Looking back at my 35 year old self – #9

In 2013, I spent a term of studies in Nanjing, supported by a Hamer Scholarship. This was a transformative experience, and a moment to pause and reflect after an intense early period of migration. At the end of that year, I wrote down a series of journal entries, one-per-day, capturing my thoughts. COVID gave me the chance to revisit them: I was somewhat moved at meeting a younger version of myself. Now that I near the end of my PhD and a major book, and begin a new major venture in green energy, I realised patterns and struggles remained oddly similar. So, I thought I might share this journal here over the coming weeks – who knows, it might resonate with someone, trigger a useful insight, or just a passing moment of self-compassion.

23 december

When did my life branch off? What decision had the biggest impact on my life? Most likely, that was in 1999, when I chose to go to Dublin for my honour’s year away.

This was the first time in my life I made a proper individual choice. Until then, I had gone through the centre of the funnel: study hard, and pass the most difficult exams. Now, I had freedom, and I exercised it. My ‘Parisian set’ of fellow normaliens all headed to Cambridge and Oxford: self-evidently superior choices for them. For me, they weren’t.

My dream had been to live by the sea: Dublin even had palm trees. And it was what I wanted. In the year I spent there, I took regular trips down the coast to Killiney, and was revived every time. I even swan in the Irish sea, on a crazy January day. Eventually, this led me to move to Melbourne – by the sea, with palm trees and lemon – and again revive every time I go down to the beach. Fulfil an old childhood dream.

When I moved to Dublin, I learned I could be ‘different’. I tried integrating with anglos and didn’t succeed, but I had Mexican, French and Italian friends. I soon accepted that I didn’t have to go to the pub, or pretend to like it. My choices were limited – a few places serving espressos and tuna melts or banoffee cakes – but I could go there, not drink myself to death, and spend time with literate Latin friends. Later, this helped me ‘find my tribe’ and ‘find my space’ – in China, in Australia. There was no need to be mainstream.

In Dublin, I could decide what to buy. I rented my own house for the first time, bought CDs, paid for trips, with my own money. Before I got into Ecole Normale, I had been supported by my parents, and my first year, I was weirdly shy to spend my scholarship. In Dublin, I traded money for experience, and became more adult in that regard.

I came out in Dublin, with a cascade of consequences. I then became president of the LGBT group at Ecole Normale, made gay friends, engaged in politics, edited a gay collection of stories, published a first novel – later, was invited to Writers Festival, gained the confidence to shoot a short film, and met my first crowd in Australia. Not to mention, because I came out in Dublin, in a supportive and healthy context, I’m now living a remarkably balanced and happy life with a wonderful man.

There were a few decisions, earlier, that had an impact. Study Greek, and change high schools to pursue an ‘arts’ stream: both made it possible for me to go to Ecole Normale, and be where I am now. There was the decision to move out at 17 – and never return – protecting myself from my step-father’s violence, and refusing the bizarre double bind I was in. Later, decisions to leave partners, and leave France for Australia. Decisions to leave certain jobs, and go on an uncharted career path.

All those decisions that shaped my life in the future were led by instinct. As was the decision to go to Dublin: radically irrational – be by the sea. So, that’s also what I learned: life branches off based on irrational choices – following a deep desire.

On hoovering

I can’t work if the floor is dirty. Flakes of paper and flecks of dust on the carpet impair my concentration.

I work from home on most of my projects. I enjoy it, and feel productive. The commute from bedroom to study never includes passive-aggressive proximity with another commuter. I avoid all office politics, fridge wars and mug rage. But my office doubles as a home. Therefore, it gets dirty faster – and I don’t have an invisible night cleaner to fix it for me.

The floor is the weakest point. My house has dark blue-grey carper, where breadcrumbs and paper stand out sharply. But cleaning the floor is many steps more complicated than wiping the breakfast table. I have to go to the bathroom, grab the vacuum cleaner from the corner, plug it in the living room, and hoover the floor.

Today, after an early stretch, I felt a block. I gathered my notebooks into my back and headed out to nearby Stellini Cafe for a short productive stint on planning two coming meetings. After a 45 minute burst of efficiency,  I didn’t linger. The table was small, there was no Wifi, and I had things to draft in Google Docs.

As soon as I got back in, my energy vanished. I knew the floor was the cause.

Often, irrational needs keep us from moving ahead. Often, we refuse to acknowledge our own irrational needs, and try either to negate them, or rationalise them. Meanwhile, we don’t accomplish much. There is no deep rationality why specks of dust and breadcrumbs on the floor prevent me from focusing on stuff. But I can take it as how things are – an arbitrary fact about my own mind. It takes only five minutes to clean, and doubles up as a work out. So – why am I regularly not doing it?