P&I 220807 :The interviewer interviewed: what really counts.
Having the tables turned is a strange feeling, being questioned about something you’ve worked on for years, not just asked an opinion on whatever issues you’ve been writing about recently.
Heavens knows there have been more than enough issues to write about, but underneath them all are matters that outlive the news cycle, even the major public issues, that persist at the heart of the human condition.
That was brought home to me last week while being interviewed about my book, The Summertime of Our Dreams. (Yes, that is a blatant plug, at all good bookstores etc.)
I was afforded kind and generous radio interviews that ran dangerously close becoming emotional (e.g. Rebecca Levingston on ABC Brisbane and the wise and witty Mike Carlton was a thoughtful delight to be in conversation with at the Gleebooks launch, but it was one question in a brief Q&A for the Dymocks web site that pulled me up shortest:
“What do you hope people take away with them after reading The Summertime of Our Dreams?”
Thankfully the question was posed in writing, giving me time to think as it was something I had not considered over the near-decade of off-and-on writing. That might sound ridiculous, but beyond hoping there might be readers and those readers would appreciate what I was trying to say and how it was structured, I hadn’t pondered to what “take away” the themes might be distilled, let alone express it in one sentence.
I knew I wanted readers to feel the emotion of friendship and fatherhood, perhaps handle mortality better and understand “saudade”. (To quote myself: “the Portuguese word with no exact translation, something more than nostalgia, more than fondness for the past; a sense of longing for something grand that’s been lost, for lost love, for lost grandeur, for lost innocence and all of history.”)
But having been forced to think about it and accept that any answer I gave would sound pretentious, I came to dare hope readers upon closing the book “will hold those they love a little closer and be more willing to acknowledge that love, appreciate their good fortune a little more, care about their legacy more and feel this land as we pass through it.”
And thus I am grateful for the question, for having my usual role of questioner reversed causing self-examination.
The point of writing about the love of family and friends has to be to encourage people to appreciate their own more, to acknowledge the love before it is too late, before it is being felt at a funeral.
The point of feeling this wonderous land, the full Dorothea Mackellar that has enriched us at terrible cost to the original custodians, has to be to want it protected and cared for.
This far gone in self-promotion, a couple of paragraphs from the book:
I don’t know if it is being compromised in the shade of the virus or just getting older or the combination thereof, but my mistakes haunt me more now, my sins. The summing up years.
And as if our own are not enough, we revisit the sins of our fathers and call them down upon us, try to show we’ve learned something as we continue to bumble blindly on. It’s easier to cross-examine the past. We ask the big questions of the dead when they can’t answer and the questions are out of the context of their times, but they’re still fair questions. What did you do in the war, Daddy? What did you do before the war?…
And what will our children and grandchildren ask us? What did you do about climate change, Poppy? Why did you have a fossil fuel car? What did you do as inequality spread? Did you try to prepare for the decline of our mineral wealth, Poppy? Were you a fighter for broader and better education? Did you tolerate the misogyny, Poppy? Were you sexist? Did you fall for the culture wars? Were you a Quiet Australian?
Yes, it is much easier to ask questions, harder to answer them. Thanks for asking.
The Summertime of Our Dreams, by Michael Pascoe, published by Ultimo Press, a division of Hardie Grant, released August 3.