Solastalgia. I’d never heard that word until last week at Adelaide Writers’ Week. Suddenly it seemed the only word to sum up what we were all feeling as we sat in the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden listening to writers talk. Environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the word, combining solace, desolation and nostalgia, to convey our reaction when we see a familiar environment bitterly transformed, or the homesickness we feel without leaving home.
Canadian writer Michael Christie, whose novel Greenwood foreshadows a world where nearly all trees have withered away, said we’re all grieving now. ‘‘My young son has sworn off watching any television with a polar bear in it. It brings him to tears.’’
His grieving was for climate change, but solastalgia went much further than that. We felt it watching sessions on war, genocide, dispossession, the stolen generations, nuclear meltdown, floods, domestic violence, homophobia, trauma, the dangers of the digital age, extremism, terrorism and existential threats to mankind. The only reason coronavirus didn’t get much of a mention was that nobody has published a book about it … yet.
There were stirring stories from writers passionate about their cause, and a reading of the Uluru Statement brought on tears and a standing ovation. But after a while, I felt in sore need of comfort, and I found it at a few events where writers talked mainly about small, private, interior moments.