A chance encounter with a strange old lady on the tram ride home

Yesterday I went to the National Mental Health Week Launch at Federation Square in Melbourne. ‘Twas good, but it’s the subject of another post. What I actually wanted to share with you today is the experience that I had on my way home from said event.

As usual, I got off at Clifton Hill station and walked the short distance over Queens Parade to the tram stop, which is opposite my usual place of worship, the Clifton Hill Network Video store. I had just missed the tram by a bee’s scrotum, so I was a little frustrated, but not too fussed because it gave me a brief window of time to do what I’d hoped: Write.

I plonked my ass on the seat and began punching the keyboard in an effort to complete an application for a digital copywriting position that I’d started over the weekend. And then, out of nowhere, Lisa: a short, audacious little woman who shuffled towards me with ferocity and a smile you could only describe as crooked. She must have been in her 60s.

“That’s the sad thing about you and your generation,” was the first thing she said to me, forcing me to abandon the words on my screen. “You don’t know when to call it quits with work!” I paused for a moment, considering her observation, and then my response: “Actually, this isn’t work, it’s my passion.” My passion. Yes, I know, it was a vaguely wanky-tacular thing to say, but I don’t care. It had a grain of truth in it: writing’s my thang, yo. Perhaps it was my co-dependency, or just a nagging voice in my head saying Could you just try to be social every once in a while? that led me to keep the conversation going. “So, um, what do you do with yourself?”

Lisa divides her residency between two locations: New York City and Melbourne (she just bought a property in East Melbourne, which she swears is behind enemy lines. I don’t know what that means, but I laughed nervously anyway). When she mentioned that she is a journalist who writes about social causes, I instinctively clenched to avoid wetting myself with excitement. “That’s awesome! I’d love to make money doing that.” I told her about my plans to wedge my way in to the copywriting industry. And when I asked her how she got in to this work, she said something that stuck to my brain like dog shit to a shoe in subtropical weather: “I just created it. The job I didn’t exist back then, so I created it.” In a world that’s probably always had too much traffic, she made her own lane. I dig that.

As the tram approached and we stepped aboard, she began to tell the story of how she used to write for the Premier of Melbourne, the one before Jeff Kennett. You know the guy, what’s-his-name-from-somewhere-I don’t-know. We didn’t get very far into her story because she was only going one stop, so I asked for her number in the hope of learning some tricks of the writing trade. But she promptly refused with a smile on her face, teasing “I don’t give my number out on the first date.”

“But if it’s your passion, just keep doing it.” She got off the tram, and with the doors still open called out “If it’s meant to be, we’ll see each other again!” A part of me was obviously disappointed, but grateful for such a random and hopeful experience. It’s what my friend would call a God-Job. I had, in the span of 4 minutes, met someone whose life and work was enviable, and who had given me some very valuable advice. As the tram pulled away I could still hear her voice echoing in my ears (she was, in fact, still yelling it out): “If it’s your passion, just keep doing it!”

Here’s to chance encounters with strange old ladies with wise advice on tram rides home from work.



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