It's an oft-uttered cliche to say that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone. And it's not that I want to write a post for the sake of whingeing. Because the fact is that I've got some good things going for me, for which I am certainly grateful. I have a source of income, which provides a means to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. I have work that utilises my skills, and makes me feel like I'm making the world a better place, one baby step at a time. I'm based in Europe, where I can take leave and visit all those wonderful places that I've only ever seen in the movies. Most importantly, I always have the option to go home - nobody's forcing me to stay here.
That said, there are a number of things that I do dearly miss, and have to confess has been getting me down lately.
1. Having the support of real friends around me. (And no offence meant to people who have been part of my social circles of late - I think you're awesome too, but in a different way.) Somebody who I can have an honest personal conversation with, and they'll know'll exactly what I mean and can empathise and provide solidarity. Somebody who I can be truly myself around, without feeling self-conscious. Somebody who I can just hang with, and be purely comfortable with each other's company without feeling the need to talk bullshit. Somebody who I can trust with my life. Somebody who I will always look out for and will always look out for me. Somebody who just gets me. I miss that.
2. Being part of a community. Whether it's a creative community, or a dance community, or a group of peers from the same program (like the AVID program when I was in Vietnam) or just a regular social group that meets up regularly. This is difficult when living in a highly-transient environment, and people are constantly coming and going. It's easy to suddenly feel out of the loop, because 3/4 of the people who you met in the last month have already left, and none of the new people even know who you are.
3. Literary programming and events. This is something that I took far too much for granted when living in Melbourne, whether it was events at the Wheeler Centre, book launches, or spoken word events. Nowadays I read, and then go online to tell people about how awesome books are, but it's not the same.
4. Public socio-political discourse. This probably happens a lot, and I'm probably just unaware of it because I don't speak or understand Albanian, but I love going to events with panels sessions that discuss the social programs, with commentators from a range of backgrounds and ideologies. But considering that I work in an organisation that is primarily involved with the peacekeeping and development process in society, it's something that I feel that I need to engage more actively in.
5. Performing arts. Whether it's stage drama, dance, physical theatre, cabaret, fringe arts, comedy, etc. I've seen the occasional touring musical performance, but not much, and I do hope there's more on, but I'm not really aware of it at this stage.
6. Cultural Institutions. Yes, there are libraries, museums, and art galleries, but they could be so much more, finding ways of presenting and celebrating the full extent of the diversity and history of this region. Of course, perhaps I'm not looking hard enough, but for a region with a history that spans from the Illyria to Medieval Serbia, to the Ottoman empire, to the Kingdom (and later people's republic) of Yugoslavia, and finally the current situation after the Kosovo War, there's certainly a lot of content that these institutions could be continuing to curate and develop! It's certainly not something that there should be any shortage of in this region...
7. Having an audience. I'm a performer. I need an audience. It's what I live for, more than anything. Whether it's dancing, or singing karaoke, or performing a show, or being in a play, or even delivering a conference paper or delivering a training session, I need an audience. It's the time when I feel most alive.
8. Feeling appreciated and proud of my work. Work is important to me. It's important that I'm achieving the goals that I set for myself, and can be proud of those achievements. But lately, I've started doubting myself. Maybe it's because I've been working more in development, and in areas that don't highlight my professional strengths, and so I'm not always delivering the best outcomes possible, and taking longer than I should to create effective solutions. Really, there should be no excuse for sub-par quality work, and if I'm not working to my optimum, then maybe I should switch to another job.
9. Life / career guidance. I'm pretty far off the path-well-travelled right now. I know where I ultimately want to be (i.e. planning and delivering programs and events in cultural institutions with a literary / historical focus). And some of my work directly involves the facilitation and monitoring of cultural programs, so it's not entirely unrelated to my desired career path. But I'm also feeling a little lost, if I'm going to go be completely honest with myself.
10. Feeling like I fit in. I know that it's still early days. I've been living here a total of eleven weeks - not even three months, so I need to give myself more time. However, my work-related social circles are limited and constantly diminishing. I don't really know how to go about making more "local" friends. My current instinct is to withdraw and hideaway in my apartment full of books. But I know that I need to try to force myself to be more outgoing, and build new social networks - especially amongst those who are going to be here for the long-haul - if I'm ever going to feel like I fit in here in Kosovo. This is exactly the problem that I had last time I lived in Darwin, and also, to an extent, in Hanoi. I just never felt like I really fitted in. As an adult of almost 37 years, I feel like this is something that I should have learnt to be able to do by now. It shouldn't be this hard, right?
I'm not sure that trying to eloquently describe my feelings like this has had the kind of cathartic comfort that it maybe should, but it's a good way of reminding myself of the things that are important to me. Of course, I can survive without these things right now, and I have the consolation of being able to travel around Europe and discover new and exciting places. However, the next time I start considering making big changes in my life, I'm going to look back at this list, and ask myself, "Will I be able to tick all these boxes?"
Because, listed right here, are my priorities for my future.