Sunday, July 30, 2006

Why I have to leave

The Northern Rivers really is Paradise. Endless unpeopled beaches, rampant rainforests, perfect weather and smart, articulate locals. The problem with Paradise is that all there is to do is sit around playing the lyre.

The last couple of years I have been struggling with a sense of meaninglessness here. I've been working on my stuff, as you do here whenever there is something awry. 'What is wrong with me?' I ask myself plaintively, in my journal and at 2am during bouts of insomnia. 'Why am I having this existential crisis?' I also berate myself - People in third world countries don't have the luxury of indulging in existential crises. I've got shelves full of trashy workbooks with titles like 'Stop Improving Yourself and Start Living,' and 'I Could Do Anything If Only I Knew What It Was,' not to mention Clive Hamilton's 'Affluenza', De Botton's 'Status Anxiety', and Frankl's 'Man's Search for Meaning' (apparently he suicided in the end).

Today, on my morning walk around the featureless plains of suburban Brisbane, I realised the problem is not within, it's without. I'm a bit of a slow learner like that.

The Northern Rivers (and maybe all rural areas - I've never lived anywhere else) works for two sorts of people - people who are interested in working at a grassroots, community level and artisitic types who can create their own meaning.

Lovergirl, for instance, is passionate about her work. She loves being a psychologist and she's learning new things every day. She's intrigued by individuals' problems and angsts and fascinated by the challenge of working out new ways to approach the tangle of issues people bring.

Only people who are that excited should be in the field of human service work.

I, on the other hand, did an extended stint on the local crisis team to make money. It's good money, seductive in fact - it's hard to walk away. But - hour after hour of people relating their suicidal fantasies, previous attempts and what they are going to do to themselves tonight...I couldn't stand it. I said all the right things, but I have to say it's hard to care. I reckon there must be some shut-down mechanism in my brain.

In the small community where we live there are lots of local activities. There's a fire brigade (which we really ought to join - one shouldn't live in a rural area without being a member of the fir brigade), a film society (I am in this, we show old films once a month in the local hall, as a community fundraiser), various Landcare groups to rehabilitate different bits of the region (I'm in one of these), a chapter of Save the Koala and other wildlife carer groups, a choir and a writer's group (of which I am also a member, although I don't think I wrote a single fictitious thing the whole time I attended. These are great and fun and filled with active interesting people - although being such a small village, they tend to be the same active interesting people. But lately it's been feeling a bit like diversional therapy.

The other people for whom the Northern Rivers works are the creatives. I'd like to be a member of that group - a poet or writer or painter or film-maker, holed up in my studio, passionately creating my interesting slantwise social comment, emerging occasionally to attend writer's festivals or theatre workshops or speakers' dinners.

But I'm not. The stuff I like to do, the stuff I'm good at doing, is about getting a bigger picture and trying to make a difference. A difference on a social level, not an individual one. Even a small difference. In Queensland at the moment, I'm a mere gadfly in the state mental health system's hide but at least I'm annoying. I like doing that. I like being involved in decision making, I like trying to change things. I like having to think about the big picture, and I like talking to other people who are thinking about the big picture. Hibernating in the bush house, I'm not annoying to any of the institutions responsible for social injustices. I'm just aanother dropout.

The Northern Rivers is a beautiful place to retire. But I'm not ready to retire yet.

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