The title is a sentence taken from my earlier work, He(A)r(e)not – for violin, voice, video and soundscape (2009).
A lived experience. An almost perpetual circumstance. That is, for people who fall through the cracks, who are different in one way or another, who exist in the tangents and trajectories of difference, deeper depths, higher planes, unseen, unheard and ignored by mainstream collectivity.
Sydney experienced a horrific event yesterday. I am too overwhelmed with a torrid blend of grief, rage and frustration to elaborate on my own emotional responses to this. The events are reported in the news, readily available and I will not repeat them here. Google it if you want to know the details.
In my microcosmos…
I was having lunch with two lovely girlfriends at the Arthouse Kitchen, my second favourite cafe in Paddington (second to Not Just Coffee, of course!) when the news was conveyed to us by the manager. At the time, none of us thought to go online to check our Facebook accounts or the news. We were snug;y ensconced inside our little cosy bubble: three women of varied ages, from different corners of the world – Iran, Chile and Singapore – enjoying good food, friendly service, clement surroundings, and great company. It was only later, when I arrived home and tuned in to the telly and internet media that I realised the ponderous weight of what was unfolding in the city centre, very near to where we were. I will not reveal our private conversations, but the above are visual images of our cosy event locked in the memory of space and time, juxtaposed now with the knowledge that just a few kilometres away, heinous evil was taking place.
During lunch, I received a text from a dear friend, asking if I was ok. I replied that all was ok and I was enjoying lunch with friends. I did not associate the text with what was going on outside our little temporary cocoon. I did wonder why my friend sent me that text, but I thought nothing more of it until I reconnected with social media later on. Many other friends had sent me emails and messages via different channels. I felt very much loved. I know who were thinking of me and I appreciate it very much.
One friend stood out. Not because our connection was stronger than the others, but because of its unique position within the specific site, space and situation. I received a phone call, mobile to mobile, from special friend, checking on me and Lucy, making sure we were ok. What is so special about this friend, you may ask? Well. He is an old man. He is a homeless old man. No roof over his head. Lives in a ramshackle old van. Too proud to register for social security / welfare. Highly educated, intelligent and eloquent. How he ended up in this circumstance I do not know and it is not my habit to ask people such questions. I met him, like so many other wonderful friends, through Lucy, two years ago. He has been a faithful supporter of my work, offering good advice (he is knowledgeable in the area of art) and turning up at my exhibitions. He also helped me furnish my previous home, with very good quality pieces that he picked up from other people’s discards by the road. He gave me very sound advice against the terrible House Guest from Hell, Miss L the conwoman, but sadly, I did not heed his advice and landed myself in so much trouble that I am still struggling to climb out of the repercussions after almost a year now. Now, mobile phone calls are not cheap here in Sydney, especially if one has a prepaid pay-as-you-go sim, which he and I both have. That conversation would have cost him a simple cheese on toast meal.
There I was, previously ranting to my friend Rick, during a sumptuous and visually gorgeous Saturday bruncheon, about the $7.80 I had spent on the call to Auspost over the errant courier who did not bother to deliver my mini washing machine and just stuck the delivery card into my mailbox. This phone call put things into a different paradigm for me. I felt humbled, and grateful at the same time, that someone who has so little, cares so much about my existence.
I will not rant anymore about the money I have spent on phone calls to Auspost to wrangle over the non-delivery of my package (I bought a mini washing machine on eBay). However, I still wish to pursue the issue, in accordance to what is right and due to me. I stayed home all morning on Friday, waiting for the package. Nobody knocked on my door. I was sitting just three feet from the door. It is a large package. I suffer from arthritis and I am not strong. It is not as if I wasn’t at home. Why should I have to be put through the wringer just because someone failed to do his job decently? In my protracted conversation (the second call I made to Auspost) yesterday, after explaining my situation and physical challenges, the person on the phone had the cheek to ask me, “So, how do you go to your meetings?” This is still ringing in my ear, a day after. I was reduced to explaining to this stranger on the phone how I manage my own physical challenges, and justifying to her why I am unable to carry that pacakge weighing 6.5kg up two storeys to my apartment on my own. Why did I even have to do so, and subject to this humiliation, when it was the delivery person who simply failed to do his job?
The problem with such insensitive subtly derisory comments is that when revealed to others, there will be people who will laugh it off or tell the victim that we are being ‘too sensitive’ or we have ‘misinterpreted’ things, or that we are making a big fuss out of nothing. The victim becomes the monster here, in one way or another.
I am not alone in this conundrum. This is not only about autism, or disabilities. It is just about being different, having a different set of needs and functioning, being “not the same” as everyone else. I have heard other people try to relate their experiences of having been at the receiving end of abuse and bigotry, and then having their stories brushed aside., because the accounts do not fit in well with the perceptual norms of the majority. It gets tiring after awhile, to stand up for oneself. And sometimes, even people who profess to be caring friends tend to (unwittingly) take the side of the abuser just because they lack a deeper sense of empathy, and are unable to see into the complexity or subtlety of an invisible, insidious act of oppression, subjugation and repression.
I am overwhelmed today. It may not seem connected to others, but it is actually intensely, intricately intertwined nevertheless – the entirety of my microcosmic experience of what happened to me and what happened to the wider world around me, yesterday.
I mourn for the innocent lives lost. But I shall not elaborate, or the grief and rage may become too heavy and still be derided and remain of little consequence anyway.
The silence is howling as it is being flogged, over and over again.