All I Need

I am a creature comforted by things.

My house is a sea of clutter. Piles of papers riddled with old bills and university assignments. Shelves with dog-eared books and trinkets that have travelled the seven seas. Cupboards that don’t close from excess clothes and linen, some new and many pre-loved but all living with stories. Beds with a shoe shop renting the space underneath. Boxes and boxes filled with half-finished projects and dreams that I refuse to give up on.

These things make my heart beat faster, all strung together with loose threads of memories and bold acts of life that make it difficult to part with them.

I am attached to the memories they hold.

There’s a fear I have that letting go of them will mean letting go of the memories themselves; or worse, perhaps, letting go of a part of me, or a part of somewhere or someone else.

It’s an illogical fear, tangled up in the mess pile of things and memories.

Like the box that once lived up in my cupboard, tucked deep up the back, on the highest shelf, collecting dust on its once pristine, shimmery purple lid. Enclosed within, pain and love and a buried reminder of one of my used-up nine lives, the memories and things so couped up and stifled that any stirring of the lid made them lurch forward, stirring up a familiarity, a memory and a heartache that I couldn’t live without.

A wedding ring, engraved with names and dates. A silver love heart ring, a gift from the Motherland. A dried up bouquet of dead flowers. A garter. Cards from loved ones filled with well wishes for a forever life, together. Photos, old ones, ones that appeared on the surface to be filled with love. Baby items. Small notes. Ticket stubs. Love letters.

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These things told a story, my story. A story that I thought shaped me, broke me, tangled me, defined me. A box, things, stories and memories that I feared would erase a part of myself I had grown so painfully attached to, should I have chosen to let go of it all. For years I chose not to. I held onto that box. I picked at the scabs. I let the story be told over and over again, every time I opened the lid to see the stuff that lived there, still too blind to see that the story no longer served me, that it was actually no longer my story.

But on particularly murky day in February, I took out the ladder, climbed up to the top shelf and pulled down the box. In the ceremonious manner in which I had previously engaged with the box, I laid it down on the bed carefully, dusting off its lid and opening it with shaky hands.

I scattered the photos and cards across the bed, reading words that really no longer meant anything, staring at faces that I really no longer recognised. The bouquet of flowers looked deader and dustier.

I took the rings out and slid them across the fourth finger with the vein that led to my heart. The rings looked odd. The shape of my fingers and hands had changed. I had changed.

I looked at these pile of things, dull and aching and useless; they were memories, big memories of a life of once lived, but they drudged up a past that no longer fit my story. Before I could think too much, connect too much with that old part of me, or find new ways to make the story still mine, I took the rings, placed them in a small ziplock bag and put them in my handbag. I threw the flowers in the bin, emptied the photos from the box, keeping only a few for my son, and gently ripped up the cards. The box followed the flowers into the bin with any leftover memories they no longer served me.

I felt the immediate sting of its absence, the ripping of the bandaid, but I let myself grieve for the loss, for the letting go of expectations of how I thought life should have been. Something I had never fully addressed.

The following morning, I made my way to Cash Converters in Sunshine. A small Persian man with a warm face and intensely dark eyes was waiting for me at the selling counter. I took the rings from the ziplock bag and silently slid them across the counter.

“You wish to sell these?” He smiled.

I nodded.

He turned the silver rings in his fingers, multiple times. It made me nervous, like a robber trying to palm off items that didn’t belong to me. He stopped turning when he noticed the inscription on the inside of the bands. “Wedding rings? These names yours?”

I nodded again.

“Are you sure you want to sell these? You don’t get much for silver these days. They might be worth keeping?”

I shook my head.

He smiled at me politely, his eyes questioning, and took out his calculator and scales.

I watched as he weighed and calculated, disappeared into the backroom and then weighed and calculated once more before scribbling some figures on a paper and sliding it across the bench at me. “As I said, it’s not much,” he warned.

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$43.00 was scribbled across the page. These memories I had held onto for so long were worth forty-three dollars. I could feel the man watching me, waiting for me to change my mind. I fingered the rings one last time and slid them and the paper back across the bench, nodding.

The man handed me a pen. “I just need your signature here.”

I signed the paper and waited for the money.

The man placed it in my hand, holding it there for a moment. I avoided his eyes, but could not avoid his words: “It’s not always easy getting rid of these things.”

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I thanked him and left.

Five days later, I took the forty-three dollars of memories to a tattoo parlour where I had these words of Frida Kahlo inked on my thigh.

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Nothing is absolute. Everything does change.

When I got home, I realised that my house was full of things that no longer served me – letters from old lovers, baby clothes stored away for the next baby I’ll never have and photos of a life that was. These things were never absolute. Everything had changed.

I had all I needed inside of me, not in these things.

Two thousand and fourteen was a year for letting go the things that no longer served and trusting the change. And while I don’t yet have it all figured out, there’s one thing I did learn this year: like many other of life’s lessons, letting go doesn’t come when you ask it to, it comes when you’re ready.

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Not in My Name

Today I joined a strong sea of thirty thousand people in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD. Not only united by a lack of faith and confidence in our current government but also a desire for a better future for us all, and the generations to come.

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Many of us would have shared common issues with the acts and policies of our government, but what drove each of us thirty thousand to venture out and make a stand on this dreary Sunday would no doubt have been something that uniquely tore at our own moral fibre.

The issues are terrifyingly large.

There’s the continued mistreatment of our refugees and the barbaric conditions they are living in and the fiddling governance and unjust power play of private corporate bodies. That’s enough in itself, but still there’s more. Like the madness of a government who denies climate change, believes we have too many forests and that our beautiful reefs are actually better off dredged than pristine and unharmed. On the topic of madness, there’s the backward NBN that’s going to leave Australia behind, the signing away of our democratic right to protest and the outright attack on the ABC, one of the few media outlets who reports freely and is not controlled by the corporates. And let’s forget about the future of our children, because unless you can afford to send your child/ren to a private school or pay exorbitant fees for university, they’re pretty much fucked with all the cuts to education. Hell, we may as well forget about all of those people who can’t afford private systems, period, because our government is keen to pillage the Medicare system, screw the pension and wave their overly proud flag of ‘the end of the age of entitlement’. And equal rights, well they are on their way back to the fifties.

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This government drove thirty thousand people, all representing a diverse cross-section of Melbourne’s population, out of the comfort of their homes. (And that’s just the Melbourne march. Thousands more gathered in regional areas and capital cities across the weekend, all sharing the same lack of confidence.)  Standing underneath an uncertain sky with a strong sun occasionally venturing out from behind dark clouds, the weather seemed to mirror the sentiment. The voice of all these people, sporting placards and t-shirts, was loud and clear from behind the darkness that this government has brought. It was a peaceful march from the steps of the State Library to Parliament House and resting at Treasury Gardens. But the message was unwavering– we do not stand for it and this will not be done in our name. We hope they are listening.

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I realise there are many lessons to be learnt from bad government. And one of the biggest, I saw today. We are not separate people living an existence that does not affect others. We are all threaded together, for better or worse. Some of the decisions we make can and will affect other people, something we may not even be aware of. Like our government who are making decisions right this very second. These may not affect us immediately, but they will affect our children and their children and all the children to come. We must not be complacent about this. We must think beyond our own little bubbles because one day these too will pop.

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The other big lesson I saw today – how good it is to share our ideas with others, to be a part of something that together makes us stronger. Today, one person bleating away on a megaphone would have stopped nothing. But thirty thousand people stopped the whole city for two hours. Thirty thousand people let the world know that our government does not represent us. This is the very heart of community. Share what you are passionate about, stand up for it, talk to others about it and get others together to talk about it and be passionate. Don’t stand for something you don’t believe in just because the majority rules. I did not vote for this government or its policies, why should I stand for it? Why should I be okay with them messing up the place where my son has to grow up in? There is nothing worse than apathy and disempowerment. We may not be able to overturn the government but we can exercise our right to be heard. We can speak of what does or does not impassion us. We can stand up for others too, for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

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And a lesson that keeps resurfacing is – sometimes it takes something so bad to ignite action and wake us from a comatose state. Sometimes we need a government like this to really shine a light on the things that are important to us and the things we value about life. I saw that light today. After the dark periods pass, after we wake up, it’s almost impossible to go back to sleep.

I am grateful for this today, for observing and partaking.

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And today I hope that we at least taught our children something. We may be comparatively small, but still we can be heard. And I hope that the generations beneath us – like the children I teach – and my son’s generation coming up, will continue to stand up and be heard and that apathy will never be in their name.