Survival of the Fittest

Bill saw him first, this tiny possum at the side of the road on the nature strip. I was in the drivers seat about to take the car out of the driveway, when Bill pointed it out. The possum was trying it seemed to scale the long shiny telephone pole, one of those broad silver poles painted black at the base. The possum could not get any grip on the pole and kept slipping back onto the grass. Slowly in full beam of the headlights it skipped across our driveway, in search of a tree, we imagined. I looked towards the tree on the other edge of our nature strip beyond our driveway imagining that at any minute the possum would appear on his ascent to the safety of the tall branches. It could not possibly go out onto the road, I thought. It would have more sense than that. The traffic on Riversdale Road in front of our house stood at a standstill waiting for the lights to change. Friday night, early darkness, headlights flashing like a million bright eyes. The possum stepped out onto the road and stopped between the line of stationary cars. The cars in front took off and the driver immediately behind the possum seemed to hesitate. The driver must have seen it, I thought and waited for him to get out and shoo the possum away. But whether the driver had seen it or not a second later the car took off. I put my hands over my face. I imagined the possum underneath the belly of the car safe from the wheels. But when I took my hands away I saw car after car drive over the top of the possum. It was dead in minutes. It did not stand a chance.
By the time we returned home from collecting our Friday night takeaway dinner, the possum was a mashed up mess, by morning it was spread so thin across the road it was longer recognisable as a possum.

Possums are pests around here, but I could not feel the satisfaction of one less possum in this instance, one less critter to eat the buds off the roses before first flowering. This little chap was dead in first flowering, dead too soon. Thinking about it now fills me with the sense of trauma I felt that night half watching, half hoping it would all go away. Five days later it’s hard to get that death out of my mind.

The Rhythm of Life

Despondency sets in all too easily. It’s predictable, have a holiday and I start to feel ill, to worry about my health. It always happens. The number of times I decide there’s something seriously wrong with me during a holiday is legion. Then reluctantly I get back to work and it’s all over. I’m myself again. Perhaps I was made to work.

There is something about the business of putting my thoughts down on the page that exposes a level of vulnerability that’s frightening. It’s one thing to speak your thoughts to another, even to a group of others. Generally words that fly out on the wind blow away, unless someone’s taking notes, but even then they have far less power than when they are written and circulated for others to read.

I never know how what I write will be received. Any writer never knows how their work will be viewed. It can be wonderfully well received by the majority or it can be despised. It can be read in a manner completely different from what the writer may have intended. The writer’s intentions matter not these days.

That Greek fellow, Harry Nicolaides, in Thailand, who wrote a sentence or two in his novel that was interpreted as insulting to the King of that country had no idea, I suspect, that it could lead him into such trouble. There will be many who would say that he should have seen it coming. But how could he? And of course the fact remains that it has led an unknown writer, allegedly with not much talent, into the minds of many. Is this what he had wanted? What of the price he paid? – imprisonment for a time with the threat of further imprisonment. I think perhaps it is almost too high a price. He will, I imagine, be forever traumatised and wary of what he writes. Salman Rushdie comes to mind – the fatwa on his head for speaking ill of Islam.

It is a dangerous business. Yet it is addictive. The more we write, the more most of us want to be heard. Annette Kuhn talks about this wish in her book on family secrets when she writes about the film ‘Mandy’ – ‘The little girl wants to be heard’. Sue Woolf, the Australian writer, talks about it too – her position as the only girl in a family of boys and her later recognition that as a writer she has her chance to be heard, whereas in her family of origin she most often felt silenced.

Some people thrive in the shadows, preferring to remain invisible. Some people are shy about their work, but others have this deep need to get recognition. Where does it come from? Not enough recognition at birth, in childhood, too great a sensitivity to the good opinion of others, too much uncertainty about one’s own value unless someone tells you repeatedly. Perhaps it is the lot of women, more so than men.

Research has shown that in the classroom, boys command more air time than girls. This is not to criticize the boys. Their ways of learning, their needs are different from girls. And at the moment, I suspect there is a crisis of masculinity going on in the western world where the men generally, though perhaps not at the top of the tree, are disadvantaged. A crisis that comes as a consequence of the relentless pace of change culturally, feminism has ushered in a new era.

Women are seen to be the equal of men. Men are no longer simply required to be so-called breadwinners. More is required and women find themselves busy bread winning as well. All of this is a simplistic interpretation of the reasons behind what I suspect is a fundamental change to our past history of the patriarchal.

I’m sure that my children do not feel the pressure of the patriarchal quite as strongly as I do. Though the other day when one of my girls said that they would be able to get a dog only if their father approved, then it became clear to me that his veto is more powerful than mine. Or maybe that applies in instances where both their parents are in two minds on something. We still do not have a dog. And as Ella’s return to school draws nearer I breathe a sigh as I suspect we may get through this crisis without bending to the pressure.

We may yet get way without getting a dog. As Bill has said, one of the cats, Anoushka would almost certainly ‘leave home’ were we to come home with a dog. It’s far worse than coming home with a new baby because a cat cannot be made to reason. A cat will feel completely displaced, or so my anthropomorphic reasoning tells me. Our cats need to have their space respected. In years to come I would love a dog. Certainly when the cats are gone, though of course this might take years. The three girls argue a dog would be good for their father. I think this may be true. But not now, not yet, not when there is already so little time to attend to the needs of those already here, cats, children and parents, grandchild now as well.

Roll on school and a continuation of the pattern of busy days. Holidays are dangerous. I get sick during holidays and my children dream up unrealistic schemes that can sometimes snowball into impossible demands for which there is no room during the normal school and academic year. Roll on the rhythm.