I’ve sold so much stuff, thrown out or recycled loads more. I have three near-empty rooms here waiting for items to be collected and then the rooms will be cleaned. I feel a bit like those three rooms: old purpose gone, most contents removed, repainted but not yet quite time for the new to come in and fill with emergent lifeways. People keep asking if I’m excited and it’s hard to keep saying No. It’s not that I’m not excited, it’s just that I’m still emptying, still making space. Still ending not yet beginning, echoing but not empty.
Soundtrack: This Land is Mine
Paul Kelly & Kev Carmody, 2001
This post has been a while in the writing, it’s been in my head, in the soil, it simply couldn’t seem to find my keyboard. It’s four months since I visited Chicago and it’s less than 3 weeks until I leave Brisbane. Everything’s been going smoothly with my relocation organisation. I keep thinking that if I believed in fate or deities I would be declaring that this was meant to be. But being me I’m just incredulously crediting the harmonies of string theory alignment and while I’m emotionally befuddled I’m taking the good while it lasts.
I’ve been listening to Ana Tsing on YouT talks and the audiobook of her book The Mushroom at the End of the World. Her work resonates, I certainly feel tangled, muddled and interrupted! The book’s not actually about the end of the world as we know it, more about the End of the Idea of the World as progress promised it would be. It’s more about finding meaning and value when the world didn’t work out the way everyone told you it would naturally evolve. It’s about the end of believing in enlightenment notions of linear ordered progress and evolutionary certainty. It’s about realising that things that don’t belong together are together, sometimes contaminating each other and creating diverse and unexpected muddles, sometimes just being. Things that don’t belong together are both apart and together, Chicago and Brisbane, distinct yet interdependent, muddled in me.
Last week I had to go to Melbourne. A long planned trip to drive down some boxes for garaging. Eighteen hours drive time each way. Then suddenly the trip encompassed a tragic loss and funeral, tears. The ending of a life and unlived dreams that belief had somehow promised yet reality had stolen away. For me the timing was painfully exquisite: terrifyingly synergistic as instead of linearly storing for posterity I was part of a maelstrom of letting go, of endings and uncertain futures. There are reasons why fairy tales end without describing the promised but deluded happily ever after. Reasons of muddled fragments, patchworks of things that don’t belong together but are together: oppositions, messy twists, muddled emotions, unexpected tragedy and joy. Joy at unexpected reunions with beloved family, incommensurate with but utterly a part of anguish and grief and loss. Inseparable.
The drive itself didn’t really seem to belong in one linear journey either, at every stage my navigator seemed committed to taking me through torturous mixed up routes. Routes that diverged and paralleled main roads, taking me through side ways green and lush, where hungry cows relished the green verges. Some other routes determinedly directed me down cramped old inner-city industrial back-ways, roads I’d travelled often thirty or more years ago and not seen since. Smaller now, grimey. A different industrial to the industry of cows and sheep and grain. Mixed up tangled routes that had nothing more in common than that my navigator had inexplicably directed me that way, and I had inexplicably followed. Different but the same I drove through both in both times. I felt strangely, temporally violated and completed.
This land is mine, yeah I signed on the dotted line…
This land is me, from generations past to infinity…
People keep asking me what I’ll do, where I’ll go after graduate study and then seem befuddled when I, befuddled by their question, say that I have no idea. I recall tangentially that a muddler is a kind of pestle for bruising and mixing different ingredients into cocktails: to the trembling strawberry it’s a phallic wooden baton for violent smashing and disordering.
They won’t take it away
Even though I’m home now I still feel mixed up. Mixed up like the country I drove through. Hundreds of kilometres, drought stricken, dead. So much death. Dead kangaroos by the side of the road. Dead sheep in fields. Dead dry paddocks where the only living thing was the stone, the only movement the dust. Tragic loss erupted in tears as I passed a convoy of trucks, farmer families paused on their drive north, their mission of hope bringing bales of feed to drought stricken farmers and starving stock. I think about the recipients of that feed, powerless to make it rain, watching stock die. Hopeless. To place hope in rain and green paddocks is a cruel and futile delusion. Is hope contingent? Did the fairy tales lie? Is it too simplistic or even grossly egotistical to muse that when we gaze skyward in longing for progress’s happily ever after we miss entangled outbreaks of a longed for redemption borne in the small gifts of human resilience? That would be as cruel as attributing heart-break to some deity’s capricious plan.
What this picture doesn’t show is the farmer who, as I pulled over, was dragging dead sheep into a pile by that fallen tree over the fence line. Presumably he’ll burn them later. Heartbroken or resigned? How could he be glad that redemption in the form of a convoy of hay was on its way?
This land is mine all the way to the old fence line
Every break of day I’m working hard just to make it pay
Despite the coming hay, there was so much mourning on that road: incommensurable contrast. Unethical contrast. I sped down through patchworks of stony grief, occasional dry burnt forest and then offensively lush irrigated green. I drove back up through the irrigation belt in the dark, I couldn’t bare to see it again all verdant with water bought and sprayed, a price more than dollars being paid by parched others downstream. Everything felt fragmented by death, tangled by roads littered with death: dead roos, dead sheep, dead loved-ones, dead dreams. I thought about the so-called dead heart of Australia.
I’ve discovered audiobooks and so I drove listening while Bruce Pascoe described a pre-invasion Australia that was far from dead, that lived and was life giving, tended for millennia by Indigenous Australians. Tended. Tended a verb with all the emotional layering of tender care, respect and custodianship. Today’s farmers too are tending their flocks, respecting the seasons, emotions and bodies aching with every dry acre.
Same, same, but different.
Tsing’s eruptions of incommensurability exploded as Pascoe described Bourke and Wills dying of starvation, exhaustion and dysentery in a land of plenty managed and farmed by Aboriginal Australians. Stories collected in saddlebags of hardship and endurance. Tales of eruptions, multiple crossed timelines, missed assemblages, sunburn, drought and flooding rain. The drover’s boy. Mourning and death, so much death surrounded, inculcated by seeds of unexpected, quiet hope. Indigenous hope, tended farmed hope. Hope not in timelines of progress or possession, but in resilient, creative timeless stewardship of what is treasured as most precious and dear. Hope when it’s not the time to speak of hope. But is it still called hope, that which allows you to grind out depths of endurance when there is no hope?
I realised why so many cultures see time as cyclical not linear: if you live with the land, with the seasons, then time is a cycle, the great cycle of life, living and dying, birth and death. We are all star dust. What enlightenment scholar decided that linear time and inevitable progress toward evolution of superior beings was such a grand way to see the world? What inconceivable side tracks of accidental beauty and quiet courage were trammelled by such a polarised and blinkered view. Can we be brave enough to leave behind the analgesic of it’s promised happily ever after?
For me at home tonight, grief and parting are contaminated by excitement. In linear progress terms the next two and a half weeks will fly and I’m afraid that I won’t get everything done. But that thinking will lead me to miss the precious moments of harmony in uncertainty. The bittersweet of parting. The joy of holding tight and refusing to let go. I’m truly muddled. I must stop and tremble under the muddler’s gaze. All is change, life is rupture and contamination and flux. Like my three rooms here, I too am cleared of a lot of accumulated stuff. I feel somehow simpler. Today te three rooms I’m moving into in Chicago are empty, waiting, soon to be contaminated by Australian stuff, tangled by video calls and chat and snail mail with all manner of corners of the world. It’s almost time for new lifeways to emerge. Almost.
This land is me
Rock, water, animal, tree
They are my song
My being’s here where I belong
This land owns me
From generations past to infinity
We’re all but woman and man
You only fear what you don’t understand
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away
They won’t take it away from me