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This Year, 19

December 27, 2019

In the days between Christmas and New Year, time feels slow, feels heavy. It’s not a time for starting anything new but I usually spend a few days combing through the details of the year just past. This time it is complicated by how this summer has so far been: a disquieting season, with catastrophic fires along the east coast of the country, burning through millions of hectares of forest.

In the city, on the worst days the air has been white with smoke and ash comes down like slow confetti. To watch people continuing their daily activities amid this is surreal and I, like many people, wonder if this will be thought of as a turning point: the upsurge of environmental crisis to the point where it saturates daily life. It makes me think about time on a larger scale than day to day or year to year, those calendar measures used to divide up experience, and to wonder at the future that I will never see.

On the days when the sky is clear enough for the air to be breathable, I go out walking in the evening. I walk without much of a plan or a destination. I just set out and decide as I go, and sometimes find myself on familiar paths, and other times not. As I walk I notice the suburban details that suggest a mood beyond the ordinary.

A tree that is a halo.

Houses that make me wonder who lives in them.

Places vacant or abandoned, in between one thing and another.

Cat of the walk.

The moon visible although it is not yet night.

Unexpected messages: Guy Debord/Garfield.

Being a writer all acts of attention and thought are work, all experiences are grist: everything I see as I go walking, the anxious thoughts that crowd my head in the dead of night, the notes I scribble in pencil that later I have no way of decoding.

There are plenty of such notes, and as with most of them I can’t remember what these teacups mean or why I wrote it, ripped it off, kept it.

One of the essays I worked on this year was for the Sydney Review of Books’ Writers at Work series – The Writer’s Clutter – in praise of mess and clutter, this being the conditions of my writing life. Accompanying it was a portrait photograph by Joy Lai, of me in my room.

Though of course it is rarely this tidy. I am sitting in this very spot now and surrounding me are drifts of things: empty teacups, a bowl with cherry pits in it, an entry ticket to the Ghibli Museum, scrunched up tissues, Christmas cards, a stencil of the state of NSW, a cardboard label with an image of a hand making a shadow puppet of a fox, a tooth made out of FIMO, and on and on and on.

Also on objects this year, I wrote for The National 2019, an exhibition of Australian contemporary art, the essay, Future Past Present, about material legacy, obsolescence, and the attraction of objects from the recent past as things for thinking with.

Much of my writing still appears on Mirror Sydney, a project which is 7 years old now, but still finds its readers in people who notice or wish to notice the city’s undercurrents and minor landmarks. Of particular note regarding places of personal significance to me is that the Ching Yip Coffee Lounge is closing, after 33 years: it was my favourite city cafe, and one to which I would take my writing to read over it, drink lemon tea, and absorb the peach-pink and mirrored decor. I will miss it.

The year has held much more besides, but I think I will leave just this as a slice of it, a little of the thoughts and observations and writing that has made up my 2019. See you in the Twenties, for more.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. joevc permalink
    December 28, 2019 3:28 am

    I love reading your posts. This one reminds me to take more walks, scribble more notes and find a new favorite coffee shop after Winning Coffee closed down.

    • Vanessa Berry permalink*
      January 12, 2020 4:00 pm

      Thanks Joe – may we both find new coffee shops this year!

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