Day 28



Written 16 April, 2020


In the news Donald Trump says he’s pulling America’s funding from the World Health Organisation. He reacted carelessly to their warnings about the coming plague, and is now blaming them.  His action will mean tens of thousands of people in poorer countries will die.  I remember WHO spoke about it on January 30 but resisted calling it a pandemic, and I was longing for them to say it was,  for I was about to take my little band of retreaters to Crete to write together there. Early March, I actually cried on the shoulder of Peter Positano, my regular travel agent,  saying I didn’t want to lead those people who’ve been with me for years  to their death. And I remember Trump saying then. though we were all horrified at pictures on the news of people dying in the streets of Wuhan, that it would go away within a few days. Doesn’t  that silly man even watch the news? a Guardian report said that he had 8 officials working in WHO from ages ago, and attending every important meeting. Perhaps he didn’t listen to them, and whose fault is that? He’s a cruel, cruel man. In this pandemic, people react so differently; one divide is those who have a sense of community, and those who have none.

In the afternoon, as the tide comes in, GG films me on Andy’s beach giving a talk about what uniquely goes on in the brains of creative people who are used to creating, compared to the brains of non-creative people. it helps to know, so that you can mime it, and hope that miming it does the trick. It seems to. Before this all happened, the Music Department of ANU was speaking of employing me to teach their composers and musicians. And then, when the trouble began to loom in mid-March but we had no conception of what was to come,  they changed panned instead to bring me to Canberra to be filmed teaching it. And then everything closed down. But I need the work, and so I hope, by this little film, to tempt them.

On the sand, I draw graphs of what it’s known creative people’s brains do, and what non-creative brains do. My hero is Brian Cox, the way he smiles winningly at his knowledge as if he’s enchanted it and we get enchanted too, but I keep forgetting to smile at my knowledge.  I’m no Brian Cox, I’m only me, and GG is my only crew, and he’s only GG. We do three takes on the strip of sand, and then the tide comes up and the little strip gets smaller and smaller, until  I’m standing in the water in K’s best fur-lined boots, for mine are too battered by the way we live. We need a fourth take but the water washes over my graphs, and it’s too late.


Dy rows back from fishing in his cave across the river . He’s been there an hour and a half and caught nothing. We all chat in front of his house. He’s a tech, doing light shows at festivals. he shows us pics of his dragon van. The talk gets on to how we’re all living on our scant super.

“It doesn’t matter much to me- I haven’t got long to live”, he says suddenly. His eyes search mine. “Even without this virus. You know that, don’t you? – I haven’t got long.”

He’s holding his drooping fishing rod, his body turned half away from me, slightly bent, his voice even, his eyes searching mine. He’s not asking for help. it’s almost as if he’s talking to himself. And these are times when you can’t catch hold of someone’s hand, for both your sakes. You can’t reach out and hold the someone, for both your sakes.  Even when they tell you they’re dying.

I don’t help him. i should’ve comforted, oh, I don’t know how I could’ve helped him.What comfort can there be? Touch is the only help, and when that’s dangerous…. I so wanted to help, but all I could mutter was something trite about how  medicine is moving at such a pace, he may be able to stay ahead of the illness. Which is true, I have other friends doing just that, But such thoughts won’t get him through the long, dark nights.

We must keep talking to him. We’re his only company.



5 Responses to Day 28

  1. My heart goes out to Dy. It sounds like you’re feeling how I feel at the moment too: helpless that my heart is all that I can give.
    Words: “I’m so sorry”.
    Platitudes: “Life happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
    Uncertain propositions: “If there’s anything I can do”.
    …but what can I do? I mean, really? I agree with you, Sue; often in these situations it’s our touch that transcends the darkness. A cuddle, a hand held, a clap on the shoulder, but we’ve even lost that. Words, for as empty as they can be, are all that we have at the moment. In a cruel twist of fate, words, those inconsistent little fiddly things that can never fully express all that we have in our minds and our souls can’t catch a virus, rats!
    So if our thoughts, full of meaning and significance do move from our minds and fall apart in our words, let our expression be our savior. May the nature of our speech, the goofy smiles we beam, the softness of our eyes be as genuine and as full as we can make them, as reassuring as a cuddle and as wholesome as hand held! Perhaps this is the opportunity to close the gap between empty words and heartfelt intention. I hope that, in the absence of touch, the distinction between impact and intent becomes well-defined. Maybe this was the imbalance of the equilibrium we needed, to close our language gaps, to colour the world with authenticity and genuine meaning. Or maybe I’m being a linguistic-optimist… that’s a word, right?

  2. Thanks Sophie,I wish it was someone’s job to teach us when we are very young how to reach out to help. Even when there’s little help to give. Or even when we’re not so young. My mum was too trauamatised to reach out, and there weren’t people around for me to watch. No one, in fact, except Dad, who lived in his paintings. As I read your comments, your edgy drawings come to mind. Would one say it for me?

    • Do you paint or draw too, Sue, like you Dad? I wonder if the lull manifests in shapes and shades like it does me for you! How did your dad live in his paintings, was it his escape as I imagine writing is yours?

  3. Yes, it was his escape and his life. We all grew up believing in Art- if we’d been rich, we’d have had a crest around the arch of the door saying “In Art We Trust”. We were such believers- all but Mum- It seemed an honour to wear shoes you’d grown out of. He was very strict about Art, not at all permissive like me, so I’d learned to draw in perspective before I went to kindergarten, even to do foreshortened feet of someone facing you, so the toes were at the base of a triangle and the ankle end was the apex. Realism got me into so much trouble at school- it was against the fashion- but if I didn’t do realism, so much trouble at home! I was addicted to a pencil like you, however, and rebelled by drawing only faces, and could catch quite a likeness. I’d done them so much, I remember losing a portrait I’d drawn secretly of a pretty girl in class (I had a teenage crush on her, I think) and the other girls finding it and exclaiming over it- you could immediately see who it was – and asking where on earth had it come from. I hid my burning face. Much later, when I saw the portrait artists of Montmartre, who sketch tourists for money, I dreamed of one day joining them.

    Dad was easier than school (where I was an embarrassing nerd, at a time when girls just weren’t) so I’d run home to watch him paint. What Dad taught me, without realising it, was to go into the stillness. He’d stand before the canvas, brush dreamily swirling in the air, and I could tell he’d gone into a trance. So I did too. And he’d take me for a walk, order me to stop chattering, and we’d stand before a rose or a tree, and he’d tell me to enter it. It didn’t seem a strange demand. I just did it too. Much later I read Joanna Field’s (also called Marion Milner) “On Not Being Able to Paint”-(1954) where she documented learning just this- to become authentic as an artist, you have to stop the mind’s chatter. It changes your being. Later, neuroscience came along, and discovered this.

    Where did Dad learn it? He’d never been to art school- he left school when he was 12, as they all did, those days, the boys anyway- the girls probably left earlier. I suspect it was underground knowledge, passed from artist to artist, one generation to the next.

    • How very cool! I’m sure that art does pass along in our DNA, from generation to generation. I do also believe that it can be taught and learnt and mastered, but I do think there’s such a thing as a predisposition to it – genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger! (I can’t remember who said that, but I sure do love it, so consider this a credit to that wise creature).

      Quite like you, Sue, I have an artist parent too, my mother Mandy (Amanda, but I’ve called her Mandy for so many years now and she’s finally come around to it). I should specify, she’s a ceramicist, and on that thought, her father was a painter. I credit him the Mr. Miyagi to my underdeveloped grasshopper. I remember being a little kid and standing with Pa in his garage, surrounded by vintage cars he’d collected over his life…I think he was a race car driver! Although, I can’t be certain, and to tell you the truth I’d hate to dig and find out that I was mistaken. He was teaching me how to use pastels and we were replicating an earlier drawing he did of the Ulgas (or something of that vein) – scorching reds, deep purples, so much chalk! He used to mark each of his paintings with a little ‘v’ symbol, like that of a very distant bird which a child might draw in their sky; there was always one hidden somewhere in the corner of his work – it was with great delight that I use to try and spot it like a little Where’s Wally.

      Mandy’s journey to becoming an artist kicked off much later in her life. Her talent and passion squashed by a traditional upbringing in 1960’s Albury, NSW. It wasn’t until she survived her breast cancer and said “fuck it”, (good on her), quitting her job as a teacher, moving from Melbourne to Lennox Head and enrolled in a visual arts diploma at TAFE in Lismore, that was when the light switched on. I was 10. I think art cured my Mum, not just the cancer, but it gave life to her life. I wrote a poem about her not too long ago, actually, it was from a free association that you instigated, Sue. Here’s a short passage from that poem:

      ‘Warm and gentle. She’s small but she’s present. I’m not sure if I’m exactly what she wanted, or at least what she could have predicted. Wooden spoon a smack on the bum; she refutes that now, never seen, never done. Not the best cook, but enough for our bellies. Pasta, pizza, tuna casserole, what else, I can’t remember. I’ll recall her in a dressing gown, at least for that part of her life. A tissue up a sleeve, a tear in her eye. She’d sit there in bed and we’d wave her goodbye, it felt like every single week day, Mon – Fri. She said it was stress, it was from having four kids, the city life, the financial pressure, too to many DIYs. We saw her in hospital, my brother and I both recall, it was dusk, her eyes lit up when she saw us, and then she spewed on the floor. That drive home will stay with me, not the words shared but what I saw. A colossal tree with black limbs, bats screeching, gliding through last light to nightfall. She’s stronger now, she found her passion in art. She moulds things with her hands, and they come from her heart. I’m still not all me to her, I know that I’m not. But I’m getting closer, and closer, but I’m scared, it’s a lot. I’m her one and only girl, I think she wishes I was more of one. I won’t give her grandkids; she won’t see them grow tall….’

      Like every other mother daughter relationship, ours is complex, perhaps because there is too much crossover, too much love, too much me in her and her in me. Would you agree?

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