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On the movement of static things #2:
Two objects moving at the same speed oriented to travel in the same direction in the same special alignment may sense they as static when one observes the other. To each, the universe moves around them at different speeds and they see aspects that are unique and cannot be exchanged, but towards each other, they maintain a constant position. Yet neither object is static; the perceived static state is a relative anomaly and a fragile and temporary state. In their separate locations, the impact of external objects will change them, disrupt the phenomenon.
‘… just me-time; to do my nails and straighten my hair, you know …’
The inanity of it all. The chiming, bright voice with all its innocence penetrated my concentration. Demurely, with eyes lowered, she flicked up the end of her hair and paused. A small laugh; echoed by her companion. The only thing I could think to suggest was she could add, scratching, pick fleas, cropping her toenails, flake scabs, shave.
I missed the lesson when we were told that ‘me-time’ was all about personal grooming and maintenance? But then, there are many lessons I have yet to learn.
‘What could I do?’
It was a valid question, but she was not looking for an answer. When it happened, the question of ‘what to do’ might be what stopped her running: her job was to help and indecision now incapacitated her. Training did not prepare her for this - no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
‘Let me ask the questions,’ I said, waving away a trail of smoke. There was rubble everywhere and debris, mainly charred remnants and ash, still drifted down. Larger objects had landed first with force, causing all the damage. We were in no immediate danger standing here.
The wind picked up and shifted. He watched the moving streams of people as they felt the weather drifting into and through the open spaces they left around them. Many faces turned into the wind and some pairs moved in closer, others closed up behind, seeking shelter. In the increased fluttering and rustling, the drifts of hair over faces and loosening of garments grabbed by the wind, dust clouds rose up unimpeded. They held their belongings more firmly. In this subtle shifting, the angling of bodies drew new lines and an unseen order appeared that bonded them into a crowd.
At the bus stop I was standing in the rain watching the bus as it came over the hill. It slowed as it approached but was about 20 feet passed me before I heard the gasp and sigh of the brakes, saw the chassis rise and fall, and saw brake lights. I started running when the doors open.
‘If you want this bus you must hold out your hand,’ the driver said. ‘If you don’t, we don’t stop.’
‘I was standing out in the rain watching you approach. Didn’t that give you a clue?”
“You signal, I stop,’ he said.
And the rain it rains on everyone, especially on the poor. This fatalistic homily, redolent with class distinctions and social inequity, is a relic of a story told to me as a child, or a warning, or a threat following some aberrant behaviour, or taken from a narrative I tangentially participated in or observed. Whatever the source, this sentence has become a context-free refrain, one I repeat whenever it rains.
Without context, outside a story, this sentence makes no sense. It could be an example of ‘peasant logic’: a way to rationalise circumstances that undermine progress, that invalidate hard work.
Yesterday when I recognised the facts, the situation, I mentally kicked myself for not seeing the clues earlier: this was an old lesson I thought I had learned. Don’t go into derelict buildings, or take short paths through dark alleys, and don’t expect someone to do what they promised just because I needed it urgently: any of these lessons could have been what tripped me up, but instead it was the one I most dreaded that returned to bite me. The wound this time was more severe as buried within were the memories of each previous attempt and similar failures.
The thread of tarmac bled off into the distance ahead as the car emitted a satisfied hum and the illusion that there was movement towards the horizon. There was little in the scenery on either side to indicate progress, just blue-grey saltbush, telephone poles marching ahead, and an occasional fence branching off outwards. The sky overhead was cloudless, even time seemed to stand still. On both sides, against the liquid black of the road, white gravel glittered and shone, the glare dispersed by the circulating dust that whipped around the car and bloomed up to obscure the view behind us.
The car doors rattle as we ride over corrugated road surfaces. It’s hot, too hot to sit without ventilation, and while the windows are wound up tight the dashboard fans point towards us and blow out grit and dust that lands on and matts our hair, powders settle on damp skin, filling in wrinkles and obscuring blemishes. I can feel rough particles in my mouth when I swallow or move my teeth together. Later, when I wash the water the water running down the drain will be dark red and more dirt will be found in my nose and ears.
Etched into my memory are locations and buildings, travelled routes. This dream repeats nightly where even the anxiety I feel as I wake in the dream is familiar. I am late for something, rushing towards four red spires each with stained-glass windows mounted high. Along a walkway I must cross a bridge and before me, there is the path and stairs still to be climbed. The sky, empty of clouds, is cerulean blue against the red stones that built this place. I know I will skirt the building and what I know is beyond, but not where this will end.
We hadn’t spoken for the last two hundred kilometres, not since leaving the urban expansion areas and industrial parks that had grown up around the city. Jim and I had worked together a long time; we had no small talk left. Our silence was a habit: in the confinement of the car, we escaped to our private thoughts. Talk would only increase the noise and discomfort of the journey, and there were things we didn’t want to talk about together. When we arrived, we would learn what happened. This might be the last peace we would get, before the end.
Jim didn’t say anything when he saw them, he just pointed to the cloud of circling black specks in the distance. Carrion birds are large and clumsy, their wide wingspans and strong legs needed to lift them from the ground and to ride thermals. The size of the specks told us we weren’t close, but with a destination we could see, time had restarted and the clock was speeding up. The early morning phone call had been about a search for a missing party of tourists. The birds were telling us where something large had died. Could this be them?
The desolate landscape of late December inspired me to imagine the worst. Memories of previous events made this trip seem funereal. The outcome I pictured was grim as were all previous times when we had arrived when only bodies, grieving families, and broken and threatened communities were there to greet us. My mind was playing out the scene of arriving and finding six bodies of the missing people, as in similar cases images of the bodies captured in crime scene photos. And I imagined how I would feel, travelling backwards along the same road, our trip over, the grief unabated.
There was nothing in the circling birds that meant the tourist party was would be found there. Buzzards are known to feed on road-kill and carrion, and in this heat with the rivers drying up, there could be any number of other carcasses lying around. Whatever it was would have to be large to attract them. It wasn’t only the drought that killed off wildlife, the road trains travelling in convoys were known to kill anything on the road: whatever strayed onto the tarmac would be ridden over and what was left behind was a ready-made meal for any scavengers.
Jim and I kept to our own thoughts: having him confirm my dread would leave me nowhere to go. Not moving in the car for hours now, I felt helpless, overwhelmed. I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear from the world. Inside I carried the knowledge of other incidents we had travelled to and I could count on one hand the number that had not ended tragically, were not littered with victims and damaged people, carnage. Often what happened was a tragic accident, sometimes it was criminal, and frequently our services did little to remit the damage.
Yesterday I listened to a lecture on sexual harassment of women in rural workplaces – how entrenched and embedded harassment in these cultural environments is condoned through tacit consent and young men assume male domination is given as a rite-of-passage. It was difficult to listen to stories of objectivisation and ritual humiliation, the way women felt intimidated and threatened by their fellow workers and by employers, who exploited them and put them at risk. What was worse, what challenged me personally, was how women in traditionally masculine workplaces just left or they rationalised their experiences and limited their options to survive.
There wasn’t much time. She could feel the heat, even though she had started moving when they appeared on the horizon. She had waited until the last minute and now felt them looming behind her. The car had been slow to start, it wasn’t putting on speed as fast as she wanted and soon the oil would burn up and then the engine would seize. This could only get worse: the heat in the upper atmosphere was about to settle on her. If she could get some distance, its passage could be distracted or deflected, she might still get away.
I have arrived too late, the black-aproned caterers are moving around quietly packing up, piling cups and glasses onto trays and trays onto trolleys, wheeling away urns. The event has ended and guests and spectators have left with their floral dresses and casual trousers and jackets. As I arrived I saw groups exchanging last few words before turning away, then waving and calling out again as they dispersed towards cars. These parties, replete in their pleasure and enjoyment, left behind the empty space I now inhabit; a quiet place, one that feels restful, devoid of thought and intent and ambition.
She was pulling the steering wheel almost lifting off the seat, her foot flat on the accelerator, when she saw the suspension bridge ahead start to wilt. It tilted, the cables flexing and bowing, the road seemed to stretch and bend giving an admirable impression of a mobius strip mating with a many-tentacled species of cephalopod. It seemed to move in slow motion, as though underwater, following a primal imperative. She had no alternative: with the downhill approach the speed had increased and she aimed for daylight on the other side, hoping there was a straight line through this mess.
Boiling steam rose up obscuring her view, the humidity was unbearable. She had no control, could only point the car and keep it going across this moving structure. The cars closed capsule gave some protection though breathing was difficult. It was the steam that made it possible for her to cross in the end; the closer she drove to the coast, the more the heat dissipated. Cloud banks were forming and lifting around her in monumental towering structures that cast shadows and soon covered the sky. At the coastline she saw the ocean disappearing, drawing back, escaping out of reach.
Humans who had been weaned on fiction believed that the arrival of aliens was destined and believed it would all turn out well. If the aliens were bright enough to travel here, there was every hope they would be sensitive and respectful of our world and would want to learn all about us. When they finally got here, and news reports had heralded this event everywhere for months, we were all waiting. The world had chosen a team of representatives to meet with them, even though, since they were first spotted, there had been no response to our varied communications.
Life as documentary #5:
The ability to feel empathy has been singled out as the one sense that makes humans different from other creatures. For me empathy puts me in another’s shoes and gives me perspective, thereby encouraging me to not act selfishly – and this has always seemed good. I listened recently to a podcast where the arguments against empathy were put and am convinced.
Against empathy, arguments are that we are selectively empathetic and frequently manipulated by it. I need to question how empathy is making me behave, test my empathy biases, ask who I empathise with and why.
I like walking on the beach in the moonlight, listening to cool music on long summer evenings, flirting with girls wearing short summer dresses. And there is nothing nicer than to kick back with a movie and a glass of wine after dinner. Even better, to put on a home movie, one of those I made with the girls in their flimsy frocks, the girls who didn’t see me until it was too late. It doesn’t make sense the number of them who call out for their mothers just as it’s getting interesting, but I can edit those parts out.
‘Love that hat, Harry.’ Joe’s deadpan delivery smacked of dismissal, reeked of insincerity, and had the tinny ring of a cliché. Joe had seen Sam standing as he approached. Like most forms of flattery, he’d said it to distract, deflect an interruption. He was busy.
Calling Sam Harry got a laugh, and the joke about the hat would get repeated later in the pub when the crisis was over. Everyone got it, except Sam, who stood there wondering what had just happened.
‘But I’m not wearing a hat.’ The street was silent now, empty. ‘Do you know about the fish?’
‘What makes you wear that crown?’
‘It is mine, paid for with death. I was chosen to wear this band of metal: it will be buried with me when I die.’
‘After everything that happened - the pain and trauma – why do you still wear the crown?’
‘People need to know what we went through. If they want to take our history away, they need to know what we will do to stop them.’
‘What does the crown represent now?’
‘It’s an object, but when I wear the crown, our spirit, our history, even our futures are real and possible.’
I would like to draw your attention to the inappropriate use of terms of gallantry in everyday speech. The word ‘lady’ was used by men recognising a woman’s social status. It was a mannered curtesy, acknowledging respect and deference. In current use, ‘lady’ has become a mechanism for separating out women for special attention. Overheard today was, ‘… a new lady started today, she …’. What information is imparted here? Is the speaker implying to a third person that he is a gentleman, that he employs aristocrats? Why not say ‘… a new employee started today, she …’?
The evidence of experience #6:
I would like to have become wiser as I’ve grown older, but that isn’t the case. Each year passing reminds me more of my profligate early years: I look back and regret wasting time when I had the capability and enthusiasm to take on new tasks, to chase down ideas, to be spontaneous. Time is now a factor in all my actions - I act, tracking and measuring time, assessing how best to get value for this limited resource. There is with a sense of urgency, to complete work, to find a point of closure.
Where is the time I no longer utilise to sit and think, to cogitate, to talk to my muse, or converse with the general collective consciousness? This exploration is necessary: this is where the mind can wander and freely associate ideas, take new paths where I can stumble across on a view, an altered sense or space, and expand the universe. It is a lucid space that enables new thinking, where you can postulate prototypes, make models, re-assess and re-arrange facts and assumptions, test ideas. Here light is shone on unquestioned areas and beliefs, enlightenment is realised and clutter removed.
If you know the answer to a question is not going to be what you want to hear, what is the next step? You could ignore the answer and go ahead anyway as if it doesn’t matter, but what I have been thinking lately is a better solution. I want to suggest that you have jut asked the wrong question: somewhere out there is the question you want to hear and you need to find the right question. I am going out on a logically indefensible branch here, assuming questions have right answers. I know that is not the case.
Measuring can overpower the sensations of experience. We learn early to quantify what we do, feel, and to stack things up, this is how we assign value. Through enumeration we quantify the best day in your life, our favourite book or poem. Even our best friends, the right number of the right friends, the best future is measured in anticipated components or outcomes. The numbers essentially determine our worth: when extrapolated through life, what counts is only what can be accumulated. Disappointment results when the future arrives and the count of falls short, when our self-worth ranking doesn’t increment appropriately.
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