Ghosts and New Beginnings

Life is very strange at the moment. Well, it has been for quite some time now, but it’s been extra strange since my housemate and I landed in Melbourne. It’s taken me a little while to tease out the strangeness, to get a good sense of where it’s really coming from.

The answer isn’t simple, of course, but part of why I’ve felt pretty weird these last couple of weeks is that I’ve found myself trying to marry together different parts of myself. The parts of me that existed when I lived in Melbourne, the parts of me that were there when I visited and missed this city, and who I feel like I am now. I’ve mentioned here before that Melbourne often feels to me like it’s haunted. For me, it’s a place full of ghosts — ghosts of the past me, ghosts of long-over relationships, ghosts of friendships changed. And perhaps the missing of the place has made each of those ghosts just a little more powerful now I’m living here again. Nostalgia is a strange thing, cruel at times.

A while ago, for a piece I was writing, I was reading a lot about narration and the self, and how vital it is for our mental wellbeing to build a coherent sense of self. So much of that building process is about making connections between events, objects and places that are, really, not closely related to one another. In other words, we tell ourselves a story about what happens to us in order to make sense of it, and in order to create the character we call our ‘self’. What’s happening to me now, I think, is that those stories aren’t quite matching up. There’s a bit of rearranging to be done in my thinking about them.

Along with that confusion though has been an immense sense of relief. I feel relaxed here, at home. I guess the weirdness will settle eventually, and that I’ll figure out how to fit all those parts of myself back together again. And, I hope, I’ll learn to live more easily with the ghosts here. They are, after all, mostly benevolent ones.

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Transition and Tomato Sauce

On the weekend, I went to a barbeque picnic in Pyrmont, down by the water. I used to work in Pyrmont, so being back there, like so many other things at the moment, was a weird little nostalgia trip. That I’d had very little sleep the night before (and perhaps over-imbibed) probably did very little to keep me feeling in any way down to earth. I was in a very vague mood. Not-quite-managing-to-finish-sentences vague.

We put sausages on the barbeque, and sat in the sun to eat them. I drenched mine in tomato sauce, as is my wont. And ever since then I’ve been craving tomato sauce. In fact, as I write this, there’s a tomato sauce bottle sitting next to me because I had it on my lunch. I’m trying to work out how to also have it with dinner.

While I love tomato sauce — it’s one of those tastes of childhood for me — I don’t have it or want to have it very often. That I should be craving it now is strange. I mean, on one level it makes sense. I have two weeks left of work in Sydney and then a great big, exciting, terrifying unknown to look forward to in Melbourne. It does stand to reason that I would be craving something that is familiar (and sugary). But really? Tomato sauce? Usually chocolate is my comfort food. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m an absolute chocolate fiend. That chocolate should be replaced by tomato sauce is definitely unusual.

The closer the Big Move gets, the stranger I feel. The New Lightness is becoming more like The New Oddness. Every morning I wake and spend a few minutes trying to remember what day it is, and where I am, exactly. It surprises me each time I turn up to teach a class and students arrive, as if I think maybe I’ve got the day wrong. Everything familiar seems slightly off-kilter, or weirdly out of context.

This will be my third interstate move in the nine years since I left home (the fifth, if you include the to-and-from Canberra in between Melbourne and Sydney last time). But each of those times I’ve made the decision to go, and then left within a month or so. This time I’ve had quite a long time leading up to the move. I hope that all this pre-move oddness is going to mean less of the post-move oddness I’ve come across previously.

For now, I’m trying just to go with it. It’s not entirely unpleasant, and it’s certainly interesting to watch. But it’s very weird.

Old houses

Yesterday I wandered, on a whim, over to the south end of Newtown. I’d arranged to meet up with a friend in a cafe on King St, and to get there I chose a route that would take me past a house I lived in for two and a half years.

Pearl Street.

A house that will forever be the source of an enormous amount of nostalgia for me. It was the house in which I rediscovered myself after a major relationship breakup, it was the house in which I began to form an idea of what I wanted my adult life to look like, and in which I began to take steps toward that life. My Pearl Street housemates became like family (which I wrote about here when we all moved out of that house).

The house, when I came to it yesterday, had changed a lot. And it was for sale. Its cracked and worn cement front path had been replaced with neat pavers; the front garden we’d grown veggies in had been restructured and reduced; and the entire house, which had been a sunny yellow when we’d lived there, had been repainted a very mild off-white. Pearl Street as I knew it was gone.

I stood at the front gate, still the old green cast iron thing I knew so well, and stared at the place, trying to take in all its changes. Trying to let them sink in. It was sad, but not devastating.

And it seemed somehow appropriate that this place that is so meaningful in my story should have moved on, when I’m about to do so myself. A month from now, my current housemate (and dear friend) and I will pack up our lives in Sydney so we can move down to Melbourne. I’ve been saying for years that I wanted to move back to Melbourne. In fact, I’m sure I came home to Pearl Street more than once from a trip to Melbourne announcing that I was going to move back down south. But something about that house (and many other things besides) kept me in the sunny city. Somehow, I always knew that while I lived in that house I’d not be able to commit to moving away from Sydney.

My housie and I have been preparing for some months now for this move, and the whole time I’ve been swinging wildly between immense excitement and equally immense sadness. I am sad to leave this city. I am sad to leave all the people I love who live here (and near to here). But seeing yesterday that Pearl Street has moved on has somehow helped me to let go a little, to be sure that it is time for me to move on too. It’s not so much that my sadness at leaving has gone, it’s just that I’ve worked out how to hold it so it doesn’t colour everything else.

Quietly missing someone

These last couple of days I’ve had a long-time friend staying with me. She and I became friends when, as fifteen-year-olds who caught the same bus home from school, we one day noticed a sheep standing on a hill in a paddock, its head above the rest its flock. It looked so quaint standing there that we looked for it again the next day. And the next day, and the next. And every day, there it was, and so our acquaintance developed into a friendship.

She and I spent so much easy time together over the next three years that it’s always what we return to when we see each other now. We talk for hours about nothing and everything.

This friend lives in another part of the country to me—and has done for all but two years of our adult lives. I miss her. And that missing hurts most whenever we part company again.

For various reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about missing people. And about living away from people that you miss. In my adult life, I’m yet to live in the same city as either of my brothers, and I find myself envying siblings who see each other frequently. In the same way, I wish it was easy for me to just be in my parents’ company. A three hour bus trip, in my opinion, is not easy.

Having grown up in a small country town, I have friends who live all over the country. And having moved interstate more than once myself has only added to the list of people I miss.

Missing people is a strange thing. It’s not strange that it happens—of course it does. What I mean is that the feeling itself is strange. Missing someone feels like it creates a little tear in me somewhere, or a loose stitch. Just something tiny, really. But that tiny instability is something I’m always aware of, and it changes the way I move through life. It means I have to take more care, lest the tear grow larger, or the stitch come looser; lest I begin to fall apart. Those small breakages need to be tended to regularly.

Missing people, for me, is quite separate to missing a place. Missing people does not mean I want to be where they are, necessarily, but it does mean I want to be with them. The difference is subtle, I suppose. And it’s odd to me that there can be that separation, that seeming contradiction. The way I miss people confuses me. That I can still function, and pursue other things, and miss people the way I do seems odd. I guess caring about someone enough to miss them when they’re not near doesn’t mean I don’t want other things. And wanting those other things is not a reflection on my feelings for the people I miss (which is something I’ve worried over from time to time).

Tomorrow it is my recently-departed-from-my-company friend’s birthday. Which reminds me that when I saw her this time last year I started writing a post very much like this one, but never published it. This year I will. Happy birthday, dear friend. Know that I miss you when we are not near one another, and that the missing means I really appreciate the time we do get together. May we have more of it sooner rather than later.

Yoga and Writing in Adelaide

Yoga and writing: two things that are, pretty obviously, close to my heart. My lovely Twitter friend, Vanessa, is running a yoga and writing workshop at the SA Writers’ Centre in Adelaide in September. If I was in Adelaide, I’d be there in a heartbeat!

From the website:

Yoga has a unique way of unlocking your creativity. It guides you to connect with something greater and can help to shift the dreaded writer’s block. This workshop will include explorative yoga asana classes and meditation to help you find peace within and open that part of your mind and heart where you create from. It is ideal for people new to both writing and yoga who want to enjoy a day of yoga coupled with creative writing exercises.

If you’re interested in more details, you can find them here.

Emerging Writers’ Festival— the Haunted edition

Sometimes being in Melbourne makes me feel haunted, like I might run into a younger version of myself at any moment. Being here for a festival, something that is so intellectually expansive, only serves to heighten that feeling—like somehow the fact that there are new possibilities opening up in my mind might make a meeting like that possible. It’s not exactly unpleasant, but it is unsettling.

Because I feel like it’ll be some time before any of this stuff settles enough for me to make sense of it, I’m going to continue with the barely-edited-selection-of-notes format. Here’s some impressions of yesterday’s Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Conference panels.

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A selection of tips from Seven Enviable Lines
Emily Maguire: Writing full-time will not necessarily make you a better writer, & it may make you a worse one. You may begin to lose touch with the world—”I don’t believe you need to write what you know, but I do believe you need to know about what you write.”
Christy Dena: “Let others breathe on your baby.”
Ali Alizadeh: Writing is an extension of reading. Writing is always a dialogue with other writing.
Anita Sethi: Sit down, & the inspiration will come. Writing is very hard work. The inspiration is a spark, but the perspiration is so important.
Lawrence Leung: Listen to feedback, but don’t let it rule your life. If you want to write, no one can stop you except you.

A selection of notes from other panels throughout the day

In Writing on Tough Topics, Sydney Smith suggests that exposing oneself by writing about something tough is also a way of making amazing discoveries. I’m reminded of this TEDtalk on vulnerability.

In a session on Structure, Ali Cobby Eckerman says the structure of her writing is often imposed by her Indigenous cultural background. I wonder how much of the way I put stories together comes from cultural structures I’m hardly aware of.

In a session on Cross Platform writing, I am completely fascinated by the gesticular communication of Deaf writer, Asphyxia. So expressive—perhaps more so than any spoken communication can ever be. This is itself cross-platform communication, if you think of the human voice and body as media through which we tell stories.

Emerging Writers’ Festival launch

I’m in Melbourne this weekend (well, I’ve made it a long weekend) with my housemate (my Wifey) for the Emerging Writers’ Festival. We got up early yesterday morning and flew down, both on very little sleep (excitement had kept us both up the night before maybe?), and spent the afternoon doing some writing work in a cafe recommended to us by the lovely Ms LiteraryMinded (Ange).

In the evening we ventured into the city (along with Ange) in search of a cheap and cheerful dinner, which we had along with perhaps a wee bit too much wine. As a result, we turned up at the EWF launch rather giggly. Rather then go into great and lengthy detail about the night, I thought I might just post a selection of my notes from the evening. There are plenty of gaps in these notes, and they were made in the fog of red wine and the excitement that comes with being at a festival. Here they are.

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Arrived giggly and a little tipsy.
Familiar faces (including a little swoon at nearly literally bumping into songwriter Paul Kelly)
Tessa Waters, MC: “…wipe the creative placenta from your eyes, & just, you know, emerge.”
Tessa dancing. Us laughing. Bottom shaking. Laughing. Tears of laughter. Not that funny but can’t stop laughing. Aware that other people aren’t laughing as much as Wifey, Ange and I. Still laughing. Tassels shaking. Laughing. “Too much champagne already,” says Tessa once she’s finished her dance. Yep. I hear you.

Ruby J Murray
“Everyone of you will know what it feels like when you learn a new word, and you experience the world through this new thing.”
“We only have one word for their thousand beginnings, which is ‘acorn’, and only one word for their thousand ends, which is ‘oak’.”
Talk of loss of Indigenous languages. We miss out on a way to describe this place. “I will do what all writers should do, which is listen.”
“But in the end it’s all up to us to listen.”
Think about the ground beneath our feet, and what it means to the Indigenous leaders for us to be here.

Lisa Dempster introduces the festival.

Wishing suddenly that I could go to the launch of the Emerging Writer at the National Gallery (there’s an essay of mine in this beautiful book).
Aware suddenly that lots of garlic and onion at dinner was probably not a good idea if I want to actually talk to anyone after the official stuff is over.

Monash University Undergraduate Prize for Writing announced.
Monash winner—Michelle Li
Overall winner—Tully Hansen

International guest—Anita Sethi
“Each story itself is a journey” from the mind of the writer, through the pen or computer, to the reader.
The world is teeming with stories.
“History and fiction blur, and the imagination fills in the gap.”

Fiona McGregor, a call to arms:
Suspend the adjectives—get rid of the emerging, or at least think about what it means.
Maybe get rid of the adjective and return to the noun—writer, writing.
“We still have this urge for this gathering in the flesh.”
“Festivals are about the performance aspect.”
“Writing still necessitates retreat.”
Thinking space needed.
George Orwell—Why I Write
The four things: the best writers manage to keep all four in the air.
Ego, aesthetic, history, political purpose.
“As solitary as this work is, it has to be plugged in to the here & now.”
Writing is a job. If you want to survive, you have to set alarm and get up. You have to deal with days where you do nothing—worse, where you do harm.
“What are you doing it for? Because you’re mad.”
But then some days it works—”and when you share it, it chimes.”
Cherish the lonely space, the space of discomfort.
A reminder that solitude is scary, but wonderful. Cherish it.

Tessa Waters, introducing Omar Musa, talks about hip hop and dancing. On krumping: imagine yourself a very short person in a very big boat and you’re just rowing.

Omar Musa
Performed:
My Generation
Fireflies