Alas, our trip as three friends came to an end. I watched as Matthew and Patricia boarded the train that would take them to the Sydney airport. They were flying home to the states, back to their family and loved ones. Matthew had two weddings to be in and Patricia had two little boys who needed her.
It was hard to say goodbye but I knew I was going to be fine. I have traveled alone many times and I actually find it to be quite a refreshing experience. My first trip would begin the next morning on a three-hour train headed north of Sydney, to a town called Newcastle. I had accommodation for four nights in Newcastle so I could attend a free writer's festival.
Newcastle was a lovely city with lots of creative mojo. I walked all over downtown, going from venue to venue for each of the sessions I wanted to attend. I was busy all day each day with panels, discussions and advice from other young writers. The whole thing was very interesting and eye-opening. While I learned a lot of practical advice, the better stuff I learned was things like, everyone struggles with writing and everyone compromises their creativity for the sake of money.
Because I do not belong to a writer's community, I had previously thought I was alone in these struggles. Perhaps the best lesson I learned while at the conference was: there is no such thing as a full-time writer.
After four days of mind-reeling observations, it was time for me to hit the train back to Sydney. I had another volunteer assignment, this one for a month with a woman and her elderly mother. I would volunteer 3-4 hours a day and spend the rest of my time doing nothing but writing.
As soon as I met Irina and her other helper, Mia, I felt as though I was a close friend of them both. They were so welcoming and accepting of me. They got right down to it and asked me about my writing and my time in Sydney. They even happened to bypass the whole awkward “where all have you been in Australia” introduction that I was sick of having. No, the conversation for us three was immediately real and meaningful. We talked about all cultures and what interested us about them. Mia was from Shanghai, China. Irina and her mother from a province near Russia. They moved to Australia in the early eighties as refugees and have been here ever since. Throw in my American background and that made for some fascinating and in-depth conversations.
Irina's mother, Rita was seventy-three and had dementia. Upon meeting her I knew exactly how to interact. It was a flashback of my own grandmother who had passed almost three years ago to the day. I instantly loved her and I think she loved me too. She said she recognized me, which Irina took as meaning she felt comfortable with me.
All afternoon Irina, Mia and I worked on organizing the small apartment to fit four people into it. While we worked we took breaks often for tea and chatting. Rita lay on the bed and kept a smile to her face as she listened to us.
Mia had arrived just a week before me. This was her first stop in Australia and so everything was fresh and new to her. On the other hand, I was on my last leg and looking to make a strong finish by doing nothing but writing for one month. Irina was very understanding of this and told me that was my main job for the next day. To write