Mystery Road

Over the past few days, I have watched the six-part ABC series Mystery Road. Funnily enough, I recall watching another great drama, Seven Types of Ambiguity, this time last year. Clearly, it is becoming something of a tradition to watch an enthralling drama at the end of semester one.

What attracted me to Mystery Road was primarily its cast, which features many wonderful Aboriginal actors like Aaron Pedersen, Deborah Mailman, Tasma Walton and Ernie Dingo. These actors were indeed wonderful, but there were many other wonderful things about the show.

The director

The show is directed by Rachel Perkins, the brains behind the film Bran Nue Dae (2010) and the documentary The First Australians (2008).

The setting and scenery

The show is set in a small town in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. Place is clearly incredibly important to this series, as the landscape takes a much more prominent role than it does in most television shows. Each episode features spectacular shots of birds, bodies of water, cliffs and escarpments, long highways, abandoned buildings, red dirt and vegetation.

The music

The smooth sounds of Dan Sultan feature prominently in this show and they are a perfect fit with the feel of the show. The talent of Australia’s first peoples is really on show here – Aboriginal actors, an Aboriginal director, and music from Sultan, an Arrernte and Gurindji man.

The story

The show explores the mysterious disappearance of two boys, one a local and the other a backpacker, on the massive Ballantyne cattle station. As the story progresses, things become more and more complex and it becomes clear that everything and everyone is entangled. Themes such as power, justice and truth are central to the story.

The politics and history

The show also dives into Australia’s troubled past and present as a settler colony. The small town is clearly still divided along racial lines and many of its inhabitants are struggling to come to terms with the past and present. As the story progresses, the violence done to the local Indigenous people by the white settlers is revealed. Issues such as Indigenous incarceration rates and the poverty experienced by many first nations communities are also brought to the fore, and the show manages to draw the links between past and present in a way we often seem unable or unwilling to do.


It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that I highly recommend the show.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

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Essay Writing, Tutoring, Volunteering

The last few weeks have flown by, filled mostly by three things: essay writing, tutoring and volunteering.

I am relieved to say that the essay writing is virtually done. My 2500-word Australian Indigenous Politics essay has been submitted, and my 1500-word Immigration in France essay is nearly done and due in on Tuesday. Writing essays is hard work. It involves a lot of thinking and always takes a lot more time than I expect it to. After a day of work on an essay, I often feel I haven’t got very far. But if I then compare where I am on that day to where I had been the week before, I am suddenly struck by the enormity of what I have done. It seems essays are written by accretion. Each day they build up that little bit more until suddenly they are complete, or in my case too long! Then comes the painful editing process. Deciding which of the bits I’ve spent ages writing to cut out of my essay is always a struggle. I work with a chisel, gradually refining my work until it is coherent, succinct, and smooth.

Alongside this process, I have spent a significant amount of time working. The hard yakka of essay writing makes tutoring feel like a refreshing break in which I can have fun with my students while also helping them to prepare for their exams or complete various assignments. I am so lucky to be able to work as a tutor. I not only have a job, but a meaningful job I enjoy which comes with a range of perks – good pay, flexibility, getting to meet people’s pets at their houses, and getting to know wonderful young people and their lovely families. It’s also a great because it keeps my brain active and forces me to think about things in new ways, as I have to explain things so that my fourteen- to sixteen-year-old students will understand them. On the whole, I’ve just been feeling very grateful for the fact that this is what I get to do to earn money.

Finally, there is volunteering. This has taken a much smaller chunk of my time than essay writing and tutoring, but it is the other main feature of the past few weeks. I’ve been at soup van on Tuesday evenings and did a beyondblue presentation for a group of year twelve students last week. These are the times where I have completely ‘lost myself’ over the past weeks. Being out on the van and presenting to students both absorb my attention and energy so completely that while I am doing them, I simply do not have the chance to think about myself. My attention and energy are channeled outwards to those who need my assistance and this is a wonderful feeling. Tutoring can be like this, but volunteering always is. This makes it a tiring thing to do, but it also gives me an incredible sense of purpose and joy.

While I have found a lot of satisfaction in what I’ve been doing recently, I am also looking forward to a change of pace which I know will come within a week or so, as by then my last essay will have been handed in and my students will have finished their exams.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

May Favourites

Suddenly, it is June. Usually, I am already thinking about my favourites when it comes to the end of the month, but not this time.

Fiction book

disgrace_coverDisgrace by J. M. Coetzee

Sometime towards the end of last year, I borrowed a book from the library called 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. There were a number of Coetzee’s novels in the list, including this one. I’ve been trying to read a few more of the books on this list, so I picked up Disgrace a few weeks ago. It didn’t necessarily sound like my sort of book, but he is such a good writer that he drew me into the world of his characters and made me want to keep reading about them, despite their world being a world fairly remote from my own.

 

Non-fiction book

9781743820421_FCGrowing Up Aboriginal in Australia, edited by Anita Heiss

Sadly, I didn’t finish reading this before it had to go back to the library, but I wanted to share it anyway. It is an anthology of stories written by first peoples reflecting on their experiences. While this means that the stories are diverse in their subject matter, there are also some common threads that link many of the stories together. Unfortunately one of these is racism and discrimination, a near universal experience for the anthology’s writers. Many of the stories also touch on the Stolen Generations and the impact this has had on their knowledge of culture, language and family history, whether it is them who was taken from their family or a parent, grandparent and/or other relative.

Like the anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia, edited by Alice Pung, which I studied in year eleven at school, this book is aimed at high school students. Nonetheless, I think it is great reading for all Australian adults because it provides an important insight into the experiences of first peoples in Australia as told by them.

 

Talk

In our last Australian Indigenous Politics tutorial, we discussed the many Aboriginal media platforms which would allow us to stay informed about the issues we’d spent the past twelve weeks studying. One of the things mentioned was the ABC Radio National podcast Awaye!an Aboriginal arts and culture podcast that I have listened to a few segments of over the past week or two. All of them have been great, covering a diverse range of topics:

 

Food

Earlier this week, I had to have a fasting blood test. I took my dad along with me and we had a yummy breakfast afterwards. I thoroughly enjoyed my cream cheese- and apricot jam-filled French toast with fresh berries and maple syrup.

 

Music

Lover of the Light by Mumford & Sons

This is not a new song, but I wanted to share it because I put on the Mumford & Sons album Babel one day a few weeks ago when I was feeling atrocious – I had woken up with a migraine and was feeling very sad about life. Putting this album on was a wonderful way to nurse me out of my misery. Mumford & Sons songs seem to have this magical way of combining the profound, serious and sad with the joyful and light-hearted. So the songs seemed to not only fit my mood but also then lighten it.

I love the whole album, but this is probably my favourite song off it.

 

There are a few categories which I sometimes share missing from this post because nothing sprang to mind for them. Nonetheless, I hope you’ve enjoyed the favourites which I did come up with.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

The Fine Line Between Acceptance And Resignation

A couple of years ago, getting a migraine would make me angry. Mum would gently counsel me not to get upset, because getting upset would make the pain worse, but this only made me madder. How dare she tell me how I should react? How dare she suggest I should stay calm when that was impossible? I would wail at the injustice of it, hit myself on the head or legs, and kick up an enormous fuss, stomping around the house, slamming doors, doing whatever I could to make my anger known.

Now, I do none of this. When I get a migraine, I tell the necessary person(s) what is happening, take some largely ineffective painkillers and take myself off to my room where I adjust the settings to migraine mode – lights off, blind down, pyjamas on, door shut, eye mask on, body in bed.

The lack of anger may simply be a function of my complete and utter exhaustion. I am too tired to get angry, too tired to rage against the injustices of my own life.

I remember the way the anger used to stay with me as I faced the throbbing pain and nausea. I wanted to know why this was happening to me, who or what was responsible for this injustice. But there was no one or nothing to pin it on except for me and my actions. I directed my anger at myself – perhaps there was something innately maladaptive about me; perhaps I had done something to bring this upon myself. Either way, it was my responsibility, I was the one to hate.

It’s not like this anymore. The migraine remains unjust, but it is not anyone’s fault. The toxic self-blame is gone. Now, I know migraines (and fatigue) are just my lot in life. I’m just unlucky.

This may sound like acceptance, an attitude I have been encouraged to develop over the years, but it’s in fact more like resignation or fatalism.

You see, when I get a migraine, I don’t just think to myself, “There’s nothing you can do about this. It’s not your fault. You’ll just have to ride it out and see how you feel later.” There’s also this, “Here we go again. Nothing ever changes, does it? Migraine after migraine after migraine.”

I’m not merely accepting the migraine as it comes, I’m telling myself a story about the migraine that places it in a wider narrative of hopelessness and the futility of trying. I go on, but I can no longer grasp why.

The anger was toxic, but this new sense of resignation or fatalism may be too. My hope is withering, but I know I need to keep it alive. I need to want things to be different, and to believe that they can be. Otherwise, what is the point?

Once again, I return to this F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that has spoken to me since the day I stumbled upon it:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

How Are You?

Having to answer the question “How are you?” is a challenge I encounter daily. Obviously, there is no ‘right’ answer to this question, but whatever answer I give, it always feels wrong.

In this post, I have created a list of the main choices and my thoughts about each of them. How to answer “How are you?” is something I have thought a lot about, a lot more than most. So, here are my thoughts.

 

“I’m well thanks”

I never use this option. To use this option would be to imply that I am healthy. I am not. I suffer from chronic illness, both physical and psychological. To say I am well would be a blatant lie. So, I never say it.

 

“Good thanks”

I do say this sometimes. I say it when I’m not really thinking. It seems to be the default answer, programmed into my brain over years of answering the question and hearing others do the same. It is not the honest answer though. When I catch myself saying it, I feel fraudulent because it is never true – I never feel good. Instead, I feel tired out and depressed, perhaps with a little pain mixed in for good measure. This is not a good way to feel. So, how can I tell someone I’m good?

 

“I’m alright” or “I’m okay”

These two responses, and the next, are perhaps my go-to responses. They are socially acceptable and do not invite further interrogation, but nor do they imply that everything is peachy. Nonetheless, they are not entirely satisfactory. To me, alright and okay both imply at the very least a fifty-fifty balance of good-to-bad, if not something more than that. However, when I deploy this response, I rarely feel that the balance of good-to-bad in my life is even, let alone skewed to the positive.

Moreover, these responses imply that I’m coping. While this often seems to be the case, I rarely feel it to be so. I may be working, going to university, writing essays, volunteering at soup van and so on, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I am coping with my life. Instead, it often the case that I drive to work with a pounding headache or hop on the bus to university despite feeling utterly depressed and on the brink of tears.

How can I say I’m alright when this is my reality?

 

“Not bad”

I’ve never been quite sure what this response means. Where does it rank in relation to alright or okay? Is it a more or less positive statement than alright? Is it just another way of saying you’re good? I don’t know. The ambiguity is both an encouragement and dissuasion from using this response. It is encouraging because ambiguity reflects my reality much more closely. I don’t feel like I am coping, yet I appear to be. I don’t feel enthusiastic, yet I appear to be. But then it is dissuading because I worry that people will misinterpret my response. If they see it is just another way of saying you’re good, then I am not sending the right message about myself at all.

Then there’s the fact that some people have criticised me for continually answering “How are you?” with ambivalence. I hate being criticised and it’s especially painful because it feels unjust. The critics are people who do not know about or understand my illness, so they interpret my ambivalence as a lack of gratitude, positivity and/or enthusiasm for life. The reality is that an ambivalent response is often a gross misrepresentation of how I actually feel – I am far from even being alright or okay.

 

“Not great actually”

This is usually the honest response, but it is only the right response when the person asking me how I am genuinely wants to know the answer and is willing to listen to me explain what’s been going on in my life. Moreover, I have to be comfortable explaining to them why it is that I am “Not great actually”. Consequently, this is a response I can only use with a select group of people – close friends, family, medical professionals, and that’s about it.

Even with these individuals, I don’t always tell the truth about how I’m feeling. This feels uncomfortable, but often explaining what’s going on feels equally uncomfortable, if not more so. Telling people how hopeless and depressed I feel, even when I trust them, can still be hard. Talking about how hard things are is upsetting for everyone and can sometimes provoke attempts from friends, family or medical professionals to solve my problems. Of course, I don’t want to keep living with my problems, but sometimes what I really need from people is not their problem-solving skills, but their love and kindness, their ability to just be with me and my reality.

 

[Silence]

Sometimes, I simply opt out of answering the question at all. This is never a particularly appropriate response, but sometimes I cannot bring myself to speak. When I cannot bring myself to choose between all these miserably inadequate and misleading options, I am silent. And I find that silence can speak the loudest of all.

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

Old Soul

I am twenty-one years old, yet I am not. I do not think, act, speak, spend or live like a twenty-one-year-old. In part, this is just a reflection of who I am. I am and always have been quite serious. I am and always have been highly attuned to the feelings and needs of others. I am and always have been someone who needs a lot of sleep. I am and always have been a deep thinker.

However, my illness has reinforced and strengthened these traits. I am now more serious, because illness itself is serious. It requires doctor’s appointments, the taking of medications, lifestyle changes, and the revaluation of goals. I am now more attuned to the feelings and needs of others, because I know what it is like to suffer. Hopelessness is something I understand only too well. I am now even more in need of rest and sleep, because being unwell is in itself exhausting and part of my illness is chronic fatigue. I am perennially tired, I don’t know what it is like to feel otherwise. I am now even more of a deep thinker, because being unwell has forced me to question everything. Wrestling with the big questions has become a compulsion, at once pleasurable and immensely frustrating.

I have grown old before my time, missed out on the freedom and innocence of youth. I went from being a child to being an adult, there was nothing in between. Consequently, despite my young age, I have been unable to embrace life. Instead, I have wrestled with it. Each day has seemed a burden not a gift.

I am, as some have suggested to me, an old soul. This makes me wise and kind, but it also makes me bitter. I need only look to the person next to me to see what I am missing. I am missing pleasure, joy, happiness, ease, freedom, spontaneity, adventure, positivity. I am trapped in a body that does not allow for these things. How to have these things when everything aches, when the body cries out for rest, when accomplishing a simple task is in itself a hard ask, when every day is the same, when there is no end in sight, when you’re already trying as much as you can? I don’t know.

There are elements of being an old soul of which I am proud. I am proud to be someone who cares about and cares for others. I would not want it to be otherwise. I am proud to be someone who considers the ethical implications of my actions. Again, I would not want it to be otherwise.

Wisdom and kindness are the qualities I want people to see in me. But I also need them to know why they are there. I am not wise and kind because I am perfect. Instead, it is because I have struggled and continue to do so. It is not because my life is exactly as I want it to be, but rather because it has stubbornly refused to be so.

This is what it is to be an old soul.

Love, hope and peace from Emma.

April Favourites

Non-fiction books

henry_reynolds_why_werent_we_told_bookcoverWhy Weren’t We Told? by Henry Reynolds

Continuing on the Indigenous politics and history theme, this is a wonderfully accessible and engaging book about Australia’s history, the parts of our history they don’t teach you at school. Reynolds has been researching, writing and educating Australians about our history for many decades and this book brings his personal experiences together with Australia’s history. What I like about this book is the way it relates our history to the present, illustrating how the past informs current attitudes, policies and practices. In doing so, it helps you to understand your own experiences in the present day in a historical context. Well worth reading.

 

coverThe Other Side of Happiness by Brock Bastian

My recent post The Highly Meaningful But Unhappy Life was inspired by reading this book. The book looks at the positive consequences of pain, whether this pain be physical or emotional. I found much of the research on the benefits of pain is surprising and eye-opening. We tend to shrink from pain and try to prevent it, but a life without pain would be much less of a life. Bastian does point out that chronic pain is very different to episodic pain, so the book is not suggesting that chronic illness is a positive thing, but it did give some alternative ways of looking at and approaching my pain. Bastian writes very clearly, making this a very readable and comprehensible book, so it’s well worth picking up if you’re interested.

 

Talk

Robert Fisk: life as a war correspondent

This episode of Conversations was fantastic because of its guest Robert Fisk. Fisk has reported from the Middle East for more than 40 years so he has some amazing stories about what he has seen and experienced.

 

Food

Apples and pears are in season and they are delicious! So blessed to have access to such wonderful fresh produce.

 

Music

Australia Does Not Exist by DRMNGNOW featuring Philly, Adrian Eagle, Culture Evolves

Listen to the lyrics and watch the video. Then you’ll understand why this is such a powerful song.

 

Self-care action/item

The past four Sundays, my brother and I have gone down to the park together to kick the footy. This has been good for me for a number of reasons:

  • It gets me out of the house.
  • It is good exercise.
  • I get to make friends with cute dogs at the park.
  • I get fresh air.
  • I get to soak up some sunshine (except on the Sunday when it rained).
  • I get to spend time with my brother who is very busy and not often home.
  • There are birds to watch and listen to.
  • I am surrounded by green – grass, gum trees and pink peppercorn trees.
  • It warms me up – there’s something really satisfying about wearing shorts and a tee-shirt even when the weather is quickly getting cooler.

 

Event

Last Thursday, a friend from uni interviewed me for a feature article she was writing as part of a journalism subject at uni. The theme she’d been given was Displacement, to be interpreted as she wished. She’d decided to write about invisible disability or illness and the way it can displace or change your sense of self, displace or separate you from the people around you and so on. So, she interviewed me and another of her friends about our experiences so that she could feature us in the article.

The substance of what I actually talked about was much like what I talk about through my role as a speaker with beyondblue. However, it was quite a different experience sharing with just one person as opposed to an audience of 20, 100 or 500!

 

Love, hope and peace from Emma.