little pieces

When I was small, my father went through a shameless country music phase, and as a result, so did I. Now an adult, I sometimes like to listen to those songs, permitting myself an occasional and clandestine appointment with my past. Somehow those melodies with which I was inadvertently raised can call to life the moments enjoyed by my younger self, and I’m warmed by how brightly my family burned before our fire went out.

Those songs muster images of my mother standing in a faded sundress beside an old brick barbeque in the back yard, separating a string of sausages with a blunt butter knife and tossing them onto the hot plate. My father moves between the kitchen and the picnic bench for utensils and margarine, setting the screen door banging. They laugh with one another. The air is filled with the smell of sizzling fat and flowering jasmine, and my siblings and I circle the crooked drive on dinkies, while John Williamson blasts through open windows, filtering through the fence and into the midsummer streets of suburbia.

It was within these moments that my smaller self learned what family looks like, what happiness sounds like, what togetherness feels like. But that music stopped playing when this accidental thing my parents made was broken. In the years that followed, now and again on balmy evenings my father would play his country tunes, and the older versions of our selves would cook a meal outside. But the mood was different; in our own ways we all knew where those songs belonged.

Once something breaks, it will eventually begin to crumble. Yesterday I learned that recently, my mother remarried. I stumbled upon the photographs on the internet, and saw her standing beside a man I’ve never met, voicing a new vow. It’s true she’s not the woman from my past, but her eyes, the first to ever lock with mine, remain the same. And with her in the pictures is my sister; one who used to be mistaken for my twin and who now believes these things are not for me to know. For a reason I cannot understand, she chooses to deny the inextricable link we all share and which like it or not, cannot be severed. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and refuse the sting of a mother who wanted something else and a sister who could not bear to be left behind.

Turning up the music I revisit the times before the cracks and the crumbling. Back when we were pieces that belonged together, and who were willing to share a route around warm concrete in the evenings of our childhood. Listen, sister. Remember.

 

 

the benefits of quitting

When we were kids we delivered junk mail twice weekly; dad figured it would be an ideal way to foster in us those wholesome qualities parents want for their children; a healthy work ethic, a sense of responsibility and so on. Lured by the prospect of having a couple of bucks to spend at the school canteen, my siblings and I willing consented, however by the time the novelty had worn off, the pamphlet run had established itself as an integral part of our weekly routine. In no time, catalogue distribution had simply become something we did. No exceptions. In hindsight, I suppose distributing advertising material did teach us accountability, though more significantly, we quickly learned the fundamental rules of survival; how to dodge a well aimed rock, for instance. The strength that lies in numbers. To never take the precious hour of twilight for granted. Needless to say, being the neighbourhood catalogue kids was tough.

Unsurprisingly, to varying degrees we resented the pamphlets, and as the years progressed, my sisters and brother slowly resigned, trading rubber bands and ink stained finger tips for the bright lights and heady delights of the hospitality industry. But although I’d harped on with the best of them, enraged at having my weekends interrupted by an ever growing mountain of advertising material, I found it difficult to give the job away. So while I accepted a position at the local fast food restaurant, commenced a full time university degree and willingly agreed to a regular babysitting commitment, I was hesitant to throw in the pamphlets; I didn’t want to let anyone down. Besides, at some point over the years I’d acquired an unhealthy degree of satisfaction from the speed and precision through which I could fill a street of letterboxes with my quota of commercial garbage. After a decade’s service there was no obstacle that could break my stride. My efficiency was without equal. I pumped out that junk like nobody’s business.

Despite how much it irritated me, throughout my youth and into adulthood, I excelled at keeping busy. It’s not that I enjoyed the constant demands imposed by my numerous obligations. In fact, my tendency to continue with something despite my disinterest and discontentment was a source of constant inner turmoil. But my reluctance to disappoint and my belief that quitting was a brand of failure had me resigning my autonomy and accepting a fate for which I felt I had no control. Time and time again.

When I decided last year that I needed to walk away from my life and begin anew, I had reached breaking point. I was terribly unhappy. I felt betrayed by a society that encourages us to embrace uniformity and behave conservatively. I was terrified of challenging the status quo; I was afraid I would fail. After identifying these feelings, I saw only one solution; quit it all, so that I might finally experience the liberty of standing on a shaky limb and leaping off.

Unfortunately, rather than approaching the experience with the grace and poise implied by the afore mentioned imagery, the reality has seen me dangling shamefully from the spindly branch, willing my raw fingers to loosen their grip so that I might begin the bumpy descent. It’s been more than a little scary.

I’ve quickly come to realise that behaving unconventionally is hard. It’s also virtually synonymous with being utterly broke. In my old life I had a job which provided a reliable source of income, savings that offered constant security and the assurance that I could make the rent and pay the bills each fortnight. It’s true that I was often miserable, but no matter how bad things became, I knew I could always pep myself up with life’s little luxuries; eating out, frequenting the cinema, purchasing pretty things. Those days are officially over.

This week saw me sitting for a little over two hours at the local Centrelink office, where I successfully registered for a fortnightly allowance. While I waited, an inner dialogue ensued in which I attempted to persuade myself it’s all about perspective; a lack of personal income is all part of the adventure, a sort of levelling exercise. The sceptic in me was unconvinced. It’s true I’d come armed with a book to keep me occupied through what I’d predicted would be an arduous wait, but if I’m honest, was it really my way of informing the room that I was above all this? After all, I wasn’t your standard dole bludger; I was the intellectual variety.

The changes are certainly radical when you exchange your conventional lifestyle for a spendable income of around ten dollars a day. Once you’ve covered the weekly groceries, you’ve about thirty bucks with which to play. This week I spent the majority of that on a second hand arm chair and a little adaptor that lets you plug your modem into the old style telecom phone socket.

Yet in spite of my new found relative poverty, I’m strangely content. I may not have money, but I have a library card, a cupboard full of Mi Goreng noodles and the wondrous internet; I think I’m going to be okay. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a simple life can be both cheap and very rich.

From the vantage point of my spindly branch, I’m grappling with a new truth. Perhaps bailing doesn’t have to be the indicator of failure that I’ve always believed. I’m beginning to sense that quitting may have its benefits; not all of which require a two hour stint in a Centrelink waiting room.

 

 

a note of nostalgia and no regrets

Quote

This time last year I’d spent my weekend colour coding timetables, drawing up seating plans and stocking up on stationary. Through necessity and remedy in equal measure, I was keeping myself busy.

Standing expectantly at the door to my classroom, I awaited my new allocation of bright eyed students. Somehow I’d managed to rally myself to a state of quiet optimism, and I couldn’t help but envision the brilliant things that could potentially unfold within our humble space throughout the coming year.

There’s something pretty special about those first few weeks back to school at the beginning of first term; everyone is so hopeful and willing. The atmosphere buzzes with anticipation. Teachers and students alike allow themselves to get lost in that romantic notion of the possibility of the clean slate; something which lasts at least until that first fresh sheet is tainted with the clumsy scrawl of reality. At the beginning of a new year, the past has become a distant misdemeanour, easily forgiven. The kids exhibit an innate thirst for knowledge and discovery, and you’re blessed with a glimpse of what things could be like, were it not for a backward pedalling education system, intent on extinguishing their spark with watery, outdated doctrines.

As always, my hope was to extend those first week feelings at least until midterm. By then I would have to name a new source of motivation. After all, it wasn’t just the kids who grew quickly downhearted by the sheer multitude and rigidity of uninspiring syllabus requirements; I was busy convincing myself it was all worthwhile.

The truth is that this time last year, I’d spent my holidays battling with what had become an almost constant internal dilemma; what am I doing with my life? The prospect of returning to school for yet another tired year had left me feeling helplessly despondent. During that extended break I had considered throwing it all in and moving away. I’d even applied and attended an interview with RMIT University with the intention of commencing my masters in Journalism. I piked at the last minute. It didn’t feel natural to be abandoning four years of training and as many again spent dedicated to a profession. Besides, five weeks had been almost long enough for the truth to lose definition. Vague recollections of the idealistic notions and fanciful fictions that had attracted me to teaching in the first place had ebbed back into my mind, easing my doubts. When the hour eventually arrived to return to school, the past had been purged. Like the students, I’d tricked myself into thinking I wanted to be there.

However by the time the first influx of kids filed in and I began my usual welcoming spiel, the morning’s taste of bureaucracy had already turned my visions sour, and I was secretly consoling myself with the promise that this would be my last year. In 2012 I would get brave and try something different, no matter the cost.

And so here I am. The new chapter has begun and so has my chance at a fresh start. In the spirit of new years, I am eager and hopeful. This time, no amount of red tape will stifle my optimism.

Despite an undercurrent of discontentment, I’m glad I held on at school for that final twelve months. As well as injecting me with courage, the time I spent in classroom 1.11 offered countless memorable moments. One of the many benefits of being a teacher is that you’re privileged to share in the lives of many stunning individuals, occasionally impacting positively upon them. Fortunately it works both ways; a teacher with an open heart and mind learns so much more from their many pupils than they could possibly hope to impart. So thanks, guys; you know who you are.

I’m proud of myself for exhibiting the bravery necessary to quit everything and begin something new, whatever it turns out to be. I think of the new school year commencing and get a bit nostalgic, but the teacher within me, who doubtlessly will never be quieted, suggests I turn to Frost, and I’m somehow encouraged by his words, regardless of the ambiguity of the text therein.

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less travelled by,

and that has made all the difference.