Sunday, May 26, 2013

Small rooms concentrate the mind

On a mild summer morning when the birds were at their most cheerful I went for a walk back in time.   First I entered a museum, one I had visited many times before.  This museum once housed Phar Lap, the stuffed wonder horse, the bones of gigantic dinosaurs, and the skeletons of tiny marsupials.  But I had lost interest in these exhibits and longed to find a new room within this many roomed museum.  Then I looked up. 

On the ceiling was a man hole with a metal ladder held to the wall by brass bolts.  There was no one was around on this day in the museum of my mind so I decided to look further. 

They say you should not climb ladders once you have passed the age of fifty but in this museum age did not count.  Anything was possible.  Everything relied on luck and a certain state of mind that allowed the viewer to see things with fresh eyes.  I had not noticed this ladder before.  I had not looked up and seen the manhole in the ceiling before. 

As in any dream the ascent was easy. My feet did not falter even though in the outer world I was wary of heights.  The man hole lid lifted effortlessly at my touch.  I slid it to one side and poked my head through the opening into darkness.  Now was the time I should have turned back but something drove me onwards and upwards into the roof cavity. 
I knew from past experience to make my way along the rafters as if I were reading Braille.  I knew from past experience to avoid putting any weight on the plaster of the ceiling.  Like a trapeze artist I slid along the beams, wishing myself weightless, which was not so difficult in the roof well of my museum where anything was possible only everything remained in darkness.  The faintest light shone behind me from the man hole I had just entered but ahead of me black ink and no movement. 
I was blind.  I could not see those things around me whose shape might otherwise be visible to someone else with sharp vision, but I was so locked inside myself that I could only see things as I had seen them in the past.  No new images entered my field of vision.  I relied on my fingers and my sense of smell to continue along this narrow and splintery beam careful to avoid the rough bits that might pierce my skin. 

Something has to happen I said to myself.  But my optimism offered nothing in return.  Something good has to happen I reassured myself but still nothing.  That is when I decided I must wait.  It will come.  And when it does, I will know it by sense alone and I will pounce. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Outrunning the bears

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.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

'Throwing like a girl'.

This morning I went to pull up the bedroom blind and hesitated as I often do.  I have trouble getting the blind to retract without its flapping all the way to the top and over such that it’s hard to retrieve the cord the next time I need to pull down the blind.
            ‘Hold onto the cord,’ my husband tells me repeatedly ‘that way it won’t run away from you,’ but still I get it wrong. 

I lack coordination in such matters no matter how hard I try.  It’s a familiar feeling my distrust of any capacity when it comes to things physical.  Too clumsy and uncoordinated.  

I've been reading Iris Marion Young’s essay ‘Throwing like a girl’ which seems to connect.  She writes about the way girls tend not to use their bodes in the same free and easy way their counterpart males do. 

My brothers used to laugh at me and my sisters, the way we ran.  Running like a girl/throwing like a girl are derisory expressions used to reflect a certain discomfort women have with their bodies.  How are we taught these things?

I don’t remember anyone saying to me that I should or should not use my whole body when throwing a ball but I remember a pressure to keep my body out of the equation.  I always put it down to wanting to remain invisible from my father but lately I’ve observed that other women also feel some pressure to remain invisible even as women are also the ones most likely to be looked at, the ones who feel great pressure to put their bodies on display, especially the young women. 

‘Didn’t your mother teach you to pull up blinds,’ my husband asks half joking.
‘No,’ I say.  ‘I only remember Venetian blinds.’
‘Posh,’ is my husband’s reply. 

I have never thought of Venetian blinds as posh but I can see now they were when they first came into existence.  Before we moved into our new AV Jennings special – a triple fronted cream brick veneer on Warrigal road in Cheltenham – we too had never seen the likes of Venetian blinds, but we had no blinds ether as far as I can recall, only curtains.  So I did not get to practice the retraction of the cord. 

These blinds remind me of my body.  Out of control.  I felt it last week after I side swiped the car to which I had failed to give way. It was almost as if I was in a dream.  I pulled to one side slightly up onto the footpath and felt my foot trembling on the brake and for a moment there I feared I could not even stop the car and I saw myself rolling into several other cars that were parked in front of me in the car park.

I pulled myself together in time to stop but the sensation was one I often have in dreams where I cannot stop no matter how hard I try, though in dreams my sense more often is of getting into reverse and not being able to get myself back into a forward motion.

These things come to me now as I reflect on my clumsiness in all things physical.  My lack of physical strength relative to the boys and men in my life.  I know men are believed to be inherently stronger and often times are bigger but as Iris Marion Young suggests women tend to underplay their own strength relative to their size.  We could be stronger she implies if only we could convince ourselves it’s okay to be strong.