Pandora’s Box

Back in the dark ages, in the dim, distant past when I was married, my husband bought me a very luxurious black leather briefcase to celebrate my birthday the year I got a big promotion.

Thirty years later I still have that briefcase and while I no longer carry it around with my sales catalogues and business cards, it does hold some very special papers.

These days I call it Pandora’s Box. It’s filled with old journals and copies of letters and emails between my ex and I when we were going through the meaty part of the break up. All the gnashing and wailing. All the justifications and arguments. All the pitiful pleading.

An open briefcase filled with papers.
Emails, letters and journals chronicle this difficult time of my life.

Declarations of love on Sunday where superseded by obscenities by Wednesday. I have trawled through it a few times with different effects on my psyche. In the Wine and Wedges days, (circa 2012) when things were fresh and we were still in each others lives, I would dissolve into a heap of misery and have yet another glass of wine!  I would look for clues as to when and where I could have ‘fixed things”. In more recent times, I have vowed to create a big bonfire on the beach and dance around the burning ashes with glee.

Recently, I went through the stack of double sided sheets again.  I started to put them back into chronological order to make better sense of them, thinking to myself there must be some blog-able gold in here somewhere! I could write a very murky expose about the demise of a relationship over a long period of time with all the indelicacies that would conjure up. But no, I am not that type. This post is about as tacky as I am prepared to get.

I was pleased I could read all the wretchedness and despair with a dispassionate eye. I came away feeling vaguely amused and not at all sad. I did however tsk-tsk  at the time it took us to take the final plunge. The time we both wasted trying to patch the hull of our Titanic. But still we came out the other side and I for one am stronger.

Much of the writing is over the top emotional dribble. Streaming consciousness on overload!   But some is gold. Of course, most is contextual and obviously a reply to  now forgotten conversations. The papers cover the time from November 2006 – late 2008. At that time,  I was in the middle of completing a Masters degree and I must say my vocabulary was much wider than it is now. I seem to have gotten less eloquent!

Now, when I talk about my divorce and my ex, I report that it was a relatively amicable separation and that we can still talk to each other in a civil tone. Reading back over this huge body of work, reminds me that it was really a death by a thousand cuts but some of those were bloody big gashes.

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A briefcase full of memories.

I am not going to spill the proverbial beans. I am not going to write that  tell-all expose, but here are a few of my favourite lines, some of the passages that amused me. They are all from my words not his.

...I had other things in my head but they are like shadows now and I keep losing them…

…as I read back over this, it is only part of what I wanted to say and I feel like I can never explain. It’s all the chicken and the egg story. I am not sure where the seed came from but our life has been covered in lantana. We are still underneath it somewhere but now it’s too late to clear it away. I stand here knocking on the door of your heart with the weed killer! …[oh dear!]

…I can not explain… once you get caught in the turning lane you just end up going with the flow….

Ten reasons why I like you…

….  10. You like watching the same daggy TV shows, you don’t like John Howard, you have a compatible outlook on world politics, religion, the relative merits of free range chickens and social justice. [chickens were a theme even back then!]

….

a photo of an email about ontological security.
I used to know what all this meant! And be able to joke about it!

Maybe one day I will get around to that bonfire. But for now I think I‘ll keep Pandora’s Box with it’s oversized memories to remind me of a once passionate time of my life. One that I don’t want to relive, but a time that  changed the course of my life irrevocably.

You never know, when I am ninety I might just write that steamy expose!

The Sad Case of the Vanished Cracker Night.

Australia is a constitutional monarchy. The Queen of Australia – Queen Elizabeth the 1st (She is Elizabeth the 2nd in the UK but only the first Elizabeth we have had) has very little sway these days in terms of our laws, the parliament and that sort of thing but we still get a public holiday to celebrate her birthday. Even though her actual birthday is in April we celebrate it on the second Monday of June. It’s a welcome holiday. By the time June has come around, winter has usually hit and the Indian summer of May has ended with a bang. It’s probably raining and it will be cold(ish) It’s a perfect weekend for inland retreats at wineries or being indoors with a book and a fire and catching up with friends.

When I was a kid, Saturday of the Queen’s Birthday weekend was Cracker Night. There would be bonfires, pretty fireworks and explosive crackers in nearly every backyard. My favourite was the Catherine Wheel which would be nailed to the fence. It would spin around as jets of coloured sparks shot out the sides. The neighbourhood would be shrouded in smoke and the poor dogs would be going crazy.

You could buy crackers at any corner store, regardless of your age. My dad used to blow up our home made letter box every year. He’d fill it with bungers and attach a long wick and then run. The wooden box would get shattered into thousands of sharp, splintery missiles and we would squeal with glee from our hiding spots.

My family must have been a bit more careful than other families. I don’t remember any one getting hurt although my hair did catch on fire once when an ember jumped out of the bonfire. Despite our own personal luck, because in retrospect, I think it was good luck rather than good management, every year you would hear of a another 10 year old boy who had blown his hand off or blinded himself or suffered some other horrific injury because they had taped a few large bungers together or had tried to build a bigger, better explosive.

It became (sensibly) more difficult to buy crackers. You had to be 18. Then it become illegal to sell them in NSW. You could still buy them in the Australian Capital Territory, so people would take the drive down there to stock up for an illicit cracker night party. The firework shops were cheek-by-jowl with the porn shops (Canberra, incidentally also being the only place you could buy X rated movies!).

Many community groups had public firework displays which varied in quality. Over the years, these have petered out too. I guess the expense got too much. Perhaps, the audience got too used to the HUGE New Year’s Eve Fireworks that light up Sydney Harbour. What community groups could afford were fizzlers in comparison.

Last Saturday night would have been cracker night but I didn’t hear one. Not a single one. It’s a shame. Another fun, old tradition that has gone by the wayside.

It made me think, what will today’s kids remember? Oh wow I sat indoors all day playing Total Domination against some random in the US? It was like… So totally awesome!!

…somehow I don’t think so. Will their memories be totally devoid of the types of rich stories that made up my childhood and adolescence?

This year, my Queen’s Birthday Weekend was filled with reminiscences of other kinds. A weekend full of “remember whens” at a 40th high school reunion. Unfortunately, it was only a small gathering. We danced to old 70s and 80s tunes. We argued who was the bigger loss to the world – Lennon or Bowie? We talked about old teachers chasing the girls who were smoking in the playground (not me!!) We talked about those who had not come to join in the party.

Only 10 of us made the journey

Those who had left before the HSC (the NSW matriculation qualification) and had gone into more manual labouring jobs complained that their bodies were beginning to give out. We all complained about our failing eyesight. We compared photos of our adult kids and for some of us, our grandkids. We settled into an easy rekindling of old friendships and lamented that so few had made the journey to Old Bar, NSW.

This one from Primary School

As we tried to put names to all the faces in the old school photos, there was one girl, at the end of a row of the 1C photo that no-one could remember. I’d hate to be that girl. Why did no one know her? We had no special story for her. That made me sad and I wondered if there were other people looking at other class photos who wondered who I was? If there were some people I had never made an impression on? In my own Robyn-centric world I find that hard to believe but I guess I was not the centre of everyone’s universe!

I don’t know if we will have 50th reunion. By then I will be 67. I hope I will continue to enjoy the same good health I have now. I hope I will tick off some more of those bucket list items. But most of all, I hope I can contribute some good memories to the students I teach.

In 2038, I hope some kid says at their reunion, “Do you remember that old chook Ms Lang? She was a bit crazy!” and smile.

Tall tales and true! (Mark and Craig both school buddies since kinder!)

Feeling sentimental.

Recently, I replaced my makeup bag with a new one. The old bag was in my service for at least 18 years. I bought it in 2008 for my daughter to use as a pencil case. It had photos of the Spice Girls on it and when she grew out of them, I hijacked the sturdy plastic case for my make-up.

snapseed-1One of my work colleagues and I have joked about it for years when we shared rooms for conferences and the like.  I decided it was looking a little too raggedy and bought a new one[1]. I put the Spice Girls in the bin. Now I feel strangely uncomfortable. It was still in OK condition – the zip still worked. It was covered with old makeup and left-over bits of eyeliner but nothing a good soak wouldn’t fix. Perhaps I was being too rash!

I sent a text to my friend to commemorate its passing. She sent back a crying emoji – she shared my pain. I think I am grieving…over a plastic case. It holds so many memories! It has travelled with me around the globe. It’s been a loyal and steady friend. It survived divorce. It’s lived in 6 houses with me. It still works!

It’s hard to describe the feelings I have for this thing; this object. After all it’s only a bit of plastic. One of the  tenets of minimalism is that sentimental items have no intrinsic value per se and that memories do not exist in things but in our minds. “The Minimalists” – Ryan Nicodemis and Joshua Fields Milburn exhort us to rid ourselves of sentimental items. In his essay Letting go of Sentimental Items Josh writes

I am not my stuff; we are more than our possessions.
 Our memories are within us, not within our things.
 Holding on to stuff imprisons us; letting go is freeing.
 You can take pictures of items you want to remember.
 Old photographs can be scanned.
 An item that is sentimental for us can be useful for someone else.

 

I don’t agree with this idea, for a number of reasons.  Sure, we can scan and store photos digitally but what happens when technology changes? If I had stored my memories on 3 ½ inch floppy discs back in the day, I’d be stuffed now! A possible work-around is to store photos in the cloud. Call me a pessimist, but heh, I am not real keen on having my only copy of things in the nebulous cloud.  Who owns it? Who will maintain it in the future? What happens if there is some sort of EM pulse warfare where everything gets fried? (insert relevant conspiracy theory here!)

 

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My great grandfather’s camera, some petrified wood, some jugs and a doily that belonged to my grandparents.

I have a small collection of items that are not useful but are beautiful. They belonged to my grandparents and some,  to my great-grandparents. Small curios, some handmade furniture, a few pieces of jewellery. I have some useful items too, like baking trays that must be at least 70 years old. These items make me feel connected to my history more than any photos would. I can conjure up memories of my grandmother baking scones on the very same trays I still use. The molecules of food ingrained into the metal of the tray, perhaps even some of her DNA. I am reluctant to scrub them back to shiny metal. The decades of patina add to the flavour.

I am not my stuff but this stuff is part of me, part of my family. I am going to fish the Spice Girls out of the bin. I am not ready to part with them yet. Who knows, a future grand daughter might love them again!

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This is a tea set given to me by my paternal grandmother – most is broken; this is all that survives. It sits on a doily embroidered by my mother.

 

[1] new to me from a local op shop – someone’s cast off gift no doubt – NWT’s. NWT = New with tags

The changing soundtrack of my life

My ex was a musician. Not professional and certainly not full time, he was in a few pub bands doing OzRock covers. He played drums and guitar, wrote songs and we would sit around and sing. I enjoyed being the musician’s wife and lugging drums and the vicarious fame. When a little chickkybabe in the crowd once asked me if I knew the drummer’s phone number I laughed and said “Yeah sure, it’s the same as mine!”

My one and only public singing performance at a school concert
Teachers band at the the school concert. The one and only time I have sung in public. Image by David Croft

 

The music was a happy place. We had a vast record/CD collection. Our house was never silent with some form of music either being played or performed.

We went to lots of concerts, Elton John (twice), Bruce Springsteen (x3), Cold Chisel (at least 3 times if not more), Steely Dan, Dire Straits (x2) Mark Knoffler, Bowie (x2). The Eagles (x2) to name a few. We went to see Bob Dylan when my daughter was just 6 weeks old. We had a few hours on a “pass out” and had to co-ordinate everything between feeds including an hour drive there and back. I slept right through it! Bliss for a new mum!

Snowy Mountains Country Music Festival

The only day I jigged school was in Year 11 when we went to Rockarena, one of the first of the all day music festivals at the Sydney Showground back in November, 1977. I still remember the sun setting as Santana played Black Magic Woman – it was magic. They, along with Japan, Kevin Borich Express, and the Little River Band were back up for headliners, Fleetwood Mac.

One of the first items we purchased for our home after we got married in 1984 was a CD player with a remote! Imagine that! It was around $900 and the most expensive thing we owned. We progressed to a surround sound Bose system with the subwoofer under the lounge and the little speakers mounted on the ceiling 25 years later.

Illawarra Folk Festival
From the Illawarra Folk Festival

When we split, he took the physical artefacts of the music. I had already copied what I thought I wanted to my iTunes account. I had the music, the problem was it wasn’t my music. It was his. Every time I played something it would bring back memories of him. I needed to find my own playlist. My own music that didn’t come with memories.

Ruby Boots - Illawarra Folk Festival
Ruby Boots

In the raw days of the wine and wedges phase (see my previous post) I had a list I called “single girl anthems” which consisted tunes like Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough”; Dixie Chicks – “Not Ready to Make Nice” and a favourite “If I could turn back time” by Cher. You know, the one where she wore the gown-less evening strap on the battleship.

I would crank it up on my little iphone dock and belt out the songs in my finest style. It was a combination of angry, strident songs of independence and weepy wailers. By the end of the 2 hours and 32 minutes (if I made it till the end) I would be either crying or punching the air depending on how it got shuffled.

But still it was mostly stuff we had had in the “ours” collection.

After giving it some thought and analyzing my favourite tunes, I came to the shocking conclusion that I liked country rock. Shocking because this was a genre essentially ignored and at times even vilified by my ex.

I borrowed CDs when I could and added Johnny Cash and downloaded the likes of Morgan Evans to the collection. OMG I even bookmarked all of Keith Urban’s anthology on Spotify. Now I sing and dance along to Kasey Chambers or Catherine Brit while I am cooking and on road trips Busby Marou and John Mayer keep me company. I have since moved on and I have expanded into other genres enjoying some new talent like Fanny Lumsden, The Audreys and Aoife O’Donovan.

Now that I am more settled and confident and “have my shit together” I have been able to return to my old favourites without the tears and regrets. The memories are still there but I have come to terms with them and they have a different edge. No longer so sharp or harsh, they are like glass that’s been washed up on the beach. The edges have been polished and worn by time and I can hold them in my hand without them hurting.

While my guitar gently weeps....