Heavy with history

Reading Nozick © Samantha Groenestyn

Sometimes it feels good to clear out a bunch of old things—it’s refreshing to remove the weight of things that hang on you, and which you must carry around with you. I’ve been culling my collection of earthly possessions which, while not especially extravagant, seems to consist in a lot of things I don’t want (old paperwork, anyone?). Sometimes, though, those things are imbued with so much history that it’s hard to let them go.

Winter sunrise, Brisbane–biking to work at 6am

I sometimes speculate whether this is a function of having little money. The value of each item, when finally attained, is vastly inflated. Old, stretching clothes don’t seem like they are at the end of their useful lives. Dresses from the markets that I lusted over for weeks and finally bought though they never quite fit. Old, broken jewellery of my mum’s from the eighties. Then there are the cherished things that I have made. The first skirt I sewed, and the many dresses since, faded from ceaseless wear, or in an impossibly beautiful shade of green.

J hates missing out on a good sunrise, especially from the bridge.

I’m going to part with them, because they are old and heavy with history, and in spite of that. When I visited the national museum in Denmark, I spent a whole day tracing the chronology of Danish history, and at the end I sat down, exhausted at the heaviness we human beings create and leave behind us. The world is riddled with our artefacts, and they collect dust and smell musty and leave historic dirt on our hands. Yes, they mean something, but they also mean nothing. And when I remember the things already parted with—impossibly green knit shirts stretched out of shape, and carefully constructed homemade skirts with diamond panels in retro fabric—I feel a fondness but not a sadness. Those things had their day, and I loved them dearly while I used them, and I used them until they were beyond use.

Playing in the fog

It’s good to remember that even the most precious things are still things, and whether they live on in someone else’s possession, like my treasured old rustbucket car, or meet their end, our lives are still rich and our histories remain in our memories.

I was reading Reading Nozick in Edinburgh, and am now reading my own secondhand copy of Anarchy, State and Utopia. In the painting I’m wearing a treasured $5 skirt which flounced over woollen tights in Edinburgh winter, and brushed my bare legs in Italian summer, and visited Einstein’s birthplace of Ulm, and never came home. Which is to say nothing of my green army seconds satchel that saw me through my entire university career before meeting its demise!

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Homeless

Homeless © Samantha Groenestyn

I was homeless last year for several months. I didn’t loll in the gutter with a brown paper bag. I lived a rather more surprising life of ‘secondary homelessness,’ in which I remained employed full time on a good salary, wore beautiful European clothes (collected on a backpacking jaunt) and drove this fabulous and somewhat sporty family-sized beast of a six-cylinder (sunshine yellow) car. In fact, this car was one of the few stable things in my life and for this reason I wanted to commemorate it in this little painting. I felt like my whole being consisted in these four wheels. I was backpacking in my own country, one bag of clothes in my boot, going to wine bars on school nights, learning French on the run and pissing off on weekends to Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Melbourne, anywhere.

I’m extremely grateful to the friends who took me in, despite our brief period of acquaintance, I having only just moved to Canberra. I cobbled together a more or less stable existence staying with an extremely hospitable couple for two months, sharing food, histories, movies, dreams and memories. It must have been a mutually beneficial symbiosis, because on parting they fed us a ‘memory dinner’—a veritable Nepali feast, all the courses, sides and sauces. The remaining weeks I zipped from one end of town to the other, sleeping on an assortment of banana lounges, inflatable mattresses and piles of doonas and towels, dutifully rising each morning and slipping off to work as the sun rose as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

I may be biased when I judge Canberra an inhospitable pothole, a blight on this sunburnt country that has the gall to badge itself the capital. My faith in some people (and in my judgement of character) might have wavered, but my faith in others multiplied. My brief interlope in Canberra taught me to throw yourself in, to ask for what you need, give all you’ve got, and high tail out when it’s not working. So long, Canberra. May we never meet again.

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Farewell

I sold my car.  I am parted—permanently—from something cherished, from something that had grown to be a part of me, a mechanical appendage, something that really felt all mine.  There is an empty pit where it used to be.

Loss is not for youth.  Acquisition and the requisite excitement are for youth.  When I bought my car, I was a jittering teenager, clapping and skipping, grinning widely at the old man who sold it to me.  He gravely signed the papers, gave it one last pat, and watched it make for its new home.  He remembered buying it, remembered sitting in it for the first time after acquiring it, remembered Saturday mornings washing it, remembered taping bits of it back together post-kangaroo and post-garage door encounters, remembered adventures lasting days growling down endless dusty highways, with flat tyres and sticky speedo and faltering electrics.

Now I am that old man, and I have exchanged my rough, rusty sidekick for a wad of fifties.  I have handed over the keys—clasped by St Christopher—as they were handed to me.  I have seen things and done things, tasted my first freedoms, but find myself on the other side, lonelier and more subdued.  I suppose this makes me older and wiser, a car-selling sage, who knows that loss follows gain, that parting is as integral to life as exhaling after drawing breath.  Like learning to own something for the first time, I am learning its mirror.  I am back where I started, but I have a secret bundle of learnings and memories tucked away.  I will hold them tight on the old man’s side.

But I saw the spark in the young man’s eye when it roved across the dulled, striped frame.  ‘It’s beautiful,’ he said, and I knew he meant it as much as I did.  ‘Car drove wonderfully and was great on fuel,’ his text gushed, and I knew his words were true.

Where I can give no more, more can now be given.  My car gets on without me, but most importantly, it gets on.

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“To the girl with the bougainvilleas”

I was crossing the Green bridge from UQ on Thursday when I saw this piece of paper taped to the hand-rail. It was a note.

Yep, I’ve definitely been there – walking that fine line between sweet and creepy. It’s a pity this Romeo didn’t leave any of his own details – that kind of renders the note redundant. Perhaps the author was not as concerned with getting the girl as with being self-absorbed in his own romantic tragedy?

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