Tuesday, February 17, 2009

sift the ashes

I had a meeting with a director last week and when he asked how I was, I said; well, you know...these fires, I'm really disturbed by them.  He looked at me strangely and I said, trying to explain, well you know...it's throwing me off kilter, I'm out of whack.

And then he laughed, but kind of to himself. And the thing is, I wasn't making a joke.

The news of those Victorian bushfires has completely whipped my ass. 

Thankfully our tv reception is up the shit so I couldn't watch the news but I sure as hell surfed the net every chance I got. I couldn't read anything except about the fires and God knows I couldn't write, except stuff about the fires or emails to friends who were involved in the fires or emails to other friends about what they thought about the fires.

And every night I would lie in bed thinking about my family and I dying in a burning car or house. 

And then, mid week, a shark attacked a navy diver in Sydney harbour (last shark attack five billion centuries previously or similar) and he lost a hand, and another shark attacked a surfer on BONDI BEACH for fuck's sake, leapt from the water and tried to knock him off his board I heard, whereas everyone knows you're more likely to be knocked over by some dickhead in a hoon car racing up Campbell parade. Bondi is like two beaches around from where C takes Tricky swimming every morning, so now those half sleep burning dreams were alternating with seeing my husband and baby mauled by sharks, and then there was the plane crash in Buffalo killing everyone including the widow of a guy who died in 9/11 and we're back to the burning again.

I don't know what it is, I emailed one friend, but it's really bad. i can't do anything, I can't write anything, I'm incapable of cleaning or doing anything practical and I'm eating heaps and heaps of sugar.

And then she reminded me how after the Bali Bombings I was afraid to drive through the Sydney Harbour Tunnel (not the bridge for some reason, bridge was ok) but I had a tv writing job at the time which meant I had to drive through that damn tunnel twice a day and the stress it caused me...

And also after 9/11, glued to the tv (we had reception at that house), existing in this sort of suspended horror, permanent hand clasped to face, but even beyond that natural and widespread reaction there was the same post trauma-from-afar paralysis, the same but what is the point in doing anything?

Another writer friend, embroiled in Producer Shit, has friends in Victoria who were among the lucky -  who felt the wind change and saw the fire front, their certain death, turn away from their house. My friend shrugged when I asked How The Writing's Going, meaning How's The Shit Fight Going and simply said: It makes all that seem fairly meaningless.

It's the random violence I tried to work it out with my friend who reminded me of the Bali Bombing reaction, I think I'm freaked by how Bad Shit Happens and there's nothing you can do to stop it happening to you.

There's no real ending to this because the way I respond to what happens around me is part of who I am. I remember kids (boys, two) in my English class used to tease me about the overly emotional in my Creative Writing assignments, quoting back to me innumerable ghastly sentences that i had written, inevitably involving a tear making its way down some child's grimy face. Maybe even then the Empathy Glands were secreting overtime.  I dunno, thinking back, it didn't seem such a fearful time but I guess I was only about 14 and my mother was still alive.

Is it realising how much you have to lose? Life? Those you love most? 

With Tricky, having wanted and wished and hungered for a baby so long, is it fear that he could be taken, as randomly or as seemingly capriciously as he (and any other potential sibling) was withheld?

Is it knowing grief; deep scarring, heart breaking, gut wrenching, for one person and then imagining that multiplied again and again and again, hearing not just the cries of the dying but those of the people they leave behind?

And is it all that, and the fact that last week and then again this morning  I had the first of the pre IVF screenings, my forty first birthday on the horizon, my clock ticking again but my mind not made up properly, not sure that this truly is what I want..to be trying again, am i only doing this because i feel time running away from me, and i don't want to be left without a choice?

and am i not properly appreciating what i actually do have? 

when so many others have nothing?

when all that Random Violence roams the universe?

me, rubbed raw, stilled by other people's pain



eating way too much sugar.


Sassy said...

This is the best blog post I have read about the fires. I wish some of the people affected could read this because I'm sure they'd say, "Yes, that's it. That's what it like."

It is completely paralysing to realise how little really matters. To see a man who has nothing but a pair of shorts, melted thongs and his dog. I don't understand why the world hasn't stopped. How can anyone do anything 'normal' in a world where this can happen.

anna said...

it's the undertow, or as garp's son walt called it, the undertoad.

sometimes i can't watch the tv or read the paper or even a novel, for chrissakes because it is too much. you know that loss happens -- shit happens -- all the time and it can be too much to bear. all of that pain.

i can't imagine what it must be like with a child. i feel that fear when i hold my dogs some days and they are, well, dogs.

the only thing that seems to calm my mind when it gets like this is a swedish detective novel. there's something about the bad thing having already happened in a place up near the top of the world. something clear and orderly and snowy and quiet about it all, despite the fact that death is at the very center of it.

but there's no wondering and waiting with your heart in your hands. thank god.

OvaGirl said...

and some people take it all on and some people just note it and move on and others have it swirl in the heads for days or weeks or years or ever...

anna - the swedish detective novel makes perfect sense, and i would love to know if anyone else has a similar literary escape...

sassy, i know you are very close to what has been happening, thinking of youxx

Rebecca said...

OvaGirl, if nothing else, your blog is a testament to just how much you appreciate everything that you have. I would say that few people are as aware of their good fortune as profoundly as you. I know what you mean about the paralysis though: there is so much shit - random, violent, terrible shit - going on all around the world; how can we continue to get up every day and go on as if everything was normal?

Lin said...

Our coverage on the fires, while pretty detailed, was nothing like yours, I'm sure. And still, the images of people and animals and burned out cars have haunted me. Cars that I'm sure held the invisible remains of people who were driving as fast as they could and trying to comfort one another and their children and still, it wasn't fast enough. I, too, am haunted by it all. And then the plane went down. And the financial crisis. And people losing their homes. And the shark...I heard about the attacks. Too much and too frightening for a mother to even think about. And so much more to say, but mostly, just...Hang in there, kid. Soon, the sugar bowl will be scraped clean and you won't feel so muddled and sad and overwhelmed by all this sorrow.

granny p said...

It happens - that obsession- and the more you have people you care about, the more the fragility of everything scares you. Quite normal. But not nice - and I'm sorry you're having to go thought it, V.

That said: there's something particularly awful about fire. This fire - especially awful - but any. My friend in Albuquerque was traumatised for years by the fire near her along the Rio Grande in which only animals died. She's a painter. It turned up in terrifying forms in her work and then blocked her from any other work for a good year. Sometimes everything - one horrible thing after another just takes over in your head. I send you hugs, virtual comfort for what it's worth. And belief in you. You will come through, you strong sensitive talented woman. Really.

Betty Flocken said...

I think it's called empathy; of which you are filled; for the pain, fear and loss of others. While it might be better for you to be able to turn away (emotionally) from the horrors that are committed by some humans on others, it would take away from the person you are.
And maybe even take away from your talent in the telling of these events and your writing.
I think you'd do wonderfully at raising two children. They'll be lucky

Anonymous said...

This is why, even before the fires, I had to seek counseling. Because SO MUCH suffering exists in the world. We see it every day in our friends' blogs and when something catasrophic like these fires happen it can overwhelm us to the point of despair. It robs us of a sense of security and peace and if you believe in God, it makes you wonder where He could possibly be when all of this chaos is swirling around the people He created.

You're not alone in this, OvaGirl. I'm feeling it too. Bad Stuff is going down. But...there is still hope. Look for it everywhere, underneath the carnage. And when you find it, look at longer than you look at the bad. It's the only relief.


PS~ You're in my heart with this new IVF cycle.

Betty M said...

It is the randomness that gets me. I lived at King's Cross when the fire happened there - up and down those same escalators where 31 people died every day and that day 30 mins before. The same with the King's Cross tube and bus bombs (which I heard from my office) again missing it by not much time at all. These things have the same resonance for me as the fires do for you. The what ifs, the terrible way to die, the fact that I don't take each day as if it is my last like you think you should when these things happen. The relentless search for meaning where really there is none. But you say it better than me.

(ooh my word is ovatiblo)

Thoraiya said...

Funny about the Swedish detective novel. I had a Danish one in mind, by Peter Hoeg. "Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow." Highly recommended.

And then there's the animals.

Most times it's an insult to behave like an animal, but sometimes it's a good way to be.

People ask me, sometimes, if an animal's pain is the same as a human's.

Most of the time, I say, "yes, of course," because what they are really asking is, "if you kick a dog, or stick a dog with a needle, or set fire to a dog, is that as bad as doing those things to a human?"

And yes, it is just as reprehensible to cause pain to a dog.

But there's a different answer to the question which is: No, a dog's pain is not exactly the same, because a dog will take the pain at face value. If you stick a needle in a dog, the pain sensation is the same, but the difference is that a dog isn't burdened with the concept of the future. His pain isn't compounded by anxiety that the needle stick might happen again tomorrow, or fear that it might have unpleasant consequences, or concern that his litter mate is also going to get vaccinated.

Perhaps that sounds strange, but the ability to conceptualise the future is one of the big differences between people and animals. If a dog has nothing for dinner, he thinks: I'm hungry now. But if you've got nothing for dinner, you're thinking: I'm hungry now, and I don't have anything for tomorrow either, or next week.

You might even perform the revolutionary action of saving some of tonight's meagre dinner so that you'll have something for tomorrow.

A hungry dog will never save some for tomorrow.

If we apply that to the fire situation, well, a burning dog is going through just as much horrific agony as a burning human.

But if the dog narrowly escapes a fire, he's not going to think about it for days. He's not going to imagine what might have happened if he hadn't gotten away. Fear of the future is never going to paralyse him; he's going to get on with filling his belly and finding someone to throw a ball for him. If he sees a fire, he'll remember to steer clear. He's not stupid, and he does remember to feel afraid, in an immediate, life-preserving kind of way.

If you don't have any pets yourself, maybe you can borrow Anna's dogs, or just put yourself in the shoes (paws) of that koala with the burned feet. Lick your wounds, if you have them, have a drink of water, and get on with the business of life. For a koala, that's survival, and reproduction.

And sometimes it's good for us to concentrate on those two things as well.

Anonymous said...

Thoraiya has spoken lucidly and brilliantly. I can only add that I think the world has "shrunk" through too much media information and we hear about far more of the terrible things which happen around the world than previously, which perhaps suggests that there are more terrible things happening in the world now when in fact there are not. Also, I wonder whether general lessening of religious faith in many people nowadays means that we are less able to find an explanation which resonates with, and comforts us, for these dreadful events.

As for literature, OvaGirl, I always head for the escapism of Georgette Heyer's regency tales.

All love and hope for you in your new IVF round. I hope it won't go amiss if I affirm that miracles can and do happen - I am nearly 8 months pregnant with my second child, having conceived out of the blue, naturally, aged 42, after years of trying and one IVF baby. Whatever happens, keep your strength and faith in life and know that there are many people you don't know who share love and concern for you through reading your amazing blog and supporting your journey at a distance.

lucky #2 said...

I wish I could eloquently tell you how amazing this post was...but my tired brain isn't working right today.

Sending you some heartfelt hugs. Wrap adorable Tricky in some extra tight hugs and remind yourself why it is all worth it. But, damn, this world is scary.

anna said...

thoraiya, beautifully put.

i loved 'smilla's sense of snow' and a recent read that had that necessary quiet was per wahloo and maj sjowall's 'the man who went up in smoke'.

vanessa, here's a little comfort for you from far, far away. she smells like the ocean and is as soft and sweet as a long, soothing sleep in a sunlit room.

Maggie May said...

Yeah..... you have oodles of empathy which is not a bad thing but don't let it eat you up.

My friend who lives in England & has family 4 miles from where the bad bush fire were....... says they are safe & my blogging pal & family is safe too. That is a blessing. Others were not so fortunate.

Keep Tricky out of the water. Avoid those sharks.

I know what you mean about loving your kids so much & being scared that something will happen to them.
Our two were brought up under the threat of the H bomb and then the Irish conflict with bombings of cities in England being always a possibility. I used to dream terrible dreams about things like that & my kids in danger.
Is it Nature's way of keeping us sane & alive. I dunno..... but eventually * sort of grew out of it.

Lisa Later said...

I agree with another commenter about the immediacy of events thousands of miles away. It's gut-wrenching.

That said, a cyberbuddy from another realm of the online world I inhabit, died in her sleep two weeks ago. She was updating her Facebook account almost certainly just hours beforehand. And the first thing I did was try to search Google for news of her death, imagining that somehow the local media will have picked it up. Silly, really.

I don't know what I'm trying to say here but I understand what it is to feel crushed with all the awfulness out there, especially when you're looking at your precious child(ren).

Anyways, I had no idea about the new round of IVF, so I'm returning to the limb-crossing activities of yesteryear and hoping hoping hoping again...


Thalia said...

I have a similar over-active empathy gene, and my cowardly response is to avoid looking at things like the fires if I can possibly help it. My husband helps by forcibly changing the channel etc if something like this comes on. And I still get disturbed for weeks, dream nightmares for weeks. And I don't write about it half as well as you do. You are not odd, and you are not unappreciave. You are just showing your essential humanity.

Hoping that the IVF train is not too traumatic this time.

Anonymous said...

I don't have anything eloquent to add to all of these profound words, just a nodding head.

I cry a lot these days.