Dear Katia,

I just got home. I’m in Sydney. It feels so good to be home. I’ve spent the past two weeks in Thailand mostly throwing up and other things. I think because of food poisoning. I don’t know.

This trip has been beautiful and brutal for me. A lot of times I’ve felt very alone. I’ve cried a lot. Sometimes I overthink things too much and it destroys me. But I’ve also felt intense happiness.

When I think about this trip I think about Japan because it was the country that left the biggest impact on me. So many things happened in Japan. So many things changed. I felt so much. I remember snowboarding. Asahikawa. Hiking hours to the tops of mountains listening to ‘Moth’ by Burial and Four Tet and collapsing at the top. Making snow angels on the tops of ridges in Hokkaido with no one around me. Smiling. And in the south, meeting friends I hadn’t seen in years. And one hour out of Tokyo, riding bikes with someone very special to me next to the ocean in Kamakura. And in Osaka meeting some locals and being blown away by their hospitality. Their kindness.

But then there were other times where I felt really down. Riding the bullet train to Nagano staring out the window watching fields become rivers become covered in snow. Sometimes getting up to smoke but mostly just feeling sad. Staring around. Staring out the window. Just sitting there and feeling sad because of leaving someone and not knowing what to do other than feel sad. Feeling lost.

I feel like I’m sort of struggling with this letter. I’m not sure if I’m saying exactly what I want to say. I guess on most trips, or more generally days, people go through lots emotions, and maybe I felt them harder and in quicker succession than I have before. I wish I could go into more detail but I can’t. Maybe sometime we can Skype. Maybe I’ll be able to process my thoughts better when I’m not thinking about what I’m saying but just saying. I don’t know. I know this is vague. Sometimes things are vague and there’s not a lot you can do.

When I went backpacking through South America maybe four years ago I met a lot of people I really liked. People who left impressions on me. Who I would be friends with at home. And it made me fall in love with backpacking. This idea of exploring and meeting people and enjoying yourself. Except on this trip I met a lot of people I didn’t like. Lazy people. Selfish people. A lot of the time I found it very soulless. Or maybe escapist. And it made me feel defeated. Overhearing people complain about paying too much baht for something. Overhearing people telling people how they “did” a country even though they were there for three days. Watching four Aussie boys “on tour” in identical No Money No Honey singlets chat up four “English birds” while they “smashed” Chang beer and talked about how funny it was that “the beers are like fifty cents, Kent”; and, “I know, lyke, wha’ even is that, lyke, fert-ey pea? Hahaha.”

Maybe I’ve just got older. Or maybe I’m just looking for something more. But this idea that all you do is get fucked up and do nothing for a long time seems boring and insane to me. Maybe I just met the wrong people. I’m not sure. I’m not sure if I’ll go backpacking again. It’s hard to say.

I guess on most trips, or more generally days, people go through lots emotions, and maybe I felt them harder and in quicker succession than I have before.

I turned twenty-six the other day. I feel good about being twenty-six. I feel excited for the future. I feel excited to be home. I wouldn’t say my trip was bad because I don’t think things are as simple as that. Maybe this trip has made me appreciate the people in my life more. That seems like a good thing.

I can’t wait to start my next book. I’m pretty sure I know how to do it. It’s going to be a pretty brutal book, I think. It’s sort of gonna be the continuation of my last one. About backpacking and life and other things. I think it’s going to be pretty hard to write. Not like the ‘act’ of it but, like, the emotional part. Yeah. One thing that’s important to me is that it’s super honest. Or honest to me. Probably it will destroy me. In some ways I’m looking forward to being destroyed.

I miss the shit out of you. Did you know that? Mate. I miss you so much. I really hope you’re doing well. That you’re enjoying yourself. I wanna smash some VBs with you soon. And just sit down and smile and talk through some shit. Maybe play some pool. Probably go dance. It’s gonna be wild. It’s gonna be so good. xxxxx

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Oliver,

You are home, which I guess means this will be our final letter, and so here is a list of things I want you to know:

1. It is four a.m. and I just read your letter and it destroyed me. I am writing back now in the notes app of my phone and my head is under the doona so the glow doesn’t disturb my dorm mates and I am sobbing a little and there isn’t much oxygen under here and I can’t really breathe, but that may be due to a few things.

2. I spent all of your birthday at sea, navigating the coast of Chile. I sent you a text and I hope you got it? The weather during the journey was bad, and we spent eight hours anchored in the middle of nowhere. I made a mental list of all the reasons I think you are the very best kind of person, and that made me feel so happy I went to the back of the ship and danced quite violently in the rain. Was good. But I think one of the ship workers – an elderly man with cracked front teeth and sports sunnies (my type) – must have seen, because later he gave me his number and started touching my arm. I got you a birthday present today: give me Toby’s address and I will mail it there.

3. When you moved back to Sydney it took me a long time to adjust to not seeing you every day. I spent a lot of evenings like we used to: sitting on the crates outside our place with a Coopers longneck, eating hummus with a spoon, listening to Grinspoon or Fleetwood Mac and nodding every now and then at the Canning Street cyclists.

I spent this past month climbing mountains in Patagonia and feeling pretty lonely, and also kind of driving myself crazy because it was so quiet and I had so much time to think and I overthought everything. Some days I felt really lost. Some days you’d message me from Japan or Thailand and we couldn’t talk properly, not really, and everything felt kind of out of order. On those days I walked around in a weird fog. On those days I would easily give up seeing glaciers and lagoons to have five minutes to talk to you IRL and eat hummus on those milk crates.

But one of the things that’s hit me on this trip is how lucky I am to have found people in this world who think about me when I’m not there. You know, who even sometimes miss me. I want you to know that I notice when you’re not around. That sometimes I can even physically feel your absence.

4. I don’t want to hate too much on ‘backpacker culture’ because you’ve done an excellent job of it, but have you seen the movie Happy Gilmore? I think between my two brothers and I we would total about one hundred views. Anyway, there’s this line when Happy first goes golfing that’s been doing circles in my head for the past four months. He says: “If I saw myself in pants like those I’d have to kick my own ass.” I’m being judgemental here, I know, though it’s not about fashion; it’s about standards. Like, if you wouldn’t wear those pants in your own country don’t wear them in someone else’s.

When I was a kid and I went to a friend’s house for a sleepover my mum would say, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in your own home.” Meaning, like, show some respect. But then one time I had a sleepover at a friend’s house where there were four “inside Chihuahuas” and I threw up all over the rug because the house smelt like Chihuahua. Though no way would I be sick all over a rug in my own home because Mum would go ballistic about the mess, so I guess we all make mistakes and who am I to judge?

Some days you’d message me from Japan or Thailand and we couldn’t talk properly, not really, and everything felt kind of out of order. On those days I walked around in a weird fog.

5. Lots of people on this trip have asked about the axe tattoo. They ask dumb questions like, “Are you going to murder me in my sleep?” and, depending on my fluctuating moods, I either shrug or say “dunno”. Anyway, I still get excited when I see it, knowing we basically got the tattoos to represent the attitude I love you most for: the idea that any obstacle can be ‘chopped’ through, or something dumb like that. Anyway, I have a weird, misplaced sense of pride because I know how hard you work and it is starting to pay off in big ways.

As I said in the text message that may have been lost at sea, you are a freight train of productivity, talent, ambition and your spirit is contagious. I think your next book will be hard to write but I think you will produce an amazing work exactly because of this. I remember how we used to sit and write side by side in Figs Café on Nicholson Street, and later in the evening you would reveal you had written a fully hectic sex scene and the whole time you had sat completely pokerfaced, sipping on your half-strength long black. I really believe you can do anything.

6. Tonight I’m heading to Valparaíso, Chile. I feel so insanely lucky to be in the country that bred two of my favourite voices in literature. On the boat on your birthday I listened to a bunch of Bolaño podcasts and basically remembered how to write. I can’t wait to show you what I’m working on. Also, I can’t wait to be somewhere hot because my jumper has four months worth of hot sauce soaked into the fibre and feels kinda weird now. I’m about to jump on a ferry again, back to the mainland. In about two hours I will be one body of water closer to you.

7. I love you.

xxx

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Oliver Mol is a Sydney-based writer. He has lived in Houston, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. He was the co-winner of the 2013 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers and was the recipient of a 2012 Hot Desk Fellowship. His début book Lion Attack! is out through Scribe Publications.

Katia Pase is the co-founding editor of Stilts journal and literary collective, and editor of Going Down Swinging. She has presented at the Wheeler Centre’s Debut Mondays, the Brisbane Writers’ Festival, the National Young Writers’ Festival, and at Avid Reader salons. In 2013 she co-programmed the Emerging Writers’ Festival Hobart Roadshow.