Going back in place
(I wrote this in response to a story by Nick Kilver published by the ABC that used narrative to communicate data about climate change predications. It’s great to see journalism in different modes other than conventional reportage. The story provoked me to think about what my own abilities and preoccupations as a writer might bring to the topic of climate change in a piece of a similar length. Kilver’s story had a strong emphasis on communicating specific data. He no doubt wrote to that brief. My attempt is different in the sense that I wanted use a series of hypothetical emotional scenarios as the foundations for the piece and combine these with a vaguely formed design hypothesis about a service that allowed friends and families who were displaced from their previous communities due to climate change to reconnect with each other on a return journey that makes full use of emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, virtual reality and computational photography. I think it is a ‘To be continued….’)
I knew the trip back would stir intense emotions. So we ended up agreeing to pay for the mediation feature offered by the service. By ‘we’ I mean ‘I’. I reckon I’ve got better at detecting the point when entropy sets in during group decision making. We’d already been through enough just working out if and when to go back. I decided not to put this one out to tender.
‘With years of experience guiding families and friends through tough, emotional terrain, let one of Rabobank’s highly trained interfamilial climate conflict resolution mediators ensure that your trip back goes as smoothly as possible. Returns are a time for reflection and reconnecting. Give yourself the best chance to make this experience a positive one.’
I could just imagine the reactions from Ben and Clare: ‘mediator, what!? We don’t need one of those. Snake oil merchants. Charlatans. We don’t need someone to tell our family how to communicate. I just think we could do it better ourselves. Mum would get angry at them…’
I didn’t need any convincing about the value of interfamilial climate conflict resolution. I reckon Rebecca and I pretty much broke up because of arguments about climate change and eating habits. There was no single event. Just the endless debates and no progress. Or no way of coming to terms with our irreconcilable differences. It’s not even like our view points were that different. Until you started to scrutinise things closely. The closer you look the larger small distances appear. But broadly we were both committed to ancestry thinking and acting in a way that was mindful of future generations.
Sometimes I put it down to when we both started using the app, the Climate Mindfulness app. It should have been called the ‘Climate-fight-inducing-pettiness-app’. Counting is such a weird thing.
But maybe I’m just making excuses. It feels good to blame the technology. It’s easy. Sometimes I feel Rebecca and I were doomed well before the climate became the main thing we talked about and defined the way we conducted our lives. I think for a lot of people the climate functions as a kind of vortex for bad feelings, multiplying and providing a frame of reference for antagonisms. It kind of drags everything into it. It’s connected to everything. Which is why there’s so much potential for it to bring us together as well.
There were a heap of other options for shaping the return experience that I decided to take care of myself as well, with a little bit of consultation. The most important was the playlist. A big part of the journey back to the farm was the music I could imagine myself listening to in the old special places that I still thought about regularly. I’d developed the habit of deliberately listening to certain songs that reminded me of moving through the paddocks, sometimes they were songs from the past, sometimes they were new songs that for some reason seemed appropriate. I was never quite sure whether Ben, Clare, Mum or Dad, were as involved in this kind of reflective experience. Maybe it was because in the absence of a partner had more emotional energy to dedicate to this kind of thing?
One of the great things about the service was how they were clued into nostalgia and the way different kinds of media could be used to extend the journey, so that in a way it started both before we travelled back and would end well after we all got in the car together.
Before we left I got a series of reminders to submit different kinds of media that would then be curated and transformed into a virtual reality experience each of us could enjoy in the lead up. Based on past experiences, it seemed to be the anticipation as much as the actual event that was remembered in the long run. So the idea was, the service would compose an experience for each member of the journey to enjoy before we went back, and then another experience would be created from the memories captured during the journey.
The preparatory VR experience still left me feeling a bit flat. It was varied, I guess, in terms of the extent to which it allowed me to access the kind of heightened feelings I’d hoped to have. The first time I tried it I couldn’t work out how I felt. I guess my own emotions about the family leaving are complex and varied too. It’s sad, of course. But I’m so happy too that we got the chance to experience something that now seems incredibly rare. If generations from the future ever meaningfully understand what it was like to live in that landscape when we did, just before things took a turn for the worse, then they’ll surely know we were living in paradise — perhaps made even more beautiful due to the sense of being on the cusp of losing it, like classic from the 2010s, what was it…Melancholia.
Think of your vehicle as a machine for inducing nostalgia, read the advertising copy. Car doesn’t really capture the experience you’ll have in this mobile atmosphere where you can redevelop the emotional ambience, the language and the sense of humour that connected you to your place.
Weirdly I still checked the weather back there. Must have just been a habit. It started in the drought of 2018. Everyday, maybe ten times. Chance of rain fall, likely amount, time of day rain was predicted, local radar. It was completely irrelevant to my immediate experience in the city in a practical sense. But the information and its visualisation became an ends in itself. Catering to and exacerbating that desire to check. Minor changes that sustain interest. I’d spend hours watching the southerly horizon for a predicted storm front on live video. That same view that I used to look out at from the cement porch as a kid: the increasingly bare hill sloping down to the open, dry paddocks and the trees from the old orchid in the foreground. A lone tap, vaguely comical, out in the paddock from some prior system of water infrastructure. I think I’d given it a name once.
The food was the other thing they asked for your input to curate. The perfect picnic experience. I couldn’t decide whether we should have indulged in the rare delights of the table we once enjoyed in abundance. Roast lamb or beef. Or whether we should eat something that aligned more with the values that would have prevented the family all having to move in the first place. I could still feel the arguments with Rebecca reverberate within me. The impossibility of deciding what was right, of choosing the something that served immediate emotional needs for a group, or something that was right for the abstract generations in the future, the generations that we all had been once in the eyes of the people before us.