Kirk: No. You were younger.
- Star Trek: Generations
Too quiet for its size, the storage yard's automatic gate rolls back. Also too quiet, my mother the psychonaut's new car drives on, past row after row of utterly identical storage lockers. This vehicle makes my Prius sound like a haunted, French tractor.
The whole thing is like a sequence from a film. I forget just how much space Australia has compared to London. We could be in the X-Files.
It is early morning on the Sunday before Christmas so the whole place is completely deserted. Perfect.
My parents are downsizing from our large family home into a smaller place they have built just for the two of them. I refer to it as their 'death house' which seems to appall them both. But really, it's their death house if they're lucky. Would they prefer to expire in a retirement home? This mollifies them somewhat, because it is true. I read somewhere around Valentine's Day that the best possible outcome for any relationship is to either one morning wake up next to the corpse of your partner, or go to sleep next to them one night and never wake up. Seriously, think about it.
I am cracking out the comedy gold because moving from the house they built and occupied for thirty years is having a huge emotional impact, whereas I can't be completely sure I haven't somehow moved house in the ten minute drive to the storage yard.
We roll up the locker door -the only loud sound- and then speak quietly, like we are in a library... or at a wake. All mothers, it seems, have a touch of the Miss Havisham about them. Mine and my siblings' younger lives are frozen in time but still subject to the ravages of it. She has spent the previous week trying to fob off old soft toys and plastic plates made from our childhood drawings (I take mine). The locker is clearly where the worthless antiquities go to await round two of the fire sale.
And then I see it. The suitcase.
This object is such a palimpsest of personal and familial meaning that it seems to fold time and space around it, like cartoon uranium.
Firstly, it is a battered old Benetton suitcase -remember those brightly coloured fabric ones from the early nineties?- from back when my mother the psychonaut used to own a Benetton store. Although open for a few years, the store was, by and large, disastrous and probably represents the lowest point in our family's collective story.
Secondly... It is my own little death box. (Curiously, my mother got the idea to open the store while we were skiing in New Zealand.) Before moving permanently to NZ, I had to either throw out or pack my entire life into this suitcase. That was an unbelievably transformative experience, like going through your own belongings after your funeral. For days after, my skin felt like a single raw nerve. Everyone gets a faint glimmer of this feeling when they clear their house but it is orders of magnitude away from the sensation of deliberately rendering down your whole existence into one little suitcase. I recommend it.
Some of my friends said I would be back in six months but I knew, I knew, I would not be. Here we are twelve years and another country later. So it was a funeral... a funeral for Australian Gordon.
The suitcase is a fascinating time capsule of what this much younger person considered important. There are old, handwritten magical diaries. (Terrible! Amethyst, gum leaves, synthetic scented candle. Time for some Goetia!) Books by Gerald Gardner, Osho, Marion Weinstein, Westcott's Collectanea Hermetica. These are texts that were evidently not essential enough to take to New Zealand but too essential to discard completely.
And then there is the photo album. An actual album of photos taken with film cameras and then developed. It's mostly images from my first solo trip to New Zealand before moving there, and also photos from a trip my parents and I made to the New Orleans Jazz and Blues festival.
How odd that the world has changed so much that I can now take phone photos of actual photos and have digital images of acceptable quality. Here are the storage locker residents at a plantation outside New Orleans. (I got the bandanna at the festival and refused to take it off for the whole trip, for some reason. Makes the whole album look very Make A Wish.)
The thing of it is, I don't even look like this guy anymore. And yeah, some of that is getting fat then getting thin then getting fat then getting... whatever direction I'm currently going. Some of it is also the inevitable, unwanted molestations of Grandfather Time. I also never met an intoxicant I didn't want to make babies with.
But there is something else, too. I remember flying into Christchurch from Sydney about two or three years into my time in New Zealand and the woman at customs didn't believe I was the person described in the passport. Eventually, I said "yeah, the years have not been kind" and she let me through, figuring if I was Al Qaeda then the organisation has seriously let itself go.
Now when I look over my two passports that contain two photos, obviously... as well as the photos for my Temporary Leave to Remain, then Indefinite Leave to Remain, then Permanent Residency... I have five legal images of me from over the last six years that have got me in and out of various countries. In some of them, I look like I'm on the run from Interpol, in one of them I look like Michael Jackson's arrest photo. In my driver license, I look like a pest controller off on permanent disability.
For some reason, all of this pleases me. On a strictly molecular basis, I am emphatically not the person in these photos of photos. But it also reminds me of when the hobbits returned to the Shire, a foot taller and almost unrecognisable to their former neighbours. Incarnation should change you or otherwise you are just wasting everybody's time.
One of chaos magic's least-used constructs is the possibility that you lack an authentic self. If you are so inclined, it provides you with a gringo, late-capitalist variant of Buddhist 'non-being'. Seeing the world this way offers you supreme performative flexibility.
My mind turns to these thoughts now because I awoke this morning with the odd realisation that I will have closed my facestalk account by the end of the year. It is the same sense of growing joy I experienced when, somewhere near Circular Quay at 2am one night, myself and one of the managers at Virgin Records drunkenly agreed to move to New Zealand. This is a thing that will happen.
Because I really do hate it, kids. Hate. It. It's a shittier version of the wider web, filled with awful opinions about pointless things. Are we to keep using it simply because some people you kinda know are either too dumb or lazy to get in contact with you in less annoying ways? That didn't stop anyone leaving MySpace when it got awful. Although I secretly hope its critical mass does prevent dumb people from leaving it, because at least we will know where they are. It's sort of like how I don't particularly mind that magical blogging has gone quiet everywhere but Tumblr. Good. Go for your lives. I'll be over here.
I hate facestalk because of this rant about I Fucking Love Science... an article Chris Knowles shared in a group that is genuinely the only reason I still use the platform.
Actually, that's not true. The other reason is that it is surely weird to work in social media and not have a facestalk profile, right? That was true in the past but I am not sure that it is today. In fact, today it is probably the opposite. Today it is probably au courant. On Thursday afternoon, I went drinking with a guy who had the top tweet of the entire South By Southwest festival. He sent it drunk from Manchester.
Nevertheless, once the data were crunched and his tweet came out on top, he got dozens of people messaging him saying "hey, sorry I missed you in Austin. Let's go for a beer next time!" In his own words, this very deliberate experiment is everything that is right and everything that is wrong about social media. (And why Twitter remains useful for the ontologically devious among us.)
But my friend's experiment also speaks to me of the decentralisation of identities and the redundancy of some of them. My facestalk identity is redundant... inert. It's not something I can switch off straight away as it will presumably confuse distant relatives. And anyway, identity magic is quite intuitive... I feel it ending rather than ended. That's why it can't yet be narrowed down any further than the end of the year.
When it does eventually happen though, I will be very surprised if it ends up in the suitcase.