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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Noni Did NZ: Putting It Down On Paper

IMG_0567 There’s been a common theme running through the last bunch of posts: my trip to Wellington back in June. This is the final entry in that series. You can find the rest here. Be prepared for a whole bunch of madness and joy, because even though it was just a week, it was everything a girl could wish for in a holiday.

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It’s become customary these days to document holidays in an entirely electronic fashion. Photos on Facebook and Instagram, running commentary on Twitter, post-adventure blogging… Apart from the occasional physical souvenir, usually in the form of something bought from a dodgy street stall or a purchase from an incredibly kitschy tourist shop, most of our memories are stored solely in the cloud and in our heads.

I’m usually even worse than this. I rarely take photos at the best of times. The vast majority of photos of me from the last five or so years are highly posed, highly self-censored selfies taken on my Macbook in moments of boredom, vanity or intoxication.

This is in part due to a longing to just experience life rather than constantly stopping to remind myself to document it; I prefer to do things without the filter of a lens. I very rarely ask for photos to be taken of me, so I often don’t have images to remind me of the people I’ve met or proof of the places I’ve been. Many times I have become great friends with a person over a number of years and marvellous times, only to never have a photo with them to remind us of just how brilliant we were. This makes me quite sad; I’d love to have something a little more concrete than just memories to look back on.

Other times, my reluctance or inability to remember to take a few shots comes from the fact that I have an uncanny ability to be absolutely terrible at taking photos that aren’t underwhelming, grainy, poorly framed piles of crap. A lack of practice means it’s simply not top of mind, and when it is, I’m so underwhelmed that I tend to not bother the next time.

When I was preparing for my trip to Wellington, I knew it would be the week of a lifetime. I didn’t want to leave anything unremembered. I’ve already had a taste of how fragile memories can be: a major seizure in 2012 left me with significant short and long term memory issues for the better part of a year; I forgot what had happened at the previous Christmas, and still struggle to recall a lot of things that should be treasured personal memories from that time.

The logical progression from that was to simply post everything online as I went, but I didn’t really feel the need to fill people’s Facebook feeds with a progression of photographic updates, and reading back through old tweets is constantly being made more difficult by Twitter’s scrolling function and new profiles. On top of that, I wanted somewhere to put all the little things I inevitably pick up: bus tickets, interesting labels, flyers and the like.

So while I was waiting for a train in Sydney before heading off on my trip, I picked up an A5 size notebook and began to plan how I would document my trip. There was probably about 300 or so pages in it, but due to my tendency to forget to write in diaries, I figured I would be lucky to fill a third of that.

Instead, I got to the point where I had to pull out pages in order to avoid splitting the binding. With all my photos printed and pasted in, this is how fat my journal got:

Photo on 2014-08-10 at 11.07

Almost every night of my trip, I took at least an hour to write down all the wonderful things that had happened, planning where I would paste photos, bus tickets, email screenshots and newspaper clippings. I scribbled terrible stick-figure drawings and scrawled memories across unlined pages. It was a remarkably therapeutic process, allowing me the chance to run over just how much fun I was having, and to plan what I might do the next day.

IMG_0532I documented everything I could, and tried to make everything as colourful and fun as my experiences. I bought new pens and stickers and collected all the What We Do In The Shadows related bits and pieces I could find to make sure I could do it all justice.

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IMG_0537I even grabbed a Te Papa flyer that was written in Italian just so I could stick in something with pictures of the general exhibits – all the ones in English were only for the special short-term exhibitions.

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One of the things that I really enjoyed about the free-form manner of my scrapbook was when I got to draw stupid little bits and pieces to fill in spaces that I might have put photos that I had forgotten to take, or just for the hell of it.

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Initially, I tried to keep all my bits and pieces in chronological order, but I quickly realised that there were photos and stories that I hadn’t accounted for while allocating space in the narrative. This is why there are two parts to my scrapbook: the initial narrative that I filled in while I was away, and a very sizeable appendix, which I have been working on ever since.

The appendix is a strange mish mash of written souvenirs and bits and pieces that didn’t necessarily fit into the story of my trip, but were memorable all the same. From the itinerary I wrote myself before leaving Canberra (which I left at home) to the map of Wellington my mum gave me before I left (which I kept in my suitcase the entire trip), there are a lot of quirky bits and pieces that I still needed to preserve, even if they didn’t make it into the first half.

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There were a lot of bus tickets.

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And some things that simply defied explanation.

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When I got back, working on finalising my scrapbook really helped ease the post-trip blues.It gave me an excuse to relive my trip regularly, bringing a little light to each day, and keeping the fire in my belly for a return visit. I still flick through it every couple of days now it’s almost done, just as a kind of emotional safety blanket, and it definitely in my top three things I will take with me if there is ever a fire in my house.

As of yesterday, my scrapbook is officially finished. All of the spaces I had saved in the main story section have been filled, and there’s only a handful of photos left to put into the appendix (non-essential, but they’re going in because I just happen to have some printed copies). In a book I was sure I would get nowhere near filling, there are only eight pages left blank. Maybe one day I’ll ask Taika and Jemaine to pop their signatures on the last page. Either way, this little chapter has finally closed. I’m back in the real world again.

But with my little green book, I know I can go back to that wonderful, ridiculous week whenever I like. What a wonderful comfort that is.

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