This one’s a stream of consciousness (of sorts) which occurred as I packed up my bedroom recently. The activity pushed me to think about homes, family, stories online, and finally workplace implications of the latter. Stick with me!
Things which are important when packing up your house:
- cardboard boxes; and
- permanent markers.
They’re mundane, common objects; but good luck moving house without them.
I could smell the ink of the marker as I scribbled “Claire’s Room” on another cardboard box. I had to cross out other people’s names, and words like “china” and “bathroom”, because for some reason it’s important that my name stands out the most.
Home has been an interesting concept since my parents separated. I was living on campus at the time. Campus living isn’t home because it’s so temporary. I went there with the full understanding I would be back under the same roof as my parents in November. It was never permanent, never secure. It was an amazing experience; fun, social and empowering, but never a home in my sense of the word. By the time my contract ended, my parents were living in separate houses.
My Dad had stayed in the family home, the quaint little farm cottage on our property that I’ve loved like no other. It stopped being home, though, when everything happened. It just started to look cold even on warm days, and its corners became sharp. I’d never noticed those things before. The fireplace, which used to be the centre of the house and a node of comfort and warmth, became angry. It would shake and roar. Maybe we had made it anxious too; during that last year especially, it stopped being a friend.
Mum and my sister had moved into a small villa much closer to town. I think Mum liked having neighbours really close after being so isolated on the farm for so long. That’s the one perk of a separation of our variety; people help you find a place to live. During the last month of my contract at Kooloobong Village, I was travelling between the three houses and it was horrible.
“Home; the place where one lives permanently”
My car was more of a home to me for a while than any house. I didn’t sleep in it or anything that extreme. I just spent a lot of time in it, travelling from place to place. It was my home because anything that was important to me lived there; travelling between three places was both physically and emotionally exhausting. It was a period of unrest. Perhaps I could describe it as made up of wonky triangles. Really shaky foundations. Poetry that doesn’t rhyme or make sense grammatically, but possesses an eerie rhythm when you read it aloud. Fine on the surface but uncomfortable underneath. All of my journals lived in the boot of my car. I couldn’t leave any of them behind. Whether I was at mum’s, dad’s, my friend’s house, work or my room in Wollongong, it gave me an odd sense of security to have them close to me.
We’re really only moving a few streets away. This shouldn’t feel like a big deal. But it does.
Each member of my family (whom I live with) sits in a different room right now, packing objects away one by one. I wonder if they reminisce when they do this, as I do?
I don’t like too many things everywhere; I’ve always found it easy to cull my belongings every so often. The exception to this is books. I haven’t let go of any books I’ve collected since I was about sixteen and I never plan to (when I’ve collected enough I’m going to build the Pinterest library of my dreams. That’s literally the only goal I have set in stone).
In saying that, it’s difficult for loose items I’ve culled to actually leave the house. The reason for this is that the stealthy magpie who lives in my house (sometimes known as my 10-year-old sister) still hasn’t figured out I’m not as cool as she seems to think, and every last faded jumper or weird trinket somebody bought me for Christmas that I pile together to take to a charity box ends up in her bedroom. She’s just gotta have whatever is (or was) mine.
I have one shoebox of meaningful things; letters, cards, dried flowers, small keepsakes. The letters my best friend wrote to me, the dried rose with blunt thorns given to me on a first date (it was alive at the time) and other special bits and pieces live there. There’s a sinister elegance in looking back at physical artifacts which, at some point in my life, I’ve decided were important enough to keep.
Whilst looking through my memory box I came to the conclusion that I’m a pretty private person. I have a duffel bag and an entire shelf of notebooks I’ve written in, privately. My most prized possessions live in a little shoebox at the back of my cupboard. I trust a handful of people (my palms are small) with my secrets. And yet I blog the same way I write on paper; the end result being that complete strangers are beginning to see stories which until now only lived in my notebooks.
I decided in the spur of the moment that writing The Antagonist was a Good Man was a good idea. I wrote it, jumped straight in the shower and panicked. Rinsing my hair under the too-hot water, I resolved immediately to delete it. I went straight to my computer. I had a Twitter inbox message from a person who told me I’d impacted their life with my blog post, and who thanked me for writing it. So it stayed. I left it there for a few weeks with trepidation. And now I’m writing this, even though the idea of public writing makes me kind of uncomfortable, but oddly empowered. There’s always going to be a ‘but’ with public writing; no matter which angle I emphasise.
Writing in Public: Workplace Implications
A decision in a moment is made up of every single experience we have had up to that point in time. That’s what I have learned in BCM311 this week. A story written on a blog post is much the same; this gives public writing an authenticity. This week’s focus question was what would an employer think if he/she saw this? Is my blog content going to affect my hiring in the future?
I first came across domestic violence-related stigma last semester in one of my classes. During a discussion, a tutor went off on a tangent and spoke about how alcoholism and violence are passed from father to son; parent to child. He was so damn certain that if a child is exposed to an alcohol-fuelled, violent environment, it will be replicated. That’s just the way it is. Could a potential employer think the same way? Of course. I haven’t recovered from that. I wanted to stand up from my chair and scream at him, that’s not true! But I didn’t. I just sat there, counting the minutes till I could leave and find a quiet corner in which to sit and think. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about this kind of thing because, having seen the damage alcohol can inflict upon a family, I would just never do that. But now I’m freaking terrified of myself. I’m not going to blame everything on him; I’m sure these thoughts were in my head already but I’d never unburied them. What am I going to become? What kind of adult, mother will I be? How will I be in a relationship? Will I hurt people too? I don’t plan to, but neither did my Dad. Neither do most people.
Just this week I heard a story; a friend of a friend had to phone the police on her husband who’d been abusing her. The policeman she dealt with was beyond kind. He told her he’d grown up in a domestic violence household. He took every possible measure and spared no resources to keep her and her children safe. He said his childhood still affects him now, as a grown adult. But he’s taken it in his stride and made a career out of helping others with similar experience. I have so much respect for this man, whom I have never met, and for countless others I am sure are just like him.
It works both ways and I try really hard to be the latter. Generalisations can be harmful.
Maybe an employer would be right to read through my blogs and decide I’m too much of a risk, too much trouble. That’s up to them. If they’re anything like that tutor who was out of line last semester, there is no way I’d want to be in a workplace with them. Ever. Their loss. But . . . maybe my past is something an employer should know of; there are so many days it still affects me. So often I stumble into class or work on hardly any sleep, or having cried the whole way in my car. Some days I cannot even focus on my lessons; I just zone out completely and write what’s in my head on paper or on my laptop. Lucky I’m the ‘quiet kid’ who rarely speaks anyway; I can do this somewhat unnoticed. Of course, it makes me less productive in class. The workplace is going to be the same game, right?
Writing in public is dangerous, but it is also authentic. Let’s broaden this conversation to mental health issues in general. One in three adults will experience some sort of mental health challenge in their lifetime. This isn’t something that you advertise on your resume. I tend to keep it to myself (yes, I know the whole blog thing is ironic . . . ). It’s hardly a water-cooler conversation. What happens when these stories are shared online? They become available to the people who decide whether to hire us, promote us, fire us. I’m going to propose that how this information is used is on the onus of those individuals. If my story makes me a bad fit for you, pass me along. No hard feelings.
As I throw my belongings in cardboard boxes at random, these questions circle my mind. Staring around an almost-empty room that was never mine and seeing my belongings in reused cardboard boxes of various sizes really puts things like stories into perspective – because cardboard boxes are stories. They carry objects from place to place; maybe they’ve been interstate or even overseas. Maybe they’ve carried photo albums, family heirlooms, somebody else’s journals. Cardboard boxes are like journals, actually, you just can’t physically see all of their stories. Just like people (unless they blog).
This will be it, Mum told me. This house is where she will stay. Words like it have no meaning for me anymore. Our farmhouse was supposed to be it. It’s what Mum and Dad both worked so hard for; the forever home for all of us. But it wasn’t. We’ll see if this one is. It isn’t a milestone. It’s a fragile promise.