by Tara June Winch
We’re home now; I’m at that vantage point, sorting boarding pass stubs into the recycling, shaking the sand out of bag linings, looking back at photographs, at diary entries without dates; looking back with the fogginess of a fresh return.
Earlier this week in the AirBnb on the headland in Tamarama, I wrote: “Disney channel is on in the background. There is nowhere to hide on the road. There is no time, no length of quiet in my mind to write. We’ve been sick too, I couldn’t write then also, but I didn’t fight through that membrane that separated writing and me, I couldn’t. Now, I’m trying to fight it, trying to crawl in after my daughter goes to sleep, when the phone charger can’t be found, when she’s with cousins, but its impossible – away from my desk at home I’m on high alert in the outer parts of myself, my ears prick up; my eyes dart at all this otherness; the pen hovers above the page. I can’t wait to go home”
It’s true I couldn’t string a sentence, I was only able to make despairing observations at my lack of being able to observe, only being able to dot-point-list the things I needed to write on return. Now I’m home, at the desk with a list of to-do’s.
I did try to write about what Australia smells and sounds like; but I’ll need this desk at home to unravel the jumble of words. On a train journey between Sydney and the South Coast of NSW last week; looking out the window I wrote; “I am feeling something here, its in that space above the pubis, deep inside, not desire, but a longing, a different sort of longing for home and hearth? It’s longing and the feeling of answered longing at once. The prehistoric plants make even the lemon tree in that passing backyard look ‘brought over’ here. Leaves as big as windshields, valleys and spans of bush land that seem meant for a wanderer never to return. The bush swallowing then splitting at the coast, the great gulf of coastline, that gape where something else once belonged, once fitted like a puzzle piece. The day-moon hung out in that long, lonesome eon of blue. The whole of our soft existences stretching out on long lands, and on long seas for forever’s. Everything seems like it was lost before we even started playing. I’m in my suit, on the air-conditioned train, looking out at all the wild and I keep asking myself, Can I be both? Can I be both?”
Reading back, word for word, I don’t really know what it means, it could be three different stories, three different people, it could be a bunch of rambling non-sense, it could even, maybe, turn into something beautiful but I would need to work hard to take it there. For now, there are a couple of things I would underline and keep for something else – probably, ‘longing and the feeling of answered longing at once’ ‘the lemon tree looking foreign’ and ‘day-moon’. Also, ‘can I be both?’ – it’s a question that used to tick in me constantly, and had different expanses, not always did I ask if I can be both, often I asked myself if ‘can I be all?’
Could I be the hypocrite and the paradox, could I reveal myself, and I still come up as the sum total of a genuine me? I think it’s a question for the expat, the foreigner, for the mixed race, for the exiled, for the divorcee, for the winner and for the failure. I’m not sure who else it’s for but those stick out. I’m a few of those things; but none of them fully; none of those things make me who I am or break who I am completely and I know that logically, and yet it’s still a question I kept rubbing and scratching at – can I be French and Australian? Can I be a literary writer and watch bad television? Can I be an Indigenous writer and write negative Indigenous characters? Can I be a thoughtful person and read celebrity gossip? Can I be a role model for my daughter and worry about my weight secretly? Can I be the past and the present?
I know I don’t make much sense as a person and for a flawed, normal human being these are common, yet insignificant dilemmas. Yet they are still dilemmas to ourselves, and they were still dilemmas to me up until recently. What has changed I think is that I came to a point where I give the question ‘can I be both? Can I be all?’ less to myself and more to my characters. I do this because I can’t carry around my baggage and theirs at the same time. I’ve figured that out. I’ve figured not the complete answers for myself, but the vehicle, and trust that my characters will do the work for me, if I just let them and stick with them authentically whilst they figure it all out.
If the character’s journey then helps me understand myself, and my hypocrisy and paradoxes, then I hope it’ll connect with other people too. It’s the same for activism; what I’m writing about is the things I feel strongly about but am unable to put into real; journalistic words, not even normal everyday language. I can hardly tweet about the rage; the injustice I feel. My characters can do it though, I hope. I left Australia with all the snapshots and smells and images I could gather in the circumstances. I also returned to and left that other landscape – the fabric of the country aflame, the headlines and the injustice. I read about the outrage of an Olympic team who won, apparently, not enough medals. I saw the headlines of Aboriginal deaths in custody, that were deaths in custody before and will be deaths in custody tomorrow if some massive shift doesn’t occur, some repatriation, some great reconciliation doesn’t occur where Australians finally reckon with their racism. I left before 1pm on August 27th, before the protest I’d have walked in at Sydney Town Hall because I believe too that the camps on Manus and Nauru should be closed, that refugees make Australia what it is and that what Australia is doing is immoral and inexcusable. I left the country I love and loathe, the country that breaks and heals my heart – that country that stirs the longing and the answered longing at once.
I can do little from near or afar, I’ve realized. The thing to do now is write it out, have the characters work it out, debate it, drench it up; some even die on the way to figuring out how to be both and how to be all and mostly, how to be whole.
Photo credits (C) Tara June Winch 2016