Averting One’s Face.

I’m spending too much time on Facebook and not enough time writing or with my partner. It’s not that I have Facebook open all day, respond to every notification or read all the articles that land on my page. In fact, it’s more about the quality of my time on line, rather than the quantity.

I joined Facebook in 2007 when a friend posted photographs of her overseas trip on what was to me the new and somewhat intimidating social platform. When I met my partner three years later and subsequently announced our relationship on Facebook, I added many of his friends and family to my growing list of ‘friends’. In the ten years since I registered, Facebook has ‘helped’ me reconnect with many family members who, for a range of reasons, were once lost to me. I admit I relished the careful refortifying, albeit mostly on line, of these precious family ties and I’ve loved seeing, in ‘real time’, several cousins and aunts, something that might not have happened without Facebook. I also enjoy the opportunity to connect with other writers and writing sites.

social_mediaOver the last couple of weeks, however, some of my friends have decided to take time off from Facebook or leave altogether. One of them explicitly cited the current political situation in the USA, and its alarming resemblance to Germany in the 1930s, as a reason for his decision.

I tend to agree with his position. We can compare, at the very least, Hitler’s appeal to sections of German society through speeches full of clichés, catch phrases and promises to reclaim Germany’s lost glory, to the emotionally laden rhetoric of Donald Trump. His promise to restore ‘order’, the way he targets and scapegoats people from different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds is terrifyingly familiar, and implies the same inevitable conclusion; to appease one group, another group must be eliminated. As described on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website,

Nazis demanded that Germans accept the premises of the Nazi worldview and live their lives accordingly. They tolerated no criticism, dissent, or nonconformity … Guided by racist and totalitarian principles, the Nazis eliminated individual freedoms and pronounced the creation of the national community, in whose name they seized every opportunity to turn Germany into a unified racial collective … Hitler’s political opponents were the first victims of systematic Nazi persecution.

Recent Facebook posts describe the potential for public servants to feel morally compromised when they implement the new policies. If they refuse, they risk losing their jobs. This and the cavalier creation of poorly conceived and potentially dangerous policies and executive orders, are two instances that, I believe, have caused several of my friends personal despair. I can empathise. The negative and destructive actions of the government of the United States, and of my own government, is indefensible; I want no part of it. I too, am considering closing my Facebook account. But is this a rational decision?

Leaving Facebook may give me more time to write blog posts, work on my novel and my collection of flash fiction. I’ll have time to read more novels and reputable, balanced news feeds that back up their content with sound research and judicious investigation. One of the problems with Facebook’s continuous news feed is deciding if the content contains carefully researched facts, mere opinion or blatant lies. Rather than an open access to the world of ideas, much of what we read on Facebook exists within a bubble we, with Facebook’s help, create. Our newsfeed is a construction that confirms and reinforces the values and beliefs we already have. Quitting Facebook might give me more time to explore issues with my friends and family, rather than working out what they mean in their posts, or what they believe by clicking on sites they share. Leaving Facebook could also  mean that, rather than lamenting the gathering dark, I will have time to volunteer for the causes I support and light a few candles to illuminate and nullify the portents of doom. It seems to me that a time is looming when we will be asked to make actual (real time) changes in the world instead being satisfied with clicking on a sad or angry ’emoji’. Is it possible that, as an answer to every tragedy, every act of treachery, Facebook’s abbreviated method of response actually stops us from getting off our chairs and making real changes?

On the other hand, if I leave Facebook I may lose the ineffable connections with those I love best; family who live interstate. Yes, we can phone each other, we can get on a plane and visit, but sometimes it is nice to log on and see that my son is relaxing with friends, my daughter has managed to find a permanent home for an abandoned puppy, my daughter-in-law has organised another fund raising event. I also wonder how my leaving Facebook will disrupt the very things that could threaten my family’s well-being. Will deleting my Facebook account mean I am burying my head in the sand, refusing to see the world’s situation for what it, inexplicably and dangerously, is? By being ‘less informed’ about the plight of innocents might I be culpable for their suffering?

I cannot possibly answer these questions until and unless I decide what to do. But in a way, leaving Facebook is not the real question here. The real issue is how can I positively influence the state of the world? Is the turmoil and strife many of us fear inevitable? What can we do to prevent it?

To resist something is to hinder or prevent its progress, to oppose, to refuse to yield or comply. Those of us nervous, nay frightened, of recent events have a moral choice. We can comply or we can resist. Either option has its consequences. At the moment, we are exposed to rhetoric that focuses on one thing: America and its interests. In a recent post I pointed out that we are a family of nations. I know from bitter experience that when the needs of one member of a family are more important than the needs of other members, the family will be destroyed.

What I don’t know is if deleting my Facebook adequately signals my refusal to accept the current status quo. If you leave a room while an argument is taking place, are you showing tacit acceptance of the situation, or exercising your right to directly resist a situation you can no longer abide?

The Listening Place

On the last night, knowing every night was a last night, the musician played. No one knew he existed. He came, someone said, with the last wave. There had been over three hundred, and what each carried was ignored; some felt there were too many and argued for turning them away. Others said the end was upon everyone, three hundred more would make no difference. Sure enough, they were the last group and the old and young continued to die in the night, and on that last night, of all the last nights, the musician played.

It had been a while, he said, as he tuned the guitar. The mothers whose children were gone took the toddlers and babies, whose mothers were dead, into their laps. It didn’t matter by then. The older children sat at the front, the meagre firelight splashing their faces. The adults and the elderly sat or lay on the dead grass. Some wept. When the musician could play no more, a woman sang a song and then another and then one more. Three men stood and beat a rhythm on their thighs. Two boys danced along with the beat then sank into the clinch of wide-eyed children.

The musician played a final tune. The people clapped, some stood and some smiled. Most staggered back to their huts or blankets, others slept at the listening place, peace settling them on that last night.

In the morning the early risers dragged the dead to the pit, some were from the listening place, where music had dulled the suffering. One of the dead was the woman who sang. Others were hauled from their huts. The musician, mercifully, slept on, the guitar gathered in his arms.

When the last dead of the morning had been rolled into the pit, the last words and the keening done, the food and blankets were redistributed. A child, only ten, who had danced to the thrum of hand on thigh that last night, began to weep. A woman bent to him in comfort. ‘Who,’ said the boy, ‘will dance with me at the listening place, who will drag me to the pit if you go before me? Who will say the last words for me?’

last_night

Neo-Natal

neo-natalHe is barely ten hours old when the neo-natal retrieval team arrive. They attach him, my first-born, to an electrocardiograph, they wrap him in what looks like pliant aluminium foil, they place him in a space capsule on wheels. They turn on the oxygen. They close the lid. They will take him to the airport and to a city hospital where they will look after him. I watch him roll away from me, I listen to his heartbeat until the maternity ward’s wide doors close and he is gone.

I know as soon as he is born there is something wrong. His first cry is a mewl of complaint, not wholesome newborn outrage. His stomach retracts with each breath, he pouts ferociously and for a legitimate reason. He is born too early. ‘Why,’ the retrieval team doctor asks, ‘was he induced two weeks early?’ I want to reply, ‘Because I trust my doctor,’ but offer only this; ‘My doctor said that even though it was two weeks overdue the foetus was too small.’

I join him 24 hours later. I am re-admitted to hospital. I endure, as all postpartum women must, the tedium of having my weight, height, blood pressure and other details recorded yet again. Finally, I visit the neo-natal intensive care suite. They have tied down my baby’s arms. A tube sprouts from his chest, just above his midget heart. He cries but I cannot hear him; another tube is threaded down his throat. ‘We have to restrain his arms, he keeps pulling at his tubes,’ the dark-haired nurse says. ‘He’s the biggest bub here at the moment. His lungs aren’t quite developed yet, but he’s a fighter.’ I am too easily read; she pauses then says, ‘It’s okay. You can touch him. Talk to him. He’ll recognise your voice.’

Later, exhausted, I sleep and dream. I take my baby to a staff meeting. My work mates are polite, they smile but we must work; there is no time to praise my newborn. There is only one place I can put my baby; an empty aquarium. I lower him into the glass casket and he sleeps. I contribute to the meeting, I watch him through the glass but the aquarium fills with water. His blankets are soaked, the water rises, the wet swaddling drags him under.

I wake before I can reach him.

Two hours later a doctor from the neo-natal unit walks into my room. My baby is fine, she says. The clip board with his medical details are her shield, a black pen her sword. ‘Tomorrow,’ she says, ‘we will try to feed him through a tube, one millilitre only of the breast milk you expressed for him. We won’t give him your milk today. There was a little problem this afternoon. Do you remember the tube that drains fluid from his lungs?’ I nod. ‘For some reason, it became blocked.’ She moves her shield so it covers her heart. ‘We had to drill a second hole in his chest and start the drainage again. There is nothing to worry about now.’

‘When,’ I ask, ‘did this happen?’ She tells me and I count the hours since I arrived at the hospital.

While I slept, my son almost drowned in his own mucus.

On Womankind

It’s too late to recap 2016 and the first twelve days of 2017 have slipped away, so chronicling my hopes and goals for the year seems redundant. Maybe it’s time for a cliché: where has the year gone?

In my case the year has been plagued by indifferent health. I haven’t been gravely ill, merely laid low with a mean, stubborn chest infection. I felt no desire to sit at my computer; editing the novel I drafted last November was beyond me and even reading a novel seemed too large a task. I turned, therefore, to my pile of mostly unread Womankind magazines and found the perfect companion for my convalescence.

Womankind, an Australian magazine, was launched in 2014. The first issue (the only issue I don’t have) featured Simone de Beauvoir who, I believe, would be happy to grace the cover of one of the few advertisement free, celebrity free magazines in the world.

Womankind is an advertising-free women’s magazine on self, identity and meaning in today’s society. (Its) aim is to introduce ideas that challenge contemporary thought and conditioning.

Womankind
Womankind Issue 10. Cover Illustration by Charis Tsevis

I purchase my copies from the local newsagent, but it is available through subscription in Australia, New Zealand (Aotearoa), Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. It is edited by Antonia Case and produced by the folk behind the New Philosopher, an

independent quarterly magazine devoted to exploring philosophical ideas from past and present thinkers on ways to live a more fulfilling life. (It) caters to those who have not studied philosophy, as well as philosophy students and academics.

New Philosopher is also advertisement free.

I like Womankind because it doesn’t talk down to its readers; it treats them like independent, intelligent and thoughtful women. While it covers difficult issues, it also explores a range of options that can help create a better world and it consistently encourages and validates women’s creativity. The images and ideas contained in its pages encourage readers to think differently about the world and themselves. In issue nine, for example, readers are asked to help the editors compile a list of life enhancing ‘mental attributes’ a person might be ‘diagnosed’ with. An only slightly tongue in cheek request, the idea is to counter the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a tome which describes the ever-growing range of mental and behavioural disorders, with more positive and life enhancing attributes. The editors cite ‘café cordiality – the joy of chatting to others, especially in cafés’ and ‘sky gazing compulsion’ as examples of attributes we might aspire to. My attribute would be ‘book hugging – the joy of embracing a book before, during and after reading it in appreciation of its insight and charm.’ What would your chosen attribute be?

Womankind helped me make it through the first twelve difficult days of 2017, a year many of us are understandably wary of. Immersing myself in a graceful, thought provoking, beautifully produced and illustrated magazine that treats its readers with respect, gave me hope for the rest of the year. It encouraged me to take the time to meditate, to reflect and to rekindle my gratitude journal. It was like having a compassionate and gentle nurse constantly at my bedside, a companion who, during the drear days when I was forced to rest and battle whatever it was that ailed me, offered respite, nourished my mind and enriched my spirit.