Paper Chase

September 9, 2010 at 10:32 am (Uncategorized)

The arrival of the Spanking Spunky Shelves has occasioned a mass clear out of all our files – at least those that have been steadily piling up around me for the past, oh, nearly ten years since I got back to Sydney from London. It just doesn’t seem credible that one person could generate such a vast paper trail, but the truth is, I’m not even including the boxes and boxes of correspondence, thesis notes (I want to chuck those, but Llew insists I should keep them – for what is unclear, but it’s certainly not sentimental value), theatre stubs and exhibition tickets (were I ever to become a scrap-booking fanatic, I would have formidable resources at my disposal), photos, diaries, note books and god knows what else that sit elsewhere in the apartment (atop the linen press and my wardrobe, to be precise). No, I’m only going through everything that’s been sitting directly behind me for the past five and a half years (all the better to ignore it). Things like old bank statements and bills, receipts, random clusters of Christmas and/or birthday cards, more notes, CASSETTE TAPES, if you can believe it (another collection Llew’s determined to retain) and just paper, paper, and more paper.

It’s so liberating delivering bags and bags of paper to the recycling bin. Hugely satisfying. I’ve finally gone through and cleared out Nana’s files, too, piece of paper by piece of paper. I was just too exhausted after the ordeal of packing up her flat to go through it all at the time – I just brought them home and added them to the pile of document boxes and concertina files. They fitted right in and I haven’t heard a peep from them since. Finally the time has come to sit down, get comfortable, and start opening lids.

There have been a few tears today and yesterday – of course I’ve found unexpected items, but some were entirely known and long avoided, specifically all the case files from my mother’s utterly toxic contestation of my grandfather’s will. That whole experience was so vile, so destructive, so completely awful, and glancing through the files brought so much bile rushing through my system that I’ve been battling bad reflux ever since first making the mistake of pausing to reread an affidavit or two. I still think that what she did – and what she was prepared to do – for more money was completely despicable. After a patchy history, this was the final death knell of our relationship. Her preparedness to ignore Granddad’s wishes – his final instructions to us, instructions he entrusted to her care – made our differences finally, brutally irreconcilable. And you know… it disgusted me all over again today. I try not to think about her, and I certainly try not to think about that time, but seeing the letters and affidavits again made it feel like yesterday. In the end I just piled them all together and gave up trying to sift through for the odd document to chuck. No. It wasn’t worth it. Best to simply replace the lid on all that ugliness and pack it all away.

You’re probably wondering why I’d even keep them, why I’d hang on to these court documents – because it went to court, oh yes, she didn’t care about flagrantly decimating funds from Granddad’s estate to pay for her bid to have his will overturned – and I don’t really know the answer. They seem important, still. It’s evidence that was tendered in court, and now I suppose it’s become evidence I tender to myself. There it is. If there’s ever any question in anyone’s mind about why I am permanently estranged from that hideous woman, there it is: the whole sorry mess of an already dysfunctional family finally being blown to smithereens. It does not make for happy reading.

Far, far better was coming across the stack of old emails I’d printed out back when Llew started travelling in 1998. I was still working at The Australian, saving money for my own big adventure, and the future of our relationship was terrifically uncertain. We had no idea what would happen while we were apart, and no clear status, life being what it is when you’re 24, 25 and embarking upon a world trip. But, in the end, it didn’t take any time at all – as these loving emails so clearly show – for us both to recognise that we really did have something special, and so the countdown began to the day when we would see each other again.

And here we are.



  1. Grad said,

    Organization is so liberating. One would think being highly organized is sitfling, but it isn’t. Knowing where to find the right thing at the time it’s needed makes for much less stress. Not being highly organized myself, I admire those who are. Although I’m moderately organized, I can’t find my power drill. I can’t find the replacement outside electrical outlet cover I bought last year. ( I didn’t put it on at the time because the screw rusted in the little hole and I couldn’t get it out). I need to trim the bushes in front of the house but have no idea where my lopers are. And after I bought a new lawn edger last month, I found I already had a much nicer one sitting in a corner of the garage. It just needs it’s blade sharpened. I’ll bet there’s a blade sharpener for it somewhere on the garage bench, but I’ll end up going out and buying another one because I can’t find the one I probably have. I can’t imagine any worse failure than not earning the love of one’s children. But I’ll save that for a private letter.

    • doctordi said,

      I think the real tragedy is LOSING the love, Graddikins – it’s not as though it wasn’t there for the taking.

      Yes, I also like organisation. I used to be a bit obsessive compulsive when I was young, no doubt in response to the environment, as a means of asserting some sort of control, but over the years I’ve relaxed – because I’m happy – enough that I’ve let so much of it go. Still, there’s some vague semblance of order to the way I’ve arranged the books on the new shelves, and I very much like that too!!!

  2. Lilian Nattel said,

    I love decluttering. It’s such a good feeling to get rid of stuff. I had a big box of family letters that were my evidence, but I threw it out and haven’t looked back. Here’s to spaciousness!

    • doctordi said,

      Part of me is really tempted to just heave everything out the door, Lilian, because as you say I can imagine precisely how good I’d feel knowing none of that crap was in my home, but there may come a day when I want to write about it, so for now they’ve been granted a reprieve. I’ll review it in another few years. I can really see why some people regularly clear everything out – it’s quite enlivening.

  3. litlove said,

    Life laundry! I’m all for it – not only have you thrown out a mass of stuff you didn’t need, but you can throw out the emotions it dragged around in its wake. Say goodbye to the bad stuff, cherish the good memories and make way for the new. Sounds great.

    • doctordi said,

      Life laundry – that’s exactly it, LL. And good riddance. Had it not been so tiring, I’d almost feel inspired to tackle the other boxes in the place. Because let’s face it, I am never going to become a scrapbook convert, which means there’s an awful lot of stuff I’ve kept that really ought to go in the bin.

  4. davidrochester said,

    I do understand why you would keep the paperwork re: the situation with your grandfather’s will. Some situations are so emotionally horrific that it’s hard to believe, later, that they could possibly have happened … it’s almost like there’s no actual memory of them, it’s more like an impact crater. Documentation of timelines and facts can be very helpful in contextualizing wounds that have taken on strange lives of their own. “Oh yes, *that’s* what happened.”

    • doctordi said,

      Exactly, David. They also testify as to my own conduct, which has been important because she and my brother behaved so utterly hatefully toward me that I couldn’t help but wonder then and since whether I may have deserved it. I see through my letters and attempts to reach out and make peace that I really didn’t, and that brings me comfort, and allows me peace.

  5. Norwichrocks said,

    I’m all for ruthless chucking-out. Especially of anything with bad associations. Plus, it makes room for new stuff and there’s nothing I like more than shiny new things 🙂

    • doctordi said,

      I haven’t quite mastered ruthless chucking, Truce, but prudent pruning I’m determined to ace!

  6. Pete said,

    I don’t know what it is about paper that we cling on so dearly to it but I’m the same with old diaries that I wouldn’t want anyone to read but can’t bear to throw away. And now we have electronic memory which is more lasting (and more fragile). Good on you for the spring clean. Making space for new memories.

    • doctordi said,

      I guess it’s the way we bear witness to ourselves, Pete. Through my paper trail I see the story of my life, and it’s part of the way I make sense of my puny little existence. ‘Making space for new memories’ is a very worthwhile undertaking, it seems to me, and a lovely way of looking at it.

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