Home

I wrote about the fire and the temporary permanence we lived in for close to two years. But I haven’t written about coming home.


There were of course the expected delays in the build. The took a while floors, the joinery too and each had their own knock on effect. But in the last week of May we got the keys on the Friday. We hired a van, bought a shed load of flat pack furniture and over the weekend we moved.

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That Friday I spent the house night building furniture. I am somewhat of an IKEA master and knew from the outset this was going to be tough. Two wardrobes, a bed, two desks, a rather large chest of drawers, bookcase and a bunch on incidentals awaited me. I went and bought an electric screwdriver and every hex key attachment you would need and settled in. I came come at 1am, slept and was back at the house by 8am.

My wife packed up the rental. The problem with losing all your stuff is that you have to replace it – most of it. While there is plenty of superfluous stuff in our lives there are also plenty of ‘essentials’. Technologies and objects that make life easier. Goods that we have that we only use occassionaly, but are vital when called upon. But it’s funny how quickly you accumulate. The rental was fully furnished, so lucky we didn’t have to move much furniture (hence the flat pack frenzy), but there were clothes and games and utensils and stuff to preen and clean and smell better. Toys – so many toys for such a short while, many given to us from those helping out in the aftermath – they were sorted, packed and many given new homes.

Over that weekend all the furniture was erected, stuffed and filled. The house was a mess for a few more days as we began to unpack – and then I left. Off to Oklahoma for the Domains Conference. I left my wife and daughter alone in this new/old place.

My daughter didn’t really remember the house. We had looked at photos but it didn’t click. Saturday she walked in to her new room. Immediately she had her place – the bed, the dresser/desk, wardrobe with her clothes, bookcase with her books and boxes of toys. It became recognisable as her space within minutes.

The house was unpacked, clean and warm when I got home. I hadn’t learnt how to use the new appliances – induction cooktop and fancy oven – so it felt alien at first. But life didn’t stop, it kept ticking with the beat and we slowly got back to the rhythm.

School is close now, a quick walk around the corner. It was bitingly cold some mornings – but I love holding hands with my daughter and chatting as we made out way to class on the cold mornings.

The house is so warm. We’d been used to the typical Australian design feature of gaps and drafts in all our other houses. They let the cold air in and the warm air out in winter, vice versa in summer. We’d decided to spend the money and replace all the external doors and windows with double glazed units and the new building codes required floor and ceiling insulation. The new heating and cooling meant every room could be warmed just so – it was amazing. Can’t wait for summer now 🙂

We spent money doing stuff to the house. There are more cupboards everywhere and a new bathroom. We’ve ditched the deco elements (not necessarily by choice) and embraced modernism. We picked bold primary colours, bright whites and inky blacks. We installed a Mondrian in the kitchen and went redder on the cupboards.

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The laundry is white with a splash of blue and the bathroom opening is golden. The little (expensive) touches were worth it the custom vanity and bench works for that small space. The antique brass finish on the taps is a relief from the standard chrome. I love the patina they’re developing.

The appliances, which were a considerable sticking point in our dispute with the insurance company, work really well. I love the control of modern electric appliances – and now I have that back, where the numbers on the dial means something – not just too hot or not hot enough.

But all that is nothing. It’s just stuff. It’s ours and it’s done but in reality it’s kind of inconsequential.

But what does matter is that I feel like I’m back home, in my place, the one my wife and I made. The one we worked on, and put our sweat and blood into. The one we had to fight for. The one where we bought our daughter to just 2 days after she was born. Where she grew and took her first steps. Where we celebrated birthdays and got together with family and friends. Where we cuddled together on Sunday mornings, bleary eyed and half asleep and watched movies, drank warm drinks and ate eggs.

There’s a few outstanding jobs in the house. We haven’t even touched the yard. But life is good now. We are happy with our spot. Home.

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On Dealing with Insurance Companies

I’ve spent a great deal of time dealing with our insurance company over the last ten months since The Fire, and more so in the last month since lodging an official complaint. It doesn’t look like we’ll be in our house within the year since we lost everything, and at this point lucky if we’ll be in before Christmas. We are tired, stressed and sad, yet we have to put on a brave face everyday in order to continue at least the appearance of normal for our child and our work.

In the last couple of weeks that’s become incredibly difficult and both of us have faltered, cracked and broken down. I thought nothing could be as bad as losing everything you owned, but dealing with an insurance company has proven otherwise. The process attaches the extremely raw emotional ties to something as important as ‘home’, to a beauracratic and uncaring behemoth in order to reach some kind of resolution. You can imagine the results are less than stellar. 
Here’s some of what I’ve learnt in the process:

You are not in control. Despite this being an intensely personal subject, decisions will be made for you, not by you. You will be disconnected from concepts like “home” and “normal” the more the claim drags on. Logic is not your friend, it is the path to despair. Conflict is the only way to achieve an outcome. Ask for everything in writing, if they won’t do it, there’s a problem you are not aware of. Ask for every document related to your claim, there are mistakes everywhere. Create a timeline and keep track of every interaction. Let nothing slide longer than a week. Set reminders and make demands. Cry and scream, do not try to bottle it up and put on a brave face. Everyone will understand your circumstances, except the insurance company.

Temporary Permanence

This is a long post that seeks to join three threads together. It’s taken a while to get to this point and it is definitely something I am still actively thinking through. Feedback appreciated.

1. Home (or the lack there of)

I haven’t really written about my personal life for quite some time, not since The Fire from last year. Part of that’s been a choice of mine not to publicly discuss and publish my experiences and those of my family. Part of it was an inability to actually articulate the emotions of dealing with the loss of our home and everything that entails.

Now that we’re coming up to ten months since the fire and we’re still not in back in our house, I feel the need to describe the state that we’ve been living in. I don’t want to start “pity party” – but there is something in this uncomfortable reality that’s been part of our everyday lives. A force and effect that has been shaping our physical, mental and emotional state that I would would describe as temporary permanence.

The temporary part relates to the fact that at some point we will be moving home and rebuilding our physical spaces along side the emotional space around that thing that we call Home. When, where and how seems ephemeral, but it will happen eventually. It’s been telling not to have Home as part of our lives. It isn’t simply a physical building, it’s a combination of different spaces and states that act as an anchor, a reset point, and a refuge. Being without a Home has led to a very different kind of mental and emotional mindset that guides how we think, feel and deal with our day-to-day lives.

The Permanent component is the fact that this has been going on for soooo long that it no longer looks, feels or smells like something that’s temporary. When I consider the what is temporary, I picture a couple of months at best (or worst). But dealing with the loss of our home has been going on now much longer than that.

This temporary mindset has been going on for so long that it is now embedded into our routine physically and mentally. The temporary has become part of the permanent. There is significant distance between Home and where we are now. We exist in a transient state that combines the features of both the temporary and the permanent. We stand on, in and between two different temporalities. Two completely different realities and ways of seeing, interacting and rules for operating in.

It reminds me of the demountable buildings used so often by schools. Designed to be be bought in on a truck and erected quickly to house students during a crisis, like extra enrolments or to carry out repairs to a building, they lack the fixtures and fittings of a permanent space. They’re used for something that can clearly be judged as a temporary measure, but they don’t ever seem to go away. Over time they become a permanent fixture, they don’t stop being used and they’re never actually demounted and moved somewhere else. They stay and become permanent fixtures, looking awkward and out of place as they settle into the landscape. That idea of something designed to be temporary, living in a permanent space is what I’m feeling. It’s a juxtaposition a whole bunch of questions and choices that seemingly contradict each other. Choices that work in a temporary space are not built to cope with permanence and vice versa.

This manifests itself in this concept of Home and the role it plays in our lives. We are/were lucky to have access to temporary rental accommodation that came fully furnished, a rarity in Australia. At the time it was a godsend not to have to rush out and buy furniture for a place that was always going to be temporary for us. We could just move in and inhabit the space . That was fine and accepted in a temporary mindset, this is only going to be a couple of months, after that we’ll be Home. Back to our place, our stuff, our space, our choices and decisions. Until then we were OK with what the temporary afforded us because we knew that soon enough we’d be house with our own fixtures and fittings and personal items.

Ten months on and it doesn’t quite feel the same. The clear edge between what is temporary and what is permanent is gone. The furnished state of this house is now a cumbersome burden that impedes us from really claiming the spaces as Home and provides a constant reminder that this isn’t our space. We are foreigners here. This is not our Home, and that has a direct effect on how we process things emotionally and how those emotions influence our lives. So little things like the appliances in the kitchen, the furniture layout and configuration of the rooms begins to grate on you. They’re so foreign to the Home that we left and become an impediment to engaging with the space and to treating it like our home. And that sentiment seeps into the rest of your life. In many ways that disconnect becomes part of how you live life. You begin to act, behave and care like this is all just temporary. It seeps in that deeply. You have to adapt to what’s here and what’s present and now, and that is starkly different to what was. Your whole life becomes a nice place to visit but at least I don’t have to live there! But now you do, the length of time spent dealing with the temporary has constructed a permanence that changes everything.

The place that was a refuge is now a prison. This place now mounds every aspect of your life – your hopes, dreams and aspiration. Your thoughts and feelings become detached as realities and temporalities collide. Life becomes stuck, a victim of this Temporary Permanence.


2. An Age of Temporary Permanence

In the last few weeks, having got to the point where I can recognise and articulate this experience, there has been a profound recognition that this is a lived experience for so many people on this planet. This disorientation and contradiction and the affect of temporary permanence is a global state. For every refugee in the world that it’s displaced, this is their reality. The refugee camps that were seen as a release and a safe haven from conflict become prisons over time. Where years are spent readjusting and living in not just temporary accommodation, but temporary lives, cut off from Home but also work, family, community and place. My affinity is limited to just to place, I don’t have any other trauma to deal with, so by no means do I want to compare what my family have been through with those of refugees. But I understand now that kind of disruptive emotional state that temporarily permanence places on someone.

There’s a stress and conflict created by the inability to divide the temporary and the permanent, they actually co-exist within the same space. For us it’s been the constantly changing timelines of the process of rebuilding. We’ve kind of gone from thinking that this is a short term temporary thing to not actually knowing when we will ever be in our house due to the continuing delays.

I think this is the root of it is that I don’t think we are designed as humans to cope with that coexistence of temporalities. That the temporary and the permanent need to be separate in order for us to cope. The ambiguities around time lines is the disrupting force here. These changes affect emotions and the way that our brains cope with the information and the situations we find ourselves in. We can’t rely on our mindsets and processes from our previous experiences. This is like nothing you’ve ever felt or experienced before, and most people don’t and won’t experience this.


3. Temporary Acts Permanently Changing Lives

Perhaps the most stark example of the effect of the Temporary Permanence was captured in the recent footage from ABC Australia’s Four Corners program, Australia’s Shame. Of greatest concern for me was the fact that children were being a locked up in solitary confinement for arbitrary and extended periods of time. There was now defined dates or times for these kids. The rules around adult solitary confinement were completely ignored and I am deeply concerned about the psychological and mental state of those children. This is situation where Temporary Permanence is harmful, and we watched as these kids cracked over time. The inability to attached themselves or their lives to anything permanent, the fact that what was supposed to be temporary punishment become a permanent state, that these kids were already damaged by the system – it creates a powder keg, and the resulting explosion is that of a young persons life.

Fusion: It’s what makes this place great!

I want to send out a big thank you to all involved in the Fusion12 event held in Wagga on Saturday! What a fantastic day!

There is so much negativity out in the world that it was truly great to experience something positive in our community.

There’s a reason that I love this place I call home, and Saturday was proof in point. Wagga is a true melting pot of cultures, backgrounds and traditions. It is a juxtaposition of races, religions and creeds. Social and cultural status blends and entwines – high bogan with hints of euro-trash and man of the land.

The perception of Wagga in the wider world is that of a small country town and I’ve always been at odds with that. It’s never felt like that to me. It’s always felt dynamic and evolving, that change is inevitable and most often welcome. Yes you have your class of old curmudgeon – but they exist in all societies. This is a place where industry, agriculture, education and commerce come together. It is a where people come and go, stay, leave and often return.

Saturday showcased the vibrancy of the town and the culture injected into our lives from those that come and live here from around the world. I watched the town embrace its new citizens and revel in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

Thank you to all those who opened up their lives – and their kitchens. Thanks for sharing and giving back to the town. Thanks to the council for providing such a wonderful space – closing the street has been an idea of mine for so long and it’s great to see it happen and work so well.

Thank you Wagga. There is a reason that this is the place so nice they named it twice.

Spring and culture on display via Wagga City Council @wwccmedia

Reports

Well back at work and I’m straight into the thick of it. Spent last week recovering from jetlag and missing days as well as frantically finalising a document for our mLearning initiative. This week it’s report time. I tell you it’s a challenge to get all the stuff in my head out and formed into something understandable. If you’re in the market for a giant ball of information on mobile learning, mobile web, eduction in the future, US dollars, degrees in fahrenheit and Mexican food – come see me and make an offer 🙂

PS: I have been using my recently purchased copy of Scrivener to collect and write up my reports and using my other new purchase, Aperture, to get through the pile of photos all lovingly shot in RAW. Both are an absolute joy to use! Yay me for prudent purchases!