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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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.

To Melbourne…

Tomorrow morning a very lovely lady writer friend of mine and I are off to Melbourne for the week. We’re heading down to attend various sessions at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, and because we both love to be in that city.

The picture above is one I took when I went down for a visit last December. I took it because I so often stood in that spot when I lived in Melbourne, watching the trams cross the intersection at the corner of Flinders and Swanston Streets, waiting to meet one friend or another. “Meet you under the clocks at Flinders Street,” we’d say.

I’m fully expecting this trip to be full of nostalgia and whimsy. Our eight days there will be the most time I’ve spent in the city since I left it three and a half years ago.

Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

Home

Last night I was drifting off to sleep, finally, when a thought pulled me suddenly back into the waking world: this weekend, I’ll be able to visit the bakery of my childhood.

This weekend, you see, I’m heading back to Forbes, the town I grew up in. It’s the first time I’ve been back in four years. My immediate family all live in Canberra now, and most of the people I still keep in touch with from school no longer live in Forbes. Family friends still live there, but somehow I’ve not found reason to visit.

I very rarely think about Forbes. I mean, I reminisce about high school, and childhood, but I hardly ever think about the place itself, and the impact it had on me. The last time I did, I wrote an essay, which ended up being published in issue 77* of Voiceworks.

But I do often think about the concept of ‘home’, and the places I associate with that word.

My brother and his girlfriend are in Forbes today. This morning they sent me a picture of a roundabout on the main street. I’m sentimental at the best of times, but my propensity for nostalgia has been higher lately. The instant I opened that picture file, I was hit with a wave of nostalgia, and I wondered how I could possibly have excluded Forbes from the list of places I call home.

Melbourne is home for me. Sydney is home for now; Canberra sometimes home. Forbes doesn’t even get a look in. But I think it should. I lived in Forbes for many more years than I’ve lived anywhere else.

I guess, being the home of my childhood, its impact on me is something subtler than those other places, part of my subconscious.

Last year sometime, I got in a cab to go home late one night, and was chatting to the driver.

“You’re a country girl, aren’t you?” he said, suddenly.

I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself as a country girl, but he guessed that I hadn’t grown up in a city because I got into the front seat of the cab and struck up a conversation. City girls, he said, sit in the back and avoid eye contact. Conversation? Ha.

Of course the cabbie’s guess is based on a huge generalisation about ‘city people’ and ‘country people’, but I did start wondering how many other aspects of my everyday behaviour might be related in some way to me having grown up in Forbes.

I’m not sure what to expect from myself this weekend. As I write this, more and more memories find their way into my thoughts. Sometimes it amazes me that one human being can have so many memories, so many that a whole period of your life can be tucked away somewhere safe. Sometimes so safe that those memories are never found again.

Judging by pensive mood, just anticipating the trip, it’s probably safe for me to assume there’ll be more of the same over the next two days. (I’m going back for a party though, so I’m sure there’ll also be plenty of plain ol’ fun.)

I get the feeling that some of this wistfulness will become writing. Fiction, maybe. Watch this space.

~

* Express Media’s website is down at the moment, so you might not be able to access that back issues link. I’ll keep an eye on it though, and update it when I can.