‘Fearless’ is a shape few of us, even children, could truthfully lay claim to. And yet when we’re young we have no sense of the future being against us, of not being fit for the future, of doors locked. It’s the non-attendance to these, the freedom from these, more than any child-like attribute per se, that lets us feel our joy so spontaneously as children. The absence is in effect an attribute. Innocence, it’s usually called. And for all its overuse, it’s as good a word as any.
Of course it’s more complex than that. Our childish consciousness is fundamentally different – for one, we are not really aware of mortality. We might have an inkling of what it means for someone or something to die, but we are, for all we know, eternal.
My parents married in Ireland in 1969 and came to Australia the same year. In 1980 they decided to take my brother, my sister and me to see Ireland.
That first swirling late afternoon still breathes and in a funny way, still blooms. Not a solitary trepidation screened or shaded what I was seeing. At moments, a recurring befuddlement at how Australia could just vanish – but even those had a concurrent sensation of an equally rousing world opening.
A ride from the airport in my grandmother’s VW holding an arm out the window to touch the cold swirl; stopped at traffic lights, a motorbike rider extending a black leather hand, damp at the fingertips, to meet my own fingertips. Cut loose in the streets of my new neighbourhood: a steeple-high cypress quivering, wobbling, as if it might topple; a cousin singing Walking on the Moon; the wind hoisting his voice out of reach even as he walked at my side; a beguiling girl on a rattling old bike, hair blacker than coal, long as a cape. Crouched by a stream at the edge of some woods with dizzy déjà vu; drinking from the stream out of overlapped frozen palms; a massive oak tree reaching for me somewhere in the dark. My sister saying she felt dizzy, like the world had been tipped on its head.
I’m not writing this because I’m nostalgic. I’m writing this because lately I have been thinking of going back to Ireland to live a year.
The problem is this – no sooner does the notion surface, than it’s shot at from above. The easiest way to illustrate this is to paint you a picture, so to speak. I’ll let you hear me think (if that’s not too merciless of me). How will you get any writing done working all those part time traveller’s jobs? Nobody will employ you to write – competition too tough in such a rich literary culture. No sunny spots for yoga. What about that one cousin you don’t get along with and how will you earn a living? The only time you were a waiter you dropped all the forks . . .
Transitory noise. Peripheral enough to pay no mind, persistent enough to need addressing sooner or later.
Efficacy is a reasonable enough concern. But if a person is willing to learn with a sense of humour, what purpose or basis all these pusillanimous apprehensions? How do we outmanoeuvre them? Or dismiss them with the icy disdain they deserve? Wouldn’t bombastic over-confidence be a perfectly reasonable substitute? Wouldn’t unchecked ego and conceit be more functional if it got me striding onto a plane with a head big, unchecked, ballooning with empty airs?
As I work, a chef on RRR’s Eat It talks about his mentor’s mantra: taste and think, taste and think. Why can’t we taste adventure and then think, instead of first agonising?
Like a Miles Davis song or Melbourne’s eclectic weather, our experience of this world is fluid and sometimes brilliantly unpredictable. When I was a kid on the plane I liked not knowing what would happen next. I liked being uprooted. It seems to me that sometimes in order to fully recognise the joy of living as an adult it’s not such a bad idea to adopt the take-it-as-it-comes curiosity and cheek of a kid. Not to say we should be ingénues and babes in the woods, or leave our affairs for others to fix. Only that we might be strongest when boldest. No extraordinary observation and maybe not even a very eloquent stating of the case. But it’s easily forgotten.
We engineer our own fears (with assistance) and assiduously hammer each into our thinking, as if each were indispensable. And yet we neglect our ideas as if they were meaningless. Groggy little fears plant a foot in consciousness’s door as I write this. Nobody will want this, don’t sink too much time, come and have a cup of tea with us in the kitchen. I light an imaginary cigar, blow imaginary smoke in their sour faces. Here for you if you need us, cough. Cranks. They make me want to whistle Tim Buckley’s Buzzin Fly. They make me want to crank REM’s I Believe:
I Believe my humour’s wearing thin
and Change, Baby,
is what I Believe in.
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