Hold Your Own

I stare out at my city on another difficult day
And I scream inwardly, “When will this change?”
I’m beginning to fade

This new year, all too quickly, has become a struggle.

… though really, is it a surprise? The concept of a year - this human-imposed, arbirtrary slice of time - and the notion that when our calendars switched over to 2020, everything would be different… is this idea actually helpful?

… and, looking past that marker: the bushfires in Australia have been raging for over a month now, and could continue beyond the end of summer. Countless injustices stretch well beyond the past year, remaining unresolved as we step into this new decade. Climate change denialism and scepticism still runs rampant. Australia’s collective - and deliberate - 250-year project of brutal colonisation continues without too much of a pause.

In the face of all of this, it’s hard to feel enthused about normal day-to-day joys. It’s also hard to balance one’s own mental health challenges in the face of such devastation as well, as Anna Spargo-Ryan has written about so compassionately.

Finding ways to contribute helps a little - indeed, please do donate to your state’s country fire volunteers, to support fire-affected First Nations communities, or to the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief fund - but I’m also finding wisdom and solace for my soul from writers lately (and particularly poets).

If we are going to learn from the pain of this reality, and if we are actually going to find ways to make things better, then we need to understand each other deeply - and on this continent, that starts with listening to the First Nations people.

At the Wheeler Centre’s Show of the Year 2019, Evelyn Araluen spoke of the trauma that is constantly inflicted on First Nations people. It is not easy listening, but it take a breath and press play, because it’s important.

(Apologies to The Wheeler Centre crew for not using their embedded audio player - but I wanted to jump straight to Evelyn’s performance, even though there are so many great segments throughout the event.)

This grounding matters greatly, because we need to understand the harm that has been meted out - perhaps invisibly to some of us - by our societies and systems.

We also need to recognise that this reality we’re in is going to remain difficult for a good while yet - and that’s going to require some changes to our perceptions. In amongst a striking essay, Omar Sakr asks an essential question:

Ask yourself: what will you do if things don’t get better, and also the world doesn’t end? Who will you show up for, and how?

If that sounds a little bleak… that’s a fair comment. But knowing what we need to deal with - climate change, institutionalised racism and sexism, extreme inequality, and more - well, I don’t think returning to the past is going to fix it. Significant change is required, so brace yourselves and then get to work.

It’s not enough to acknowledge that things are terrible, though… we need to see what a better future may be like. Maxine Beneba Clarke throughout the past year has offered wisdom and heart as the poet laureate for The Saturday Paper, and her final piece for 2019 provides that spark of hope with When the decade broke:

where were you,
   on december thirty-first,
two thousand and nineteen

     – and perhaps more importantly –

     who were you
before the decade turned

don’t look at me like that,
you know what i mean:
who were you, when thunder was made
   from our protesting children’s feet

This is just an excerpt - you really should read the whole thing.

I began this post with some lines that perhaps match the mood of many of us right now, taken from People’s Faces by Kate Tempest. But, if you listen to the full song (and, again, you should!), you’ll find that the lyrics continue on with a dose of heart:

I stare out at my city on another difficult day
And I scream inwardly, “When will this change?”
I’m beginning to fade
But my sanity’s saved ‘cause I can see your faces
My sanity’s saved ‘cause I can see your faces

Kate’s beautiful album The Book of Traps and Lessons captures up the mood of these times so deftly. It acknowledges the challenges we are currently facing, the world that we’re watching fragment and - too often - fail.

I’d held off from listening to it properly - the poetry takes centre stage, it’s not something for the background. I knew it would require my full attention, and I wanted to feel ready to offer that. But today, even if I wasn’t ready, I nonetheless sat down and listened to it all the way through… and I feel so much better for doing so.

I hope you’re all got the support you need, whether it be from friends, colleagues, family, psychologists, or a much-loved pet. And I hope the words from these superb writers - Evelyn, Omar, Maxine, Anna, and Kate - give you as much wisdom, courage, hope and heart as they do me.

One more quote to wrap this up: a touch more Kate Tempest, from Hold Your Own.

So, hold your own
Breathe deep on a freezing beach
Taste the salt of friendship
Notice the movement of a stranger
Hold your own
And let it be