Every year since Tim and I have been together, we’ve been to the annual Sydney Writers’ Festival. It’s held on the finger wharves at Walsh Bay, which if we were unable to have kids was our fantasy place to live. It takes place during Autumn, with the first flush of cool weather making indoor activity (still with a glimpse of the water, as is the law in our fair city) appealing. And of course it gives us all a chance to don our scarves and hats for the first time since September. There’s a lovely bar there and you have glimpses of the bridge; it’s a dream of a day out.
The first year we went simply because it was our first year together and we were doing all the things. The following year, if I recall correctly, there was a focus on neuroscience (it was Norman Doige’s year to shine) and as Tim has an interest in this we went to many different lectures on the broad topic. Every year since we’ve gone – not necessarily for any particular talk or writer, but for the event itself. We’ve pot lucked a lot of the time, and ended up seeing some amazing and memorable speeches.
Last year, we had only just found out we were having a bub when the festival was on. I remember walking around the wharves, the rich gold of the sun of our faces, fantasising about being a family of three at next year’s festival. (I also remember being distinctly annoyed that I couldn’t knock into deliciously literary punny cocktails – a la tequila mockingbird – and being rather resentful that Hotel put enough away for both of us.) I could visualise us (again, we were both about ten kilos lighter without having to work for it), pushing a pram around with an angelic sleeping baby while casually dropping in to a range of stimulating lectures, which we would wittily discuss over drinks later with friends. With this in mind I booked us in to a bunch of sessions this year; we were determined to make it work, regardless of our changed circumstances. Norman Doige had returned, Tim’s dream lady was speaking, and I’d grabbed tickets to a few fiction author panels that were right up my alley. We were pumped, and totally convinced we could take Adelaide without too much hassle.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was completely and utterly incorrect. It turns out that sitting through hour long lectures is not really up our five month old daughter’s alley. To her credit, she lasted about five minutes at ‘A Radical Rethink’ before deciding it wasn’t really to her taste; I am pleased she gave it a go and slightly proud that clearly she though it was beneath her. After that we decided to cut our losses and tag team – Tim stuck out the Rethink speech (he took epic notes for me, bless. A statistic was floated that in Britain more prescriptions are given for antidepressants in a year than there are people in the Western world. This was hotly debated at lunch afterwards and does not perhaps bear scrutiny, but is interesting nonetheless), and I went to a panel entitled Imagined Futures.
It was one of the pot-lucky kind of tickets. It was a panel of four fiction authors; I’d not read a single one of their works (or indeed even heard of any of them). These are always my favourite kind of Writers’ Festival events – not knowing a thing, you can turn up and almost always walk away with a few juicy titbits, ideas that linger and drive a small door stop of influence into your everyday thoughts. This particular panel was no exception. The authors had all written futuristic dystopia novels; one related to climate change, one human destroying plague, and two different versions of an apocalyptic NYC. The novels themselves sounded interesting – I promptly downloaded two of them to sit in my unread kindle library – but as always it was the discussions around the generation of ideas and the process of writing that was fascinating.
All of the authors spoke about how, to varying degrees, their futuristic fantasy had become fact. This was particularly the case with the climate change novel – what was pure fantasy at the time of writing had become fact by editing stage, a chilling emphasis on the rate and scope of change. The same author also explored the juxtaposition that as humans we now have the technological capacity to be close to and understand nature in an intense and intimate way, while at the same time forcing it into extinction.
Because my life is now primarily focused on parenthood, the most interesting discussion to me was (of course) about children. All of the authors noted that their approach to the future, their attitudes and way of conceptualising had changed as they became parents. The future of the world mattered in a way it had not previously; there was a sense not only of continuity but of desperation. It was described as being part of a river with no discernible beginning or end, but rather an ongoing flow to which we are only a small current, a skimmed stone, a swell after rain.
I’m not sure I feel that way yet. Adelaide seems more of a wee island in the river, an anomaly, a glitch. A wonderful anomaly and glitch, but not part of my ongoing psyche. I’m not very good at imagining the future at the best of times, and imagining it with my small baby becoming a girl, a woman, a mother, elderly is not really in my reach at the moment. I’ve had 36 years of river without her (39 according to her bloody incorrect birth certificate) so that’s not surprising I guess. I’m also, at five months, still very much in the here and now. In order to get through the days – and to treasure them as much as possible – I try not to think too far ahead, to wish my time away. I know this is different from hoping for a certain type of world for our children, but for me it’s still on the horizon, not yet fathomable. For now, I’m focusing on getting through tonight. Hoping she lasts her swimming lesson tomorrow without crying too much (no crying seems a little much to ask for). Juggling the weekend without getting too exhausted for the following week. Maybe, if I squint, we might be able to go the Writers’ Festival next year as a little family of three. And actually sit through a session.