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There are few remaining expectations: I no longer sit back and wait for events to unfold. From the fragmented and fractured information received, I derive meaning and discern intention, assess the risk from actions of those around me. I find it strange that events continue seamlessly, that a "best guess" will suffice, where thought continues without clarity or confirmation, all changes absorbed. These guesses, increasing and reducing in importance, add to the miscellaneous parcels of impressions that, looping over and revolving, colour my thinking. In my interactions with reality, I am the common denominator; I must act or respond alone.
‘No, it’s pretty good.’
They had been talking for a while, agreeing furiously. In the comparison of their lives and families, each confirmed and reassured the other. The point of the discussion was hard to identify, yet neither seemed eager to end it. As one response faded, with hesitation, a sigh, a resettling of hands, the other responded with a question. The relay of responses reinforced through gestures, light laughter; opinions exchanged in the unspoken, in misdirection.
A long pause became a conclusion. Collecting belongings took little time and they moved away, laden with papers and books, bags and coats.
What is the purpose of misdirection in framing issues, but an avoidance tactic, a delaying device, an attempt to come at a topic or problem from another side, a different angle. When one party in an exchange senses a misdirection, there is a vapid sense of unreality, a sense that a perceived or assumed truth is side-swiped, a level of trust breached. Intuiting a strategy has been deployed, a feint, a wild card thrown down, the conversation must be inspected: the narrative path unravelled, assumptions reassessed, biases and tendencies tested. The process of engagement becomes insubstantial, unreliable, worthy of suspicion.
The note said: come up with a new idea today.
I hadn’t done a textual analysis or, from the pressure on the pen measured the writer’s tone from the depth the letters had penetrated the paper. I couldn’t run it through an algorithm to determine height, age, gender or known demographics of the author. All I had, on my first day in an empty office, was the note.
It could be an aphorism, a lesson to absorb on how to live a life well, or I could get stressed and read it as a challenge, a test of my fortitude.
Let me run with this opinion which, unlike scissors, I must whet and hone before it becomes sharp enough to be dangerous. Language has the power to lash and raise welts. A miscalculated choice of words can wound; as can a misaligned phrase, a taunt. These can be as harmful as physical violence. Harm is done not only in what is said: a speaker has the weight of implication to add force to an argument, to consolidate their position. By omission, an unspoken statement, the withdrawing of approval, can separate out individuals, and bring down condescension and censure upon them.
‘Hey mate,’ he said. ‘You know who’s this truck is?’
There’d been no pointing, no threat, no eye contact: the traffic warden, notebook in hand and pointing his elbow at the truck, was commenting to anyone listening. Traffic and the sound of jack-hammers rose as the warden circled the truck parked in the no waiting zone outside the coffee shop.
At a table, surrounded by planters filled with a dusty privet hedge, three men sat wearing fluorescent outfits emblazoned with the name of their construction company, steam rising from their coffees.
‘Just having a heart starter, mate,’ was the response.
Shattered and fractured, defensive and in denial, there is no path to salvation here for her. Life had hold of her, she had no traction for change, she was being pulled along by a force she feared.
‘Sally,’ Joan said. ‘Can you hear me?’
She couldn’t unlock her jaw to answer. Terrified, she couldn’t move. All she saw were the creatures, the demons that pursued her in her peripheral vision. In front, where Joan sat, the centre of her sight was void.
‘I know you can hear me. Nod your head if you hear me now.’
She had to escape.
‘Get involved – you might find you really enjoy it.’
The lecture droned on, repeatedly and endlessly. What would happen if you don’t get involved now and do something, is that the career you want will slip away. I’m still not convinced that the total sum of everything comes down to collaborative work, throwing your lot in with your peers, your friends, the community of ideas. Not joining is not from reluctance on my part but because I am a very slow writer, I walk slowly, am easily distracted. But, when I finish, my work is compact, complete, it hangs together.
Life as documentary 3:
In Walter Benjamin’s essay, ‘The Storyteller: Reflections on the works of Nikolas Leskov’, he draws attention to the whole genre of storytelling, arriving at the epiphany that we have lost connection to causal evolution of stories, that ‘modern man (sic.) no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated’ (Benjamin W 1999, Illuminations, ePub. Pimlico, p.93). Shrinking a story into 100 words, I ask myself if I up to this task: writing a beginning, middle and ending; presenting an initiating event, climax, and denouement to readers. The challenge is to resolve the dilemma with the final word.
The baffled breaking sounds of thick blades sliced through the air. Resisting the downward pressure, I crouched low and ran towards the chopper where arms reached out and grabbed me, pulled me into the cabin, guided me to a seat. Shouted voices penetrated the constant noise in a vaguely placating way, as the metal-on-metal engine roar rose, tightened to a shriek. The door thrown along a running track slammed shut and we lifted into the air with all the grace of a rolling drum in a heaving sea. The last one in, I turned and looked at the other passengers.
Life as documentary #4:
What is it we look for in photographs of ourselves and why do they disappoint? So often photographic images confront; they loom up as an unexpected memento mori, turning what is a normal day to a headlong flight from reality. There is an immutable sense of loss felt on seeing a self-image, a feeling that something was extracted or removed. What you see is an object able to exist alone; and the content is foreign, showing a stranger looking back. In this one-dimensional object, capturing an instance without movement, you see a pastiche and look away.
Sitting here trying to work I can’t avoid overhearing a harrowing tale, dripping with emotion, regret, pain, told by one young woman as she exposes her lack of personality or gifts or charm that, of three girls who have been good friends throughout their school lives, she has been left as the one without a date to the final year party. She recounts and has rejected her friends offer to ditch their dates so they could all go together, saying: ‘That would make me really feel like a failure – I’d ruin their nights also. But, I’m not taking my sister.’
“I guess, I guess, …” one man said, using this strategy to interrupt and grab a place in the conversation. When he finished talking, he used an open-handed gesture and nod to hand it on to the only woman in the group, who had been following and watching. Everyone noticed when she deflected the direct invitation by not making eye contact.
Men enter and leave conversations in many ways; women tend not to interrupt and hold back, waiting to be invited. They are more frequently left out as the number of voices and opinions increase, and the discussion speeds up.
The evidence of experience #5:
Hearing the expression ‘punching above their weight’ ranking humans above every other entity or element inhabiting the known universe, makes me want to go out to find someone or something to punch, human or otherwise. Research for this opinion is based on statistical data that has been so self-selected and oblique or is historical and so out-of-date that it cannot support even its own weight. Mostly it relies on hearsay. This boast is a cardboard cut out, a straw dog, a bolster made of feathers: little form and less substance. The lesson - do not lean here.
This was a day like any other – just things to be done in an absent-minded way, with no concern about what to do, no panic if my interest is waylaid. This is the bread of life, with butter occasionally and sometimes the promise of jam tomorrow. No-one here is asking for circuses: until I hear someone ask for circuses, I won’t believe that’s what the public wants. We are too jaundiced for circuses here: politics has staled that pond; entertainment has jaded our palates. Presented with a displaced reality, one we don’t recognise, that doesn’t include us, we’ve moved away.
And here was I, sideswiped by the ‘not only but also’ defence. Why that old ploy would be used in the tragedy of this situation is beyond comprehension, it smacks of privilege, the assumption that my discretion could be called on. She was asking for special treatment, the expectation of which always raised my hackles.
‘I have no control over decisions here,’ I replied. ‘You’ve broken the law.’
‘You can’t say that,’ she said. ‘It’s my word against yours.’
‘And, I assume, you’re prepared to lie.’
‘I’m innocent until there’s proof.’
‘What,’ I said. ‘The dead body’s not enough evidence?’
He stared down at her from his high desk set on a plinth in the waiting room.
‘The job you want doesn’t exist. I’ve checked the list. It didn’t come up.’
She’d waited an hour in the queue for this interview; standing and filling out the questionnaire, watching nine other queues trickling forward. When she got to the front a disembodied arm extended, reached for the completed form and clipboard, and then she waited again.
‘I was told there’d be an interview.’
He'd retreated silently, was partially obscured by the computer monitor. She felt her chance was slipping away.
Today was the day of presentations and there was much twitching and tapping of feet. It was evident from behaviours in many teams, that friction had been felt, feelings hurt, and many paths-to-glory had been blown up in performing this task. After this debacle, this shredding of our souls, the question remains: in lowering our standards to the lowest common denominator, what did we achieve besides uniformity?
In the library again, surrounded by chatter and the smell of pot-noodles, while soothing my wounds I consider the path I’ve chosen. Having survived one battle, I know there are many more coming.
On the movement of static things #1:
No place or element in the universe down to the smallest atom is without movement. I hold the view that static objects, where there is a perception of a suspension of motion, are illusory. Even my eye doesn’t hold still but moves with blood flowing through me, my heartbeat. Perceived movement can be misapplied: the vibration, waves, and thermals in heated air, make distant objects appear to recede and advance. Putting your eye down to observe a stalk of grass, the light patterns reflecting on the stalk surface from passing clouds imitate movement.
What hubris we hold close to our hearts, believing we are the only sentient and conscious beings, that our world holds all the life there is. This belief vice blunts the imagination. Our morality constrained serves in limiting humanity.
Standing with feet in the mud we look up at the stars. In one hand is a weapon we will use to slay anything that moves; with the other, we grab and stuff into our mouths anything within reach. And here we stay until our legs numb with cold as the light fades, or we are surrounded by an empty wasteland.
The last assignment of the last unit of the year and I am suddenly free to do what I want, to read what I want, to sleep late and stay up later, and to all intents and purposes treat the universe as if it is there solely for me to use. That is, as I wait for the marks to be returned. I can be indolent until the cupboards and fridge empty as the food is finished, the dishes and cups stack up on the counter, or until someone notices my absence. But now I have a book to read.
There are unseen forces within physical, tactile objects pulling them into the present that gives them an enduring tenacity and persistence. Some objects drift out of the present, become lost, and I believe they do this wilfully, to achieve a greater purpose elsewhere. Others, the more noticeable and fractious kind, hang around and acquire a stickiness of memory. I have before me five pages culled from my diary notes, each written only on one side. These were prompts, they are from actions now completed, yet in them I sense something residual: my fingers want to file them away, save them.
There were six in all found when I hunted around; they had blown under the lea of the hedgerow, lifted light as the feathers they were. They had glided on the faint breeze rustling the overhead leaves until, still luminous and lustrous, iridescent, they found shelter within the shadow of the overhanging hawthorn branches. By their found condition, I guessed the feathers had been recently shed, no more than a lapsed hour. The most likely scenarios a fox that pounced and grabbed as the pheasant lifted into flight. In the absence of blood, it seems likely that the bird survived.
The morning light pooled shadows in the footprints trodden into the white sand covering the courtyard; the light sharpened the edges, blending depressions into grey and black patchworks of angled shapes. Heavily indented and overlapped imprints through the gate continued into the central courtyard where they dispersed, going to the surrounding buildings and dark passages that led out from there. Ley lines formed there, redolent with meaning and purpose: crosshatched paths of different foot sizes, going in and out, extended in crazy pathways about the courtyard. The imprints, an evidence of multitudes, is in this unpeopled silence of dawn, unbelievable.
‘The way to start is not to take a number and wait. If I wanted a waiter I’d have advertised for one.’ She held papers in her arms, bunches between fingers, folders and more pages pinched under her arms, that she started stacking on the table, spreading them radially in several cantilevered piles. As the height of the stacks increased she started grabbing at documents where, under the action of gravity, they started slipping from their allotted ranks. ‘These need an index prepared, and filing. Don’t wait: an invitation’s not in the mail. Clear a space, there’s more to come.’
Lee rarely woke before 10am, the late nights were irresistible and actively engaged his imagination. For him, mornings arrived too soon and the days that followed were a burden he felt he had to endure. To him days behaved in the same way as physical objects: each had a physicality, static and unmoving, a presence exhibiting both attractive and repellent energies. Identifying parts of a day did not destroy the whole, a wholeness that made them unique. The similarity between days was of an object type only. Days had a heaviness, yet towards evening, they escaped, leaving behind no residue.
Similarities between days bind them as types of objects, yet Lee saw no reason to assume they followed sequentially, or inevitably. For him their sameness is an illusion: the macro view of days as objects, an obscured reflection seen in the micro view of our individual lives; days are seen as predictable, and our lives fleeting, moving and changing. We frame our own existence, wrapping in the assumption that time is expanding in a linear fashion, is tracked up through the years and down to the seconds, the nanoseconds, and assume that everything we wrap up is accountable and interrelated.
There remained only fallen petals on the ground to be walked over by the passing foot traffic as they glanced at the florist shop, packed up and stacked with baskets and barrels, filled with luminous upright blooms in all their myriad shades and shapes lurking in the shadows, packed up behind a glass window where a large “Closed” sign hung. The passage under the arches was perfumed by the fallen and crushed petals of peonies and rose, lavender and gardenia; yet buried beneath the floral notes hovered a faint acrid odour, the sour scent of sap and still, cold water.
Letters #7: I would like to draw your attention to how the word, “unreal” has morphed in common vernacular to be not only an antonym of real but to describe the hyper-real. Embedding word with their inverse leaves only context to enable interpretation; and herein lies the site, the embryo, the yolk of irony. What registers for unreal, can flatter when taken as more than real. When the obverse is implied, unreal can express derision, be used as an expletive. Context and culture give the audience clues, as does tone. The paradox unveiled is that both interpretations could be extracted.
A body of evidence has found humans in diverse cultures have many methods for tracking time internally, with limited success. Even when nothing seems to happen around us, we assume that time is persisting along a regularly ticking, metronomically proven path. Lee didn’t accept this, there had been too many instances when he had less or more time than estimated, and it was not just not paying attention. His belief, one he was unable to verify, was that time acted like a rubber band: it stretched out and concertinaed erratically, driven by unknown triggers, or by forces outside his understanding.
Producing objects to track time objectively does not fix the problem humans have with keeping time; it makes the perception of time seem more flawed, by showing the internal measurement to be invalid. Externalised, the question of time becomes a mathematical event outside our individual experience and judgement. Attempting to align an internally time against an external measure only makes the problem more complex, requiring us to lose time or have spare time on our hands at the whim of a machine. Individual time, Lee decided, needs to have changeable looseness or tension to reflect their physical place in space.
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