Have you ever had the sensation of lying in bed at night alert to every sound and thought such that sleep evades you? Of course you have. Sleeplessness hits us all at one time or another.
Last night I had fallen asleep for an hour or so but then I woke around midnight with the awareness that my daughter was not yet home and, although she is an adult and midnight is not late for a young woman of her generation to be out and about, I could not get back to sleep.
I started that awful process of listening for the click of the door. I wanted her home and then I could sleep. I wanted to hear from her that she was okay. I wanted the click of the door, the front lights to blink on at her arrival, the key in the lock. I went through her mobile number in my head again and again as I do on such nights when I keep hoping one or other of my daughters will arrive home safe.
My thoughts fluctuated between telling myself to go to sleep, be patient and the urge to dial those numbers. Eventually I text messaged her. I spent some time rehearsing the message.
‘I trust all’s okay.’
I pressed the send button and then resumed waiting. And the waiting got worse as we rolled onto one o'clock in the morning. You see, I knew my daughter had gone out on a blind date. You know, the sort where you do not know the person you are meeting.
A dinner in a restaurant which must have been over by then. She’s an adult, I told myself. She’s over twenty one, stop worrying.
Thoughts of myself at that age ran through, all the crazy things I have done, endangered my life. My mind ran amok. The days events ran through.
I had been to the Freud conference, that wondrous annual event where two or three speakers, usually of international renown, get up and talk about things related to psychoanalysis and how psychoanalytic ideas features on the world stage in practice and applied.
Yesterday Julian Burnside gave us an inside look at the lives of certain asylum seekers that makes me further ashamed to live in this country and turn a blind eye to such profound injustice. Earlier Nancy Hollander had talked about the situation in America where Latino migrants are treated equally badly in the United States. She thought in terms of the systemic nature of these abuses, and how important it is to recognise them and the impact of the social world in analytic work. Traditionally in psychoanalysis the emphasis has been on the internal world.
Hollander told the joke about a man who goes shopping in order to prepare for his camping trip. He goes into a camping store and buys his tent, his sleeping bag, all the stuff a person needs for such an event, but as he rocks up to the counter, the shop keeper says.
'What about your runners? You’ll need runners.’
And the man says. ‘No, I won’t need runners. I’m going on a camping trip. You don’t need runners for camping.’
And the man says, 'you’ll need runners to be able to outrun any bears that come along.'
And the man says ‘I could never outrun a bear, runners or not.’
‘But you could outrun your friend.’
The joke ended there and we all laughed nervously because the point was made. This is the essence of neo-liberalism, the idea that the fittest survive and the rest serve the purpose of the fittest – as food for the bears.
Better the bears get the asylum seekers, the unwanted migrants. Better the immigrants take all those crumby jobs, while we who are more comfortable maintain the status quo.
I feel even more ashamed of myself than ever before. And then after the talks in the early evening, we went on a tour of the Cunningham Dax Gallery, an exhibition of art works mainly completed by inmates of Royal Park, some over fifty-seventy years ago, paintings that reflect the pain of their mental illness and their incarceration in a mental hospital, and I felt further ashamed.
Then one of my companions at the talk said to me over a glass of wine: These people here, these other folks in the audience – including, I presume he meant, he and I – will go home feeling unsettled for a while, but then we'll go back to our everyday lives cleansed of our distress and ready to resume our busy full lives, strangely refreshed by the experience, as if we have done enough in simply hearing the talk. Nothing more we can do.
Helpless as I felt last night with my daughter out in the dark with a stranger and me fearing the worst, I feel worse about the asylum seekers, not far from here and scattered throughout Australia and beyond living desperate lives in no man’s land waiting for asylum after enduring the most appalling experiences elsewhere.
I cannot write here all the stories that Julian Burnside told us, especially of the man who sent Burnside a videotape of another man whose relatives watched while guards gauged out his eyes and lay the eye balls on a towel nearby. This man had been refused asylum and now feared this fate for himself.
And I worry more for my daughters to be growing up in a country whose behaviour emulates that of the Nazis in Germany some seventy years ago.
We know and yet we turn a blind eye.
How many of you reading here will abandon reading at this point. I realised as I listened yesterday to Julian Burnside that I did not want to hear what he had to say, that he was planting images in my mind of such horror that I could barely stop myself from bursting into tears. How can we continue to allow such cruelty in our treatment of asylum seekers?
And then there is my daughter out in night with a stranger and what can I do? It’s not enough to sign petitions – the easy thing – Julian Burnside reckons, better to write to our local member and his/her opposition counterpart. Write a letter tell them your vote depends on this. Ask questions and when you get the standard pro forma back, write another letter.
Burnside then acknowledged that the two dominant parties care only about the marginal seats, care only about securing their votes in order to retain or gain power. They therefore pander to the sentiments of the ‘unsafe seats’, many of whose constituents are the most disenfranchised of our society and they perhaps most of all resent the incomers and fear there is not enough to go around.
They endorse the cruel treatment of asylum seekers in the belief that there will be more for them but in terms of what I have recently discovered as 'biopower', they along with the rest of us who remain silent actually support the state infrastructures, the government ruling class that means we wind up policing our own, via the introduction of such things as the privatisation of asylum seekers, whereby those who care for detainees are merely prison guards and asylum seekers who have broken no laws are treated as criminals.
You must be exhausted reading this, not nearly as exhausted as me, for even after my daughter texted me finally at 1.35 am to say that all was well and she’d see me in the morning, I still could not sleep.
If she has elected to stay out with the stranger I trust her judgement. I must. She’s a grown up, but the world is so cruel and terrible things can happen and I have not seen her yet and all those atrocities happen in this ‘fair’ land day after day in the name of the law and in the name of good governance and I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.