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  • I am a creature of the sun.

    To my left, the sun peeked through the curtain, climbing closer across my bed towards me. I enjoyed watching the light get closer and closer to me. Partially because of how long it took to reach me. It was a queen size bed with 4 pillows, a comforter - and everything was pink. I had turned the heater off in the middle of the night. Even though I slept in jeans and two shirts, I was afraid to meet the cold front that was waiting for me outside the bed. So I waited for the sun to find me.

    And I thought of how I got here.

    The day previous I cancelled my booking extension at the Home at the Mansion in pursuit of an unexpected, and promising adventure. Jennifer - a friend who, like me, knew the delights of doing something unexpected - had introduced me via Facebook to a friend she’d met while traveling Africa. This friend on hers happened to live in Bendigo - about two hours north of Melbourne. After getting in touch, this new friend in Bendigo opened her home to me and allowed me to stay “as long as you want, dear.”

    I rocked back and forth on my toes as I stood in the rain outside the Home at the Mansion. My home slung over my back and a pathetic assortment of leftover grocery’s hung in a green Woolworth’s bag at my side. Anything was possible, but I had no idea what I was looking for. The buzz of the Great Ocean Road was washing off with the rain, and again I was finding myself wondering what was next. Was it wrong for me to expect every day of every second to be this great adventure like I’d dreamed it to be? Was this something I’d look back on and smile? Standing there in the rain, it didn’t seem all too special.

    Behind me, a familiar voice made me jerk around. “I thought you had left already!”

    It was Leon. His blonde hair was matted to his head, but he didn’t seem to mind as he cupped a hand over his mouth to light a cigarette. Like me, his bag was slung over his shoulders. We had to yell to keep hear one another over the rain and sounds of traffic in front of us.

    “So where are you headed then?” I asked sideways at him.
    He took a drag and let it go, replying simply. “Sydney. You?”
    “Bendigo.”
    “Bendigo? Where is that?”
    “North of here, further inland.”
    His accent made his laugh more hearty. “What is in Bendigo?”
    I laughed back and replied truthfully. “I have no idea.”

    A blue Camry dashed into my peripheral view and made an impressive park in the space directly in front of us. A petite woman with slightly frayed brown hair that came to the bottom of her neck emerged and her eyes smiled up at me in recognition. We had been in contact on Facebook the past few days - it was for us to recognize one another. She waved with excitement and an open mouth then bustled to the boot of the car, opening it and readying the space for my pack to go.

    I gave Leon a final look. “Perhaps I’ll see you in Sydney, my friend.”

    Her name is Anne. Right away we got along swapping travel stories like we were old friends who were catching up on the far side of the world. After a quick stop for coffee, in which I was— “not allowed to pay - you’re one of the family now, like it or not,” we left the rain and Melbourne behind us. She had a sweet voice, which felt as though it too was smiling - the same way her eyes did. She had adventure written all over her face and it rang in her voice, complementing her accent. I listened as she told me how she didn’t get the chance to travel when she was my age, and how she only just started doing it “these past ten years.”

    I reminded her that the recent past 10 years was more than a third of my life. That made her laugh.

    In the back seat, lived her camera - a Canon (rebel series, I think. I can’t remember). After only the short time we’d been talking, she knew exactly why I was traveling. Perhaps it was obvious how my attention kept getting drawn to the rolling hills on either side of the freeway, and the massive valley’s around the most unsuspecting corners. I found it amazing that the few cars around us didn’t even touch their breaks - what a life, to be used to such natural beauty. “Let me know if you want to stop at all, you just say the word!”

    I said the word probably 5 times in the two hour drive. Every time I wanted to stop, Anne was just as excited as I was to snap the memory.

    “I just love taking pictures.”

    Time was lost as we took one scenic back turn after another, each yielding another element of the true Australia. In a whirlwind of adventure, the car found it’s way through a long stretch of flat land and quaint houses with verandas and ornate designs in the woodwork. All of it was a time stamp to proudly exploit the age, wisdom and history of the town. Among all the authentic architecture of the suburbs, we also visited two churches: one was the largest wooden church in the southern hemisphere, the other, a majestic dream of a place - pillars lined the inner walkways between heavy oak benches, which were raised off the marble floors only slightly, for prayer. Stained glass windows threw multicolored hues of red, orange and yellow to the alter and outer edges of the room. Only when I turned to leave did my eyes find the organ, sitting on a balcony above the front door. Its pipes stretched all the way to the oak beans high above.

    Melbourne, or city life in general, had an impersonal feel to it. One that challenges you to rise to its nature or succumb to it. There wasn't room for anything in between. Sometimes, the haste of the metal forrest and the noise of the mechanical animals that thrive there do not lend a hearty appeal to the one who looks to wander in something a little more alive. Bendigo has a small town feel - the one you get from watching country movies or visiting an apple orchard in autumn. This, was Australia.

    It had worked that my arrival in Bendigo was able to be timed perfectly with a friend of Anne’s - a woman who worked at the Capital Theatre for the Performing Arts. The building was faced with four stone pillars that came down to the top of a wide, similar stone set of steps that unfolded onto the footpath besides the street. Two lampposts with circular bulbs illuminated the historic architecture of the old theatre, with still carried the mark of the Freemasons who built it. Behind this historic looking front was a touch of modern style design and renovation. The cafe sat at ground level in a room walled entirely by glass, allowing for natural light to key the room.

    It only took a short conversation with Jacoba to find out that this was a big weekend for the theatre - the Bendigo Writer’s Festival happened to be starting the following day. Jacoba immediately saw the excitement on my face as she told me about the festival, and proceeded to ask me whether or not I was interested in it. I quickly blurted out an amalgamation of poorly worded adjectives to describe how much I loved writing and how I have a play up in the states and how I write screenplays and how I am currently on the second draft of a young adult novel that I wrote last year that is the first of a four book series. She looked back at me with wide eyes - an expression I almost confused for ‘Wow, he’s nuts.’ But she proceeded to return the same energy I’d thrown at her, all wrapped into a simple question:

    “Would you like to come to the festival, then?”

    It was a gathering of highly accomplished Australian writers and authors who led discussions and lectures on a variety of topics, including; blog writing, children's books, young adult novels, adult fiction/nonfiction, writing for and incorporating sciences, creating relatable characters, the politics of writing in the digital age, pitch sessions, conversations with publicists and critics, and meet and greets with the authors and panel members.

    I often forget, and have to remind myself of something dear: that everything I am, I am because I began as a writer. I am a writer first. It’s been a long time since I sat in a chair for 8 hours a day, engaging; being a part of something amazing. I even had the opportunity to meet and converse with Andrew McGahan - author of the ‘Ship Kings’ series for young adults. But the highlight of the festival came at the last panel I sat in on - one that debated the importance of proper grammar usage—

    The first speaker, a frequent writer of teenage girl coming of age, young adult novels involved the overhead projector to highlight the vast differences in comma placement and sentence structure to form differing meanings with sentences. She stressed that the rules were set in a way to be read and seen as a means of communicating different messages, as well as a means of exploiting the line of education and commitment of professional writers vs. amateur writers.

    The second speaker, a man with frizzy white hair and beady eyes tucked behind a pair of thick rimmed glasses, stepped up to the podium and vehemently dropped his stack of disorganized, frayed and torn notes. He huffed, and flipped the collar of his jean jacket, then proceeded to (very comically) describe how a latin-speaking man from hundreds of years ago was still getting his last laugh in dictating the rules of the english language. And that, the colloquial use of wordplay was often more preferred and that those who stepped in to attempt to ‘correct’ the misused diction of others are generally seen as… well, total dicks. I’ll agree, it was no way to make friends. But the man brought up an interested point that, if it didn’t take you out of the story and the writing communicated the intended message, what difference would it make if you broke any one of the biblical rules of grammar usage?

    I had been watching the third speaker quietly taking notes as the previous two spoke from the podium. She brushed her scorched hair back behind her ear as she wrote. When finally, her turn came to speak, she immediately dived into the human aspect of writing and how grammar was SEEN, putting aside what it DOES. She gave an entertaining scenario of what she did for fun when she was bored - googling photos of misspelled tattoos. She gave the audience a good laugh, before pinpointing grammar usage to a type of pride.

    [Paraphrasing - kill me]
    “We think we’re better than people with bad grammar. We look down on them. Back when I was young, I went away to boarding school for seven years. It was very scary to me - I was a home body and I missed my mother terribly. Every day, for seven years, I would come in to the office with all the other kids who got mail from home. And every day, I left with a heavy heart, never having received a letter. It broke my heart. It was many years after I’d left that I casually brought it up to my mother - I asked her why she never wrote me. She told me she was always bad with words. She didn’t want to be made fun of. She never wrote me, because she was scared she didn’t know the rules well enough.

    Why do we write? Should the rules scare us so? When I’m asked about grammar, I immediately think of those seven years I spent in boarding school. When grammar is the difference between letter and no letter, I do find myself asking: How important, really, IS grammar?”

    Those words rang in my ears all night into the following day. Not just for their truth, but also for the emphasis they placed on the IMPORTANCE on storytelling.

    Writing is powerful.

    Writing is necessary.

    Writing is a way of life.

    There is a spot in Bendigo, behind the Capital Theatre, where you can climb the old gold mining rig, which has since been rigged to stand as a lookout. The land itself was mostly flat, so it didn’t need to be higher than a few stories to allow one to look over the entire town of Bendigo. In the center sat something that looked much like a sun dial. Upon closer inspection, I found that it was a metal disk with named arrows pointing to different parts of the town. It was a type of compass. One that only worked in that specific spot, in that town.

    My time in Bendigo was much better spent than the time I’d wandered aimlessly through the streets of Melbourne. The nights were full of laughs and stories of the World Wars from Anne’s husband Hugh and her next door neighbor Nigel. Hugh is a man with an intense, even angry glare through incessantly knitted eyebrows and an equally intimidating growl for a voice. It was his tone that spoke light hearted and full of character, constantly switching in and out of impressions - many of them were attempts at American accents (which were wildly entertaining to hear). Heavy was the influence of Hopalong Cassidy. I began to wonder if they were the reason Nigel had developed such an elaborate collection of wine. One entire side of his garage wall, where most men I’ve met keep their tools, was instead lined from floor to ceiling with hundreds of different varietals of wine. Nigel began to doze in his chair as Hugh went on with his impersonations. His evening personality apparently had been drifting away from the jet lag from a recent trip to Poland. I myself, had just gotten over mine.

    It wasn’t long before I found my way to bed at the far end of the ranch-styled house. I took off my socks and my sweatshirt, then clicked on the heater beside my bed. I let the spontaneity of the weekend wash over me, and again I had the thought ‘THIS is Australia.’ I’d been here for a week and change, but it felt like it had been months. Some days, that felt amazing, but most, I found myself missing home.

    I thought of what Anne had said on the way into Bendigo. That, “I’ve only started traveling recently. The past ten years or so.” It made me very aware that this was my first time so far from home. But it was also a good reminder that it is never too late to start an adventure. Life can be long or short, whatever you want it to be.

    With a heavy heart and a satisfied mind, I switched off the light and crawled into bed. Tomorrow, I would be leaving for Sydney. But that was a long time away.

    Before drifting off, I jumped out of bed and cracked the blinds only slightly. Then crawled back into bed, where I fell asleep waiting for the sun.
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