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Soup of This Day #333: There’s An Ear For What You Say

September 11, 2013

Ophelia
If you ask, Ophelia’ll tell you that she’s really ok. She just got tired out by the water skiing – Image: John Everett Millais, c1851. John Everett Millais is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I grew up in a rural Western Australian town. It wasn’t a large community, but with around 1,500 souls in the shire it wasn’t a flyspeck on the map either. The whole was big enough that you didn’t know everybody but small enough that you were at least passing familiar with most, and you could easily bluff your way with the remainder as they cropped up.

Or as you passed them on the road.

Beverley covers a bit of ground, 2,372 square kilometres. That’s around 10 times the area of Boston, yet with around 1/400th of the population. So for work and social occasions down Beverley way, you need to do a bit of driving. And because everybody else is doing the same, you need to be doing a bit of waving too.

It’s not a full-on wave. This would be an extravagance of energy and you’d be taking your hand off the wheel – The other is most likely resting on the gear-shift so unless you’re screaming out ‘look Ma, no hands’ (And are aiming to be stylin’ past your Ma) then this isn’t the way to correctly approach another vehicle with a combined closing speed of 200kmph on a loose-gravel road

Nope, what the good folk of Beverley use is a minimalist wave. Barely a ripple even. It involves the right hand remaining on the wheel, gripping it at the 2 o’clock position and then, as the other driver gets within visual range a quick raising of 1, or sometimes 2, fingers. Think of it as companionable nod of the hand, a carefully parsed flicker of acknowledgement.

Some, like my Dad, would get so good at it that you’d barely see a movement if you were sitting next to them with a magnifying glass at the ready. Yet even then, you could imagine the recipient of the wave getting,‘Longworth72 won his swimming trials last night with a new record time. And the wife made soy icecream for dessert.’ – All out of a barely perceptible flex of a knuckle.

And even then, that would almost be too much information. Australian men are a taciturn lot. We like actions more than words. We’ll watch a Shakespearean play but we’re secretly hoping that Mad Max has the lead and that he fires a rocket up Polonius’ arras and delivers Claudius to the local cop shop before scarpering off to the lake with the smoking hot Ophelia for a bbq and some water skiing with Laertes and the lads.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern get dead tired.

Talk isn’t so much cheap down here – It’s expensive. Too much of it and it’ll cost feelings and other non-manly things.

This doesn’t seem to be working for us.

In 2011, 2,273 Australians took their own lives. 1,727 of them were male (76%). Across the same 12 months 1,291 people lost their lives on Australian roads.

Guess which toll we talk about the most?

Yep, we’d rather talk about those roads that got us to those car accidents than the mental illness that got us to the horrible reality of people in our communities taking their own life. Sure, we should talk road safety but why do we comparatively ignore what’s in our heads? That just strikes me as plain dumb – Around 20% of Australia’s 23m people will suffer from a mental illness in 2013. That’s an astonishing 4.6m potential own goals.

Cape Verde, an island nation off the west coast of Africa has a population of around 0.5m. Despite their relatively small size, and the volcanic semi-dessert geography of their island chain home, the Cape Verde National Football Team, otherwise known as the Blue Sharks, are on the verge of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Rio. If we could extrapolate from those Blue Sharks then we could field just over 9 World Cup squads just from those Australians that will be on the receiving end of a mental illness this year.

And it would be therapeutic because being in a football side requires talk. Yep, you have to communicate to your team-mates – Shout out helpful things like, ‘Man on’, ‘Switch’ and ‘I swear that if you take a dive again I’ll beat the living @#$% out of you.’

Ok, so that last 1 isn’t helpful. It is communication though – It’s the start of opening up, the potential beginning of a meaningful conversation. Sadly though we can’t field 9 World Cup teams – To be honest, after the Socceroos got thumped 6-0 by Brazil in a friendly last week, I’m wondering about the 1 team we have sent out anyway.

What we can do though is find another way to start conversations. Step forward RUOK? Day.

RUOK? Day is an Australian invention, the idea of a guy whose dad had committed suicide. It’s premise is pretty simple – On September the 12th, everyone is encouraged to reach out and to start meaningful conversations – To find out if those around us are really ok.

It’s not a magic fix. Mental illness seems too complicated for that – For me, I haven’t found any easy options so far – Even the pills I take just put me into a zone where I can start to help myself. Sort of like giving me a glove so that I can begin a baseball game.

Or a whole season of baseball games

That’s when the real work kicks in, and there is a lot of it – Take a look at the grind of a Major League Baseball (MLB) year: 162 regular season games at almost 1 a day. Each day, getting suited up, taking swings, making fouls, running into walls. That’s a decent approximation of a bad spell for me.

At least in baseball there is an end-point – A time that you’ll know that you’re done and that you’re ok. You can even measure how far you are away from this goal via a convenient piece of magic. It’s a number. A magic number.

In MLB-speak a magic number is a measure of how far you are away from clinching a title or a play-off slot. Get the magic number down to 0 and you’re there, home safe, locked into a world where nobody can touch you.

How does it work? Well, let’s take 2 teams atop the current standings of the American League (AL) East division: The Boston Red Sox, who sit in clear 1st with a record of 88 and 58, and the Tampa Bay Rays, trailing in 2nd with a 78 and 65 effort.

The magic number for the Boston outfit is calculated by subtracting the Red Sox wins and the Rays losses from 162 + 1. So that would read, 163 – (88 + 65) = 10. Therefore the magic number for the Red Sox to clinch the AL East title is 10 – Any combination of Red Sox wins plus Rays losses that adds up to 10 and the Sox can put their red-stockinged feet up.

I’ve never been able to put my feet up with mental illness. I’d love it if I could, or if somebody could just calculate the number of days until this passes and I get a trophy.

I get a trophy right?

Maybe not me. There’s some people helping me though who deserve medals and others who are taking the fight right up to mental illness who need a good talking to. You can find the former close to my heart and the latter at www.ruokday.com/.

There, they’ve got resources, like guides on how to ask, how to listen and what to do after the talkin’ is done. They’re Australian but I don’t think they’d mind if visitors are not, just as long as they’re prepared to start conversations that might change a life.

Oh and for tomorrow, I’ll be the guy waving at everyone in traffic. Big @#$%ing waves with frequent doffing of my Red Sox cap. And when I’m out of my car I’ll be asking people if they are ok and I’ll be listening to the answers.

So here goes: G’day there. How’re you doing – Going alright?

There’s An Ear For What You Say

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