I’m learning that there’s an art to making the most of the final day of a holiday, particularly at Christmas/New Year when much of the break is spent at home with family and friends and pets and books and albums.  Oh, and the food, the MOUNTAINS of food, and the booze, okay, MOUNTAINS of booze, though that should really be OCEANS, shouldn’t it.  But when the excesses are over and done with and we feel and look like beached whales and the chill-out days are fast coming to an end, a decision has to be made about how those final hours will be spent.  I’m lucky that not only do I have a job I enjoy – working in the arts has plenty of rewards to balance out the challenges – I also get to return to my writing routine, so it’s not like I feel as if I’m being sent to jail.  But still, how exactly to spend that one last glorious day of anthing-goes freedom?

In recent times I’ve thought that the last day should be set up to be a slice of the ideal life.  So it could be waking up in bed to the smell of bacon and eggs being hand-delivered on a tray by someone you love; or getting up at the crack of dawn and diving into a wild ocean; or, if this is your thing (and it’s certainly not mine, I can tell you that for free) finally waking after a walking-dead night on the town, not a skerrick of memory left but some stranger in your bed and in your mouth a taste that reminds you of newly laid bitumen and green chicken – the gone-off green, not the green-curry green.  For me, I decided, rather than reading the newspaper while eating my way through a large bowl of cereal, muesli, lecithin, yoghurt and milk with a side of lite cranberry juice, I’d have brekkie on the couch whilst watching the final half-a-dozen episodes of Six Feet Under. I love this show – along with The Office it’s in my top three TV series of all time.  (The third, rather embarrassingly, is the BBC’s Brideshead Revisited series from the 1980s.)

How great it was to sit and watch the death throes of a show about death: a show whose thesis is ‘Everything.  Everyone.  Everywhere.  Ends’.  Because holidays die, that’s the inescapable fact.  Because holidays are a microcosm of our lives: they have a distinct beginning, when we know little about how our festive (or festy, as more than one person I know has been saying) season is going to pan out; and then there’s the middle section where we start to feel that the end isn’t that far away; and then, all too soon, we’re beginning to count down the hours, because soon this brief summer life will come to an end.  After I cried my way through the extraordinary final ten minutes of Six Feet Under where – and SPOILER ALERT for those three people on earth who’ve not yet seen the show – everyone dies, I decided that I better do something else, something…practical.

So I redecorated the wall of my writing room with a new series of photos.

Being a Polaroid freak, most of the photos I usually have on the wall above my computer are of the instant square variety with the thick strip of white down the bottom for witty captions.  And since over the last few years I’ve been getting crazier and crazier about taking Polaroids (probably because the technology is fast reaching its own demise) I have hundreds of them so there’s quite a few to choose from.  But this year I decided to reach a wary hand into my vaults – cardboard boxes in the cupboard, in other words – and put together a brief series of photos that illustrate significant places in my life.  So there’s a shot of a rock garden I built at the back of the house in which I navigated those nasty teenager years; nasty for me and everyone around me.  There’s a shot of my family’s rented green weatherboard cottage in the Blue Mountains; how I loved that place, and so often do I think of visiting, but if it’s not there any more, or has been turned into some grotesque mansion, then I’d fall apart, I really would).  There’s a shot of a dream house at Cottesloe Beach in Perth, a messy humble shack with the million-dollar view, a shack that no doubt has been turned into some grotesque mansion.

There’s a shot of a herb rack in an inner-city grouphouse I shared for a year or two back in the 1990s.  There’s a photo of a black VW Beetle on an island called Inishboffin off the south-west coast of Ireland.  There’s a photo of He Who Is Still With Me when we went down to Melbourne to visit a photographer friend.  And there’s a photo of the house I now live in, a nondescript ex-government thing that was built in 1959, which is very old for this young city – a national capital – I call home.  Oh, alright, I should admit to including just a couple of Polaroids in my display: one of an 1830s farm cottage where I stay when I need focus and solitude (and to commune with rats and mice and snakes and lizards, and the odd stray lamb), and another of a desk I’d used when on a residency last year.

Of course, once I Blue-tacked the photos on the wall and then sat in my chair to admire my handiwork, I began to cry at this as well, because there, in a handful of photos, was the entirety of my life so far.

Despite my forty-one years (and rising), it seemed so…slight.

So what else was there to do but spend the last few hours of my holiday scrubbing the bath, because, quite frankly, it was so disgusting houseguests had been refusing to use it.

Now I’ve thought about this issue – or is it a challenge? – and have written out these words, I can’t see much of an art to having a memorable, or at least meaningful, last day of a holiday.  But I am glad that mine has turned out to be a day of thought and depth, a day that moved me, a day that got me thinking about my impermanence.  The makers of Six Feet Under said their aim was to encourage viewers to consider/confront their mortality (I actually typed immortality then, which is a Freudian slip if I ever saw one, or just a desire, or a wish, or a useless plea for mercy) and that’s exactly what happened to me.  And the cliché goes that a picture equals a thousand words, though I think photographs of your own life equal novella-length stories, if not the whole novel shebang.  And they say that there’s nothing more centring than soaking in a bath for an hour.  So now that I have a bath that’s actually white I reckon I should get the water running, pour myself a glass of wine, crank up the stereo with a great album, which I’m guessing is going to be Hospice by The Antlers (yes, yet another reference to that album on this blog), because it fits this mood I’m in, a mood of holiday endings, and lay myself down and close my eyes.

Perhaps that’s where the art is: just being still as the end comes.

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