It’s Never ‘Too Soon’ For Laughter In The Face Of Adversity

We’ve had the usual mix of experiences over Christmas. Some of them have been as gloriously perfect as the anticipation and some have been the inevitable shite sprinkled on the top. That’s life. That’s the reality of the season for most people.

Woman pouring a cup of tea
Photo from Louis Hansel on Unsplash.com

But it’s safe to say the fires and the plight of the people and wildlife most directly affected by them have been at the forefront of most Aussie minds this holiday. Indeed, as I write this piece, we are in the midst of another ‘catastrophic’ day where dangerous heat and unpredictable winds combine to exacerbate the crisis.

Bush fires are not unusual in Australia – in spite of what you might hear on the media – but it is the scale of the fires this year that has been so unprecedented, particularly this early in the season. And having a narcissist at the helm of the country – a man who is no Jacinda Ardernhas made it worse.

For the population so far unaffected, the news coverage makes the left-over mince pies and turkey catch in our throats. Then there is the haze, the toxic smoke, and endless layers of ash on our balconies – each unsubtle reminders of the plight of so many communities, who on top of their personal losses feel abandoned by their government. We carry on our lives as normal, but with a growing sense of survivor guilt, conscious of the little we can do to help the affected and the very real danger of compassion fatigue that comes with such a bombardment of coverage from the media.

Each one of us is guilty of it. The news is never good anymore, and I find myself switching off from it as it triggers my anxiety – not for me, but for the thousands that are at the mercy of this horrifying drought that is so very hard to see an end to. And perhaps the saddest part is the knowledge that as soon as it rains, the victims of these fires will become yesterday’s news, just like the victims of the volcanic eruption in New Zealand before Christmas.

Fortunately, disasters such as these bring out the best in most people as well, and in many communities – many of whom have lost everything – it is that spirit that helps people get through these dark days. There are food collections and donations for those who have been displaced or lost their homes, and basic provisions are being packed and sent to our fire crews. When asked by the media about the morale of the victims, a Sikh volunteer who helped set up a free food truck close to the most ravaged areas mentioned their need for connection – apparently, the need to talk to someone about their losses far outweighs their need for food.

Houses can be rebuilt, so perhaps the biggest fear for everyone in the country is that these fires symbolise a new normal for Australia, unless we address climate change more proactively. It’s hard not to feel scared when your government is in denial about the problem and the foundations of the news globally seem built on increasingly devastating incidents of drought, flooding, and the rise of right wing parties who downplay it.

That’s why we have sought solace in humor this holiday period. Daniel Sloss and Trevor Noah on Netflix have gone some way to distract us from the gloom. Comedy has helped lighten the sense of helplessness and provided a reminder of the power of laughter in the face of adversity, even if the sentiment at the root of so many of their jokes is steeped in the same cuntery of life that plays out daily on our screens.

In my experience, laughter is the best medicine. When everything is taken away from us, all we have left is our spirit, our survival instinct, hope and humour. Comics such as Robin Williams knew that, as did survivors of The Holocaust and refugees who have made the decision to risk their lives on terrible journeys between continents. To a lesser degree, it was what I relied upon when I started this blog. At the time, my intention had nothing to do with writing, but expressing myself in that way helped me make sense and light of some difficult personal situations. Dissecting them in my head and then sharing them on my computer proved to be cathartic, which was why I opened up about being fired from a job, my son’s challenges with ADHD, my battles with anxiety, and my perceived failures as mother and wife. It was equally helpful to know that others out there in cyberspace identified with my struggles.

It sounds crazy, but sometimes all you can do is laugh at your own bad luck, and so I am grateful to be part of a family where the expression ‘too soon?’ is NEVER ‘too soon?’

Right now, the victims of this disaster will still be in shock, their spirits temporarily broken. They will need to talk about their experiences and be heard. But if there’s one piece of advice I want to give them it is that they WILL rise out of the ashes. They WILL get back on the horse. Seven years ago when I lost my job, it seemed like the end of the world to someone with anxiety, who was petrified of rejection. And yet, that bad luck forced me to take a different path – into writing. Similarly, there are people who have beaten cancer that talk about how their illness has changed their lives for the better.

These fires will change the life trajectory of many of its victims. All we can hope is that the change will be for the better for some of them.

The first time we smile after the loss of someone close to us is shocking. How dare we pick up our lives when something so terrible has happened, we rage internally. And yet, laughter is a sign that the spirit has returned and that hope is winning. Fortunately, the country’s spirit has not been quashed. There are angels waiting in the wings of those regions that are still battling against these terrible fires – angels with full kettles and open hearts, who are ready to listen and to help the victims smile again.

The Only Guarantee In Life Is That Everything Changes

Some people are resistant to change – particularly from middle age onwards – while others embrace it. Some of us want to cram as many crazy, new experiences into our twilight years, while others take comfort from what they know.

On a personal level, I have always embraced change. That need explains my itchy feet, the numerous house moves, and the embarrassingly full resume, but for others unnecessary change threatens their safety. I believe that explains (not justifies) the reaction of some people to immigrants or women who hold powerful positions in the workplace.

I stole the idea for the title of this post from a piece written by Zach J.Payne on Medium. It seemed appropriate to discuss the meaning of the words as we race towards Christmas and its overindulgence while bush fires rage around us and the blatant foresight of tv series such as Years and Years keep us awake at night.

However, it is not only Australia’s archaic approach to climate change or problem with overspending that has taken the bang out of the crackers this Christmas. That exhaustion has also been caused by the never-ending cycle of murders and abuse of women at the hands of men. In the last few weeks alone, another woman was burnt to death on the way to her rape trial whilst another died in a menstruation hut. The tiredness is also caused by the worrying increase in mental illness in our children – that no one seems to be tackling with any seriousness – and tragedies such as the White Island eruption.

Perhaps, the biggest cause of my fear at the moment is what is happening on the world political stage right now, with the terrifying rise of the right, the possible impeachment of Trump, and the British election. The scariest truth to come out of this year for me is that we are voting in self-serving narcissists.

And the tinsel and fairy lights have done little to assuage those fears this year. It is increasingly difficult to feel positive about the overall state of the world – even from my position of privilege. And so, the only thing that keeps us going is hope. That things will change – however far-flung that feels right now. That, in general, good beats evil.

We need to remember that the Berlin Wall did come down, fascism was beaten in two world wars, women in Ireland now have the right to abortions, and improvements continue in terms of the eradication of serious illness – which means that in the west our longevity improves all of the time.

That is, if we still have a world to live in, of course.

On a micro level, we experienced one of those changes last Sunday, when our son joined us at our Christmas party.

As many of you know, Christmas is a special time for me. It represents everything I aspire to in terms of family, togetherness and belonging – even if our reality isn’t always that chocolate box version.

His arrival was a surprise. Why? Because we have organised many family events over the past few years that he has promised to attend and then been a no-show. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties who is not comfortable with large groups – especially large groups of Boomers and Gen Xers who know about his struggles. So much so, it was only a few years ago that I truly believed that one day we might become estranged, only to be reconciled in twenty years time on one of those cheesy programmes on tv, or (worst case) at visitors time in prison.

That’s a lie, because my worst case scenario has always been the fear he might not be here at all.

And yet, if anyone asked me twenty-two years ago if I thought I would find myself in this position, I would have laughed. I mean…I’m far from perfect parent material, but I am a middle-class woman with privilege who tried (desperately) to tick off most points on Dr Spock’s perfect parent checklist.

However, I had a child who was and is very much his own person. One who is only now growing happier in his own skin – even though, I will be very surprised if he ever embraces the “system” wholeheartedly. Being neurodiverse makes life that bit harder for him. And while I may be a tad prone to catastrophizing, those fears about his future have felt very real for a very long time. And so, even now, (and we’re far from out of the woods), I grab at any scrap of love he throws at me with gratitude and relief – to my daughter’s disgust.

Shit happens to everyone. That’s life. The good news is that (in general) we learn how to cope with the holes in the road that try to fuck up the suspension on the car. And as the journalist Jan Fran said when she was a guest on the Wilosophy podcast and Wil asked her what she is most proud of in her life, the importance of how we REACT to situations and change is a pretty big thing to learn.

It never ceases to amaze me how capable we human beings are in the face of pain and tragedy. Right now, in Queensland and New South Wales, homeowners are risking their lives to save their properties alongside volunteer fire fighters who will have to give up their own Christmas to help them. Those homeowners don’t know if their houses will still be standing tomorrow – all they have is hope. But they are coping, because they have to. Today, the families of those killed on White Island will feel utter hopelessness as the bodies of their loved ones are retrieved to be laid to rest, but one day they will find some meaning to their loss – because what else is there?

Everything changes and not always for the better, but we are more resilient than we think. 2020 is another year that will bring change and challenge. That lunatic Boris looks like he will get back in, no doubt Trump will find some corrupt way to out-manoeuvre the US judicial system, and Scomo will continue to pray to his god to put out the fires. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer.

So all the rest of us can hope is that other changes emerge from next year for the better of mankind, and that more activists like Greta Thunberg and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez stay angry enough to lead them.

Food Packaging: Has The World Gone Completely Mad?

I am slowly educating myself about my personal impact on the environment. It helps when you have a daughter who works in climate science, and who helpfully reminds you each time you forget your recycled bags at the supermarket about how many turtles you’ve just killed.

Photo by Vivianne Lemay on Unsplash

I admit that, (for my sins), I am still using wipes. Responsibility is a permanent battle between turning your back on the wonders of modern invention for the sake of something that still doesn’t feel quite real – at least for some. And what a bloody fantastic invention cleansing wipes are!

Needless to say, my education about how to respect the environment has been an embarrassing slow burn for my daughter The reef dying and the ice-caps melting doesn’t mean a lot until you are directly affected by it, and if I’m honest, (being somewhat set in my ways), I am only just coming to grips with my phone’s secret updates.

However, when you read articles like The Wasteland by Stephanie Wood in last weekend’s SMH, there’s no ignoring what’s happening.

While NC has done a great job of educating me about recycling, conserving energy, and sustainability, the issue of food wastage hasn’t come up yet – probably because it’s never been an issue in our house. Which is why the work of organisations such as Ozharvest (that Stephanie mentions) – a company that collects the food waste from supermarkets and hospitality to recycle it for the homeless and others in need – was such an eye-opener.

Interestingly, a friend and I had a similar idea (on a much smaller scale) a few months back, when we considered extending the idea of Kurt’s care packages, (ie. the several meals a week I deliver him to help him survive the days between one pay day to the next), to a batch for the homeless each month. Sadly, however, our idea was met by such a horrified response from our friends – who worried about the legal ramifications if we killed someone – we were forced to rethink.

What a very sad world we live in?

So while I may not be able to check which of the homeless are gluten-free, what I can do in my mission to become a middle-aged eco-warrior, is reduce the amount of plastic I use and increase awareness about the damage done by excess packaging. I was pondering over this very thing when I was in Woolworths the other day and I spotted these bags of fruit.

Yes, look again – your eyes do not deceive you. For these are indeed individually packaged bags of sliced apple for kids lunch boxes, helpfully contained in another package.

Now, my husband will verify that I can be a wasteful person and I am also fully aware that more and more parents work full time and don’t have the time to carve flowers out of carrots – hence, I will try not to cast stones – BUT WTF IS GOING ON? Our kids are marching in the streets, telling us how scared they are about climate change, and we can’t even slice an apple now?

Why do we need to package our fruit in plastic trays and then wrap it again in a second layer of plastic? Doesn’t it seem a little crazy that that we march happily around the supermarket feeling all smug about our recyclable canvas bags, when we’re carrying enough plastic inside them to cancel any benefit? In the old days – as in the Medieval times when I was a child – our parents took one bag to the market for their fruit and veg, which was poured directly into it from the scale. It was probably how I learned my basic maths skills. And in countries where diet is based on a farm-to-table principle, people continue to manage to cope with that system.

Aside from the addition of unnecessary landfill, the threat to wildlife and the environment, and the fact that the planet may self-combust in a few years, what does such a blatant lack of responsibility say to our kids about our privilege and our priorities?

I suspect that it’s that the world has gone fucking mad.

Middle Age, Weight Loss and Climate Change

If one step closer towards the end of the world is marked by Trump’s inauguration this week, then the heat wave in Sydney came a close second for me. 

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A recent aerial view of Sydney.

 

If the adult human body is made up of 60% water, there can be no biological explanation for how my weight managed to remain stubbornly at the ‘overweight for my height’ end of the scales after the amount of sweating I’ve done, even when I put on my highest heels.

 

Some of you may be aware that we Sydney-siders have suffered in temperatures close to 40 degrees CENTIGRADE this week, and perhaps you have little sympathy if hypothermia/survival is your biggest concern at the moment. But the heat has been that intense that it has even forced even me, a committed aqua-phobe, to drink gallons of the stuff, and that’s something I usually struggle with… unlike five glasses of wine, say.  

 

If  you are one of those poor sods suffering in ice storms and shovelling snow on the other side of the world, I feel your pain, but let me tell you, living in a furnace is no picnic either, particularly for us peri/menopausal women.

 

It was 30 degrees at 9am on Wednesday morning and 28 degrees throughout the night – apparently a record – yippee! – and we have no air conditioning in our house, a compromise that was made when we  prioritised giving our two young adults a room of their own each when we moved recently.

 

And did I mention that they should have left home by now? Funny how quickly priorities can change.

 

And yes, I admit that sweating excessively and unattractively is a first-world problem, but it was that hot that even the dog refused to go out for a walk, birds dropped dead from the sky and fans and oxygen tanks became impossible to find even on the black market.

 

Of course, NC, a climate scientist, basked in the glory of being right, as she held the thermometer outside her bedroom window each morning, and shot us us those smug, ‘told you so’ looks.

 

What you forget is how cranky intense heat makes you, and just how much sweat the body can actually produce when it’s put under pressure to prevent spontaneous human combustion. So how my body defied all those rules of mathematics that state that when you subtract something from a whole you are left with less, I’ll never know.

 

Sydney, once a civilised hood that has become renowned as one of the best cities in the world to live in, turned into a real-life version of Mad Max within days, its population forced to fight for every tiny breath of air, only able to find relief by standing inert in front of an open fridge door.

 

Mrs Woog summed it up better than me in this hilarious post:

 

Personally, I try not to moan too much, what with my NY resolution about gratitude, and on the whole I still prefer the heat to the cold. The onset of the symptoms of dehydration do give you an excuse to drink more wine.