Almost since I decided to move to Melbourne, I have thought about the ways I would tell Canberra goodbye, like the worst kind of person trying to plot a painless break-up. There seems to be a lot of pressure, particularly in the arts, to be a cheerleader for Canberra, to make work in Canberra, to stick up for Canberra, to contribute to the ‘scene’. I never thought there was anything wrong with this until just about now.
I left Canberra over January and February, in dribs and drabs, which is a phrase I love and the way it's good to do things sometimes: little trips and weekends, and then a weekend where I didn’t go back to Canberra, I just stayed here. It’s been a few weeks now, almost a month. Most things in my brain to do with life in Canberra have been replaced by new information. There's tram timetables and work passwords, and Dewey decimal numbers and my new postcode. I’m in a catch-up stage: I need the new numbers first, out of necessity, then I’ll get around to working out where the hell I am and what it feels like. At the moment, it’s a bit like walking around on a giant Excel spreadsheet, filling things in, like those huge novelty keyboards they have in America.
In the reverse way, most of what I have left of life in Canberra is feeling and sensation. In my last few weeks, I drove across Commonwealth Bridge almost every day, going from north to south, and back again, traversing that thick, connective tendon. I breathed in morning traffic and summer, which was new then and is now old, crumpled like a piece of fruit too long in the bowl, despite these hot nights and rainstorms, both here and back there. The route was so familiar to me that it hardly existed. None of the architecture mattered: just me in my tiny, dying car driving about 20 minutes there, and about 30 minutes back (I left work during peak hour, I left home just after), like a line being drawn over and over again along a white piece of paper. Blue morning skies and clear lavender evenings, water that was sometimes sparkling, sometimes not. Palms on a burning steering wheel, no air conditioning, alternating between 2XX, 1053 2CA, Mix 106.3 and Triple J, never hearing a full program. Moving through Canberra had long ceased to be a matter of negotiating geography. All of the physical matter of the place had dissipated into atmosphere, temperature, wind, movement and noise. I guess anything that’s done with the regularity of habit starts to take on the quality of ritual.
I realise now that I don’t need to break up with Canberra, or hate it, or love it, or think anything much about it. Place is just a construction: who’s to say where it begins or ends, what worlds are left to explore in the smallest of spaces, whether my experience of place is the same as yours (it's not). Our minds aren’t big enough to take everything in at once anyway- they’re too busy trying to make sense of things, usually against the grain of our own thinking and being. This is why I am protective, I suppose, of Canberra, because living in small places doesn’t have to mean your mind is small. However, the two sometimes coincide. For the record, I’m not anti-Canberra, but I am wholly sick of talking about the place. It feels like a limit.
Moving is not essential, nor is it always desirable, practical, or even possible. But I think it’s important not to be defined by places, by limits, by not moving. New thought happens at the edges, at the limits, on the borderlands- literally. Anything else looks like fetishism. It's in danger of curling in on itself, creating an identity of habit, of knitting into a single, arbitrary pattern. There’s a point at which the threads of us need to connect with other threads, other habits, other ways of ritual- we are not lost, or left, but expanding.