I keep trying to make this eloquent, but life is not eloquent. Life is messy, confusing, often ridiculous and occasionally… life is utterly breathtaking.
Allow me to tell you about my year.
It began similarly to the one which preceeded it, a tour with some inter-Tasman friends playing music around the North Island of New Zealand. I had been living in Australia for just shy of one year, and to be back doing the same tour, a catalyst for me moving on a whim in the first place with many of the same people, was a case of deja vu in the highest. It was on this tour though that a friend of mine said one, little throwaway remark which flipped a switch somewhere in my brain changing the course of the whole of Two Thousand and Eleven (affectionatley known as; Two Thousand and Heaven). He had just jumped into Lake Taupo for a swim after almost not doing so… and when he got back in the van, damp and happy, he explained to us “well I just decided I want to be living the dream more, and when I saw everyone else swimming I knew they were living the dream… and I wasn’t, but I wanted to be.” The phrase stuck to the forefront of my brain like chewing gum to a school desk, and since that day in January it has not moved, nor have I wanted it to.
Last year was rough for me, I’d say I probably had a rather healthy dollop of depression on my mental plate and often times found myself in complete despair that the work of my hands, whatever I put them to; relationships, work, creativity – was failing before my eyes. In hindsight however, that sobering, rose-tint of retrospect, I needed it. I needed to come to a place where I knew no one, and I needed to un-learn and re-learn nearly everything I knew about myself, and certainley about God. I can only make an educated conjecture that I’ll need to do un-learning and re-learning about those two things, and many more, for the rest of my life.
Arriving in Melbourne on the back of tour this year, after the most terrifyingly turbulent flight of my life; I decided my one goal for the year was this… Live the Dream, capital “D,” every single day. I am someone who thrives under the prospect of public shame, so I told everyone that this was what I wanted to do for the year. Mum, Dad, friends, family, collegues, neighbours “I’m going to live the dream – just you watch me!” and people thought it was hillarious.
I have a few life goals; play music, write stuff and know God, but how do I action those things – and the million other things I want to do… every single day? How do I take this life which can be so mundane if we let it be, and make the most of it evey morning so I go to bed every night in disbelief that I haven’t actually just been dreaming all day. “Live the dream”… I didn’t know quite what it meant… but good God I knew I wanted to do it.
It started with small things. Dropping my grocery bags in a carpark because my best friend and I decided cartwheels would be more fun than trudging for a little bit, jumping into a friends Glen Waverly swimming pool fully clothed… and having everyone else jump in fully clothed too; everyone wants to live the dream, it’s infectious; it’s a fact. Then living the dream expanded into more difficult things; writing something that meant something to someone in a place affected badly by the Christchurch earthquakes, standing up for myself for once for being treated wrong by a guy (women, stop being such pushovers… men, grow a pair!).
By early April… Living the Dream went downright nuts.
After a visit from my Mum (her first time overseas in over twenty-five years) seeing City & Colour and Bob Dylan play, I got to go on a train through the desert from Adelaide to Darwin, for three days of beautiful, peaceful solditude… on a journey worth quite literally thousands of dollars… for free. As a self confessed train enthusiast and lover of free stuff I had found my Nirvana on The Ghan, and been completley humbled that myself; a twenty-two year-old girl from New Zealand was on a trip I’d wanted to do my entire life, but could never afford, for free. Just because I know a little about how the Alphabet works. I rode a camel called Greyhound and ran up a rockface in Nitmiluk National Park in my favourite boots to see crocodiles in the Katherine River. I saw the sun set, and rise in the middle of nowhere and watched the stars come out to play, undisturbed by any light or landscape, and as my carriage coasted into Darwin at 5pm on the 15th of April over the Elizabeth River I wondered if cabin’s 19 & 20 had ever seen such happy tears.
May careered around, and people began to cotton on to the “live the dream,” thing; workmates would ask me every day what I was doing to “LTD,” Mum and Dad started telling their friends back home that I was “just in Melbourne, living the dream” and my flatmate even got it tattooed on his arm. With May however came an increasing discontent with my job; living the dream does not mean one becomes exempt from reality. That’s called “living the denial.” If I am to be honest, I hadn’t been happy at work for months and the strangers, come friends, come family I had found there were all starting to leave too. A friend of mine had quit to go travelling but before he left he looked me in the eyes, seeing how unhappy and frustrated I was at work, and said to me “Cat, I’ll see you when I get back – and you better be living the dream”. From the rock shop to the frock shop, in the ten weeks he was away I quit my job… gave my old bosses parting gifts, a break-up mix CD – because that’s what you do when a job changes your entire music life – and wrote a letter which made the exceptional man who gave me my first job in a foreign country cry. Because living the dream is telling people how much you care about them, and how thankful you are that they changed your whole life, simply by giving you a job and a chance.
In June after another “not living the dream,” truly bizzare romance I started my new job… going from a big music store in the ‘burbs working with fifty dudes (albiet, lovable dudes) to a tiny little boutique dress shop in the middle of the City with five women come friends… come family again. As an aside; after a year of wearing no make up and jeans to work… may I just say, it’s really nice to be a girl again. I get to wear dresses. Every day! Makeup, and dresses and shoes – oh my! My wardrobe is a veritable rainbow of colour and I work with the most beautiful, talented, kind girls that were crafted! They save the world, make their own jewelry ranges, have wicked senses of humour and get hand picked to go to Indonesia for university trips and even though they go cross eyed when I say I have a Tele but REALLY want a sweet Gibson or a Gretch or just something with some really nice humbuckers and I wish I had some cool pedals… I get to spend my days with them – me.
On the doorstep of July, I tongue-in-cheek entered a creative project for a beer company… and instead of sucking up like a chump… I wrote a silly email. The silly email was an overflow from another life lesson this year; I learned that I actually quite like myself, and a big part of myself is a real passion for being a little bit silly. And you’d never guess it, but the company rather loved my silly email, so much in fact that they put on three gigs for me around Melbourne in October which gave me the encouraging leg up I needed to get a band together (an incredible band at that, of talented, exceptional individuals), make a website… and even start writing poetry. Spoken word poetry; yes friends and family – I, Catherine Sietkiewicz, am practically a rapper. Living the dream has never been fly-er.
In August… I booked flights to New York City and just over a month ago I flew for 22 hours over land and sea to a place I have dreamed of going to since I heard it existed. I went through the most grueling travel experiences of my life, alone, to get there… but after 60 plus hours in transit, body clock successfully obliterated by time zones… I piled into a cab at John F. Kennedy Airport at 2am and pinched myself hard on the arm crossing the Manhattan bridge listening to loud gospel music because I was looking at the Chrysler Building. Me. Looking at the Chrysler Building with my own two eyes. It’s hard to put into prose words my time in New York, which is why I wrote poems about it. It wasn’t touristy and it wasn’t nice. It was spectacular. It was ridiculous and peculiar, humbling and exhilarating… and it was mine. For two weeks, the Big Apple hemmed me in and I sat spiraling out of my mental orbit into some far off place I had previously only dreamed of or seen on the silver screen. Then I came home, after another horriffic transit experience, to stand alone in perfect silence in my back yard in the warm Melbourne sunlight in shock at my life.
I’m twenty-two and I work part time.
I earn enough money to pay rent, to not go without, to be generous to others, to save to go on holidays to the other side of the world and to have enough time to pursue my creative passions with dilligence.
I live in a mansion here with two other human beings that live the dream and leave me in complete awe of their talent and character.
I have a back garden… with outdoor furniture… and a bedroom… with a bed the size of a trampoline!… while young men and women elsewhere in the world are slaving eighty-hour weeks just to make a buck and not having time for anything.
In other places young men and women slave full stop.
I am so lucky.
I am so blessed.
To be born here and now, at this time? I am so thankful.
It would be wrong of me to write of this year and say it has been all easy. I have had awful days – just like you, but in light of the great magnitude of blessing I have experienced in these last eleven and a bit months – those moments of heartbreak, despair and sorrow? I would not wish them away. They have been a vital part of of the character building side that it takes to live the dream consistently. And as corny as it is to say, I feel like more of a woman because of them, I also feel like I’ve got huge balls now too; I’ll reconcile the two next year somehow.
I’ve cried like a baby in writing this, in disbelief and with utter joy. In early September I began to feel a wave of humility wash over me that has not lifted since. When I was a very lost sixteen year old I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day thinking that there were some people in life that were going to do great things, and maybe I just wasn’t one of them. That I would finish high school, get a job, and that would be that; Catherine case closed. At twenty-two though, I am so infinitely pleased to say I did not know everything at sixteen… and that this year has left me in awe, because I never knew how possible it was to feel so very humbled by your own life experiences.
I didn’t resonate with the Occupy Wall Street protests this year, that may sound odd, even cruel – but they never quite gel’d with me and the other day, straightening clothes at work, it dawned on me. I didn’t resonate with them, because I don’t feel like I’m part of the 99%. I feel so obscenely blessed, so lucky, so loved, so weathy of spirit. I have everything I need and so much more that for me to stand on a street and say I need more would be a petulant lie. I am part of the 1%, and it is only pure chance that I was born in a country where I am allowed to be. I did not “deserve,” this incredible life that I get to live, but I have it… and I refuse to be someone who squanders it for any longer than I already have.
Life is not a spectator sport and if you have one, you should not treat it as such. (Hello computers also! If you’re out there, I’m sure someone will invent a “Live the Dream,” program for you soon.) I don’t place stock in the idea that life is an accident, worse still – a curse to live out before we retreat quietly into the grave. I believe this life is a gift, I know mine is – because I paid nothing for it. I didn’t ask to be born and I didn’t ask to be given life, but I was and I can choose to do what I will with that most tremendous serendipity, but I know that I want to actively pursue a fullness of life and not passivley watch it melt into wrinkles and regrets. If you are not careful your life will read as a novel half writ, punctuated with annual birthdays, the occassional holiday and hopefully some love but missing any number of tantalising side plots which could have been. I always think I would like to live long, but I know full well there is no guarantee of that. However, I am pleased to know that if I were to by some awful fate slide off the face of the earth one night soon – I have lived as well as I know how. That I have lived wide, and deep, and full.
So, with but a handful of days left of Two Thousand and Heaven, my regrets are none. This has been without doubt the most incredible year of my life. I have thought recentley about how I might have overdone it this year ticking off so many boxes on my “Bucket List”… that maybe now I’ll have no dreams left to live! However, whenever I have felt as such the words of Robert Browning’s poem Rabbi Ben Ezra “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,” echo gently about my bones, tempting me with new excitement for the coming year.
This was supposed to be a one year plan, before I invariably gave up hope on my dreams and settled into a comfy nine-to-five with a good medical plan (that’s a lie) but after looking back on the year which has been… I plan on living the dream every day for the rest of my life, because why would I settle for anything less?
All of my love and hopes that you start, or continue to fearlessly live the dream too,
Catherine J.F. Sietkiewicz.