My best friend, Katharine Daly, learnt how to play the guitar last year. Doing this was important to her, and she did it, and is doing it. She’s not a shredding virtuoso, but she’s getting better every day. She’s written, I reckon, at least one new song a week.1 It’s hard to quantify, though, because she also just keeps playing the same songs over and over again, at varying tempos and in various weird voices.2 She is restless in her search for ways of relaying information that are as-near-to-perfectly clear and danceable as possible.
She recently wrote a song about the Northern Territory intervention. This is something she’s wanted to do for a while. After singing me the song, she was telling me her feelings about watching Utopia. I said that I hadn’t seen it, and that I hadn’t heard of it either. She said, ‘really,’ then repeated ‘really?’ in a way that made me feel ignorant and ashamed. Perhaps rightly so: I have every privilege and my health and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be learning all I can about the world I live in. Instead, I do things like spend three days feeling angry with her for the repetition of a word, but not talking to her about it or even acknowledging my feelings of ignorance and shame and what they are really about, and this is why I am stuck and maybe a little asleep inside.3 But that’s neither here nor there, and this was all after she sang me her beautiful song, which stayed in my head for days afterwards.
Although I know some things, and have some skills, I don’t think I have much actual, useful knowledge about how the world works and what my place in it is. I feel some shame about this, and perhaps this shame has led to further ignorance. Part of me wants to say that this is also just how I was built: some things just won’t stick in me, as much as I wish they would, like facts, certainty, and other things. For example, when Katharine said she’d written a song about the Northern Territory intervention, my mind was empty, like classic ‘desert with a tumbleweed’ empty, apart from some feelings of shame re: emptiness/ignorance.4 I feel some shame admitting this, even now. I had to google the intervention after our conversation, and of course I remembered it, but only vaguely. For some reason it just hadn’t stuck in my mind.
But there are some things — little things people say or do, like repeating a word — that stick in me. I carry them around with me everywhere, trying to move them into some place where they might be useful. I need help with these things: I’ve been to psychologists and sometimes I smoke and drink things which also seem to help with my thoughts, or at least alter them, which sometimes feels like helping, like putting a sugar packet under a wobbly table, even though it’s still a wobbly table. I need help with my thoughts: they are often repetitive and useless; I need to be reminded of things to think about and given new ways to think about them.
This is one thing that has stuck in my mind:
Aboriginal people often say that the dreaming did not come out of the minds of humans. The humans are the custodians of that which exists in the geographical site. It is the site which makes and remakes the human mind.
It’s from The Long Weekend in Alice Springs, an essay by Craig San Roque adapted into a comic by Josh Santospirito and included by Sam Wallman in Fluid Prejudice, an anthology of comics about forgotten and marginalised aspects of Australian history. It’s not so much the words that stay with me, at least not that exact arrangement of words, but the images drawn with them (concentric circles with a finger in the middle of them, outlines of human shapes, lines, shading), and the feel of this information, like that thing about knowledge being a recollection of what we already knew but had forgotten.
We need to redraw maps and landscapes and history, over and over again
As I am walking around in the world, lost in my own repetitive and useless thoughts, I try to do that mindfulness thing where I bring my mind back into my body, where my body is in space, on the earth, where I am stepping on it, the earth, at each moment. When I am doing this I sometimes think about all the histories of whatever place I am standing on and how ignorant I am of so many histories outside of my own, and sometimes this feeling of ignorance doesn’t lead to shame, but a kind of emptiness, where I feel ready to be filled.
These are some things that I feel: sometimes, a deep, residing connection with all living things, people, animals, plants, mountains, rivers, oceans, space, nothingness, everything, everything. When I am feeling that feeling I find all my troubles and insecurities become insignificant and I feel what feels like peace, or love. These feelings often begin as thoughts, before moving into pure emotion. Sometimes these thoughts are thoughts about real things in the world, like events, mountains, rivers, or people, and sometimes it feels like there’s no distinction between the thought and the thing itself, and there exists this kind of ‘pure feeling’, like peace, or love. Sometimes they are thoughts about other real things in the world, like songs, or movies, or books, or paintings about real things, like events, or mountains or rivers or people, and there is this other nice layer, of someone else’s thoughts, and so many other people’s thoughts, between that thought and the thing itself, all melting into each other and forming a similar kind of ‘pure feeling’. This is what reading Fluid Prejudice feels like.
I’ve been meaning to lend Fluid Prejudice to Katharine, but comics make her eyes hurt. I am going to keep trying, even if I have to read it to her while she just looks at the pictures. Actually, that’s a good idea. There are so many people I’ve been meaning to lend or give Fluid Prejudice to, because I want so many people to read it; to take every story, every drawing, every word, into their minds, into their bodies to carry around with them everywhere, to new and useful places, full of new and useful thoughts.
We need to remind ourselves of things to think about, or be given new things to think about, and new ways to think them, otherwise we get stuck.5 We need to redraw maps and landscapes and history, over and over again, and sing songs about real things over and over again, at varying tempos and in our weirdest voices so they stick in our minds but don’t stay static. We need people like Katharine Daly and Sam Wallman and all the cartoonists in Fluid Prejudice to remind us how to do this: how to admit our ignorance, and be led to a place of inner emptiness, ready to be filled, and poured out, and filled again.
Leonie Brialey is a cartoonist and musician from Perth, Western Australia, living and studying in Melbourne, Victoria.
Fluid Prejudice is edited by Sam Wallman and published by Glass Flag. $20, available now from www.penerasespaper.com/store/.