In honour of the artefact

This story does not begin in a house, in a room, or on a boat. It begins in my head, unframed, uncertain, unplanned.

Weighed down by the conventional, by all the rules I have learned over the years about what I can say and must not say, about how to put one word in front of another, I cannot find my way into this story other than to say I had planned to write a paper on feminine desire, one based on other people’s ideas.

In it I would draw on the thoughts of people like Helene Cixous, and Julia Kristeva, French feminists and philosophers. I would draw on the psychoanalysts, the upcoming thinkers from the relational field.

But as I sat with my screen open and my thoughts on the verge of tipping in, I felt exhausted. The very thought paralysed me.

I could not connect with these words. Feminine desire. Women’s sexuality. It was all too hard.

I went back to bed just now, at nine o’clock on Saturday morning, hoping to shift my state of mind from one of inertia into one of action, but it didn’t work.

In bed, I pulled on an eye patch to block out the light. I rolled onto my side and began to count the number of times my husband snored, snorted or snuffled, and the more he failed to fall silent, the more infuriated I became and the less I could sleep.

And so I considered the next best thing to shake me out of this paralysis: a walk. To get my muscles moving, left right, left right, across the Fritsch Holzer Park; sticking to the grass because whenever I walked on the gravel little stones caught inside the webbing of my sandals.

There were the usual folks up early on a Saturday morning, most with at least two dogs in tow; all dogs off leads, because this is a leash free park.

How I wished there was not a leash on my mind, one that constrains me and keeps me walking at someone else’s pace.

I went to a conference in the middle of last week, one on autobiography and biography, the theory thereof, though most of the people were also life writing scholars, people who have a story to tell.

This is not entirely true. The group divided roughly into three types, those who write their own stories, whether in prose or poetry, traditional memoir or experimental; and others who write about other people, the biographers; and still others who write about the theory of life writing, the use of objects, the nature of the texts themselves, whether online or in material form.

One woman is checking out Google Books’ plans to develop an online encyclopaedia of every book in existence with the intention of scanning as many as possible.

They take old books like Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and scan each page one after the other. It’s a laborious process and Google employs desperate folks of an indeterminate nature, probably half-starved students, my guess, or out of work administrative assistants, who know how to scan page after page, hour after hour.

The job is so tedious and boring these scanners make mistakes. They inadvertently scan in the content of a letter that somehow found its way into the scanning room, for instance. There are library stamps from the libraries that once housed the books, and any amount of marginalia. There are places where the scanner’s glove covered thumb and fingers appear. All of this scanned for posterity.

The researchers then wonder about the meaning of these unintended aspects of the book’s life.

I have a trunk under my writing desk that is filled with bits and pieces, the memorabilia of my life going right back to when I was a teenager and first found myself wanting to hold onto my past in material form.


In those days not only did I keep this stuff – holy pictures from school, an autograph book, hand written letters, bits of ribbon that I had collected at some event or another, a twig of palm from Palm Sunday forty or more years ago, the torn out pages of books that once meant things to me, poems filled out on scraps of paper.  All these things I collected and once pored over for long periods in idle moments.

There were plenty of those moments when I was young and loved nothing but to look back over my then short life and reflect on how far I had come.

By the time I entered adulthood, and began to branch out with teenagers of my own, I had little time for poring over artefacts.

One day when my oldest daughter was studying for her final school year she came upon the idea of life capsules and wanted to explore my treasure trove.

I unearthed the trunk and spread its contents though the room. In so doing, I turned what was once a vaguely ordered chest of bits and pieces into a mess.

I had no time to sort it out then, over fifteen years ago. Instead, I threw it all back inside the trunk.

The trunk is full to the brim now, along with the collected Christmas cards and birthday cards I’ve kept over the years, and I dread the thought that one day soon, I will go back inside the mess of my life to see what’s there and consider whether any of it is worth retaining.

I will not leave 600 boxes, as did Any Warhol on his death, knowing that his fame would not stop curators and the curious from throwing out a thing. Another topic under discussion at the conference.

These boxes are fast deteriorating, given Warhol kept such things as food scraps and toothpicks, all of which must be tagged and identified.

You’d need more than a ten-storey museum to house the stuff.

No wonder we have to be careful about what we leave behind. Only the objects of the famous will escape becoming landfill.