Back in my lane

©careerusinterruptus. Description: A stack of light

Shortly after COVID kicked off – or maybe when George Floyd was murdered – or was it the Ruby Princess debacle? Who knows? Who can even keep track of all this year’s shitbombs? – I had a fit of needing to Know More.

Specifically, more political economics. I’ve never really paid attention; I’m a small-p politics, big ideas gal through and through. What you can learn from the news has never really stuck in my head. But given the speed with which our handbasket is heading hellwards, it seemed immoral to be indulging in Bridgertons. I had to help!

So I borrowed a giant stack of clever library books. These here times are gonna take some knowledgeable navigating! I’m smart! I can get knowledgeable!

First off, an edited collection about Australian politics. How did we get here? Alas, besides Ruth Barcan’s stupendously useful essay on Hansonism and what she called the ‘lament for modernity’, it turns out I still don’t care about Party Politics, not even three chapters’ worth.

Perhaps John Quiggin’s Economics in Two Easy Lessons would be better. He’s a sensible media commentator and the reviews promised an accessible, entry-level text. So, perfect for someone keen to understand capitalism and what we should do differently.

Or not. Towards the halfway point, I was maybe possibly starting to slightly understand …some of it? Until then, I had to keep going back two, five, twelve pages, retrieving definitions and trying to follow the argument. None of which I retained long enough to finish.

Also in the stack were Thomas Piketty’s Capital, having encountered his idea of Modern Monetary Theory on social media, Yascha Mounk’s The People Vs. Democracy, because that title, from Harvard UP, nails it, and Richard Fortey’s Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms because evolution is happening right now, right? All big, important ideas, that a knowledgeable person should know.

Friends, I couldn’t even open them.

I did open Martin Moore’s Democracy Hacked. The first half terrified me. Proper, chilling, can’t-sleep fear, based on horribly compelling evidence. Fuck that shit. I feel awful about abandoning it – on oh, so many levels – but if understanding means less sleep, then ignorance it is. I function as the frontal lobe for four, sometimes five, people, and I need every damn neuron I can scrape together.

Deciding to forget the past and work towards the future, I tried Clare Press’s Rise and Resist. Wow, she can write – and wow, this book is full of good stuff. Connection. Strength. Power. Women! Just what we need!

But I couldn’t stick that, either. Sux weeks in I’m only part-way through chapter four and it’s about as uplifting as dusting.

I am absolutely no wiser about politics, economics, or what we can do to avoid the iceberg, than I was six months ago.

This stuff used to be my bread and butter, my happy place. Big ideas are my bag and suddenly, I just can’t? Wtf is WRONG WITH ME?!

And then, peeling carrots, I remember: I’ve been here before. 25 years ago, when my dad died. I was young, child-free, energetic, and I didn’t read a book for weeks. Fran Drescher’s Enter Whining took a month, for goodness sake. I simply couldn’t concentrate. Just like now.

Which is how I realised, I’m grieving.

Yes, sure, I’m up to my eyeballs, caring for others, and that uses a huge fucking lot of RAM. But that hasn’t slowed me down much in the past decade: I’ve plowed through all sorts, including cosmology, quantum, histories of science and the Yes campaign, alongside Georgian romances, contemporary women’s fiction, and many autobiographies. Some of which stuck, even.

So it’s not just the daily roller-coaster. Fast ups and downs with lots of screaming is normal; reading through that has kept me sane. (Ish.)

It’s about loss – the great losses we’re witnessing now and the worse ones to come – and terrible sadness. It’s about the tremendous energy it takes to shut that all down so I can keep functioning. I can’t concentrate because my head is working full time, holding my heart in check.

So full that I’ve seen approximately 4,352 memes about this stuff and never twigged they were talking about me.

To me.

Whoops.

This is the bastard thing about being raised on “you’re so smart, you could probably cure cancer”. 51 years old and I am still learning where my lane is. But the fact is, there are already plenty of people out there both specifically and generally far more knowledgeable; millions better at facts, reason, problem-solving. They’re the ones who’ve got to solve this mess, not me, and that’s okay.

My job is to hoist the flag for values – compassion, empathy, respect, love – to care for those around me who need support, to put beauty into the world wherever and however I can, to ally my freaking pants off, to connect, and to raise kids who do those things. That is all.

So I’ve gone back to the library, and I have a new stack of books. Ones that will help me do what I’m good at, not what I wish I was good at, or what I think I should be good at.

I’m glad I remembered.

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