“Any act of love, however—no matter how small—lessens anxiety’s grip, gives us a taste of tomorrow, and eases the yoke of our fears. Love, unlike virtue, is not its own reward. The reward of love is peace of mind, and peace of mind is the end of man’s desiring” – Harper Lee
FOLLOWING the recent death of Harper Lee, her first essay contributed to Vogue magazine, Love – In Other Words, was edited and republished online.
The April 1961 meditation on the dimensions of love is a most decorous work from the author of the iconic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
I was moved by the essay’s poignant words and shared it with a dear friend. One with whom. For I felt Ms Lee, in articulating an indifference for distinctions between the various types of love, captured best our decade-long persistence at what has been, at worst, a tumultuous union.
I was moved by the essay’s poignant words and shared it with a dear friend with whom I’ve stumbled through countless broken, repaired and restored versions of friendship.
I felt Harper Lee, in articulating an indifference for distinctions between various types of love, captured exactly our decade-long persistence with a tumultuous relationship.
In my youth, my friend represented the green light that entranced the lone figure of Jay Gatsby standing on his jetty at night. My friend was the first Papua New Guinean I’d met who shared and sustained a devotion to literature and, with it, a restless harbouring of writing.
In spare moments, he and I would commit to paper our fears and hopes for our country. We wished that, through words, we would find others who shared similar sentiments and offered solutions.
Ultimately we desired to capture the attention of not only our countrymen but people beyond our borders.
As it turned out, PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize literary competition have been prominent in facilitating this wider reading of my voice.
Without a doubt, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Papua New Guineans lingering in the shadows waiting for a convincing signal that their voices are of importance.
But whether it’s lack of interest or an overwhelming lack of confidence maintaining this quandary, I unequivocally agree with a recent comment made by academic and writer John Kamasua that “young people in the country do not appreciate the enormous power of reading and writing”. And I feel immersed in that burgeoning despair - again.
Many people have succumbed to an overriding trend of confining their words to social media avenues, where grammar, comprehension and audience selection is at one’s discretion.
So much so that any assumption that Papua New Guinean beneficiaries of a higher level of education can demonstrate eloquence in written expression should be tucked away and put to rest.
Perhaps temporarily tucked away. Victim-blaming stagnates progress and I wouldn’t want to do that.
Perhaps, instead, the onus for an improved literature should be placed on the shoulders of the nation’s decision-makers who have failed to provide avenues for Papua New Guineans who, through written expression, articulate best their love for country and people.
But – let’s face it – writing with the intention of shared viewing is extremely daunting. Particularly if steering clear of the echo-chamber of domestic mainstream media consumed by the PNG audience.
And so it is enticing to utilise the forum provided by PNG Attitude as a place where the breadth of subject matter, depth of debate and articulation of creativity and literary skill frequently produce flashes of brilliance.
It’s enough to set any aspiring writer in contemplation mode. Permanently!
Tell me, what contributor to PNG Attitude doesn’t agonise over each paragraph to ensure cohesion, vocabulary and clarity of expression? And that’s after the piece has been submitted for publishing! Or perhaps it’s just me.
PNG Attitude showcases a plethora of high ability and it is my fellow Papua New Guinean writers of whom I am particularly fond and from whom I draw ideas.
I’ve found a handful so far, but am aware that, over time, many more will influence and enhance the depth of my writing.
With the launch of Sean Dorney’s The Embarrassed Colonist, an informative debate developed in The Interpreter; an online publication of the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute for International Policy.
Jenny Hayward-Jones summarised Mr Dorney’s key argument as, “Australia needs to acknowledge its colonial past in order to move to a deeper level of engagement with the Papua New Guinea of today.”
Mr Dorney, a former long-serving ABC Papua New Guinea correspondent, coined the term ‘embarrassed colonist’ because, he said, “of our seeming reluctance to fully address our history in PNG and look rigorously at the consequences”.
Australia’s blindness to its colonial past and the repercussions of this were critically examined in Phil Fitzpatrick’s ‘Why don’t Australians care about PNG? Is it the writers? and Max Uechtritz’s ‘ Plenty of great stories still to be mined in PNG’ - both of which present strong arguments for the mechanism imperative to bridging the gap identified by Mr Dorney and subsequent commentators.
Phil Fitzpatrick argues rightfully that a thriving literary culture so vital to fostering a national narrative is absent from Papua New Guinea. This is in turn may be attributed to Australia’s waning interest in its former colony.
Max Uechtritz’s reference to an Australian media that’s ‘myopic’ in its approach to reporting about PNG reflects the undercurrents of apathy that are so evident.
A giant leap toward supporting, promoting and encouraging the growth of PNG’s literary culture is imperative and required from Australia.
And I’m not talking about vamping up the already concentrated efforts of 20-foot containers laden with second-hand books or child-focused library and resource centres.
It is established and emerging Papua New Guinean writers who must be supported.
What is required, as is encouraged in Australia, are designated spaces where Papua New Guineans are supported to cultivate and enhance their promising literary skills to (re)educate the former colonial administrator of how its presence in PNG impacted upon the country’s mood and matter to the present day.
Along with PNG Attitude, the Papua New Guinea Association of Australian has, for the past two years and again in 2016, recognised the significance of Papua New Guinean writers through its publishing program associated with the Crocodile Prize.
The same can be said of the PNG and Australian sponsors and supporters of the Crocodile Prize since 2011.
The PNGAA’s annual pledge to print the Crocodile Prize Anthology is a sure indication to Papua New Guinean writers that their love of country and literature is supported by people who understand its importance for both PNG and Australia.
Unlike the two-person friendship mentioned at the outset of this essay, the relationship between Australia and Papua New Guinea embodies generations of individuals with whom rests questions and answers that might dispel the perceived ignorance and blindness often debated on PNG Attitude and recently written about by Sean Dorney.
If not developed and genuinely supported, the literary output of PNG writers will probably not contribute to the deeper level of engagement characterised by Max Uechtritz as “six decades of colonial rule and a century of deep, genuine bonds will be a mere footnote in history”.