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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

The Orange Dragon





things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time. "there were papers, letters, old boxes—all sorts of ephemera"

collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity. "Mickey Mouse ephemera"

Source: Oxford Dictionary.


We are doing a bit of tidying up around the house and, a few days ago, Karen handed me a home-made manilla folder containing an assortment of memorabilia. At least I think that’s what I’d call what was in it. Ephemera that was important enough for me to keep when we moved house thirteen years ago.

There is a photograph of the mechanical engineering team I worked with between 2000 and 2003. Some of the best people I have ever worked with are in the image and I could tell stories about each of them. And they about me. We are all wearing project shirts, except Nikki who is wearing a dress. Nikki was a lead mechanical engineer on what was, at the time, the largest engineering project undertaken in Perth. And Nikki was a transwoman. I did not understand, or respect, Nikki’s courage back then. But I do now. And I hope that, wherever Nikki is, she is well, and she is happy.

A printed booklet from the thanksgiving mass held for my Nanna’s funeral is also here. Eva was my dad’s mum and the only one of my four grandparents I had known. My maternal grandmother had died in 1959, eleven years before I was born, and her husband just three years after her. My dad’s father passed away four months before my birth. Still, though I knew her, I never really knew Nanna. I grew up in Carnarvon and Nanna lived in Perth, so I only saw her a handful of times during my youth. And even when we moved to the city, and I saw her more often, we did not become close. Instead, my feelings towards her became something else. Something which was not love at all. Part of my work-in-progress memoir, a chapter called ‘Understanding Nanna’, is dedicated to her. In recent years I have learned things about Nanna’s childhood, and her life, which make me wonder what it might have been like had we been able to share our experiences with each other. She lived for ninety-four years. I wish I’d been able to connect with her during some of those.

Next is another document provided to me in a church. A certificate declaring me to be a godparent to the daughter of my friend Tom and his wife Jodie. Tom was my closest mate during our last few years of university, and he was best man at my wedding. We don’t see each other anywhere nearly enough but he is still a great friend. He is someone I feel connected with at the deepest level, someone I love.

There is a letter here too. And it relates to another mate. My first best friend, Norm. The note was from his mum to me. Norm had died suddenly a few days before Christmas 2001 and she was writing in response to a card and photograph I had sent to her and Norm’s dad, brother and two sisters. I didn’t make it to the funeral in Carnarvon. At the time, I was busy. Work, house, family. And Karen was pregnant with our third child. And I was hurting. I had lost a university friend to suicide one year earlier. My mum had passed away four years before that. Now Norm had gone too. There is not a week that goes by where I don’t think of him. And wish I’d made the trip to say farewell to him or called him more often. He was the best kind of childhood friend - energetic, funny, easy-going - and I miss him.

There are hand-made cards and books in the folder. They are from my kids when they were young. A picture book, called Kelly’s Holiday, by my daughter, a sailboat drawing from my eldest son, and colouring-in from my youngest boy. There is also a dinosaur drawing, crayoned in orange by me with purple, pink and yellow spots. And one which has been done by my wife, using more true-to-life colours, of Elmo eating a sandwich and a squirrel eating a nut.

No doubt, in a decade or two, I will find similar treasures and trinkets to remind me of this year. Of the roller-coaster ride which has been 2023; the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens. A year when I:

  • Received a late, and unwanted, Christmas gift on Boxing Day; concurrent doses of COVID19 and shingles.

  • Celebrated my thirtieth wedding anniversary, with the love of my life, at a remote property near Bridgetown where we bush walked, played board games, and forgot about the world.

  • Walked my beautiful daughter into a pavilion where seven people and two dogs were waiting to witness and celebrate her marriage to Sean. Later supporting her as best as I could when she changed jobs. Leaving the relentless pressure of modern-day teaching in a system geared against the educators and the students, and finding a place of work with a soul.

  • Spent precious time with my father-in-law as his dementia and Alzheimer’s worsened and he was first hospitalised and then placed in aged care, leaving my mother-in-law alone and my wife both busy and heartbroken.

  • Walked for seven wonderful days the full length of the incredible Cape to Cape track with Karen; talking and laughing, connecting with each other and ourselves.

  • Visited my dad’s partner in hospital multiple times as she tried to recover from falls at home and the medical professionals tried to work out why they were happening.

  • Took my sister to meet our half-sister for her first time and watched her son, my nephew, played his first paid gig with his band.

  • Felt love, when my eldest son admitted himself to hospital twice to work on his mental health, built two wonderful friendships and, just yesterday, came seventh out of thirty teams with me in a tenpin bowling competition.

  • Spent a weekend at KSP Writers Centre learning craft from a master, Laurie Steed, and later got to do two courses with two different, and equally wonderful, writers in Lee Kofman and Pip Smith.

  • Came close to being shortlisted for a story I wrote, the same one which nearly was selected to be published in The Big Issue.

  • Drove a good friend to some of his radiotherapy appointments then had the pleasure of walking with him on bush trails later in the year after his treatment had finished and he had overcome the side effects.

  • Watched classic music with old friends in Mandurah at a 60’s 70’s 80’s show and went to the tenth anniversary gig of one of the greatest progressive metal albums of all time, Chaos Divine’s Human Connection, with my mate, Jim.

  • Stopped drinking caffeine for a while, thinking that the physical feelings I was having was the result of coffee and my ADHD medication, but later finding out from my psychiatrist that I was having panic attacks.

  • Discovered books by Imi Lo, a psychologist and writer who absolutely gets me, my intensity and sensitivity.

  • Spent a hilarious evening with five old friends choosing eclectic music videos to watch on Youtube.

  • Walked most weeks with a friend around a lake in Kingsley as he held the grief of losing his father in one hand and the joy of publishing a beautiful book called Love, Dad in the other.

  • Felt pride and hope when my youngest son took the huge step of self-admitting to hospital to get help for his mental health and later felt the joy that comes from having ideas and creating things together.

  • Hung placards and handed out leaflets on referendum day, hoping for a Yes result, despairing as the majority of Australia failed to see what I could see and feel what I could feel. But I was buoyed by my dad when he told the story of how he loudly proclaimed he was voting Yes when he arrived at his polling booth and a smiling First Nations man came over and shook his hand.

  • Attended a sound healing session with my sister, marvelling at the experience and the way it changed me in the following weeks.

  • Laughed at Lindsay McDougall in a sailor suit playing ACDC riffs in a gap between Frenzal Rhomb songs at Badlands, Kate Ceberano and Perth Symphony Orchestra get a standing ovation for an enchanting performance at the Perth Concert Hall, William Crichton’s spine tingling acappella performance of Killara, and Polaris play their first gig after the release of the album of the year and the tragic loss of their guitarist Ryan.

  • Missed the Good Things Festival in Melbourne because I was unwell and could not make the flight.

I could write more but I won’t. Because we can all write a list like this. These are just my ups and downs. Contextually and relatively, they are not much. I am not in Gaza. Or the Ukraine. I am not being persecuted for my beliefs or my place of birth. Of course, personally they sometimes seem like everything. And that’s the way of life it seems.

We need to hold onto that perspective, that balanced view, and to view these things dialectically, both our experiences and the experiences of others. I have my ups and downs and my feelings associated with them AND there are many others in the world experiencing far more extreme changes and I can hold compassion and kindness for them also.

Memorabilia are important because they can spark memories and emotions. And, when we allow it, they can provide context for our journey and grant us an opportunity to see just how much we have grown. And so I will be keeping this hand-made folder and all the ephemera it contains. And start making one for the year that is now coming to an end.


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