I did a lot of things this year, as I’m sure you did, too. There were lots of changes—some large and hulking, some tiny but significant in their own way. I did a lot of things and there were lots of changes but when I strip away all the action I’m left with a new understanding about the nature of contentment.
Maybe it’s my time of life—turning 42 (and discovering the meaning to Life, the Universe, and Everything – sorry, literary gag) means I’ve been around long enough for my head to go bald. I’ve had enough arguments (with myself and others) to get a sense of which battles are worth fighting. Taken enough risks to know where my edge is. Been loved enough to know where home is. Burnt myself enough to realise the stove is hot, and slept out under the stars enough to realise how bloody insignificant I really am. It could be my age, but I have mates I went to school with who live in constant hunger—for love, for material stuff, for the next big thing—so I doubt age or experience are the defining factors.
Maybe it’s the weather? We had the wettest September at our place since records began (I got my rain gauge for my birthday in August so September was when the records actually began, but it has been wet.). The tanks are full and most of the areas burnt in the bushfires near home have grown back greener than ever. The winter was kind and the spring splashed right through my memory of dust and ash. There’s contentment in the faces of the farmers I meet down the street. They’ve started telling me that it’s going to be another killer year for fires with all this growth but they do that every year, regardless of the weather. They complain, but their eyes are actually smiling. The weather may have something to do with it, but in this age we’ve learnt not to rely on the weather.
No, I think it’s about being able to surrender.
I ran into one of my old workmates in the mower shop the other day. Elaine was working behind the desk when I did my apprenticeship as a gardener (Scot Gardner, the gardener; nice one, Huey!) with the local council. Her hubby Craig was one of my mentors. That was twenty years ago. They still work there. Twenty years working for the local council probably doesn’t sound like a career you’d see on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and you’d be right, but Elaine and Craig have something better than the Condo and the bling and the cars and the poolboy. Contentment. Being able to surrender to where you find yourself and who you find yourself with, your income, your friends, your lifestyle, the size of your television, the age of your car and the contents of your refrigerator.
Sometime this year, I surrendered.
I’m not going to be the next Tim Winton or Chuck Bukowski. In the beginning, I had hopes of writing something that sold a hundred thousand copies and allowed me to live off royalties until I’d scrawled the next winner. That never happened. My books have sold tens of thousands, and in order to survive, like many authors of books for kids in Australia, I’ve supplemented my royalty income by touring the country and talking to kids in schools and at festivals about writing. I did talk in every state and territory most years. I did thirty thousand kilometres a year and I did stay in a lot of swanky apartments, quaint motels, crusty hotels, onsite vans and backpacker lodges. Oh, and that place near Hastings … eeew. I got tired of being away from home. I got tired of the sound of my own voice, talking about the same things over and over. I got tired and I surrendered.
And, the moment I surrendered, opportunities opened up.
I start a new job on Monday, training to be a teacher at a local school. It’ll occupy four days of my working week and leave me a day to play with words. It’ll pay the bills and give me the chance to find new ways to fire kids up about life. I’ll ride my bike to work sometimes. I’ll go home at night. Every night. It won’t all be easy, sure, but it will be good. I’ll keep writing; I have more stories to tell, and who knows, one day I might write a million-seller. Got to be in it to win it!
Until that day, I’ll just have to put up with contentment.