I recently read an article in Womankind magazine that begged the question;
"If your mind were a cabinet, what would it contain? Let us say that your cabinet has pigeonholes for 30 or 40 different objects, and these objects make up the components of your mind. Which items will we find in your memory cabinet?
In 17th century Europe, objects sourced on life journeys were stored in wooden cabinets for safekeeping; polished stones, coral, mineral specimens, and preserved animals. No longer lost to the mind, memories could be recalled by observation - a wild flower and a shell, a feather and a skull.
Just like a cabinet, our mind can only hold so many memories. It takes in some memories while discarding others. And while vivid and strong memories will remain with us forever, our more delicate memories will be the first to wilt; wildflowers tossed aside to make space for old television tapes of sitcoms, fading celebrity faces, and an odd-assortment of consumer debris."
I've kept such a 'cabinet' since the age of 13 years old. I have a hand carved wooden box that has lived with me since my teenage years, and over time I have stored little things it it that have represented meaning (both positive or negative). In a three part series, I've decided to re-open my curiosity cabinet and share what is in there, and why I carry it with me, with you.
I grew up in a small town and to get from our town to the big smoke (Sydney), it was an 8 hour train ride. My family had made several car trips to Sydney each year, but going on my own via rail felt like a mark of adulthood. This particular ticket was for a trip that would deliver myself and 4 of my school friends to the College of Fine Arts for a 2 week intensive course as part of our HSC year. I was 17 years old. We lived together independently for those two weeks at a youth hostel; occasionally mixing with university aged friends who'd escaped the confines of small town life a few years earlier. The whole trip held a lot more meaning for me in terms of some hard truths hitting home. It gave me hard learned lessons around friendship, sex, relationships (and tequila). I kept the ticket because it represents a coming of age; a loss of what little innocence we had left and my first real taste of forging a life in a big city.
It was around that same time that I discovered my love for live music gigs. Two of my all time favourite bands happened to be playing while I was in the city. I decided the night of The White Stripes gig that I wanted to go, and walked (in thongs) from central station to the Horden Pavilion. I hoped to find a scalper who'd sell me a last minute ticket. I did & and I paid $200 for that ticket. I lined up by myself, and headed straight for the front of the stage. I'd always been comfortable doing things on my own, and after the emotional whirlwind that had just been, I was glad to be on my own, doing something I loved. I found a guy who was just as fanatical a fan as I was. We vibed in a totally non threatening way. He held me up during the crowd surging moments, and we were close enough that we felt Jack White's sweat flick into the crowd. it was a fantastic experience that I still remember vividly.
I have so many letters from my school days contained in the memory box. All of them in the handwriting of my peers, pen pals, grandmother, best friends (and a preachers son I had a crush on.) They detail everything from bordem in class, decoded in secret languages we made up through to heartfelt and emotional farewells.
I love that I've managed to keep so many of these for so long. Reading back on them now makes me howl with laughter (and occasionally ache for the simplicity of those days).
Was one I took of a close friend & I at our junior high school graduation ball (also known as the night I finally accepted that he was gay, and we were not destined to get married and have fabulous camp babies together). My mum had been air lifted to hospital in Sydney for emergency back surgery the night before the ball, so my Dad had helped me get ready (hence the terrible fringe situation up front).
The Star & The Glow Band
The star was a trinket "borrowed" from a friends family christmas tree, the last New Years Eve I ever spent in my hometown. I'd nicked it to hang over my ear before we headed into one of the local nightclubs that evening, and kept it ever since. The glow band was a momento of the night, picked up along the way.
Was part of the gift wrapping of the first present I ever received from a man who wasn't related to me. Did I mention gift giving is one of my primary love languages?
is the lace sleeve of my mothers wedding dress, snipped from the rest of the gown. I had a small part of this lace sewn into the hem of my own wedding dress, and kept the rest for the box.
The Newspaper Cutting
Is from an Article in the Sydney Morning Herald featuring my paternal grandmother, or Nanna. It was to celebrate an anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As a young girl, she was the first of a group of school children to walk across the bridge. She spoke about her experiences to a group of primary school kids and they ran an article on her. At the time, I saved the clipping because she was approaching 90 years old and I didn't have a single photograph to remember her by if she passed. However she has just passed age 91 and is still going strong, so I've since been sure i have a few more photos with her. I keep the article because it reminds me of her; she loves to tell stories, and our family history is so intertwined with the history of Sydney that it makes me feel a sense of belonging.
The sole medal I chose to salvage from my parents down-sizing throw out last year. It was the first dance award I ever received, most likely on the stage of the local public school auditorium. I look at this as a symbol as to how important dance is, and always has been, in my life.
These are a more recent addition to the box; and I started keeping them because they symbolise an overriding sense of ingenuity in my young adult life.
They range from my very first paid performance gig, right through to the lanyard that identified me as the sole director for a successful small publicity agency, at an international marketing conference in Las vegas. They span my professional life in the arts, and show a sort of trajectory with each year; from amateur burlesque gigs & independent theatre, to interstate tours and international professional development.
They're particularly dear to me as I move away from the arts in a professional sense. Although my desire to stay in Perth eventually over rode my ambition for a lasting arts career, they remind me that those were not wasted years, at all.