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Betwixt and between.  It’s a wonderful phrase, partly because it sounds so good, all that alliteration and rhythm and balance, and partly because of its meaning – neither one thing nor the other, somewhere between the two.  Grey is a good example: it’s neither black nor white.  And Grey is my middle name, and I’m telling you the truth, so being neither one thing nor the other has been etched onto my DNA.  But what exactly am I between?  I’m between the old and the new, I’m between old age and youth – I’m stuck in the middle.

Increasingly, just like most people, I’m spending more and more of my life on-line, running websites, writing blog posts, handling a weekly avalanche of emails.  And then there’s Facebook and Twitter, those necessary evils if you’re trying to make a go of a creative career and there are people out there who want to know what’s happening.  It’s all very stressful, isn’t it, juggling these digital balls, making sure you don’t miss something important, even though 99 percent of what’s on the internet is…well, let’s not go into that.  But there are joys, it has to be said –someone who regularly comments on my blog, someone I’ve never met in person, sent me a book to read, a real book, it turned up in my letterbox.

Speaking of my letterbox, something else miraculous turned up recently.  A postcard.  An actual postcard!  On the back were handwritten sentences about a trip to a rehabilitated clay mine in Cornwell, followed by fish and chips overlooking the water, we just hope the weather holds for our canal-boat trip starting Monday.  What really caught my eye, however, was the correspondent had correctly addressed my house: she’d used my house’s name: Leitrim.  Yes, my house has a name, because it’s an old place, 1890s, high ceilings, picture-rails, a Hordern and Sons coal-burning fire, and leadlight windows.  I adore it, I really do.  Slowly I’m filling it with old furniture – my guilty pleasure is spending Sunday afternoons scouring shops selling secondhand goods in the hope that I can find something beautiful I can afford, like a chair, or a piece of cast-iron.

But still this house is where I update my Facebook status and send tweets.

Betwixt and between indeed.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 28 July 2012.)

It was orange and plump and I found it yesterday in a cardboard box in my garage.  I picked it up and turned it over; it was neither heavy nor light.  Written on the front in red texta was ‘1996 (2/3)’.

As I removed the envelope’s contents I realised that 1996 was the year before the internet and email snuck its way into my life.  Back then it was an end-of-year tradition to bundle up the letters, postcards and invitations family and friends had sent me and put them in an orange envelope and file the envelope away in a cardboard box – not unlike when at work we’re required to keep key documents for an important project, in case one day someone wants to find out how it happened.

I wanted to know how 1996 happened, so I leafed through the collection, this the second of three envelopes – it must have been a bumper year.  Thoughtfully composed letters from friends: how courageous we were, how wanting, and revealing.  In the midst of our twenties we expressed so much love for each other, sometimes testing to see how far we could go, desiring to cross lines, to define ourselves.

But there are two pieces that stick in my throat.

One is a handmade card in a handmade envelope.  In this undated piece a friend with whom I have lost contact apologises for his behaviour at a dinner party: he is sorry for not wanting a meal I’d prepared because he’d recently and privately become a vegetarian, he is sorry for leaving my house between dinner and the movie on video, sorry for going under what appear to be cloudy circumstances – he asks me to forgive him for these ‘terrible things’.

The second and similarly undated piece is a black-and-white newsagent card, on the front an image of a blue-heeler dog chained to a kennel, a windmill in the background, desert on the horizon.  Inside the card it reads, ‘Dear Nigel, just a quick note to say THANK YOU, I had such a wonderful time’.  But the correspondent is nameless and I don’t recognise the handwriting.

There is no way of knowing if the two events are connected, except in the sense that in a world where letters are becoming increasingly rare, where we’ve forgotten about the physicality and intimacy of handwritten correspondence, something is lost, if not altogether broken.

(First published in Panorama, The Canberra Times, 2 October 2010.)

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The past