collaboration than the vision of a single individual, but with the prequel trilogy (episodes I-III) Lucas had complete control. And the general consensus is that the original trilogy is great, while the prequel trilogy pretty much sucks.

On the other hand, there’s also J.R.R. Tolkien. As far as I know he followed his own vision almost entirely, with very little input from anyone else, and he’s now considered the father of modern fantasy.

The reason I mention all this is that I just really, really love Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. And, well, I do sort of have a vision of my own. I have a lot of ideas on what I want to do and how I want to present the works that I’m writing and editing, but am I like Tolkien and capable of producing something on my own that a lot of people will enjoy, or am I more like Lucas, in the sense that I need a lot of input from others in order for my ideas to be interesting to anyone who isn’t me?

I suspect I’m more like Lucas. Which means that as hard as it is for me to take criticism, I’m going to have to listen to the smart and talented people around me and make changes to my beloved stories based on their suggestions. Because I’d love nothing more than to create popular and timeless characters and worlds for them to inhabit, and if my vision needs a little tweaking from others, so be it. Better that than to create something that’s universally despised–or just not noticed at all.

But I still think a story about a spaceship crewed by sentient cockroaches who save the Earth would be awesome, and I’m not listening to anyone who says otherwise.

Australia so far

My time in Australia has definitely been pretty good so far. Which is not to say that I’ve done a whole lot. Still, the few times I have managed to get out of the house have been pretty interesting.

My first night in Melbourne my housemate took me to a premiere at an art gallery she was involved with. My housemate is a professional puppeteer (how cool is that?) and I’m not sure exactly what her connection to the art gallery was. She may have explained this to me, but I hadn’t slept at all on the flight over from China, so if she did I missed it. Either way, it was cool. Some people standing around and pretentiously critiquing the art, but a lot of other people just enjoying it for what it was.

Also there was free booze. I definitely enjoyed that.

But one of the best things so far is that I just seem to be surrounded by really creative people. My other housemate does computer programming, and if you don’t think that’s a creative endeavor you obviously don’t know too many programmers. My housemate’s girlfriend is a chef—and a damn good one too.

Last night I went with my housemate to a speakeasy. Apparently this is somewhat common in Melbourne where people set up illegal bars in their homes and sell alcohol—mostly to their friends and acquaintances—just for fun and to help pay their rent. Well, the one I went to last night was a little more elaborate than that. It was in a sort of abandoned warehouse where the residents apparently lived in a loft on the second floor, and they had a guy watching the door dressed in a tuxedo who insisted you give him the password “watch under” in order to get in. They had a live band, and most people were dressed in 20’s era clothing. Instead of buying drinks, you could buy an empty shotgun shell for $5 which could be exchanged for a beer, or a clam shell for $7 which could be exchanged for a mixed drink. Or you could just keep the shell, I guess, if you’re really, really weird.

It was pretty cool. The music was great, and I got to meet some of my housemates friends, who are all creative people. One guy I met informed me that he was also in a band. An 8-piece pirate-themed band, to be specific. I asked him what kind of music they play, and he said “drinking music”.

Awesome.

Yeah, apparently if you know where to look you can find really good live music every night of the week in Melbourne. Which means it’s a good thing I don’t know where to look, since everything is so damn expensive here I feel like every time I walk out the door I just start immediately hemorrhaging money.

So aside from the night at the art gallery and the two evenings where I went to speakeasies, what have I been doing with all my time? Honestly, for the most part I’ve just been typing up the journal I wrote by hand from when I was 16 until I was 22. I don’t know if this seems like a stupid use of my time, but I’m doing it for two main reasons: 1) it’s something special to me because it paints a pretty accurate picture of what I was like when I was younger, and if I lose the notebook it’s written in, it’s gone forever, and 2) I’m still trying to figure out what I’m going to do next with my life, and in trying to look forward I think it sort of helps to look back at where I’ve been, and what led me to where I am now.

And it’s pretty funny to read stuff I wrote when I was 16. It’s especially funny to read about how all I wanted to do back then was be a writer. Why didn’t I follow through on that? Well, mostly because I just didn’t believe in myself…

Yeah, it’s cool to see how much I’ve changed over the years, and a little funny and a little sad to see how much I haven’t. I particularly enjoyed this part, which I apparently wrote when I was 18: “Andy, If you’re reading this, never forget how to be happy, how to smile, how to be a goofy idiot.”

I don’t know about the first two, but I definitely got that last one down pretty well.

goals for Australia

Obviously I came to Australia for the sake of having interesting adventures on a new continent, but in addition to that there are some very specific goals I want to accomplish while I’m here. And like so many other times in my life I may have completely unrealistic expectations, so I’m going to go ahead and write my goals out here so people can laugh at me later when I fail to achieve them. Therefore, here are my Critical Awesomeness Goals for Austraila, or CrAwGoaFAus:

Become a better writer. This is the main one. I don’t think any amount of effort could turn me into a truly magnificent writer, but I think if I spend the majority of my time here focusing on improving my writing, I can at least become a respectably competent one. And I won’t say that my goal is to write a bestseller, or even get published, because those are things outside my control. But I can focus on reading at least three or four hours a day, and writing at least 2,000 words a day. Those are things I can control, and both will help me to make my writing as good as it can possibly be, which is all I can really ask for.

Learn to cook. The same goal I had when I went to China. Of course it’s slightly more likely to actually happen here, since at least in Australia I can read the labels on things and I don’t have scary people randomly shouting things I don’t understand at me in the grocery store like I did in Beijing. Plus the girlfriend of one of my housemates is a professional chef, and both my housemates can cook pretty well. I may pick up a thing or two just from proximity.

See as much of Australia as possible. This is going to be harder than I initially thought. Mainly because everything is so expensive here. Well, compared to where I’m coming from, anyway. As always I didn’t quite think my cunning plan all the way through, because while I technically have enough money to live here for a year, I don’t have enough to actually do anything, aside from paying rent and occasionally eating food.

I really should’ve come to Australia first, worked and earned money here, and then gone to China. Trying to earn money in China in order to live without working in Australia was just, well, kinda dumb.

Figure out relationship stuff. While I’ve made some fantastic and wonderful friends over the years, I haven’t had a good romantic relationship since 2002. And in a lot of ways that’s actually kind of a good thing for me, since I probably wouldn’t be traveling around the world and having stupid misadventures if I were in a committed relationship. Still, I feel like there are a lot of things I still need to figure out, because it’s unbelievably frustrating when I’m interested in a girl and she sees me as at best a friend, and at worst someone to be manipulated. I’m still not sure exactly what I want (which is another thing I need to figure out) but if nothing else I think I need to get better at making my intentions clear from the start.

Other stuff. Yeah, those are pretty much the main things. I have a lot of other things I want to do, like continue to study Chinese, maybe start studying Spanish again, type up a bunch of stuff I wrote ages ago by hand, maybe self-publish a collection of short stories, learn a programming language, and so on. But these things are secondary. If I accomplish them that’s great, but if not that’s ok too.

Of course, there is one other slightly important goal:

Figure out what I’m going to do next. I’m $80,000 in debt, and I need to start paying on these loans pretty soon. Apparently you can only get an ‘Economic Hardship’ deferment for three consecutive years, and that’s how long it’s been for me. So I need to figure out something. Playtime is almost over. Because yeah, I had this wild idea that somehow I could write a book in less than six months, get an agent, and get a large enough advance from a publisher to at least start to pay down my loans, but when I look at it realistically and objectively, I don’t think it’s very likely that I’ll be able to do this in less than a year. So I need to figure something out.

But not before I learn how to cook. Because you gotta have priorities.