Issue #29 / March 2019
What is your earliest memory and has it in any way framed or spoken to any past or ongoing thematic concerns?
CATHERINE, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
In what way did the profession of your father influence you as an artist and as a person?
MICHAEL, SEVENOAKS, ENGLAND
Do you believe in an afterlife? If not, what do you think happens when we die?
THEO, BRIGHTON, ENGLAND
Dear Catherine, Michael and Theo,
I am not sure what my ‘earliest’ memory was – rather I have a muddle of images from my childhood, that make no real sense to me at all. I remember seeing a decapitated chicken running around a chopping block; I remember my mother naming the flowers in our garden; I remember climbing up a wire fence, falling off and splitting open my head; I remember my father painting a theatre prop in the backyard; I remember the devastating feeling of letting go of my mother’s hand on the first day of kindergarten – these memories are part of a disjointed narrative that lives inside my head and that approximates my childhood. But mostly I just remember the feeling of my childhood – that it was free, uncomplicated and happy and that my parents loved me. I have one memory however that sits firmly in my mind because it was the same episode that played out over many nights.
My father was involved in amateur theatre and this meant that some nights he was away from home. At some point he explained to me that he was performing in the play Oedipus. To my child’s mind that involved him dressing up in a cat outfit – as in Oedi-puss. Many nights I would lie awake in bed, waiting for my father to come home, and in the silent darkness, if I concentrated hard enough, I could hear my blood beating in my ears. I would imagine this sound was my father’s footsteps coming down the garden path. I imagined him in his cat suit arriving home and the rhythm of his steps comforted me and I would fall asleep.
Does this memory speak to any thematic concerns? I don’t know. Probably. But I will say this. My father instilled in me the idea of the pre-eminence of creativity – that to create was an act of largesse that had the capacity to redeem the world, and that the pursuit of this path was a serious matter. My father despised cynicism. He felt that whatever a person decided to do in life, they needed to apply themselves fully to the task, and not fuck around. Admittedly, I took a fairly destructive and treacherous route on the way to understanding what he meant. But I know now. He meant that we are at war with the mundane and the uninspired, and that apathy and complacency are moral failings and that it is our urgent duty to be of service to the world. He meant that what we do in life has consequences, and that each of us are effectual and of great value. He believed in the sovereignty of the individual and felt that although we do not always have control over the things that happen to us, it is entirely our choice how we live our life in relation to them.
* * * *
Sometimes, Theo, I think, that if there is an after-life, it will have something to do with the worlds we have dreamed or imagined, especially as children. I think these luminous imaginings, these memories, are locked deep into our sub-conscious and that the infinite and enigmatic nature of consciousness and the possibility of an after-life are inextricably linked. At times, I think that when I die and my spirit leaves my body, searching for its guide, it will be met by a glimmering man in a cat suit walking down the garden path toward me.