Siren Songs

Image: zen Sutherland.
Image: zen Sutherland.

I live about a block and a half from a fire station. Because we’re on a relatively busy road (not the main drag, but a street many people take to avoid it), we also get a lot of other emergency vehicles going past on the way to events elsewhere in the Inner North.

The sirens are nowhere near constant, but they aren’t entirely irregular either. They don’t wake me up when they go off at night, and they’re almost always still novel, and kind of reassuring, even after living in this house for almost 2 years. I don’t know any people who drive them, and I can’t quite tell which sound belongs to which vehicle from which service (although I am getting better at picking it). Yet strangely, they feel like home now.

Where I am currently living is as close to city living as I have ever been. I’m about to get even closer, moving into a flat closer to the CBD and the main thoroughfare in a matter of weeks.

As time ticks away to my move, I begin to wonder: am I a city person now?

I don’t think I am. I still crave being able to look up and see the stars without the glare of millions of streetlights. I still find comfort in the green paddocks that separate Canberra’s haphazard patchwork of suburbs, and I don’t mind that the middle of town doesn’t seem to have any buildings higher than about ten storeys.

But then I hear the sirens. I hear the rumbling of cars going down the avenue out the front of my house. I see the planes humming as they come into the airport. I hear the fireworks from the lake. I wander the streets and find little nooks and alleyways I hadn’t noticed before. I hear my heels clop on Civic’s tiles; I feel the cobblestones of Manuka’s back streets through the thin soles of my flats. I wander into familiar pubs and don’t see a single face I know beyond the bar staff. I taste new things. I hear new things. I read and talk and find places to hide from those whose opinions I find distasteful. I find new people when I cannot find a place to hide. I have discovered so much here, and I have found so much of myself in its grey and in its colour.

But Canberra is a safe city. Its enclaves and cliques, once infiltrated, are warm and comfortable and safe. I want to foster what I have here, but I don’t want to put down roots.

Not yet.

I want to hear more sirens. I want to hear the way the police come to your aid in other countries, the sound of panic in so many languages. I want to listen to hear if the sound of car wheels on asphalt is different in other climates, on different kinds of road.

When I go Home to visit my family, I notice the silence left by the lack of sirens. I wasn’t in this house when my parents lived on acreage, so I can’t compare that silence with the quiet they still have now they live in town. There, the only real noise is the screaming matches the neighbours engage in on a semi-regular basis, but even that can be blocked out with their fancy new roller shutters. It seems strange to be locked in by an invention made for the city in a town of just over 30,000 people.

The quiet of Home doesn’t help me sleep. I miss the drone of occasional traffic. The silence unnerves me now. It reminds me of how I want to run. It makes me want to run back to my City With The Man-Made Lake.

But I’m here now. So why am I thinking of running again, but to somewhere even grander?

I wonder if a bigger city would lull me into the land of slumber better than where I am now. More trains, more cars, more planes, more sirens. Would it be my lullaby, or the soundtrack to newfound insomnia?

I wonder when I’ll find out. I wonder how long I’ll live with it.

I know I will come back here eventually. Back to where the occasional sirens mark my safety. I will always come back to this city I have come to love.

But right now I want to chase the engine to the fire, so that I can throw my soul in and send it flying with the embers, up into the night.

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In Which She Has The Confrontation Before It Happens

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The following is a letter to an unknown subject, and a conversation that is yet to happen.

*****

Why do you keep doing it? Why do you have to share all our secrets with the internet?

I don’t have a satisfactory answer for him/her/them, but I don’t have a satisfactory mind for fiction at the moment, either. All I have right now are memories. So many of them are ripe for retelling, reworking and reinterpreting. There is nobody else living in my head right now, so I only have my own stories to fall back on.

You don’t have to tell everyone everything. You don’t have to write something every day.

Oh, on the contrary. I’ve let myself lie idle for far too long. I need to practice everyday if I can. I need to experiment with form and the way I think about stories, and oil the cogs so they can start turning more easily, all so I can get back to trying to tell the stories pulled from the lives of other characters, rather than being stuck in my own musings.

I don’t need to publish, certainly. But I do need feedback. I need criticism. I need advice and guidance. I’m not going to get that by keeping it all to myself, or by keeping it to those who think I’m already doing well.

Strangely, it’s a lot less confronting throwing it into the online ether than finding a one-on-one mentor. That said, I probably need one of those more than anything else. Until I find one and the courage to ask them, I will simply continue to practice in the public space. I am sure it will open more doors than it closes.

I don’t want to get caught in truncated, unstructured, rambling memoirs, but that’s where I am and I’m running with it. You work with what you’ve got, and these memories are what I have.

Can’t you write non-fiction about other things? You could write about politics, or famous people, or music! You’ve done it before. Why does it have to be about us/your family/your friends/yourself?

I will, and soon. But those things take time, research, resources, passion, and more. Again, my supplies are limited, but I’m trekking towards solutions for most of them. Baby steps, baby. Itty bitty baby steps.

And anyway, nobody even knows it’s you. Nobody knows how many lies are interwoven with my truth. You gave me these moments and I gave you fair warning that they would visit us again from time to time. And here they are.

I know that some will hurt, but maybe some will heal. Perhaps there will be a new peace now that it’s all been pulled apart and laid out like bike parts on the pavement. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe I will.

Don’t worry, baby. Don’t let it cloud your thoughts. Let it darken your opinion of me, if that’s what you want, but don’t fret about the marks on your screen. Nobody is paying attention.

Through it all, remember this: it’s just a phase. It will pass and soon I won’t need you to fuel my musings any more. There’s a box of letters under my bed, and that is where I’ll put you, along with all those other wonders, and once you’re there I promise I’ll never share you with strangers again.