I looked at the date on today’s paper and saw with astonishment that it’s already the 21st. At last, I’ve stopped having to think when writing 2017 but it still seems like the year hasn’t really begun until school goes back in. I’m not quite back in the old routine; there are no school buses thundering past as I walk down to work in the mornings; lots of relaxed folk wander around the town and into our bookshop. It’s very pleasant, this holiday feeling.
Death Takes a Holiday was the title of a 1934 Paramount picture, but it never does, does it? Yesterday’s events in the Melbourne’s Bourke Street Mall were shocking and horrifyingly random. I was in the Mall only the day before. It makes me think that anything can happen, to anyone, at any time. And does.
Part of the shock is because Australia is still such a safe, peaceful and lucky country, only – going on the results of opinion polls – Australians don’t seem to feel that way. I don’t think I’m imagining this, but people seem increasingly under stress, fractured, impatient.
I think to myself, often, that we are animals – human animals – very clever animals, but that we have come to the very edge of our animal nature being able to keep up with our cleverness.
We have made this mad and terrible world for ourselves. There are too many of us all jammed in together. There are too many distractions (our animal nature loves novelty, and grasps at it eagerly) and too many toys. So many of us are unwell, drugged, addicted, or hate- and and fear-filled.
We were at the newsagent yesterday and looked briefly at the cover of a magazine called Conspiracy Theories. It was amazing and gobsmacking, but I actually couldn’t bear to look at it for long. As my husband quotes, ‘People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts’ but the publishers of these paranoia magazines don’t seem to care. All kinds of nonsense is cynically peddled as fact. Facts aren’t allowed to get in the way of a good, rabid opinion. Hate and fear sell. Oh, dear.
As a counterbalance to despair, I rummaged around and found something I’d written to comfort myself when feeling just like this around twenty years ago.
I KNOW THIS IS REAL
Breastfeeding my baby at daybreak to birdsong,
I know this is real
As gunshots and flesh wounds in ghettos in warzones.
The papers send waves of it –
battles, a slaying,
a car-crash, a coup –
to drown the bird
the tree and the dawn.
I know it’s the real world.
It’s gritty, it’s hard.
Sharp edges, harsh textures – but more truly real
breastfeeding my baby at dawn with the birds?
At daybreak, my baby, his soft cheek, my son.
Bike tyres. The thud of the paper that lands at our door.
My baby, your soft face, my real world.