Sydney and Stoicism

I get to the airport before the sun rises, and I’m not expecting an easy check-in. There’s something about travelling that perturbs me – probably an acquired anxiety I picked up from many a family holiday where my parents would fret over the most insignificant of details. ‘Do we have everything?’. ‘Are you going to be sick?’ ‘Are we running late?’ But it’s an unwarranted fear, because I get a seat on the flight I want easily. I’m not even hungry, and it’s already 8.30am. I still feel mildly apprehensive.

I’m off to Sydney to attend Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. It’s a work event that’s coincided nicely with a personal journey back to my hometown, which I’ planned beforehand. I moved away from Sydney when I was near 23, and although I’d been back to Sydney twice since, I’d never been back to see my old house, my old school, or my old stomping grounds.

Getting back to my roots isn’t something I’d felt quite ready to do until I’d made up my mind about where was home now. Since living in Perth, and then Melbourne, I felt as though if I were to go back to Sydney, I might suddenly question my multiple interstate moves and want to battle with the Sydney real estate market again. Which I can’t afford to do right now. But over the past few months, I’ve come to see Melbourne as home, so it felt like the perfect time to reconcile my childhood. If I could go ‘home’, without feeling the familiar sting of nostalgia or regressing to my anxious, teenage self, I would be ok.

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Sydney was, as expected, moving at a rapid pace. It was undeniably humid and sticky, the people were forthcoming and abrupt, and everything was expensive. This was home. Everything felt the same, but I felt different. A little bit older, and a little bit wiser. A little bit more confident that this city would not scare me anymore.

That’s not to say I didn’t find MBFWA intimidating. If you want to feel a vague sense of self-awareness about your own personal style (read – uncomfortable and frumpish), attending fashion week is an interesting exercise in self-enquiry. As a fashion writer, I feel it’s my duty to take part in the charade that is dressing better than I can actually afford. But as a fashion writer – and writer is the key word here – having access to an enviable wardrobe isn’t always within my means.

The Stoics teach non-attachment as a tool for lessening fear, adversity or loss. It’s a philosophy I find more accessible than The Law of Attraction, which I’ve always associated with a mild sense of blind faith. That’s not to say I don’t believe that feeling and doing good attracts like, but a practical philosophy like Stoicism feels more compatible with my frame of mind. Non-attachment stems from a belief that the external world – our material possessions, digital ephemera, and the words and thoughts of others – are entirely out of our control. They can disappear without a moment’s notice. The affections of others, the joy we feel after a post-shopping binge, or the taste of ice cream after a week of fasting – it’s all temporary. But our internal world – our capacity to feel, to think, to make rational, informed decisions – is an empire for our ruling. It’s only when we learn to detach from our external world, and learn not to rely on gratification from the outside world, that we’ll truly achieve a state of happiness.

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So I watched attendees at fashion week with an objective eye. A wondering curiosity about who they were, what they did, what they were wearing. And it’s a methodology I took away from Carriageworks, and began to use as a lens for seeing the entire city. I’m quite often the kind of person who experiences wistful nostalgia over certain places, and I didn’t want excursions to the Quay, or to Pitt Street Mall, or to Hyde Park to be fraught with gloomy introspection. I didn’t want to find myself under those ancient trees thinking about the boys I’d kissed beneath those branches, or missing friends who’d moved away if I walked past familiar brunch spots. So I began to see Sydney as just a place that I’d occupied for some time. As it had changed and moved on, so had I. We had both grown, and although Sydney will always be a part of me, it’s a part I could do without.

That’s not to say I didn’t feel joy when meeting up with high school best friends, or sadness when discussing the death of ex-boyfriends. I still haven’t visited Tim’s grave, and perhaps that’s something I will never learn to detach from. But non-attachment gives me a chance to observe my feelings, to explore them, to experience them without resistance, and then to let them go.

The flight back home was as event-free as the flight over. Not that it would have mattered. I’ve learned not to get too upset before travelling anymore.