May 2013 archive

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. 

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.  

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