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To have and to hold

When I was 11 or 12 years old, I acquired a hardcover copy of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. For those unfamiliar with it, A) I don’t blame you and B) It’s a fucking brick. Bigger than a brick, actually, although I am remembering it through a child’s eyes and doesn’t everything seem bigger when you’re smaller?

Anyway. I acquired it not because I had developed a passion for Gothic romance. Or because I needed something to serve as my nightstand. Oh no – I bought it because I wanted to impress my father.

Now, that wasn’t because he was into Gothic romance either and would feel like he had a young, kindred spirit in me. Rather, it was a case of, ‘Hey dad – look at this really thick book I’m going to read!’

And it worked. He was proud, truly. I could tell he wasn’t faking it because he never was one of those parents who would lie about the little stuff to make me feel better.

Once I had elicited that ripple of pride, of course, I lost all incentive to actually read the darn book. I didn’t need to anymore.

Looking back on it, I think that incident set an unhealthy precedent for me. It taught me the deceptiveness of acquisition. The power of potential.

To wit: I am certainly not the only person, and will not be the last, to go overboard at secondhand book fairs. I was at one just recently, ArtSound’s Book and Music Fair (which I was helping out at), and an unremarkable observation arose. It was as familiar as the supermarket shopper who exclaims, ‘I only came in here for one thing and always leave with a trolley-full of items!’

I worked as a checkout chick during my uni days, so I became well acquainted with this statement.

The observation made at the ArtSound book fair was that the books they acquired that day would surely be donated to the next Lifeline book fair, and the items acquired there would no doubt re-appear on the tables at our next book fair. Read or unread. Most probably the latter.

We all know that we won’t get around to reading or watching half the stuff we buy. But we buy them anyway. Because they’re cheap as chips. Because it’s for a good cause. Because, once we own them, there is the potential that we might consume things. We delight in the promise of untapped hours of entertainment. We feel smarter for having a copy of War and Peace on our bookshelf. It’ll be there in case the urge arises to actually read it.

Possession is three-quarters of the journey. Forking out the money and making the effort to buy the thing feels constructive. It feels like initiative and tastes like commitment. We reward ourselves for our ambition and mentally pat ourselves on the back, delivering an unearned endorphin rush.

We like this part because it’s the part that offers the best energy to outcome ratio. The next part will require actual work for approximately the same, if not lesser, acknowledgement and pay-off. And, so, once the high has worn off, we move on to the next easy win.

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A few months ago, I was full of excitement over the prospect of starting my own podcast. I still am excited, but that excitement has been tempered by the reality of doing a lot of hard work and mounting a steep, frustrating learning curve.

As with any new venture, starting the podcast required an investment of some time, but mainly money. I bought online real estate to house my amazing audio dreams. I signed up for (and completed) a four-week course in Pro Tools, and purchased the latest version of the software. I bought a mini-tripod for my Zoom H2N and contemplating upgrading the mic. I even bought myself a beautiful Casio keyboard so I could produce my own music.

With all my shiny new tools at my disposal, it really felt like it was all coming together. I had everything in front of me. All I needed to do was… actually do it.

It’s not as though I’ve done nothing. As of today, I have recorded all my interviews for my first three episodes. I have spent hours transcribing the first batch of interviews. Problem is, it’s not like the work that I’m used to, that I do all the time; putting interviews to air for radio. It requires a lot more intensive work – transcribing all the audio, proper scripting, selecting what parts to include and producing it all in an application that’s like the Ferrari of audio editing – a Ferrari in which my feet barely reach the pedals. And did I mention making my own music?

Suffice it to say, the project is overwhelming. What drives me forward though, far more than any money I’ve invested in this, is the trust and the time that others have invested in me. They have shared with me their stories and their vulnerabilities, and I owe it to them to do what I’ve promised. To follow through on the excitement I started off with and imbued in them.

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As readers of this blog will know, my darling Malibu died in February this year, marking an end of more than 20 continuous years of pet ownership. For the past three weeks I’ve been obsessed with the idea of getting a new pet, a rabbit, because rabbits don’t make much noise and consequently wouldn’t present a problem for any audio activities I do at home.

There’s something about coming home to something that I miss. Of once again having something cute to love. Of, as a billboard I saw in LA put it, making a commitment to something greater than myself.

This is a much different context, of course. That billboard was about serving in the marines.

I’ve spent many hours researching what it would be like to own a rabbit. Watched endless videos of rabbits roaming free in the house, of how best to pick up and hold a rabbit (the football hold is the only one I can recall). I have looked up child play pens and mulled over their size. I’ve read many pieces by rabbit owners insisting, contrary to the advice of a pet shop owner I chatted to, that rabbits are not low-maintenance creatures. They need to be cleaned up after, they require attention and stimulation, and they need to be brushed regularly or else their fur will accumulate in their little stomachs from grooming themselves and they will die.

I even paid a visit to RSPCA last weekend and sat with a black something-cross-dwarf rabbit called Liquorice for twenty minutes. Fifteen of those minutes consisted of me patting Liquorice. The other five involved Liquorice hiding behind a rock or otherwise pretending not to notice me. And after leaving RSPCA I went to a pet store and examined hutches and food bowls.

As of this weekend though, I’ve decided not to get a rabbit. The idea of having one is truly tempting, particularly as I get closer to staring down the barrel of eight days at home alone over Christmas. But, predictably, I simply don’t have the time. And I don’t want one enough to sacrifice something else in my life.

Regardless of the conclusion, I think it’s been a good period of deliberation. To state the obvious – which, sadly, is not obvious to all – a pet is one acquisition that shouldn’t be bought on a whim. It is not a batch of books I could return without qualm to the Canberra secondhand recycle.

So that’s one potential I won’t seek to realise.

I’m sure Liquorice will find a good home all the same. And hopefully be given a more compelling name than Liquorice.

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