The perks of fringe dwelling
I've finished the second draft of the "Peithosian Gift", and it will shortly be submitted for the next round of editorial. It is a good place to be when the scope of possible new lines of creating writing are infinite. At the moment, I am leaning towards writing a short story before Christmas, writing a stage play next year, and preparing the story board for the next novel (which will be part 4 of the "Panopticon" series, working title "The Serfdom"). The space in between each round of editorial represents freedom.
While I decide what to write next in my preferred genre, speculative fiction, I have been in a reflective mood of late so will share a few thoughts via an observational philosophical story....
....There’s a moment in life when you realise you are your father’s daughter, with no prospect of denying it. It is that moment when you recognise the core of your beliefs, your personality, comes from the genes you have inherited.
Before I reflect on who I am today, let me tell you a little bit about my father and family history.
My father was never a fan of joining groups with common interests. This included groups connected by blood. He packed up his wife and three children, put us on an ocean liner that travelled to the other side of the world, escaping from the rest of his family. I was too young to remember anything beyond a constant nausea caused by sea sickness. Australia may as well have been the moon because it created an expanse of distance where my father could dwell isolated from his brothers and sisters who insisted he should not disgrace the family name. For him, the wayward son, he showed instead a steely determination give them the finger and run far from the pack and be exactly who he wanted to be without constraint.
I grew up a long way from anyone with only my immediate family as a support anchor. There was also no organised religion to reach out to in my father's household either. My father hated the church almost as much as he loathed the siblings he left behind on the other side of the planet. This patriarchal mantra of banning participation in any other form of religious or secular club seemed to be a product of his lack of enthusiasm about joining groups generally.
A considerable chunk of my poetry writing efforts as a teenager were about dwelling on the fringe of civilised society, the place where my father moored our family. The fact that I wrote poetry at all was enough to keep me squarely there, and (perhaps indoctrinated to the anti-establishment beliefs of my father) I liked it. Most of the time.
I rebelled occasionally. At each of the many schools I found myself in (we moved around a lot) I made an effort to join a group (in defiance of my father’s disapproving eye). This included singing in a school production of “Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat”, playing soccer, netball and volleyball, and even joining the debating team. (The idea of joining a book club though was then and remains to this day an anathema to me.) I sung, played and argued competently but without passion, always feeling like I did not belong.
That feeling of comfort from detached distance has stayed with me a lifetime. The truth is the moments I feel most connected to the world are when I am generally alone. Individual pursuits — hiking to edge of the earth middle of nowhere breathtakingly beautiful places (of which there are many in Australia), sitting at my desk writing, seeing a movie, listening to music, reading a book (on my own), sailing on the water or deep-water diving underneath it.
Sure, I may be doing some of these things with other people, but ultimately the pleasure I get from the experience is the way it makes me (and no one else) feel. Arguably, an exception might be the many one-on-one conversations I have with friends about philosophical issues, yet even there I might argue that the discussions ultimately help me to contemplate the meaning of life when I am beyond the original conversation and lost in my own thoughts.
Don’t get me wrong. I see incredible value can be derived from creating groups including to pursue a cause. An example of this is the establishment of the union movement to improve wage outcomes though collective bargaining. A lovely theoretical construct. In practice though, in business generally it seems, irrespective of which side of the table a group is sitting (whether seeking better conditions or whether attempting to save costs), access to power seems to corrupt. And the ethicist that resides in me hates the abuse of power, no matter who wields it. [Aside: That’s an observational story for another day.]
I also see a downside to such collections of people. Group-think is as group-think does. The very thing that can give us a sense of belonging is also the thing that can create an “us-versus-them” mentality. How often have I seen media reports that show a minority being ostracised, sometimes to the point of violence, because those outnumbered dared to be different.
What is it about human nature that many of us are driven to wanting to be part of a group? What is it about human nature that leads us to follow doctrines that seek to cull the herd of the so-called weakest? Maybe a long time ago (read: when we were first discovering fire) surviving demanded banding together and behaving as one for strength. Surely we are in another universe now in terms of distance from that place in ancient times where we need to be a part of a group to thrive?
I am channelling my father's voice when I express such views. He passed away several years ago and his views live on in me.
My father always reminded me of a character, Chief Bromden, in Ken Kesey’s book One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While the book itself was a bleak critique of behaviourism, it highlighted above all else that “He who marches out of step hears another drum.” Walking to my office earlier this week I realised why I constantly choose to skip out of rhythm with the rest of the world. Because to me it is about escaping that metaphorical hospital ward that demands we acquiesce and be (un)comfortably numb. Submission to a group is a form of serfdom.
I am my father’s daughter.