Friday, August 09, 2013

31 Tomorrow

Stories. I've been thinking a lot about stories recently. Personal stories. Family stories. National stories. Stories of hope. Stories of love. Stories of connection. Stories of language. Stories of loss. Untold stories. Forgotten stories. Stories in time, and stories beyond time.

The art of telling out our stories, or story telling, is something I would like to get better at. Because telling our stories seems to me the most basic way that we, each of us, can communicate to each other who we are and where we have travelled so far. And to me, that seems an important task.  It seems important because I believe that it's out of the weaving of our individual stories that we perhaps get a glimpse, each of us, into who we want to be.

'At my back I always here, time's winged chariot hurrying near', wrote Alexander Pope. As another year rolls around, and with it another birthday, I realise the pages of my story are swiftly turning. They're banking up. The pages left to write seem thinner today than the pages already written. And there's a sense in which the main character of my story should by now be fully formed.  Fully fleshed out in words and deeds. And with that sense, there's a stricken fear that I am not at all any of those things. And there's excitement in that too.

So we journey on. And the story continues.

My dad sent me a piece of writing yesterday. It was a piece he had written about his father for a biography course he's currently studying. It began like this:
'I don't have friends, I only have acquaintances', he said of himself.  
This was one of a number of relationship defining criteria for John L Pender, my father.  
'Don’t expect praise, do expect criticism and advice.'  
There is another.
What follows is a snap shot of a man who rose from storeman to national executive for warehousing of the largest retail chain in Australasia. A deeply conflicted man. Full of love. But hardened with... what? Fear? A man who was always the last to suggest a family gathering, but also the last to leave and the first to accuse you of piking if you tried to before he was ready. He's also the same man who fed me alcohol for the first time. Gin and icecream. I was thirteen. 'If you revealed you voted Labour he would argue as a Liberal. On the other hand if you presented for the Liberal cause he would be the party paid up Labour member', my Dad wrote in his piece. He was a gifted artist too, but only on one occasion did he consent to it being made public. When an exhibition of his paintings was arranged by a son, he attended and quietly soaked up the admiration of the viewers, but never thanked the son for coaxing him out of his garage full of paints, or spoke of the event again. He was true to his word I guess. Don't expect praise. Do expect criticism and advice.

There were so many unexplored windows in my Dad's writing. It was such a factual remembering. A stone thrown across the span of a lifetime, briefly kissing the raw emotion of a memory without exploring what lay below, before quickly moving on the the next. It made me wonder many things about this man, my grandfather. How did he carry the burden of his work in warehousing and his yearning to be an artist? What scared him so much about letting the people who loved him know that he loved them back? Was it something he learnt from his father?

And out of this brief story of my grandfather's life, I gleaned so much more meaningfully an intense sense of admiration for the story my own father has carved out for himself: a life driven at all times and in every way by three things. Compassion. Hope. And Love.

And I wondered if I could live up to his example.

And so the story continues.

Last night I watched a documentary on the life of Paul Kelly called Stories of Me. Here is a man who's lived a story. Dux of his school. A childhood sporting champion. A dead father at 10. A twenty five year heroin addiction. Poverty. A single-minded bullish commitment to write music with integrity. And a constant sense, at the expense of two marriages, of not having achieved that goal.

This song (below) ends the documentary. It's the story of a man in jail at Christmas time, writing a letter home to his family. As Kelly explains, the song is about being in one place, and longing to be in another. As you'll see, it's something that people can easily relate to. I surely can.

Funnily enough, this mashed-up-clip of How To Make Gravy is also playing as part of the National Portrait Gallery's 'Portraits of Paul Kelly' exhibition, which I recently found myself wandering through one lunchtime here in Canberra. I did not know then that the most striking thing in that exhibition, this song, would lead me to watch the documentary.  Or that that documentary would cause me to question what I am doing with my life.

So you see. The exhibition. The documentary. My father's writing. This song. They're already working together.

And so the story continues.

So where to next?


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