Tennis champion Naomi Osaka has announced that she will no longer take part in tournament post-match press conferences because, mentally fragile now, she finds them upsetting.
Finding almost everything about her (including and especially her political and humanitarian beliefs) rather noble (Gosh, I can't remember when I last described a living human as "noble"), I commend her press-evading decision.
In my many years as a tennis writer attending the Australian Open, I, from a sensitive journalist's point of view, used to often find these same rituals (then, as now, obligatory for the players) discomfiting.
My discomfort had many mansions.
For example, the questions and challenges coming from my colleagues were so often insensitive and embarrassingly banal (for sports journalists are seldom the sharpest tools in journalism's shed).
Then, overall, there was something about the expectation that fine tennis players should be required to speak well, even intelligibly, about their tennis that struck me as unreasonable and unfair.
There is a famous aphorism that goes something like "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture". My point here is that, as in music, the important eloquence in tennis (and in any sport excellently played) is only ever fully, properly expressed in its playing.
There is a saying, sometimes attributed to my favourite composer Jean Sibelius, that goes something like "Music begins where words fail", meaning that some (all?) of the finer things in the human experience are things about which, to paraphrase Shakespeare's character Ophelia, words cannot wield the matter.
And so to me (in the Open newsroom, I always kept this unjournalistic heresy to myself) post-tennis-match press conferences seemed not only sometimes a spiteful ordeal for players (including those distraught at having just lost and those talentless at public speaking) but almost always superfluous in the great scheme of things, adding nothing to the conversation of mankind.
Can there be anything in life more superfluous than the post-match remarks of a Roger Federer or of a Rafael Nadal? Getting them to talk about what they are so sublimely good at is like asking a dolphin to articulate what it is like to be so wondrous a swimmer, or asking a Wedge-tailed eagle how it feels to soar, or asking a 200-year-old tree (like the ones just behind the shopping centre in the Gungahlin suburb of Crace) to tell us how it manages to be so very tall, long-lived and wise.
When tennis stars are out on the court playing they are virtuosic in the extreme, but when asked to talk about what it is they have just achieved they have so little of interest to say that one might as well talk to their racquet bags.
Perhaps Roger and Rafa in their positions might each hire their own full-time minstrel/poet laureate, a nimble wordsmith to, for the press, put into fine words what magic his master/employer has just achieved out on the court.
While on this subject, I remember how my admiration for the cacophonous tennis star Maria Sharapova (her on-court war cries, based on the ones Queen Boadicea used to shrill when leading her men into battle, rattling window panes right across greater Melbourne) was deepened when at post-match press conferences she would fearlessly (even as just a teenager) tell stupid journalists how stupid their questions were.
"Right on, sister! You go, girl!" I would applaud her, albeit beneath my breath, afraid to be openly disloyal towards members of my guild, my craft.
And still on inarticulateness (as in Roger and Rafa not having the words to describe their genius), Canberrans who love Canberra are generally hopeless at expressing how and why they love this place where they have opted to send down their roots.
In my long, long experience of this phenomenon, I find Canberrans, challenged about making their lives in so strange a city, resorting, mumbling, to two or three ill-thought-through clichés.
I mention this here, now, prompted by author Lucy Jones' new essay in The American Scholar, "Rewilding our minds: why nature is so necessary during the pandemic".
Passionate, zealously green, but riddled with scientific findings, it is another of those arguments for how important nature and the green outdoors are to our physical and mental health. Her theme is "the [bountiful] effect of contact and connection with the natural world on the human psyche".
Her cataloguing of what science says in nature is so good for us, and of how and why it stokes (largely unconsciously) wellbeing in those lucky enough to enjoy it, reminds one of what a superabundance of nature's everyday gifts we enjoy in this eccentrically uncity-like city, this bush capital.
Rhapsodising about Canberra in 2013, the architect Philip Cox enthused that "Canberra remains simple, severe, sublime, a landscape beyond the dreams of [the greatest of famous landscape architects]. It is the grandest urban landscape of the 20th century, and has no comparison or peer ... and it has an Australian distinction of endless space.
"It is truly an expression of our democracy and the Australian way of living. It has the languor of the Australia psyche, rolling and subtle; its palate of grey-greens and dusky blue hills are like no other in the world."
Perhaps Canberrans blissfully happy about Canberra resort to clichés (the beauteous ease of commuting here vis a vis the horror of it in real cities like Sydney, etc) because we're not conscious of or lack the poetry to articulate what bliss it is to live somewhere where the natural world showers its gifts on our psyches.
- Ian Warden is a regular columnist.