Returning to New Zealand after living abroad has been a strange and somewhat unsettling experience. After the buzz and bustle of London and the cultural delights of Europe, New Zealand felt small, confining and isolated. From the outset, I felt pangs of a kind of reversed homesickness as I struggled to come to terms with being half a world away from everything I had experienced and enjoyed in the past two years. It was hard not to feel a little stuck at the bottom of the world.
On my initial homecoming, the accents were jarring, the streets felt empty, and opportunities seemed scarce. Of course it’s great to catch up with people again after so long, but in doing so you realise that lives have moved on, or, alternatively, people are doing exactly the same things they were two years ago, as if nothing has changed. Either way, you’ve lost your place and are now out of step with those around you. People aren’t necessarily keen to hear you bang on about your experiences abroad, and nor does anyone really want to hear endless comparisons between home and your adopted country.
After the initial joy of reunions and revisits to favourite local haunts, the reality sets in that the adventure is over and its hard not to feel lost. I wasn’t sure if Wellington, or indeed New Zealand, was where I wanted to be, or where I belonged.
It hasn’t been all bad, of course. Wellington is certainly as beautiful as ever, and the sparkly, sunshiny days are a welcome antidote to self-indulgent wallowing. The languid pace of life has been a refreshing change from the relentless rush of London, in which it feels like every local is perpetually in an enormous hurry for absolutely everything. (Note to Londoners: you do not need to run down that escalator to catch the next tube. There’ll be another in a minute or two. It really won’t kill you to chill the fuck out and take a moment to breathe.) The people are still friendly, and on occasion strangers will even respond to accidental eye contact with – heaven forbid – a smile, rather than a shamefaced downward glance. And because there are so few people here, you are freed from the tyranny of striving to carve out a sliver of personal space everywhere you go.
Finding work and a new home has helped me feel more grounded, but the restlessness and wanderlust still simmers under the surface and I find myself frequently daydreaming about possible future destinations.
Recently, however, my disillusion has begun to ease, which is a relief, because the mopey misery-guts act gets old, fast. Just this week I had an unexpectedly perfect day that made me think that everything may turn around, and that I really can begin to make this lovely little city feel like home again, at least for the time being.
It was one of those glorious, picturesque Wellington days when the sky is bright and clear, the breeze is gentle, the harbour still and glittering in the sunlight. I took a leisurely walk along the waterfront, ate gelato by the lagoon, and viewed the exhibitions at City Gallery. It was a simple but delightful day where everything felt just right. My mind cleared of all the grinding worries of everyday life and I felt happier than I’ve been in many months. I was blissfully lost in Wellington’s laid-back and creative spell.
And when I walked past this sculpture (one of my favourites from the Wellington Writers Walk) its meaning rang true. This city is vibrant, and contains a creative energy that yields wonderful art, literature, film and music. It may be far away from everything I’ve grown to love over the past couple of years, but it has plenty to offer. Rather than whinge about the things I can’t have, I need to embrace what I have right now. I don’t have it all figured out, but I want to explore, create, and make the most of being here.
You really can’t beat Wellington on a good day.