The Long Drawer revisited

I wrote this Blog seven years ago and wanted to draw on it again today. I was stuck for a topic so this is my ‘go to’ box. I’ve added a couple of photos and edited it slightly (some of it seemed a bit garbled). I had to copy and paste as I didn’t know how to bring the post to the top of my Blog.

I dipped my hand into one of the files just a moment ago and came up with this – I cut it out of the Weekend Australian Magazine in February, 2001. So, it isn’t all serious stuff!


As you can see from the photo, there’s nothing posh about my Long Drawer. The cardboard box has has had a few incarnations – packing case, repository for academic drafts, and toy box for Rosie amongst other things.

My Long Drawer – box

The value of the Bakhtinian notion of the “long drawer”.

I have been a researcher since childhood. I have discovered that my researcher persona seldom takes a holiday. Conversations I have—and have had (or overheard), the books I read and have read, the events I participate in or observe become intrinsic to my life. The garnered information is stored, often in a journal, sometimes in memory, sometimes on tape or in pictures, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, but is there to be “drawn” on when I need it!

Connecting my familiar to what is, at first strange, carries me into my writing. Remembering stories and myths allows me, indeed provokes me, as author, to use my ‘long drawer’. A colleague mentioned (in passing) ‘the long drawer’. He was speaking about Bakhtin’s custom of ‘drawing’ on material that he had written many years earlier. The play on the word ‘drawer’ (I imagine the material was kept in a bureau of some sort) and ‘drawing’ upon it, befits the way I work and research and remember. These things I keep: letters, essays, and notes; I write down dreams, conversations and memories of conversations; I eavesdrop and take notes. I keep journals, diaries, taped interviews, lists, and newspaper clippings—many of which I draw on at various stages in my work.

When the dreaded block happens, I plunge my hand into one of the various boxes or files that serve to house the bits and pieces. I find in my ‘long drawer’ journals and diaries that go back forty years or more; scraps of paper with notes are even older. I remember the journals and letters I destroyed when I left Africa and regret that I was so imprudent and impulsive in burning them. The papers and letters I did keep take on a meaningfulness that makes me realise I was an historian, an ethnographer, an anthropologist, before I knew what the words meant. Among the treasures that remain in the cache, my ‘long drawer’, are my father’s handwritten notes of the eulogy he gave at his mother’s funeral in 1967—the year my daughter was born—and just by seeing his handwriting I feel and savour the threads that link the generations: I remember the fountain pen he used, I remember my grandmother’s funeral, and most of all, I remember my father.

The correspondence and conversations with friends, relatives, Australians, Zimbabweans, and expatriate Rhodesians is evident and the anonymous others whose words and conversations, overheard, are stored for retrieval when I need them. In the long drawer, past impacts on the present and the present on the past and traces of autobiography are spoor to draw in the reader.

This post is now part of my long drawer and in it I have drawn on my doctoral thesis, emails to friends and other hoarded sources.

Looking tidy today!

Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975)

The Long Drawer revisited

Whatever next?

An entry on Allison’s blog – That elusive pair of jeans reminded me of an incident in my own childhood. Allison writes about a boxing match where she knocked a boy out-for-the-count! My recollection isn’t quite so violent although the outcome was similar.

My father would often let recent immigrants to Southern Rhodesia live in one of the cottages on the farm. I would have been about six-years-old at the time that Bert and Ethel, and their two children, Julie and Tristan lived in the cottage nearest the Big House. Julie, who was a little younger than me, and I became friends. I have a tangled mop of curly hair and I was deeply envious of her long, thick plaits. One day I suggested we play ‘hairdressers’. In her English innocence she agreed. I can’t say I planned the actual deed but, in retrospect, it certainly seems like it. I should imagine the conversation went something like this:

Eleanor “Here, you cut my hair (with these exceedingly blunt scissors)”.

Julie “Oh no, I’ll get in trouble!”

Eleanor “No you won’t. My mum won’t mind.” … and so on and so forth.

So after some persuasion Julie attacked my hair with the scissors. Of course, having such curly hair there was little or no evidence of the ‘haircut’.

Then it was my turn. I carefully held one of her thick, brown plaits and hacked it off right up near her scalp. The plait came free in my hands just as her mother walked into the room. Oh my! Consternation! With no hesitation I dodged past Ethel and made my escape – through the window – and ran all the way home.

Not long after, I was dragged from my hiding place (under my parent’s bed) and the physical punishment was duly administered. Luckily for me the rest of the story is lost to memory.

me speaking

Whatever next?

New Year 2015

My message to my Facebook Friends for New Year 2015:

Hello my friends! I’ll take you all into 2015 if you want to come with me? We’ll have fun and I’ll carry on (silently) correcting your grammar – but you can pick me out (overtly) on my errors, no problem!

We will have fun and, possibly, address some issues. I guess we’ll disagree on many things – that’s healthy. One of my Resolutions for 2015 is to keep my mind and heart open so I can listen and work around differences. However, I will *always* delete any comments I find obnoxious, hurtful or objectionable.

With love and joy for 2015

New Year Resolutions to follow soon … (that’s one of them – to blog more regularly)

New Year 2015