Nostalgia

I’ve been writing this post for weeks, on an off. It seems appropriate to finish it now — a death in the family always lends itself to remembering and nostalgia.

For a couple of months now I’ve been carrying around a little vial of nostalgia, everywhere I go. Sometimes I really do feel as though it’s rattling around in the bottom of my handbag, and when I go searching for something else I come across it.

The thing about nostalgia (at least for me) is that it’s so unspecific. I can’t really say where it’s come from, or even what it’s about. Or maybe it’s that I can say where it started, but then I’m unable to contain it to that. Nostalgia breeds nostalgia.

Sometime last week I found myself sitting on the couch, home by myself for the night, with a huge pile of recipe books, flicking through pages, making mental lists of things I’d like to cook next time I find half a day to spend in the kitchen. As I turned the pages I came across recipes I’d marked months ago, and finally worked out the root of this bout of nostalgia: I love my new house, but I’m also missing my old one. I miss my old housemates, I miss the house itself, I miss Astro the cat, I miss living down the south end of Newtown. I’m not despairing in the missing, it’s just a lingering sense of… sadness at the finality, I guess.

We cooked a lot in my old house. I cooked a lot. It wasn’t a great kitchen — it had a huge oven, but we also spent the last six months in the house cooking by lamp light — but it’s where I really feel like I cemented my love of cooking. I spent hours and hours cooking in that kitchen, sometimes many dishes at once, often on my own. Cooking became a kind of meditation; thoughts about other things popped into my head during big cook ups, but the focus always came back to whatever was on the stove top.

I also spent many hours in that kitchen, sitting on the step between the lounge and the kitchen or perched gingerly on the barely-held-together stool we’d borrowed for a party and somehow never returned, chatting to one of my housemates about life — work, boys, politics, religion, music, books, writing, cats, dogs, babies, family. We cooked, we talked.

The kitchen in that house will always be somehow special to me.

Thinking about that kitchen inevitably leads to thinking about the garden at that house, my little room and the neighbours whose backyards my windows overlooked, the creaky floorboards in the upstairs hallway, the sunny lounge room, the cracked walls, the ballroom-sized bathroom… the list goes on and on. And then spills over into other parts of my life, occasionally going as far back as childhood.

That my trip to Melbourne happened in the middle of all this nostalgia really hasn’t helped things. I miss Melbourne with such a visceral ferocity that it’s sometimes overwhelming. Going back there, I wander around the streets, amazed that I still feel so at home there, even though I’ve now lived in Sydney nearly as long as I lived in Melbourne.

Strangely, I also feel nostalgic about writing (this is far harder for me to explain). Spending time at writers’ festivals, like I have this last month — especially ones like EWF where I spent a lot of time in the company of other writers — exacerbates this kind of nostalgia. I think maybe what I’m trying to do when I write (fiction, at least) is capture that feeling of nostalgia, that little twinge of melancholy. So somehow thinking about or talking about writing brings about those feelings I’m trying to capture. Does that even make sense? I don’t know.

Perhaps this nostalgia, and its settling in for a lengthy stay, is why I’ve found myself wanting to write more fiction. For the last six months I’ve been working steadily on a big non-fiction project. I love it, and I don’t want to put it away, but I think maybe I need to let myself venture a little more into whimsy from time to time.

Monday Project submission: Redux

For my response to this month’s theme, I returned to some of short pieces I wrote last time I made a big move. Since most of my energy in February seemed to be taken up with moving house, it seemed appropriate somehow.

Unfortunately I was unable to get it together enough to actually put the story together into something that made sense. But then perhaps that’s okay, since it’s really about the chaos of packing up a life. I thought I’d type out what’s in my writing journal pretty much verbatim. I’d love to hear if you think this is going anywhere.

~

Her fingers were dry from handling all the cardboard and she had a collection of bruises on her legs. But before her stood a pile of brown cardboard. It sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by the absence of her furniture and the trails of dust and cobwebs that had been hidden beneath it.

The curtains were freshly washed, still a little damp and slightly crushed. The space around the box mountain looked smaller than it had when the contents of the boxes had been spread around it.

You stand next to her in the doorway as she looks around again and sighs.

“Why do I own so much crap?” She doesn’t want an answer.

Another box marked ‘books’. There have been thousands of these already, you think. Your daughter’s reading habit doesn’t quite keep up with her book-buying one. She sighs again, running her fingers over her own handwriting on yet another box of books, then follows you downstairs with it.

~

You worried vaguely about having an accident as you drove through the city, thought maybe you should pull over until the tears subsided. But then you knew you’d only turn around if you stopped, and that wouldn’t help anyone.

She’d looked small in the rear vision mirror as you drove away. Not at all grown up. You knew she was probably crying too – and that her ridiculous new boyfriend would have no idea how to handle it. He’d helped her find the dingy flat that was to be her first home away from home, and in doing so had proved to you that he had no idea what your daughter might need.

The place was filthy, for starters. Your daughter’s new housemates had layers of newspaper on the dining table so they could just throw away the top one after a meal, rather than wipe down the table; the drain in the bathroom was full of hair; everything was covered in grimy dust. Your daughter’s bedroom was full of someone else’s furniture. Even with some of the knick knacks and books of hers that you’d brought down with the rest of her clothes, she looked out of place in the room.

You told yourself, as you continued to drive away from her, that you’d only thought all that because you were being overprotective – that probably also explained why you thought her boyfriend was an idiot. The thought wasn’t comforting though. It only made you cry more – you felt sorry for yourself. And it wasn’t true anyway.

~

In your garage there are three boxes with her name on them, and several bags that aren’t labelled but that you know are hers. About once every six months – or more often if you haven’t heard from her in a while – you wake up early, pad down the internal stairs and stand in front of the small pile of her things. Both you and her mother are guilty of reminding her a little too often that these things are taking up space in your garage, but if she came to take them away you’d be upset.

The boxes are labelled in her neat handwriting – their contents described in brief detail on the masking tape that keeps them shut. They are mostly full of old things: high school and university books, photo albums, knick knacks, CDs. One box is simply labelled “special things”. Many times, as you’ve stood in front of her boxes and bags, you’ve wondered what constitutes “special” to your daughter. What would she pull out of that box? Undoubtedly it would be a collection of things that mean nothing to you, and whose story you will never know – trinkets from old friends and boyfriends, from far-flung places; letters from people you’ve never known, photos of people you’ve never met.

One day she’ll come back for these boxes – she might even open the “special things” box. The extra space in the garage would be good, certainly, but you’re not sure you could bear watching her going through them. You like the idea that you have a part of her here, neatly contained and labelled, and somehow mysterious.

Often, as you look at the boxes and run your fingers over her handwriting, you wonder what she is doing now, all those plane-hours away. You like to imagine that she is sitting at the kitchen table drinking tea, or reading to her own small daughter.

~

You don’t understand why, but she feels she needs to do it. She’s packing up again – this time leaving him, when it’s always been him leaving her. The him has changed over the years, but it’s been pretty much the same story every time. Being in a relationship with your daughter, you imagine, is very intense.

But no, this time she’s leaving him, and that’s at least half the reason why you think maybe he’s the right one. She’s determined though; packing boxes, taking things that are definitely his, leaving things that are definitely hers because she’s unsure in her frenzy. As she packs she babbles at you, her voice so close to tears. You should really be packing in another room, to speed the process up, but you can’t bear to leave her alone when she’s like this.

Even a little girl she was prone to working herself into a frenzy. Never over nothing, but always over something that didn’t really deserve all the energy she was giving it.

And there is the other half of the reason you think he’s the right one. Determined as she says she is, every part of her seems to be fighting against her own decision. Her hands shake, as if saying no to the words that are coming out of her mouth.

Settling in

These last two Saturdays I’ve wandered around the corner to the local farmers’ markets (I act cool about it, but really I’m ridiculously excited that I live so close and can do my shopping there each week… But more on that in a later post) and come back with a few little things to put in the bare garden. Last week I got baby spinach and chives, this week curly parsley.

I brought my worm farm with me from my last house, and the worms — collectively referred to as The Barries — are settling in nicely. I’m a wee bit fascinated with the worm farm. You put food scraps in, basically do nothing, and out comes this amazing fertiliser. From that fertiliser you grow more food, from which there are scraps, which you put in the worm farm… Etc etc. It creates a neat little ecosystem in your own house/garden.

I’m a bit obsessed with The Barries, if I’m honest. I’ve been known to pick apple cores up off the street and bring my food scraps home from a weekend away to give to them. When I used to work in an office, the other women on my team used to give me their food scraps to take home. I love The Barries. Maybe a little too much.

Anyway, they’re helping me out in the new house, with my new responsibilities as resident gardener. In my last house I helped with the garden occasionally, but I was by no means the decision maker. Now I’m kinda in charge. And I’m sure I’m going to make mistakes, kill things and hopefully imprint into my brain some of the plant names that come so easily to my Mum and my old housemate Erin. Gardening regularly is a new adventure for me (any tips are welcome).

In the last few days the rocket seeds I planted last weekend sprouted, and this morning some tiny, tiny shoots from the carrot seeds are tentatively peering out of the soil. I’ve spent a whole lot of time this morning crouched down next to them marveling at their tiny green-ness. I might just be eating them in a month or so.

Here are the little rocket sprouts. Hello little friends… Keep growing strong, won’t you?

Moving House

This last fortnight I’ve been moving house. And it’s been harder than any other move I’ve made. Harder even than moving out of home, or moving from Melbourne to Sydney. It’s strange, because I’ve only moved from one end of Newtown to the other. Both the aforementioned moves involved a great deal more distance, and probably more obvious emotional upheaval. So I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why this move has been as difficult as it has — and wondering whether I’ve just turned into a big wimp.

It’s been different to any other move I’ve made though. For starters, it was a reluctant move. My housemates and I got a phone call halfway through December telling us the owner of our house was returning from the UK and would like her house back. Two of my housemates were already planning on leaving (they’re travelling around Australia this year in a pop-top van — you can read about their adventures here), but Housemate Three and I were planning on staying in the house. When we realised we’d all be leaving the house at the same time, the phrase “end of an era” found its way into conversation more than a few times.

This house had become home, these housemates like family.

So I guess we began the process of sorting, packing and moving with… well, heavy hearts. Sometime towards the middle of January, I found myself thinking about how I’d only walk this route to a yoga class (or get off the train at this station, or stare out my bedroom windows, or go for a walk in this park, or see this or that neighbour on the street) a finite number of times. And every now and then the four of us would be standing together in the kitchen talking and/or cooking, and one of us would sigh. Sentimentality became a big part of our last weeks in the house.

Then I suppose there was the move itself, which was a bit of a shit fight, if I’m honest. We were really settled in that place. Which is really just a nice way of saying we had a lot of crap, spread out all over the place. Packing, sorting and cleaning was not fun.

For the fortnight it took us all to pack up and move out, I felt like I didn’t really have a home. My new housemates and I had picked up the keys to our new house, so a lot of my stuff was in the new place, but so much of me remained in the old place. For the last week I was sleeping at the new house, and getting up each morning to go to the old house to work more on moving out. That week felt more like ten weeks.

That last week the five of us (four housemates plus Housemate Three’s girlfriend) went out for dinner and drinks — a kind of farewell. I had such a great time with my little sharehouse family.

And I drank a little too much wine. Getting up the next day was difficult.

When we finally handed the keys back last Friday, and went out together for a final housemate breakfast, I think we were all ready to leave. We were glad the move was over (we were also very hungry — we’d all been up since 6 or 7am and we were eating at midday). So in a way, I guess the sadness that had made the process so difficult in the first place was kind of worked through by the horror of the move itself. Or at least pushed to the background for now. I’ll miss that house, and I’ll miss my housemates, but for now I’m ready to focus on what’s going on in my life right now.

I’m excited to be working again. I’ve got writing projects slowly starting to make their way from my head onto paper; next week I’m going to Adelaide for Format Festival’s Academy of Words; and I’m preparing for some new yoga classes I’ll start teaching in the next month.

This move though, and the process of moving in general, is still flitting about inside my head. I’m writing about moving for this month’s Monday Project theme, and I’m thinking again about some of the other writing I’ve done on travel, moving and connection to place.

As difficult as it’s been, moving house has certainly got the cogs turning again. Change, as they say, is as good as a holiday. Except that I feel like I need a holiday to recover from this particular change.