Geographic tongues

Is it possible to watch something happening and not see it at all?

Without a doubt. To watch with your eyes or read words on a page, and not take in a single thing, even as the images flash before your eyes. Dissociation or reduced power of observation. 

Or is it a matter of focus? The way a small child might zone in on the tiny mouse featured at the bottom corner of the page in a children’s story book, well away from the action of the story. As if to emphasize the hidden and not deal with the obvious. 

The way I have lived in this house for forty years and this whole time as I walked along my street towards the junction I did not once notice the swastika painted on the concrete footpath outside the flats a block away. 

I did not know it existed until my daughter pointed it out on a walk with the dogs yesterday. ‘They’ve finally covered over the swastika,’ she said. ‘At last.’

 A square of white paint in middle of the footpath. ‘If you look closely,’ she said, ‘you can still see the outline. It’s been there for so many years I almost stopped noticing.’

A swastika, symbol of fascism and superiority, a symbol we’d do well to remove, rather like the dreadful Katie Hopkins I first heard yesterday on radio, espousing her right-wing nonsense about the incursions on our liberty in Melbourne because people were forced into lockdown when there were only three cases of the virus in the community. 

This is not true. There were more cases, not many more, but many of us, if not most understand, I hope, that this strain of the virus does not discriminate and once out and about, it piggy backs on anyone’s blood steam for a free ride. A dangerous ride for that person and if not for that person, as in, they don’t get symptoms, then for anyone else from whom the virus might hitch a lift. 

Blind prejudice that fails to factor in our responsibilities to one another beyond a selfish disregard for our communal good. That’s what fascism initially preys upon. The insecure tendencies of many who want to rise above the dross of everyday life and imagine we can get there by riding on the coat tails of people like Hitler, or Donald Trump or any of the shock jocks on the radio who urge us to put ourselves first and ‘fuck the rules’. 

I woke last night to the nagging sensation of an ache building up in my right ear. Took two Panadol and it disappeared. An ache in my ear that stirs up childhood memories of such pain. Alongside the pain in my once rotting teeth. Pain I wanted to ignore, given the only solution to the tooth ache was a visit to the dentist and the only solution to my ear ache was to alert my mother to my existence, and depending on the day, a trip to my father in the lounge room where he might examine my head and pronounce a solution of I-know-not- what given his experience during the war, when doctors were scarce on the ground and they had to make do with home-style remedies. 

For my father an earache would pass if I simply wrapped a scarf around my head. I have tended to steer away from doctors all my life. The pressure of their judgement on all the wrong things I might do to my body, given its propensity to fade. 

Don’t get me wrong. I come from a long line of stalwarts. My mother prided herself on her children’s ability to ward off coughs and colds and other common childhood ailments through our advanced immunity which came from her side. 

The fact that two of my siblings copped rheumatic fever in childhood did not count. Despite my reservations in later years about her tendency to look towards the physical strength of her children and their immune systems, I was guilty of the same and when two of my daughters complained that their tongues hurt. It took the observations of a doctor who looked onto the tongue of each and diagnosed geographic tongue. 

No wonder my daughters hated tomatoes. Too much acid. There was no treatment for this condition. At least not then. It was simply a fact of life. A scoriated tongue. Geographical because it looked like the map of a country loaded with roadways that curved and rippled with rivers that ran through. 

My daughters learned to live with these geographical tongues to the point they no longer mention the discomfort but unlike the swastika on the side of the road, the state of their tongues and the incursions on their taste buds has stayed with me. A reminder of the way our bodies can fail us unless you are the bearer. Like a small pimple on your tongue you worry away at it on the roof of your mouth and can only imagine that others will see a boulder on the extremity of your tongue as you talk. 

2 thoughts on “Geographic tongues”

  1. I multitask constantly. It’s the modern way. I’ve done it for years. But I’ve noticed a problem. Because I don’t give things the attention they deserve I retain far less than I used to. Ask me, for example, to name my favourite LPs (from when LPs were a thing) and every one will from decades ago because when I was, say, sixteen I could hold my entire music collection under my arm and I listened to the same albums over and over again until they were deeply ingrained in my consciousness. I couldn’t tell you the name of the last album I listened to and that was less than an hour ago. When Pink Floyd released ‘The Wall’ a group of us sat in a room and just listened to it from start to finish. I cannot imagine devoting so much time to a single activity anymore. And this is me effectively retired. I think back to when I was working and, honestly, I don’t know how I coped. (Well, that was the point; I didn’t cope; I burned out every seven or eight years.) I’ve been lax at commenting on your blog and the simple reason is there’s so much going on in my head I struggle to find/make the space to devote the time to it, to read it, digest the contents, ruminate on them and then respond thoughtfully. Even as I’m doing this I’ve an eye on a second PC that’s running an update. My wife is always asking me if I noticed this or that and, hand on heart, nine times out of ten I haven’t.
    Carrie: Did you notice the butterflies on the curtains?
    Jim: We have curtains?
    I’ve always lived inside my head. Would I have noticed the swastika was missing? Unlikely. It took me years to notice Donald Trump. I had no idea who he was when he became president. To be fair the same was true of Obama.

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