a serviceable paradise

I finally made it over to the new Blue Bottle Coffee location near work, for yogurt parfait and New Orleans iced coffee. It’s a stunning place, all blond wood and huge windows, just like my idealized typical Sydney cafe. Idealized Sydney is awesome; the food is incredible and there are no cockroaches and everyone is going to live forever. I am about to head back to Australia and tear myself apart all over again, the neurotic expatriate’s annual orgy of second-guessing and self-doubt. Whee. I didn’t love my country until I left it and now I long for it with an intense and hopeless passion. I also greatly fear having to move back. Don’t you wish you were me? To paraphrase Garfield, until you actually go and live there again, Sydney makes a very serviceable paradise.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t obsessed with the notion of sanctuary: a farm in a green valley fortified by impassable mountains (it was somewhere near Lithgow, or maybe Braidwood), a nine-hundred-year-old college quadrangle, a city on a hill. After ten years of war and bloodshed and political heartbreak, and after having my babies in an empire that seems to have gone mad with its own power, my longing for safety is more intense than ever. And at 38 I am finally smart enough to have figured out that nowhere is safe. Bushfires threaten my parents’ little country town; California’s bankruptcy is the water eroding the foundations of UC Berkeley; San Francisco trembles astride the San Andreas fault.

James Ellroy says “Closure is bullshit,” and he is right. Sanctuary’s bullshit too, and so are happy endings, and so is vindication. The grave’s a fine and private place; other places are busy and beset with interruptions and altogether not so fine. I blame time. It’s time that slams asteroids into your Chicxulubs and shoots your last breeding female in the eastern migratory Whooping Crane population. Of course it’s also time that puts a brand new baby Claire in your arms in the dark of a Christmas morning; that wakes you up at dawn to look into the wide blue eyes of a brand new baby Julia. I would not, in fact, have wanted to miss those moments.

Sanctuary is bullshit. Imaginary Sydney is imaginary and so is imaginary San Francisco, and this sensation of treading water, of struggling to finish a to-do list that gets longer the more items you cross off, this is, in fact, the experience of life itself. You wake up and hug your brilliant, stubborn children, you go to work and listen to peoples’ stories and try to figure out what it is they are asking for and which wishes of theirs you can grant, you listen to music and you mourn your beloved dead. And if you’re lucky you get a few minutes a day, three strides of Bella in a collected canter, one really good cup of coffee, kissing Jeremy on his throat and feeling his heartbeat quicken. The memory of the candlelit table on Sunday night, and everyone laughing.

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